Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

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.

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times.

reputed to be a Chinese curse

This week’s featured post is “The Trump Administration: What I’m watching for“. Last week there was no weekly summary and I hadn’t expected to post at all, but “How did my hometown become Trumpland?” just leaped out. In the meantime, I was giving a talk at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois about the longer-term problem in our democracy that the Trump campaign is just a symptom of.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump administration

Nothing we’ve seen so far is reassuring. During the campaign I often heard Trump supporters claim that his inexperience in government and his lack of depth on the issues didn’t really matter, because he would surround himself with the best people. So far, there’s no indication that’s happening.

Reince Priebus as chief of staff is, I suppose, the least worrying of the announcements. (If you want a mental picture of what a chief of staff does, that was Leo’s job in The West Wing.) He is a standard Republican who might have gotten a lesser position in a Romney administration.

But Steve Bannon in the newly-invented position of chief strategist is deeply troubling. He turned Breitbart into the go-to news source for white nationalists. You can argue about whether he himself is a white nationalist or an anti-Semite — some people who know him personally say no — but he panders to those who are, so I’m not sure that what’s in his heart matters. Someone like Bannon would have been beyond the pale in any previous Republican administration.

General Michael Flynn as national security adviser … here’s something from The Economist:

In a book published earlier this year, General Flynn writes: “We’re in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people, most of them inspired by totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam. But we are not permitted to write those two words, which is potentially fatal to our culture.” In another passage, he declares that there is “no escape from this war” and asks: “Do you want to be ruled by men who eagerly drink the blood of their dying enemies…there’s no doubt that they [Islamic State] are dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”

This is what worries me: If top American officials go around talking about a world war with Islam, they can make that prediction come true. I’ve often said on this blog that the crucial battlefield in the war on terror lies inside the minds of 15-year-old Muslims. Do they see a future for themselves in the current world order, or not? If they live in the United States, do they see Muslim-American as a viable identity, or not? Trump’s election tilts that decision in a bad direction; Flynn as his top security adviser tilts it further.

So does the selection of Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. Pompeo is an advocate of torture and of expanding the prison at Guantanamo. In Congress, he was one of the most partisan members of the Benghazi Committee.

Jeff Sessions as Attorney General means that the federal government is getting out of the business of defending civil rights. (Actually that’s not true, his Civil Rights Division is likely to be quite busy: Sessions takes seriously the myth that Christians are persecuted, so he’ll defend their right to discriminate against gays or women who want birth control. Also expect to see more reverse-discrimination cases against affirmative action programs.) I expect deep-Confederacy states like Mississippi or Alabama to pass laws blatantly suppressing the black vote, and Sessions’ Justice Department to do nothing. (That’s why it’s suddenly much more important to support private groups like the ACLU or NAACP.)

He is also an opponent of privacy rights. Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez says:

When it comes to surveillance powers, he’s more catholic than the Pope. He wants to grant more authorities with fewer limitations than even the law enforcement or intelligence communities are asking for.


But beyond the problems with any particular choice, the pattern is disturbing: So far, Trump is valuing loyalty over expertise. Bannon was his campaign CEO. Priebus brought the RNC to heel after Trump’s nomination. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. Flynn was a campaign adviser.

Trump-critic Eliot Cohen initially urged his fellow conservatives to put aside their differences and go work for the new administration, but then changed his mind after hearing reports from inside the transition process.

Cohen, who last week had urged career officials to serve in Trump’s administration, said in an interview that a longtime friend and senior transition team official had asked him to submit names of possible national security appointees. After he suggested several people, Cohen said, his friend emailed him back in terms he described as “very weird, very disturbing.”

“It was accusations that ‘you guys are trying to insinuate yourselves into the administration…all of YOU LOST.’…it became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls,” said Cohen, who would not identify his friend.

Compare this to the team-of-rivals Obama assembled. His chief Democratic rival became secretary of state, he kept on a Republican defense secretary, and he also nominated Republicans to head the departments of transportation and commerce.

Trump critics like Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney have been called to Trump Tower and had their names floated for posts, but I’ll believe that when I see it. I think their attendance signifies nothing more than their submission. They won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first.


The flap over Hamilton revealed another disturbing tendency in the new administration. In case you missed it, Vice President-elect Pence went to see the Broadway musical Hamilton Friday night. During the curtain call, one of the actors read a statement written by the show’s author, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, we hope that you will hear us out.

And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide. Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

As you can see, the statement was respectful and not an attack of any kind. I would summarize it as a request for reassurance.

It would have been easy for Trump to either ignore this or respond to it gracefully, with something like: “Of course we’ll protect all Americans and defend American values.” If he wanted to score some political points, he could have blamed the hostile media for inspiring such baseless fears of his administration.

He didn’t do that. Instead, he launched a series of tweets Saturday and Sunday, calling Hamilton “overrated” and demanding that the cast “apologize” for their “terrible behavior”.

Here’s how I read the incident: Trump wants people to be afraid of him. Why else do you slap down people who come to you asking for reassurance?

and how on Earth Trump got elected

The first thing I should acknowledge is that my returns-watching guide didn’t foresee the Trump victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I hope it was useful anyway, in the sense that as reality diverged from my predictions, you saw how the night was going. Some of my early warning signs of a bad night — the Indiana senate race getting called for the Republicans right away, Virginia taking a long time to come in — were indeed early warnings.


I’m seeing a lot of finger-pointing among Democrats: Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton are to blame; the Party is to blame for nominating Clinton in the first place; Clinton should have known the upper Midwest was vulnerable; Bernie should never have validated those bogus Republican trustworthiness issues by raising them in the primaries; black turnout should have been higher; and so on.

To me, none of this seems like a good use of our time and energy. If your psychology is wired in such a way that you need to blame somebody, I offer these five candidates:

  • The Founders and their bleeping Electoral College. Anybody who goes on a rant about what a bad candidate Clinton was and how unpopular she is needs to be reminded of the fact that she got something like 1.7 million more votes than Trump did. The Electoral College never worked according to the hare-brained scheme the Founders had in mind, and it should have been junked in 1801 after the Aaron Burr fiasco. The net effect of the College in recent elections has been to disenfranchise Californians. Clinton lost because her million-vote plurality included a more-than-two-million-vote margin in California. Similarly in 2000, Al Gore had the misfortune of locating 1.3 million of his 500,000-vote plurality in California and 1.7 million in New York. Unfortunately, since Republicans owe two of their last three victories to the College, it has become a partisan advantage, so we’ll never get rid of it now.
  • The Russians. Without the constant drip-drip of pseudo-scandalous headlines from Democratic emails hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks, the Clinton campaign could have done a much better job of controlling its message in the final month of the campaign. The biggest scandal of the 2016 campaign is that the winning candidate owes his victory to the meddling of a foreign power, and that Republicans seem not at all bothered by this.
  • The FBI. James Comey violated the Justice Department rules about not interfering in elections, derailing the momentum that Clinton seemed to have going into the home stretch of the campaign. Similarly, lower-level sources inside the FBI kept on feeding the right-wing media leaks about ongoing investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which I suspect we will never hear about again now that these “investigations” have served their partisan purposes.
  • The media. The fact that low-information voters — and a lot of people who pay more attention — got the idea that Clinton and Trump were equally flawed candidates is due to a gross distortion of election coverage.
  • Voter suppression. Vox makes a good case that Republican moves to suppress minority turnout didn’t make the difference by itself. But it was definitely a factor in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere.

I continue to believe that Clinton would have been a good president, but Trump won and the Republic is in real danger now.

There’s a legitimate argument to be had within the Democratic Party about whether to put forward a sweeping agenda for radical change, or to stand for the reasonable center against the radical Trump administration. But both messages will be out there in the next few months, and they will either gain traction with the public or they won’t. Arguing over how 2016 was lost isn’t a worthwhile use of our energy.

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A comment on the NYT Facebook page:

Huyên Phương Lê I am considering many grad schools in the US for my master course next fall. Before the election, I only looked at the ranking, the alumni’s feedback, the requirements and the fee and campus life. Now, I really have to think about the safety. As an Asian woman, I don’t expect anyone to stop me in the street and tell me to get back to China (which I am not from). So now, although I was so sure about some schools in Texas and Wisconsin, I have to sit down once again, and closely look at the cities, and hope that they are not too red. This election changed my mind about America.


Does this surprise anyone? Now that the election is over, Donald I-never-settle Trump is paying $25 million to settle the Trump University lawsuits. Part of the agreement is that he admits no wrong-doing, but who pays $25 million to people they haven’t wronged? Especially if it’s a “phony lawsuit” and an “easy win”, as he claimed earlier this year.

Donald Trump committed fraud against thousands of ordinary Americans. That isn’t some partisan fantasy, like the charges against the Clinton Foundation. It’s a fact.


An amusing bit of satire: Andrea Grimes isn’t ready yet to deal with all the Trump supporters who want to talk to her so that they can understand why their candidate lost the popular vote.


Interesting story in the NYT about the widespread falsehood that the protests against Trump were fake, with paid protestors bused in. A guy with 40 Twitter followers saw some buses in Austin at about the same time protests were happening, jumped to a conclusion, and tweeted a picture. That fake “news” filled a psychological need, so it got shared hundreds of thousands of times before anyone checked it out.


The one encouraging thing in Trump’s proposals was supposed to be his infrastructure plan. Obama has been proposing infrastructure programs for years, hoping to create jobs by doing stuff that needs to get done anyway, but Republicans in Congress have blocked him.

So is this something Democrats should get behind for the good of the country, rejecting the kind of if-he’s-for-it-I’m-against-it obstruction that Republicans directed at Obama? Well, they should take a good hard look at the details first. Ron Klein writes:

Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. … Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway. Contractors have no obligation to hire new workers, or expand workers’ hours, to collect their $85 billion.

And Paul Krugman gets more specific:

For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 billion while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.

… why do it this way? Why not just have the government do the spending, the way it did when, for example, we built the Interstate Highway System? It’s not as if the feds are having trouble borrowing. And while involving private investors may create less upfront government debt than a more straightforward scheme, the eventual burden on taxpayers will be every bit as high if not higher.

What was talked about during the campaign may not be exactly what gets proposed. But whatever gets proposed needs to be closely examined.


Here’s a graph of the area covered by sea ice, world-wide, with the (red) 2016 falling well below previous years. There’s some debate about what it means, because it lumps together Arctic and Antarctic ice, which are two very different situations. But it can’t be good.

but here are some previews of coming attractions

One of the weird consequences of the election for me personally (after a couple days of depression) was the energizing thought: There is so much that needs to be written now. For example, up until now I’ve taken it for granted that certain kinds of white racism didn’t really need to be addressed, because they were already taboo for serious conversation. That’s not true any more, so sometime soon I’ll be writing about the difference between my own sense of pride in where I come from and “white pride”, as well as addressing the question of why there’s no White History Month. As I say, that didn’t used to be necessary, but it is now. We used to be able to just scoff at this stuff, but now we need an articulate response.

In general, there’s a lot about race that is well understood academically, but hasn’t been sufficiently popularized. Posts on that theme will come out fairly often, I expect.

Another thing I’ll write about at some point is a basic difference in moral viewpoints between Trumpists and liberals like myself. That sounds like an esoteric topic, but it turns out to be very illuminating. Several people have already written about the difference between a universal view of morality and an us/them view, but I think the topic needs a more popular touch. (In the meantime, check out this presentation.)

An ongoing theme of the coming months is likely to be the typical progress of authoritarian/fascist governments, and whether or not we’re seeing that in the Trump administration. One important article in this regard is Jason Stanley’s “Beyond Lying: Trump’s authoritarian reality“.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Donald Trump is trying to define a simple reality as a means to express his power. The goal is to define a reality that justifies his value system, thereby changing the value systems of his audience.

In other words, if Trump says 2+2 is 5, that’s not necessarily a mistake. He might be demonstrating that he can say this and get away with it. If he can get his previous enemies to repeat “2+2 is 5”, that shows his followers just how irresistible his power is. (There’s a lot to unpack here, so more later.)

and let’s close with something musical

I think I’m going to listen to this a lot in the next four years: “Your Racist Friend” by They Might Be Giants. We might all be having conversations like this soon.

With Some Exceptions

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Winston Churchill (1947)

No Sift on November 14. The next new articles will appear November 21.

This week’s featured posts are “I don’t know why we’re having this conversation” and “Election Night 2016: an hour-by-hour returns-watching guide“.

This week everybody was talking about the end of the campaign

Facing a need to sum up at the end of the campaign, I was surprised by my own reaction. For weeks I’ve been wishing Clinton would close on a more positive note, forgetting Trump and making a case for infrastructure, health care, equal pay, combating climate change, ending mass incarceration, a higher minimum wage, and all the other stuff she should start working on as soon as she’s sworn in.

But when it came time for me to write my closing words on the election, I didn’t do that either. Talking policy seemed to miss the point; I would just be contributing to the illusion that Trump is a normal candidate, and justifying people who vote for him because they disagree with Clinton’s ideas.

But disliking ObamaCare or having an expansive interpretation of 2nd-Amendment rights is no excuse for voting for Trump. His open courting of bigots, his justification of violence, his refusal to admit that any process that defeats him could be legitimate, his lack of respect for truth or fair play — these are fundamental threats to democracy, no matter what you think about taxes or government spending. If you’re conservative, I’m sorry the Republican Party didn’t give you a candidate that you can vote for in good conscience. But it didn’t. I wish you better luck in 2020, but right now I need your help to save the American Republic.

For nearly a year, I’ve been wavering over whether fascist is the right word for Trump. (There are similarities and differences.) But forget the semantics and look at what we can see: Trump’s political style is based on dominance and intimidation, on appealing to a racial/cultural “us” who have to stay on top of a threatening “them” at any cost, on fanning a sense of racial/cultural grievance that justifies any response as just doing back to them what they do to us. Call it fascist or don’t, but it’s not democratic and it’s not republican.

Look at this closing ad Trump put out:

When Trump made the speech these remarks come from, he was criticized for evoking Elders-of-Zion-like themes of an international conspiracy of bankers and media elites. This ad doubles down on that, illustrating his remarks with close-ups of Jews like George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein.

Al Franken, who is a Jew, labeled this kind of dog whistle “a German shepherd whistle”.

I think it’s an appeal to some of the worst elements in our country as a closing argument. And I think people who aren’t sensitive to that, or don’t know that history, may not see that in that, but that’s what I immediately saw.

Don’t think American neo-Nazis aren’t seeing the same thing Franken is.


Ezra Klein lists several admiring statements Trump has made about dictators, and draws this conclusion:

It’s not just that Trump admires authoritarians; it’s that the thing he admires about them is their authoritarianism — their ability to dispense with niceties like a free press, due process, and political opposition.

In other words, it’s not that they make the trains run on time, but that they make the trains run on time. Klein also quotes this pithy statement from political scientist Julia Azari:

The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.

So the Party elite couldn’t stop Trump from getting nominated, and then they almost had to line up behind him. Trump ran against the Republican establishment, but now he’s supported by the vast majority of Republicans.


I think there’s a pretty good case for calling Putin’s regime in Russia fascist, and he certainly sees something in Trump. Here Samantha Bee goes to Russia to find out where the disinformation she sees on Facebook is coming from.


Jon Stewart describes his Twitter battle with Trump.

and the FBI

The big news of yesterday was that FBI Director Comey sent another letter to Congress, which basically said “Oh, never mind.”

Since my letter [of October 28], the FBI investigative team reviewed all of the communications that were to or from Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with regard to Secretary Clinton.

Skeptics have wondered how it was possible to review tens of thousands of emails in a week or so, but that should be obvious: Computers threw out the ones that weren’t to or from Clinton, as well as the duplicates of emails the FBI had already evaluated. Apparently that left a  manageable number for human agents to read.

If the FBI had functioned correctly, this whole process would have begun and ended weeks ago, and would not have merited public comment.

While I’m glad Comey got this done before the election, his massive intervention in the election is still a big deal, and his never-mind letter doesn’t undo the damage he did and continues to do. Two days before the election, no politician wants the headline to be that she’s not a criminal, even if the alternative would be worse.

and DAPL

Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline continues, and is being met with arrests and police tactics like pepper spray. The effort is led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but includes representatives from many other tribes, as well as environmental activists of all sorts.

This issue deserves more attention than election-obsessed people like me have been giving it. But I’ll make some simple points that are sometimes lost in the press coverage, such as it is.

It’s being billed as a Native-American-rights issue, and it is one, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. The point of opposing pipelines in general is that any money spent on fossil-fuel infrastructure increases the sunk costs of fossil fuel use, and insures that we’ll be using fossil fuels that much longer. A lot of the issues I discussed three years ago in regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline apply here: Eventually, we’re going to have to decide to leave some fossil fuels in the ground. The more infrastructure we build, the harder that decision will be.

Entangling environmental issues with indigenous-people’s rights is an intentional strategy. Typically, indigenous peoples have rights on paper, but lack the political power to enforce them. Conversely, environmentalists know how to apply political pressure, but often can’t prevail legally because of private property rights. A strategy that appears in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (I don’t know if it’s original to her or she’s just popularizing it) is to combine the two: Environmentalists need to find points where the fossil fuel industry wants to run over indigenous rights, and make common cause with the tribes.

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The Bridgegate defendants are guilty on all counts. Bridgegate should serve as a reminder of what a real scandal looks like and how it should be dealt with: People are accused of specific actions that break specific laws, and evidence is assembled to show that they really did those actions.

Contrast this to the long list of Hillary pseudo-scandals, which get more and more vague the longer they stay in the headlines. This week I saw an anti-Clinton bumpersticker saying “Benghazi: We will never forget”. I’ve been reading about Benghazi investigations for more than four years, and I still can’t tell you exactly what Clinton is supposed to have done wrong.


Jonathan Chait is pessimistic about the post-Trump Republican Party, saying that it has entered an “age of authoritarianism”.

the version of the party that survives the likely wreckage of November will be a rage machine no less angry or united than the one that sustained eight years of unrelenting opposition to Obama. That rage will again shake the creaky scaffolding of the Madisonian system of government. Trumpism is the long historical denouement of a party that has come to see American democracy as rigged. And what one does to a rigged system is destroy it.


Jay Rosen describes how journalists confuse objectivity with even-handedness. This problem has come to a head in this election, because of Trump:

By openly trashing the norms of American politics, by flooding the campaign with wave after wave of provable falsehood, by convincing his supporters to despise and mistrust the press, by encouraging them to believe in a rigged election — rigged in part by the people who are bringing them the news — Trump has made it a certainty that when honest journalism is done about him it also works against him.

So if your coverage is even-handed, it’s pro-Trump. Even if it looks pro-Clinton to your Trump-supporting readers.


AP nailed down something that ought to be scandalous: Trump’s wife broke U.S. immigration laws. Matt Yglesias explains why it’s no big deal to Trump’s supporters: She’s white.

there’s really nothing so surprising about the Melania story. Trump doesn’t like immigrants who change the American cultural and ethnic mix in a way he finds threatening and neither do his fans. Europeans like Melania (or before her, Ivana) are fine. I get it, David Duke gets it, the frog meme people get it, everyone gets it.

But it does raise the question of why mainstream press coverage has spent so much time pretending not to get it. Why have we been treated to so many lectures about the “populist appeal” of a man running on regressive tax cuts and financial deregulation and the “economic anxiety” of his fans?

If we all knew what this was about from the beginning — and I think we pretty clearly did — why has there been so much reluctance to say it clearly?

and let’s close with something artful

From beyond the grave, Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Caffeine”.


Update. I almost forgot about something I promised (in the returns-watching guide) to explain: Nate Silver’s argument with the other prediction gurus.

Nate’s estimate of Clinton’s odds of victory is 68.5%, and has been around 64% much of the week. The NYT has Clinton at 84%, and the Princeton Election Consortium says 99%. It’s a little more complicated than this, but Nate’s view differs from the more optimistic (for Clinton) assessments in two ways. First, he believes polling is just a more uncertain business than other people do. There might well be some systemic way that we’re doing polling wrong, and nobody will know until the returns come in.

Second, he believes the state polls are more correlated than the other prognosticators. For example, if Clinton had a 50% chance of winning Florida and 50% of winning North Carolina, and either state would put her over the top, you might think that gives her a 75% chance of victory. But what if whatever tips Florida to Trump is the exact same thing that will tip North Carolina? Then you believe the two will fall together, and so Clinton’s odds of winning either or both is only 50%.

I’ve wanted to believe the other guys, but in my heart I believe Nate is right about this.

About the Nation

If one half of the people is bent on proving how wicked a man is and the other half is determined to show how good he is, neither half will think very much about the nation.

– Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics (1913)

This week’s featured post is my attempt to forget the campaign for a moment and worry about the nation: “What’s up with ObamaCare (other than premiums)?“. Next week’s Sift will come out the day before Election Day, so I’ll have my quadrennial viewer’s guide, where I combine Nate Silver’s state-by-state analysis with a list of poll-closing times, and tell you what to look for when.

This week everybody was talking about Hillary’s emails again

When it broke Friday that the FBI was looking at a new batch of emails related to Hillary Clinton, I (like most people I know) had a moment of panic: Would this be the stroke of fate that inflicts President Trump on the world?

Then I went through a period of regretting the bad timing, but feeling like it was nobody’s fault. We actually knew nothing about these new emails, so it was a pure Rorschach Test: If it was already an article of faith to you that Hillary has done something horrible and the smoking gun must be somewhere, then the fact that it hadn’t been found anywhere else meant this must be it. But for everybody else, these were just more emails, probably no different from all the previous ones.

After about a day, I hit the stage of “WTF, Comey?”. I’m still there. You can see a similar evolution in Josh Marshall’s Editor’s Blog on TPM: From here to here to here.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that early on in the investigation of Clinton’s email server, Comey decided this was a unique case that required a degree of public disclosure well outside the FBI’s usual practice. You could already see that in his July announcement and the testimony before Congress that followed it. Ordinary practice would be some terse announcement that the FBI had found no evidence that would warrant a prosecution, maybe illuminated by some discussion of the importance of intent in comparable cases.

Instead, he launched into a legally irrelevant criticism of Clinton’s “carelessness” in handling classified information. That would be an appropriate comment to make if he were a government inspector general or a congressional committee, not an FBI director. The FBI investigates crimes, not carelessness, and the role of the FBI director does not include being a moral authority.

The letter he wrote Friday to the chairs of congressional committees (all Republicans, since they are the majority) was the kind of thing the FBI doesn’t do at any time, much less when it’s likely to affect an election in a week and a half. It was basically an announcement that he might at some future time have new information. Totally vacuous in itself, it served only to create doubt that can’t possibly be resolved by Election Day.

The Justice Department has policies about this, for very good reasons. In its crime-investigating role, we allow law enforcement officials to violate people’s privacy in all sorts of ways. One of their corresponding responsibilities is to be circumspect in how they use that information.

So anyway, now we’re in exactly the kind of hell those policies are supposed to avoid: Relying on anonymous leaks to assess what, if anything, this new information might be or mean, and whether or not it should change how we vote. The NYT has a good summary of what we know and don’t know.

As far as Clinton’s email server in general, I haven’t changed the opinion I wrote in June. A more up-to-date version of a similar point of view is here.


To me, the nightmare scenario is that this vague letter tips the election to Trump, and then a month from now Comey reports to us again and says, “Oh, never mind, it turns out these emails were all duplicates of ones we already had.”

In the unlikely event that these emails reveal some previously unsuspected crime of President-elect Clinton, she could be impeached. But if Comey’s interference elects Trump, there’s no recourse.


Matt Yglesias:

The only way the email story could get any worse for Clinton would be if some kind of actual wrongdoing were unearthed at some point.


The Clinton-related emails released by WikiLeaks are a different story entirely, but I’m sure they blend together in the public mind. These are mostly from the account of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and have nothing to do with the State Department. They are not subject to a legitimate investigation, but were hacked, probably by the Russian government.

These releases also have no smoking guns, but produce a constant dribble of negative headlines. People in their private emails say stuff that would look bad if they said it in public, and worse if it’s quoted out of context. That’s not news.

The latest batch inspired a lot of headlines suggesting that Bill Clinton profited personally from the Clinton Foundation, but (as so often happens) when you look at the supporting evidence it doesn’t really say that. A Clinton insider, Douglas Band, who worked in Hillary’s State Department, used his Clinton contacts to build a consulting business after he left the State Department. He encouraged his corporate clients both to give to the Clinton Foundation and to invite Bill Clinton to give paid speeches. Chelsea Clinton didn’t like possible implications of the way he was mixing business and his Foundation ties, so she started an internal audit. Band defended himself by arguing that Bill’s conflicts of interest were worse than his. (He sounds like Trump trying to excuse his sexual assaults: Don’t look at me, look at Bill.) That’s what leaked.

What we’re left with is the already-known fact that many corporations both gave money to the Foundation and paid Bill or Hillary to give speeches. None of this is odd: Corporations give money to charitable foundations, ex-presidents and ex-secretaries-of-state give a lot of paid speeches, and the Clintons’ fees seem to be in line with what people of their fame typically ask. No money has gone from the Foundation to the Clintons, and so far no one has come up with unwarranted government favors the companies might have been paying for. I’ve covered all this in detail before; in short, it’s “pay-for-play” scandal without either pay or play.

In all the responsible reporting, what is considered newsworthy is the possibility that some other bit of evidence might come out that will make these dots line up in a sinister pattern. We keep getting teased with that speculation, but the reality of it continues not to arrive.


Before this campaign, my opinion of WikiLeaks was somewhere between ambivalent and positive. I thought the mass release of State Department cables could be dangerous to some people who deserved better, but it also made public a lot of stuff that the public ought to know.

But in its anti-Clinton campaign, WikiLeaks has gone far beyond its original role as a force for transparency. It could have released whatever Russia gave it in one big dump, letting the rest of us sort through it the way people sorted through the State Department cables. That would be transparent: We got stuff, we passed it on.

Instead, by dribbling stuff out bit by bit as Election Day approaches, and using its twitter feed to frame its revelations as salaciously as possible, WikiLeaks has become just another partisan player, and Julian Assange just another foreigner trying to manipulate our election.

Buzzfeed has an article from a former WikiLeaks insider, about Assange’s “score” to settle with Hillary Clinton.


Most of what WikiLeaks has released is more gossip than whistle-blowing: Did you hear what so-and-so said about you? But Bernie Sanders isn’t taking the bait:

Trust me, if they went into our emails — I suppose which may happen, who knows — I’m sure there would be statements that would be less than flattering about, you know, the Clinton staff. That’s what happens in campaigns.


One sign that Republicans had given up on a Trump victory, at least until the FBI announcement: They were already talking about impeaching President Clinton.

and the acquittal in the Bundy trial

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the verdict in the Bundy trial in Oregon: Not guilty all around, with the jury unable to make a decision on one charge of theft of government property. The L.A. Times attributes the verdict to the prosecutors’ overconfidence, while acknowledging the verdict’s overall absurdity.

“My client was arrested in a government truck, and he was acquitted of taking that truck,” said defense attorney Matthew Schindler, who still sounded in disbelief Friday morning.

The defense cast the Malheur occupation as a legitimate protest, but to my mind a protest turns into something else as soon as you start waving guns around. The Bundy brothers themselves will be sent to Nevada to face charges over the 2014 armed standoff at their father’s ranch. Presumably those prosecutors will not be so confident now, so we’ll have a test of the overconfidence theory.


Does anybody doubt what will happen next? Anti-government yahoos around the country will be emboldened to do even more outrageous things. We might as well have posted “Welcome Armed Occupiers” signs outside of every government workplace in the country.


About the Bundy’s theory that federal ownership of so much land in the western states is illegitimate: Once you get west of the Ogallala aquifer, the vast majority of land wouldn’t have supported American-style settlers, or much of anything beyond the economy the Native Americans already had, without massive federal spending on dams, roads, and railroad subsidies. To this day, most residents of the mountain states are not paying anywhere near the true cost of the water they use. (See the classic book Cadillac Desert.)

Native American claims are in a different category, but if any white people want to claim that federal lands in the West should belong to them, or to their state, I think they need to explain how the investment of the out-of-state taxpayers is going to be repaid.


At Vox, German Lopez said what I’ve been thinking:

It is impossible to ignore race here. This was a group of armed white people, mostly men, taking over a facility. Just imagine: What would happen if a group of armed black men, protesting police brutality, tried to take over a police facility and hold it hostage for more than a month? Would they even come out alive and get to trial? Would a jury find them and their cause relatable, making it easier to send them back home with no prison time?


Lots of people made a comparison to the Native American protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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The next time someone asks about your dream job, consider the prospect of replacing Philip Galanes as host of The New York Times‘ “Table for Three” series. His job is to invite interesting people to lunch in twos, talk to them, and publish the conversation.

In the latest edition of the series, he takes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to the Gotham Lounge of Manhattan’s Peninsula Hotel, and asks them about how the 2016 election compares with other elections in US history. The NYT picks up the check, no doubt.

As Dire Straits put it: “That ain’t workin’. That’s the way you do it.”


Racist incidents are up in Britain after Brexit. Here’s some advice on how to interrupt them.

In general, people who create confrontations have some kind of drama in mind; they are like directors of a play. Sometimes you can screw that up without becoming part of the confrontation yourself: Stand in the wrong place, ask one of the participants for directions, etc. If you have an accomplice, you can stage your own competing play: have a screaming break-up scene.


CNN discusses the plague of fake news sites whose purpose is to get you agitated enough to share the link on social media. Some are partisan disinformation sites, but a bunch are subtle news parody sites, like Newslo or Business Standard News, whose stories sound credible because they’re just one or two steps beyond what’s actually happening. (You’d think people would notice the BS logo and take a step back, but apparently not.)

When these first started cropping up, I thought they were clever — like The Onion but a little more of an inside joke. But now, two or three times a day I feel obligated to inform some outraged Facebook friend that s/he has been punked. Usually I’m the 10th commenter after 9 other people have taken it seriously. I think some real damage is starting to happen.

When you share something, you’re lending your credibility to it; friends are more likely to be taken in by something if they know you believe it. That gives you some responsibility to check things out before you spread them.

Here’s a tip: Real news stories happen in a real world that lots of people see. So a real news story almost never appears on just one site. (That’s doubly true if the story involves some famous person, and the site is one you’ve never heard of.) Before you share some outrageous claim, boil it down to a few words and do a Google search. If the thing really happened, you should see a bunch of similar articles about it.


Take the Illinois senate race off the board. Mark Kirk just finished himself off.


At one level you have the dozen-or-so women who have accused Trump of some form of sexual assault (similar to the general description he gave Billy Bush on the famous tape). At another level entirely, there are a host of instances that aren’t remotely criminal, but reinforce the picture of him as a self-absorbed asshole.

This one, for example. It’s 2009, and the 16-year-old son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston has just died. That launches Trump into reminiscing on the Trump University blog about the time he put the moves on Preston and she turned him down, in spite of the fact that “my track record on this subject has always been outstanding”. Because that’s what you do when somebody loses her child.


Voter suppression is usually one of those phrases that only someone’s enemies use. Nobody ever comes out and says they’re trying to suppress the vote.

Except the Trump people. I guess this is a new example of telling it like it is.

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.


Here’s one of those stories that cuts across sports, business, media trends, and cultural change: TV ratings are down for both pro football in the US and the pro soccer in the UK. (It’s harder to get a clear sense of how college football’s ratings are doing, because its broadcasting is more decentralized than the pros, with individual conferences having their own networks in addition to national-network coverage.) Everybody has a theory about what this means, but none of them are compelling yet.


While we’re talking sports, the most offensive thing about the Cleveland Indians isn’t that they’re called “Indians”, it’s that the Chief Wahoo logo. Check out the parody “Caucasians” shirt.


Here’s the conclusion I draw from Megyn Kelly’s confrontational interview with Newt Gingrich: If you’re a woman on the Right, you can be appreciated for carrying the men’s water. But as soon as you want to turn the conversation to something that you find important, you’re just a woman.

and let’s close with something nostalgic

I spent the late 70s and early 80s in Chicago, about the time Steve Goodman was writing “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request“. Like most Cub fans of that era, my best baseball memory is a loss: I was in Wrigley Field’s right field bleachers the day the Phillies beat us 23-22 in 10 innings.

Well enough

Leave well enough alone.

re-election slogan of President McKinley (1900)

This week’s featured post is “Why so frustrated, America?” And in view of recent claims about “rigged” elections, I want to flash back to my 2013 post “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“.

This week everybody was talking about how wonderful it is that the debates are over

[Final debate: transcript, video] I think Ezra Klein really nails it in his analysis of Clinton’s debate strategy: Ordinarily, a good debate performance means making your case effectively, connecting well with the voters personally, and maybe scoring a zinger or two on your opponent that will get replayed on the news shows (like Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” to Dan Quayle). You can also hope your opponent screws up, but that’s mostly out of your hands.

This time, though, Clinton recognized that Trump could be baited into screwing up, and into driving a negative news cycle against himself (like he did when he couldn’t let go of his conflicts with Judge Curiel or the Khan family). By the end of the third debate, Trump was sputtering like a kid losing a playground argument: “You’re the puppet. … I did not say that. … No, you’re the one that’s unfit. … Such a nasty woman.”

Tweeted by Daniel Dale of The Toronto Star:

In spite of Trump’s claims that everything is rigged against him, I found Chris Wallace’s questions to have a conservative bias. Media Matters lists a few, but somehow missed the first question (addressed to both candidates), which was about the Supreme Court:

What’s your view on how the constitution should be interpreted? Do the founders’ words mean what they say or is it a living document to be applied flexibly, according to changing circumstances?

Literally no one denies that the Constitution’s words “mean what they say”. That jaundiced framing of the liberal position is conservative propaganda, pure and simple. The “living document” issue concerns whether you limit the Constitution’s meaning to the specific situations people had in mind at the time, or interpret them as abstract principles that might apply to new situations in unexpected ways. For example, today the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” includes how marriage laws apply to same-sex couples. Granted, I doubt anyone was thinking about that application when the amendment was written, but the broader interpretation is not based on claiming that the words don’t mean what they say. Quite the opposite: Same-sex couples deserve the equal protection of the laws.

I’ll add a very simple example, which I bet I’ll bet the loonier parts of the far right will start trumpeting after Inauguration Day: When Article II of the Constitution lists the qualifications for the presidency, it doesn’t specify that the president be male. But later, when it lists the powers of the president, it uses a masculine pronoun: “he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States” and so on. So do we need a constitutional amendment to extend those powers to a woman president, or can we assume that the Founders were describing the presidency in an abstract manner that does not change when a woman takes office?

If the latter just seems like common sense to you, then you believe the Constitution is a living document.


Trump described the Second Amendment as “under absolute siege”. The Trace summarizes the gun-related issues likely to make it to the Court in the near future. I think Trump has exaggerated bigly.


Three presidential debates and one VP debate: no questions about climate change. Well done, moderators.

and rigging the election

The morning-after headline from the third debate was Trump’s refusal to pledge to accept the result of the election, which he expects to be rigged. If you look at the transcript of that part of the debate, it’s even worse than the headline makes it sound. You could imagine a candidate delaying his concession, like Al Gore in 2000, or Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman when Al Franken beat him in 2008. There is a process for disputing an election result. You can ask for recounts, contest in court the validity of various ballots, and so on. Gore’s case went to the Supreme Court and Franken didn’t get to take his seat in the Senate until July.

In a really close election with legitimate issues about the count, there’s nothing undemocratic about pursuing that process as far as it goes. So it would have been legit for Trump to answer moderator Chris Wallace’s question with something like: “I’ll have to see what the issues are on election day. If my poll watchers report irregularities, if there are precincts where the totals look absurd, then I might have to go to court. It’s too soon to rule that out.”

But that’s not the set of concerns he raised. (Later, he tried to backtrack and pretend he did. “I will accept a clear election result. But I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.” It’s typical of Trump to put forward multiple positions like this and keep everyone guessing.) He did mention “millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote”  though he did not give any reason for believing someone will vote those registrations. But the bulk of his answer didn’t have anything to do with making sure the winner really won.

First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt. And the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, that they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they have poisoned the minds of the voters. … So let me just give you one other thing as I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people. I tell you one other thing. She shouldn’t be allowed to run. She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged. Because she should never — Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.

So he’s saying that he may not accept the election result even if it’s clear the voters voted against him. Because they shouldn’t have been allowed to vote for her at all and the media talked them into it and Mom always liked her best. There is no process that can resolve such claims, which would be based entirely on Trump’s feeling that he wasn’t treated fairly — like his claim that he was “screwed out an Emmy” when The Apprentice lost out to The Amazing Race.

Gore and Coleman did everything the system allows to make sure the votes were counted right. And even if they didn’t get all the court rulings they wanted, each eventually admitted that the process was over and he had lost.

Trump does not envision doing that. That would be new in American history, and it’s scary.


Republicans across the country disputed the idea that the election would be rigged. Ars Technica founder Jon Stokes warns Democrats to be less adamant about claiming that American elections are unriggable.

But what if our election system is vulnerable, and the Russians were to hack the vote and hand what polls indicated to be a clear Hillary win over to Trump? At that point, all of the folks who’ve been going on about the unassailability of our voting system would have a very hard time making the case to the public that the election was, in fact, rigged. They would have walked right into a trap, and when they attempt to climb out of it, Trump supporters and Putin’s online troll army would keep them down by bludgeoning them silly with their own quotes.

In some ways, the Russians would have an easier time hacking our election than either party. Republicans and Democrats would be trying make the results look as realistic as possible so as not to get caught. But Russian propaganda wins just by showing that American elections are suspect. So if Tim Kaine’s home precinct goes for Trump 3,000 to nothing, that might be fine with them.

and hacking the internet

Friday morning, some of the internet’s most popular websites were inaccessible for several hours. This appears to be something more sinister than just a glitch: Somebody launched a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, a company you’ve probably never heard of that maintains an important piece of the infrastructure of the internet. (Briefly, a DDoS is when an attacker floods a server with so many fake requests for service that it can’t find the real requests. Imagine walking into an empty bar when suddenly dozens of ghost customers appear in front of you and start yelling for the bartender’s attention.)

It would be bad enough if somebody just had a grudge against Dyn, but it appears to be worse than that. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier (my wife is in the field and reports that he’s one of the top people) says this looks like one of a series of probing attacks on internet infrastructure.

Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large a large nation state. China and Russia would be my first guesses.

So the Dark Army on Mr. Robot may be more than just Sam Esmail’s invention.


An interesting aspect of this attack is that it might have corrupted and weaponized devices that we don’t ordinarily think of as computers, the so-called “Internet of Things”, which includes “CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders”. Think about it: If your refrigerator is accessing the internet (say, to text you that it’s out of milk), how do you know it hasn’t also been corrupted into sending spam emails to thousands of complete strangers? Vendors of such online devices tend not to make security a priority, and it doesn’t occur to most of us to virus-check our smart thermostats or internet-accessible baby monitors.

Computer-security people sometimes refer to “the Internet of Compromised Things“. One of the end-of-the-world scenarios in Charles Stross’ techno-supernatural “Laundry Files” novels is Case Nightmare Yellow, when all of our smart devices become haunted and turn against us. (Laundry-agent slang calls this threat “the Internet of Things that Go Bump in the Night”.)


While we’re talking about hacking, there’s the series of hacks directed at Democrats and the Clinton campaign, the ones that have resulted in all those emails being released through WikiLeaks. The ones that came out in the last couple of weeks have been from a hack of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

On Thursday, private security researchers said they had concluded that Mr. Podesta was hacked by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the GRU, after it tricked him into clicking on a fake Google login page last March, inadvertently handing over his digital credentials.

The U.S. government had already attributed the hack against the Democratic National Committee to the Russian government. But government intelligence agencies usually don’t tell us any more than they have to, so the conclusions have had a take-it-or-leave-it quality. We get a lot more details from this non-government report.

To date, no government officials have offered evidence that the same Russian hackers behind the D.N.C. cyberattacks were also behind the hack of Mr. Podesta’s emails, but an investigation by the private security researchers determined that they were the same.

Threat researchers at Dell SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based security firm, had been tracking the Russian intelligence group for more than a year. In June, they reported that they had uncovered a critical tool in the Russian spy campaign. SecureWorks researchers found that the Russian hackers were using a popular link shortening service, called Bitly, to shorten malicious links they used to send targets fake Google login pages to bait them into submitting their email credentials.

The hackers made a critical error by leaving some of their Bitly accounts public, making it possible for SecureWorks to trace 9,000 of their links to nearly 4,000 Gmail accounts targeted between October 2015 and May 2016 with fake Google login pages and security alerts designed to trick users into turning over their passwords.

and the Al Smith dinner

Ever since Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, the two major-party candidates have shown up for a white-tie fund-raising dinner for Catholic charities devoted to needy children (of all religions) in New York. Traditionally, it’s been a way to lighten up the campaign and establish that the candidates have a sense of humor. In each cycle, the Al Smith dinner reminds us that after the election we’re all supposed to be friends again.

The main thing it showed me this year is that I’m going to miss Barack Obama. Obama is a natural comedian who has made this stuff look easy: Just get your staff to write some jokes and go deliver them to people who want to laugh. In contrast, Hillary Clinton works hard not to step on her best lines, and mostly succeeds, but you can see the effort. And Trump only half gets this strange human notion of comedy; sometimes he just insults Clinton and looks pleased with himself. (His statement that Clinton was “pretending not to hate Catholics” drew boos.)

To remind yourself of what we’ll be missing when Obama goes back to private life, take a look at this video encouraging early voting:

and the Mosul offensive

Together with Turkish and Kurdish forces, the Iraqi government is trying to retake it’s second-largest city (Mosul) from the Islamic State. Success seems likely (eventually), but the questions are (1) how costly it will be in both military and civilian terms, and (2) whether this strange alliance can agree on what to do with the city afterward. But ISIS’ dream of a territory-holding caliphate seems to be crumbling.

and you might also be interested in

If men are constantly telling you to smile more, here’s a product that can help.


Maricopa County may be about to run Sheriff Arpaio out of town.


BridgeGate. It’s looking bad for Chris Christie. He still hasn’t been charged with anything, but his political career is probably over.


Larry Lessig was insulted in one of the Clinton campaign emails WikiLeaks released. In response he defended the privacy rights of his insulter:

I can’t for the life of me see the public good in a leak like this — at least one that reveals no crime or violation of any important public policy.

We all deserve privacy. The burdens of public service are insane enough without the perpetual threat that every thought shared with a friend becomes Twitter fodder. Neera has only ever served in the public (and public interest) sector. Her work has always and only been devoted to advancing her vision of the public good. It is not right that she should bear the burden of this sort of breach.


Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas has an optimistic reading of the long-term tea leaves: Post-Trump, the GOP fractures and the Democratic Party’s demographic advantage (and it’s youthful liberal wing) keeps growing. I don’t have a specific argument to make against his scenario (yet), but I find it hard to believe that the big-money types don’t find some way to compete.

but believe it or not, watching Clinton/Trump debates can be fun

I found it hard to make myself watch the debates. But maybe the least annoying way was to see the final debate songified by Weird Al.

Or you could watch Bad Lip Reading turn the first debate into a game show.

and let’s close with something enviable

The 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world, as of 2012. Unfortunately, I don’t live near any of them. (Two are in California and the rest in other countries.) They include this one, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. Built in 1919 as a tango hall, converted to a cinema in 1929, it’s now filled with books.

Making Them Cry

Georgie Porgie, puddin’ and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry.

nursery rhyme

This week’s featured post is “A Teaching Moment on Sexual Assault“.

In other Sift news, the post “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” has passed the 500,000 page-view mark. It’s the most popular Sift post ever.

This week everybody was talking about Donald Trump and sexual assault

Since this story has dominated the news all week, I’m going to assume that anybody who wants to follow the details has been able to. So rather than rehash it all, I’ll just hit the low points:

  • A week ago Friday, a video from 2005 came out in which Trump boasted about how easy it is to get away with sexual assault (unwanted kissing, grabbing women “by the pussy”) when you’re a star like him.
  • Two days later, in his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump said that what he said on the tape was just “locker room talk” (which didn’t happen in a locker room, but seems to mean: false bragging that men do to impress each other when no women are around). He said that had never actually committed such assaults.
  • Beginning this Wednesday, women started coming forward to say that Trump assaulted them in precisely the ways he described.

Huffington Post has been keeping a list of the women and their charges, updated as new charges arise. To me, the accounts vary in their persuasiveness. Kristin Anderson’s story would probably not be newsworthy if not for its similarity to the others: She recalls a 30-second encounter in a New York nightclub in which Trump put his hand up her skirt, but she can’t recall a date any more exact than “the early 1990s”, or who she was with who might corroborate her account, or even be certain which club it was. Not that it didn’t happen, but it’s hard to imagine an account so vague getting published in a different news environment.

At the other extreme, I found Natasha Stoynoff’s account compelling: She had regularly covered Trump for People magazine, and was well known to both Trump and his wife Melania. While she was at Mar-a-Lago to interview the couple for a first-anniversary feature, Trump lured her into a side room “and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.” She didn’t tell her editor, finished the feature (which was published without mention of the incident), and made sure she was never assigned to cover Trump again.

Trump denies everything, and has counterattacked.

These people are horrible people. They’re horrible, horrible liars.

One counterattack is particularly vile: He has been suggesting to his rallies that the women aren’t attractive enough to make their stories credible.

These events never, ever happened, and the people that said them, meekly, fully understand. You take a look at these people, you study these people, and you’ll understand also.

About Stoynoff in particular he said:

Take a look. You take a look. Look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don’t think so.

Of another accuser, he told a crowd in North Carolina:

Believe me, she would not be my first choice.


While he was at it, he also body-shamed Hillary Clinton. Answering the criticism that he stalked Clinton during the second debate, he blamed her for walking in front of him, and then said:

She walks in front of me, you know. And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.

To me, that just sums it all up. She’s a grandmother who will turn 69 in two weeks. She’s been First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and Democratic nominee for President. And we’re supposed to judge her by her butt.


Trump has also attacked People and The New York Times, which started the deluge by publishing the first two accounts Wednesday. When Trump’s lawyer sent a letter threatening a lawsuit, The Times lawyer fired back what can only be described as a bring-it-on challenge:

We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

The next step here is easy to predict: Trump may file a lawsuit to grab a one-day headline and get his side on the record, but he cannot afford to pursue it. In a previous unsuccessful lawsuit against a reporter, giving a deposition under oath forced him to make a number of embarrassing admissions.


Trump’s other response to his problems has been to go further down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories and fascist tropes. In the West Palm Beach speech — which you can watch in its entirety via PBS — he painted himself as a savior. Typical American political rhetoric warns of future problems unless we change our ways, or unless the speaker’s movement or philosophy gains power. But Trump made it about himself: The political establishment

has taken our jobs away, out of this country, never to return unless I am elected president.

He repeated a claim he has made before: “I am the only one who can fix it.”

This is a struggle for the survival of our nation. Believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it, on November 8.

Trump blamed the sexual-assault allegations on a conspiracy that includes “the Clinton machine”, “the corporate media” as a unified entity “with a total political agenda”, and “international banks” plotting “the destruction of U.S. sovereignty”.

As Yochi Dreazen points out, only one word is missing from what is otherwise an ancient libel:

it’s true that Trump’s allegation Thursday that a global financial cabal is secretly working hand in hand with the media to destroy the United States doesn’t include the word “Jew.”

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t need to. Trump is using barely coded words that directly echo one of the most ancient of all anti-Semitic libels. Jews have long been accused of controlling the global financial system. Jews have long been accused of controlling the media. And Jews have long been accused of being disloyal citizens secretly working to maneuver governments to pursue disastrous policies solely for their own benefit. Trump has now chosen to combine all of those charges into a single paranoid and hate-filled rant.

If you need someone to supply that word, Trump’s alt-right allies are happy to oblige. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, ex-KKK grand wizard David Duke, and numerous other far-right sources are promoting the theory that the Access Hollywood tape that started this whole furor was leaked by a Jewish aide to Paul Ryan. A Daily Stormer editor posted:

The 35% or so of the country that is hardcore pro-Trump is going to know that it wasn’t “liberals” that defeated Trump, but traitors within the party who abandoned him. And they are going to want to know why that happened.

And there is only one answer:

The Jews did it.

[For the difference between standard conservative Republicans and the alt-right, see this conversation between Hugh Hewitt and Jonah Goldberg. At the time, Hewitt was supporting Trump, but more recently he has called for Trump to withdraw from the presidential race.]


Best response to the whole sordid mess: Michelle Obama.

and sexual assault in general

I cover this in the featured post “A Teaching Moment about Sexual Assault“.

It didn’t fit into the frame of that post, but subsequent to Jessica Leeds’ story, Slate did a story about airlines and sexual assault.

and more Clinton campaign email leaks from Russia by way of WikiLeaks

In particular, we now have transcripts of Clinton’s three speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013. Personally, I’m glad they’re out. As long as they remained secret, Clinton-haters could imagine they contain some secret plot to do whatever. Now that they’re out, it’s clear that they don’t.

It turns out they aren’t even speeches, they’re Q&A sessions that mostly cover foreign policy. I found them educational, particularly the notion that the Chinese military is a power not completely under control of the central government, and that it is the force most supportive of North Korea.

I’m not sure what the point of keeping the transcripts secret was, or why Clinton refuses to verify their authenticity now. But I wonder if it has more to do with foreign governments than with the American public. For example, it might be convenient to maintain deniability of that China/Korea statement the next time she has to deal with either government.


As far as the other emails that have been released, there’s a lesson we all should have learned after the ClimateGate email dump in 2009: Whether you’ve done anything wrong or not, you never look good when your enemies get to comb through emails you thought were private and publish the excerpts they find most damaging. Countless investigations in both the US and the UK found no wrong-doing in the ClimateGate emails, but to this day climate deniers believe they revealed some nefarious conspiracy.

In emails to known associates, people say the same kinds of things they might say face-to-face: At times they are flip, snide, and short-tempered. They blow off steam to people they think will be sympathetic, and make statements they couldn’t support well enough to say them on the record. They float outrageous ideas, sometimes seriously, sometimes in jest.

I occasionally read articles in the right-wing press about some particular batch of WikiLeaks Clinton-campaign emails. Like this one where the main thing that strikes me is how tame it all is.

The emails, published by WikiLeaks after a hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private account, also show Clinton campaign officials and Democratic leaders disparaging supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders as “self-righteous” whiners, calling Hispanic party leaders such as Bill Richardson “needy Latinos,” labeling CNN anchor Jake Tapper “a d—k” and even lambasting longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal.

Horrors! In the middle of high-pressure situations, Clinton campaign staffers privately said unkind things about people who were making their lives difficult. I fear for the future of the free world if such monsters get their hands on the levers of power. But wait, there’s worse:

The Clinton campaign’s biggest problem may be its assault on Catholics.

Podesta didn’t participate in this exchange himself, but he was copied on emails that Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri  received from someone outside the campaign: John Halpin of the Center for American Progress.

In the exchange, Mr. Halpin mocks media mogul Rupert Murdoch for raising his children in the Catholic faith and said the most “powerful elements” in the conservative movement are all Catholic.

“It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” Mr. Halpin said.

It’s actually a good point: Catholic economic doctrine is not even remotely conservative, and hasn’t been for over a century. So there actually is a mystery here. Palmieri had a fairly boring response:

I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals.

This is the “assault on Catholics” that The Washington Times thinks Palmieri should be fired for. And Paul Ryan believes Palmieri’s single line about the social status of Catholics compared to evangelicals “reveal[s] the Clinton campaign’s hostile attitude toward people of faith in general.”

I wonder how many emails they had to read before they found such a bombshell.


The other issue raised by the series of WikiLeaks releases of Clinton documents is the role of Russia.

There is mounting evidence that the Russian government is supplying WikiLeaks with hacked emails pertaining to the US presidential election, US officials familiar with the investigation have told CNN.

NBC News claims to know that U.S. intelligence officials had briefed Trump on this before the second debate, in which Trump asserted that Clinton “doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”

Yesterday on Fox News, VP candidate Mike Pence appeared to break with Trump on this:

I think there’s no question that the evidence continues to point in that direction [of Russian responsibility]. There should be severe consequences to Russia or any sovereign nation that is compromising the privacy or the security of the United States of America.

This is a problem we haven’t had to deal with before, and it’s hard to know how to think about it. On the one hand, the WikiLeaks dumps are what they are, and it seems silly to avoid knowing what’s in them. On the other hand, how do we assess the fact that one of our chief rivals wants Donald Trump to win?

and you might also be interested in

No, Canadians are not flocking to the U.S. to get health care.


Good news for the climate: 197 nations just agreed to cut way down on their use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in air conditioners. Originally, they were supposed to replace the CFCs that were killing the ozone layer. (And they succeeded, the ozone hole seems to be filling in.) But HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases 10,000 times as effective as carbon dioxide. Estimates say that the agreement will shave anywhere from .2 to .44 of a Celsius degree off the average global temperature by the end of the century.


A fascinating story in The Washington Post about the conversion of Derek Black, son of the founder of the white-nationalist Stormfront web site, who as a teen-ager had his own radio show where he helped popularize the notion of white genocide. He has now left the white-nationalist movement, which has created a family crisis.

His story reminds me of a New Yorker article from last November about Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, the people who picket funerals with “God Hates Fags” signs.

In both stories, conversion away from a hateful ideology happens not through logical argument, but by getting to know and admire people that the ideology condemns. The personal relationship opens up a channel for new ideas to come in.


Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. A popular songwriter had never won before, but I guess the times, they are a-changing. I’d have voted for Thomas Pynchon myself, but what do I know?


A plot by anti-Muslim “Crusaders” was broken up before the group could blow up an apartment building in Garden City, Kansas. They were hoping to kill a lot of Somali immigrants and “ignite a religious war”.


A Republican Party office was firebombed in North Carolina Saturday night. Donald Trump immediately attributed it to “Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems”. Clinton denounced the bombing, and other Democrats raised $13K to help the Republicans rebuild.

So far, nobody knows who did this. If the perps think this helps the Democrats, they’re wrong and they need to stop before the “help” any more. Others have suggested a false-flag operation to gain sympathy for Republicans, but that’s a big claim to make without any evidence. Let’s hope the authorities solve the case soon so we can all stop speculating.


Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt got philosophical on MSNBC’s Hardball Friday:

I’ve covered a lot of countries — dictatorships, democracies, everything in between — and the key thing to a democracy … I mean, there are really two things that are key. You have an election, and the loser acknowledges that they lost, and the winner lets the loser survive for another day. Trump is challenging both of those things. He’s saying “If I lose, it’s not legitimate” and “If I win, I’m going to lock her up.” This is the Putin model. It’s not democracy.

Political science professor Shaun Bowler makes a related point: After every election, people who voted for the loser are tempted to doubt the result. One key to whether a democracy succeeds or fails is whether losing candidates try to soothe or enflame those responses.

and believe it or not, you should listen to Rush Limbaugh

Wednesday, Limbaugh unleashed the most amazing rant about how hypocritical it is for liberals to invoke moral standards against Donald Trump. The point, which he borrows from therapist Michael Hurd, is that liberals have no standards when it comes to sex, so how can we invent a standard to apply to Trump? Limbaugh explains this mystery, but does so in a tone of outrage and anger.

You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.

I and every liberal I’ve mentioned this to have had a well-duh reaction: What consenting adults do is their own business, but as soon as somebody stops consenting and another party keeps going, then you’ve got rape.

and let’s close with something amazing and hopeful

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have given a paralyzed man a robot arm that feels. Not only can his brain control the arm, but tiny electrodes in his brain allow him to know when a finger is being touched or pressed.

Bizarre Talk

If we’re worried about the longer-term implications of current policies, the buildup of greenhouse gases is a much bigger deal than the accumulation of low-interest debt. It’s bizarre to talk about the latter but not the former.

– Paul Krugman “What About the Planet?” (10-7-2016)

This week’s featured post is “Best Responses to the Trump Video“.

This week everybody was talking about leaks

In addition to Trump’s sexual-assault-confessing video, which I cover in the featured post, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Included in the haul are internal Clinton campaign discussions about what they would have to defend if the text of her Goldman Sachs speeches came out.

I haven’t examined the Podesta emails myself. Matt Yglesias concludes: “The lesson of Hillary’s secret speeches is she’s exactly who we already knew she was“. In other words, she is someone who works inside the system and negotiates with the powers that already exist rather than sweeping in from the outside. Yglesias is not alarmed by this, for reasons he explains. I’ll try to formulate my own opinion in future weeks.


Andy Borowitz:

In what passes for morality in the Republican Party, leaders are calling for the presidential candidate who hates women to be replaced by the vp candidate who hates gays.

and the weather

Hurricane Matthew swept up the Florida coast and made it all the way to North Carolina before turning out to sea. It’s been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.


Three theories on why hundreds dead in Haiti isn’t news:

  • Haitians aren’t Americans, so who cares? (This echoes my comments last week about Gary Johnson and the decline of foreign coverage.)
  • Most Haitians are black, and (no matter what white people might tell each other) black lives still don’t really matter.
  • It’s Haiti. Something bad is always happening in Haiti.

In the conspiracy-theory world many right-wingers inhabit, Matthew’s path and intensity is no mystery: the government created it.

Hurricane truthers believe the government’s goal is to create unrest and distract the masses from election fraud [in Florida] — namely, the left’s attempt to rig the election for Hillary Clinton.

“Given the unparalleled significance of the 2016 election cycle, the politicos at the federal level would love to sow seeds of chaos any way they can in order to create cover for an election theft,” WorldTruth.tv wrote.

Since climate change is a myth in this alternate universe, there must be some other reason why more powerful storms are making it further north on a regular basis. The old reliable explanation is that liberals have offended the Lord with our gay-rights agenda and overall lack of piety. But if that doesn’t convince you — how’s the reconstruction going, Tony Perkins? — a nefarious human plot backed by sci-fi technology works too.

and more debates

The VPs debated Tuesday and Clinton/Trump had their second debate last night.

By far the strangest moment in the debate was when Trump told Clinton:

If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.

And then followed up a bit later in this exchange:

CLINTON: It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

If you’re not familiar with how our justice system works, you might not realize why so many people were frightened by this. Ezra Klein, for example:

Tonight was a scary moment in American politics. In fact, it’s probably the scariest I can remember.

In our system, the Justice Department is supposed to be insulated from politics. Nothing in the Constitution says this, but it’s a principle deep in the mores of our system. The president is supposed to make policy and appoint people to carry out that policy, but is not supposed to have any direct influence on specific cases. That’s the principle Republicans were invoking when they objected to President Obama endorsing Secretary Clinton while the FBI was still investigating her. They were afraid that even the hint of the president’s opinion, without any direct orders, would affect the investigation. Democrats invoked that principle during the Bush administration when they objected to the firing of seven states attorneys for what they believed were political reasons.

Well, the President appointing a prosecutor to look at a particular person — especially a political rival, especially one the FBI has already cleared — is completely off the scale. That’s what happens in dictatorships, not in the United States. Trevor Noah was making this point about Trump already a year ago.


What you thought about the VP debate seems to have depended on whether you judged style or substance. Most pundits thought Tim Kaine interrupted Mike Pence too often and looked rude. But Pence chose to defend Donald Trump by simply denying that Trump has said what he said. On substance, that’s a losing position.

That denial is probably a preview of how Republicans will look back on a Trump defeat: what he actually said and stood for will go down the memory hole. Something similar happened on a larger scale after President Bush left office with historically low popularity. There was no discussion about what went wrong or how the party needed to change. Instead, they just stopped talking about Bush for a while, and when they started again they said amazing things, like “We had no domestic attacks under Bush.


Many Republicans have expressed a hope that Pence will wind up running things. But I haven’t forgotten how Gov. Pence dodged and weaved last year in order to defend the supremacy of Christians over gays in Indiana.


They don’t get much publicity, but debates are also starting to happen in pivotal senate races. Here’s video of Hassan/Ayotte in New Hampshire.

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Columbia University’s Jay Rosen is one of the sharpest observers of the culture of political journalism. In this post on his blog PressThink, he discusses the underlying frame that most political coverage is based on, and why journalists are having so much trouble dealing with the fact that the Trump candidacy doesn’t fit in that frame.

The two major parties are similar actors with, as Baquet put it, “warring philosophies.” Elections are the big contests that distribute power between them. The day-to-day of politics is a series of minor battles for tactical advantage. The press is part of this picture because it distributes attention, but — in this view of things — it does not participate in politics itself.

But in the real world, the two political parties have gotten increasingly asymmetric and are no longer similar actors at all. Trump has taken this to an extreme, and journalists have not adjusted.

Campaign coverage is a contraption that only works if the candidates behave in certain expected ways. Up to now, they always did. But Trump violates many of these expectations. … Imagine a candidate who wants to increase public confusion about where he stands on things so that voters give up on trying to stay informed and instead vote with raw emotion. Under those conditions, does asking “Where do you stand, sir?” serve the goals of journalism, or does it enlist the interviewer in the candidate’s chaotic plan? … The premise is that a presidential campaign wants to put out a consistent message to avoid confusing people, and to deny journalists a “gotcha” moment. What if that premise is false? The rationale for interviewing the campaign manager, the running mate, or some other surrogate collapses. They say one thing, the candidate says something else and the confusion is not considered a problem. It may even be a plus.


In an some other version of the United States, an election would be a time to have discussions about really important issues. Lester Holt tried to raise one in the first debate: Should the United States have a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons?

Sadly, neither candidate rose to the challenge: Clinton cautiously avoided saying either yes or no, while Trump boldly and unequivocally said both.

It’s actually a good question. Most Americans probably don’t realize that we don’t already have a no-first-use policy. Originally, there was  a strategic reason for it: We were anticipating World War III in Europe, where the Soviet Union had an advantage in conventional forces. Since the Soviet Union was itself a European power, it could cheaply keep huge armies in a position to strike, while it was much more expensive (not to mention unpopular with the Germans) for us to keep a comparable defensive army stationed in West Germany. So if Soviet tanks started rolling west, we reserved the option of nuking them.

Russia, without its former Warsaw Pact allies and without former Soviet republics like Ukraine, isn’t nearly as formidable as the USSR was. But we still might be stuck for a non-nuclear answer if Putin decided to roll over one or more of the Baltic Republics, which we are committed to defend as members of NATO. Is that why we won’t renounce first use? Or does the Pentagon have some other scenario in mind?


I don’t believe for a minute this will actually pan out on election day, but one recent poll shows Clinton taking the lead in Arizona.


Geez, Bob, you need to stop holding back and say what you really think.

What interests me in this video is how De Niro is doing exactly what Trump does, but doing it better. They’re both 70-something guys who still know how to talk tough, but who (at this point in their lives) would probably be push-overs in any real physical confrontation. Picture the two of them joining 86-year-old Clint Eastwood in a barroom brawl. The result would play better in a slapstick comedy than in an action flick.


And Britain has a favor to ask: Could we elect Trump so that everyone forgets about their boneheaded Brexit vote?


Massachusetts is about to vote on Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. The main argument against charters is that they drain money out of the public school system. The long-term fear is that a vicious cycle gets started, where pulling resources out of the system leads to poorer performance, which leads more families to take their kids out of the public schools, which in turn reduces state subsidies to those schools.

Last week, an editorial in The Boston Globe repeated claims made by the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation:

Examination of school funding trends in districts affected by charter school enrollments does not suggest that charter schools are over-funded, that students in district schools are suffering a loss of support, or that the per-student funding of districts is trending negatively. Rather, per-student funding has increased quite steadily across the state, and the district-charter balance has been stable.

But former state Education Secretary Paul Reville counters by pointing out that schools have many fixed costs that don’t go away when a student leaves:

Mainstream public schools would argue that the marginal savings associated with losing a student are not nearly as much as the marginal costs associated with losing a student.

But even that misses the point. The most valuable thing charter schools siphon off isn’t public money, it’s easily teachable students. My nightmare is that the kids who can sit still and process information from a teacher standing in front of a blackboard all wind up either in charters or in voucher-funded private schools. Meanwhile, the public schools are left to handle all the special needs kids, all the kids with undiagnosed vision and hearing problems, all the kids who bring their home problems to school and act out, etc. And when it costs more money per student to operate that public school, we’ll be told some nonsense about the efficiency of the private sector.

There’s a parallel to the healthcare system, particularly as it operated before the Affordable Care Act stopped insurance companies from rejecting sick people. Sometimes the way to make money isn’t to offer better service, it’s to make sure you only get the customers who don’t need service.


One bit of tax law that’s unpopular on the right, is the “Johnson amendment” from 1954, saying that churches can’t endorse candidates. The Republican platform calls for repealing it, a promise Donald Trump often makes to evangelical audiences, saying the repeal would “give churches their voice back”. Right-wing web sites call the Johnson amendment a “Christian gag rule“.

If you aren’t familiar with the details, that can sound convincing. I mean, religious convictions often go hand-in-hand with political stances, so why shouldn’t a pastor be able to speak his mind from the pulpit without worrying about his church losing its tax-exempt status? (In fact, many pastors do, and get away with it, because the rule is only enforced in egregious cases. Like when a church “placed full-page advertisements in two newspapers in which it urged Christians not to vote for then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton because of his positions on certain moral issues.”)

But the point of the Johnson Amendment is simple: Contributions to churches are tax-deductible, but contributions to political campaigns or PACs aren’t. So without some kind of restriction on church activity, churches could become money-laundering schemes: You give tax-deductible contributions to a church with the understanding that it will spend that money campaigning for your candidate. I have yet to hear any repeal-the-Johnson-amendment argument that addresses this problem.

but we should be paying more attention to Colombia

Last week I forgave Gary Johnson’s ignorance by citing the general decline in Americans’ awareness of other countries, and blamed a generational shift in news coverage. So let’s talk about what’s going on in Colombia, which produces the bulk of the cocaine Americans abuse.

One thing that makes the whole coca-growing enterprise harder to control is that Colombia has been fighting a civil war for half a century. Picture that: Our Civil War lasted only four years. If it had gone on as long as Colombia’s, we’d have been fighting until just before World War I. The BBC estimates that 260,000 people have been killed, and another six million driven from their homes. The whole country has less than 50 million people.

The government negotiated a peace deal with the guerillas (FARC, which translates to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which was announced at the end of August and signed with much ceremony on September 26. But in a Brexit-like reversal of government policy, the Colombian voters rejected the deal in a referendum on October 2. The vote was close: 50.2%-49.8%, to the great surprise of pollsters, many of whom had the referendum passing with over 60% of the vote.

FARC has a Marxist orientation, and claims to represent the interests of the rural poor against the landed gentry and the urban elite. The areas it controls are prime coca-growing territory, and it funds itself via the drug trade. (So if you think about it, the U.S. has been bankrolling both sides. Our tax dollars aid the government, while our drug spending keeps the opposition going.)

Vox has a good article summing up the situation, quoting extensively from the BBC about what’s in the peace agreement. The agreement sounds like a model of reasonability: FARC gives its weapons to the UN and becomes a political party guaranteed ten seats in Congress. (I’m not sure how this splits between houses. There are 166 in the lower house and 102 in the upper.). Its fighters apologize to their victims and won’t be prosecuted for the war-related crimes they confess to. (Though “crimes against humanity” don’t get this amnesty.) They get temporary financial aid to re-integrate into society.

Opponents of the agreement think that lets FARC off too easy. (One woman said: “How is it justice if I, who committed no crime, was ‘imprisoned’ in a rebel camp for four months, and these criminals get off without going to jail?” While understandable from a personal point of view, this feeling is why conflicts like this drag on decade after decade: By the time one generation gets “justice” for the wrongs committed against it, a whole new set of wrongs have been committed by both sides.) Some also don’t trust FARC to disarm, while others fear having another left-wing party in Congress.

Ironically, the voters’ rejection didn’t prevent Colombian President Juan Santos from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Friday. Whether he’ll be able to salvage an actual peace, though, is still uncertain.

and Israel

The Obama administration is objecting to the announcement of a new Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. CNN summarizes.

and let’s close with something adorable

We could teach our children violence, or maybe we could just teach them to dance. The Irish magazine Galway Now posted this viral video.

Oily Opinions

It’s not that Trump is saying things he believes to be false. It’s that he doesn’t seem to have beliefs at all, not in the way people typically talk about beliefs — as mental constructs stable across time and context. Rather, his opinions dissolve and coalesce fluidly, as he’s talking, like oil on shallow water. That’s why he gives every indication of conviction, even when, say, denying that he has said something that is still posted on his Twitter feed, or denying that he said something that he in fact said on live television, in front of millions of people, just minutes earlier.

– David Roberts “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer

This week’s featured post is “Investigative Reporters and Donald Trump: The 9 Best Articles“.

This week everybody was talking about the Clinton/Trump debate (and Miss Universe 1996)

A week ago, the polls looked like a dead heat, and the momentum was still with Trump. Last Monday’s debate seems to have changed that dynamic. But not because we learned anything new about the candidates’ philosophies or programs.

I’m not even sure it was the debate itself that moved the polls. Sure, Clinton did look sharper and Trump made mistakes. But the more serious problem for Trump came afterwards. He spent the rest of the week off-message, overcome by his inability to let go of any argument that he’s not winning. All week he’s been proving the truth of what Clinton said in her convention speech:

A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.


First, there was the Miss Universe flap. Josh Marshall pointed out how easily Trump could have stepped around the whole issue.

Anyone with the most basic communications experience or simply a conscience knows there’s a simple and solitary way to deal with something like this: “We quarreled years ago. I’m sorry we did. That’s a long time ago. I wish her the best.” Done and done.

But no. As with the Khan family, Trump took the attack personally and couldn’t let it go. Someone had implied he did something wrong, and he never does anything wrong.

He was still fuming in the wee hours of Friday morning. Clinton described this as “unhinged, even for him. Really, who gets up at 3 o’clock in the morning to engage in a Twitter attack against a former Miss Universe?” And Elizabeth Warren chimed in, tweeting at Trump: “You never tweet at 3am with ways to create new jobs for workers or hold Wall Street accountable.”

So does insulting a young woman 20 years ago mean Trump should never be president? No. It may not cast him in a positive light, but it’s a minor event far in the past. Does his reaction this week prove Clinton’s point that he is “temperamentally unfit” for the presidency? Yes it does. Ezra Klein did the best job of explaining why: Hillary set a trap for him and he has spent a week flailing in it. If he were president, ISIS and Russia and China could do the same thing.

The problem is that Trump is predictable and controllable. … As unpredictable and uncontrollable as he is to his allies, he is exactly that predictable and controllable to his enemies, and to America’s enemies.


Trump made two other unforced errors: He said “That makes me smart” when Clinton suggested he hadn’t paid any income tax. Ross Rosenfeld responded in The Hill:

I guess the rest of us are just stupid because we have to pay taxes. If only my daddy had left me a real estate empire, a host of political and financial connections, and no morals whatsoever — then I, too, could be “smart” like Donald Trump.

And on his own, Trump brought up his insults directed at Rosie O’Donnell, saying:

Somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it, and nobody feels sorry for her.

Lawrence O’Donnell said what I was thinking: “She deserves it. That is what every man guilty of spousal abuse always thinks.” So what exactly did Rosie do to deserve being called “disgusting” and “a fat pig”? She made fun of Trump on TV ten years ago. He can’t let it go.


The claim that Trump pays no taxes might be true, at least for a long stretch of years. The New York Times got hold of a few pages of Trump’s state and local income tax returns from 1995. They show Trump declared a huge loss, presumably on the collapse of his Atlantic City casinos.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

I feel like this is half a story, and I hope we see the other half before we vote. Unanswered questions: Is that loss real, or the product of creative tax accounting? Did he in fact use it to pay no taxes in subsequent years?


Trump once again used that I-could-talk-about-your-mama-but-I-won’t tactic that we all remember from fourth-grade recess. (Build your vocabulary: The technical name for this is apophasis.) Even more immature is that both he and his son Eric expect credit for not bringing up what they just brought up by talking about how they weren’t going to bring it up.

If Trump starts the conversation about Bill Clinton’s infidelity, here’s how it ends: Chelsea Clinton explains on TV how grateful she is that her parents held their marriage together, so she didn’t have to go through a divorce at age 7 like poor Eric Trump did.

and there were some unusual newspaper endorsements

The New York Timesendorsement of Clinton and denunciation of Trump really shouldn’t have surprised anyone. That The Washington Post also dislikes Trump wasn’t that big a shock either.

But The Arizona Republic had never endorsed a Democrat in its 126-year history, until Tuesday.

Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.

USA Today also has never endorsed a presidential candidate, and it still hasn’t, exactly. But it did take a side. Its Editorial Board “does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement.” But the Board could agree on this:

This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has “supported Republicans for president for almost a century”, but this time it says

Clinton is a known commodity with a proven track record of governing. … Trump is a clear and present danger to our country.

The Dallas Morning News last endorsed a Democrat for president “before World War II”, but this time it says

There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton.

Trump has not managed to get a single major newspaper endorsement (though the conservative Washington Times and Wall Street Journal have yet to commit themselves, and it’s not hard to tell who The National Enquirer is rooting for). Even New Hampshire’s conservative voice, The Union Leader, has defected to Libertarian Gary Johnson. So have The Chicago Tribune and The Detroit News (breaking a 143-year-old Republican tradition).


Along the same lines, the NYT’s Ross Douthat also makes the conservative case against Trump:

Set aside for a moment Trump’s low character, his penchant for inflaming racial tensions, his personal corruptions. Assume for the sake of argument that all that can be folded into a “lesser of two evils” case.

What remains is this question: Can Donald Trump actually execute the basic duties of the presidency? Is there any way that his administration won’t be a flaming train wreck from the start? Is there any possibility that he’ll be levelheaded in a crisis — be it another 9/11 or financial meltdown, or any of the lesser-but-still-severe challenges that presidents reliably face?

I think we have seen enough from his campaign — up to and including his wretchedly stupid conduct since the first debate — to answer confidently, “No.” Trump’s zest for self-sabotage, his wild swings, his inability to delegate or take advice, are not mere flaws; they are defining characteristics. The burdens of the presidency will leave him permanently maddened, perpetually undone.

and Congress avoided another government shutdown

The new federal fiscal year began Saturday. Wednesday, Congress avoided a shutdown by passing a bill to fund operations through December 9. Republicans gave in to Democratic spending requests on issues that really shouldn’t be controversial or partisan: Flint’s water crisis, the Zika virus, and opiod addiction. Money related to the Louisiana floods was also in the bill. Democrats didn’t get everything they wanted though: the SEC still can’t take “action to increase transparency in public companies’ political spending”.

Not so long ago, we all took for granted that Congress would figure out some way to keep the lights on. Now it’s considered an accomplishment.

but Obama suffered his first veto override

This is kind of an odd story. Some families of 9-11 victims would like to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the attack. The problem is a legal principle known as sovereign immunity, which prevents people from suing foreign governments. Recently, Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism bill to allow these suits. President Obama vetoed it, and Congress just overrode his veto, making the bill a law.

Overriding a veto takes a 2/3 votes in each house, so Republicans couldn’t do this by themselves. Apparently, congressional Democrats decided that opposing 9-11 victims right before an election was too politically dangerous, so most of them supported the override.

The problem is that when you take some action against a foreign government, it can respond. So Saudi Arabia, or maybe other countries, might start allowing their citizens to sue the U.S. for the damages we cause. This could result in the kind of huge mess that sovereign immunity is supposed to avoid.

So now congressional leaders are having second thoughts about what they’ve done, and Republicans are blaming President Obama for reasons that really defy analysis. Mitch McConnell said:

Because everyone was aware who the potential beneficiaries were, but nobody focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships. And I just think it was a ball dropped. I wish the President — and I hate to blame everything on him and I don’t — but it would have been helpful had … we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.

Because expecting Congress to do its own research into the consequences of its actions is setting the bar way too high. And McConnell listens so well when Obama tries to tell him something.

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Shimon Peres died. At 93, Peres was described as the “last link to Israel’s founding generation“. Because of that symbolic role, the articles this week about his death and career often say as much about the author’s attitude towards Israel and its current politics as about Peres.


David Roberts’ article in Vox, “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer” doesn’t meet the criteria for my “Investigative Reporters and Donald Trump: The 9 Best Articles” post, because it’s analysis rather than reporting. But it’s insightful and seems dead-on to me.

Roberts’ claim is that people use language in two sometimes-conflicting ways: to communicate ideas and to position themselves in the social hierarchy. But Trump is almost always focused on the second purpose. The reason it is so frustrating to discuss the content of Trump’s statements is that most of them were not intended to have content: They are pure maneuvers for dominance.

This point helps explain why Trump cannot ever admit a mistake or an error. He can only process accusations — of dishonesty, of cruelty — as social gambits, not as factual claims. To him, the demand that he apologize or admit error is nothing more than a dominance play. Apologizing is losing. …

It helps explain why Trump has such a long and rich history of defrauding investors, refusing to pay contractors, using his charitable foundation as a piggybank, and declaring bankruptcy to escape debt. Contracts and promises are just plays in the game, not words that carry meanings or create obligations. You sign them or say them when you need to, to win whatever negotiation you are in, and then they are gone like smoke.


Rush Limbaugh warns: “Don’t be fooled by fact-checkers.


Usually we only talk about needlessly aggressive police tactics when someone winds up dead, but here are two videos of the kinds of interactions that might be happening every day without making headlines.

Calling attention to stuff like this is sometimes labeled as “anti-police”. But that’s not it. There is good policing and bad policing. You can be against bad policing without being anti-police.

and believe it or not, I decided to cut Gary Johnson some slack

This week Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had what he described as another “Aleppo moment“: asked by Chris Matthews to name a foreign leader he admired, he couldn’t come up with a name without the help of his VP, Bill Weld. It looked like he had no idea who else belongs to the world-leader club he wants to join.

I was ready to ridicule him over this, when I noticed that I can’t list a lot of world leaders either. What’s the name of the British woman who came into office after Brexit? Who’s leading France? Spain? Italy? India? China? Iran? Iraq? Anywhere in Africa? Who’s heads the junta that took over Egypt a few years ago? I’d have to look all that up.

If you’re under 30, or maybe 40, you’ve lived your adult life in an era when the news media doesn’t bother much with other countries, so you may take this kind of ignorance for granted. Maintaining a far-flung network of foreign correspondents is expensive, and the economics of the news business has gotten harsher, so for decades we’ve gradually gotten less and less international news. Most of the coverage we do get is shallower, the kind you can do by pulling video of some disaster off the internet and narrating it from New York or London.

It’s all happened so gradually that the result is hard to notice, until something like the Johnson incident happens. But I’m about to turn 60, so I remember an era when the leaders of major countries were household names: Maggie Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Indira Gandhi, Willy Brandt, King (not Saddam) Hussein, Franco, Begin, Sadat, and so on. When I was a kid, Mad Magazine sometimes made fun of French President Charles de Gaulle, because of course their core audience of teens and tweens would know enough about him to get the joke.

As a society, we never talked it over and decided to become this ignorant of foreign affairs. It’s just one of those self-reinforcing cycles market economies are prone to: The less you know, the less you wonder. It never occurs to us to ask why we don’t know what we don’t know.

and let’s close with an ordinary person’s act of kindness and courage

Would you pull a Coke can off the head of a skunk?

Tranquility or Justice?

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

– Martin Luther King, “The Other America” (March 14, 1968)

This week’s featured posts are “The Skittles Analogy” and “The Asterisk in the Bill of Rights“.

Some quick thoughts about the quote above: King gave this speech three weeks before his assassination, so it is very close to his last word on the subject. Such radical King quotes have largely been white-washed out of history. Instead, each January MLK Day is largely a celebration of color-blindness, as if the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and sundown towns could just be waved off, and we could best move forward by pretending that none of it ever happened. King himself never held that view, as you will quickly see if you read entire speeches rather than a few carefully selected lines.

This week everybody was talking about Charlotte

Since the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday, Charlotte North Carolina has seen daily demonstrations. The demonstrations appear to have been mostly peaceful, but occasionally turned violent. One person was shot and eventually died, but police claim they didn’t do it and no one seems to know who did. I haven’t seen anything about whether the dead man was a protester.

To me, there seem to be two issues related to police killing blacks. First, the black community has no confidence in the investigative process, and I can understand why. Take the Freddie Gray case, for example. He was apparently healthy when Baltimore Police took him into custody, and then he died of a spinal cord injury. No one seems to be at fault; every charge has resulted in a not-guilty verdict. And in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, the police seemed more interested in doing public relations for Officer Wilson than a neutral investigation.

There’s at least a partial a solution to this part of the problem, and it’s already law in Wisconsin: any police shooting requires an outside investigation; a police department can’t be allowed to investigate its own officer.

Second, American police tactics are senselessly confrontational. Even in shootings that are judged to be justified, I’m often left wondering: “Did you really need to push it to that point?” Standard practice seems to be to start by barking orders, and then to keep escalating until either the orders are followed or the civilian is dead. That’s what I see in the Scott video. In many other cases, people wind up dead because police don’t understand they’re dealing with someone who is deaf or mentally handicapped or otherwise incapable of understanding their demands.

Police in other countries don’t behave that way, as this article about Scottish police tactics makes clear.


While we’re talking about black lives not mattering, conservative columnist Glenn Reynolds tweeted “Run them down” in response to protesters who blocked an interstate in Charlotte. He then defended the tweet on his Instapundit blog. Twitter suspended his account for promoting violence, and USA Today suspended him as a columnist for a month.

If you think this isn’t about race, imagine, say, white Catholics blocking a road leading to an abortion clinic. Would anybody suggest running over them?

and tonight’s presidential debate

Like Frank Bruni, my main worry about the debate is that the bar for Trump has been set so low. If he makes it through the evening without calling Hillary a bitch or talking about his penis again, lots of people will be impressed by his performance. I remember the first 2000 debate, when Gore ran rings around Bush on substance, but the headlines the next morning were that Gore sighed too loudly.

One measure of what Hillary is up against is just how contradictory or constricting all the “expert” advice is: She shouldn’t raise her voice or interrupt Trump. She should keep her answers short, but tell her own story and project a positive vision. Point out when he’s lying but don’t get mired in fact-checking. Show her intelligence and reveal his ignorance without sounding like a know-it-all. Either do or don’t talk about the specifics of her plans for governing. And brush off his attacks as silly.

And then there’s sexism. A woman can’t possibly look “presidential”, because the American people have no image of a woman being president. And I can guarantee that tomorrow morning Trump will not be criticized for shouting, frowning, interrupting, dressing wrong, blustering, not showing proper respect, or any of the things Clinton has to be on guard against. Anna Waters, a Northwestern student who debated in high school, outlines all the built-in disadvantages female debaters have to overcome. Another high school debater complains about the challenge of “trying to both confront stereotypes but at the same time being weirdly beholden to them”.

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The National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened this week on the National Mall in Washington, DC.


Hottest summer ever.


John Oliver compares Hillary’s scandals to Trump’s in some detail, and then concludes:

This campaign has been dominated by scandals. But it is dangerous to think that there is an equal number on both sides. And you can be irritated by some of Hillary’s; that is understandable. But you should then be f**king outraged by Trump’s.


If you’ve been thinking that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson represents the “good” side of conservatism, you might want to think again. When he was running for president as a Republican in the 2012 cycle, he brushed off any concern about global warming, arguing that “In billions of years, the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future.” He went on to call for building new coal-fired power plants.

In case the insanity of this remark isn’t already obvious to you, imagine applying the logic to other issues: There’s no point worrying about nuclear war, because the sun is eventually going to burn all our cities anyway. And after the solar catastrophe, who’s going to care what our national debt was?


warren2Elizabeth Warren crossed the border to Nashua Saturday morning to give a pep talk to the door-knockers and phone-bankers gathered at the local Democratic headquarters. I had a chance to snap this picture.

She said she was going to talk about three things that are in danger in this election, but then she added a fourth. A Republican sweep in this election would result in

  • ending the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood
  • rolling back Dodd-Frank and the other Wall Street reforms that were passed after the 2008 collapse.
  • Donald Trump immediately appointing a Supreme Court justice.
  • “Donald Trump and the Republicans are making hate OK.”

Her summary of Democratic values was

  • Every young person is entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt.
  • No one who works full-time should live in poverty.
  • After a lifetime of hard work, people are entitled to retire in dignity.
  • “Let me say something that is deeply controversial in Republican circles: We believe in science, that climate change is real, and we have a moral obligation to pass on a livable Earth.”
  • Equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to choose.
  • When Wall Street CEOs break the rules, they should go to jail like anyone else.
  • Money should not own our government.

Two sports legends worth remembering today: Golfer Arnold Palmer died yesterday at 87. He was part of that first generation of athletes that TV made into icons.

And Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully called his last game. Scully is 88, and has been announcing Dodger games on radio and TV since 1950, when they played in Brooklyn. The Dodgers gave him a great send-off: The final play he broadcast was a walk-off homer that clinched the division title.

and … and …

no, I just don’t have a closing in me this week. Let’s hope my sense of humor recovers soon.