Weekend open thread: Secret weapons

This post’s title came from the unintentionally humorous Bloomberg News analysis by Jennifer Jacobs and Kevin Cirilli: “America Meets Trump’s Secret Weapon: Ivanka.” The nut graph declared, “Ivanka […] might be her father’s single strongest asset for changing his perception among women, one of Trump’s weakest demographic groups, strategists and campaign insiders said.” Support came primarily from Ivanka’s brothers Donald Jr. (“She’s an impressive woman”) and Eric (“I think she brings in independents. I think she brings in Democrats quite frankly”). Unnamed strategists described Ivanka as “a character witness” who can be a “bridge between her father and women,” thanks to her “refined and feminine, but unmistakably Trump” brand. Lacking data to bolster that assertion, Jacobs and Cirilli wrote, “Even Trump’s opponents agreed that Ivanka, a balm to her dad’s shock-jock tactics, is a strong weapon for Trump.” The only detractor quoted was the former leader of a stop Trump super-PAC, who called Ivanka “smart, poised, graceful and dignified.” No question, she is. So was Ann Romney. The 2012 presidential election still had the largest gender gap ever recorded.

Jacobs and Cirilli rightly noted that unlike Democrats, Donald Trump “hasn’t called for” making quality child care more affordable, a goal Ivanka flagged in her convention speech. They could have added, nor has the GOP nominee endorsed “equal pay for equal work,” for which Ivanka promised her father would fight. Hillary Clinton has been emphasizing those and related issues like paid family leave in almost every campaign appearance for more than a year. I doubt she or her strategists are losing sleep over Trump’s “secret weapon.”

If any campaign analysis could make you lie awake in terror, it would be Josh Marshall’s July 23 post at Talking Points Memo about Trump’s entanglements with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I’ve enclosed excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole piece.

I knew Trump had occasionally praised Putin, and vice versa. I’d seen a small army of Russian trolls stir things up for Trump on Twitter last year. I knew Trump was getting favorable spin from the Kremlin-backed English-language television network and from Russian-language websites with ties to the authorities. I had read that Trump campaign operatives “gutted” GOP platform language related to Russian interference in eastern Ukraine. On Thursday, I saw Trump’s startling interview with the New York Times, in which he signaled he might not honor our country’s obligations to NATO allies attacked by Russia, if those countries had not “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Though I was vaguely aware Trump had some business dealings in Russia, I didn’t appreciate until reading Marshall’s post that “Trump’s financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin.” Marshall observed, “if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore.”

Having seen how Putin uses financial leverage to bring people in line, I’m ready to skip the alarm bell ringing and raise the threat level to orange.

I spent a decade covering Russian politics, including the election cycle when Putin rose to power and the early years of his presidency. My main research focus was Putin’s wide-ranging campaign to reassert state power over the Russian media.

Putin had a lot of weapons in the toolkit, such as physically restricting journalists’ access to some stories; enacting new laws on media coverage of terrorist conflicts; using government authority to issue or deny broadcast licenses; refusing to air political advertising created for an opposition figure; and launching criminal investigations or civil lawsuits against journalists, editors, and owners.

One of the most potent methods for taming the Russian media was getting entities in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence to turn the financial screws on Putin’s critics.

Putin has been using state-controlled corporations to go after disobedient news organizations or their key investors since his earliest months on the national scene, indeed before his election as president in March 2000. The first blood drawn in Putin’s effort to neuter Russia’s leading private television network NTV came in February 2000, when the gas monopoly Gazprom abruptly demanded repayment of a $211 million loan to the network’s parent company.

After various forms of legal and monetary pressure wrested NTV away from a troublesome oligarch, several prominent journalists and managers landed jobs at a different tv network with a smaller broadcast area. But before long, a pension fund linked to a state-controlled oil company used its position as a minority shareholder to force that network into liquidation. The move made no economic sense. The pension fund refused buyout offers and eliminated any prospect of recouping its investment by pursuing a legal strategy to take the network off the air. The band of NTV refugees found jobs at a third television company, this time partnering with someone “who [had] direct access to the president.” Financial problems finished off that network in a little more than a year. Its major investors included an oligarch with close ties to Putin, but he didn’t lift a finger to cover the company’s debts as the broadcast license hung in the balance.

Putin has altered many aspects of his country’s political life. Those still working in the Russian field could speak about how he expanded his power over other sectors. My window onto Putin’s leadership style leaves no doubt in my mind: it’s not just plausible but probable that if Trump companies were deeply indebted to Russian business interests, the Kremlin would try to use those relationships to its advantage.

As if Trump’s comically narcissistic temperament, dishonesty, short attention span, use of divisive language and race-baiting, and lack of constructive ideas weren’t enough to disqualify him from serving as president.

From Josh Marshall’s July 23 post at Talking Points Memo, Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing.

1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. […]

[Trump campaign chair Paul] Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. […]

Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. […]

The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine.

Top image: screen shot from the Russian-language and probably Kremlin-backed pro-Trump website Trump2016.ru

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  • Same wavelength here regarding Putin/Trump

    I’d seen that, too, and had already written the following mostly for my own amusement or grief, and then saw your post. So here goes:

    Trump candidacy excluded, take a pause and try to imagine some other context or scenario in which it would NOT be depressing, but would rather be strangely mildly reassuring, for Democrats and establishment Republicans alike to understand that Wall Street and the Bankers and the Neocons and the Koch brothers and Bernie Sanders are all throwing their support to crooked Hillary.

    Trump and Putin are cozy kleptocrat business buddies now after decades of our Bankers being burned by Art of The (Bankruptcy) Deal a few too many times. And Joni and Chuck and Terry are all-in for that. Knowing not what that brings. These are strange and uncomfortable times. Joni is old enough to know better. Chuck may be too old to know better, kind of like Bob down in Kansas. Good thing for Terry that nobody whispered in Mr. Trump’s ear about that time Terry gave millions of tax dollars to a bunch of MUSLIMS to build a fertilizer plant in Iowa that was never completed.

    Trump probably will not have the numbers, despite the unnerving presence of the Trump bumper stickers on the pick-up trucks in my neck of the woods. But Bernie better make it loud and clear over and over and over to his supporters that despite the fact that, yeah, the Dem establishment screwed him over, their best option now is to vote for Hillary. Because if it goes to the House…..

  • Finally...

    I’ve been making comments to this more since the combination of Paul Manafort and the change to the platform. Unfortunately, it only seemed to others to be conspiracy. It is refreshing to see that I’m not the only one with this thought.

  • Russia and the hacked DNC emails

    Experts believe that Russian national security agencies hacked the DNC servers. Release of DNC emails helped Trump and hurt Hillary by alienating some Sanders supporters. Who does Putin want to see winning the U.S. presidency?

  • But there is currently no proof that Russian national security agencies hacked the DNC servers.

    The DNC members themselves are responsible for alienating Sanders supporters. They can’t blame their incompetence on the Russians.

    • no "proof"

      but strong evidence is accumulating. See here and here and here. Russia has a sophisticated hacker operation.

      I’m glad Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is going–she was a terrible DNC chair. The content of the DNC e-mails is underwhelming. No “rigging,” mostly a lot of venting. Restricting the debates last year was far more significant than anything I’ve seen in these e-mails.

  • Thanks for the McCarthyism, Bleeding Heartland! The world needs more of this sort of intrepid journalism.

    I feel like I’m in a time warp. Is this the 1950s? I can’t believe that this sort of neo-McCarthyism is on this blog! And that people are lapping it up! Pull the scales from your eyes, people. It’s what is IN the leaked emails that is damning. Try reading them.

    Tweet from Chris Hayes of MSNBC: “1) Also: I think a lot of the “dot-connecting” on Trump/Putin is WAY WAY out ahead of where the known facts actually are.”

    Tweet from Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation: “McCarthyism 3.0/ Clinton Campaign Manager: Russians Gave Hacked DNC Emails To Wikileaks In Attempt To Elect Trump”

    Glenn Greenwald: “Who will be the first to reveal that Putin was in charge of the Bernie Bros?” and “Trump’s dark authoritarianism is a US phenomenon driven by US circumstances: just as was true of Brexit/UK. It’s not a Putin plot.”

    U.S. Media Blames Putin Conspiracy for Homegrown Trump Phenomenon.
    Trump is whichever villain the media wants him to be.

    Oh, and coinero: Where’s the proof behind your theory? I don’t see any evidence.

    • my post

      was about Trump world’s connections to Russia and not the hacked DNC e-mails. Are you questioning that the Kremlin wants Trump elected? That is not debatable.

      Whether the Kremlin was behind the Wikileaks story is debatable. I am not an expert on cybersecurity. The timing of the release suggests an intent to disrupt the Democratic National Convention. Including credit card data and Social Security numbers suggests and intent to intimidate people from donating to Democratic causes.

    • Source...

      I believe this is a source for cocinero’s article: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-russia-fbi-idUSKCN1051TD

      Trump is an American phenomenon caused by a lot of the fear rhetoric used over the last two decades. But, Russia has been users of information warfare similar to this in many eastern block countries.

      In fact, the use of information warfare in August 2008 during their short war with Georgia was a catalyst for the U.S. creating a cyber warefare push due to their advantage. So, it is a valid set of dots to connect.

  • But the research firms conducting the searches haven't been able to connect the dots. . .

    zbert, the article you listed said this:

    “The official said, however, that it may be impossible to prove definitively that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government directed the attack.”

    I read that to mean that there is speculation, but that no dots have been connected.

    And to be clear, Wikileaks is the the one that published the hacks. And they have been pretty critical of Russian and Putin.

    I thought that journalists were supposed to check their facts carefully before reporting and to only report the truth – not unproven theories. Please be mindful of this code of ethics in your future reporting. Don’t place fast and loose with information.

    It appears to me that one of Josh Marshall’s goals was to say that the substance of the leaks as Russian propaganda white noise. Many soon followed suit: The DNC leaks as Russian spy operation was the preferred talking point of the day, omitting or glossing over what the leaks actually entailed – that the DNC – which is supposed to remain impartial – was working hard to tip the scales in Hillary’s favor. This sort of favoritism was endemic and widespread. With Sanders coming within a whisker of winning the nomination (he won 45% of the vote), a lot of us wonder what would have happened if the DNC staffers had acted ethically.

    Pro-Hillary supporters, I’d love to hear how you’d feel if the tables were turned and your candidate was treated like Sanders was.

  • The content of the leaked emails is underwhelming, Bleeding Heartland?

    First of all, I’m curious. How many of those emails have you read? They are quite damning when you don’t read them with rose-colored glasses.

    Adam Johnson of the nonprofit Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has some words for this sort of textbook spin pattern evident in your response.

    “Pro-Clinton pundits were quick to dismiss what was literally a conspiracy to railroad the Sanders campaign as nothing more than a yawn. . . .So what was once dismissed out of hand—that the DNC was actively working against the Sanders campaign—is now obviously true, but not a big deal. This is a textbook PR spin pattern seen time and time again, what might be called the Snowden Cycle: X is a flaky conspiracy theory → X is revealed to be true → X is totally obvious and not newsworthy.”

    • the e-mails I've read

      are mostly venting. They show that DNC officials favored Clinton (which we all knew already). There is no sign DNC officials actually DID anything that affected the outcome of a single primary or caucus. A conspiracy to rig elections would require people actually doing something to stop Bernie people from voting, stuff ballot boxes for Hillary, etc.

    • FYI...

      You can look at my previous posts but I’d been pushing, advocating, and door knocking for Bernie through the primary. I don’t mean to take away any significance of the e-mails in confirming the deck was stacked against him from the start.

      WikiLeaks published the e-mails, they were taken from the hack in June by Guccifer 2.0 which is the original Russian link. Since then, I’d read into Paul Manafort and felt uncomfortable with all the Russian influence talking to a candidate Trump who is not very well read on policy. Basically, those surrounding him are affecting his policy and he’s being surrounded by a lot of Russian influence.

      So, after the WikiLeaks, seeing the others talk about those connections was refreshing as before it was just conspiracy theory.

      Now, the New York Times reports about what was previously only a thought of mine: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/us/politics/spy-agency-consensus-grows-that-russia-hacked-dnc.html

      As much as the DNC’s favortism annoyed me and then proof; two thoughts occur.

      One, it’s common for a party to tip scales (look at Howard Dean) and even more so for a candidate who was come into the party to have party support for the biggest ticket. Whether this is right, I’d feel not but it is debatable and not a surprise.

      Second, overcoming what was seen as an unfair push from the DNC and challenging Hillary lead to a lot of press coverage of a campaign and discussion of his policies. So how much did being the outsider help Bernie?

  • I am the only one who is aware of this?

    Regarding the timing of the leaked emails, Wikileaks – not Guccifer 2.0 – decided when to leak the emails. Seems obvious, that as all media organizations do, @wikileaks made the choice when to publish the big story of the leaded DNC emails.

    WikiLeaks has published over 650,000 documents, mostly critical of Putin or Russia.

    * * * * *
    A few rants from people of color on the practice of tarring Democrats who are anti-Clinton as “white and privileged” (and by the way – anti-Clinton does not equal pro-Trump. Please try another tactic).

    I’m tired of folks calling progressives/radicals who are anti-Clinton “privileged.” What a sloppy misuse of anti-oppression discourse. -Sonny Singh, Twitter. https://twitter.com/brooklynsingh/status/757677179501158400

    Here is NPR photo of some Bernie Bros:

    • I didn't make myself clear

      We have no idea when Wikileaks received the material. If from Russian hackers trying to help Trump be elected, it seems highly likely they would pass along to Wikileaks at a politically damaging time for Clinton.

      I didn’t mean to imply that supporting Bernie Sanders is a white privileged position. The white privileged position is trying to overturn the results of the primaries (Clinton winning hundreds more delegates and millions more votes, including overwhelming support from people of color) because 1) people like you don’t like her, and 2) your reading of opinion polls suggests Bernie’s a stronger candidate. The world doesn’t work that way. You can vote however you want but the people saying Hillary should step aside and let Bernie be nominated are in my opinion speaking from a position of white privilege.