Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.

Protest that Endures

Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.

Wendell Berry

This week’s featured posts are “Your Sift-Archive Review for the Trump Era” and “White House, Inc.“.

This week everybody was talking about the appeals court ruling

which went against the Trump administration and its prototype Muslim ban, which I discussed in detail last week. This was a 3-0 ruling that included agreement from Bush appointee Richard Clifton. The judges wrote a unified per curiam opinion rather than the usual practice of one judge writing a majority opinion with dissents and concurrences from the other judges. This seemed intended to emphasize that they were of one mind.

This was the state of play going in: Trump had signed an executive order; the states of Washington and Minnesota had sued; a federal judge in Seattle had issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the most odious parts of the order from taking effect until the his court could have a full hearing and make a definitive ruling. The administration then asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside the TRO. That request is what got turned down Thursday, so the executive order continues to be blocked for the time being.

Despite the occasional flamboyant writer like the late Justice Scalia, judges tend to be circumspect in their language. They usually write in a stone-faced style, so if you catch an occasional frown sneaking into the prose, you can surmise that they’re probably royally pissed off. The appellate court’s 29-page ruling is full of frowns.

Charlie Savage’s summary in the NYT is pretty concise and seems accurate. The biggest frown in the text is the judges’ response to the Trump argument that his order is “unreviewable” by the courts.

There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.

The most serious problem in the order was its treatment of legal permanent residents. The administration argued that the White House counsel had interpreted the order so that it no longer applied in these cases. The judges weren’t inclined towards trust:

[I]n light of the government’s shifting interpretations of the executive order, we cannot say that the current interpretation by White House counsel, even if authoritative and binding, will persist past the immediate stage of these proceedings.

And finally, the judges seemed put off by the administration’s arrogant assumption that its unreviewability argument would fly, so further support for its position was unnecessary.

Despite the district court’s and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the executive order to be placed immediately into effect, the government submitted no evidence to rebut the states’ argument

During questioning, Clifton sometimes seemed skeptical that the order was motivated by hostility against Muslims, or that it should be viewed as a watered-down version of the “Muslim ban” Trump campaigned on. The ruling made no judgment on that point, presumably to maintain unanimity.

The next stop is the Supreme Court, which still has only 8 justices. A 4-4 tie would leave the appellate court ruling in place.

Trump could easily improve his legal position by rescinding the order and re-issuing a more carefully constructed one. He’s talking about doing that, but he is also never going to admit that the original order was a mistake. So it will be interesting to see how he squares that.


The ban gets all the headlines, but Trump is cracking down in a lot of other ways. The CBC reports this story about a Canadian citizen from a Montreal suburb, who was attempting to drive to Burlington, Vermont with two of her children and an adult cousin. They all had Canadian passports, but were turned back after a four-hour delay at the border. Her crime? She is a hijab-wearing Muslim born in Morocco (which is not one of the seven countries covered by the ban). The border patrol asked questions about her religion and attitudes towards President Trump and his policies. The two adults were required to  surrender the passwords to their phones, and then denied entry when the phones contained videos of Arabic prayer services.

“I felt humiliated, treated as if I was less than nothing. It’s as if I wasn’t Canadian,” Alaoui told CBC News in an interview Wednesday.

She now has to decide whether she wants to risk a similar experience over spring break, when she had planned to visit her parents in Chicago.

The L.A. Times reports that Trump’s January 25 executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” (which is really about deportation of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose little or no threat to public safety) goes way beyond targeting the “bad hombres” he liked to talk about in his rallies.

Up to 8 million people in the country illegally could be considered priorities for deportation, according to calculations by the Los Angeles Times. They were based on interviews with experts who studied the order and two internal documents that signal immigration officials are taking an expansive view of Trump’s directive.

Far from targeting only “bad hombres,” as Trump has said repeatedly, his new order allows immigration agents to detain nearly anyone they come in contact with who has crossed the border illegally. People could be booked into custody for using food stamps or if their child receives free school lunches.

Anyone charged with a crime can be deported, without that charge ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. So local police can deport undocumented people just by arresting them on a bogus charge and notifying ICE. It’s hard to believe that this kind of arbitrary power won’t be abused.

and White House, Inc.

This note got so long that I broke it out into a separate post.


A nostalgic add-on for people my age and older: Remember how scandalous it was when Jimmy Carter’s ne’er-do-well brother used his sudden notoriety as an unreconstructed good-ole-boy to launch Billy Beer?

Simpler times.

and the silencing/spotlighting of Elizabeth Warren

In the Senate debate over Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be Attorney General — he was approved — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked the little-used Rule 19 against Elizabeth Warren. On a party-line vote, the Senate determined that Warren was improperly impugning the character of a fellow senator (which Sessions still was), and so she was banned from speaking for the rest of the Sessions debate.

The immediate result was the reverse of everything McConnell appeared to be trying to accomplish: Warren got a wave of positive publicity, the anti-Sessions Coretta Scott King letter she was reading to the Senate got far more attention than it otherwise would have, and McConnell’s justification has become an iconic example of patriarchal arrogance: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

But there’s something strange about this whole incident. It’s odd that McConnell, ordinarily a cautious and canny politician, would make a move that backfired so badly, so quickly. And as many people have noted, McConnell then stayed silent when male Democrats continued reading the King letter. What did he think he was trying to accomplish?

We got a hint from a comment Trump made in a private meeting with Democratic senators: “Pocahontas is now the face of your party.” That presents a weird possibility: Maybe McConnell was intentionally building Warren up:

“It’s to Republicans’ benefit to elevate her as the voice for the Democratic Party, particularly heading into 2018,” said GOP Strategist Brian Walsh, referring to the upcoming midterm elections in which Democrats will be defending seats in 10 states that Trump won. “Her views being taken as the mainstream of current Democratic thought would put her red state colleagues in a difficult situation.”

Trump’s invocation of his Pocahontas smear suggests that he foresees a 2020 repeat of the 2016 strategy, with Warren in the Clinton role: Over a period of years, gin up a bunch of bogus issues about a Democratic woman, then hope for an I-can’t-vote-for-her reaction from otherwise wavering Republicans. So targeting Warren early and often would have a dual purpose: It would build up her negatives among Republican voters, while making Democrats more determined to nominate her.


Amanda Marcotte gives an alternative interpretation of what made the Coretta Scott King letter so threatening:

That letter angers Republicans, because in the years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, there’s been a conservative effort to remake King in their own image. Warren’s attempt to read the letter by King’s widow into the record served as an embarrassing reminder that King’s politics had nothing in common with modern conservatism.

Call it the “dead progressive” problem. Conservatives love a dead progressive hero, because they can claim that person as one of their own without any bother about the person fighting back. In some cases, the right has tried to weaponize these dead progressives, claiming that they would simply be appalled at how far the still-breathing have supposedly gone off the rails and become too radical. The Kings are just two prominent victims of this rhetorical gambit.

but we should be paying more attention to the Flynn scandal

Thursday night, The Washington Post opened a new chapter in the Putin/Trump story: After the election, but while Obama was still president, Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears to have interfered in foreign policy. Apparently he reassured the Russians that the moves Obama was taking to punish Russia for interfering in the U.S. elections would be reconsidered after Trump took office.

Previously, Flynn had denied that his conversations with the Russian ambassador had mentioned any sanctions, and Vice President Pence had backed him up on national TV. Now the WaPo claims to have “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls” who say otherwise.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.

Flynn himself is now backing off of his blanket denial, and Trump and Pence are not commenting. If the scandal doesn’t die down, the likely outcome is that Flynn will take the fall: He just went rogue, reassured the Russians on his own authority, and then lied to Pence about it.

But a far more disturbing possibility ought to be investigated: What if Flynn wasn’t going rogue? What if the Trump campaign had an ongoing, long-standing relationship with Russia, and there was always some explicit quid-pro-quo promised in exchange for Russia’s hacking of the Democrats? If true, that starts to sound like an impeachable offense.

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Some idiot in the College Republicans club of Central Michigan University thought it would be clever to distribute a Hitler-themed Valentine card, I guess because the Holocaust is so hilarious.

I’m not going to claim that this represents some universal-but-hidden anti-Semitism at the heart of the GOP, or even among CMU Republicans. Probably most Republicans find this card as repulsive as I do. But I think Romney-and-McCain Republicans need to connect this dot with the Heil-Trump Nazi video, the KKK endorsement, Milo Yiannopoulos, and a bunch of similar dots: There’s a certain kind of racist asshole who feels very comfortable in your party these days. Whether they represent the majority or not, shouldn’t that worry you?

BTW, this is the proper context in which to consider Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation, which somehow managed not to mention Jews. It was a wink to Holocaust deniers, Nazis, and other anti-Semites, who have become an important Trump constituency.


Now that Megyn Kelly has left Fox News, it’s good to see that her replacement, Tucker Carlson, is holding the Trump administration to the highest possible standards. Say what you will about Steve Bannon, he’s better than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi!

I’m bemused by how qualified these categories are: used chemical weapons on Kurds, mass executions of Christians. It’s as if Carlson wants to be covered in case Bannon unleashes chemical weapons on the Dutch or orders mass executions of Rastafarians.


The second SNL appearance of Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer is just as funny as the first:

And Alec Baldwin’s imitation of Trump got a rare compliment: A newspaper in the Dominican Republic published Baldwin’s picture, apparently thinking it was Trump.


Thursday, in a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump reaffirmed the United States’ “One China policy” which formally recognizes Taiwan as a province of China while simultaneously supporting the island’s practical independence. Prior to his inauguration, Trump had spoken on the phone to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen — something no president or president-elect had done in decades — and later said that the U.S. should insist on concessions from China in exchange for continuing to recognize One China.

In the world of U.S./China diplomacy, every little nod and adjective is interpreted as portentous, so China-watchers have been buzzing about whether Thursday’s “reversal” is a defeat for Trump, or convinces China that he is a “paper tiger”.

My interpretation is that Trump says a lot of crap, and very little of it actually means anything. So if either Xi or Tsai attach any importance to those calls, they’re fooling themselves. This lack of seriousness will come back to bite Trump eventually. Someday he’ll have to blow something up in order to get China’s attention, because by then everyone will be ignoring his words and symbolic actions.

From the beginning of his campaign until this moment, Trump has done his best to surround himself with a fog. (For example, the normal budget process would have him submitting an FY 2018 budget this month, and still no one has the faintest idea what to expect. He has raised expectations about tax cuts, an ObamaCare replacement, a big infrastructure project, increased military spending, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and balancing the budget. What in all that is real, and what is just smoke?) When you’re a slippery businessman hoping to cheat everyone you deal with, a fog like that is useful. But you don’t hold together coalitions and alliances that way, or get the long-term cooperation you sometimes need from rival powers like China.


Speaking of the soon-to-be-unveiled budget, this is a worthwhile graphic to keep in mind. (It seems to come from the CBO by way of Senator Ron Johnson, but I pulled it off Rand Paul’s Facebook page.)

It’s a good snapshot to keep bookmarked, because it points out what people really are proposing when they say they want substantial cuts in government spending. (In other words, you can’t balance the budget by cutting foreign aid and the National Endowment for the Arts.) Most of the things people talk about cutting are down in the All Other category, and probably would be invisible if they were called out separately. The red bars are non-discretionary, i.e., entitlements and other payments mandated by law.


The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf has always considered liberal political correctness a bigger problem than I do: Most of the examples of “political correctness run wild” that I hear about either didn’t happen exactly the way the complaint claims, or is nothing more than the dominant culture being forced to give respect to people and points of view it used to happily ignore.

But OK, let’s grant for the sake of argument the conservative criticism that political correctness has this chilling effect on the national conversation that makes it much harder to discuss important issues. Is Trump actually undoing such political correctness, or just turning it around to serve conservative purposes?

Friedersdorf makes a good argument for the latter. Trump’s conservative political correctness, for example, makes it impossible to talk about white supremacist terrorism, or right-wing terrorism of any kind. He can’t criticize Vladimir Putin.

Trump displays all the flaws attributed to “Social Justice Warriors”—thin skinned, quick to take offense, a bullying presence on Twitter, aggressively disdainful of comedy that pokes fun at him, delighting in firing people—just without any attachment to social justice. On matters as grave as counterterrorism and as inconsequential as the size of crowds, Trump is more contemptuous of the truth, and as driven by what is politically correct, than any president of recent years. That shouldn’t bother those who only complained about political correctness as a cover for bigotry. But everyone who complained on principle, knowing a country cannot thrive when disconnected from reality, should demand better.

and let’s close with an attempt to learn from failure

Cards Against Humanity analyzes “Why Our Super Bowl Ad Failed“. Strangely, 30 seconds of the camera silently staring at a potato failed to build the brand.

Covering Trump Like Iran

Give up on hand-outs and worry less about official access. They were never all that valuable anyway. Our coverage of Iran has been outstanding, and we have virtually no official access. What we have are sources.

– Reuters memo, “Covering Trump the Reuters Way

This week’s featured posts are “The Ban: Ten Days of Drama” and “What to do with Neil Gorsuch?“.

During my week off from the Sift, I spoke in Billerica, Mass. on “The Hope of a Humanist” and my column “Let’s Get Started, Together” posted at UU World.

This week everybody was talking about immigration and the Supreme Court

The featured posts cover those topics: “The Ban: Ten Days of Drama” and “What to do with Neil Gorsuch?“.

and an alternative-fact massacre

The undisputed master of “alternative facts” is the woman who coined the term on Meet the Press two weeks ago: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. She produced this week’s gem in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews:

I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.

That’s because there was no Bowling Green massacre. Funny how things that don’t happen don’t get covered.

Conway later claimed that the words just came out wrong, that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists”, a reference to two guys arrested in Bowling Green for trying to aid Al Qaeda, but not for doing anything violent themselves. But that was another lie. She had used the same formulation days before in a different interview. “Bowling Green massacre” was a honed sound bite, not a slip of the tongue.

Like her alternative-facts gaffe, Conway’s fake massacre is generating lots of ridicule. Like, why shouldn’t the massacre get its own ballad. This is not exactly going high when they go low, but it’s going somewhere. I’m reminded of the saying, “Don’t get mad, get odd.”

New Yorkers held a fake vigil at the Bowling Green subway station. You can find a large collection of ridicule on Twitter under #NeverRemember.

Build your vocabulary: reverse cargo cult

Build Your Vocabulary was briefly a regular feature of the Sift, but it’s been dormant for a while.

One constant topic on liberal social media is the question: “When will Trump’s voters realize they’re being lied to?” A scary answer I ran across this week is that many of them already know and have known from the beginning. These core Trump supporters are what is known as a reverse cargo cult.

A cargo cult is when people ritualistically build things they associate with success, believing that success will be drawn to them in some magical way. The metaphor is based on an only partly true story about primitive Pacific islanders after World War II, who supposedly built imitation airstrips out of primitive materials in hopes of luring back the cargo planes of the war era. Richard Feynman extended the idea metaphorically to “cargo cult science”, referring to groups that establish institutes and publish journals in order to magically turn their unscientific beliefs into science. It now applies to all sorts of magical thinking.

In a reverse cargo cult, you build the trappings of some kind of success like a cargo cult would, but you don’t believe it will work and aren’t trying to fool anybody into thinking it will. The deception goes in the other direction.

[The builders] don’t lie to the rubes and tell them that an airstrip made of straw will bring them cargo. That’s an easy lie to dismantle. Instead, what they do is make it clear that the airstrip is made of straw, and doesn’t work, but then tell you that the other guy’s airstrip doesn’t work either. They tell you that no airstrips yield cargo. The whole idea of cargo is a lie, and those fools, with their fancy airstrip made out of wood, concrete, and metal is just as wasteful and silly as one made of straw.

The reverse cargo cult idea was invented as a way to explain the propaganda of the late Soviet Union, which didn’t fool anyone any more; everyone knew the government was lying. But now the purpose was to make the people disbelieve everything, including the reports they heard of prosperity and freedom in the West. Russian cynicism became a point of cultural pride: Russians knew they were being lied to, while those foolish Westerners believed what they saw on their TVs.

Something similar is happening among Trump supporters: So what if there was no Bowling Green massacre, no millions of illegal votes, no record-breaking crowd at Trump’s inauguration? Liberals tell their own lies about things like global warming and white male privilege. The difference this batch of Trump supporters sees is that they are in on the joke, while their liberal friends actually believe what they’re told. The in-the-know Trump folks are entertained by Breitbart and InfoWars, while naive liberals take seriously the things they read in The New York Times or The Washington Post.

The point of official lies and alternative facts and fake news isn’t that people should believe in them. It’s that they should come to disbelieve everything politicians say and regard all news as fake. There is no cargo.

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The Senate is one vote away from rejecting Betsy DeVos’ nomination. All Democrats oppose her, plus Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. If your state is represented by some other Republican, get on the phone. If you don’t know the number, the Senate web site says: “you may phone the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.”


So much has happened these last two weeks that I almost forgot those incredible Trump phone calls where he insulted the prime minister of Australia and threatened to invade Mexico. And then there’s his defense of Putin to Bill O’Reilly. After Trump says he respect Putin, O’Reilly says, “But he’s a killer.” And Trump replies: “You think our country’s so innocent?”

That was too much even for Marco Rubio:

When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as .


I don’t feel right reproducing the whole poem here, but if you haven’t already seen it circulating on social media, you should read Danny Bryck’s “If You Could Go Back“. It’s about how the moral crises of the past — the Holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, etc. — all look so clear in retrospect, but at the time they probably looked just about the way things look now, and there were probably just as many reasons to look the other way and get on with your life. Here’s the moral I take from it: If you’re waiting for the kind of perfect clarity you imagine those historical times had, you’ll probably sit out the moral crisis of your era.


The Trump administration is the best thing that ever happened to Saturday Night Live.


A century ago, Peoria, Illinois was the archetypal Middle-American city. Vaudeville performers asked “Will it play in Peoria?“, meaning “Can you tour this act across the country?” Groucho Marx asked it in A Night at the Opera, and during the Nixon administration, top aide John Ehrlichman once reassured a reporter that a proposal hated by policy elites would “play in Peoria”, meaning that Middle America would like it.

Peoria is a factory town, and the factory is Caterpillar. CAT has 12,000 employees in Peoria, and used to have more. Tuesday, CAT announced that it was moving its headquarters to Chicago, which is about 2 1/2 hours away by car. Immediately, the move affects just 300 jobs. But that includes all the top executives, who are probably among Peoria’s best-paid people. So the city’s overall quality of life is bound to take a big hit. Those 300 will also be deciding what happens to the remaining 12,000 jobs in the coming years, so as they lose their identification with Peoria, I’m not optimistic about the city’s future.

CAT justified the move by claiming that it will be easier to recruit top executive talent to Chicago rather than Peoria. You have to wonder whether CAT’s main American rival (John Deere), which is headquartered in another middle-sized Illinois city (Moline), is thinking the same thing.

Trump won largely by exploiting the plight of America’s hollowing-out countryside. He focused on the manufacturing jobs going to Mexico and China. But executive jobs moving to the big cities is another piece of that problem, and I haven’t heard even a suggestion of what to do about it.


One of the things conservatives often got upset about during the Obama years was the cost of protecting his family when they left the White House. Well, keeping Michelle and the girls safe on vacation cost peanuts compared to what it will cost to protect Trump’s adult children as they criss-cross the world being international businessmen.

The Washington Post reports that just hotel expenses for the Secret Service and embassy staff on a recent Eric Trump trip to Uruguay cost nearly $100K.

Now, I’m not complaining about this expense, because I see the point of not letting a president’s family become hostages, and I don’t want them confined to easily protected areas for the duration of a president’s term. But a lot of people did complain about the expense during Obama’s term, and I wonder where they are now.


At the beginning of the Trump administration, I said I’d be watching for them to take credit for Obama’s accomplishments. Here’s an example: The January jobs report came out, showing that the economy added 227K jobs. Trump didn’t take office until January 20, but press secretary Sean Spicer attributed the jobs to the “confidence” the prospect of a Trump administration had given employers.

All told, about six million jobs were created during the Obama years, or 14 million since the bottom of the recession in January, 2010.

and let’s close with some escapism

Remember those halcyon days of the Bartlet administration?

Presidential Enemies

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on February 6.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

– President Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address (1861)

Should I keep tweeting or not? I think so. You know, the enemies keep saying “Oh, that’s terrible.” But it’s a way of bypassing dishonest media.

– President Donald Trump (1-21-2017)

If juxtaposing the two quotes isn’t clear enough, let me spell it out: Presidents aren’t supposed to cast other Americans as their enemies. They may think of people that way in their own minds, as President Nixon did when he compiled his enemies list. In public, a president may portray loyal American citizens as critics, political opponents, and even (as re-election approaches) rivals. But not enemies. This is one of the many things Trump seems not to grasp about being presidential.

This week’s featured post is “The legitimacy and illegitimacy of Donald Trump“. Next Sunday I’ll be speaking at First Parish Church of Billerica, MA on “The Hope of a Humanist”.

This week everybody was talking about the Inauguration

Donald Trump became President Friday at around noon. His first act as president was to give a short, dark, and very strange inaugural address that at times seemed to be channeling the speech the supervillain Bane gives in The Dark Knight Rises.

I found it weird and ironic that Trump framed his election as “the People” taking government back, when the actual people voted for his opponent by a 2.1% margin. (As I explained two weeks ago, inside Trump’s movement “the People” is not everybody. I’m sure that among “real Americans”, i.e., white straight native-born Christians, Trump won a landslide.)

Typical inaugural addresses feature a new president retiring his divisive campaign rhetoric and reaching out to those who didn’t vote for him. Trump did nothing of the kind, delivering what was essentially a shorter version of his speech from the Republican Convention, where he painted a picture of a dangerous dystopian America that he would fix by decree. He raised the specter of “crime and gangs and drugs” and pledged “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” (I was reminded of George Lakoff’s theory that conservatism is based on a strict-father metaphor of government: “This stops right now, kids.”)

The big policy theme of the speech was nationalism: America First. But he added this bizarre, ahistorical twist, aimed at those who accuse him of bigotry:

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

But of course, nationalistic movements are famously bigoted against racial and religious minorities, and bigoted movements often cloak themselves in nationalism: The targeted group is a cancer on the nation, and must be eradicated if the rest of us are to survive and thrive. “Total allegiance” can become a rigged test: Once the government begins systematically oppressing a group, any profession of “total allegiance” rings false.

Ominously, Trump used the word eradicate:

We will … unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

If I were a loyal American who is a devout Muslim, knowing how sloppy Trump is with words and facts, and understanding just how vague and flexible terms like radical and terrorist can be, I would be wondering how safe I will be these next four years. Under authoritarian regimes, there can be a very short gap between “You’re paranoid. How can anyone misinterpret us so badly?” and “We’ve been warning you for a long time.”

Trump also invoked the image of war as a nationalizing influence.

A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.

He also referred to Americans as “God’s people” and announced that “we are protected by God”, a theological claim I don’t remember hearing from a president before. Presidents typically hope or pray that God will favor our nation, or call on us to be worthy of God’s favor. But I don’t recall any previous president expressing such religious entitlement. In JFK’s inaugural, he told us that “God’s work must truly be our own”, not that our work must necessarily be God’s. Lincoln’s second inaugural warned us that “The Almighty has his own purposes.” But Trump apparently knows God’s mind better than Kennedy or Lincoln did.


Trump’s inauguration drew a much smaller crowd than Obama’s eight years ago, as you can clearly see in these side-by-side photos.

Trump seems sensitive about his relative unpopularity, as he is whenever reality punctures his over-aggrandized self-image. He claimed — apparently based on nothing more than his own view from the podium — that his crowd broke all records. He went on a rant about the “dishonest” media correctly reporting his crowd size (while talking at the CIA, of all places), and sent Press Secretary Sean Spicer out to harangue the press about it without allowing them any questions, as if they were disobedient children.

What I find more interesting than Trump’s claims or anger is the way the Washington Post covered it. Throughout the campaign, newspapers fretted over how to cover Trump saying something clearly false, which he did so often and so shamelessly that the old methods of coverage became obsolete. (You couldn’t call the falsehoods out in fact-check articles, because there were just too many of them, and Trump couldn’t be shamed out of repeating them.) But The Post seems to have come to terms with that issue: It reports what Trump says, and simultaneously reports the contradictory facts as contradictory facts. Like this:

Trump claimed falsely that the crowd for his swearing-in stretched down the National Mall to the Washington Monument and totaled more than 1 million people. It did not. Trump accused television networks of showing “an empty field” and reporting that he drew just 250,000 people to witness Friday’s ceremony.

“It looked like a million, a million and a half people,” Trump said, falsely claiming that his crowd “went all the way back to the Washington Monument.”

CNN did something similar in its article “White House press secretary attacks media for accurately reporting inauguration crowds“. So did The New York Times in “With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift“. Chris Cillizza’s The Fix column, which is commentary rather than straight news, annotated Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s rant at the press.

These all demonstrate a similar philosophy on covering Trump, and I hope it catches on.


Sunday on Meet the Press Kellyanne Conway gave us the meme to ridicule the administration’s lying, characterizing Sean Spicer’s false rant as “alternative facts”. Chuck Todd wasn’t buying it:

Wait a minute. Alternative facts? … Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.

In response, Conway launched into a filibuster of facts she’d like the press to cover, never addressing Todd’s point. But #alternativefacts is going viral. Here’s one typical tweet:

Me: Hi, SAT Board, I need you to change my test scores. I didn’t get the questions wrong. I provided

And another one:

Don’t worry Wisconsin. I just spoke with Sean Spicer and he said the Packers are actually up by 3 touchdowns.


On paper, Trump’s visit to the CIA looked like a good bridge-building move, after he had compared our intelligence services to Nazis. But Trump never bothers to learn the culture of the people he’s talking to — they’re supposed to adjust to him, not him to them — so he committed a major sacrilege: He gave a rambling, self-aggrandizing, partisan speech in front of the wall devoted to agents killed in the line of duty.


At Slate, Nora Caplan-Bricker points out something I hadn’t noticed: Only Democratic presidents have inaugural poets. JFK started the tradition when Robert Frost recited a poem at his inauguration, and every Democrat but LBJ has continued it. No Republican has.


And they plagiarized Obama’s cake.

and the Marches

I’m pretty good at estimating crowds in the hundreds, but when they get into the tens of thousands their sizes are impossible to know with any accuracy unless there is a gate with turnstiles. (JFK used to joke about it. When asked how his campaign got their crowd estimates, he quipped: “Salinger counts the nuns and multiplies by a thousand.”) Saturday, I was at the Women’s March on the Boston Common, variously estimated at 100-175K. I have no idea. It was a whole bunch of people.

Estimates are also all over the map for the other large sister marches: I’ve heard numbers as high as a quarter million in Chicago, three-quarters in Los Angeles, and another quarter million or so in New York. Nobody really knows. They were big, and there were hundreds of them all over the country. Here was a view of Austin, which as far as I know got no national coverage at all.

The total number of marchers nationwide has been estimated at between 3.3 and 4.6 million, or about 1% of the population. The NYT had “crowd scientists” analyze crowds for both Trump’s inauguration and the D.C. Women’s March. In both cases they came up with numbers somewhat smaller than most, for what that’s worth: 160K for Trump and 470K for the Women’s March.

So let’s just stick with “a whole bunch of people” and reflect on what that means. Nobody really thinks this will make Trump himself change his ways, or that lots of Trump supporters will look at the crowds and say, “If so many people disagree with me, I must be wrong.” So what’s the significance?

There’s both an inner and an outer significance. The people who attended got energized and confirmed in their identities as resisters. Some percentage of them will progress to activism as a serious commitment, and the rest will be more likely to challenge Trump propaganda as they run into it. If we’re talking about millions of people, that makes for a definite change in the national conversation.

The outer significance has to do with what I’ve been thinking of as the Nightmare Scenario, where Trump’s election takes us down a path towards an authoritarian government. I don’t believe that Republicans in general want such a thing, but authoritarian leaders gain power by intimidating people into going along, and then into going much farther than they ever thought they would. If Trump were surrounded by a winning aura and seen to be wildly popular, other powerful politicians (like Paul Ryan) might think that they had no choice but to support him in whatever he does. Democrats might be intimidated into providing only token opposition. Even judges get swayed by what they imagine public opinion to be.

In the Nightmare Scenario, a Trump-is-the-voice-of-the-People frame becomes the subliminal basis of his press coverage. Rather than the blunt this-is-false coverage I described above, the press would shade into calling his falsehoods “controversial” or simply quoting them side-by-side with other people saying something different, as if there were no way to know the underlying facts. Little-by-little, the authoritarian government would capture the supposedly free press.

Raising big crowds against Trump the day after his inauguration interrupts that dynamic. It makes visible what the polls tell us, and what Trump’s defeat in the popular vote should tell us: He is not popular. Politically, there is no reason to be intimidated by him, and tying your future to his is a risky strategy for any politician. For now, Ryan and McConnell and the rest of the Republicans in Congress will continue to explore what they can get out of a Republican president, but Saturday reminded them that they need to keep their eyes on the exits.

Democrats, meanwhile, heard the opposite message: If you become known as the voice of resistance to Trump, that could work out well for you in the future. (Someday we may look back on Elizabeth Warren’s speech on the Boston Common as the beginning of her 2020 campaign. And one of the most impressive speakers in Boston Saturday was state attorney general Maura Healey, who I had not previously noticed. Her message for the Trump administration: “We’ll see you in court.”)

and other protests

Two weeks ago, I pointed you at Indivisible, a guide for influencing your congressperson, written by former congressional staff people. It’s largely based on the effective protests the newly organized Tea Party launched against ObamaCare in the summer of 2010. The underlying point is that congresspeople, whatever their party or ideology, live in fear of organized groups of their constituents, even fairly small groups. They especially fear groups that know how to get media attention, who can make them look out-of-touch with the voters of their districts. You can use that.

Indivisible-like protest actions are starting to happen. In this Aurora, Colorado event, covered by Channel 9 in Denver, people afraid of losing their health insurance overwhelmed Republican Congressman Mike Coffman. He intended to have short one-on-one meetings with voters in a room at the Aurora Library. But hundred of constituents showed up to ask about his plan for helping them after he succeeds in repealing ObamaCare. He didn’t adjust his format and left early, with many people still in line to see him. The Channel 9 piece looks pretty bad for him.

Josh Marshall collects similar recent examples:

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was drowned out with chants of “save our healthcare” as she spoke at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally in Spokane. More than 250 people turned out to the Gerald R. Ford Library in Grand Rapids on Tuesday to question Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) about Medicaid cuts and the details of an ACA replacement plan, prompting security to turn dozens away. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) was surprised to find himself facing angry questions from a group of 50 at a Houston Chamber of Commerce session billed as an opportunity for locals “affected by Obamacare” to share stories about “rising costs and loss of coverage.”

If it becomes widely known that Republican congressmen don’t dare meet their voters for fear of similar incidents, the idea that ObamaCare repeal is popular will go down the drain.

and the cabinet nominees

Mattis at Defense and Kelly at Homeland Security have been approved. The Republican opposition to Tillerson at State seems to be evaporating. But the hearings have revealed a lot of problems, which Paul Waldman summarizes. Under the standards that applied to all previous administrations, I think Mnuchin at Treasury and Price at HHS would have been withdrawn already.

and you might also be interested in

President Obama under-used his pardon power for eight years, but he did commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who will be released in May.


The first change of a new administration is to take over the White House web site. Many have focused on what vanished: pages about climate change and LGBT rights, for example. More ominous to me, though, is what has appeared. The page “Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community” says:

The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.

I interpret this to mean that the Justice Department will no longer pay much attention to police killings. In the long run, this will be really unfortunate, not just for the public, but for many police as well.

During the controversy over the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, it was hard to know who was telling the real story. The behavior of local police made it clear that their priority was to get their guy off, not to find the truth. The only thing that convinced me that Darren Wilson should not have been charged with murder was when the Justice Department’s investigation came out. Otherwise, there would never have been any trustworthy report.

That’s what will happen going forward. Police will continue to kill young black men, including some who are unarmed or unthreatening. Local investigations will declare those killings justified, whether they are or not. And that will be the end of the story. Citizens who dislike or distrust the police will assume they got away with murder, whether they did or not.


Online records of the Obama administration have not gone away completely. An archive of the Obama White House site is here, though it is not being maintained or updated any more.

and let’s close with something to change the mood

This week had a lot of wintry seriousness in it. So let’s imagine that it’s June in New York City. You’re cruising through the theater district on a sunny afternoon. Who might you give a ride to?

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”.

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:

Raising Doubt

Trump doesn’t care if we think he’s telling the truth – he just wants his supporters to doubt that anyone’s telling the truth.

Jon Favreau

This week’s featured post is “All Democrats have some introspecting to do“.

This week everybody was looking back at 2016

If good thing happened in your personal life last year, I’m happy for you. But in collective terms, 2016 was a nightmare.

CNN has a photo gallery of people who died in 2016: Muhammed Ali, David Bowie, John Glenn, and many others.

TPM presented the annual Golden Dukes awards, for outstanding achievement in “public corruption, outlandish behavior, The Crazy, nonsense and all relevant betrayals of the public trust”.


The stylistic contrast between the old and new presidents in a nutshell:

Conclusion of the Obama New Year message:

It’s been the privilege of my life to serve as your President. And as I prepare to take on the even more important role of citizen, know that I will be there with you every step of the way to ensure that this country forever strives to live up to the incredible promise of our founding—that all of us are created equal, and all of us deserve every chance to live out our dreams. And from the Obama family to yours—have a happy and blessed 2017.

The Trump New Year tweet:

Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!

and talking about Israel

The relationship between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration is ending with a lot of shouting. The U.S. refused to veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of a “disgraceful anti-Israel maneuver”. And John Kerry gave a speech highly critical of current Israeli policy.

I may comment at length after I’ve had time to sort through the details, but for now I’ll rely on analysis from Vox.


For decades, every military crisis between Israel and the Palestinians has ended with the U.S. pressuring the Israeli government to stand down. And many of us have wondered how much real effect that pressure had. Maybe the Israeli leaders had completed whatever they wanted to do and used American pressure as cover against their political right flank at home. Or maybe they really were about to wreak massive vengeance, but America stopped them. Nobody really knew.

During the Trump administration, I think we’re going to find out. Because I don’t think Trump cares what happens Palestinian civilians. His people think we’re in a global war between Christendom and Islam, and anybody fighting Muslims is on our side. So if you’re an Israeli right-winger who has secretly been pining to do some ethnic cleansing, or to herd Palestinians into impoverished, unsustainable bantustans on the apartheid model (or the Gaza model, for that matter), the next four years are your chance. We’ll see who tries to take advantage of it.


While I was researching this issue, I ran across this thought-provoking essay by Uriel Abulof at Jewish Daily Forward. It doesn’t have a nice, pithy summary, but it’s basically about the temptation of tribalism, and its political consequences: We want to be free individuals, but we also have a deep need to belong to something.

The liberal conclusion has since crystalized: Tame the tribe! Turn those perilous peoples into civic, multicultural, cosmopolitan societies, rationally administrated by the state. Globalization, with the European Union as its beloved offspring, should have fostered that vision.

But it is not turning out that way. Liberalism’s advantage — the primacy of the individual — is also its Achilles’ heel: It captures a yearning for independence, but fails to grasp the equally powerful drive to belong. Consequently, in recent years, neoliberalism’s inadvertent repression of that yearning has spurred Rousseau’s revenge: the return of the tribe. And now the tribe is intent on taking over the state that sought to tame it.

and Milo

Unless you’ve been paying attention to the alt-Right, you may never have heard of Milo Yiannopoulos. On the other hand, if you read Breitbart, you think he’s a rock star — he’s just “Milo“, like Madonna or Beyoncé. Or even “MILO”.

Milo is a professional troll who came to public attention in the Gamergate controversy of 2014. He says and does outrageous things and profits from the attention they draw. That description could apply to any number of people, a few of whom I admire. But Milo takes it a step further, using his fame to focus his fans’ persecution on individuals, like actress Leslie Jones and this transgender student in Wisconsin.

He’s in the news now because he just got a $250K book deal from the respected publishing house of Simon & Schuster. This has incited a backlash against S&S, including such moves as The Chicago Review of Books announcing that it will not review any S&S books in 2017 or independent bookstores refusing to stock their titles.

It’s important to understand exactly what kind of protest this is, and why it’s really not a free-speech or freedom-of-the-press issue. No one is attacking either Milo’s legal right to write a book or Simon’s legal right to publish it. That’s the law and no one disputes it. The point is that S&S can’t promote this kind of garbage and remain a respected publisher. If Milo wants to self-publish, or if Breitbart wants to publish his book, fine. People who want to buy it should be able to. And if Simon & Schuster wants to become an alt-Right publishing house, that’s up to them. But no law says I have to respect them.

and you might also be interested in

Inauguration Day is January 20, two weeks from Friday. The next day is the Women’s March on Washington.

The Women’s March on Washington is quick to say it is not an anti-Trump protest. “We’re not targeting Trump specifically. It’s much more about being proactive about women’s rights,” said Cassady Fendlay, spokeswoman for the march.

I expect a certain amount of solidarity with other groups who feel threatened by Trump, like immigrants and Muslims. If you can’t make it to Washington, there are sister marches in at least 30 other cities. I plan to go to the Boston one.

I think this kind of thing is important to do. Trump has shown absolutely no interest in reaching out to the majority that voted against him, or the plurality that voted for Clinton. We need to establish that we haven’t gone away, and we need to start building the connections that we’ll need for more issue-specific protests as the Trump administration starts doing things.

I also agree with the framing: Trump hasn’t had a chance to do anything as president yet, so it’s premature to protest against him. But people worried about the Trump administration need to know they have support.


North Carolina can no longer be considered a democracy, according to a report by the Electoral Integrity Project. I’m withholding further comment on this until I can read the report, which I haven’t been able to find on the EIP web site.


Fascinating piece in Wired: Obesity might have more causes than just diet and exercise or genes. In particular, a virus might rewire your system to crave food and build fat.


Maybe comedians can succeed where more serious voices fail. Seth Meyers devotes 9 minutes to the Trump administration and climate change.

and let’s close with something beautiful

A video from the Beauty of Science channel on YouTube.

The Yearly Sift 2016

The past is never where you think you left it.

Katherine Anne Porter

The opening quotes of the Weekly Sifts of 2016 are collected in “Sift Quotes of 2016

One of the things I like best about writing the Sift is that it keeps me focused in the present, with an eye to the future. But once a year I try to take a broader perspective on where we’ve been.

2016 was the most dismal year I’ve had to look back on since this blog started — leading, as it did, to the present moment, in which President-elect Trump is assembling his henchmen and deciding which aspects of the world order to screw up first. Not only was I very consistently wrong about what would happen next in 2016, but looking back at the plausible arguments and scenarios I laid out only emphasizes how many times and in how many ways events could have taken a turn for the better, but didn’t — right up to election night, when shifting a handful of votes from one state to another would have changed the outcome.

But prognostication has never been the primary purpose of the Weekly Sift. (In fact, one of my major criticisms of mainstream media is that it spends too much time on speculation, rather than telling us what is happening and why.) Primarily, I’m trying to cut through the hype and propaganda to focus my readers’ attention on what is real and give them tools to think about it effectively. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to know what will happen next, because I certainly don’t.

The themes

I’ve broken the primary theme out into its own article “The Year of This-can’t-be-happening“. It covers my repeated attempts — from the beginning of the year to the end — to understand how anyone could support Donald Trump and what could be done to persuade them not to.

A second theme of the year was also Trump-related: The decline of Truth as a political value, and a corresponding rise in propaganda. Those posts were: “No facts? What does that mean?“, “The Big Lie in Trump’s Speech“, “The Skittles Analogy“, and “Four False Things You Might Believe About Donald Trump“. (The most insightful article I linked to on this theme was David Roberts’ “The question of what Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer“.)

And finally, there were a number of posts about the Bernie/Hillary split in the Democratic Party. Early in the year, I had to decide who to vote for in the New Hampshire primary. Bernie better expressed my ideals, but I had more faith in Hillary as a candidate. (I still think Bernie’s supporters underestimate how vulnerable he would have been if Republicans had ever taken him seriously, a position I laid out in “Smearing Bernie: a preview” and “Do we still have to worry about the McGovern problem?“) My decision process — ultimately resulting in a Bernie vote — played out in “Undecided with 8 days to go” and “Imperfections“.

Late in the year, I tried to persuade Bernie supporters to unite around Hillary — a position in line with the one Bernie ultimately took himself (which I explained in “Why Bernie Backed Hillary“.)

And finally, one long-term theme of the Sift is the decline of democratic norms and institutions. In March, I updated that with “Tick, Tick, Tick … the Augustus Countdown Continues“. As Democrats have to decide just how obstructionist to be during the Trump years, I’m sure I’ll have many opportunities to update it further. Another perennial theme is race and privilege, which led to  “My Racial Blind Spots“, “Sexism and the Clinton Candidacy“, “The Asterisk in the Bill of Rights“, “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean? Part II“, and “A Teaching Moment on Sexual Assault“.

Themes for 2017

In general, I never saw the Bernie/Hillary argument as being about goals. Rather, it seemed to me to revolve around methods and tactics: Is it better to push for big, revolutionary changes or to head in the same direction in incremental steps? And I was skeptical that electing a progressive president could actually bring about that revolution without a more fundamental re-education of the electorate, as I spelled out in “Say — You Want a Revolution?

That’s an argument that continues into the future, even if neither Hillary nor Bernie runs again. I’m not sure why it has been so hard for candidates to straddle the difference: This is where we want to go ultimately, and this is the next step we want to take to get there. Preserving and patching up ObamaCare is not an end in itself, but we’re also not going to pass single-payer any time soon.

A theme I announced after the election, which I hope to continue into 2017, is that liberals have to begin re-arguing issues we used to think were long decided, but which the Trump victory proves are still open. The first of those posts was “Should I Have White Pride?“.

The numbers

The blog’s traffic statistics tell two contrasting stories. On the one hand, this year the Sift had no breakout viral posts, or posts from previous years that went on a viral second run. As a result, the overall page view numbers are down: from 782,000 in 2015 and even 415K in 2014 to somewhere around 350K this year (with a few days to go).

On the other hand, all the signs of regular readership are up. The number of people following the blog (according to WordPress; I have no idea exactly what they’re counting, but I assume it’s comparable from year to year) rose from 3820 to 4269. Hits on the home page, weeklysift.com, held the gains of 2015: from 44K in 2014 to 100K in 2015 to 101K this year. (I interpret that as views from people who are not looking for any particular post, but have the site bookmarked and want to see what’s new.)

Two years ago, a 1000-view post seemed like a big deal; sometimes I’d go a whole month without one. This year, the featured post each week almost always topped 1000.

Most encouragingly, the number of comments continued its upward trend: from 879 in 2014 to 1432 in 2015 to 1751 so far in 2016.

So what happened to the total page views? In 2015, a post from 2014, “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“, had a second run bigger than its original run, getting 302K views. Another golden oldie, “The Distress of the Privileged” from 2012, added 52K. 2015 had its own viral post, “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to Be a Bigot” at 102K.

By contrast, “Not a Tea Party” and “Distress” put together garnered about 45K hits for 2016, and the most popular posts written in 2016 were “Why Bernie Backed Hillary” (17K), “Tick, Tick, Tick … the Augustus Countdown Continues” (11K), and last week’s “How Will They Change Their Minds?” (7K and counting).

Viral posts, as I point out every year, are unpredictable. Some years they happen, some years they don’t. Hall of Fame baseball player George Brett used to claim that most of his home runs were mistakes: He was trying to hit line drives, but sometimes he swung just slightly under a pitch and it went up and out of the park. If he tried to do that, he knew, he might hit a few more home runs, but he’d also wind up with a lot more pop-ups and strikeouts.

That’s how I feel about viral posts. Every week, I’m trying to serve the needs of my regular readers. If once in a while that intention produces something that gets the attention of a larger public, that’s great. But if I tried to swing for those home runs, I think the overall quality of the blog would decline.

Exhaustive Methods

The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.

Garry Kasparov, Russian dissident and former world chess champion

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

Hannah Arendt

This week’s featured post is “How will they change their minds?” The “they” refers to Trump supporters.

You also might be interested in the talk I gave last week.

This week everybody was talking about Russian manipulation

The FBI and CIA now seem to be in agreement: Russia hacked Democratic emails and gave them to WikiLeaks because Putin wanted Trump to win. The NYT did an extensive article about how it happened.

It’s no mystery why Putin would favor Trump. I was describing that motive already back in August. Steve Benen gives the story a broader perspective by reviewing Trump and Putin’s comments about each other over the past year. Basically, Trump has surrounded himself with pro-Russian advisers (including people like Paul Manafort who took large sums of money from the now-overthrown pro-Russian government of Ukraine), and has consistently spoken highly of Putin and defended Russia’s point of view whenever it became an issue.

The Russian interference ought to horrify any American, independent of party, but of course Democrats seem much more concerned about it than Republicans. But several Republican senators have a long history of hostility to Russia and Putin — McCain and Graham, most obviously — and they don’t seem inclined to reverse themselves that easily. So some kind of hearings will be held, and we’ll see what comes out.


Masha Gessen at The New York Review of Books has an insightful article about the stylistic similarities between Trump and Putin. For example:

Lying is the message. It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.


In an interview with RT, a Russian state-funded news source, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange claimed the leaked Democratic emails did not come from the Russian government. Given the partisan role WikiLeaks played in the election — they didn’t just dump the Clinton emails on the public, they attempted to raise as much anti-Clinton buzz as possible in the way they released and tweeted about them — I have doubts about Assange’s objectivity.

and the Electoral College

It votes today. Theoretically, the electors could defect from Trump and throw the election into the House, where he might win anyway. But probably they’ll just elect him.

and the near-completion of Trump’s cabinet

CNN and the NYT are both keeping a running lists of who has been nominated. A few trends:

  • lots of white guys. Nominees for all the top positions — State, Defense, Treasury, Attorney General, and Homeland Security — are white men. Carson, Chao, and Haley are the only appointees of non-European ethnicity. Chao, Haley, DeVos, and McMahon are the only women.
  • lots of rich people. Republican cabinet choices (and some Democrats as well) are usually fairly well-to-do, but the Trump cabinet is off the scale. Betsy DeVos’ family is worth over $5 billion. Wilbur Ross has $2.5 billion. Rex Tillerson made $27 million as CEO of Exxon Mobil in 2015, and Andrew Puzder has made as much as $10 million in a year from CKE Restaurants.
  • lots of generals. Mattis at Defense, Kelly at Homeland Security, and Flynn as National Security Adviser.
  • not a lot of relevant education or experience. The poster boy for this is Rick Perry at the Department of Energy. DoE’s primary mission is overseeing everything nuclear, from power plants to nuclear weapon stockpiles to radioactive waste disposal. Obama’s energy secretaries were two distinguished Ph.D. physicists: Nobel-prize winner Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz. Perry majored in Animal Science and generally got bad grades. Similarly, Education Secretary DeVos has never studied education or worked in a school, Secretary of State Tillerson has no foreign policy experience, and neither does U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Ben Carson is educated — he’s a doctor — but it’s not clear he knows anything about Housing and Urban Development.
  • no draining the swamp. Tillerson at State is from Exxon Mobil and Mnuchin at Treasury is from Goldman Sachs. DeVos, Ross, Puzder, and McMahon at SBA were all big donors to the Trump campaign.

We also know Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel: David Friedman, who would be considered a right-winger among Israelis. He has described the two-state solution as “a con” and wrote in 2015:

Judea and Samaria historically have deep Jewish roots and were validly captured 48 years ago in a defensive war – far more legitimately than through the atrocious acts that today dictate the borders of most countries. … As a general rule, we should expand a community in Judea and Samaria where the land is legally available and a residential or commercial need is present – just like in any other neighborhood anywhere in the world. Until that becomes the primary consideration for development, how can we expect to be taken seriously that this is our land?

In general, I worry about any ambassador who uses “we” and “our” when talking about the country he will be posted to.

and Trump’s conflicts of interest

Trump cancelled a press conference in which he was going to announce his plans for handling his businesses while in office. Originally scheduled for last Thursday, it’s been put off until some unspecified date in January. (NPR lists seven questions it would have liked to ask.) Many are speculating that it will never happen; at some point we’ll just get a statement about what the arrangements are, and he will never answer questions about them.

During the campaign, Trump proposed turning management of his businesses over to his children, who presumably would not be part of the government. Now, even that separation is becoming tenuous. Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner apparently will have roles in the Trump administration. Eric and Donald Jr. might be slated to take over the business, but they also have been involved in the transition, including the selection of the Interior Secretary. So even if there is to be some kind of line between the Trump administration and the Trump Organization, everybody seems to already be on both sides of that line.

The issue that is likely to arise first concerns the new Trump International Hotel located in D.C.’s Old Post Office building, which is owned by the U.S. government and leased to the Trump Organization. The lease explicitly prohibits “any elected official of the Government of the United States” from “any benefit that may arise” from the lease.

The Brookings Institution published a scholarly assessment of the various ways President Trump “would arrive in office as a walking, talking violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution”, which prohibits officials of the U.S. government from accepting gifts from foreign governments or making other profitable arrangements with them. The document is a clear exposition of the history motivating the Clause and how it has been interpreted. The authors (Norman Eisen, Richard Painter, and Lawrence Tribe) conclude that no solution proposed or hinted at by Trump or his campaign comes close to eliminating the conflicts of interest the Clause prohibits. Unfortunately, the only recourses they propose involve action by either the Electoral College (today) or the Republican-controlled Congress.


One silly way that Trump’s conflict-of-interests surface is how personally he takes any attack on his businesses. Recently, Vanity Fair published a damning review of Trump Grill, the steakhouse in the lobby of Trump Tower. Our President-Elect then felt compelled to tweet back an attack on how badly the magazine is doing under its current editor. And that naturally made headlines and resulted in a huge jump in Vanity Fair subscriptions. Thanks, Donald! Could you go after The New Yorker next?


Washington Monthly believes Trump will face resistance from Republicans in Congress.


Time proclaimed Trump “Person of the Year“. That really isn’t an honor, it’s an answer to the question: “Who was most central to the news this year?” They couldn’t have chosen anybody else. Trump’s story drove the campaign, which dominated the year. If you could go back in time and tell yourself who you should keep your eye on in 2016, how could it be anybody but Trump?

and you might also be interested in …

To no one’s great surprise, Dylann Roof was found guilty of killing nine members of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church. The death penalty is still a possibility. Most coverage of the story still makes him sound like a disturbed individual, rather than a terrorist radicalized by the white-supremacist movement. This is typical; I’ve been writing about the same phenomenon for more than four years.


Another example of the norms of fair play being tossed aside: After losing the governorship in North Carolina, Republicans in the legislature changed the law to drastically limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor. It’s entirely legal, but they’re not even pretending to respect the will of the voters any more.

I could do a long rant on the importance of norms to democracy, but I’ve already done it. Paul Waldman points out how the illegitimacy cascades:

In this closely divided swing state, Republicans enjoy supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature because of aggressively gerrymandered legislative districts that pack African-Americans together in order to dilute their power. The districts were declared unconstitutional by a federal court earlier this year, and the state has been ordered to redraw them and hold special elections next year.

So while they still have that ill-gotten supermajority, they’re using it to change the rules further in their favor.


Josh Marshall acknowledges that you can blame Hillary Clinton’s loss on Clinton herself, or that you can blame it on external factors like Russia or the FBI or the Electoral College. (Any close election has many difference-making factors.) But since neither Clinton nor Bernie Sanders is likely to run again in 2020, we could probably find a better use of our time than trying to refight the primary battle.


Fake news is a real problem. But if we don’t use the term carefully, it won’t mean anything. Already, it’s starting to become an insult rather than a description.


There was a sort-of-happy ending to an otherwise disturbing story out of the University of Minnesota: The football team backed off of its threat not to play the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 27. They were defending 10 of their teammates suspended after an alleged sexual assault on September 2.

Police had decided not to charge the players with a crime, but the University’s internal process has a lower standard of proof (preponderance-of-evidence rather than beyond-reasonable-doubt). The University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action has recommended expulsion for five of the players, and either suspension from the University or probation for the other five. A hearing on that report is scheduled for January. In the meantime, the Athletic Director has suspended all ten from the football team.

Thursday, the team assembled as a group in uniform and read a statement demanding that the players be reinstated. They wanted a private meeting with the regents (i.e., without either the athletic director or the University president) about “how to make our program great again”. (It’s hard not to interpret that as a political statement: Trump has been elected, so the country is done with all this political correctness about sexual assault.)

The players’ case is that the sex was consensual, and a 90-second video of part of the 90-minute encounter has been offered as proof. (Think about that: The players’ defense is that they were involved in a group sex act where people videoed each other, but that it was all consensual. That may be a fine legal defense, but does the University want these guys representing the school?) The team’s coaches seemed to be supporting them rather than the administration.

Big money was at stake for the University. Last year’s Holiday Bowl paid $2.83 million to the participating schools, and additional advertising and ticketing revenue is at risk, not to mention the fund-raising bump a school gets when it’s alumni watch its team on national TV.

Fortunately, the administration didn’t back down. The team got its meeting with the regents and the president and athletic director, during which “it became clear that our original request of having the 10 suspensions overturned was not going to happen.” If it had, how could anyone justify sending a daughter to the University of Minnesota?


One of the things I said I’d be watching for in the Trump administration is “Taking credit for averting dangers that never existed.” Well, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has proclaimed victory in the War on Christmas.

Merry Christmas, which you can say again because Donald Trump is now the president. You can say it again! It’s okay to say—it’s not a pejorative word anymore.

If Trump wants to declare an imaginary victory in an imaginary war, how can you argue with him?


Wisconsin conservative talk-radio host Charlie Sykes is retiring. A never-Trump Republican to the end, Sykes’ farewell message is blistering:

We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.

This was not mere naïveté. It was also a moral failure, one that now lies at the heart of the conservative movement even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph. Now that the election is over, don’t expect any profiles in courage from the Republican Party pushing back against those trends; the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong.


I’ve been resisting covering speculation about what the Trump administration might do, because there’s just too much of it and I think reality already gives us enough to worry about. But the alternatives for repealing ObamaCare are starting to sound fairly solid, so let’s talk about them.

To start with, it seems unlikely that Republicans in the Senate can unify around eliminating the filibuster, and they have only 52 votes rather than 60, so just a straight repeal can’t pass the Senate unless they come up with a way to start rolling Democrats, which so far they’re not doing.

The way around the filibuster is a process called “reconciliation“, which is complicated, but basically requires a bill to be entirely fiscal. However, there are also non-fiscal aspects to ObamaCare, and leaving them in place while repealing the taxes and subsidies would make a huge mess:

What the health care policy experts consulting with GOP staff have been arguing is that repealing Obamacare’s subsidies and individual mandate – but leaving market regulations that require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions (which the 2015 reconciliation model would do) – would have catastrophic effects for the insurance market.

Exactly what is and isn’t fiscal is outlined here.

The alternative would be to repeal the whole thing through reconciliation, but that requires a way to work around the Senate parliamentarian, who is likely to rule against such a move. In other words, it requires tossing aside another democratic norm: We’re the majority, so we get to say what the rules mean, even if a good-faith interpretation says they mean something else.

The one thing still missing from either approach — nearly seven years after ObamaCare became law — is the “replace” part of repeal-and-replace. There is still no official Trump administration or congressional Republican plan for replacement. Repeal-without-replace takes healthcare coverage away from about 20 million people.

and let’s close with something that goes all the way

If we’re in a post-truth world, maybe it’s flat.

News War

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear December 19.

If the president of the United States declares war on journalism, journalists are not obliged to just record his words and publish them. They are obliged to take a side – the side of freedom.

– Dan Gillmor, “Trump, Free Speech, and Why Journalists Must Be Activists
November, 2016

This week’s featured posts are “Fake news is like Jessica Rabbit” and “No facts? What does that mean?

I’m cancelling the December 12 Sift because I’m traveling this week. If you’re anywhere near Palo Alto this Sunday, I’ll be speaking at the UU church there at 9:30 and 11 on the topic “Season of Darkness, Season of Hope”. It’s about how the symbolism of the Winter Solstice might apply to our dark political times.

This week everybody was talking about China

One of the scary things about Donald Trump as president is that when he causes an international incident, everybody’s first thought is “Did he mean to do that?” Because it’s entirely plausible that he just didn’t think about it; he so often appears not to think about the consequences of what he does.

This time, though, in spite of Trump and numerous spokespeople portraying his phone conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen as no big deal, it looks like it really was an attempt to begin his relationship with China with a shot across the bow. He followed up Sunday with a pair of aggressive tweets:

Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!

Actually the U.S. does tax Chinese imports, but since there are no facts anymore, who cares?

The WaPo summarizes why the call was such a big deal to the Chinese. Vox has a general exploration of Trump’s foreign policy.

and those manufacturing jobs at Carrier

One of the interesting things to watch in the early days of the Trump administration will be which conservatives stick to their previous principles, and which ones think it’s fine for Trump to do things they would have condemned Obama for.

In a nutshell, the deal Trump and Pence worked out to keep some Carrier jobs in Indiana while letting others move to Mexico is not at all the kind of thing he was describing during the campaign, and also counter to the usual Republican free-market principles.

During the campaign, Trump specifically called out Carrier’s plan to close a plant in Indianapolis and open one in Mexico. He made it sound like he would get tough with businesses like that, threatening them with tariffs until they knuckled under. Well, that’s not at all what happened. Carrier got at least $7 million in Indiana tax breaks. (Pence is still governor, remember?) Plus, who knows what else its parent company, United Technologies, was promised in terms of its defense businesses? In exchange, they agreed not to move as many jobs as they had planned, at least not right away.

Bernie Sanders wrote that the people whose jobs were saved should be happy, but “the rest of our nation’s workers should be very nervous.” In essence, the deal establishes that corporations can extort goodies from Trump by threatening to move.

Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren’t thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance this morning. And who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America? The working class of America.

OK, you didn’t really expect Bernie to side with Trump. But a number of conservatives also raised their voices against the deal, for a different reason: It’s exactly the kind of “industrial policy” they hate when Democrats try it. Sarah Palin called it “crony capitalism“.  National Review called it “a rejection of economic reality“.

and the PizzaGate shooting

I had the bad timing to write a somewhat whimsical piece about fake news at the same time that fake news was having a serious consequence: A guy armed with an assault rifle walked into a D.C. pizza place and started shooting, because he was “investigating” a fake-news story that “Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms”. Because that’s so incredibly plausible, I guess.


A sidebar on that story: So a guy believes a ridiculous piece of fake news, takes an assault rifle into a crowded restaurant and fires. Police take him into custody without finding it necessary to kill him first.

He’s white, right? How did I know?

and Trump’s cabinet picks

More announcements from the High Castle (a.k.a. Trump Tower).

Mattis at Defense. I can’t decide whether to be glass-half-empty or glass-half-full about General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. On the downside, it’s never good to have a SecDef whose nickname is “Mad Dog”. That Trump compares him to General Patton (from World War II, or maybe from the George C. Scott movie) also makes me uneasy: Patton was a tactical genius who was also a political and interpersonal loose cannon. He did well for us in World War II largely because wise, unflappable men like Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall stood between him and the president, who was the masterful Franklin Roosevelt. Show me anybody in the Trump administration like those guys, and I’ll feel a lot better about having another Patton.

On the upside, he is a real general who actually knows something about military affairs. He didn’t just play a general on TV or give a bunch of defense-related speeches or something. People who know their fields are rarities in the Trump cabinet, so I don’t want to complain too much. Also, he apparently told Trump that torture doesn’t work very well, and he wants to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, so he gets credit for that.

On the downside, he pairs with National Security Advisor (and former General) Michael Flynn to virtually eliminate civilian oversight of the military. (A third general is rumored to be Trump’s choice to head Homeland Security.) By law, a general has be out of the military for seven years before taking the SecDef job, a provision that Congress would have to waive for Mattis. That opens his nomination to filibuster.

Mnuchin at Treasury. I’m trying to imagine the response if President Hillary Clinton had nominated a hedge-fund founder and former Goldman Sachs partner, who made billions off the housing crisis. Way to drain the swamp, dude.

and the protesters won one

The Army announced that it won’t allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under a dammed section of the Missouri River. Alternate routes are being explored.

and the ongoing corruption issue

The NYT illustrates the problems in a series of circular diagrams that include both government agencies and Trump business interests. The gist is that Trump will frequently be in the position of deciding as president whether he should make more or less money.


Trump’s business empire, and its dealings in foreign countries and with foreign governments, seems to set up clear violations of the Emoluments Clause, a part of the Constitution that you never hear about because no president previously thought he could get away with violating it:

So, for example, any loan the Trump Organization gets from the Bank of China would need to be examined to make sure its terms aren’t more favorable than it might have gotten if Donald Trump weren’t president. Otherwise the deal might include a  gift, which the Clause bans. Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, elaborates:

Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses.

However, think about how to enforce this, if Congress decides to let it slide. Conceivably a court could step in, but courts can’t just take something up because it sounds wrong. Someone has to come to court claiming to have suffered an injury that the court has the power to correct. (That’s what’s meant by the legal term standing. You have to have standing before you can sue.)

Who could do that? Maybe a competing business that suffers from foreign-government favoritism towards the Trump Organization? Law professor Jonathan H. Adler doesn’t even offer that possibility:

the underlying controversy is almost certainly non-justiciable. It is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which someone would have standing to challenge Trump’s arrangements, and even harder to think what sort of remedy could be ordered by a court.

And Painter agrees:

The only remedy for a serious violation of the Emoluments Clause is impeachment.

and you might also be interested in

As absentee and provisional ballots get counted in various states, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the national popular vote continues to grow: currently more than 2.6 million votes, or 2%.

One thing this means is that the polls were not actually that far off. Going into election day, most pollsters were called for a 3-4% margin. She also did not run much behind Obama’s 2012 pace, when he won by 3.9%.


Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin are putting together a bipartisan effort to protect the DREAMers from deportation. We’ll see if Graham is by himself on this, or if a few other Republicans (Flake? McCain?) are willing to join. I have a hard time picturing the House backing this, but that’s a battle I really want the public to see. The DREAMers are the most sympathetic of the undocumented immigrants, because they broke no laws and most of them know no other country than the United States. If we can’t find a place for them, America really has become a hard-hearted country.


A good description of one of the big problems our democracy is facing: “Conservative media needs a scared, paranoid audience, while democracy needs reasonable voters.”


Not sure why Trump tweeted about flag-burning. I haven’t heard of anybody doing it lately; maybe he’s just anticipating that somebody will. Anyway, it’s a pretty clear First Amendment issue: The reason people object to it is that burning a flag expresses an opinion they don’t like. Nobody objects if you burn a flag that is worn out; that’s actually the preferred method of disposal. Nobody cares if you have flags on your 4th of July napkins and then throw them in the campfire. The only time people object to burning a flag is if you’re doing it to make a point.

In religious terms, laws to protect the flag from burning constitute idolatry: The symbol has been elevated above the thing it’s supposed to symbolize. The flag symbolizes our American freedom, but idolators want to protect the flag at the expense of our freedom.

and let’s close with a sex video

A very tiny one, that is. Science Alert provides video of tardigrade (a.k.a. water bear) mating, and even explains what’s kinky about it.

fertilisation actually occurs outside the female’s body – although the researchers still aren’t entirely sure how the semen gets to her eggs.

Presumably that will be in Tardigrade Mating II.

America Was

America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance. And it belongs to us.

– Richard Spencer, “Long Live the Emperor!” (11-21-2016)

This week’s featured post is “Should I Have White Pride?

This week everybody was talking about more cabinet picks

This batch was discouraging in a new way. Last week’s appointments were all from the Trump campaign’s inner circle, suggesting that he was looking for loyalty rather than competence. They were also all white men. This week’s appointments — Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador, Ben Carson at HUD (apparently; there’s been no formal announcement yet), and Betsy DeVos as Education secretary — included women and non-whites, but also suggested that knowledge and experience were not high values.

Not to dis Nikki Haley; she’s the up-and-coming Republican governor of South Carolina who (like Reince Preibus) might have shown up somewhere in a Bush or Rubio administration. But not at the UN, because her complete lack of experience in foreign policy or diplomacy would have mattered to Jeb or Marco. I wouldn’t have wanted Ben Carson as, say, Surgeon General, but at least it would have made some kind of sense, given that he’s a doctor. But when Fox News’ Neil Cavuto asked about his qualifications to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, Carson could come up with nothing better than “I grew up in the inner city.” (So did Kanye West; why wasn’t he considered?)

To me, this process looks more like casting a TV show than staffing an administration: Let’s put the black guy in charge of HUD and send the Indian woman to the UN. According to the NYT, Mitt Romney may benefit from the same factor:

Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” — the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.

DeVos (the sister of Blackwater founder and major Trump donor Erik Prince) similarly has no experience in the educational system, either as a teacher or an administrator. Her degree is in business administration. She and her husband founded Windquest Group, which describes itself as “a Michigan-based, privately held enterprise and investment management firm”. She has chaired the Michigan Republican Party.

But at least DeVos has shown an interest in education: She has been the leader of the political movement in Michigan to shift public funding of education away from public schools and towards vouchers that could be used in private schools. To imagine a comparable pick from the left, picture President Bernie Sanders naming the head of a disarmament group (who had never been in the military in any capacity, but clearly had studied military issues) as Defense Secretary.

DeVos is a fan of vouchers even for religious schools, which challenges the separation of church and state. Many Christians like religious-school vouchers, because they picture only Christian schools getting the money. The way to shut this down is to start Muslim schools, pagan schools, and so on. The fundamentalists are fine with tax dollars paying to promote Jesus, but paying to promote Allah or Buddha or Gaia is an abomination.


I predicted last week that Mitt Romney “won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first.” The argument among Trump’s inner circle about whether to make him Secretary of State seems to be coming down to exactly how much groveling that is.

Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State – almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle.

If Mitt submits to this, he will have only himself to blame for all future humiliations.


My prediction last week that the Trump administration would not prosecute Hillary Clinton also panned out. Josh Marshall objects to the way Trump makes this sound like a personal favor he’s doing the Clintons. “This is how dictators talk.”

In truth, he never had the goods on Clinton, and his threat to prosecute was always just something he said for effect. He doesn’t need that effect any more, so he can say something else instead.


Democrats got excited this week about a claim that the election might have been rigged, and that an audit in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might still reverse the outcome. I’m skeptical, for the same reasons as Nate Silver. I think the close states Clinton lost show the same trends as the close states Clinton won: Virginia, for example. On Election Night, I knew we were in trouble when Virginia was so close. Losing Wisconsin didn’t then seem like the kind of shock that requires an extraordinary explanation.


I’ve been searching online for a blue “Are We Great Again Yet?” hat. Still haven’t found one. #AWGAY


German intelligence officials are worried that Russia plans to interfere in their elections the same way it did in America’s.

and the media’s inadequacy to the occasion

One of the most important articles about Trump — and I’m going to keep linking to it until it’s message catches on — was written in September by Vox‘ David Roberts: “The question of what Donald Trump “really believes” has no answer“.

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, “views” that reflect his assessment of the facts, “positions” that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.

The media just doesn’t know how to cover a man who uses language this way. We saw another example this week after Trump met with The New York Times staff on Tuesday. Asked about the Paris Climate Change agreement that Obama signed and Trump repeated promised to reject, he said “I have an open mind” about it. This pleased people in the room and committed him to nothing. But it got covered as if it marked a real policy change, or at least the possibility of one.

Meanwhile, a top Trump advisor on the subject referred to NASA’s climate-change research as “highly politicized” and indicated that it will be discontinued. No substantive step Trump has taken should give any hope to environmentalists, but he got some nice headlines out of suggesting that he might be reasonable.


Similarly, when pressed by the NYT people about the Nazis who celebrated his victory with “Hail Trump!” (more about them in the featured post), he said: “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group.”

But Steve Bannon, who they look on as an ally, is still his chief strategist. Next week, Trump might be using the alt-Right’s coded language again, or retweeting something from WhiteGenocideTM or some similar online source. Vox explains what the alt-Right wants from the Trump administration, and why they’re not upset by his toothless disavowal.


Now Trump is claiming that he really won the popular vote — which in the real world Clinton won by more than 2.2 million votes — “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”. He offers no evidence to back this claim, which is widely being reported as “false” rather than just a he-said/she-said claim.

Again, the factual content is not the point. He is not trying to say something, he’s trying to do something. This requires a whole new kind of journalism. James Fallows outlines some small steps in that direction.

and corruption

Last week I listed “profiteering” as one of the things I’d be watching for in the new Trump administration. I had no idea how fast examples would start mounting up. The New York Times listed half a dozen countries where Trump’s business interests now compete with the national interest for his attention.

In Turkey, for example

officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, demanded that Mr. Trump’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. More recently, after Mr. Trump came to the defense of Mr. Erdogan — suggesting that he had the right to crack down harshly on dissidents after a failed coup — the calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped, fueling worries that Mr. Trump’s policies toward Turkey might be shaped by his commercial interests.

A Trump business partner in Manila has become the Philippines’ special envoy to the United States. In a post-election meeting with United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, Trump urged UKIP to fight against wind farms like the one that he feels blights the neighborhood of his golf course in Scotland. In China, Trump just won a trademark dispute that had been raging for years — not for the country, for himself. In several countries, Trump construction projects have seen regulatory barriers come down since his election. Is that the normal pace of bureaucracy, or an attempt to curry favor? How would we know?

Paul Krugman makes an astute observation: To the extent that such deals become outright bribery, they will tilt American foreign policy in favor of dictatorships:

What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.

Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.

That policy tilt will be far more important than the money Trump will manage to rake off while president.


E. J. Dionne attempts to shame Republicans in Congress by reminding them of their objections to the much less serious conflicts of interest involved in the Clinton Foundation. This is a test of my theory that Republicans are shameless.


In Scotland, Trump made a bunch of promises in exchange for local approval to build a golf course. Most of them haven’t been fulfilled.


The question of whether Republican senators will get in line behind the Trump administration is one of the most interesting things we’ll find out in the next few months. Nate Silver whipped up a model to predict who was most likely to give Trump trouble, and came up with Susan Collins, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, and Lisa Murkowski.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote an article that appeared to protest against his low-likelihood-of-rebellion score, claiming that

Silver’s analysis starts with three basic factors that “will presumably correlate with support for [the President-Elect’s] agenda”: issue alignment, personal support, and electoral incentive. All three of these are about policy and politics. None of them are about the primary job of Senators — upholding an oath of office to defend our Constitutional system of limited government.

It all sounds very idealistic, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

and the Dakota pipeline protest

The LA Times lists the competing claims of demonstrators and the police. I wish they would try to adjudicate who is telling the truth.

and you might also be interested in …

James Fallows is reporting that China has become much more repressive in the last few years. This seems like a very important trend, and points to another way our media culture dis-serves us: Something that happens gradually over a period of years might not be “news” on any particular day.


Fidel Castro is dead.


Here’s your annual dose of humility: The NYT’s 100 Notable Books of 2016. I read four this year: Steven King’s End of Watch and three non-fiction books. Two of them I read for a book review: Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. The final book, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, was buyer’s remorse for writing my book review before it came out. The other 96, I know nothing about.


The annual War on Christmas is about to flare up again.


Whenever I feel tempted to believe the claims that Christians face discrimination in America, I look into the details of a case and that cures me. Here’s one: A New York science teacher covered her classroom walls with posters featuring Bible verses, and sued after the administration made her take them down.

Friendly Atheist makes the same comment I often make about the Christians who see religious discrimination in such cases: They “would go batshit crazy if a non-Christian teacher ever did anything remotely similar to what Silver did.”


The abortion rate per woman in the 15-44 age group has dropped to half of its 1980 level, and is lower than at any time since Roe v Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973. Next year, expect this stat to get much more attention, and Trump to take credit for it. Just one more way America is becoming great again.


The world chess championship has come down to one game, without me even noticing until just now. We’ve come a long way from Fischer-Spassky.


Tim O’Reily of geek publishing house O’Reily Media has some good observations on how to spot fake news: mismatch between headline and content, lack of sources, mismatch between article text and the referenced source, unreliable sources, no independent accounts of the same events, misuse of data.

In general, I continue to be surprised by the number of people I think of as relatively intelligent who post fake news articles on Facebook. Still, we liberals seem to have higher standards than the other side. NPR tracked down a fake-news creator, who has learned to focus on fake-news that appeals to conservatives.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

and let’s close with something awe-inspiring

A massive flock of starlings, filmed by Jan van Ijken and presented by National Geographic.