Monday, July 24, 2017

The Black Community and the Trump Community

And reading such accounts leads me to a decidedly unoriginal conclusion.  We are seeing today some of the same pathology in the white rural working class community -- or, to avoid tarring with too broad a brush, what I will call the Trump community -- that we have seen in the black inner city community (and beyond it, to a degree), particularly from the late 1960's to the mid 1990's (though I will focus mostly on the tail end of it), though it began well before and continues to varying degrees today.

What pathology is that, crime and addiction?  Crime and addiction are parts of it.  And, for what it is worth, our current opiate addiction is worse than any prior addiction crisis because the drugs in question are legal and therefore much cheaper and easier to obtain.  Crime, on the other hand, is well short of rates in our black inner cities today, let alone at the height of the crack wave.  Still, the  article made some good points about rising crime rates in Grand Junction in particular and white rural communities in general. Felony killings have increased by 56% in the last three years, while overall homicide had doubled in a decade.  This is no more than should be expected in a community whose economic base it collapsing.  It also goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Trump calling America a hellscape of crime, even though overall crime rates have been falling for a quarter century. In the sort of rural communities where Trump did best, crime rates are rising.  If they are not as high there as in the black inner city -- well, overall trajectories affect people's perception more than absolute numbers.  Where crime rates are high but have been falling for a quarter century, people tend to look at the improvement and not panic.  Where crime rates are rising, alarm is reasonable.  If rates still fall well short of inner city rates, people may nonetheless look at inner city pathology as something to dread as a possible future.

But what I really mean here are other pathologies have troubled the black community -- celebration of indulgence of people's worst instincts as "authenticity;" estrangement against outsiders, who are seen enemies, with a tendency toward paranoia and conspiracy theories; and a tendency to rally behind any leader who comes under attack, no matter how deservedly so, because he is one of our own.  Certainly there was a time not so long ago when these were bases of serious complaint about the black community.  Besides high levels of addiction, crime, and single motherhood, rap artists  produced songs that were pure collections of profanity, misogyny, and violence.  Many people excused these works as "authentic" expressions of the real inner city experience.  A certain vile nihilism broke out, a gangster chic, that celebrated crime and misogyny and and pure indulgence of one's worst impulses and authenticity and mocked and sort of self-restraint as trying to be white and people who exercised it as "oreos." This viewpoint was profoundly anti-intellectual, seeing no point in education other that to find evidence of how oppressed black people were and castigating any love of learning and knowledge as "trying to be white."  It frequently retreated into paranoia, blaming the CIA for smuggling drugs into the inner cities, or claiming that the AIDS virus was genetically engineered in government labs to kill black people.  And whenever any black person of prominence was accused of a crime or misconduct -- Marion Barry (Mayor of Washington DC) of smoking cocaine, Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment of Anita Hill, O.J. Simpson of killing his wife and so forth -- black people were quick to rally to defend their own, no matter how obvious the evidence of guilt.  This applied even if the accused, like Thomas or Simpson, was widely seen as a sell-out or race traitor.

And doesn't the Trump community show some fairly obvious equivalent behaviors these days? Celebrating obnoxiousness (and worse) as "authenticity," praising ignorance as virtue, seeing knowledge and expertise as a "swamp" to be drained, measuring every action by the sole metric of how much it offends liberals and rallying to Trump no matter how outrageous his behavior just because the elite coastal media attacks him for it.  Not to mention the extraordinary churning of conspiracy theories, and that the fever swamps have actually found a politician they consider to be their own.

The Trump community has been primed for the past generation to distrust all mainstream sources and not believe anything unless it comes from an accepted right wing outlet. Trump is simply taking it a step further by denouncing any report he doesn't like as "Fake News."  His followers eat it up.  And there you have it.  As with the black community before, so with the Trump community today, no one on the outside is going to change minds.  And here is where I see a disturbing difference.

The black community, even in the darkest days of the crack epidemic, never lost its capacity for self-criticism.  Self-criticism was a veritable cottage industry in the black community of the time.  Exhorting one’s audiences to do better, to stay off drugs, to refrain from crime, to take responsibility for their children and so forth was a ritual virtually required of any black leader speaking to a black audience.  The "growing up in the 'hood" movie became almost a genre of its own, all by black directors, all urging their audience to stop dealing drugs and killing each other.  The comic strip Boondocks thoroughly mocked Riley, the younger brother who modeled himself on a gangster rapper. While Huey, the black militant hero of the strip had the author's sympathies, he came in for his share of ridicule as well and had to acknowledge many cultural identifiers (Kwanzaa, anyone?) were silly.

Well, one may say, that was the leadership.  What about ordinary folks?  But a leader necessarily requires followers.  If a would-be leader speaks out and attempts to lead but no one listens or follows, then by definition that person is not a leader.  Louis Farrakhan, the absolute embodiment of a white-hating black supremacist, called for a Million Man March that was all about personal responsibility and individual improvement.  He didn’t get a million, but the crowd was certainly in the high six figures – and might have been twice as large if women had been invited.  And it was all about self-criticism and personal responsibility.  Indeed, someone commented that self-criticism and exhortations to self-improvement were so common among black leaders and so regularly got a positive reception that only one conclusion was possible.  Black people obviously liked being lectured about better conduct, so long as the speaker was black. 

I don't see anything like that in the Trump community -- no warnings not live up to people's worst stereotypes, no looking inward at real problems with crime and drugs, no sense that anything goes so long as it pisses off the liberals is a warped viewpoint.   Imagine the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter or Steve Bannon criticizing their followers and urging them not to give in so readily to their worst impulses.  Seriously, imagine it!  And now try to imagine how their followers would react.  I think it safe to say it would not be a boon for ratings!

And do keep in mind that the black community's capacity for self-criticism has ultimately paid off.  No one is suggesting that all is well, but things really are better.  Crime rates in our inner cities have been falling for a quarter century.  Burned out ruins of core cities have revived.  In 1977, a blackout in New York City was met with a looting spree, and many people went so far as to defend the looters. No equivalent outbreak occurred with the blackout in 2003.  And during Hurricane Katrina, there was wide consensus across the racial and ideological spectrum that taking food, clean water, medicine and sanitary supplies was reasonable under the circumstances, stealing valuables was to be condemned. Mindless violence no longer seems cool, and even rap has toned it down.  If there has been any great rush to defend Bill Cosby I, for one, have not noticed it.  And Black Lives Matter, for all its violent fringe, is not a movement of pure, nihilistic anger and resentment, but an expression of clear and specific grievances about real and specific abuses.  Even when it broke out into riots, these riots have been -- so far -- short lived, scattered, and on a much smaller scale than the 1960's riots or the Rodney King riots.  (Let's keep it that way!)

And again, I can imagine the Trump community responding with fury.  They are nothing like the black community in the time of the crack epidemic and to even make such a suggestion is an outrage. But, again, the trajectory can be as important as the absolute condition.  Let pathology fester, praise it as "authenticity," reject any self-criticism, any unwelcome facts, and base all your values on opposition to the liberals, and things can get a whole lot worse before they get any better.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Trump's Appeal to Worst Instincts

This article, on Trump's appeal in rural America, specifically Grand Junction, Colorado is both disturbing and confirms some old impressions.

First of all, the author makes the point that Trump supporters are not always who you would expect. They include a woman who broke with the Religious Right because of their bigotry, a special ed teacher, a performance artist with a degree from Columbia University, and a Hispanic woman. Living in a town that was about 14% Hispanic (citizens and legal residents), with a sizable illegal population as well, they had no prejudice toward Hispanic neighbors and did not blame illegal immigrants for crime.  And while their community is in decline they can hardly blame Obama or the liberals since the decline began in 1982 (Reagan years!) when Exxon decided to abandon its oil shale mining operations.

They are fine, decent upstanding people.  But Trump is encouraging their worst impulses and offering scapegoats to target.  The scapegoats are not ethnic minorities (Grand Junction residents would be outraged at such a suggestion), but liberals, coastal (and Front Range) elitists, media, and the "swamp," roughly meaning all government.  When Trump held a rally, most issue -- e-mails, Benghazi, even the "swamp" -- drew no strong reaction, but cursing the "media" whipped the crowd up into a frenzy against the reporters covering the event, had them baying for blood.  One member even tried to climb over the barrier that separated journalists from the crowd.  When a local reporter described the rally on Facebook, the reaction was so vicious that she feared for her safety and took it down.  When Trump claimed the election was rigged, the County Clerk (a local resident, and a Republican, elected by her fellow citizens) got regular calls accusing her of destroying ballots and trying to rig the election.  Local Republican politicians discovered that they could defuse any criticism in the local newspaper simply by calling it "very liberal" and "fake news."  And a general move is underway to "drain the swamp" by defunding their local government.
Before Trump took office, people I met in Grand Junction emphasized pragmatic reasons for supporting him. The economy was in trouble, and Trump was a businessman who knew how to make rational, profit-oriented decisions. Supporters almost always complained about some aspect of his character, but they also believed that these flaws were likely to help him succeed in Washington. “I’m not voting for him to be my pastor,” Kathy Rehberg, a local real-estate agent, said. “I’m voting for him to be President. If I have rats in my basement, I’m going to try to find the best rat killer out there. I don’t care if he’s ugly or if he’s sociable. All I care about is if he kills rats.” 
After the turbulent first two months of the Administration, I met again with Kathy Rehberg and her husband, Ron. They were satisfied with Trump’s performance, and their complaints about his behavior were mild. “I think some of it is funny, how he doesn’t let people push him around,” Ron Rehberg said. Over time, such remarks became more common. “I hate to say it, but I wake up in the morning looking forward to what else is coming,” Ray Scott, a Republican state senator who had campaigned for Trump, told me in June. One lawyer said bluntly, “I get a kick in the ass out of him.” The calculus seemed to have shifted: Trump’s negative qualities, which once had been described as a means to an end, now had value of their own. The point wasn’t necessarily to get things done; it was to retaliate against the media and other enemies. This had always seemed fundamental to Trump’s appeal, but people had been less likely to express it so starkly before he entered office.
It seems a safe assumption that that it was not by accident that supporter being interviewed talked about someone killing rats rather than, say, fixing her roof or car.

The author also commented on local reaction to the "pussy" tape.  Yes, it was abhorrent, but that was less important than that coastal elites were attacking their leader for it so they had to defend him.  In other words, the content of Trump's actions are irrelevant, so long as he has the right enemies.

Anderson Cooper accused one Trump supporter of being willing to defend Trump if he took a dump on his desk.  Well, of course he would.  Trump supporters elected him to be obnoxious and offensive. What could be more obnoxious and offensive than taking a dump on his desk?  Trump supporters would soon decide that this was a mark of "authenticity" while toilet training was "elitist."  And it perfectly encapsulated exactly what they think about Washington, so of course they would applaud. Presumably their reaction would be rather different if Trump did it in their living rooms!  But Trump is a smart enough politician that he would never do such a thing, nor could his followers ever imagine it.

Cooper really should have gone with what Trump said himself -- that he could stand out in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes.  And yes, it seems fair to say that if Trump shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, his supporters would dismiss it as fake news, applaud him for perfectly expressing what they think of coastal elitists, explain that murder is much more "authentic" than self-control, and/or rally behind their leader regardless of the merits of his actions because he was under attack by the elite coastal media and because his actions really pissed off the liberals.  Possibly all at once.  They would probably not react that way if Trump had shot someone in the middle of Main Street in Small Town, Iowa because that would be one of their own. But then again, Trump is a canny enough politician that he would never think of doing such a thing.

But maybe his followers should consider.  What does it say about Trump that his short hand for "in the most public and undeniable manner possible" is "in the middle of Fifth Avenue" instead of "in the middle of Main Street"?

Donald Trump's Flying Circus is Really a Russian Pee Pee Party

First of all, just to be clear, I have no idea whether the pee pee tape actually exists.  I have no idea whether Trump’s strong pro-Russian bent is the result of blackmail or something else.  But I am confident that if Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians, it must be over something a whole lot more serious than a piddling little pee pee tape.

That being said, Trump’s alleged Russian pee pee party is actually quite a good metaphor for his (and his followers’) approach to the Presidency.  The Steele memos claim that Trump hired a bunch of Russian prostitutes in the Moscow Ritz Carlton to whizz all over the bed Obama had slept in to show his contempt for the then-President.  This led to an obvious question – where did Trump sleep afterward?  Someone (no idea where to find link) got the schematics of the Moscow Ritz Carlton and determined that the room in question was actually a suite.  After the prostitutes had ruined Obama’s bed and gone home, Trump had another room where he could sleep.

Well, now Donald Trump is President and he (and, to a considerable extent, his followers) are treating the occasion as a giant pee pee party – a chance to whizz all over Obama’s achievements and ruin them.  In this they are running into an awkward fact --- in the real world, there is no other room that they can withdraw to when the party is over.  If they want to whizz all over Obama’s policy bed, they will have to sleep in it afterward. 

Healthcare is the most obvious example.   Trump is absolutely determined to repeal Obamacare, come hell or high water.  What is to replace it?  Trump doesn’t know and there is no evidence whatever that he cares.   All he knows is that it is an Obama policy achievement he is determined to whizz on.  If he can’t repeal Obamacare, he can at least sabotage the exchanges and crash them and thereby ruin Obama’s achievement.   What comes after concerns him less than knowing that he destroyed what Obama built.  Ordinary Americans, including many Obamacare opponents, and even many Republican members of Congress, are starting to have misgivings about whizzing all over the health insurance system and then having to continue to use it.  Confronted with the reality that some 20 to 30 million people could lose their health insurance (depending on whether Congress goes with repeal and replace or just repeal), a lot of people are starting to wonder whether that is worth doing just to spite Obama.

Less immediate to most Americans but no less serious is the Iran accord which seriously restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.  Trump has called that the worst deal ever made and is determined to destroy it.   In this, it should be added, Trump is doing no more than follow in the footsteps of our last Republican President, George W. Bush.  Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, reached an agreement with North Korea whereby they would seal their plutonium reactor and admit international inspectors to their plutonium reprocessing plant in exchange for a wide range of energy assistance.  This arrangement was deeply offensive to hardline hawks because it amounted to paying protection money to an extortionist thug, but it did keep North Korea’s plutonium locked up and kept them from turning it into a nuclear bomb.  It did not prevent them from attempting to circumvent the deal by building a uranium centrifuge to build a uranium bomb. 

At this point it was somewhat understandable the Bush might be reluctant to repeat the whole business his predecessor had gone through – reach an agreement that gave the North Koreans further bribes for shutting down their next attempt.  It would have the unfortunate result of teaching North Koreans that attempts to build nuclear weapons would be rewarded.  On the other hand, there was a dearth of good options available.   Bill Clinton persuaded the North Koreans to deal on the nuclear reactor because he really was willing to go to war over it, or at least to bomb the plutonium reprocessing plant.  Bush, bent on starting a war in Iraq, did not want to be distracted by a war in North Korea.  And he was ideologically opposed to any diplomatic engagement because, as Vice President Dick Cheney said, “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.”

So instead Bush withdrew from the non-proliferation agreement with North Korea.  He made clear that he wasn’t interested in talking and nothing would change his mind.  When the North Koreans announced their withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he refused to negotiate.  When they kicked out the UN inspectors, he refused to negotiate.  When they very publicly unsealed the plutonium reactor, he refused to negotiate.  And when they detonated an actual nuclear weapon – well, by then it was too late.  I could not say what the Bush Administration was thinking.  Maybe they thought refusal to negotiate would bring down the North Korean regime.   Maybe they thought invading Iraq would give the North Korean government pause.  Maybe they thought taking an unyielding stance was more important than whether North Korea actually got nukes or not.  Or maybe they just wanted to whizz all over whatever Bill Clinton had done.   But be that as it may, the North Koreans now have nuclear and weapons and missiles that can hit us, not exactly a great outcome.  

Trump seems incapable of considering whether something similar might happen if he scuttles the Iranian accord, or else he thinks a nuclear Iran is a small price to pay for whizzing all over Obama’s achievement.

Least apparent, but potential most catastrophic, are attempts by Republicans in general and Trump in particular, to wreck and attempt to fight global warming.   Cooking the planet is a small price to pay for wrecking Obama’s legacy.

When I am in one of my more cynical moods, I wonder if Republicans intend all these things.  By making clear to Democrats that they will go to any lengths to root out any Democratic policy initiative, no matter how great the damage to the larger society, they may be issuing a clear warning to Democrats next time they may hold the triple crown – don’t try to accomplish anything or we will destroy it, no matter how long it takes, or how much collateral damage it causes.

Donald Trump is rich, powerful, and 70 years old.  All that ultimately means he can afford another room in the suite, so to speak, after defiling the Obama bed.   If he wrecks the health insurance individual market and throws millions off Medicaid, he can still afford the best of care himself.  If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, he can drown out the development in a myriad tweets.  And if the planet cooks, he probably won’t live to see it.   He appears to consider all these things as well worth it, just to extend a big middle finger to the liberals.

The question is whether his supporters will ultimately agree.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Other Random Thoughts

A few more general thoughts on recent events.

Look, I have had mixed feelings about the whole Trump versus the intelligence community conflict.  On the one hand, I do believe that the "Deep State" should be subordinate to elective government and that applauding the intelligence community's efforts to undermine a duly elected President was troubling at best.  On the other hand, the President in question is Donald Trump.  But any misgivings I had vanished after the meeting with Vladimir Putin when Trump tweeted, "Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.."  This led to jokes that the fox and the rooster were putting together a joint security unit to guard the hen house.  He might as well tweet that he planned to commit treason.  When you suspect the President of having dubious loyalties and he then goes so far as to publicly proclaim that your are right, I wholeheartedly applaud the intelligence community's efforts to keep as much classified information as possible out of the hands of this man.

And speaking of Trump, I am at an utter loss as to why anyone would expect him to have any problems with Russian interference in our election.  The interference was to his benefit, after all. Why should he complain?  As to concerns about the next election, there is one simple way to get him to care.  Convince him that such interference will benefit the Democrats next time.

And assuming the Russians do interfere in the 2018 elections, who should I expect them to favor?  There is at least an argument for them favoring the Dems.  It would, after all, lead to chaos and conflict in our government, paralyze action, and keep us fighting among ourselves.  However, I am inclined to think they would favor the Republicans for a simple reason.  The Republicans thus far have been obstructing (or at least attempting to obstruct) any investigation into Trump collusion. Democrats, if they take command of either house of Congress, can be counted upon to investigate the issue in exhaustive detail, crawling up every orifice of the parties that they can find.  I would expect the Russians to back Republicans to prevent such an outcome.

And speaking of Republicans, I really don't understand what they think they can accomplish by passing their healthcare bill without a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score.  They want to conceal how many people will lose their health insurance and how many will see the price of a policy that actually covers anything spiral out of reach.  I get that.  But how exactly do they plan to conceal the results.  If the Senate passes a bill, who can doubt that the House will pass it unchanged and Trump will sign it and the Republicans will hold a party and throw confetti and proudly proclaim that the hated Obamacare is gone.  Then the next year (with a Congressional election coming up) people will suddenly seek their premiums spike and their subsidies diminish.  Trump voters will be disproportionately affected.  How do Republicans propose to conceal that?  And they can hardly blame the Democrats, since they passed a bill with such fanfare.

Then the year after that policies will either be cheap and worthless, or good and out of reach.  And the year after that, with the Presidential election coming up, Medicaid will start to shrink, people will be kicked off insurance, and states will experience fiscal crises.  How to they propose to conceal that?

The only conclusion I can reach is that they hope to wreck the whole system so badly that the Democrats can't possibly fix it.  Then they will reap the two-fold benefits of rolling back the welfare state and blaming Democrats for not fixing the mess they made.

The Meeting and Lawfare's Seven Theories

The meeting has led to reviews of this article offering seven theories of what might have happened way back on May 1, ancient history by now, and comments that the most innocent theories are no longer viable.

Theory 1, Coincidence:  Trump was pro-Russia and a number of pro-Russian operatives of various degrees of sleaziness worked for him, but their shady dealings were all totally unrelated.  Certainly there was no actual Russian influence on the Trump campaign.  This seemed far-fetched at the time, and given that we know know the Russian government had intermediaries approach the Trump campaign and make clear that the Russian government was pulling for Trump, I think we can safely rule it out.

Theory 2, Birds of a Feather:  Trump's pro-Russia views made him unacceptable to any establishment conservatives, so a bunch of shady pro-Russian operators flocked to him instead.  Trump, desperate for any team he could assemble, didn't ask too many questions about their backgrounds.  The Russian government, presumably because of all these pro-Russia players, was running interference for Trump, but the Trump campaign had nothing to do with it.  I believed this once.  Given that actual Russian agents approached Trump's very inner circle and let them know of Russia's support sort of rules this one out.

Theory 3, It Wasn't About Trump:  The goal was purely to hurt Hillary; any benefit to Trump was purely incidental and certainly not because of any pro-Russian operatives in his campaign.  Again, ruled out by Russian intermediaries telling his very inner circle that Russia was pulling for him.

Theory 4, OK, There Was Russian Infiltration, but Trump Didn't Know:  This view would see Manafort and/or Page and/or Flynn and/or Stone as Russian agents carrying on nefarious activities without the boss knowing.  OK, I have to concede that the presence of active Russian agents in Trump's camp remains speculative.  But we do know that now that Junior, Jared and Manafort all knew that Russia was aiding them.  Maybe Junior and Jared were so naive as to think the Russians were doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, but Manafort must have known they would want something in return.  And the only way for Dad not to have known what his own son, son-in-law, and campaign manager were doing was a deliberate effort to shield him from what was going on to allow plausible deniability.  Even this theory is starting to look too innocent to meet the facts.

Theory 5, Trump Knew or Should Have Known:  Trump was willfully blind to so many people's extremely sleazy ties to Russia.  Well, duh!  And, again, willful blindness is the most innocent thing to suppose about the meeting.

Theory 6, Kompromat: The Russians have something on Trump to force him to do their bidding.  Whether the Russians had anything at the outset of the campaign is a matter of pure speculation.  But they sure as hell do now.  Over time the collusion itself becomes the kompromat.  If this didn't happen at the June 9 meeting, it seems safe to assume that it happened shortly after.  Of course, that begs the question of why the Russian government wanted Trump to win in the first place.

Theory 7, Trump is a Russian Agent:  This is so mind-boggling that the authors refuse to take it seriously.  Yes, it is consistent with the facts.  It seem inconsistent with Trump's character.  He is a total loose canon who couldn't keep his mouth shut if you sutured it, and he doesn't want anyone to tell him what to do.  Doesn't seem like the sort of person anyone would want as an agent.  But I suppose you have to take the agents you have, not the agents you wish you had.

At the time, the authors commented that theories 1 and 7 seemed implausible, so they believed the plausible answers were 2-6.  It seems to me that by now 1-3 can be ruled out and 4 is giving Trump way more benefit of the doubt than he deserves.  That leave 5 as the most plausible theory, 6 as the second most plausible, and 7 as -- well, I am still willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt to that extent.  But not one inch more.

(PS: New label now, "Trump and Russia")

Reasons to Suspect "Systemic" and "Sustained" Collusion

OK, so we have met about half of Kellyann Conway's demand for "hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion."  We have hard evidence now of furtive collusion, but any evidence that collusion was systemic or sustained is purely circumstantial and speculative.

All participants in the meeting with the Russians have either declined to discuss it, or said that not much happened. Donald, Jr. said that the Russians promised incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, had nothing of value to offer, and just wanted to discuss lifting the Magnitinsky Act, an early sanctions act specifically targeting Russian oligarchs.  Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist who also attended the meeting, said that Russian government lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya presented documents that she said showed illegal contributions to the Democratic National Committee, but did not have sufficient evidence to support the allegations, and that nothing came of the meeting.  So why suspect that the meeting was the prelude to "systematic, sustained collusion"?

Well, for one thing, after extending the benefit of the doubt to the Trump campaign on the Russians, I have been burned often enough to refuse to do so any longer.  For another, things just don't smell right.

An experienced counter-intelligence investigator says that this sounds very much like a preliminary overture from Russian intelligence.  An offer of this type cannot generally be made without approval from the highest levels.  It would have been decidedly abnormal to offer anything of much value at so early a stage, by an intermediary who does not work directly for Russian intelligence, and on hostile soil (and, the author did not add but may be taken to imply, to such amateurs and Junior and Jared). What was important, from the Russian perspective, was that the Trump campaign did not indignantly refuse such a meeting and did not alert the authorities, but seemed open to collusion.

One highly suspicious circumstance, as many have noted, is that Junior and Goldstone arranged on June 7, 2016 for the meeting to take place on June 9.  Hour later, Trump Senior announced that, "[W]e’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting."  Monday was June 13, i.e., after the scheduled meeting.  The timing strongly suggests that Trump knew about the meeting scheduled and expected to get something juicy from it.

Other interpretations are possible, I suppose.  Maybe the threesome decided not to tell Dad about the meeting, but just that they anticipated some sort of big scoop.  If so, that would strongly suggest they were deliberately compartmentalizing and making information available on a "need to know" basis, something that would suggest they knew something sinister was afoot.  But then again, Junior and Jared were rank amateurs; only Manafort was likely to recognize just how explosive this was and what had to be done.  Or maybe Trump did not anticipate a major scoop and was just indulging his general tendency toward hyperbole.  In any event, he never did disclose any particularly scandalous information about Hillary.  This would seem to corroborate the participants' account that no useful information exchanged hands at the meeting.

Also significant:  The Russian hack of the DNC headquarters was not public knowledge at the time of the meeting.  There is no reason to believe that the Trump team so much as suspected it.  What was  public knowledge was that Hillary had sent State Department e-mails on a private server that was vulnerable to hacking and that she had deleted over 30,000 of them prior to the investigation.  Team Trump and a lot of other Republicans seem to have concluded that if Hillary's server was vulnerable to hacking and that she had deleted over 30,000 e-mails, then the Russians must have hacked her server and had her e-mails, which they were confident contained something terribly incriminating.  We have accounts of mid-level operative Peter Smith and some low-level operative in Florida attempting to get the missing e-mails from Russia, and of Trump publicly calling on Russia to disclose them.

In fact, the initial e-mail came in on June 3, the very day after Trump had specifically raised the issue of Hillary's missing e-mails and commented that e-mails cannot be erased.  It seems probably, then, that Junior and the others were expecting to receive the missing e-mails containing something highly incriminating and were bitterly disappointed when no such information was forthcoming.  It seems a safe assumption that the Russians did not hack Hillary's server and were therefore not able to deliver what the Trump campaign wanted most.

But what about the then-secret Russian hack of the DNC headquarters.  That became public knowledge on June 14, 2016, a mere five days after the meeting in an article that made clear that the Russians were the prime suspects. The first documents from the hack were published and  forwarded to Gawker the very next day.  Three days later, information on Democratic donors was posted.  Wikileaks started publishing DNC documents at the time of the Democratic convention in July, carefully timed to do maximum harm.  

So, we know that the Russians informed Team Trump that they were assisting the campaign and held a meeting about damaging information on Hillary.  We also know that members of Team Trump were eager to get the 30,000 e-mails deleted from Hillary's server and tried unsuccessfully to obtain them from the Russians.  We know that the Russians really did hack the DNC server and released the contents in a manner carefully calculated to do maximum harm to the Democrats.  And we know that Trump continued to deny that the Russian hacked the DNC in the face of all evidence that they had, and in spite of his eagerness to work with them, and believe that they had Hillary's missing e-mails. We also know that Trump and his team regularly quoted Russian sources. These were publicly available and did not require any inside track, but Team Trump seemed to follow them remarkably closely and quote them almost as soon as they came out.

None of this proves that the Russians ever informed Team Trump that they had hacked the DNC server or solicited information from them about how most effectively to deploy the information.  But given Team Trump's willingness to accept help, including hacked materials, from the Russians, it looks suspicious.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hard Evidence of "Furtive" Collusion, But Not Yet "Systemic" or "Sustained"

OK, it's time for me to drop "But her emails" jokes.  We are well past that now.  We now have rock-solid proof of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians in the form of (the delicious irony!) e-mails between Donald Trump, Jr. and a go-between with the Russian government.  I don't really have much to add to the topic because other people have said it all, but let me give it a shot anyhow.

Kellyann Conway has now gone on record demanding "hard evidence of systemic, sustained furtive collusion."  I'd say we are about halfway there.  The e-mail exchange rates as pretty hard evidence.  It shows Junior received a message from Rob Goldstone, a show biz publicist whose clients include Emin Agalarov, a popular Russian singer who does not appear to be of any importance himself, but is the son of a prominent Russian oligarch.  Goldstone wrote:
Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. 
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin. 
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
"Crown prosecutor" is a British office not used in Russia.  The Russian term is apparently Prosecutor General and the American equivalent is the Attorney General.  In other words, this is a very high-ranking official in the Russian government -- and apparently he really is friends with the Agalarovs. But more to the point, Goldstone was nonchalantly speaking of "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," something he apparently expected Junior to know about.  He was also offering "very high level and sensitive information."  Junior's response was, "I love it."  From then on their e-mail exchanges bore the re line "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential."  The two clowns then attempted to set up a telephone conversation with Emin, but Emin apparently considered the matter too sensitive to discuss by phone and instead arranged a meeting with "The Russian government attorney."  Junior said that his brother-in-law (Jared Kushner) and campaign manager Paul Manafort would also attend.

So, we have an e-mail exchange in which Junior's awareness of Russian support for his father was taken for granted, and in which he showed himself eager to accept information from the Russian government.  We also have him introducing Trump's son-in-law and campaign manager to the information.  And we have it from the most unimpeachable source possible -- Junior himself.  In fact, a seasoned security expert has commented that if he had seen so damning an exchange from anyone else, he would have dismissed it as a forgery.  We also have confirmation from the participants that such a meeting did take place, even though the disagree about what happened.  I have also seen speculation that the Russians may have deliberately directed Goldstone to make such incriminating comments for purposes of possible future blackmail.  Presumably the possibility of Junior deliberately tweeting out the exchange on Twitter was not something the Russians had taken into account.

That looks like pretty hard evidence of collusion to me.  Also, given that all parties have kept this meeting secret until now, that Jared Kushner twice failed to disclose the meeting on his security form and that (by some rumors) even the FBI, CIA and NSA did not know about the meeting until it came out in the New York Times, I would say the meeting was pretty furtive.*

I will admit we are not to "systemic" or "sustained," at least not yet.  But circumstances are suspicious and after dismissing any thought of collusion as a far-fetched hypothetical and even "tinfoil hat territory," I am not willing to extend any further benefit of the doubt to Trump and company.

*It also seems a reasonable assumption that the Russian actors knew that they were probable targets for NSA surveillance and for that reason did not directly communicate with Junior either by phone or e-mail, instead using as their intermediary a British show biz publicist, who was most unlikely to be any sort of a target.