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Things Are Pretty Good in America These Days

Mother Jones Magazine -

The latest American Family Survey sponsored by the Deseret News is out, and naturally I want to comment on something that’s not really the subject of the survey at all. Among other things, they ask people about trends in family life:

Does the American public have an accurate view?…The percentages are striking. Almost nine in ten people believe that the divorce rate is getting worse when it is not.

Well, yes, although the percentage is a little less striking when you take a look at divorce as a percentage of marriages:

I’m not arguing that this the right way to measure divorce—that depends on what precisely you’re interested in—just that it’s probably the way people think about divorce when they aren’t thinking too hard. And what you see is a big increase in the ’60s, a long stretch of flatness, and then a modest decline starting with the Great Recession.

So my question is this: how long does it normally take the public to realize that a long-term trend has turned around? The AFS finds that 88 percent of Americans think the divorce rate is increasing, even though (a) it hasn’t really increased since 1975 and (b) it’s been decreasing for the past ten years.

Now, one obvious thing to say about this is that most Americans don’t know very much about anything. And why should they? Most people simply don’t have the time or interest to follow the latest figures on hundreds of different trends. Is the inflation rate high or low? Are math skills among high school students up or down? What’s the trade deficit with China? Who knows? Who cares?

So when it comes to social trends, here’s my take: We are all still stuck in the ’60s and early ’70s. Yes, even you Gen Xers and Millennials to some extent. Changes in the ’60s—drugs, crime, sex, divorce, etc.—got a huge amount of attention and it takes an equal amount of attention to convince people that those things have turned around. Violent crime has been dropping for 30 years, but people still think crime is on the rise. Inflation has been well under control since the Reagan era, but people still worry about it. The growth of health care costs has softened enormously since 2000, but people still think that medical inflation is ruinous.

There are reasons for this, some good and some bad:

  • No serious researcher wants to declare that a trend has turned around until there’s good evidence for it. For social indicators that vary a lot from year to year, that means at least ten years of consistent evidence, and probably more like twenty.
  • In many cases, we still use the ’60s as a baseline. Violent crime may be down a lot, but it’s still higher than it was in 1959. Ditto for divorce and teen pregnancy and so forth.
  • Lots of people have ideological reasons for pushing doom narratives. If unleaded gasoline was the main cause of the crime spike of the ’60s and ’70s, then you can no longer blame the liberal elites and their embrace of the counterculture. If health care costs aren’t skyrocketing anymore, it hurts the arguments for universal health care.
  • The news media is addicted to bad news. A spike in gasoline prices generates hysterical news coverage, but when prices go down they produce little except for the occasional “good time to go on vacation!” feel-good story.
  • People generally respond to bad news more strongly than good news. A cut in your insurance coverage can be life-threatening. An increase in benefits is often barely noticeable.
  • Good news is often invisible. If no one has been mugged in your neighborhood in the past year, would you even know it?

There are other reasons, but I think these are the big ones. And they all contribute to both a lot of inertia in public attitudes as well as a strong bias towards bleak narratives.

Just about every social indicator you can think of has been moving in a good direction for the past couple of decades. Kids are better behaved. Crime is down. More people have access to health care. Divorce is down. Most indicators of racism are down. Income has risen considerably since the end of the Great Recession and is now significantly higher than it was when Bill Clinton took office. Etc.

So why are so many of us apparently convinced that America is going to hell in a handbasket? Well, there are some scary things going on. Climate change is real. Opioid abuse is up. Health care inflation may be down, but costs are still going up and things like surprise out-of-network billing are real problems.

And then there’s the big one: wages of working-class and middle-class men are way down over the past four decades. It’s quite possible that this is so overwhelming for a large segment of the population that it colors literally everything else.

Nickel summary: Things are generally pretty good in America! Not everything, but most things. We sure don’t act like it, though.

Am I missing anything important here?

Is It Impeachment if Speaker Pelosi Doesn’t Say So?

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON — Bristling over the “I” word, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped short Thursday of saying the House is ready to launch an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, even as Judiciary Committee Democrats set the stage to do just that.

Pelosi has been a moderating force in her divided caucus, as liberals push to impeach and centrist Democrats are wary of fixating on Trump. She’s been consistent in her restraint. But in having it both ways, opening the door to impeachment while not leading the charge, she was giving space for different opinions but leaving Democrats with a mixed message.

By approving ground rules for impeachment hearings Thursday, the Judiciary Committee sparked the questions anew.

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“If we have to go there, we’ll have to go there,” Pelosi said Thursday about the impeachment investigation. “But we can’t go there until we have the facts.”

Pelosi cut off repeated questions on the topic during her weekly press conference. She said she was done discussing it.

“People are impatient about it,” she conceded. “We can’t go any faster than the facts.”

She said, “We’re still on the same path.”

The approach from Pelosi and her leadership team comes as the Judiciary Committee pushes ahead with its first impeachment hearings this fall, backed by more than half the House Democrats who want some sort of an investigation.

Trump told reporters he’s not concerned about the impeachment planning, calling it an “embarrassment” to the country. Asked if he believes Pelosi is scared of impeaching him, Trump said: “I don’t think she’s scared of anything. I think she’s a smart woman and I think she knows exactly what she’s doing.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says there’s no uncertainty about what his committee is doing: It’s an impeachment investigation, no matter how you want to phrase it.

As the committee voted Thursday to approve guidelines for impeachment hearings, Nadler promised an “aggressive” fall schedule, starting with next week’s public session with Trump aide Corey Lewandowski.

“Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler, D-N.Y., said earlier as he opened the meeting.

“But let me clear up any remaining doubt: The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat. And we are doing so.”

Impeachment has divided Democrats who control the House, a split that is becoming even more pronounced ahead of the 2020 election as the party measures the weight of its oversight responsibility with the mood of public opinion.

Democrats on Nadler’s committee, including some of the most liberal members of the House, have been eager to move forward with the process. But moderates, mostly first-term lawmakers who handed their party the majority in the 2018 election, are concerned about the committee’s drumbeat on impeachment especially in districts where Trump remains popular.

Given those divisions, Nadler and Pelosi have been talking about impeachment very differently. While Nadler has been clear that his committee is moving ahead, Pelosi is reluctant to mention the “I” word.

In private meetings, Pelosi has urged caution and told the caucus that the public isn’t there yet on impeachment.

At the same time, Pelosi has quietly signed off on the committee’s moves and said Thursday she supports its work.

She said Thursday that when she travels the country, “people are saying it’s good to be careful about how we proceed.”

Outside groups that spent the month of August flooding lawmakers’ telephone lines and showing up at town hall meetings to push impeachment find Pelosi’s approach out of step with the party’s priorities.

“It’s just an absurd position,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist and president of Defend the Republic, a messaging group around the issue. He is a former campaign aide to Hillary Clinton.

Petkanas said the “discombobulation of some of the leadership messaging is disappointing,” but not a blow to the efforts to push Judiciary Committee Democrats to act. “It kind of doesn’t even matter what she calls it, they’re doing the thing.”

The confusion was highlighted this week as leadership split on what to call what was happening. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., indicated to reporters that there was not an impeachment investigation — and then issued a clarification saying the House is not considering one “at this time.” The caucus chairman, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tweeted that committee adopted the resolution for the “IMPEACHMENT INVESTIGATION.”

Ahead of the committee vote, several freshman lawmakers met with Nadler on Wednesday and expressed concerns about the path ahead. Hoyer’s office had encouraged them to raise their questions.

“It’s sucking the air out of all the good stuff that we’re doing, so that’s our concern,” said Florida Rep. Donna Shalala, who attended the meeting.

As soon as the committee voted Thursday, the House GOP’s campaign committee began singling out Democratic freshmen who voted for the resolution, warning they will “pay dearly for this decision at the ballot box.”

With Democrats divided and the 2020 campaign ahead, it’s unclear whether the impeachment process will ever move beyond the committee’s investigation.

The Republican-led Senate is unlikely to convict Trump and remove him from office.

The GOP’s House leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, a close ally of Trump, said there’s “no reason’ to move forward with impeachment. “This is not something to play with,” he said.

Still, the committee has persisted in advancing the issue, keeping questions swirling about Trump’s actions in office. Its work is also intended to bolster the Democrats’ lawsuits against the Trump administration to force witness testimony and documents as the White House has repeatedly blocked both.

The committee says the resolution approved Thursday is similar to the approach taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

The first hearing scheduled under the new impeachment rules is with Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager, on Sept. 17 over questions of obstruction of justice. According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting that he limit Mueller’s inquiry.

The committee also intends to hold hearings as it is investigating the spending of taxpayer money at the president’s hotels and properties and hush money payments Trump made to kill potentially embarrassing stories about alleged affairs.

Nadler said all of those investigations will inform the decision on whether to move ahead and vote on articles of impeachment.

Republicans expressed their frustration with the entire process.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel, said the committee “has become a giant Instagram filter … it’s put in there to look like something, but it’s really not.”

___

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington and Matthew Daly in Baltimore contributed to this report.

The post Is It Impeachment if Speaker Pelosi Doesn’t Say So? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

2 Weeks After Hurricane Dorian, a New Disaster Threatens the Bahamas

Mother Jones Magazine -

Joseph Darville lives on Grand Bahama Island, and when he first heard there was an oil spill there after Hurricane Dorian what came to mind, he says, was “our pristine, beautiful beach and shallow waters.”

The grassy banks are home to turtles and bonefish. And there’s the “whole plethora of coral reefs that would be destroyed by any oil flow floating over them,” explains Darville, who works with Waterkeepers Bahamas.

After Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the Bahamas on September 1st with 185-mph winds as Category 5 storm, several of the covers on oil storage tanks at South Riding Point terminal blew off. Dorian killed at least 50 people in the Bahamas, reduced homes to rubble leaving tens of thousands homeless, and 1,300 people are still missing there. Now, efforts are underway to contain a second disaster: aerial surveillance has identified material that could be oil 43 to 50 miles away from the damaged terminal and part of the coastline might have been impacted, according to a press release from the Norway-based company Equinor, which owns the site. 

Oil spills have been a devastating consequence of some hurricanes in recent years. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, more than 6.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in at least seven major incidents from Louisiana to Alabama. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in 2017, resulted in spilling over 22,000 barrels of oil, refined fuels, and chemicals across the state, Reuters reported

Video


https://www.motherjones.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/VIDEO-2019-09-12-15-14-34.mp4

Darville ventured out Tuesday with others involved in Waterkeepers Bahamas to survey the damage. He noticed that many of the pine trees were bent from north to south, yet another reminder of the hurricane’s force. Some of the storage tanks showed dark streaks from oil that swept passed the edge and onto the land.

Waterkeepers Bahamas

“It was a horrific revelation to me,” says Darville. “I never thought that they would have ever constructed oil tanks that would have been so easily decapitated and cast that dirty, filthy crude oil over our beautiful territory.”

The Koch Brothers Are Even Worse Than You Think

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The phrase “The Koch Brothers” has become a shorthand for the insidious spread of radical right-wing power in America. But even those of us who devoured Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money,” as well as the work of other journalists who illuminated the reach of billionaires Charles and the recently deceased David Koch, including their massive network of conservative and libertarian Political Action Committees and the lobbying efforts of those PACs, might have only a glimmer of an idea of the size and scope of Koch Industries. The business is headed by Charles (David was a shareholder, but not involved in day-to-day affairs), and it’s what gave the brothers their money and influence.

If you’ve eaten produce grown in America, pumped gasoline, or dried your hands on paper towels from an office building bathroom, you’ve used a product that is at least tangentially, if not fully, produced by Koch Industries. It’s a company so valuable, that as journalist Christopher Leonard, author of “Kochland,” said of the company in a phone interview, “Koch’s annual sales are bigger than those of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined.”

The exact number however, remains a tightly guarded secret. As Leonard so meticulously details in his deeply researched and deeply revealing new book, Koch Industries is a privately held company, not beholden to shareholders, whose profits are continually reinvested in the business—to fund new projects, take over other companies, work the employees of those companies to the bone in the name of profits, and broaden and deepen their influence in multiple industries in order to broaden and deepen their influence on American politics and culture.

To understand how the Koch family, and Charles in particular, came to have that power, you must examine their business. That’s no easy task when the company in question is unburdened by such obstacles as quarterly reports, public shareholders and transparency requirements. Leonard, however (he spent seven years pouring over reams of documents, interviewing Koch employees, employees of the companies they bought, the government officials who investigated Koch, and the unions that tried to fight Koch), does a remarkable job of making a corporate history as compulsively readable as a thriller, if considerably more infuriating.

Leonard spoke with Truthdig’s Ilana Novick by phone about the business of Koch Industries, how the company is a microcosm of larger economic forces in America, and how the company uses its business interests to dictate public policy.

The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Ilana Novick: Your book details Koch Industries’ remarkable ability to keep their activities, their corporate structure, even the products they make, secret. How did you first learn about the company and its reach across so many different companies and areas of the American economy?

Christopher Leonard: I’ve been a business reporter since 1999-ish, always based in the Midwest. As a business reporter for all those years in this kind of tight orbit around Kansas City, I would encounter Koch frequently, more than I think a lot of people normally would, for example, if you lived in Portland, Ore., or New York City.

In late 2011, I had this “aha” moment that, if I wrote about this one company, it would let me write about so much going on in the American economy. This is a massive corporation. It specializes in the kinds of businesses that underpin civilization, the kind of stuff everybody uses every day: fuel, fertilizer, building material, sensors in your phone, clothing material. Koch is there under the surface making all the machinery work.

When you write about this corporation, you’re writing about blue-collar manufacturing workers. You’re writing about labor unions. You’re writing about high finance, because they’re so deeply involved in derivatives trading and commodities trading. You’re writing about corporate lobbyists. It’s like the whole system is encapsulated in this one corporation. They really prize not just confidentiality, but secrecy. They don’t want other people to know what they’re doing, and that’s a strategic asset for them.

IN: You mentioned in a previous interview that Koch Industries is “impossible to boycott.” What did you mean by that, and what does that say about the company?

CL: First of all, Koch, unbeknownst to most people, is the third largest producer of nitrogen fertilizer in the world. Nobody thinks they buy nitrogen fertilizer, but nitrogen fertilizer is literally the foundation of the modern food system. Every single farmer who grows the big staple crops, corn and soybeans, has to apply nitrogen fertilizer to their fields almost every year. Without nitrogen fertilizer, it is no exaggeration to say you don’t have food. And this business is stunningly profitable. Believe it or not, it’s processing natural gas into these chemicals that are fertilizers, like anhydrous ammonia. Koch is super expert at processing fossil fuels like natural gas. And the profit margins are stunning, because natural gas prices are so low and demand for food is so high.

So Koch is processing this gas cheap, it’s selling this fertilizer at a very high price and reaping billions of dollars in profits. Again, this is a business that’s buried down at the root level of our economic system. The profits are stunning. And to boycott nitrogen fertilizer, I’m not kidding, you’d have to not eat. And that’s not an option. That’s why I say this business is un-boycott-able. Gasoline is a great example. Yes, you can boycott Koch, but it means you can’t drive most cars, or you have to be able to afford an electric car. They trade global oil supplies. This is a product that, by and large, most people simply can’t function without.

IN: You write about how when Charles Koch inherited Koch Industries from his father, it was a mid-size energy company. It was extremely profitable, but not what it is today. How did he do that?

CL: Charles Koch operates with a very long-term, strategic view. He is extraordinarily patient, and extraordinarily adaptable to volatile circumstances. And he’s got this theory of plowing profits back into the system. He doesn’t take on a lot of debt for the company itself but has cash on hand to buy up other firms. I mean, there’s a lot of deep data work to know more about the world than anybody else so that they can make really smart acquisitions. So there’s deep analysis, deep data-gathering that’s going on inside this corporation. All of that is admirable, but there are, without question, these practices over the years that I think would be objectionable to a lot of people.

IN: What are examples of the more objectionable actions that Koch took, that makes the company a villain for so many people?

CL: Koch was found guilty of criminal conduct in many cases. One of the chapters in the book shows how oil refinery managers intentionally dumped polluted water into nearby wetlands to evade regulatory problems. And that was illegal. The company for years (at least) essentially stole oil from the people who ran oil wells, the oil-producers. Koch would go gather oil and always take more oil than it paid for.

There are also bigger-picture things, too, that reflect a lot of what’s going on in the American economy. Koch is an expert of the so-called “private equity” form of capitalism, whereby Koch will go out and buy smaller companies. There will be job cuts. The workers who are left behind have to do more work on their shifts. I’ve interviewed people at Georgia Pacific who have to work 30 days in a row with no day off, and a whistleblower inside Koch’s Georgia Pacific division gave me 10 years’ worth of data that shows that workplace accidents are on the rise. The workplace is becoming more dangerous under this constant pressure to produce profits.

And we haven’t even talked about politics yet. The billions of dollars in profits that are generated from these businesses have been seared into affecting our public policy in a way that a lot of people might disagree with.

IN: The government has forced Koch Industries to pay for its activities, particularly, as you describe, in the 1990s, when they were found guilty of dumping harmful chemicals in and around their Pine Bend oil refinery, stealing oil from Native American reservations, and even being responsible for the death of two teenagers near one of their oil pipelines. But they faced very small fines, barely any accountability, for their involvement in the deaths of workers at Georgia Pacific plants. Why? Was it a result of their increased lobbying power, political donations and influence since the 1990s?

CL: Charles Koch completely loathes government. He dismisses the effect of government. He says government only causes more problems than it solves. But the company, Koch Industries, is really a good advertisement for government intervention in the sense that it was found guilty of a lot of criminal conduct in the 1990s. It faced a series of record-breaking fines and criminal charges for some of its conduct, and that changed Koch’s behavior. The book talks about how, in the year 2000, Charles Koch is holding a series of emergency meetings with his top leaders, and they totally restructure the company. Charles Koch says, “I don’t want these federal regulators on my property anymore. Change this. Don’t make this happen anymore.”

And they made a very good-faith effort, I think, to tighten the ship [obey regulations]. Now fast forward to the year 2019. This is a different story in some ways today. Let’s look at the problem of the growing injury rate at Koch’s major division of Georgia Pacific. The injury rate, depending on which injury rate you use, [rose] by more than 50% since 2010, and workers are getting killed on the job. Workers are losing limbs on the job. Workers are being burned, electrocuted—you name it—at higher levels than they were about eight years ago.

Now, I looked at a series of six worker deaths in the year 2014, which was a particularly bad year, and the regulatory agency over this issue was OSHA, and the fines for a worker getting killed on the job are to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. The fines for these worker deaths didn’t break $100,000 in most cases. That is literally a totally inconsequential financial number to Koch Industries.

And by contrast, when Koch was found polluting the area around its oil refinery in Minnesota that we just talked about a while ago, it was fined I think like $9 million. Still small, but a big enough fine to get national headlines. With these tiny little OSHA fines happening today, there’s virtually zero outside pressure for Koch to change its practices. And there’s ample evidence that Koch really hasn’t effectively changed its practices. So I think you can say that the lack of regulatory pressure seems almost to have certainly played a role in that.

IN: Koch Industries, through its corporate lobbying and Charles and David Koch, through their philanthropic and personal lobbying activities, are known for their hard-right libertarian views, and their attempts to shape American politics to reflect their views. Why are they so successful? And how are the corporate interests of Koch Industries related to the political interests of the Koch family?

CL: Since the 1970s, Charles Koch has been trying to reshape American society, and he’s funded Libertarian think tanks, which put out a lot of Libertarian papers. He funded university chairs to promote Libertarian ideas. But it was really only in the ’90s when Koch faced this massive legal threat that the company really started building this network of political pressure groups, hired more lobbyists, tried to essentially pressure the umpire and the government. And it’s only continued up through today.

IN: So is the company’s lack of accountability for their business practices, including workplace fatalities in recent years, related to an increase in political donations, lobbying and overall influence?

 CL: There’s no question about it. I mean, in 1988, the United States Senate investigated Koch’s oil-gathering practices, and the United States Senate uncovered the systematic oil theft that we were talking about. The Senate held hearings. The Senate released a blistering report accusing Koch of theft, and the matter was referred to federal prosecutors in Oklahoma, where a lot of this theft had happened. And that moment is when Koch really ramped up its political influence system.

The political system under Koch, its political influence machine, dramatically expanded in 2008. And the reason why is because climate change regulation was looking almost like a certainty at that time. In ’08, John McCain and Barack Obama, Republican and Democrat, voiced the need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on the campaign trail. It is not coincidental. I have interviewed several former senior Koch Industries lobbyists and political operatives who explained to me how vital the issue of greenhouse gas emission law is to Koch.

So in ’08 and ’09, you see the size of the political network once again explode in size, and that’s when Koch really heavily invested in what I call this boots-on-the-ground activist network called Americans for Prosperity. That group explodes in ’08 and ’09, a lot of it to make sure the federal government never puts a price on emitting greenhouse gases.

IN: The parts of the book about the cap-and-trade fight at the beginning of the Obama presidency, the rise of the Tea Party and the influence of Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity were surprising to me, because I had associated that period and those groups with the fight over the Affordable Care Act. But your book shows that perhaps the more impactful fight was over carbon emissions and climate change.

CL: It’s totally true. Barack Obama comes into office posing an enormous threat, specifically to Koch Industries, the company, but also to Charles Koch’s worldview. Charles Koch views government intervention, like the New Deal programs that were passed back in the 1930s as a response to the Depression, Charles Koch thinks that was a huge mistake and detests New Deal-style programs. And Obama came in with this promise of basically a whole new New Deal, if you will.

And so what that threatened was a whole new era of government interventions in markets, which Charles Koch disagrees with philosophically but that also would have increased the regulatory burden on the massive industrial conglomerate he owns. Okay. So you’re right that the first fight Obama picked was over health care, and this was early in the administration, and there was a boiling anger at Obama across the country. And it wasn’t just Obama; it was the entire political system. And this anger boils over in the form of the tea party movement, which in the beginning really was driven by average people who were super upset at the direction they saw the country going.

IN: So how did the cap-and-trade fight intersect with the development of the Tea Party?

CL: Koch didn’t create the Tea Party, but it would charter buses to carry tea party activists to Washington. It opened Facebook groups to help tea party activists know where town hall meetings were, for example, and to meet up. This is the kind of really expensive backroom organizations that most movements have to work decades to develop. Koch kind of gave it to the Tea Party right of the box.

But strategically, at the core, what Koch really cared about was carbon and the greenhouse gas issue. And you can see the very beginning, there’s a scene in the book that the Americans for Prosperity [the Koch-sponsored conservative activist group] organized one of the very first Tea Party rallies in New Jersey, of all places, July 4, 2009. So you see Koch facilitating the Tea Party, but when the Americans for Prosperity get up on stage, what do they talk about? They talk about this cap-and-trade program, which would have regulated greenhouse gas emissions, not a central concern of tea party activists. Koch made it a concern.

They portrayed cap and trade as government tyranny, and they helped use the tea party momentum to destroy the cap-and-trade bill.

IN: So why didn’t fights over environmental policy get as much attention in the early Obama years, as the fight over health care?

CL: [Cap-and-trade] was a very complex, archaic bill based on Republican ideas that would have put a price on greenhouse gas pollution. To me, this is a very Koch-ian political dispute in the sense that all the action happened after the election. This is stuff happening inside the halls of Congress. The nitty-gritty, complex business of governing that doesn’t get as much attention, but that’s really vital to our lives. So Koch fought against regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the territory where it had the biggest advantage, which is away from the public eye.

IN: I also wanted to ask about Charles Koch in the Trump era. I think when Charles Koch didn’t endorse Trump it seemed like that may have hurt Trump’s election chances. But as your book shows, that’s not necessarily true, that much like a lot of different situations that Koch Industries has had to deal with, they found a way to exploit Trump for their purposes. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how they do that.

CL: Totally. Koch is riding public passion. It’s seizing on a public opportunity to play a bigger chess game. So here’s the chess game: Koch doesn’t like Trump, in essence. Trump is ideologically inconsistent. Charles Koch believes government ought to be tiny, government ought not intervene in markets. Trump has this America First, nationalist point of view, which embraces government intervention in some cases, like tariffs and tearing up trade deals. And, at least in his rhetoric, Trump supports entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, which Charles Koch does not.

The Koch network does not want to see Trump’s America First agenda take over the Republican Party. And once again, just as they did in the Obama era, the Trump network is fighting on the terrain where it has an advantage: the stuff that happens the day after the election, the complex governing administrative state of America.

Koch [seeks] to block the stuff out of the Trump administration it doesn’t like but support the stuff it does like, like dismantling EPA. And so the Koch network is trying to patiently contain the threat of Trumpism while getting out of Trump what it wants, basically.

The post The Koch Brothers Are Even Worse Than You Think appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

John Bolton’s Living Obituary

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“I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.” —John Bolton, in his Yale University 25th reunion book 

Fitting words from the gold standard in Washington “chicken hawks.” For John Bolton has made a career of sending other people’s sons, daughters, husbands and wives to fight and die in wars just as ill-advised, immoral and unwinnable as the Vietnam conflict he consciously avoided by joining the Maryland National Guard. That the man has done so, with a straight, mustachioed face, for decades now is a testament to his truly remarkable lack of self-awareness, empathy or shame. It’s almost impressive.

Like a bad penny, Bolton has weaved in and out of public life, either as an insider in Republican administrations since Reagan’s or waiting in the wings, voicing opposition to Democratic executives. For now, though, Bolton is out, fired this week by Donald Trump just after the president foolishly spiked seemingly promising peace talks with the Taliban. On this issue and most others, Bolton was the leading administration opponent of anything that resembled peace or military withdrawal from America’s countless, 9/11 vengeance-seeking forever wars. As such, his departure must cautiously be celebrated, though one fears whomever Trump may appoint to replace Bolton as national security adviser. Odds are it won’t be Sen. Rand Paul or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, no matter how hard we anti-interventionists wish and dream.

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Bolton lives on, of course, and expect to see his ubiquitous face back on Fox News, keynoting paid events hosted by the bizarre Iranian terrorist cult, the People’s Mujahedin, and shuffling through the halls of one of Washington’s many neoconservative think tanks. So it seems appropriate to review highlights in the life and work of the man who never met a regime he didn’t want to change. Indeed, his personal trail of failure and policy disaster befits the times and illustrates the absurdity of U.S. military operations worldwide. Consider it a living obituary to a true hawk’s hawk.

During the Reagan and Bush I years, a younger Bolton bounced between the State and Justice departments and got his first taste of dabbling with proxy war, interventionism and regime change operations in Central America. He was even caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which the Reagan team secretly and illegally sold arms to the Iranians, laundered the windfall through Israel and funded Contra death squads in Nicaragua. More than 100,000 people died at the hands of various U.S.-backed, right-wing militias in Central America during the 1980s, though hardly anyone remembers this now that the U.S. war machine has moved on to bigger and better things in the Greater Middle East.

Wallowing in opposition during the Clinton years, Bolton was once again plucked into government during the disastrous Bush II administration. First, as undersecretary of state for arms control, he helped derail nuclear negotiations with North Korea and helped sell the Iraq invasion on the basis of flawed, frankly dishonest, assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The death count in Iraq since 2003, though uncertain, easily has topped 280,000.

Furthermore, unsatisfied with his technical position, Bolton stepped out of his lane to argue, in a speech responding to Bush’s “Axis of Evil” address, that the U.S. should add Cuba, Libya and Syria to the Iran-Iraq-North Korea axis on Uncle Sam’s regime-change checklist. He even publicized the totally unsubstantiated claim that Cuba had a WMD program of its own. Ultimately, he got his wish in Iraq and Libya; Bolton was still working on toppling the governments of Syria and Iran before his firing.

Next, he briefly served as ambassador to the United Nations, though Bush had to use a recess appointment due to expected opposition to Bolton in the Senate. This was an odd—though fitting for the Bush team—position for a man long opposed to the very concept of the U.N. or collective diplomacy in general. Indeed, in 1994, Bolton had said, “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”

Finally, and most recently, Bolton—the worst possible choice for the position—served as perhaps the most hawkish national security adviser in history. Throughout his tenure, he called for and worked toward instigating war with and regime change of the governments of Iran and, in a Cold War throwback move, Venezuela. Bolton’s obsession with Iran was particularly noteworthy—he’d previously written a New York Times op-ed unsubtly titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”—and helped push Trump and the U.S. right to the brink of war with the Islamic Republic this year. To his credit, Trump seemed to stare over the cliff into the abyss, then flinched and inched backwards, deciding—for now—against a military strike and overruling Bolton’s pugnacious advice.

Most recently, Bolton—along, it must be said, with a bipartisan array of Trump advisers, congressional representatives and media pundits—opposed any attempt to negotiate peace with the Taliban, the only near-term hope for extracting U.S. troops from an endless, failed war in Afghanistan. This was Bolton’s last victory, as Trump caved to his and the entire establishment’s pressure and canceled the talks, labeling them “dead.” But this was perhaps the last straw for The Donald, whose “instincts” have long been to pull out and who fancies himself an epic dealmaker, as he lost an opportunity for a grand but necessary diplomatic dog and pony show at Camp David.

On the Afghan peace talks, Bolton seems to have won the battle; still, with his firing, let us collectively hope he may yet lose the war. With Bolton gone, one major (though far from the last) roadblock to ending the war in Afghanistan has been removed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should be the next to go, and Trump should clean house and craft a new national security team that agrees with the vast majority of the American people, and, according to recent polls, two-thirds of U.S. veterans: that it’s time to end our nation’s disastrous and bloody forever wars. That may be unlikely, but it’s not impossible. Trump is just erratic enough, just unprincipled enough, to turn on a dime and resurrect the “dead” Taliban talks within days or weeks, sending Bolton rolling in his living grave.

So, yes, Bolton is out of government—for now—but have no fear, he’ll be just fine. In the year prior to his appointment as national security adviser, Bolton reportedly earned some $2.2 million in speaking fees and Fox News appearances. Apparently, drumming up war with, well, anyone and everyone is a profitable venture. Meanwhile, America’s wars, so to speak, must go on, in what must be termed the “Age of Bolton.”

The post John Bolton’s Living Obituary appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Elizabeth Warren Just Released a Plan to Increase Social Security Through New Taxes on the Richest 2 Percent

Mother Jones Magazine -

Elizabeth Warren released a plan on Thursday to expand Social Security benefits through increased taxes on the rich.

The proposal, which the Massachusetts senator called the “biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly half a century,” would see every retiree receive at least $200 more each month and extend the solvency of the Social Security fund by 20 years. It would be financed by two new mechanisms targeting the top 2 percent of earners in the country.

Currently, Social Security is paid for through a 12.4 percent payroll tax applied to salary and wages up to $132,900 a year, split equally between employer and employee. So a person who makes $132,900 pays the same amount as a person who makes $250,000 a year, who pays the same amount as someone who makes $1,000,000 a year, and someone who makes $10,000,000 a year. And none of it applies to investment income. Warren’s plan would change that two ways:

  1. a 14.8 percent payroll tax on individual salaries above $250,000, split equally between employer and employee. 
  2. a new 14.8 percent tax on net investment income for individuals who earn above $250,000. 

The plan, which was released hours before the third Democratic presidential primary debate, recasts the political conversation around entitlement reform, which for decades has played out almost entirely in terms of what can be cut. 

“It’s time Washington stopped trying to slash Social Security benefits for people who’ve earned them,” the senator urged. “It’s time to expand Social Security.”

Kevin Drum has more.

Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

This photo is a commentary on tonight’s Democratic primary debate. Discuss.

May 26, 2019 — Hollywood, California

Meet the Fabulist Behind Trump’s Reelection Campaign

TruthDig.com News -

This article was co-published with Texas Monthly.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

On the evening of May 30, Brad Parscale, the campaign manager of Donald J. Trump for President Inc., gave a speech to a gathering of the faithful. Parscale is a striking figure: 6-foot-8, with a trademark Viking beard and a penchant for bombast. He was a phenom of the 2016 election, rising, in a matter of months, from an anonymous web designer in San Antonio to the Trump campaign’s reputed digital savior. Parscale has become a frequent warmup act at Trump rallies and a prized attraction in GOP fundraising circles.

On this occasion, he was speaking to the Miami Young Republicans. Parscale regaled the audience with his litany of Trump’s achievements, according to a recording of the speech (provided by Palm Beach Post reporter Christine Stapleton). He warned of the “crazy socialist Democrats” who want to “slaughter” babies in the third trimester; admit “all of South America” to the U.S. through open borders; and render jet-fueled planes illegal and “farming cows” extinct. “I don’t know about you guys,” Parscale told them. “I really like steak.”

Parscale then turned to his own rhetorical question: “How the heck did you get from East Topeka, Kansas, 43 years old, to become the right-hand man to the Trump family?” That’s a truly remarkable tale, although much, as it turns out, is not quite as Parscale describes it.

In the speech, Parscale painted his own life story as a testament to the need for Trump. He served up a vivid account of facing crushing personal and professional setbacks (“I was down and out”) before launching a business on a shoestring, then prospering through hard work and self-reliance. He is evidence of the American dream, Parscale declared. His life, he said, shows “why we all need to go out and fight for the president. So that all of our kids can have that same possibility to have that dream happen for them.”

In fact, Parscale’s accounts of his life and his work for the president comprise a classic Trumpian tale: They’re a combination of hyperbole, half-truths and the occasional fiction. Indeed, Parscale shares more than one trait with his most important client. He has embraced political beliefs not in evidence before the 2016 campaign. Like Trump, he has adapted to opportunities as they arose. And like Trump, Parscale is largely unencumbered by the concerns for consistency and accuracy that are the hobgoblins of smaller minds. “When I give a speech, I tell it like a story,” Parscale says when asked about his biographical embellishments and errors. “My story is my story.”

Consider what Parscale has said about his own compensation this campaign season. He has repeatedly emphasized that he is refusing to take the customary cut of the campaign’s digital ad spending. “I felt like as campaign manager it would seem not very ethical and very good of myself to pay myself a percentage of my decisions,” Parscale told CNN earlier this year. Instead, he said, he is accepting a relative pittance for his efforts: an annual “retainer” of $300,000, plus unspecified bonuses. “I wanted to set a high mark,” he told Breitbart News. As he put it: “I don’t do this for a percentage. I do this for my country and for President Trump.”

But that wasn’t the full story. Parscale’s no-commissions policy did not apply when the client was the Republican National Committee, whose main mission, at least when it comes to employing Parscale’s firm, is reelecting Trump. That work represented $18 million in billings for Parscale Strategy since he was named 2020 campaign manager, dwarfing the $4.8 million his companies have received directly from Trump committees.

In an interview for this article, Parscale confirmed he was taking commissions on the portions of the $18 million that was used to buy advertising, but he declined to discuss specifics. Parscale said he saw no conflict of interest because the party was making the decisions. “That’s the RNC’s money,” he said. “If they call me tomorrow and say, ‘We’re not spending any more money on this,’ there’s nothing I can do.”

Parscale then changed his position following that interview and two articles in other publications that examined Parscale’s compensation. The RNC told ProPublica and Texas Monthly in early September that, at Parscale’s request, it would no longer purchase digital ads through his firms. “Going forward, all RNC digital buys will be made directly to the host sites,” party spokesman Mike Reed says. “This is to ensure complete transparency and to give Democrats and the press no way to mislead and wrongly accuse anyone of impropriety.”

Parscale and his fees have attracted an unusual amount of attention, but they’re only part of the story. He has also spearheaded what appears to be the Trump campaign’s takeover of the RNC to the benefit of the president — and the seeming detriment of other Republican candidates. Other presidents have consolidated control over their party; similar criticisms were made of Barack Obama. But the extent of Trump’s takeover is unprecedented, according to experts. They say it inflicted damage on Republican congressional candidates in the 2018 elections, and could do so again in 2020.

One previously unreported example: Since Trump’s election in 2016, critical “voter scores” — sophisticated polling-based analytics that the RNC provides to party committees and candidates — have conspicuously omitted an essential detail for any down-ballot race: how voters in specific states and congressional districts feel about Trump. Republican insiders believe these analytics are being withheld to try and prevent GOP candidates from publicly distancing themselves from the president or leaking unfavorable results that embarrass Trump.

“They don’t want you to know if it isn’t good,” says former RNC chairman Michael Steele, a vocal Trump critic. “There’s a lot of data they’re sitting on that they’re not sharing.” Steele adds that today, “the RNC is not an independent actor; the RNC is now a part of the Trump campaign. The question now isn’t, ‘What do you need?’ The question is, ‘Do you support Donald Trump?’”

In both power and money, the 2020 Trump campaign dwarfs the 2016 incarnation. “You have less than a handful of people who now control the entire ecosystem” of the Republican Party, says one prominent former RNC official, and Parscale is one of that handful. A big part of his sway stems from the massive quantities of money he raises. Parscale sits atop a juggernaut that reported gathering $108 million just in the second quarter this year and that is well on its way to becoming what he claims will be America’s first billion-dollar campaign.

All of which raises the ultimate question for Parscale: He won big in 2016 as an upstart among a small band of political insurgents. Can he win again in 2020 as the captain of an operation so big and established that one operative refers to it as the “Death Star”?

In political terms, Brad Parscale was a nobody before his association with Trump. In the span of just a few years, he has reinvented himself, transforming from an apolitical digital geek — building local websites in T-shirts and cargo shorts for a small San Antonio company — into a hyperpartisan president’s raging avatar, bestriding the national stage in Ermenegildo Zegna suits.

“He was not that guy three years ago,” says John Dickson, a principal of Denim Group, a prominent San Antonio cybersecurity firm, who met Parscale during the 14 years Parscale worked in that city. “He was not a bomb-thrower or an ideologue. He was a savvy business guy, a hustler.”

Indeed, before Trump, Parscale’s Twitter feed was far more Deep Nerd than Deep State — exchanges of coding tips and bro talk. He almost never weighed in on politics. Back then, his Twitter targets weren’t Bernie and Biden, but Luby’s and Chipotle, for falling short on his culinary expectations (“sad there are no standards on how much you get in a salad…”).

Parscale and his parents say he adapted so quickly to meeting Trump’s needs because his own father is very much like him: impatient, unfiltered and larger-than-life.

“I’m not a silver-spoon-type person,” Dwight Parscale declares during a three-hour conversation in the 19th Hole restaurant at Club at Sonterra, the San Antonio country club where he holds court many mornings. “I worked my ass off all my life, and I didn’t know any other way. … Am I worth over a million bucks? Yes. But that’s not that much today. I’ve never considered myself rich.”

Dwight Parscale, 73, was a lawyer but says he abandoned the profession around age 50 after an unfriendly local judge handed down an “outrageous” opinion, prompting him to announce to friends, “I’m going to beat the crap out of him!” He adds, “I finally calmed down and went home and told my wife I’m not going to practice law anymore.”

Aside from Dwight Parscale’s legal practice, he and his wife, Rita, operated a string of businesses over the years, sometimes three at once. They included a swimming pool company, a scuba shop, real estate enterprises, restaurants and a Western-themed nightclub featuring a mechanical bull imported from Fort Worth.

Brad Parscale has spoken of a modest upbringing, describing himself as a “farm boy from Kansas.” In fact, he grew up on a suburban cul-de-sac. He attended Topeka-area public schools, where he was a good student and a basketball star. A frustrating college sports career, ended by injuries to his leg and back, took him to four schools. He graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1999, majoring in international business and economics. (He regularly describes it, incorrectly, as an Ivy League school.)

Dwight Parscale, meanwhile, had become the CEO of a Topeka technology company, NewTek, and moved its headquarters to San Antonio before a falling-out with the founder that ended in litigation. The Parscales then relocated to Southern California, where Dwight Parscale became the CEO of a small 3D animation software company called Electric Image.

Brad Parscale went to work for his dad after college, becoming sales manager for Electric Image at a salary of $95,000. Rita Parscale helped manage the company’s books. By the fall of 2001, the Parscales say, they were trying to sell to private investors when the deal, and their business, collapsed amid the economic swoon that followed 9/11.

In his Miami speech, Parscale said he had “just had my first child, married” when he moved out to California, along with “an adopted son,” before the failure of Electric Image and the loss of his job, “within a few months” of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, sent him reeling. “In a year of that, I lost my wife. Not died — separated. … We got divorced, ended back in Texas.”

In fact, Parscale wasn’t married then, much less divorced. He had become a father in July 1999, at age 23, just weeks after graduating from college. The mother was a 22-year-old woman he’d met while she was working at a San Antonio tanning salon he patronized; she had a son from a previous relationship.

Court records show that the two didn’t marry until March 2003, three years and eight months after their daughter was born. Parscale filed for divorce in August 2004. The split wasn’t finalized until October 2007, when he was 31. Parscale never adopted his first wife’s son.

Electric Image’s failure is also more complex than he has portrayed it. The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2002, declaring $188,453 in assets and nearly $2 million in debt, including $100,068 owed to the IRS for unpaid withholding taxes.

Parscale and his parents improperly transferred company funds and assets to themselves, according to a lawsuit against the three family members filed by a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, a claim disputed by the family. Exhibits in the case show checks, all signed by Rita Parscale in August 2003, for $33,000 paid to Dwight Parscale, $4,800 to Rita Parscale and $6,200 to Brad Parscale. According to the bankruptcy trustee’s filings, Dwight Parscale had taken the company’s business records “to the garbage dump” before the family left California and returned to Texas.

The trustee also accused the Parscales of improperly transferring Electric Image assets for use by a new company in San Antonio, EI Technology Group, which later listed Brad Parscale as CEO. (He continued selling software through EI for years until 2009.)

The matter was finally settled in 2006, with the Parscales agreeing to repay a portion of the disputed funds. “We paid out of our pocket $86,000,” Rita Parscale says. She calls the claims of misappropriation “a bunch of baloney.”

Back in San Antonio, Brad Parscale became a website developer, incorporating in October 2005 what became Parscale Media. He has repeatedly spun a memorable origin tale. He said he started the business with his last $500, seeking clients by approaching them in the tech aisle at a local Borders bookstore.

“Life is amazing,” he wrote in a May 2016 tweet. “My first day I had $500 to my name and tapped shoulders for work. No one knew me.” In 2017, he tweeted from a speech in Monaco about delivering “my story of starting with $500.” In its online biography promoting him for paid speeches (fee range $25,000 to $40,000), the speaker’s bureau representing Parscale repeats that “he invested his last $500 in Parscale Media.”

Parscale may have started his business in late 2005 with $500. But it’s unlikely it was his last $500. Courthouse records show that Parscale, who had begun investing in rental properties, owned three San Antonio homes at the time (each carried a mortgage).

There was no question about the business’s early struggles. In 2008, Parscale’s operation was sandwiched between a car wash and a tattoo parlor and smack in the flight path of the San Antonio airport. “Every time you had a meeting in there,” recalls Ryan Kelly, a San Antonio digital marketing consultant who worked closely with Parscale, “you’d feel like a plane was going to fly right through the office.”

From the start, Parscale displayed qualities that would serve him well with Trump. He was a great salesman. He was a quick study and intensely loyal to his customers. And he worked like a maniac.

In San Antonio, Parscale built a volume business. He did fast, inexpensive work for small enterprises like Dury’s Gun Shop, Quest Plumbing and D&D Farm and Ranch. He pitched clients by day, often making cold calls, and cranked out websites at night. On the side, he sold his own software add-ons to website developers.

At the start, Parscale knew little about digital marketing and even less about design. But he recognized his limitations. Says Natalie Silva, a San Antonio marketing consultant who worked with Parscale for two years starting in 2007: “He was the type of guy who would oversell capabilities and then figure it out — ‘well, I’ll go find someone.’ He would bring in the people he needed to do the things he couldn’t do.”

By 2009, Parscale Media, on its website, claimed a staff of seven and pitched Parscale as “a true pioneer of the industry” with “over 13 years of professional web experience.” (That would date back to 1996, his sophomore year in college.) It also trumpeted “prestigious” Top 10 web designer awards “as seen in” Forbes and Texas Monthly magazines. In fact, both citations were paid marketing promotions, published as advertisements in the two publications.

As his reputation grew, Parscale sometimes found himself paired on projects with a San Antonio graphic and web designer named Jill Giles, who’d run her own small firm since 1984. Giles handled the projects’ look and branding strategy; Parscale did the under-the-hood work.

The two could not have been more different. Giles was 20 years older, a tiny, soft-spoken woman with blond curls and refined taste; a committed Democrat, she socialized with urban liberals. Parscale was a red-headed giant with a booming voice who lived in the suburbs. He dressed, Giles later joked to friends, “like a German tourist,” wearing T-shirts, shorts and sandals with socks to work. (Giles declined to be quoted.)

But in an age when businesses built their reputations and brands online, marrying design and tech skills made sense. They formed Giles-Parscale Inc. in July 2011. They set up shop inside the walled compound Giles owned on the edge of downtown, building out separate, industrial-chic structures for the design and digital teams.

Afflicted with chronic back pain from his basketball injuries, Parscale presided over his domain from an unusually tall standing desk; on difficult days, he sometimes conducted business stretched out on the floor.

With Parscale leading the sales effort, Giles-Parscale won prestigious new contracts. Dickson, the San Antonio tech businessman, saw Parscale dazzle the executive committee of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, winning its website and digital work. “He’s like Don Draper. He’s a great pitchman,” says Dickson. “There are just so few who can walk in, pick up the vibe in the room and say the right thing.”

It was just nine months after the merger, in April 2012, that Parscale got his first opportunity to work for the Trump Organization. Asked to bid on designing a website for Trump International Realty, Parscale — eager to land the legendarily cheap celebrity client — won the job with an outrageously low bid of $10,000.

In his Miami speech, Parscale described the Trump Organization call as coming at a moment when he was still struggling. “At this point,” he said, “I have six employees. … I’m living in an $80,000 house, driving a Dodge Charger.” In fact, in 2012, Giles-Parscale had a staff of 30. Parscale lived in a $500,000 home with a swimming pool on a golf course and drove a Lexus.

Parscale simply “made up” his $10,000 price for the initial 2012 work, he later told The Washington Post, with the aim of hooking the Trumps as a client: “I recognized that I was a nobody in San Antonio, but working for the Trumps would be everything.”

Giles-Parscale soon became the go-to choice for other Trump work: the Trump Winery website, Melania Trump’s skin care products website; the Eric Trump Foundation website (Parscale did the latter work for free).

In November 2013, Eric Trump, in Texas for an event, stopped by Giles-Parscale with his future wife to meet the family’s webmaster. Parscale took them out for a steak dinner afterward, then promoted the visit on Twitter: “Hung out with \@EricTrump & his fiancé today. Truly was honored to have their time. One #supercool couple.”

Parscale insisted that Giles-Parscale made “a lot of money” from the Trump businesses. “Over the next five years,” reported the Post, “the Trump Organization sent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of website-related work to Parscale.”

A knowledgeable Giles-Parscale colleague says that’s not true. “We always lost money on the Trump commercial stuff. Brad wanted it so bad he would bid it ridiculously cheap. He would say, ‘Oh no, this is going to lead to a lot of other work.’… We all knew that we should have been charging more money for it.”

What came next is widely known: In February 2015, the Trumps asked Parscale to craft a simple landing page for the presidential exploratory committee. Parscale did it for $1,500, completing the work on his laptop at home over a weekend. He got another call in June and agreed to build the Trump presidential campaign’s website for $10,000.

Jill Giles was mortified. A lifelong Democrat, she told friends she found Trump’s candidacy “repellant,” and she didn’t want her firm to have anything to do with it. But Parscale reassured his partner: “Nothing will come of this. This isn’t going to last long.”

Indeed, 10 days after Trump announced his candidacy for president, Parscale met two top local Republicans for lunch. But he wasn’t there to chat about the race for the White House. Parscale wanted their support as he considered running for a seat on the San Antonio City Council. Says one of the lunch participants, Robert Stovall, then the Bexar County Republican chairman: “He was very serious about it.”

The two men told Parscale they couldn’t back him. The seat’s conservative incumbent was likely to run one last time in 2017. They didn’t want Parscale to challenge him. Throughout the conversation, Stovall says, one thing was clear: “Brad didn’t think the announcement of Trump running for president was going to be a long-term thing. Everyone was just chuckling about it.”

After Trump’s upset victory in 2016, Parscale would receive acclaim for his central role in a campaign whose intensive, targeted use of social media was without precedent. But it was nondigital skills that proved essential to Parscale’s ascent: learning to navigate the cutthroat culture of Trump’s political world. “He’s a rare survivor of Trump 1.0,” notes Kurt Luidhardt, co-founder of Prosper Group, a political consulting firm that worked on the 2016 campaign. “That’s a big feat to pull off.”

Not that there weren’t some close calls for Parscale. The first came in late 2015, when an array of technical problems and lapses dogged the Trump website. Volunteer data wasn’t getting promptly downloaded. State campaign offices weren’t listed. And the website sometimes functioned poorly or crashed, hitting a low point in early December.

“Today was insane,” Parscale wrote his bosses on Dec. 7, 2015, a day on which traffic spiked as hackers tried to overwhelm the website with a so-called distributed denial of service attack. His email’s recipients included Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, political director Michael Glassner and communications chief Hope Hicks. “About 4 p.m. CST time the traffic on the website increased by about 700,000x the normal traffic…The site has become very unresponsive because it is designed to do 200-300K people a day, not a million in a few minutes.”

“I can build to handle these numbers,” Parscale added, “but at this time I have not spent the cost to make it work this large…I am sorry for the problems today, these numbers were just insane high fast.”

Glassner conferred by email with Matt Braynard, the campaign’s data chief. The two men had been discussing the website problems for weeks. Glassner asked if the day’s traffic would have been a problem if another company ran the Trump website. His email’s subject line: “Transition away from Brad.”

“My suspicion was the answer was no,” Braynard replied, “but I’ve confirmed” that the crash wouldn’t have happened if another firm was running the site. He promised to quickly “compose a summary of reasons why I believe we should transition.”

But before he could do so, Glassner ended the discussion. “We’re going to stick with Brad,” he emailed the next day. Glassner later explained the reason simply: “Brad is considered family.” (Braynard departed the campaign himself a few months later and now runs a nonprofit seeking to register conservative voters.)

Parscale had cultivated a crucial relationship with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had taken a special interest in the campaign’s digital efforts. Kushner became his most essential ally, enlisting Parscale as his proxy. Parscale understood a fundamental rule of life of Trump’s world: The family’s favor meant everything. “He focused on the kids,” says estranged Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman, who met Parscale during the campaign. “Once the kids like you, you’re in with Trump.”

Parscale regularly announced his interactions with various Trumps and assiduously flattered them. His Twitter profile today proclaims: “Proud to work for America’s best POTUS.” He has described Trump as “like a second father to me” and recently proclaimed the family “a dynasty that will last for decades.” In tweets, he has called the Trumps “the most amazing family” and pronounced Kushner “a great leader” and “a genius. Also the nicest guy ever.

In 2016, several factors conspired to elevate Parscale’s role. One was the Trump campaign’s raging distrust of the usual suspects from the GOP’s political “swamp,” including both Washington operatives and the Republican National Committee.

Trump also harbored contempt for conventional political practices. With his universal name recognition and domination of media headlines, Trump, who had pledged to bankroll his own primary campaign, had neither the need nor the desire to spend heavily on TV ads. That opened the door to a low-cost alternative in Parscale’s sweet spot: Facebook.

With Kushner’s backing and a small budget, Parscale began crafting Facebook ads directed at voters in key primary states. He’d also built a website page to sell “Make America Great Again” gear, which became a profit center for the campaign.

Through the end of 2015, the Trump campaign had paid Giles-Parscale just $39,000, mostly for “website development,” according to Federal Election Commission filings. By February 2016, his firm was receiving monthly six-figure sums for “digital consulting.” In June, he was named the campaign’s digital director.

Back in San Antonio, Parscale’s work for Trump had roiled his firm. At the start, Parscale had managed the website from home on his laptop. But as his duties grew, he began tapping Giles-Parscale staff for help, recruiting a few designers after first asking, “You got a problem with Trump?”

At the start, Parscale had portrayed the Trump work as just another contract, telling a San Antonio reporter: “We don’t have a say in his views. We are just a mechanism for his delivery.” Giles held to the view that he was, as ever, going overboard to please his client. “I think he would have been equally enthusiastic if he were doing it for Hillary,” she told friends.

By the spring primaries, it became impossible to pretend the work wasn’t affecting Giles-Parscale. Campaign operatives were appearing regularly in the office. “Nobody in their right mind thought it would go very far,” Giles explained to friends months later. “It was kind of scope creep. One day you wake up and say, ‘Holy shit, how did this happen?’”

Giles finally told Parscale he needed to take the Trump work elsewhere. In early June, after it was clear that Trump had locked up the GOP nomination, Parscale secured office space on the third floor of a building near the San Antonio airport. He announced plans to hire a general election digital team of as many as a hundred staffers. With that, Parscale largely abandoned Giles-Parscale.

As Parscale assumed his new role as the Republican nominee’s digital chief, he faced a big question: Now what do we do? He’d never helped run anything approaching the scale and complexity of a presidential campaign.

At that stage, most presidential nominees would already have dozens of experienced digital operatives on board. Clinton had more than a hundred. Trump had just one data staffer in New York and no data infrastructure. “He had to scale from two people to national in 30 seconds,” says Bill Skelly, a veteran RNC data consultant who worked with the 2016 campaign.

Parscale frantically began conferring with an array of consultants, seeking their advice. He was open about how much he didn’t know and bombarded everyone with questions.

With Trump now the certain nominee, his campaign and the Republican National Committee — warily viewed as a haven of “Never Trumpers” — had forged an uneasy alliance. The RNC dispatched about a dozen staff members to San Antonio: experts in political strategy, email fundraising, data and digital marketing.

Conflict soon erupted over power and money. In June 2016, the most immediate flashpoint was the joint fundraising agreement Trump had signed with the RNC, as was customary for the party’s presidential nominee. It provided for fundraising emails to go out in the name of the candidate, seeking donations of $200 or less.

All the funds were to flow into a joint committee, to be split 80-20 between the campaign and the party, and the two sides were to share the valuable donor data the emails generated. Trump clearly needed the help. He hadn’t done any email fundraising during the primaries, and, as of June 1, he had just $1.3 million in his campaign coffers, compared with Clinton’s $42 million.

Yet Trump was refusing to cooperate with the RNC, which wanted both its promised money and the donor lists. Trump’s campaign, relying on private firms, finally dispatched his first fundraising letter on June 21, but it was a disaster. Although the campaign reported raising about $3 million in one day, more than half of the emails were caught in spam filters. Trump-haters had also slipped in prank addresses, generating embarrassing publicity about the campaign seeking illegal donations from members of the Australian, British and Icelandic parliaments.

The letter also directed all resulting donations to the Trump campaign rather than to the joint committee. RNC officials were furious. They wanted their promised cut — and control over the entire fundraising apparatus. “There was a lot of real angst happening at that moment about Brad,” recalls one GOP operative on the scene.

The RNC decided to play hardball. Ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend, it ordered all the RNC staffers working in San Antonio for Trump — more than a dozen — to leave. A former senior RNC official recalls the committee’s digital director, Gerrit Lansing, explaining what happened this way: “I pulled everyone out. They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing down there.” Lansing told the RNC official he had even suggested to RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh that he would quit if Parscale wasn’t fired.

Lansing declined to comment on the record about this episode. Walsh says “there was a negotiation. … I don’t accept the premise that there was any sort of conflict.”

Parscale arrived at his new offices on Friday, July 1, to find the place virtually empty. The lone RNC staffer who remained in town was Gary Coby, director of digital advertising, who had quickly gained Parscale’s trust.

Coby later stood by as Parscale phoned Kushner, effectively pleading for his job. “He just kind of humbled himself to Jared,” Coby recalls. “He said: ‘Obviously it’s your guys’ call. But I’ll do anything for the candidate and the family. … I love this family. … Whatever you guys decide, you can count on me for anything you need or want.’” Adds Coby, “He was making his case as if his role was in jeopardy.”

Parscale managed to keep his job — and to broker peace between the campaign and the RNC. Unlike much of Trump’s inner circle, which viewed the GOP as the enemy, Parscale recognized that the party possessed critical political infrastructure that was impossible for Trump’s makeshift team to replicate. As Parscale puts it: “When I showed up at the RNC for my first meeting, I expected them to be my enemy. I was told that by many in Trump world. But I learned very quickly that for everyone to be successful, we need to be working hand in hand.”

By the middle of the following week, Parscale and his bosses had signed on to a deal with the RNC. The Trump campaign would get all the proceeds from text message appeals and ads on social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter. All donations from email fundraising — a bigger pot — would be split, though the RNC would cover all the costs. The RNC would run the joint email program and get access to Trump’s growing donor file.

Notes one campaign adviser: “I’ve always thought that was the moment when Brad realized if I play nice with these people, they’re going to play nice with me. And he’s maintained that ever since. I am convinced to this day Brad is who he is because he made peace with the RNC. At every point since then, the benefit of that arrangement has been reinforced. He’s navigated all the levers of power very effectively. Honestly, I think that’s what he’s best at.”

Any collaboration with the Trumps, of course, required support from the family, and Parscale worked to ensure that too. After the RNC fundraising showdown, he urged Kushner to sign off on joining forces with the RNC on the digital front. Parscale also met Eric Trump in Washington for a tour of the Trump International Hotel construction site, dirtying his suit before attending a high-level briefing at RNC headquarters on the party’s plans for the campaign’s ground game. Parscale then backed that plan during a three-hour Acela train trip with Eric to Manhattan and convinced him to support the plan, too. “That’s the day we all got married,” Parscale says of the campaign and the RNC.

After the 2016 election, much was written about the Trump campaign’s use of new Facebook tools to “microtarget” voters, sophisticated data analytics and rapid-fire testing of thousands of campaign ad permutations. Parscale was hailed as an innovative “genius,” an impression he encouraged. “I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win,” he told Lesley Stahl, of “60 Minutes,” in 2017. “Twitter is how he talked to the people. Facebook was going to be how he won.”

Parscale also claimed that after being given broad new responsibilities late in the race, he’d spotted critical voter shifts and “changed all the budgets around” in the campaign’s final days. He says he diverted “every nickel and dime” from hopeless Virginia and sure-win Ohio into advertising in Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump notched narrow upsets.

“If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you think he’s a 21st-century Steve Jobs,” says a Republican consultant who knows Parscale. “He’s not an asshole. He’s kind of a huckster. But he’s smart enough to realize he’s a huckster.”

Parscale’s true gift wasn’t deploying new, cutting-edge uses for technology. It was skillful management: cobbling together and empowering a fast-moving, opportunistic digital team staffed by experts from the RNC, commercial ad placement firms and social media companies, which flew about a dozen employees into San Antonio to work alongside Parscale’s team. At Parscale’s direction, the digital operation carried out an unprecedented tilt toward social media, for which the Trump campaign spent nearly half its media budget.

Parscale’s all-in approach toward Facebook was perfectly suited to his unique candidate. “The key to digital success is bottling lightning, and with Donald Trump, the lightning strikes every five minutes,” says Wesley Donehue, CEO of Push Digital, who worked on Marco Rubio’s failed bid for the 2016 presidential nomination. “You will never be able to replicate any digital strategy you had for Donald Trump for any other candidate or any corporation because there is no other Donald Trump.”

Academics and political strategists say digital ads don’t do much to persuade voters to switch candidates. They’re aimed primarily at raising money, firing up the base and suppressing turnout among opposition voters — which perfectly matched Trump’s needs.

In large part, Parscale’s approach was a matter of necessity. In 2016, Trump was anathema to the GOP’s traditional wealthy donors. But small-dollar contributors — “the Army of Trump,” Parscale would later call them — loved him. Trump’s supporters were uniquely responsive to donation appeals on social media; his celebrity and gut-level appeal commanded eyeballs. “The hardest thing in digital advertising is getting people’s attention,” says Coby. “You got a cheat code with Trump.”

Trump’s online and email fundraising generated a record $239 million in small-dollar donations, far more than Hillary Clinton’s and more than two-thirds of his donation total, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. This made Trump competitive in a race where he was outspent nearly 2 to 1.

Parscale’s growing role remained pretty much a secret for weeks into the general election race. But in mid-August, a new FEC filing was about to reveal that Giles-Parscale, an obscure San Antonio firm, had become the campaign’s biggest vendor, receiving $12.5 million to date. That prompted Wired to run a quick, flattering profile of him. Trump, according to a former RNC official, soon began referring to Parscale as “my $10 Million Man.”

By the October FEC filing, that figure had multiplied. Giles-Parscale had received more than $20 million in the previous month, on its way to a jaw-dropping final $94 million tally from the Trump committees. After Trump read media reports spotlighting Parscale’s most recent take, he erupted. Making a rare descent to the campaign’s makeshift offices in Trump Tower, he cornered his digital director in the kitchen and flew into a spitting rage, screaming, “Where the fuck is my money?”

Parscale told Trump that the vast majority was simply passed through his firm and went toward buying ads. After salaries and various consulting fees, he insisted, he’d received only a small percentage — far below what’s typical — as profit. Deputy campaign manager Dave Bossie, who had jumped between the two men, backed Parscale’s story. According to two witnesses, the confrontation ended when Kellyanne Conway sneezed on Trump, distracting him from his fury.

Inside the walls of Giles-Parscale, Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, on the morning after Election Day, was met with tears. For months, many at the firm had clung to a hope: Trump would surely lose; Parscale would come back. Everything would go back to the way it was.

Early in 2016, Parscale appeared to be putting down roots in San Antonio. In January, he and his second wife had spent $801,456 on a new 6,145-square-foot home in a gated country-club community near his parents. But after Trump’s victory, he wasn’t about to go back to selling websites. His partner, Giles, was just as eager to part ways.

The two partners agreed: Parscale, the hot commodity, would take the lead in seeking a buyer who could run the digital business. In the meantime, he was busy taking victory laps, attending election post-mortems at Harvard and in Silicon Valley, giving a speech in Monaco and sitting for interviews. He’d assigned a copywriter who had worked on the Trump campaign to write a Wikipedia profile for him.

On Aug. 1, 2017, the sale of Giles-Parscale was announced, to a company called CloudCommerce Inc. The commercial marketing business would become Parscale Digital. The design side would be renamed Giles Design Bureau. The political work — along with Parscale himself — would move to Florida as an independent company called Parscale Strategy.

A press release described the deal as a $9 million all-stock purchase of Parscale’s business. Parscale was also to receive $1 million in cash for his web hosting company, become the face of the parent company and receive a seat on the board. Giles got stock options, along with rent for use of her building and about $700,000 cash.

In reality, in selling to CloudCommerce, an obscure California penny-stock company, Parscale had jumped into a mess of his own making. For starters, his stock would be worth $9 million only if the shares rose exponentially. And the company, as Trump might say, was a doozy.

CloudCommerce had lost money for seven straight years, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, prompting its accountants to voice “substantial doubt” about its ability to remain “a going concern.” In the days before the acquisition was announced, its stock was trading at less than a penny.

The company had a distinctly dodgy past. A former CEO and a second executive had pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in a scheme to pump up the price of the company’s shares. Its current CEO had once filed for personal bankruptcy. CloudCommerce, whose leadership had vowed to rapidly grow the enterprise enough to uplist it onto a major exchange, had changed names and business strategies three times, while seeking to entice acquisition targets, as one email put it, with the prospect of “riding the tidal wave” of company shares “to early retirement.” (CloudCommerce did not respond to requests for comment.)

After the sale, Parscale began deploying his digital-marketing tactics on a new product: himself.

On Aug. 8, he tweeted about a 500% spike in CloudCommerce’s share price, from less than a penny to 5 cents, that had greeted the announcement.

Much like Trump, CloudCommerce and its new marquee player worked to lure business by creating a premium brand that would convey the value of his personal magic. They called it “the Parscale Effect.” Digital ads for Parscale Strategy’s website, which featured juddering images of Parscale and admiring media headlines (“Donald Trump’s Michael Bay”), declared: “Brad Parscale shaped the 2016 presidential election with a data driven digital strategy to influence action. Find out how the Parscale Effect can transform your business.”

Parscale approached political contacts, asking if they’d want to sell their firms in exchange for CloudCommerce stock, according to two people with direct knowledge. At least two turned him down. One recalls Parscale’s pitch: “He told me he was going to list CloudCommerce on Nasdaq, and we were all going to be really rich.”

Parscale’s political success intrigued some high-profile clients. In mid-2017, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, hired Parscale for a “sales analytics” project, to see if he could help sell basketball tickets. “I figure, we’ll see if what he does can make a difference. … I’m a big believer that when it comes to data, you don’t take sides. You look to see results,” says Cuban, a reality TV star who has toyed with running for president. In the end, Parscale’s impact was “in line with what we did with other advanced metrics companies,” says Cuban. “It helped, but wasn’t anything dramatic.”

Parscale was hired to boost ticket sales for “Only the Brave,” a Hollywood movie about an elite Arizona firefighting team. He retained a Trump surrogate, Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and war hero who was depicted in the movie “Lone Survivor,” to endorse the film, according to Variety, and Parscale promoted the movie on Twitter without disclosing he’d been paid to do so: “A film about real American heroes. Risked it all to save others. Can’t wait to honor these men by watching the movie! #onlythebrave #maga”

Ultimately, CloudCommerce was unable to successfully exploit Parscale’s commercial business, which largely went on hiatus as Parscale turned back to politics. CloudCommerce continues to lose money and bleed cash. The company’s SEC filings now list Parscale’s role as Trump’s campaign manager as a “risk factor,” citing the president’s unpopularity with some employees and customers.

“Brad thought if he got on board and applied some of his techniques, a penny stock becomes a dollar stock and $1 million becomes $100 million,” says Jeremy Sloan, a San Antonio lawyer who represented Parscale in the CloudCommerce deal and has known him for a decade. “I remember telling him: ‘Dude, you’re taking a risk here — selling your whole company, all these assets you’re selling for stock. If you go from one penny to $3, that’s great. But if you go from one to zero, that $9 million headline turns into $90,000.’”

As of Sept. 9, CloudCommerce shares were trading for less than a cent.

Parscale’s efforts to monetize his role in Trump’s victory met with more success in the political world.

Trump pioneered the nonstop presidential campaign, filing for reelection on the day of his inauguration, and Parscale positioned himself to capitalize on it. He incorporated Parscale Strategy, his political-consulting business, just 10 days later. Although Parscale lacked a formal campaign title until being named campaign manager in February 2018, he never stopped working for Trump — or getting paid for it.

During the 14 months before Parscale’s selection, his firms received more than $13 million. The money came from three different Trump campaign committees, the RNC, the presidential inaugural committee, a pro-Trump super PAC and a “dark money” organization. Parscale unsuccessfully sought work from at least two other GOP campaign committees.

Parscale simultaneously served as a co-founder of and senior adviser to America First Policies, a pro-Trump “dark money” group, and its sibling, the super PAC America First Action, which quickly became a paid refuge for Trump campaign veterans. The two groups are allowed to raise unlimited sums but are legally barred from coordinating with the campaign. Activist group Common Cause claims, in complaints to the FEC and the Justice Department, that the two groups have illegally coordinated with the Trump campaign. The complaints are still pending. (A spokesperson for America First declined to comment.)

Up through his appointment as Trump’s campaign manager on Feb. 27, 2018, the two America First groups paid Parscale’s firm more than $3.5 million for “media advocacy,” website services and work in congressional special-election campaigns. Days after his appointment, America First ceased paying Parscale Strategy, presumably to avoid running afoul of laws barring the super PAC from coordinating with Trump’s campaign.

Instead, America First Action soon began making payments for similar services to a new entity, incorporated in Delaware on March 2, called Red State Data & Digital. Parscale told ProPublica and Texas Monthly that he formed Red State to allow his employees to continue working for America First while he distanced himself from the group. Parscale didn’t mention that one of the employees was his wife, a fact subsequently revealed by CNN. Red State Data & Digital has received $923,201 from America First Action.

Red State represents Parscale’s attempt to channel those funds to a legally separate entity. “The lawyers suggested it for firewall purposes so it would have its own billing,” says Parscale. “It was legally recommended to me. I don’t even see the bills. I have employees that work for them, and they are firewalled from me.”

Such maneuvers are part of “a really troubling trend” — a “fig leaf” — to form campaign vendors that are “legally distinct but practically inseparable” from a campaign, says Adav Noti, former associate general counsel for the FEC, who is now senior director for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. “One serves the super PAC, one serves the campaign, but they’re run by the same people. You can firewall off staff people, but you can’t firewall your own brain. I would be very skeptical about that. Candidates and their advisers are not supposed to be coming in any contact with soft money.”

In 2016, Parscale, out of necessity, ceded much of the Trump campaign’s digital operations to the RNC. For the 2020 election, the tables are turned: Trump’s reelection campaign has effectively taken over the party organization.

The tone was set early at the top, with the installation of Ronna McDaniel, a fierce Trump loyalist, as RNC chair. But with Parscale’s help, Trump’s control over the committee has gone deeper. The group’s willingness to do Trump’s bidding has extended to its handling of voter data, for which Parscale has helped empower two former RNC chiefs of staff (who happen to be married to each other), Katie Walsh and Mike Shields. They’re the winners in an intraparty struggle that has shifted power, money and staff from the RNC to the party’s private repository of voter information, called the Data Trust. Parscale was named to the Data Trust board in May 2017.

The changes have degraded the GOP’s data operation, which is critical for winning elections, according to critics, including Bill Skelly, a longtime Republican data consultant no longer doing RNC work, and Jesse Kamzol, an RNC data director who was ousted in mid-2017. They believe out-of-date and incomplete information in the party-supplied voter files, used for voter contact and turnout efforts, contributed to the GOP’s poor performance in the 2018 midterms.

One example: sophisticated RNC voter score projections for Rep. John Culberson, a nine-term incumbent defending a suburban Houston seat held by Republicans for a half-century, showed Culberson winning his race handily, with a 56% to 35% margin among likely voters 11 weeks before Election Day, documents reviewed by ProPublica show. Other polls during this period consistently showed Culberson and Democrat Lizzie Fletcher in a far closer race. Culberson ultimately lost 52.5% to 47.5%.

Former RNC data experts blame such problems on poor data “hygiene,” the tedious work of keeping the files accurate and current. Says one: “They’re getting wrong addresses, wrong phone numbers, wrong emails. … They’re not updating it. They’re building voter files and political data sets. It’s not a technical thing; it’s kind of an art. Imagine you suddenly went from having a bunch of Picassos and Monets. Then you go to someone who can finger-paint.”

Shields, who served as a senior adviser to the Data Trust until July 31, says all changes occurred “with the full knowledge of the Trump campaign and Brad.” He adamantly denies any systemic problems. He and RNC officials defend the quality of the data and blame the criticism on a “small pocket” of political operatives who have lost business in the Trump era. Skelly denies any such motivation, saying, “It is right to continue to innovate and look for change, but not for its own sake.”

More conspicuously, since Trump’s election, the RNC — at his campaign’s direction — has excluded critical “voter scores” on the president from the analytics it routinely provides to GOP candidates and committees nationwide, with the aim of electing down-ballot Republicans.

Republican consultants say the Trump information is being withheld for two reasons: to discourage candidates from distancing themselves from the president, and to avoid embarrassing him with poor results that might leak. But they say its concealment harms other Republicans, forcing them to campaign without it or pay to get the information elsewhere.

Indeed, RNC “voter score” documents from 2018 include a wealth of voter information for a given district, including attitudes toward the major parties, state elected officials, local candidates, critical issues and even Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There is no data on Trump. To the contrary, according to one GOP expert, 2016 Trump information previously made available was conspicuously withheld starting in mid-2017.

“There has been a major decision to lock down the Trump voter scores,” says a former national GOP data official, who was repeatedly blocked from obtaining the information. He calls this “Trump-first mentality” at the RNC “outside the norm” and a “major hindrance” to the success of down-ballot candidates.

According to RNC documents, the scores are used to guide an array of campaign efforts, including field programs, fundraising, digital advertising and communications. Says a former RNC data officer: “It’s definitely hurting the party not to release that information. I wish we could have handed it over.”

Current and former party officials from two major battleground states confirm that the RNC refused their repeated requests for Trump data. “What voters in our state think about Donald Trump matters,” says the executive director for one state. “There are people who loved our governor but were turned off by the president. We deliver different messages to people who need to be convinced to come out to our side. How are we supposed to run campaigns if we’re flying blind on thinking about the president?”

When asked about this, Walsh, who serves as a senior adviser to the RNC, embraces the proposition that the committee now — properly — does the president’s bidding. Because Trump effectively paid for the voter data by raising money for the RNC, according to this view, his campaign was fully entitled to withhold it even from other Republicans. “I don’t think most campaigns give their data out to other campaigns for free,” Walsh says. “So I don’t see why the president would be expected to. That’s all data work done by the RNC, and the head of the party is the president. So it’s his data.”

Says one veteran GOP consultant: “They should just put ‘TRUMP’ signs in front of the Republican National Committee building now, just like every other building he’s got.”

The 2020 Trump campaign could not be more different from 2016. Parscale has been methodically assembling a political war machine, largely along traditional lines. He has created a large-dollar fundraising network; begun training sessions for field recruits; and established outreach groups for African Americans, women and Hispanics. (In 2016, the campaign didn’t even translate its website into Spanish.) Parscale has also spent tens of millions building contact files of Trump donors and supporters, harvested from responses to Facebook ads and rally sign-ups.

Parscale’s life feels a lot bigger-scale these days, too. He now lives in a $2.4-million home on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He now drives a Ferrari and a BMW X6. Since his star turn on “60 Minutes,” Parscale has become a recognizable conservative political celebrity. He has 361,000 Twitter followers, up from 3,793 just three years ago.

Parscale has assumed the role of Trump’s troll-in-chief, backing his boss’s boasts and false claims; generating ads playing to voters’ fears; twisting the knife on the president’s opponents; and caricaturing Democrats’ policies. Recently, the Trump campaign circulated an ad on Facebook claiming that every Democratic presidential candidate would eliminate private health insurance. As a website called Popular Information first pointed out, the ad included a photo of five candidates raising their hands affirmatively at their June 27 debate, but it omitted the fact that they were responding to a different question. When I asked him about the ad, Parscale ignored the false photo and displayed some Trumpian defiance. “Make no mistake,” he says. “All Democrats from Bernie to Biden will eliminate private insurance either outright or as a consequence of the public option crowding out private insurance.”

Parscale seems to revel in the combat — at least part of the time. “I barely leave the house,” he says. “We don’t even go to dinner any more. We eat in. It’s not worth it anymore.” The world is now divided among fans who want to pose with him for a selfie and antagonists who’d rather throw things at him. In that way, as in so many others, he has come to resemble his boss.

Correction, Sept. 11, 2019: This story originally misidentified where the firefighting team that is the subject of the movie “Only the Brave” is from. The team is from Arizona, not California.

The post Meet the Fabulist Behind Trump’s Reelection Campaign appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Eurozone Gets a Big Stimulus

Mother Jones Magazine -

Donald Trump is mad again:

The European Central Bank cut its key interest rate and launched a sweeping package of bond purchases Thursday that lays the ground work for what is likely to be a long period of ultraloose monetary policy, jolting European financial markets and triggering an immediate response from President Trump.

….In a tweet, Mr. Trump said the ECB was “trying, and succeeding, in depreciating the Euro against the VERY strong Dollar, hurting U.S. exports.”

The ECB said that it wouldn’t raise interest rates “until it has seen the inflation outlook robustly converge” with its target of just below 2%. As you can see, inflation in Europe is considerably lower than it is in the US and is headed in the wrong direction:

Inflation in the eurozone area was only barely above 1.0 percent in July and shows no signs of turning around. This is why the ECB is getting kind of desperate.

Of course, Trump does have an alternative that the ECB doesn’t: he can spend money. All he has to do is convince Republicans to pass a big stimulus bill, which would probably accomplish more than any kind of rate cut or quantitative easing from the Fed. If it were directed toward subsidies for solar panels or a middle-class child care tax credit or something like that, he could even get Democrats on board. Unfortunately, Republicans would refuse, and that means Trump would have no one left to blame except his own party. Sad.

What’s the Deal With Trump and the Homeless?

Mother Jones Magazine -

This year’s Academy Award for the most pregnant use of an adverb goes to a Senior Administration Official speaking to the Washington Post about the homeless in Los Angeles:

We’re not rounding people up or anything yet. You guys in the media get too ahead of yourselves.

Quite so. All they’re doing is looking at cavernous storage facilities near the airport that might be used someday for rounding up the homeless. Why is everyone getting so upset already?

This whole charade with Trump and the homeless is hard to figure out. I mean, it’s obvious that Trump can’t actually do anything. The homeless haven’t broken any laws, and they certainly haven’t broken any federal laws. They can’t be swept up off the streets. Nor does the federal government have a police force to sweep them up even if they wanted to. Even Trump isn’t dim enough to think otherwise. So why the kabuki?

The most obvious answer is that Trump is putting on a show for his fans. We wanted to get the homeless off the streets but Democrats fought to keep their squalid, disgusting, disease-ridden camps right on city sidewalks where they’re free to murder your children.

Or is there something more subtle about this that I’ve missed?

Administration to Drop Obama-Era Water Protection Rule

TruthDig.com News -

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Trump administration is revoking an Obama-era regulation that shielded many U.S. wetlands and streams from pollution but was opposed by developers and farmers who said it hurt economic development and infringed on property rights.

Even before the official announcement, scheduled for later Thursday, environmental groups blasted the administration’s action, the latest in a series of moves to roll back environmental protections put into place under former President Barack Obama.

The Waters of the United States rule being revoked defines which waterways are subject to federal regulation.

Related Articles by OtherWords by by Common Dreams

“This action officially ends an egregious power grab and sets the stage for a new rule that will provide much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers, home builders and property owners nationwide,” Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler and R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, wrote in a column published Thursday by the Des Moines Register.

Since enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the federal government has gone beyond protection of navigable waterways and their major tributaries to assert jurisdiction over “isolated ponds and channels that flow only after it rains,” the officials wrote.

“As the definition expanded, so too has Washington’s power over private property and the states’ traditional authority to regulate their land and water resources,” they said.

President Donald Trump had ordered the agencies to develop a replacement policy that has a more restrictive definition of protected wetlands and streams, leaving fewer subject to federal protection.

Environmentalists say the move would leave millions of Americans with less safe drinking water and allow damage of wetlands that prevent flooding, filter pollutants and provide habitat for a multitude of fish, waterfowl and other wildlife.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the Trump administration’s action would be challenged in court.

“The Clean Water Rule represented solid science and smart public policy,” it said in a statement. “Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders.”

But Don Parrish, congressional relations director for the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the 2015 regulation that extended federal protection to many U.S. wetlands and waterways created uncertainty about where farmers could cultivate land.

“It would be great if farmers didn’t have to hire an army of consultants and lawyers just to be able to farm,” he said.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota says the Obama rule was “an unconstitutional power grab that did nothing to advance good water management.”

The question of which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act has inspired decades of lawsuits and congressional debate.

A sharply divided Supreme Court in 2006 produced three differing opinions, leading the Obama administration to craft its rule. It provided federal oversight to upstream tributaries and headwaters, including wetlands, ponds, lakes and streams that can affect the quality of navigable waters.

The regulation drew quick legal challenges. Courts prevented it from taking effect in parts of the U.S.

Betsy Southerland, who was director of science and technology in EPA’s Office of Water during the Obama administration, said repealing its regulation would create further regulatory confusion.

“This repeal is a victory for land developers, oil and gas drillers and miners who will exploit that ambiguity to dredge and fill small streams and wetlands that were protected from destruction by the 2015 rule because of their critical impact on national water quality,” Southerland said.

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Supreme Court Asylum Ruling Carries Dire Implications

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The right-wing Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s near-total ban on Central American asylum-seekers can take effect as it faces legal challenges, a move immigrant rights groups decried as cruel, unlawful, and potentially deadly.

The high court’s unsigned order overturned a federal court injunction from July that stopped implementation of the restrictions, which the ACLU and other organizations have said are clearly illegal.

“The Supreme Court has stayed the lower court injunction of asylum ban 2.0, a slapdash, ill-conceived, patently illegal policy that will essentially put asylum out of reach for all but Mexican nationals,” Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, said on Wednesday. “Lives will be lost while the case churns through the courts.”

As the New York Times reported, the Supreme Court’s ruling will allow the Trump administration to “enforce new rules that generally forbid asylum applications from migrants who have traveled through another country on their way to the United States without being denied asylum in that country.”

“The court’s order was a major victory for the administration,” the Times noted, “allowing it to enforce a policy that will achieve one of its central goals: effectively barring most migration across the nation’s southwestern border by Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and others.”

The Supreme Court is giving a green light to this Administration to continue its inhumane treatment of vulnerable people. https://t.co/6Hd6UKZXRp

— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) September 12, 2019

SCOTUS allowed Trump’s cruel and unlawful asylum ban to proceed. This means:

Everyone at our border, except Mexican nationals, will be barred from safety.

Families, children, and vulnerable individuals will be sent back to danger.

The border will become an asylum-free zone. https://t.co/yRAzO5Tp7T

— Amnesty International (@amnestyusa) September 12, 2019

While no vote was recorded on the asylum ruling, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg voiced opposition to the decision.

“Once again the executive branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “Although this nation has long kept its doors open to refugees—and although the stakes for asylum seekers could not be higher—the government implemented its rule without first providing the public notice and inviting the public input generally required by law.”

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU, which is challenging the Trump administration’s asylum ban, said the Supreme Court’s ruling “is just a temporary step” and expressed hope that “we’ll prevail at the end of the day.”

“The lives of thousands of families are at stake,” said Gelernt.

The post Supreme Court Asylum Ruling Carries Dire Implications appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

House Votes to Bar Arctic Drilling; Senate Action Unlikely

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House on Thursday voted to reinstate a decades-long ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a largely symbolic move aimed at reversing a plan by President Donald Trump to drill in the pristine refuge.

The 225-193 vote comes as the Trump administration has begun planning to sell oil and gas leases in the remote refuge, home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other species. An environmental impact analysis could be released soon.

The drilling was authorized under a 2017 tax cut approved by the Republican-controlled Congress, an action the House vote attempts to undo. The bill now goes to the GOP-controlled Senate, where action is unlikely. Trump has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Related Articles by by Reveal

The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Rep. Jared Huffman of California, said there are “some places too wild, too important, too special to be spoiled by oil and gas development. The Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain is one of those special places.”

But Republicans, including all three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, said drilling can be done safely with modern techniques and would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create jobs for Alaskans.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said Huffman “certainly takes a great interest in how we Alaskans operate. I would suggest he pay more attention to the issues in his own back yard and let me handle mine.”

Young called the Democratic bill “a sham” and said, “Despite the Democrats’ ongoing efforts, this is not a wilderness area. Let me say again: the (area set aside for drilling) is designated for development.”

Alaskans, including Alaska natives, overwhelmingly want to see the refuge opened to development, Young said. “Alaskans know and have repeatedly shown that responsible development and environmental stewardship can go together.”

Huffman and other bill supporters noted that the 19.6 million acre refuge is home to more than 200 different wildlife species, including bird species that migrate to states and districts across the country.

“You don’t have to have visited the refuge to be impacted and impressed by its ecological beauty,” Huffman said. The Porcupine caribou herd is a vital source of subsistence for the indigenous Gwich’in people and the herd’s survival will be imperiled by oil and gas development, he said.

Republicans and Democrats have fought over Arctic drilling for nearly four decades. Former President Bill Clinton vetoed a GOP plan to allow drilling in the refuge in 1995, and Democrats led by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell defeated a similar plan in 2005.

The plan to allow drilling was included in the 2017 tax bill after lawmakers were unable to get a stand-alone measure approved.

The vote on Alaska drilling comes after the House approved two bills Wednesday that would permanently bar drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and extend a moratorium on drilling off Florida’s west coast.

Coastal lawmakers from both parties said the bills would protect U.S. coasts from drilling that can pollute crucial waters — and lead to disasters such as the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, said the bills undercut domestic energy security and limit thousands of job opportunities.

The Senate is not expected to vote on either of the offshore bills, which Trump has vowed to veto.

The post House Votes to Bar Arctic Drilling; Senate Action Unlikely appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Democratic Debate: Top 2020 Contenders Finally on Same Stage

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HOUSTON — Despite the miles traveled, the tens of millions of dollars raised and the ceaseless churn of policy papers, the Democratic primary has been remarkably static for months with Joe Biden leading in polls and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders vying to be the progressive alternative. That stability is under threat on Thursday.

All of the top presidential candidates will share a debate stage, a setting that could make it harder to avoid skirmishes among the early front-runners. The other seven candidates, meanwhile, are under growing pressure to prove they’re still in the race to take on President Donald Trump next November.

The debate in Houston comes at a pivotal point as many voters move past their summer vacations and start to pay closer attention to the campaign. With the audience getting bigger, the ranks of candidates shrinking and first votes approaching in five months, the stakes are rising.

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“For a complete junkie or someone in the business, you already have an impression of everyone,” said Howard Dean, who ran for president in 2004 and later chaired the Democratic National Committee. “But now you are going to see increasing scrutiny with other people coming in to take a closer look.”

The ABC News debate is the first confined to one night after several candidates dropped out and others failed to meet new qualification standards.

If nothing else, viewers will see the diversity of the modern Democratic Party. The debate, held on the campus of historically black Texas Southern University, features several women, people of color and a gay man, a striking contrast from the increasingly white and male Republican Party. It will unfold in a rapidly changing state that Democrats hope to eventually bring into their column.

Perhaps the biggest question is how directly the candidates will attack one another. Some fights that were predicted in previous debates failed to materialize with candidates like Sanders and Warren in July joining forces to take on their rivals.

The White House hopefuls and their campaigns are sending mixed messages about how eager they are to make frontal attacks on anyone other than Trump.

That could mean the first meeting between Warren, the rising progressive calling for “big, structural change,” and Biden, the more cautious but still ambitious establishmentarian, doesn’t define the night. Or that Kamala Harris, the California senator, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, look to reclaim lost momentum not by punching upward but by reemphasizing their own visions for America.

Underscoring his establishment roots, Biden released a new ad hours before the debate aimed at deflecting further criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration. At the Detroit debate this summer, Biden said he was “a little surprised” at the flak he took from fellow Democrats about Obama’s legacy.

“He was a president our children could and did look up to,” Biden says in the new ad. “I was proud to serve as his vice president, but never more proud than the day we passed health care.”

Biden, who has led most national and early state polls since he joined the field in April, is downplaying the prospects of a titanic clash with Warren, despite their well-established policy differences on health care, taxes and financial regulation.

For her part, Warren says consistently that she has no interest in going after Democratic opponents.

Yet both campaigns are also clear that they don’t consider it a personal attack to draw sharp policy contrasts. Warren, who as a Harvard law professor once challenged then-Sen. Biden in a Capitol Hill hearing on bankruptcy law, has noted repeatedly that they have sharply diverging viewpoints. Her standard campaign pitch doesn’t mention Biden but is built around a plea that the “time for small ideas is over,” an implicit criticism of more moderate Democrats who want, for example, a public option health care plan instead of single-payer or who want to repeal Trump’s 2017 tax cuts but not necessarily raise taxes further.

Biden, likewise, doesn’t often mention Warren or Sanders. But he regularly contrasts the price tag of his public option insurance proposal to the single-payer system that Warren and Sanders back.

Ahead of the debate, the Biden campaign emphasized that he’s released more than two decades of tax returns, in contrast to the president. That’s a longer period than Warren, and it could reach back into part of her pre-Senate career when she did legal work that included some corporate law.

Biden’s campaign won’t say that he’d initiate any look that far back into Warren’s past, but in July, Biden was ready throughout the debate with specific counters for rivals who brought up weak spots in his record.

There are indirect avenues to chipping away at Biden’s advantages, said Democratic consultant Karen Finney, who advised Hillary Clinton in 2016. Finney noted Biden’s consistent polling advantages on the question of which Democrat can defeat Trump.

A Washington Post-ABC poll this week found that among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, Biden garnered 29% support overall. Meanwhile, 45% thought he had the best chance to beat Trump, even though just 24% identified him as the “best president for the country” among the primary field.

“That puts pressure on the others to explain how they can beat Trump,” Finney said.

Voters, Finney said, “want to see presidents on that stage,” and Biden, as a known quantity, already reaches the threshold. “If you’re going to beat him, you have to make your case.”

Some candidates say that’s their preferred path.

Harris, said spokesman Ian Sams, will “make the connection between (Trump’s) hatred and division and our inability to get things done for the country.”

Buttigieg, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to use his argument for generational change as an indirect attack on the top tier. The mayor is 37. Biden, Sanders and Warren are 76, 78 and 70, respectively — hardly a contrast to the 73-year-old Trump.

There’s also potential home state drama with two Texans in the race. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Obama housing secretary Julian Castro clashed in an earlier debate over immigration. Castro has led the left flank on the issue with a proposal to decriminalize border crossings.

For O’Rourke, it will be the first debate since a massacre in his hometown of El Paso prompted him to overhaul his campaign into a forceful call for sweeping gun restrictions, complete with regular use of the F-word in cable television interviews.

O’Rourke has given no indication of whether he’ll bring the rhetorical flourish to broadcast television.

The post Democratic Debate: Top 2020 Contenders Finally on Same Stage appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Boost Your Retirement Check

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Elizabeth Warren has a new plan for shoring up Social Security:

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts unveiled a plan on Thursday to give all recipients of Social Security benefits an extra $200 per month and to pay for it by raising taxes on the rich, her latest economic proposal to redistribute wealth in the United States.

….The largest portion of her plan, raising benefits for 64 million recipients by $200 a month, would cost more than $150 billion in its first year. The plan would also fundamentally alter the funding structure of the program, forcing the very rich to pay much more into Social Security in taxes than they would get out of it in benefits, while most Americans would get far more than they pay in.

Hmmm. I like the general idea, but I don’t see much point in raising everyone’s benefits. The middle class and the affluent don’t really need an increase, after all. I’d prefer to add, say, $300 to the benefits of the bottom third and leave it at that. This would cost half as much and do more overall good.

Politically, of course, it would once again leave out the middle class from a Democratic proposal to expand the safety net. I suppose the politics of Warren’s proposal might outweigh the pure economics.

The Mainstream Media’s Appetite for War is Insatiable

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On the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the illegal US occupation of Afghanistan continues as the longest overseas war in American history. Although President Donald Trump recently declared that peace negotiations over the withdrawal of US troops with the Taliban are “dead,” reportedly because of the death of a US soldier from a suicide bomb attack in Kabul last week, the status of future negotiations is still unclear.

The Costs of War Project has found that about 147,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan War since 2001, more than 38,000 of them civilians. However, corporate media continued to defend the “forever war” in Afghanistan by concern-trolling over an “overly hasty” withdrawal before the recent collapse in negotiations (FAIR.org1/31/19).

If signed, the deal would have had the US withdraw 5,400 of its 14,000 troops in Afghanistan within 135 days—bringing it down to about the same level of troops stationed there at the start of the Trump administration—with additional phased withdrawals contingent upon the Taliban’s promise to prevent Afghanistan from being a launching pad for international terrorist attacks, and progress on a political agreement between them and the Afghan government.

The Washington Post editorial board’s “Trump Risks Turning a Chance for Success in Afghanistan Into a Shameful Failure” (8/19/19) dismissed the deal as “weak” and a “flimsy accord,” and argued that there’s “little reason to abandon the country in haste.” The Post argued that Obama’s reduction of troops in Iraq was a “mistake” and cautioned that Trump should avoid repeating Obama’s mistake of “committing to troop pullouts from conflict zones without first ensuring that the result is not a political and military disaster,” citing the potential danger of a Taliban takeover and a strengthening of extremist groups. The editorial did not weigh the potential human rights abuses by a future Taliban government against the tens of thousands of civilians actually killed by the ongoing conflict; the only deaths the paper mentioned were those of US troops.

The Los Angeles Times (8/14/19) painted an especially ludicrous picture of the US as a benevolent savior in Afghanistan, after warning that an “overly hasty downsizing” of US military and civilian presence could risk “some of the progress made in human rights and development,” expressing concern that a reduction in “thousands of people” working at the US embassy and civilian aid programs would be “premature.” The LA Times said this despite massive USAID programs already having been criticized as “a failure and a waste of taxpayers’ money” by government watchdog groups, and functioning primarily as a pipeline of public funds into investors’ pockets (CounterPunch12/5/12).

When not editorializing against the Afghanistan negotiations in their coverage, corporate media went out of their way to grant anonymity and a platform to “critics” who characterized full US military withdrawal after almost 18 years of occupation as “premature” (New York Times9/7/19USA Today9/8/19) and worried about the US “giving up its leverage” (NBC News, 9/9/19).

The New York Times (8/2/19) gave a platform to retired generals Jack Keane and David Petraeus to lobby for keeping thousands of “Special Operations forces” in Afghanistan:

“US troops in Afghanistan have prevented another catastrophic attack on our homeland for 18 years,” General Keane said in an interview. “Expecting the Taliban to provide that guarantee in the future by withdrawing all US troops makes no sense.”

The Times might have pointed out that the September 11 attacks were carried out by militants based in the United States and recruited in Germany.

CNN’s  “Trump Meets Security Officials on Afghanistan as Concerns Mount About US Withdrawal” (8/16/19) featured anonymous “critics” who found that the “US/Taliban peace plan” could “end America’s longest-running war,” but “could also trigger a surrender for the US and a betrayal of the Afghan government.”

The Wall Street Journal (8/16/19) reported:

Critics of a prospective deal said any agreement with the Taliban amounts to defeat for the US-led effort, saying the Taliban seek to reclaim control of the country, not battle extremists or work with the Afghan government as the US had hoped.

The Washington Post (8/16/19) found that:

Some critics have expressed concern that the United States could be giving away much of its leverage by announcing a troop withdrawal up front, before progress in inter-Afghan negotiations has been achieved.

NBC News’ “US Withdrawal From Afghanistan Could Trigger ‘Catastrophic’ Civil War, Ex-US Diplomats Warn” (9/3/19), was based on an Atlantic Council commentary by nine former diplomats:

“A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace,” the former diplomats wrote. “The initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory.”

Who are these “critics,” and how come journalists don’t go out of their way to tap other kinds of sources for their reports? While there was no shortage of sources critical of US withdrawal efforts in these reports, corporate media hosted a narrow spectrum of debate by leaving no room for sources critical of the war’s moral and legal legitimacy who advocated a complete withdrawal.

The discussion also left out those who were critical of the “peace talks” for reasons that differ from those of hawkish government and military officials. Legal scholar Marjorie Cohn and the Costs of War Project have criticized the US/Taliban peace talks, arguing that they wouldn’t have led to real peace because they ignored the role of regional Afghan militias, funded and directed by the CIA, in subverting peace (Intercept8/21/19). These CIA-backed forces have violated laws of war designed to protect civilians by engaging in torture and killings with near impunity, pushing people toward the Taliban. Central to the US/NATO coalition’s security strategy, these militias carry out approximately seven times as many offensive operations against the Taliban as the regular Afghan forces (New York Times12/31/188/12/19).

Not only do corporate media credulously assume that the US has always been interested in peace, conveniently forgetting that the US rejected offers from the Taliban to hand Osama bin Laden over and surrender soon after the invasion (Intercept, 8/22/17), they also erroneously presume that the US possesses the legal and moral prerogative to enforce a deal to determine the future of Afghanistan.

While it’s certainly true that things could get worse if the US withdraws, these reports conveniently omit that the US military’s very presence is a major obstacle to peace in Afghanistan. Political scientist Robert Pape studied every  suicide bomb attack in the world since 1980, like the one ostensibly responsible for scuttling the peace talks. His finding: 95 percent of all suicide bombings are a response to military intervention, and often occupation (Nation12/2/15). The Taliban have long held that a complete withdrawal of foreign troops and an end to the occupation is a necessary precondition for any political settlement with the Afghan government.

Although the Afghan government and the international coalition—primarily the US—have caused most of the civilian deaths during the first six months of 2019, media scholar and FAIR contributor Greg Shupak is correct to point out (In These Times8/1/18):

The United States and its partners also share blame for Afghan civilian deaths caused by anti-government forces. According to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg conducted after World War II, a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” What this means is that whoever starts a war is responsible for all the atrocities that occur in that war. The 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan was a war of aggression. The attack was not authorized by the United Nations, which means it was illegal.

FAIR has documented that corporate media have often covered for the US government’s role in cultivating Muslim extremists (Extra!1/02), and for its effective cooperation with Osama bin Laden’s explicit strategy of bogging the US down in expensive, bloody wars in Muslim countries (Extra!7/11).

The Afghans are one of the least happy populations ever recorded (Gallup, 10/26/18). Yet corporate media’s propagandistic coverage discourages the US from doing the one thing that might help change that: get out.

The post The Mainstream Media’s Appetite for War is Insatiable appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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