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The American Power Elite’s Fierce Resistance to Donald Trump Continues

[ 420 ] January 18, 2017 |


Betsy DeVos, everybody:

As I may have mentioned, my father was a teacher and an administrator in the public high schools for over 35 years. He explained the essential difference between proficiency and growth to me 40 years ago. That a prospective Secretary of Education hadn’t the faintest idea what Franken was talking about should have been enough to make the committee adjourn itself in helpless laughter.


The whole hearing was beyond bizarre. I believe that the hearing into the nomination of Mike Pompeo to run the CIA was less covert than this one was. It started at five in the evening. Committee chairman Lamar Alexander locked the committee into a one round of questioning in which the members each had five minutes. This meant that most of the Republicans gave little five-minute addresses on the greatness of Betsy DeVos, Civil Rights icon and Concerned Mom. Meanwhile, the Democrats each spent some of their time pleading for another round of questioning. The strategy of putting DeVos’ nomination on a rocket sled so as to avoid exposing too much of her abysmal lack of qualifications was so obvious as to be insulting.

As a colleague observes, one thing the Cabinet of Deplorables indicates is Donald Trump’s utter, and entirely justified, contempt for Senate Republicans. He can’t be bothered to do even the most perfunctory quality control or effort to prepare his nominees. And why should he, since the Senate is happy to rush even the most cartoonishly unqualified nominees through. Trump could nominate a barrel of cow shit with a Confederate Flag stuck into it to a cabinet post and get 52 yea votes. Why spend any more time than you have to? It’s called checks and balances.


Wikileaks in a Single Tweet

[ 96 ] January 18, 2017 |


Really. It’s like the John Birch Society—if the John Birch Society were a laundering operation for Russian propaganda.

The Obvious Rightness of the Manning Commutation

[ 91 ] January 18, 2017 |

Both the grossly disproportionate sentence and the awful conditions she was subjected to not only justify but compel commutation:

First, Manning’s sentence was grossly disproportionate. Prosecuting leakers is very rare, although Obama went after whistleblowers to an unprecedented extent. The seven people prosecuted for leaking information to the media by Obama constitute 70 percent of the people prosecuted for this crime in the history of the United States. And there is certainly no precedent for anything remotely resembling a 35-year sentence for leaking information to the media. Sentencing Manning to time served would have been towards the harsh end of what was potentially justified. Arbitrarily singling out Manning for an extraordinarily harsh punishment is exactly the kind of injustice the commutation power should be used to redress.

And, second, not only has Manning been in prison much longer than her offense merited, the conditions she was subjected to in prison were a vile abuse of human rights. She was held in solitary confinement for extended periods, treatment that amounts to torture in practice, even if it’s not defined as such in law. She remained in a man’s prison despite announcing her gender identity as a woman in 2013. She detailed the effects of this treatment in her letter to Obama: “I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life.” She was actually punished for her suicide attempt with more time in solitary confinement, an act of astonishing cruelty.

The disproportionate length of the sentence given to Manning and the cruelty she was subjected to in prison make commuting her sentence a no-brainer.

This doesn’t mean that Obama’s opponents didn’t attack it. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Obama’s commutation “outrageous,” asserting that “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.” The idea that seven years of hard prison time in often deplorable conditions doesn’t constitute “accountability” reflects an appalling lack of human decency.

Let me to pause here to note that 1)Paul Ryan wants to take health insurance away from 32 million people to fund massive upper-class tax cuts and 2)many of the same media figures who consider Hillary Clinton’s email server management a scandal worthy of saturation coverage slobber over Paul Ryan as a Serious Policy Wonk with a sincere commitment to helping the poor.

The harsh treatment given to Manning is particularly hard to justify given that most of the people responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 and all of the people responsible for the torture of prisoners under the Bush administration got away scot-free. While it’s too late for many of the worst villains of the first decade of the millennium to be held accountable, it’s important that other injustices be addressed.

I think there’s a solid argument that the pass given to torturers and financial scammers should mean that Manning shouldn’t haven’t had been prosecuted even if charging her is defensible in isolation. But the commutation isn’t even a close call.

Trump is being sued for defamation by one of the women he allegedly assaulted

[ 139 ] January 18, 2017 |

I’m not putting “allegedly” in scare quotes because I love the Rule of Law like that.


A former contestant on “The Apprentice” who previously accused Donald Trump of making unwelcome sexual advances toward her, kissing her on the lips and groping her in a Beverly Hills hotel filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against the president-elect over his denials of her allegations, CBS Los Angeles reported.

Summer Zervos announced the lawsuit at a Los Angeles news conference with her attorney, Gloria Allred, who represents multiple women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has vehemently denied the allegations, and he specifically rebuffed Zervos’ accusations.

Zervos and Allred said they called on Mr. Trump in November in retract statements calling Zervos a “liar” and referring to her allegations as “fiction” and “fabrications.”

“I also called up on him to state that what I said about his behavior toward me was true,” Zervos said. “More than two months have gone by and he has not issued that retraction. I wanted to give Mr. Trump the opportunity to retract his false statements about me and the other women who came forward. Mr. Trump has not issued a retraction as I requested, he has therefore left me with no alternative other than to sue him in order to vindicate my reputation.”

“I want Mr. Trump to know that I will still be willing to dismiss my case against him immediately for no monetary compensation if he would simply retract his false and defamatory statements about me and acknowledge that I told the truth about him,” she added.

I wonder if there’s any relevant precedent regarding whether a sitting president can be sued for something he “allegedly” did unrelated to the performance of his office?


Leaving aside the snark for a moment:

(1) Summer Zervos accuses Trump of groping her and kissing her without her consent.  That’s sexual assault.  Sexual assault is a crime which is very hard to prosecute for all sorts of reasons, one of the biggest being that the state has to meet a standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.  Here, Zervos must merely prove that it’s more likely than not that Trump was lying when he claimed that Zervos was lying.

(2) This case is a reversal of the standard New York Times v. Sullivan situation, because it’s the public figure that’s being sued for defamation.  (I doubt that Zervos is even a limited purpose public figure in this context, and even if she is the Sullivan standard seems irrelevant, since Trump actually knows whether his claims about her statements about him are true or not).

(3) Using a million-watt megaphone to lie about having sexually assaulted somebody is, independent of the assault itself, a horrible act that should be punished ruthlessly by the legal system, especially since the criminal law so often fails to punish sexual assault itself.

I hope and trust that we see several more of these in the coming months.

Announcing the First James Comey Award For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Chutzpah

[ 89 ] January 18, 2017 |


Our first winner is director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and man who bears full responsibility for every bad thing that Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the Roberts Court 5 inflict on the country, Mr. James M. Comey:

Mr. Comey discussed the investigation and sharply criticized Mrs. Clinton at a news conference announcing that no charges would be brought against her. He also wrote two letters near the end of the campaign that Clinton supporters say cost her the election. But Mr. Comey has not publicly commented on whether there are any open investigations of Mr. Trump or anyone associated with his campaign.

Democrats said the closest Mr. Comey came on Friday to offering an explanation for his actions was to say he would only disclose an ongoing investigation if the public had an overwhelming need to know about it or if it was obvious there was one underway. He said he did not believe any possible investigation into Trump or his associates met either standard.

Nothing says “the public had an overwhelming need to know” like “we found some emails we don’t even have a warrant to read but have a 0% chance of changing the conclusion of our previous snipe hunt.” As far as a foreign country potentially undermining a presidential election, though, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I can’t decide if the ability of the Democratic congresspeople to retain any measure of composure around this weaselly hack means that they’re better or worse people than me.

Ordinarily, this entry would lap the field. But we have very strong competition from someone you may remember from another instance of gross malpractice by the New York Times:

As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that the materials Manning leaked led to the death of anyone. The same, however, most certainly cannot be said for the senseless war Miller helped bring about by dutifully transcribing whatever fallacious Bush administration propaganda came down the pike.

In conclusion, I declare the winner to be “they can both go straight to hell with no health insurance.”

The Many Faces of Trump Foreign Policy

[ 113 ] January 18, 2017 |

From NBC. Admit it, you’d rather look at Nick Offerman than Donald Trump. Which is good. Because usage rights.

It won’t be too long before we start to get a better understanding of what foreign policy in a Trump Administration will actually look like. It’s useful to keep in mind that current rhetoric is no guarantee of future grand strategy. Remember when we all worried that the Bush Administration was going to be too isolationist? Good times.

But let’s assume, for a moment, that the past is prologue. Or the prologue is the main part of the book. Or whatever.

This raises an interesting puzzle: what the $@!#* • #!*$$%*(!! is he doing? Seriously. What the !#(&–^&!# stupid #$#(*$!! is going on?

As I noted in another post, on what godforsaken inhospitable bright orange gas giant is it a good idea to attack your most successful alliance at the same exact time that you’re picking fights with your nearest peer-competitor—that is, China? And it isn’t like the incoming administration has been sending unambiguous signals to key Asian allies while it’s been prodding China. Oh yeah, and also North Korea’s in the mix.

As I was thinking about this—duly motivated by a discussion among fellow international-relations specialists on Facebook—I took to the Twitters to work out some alternative theories. Here they are:

The Chess Master.” Trump is a strategic genius. He recognizes that the US cannot afford to defend Europe while threatening war with China. He needs to take Russia out of the picture. So that means a “grand bargain” that will concede to Russia its privileged sphere of influence, as well as forward some of its other strategic priorities in western Eurasia. Not only does this free up the United States to take on Beijing, but it might even entice Russia to remain neutral—or support the US. It’s like the Austrian Diplomatic Revolution. Which turned out terrific for Vienna.

“The Transactionalist.” This is the conventional wisdom on Trump. He thinks in terms of short-term zero-sum bargains, mercantilist economics, and is deeply insecure about being taken advantage of. In his mind, NATO helps trade competitors. It’s basically a trade subsidy for Germany. But he can make big, splashy deals with countries like Russia. Maybe he can squeeze better deals from the NATO allies as well. There is a “T” in NATO, after all. It doesn’t have to stand for “Treaty.”

“Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt.” Trump speaks loudly and carries… a small stick… in his freakishly small hands. He’s all bluster. US foreign policy will largely carry on as normal, under the watchful eye of Defense, State, and second-tier national-security staff. In fact, Trump’s barking might just get a few NATO countries to make token increases in their defense spending, or offer more subsidies for American troops.

“The Buffoon.” This is kind of like Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt, but he actually means it; cooler heads aren’t going to prevail. It really is that bad. In other words, Trump is an impulsive narcissist and a walking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Don’t worry too much about strategic logic. There really isn’t any. But some nice commentators—at Fox News, NewsMax, whatever new #MAGA journals appear, or the National Enquirer—will be happy to tell us that it’s genius. In a hundred years, Chinese revisionist historians will argue that there actually was a calculated grand strategy. They will be wrong.

“The Leninist.” The Trump ‘brain trust’—some combination of Bannon and Flynn—just want to burn it all down. This is something Cheryl Rofer (blog, Twitter) emphasizes. As reported at The Daily Beast:

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

In this scenario, it’s all about shredding globalism and liberal order. And that means watching NATO and the EU burn. Or, at least, gumming them up. Here, the eerie overlap with Russian interests is all a matter of convenience. They hate the liberal order, because it benefits the US and its allies. The Trumpistas hate the liberal order too, because reasons.

“The Transnational Rightist.” The Leninist is to revolutionary Marxism as The Transnational Rightist is to parliamentary socialism. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with NATO and the EU that a Europe dominated by a mix of right-wing populist and post-fascist parties won’t cure. The enemy is the broad European center—the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and so on. What Trump wants is the rise of political co-confessionals, such as the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, and the Freedom Party in Austria. Hurting the establishment is good, but burning everything down would be a bit too much. Maybe just the EU. NATO can stay. Is Russia an ally of convenience or a fellow traveller? For now, it doesn’t really matter.

“The Useful Idiot.” Is Trump compromised by Kompromat? Is his overleveraged financial spider web dependent upon, intertwined with, or simply looking for the best deals in Russia? Does Trump just having a thing for strong, buff autocrats? Who knows? It’s all bad.

“Tales of the Incompetent Transition.” Transitions often make for policy instability and amateur-hour mistakes. I arrived at the Pentagon in 2009. The Obama Administration had just rolled out its new plans for European ballistic missile defenses. They were much better than the old plans. They also involved ending the “Third Site” in Poland. That the Bush Administration had so carefully negotiated. Apparently, no one gave  Warsaw a ‘heads up’. Things were bumpy for a bit.

Point is, even well-run transitions full of experienced people can go bad. And this is not one of those transitions. Eventually, there will be national-security principals, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries, and the rest of the crew. People will be briefed. Many will have a clue. Things will settle down.

…. Of course, it could be any combination of these. And perhaps I’ve missed some possibilities. Thoughts?

[cross-posted at the Duck of Minerva]



On Manning

[ 238 ] January 17, 2017 |
Zhigongtu full.jpg

Portraits of Periodical Offering, a 6th-century Chinese painting portraying various emissaries; ambassadors depicted in the painting ranging from those of Hephthalites, Persia to Langkasuka, Baekje(part of the modern Korea), Qiuci, and Wo (Japan).


Stepped Pyramids frames it well:

A state cannot have secrets without having classes of people who are entrusted with secrets, and it cannot maintain that trust without enacting penalties for violating it. I object to the nature of Manning’s imprisonment — solitary confinement is torture, and denying prisoners necessary medical treatment is a crime against humanity. I object to its absurd duration. I believe some of the material she leaked was in the public interest.

But I cannot object to the existence of a law prohibiting leaks, nor to her prosecution under such a law. She did commit an actual crime. I am happy that her sentence is being commuted and it is long overdue. But “Chelsea Manning did nothing wrong” cannot be true from the perspective of the state.

Manning did not review the information that she shared with Assange with any degree of due scrutiny; indeed, it was impossible for her to do so, because she lacked sufficient expertise in the subject matter to tell the difference between material that was properly and improperly classified. And much of the information that she leaked easily met the bar for classification. This includes the many frank, full assessments of foreign leaders that US diplomats gave, as well as accounts of meetings with foreign governments that depended for their existence upon secrecy. An example of the latter were the cables that revealed the existence of discussions between the United States and China over contingency planning in the event of a North Korean collapse. The public benefits immensely from such talks, but the talks would not have happened had Beijing not been assured of their secrecy.

Indeed, much of the work of the US diplomatic corps over the past six years has been repairing the damage caused by the leakage of properly classified material by Wikileaks. It turns out that corrupt autocrats don’t like it when US diplomats point out (in secret) that they are, in fact, corrupt autocrats. And as such, it is simply incredible to claim that Chelsea Manning “did nothing wrong.” She caused significant damage to entirely laudable US (and international) foreign policy efforts. The best we can argue is that a) the good outweighs the ill, and in any case b) the circumstances of her detention are pointlessly inhumane. Manning’s own account of her wrongdoing, for me, shifts the balance of deliberation towards mercy, and I do agree that Obama has made the correct decision by commuting her sentence. A pardon, on the other hand, would go too far.

I also think that the folks at Lawfare get this one about right.

Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence

[ 208 ] January 17, 2017 |

President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration, and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to commit suicide last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

Now, under the terms of Mr. Obama’s commutation announced by the White House on Tuesday, Ms. Manning is set to be freed in five months, on May 17 of this year, rather than in 2045.

[EL]: Hmmmm:

Finally, a Fresh Idea!

[ 130 ] January 17, 2017 |


I’ll give this a hard pass:

Hoping to help Democrats recover from what it has dubbed the party’s “worst electoral position since the Civil War,” a centrist think tank is launching a $20 million campaign to study how the party lost its way and offer a new economic agenda for moving forward.

The think tank, Third Way, on Tuesday is set to launch “New Blue,” a campaign to help Democrats reconnect with the voters who have abandoned the party. The money will be spent to conduct extensive research, reporting and polling in Rust Belt states that once formed a Blue Wall, but which voted for president-elect Donald Trump last November.

I’ve made fun of pundit’s fallacies from the left being used to explain the 2016 elections, but at least they’re mostly right on the policy merits. I just wish people would make the case that the Democratic Party should continue to move left on the merits rather than bullshitting about how people who voted for Rob Portman and Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin rejected Hillary Clinton because they’re strongly committed to MOAR SOCIALISM. The idea that marginal Trump voters are screaming for MOAR ERSKINE BOWLES is equally stupid as an explanation and has nothing to recommend it on the policy merits either.

Shorter North Dakota Republicans: “Kill the Hippies and the Indians!”

[ 58 ] January 17, 2017 |


North Dakota Republicans have developed a quite rational response to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests:

Republican lawmakers in North Dakota are taking aim at protesters with a handful of bills that would make another pipeline protest far more dangerous.

The oil-friendly legislature argues that its constituents are frustrated over the protests, which led federal authorities to halt construction of the $3.8-billion Dakota Access Pipeline as thousands of protesters braved cold weather and violence for months.

A bill that state GOP Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced would exempt drivers from liability if they accidentally hit a pedestrian, according to the Bismarck Tribune. House Bill 1203 was written up in direct response to groups of protesters blocking roadways, Kempenich told the paper. He claims protesters were seen jumping out in front of vehicles.

“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian,” Kempenich said. “They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger.”

He admits that the law might be used in cases that don’t involve protests. But a few casualties of justice are apparently worth it; his bill would mitigate instances when panicked drivers might have accidentally “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes” as protesters blocked the roads.

That should go well. White people being able to kill Native Americans without the threat of punishment. Well, that’s a new event in American history!

Industrial Espionage

[ 18 ] January 17, 2017 |
DDR economy-en.svg

Vectorized in Inkscape by User:Mysid; based on a CIA image ( Public Domain.


My latest at the Diplomat highlights some new work on the impact of industrial espionage:

States behave as if industrial espionage is important; developing countries undertake extensive efforts to steal from advanced countries, and advanced countries take steps to protect their advanced technology from theft. In the Cold War, for example, the United States developed and enforced an elaborate system of export controls designed to prevent advanced military and industrial technology from falling into the hands of the Soviets. Today, U.S. officials relentlessly complain about Chinese intellectual property theft, and China continues to steal IP.

But scholars have struggled to demonstrate much actual impact. Industrial espionage competes with domestic R&D, with potentially far reaching negative effects. Also, backwards economies often have trouble incorporating stolen technology into the industrial bases. The Soviet Union continuously had difficulty taking advantage of successful industrial espionage operation during the Cold War, with acquisitions often leading to technical dead-ends rather than sustained progress.

The new paper by Albrecht Glitz and Erik Meyersson suggests that, in at least some cases, industrial espionage works.


How To Respond to the War on the ACA

[ 139 ] January 17, 2017 |


As you know, one of Paul Ryan’s central goals is to take away the health insurance of tens of millions of people to help fund massive upper-class tax cuts. How should Democrats respond? I think this is essentially right. In summary:

  • As with all other issues, the default position of the Democratic caucus should be “no.” Make it clear that there will be no initial negotiations on a replacement plan.  Hope that the tensions within the Republican caucus either cause the effort to collapse on itself, or results in repeal-and-replace. The longer this drags out, the better the chances of preserving the ACA. Obstruct. Delay. Vote no.
  • If the Republicans were to offer cosmetic changes to the ACA — slightly less generous subsidies and more rentier skimming for Medicaid, say, but preserving the basic structure of the ACA and making it worse in ways that could be fairly easily fixed by the next Democratic Congress — this would be one of the few instances in which the bad politics of collaborating with Republicans would be substantively beneficial enough to be worth it. But I think this will be a moot point. This would be the smart political play for Republicans, and I suspect McConnell would go along — but I don’t think Ryan will.
  • If the Republicans are actually determined to pass a horrible statute that will effectively deny tens of millions of people access to health care through a combination of locking people out of the market because they can’t afford or qualify for insurance and allowing companies to sell completely worthless insurance, then the default position holds — no Democratic votes, no negotiation to season the shit sandwich, the end. If Republicans are going to do this, make sure they own it. And, as Chait says, since the only way the Republicans can take away the health insurance of tens of millions of people to help fund massive upper-class tax cuts in this scenario is by nuking the filibuster, this would produce institutional changes that would be very beneficial for liberals in the long run — not least in healthcare policy. And making Republicans own this catastrophe makes it likely that the next Democratic Congress happens sooner rather than later.

Can #3 — certainly the worst of these scenarios — be averted? I don’t know. But while I don’t think Trump is preferable to a generic Republican overall, this is one issue where having Trump rather than Cruz or Rubio or Pence is actually useful.  It’s hard enough to pass healthcare reform when a popular president has a clear agenda and is very focused in getting Congress to pass it. The Republicans are being nominally led by a massively unpopular buffoon who has no idea what he’s talking about and a personality that requires constantly humiliating negotiating partners and reneging on commitments making promises about health care reform that completely undercut the “equal access” bullshit Ryan is trying to sell his marks on. Does this make it impossible for Republicans to kill the ACA? As much as I wish that green lanternites and their president-centric view of the legislative process were right, it doesn’t.  But it does make a heavy lift heavier, and Democrats need to leverage Trump’s unpopularity and politically unhelpful statements while maintaining a laser focus on making Trump as unpopular as possible. A lot of lives are at stake.

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