Tuesday, January 17, 2017

GOOD NEWS: THE TERM "ALT-RIGHT" IS TOXIC NOW. BAD NEWS: THE TERMINOLOGY IS SHIFTING.

There's a long Politico Magazine story on the alt-right that's well worth your time. I say that even though it risks normalizing the movement's participants by making them seem like just another group of wannabe D.C. power players:
Disdaining the traditional Washington think tanks as passé, they’re taking aim straight at America’s sense of its own identity, with plans for “culture tanks” to produce movies that make anti-immigrant conservatism look cool, and advocacy arms that resemble BuzzFeed more than The Heritage Foundation. They talk elliptically about internet memes replacing white papers as the currency of the policy realm, pushed out by “social media strike forces” trained in the ways of fourth-generation, insurgency-style warfare. There’s the idea of taking over the Republican Party with a wave of Tea Party-style primary challenges in 2018 that will rely on novel campaign tactics like flash mobs and 24/7 streaming video of candidates’ lives.
The story is worthwhile because there's no concealing the ugliness of the alt-right's agenda. The paragraph I just quoted ends this way:
There’s even a new right-wing hipster fraternal organization started by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys (motto: “The West Is the Best”), which promises to serve as an amateur security force at political events, including the Inauguration.
The story profiles unabashed racists such as Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer (Spencer is the guy whose speech at a recent D.C. conference culminated in Nazi salutes) as well as people who want us to believe they're just jolly provocateurs (we learn that Milo Yiannopoulos's vision for the alt-right "DeploraBall" celebrating Trump's victory includes "shirtless Mexican laborers ... building a physical wall around" entering guests). Even if the story's author, Ben Schreckinger, spends too much time on his interviewees' ambitions, everyone he speaks to comes off as a dangerous creep.

But I'd like to point out that we have some information that's relevant to the ongoing controversy about the use of the term "alt-right":
Known until recently as the “alt-right,” it is a dispersed movement that encompasses a range of right-wing figures....

Now, as its members move on Washington, an already fragmented movement is further split between those who embrace Spencer’s racial politics and those who, for reasons of pragmatism or principle, reject the “alt-right” label for its associations. Said Paul Ray Ramsey, a blogger who flirts with white nationalism but found the Nazi associations a bridge too far, even for him: “You don’t want to tie your brand to something that’s ultimate evil.”

Many figures in the movement now disdain the term “alt-right”...

[Mike] Cernovich has condemned Richard Spencer and disassociated himself from the “alt-right” label....

Cernovich now uses the label “new right” to describe himself.
Schreckinger, regrettably, uses the term "new right" a number of times in the article, and refers to some movement participants as members of the "alt-light" (a term used by Richard Spencer). Using these terms is a whitewash. I've believed for some time that using the term "alt-right" isn't whitewashing racism or neo-Nazism, as long as you unreservedly assert that alt-rightism is racist and neo-Nazi. I think the press and other commentators have successfully done this -- as the members of the movement themselves say, the term is now poisoned.

But these people mustn't be allowed to slither away and start referring to themselves as the "new right," or to say that the alt-right is racist but the "alt-light" isn't. These terms have to be tainted as well. Read about the members of the movement, in Schreckinger's piece and elsewhere. These people must not be normalized or mainstreamed.

IN TRUMPWORLD, THE RULES STILL APPLY ONLY IF YOU'RE CAPABLE OF SHAME

I don't agree with this headline from James Hohmann's Daily 202 column in The Washington Post:
Monica Crowley losing White House job shows that the rules of politics still apply for Donald Trump
Here's Hohmann's argument:
Donald Trump and his team believe that the rules and norms of Washington do not apply to them. They are wrong, and yesterday brought a significant proof point.

Washington veterans marvel at how much Trump has been able to get away with because he just doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks....

For the past 10 days, the poster child for this phenomenon has been Monica Crowley, a TV talking head who despite a dearth of serious experience was appointed as the senior director of strategic communications on the National Security Council....

A steady stream of stories since the weekend before last has revealed pretty egregious examples of apparent plagiarism over a period of several years, from a 2012 book to her PhD dissertation and op-eds.

... Trump learned crisis management from his mentor Roy Cohn, who had been Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel during the witch hunts of the 1950s. Cohn, who represented Trump when the Justice Department sued him for housing discrimination in the 1970s, taught him to never apologize and to always counter-punch.

That’s exactly how his team initially responded to the revelations about Crowley....

[But] because a handful of reporters doggedly pursued the story, the pressure became too much. Yesterday afternoon, Crowley sent a statement to the Washington Times to say that “after much reflection” she’s decided to stay in New York.
That doesn't prove that the rules apply to Trump. It proves that the rules apply to Trump appointees who don't have the unmitigated gall to brazen out a scandal like this (and who presumably aren't Trump's special favorites).

Crowley's appointment would not have required Senate confirmation. She could have hung on if she'd been deemed a key person in the administration -- like, say, the man who would have been her boss, General Michael "Putin Poodle" Flynn. But Crowley was picked presumably because binge TV watcher Trump used to see her all the time on Fox, not because the president-elect regarded her as a critical figure in his administration. She was easy to jettison -- and she appears to lack the extraordinary self-regard of her would-be boss, or her would-be boss's boss. If you think you've cornered the market on excellence, genius, and judgment, as Flynn and Trump do, you'll probably try to outlast embarrassing revelations, because your ego won't let you withdraw. Crowley, I guess, doesn't have a head swelled to several times normal size.

We'll see if the old rules still apply if there are relentless attacks on a higher-level appointee -- Flynn, for instance. For now, though, Crowley's an exception to the Trump Rules, which still seem to hold.

REPUBLICANS IN DISARRAY! (PROBABLY NOT)

Omigod -- Republicans are going through a crack-up!
President-elect Donald Trump criticized a cornerstone of House Republicans’ corporate-tax plan, which they had pitched as an alternative to his proposed import tariffs, creating another point of contention between the incoming president and congressional allies.

The measure, known as border adjustment, would tax imports and exempt exports as part of a broader plan to encourage companies to locate jobs and production in the U.S. But Mr. Trump, in his first comments on the subject, called it “too complicated.”

“Anytime I hear border adjustment, I don’t love it,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday. “Because usually it means we’re going to get adjusted into a bad deal. That’s what happens.”
Trump wants import tariffs. Congressional Republicans want to compromise with Trump by offering border adjustment. And wealthy backers of the GOP, including the Koch brothers, don't want either one:
Retailers and oil refiners have lined up against the measure, warning it would drive up their tax bills and force them to raise prices because they rely so heavily on imported goods.

Koch Industries Inc., a conglomerate run by billionaire brothers active in Republican politics, last month said the border-adjustment measure could have “devastating” long-term consequences for the economy and the American consumer.
It's tempting to see this as a major rift -- I'm quoting from The Wall Street Journal, which certainly does -- but really, the GOP isn't going to let this stand in the way of the main goals (giving massive tax and regulatory cuts to the rich; scapegoating non-whites, immigrants, and liberals for everything; using electoral law to stay in power forever). It may seem as if Congress's willingness to punish multinational corporations at all is putting a strain on GOP principles (if that's the right word for them), but I think Republicans in the Trump era are following the lead of Edward Conard:
At a private gathering of wealthy Republicans this June, a banker named Edward Conard made a radical proposal: To save capitalism from Donald Trump, American business leaders would need to abandon old allies and make an “odious” new deal with low-wage workers.

“If advocates of the free enterprise want to regain control of the Republican Party ... we need to find middle ground with these workers,” Conard. “The question is: How do we build a coalition with displaced workers like we did with the religious right after Roe vs. Wade, and which we used to lower the marginal tax rate from 70% to 28%?”

... [Conard's] solution was -- to the audience -- hair-raisingly radical in its simplicity.... His plan requires replacing the religious right in the Republican coalition with the new populists, and mollifying them with new restrictions on trade and immigration -- all in exchange for the holy grail of lower marginal tax rates.
This description, from a Ben Smith article published by BuzzFeed in September, was written when most people believed Trump would lose badly and take the GOP down with him. But it applies in a Trump presidency as well: Give Trump and his deplorables a bit of populist protectionism, inspire them to keep voting GOP, get huge tax cuts for the wealthy in return.

The fact that Republicans in Congress are meeting Trump partway on protectionism shows that they understand the appeal of such a bargain. And the fact that Trump seems quite comfortable with the idea of massive tax and regulatory cuts suggests that this marriage will survive.

Joe Scarborough doesn't grasp this. Yesterday he was proclaiming Trump a non-Republican, and, arguing that Trump is going to be the death of the GOP and the two-party system, all with the general agreement of his panel. The right-wing blog Legal Insurrection has a partial transcript:



JON MEACHAM: Joe, what do you think about this? Jeremy [Peters, of the NYT] said [Trump] is not a conservative president. It’s true. He’s a Republican president. Is he going to be a Republican president or is he a president who used the Republican party as a vehicle to power?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: We will find out.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: A transactional president.

MIKA: I think a little bit of both.

JOE: I think that actually he --

MIKA: Look at his cabinet.

JOE: He is, in a sense, and people will look back -- because I believe the parties -- we’ve talked about this a lot before. I think the 150-year duopoly is over, and I think people will look over the past ten years and see how power in the House has switched back and the Senate and the presidency switched every two years as the beginning of the end for the two parties. I think people are going to still look at George W. Bush as the last Republican president.

MIKA: Yeah.

JOE: I think Donald Trump, by the end, will blow apart the Republican party and you may have Bernie Sanders doing the same. I mean, don’t you think so? I think actually, in a sense, this guy is the first independent president.
Elsewhere in the segment, as Crooks and Liars notes, Scarborough and Harold Ford agreed that Trump and his voters are really independents who are very Sanders-like. This is in response to a Sanders speech at a pro-Obamacare rally in Michigan:


JOE SCARBOROUGH: Harold, these poor Republicans in the House are getting pulled by one side and Bernie Sanders talking that if Republicans think they'll be able to do this, they have another thing coming. Now Donald trump is also warning the Republicans in the house, you better follow me. You better provide universal health insurance for everybody or else. I think this is going to -- this is shaping up to be a pretty extraordinary fight.

HAROLD FORD JR: If you listen to the beginning of what Bernie Sanders said, he said a few Republicans want to improve Obamacare, which you could find an ally in Donald Trump in that regard. Donald Trump's remarks remind people that he ran not as a traditional Republican as said around this table numerous times but the imperfect vessel that represents the middle of the country, and the majority of people consider themselves independents more so than Democrat or Republican.
No, they don't -- not the majority of white voters in "the middle of the country." Yes, some aren't regular Fox watchers or talk radio listeners, and before Trump's victory enough of them voted for Obama to give him wins in very white Midwestern states. But Republicans have won the white vote for more than a generation -- in four victories, Obama and Bill Clinton never won a majority or plurality of whites. For the foreseeable future, whites will lean Republican, out of a belief that the Democratic Party hates their guns and their sentimental patriotism and their taste in food and music ... and because the GOP validates their discomfort with a diverse society, overtly under Trump and in code otherwise.

On healthcare, Republicans will find a way to agree. I don't care how serious Trump seems about covering everyone -- he'll gladly accept congressional Republicans' phony promise of universal access instead of genuine universal coverage, or, if it looks as if he and the GOP are going to lose a vote in Congress, he'll go along with what Jonathan Chait predicts will be the congressional GOP's approach -- repeal now, delay a replacement forever, or at least until Democrats are in charge -- because he can't bear to be seen losing. After repeal, the idea of replacing Obamacare will just disappear. Trump will talk about the wall or get in Twitter feuds until we're distracted.

I don't think there's any likelihood that Trump will jettison Republicans and work with Democrats for universal coverage, which seems to be what a lot of people expect. He's surprisingly loyal to people who flatter him, and no one has flattered him more than Republican voters. They won't want to see him working with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. He'll lose his gang.

I could be wrong about all this. But I see no crack-up coming.

Monday, January 16, 2017

NO, WE ARE NOT TO GET SINGLE PAYER UNDER DONALD TRUMP

This has a lot of naive people intrigued:
President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid.

Trump declined to reveal specifics in the telephone interview late Saturday with The Washington Post....

In addition to his replacement plan for the ACA, also known as Obamacare, Trump said he will target pharmaceutical companies over drug prices.

“They’re politically protected, but not anymore,” he said of pharmaceutical companies.

... Trump pointed to several interviews he gave during the campaign in which he promised to “not have people dying on the street.”

“It’s not going to be their plan,” he said of people covered under the current law. “It’ll be another plan. But they’ll be beautifully covered. I don’t want single-payer. What I do want is to be able to take care of people,” he said Saturday.
He says he doesn't want single payer, but a lot of people who should know better think that's precisely what he's talking about. RoseAnn DeMauro, the pro-single-payer head of a nurses' union that endorsed Bernie Sanders, already said earlier this month, regarding single payer, that "The one I’m counting on the most is Trump." And last night there was this from an anti-Trump Republican strategist:



And this from a Washington Examiner writer:



And this from a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation:



First of all, there's no plan, and Trump says he intends to finalize the plan only when his designate for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, has taken office:
“It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump said. He noted that he is waiting for his nominee for secretary of health and human services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), to be confirmed. That decision rests with the Senate Finance Committee, which hasn’t scheduled a hearing.
Price, who's in the House now, cooked up his own plan a while back, one Politico called "radically conservative." Kaiser's Larry Levitt was not pleased, nor were other advocates of universal coverage:
“Young, healthy and wealthy people may do quite well under this vision of health care reform,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “But the people who are older and poorer and sicker could do a lot worse.”

... “When it comes to issues like Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, Congressman Price and the average American couldn’t be further apart,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.... “Between this nomination of an avowed Medicare opponent to serve as HHS secretary and Republicans here in Washington threatening to privatize Medicare, it’s clear that Republicans are plotting a war on seniors next year.”

... “They will … not just roll back five or 10 years of progress -- but 50.” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group that supports Obamacare.
Trump's promises are of the say-anything variety familiar to anyone who paid attention to Trump University:
The ads for his university were classic Donald Trump -- Trump stares into the camera and proclaims:

"We're going to have professors and adjunct professors that are absolutely terrific people, terrific brains, successful. We are going to have the best of the best... and these are people that are handpicked by me."

... [But in] Trump's own deposition [in] December [2015], Trump failed to recognize the name of a single presenter or teacher at his real estate seminars. He also confirmed he had nothing to do with the selection process of instructors who taught at the school's events or mentors for the school's "Gold Elite" programs.

A review of Trump University presenters and so-called real estate experts found many with questionable credentials and inflated resumes. Court documents show background-checks conducted during the hiring process could not determine whether some instructors even graduated high school.
Beyond that, this would be the first time Trump took on not just one company but several entire industries -- the health insurance industry, the drug industry, the medical devices industry, and so on. This is also when he takes on the Koch network, and possibly talk radio. (Fox would fall in line.) This wouldn't be like criticizing the Iraq War or insulting John McCain -- the opinion-shapers on the right were all too willing to let him get away with that if it seemed he was motivating the GOP base. In this case, the interests of many, many large corporations would be at stake, not just one at a time, as in some of his recent Twitter skirmishes. After the presidential campaign, Trump seems unbeatable, but he'd be going after the kinds of people who've beaten him in business in the past, and he'd be angering a lot of them at once. He'd be overmatched.

But it's not going to happen. Price and his crew will give Trump a godawful, classically Republican plan, and he'll sell dross as gold, the way he did with Trump U. It's not clear whether he'll know he's selling a terrible plan, but he'll sell it anyway. He'll never admit that the plan's coverage is less than universal, that the cost is a budget-buster, or that the coverage the most vulnerable will be able to obtain is dreadful. We might as well call it Trump University Care.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

THE RULES FOR DEMOCRATS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE, AND THEY'RE AS BAD AS YOU'D EXPECT

The Washington Post has generally done a good job covering Donald Trump, but what the hell is up with this story?
Trump-Lewis feud could be harbinger of new round of hyper-partisanship

A public feud between Donald Trump and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) seemed to jettison any lingering hopes that the inauguration would temporarily ease partisanship in Washington....

The incident has left Democrats and Republicans bracing themselves for yet another showdown between the president and his political opponents -- one that threatens to usher in a new era of the kind of crippling hyper-partisanship that often characterized the eight years of the Obama administration.
Oh, this feud is ushering in hyper-partisanship? Because it wasn't already happening? You mean -- just to take some examples from this week -- there was no hyper-partisanship in Senate Republicans' decision to hold an Obamacare destruction vote in the middle of the night, followed by a House vote to begin the dismantling in earnest, both of which were strictly along party lines? There was no hyper-partisanship in House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz's vow to continue investigating Hillary Clinton's emails, or in the president-elect's tweet describing Clinton as "guilty as hell"?

Oh, right, I forgot: There's no hyper-partisanship when Republicans portray Democrats as people unfit to live in decent society and Democratic policies as willfully destructive -- it's only hyper-partisanship when, as Lewis did, Democrats push back, or otherwise assert themselves.

Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof tells us who's fit to investigate Trump's Russia ties and who isn't:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has announced an investigation of Russian election meddling, and other Senate Republicans seem intent on pursuing the issue as well. That’s good: Democrats have little credibility investigating Trump, so it makes sense for Republicans to lead on this.

... the best disinfectant will be transparency. That means congressional inquiries, led by Republicans, and a continued F.B.I. investigation.
This is an extension of the long-standing unwritten D.C. rules on special-prosecutor partisanship. If a Democrat has to be investigated (see, e.g., Whitewater), then the prosecutor has to be a Republican -- otherwise, the investigation has partisan bias. And if a Republican administration has to be investigated? Well, think of Plamegate -- again, the prosecutor has to be a Republican (and in both cases there are accusations of liberal bias if the Republican doesn't seem Republican enough). Basically, it's always partisan if Democrats (or even moderate Republicans) are doing the investigating, by definition.

So I was going to chide Democrats for the tentativeness dsplayed in this Times story by Jonathan Martin, but, given the way things are going, I can understand why they might be skittish:
As the candidates for chairman of the Democratic National Committee gathered here for a forum on Saturday, they wrestled with a vexing question: how to confront the asymmetrical political warfare of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Be strategic, the candidates advised, and do not take him up on every feud.

“If you try to go tweet-to-tweet with him, more often than not you’re not going to succeed,” said Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor, warning about going to “a knife fight with a spoon.”

Sally Boynton Brown, the executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, invoked what she called “Psychology 101” for narcissists. Every response to Mr. Trump’s provocations, she warned, risks helping him “grow more powerful.”

And Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said simply, “We’re going to need to be smarter than just talking about how bad he is.”

Yet just as the would-be leaders of the committee ... preached prudence and calculation in the Trump era, others in the party were responding with fury to the president-elect’s latest Twitter outburst.

Mr. Trump’s ridicule of Representative John Lewis of Georgia as being “all talk” set off outrage among Democrats....

The president-elect’s willingness to attack seemingly any and all comers -- Mr. Lewis is one of the few figures revered across party lines -- nearly every day makes him an even more difficult target for Democrats.
I agree that Democrats should stay on offense. I agree that they should attack Trump on issues. But is Martin seriously suggesting that it was a mistake to stick up for Lewis? Is Martin saying that it was strategically unwise to defend a fellow Democrat, and express outrage that a man of Lewis's bravery and moral standing was maligned?

I might argue that Democrats should have defended Lewis and gone on offensive regarding issues -- in fact, when Lewis said that Trump will be an "illegitimate president," he was going on offense on the issue of Trump's cozy ties to the Russians. But there's nothing wrong with just standing up for Lewis -- it would have been disgraceful if Democrats hadn't.

Regrettably, that's where we stand right now. Defending John Lewis is playing into Trump's hands. Attacking Trump on his Russia ties reeks of partisanship if it's done by Democrats. And partisanship truly begins only when Democrats fight back.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

JOHN LEWIS'S CONSTITUENTS ARE INVISIBLE TO WHITE AMERICA

Yesterday John Lewis talked to NBC's Chuck Todd about the way Donald Trump was elected:
Asked whether he would try to forge a relationship with the president-elect, Lewis said that he believes in forgiveness, but added, "it's going to be very difficult. I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president."

When pressed to explain why, he cited allegations of Russian hacks during the campaign that led to the release of internal documents from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign co-chairman, John Podesta.
This morning, as you probably know, Trump lashed out at Lewis on Twitter:





I'm sure I don't need to remind you that John Lewis was being beaten up by racist cops while trying to secure equal rights for black people at a time when Trump was a smirking high school college student. And I'm sure I also don't need to point out that this won't hurt Trump with his base, or with the majority of mainstream Republicans, who may not be superfans of the president-elect but who've now jumped on the Trump train and will never disembark, or at least not until the rich get all the tax cuts to which they believe they're entitled.

But I want to direct your attention to some information about Lewis's district, which points to a larger problem in America:



By contrast, as of 2010, the percentages for America as a whole were 84.5% and 27.4%, respectively.

I found that in the Twitter feed of Dave Weigel, who makes some further points on this subject:







I'd say that we'd need to pay attention to John Lewis even if his district were crime-ridden and very poor. But it's extremely easy for white America, especially the portion of it that voted Trump, to dismiss his constituents because, in the mass media at least, they're invisible.

Trump's characterization of Lewis's district isn't based on knowledge or experience. Trump just "knows" that every black member of Congress (except for the occasional black Republican) represents a poverty-stricken high-crime area because, well, every black neighborhood is poor and crime-stricken, right? And much of white America "knows" this, too. White America might see middle-class blacks in TV or movie fiction, but I'm certain that many whites regard those characters as figures of pure fantasy.

Trump voters may complain that the media didn't take them seriously, but the press published story after story, both during and after the election, attempting to explain who Trump voters are and what they think. Meanwhile, the voters who elect Lewis are the core of the Democratic Party's support, the ones who gave Hillary Clinton her victory margins in the primaries, yet we never saw them in the media. How many stories have you encountered about a group of old white guys sitting around a heartland diner talking about how great Trump is? There was yet another one in The New York Times just a couple of days ago. Where's the equivalent for middle-class African-American Democratic voters?

The core of the party that won the popular vote consists of voters who just aren't clickbait-y, I guess. And that's the charitable explanation for why the press refuses to cover them.


Friday, January 13, 2017

NOT EXACTLY AN EVENING AT THE IMPROV, DEMOCRATS

The Rude Pundit is wondering what's wrong with the Democrats:
In just the last day, we've had it revealed that Trump's incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, a batshit insane actual leaker of classified material, had been in phone contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. just before President Obama ejected 35 Russians in response to the DNC hacking. And then today, House members had an intelligence briefing with FBI Director James Comey and others, and the Democrats left the meeting feeling angry and openly hostile about what they'd been told. This is not to mention President-Elect and lost Crayola color Donald Trump bugging the fuck out on Twitter this morning about Russia, the media, the intelligence community, and Hillary Clinton.

And, if you're like me, you sit here and wonder, "Where the fuck are the Democrats? Where is their messaging? Why aren't we at Def-Con Watergate?" You go to their website and there is nothing about it. Their public statements are all over the place.

If Democrats were any good at this game, they'd already have a strategy: Forget about the odious cabinet picks, forget about the business conflicts, forget all that other shit that people either don't care about or don't understand so they don't care about it. Instead, hammer Trump and the Republicans on the one goddamned thing that is easy to understand: Was Trump elected because of the Russians?
Why don't Democrats have a coordinated message on this? Last month, Politico attempted to explain why Democrats don't seem to have a coordinated answer on anything:
The party loses its standard-bearer once President Barack Obama leaves office, and the Democratic National Committee won’t get a permanent chairman and staff until March, two months into the presidency. That Democratic power vacuum has raised concerns about the party's ability to provide a united message -- or even to stand up a centralized rapid response operation -- for the president's first 100 days in office....

“It's a very serious concern. I just went on TV twice today on Fox and MSNBC on the Cabinet appointments and I winged it,” said Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and 2008 presidential candidate. “You need something right now. Trump every day is doing something outrageous. What do we do? Criticize everything he does? Hold back a bit? I know we need to develop an economic message but that's long term. We need something now. Most of the Democrats I talk to are down, and they're asking who's in charge.”

... the question of message coordination is an immediate one for those who are faced with spouting the party line with the Trump train barreling down the tracks.

In the words of one Democrat who remains a frequent television commentator, but who has noticed the ranks of prominent party surrogates shrinking as the number of talking points and centralized messaging memos wane, “People are afraid to go out there."
This raises a couple of questions. How was it decided that the Democrats wouldn't pick a party head until March? I know this is America, so we're used to interminable election campaigns, but you realize that others country elect heads of government after six-week campaigns, right? It's crazy that this has to take so long.

But the more important question is: Do you really need message coordination before deciding to talk about the Trump's obvious treasonous loyalty to Russia? Do Democrats really need to check with higher authorities before raising an alarm about that subject? Just wing it! How hard is that?

But too many Democrats are afraid to improvise a shout of "Fire!" even when the country is on the verge of burning to the ground. I'm reminded of what Johnny Carson once said disdainfully about Chevy Chase, whose comedic skills he didn't respect:
He couldn't ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner.
The Democratic Party is the political equivalent of Chevy Chase.

MATH IS HARD, AND THAT'S HOW REPUBLICANS WILL KILL PEOPLE

This was a dramatic moment:
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) faced some tough questions from audience members at a CNN town hall Thursday night, starting with a cancer patient who said ObamaCare saved his life.

Jeff Jeans said he was a lifelong Republican and small-business owner who had worked on the Reagan and Bush campaigns and was originally opposed to the Affordable Care Act.

But he said that at 49 he was diagnosed with cancer and given six weeks to live.

"Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I’m standing here today alive," he said. "I rely on the Affordable Care Act to be able to purchase my own insurance. Why would you repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement?"
It was great TV, although I think Jeans started with the wrong question. (The right question is "Why would you replace Obamacare with something that's going to leave far more people like me without health insurance, according to all reliable reports?") Ryan, of course, insisted that there won't be repeal without a replacement in place -- we don't know whether that's true or whether Republicans are just saying that and hoping we'll forget that they said it when they do the opposite, or won't care -- and he went on to insist that the magic bullet for people like Jeans is government-funded high-risk pools.

At The Washington Post, Paul Waldman explains the problem with that, though not as clearly as he might have:
Ask any health policy expert about high-risk pools, and they’ll tell you that they’re absolutely the worst way to guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Before the ACA, many states had them as a backstop for their most vulnerable patients. As this Kaiser Family Foundation report explains, they were characterized by high premiums, waiting lists to get on, lifetime and annual limits, temporary exclusions of the very conditions that made people seek them out (you often couldn’t get coverage for your condition in the first 6 or 12 months you were on the plan), and high deductibles.
Your right-wing uncle would respond to this by saying that's a lot of liberal propaganda. So what else has Waldman got? How about some numbers?
In Paul Ryan’s plan, he suggests funding these high-risk pools with $2.5 billion per year. Tom Price’s plan is even stingier, at $1 billion a year. Those numbers are so low that it almost seems like a joke. This Commonwealth Fund study estimated that a national high-risk pool would require $178 billion a year to fund.
Here's the problem, though: When Price (a Republican congressman who's Donald Trump's choice for Health and Human Services secretary) or Ryan proposes a number like $1 billion or $2.5 billion, it doesn't matter how stingy that actually is -- the average voter out there in the heartland is thinking, A billion dollars? Two and a half billion? Hey, that's a lot of money!

Republicans always take advantage of the fact that any dollar amount over, say, $1,000 (if we're talking about a government grant for an eccentric-sounding research project) can be made to seem like a huge outlay that really picks the pocket of Joe and Jane Lunchpail. Liberals can generate all the infographics and floor-of-Congress easel charts they want demonstrating that these proposals are woefully inadequate, and still much of America will think their cost sounds like a king's ransom.

The numbers in that Commonwealth Fund study aren't all that hard to explain. If a Republican plan were to cover as many of those who were priced out the pre-Obamacare insurance market by pre-existing conditions as Obamacare does, it would be covering 13.7 million people. If those people had an average of $20,000 in annual healthcare costs and paid $7,000 of that per year in premiums, that would leave $13,000 to be covered by this high-risk insurance. Multiply $13,000 by 13.7 million people and you get $178 billion. Ryan proposes to pay for less than 1% of that. Price has proposed to cover even less.

But it's likely that explaining this would make the average voter's eyes glaze over. Maybe it's making yours glaze over. Ryan and Price are proposing outlays that are very stingy but sound like really big numbers. And that will probably be enough to bamboozle America.


WHICH HACKS WILL INVESTIGATE THE HACKS FOR TRUMP? I'LL VENTURE ONE GUESS. (updated)

Donald Trump tweeted some news this morning:
President-elect Donald Trump said his administration would produce a full report on hacking within the first 90 days of his presidency....





Trump's "people" are going to write up a report? Which "people" exactly?

I'm wondering whether there could be a connection between Trump's tweetstorm and this:
President-Elect Trump Announces Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to Lend Expertise to Cyber Security Efforts

(New York, NY) -- President-elect Trump is very pleased to announce former Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be sharing his expertise and insight as a trusted friend concerning private sector cyber security problems and emerging solutions developing in the private sector.
Yes, an investigation by Giuliani certainly would be a frank, without-fear-or-favor examination of the facts, and not a total whitewash. And I am Marie of Roumania.

I could easily be wrong about Trump turning this over to Rudy -- as Politico has implied, the cybersecurity role for Giuliani seems designed to line his pockets:
Rudy Giuliani’s new role advising President-elect Donald Trump on cyber security could provide a financial windfall for the former New York City mayor’s consulting firm and legal practice, creating a potential conflict of interest that won’t be subject to federal ethics laws.

Giuliani chairs the global cybersecurity practice at the law firm Greenberg Traurig, advising companies on securing data and responding to breaches. Through his own consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, the former New York mayor has worked for cyber-related clients including identity theft protection company LifeLock and insurance giant Aon.

Giuliani said he will not resign from those roles, even as he becomes a special adviser to the president-elect on these issues.
The tech publication ZDNet acknowledges that Giuliani makrs money offering cybersecurity services, but questions what exactly those services are:
Trump's pick of Giuliani for this position isn't all too surprising to security circles. It's widely known that he is the chief executive of his own private-sector cybersecurity venture, Giuliani Partners.

Giuliani spent much of his time consulting after leaving office as mayor of New York at the end of 2001. His venture claims to offer "a comprehensive range of security and crisis management services." ...

Yet, even his cybersecurity venture's website, filled with clunky Flash components and "cyber" stock imagery throughout, doesn't advertise what it does.

For the past few months while Giuliani's name was floated for positions for the Republican's presidential campaign, we've tried to find out exactly what his company does, or can do better than any other security firm -- to no avail.
A Bush-era Washington Post story ventured a guess about the real work of Giuliani Partners:
Giuliani, grounded in the intricately connected world of New York politics, has been more than adept at making the system work for his clients. They have included a pharmaceutical company that, with Giuliani's help, resolved a lengthy Drug Enforcement Administration investigation with only a fine; a confessed drug smuggler who hired Giuliani to ensure his security company could do business with the federal government; and the horse racing industry, eager to recover public confidence after a betting scandal.
The ZDNet story certainly has a point about the Giuliani Security website, according to this tweeter:



(The site may have been improved since this was written. Parts of it have been down this morning.)

If Rudy isn't spearheading Trump's hacking "investigation," it'll be some other hack -- and yet the media will take the effort seriously, scratching its collective chin and wondering aloud whether anything in the report might embarrass the man who commissioned it.

Or, of course, Trump being Trump, today's announcement might just have been a brain fart, and we might never hear about a hacking report again.

****

Update in comments from the New York Crank:
The Giuliani website seems to be entirely down, as of 2 p.m. today. The speculation as to why, if it begins, could probably become America's newest parlor game.

Or maybe a 400-pound kid sitting on a bed somewhere did it.
He's right -- the site is down.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

JARED KUSHNER, THUG LANDLORD

Be thankful you don't have Jared Kushner as your landlord. The Village Voice reports:
For tenants in Jared Kushner’s buildings, seeing their landlord get a top position in the White House is as nightmarish as Donald Trump becoming president is for most New Yorkers.

"It’s disgusting. It’s insane. It’s ludicrous," Mary Ann Siwek, who’s lived at 170 East 2nd Street for more than thirty years, said after Trump, Kushner’s father-in-law, tapped him to be an official senior adviser. "I don’t know how to tell you how despicable this man is."

Kushner bought the East Village building three years ago for $17 million and immediately began what tenant advocates call "construction as harassment": renovating vacant apartments in a way that makes life dangerous and miserable for the current residents, particularly the rent-stabilized ones. "We were breathing in dust and fumes. There was plaster everywhere. My ceiling collapsed a couple times. For six months we had to live like this." At one point there was a gas leak bad enough to cause the fire department to cordon off the entire block.

... Kushner "was never around," and representatives from his Westminster Management came by mainly to offer tenants money to leave. Siwek, now retired, turned down a $10,000 offer, and says some people got only moving expenses. Within nine months, she says, three-fourths of the tenants had left.

That enabled Kushner to renovate their apartments and raise the rents to luxury rates.
These aren't unusual tactics for New York landlords, but you may have formed an impression that Kushner is better than this because he's babyfaced and he's not a boastful blowhard like his father. Appearances are deceiving, apparently.

Last month I noted that notices were appearing at a Kushner building in the same neighborhood saying his company hadn't paid the electric bill. I called him a "deadbeat" at that time, but maybe he was just withholding services (i.e., threatening a shutoff of electricity in common areas such as staircases) in order to drive tenants out. That post also noted "construction as harassment" at yet another Kushner building.

If you don't understand why Kushner would do this, here's why: Many tenants here in New York City have leases under the rent stabilization law, which limits annual increases. But if you drive those tenants out and make a few improvements, legally you can charge new tenants whatever the market will bear. That's a powerful incentive to engage in tenant harassment -- which is illegal, but a lot of landlords do it anyway. It looks as if Kushner is one of them -- which makes him an ideal addition to his father-in-law's team.

TRUMP KICKS JOURNALISTS, AND JOURNALISTS KICK OTHER JOURNALISTS

Of course Trump is going to win his battle with the press if the press won't take its own side in the battle. Here's New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman:
At His First News Conference As President-elect, Trump Owns the Press

... observed as spectacle, Trump came away with a resounding victory. That’s because Trump won even before he stepped before the microphone, by making the media the story. Last night, BuzzFeed published a salacious 35-page oppo-research dossier on Trump that alleged Russia possessed sexual and financial dirt on Trump that could be used to blackmail him.... BuzzFeed’s article boomeranged back on the website as journalists were quick to denounce its decision to publish unconfirmed claims and errors....

Trump exploited this wedge....

The cumulative result is that Trump turned what should have been a serious examination of his incoming administration into a debate over journalistic practices.... BuzzFeed deserves some of the blame for this.
Sherman describe a journalistic circular firing squad and does some shooting himself ("BuzzFeed deserves some of the blame for this").

In The New York Times, Glenn Thrush writes about the press conference under the breathless headline "Trump, a New Style of Fighter, Takes the Ring." Thrush describes the press conference as "buoyantly belligerent" and said that attacks on the media were "underscoring [Trump's] toughness."

Folks, if you're continue to praise the mighty Trump and attack your own colleagues, expect to continue losing.

I understand the arguments against publishing the dossier. But if you're going to criticize BuzzFeed, remind your readers -- and yourselves -- that Trump is at war with you, and with all norms of responsible presidential conduct. Object to the publication of the dossier if you must, but couple that objection with a reassertion of the fact that the press has an obligation to hold Trump accountable, and to be very aggressive in that effort. Don't act like apple-polishing grade schoolers trying to rat out a misbehaving classmate to the teacher.

When Trump attacked Jim Acosta of CNN (which, of course, didn't publish the specific allegations in the dossier), it might have been a good idea for Acosta to walk out and for colleagues to join him in solidarity. Maybe the press should refuse to attend any future press conferences unless Trump vows to refrain from playground-bully abuse -- not that he'd keep that promise, but just getting him to make a small, phony concession would be a start. And if he refused and that meant no further press conferences, the hell with it. It seems obvious that Trump intends to use them as ego trips for Trump and opportunities for him to abuse his enemies in the media. Don't play along. Deny him that.

Show some respect for yourselves, journalists. You don't have to help Trump beat you up by beating yourselves up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

GREENWALD: THE EXTREMELY EVIL DEEP STATE IS ALL-POWERFUL AND, SIMULTANEOUSLY, INCOMPETENT

Glenn Greenwald warns us that the greatest force for evil on the planet has been unleashed, thanks to the folly of the mainstream media and liberals:
IN JANUARY, 1961, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address after serving two terms as U.S. president; the five-star general chose to warn Americans of this specific threat to democracy: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” That warning was issued prior to the decadelong escalation of the Vietnam War, three more decades of Cold War mania, and the post-9/11 era, all of which radically expanded that unelected faction’s power even further.

This is the faction that is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as “Fake News.”

Their most valuable instrument is the U.S. media, much of which reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials. And Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected and traumatic election loss as well as a systemic collapse of their party, seemingly divorced further and further from reason with each passing day, are willing -- eager -- to embrace any claim, cheer any tactic, align with any villain, regardless of how unsupported, tawdry and damaging those behaviors might be.
Wow! I thought we were just having fun last night snickering over allegations that Donald Trump paid prostitutes to urinate in a hotel bed in Russia once occupied by Barack and Michelle Obama. But what we thought was an innocent laugh at Trump's expense was the unleashing of a force of all-powerful malevolence, according to Greenwald:
... the threat posed by submitting ourselves to the CIA and empowering it to reign supreme outside of the democratic process is -- as Eisenhower warned -- [a] severe danger. The threat of being ruled by unaccountable and unelected entities is self-evident and grave. That’s especially true when the entity behind which so many are rallying is one with a long and deliberate history of lying, propaganda, war crimes, torture, and the worst atrocities imaginable.
Except that Greenwald also says that this all-powerful force will harm the foolish, naive liberals who cheer it on:
... there is no bigger favor that Trump opponents can do for him than attacking him with such lowly, shabby, obvious shams, recruiting large media outlets to lead the way. When it comes time to expose actual Trump corruption and criminality, who is going to believe the people and institutions who have demonstrated they are willing to endorse any assertions no matter how factually baseless, who deploy any journalistic tactic no matter how unreliable and removed from basic means of ensuring accuracy?
So which is it? Is what Greenwald calls "the Deep State" an all-powerful totalitarian force that will crush us all under its jackboot? Or is its work so clumsy that relying on it to combat Donald Trump will only empower him more?

Well, this is Greenwald, so, of course, he's going to bash his enemies from both directions, intellectual consistency be damned.

Greenwald writes,
Empowering the very entities that have produced the most shameful atrocities and systemic deceit over the last six decades is desperation of the worst kind.
But here's the thing: In recent decades, the American entity that's produced "the most shameful atrocities and systemic deceit" hasn't been an intelligence agency -- it's been the Republican Party. The Iraq War? The return to torture? The construction of Gitmo? That wasn't driven by spooks, it was demanded by the Executive Branch in the previous decade. And Donald Trump represents a party that's more morally bankrupt and more greedy for absolute power than even the Bush GOP.

The intelligence agencies? Greenwald writes,
FOR MONTHS, the CIA, with unprecedented clarity, overtly threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and sought to defeat Donald Trump.
And that's a sign that the Deep State is an unbridled force of pure evil? If we accept Greenwald's premise, it means that the Deep State wasn't even powerful enough to throw the election to the favorite.

I could go on about what Greenwald writes, but I'll direct your attention to a passage I quoted at the top of this post. I'll add some emphasis this time:
Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected and traumatic election loss as well as a systemic collapse of their party, seemingly divorced further and further from reason with each passing day, are willing -- eager -- to embrace any claim, cheer any tactic, align with any villain, regardless of how unsupported, tawdry and damaging those behaviors might be.
Projection much, Glenn? You're bashing Democrats and the media on behalf of Donald Trump. And you accuse other people of being willing to "align with any villain"?

RIGHT-WINGERS FIGHT THE REAL ENEMY

Donald Trump spoke for nearly an hour at today's press conference, but even though he talked about (or evaded) a wide range of subjects, the only moment the deplorables are going to remember -- and boy, are they going to remember it -- is this:



During President-elect Donald Trump’s press conference today, Trump ... ended up getting into an argument with a CNN reporter, who he also called out during the presser over their report on a two-page synopsis they claim was presented to Trump.

With Trump looking to call on other reporters, Jim Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?”

“Not you,” Trump said. “Your organization is terrible!”

Acosta pressed on, “You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?” Trump countered by telling him “don’t be rude.”

“I’m not going to give you a question,” Trump responded. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”

This immediately became the top story at Drudge:



And Breitbart:



It's the top story at Zero Hedge, one of the top stories at Gateway Pundit, and a "Must Watch" video at the Daily Caller (where the teaser is "'Fake News' CNN Reporter Tried to Ask Trump a Question -- Trump Responded Like a Boss").

We know that the right has tried to appropriate the term "fake news." and distort its meaning. Now the shibboleth on the right is going to be Trump's four words, in that exact order: "You are fake news." Right-wingers will deploy this phrase as if it's (no pun intended) a trump card every time they're faced with a story they don't like.

This is all Trump needs to do to maintain hero status with his base: attack the media. Since at least the 1990s, right-wingers have always hated liberals more than they hate any foreign enemy -- Al Qaeda, ISIS, Putin, whoever. Trump isn't as good at general liberal-bashing as the typical Republican, but no Republican in living memory has ever bashed the press (routinely considered liberal on the right) the way Trump does. Making a reporter cower every so often is all he'll need to do to prove he's a strongman as president, even if Russia is annexing Ukraine and ISIS is running rampant.

Some will argue that we on the left hated George W. Bush more than we did Al Qaeda. I'm a New Yorker who was here on 9/11, and I don't feel that way, though I think it's now beyond dispute that Bush did more harm to this country than, say, Saddam Hussein ever did.

As for Trump, I see him already doing far more harm to the American system than terrorists have, so I'm prepared to say that his election was probably worse for America than 9/11.

But Trump is not Jim Acosta. The Trumpers hate him and his CNN colleagues more than they hate any foreign foe. That's insane.

IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE TO BLACKMAIL DONALD TRUMP?

Before I get to this Trump/Russia story, let's look at the New York Times front page from October 29:



Now let's look at today's front page:



On October 29, every above-the-fold story was about Clinton and the emails. Today, the Trump/Russia story is barely above the fold.

So here's what we know:
A classified report delivered to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump last week included a section summarizing allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on Trump’s personal life and finances, U.S. officials said.

The officials said that U.S. intelligence agencies have not corroborated those allegations but believed that the sources involved in the reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion of their claims in the highly classified report on Russian interference in the presidential campaign.
The source is said to be an intelligence pro hired by Trump opponents from both parties:
The raw memos on which the synopsis is based were prepared by the former MI6 agent, who was posted in Russia in the 1990s and now runs a private intelligence gathering firm. His investigations related to Mr. Trump were initially funded by groups and donors supporting Republican opponents of Mr. Trump during the GOP primaries, multiple sources confirmed to CNN. Those sources also said that once Mr. Trump became the nominee, further investigation was funded by groups and donors supporting Hillary Clinton.
The U.S. intelligence community obviously thinks this former agent is credible, or the information wouldn't have put into the briefings. Political insiders thought the agent was credible enough to hire. John McCain confronted FBI director James Comey about the agent's information last month.

None of which means that what the agent claims to have learned is true. All of it might be true, or some of it, or none of it. I think some is true and some is hyperbole.

BuzzFeed has posted what it says is the agent's reporting. Some are calling BuzzFeed's dossier "obviously fake," but with not much to back up that skepticism.

As I say, I don't know which allegations to believe. I guess I should stop dithering and get to the most eye-popping story:



Do I believe this might have been reported to a professional spy? Sure. Does that mean it's true? Not necessarily. Could it be true? It's a very Howard Stern-ish scenario, and Trump used to be a regular Stern guest. Maybe a decadent guy like Trump would want to see a show like this. I can't tell.

But I agree with something Hot Air's Allahpundit wrote before we had this specific tale from BuzzFeed:
The recurring question whenever Trump is accused of being some sort of stooge for Russia is “What could the Russians possibly have on him that would damage him?” He survived the “Access Hollywood” tape. He survived accusations of sexual assault. He survived about 8,000 different “gaffes” and outre statements on the trail that would have sunk any other candidate. Even if Russia had covert video of Trump in a compromising position, why would that damage him? He’s a playboy who’s boasted about his conquests for years. A sex scandal wouldn’t leave a scratch.
I can imagine this leaking in October, even with video -- and I can imagine Trump winning in spite of it. The deplorables would actually have thought it was a tremendous idea. The rest of the GOP electorate would have shunned the video and/or assumed it was doctored. Some Trump voters would say they disapproved, but it's his private life and that's not their concern.

The more important allegations are that Trump and his people colluded with the Russians on the anti-Clinton campaign. Allahpundit again:
One thing that would hurt him, though, is the mere fact of coordination with Russia. If it could be proved that his campaign and the Kremlin were quietly colluding during the campaign, especially if money was changing hands, that would wreck him forever with everyone outside his own hardcore populist base. He’d have to somehow govern despite being perceived by many as an illegitimate president, a de facto Russian agent, and he’s already under suspicion for that thanks to his curiously consistent apologetics for Putin and Russia’s role in the hacking. I don’t know how he could recover.
I disagree. The GOP electorate can see that Trump is pro-Putin and doesn't care. I'm sure that wouldn't have been enough to cost him the election, because there's literally nothing he could have done that would have persuaded his voters that a victory by the hated Hillary Clinton was preferable.

Trump certainly isn't going to step aside. He's not going to release tax documents that would clarify the extent of his involvement in Russia. He's not going to tolerate further investigations of this by the intelligence community.

Republicans in Congress will circle the wagons around Trump, because they need him to sign their bills. (I heard Senator Jeff Flake, a persistent Trump critic during the campaign, downplaying this story on NPR this morning.) Maybe John McCain and Lindsey Graham will keep pushing for a serious investigation, but Mitch McConnell will put the kibosh on that, and Jason Chaffetz in the House will just keep investigating Hillary Clinton's emails.

Maybe things would change if Democrats shut down the government while demanding a serious investigation, or if there were a million angry people in the streets of D.C. calling for Trump to resign. But short of that, I think Trump will muddle through, despite his woeful 37% approval rating, according to Quinnipiac. There are no inviolable norms anymore, at least if you're a Republican. There'll be no rerun of the Watergate years. We're just not that country anymore.