Believing in Change

Thank you for everything. My last ask is the same as my first. I’m asking you to believe—not in my ability to create change, but in yours.

President Barack Obama

This week’s featured posts are “Farewell, Mr. President” and “Trump’s Toothless Plan to Avoid Conflicts of Interest“. In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, I want to point to an older Sift post “MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection“, where I attempt to recapture the often-suppressed radical side of King.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump dossier

Part of Trump’s briefing from the intelligence services included a two-page summary of a longer document (neither of which was endorsed as true by the intel people) listing alleged dirt that the Russians have on Trump. Buzzfeed somehow got hold of that longer document and published it, filling the airwaves with vague allusions to sexual practices you can’t talk about on TV.

Nobody who has commented (other than Trump himself, of course) actually knows whether any of this is true, and the major media outlets, in my judgment, are doing a good job of saying that at regular intervals.

I would feel sorry for any person this happened to, if he or she had maintained any standards of decorum in talking about others. But these are exactly the kinds of unsupported rumors Trump has been trafficking in for years. So this is more a case of what-goes-around-comes-around or they-that-touch-pitch-will-be-defiled.

That said, the claims aren’t well-supported enough to figure in my thinking, and probably shouldn’t figure in yours either. The proper use of them, at this point, is in jokes that needle Trump and his supporters. If they complain, you might remind them what it was like to listen to years of jokes about Obama and Kenya, or to see “humorous” images of the Obamas as monkeys.

The point of including the summary in the briefing, I suspect, is that Trump publicly resists the conclusion that the Russians were trying to help him win. But it’s hard to avoid that conclusion if the Russians had dirt on both candidates and only released what they had on Hillary. (He continues to deny that. Wednesday he said: “I think, frankly, had they broken into the Republican National Committee, I think they would’ve released it just like they did about Hillary.”) If Trump recognized anything in the document as true, the point was made.

and his plan to deal with conflicts of interest

I broke that out into its own article.

and Obama’s farewell speech

Also its own article, part of my retrospective on the Obama years.

and Senate hearings on the cabinet nominees

Like everybody else, I’m not paying the kind of attention to the nominees that they deserve.  I didn’t eight years ago, either, but that was different. My whole response to Steven Chu was something like: “A Nobel winner as secretary of energy. Cool.” But Jeff Sessions’ history on race, or Exxon-Mobil’s takeover of the State Department — these seem to deserve more thought.

The Christian Science Monitor bends over backwards not to condemn Sessions, but there’s still plenty there to set your teeth on edge. It quotes an SMU professor saying, “But he’s not evidently a mean-spirited guy. He has a narrow view, but not necessarily a mean view.” That’s a pretty low bar for an attorney general: He may not protect minority rights, but at least he won’t be screwing them out of spite.

And Tillerson will be making decisions about sanctions against Russia that have cost his former company more than $1 billion, by some reports.

And Ben Carson, well, we already know he’s a loon. I stand by my judgment in 2015 that he would be an even scarier president than Trump. In his confirmation hearings, he used the phrase “extra rights” when asked about LGBT rights in public housing. In 2014, he used that same phrase about same-sex marriage: Gay people don’t get the “extra right” to redefine marriage.

I’m sure I’ll have the occasion to say this many times, but I might as well start now: It’s invariably conservatives who are claiming “extra rights” or “special rights”. Same-sex marriage is a great example of that: Until recently, marrying the person you love was something only straight people could do. That’s a special right. Carson is complaining because gay people got the same rights he has. He exemplifies the right-wing-Christian sense of entitlement; they view their own rights as natural, and everybody else’s as “special”.

and ObamaCare

The Senate approved a budget blueprint that would be the first step towards repealing ObamaCare through a filibuster-proof process called “reconciliation“. Several Republican senators have expressed reservations about repealing ObamaCare without even having a replacement proposal written, but only Rand Paul abstained from the final vote. If the rest are going to buck the leadership on this, they’ll have to do it at a later stage. For now, they’re staying in line.

If any of you live in places like Maine (Susan Collins) or Tennessee (Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker) or Ohio (Rob Portman), you might want to give your wavering senator a call. They’re in a difficult political situation, and pressure either way might make a difference. On the one hand, they don’t want a primary opponent to say, “Senator X kept us from repealing ObamaCare.” On the other, they don’t want a general election opponent to say, “Senator X took your health care away.” But it’s shaping up to be one or the other.

In a 60 Minutes interview shortly after the election, Trump said this about ObamaCare.

Stahl: And there’s going to be a period if you repeal it and before you replace it, when millions of people could lose -– no?

Trump: No, we’re going to do it simultaneously. It’ll be just fine. We’re not going to have, like, a two-day period and we’re not going to have a two-year period where there’s nothing. It will be repealed and replaced. And we’ll know. And it’ll be great healthcare for much less money. So it’ll be better healthcare, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination.

It’s worth noting that as Congress moves towards repealing (and not replacing) ObamaCare, he still hasn’t said anything more substantive or constructive: Provide better healthcare, great healthcare, for less money. Do it immediately. At his press conference Wednesday, Trump did what he so often does: promised something in the future that there’s no reason he couldn’t deliver now, if he had it.

As soon as [HHS Secretary Tom Price] is approved and gets into the office, we’ll be filing a plan.

I don’t know what is going to happen, but I guarantee you it won’t be better healthcare for less money, immediately. And Trump will blame Congress, rather than take any responsibility for not offering a plan of his own. I continue to wonder whether Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell understand what they’ve gotten themselves into.

and you might also be interested in

Part of the ongoing project to understand Trump voters: Read “We have always been at war with Eastasia” by Michael Arnovitz. He’s addressing the way that conservative voters’ opinions can turn on a dime when the partisan winds shift: Putin and WikiLeaks are popular now. Protectionism is suddenly a good thing. There’s no need to drain the swamp, and we’ll see if anybody still cares about deficits when Trump runs one.

Arnovitz postulates that liberals and conservatives frame the partisan battle differently. Liberals believe that we’re contesting with conservatives over policy: The winner gets to decide whether we get national health care or free college, which are the really important things.

But conservatives view policy arguments as battles in the larger war against liberals. This is essentially a religious battle for the soul of America, and Russia or taxes or deficits are secondary.

BTW: In case it’s been a long time since you read 1984, the title refers to the moment when Oceania suddenly shifts its alliance from Eastasia to Eurasia. Eastasia, the former ally, is now the enemy — but no one is allowed to point that out. Instead of explaining the change, Oceania just alters history to claim that it was always at war with Eastasia.

On the Moyers & Company site, Neal Gabler writes about progressives going through the stages of grief about Trump’s election. I kind of get his point: You start out saying “This isn’t happening”, then get angry, and so on from there. But then he makes it clear that he doesn’t really understand the stages of grief:

The last stage of grief is acceptance, and one thing I do know: It is imperative that anyone who thinks of Trump’s election as perhaps the single greatest catastrophe in American political history must never reach that stage.

No, actually it’s imperative that we do get to acceptance. Acceptance isn’t an aw-fukkit attitude. It’s not resignation. It just means that you stop arguing that the world isn’t the way it is, or that the world owes you something for being the way it is. If you don’t get there, your actions have a brittleness or desperation that undermines your effectiveness.

Resignation means not just that you accept the present, but that you’re not going to try to change to future either. That’s where you should never let yourself get. (I talked about this at length recently.)

Trump will become president Friday. That’s bad, but the badness of it doesn’t change the fact. We’ve got work to do if we want to the future to be better.

and let’s close with a modern sorcerer’s apprentice moment

So Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant is default-set to allow you to voice-order products from Amazon. But what if it misinterprets something you say as an order, or recognizes somebody else’s voice — maybe a voice on the TV — as yours?

Channel 6 in San Diego admits that happened. Its news anchors were talking about an incident where a little girl ordered a dollhouse and four pounds of cookies, when one of them said:

I love the little girl, saying “Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.”

All over San Diego, Amazon devices heard somebody say “Alexa, order me a dollhouse”.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Mary Scriver  On January 16, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Since this is a kind of laundry list post and since I’ve been looking for a place to post a semi-respectable remark, I will say that if you don’t believe powerful people sometimes have self-demeaning self-punishments as compensation, look into Hitler’s “alleged” coprophilia. I was once married to a judge who advised me that if you do something outrageous enough, no one will believe it and you’ll get away with it. Thus proving how smart you are.

  • Larry Benjamin  On January 16, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I’ll comment on the Alexa story, since the others are too depressing. No one opened their door to find an unwanted dollhouse on their porch that the device had just purchased for them. It merely asked if they wanted a dollhouse; since there are hundreds of dollhouses available on Amazon, the next step would have been to either select one, or tell the device that it was a mistake.

    This is exactly what the device was designed for.

  • Guest  On January 17, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Michael Arnovitz’s example of Wikileaks in the context of conservatives changing their mind on a dime was a funny one, Doug. For all the questions about his character and methods, Assange has done just as much if not more than the average Sift reader in the fight for transparency and against corruption. And yet, it wasn’t more than a couple weeks ago when he was trashed in the comments section here because this time he had exposed the corruption of “our” side. It reinforces the suspicion that much of the liberal obsession with Trump voters has an undercurrent of projection to it.

    It may seem odd to want self-criticism from democrats when the republicans are pushing such an out-sized heinous agenda, but for precedent I submit none other than MLK. The passage on white moderates from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail is chillingly relevant in these times. It’s probably too long to post in full here, but it starts with “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate…”

    Trump and his crowd come off as the direct descendants of the WCC and the KKK, but it’s Hillary supporters in the primary, establishment democrats, and their apologists that seem most connected to what Martin Luther King described as social progress’s greatest obstacle.

    • Larry Benjamin  On January 19, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      Assange has done nothing to promote transparency and fight corruption if his exposure is of one side only. If he’d also released Trump’s tax returns and the “Apprentice” outtakes where Trump uses the n-word and calls his own son a “retard,” along with what I’m sure are equally repugnant opinions in the RNC email traffic, he might have an argument for the value of openness and the free availability of information. As it is, he’s merely a partisan hack. With no context, his releases weren’t much more valuable than the fawning articles published by Trump’s personal friend in the National Enquirer.

      • 1mime  On January 19, 2017 at 9:03 pm

        Trump will probably make him whole then award him with the Medal of Freedom.

      • Guest  On January 20, 2017 at 11:45 am

        Without evidence that Wikileaks had access to but actively suppressed Trump’s tax returns or RNC emails, and I’ve not seen a credible source make that claim, this broadside against Assange is baseless conjecture. The school-yard “but the other side is doing it too” defense (even if true!) does not excuse the wrongdoing. Evidence-free ad hominem attacks, school-yard tactics…starting to sound familiar? It kind of underlines the point about liberal projection and the need for the left to tend to our own motes and beams.

        Assange helped expose what many Bernie supporters long suspected, that that the DNC behaved in an unethical and undemocratic manner. And yet, many democrats to this day would rather cast blame on Wikileaks and ignorant Trump supporters than face facts. If Assange had exposed unethical and undemocratic behavior of the RNC, would you want republicans responding in a similar manner?

      • 1mime  On January 20, 2017 at 5:21 pm

        The very fact that Wikileaks did not release any hacked information about the RNC makes you feel better about the one-sided release from DNC emails? You must also feel that Comey was correct in announcing another email investigation of Clinton while there was an ongoing multiple intelligence community investigation into Trump’s campaign relationship with Russia.

        Tit for tat, Guest. Go after both or neither. Absent that balance, it is pure political sabotage.

    • DMoses  On January 20, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      The attacks against Assange really aren’t conjecture. You can read his own words on how he views government(He thinks that the democrats and republican’s are a conspiracy against the American people*). You can see his alliances with state actors(accepting Russian state sponsored propaganda outlets**, funneling Snowden to Russia***) .

      After that there is the almost explicit collusion with RT (RT having access to leaked information before Wikileaks releases it) and the pretty obvious pattern from their twitter.

      If we went back further we would see how they edited the “collateral murder” video in order to make the U.S. look bad and how they have consistently leaked in a manner that has benefited Russia’s interests.

      They may not be a knowing wing of Russian intelligence, but they’re an asset none the less.



      ***No links on this one but they claimed they were in contact and the Assange suggested traveling out of Hong Kong through Russia. And no one with a brain would think that Snowden was getting out of Russia

      • Guest  On January 20, 2017 at 5:21 pm

        Let’s go back to Letter from a Birmingham Jail for a moment:

        “…we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive…injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

        By focusing on leakers and whistle-blowers rather than what they have exposed we are playing directly to MLK’s fears.

        But, so as not to come off as avoiding reasonable responses, I’ll stand by my statement that the broadside I was replying to, and others like it, are baseless. It was said Assange is a partisan hack, but in your reply, Dale, you point out that he is on record as fighting against democrats and republicans alike. That both major parties are in a conspiracy against the American people is a provocative way to put it, but in essence it’s not far off from the findings of the Princeton “oligarchy” study of the last 30-40 years of US legislature. If working with RT automatically makes you a Russian puppet, then somebody better call Thom Hartmann and let him know. As for funneling Snowden to Russia, if you recall he didn’t have many options at the time. Going to a US ally would have meant extradition and, as Manning faced, literal torture at the hands of our justice system. I can’t blame Snowden for choosing an uneasy residence in Russia over being left for dead in solitary confinement, nor Assange for advocating it.

        The comment on the collateral murder video (I’m guessing that’s the one that showed US soldiers killing Reuters journalists and first responders?) speaks to the moral dilemma democrats would do well to face. What is more damaging to US interests, the soldiers killing journalists and first-aid people, those ranked above them keeping the crime secret, or the people who exposed it?

      • Larry Benjamin  On January 20, 2017 at 7:42 pm

        The difference between Wikileaks’ past releases and the more recent ones is that they didn’t used to be partisan. Imagine if they’d released information that the NFL is corrupt and the Super Bowl is fixed. That would be an indictment of the entire pro football industry. But if they only released information on one team while similar practices were taking place in other teams, that would be partisan.

        Wikileaks wasn’t targeting our electoral system, which might have been useful. They were going after one particular candidate. If this process doesn’t bother you because you feel that the information so exposed was worth the outcome, there’s not much more I can say.

      • 1mime  On January 20, 2017 at 7:45 pm


      • DMoses  On January 22, 2017 at 3:55 pm

        Re: Guest’s comments regarding “Focusing on what they exposed”

        They didn’t expose anything. There was nothing in the DNC leaks that was a problem. The collateral murder video did not contain a war crime… and wikileaks edited the video for political purposes… Snowden did not reveal a crime. So on and so forth.

        Look at what they have done (helped Erdogan’s government crack down on dissenters as a good example) and i fail to see how anyone can think they’re neutral let alone a force for good.

        Re: “But he is no record being against Republicans and Democrats”

        Not in action. Which is what matters. Whether he is a useful idiot or a knowing agent makes no difference to me.

        Re: Thom Hartmann

        I don’t know nor care who he is. But yes, if he is actively partnered with Russian State propaganda networks then that is suspect.

  • Anonymous  On January 17, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Well, this post is less weighty than the one just above…

    Doug, you said a week or so ago that you wanted a blue hat that says “Are we great again yet.” There is a kiosk at the Galleria Mall in Cambridge that will embroider a baseball cap with anything you want – while you wait. The Galleria Mall is a couple of blocks from the Lechmere stop on the Green line, if you want to pop over while you’re in Boston for the Women’s March next weekend.

  • Dale Moses  On January 19, 2017 at 2:09 am

    The allegations in the memo are almost certainly true. Not necessarily in specificity but in substance.

    Russia has a habit of actively producing kompromat on anyone who might potentially be valuable. Trump is heavily into Russia, has traveled there many times while a celebrity and even while a political figure*. If Trump did anything compromising in Russia then a tape almost certainly exists. Trump almost certainly did something compromising in Russia.

    Ergo a tape almost certainly exists. And that doesn’t even get into the other ties we know about and how trump can be exploited. Or corroborating evidence with people on his team. Or corroborating evidence with regards to the policy he pushed into the R platform. Or the fact that Putin is the only world leader Trump can’t seem to try to bully…

    *even if we count only the times after he was on about the birth certificate and not times after he had publicly claimed he might run for President.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: