Friday, November 4, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Short Takes

Militants attack police academy in Pakistan; many killed.

Vatican to help mediate political situation in Venezuela.

Ex-attorney general of Pennsylvania sentenced to prison.

Pentagon trying to get back recruitment bonuses.

No kidding: Study says guns on campus won’t make them safer.

Game 1 of the World Series is tonight in Cleveland.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It Already Looks Like A Bribe

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi tells us that she didn’t return the campaign donation she got from Donald Trump right after she lost interest in joining the suit against “Trump University” because to do so would have looked suspicious.

At a hastily called news conference before the Cabinet meeting, Bondi said her only regret was not meeting with reporters earlier to discuss an array of Trump-related documents, released by her office in April, that lay out the Trump University chronology.

“I would never, ever trade any campaign donation — that’s absurd — for some type of favor to anyone,” Bondi said.

Returning the contribution also was never seriously considered, she said.

“If I had returned it, you would have reported, ‘Bondi accepted bribe, got caught, and returned it,’ ” she said. “There was nothing improper about it, so there was no reason to return it.”

There’s another really old profession that deals in favors for money, but I’ll pass up the comparison for now and just say that if someone is worried about improper impressions, there’s a pretty good reason that thought occurs to them: it’s because it is improper.

Other People’s Money

David Farenthold at the Washington Post is on the case.

Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.

Those cases, which together used $258,000 from Trump’s charity, were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.

In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the height of a flagpole.

In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.

If Hillary Clinton bought a latte from Starbucks with Clinton Foundation petty cash, her campaign would be over.

But this is how Donald Trump operates.  He’s been running the big con since he got his first million from his dad and has been using other people — and their money — ever since.

PS: I could make some fun about a guy trying to win a dispute over the size of his pole, but I’m not twelve.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cracks In The Foundation

Finally.

Those in Donald Trump’s orbit appear to be nervous about the swirling scandal around the Trump Foundation—and they should be: The stakes are incredibly high.

The allegations of a quid pro quo between Trump and Florida Attorney General, improper use of the charity for personal benefit, and employment of the charity for political purposes have serious penalties beyond mere campaign optics—the possible consequences range from hefty fines to jail time.

The last seven days has been all bad news on the Trump Foundation front: House Democrats have publicly sought a Justice Department investigation into the charity, while left-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington alleged that Trump appeared to have bribed Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi by giving her a $25,000 contribution so that she would not join a lawsuit against Trump University.

And a New York Times investigation this past week showed that Trump had personally signed the check that constituted the illegal campaign contribution from his charity to Bondi.

Add this to a dose of personal animosity: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told CNN this week that “we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.” The Trump camp already despises Schneiderman due to his legal crusade on the controversial Trump University business.

“This reaches above a distraction for them due to the legal implications of it and long litigation possibility,” a former senior aide to Trump said. “Look, Donald signed those checks… he’s on there. He’s liable.”

As one wit noted, “But Hillary Clinton used the wrong emoji on her e-mail, so it’s all the same thing.”

It would be too much to hope that all of this blows up into a huge deal that not only brings down some garbage on the Trump three-card monte but also takes out the Florida Attorney General as well.  But a guy can dream.

Short Takes

New York/New Jersey bombing suspect is captured after a gun battle.

The Syrian cease-fire ended.

Prosecutors say Gov. Christie knew about bridge lane closures.

Energy prices increased across the South thanks to a ruptured gasoline pipeline.

Pro-Putin parties show strength in local elections.

Tropical Update: TS Karl is going to stay clear of the East coast.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Twenty Questions

After Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald put out the lengthy report on Donald Trump’s business dealings with some really scary people — he wanted to do business with Libyan dictator Qaddafi — Hillary Clinton’s campaign has a few questions.  Twenty, in fact.

I have a question of my own.  If any other candidate had this kind of entangled web of dealings with questionable characters, some who are adversaries in both political and practical world conflicts, would they even be allowed to run for president?

But for the Trump Organization, Qaddafi was not a murdering terrorist; he was a prospect who might bring the company financing and the opportunity to build a resort on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. According to an Arab financier and a former businessman from the North African country, Trump made entreaties to Qaddafi and other members of his government, beginning in 2008, in which he sought deals that would bring cash to the Trump Organization from a sovereign wealth fund called the Libyan Investment Authority. The following year, Trump offered to lease his estate in Westchester County, New York, to Qaddafi; he took Qaddafi’s money but, after local protests, forbade him from staying at his property. (Trump kept the cash.) “I made a lot of money with Qaddafi,” Trump said recently about the Westchester escapade. “He paid me a fortune.”

This makes the Corleone family business look like a lemonade stand.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Short Takes

Senate Zika bill blocked by Planned Parenthood fight.

Trump denies any wrongdoing in donation to Bondi campaign.

ITT Tech shuts down after USDOE cuts off student loan support.

Gretchen Carlson gets $20 million and apology in Fox sexual harassment suit.

Giant pandas no longer on the endangered species list.

Tropical Update: Invest 92L isn’t moving yet.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 2-0.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Business As Usual: Lies and Bribery

It looks like things are getting a little curiouser and curiouser for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and her solicitation of a campaign contribution in exchange for not being part of the suit against Trump University.  Via TPM:

The indefatigable Sopan Deb (one of the reporter standouts of 2016) reports that Trump today flatly denied ever speaking to Bondi about his foundation’s contribution to Bondi’s campaign in 2013, just before her office decided not to join New York State’s suit against Trump and Trump University.

Trump: “I never spoke to her” … “Never spoke to her about that at all.”

Legit?

Who knows? But according to multiple reports, well before this became a big story and never denied by Trump, Pam Bondi personally solicited the contribution from Trump.

Here’s the AP from last June: “Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.” (emphasis added)

Bondi responded furiously to the AP report, pushing back against claims of impropriety. But she never disputed the AP’s claim that she solicited the contribution personally.

[…]

So where did the AP get the idea that Bondi spoke to Trump directly? From an on the record interview with her political consultant Marc Reichelderfer, who Bondi asked to speak to the AP on her behalf!

Given that this information came from Bondi’s consultant, speaking to the AP on her behalf while trying to defend her against claims of a conflict of interest – and that it was never disputed post-publication – it is overwhelmingly likely that the two did speak and that Trump is lying.

Apparently it’s not a bribe if you ask for it up front.  It’s only a bribe if you have an underling collect it from a dead drop, preferably in a used paper bag leftover from a Subway sandwich and stashed under the third bench on the left in the park.  But if you’re bold enough to ask for it in person and then follow through with legal non-action through your office, well, it’s business as usual.

You have to give a little leeway to Ms. Bondi; she’s not as deft at skulduggery and payoffs as Mr. Trump — in those ranks he has no peer — and her previous attempts at fund-raising have been ham-handed.  She once had to call off the execution of a prisoner because it conflicted with a campaign event.

If there is any karmic justice in the world, this will all blow up in the next month or so and subject Mr. Trump and Ms. Bondi to the kind of scrutiny and suspicion that Hillary Clinton gets every time she scratches her nose.

Monday, September 5, 2016

There’s Nothing To It

I probably should have posted this yesterday in Sunday Reading, but who reads that?  I’m posting it now hoping that it might get some attention from the five or six people who read this blog and pass it along, especially to their Fox-viewing friends who are sure that Hillary Clinton should be locked up.

This is Kevin Drum’s analysis of the FBI report on Hillary Clinton’s damned e-mails.  He’s read the whole thing and come to the stunning conclusion that there’s no news here, and what news there is doesn’t amount, to coin a phrase, to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

If you read the entire report, you’ll find bits and pieces that might show poor judgment on Hillary’s part. The initial decision to use one email device is the obvious one, something that Hillary has acknowledged repeatedly. Another—maybe—is her staff’s view of what was safe to send over unclassified email. But this is very fuzzy. It could be that her staff knew exactly what it was doing, and it’s the subsequent classification authorities who are wrong. This is something that it’s impossible to judge since none of us will ever see the emails in question.

That said, this report is pretty much an almost complete exoneration of Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t prohibited from using a personal device or a personal email account, and others at state did it routinely. She’s told the truth all along about why she did it. Colin Powell did indeed advise her about using personal email shortly after she took office, but she chose to follow the rules rather than skirt them, as Powell did. She didn’t take her BlackBerry into her office. She communicated with only a very select group of 13 people. She took no part in deciding which emails were personal before handing them over to State. She had nothing to do with erasing information on the PRN server. That was a screw-up on PRN’s end. She and her staff all believed at the time that they were careful not to conduct sensitive conversations over unclassified email systems. And there’s no evidence that her server was ever hacked.

There’s remarkably little here. If you nonetheless believe that it’s enough to disqualify Hillary from the presidency, that’s fine. I have no quarrel with you. But if the FBI is to be believed, it’s all pretty small beer. [Emphasis in the original]

I know this will not get the attention of the horse-race gamblers at the cable channels or the conspiracy-mongers in the right-wing orcosphere, but facts are stubborn things.  If you think that this is worse than the race-baiting nativism of the small-fingered crackercrockery of Donald Trump or the fact that he obviously bribed the Attorney General of Florida, then what the hell are you doing reading this blog?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday Reading

Trump and the Truth — The New Yorker begins a series on Donald Trump’s touchy relationship with the truth.

“The facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them,” Donald Trump declared during his immigration speech in Phoenix on Wednesday. A few hours earlier, the Republican nominee had been in Mexico City, where he had held a joint press conference with the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and lauded Mexican-Americans as “amazing people . . . just beyond reproach.” In Phoenix, flanked by American flags, he struck a different tone. Trump warned the crowd that if Clinton were elected, America would be inundated by a new wave of illegal immigration that would result in “thousands of more violent, horrible crimes, and total chaos and lawlessness.”

Again and again in his Presidential campaign, Trump has issued sweeping assertions about how immigrants are “bringing crime” to America. Wednesday offered only the latest, and loudest, example. Examining these claims is instructive, not for what they tell us about Trump but for what they reveal about immigrants, whose relationship to crime is greatly misunderstood. If you live in a city that has become less dangerous in recent decades, a growing body of evidence suggests that you actually have immigrants to thank.

When Trump kicked off his campaign, last year, he accused Mexico of sending “rapists” and criminals to America. This was a patently outrageous claim, and there was no evidence behind it. According to Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard and the former scientific director of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, communities with high concentrations of immigrants do not suffer from outsized levels of violence. The opposite is the case. In his exhaustively researched 2012 book, “Great American City,” Sampson noted that, in Chicago, “increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates.” Other scholars have turned up similar findings. In 2013, a team of researchers published a paper on Los Angeles that found that “concentrations of immigrants in neighborhoods are linked to significant reductions in crime.” A 2014 study examining a hundred and fifty-seven metropolitan areas in the United States found that violent crime tended to decrease when the population of foreign-born residents rose.

One reason for this may be that immigrants have helped revitalize formerly desolate urban neighborhoods, starting businesses and lowering the prevalence of vacant buildings, where violence can take root. Another possible factor is that, contrary to Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, many immigrants are ambitious strivers, who are highly motivated to support their families and make a better life for their children. Undocumented immigrants may also be more fearful than legal residents of attracting police attention, which could get them deported. Whatever the answer, the research helps make sense of the fact that, during the nineteen-nineties, the foreign-born population in the U.S. grew by more than fifty per cent, and cities such as New York, El Paso, and San Diego, where many of these newcomers settled, did not become cauldrons of violence. They became safer. While numerous factors may have contributed to this—most notably, a stronger economy—it is now widely agreed that immigration played a role, too.

In his statements and speeches, Trump has often qualified his language by distinguishing between documented and undocumented immigrants. In Phoenix, he contrasted the “dangerous criminal aliens” who ruthlessly victimized Americans with legitimate, law-abiding immigrants who obeyed the rules. Data isolating the level of crime among undocumented immigrants are hard to come by, in part because, many suspect, undocumented-immigrant communities underreport crime, for fear of bringing law enforcement to their doors. Sampson acknowledged this in an e-mail to me recently, but he countered that one felony—murder—resists underreporting. And, in the nineteen-nineties, he noted, the murder rate fell dramatically in America’s cities, even as the flow of documented and undocumented immigrants surged. “The homicides committed by illegal aliens in the United States are reflected in the data just like for everyone else,” he wrote to me. “The bottom line is that as immigrants poured into the country, homicides plummeted.”

To point these things out is not to deny the tragedy of any individual killing or crime. In June, the Boston Globe published a deeply reported story showing that, among three hundred and twenty-three foreign-born criminals released in New England between 2008 and 2012, nearly one-third went on to commit new offenses after being released, including rape and attempted murder. Based on a three-year review of court records and police logs, the Globe article raised legitimate questions about how forthright immigration officials have been about the issue. Trump cited the Globe’s story in his Phoenix speech, without acknowledging any of its nuance. Some of the criminals the Globe wrote about had entered the United States legally, and had been released because the government cannot detain immigrants indefinitely and because the countries they came from refused to take them back. The Globe also reported that, in the past year, almost sixty per cent of the people deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were convicted criminals. Trump skirted around these facts, assailing President Obama and Hillary Clinton for “surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders” and promising that the mayhem he described would end if he were elected. “The crime will stop,” he vowed.

On the few occasions when journalists have challenged him directly on his incendiary claims about immigration, Trump has resorted to bullying and denial. “If you look at the statistics of people coming . . . you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally in this country, it’s mind-boggling!” Trump declared during an interview on CNN last year, citing as evidence a 2014 story published by Fusion that investigated the prevalence of sexual assaults against migrant women and girls en route to the United States. When Don Lemon, the CNN host, responded by pointing out that the Fusion story was about migrants who were raped, not hordes of criminals crossing the border, Trump snapped, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! . . . Who’s doing the raping?” A few days later, Trump was interviewed by the NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, who pointed out to him that the incarceration rate for both documented Mexican immigrants and undocumented immigrants over all was lower than that for native-born Americans. “It’s a wrong statistic,” Trump insisted. “Take a look at all the crime that’s being committed.” When Tur noted that the research “does not match what you’re saying,” Trump replied, “Don’t be naïve. You’re a very naïve person.” (One widely cited 2008 study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults in the state prison system was two hundred and ninety-seven per hundred thousand in the population. For U.S.-born adults, the figure was eight hundred and thirteen per hundred thousand.)

When it comes to the threat that immigrants pose, Trump has championed perceptions over facts. Here, alas, he may be on to something. One of the more striking findings of Robert Sampson’s work has been that the “perceived disorder” of a neighborhood correlated positively with the prevalence of Latino residents, regardless of the actual level of crime. Trump certainly perceives disorder, and, with his false claims and invented statistics, he is contributing to the perception of it, especially among people who have few encounters with actual Hispanic immigrants. A recent study by a Gallup economist found that Trump’s supporters appear to be concentrated in segregated communities, far away from the Mexican border.

For more than a year, Trump has used the spotlight on him to smear and malign tens of millions of people who have made the communities they inhabit safer places for people of all backgrounds to raise children or pursue their dreams. They’ll be gone, he says—he’s building a wall. Americans deserve to be reminded that these ideas aren’t just frightening in their intolerance. If your concern is public safety, they’re backward.

Pressing for Trouble — Paul Glastris on the scandal mongering of Hillary Clinton.

Over the last two weeks, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has taken a hit in the polls, much of it pretty clearly due to aggressive press investigations involving her relationship with the Clinton Foundation when she was Secretary of State. Even Hillary fans should see that these investigations are warranted. After all, Clinton is running for the most powerful office in the world. While she was Secretary of State, her husband was overseeing a $2 billion a year charity. That charity took in donations from foreign governments and individuals with international interests. These facts raise legitimate questions. Did donors to the Foundation get special access to the secretary and the department as a result of their donations? If they did get special access, did they receive any favors? Did Hillary or her staff do anything illegal, unethical, or contrary to U.S. interests or administration policy?

The good news is that as a result of these investigations we can now answer those questions pretty definitively: no, no, and no. The bad news is that the press doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer, even if the answer is based on the evidence of its own reporting.

Consider the story in today’s New York Times by Eric Lichtblau based on a new batch of emails released by the conservative group Judicial Watch as part of its lawsuit. The emails show that Doug Band, then with an arm of the Clinton Foundation, asked Huma Abedin, a top aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to help him procure special diplomatic passports for himself and two other Clinton Foundation staffers. Band also asked for a private meeting between Secretary Clinton and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, a Clinton Foundation donor. These emails, writes Lichtblau, raise “new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.”

The reporting in the piece itself, however, doesn’t so much raise new questions as answer old ones. As Lichtblau explains, Band wanted the diplomatic passports because he and his colleagues were about to accompany Bill Clinton on an emergency mission to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists (as a former president, Clinton already had such a passport). In the end, State didn’t issue special passports to the Foundation staffers, despite the risks they were taking, because doing so would have been contrary to Department rules. Liveris did get a short meeting with Mrs. Clinton for a perfectly valid reason: he had offered to let Mr. Clinton use his private plane to fly to Pyongyang.

Other stories on the Clinton Foundation over the last two weeks fit the same basic pattern: the facts dug up by the investigation disprove the apparent thesis of the investigation. Last week, for instance, the Associated Press shook up the political world with an enterprising investigation showing that more than half of the 154 private sector individuals Secretary Clinton met or talked with during her first two years at State had donated to the Clinton Foundation, ether directly or though their companies or groups. That “extraordinary proportion,” said the AP, indicates “her possible ethics challenges if elected president.”

But aside from the AP’s questionable math—the 154 meetings were gleaned from Clinton’s calendar, and no one seriously doubts that over two years she met with far more private sector individuals than that—the story’s own reporting undermined the case that anything unethical occurred. As its main example, the story cites meetings with and calls on behalf of Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunis, whose Grameen Bank had contributed to the Foundation. Yet Yunis is not some shady financier who gave money to the Foundation to gain access to the secretary. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of “micro-lending” to the world’s poor whom Clinton has known and worked with for 30 years. And the calls she made in support of Yunis were part of an international effort to keep the Bangladeshi government from forcing the beloved humanitarian out of Grameen on trumped-up charges. Other examples in the piece of donors getting “access” are similarly benign (one of them was the Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel).

The same passive-aggressive quality pervades all the recent stories about the Clinton Foundation. There is the big LA Times investigation about how Doug Band tried to get a State Department meeting for a donor, a Nigerian-based Lebanese billionaire. Though possibly sketchy, the billionaire had on-the-ground knowledge of the political machinations in Beirut, so was probably worth talking to, but in any event the meeting never occurred. There is Politico’s deep dive into the hitherto untold story about how the federal government made payments to the Clinton Foundation for IT equipment and staff.   While strongly suggesting that the payments were highly questionable, the authors concede that their investigation “does not reveal anything illegal.” Indeed, the payments were from a program Congress created more than half a century ago specifically to fund the work of ex-presidents, money every ex-president has taken advantage of, and the piece offers ample evidence from documents obtained from the General Services Administration that the GSA’s bureaucrats and the Foundation’s staff carefully followed the rules.

Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.

Yet instead of accepting the evidence of their own investigations, much of the mainstream media expresses the attitude that these are still wide open questions. In its recent lead editorial calling for the Clintons to cut their ties to the Foundation immediately (the Clintons have said they’ll do so if she wins), The New York Times concedes that the latest batch of emails does not “so far” show that Hillary gave any special favors to Clinton donors while at state. On the cable shows, even the few journalists who acknowledge the lack of any evidence that Hillary and her staff did anything untoward feel the need to insist that the next batch of emails could prove otherwise.

And of course in theory it could. But as Nancy LeTourneau has observed, there is phrase for those who insist on keeping a controversy going long after enough facts are in to draw reasonable conclusions: “Merchants of Doubt.” The label comes from the book about a loose group of scientists who helped corporate and conservative political interests sow doubt in the public’s mind regarding the certainty of the science linking tobacco to lung cancer and fossil fuels to global warming. It’s the same strategy creationists use when they lobby school boards about gaps in the fossil record and how it’s important and fair-minded to “teach the controversy” about evolution.

Another way of looking at it is that the press is beginning to treat the Clinton Foundation story the way the Republican still treat Benghazi. The legitimate questions surrounding that incident—What were the precipitating events that lead to the deaths of four diplomats? What might the federal government have done differently to prevent it?—were basically answered when the first after-action press investigations and the 2012 Accountability Review Board Report were published. Keeping the controversy alive with half a dozen more congressional investigations was just a way for Republicans to rough up Clinton.

The GOP at least had an obvious political motive for refusing to admit the obvious on Benghazi. Why the mainstream press is refusing to concede the facts of its own investigations on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation is not so clear. But unless it stops that behavior and starts speaking honestly, and soon, there’s a very real chance it could throw the election to Donald Trump.

All The News That Gives You Fits — Charlie Pierce on the New York Times’ chin-stroking over the Clinton coverage.

Oh, for the love of god, mother Times. Are you freaking kidding me?

It’s long past the point where many of our major news publications be sent to the dogtrack with their names pinned to their sweaters, at least as far as the Clintons are concerned. Right now, there is substantial evidence that many of them will print anything as long as they can wedge “Clinton,” “questions” and “e-mails” into a headline. Of course, if Hillary Rodham Clinton would just hold a press conference, at which every question would feature those three words in some order or another, then we’d all turn to discussing the comprehensive mental health plan that she released to thundering silence on Monday when most of the press was in an Anthony Weiner frenzy. Yes, and I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

But this latest iteration of The Clinton Rules is probably the most egregious one yet. From the Times:

A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.

That sounds bad. Was the guy trying to smuggle hash in a diplomatic pouch? Visiting Thai brothels in a government jet?

The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons’ charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport. Only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help envoys facilitate travel, officials said.

Well, that’s that, then. Let’s turn to the sports section and see how the Mets are doing. Wait. What?

Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign said that there was nothing untoward about the request and that it related to an emergency trip that Mr. Clinton took to North Korea in 2009 to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Mrs. Clinton has long denied that donors had any special influence at the State Department.

Jesus H. Christ on Dancing With The Stars, that’s what this is about? Bill Clinton’s mission to get two American journalists out the hoosegow of The World’s Craziest Place? Wasn’t that a triumph? Weren’t we all happy about it? Hell, this was so surreptitious and “questionable” that HRC even wrote about it in one of her books.

I thought the bombshell in Tiger Beat On The Potomac about how Bill Clinton questionably availed himself of services to which he was legally entitled as an ex-president was going to be this week’s most prominent parody of investigative journalism. (After all, it got to drop the ominous “taxpayer money” into the conversation right next to “private server,” which one of the endless parade of dingbats shilling for the Trump campaign used on CNN just this morning.) But this story puts that one in the ha’penny place, as my grandmother used to say.

Consider how it is constructed—to believe that there is even any smoke here, let alone any fire, you have to believe that the Clinton Foundation was somehow shady in its dealings with HRC’s State Department, which is assuming a lot of actual facts not in evidence. That enables you to believe that an unsuccessful attempt to arrange diplomatic passports for what ultimately was a successful mission of mercy is proof of said shadiness. It also forces you to loan your journalistic credibility to a monkeyhouse like Judicial Watch.

This is crazy. This makes the way Dave O’Brien used to run the ball for Joe McCarthy look like Seymour Hersh on My Lai.

In related developments, The Washington Post revealed Thursday that David Bossie, head of Citizens United and noted stalker of cancer patients, is now part of the high command working to elect El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. There are now no rats left unfcked in that operation, and it’s going to be damned hard to get a table for Happy Hour Friday night in the cocktail lounge of the Mena Airport.

Bonus Track: James Fallows on the same subject.

Doonesbury — Same old song.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Great Big Nothingburger

Matthew Yglesias looks into the AP’s exposé of the Clinton Foundation and finds it’s a lot of smoke generated by the media.

Tuesday afternoon, Stephen Braun and Eileen Sullivan of the Associated Press released the results of a review of State Department appointment data that they used to make some striking claims about Hillary Clinton’s schedule as secretary of state.

According to their reporting, Clinton spent a remarkably large share of her time as America’s chief diplomat talking to people who had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. She went out of her way to help these Clinton Foundation donors, and her decision to do so raises important concerns about the ethics of her conduct as secretary and potentially as president. It’s a striking piece of reporting that made immediate waves in my social media feed, as political journalists of all stripes retweeted the story’s headline conclusions.

Except it turns out not to be true. The nut fact that the AP uses to lead its coverage is wrong, and Braun and Sullivan’s reporting reveals absolutely no unethical conduct. In fact, they found so little unethical conduct that an enormous amount of space is taken up by a detailed recounting of the time Clinton tried to help a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Here’s the bottom line: Serving as secretary of state while your husband raises millions of dollars for a charitable foundation that is also a vehicle for your family’s political ambitions really does create a lot of space for potential conflicts of interest. Journalists have, rightly, scrutinized the situation closely. And however many times they take a run at it, they don’t come up with anything more scandalous than the revelation that maybe billionaire philanthropists have an easier time getting the State Department to look into their visa problems than an ordinary person would.

More than a year ago, Jon Allen wrote for Vox about the special “Clinton Rules” that have governed much reporting on Bill and Hillary Clinton over the past 25 years. On the list are the notions that even the most ridiculous charges are worthy of massive investigation, that the Clintons’ bad faith will always be presumed, and that actions that would normally be deemed banal are newsworthy simply because the Clintons are involved.

The blockbuster AP story released Tuesday afternoon fits the model to a T.

Read the whole thing.  To quote commenter Baud at Balloon Juice, where there’s smoke, there is someone blowing smoke.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Russian Connection

The story that Russia was responsible for the DNC e-mail hack is beginning — just barely — to enter the consciousness of some of the news organizations.  The New York Times notes below the fold that the consensus among the U.S. intelligence agencies is that Russia is behind it, and the message is getting out there that the Kremlin has more than just a little interest in seeing who wins the presidential election.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s ties to Russia are getting new scrutiny.  It also puts the focus on the question of where are his tax returns.

James Fallows in The Atlantic:

So Donald Trump should release his tax returns because in modern times that is the basic price-of-entry in national politics. (Along with a plausible — rather than Pyongyang Daily News-style — medical report.) He should do it whether or not Vladimir Putin ever existed or there was any Russian hack. That would be true in any candidate’s case, but especially this one. George Will has come out and said that Trump should release his returns because of questions about his ties to “Russian oligarchs.”

With 100-plus days until the election, a nominee about whom there are graver-than-usual financial questions is saying that, unlike previous candidates, he won’t make his finances public.

In June 1972, a few months before Richard Nixon was renominated for president, a bunch of GOP-hired operatives broke into the Democratic headquarters in Washington, D.C., located in a building in the Watergate complex.  It caused a brief flurry of news that summer, but Nixon was re-elected in a landslide.  It wasn’t until a month after he was inaugurated — February 1973 — that the first real connections with the Watergate burglars and the White House began to leak out.

Do we really want to wait until after Donald Trump takes over the White House to find out who bought and paid for him in Moscow?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Reading

Transcendent — Charlie Pierce on Muhammad Ali.

I play it cool/I dig all jive/That is how I stay alive

—Langston Hughes

There is no real place to begin with him and no ending fit enough for the life he led. Muhammad Ali died on Friday, true enough. They will take him to his final rest on Wednesday in Louisville, which was only his first hometown in a world that he made his true hometown. So he was not immortal, the way we all thought he might be, but he lived a life beyond the bounds of mortality anyway, a life that has no real beginning and that still has a vital spirit for which no ending is adequate.

He was an iconic human being in an era that produced icons with every turn of the television dial, every front page of every morning newspaper and, my god, most of them died young. John and Robert Kennedy. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. None of them ever made 50. None of them ever made old bones. Only Ali lived to see how he truly changed the world around him, how it had come to understand that some lives are lived beyond the mortal limits.

He was a transcendent athlete, first and foremost, every bit as skilled at what he did for a living as Michael Jordan or Pele. The greatest change in athletes over the span of his physical life is that big athletes got fast. LeBron James plays basketball and he is just about the same size as Antonio Gates, who is a tight end. When he first arrived at Wimbledon, Boris Becker looked like a college linebacker. Ali was tall for a heavyweight, bigger than anyone who was faster than he was and faster than anyone who was bigger.

You have to have seen him before he was stripped of his livelihood to appreciate fully his gifts as an athlete. Foot speed. Hand speed. Before it all hit the fan in 1968, Sports Illustrated put him in a lab with strobe lights and everything, to time the speed of his punches. The results looked something out of a special-effects lab. In one of his routines, the late Richard Pryor used to talk about sparring with Ali in a charity exhibition. A Golden Gloves fighter in his youth, as Pryor later put it, “you don’t see his punches until they comin’ back. And your mind be sayin’, ‘Wait a minute now. There was some shit in my face a minute ago. I know that.'” He was an accelerated man in an accelerated age. Saying he was “ahead of his time” was only the half of it. His time was all time.

That was what led to the rest of it—the opposition to the criminal stupidity that was being practiced by this country in Southeast Asia, stated in terms as fundamentally American as the First Amendment to the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law…” His stubborn insistence that his life was his own, that it did not belong to the sclerotic old gangsters who still ran boxing, nor to the sclerotic old men who still ran the government, with their wiretaps and their phony indictments and their lawbooks. He was too fast for them all to catch, ultimately, and too pretty for a country that was vandalizing its most beautiful elements. That stubbornness also likely led to his physical downfall. All gifts have their dark side. All debts come due.

He was a prophet, in every way that America makes its prophets, in the same way that was William Lloyd Garrison, who told his country “I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD,” and in the same way that was Dr. King, who told that same country that:

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note.”

He embodied the country, in all its historic, inherent contradictions, in all its promises, broken and unbroken, and in all of its lost promises and hard-won glories. He insisted on the rights that the country said were his from birth and, in demanding them, freed himself to enjoy them, and freed the country, if only for a moment, to be something more than even the Founders thought it would be. And now, he’s passed from the earth. It was a great, golden trumpet of a life he led, and it is calling, calling still, and will still be calling, as the old hymn puts it, when time shall be no more.

The Real Scandal — Julianne Hing in The Nation on Donald Trump’s scam “university.”

This is where we are at this point of the collective national nightmare of the Republican Party’s 2016 campaign: On Thursday, Donald Trump toldThe Wall Street Journal that because of US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s “Mexican heritage,” the federal judge has an “absolute conflict” in presiding over a lawsuit brought by former students of Trump’s self-named real-estate courses. Curiel’s ethnic background is of importance because, Trump said, “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.” Trump clearly misunderstands the concept; a defendant’s own prejudices have no bearing on whether a judge is unfit for the job.

When Trump first mentioned the Indiana-born judge’s ethnicity at a San Diego rally last Friday, it was to do his usual jabbing and dancing to avoid ethical punches. At that event, Trump raised Curiel and mentioned his ethnic background in the same breath: “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great, I think that’s fine,” adding that he was sure that Mexican Americans would come around to support him “when I give all these jobs, OK?” Then he circled back around. “I’m getting railroaded by the legal system,” he said, “Frankly, they should be ashamed.” Trump labeled Curiel “a hater of Donald Trump,” and also called him “a total disgrace.”

It was a classic Trump move: create bogeymen out of thin air in order to prop up his self-imagined victimhood; home in on a person’s race or sex as the basis for his attacks; and then antagonize as a form of diversion from the matter at hand. That matter would be Trump University, the mogul’s real-estate courses that purportedly taught customers how to become like Trump, for as much as $35,000, or starting at the low, low price of $1,495. The lawsuit alleges that far from teaching students actual real-estate expertise, Trump ran a fraudulent business scheme.

The marketing schemes for Trump’s real-estate seminars at times sound ripped straight from the recruitment playbooks of the scandal-plagued for-profit school industry, which has preyed on single moms, people of color, veterans, and those who’ve been locked out of more prestigious avenues for higher education.

Take, for instance, the 2010 Senate testimony of Joshua Pruyn, a former admissions representative for Westwood College, a for-profit chain of, at the time, 17 campuses. Pruyn was technically an admissions advisor, but in reality his position was that of a glorified sales rep. “During the interview, we were taught to portray ourselves as advisors looking out for the students’ best interests and ensuring they were a good fit for the school. This fake interview would allow the representative to ask students questions to uncover a student’s motivators and pain points—their hopes, fears, and insecurities—all of which would later be used to pressure a student to enroll,” Pruyn testified.

The for-profit schools industry targeted people of color, poor people, and veterans because they more likely to be eligible for public financial aid like Pell Grants. This much-parodied Everest College commercial should be very familiar with anyone who watches daytime television.

Students of color ended up forming the backbone of the industry’s explosive growth in the early and mid-2000s. In the 2010–11 school year, just as the Obama administration’s regulatory hammer started to fall on the industry, the for-profit system University of Phoenix was the nation’s top producer of new black undergrad graduates. The nation’s second-highest producer of new black baccalaureates that year was Ashford University, also a for-profit college.

When the industry’s comeuppance came, it was devastating. In lawsuit after lawsuit, universities were accused of fleecing students of their federal student-aid money and saddling them with debt they couldn’t repay, and leaving students with an education and credits that weren’t transferrable or recognized as valid by other educational institutions. In December 2015, after multiple settlements in various lawsuits, Westwood College—where former admissions recruiter Pruyn worked—agreed not to enroll any more students.

After suffering a barrage of these kinds of lawsuits and increased regulation from the Obama administration, the for-profit schools industry is now in the tank these days. Enrollment is down; many have been maligned for the shady businesses that they were, including Trump University.

Hours after Trump brought Judge Curiel into his campaign theater last week, Curiel unsealed documents related to his case, at the request of The Washington Post. Those documents detail the aggressive marketing and recruitment playbook that Trump University sales staffers worked from. The playbook urged sales members to not let prospective customers be deterred by their own lack of money (“If they believe in you and your product, they will find the money”), and to guide consumers through “the roller coaster of emotions,” so as to encourage students to cough up cash. The guides urged sales members to home in on people’s vulnerabilities for maximum effect “during closing time.” (“For example: are they a single parent of three children that may need money for food?”)

These tactics, Trump would rather not discuss. Always easier, after all, to pivot to the most base of appeals—racial and ethnic antagonism—and the cheapest of tactics—bullying others and calling it self-defense.

Spectacles Spectacle — Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker on the latest art craze.

A recent little sensation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art delights and bemuses. Two teen-age boys from San Jose were perusing, with perplexity, the museum’s exhibits of contemporary art when they had a notion. One of them, Kevin Nguyen, sixteen, set his opened eyeglasses on the floor, neatly perpendicular to a nearby wall. He and T. J. Khayatan, seventeen, then stood back to watch what ensued: viewers observing the glasses with the curiosity and respect befitting a work of art—which, under the circumstances, they were.

Not that the glasses were good art, necessarily—an issue made moot, in any case, when Nguyen picked them up and put them back on.

But consider: an object manufactured to enhance seeing, presented as something to see. By being underfoot, the glasses were divorced from their function and protected only by the don’t-touch protocol of museums. They might have seemed, to a suggestible audience, to be about being-in-a-museum—and that audience could have included me. Suggestibility, undaunted by fear of proving foolish, is essential to art love.

Invoked, of course, was the evergreen aesthetic of the readymade, demonstrated by Marcel Duchamp with a urinal, in 1917. But that trope is hardly surefire. During their visit, Nguyen and Khayatan ventured two other placements, of a jacket and a baseball cap, which, at least visibly, intrigued no one. Some conceptual poetry or satirical bite is needed to bring a readymade off. The glasses managed both the former, at first, and then the latter, when their backstory emerged.

Many sane citizens will deem the spectacle of the spectacles ridiculous. They won’t be wrong. A risk of absurdity always attends the willingness to surrender oneself to the spell of any mere object: the dirtied swatch of cloth that is a painting, for example. It’s a game, whatever else it is, which makes sense only with knowledge of the rules and customs that are in play.

Museums edit, for our convenience, the universe of existing things. What they let in and what they keep out shape culture. How far in the way of inclusion is too far? How much in the way of discrimination is just crabby?

Have we witnessed the entire art career, now, of the San Jose Two?

You go, boys.

Doonesbury — Heir Apparent.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Short Takes

U.N. warns that 20,000 children are trapped in Fallujah.

Search teams pick up possible signal from Egyptair black box.

Trump U staffers describe “fraudulent scheme.”

President Obama returns to Elkhart, Indiana, touting economic recovery.

Ken Starr resigns from Baylor in wake of sexual assault scandal.

Switzerland opened up the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest on record.

The Tigers beat the Angels 3-0.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Short Takes

American special forces along with Syrian and Kurdish fighters are moving closer to Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold.

House rejected $37 billion defense bill because it included LGBT protection.

Baylor University fired their football coach and demoted President Kenneth Starr over sexual assault scandal.

Gas prices hit eleven-year low just in time for the holiday weekend.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L looks like it’s getting stronger.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Vindication

Hillary Clinton has said over and over that if she had to do it over, she wouldn’t have kept her e-mail on a private server.  Okay, fair enough; I don’t think there’s anyone outside of the Orcosphere that wouldn’t at least accept that and move on to something more important such as why did NBC cancel “The Mysteries of Laura.”  But now that the Inspector General has released the report criticizing her for it, the knives are out.  Some are going so far as to suggest that she drop out of the race.

I’ve already quoted Josh Marshall’s summary on the subject.  But we all know that Talking Points Memo is a liberal organ (and probably in the tank for Hillary, amirite?).  Okay, well what about Forbes?  You know, that magazine that could hardly be called a left wing mouthpiece.  Here’s contributor Charles Tiefer’s take on it.

The report released Wednesday by the State Department Inspector General on its email records management is being reported as heavy-duty criticism of former Secretary Hillary Clinton. However, the report has more in it that vindicates Clinton than nails her.

It does not add any new serious charges or adverse facts. And, it shows she was less out of line with her predecessors, notably Colin Powell, than has been charged. Powell’s handling of his email was so similar, in fact, that when House Republicans drag this issue through hearings up to Election Day, Powell should be called as a witness – a witness for Clinton. To put it differently, she is having a double standard applied to her. Here are five key aspects of the report.

First, and foremost, it is simply not about classified email. It is about regular, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, unclassified email. Yet it is the classified email, not these messages, that are the focus of the FBI investigation of Clinton. In other words, the report does not, and cannot, talk about the most serious issues. It is about a sideshow. If you are serious about the email charges against Hillary, you should keep your powder dry until at least Clinton is interviewed by the FBI in a matter of weeks, and then until the result of that probe is released.

Moreover, it is no accident that this report does not deal with the most serious issues: The FBI expressly told the State Department IG to stay away from classified records. That would have involved the State Department IG interfering with and possibly foreshadowing the FBI criminal investigation. But, this meant the FBI left the State Department IG with a subject involving much less grounds for potential criticism of Clinton, as we see in this report.

Second, there is not that much new information about Clinton in it. Certainly, the widely-reported fact that it’s an 83-page report makes it sound like it is big. But half is appendices. Half of the rest is not about the Secretary’s emails, but about cybersecurity. Of the two-dozen pages that are even remotely about Secretaries’ emails, a lot is taken up by retracing the dreary history of records and archival policy. The remainder involves all the secretaries going back two decades – not just Clinton and Powell, who are alike, but also ones of no particular interest, like Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and also John Kerry. There’s just not a lot of new facts about Clinton.

Look at the press coverage. You will not find mentions of major new facts in the IG report.

Third, where the report does add to our knowledge, is about Colin Powell, who served from 2001-2005. Powell did all his email business on a private account. All of his emails on official business were apparently in a private account. It is not clear why a great deal of what is said against Clinton’s emails, could not be said against Powell’s. Moreover, Powell’s similar practices can hardly be blamed on his being a novice about security. He not only had been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he had been National Security Adviser. He had jurisdiction over all the intelligence agencies. Since Powell, with unimpeachable security credentials, felt fine using private email for official business, why are we climbing all over Clinton? It is, to be blunt, a double standard.

It’s often been said by the Clinton’s critics and the punditocracy that Bill and Hillary Clinton don’t play by the same rules as everyone else.  But it can also be said that they are held to different standards than everyone else.  Bill Clinton was impeached for a lying about an affair by a group of men that were having their own dalliances, including one who was just sentenced for lying about having sex with teenage boys.  So holding Hillary Clinton up to a different standard for her e-mail practices is just more of the same.

HT to Melissa.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016

Short Takes

British PM Cameron admits to being involved in offshore banking.

The man in the hat did something terrible, according to Brussels police.

Mexico shuffles diplomats in retaliation for Trump’s bloviation.

Michigan faces a ton of lawsuits over the Flint water crisis.

At least four people say they were abused by former Speaker Dennis Hastert.