Fair and Unbalanced
In the midst of the longest run of self-inflicted wounds known to man, Donald Trump caught a huge break.
And then, of course, he tossed it away.
Trump’s nemesis, Jim Comey, has a book out — “A Higher Loyalty” — currently being supported by Comey’s impossible-to-miss TV extravaganza, from which the headline is that Trump is “morally unfit to be president.” That’s a fairly obvious message, but still devastating when it comes from the former head of the FBI, even if the former head was, in fact, fired by the morally-unfit guy.
But the story does not end there. In the course of explaining Trump’s inarguable unfitness, his need to lie at every turn, his constant demand for personal loyalty, Comey, who trades on his well-known rectitude, ends up in a spitting match with the champion Twitter-spitter himself.
Trump calls Comey a slimeball.
In the book and on the air, Comey is telling us that Trump is like a mob boss, which he may be, but come on.
Trump says Comey is a liar and a leaker.
Comey tells us about Trump’s orange complexion and Trump’s smaller-than-Comey’s hands, which, he concedes, are not inordinately small.
Trump says Comey belongs in jail.
Comey writes of the alleged Trump pee tape and Trump’s concern that there was a 1 percent chance (or maybe more?) his wife would believe it.
This was all being played on Trump’s court, which Comey should have avoided at all costs. He’s supposed to be the sober, impartial symbol of the FBI — and not the one reminding us of the role he played in Trump’s election. (Quick analysis: Comey said he got involved with the Clinton emails with 11 days to go before Election Day because he didn’t want Trump’s team to be able to say the FBI helped rig the election. That rings perfectly true. It also rings like a cracked bell. So, Comey wouldn’t have come forward with a story that might have swung the election if he thought Trump was going to win? That’s his excuse?)
OK, Trump was winning the spitting match by drawing Comey into it. That’s the only place he does much winning. It’s not that anyone thinks Comey isn’t telling the truth about every meeting he had with Trump or every suggestion of Trump’s obvious lack of integrity. It was that, after a few days of the Comey tour, the spitting match became all that anyone was talking about, until, of course, the Michael Cohen/Sean Hannity story hit.
But then, as I said, Trump threw it all away. We go back to Russia. We always go back to Russia. The Russia investigation was why, Trump has admitted, he fired Comey. The firing is the reason Comey’s book will be a huge bestseller. And to put it all in perspective, Comey’s dismissal led directly to the hiring of special counsel Mueller, which leads directly to the question whether Trump will create a constitutional crisis by firing Mueller. (My guess: He will try to, eventually.)
We go back to Russia because Comey thinks Russia might have something on Trump. He said as much in his interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired Sunday night. On Sunday morning, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had said that new sanctions against Russia would be in place by Monday. And The Washington Post ran a weekend story saying that Trump was getting rolled by his foreign policy team, which kept forcing Trump to go much harder on Russia than he wanted.
It was a humiliating story — not unlike the many such stories that just won the Post a Pulitzer that it shared with The New York Times — in which we learned that Trump, after expelling 60 Russians for the poisoning of the former spy, was furious to learn that France and Great Britain had expelled only four apiece. He thought his advisers had told him they’d each expel 60, too. Trump was upset because — get this — everyone was saying how tough he was.
To show that he wouldn’t be tough on Vladimir Putin, he would overrule/humiliate Haley, saying there would be no more sanctions for now, and repeating, through his spokesperson, that there’s no reason why we can’t be friends with Russia. You know, even if Russia is, along with Iran, propping up the very Syrian dictator whose chemical weapons plants Trump had just bombed.
Personally, I thought the bombing was futile and accomplished nothing. From what I read from many of the experts, I doubt a prolonged bombing would accomplish much more. I agree that gassing is a particularly horrible act, but if you want to stop the horrible acts in Syria, where 500,000 or more have died in the war there, a quick strike at some chemical sites doesn’t even begin to do that, particularly when Trump had just said he was ready to pull out the remaining American troops.
So, what was Trump trying to accomplish? What’s the message to North Korea? To Iran? These guys must have thought, what the hell? That’s apparently what Bashar al-Assad thought.
Why was Trump’s tough-guy, mission-accomplished speech accompanied by an accomplishing-nothing-much missile attack? Why, oh why, did Trump overrule his foreign-policy team on more sanctions against Russia, which Trump said would pay “a big price” for its enabling of Syria’s chemical weapons?
Why do you think?
This is what Comey said when Stephanopoulos asked about whether Russia had anything on Trump: “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a President of the United States, but it’s possible.”
With Trump’s latest unsurprising Russia response, you obviously can’t help but at least wonder, as many have, about the possibility. And so Comey doesn’t so much win the week as Trump, once again, loses it.
Photo courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, via Flickr: Creative Commons
Illustration by Mike Keefe
It was a huge week here at the Littwin Official Unofficial gov rankings shop. Stapleton’s gigantic blunder. Tancredo’s surprise endorsement. Coffman’s sudden jeopardy. Lawsuits in place. Probably more on the way. A pair of pre-assembly 9News debates in which three frontrunners (two Republicans, one Dem) refused to participate.
As panelist Cinamon Watson puts it, “This is why we love politics.” And though the notion is a little sick, those of us who live in political-junkie world must sheepishly nod our heads in agreement.
So, as you know, Republican frontrunner Walker Stapleton had to dump the fraudulent signatures his team at Kennedy Enterprises had collected because they were, well, fraudulent. Stapleton’s supporters said this pointed to Stapleton’s integrity. Everyone else, and especially Cynthia Coffman, said it pointed to Stapleton’s incompetence in hiring a team using mostly out-of-state collectors who showed up just in time to, uh, claim Colorado residence.
Two dozen of them apparently listed hotels or group homes as their residences. In maybe the funniest incident, as reported in The Denver Post, one of the collectors initially listed a Florida address on his collector application, then crossed it out and replaced it with a homeless shelter in Fort Collins.
Since as panelist Ian Silverii pointed out, competence is Stapleton’s major selling point, it’s hard to continue to make the case when “the anointed frontrunner stepped on a rake.” Which is exactly what he did. In fact, I’m sure you can still see the tine marks.
But the funny/strange thing is, Stapleton now is forced to go through the assembly route, which was expected to be an easy win for Coffman. Now, who knows? Will only one make the ballot? Both? This year’s Darryl Glenn? Panelist Josh Penry says he’s not crazy enough to predict. But he does note this, that the assembly has moved from a “semi-notable and not very interesting sideshow” to a high-stakes showdown in which you need at least 30 percent of the vote to qualify for the ballot.
“It’s a throwback,” Penry says, “to 2004 (Coors v. Schaffer) and 2006 (Beauprez v. Holtzman). The big question is, can Cynthia qualify? Walker is throwing the kitchen sink at this thing to keep her off. Tancredo and (Ken) Buck have big followings in that room. I assume Walker will roll in more endorsements, too. But Cynthia is capable of giving a great speech.”
The Tancredo endorsement of Stapleton is more surprising than Stapleton’s blunder. When Tancredo dropped out the race, he called Stapleton “the ultimate insider” and that was only because he was trying to be nice. We know how much Tancredo loathes the Bushes of which Stapleton happens to be one. But this is Tancredo’s attempt at being a team player, joining in with the GOP establishment, who, let us say, doesn’t much like him either. But there is this, as panelist Salazar points out, it no doubt will help Stapleton with the “wing nuts.”
Meanwhile, Coffman is desperately trying to keep Stapleton from appearing at the assembly, claiming he missed a deadline to apply. I wouldn’t count on Republicans blocking Stapleton. But I would, I think, count on Stapleton getting his 30 percent and making the ballot — and most of the panel agrees. If he scores big, that wouldn’t leave much room for Coffman.
On the Dem side, it’s Kennedy, who will win at the assembly, Polis, who won’t, and Erik Underwood, who won’t qualify. Salazar doesn’t think Polis has anything to lose by, well, losing at the assembly.
“Jared has the resources and organization, largely due to his being a self-funder, to compete however and whenever he wants,” Salazar said. “His gambit may be to shut Cary down, but even a narrow loss gives him some bragging rights. And even if he gets whacked at the Assembly, it still keeps him in the mix and with a foundation to spend his money.”
On to the rankings:
1. Jared Polis. You can’t really get a down arrow when you’re atop the poll each week. But Kennedy had a good debate and she’ll win at the assembly. And Polis blundered (a very minor blunder) by engaging in a Twitter skirmish with Kyle Clark over why he didn’t show at the 9News debate. Polis is still a unanimous No. 1, but it seems the race is closing.
2. Cary Kennedy. Penry says she and Johnston both had very strong debate performances: “Both looked gubernatorial. Both are smart. Both have that ‘you know it when you see it’ stature.” Silverii says Kennedy made a smart bet by bypassing the petition route. “That saved her hundreds of thousands of dollars, and months of agita as well (see Stapleton, Walker; recent history).” I give her an up arrow, even though she stays in second place.
5. Erik Underwood. He had complained that I left him off the listings, which was a fair complaint. But I’m guessing he won’t have reason to complain after the assembly. If he gets 30 percent at the assembly and makes the ballot, I promise a Polis-bankroll-sized up arrow next week.
1. Walker Stapleton. His petition blunder could actually help him. Of course, it could also keep him off the ballot. Six candidates will be at the assembly. You need 30 percent to get on the ballot. It’s possible that three could make it. It’s more possible that only one could make it. The Tancredo endorsement might guarantee that. Or not. We don’t have any choice but to go with a down arrow even though he remains on top.
2. Cynthia Coffman. She’s trying to go right to appeal to the assembly crowd, where many delegates are sure she’s the dreaded moderate. Silverii says her plan has been to pretend “to be some kind of anti-LGBT/immigrant hardliner, but if she can build a case that she’s the one who can win the general, and that Walker’s campaign is more of a disaster than hers, she could pull it off.”
3. Doug Robinson. If you watched the GOP debate, and you probably didn’t, Robinson was easily the best of the three Republicans who showed up. That is, if you don’t count that smile that he couldn’t seem to lose whatever question he was answering. Assuming he learned that from Cory Gardner.
4. Victor Mitchell. He’s out with an introductory ad. He spent most of the debate arguing that he was a political outsider even though he used to be a state representative. I kept him at fourth because at least he showed up at the debate, and Farah did not.
5. Barry Farah. He may have had a decent shot before Stapleton’s massive goof to get 30 percent at the assembly. Now that Stapleton is in (Robinson and Mitchell both went the petition route), hard to see how Farah gets there now.
Panelists: Big-shot GOP strategist Josh Penry, principal at EIS; long-time Dem strategist and Hancock chief of staff Alan Salazar; ProgressNow progressive Ian Silverii; GOP strategist, and always good quote, Cinamon Watson, principal at Blueprint Strategies— and, of course. me.
As Jimmy Breslin wrote of the stumbling 1962 Mets, I write of the blundering 2018 Colorado Republican Party: Can’t anyone here play this game?
Walker Stapleton, the so-called frontrunner in the GOP primary race for governor, is the latest to answer the question with a resounding not-a-chance.
As you must have heard, Stapleton was forced to toss away the thousands of signatures that he (or, rather, the people he was paying) had collected to petition his way onto the ballot because, well, the signatures were tainted, by which I mean fraudulently collected. I would hope the papers would be recycled, but then I wonder who would actually dare touch them.
Don’t take my word for the fraud. Take Stapleton’s, who says he may sue Kennedy Enterprises, which he alleges to have been a little too enterprising in signature collection — a charge that Doug Robinson, who’s also running for governor, had made more than a week ago. At that point, Stapleton was denying any problem. At this point, it looks like the state treasurer jettisoned a couple of hundred thousand campaign bucks.
Of course, Stapleton tried to frame his decision to dump the ballots this way — that once he discovered the problem, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to use tainted petitions. There’s the counter-argument — that eventually those tainted signatures would get tossed anyway and he would be bumped from the ballot, so if integrity is the issue, it may not be one that Stapleton wants to embrace.
Kennedy also collected for Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose signature gathering is being challenged in court, which might have been a clue for Stapleton. And the Colorado GOP, which had its embarrassing signature-gathering moments in 2016, is now deep into GOP signature-gathering redux, except this year looks even worse.
And the strange thing is, Stapleton/Kennedy collected barely enough signatures to make the ballot even if they had been legal, which they apparently weren’t. It is calamity piled upon calamity.
Now Stapleton has to swiftly change course and go the assembly route this weekend if he wants to make the ballot. He needs the backing of 30 percent of the delegates in order to qualify. It’s a showdown between Cynthia Coffman, whose rocky campaign to date has been routinely mocked by pundits, and Stapleton, who is now being openly mocked by everyone with a Twitter account.
There will be four other candidates competing, and given Darryl Glenn’s overwhelming victory two years ago, we’d be foolish to count any of them out. So, do the math. It’s not clear that Stapleton and Coffman can both make the ballot. If either Coffman or Stapleton gets 50 percent and the four others combine for, say, 25 to 30 percent, then either Coffman or Stapleton is toast.
Presumably, Coffman has been furiously working the delegates, who may be worried that she’s too liberal (which, in Republican talk, means pro-choice, a label which she rejects because, she says, she rejects labels). And presumably, since Stapleton wasn’t planning to go to the assembly, he hasn’t been working the delegates at all.
In a statement, Coffman went hard after Stapleton, which may be a preview of the assembly: “Walker chose to hire a group of shady petition gatherers with a notorious and sordid past. Now in the 11th hour, he once again shows no respect for the rules, the party or Republican delegates. Now it will up to the delegates to decide who they trust to represent their interests in the primary elections.”
In other words, it’s another year, another election cycle, another GOP flirtation (or should we say full-on embrace?) with disaster.
This is nothing new. Perhaps you’d enjoy a brief trip down memory lane of the GOP’s top-of-the-ballot candidates the last dozen years or so.
There were the incompetents. We’ll start with Dan Maes, because he was so embarrassing that Tom Tancredo had to run on the Constitution Party ticket to save the Republican Party. There was Darryl Glenn, who had no campaign apparatus worth mentioning and no idea what he was doing.
There were the mediocrities. We’ll give Bob Beauprez a double here, since after entering the race as a clear favorite, he managed to lose to Bill Ritter by 15 points. He later ran against John Hickenlooper and lost in a national Republican wave year. There was Pete Coors, accompanied by the Coors Lite twins. There was Bob Schaffer.
Did I mention Tom Tancredo, the symbol of all that is wrong with the Colorado GOP? When he dropped out of the governor’s race this year, he was leading in the polls. I can only guess that desperate Republicans begged him to drop out, knowing that he’d have no chance to win in November.
The only top-of-the-ballot Republican candidate to have won since 2004 is Cory Gardner, whose Senate victory in 2014 over Mark Udall was proclaimed as the model for Republicans to win in purplish states — not that it has worked out that way.
So who benefits most from Stapleton’s epic fail? Maybe Coffman, if Stapleton doesn’t get his 30 percent at the assembly. It could be Barry Farah and his 11th-hour candidacy. Or maybe two candidates who won’t be at the assembly, having taken the signature-collection route: Doug Robinson, who was the first to point the finger at Stapleton, or Victor Mitchell, who was the first candidate to document his appeal to dogs.
But if history is any guide, the most likely beneficiary of the damage to the GOP frontrunner is whichever candidate emerges as the Democratic nominee.
Photo of Walker Stapleton by Marianne Goodland
Some credit the line to the great A.J. Liebling, others to the maybe even greater H.L. Mencken, but in either case it’s undeniably true: “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”
Or it was true— until Sunday’s edition of The Denver Post, when the inmates took charge of the asylum, when the owners of the Post presses were wondering what the hell had just hit them and when Chuck Plunkett, the paper’s editorial page editor, turned into a journalistic superhero.
It was an act of bravery and an act of theft. In an editorial headlined in the online version, “As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved,” Plunkett demanded that the hedge-fund vultures who own the Post sell it to someone who cares about Denver and about journalism.
It’s not exactly a radical thought. The vultures reside in the New York offices of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund called out by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan as “one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism.”
As you’ve no doubt heard, the Denver Post has just laid off 30 more employees, bringing the number of journalists in the newsroom to fewer than 70. You could call that a skeleton crew, except it would be unfair to skeletons. To give you some perspective, when the Rocky Mountain News folded nine years ago, the Post and Rocky newsrooms together employed more than 500 journalists.
How do you comprehensively cover a metro area of more than 2.5 million people with fewer than 70 journalists? Here’s how: You don’t. You try and you work miracles with the few people you have and eventually you can’t pull it off anymore. And here’s the thing: You can bet there are more layoffs coming.
And so, distressed by the latest layoffs, Plunkett went rogue, publishing one stinging editorial and eight stinging columns in the Sunday Perspective section, all of them calling out Alden and insisting that Colorado deserves better. Newspapers routinely give hell to the powerful — you know the line, we afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted — but they rarely (or is it never?) slam their own owners in their own newspaper.
Plunkett didn’t tell the bosses at Digital First (the Post parent company/newspaper chain owned by Alden) about his plans. He didn’t tell Post Editor Lee Ann Colacioppo — the editorial pages being separate from the news pages. He spit in the Alden bosses’ faces and, in doing so, fully expected he could be fired. He hasn’t been, at least so far. And now that the story has made the front pages of The New York Times, Alden may not have the guts to take him on.
And why did Plunkett do it? Because, he said, it was the right thing to do.
Imagine, you risk your job for the right thing. Or, for that matter, risk your life, as many journalists do. Or just sit through seemingly endless zoning board meetings, as your local journalists routinely do. Or give voice to people who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice, as every newspaper does.
The funny/tragic thing is that during these terrible times for newspapers, the Post is apparently making money, turning a decent profit, but Alden keeps cutting because that’s what Alden does. It doesn’t care if it’s hurting the product. It cares about profit. That’s why they call it vulture capitalism.
As Newsonomics writer Ken Doctor put it in an interview with journalist Julie Reynolds, “There’s no long-term strategy other than milking and continuing to cut. Their view is that in 2021, they’ll deal with that then. Whatever remnants are there, they’ll try to find a buyer.”
There are rumors that right-wing, multi-billionaire Phil Anschutz, who owns The Gazette in Colorado Springs, may take another try at buying the Post. Someone needs to step up before the newspaper just fades away. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a statement saying how proud he was of the Post for “speaking out.” Governor John Hickenlooper told Rolling Stone that the paper has “to be sold” before it gets so squeezed by Alden that “people won’t buy it anymore.”
Should people buy the Post any more? If the Post weren’t making a profit, Alden would unload it. So, is it better to support the paper by buying it or better to support the paper by not buying it and thereby squeezing Alden? I don’t know the answer. But thanks to Plunkett’s rebel stand, the question of how to save the Post is now front and center, a local story, a regional story, a national story, a story to which attention must be paid.
Illustration by Mike Keefe
The big story in the gov race is probably not going to change anything, but it’s the best we can do here at the Littwin Unofficial Official governor rankings for this week’s just-waiting-for-the-assemblies-to-finally-get-here edition.
As you may have heard, Rep. Doug Lamborn’s petitions have been attacked for possibly using ineligible collectors to gather the signatures. This looks like it could be serious, and Lamborn, who always faces a primary challenge, has got a serious one this year in the 5th Congressional District. Owen Hill, Darryl Glenn, anyone else with a pulse.
You may be wondering how this might connect to the governor’s race. Well, Lamborn used Kennedy Enterprises to collect signatures and so did Walker Stapleton. Doug Robinson, also running for governor, has already questioned Stapleton’s collection methodology. And there you go.
On Friday, it was announced that Stapleton had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — but just barely. Of 19,124 signatures he submitted, nearly 8,000 were dismissed. You need a minimum of 10,500 — 1,500 from each congressional district — and Stapleton had only 11,325. I guarantee there will be challenges to his signatures. And there are still four candidates — two from each party — awaiting word on their petitions.
You may remember 2016 when ballot challenges, along with his big dog, killed front runner Jon Keyser’s shot at the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Then, of course, there were the other candidates who had to sue their way onto the ballot. A 2016 redux is not the way Republicans want to go.
Panelist Alan Salazar says the “kerfuffle” (among my favorites words) is “the kind of squabble politicos and pundits love, but most normal human beings (voters or not) probably view it as an eye-roller.” Cinamon Watson goes with “much ado about nothing,” but there is the subtext that the Republican Party in Colorado seems to be in disarray, and if this goes anywhere at all, it might just reinforce that.
Watson noted this as we’re a week from the assembly: “As a GOP state delegate, I have received a single robo call from one gov candidate and no mail. I’m not complaining – by all means, save some trees and don’t fill my inbox – but that leaves many delegates waiting to choose their candidate based on Assembly speeches and the dazzling displays of campaign t-shirts.”
On the Dem side, Jared Polis is the unanimous front-runner. Cary Kennedy has all the buzz. So what does that mean for Mike Johnston — still a solid third — and Donna Lynne, who is a distant, distant fourth?
Panelist Josh Penry thinks Lynne has to go all in, and with a better defined case for the voters, as soon as the Dem assembly ends: “She can’t hoard her money and wait until May. She needs to go. And even if she launches a broad front and powerful case for herself, you know, next Monday, she still has an awfully steep hill to climb in a race that has already taken on significant structure.”
Panelist Salazar agrees. He thinks Johnston and Lynne are more naturally general-election candidates, and they need to explain how that translates into a primary run. “Anything that creates higher visibility (paid or earned media) seems critical now for both.”
Next week, we’ll do an assembly preview. Until then, here are the Littwin Week Two rankings:
1. Jared Polis. There is little correlation between winning at the assembly (Polis at around 33 percent to Kennedy’s 60 percent) and winning the primary. Do the Google if you don’t believe me. He’s still the front-runner. The panel is unanimous on that.
2. Cary Kennedy. Winners at the assembly do get headlines, and if the goal for Kennedy is to make this a two-person race, this is a good way to get there. She assures me she’ll have the money — if not as much as Polis — needed for the TV ad push in May and June.
3. Mike Johnston. Asked him about a two-way race and he joked, “Me and who else?” A Dem politico who’s supporting Johnston tells me he worries Johnston is being perceived as No. 3 and wonders whether he needs to spend some money on TV now to get him back in the conversation. That $1 million Bloomberg check could help.
4. Donna Lynne. Don’t be surprised if you hear her mention Hickenlooper less often. She’s not going to win with the promise of being the next Hickenlooper, whose popularity rests less on his ideas than it does on his being Hickenlooper.
5. Erik Underwood. I left him out of the poll last week because, well, no one thinks he has any chance. But he thinks that’s unfair, so here he is. We’re even giving him a charitable up arrow. Underwood promises to make the kind of speech never heard before at the assembly. A rousing speech worked in the Republican assembly in 2016 for Darryl Glenn. But unless Kennedy and Polis are wrong, they have too many delegates pledged for any kind of speech to get Underwood to 30 percent.
1. Walker Stapleton. He’s the front-runner because he has money, name recognition and nobody else has made a real move. The attacks on him have not stuck at all, possibly because they’re not very strong attacks, and possibly because there’s so little media covering the race. And because panelist Penry says, he “keeps his head down” and keeps “grinding along.”
2. Cynthia Coffman. We’re a week away from the assembly, where Coffman has to make a big showing. First she has to show the delegates why they should vote for her. To this point, she has made it perfectly unclear where she stands on gay rights and abortion. As panelist Watson puts it: “Coffman has significantly stepped up her campaign appearances. Take a look at her social media – wherever delegates are gathered, she’s there. Now, if she could just couple that with message discipline…”
3. Doug Robinson. That Robinson is third shows just how much space there is between the top two candidates and everyone else. I moved him up because at least he understands he can’t win without bringing Stapleton back to the pack. Panelist Salazar called Robinson’s shot at Stapleton “ankle nibbling.”
4. Victor Mitchell. He’s out with an introductory ad. Unfortunately, as Salazar put it, “There are certainly better ways to capitalize on being an underdog without doubling down on it by saying you can only attract stray dogs to listen to what you have to say.” I voted Mitchell 5th for the ad, but the panel gave him the 4th slot.
Panelists: Alan Salazar, Josh Penry, Cinamon Watson and a Dem strategist to be named later. Oh, and of course, me.
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By now you’ve likely heard about The Denver Post’s multi-page editorial broadside at its hedge-fund owner. This week’s newsletter seeks to explain the local and national repercussions of […]Read More