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Oct. 27 2016 9:04 AM

Trump Campaign Brags About Its Ongoing “Voter Suppression Operations”

Bloomberg has a big story Thursday about the Trump campaign's data targeting operation and how it could be used to continue to make Donald Trump a political/media force after the election's over. For immediate purposes, though, this is probably the most newsworthy section of the piece:

Instead of expanding the electorate, [campaign chairman Steve] Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

Sounds very sinister! What this turns out to mean in practice, though, is that the campaign is targeting specific Trump sound bites and negative Facebook posts about Clinton toward specific demographic groups.

  • "Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters."
  • "The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women."
  • And some black Americans will see a Facebook post about Clinton discussing "superpredators" in 1996. (Clinton used the term in the context of a speech praising the racially controversial 1994 crime bill but did not use it to describe black citizens in particular.)

That's less ominous, and doesn't even seem particularly novel. Nonetheless, "don't brag about committing 'voter suppression' " is probably a pretty good rule of politics. Read the whole story here.

Oct. 26 2016 9:37 PM

GOP Congressman Says He Will Not “Defend or Endorse” Trump During Public Endorsement of Trump

This is a professional—and disingenuous—parsing job Wednesday by Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah.

Chaffetz "pulled" his endorsement of the Republican nominee several weeks ago due to his personal outrage at the the Access Hollywood tapes. "I'm out," he said at the time.

Totally out.  

Oct. 26 2016 9:13 PM

DNC Sues RNC Claiming Trump’s “Ballot Security” Effort Is Illegal Voter Intimidation

The Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee in a New Jersey federal court Wednesday, claiming that the RNC has supported and enabled Donald Trump in his claims the election is “rigged,” which, the suit says, is designed to illegally “intimidate and discourage minority voters from voting in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Specifically, the DNC’s suit says that Trump’s efforts to enlist supporters to engage in voter intimidation or “ballot security,” particularly in “other communities”—read: minority communities—violates a decades-old court order designed to prohibit attempts at voter suppression.

Here’s an excerpt of the filing:

The RNC’s support of Trump’s efforts to recruit “watchers” who are intended to intimidate voters at their polling places violates this Court’s Consent Decree as modified in 2009, which explicitly forbid the RNC from engaging in so-called “ballot security” measures directly, indirectly, or through its agents or employees...
The Consent Decree arose from the RNC’s efforts in the early 1980s to interrogate and intimidate registered voters in predominantly African-American precincts in New Jersey… Specifically, the Decree prohibits the RNC from “undertaking any ballot security activities” where “a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Id. “[T]he conduct of [ballot security] activities disproportionately in or directed toward districts that have a substantial proportion of racial or ethnic populations shall be considered relevant evidence of such a . . .  purpose...”
After this Court modified the Consent Decree in 2009, the RNC appealed, arguing that the Decree violated its First Amendment rights, and that this Court had abused its discretion in declining to vacate the decree. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting the RNC’s arguments...
... Yet the RNC has collaborated with the Trump campaign to organize and engage in prohibited poll monitoring activities, including, at a minimum, “the use of challengers to confront potential voters and verify their eligibility at the polls on either Election Day or a day on which they may take advantage of state early voting procedures.” The Court should therefore order the RNC to show cause why it should not be held in civil contempt for violating the Consent Decree, and issue sanctions to address the violations.

Oct. 26 2016 7:33 PM

Today's Trump Apocalypse Watch: Even Republicans Think Trump Is Going to Lose


The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

As someone who has more than once voted for a losing candidate in a presidential election, I can tell you that the impulse to believe that your candidate is going to win is a strong one. I can also tell you that Republicans, as a whole, do not currently share this impulse. From Reuters:

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday and conducted from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24 found that 41 percent of Republicans expected Clinton to win the Nov. 8 election, versus 40 percent who picked Trump.
That reflected a sharp decline in confidence from last month, when 58 percent of Republicans said they thought their party's nominee would win, versus 23 percent who expected Clinton to prevail.

That is not the sign of a robust campaign! On the other hand, Nate Silver notes that FiveThirtyEight's projections gave the San Antonio Spurs the same chance of beating the Golden State Warriors last night as FiveThirtyEight's projections give Trump of winning the election. The Spurs won that game by 29 points, which is enough to singlehandedly panic me into raising our danger level to one horseman.


Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

Oct. 26 2016 7:30 PM

Pentagon To Return Bonuses to Veterans After Having Clawed Them Away

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that it was halting a program that was clawing back improperly administered bonuses from thousands of enlisted and formerly enlisted men and women.

The move is a victory for veterans advocates after a blockbuster report by David S. Cloud in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday revealed the program, which was aimed at recovering widespread overpayments by the California Guard that were meant to entice people to join during the height of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

About 9,700 soldiers, many veterans of those wars, had been asked to pay bonuses back and many had begun to do so. Cloud chronicled some of the struggles of those veterans to fight to keep payments that they had been given wrongfully through no fault of their own and that had served as an inducement to get them to join the armed forces in a time of great need for the country.

After pressure from lawmakers in Washington, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced on Wednesday a suspension of the program. The Pentagon would not be offering a blanket allowance of all soldiers to keep their bonuses, but would be examining things on a case-by-case basis and would be returning bonuses to some of those soldiers who had already paid back money that the Pentagon said they had been wrongfully given.

Cloud had reported that the recoupment effort had already brought back more than $22 million to the Department of Defense at the time of his article’s publication, and it was unclear how the Pentagon would determine who to pay back what. Carter announced that a team of senior Defense officials would be crafting by Jan. 1 “a streamlined, centralized process that ensures the fair and equitable treatment of our service members and the rapid resolution of these cases.” The deadline for resolving the cases would be July 1, 2017, Carter added.

Peter Levine, the acting undersecretary of defense, will lead the process. He told reporters that the reason there would be no blanket give-back, which some in Congress have pushed for, is that it would set a bad precedent and that some of the soldiers were asked to give back money for legitimate reasons such as not completing their enlistment contracts.

“If we make an exception for the person in California who did not meet their service obligation, why would anybody meet their service obligation in the future?” he said.

Cloud documented how some soldiers had their credit scores badly impacted by the debt collection induced by the Pentagon, but Levine announced that there was nothing that the Department of Defense could do about that.

“Each case is going to need to be evaluated on its own merits,” he added. “We need to set up criteria to determine which cases we need to review and how many should be off the table.”

Oct. 26 2016 6:24 PM

The Crazy Republican-Endorsed Logic Behind “If Trump Loses, I’m Grabbing My Musket.”

Former Republican Congressman and Tea Party darling Joe Walsh took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce his post-election day plans. “On November 9th,” he wrote, “if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?”

Walsh frequently says horrific things on Twitter, and it may be tempting to write off this latest proclamation as his standard fevered lunacy. But as I noted in August, this sentiment—that a Donald Trump loss might justify the violent overthrow of a Hillary Clinton administration—is really just the logical endpoint of a longtime GOP talking point. The National Rifle Association has longed peddled the “insurrectionist” theory of the Second Amendment, arguing that the right to bear arms was intended to protect citizens against a tyrannical ruler. According to this theory, individuals must have access to firearms in order to revolt against an overly oppressive government. The purpose of the amendment, then, isn’t merely self-defense, but a right to assassinate a leader who unduly restricts liberty.

Although this insurrectionist theory is entirely made up and utterly foreign to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, it has gained a foothold in the Republican Party. In 2010, Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle suggested that Nevadans might use “Second Amendment remedies” to punish an overly liberal Congress. In 2014, Iowa Republican (and current senator) Jodi Ernst proclaimed that she had a right to defend herself and her family “from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” During his campaign for the presidential nomination, Texas Republican Ted Cruz asserted that the Second Amendment provides “a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny—for the protection of liberty.” And of course, in August, Donald Trump implied that “Second Amendment people” might murder Hillary Clinton should she appoint liberal Supreme Court justices.

Given the GOP’s embrace of the insurrectionist theory, Walsh’s statement should not be at all shocking. In a follow-up tweet, he clarified that he was encouraging “protesting. Participating in acts of civil disobedience. Doing what it takes to get our country back.” Under his party’s view of the Second Amendment, “doing what it takes to get our country back” includes assassinating political leaders whom one deems to be oppressive. Oppression, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. And the GOP has already primed its supporters to fight back against whatever oppression Hillary Clinton might bring—muskets at the ready.

Oct. 26 2016 6:04 PM

Trump Created Trump Magazine With the Help of Boiler-Room Penny-Stock Scam Artists


It seems like there is sleaze under every rock in Trumpworld. The Trump Foundation takes money from donors and spends it on causes that benefit Donald Trump personally. Trump "University" was a high-pressure sales organization selling basically worthless real estate advice. The Trump SoHo tower was built with a partner who'd been convicted of felony assault and racketeering. Trump owned beauty pageants in part so he could ogle women as young as 15 in changing rooms. The co-founder of "Latinos for Trump" is a guy whose real estate license was suspended for improper transactions involving client funds. It goes on and on and on and goddamn on.

In a piece published Tuesday, Fusion turned over a new rock—the short-lived 2000s publication Trump Magazine—and found that it was backed by investors and promoters with histories of involvement in securities fraud. You should read the whole article for a thorough look at how a Trump B.S. sausage gets made, but here's the outline:

  • Trump owned 20 percent of a company called Premiere that was formed in 2005 to produce Trump Magazine. Premiere paid Trump licensing fees of at least $855,000.
  • Premiere made an IPO on a penny-stock exchange on Aug. 9, 2006. Penny stocks are not necessarily scams, but are often used in "pump-and-dump" schemes in which a stock's price is raised artificially via unethical and dishonest sales tactics, allowing initial stockholders to cash in. Then the company and the stock collapses and random suckers are left holding the bag.
  • In addition to Trump himself, other entities that held Premiere shares before the IPO included companies including "Legend Merchant Group" and "Lion Advisors" and individuals including one Howard Appel and one Chris Janish. (It's not clear how Trump became involved with all of these particular people/groups.)
  • Premiere stock was sold to members of the public via techniques including cold-calling and the distribution of a newsletter that falsely claimed Premiere was on the verge of signing an agreement with Disney to produce a Trump cartoon. After briefly rising in price, the stock cratered and the company went out of business a year after its IPO. (One humorous note: Premiere did hire a woman named Elizabeth Koshy to make a pilot for the cartoon. She told Fusion she was able to give Trump a low bid because her company outsourced the nuts and bolts of animation to workers in India. And that it took her a year for her to get paid, and that when she did get paid she only got 2/3 of what she was actually owed.)
  • Legend Merchant Group was later shut down by regulators that discovered it had engaged in fraudulent activities in cases unrelated to Trump. It also turns out that Lion Advisors was operated out of the Caribbean by a woman who'd been sanctioned by Canadian authorities for "manipulation and fraud" involving a penny-stock exchange, that Howard Appel has a long history of involvement in penny-stock fraud and would serve prison time in 2008, and that Chris Janish was later sentenced to prison for penny-stock fraud. Meanwhile, the CPA Premiere had hired to deal with its regulatory filings later had his license revoked for having engaged in unethical behavior—and was sued by the SEC over his involvement with a penny stock.

Fusion's piece is careful to note—as is Slate!—that this does not constitute evidence that Premiere/Trump Magazine was itself a fraudulent scheme, or that one Donald J. Trump committed any criminal act. The crimes and violations that the individuals and entities above were convicted of or sanctioned for did not involve Premiere. (There's also no available evidence at this time that those individuals and entities made profits on Premiere—i.e. that they carried out the "dump" part of the pump-and-dump process). But this is all evidence that Donald Trump was personally involved in a short-lasted penny-stock enterprise with individuals and companies that have histories of penny-stock fraud and other regulatory violations.

It is, in other words, more evidence that Donald Trump is thoroughly enmeshed in a network of scumbags. And incidentally, as you can see above, if you did happen to pick up a copy of Trump Magazine in spring 2006, you would have gotten a "tip" indicating that the crack staff at Trump University did not believe that the U.S. housing market was in a "bubble." Just months later, the real estate crash that crippled the American economy would begin. It goes on and on.

Oct. 26 2016 4:54 PM

Ivanka Says Trump Hotel Workers Love Her Dad. Wednesday’s Protest at His New Hotel Suggests Otherwise.

Donald Trump took some time out of his busy presidential campaign schedule on Wednesday to campaign for his brand. Appearing onstage with his favorite children at the opening of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., Trump said, “Today is a metaphor for what we can accomplish for this country.”

Today might also be a metaphor for the entire Trump campaign—the long con and cynical ploy of a craven businessman who has turned the presidential election into a massive, free advertising campaign for his dumb brand. And today is one other thing, too: It is the moment Trump, by explicitly merging his campaign and his business interests, assured that all the hostility he inspired with the former will linger around the latter.

That was certainly true outside of the hotel, where about a hundred protesters gathered on Wednesday morning, many marching on behalf of workers trying to unionize at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel. Holding up signs that read “Boycott Trump Old Post Office Hotel. Trump Las Vegas Hotel Must Negotiate” and “Stand With Immigrant Workers,” members of D.C. labor organizations and other anti-Trump protesters marched in a circle around the plaza in front of the hotel. The entrance steps, where the ribbon cutting ceremony was originally set to take place, was blocked by huge banners that read “Shame on Trump” and “Immigrants & Muslims Are Welcome Here—Trump Hotel Is Not.” One woman propped up a sign on her wheelchair that read “Don’t Mock Us.”

Some backstory on the union protest: Last December, hotel workers at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas voted to join the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders Union, part of the national hospitality workers union Unite Here. Sarah Jacobson, an organizing director at Unite Here in D.C., told Slate at the rally that the Trump Organization “has refused to accept the results of those elections and has not come to the bargaining table.” Unite Here launched a boycott in September of all Trump properties until Trump, the only presidential candidate looking out for the American worker, negotiates a labor union contract with his own.

The protest was attended by several local advocacy organizations. Manny Peralta, an officer with the National Association of Letter Carriers, which has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, told Slate that Trump was a “coward” and that his spokespeople were “chicken” for not addressing the protesters.

“We know that Donald has spoken up about how he favors working men and women—it’s absolute BS,” Peralta said.

In her remarks at the ceremony inside, Ivanka Trump thanked Trump hotel workers for their support.

“One of the most telling signs of his success over decades is the thousands of people who have worked with him, worked for him, fought with him, and who continue to stand by his side in their quest to achieve great things,” she said.

Yeah, today is a metaphor for something.

Oct. 26 2016 4:30 PM

Has Alex Jones Gone Full Anti-Semite?

Has Alex Jones gone full anti-Semite? That is the question raised by a rant on Tuesday from the country’s second-leading purveyor of conspiracy theories.

In it, Jones focuses most of his fire on the brothers Ari, Ezekiel, and Rahm Emanuel and the outsized influence he claims they have as a family over American policy.

“They’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption I’m anti-Semitic,” Jones began, before calling the Emanuel brothers the leaders of the “Jewish mafia.”

“There’s mafias of all different stripes and groups but since you want to talk about it, the Emanuels are Jewish mafia,” he continued. “But, I mean it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.”

Superagent Ari Emanuel had a sizable investment in Uber, Ezekiel Emanuel was one of the designers of the Affordable Care Act, and Rahm Emanuel was a top figure in the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations before becoming mayor of Chicago. None of them are known to be in any mafia.

Salon notes that you wouldn’t be alone if you thought these latest comments sounded anti-Semitic. Vox, meanwhile, has pointed to the latest tirade as a sign that Jones believes “Jews run an evil conspiracy.”

But again, is this stuff new? And how much of it is anti-Semitism and how much is just Jones expressing his insane conspiracy based worldview that happens to overlap with lots of anti-Semitic thought?

The first answer is that Jones’ Jewish mafia talk is not new at all. In fact, he has made similar comments in the past at moments when he’s tried to criticize explicit anti-Semites for personally attacking him for the ethnic Jewishness of some of his family members.

In a 2013 interview with Howard Stern, Jones described how the alt-right fever swamps have regularly attacked him as a secret Israeli and/or Jewish agent because he was married to a woman of Jewish heritage and thus had children of Jewish heritage (he and his wife have since divorced). Jones said he felt that he and his family had been the victims of anti-Semitism while also saying he believed in a “Jewish mafia” and explaining what he meant by the term:

Every group has mafias in it. There’s a Jewish mafia, there’s a Muslim mafia, there’s Irish mafia, there’s Italian mafia, so what’s happened is that some of the Jewish interest groups like [the Anti-Defamation League] and others they’ve gone way too far demonizing people that criticize [someone like Bernie Madoff].
They try to use the anti-Semitic label to demonize anybody who is standing up for the Palestinians. … But separately, [I am] experiencing the fact that because my wife’s part Jewish, then they go, ‘well, that makes your kids little hooked nosed Jews, we want to kill them.’ And that’s all over the web where they want to kill my kids. So my issue is the nastiest people I’ve run into, I’ve got to say, are the Jew-obsessed folks, who by the way, think that no one can be successful unless they’re Jewish. So now they say, I’m Jewish. And I’ve never had any success with working hard, I’ve been successful because the Jews have done everything for me.

So, there he sounds like someone who at least understands that anti-Semitism is bad from personal experience. In 2011, he was also harshly critical of an explicitly anti-Semitic caller to his show.

“To sit there and then say that all the ills in the world are then caused by Jews is wrong. Jews are a very diverse wide group of people who have a lot of different political ideas,” he says. “I am Jewish. Now I’m not, but with talk like that—you want to kill the Jews you’re going to have to kill me.”

Again, here he used the “Jewish mafia” formulation while confronting that caller:

When you sit there and say wipe out all the Jews, there’s so many Zionist documents that are public where they admit, ‘oh this is great, Jews will be persecuted’ and then basically the Jewish mafia can sit on top of them and suck off of them and get donations from them and use them for their own power. How do you think the Italian mafia operated… Or the Irish mafia… That’s how these mafias developed. So we have spoken out against the Jewish mafia, and that’s what it is.

It was really hard for me to suss out my own feelings about this language. Whether intentionally or not, he’s clearly using anti-Semitic dog whistles—and has been for a long time—to criticize Israel affiliated groups and institutions. But these are groups that Jews themselves sometimes criticize, and he hasn’t historically framed the argument as Jews being at the top of some global conspiracy theory.

Here’s what he said on Tuesday:

Well why are you labeling the TPP Jewish, I mean it’s got Jews involved in it just like it’s got everybody else. It’s communist Chinese, global government, Japan, I mean all these groups—but again, I’m gonna skip this break, it’s injected into it that you must be anti-Semitic. So, I was just sitting back and—let me then, I guess I better do some exposes on the Jewish mafia.

To Jones, everyone with power is a member of some sort of mafia and hence Jews with power are part of the Jewish mafia. Again, this language is ugly and plays to the worst sort of anti-Semitism, but it appears connected to a broader worldview about global power tied in with Jones’ general conspiracy insanity.

I did, however, find this speech from the start of the first Obama administration, again specifically about Rahm Emanuel, in which Jones seems to attribute some sort of control of United States policy to Israel.

I’ve just got to say it, it was one thing with the last administration and I was hoping it was a fluke and was going to stop, but come on folks, every key person in the Bush administration and now in this next administration just so happen to be the sons and daughters of the founders of Israel and Mossad chiefs and people, and they’re openly not even really U.S. citizens, and they’re openly are at the head of the table in anti-gun operations in the U.S.

“Is it not enough that Israel had fingerprints all over 9/11?” he then said. “The executive branch is nothing but a nozzle to suck up the wealth and the treasury of this country and offshore it.”

So, yeah, that was pretty anti-Semitic. But again, it’s all part and parcel of a larger worldview that attributes everything to some unseen hands that some Jews just happen to be a part of. Either way, it’s a great thing that Donald Trump has brought this totally reasonable political figure into the mainstream American political dialogue.

Oct. 26 2016 4:15 PM

The U.S. Just Stopped Defending Its Cuba Embargo at the U.N.

In an annual tradition now in its 25th year, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba. But things were a little different this year as, for the first time, the United States abstained rather than vote against the condemnation of one of its own policies.

The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to normalize relations with Cuba, including a visit by the president to the island earlier this year and the resumption of commercial flights. But the vast majority of the trade restrictions under the more than 50-year-old embargo can only be lifted by Congress. And Republicans in Congress do not want to do that.

Explaining the abstention Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power called the annual resolution “a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working—or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve.” Rather than isolating Cuba, Power argued, it had only isolated the United States.

Indeed, in recent years the U.S. could typically only count on the support of Israel and several small Pacific islands in the lopsided vote. Last year, the first time the vote was held since the normalization process began, it was just Israel.

Still, it’s pretty striking to see a U.S. administration unwilling to defend the country’s own laws, and the fact that it feels comfortable doing so less than two weeks before Florida voters head to the polls in a presidential election, says a lot about how the politics surrounding this issue have changed. The Cuba embargo is increasingly unpopular, even among Cuban American voters in Florida, to the point that Hillary Clinton made her opposition to the “failed policy” a campaign issue in the state.

That doesn’t mean the embargo is going to be lifted: It still has some powerful backers in Congress who care more deeply about this issue than the embargo opponents. But at least the administration, and assuming Clinton wins, its successor, are no longer in the awkward position of defending a policy at the U.N. that they strongly condemn at home.