Friday, January 20, 2017

TODAY IN "JOE SCARBOROUGH IS AN IDIOT"

Joe Scarborough thinks we have a new president who's a radical populist, or something like that:
Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," called President Donald Trump's inaugural address a "primal scream aimed at Washington, DC."

"Donald Trump's speech was not an inaugural address," Scarborough tweeted after Trump's speech Friday. "It was a primal scream aimed at Washington, DC."

He said in a subsequent tweet: "[CNN's] Jake Tapper said Donald Trump's speech was the most radical inaugural address he's ever heard. I agree. It was unlike any that preceded it."
And I'll admit that the speech sounded populist:
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families....

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work -- rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.
Sounds as if Trump is going to be laser-focused on helping the little guy, right? Um...





Feel the populism!

Daniel Larison says,
Trump presented everything in very broad strokes and gave us no sense of what he considers to be his priorities at the start of his presidency. If Trump and his advisers know what they are, they don’t seem to be interested in telling us about them.
But Kellyanne Conway has been very disciplined in explaining what the top priorities are. Here's Conway today on CBS This Morning:
“But also he's somebody who has said what he wants to do. I think you've got a five or six-point plan in short order. Repealing and replacing Obama care, regulatory relief, tax reform.”
And here's Conway on ABC's Good Morning America:
"He's made very clear that his priorities are to repeal and replace Obamacare and also to bring some regulatory relief and tax reform," the senior adviser said on "GMA" this morning.
So basically his top priorities are ... the same as Paul Ryan's and Mitch McConnell's: tax and regulation cuts for billionaires, plus Obamacare repeal to make the teabaggers-turned-deplorables cheer even as many of them lose insurance. So much for "radical." So much for "a primal scream aimed at Washington, DC." Trump's message -- or at least the message of the Trump administration, which the new president may not be detail-oriented enough to understand -- is "whatever the conservative establishment wants." I expect that to continue to be the message, with sporadic interruptions for even worse messages.

AN EARLY OPPORTUNITY FOR TRUMP TO CHEAT PEOPLE?

In a few hours, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president, and he's already mooching off the previous administration:
Mr. Trump will be sworn in at noon Eastern time on Friday, but his team was still scrambling to fill key administration posts when he got here on Thursday, announcing last-minute plans to retain 50 essential State Department and national security officials currently working in the Obama administration to ensure “continuity of government,” according to Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary....

In all, Mr. Trump has named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which has been tracking the process. That is a pace far slower than recent predecessors....
I respect the fact that these Obama holdovers are putting country over party. But I hope they're aware that they're going to be working for this guy:



I think there's a serious risk that Trump will stiff these holdovers, even though they're not paid out of his money. And if he does stiff them, I'm sure his administration will declare that he's within his legal rights to do so.

Maybe this won't happen. Maybe Trump and his underlings would need to understand the bureaucracy better than they do in order to stiff the Obamaites who've agreed to stay on. But at the very least, I'm sure Trump will want to stiff them. I think they shouldn't count on a continuing paycheck.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

CBS PIZZAGATE TRUTHER SURE IS FOND OF HIS FORMER(?) EMPLOYER -- RT

The Daily Beast's Ben Collins reports:
News anchor Ben Swann aired a six-minute “investigation” into Pizzagate in America’s ninth-largest TV market on Tuesday night.

“Media is telling you the entire story is a hoax or fake news, but what does that even mean?” Swann asked on the 11 p.m. newscast of Atlanta’s CBS affiliate. He was referring to the debunked conspiracy theory spread by 4chan and InfoWars that Clinton campaign chief John Podesta is connected to a child sex ring in the basement of a pizza shop that has no basement.



This isn't the first dubious report Swann has done for the Atlanta CBS affiliate:
Last month, in a CBS 46 “Reality Check” segment that went viral on Facebook, Swann asked “If (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad is Committing Genocide in Aleppo, Why Are People Celebrating in the Streets?” The segment has garnered over 67,000 shares on Facebook alone.
And he carried this conspiratorialism over from an earlier job:
In his last job at Russian state-TV outfit Russia Today in 2015, he reported that “any credible evidence does not seem to exist” that Russia shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, simply that it “fit the narrative the U.S. administration was hoping for.” On his own YouTube channel he said he had “major problems with the theory” that the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were each conducted by “lone gunmen.”

“There’s a good reason to question this whole narrative: There’s been no evidence so far provided by police, other than what they’ve told us,” he said in his Sandy Hook truther video.
The Beast story refers to RT as Swann's "former employer." (Media Matters notes that he got the Atlanta CBS gig in June 2015.) But there's something curious about this. If you go to Swann's personal page, ben-swann.com, or to his benswanncommentary page on Facebook, you'll see that literally every entry ends with the following:
Read Full Article at RT.com
RT - Daily news
Links are included. If Swann is no longer cashing an RT paycheck, he's awfully nice to the people who are totally no longer employing him.

Swann also has a hell of a lot of stories about Vladimir Putin at ben-swann.com, including stories with headlines such as "Putin: Russian military not threatening anybody, we are protecting our borders" and "Putin demonized for thwarting neocon plan for global domination."

Swann posts a lot of dodgy material at his Truth in Media site. Here's a September 11 truther post titled "More Americans Are 'Rethinking' 9/11?" Here are several posts that are skeptical about vaccines. The Beast story tells us that Truth in Media
shares a contact phone number with a prominent member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a tax-exempt 527 political committee....

The phone number listed under the contact section on Truth in Media’s website belongs to Joshua Cook, who previously used the same number as a contact for South Carolina’s Republican Liberty Caucus in the political organization’s press releases....

Cook was the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Liberty Caucus as recently as 2014, and he is currently listed as a committee member on RLC’s national website. Cook has written more than 500 articles on Truth in Media’s website since Swann founded it in 2013, while serving as RLC’s South Carolina chairman or national committee member.

In 2013, the Republican Liberty Caucus posted an interview with Swann on its website titled “RLC Joins Forces with Ben Swann’s Truth in Media Project.”
Swann also did a vaccine truther segment for a previous employer, RBN, which employed Swann as a radio host. RBN's site still hosts this video:



Media Matters tells us this about RBN:
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center profiled RBN and its owner, John Stadtmiller, as part of a series on the anti-government Patriot movement. SPLC reported that RBN’s “talk radio fare is peppered with warnings about enslavement by a one-world government” and highlighted that RBN broadcasted a show hosted by “Michael Collins Piper, who has written copiously for the anti-Semitic American Free Press and its predecessor, The Spotlight, as well as The Barnes Review, a Holocaust denial journal.” ...

The Anti-Defamation League also criticized RBN in 2010, stating that it “regularly features programs hosted by anti-Semites.” ...

In 2014, when Swann joined RBN, his colleagues included several anti-Semite radio hosts.

During Swann’s tenure, the station broadcasted The American Freedom Party Report w/ James Kelso. SPLC calls Kelso “David Duke’s former right-hand man” and describes the American Freedom Party as “a political party initially established by racist Southern California skinheads that aims to deport immigrants and return the United States to white rule.”

RBN also broadcasted Current Issues w/ Dr. Hesham Tillawi. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a televised version of his radio show “has become a megaphone for Holocaust deniers and white supremacists seeking to broadcast their hatred and anti-Semitism into American homes. Tillawi has hosted a ‘who’s who’ of American anti-Semites on his show, including David Duke, Willis Carto, Edgar J. Steele, Mark Weber and Bradley Smith.”

Remember all this when your right-wing Facebook friends start hectoring you to watch Swann's report.

TRUMP'S INAUGURAL FACE: "VIVID TANGELO" IS AT 8-TO-1

I just received an email from the Irish online bookmaker Paddy Power:
History will be made tomorrow, as Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

Mischievous bookmaker Paddy Power have priced up a variety of specials for the Washington event -- including what colour the new President will be at his inauguration.

The bookie makes lighter tones Tiger’s Eye and Deep Saffron its 6/1 favourites with Mango Tango leading the chasing pack at 7/1.

Further down in the betting is Vivid Tangelo and Cool Copper at 8/1 while Mahogany props up the betting at 18/1.

Paddy Power are also betting on what will be the first Trump-ism uttered by the tycoon during his speech.
This is legit:



Bet here:



At the same page, you can also bet on Trump's tie color, Melania's dress color, celebrity attendees, and "Which of these words/phrases will Trump say 1st?" "Make America great again" is the prohibitive favorite, though there are surprisingly long odds (75/1) on "bigly." And there are some real longshots:



There's more on the "Donald Trump Specials" page:



Significantly more optimistic that Trump will be out before his term expires than I am -- but we can dream, can't we?

It should be noted that Paddy Power declared Hillary Clinton the inner of the election before it took place, and paid money to bettors who chose her -- and then had to pay out even more to Trump bettors after the polls closed.

But the bookmaker carries on. And by the way, in early wagering, Tom Brady, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kanye West are all deemed more likely to win the 2020 presidential election than Jill Stein.

THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL

On Inauguration Day 2009, Barack and Michelle Obama's first dance as president and first lady was to Beyonce singing the Etta James classic "At Last."



"At last my love has coming around...." It's a heartfelt love song.

I'm not sure what song George and Laura Bush chose for their first dance after Bush's inauguration -- you can hear it staring at 1:09 in the video below -- but it sounds like a sentimental old love song.



And BuzzFeed says,
... in 1993, the soft rock band Ambrosia performed “Biggest Part of Me” for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
Cheesy 1980s soft-rock, but, yes, it's a love song ("You're the biggest part of me").

So what about Donald and Melania Trump's first dance?
In his first dance as commander in chief, President-elect Trump will take the dance floor with Melania to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "My Way," according to a source with knowledge of the official inaugural balls.
For that first post-inaugural dance with his wife, Trump chose a song that's basically about loving ... oneself. Perfect.

Oh, and:
The Washington Examiner has learned that Trump plans to take the floor as the 45th president at the Liberty Ball just as Nashville-based jazz singer Erin Boehme delivers opening song "Mack the Knife," which will be live broadcast for tens of millions of Americans to watch on TV.

Three Nashville, Tenn., artists, including Boehme, will sing the famous Sinatra song as Trump takes his first dance with his wife at the first scheduled ball.
Wikipedia, tell us about "Mack the Knife":
"Mack the Knife" or "The Ballad of Mack the Knife", originally "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer", is a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama Die Dreigroschenoper, or, as it is known in English, The Threepenny Opera....

A moritat (from mori meaning "deadly" and tat meaning "deed") is a medieval version of the murder ballad performed by strolling minstrels. In The Threepenny Opera, the moritat singer with his street organ introduces and closes the drama with the tale of the deadly Mackie Messer, or Mack the Knife, a character based on the dashing highwayman Macheath in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (who was in turn based on the historical thief Jack Sheppard). The Brecht-Weill version of the character was far more cruel and sinister, and has been transformed into a modern anti-hero.

The play opens with the moritat singer comparing Macheath (unfavorably) with a shark, and then telling tales of his robberies, murders, rapes, and arson.
Even more appropriate for Trump.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

ED ROGERS, THE GENTEEL TRUMP

Donald Trump, a political neophyte, is a crude man who says nasty, hateful things about people he doesn't like, particularly if they're not white or male. A good example is his ongoing feud with congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis.

Ed Rogers, a veteran Republican operative, is a man who's regarded as civilized and well-mannered. Over at The Washington Post today, he joined Trump in the Lewis pile-on -- but politely.
John Lewis: A predictable partisan

I have watched the back-and-forth between President-elect Donald Trump and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) over the past couple of days and I am saddened by what it reveals. I think the entire exchange says more about Lewis than it does about Trump.
Okay, here it comes -- but first, some pro forma praise for Lewis:
To state the obvious, Lewis is an American icon. He was on the front lines of the American civil rights war. His bravery cannot be questioned.
Obviously, this is just a set-up for what's coming:
But that’s the romanticized Lewis of long ago -- this week, the pedantic, partisan Lewis that lives today was on display.
"Romanticized"? That implies that people who praise Lewis for his actions in the civil rights years are creating a sentimentalized version of the truth about what Lewis did. Rogers, having just praised Lewis, suggests that he himself is exaggerating the reality of those years to create a good story. That's absurd. The violence was real. Lewis's bravery was real. The cause was unquestionably right.

But maybe Rogers doesn't really know what "romanticized" means. He also calls Lewis "pedantic," which doesn't seem like the right word either, and which he apparently chose because it has a negative connotation and begins with the same letter as "partisan." (Rogers comes from the "repeal and replace" party. Republicans love alliteration.)
Lewis has taken something precious, something bigger than just himself, and spoiled it.
Some of us would say that a man who insulted and bullied his way through a presidential campaign, who threatened to jail his opponent, and who'll take office on Friday because of skulduggery by partisan FBI agents and a foreign government is the one who spoiled the inaugural. But I'm sure Rogers wouldn't concede that.
His behavior deprives the rest of us of the leadership he could provide and that we so desperately need. After a certain point, heroism is bigger than the person who performed in the moment. To contribute to the greater good, strength of character must endure, which in today’s case would mean rising above his obvious dislike of the president-elect and being among the voices calling for cooperation.
You know, in emulation of Trump, who's always so cooperative.
Lewis has exhausted his ability to speak outside of a partisan context. According to the CQ voting record rankings, Lewis voted with his party 99 percent of the time in 2015. And, Bloomberg’s profile of Lewis describes him as having “one of the most liberal and party-line voting records in Congress.” What a waste.
A party unity score of 99% sounds awfully high, but what Rogers doesn't want you to know is that the average party unity score for House Republicans was 92% in 2013 and 91% in 2014 (the most recent years I can find). Democrats have high party-unity scores these days as well.

In 2014, Senator Jeff Sessions had a party-unity score of 97. Does Rogers think Sessions "has exhausted his ability to speak outside of a partisan context"? No -- he praised the attorney general-designate after his confirmation hearing last week, writing that he "comported [himself] in a graceful and respectful way" and adding that "we are in good hands" with him. He didn't write, "What a waste."
... It’s too bad Lewis has squandered his potential. Just think about what could have happened if he had taken the opposite approach with Trump. What if he had been among the first to say that he would shake the new president’s hand, would work with him and would challenge Trump to meet him halfway on some of the key issues we face?
Plenty of Democrats said that in the aftermath of the election. Chuck Schumer said that. Bernie Sanders said that. And Trump's Cabinet picks made clear that he is in no mood to compromise. He clearly wants to dismantle as many Democratic accomplishments as possible. He seeks no middle ground. (What Republican in recent years ever has?) We know "what could have happened" because we know what did happen after Trump won.
If Lewis had taken this approach, there would be pressure on Trump and the leverage of Lewis’s legend might be contributing toward something good.
Ed, apparently you haven't made the acquaintance of any Republican base voters lately. They don't like Lewis. They don't regard him as having any "leverage." Conciliatory words from Lewis wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference, because Trump knows which voters got him to where he is, and they want to see people like Lewis rebuffed.
Instead, he is lost among the pack of usual suspects, the malcontent Democrats who won’t get anything done.
You guys control the whole damn government, Ed. You'll fully control the Supreme Court soon because of an outrageous decision to blockade a sitting president's High Court pick for nearly a year. You intend to use end-arounds like reconciliation to diminish Democratic power even more.You're like the school bully who trips a kid in the hallway and then mocks him for being clumsy.

You had a chance to praise John Lewis sincerely and to show that some things are more important to you than partisan hackery. You failed. You're no better than Trump on this -- you just use slightly less inflammatory words.

DONALD TRUMP: OWNED BY THE MAINSTREAM GOP

At their new gig at Axios, ex-Politico writers Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei score an interview with Donald Trump and demonstrate that he's not always the party-smashing tough guy he plays on TV:
On Twitter and in public, Donald Trump remains an uncompromising mix of bluster and bombast. Behind the scenes, he's confronting, and in some cases succumbing (slightly) to, the hard truths of governing and leading a world that hangs on his every word....

Consider:

* Trump said health care is his most urgent domestic topic, telling us he spoke with President Obama again on Monday about the topic. He back-tracked a bit from his promise of insurance for everybody, saying he wanted to find a mechanism -- Medicaid block grants, perhaps -- to help the poorest get insurance. "You know there are many people talking about many forms of health care where people with no money aren't covered. We can't have that," he said.

* On Friday, he told The Wall Street Journal that border-adjustment, a vital part of the House Republicans' corporate tax-reform plan, was "too complicated." Now, it's suddenly back on the table. "It's certainly something that's going to be discussed," he said. "I would say, over the next month-and-a-half, two months, we'll be having more concrete discussions. Right now, we're really focused on health care more than anything else."
Remember the post I wrote yesterday titled "Republicans in Disarray! (Probably Not)"? I quoted Joe Scarborough predicting that Trump will "blow apart the Republican Party" as "the first independent president," citing Trump's damn-the-torpedoes insistence on universal coverage in the Obamacare replacement plan. Scarborough said,
Now Donald Trump is ... warning the Republicans in the House, you better follow me. You better provide universal health insurance for everybody or else.
A day later, guess what? Trump is following them. He's talking as if block grants and similar gimmicks are going to lead to universal coverage, just the way the congressional GOP does.

And instead of insisting on tariffs to discourage companies from outsourcing jobs, he's saying that border adjustment -- the congressional GOP's alternative, which involves taxing imports and exempting exports -- is "something that's going to be discussed." He's not digging in his heels. He's not firing off angry tweets directing fire at advocates of border adjustment (or Medicaid block grants, for that matter).

Trump isn't going to destroy the GOP or the "two-party duopoly," as Scarborough insists. Trump wants to be the leader, but he doesn't want to be without a gang. So, sure, he'll deviate from GOP orthodoxy, but he's going to stay in the party orbit. He thinks he wouldn't seem so tough without his boys (and they are mostly boys) backing him. And they're going to tell him what to do more often than you'd expect, because they're answerable to people richer and more savvy about the system than he is.

I've said it for a while now and I'll keep saying it: The Trump presidency is going to be at least 80% identical to a Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Marco Rubio presidency. Which is bad enough.

DOES DONALD TRUMP HAVE ANY MOTIVATION TO PREVENT NATIONAL SECURITY CRISES?

Donald Trump will be president in two days, and in the area of national security his administration is simply not ready, Politico reports:
Sources close to the transition describe Trump’s national security staffing as a “black box,” leaving everyone from Obama administration officials to Trump job seekers and foreign diplomats guessing at who will land crucial positions shaping policy and managing crises.

Much of the speculation focuses on the [National Security Council]....

But the Trump team has also not yet announced any appointments below the Cabinet level for the departments of State or Defense, leaving many more important posts open days before Trump’s inauguration.

"This isn't getting attention it deserves. Who will run and implement policy? Right now there is a big vacuum," Max Boot, a military historian and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted Tuesday....

“Unlike State, which can rely on its bureaucracy, the NSC has to be ready on Day One as most of its old team leaves,” said Philip Gordon, who held senior NSC jobs in the Obama and Clinton White Houses. “In a normal world, even before a single presidential phone call or meeting or decision the NSC team would prepare background, points, facts, etc. They will not have a team ready to do that.”
A story in The New York Times has similarly alarming news:
The Obama administration has written 275 briefing papers for the incoming Trump administration: nearly 1,000 pages of classified material on North Korea’s nuclear program, the military campaign against the Islamic State, tensions in the South China Sea, and every other kind of threat the new team could face in its first weeks in office.

Nobody in the current administration knows whether anyone in the next has read any of it....

N.S.C. officials began drafting briefing papers for the next administration last summer. Some focused on nuts and bolts: How do you arrange meetings? How do you circulate information to the agencies? Others discussed the evolution of administration policies or contingency planning for crises. Most were three to five pages to make them easy to digest.
And yet all we're told is that "a Trump official" assures us that "members of the team had read some of the memos and praised their quality." Oh, good -- they've read some. (I'd have felt better if that had been "the bulk of the memos" or "the key memos." "Some" is not reassuring.)

I don't know the extent to which the president-elect has thought about this. I can't imagine he's particularly focused on it.

And really, why should he be? Now, I'm not the sort of person who thinks Trump and his crew want an international crisis.



On the other hand, there's no question that, because he's a Republican who acts like a tough guy, his approval ratings will shoot to 90% if, for instance, there's a major terrorist attack on the United States, even if it later turns out that the attack happened because the administration was asleep at the switch. If there's another kind of foreign policy crisis, even if it's one the administration could have headed off, Trump's numbers are also likely to rise.

I don't think there's a cynical calculation here, but I'll note that being under attack is Trump's comfort zone. He likes to offend his enemies; when they respond, he lashes out and his fans cheer. The rhythm of Trump's life requires this. And because (like George W. Bush) he was born into wealth and has never known poverty despite failing badly in business, he simply hasn't developed the habit of being alert to the possibility of disaster, which is a survival instinct for most people. Hey, disaster has never hurt him much, has it?

Bush seemed to stumble into a situation in which being attacked paradoxically brought him glory. I don't think he saw that coming. Trump expects that to happen when he's attacked. He thinks he's the toughest SOB anywhere, and he clearly would like to deal out the ass-kickings he thinks he's extraordinarily capable of dispensing rather than work to head off crises.

He probably doesn't think he needs to do any work whatsoever to avert crises. I'm sure he thinks he scares would-be enemies of America just by writing nasty tweets. It doesn't work that way, but he doesn't know that. So prepare for the worst.

****

Oh, but according to The Washington Post, Trump has done some thinking about how he'd like to use the military:
“Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country,” Trump said. “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military.

“That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military,” he added.
Parades. He's thinking about military parades.

We're doomed.

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.