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Thanks to Trump, Vladimir Putin is going to troll America non-stop.

He has hit a whole new level in recent days. On Thursday he denied that Russia was behind the 2016 election hacks, but waxed poetic about hackers who “are like artists” in the way they choose their targets depending on how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.” Putin continued, “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions—which are right, from their point of view—to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia.” As my colleague Graham Vyse noted yesterday, this characterization undermines Trump’s longstanding argument, which is that Russia had no involvement in his election.

Megyn Kelly made her NBC News debut on Thursday by interviewing Putin. It was what you would expect from Kelly, who did not once ask Putin what race Santa Claus was and spent most of the interview making the amused yet condescending face that helped make her famous. Putin then took his trolling a step further.

“IP addresses can be invented, a child can do that! Your underage daughter could do that. That is not proof,” Putin said, referring to Kelly’s five-year-old daughter. More bizzarely, Putin also compared the accusations of Russian interference in the election to “anti-Semitism and blaming the Jews.” Asked about Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement, Putin quoted Bobby McFerrin, saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Trump’s presidency so far has been the stuff of Putin’s wildest dreams. It seems unlikely that the Russians really thought that Trump would be elected, and instead hoped that their interference would damage Hillary Clinton’s legitimacy and standing. But in office, Trump has basically done exactly what Putin hoped. He has weakened the United States’s standing in the world and eroded relationships with key allies, particularly in Europe. In his interview with Kelly, Putin was spiking the football.

August 15, 2018

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H. Brooke Paige wins five or six GOP nomination slots in Vermont.

Paige won the Republican nominee to run against Bernie Sanders for the Senate race. But that’s only one of the many races Paige was victorious in Tuesday night. He’s also going to be a Republican candidate in one of Vermont’s  congressional districts, the Republican candidate for auditor in Vermont, the Republican candidate for attorney general in Vermont, and the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Vermont. Finally, although voting is tight, as of Tuesday night he was also on track to be the Republican candidate for treasurer.

How did Paige end up with five or six Republican nominations? Will he really run for all those post? What will happen if he wins more than one? 

The answer to these questions is complicated and has to do with Paige wanted to protect Vermont’s small Republican Party from being taken over by Democrats. As Vermont Public Radio explains:

“As you may be aware, for a number of years the Democrats have been crossing over in the primary and taking advantage of the fact that the Republican Party did not have candidates for all the slots in the primary,” Paige explained Friday on Vermont Edition.

“About 800 to 900 and sometimes a few more Democrats would religiously grab Republican ballots and write in the published candidates from their Democratic primary ballot. Obviously, with no other candidates running, there was no concerted effort on the part of the Republicans to fill the slots in the primary.”

If there’s a vacancy on the primary ballot, the Republican Party in Vermont is then allowed to nominate a someone by petition to run for that office in the general election.

It’s Paige’s hope that by representing Republicans in every race, Democrats will not be able to write-in a candidate in the August primary, and should Paige choose to bow out, his party can select a candidate to run for the position in the November general election.

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Democrats strongly embrace diversity in primaries.

Issues of identity are at the forefront of American politics in Trump era, and Democratic voters continue to send a message in primaries that they want a more diverse political class. Tuesday night’s primaries saw a number of candidates Democratic candidates winning nominations who, if elected, would be path breakers.

Among the notable results of the night:

Christine Hallquist, winning the Vermont gubernatorial nomination, putting her on track to be the first transgender governor in America. 

Ilhan Omar, winning a congressional nomination in Minnesota. Since she is running in a strongly Democratic seat, she is expected to be one of the first two Muslim women to win. (Omar is likely to be part of the duo that includes Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib is also running as a Democrat and is also a strong favorite).  

In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes won a congressional nomination and could be the first African-American congresswoman elected in that State.  

Peggy Flanagan, nominated to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Minnesota, would, if victorious be the fist Native American to hold that position.

Mandela Barnes, nominated to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, would also be a groundbreaker if he wins by becoming the first  African-American to hold that position. 

The increasing number of women and people of color winning nominations as Democrats is not matched on the Republican side. As The New York Times reported on Tuesday, “There is a record number of Democratic women running for the House this year, but Republican women did not break the record they set in 2010 — when the “resistance” energy was on the right. Only about 14 percent of Republican House candidates are women, compared with about a third of Democratic candidates, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

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Election updates: Randy Bryce wins the Democratic primary for Paul Ryan’s seat.

Bryce, who became famous in 2017 for a viral digital ad that highlighted his working-class background, union ties and left-wing policies, defeated another local labor activist in Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district.

Cathy Myers, who had challenged Bryce for the Democratic nomination and run a negative campaign focused on Bryce’s arrest record and debt history, had pulled in 38 percent of the vote as of 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. (Two of Bryce’s arrests occurred when he protested Ryan and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson; others concerned an old DUI.)

Bryce’s colorful personality–his nickname is Iron Stache, referring to his moustache and his vocation as an ironworker—bought him online fame. So did his ads, which movingly positioned him as a left-wing alternative to Ryan before the incumbent retired. But it wasn’t always clear that Bryce would win his primary. Now that he has, he faces Republican Bryan Steil in the general election. Steil is Ryan’s hand-picked successor, and though Bryce’s chances improved with Ryan out of the running, the race will still be difficult for him. Cook Political Report rates the district “lean Republican.”

Bryce and Myers both ran on left-wing platforms that included support for Medicare for All. Elsewhere, left-wing candidates put in strong performances on Tuesday evening. Ilhan Omar, who was endorsed by democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won the special election to replace Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district; Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib likely will be the first two Muslim women in Congress. In Vermont, Democrat Christine Hallquist became the first openly trans person to win a major party’s nomination for governor, and in Connecticut, Democrat Jahana Hayes defeated Mary Glassman, who had won endorsements from both the Chamber of Commerce and a local chapter of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders–affiliated group.

August 14, 2018

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QAnon conspiracy theory was spread by social media hustlers.

NBC News has blockbuster report by Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins tracking the spread of the so-called QAnon online conspiracy theory. While the report doesn’t answer the question of who created QAnon, it does provide a convincing account of how it went from being an obscure series of internet postings to a theory with a mass following, often visible at the rallies of President Donald Trump. Although sprawling and opaque, the core of the QAnon theory is that President Donald Trump is fighting a secret war against a cabal of pedophiles who dominate the American government and Hollywood.

Key to the spread of QAnon were a handful of social-media savvy entrepreneurs. “In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board,” Zadrozny and Collins write.

A central figure in promoting QAnon is Tracy Diaz, a Youtube creator who had previously promoted the Pizzagate theory. In early November, Diaz started promoting QAnon, at that point only a few esoterica posts.

“Diaz followed with dozens more Q-themed videos, each containing a call for viewers to donate through links to her Patreon and PayPal accounts,” Zadrozny and Collins note. “Diaz, who emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, says in her YouTube videos that she now relies on donations from patrons funding her YouTube ‘research’ as her sole source of income.”

Diaz worked with the husband and wife team of Coleman Rogers and Christina Urso, who created “the Patriots’ Soapbox, a round-the-clock livestreamed YouTube channel for QAnon study and discussion. The channel is, in effect, a broadcast of a Discord chatroom with constant audio commentary from a rotating cast of volunteers and moderators with sporadic appearances by Rogers and Urso.” Like Diaz, Rogers and Urso used QAnon as a money making venture, picking up revenue from donations. Rogers, like Diaz, had a history of subscribing to conspiracy theories before QAnon. He had previously promoted the idea that Democrats worshipped Satan.

As NBC reports, some QAnon skeptics suspect Rogers as the probably fabricator of Qanon’s posts:

Still, Qanon skeptics have pointed to two videos as evidence that Rogers had insider knowledge of Q’s account. One archived livestream appears to show Rogers logging into the 8chan account of “Q.”The Patriots’ Soapbox feed quickly cuts out after the login attempt. “Sorry, leg cramp,” Rogers says, before the feed reappears seconds later.

Whoever QAnon might be, we now have a better understanding of the mercenary infrastructure that made it popular.

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“It happened everywhere”: The unimaginable scale of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church.

“There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. But not on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.” So begins the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s grand jury investigation into clergy abuse, released to the public on Tuesday afternoon. The 900-page report, which investigated all but one of the state’s dioceses, identifies over 1,000 victims of child sexual abuse and over 300 predatory priests.

The report explains why abuse flourished for so long. “While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’ That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered,” the report asserts. Church officials kept complaints in a “secret archive,” to which only the bishop kept the key. The report also states that diocesan files repeatedly relied on euphemisms to describe clergy abuse; the files refer to rape as “inappropriate contact,” for example. Predatory priests were referred to treatment, and in the rare instance the church removed a priest from his parish, his congregants never learned the real reason for his departure.

The Catholic Church already reels from abuse scandals, some old and some more recent. The patterns documented by the Pennsylvania grand jury resemble previous abuse scandals, the most famous example being the Archdiocese of Boston’s cover-up of decades of child abuse. In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned over revelations that he abused seminarians and at least one minor; on Tuesday, Crux, a Catholic news website, reported that Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley had been informed of McCarrick’s abuse back in 2015. And on Tuesday, several hours before the Pennsylvania grand jury published its report, Chilean police raided the country’s bishops’ conference in connection to an ongoing child abuse investigation involving the Congregation of the Marist Brothers.

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Would a tape with Trump using the n-word really change anything?

Thanks to Omarosa Manigault-Newman, longstanding rumors of a recording of the president using the n-word are again circulating. The current controversy has sparked an interesting debate on Twitter about whether, if such a tape did exist and was made public, it would have any effect on public opinion. 

Some are doubtful:

Some analysts argue that such a tape would change minds, given the potency of using that particular slur:

Ultimately, those who are skeptical that the tape would make much of a difference have the better argument. After all, there is already ample evidence of Trump’s racism, going back decades. Anyone who still supports Trump either doesn’t mind that racism or shares it. Further, the fact that Trump still managed to get 63 million Americans to vote for him after the notorious Access Hollywood tape shows that his supporters are fully adept at setting aside offensive speech. 

The release of this hypothetical n-word tape would confirm all camps’ prior opinions. In an election, it might motivate some Trump opponents to vote and it might discourage some marginal Trump voters from going to the ballot. But it won’t change the fundamental dynamic of opinion about him.  

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Trump campaign files arbitration claim against Omarosa.

In a statement to the press, the president’s reelection campaign said, “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. has filed an arbitration against Omarosa Manigault-Newman with the American Arbitration Association in New York City, for breach of her 2016 confidentiality agreement with the Trump Campaign. President Trump is well known for giving people opportunities to advance in their careers and lives over the decades, but wrong is wrong, and a direct violation of an agreement must be addressed and the violator must be held accountable.”

The filing seems follows up on a tweet the president posted yesterday, which now seems like a threat:

As The Washington Post notes, the president’s use of NDAs is unconventional. “Dozens of White House aides have signed NDAs in exchange for working for Trump, who has long relied on such agreements in his business career, according to current and former administration employees,” the Post reports. “But NDAs have not been widely used by past administrations outside the transition time between presidents, in part because most legal experts believe such agreements are not legally enforceable for public employees.”

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In his response to tape allegations, Trump remains the master of kettle logic.

On Monday night, the president continued his escalating rhetorical war with Omarosa Manigault Newman, his former aide. Among other accusations, Manigault Newman claims to have heard a recording of Trump using the n-word while on the set of The Apprentice. (Manigault Newman had previously said she only knew that the tape existed.) The tape is reputedly in the possession of Mark Burnett, the producer of the show. Manigault Newman hasn’t provided evidence for this claim and her statements have been inconsistent.

In response, the president tweeted: 

If it’s difficult to follow the logic of these tweets, it’s because they don’t follow the rules of normal rationality. Rather, they are examples of what the philosopher Jacques Derrida called “kettle logic,” where inconsistent arguments are made to prove a point. Trump is a frequent user of “kettle logic.”

Derrida coined the phrase “kettle logic” from a story that the psychologist Sigmund Freud related in two of his books.

The story goes like this. A man is accused by his neighbor of returning a kettle in a broken condition. In response to the accusation he argues: 

1. That he had returned the kettle undamaged.

2. That it was already damaged when he borrowed it.

3. That he had never borrowed it in the first place.

In the same way, Trump’s response to this controversy can be broken down into several parts:

1.  He never used the n-word.

2. Mark Burnett told Trump there is no tape of Trump using the n-word. 

3. Manigault Newman can’t be trusted because she is “Wacky” and  “Deranged.”

4. The media didn’t listen to Manigault Newman when she praised Trump.

Point number 4 seems wholly irrelevant. It’s natural, for obvious reasons, for a former White House aide who is critical of a president she worked for to get a lot more media attention than a normal White House aide. The point is also in contradiction with 3 since if she is “Wacky” and “Deranged” the press should avoid her at all times. 

Point number 1, if true, makes point 2 irrelevant and strange. After all, if Trump never used the n-word at all, he doesn’t need Mark Burnett to tell him no tape exits. Trump himself would know that no tape exists. 

In sum, Trump is in the dream world of kettle logic, making whatever arguments he think will stick, no matter their internal coherence. 

August 13, 2018

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More and more Trump allies are caught in family feuds.

Monday was a day of family quarrelling in the Trump circle as uncle turned against nephew, son against father, and husband against wife.

It began with a much-read Politico article where Dr. David S. Glosser denounced his nephew Stephen Miller, a White House advisor, as a “hypocrite.” Glosser argued that Miller’s nativism was a betrayal of the family’s history as Jews who fled persecution in Europe:

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America first” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees....I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

The same day, Bobby Goodlatte tweeted out criticism of his father, retiring Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, for his treatment of fired FBI agent Peter Strzok:

Previously, the younger Goodlatte made clear that he was giving money to a Democratic candidate to replace his father in congress.

Finally, George Conway, husband of Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, took the opportunity to tweet some snark at her boss:

George Conway’s tweet was all the more remarkable given that Kellyanne Conway is still one of the president’s biggest defenders, often championing him in interviews.

As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale noticed, there seems to be a pattern:

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In a signing and speech at Fort Drum, Trump again showed his disdain for John McCain.

The president and vice president both spoke at the military base, where the president signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. But in touting the new bill, which they celebrated for increasing military spending, neither men uttered the name of John McCain. The senator, who has been fighting brain cancer for a year, was an unperson at the event.

Trump and McCain have long been political foes, despite belonging to the same party. In 2015, Trump notoriously said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” Trump later pretended not to have said McCain wasn’t a hero and never apologized for these words.

Later, after Trump won the presidency, McCain proved to be the decisive vote against Trump’s signature policy of repealing Obamacare. Trump continues to take jibes as McCain at rallies, notably when the president visited Nevada this past June:

Trump’s continued belittling of McCain speaks to the president’s pettiness and also his desire to remake the Republican Party in his image by casting aside all internal critics. The fact that Vice President Mike Pence followed the president’s lead in this matter shows that Trump’s campaign against McCain is shaping how others in the GOP treat the ailing senator.