No Benefit of the Doubt for Trump—Campaign Pledges He’d Refrain from Torture, then Candidate Promises to “Go Further” than Waterboarding

Sunday March 6 Update:
The latest update to Trump’s pro-torture gambit came last night after the primaries and caucuses, when he said he wants to change the laws (“extend” them was his word) so as to permit waterboarding, and more extreme measures. So it really would be like VP Cheney again, with the Executive rewriting the laws to suit their agenda. This is an excellent article by Rosa Brooks about the possible response among the serving military to a Trump presidency. Here’s a tweet I wrote last night after the post-voting statements by Trump.

Yesterday, when the Trump campaign supposedly altered the candidate’s pro-torture stance, and walked back his intention, if elected president, to compel US forces to waterboard prisoners, and commit worse illegal acts, I posted this on my Facebook page:

Annoyed that much of the media will accept ‪#‎Drumpf‬’s claim he wouldn’t try&compel US troops to break international law. All his campaign did today is walk it back, lest he seem like the wannabe war criminal he’s already repeatedly promised to be, eager to commit torture with gusto. A possible Trump presidency augurs a repeat of Cheney-ism, and the press shouldn’t fall for this hasty revision. Even the headline at TPM, “Trump Does About-Face On Torture: I Won’t Order Military to ‘Disobey’ Law,”  gives the walk-back credence it doesn’t deserve.

Turns out, as the first press release was landing in reporters’ in-boxes, Trump, at a rally in Warren, Michigan, once again promised to use waterboarding and said that the US under him “should go much further.” Thanks to Right-Wing Watch for reporting on this, and for posting the video at their website. I’m playing catch-up now to report on the incoherence of the statements of the campaign and the candidate, but will some other news-gatherers do the same? Come on media, help me out, fact-checking Trump is a full-time job!

This episode shows why Trump should never have the benefit of doubt on matters like this, or on his supposed ‘disavowal’ of David Duke and the KKK, especially because we know that a Memphis rally last week White nationalist James Edwards was given press credentials and did radio broadcasts from the hall for three hours, during which he did a lengthy interview with Donald Trump, Jr.

The Republican Establishment Tries Striking Back, Finally

It’s ironic that while DEMs are worrying, pondering, and agonizing over whether our own nominee will be able to defeat the likely Republican nominee Trump, it suddenly seems, with Mitt Romney giving his well-written and well-delivered throw-down speech, they are from their upper echelons really finally going to try and prevent Trump from becoming their candidate. I’ve even noticed that neocons are massing to knock Trump out on national security grounds. I see the Party as an institution trying to muster all its internal cohesion to try and in a coordinated way deny Trump the nod, and stop what they see as a foreign invasion of the party, even with the dangers this entails now. To risk the all-out civil war that will erupt in their ranks, I believe the Rs may have internal polling and election models that show them definitely losing the presidency by a large margin, also the Senate, and even putting at risk their House majority with Trump at the top of the ticket.

The irony I began this post with applies as I end it: worried though DEMs are about vanquishing Trump and his strange celebrity charisma, it’s also possible that the Republican panics signifies what few DEMs fully believe, nervous as we are. If we do oppose Trump, we may defeat him in a landslide. If he is denied the nomination over the next few weeks, next we can worry about being deprived of the opportunity of running against him. If so, then we can begin imagining who might lead the Republican ticket—one of the remaining three, Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich—or someone as yet undeclared. Paul Ryan? Mitt Romney, again?

Meanwhile, DEMs of which I am one, will continue watching from the sidelines, with steadily rising anxiety, much more severe than in other election years, and much earlier in the cycle than is typical. We have eight months to go, and every day brings another menacing bizarreness.

Here’s a screenshot the first few paragraphs of Romney’s speech today. For the complete text, you may click here.

The Shape of the General Election, about Eight Months from November

I’ve read almost a half-dozen stories this morning with what feels like an explosion of updated and new reporting about the unvarnished racism and excessive authoritarianism of the Republican Party.

1)  Trump declining to disavow support by the KKK, on one Sunday morning show, and claiming he doesn’t know who David Duke is on another. About both, he told interviewers he has to consider the matter before deciding if he’ll condemn them, or not, accept their support, or not.
2) Then there’s the reminder that Rep Scalise of Louisiana, third in leadership in the House, modeled his political appeal on Duke’s popularity in the state with white nationalists, which Scalise has even conceded (He said in an early campaign, “I’m like David Duke, without the baggage.” Sorry, guy, not true anymore.)
3) I can’t leave out the revelations that Trump spoke approvingly of the Chinese government’s 1989 crackdown in Tianamen Square, praising it for being a “strong” response.
4) Nor omit the Republican frontrunner’s penchant for retweeting Mussolini quotes, which Gawker pranked him in to doing this morning.
So I have a question about all this:
If the Republicans’ racism and authoritarianism are this plain eight months before the general election—with the public and media increasingly aware of them, especially on a day like this, when it seems to have really broken through the media’s invincible shield—what is the general election going to look like in November? As I’ve written previously on this blog, there will be No “‘Etch-a-Sketch’ Moment” for Donald Trump, not after the most extreme primary campaign in my voting lifetime. (I began voting in 1976, when I got to vote for Jimmy Carter over Pres Ford). Democrats have lost some and won some over those years, so I fear anything’s possible, but really, the Republicans have run the most extreme primary campaign in my lifetime, perhaps in American history, and I don’t believe they can plausibly tack to the center after this—even if they want to—for that is the place, like or not, where most US elections are eventually won. That is where the Democrats will be, with a majority of the nation behind them.

About the Chris Christie Endorsement of Trump and Early Mulling on the VP Question

Trump knew wags would instantly speculate about Chris Christie as a possible VP or cabinet pick if he’s the nominee, which keeps the frontrunner ever more aloft in the news cycle. And it serves his purpose to be looking like presumptive nominee, mulling his future options, even though candidates at other times have been smacked down with ‘measuring the drapes’ attacks. But while some so-called experts will be apt to see the NJ guv as an ideal attack dog against a DEM nominee, especially Hillary in the fall, and in the VP debate. Remember though he would also bring seriously bad baggage from NJ that could blow up during the campaign. Consider that Romney declined to pick Christie after vetting him.

All this underscores how in this campaign year of all campaign years, the VP choice made by the DEMs, especially if it’s Hillary’s choice to make, will be critical because that person will among many key assets have to be 1) an articulate and agile defender of the head of the ticket, and 2) capable of batting back the insane stuff the members of the opposing ticket and their surrogates and supporters will surely be lobbing toward the DEM ticket amid a media environment that for now is still infatuated with Trump—witness CNN’s ridiculous decision to give Trump several interviews after last night’s raucous debate. With host Chris Cuomo, he of the ill-fitting sportcoats, Trump bizarrely claimed he’s been audited frequently by the IRS because he’s “a strong Christian.” Couldn’t be because he runs a sketchy business?

If Trump is the Republican nominee, the Democratic running mate will be the one tasked with parrying the daily insults, barbs, and baseless allegations made by the billionaire and his campaign.

Also a must-read today: Dana Milbank’s darkly funny column, “Donald Trump’s ‘Captain Underpants’ campaign“, where he assesses the grade level of the candidates’ statements.


Sanders’ Ugly Claim that Hillary’s Pandering to African-American Voters

I put this up on Facebook earlier today, and want to share it here, too. Could’ve written it here first—here’s a screenshot of what I wrote, and a link to it.

As some here will know, I'm supporting Hillary Clinton for president and look forward to voting for her in the April 19…

Posted by Philip Turner on Friday, 19 February 2016

What Might’ve Been If George W Bush Had Not Become President in 2001?

During the extremely weird #GOPDebate last Saturday night, the most intense I-live-on-a-different-planet-from-these-people-moment for me came when Marco Rubio, after Trump’s mostly accurate slam on George W. Bush over 9/11 and Iraq, rallied to Bush’s defense and proclaimed emphatically how GLAD he is that Al Gore was not president on Sept 11, 2001! This happens to be the exact opposite of how I feel about the past 15+ years of our history. Though a counter-factual can’t be proven, I have long believed it possible that if Gore had become president after the 2000 election, with the Clinton administration’s counter-terrorism team still in place headed up by Richard Clarke—whose vigorous but futile efforts to get the new Bush administration focused on Al Qaeda are helpfully reprised by Peter Beinart in an Atlantic column today, headed “Trump is Right”—the country may well have averted the terrible attacks on 9/11, the excessive homeland security apparatus that was installed afterward, the invasion of Iraq, and all that has flowed since from the Al Qaeda plot.

Although I shudder at the thought of Trump becoming president, I do think his critique of the Bush presidency could be a salutary thing for the Republican party, finally persuading some of its rank and file that George W Bush and his administration failed to heed numerous warning about Al Qaeda, and that he does bear a large share of responsibility for failing to prevent the attacks on 9/11. For a good analysis of Trump’s position, unheard within the Republican party until now, I also recommend Paul Waldman’s Washington Post column, “Why Donald Trump’s 9/11 heresy won’t cost him any primary votes.”

Alexander Litvinenko, Targeted by a Breadcrumb Trail of Deadly Radiation

Agency Update: Some weeks after I wrote and published the post below, I licensed Amy Knight’s book to the Thomas Dunne Books imprint at St Martin’s Press. The manuscript is already being edited and the book, ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder,  will be published in September 2017.

One of my author clients as a literary agent is a historian and scholar named Amy Knight. In 2006, when I was working as an acquiring editor at Carroll & Graf, I published her fifth book, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, on the Soviet cypher clerk, Ghouzenko, who in September 1945 became arguably the first defector of the Cold War; he ultimately found asylum in Canada, and would later appear in media there disguised as he’s shown on the cover of the edition we brought out. I was amazed that this episode had occurred even while WWII was still ongoing. From Knight’s website, I note that she “earned her PhD in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977….She’s taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. In 1993-94, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly.” She speaks Russian, and is especially knowledgable on the Russian security services, a veritable alphabet soup of state authorities that Putin has emphatically turned to his purposes since becoming Russian president in 1999.

Titled Orders from Above: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, her new book promises to be the definitive account of the Kremlin’s lethal targeting of opponents inside Russia and in the West during the Putin years. A key part of it will chronicle in riveting tick-tock detail the 2006 murder-by-radiation of Alexander Litvinenko, who during the early part of his career was a member of the Russian security services, though by 1998 was a critic Russia’s security service devoted to counter-intelligence, organized crime, and anti-terrorism, the FSB. He had been in prison twice, for supposed insubordination. In 1999, terror struck in Moscow, when a whole apartment block was bombed, killing more than 300 people. The government quickly blamed it on Chechen insurgents, charging that the rebels, still smarting from their loss of the war in Chechnya earlier that decade were bent on revenge against ordinary Russians. But critics, including Litvinenko, believed the crime had emerged from within the regime, an atrocity committed to confirm a sort of bogeyman population in Russia’s midst, an internal enemy they could blame for many wrongs in the society. In 2000, after being released from prison a second time, he fled the country with his wife and son, eventually finding asylum in London where he found succor from another Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, for whom he worked while continuing to agitate against Putin’s rule. In November 2006, he was poisoned with polonium-2010-laced green tea during a midday meeting with his clumsy assassins, who left a breadcrumb trail of radioactive contamination all over London, even on the airplane they’d boarded in Russia.

This morning in London, the British government released its official report on the death of Litvninenko, an inquiry long sought by his widow Marina. The magistrate, Sir Robert Owen, announced the findings to a tribunal where Knight was in attendance, on assignment from NY Review of Books editor Robert Silvers for the NYRB blog. As reported by the BBC and the NY Times, Owen accused “Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a Red Army deserter,” of  poisoning Litvinenko at the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov 1, 2006. What’s more he laid the planning of the murder on the doorstep of the FSB, while concluding in careful, lawyerly language that Putin himself is “probably” responsible for Litvinenko’s ghastly death. When Knight posts her own report on the Inquiry, I’ll share the blog here.

This is just the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines book I always enjoyed working on as an in-house editor, so I’m excited to be working with Amy Knight again, this time from the agent side of the desk.

Did the Koch Brothers’ Help Dad Build an Oil Refinery for Adolf Hitler?

Wow, this is going to be a blockbuster book. Jane Mayer’s latest, due out Jan 19th, is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It’s the subject of a NY Times news article tonight by Nicholas Confessore who must’ve gotten an early copy.  He reports on the collective portrait of rightwing billionaire families, including Richard Mellon Scaife, who before his death in 2014 spent more than a billion dollars of his Mellon family fortune pushing conservative causes; most notably, in the 1990s he harassed Bill Clinton through the infamous American Spectator magazine (see “Troopergate” if you need a reminder). I recall of this with firsthand memory because in the early 2000s I edited and published Susan MacDougal’s memoir of the years she was pursued by Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk: Why I Wouldn’t Testify the Clintons and What I Learned in Jail., whose probe was an outgrowth of Scaife’s bankrolling Whitewater into a faux scandal. After discussing Scaife, the book examines an earlier brother pair, Lynde and Harry Bradley; and the DeVos family of Michigan. Apparently, Mayer then moves on to the bulk of her book, the Koch family. Confessore releases this explosive finding from Mayer’s investigation:

“The book is largely focused on the Koch family, stretching back to its involvement in the far-right John Birch Society and the political and business activities of their father, Fred C. Koch, who found some of his earliest business success overseas in the years leading up to World War II. One venture was a partnership with the American Nazi sympathizer William Rhodes Davis, who, according to Ms. Mayer, hired Mr. Koch to help build the third-largest oil refinery in the Third Reich, a critical industrial cog in Hitler’s war machine.”

As editor, I also acquired IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001, Crown Publishingby Edwin Black, and on this website blogged several times about The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand. I have an eye for these sort of titles, and I’m sure this one by Mayer will be fascinating, and important.