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Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen Gets It Right About the Clinton Foundation (in my opinion)

Back when I worked for the claims department of a major insurance company, I got stuff. Some of the stuff consisted of tickets to Broadway shows and sporting events, and sometimes I got bottles of booze, Canadian Club being a popular choice for some reason. These items were tendered to me by auto appraisers, repair shops and other firms, large and small, that wanted the business my company could offer. Corrupt souls that they were, they offered these items as bribes. Pristine young man that I was, I accepted them as gifts. I was, in my own modest way, Hillary Clinton before her time.

The pattern established by the vaunted Cohen of Claims is similar to the one later copied by Clinton of Chappaqua. You may note that when it came to these matters — these matters being the acceptance of ethically dubious gifts — Hillary Clinton was lots of quid and little quo. The mountains of money that came into the Clinton Foundation, some of it offered by otherwise heartless men, apparently got the donors nothing. They came from parts of the world where a man’s bribe is his word, and yet money offered in New York to the foundation did not open a door in Washington at the State Department.

Clinton Foundation alchemy — turning bribes into gifts, Richard Cohen, Washington Post, today

Cohen’s column today triggers memories for me.  My father, too, turned bribes into gifts.

As a journalist for a major local newspaper, he and his colleagues were inundated with gifts of the sort that Cohen was as an auto insurance claims adjuster.  Free passes to movies, to the annual auto show (fun), boat show (also fun), flower show (pretty), big-deal movie premiers (very occasionally; this was not NYC), and the latest hit play touring after (or before) its Broadway run.  Glamorous cocktail parties called “press parties”.   (Clothes, especially ones for fancy gatherings, were expensive, and my mother would always have two “dressy” dresses, both of them that “went with” black heels (also expensive back then) that she would alternate, depending on who she thought would be attending the particular event or gathering.

During the winter holiday season, the doorbell was ringing often.  There were bottles of French designer perfumes and colognes for my mother, bottles of high-priced alcohol (my mother would just call them “bottles,” as in, “It’s a ‘bottle,’ from so-and-so,” usually said with a sigh; “so-and-so” being a “press agent,” these days known as people in “public relations”).  Our living room was filled with poinsettia plants; we were Jewish, but enjoyed the colorful displays.  The tops of my parents’ bedroom dressers looked like a perfume counter at Saks; almost all the bottles remained in their unopened boxes, for years.  The basement had a mini upscale liquor section, the bottles unopened, also for years.  And years.

One night when I was 10, my father came home gingerly carrying a lovely roughly-200-year-old Japanese woodcut that he’d been sent by the someone at the public relations office at the local art museum.  The museum was having a special exhibit of antique Japanese art, and my father’s newspaper had run a lengthy picture-filled article about it in the Arts section before the exhibit opened.  The exhibit was one of the most successful in memory, and my father had played a role in the article’s prominence and length in the Arts section.  The museum’s PR person sent my father the woodcut, along with a note of appreciation, attributing the popularity of the exhibit largely to that article.  The paper’s art editor, George, himself an artist and art collector, and a close friend of my father’s, had chosen the pictures for the article, and wrote the article.  My father asked him if he could place a value on the woodcut.  He did, and my father paid the museum for it.

My father not long before had asked him if he could find an affordable large painting for the main wall, behind the couch, in our living room, and George suggested instead that my parents by a set of Japanese woodcuts from the same era that would look nice with the museum woodcut that would be on another wall.  George found a set of four that told a story, and framed them in narrow, plain wood frames that he covered with rice paper he died a light blue, with natural-colored rice paper matting.  They were beautiful, and, I’m quite sure, the most valuable things my parents ever had in their home.

That was my father’s foray into quid pro quo—an antique Japanese woodcut he received as a gift and then paid for.  My father, George, and a few others at the paper had received free passes for two to the exhibit before it opened, along with a lengthy press release about the upcoming exhibit.

In an addendum to this recent post of mine here at AB, I wrote:

For me this general election campaign has been an exercise in frustration and dismay at the failure of Clinton and her campaign to apprise the public of critically important things about Trump that they don’t already know.  Like Trump’s monetary motive for his coziness with Putin, and his methods of financing his real estate empire that included bank fraud and partnerships with corrupt foreigners.  Things that make the Clintons’ self-dealing and misrepresentations to the public look utterly inconsequential by comparison.

And like what billionaire is backing Trump financially and calling the campaign shots, and would be calling the shots in a Trump administration.  And what those shots would be.

Whatever favors Clinton did as Secretary of State for Clinton Foundation donors, they were trivial in that they had nothing to do with making or changing government policy, it appears.  And the Clintons’ rapacious money mongering didn’t defraud banks or individuals.  And while it served their personal financial interests well, their foundation did have the effect of actually doing some real good on fairly widespread scale.  The Clintons, in other words, aren’t sociopaths.  Trump is.

Finally—finally—now, Clinton is angry enough about Trump’s statements about Clinton Foundation/State Department connection that she’s willing to depart from her campaign’s strategy of telling the public what they already know about Trump, but nothing else, because informing voters about the stuff they don’t know would require a slightly complex discussion.  Telling people what they already know is quick and easy and soundbite-y.  So it’s what her highly paid consultants and top campaign staff advise.

But in a stark, sudden and surprising departure, Clinton is about to begin educating the public about something somewhat complex, something that requires that she tell them things about Trump that they don’t already know.  She’s about to explain the alt-right, apparently in some actual depth, and illustrate that Trump is the alt-right’s candidate because he himself is alt-right.

So is his billionaire.  The public has no idea he has one, much less what the billionaire’s specific agenda is.  And if Clinton finally is ready to tell the public that, yes, Trump has his very own billionaire supporting his campaign with many millions of dollars, she will get some help from John McCainwho obviously reads Angry Bear even if Clinton and her campaign folks don’t.  Although, of course, it’s more accurate to describe the relationship as one in which the billionaire has his very own presidential nominee.

The post was titled “Trump suggests to undocumented immigrants that they quickly pool their savings and use the funds to buy real estate in extremely leveraged deals* in order to avoid paying back taxes (or income taxes at all) once they become legal residents during a Trump administration.  And Eric Trump agrees!

And a few days earlier, in a post titled “Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel vs. Robert Mercer and Rebeka Mercer (i.e., the meaning of TRUE CHANGE)”, I wrote:

Amid the widespread media focus last on the Trump campaign’s shakeup that ended Paul Manafort’s reign there (such as it was) and brought in Breitbart alum Steve Bannon as campaign CEO (interesting title, but whatever) and elevated Trump pollster Kellyann Conway to campaign manager, a critical aspect of this, though reported in-depth by the New York Times and a couple of other major news outlets, has, clearly, not made it mainstream: that Trump’s actual current puppeteers are the father-daughter duo of Robert Mercer and Rebeka Mercer.  And who they are.

So let me introduce them to y’all, by borrowing heavily from an in-depth article by Nicholas Confessore titled “How One Family’s Deep Pockets Helped Reshape Donald Trump’s Campaign,” published in last Friday’s New York Times:

What followed that colon detailed enough about Robert and Rebeka Mercer to disabuse the reader of any conception that a Trump administration would be pro-blue-collar worker and, to borrow from Bernie Sanders, anti-the-billionaire class.   A purpose of the post was to express dismay that neither the Clinton campaign, nor the DNC, nor most of the mainstream news media had deigned to try to educate the public about who is financially propping up the Trump campaign, and what they hope to accomplish in a Trump administration.

Another purpose was to try in my tiny-readership way to illustrate the absurdity of Trump’s claimed equivalency of his billionaires’ financial backing of his candidacy and the fundraising assistance to Clinton from Hollywood multimillionaire progressives like Timberlane and Biel and other extremely wealthy people whose financial interests are counter to their support of Clinton and of progressive down-ballot candidates, especially for the Senate and House.

Clinton wants to see the demise of Citizens United, and presumably her Supreme Court nominees do, too.  Trump has promised Supreme Court nominees in the mold of Antonin Scalia.  Progressive Democratic members of Congress will attempt to enact new, sweeping campaign-finance-reform legislation.  Clinton will sign it if it makes it that far.  Trump would veto it, and Republican members of Congress will do whatever they can to thwart it.

This media focus on Clinton Foundation donors, while certainly legitimate, seems to hold a monopoly on news media dissection of presidential-campaign financial backing.  Why?

Seriously.  Why?

Cohen writes in that column:

“The fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as Secretary of State because of donations to the Clinton Foundation,” said Josh Schwerin, a Clinton campaign spokesman. Apparently, this is true, and it no doubt breaks the hearts of Republicans everywhere who think that Clinton is both a crook and a fool. She is possibly only a bit of the former and certainly none of the latter.

Let us take the case of Casey Wasserman. He runs the Wasserman Media Group, a sports marketing and talent-management agency. According to The Post, Wasserman’s charitable foundation contributed between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation and his investment company also hired Bill Clinton as a consultant, paying him $3.13 million in fees in 2009 and 2010. For this, aside from a warm feeling, it seems Wasserman got nothing. When he tried to get the State Department to approve a visa for a British soccer star with a criminal record, he got nowhere — so much quid, so little quo.

As Cohen of Claims, I followed the same M.O. Not only did I treat every bribe as a gift, but also I never demanded anything from anyone and went out of my way to award my business on the basis of competence alone. In fact, on the rare occasion that someone complained that I was not sending enough business their way and wondered if a little cash would help their cause, I cut them off completely. I insisted on good work, promptly done. I could not be bought.

My father could not be bought, either; he was not bought.  Which is not to say that none of his colleagues, or his counterparts at the other local newspapers, were, but it is to say that most were not and that the ones who were were bought cheaply and that the quo, while important to the one who offered and gave the quid, surely was pretty trivial to the larger public.

It also is not to say that $3.13 million in, um, consulting fees directly to Bill and Hillary Clinton, not to their foundation, in the space of two years—those two years being the depths of the financial crisis and recession—is trivial.  It’s not.  Nor did it go to a good cause, as donations to the Foundation at least did.  Cohen writes:

But just as I knew that the gifts I got were intended as bribes, and just as only I knew that the bribes were buying nothing, so did Hillary Clinton know that the huge amounts of money raised by the Clinton Foundation were coming from donors who thought they were buying something — access, a favor down the line, even a choice seat at some glitzy Clinton event with the requisite selfie to be sent to clients, spouses and interested others. And just as I never spelled out my rules — never said that the gift/bribe would buy nothing — I, like the Clintons, understood what might be the expectations of the donors. Some of them, probably, felt more strongly about taking a picture with Bill Clinton than about AIDS in Haiti.

The same pattern repeats itself over and over. Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of huge philanthropic endeavors — he is a benefactor of the Louvre in Paris, for instance — donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. Yet, when he contacted the foundation for help in meeting with a State Department official regarding Lebanon, where he has business and political interests, he got nowhere. Still, like the occasional tycoon from anywhere, he might have expected otherwise.

There is precious little that’s charitable about the world of charity. Raising money, like sausage-making, ain’t pretty to see, and it would be just criminally naive to rely on the big hearts of big donors. Much is bartered — access, recognition, social standing, proximity to the star at a dinner, a call afterward and, unspoken, the promise of influence if influence is needed. The Clintons knew exactly what was happening — a kind of alchemy in which potential bribes were turned into innocent gifts, leaving everyone with clean hands and, inevitably, the noxious odor of scandal.

What matters at this juncture, in this particular presidential campaign, isn’t what the Foundation or even the Clintons personally received, but instead what, if anything, they gave in return, and what, if anything, Hillary Clinton as president would actually give as quo.  And what Trump as president would, and to whom, and to what extent.  And what the quo’s importance to the public would be.

I’ll quote myself here:

Whatever favors Clinton did as Secretary of State for Clinton Foundation donors, they were trivial in that they had nothing to do with making or changing government policy, it appears.  And the Clintons’ rapacious money mongering didn’t defraud banks or individuals.  And while it served their personal financial interests well, their foundation did have the effect of actually doing some real good on fairly widespread scale.  The Clintons, in other words, aren’t sociopaths.  Trump is.

Please, no false equivalencies on this.  Okay?

Neither of my two recent posts from which I quote received any attention.  I hope this one does.

____

UPDATE: Reader Zachary Smith and I just exchanged these comments in the Comments thread:

Zachary Smith / August 30, 2016 2:24 p.m.

As part of the murder process of Muammar Gaddafi, he was sodomized with a bayonet. Out of respect for any children reading this blog, I’m not going to spell that out any further. What was Hillary’s RECORDED reaction?

“We came, we saw, he died,” followed by a laugh and gleeful hand clap.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y

Under my definiton of “sociopath”, Hillary Clinton qualifies on that one alone. Of course there are others….

*** My father, too, turned bribes into gifts. ***

I know some saintly people myself, and have no difficulty accepting this claim at face value. Stretching the analogy to the Clinton Foundation is, in my opinion, a stretch too far. If Hillary was as pure as the driven snow, why did she work so hard to ensure her communications were beyond the reach of the Freedom Of Information Act? Why has the State department refused to release her meeting schedules until after the election?

Finally, using Richard Cohen as an source for anything is beyond the pale. This shill for Israel was all-in for the destruction of Iraq. He was a big fan of the destruction of Libya. He’s a huge booster for the destruction of Syria. And he most definitely wants somebody in the White House who will finish off Iran.

That person is Hillary Clinton.

____

Me / August 30, 2016 3:04 pm

Well, first of all, my father was never a movie critic, a theater critic, never covered the auto industry or the pleasure boating industry, or, really, anything else that could have involved him in a quo on anything like a regular basis, so maybe that wasn’t a good line for me to use and maybe this wasn’t a good analogy after all. I was never really sure what these folks were after from my father, but that was the era of “press parties” and free passes to this and that, and there certainly were a lot of those. (Maybe these still are; I have no idea what the ethical aesthetic for journalists is these days.)

Still, not a truly apt analogy, as you’ve now illustrated, even though Cohen’s trip down memory lane did evoke incidents from my childhood.

But the point of my post is that the heavy media focus on Clinton’s conflict-of-interest-type transgressions, and the near-total lack of it regarding Trump, the Russian connection being the lone exception, is inappropriately asymmetrical, and does the voting public a major disservice.

As for Libya, you may well not know that the civil war there was quite well underway when this country intervened in order to fend off the imminent slaughter by Gaddafi of about a quarter-million people trapped with no defenses in a particular Libyan city. It was intended as, and was, a humanitarian intervention. And it was considered so throughout much of the Middle East. The problem came afterward, after Gaddafi’s fall, when this country did nothing to assist the rebels, and they were overtaken by ISIS.

As for Syria, here too I’m not sure why you think this country caused its civil war, but it did not.

I’ve hardly made a secret here at AB of my near-virulent distaste for Hillary Clinton and, these days, Bill Clinton. I’m, suffice it to say, not a shill for her. I really, really dislike her personality. But she’s running against Robert-and-Rebeka-Mercer-and-Paul-Ryan’s-legislative-agenda (believe me, and I don’t mean in the Trump sense). I’m sorry that that’s the case. But it is the case.

And about my father, he wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t that far from one, in my opinion and that of almost everyone who knew him. He was a very good person.

R.I.P., Daddy.

Update added 8/30 at 3:24 p.m.

 

____

SECOND UPDATE:  I’m adding this exchange of comments between reader Nihil Obstet and me because my response to him clarifies a key point about my post that, judging from the Comments thread, some readers did not understand:

Nihil Obstet /August 30, 2016 4:08 pm

The problem with corruption in Washington these days is that they don’t know it’s corruption — it’s the atmosphere they breathe, the ocean they swim in.

People who want something from you give you gifts? Well, the gift-giving has nothing to do with what they want you to do. They just like you. And you aren’t at all influenced by the gifts and their presumed affection. Unlike the rest of humanity, you aren’t at all affected by your perception of others’ valuing of you. Really?

In a criminal trial, potential jurors who know anyone who will be involved in the trial are dismissed. Silly courts? I don’t think so. That level of ignorance between the governed and their representatives is neither possible nor desirable, but its requirement where government will act is, I think, an accurate indication of the probability of conscious or unconscious influence of relationships.

If gift giving to those in power isn’t corrupt or corrupting, what’s the problem with Citizens United again?

In short, this pabulum about the real purity of backscratching is the crony justification of corruption. It’s not corruption. It’s just the way nice honest grownup people with favors to give live.

____

Me / August 30, 2016 5:55 pm

The thing here is that when there has been no action by the recipient of the gift, there is no backscratching. That’s Cohen’s point, and mine.

The problem with Citizens United is that extremely wealthy individuals, and corporations, are funding candidates who as elected officials will be making policy decisions that serve the financial interests of the people who funded those elected officials’ campaigns.

With Clinton, these people were doing what they were doing because she was Secretary of State and they wanted certain things from her as Secretary of State. If she didn’t oblige them, then the issue is one of access–they were able to get through to Abedin or whoever to request these things. That’s not pretty, but it’s not the same as actually getting what they’d requested.

There are big problems, of course, with potential conflict of interest concerning these past Foundation donors and consultant payments to Bill Clinton and speech payments to him and her. Big problems. But my post, and Cohen’s column, addressed only the issue of quid pro quos when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

Judging from the comments, I think several readers of my post missed that fact.

And here’s another comment of mine in the thread, this in response to a comment by Mike Kimel:

“It won’t affect my judgment” is different than “It can’t affect my judgment, because I have no judgment to exercise on this.” Which was true for my father and most of his colleagues.

But it also is different than “It didn’t affect my judgment, as you can see. I didn’t do what the gift-giver wanted, and in fact did nothing.” Which is what Cohen did as a claims adjuster. And, with the exception of trivialities, appears to be what happened at State.

If there eventually is evidence of instances in which something really did happen, that would be a big, big problem. But Trump is a walking conflict-of-interest machine, and his funders/puppeteers are far, far worse than Clinton’s, in almost every respect, not least on climate-change matters.

What this election has done is expose the awfulness of the Democratic Party’s nomination process. Every single day, when I click on the internet, I think, yet again, what a tragedy it is that Clinton so wrapped up the Party before the election season even begun that no progressive other than Bernie challenged her. Not Sherrod Brown, not Elizabeth Warren. No one but Bernie, whom the political news media insisted month after month could never actually win the general election, if nominated.

It makes me sick. and I think this will be the last Dem presidential primary season in which that will happen. But we’re faced with a contest between Trump and Clinton. We each have to choose whom we will support.

Hope this clarifies my post.  Especially since it’s my final comment about it.  I think.

Added 8/30 at 6:22 p.m.

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Trump suggests to undocumented immigrants that they quickly pool their savings and use the funds to buy real estate in extremely leveraged deals* in order to avoid paying back taxes (or income taxes at all) once they become legal residents during a Trump administration. And Eric Trump agrees!

In what would be a stunning reversal on an issue central to his candidacy, Donald Trump floated a possible process to allow undocumented immigrants to remain in America in a town hall that aired Wednesday.

“No citizenship,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in an interview taped Tuesday afternoon in Austin, Texas. “Let me go a step further — they’ll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them.”

Trump said he was moved by concerns from fans who opposed his previous calls for a “deportation force” to remove all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Donald Trump Openly Weighs a Massive Immigration Reversal, Benjy Sarlin, NBCNews.com, today [h/t Greg Sargent)

Meanwhile, son Eric helpfully instructed yesterday that tax returns don’t show anything instructive about such things as who, or what entities, actually are funding the purchases of this real estate, how many times refinancing has occurred and how it occurred, who or what entities own partnership interests (and what those interests are), and whether they are profitable and, if so, how much is paid in taxes on that income.  Politico’s Tyler Pager reported yesterday:

“There is no tax attorney in the world who will tell you to release your tax returns while you’re under a standard, routine audit,” Eric Trump said on CNBC. “It would never happen. Anybody who thinks that is in La-La Land. … It would be foolish to do.”

Eric Trump added that he is the biggest proponent of his father not releasing his tax returns.

“His tax return, did you see the Twitter picture, it’s 5 feet tall,” he said. “You would have a bunch of people who know nothing about taxes trying to look through and trying to come up with assumptions they know nothing about.”

Donald Trump’s tax returns have become a key campaign issue with Democrats hammering him for not disclosing them and saying the returns could reveal hidden business interests, particularly with Russia. Warren Buffett, the billionaire chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has publicly challenged Trump to release his tax returns, saying he will release his own if Trump does.

Still, Eric Trump maintained he does not think his father should release them.

“You learn a lot more when you look at somebody’s assets,” he said. “You know how many hotels we have around the world. You know how many golf courses we have around the world. You know every single building we have.”

“We have,” of course, appears to be loosely defined here.  But what we do know, courtesy of Eric’s brother Donald Jr., is that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” and that “[w]e see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”  Or at least this was so in 2008, when Donald Jr. disclosed this to his audience when speaking at a real estate conference.

No one need wonder who suggested that Trump hire Paul Manafort to run his campaign, decades after Manafort had stopped being a Republican Party operative.  But that’s in the past.

The future, by contrast, holds big things for undocumented immigrants. Multimillions of dollars in tax-free income.  At least if they become real estate developers.

Eric’s given away the secret that the Trump University professors withheld.  And he did it without even charging tuition.

There does remain that little question of how to go about having unpaid back taxes count for future real estate purchases under the tax code.  But if the newly-documented immigrants hire accountants and tax lawyers recommended by Trump’s accountants and tax lawyers, this shouldn’t prove difficult.

And for a partnership interest in the real estate, Trump surely will have his accountants and lawyers provide names.

____

*ADDENDUM: About one of those extremely leveraged real estate deals:

“I don’t settle lawsuits — very rare — because once you settle lawsuits, everybody sues you,” he said recently.

But Mr. Trump made an exception when buyers of units in Trump SoHo, a 46­ story luxury condominium­hotel in Lower Manhattan, asserted that they had been defrauded by inflated claims made by Mr. Trump, his children and others of brisk sales in the struggling project. He and his co­defendants settled the case in November 2011, agreeing to refund 90 percent of $3.16 million in deposits, while admitting no wrongdoing.

The backdrop to that unusual denouement was a gathering legal storm that threatened to cast a harsh light on how he did business. Besides the fraud accusations, a separate lawsuit claimed that Trump SoHo was developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan.

And hovering over it all was a criminal investigation, previously unreported, by the Manhattan district attorney into whether the fraud alleged by the condo buyers broke any laws, according to documents and interviews with five people familiar with it. The buyers initially helped in the investigation, but as part of their lawsuit settlement, they had to notify prosecutors that they no longer wished to do so.

The criminal case was eventually closed. Mr. Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination rests on the notion, relentlessly promoted by the candidate himself, that his record of business deals has prepared him better than his rivals for running the country. An examination of Trump SoHo provides a window into his handling of one such deal and finds that decisions on important matters like whom to become partners with and how to market the project led him into a thicket of litigation and controversy.

Trump SoHo is one of several instances in which Mr. Trump’s boastfulness — a hallmark of his career and his campaign — has been accused of crossing the line into fraud.

Donald Trump Settled a Real Estate Lawsuit, and a Criminal Case Was Closed, Mike McIntyre, New York Times, Apr. 5, 2016

For me this general election campaign has been an exercise in frustration and dismay at the failure of Clinton and her campaign to apprise the public of critically important things about Trump that they don’t already know.  Like Trump’s monetary motive for his coziness with Putin, and his methods of financing his real estate empire that included bank fraud and partnerships with corrupt foreigners.  Things that make the Clintons’ self-dealing and misrepresentations to the public look utterly inconsequential by comparison.

And like what billionaire is backing Trump financially and calling the campaign shots, and would be calling the shots in a Trump administration.  And what those shots would be.

Whatever favors Clinton did as Secretary of State for Clinton Foundation donors, they were trivial in that they had nothing to do with making or changing government policy, it appears.  And the Clintons’ rapacious money mongering didn’t defraud banks or individuals.  And while it served their personal financial interests well, their foundation did have the effect of actually doing some real good on fairly widespread scale.  The Clintons, in other words, aren’t sociopaths.  Trump is.

Finally—finally—now, Clinton is angry enough about Trump’s statements about Clinton Foundation/State Department connection that she’s willing to depart from her campaign’s strategy of telling the public what they already know about Trump, but nothing else, because informing voters about the stuff they don’t know would require a slightly complex discussion.  Telling people what they already know is quick and easy and soundbite-y.  So it’s what her highly paid consultants and top campaign staff advise.

But in a stark, sudden and surprising departure, Clinton is about to begin educating the public about something somewhat complex, something that requires that she tell them things about Trump that they don’t already know.  She’s about to explain the alt-right, apparently in some actual depth, and illustrate that Trump is the alt-right’s candidate because he himself is alt-right.

So is his billionaire.  The public has no idea he has one, much less what the billionaire’s specific agenda is.  And if Clinton finally is ready to tell the public that, yes, Trump has his very own billionaire supporting his campaign with many millions of dollars, she will get some help from John McCain, who obviously reads Angry Bear even if Clinton and her campaign folks don’t.  Although, of course, it’s more accurate to describe the relationship as one in which the billionaire has his very own presidential nominee.

Addendum added 8/25 at 4:07 p.m.

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Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel vs. Robert Mercer and Rebeka Mercer (i.e., the meaning of TRUE CHANGE)

In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s recent fundraising along the East and West coasts, the Republican National Committee has released a new web ad claiming the Democratic presidential nominee is out of touch with “everyday Americans.”

The 19-second video, titled “Hillary Clinton’s Liberal Elite Summer Tour,” begins with an image of an airplane bearing Clinton’s logo. A voiceover resembling an announcement from a flight attendant names some of the stops on Clinton’s schedule, including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Martha’s Vineyard.

“Please use caution in opening the overhead bins, as Hillary’s baggage may have shifted during flight,” the “flight attendant” says as the ad ends.

Clinton spent her weekend on Martha’s Vineyard and held a fundraiser in Nantucket. On Tuesday, Clinton is headlining a $33,400-per-guest event being hosted by Justin Timberlake and his wife, actress Jessica Biel.

“Hillary Clinton claims she’s running to be a champion for ‘everyday Americans,’ but her busy week of fundraisers with her friends in the wealthy liberal elite show who she’s really fighting for,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “Rather than visit flood-ravaged Louisiana or end her more than 250-day streak without a press conference, she’s taking her private jet from coast to coast raking in piles of campaign cash to fund her status quo campaign.

“Donald Trump is the candidate of true change in this election, and he is leading a grassroots movement to put an end to business as usual in Washington and make a difference in the lives of all Americans.”

New RNC ad attacks Clinton’s fundraisers, Rebecca Morin, Politico, yesterday

Amid the widespread media focus last on the Trump campaign’s shakeup that ended Paul Manafort’s reign there (such as it was) and brought in Breitbart alum Steve Bannon as campaign CEO (interesting title, but whatever) and elevated Trump pollster Kellyann Conway to campaign manager, a critical aspect of this, though reported in-depth by the New York Times and a couple of other major news outlets, has, clearly, not made it mainstream: that Trump’s actual current puppeteers are the father-daughter duo of Robert Mercer and Rebeka Mercer.  And who they are.

So let me introduce them to y’all, by borrowing heavily from an in-depth article by Nicholas Confessore titled “How One Family’s Deep Pockets Helped Reshape Donald Trump’s Campaign,” published in last Friday’s New York Times:

Last week, as Donald J. Trump endured one of the most tumultuous stretches of his presidential campaign, a few longtime allies in New York conservative circles met for dinner and a drink. As the evening progressed, the conversation turned to an inevitable topic: What would it take to give Mr. Trump his best shot at winning?

A few days later, one of the guests, Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, would become Mr. Trump’s campaign chief in a sudden shake­up. But it was a guest without a formal role in the campaign, a conservative philanthropist named Rebekah Mercer, who has now become one of its most potent forces.

Mr. Bannon’s ascension on Wednesday — urged on Mr. Trump by Ms. Mercer, among others — shows how a cadre of strategists, “super PACs” and political organizations quietly nurtured by her family have emerged to play a pivotal role in Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Over more than half a decade, Ms. Mercer’s father, the New York investor Robert Mercer, has carved an idiosyncratic path through conservative politics, spending tens of millions of dollars to outflank his own party’s consultant class and unnerve its established powers. His fortune has financed think tanks and insurgent candidates, super PACs and media watchdogs, lobbying groups and grass­roots organizations.

Many of them are now connected, one way or another, to Mr. Trump’s presidential bid. Mr. Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, is a veteran Republican pollster who previously oversaw a super PAC financed by the Mercers. Mr. Bannon oversaw Breitbart, an outlet that has often amplified Mr. Trump’s message and attacked his perceived enemies. Mr. Mercer reportedly invested $10 million in Breitbart several years ago, and most likely still has a stake: A company sharing an address with Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund Mr. Mercer helps lead, remains an investor in Breitbart, according to corporate documents filed in Delaware.

Mr. Trump is also relying on Cambridge Analytica, a voter data firm backed by Mr. Mercer, whose staff members are working with Mr. Trump’s vendors to identify potential Trump supporters in the electorate, particularly among infrequent voters.

A Mercer-­backed super PAC supporting Mr. Trump is now being shepherded by David Bossie, a conservative activist whose own projects have been funded in part by the Mercers’ family foundation, according to tax documents.

Mr. Bannon has worked particularly closely with the family in recent years.

“I think they have complete confidence, and rightly so, in Steve Bannon’s decisions and what he brings to the table politically,” Mr. Bossie said. “He has been smart and successful in running these different political operations. And those things have come to the Mercers’ attention.”

The Mercers, who rarely grant interviews, declined through a spokesman to comment. Mr. Mercer, 70, a mathematician and competitive poker player who spent his early career at I.B.M., joined Renaissance in the 1990s and rose to become the co-­chief executive, earning hundreds of millions of dollars along the way.

Today, he and his wife, Diana, live on a sprawling estate on Long Island’s North Shore where, according to court records, he installed a $2.7 million model railroad set (and later sued the vendor for overcharging him).  [Italics added.]

Like many elite donors, the Mercers shun mainstream media attention — even while financing alternative outlets that provide content for conservative activists. That includes not just Breitbart, but also the self­described watchdog organization Media Research Center and the Government Accountability Institute, home to Peter Schweizer, the author of “Clinton Cash,” a book examining the Clinton family philanthropies. (Mr. Bannon co­founded the institute and Ms. Mercer, 42, has served on its board; she also co­produced a documentary based on the book and released last month, just before the Democratic National Convention.)

They have given to libertarian organizations, such as the Cato Institute, and political organizations like the Club for Growth, which spends millions of dollars each election cycle in Republican primaries, hoping to promote orthodox conservative policies on taxes and spending. The Mercers are also significant donors to the sprawling political network overseen by the political activists Charles G. and David H. Koch, which is also libertarian-­leaning.  [Italics added.]

But unlike the Koch brothers, who remained neutral in the Republican primary and have said their organizations will focus on congressional races this fall, the Mercers were deeply involved in the Republican nominating battle this year. And they have shown a taste for more bare-­knuckled and populist politics than most of Mr. Mercer’s fellow hedge fund magnates.

The family originally backed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a more traditional conservative but one who, like Mr. Trump, is disliked by much of the party establishment. During the early phase of the campaign, Mr. Mercer donated $13 million to a super PAC supporting Mr. Cruz. In doing so, he broke with many peers in the elite donor world, who looked to candidates like Jeb Bush or Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

The Mercers maintained close control over the group’s purse strings, installing Ms. Conway to oversee the group and coordinate with several other pro-­Cruz groups, an unusual move for a super PAC. During the Republican primary, the group ran ads questioning Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials, hoping to outflank Mr. Trump.

But the Mercers moved to support Mr. Trump after he won the nomination. They were helped in part, according to a person who asked for anonymity to describe the family’s thinking, by Mr. Trump’s growing emphasis on traditional conservative ideas, such as tax cuts. [Italics added.]  And the family broke with Mr. Cruz in highly public fashion after his speech at the Republican convention, when the Texas senator refused to endorse Mr. Trump and instead suggested that Republicans should “vote your conscience” for candidates “up and down the ticket.”

In an extraordinary rebuke, the Mercers issued a rare public statement, calling themselves “profoundly disappointed” in Mr. Cruz. In late June, the Mercer­-financed super PAC quietly re­formed as Make America Number One, now a pro-­Trump entity. Mr. Bossie, a longtime conservative activist who has produced documentaries about the Clinton family and illegal immigration, is leading the group, which is likely to raise more money from the Mercers to pay for attacks on Hillary Clinton.

Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

Yeah, yeah, okay, I didn’t borrow heavily from the Confessore piece; I borrowed the whole thing.  But the italics are mine, so … fair use?  In return, I will say that Confessore’s reporting is, in my opinion, unfailingly awesome.

What matters here is, I would hope, obvious: Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel, George Clooney, and the folks who attend their, and other Hollywood types’, fundraisers, for Clinton, for the DNC, for Senate and House candidates, for other down-ballot candidates, are donating to politicians whose platform—and in the instances of Dem incumbents running for reelection, their actual legislative votes—run counter to their financial interests.  Sometimes very significantly.

That likely also is true of many of those Martha’s Vineyard fundraiser hosts and attendees.

In any event, I’m not sure why the funds raised by the liberal elite in Hollywood and Martha’s Vineyard, in the service of reducing their own fortunes, is more pernicious than the tens upon tens of millions of dollars provided by two people transferring the money from a sprawling estate on Long Island’s North Shore that, according to court records, features an installed $2.7 million model railroad set, and from other homes owned by one or another of the two, in the service of propping up campaigns for president and Congress whose explicit tax, expenditures, and regulatory plans—not to mention quieter federal legislative proposals—would directly and dramatically increase their already-exorbitant wealth and enable the fully tax-free passage of that wealth from themselves to their heirs.

Heirs, here, being a legal term of art, but it does double duty here as in “heir to the [fill-in-the-blanks] fortune” of common parlance.

Although presumably Ms. Conway can explain it, since yesterday, according news reports, she said in a TV interview that she’s chomping at the bit to see Trump campaign on his tax plan, which, she said, lowers taxes for … the middle class!  Who are in the tax bracket that will save them hundreds of thousands of dollars each year under Trump’s income tax proposal and who will be relieved to know that their wealth in excess of $5 million (or whatever the current level is above which is subject to the estate tax) will pass to their heirs (both uses of the term here) tax-free.

And while Trump is campaigning in, say, Ohio and Pennsylvania on his tax plan, maybe he’ll discuss also who will have his ear when it comes time to fill such positions as National Labor Relations Board members, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Commerce, head of the Federal Communications—and Attorney General.  As well as chief of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

To name only a handful of appointees that, y’know, maybe could matter to some of those Rust Belt blue-collar workers, former and present.

And then there is the matter of Trump’s promise, repeated time and again, to appoint Supreme Court justices who will ensure the continued viability of Citizens United issued, 5-4, in 2010.  And of Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, a bizarre 5-4 opinion fabricating a constitutional ground on which to strike down Arizona’s matching-campaign-funds statute that applied to elections for state office.  This issue is dead only if Trump wins and does as he’s promised: Nominate Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia.

Yesterday’s NYT Opinion section featured a lengthy piece by former Times Washington Bureau chief Hedrick Smith that made that clear.  Titled “Can the States Save American Democracy?”, Smith writes:

In the pushback against Citizens United, 17 states and more than 680 local governments have appealed to Congress for a constitutional amendment, either through a letter to Congress, referendums, legislative resolutions, city council votes or collective letters from state lawmakers.

In the most prominent case, California’s 18 million registered voters get to vote in November on whether to instruct their 55­ member congressional delegation to “use all of their constitutional authority” to overturn Citizens United. Washington State is holding a similar referendum. In 2014, a Democratic amendment proposal to allow regulation and limits on electoral spending won a 54­42 majority in the Senate, strictly along party lines, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. Now bills calling for a 6­ to­ 1 match of public funds for small campaign donations up to $150, or requiring disclosure of funders for campaign ads, have wide Democratic support, but are blocked by Republican opposition.

Yet out in the country, even in some reliably red states, reform movements have sprouted. South Dakota is one, thanks to three petition drives. One seeks to make primaries nonpartisan and another calls for an independent redistricting commission. A third is for a ballot measure, similar to one in Washington State, that would create a $50 tax credit for each voter to donate to a political candidate; ban campaign contributions exceeding $100 from lobbyists and state contractors; and mandate that independent groups speedily disclose the top five contributors to political ads and electioneering communications made within 60 days of an election.

In April, Nebraska’s Republican-­dominated Legislature voted 29­15 to set up an independent redistricting commission. Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but reformist legislators promise a revised proposal in the next session.

Everyone, of course, knows about Citizens United, but no one knows about that Arizona matching-funds opinion.  Nor does anyone know about the string of 5-4 Supreme Court opinions rewriting, for example, the Federal Arbitration Act to provide what the Act does not provide, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), the statute that delineates key aspects of access to federal court, to provide the diametric contrary to what it actually says and had been accepted as saying since it was enacted in about 1970.

There are other critical rewritings of “codified” law—provisions of the Constitution and legislative enactments, including the very wording of the Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment—also regarding threshold access to federal court, as part of the Supreme Court’s makeover of American law in the vision of the Conservative Legal Movement.

To which Trump’s two funders/puppeteers aggressively subscribe.

And here’s what really matters: Trump himself will not win; that train has left the station and will not be returning.  And in recognition and acceptance of that, the RNC apparently plans to soon start trying to sell their Senate and House incumbent and new candidates a check on Clinton.  Which would seem to raise the issue of what policies she would propose that a majority of voters want checked.

Well, either that or what policies the Republican donors want checked.  And what policies they want to force as part of, say, the annual appropriations bill, including those quietly inserted during the night before the bill comes to a floor vote.

I’ve repeatedly argued here at AB, including here last week, that a fatal problem with Senate and House campaigns for Dems is that they think that “nationalizing” elections for Congress is something that works against rather than for Dems.  I’ve said that this is so only to the extent that Dems think triangulating on economic issues and running entirely on culture-wars issues—running a campaign that, to borrow from Mitt Romney, is an apology tour, albeit with such things as legitimate -rape matters thrown in.  And of course that extent has been pretty darn broad.  Until this cycle—at least to some extent.

But not to a large enough extent.  After Labor Day, Bernie Sanders will begin campaigning around the country, holding rallies not just in support of Clinton but also with—withsome Dem Senate and House candidates.  So this will change, I would think.

But as for the Clinton campaign itself, which has the creativity and guts of the chair I’m sitting in, I offer a suggestion: How about an ad featuring Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel in which they compare their financial gain or loss that of Robert and Rebeka Mercer under Trump’s plan and then under Clinton’s?  (Jeff Weaver, Bernie’s campaign manager, could put together something attention-grabbing, informative and funny; I know he could. And I’ve read that he’s now working informally with the DNC.)

Change? You say you want change, Rust Belters?*  Be careful what you wish for.  Or at least hope you don’t get it.

True change.  The lady promised true change.  She wasn’t kidding.

____

*Look, I’ve said roughly 800 times here (rounding out the figure) that Trump will not come close to winning Rust Belt blue-collar workers.  But it’s critically important also to turn both houses of Congress blue.

For roughly that same number—800 (rounding out the figure)—of reasons.

____

I’ll insert a couple more links, regarding Supreme Court opinions I describe here, tonight.  I don’t have time now, and I want to get this posted as early as possible. Because, well … I think it contains darned important information.

 

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