Saturday, July 22, 2017


Yesterday, in a Fox News story, a U.S. general accused The New York Times of publishing a leak in 2015 that recently allowed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to escape:
In a wide-ranging interview moderated by Fox News' Catherine Herridge, [General Tony] Thomas, who leads the Special Operations Command, said his team was “particularly close” to Baghdadi after the 2015 raid that killed ISIS oil minister Abu Sayyaf. That raid also netted his wife, who provided a wealth of actionable information.

“That was a very good lead. Unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead,” Thomas said....

Thomas appeared to be referring to a New York Times report in June 2015 that detailed how American intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information.”

”New insights yielded by the seized trove – four to seven terabytes of data, according to one official – include how the organization’s shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, operates and tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces," the Times reported.
This morning, a retired colonel followed up on this story on Fox & Friends -- a program to which the president of the United States devotes more undivided attention than he does to his intelligence briefings. A tweet, unsurprisingly, followed:
President Trump on Saturday morning alleged The New York Times “foiled” a U.S. attack on an Islamic State leader, suggesting the paper has a “sick agenda” that hurts national security.

... Trump's early Saturday allegation may have been prompted by his TV viewing habits.

Frequent Fox News guest Tony Shaffer, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, discussed [the] allegation on “Fox and Friends Saturday,” saying the New York Times leaked information they should not have released publicly.

... CBS News editor Stefan Becket first made the connection on Twitter between the Fox News segment and Trump’s tweet.

The 2015 New York Times story that Fox is harrumphing about is "A Raid on ISIS Yields a Trove of Intelligence" by Eric Schmitt. At that time of its publication, Fox News was so incensed by the leak that ... it published its own summary of the story, with a link to the original Times story.
A raid last month by American commandos on the home of an ISIS leader in Syria turned up a trove of valuable information, reportedly including the role played by the leaders’ wives, who sometimes acted as couriers in delivering information....

The trove also yielded important information on ISIS financing, contact networks and tactics.

According to the New York Times, information collected during the raid also shows how ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stealthily conducts his business.

Among other tactics, the paper said, al-Baghdadi’s wife and other spouses of key ISIS leaders played an important role in passing on information to each other to give their husbands.
How appalled was the rest of the right-wing media by the publication of the leak? Breitbart was so appalled that it also published a version of the story, with a link to the Times original:
In a recent Delta Force-led raid against an Islamic State cell in Syria, American troops were able to extract a treasure trove of information related to the terror group’s leadership and financing structure, officials told the New York Times Monday.
As did the Daily Caller:
The U.S. has new information on how ISIS operates and how its leadership avoids being tracked by U.S. intelligence thanks to a May Delta Force commando raid....

“In the recent raid on Abu Sayyaf, we collected substantial information on Daesh financial operations,” John R. Allen, coordinator of the coalition against ISIS, reported to the New York Times. “And we’re gaining a much clearer understanding of Daesh’s organization and business enterprise.”

Umm Sayyaf, the late terrorist leader’s widow, has also been providing U.S. investigators with information about the militant group’s operations.
Oh, and:

But in 2015 and 2016 it was the Obama Pentagon, which presumably doesn't count, according to the right, because they were all traitors.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Noah Rothman thinks congressional Republicans' inability to deal with President Trump is a failure of imagination:
If the 2016 presidential election cycle demonstrated anything, it was that Republicans suffer from a crippling lack of imagination. That ordeal should have established that the unprecedented is not impossible. Even now, Republicans seem as though they are trying to convince themselves that their eyes are lying to them, but they are not. The tempo of the investigation into President Trump is accelerating, and a nightmare scenario is eminently imaginable. Only congressional Republicans can avert disaster, and only then by being clear about the actions they are prepared to take if Trump instigates a crisis of constitutional legitimacy.
Even though he's a conservative, Rothman believes that Republicans have to make clear to Trump that impeachment is on the table:
Republicans in Congress must stop comforting themselves with the notion that the worst cannot happen. They have to summon the courage to state publicly what they so freely tell reporters on background. If they are so concerned that the norms and traditions that have preserved the rule of law in this republic for 240 years are in jeopardy, they must say so. And they must say what the consequences will be for Trump, his associates, and his family if he goes too far....

Republicans may dislike the prospect, but it’s fast becoming time for them to start saying the “I” word if only to save the president from his most reckless impulses. The longer they tell themselves that the unthinkable is impossible, the more likely it becomes.
The problem isn't that Republicans lack the imagination to foresee an all-out Trump attack on the rule of law. It's that they can't imagine what would be so terrible about that -- it wouldn't have an obvious direct impact on them. It wouldn't take money out of the pockets of their donors. Their voters would cheer.

That's really all that matters. Who cares about the preservation of institutions and norms that hold the country together?

It's been obvious all year that Republicans have no abstract notion of what would be best for the country, and would have no interest in implementing such an agenda if they could devise one. All they want to do is check off items on the wish lists of Randian plutocrats, Christian-conservative theocrats, and Fox/talk radio revanchists. How else to explain their near-universal willingness to deprive tens of millions of people of health insurance, to slash non-military programs, and to hand the country over to an arrested-development bully who knows less about governance than a smart eighth grader? Some of this would hurt some of their voters, but would delight others. The cuts thrill their donors. And if the result is blood in the streets, who cares? It won't reach the tidy homes of GOP officials themselves. Their lives will go on as usual.

Elected Republicans seem incapable of taking seriously any concern that doesn't personally touch them, their donors, or their base. Torture? The only Republican who seems at all troubled by it is John McCain -- because he was tortured. Same-sex marriage? Rob Portman is a rare Republican who came around on this issue -- because his son is gay.

So how can we expect them to care about the rule of law? Will its erosion hurt them personally? Will it hurt the Koch brothers? Will it hurt the retirees in the diner in their district who still wear their Make America Great Again hats? No? Then none of it matters.


So we know this from a Washington Post story:
Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest....
And we know this from a New York Times story:
President Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort.
Here's what I don't understand: Why hasn't Trump already acted? I know, I know: If Trump fires Mueller, it will set off a "constitutional crisis"? But what does that mean in 2017 America? Not a single Republican in Congress will do more than claim to be "deeply troubled." There'll be a few lefty demonstrations, but probably fewer than there have been against Trumpcare and the travel ban, because it's easier to grasp the impact of those policies on ordinary people's lives. "The streets" are not going to "explode." Trump could easily get away with this.

So why hasn't it happened? The conventional explanation is that he'd have to conduct his own version of Richard Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre -- though what's stopping him is unclear to me, because there'd be no reaction to it beyond howls of outrage from non-Republicans and hand-wringing, at most, from Republicans.
Only the person acting as attorney general, currently Rod Rosenstein on matters related to the probe, can fire Mueller, and he’s said he won’t do it without “good cause.” So Trump would first have to purge the upper ranks of the Justice Department until he finds someone willing to follow his orders and dismiss the special counsel....

A Congressional Research Service report lays out how a special prosecutor can be removed.

“To comply with the regulations, the Attorney General himself must remove the special counsel, not the President or a surrogate (unless, as noted previously in this report, the Attorney General has recused himself in the matter under investigation),” the agency concluded....

But Trump does possess authority to fire Rosenstein for any reason, including refusal to remove Mueller from the post. If Trump did so, the decision would then fall to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the third-ranking official in the Justice Department....

Brand is a conservative who served in the department under President George W. Bush and doesn’t have a background in criminal prosecutions. If Trump fired Rosenstein, Brand might resign because she and Rosenstein were nominated together, have a close working relationship and went through their confirmation hearings as a team.

Dana Boente, the acting assistant attorney general for national security, would be next in line if Trump also removed Brand. Boente has carried out controversial Trump orders before; in January, when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to defend the president’s travel ban against predominantly Muslim nations, Trump replaced her with Boente, who defended the ban.
Easy-peasy! Sean Hannity would spend the next week howling about Bill Clinton's travel office firings and all of #MAGA America would say the massacre was a blow for Freedom and Liberty and Draining the Swamp, proof that Trump belongs on Mount Rushmore.

A June Politico article says there are other possible ways for Trump to do this:
... there is another path Trump could take to remove Mueller, according to Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar. The regulations that govern the special counsel were issued by the Department of Justice and could be rescinded by the Department of Justice. If the regulations were rescinded, Trump would no longer be required to cite any cause in removing Mueller. Still, however, he would likely have to go through Rosenstein to rescind the regulation, a move Rosenstein would likely resist.
So? Fire Rosenstein. Or:
It’s possible that Trump could circumvent DOJ entirely and fire Mueller on his own. It’s not clear that Trump has any constitutional duty to adhere by a Justice Department regulation, said Saikrishna Prakash, a professor at University of Virginia Law School and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“I don’t know how a rule of the Department of Justice can limit the president’s constitutional authority,” Prakash said, pointing to the president’s authority to remove officers of the executive branch, which could be interpreted to include a special counsel. “My view is the president can fire the special prosecutor without regard to what the rule says.”
Remember when we all thought Trump was a Hitler in the making? If that were the case, he'd have already done this, or worse. (The whole thing wouldn't even have gotten this far, after a polonium poisoning or two.) He still feels there are some limits to his power.

Maybe advisers he trusts have exaggerated the risk that Republicans in Congress will turn on him, and he believes them. That's the most likely explanation.

And maybe he's enjoying the battle. In his New York Times interview this week, Trump said that if the Mueller probe expanded beyond Russia and the election, that would cross a line for Trump. But at the end of the interview, there was this:
HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? [crosstalk]

SCHMIDT: What would you do?


TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.
I think he believes he can intimidate Mueller. That may have been why he agreed to (or perhaps even suggested) the interview. That may be the point of the leaks to the Times and the Post. He is the alpha male, and they will cower before him! I think that's a fantasy he relishes.

He's clearly guilty of something. For some reason, he believes he can't shut down the special counsel investigation by brute force, even though he almost certainly could get away with it. He's trying to scare Mueller rather than crushing him. It's frightening enough, but it could be a lot worse.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


New Jersey will finally be rid of the universally loathed Chris Christie after his successor as governor is chosen in November, but Politico notes that he might get the opportunity to flip a Senate seat:
Gov. Chris Christie is the most unpopular governor in the country, but in his last days in office he may get to exercise enormous influence nationally: Choosing a successor to embattled U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, which could result in a Republican senator, at least temporarily, from deep-blue New Jersey.

Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey's senior senator, goes on trial for corruption in September, and there are two scenarios that could see him leave Washington before Christie is term-limited out of office in January: If Menendez is convicted and the Senate acts quickly to expel him, or if he cuts a plea deal and leaves office even earlier.
The regularly scheduled election for this seat is in November 2018. If Menendez resigns, Christie's pick could serve until the winner of that election is sworn in in January 2019 -- in other words, for a year or more. Christie has the right to schedule a special election earlier, though he has no reason to do so because he'd like his chosen replacement to hold the seat for as long as possible.

(Christie did schedule a special election after Senator Frank Lautenberg died in 2013. The special election, absurdly, was three weeks before that year's regularly scheduled election. Christie was anticipating a big landslide win that year in his own reelection bid, and he didn't want Cory Booker to win more votes as a Senate candidate than he himself won in the governor's race the same day, so he let Booker run and win on the earlier date.)

Also, there exists the possibility that Christie could (God help us) name himself to the Senate seat -- although I don't think even he has that much gall.

There is, as you know, another Senate seat that could become vacant soon, in Arizona. The Arizona Republic tells us what will happen in that state if John McCain dies or steps down:
... were circumstances to require that McCain be replaced, that person would have to be a Republican, as McCain is, and would serve until the next general election, which happens every two years in Arizona. Whoever was elected would then fill out the rest of McCain's term, according to state law.
Arizona's governor, who would fill the vacancy, is Doug Ducey, a Republican, so he'd pick a GOP replacement in any case. But there was a Democratic governor -- Janet Napolitano -- in 2008 when McCain was the Republican presidential nominee. She would have had to pick a Republican to replace him.

I didn't like that idea at the time, but I see some merit in it now. The parties are very polarized. It seems wrong for a governor to override the voters' party preference when there's a vacancy. But only four states have such laws (Hawaii, Wyoming, and Utah are the others), so Christie might get to make some mischief before he's finally out of the governor's mansion.


John McCain was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, but he once supported immigration reform, so a lot of right-wingers hate him. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs looked at the comments of a Breitbart post about McCain's brain tumor diagnosis and saw some of that hatred:

I went to thread and found this:

A few more:

At Free Republic, the posters are responding to a Daily Mail article in which we learn that McCain told Lindsey Graham, "I'll be back" -- which is what you'd expect him to say, despite the grimness of his prognosis. The Freepers aren't having it:
"I'll be back"

So will the Crabs, but we don't want those either.


Reading this triples the contempt I've had for him for years.


“’I’ll be back’: Cancer-stricken John McCain tells his closest friend in the Senate”

No thanks, Ace. No sale.

You’ve made yourself into one of this country’s greatest domestic enemies. Worse than the racist Fraud you supported in 2008, and worse than the forces you and he armed against America.


The McCain’s plan on picking who gets the seat eventually, too.

They aren’t going to let the Gov. just pick his replacement.

Swamp people.


Another unhappy soul so wedded to power that it is impossible to let go. This is about McCain and only about McCain. Screw the rest of the world. Screw the family. He has to clutch onto power to the last gasp.


Songbird Juan. Stick a fork in it.


“The McCain’s plan on picking who gets the seat eventually, too.”

You mean his “tit monster” daughter?


get well soon, John, because you’ve still got some ‘splainin’ to do about your claudestine little mission to obtain paid-for Russian-generated intel slandering Trump.


should Trump go to his funeral? I wouldn’t
We knew they hated us, but they hate their own, too, even under these circumstances.


The president gave an interview to three New York Times reporters yesterday. Politico says he "turn[ed] against" his attorney general:
Trump turns against his attorney general over Russia

President Donald Trump would not have picked Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday....

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
If you watched Rachel Maddow last night, you're probably expecting a resignation:
“He criticizes Jeff Sessions in such a way that in normal times, we would expect an official criticized this way by the president to resign before the evening is over,” Maddow [said.]
Lawrence O'Donnell went further:
This leaves the attorney general no choice. He must resign.... when a president expresses no confidence in a cabinet member, then that cabinet member owes the president his resignation. When a president does it publicly, which is something we just have never seen before, then that cabinet member really has no choice from that minute forward -- absolutely no choice.... Any self-respecting attorney general of the United States would have publicly resigned as soon as the president's words became public earlier this evening.
I don't buy it. I'll grant that this public dressing-down is extraordinary -- but if you're one of the top figures in the Trump administration, you expect to be humiliated, and occasionally sidelined, while rumors circulate that the knives are out for you. Maybe you're Sean Spicer and you're sent out on Day Two of the Trump presidency to aggressively defend the claim that Trump had a massive inaugural crowd because the president didn't think you did a good job the first time. Or maybe you're Spicer and it's rumored that you're interviewing potential replacements for yourself. Maybe you're Spicer and you're a devout Catholic and the president leaves you off the list of people who'll get to meet Pope Francis.

Maybe you're Steve Bannon and you're being touted as the real president of the United States, and then this happens to you:
... the mercurial president has a long history of turning quickly on subordinates, and the political hit late Tuesday in the New York Post was trademark Trump, using the friendly Manhattan tabloid to publicly debase his chief strategist. The president said Bannon was hardly the Svengali of his caricature, but rather “a good guy” who “was not involved in my campaign until very late.”

Bannon’s associates were caught off guard by Trump’s comments. Some interpreted them as a paternal “love tap” by Trump to assert his own dominance, while others worried they amounted to an indirect firing.
Bannon is still around -- and is reportedly back in favor. Spicer hasn't resigned either.

Trump isn't just now "turning against" Sessions -- he's been angry about the recusal for months. The first reports, in March, said Trump was angry at the staff:
President Donald Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress, sources tell CNN.

"Nobody has seen him that upset," one source said, adding the feeling was the communications team allowed the Sessions news, which the administration deemed a nonstory, to overtake the narrative.
Trump continued to fume about this -- so much so that Sessions offered to resign in the spring, as the Times reported in early June:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign in recent weeks as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job, according to two people who were briefed on the discussion.

The president turned down the offer....

... Mr. Trump [has] vented intermittently about Mr. Sessions since the attorney general recused himself from any Russia-related investigations conducted by the Justice Department. Mr. Trump has fumed to allies and advisers ever since, suggesting that Mr. Sessions’s decision was needless.

He has also blamed Mr. Sessions for the fallout from an executive order that the president signed for a travel ban on seven primarily Muslim countries, which courts have blocked.
Sessions could have decided not to take no for answer. He could have just stepped down. But he didn't.

I think Trump feels powerful when people he's humiliated lick their wounds and continue to work for him. I think his subordinates grow accustomed to this.

I also think Trump likes having Sessions around, as a living, breathing excuse for all of his Russia troubles. I'm sure Trump has considered finding a replacement for Sessions, who would then take over the Russia investigation, allowing Trump to push Robert Mueller out. But he's surely been talked out of this by some of his advisers.

Maybe Trump thinks he'd rather have Sessions in the tent than outside it. O'Donnell says that Sessions no longer has any reason to be loyal to Trump, and so he'll likely testify against Trump someday, contradicting Trump's version of events. But I think if you choose to work for someone like Trump, then to some extent you probably like prostrating yourself before a petty tyrant.

I could be proved wrong in a matter of hours, but I think Sessions will stay on. And if he goes, I don't believe he'll turn against Trump. His loyalty will endure. It's already endured this long.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017



Yup -- according to PPP, all those other Democrats would beat Trump in 2020 by bigger margins than Harris (PPP says she'd beat him by 1) -- and yet it's Harris who gets a front-page write-up at Breitbart ("2020 POLL: KAMALA HARRIS 41, DONALD TRUMP 40," currently the site's most popular story). It's Harris who's front-paged at Drudge, where there's a link to a Washington Free Beacon story titled "Kamala Harris Spends Big With Media Firm That Boosted Bernie Sanders’s National Profile." It's Harris who makes the front page of Fox Nation with a Washington Times opinion piece guaranteed to get wingnuts' blood boiling:
Kamala Harris: Eric Holder in a skirt

... Make way for the next social justice warrior beating a drum for the White House. Harris, a la Eric Holder, a la Barack Obama, is a far leftist with a vision of America as an inherently racist, unjust, unfair, misogynist nation. And by gosh, she’s just the candidate to fix it.
The WashTimes piece uses Harris's statements on the drug war as a jumping-off point for pretty much every scare tactic in the right-wing media arsenal:
And then this take, on the war on drugs — that it’s not so much a criminal matter, or a personal failure. Rather this: “Whole populations of people have been incarcerated for what is essentially a public health issue.”

Does that mean a President Harris would release all the nation’s incarcerated dopers and pushers — and use tax dollars to send them instead to therapy and rehab? Another of her tweets gives clue.

“It’s clear,” she wrote, “we must rethink criminal justice policy in terms of prevention first.”

... The left sees crime and punishment as matters of haves and have-nots — and far too often, whites are the haves, minorities the have-nots, so their solution lies with wealth redistribution.

“The answer to fixing the criminal justice system is not to build more prisons or privatize those prisons,” Harris tweeted. “We’ve been offered a false choice about the criminal justice system. We are either tough on crime or soft on crime — I say be smart on crime.”

OK. But what does that mean, exactly? To a far leftist, smart on crime means soft on reality. It means looking at crime statistics, for instance, and seeing a disproportionate number of blacks behind bars and concluding a fault with the system — inherent racism — rather than a fault with the individual, or community.

This is an Eric Holder style of thinking. This is a Barack Obama way of seeing the world.

Harris for president? She’ll be Holder in a skirt; Obama, with longer hair.
The right isn't doing this with Bernie Sanders, or, for that matter, Andrew Cuomo. The right isn't even doing this with Cory Booker, so even though the race card is being played here in a flagrant way, there seems to be something more at work.

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris ... golly, what's the common ground? Thinking, thinking.... Yes, the Democratic Party has a lot of intelligent, serious, non-flirty, take-no-crap women -- and I think the GOP believes that they're especially easy to demonize. The Breitbart story is quite mild, yet it's generated nearly 4,600 comments as I write this, among them these:
Is Kamala the best the Dems can do? Another boring, ranting, angry, uninspiring woman. It's Hillary all over again!


Apparently the Left's strategy is to pick the Most Toxic and Disagreeable Candidate. With Karmela they have chosen another "winner".
The Left seems to have an Endless Supply of Naasteey Women.
Her campaign slogan will be...
"I'm your worst nightmare white man!"
And her goal will be to prove it...picking up where Hilliary left off...
Her campaign promise will be, "Blatant Passive Aggression towards white men 24/7!"


Perhaps she'll change her gender to a white male and kill her-him-itself. Now that would be a political statement.


Other way around it appears, but who knows, "he" could be pre- or post-op.
Yeah, the Breitbarters are making the usual racist comments, but they're also hung up on gender -- and not just Harris's. A Democratic commenter boasts of voting for her in California and the responses include these:
Sure, probably a brown, gay, retired goverment employee who self identifies as a black female. Or just a Soros troll.


A white male Democrat? Gotta be gay.


You probably wear a man bun like all the effeminate Libturds.


You're a Liberal with a penis, by no means should you be considered a man.
If the right has chosen Warren and Harris as its next Antichrists of choice, gender is one of the main reasons. This may not manifest itself in the right's version of polite company, but it shows up in the fever swamps. I understand the many reasons people didn't vote for Hillary Clinton, but I think we've underestimated the number of votes she lost because flagrant sexism is hip in some circles and a woman who prefers not to act girly is regarded as repulsive, someone you'd vote for only if you seek to betray maleness. Watch how this operates in Warren's 2018 reelection campaign, and in 2020 if a woman gets the presidential nomination for the Democrats. It's going to get ugly.


Two new polls show the same result: Voters favor Democrats over Republicans in the 2018 midterms by a wide margin -- but Republicans have more voter enthusiasm. One of these polls comes from The Washington Post and ABC:
A slight majority of registered voters — 52 percent — say they want Democrats to control the next Congress, while 38 percent favor Republican control to promote the president’s agenda, according to the poll.

Yet a surge in anti-Trump protests does not appear to have translated into heightened Democratic voter enthusiasm....

The Post-ABC poll shows that Republicans actually hold the advantage in enthusiasm at this early point in the campaign cycle. A 65 percent majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say they are certain they will vote next year, versus 57 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
There are similar results in the latest Public Policy Polling survey. We're told,
Democrats have a 50/40 lead on the generic Congressional ballot.
However, Republicans are more excited about voting in 2018:

As are whites:

And older people (the poll makes clear that the young are more anti-Trump):

But this is a change since April, when a PPP survey showed a big Democratic enthusiasm advantage:
Democrats lead the generic Congressional ballot 47-41. But what's more notable is the enthusiasm imbalance. 63% of Democrats say they're 'very excited' about voting in the 2018 election, compared to only 52% of Republicans who express that sentiment.
So according to PPP, the Democrats' advantage on the generic ballot question has increased -- but Democrats' big enthusiasm advantage has disappeared.

I'm not sure why that happened. My guess is that in April many Democrats thought America was on the verge of totalitarian dictatorship, or at least a swift extreme-right upending of the status quo -- but now President Trump just seems inept and ineffectual. We shouldn't be complacent, but I suspect that while many Democrats continue to be engaged and active, others are losing interest in politics.

What's important to note is that Republicans are maintaining a level of enthusiasm. They usually do -- politics is entertainment for conservative voters, because right-wing media outlets carefully nurse grievances and sustain outrage, whether or not we're in an election season. A smaller percentage of Democrats are politically engaged all the time.

Trump also keeps GOP voters engaged -- every morning's tweetstorm is a mini-campaign rally. Elected Democrats aren't visible on MSNBC prime time, but for the vast majority of Democratic voters who aren't watching MSNBC at night, Democratic officeholders are largely invisible

But we're a year away from the 2018 campaigns. The president and the GOP Congress are likely to do (or try to do) many more terrible things. The Trump-Russia revelations won't stop, and it will be obvious that Trump is evading justice because he's being protected by congressional Republicans. Also, it's possible that some of the Republican enthusiasm will lead to punishing primary campaigns against GOP incumbents who are deemed insufficiently purist.

So there's plenty of reason to hope. But for now, Democratic engagement is fading a bit.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


David Leonhardt, who writes for the Opinion Today newsletter of The New York Times, acknowledges the obvious:
The Health Bill’s Failure: Resistance Works

Over the July 4 recess, most Republican senators decided not to hold town hall meetings with their constituents. One of the rare exceptions was Jerry Moran, a second-term senator from Kansas.

And the opposition to the Republican health care bill was ready.

Moran held his meeting on July 6 in Palco, a town in western Kansas with fewer than 300 residents. Yet more than 100 Kansans showed up, and they had one overwhelming message for their senator: Don’t take health insurance away from people....

I’m not suggesting that the Palco meeting was the main reason for Moran’s decision. Yet he clearly felt political pressure to oppose the bill, and his recent meetings with constituents were a big part of that pressure.

One of this newsletter’s themes this year has been the potential effectiveness of grass-roots political organizing. The Tea Party showed as much in 2010, and the so-called Trump resistance has showed the same in recent months.
Opponents of GOP health care legislation have subjected Republicans in Congress to a tremendous amount of pressure. It's working. Which is why another Times op-ed, one that appeared a couple of weeks ago, continues to anger me.

This one was written by Eitan Hersh, a Tufts political science professor. Titled "The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants," it's one of a spate of recent "liberal media" opinion pieces that bash liberals and Democrats for, well, just being awful, pathetic people:
At backyard barbecues this holiday weekend, liberals will gab with one another about how much time they’re spending on politics. More than ever, they are watching cable news, and refreshing Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Many kept up with the recent special House elections. Some skipped work to watch the spectacle of James Comey’s Senate hearing. Others have been using a new technology called Resistbot to send text messages that are transformed into letters faxed to a representative’s or senator’s office. Yet, for all this activism, they have a sinking feeling that maybe they’re just spinning their wheels.

Americans who live in relative comfort are emotionally invested in politics, especially after the election, but in a degraded form of politics that caters to the voyeurism of news junkies and the short attention spans of slacktivists. They are engaging in a phenomenon I call “political hobbyism.” They desperately want to do something, but not something that is boring, demanding or slow.

Political hobbyists want easy ways to register their feelings. Democrats in particular embrace tools like Resistbot that offer instantly gratifying participation. Beyond the current political climate, Democrats, more than Republicans, believe in mass participation as a core value and also believe it empowers their side.

But cheap participation reflects a troubling infirmity in how partisans of both parties engage in politics. In fact, it is not because of gerrymandering, Citizens United, cable news or any of the other common scapegoats that our system is broken, but because of us: ordinary people who are doing politics the wrong way.
The contempt is palpable: Liberals are softy "slacktivists" who "live in relative comfort," they "gab" rather than converse, they use an app to send messages to Washington (a reader who didn't know better would assume that all communications sent to politicians by liberals are transmitted via Resistbot), and they don't want to do anything "that is boring, demanding or slow."

Although Hersh goes on to define billionaires who fund super PACs, many of whom are Republicans, as "hobbyists," and even defines the Republican president as one, he says that this is a liberal and Democratic problem first and foremost.

Are all lefty political activitists mere hobbyists? Hersh concedes that some are more than that:
Not all activism is political hobbyism. A Black Lives Matter protest meant to call attention to police misconduct and demand change on an issue with life-or-death consequences is not hobbyism. Neither is a spontaneous airport protest over the president’s travel ban, which also had clear goals and urgent demands.
Oh, okay. So attending a town hall to oppose the overturning of Obamacare passes muster with Hersh, right? Well, no:
What about attendance at town hall meetings hosted by members of Congress? These events could be places for serious discourse and reveal crucial citizen perspectives on matters of public policy, but they are more often hijacked by fair-weather activists looking to see action. It is certainly peculiar that Democrats who are motivated by the health care debate now couldn’t be bothered to show up at town hall meetings back in 2009 (or to vote in 2010), and the Tea Party activists of 2009 can’t be bothered now, since it wouldn’t be any fun for them.
So if you didn't vote in the past, you have apparently forfeited the right to be taken seriously as a political activist for the rest of your life, according to Hersh. You can't say you've seen the error of your ways -- you blew it then, and you're not allowed to change. Besides, you're only going to the town hall "to see action."

Tell that to Jerry Moran, or to all the Republicans who stopped holding town halls out of fear of these "hobbyists," and who couldn't dodge "hobbyist" anger expressed a dozen different ways, sometimes at a safe remove, but other times in police handcuffs.

I don't know why news outlets with largely liberal audiences are so invested in the notion that those audiences need to be told how terrible they are. But I'm happy to see that this scolding, at least for now, has been debunked by reality.


A Wall Street Journal editorial titled "The Trumps and the Truth" is inspiring responses like this:
The Wall Street Journal unloaded on President Donald Trump late Monday night, lambasting the president for being mired in an investigation into Russian involvement in his campaign and for continually hiding damaging details that inevitably are leaked.

Following a weekend when Trump’s attorney attempted to put out the fire – and failed spectacularly — the Journal editorial board finally had enough....

The Journal ... brought the heat....
So the Wall Street Journal editorial board is now part of the resistance? Not exactly. Here's the gist of the editorial:
Even if the ultimate truth of this tale is merely that Don Jr. is a political dunce who took a meeting that went nowhere—the best case—the Trumps made it appear as if they have something to hide. They have created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion.

... [Trump attorney Ty] Cobb has an opening to change the Trump strategy to one with the best chance of saving his Presidency: radical transparency. Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr. Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.

... If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it.

... If Mr. Trump’s approval rating stays under 40% into next year, Republicans will begin to separate themselves from an unpopular President in a (probably forlorn) attempt to save their majorities in Congress. If Democrats win the House, the investigations into every aspect of the Trump business empire, the 2016 campaign and the Administration will multiply. Impeachment will be a constant undercurrent if not an active threat. His supporters will become demoralized.
The Journal ed board isn't distancing itself from Trump -- it's trying to save his presidency, and save America from the nightmarish descent into the abyss that it believes will inevitably result from a Democratic takeover of the House. ("His supporters will become demoralized" -- oh, the humanity!) It hopes to prevent this cataclysm by saving Trump from what it thinks are his worst instincts. (If only the urge to conceal were the worst of Trump's instincts.)

As Jonathan Chait notes, the board doesn't weigh the notion that Team Trump is concealing the truth for a reason:
Nowhere in the editorial does the Journal consider the possibility that Trump and his inner circle have lied systematically about the contacts with Russia because they have something to hide. “Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office,” the editorial asserts. But what if the truth is really bad? The Journal does not say.

“If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations,” the editorial posits, “transparency will prove it.” That is true! But what if, as now appears overwhelmingly probable, there isn’t nothing to the Russia collusion allegation? Well, the editorial doesn’t say. It just moves on to other questions.
So this is the current pro-Trump fallback position: Trump is an innocent man who has the potential to be a great president, but he's being hounded by the Javerts of the Democratic Party, the media, and the Deep State, and his response -- regrettably, bafflingly -- is to hide the truth. Like his tendency to tweet too much, it's just one of the rare flaws in his otherwise shining character.

This is going to become the standard line for Trump defenders. Here's what Senator John Thune said on CNN after being read excerpts of the editorial:
" ... To me, the administration is served by getting everything out there and being as transparent as they possibly can. Because, this issue, in order for it to go away, I think that is the best way to just cleanse it, and get it out there, and let the American people decide.”

“More transparency is good,” he added.

“More transparent than they are now?” [CNN's John] Berman asked.

“I think there has been a reluctance for whatever reason, I think, by the administration, in some cases, to get all the information out there, and I think they’re well served to do that, frankly,” Thune replied. “My guess is that they’ll probably find — and the intelligence committees and the others that have looked at this have not found any evidence of collusion to this point, and I think that the administration would be able to turn that page and move forward and focus on other things if they would get this issue behind them. And I think that that sort of transparency would enable that to happen.”
Yeah, that'll do it! No, really!


When David Brooks claimed that elitist sandwiches cause economic inequality, Josh Barro weighed his options: On the one hand, everyone thinks Brooks is an idiot; on the other hand -- hundreds of thousands of clicks! The choice was obvious: Barro would also tell upmarket liberals that their attitude toward sandwiches is killing America.

Okay, fine -- I don't know for sure that that's what really happened. But here's Barro with an interminable think piece titled "Liberals Can Win Again If They Stop Being So Annoying and Fix Their 'Hamburger Problem.'" His thesis: Americans are now cool with gay marriage and universal health care, but Republicans win elections because ... liberals tell people not to eat burgers. I'm not making this up. That's Barro's argument:
... liberals have staked out a wide variety of fundamentally non-policy positions on the culture that annoy the crap out of people, to their electoral detriment.

Let's discuss the hamburger example.

Suppose you're a middle-income man with a full-time job, a wife who also works outside the home, and some children. Suppose it's a Sunday in the early fall, and your plan for today is to relax, have a burger, and watch a football game.

Conservatives will say, "Go ahead, that sounds like a nice Sunday." (In the Trump era, they're not going to bother you about not going to church.) But you may find that liberals have a few points of concern they want to raise about what you mistakenly thought was your fundamentally nonpolitical plan for the day.

Liberals want you to know that you should eat less meat so as to contribute less to global warming. They're concerned that your diet is too high in sodium and saturated fat. They're upset that the beef in your hamburger was factory-farmed.
Since the only Americans whose opinions are considered valid these days are Trump voters, let me ask: Do you think the #MAGA crowd considers hamburger-shaming to be one of America's top issues? We know these voters despise liberals, but is this why?

I'll point out here that Barro's burger-shaming link goes to a New York Times story about Barack Obama's appearance a couple of months ago at a conference on food policy called Seeds & Chips. Remember that? No? Neither did I until I clicked Barro's link.

In fact, when Barro begins to list ways that liberals "annoy" Joe Sixpack, he does so from a perspective that's rather ... elitist.
Beyond what you're doing this weekend, this movement has a long list of moral judgments about your ongoing personal behavior....

The gender-reveal party you held for your most recent child inaccurately conflated gender with biological sex. ("Cutting into a pink or blue cake seems innocent enough — but honestly, it's not," Marie Claire warned earlier this month.)
Yes, I'm sure a lot of guys settling down to Sunday football with a burger in hand are regular readers of Marie Claire.
You don't ride the subway because you have that gas-guzzling car, but if you did, the way you would sit on it would be sexist.
Does Barro not realize that most Americans in the labor force drive to work? And don't even live in places where "manspreading" on the subway is an issue? Who's the elitist now?
No item in your life is too big or too small for this variety of liberal busybodying. On the one hand, the viral video you found amusing was actually a manifestation of the patriarchy. On the other hand, you actually have an irresponsibly large number of carbon-emitting children.

All this scolding — this messaging that you should feel guilty about aspects of your life that you didn't think were anyone else's business — leads to a weird outcome when you go to vote in November.
How much of this truly penetrates the mass culture? It's mostly upper-income people talking among themselves. That patriarchy link, for example, is from the freaking New Statesman Really? Retired steelworkers in Pennsylvania are reading The New Statesman now?

Of course, some of this talk does reach the masses -- thanks to the right-wing media. But when it passes through that puke funnel, it comes out smelling worse than it should. Example: A proposal was floated at Davos in 2015 to take the $90 trillion dollars likely to be spent globally on urban development in the next few years and use it to make cities denser and more public transit friendly, so cities would no longer need cars. Al Gore endorsed the idea. Once right-wingers got a hold of it, the headline was "Oligarch Al Gore: Spend $90 Trillion To Ban All Cars." Implication: all cars, everywhere, and at an extra cost, which was not the idea.

Consumers of right-wing media don't think liberals want people to eat less meat -- they think we all belong to PETA and oppose meat altogether. (Ask Ted Nugent.) They think our tolerance of Muslims equals support for imposition of sharia law on America. They think our support for tougher gun background checks means support for confiscation of all firearms. They think our praise for single payer means we want a North Korea-style command-and-control economy. They think our outrage at the deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of the police means we want cops killed.

Barro apparently doesn't want us having any discussions, in any forum, of ideas that might offend blue-collar America, however accurately those discussions are reported. And when some tempest in a teapot is cynically sold to blue-collar America as a threat to bedrock values, we're supposed to bow and scrape and apologize.
... usually the leading voices of the new liberal moralism are not politicians. Less-smug liberal commentators will usually protest that these voices are marginal, especially the college students who get so much attention on Fox News for protesting culturally insensitive sushi in the dining hall. If these voices are so marginal, it should be easy enough for Democratic politicians to distance themselves by saying, for example, that some college students have gotten a little nuts and should focus on their studies instead of the latest politically correct cause. Showing that you also think liberal cultural politics has gotten a little exhausting is a good way to relate to a lot of voters.
Yes, I'm sure constantly being on the defensive will win back the Senate and flip a lot of state legislatures for the Democrats in 2018.

In short, what Barro is saying is: Real or imagined lifestyle policing is bad -- but it's fine when it's done to liberals. Thanks a lot for that, Josh.

Monday, July 17, 2017


I've been saying for a while that Nancy Pelosi shouldn't step down as House Democratic leader simply because she's regularly used in attack ads against other Democrats -- if Pelosi isn't the GOP's Antichrist, it's going to be someone else. A story in The Washington Times today tells us that the next Antichrist is -- surprise! -- another woman, Elizabeth Warren:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t as toxic as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — yet — but Republican operatives are laboring to change that, saying they will use the run-up to the elections next year to try to make the rising liberal star too poisonous for Democrats to handle.

The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Republican-aligned groups such as American Rising are testing out the depth of the anti-Warren sentiment, hoping to inject her into Senate races the way Republican operatives have made Mrs. Pelosi a drag for House Democrats.

At the very least, they hope to make vulnerable Democrats have to declare whether they side with Ms. Warren on some of her most liberal causes.

“Just like Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren is deeply unpopular with voters and her policies are out of step with a vast majority of Americans, and we think that will be an effective way to brand vulnerable Democrats,” said RNC spokesman Rick Gorka.
Is Warren "deeply unpopular with voters"? That's news to me. Polling Report lists two national polls on Warren, both from 2014; one shows her with a 21%-17% favorable-unfavorable rating and one has her at 27%-17%. In those polls, the top response to Warren is "Never heard of." Her national profile just isn't that high.

The story cites no data, and confident assertions of Warren's unpopularity give way to GOP claims that, well, she's not unpopular yet, but she'll get there, just you wait:
Republicans said Ms. Warren appears to turn off voters more than Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, who does not register much in polls, and Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent whose populist message resonates in Trump-friendly states.

Whit Ayres, a Republican Party pollster, said Ms. Warren is less known than Mrs. Pelosi, but a concentrated messaging campaign could change that.

“Elizabeth Warren has that potential, but she doesn’t have it yet,” Mr. Ayres said. “It is not unusual for her name ID to be a good 15 to 20 points lower than Pelosi’s. It is not that she is unknown, but she is not as universally known as the former speaker.”
Ads have been run attempting to link Trump-state Democratic senators with Warren on health care. But does saying OOGA BOOGA SINGLE-PAYER work these days?

On the other hand, once Fox and Sinclair and talk radio and Drudge and Breitbart and Gateway Pundit are all on board with the notion that Warren is an unnatural, grotesque wicked witch in favor of high taxes and socialism, then just asserting her awfulness might be enough for Republican base voters -- and negative impressions of her might be absorbed by more middle-of-the-road heartland voters.

It won't be long before Republicans other than Donald Trump play the "Pocahontas" card. She's asserted that she had a Native American ancestor, and has been mocked for that, first by Scott Brown in the 2012 Senate race, then later by Trump. A Republican who was born in India, Shiva Ayyadurai, has announced that he's running against her in 2018, saying, "I think only a real Indian can defeat a fake Indian." Ayyadurai sent Warren a DNA kit for her birthday. (What a class act the modern Republican Party is.) Ayyadurai has some serious baggage of his own -- he claims he invented email, and is undeterred by people who assert that email existed a decade before he says he invented it. (Many of these people are scientists who themselves were using what they quite sensibly regard as early email.) Ayyadurai sues news organizations that dispute his version of the facts. If he's Warren's general election opponent, he may not be terribly credible in a tech-friendly, deeply Democratic state. But after 2016, we should never underestimate the appeal of obnoxiousness to GOP voters.

In any case, Warren has a target on her back. For the GOP, some Democrat is always the embodiment of pure evil. This is what Republicans do instead of developing policies and learning how to govern.


Hi, I'm back. Thank you, Yastreblyansky, for filling in while I was away.

This morning, Axios's Mike Allen tells us what ten Washington journalists think is the most surprising thing about Donald Trump's first six months as president. A number of the surprises aren't particularly surprising.
NBC's Chuck Todd: "I guess I'm surprised he didn't make more of an effort to develop a personal relationship with Schumer and Pelosi. Culturally, he's more familiar with them and knew the two of them more superficially than any of the GOP leaders. I didn't expect much of a Democratic outreach, but I thought he'd attempt a little wining and dining of those two, simply because he had that earlier connection back when he was a donor."
An obvious fact that I've been pointing out for months continues to elude the insiders: Trump is a Republican. Maybe he wasn't one in 2009 (the last time he gave money to Schumer) or in 2010 (the last time he gave money to any Democrat), but he's been one since Fox & Friends gave him a place to spout off on politics in 2011 and began touting him as a possible president. Republicanism has no principles other than "We hate liberals and are determined to crush them by any means necessary." That appeals to Trump, who loves fighting people. The notion of permanent war is reinforced by Steve Bannon -- who's a Trump favorite again. Which brings us to this non-surprise:
ABC's Jon Karl, who covered Trump in New York: "That he has held only one real press conference, and has never set foot in the White House briefing room. ... And that he has done so few interviews outside of Fox News. ... This is the candidate who loved engaging the press so much that he turned his primary victory nights into press conferences, which we've never seen before."
Has Karl forgotten already? Trump held a formal press conference on July 27, 2016, and didn't hold another for the rest of the campaign -- more than 100 days. Trump didn't have another one until January. Please note that Steve Bannon, who has declared war on the mainstream media, came on board as campaign CEO a couple of weeks after Trump stopped holding press conferences.

And there's this:
Maggie Haberman: "I'm most surprised he hasn't set foot in NYC since mid-January."
I hadn't thought about that -- but I can't say it surprises me. Trump grew up in Queens, but he seems to have absolutely no affection for it. He's lived for years in Manhattan, but can it honestly be said that he likes it? It was a place he wanted to conquer so he'd be regarded as a Master of the Universe; he built a gold-plated tower and told himself that he was the king of this particular hill. But now he's president -- he no longer needs the validation he's always believed Trump Tower gave him.

Also, while Trump likes to fight, he doesn't like to fight face-to-face. The man who's never had the nerve to look the president of Mexico in the eye and demand money for the wall doesn't want to spend time in a city where even he has the acknowledge that the voters hate him. He'd rather hang out in the gated communities of Mar-A-Lago and Bedminster, where he's worshipped as a god.

But one of Allen's interviewees got it right:
Noah Shachtman, executive editor of The Daily Beast: "I guess I'm most surprised that people thought a 70-year-old, self-employed man would remake himself once he got to Washington."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals

A-and socialism, kids! Just across the horizon! Well, maybe not quite. Image, late 19th–early 20th c., via Wikipedia.

Shorter John Podhoretz, "Hillary's White House would be no different from Trump's", New York Post, July 15 2017:
Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors hovering around the White House, which is identical to President Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel guests filling his personal coffers.
And the wealthiest appointments list in US history with a web of conflicts of interest that The New York Times and Pro Publica are as yet nowhere near finished covering? J-Pod is pretty clearly confusing the reality with the noise that Republicans would undoubtedly be accompanying a Clinton presidency with, as he sort of acknowledges:
Liberals are obsessed with the possible violations of the emoluments clause with the continuing existence of the Trump Organization — and conservatives would have been just as consumed with the question of the behavior of Clinton Inc. during a Clinton administration.
But they would be wrong, especially on the subject of the Clinton Foundation, which the Clintons promised would not exist in anything like its then form if she was elected, with Bill Clinton no longer involved in management or fundraising and no more corporate or international donations accepted (and they tend, imperfectly, to keep those promises, unlike certain persons whose tax returns have still not been released). This was pretty well publicized last August, and I'm not sure how Poddy missed it.

We'd hardly have the day-to-day revelations of personal and official misconduct in the campaign that we have for Trump and friends, because whatever there was was exhaustively covered during the campaign (as has been pointed out, WikiLeaks never had any material to sell on Trump), along with a great deal of whatever there wasn't, from Benghazi to the juvenile sex slavery ring Clinton and Podesta were said toward the end of the campaign to be running in a DC pizzeria (pretty sure one highly educated Trump voter of my acquaintance believed, or affected to believe, in that one). And she's not likely to have fired the FBI director, IF ONLY BECAUSE SHE'S AWARE THAT IT WOULD FUCKING LOOK BAD but also because her investigation was long ago finished, while the Trump campaign's investigation was just starting to get going.

And which foreign government tinkering with our electoral system through cyberwar would we be worried about? France and Germany, Canada and Mexico, Japan and South Korea may all be wishing they'd thought of it at this point, but they didn't.

Also, if we're talking about a universe where Clinton won the 2016 presidential election, I think we're probably talking about a world where Chuck Schumer is majority leader of the Senate, because a vote that favored her would have favored a pickup of three additional Senate seats. Katie McGinty lost to incumbent Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania by about 87,000 votes or 1.43 percentage points, and in an election where Clinton won (she lost by some 34,00 votes), McGinty would certainly have won as well. Our beloved Professor Russ Feingold sadly lost in Wisconsin to the imbecile Ron Johnson by 99,000, 3.4%, and was ahead in the polls, just as Clinton was, right up to November 3 or so (she lost by 23,000). In Missouri, the charismatic gun-toting Democrat Jason Kander lost to incumbent Roy Blunt by 78,258 or 2.8 percentage points, and was also ahead in polling right to the end, though there were still a lot of undecideds (Trump's winning margin in MO was twice as high as the RCP average, 18.5% instead of 9.5%); Clinton had no chance here, but Kander certainly ought to have won the Senate seat, and would have done so in a normal year.

Thus the Democrats (counting independents Sanders and King) would most likely have had a 51-49 majority in the Senate, plus Vice President Tim Kaine. Meaning a rebalanced Supreme Court, to begin with, featuring a Scalia replacement more assertively progressive than Merrick Garland. And with a Senate in the hands of somebody who knows how to count votes, Congress would be functioning to some extent, though I can't draw a picture where Democrats would have taken the House in 2016, thanks to the extremes of gerrymandering.

Also, unlike Trump using his executive power to harass and persecute immigrants, wreck health insurance for the individual market, retreat from the Paris agreement and despoil the environment, defund scientific progress, and threaten voting rights, she would be using hers to the opposite ends. Which would be a big difference indeed, to some of us, though perhaps not to John Podhoretz, who doesn't care much about such things and would be writing exactly the same garbage either way.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names. Also see tweetstorm from Matthew Chapman.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

There's the beef!

Drawing by Clay Bennett/Chattanooga Times via Democratic Underground.

This is not my idea—I got it from Paul Campos at LGM—but nobody seems to be picking up on it, including Campos, and it seems to me a bit of proof positive that Donald Trump Jr.'s NOTHINGBURGER meeting of June 9 2016 was, in fact, a very precise part of the sequence that led to the successful efforts of Russian intelligence services to get Big Donald elected president of the United States. From the story lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin told AP about his participation in the meeting (via Vox):
During the meeting, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.
It's that there are some documents we all have access to that detail the flow of funds to the DNC, illicit or otherwise. They look like this,

and they're what you find if you put "contributions" into the search box at the WikiLeaks DNC emails dump posted July 22 2016.

In other words, what Akhmetshin is saying, wittingly or not, is that the information Natalya Veselnitskaya brought to Trump Tower that day consisted of printouts from the hack of the Democratic National Committee conducted by "Fancy Bear" between January 2015 and May 2016. That's what she and Akhmetshin were offering the Trump campaign in return for help, should Trump become president, in lifting the sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs by the Magnitsky Act.

These particular emails weren't in point of fact anything the Trump campaign could use, because none of the contributions were illicit, which is why you don't hear much about them. Of course Kushner, Manafort, and Little Donald didn't know that yet. And they could easily have imagined that there might be other emails among the 20,000 that were useful in other ways. Like they could be curated into looking like proof that the DNC was improperly tipping the scales in Hillary Clinton's favor against candidate Bernie Sanders, as the later Podesta emails included the texts of Clinton's very highly paid Goldman Sachs talks, which could be made to look as if she was secretly promising to be their White House puppet, and so on. Something like that.

So this really was the meeting where the whole plan, quid and quo, took shape.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Friday, July 14, 2017


I'll be off the weekend, but I'll leave you in the capable hands of the relief crew, who'll be posting (I hope) while I'm away. See you Monday.


Slate's Ben Matthis-Lilley is puzzled by Ben Sasse:
Ben Sasse is not OK with Donald Trump’s tweets. On June 29, the president began yet another day by barfing out insults on Twitter, this time regarding MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski’s face. Sasse was one of the first Republicans to respond. “Please just stop,” wrote Nebraska’s 45-year-old junior senator. “This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.”

Dignity is one of Ben Sasse’s things. He’s also into duty, thoughtfulness, empiricism, and respect for democratic traditions—and while most politicians would probably claim to support those ideals, Sasse sets himself apart by frequently challenging his party on their behalf. The Morning Joe incident was not nearly the first time Sasse has criticized Trump without rationalizing or minimizing his behavior the way so many in the GOP do; during the 2016 presidential campaign, Sasse refused to endorse the real estate heir even as almost all of his Republican peers in elected office folded.... Just this Sunday, Sasse called Trump’s claim to be working on a cybersecurity commission with Vladimir Putin “bizarre” and noted (correctly) that it “should obviously not happen.”

But at the same time, Sasse’s Senate votes have so far aligned with Trump’s wishes 95 percent of the time....
Gosh, I can't imagine why anyone would want to display such flagrant, obvious hypocrisy.

No, wait -- of course I can understand. Being a Republican who exhibits what liberal journalists regard as virtuous behavior is a surefire ticket to national fame, and it doesn't matter at all whether your voting record jibes with your pieties. Look at John McCain, who continues to be regarded as a principled "maverick" even though he signs off on virtually every agenda item of his party's leadership in Congress, as well as whatever GOP presidents want. Or look at Paul Ryan, who's praised as a serious-minded wonk even after it's repeatedly demonstrated that the numbers in his bills don't add up, and who's been allowed to palm himself off as a charity-minded Christian despite his flint-hearted Randianism.

Sasse knows he can go national with this act. He'll rarely be challenged on his voting record, and even when he is, as in Mathis-Lilley's piece, the criticism will be tempered because he's so darn virtuous. Even as Mathis-Lilley tells us that "so far, Sasse’s practical participation in our democracy—he was elected to the Senate in 2014—has mostly advanced the interests of an increasingly authoritarian, unreasonable Republican Party," he's praising Sasse as a moralist intellect:
He is a performatively deep thinker, an advocate of public decency who makes a case j good-faith discourse that is both eloquent and, in the FAKE NEWS!!!!!!1! era, timely. He states that case convincingly in his new book about raising hard-working and civic-minded children, The Vanishing American Adult....

He stands out by educating himself earnestly and speaking honestly about complicated matters of history and policy.
Most of the press won't even spot the contradiction -- Chuck Todd and his ilk assume that Republican positions are never beyond the pale, so Sasse's voting record is going to be fine with them. And the deep thinking ... it's so dreamy! This is a great market niche for Sasse to occupy. We will live to see him on a GOP presidential ticket, and a few liberal-media legs will tingle if he wins.


I don't believe Donald Trump can possibly be impeached until after a Democratic takeover of the House in the midterms, assuming that happens. I'm not sure it can happen even then, and in any case I don't think he can be convicted in a Republican Senate. I know there are those who disagree. -- they believe that there'll be a tipping point when the congressional GOP decides it's had enough of Trump. And I know that some people think Trump will become frustrated and quit early, though I believe he'll never give up the king-of-the-hill satisfaction of being president, even if he's miserable in the White House.

But in the unlikely event that the Trump leaves office early, our side isn't prepared for a continued fight against a very similar approach to policy -- and a much more skilled approach to being president -- in a Mike Pence presidency. A newly released Gallup poll hints at the problem:
Americans who disapprove of how Donald Trump is handling his job as president primarily base their views on his character and personality. By contrast, U.S. adults who disapproved of Barack Obama's job performance in July 2009, during his first year in office, focused mainly on his policies and stances on issues. In mid-2001, Americans who disapproved of George W. Bush were significantly more likely to explain their views with broad or general negative evaluations of his job performance.

The question was open-ended -- "Why do you disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as president?" The majority of people in the survey who disapproved of Trump mentioned non-policy and non-performance issues, summarized by Gallup as "Not presidential/Bad temperament/Arrogant/Obnoxious," "Inexperienced/Doesn't know what he is doing," "Looking out for himself/Doesn't consider people's needs," "Use of social media/Twitter," and "Untrustworthy."

Do you see the problem here if Trump leaves office ahead of schedule? Anti-Trump anger isn't focused on policy -- it's focused on Trump. Specifically, it's focused on aspects of Trump's personality and demeanor that aren't perceived as aspects of Pence's personality and demeanor.

If Trump does go, the political and media establishment will want to rally around Pence. Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough will want his ascension to the presidency to be a healing moment. His poll numbers are mediocre, but they aren't as negative as Trump's. I know there's evidence that he hasn't stood apart from the Trump sleaze. But I think that will be swept under the rug if Trump is going down.

Obviously, Russia is an issue on which Trump is not just awful but impeachable; on the other hand, maybe we're talking about it too much. As a new Huffington Post/YouGov survey notes,
Russia continues to rank relatively low on the public’s list of priorities. Twelve percent of Americans currently name Trump’s relationship with Moscow as one of the two issues most important to them, ranking it behind health care (49 percent), the economy (37 percent) and immigration (20 percent), and on par with the environment (13 percent) and the way things work in Washington (12 percent).
It's hard to pin Trump down on policy, of course -- as an AP story notes, Trump will take credit if a GOP health care bill passes, but he'll blame others if it fails. He's somehow not linked to the policies in a bill we know he'd be happy to sign. He's eager to put his name on a bill that drastically reduces coverage and raises out-of-pocket expenses, yet his backers still believe he wants to cover everyone for less cost.

That policy slipperiness makes it hard to pin any bad ideas on Trump or Pence. That should change, obviously, if Trump actually signs some GOP bills -- though it's easy to imagine Trump disowning bills he's signed, and blaming Democrats for bad outcomes. ("I wanted to cover everyone at less cost, but Democrats wouldn't bargain in good faith.")

So if Pence becomes president, the public would regard him as (a) not a compulsively tweeting man-child and (b) a policy blank slate. (People who care about politics know his record, but that's not most Americans.) The country would learn what he stands for soon enough -- but we'd be starting from scratch in fighting him, and we've seen that mild-mannered Koch/religious right wingnuts mange to win their next elections even when they govern from very far to the right -- think Scott Walker or Sam Brownback.

No matter who's president, we probably need to talk more about policy, and we need to hang every bad Republican idea around the neck of every Republican.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Milo Yiannopoulos's book isn't selling quite as well as he's claimed:
Rightwing controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos has branded reported low sales of his new book “fake news” after official figures revealed the writer has failed to rock the book charts on either side of the Atlantic, despite his claims to the contrary.

According to Nielsen Bookscan, which monitors book sales through almost all outlets, including Amazon, the former Breitbart technology editor has sold only 18,268 copies of his book in the US and 152 in the UK since its launch on 4 July.

The figure is far below the 100,000 copies, including pre-orders, that his PR team claimed had sold through Amazon alone on the day of the book’s launch. Though ebook sales are excluded from the charts, Andre Breedt, managing director of Nielsen Book Research, said: “As our sales include Amazon sales it is unlikely to be higher.”
BookScan is the industry's gold standard for measuring sales. I believe BookScan's numbers, even though Yiannopoulos disputes them:
“It’s true that the major booksellers only managed to ship out 18,000 copies to retail customers by the list cutoff. But that’s because they didn’t order enough ahead of time, and have been scrambling to play catchup ever since.

“The real news is that we’ve received wholesale orders and direct orders of such magnitude that our entire stock of 105,000 books is already accounted for.”
"Direct orders"? You mean bulk buys from right-wing groups offering copies of the book as subscription premiums? That's probably the case -- on the newly released New York Times bestseller list, which should appear online in a few days, a dagger appears in the entry for Dangerous, which means that bulk orders are being reported.

(This is also true for right-wing bestsellers on the list from Eric Bolling, Newt Gingrich, and Mark Levin.)

Earlier this week, the subscription-only PublishersLunch made short work of several arguments in Yiannopoulos's $10 million lawsuit against Simon & Schuster, which dumped Yiannopoulos a couple of months ago:
He claims in the suit that the cancellation of his book contract "caused irreparable harm to Yiannopoulos and the commercial value of his public persona, including millions of dollars in royalties and fees, as well as permanent harm to the development and exploitation of his stature as an important, sought-after media figure and free-speech celebrity." But that is immediately negated by Yiannopoulos's raising of $12 million to start his own media company after the cancellation, and his bragging within the suit of "robust sales" for the self-published version of the book.
What a dilemma -- should he continue to claim that the book is a blockbuster, and thus negate an argument in his suit? Or should he humiliate himself by acknowledging the poor sales?
The suit reasons that no matter how well Milo does self-publishing, he would have done better "through Simon & Schuster's diligent promotion and sales" and will now suffer from "lower public awareness." In a May press event, however, Milo boasted, "I am going to take not just all of their [S&S's] best authors but all of the best authors of all the conservative imprints in this country and launch my own imprint called Dangerous Books." It's not clear why the "best authors" would elect to be published by someone who admits he can't do as well even for himself as an established publisher.
Oooh, snap.
Going much further, the suit also seeks the "disgorgement by Simon & Schuster of any profits it has made or will make, and any other benefit it has received or will receive, that are the result of its opportunistic and self-serving breach of its agreement with Yiannopoulos." They reason, absurdly, that "preserving important Simon & Schuster business relationships with authors, book distributors and sellers, publishers, and the like" is an ill-gotten benefit of refusing to publish Milo, and essentially argues that he is entitled to all of their profits for not ruining the company. That claim effectively admits that publishing Milo would have harmed S&S financially....
Yes, he's stipulating that dumping him was a wise business decision for S&S, then claiming that he deserves the extra money S&S makes as a result.

Hey, he got to #4 on the Times list, so he still has a cult following. But in real life he's not the legend he is in his own mind.