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Some Loving Tributes To Roger Ailes

[ 65 ] May 19, 2017 |


Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans’ worst fantasies about each other.

Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – “I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead,” he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old “ring around the collar” ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.

Ailes launched Fox in 1996 with a confused, often amateurish slate of dumb programs cranked out by cut-rate and often very young staffers. The channel was initially most famous for its overt shallowness (“More News in Less Time” was one of its early slogans) and its Monty Python-style bloopers. But the main formula was always the political scare story, and Fox quickly learned to mix traditional sensationalist tropes like tabloid crime reporting with demonization of liberal villains like the Clintons.


Ailes picked at all these scabs, and then when he ran out of real storylines to mine he invented some that didn’t even exist. His Fox was instrumental in helping Donald Trump push the birther phenomenon into being, and elevated the practically nonexistent New Black Panthers to ISIS status, warning Republicans that these would-be multitudinous urban troublemakers were planning on bringing guns to the GOP convention.

The presidency of Donald Trump wouldn’t have been possible had not Ailes raised a generation of viewers on these paranoid storylines. But the damage Ailes did wasn’t limited to hardening and radicalizing conservative audiences.


Ailes leaves behind one of the largest legacies of any media figure of the past century: He made our country nastier, stupider, cruder, and more bigoted. Even as the memory of Ailes the man fades, we will always be able to look back on what he built.


But Ailes was not some phony elitist playing a con on the rubes. No, he really loved degrading people, and he held the same resentments as the pathetic viewers whose worlds he manipulated. Indeed, one of the special things about Ailes was the depth of his hatred, and the broad-ranging reach of his racism. Some bigots confine their disgust to a single group, or religion; Ailes, however, was never so limited. Who did the man dislike? Muslims? Yep. Black Americans? Check. Jews? Uh-huh. Hispanics? Yes. Fox, under Ailes’ leadership, became a leader in spewing all these different forms of bigotry. He was a visionary.

Ailes also took a special interest in the careers of much of the female talent at Fox News. His leadership style was to sexually harass female employees and ensure a grotesque environment at the network, which nicely mimicked the misogyny Fox watchers could see on their television screens every day. Elizabeth Ailes’ statement recalling the millions of lives her husband affected calls to mind Stalin’s line about one death being a tragedy, and millions of deaths being a mere statistic. Ailes’ family and friends should never forget that their beloved Roger ruined individual lives, too.

However, one of our overcompensated and underachieving elites has a counterpoint:

“Jimmy Savile was a wonderful teevee host and one of the most generous contributors to children’s hospitals ever. Serial molestation of children not only way to remember him.”

…as a commenter notes, Gary’s obit is excellent.


The Ballad of Holy Joe

[ 104 ] May 19, 2017 |

As Duncan also observed, in addition to the litany of other negative things that can be said about him Joe Lieberman is almost comically unqualified and unfit to be head of the FBI:

Lieberman lacks the conventional qualifications for an FBI director, never having served as a law enforcement agent or federal prosecutor. He lacks the kind of administrative experience that one normally looks for in an agency chief. At the age of 75, he’s also very much on the old side for a 10-year appointment. But “Trump bonded with Lieberman” at their meeting on Wednesday, according to Politico, and though personal rapport between the president and the FBI director has not traditionally been considered necessary or even desirable, Trump enjoys breaking with tradition.

Since leaving the Senate, Lieberman has landed as an attorney as Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, whose founding partner Marc Kasowitz happens to be Donald Trump’s lawyer on litigation matters.

For the president to fire the FBI director in an effort to stymie an investigation into his associates, and then replace him with an unqualified successor who happens to be an employee of his personal lawyer, seems a wee bit fishy to me; indeed, Politico quotes a senior Democratic aide as saying it “could be an issue for Democrats.” Another issue for Lieberman will be that grassroots progressive activists hate his guts and have for years.

It goes without saying that anyone who would take this job under these circumstances is not fit to have it. But tying himself to Trump would be an even fitter cap to Lieberman’s career than his decision to torpedo the Medicare buy-in he had previously supported for the sole purpose of pissing off liberals.

Our younger readers may not remember just how besotted the national media was with Joe Lieberman. His self-serving sanctimoniousness was celebrated, like the cut-and-paste virtue jobs assembled by Gamblin’ Bill Bennett. Putting the smarmy prick on the ticket earned Al Gore basically the only positive press coverage he got during the 2000 campaign. And outside of Connecticut, 2004 demonstrated that the media was pretty much his only constituency. One would hope that this would take most of the varnish off, but on the other hand as Paul Ryan demonstrates some pols can survive anything. I’m sure that for the Fourniers and Haperins of the world Donald Trump will become president for the seventh time if he tabs Lieberman.

Since the Beginning of Time, Democrats Have Yearned to Destroy the Legitimacy of Democratic Elections

[ 159 ] May 18, 2017 |


You may be surprised to know that I did not find Prof. Barnett’s twitter thread arguing that people arguing that Trump may have committed impeachable offenses out of a desire to undermine democratic transfers of power entirely convincing:

Can somebody point me to the big Democratic push to impeach any president between Nixon and Trump? I’m having trouble finding the evidence.

To state the obvious, the idea that this was a normal election and Trump is a normal president and anyone suggesting otherwise disrepstc the electoral process is absurd. No important Democrat suggested that Trump wasn’t legally entitled to the office, but the fact that he attained office only because of an undemocratic selection process is a significant fact that does undermine Trump’s legitimacy. People are talking about impeachment not because Trump is a Republican but because he’s doing stuff like telling the director of the FBI to stop investigations and then firing the Director of the FBI to obstruct justice and admitting he was doing it. George H.W. Bush didn’t do this kind of thing, and hence there was no talk of impeaching him. Barnett is trying to preemptively protect Trump and his party from the unique problems his election and tenure in office presents by pretending that Democrats say the same things about every Republican president. Sorry, not only is this dog not going to hunt it’s not going to wake up from its nap.

Why Do All of These Authoritarians Keep Ending Up in the Trump Administration?

[ 74 ] May 18, 2017 |


My colleague Shakezula has already discussed this, but David Clarke’s appointment assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security is a big enough deal to be worth more discussion. It is almost impossible to overstate how unfit he is for any law enforcement position, let alone one of the top federal ones:

However, if the premature reports are true, Clarke’s promotion to federal office would be a major affront to human and civil rights. In 2013, Clarke received the “Sheriff of the Year Award” from Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an anti-government organization whose founder, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, believes,“The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists. It is our own federal government.” In 2015, he suggested suspending habeus corpus to charge individuals “on the internet spewing jihadi rhetoric,” and them “with treason,” and “indefinitely” detain them at Guantanamo Bay—a number that he estimates could be one million people. Since last April, four detainees in his jail have died, including a newborn baby and a mentally ill inmate who was deprived of water for seven days. He has faced two federal lawsuits since December for the deaths. Earlier this month, a grand jury recommended criminal charges against seven staff members at Clarke’s Milwaukee jail.

Clarke has called Black Lives Matter a “domestic hate group,” believes that “there is no police brutality in America,” says there is a “war on cops,” and has called protesters upset about Trump’s election “entitled, coddled, petulant snowflakes.” He also called the Women’s March a “creep show.”

Oh, in addition to the many other horrible things his department frames innocent people to cover up their own misconduct.  He will, in other words, fit right in with the Attorney General.

There are evidently a number of different metrics one could used to assess the authoritarian tendencies of the Trump administration. Myself, I would consider “the number of authoritarians nominated to high-level federal positions” as one of the more important.

Scandals and the American Party System

[ 202 ] May 18, 2017 |


I argue that while the facts uncovered by the Mueller investigation will probably be as bad as Watergate and could well be much worse, given current partisan polarization the political effects are likely to be more like Iran-Contra:

The most common analogy will be Watergate, and the evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice will only make the comparisons more common, given that this offense is exactly what did Nixon in. It is possible that Mueller will find something so damaging that Trump will be forced to resign or the necessary bipartisan supermajority in the Senate would plausibly convict him if he was impeached by a majority of the House.

Possible, but probably quite unlikely. Nixon’s resignation occurred in a very different political context. Not only did the Democratic Party control Congress, but the Republican Party had a much larger moderate wing than it does today. It is highly unlikely that President Nixon would have been forced out of office if he was working with today’s Congress. Mueller might find something so damaging that congressional Republicans conclude that it’s in their interests to abandon Trump. But I strongly doubt that confirmation of the obstruction of justice, which Trump all but admitted to already, would be sufficient.

As Washington Post political reporter David Weigel shrewdly observed, a comparison that is likely to be more apt is the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal. The discovery that officials within the administration had facilitated the sale of arms to Iran partly in order to illegally fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and partly to secure the freedom of some hostages was a substantial embarrassment, and lower-level officials were implicated in illegal activity. But it was never proven that Reagan himself was involved, and he was never seriously threatened with impeachment. With partisan polarization having intensified, this is probably the more likely scenario even if Trump’s actions turn out to be more like Nixon’s than Reagan’s.

Iran-Contra didn’t lead to Reagan’s removal, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter. Reagan’s approval rating dropped by roughly 20 points after the illegal arms deal was revealed. This caused the Reagan administration to pivot in a more moderate direction. Most notably, the collapse of Reagan’s popularity helped contribute to the defeat of Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, which in turn almost certainly saved Roe v. Wade from being overruled.

Even if Trump survives Mueller’s investigation, then, it is still likely to hobble his administration politically. His already-weak approval ratings are more likely to get worse than better. This will make it harder for Republicans to retain the House in the 2018 midterms, and will also hobble the passage of the party’s already unpopular legislative agenda. Indeed, we may look back and conclude that Trump’s decision to fire Comey saved 24 million people from having their health insurance taken away.

Cry, if you want to cry/If it helps you see/If it clears your eyes

[ 47 ] May 18, 2017 |

Chris Cornell, R.I.P.

Nothing to See Here!

[ 61 ] May 17, 2017 |


Nobody could have foreseen etc.:

One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.

Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.

OK, but surely the Trump administration could not have been aware of Flynn’s corrupt ties to Turk…

Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.

Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies.

Oh, and this also means…

Still weaselly shitbag Highly Principled Public Servant Until He Can Secure That Gig As Tucker Carlson’s Clinton Foundation Special Correspondent Jason Chaffetz says there’s nothing to see here, so I feel confident Mueller will find nothing further untoward about this very tight administrative ship.

Donald J. Trump, the New King of Comedy

[ 33 ] May 17, 2017 |


The number of conservatives who were able to convince themselves not merely that a typo should be taken out of context and used to willfully misread a statute but that the ACA’s federal exchanges were willfully designed to fail is an indication that there’s essentially no argument too ridiculous for them to believe if their salary depends etc. And so it goes with the state-of-the-art post hoc defense of Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice — that he was Only Joking:

The theory that Trump’s apparent instructions to Comey were not instructions at all, but simply disconnected musings or a hilarious bit that Comey failed to understand, suffers from a number of serious flaws. The first is that Trump instructed the other attendees of the meeting to leave the room before he said it to Comey. That is not what you ordinarily do when you’re about to tell a really good, albeit dry, joke.

Second, after Trump made his “joke” about wanting Comey to halt the Russia investigation, and Comey did not halt it, Trump fired Comey. Nobody would be that committed to a bit. Third, the letter Trump wrote firing Comey has a sentence implicitly casting Comey’s decision not to investigate Trump personally as a point in favor of his keeping his job: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” Ponder that “nevertheless.”

Then there is the fact that Trump, in a mind-blowing interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, himself connected the decision to fire Comey to the ongoing Russia investigation.

The nature of language is such that we can never identify an actual instruction with complete certainty. Any number of crimes rely on verbal or written communication that could be a joke or a pun or a fever dream or some kind of absurdist meta-commentary. “Your money or your life,” could be a threat to kill a person who doesn’t surrender their purse, but it could always be a wry philosophical statement about materialism. Generally, though, the straightforward interpretation of language is the correct one. So it does appear that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, or else words have no meaning.

Another major problem with this defense is that it’s not really clear what the joke is. Fortunately, Brian has obtained new Comey memos that fill in the gap:

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Trump’s wacky hi-jinx should be taken seriously but not literally.

Profiles in Courage

[ 21 ] May 17, 2017 |


So, how will Republicans make their choice between the Titanic and the Hindenberg? America’s Most Beloved and Principled Policy Wonk still thinks that his best chance of getting savage cuts in spending for the poor and massive tax cuts for the rich is to go the Tucker Carlson route:

“It is obvious—there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” [Granny-Starver] said. “We have an obligation to carry out our oversight, regardless of which party is in the White House. That means before rushing to judgment we get all the pertinent information.”

That’s one of the more creative lines of defense we’re hearing from Republicans. You’ve got the bald “it’s not illegal if the president does it,” the new and creative “he didn’t mean it, he just says dumb things,” and this one—the real problem are the enemies of Trump, the people who leaked the fact that he leaked classified intelligence to the Russians and, apparently, James Comey.

But it’s not really his problem, Ryan added, actually saying “I don’t worry about things that are outside of my control.” Leadership! Also, too, does he still have confidence in Trump? “I do,” he says. And he will continue to until he gets to end Medicare as we know it.

Now let’s those green eyeshades on and try to take health insurance from 24 million people.

The Party Finally Gets the Politics it Deserves

[ 150 ] May 17, 2017 |


I’m back again on Trump’s most recent impeachable offense unless there’s been another one as I type. Given that the Comey memos are…highly unlikely to work in Trump’s favor, the Republicans have no good political options:

Needless to say, Democrats immediately called for the Comey memos to be released. To show how serious the scandal is, however, House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz is also planning to subpeona all documents relating to the Comey/Trump meetings. That even Chaffetz — who all but declared he would be Trump’s poodle after conducting two years of Hillary Clinton snipe hunts — feels compelled to investigate Trump, or to at least create the appearance of investigating Trump, shows what political danger the Republicans are in.

At this point, however, Chaffetz — who isn’t running in 2018 — remains the exception rather than the rule. Republican legislators continue to limit themselves to vague assertions of being “troubled.” And there’s a reason for this: Republicans have created a monster. While Trump’s never-good approval ratings are tumbling among the population as a whole, he remains very popular with the Republican base: According to a Quinnipiac poll, 84 percent of Republican voters think Trump’s first 100 days in office have been a success. Unless he becomes much less popular with Republican voters, acting to remove Trump would tear the party apart. And this is unlikely to happen — historically partisanship has been surprisingly resilient to even the biggest scandals, and defections have generally come from the kind of moderates who are virtually extinct in today’s GOP.

Politically, then, Republicans have no good options for dealing with a president who is grossly unfit for office. And James Comey, whose actions may well have put Trump in the White House, might also be responsible for the political implosion of his presidency.

Most Republicans are perfectly well aware of Trump’s monumental unfitness. But the Republican base is still hearing about how Trump scandals are fake news and Crooked Hillary from people like “ex-journalist Tucker Carlson”:

To be clear, although I don’t think removal from office is imminent, I endorse Paul’s epistemological modesty as to how this will all eventually play out. This is all sui generis.

Today’s 5:30 Impeachable Offense Report

[ 219 ] May 16, 2017 |


Well, this pretty much settles the obstruction of justice question:

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

The critiques commenters made when I was cynical about Comey taking the gloves off were compelling, and I’m happy to be wrong! In retrospect, the fact that Trump fired Comey was sufficient in itself to conclude that it was stupid on every level.

As for what the Republican conference will do, unless Trump starts threatening to veto tax cuts Trump can do whatever he wants, at least for the short term.

…oh, and then there’s also this:

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

“Moderate” Republicans Insult Your Intelligence About Their Atrocious Health Care Law

[ 14 ] May 16, 2017 |


Representatives in marginal districts who are enabling Donald Trump so they can continue with their work of trying to pass awful legislation — most notably, their effort to take health insurance from 24 million people to pay for an upper-class tax cut — are trying to defend themselves. Elise Stefanik, who will be representing New York’s 21st district until January 2019, has many spicy meatballs quoted here (with some good, more fact-based pushback), but this was particularly amazing:

Stefanik also addressed the issue of those on Medicaid potentially losing it under the GOP plan. “This is a false claim that is often reported in the media,” she wrote.

There would be no changes in Medicaid until 2020 and anyone currently on the program would maintain coverage, she said. As one of 31 states to expand Medicaid to those just above the poverty line, New York would be free to keep its program. “Additionally, after 2020, tax credits will be made available for people to purchase high quality private insurance plans,” she wrote.

“In theory, states could make up for the $880 billion we’re cutting from Medicaid, so it’s not really a cut!” OK.

While we’re here, this piece about how critical the massive cut to Medicaid is to TrumpCare is really good:

A massive expansion of the Medicaid program was one of the key pillars of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, and the AHCA rolls it back in a sneaky way. That rollback will deprive millions of vulnerable people of health insurance on its own terms if the bill is ever enacted in its current form. But the AHCA actually goes even further with Medicaid cuts — enacting broad cuts to the program’s spending that compound over time, offsetting a massive package of tax cuts for the rich.

And while leading Republicans are claiming that you can somehow take $880 billion out of a program to provide health care to the poor, elderly, and disabled without harming patients’ interests, that seems extremely unlikely.

The larger truth is conservative politicians once had a sweeping vision of rolling back all of America’s big entitlement programs — Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security — to prevent population aging and rising health care costs from inexorably pushing the country toward bigger government and higher taxes. Under Donald Trump, that agenda has gotten far less attention, perhaps because he’s promised to protect Social Security and Medicare, or perhaps because of his emphasis on culture war and immigration politics.

But the effort to smuggle large Medicaid cuts into Obamacare repeal is real. And its failure or success as the Senate takes up Obamacare repeal will reveal if this is either the last gasp of a fading small-government crusade or the start of a welfare state rollback effort that will eventually expand to cover Medicare and Social Security as well.

The scale of the Medicaid cuts is why the bill Setfanik voted for would result in even fewer people being covered than just straight repeal of the ACA.

You know, it’s kind of amazing how much downward wealth distribution and regulation of business was in Obama’s neoliberal bailout of the health insurance industry.

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