Feb. 19

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Trump Continues Lashing Out

Donald Trump is continuing his rampage, attacking everyone and everything except Russia. After more than a year of insisting that Russia did not meddle in the election, he is now saying that he never claimed Russia didn't meddle:

I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer. The Russian hoax was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018

With this second tweet, he now seems to be implicitly admitting that Russia did meddle, with the goal of creating chaos in the U.S., which is certainly true.

If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018

What Trump didn't mention yesterday is that another goal Russian President Vladimir Putin had was electing him. Needless to say, admitting that he won the election with Putin's help would taint his entire presidency, so that is completely off limits. Nevertheless, the issue of his legitimacy will move front and center if special counsel Robert Mueller comes up with any evidence of collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russians.

The sequence of events that Trump should be worried about is this: It now appears that Paul Manafort's partner, Rick Gates, is going to flip. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday night that the plea deal is done, and that it just awaits approval from a federal judge. If Gates has proof that Manafort broke any laws, for example, tax laws or laws about money laundering, Manafort could be forced to flip. And if he does, Mueller is going to want to know what actually happened at that meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower in July 2016. Even if Trump fires Mueller once the heat grows intense, if any New York state laws were broken there, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman could take the ball from Mueller and indict another attendee, Donald Trump Jr. This would be a nightmare for the Trumps because presidents have no power to pardon state crimes. So far, we are not there, but neither Mueller nor Schneiderman is finished digging yet. (V)

He Who Lives By the Twitter...

Donald Trump's favorite food is steak, which may help explain why he so enjoys taking on sacred cows. One could hardly have imagined, five years ago, that a person could insult handicapped people, women on their menstrual cycle, the families of dead soldiers, etc. and get away with it, but The Donald has done just that. With his attempts to deflect blame and point fingers over the Florida high school shootings, however, he may have bitten off more than he can chew. First of all, here's the key tweet from the President:

Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018

The problem is that the survivors are not only victims (sympathetic), they are children (more sympathetic), and they know all about Twitter, which some of them were happy to demonstrate on Saturday and Sunday in response to the President's tweet:

17 of my classmates are gone. That’s 17 futures, 17 children, and 17 friends stolen. But you’re right, it always has to be about you. How silly of me to forget. #neveragain https://t.co/i6Hldlo0Aq

— Aly Sheehy (@Aly_Sheehy) February 18, 2018

...my friends were brutally murdered and you have the nerve to make this about Russia. I can not believe this https://t.co/JoEasIsu3V

— kyra (@longlivekcx) February 18, 2018

17 innocent people were brutally murdered at my school, a place where they should have felt safe. Their lives were gone in an instant. You are the President of the United States and you have the audacity to put this on Russia as an excuse. I guess I should expect that from you. https://t.co/phOg97PJoD

— taylor // #NEVERAGAIN (@tayloryon_) February 18, 2018

Oh my god. 17 OF MY CLASSMATES AND FRIENDS ARE GONE AND YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO MAKE THIS ABOUT RUSSIA???!! HAVE A DAMN HEART. You can keep all of your fake and meaningless “thoughts and prayers”. https://t.co/al9DWBM2AW

— Morgan Williams (@morganw_44) February 18, 2018

You know what isn't acceptable? Blaming everyone but the shooter and the lack of gun control in our country. You even blamed the students. We did report him, we tried. But how were we supposed to know what would happen? Your lack of sympathy proves how pitiful of a person you are https://t.co/32L1z0hhZJ

— carly (@car_nove) February 18, 2018

Note that some of them actually have more likes and/or retweets than Trump's original tweet.

If that were not enough, some of the survivors appeared on the Sunday morning news programs to express their irritation. David Hogg, for example, went on "Meet the Press" and declared:

You're the President. You're supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us. How dare you? Children are dying, and their blood is on your hands because of that. Please take action. Stop going on vacation in Mar-a-Lago. Take action. Work with Congress. Your party controls both the House and Senate. Take action, get some bills passed, and for God's sake, let's save some lives.

There's an old saying that "there's no such thing as bad publicity." Whoever said that never read the above quote.

Of course, with past school shootings (and other mass shooting events), there is much coverage for a week or so, and then the whole thing is largely forgotten. However, the students in Florida appear determined not to let that happen. Not only do they already have a number of rallies planned for March and April, many of them have said they will not return to school until something is done about gun violence. This could create some really bad optics for the GOP, not unlike César Chávez's hunger strikes, or the march of the Bonus Army. Which means that Donald Trump may have found the sacred cow that even he could not turn into filet mignon. (Z)

Trump Slams Winfrey

The President's Twitter feed, in the 48 hours or so since Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies, bears all the signs of a patented Trump Twitter Tantrum. And, in contrast to his usual custom, he kept it going well past his usual bedtime on Sunday night. Apparently he stayed up to watch "60 Minutes," which featured a panel discussion about Trump, with swing state voters from Michigan commenting, and Oprah Winfrey moderating. The President did not care for what he saw:

Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2018

Clearly, Trump is nervous that she might actually run in 2020, and so is getting an early start on his usual character assassination. His choice to slam her as "insecure" is quite interesting, since whatever Winfrey may or may not be, insecure is not really on the list. The term that psychologists use in this situation: projection. (Z)

Kasich, Biden: Don't Forget Us

Speaking of 2020 presidential candidates, a couple of old favorites don't want you to forget about them. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who has been positioning himself as the moderate, grown-up Republican alternative to Donald Trump, has been all over the place in the past two days, slamming the President's deflections on the Florida shootings as "absurd" and calling for Congress to take "small steps" on gun control. Should Kasich actually make a run in 2020, which he's certainly laying the groundwork for, opponents on the right are going to say that he hates the Second Amendment, while opponents on the left are going to observe that Kasich didn't seem to have too much interest in Congress doing something about guns while he was actually a part of that body. Nor during his time as Ohio governor, for that matter. In fact, just last year he signed a bill that allowed Ohioans to carry concealed weapons at some colleges and day-care facilities.

Former VP Joe Biden has also registered his thoughts, declaring that Congress has a "moral obligation" to take action. For him, this point of view is a bit more legitimate, as he regularly got failing grades from the NRA during his years in the Senate. He also made a point of telling close friends and associates this weekend that he is considering a run for the White House in 2020. Recalling that anything less than a full Sherman generally means "I'm running," it is safe to assume that he's going to throw his hat into the ring, unless health or the polls turn against him. Should he get the nod, and should Donald Trump be renominated, that would give us candidates with a combined 153 years of age, breaking the record set in 2016 by 14 years. (Z)

Washington Post Interviewed a Russian Troll

The Washington Post managed to find someone who worked in the now-famous Russian troll farm in St. Petersburg and has published an interview with him. The troll said that 300 or 400 people worked there, in 12-hour shifts. It was like an industrial assembly line cranking out lies 24/7. He said it was like being in the world of George Orwell's 1984, where white is black and black is white. This particular troll worked in the comments section. He was expected to crank out 135 comments of 200 characters during each shift. He was told what to comment on and what to say. He had only to express the ideas in his own words, in English. For this he was paid about $700/month. The average salary in Russia is about $440, so this was a good job.

At one point he tried to transfer to the Facebook Dept., where the trolls posted fake news on Facebook. But to get in, you had to pass an extremely tough English test, which he failed. Only people who could write English like a native speaker were hired because, of course, the goal was to convince Americans that the posters were Americans, so grammatical or spelling errors could not be tolerated. The tests asked applicants to write at length about topics like: "What do you think of Hillary Clinton?" or "What do you think about vegetarians?" The farm was definitely a meritocracy, then, and the pay there was $1,400 a month, more than triple what the average Russian makes, so this was an highly desirable job. The trolls were modern-looking young people, wearing fashionable clothes and carrying modern electronic devices. Whoever said the Russians don't understand capitalism was wrong: The most skilled people get the best jobs at the highest pay. Lenin is probably rolling over in his grave.

It is not impossible to combat troll farms, but it would take a change of mindset. As a starter, the social media companies could require anyone opening an account (or keeping an existing account) to upload an image of their drivers' license, passport, or other ID. Then they would have to weed out duplicate accounts. Finally, they would have to verify the name and number of the uploaded documents with the issuing authority to catch forgeries. Postings could still be anonymous, but the companies could make it much more difficult for trolls to open accounts. If the social media companies have no interest in something like this, Congress could require it by law and impose heavy penalties for noncompliance. (V)

Did Mueller Forget Something?

The indictments Robert Mueller brought against 13 Russians and 3 Russian organizations accuse them of conspiracy, fraud, and identity theft. Nevertheless, they seem to have missed something: violating the law against foreign nationals contributing anything of value (including information) to a U.S. election campaign. The trolls who worked on the farm clearly contributed valuable information, in this case lies about Hillary Clinton, to Donald Trump's campaign. But they weren't charged with that, even though it is arguably the most serious offense they committed. Why? Did Mueller forget about this law (the Federal Election Campaign Act)?

Not very likely. The team of seasoned prosecutors that Mueller assembled knows this law backwards and forwards. The omission is certainly intentional. Mueller's reasons are not clear yet for ignoring this low-hanging fruit, but at least one analysis suggests that more indictments are forthcoming and they may involve violations of FECA. The indictments also noted that there were other persons "known and unknown" involved. That almost certainly means more indictments will be issued, certainly for the "known"persons, and some of these indictments might involve FECA violations. In particular, if Mueller knows (or finds out) what actually happened at the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting, future indictments might well be about violations of FECA. The upshot is that the special counsel has not laid all of his cards on the table, and probably hasn't even come close to doing so. (V)

Five States Vote without a Paper Trail

Now that Robert Muller has established that Russia has been interfering with U.S. elections for years (and will certainly do so in 2018), attention is turning to how the U.S. votes. Primaries are starting next month and five states use electronic voting machines with no paper trail. If these were hacked, there would be no way to determine if the totals the machines showed were correct. Here are the five states and what they are doing to solve the problem.

In short, none of these states see secure elections as an especially important issue. If the Russians hack the elections, well, so be it. In any event, it is very unlikely that any of the five will fix the problem before the 2018 elections, although 2020 might be doable. (V)

Stephen Fincher Drops Out of Tennessee Senate Race

Former representative Stephen Fincher has dropped out of the Tennessee Senate race and is encouraging Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to run for reelection. Fincher was going nowhere in his bid. He was far behind Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who is now sure to get the nomination, unless Corker unretires. Many Republicans in Congress want him to do exactly that because they fear Blackburn is so far to the right that she would lose the general election to moderate two-term former governor Phil Bredesen (D).

Corker's problem, though, is that Blackburn is 100% on Trump's team and he is in Trump's doghouse for calling the White House an "adult day care center" and more. The only practical way he could enter the primary and win is to grovel at Trump's feet and completely debase himself to get Trump's blessing. Even if he did so, there is no guarantee Trump would endorse him over true-blue Trump supporter Blackburn. The only thing that might save Corker is if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) quietly told Trump that Corker could win and hold the seat but Blackburn would lose. A recent poll of Republican primary voters shows Blackburn ahead of Corker by a margin of 55% to 26%. On the other hand, a recent general election poll shows Bredesen leading Blackburn 47% to 45%. That's the problem the GOP is facing: Blackburn can win the primary but maybe not the general election. (V)

Left-Wing Candidate Leading in the Race for the Presidency

Of Mexico, that is. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, generally known as AMLO, is leading in the race to be Mexico's next president. AMLO was formerly mayor of Mexico City. It is a three-way race, and AMLO is on top with 27%. The National Action Party's candidate, Ricardo Anaya Cortés, is second at 22%. The candidate of the ruling PRI Party, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, is stuck in third place at 18%, largely due to the lack of popularity of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

AMLO is a fiery socialist with no love for Donald Trump. If he is elected, relations with Mexico will get worse, fast. AMLO is unlikely to cut any trade deal with Trump, certainly not one that was advantageous to the U.S. The election is July 1, 2018. (V)

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