Dark Woods

This is the deepest part of the deep dark woods. Nobody speaks for the prez-elect, not even himself.

Charles Pierce

This week’s featured post is “How Populism Goes Bad“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s feud with the intelligence services over Russia

Friday, Trump got briefed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey about Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Also on Friday, an unclassified report on the findings of the CIA, FBI, and NSA was released to the public. (Actual content begins on page 6. The report says it was based on a “highly classified” document. The conclusions are the same but some “supporting information” was left out.)

We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election

This effort seems to have unfolded on three levels: first, a “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order”, then a specific animus against Hillary Clinton, and finally a desire to help elect Donald Trump.

When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency. … Starting in March 2016, Russian Government–linked actors began openly supporting President-elect Trump’s candidacy in media aimed at English-speaking audiences.

The report describes a wide-ranging effort, including hacking of the DNC and the Clinton campaign emails that were released by WikiLeaks, direct propaganda on Russian-government supported outlets like the RT news network, internet trolls, and fake news sources.

Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election represented a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations aimed at US elections.

Until Friday, Trump had minimized any implication that Russia helped him get elected, saying that there was no way to know who had done the hacking, and describing the Russian-influence controversy as a “witch hunt“. His statement Friday didn’t double down on that, but changed the subject. He continued to acknowledge no special role for Russia, and shifted attention to hacking voting machines, which has been sometimes rumored but seems not to have happened.

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations, including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines

In short: Russia played a key role in getting Trump elected, and he’s still carrying water for them. How far the pro-Russian tilt of his administration will go is still anybody’s guess.


BTW, if you believe the NYT’s interviews in Lousiana, Trump supporters don’t care. That’s disturbing, but I think it’s important not to confuse the enthusiastic Trumpers with the 46% who elected him. The 46% included a lot of Republicans with doubts about him.


In possibly related news, former CIA director James Woolsey resigned from the Trump transition team. According to the WaPo:

People close to Woolsey said … that Woolsey had grown increasingly uncomfortable lending his name and credibility to the transition team without being consulted.

and ObamaCare

President Obama, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine about the proposed repeal of ObamaCare.

If a repeal with a delay is enacted, the health care system will be standing on the edge of a cliff, resulting in uncertainty and, in some cases, harm beginning immediately. Insurance companies may not want to participate in the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2018 or may significantly increase prices to prepare for changes in the next year or two, partly to try to avoid the blame for any change that is unpopular. Physician practices may stop investing in new approaches to care coordination if Medicare’s Innovation Center is eliminated. Hospitals may have to cut back services and jobs in the short run in anticipation of the surge in uncompensated care that will result from rolling back the Medicaid expansion. Employers may have to reduce raises or delay hiring to plan for faster growth in health care costs without the current law’s cost-saving incentives. And people with preexisting conditions may fear losing lifesaving health care that may no longer be affordable or accessible.

Does anybody remember the deal that came out of the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011? We were assured that the sequester, which would cut spending across the board without regard to its importance, would never come to pass. It was just an enforcement mechanism to make sure that the bipartisan “Supercommittee” really did come up with $1.5 trillion of deficit reduction over the next ten years. And they would, because nobody wanted the sequester.

Well, threatening the committee with something awful didn’t magically make the partisan deadlock go away: Republicans still wouldn’t consider any tax increases, and Democrats still weren’t willing to offer $1.5 trillion of spending cuts without any tax increases. So the sequester happened, even though everybody swore it wouldn’t.

Same thing here: We’re told that if ObamaCare is repealed, effective two or three years in the future, then Congress will be forced to come up with a replacement, because nobody wants to be responsible for 20 million people losing their health insurance and everybody losing protection against being locked out of the insurance system by a pre-existing condition.

And that’s exactly right: Nobody wants to be responsible. So when it happens they’ll all do their best to duck the responsibility.


Repeal-and-delay or repeal-now-and-replace-someday may have trouble in the Senate, where it only takes three Republican dissenters to derail the plan. So far

Rand Paul (R-KY), Bob Corker (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Susan Collins (R-ME) are all signaling a potential break from the rest of their party. Though it’s not yet clear whether these senators will cast a vote against Obamacare repeal, the growing unease in the Senate puts the GOP on shaky ground.

They’re not coming out as ObamaCare defenders by any means, but each is reluctant to vote for repeal without knowing what the replacement proposal will be.

There’s a distinction to make here between sharp, hard-nosed tactics and irresponsibility. Much of the repeal of ObamaCare can be done through a reconciliation process that can’t be filibustered, but a replacement proposal would need 60 votes to get through the Senate, which it is unlikely to get at the moment.

So it makes tactical sense for the Republicans to separate the two votes, figuring that after ObamaCare is repealed, some Democrats will come around to a Republican replacement plan rather than revert to the broken healthcare system we had in 2009. What’s irresponsible, though, is that the replacement plan doesn’t even exist yet, and it’s not at all clear that Republicans can agree on one, even among themselves. They’ve had seven years to concoct a plan; it’s a mystery why the 8th or 9th year would be the charm.


Various Republicans are insisting that no one will be worse off under their plan, whatever it turns out to be. They almost certainly can’t make good on that, “since they are backing themselves into having no money to insure 20 or 25 million people” (as Josh Marshall observes), “But they’re on the record.”

For what it’s worth, Trump said during the campaign: “Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” This week, spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway said: “We don’t want anyone who currently has insurance to not have insurance.”

Paul Ryan: “Clearly there will be a transition and a bridge so that no one is left out in the cold, so that no one is worse off.” But later, his people walked that back, claiming that the Speaker was talking only about the transition period before the replacement took effect.

but I’m thinking about resistance

There are a number of events you could go to, either this weekend or next. You can search for something near you at the Our Revolution event page. (There are probably other event pages; if you know of any, mention them in the comments.)

The big ones, of course, are the Women’s Marches January 21, a week from Saturday and the day after the Inauguration. The central one in D.C. is expected to draw hundreds of thousands, and there are sister marches in cities all over the country.

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t usually do this kind of thing, one question you might be asking yourself is: If I go, what difference will it make?

I won’t try to convince you that you’ll have some major impact on Trump himself, or on most of his supporters either. But a big news-making crowd might make congresspeople of both parties think twice before they sign on to Trump’s agenda, and also affect the way the media covers the administration going forward. We want to short-circuit the narrative that says the public is coming around on Trump, that nobody really cares about his conflicts of interest, his racist chief strategist and attorney general, his targeting of Muslim Americans and Hispanic immigrants, his anti-woman proposals and personal history, his pro-billionaire agenda, and all the rest of it.

But beyond all those good effects (which I admit that one more person would advance only marginally), you should think about the effect that going to a march will have on yourself. By getting out and marching on the first full day of the new administration, you start to change your self-image and your political identity. Rather than being someone who just pays attention to the news and votes, you start becoming someone who is more involved and does things on a regular basis. You may meet other people who get involved and do things, or discover that people you already know are out there with you. You may start feeling less helpless and hopeless. You may do less yelling at the TV and more planning how to respond. Seeds will get planted, and who can predict what will sprout from them?

So sure, do it for the country. But also do it for yourself.


As for affecting Congress, some ex-staffers for Democratic congresspeople have used their inside knowledge to put together Indivisible: a practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda. It’s about tactics for forming constituent groups and influencing your members of Congress.

It includes a number of tips that are obvious once you’ve read them, but that not everybody would think of. Like this one for attending town-hall meetings:

SHOULD I BRING A SIGN?
Signs can be useful for reinforcing the sense of broad agreement with your message. However, if you’re holding an oppositional sign, staffers will almost certainly not give you or the people with you the chance to get the mic or ask a question. If you have enough people to both ask questions and hold signs, though, then go for it!


The House Republicans’ attempt to do away with the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics failed. After an immediate public outcry, they backed down. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this issue, but it points out that the public’s voice still matters, if we choose to use it.


Sleeping Giants “is an organization dedicated to stopping racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic news sites by stopping their ad dollars.” The main tactic seems to be pointing out to companies that their online ads are appearing next to horrible content, implying that the company endorses such views. Current target: Addidas.

We’ve reached a point in our country where sitting it out isn’t an option. If you’re a part of ad dollars flowing to racist sites like Breitbart, then you’re part of the ugliness undermining a strong, diverse America.

and here’s the most important story nobody’s paying attention to

From ProPublica, an organization that has a history of doing good, accurate reporting:

The rate of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas seemed to have doubled since 2010, making the Lone Star State one of the most dangerous places in the developed world to have a baby.

The increase is largest among African-American women, and the timing corresponds to a funding cut for family-planning centers that serve low-income women. Coincidence?

and you might also be interested in

Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes: “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.” Read the whole thing. Or watch it.

Trump, of course, doesn’t have the grace to let something like that stand — imagine if President Obama had felt obligated to respond to every bad thing said about him — so he tweeted:

Meryl Streep, one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big

“Overrated” is also how he described Hamilton, so it’s starting to look like a badge of honor. Being called “overrated” by Trump is something to aspire to.


If you want to know how bad things could get, look to Brazil. After President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party was impeached in August, the current un-elected president, Michel Temer, took over, despite being just as corrupt as Rousseff. Temer has pushed through a constitutional amendment to freeze public spending on all social programs at current levels (plus inflation) for the next 20 years. A whopping 24% of the public supports that limit — 43% of Brazilians were unaware of the plan a short time before the Senate approved it — but the business community loves it, so it passed.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, says the freeze “clearly violates Brazil’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” and “will place Brazil in a socially retrogressive category all of its own”.

A separate pension-reform proposal forbids retirement before age 65, in a country where the life expectancy in many poorer communities is lower than that. Labor laws are also under attack. In many, many ways, the government is taking an attitude of: Yeah, it’s unfair and unpopular, but so what?


I frequently link to Pressthink by Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at Columbia who is one of the sharpest people thinking about American news coverage. Recently he had a very good two-part series about the challenge Trump poses to journalism and some (admittedly incomplete) suggestions about how to respond.

One of the problems he cites:

A crisis of representation around covering Trump in which it is not clear that anyone can reliably tell us what his positions are, or explain his reasons for holding them, because he feels free to contradict advisers, spokespeople, surrogates, and previous statements he made. As Esquire’s Charles Pierce put it to me: “Nobody speaks for the prez-elect, not even himself.” … [E]xisting methods for “holding power to account” rest on assumptions about how it will behave. A man in power untroubled by contradictions and comfortable in the confusion he creates cannot be held accountable by normal means.

The usual model of trying to gain access to high-ranking officials can backfire in such a regime: What if your inside source has no more idea what the President thinks than you do?


Hearings are starting on Trump’s appointees, even though background checks on conflicts of interest are unfinished. How are senators supposed to know what to ask about?


It looks like Trump is going to ask Congress to pay for the wall. Supposedly, Mexico will reimburse us later. I think this is a pattern we’ll see a lot of: Magical things are going to happen someday to fulfill Trump’s promises, but in the meantime something else will happen.


Yonatan Zunger has a different metaphor for talking about tolerance, and it gets around the tolerating-intolerance issue: He thinks of tolerance not as a virtue, but as a peace treaty. You tolerate those who sign onto the treaty, but not those who reject it.

There may be bad consequences to this view that I haven’t identified yet, but I’m going to think about it.


At the Pink Panthers blog, dissident liberal Christians are asking for secular help getting their message out.

Obviously, a religious establishment which would pressure their followers elevate a man like Donald Trump to office and claim that this pleases God is, at the least, dangerous to our survival as a nation. Most of what passes for Christianity in this country is nothing more than complicated explanations for how a person can reject everything Jesus ever said while remaining Christian. Which is a travesty. Real Christianity is something which most human beings would look at and say, “even if I can’t believe in the religious stuff, I can see that this is good and right. It makes sense.” But right now, that kind of Christianity has been rendered all but voiceless both inside and outside the church.

Which is why I am asking secular, liberal America to start sharing the voices of Christian dissent on social media.


The Wall Street Journal (link behind paywall; summary at ThinkProgress) reports that Trump businesses owe far more than the $315 million he has admitted to.

Last May, Mr. Trump filed a financial-disclosure form with the Federal Election Commission that listed 16 loans worth $315 million that his businesses had received from 10 companies, including Deutsche Bank AG. But that form reported debts only for companies he controls, excluding more than $1.5 billion lent to partnerships that are 30%-owned by him.

ThinkProgress adds:

[The] financial institutions [that hold this debt] include many firms that are under the scrutiny of the federal agencies that Trump will soon control. Wells Fargo, for example, which services over $900 million in loans connected to Trump, “is currently facing scrutiny from federal regulators surrounding its fraudulent sales practices and other issues.”

and let’s close with something adorable

One of my friends has been working on this project for some while now, but has had to be circumspect about discussing it until the company was ready to announce, which it did this week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Kuri, a gender-nonspecific name pronounced like the spicy Indian dish, is a different take on the idea of a home robot: It’s more of a pet than an appliance, and isn’t trying to look like a human or replace your maid service. So it won’t vacuum your rug, but it will roll around your house looking cute and evoking interactions — kind of like a puppy on wheels, but without the mess.

Its appearance owes more to R2D2 than C3PO. Techcrunch describes Kuri as “an Amazon Echo designed by Pixar”, and in fact somebody who used to work at Pixar did have a hand in the design. After decades of sci-fi about emotionless androids who are preternaturally competent and useful (i.e., Star Trek‘s Data), the idea that emotional connection needs to happen first is a fascinating reversal.

NBC News covered it like this:

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Comments

  • Anonymous  On January 9, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Enlightening as usual

    “Trump, of course, doesn’t the grace to let something like that stand”
    Missing verb?

    And I was not sure what “Trump supporters don’t care” was referring to before reading the article (usually you put an horizontal line when you change topic, but not this time)

  • Bruce Agte  On January 9, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    “In short: Russia played a key role in getting Trump elected, and he’s still carrying water for them.” Honestly, after looking at every bit of evidence I can find, I’m not convinced of your assessment here. The proof of Russian influence seems non-existent, or marginal at best. The Democratic Establishment badly needs a sinister enemy it can blame for the stunning defeat, something it can point its finger at so that it will be excused from accepting responsibility for failure. But fail it did, and not because of Russian influence, but because it lost formerly loyal voters like myself who felt betrayed by the anti-democratic actions of the Democratic Party. If there is water-carrying going on here, it is being done by you for an institution that has lost its essential bearings.

    • weeklysift  On January 11, 2017 at 7:17 am

      I still haven’t heard a good explanation of why the intelligence services are cooperating with the Clinton apologists in blaming Russia. I’m willing to consider conspiracies, but I need to be able to find a reasonable motive for the participants to conspire.

      • Bruce Agte  On January 12, 2017 at 12:25 pm

        Thanks for your response. I don’t think we need to see evidence of a conspiracy in order to question the “assessment” of the intelligence community. Often in recent history we have seen the various agencies operating on their own behalf, with their own agendas and motives. J. Edgar Hoover is perhaps the most famous example that comes to mind, but our history is full of intelligence community deceptions including Iran Contra during Reagan and WMD during Bush. More recently, Director of Nat’l Intelligence James Clapper lied under oath about the scope of NSA surveillance, NSA Director Kieth Alexander lied to the Senate and the FISA Court saying bulk data collection foiled 54 terrorist plots (later proven to be zero) and CIA Director John Brennan denied under oath that his Agency had hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee computers that had info on illegal detainee interrogation methods. My point here is that we seem to have a pattern of believing the intelligence community when it fits our political agenda. At present, it is the Democratic Establishment and its adherents who are placing unearned faith in the evidence-free assessments. My concern is that this misguided trust will end up being counterproductive in our efforts to mitigate the corrosive effects the Trump Administration promises to inflict upon the world.

      • weeklysift  On January 12, 2017 at 2:22 pm

        I take your point. By their nature, intelligence agencies publish their conclusions but keep their processes secret, so we can’t really examine their work the way we could a science paper or even a newspaper article. And sometimes they take advantage of this secrecy to give us unfounded conclusions.

        But I don’t routinely disbelieve the intelligence services when their conclusions go against me, either, unless I can see some clear motive. (Obviously, Brennan wouldn’t want to tell the senators that he had hacked them.) And if multiple agencies are involved, as they are here, that motive would have to extend to all of them, or they’d need a collection of individual motives that pointed them all in the same direction. I’m not able to guess what that such motives would be in this case. (Quite the opposite, I’d think some agency would want to get in good with the new administration, and would be happy to throw their rivals under the bus.)

        BTW, I think the intel agencies largely get a bad rap on WMD in Iraq. The Bush administration more or less demanded that conclusion, and badgered the intelligence people until they offered it. They should have shown more backbone, but I don’t think the deception began with them.

  • Anonymous  On January 10, 2017 at 12:14 am

    The article on tolerance as a peace treaty was interesting, but as pointed out in the article itself it breaks down when people believe that things like homosexuality are genuinely harmful and threatening to society. I think the concept has more value in explaining to others who are (nominally) on your side why fighting back against various -isms is not “just as bad” as endorsing them in the first place.

  • Bolling Lowrey  On January 10, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Glenn Glennwald of “The Intercept” writes compellingly vs. the reports that Russia successfully hacked the US elections. Sometimes I feel “our” government has designs that “we the people” get sucked into via media reports that turn out to be ‘wishful thinking’ as in the case vs. Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. So the invasion of Iraq resulted in our near total control of their oil wealth and our mass destruction of their country. Why should we easily accept now “reports” from “our” government concerning oil rich Russia? What has changed in the corporate controlled national media? The military industrial complex yet has great influence on media outlets and the general public willingly accepts the prevailing media spin as if the Iraq invasion was merely a misstep rather than the planned ruinous invasion and destruction it absolutely was intended to be. Russia is no doubt correct to be worried about “our” designs. Me too, I am very worried.

    • weeklysift  On January 11, 2017 at 7:09 am

      So you think the point is to take over Russia? I’ve been reading Glenn from time to time, and I’m just not seeing what he’s pointing to.

  • Bolling Lowrey  On January 12, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Not ‘take over’ Russia, but, seemingly to keep Russia and Russian oil out of the west. It all seems like there is a military ( or oil) agenda there, just because Russia has lots of oil. Maybe Rex Tillerson will figure it out without drones or war. Why send NATO and US troops into Poland, for openers? Who is sabre rattling?? not Russia. And I think Greenwald warns us not to be overly gullible this time. I think he warned us vis-a-vis Iraq also in advance.

    • weeklysift  On January 13, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      I think he warns us constantly about everything the U.S. government does. Sometimes he’s bound to be right.

  • Allen J. Schuler  On January 17, 2017 at 6:44 am

    I appreciated what the folks at the PinkPanther blog had to say about Christianity. I even went to their site. Unfortunately, no one there has a name, not in their “About” or their “Contact” sections. The article you link was by IdontknowwhatImdoing685 or someone like that. I’m not inclined to reference articles by “unknown.” Colin Kaepernik stands behind what he believes. Are the PinkPanther Christians afraid of the lions?

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