Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Mission Accomplished! (Wow. Thank you, Matea Gold.)

In, I’m guessing, four or five posts here at AB in the six weeks or so, since hedge fund billionaires Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer were profiled in two or three articles because they’re providing substantial funding to Trump’s campaign and for the last few months have served as his puppeteers—steering both his campaign and his fiscal and regulatory policy plans (and therefore whom he will nominate to the federal bench and to the relevant slew of administrative agency officials)—I’ve pleaded for some real attention to this from political news and commentary journalists.

And from Clinton and her campaign.

It’s finally happening.  Clicking on the Washington Post site just now and seeing as featured article Matea Gold’s piece there today titled “The rise of GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer” had the feel of an out-of-body experience.  I couldn’t believe it.

As I’ve said repeatedly in my references to this duo, their capture of the Trump campaign and fiscal and regulatory policy plans explains why so few Establishment Republicans (Paul Ryan, for example) are renouncing support of Trump.

Also as I’ve said repeatedly, all Clinton has to do to win the Rust Belt (and, I believe probably Florida, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire, too) is run a few ads apprising the public that Trump indeed has billionaire puppeteers—two of them.  And exactly who they are and what they want.  And where and how they live.

Clinton’s obsessive focus on Trump’s two most obviously scary traits—his dangerousness in foreign-policy matters and his alt-right mania—have been, in my opinion foreseeably, insufficient.  Everyone already knows these things about Trump, which is why so many independents and moderate Republicans won’t vote for him.  Incessantly reminding Republicans and independents of this, and repeatedly saying that these aspects of Trumpism isn’t traditionally Republican, gains her nothing, or close to nothing.

And presumably it was her fear of losing Republican support that caused her and her campaign to remain silent—throughout the summer and well into September—about Trump’s puppet-puppeteer relationship with billionaire far-right donors, and these two billionaire far-right and alt-right donors in particular.  Wouldn’t wanna risk causing Meg Whitman to rescind her support for Clinton, I guess.

But now, finally, ridiculously belatedly … no more. I’m guessing that Gold’s piece today was prompted by a very legitimate request from the Clinton campaign.  How legitimate?  Can anyone really say in good faith that the public is not entitled to learn of this information through in-your-face political news media attention?

I’m thrilled.  And I also want to say this: My main sources of news are the New York Times and the Washington Post; I have online subscriptions to both.  And throughout this campaign season, dating back to the truly wonderful coverage of the Sanders campaign by the Post’s John Wagner and certainly continuing through the general-election campaign to date, the Post’s straight political and political-analysis reportage has been excellent, and the Times’ has been, in my opinion, subpar.

In any event, I sure welcome a finally-enlightened Clinton campaign.  And some real news emphasis on the Mercers.  Normally, when I read a commentary or a statement by a major pol, or some such, that appears to reflect a recent AB post of mine, I joke here that, say, “Obama reads Angry Bear!”, or the like.  But this time I think maybe my posts here imploring Clinton and the news/commentary media to tell the public, very loudly, about the Mercers and their puppet/puppeteer role in the Trump campaign and what that would mean in a Trump administration.

I mean, who knows?  Clinton’s taking a few (very entitled) sick days right now and maybe has happened upon this awesome blog called Angry Bear.  If so, she should take up a related suggestion of mine: asking rhetorically what the Mercers think about Citizens United.

And about Citizens United.  Which the Mercers apparently fund (as they do Brietbart).  And whose founder and president for the past 16 years is now, at their suggestion, Trump’s deputy campaign manager.  As a native Rust Belter I’m sorta thinkin’ that maybe some on-the-fence voters in the upper Midwest would like to know that.  So tell them, Hillary Clinton.

Tell. Them.

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The New York Post and Citizens United’s executive vice president say Republican administrations magnanimously hire liberal Democrats to fill positions in their Cabinet departments. Someone should educate them that this is not accurate.

Hillary Clinton’s current campaign manager kept a list of people who were not to receive State Department jobs being doled out — just as the new secretary of state entered the Obama administration — The Post has exclusively learned.

“We are beginning the process of separating people we may want to hire from people we do not want to hire at all,” Robby Mook, the wunderkind 36-year-old campaign manager, wrote in an email to various Clinton officials. The email was sent Feb. 23, 2009, just two weeks after Clinton assumed the job as secretary of state.

“Below is a list of people we are proposing NOT to hire (the ‘no-offer’ list), along with the name of the person who submitted their resume,” Mook added.

Mook’s email was released by Citizens United, the conservative group that obtained the message through a Freedom of Information Act request from the State Department.

The email was sent to Clinton confidants Minyon Moore and Tamzera Luzzatto, as well as close Clinton aides and State Department officials Cheryl Mills, Capricia Marshall and Huma Abedin, among others. Tina Flournoy, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, was on the email chain as well.

— Clinton’s campaign manager kept blacklist of potential hires, Daniel Halper, The New York Post, yesterday.

This, folks, is labeled “News Exclusive”.  Just so you won’t confuse it with, say, “Non-Newsworthy Information, Because It Falls Into the Category of ‘Staffing the New Administration’s Cabinet Departments in Accordance With the Election Results’”.

The article does point out that Mook was not working for Clinton.  Uh-oh.  Specifically, it says:

At the time, Mook does not appear to have been employed by Clinton. He had worked on Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid and then managed the campaign for Jeanne Shaheen, the New Hampshire Democratic senator. A few months after the email was sent, Mook went to work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It also appears that Mook, unlike Mr. Halper and his editors, knows the difference between Civil Service positions and, y’know, positions that are not Civil Service positions, wanted to be fair and not mistake a non-enemy for an enemy who as an enemy had the audacity to submit a resume and job application for a non-Civil Service position.  So he wrote in that email:

WE RECOGNIZE THERE MAY BE MISTAKES IN THIS LIST, which is why we are circulating it for comments. If you believe someone on this list should be considered for a position, please send their name to whl@state.gov. If you do not send to whl@state.gov, we cannot guarantee that we will get the information processed,” Mook implored.

“Please keep in mind when editing this list that we have over 1,300 applications and less than 180 jobs to slot — we must be selective. Pretend you work for the Harvard admissions department,” the email concluded.

But don’t think Mr. Halper is an incompetent journalist.  He’s clearly not, since he does know an illegal political blacklist when he sees one, and also has the contact information of Citizens United executive vice president Michael Boos and can get a good quote from him conflating the decision to reject employment applications of ideologically or politically unfriendly applicants for jobs normally filled in White House administrations by people who are friendly to the administration ideologically or politically with Richard Nixon’s Enemies List listing the names of unfriendly journalists and others whose tax returns should be reviewed by the I.R.S. and who should have dossiers about them opened at the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.

In an appropriately breathless tone, he writes:

The names on the blacklist were redacted upon their release from the State Department to Citizens United.

The blacklist.  Got it? And he follows that with the money quote, writing:

Hillary Clinton’s similarities to Richard Nixon are more striking than anyone could have imagined,” Michael Boos, Citizens United executive vice president, told The Post.  “Now we’ve learned she even maintained a secretive blacklist while heading the State Department. The American people deserve to know who is on that list,” Boos added.

I’m sort of relieved about this, now that the polls are tightening.  At least we can be sure that if Trump wins the election he’ll stop soliciting and accepting advice from Robert Mercer, his daughter Rebeka, John Rakolta Jr., Sheldon Adelson, and the other far-right billionaires whom Trump is accepting advice from and making tacit promises to in exchange for their extensive financial support for his campaign.  Including during meetings in The Hamptons. Which is strange, considering that according to the news media no major-party presidential nominee this year other than Clinton is allowed to enter for the purpose of seeking campaign contributions.

I guess Trump is violating those municipal ordinances, and is attending fundraisers there—as are a few of his billionaire donors, who are violating the ordinance sections proscribing contributing to the delinquency of a presidential candidate not named Hillary Clinton.

At least according to the Washington Post’s terrific Matea Gold, who reported on this, in-depth, all the way back on Sept. 1.  And whose reporting no one but me noticed.  Certainly the Clinton campaign didn’t.

Down the road,  when an Establishment Republican is nominated as the party’s offering for president—Paul Ryan, say—we progressive Democrats will be able to take comfort in knowing that his cabinet heads won’t discriminate against progressive Democrats in staffing their departments.  Maybe I’ll apply.

Okay, look.  I bow to few other progressive Democrats in the intensity of anger at Bill and Hillary Clinton for, beginning in 2013, commandeering the mechanism by which the party chooses its presidential nominee and foisting upon us a standard bearer whose husband received exorbitant secret payments from companies with interests potentially touching upon normal State Department concerns when she was Secretary of State.

And I’ve wondered from time to time in the last few months how many of those Establishment folks who were Ready for Hillary back in 2013, 2015 and the first five months of 2015 feel regret.  Or maybe even remorse.  Partly because our party now has a presidential nominee who along with her husband was unwilling to choose between great riches and power of another presidency, rejecting mere ordinary riches and opting instead for far more than that, risking so much for so many of the rest of us when they decided to muscle other potential candidates, and actual candidate Bernie Sanders, out of their way because they not only wanted extraordinary wealth but also the White House or a second time.  And partly because we have a presidential nominee whose idea of a terrific campaign strategy in 2016 is to court endorsements from Henry Kissinger and Meg Whitman, on the apparent theory that the more uber-Establishment celebrities who endorse you the better this particular election cycle.  At least if they’re Republican.

And partly because we have a nominee who thinks that the way to effectively attack her opponent is to constantly remind people of what they already know about him and haven’t forgotten, and be sure not to tell them about the stuff they don’t already know about him but really should learn of.  Like that he’s soliciting policy promises—er, policy advice—from the Mercers and his other billionaire donors.  And that the Mercers live in … the Hamptons.

And who thinks it’s a good idea to spend most of her time at the height of the campaign season cocooning with her extremely wealthy friends, and with the extremely wealthy friends of those friends, none of whom will sit out this election or vote for her opponent or a third party candidate. And who wouldn’t be caught dead actually campaigning on her policy proposals to rallies or audiences whose votes she thinks she has but may actually not have.  They’re not mainstream Republicans, so why bother to address them, right?

I can’t stand Hillary Clinton.  But I’m absolutely sure that her domestic-policy proposals, if actually enacted, would make a significant difference to a lot of people—in a good way—and that this country would be a meaningfully better place.  And I won’t even mention Supreme Court and lower federal court nominees—although I will ask whom the Mercers would recommend for appoint to the Court and to the courts.  Anyone who favors overturning Citizens United?  Or who thinks people who don’t have driver’s licenses or passports should be allowed to vote?  Or who favors plaintiffs’ access to federal court in consumer cases, employment cases, habeas corpus cases, or constitutional-rights cases that don’t concern religious freedom (loosely defined), gun ownership rights, or reverse discrimination by state universities or some such?  Didn’t think so.

I do acknowledge that her cabinet members probably would discriminate against job applicants who may be hostile ideologically or politically to Clinton or to the cabinet member.  But if so, there’s always the option of impeachment.  Just as there was for Nixon.

Clinton is saddled with a political media that can’t distinguish between normal, expected and trivial special, often meaningless, access, and even appropriate favoritism, on the one hand, and meaningful pay-to-play.  Or maybe a political media that thinks that the propriety of what has gone on in the respective professional lives of Clinton and Trump, and what promises to go on in a Clinton, or instead in a Trump, administration depends not on what is likely to go on but rather on whether it will be going on in a Clinton or instead a Trump administration.  The Clinton Foundation is just a distraction, in my opinion.  Bill Clinton’s half-million-dollar payments here for this no-actual-work activity, a whole million and then some for that no-actual-work activity–those are problems.  But they’re problems that fade into the landscape, or should, in comparison to Trump’s appalling, breathtaking decades-long career of breathtaking immoral greed.

These two men are stunningly, pervertedly greedy.  But Bill Clinton’s greed probably didn’t directly hurt anyone. by contrast, Trump’s very business model was, to a dismaying extent, to hurt people, some deliberately, some as casual collateral damage.  Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton is a sociopath.  Donald Trump is.  Yet it is the Clintons’ pattern of greed that the news media details and obsesses about, upon the pretext that these constitute conflicts of interest.   A few do, most don’t, and none reaches anywhere near the level of casual, deliberate harm to others and clear violations of law that Trump’s very modus operandi has caused and has constituted.

We, for our part—those of us who support this Democratic nominee, extremely grudgingly or otherwise—are saddled with a candidate who is running a god-awful campaign, apparently thanks mainly to campaign decisions by the candidate herself and her husband, both of whom mistake the 2016 campaign cycle for the 1988 one.

Those old enough to remember the 1988 campaign will get my drift.  It’s a double entendre.

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The Campaign-Finance Transparency Canard … In All Its Orwellian Splendor

For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Jan. 21, 2010

I should have foreseen it on Monday.  That was the day that the Washington Post published a high-profile article by Matea Gold, one of the Post’s national political reporters, headlined “Big money in politics emerges as a rising issue in 2016 campaign.”  Five of the Post’s other national political reporters contributed to the piece, two of them reporting from New Hampshire.

By “it”—that is, the thing I should have seen coming—I mean the Orwellian attempt by Republicans to blame campaign-finance laws for the billionaire co-optation of politicians instead of on, say, the Supreme Court’s dismantling of those laws.

The thrust of Gold’s article is this: Historically, the general public laments the influence of large campaign-finance donors—those who contribute directly to campaigns or parties, and those who run or contribute to ostensibly independent PACs and, now, SuperPACs—most people cite specific substantive policy concerns such as the state of the economy, rather than the influence of large donors, as their main political concerns, because, well, most people don’t connect government policy to who’s paying for the policymakers’ elections.  But now, because of the clear, well-known effect of Citizens United (and McCutcheon v. FEC, whose name and specifics most of the public does not know, but whose effect the public does know, albeit under the rubric of Citizens United), large swaths of the public are, finally, connecting the dots between government policy and campaign-finance practices, whatever the guise.

Uh-oh.  Much of the public is now not only onto the Koch brothers, but recognizes that the Koch brothers and others who are nearly as wealthy are effectively the puppeteers to the candidates for national public office—and may soon become aware that that is as true of elections for state government.  All three branches of it.

Not to worry.  Republican pundits Ed Rogers and Kathleen Parker have the answer.  Which they’ve wasted no time in laying out in their respective forums in the Washington Post forums, Rogers in his blog there surprisingly honestly titled “The Insiders,” Parker in her syndicated column.

Rogers, a longtime high-profile Republican political consultant inside and outside Republican White House administrations, and now (to quote the bio line at the bottom of his blog posts) “the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991,” announces in both the title and the body of a blog post yesterday that he is “embarrassed by our campaign finance system.”  Yup.  The first paragraph of his post reads:

I’m embarrassed by our campaign finance system. And as a long-time participant in the system, for me to get here, it must be pretty bad. So-called “campaign finance reform laws” have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done. I can’t say it any better than the recent article “Trading Places” in the National Journal. Tim Alberta and Shane Goldmacher, who wrote this thoughtful piece about the impact and increasing necessity of super PACs, said, “[SuperPACs] pose an existential threat to the old order. The campaigns themselves may soon become subordinate; as Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.” How can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign?

It can’t, Rogers concludes.  But not because a few exceedingly wealthy people are dictating candidate campaign platforms—they hold their own private primaries these days—and, of course, actual government policy by those whom they sponsored as candidates.  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.  It’s because of a lack of transparency regarding who is funding whose SuperPACs.

And whose fault is it that this system has developed and is having the effect that it’s having?  The drafters and supporters of the post-Watergate and 2001 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance statutes!  Without which we would have had no commandeering of candidates, elected officials and (consequently) of government policy!  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.

If extremely wealthy individuals could donate unrestricted amounts of money directly to campaigns and parties, and have to identify themselves as doing that, the public would also be entitled to transcripts of these folks’ phone and in-person conversations, and email exchanges, with their candidate-proxies/elected-officials, see.

Problem solved!  Or it would be, if only we would just kill the remaining campaign-finance restrictions before the Supreme Court does, and require it all to be … transparent.

Rogers’ post reminds me of those old children’s black-and-white game book puzzles in which the object is to find the obscured animal in the thicket of the drawing’s foliage.  He’s now, finally, after many decades as a participant in the system, embarrassed by that system, because of how very bad it now is.  But it’s the campaign finance reform laws—the so-called ones, not the real ones—that have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.

Yes, that’s right.  You probably thought that the Supreme Court’s literally spontaneous campaign finance “reform” law announced under the auspices of First Amendment jurisprudence in January 2010, and “enhanced in the name of freedom by the court’s majority last year in McCutcheon v. FEC, striking down most of the McCain-Feingold law, played some role in creating a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.   But it didn’t.  Uh-uh.

We know that, because although Rogers admits that it is only now that he’s finally embarrassed about our campaign-finance system–13 years after McCain-Feingold was enacted but four years after the Supreme Court decimated that statute–he’s embarressed by the system propogated by McCain-Feingold, a system that is now a quaint memory.  The embarrassment is totally unrelated to the Supreme Court’s nullifiçation of most of the statute.  Which explains why he doesn’t mention Citizens United, much less McCutcheon. He doesn’t mention the Supreme Court and Citizens United, at all.

So there.

The animal figures in the drawing are really, really obscured.  But he assures us that they’re there.  The campaign-finance laws left standing for now, he complains, are quickly rendering the campaigns themselves subordinate.  As Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.  So, how can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign? he asks.

But by design, he’s asking the wrong question.  So I’ll ask the right one, which is: How can the public interest be served in a world where a handful of billionaires puppet campaigns of others for public office and have secret, direct access to the candidates and who direct campaign positions the goal of which is to ultimately dictate government policy?  It is not, and it cannot.  And that’s true whether unlimited money goes directly to a candidate or party, or both, or whether instead it goes to a SuperPAC.

The demand for transparency is largely a canard, a way to render false assurances that the problem is entirely or mainly secrecy of the identity of the benefactors.  We know who the Kochs are and whom, and what, they support, because they’ve been open about it.  Same with Sheldon Adelson and Tom Steyer.  So what?

Parker’s column today is worse than Rogers’ post, but because of its obvious Orwellian feel will just prompt shrugs, I’d guess.  She writes, in a piece titled “Mr. Hughes Goes to Washington”:

Setting aside for now the debate about security, let’s turn our attention to [gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes’] proclaimed mission of shining a light on our corrupt campaign finance system and his urgent plea for reform.

We tried that, Mr. Hughes, and it created an even bigger mess. [Italics in original.]Today’s salient political adage goes like this: Behind every successful politician is a billionaire — or several.

We did indeed try that, Ms. Parker.  And for a decade or so it worked reasonably well.  But, see, that decade saw the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans as well as the election of Barack Obama.  So although the Supreme Court majority initially killed most of McCain-Feingold in order to allow corporate CEOs to use shareholder money to support Republican candidates directly and indirectly, what we have as a result is less the influence of corporate money than the purchasing of federal, state and local government policy by a billionaire.  Or several.

It turns out that it’s the “several” part that Parker, and probably Rogers, finds problematic.  Parker dedicates much of the remainder of her column to Hillary Clinton’s call last week for mandated transparency in campaign finance in its various forms, because, well, transparency has not been Clinton’s strong suit.  Clinton has a pretty broad base of large donors, apparently. Anyway, Parker writes:

This tells us two things: Transparency polled well in focus groups; Clinton is adept in the art of political jujitsu.

Campaign finance reform is indeed on many minds, if only in greater America. Beyond the Beltway, people like Doug Hughes choke and spit when talking about politics and politicians. The notion that a few rich people can determine who leads this essential nation is a sour, cynical-making joke that borders on the criminal.

As noted in the quote from Citizens United that opens this post, Justice Kennedy and four of his colleagues beg to differ.  But Parker and Kennedy agree on the elixir.  Parker continues:

There’s nothing free about paid-for elections — unless everybody knows where the money came from. [Italics in original.] Ever since the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, generally known as “McCain-Feingold,” our two-party system has been on life support. If in pre-reform America, too many wealthy people were donating large sums to candidates, at least we usually knew who they were. In post-reform America, too many are still giving large donations — but in the shadows.

As one philanthropist put it to me, “Money will always find a way.”

Funny, but I wasn’t aware that the two-party system was on life support between 2002 and 2010, although I guess it might have appeared that way to someone who liked the idea of a one-party system as long as the one party is the Republican one.  (I am not such a person.)  I’d argue instead that the two-party system’s demise, as Parker and Rogers seem to mean it, came not as a result of the enactment eight years earlier of McCain-Feingold but instead from the rise of the Tea Party and therefore as a result of that Supreme Court opinion that cannot be mentioned in polite company.  Or in Republican pundits’ commentary.

Nor am I aware that money always finds a way in the other democracies. The other democracies in the world–the actual ones, and there are a number of them–manage to ensure that it doesn’t.

Left unexplained by these folks, and by others, possibly including Hillary Clinton, is why they believe that the purchase of candidates’ platforms and, ultimately, of elected officials’ policy positions is pernicious only when done via SuperPAC; the purchase of candidates and entire parties is fine, because, see, we know that Republicans audition with the Kochs, and we know these brothers are billionaires many times over, but that would be unimportant if only the brothers could make direct payments to the campaigns and parties.

Hillary Clinton may be adept at political jujitsu, but suffice it to say that she has no monopoly on it.

I do accept Parker’s characterization (however unwitting but by her own terms accurate) of Kennedy & Friends’ actions as bordering on criminal, though. And that money does find a way in this democracy.  But only in this democracy.  By resounding democratic majorities of 5-4.

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