Thank You, Russians

We really owe the Russians a big ‘thank you’ for all of their activities during the past election. Russians can do music and ballet delicately, but they are quite ham-fisted when it comes to politics. Which is good, because if they had been more subtle their efforts might have gone undetected.

Now that they have been exposed, the results are mostly positive:

  • Anti hacking security is being taken more seriously. Electoral authorities are tightening up their vote tallying systems. Campaigns are finally taking measures to protect their emails and communications
  • Fake news and the robots that spread it have been exposed. There still are not a lot of great options for fighting it, but there is a start
  • There is a massive spotlight on the the power of Facebook, Twitter and others that would not have been there had the Russians not tried to use them to manipulate public opinion
  • Russia’s actions prompted a very rare show of Congressional bipartisanship and independence. Legislation to punish Russia passed overwhelmingly, with specific language to keep Trump from end-running it.
  • A Special Counsel was appointed investigate the Russian activities. For the anti-Trump crowd this alone is a huge positive, as the investigation has spilled over to the shady financing that undermines Trump Inc.

Of course, all of this will be for naught if the lessons are quickly forgotten.


Trump The Business

Donald Trump wrote a book about his business acumen and even started a ‘university’ to teach it to others. But like most things Trump, the reality is not as good as he says it is.

I once spoke to a banker about the traders in his company that used computers to trade massive amounts of money and make a few cents on each trade. It was impressive. He replied, not so much. The traders were trading using the bank’s money for free. If they had to borrow the money at market rates instead they would be losing their shirts.

It is a good bet that Trump Inc. is built on a similar model. The economics of his business deals are probably based on getting financing from unsavory characters (alleged mobsters and worse), highly aggressive tax maneuvers and illegal undocumented quid-pro-quo agreements. Trump Inc. might not be a money launderer per se, but you won’t have to scratch the surface very deeply to find the rinse cycle.

This is why Trump is so afraid of Robert Mueller’s investigations. They are bound to uncover the extent of the shady deals he and his family have done to stay in business. And since he and his family make all of the important decisions, there really aren’t a lot of henchmen to take the fall when the truth comes out.

So in addition to the Charles Kushner pardon pool, we ought to be thinking about wagering on pardons for Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner.


Mueller: Drip, Drip, Drip

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation must be like water torture for Donald Trump. Every piece of news about it is another brick in the wall that will eventually encircle the President and, more importantly, his business interests.

The wall won’t imprison Trump. It is doubtful that he will even be charged with any crimes. What the wall will do is keep others away. By the time Mueller is done, Trump Inc. will be a toxic hot potato that no one will want to be close to.

Trump is very well aware of this. So every time Mueller puts a fair sized brick in the wall, Trump tries to tweet it away. “No collusion” tweets Trump – he’s got nothing, it’s a waste of time. No Brick.

But the truth is that very slowly and very methodically, the wall is taking shape. Mueller is laying as strong of a foundation as he can to make sure that the wall will stand up to any legal trebuchet that Trump’s legal team can conceive of. So far, it looks pretty solid.


Trump: It’s The Ratings Stupid

In case you have not noticed, Donald Trump is not exactly a traditional president. That includes how he measures how well he is doing.

Trump is from the celebrity and reality TV worlds (pretty much the same thing, really). In those worlds, success is measured by how often you are mentioned in the press and the ratings your TV program receives. It really doesn’t matter whether people ‘like’ you, how high your public approval ratings are or even what the press is writing about you. If you are in the news every day, you are successful. Period.

That is why Trump cares about how many people come to events like his inauguration. If he has the largest attendance then he had the largest ratings, and he is the ‘best’ president. Period.

If a celebrity finds their press coverage lacking, they have their PR flack manufacture something to bring them some coverage. Trump is his own publicist and he is brilliant at it, having honed his skills in over 30 years of sparring with New York’s celebrity press.

When Trump feels his ratings going down, he sends out a few tweets. Boom – he is back in the headlines and back on top.

The celebrity  press understands this game, but the political press is still trying to figure it out. Trump has completely broken their reporting model and until they come up with a new one he will continue to be a star and write his own headlines.


Super Sarah Sanders

Sarah Sanders is running circles around the White House press corps and they have no idea what to do about it. For all of Donald Trump’s faults, he hit one out of the park when he hired her.

Every day the White House press tries to press her on something controversial that Trump tweeted or some dysfunction within his administration. There is no shortage of either. Yet Sanders is able to dodge, weave and deflect, many of the times turning the tables on the press corps.

For example, when queried as to whether a Trump comment that a senator would “do anything” for campaign contributions was implying sex, Sanders admonished the reporter to get her mind out of the gutter. Touche!

To be honest, as good as Sanders is, her job really isn’t all that hard and is probably a lot of fun. The White House press corps needs a through shakeup. They are where they are because they climbed the professional ladder and finally got to the job where they get invited to the right parties and have some status, and they are probably not a little bit full of themselves.

In addition, they are used to the formal White House press ritual that team Trump has absolutely no respect for. They are playing by the old rules and Sanders is playing by Trump rules. Until they news agencies ship some reporters with experience covering reality TV and celebrities, Sanders will continue to kick their butts.

The Clinton Standard

Since when did the Clintons become the standard for propriety in politics? The latest news is that Hillary Clinton intervened to keep an accused of sexual harasser on her staff when he was about to fired. The implication is that the #metoo crowd should back off, because even Hillary tolerated harassers.

Well, duh. She’s the person who excused her husband when he cheated on her with a young intern named Lewinsy.¬† In fact, she aggressively defended him.

But here is the thing. The Republicans have spent the last 30 years telling us how corrupt and slimy the Clintons are. So telling us that even the Clintons cheat, lie, steal, etc. is not the best way to say that it is ok to do it. We are not really talking about Ghandi or Mother Terresa here.

The truth is that the Clintons are an excellent straw man. Bill is an admitted adulterer / harasser yet has high approval ratings – ergo, other harassers that aren’t as popular also should be able to get away with it.

Hillary doesn’t have Bill’s high approval ratings, but she is living in some kind of alternate reality. She fancies herself a politician and is easily drawn into the fray. But the truth is that she is a great policy wonk but a terrible politician, constantly making decisions without understanding how they will play out politically, such as defending harassers or ignoring advice not to use a personal email server.

The best thing she could do for the Democrats would be to declare that she is a flawed individual who should not be a standard for anything, and fade away from politics. A true politician would realize this. Unfortunately, she is not a politician.

Trump Will Lie To Mueller

At some point over the next few months, President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller will have a conversation. Each will be accompanied by a phalanx of lawyers. Mueller and his team will ask questions. Trump, guided by his team, will answer. And then Trump will throw in a few lies.

It is certain that Trump will lie? No, but the odds are pretty good, and here’s why.

  1. He has done it before. Trump has been in court many times. He is familiar with testifying and has told many lies and misleading statements in the past
  2. He doesn’t believe he is lying. Trump is a narcissistic pathological liar, in other words he believes his lies because they are part of his self image.
  3. Even if he knows he is lying, he feels that as president he can do whatever he wants. Trump probably believes it is his right and duty to lie in the right circumstances, and a vindictive witch hunt by Mueller is one of those circumstances.
  4. He doesn’t see any downside to getting caught lying. The president can always pardon himself from committing perjury, right? Even if that doesn’t work, what’s the worst that can happen? He’s the guy that could get away with shooting someone in Times Square. They certainly aren’t going to impeach him for a lie or two. If they try, there will literally be blood in the streets – his people will never take an impeachment attempt lying down.

Mueller probably knows that he will never take Trump down. But he can take his company and business associates down. When he uncovers the full nature of the money laundering and side deals that Trump, Inc. has been involved in with the Russians and firms like Deutsche Bank it is going to get mighty uncomfortable to be in business with or as a Trump.