Excellent Read: “Mitch McConnell: The Man Who Sold America”

Further proof of my assumption that ‘Moscow Mitch’ is for rent by anyone — he just hates the moniker because he resents the brand-damaging implication that his loyalty is linked to any ideology beyond ‘Mitch McConnell deserves to be Majority Leader for life’. Bob Moser, for Rolling Stone:

Fittingly enough, it was hot as blazes in Kentucky when Mitch McConnell slunk back home for Congress’ annual summer recess. One week earlier, Robert Mueller had testified that Russia was meddling in the 2020 U.S. elections. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, responded by shooting down Democrats’ efforts to bring two election-security bills to a vote — bills that McConnell, in his familiar fashion, had previously sentenced to quiet deaths after they passed the House. In the hailstorm of opprobrium that followed, McConnell had been tagged by “Morning Joe” Scarborough with the indelible nickname “Moscow Mitch.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank called him a “Russian asset.” Twitter couldn’t decide whether he was #putinsbitch or #trumpsbitch. The Kentucky Democratic Party was selling red “Just Say Nyet to Moscow Mitch” T-shirts, emblazoned with an image of the senator’s jowly visage in a Cossack hat, as fast as they could print them up.

McConnell would undoubtedly have preferred to cool his heels in his Louisville home and let the storm subside. But he couldn’t afford that luxury. The biggest political event of the year in Kentucky, the Fancy Farm Picnic, happens on the first Saturday every August, and McConnell knew he had to show his face and speak. Fancy Farm, a 139-year tradition in the tiny western Kentucky town (population 458) it’s named for, is simultaneously one of America’s most charming political gatherings and one of its most brutal…

… Under a big corrugated shelter, hooting and hollering Republican partisans assemble on the right, Democrats on the left, and candidates for office — joined, almost always, by McConnell — enter to cheers and jeers and seat themselves on a makeshift platform while trying to remember their most cutting quips about their opponents. Speakers at Fancy Farm aren’t supposed to persuade or inform; here, they’re expected to demonstrate, in the finest tradition of old-style Southern politics, that they can deliver zingers that cut the opposition down to size. Heather Henry, the Democrats’ candidate for secretary of state this year, puts it aptly when it’s her turn to face the mob: “It is no coincidence that Fancy Farm happens during Shark Week.”

It’s McConnell’s kind of event, in other words, and he’s done his part over the years to ramp up the partisan rancor…

This year, it was no use. Even before “Moscow Mitch” became a thing, Kentucky Democrats were smelling blood. McConnell has been unpopular in his home state for years, but his approval rating plunged in one poll to a rock-bottom 18 percent — with a re-election campaign looming in 2020. In January, he had raised red flags among Republicans and Democrats alike when he took a key role in lifting sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a Putin ally under FBI investigation for his involvement in 2016 election-meddling; three months later, Deripaska’s aluminum company, Rusal, announced a $200 million investment in Kentucky. A billboard funded by a -liberal group was subsequently erected on a busy stretch of I-75: “Russian mob money . . . really, Mitch?” …
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Adam Schiff Writes A Letter

The Friday night news dump was unusually late this week.

Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote a letter to Joseph Maguire, Acting Director of National Intelligence. Read it – it’s short and to the point.

A whistleblower in the Intelligence Community disclosed a concern to the DNI intended for the congressional intelligence committees on August 12. The Intelligence Community Inspector General then determined that the concern was both urgent and credible. At that point, Maguire had seven days to turn the material over to the House and Senate Intelligence committees. The deadline was September 2. He didn’t.

It looks like Schiff has also requested the material from Maguire. That would mean he heard about it through another channel, possibly notified by the IC IG.

Maguire also consulted the Department of Justice (corrupt William Barr) on whether he should turn the material over. That consultation is not allowed by the law; he’s just supposed to turn the material over.

His basis for not turning the material over is that

the complaint involves conduct by someone outside the Intelligence Community and because the complaint involves confidential and potentially privileged communications.

That describes people who are most likely to be trying to do something bad, like spies, and of course confidential information would be part of it. No point to whistleblowing on something that’s been in the news. “Potentially privileged” might suggest presidential communications. Like other legal arguments the administration makes, it boils down to “No, we don’t want to disclose and will use an utterly transparent excuse.”

Schiff puts all that together

Schiff wants the material by Tuesday, emphasizing that it is an urgent matter. If Maguire doesn’t come up with it, Schiff wants him in front of the committee by Thursday. He also says that the whistleblower had better be protected from reprisal. Good luck with that.

I can imagine a great many possibilities for the content of the complaint, but that’s because there is so little information and the administration is so corrupt.

Next week should be interesting.


Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner


Another One Bites The Dust: Joi Ito, MIT, and Jeffrey Epstein

I haven’t said anything here about events at my home institution, MIT around the news that Joi Ito, the director of the ‘tute’s Media Lab had taken donations for the lab and cash for investments under his control from Jeffrey Epstein — after his conviction for various forms of the sexual predation of girls and very young women.

That’s for two reasons: for one, a sprint through the first week of the semester and a simultaneous dash through the second submission draft of a book manuscript (completed just this afternoon), and for the other a desire to pursue my concerns with MIT faculty officers and the administration before saying anything in public.

I haven’t done that yet, but Ronan Farrow’s devastating report for The New Yorker, published last night, has made the conversations I thought I might have moot, while opening up new questions to be pursued going forward.

Here’s a sample of Farrow’s reporting:

The financial entanglement revealed in the documents goes well beyond what has been described in public statements by M.I.T. and by Ito…

The documents and sources suggest that there was more to the story. They show that the lab was aware of Epstein’s history—in 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution—and of his disqualified status as a donor. They also show that Ito and other lab employees took numerous steps to keep Epstein’s name from being associated with the donations he made or solicited. On Ito’s calendar, which typically listed the full names of participants in meetings, Epstein was identified only by his initials. Epstein’s direct contributions to the lab were recorded as anonymous. In September, 2014, Ito wrote to Epstein soliciting a cash infusion to fund a certain researcher, asking, “Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?” Epstein replied, “yes.” Forwarding the response to a member of his staff, Ito wrote, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Peter Cohen, the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Director of Development and Strategy at the time, reiterated, “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.”

In the wake of that story Ito has now resigned as director and professor of the practice at MIT. He has also quit the boards of the MacArthur Foundation and The New York Times, with, I’m sure, more to drop.

Much of Farrow’s reporting reveals a director and members of his staff gone rogue.  MIT’s central fund raising apparatus had already listed Epstein as a disqualified donor, meaning the Institute and its members weren’t supposed to seek or accept funds from him, and Ito and his team consciously worked to circumvent that restriction.

That’s good for MIT and its central leadership: it shows that the major donors people had already reached the right conclusion about reputation-washing for Epstein and had, they thought, shut it down. Still, though it looks like internal safeguards were in place, I’ve still got some questions.

For example:  how could a major center at MIT evade reporting on donors? What is the process for such reporting?  Was the policy subverted by Ito and the Media Lab? Was it ineffective, failing to ask the right questions? Was there any active failure on the part of the central administration office overseeing fund raising by the Media Lab (and other autonomous self-governing regions w/in MIT)?

Additionally, the fact that Ito raised funds both for the center he ran and his private business bugs me.  MIT has a pretty relaxed policy on outside professional activities by its faculty and other members, but there is both required disclosure (I and every faculty member has to file an OPA report every year) and an explicit conflict of interest policy that is supposed to be more rigorous for senior people like directors of centers and labs.  Did he report his business activities, including soliciting investments? Did any of his actions violate MIT’s COI policy? Were such violations included in whatever disclosures he did make? If so, how did they slip by? If not, what needs to happen, if anything, to prevent such COI?

We may get some answers.  After earlier announcing that the investigation into Ito’s relationship with Epstein would be internal, and intended to discover lessons for the future, the Institute’s president, Rafael Reif sent out an all-comers email that reads in part:

Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible…

That’s good; I hope the investigators get as broad a brief as they need. It’s important to establish who knew and did what when, both inside the Media Lab and in the reporting chain within central administration. And when I say “important,” I don’t mean just in a retributive justice sense.

MIT has come a long way in the last fifty years, and the last twenty, to transform itself from an almost all-male institution to one in which women can flourish.  For the last several years, roughly half of MIT’s incoming undergraduate classes have been women.  Since 2000, MIT has put into place several affirmative policies to improve recruitment, retention and the opportunities open to women faculty.  And every year we welcome another five or six hundred female teenagers to campus.

The willing, eager association with a convicted sexual predator and the willingness of senior and very  high profile MIT figures to trade reputation-gilding for cash says something loud and clear to those newest young women at MIT, and to everyone else here as well.  That’s the message that has to be unwritten — more, it needs to be condemned by word and action.

Last…this has been something of an inside baseball kind of post, but as Anand Giridharadas (@anandwrites) has been aruing, it’s a crash course in the reality of a supra-national rich boys club that owes allegiance to no nation or institution.  Epstein was protected and rewarded by his ability to associate with high profile people and organizations — a protection purchased with cold cash, not any contribution of ideas or intellect.  He was a sexual criminal, so it’s easy to see how this charmed circle dynamic is malign.

But the same dynamic protects bad ideas, distortion of work, the exercise of unmerited power in all kinds of domains, as very rich individuals choose what they want to pay for (and what the polities they control or overwhelmingly influence should pursue). And, as Giridharadas has emphasized over and over again (and not just him, of course) those .01 percenters are loyal to the Republic of Wealth, and not the United States, or MIT or whatever.

It’s easy (as well as obviously right) to condemn Epstein and those he suborned.  But he’s far from the only problem.

Open thread.

Ding Dong (Open Thread)

Friends, let us savor (even though the fare is provided by Politico):

‘I’m worried’: Allies fear NRA has lost its power in Washington

The National Rifle Association’s internal turmoil is preventing the once-mighty organization from crafting a plan to blunt the latest gun control push, highlighting the group’s weakness at a crucial political moment.

The disarray at the NRA is alarming allies who say President Donald Trump and Congress appear to have a brief opening to pass legislation while the group is so politically feeble it isn’t able to aggressively lobby lawmakers against proposals or hold them accountable for their votes, according to a half-dozen Republicans familiar with the situation…

Multiple Republican Senate offices said they haven’t heard from the NRA, which touts 5 million members. The NRA has been slow to respond to the litany of scandals. And Trump has told aides the NRA is vulnerable and on the verge of being “bankrupt,” according to a Republican close to the White House.

The article says Republicans are worried that meaningful gun safety legislation will be passed in the short term. They needn’t be. Trump has already moved on to blaming mass shootings on the closure of old-timey insane asylums.

It’s perfectly on-brand for Trump to question the death merchant lobbyist’s fiscal health after they gave him $30 million in 2016, but a Venn diagram of gun nuts and Trump supporters would be damned close to a perfect circle, so he’s unlikely to cross the NRA in any significant way.

Still, it’s glorious to see the blood-gargling sociopaths at the NRA engulfed in cascading corruption scandals like common TV preachers. LaPierre seems determined to cling to power, which is great news for people who wish the organization a messy, protracted demise.

An unfavorable election cycle that sweeps NRA toadies out the door might finally wrest political power from the organization’s cold, bloody hands. It wouldn’t solve our gun nut problem, but it sure would make it harder for gun nuts to impose their will on the majority of Americans. A girl can dream, anyway.

Open thread!

Lackey Lindsey

Another day, another breach of rules in the Senate.

Donald Trump is having another rally tonight, and he needed some material, so Lindsay Graham was only to happy to provide it for him.

Ben Orlebeke (yeah, I don’t know him either, but the thread looks okay and Emptywheel went with it) live-tweeted. Here are the highlights of his thread.

I see that some folks are making hashtags with Russian cities added to Republican names, in the manner of #MoscowMitch. So there seems to be #LeningradLindsey, but that’s anachronistic and not really relevant. I prefer #LackeyLindsey.

Open thread!