Friday, January 17, 2020


A newly published excerpt from A Very Stable Genius, the forthcoming book by Washington Post reporters Carol Loennig and Philip Rucker, is inspiring a lot of discussion. You should read the excerpt even if you've read the most talked-about passage, which takes place in a disastrous foreign policy learning session set up for the ill-informed president at the Pentagon. Trump addresses the military officers who, in an act of futility, have tried to explain the nature of our global alliances and the history of our recent wars:
Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called “locker room talk,” this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. “How does the commander in chief say that?” one thought. “What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?”
The point of the excerpt isn't that Trump is ignorant. We knew that. It's that he's ignorant and doesn't feel the need either to be less ignorant or to trust better-informed and more experienced people to sweat the details. We know that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush came to the White House with large knowledge gaps, many of which were never really filled in. But they didn't seem to resent the knowledgeable -- they hired people who at least knew their subject areas and took advantage of that knowledge. (Some of those people had horrible judgment, but that's another story.)

Trump seems to spend the entire briefing waiting for a chance to inject the two or three drunk-at-the-end-of-the-bar foreign policy ideas he's picked up in his seven decades on Earth. Idea #1: We're getting ripped off by our allies.
Trump’s first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection.

“We should charge them rent,” Trump said of South Korea. “We should make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything.”
Idea #2: Take the oil.
Trump questioned why the United States couldn’t get some oil as payment for the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. “We spent $7 trillion; they’re ripping us off,” Trump boomed. “Where is the f---ing oil?”
Idea #3: The world is divided into winners and losers, and guess which one Trump is.
Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a “loser war.” That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief’s commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

“You’re all losers,” Trump said. “You don’t know how to win anymore.”
Our system anticipates that someone with very little expertise in this area will be empowered to tell people who know much more how they should pursue their jobs. It doesn't anticipate that the commander in chief will resent being taught things and will refuse to delegate detailed thinking to experts if he or she doesn't want to absorb the details. But that's Trump -- he's developed a genius-level understanding of everything, effortlessly, or so he tells everyone (including himself).


In response to the "dopes and babies" rant, Atrios writes:
I know that one "excuse" for Trump coverage is that he spews so much shit every day that no one thing can stick.... But some things are objectitudinal and nonpartisany and SUPPORTING THE TROOPS is one of them (whether or not it should be). If Obummer had said something like this, literally every single New York Times article about anything having to do with Obummer and the military would, by its 4th paragraph, inject something like "The president's relationship with the military has been strained after his comments..." and any time he was within 250 miles of a military base they would go interview a bunch of TROOPS so they could say how MAD MAD MAD they were at the guy. And those assignments wouldn't require Republicans pretending to be mad about it. They would just become part of the normal background. Obummer hates the military, the military hates Obummer.

But ... everyone's gonna put on their shocked faces for a day and then coverage will return to normal. And that's not normal.
Well, actually, it is normal. Trump is a Republican. Both conservatives and the mainstream media agree that a Republican can't insult the troops, by definition. Only Democrats (and people to the left of the Democrats) can insult the troops.

This is part of a larger problem that's plagued us over the past forty years. The world of politics has been incapable of reacting with sufficient outrage to Iran-contra, George W. Bush's post-9/11 toadying to the Saudis and Iraq War debacle, and Trump's Putin bootlicking because, performatively, Reagan, W, and Trump were all military-lovers and flag-wavers. The conventional wisdom is that right-wingers are correct: The telltale sign of disloyalty to America is insufficient jingoism. If you're a Republican, you're never a menace to America, even if you're actively doing it harm.


This tweet from a Los Angeles Times reporter is getting a lot of attention:

As I just said on Twitter, this doesn't surprise me. It's politics as lifehack. She's looking for One Weird Trick that will solve all of America's problems. Revolution! MAGA! A gay millennial! The only surprise is that she's not supporting Andrew Yang, the ultimate lifehack candidate.

Let me add that I understand people's hopes for an easy way out of our political rut. Republican game-theory politics -- the notion that any win for a Democratic president (or, now, for a Democratic Speaker of the House) is a loss for Republicans, so the only course of action is a denial of any possible "wins" -- leaves voters who aren't committed to either left or right thinking frustrated with all politicians. And ultimately, whether David Brooks believes it or not, we're in this mess because capitalists want all the money for themselves and a small upper caste of people who run their businesses -- they won't share the wealth, so the middle class is shrinking and very few people manage to move out of poverty. We have a right-wing party that distracts the Volk with Two-Minutes' Hates against Democrats and other real or imagined enemies while never trying to deliver for the people, and we have a liberal(ish) party that's constrained by the wealthy whenever it wants to do something effective for ordinary citizens.

So voters like Melissa want someone who looks new and different. One Twitter commenter responded, "Could also just be a frustration with establishment politicians." I could say with a sneer that Sanders is a career politician, that Buttigieg is, if not a politician with decades in office, then certainly the ultimate careerist establishmentarian, and that Trump is a millionaire real estate mogul's billionaire real estate mogul's son. But it's true -- they're all "different." Being
"different" is the brand identity they all share.

We need to keep trying to help ordinary citizens, even though the wealthy and powerful will resist. It means electing more progressives where we can, but it might at times mean electing moderate Democrats and working to push them to the left. (Republicans can't be pushed.) Meanwhile, Melissa and others like her will look for the "new." She's probably lost to us this year. Let's look for voters who aren't, and work both within and outside the system to make their lives better.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


We won't have a press corps capable of reckoning with what the modern Republican Party has done to America until our journalists and pundits stop thinking the way Bloomberg's Jonathan Bernstein thinks about the impeachment of President Trump:
... the danger for Republicans is pretty obvious.... As someone said Wednesday evening on Twitter, Republican senators don’t even know what they’re covering up for, or at least what they would be covering up for if they follow the White House’s preference to rush through the Senate impeachment trial that starts next week and refuse to hear from relevant witnesses and collect relevant documents.

Some of those senators, to be sure, just don’t care. They’ve decided they can live with (both politically and ethically) any revelations that may come down the road — that no one who they care about will hold them accountable for burying important evidence, no matter what it turns out to be. Others may really be so fully inside the conservative information-feedback loop that they sincerely think that Trump is an honest, innocent man being railroaded by partisans; they may not even be aware of the considerable evidence to the contrary.

But for anyone else? As I said just 24 hours and a couple rounds of ugly revelations ago: “If new ugly details are still emerging, who’s to say that more won’t turn up later?”
I have news for Bernstein: Among Republican senators, there isn't "anyone else." There are some who believe Trump is being wrongly accused and others who have doubts about of his innocence but believe -- correctly -- that there will be no consequences for them if they ram through an acquittal, no matter what is ultimately revealed about him. They know that he'll retain the support of roughly 40% of the country no matter what he does, or what he's demonstrated to have already done. They know that GOP voter unity will save nearly all Republicans in red states and districts under any circumstances, as it saved downballot Republicans in the last year's Kentucky elections even as an unpopular Republican governor went down to defeat. They know that Republicans in swing states and districts have a good shot at survival if they appease moderate voters by making token gestures toward a fair trial in the Senate. And they know that Republicans bounce back quickly from even the worst defeats -- see the big gains in the midterms two years after Barry Goldwater's loss, or the Tea Party comeback two years after George W. Bush left office in disgrace.

Bernstein adds:
... Republican senators should factor into their considerations the institutional and personal self-interest they have in keeping constraints on the presidency in general and this president in particular. Allow him to treat impeachment as a joke, and both he and all future presidents will be more likely to treat the threat of future impeachments as minor inconveniences.
That's just silly. If Trump is easily acquitted and a future Republican president takes full advantage, congressional Republicans will be fine with that, too. On the other hand, if a future Democratic president thinks Trump's acquittal confers the ability to flout the law with impunity, he or she will be quickly restrained. Congressional Republicans (and the media) will exercise a blatant double standard. Behavior that was tolerated coming from Trump simply won't be tolerated from a Democrat.

The rot runs deep. People who get paid to write about politics ought to understand that.


While you were paying attention to Sanders/Warren and Lev Parnas, this story appeared:
The Trump administration imposed severe restrictions on Wednesday on billions of dollars in emergency relief to Puerto Rico, including blocking spending on the island’s electrical grid and suspending its $15-an-hour minimum wage for federally funded relief work.

The nearly $16 billion in funding, released while Puerto Ricans still sleep on the streets for fear of aftershocks from last week’s earthquake, is part of $20 billion that Congress allocated for disaster recovery and preparation more than a year ago, in response to the commonwealth being hit by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development had released only $1.5 billion of the congressional relief, citing concerns about political corruption. Of that, only $5 million has been allocated....

Puerto Rico will be barred from paying its $15-an-hour minimum wage to workers on federally funded projects. And none of the funds can be used on the electrical grid, although the Department of Housing and Urban Development has yet to release nearly $2 billion that was allocated for Puerto Rico’s electrical system.

White House officials acknowledged that rolling blackouts continue in Puerto Rico but insisted there was no need for new money.
In a better country, withholding nearly all of these congressionally approved funds for more than a year would be an impeachable offense. At the very least, outrage about Trump's treatment of Puerto Rico would be a prominent part of Democratic presidential candidates' stump speeches and debate talking points. Are the Democrats who don't think white voters can relate to the problems of Puerto Rico the same ones who think we'll be riveted by the problems of Ukraine? Most Americans, at least, can imagine what it's like to cope with natural disasters. It seems to me that the the suffering of Puerto Rico is more likely to inspire empathy than Ukraine's struggles to fend off Russian aggression, which is an experience foreign to most people in America.

I don't know why the president hates Puerto Rico as much as he does. I know that in his youth in the 1960s and 1970s, "Puerto Rican" was East Coast shorthand for all Hispanics. The racist stereotype of Puerto Ricans was that they were congenital criminals, and a large portion of the New York-area white population believed that. Here's a joke Jackie Mason told for years:
“I love the Puerto Rican people. I go to Puerto Rico every year just to visit my hubcaps.”
The joke doesn't appear in the following clip from Mason -- a supporter of Rudy Giuliani in his mayoral runs and later a Trump fan -- but I think it's precisely in sync with Trump's thoughts about Puerto Ricans:

Happy-go-lucky people who commit crimes and have never accomplished anything of value -- yup, that's what Trump thinks Puerto Ricans are like. Remember:
A [1991] book by John O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, quoted Trump’s criticism of a black accountant: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” Trump at first denied the remarks, but later said in a 1997 Playboy interview that “the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”
Ugly stereotypes of Puerto Ricans complement that nicely.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Kayleigh McEnany is the national press secretary for President Trump's reelection campaign. Brad Parscale is Trump's chest-thumping campaign manager. This morning, McEnany was on Twitter amplifying a message from Parscale about the rally Trump staged last night as counterprogramming to the Democratic debate:

Parscale posts one of these after every Trump rally -- a breakdown of statistics about the rallygoers (information that, of course, we can't verify). Parscale's point is always some variation on the same message: Behold the mighty power of our campaign. We're attracting independents. We're attracting Democrats. We're attracting non-whites. We're attracting new voters. We are a juggernaut, and resistance is futile.

There's just one thing about the stat McEnany highlighted:
57.9% Were NOT Republicans (Yuge!)
Tell us why that's not really impressive, Wisconsin Elections Commission:
Wisconsin does not register voters by party preference or affiliation....
Tell us more,
In Wisconsin, voters may choose which party’s ballot to vote, but this decision is private and does not register the voter with that party.
So of course 57.9% weren't Republicans -- no one registered to vote in Wisconsin is a registered Republican. Or a registered member of any other party.

I don't trust Parscale's boasts, but this one is clearly intended to deceive. Yes, Trump's campaign chief is dishonest -- try to contain your astonishment.


There was a lackluster Democratic debate last night, which I tuned out well before the most viral moment -- not an exchange from the actual debate, but a few seconds of tension between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the immediate aftermath.
As candidates exchanged pleasantries and handshakes on stage, Elizabeth Warren approached Bernie Sanders, who stretched out his hand for her to shake. But Warren either didn’t see — or rebuffed him, and a tense exchange followed.

Warren gestured with her right hand, then clasped both hands together while addressing a seemingly surprised Sanders.

Warren kept speaking to Sanders, who nodded, then put his hands up as if to stop her. Both spoke, as Tom Steyer approached the pair. Then Sanders seemed to offer a few sentences before both turned their backs — Sanders a split second before Warren — and walked away.
This probably happened in less time than it took you to read the paragraphs above, but it's seen as a big deal, and the press wants to get to the bottom of it.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren "came to raise a concern" with Sen. Bernie Sanders after Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate, according to Sanders's campaign manager, who briefly described a mysterious exchange that was captured on live television without sound.

"She came to raise a concern, and he said let's talk about that later," said Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir in a brief interview with The Washington Post. Shakir declined to provide further details about the conversation, the video of which has been widely shared on social media.
Meanwhile, when I woke up, the hashtag #WarrenIsASnake was the top trending item on Twitter.

It's going to be a long year.

In this feud, I see that Breitbart is taking sides. Here's the site's lead story right now:

From the story:
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are infuriated by the results of the seventh Democrat presidential debate in Iowa because it appears that moderators favored Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the debate hosted by CNN on Tuesday.

The clearest example of bias cited by debate watchers was when CNN moderator Abby Phillips had the following exchange with Sanders and Warren:
Phillips: You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman couldn’t win the election?

Bernie: Correct.

Phillips: Warren, what did you think when Sanders said a woman couldn’t win the election?

Warren: I disagreed. Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie.
After the debate, Warren pointedly refused to shake Sen. Sanders’s hand, a puzzling move, as Warren tried to paint her relationship with the Vermont Senator as respectful and collegial....

Supporters also claim that CNN moderators focused more attention on demanding that Sen. Bernie Sanders explain how he plans to pay for his socialist programs, ignoring Warren’s proposals for similar programs.

Sanders’ campaign co-chair Nina Turner immediately pointed out CNN’s bias in a series of screenshots on Twitter.

Instead of rooting against both progressives, which is what you'd expect, the Breitbartniks clearly want to amplify the anger of Team Sanders, in the hope that this story will show up even in lefties' social media feeds, and thus generate the greatest possible amount of tension in the Democratic race, to Trump's benefit.

The only comfort I take in all this is knowing that an overwhelming majority of the electorate doesn't care about all of this. But the rest of us need to calm down and remember that the real enemy is the guy on the other ballot line in November.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


I encounter a lot of people who can't stand Bernie Sanders and consider him a pestilence on the land. I resented him in 2016 for continuing to insist that the primary race was ongoing long after he had any chance of securing the nomination. But I resented Hillary Clinton for the same thing in 2008, and I got over it. That was a year when Democrats could better afford a threat to party unity -- Barack Obama was popular and a great campaigner, and he had successfully tied the extremely unpopular George W. Bush around John McCain's neck. in 2008, Democrats had the wind at their back. In 2016, they didn't. I've seen the numbers that say there were more Clinton supporters who refused to vote for Obama than Sanders supporters who refused to vote for Clinton. But the margin of error was smaller for Democrats.

Nevertheless, what Sanders did has never struck me as malicious. I know how naive that sounds, and my explanation probably doesn't make it seem less so. Sanders just comes off to me as an East Coast, New York metro area curmudgeon -- a guy who expects human interactions to involve a lot of unpleasant words and disputation, but also expects the bad feelings to pass, or to be shrugged off as just the way people relate to one another even though they're actually friends, colleagues, or allies. I look at Donald Trump or Rudy Giuliani and I see New Yorkers of a different kind: They're really mean. They hate people. They're not joking, and they're not just venting. Sanders seems as if he's just venting. Larry David is absolutely the right person to play him.

But I think far too many of his allies do mean it when they attack anyone who isn't on board with Sanders. I think Sanders fails to recognize how toxic this is because he doesn't personally despise his opponents, and he misreads the utter disgust with which his most fervent supporters talk about opponents as just his own style of deeply expressed but not emotionally deep dissatisfaction.

Whether or not I'm right about this, Sanders does have some serious haters on his team.

I won't go through the list. If you're profoundly anti-Sanders, you know who they are. It's surfacing in the feud between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Here's the latest, from Politico:
The controversial talking points attacking Elizabeth Warren that Bernie Sanders' campaign deployed were given to teams in at least two early voting states on Friday, three Sanders campaign officials confirmed.

Volunteers and staffers used the script on Saturday while canvassing for votes, meaning the talking points were more official than what Sanders previously suggested after POLITICO reported on the language.

... volunteers were ... equipped with talking points for voters who said they were leaning toward other candidates. In Warren's case, they stated that the “people who support her are highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what” and that “she's bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.”
Also disheartening is the Sanders staffer in the video below -- yes, it's from James O'Keefe, but it sure doesn't look deceptively edited. The staffer, an Iowa field organizer named Kyle Jurek, wants to put everyone in the not-pro-Sanders camp up against the wall, including Warren supporters and much of the Democratic Party. He's a callow armchair-radical dudebro who'd probably run in terror at the first sign of actual violence, but he's still a seriously toxic sonofabitch.

O'Keefe's headlines will give you a sense of what's in the video. This is no distortion:
* Kyle Jurek, Iowa Field Organizer, Sanders Campaign: “I’m Ready to Throw Down Now…The Billionaire Class. The F***ing Media, Pundits. Walk into MSNBC Studios, Drag Those M*****F***ers Out by Their Hair and Light Them on Fire in the Streets.

* Kyle Jurek Suggests That Liberal Democrats Should be Placed in Gulags or be Put to Death: “Liberals Get the F***ing Wall First.”

* Jurek: “Well, I’ll Tell You What in Cuba, What did They do to Reactionaries? You Want to Fight Against the Revolution, You’re Going to Die for it, M*****F***er.”

* Jurek Affirms That “Free Speech Has Repercussions…There Are Consequences for Your F***ing Actions…You Should Expect a Violent Reaction. And You Deserve a Violent Reaction.”

* Jurek Lambasts Elizabeth Warren, Suggests That Warren Does Not Deserve Support Solely Due to Being a Woman.

* Jurek: “Like F**k if We Can Beat Donald Trump, as Long as We Nominated a Woman. Like F***ing Idiot. Like What the F**k? The World is on Fire. This is an Emergency Situation, and You’re Hung Up on Vaginas.”

This isn't just a grumpy airing of grievances. This is bad.

I don't think Sanders grasps how toxic this is. Sanders is a grump. These people aren't grumps -- they're arrogant haters who think the world is divided into those who agree with them and those who aren't fit to live. Sanders seems to me as if he doesn't know the difference.


Here we go again.
... Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts.

The hacking attempts against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served, began in early November....

It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens....

Then, as now, the Russian hackers from a military intelligence unit known formerly as the G.R.U., and to private researchers by the alias “Fancy Bear,” used so-called phishing emails that appear designed to steal usernames and passwords, according to Area 1, the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking....

“The attacks were successful,” said Oren Falkowitz, a co-founder of Area 1, who previously served at the National Security Agency.
Now the Russians will hold information genuinely damaging to Joe Biden's presidential campaign, which they'll leak if he wins the nomination. Or they won't find anything particularly incriminating on Hunter Biden or any other relevant subject, but they'll leak trivial matters that will be blown out of proportion by their pals on America's right, as well as by our mainstream media, and ridiculous catchphrases will take on sinister overtones, the way "spirit cooking" and "creamy risotto" did after the DNC hack during the 2016 campaign.

Or maybe America has grown up and won't care what's revealed. Maybe this is history repeating the second time as farce. That's probably too much to hope for, but it's possible.

Meanwhile, your right-wing uncle already doesn't believe this happened the way the Times said it happened. Here's how the story is being reported at Gateway Pundit:
Here We Go Again… What BS! – NY Times Claims ‘Russian Hackers From Military Unit GRU Successfully Targeted Burisma Holdings’

... The Burisma hack was carried out by Russian GRU officials which coincidentally were the same military officials who supposedly hacked into the DNC servers.

What a coincidence!

Of course we know this report from the Times and the Mueller report are both complete BS.

There is ZERO evidence that the Russians hacked the DNC servers — ZERO....

It looks like the Deep State intel community and Biden are already gearing up for the old ‘Russian interference’ excuse because they know Biden is going to lose in 2020.
Here's what Daily Caller commenters are saying:
Except... There is no credible proof Russians hacked the DNC servers in 2016.
No law enforcement agency ever examined the servers.

If Russians hacked Burisma, most likely it was at the request of Obama to cover himself and Biden.


Or, Hunter just gave the GRU his logins and passwords . See how simple this is?


I love that quote from the article - let me fix it: "phishing emails, which is the same method..." Most Hackers Use World-Wide. The article makes it sound specific to "evil Russian hackers," thus echoing dim talking points - intentionally or otherwise.

And as to the alleged hacking of the DNC servers itself - that report is from an anti-Russian Ukrainian-owned/run company which works for the Dem Party. The FBI was NOT ALLOWED to examine the DNC servers. And the transfer speeds of the files indicate it was an inside-job, downloaded off of their local area network - not "hacked" over the internet. So, again, this article is echoing Dim talking-points as if they were reality.



This sure sounds like a VERY TALL TALE designed to provide cover for Joe Biden's Ukraine corruption. The MSM have got to do whatever they can to help his candidacy!!!


The owners of the company doing the analysis provided to the NYT are former Crowdstrike and NSA idiots...


Well, we knew the "Russians did it" hoax was going to play into this somehow. Are they going to claim that the Russians forced Burisma to hire the crackhead?


This story is false and a Dem plant. They are just saying this so when the damaging information about Hunter does come out they can say it’s Russian propaganda. The NY Times has zero credibility.


Oh brother, more Russia shlt the left will eat with a spoon.
So these are more facts 40% of America will never agree are facts. As I was saying, here we go again.

Monday, January 13, 2020


This CBS report plays on many anti-Trumpers' hopes for a deus ex machina that will drive the president from power, but I'm skeptical:
The White House is preparing for some Republican senators to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial, which could get underway in the coming days.

Senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses. In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a "wild card" and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as an "institutionalist" who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.

Last week, Collins said she was working with a "fairly small group" of GOP senators to allow new testimony, adding that her colleagues "should be completely open to calling witnesses." Romney has expressed an interest in hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he would testify under subpoena. Murkowski said last week that the Senate should proceed as it did during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.

Gardner and Alexander have both said the Senate trial should be fair and impartial. Paul has said the president should be able to call his own witnesses, including the whistleblower whose complaint about Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry in the first place.
When I read this, my first thought was that this group of Republicans would make a great show of wanting witnesses, but they'd find fault with Democrats' list of proposed witnesses and never agree on any motion that can get 51 votes. However, I see that (according to a Hill story from last Friday) Democrats are "planning to offer multiple motions on specific witnesses, instead of one motion that covered their request writ large." So this group of Republicans will have to find another way to dodge testimony from the witnesses the Democrats want, while still getting Brownie points for centrism (particularly Collins and Gardner, who are in tough reelection fights in bluish states).

I assume Rand Paul will be the first to peel off -- if he doesn't get any of the witnesses the right wants (Joe Biden, Adam Schiff, and so on), he won't vote for the witnesses Democrats want. I'm not sure why others will reject the Democratic motions, but I'm sure they'll think of something.

Or, of course, this might be Susan Collins pulling an Ivanka Trump -- telling the eager-to-believe press that she's being a moderating influence when there's no real chance she can deliver on her promises. This story might just be too good to check. I don't see what's in it for Alexander, for instance, or Murkowski.

I assume the numbers will dwindle as we approach any votes on motions. If not, I assume Trump will play the executive privilege card and the witnesses won't testify.
A majority of senators could still vote to subpoena Bolton or another witness once the trial begins, though that would require four Republicans to side with all Democrats on the matter. And even then, as Trump affirmed Friday, he would likely invoke executive privilege, which could then lead to a protracted court battle that would last much longer than the Senate trial.
That may be the bait-and-switch Collins is counting on if she really is assembling a group of pro-witness Republicans: that she'll get credit among gullible Maine moderates for demanding a fair trial while Trump gets the blame for the lack of testimony.

It won't be a fair trial. No Republican wants such a thing to take place. It's all theater.


In The New York Times, David Leonhardt makes an argument to which I'm sympathetic, although he distorts the facts to make it. Leonhardt's point is that Franklin Roosevelt won public support for his policies by creating big, visible programs -- something Democrats have forgotten how to do, but Republicans haven't.

I agree with what Leonhardt says about FDR. I think he's somewhat off base regarding modern Democrats, and almost entirely off base when he talks about modern Republicans.

Leonhardt writes:
In January 1937, near the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term as president, Life magazine published a map of the United States spread over two full pages. The headline read: “What President Roosevelt Did to the Map of the U.S. in Four Years with $6,500,000,000.”

Scattered around the map were dozens of small drawings, each showing a project funded by Roosevelt’s stimulus program. They included the Triborough Bridge, Manhattan’s Midtown tunnels, bridges on Cape Cod, schools in South Carolina, dorms at Texas Tech, the Kansas City Civic Auditorium, the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Grand Coulee Dam. A few of the drawings summarized broader projects, like “2 U.S. aircraft carriers” and “120 U.S. airports.”

Since taking office in 1933, Roosevelt hadn’t only rescued the country from the Great Depression. He had made sure that the country knew he had rescued it. His projects were big, tangible and unmistakably the work of the federal government. The projects changed how Americans thought about government.
Okay, sure. Fast-forward to today:
In recent decades, Democrats have too often forgotten this lesson. They have created technocratically elegant policies that quietly improve people’s lives, like tax credits or insurance subsidies. The problem with this approach is that it does little to build popular support for government action.
It's true that Barack Obama's stimulus program didn't come close to capturing the public imagination the way the New Deal did. But Obamacare? Really? Millions of people obtaining health insurance who previously couldn't -- Leonhardt thinks that's regarded as a bloodless, technocratic policy with no visceral appeal? I agree that the program is quite imperfect, and that many who receive subsidized private insurance aren't as enthusiastic as those quo qualify for expanded Medicaid. But America is now talking about universal health coverage as a necessary goal. That started with Obama, who got us close enough to universal coverage to make it seem attainable. Leonhardt shouldn't discount that.

As for Obama's stimulus, yes, too much of it was in the form of tax cuts and subsidies, but recall what happened when the Obama administration tried to make stimulus projects more visible:
July 14, 2010 -- As the midterm election season approaches, new road signs are popping up everywhere – millions of dollars worth of signs touting "The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act" and reminding passers-by that the program is "Putting America Back to Work."

On the road leading to Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC there's a 10' x 11' road sign touting a runway improvement project funded by the federal stimulus. The project cost nearly $15 million and has created 17 jobs, according to

However, there's another number that caught the eye of ABC News: $10,000. That's how much money the Washington Airports Authority tells ABC News it spent to make and install the sign – a single sign – announcing that the project is "Funded by The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act" and is "Putting America Back to Work." The money for the sign was taken out of the budget for the runway improvement project.

ABC News has reached out to a number of states about spending on stimulus signs and learned the state of Illinois has spent $650,000 on about 950 signs and Pennsylvania has spent $157,000 on 70 signs. Other states, like Virginia, Vermont, and Arizona do not sanction any signs.

... some Republicans are crying foul. Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Earl Devaney, Chairman of the Recovery Act and Transparency and Accountability Board, requesting an investigation to "determine the scope and impact of the Obama administration's guidance" regarding signs to stimulus recipients.

Rep. Issa writes that the passage of the Stimulus Bill, "has provided an opportunity for the Obama administration to claim political credit for the various projects around the country that have been funded by this redistribution of taxpayer dollars."
Well, yes, that was the point -- to redistribute taxpayer dollars in order to keep people employed and prevent the economy from falling into depression. The Obama administration tried to showcase signs of tax dollars at work, but Republicans knew that they could minimize the popular appeal of those projects if they expressed enough fauxtrage about the signage. (Making and posting the signage also kept people working, of course.)

This is a mainstream news story. The response in the right-wing information sphere was a bit more heated:

The ABC story notes that subsequently disgraced congressman Aaron Schock attacked the Recovery Act logo on the sign as suspiciously reminiscent of Obama's 2008 campaign logo (because, I guess, they were both round, roundness apparently being a rare and peculiar aspect of logos). Schock's source for this claim was a mysterious constituent whose hobby, apparently, was opposition research.
Schock's office provided ABC News with administration guidance on stimulus signs sent to him from a constituent. The document, dated March of 2009, outlines the "General Guidelines for Emblem and Logo Applications." The Recovery Act logo which was provided not only looks oddly similar to the Obama logo from the 2008 campaign but its stated purpose, according to the document, is to act as "a symbol of President Obama's commitment to the American people to invest their tax dollars wisely and put Americans back to work."

It's impossible to tell them apart!

Leonhardt thinks Republicans are so much better at all this:
Republicans don’t suffer from this naïveté. Again and again, they push policies meant to affect politics, such as campaign-finance deregulation, voting restrictions and labor-union constraints. Republicans understand a concept that political scientists refer to as “policy feedback” — namely, that policy can influence politics in ways that make future policy changes more or less likely.
I think he's straining to prove his point. Campaign finance deregulation is wonky and technocratic, and therefore invisible to most voters. Voting restrictions are also invisible to the members of the GOP voter base, because they mostly affect other people. Labor union constraints are visible to active workers in unionized fields, but they affect those voters in a negative way. None of these examples prove Leonhardt's point.

What Republicans do that's highly visible is attack Democrats and presumed Democratic constituent groups: blacks, Hispanics, LGBT people, immigrants, environmentalists, college professors, Hollywood stars. Sometimes Republicans attack these groups with policy changes; other times, it's just rhetoric. Republican voters sometimes seem as if they don't care whether their lives are improved -- they just want their enemies' lives made worse.

Liberal tears are the GOP's Grand Coulee Dam. In that way, the GOP is much better at making the value of voting Republican clear. Democrats really do struggle to compete.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


The New York Times has a report on differences between American history textbooks used in California and Texas.
The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides....

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening....

Southern whites resisted Reconstruction, according to a McGraw-Hill textbook, because they “did not want African-Americans to have more rights.” But the Texas edition offers an additional reason: Reforms cost money, and that meant higher taxes....

Texas policymakers feel strongly about giving students a positive view of the American economy; since 1995, state law has required that high school economics courses offer an “emphasis on the free enterprise system and its benefits.” That emphasis seems to have made its way into the history curriculum as well.

... California textbooks are more likely to celebrate unionism, critique the concentration of wealth and focus on how industry pollutes the environment.
That's America now -- but just wait until Donald Trump is a former president. I've said this for years: Trump may be voted out of office, he may even be removed in an impeachment trial (though that's a long shot), but he'll continue to be the most beloved political figure of all time in Red America, and that includes Ronald Reagan. Maybe this won't be the case if he's reelected and the country goes into a severe economic downturn, or if he presides over an unpopular war (though it usually takes many years before a war becomes genuinely unpopular on the right). But in all likelihood, he'll continue to be regarded as an all-time great, while the rest of America looks on in bewilderment.

That will be reflected in textbooks. Red America will demand that Trump be lavished with praise, while in the rest of America he'll be presented more or less realistically. It's possible that Texas won't be a blood-red state in a generation, but I imagine some other conservative enclave will pick up the slack and enforce GOP stereotypes in textbooks and curricula. Maintaining the Trump cult of personality will be an major part of this effort.

In a generation, I expect there to be dozens of Donald Trump Schools in the Republican parts of the country. This will happen even though we might nail him on financial crimes after he's out of office (though I think he'll get away with those crimes, as rich people tend to do). It might happen in part because he'll continue to be pursued. No politician has ever embodied the rank-and-file right's sense of persecution and martyrdom the way Trump has. That's the key.

Saturday, January 11, 2020


President Trump has gotten specific -- in his fashion -- about the alleged threat General Qasem Soleimani posed to U.S. interests.
President Trump said on Friday that a senior Iranian general killed by a U.S. drone strike had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, a claim made to justify the decision but that was at odds with intelligence assessments from senior officials in Trump’s administration.
Trump said this to Laura Ingraham in a Fox News interview.
Trump expanded on comments from a day earlier, when he initially told reporters that Soleimani’s forces “were looking to blow up our embassy” in Baghdad....

“Did [Soleimani] have large-scale attacks planned for other embassies?” Ingraham asked. “And if those were planned, why can’t we reveal that to the American people? Wouldn’t that help your case?”

“I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” Trump said.
No one else in the administration is making this claim -- at least for now.
But a senior administration official and a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information, said they were only aware of vague intelligence about a plot against the embassy in Baghdad and that the information did not suggest a fully formed plot. Neither official said there were threats against multiple embassies.

The senior defense official did not directly contradict Trump but said there was concern that there might be an attempt to place a bomb at the Baghdad embassy....

“We had specific information on an imminent threat, and those threats included attacks on U.S. embassies period full stop,” [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo told reporters at a briefing on new sanctions being levied on Iran for its missile attack.

When asked again if the threat was against a single embassy, Pompeo replied, “Against American facilities including American embassies, military bases, American facilities throughout the region.”
No one said four -- only Trump. Which brings me to what I'll call Steve M.'s Law: Not everything Trump says is a lie, but any Trump utterance that includes a number is a lie.

I shouldn't take credit for this. I'm piggybacking on the work of Daniel Dale, the tireless Trump fact-checker who used to work at the Toronto Star and now reports for CNN. Dale said this about Trump last year.
A large percentage of his numbers, his figures, are incorrect. So literally any time he cites a figure, I'm on extra alert. I know I have to Google that.
Dale notes that Trump's numbers undergo "lieflation." Here's an example:

And then there's Trump's approval rating among Republicans. Here's Dale writing in October.
At a campaign rally in October 2018, Trump tentatively referred to what he claimed was his new approval rating with Republicans: "Just came out -- was it 93%?... It's like a record or something like that: 93% have a high approval rating of Trump."

Trump's Republican approval rating was very high at the time -- 89% in Gallup polling -- but not 93%. Still, by January, he was confidently tweeting this "93%" figure.

By June, Trump was citing a "94%" Republican approval rating. We kept fact checking the number every new time he said it; it kept being wrong. And then, in early October and again this week, Trump tweeted: "95% Approval Rating in the Republican Party."

He is still in the 80s. But don't be surprised if he gets to "96%" sometime soon.
Trump is sticking with 95% for now -- he just tweeted that number again a few hours ago...

... but I'm sure he'll claim to be up to 96% soon. Oh, and there's no current poll, not even Rasmussen, that shows Trump with a 53% approval rating overall, or even a rating above 50%. (The current Rasmussen number is 48% and the Real Clear Politics average is 44.8%.)

So, yes, by next week Trump will say that "the Iranians were targeting four ... now they're telling me six embassies." Or maybe he'll say eight. Or ten. Or all of those in sequence. And eventually everyone in the administration and all congressional Republicans will have to agree.