Elon Musk is Putin's (and China's) Useful Idiot
I regret to inform you that this newsletter may make you fat.
The Wapo reports that things like inflation, pandemics, wars, and coups “have caused stress levels in the United States to surge to new highs,” and that for many of you, “that stress is showing up on the scale.” I won’t go into the “many biological mechanisms” that translate stress and anxiety into fat, but I have to warn you that today’s Morning Shots probably won’t help.
ICYMI: From last night’s debate in Ohio:
Screenshots are an awkward thing:
A new poll shows the Ohio race on a razor’s edge: “Vance leads 47%-45%, a shift from Ryan’s one-point advantage last month, 47%-46%. Both findings are within the survey’s 4.4 percentage-point margin of error.”
Meanwhile, in Utah…
GOP Senator Mike Lee faced off with independent challenger Evan McMullin. Via Mediaite:
“Senator Lee, you sought to find a weakness in our system. You advised the White House, find an alternative slate of electors for Trump to overturn the will of the people. That’s what you said,” McMullin told Lee, referring to Lee’s Dec. 8, 2020 text to Meadows suggesting that some states that voted for Biden could send alternate slates of Trump electors to the Electoral College instead, thus pushing Trump over the top.
You said the president should listen to legal quack Sydney Powell, “Please make time for her, let her in,” you told the White House chief of staff. You told the president that you were working overtime – 14 hours a day, I think you said – to unravel this for him, to keep a president who had been voted out of office according to the will of the people in power despite the will of the people. Senator Lee, it is a betrayal of the American republic. You were there to stand up for our constitution, but when the barbarians were at the gate you were happy to let them in.
And here’s your fat-inducing story of the day
Voters overwhelmingly believe American democracy is under threat, but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger, with few calling it the nation’s most pressing problem, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.
In fact, more than a third of independent voters and a smaller but noteworthy contingent of Democrats said they were open to supporting candidates who reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election, as they assigned greater urgency to their concerns about the economy than to fears about the fate of the country’s political system.
Exit take: Go get yourself a gallon a Haagen-Dazs and an éclair.
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Grift all the way down
Back in 2019, Eric Trump explained: “If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free. So everywhere that he goes, if he stays at one of his places, the government actually spends, meaning it saves a fortune because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they’d be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know we charge them, like $50.”
It will shock you to learn that this is a lie. Via Carol Leonnig (who wrote the book on the Secret Service):
Former president Donald Trump’s company charged the Secret Service as much as five times more than the government rate for agents to stay overnight at Trump hotels while protecting him and his family, according to expense records newly obtained by Congress.
The records show that in 40 cases the Trump Organization billed the Secret Service far higher amounts than the approved government rate — in one case charging agents $1,185 a night to stay at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The new billing documents, according to a congressional committee’s review, show that U.S. taxpayers paid the president’s company at least $1.4 million for Secret Service agents’ stays at Trump properties for his and his family’s protection.
As I mentioned on Deadline White House yesterday, this latest tale of self-dealing will merit merely a paragraph (or just footnote?) in the book of Trump’s grift, which will run to around 10,000 pages.
Elon Musk is Putin’s b*tch
Pardon the language. What I meant to say was: Elon is Putin — and China’s — b*tch.
This what retired diplomat Fiona Hill told Politico:
[Politico] We’ve recently had Elon Musk step into this conflict trying to promote discussion of peace settlements. What do you make of the role that he’s playing?
Hill: It’s very clear that Elon Musk is transmitting a message for Putin. There was a conference in Aspen in late September when Musk offered a version of what was in his tweet — including the recognition of Crimea as Russian because it’s been mostly Russian since the 1780s — and the suggestion that the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia should be up for negotiation, because there should be guaranteed water supplies to Crimea. He made this suggestion before Putin’s annexation of those two territories on September 30. It was a very specific reference. Kherson and Zaporizhzhia essentially control all the water supplies to Crimea. Crimea is a dry peninsula. It has aquifers, but it doesn’t have rivers. It’s dependent on water from the Dnipro River that flows through a canal from Kherson.
It’s unlikely Elon Musk knows about this himself. The reference to water is so specific that this clearly is a message from Putin.
Now, there are several reasons why Musk’s intervention is interesting and significant. First of all, Putin does this frequently. He uses prominent people as intermediaries to feel out the general political environment, to basically test how people are going to react to ideas….
This is a classic Putin play. It’s just fascinating, of course, that it’s Elon Musk in this instance, because obviously Elon Musk has a huge Twitter following. He’s got a longstanding reputation in Russia through Tesla, the SpaceX space programs and also through Starlink. He’s one of the most popular men in opinion polls in Russia… Elon Musk has enormous leverage as well as incredible prominence.
Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin.
And then there is China. Matt Yglesias also warns that Musk is vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese government, suggests that the billionaire’s ties to the PRC deserve more scrutiny.
This is because Musk, like most global manufacturing executives these days, has extensive business dealings with China. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it means Musk has to watch what he says regarding the PRC, not just in his personal capacity as a business executive but potentially in his institutional role as well….
Yglesisas notes that Tesla is “deeply enmeshed in China,” which is adept at leaning on Western businesses.
“Like many global manufacturing companies,” Yglesias notes, “Tesla also builds things in China — including what Musk projects will be the company’s largest factory in the world.” This doesn’t make Musk unique, but “Tesla has received unusually generous treatment from the Chinese government.”
And Musk has reciprocated by making public statements that the PRC undoubtedly finds useful. For one thing, the newly minted champion of free speech, seldom talks about free speech issues… in China.
But, writes Yglesias, “Musk’s silence on free speech in China isn’t because he doesn’t talk about China.:
But, so far, conservative commentators have been willing to give Musk a pass.
Because conservatives agree with Musk about the importance of making social media a welcoming place for transphobic jokes, they haven’t been nearly as quick to condemn him telling the Financial Times that Taiwan ought to become a Beijing-ruled Special Administrative Region.
EXIT TAKE: I defer to my colleague, Mona:
Give it a listen
On yesterday’s podcast, I had a lively an wide-ranging conversation with Adam Kinzinger. We covered everything from the J6 Committee and Trump to Ukraine, Iran, MTG, the Secret Service, Mike Lee, Katie Hobbs, boiling frogs, media exhaustion, Christian Nationalism, and SNL.
You can listen to our whole conversation here (or, better yet, subscribe.)
1. Mike Lee’s Golden Rule
Over the last six years, Donald Trump has ruined many Republican political careers. Lee is now scrambling to avoid becoming another of them. The two-term senator knows exactly why his campaign is in trouble and what led to his humiliation on Fox News.
Lee isn’t in trouble because of (just) Democratic voters. His re-election is teetering because of Republican voters who are disgusted by his full embrace of Trump—including his attempts to help Trump overturn the 2020 election. These machinations created space for former CIA officer Evan McMullin to run as an independent after convincing the Utah Democratic Party not to put anyone on the ballot this year. McMullin has, improbably, energized a coalition of moderate Republicans, unaffiliated voters, and Democrats behind his candidacy. Mitt Romney has chosen not to endorse either candidate, saying they are both friends.
And now the race is a dead heat.
2. Progressive Bigotry and the L.A. City Council Controversy
A scandal that erupted on the Los Angeles City Council last week following the publication of a recording in which council members made racist or racially charged remarks has prompted a fair amount of gloating on the right. The three council members in the recording, including then-Council President Nury Martinez, are all Latino progressives; they were recorded making comments that, among other things, berated a white politician for siding with “the blacks” and disparaged a white councilman’s adopted black son in racially derogatory Spanish terms. The incident certainly plays into the “Democrats are the real racists” trope pushed by many in the Trumpified GOP as a way to deflect and whatabout charges of racism in the Republican party. It’s a dishonest and self-serving trope. And yet the L.A. City Council scandal does raise uncomfortable questions about progressive racial politics.
3. Twitter’s Biggest Problem Is That It Is Awesome
The “experts” dislike Twitter because of the addictive nature of the dopamine hits triggered by getting strangers to agree with you online. But the rush you get from seeing something funny in your feed is every bit as addictive and those chemical rushes often can’t be found in “real” life. Mowing your lawn or sitting in a meeting now feels like wasted time if you’re away from the chuckle machine for too long.
Granted: The rush to be the funniest person on Twitter has a body count, because while a good joke can get you retweeted, a bad joke can, in certain circumstances, get you fired.
And the avalanche of jokes on Twitter devalues more traditional comedy. Take SNL’s “Weekend Update.” It used to be that “Weekend Update” was funny because it only had to compete with the jokes told by Gordon, the guy with bad breath in accounting. Now, it has to go toe-to-toe with a week’s worth of jokes that have been told, retold, and refined by 50 million or so amateur writers on Twitter.
The hive mind is almost always funnier, and faster, than the writers’ room. And Twitter is the show that’s always on.