erik lundegaard

Politics posts

Thursday June 07, 2018


“The retirement of David Koch from Koch Industries will make it easier to see more clearly what has been true from the start: Charles and David Koch, who came to be known as ”the Koch brothers,“ were equals in bloodlines and in wealth, but Charles has always been the brains behind the brothers' vast corporate and political operations. Those who know the brothers well predict that David's retirement will have scant impact, particularly in the political realm, where the Kochs exert enormous influence.”

— Jane Mayer (who should know), “One Koch Brother Forces The Other Out Of The Family Business,” in The New Yorker

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Posted at 05:03 PM on Jun 07, 2018 in category Politics
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Wednesday June 06, 2018

How Can Donald Trump Protect America When ... ?

Tevfik Arif, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump

I was going to do a post on the above photo—a screenshot from the documentary series “Dirty Money,” currently streaming on Netflix, and much recommended—and do it in the vein of: What if this were a Democrat? What if this were Obama with one of his daughters? How often would we have seen the image on Fox News? How stridently would his masculinity have been ridiculed? “He's not man enough to protect his own daughter, and you expect him to protect America?!?” It would be a cultural touchstone. The mainstream press would be forced to weigh in. Op-Eds in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. Jokes on SNL. On and on. It would never go away

But because it's Trump, it never arrived. 

I was going to do all that, as I said, but why? Trump can do no right and it doesn't matter. The stink on him is overwhelming and Fox News calls it perfume. They and he play “Whoever smelt it, dealt it” and point fingers at the FBI, the intelligence community, John McCain and other lifelong Republicans. Any institution they once backed and saluted, they dump if there's a chance it might bring down this horror show of a man, this bullying liar, this lazy, ignorant embarassment to the office and the country and the world and the human race.

Who is that, by the way, violating Ivanka Trump's personal airspace right in front of her supposedly powerful father? It‘s Tevfik Arif, the Kazakhstan-born founder of the Bayrock Group, who, according to the documentary, “was associated with some of Kazakhstan’s more notorious oligarchs, who were known as being unbelievably corrupt.” According to this New York Times article, Bayrock had an office on “the 24th floor of Trump Tower, where they began work on the future Trump SoHo and used their connections to explore a possible Trump building in Moscow.” In 2010, they were all sued by 15 Trump SoHo buyers who said they'd been told 30-60 percent of the units had been sold when the building was nearly deserted: just 15 perecent of the units sold. That same year, Arif was arrested in Turkey and charged with human sex trafficking.

That's who that guy is. 

OK, I‘ll say it: How can Donald Trump protect America when he can’t even protect his own daughter?

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Posted at 01:55 AM on Jun 06, 2018 in category Politics
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Saturday June 02, 2018

The Agreed-Upon Facts of the Trump-Russia Investigation

There's so much distraction in the Trump-Russia investigation that it's good to remind ourselves what we know so far—the agreed-upon facts of the case. Thank Washington Post‘s Paul Waldman for the list below

He wrote the piece in response to a series of tweets from Trump last Sunday, including this one:

What do you say to that? How do you respond to the pathetic hand-wringing of a tyrant? Trump also blamed Obama, of course:

Waldman writes: 

This is like someone on trial for bank robbery saying, “That bank wasn’t even robbed! Somebody else robbed it! And what we should really be asking is why the cops didn't stop the bank from being robbed!”

Then he goes over the agreed-upon facts of the case, the collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, to remind everyone what's already out there:

  • In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. was approached by an acquaintance with an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton from a group of Russians, which the acquaintance characterized as follows: “This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.” Don Jr. replied “I love it” and gathered Manafort and Jared Kushner to meet with the Russians.
  • After that story broke last year, President Trump reportedly dictated a false story to be given to the press, claiming that the meeting took place to discuss adoption of Russian children.
  • In July 2016, Trump publicly encouraged Russia to hack into Clinton's email.
  • Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is under indictment for crimes connected to his relationships with a Kremlin-allied Ukrainian leader and a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. His deputy, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, and is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
  • In 2015, Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, was paid $45,000 plus travel expenses to deliver a speech in Moscow at an event honoring RT, a television network that acts as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. He sat with Putin. He pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and is cooperating with Mueller's investigation.
  • George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, got the FBI counterintelligence investigation rolling when he told an Australian diplomat that the campaign had been offered dirt on Clinton from Russia in the form of hacked emails. (The diplomat passed the information along to the U.S. government.) Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and is cooperating with Mueller.
  • Carter Page, another Trump foreign policy adviser, had been on the FBI radar for years because they suspected that Russian intelligence agents were attempting to recruit him. In 2016 the FBI became concerned enough about his contacts with people connected to the Russian government that it obtained a FISA warrant to monitor him.
  • Both in his confirmation hearing and on a security clearance questionnaire in preparation for becoming attorney general, Jeff Sessions claimed that he had no contact with Russian officials during the campaign. He later admitted that this was false and that he did have multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador.
  • During the presidential transition, the Russian ambassador was picked up on surveillance telling his superiors that Trump's son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had suggested they set up a secret communications channel, perhaps within the Russian Embassy or consulate, so that Trump aides could speak to the Russians without U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring the communications. Even the Russians found this suggestion completely bonkers.

Stay tuned. 

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Posted at 04:10 AM on Jun 02, 2018 in category Politics
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Sunday May 27, 2018

America's Loss of Prestige in the Trump Era

Jon Lee Anderson has a piece in The New Yorker on John Feeley, the former ambassador to Panama, who quit his post earlier this year because of the moral failings of the Trump administration. It's about that, the diplomatic corps in general, and America's loss of prestige in the Trump era. Some excerpts:

  • When Tillerson was fired, this March, eight of the ten most senior positions at State were unfilled, leaving no one in charge of arms control, human rights, trade policy, or the environment. For diplomats in the field, the consequences were clearly evident. In 2017, Dave Harden, a longtime Foreign Service officer, was assigned to provide relief to victims of the war in Yemen, one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. The entire diplomatic staff for the country was barely a dozen people. “We worked out of a three-bedroom house,” he said. “It felt like a startup.” There was no support from State, and no policy direction, he said: “The whole system was completely broken.” Harden resigned last month.
  • Privately, [former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Roberta] Jacobson was more forthcoming. “The level of coöperation we‘ve gotten is something you don’t just build overnight,” she told me. “We are still the preferred commercial and economic partner, but we have to be trustworthy. The mere fact that in some sectors, especially in agriculture, Mexican buyers are beginning to look elsewhere should be a warning to us that we may be starting to lose a clear advantage. This could prove true in security or migration as well.”
  • Jorge Guajardo, the former Mexican Ambassador, told me that the loss of prestige was already evident. “In Latin America, the relationship with the U.S. has gone from aspirational to transactional,” he said. “In countries like Mexico, we used to say, when there was a case of corruption, ‘If this happened in the U.S.A. . . .’ But we don’t say that anymore. There used to be a kind of deference to the U.S. Not anymore. If something doesn’t benefit Mexico, we’ll walk away.” In the past, he said, Latin-American countries looking for business partners might select a U.S. company over one from another country, because America represented higher ethical standards. Since Trump’s election, he said, things had changed. “There’s this idea that the States is just like the rest of us. That’s the saddest thing to me.”
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Posted at 08:41 AM on May 27, 2018 in category Politics
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Tuesday May 22, 2018

Richard Goodwin (1931-2018)

As I was leaving to get a coffee Sunday afternoon, for some reason I focused on the book “Remembering America” by Richard Goodwin on the bookshelf in the foyer. Just the title. It had meaning for Goodwin when it was published in 1988 amid the Reagan Revolution, which was undoing much of the good work he and Democrats had done throughout the century; and now, in the Trump era, it had even greater meaning. Was I thinking about reading it again? Or just getting it off the shelf? I did a day later when I heard Goodwin had died of cancer at the age of 88. 

My copy wasn't even my copy—I'd forgotten that. It wasn't the copy I'd read and marked up in 1988. It was a replacement I bought in a used bookstore in Seattle. But I knew there was a quote in there that once had great meaning for me, and I was trying to find it. It was at the end of a chapter. An early chapter? Maybe even the one where he recounted his involvement in uncovering the game show scandal of the 1950s, which was made into the movie “Quiz Show,” where he was played by Rob Morrow? Or working the JFK election in ‘60 and then in the JFK administration? Or being LBJ’s favorite speechwriter and coining the phrase “The Great Society” and writing Johnson's “Voting Rights” speech? He split with Johnson on Vietnam. He abandoned LBJ for Bobby, then Bobby for Eugene, then Eugene for Bobby again. And on June 6, 1968, in Los Angeles, it all crashed. 

The quote I was looking for was at the end of the book, of course. Its last lines:

If this book has any purpose at all, it is not to impose a guide on that future, but to remind that men and women can live as if their world was malleable to their grasp; and that, true or false, to live in this belief is to be the most authentically alive.

That felt profound to me in 1988. I particularly liked the “true or false” line, the implication that it's not true, that the world isn't malleable to our grasp, but fuck it, do it anyway, since it's the best way to live. I repeated that line a lot back then. If it feels less profound to me now, maybe that's why. It's part of my make-up. It's obvious because he made it so. 

Here's the Times obit

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Posted at 06:56 AM on May 22, 2018 in category Politics
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