Trump’s First Year Was Terrible, But Things Could Have Been Worse

It is fitting that Donald Trump, who claimed that “I alone can fix it,” couldn’t make it through his entire first year without breaking the government. Donald Trump has been among the worst presidents ever. However, while the past year under Trump might have been the worst of times, it was not the worst of all possible times. Trump’s first year has been terrible, but we must also be appreciative all those spared from dying in Hillary’s wars over the past year.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have been terrible on many issues, including health care, race, and immigration. As I had previously predicted, Trump has been totally incoherent on foreign policy. He has escalated a potential nuclear crisis in North Korea, but we also must not forget that Hillary Clinton was largely responsible for the situation and peace would have probably have been impossible if she was in the White House. Clinton’s push to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi based upon lies after he surrendered his nuclear weapons, along with her joining with her neocon allies in lying us into the  Iraq war, have been cited by both Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin as reasons for their nuclear buildup and other foreign policy actions.

Donald Trump’s relations with Russia have been mixed, and evidence has grown of both a history of financial crimes and an attempt at a cover-up over the past year. At least Trump’s financial crimes are under investigation, while Democrats regularly make excuses for the influence peddling of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The irony is that, after the risk of deterioration of relations with Russia and a return to a Cold War atmosphere was feared by many should Clinton become president, Clinton has managed to create hysteria over Russia without even being elected. While Trump is probably guilty of money laundering and a obstruction of justice, the evidence to date has contradicted conspiracy theories which appear to have been fabricated Clinton and the DNC to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia. With Clinton continuing to promote belligerence towards Russia even out of office, using conspiracy theories to get Democrats to embrace her neoconservative interventionism, it is of considerable concern as to how much greater harm Clinton could be doing in the White House.

Donald Trump has been terrible for civil liberties as president, including his attacks on the press. It must not be forgotten that even before the election Clinton had far right wing views on civil liberties which were not all that different from Trump’s.  Donald Trump has ignored the norms of a democratic society, but since the election Clinton has also continued her attack on civil liberties and has attacked the fundamental principles of democracy, including the legitimacy of election results. Both Clinton and Trump have cited fake news, which often means information critical of them, as justification to call for censorship.

While many Republicans have little respect for civil liberties, in the past year we have seen Democrats engage in McCarthyism as part of their anti-Russia hysteria.  The Democratic Party as a whole turned out to be worthless when faced with a vote to renew and expand warrantless surveillance as many joined with Republicans. If many Democrats were unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump on a fundamental civil liberties issue, I would expect even fewer to resist calls for increased powers by an authoritarian like Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but at least his faults are widely recognized, and his falsehoods are regularly exposed. Donald Trump might have authoritarian tendencies, but if so he is a very weak authoritarian. He has brought about serious damage to the entire Republican and conservative brands, likely doing far less damage than Hillary Clinton would have been capable of.

Donald Trump On Women Working For Him, Foreign Policy, and Medicare For All

At the moment we are waiting in limbo for a couple of big stories to break. We don’t know yet if there will be a government shutdown. (If there is a shutdown, will drone attacks and NSA surveillance be halted? Unfortunately no.) One way to avert a government shutdown would be to tell Trump that McDonald’s will shut down if the government does.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets tomorrow to vote on the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission–which are very limited and do not do enough. If the DNC rejects these recommendations the Democratic Party will be demonstrating a contempt for democracy which would make Thomas Jefferson, along with FDR, roll over in their graves. It could also be said that they already demonstrated this in 2016.

While waiting for the answers, I decided to go back and quote interesting passages from Michael Wolff’s recent book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I previously noted some selections from the book here. There were further quotations regarding Wolff’s view that the Russia scandal is about money laundering, and not about collusion to affect the election 2016 election results, here. The question of Trump’s state of mind was reviewed here. Here are some additional items of interest.

It isn’t as crude as grabbing them by the pussy, but this aspect of Trump’s views is  rather demeaning to the women working for him:

While Trump was in most ways a conventional misogynist, in the workplace he was much closer to women than to men. The former he confided in, the latter he held at arm’s length. He liked and needed his office wives, and he trusted them with his most important personal issues. Women, according to Trump, were simply more loyal and trustworthy than men. Men might be more forceful and competent, but they were also more likely to have their own agendas. Women, by their nature, or Trump’s version of their nature, were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump.

Prior to the election I often compared the foreign policy views of Clinton and Trump. I noted that while Trump was not interested in neocon foreign interventionism like Clinton, his views on foreign policy were too incoherent to provide a better alternative. Wolff’s description of Trump’s foreign policy views goes along with my characterization of them as incoherent:

If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do. He was against nation building, but he believed there were few situations that he couldn’t personally make better. He had little to no experience in foreign policy, but he had no respect for the experts, either.

While Hillary Clinton campaigned against Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, there was a surprising supporter of the plan in Washington–Donald Trump:

All things considered, he probably preferred the notion of more people having health insurance than fewer people having it. He was even, when push came to shove, rather more for Obamacare than for repealing Obamacare. As well, he had made a set of rash Obama-like promises, going so far as to say that under a forthcoming Trumpcare plan (he had to be strongly discouraged from using this kind of rebranding — political wise men told him that this was one instance where he might not want to claim ownership with his name), no one would lose their health insurance, and that preexisting conditions would continue to be covered. In fact, he probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.

Of course this has no practical value, with Trump having no understanding of the details of health care legislation and no interest in really doing the work to promote a plan, allowing Congressional Republicans to push their agenda.

With The Outcry Over Trump’s Racist Comment On Shithole Countries Don’t Forget Hillary Clinton’s Role In Creating Shitholes Around The World

Donald Trump verified what we already knew about him with his comment about immigration shithole countries. He showed once again that he is racist, xenophobic, and has a shithole for a brain. Having Hillary Clinton speak out against this remark also served as a reminder of how often the United States is responsible for turning other countries into shitholes.

The long history of destruction in other countries by the United States is obviously too broad a topic for a single blog post, so for today I will just look at a couple of countries which Hillary Clinton helped turn into shitholes–Haiti (as it was mentioned by Trump), and Libya.

Current Affairs had one look at what the Clintons did to Haiti in a 2016 article. This includes suppressing the minimum wage in Haiti, as Wikileaks first revealed, with more at the Columbia Journalism Review.

When Haiti had problems recovering from a 2010 earthquake, the Clinton Foundation was happy to provide assistance, especially if “Friends of Bill” could get a piece of “the lucrative recovery effort.” ABC News reported:

In a series of candid email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials during the hours after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly gave special attention to those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

“Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC,” wrote Caitlin Klevorick, then a senior State Department official who was juggling incoming offers of assistance being funneled to the State Department by the Clinton Foundation. “Most I can probably ID but not all.”

The Washington Post notes that, “the Clintons’ image in Haiti has slipped in recent months as Haitians increasingly complain that Clinton-backed projects have often helped the country’s elite and international business investors more than they have helped poor Haitians.” Among those helped was Hillary’s brother, Tony Rodham, thanks to connections he made at a meeting of at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The Washington Post describes the Clinton Global Initiative as “an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation that critics have long alleged invites a blurring of its charitable mission with the business interests of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their corporate donors.”

The country which was probably harmed the most by Hillary Clinton was Libya. Years after she voted for the war in Iraq, turning that country into a shithole, Clinton showed that the lesson she learned was how easy it is to lie the country into further wars. Clinton turned Libya into such a shithole that CNN found that Africans are being sold into slavery. Barack Obama has called the regime change in Libya, orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, the biggest mistake of his administration, and has called it a “shit show.” Last year Huffington Post had a story about how Hillary Clinton Turned a Stable, Developed Nation Into an ISIS Safe Haven:

As a brave crusader for all women – especially for women living in countries that she desperately wants to bomb – then-Secretary Clinton argued that the United States had a moral duty to intervene in Libya, stating that she was “deeply concerned” that Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were using rape as a weapon. (She was parroting a rumor started by Al-Jazeera which claimed that Gaddafi was handing out free Viagra to his soldiers so that they could rape 24/7.)

After Libya was flattened by NATO’s “no fly zone”, Amnesty International published a report which thoroughly debunked Hillary’s passionate plea for war:

Not only have we not met any [rape] victims, but we have not even met any persons who have met victims. As for the boxes of Viagra that Gaddafi is supposed to have had distributed, they were found intact near tanks that were completely burnt out.

The boxes of pristine Viagra found next to burnt-out tanks weren’t the only things planted in Libya. According to its report, Amnesty “failed to find evidence for these human rights violations [used to justify intervention] and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.”

The icing on the illegal war cake is that before Hillary started spreading rape rumors, Libya was considered a “high human development” country by the United Nations:

In 2010, Libya ranked 53rd in the UN’s Human Development Index among 163 countries. With life expectancy at birth at 74.5 years, an 88.4% adult literacy rate and a gross enrolment ratio of 94.1%, Libya was classified as a high human development country among the Middle East and North Africa region.

Libyans once enjoyed a higher standard of living than two-thirds of the planet. Now their country is terrorist stronghold ruled by competing warlords.

And as ISIS continues to lose territory in Syria and Iraq, Libya is increasingly seen as a fertile ground for jihadists. According to The Atlantic:

American intelligence officials estimate that the group’s ranks in Libya have grown to 6,500 fighters, more than doubling since the fall. ISIS first declared its intentions to establish a presence in Libya in 2014 and has been launching attacks ever since. The group is now thought to control 150 miles of Libyan coastline.

Hillary Clinton turned a stable, developed nation into an ISIS safe haven using tactics that would have made even William Randolph Hearst a bit queasy. To whip up support for the Spanish-American War (you’re probably too young to remember it), America’s favorite yellow journalist only managed to invent tame, PG -13 fairytales about Spanish soldiers fondling young Cuban damsels. If Hearst had reported that the Spaniards were having Havana Viagra parties, we could have marched all the way to Madrid. Hopefully President Clinton will remedy this missed opportunity. Pack your bags, ISIS. Next stop: Spain.

Forget Benghazi. Clinton is culpable in a far greater crime.

Besides turning Libya into a shithole country, Clinton’s decision to overthrow Qaddafi after he got rid of his nuclear weapons has been cited as a major reason for the current nuclear standoff with North Korea. If things go bad there, the entire planet could be turned into a shithole, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to blame.

Michael Wolff Again Says It Was Money Laundering, Not Collusion Regarding 2016 Election

Michael Wolff has repeated on CNBC what he has written in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House regarding Russia–it is all about money laundering, not a conspiracy to change the 2016 election result. From CNBC:

People around President Donald Trump think that if the Russia investigation touches the president’s finances, it could take him down, the author of an explosive tell-all book told CNBC on Tuesday.

Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” said administration officials and Trump confidantes he spoke to do not think the president colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election. However, they think if special counsel Robert Mueller looks into Trump’s finances, it could be perilous for the president, Wolff claimed.

“People don’t think in the White House — don’t think that he colluded with Russia. … They do think that if the investigation goes near his finances, he’s sunk. Everybody, again, to a man,” Wolff said in a “Squawk Box” interview.

The president has repeatedly denied any cooperation with Moscow as an investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election continues. Last year, Trump told The New York Times that a Mueller probe of his finances as part of the investigation would cross a red line.

I previously posted excerpts from Fire and Fury here and here in which Wolff presented arguments that Trump was engaging in money laundering in Russia but there is no evidence of colluding with Russia regarding the 2016 election.

To repeat what I also wrote yesterday: At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

Fire And Fury Contradicts Claims From Democrats Of A Trump/Putin Conspiracy To Alter The 2016 Election

Last week I noted how pre-publication excerpts from Michael Wolff”s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, cast further doubt on claims from Hillary Clinton and many Democrats that a conspiracy between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump caused Donald Trump to beat Clinton. Excerpts showed that Wolff believes (as I have also argued, and as the evidence to date also indicates) that the relationships between Trump and Russia involved money laundering, not anything concerning the election.

I also noted excerpts from Fire and Fury which showed that Vladimir Putin had no interest in Trump, and that Trump did not want to win–contradicting the Democratic conspiracy theories that the two were working together to get Trump elected.

Now that the book is out, additional portions could also be reviewed, which similarly cast doubt on the Democrats’ conspiracy theories. Wolff noted how the Democrats were using Congressional investigations to push their argument and had this comment:

The congressional Democrats had everything to gain by insisting, Benghazi-like, that where there was smoke (even if they were desperately working the bellows) there was fire, and by using investigations as a forum to promote their minority opinion (and for members to promote themselves).

Wolff also talked about the assessment from the intelligence community regarding Russian involvement. The claims of seventeen agencies agreeing have already been retracted, and the remaining intelligence report suggesting Russian involvement provided no evidence. (Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, as also debunked these arguments recently). In the following passage, Wolff both debunked the argument based upon citing the intelligence agencies, and again noted that what Trump has to fear is not collusion regarding the election, but the other crimes he is likely guilty of:

Still, this could yet be seen as highly wishful thinking by Trump opponents. “The underlying premise of the case is that spies tell the truth,” said the veteran intelligence community journalist Edward Jay Epstein. “Who knew?” And, indeed, the worry in the White House was not about collusion—which seemed implausible if not farcical—but what, if the unraveling began, would likely lead to the messy Trump (and Kushner) business dealings. On this subject every member of the senior staff shrugged helplessly, covering eyes, ears, and mouth. This was the peculiar and haunting consensus—not that Trump was guilty of all that he was accused of, but that he was guilty of so much else. It was all too possible that the hardly plausible would lead to the totally credible.

At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

(more…)

Donald Trump’s Tweets Are Like Richard Nixon Talking To The Pictures On The White House Walls In His Final Days

Donald Trump’s tweets are increasingly looking like a modern day version of Richard Nixon talking to the pictures on the wall at the White House in his final days in office. While hardly the only major revelations from the publication of Fire and Fury, the book has increased public questions of Donald Trump’s state of mind. His sanity had already been in question, with psychiatrists openly questioning it. Some of the descriptions of Trump in Wolff’s book are also consistent with questions which I and many others have had as to his mental status. Trump’s tweets only serve to give further reason to question his cognitive abilities.

Wolff’s statements questioning Trump’s cognitive abilities include increasingly repeating himself, often a sign of deteriorating short term memory and dementia:

“Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his [Trump’s] repetitions,” Wolff wrote.

“It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories – now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions – he just couldn’t stop saying something.”

Wolff has also described how the White House staff sees him as a “child” who needs “immediate gratification.”

This morning Trump tweeted that “my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” I  could just imagine interviewing someone for a job opening–an opening far less significant than President of the United States. If someone came in saying their two greatest assets were being mentally stable and really smart, that very well would end their chances of being hired. Trump took it further in a subsequent tweet, saying he is “not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

This has increased interest in the 25th Amendment, which provides a mechanism for removing a president based upon mental incapacity, especially in light of his recent tweet bragging about the size of his nuclear button. As I have not examined Donald Trump, I certainly cannot make a definite diagnosis of dementia, but in the nuclear age it is clear that some mechanism needs to be in place to have a president examined when he shows such alarming signs of dementia and mental instability.

Wolff has said that the revelations in his book will bring down the president:

Michael Wolff told BBC radio that his conclusion in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”– that Trump is not fit to do the job — was becoming a widespread view.

“I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

“The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said.

These revelations might bring down Trump, if the current investigation by Robert Mueller and Congress do not do that first. Trump also responded to the Russia investigations on twitter: “Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence…..”

This sounds a lot like Richard Nixon’s defense that he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, while ignoring all the crimes he was shown to be guilty of. From the evidence released so far, he very well could be telling the truth about not colluding with Russia to alter the election, but that ignores the facts that he (or least his son and son-in-law) were both eager to attempt this, as well as the evidence of financial crimes such as money laundering and evidence of  obstruction of justice. The claim that Russia altered the election result increasingly looks like a fabrication by Democrats, with no evidence to support this, but this does not mean that the questions of his mental stability are not true. The claim that Trump had no ties with Russia (such as money laundering) is a lie spread by Trump and his remaining allies, making his denials of collusion alone only sound Nixonian.

FBI Launches New Investigation Into Clinton Foundation

The Hill reports that the FBI has opened an investigation into pay-to-play practices of Hillary Clinton while Secretary of State, as well as the classified email on her private server:

The Justice Department has launched a new inquiry into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in any pay-to-play politics or other illegal activities while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, law enforcement officials and a witness tells The Hill.

FBI agents from Little Rock, Ark., where the Foundation was started, have taken the lead in the investigation and have interviewed at least one witness in the last month, and law enforcement officials said additional activities are expected in coming weeks.

The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the probe is examining whether the Clintons promised or performed any policy favors in return for largesse to their charitable efforts or whether donors made commitments of donations in hopes of securing government outcomes.

The probe may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use and whether the Foundation complied with applicable tax laws, the officials said.

One witness recently interviewed by the FBI described the session to The Hill as “extremely professional and unquestionably thorough” and focused on questions about whether donors to Clinton charitable efforts received any favorable treatment from the Obama administration on a policy decision previously highlighted in media reports…

The Wall Street Journal reported late last year that several FBI field offices, including the one in Little Rock, had been collecting information on the Clinton Foundation for more than a year. The report also said there had been pushback to the FBI from the Justice Department.

A renewed law enforcement focus follows a promise to Congress late last year from top Trump Justice Department officials that law enforcement would revisit some of the investigations and legal issues closed during the Obama years that conservatives felt were given short shrift. It also follows months of relentless criticism on Twitter from President Trump, who has repeatedly questioned why no criminal charges were ever filed against the “crooked” Clintons and their fund-raising machine.

For years, news media from the New York Times to The Daily Caller have reported countless stories on donations to the Clinton Foundation or speech fees that closely fell around the time of favorable decisions by Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Conservative author Peter Schweizer chronicled the most famous of episodes in a book called Clinton Cash that gave ammunition to conservatives, including Trump, to beat the drum for renewed investigation…

One challenge for any Clinton-era investigation is that the statute of limitations on most federal felonies is five years and Clinton left office in early 2013.

While not mentioned in this article, it also came out during the campaign that Clinton had failed to comply with the ethics agreement she entered into before becoming Secretary of State, failing to disclose the donors to the Foundation while she was Secretary of State. In addition to the pattern of parties with business before the State Department making contributions to the Foundation, the same parties often paid unprecedented amounts in speaking fees to Bill Clinton.

Vox Provides Further Evidence That The Actual Trump/Russia Scandal Is About Money Laundering

Since the 2016 election we have seen three different interpretations of Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. There has been the total denial from pro-Trump partisans, which has been heavily contradicted by the investigations in progress. There is the twisting of the facts by pro-Clinton partisans to see try to frame everything as a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency she deserved. The facts have also frequently contradicted this view. Then there is the evidence-based view which non-partisans such as myself have promoted that the real issue concerns financial crimes such as money laundering by family and associates of Donald Trump, along with a cover-up of their activities.

As I discussed yesterday, information in the portions of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House which were released yesterday are consistent with this view. Vox, which generally follows the Democratic Party line, has also provided evidence that the real crime here is money laundering. Vox has a post based upon information from a Russia expert which downplays the role of Vladimir Putin and politics and stresses the role of money laundering entitled, “Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal. From the introduction:

“To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.”

That’s what Seva Gunitsky, a politics professor at the University of Toronto and the author of Aftershocks, told me in a September interview. I reached out to Gunitsky after he posted a short but incisive thread on Twitter about the financial roots of the Trump-Russia collusion case.

Gunitsky, who was raised in Russia, has followed the evolving relationship between Donald Trump and Russia for more than a decade. He says the prevailing narrative about Putin interfering in the American election in order to undermine democracy is wildly overstated.

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money.

The financial connections between Trump and various Russian banks and oligarchs (business elites with ties to the Kremlin) stretch back decades, which is likely a big reason why Trump won’t release his tax returns. Trump’s election, Gunitsky contends, presented Russian oligarchs with an opportunity to recoup losses and leverage Trump’s debts for political gain.

The interview began after this introduction. Here are some excerpts:

Sean Illing

This collusion story gets more convoluted by the day. But you seem to think it’s pretty straightforward.

Seva Gunitsky

I think it’s justifiable for you to say that it seems impossibly convoluted, but I would say it’s still much simpler than this idea that there’s a global conspiracy designed to bring down democracy. I’m not saying the political dimension is unimportant — surely it is. But if we’re talking about the roots of the collusion, we have to look at where Trump’s links with Russia begin. And it begins with money. [These roots] don’t start with the election; they start with money, and namely Russian oligarch money.

Sean Illing

So walk me through the trail. Where does the money lead?

Seva Gunitsky

Again, this doesn’t start with the election; it starts with Russian oligarch money pouring into Trump’s real estate and casino businesses. Many of them Trump has been working with for years, well before he developed any serious political ambitions. And we’re not talking about small change here; we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Possibly even enough to keep Trump out of another bankruptcy.

Sean Illing

And we know this how, exactly?

Seva Gunitsky

We know because they’ve told us. We can talk about specific cases in a minute, but Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted the importance of Russian money to their business ventures. He said publicly in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Sean Illing

And this is why you think Western media has overplayed the centrality of Putin in all of this? We have this notion of Putin as a kind of master strategist playing 10-dimensional chess with Trump. I think it’s obvious that once Putin saw an opportunity he took it, but these financial ties go back a long way, long before the 2016 election.

Seva Gunitsky

I think that’s right. Putin is often put up as this sort of central antagonist, but the Russian government is not this shadowy monolith. It’s sometimes portrayed this way in the West, but in reality the Russian government is messy and disorganized and ad hoc.

It’s possible that Putin was not even fully aware of efforts to court Trump up until last year, or a couple years ago. Putin, we often forget, has supporters to keep happy as well, people who desperately want to open up those channels of Russian finance…

Sean Illing

As hard as it is to make sense of all this, it does help to explain Trump’s unusual consistency on all things Russia. This is a guy without a fixed ideological core, but his bizarre pro-Russia posture is arguably the only issue on which he’s been consistent.

Seva Gunitsky

I’d only slightly disagree here and say the thing about which he’s been most consistent is the desire to make money. And if we take that, then his consistency on Russia becomes much more sensible.

I think you’re absolutely right that he has no strong ideological commitments. We’ve seen that painfully over and over during the last few months. But if his financial interests are tied up with Russian oligarchs, who in turn are tied up with the Kremlin and thus have parallel interests, then Trump’s “consistency” becomes much more explainable.

And if we emphasize this financial angle a bit more, it also makes a lot of sense that he would not want to release his tax returns. Because that would expose just how deeply embedded he is with Russian money.

While not discussed here, this also presents an explanation for Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation. It is also possible that this financial leverage gave Putin reason to want to see Trump elected, but there has yet to be demonstrated any evidence of collusion between Putin and Trump with regards to altering the election results, or that Russia’s action during the election, including alleged actions on social media, were of any major significance.

While this fact might not be pleasing to Clinton-partisans eager for an excuse for Clinton’s loss (or in some cases pundits who seek an explanation for why they were wrong in their predictions), Democrats should be satisfied if a case of money laundering and obstruction of justice can be built against Donald Trump–which appears very likely to be the case. Steve Bannon’s statement that “This is all about money laundering” in Wollf’s book is just the latest evidence of this–and likely one of many reasons that Donald Trump is trying to halt publication of the book.

New Book Provides Further Information On Donald Trump And Casts Further Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About 2016 Election

 

Information from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, provides further insight into Trump and cast further doubt on the conspiracy theories being spread by Democrats that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election due to a conspiracy involving Donald Trump and Russia. An excerpt appearing in New York Magazine shows, as many suspected while he was running, that Donald Trump neither thought he could win nor wanted to win the 2016 presidential election:

Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears—and not of joy.

It looks even worse for Hillary Clinton to have lost to a candidate who didn’t even want to win. Part of Clinton’s problem is that she wanted too much to be president, and for the wrong reasons, using her political career for personal financial gain, not even caring about how this looked–as Matt Taibbi discussed in this excerpt from his book on the election.

In theory, having a president who did not want to be president might sound like a good thing in contrast to the corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but in this case Donald Trump was not the right answer. Like the Clintons, Trump’s motives were based upon personal greed. Unlike the Clintons, Trump lacked even rudimentary understanding of the position, and has showed no desire to learn. One consequence was yesterday’s tweet in which, rather than try to diffuse hostilities with North Korea as any rational political leader would, he bragged about the size of his nuclear button.

There is already considerable reason to doubt the conspiracy theory started by Hillary Clinton that collusion between Donald Trump and Russia were responsible for her loss. Such a conspiracy between Trump and Putin appears even less likely if Trump was not interested in being president. Wolff’s book also revealed that Putin had no interest in meeting Trump when he came to Russia, quoting Steve Bannon as saying that,”Putin couldn’t give a shit about him.” That hardly makes Trump and Putin sound like the co-conspirators which the Democrats make them out to be.

More significant information came from Steve Bannon’s interview on the Trump Tower meeting, in which Russians teased Donald, Jr with claims of information on Clinton, but actually had nothing to deliver. While not of any significance in terms of altering the election result, it does show the lack of principles of Donald, Jr, with Bannon calling this “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

I have noted that, while there is no evidence available that Donald Trump knew of the meeting, it is hard to believe he did not know about it. Bannon’s comments on the meeting further confirm this suspicion.

I have also been writing since the start of this scandal that the real crimes appear to involve financial crimes such as money laundering, followed by Trump’s cover-up of contacts with Russia, as opposed to anything related to altering the election result. Bannon further confirmed that this scandal is really about money laundering:

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

This view that the investigation will focus on money laundering is consistent with the first indictment from Robert Mueller.

There was another interesting admission from Bannon:

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

So we see that Steve Bannon realizes that Breitbart is not a “legitimate publication.”

Other revelations from the book include that Ivanka wanted to ultimately become the first woman president instead of Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump responded to the quotes from Steve Bannon by saying that  Bannon has “lost his mind.”

(more…)

Study Casts Doubt On Fake News Affecting Election Results

Fake news was probably the most over-used word of 2016-7. This was used to refer to both false information (as if this was a brand new problem) and subsequently used to refer to any material people did not like, regardless of its veracity. Hillary Clinton has used claims that fake news affected the election to support censorship. Facebook has been censoring legitimate news in their overreaction to fake news. While I don’t think that anyone doubts that the internet is full of false information, the more important question is whether people are actually fooled by it. While providing no definitive answer, The New York Times reported on a study which presents reasons to question whether fake news had a significant effect on the 2016 election results.

Not surprisingly fake news is widespread, and more widespread in conservative circles.  The study found that, “the most conservative 10 percent of the sample accounted for about 65 percent of visits to fake news sites.” That comes as little surprise after the 2016 election. There were both factual and totally fictitious reasons spread in 2016 as to vote against Hillary Clinton. In contrast, while some attacks on Donald Trump might have had some minor errors, the case against him was generally based upon reality. Plus there is a long history of false information coming from conservative sites, such as the Birther claims when Obama was president, and much of what is on Fox every night. (Unfortunately MSNBC is now acting increasingly like Fox).

From the description of the study:

In the new study, a trio of political scientists — Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College (a regular contributor to The Times’s Upshot), Andrew Guess of Princeton University and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter — analyzed web traffic data gathered from a representative sample of 2,525 Americans who consented to have their online activity monitored anonymously by the survey and analytic firm YouGov.

The data included website visits made in the weeks before and after the 2016 election, and a measure of political partisanship based on overall browsing habits. (The vast majority of participants favored Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton.)

The team defined a visited website as fake news if it posted at least two demonstrably false stories, as defined by economists Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow in research published last year. On 289 such sites, about 80 percent of bogus articles supported Mr. Trump.

A key finding was that, “false stories were a small fraction of the participants’ overall news diet, regardless of political preference: just 1 percent among Clinton supporters, and 6 percent among those pulling for Mr. Trump. Even conservative partisans viewed just five fake news articles, on average, over more than five weeks.”

Most of the people reading fake news were both intensely partisan, probably making them unlikely to change their minds based upon fake claims, and obtained information from a variety of sources (hopefully making them more likely to see through fake news):

“For all the hype about fake news, it’s important to recognize that it reached only a subset of Americans, and most of the ones it was reaching already were intense partisans,” Dr. Nyhan said.

“They were also voracious consumers of hard news,” he added. “These are people intensely engaged in politics who follow it closely.”

Given the ratio of truth to fiction, Dr. Watts said, fake news paled in influence beside mainstream news coverage, particularly stories about Mrs. Clinton and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Coverage of that topic appeared repeatedly and prominently in venues like The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Of course many Democratic partisans are likely to see the email scandal as fake news. As I noted at the start of this post, fake news has increasingly been used to refer to material people do not like, regardless of whether it is factual.

It was not terribly surprising to see that, “Facebook was by far the platform through which people most often navigated to a fake news site.” However the article does not compare this to the amount of factual information which is also navigated to through Facebook. Regardless, Facebook is hardly the best way for people to get their news, as this post at Mashable pointed out.

This data does not say definitely whether fake news affected the election result. Is possible that some people did vote against Clinton based upon false information in the battleground states which cost her the election. However, considering what the study shows about the readers of fake news, it is more likely that economic conditions in the rust belt, along with Clinton’s many mistakes while campaigning, as opposed to reading some of the more outlandish fake stories about Hillary Clinton, cost her the election. It is doubtful that fake news had any more impact than the rather insignificant Russian ads on social media.