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The New Republican Retirement Plan

[ 0 ] May 26, 2017 |

I know some of you are aware of this comment from new Republithug Greg Gianforte, but I think we have the Republican retirement plan summed up in a nutshell.

Gianforte is a big fan of citing Noah, as it turns out. In a 2015 talk at the Montana Bible College, he told the audience that he doesn’t believe in retirement because Noah was 600 when he built the ark. “There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it’s been an accepted concept in our culture today,” Gianforte said. “Nowhere does it say, ‘Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.”

He added: “The example I think of is Noah. How old was Noah when he built the ark? Six hundred. He wasn’t like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.”

I look forward to this justification being used by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to destroy Social Security if Republicans manage to hold onto the House and Senate next year.

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Blue Slip

[ 1 ] May 26, 2017 |

Like the filibuster on Supreme Court justices, Republicans destroying the blue slip process by which senators have effective veto power over federal judges from their states will suck at first, but in the end, this is going to be good for Democrats too once they control the Senate and presidency again.

The Ongoing Adventures of James Comey, Man of Integritude(TM)

[ 47 ] May 26, 2017 |

The latest revelations about the fake Russian intel that influenced Comey’s decision to tamper with the election make him, amazingly, look even worse than the initial story:

Then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake — created by Russian intelligence — but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself, according to multiple officials with knowledge of the process.

As a result, Comey acted unilaterally last summer to publicly declare the investigation over — without consulting then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch — while at the same time stating that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information. His press conference caused a firestorm of controversy and drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
Comey’s actions based on what he knew was Russian disinformation offer a stark example of the way Russian interference impacted the decisions of the highest-level US officials during the 2016 campaign.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that this Russian intelligence was unreliable. US officials now tell CNN that Comey and FBI officials actually knew early on that this intelligence was indeed false.

So, to summarize:

  • Comey knew no later than June that Russian officials were trying to ratfuck the election on behalf of Trump.
  • At no point during the campaign did Comey inform the public about what Russia was doing.
  • He also knew that the “scandal” surrounding Clinton’s email server was the Trump line of attack that was getting the most traction in the media.
  • His response was…to violate norms and/or departmental rules to issue multiple prejudicial statements about Clinton’s email server. The last of these statements was a letter prematurely informing Congress about an investigation that had virtually no chance of revealing material information about Clinton less than two weeks before the election. We can perhaps call this response “the Russians can’t ratfuck the election if we ratfuck it first!”
  • Conversely, he sat on his hands while FBI sources got a crucial “nothing to see here” story about Russia and Trump planted in the New York Times, at the same time an unprecedented cascade of negative coverage resulting from Comey’s letter was hitting Clinton.

The charitable interpretation is that these indefensible decisions were made solely to Protect the Integrity of the Bureau. A major problem with this defense is that “acting to minimize [Republican] criticism, even if it means violating critical rules and norms and presenting a very misleading picture to the public” is pretty much the antithesis of integrity. Acting with integrity would be “I’m going to follow the rules and I don’t give a shit what Jason Chaffetz has to say about it, and I’m certainly not going to be manipulated by Russian propaganda, let alone advance exactly the narrative they’re trying to push.” As CP says, like Colin Powell Comey is an excellent illustration that people who successfully cultivate a reputation as Men of Great Integrity can be the most dangerously self-serving hacks of all.

Winning MT-AL By 7 Points Is Excellent News For John McCain, And Other Fallacies

[ 119 ] May 26, 2017 |

As we’ve discussed before, the most determined nothing-matters-Democrats-are-always-doomed Eeyores like to cite Sam Brownback winning re-election after destroying the state. The obvious problem with this is that he was re-elected with 25 points less of a margin than he was elected with, so this just shows that Republicans are largely insulated from blowback in states where they have a 20-point inherent advantage. But, of course, their margin in the House is much less than this, and their Electoral College “advantage” is “less than 100,000 votes assuming the director of the FBI implies that the Democratic candidate is a crook less than two weeks before the election.”

The regrettable loss in MT-AL is, I’m sure, being met with a wave of “Democrats are DOOMED” and/or “Democrats are DOOMED unless they adopt precisely my policy views and run on them in every jurisdiction” takes on Twitter as we speak. But the results are in fact encouraging:

Greg Gianforte’s 7 percentage point win in the Montana special election keeps a seat in Republican hands but fundamentally represents bad news for the GOP. The basic issue, as David Wasserman breaks down for the Cook Political Report, is that for prognostication purposes you don’t only want to know who wins or loses a special election — you want to know the margin.

Montana is considerably redder than the average congressional district. According to Wasserman’s calculations, in an election where Democrats got 50 percent of the two-party vote nationwide, you’d expect them to get just 39 percent in Montana. Quist scored 44 percent, and with the Libertarian pulling in 6 percent, his share of the two-party vote is more like 46.

Things aren’t as simple as saying that Rob Quist outperformed the 39 percent benchmark and therefore Democrats are on track to win — geography means Republicans can hold their majority with less than 50 percent of the vote. But the GOP underperformed badly in Montana, after a similar underperformance in the special election for Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District.

There are 120 Republican-held House seats that are more GOP-friendly than Montana’s at-large district. If Republicans are winning in places like Montana by just 7 percentage points, then they are in extreme peril of losing their House majority in November 2018.

In addition, as Yglesias goes on to observe, the marginal districts that are the path to the next Democratic House majority are almost certainly the Sun Belt suburbs (and, I would add, some Republican seats in blue states like New York and California), not red state rural districts. If Ossoff loses, then I think there’s real reason for concern. Yesterday’s result, conversely, indicates that the House is very much in play in 2018 to the extent that it indicates anything.

James Comey, Integrity, and the Appearance of Integrity

[ 85 ] May 26, 2017 |

Michael Dorf’s assessment of Comey (and Rosenstein) is brilliant:

Another problem with the idea that Rosenstein was taking one for the team is that people with reputations for integrity often cultivate them. That’s not to say that they lack integrity. But it is to say that Comey and Wittes might have it somewhat backwards. Making at least small compromises is what people of good will who are not trying to impress everyone with their integrity do all the time.

Any adult with substantial experience in any organization that operates roughly by consensus will be familiar with the phenomenon. Someone proposes doing something that you think is a bad idea; you voice your concerns; your colleagues or your boss hear you out but they say that they want to proceed anyway; you could make a big stink but you conclude that this is not a question of life-or-death or a fundamental principle, so you go along. The sort of person who always stands up for principle is a gadfly at best and often an asshole.

How does someone who is not widely perceived as a gadfly or an asshole develop a reputation for being a person of great principle and integrity? Essentially by curating his reputation. As numerous commentators have noted, that’s more or less what Comey has done–leaning very hard on the tale of the hospital visit.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that Comey did not act honorably and with integrity back in 2004, when he blocked the effort of Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to reauthorize an illegal surveillance program. He acted honorably. What I am saying is that Comey seems like the sort of person who pays a great deal of attention to his own reputation. And that accounts for his worst sin: Because he didn’t want to look like he had acted unfairly to influence the election by sitting on the Anthony Weiner material, he in fact unfairly influenced the election. The cultivation of the appearance of integrity can sometimes be inconsistent with actually acting with integrity.

This is precisely correct. Although, again, I’ll add that it’s not a coincidence that between two paths, each of which could have gotten him criticized for acting unfairly, he was more concerned about Republican than Democratic criticism and went with the option that allowed him to take a shot at Clinton. Comey’s vast exaggeration of the number of emails Abedin forwarded to Weiner — making the question of whether to inform Congress or just let the investigation play out seem like a much closer call on the merits than it actually was — is the key tell here. As scholars of the judiciary are well aware, an awful lot of partisan behavior is the work of people who consider themselves above partisanship.

With Trump having become president in substantial measure because of Comey’s misconduct, Comey’s close attention to his reputation works in the national interest again. And, in addition, I would guess he’s the kind of elite Republican who holds Trump as well as Clinton in contempt, so his partisanship functions very differently with Trump actually in the White House than it was nearly-universally assumed that Clinton would win. But even if he acts honorably in the wake of the election, he should always be a reminder of the critical distinction between being a person of integrity and being a person who cares a lot about being perceived as a person of integrity.

Fleets of the Future

[ 25 ] May 26, 2017 |
USS Independence LCS-2 at pierce (cropped).jpg

USS Independence. By U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Nicholas Kontodiakos – http://www.navy.mil/view_image.asp?id=83743, Public Domain, Link

 

I’ve been playing with the CSIS 2046 Fleet tool

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has developed a tool for projecting the cost, size, and construction time of different visions of the future U.S. naval fleet. The tool projects to 2046, and allows users to play with a variety of different ship types and fleet configurations. The tool remains in beta, and has a number of twitchy bugs, but nevertheless represents a fascinating contribution to the conversation on fleet composition.  The basic ship types include U.S. Navy Ford-class carriers (CV), Arleigh Burke Flight III destroyers (DD), Littoral Combat Ship and LCS based frigates (FFG), Virginia-class subs (SSN), Ohio-class ballistic missile subs (SSBN), America-class amphibs (LHA), San Antonio-class docks (LPD), LXR landing ships (LSD), and a variety of support and logistical vessels.

And a bit more…

However, as with any projection, it’s useful to ask where long-range expectations could go wrong. The CSIS model projects linear ship development, based on a few archetypal classes; large surface combatants, small surface combatants, and so forth. This raises the question of how effectively we can make long-term predictions about the general contours of ship types. A projection of 2017, based on 1987, would do rather well; today’s fleet is constituted mainly from platforms in development in the Reagan administration. The exceptions (the Littoral Combat Ship, for example) fortunately fit nicely into established categories, even if the meaning has changed (an LCS is a small surface combatant, but performs a far different function than the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates of 1987).

Flashback Friday: Twin Peaks On Kid’s Shows

[ 60 ] May 26, 2017 |

Damn fine coffee! The owls are not what they seem! That gum you like is going to come back in style!

We’re going to do things a little differently this week in honor of the return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks to television. Being across the pond, I haven’t seen the new episodes yet but the reviews are giving me confidence that Lynch is still Lynch after all these years.

Some of you may have memories of watching Twin Peaks when it was on television when it aired from 1990-91. I did not, and neither did the adults in my immediate family, so I discovered the show as an adult with a completely blank slate. Somehow I had missed all the references to the show that popped up in all the entertainment marketed to kids in the 90’s. Which apparently, there was a lot of.

Sesame Street, “Twin Beaks” (1991)

In 1991, Cookie Monster travels to a small town in the North West to discover the mystery of why the town is called Twin Beaks. He meets David Finch, Laura, Log Bird, and eats a darn fine cherry pie.

Darkwing Duck, “Twin Beaks” (1991)

In this animated Disney cartoon, a gang of crime fighting ducks travels to Twin Beaks (yes, again). Someone gets tossed into the river wrapped in plastic and Launchpad talks to a log that tells him where to get pie and coffee.

The Simpsons (1995 + 1997)

The writer’s on the Simpsons actually parodied Twin Peaks twice. Once in their two-part mystery “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”…

And again with the episode “Lisa’s Sax”, where we flashback to a 1990 Homer.

For more background on how these references came to be worked in to the show, check out this recent Esquire article.

Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated, “Stand and Deliver” (2013)

This one aired well after I stopped watching children’s shows, and a few years before the reboot was announced. But it shows that the creators behind kid’s shows were still mining Twin Peaks for ideas well after the 90’s. The dancing man is even voiced by the original Twin Peaks actor, Michael J. Anderson.

Surprise!, 2013

If you’re an adult who managed to make it all the way to the end of this post, here’s a special music flashback just for you. Kyle McLachlan doing a Twin Peaks “Harlem Shake” video.

 

Jared Kushner, Slumlord

[ 82 ] May 26, 2017 |

Alec MacGillis has a superb piece about Jared Kushner’s predatory capitalism. It should be read in full, but Jamelle Bouie summarizes and adds context:

Kushner’s company is relentless in its pursuit of “virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease—even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side.” Residents are slapped with thousands of dollars in fees and penalties, even if they had previously won permission to terminate a lease. All of this is compounded by poor upkeep of facilities. MacGillis describes one family that has had to deal with mold, broken appliances, and physical damage to their unit—even after paying the management company for repairs. In one complex, a resident “had a mouse infestation that was severe enough that her 12-year-old daughter recently found one in her bed.” In another, raw sewage flowed into the apartment.

Jared Kushner stepped down as chief executive of Kushner Companies upon taking his position in the White House, although he retains a $600 million stake in the business, which still holds and manages these properties. “They’re nothing but slumlords,” said one tenant to MacGillis. For someone whose company all but exploits the precariousness and desperation of people who have few other choices for decent housing, it is a fair charge.

What’s striking about this story of exploitation and extraction is how it’s one of many within the Trump administration. There’s the president himself, who stiffed and stole from contractors as a real estate developer, and scammed thousands of people out of their savings with his “university.” There’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who allegedly (and repeatedly) broke California foreclosure laws as head of OneWest Bank by violating statutes on notice and waiting periods and illegally backdating documents to push underwater homeowners out of their homes over sums as small as 27 cents. “After years peddling the kind of dangerous mortgage-backed securities that eventually blew up the economy, Mnuchin swooped in after the crash to take a second bite out of families by aggressively—and sometimes illegally—foreclosing on their homes,” said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a statement last December.

I’m sure Kushner will be a voice of reasoned, pragmatic moderation within the Trump administration!

Still, if Kushner wasn’t allowed to make huge amounts of money abusing his tenants, what incentive would people have to be born into a family rich enough that your dad could buy your admission into Harvard?

4CA Upholds Injunction on Trump’s Muslim Ban

[ 54 ] May 25, 2017 |

I will have more on this tomorrow. Good news, but I find the party-line breakdowns of the vote a little concerning given the Gorsuched Court.

Support for presidential candidates at elite law firms in 2012 and 2016

[ 81 ] May 25, 2017 |

I did a survey of contributions to presidential candidates in 2012 and 2016 from people working at elite law firms.  (Data here.  The vast majority of contributors were lawyers, but contributions from non-legal staff are also included). The immediate inspiration for this was a question from a 2017 law grad about whether support for Trump was going to hurt him in his career at one of these firms, because if it was he was planning to stay in the closet.  I was curious enough about the question to track down all the contributions made to the major presidential candidates in the 2012 and 2016 elections from people at the following firms:

Wachtell Lipton

Cravath Swaine & Moore

Skadden Arps

Sullivan & Cromwell

Davis Polk

Latham & Watkins

Gibson Dunn

Kirkland & Ellis

Simpson Thacher

Paul Weiss

I also looked at a Denver firm (Holland & Hart).

The results were . . . striking.

(Note that I tracked individual contributions, not individual contributors.  Many people gave more than once to a candidate, and occasionally to more than one candidate).

Contributions to 2012 presidential candidates

Obama                                       1911 contributions

Romney                                      1476 contributions

Other GOP candidates                 49 contributions

Percentages:

Obama               55.6%

Romney             43.0%

Other GOP           1.4%

Contributions to 2016 presidential candidates

Clinton              4330 contributions

Sanders               401 contributions

Rubio                   136 contributions

Bush                       90 contributions

Cruz                        54 contributions

Trump                    41 contributions

The other 12 GOP candidates, plus Gary Johnson and Jill Stein:  103 contributions

Percentages:

Clinton   84.2%

Sanders  7.8%

Rubio   2.6%

Bush    1.7%

Cruz    1.0%

Trump   0.8%

Everyone else:  1.9%

Support for the GOP nominee at these firms declined by 98% between 2012 and 2016.

Here for example are the numbers at Kirkland & Ellis, a Chicago-based firm that by reputation at least is more GOP-friendly than many of its peers:

2012:

Obama:  272 contributions

Romney: 524 contributions

Other GOP: 9 contributions

2016

Clinton: 479 contributions

Sanders: 70 contributions

Rubio: 38 contributions

Bush: 17 contributions

Trump: 14 contributions

Walker: 10 contributions

Fiorina: 8 contributions

Kasich: 4 contributions

Cruz: 4 contributions

I’ve done some breakdowns of the contribution patterns at some other elite institutions, which I’ll save for another post.

 

A: Both

[ 84 ] May 25, 2017 |

Eric Levitz has an appropriate response to the crocodile tears and feigned ignorance of the lead negotators of TrumpCare, the Freedom [sic] Caucus’s Mark Medows and the Tuesday [note: negotiations end Monday] Group Capitulator-in-Chief Tom McArthur:

The congressman continued:

“In the end, we’ve got to make sure there’s enough funding there to handle preexisting conditions and drive down premiums. And if we can’t do those three things, then we will have failed.”

Meadows’s remarks bring to mind one of the Trump era’s defining questions: Are these people really this stupid, or evil, or both?

Let’s take Meadows at his word: He would never want to make a “political decision” that undermines someone else’s access to health care, and had no idea that the bill he wrote would do that.

When the first CBO report revealed that Trumpcare would leave 24 million more people uninsured, Meadows just assumed that this was the number of healthy, devil-may-care Americans who would be freed from the burden of the individual mandate. When he pushed for even more draconian cuts to Medicaid than those included in the bill, he did not realize that poor people can also die from breast cancer, and then be mourned by brothers who loved them. And when he demanded measures to weaken regulatory protections for those with preexisting conditions, he did not bother to research how much it would cost to finance stable, high-risk pools — and ignored the many, many news reports that warned the amount he was allocating was insufficient.

Finally, when the CBO released its report on the effects of the provision he co-authored, he read its findings so carelessly, he thought that they constituted “good news.”

If Meadows was honestly representing his views about health-care policy to IJR, than he is far too negligent, incompetent, and intellectually impaired to hold public office.

If was lying about his views — and invoked his sister’s death from breast cancer as a means of distracting from his mendacity — then he is far too morally monstrous to hold a congressional seat.

Tom MacArthur’s response to IJR’s questions about the CBO’s findings was no less stunning:

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who was a primary negotiator in getting AHCA through the House, also downplayed the CBO score, noting that CBO personnel are “not prophets.”

“They’re trying to answer questions that I think it would be better where they say ‘I don’t know,’” MacArthur said.

Here, the congressman suggests that the only honest answer to the question of whether his health-care bill will condemn nonaffluent cancer patients to preventable deaths is “I don’t know.”

What a comfort that must be to every American who worries about the cost of chemotherapy; what a relief for “somebody’s sister or father.”

This is a horrible bill passed by reprehensible people.

The Violent Gasp of a Ruling Minority Party

[ 82 ] May 25, 2017 |

Pierce uses the dishonest statement put out by the campaign of Republican hired goon Greg Gianforte to put his assault on Ben Jaobs in context:

I just adore that last part. I adore it even more than the fanciful notion that Ben Jacobs was using his iPhone of Doom to overpower poor Greg Gianforte. “Aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.” This is an interpretation of events from a flack who is fully confident that his intended audience is made up of dupes and fools who’ve been marinating in the conservative media for decades and, therefore, will believe any goddamn thing they’re fed. Shane Scanlon, the flack in question, has a very bright future, I believe.

These attacks on individual reporters should be no surprise. In the wider political world, people like Shane Scanlon and Greg Gianforte operate secure in the knowledge of precisely who their audiences hate and why they hate them. They know that those audiences cheered when reporters covering the Ferguson protests got roughed up and busted by the cops, and when that guy got arrested in West Virginia for questioning HHS Secretary Tom Price, and when that reporter got put into a wall while asking questions at an FCC event, and, ultimately, when the 2016 Republican candidate for president spent a good portion of every campaign rally coming right up to the edge of setting a mob loose on the penned-up press at the back of the hall.

This must be a great comfort to Scanlon and Gianforte. They don’t have to care about representing anyone they don’t want to represent, or about the survival of democratic institutions, or even about the country in general. The Bubble has turned into the Octogon, and Greg Gianforte fancies himself its king.

Also related is the fact that Gianforte has mostly refused to hold public events throughout the campaign.

And the fact that so many Republicans won’t hold town halls. A party that owes its control of the White House and Senate to anti-democratic mechanisms is trying to pass a plan that is astoundingly unpopular given the current polarization, a plan they relentlessly lied about during the campaign. Gianforte’s assault is just a more extreme manifestation of the fundamental contempt that the Trump/Ryan/McConnell Republican Party has for democratic values.

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