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Archive for January, 2017

Filibuster Gorsuch

[ 248 ] January 31, 2017 |


This is an easy one:

If the question is what Senate Democrats should do, though, there is little question: Just say no. If Senate Republicans want Gorsuch, they should have to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. There are compelling reasons, both general and specific to this nominee, why Senate Democrats should go to the mat.

The first, most obvious reason was that this Supreme Court seat was essentially stolen. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans created a new precedent holding that a president could not fill a vacancy with nearly a year remaining in a term. The people, the theory of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues went, should be allowed to decide.

This new precedent is intolerable on a number of levels, not least of which is that the people decided when they elected Barack Obama to a second term. But it becomes pure gall when you consider that Republicans in 2016 benefited twice over from some of the least democratic features of the American system—first, getting a narrow majority in a grossly malapportioned Senate, and then being awarded the presidency by the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million ballots.


There is another good reason to filibuster Gorsuch: His jurisprudence will be awful. His frequent invocations of Scalia in his speech on Tuesday were no accident. He will be a very reliable Republican vote—opposed to Roe v. Wade, hostile to the rights of employees and racial minorities, willing to uphold restrictions on the right to vote, and construing the powers of the federal government too narrowly. If he differs from Scalia, it will likely be that he lacks Scalia’s libertarian streak on civil liberties. Democrats should oppose him because he represents an awful, neoconfederate view of the Constitution.

Gorsuch is a bad choice to fill a vacancy that should never have been Trump’s to fill in the first place. Democrats probably can’t prevent him from being on the Court, but they should make his nomination as difficult as possible.

Given McConnell’s blockade, there is a strong presumption against any Democratic collaboration on Supreme Court nominees, and Gorsuch would be worth filibustering even under normal circumstances. So there should clearly be a filibuster, and that seems to be where Democrats are headed.


Harley-Davidson did not get the memo that protest doesn’t work

[ 54 ] January 31, 2017 |

Jake Fuentes’ article on the futility of street protest has not aged well.

Race-ist Bannon’s #2 likes to stand in front of cheering crowds. The fact that large numbers of people have shown they’re willing to hit the streets to let the world know they loathe tRump has deprived him of time in front a cheering crowd. (And has likely spared the world some gawdawful photo op of tRump pretending to ride a motorcycle.)

President Donald Trump will not head to Milwaukee for a previously scheduled visit of a Harley-Davidson factory after the company decided it wasn’t comfortable hosting him amid planned protests, an administration official said Tuesday.

Trump had been scheduled to tour the factory Thursday where he also planned to sign executive orders related to American manufacturing.

As Loomis noted, the claim that street protest doesn’t work is false. But honestly, I wouldn’t have minded Fuentes’ piece if it was unique. Or even rare. Instead, it seems that when it comes to public protest there is an endless supply of Glum’s droning It’ll never work! It’s hopeless! because public protest fails to meet their fresh-from-their-backsides metric for success: Achieving the goal of the protest within a very short period of time.

At The Women’s March in D.C. I spoke to a few people who loved the idea of filling downtown D.C. to beyond the bursting point the day after tRump’s teeny weeny inauguration, because they thought it would upset him. That was on Jan. 21. On Jan. 31 the risk of large anti-Trump protests caused a company to pass on a visit by tRump, depriving the attention-addict-in-chief of his drug of choice and making at least one protester smile.

It was the threat of protests, and not Trump’s planned signing of executive orders, that made Harley-Davidson uncomfortable, the official said.

The canceled trip highlighted the difficulties Trump will continue to face as he looks to implement his agenda while his presidency is engulfed in controversy.

Do I expect him to change his behavior? No. He can’t. But if the risk of large protests causes companies to avoid giving Trump opportunities to look like a real leader, I’ll call that a small win.

Winning Ugly

[ 168 ] January 31, 2017 |


It’s Neil Gorsuch.

Much more later tonight and tomorrow, but with a 49-year-old Scalia clone getting a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, I think we can all agree that Hillary Clinton is the more dangerous choice, and it’s BLACKMAIL to bring up the Supreme Court anyway.

A Good Rule of Thumb: Don’t Listen to the Advice of Capital One Executives about Protest

[ 76 ] January 31, 2017 |


I am highly dismayed that this Jake Fuentes piece decrying the protests over the immigration ban got so much play on social media today. Fuentes, an executive for Capital One (a biographical note pulled out of the piece in the last hour fwiw), thinks that instead of protesting, we should just be rational and hope for the best. Evidently he doesn’t live in the United States. And being an executive at a giant bank, he really doesn’t. But I guess if you get profiled in a Forbes 30 Under 30: Finance special photo shoot, what you say gets taken seriously.

Anyway, let’s look inside.

A legitimate argument can be made for the former: a relatively extreme and inexperienced administration was just put in place, and they haven’t yet figured out the nuances of government. But a few of the events in the past 72 hours —the intentional inclusion of green card holders in the immigration order, the DHS defiance of a federal judge, and the timing of Trump’s shakeup of the National Security Council — have pointed to a larger story. Even worse, if that larger story is true, if the source of this week’s actions is a play to consolidate power, it’s going really well so far. And that’s because mostly everyone — including those in protests shutting down airports over the weekend— are playing right into the administration’s hand.

Say what? How does that even make sense? Playing into the administration’s hand? I guess if the point of the administration is to end democracy and create a situation leading to massive arrest and imprisonment of political opponents, maybe it is. But more on that in a minute.

Fuentes then goes on to craft a fantasy narrative where Bannon (let’s stop even pretending Trump actually matters here except as a mouthpiece) rolls this out even though he doesn’t really care about it that much, identifies the traitors, runs a couple of less shocking things through without as much media attention, show that the judicial branch is weak, etc. He has no idea if this is actually true or not. It’s not because of course Bannon openly wants an all-white America except for enough black people to clean houses and Mexicans to pick crops if they have no right to stay in the country. Anyway, all of this evidently tests the nation’s willingness to capitulate to fascism and somehow we aren’t supposed to respond to that. OK.

Assuming this narrative is true (again, I have no idea what the administration intends), the “resistance” is playing right into Trump’s playbook. The most vocal politicians could be seen at rallies, close to the headlines. The protests themselves did exactly what they were intended to: dominate the news cycle and channel opposition anger towards a relatively insignificant piece of the puzzle. I’m not saying that green card holders should be stuck in airports — far from it. I’m saying there might be a much larger picture here, and the immigration ban is a distraction.

No. You know what this is? A rich guy saying that the plight of Muslims and Latinos don’t matter as much as whatever his issues are. The basic, fundamental definition of what it means to be an America and the core values of the United States are not something to be taken lightly. The immigration ban is a distraction from nothing. It’s the front line in the war for the soul of the United States.

But now we get into the meat:

First, stop believing that protests alone do much good. Protests galvanize groups and display strong opposition, but they’re not sufficient. Not only are they relatively ineffective at changing policy, they’re also falsely cathartic to those protesting. Protestors get all kinds of feel-good that they’re among fellow believers and standing up for what’s right, and they go home feeling like they’ve done their part. Even if protestors gain mild, symbolic concessions, the fact that their anger has an outlet is useful to the other side. Do protest, but be very wary of going home feeling like you’ve done your job. You haven’t.

The story of liberalism over the last 30 years has been an attempt to play respectability politics. Protests are for fat union guys with out of fashion mustaches, for vegan hippies, and for anarchists. They aren’t for respectable people. None of those people come to the cocktail parties and dinners I host where we just couldn’t understand how those people could vote for George W. Bush! People have disdained protest in favor of being rational, of having science on your side, of having the facts, of showing up to vote, of being happy with the steady pace of change even if some were being left behind. Protest is simply not respectable.

But that doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. What has happened in the last 3 months and especially in the last 2 weeks is that a lot of liberals have come to realize this. They are going out on the street for the first time in their life. I can’t tell you about how Facebook posts or protest signs I’ve seen that say something like “I don’t protest but now I have to” or something of this nature. This change is an unabashed good. But the temptation to retreat from the streets and back into our homes is very strong and powerful, especially for a lot of liberals who don’t want to be associated with mass movement politics.

If we let these challenges about the efficacy of protest go without refutation, that’s exactly what will happen. No, protest didn’t force Trump to cave. But if we don’t protest, we have nothing. This is a far more compelling understanding of what protest politics do. At the very least, it creates a resistance, gets people politicized, gives a backbone to judges and politicians, and helps us not feel alone. I guess Fuentes can roll around in bags of cash for that. But not me and not you.

So what does Fuentes think we should do?

Second, pay journalists to watch for the head fake. That’s their job. Become a paying subscriber to news outlets, then actively ask them to more deeply cover moves like the NSC shakeup. We can no longer breathlessly focus media attention on easy stories like the immigration ban. The real story is much more nuanced and boring — until it’s not.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, the media! Well, I’m sure The New York Times will set Trump straight!

Third, popular attention must focus less on whether we agree with what the government is doing, and more on whether the system of checks and balances we have in place is working. It is a much bigger deal that the DHS felt they could ignore a federal court than that Trump signed an EO blocking green card holders in the first place. It is a much bigger deal that Trump removed a permanent military presence from the NSC than that he issued a temporary stay on immigration. The immigration ban may be more viscerally upsetting, but the other moves are potentially far more dangerous.

Guess what? These things are all related. Sorry that people in the streets make you uncomfortable. And sorry that fighting for the human rights of my Muslim friends is important. I recognize that you are a rich guy and so we should listen to you instead. Next time the U.S. decides to return to 19th century standards of racism, I will check with you first before I figure out what is important.

And now for the punchline:

Once again, I’m desperately hoping that none of this narrative is actually true, and that we merely have a well-intentioned administration with some execution problems. I’m also hoping and praying that the structure of our democracy is resilient even to the most sophisticated attacks. I’m hoping that the better angels of our nature will prevail. But with each passing day, the evidence tilts more in the other direction.

Becoming an NPR supporter will no doubt tilt the balance back.

See also

Is It Too Early to Drink?

[ 77 ] January 31, 2017 |


No, thank god. Because here’s a nice set of quotes comparing the attacks on a free media by Spicer and Bannon to those of Goebbels.

Also, for your sanity, don’t watch the damn Supreme Court unveiling tonight. Guess what, the winner is horrible. So is the loser. Well, the real loser is all of us. But you know what I mean.

Appropriate image above via Gin and Tacos

Judge Hardiman: Please pack your robes and go

[ 58 ] January 31, 2017 |

Of all the many emotions I feel when contemplating the Bannon presidency, the most dominant one is often simply profound embarrassment:

President Donald Trump has two “finalists” for his Supreme Court nomination — and both of them will be at the White House tonight.

A administration source with knowledge of the situation told CBS News that both Colorado-based Judge Neil Gorsuch and Pennsylvania-based Judge Thomas Hardiman will be at the White House Tuesday. Mr.  Trump is expected to formally announce his pick at 8 p.m. ET.

Paris is worth a reality-TV finale I suppose.

Nice little story here about Trump’s long-running intense obsession with “his” TV ratings.


Don’t Bet Decades of Winnings on a Mediocre Hand

[ 37 ] January 31, 2017 |

Figure 1I have new online piece, co-authored with Dani Nedal, at Foreign Affairs:

President Donald Trump believes that America makes terrible deals—from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Why, according to Trump, do other countries take such advantage of the United States? Because our leaders and officials are stupid and incompetent and are terrible negotiators.  “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have people that are stupid,” said Trump when he announced his decision to run for president. On immigration, he was similarly blunt: “the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning.” And during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, he claimed that “we are making a terrible deal” because “we have the wrong people negotiating for us.” He added that “the Persians are great negotiators” and that “they are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.”

If the Trump Doctrine is to put “America First” by focusing on bilateral bargains—understood in terms of short-term winners and losers—then its corollary is the “Good Negotiator Policy.” In the president’s world, bad people make bad deals.  The best, smartest people—most notably, Trump himself—always get the best bargains. He is right that personal attributes and interpersonal dynamics can make an important difference in international negotiations. But Trump’s focus on individual skill overlooks the most important factor that shapes political agreements in general and international ones in particular: the relative leverage of the parties involved.

The problem is that when the Washington locked in most of its bargains and arrangements, America was much more powerful, in relative terms, than it is now.

It takes a rather naïve negotiator to attempt to overhaul relatively favorable deals from a position of comparative weakness. The United States will not get better bargains than it achieved when it controlled more than twice as much of global power as it currently holds. If Trump abandons long-standing practices of American-led liberal order for bilateral, transactional, and zero-sum relations, other states have little reason to prefer dealing with Washington to China, Russia, or any other country.

When it comes to stiffing contractors, he’s shown a very good understanding of how power asymmetries shape bargaining outcomes. But, overall, Trump’s rhetoric is in keeping with a man who was born on third base and thinks staying there is a testament to his mad business skillz.

Anyway, go read the whole thing, if you’re so inclined. You may need to register to get access.

Today in Trump’s America con’t

[ 138 ] January 31, 2017 |

The JCC that’s almost literally around the corner from my house, and which I visited last week to check out some after-school programs, was also evacuated today because of a bomb threat.  But hey that’s only two of our front pagers so far today, so let’s not exaggerate the scope of this kind of thing.

On a related note, it turns out that the Holocaust Remembrance Day White House message that omitted any mention of Jews was written by a Russian immigrant Jew.  As others have noted, this sort of elision is a form of “soft” Holocaust denial, i.e., yes many Jews were killed by the Nazis, but so were lots of other people,  so why is there so much attention given to the Jewish victims? (This very easily slides off into claims that there were no gas chambers or death camps, and people only died because of “harsh conditions” in the concentration camps and the like).

Needless to say it’s perfectly possible to give a full acknowledgement of the many other peoples who suffered and died under the Nazi regime without at the same time minimizing the centrality of the Final Solution to the Holocaust.  The White House message was intentionally crafted to do the latter, because Steve Bannon is a hardcore anti-Semite in the cutesy semi-respectable-for-now if you don’t look too hard tradition of the early David Irving.

I’m not Jewish and I suppose it’s not really my place to ask this, but I will anyway: How can any Jewish people associate themselves with these types of individuals?  It boggles the mind.

Ballghazi, Except With the World Blowing Up

[ 33 ] January 31, 2017 |


On January 18, 2015, the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. After the game, the Colts alleged that Patriots were using illegal deflated footballs in the first half, after which New England led 17-7. (In the forthcoming movie Executive Force, written, directed by, and starring Ryan Grigson, we can see a dramatization of the most plausible counterfatual scenario: a heroic general manager named Gyan Rrigson overcomes the bumbling of his sidekick Phuck Cagano and foils the football deflation scheme at the last minute, leading to a 51-3 Colts victory on the pack of 7 rushing TDs by the team’s star running back, Rrent Trichardson. Coming to a taxi in Indianapolis soon.) Even if true, the deflation obviously was not material to the outcome of the game. The NFL, however, manufactured a major scandal by leaking to its stenographers the fiction that 11 footballs used by the Patriots had been found to have been deflated by 2 pounds each. This was complete bullshit — there was no 11 deflated footballs, there was no process to reliably measure the inflation of the footballs, not surprisingly since everyone correctly considered this a trivial issue ex ante, and even had the NFL used a reliable process the deflation that was ultimately alleged to have occurred simply could have been natural deflation. The league, in other words, had no useful evidence that a trivial rules violation had occurred, but by pushing a false narrative through a gullible press they created the impression of serious misbehavior, and ultimately the Patriots lost a first round pick and 4 games of their star QB for an offense that would be worthy of a five-figure fine even if the NFL had actual evidence it had occurred.

In 2016, at least, this ended up not mattering — the Pats will be in the Super Bowl despite this. Alas, the much more important political equivalent of Ballghazi did not have a similar outcome:

It was like a greatest hits list of the Clinton campaign’s setbacks — email security, personal devices and Clinton Inc. — but this time playing out courtesy of Trump’s staff.

First came news, via The New York Times, that the president is still using his personal unsecured Android cellphone — a tough pill to swallow for a campaign staff that was continually hamstrung by concerns over Clinton’s use of BlackBerrys while she was secretary of state.

Next were hints, from Newsweek, that Trump aides were using personal email addresses even after taking White House jobs – another direct echo of GOP criticisms of Clinton’s private email arrangement. The Republican National Committee, which provided the accounts, soon deleted them, the magazine reported. (The White House is pushing back on Newsweek’s story, seeking a retraction. Spokesman Michael Short said, “Newsweek’s story is a work of fiction.”)

And finally on Friday morning news landed from Axios that Jason Miller, a former top Trump communications staffer, had joined Teneo – a consulting firm with close ties to the Clintons that was frequently roped into Republican accusations about the family’s business ties.

Even on the narrow issue of email server management, the Trump administration is far worse. But, of course, now nobody cares. Which makes sense: after all, if you polled the public about what the most important issues facing the country were in 2012, “email management by cabinet officials” wouldn’t make the top 1,000. Email server management would be a trivial issue worthy of minimal-to-no-attention during an ordinary presidential campaign, let alone a presidential campaign in which one candidate shattered every previous standard for unfitness and norm of political behavior. But Republican hacks and a hyperpartisan FBI (up to and including a director who repeatedly violated norms and ethics to ramp up the scandal whenever campaign coverage threatened to focus on something of actual importance) pushed a narrative that Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS! were a yoooge, yoooge scandal, and the media fell for it, devoting an enormous amount of time and space covering a trivial pseudo-scandal and generally not even conveying the facts of the matter correctly.

This could have ended up no-harm, no-foul. Could have, but didn’t. So now an inept white nationalist not chosen by the American people is in position to do incalculable damage, and both the press and the public can go back to not giving a shit about email server management. Heckuva job, everybody.

[Link via nemdam]

…via Tom in comments, Magary sums up Ballghazi perfectly:

GUHHHHHHHH…DeflateGate. Just seeing it mentioned here probably makes you want to climb into a whirlpool of boiling acid, so I’ll keep this brief: there was no clear evidence that Tom Brady deflated balls prior to the 2015 AFC title game, and there was no clear evidence that the balls he used were deflated enough to give him a real advantage. None of that, however, prevented Goodell from picking the smallest possible fight with the league’s biggest possible star, and then putting on his novelty-sized Inspector Javert hat and pursuing it all the way to the outer ends of the legal universe.

Think about the core mentality of someone who does this—someone who runs a dopey sports league but fancies himself Minister of Justice. Now that the scandal is finally over, and Brady has served his time in Roger Jail, it’s worth asking: Did anyone benefit from how this scandal was handled? Is the integrity of the game any better protected for it? Did it make viewers happy? Does Brady feel chastened? Does Goodell think his message has been received? I loathe the Patriots, and even I thought this was a colossal waste of time and resources. Imagine the NBA suspending LeBron for a month for exceeding talcum powder usage guidelines. It’s like Saran-wrapping your own toilet seat.

Today’s Orrin Hatch Award For Lack of Self-Awareness

[ 52 ] January 31, 2017 |

Obama Supreme Court

Goes to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah):

Orrin Hatch charged Democrats with acting “like idiots” on Tuesday as they boycotted a Senate Finance Committee hearing in order to block a vote on two of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

“I think they ought to stop posturing, and acting like idiots,” Hatch told reporters after the committee’s Democrats skipped a vote to push the nominees to the full Senate, a move that denied a quorum required to proceed.

“I’m really tired of this type of crap,” Hatch said as Republican senators sat down Tuesday morning only to be greeted by an empty Democrat side of the room. “I mean, my goodness, there’s no excuse for it.”

Tonight, Donald Trump will nominate someone to fill a Supreme Court seat that has been vacant for nearly a full year.

Today in Trump’s America

[ 107 ] January 31, 2017 |


I go here nearly every day to work out. It’s an institution where many of my friends take their kids for daycare, afterschool activities, etc., and institution important to the daily life of this community:

The Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center is being evacuated after the Whitehall Road’s second such threat in the last two weeks.

Director Adam Chaskin confirmed that a threat was made Tuesday morning and people were being led out of the building.

Over Christmas break, we were lucky enough to be able to use the JCC in La Jolla, which was also subject to a bomb threat. Again, these anti-Semitic threats seem to be happening across the country. This latest round appears to be all hoaxes again, but it’s hard to be confident that all of the threats against these and other institutions representing minority religions will continue to be empty.

In retrospect, one could argue that Donald Trump’s white nationalism was more important than Hillary Clinton’s email server. But surely our media knows what it’s doing.

…as Alex notes on comments, this is actually the third wave of threats directed against Jewish Community Centers since the election.

“We’re getting tired of all the chaos”

[ 129 ] January 31, 2017 |
Giant centipede - Library of Congress

Giant centipede – Library of Congress

The more I watch the interactions of the Republican congress, the new Republican president and his assistant, the more I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ depiction of the way devils interact in The Screwtape Letters.

For example, there’s the latest on the creation of the Muslim Ban executive order (Politico):

Senior staffers on the House Judiciary Committee helped Donald Trump’s top aides draft the executive order curbing immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, but the Republican committee chairman and party leadership were not informed, according to multiple sources involved in the process.

The news of their involvement helps unlock the mystery of whether the White House consulted Capitol Hill about the executive order, one of many questions raised in the days after it was unveiled on Friday. It confirms that the small group of staffers were among the only people on Capitol Hill who knew of the looming controversial policy.

Kathryn Rexrode, the House Judiciary Committee’s communications director, declined to comment about the aides’ work. A Judiciary Committee aide said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was not “consulted by the administration on the executive order.”

The work of the committee aides began during the transition period after the election and before Donald Trump was sworn in. The staffers signed nondisclosure agreements, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Trump’s transition operation forced its staff to sign these agreements, but it would be unusual to extend that requirement to congressional employees. Rexrode declined to comment on the nondisclosure pacts.

Because what could Rexrode say, assuming she knew what the hell was going on before the reporter called?

Much of the article covers various Republican’s fuming because their new president didn’t warn them or provide talking points, which meant they didn’t know what was going on until their phones blew up. But this paragraph stood out.

It’s extremely rare for administration officials to circumvent Republican leadership and work directly with congressional committee aides. But the House Judiciary Committee has some of the most experienced staffers when it comes to immigration policy.

If the EO was the best some of the most experienced staffers could do, the GOP may be even more full of inept chair polishers than I imagined.

However, it has been reported that President Bannon messed around with it and Guliiani claims that he, Pete King and several other people had their paws on the thing so who knows. Just as there’s no way to tell who is doing what behind someone’s back because the White House asked them to or when Bannon will turn into a giant centipede and consume Miller. I just hope the cameras are rolling when it happens.

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