Saturday, December 10, 2016

RUSSIANS HACKED THE ELECTION -- WHAT WOULD THE GOP DO IF THIS HAPPENED TO A REPUBLICAN? (updated)

As you probably know, The Washington Post is reporting that the CIA is certain the Russian government interfered in our election on Donald Trump's behalf:
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

I'm trying to imagine what Republicans would do in this situation if the parties were reversed. Before the election I predicted that Republicans might not accept a Hillary Clinton victory as legitimate, even one under far less suspicious circumstances than Trump's win. Forget the Russians -- if a Clinton victory had been predicated on 100,000 votes in three states, especially (but not necessarily) if she'd lost the overall popular vote, Republicans en masse would be shouting "Voter fraud!" Quite a few would be demanding that Democratic electors refuse to vote for her.

Could they actually have kept her from the White House if the electors went ahead and voted for her? They would have a means to do so. The question is whether they would have used it:
Since 1887, 3 U.S.C. 15 sets the method for objections to electoral votes. During the Joint Session, Members of Congress may object to individual electoral votes or to state returns as a whole. An objection must be declared in writing and signed by at least one Representative and one Senator. In the case of an objection, the Joint Session recesses and each chamber considers the objection separately in a session which cannot last more than two hours with each Member speaking for no more than five minutes. After each house votes on whether or not to accept the objection, the Joint Session reconvenes and both chambers disclose their decisions. If they agree to the objection, the votes in question are not counted. If either chamber does not agree with the objection, the votes are counted.
I think there would have been Republican challenges to some of Clinton's electors. I suspect the party leadership would have decided in advance that it would do too much political damage to the GOP to use this means to actually deny Clinton the presidency. But who knows? In any case, I think the challenges would have happened, just to ensure that Clinton entered the White House under a cloud of suspicion.

And if Republicans were the minority party in Congress, and couldn't simply ratify Electoral College objections, then I think they'd have made them anyway, just to engender that suspicion.

That's what Democrats should do this year, at a minimum: They should formally challenge Trump electoral votes in every Republican state, citing the Russian hack. They should talk about this in every media forum. They should say that they'll reluctantly accept Trump's presidency if the Electoral College chooses him, but they don't consider this a legitimate election. I don't think that there's much more a minority party in Congress can do.

If you consider me too pessimistic, and believe that the Electoral College can still save us, then I'd say this is the time for prominent Democrats to say, repeatedly and with message discipline, that electors in Republican states must vote for the popular-vote winner and target of a foreign power's election skulduggery, Hillary Clinton -- not Kasich or Mitt Romney or Ronald Reagan's corpse. The patriotic choice is Clinton.

If enough prominent Democrats say this, maybe it will be seen as a legitimate, within-the-pale response to the situation. Right now, except on the left, it isn't seen that way.

I don't think it will work. For decades, heartland Americans have accepted the notion that the patriotic, good-of-the-country party is always the GOP; Democrats are the party of anti-Americanism and even treason. That's an idea that's been taught to Americans by a succession of Republic leaders, from Joe McCarthy to Goldwater to Nixon to Reagan to Limbaugh and Ailes. That's why I think it's so difficult for the country to wrap its mind around what's really happening.

*****

UPDATE: I'd like to elaborate on what I said in that last paragraph. The Post story tells us that the Obama administration proceeded cautiously when presented with this information during the campaign. Officials presented members of Congress with evidence of Russian interference, but Mitch McConnell chose party over country, as usual:
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
President Obama is being criticized for this:



But I agree with Josh Marshall:






Howard Wolfson has tweeted:



But this gets back to the idea of Republicans as the party of patriotism and Democrats as the party of anti-Americanism. Go public in the heat of a campaign with unfounded allegations harmful to the Democratic candidate? That's just patriotism, because it's always legitimate to be suspicious of Democrats, whose mission in life is to deliberately harm America. Go public with allegations that hurt the Republican? You're subverting democracy! I'm sorry, but this is what much of heartland America believes. The GOP is poised at all times to push a narrative of that kind, and the Democrats aren't poised to do the opposite. The mainstream media accepts that GOP allegations are legitimate. Democrats don't get the same benefit of the doubt, even from the so-called liberal media.

When pro-Trumpers in the FBI pushed the email story back into the news cycle in late October, the emails were the story. If the Obama administration had made more of a stink about Russian interference, his "partisanship" would have been the story. Regrettably, that's just how it works.

Friday, December 09, 2016

GIULIANI OUT: ANOTHER DEFEAT FOR BANNON AND VICTORY FOR PRIEBUS

Rudy Giuliani won't be Donald Trump's secertary of state or have any other job in his Cabinet:
President-elect Donald Trump says Rudy Giuliani is taking himself out of consideration for a position in his administration.

Giuliani, a loyal Trump supporter throughout the campaign, was an early front-runner to be secretary of state. But he faced questions about his overseas business ties and Trump began looking at other candidates, including Mitt Romney.

In a statement, Trump says Giuliani would have been an "outstanding" Cabinet secretary in several roles. He says he respects the former New York City mayor's decision to remain in the private sector.

Reince Priebus, Trump's incoming White House chief of staff, says Giuliani was vetted by the transition team for possible conflicts and "passed with flying colors."
I like the way this is being presented as his decision (the headline of this AP story is "Giuliani Takes Himself out of Running"), and I'm struck by the un-Trump-like graciousness with which Priebus says that Giuliani didn't have any troubling conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, Giuliani was clearly pushed out by Priebus on behalf of the GOP's establishment wing. Priebus scored another victory, and this was one more defeat for Steve Bannon. Here's what New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman wrote yesterday, when Giuliani was still theoretically in the running:
The Priebus-Bannon power struggle is playing out most prominently in Trump’s search for a secretary of State. According to sources, Bannon has advocated for naming Rudy Giuliani, while Priebus has made the case for a more moderate choice. When concerns were raised about Giuliani’s business conflicts hurting his chances to be confirmed by the Senate, Bannon lobbied Trump not to settle for Mitt Romney and to expand the search for new candidates to include ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and Senator Bob Corker, a source close to Bannon told me.
I'm not sure if that means Romney will be secretary of state now, but we also learned this today:
Ronna Romney McDaniel is expected to be Donald Trump’s pick to be the next chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), according to two sources with direct knowledge of the deliberations.

McDaniel [is the] the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party....

McDaniel is the favored choice of current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, according to two sources with direct knowledge of Priebus's thinking....

McDaniel ... is Mitt Romney's niece....
I've been telling you about the Priebus-Bannon war, which Priebus is winning in a rout, to the delight of the Koch brothers and other tax-averse, regulation-hating, social-safety-net-despising fat cats. You may not believe that Bannon genuinely regards himself as a champion of ordinary Americans, but I think that's his myth of himself. The Trump-Priebus administration, the Carrier deal notwithstanding, isn't even pretending to be pro-proletarian anymore. And in bureaucratic battles, Bannon is proving to be completely overmatched. So I'm not sure he'll even stay with Trump until the inaugural.

THE APPRENTICE CONFLICT OF INTEREST IS HARDLY TRUMP'S WORST, BUT IT GOT AMERICA'S ATTENTION

Donald Trump's decision to stay on as executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice when it returns to the air in January bothers me less than his other business dealings since Election Day. I don't imagine he's going to do much actual work on the show, if he does any at all -- I assume, despite Kellyanne Conway's assertion that it's "doubtful" he'll continue to earn revenue from the show, that he's doing this for the money, either because grabbing at cash is such a conditioned reflex he can't stop or because, as Josh Marshall suggests, he's either so in hock to creditors that he can't afford not to take the money or he's subject to creditors' demands for steady, reliable cash flow.

I'm supposed to be concerned that this puts pressure on NBC to be gentle with Trump -- but I think the threat is exaggerated by some Trump critics. What's the worst Trump can do if NBC displeases him? Ask the hands-on executive producer, Mark Barnett, to pull the show from the network? NBC has already kept The Apprentice off the air for two years, so it can't be a make-or-break program for NBC's bottom line. NBC also dumped Trump's Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants after his racist entry into the presidential race in 2015. So I don't see Trump having a massive amount of leverage over NBC in this situation. I'll change my mind if NBC orders Saturday Night Live to stop airing Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonation or compels the news division to fire or reassign Katy Tur, to name two NBC employees who've angered the president-elect. But that's not happening so far. I don't think he's more likely to threaten NBC than he is to threaten any other news organization (which is the problem -- he believes he can blackmail even media companies that aren't in business with him).

I'm much more concerned about the way he's been using his position to make money. Foreign diplomats now feel pressure to stay at his hotels. Indian business partners met with Trump just after the transition started. Ivanka sat in with her father when he met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, at a time when she was just wrapping up a deal with a Japanese firm. This all seems much worse that the Apprentice situation. But it's the latter that made the public sit up and take notice.

I hope it draws attention to Trump's other, shadier dealings. But I worry that what the public will focus on is the idea that Trump might spend time actually working on the show instead of doing his main job. Conway clearly feels that we'll be mollified if she puts that question to rest, which she's attempted to do in classic GOP fashion:
Kellyanne Conway on Friday defended President-elect Donald Trump's decision to remain an executive producer on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" even as he takes office, arguing that "presidents have a right to do things in their spare time."...

"Were we so concerned about the hours and hours and hours spent on the golf course of the current president? I mean presidents have a right to do things in their spare time, in their leisure time," Conway argued.
(By the way, that's going to be the GOP's standard excuse for every Trump failure attributable to inattention, of which there'll be a lot -- hey, Obama played a lot of golf.)

The problem isn't the time involved -- I strongly doubt that he's a hands-on co-executive producer. The problem is that he's telling the world (literally) that Trump Inc. is open for business and that if you want to stay in the U.S. government's good graces, you'll do what's in the Trump empire's best interests. If this draws attention to that, great. But it's hardly Trump's worst conflict of interest.

COULD BREITBART BREAK WITH TRUMP?

The front page of Breitbart right now seems surprisingly critical of the Trump transition:



From that lead story:
President-elect Donald J. Trump is expected to name as his Labor Secretary fast food executive Andy Puzder, who stands diametrically opposed to Trump’s signature issues on trade and immigration -- which won him the election....

Advocates for American wage-earners say that Puzder as Secretary of Labor is alarming because he will be in charge of enacting policies that directly impact American workers, whom Puzder believes are “unwilling” to do certain jobs. Puzder has suggested that available U.S. jobs should instead be filled by imported foreign labor....

Last year, Puzder even joined forces with Michael Bloomberg, Bob Iger, and Rupert Murdoch’s open borders lobbying firm, the Partnership for a New American Economy, to call for “free-market solutions” to our immigration system.
Wow -- the Trump News Network is linking a Trump appointee to the hated rootless cosmopolitan gun-grabber Mike Bloomberg. Them's fightin' words.

And you know Breitbart really hates something when it tries to gin up a hashtag campaign, as it does in a separate story:
Pro-American immigration reformers and advocates for higher-wages are hammering Donald Trump’s selection of a cheap-labor, migration-boosting employer to run the Department of Labor.

The opponents -- some of whom backed Trump’s pro-American, immigration-reducing promises in the election -- are rallying opposition to Puzder’s appointment via the twitter hashtag, #NeverPuzder.
As I told you last night, New York magazine and Politico are reporting that Reince Priebus is acting behind the scenes to fill the Trump administration with GOP establishment figures. The Politico story says that so-called "Trump originals" are being squeezed out, in favor of party hacks and big party donors:
Roger Stone, a Republican strategist and longtime Trump friend, has given voice to the concerns. During a Wednesday appearance guest-hosting Alex Jones’ radio show, Stone said he visited Trump Tower this week and found “an armada of retreads from the old Republican Party, both the congressional wing of the party and the Romney-McCain-Bush burnouts who are trying to board this ship.”

“I saw people and heard about people whose names I haven’t heard in 25 to 30 years,” he added. “These are people who did nothing whatsoever to elect Donald Trump and they’re people who don’t share Donald Trump’s values. They disagree with him on trade, they disagree with him on monetary policy, they disagree with him on immigration. Yet, they seek glory and titles.”
I don't think the hacks disagree with Trump on these issues, because I don't think Trump has firmly held positions on most issues. There's a range of right-wing thinking on most issues -- it's a narrow range, from corporatist to nativist, but it's a range -- and I don't think Trump cares where he is on the spectrum as long as he feels he's winning. So if the old hacks are really taking over his administration, I don't think he'll care, as long as he can get into a Twitter war with a CEO every so often and seem to save a couple hundred jobs, while the larger trends for workers get worse and worse (and get better and better for their bosses).

But if that's the way this is trending, I wonder how long Steve Bannon will stick around. Remember, Bannon's myth of himself is that he's the champion of native-born American workers. Recall this quote from Bannon's recent interview with Michael Wolff:
"I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist," he tells me. "The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f--ed over...."
The New York story I quoted last night offer a convoluted theory about Bannon's thinking right now:
One Trump adviser speculated that Bannon may be content to let Priebus take control now because Bannon is hoping to play a longer game. Given Trump’s history of turning on those closest to him (Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort), it may be good strategy to lay low and avoid blame for any problems with the transition. There is sure to be dysfunction -- not least because of this very power struggle. “When you have two people in charge of an organization,” said a Trump adviser, “it’s hard to be successful.”
That makes no sense. I don't know if this source is a Bannon friend, but if so, this seems like an attempt to cover over his weakness as a bureaucratic infighter. (Bannon's not being outplayed, he's trying to let Reince Priebus and the establishment win for now!)

If Trump loyalists continue to be locked out of power, I can imagine Bannon leaving the White House soon and going back to Breitbart -- and I can imagine Breitbart starting to turn on Trump even before Bannon leaves, opposing Trump the way it opposes establishment figures like Paul Ryan. I'm not sure how much damage that could do -- Breitbart's war on Ryan hasn't hurt him very much -- but it would be fascinating if Trump's reputation on the right a year or two from now is as part of the hated Republican establishment. Hey, maybe he'll be primaried in 2020 -- possibly by someone even more deranged.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

ALLEGED BUMBLING IDIOT PRIEBUS IS HANDING CONTROL OF TRUMP'S WHITE HOUSE TO THE GOP ESTABLISHMENT

As a liberal, I'm supposed to believe that Reince Priebus is a hapless doofus, but he backed the winning (or "winning") horse in the 2016 election, he wangled a job in the White House, and now, according to New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, he seems to be taking over the joint:
Sources point to Trump’s early appointments of hard-liners Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Mike Flynn for national security adviser as evidence of [Steve] Bannon’s influence. But Priebus has flexed his muscle in more recent appointments such as Betsy DeVos for education secretary and RNC donors Wilbur Ross at Commerce and Steve Mnuchin at Treasury....

Trump campaign staffers are also angry that Priebus is attempting to staff the West Wing with mainstream GOP officials rather than Trump loyalists. According to sources, Priebus wants Trump to appoint RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer to serve as White House press secretary rather than Kellyanne Conway (who turned down the job, sources say); he is also promoting RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh for deputy chief of staff, and former George W. Bush deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin for deputy chief for operations. “If Priebus controls the schedule and the message, what does Bannon actually control?” one Bannon loyalist asked.

... With only about 40 West Wing positions available, Priebus is moving quickly to fill them with his choices. This may be one of the ways in which his knowledge of how the West Wing works puts him at an advantage.
But we were told when Priebus was hired that he doesn't know how the West Wing works -- "he’s never worked in the White House or even in Wisconsin state government," Matt Yglesias wrote last month. However, Priebus, like his good buddy Paul Ryan and his pals the Koch brothers, knows the mission of the GOP -- tax cuts, deregulation, crushing unions (which is the point of Betsy DeVos's war on public schools) -- and he's laying the groundwork for the accomplishment of that mission.

Priebus is not only outflanking Bannon, he's taking advantage of Trump's ignorance and distractibility. This is my favorite detail from the Sherman story (emphasis added):
... some at Trump Tower are alarmed that Priebus has so far not offered jobs to a number of Trump loyalists who may have been expecting them, including Michael Cohen, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, and Dave Bossie. “We didn’t fight two years against the swamp only to bring the swamp into the White House,” one senior Trump adviser told me. Sources said Trump himself may not be aware that members of his original team haven’t been offered jobs.
Good grief.

Yesterday, Sherman's New York colleague Jonathan Chait summed up Paul Ryan's approach to Trump succinctly:
Paul Ryan: Trump Can Steal All He Wants As Long As I Get Tax Cuts
That's been the attitude of the GOP as a whole, with the exception of a few holdouts, since it became clear Trump would be the party's presidential nominee. The vast majority of the party has had no problem with Trump's bigotry, sexism, ignorance, or thievery as long as he could be the vehicle to help the GOP bring back the Gilded Age. And now Reince Priebus is on the inside, helping to get that done, and helping to make sure that the Trump administration is as much like a Scott Walker administration as it can possibly be.

****

UPDATE: There's more on this at Politico.

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE "WAR ON CHRISTMAS" BEFORE YOU RAN FOR PRESIDENT, DONALD?

The Hill, in a desperate search for right-wing eyeballs, posts this fact-challenged headline:
With Trump, conservatives hope for ally in 'War on Christmas'
Memo to The Hill: THERE IS NO WAR ON CHRISTMAS. Christmas is thriving in America. Christmas starts thriving every year in America well before Thanksgiving. There was never a war, or if there ever was, Christmas won. Bigly.

But to Trump, we have always been at war with EastPC:
Conservatives are hoping that Donald Trump will be a strong ally in the “War on Christmas.”

The president-elect, who repeatedly promised his supporters “we’re going to say ‘merry Christmas’ again,” made opposition to political correctness a tenet of his campaign. For some Trump voters, the generic, non-religious greeting “happy holidays” -- a phrase often employed by the Obama administration -- exemplifies that PC culture.

“I’m a good Christian. If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘merry Christmas’ at every store,” Trump said in Iowa last year. “You can leave ‘happy holidays’ at the corner.”

Since Election Day, Trump has kept up the same tune.

“President-elect Trump loves Christmas and makes a point of proudly saying ‘Merry Christmas’ every chance he gets,” his transition team said in a November statement....

"You can say again 'merry Christmas' because Donald Trump is now the president," Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, said on "Hannity" Tuesday evening. "You can say it again. It's OK to say."
I just want to take this moment to remind you that Donald Trump did not always feel this way about "happy holidays." Here's some of what I discovered when I looked into this back in August 2015:


Okay, that's just one tweet. But then there's this, from the Trump at Home Tumblr page:



... And this, from the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York:



And while the image is no longer available, I see this in a 2006 posting to a message board for casino chip collectors:



Which must be the same chip referred to in this 2007 newsletter from the Atlantic City Casino Collectibles Club:



And then there are these chips, from the Trump Marina in Atlantic City. Note the legend on the first one: "Have a wild holiday!" -- yes, "holiday," not "Christmas":

Remember all this when you read the following in The Hill:
Throughout his campaign, Trump fans lauded him as someone not afraid to fight back against political correctness, including floating a boycott of Starbucks over its secular holiday cups.
The Hill cites several people who treat the war on Christmas as a real thing -- Fox's Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson among them -- but leaves the entire case on the other side to be handled by the Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Lynn expresses confidence that Trump can't decide what people say or do:
However, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, points out that “obviously the president has no power to determine what holiday greetings are used in stores and shops.” ...

“Nothing says freedom more than a president telling the public what holidays to celebrate and exactly how to celebrate them,” he said in an email. “But I'm mollified by the fact that Trump’s promise is meaningless because, thankfully, he has no power to enforce it.”
I disagree. This is a man who can send one tweet and inspire many, many acolytes to issue death threats against his targets. This is a man who has the power to make stock prices plummet with one targeted 140-character IED. Do you think he won't use that power in the so-called war on Christmas, given how effectively it will rally the base?

If he doesn't abuse his power this way in the next few weeks, he will when he's president. Count on it.

I AM SHOCKED, SHOCKED, THAT AN AUTHORITARIAN LIKES GENERALS

Washington Post front page, are you kidding me?



The linked story is not bad, apart from this assertion. But why does the media continue to say this about Trump? The guy said he wanted to "bomb the shit out of" ISIS. He advocated taking Iraq's oil as spoils of war. Why was the press so focused on his (after-the-fact) Iraq War skepticism while ignoring his more bloodthirsty applause lines?

The Post story notes Trump's choice of retired Marine general John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, one of several military men who'll have (or might have) top positions in the administration:
If confirmed, Kelly and defense secretary nominee James Mattis, a retired Marine general with the nickname “Mad Dog,” would join retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s pick for White House national security adviser. Meanwhile, retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus is under consideration for secretary of state, and Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers is a contender for director of national intelligence.
What's going on?
Despite making regular remarks on the campaign trail disparaging the nation’s generals, Trump has long shown an affinity for them. In shaping his administration, Trump has prioritized what one adviser described as “can-do, no-bull types” ...

Trump, who received multiple draft deferments and who has no military experience beyond his years at a military boarding school, is said to be drawn to generals by their swagger and dazzled by their tales from the battlefield.
I'm not sure why Trump said on the campaign trail that he "know[s] more about ISIS than the generals do." (He said that in the same speech in which he talked about bombing the shit out of ISIS.) If I had to guess, I'd say it's simple jealousy -- Trump thinks of himself as the toughest of tough guys, the alpha of all alphas, but he knows that military men are seen as tougher, and while he never actually wanted to fight, he envies their status. The admiration he's expressing now is the flip side of that envy. And now, of course, he's unquestionably in the dominant position -- he gets to hire them; he gets to be their boss.

He wants the reflected glory. It's not just that, in his view, these guys are tough -- it's that they're perceived as tough. To him, they carry an aura of toughness -- and therefore, by extension, so does he. Compare this to what Trump insiders have said about the president-elect's baffling interest in making Mitt Romney his secretary of state:
Transition officials ... say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” ...
Trump has now reverted to the pro-military stance that for decades has been part of how conservatives define themselves. Trump presumably picked this up from his beloved Fox News. (Recall that Trump frenemy Roger Ailes wanted David Petraeus to run for president in 2012. Ailes communicated this wish to Petraeus via K.T. McFarland, who'll now be Trump's deputy national security adviser, reporting to General Mike Flynn.)

Trump loves the toughness. The generals' other accomplishments are probably secondary. Here was Trump talking about his choice of General Mattis to be defense secretary:
“ ‘Mad Dog’ plays no games, right?” Trump told a roaring crowd Tuesday night in Fayetteville, N.C. “Led the forces that went after the Taliban and commanded the First Marine Division in Iraq. He is one of the most effective generals that we’ve had in many, many decades."
The first sentence of that was clearly heartfelt. In the rest, Trump seems like a late-night talk-show host reading his final guest's introduction off an index card.

Trump thinks hiring a lot of generals makes him an honorary military man. But for the GOP in recent decades, that's typical. Ronald Reagan loved to salute, even though his military experience was limited to filmmaking and a war-bond drive. George W. Bush gave us that flightsuit moment in 2003, even though his military service was limited to the Texas Air National Guard. Trump is like no president we've seen before in many ways -- but not in this way.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

YUP, NOT A DIME'S WORTH OF DIFFERENCE

Nobody could have predicted that an incoming president who's said climate change is a hoax would do something like this:
President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change -- and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies....

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged -- in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.” ...

“During the campaign, Mr. Trump regularly threatened to dismantle the E.P.A. and roll back many of the gains made to reduce Americans’ exposures to industrial pollution, and with Pruitt, the president-elect would make good on those threats,” said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research and advocacy organization.

“It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history,” he added.
A lot of delicate souls told us all year that they couldn't possibly vote for Hillary Clinton -- and what difference would it make anyway, given how indistinguishable she was from the Republican nominee? Okay, so now that we are where we are, how indistinguishable was she? Who might have been her EPA secretary?

In August, Politico said that Clinton campaign chair John Podesta might have sought the job himself; a couple of months later, the Huffington Post, citing Wikileaks emails, noted that Podesta had twice recommended billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer to President Obama for the EPA job, and also put in a good word for former Colorado senator Tim Wirth, who organized Senate hearings on climate change (with NASA scientist James Hansen) back in 1988, and who led the U.S. negotiating team at the Kyoto Summit.

Trump vs. Clinton on the EPA? Yeah, I guess it's a tossup.

This is what left purists always refuse to grasp: that presidents have a tremendous amount of influence, and not just in the areas covered in purist talking points. It sure seems damning to run through the anti-Clinton bill of particulars (Goldman Sachs! Glass-Steagall repeal! The Iraq War vote! "Superpredators"!) -- but then a Republican sneaks into the White House, and this is what happens:



(And really, this would have been true if any of the Republicans who ran in 2016 had been elected.)

Just to pick one office from Berman's list: Who might have been Clinton's attorney general? Politico suggested that the top pick for the job that's going to go to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions would have been Tom Perez, the current labor secretary and a former civil rights lawyer. Perez's whitehouse.gov bio reads in part:
Previously Perez served as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice.... Under his leadership as Assistant Attorney General, the division successfully implemented the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act; expanded equal housing opportunity by bringing and settling the largest fair-lending cases in history; protected schoolchildren from discrimination, bullying and harassment; dramatically expanded access to employment, housing and educational opportunities for people with disabilities; protected the right to vote for all eligible voters free from discrimination; took record-setting efforts to ensure that communities have effective and democratically accountable policing; and safeguarded the employment, housing, fair lending and voting rights of service members. He also expanded the division's partnerships across federal agencies to address cross-cutting challenges in human trafficking, employment discrimination and fair lending, among others.
Perez vs. Sessions? Yup, hard to choose!

I don't want to limit the blame to purist lefty voters. They get some of their information from like-minded voices in the left media, but they're also exposed to the mainstream media, which regularly insists that Republicans really aren't that bad, and are just a few millimeters to the right of dead center. And Democrats never runs against the Republican Party itself -- they never attempt to portray the GOP as an existential threat to common decency (which is how Republicans routinely describe the Democratic Party to their voters). So maybe it's understandable if the inevitable consequences of allowing a Republican into the White House come as a shock to so many people.

MITCH McCONNELL DOESN'T SEEM PARTICULARLY WORRIED ABOUT OBAMACARE REPEAL CONSEQUENCES

Politico tells me that Republican Obamacare opponents in Congress have a tough road ahead:
After meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Tuesday to hash out plans to repeal Obamacare, top Senate Republicans are no closer to resolving an issue that’s splintering the GOP heading into the start of Donald Trump’s presidency: how long to give themselves to replace the law....

The only firm plans are for the Senate to kick off the repeal effort as soon as Jan. 3 by passing a budget resolution -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling it the “Obamacare repeal resolution” -- that sets the table to repeal the Affordable Care Act on a simple majority vote. Then, shortly after Trump is sworn in, Republicans aim to have a repeal bill on his desk to sign.

It’s what comes after that moment of catharsis that Republicans are struggling with.

Lawmakers have proposed putting off the effective date of repeal from as little as six months to as long as three years to come up with a replacement -- and give insurance markets a chance to prepare. Several senators suggested at the meeting with Pence that additional measures from Congress or the administration may be needed to address rising insurance premiums and avoid roiling the insurance markets in the period between repeal and replace, attendees said.
But we're told that none of these concerns are preventing Mitch McConnell from proclaiming that Obamacare repeal will be the first order of business for the Senate, which will be sworn in two and a half weeks before Donald Trump's inauguration. If there's a painful struggle in their future, he doesn't seem particularly concerned about it, and the warnings from the Democrats -- regarding repeal-and-replace, Chuck Schumer says, "bring it on" -- don't seem to worry him.

Repeal is a huge brand-building exercise for the GOP. (Watch the party-approval polling numbers after it happens -- the GOP's will skyrocket, as conservatives who regularly vote GOP but grumble about the party stop grumbling.) After that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯? According to Politico, folks like Ted Cruz and the House Freedom Caucus want a quick replacement, just as a matter of principle. Some Republicans don't want the replacement process stretching into 2019, when the next presidential campaign will be under way. And, oh yeah, there's concern about a possible "death spiral," in which insurers, knowing the law is on its deathbed, pull out of the marketplaces and leave a lot of people uninsured.

But if McConnell thought any of this was a reason to tread carefully, repeal wouldn't be at the top of his agenda. He clearly believes Republicans will be fine under any of these scenarios.

I predict a replacement period that extends past the 2018 midterms, for reasons Zandar laid out a few days ago:



Yes, Republicans will blame what they do to Obamacare on Obamacare. Now, that won't work if Democrats out-message them. But when has that ever happened? (Maybe the last time was during George W. Bush's drive to privatize Social Security. So: not in a decade.)

But what about the death spiral? Zandar again:



It will also be rumored that Those People are still getting coverage under the really good Obamacare, while Real Americans (i.e., white people) are caught in the death spiral.

So, yeah, they'll get away with this. And the replacement plan will be woefully inadequate. But it will seem shiny and promising through at least ... oh, 2020, when it will gradually become obvious that the new policies are full of holes and universal coverage is more of a theory than a fact. But by that time, Trump and the GOP Congress will be safely reelected.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

TRUMP'S DROP-IN-THE-BUCKET CARRIER DEAL POLLS BETTER THAN OBAMA'S BIG AUTO RESCUE

The polling looks good for Trump and Pence's Carrier deal:
Donald Trump’s first major action as president-elect -- the deal he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence struck last week with Carrier Corp. -- is earning high marks from American voters, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows.

... Sixty percent of voters say Carrier’s decision to keep some manufacturing jobs in Indiana ... gives them a more favorable view of Trump. That includes not only 87 percent of self-identified Republicans, but also 54 percent of independents and 40 percent of Democrats.

Only 9 percent say it makes them view Trump less favorably, while 22 percent say it doesn’t have an impact either way.
By contrast:



Why the difference?

First, some Democrats are willing to give Trump credit for the deal. In the Politico poll, you see that 40% of Democrats say the Carrier deal makes them more favorably disposed to Trump.

By contrast, Republicans would never give President Obama credit for anything. In the 2012 Gallup poll cited by Luntz and The Hill above, only 25% of Republicans favored the rescue of the auto industry.

Beyond that, please note the way the auto rescue was framed. It was regularly called a "bailout" -- and the word "bailout" probably reminded voters of the bailout of the financial industry, which infuriated many of them. In that Gallup poll the question was:
Now, thinking back to one of the major actions taken by the federal government in the last four years, would you say you approve or disapprove of the financial bailout for U.S. automakers that were in danger of failing?
It was also seen as a giveaway to the industry, even though most of the money involved was in the form of loans. So in CNN polling, which showed that the rescue was unpopular in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the question was:
Looking back, do you think the federal government should have provided financial help in 2009 to U.S. automakers who were in financial trouble, or should these companies have been allowed to succeed or fail on their own?
But in a 2012 Pew poll, the rescue was popular -- 56% of respondents thought it was good for the economy and only 38% didn't. Why? Maybe because Pew's question referred to loans.
The government also gave loans to General Motors and Chrysler during this period. Do you think this was mostly good or mostly bad for the economy?
The Republican narrative throughout the Obama years was that the president spent money with no sense of responsibility. That became the story much of heartland America believed. In the case of the Carrier deal, the opposition party isn't driving the narrative. (Democrats never do, do they?)

The Carrier deal saved only 800 jobs -- 730 union jobs plus 70 salaried positions. Cost, as far as we know: $7 million in tax breaks. That's $8750 per job.

The auto rescue saved 1.5 million jobs. A 2014 study said it cost taxpayers $9 billion. That's $6000 per job --for a lot more jobs and a lot more ongoing economic activity.

But Republicans told the story of the auto rescue, just as Republicans are telling the Carrier story. So the polls go their way in both cases.

IF TRUMP FANS DON'T TAKE HIM LITERALLY, WHY IS HIS HYPERBOLIC LANGUAGE SO SPECIFIC?

You know about President-elect Trump's latest coup de théâtre, I assume:
Donald Trump on Tuesday called for the cancellation of a Defense Department contract with Boeing to build the next generation of presidential aircraft, decrying the deal as too expensive.

“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” the president-elect wrote on Twitter.

“The plane is totally out of control. It’s going to be over $4 billion for Air Force One program and I think it’s ridiculous," Trump elaborated in brief comments to reporters at Trump Tower. "I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”
And you probably know that the $4 billion figure was pulled out of Trump's keister:
Boeing on Tuesday responded to President-elect Donald Trump's criticism over the cost of a new Air Force One plane, saying the contract is actually for $170 million....

"We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serves the unique requirements of the President of the United States," Boeing said in a statement....

The Pentagon announced in January that Boeing had won the contract to replace the current Air Force One planes.... the Air Force planned on spending as much as $1.65 billion on the project, according to Reuters.
So there's no basis for Trump's $4 billion figure -- I couldn't find a claim of this kind even in the wingnuttosphere, nor could Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald.

But isn't even $1.65 billion a lot for a plane? Here's Eichenwald:



As I watch this story unfold, I find myself thinking of an idea about Trump that became increasingly popular in certain circles over the past few months. The Atlantic's Selena Zito seems to have been the first to articulate it:
“Fifty-eight percent of black youth cannot get a job, cannot work,” [Trump] says. “Fifty-eight percent. If you are not going to bring jobs back, it is just going to continue to get worse and worse.”

It’s a claim that drives fact-checkers to distraction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate for blacks between the ages of 16 and 24 at 20.6 percent. Trump prefers to use its employment-population ratio, a figure that shows only 41.5 percent of blacks in that age bracket are working. But that means he includes full time high-school and college students among the jobless.

It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
(Emphasis added.)

Vindictive zillionaire Peter Thiel later picked up on this:
... I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always is taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally. So when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment, or things like that, the question is not are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China, or how exactly are you going to enforce these tests. What they hear is we're going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy. We're going to try to figure out how do we strike the right balance between cost and benefits.
But what never gets explained is why Trump doesn't just go with the truth. $1.65 billion is a big number. You could easily imagine the Trump base recoiling at horror at that much tax revenue being spent on a plane, even if it turns out that the price tag is reasonable, given the communications and security extras that have to be built into Air Force One.

The point is that Trump has an intuition about the degree of falsehood that will make his intended audience believe him. It's not enough to be against undocumented immigrants -- you have to round all of them up, and build a wall, and get Mexico to pay for it. It's not enough that a new Air Force One will be expensive -- the taxpayers have to think they're on the hook for more than twice the actual projected cost.

Yes, when you ask voters, they seem to know that Trump isn't telling the truth -- a poll out today says that 55% of Americans say it's "not very or not at all likely" that Trump will actually get the wall built.

But at some level -- in some part of their brains -- Trumpers need these specifics. They delight in them. During the campaign, Trump sometimes hedges on his promises in interviews, but then he'd go right back to rallying the faithful at campaign stops with the uncut stuff.

What I'm saying is that there's an area in every Trump fan's cranium where these falsehoods and exaggerations are taken literally, and wouldn't be as effective if they weren't hyperbolic. Zito and Thiel -- an elite journalist and a billionaire -- romanticize the great unwashed Trumpers, ascribing to them a sage wisdom the establishment lacks. But on some level the Trumpers believe. $1.65 billion wouldn't have rallied them to Trump today. Maybe $2 billion or $3 billion wouldn't have, either. Trump's instinct was that the number had to be $4 billion -- and if he has any area of expertise, it's in dishonesty. He's an excellent liar.

This stuff works. It works because it's taken at face value in some region of the average Tumper's brain. I bet the faithful will be repeating that $4 billion figure as if it's gospel for a long time to come.

CNN BETA-TESTS SUPREME COURT TALKING POINTS ON DONALD TRUMP'S BEHALF

This article by CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue is pure, undiluted pro-Trump and pro-GOP propaganda:
Trump could bring a different kind of diversity to the Supreme Court

... As he considers a list of nominees to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Trump is looking for a kind of diversity the current court lacks.

The potential nominees all have sterling judicial conservative credentials. But the current list represents something else -- a nod to judges from "flyover" states, an appreciation for non-Ivy League schools and even a dash of political experience. Many on Trump's list wore different hats before donning their judicial robes. And some have personal stories that could attract the President-elect.

... Trump's list is geographically diverse, including names from Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri and Minnesota. At an appearance at the University of Arizona last August, Justice Elena Kagan noted the issue of geographic diversity and the fact that many justices come from the "non square states."

... Besides geographic diversity, Trump might seek a candidate that brings a strong personal story to the court.

Last month, Judge Thomas Hardiman appeared in Washington to moderate a complicated panel concerning labor and employment law for the conservative Federalist Society. He told the panel he might have to channel his prior taxi driving experience to address the subject. Indeed, before he was appointed as a judge at 37 years old, Hardiman drove a cab to earn funds. He was the first child in his family to attend college....

Judge Rayond Gruender of the 8th Circuit has a different kind of story. Long before he took the bench, he suffered an unbelievably violent attack at the hands of his father....

A candidate who would certainly bring a different type of experience to the court is Margaret Ryan.

Ryan is a former active duty marine, including serving as an aide de camp to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Ryan has more conventional credentials as well, as a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and is serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. But how many nominees have served in both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm? ...
If Trump nominates one or more of these people to fill Supreme Court vacancies, it's perfectly legitimate for their advocates to use these arguments on their behalf. Opponents will have legitimate arguments of their own, probably focusing on ideology and temperament.

But it isn't CNN's job to road-test talking points for the president-elect. And that's all this article does. If it's not intended to help Trump sell his judicial choices, it's intended to signal to the incoming administration that de Vogue is a friendly journalist the Trumpers can work with.

It's possible to take these talking points and weave them into a story that's not Pravda-esque -- see this piece by Adam Liptak in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago. But what de Vogue gives us is pure stenography. Expect more of this in the coming months, as an increasing number of journalists conclude, erroneously, that resistance to Trumpism (and Republicanism) is futile.

Monday, December 05, 2016

THE AL GORE MEETING: AGAIN, THE TRUMPS USE THE TRANSITION PROCESS TO TRY TO MAKE MONEY

The president-elect and his daughter Ivanka met with Al Gore today:
President-elect Donald Trump met on Monday with Al Gore -- one of the most vocal advocates of fighting climate change.

Before the meeting, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters on a daily briefing call that Gore would meet with Ivanka Trump, the President-elect's daughter, about climate issues, but he did not know what specifically was on the agenda. He had also said the former Democratic vice president would not meet with Trump himself.

But Gore told reporters after the meeting that he met with Trump himself after seeing Ivanka.

"I had a lengthy and very productive session with the President-elect," Gore said, according to the pool report. "It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the President-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I'm just going to leave it at that."
Allahpundit at the right-wing site Hot Air finds this curious:
It’s not surprising that young urban liberal Ivanka Trump would want to pick Al Gore’s brain on his and the left’s pet issue. What’s surprising is that the transition team would announce it publicly. Why do that? Why didn’t she just call Gore? A showy meeting with him will only annoy right-wingers, and Trump himself usually doesn’t seem to care much about impressing the left, to his credit.
He comes to essentially the same conclusion I did:
The announcement feels less like something done at Trump’s behest than done at Ivanka’s behest, to signal to her political and social circles that she may be part of Team Trump but she’s not wavering in her own views.... The Trumps are all about branding. Ivanka’s making sure her brand remains somewhat distinct from her father’s.
I'd say she's trying to ensure that she remains in the good graces of her customers -- both the merchants who carry her products and the ultimate purchasers, many of whom don't like her father. And she has some reasons to worry. A boycott of her products began last month:
... technology-and-media-marketing specialist Shannon Coulter created the hashtag #GrabYourWallet to encourage consumers to boycott businesses that carry Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories lines....

An updated spreadsheet has been circulating on Twitter listing the retailers that do business with the Trump family, along with contact information their customer-relations departments. These include major retailers like Amazon, Macy’s, Marshalls, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Lord and Taylor, all of which carry the Ivanka Trump collection.

An updated spreadsheet has been circulating on Twitter listing the retailers that do business with the Trump family, along with contact information their customer-relations departments. These include major retailers like Amazon, Macy’s, Marshalls, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Lord and Taylor, all of which carry the Ivanka Trump collection....

#GrabYourWallet saw its first victory a few days ago, when Shoes.com became the first retailer to dump Trump products as a result of the boycott.
You can see the spreadsheet at grabyourwallet.org. Coulter (@shannoncoulter) has 28,000 followers on Twitter.

And over the weekend the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times reported on how Ivanka is navigating the process of being the daughter of sexist wingnut bigot president-elect. It's not all going smoothly:
Last month, artists like Dan Colen and Nate Lowman, both of whose works Ms. Trump has collected, lent their names in support of a “Dear Ivanka” open letter, one that included statements like “I’m black and I’m afraid of Jeff Sessions” and “My mom is going to be deported,” but that also said, “We wanted to appeal to your rationality and your commitment to protecting the rights of all Americans, especially women and children.” The two were among the 200 or so attendees Monday night at a protest outside the Puck Building, which Mr. Kushner owns and where the couple has an apartment....

“I think it’s delusional to believe there’s any difference between Mr. Trump and his children on any of his extreme positions,” [Barry] Diller, a Clinton donor in the 2016 campaign, wrote in a recent email. “They’ve had every opportunity to publicly modify them and have not done so.” ...

In Aspen, Colo., at the annual Weekend With Charlie Rose conference in September, Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner, her husband, joined the likes of Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Ari Emanuel and Jeffrey Katzenberg at a dinner in the dining room of the Hotel Jerome.

Hasan Minhaj, 31, the popular “Daily Show” comedian, was the entertainer at a Thursday night dinner and gently ribbed some of the more exalted guests about their wealth and power.

But his digs went deeper when Mr. Minhaj, whose parents emigrated from India to the United States shortly before he was born, turned to Ms. Trump.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked, his tone suggesting others in the room were asking the same question. Listing Mr. Trump’s attacks on Muslims, like suggesting that they should be barred from entering the country, Mr. Minhaj implored Ms. Trump to stop abetting her father, and then closed with a sharp-edged joke.

“At the end of the day, your dad wants to deport my dad,” he said.

Ms. Trump sat there, Mr. Minhaj said, “looking uncomfortable.”
Ivanka hasclaimed that she wants to make climate change one of her "signature issues." She had a well-publicized meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio in which he gave her a copy of a climate change documentary he made.

It's all branding. But today's meeting was Ivanka Trump branding as part of the presidential transition effort. It's no different from Papa Donald chatting about hotels in what's supposed to be a discussion with foreign leaders or diplomats. The Trumps never stop doing business. This was more of that.

What I can't figure out is why Daddy Donald met with Gore. He does like us to think that even his enemies feel the need to pay court to him (see: Mitt Romney). And maybe someone on his team felt he should give cover to what was, in effect, a business meeting at the unofficial transition headquarters. Or maybe Big Poppa doesn't want his base to think that his liberal daughter and the evil "Algore" are conniving to ban internal combustion engines behind his back. Beyond that, I'm drawing a blank.

TODAY IN "BOTH SIDES DO IT"

You could argue that Democrats asked for the Politico headline they got because they brought up Merrick Garland in connection with Trump appointees:
Senate Democrats are preparing to put Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks through a grinding confirmation process, weighing delay tactics that could eat up weeks of the Senate calendar and hamper his first 100 days in office.

Multiple Democratic senators told POLITICO in interviews last week that after watching Republicans sit on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court for nearly a year, they’re in no mood to fast-track Trump’s selections.

But it’s not just about exacting revenge.

Democrats argue that some of the president-elect’s more controversial Cabinet picks -- such as Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary -- demand a thorough public airing.

“They’ve been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We’re going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?” fumed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “It’s not obstruction, it’s not partisan, it’s just a duty to find out what they’d do in these jobs.”
But that still doesn't justify the headline:
Democrats to give Trump Cabinet picks the Garland treatment
Wrong. Democrats can't "give Trump Cabinet picks the Garland treatment." No Democrat expresses the intention of "giv[ing] Trump Cabinet picks the Garland treatment." The worst these appointees are going to experience is this:
Any individual senator can force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold procedural votes on nominees. Senior Democrats said a series of such votes are likely for many of Trump’s picks.

Democrats could conceivably force up to 30 hours of debate for each Cabinet nominee, which would be highly disruptive for a GOP Senate that usually works limited hours but has big ambitions for next year.
Do I have to explain the obvious? Merrick Garland did not get a vote in the Senate. Merrick Garland did not get a vote in the Judiciary Committee. Merrick Garland did not get a hearing. When Democrats completely block a Trump Cabinet appointment, then they'll be giving the appointee "the Garland treatment."

And because, for the mainstream media, the flip side of "both sides do it" is "actually, Democrats are worse," we're told this:
Eight years ago, when the roles were reversed, with Barack Obama taking office and an all-Democratic Congress, Republicans were mostly deferential to the incoming president. On Obama's first day in office, the Senate confirmed seven of Obama's Cabinet nominees. By the end of that week, it had cleared more than a dozen senior-level positions, all without dissent except for Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be secretary of state, for which the GOP demanded a roll call.

Trump almost certainly won’t be receiving similar treatment.
Yes, because Republicans chose to be obstructionist about appointments that weren't likely to make the nightly news. It took seven months to confirm Tom Perez as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, presumably because Republicans didn't like the idea of having a career civil rights lawyer in the job. And Republicans saw to it that Obama's judicial appointments were slow-walked, as Slate's Doug Kendall noted in late October 2009:
Only three of [President Obama's] 22 lower court nominees have been confirmed so far. The latest one, Roberto Lange for a federal district court in South Dakota, was cleared last week after waiting for three and a half months (including three weeks on the floor). The slow pace of the president's nominations is part of the problem. But the larger issue is a new form of obstructionism in the Senate.

It seems clear that Senate Republicans are prepared to take the partisan war over the courts into uncharted territory -- delaying up-or-down votes on the Senate floor for even the most qualified and uncontroversial of the president's judicial nominees.
So what else makes this situation Garland-like? What other false equivalency can Politico offer?
Historically, the Senate began hearings before Inauguration Day for every attorney general nominee from a newly elected president since Dwight Eisenhower, with the exception of a nominee carried over by George H.W. Bush from the Reagan administration who was approved without a hearing. Incoming Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she highly doubts Sessions will be confirmed on Inauguration Day.

She, like other Democrats interviewed for this story, said that Republicans’ treatment of Garland is impossible to forget.

“Past is present, and what goes around comes around. Now, those are pretty hackneyed sayings, but those are really true around here,” Feinstein said in an interview.

Not all Democrats are on board with a strategy of delay.

Informed that Democrats might hold up Sessions and other nominations past Jan. 20, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia responded: “That’s just bullshit.”

“My God, I think we should have an attorney general in place on Jan. 20. I sure do believe that," added Manchin....
Omigid! Not allowing Jeff Sessions to be sworn in by January 20 -- that's exactly as bad as keeping Garland off the bench altogether!

Get ready for more of this from the media.

WHERE'S OUR PETER THIEL?

It's all fun and games until someone takes you seriously enough to do this:
A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign....

Police said 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., walked in the front door of Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee. The employee was able to flee and notify police. Police said Welch proceeded to discharge the rifle inside the restaurant; they think that all other occupants had fled when Welch began shooting....

The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true.
A lot of people spread the "Pizzagate" story -- you could read about it at 4Chan and on Facebook, and at a sites such as the New Nationalist and the Vigilant Citizen. Reddit was a hotbed of Pizzagate posts until the site banned the topic.

And then there's Alex Jones's InfoWars. Edgar Maddison Welch's "likes" on Facebook included both Jones and InfoWars -- for whom the story was an obsession:



Here's part of the description posted by the Alex Jones Channel for one of its YouTube videos on Pizzagate:
The FBI has long known the symbols pedophiles are using to operate. An FBI Unclassified document from wikileaks reveals "Symbols and Logos Used by Pedophiles to Identify Sexual Preferences.... to include those who sexually abuse children as well as those who produce, distribute, and trade child pornography, are using various types of identification logos or symbols to recognize one another and distinguish their sexual preferences. To specifically indicate the pedophile's gender preference, members of pedophilic organizations encourage the use of descriptions such as "boylove", "girllove", and "childlove." ...

Now...clues. The menu from Comet Ping Pong. Notice the symbol of the ping pong paddles and its clever resemblance to the FBI documents symbol for Child Love.
The owner of Comet Ping Pong received death threats after this story spread, and his employees were subject to abusive messages. And now this gunman.

So where's our Peter Thiel? Where's the rich person who'll bankroll a massive lawsuit on Comet's behalf against media outlets that spread this story, the Alex Jones empire in particular?

Corporations can sue for defamation, although in D.C. a business, no matter how small, is considered a public figure for the purposes of such lawsuits, which means that plaintiffs must demonstrate actual malice -- that is, it must be shown that the defamer knew the story was false or acted with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. It's a high but not impossibly high bar to clear.

I can understand why Comet's owner wouldn't want to go to court -- the deplorables are making his life miserable now, so imagine what they'd do if he sued Alex Jones.

But it seems to me that this is precisely the sort of abuse that libel and defamation laws are meant to prevent. It would not chill free speech to punish a media outlet that willfully accuses an innocent small-business owner of being part of a pedophile ring knowing full well that that's not true.

I'd be surprised if a suit of this kind is ever filed. But it would be a good thing.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

WHEN IT COMES TO REPORTING ON NASTY DEMAGOGUES, WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WORKS ANYMORE

This piece by New York Times public editor Liz Spayd is not going over well:
IF you have not yet heard the term “alt-right,” you most likely are living in another orbit. It is the chosen name of an extremist fringe with white supremacy at its roots. It is also a label many consider dangerous because it sanitizes the movement’s racist core. And if the media uses the word, they think, then they’re part of the problem.

As the fire rages, The New York Times has become ground zero.

... so far, there is no move among top editors to ban it. Instead, their thinking is: You can use the phrase in a story, but make sure you include a blunt explanation of its meaning.
There's that, and there's Spayd's defense of some recent Times reporting on Steve Bannon:
Scott Shane, a veteran reporter, produced a significant investigative piece on Trump’s most controversial adviser, Stephen Bannon. Through rigorous reporting and revelatory details, a portrait of Bannon emerged that was fascinating, original, and yet not neatly characterized. The story didn’t call Bannon a racist, a demerit in the eyes of some readers. And the headline used the phrase “Combative Populist.” Another demerit.

... Readers ... complained to my office, some with passionate responses, like that of Paul Kingsley of Rochester. “Steve Bannon could accurately be referred to as a racist, a misogynist, or a xenophobe,” Kingsley wrote. “It is inaccurate to refer to him as a ‘populist.’ Inherent in the definition is to represent ‘ordinary people’; Bannon’s views are extreme and anything but ‘normal.’ The NYT referring to him thusly normalizes his views and does the majority of people, who would not claim his hateful rhetoric as their own, a disservice.”

Kingsley’s point is worthy of discussion, but I had a different reaction to the story. When I read it, I trusted my narrator more because he wrote without judgment or loaded terms. He let me judge. And he wasn’t afraid to use nuance when it was called for, which in this age is braver than flat-out proclaiming someone a racist.

Go here for some critical tweetstorms.





My complaint when the piece landed was that it gave too many column inches to Bannon's own myth of himself as a patriotic, tough-minded scourge of the establishment. But if you read the whole thing, you know that Bannon's racist views came through:
[Julia] Jones, [Bannon's] film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.

“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’"
I don't think it's a virtue to write about a purveyor of hate speech "without judgment or loaded terms," but if you're going to make that choice, you'd better be sure the facts speak for themselves -- and in Shane's piece, they do, at least some of the time. I can live with that.

Is it necessary to call Bannon a racist in a piece in which his racism is on display? After the events of the past year, I have no idea. What I mean is I have no idea anymore what works, what in a work of journalism gets across the nature of a bad person.

Do we remember the moment when there seemed to be a sincere effort in the media to refer to Donald Trump's lies as lies, to portray him as remarkably untruthful even by the usual standards of politics? We thought he'd made it through the primaries because coverage of him was too gentle; we believed his election would be thwarted by gloves-off treatment of his mendacity (and his bigotry, and his harsh treatment of women, and his corrupt business practices).

It didn't work. He still became our next president. The tougher coverage didn't disqualify him in the eyes of 62 million voters, and may have made some of them more determined to vote for him.

So I think it's necessary for the press to tell us about the profound character flaws of Bannon, Trump, and others in Trump's administration. But putting LIAR or RACIST in big screaming letters in a headline doesn't seem to make any positive difference. Too many Americans just don't have a problem with racism, or with lies or sexual thuggery or fraud if the perpetrator is an SOB they like.