Notes and Comment Blog

“Conflict of interest” doesn’t even describe it

Nov 16th, 2016 5:57 pm | By

It gets worse. The Times asks questions about the conflicts of interest.

Even if he no longer manages his businesses directly, Mr. Trump will continue to own them and his family will be involved in deals, both foreign and domestic, to develop real estate projects or license his brand. He will still be aware of the existence of his business interests and how his actions as president will affect them. The conflicts between his private interests and his public role will be impossible to untangle.

And it’s not as if he’s such an obviously principled, public spirited, integrity-endowed guy that we can just trust him to get it right. No, it’s not. Very much the opposite.

And now we get the actual friction sites, and it’s a horror-show.

For example, the profitability of his investments in the Middle East, India, Turkey, the former Soviet republics and elsewhere could put his financial interests directly at odds with American foreign policy, whether it takes the form of sanctions against those governments or American investment and aid deals. In such situations, will he act to protect or grow his family’s assets or advance the interests of the country? His businesses currently owe hundreds of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank, which is negotiating a multibillion-dollar mortgage settlement with the Department of Justice. How would the public know if he or his Justice Department softened its stance because it involved a bank to which he owes money, or whether that bank cut him a sweetheart deal in hopes of currying favor?

Wow. That is just mind-boggling.

Mr. Trump will also face numerous conflicts with enforcement of domestic laws and regulations. For instance, the people he appoints to the National Labor Relations Board will be in charge of investigating complaints by workers at his hotels and golf courses. The board on Nov. 3 ordered the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas to bargain with a union representing its housekeeping staff, maintenance workers and other employees. Will a board made up of Trump appointees choose to enforce similar decisions? Will the Justice Department be willing to investigate and bring cases against his businesses for, say, racially discriminatory actions? The fact is, any decision by the labor board — or by any agency in the Trump administration — that affects the Trump businesses would be tainted by a conflict of interest.



Nov 16th, 2016 5:25 pm | By

I never got to that Times story yesterday that sent furious Trump to Twitter again. It says the Trump team is making a hash of things, to the surprise of no one.

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world.

One week after Mr. Trump scored an upset victory that took him by surprise, his team was improvising the most basic traditions of assuming power. That included working without official State Department briefing materials in his first conversations with foreign leaders.

Well, briefings. He would have had to read those…and how could he find the time? He has more important things to do, like tweeting and watching cable news. Foreign leaders are just going to have to do what he tells them, so there’s really no need to read briefings anyway. Trump is a very successful tycoon and they’re just losers.

Two officials who had been handling national security for the transition, former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist who consults with corporations and foreign governments, were fired. Both were part of what officials described as a purge orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser.

Trump’s favorite words – “You’re fired.”

Mr. Kushner, a transition official said, was systematically dismissing people like Mr. Rogers who had ties with Mr. Christie. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie had sent Mr. Kushner’s father to jail.

That’s not at all sleazy.

(I always end up feeling dirty after reading about these people.)

Then there are the heads of state trying to phone him. Some get through to him in the tower with no warning, others – like Theresa May – couldn’t reach him.

Giuliani told the Times this is all perfectly normal. I don’t know how he would know.

Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department official who had criticized Mr. Trump during the campaign but said after his election that he would keep an open mind about advising him, said Tuesday on Twitter that he had changed his opinion. After speaking to the transition team, he wrote, he had “changed my recommendation: stay away.”

He added: “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”

Mr. Cohen, a conservative Republican who served under President George W. Bush, said Trump transition officials had excoriated him after he offered some names of people who might serve in the new administration, but only if they felt departments were led by credible people.

“They think of these jobs as lollipops,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview.

So the humbling sense of responsibility hasn’t touched them yet.

For advice on building Mr. Trump’s national security team, his inner circle has been relying on three hawkish current and former American officials: Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; Peter Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman and former chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Frank Gaffney, a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration and a founder of the Center for Security Policy.

Mr. Gaffney has long advanced baseless conspiracy theories, including that President Obama might be a closet Muslim.

Nothing but the finest.

Prominent donors to Mr. Trump were also having little success in recruiting people for rank-and-file posts in his administration.

Rebekah Mercer, the scion of a powerful family of conservative donors and a member of Mr. Trump’s executive transition committee, has said in conversations with Republican operatives and previous administration officials that she was having trouble finding takers for posts at the under secretary level and below, according to a person familiar with her outreach efforts.

I bet I know why. I bet nobody wants to work with him and with them – this assortment of sleaze-buckets. He doesn’t want good people, but he wouldn’t be able to attract them if he did, because he’s so deeply ungood.

There is no scientific evidence that the product works

Nov 16th, 2016 4:41 pm | By

Have a press release from the Federal Trade Commission:

The Federal Trade Commission today announced a new “Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Homeopathic Drugs.” The policy statement was informed by an FTC workshop held last year to examine how such drugs are marketed to consumers. The FTC also released its staff report on the workshop, which summarizes the panel presentations and related public comments in addition to describing consumer research commissioned by the FTC.

The policy statement explains that the FTC will hold efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims. That is, companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. The statement describes the type of scientific evidence that the Commission requires of companies making such claims for their products.

Homeopathy, which dates back to the 1700s, is based on the theory that disease symptoms can be treated by minute doses of substances that produce similar symptoms when provided in larger doses to healthy people. Many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain detectable levels of the initial substance. According to the policy statement, homeopathic theories are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, the policy statement notes, “the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy.” As such, the marketing claims for these products are likely misleading, in violation of the FTC Act.

However, the policy statement also notes that “the FTC has long recognized that marketing claims may include additional explanatory information to prevent the claims from being misleading. Accordingly, it recognizes that an OTC homeopathic drug claim that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence might not be deceptive if the advertisement or label where it appears effectively communicates that: 1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

The policy statement notes that any such disclosures should stand out and be in close proximity to the product’s efficacy message and might need to be incorporated into that message. It also warns marketers not to undercut a disclosure with additional positive statements or consumer endorsements reinforcing a product’s efficacy. The statement warns that the FTC will carefully scrutinize the net impression of OTC homeopathic marketing claims and that if an ad conveys more substantiation than a marketer has, it will violate the FTC Act.

The Commission vote approving the enforcement policy statement and issuance of the staff report on the Homeopathic Medicine & Advertising Workshop was 3-0.

I would rather see them say just “The label must say in enormous letters THIS STUFF IS USELESS” but this is still a big improvement.

Trumpian epistemology

Nov 16th, 2016 11:57 am | By

The New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos was on Fresh Air yesterday to talk about what President Pussygrabber will likely do.

Toward the end Dave Davies raised the issue of temperament. He did it much too timidly and normalizingly, but he did it.

DAVIES: When you wrote about Donald Trump and his policies towards the military and towards foreign affairs, the issue of temperament comes up. This is a loaded word. He hated being criticized for his temperament. But you have – you found a quote from his book “Think Like A Billionaire.” It can be smart to be shallow, that he has a penchant for making big decisions quickly, that he trusts his gut. Share what – some of what you learned about what that might mean from your conversations with military and intelligence officials.

OSNOS: Yeah. When you talk to a broad range of people who have been involved in the most sensitive national security questions, you know – these are the people who’ve been in the Situation Room at crucial moments particularly from Republican administrations what they’ll tell you is that the crucial ingredient is whether or not a president is impetuous, whether or not the president makes decisions before they have as much information and as many competing points of view as possible. And often as one – James Woolsey who is a former director of the CIA is now an adviser to the Trump administration – before he became an adviser to Trump, he said to me in an interview that very often the first information that a president receives is wrong. And we’ve seen that beginning all the way from Vietnam up to the present day. And part of the sort of crucial patience that’s required is the ability to both wait until you have a fuller picture and then also be prepared to act. But if you act on the basis of limited information, history suggests to us that we would have made a lot of catastrophic choices.

If there’s anything we know about Donald Trump, it’s that he is not the kind of guy who will pause to question the first information he receives. He’s not that kind of guy temperamentally, and he’s not it intellectually, or educationally, or experientially, or by training, or in any other way I can think of. Everything about him pushes him the other way – his history, his “temperament,” his career, his ego, his vanity, his laziness, his temper, his conceit, his complete and utter lack of any conception that truth isn’t always and automatically easy to grasp. He thinks that because he is Donald Trump, his first idea will always be the right idea. That’s who he is. It’s a major part of what makes him so loathsome – he’s incapable of admitting error.

Osnos goes on:

If you look at Donald Trump’s experience, he obviously does not have experience in government. He’s never held public office or served in the military. What you find is that he prides himself – he’s written about at several places – on his ability to make big decisions very fast. As he put it in his book he says, you know, I remember the day that I discovered that being shallow is a profound insight. And what he meant by that was that you don’t want to get bogged down in overthinking things. You want to be able to be decisive.

And, you know, in the course of the campaign, we saw moments when he would do things impulsively. He would say something in an interview on a subject that he didn’t know very much about and would then find himself having to backpedal. So, for instance, when he talked about the idea of punishing women who get abortions and then was informed later that that was contrary to precedent and legal norms that he had to sort of walk that back. If you put that into a national security context, there’s going to be enormous pressure on his staff to ensure that he does not do things which his authority allows him to do before he has all the information that’s possible.

Good luck with that. He thinks he’s a king and can do whatever he decides to do.

And now the terrifying bit:

DAVIES: And I guess that raises the question based on past experience and, you know, people who’ve been there, what constraints are there on a president who might make a rash and unwise decision?

OSNOS: The presidency is a unique office, to state the obvious. There is nobody who has the power to overrule the president, for instance, on nuclear authority. There are others in the chain of command who, if the president was incapacitated or disabled in some way would be able to use the nuclear arsenal. But they would have to do it in cooperation with others.

So what we find when you look back over the course of national security history is that the people who have interfered with a president’s ability to use nuclear weapons, it’s been individuals. It’s been people who essentially acted out of their own judgment or conscience to do so. There’s a couple examples. You know, to give you one, under President Nixon, Nixon actually asked his secretary of defense at the time, Melvin Laird, to put the United States on nuclear high alert.

Nixon hoped that this would frighten the Soviet Union. It would make the Soviet Union think that he was irrational. This was known as the madman theory. And Mel Laird thought that this was a very, very dangerous thing to do. And so what he did is he dissembled. He told Nixon that actually this was a bad idea because they had a previously scheduled training exercise, and he hoped that Nixon would forget about it. Nixon still said no.

After a couple days, he wanted him to go ahead with it, so they did. They put U.S. aircraft on course to fly towards the Soviet Union armed with nuclear weapons just as – essentially as a gesture. And there was an after action report later that described that exercise as a dangerous undertaking because there was an almost mid-air collision.

Not to mention because the Soviet Union could have responded in kind.

A bit later they moved on to the fact that Trump is stupid and lazy and hates reading.

DAVIES: You know, there was reporting in the course of the campaign that suggests that Donald Trump doesn’t have the patience to read long documents and burrow into policy detail. What’s your sense of how he’ll handle the demands of this, you know, huge waterfront of policy and decisions that you can’t put on autopilot that the president needs to weigh in on?

OSNOS: Well, Donald Trump has said himself that he doesn’t like to read as a way of getting information. He trusts his – what he describes as his own common sense. That’s the term he uses often. He relies on people that he trusts, people that are around him. He does not have a computer. He uses his mobile phone, obviously, for Twitter as we know. But this would be a profound departure from previous presidents in terms of how they get information. I think, you know, Donald Trump tends to want to govern from his gut.

It’s not a complete departure. It’s surprising that they didn’t mention Bush Junior. Bush Junior also hated reading, and he made his staff boil the briefings down to a paragraph per item because he was too lazy and dim to read more than that.

That Ron Suskind article from 2004 that I keep quoting from talked about that wanting to govern from the gut thing. I remembered that it was a Democratic Senator who told Bush, “Your instincts aren’t good enough,” but I wasn’t sure which one. I thought it was Biden though. I didn’t look it up until now. It was Biden.

Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush’s governance, went on to say: “This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them. . . .

“This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,” Bartlett went on to say. “He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.” Bartlett paused, then said, “But you can’t run the world on faith.”

Forty democratic senators were gathered for a lunch in March just off the Senate floor. I was there as a guest speaker. Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. “I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,” he began, “and I was telling the president of my many concerns” — concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. “‘Mr. President,’ I finally said, ‘How can you be so sure when you know you don’t know the facts?”‘

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator’s shoulder. “My instincts,” he said. “My instincts.”

Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. “I said, ‘Mr. President, your instincts aren’t good enough!”‘

The same applies to Trump (but probably more so). His “common sense” isn’t good enough. Common sense has nothing to do with the facts. You can’t just figure out what the facts are by applying common sense.

But in the early days here since Election Day, we’ve received some indications that he has been surprised. The Wall Street Journal reported from inside the meeting with President Obama they received reports that Donald Trump seemed to be taken aback by the scope of responsibility that he would have as president, the sheer range of responsibilities that he would have on a daily basis. So, you know, I think what historians will tell you is that the office of the presidency has a dramatic effect on people, and the simple act of getting into the office suddenly conveys to them the solemnity of that responsibility and having 310 million souls on their watch.

But it’s not clear. You know, Donald Trump really is so different than anybody that we’ve had before that for him to change now at the age of 70 and take on a whole new set of decision-making instincts and to begin to challenge his own assumptions and his own instincts to say, look, the things that got me here are not the things that will help me succeed. I find that hard to imagine.

Yeah. I don’t think for one second that the office will change Trump. I think there’s a slight chance that it will give him a clue that he’s in over his head…but not that he will admit that or do anything about it or let it govern him in any way.

So, we’re fucked.

Trump is the only one who knows who the finalists are!!!

Nov 16th, 2016 11:02 am | By

Trump has been puking out crazed tweets again.

Jeremy Duns observed that that one sounds as if he thinks it’s a game show.

That’s the next president, taking to Twitter to – again – abuse the New York Times in his familiar dishonest bullying way. The next president.

Will he still be calling Senator Warren “Pocahontas”?

Outraged vanity on display. What could possibly go wrong?

The Washington Post reports on this unseemly display of childish temper.

President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to push back against news coverage describing a chaotic transition to power, saying the process of selecting Cabinet secretaries and working with the Obama administration “is going so smoothly.’’

Trump took particular aim at a favorite target, the New York Times, which reported Wednesday that the transition has been marked by firings and infighting, and that U.S. allies were having trouble reaching Trump at New York’s Trump Tower as he plans his government.

It’s so reassuring to see how level-headed and reasonable he is. Of course a president-elect has nothing more urgent to do than snipe at the New York Times on Twitter. I wish he’d post a few selfies to decorate his thoughtful tweets.

As turbulence within the team grew, some key members of Trump’s party began to question his views and the remaining candidates for top positions. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Trump’s efforts to work more closely with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin amounted to “complicity in [the] butchery of the Syrian people” and “an unacceptable price for a great nation.”

Yes yes yes but he and Mr Putin get along so well. Leave them alone.

As he had during the campaign, Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders and suspicious of those considered part of what one insider called the ­“bicoastal elite,” who are perceived as trying to “insinuate” themselves into positions of power.

In other words anyone at all qualified and experienced. Trump’s presidency will be incompetent or it will be bullshit.

Those in the inner circle reportedly were winnowed to loyalists who had stuck with Trump throughout the campaign and helped devise his winning strategy. They include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and members of Trump’s family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“This is a very insular, pretty closely held circle of people,” said Philip D. Zelikow, a former director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a senior figure in the George W. Bush transition. “Confusion is the norm” for transitions, he said, “but there are some unusual features here, because they’re trying to make some statements.”

“They feel like their election was a lot of the American people wanting to throw a brick through a window,” Zelikow said. “They want to make appointments that make it sound like glass is being broken.”

Yeah great. Let’s throw a big brick through that window, aka the country and to a considerable extent the world. Let’s put movie stars and game show hosts and reality tv “personalities” in all the government jobs, and then stand back and see what happens. Crash crash tinkle.

Increasingly, among the shards are more mainline Republicans in the national security field. In an angry Twitter post Tuesday, Eliot A. Cohen, a leading voice of opposition to Trump during the campaign who had advised those interested in administration jobs to take them, abruptly changed his mind, saying the transition “will be ugly.”

After responding to a transition insider seeking names of possible appointees, Cohen said, he received what he described as an “unhinged” email from the same person saying “YOU LOST” and accusing Trump critics of trying to infiltrate the administration’s ranks.

“It became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls, instead of the sense that actually what you’re trying to do is recruit the best possible talent to fill the most important, demanding, ­lowest-paying executive jobs in the world,” Cohen said.

That’s not at all terrifying…

The two people whose names are mentioned most often for [Secretary of State] — former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and John R. Bolton, an undersecretary of state and one-year ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration — are Trump loyalists. But both could be problematic, even among Republicans who would have to confirm them.

Giuliani, thought to be an early choice for attorney general, was said by a person close to the transition team to have personally appealed to Trump for the diplomatic job. He has virtually no diplomatic experience or knowledge of the State Department bureaucracy.

Bolton, a national security hawk who got his U.N. job through a recess appointment after the Senate refused to confirm him, was a leading advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, contradicting Trump’s campaign position opposing it.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that Bolton would be a “disaster” and that he would actively oppose his nomination.

And so on. The clown car continues to plunge down the cliff, taking us all with it.

This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily

Nov 16th, 2016 10:21 am | By

A striking piece of news that will probably get lost in the breathless coverage of Trump’s deranged tweets:

The leaks and disclosures published by WikiLeaks in the run-up to the US presidential election this year were a “conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect”, according to the director of the National Security Agency (NSA).

US intelligence chief Michael Rogers, who has managed the secretive agency since 2014, said during a Wall Street Journal conference on 15 November that Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid was hampered by state-sponsored hackers who worked to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind – this was not something that was done casually,” he said when asked about WikiLeaks’ publications. “This was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily.”

The director did not name the nation-state in question, however he is on-record as saying that “Russians were behind the penetrations” while previously discussing intrusions at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It was a close election, to put it mildly. Clinton won the popular vote. Even if the highly selective Wikileaks “disclosures” moved only a relatively small number of people, that would be enough. They came in a rush after the “grab them by the pussy” tape and the third debate, when it looked as if Trump were toast. So if Rogers is right, Russia and Putin and Julian Assange saddled us all with that evil piece of shit.

Run by goons or not at all

Nov 16th, 2016 5:59 am | By

We have to resist the urge to normalize. Brian Beutler at the New Republic points out the media normalization around the Obama-Trump meeting, and how sucky it is.

The political media has relished all of it: the pageantry, the symbolism, the implication that our system of government is sturdy enough to persevere through the ugliest election in modern history and withstand the transfer of control between two men who hate each other.

This all sounds very soothing, and Obama in particular must feel obligated to lead the transition with grace and dignity, irrespective of the horribly racist way that Trump—a leading proponent of birtherism—has treated him for the last several years.

But it is all extremely delusional—Obama’s sanguinity, the media’s wonderment, the supposition that antipathy between the outgoing president and the incoming one—as opposed to the latter’s governmental inexperience and contempt for preparation—would be the reason for a rocky transition. There may be fleeting upsides to lulling the public into a sense of calm, but at some point reality needs to break through all of the pomp.

The situation that confronts us is extremely dangerous, and not just for all the civic dissension Trump has inspired, or for his erratic, unpredictable nature. Apart from all the hiring Trump would have to do anyhow, his offensiveness and grotesque unfitness for office is likely to lead to an unusual number of civil-service departures. Relatedly, most decent, honorable professionals are not going to want to work for the Trump administration. At a nuts and bolts level, much of the federal government is going to be run by goons or not at all. This is on top of the fact that of all the basic things the president is required to do on a day-to-day basis—listen attentively, read closely, speak carefully—Trump lacks the intelligence and composure to do any of them.

That was true of Bush Junior, too, but Trump is much worse.

In addition to the banal chaos that the Trump administration is likely to unleash, we’re facing a moment that threatens equal protection, due process, free expression, democracy—not just press freedom. It’s not a drill. The media undersold the threat to many freedoms before election night, and it would be self-dealing, and a disservice, if the only liberty under attack we rose to defend was one that undergirds our industry.

Resist normalization.

How Hitler’s publicity machine made it possible

Nov 15th, 2016 4:56 pm | By

The tabloid press.


Nov 15th, 2016 4:42 pm | By

Not Trump’s to fill

Nov 15th, 2016 4:17 pm | By

Dahlia Lithwick says we should all throw a huge tantrum about the Supreme Court, and scream and scream and scream until we’re sick, because the Republicans stole that god damn vacancy.

The current Supreme Court vacancy is not Trump’s to fill. This was President Obama’s vacancy and President Obama’s nomination. Please don’t tacitly give up on it because it was stolen by unprecedented obstruction and contempt. Instead, do to them what they have done to us. Sometimes, when they go low, we need to go lower, to protect a thing of great value.

The seat that became vacant when Antonin Scalia died earlier this year was blocked by the Republican party for 9 months for reasons that were transparently false from the outset. At first the senators obstructed the president’s pick of moderate Merrick Garland because they claimed Obama was a “lame-duck president” with only a year remaining in his term, and the “people” should be allowed, for the first time in history, to decide for themselves. Later, the reasons for obstruction changed when Senate Republicans began to run on the promise to block any nominees put forward by a Democratic president. Virtually all of those senators won their seats back on the strength of that pledge. Smart guys.

For Republicans, keeping the Supreme Court conservative was more urgent than governance or leadership or an independent judiciary. To reward that by meeting President Trump halfway on his nominees is not sober statesmanship. It’s surrender. Senate Republicans are already crowing that they can have a Justice Ted Cruz named in the coming days and seated by February. They can. But it is not his seat.

They stole it.

Realistically, what is left to do, aside from sending fresh fruit and a Vitamix to Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, is to figure out a way to make this a front-page story until January. Our choices now are to make a huge national fuss or to quietly and maturely accede to a Trump nominee, who will assuredly be on board for rolling back Roe v. Wade, protecting religious objectors from general laws, and expanding gun rights. We can hold out hope that Trump’s general lunacy and opportunism will lead him to seat someone wholly unpredictable, a kind of sweeps-week stunt nominee like Michelle Obama or Justice Omarosa or his son Barron. But for all that I have railed against destructive partisanship directed at fragile courts, I am persuaded now that the only way to answer nihilism is with nihilism of our own.

I doubt the Dems can ever match the Republicans in nihilism.

Get someone with more experience

Nov 15th, 2016 3:34 pm | By

More Clown Show. Ben Carson declines a cabinet job because he doesn’t have the relevant experience. And yet…he ran for president.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a top ally of President-elect Donald Trump, is not interested in serving as the secretary of health and human services, The Hill reported Tuesday.

Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager and confidant, told The Hill that Carson won’t join the administration and will instead be an unofficial adviser.

It was reported earlier Tuesday that Carson had been offered the position of HHS secretary.

“Dr. Carson was never offered a specific position, but everything was open to him,” Williams told The Hill. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

And yet he ran for president. He has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency, but that didn’t stop him running for the most demanding federal job of all.

Off to a great start

Nov 15th, 2016 3:03 pm | By

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown gently suggests that hiring a hate-everybody troll for a top policy job in the White House might be seen as unfriendly to non-troll Americans.

Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D.) today urged President-elect Donald Trump to reverse his appointment of Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News, as chief White House strategist and senior counsel because of his association with the Alt-right.

“We cannot bring the country together by inviting into the White House the same bigotry and hate speech that divided us on the campaign trail,” Mr. Brown said in a statement released today.

“This is not about a difference in policy or politics — Steve Bannon has promoted anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic and dangerous views that have emboldened white nationalist forces and caused some Americans to question whether they can still feel safe in the country we all love. President-elect Trump told us he wants to be a President for ‘all Americans’ and he cannot do that while empowering bigotry that targets and threatens many of them. Steve Bannon must be removed from his position immediately,” Mr. Brown said.

Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said Monday that Mr. Bannon ”has stoked the flames of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. Americans of every political persuasion and every race, color, and creed should be concerned by Trump’s actions in bringing Bannon into the White House.”

Good. I hope Congress will unite to tell President Pussygrabber that he can’t be doing this shit.

Guest post: Critics see

Nov 15th, 2016 2:32 pm | By

Guest post by G Felis.

New York Times headline: “Critics See Stephen Bannon, Trump’s Pick for Strategist, as Voice of Racism”

Oh FFS! Steve Bannon’s history of waving the banner of both implicit and explicit racism is not a judgment call or matter of perspective. That’s like saying “Critics See Animal in this Picture as Duck-like.” If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and calls for the separation of the races like a duck and publishes racist rhetoric like a duck, it’s a racist duck.

Image result for duck

(The duck pictured is just a metaphor, of course. I apologize for any implication that the duck in this picture is racist. He isn’t a racist, he just thinks ducks with feathers of different colors would be more comfortable with their own kind.)

Trump’s talent pool

Nov 15th, 2016 10:10 am | By

The Times provides some highlights of Steve Bannon and Breitbart.

Here, in his own words, are a selection of Mr. Bannon’s public statements about the country, the Republican Party and his own political philosophy.

• “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action,” he said in a 2010 interview.

• Referring to Ann Coulter, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin in a 2011 radio interview on Political Vindication Radio, he said: “These women cut to the heart of the progressive narrative. That’s why there are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England. That drives the left insane, and that’s why they hate these women.”

•“Let the grassroots turn on the hate because that’s the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty,” he wrote about Republican leaders in a 2014 email exchange with a Breitbart News editor. The emails were obtained by The Daily Beast.

• “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy,” Mr. Bannon told The Washington Post this year. “We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”

All empty rage all the time – just like Trump. Somehow this contentless railing convinces people – including people on the left, astonishingly – that Trump is in some always-unspecified way on the side of the working class. I guess it’s a century of advertising slogans? We’ve all grown up steeped in them, so we can no longer tell the difference between a sound bite and a substantive plan or argument? We’re fooled by Trump’s ignorance and trashiness into thinking he’s a friend of the poor and marginal? I don’t know; I can’t understand it, myself.

Mr. Bannon took over Breitbart News in 2012 after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, and shifted it further to the right. Critics, including some conservatives formerly associated with it, have denounced Breitbart in its current incarnation as a hate site steeped in misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, white nationalism and anti-Semitism. Here is a sampling of some articles published during Mr. Bannon’s tenure that drew criticism:

• “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” A December 2015 article by Milo Yiannopoulos, who was later barred from Twitter when he was accused of inciting racist and sexist attacks on the actress Leslie Jones, told women that birth control “makes you fat,” “makes your voice unsexy,” “makes you jiggle wrong,” “makes you a slut” and “makes you unsexy all the time.”

Typical Milo, which is typical trolling. Say irritating shit for the sake of saying irritating shit – do that on Twitter, do it on a “news” site, do it campaiging for President of the US. Whatevs.

“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews” A July 2016 article by Mr. Yiannopoulos argued that it was women’s fault that tech firms hired so few of them.

“Lesbian Bridezillas Bully Bridal Shop Owner Over Religious Beliefs” An August 2014 article by Susan Berry criticized a lesbian couple who complained on Facebook about a Pennsylvania bridal shop that refused to sell them wedding dresses.

“The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off” A July 2016 article by Mr. Yiannopoulos argued that women were “screwing up the internet for men by invading every space we have online and ruining it with attention-seeking and a needy, demanding, touchy-feely form of modern feminism.”

That’s now the voice of the government.

The rise of the angry white man

Nov 15th, 2016 9:42 am | By

Abi Wilkinson keeps an eye on the region that Stephen Bannon comes from:

That loose network of blogs, forums, subreddits and alternative media publications colloquially known as the “manosphere”. An online subculture centred around hatred, anger and resentment of feminism specifically, and women more broadly. It’s grimly fascinating and now troublingly relevant.

I’m well familiar with it, and have been since 2011. It’s a sewer.

In modern parlance, this is part of the phenomenon known as the “alt-right”. More sympathetic commentators portray it as “a backlash to PC culture” and critics call it out as neofascism. Over the past year, it has been strange to see the disturbing internet subculture I’ve followed for so long enter the mainstream. The executive chairman of one of its most popular media outlets, Breitbart, has just been appointed Donald Trump’s chief of strategy, and their UK bureau chief was among the first Brits to have a meeting with the president-elect. Their figurehead – Milo Yiannopoulos – toured the country stumping for him during the campaign on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. These people are now part of the political landscape.

Indeed. I keep underlining that. President Pussygrab appointed the Breitbart guy to a major role in his government – it’s grotesque.

When we fret about young people leaving western countries and going to fight with Isis, it’s common to focus on the role of the internet in their political radicalisation. It’s time we discussed the radicalisation of angry, young white men in a similar way. The manosphere gave us Elliot Rodger. He was a regular on the forum “PUAhate” – populated by bitter men who had tried the techniques advocated by so-called “pick-up artists” to attract women and failed.

Reading through the posting history of individual aliases, it’s possible to chart their progress from vague dissatisfaction, and desire for social status and sexual success, to full-blown adherence to a cohesive ideology of white supremacy and misogyny. Neofascists treat these websites as recruitment grounds. They find angry, frustrated young men and groom them in their own image. Yet there’s no Prevent equivalent to try to stamp this out.

I guess because there’s no IS equivalent? But if you added up all the rapes and all the violence, including murder…maybe there is?

At any rate it’s not just a harmless joke, and it never was.

Pence is refusing to sign

Nov 15th, 2016 8:56 am | By

And so their incompetence has caused a breakdown already. Surprise surprise.

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition operation plunged into disarray on Tuesday with the abrupt resignation of Mike Rogers, who had handled national security matters, the second shake-up in a week on a team that has not yet begun to execute the daunting task of taking over the government.

Imagine how the fur will fly when they actually have to do things!

Mr. Pence took the helm of the effort on Friday after Mr. Trump unceremoniously removed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who had been preparing with Obama administration officials for months to put the complex transition process into motion. Now the effort is frozen, senior White House officials say, because Mr. Pence has yet to sign legally required paperwork to allow his team to begin collaborating with President Obama’s aides on the handover.

An aide to Mr. Trump’s transition team who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal matters said that the delay was taking place because the wording of the document was being altered and updated, and that it was likely to be signed later Tuesday.

Still, the slow and uncertain start to what is normally a rapid and meticulously planned transfer of power could have profound implications for Mr. Trump’s nascent administration, challenging the efforts of the president-elect to gain control of the federal bureaucracy and begin building a staff fully briefed on what he will face in the Oval Office on Day 1.

It’s like a nightmare, isn’t it – finding yourself president of the United States with everybody staring at you impatiently waiting for you to do all those important things that need doing…and you have no clue what they even are. You try to get started but there keep being boxes to unpack, and then you can’t find the right box to unpack, and then there are all these cats everywhere, and you can’t find your wallet…and then you wake up. Trump can’t wake up from it.

I have zero sympathy for him though.

The chaos caught the attention of some senior Republicans who criticized Mr. Trump during his campaign but said after he won that they would not necessarily rule out joining his administration or advising him.

Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department official, said on Twitter that after having spoken to Mr. Trump’s team, he had “changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”

Well quite. That’s who they are. That’s why we hate them and don’t want them running the country. They’re bad people: they’re mean and domineering and shouty. Their jefe is extremely mean and domineering and shouty, and that’s the role model they have. The result: bad hombres. Stay away.

[I]n response to a series of questions about whether the Obama administration had begun to brief Mr. Trump’s team, White House officials said late Monday that the president-elect’s decision to abruptly replace Mr. Christie on Friday with Mr. Pence had, for the time being, frozen the process.

By law, the document must be signed by the chairman of the transition operation, and Mr. Pence has yet to do so.

Among other things, the paperwork serves as a mutual nondisclosure agreement for both sides, ensuring that members of the president-elect’s team do not divulge sensitive information about the inner workings of the government that they learn during the transition period, and that the president’s aides do not reveal anything they may discover about the incoming administration’s plans.

Do I trust the Trump people to refrain from divulging sensitive information about the inner workings of the government that they learn during the transition period? No, I don’t. Even with the nondisclosure agreement? You betcha.

Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama’s team was working with Mr. Pence to sign the document, a standard agreement whose wording is largely governed by statute. “We look forward to completing that work so that we can provide the necessary access to personnel and resources to get the president-elect’s team up to speed and deliver on President Obama’s directive for a smooth transition,” Ms. Hoffine said.

Politely put. Apparently Pence wants to tweak a document whose wording is largely governed by statute, and that’s an obstructionist and not very clever move.

The turmoil at the highest levels of his staff upended months of planning and preparation for a process that many describe as drinking from a fire hose even in the most orderly of circumstances — a period of about 70 days between the election and the inauguration on Jan. 20. During that time, the president-elect must assemble a team to take the reins of the massive federal bureaucracy and recruit, vet and hire 4,000 political appointees to help him run it.

In other words the administration people did their best to help with the transition, working at it for months, and it’s all up in the air because the Trump people are clowns.

I guess this is what swamp-drainage looks like?

Defining reality away

Nov 15th, 2016 3:41 am | By

We can’t define our way out of this. Magical thinking isn’t going to work. Judicious ignoring might work on the personal level for things like being able to sleep, but on the public level – we can neither pretend nor ignore our way out of this catastrophe. Just defining Trump as normal and equivalent to all the other candidates ever cannot possibly work because it’s a gross denial of reality.

This bit of political punditry from an Irish observer defines Trump as normal and equivalent to Clinton and Obama, with ludicrous results.

I hope that Donald Trump’s gracious acceptance speech, and his positive meeting with President Barack Obama, can begin to reverse the descent into the political gutter by both sides in the recent campaign, and can lead to what was impressed on candidate Trump by his opponents: the need for a constructive and peaceful transition of power.

During the campaign, two flawed candidates relied more on personal attacks on each other than on positively selling their own policies.

That’s just a stark denial of reality. It’s not what happened. It’s not true that “both sides” descended into the political gutter, and it’s not true that both candidates relied more on personal attacks on each other than on positively selling their own policies. It’s not true that the two were equivalent. I documented that ad nauseam over the past several weeks, so I won’t bother to do it again now. If you saw even a few minutes of a debate you know how absurd it is to say the two were equivalent.

[This problem] was cheer-led by the usual keyboard warriors who love engaging in online smear campaigns, exaggerating people’s actual flaws and engaging in guilt by extreme association.

What’s “extreme association”? Is that saying Trump is doing a bad thing by making Steve Bannon a top adviser? Well, sometimes that brand of guilt by association is indeed guilt. And if we’re rebuking smear campaigns, why not rebuke Trump’s smear campaigns? God knows he’s prolific with them. Remember his smear campaign against Alicia Machado? His taking to Twitter at 3 a.m. New York time to call her “disgusting” and cite a “sex tape” that doesn’t exist? Why is it “keyboard warriors” documenting Trump’s public insults who are the bad people here? Why is Trump no worse than Clinton while “the usual keyboard warriors” are dirty rotten scoundrels?

But the claims that Donald Trump is a fool or a fascist are as absurd as the claims that Hillary Clinton is a criminal or that Barack Obama founded ISIS. Whatever their flaws, all three of these people are intelligent, driven, successful, democratic people who are devoting significant parts of their lives to promoting what they believe to be best for their country and the wider world.

And I’m Marie of Romania.

That’s a real classic of defining reality as we’d like it to be. Cites facts not in evidence. There is not the ghost of a reason to think that Donald Trump is devoting a significant part of his life to promoting what he believes to be best for his country and the world. If that were what he’s doing, he would be doing it differently.

You can’t deal with a difficult reality if you define it out of existence before you start.

Invasion of the meme-makers

Nov 14th, 2016 5:04 pm | By

Suzanne Moore at the Guardian:

The appointment of Steve Bannon as “chief strategist and senior counselor” means that those who have been attacking the progressive narrative from the far right are now horrifyingly in positions of power. Those on the left who argued during the election that there was not fundamentally much difference between Trump and Clinton clearly saw women’s bodily autonomy as some sort of elite liberal issue.

The euphemistic talk around unplanned pregnancies hides the fact that it is those women at the bottom who suffer most without basic healthcare. The idea that reproductive rights are human rights or that human rights even matter is an anathema to Trump’s entourage.

Do not forget that the wesbite Breitbart News, of which Bannon was executive chairman, is open in its contempt for feminism and in its calls for ethnic segregation. They were the “meme-makers” both of white supremacy and virulent misogyny. Abortion providers are routinely compared to the murderers of the Holocaust.

The autonomy of women is a threat to these people, which is why once again the rights of women to control their own bodies may be decided by men. There are many battles to be fought right now, but this one has to be fought over and over again.

One step forward, twenty steps back. I don’t like how this is trending.

North star

Nov 14th, 2016 4:46 pm | By

From Obama’s press conference today:

First of all, let me mention three brief topics. First of all, as I discussed with the president-elect on Thursday, my team stands ready to accelerate in the next steps that are required to ensure a smooth transition and we are going to be staying in touch as we travel. I remember what it was like when I came in eight years ago. It is a big challenge. This office is bigger than any one person and that’s why ensuring a smooth transition is so important. It’s not something that the constitution explicitly requires but it is one of those norms that are vital to a functioning democracy, similar to norms of civility and tolerance and a commitment to reason and facts and analysis.

It’s part of what makes this country work and as long as I’m president, we are going to uphold those norms and cherish and uphold those ideals.

See what he did there? Nice.

Finally, on a personal note, Michelle and I want to offer our deepest condolences to Gwen Ifill’s family and all of you, her colleagues, on her passing. Gwen was a friend of ours, she was an extraordinary journalist, she always kept faith with the fundamental responsibilities of her profession, asking tough questions, holding people in power accountable, and defending a strong and free press that makes our democracy work. I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews.

Whether she reported from a convention floor or from the field, whether she sat at the debate moderator’s table or at the anchor’s desk, she not only informed today’s citizens but she also inspired tomorrow’s journalists. She was an especially powerful role model for young women and girls who admired her integrity, her tenacity and her intellect. And for whom she blazed a trail, as one half of the first all-female anchor team on network news. So Gwen did her country a great service. Michelle and I join her family and her colleagues and everybody else who loved her in remembering her fondly today.

Yeah. Like many people I liked Gwen Ifil’s work, and I’m sad she’s gone.

Somebody asked “Now what?”

As I said in the Rose Garden right after the election, “When your team loses, everybody gets deflated. And it’s hard, and it’s challenging. And I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection. I think it’s important for me not to be big-footing that conversation. I think we want to see new voices and new ideas emerge – that’s part of the reason why term limits are a really useful thing.

The Democrats should not waiver on our core beliefs and principles. The belief that we should have an economy that works for everybody, not just a few. The belief that America at its best is inclusive and not exclusive. That we insist on the dignity and God- given potential and work of every child, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or what zip code they were born in. That we are committed to a world in which we keep America safe, but we recognize that our power doesn’t just flow from our extraordinary military but also flows from the strength in our ideals and our principles and our values.

So there are gonna be a core set of values that shouldn’t be up for debate. Should be our north star.


They’re not the Republican north star though.

Someone asked about Trump’s appointments, especially Bannon, and he said he wasn’t going to comment on that – it was basically a give him a chance message.

President Pussygrabber tells women to hit the road

Nov 14th, 2016 4:00 pm | By

Trump contentedly told 60 Minutes that women will have to “go to another state” if Roe v Wade is thrown out.

Affirming his campaign pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion, President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday said that women would “have to go to another state” to get an abortion if the court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Having to do with abortion, if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states,” he said in his first post-election interview, on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

“Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion?” Lesley Stahl asked.

Trump responded: “Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.”

When Stahl asked if he thought that was acceptable, Trump said to wait and see.

We don’t need to wait and see, we know how that is. It’s what there used to be. It’s not some mysterious unfathomable imaginary possibility, it’s our former reality and current reality in places like Ireland and Poland and much of South America. It’s bad. We know that.

[A]s president, Trump could chip away at abortion access. He ran his campaign pledging to appoint “pro-life judges” to the Supreme Court and to allow states to outlaw abortion, frequently saying that the issue “should go back to the states.” In addition, his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), has a history of opposing abortion and restricting reproductive rights in his state.

And punishing women, just to be on the safe side.