Tuesday, April 30, 2019


As Joe Biden prepared to enter the presidential race, Donald Trump called him "Crazy Joe" on Twitter. That seemed ... lazy. Trump already calls the other Democratic front-runner, Bernie Sanders, "Crazy Bernie." We know that Trump enjoys this juvenile nicknaming, but is he actually bad at it?

Trump eventually settled on "Sleepy Joe" -- which doesn't really make sense. Biden isn't "sleepy" -- his rhetoric can sometimes lean toward the emotional and overwrought.

But that's not the point of the nickname. The nickname is meant to dovetail with coverage like this, at Infowars right now:
Video: Joe Biden Appears To Have Second Stroke During First Public Campaign Speech

A montage of Joe Biden's recent speech highlights apparent slurring by the now presidential candidate. Alex explains how "Sleepy Joe" is being propped up by the MSM similar to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

There's a near-duplicate story at Infowars headlined "Watch: Biden Slurs Words Throughout First 2020 Presidential Rally."
Whether he’s drugged up, not using the right denture paste, or just plain old, former Vice President Joe Biden’s enunciation was sloppy during his inaugural 2020 presidential campaign rally in Pennsylvania Monday.
And actually, Trump's original "Crazy Joe" tweet fed right into this narrative:

This, of course, is straight out of the 2016 ratfucking playbook that helped elect Trump. Surely you recall this National Enquirer cover:

That, by the way, was from October 2015.

We know more about this from the Roger Stone indictment:
In an Aug. 2 [2016] exchange, Stone’s WikiLeaks contact suggested the group would start spreading rumors about Clinton, identified by her initials, HRC, and her fitness to be president. “Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke,” the person tells Stone, according to the indictment. “I expect that much of next dump focus.”

Over the next days and weeks, a barrage of claims about Clinton’s health started circulating in right-wing news outlets, including Fox News, the National Inquirer, and Infowars. By the end of the month, they would end up in Trump speeches.

Rumors that Clinton was unwell had been circulating online for weeks under #HillaryHealth. But they received a big boost on Aug. 4, when Infowars started publishing stories on the topic, including one that falsely claimed she was recorded having seizures during an interview. That was just two days after Stone received the message.

The rumors soon spread to other right-wing news outlets. On Aug. 7, American Mirror and Drudge Report published a picture of Clinton being helped to walk up a flight of stairs. The Drudge piece mentioned Clinton’s “questionable health condition.”

Russian media also worked to spread the conspiracy theory. On Aug. 8, state-backed Russian news site RT mentioned the Drudge piece, saying it was fueling rumors about Clinton’s “bad health.” That same day, the National Enquirer published a piece about Clinton’s “secret health crisis.”

On the week of Aug. 8, the claims reached the mainstream. For days, Fox News host and Trump fan Sean Hannity vented the lies about Clinton’s health. In one show, he insinuated Clinton had seizures, presenting a picture that allegedly showed an aide carrying a Diazepam pen.
It's starting again, and they're not even changing tactics to throw us off stride. Expect a lot more of this as long as Biden is one of the Democratic frontrunners, and expect a lot of it if he gets the nomination.


If you read this Axios story on Sunday, you could almost hear the sound of Lucy teeing up the football:
At last month's St. Patrick's Day lunch in the Capitol, President Trump told Richard Neal, the powerful Democratic chairman of the House's tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, that he wants to spend close to $2 trillion on infrastructure, according to two sources to whom Neal recounted his conversation.

...A former senior White House official told me that on infrastructure, Trump's instincts are much closer to Elizabeth Warren's than they are to his tight-fisted acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

... Trump meets on Tuesday with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to discuss infrastructure.... Democrats still take these meetings — in fact, Pelosi requested this one — because they know that, left to his own devices, Trump would happily spend a ton of federal money on infrastructure. (It's his own party that won't let him.)

The dirty secret — which multiple senior White House officials have confirmed to me — is that Trump hates the infrastructure plan his own White House released last year....

The heart of [the plan] was to build infrastructure through "public-private partnerships" — leveraging a modest amount of government spending to stimulate private investment in projects around the country.
Democratic leaders have no interest in public-private partnerships. Neither does Trump.... he has told aides he thinks they don't work and that they need to spend real federal money instead.

... Trump came into office imagining a presidency in which new projects — "built by the Trump administration" — would be erected all over the country, sources close to him tell me.
Trump doesn't like the Republican approach to infrastructure? Gosh, if only he had a powerful position in government that gave him the opportunity to assert his own preferences.

Look, for all I know, this may be true. But Trump won't throw his weight around and demand that aides and congressional Republicans do things his way unless he's told he's being insufficiently conservative by Fox, or unless the goal is keeping himself and his family members out of prison.

Neither of these exceptions applies to infrastructure. So why should Pelosi and Schumer even bother to meet with the president? They should tell him they'd like to meet, but he has to be prepared to tell Mulvaney (and Mitch McConnell) to piss off. Don't go to the White House hat in hand and beg Trump to do the right thing.

Politco reports today:
Democrats head into the meeting with hopes of accomplishing two goals, according to an aide. First, they want to demonstrate their ability to work across party lines even as they investigate Trump. And leadership wants to allow House members, particularly Democrats in swing districts, to pursue legislation that isn’t destined for the graveyard of the GOP-led Senate.
But a real infrastructure bill is destined for the graveyard of the GOP-led Senate, so why bother?

Democrats should pass their own infrastructure bill in the House instead of groveling before Trump -- or perhaps they should pass one to their liking and then negotiate. But infrastructure isn't going to happen, so why keep trying to meet Trump partway? Pass a bill and show what could happen if Democrats controlled Washington.

I thought Democrats, after their takeover of the House, were going to pass a lot of legislation, just to show what they stand for, despite the fact that all or nearly all of it would die in the Senate. Beyond the voting-rights bill -- which wasn't an ideal choice because, even though it's important, it's not a kitchen-table issue -- there's been no high-profile legislation coming out of ther House. That's a mistake.

Write an infrastructure bill. Pass it. Then tell Trump he's cordially invited to get on board.

Monday, April 29, 2019


In an anti-impeachment post titled "The Impeachment Temptation," Scott Lemieux hints at one excellent reason not to try to impeach President Trump -- but he doesn't quite grasp it:
There are exceptions, but in my experience most strong advocates of impeachment don’t really accept the reality that impeachment can’t remove Trump. Defenses of impeachment tend to lead to arguments like “you can’t win if you don’t even try” ...
We all know why impeachment won't remove Trump: You need a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which means twenty Republicans need to vote to convict, and there won't even be one. (There'll need to be more than twenty if, as I assume, Democrats such as Joe Manchin vote to acquit.)

What Lemieux doesn't tell us is how the failure to convict would play out. Elements of the establishment-skeptic left will declare that Democrats could have secured a conviction if they'd tried harder, therefore the two parties are indistinguishable, therefore there's no point in voting for the (sold-out) Democratic presidential nominee and downballot Democrats in 2020. That argument will be complete idiocy, but it will be heard. It might be worth skipping impeachment just to avoid that outcome.

(I'm imagining this coming from the anti-Trump establishment-skeptic left, as opposed to anti-anti-Trumpers such as Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Michael Tracey, who continue to insist that Russiagate was a conspiracy theory.)

Lemieux's other point vary in merit. There's some truth in this one:
Another problem with arguments that assume impeachment would be good politics is that they focus on the impeachment proceedings, and not the Senate trial. The impeachment process doesn’t end with Trump being impeached; it ends with a Republican-led Senate trial that almost certainly fails to even secure a simple majority to convict. And anybody who thinks the dominant media narrative will be “corrupt Republican majority protects Trump” as opposed to “Vindicated Trump Found Innocent, Dems in Disarray After Failure of Partisan Witch Hunt” has not paid any attention to American politics for decades.
He's right -- that will be the typical headline. But I'm not sure the press coverage will harm the party with most mainstream Democrats. Remember, the headlines after the completion of the Mueller report were, essentially, “Vindicated Trump Found Innocent, Dems in Disarray After Failure of Partisan Witch Hunt.” Polls, however, revealed that most Americans continued to believe that Trump is a crook who did something dishonest and actionable.

Impeachment, if handled impeccably, would paint a vivid picture of a criminal president. The failure to convict would persuade voters who haven't thought much about Russiagate that there was serious wrongdoing, and that Republicans are engaged in a cover-up.

But there's no guarantee that Democrats would handle impeachment impeccably. They might provide a narrative that's murky and hard to follow unless you're a political pro or maven, or unless you're a skilled attorney. I don't think that would do harm to the Democrats, but it wouldn't help. And it wouldn't move many people toward the position that Trump must go as soon as possible.

Lemieux notes that the public says it doesn't want impeachment:
What limited data we have ... lends no support to the idea that it would be good politics. The public opposes impeachment proceedings — let alone impeachment — by nearly 2-to-1 margins. Nor does it seem to be a significant priority for most engaged voters.
But in politics, there's opposition and there's opposition. Do voters oppose impeachment the way they oppose, say, cuts to Social Security and Medicare? Or do they oppose impeachment the way they oppose the gun show loophole? In the former case, the public would be furious if their preferences weren't observed; in the latter case, they continue to vote for politicians who keep a policy the oppose in place, while they shrug. How angry would voters be if impeachment proceedings or hearings started? Pollsters should be able to determine this, but for now we don't know. It really might be a horrible political miscalculation, but we need more evidence.

And this is a bad comparison:
The only historical example of a president being impeached with no serious threat of removal led to the president’s popularity increasing and the president’s party doing unusually well for an in party in midterm elections.
This isn't an apples-to-oranges comparison just because Bill Clinton was a popular president before impeachment, while Trump has never been popular. It's an apples-to-oranges comparison because Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex -- something many people have done -- while Trump would be pursued for covering up efforts to take advantage of illegal election meddling by a corrupt enemy regime that also dangled fat profits before him in the pursuit of relief from U.S. government sanctions. That's not exactly relatable for most Americans.

So while I agree that there are serious risks to impeachment, I disagree with many of the arguments made against it. If it could be done right, it might persuade a portion of the so-far-unpersuaded population that Trump ought to be removed from office before January 2021, even if the removal doesn't take place. But it might not be done right. And extremely loud lefties might loudly proclaim after a failed impeachment that the Democrats are the real enemies, as they so often do, and persuade some listeners.

But my hunch is that impeachment, even ending in failure, would leave the polls of Trump and the Democrats exactly where they've been for most of his presidency, because nothing seems to change those numbers.


So this showed up at Medium today:
Pete Buttigieg Sexually Assaulted Me

My name is Hunter Kelly. I am 21 years old. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do. For the past three nights, I have not slept even a single hour. I have vomited eight times.

I was sexually assaulted by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I didn’t know who he was back in February, only that he told me he was an important politician. When I started seeing him on television three weeks ago as a Presidential candidate, I thought about coming forward.
How sketchy is this? So much so that even Twitchy isn't buying it:
Does something seem off about this ‘very serious accusation’ of sexual assault against Pete Buttigieg?

... So far, it seems that only highly suspect and disreputable outlets are running with this. David Wohl, aka Jacob Wohl’s dad, was among those spreading Big League Politics’ story, and Gateway Pundit is pushing it as well:

But without any corroborating evidence, it seems not only premature, but also dangerous, to run with a story like this.
The Medium post seems ... emotionally hollow. No details of the assault are offered -- which stands in stark contrast to most reports from the #MeToo era, in which the details are usually raw and vivid. (Even the Lisa Flores account of Joe Biden's hair-smelling and head-kissing had a real immediacy.)

The details of Kelly's emotional distress seem like a bad amateur fiction writer's depiction of mental anguish -- not just "I have vomited eight times," but also this:
I must confess that this is the toughest thing I have ever had to do. For two weeks now, I have been contemplating suicide. I see myself jumping from a building or a bridge. I know that years and years of counseling may lie in front of me.

In the days and weeks ahead, I will share my full story with the nation.
And then there's the patriotic melodrama:
I know that by coming forward, I will make a hard life even harder. But I must do so — I must do so — for my country, for other gay men like me, and most importantly to stop a very bad man from becoming President of the United States.
That repeated "I must do so" could be a sincere cry from the heart, but it sure seems to me like a very bad writer's idea of emotional authenticity.

I guess it was inevitable that Buttigieg would get his own Larry Sinclair. Good to know, though, that certain elements of the right are genuinely afraid of Buttigieg.


UPDATE: That was quick.
A pair of right-wing provocateurs are being accused of attempting to recruit young Republican men to level false allegations of sexual assault against Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

The details of the operatives’ attempt emerged as one man suddenly surfaced with a vague and uncorroborated allegation that Buttigieg had assaulted him. The claim was retracted hours later on a Facebook page appearing to belong to the man.

A Republican source told The Daily Beast that lobbyist Jack Burkman and internet troll Jacob Wohl approached him last week to try to convince him to falsely accuse Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, of engaging him sexually while he was too drunk to consent.

... the source provided The Daily Beast with a surreptitious audio recording of the meeting, which corroborates his account. In it, Wohl appears to refer to Buttigieg as a “terminal threat” to President Donald Trump’s reelection next year.


Donald Trump is on the ropes, the least popular president in the history of polling over the first years of his term, and, by some measures, he seems almost certain to be defeated in 2020 by any decent Democratic candidate.

And yet, if two stories in The New York Times are any indication, Democratic voters believe that the odds are against them. They believe they must nominate Joe Biden in order to appease white working class swing voters, and they dare not breathe a word about impeachment for fear of arousing the Trump base.

The first story is from Pennsylvania:
Kerry Chester, 53, a network engineer working at his laptop, said he voted for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the 2016 Pennsylvania primary. But for 2020 he thinks it is so important to defeat Mr. Trump that Mr. Biden is preferable, even compared to the two top African-American candidates, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.

“I’m going to be completely honest: I think with the country going the way it is, I think we’re kind of safer on the Democratic side going with a white male right now,” he said....

Electability is the argument that consumes suburban Democrats.

It has led voters like [Barbara] Zimmt [a fund-raiser and volunteer for the library in the suburb of Upper St. Clair] — even though she would love to see a woman as president — to land on Mr. Biden. “I guess it would be Biden at this point, because I think he can win,” she said.

“I think a lot of people are scared of the progressives,” said Sarah Tannenbaum, 35, a part-time accountant in Upper St. Clair. “Someone more moderate will have a better chance of defeating Trump.”
And there's this, from Democratic town halls across the country:
“I believe that Congress should not pursue impeachment, and I say this as someone who deeply loathes the president and absolutely believes he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors,” Joshua Thaler, 45, said as he ducked out of [a] forum [in South Philadelphia]. “It keeps the conversation on Trump rather than on our agenda.”

... Mr. Trump’s attempts to thwart Mr. Mueller’s investigators and Congress were “not right,” [Wilbur] Bell said [at a town hall in Miami], but he said of the president, “He likes a fight, so if you try to fight him, you’re playing in his field.”

... In Carlsbad, [California,] where dozens of people gathered at a senior center on Wednesday evening ... [Congressman Mike] Levin brought up the Mueller report in his opening remarks, stating to applause that he believed Mr. Trump had obstructed justice.

But the only questioner who mentioned impeachment outright told Mr. Levin she was worried that a drive to oust the president would backfire and allow Mr. Trump to play the victim in the 2020 presidential election.

“He will rally his base, and we won’t have an opportunity for our candidates to talk about the issues because all the air will be sucked out and focused on him once again,” she said.

... Peggy Bradin Wilson, 66, a retired federal employee and a leader of Indivisible in Delaware County, Pa., [said] that impeachment proceedings could “inflame his base and bite us in the end.”
It ought to be possible to investigate and even impeach a very unpopular president who's widely seen as a liar without inflaming his base -- how much more fired up can they be than they are now? And it ought to be possible to nominate any number of Democrats and win an election against a man the majority of Americans want out of office.

But Democratic voters seem to have internalized a fear of the vengeful, all-powerful Trump base, and of white working class swing voters who'll go GOP given any excuse. They're resigned to Biden even though:

I fall for this, too. I worry that Trump could win another election with 45% of the vote, because of the Electoral College or third-party candidates, especially Howard Schultz, siphoning off a significant portion of the anti-Trump vote.

But sometimes the timidity gets to be too much. It reinforces the sense that Trump really is a strongman. That might help him more than trying to work the angles to sidestep what appear to be his strengths.

We need to be sensible -- but I think we need to be less afraid of our shadows. Stop being so cowardly. He's not well liked.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


A 19-year-old named John Earnest has been charged with a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, in which one person was killed and three were injured. Earnest appears to have wanted the shooting to go viral:
A user identifying himself as John Earnest posted a white nationalist open letter to the far-right message board 8chan. He also used the username "JohnTEarnest" to post the letter on a document hosting site....

The link to the anti-Semitic note was put online shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday and posted to 8chan, along with a link to a Facebook page and says "a livestream will begin shortly."

There is no active link to a livestream on his Facebook page. The post also includes a link of songs the poster planned to play during the stream.
If you read the New York Times piece on the shooting by Charlie Warzel, you might conclude that going viral was the shooter's main goal. This is the wrong conclusion to draw. Warzel writes:
Mass Shootings Have Become a Sickening Meme

... The Poway attack seems to be another horrifying entry in a lineage of hate crimes carried out for a captive audience of digital onlookers. Worse yet, these online communities appear to be incentivizing the darkest impulses of their worst users. Like the Christchurch massacre, the Poway shooting is ... tailored for the internet.... Indeed, it seems real-world murderous hate crimes have become a message board meme of sorts. And like any online meme, the creation cycle only seems to be accelerating, refining itself and, horrifyingly, increasing in frequency. Online, it plays out like some game, but its effects are morphing into the real world and spreading violence.

... Both white nationalist violence and mass shootings have long histories in America, yet the copycat nature of the recent sprees feels different — specifically, in the way they hail a very niche, very targeted audience, attempting to delight fellow extremists.
Reading this, you'd be likely to conclude that racist massacre plotters are making their plans primarily in the hopes of impressing their online friends. But when you actually read Earnest's manifesto -- Google "Earnest manifesto Pastebin" and you'll find it -- you see that his goal is to set off a race war, not to get a lot of likes, or the 8chan equivalent.

Earnest believes his fellow posters at 8chan's /pol/ board are likely heroes of the revolution he seeks, but the point of it is to effect change -- i.e., genocide -- in the real world. He writes:
There has been little done when it comes to defending the European race. As an individual I can only kill so many Jews. My act of defense is not so much about my high score—that is how many Jews I can ‘Do not pass go, do not collect 200 shekels’ straight to fucking hell. But rather the statement that I made. There is at least one European man alive who is willing to take a stand against the injustice that the Jew has inflicted upon him.... I do not seek fame. I do not seek power. I only wish to inspire others and be a soldier that has the honor and privilege of defending his race in its greatest hour of need....

We need martyrs. If you don’t want to get caught because you have children who depend on you, you can simply attack a target and then slip back into normal life. Every anon [i.e., 8chan poster] reading this needs to carry out attacks. They won’t find us. They won’t catch us. There are too many of us, and we are smarter than them.

... You should be more afraid of losing your entire race than this life you now live. The most dangerous kind of man is not one who has nothing to lose, but one who has everything to lose. Every single White man has everything to lose by doing nothing, and everything to gain by taking action.

... Every anon reading this must attack a target while doing his best to avoid getting caught. Every anon must play his part in this revolution and no man can be pulling his punches. This momentum we currently have may very well be the last chance that the European man has to spark a revolution.
The shooter says he wants fame and virality in order to spread the message of genocide, not as ends in themselves. In fact, he encourages undocumented acts of terrorism, and claims he committed one of his own.
I scorched a mosque in Escondido with gasoline a week after [Christchurch shooter] Brenton Tarrant’s sacrifice and they never found shit on me.... You can even shoot up a mosque, synagogue, immigration center, traitorous politicians, wealthy Jews in gated communities, Jewish-owned company buildings, etc. and get away with it as well.... Don’t leave DNA (use clothes you’ve never worn before and a mask—dispose of these after). Don’t bring any electronics which can be used to track you. Don’t leave a paper trail. Don’t take too long doing it, and never speak of it (all electronics are bugged).... As more of these happen, we will no longer need to film it. I do believe that it is best at this stage that I make a statement and people know that I did this. We are in the early stages of revolution.
We shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that virality is the main goal of white nationalist mass shooters who are radicalized online. We should recognize that online communities, particularly 8chan's /pol/ board, are where many of these people congregate, and where they find affirmation for their belief that racist violence is appropriate. That's the point of a very good post at Bellingcat by Robert Evans:
The overarching goal of /pol/, held by most of its members, is to radicalize their fellow anons to “real-life effortposting,” i.e. acts of violence in the physical world....

In addition to talk of inspiring and carrying out mass shootings, many anons engage in what is called “siege-posting.” This is a reference to the book Siege, which is a collection of writings from American neo-Nazi James Mason. Siege was a major inspiration for the terrorist group Atomwaffen, among others. It urges autonomous terror attacks by individuals as a way to bring about the fragmentation and eventual destruction of American society. The goal is to spark a civil war that will allow for the violent realization of white nationalist/neo-Nazi goals.

Many anons on 8chan mock “siegeposting.” Others spend hours in detailed discussions about how to acquire explosives and artillery in order to better participate in what they believe to be the coming race war.
I don't think Warzel would disagree with this, but I question the way he stresses virality. We shouldn't look at the Poway shooter as a murderous adolescent who tried to "run up a high score" because he thinks real-life murder is an online game. We should think of the /pol/ the way we think of ISIS and Al Qaeda online communication. We don't talk about ISIS online videos as if they're meant to impress peers in an extremely online culture -- we see them as recruitment videos for an army. What's happening on the white-supremacist right is exactly the same. These killings aren't being done for in-group glory, or for the lulz.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


A couple of days ago, Vanity Fair reported this:
[Sean] Hannity has told friends that he intends to leave Fox when his contract expires in early 2021, two people who've spoken with him said. “Sean doesn't feel supported,” a staffer close to him said. “He has no relationship with [Fox Corporation CEO] Lachlan [Murdoch, Rupert's son]. Sean thinks, Wait a second, I was hired to get ratings and I get ratings, but now people are embarrassed about me? He feels Fox spends a lot of time supporting Shepard Smith but his show makes no money. That's annoying to him.”
My guess is that Fox will eventually make peace with its biggest star. But if not, where would Hannity go? The obvious choices would be Sinclair or One America News, but neither one seems wealthy and free-spending enough to give him the kind of money he's making at Fox ($36 million a year, according to Forbes).

Maybe he'd take less money for an increase in prestige, but it would have to be a really amazing opportunity.

So will he go to work for Donald Trump?

Hannity's contract runs out in early 2021. That's when Trump will either leave office or start his second term. Will Hannity become a senior adviser? The chief if staff? Trump's press secretary?

If Trump loses in 2020, he might not just spend all his time afterward watching TV and playing golf. He'll want relevance. He'll want vengeance. He might do what some people think he was planning to do after the 2016 election, which he expected to lose. In June of that year, Vanity Fair reported:
Trump is ... considering creating his own media business, built on the audience that has supported him thus far in his bid to become the next president of the United States. According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the “audience” currently supporting him. He has also discussed the possibility of launching a “mini-media conglomerate” outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC.... Trump’s rationale, according to this person, is that, “win or lose, we are onto something here. We’ve triggered a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.”

Trump, this person close to the matter suggests, has become irked by his ability to create revenue for other media organizations without being able to take a cut himself. Such a situation “brings him to the conclusion that he has the business acumen and the ratings for his own network.” Trump has “gotten the bug,” according to this person. “So now he wants to figure out if he can monetize it.”
Could he scrape together enough of other people's money to hire Hannity, and maybe Bill O'Reilly? According to The New York Times Magazine, Trump believes that O'Reilly does better Trump interviews than Hannity does.
Trump was also spending a lot of time on the phone with Hannity, who regularly called the president after his show. Trump had often found him to be too much of a supplicant for his purposes: He preferred his more combative interviews with Bill O’Reilly, which he felt better showcased his pugnaciousness, according to a former White House official. But Trump appreciated Hannity’s loyalty.
Trump would undoubtedly want to be a star on his own channel (if it didn't require too much work). The 2016 Vanity Fair story suggested that he might enlist the aid of Jared (who onced owned The New York Observer) and Ivanka for the proposed media operation.

If this happens, it might be a good thing. Trump is a failure at nearly every business venture he undertakes. It could be very good for America if he poaches Hannity and some other current and former Fox talent, then fails in this new venture.

Will it happen? We'll see.

Friday, April 26, 2019


A new poll says that Americans don't want the president impeached:
A majority of Americans say they oppose calls for Congress to launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump in the wake of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the president sought to interfere with the probe, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Currently 37 percent of Americans favor starting the process that could lead to impeachment, a slight dip over the past month, while 56 percent say they oppose the idea, about the same as a month ago....

Roughly 6 in 10 Democrats say they support the initiation of such an investigation in the House, with 53 percent saying they hold that view strongly. Meanwhile, nearly 9 in 10 Republicans oppose impeachment, with 78 percent strongly opposed.

About six in 10 independents are against impeachment....
And yet:
Asked their view of whether the report cleared Trump of all wrongdoing, 53 percent of Americans say it did not while 31 say it did....

On the question of whether Trump did or did not try to obstruct Mueller’s probe, 47 percent say he did try to interfere while 41 percent say he did not.
And please note that the "interfere" question is worded this way:
Do you think Trump tried to interfere with the Russia investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice, or did he not try to do this?
I'm reasonably certain that most Americans know that obstruction of justice is a crime. Yet at least 10% of the respondents who think Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice don't believe he should be impeached. At least 16% of those who believe he was not cleared by the Mueller report think he shouldn't be impeached. Also, 58% of poll respondents believe Trump "lied to the American public about the matters under investigation by Mueller," which means that at least 21% of these people think Trump shouldn't be impeached.

I realize that many Trump critics don't want to bother with impeachment because it seems futile (the Senate will never convict), or because they think impeachment will alienate swing voters going into 2020, or because they think the 2020 election is just around the corner (even though a year and a half is a long time).

But I also suspect that many Americans have simply come to accept the notion that white guys in expensive suits routinely get away with white-collar crime, and it's just the natural order of things not to bring them to justice, or even to make an attempt at prosecution. The bankers got away with crashing the economy a decade ago. The executives who gave us the opioid crisis are all still at large. The George W. Bush administration got away with torture and Ronald Reagan escaped punishment for Iran-contra. That's just how it goes.

That would explain why rank-and-file Democrats aren't united in a push for impeachment -- as noted above, only 62% favor it and only 53% strongly favor it, while 87% of Republicans oppose it, 78% strongly. What you don't see among Democrats is the opinion expressed by many lefty pundits that impeachment must happen, otherwise it means we've given up on the rule of law. I think many Democrats believe that happened quite a while ago.


So this just happened:

Given an opportunity to revisit the subject of Charlottesville, Trump praises Robert E. Lee, reminding us which ideas he eagerly embraces and which which voters he consistently chooses to pander to. This happened, of course, because Joe Biden made Charlottesville the centerpiece of his campaign announcement video yesterday.

So Biden's candidacy has already had an impact -- we can now be appalled once again at Trump's fondness for appeals to white racism.

But this happened only because the mainstream media takes Biden more seriously than it takes most other Democrats. If Corey Booker or Kamala Harris -- or even one of the white presidential candidates -- had launched an attack similar to Biden's, I strongly suspect that it wouldn't have led to this result.

Biden will probably move to the left on a few key issues, in order to try to keep up with changing views of rank-and-file Democrats. Maybe these moves will reflect a sincere evolution in his thinking. In any case, whichever ideas he embraces will probably be taken much more seriously once it's known that he's on board. Hey, he's not a dirty hippie! He's good old Joe.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


CNN reports:
President Donald Trump's tax overhaul is forcing some military families to pay thousands of dollars more in taxes on their survivor benefits....

Spouses who signed over their earned benefits to their children -- a move that is done in order to ensure the family of a deceased service member temporarily receives all their benefits -- saw an increase in taxes this year because the new tax law reclassified how children's assets are taxed, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors says.

In past years, Gold Star families who chose this option paid an average of 12% to 15% in taxes on that income. Following the tax reform laws that went into effect in 2018, that tax rate jumped to 37%, according to the nonprofit.
An example?
Theresa Jones has been a single mom to Anthony and Hunter for almost six years. Her husband Landon, a Navy chopper pilot, died in the Red Sea during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013....

The boys each received about $15,000 in survivor benefits last year. Jones was hit with a tax bill of $5,400 for them, up from $1,100 from the previous year.

"That's how they have a roof over their head. That's how they have food in their mouths. That's why the lights are on right now. That's how we survive every month," Jones said.
More, from Task & Purpose, an online publication focused on military issues:
Cheryl Lankford, whose husband U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lankford, Sr. died in Iraq on Sept. 22, 2007, told Task & Purpose that she saw her taxes for her 14-year-old son's survivor benefits increase from roughly $100 and $200 dollars per year to about $2,500 this year.

"I heard rumors that this year we were gonna be paying a little bit more, especially after the news broke that the taxes have changed and there may be a bit of an increase," Lankford told Task & Purpose. "I had no idea it would be quite that much money. That was a shocker for me"

It was the same for Jessica Braden-Rogers. For the last seven years since her husband, Army Capt. Michael Braden, died on April 18, 2012 while deployed to Afghanistan, Braden-Rogers has paid roughly $1,100 in taxes for her son's benefits. This year she said it jumped to $4,600.

"None of us knew any of this until we all started filing our taxes and had such a significant increase in our tax burden," said Braden-Rogers.... "We've always had a tax burden, but for me, quadrupling the tax burden of a Gold Star child is completely unfair. It's cruel. I mean why would you tax a nine year old?"
Why is this happening?
Previously, survivors benefits that were allocated to the children of a fallen service member were taxed at the parent's rate. Under the new tax code, those benefits are instead treated the same as a trust or estate, which means they can be taxed at a rate as high as 37%, and that threshold is reached faster than it was before.
That's preposterous -- and 37%? Hedge fund billionaires get to call their income "carried interest," and it's taxed at 23.8%.

There are bills in the House and Senate to solve this problem, and each bill is sponsored by a majority of the members in that chamber, so maybe this is a temporary problem. But it should never have happened. Once again, here's something that would have been a massive national scandal driven by the right-wing media if it had taken place in the Obama years. But it happened because of Trump's tax bill, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.


It's a cliché to respond to an outrageous act by the Trump administration with the words "Imagine if Obama did this," but imagine:
North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student from Pyongyang in 2017.

... the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation....

The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the people said. However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill....
If the parties were reversed, the GOP and Fox News would be calling this "Ransomgate," and they'd milk it at least until November 2020, and probably for years after that. The Democrats so far? Crickets.

I know, I know -- liberal Democrats are America-hating peacenik hippies, and therefore they have no standing to criticize the foreign policy toughness of a Republican president who (checks notes) faked a medical condition to evade the Vietnam draft, attacked a Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war who was tortured for five years, and gleefully encouraged Russia to subvert a U.S. election. Criticism of that guy just wouldn't be credible coming from a ... liberal.

I'm being sarcastic, but that's literally what the political establishment, and therefore much of the populace, believes. But there are Trump critics who aren't liberals. Why haven't we heard from them?

Seth Moulton is a centrist Democrat who's running for president. He's an Iraq War veteran. Why doesn't he wave the flag and say this is a disgrace?

Pete Buttigieg was in the military. So was Joe Biden's late son Beau. Why don't they wrap themselves in the flag and denounce this?

Or what about Howard Schultz? He's not a Democrat, and he certainly attacks Democrats as dirty commies. He has no military experience of his own, but he's boasted of spending a lot of time among servicemembers, and he spearheaded efforts at Starbucks to hire a significant number of veterans. Why doesn't he express his outrage?

Our political culture doesn't take liberals seriously when they attack obvious foreign policy weakness like this on the part of Republicans. But these moderates could take up the slack. Why don't they?

They'll attack liberals from the right, but Trump? They have the power to do it, but they rarely use it.


Do you agree with this?

I'm not so sure. Pat Buchanan briefly pursued the 2000 Republican presidential nomination and said that his first act after being sworn in would be to turn to his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and say, "Sir, you have the right to remain silent" -- and he didn't even make it to the Iowa caucuses. Nevertheless, I know I'd look favorably on a candidate who talked that way about Trump.

There's no one in the Democratic field like that -- but as it turns out, the candidate who seems most inclined to take the fight to Trump is the guy who's routinely criticized for being too GOP-friendly:

Former vice president Joe Biden opened his third campaign for the presidency on Thursday, ... taking direct aim at President Trump and declaring that “we are in the battle for the soul of this nation.”

In a video posted on social media, Biden recounted the deadly clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters at a 2017 gathering in Charlottesville, after which Trump said there were “some very fine people on both sides.”

“In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had seen in our lifetime,” Biden said, adding: “The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is at stake. That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.”
Charlottesville and Trump's response to it take up the first half of Biden's announcement video. And Dave Weigel points out that this is consistent with Biden's recent rhetoric:

Weigel sees this message as consistent with a naive sense of bipartisanship on Biden's part. So does Matt Yglesias:

I don't care. I may disagree with Joe Biden about the political worth of John McCain or other Republicans, but I'm pleased that there's at least one candidate in the race who's going to "center Trump in his messaging." I'm grateful for Elizabeth Warren's bottomless well of policy ideas, and for the class anger of Bernie Sanders. I'm rooting for Harris and Gillibrand and even, despite all my recent grumbling, for Buttigieg. I'll vote for whoever wins the nomination, and with most of them I'll do it happily. But even if it's smarter for the candidates to talk mostly about health care and green energy and other issues, I want someone to take it to Trump. I'd rather it wasn't the guy who's palsy with a lot of other Republicans, but if he's the one to step up, I say, "Thanks for volunteering."

I know that the Trump presidency is the culmination of trends that have been present in the GOP for decades. I know that Joe Biden doesn't really understand that. But I also know that Trump is accelerating the growth of the malignancy, while introducing new carcinogens. Someone in the field should remind us of Trump's noxiousness every day. For that alone, I'm grateful that Biden is running.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Rush Limbaugh went on Fox yesterday to tell Republican voters that Democrats can't possibly win the 2020 presidential election:
National radio host Rush Limbaugh said Tuesday on "The Story with Martha MacCallum" that Joe Biden represents the Democrats' "best chance" to defeat President Trump in 2020....

Limbaugh said Biden might be the strongest candidate to face Trump, but he still "doesn't have a chance" of preventing a second Trump term....

"They still don't understand who Donald Trump is. They don't understand how he won. They don't understand how he's gonna win again in 2020. They don't understand the people who voted for him or why. They hold all of that in contempt," he said....

"They have thrown every weapon they have in their arsenal at Donald Trump, and nothing's worked. Things they've used over the years that have been readily available to get rid of and take out any Republican they want, they have bounced off of Trump," Limbaugh argued.
I'll repeat what I said a couple of weeks ago, when Rasmussen published a poll showing Trump with implausible approval-disapproval numbers of 53%-45%: I want Republican voters to believe that Donald Trump is incredibly popular and therefore they've got this election in the bag.

Trump told his base before the 2018 midterms that all the talk about a "blue wave" was "fake news" and there'd actually be a "red wave" instead. Did that persuade some of his biggest fans that they didn't need to bother turning out? Possibly. In any case, Democrats took 40 seats in the House. So I want Limbaugh to keep saying that America really loves Trump and nothing his critics say ever touches him. I hope he says this every day for the next eighteen months. I want the GOP base to believe that Trump will win in the biggest landslide since 1984. I want Trump to repeat that talking point and I want it repeated on Fox. Republican hubris could be the Democrats' secret weapon.


Charlie Pierce writes:
... there just isn't any room for Joe Biden this time around. A huge chunk of the party has moved on from him. There are plenty of people to run as pragmatic moderates; Klobuchar and Buttgieg did so on the stage Monday night [in CNN town halls]. The left is locked up between Sanders and Warren. What does Biden bring besides name recognition, some old-line union support, and boatloads of money from sources that half his party is going to be running against?
If a large chunk of the party has moved on from Biden, then what's the harm if he runs? If he's really out of step, primary voters will reject him as a relic, the way they rejected Joe Lieberman in the 2004 race. Why not less that process play out?

But that doesn't seem to be what's bothering his critics. They seem more concerned that he'll run and be in contention even though he's not what the party wants. I don't understand this argument -- if he's in contention, then isn't he what at least some of the party's voters are looking for? (As I've said on a couple of occasions, his support, at least for now, doesn't just come from old white union members -- many black voters regard him quite favorably.)

I think Pierce is misidentifying the "lanes." He thinks Sanders and Warren are in the same lane, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I'd also argue that these things break down along lines familiar to fans of pop culture. Sanders is the veteran indie-rock band that never sold out -- he's Sonic Youth, or maybe Fugazi. Or he's the Grateful Dead -- Sanders stans seem to be fans not so much of progressivism as of Sanders, and they seem to be interested in other political figures only if they've been associated with Sanders (Tulsi Gabbard, Nina Turner), the way Deadheads seem not to be interested in any act other than the Dead and musicians who've played with the Dead.

In one sense, Joe Biden is in the "pragmatic moderate" lane, but he's really in the "superstar we think could be a savior of America" lane -- the lane that appeals to voters who think salvation will come if we elect a larger-than-life figure. (Sanders is in this lane for some voters, and Beto O'Rourke appeared to be in this lane for a while.)

And Biden is the only candidate in the "Obama restoration" lane. As Ive noted a few times here, last month a Democratic strategist tweeted this while watching a focus group of black female voters in South Carolina: "Now we’re on to Biden. One woman says it’s the closest we can get to a 3rd term for Obama w/o electing Michelle." Maybe the memory of what we lost when Obama and Biden left D.C. will be dispelled by the real Biden on the campaign trail -- but for now, this is a real lane, and Biden has it to himself.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


So it appears that the tiny anti-Trump vote in the GOP primaries will be divided at least two ways:
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he is seriously considering a primary challenge to President Trump....

Hogan’s willingness to draw the president’s ire comes as he continues to weigh an insurgent primary challenge backed by the Never Trump wing of the GOP. The governor said he’s been approached “by a lot of people and a growing number of people” since his January inauguration about getting into the race, and he plans to visit 16 states in the next few months as he continues to ponder a run.
The only declared Trump challenger is former Massachusetts governor William Weld, against whom Trump is drawing 78%-92% of the vote, according to various polls. A Hogan run is not likely to put much of a dent in Trump's vote total (and Trump is likely to brag about every primary and caucus victory, to the delight of his mookish followers).

But what's up with the "growing number of people" who are interested in a Hogan run? Who are they? Well, we have a couple of names:
[Hogan] was coy about what he would do there, but mentioned that he planned to visit Utah in June at the invitation of former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

“I’m not just wandering around the states, hitchhiking,” Hogan said.
Never mind Ryan. Hogan is going to Romney's (current) home state, presumably to strategize with the new senator.

Which means that Romney - the brave critic who said he was "sickened" by Trump's "dishonesty" after the Mueller report came out -- has considered the possibility of a challenge and made the following courageous, principled decision: Let someone else do it.

Brave Sir Romney will, presumably, offer help the way rich people usually do, via his network of wealthy friends and donors. But dirty his own hands? Heaven forfend! Even though he just won a Senate election by more than a two-to-one margin, and even though he's not up for reelection until 2024, he's not going to break a sweat or risk much of his own political capital by being the (much better known) face of Republican anti-Trumpism. We have people to do the difficult stuff!

I think it's an exercise in futility, but Romney obviously thinks it's worthwhile, otherwise he wouldn't be encouraging Hogan to run. If he really believes it's a useful exercise, he should volunteer to be the candidate -- he's much better known and would draw more votes. But he's taking the coward's way out, of course -- after all, he's Mitt Romney.


Joe Lockhart, who was press secretary to Bill Clinton in his second term, tells us in The New York Times that impeaching Donald Trump would be a bad idea because Trump should be allowed to go on killing the GOP:
For Democrats, leaving Donald Trump in office is not only good politics — it is the best chance for fundamental realignment of American politics in more than a generation. Mr. Trump is three years into destroying what we know as the Republican Party. Another two years just might finish it off. Trumpism has become Republicanism, and that spells electoral doom for the party.

Mr. Trump has abandoned most of the core principles that have defined Republicans for the past century. Free trade abandoned for protectionism. Challenging our adversaries and promoting democracy replaced by coddling Russia and cozying up to dictators near and far. Fiscal conservatism replaced by reckless spending and exploding deficits.

What’s left of the party is a rigid adherence to tax cuts, a social agenda that repels most younger Americans and rampant xenophobia and race-based politics that regularly interfere with the basic functioning of the federal government.

Republicans today are the party of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson — a coalition that, in the face of every demographic trend in America, will mean the long-term realignment of the federal government behind the Democrats....

Allowing Mr. Trump to lead the Republican Party, filled with sycophants and weak-willed leaders, into the next election is the greater prize. Democrats have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realign American politics along progressive lines, very much like Ronald Reagan did for Republicans in the 1980s.
Where to begin? First, the choice isn't between impeachment and "leaving Donald Trump in office." Trump won't be removed by an impeachment -- there would need to be 20 Republican votes to convict in the Senate to go along with the 47 Democrats (assuming all Democrats vote to convict, and I have strong doubts about Joe Manchin).

But Lockhart's big mistake -- a mistake made by many mainstream politicos of his generation -- is believing that Trumpism is a significant break from pre-Trump Republicanism, and his parallel belief that the Republican party is doomed. Neither of these assertions is true, and it's tiresome to have to recount yet again why they're untrue.

A rigid adherence to tax cuts? A repellently conservative social agenda? Did Lockhart sleep through the Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies? Both presidents and Bush's father flirted with openness to a multi-racial society, in their fashion (Nancy Reagan on Mr. T's lap), but for the most part they rejected government efforts meant to include rather than exclude, as they sent racial signals to angry white voters (Willie Horton).

The Trump GOP says the quiet parts out loud. That's supposed to be suicide for the party, and maybe it will hurt Republicans in the long term -- but even as Democrats creep into contention in Texas, Georgia, and Arizona (though they always seem to be a few perecentage points shy of a win), states such as Ohio, Missouri, and Iowa seem to have slipped out of their grasp, while Indiana and North Carolina, which Barack Obama won in 2008, appear to be largely Republican for the foreseeable future. White tribalism is working in many states, particularly those that aren't thriving.

As long as financially comfortable white retirees continue to live long lives and vote at much higher rates than the young; as long as gerrymandering at the congressional and state legislative levels continues to be permitted; as long as Republican court packing protects GOP efforts at vote suppression in red and purple states; as long as Democrats continue to be a party with moderate and progressive wings that regularly bicker with one another, while the GOP remains a party united by Fox News-driven hatred for Democrats; as long as the Electoral College exists; as long as campaign finance laws advantage the party that enthusiastically delivers for the rich whenever it's in power; as long as struggling whites are encouraged to hate poor and working people of other races, rather than the 1%; and as long as the best minds in the Republican Party continue to devise new ways to keep Democratic vote totals low -- ballots with no paper trails, "exact match" voter-roll purges -- the GOP will be just fine.

If Lockhart were right, it would make sense for Democrats to throw the 2020 election -- let Trump rule for eight years, because that would really destroy the GOP! But that's insane. Every day Trump is in office puts the republic at greater risk. If he could be removed from office tomorrow, it would be a good thing. It has to happen as soon as possible.


UPDATE: Also...

The Republican Party is not dead, or even close. The Republican Party will find devious new ways to steal power for years to come.

Monday, April 22, 2019


Elizabeth Warren just announced a plan for universally free college education accompanied by the cancellation of nearly all student debt, to be paid for by a tax on the ultra-rich. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein believes this would be terribly unfair -- not to the rich (heavens, no!), but to other people who've struggled:
This pander will not only be incredibly costly, but it will be a slap in the face to those who have already struggled to pay off their student loans without government assistance.

... There are those who may have taken higher-paying jobs they didn't necessarily want to pay off loans. And there are those who have cut expenses to the bare bones to pay off loans while watching their friends with similar salaries eat out and travel and de-prioritize paying off loans. Those who were more responsible will feel justifiably enraged at the idea that those who may have been more profligate will now get a bailout from the government.
Let's apply this logic to other situations:
* Workplace safety laws were a slap in the face to all the people who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

* The Voting Rights Act was a slap in the face to every black Southerner who tried to register to vote but was rejected by white racists.

* Roe v. Wade was a slap in the face to every woman who ever self-administered a coathanger abortion.

* The defeat of Hitler was a slap in the face to everyone who suffered under the Third Reich.

* Modern anesthesia is a slap in the face to anyone who had surgery after drinking a slug of whiskey and biting on a bullet.

* Rural electrification was a slap in the face to the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, who read law books by candlelight.

* The invention of cooking was a slap in the face to our primate ancestors, who ate raw meat and plants.

Anyone else want to play? Post your own concern-trolling in comments.


Many of us believe that the responses to the Sri Lanka massacre from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were thoughtful and appropriate:

But we're not wingnuts. Wingnuts are livid.

Why? Because Obama and Clinton referred to the people worshipping in chuches on Easter as "Easter worshippers." Yes, that's actually a grievous offense in Wingnuttia. Allow them to explain:

Here's how it was put at a blog called Pulpit and Pen:
While technically true, their very specific descriptions of these terror victims speaks volumes. The victims of these bombings were Christians.* That is who celebrates Easter at church, Christians. Other worshipers don’t celebrate Easter because Jesus is not their God.
That asterisk leads to a footnote:
*Two of the churches targeted were Roman Catholic. Sociologically the Roman Catholic religion is Christian. Biblically, it is not.
Oh, okay.

Our correspondent from Pulpit and Pen continues:
Christians should also acknowledge that their ultimate conflict is not with earthly Islamic terrorists but the spiritual forces at work in the Kingdom of Darkness. Sometimes these forces influence Islamic violence. Other times they influence the speech and policy of apostate political elites like Clinton and Obama.
Four hundred dead in multiple bombings, the wrong phrase used in a tweet -- yup, pretty much the same level of evil.

I responded to this on Twitter and was told that Obama and Clinton were misusing the English language.

I met a man who called himself an obedience trainer, but it turns out he trains dogs! He's never trained a single obedience!

More language commentary from Corey Stallings at the Louder with Crowder blog:
“Easter Worshippers” makes it sound as if the “worshippers” in question pray to a fuzzy slinger of chocolate. Many funny images come to mind “Our bunny who art in his rabbit hole, hallowed be Bugs’ name. Thy chocolate eggs come, thy hopping be done, on Earth as it is at the Hershey factory.”
That's odd, because I thought "Easter worshippers" were people worshipping in Christian churches on Easter, a Christian holiday. But that's just because I'm a liberal.

By the way, here's how Easter is celebrated at the company headed by the president most of these devout Christians idolize:

Funny, I'm not seeing the word "Christian" in that tweet. I must need a new eyeglass prescription.


UPDATE: This has made its way to Gateway Pundit and Breitbart, and will undoubtedly show up on the Fox airwaves soon. And you know an alleged insult of conservatives is going viral when they start putting it in their screen names:

Meanwhile, many on the right think they've found definitive proof that "Easter worshippers" is inappropriate and offensive:

Obviously, no one would ever say "Ramadan worshippers"!

Except that "Ramadan worshippers" is a perfectly acceptable expression -- so acceptable that even CAIR uses it:

But this one is clearly headed for the permanent grievance file -- five years from now, wingnuts watching Democrats talk about faith will just say "Easter worshippers" to one another and exchange smug nods.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


This story, from Michael Scherer in The Washington Post, isn't bad, but it ascribes to Donald Trump a degree of power that he really doesn't have, which reinforces the myth of his god-like political powers:
Armed with Mueller report, Democrats confront challenge of Trump’s messaging machine

President Trump summarized the special counsel report on the day of its release with four words in all caps — “NO COLLUSION. NO OBSTRUCTION.”

The first two were not addressed by the report. The second two falsely described Robert S. Mueller III’s findings.

But the pithy declaration, set in a Game of Thrones “Game Over” meme and repeated frequently by Trump’s surrogates on television, helped to establish a reading of the report’s implications that Trump would embrace in the days to come.
This approach seems to be effective, at least with Trump's base. But it's not as if "No collusion, no obstruction" is a clever new talking point -- the guy's been saying it for so long that he's begun to seem like a talking parrot who knows only four words (three, really).

And it may be Trump who cooked up the catchphrase (we don't know -- it might also have been an aide), but it's not Trump who devised the stall-ball strategy whereby William Barr declared the report a complete victory for the president, kept the report secret for a month, then declared it a complete victory again before releasing it.

It's also not Trump who's responsible for Republican message discipline. Republicans have been extremely good at this for many years, since long before Trump entered politics. Because they have don't waste their time on political ideas (they have only five: cut taxes, cut regulations, expand gun access, restrict abortion and gay people, and seat ideological-clone judges), they have plenty of time to do what they're really good at, which is to attack their enemies and tout their own alleged monopoly on the truth in well-honed phrases. The only thing that's new is that their top phrase-honer is now the president of the United States.
In response, Democratic leaders offered no memes or catchphrases of their own.
Or maybe what seems to be Republican messaging brilliance is actually long-standing Democratic messaging ineptitude.

But it might not matter, because much of the public understands that Trump is a crook.

More from Scherer:
... It was an appropriate coda for an investigation that has always pitted at its core a nuanced examination of fact and law — 448 pages, footnotes included — against the blunt force of Trump’s sloganeering.

For Democrats aiming to topple Trump in the 2020 election, the contrast was a stark reminder of the challenges ahead in a country where political information travels largely through polarized channels that can be shaped by a president fluent in angry denunciations of his enemies, tribal appeals to his base and frequent misdirection.
Again, Sherer writes as if it's all Trump, and as if the base-only strategy will inevitably work. We don't know that. It didn't work in 2018. It worked in 2016 because of James Comey and Russia and the fact that the mainstream media as well as the GOP dumped 25 years' worth of negativity on Hillary Clinton's head.
... Most strategists planning for the general election campaign against Trump expect to focus far less on Trump’s behavior and personal qualities than Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 election.

“If in a year I am talking about the Mueller report, I am losing,” said Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic pollster who advises the presidential campaign of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). “Because the election is going to be about the economy.”
The election is not going to be about the economy. The election is going to be a referendum on Trump -- or, if Republicans succeed in gulling the mainstream media the way they often do, it will be a referendum on the evils of the Democratic Party, and the Democratic nominee in particular. But that didn't work in 2018, despite strenuous GOP efforts to demonize Democrats on Brett Kavanaugh and immigration.
... “Donald Trump wins in a reality show and loses in reality,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “If he is able to brand things like a reality show host, he will win the debate. But that only works until people start to see the consequences.”

House Democrats, meanwhile, ... are preparing a rival reality show of their own through hearings with Attorney General William P. Barr and others.
Notice how a long-established method of holding officeholders accountable is now redefined as just one more Trump technique, with Democrats doing an imitation of Trump.
...Trump’s supporters, meanwhile, have come out of the box with clearly defined lines — no collusion, no obstruction — and little concern for accurately capturing the nuance of what Mueller actually found.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway announced that she is ready to accept apologies from Trump’s critics. Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani have made clear that the president will continue to deny parts of the report that are unfavorable to him, even though Barr has praised the “thoroughness” of the work.
I agree that Republicans are better messagers, and I appreciate Scherer's acknowledgment that they're liars, but the assumption here is that the GOP approach is working. Is it?
... The president’s position is strengthened by his political environment. He enjoys a Gallup approval rating near historic highs of 45 percent in April, up from 39 percent in March.
Yes, but a new Reuters/Ipsos poll says that Trump's post-release approval rating equals his lowest rating of the year -- 37% approval, 56% disapproval.
... he maintains a firm handle on the same national divisions and media landscape that he exploited to win office.
Again, the assumption is that he can pull of two fluky wins in a row. It might happen, but it might not.
Ever since he entered the 2016 presidential race and began dispatching rivals with schoolyard nicknames, Trump has shown a remarkable ability to create and deploy barbed catchphrases that cut through the din.
Trump is ... pretty good at this. He's not great. "No collusion"? Not bad. "Shifty Schiff"? "Eighteen angry Democrats"? Not working. Trump only seems like the most talented name-caller in politics because most politicians are emotional adults who don't even try to do what he does.
... Trump ... has created his own media channels, and been aided by supportive networks of journalists and pundits he frequently praises.
Now Trump is getting credit for creating media channels. He created Twitter? He created Fox News?
... The marching orders [for Democrats] are clear, said Brian Fallon, a Democratic strategist who also worked for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

“Conduct a follow-through investigation out of the committees that is really just an attempt to enter into the record that which most of the public will never read in the Mueller report,” he said. “Turn it into something that gets played out on a very public stage.”

Trump will be ready and waiting with a top-rated reality show of his own.
So I guess the Democrats shouldn't even bother, because Mr. 37% Approval is "ready and waiting" to counterattack and is therefore unbeatable. I'm usually a glass-half-empty guy, and I agree that Democrats are weak at messaging, but even I'm not that pessimistic.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


The conventional wisdom is that Robert Mueller did a very thorough job, and possibly faltered only in his failure to weigh on on the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice. But some commentators think Mueller could have done more.

Ron Klain writes:
... if expectations were too high for Mueller’s report, the inevitable disappointment was exacerbated by how Mueller fell short in what he delivered.

This starts with his failure to get Trump to answer questions in person....

In a run-of-the-mill criminal case, a prosecutor’s decision to bypass questioning a difficult figure might make sense; when we are seeking to learn whether a presidential candidate worked with a hostile foreign power to win an election, the public deserves to have that candidate answer questions under oath.
Klain also questions the kid-glove treatment of Donald Trump Jr., echoing Rick Hasen, who wrote this:
Robert Mueller let Donald Trump Jr. off the hook too easily for potential campaign finance violations that arose from the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russian operatives....

Mueller describes the law defining coordination as too uncertain. In fact, as Common Cause’s Paul S. Ryan explains in this thread, there is both a federal statute and case law defining the term, and Trump Jr.’s conduct seems to fall within it.

Mueller also made the ridiculous argument that it is possible Russian “dirt” on [Hillary] Clinton could have been worth less than $25,000, the threshold to punish Trump Jr.’s cooperation as a felony. Really?

Further, Mueller said that a Trump Jr. prosecution would have raised “First Amendment questions” ...

... Trump Jr. was a major campaign official meeting with representatives from a foreign government that were offering “dirt” on the campaign’s opponent. As I wrote, “To let someone off the hook who solicited ‘very high level and sensitive information’ from a hostile government because there may be cases in which information from a foreign source does not raise the same danger to our national security and right of self-government is to turn the First Amendment into a tool to kill American democracy.”
Klain adds:
... Mueller’s decision not to also bring charges against Trump Jr. — a private citizen, not protected by any Justice Department policy against prosecution — for conspiring with WikiLeaks (either as a violation of campaign finance laws or other statutes) remains a mystery given the extensive evidence of direct interactions between Trump Jr. and the WikiLeaks team. It is this Mueller decision — which enabled Trump’s “no collusion” boast — that merits the greatest scrutiny in the days ahead.
And Elie Mystal thinks the whole damn Trump family got off easy:
Yes, Mueller did try to secure testimony from Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski and Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks and any number of hangers-on and sycophants that Trump surrounded himself with. But, the people in charge of Trump’s operations have always been Trump, his adult children, and his son-in-law.

Mueller didn’t say “boo” to those people. And that means his investigation is, at best, incomplete, if not an actual failure.

... Mueller didn’t interview them, didn’t subpoena them, and didn’t look like he even tried.

I’m amenable to the argument that Don Jr. is too stupid to have the necessary mens rea to commit crimes. I really am. Don Jr. is dumb. I believe that. But I don’t see how you can make that legal conclusion without putting Donald Trump Jr. under oath. I don’t see how you can make that legal conclusion without investigating him. I don’t see how you can make the legal conclusion without interviewing Jared Kushner, who was roped into the meeting at the behest of Don Jr. Maybe Don Jr. fights the subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court. Maybe he takes the Fifth Amendment and refuses to testify. Maybe he decides to testify and lies, like EVERYBODY ELSE who has been charged in connection with the Mueller probe, and you get at the truth that way. But this argument of “oh, it’s super hard to prove, so screw it” is just UNACCEPTABLE.
Why didn't Mueller subpoena Junior? Hasen states the obvious:
The special counsel should have called Trump Jr. before the grand jury, as he did with other witnesses. It seems likely that he declined to do so as not to incur the wrath of the president.
That seems to be the reason the whole family was treated so delicately. Trumpian intimidation worked.