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Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

Does Glenn Greenwald Know More Than Robert Mueller?

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Simon van Zuylen-Wood writes in New York magazine:

It’s 10:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro time. Glenn Greenwald and I are finishing dinner at a deserted bistro in Ipanema. The restaurant, which serves its sweating beer bottles in metal buckets and goes heavy on the protein, is almost aggressively unremarkable (English menus on the table, a bossa-nova version of “Hey Jude” on the stereo). Greenwald avoids both meat and alcohol but seems to enjoy dining here. “I really believe that if I still lived in New York, the vast majority of my friends would be New York and Washington media people and I would kind of be implicitly co-opted.” He eats a panko-crusted shrimp. “It just gives me this huge buffer. You’ve seen how I live, right? When I leave my computer, that world disappears.”

Greenwald, now 50, has seemed to live in his own bubble in Rio for years, since well before he published Edward Snowden’s leaks and broke the domestic-spying story in 2013 — landing himself a Pulitzer Prize, a book deal, and, in time, the backing of a billionaire (that’s Pierre Omidyar) to start a muckraking, shit-stirring media empire (that’s First Look Media, home to the Intercept, though its ambitions have been downgraded over time). But he seems even more on his own since the election, just as the agitated left has regained the momentum it lost in the Obama years.

The reason is Russia. For the better part of two years, Greenwald has resisted the nagging bipartisan suspicion that Trumpworld is in one way or another compromised by a meddling foreign power. If there’s a conspiracy, he suspects, it’s one against the president; where others see collusion, he sees “McCarthyism.” Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”

And even if claims about Russian meddling are corroborated by Robert Mueller’s investigation, Greenwald’s not sure it adds up to much — some hacked emails changing hands, none all that damaging in their content, maybe some malevolent Twitter bots. In his eyes, the Russia-Trump story is a shiny red herring — one that distracts from the failures, corruption, and malice of the very Establishment so invested in promoting it. And when in January, as “Journalism Twitter” was chastising the president for one outrage or another, Congress quietly passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize sweeping NSA surveillance, you had to admit Greenwald might have been onto something.

“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”

Greenwald’s been yelling about this, quite heatedly, since before the election. “In the Democratic Echo Chamber, Inconvenient Truths Are Recast As Putin Plots,” reads the headline of an Intercept piece published in October 2016. “The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook,” reads another, from February 2017. As Mueller’s investigation widened, no fallen domino — not the guilty plea of former Trump national-security adviser Michael Flynn, not the indictment of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — chastened Greenwald. When it was recently reported that Steve Bannon had lobbed a “treason” charge in the direction of Donald Trump Jr. — precipitating his break with the president — Greenwald rolled his eyes. Bannon’s “motives are pure & pristine and he is simply trying to inform the public about the truth,” Greenwald tweeted sarcastically.

This is a year in which even the most anti-Establishment liberals have found themselves rooting for Mueller, a Republican who ran George W. Bush’s war-on-terror FBI. “It is not an insubstantial portion of Democratic online loyalists who believe that if you deviate from Democratic Party orthodoxy on the Trump-Russia question, you are a paid Kremlin agent,” Greenwald says. And many of those who don’t believe Greenwald works for Vladimir Putin tend to think he does his bidding for free. “I love him,” says former Gawker editor John Cook, who worked with Greenwald at the Intercept. “He’s dead, tragically wrong on this.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 3:45 pm

Russians under every rock

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Amid the shutdown scramble, McClatchy broke a Russia scandal blockbuster:

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

Torshin is one of a number of shady Russian characters who operate in the overlapping spheres of business and corrupt Russian politics.

Torshin, a leading figure in Putin’s party, has been implicated in money laundering by judicial authorities in Spain, as Bloomberg News first revealed in 2016. Spanish investigators alleged in an almost 500-page internal report that Torshin, who was then a senator, capitalized on his government role to assist mobsters laundering funds through Spanish properties and banks, Bloomberg reported. A summary obtained by McClatchy of the still-secret report links Torshin to Russian money laundering and describes him as a godfather in a major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya.

What is remarkable is that Torshin also had direct contact, according to reports, with Donald Trump Jr. The Center for American Progress’s Moscow Project found:

Donald Trump Jr. met over dinner with Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, a former Russian Senator and a close Putin ally, at the NRA convention in 2016. Around the same time, Torshin reportedly attempted to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump. Jared Kushner was later criticized for failing to disclose this attempt.

Moreover, Torshin pops up again, at least indirectly:

Maria Butina, who previously worked for Torshin, founded the group “The Right to Bear Arms” to advocate for Russian gun owners in 2011. Julia Ioffe has credited Butina, through her formation of this group, with “almost single-handedly inventing Russia’s gun-rights movement.” The group advocates higher gun ownership rates in the name of self-defense. Butina reportedly currently resides in D.C., where she attends American University as a graduate student.

Russians have exceedingly few gun rights, so the group seems designed for external activities.

So what’s going on here? “If you were running an influence operation with the goal of subverting 70 years of Republican hawkishness on Russia, infiltrating the right’s most powerful lobbying group wouldn’t be a bad way to do it,” CAP’s Max Bergmann, who heads the Moscow Project, tells me. “We already know that at least some of the people that tried to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government did so under the guise of their ‘shared values’ on gun rights and sometimes did so through NRA channels.” But of course since Russia has no real gun rights movement, Bergmann posits that this outfit “has all the markings of a Kremlin front, created with the intention to, in the words of former CIA director John Brennan, ‘suborn individuals‘ in the United States.”

The remarkable part about the Trump campaign is not the appearance of a single Kremlin-connected figure. It is that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2018 at 2:50 pm

The NRA Is Part of the Trump–Russia Scandal Now

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign has a number of complex threads. But the latest development is simple and old-fashioned. McClatchy reports that the FBI is investigating whether a Kremlin-linked Russian banker funneled money through the National Rifle Association to help elect Donald Trump. American law prohibits foreign campaign donations.

The banker, Alexsandr Torshin, has close ties to Vladimir Putin, and the sort of shady connections one expects from an oligarch in the Putin circle. (He has been charged with money laundering overseas and links to mobsters.) Torshin is also a lifetime member of the NRA, hosted NRA delegations visiting Russia, has attended several NRA conventions, and has spoken with gun enthusiast Donald Trump Jr.

Torshin is not the only link between the NRA and Putin. Last February, Tim Mak profiled Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist who has worked in American right-wing politics. At one Washington party immediately after the election, Butina “brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, two individuals who were present said. On other occasions, in one of her graduate classes, she repeated this claim,” Mak reported.

Both Butina and Torshin have also worked with Paul Erickson, a veteran Republican operative and gun rights activist who has cultivated close ties to Russia. Erickson has called the alliance between the NRA and “Right to Bear Arms,” its Russian counterpart, a “moral-support operation both ways.” There is a genuine ideological connection between the right-wing ideology of the NRA and of many Russian nationalists, a strand of violence-obsessed authoritarian pan-European nationalism. Of course, if the support given Trump by Russians was not merely moral but also financial, it would violate the law.

It is also worth contemplating the effect any legal trouble for the NRA would have upon the Republican Congress.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2018 at 12:20 pm

Yet Another North Carolina Voting Law Has Been Struck Down

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Kevin Drum describes how life is in some states. Please read.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2018 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

Kevin Drum’s list of his 10 best charts of last year

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2018 at 6:21 pm

Hmm. Trump: Even if there was collusion with Russia, ‘it’s not a crime’

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I find that “even if” pretty much a dead giveaway, as anyone who has kids knows. I’d say Trump thinks something is coming out, particularly with the White House explicitly poised to attack Flynn as liar, low moral character, whatever: the same Flynn who was once so highly praised, admired, and even had the president trying to protect him. So calling him a liar after having so obviously trusted him is another dead giveaway.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2017 at 8:48 pm

This Is How Gerrymandering Works

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Laura Moser writes in the NY Review of Books:

I first got interested in gerrymandering on that long-ago night in 2012 when President Obama was re-elected. By 10 PM, it was clear that Obama had won. The next morning, I took a closer look at the returns.

I grew up, and currently live, in Harris County, Texas, which includes much of the Houston metropolitan area. After Los Angeles County, California, and Cook County, Illinois, ours is the third-most populous county in the nation. Its population, close to 4.6 million, is greater than the populations of twenty-seven states. So I was stunned to see that Obama was ahead of Romney by two. Not 2 percent. Not 0.2 percent. Not 2,000.

Two votes: 579,070 to 579,068.

I looked for the fine print. But with nearly 99.2 percent of precincts reporting, these were the numbers. (That last 0.8 percent turned out more heavily for Obama. He won by 971 votes, out of 1,188,585 cast.)

That made Harris County, by far, the most closely divided large population center in the country. Under a truly representative system, a county this large and this evenly divided would hold the key to the House of Representatives, and thus open one of the doors to national power. You would expect every race to be hotly contested, wildly expensive, and closely watched. They almost never are.

In 2003, the districts were changed by Tom DeLay, the former congressman and House majority leader later convicted for election violations. (Amid great controversy, the conviction was subsequently overturned.) This was a break with precedent: a redistricting had never occurred in any state between censuses. And it was effective: in the 2004 elections, six incumbent Democrats lost in Texas. This helped the Republican Party increase its House majority by three additional representatives—in a year when the Democratic share of the popular vote rose nationally.

Since then, the number of House seats in Texas has grown from thirty-two to thirty-six, but even with all of them up every two years, on only half a dozen occasions has one changed hands. After the 2010 census, the Texas Legislature, which draws the lines, hewed closely to the DeLay gerrymander.

The results are clear. An average district has about 710,000 people. That would divide fairly evenly into the 4.6 million people in Harris County. So there should be six districts entirely within Harris County. But there aren’t.

Instead, the Houston metropolitan area, of which Harris County is a part, is divided into nine districts whose boundaries are, literally, all over the map. One touches Louisiana; one goes halfway to Dallas; one runs from northwest Harris County to the northern half of Travis County, putting parts of Austin and Houston in the same district.

That didn’t just happen. Urban, Democratic-leaning voters are grouped into as few districts as possible, or divided into little parcels and grouped with Republican exurbs and rural areas. The process is known as “packing and cracking.”

Travis County, which contains the nation’s eleventh largest city, Austin, has about 1.2 million people, almost enough for two complete districts. But it is divided into five. One stretches down to the Mexican border; another all the way up to Fort Worth, almost two hundred miles away. Travis is the most liberal county in Texas, so the Republican legislature has drawn the lines in a way that gives it, instead of two Democrats, one Democrat and four Republicans.

(Alabama, with roughly the population of Harris County, has seven districts. In this month’s special election, Doug Jones received a higher percentage of the votes cast than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 in every county—not just the counties that Hillary carried. Jones won. But such is the efficacy of gerrymandering that Roy Moore carried six of the seven districts.)

These lines mean that anyone from the dominant party can expect at least 60 percent. One effect is in Washington, where there is little cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. No Republican voted for Obamacare, and no Democrat voted for its repeal. No Democrat voted for the tax bill, and very few voted to approve Trump’s cabinet appointees.

This is why gerrymandering has become a major cause of polarization. No representative has to take into account people who disagree with him or her. And it helps to explain why so few people bother to vote. Why should they, if the outcome of elections is known in advance?

Until recently, this was true of the 7th congressional district of Texas, where I am running. The district was not intended to be competitive. But the GOP’s majority in the district has eroded. The incumbent, John Culberson, is a Tea Partier with an above 98 percent pro-Trump voting record. In 2016, he eked out a relatively narrow win, 56 percent, against a poorly financed, largely unknown opponent.

Many of my neighbors are the kinds of Republicans one  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2017 at 4:44 pm

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