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More thickening of the plot: Manafort Was in Debt to Pro-Russia Interests, Cyprus Records Show

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Mike McIntire reports in the NY Times:

Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.

The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

The records, which include details for numerous loans, were certified as accurate by an accounting firm as of December 2015, several months before Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign, and were filed with Cyprus government authorities in 2016. The notion of indebtedness on the part of Mr. Manafort also aligns with assertions made in a court complaint filed in Virginia in 2015 by the Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, who claimed Mr. Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million related to a failed investment in a Ukrainian cable television business.

After The Times shared some of the documents with representatives of Mr. Manafort, a spokesman, Jason Maloni, did not dispute that the debts might have existed at one time. But he maintained that the Cyprus records were “stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements.”

“Manafort is not indebted to Mr. Deripaska or the Party of Regions, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign,” Mr. Maloni said. “The broader point, which Mr. Manafort has maintained from the beginning, is that he did not collude with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.” (Mr. Manafort resigned as campaign manager last August amid questions about his past work in Ukraine.) . . . .

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We’re beginning to see the mechanism of the scheme: the parts that made it work and the energy source.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2017 at 4:22 pm

How Trump is transforming rural America

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Peter Hessler reports in the New Yorker:

When Karen Kulp was a child, she believed that the United States of America as she knew it was going to end on June 6, 1966. Her parents were from the South, and they had migrated to Colorado, where Kulp’s father was involved in mining operations and various entrepreneurial activities. In terms of ideology, her parents had started with the John Birch Society, and then they became more radical, until they thought that an invasion was likely to take place on 6/6/66, because it resembled the number of the Beast. “We thought we were going to have a world war, there would be Communists coming, we’d have to kill somebody for a loaf of bread,” Kulp said recently.
She was thirteen when doomsday came. The family was living in Del Norte, Colorado, and they had packed gas masks, ammunition, canned food, and other supplies. As the day went on, Kulp said, she began to think that the invasion wasn’t going to happen. “And then I thought, I’m going to have to go to school tomorrow.”
In time, Kulp began to question her parents’ ideas. Her father became a pioneer in far-right radio, re-broadcasting the shows of Tom Valentine, who often promoted conspiracy theories and was accused of anti-Semitism. The Kulp family sometimes attended Aryan Nations training camps. “It was for whites only,” Kulp said. “It would teach you that whites were the supreme race, all of that shit.” She pointed to her heart: “It just didn’t fit in with this right here.”
By the time Kulp was twenty, she had rejected her parents’ racism. She worked as a nurse, eventually specializing in geriatric care, and during the nineteen-eighties she participated in pro-choice demonstrations. Last autumn, she was energized by the Presidential election. In Grand Junction, the largest city in western Colorado, Kulp campaigned with a group of citizens who became active shortly after the release of the “Access Hollywood” recording, in which Trump was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women.
One of the campaigners was a working mother named Lisa Gaizutis. Her eleven-year-old son had friends whose parents had declared that they would move to Canada if the election went the wrong way, so he did everything possible to free up his mother’s afternoons. “He said he’d take care of himself as long as I was campaigning,” Gaizutis remembered, after the election. “He’d text me and say, ‘You can stay late, I’m done with my homework.’ ”
The majority of these activists were women, but their backgrounds were varied. Laureen Gutierrez’s ancestors had come from Spain via Mexico; Marjorie Haun was a special-education teacher who had left her job because of a vocal disability. Matt Patterson was a high-school dropout who, through a series of unlikely events, had acquired a classics degree from Columbia University. All of the activists had arrived in the same place, as fervent supporters of Donald Trump, and on the day of the Inauguration they met in Grand Junction to celebrate.
On January 20th, nearly two hundred people attended the Mesa County Republican Women’s DeploraBall. They watched a live feed of the Presidential Inaugural Ball, and they took photographs of one another next to cardboard cutouts of Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, which had been arranged on the mezzanine of the Avalon Theatre. The theatre has an elegant Romanesque Revival façade, and it was built in the twenties, during one of the periodic resource-extraction booms that have shaped the city and its psyche. Grand Junction, with its surrounding area, has a population of some hundred and fifty thousand, and it sits in a wide, windswept valley. There are dry mountains and mesas on all sides, and the landscape gives the town a self-contained feel. Even its history revolves around events that were suffered alone. Residents often refer to their own “Black Sunday,” a date that’s meaningless anywhere else: May 2, 1982, when Exxon decided to abandon an enormous oil-shale project, with devastating effects on Grand Junction’s economy.
The region is a Republican stronghold in a state that is starkly divided. Clinton won the Colorado popular vote by a modest margin, but Trump took nearly twice as many counties. The difference came from Denver and Boulder, two populous and liberal enclaves on the Front Range, the eastern side of the Rockies—the Colorado equivalents of New York and California. “Donald Trump lost those two counties by two hundred and seventy-three thousand votes, and he won the rest of the state by a hundred and forty thousand votes,” Steve House, the former chair of the state Republican Party, told me. “That means that most of Colorado, in my mind, is a conservative state.”
It also means that Colorado’s economy and culture change dramatically from the Front Range to the Western Slope, on the other side of the Continental Divide. Between 2010 and 2015, the Front Range experienced ninety-six per cent of Colorado’s population growth, and the state’s unemployment rate is only 2.3 per cent. But Grand Junction lost eleven per cent of its workforce between 2009 and 2014, in part because the local energy industry collapsed in the wake of the worldwide drop in gas prices. Average annual family earnings are around ten thousand dollars less than the state figure.
Most Grand Junction Republicans initially supported Ted Cruz, and, in August, 2016, after Trump won the nomination, a young first vice-chair of the county Party named Michael Lentz resigned. Lentz decided that advocating for Trump would contradict his Christian faith; he was particularly bothered by Trump’s attacks on immigrants and on the press. “I spent a month trying to come to grips with it, but I couldn’t,” Lentz told me. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2017 at 6:04 pm

Just watch this: Shep Smith responds to Chris Wallace with a true (and coherent) rant

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2017 at 6:55 pm

Awkward: Peter W. Smith, GOP operative who sought Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers, committed suicide, records show

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What is going on? Katherine Skiba, David Heinzmann, and Todd Lighty report in the Chicago Tribune:

Republican donor and operative from Chicago’s North Shore who said he had tried to obtain Hillary Clinton’s missing emails from Russian hackers killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room days after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his efforts, public records show.

In mid-May, in a room at a Rochester hotel used almost exclusively by Mayo Clinic patients and relatives, Peter W. Smith, 81, left a carefully prepared file of documents, including a statement police called a suicide note in which he said he was in ill health and a life insurance policy was expiring.

Days earlier, the financier from suburban Lake Forest gave an interview to the Journal about his quest, and it began publishing stories about his efforts in late June. The Journal also reported it had seen emails written by Smith showing his team considered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then a top adviser to Republican Donald Trump’s campaign, an ally. Flynn briefly was President Trump’s national security adviser and resigned after it was determined he had failed to disclose contacts with Russia.

At the time, the newspaper reported Smith’s May 14 death came about 10 days after he granted the interview. Mystery shrouded how and where he had died, but the lead reporter on the stories said on a podcast he had no reason to believe the death was the result of foul play and that Smith likely had died of natural causes.

 

However, the Chicago Tribune obtained a Minnesota state death record filed in Olmsted County saying Smith committed suicide in a hotel near the Mayo Clinic at 1:17 p.m. on Sunday, May 14. He was found with a bag over his head with a source of helium attached. A medical examiner’s report gives the same account, without specifying the time, and a report from Rochester police further details his suicide.

In the note recovered by police, Smith apologized to authorities and said that “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” was involved in his death. He wrote that he was taking his own life because of a “RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017” and timing related “TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.”

He had been staying at the hotel for several days and had extended his stay at least once but was expected to check out on the day his body was found. “Tomorrow is my last day,” Smith told a hotel worker on May 13 while he worked on a computer in the business center, printing documents, according to the police reports.

One of Smith’s former employees told the Tribune he thought the elderly man had gone to the famed clinic to be treated for a heart condition. Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said Thursday she could not confirm Smith had been a patient, citing medical privacy laws.

The Journal stories said that on Labor Day weekend last year Smith assembled a team to acquire emails the team theorized might have been stolen from the private server Clinton had used while secretary of state. Smith’s focus was the more than 30,000 emails Clinton said she deleted because they related to personal matters. A huge cache of other Clinton emails were made public.

Smith told the Journal he believed the missing emails might have been obtained by Russian hackers. He also said he thought the correspondence related to Clinton’s official duties. He told the Journal he worked independently and was not part of the Trump campaign. He also told the Journal he and his team found five groups of hackers — two of them Russian groups — that claimed to have Clinton’s missing emails.

Smith had a history of doing opposition research, the formal term for unflattering information that political operatives dig up about rival candidates.

For years, former Democratic President Bill Clinton was Smith’s target. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2017 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Donald Trump is wrong. When Democrats were offered secret help by the Soviets, they refused.

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Richard Moss corrects the record in the Washington Post:

Yesterday, President Trump suggested in a Reuters interview that there wasn’t anything surprising or wrong about his son’s enthusiasm for learning secrets that he had been told were part of a Russian effort to help Trump’s presidential campaign. He said:

I think many people would have held that meeting. … Most of the phony politicians who are Democrats who I watched over the last couple of days — most of those phonies that act holier-than-thou, if the same thing happened to them, they would have taken that meeting in a heartbeat.

Trump is right that foreign powers have tried to influence U.S. politicians in the past. Foreign powers have many ways to exercise influence in representative democracies. Some of these may be public, and others surreptitious. 2016 certainly wasn’t the first time the Kremlin tried to influence a U.S. election, and Moscow is by no means alone in attempting to sway U.S. politics. However, these efforts have worked in complicated ways, and American politicians have not been as quick to accept their help as Trump suggests.

Russia tried – and failed – to support the Democrats in 1968

In 1968, Moscow feared that the staunchly anti-communist Richard M. Nixon would be elected. To forestall that, the Kremlin decided to reach out to Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey. As Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, revealed in his memoir, “In Confidence,” two decades ago: “The top Soviet leaders took an extraordinary step, unprecedented in the history of Soviet-American relations, by secretly offering Humphrey any conceivable help in his election campaign — including financial aid.” Dobrynin explained:

I received a top-secret instruction to that effect from [Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko personally and did my utmost to dissuade him from embarking on such a dangerous venture, which if discovered certainly would have backfired and ensured Humphrey’s defeat, to say nothing of the real trouble it would have caused for Soviet-American relations. Gromyko answered laconically, “There is a decision, you carry it out.”

The opportunity soon arose for the well-connected ambassador at a breakfast at Humphrey’s home. Dobrynin subtly raised the issue of Humphrey’s campaign finances during a discussion of the election, but the vice president deflected the issue. “Humphrey, I must say,” Dobrynin wrote, “was not only a very intelligent but also a very clever man. He knew at once what was going on.” Humphrey told Dobrynin that “it was more than enough for him to have Moscow’s good wishes which he highly appreciated.” Dobrynin felt relieved that he had followed his orders and Humphrey had avoided the potentially explosive issue.

Humphrey did not mention the Soviet election outreach or even Dobrynin in his 1991 memoir, “The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics.”

Russia had tried to hurt Nixon’s chances in 1960

Russian worries about Nixon’s anti-communism did not begin in 1968. At their first face-to-face meeting in Vienna, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev “joked” with the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, that the Soviet Union “had cast the deciding ballot in [Kennedy’s] election to the Presidency over that son-of-a-bitch Richard Nixon,” in 1960. When Kennedy asked for clarification, Khrushchev explained that he had waited until after the U.S. election to release Francis Gary Powers, a U-2 spy-plane pilot shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, to undercut Nixon’s claim that he could work with the Soviets.

Khrushchev may have conflated Powers’s release — which didn’t happen until 1962 — with two American survivors of an RB-47H spy plane that was shot down in July 1960. Both Nixon and Kennedy had called upon the Soviet Union to release the American pilots. Nevertheless, as Adam Taylor previously wrote in The Washington Post:

Noting that the two candidates were at a “stalemate,” Khrushchev recalled saying that if Powers or the other Americans were released before the election, it could give Nixon a boost. It would be better to wait until after the election, the Soviet premier thought.

“My comrades agreed, and we did not release Powers,” he wrote. “As it turned out, we’d done the right thing. Kennedy won the election by a majority of only 200,000 or so votes, a negligible margin if you consider the huge population of the United States. The slightest nudge either way would have been decisive.”

Even 57 years later, the consequences of Khrushchev’s actions remain difficult to assess. However, the Soviet Union’s activities apparently were indirect, and did not involve any quid-pro-quo.

China possibly tried to influence U.S. politics in 1996

Moscow isn’t the only foreign power that has probably tried to influence U.S. politics. The “China Lobby” — the efforts of the Republic of China (Taiwan) under the Kuomintang — has been well-documented (for example) as soliciting political, economic and military support from the 1940s to the 1970s for Chiang Kai-shek and Taiwan in opposition to Mao Zedong and the People’s Republic of China. In addition to

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 July 2017 at 1:48 pm

Explicit evidence of Trump campaign’s overt collusion with the Russian government now revealed

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I expect that we’ll shortly see a series of provocative if not deranged tweets from President Trump as he attempts to distract attention from the latest (and clearest) evidence yet of how his campaign colluded with Russia. This is treason.

Jo Becker, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.

Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.

But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald Trump Jr. was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.

The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.

After being told that The Times was about to publish the content of the emails, instead of responding to a request for comment, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out images of them himself on Tuesday. . .

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The story contains Donald Trump Jr.’s release of the emails regarding the meeting. And there’s a lot more. Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 8:53 am

The Rise of the Thought Leader

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David Sessions writes in The New Republic:

Writing in one of Mussolini’s prisons in the 1930s, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci jotted down the fragments that would become his theory of intellectuals. New classes, like the European bourgeoisie after the Industrial Revolution, he proposed, brought with them their own set of thinkers, which he called “organic intellectuals”—theorists, technicians, and administrators, who became their “functionaries” in a new society. Unlike “traditional intellectuals” who held positions in the old class structure, organic intellectuals helped the bourgeoisie establish its ideas as the invisible, unquestioned conventional wisdom circulating in social institutions.

Today, Gramsci’s theory has been largely overlooked in the ongoing debate over the supposed decline of the “public intellectual” in America. Great minds, we are told, no longer captivate the public as they once did, because the university is too insular and academic thinking is too narrow. Such laments frequently cite Russell Jacoby’s The Last Intellectuals (1987), which complained about the post-1960s professionalization of academia and waxed nostalgic for the bohemian, “independent” intellectuals of the earlier twentieth century. Writers like the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof attribute this sorry state of affairs to the culture of Ph.D. programs, which, Kristof claims, have glorified “arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” If academics cannot bring their ideas to a wider readership, these familiar critiques imply, it is because of the academic mindset itself.

In his book The Ideas Industry, the political scientist and foreign policy blogger Daniel W. Drezner broadens the focus to include the conditions in which ideas are formed, funded, and expressed. Describing the public sphere in the language of markets, he argues that three major factors have altered the fortunes of today’s intellectuals: the evaporation of public trust in institutions, the polarization of American society, and growing economic inequality. He correctly identifies the last of these as the most important: the extraordinary rise of the American superrich, a class interested in supporting a particular genre of “ideas.”

The rich have, Drezner writes, empowered a new kind of thinker—the “thought leader”—at the expense of the much-fretted-over “public intellectual.” Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.” While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to “change the world.” Many readers, Drezner observes, prefer the “big ideas” of the latter to the complexity of the former. In a marketplace of ideas awash in plutocrat cash, it has become “increasingly profitable for thought leaders to hawk their wares to both billionaires and a broader public,” to become “superstars with their own brands, sharing a space previously reserved for moguls, celebrities, and athletes.”

Drezner does his best to take an objective view of the thought leader as a new kind of intellectual who fulfills a function different from that of the public intellectual, though an equally legitimate one. “It is surely noteworthy,” he writes, optimistically, “that a strong demand has emerged for new ideas and vibrant ways of thinking about the world.” But he seems to portray this thirst for new ideas as a positive development even while conceding that the ideas currently thirsted for are at best shallow and banal, at worst deeply anti-democratic, and at times outright fraudulent.


The case against thought leaders, The Ideas Industry shows, is damning. As Drezner notes, some of the marquee names in thought leadership are distinguished by their facile thinking and transparent servility to the wealthy. The biggest idea in Thomas Friedman’s best-known book, The World Is Flat, is, Drezner summarizes, that “to thrive in the global economy, one needs to be ‘special,’ a unique brand like Michael Jordan.” It is more of a marketing principle than a philosophical insight. But “businessmen adore Friedman’s writings on how technology and globalization transform the global economy,” Drezner explains, because his message reinforces their worldview.

Like Friedman, thought leaders Parag and Ayesha Khanna proclaim the world-historical power of technological innovation, preaching that technology with a capital “T” is replacing economics and geopolitics as the engine of global change. As Evgeny Morozov has observed, Parag Khanna believes that “democracy might be incompatible with globalization and capitalism,” arguing that we should thus embrace authoritarian, Chinese-style capitalism. In his own review of Khanna’s Connectography, Drezner characterized his thinking as “globaloney” and likened his prose style to “a TED talk on a recursive loop.”

Drezner traces how the pursuit of money in the new corporate ideas industry—through television shows, high-dollar speeches, and lavish book advances—pushes thought leaders to bloat their expertise and hustle in so many markets that they end up selling fakes. The most notorious example is Fareed Zakaria, the CNN host and columnist who has been caught lifting passages from other writers to feed his multiplatform output. Similarly, the historian Niall Ferguson leapt headlong into brand-building: crafting books intended as scripts for TV series, giving lucrative speeches, and writing for a dizzying array of publications. Like other overstretched thought leaders, Ferguson landed in trouble when his Newsweek cover story on President Obama in 2012 turned out to be riddled with errors and misleading claims. Interviewed for The Ideas Industry, Ferguson is frank about his transformation from Oxford don to thought leader: “I did it all for the money.”

Despite Drezner’s impatience with the delusions of thought leaders, he shrinks from the darker implications of his evidence. When it comes time to render a verdict on whether the Ideas Industry is “working,” he conjures an economic metaphor: “For good and ill, the modern marketplace of ideas strongly resembles modern financial markets. Usually, the system works. On occasion, however, there can be asset bubbles.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2017 at 7:24 pm

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