Sunday, February 18, 2018

Confirmed: American Voters Are So Stupid That They Don't Care To Know The Truth

And so it was left to Robert Mueller to decisively answer why so many Americans were so stupid that they voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election: It is because they were stupid. 
That is the unmistakable subtext of the special prosecutor's indictment last Friday of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations for using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to contact millions of voters through a Russian troll farm in a brazen and less-than-subtle effort to sow political discord by disparaging Hillary Clinton in the service of boosting Trump's candidacy.  
"The Americans are very impressionable people and they see what they want to see," declared Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who bankrolled and helped direct the propaganda attack, in response to being indicted.  "If they want to see the devil -- let them."  
And the devil they did see in waves of ads, fake news, bogus social media accounts and videos targeting voters in eight "purple states," as the troll farm project called them, where the election appeared to be a toss-up. 
Most of the propaganda effort was focused on Florida, the largest swing state. 
Trump campaign officials there kept being surprised by the robust grassroots support for the future president.  They said it just didn't make sense at the time because . . . well, just because.  That unarticulated "because" was because Trump was damaged goods and they knew it, but they didn't detect the hand of the pseudonymous Russian conspirators nailed by Mueller in early August 2016 when they approached the campaign with a plan some 20 "Florida Goes Trump" rallies -- actually a series of hypercharged anti-Clinton displays -- held throughout the state on August 20. 
The conspirators sense of the theatrical was greased with greenbacks.   
As the indictment noted, these payments resulted in a variety of anti-Clinton displays, including a cage on a flatbed truck with a volunteer portraying the Democratic candidate in a prison uniform.  Other Trump supporters picked up on the theme and displayed cages in their front yards, while the candidate himself led chants of "Lock her up!" at rallies while routinely declaring that if he lost, it was because Democrats had rigged the vote.  
"We looked out for things when people came to rallies," recalled Susie Wiles, one of Trump's top Florida organizers.  "We weren't looking for fake Americans that were really Russians.  The world seems different now." 
Some others were not so easily fooled. 
"It was all the social media stuff, that's where you could see something was weird," said Florida Republican Party executive director David Johnson with the clarity of hindsight. "It was syntax errors and odd ways of saying things that were apparent." 
Read one typical message: "Florida is still a purple state and we need to appoint it red.  If we lose Florida, we lose America."  And another: "Tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary voters are being reported in Broward County." 
Political scientists have been studying for decades what voters know and how they think, and their conclusions are truly frightening.  Voters generally know who the president is, but little else.  They don't know who controls Congress, what Congress has done recently, and whether the economy is getter better or worse. 
Vladimir Putin's scheme succeeded magnificently.  This, according to those political scientists, is because most voters are ignorant or misinformed.  For them, the costs of acquiring political information (as opposed to the research they would do before buying a new car) exceed the potential benefits.  They believe they can afford to indulge in delusional beliefs because they believe that it doesn't cost them anything.  
Trump son-outlaw Jared Kushner haughtily declared last summer after testifying before a congressional committee investigating Russian interference that "Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won.  Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him."
But at the heart of the social media attack is what Prigozhin knew, Russia took advantage of and Kushner would never acknowledge: American voters are so stupid that many of them are unable and unwilling to assess the credibility of what they read, see and hear. 
They don't care enough to know the truth. 
ONE OF THE PERSISTENT LIES ABOUT THE ELECTION is that Trump supported the little guy while Clinton was a choice of the privileged.  
In reality, Trump voters had an average income of $72,ooo a year, which didn't make them rich, but didn't qualify them for food stamps.  They were, however, just as vulnerable to the Russian disinformation war as the knuckle-dragging Trump supporters whom Clinton infamously called "deplorables." 
As it turned out, three people of our acquaintance drank the Kremlin Kool Aid.  
One is a highly-educated registered Democrat who has a high-powered job that turns on decision making and would seem to be too intelligent to not have succumbed to decades of anti-Clinton hype, including the evergreen that she murdered Vince Foster, Bill Clinton's deputy White House counsel, and then be hoodwinked all over again by the Kremlin's cyber juggernaut.    
But on Election Day, she wrote in a prominent national Democrat on her ballot in a Pennsylvania district rather than voting for Clinton because she believed the fake news, and being a Jew was especially aggrieved about a fake news story that financier George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, was secretly working with Clinton to undermine the Netanyahu regime in Israel. 
Clinton lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a razor-thin 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million cast.  
It is well documented that Russian operatives -- in my view with the help of the Trump campaign -- targeted undecided and vulnerable voters in those high-impact "purple states" through social platforms.  Clinton, who won the popular vote outright, would have won the Electoral College by a 275-248 electoral vote margin if 22,147 Pennsylvania voters -- including our acquaintance, who by not voting for Clinton in effect voted for Trump -- and a mere 5,353 Michigan voters and 11,375 Wisconsin voters had voted for Clinton.     
Then there were two anesthesiologists who had so completely bought into the fake news campaign that they had troll farm talking points on their smartphones, as well as YouTube videos purporting to reveal Clinton's manifold sins, that they would relentlessly bring up during pre-election water cooler discussions.
RUSSIA WON TWICE WITH TRUMP.  As Putin rose from KGB spy to director of the FSB, its successor agency, to the leader of a reborn Russia determined to return the motherland to its status as a global superpower at the expense of America's standing, the perfect patsy in the form of a New York developer, celebrity reality show star and billionaire had made himself available long before the 2016 election. 
Conveniently for the Kremlin, Trump had a fawning admiration for autocrats, unknowingly became snared in the KGB's web and then was further drawn in by sleazy investors whose ties to Soviet and then Russian government agencies he overlooked because of his insatiable need for cash and narcissistic craving for power.   
Trump's ensnarement grew even deeper in 2016.   
Putin's cyberespionage of the presidential campaign was as much to stop Hillary Clinton, whom Putin openly loathed and feared would build on Obama era economic sanctions and further freeze out Russia, than to elect Trump.  And so Russia was not merely able to manipulate a pliably uncurious American electorate, but it additionally scored with Trump, who as president continues to do the Kremlin's bidding. 
After Mueller's latest indictment, which devastated Trump's long-playing argument that the scandal was a "hoax," his predictable reaction was to claim personal vindication ("The Trump campaign did nothing wrong -- no collusion!"), not voice concern that a foreign power had been trying to undermine American democracy and that would not be tolerated.   
In a remarkable nine-hour, profanity-laced tweet storm over the weekend, Trump then attacked Mueller for saying that the Russian interference effort was intended to push voters toward him and away from Clinton, again tried to shift blame to Barack Obama and the Democrats because Russian interference began before the election, denied he has ever said Moscow was not involved in something he has claimed never happened, and attacked H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, for saying Moscow was involved.      
A democracy is supposed to reflect the will of the people.  But in 2016 -- and since with the Trump presidency -- it has done anything but. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Another Shoe Drops As Maximum Bob Charges 13 Russians With Election Meddling

Prigozhin (left), one of those indicted, serving dinner to Putin
In the first charges directly related to election meddling, Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations for illegally using social media to sow political discord in the 2016 presidential election, including actions that supported Donald Trump's candidacy and disparaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton. 
The special counsel, in a 37-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said the 13 individuals and three organizations had conspired since April 2014 to violate laws that prohibit foreigners from spending money to influence federal elections by using stolen identities and other methods to falsely pose as American citizens. 
It is unlikely that the Russians would be immediately arrested, but because they are now wanted by the U.S. government, it will make it difficult for them to travel outside of Russia or do business internationally. 
One of the three organizations, the St. Petersburg-based International Research Agency, is a notorious troll farm that was a hub for a sophisticated operation designed to reach millions of Americans to disrupt the political process, according to the indictment.  Facebook has acknowledged that the agency bought 3,000 ads that reached 11.4 million users, as well as organized 129 events that drew the attention of nearly 340,000 Facebook users. 
With a budget in the millions of dollars, the stated goal of an effort nicknamed the Translator Project was to "spread distrust toward candidates and the political system in general" using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google to divide voters across a range of polarizing issues, including race, religion, gun rights and immigration.  
The individuals traveled around the U.S., visiting at least eight so-called battleground states, which they called "purple states."  These included Colorado, Florida and Virginia.  They created hundreds of email, bank and PayPal accounts and used fraudulent drivers' licenses issued to fictitious Americans, as well as the identities of real Americans from stolen Social Security numbers. 
At the height of the campaign, more than 80 people were employed using secure private network connections to computer servers leased in the U.S. to hide the fact they were in Russia posing as American activists who emailed, advised and made payments to reach Americans who were tricked into believing they were part of the same cause. 
Much of the effort was concentrated in Florida where the operatives mobilized efforts for "Florida Goes Trump" rallies on August 20, 2016 and, using false identities, contacted the Trump state campaign staff to offer their services.  
Significantly perhaps -- and perhaps only for the time being -- the indictment charges that some of the suspects interacted with Americans associated with the Trump campaign, but those associates did not realize they were being manipulated.  Still, the indictment does land a fatal blow to the president's continued insistence that Russian interference in the election is a "hoax," which PolitiFact deservedly called its 2017 "Lie of the Year." 
In a statement following announcement of the indictments, Trump stressed that no members of his campaign were implicated.

"Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President," he tweeted. "The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong -- no collusion!"
Prosecutors said that by February 2016, the suspects had decided whom they were supporting and were instructed by the Internet Research Agency to "use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump -- we support them.)"   
Not coincidentally, Paul Manafort was running the Trump campaign during the period in the spring and summer of 2016 when the Translator Project hit its stride, and it is likely that ties between the suspects and Americans, possibly involved in the  Trump campaign, who knew exactly what they were up to will emerge.    
The Internet Research Agency kept a list of legitimate American citizens whom its employees contacted using false personas and had asked to assist in their propaganda efforts, which included buying ads with messages like "Hillary is a Satan" and "Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison."  The list numbered over 100 people by August 2016 and included contact information, a summary of each individual's political views and the activities the Russians asked them to undertake. 
In September 2016, some of the Internet Research Agency trolls were chastised when they had a "low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton," according to the indictment.  They were told it was "imperative to intensify criticizing" the Democratic nominee, who was well ahead of Trump in most polls.   
All 13 suspects were charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S.  Three defendants also were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft. 
Most of the 13 suspects are unknown, but Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin is a notorious exception. 
Prigozhin overcame his humble roots to become one of Russia's richest and most corrupt men.  Although he is not a chef himself, the oligarch is known in the Russian media as "Putin's chef" because his close ties to the Russian president and the lavish feasts he has put on for him.  Prigozhin's Concord Catering, along with his Concord Consulting, are named in the indictment, he is a financial backer of the Internet Research Institute and is widely known as a go-to guy for Putin on a variety of secret missions, including the recruitment of contract soldiers to fight in Ukraine and Syria. 
The last round of Obama administration sanctions against Russia in December 2016 included Prigozhin, who was cited for his extensive support of the Putin regime, including construction of a military base near Ukraine that was used to deploy Russian troops. 
"The Americans are very impressionable people and they see what they want to see," Prigozhin told Russia's Novosti state news agency in response to the indictment.  "I respect them very much. 
"I am not at all disappointed that I appear in this list.  If they want to see the devil -- let them." 
The indictment was impressive in its detail and appears to have been based on extensive surveillance and record gathering. 
Mueller has issued indictments for four individuals, two directly involved in the Trump campaign, but the indictment charging the Russian nationals and organizations are the first for meddling in the election -- the fundamental crime that the special counsel was tasked with investigating.
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who had hired Mueller after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, called the charges "a reminder that people are not always who they appear on the Internet.  The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote social discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy.  We must not allow them to succeed."

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Will Misogyny Be On The Mid-Term Ballot Because Of The Ron Porter Scandal?

Another day and another cavalcade of lies spewing from the West Wing about the Rob Porter scandal like so many black eyes.   
It turns out Porter was in talks regarding a promotion despite Chief of Staff John Kelly and others knowing that he abused his wives, something the White House has insisted only became known in July.  But FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that information was communicated nearly a year ago after the FBI closed a background investigation on Porter for a security clearance he still doesn't have, and on two more occasions after that.
And don't you want to throw up when press secretary Sarah Huckabee "Walkback" Sanders, that pillar of defiant obstructionism, oozes contempt when a reporter asks her where Trump stands and she replies, as she did yet again on Tuesday in falsely claiming that the FBI and White House timelines are identical, that the president supports domestic violence victims but is really concerned about "due process."  
But in dwelling on these latest developments, let alone a timeline that has changed daily -- and sometimes several times a day -- as administration officials keep tripping over themselves in futilely trying to mascara the black eyes, we risk losing sight of the big picture: The president of the United States, who has consistently sided with Porter, is a misogynist and serial abuser himself, and any Republican supporting him and running for reelection should pay dearly for that.   But will they?  Will there be a political -- let alone social -- consequences?
Steve Bannon, of all people, believes so.   
Bannon, the alt-right apologist who was Trump's resident Svengali for the first seven months of his tortured term until being ousted because he had perturbed the right-wing Republican money changers, now says that he's "sick of being a wet nurse for a 71-year-old" and has a warning for politicians who continue to support Trump and implicitly his woman hating. 
"You watch.  The time has come," Bannon told journalist Joshua Green.  "Women are gonna take charge of society.  And they couldn't juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He's the patriarch.  This is a definational moment in the culture.  It'll never be the same going forward." 
Bannon is inclined toward grandiose pronouncements and is hardly a feminist.  In fact, he was charged with domestic violence and battery in 1996 en route to a messy divorce, but he is on to something.
Trump's response to the Porter scandal has been similar to the many others during his presidency.  He tries to divert attention and lies shamelessly.  In this instance, he not only has sided with Porter, but also denigrated Porter's victims and tweeted his suspicions of the #MeToo movement.  Yet this scandal is not about Russian interference or a campaign's collusion in a presidential election, turning the presidency into a profit center for the Trump family business empire or the ethical lapses and forced resignations of Cabinet members.   
The common denominator, of course, is that everyone keeps lying about everything. 
Beyond the lying, the Porter scandal is different for another reason, as well: In the era of the incredible, shrinking news cycle, it has dominated headlines for eight days.  There has been no effort to own up to the scandal's real causes as Sanders and others keep writing it off as a communications failure.  Then on Wednesday, the scandal grew a new tentacle as one-time Trump ally Trey Gowdy said his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will investigate why Porter was allowed to work without a full security clearance, an extremely rare instance of congressional oversight of this out-of-control presidency.  Maybe the same could be asked about Trump son-outlaw Jared Kushner.
Even Kellyanne Conway, whose tortured defenses of Trump have been a ratings bonanza for late-night comedians, broke with the president on Porter, saying she saw "no reason not to believe" his former wives. 
Trump's seeming immunity to his own sex scandal -- some 20 women have come forward over the years, recently including the porn star he allegedly bedded four months after the birth of his son -- has limits.  While the Porter imbroglio will not hasten the end of his presidency, it will have an impact at the ballot box in November even if he did win 53 percent of the white woman vote in 2016. 
Yes, those white women got what they voted for, but at a time when it has never been more obvious that vile men like Trump -- or Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or maybe their own bosses -- are threats to their dignity, Trump's message that women should be silent or be disbelieved about the sexual exploitation in their own lives is bound to siphon support from Republican candidates who don't break with the president on the issue. 
It seems unlikely many candidates will have the balls to do so -- making them fair game for Democrats -- even as the Pussy Grabber in Chief tries to rebuild traditional racial and gender hierarchies in a world he sees as spinning out of control with a chief of staff at his side who not only didn't think Porter's history of abuse was a cause for dismissal, but was considering giving him a promotion to a job with an elevated policy role, possibly as his chief deputy. 
THERE HAVE BEEN 36 RED-TO-BLUE SWITCHES in state legislative races since the 2016 election.  Republicans have flipped four seats in the other direction.   
The Democratic wins included Margaret Goode's victory over a Republican incumbent in the Tampa Bay area of Florida on Tuesday, a 12-point swing from Trump's winning margin in the district, while historical patterns show the president's party's predisposed to have mid-term election difficulties. 
Trump's approval rating is remarkably low for a new president, and Republicans will have their hands full with the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate and most governorships at stake.  (They really could use some help from those Russians.)
The number of Democratic female House candidates has risen by 146 percent since the 2016 debacle, while the number of Republican female House candidates has increased by 35 percent, according to the Center for American Women in Politics.  A total of 351 Democratic women have announced runs for Congress while 99 Republican women have. 
Minority women remain overwhelmingly opposed to Trump and were the key to serial sexual predator Roy Moore's defeat in Mississippi, while nationally college-educated women remain the engines of white resistance to Trump.   Only 34 percent of these women voted for him in 2016 and polling prior to the Porter scandal shows that number is declining.   
But the most hopeful polling news is this:  Trump won at least 56 percent of the vote of white women in the Rustbelt regardless of education, but those voters are cooling on him, notably in the white-collar suburbs of major metropolitan areas in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  There has been an 18 percent decline from 2016 levels in Ohio and 19 percent in Wisconsin, according to Gallup, the primary reason being Trump's repeated efforts to trash the Affordable Care Act.      
The question is how much Republican support is imperiled overall when Evangelical women, who in the sickest of all the sick reasons people who should know better voted for Trump because God had forgiven him for his serial predations?  
My cautious response is enough to make a difference -- and perhaps even a big difference. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Dress Rehearsal For A Scandal: How Putin Came To Embrace & Weaponize The Web

The Russia scandal has shown Vladimir Putin to be extraordinarily savvy at using the Internet to advance his agenda by impeding others' agendas.   
In the case of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, this included targeting undecided voters cool to Hillary Clinton with avalanches of fake news and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts that were false fronts for anti-Clinton propaganda and extensive hacking attacks on Democratic computer servers.  But for many years, Putin had feared the Internet's power, while the story of how he eventually came to embrace and use it for malevolent ends reads like a dress rehearsal for the Kremlin's sabotage of the Clinton campaign in the service of electing Donald Trump. 
As a Cold Warrior who headed the dreaded FSB, Russia's all-powerful counter-intelligence and surveillance service before becoming prime minister and then president in 2000, Putin had only a primitive knowledge of the Internet but understood it as a future battleground for cyberwarfare and the information superhighway a modern-day front line in the conflict between nations.   
Putin knew that the U.S., Russia's arch rival, had a clear technological advantage.  But he incorrectly believed that the CIA was an invisible hand controlling the Internet, a logical conclusion for a Soviet-Russian intelligence bureaucrat with a Cold War mindset.   
As Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write in a fascinating, must-read book for people with more than a cursory interest in the Russia scandal, The Red Web: The Kremlin's War on the Internet:
Vladimir Putin was certain that all things in the world -- including the Internet -- existed with a hierarchical, vertical structure.  He was also certain the Internet must have someone controlling it at the top.  He viewed the United States with suspicion, thinking the Americans ruled the web and that it was a CIA project.  Putin wanted to end that supremacy.  Just as he attempted to change the rules inside Russia, so too did he attempt to change them for the world.  
Putin's catharsis can be traced to 2011 as Arab Spring uprisings spread across the Middle East.   
It was only then that he came to understand the open nature of the Internet and the role social media -- and Facebook and Twitter in particular -- were playing in bringing people into the streets without any organizing structure.  But with one foot still stuck in the old mindset, he remained convinced that social media was a tool of the U.S. government and ordered the FSB to make social network technology a priority in order to be able to fight back.  
When Putin set out in 2000 to control and eventually harness the Internet, he could not have anticipated using cybersabotage to undermine a foundation of America democracy -- the fair and unfettered presidential election.  But as Russia got better and better at that game over the next 15 years, including conducting dress rehearsals of a sort against first dissident citizens and then former Soviet republics and satellites that refused to embrace Moscow after the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. became fair game and Trump and his campaign ideal patsies. 
These were some of the important dress rehearsal dates:
January 2002: In the first known instance of Russian-instigated denial of service attacks, the website of a Chechen separatist website is paralyzed.
April 27, 2007: Russia launches its first major external cyber attack on government websites in the former Soviet republic of Estonia.
July 2008: Russian government hackers take down government websites in the former Soviet satellite of Lithuania. 
August 2008: Russian government hackers take down government websites in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. 
February 2014: A Russian military report documents how fake personas can be created through Facebook accounts to spread disinformation. 
February 22, 2014: Russia responds to an anti-Russian uprising in Ukraine with a tidal wave of propaganda spread on social media.  
April 8, 2015: Russian government hacker Fancy Bear, later identified as one of the Democratic National Committee computer server hackers, overrides the programming of the French television network TV5Monde's 11 channels.  
March 2016: A Russian government think tank develops a plan to swing the election to Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system. 
And who were those often anonymous hackers and trolls? 
They were not necessarily committed to Putin, let alone worked for the state, but frequently were committed to helping the Kremlin maintain "plausible deniability," as the authors of The Red Web put it.  Many hacktivists were members of Putin youth groups (the similarities to Hitler Youth are unavoidable) and more often than not worked for free.
The authors believe that it is questionable whether the Kremlin's cybersabotage of the Clinton campaign, with or without the help of Trump and his campaign, affected the outcome.  But they say that:
[I]t certainly propelled Russia right into the heart of the election process and made Putin look like the third player -- perhaps even the kingmaker -- in the most powerful country of the world.
This cynicism was Vladimir Putin's gift to America.  And certainly has been returned in kind many times over by Donald Trump.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

(UPDATED) Who Is Sicker? Wife Beater Ron Porter Or General John F. Kelly?

One of the greatest perversities (pun intended) of living through the Donald Trump presidency is that I still cling, my fingernails on the window ledge of the top floor of a high-rise building engulfed in flames, to the notion that there has to be some good in this godawful disaster.  And so it seemed when Marine General John F. Kelly was named Trump's White House chief of staff.  But yet again -- yet-a-freaking-gain -- I have been fooled as Kelly turned out to be not a force for order and sanity (you know, "the adult in the room") but just as despicable as Trump, albeit with a tighter tummy and better posture. 
Kelly, fresh off of making headlines for suggesting that some young immigrants are unable to qualify for the federal Dreamers program because they are "too lazy to get off their asses," has stepped from one excrement-filled hole into a deeper one in defending Rob Porter, a top administration official, Trump gatekeeper and close Kelly ally, as "a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional . . . a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him." 
This was mere hours before the rest of us became aware of what Kelly had known since October, according to CNN and Politico, and perhaps as early as August, according to The New York TimesPorter had physically and mentally abused his first and second wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, with whom he was involved in back-to-back marriages from 2003 to 2013. 
Kelly and other officials were aware of this because the former Mrs. Porters had detailed Porter's behavior in the course of FBI background checks on him and he still had not been given a full security clearance, yet Kelly handed Porter still more responsibilities as White House secretary, some of them involving sensitive and classified documents, to try to control the flow of information to the out-of-his-depth president.  (White House Counsel Donald McGahn may have learned of Porter's situation in January 2017, reported The Washington Post, but also did nothing.)  
According to The Times, Kelly bought Porter's line that his ex-wives were fabricating stories and just trying to cause trouble.  Even after the allegations were made public, Kelly fought for Porter to stay on staff, telling him he would be able to withstand the heat, according to CNN and Axios, and an elaborate pushback was initiated when it became known on Tuesday afternoon that the British tabloid, the Daily Mail, was about to break the serial abuse story. 
This pushback included an urgent request from the White House to Senator Orrin Hatch to throw together a statement praising Porter, the Utah Republican's former chief of staff, and whispers loud enough to be heard by the news media that Porter was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by Corey Lewandowski, former Trump campaign manager, among other unnamed villains. 
The White House has pushed back against multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Trump himself endorsed and defended Senate candidate Roy Moore in the face of multiple allegations (there's that phrase again) that he engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, so it was believed that the Porter debacle could be contained. 
So what's another abuser among friends?  
But the debacle escalated into a scandal by week's end as pictures circulated of Holderness sporting two bruised eyes, one of them black and blue, and a swollen cheekbone gifted by Porter while they were vacationing in Florence, Italy in 2005.  Kelly dutifully hemmed and hawed before mumbling to the press about being "shocked" and "there being no place for domestic violence in our society." 
But -- and you just knew there was going to be a but -- Kelly added: "I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation." 
Porter, meanwhile, cleaned out his desk on Thursday afternoon and was thought to be seeking solace from his current object of affection -- White House communications director Hope Hicks -- who in the best tradition of the West Wing Circular Firing Squad, is said to have helped draft Kelly's statement defending Porter and also had urged him to stay on.  
To make matters worse -- if that is even possible in this extraordinarily sordid episode -- Politico reported that an ex-girlfriend of Porter, who also works in the Trump administration, warned McGahn of Porter's history of abuse in November when she learned that he was romantically involved with Hicks, who apparently has now cooled on Porter.
And to make matters worse still, The WaPo reported that on Friday morning Kelly instructed senior staff to communicate a false version of events about Porter's departure -- that he took "immediate and direct action" when Porter's behavior became public -- which contradicts media reports and the accounts of White House insiders that he had known about it for months. 
Trump, for his part, praised Porter on Friday morning and then did so even more effusively on Saturday while bemoaning in a tweet that "There is no recovery for someone falsely accused -- life and career are gone.  Is there no such thing any long than Due Process?"  This predictable if tone-deaf outburst played nicely into Republican fears that the party's already abusive relationship with women would further benefit the Democrats.
Willoughby expained that the #MeToo movement was a reason for her coming forward.   
"Rob is in fact charming and intelligent and diligent and extremely good at his job." she said.  "And, in capital letters, abusive and manipulative and toxic in his personal relationships."   
That Kelly did not extend the right to defend oneself to the former Mrs. Porters is not surprising when we recall the case of Myeshia Johnson.  
Johnson's husband, Army Sergeant La David Johnson, won't be able to make Trump's big military parade in Washington because he was killed on October 4, along with three other Special Forces soldiers, while serving on a still unexplained mission in Niger. 
Trump failed to acknowledge the deaths for 12 days and happened to be (guess what?) golfing on October 7 as Johnson's remains were returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.  Trump would golf four more times before aides convinced him to make a condolence call to Mrs. Johnson, which he did under Kelly's watchful eye, but went badly off script as he seemed to forget her husband's name and then lectured her that La David knew "what he was signing up for." 
When Mrs. Johnson criticized Trump for his insensitivity, he could not resist picking another fight with a Gold Star family, having tried to belittle Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, after they denounced him during the presidential campaign. 
Like the call to Mrs. Johnson, the inevitable attempt at damage control also went badly. 
Trump denied forgetting La David's name and lecturing his widow, and even when it turned out that Representative Frederica Wilson, a family friend, had heard the call on a speakerphone and also criticized Trump, he did what comes naturally.  He lied, falsely claiming that Barack Obama and other former presidents didn't even bother to call the families of soldiers killed in action.  
Kelly's response as the adult in the room was to make matters even worse. 
In an emotional speech choreographed by Trump, he noted that his Marine son had died in Afghanistan in 2012 and he hadn't whined about it.  And then he assailed Wilson -- apropos of nothing other than her being a convenient target -- for taking credit for getting funding for an FBI building in Miami named after two slain agents at the April 2015 dedication ceremony for the building, which he had attended while still a Marine. 
"We are stunned," Kelly harrumphed to reporters.  "Stunned that she had done it.  Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.  But none of us went to the press and criticized."
When a video surfaced of the dedication ceremony, it turned out the empty barrel -- apparently a code word for a black woman who happens to serve in Congress -- had not taken credit in her speech but made sure others, whom she named, did get credit for the building, as well as effusively praising the slain FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove. 
"Stand up now, so that we can applaud you, and what you do," Wilson said at the end of her speech.  "We are proud of you!  We're proud of your courage."  The FBI, she said, stood for "Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity" as she closed with "God bless the FBI, and God bless America."
An apology obviously was in order when Kelly was called out, but he became defensive instead of contrite and said he would not apologize. 
The Johnson-Wilson disaster had followed Kelly's star turn as an historian. 
Asked to comment on Trump's remarks praising white nationalists and supremacists in the wake of the Charlottesville march tragedy in August, Kelly theorized that the Civil War was caused by "the lack of an ability to compromise." 
Decent people take responsibility for their actions.  But neither Kelly nor Hicks nor McGahn nor anyone else in a prominent abuser-hugging position will follow Porter out the West Wing door.   
There was, however, some collateral damage on Friday as White House speechwriter David Sorenson resigned after his former wife, Jessica Corbett, detailed their volatile two-and-a-half-year marriage for The WaPo, which she said included him running over her foot while driving a car and putting out a lit cigarette in her hand, episodes she had detailed for the FBI as it was conducting a background check on Sorenson.
Kelly may have had an exemplary Marine career but failed in his final act of service to his country in ostensibly trying to bring order to a White House run by a madman deeply unqualified to be commander in chief.  Perhaps because his view of things -- whether Wilson, the Dreamers or Porter -- is so distorted.  
Trump reliably brings out the worst in the people around him, and Kelly has been no exception in succumbing to and then actively conspiring in the ignorance, race baiting and lying that characterize this presidency.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Melania Trump May Be The Only Person Capable Of Blowing Up The Presidency

In another time, the overwhelming amount of crap and corruption that Donald Trump has brought to the Oval Office and compounded since his "election" would spell the premature end to a presidency.  Imagine, for example, if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton had committed only a fraction of the crimes or ethical and moral breeches as has Trump.  But instead, we live in an era when someone profoundly unqualified to be president can not only be nominated, but also elected and shamelessly supported by a sycophantic congressional majority.   
And so Trump has low-crawled into his second year in office lugging a big bag of ticking time bombs from the Russia scandal to making the presidency a profit center for his family's business empire.   But overlooked in this festering cesspool is the one person who may be able to blow up the whole shebang before Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller takes a whack at it. 
Melania Trump. 
Let's get some stuff out of the way from the jump.  While I am led to believe that Melania is not a bimbo because she isn't a blond (I do not claim to be expert in such matters), she has bled out any sympathy I may have had for her as Trump's first-string sex object and more recently as First Lady.  What she has revealed is an obsession with covering up her past, which includes a fiction-filled résumé and a murky immigration history, while floating through a Christian Dior pants-suited four-inch heels present with an incredible lightness of being devoid of original thought (will she ever stop plagiarizing Michelle Obama's best lines?) unless it is occasionally coming up with outlandish excuses for her husband's bad behavior. 
Melania is an over-botoxed lamb glaring through life (the botox maybe?) who cried tears (not of joy) on election night, who slaps away her husband's (small) hands during public appearances and does not even try to hide that she is trapped in the (pussy-grabbing) hell of a misogynistic marriage. 
But . . . but despite these mascara-smearing burdens, Melania finds herself in a unique position, and we can thank Stephanie Clifford for that. 
Clifford, who makes porn flicks under the name Stormy Daniels, has asserted that she had a fling with the future president in a Lake Tahoe casino hotel room following a celebrity charity golf tournament in July 2006, four months after Melania gave birth to Barron Trump.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Clifford was paid $130,000 in hush money a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement which prevented her from talking about the relationship in the future, which she had blabbed about in the past ("The sex was nothing crazy.  He wasn't like, chain me to the bed or anything.  It was one position") in a cringe-worthy 2011 interview. 
She added: "I can definitely describe his junk perfectly, if I ever had to." 
Clifford's story has become a bit frayed around the edges, but is credible given Trump's history of cheating on his wives, let alone his dozens of documented sexual predations, which he of course boasted about in the infamous "Access Hollywood" live mic tape, which had the perverse effect of not affecting the Evangelical vote because God has forgiven him.  Or something. 
But even if the Big Guy has forgiven him, Melania has not.  She was "blindsided" and "furious" by the Stormy story, the go-to words widely used in cautious mainstream news accounts, reportedly spent several nights away from the presidential pad at a "posh" Washington hotel and refused to join her husband on his junket to Davos late last month, the first overseas trip on which she did not accompany him.   
She flew to Mar-a-Lago while Trump was in Switzerland, reportedly luxurating in the resort's spa, which translates into a $64,000 taxpayer-funded shiatsu massage since that is what the round-trip flight cost.  Her first appearance with her husband in two weeks was after his State of the Union address, and it can be safely assumed she has not seen his "junk" for longer than that. 
(A brief time out to note that Melania has had one redeeming quality: She seems to have tried to keep Barron out of the spotlight's harsh glare on Trump's otherwise dysfunctional family.  I still shudder when I recall Sarah and Todd Palin using son Trig like a stage prop.)
In any event, the affair is Donald's to disprove and Melania's to leverage, and leverage she should for her own good.  And, not incidentally, that of the republic. 
My suggestion would be that Melania begin the process of filing for divorce, and having done so would then make an offer Trump could ill afford to refuse: She will commit to remaining at his side as First Lady for the duration of his time in office on the condition that $1 million a month be deposited for her in an offshore account.  A nice touch to this blackmail scheme (and Trump knows all about blackmail) would be a bank on Cyprus, where his pal Paul Manafort and various money-laundering Russian comrades have done considerable business.        
The upshot of this . . . er, arrangement could well be to do what hundreds of lawsuits, multiple bankruptcies and other imprecations have not been able to do during Trump's many decades as a poster boy for everything that is vile about capitalism: Drive him over the edge. 
Why would this be so? 
Because Trump's ego is so pathetically fragile that he would be unable to handle not having Melania at his side if she were to leave him and could not handle losing control over her if he was to agree to being blackmailed.   This is all about power and control, which was the underlying conflict and eventual deal breaker in his marriage to first wife Ivana.
There is no private Donald Trump.  The golf obsessed, Big Mac addled, Diet Coke gulping sex addict we see in public is who he is.  Trump is unable to control his passions and would not be able to abide not being able to control Melania.  Besides which, no matter which course their marriage were to take, it would only be a matter of time before every sordid detail leaked out. 
And so it is Melania who holds the key to her future, as well as ours.