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Comey (And the Media) Threw the Election to the Worst President Ever

[ 218 ] January 11, 2017 |

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I’m not sure what even to say about the “press conference” held by a president-elect who is staggeringly unfit for office, who lies like most people breathe, who is hopelessly and proudly corrupt, whose command of policy detail is non-existent, who is aleady actively intimidating reporters. We have more than four more years of this.

One thing I’m not going to do, though, is to let the people and institutions responsible for this man — the second choice of the American people — assuming the presidency off the hook. Sean McElwee, Matt McDermott, and Will Jordan have a definitive analysis of the effect of James Comey’s highly prejudicial letter that actually contained no new information about a trivial pseudo-scandal that inexplicably (or, perhaps, all-too-explicably) dominated converge of the campaign. All of the available data — state polling, national polling, early voting vs. Election Day voting, the media coverage — confirms the effect of Comey’s letter. Read the whole thing, but the bottom line:

It’s true that there are other possible explanations for a late shift in vote intentions, but thus far there is no alternative explanation of merit. (The cyberhacks were surely important, but their effects would have been felt more steadily throughout the campaign.)

Instead, the evidence is clear, and consistent, regarding the Comey effect. The timing of the shift both at the state and national levels lines up very neatly with the publication of the letter, as does the predominance of the story in the media coverage from the final week of the campaign. With an unusually large number of undecided voters late in the campaign, the letter hugely increased the salience of what was the defining critique of Clinton during the campaign at its most critical moment.

The appeal of big-picture narratives about demographics, along with anecdotal evidence of big mistakes by the Clinton campaign in certain key states, makes it easy to point fingers. But looking specifically at the three “Rustbelt” blue states mentioned at the beginning of the article, no unifying picture emerges. Most stories mention Michigan, where Clinton didn’t campaign, rather than Pennsylvania, where she campaigned intensely. Indeed, these three Midwestern states (Wisconsin being the third) provide essentially an A/B/C test of different campaign strategies — and in each state she came up just short.

We do not intend to exculpate the Clinton campaign — in hindsight many decisions were flawed — but rather to note that the decisions were not abnormally bad (all campaigns make errors, and Trump’s made far more than others). However, the historic intervention into the election by James Comey means three major things:

[..]

Along with the Russian-linked theft and publication of emails from the Clinton campaign and the DNC, the Comey effect is of a different category than the usual investigative reporting or opposition research that campaigns have to contend with. Comey broke a decades-long norm of not intervening in presidential elections. The fact that his interference alone almost certainly swayed an election is indicative of a broader and disturbing breakdown of political norms.

Another fact worth highlighting: “During the final days of the election major newspapers ‘published 100 stories, 46 of which were on the front page, about or mentioning the emails.’ The tone and tenor of coverage shifted markedly against Clinton in the closing week of the campaign.” With the exception of the Billy Bush video Comey’s letter helped bury, the Comey letter received more intense scrutiny than any of Trump’s many actual scandals. And this happened despite the fact that it contained no information about a trivial pseudo-scandal and there was no chance that anything on Weiner’s laptop would change the conclusion that Clinton had not violated the law.

As I’ve said before, at this point to deny the effects of Comey’s interventions is essentially trooferism. There is no serious alternative explanation that can account for the data. The “durrrr, correlation is not causation, durrr” argument loses any plausibility when you consider that every Comey intervention caused a wave of negative media coverage about Clinton and was followed by a significant decline in national polls numbers. The “polls can’t account for Trump being a celebrity” response fails to explain why Election Day voters were more affected by Trump’s celebrity status than early voters although he didn’t become more famous in the interim (but people were treated to an obsessive wave of negative coverage about Clinton.) Even if Comey had not sent the letter on October 28, we can be as confident that Clinton would have won as we could ever be confident in such a counterfactual.

Comey’s interventions — or, to be more precise, grossly irresponsible media coverage of James Comey’s grossly unethical interventions — are not the sole factor that put Donald Trump in he White House because complex events have many causes. Did the Clinton campaign make mistakes? Certainly, although as McElwee et al. say concrete resource allocation arguments (like arguments that Jill Stein directly swung the election) inevitably founder in Pennsylvania. But every campaign, winning and losing, makes mistakes. Not every election involves the FBI putting a thumb on the scale. This is a major constitutional crisis, and the idea that we should ignore is simply absurd; indeed, a major part of the problem, given the ability of partisan hacks like Comey to cultivate a reputation as nonpartisan straight-shooters of the utmost integritude and use this to advance Republican interests.

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Revising the Worst President Ever List

[ 175 ] January 11, 2017 |

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One never wants to have a reason to revise a worst president list. I basically stand by this 2011 list I made, although I think the similarities in corruption between Trump and Harding are going to drop the latter down the list and at this point I would flip Johnson and Buchanan. But I really wonder if Trump will indeed be the worst president in American history, even beating out James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. With all due respect to the horrors caused by both of those men, I suspect it is even odds that the answer will be yes. And that is deeply, horrifyingly disturbing.

The Seafood Rule and Import Standards

[ 5 ] January 11, 2017 |

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For those who think the U.S. can’t legitimately do anything about the conditions of work and environmental exploitation overseas, please examine the new seafood importation standard implemented by the Obama administration starting January 1.

On Jan. 1 the United States started enforcing a new import rule, which requires fisheries exporting seafood to the United States to protect marine mammals at standards comparable to those required for U.S. fisheries. This rule aims to leverage American market power to reduce marine mammal bycatch worldwide. It also aims to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen, who currently face monitoring costs and fishing restrictions to reduce marine mammal bycatch – unlike some of their foreign competitors.

If this rule succeeds, it could serve as a model for responsible globalization by demonstrating that countries can be competitive in global trade without “racing to the bottom” in their environmental standards. But to make this happen, the United States will have to set the right standard, work with other countries that need help to comply and possibly defend the rule in international courts.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, federal regulators monitor marine mammal bycatch in U.S. fisheries. They also develop plans to ensure bycatch remains within well-defined limits that will not threaten marine mammal populations. If a fishery exceeds these limits, regulators can require fishermen to change their fishing gear or methods, or even close the fishery temporarily.

The MMPA is one of the world’s strongest marine mammal protection laws, and has greatly improved the status of Pacific dolphins, harbor porpoises and California sea lions. But it also has made U.S. fisheries less competitive by imposing fishing restrictions and monitoring costs that vessels in many other countries do not face.

The new rule, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gives countries that want to export seafood to the U.S. a five-year grace period to prove that their exporting fisheries monitor and limit marine mammal bycatch as effectively as U.S. fisheries are required to do under the MMPA. The idea is to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen by encouraging other countries to raise their environmental standards, rather than lowering U.S. standards. By benefiting both U.S. trade competitiveness and marine mammal conservation, this rule should have bipartisan appeal.

None of this is to say there aren’t challenges, as the article delineates. Perhaps the biggest is the world trade system, of course with the United States as its biggest supporter, that makes it difficult to enforce trade standards. A WTO challenge is extremely likely. Moreover, the standard is far from sufficient, largely because while it chooses to enforce environmental standards, it does nothing to create labor standards in an industry that is arguably the single most exploitative in the world. But it is crucial to point to examples like this, like the bipartisan support to close the slave labor loophole in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and like older examples such as the Seaman’s Act of 1915, to demonstrate that the U.S. absolutely can exert some control over working and environmental conditions of the products brought into this country. That it chooses not to in most cases is a matter of political power, knowledge, and will rather than any meaningful legal barriers. We must work for comprehensive corporate codes enforceable anywhere. This is a step toward that.

Reliable Expectations

[ 21 ] January 11, 2017 |

53855893Look, the last thing you want from a Presidential administration is a coherent, unambiguous position on relations with a fellow nuclear power:


And hey, all of those things have the benefit of being true (probably with the exception of Ukraine’s military response; there were serious escalation concerns that Kiev would have struggled to manage). The problem is that the guy at the top seems to have a different view on all of this than the guy he selected as his Secretary of State.  This matters if conflict develops between Russia and any of its neighbors; Moscow needs to have a firm sense of what the United States will do if it decides to eat more of Ukraine, or of the Baltics.

Because if there’s one thing you can say about Nazi Germany

[ 68 ] January 11, 2017 |

. . . it’s that Hitler’s intelligence services allowed and even encouraged the publication of scandalous claims about the Fuhrer:

 

Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?

This idiot is going to be president of the United States in eight days.

Bowl Mania “Victor”

[ 5 ] January 11, 2017 |
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Fables de La Fontaine by François Chauveau

A champion for our degraded times…

RANK ENTRY, OWNER PPR TOTAL PCT
1 631 97.7
2 630 97.6
3 608 94.5
4 597 92.2
5 593 91.3
6* 584 89.1
6* 584 89.1
8 575 86.4
9 572 85.5
10 568 84.2

dlanoue3 should contact me regarding prize info; address on the far right sidebar…

Leaks!

[ 92 ] January 11, 2017 |

53855893I have little substantive to add to Scott’s post, beyond affirming his recommendation of Lawfare’s treatment. Josh Marshall also outlines what I think is a careful, judicious approach.

Regardless of the veracity of the claims (which originated from outside the US intelligence community), I think it’s fair to say that we’ll open the Trump administration with an unprecedented level of hostility between the President and the IC. One way to read this is deep concern on the part of the IC on just how compromised Trump may be; discussion of the leaks, and of Russian hacking efforts, works to reduce his policy latitude and minimize the degree of Russian influence.  Another way to read it is deep concern over the degree of his outreach to Russia; the leaks and the hacking work to prevent Trump from carrying out policies that he would otherwise prefer, but that the IC loathes.

There’s clearly a middle ground.  Trump sees the prospect for friendly relations with Russia because he’s done business with Russians before, because he has some personal admiration for Putin’s governance style, and because he shares some ideological priors with the Putin government. Those factors serve both as the foundation for Russian support during the election, and as the basis for potentially sketchy relations between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

An interpretation that strains credulity is the one we find on the pro-Russia right and the pro-Russia left; that the IC has manufactured these claims from whole cloth in order to discredit Trump and start a NEW COLD WAR.  In addition to running contrary to publicly available, non-IC evidence, this would go well beyond any precedent in the history of the US IC (and yes, this includes WMD, Operation Northwoods, COINTELPRO, etc.) as well as against what we know about current divisions in the US IC over the prospects of the Trump administration.  While not many in the IC see strong relations with Russia as a positive, there are big factions that see Flynn’s more kinetic approach to Islamic terrorism as a big plus.

I would also add that for the Department of Defense and the US defense industry, Russia is almost completely irrelevant to the NEW COLD WAR. Although Moscow has clearly displayed its effectiveness at non-military operations, and showed up more effectively than many (including myself) expected in Syria, Russia is not the major driver for defense innovation and defense expenditure.  If you want a bigger, more expensive US military, you talk China, and Trump has already demonstrated that he’s quite capable of driving tensions with Beijing.

Place your predictions – Trump’s 11 a.m. press conference

[ 63 ] January 11, 2017 |

I usually avoid making predictions because I’m rotten at them, but here goes:

  • What I never thought would happen – Trump would discuss what he plans to do about the management of Trump Co., or whatever it’s called.
  • What I did think would happen – For most of yesterday I would have said he’d show up late, talk about the bullshit and circuses planned for the inauguration, officially introduce the next First Lady and segue into a disjointed rant about everyone and everything that has annoyed him and then walk off. But then #Kompromattress flooded the newswaves.
  • What I do think will happen now – He’s not coming. Maybe Spicer or Conway or even Ivanka will come out, say a few word and split. But I don’t think he’s going to show his face anywhere someone might shout a question at it.

 

Trump “not aware” that he is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation

[ 112 ] January 11, 2017 |

 

 

 

 

JFC:

As an “American citizen” regardless of political party, Conway said, “we should be concerned that intelligence officials leak to the press and won’t go and tell the president-elect or the president of the United States himself now, Mr. Obama, what the information is. They’d rather go tell the press.”

At that point, Meyers cut her off, saying, “But the report was about them going to the president.” When she pushed back, he added, “I believe it said they did brief him on it.”

The first sentence of CNN’s report reads, “Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.”

“He has said he’s not aware of that,” Conway replied of her boss, to which Meyers said, “That concerns me.”

 

On the Trump Intelligence Memo

[ 252 ] January 10, 2017 |

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I assume our foreign policy team will be weighing in at some point, but in the meantime this seems sensible.  Of course, this doesn’t mean don’t make jokes about Trump.

In isolation, it’s appropriate that this unverified and prejudicial information didn’t leak during the election. But…

The EMAILS! apparently weren’t even new, but you know, heckuva job.

The white supremacists are revolting!

[ 106 ] January 10, 2017 |

What’s more, they’re threatening to get really mad if der Trumpengropher doesn’t trumple some brown people toute de suite.

White supremacist activists emboldened by Donald Trump’s stunning victory in this year’s presidential election warned that they would revolt if the president-elect continues balking on keeping his pre-election promises.

Leaders of the alt-right movement, who openly align themselves with racist Eurocentric ideals, told The Guardian that Trump denouncing white nationalism definitely would cause disappointment and disillusionment among members of the far right.

It’s always so sad to watch naive fascists come to grips with the fact that lying pig they voted for because he was telling the right sort of lies was lying to them as well. These tears in my eyes are pity tears, not barely suppressed mirth tears.

Not that what they might feel is relevant. Any reasonably intelligent and observant person – for example a KGB agent turned Russian leader – knows that these people couldn’t be easier to manipulate if he stuck his hand in them and worked their jaws, a la Mr. Goss. They’ll feel and do what they’re told to feel and do when someone else tells them to feel and do it.

What may prove awkward for everyone, including the GOP, is the fact that the white supremacists’ feelings and actions are under the control of whoever is pushing the largest load of hate and confirming the most biases at any particular moment. Russians, hate groups (domestic and foreign), con artists and trolls (including the next Republican president); they’ll all be yanking these people’s chains. And because the GOP has for years insisted that rational thought leads to muscular men in chaps showing kindergartners how to perform abortions for Allah, it’s very difficult to imagine anything that would cause them to snap out of it.

White nationalist Jared Taylor, who runs the “race realist” magazine “American Renaissance,” was quick to point out that Trump had already backtracked on his promise to deport every undocumented immigrant from the U.S. The betrayal has some worried that this is just the first of many broken promises to come from the president-elect.

How perceptive. But don’t worry, someone will be along shortly to distract them with a Facebook post about what the queers are doing to our soil.

[Video added to minimize confusion, maximize your enjoyment of the day.]

Comey Comedy Classics

[ 187 ] January 10, 2017 |

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With notably rare exceptions:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) pressed Mr. Comey on whether, as part of the hacking probe, the FBI has investigated whether any individuals close to the Trump campaign have links to Russia. Mr. Comey refused to answer, saying he wouldn’t comment publicly on an investigation.

Wait! Wait! It gets better!

Mr. Comey said the FBI always prefers to examine such items itself, and that he didn’t know why the Democratic officials didn’t give the bureau access.

Yes, the DNC not wanting to give the FBI unfettered access to its email servers is a mystery that will always be beyond rational explanation.

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