Category: Politics

The Alabama Shit Show

I knew things were going to be bad when twice-defrocked theocrat Roy Moore won the Republican nomination for the Senate. But I didn’t imagine it would be this bad. I’ve been tinkering with those post for days, but things keep happening. I’ll assume you’re mostly up to date, so I’ll just highlight a few thoughts.

First, while Moore is obviously innocent until proven guilty, I find the allegations against him both credible and disturbing. He has admitted to dating high school girls when he was in his 30’s. There are reports that his creepy behavior was well-known in the area. The original WaPo article interviewed at least 30 sources. And the two women who have accused of non-consensual acts both crossed me as truthful. Innocent until proven guilty is our standard for criminal proceedings. But for someone who is going to be a Senator, someone who is going to wield real political power, someone who could, at some point, hold the fate of the country in his hands, I think a higher standard is required. People should not vote for Moore. And if elected, he should step down.

Moore is still leading in the polls and I expect him to win. A lot of people are rallying to his side and some have said the allegations make them more likely to vote for him. I want to be clear: this is not because people approve of his behavior; it’s mostly because they think this a Democratic Party dirty trick. That hasn’t been helped by a slew of garbage fake stories about how the yearbook signature is both too good and not good enough, how the restaurant Beverly Young Nelson worked at didn’t exist, how the women were paid money. It’s included things like faking a letter of support from 53 pastors and an obviously robocall from a “Bernie Bernstein” claiming to be looking for dirt on Moore.

With that caveat, I have read people saying that a pedophile would be preferable to a Democrat. This is deeply deranged partisanship. It’s not like Doug Jones is a lunatic or something. He’s a law-and-order mainstream Democrat who supports gun rights and defense spending. His big claim to fame was prosecuting the Alabama church bombers. Yes, losing that seat will hurt the GOP’s agenda. On the other hand, holding it has done exactly zilch for their agenda. And if the GOP’s governing ability comes down to whether a deranged, creepy bible-thumping hypocrite like Moore is in power, the party is deeply lost.

Given the rash of sex abuse scandals that have erupted lately, I’ve seen a number of Democrats saying that they should have taken the allegations against Bill Clinton more seriously. I’m glad to hear that but their mea culpa is a decade late and a billion dollars short. It’s easy to be intellectually honest once you’ve got nothing to lose. If Hillary were President right now, they’d still defending Bill. Hell, they’ll probably go back to defending him again come, oh, December 13.

American politics is broken and our parties are broken. If our parties were functional, we would not have seen the Clinton-Trump fiasco of last year and we would not be seeing the Roy Moore fiasco of this year. All three disasters would have been nipped in the bud. But the leadership of both parties is now filled with people who think politics involves scoring points on Twitter and raising oodles of cash from special interests. The practical aspects of politics — building constituencies, recruiting good candidates, defusing opposition — has gone out the window.

I’d like to say the electing Moore is the apotheosis. But things can always get worse.

Bad Night for the GOP

I try not to read too much into off-year elections but last night’s was a debacle for the GOP. The Virginia governor’s race was a wipeout and, as of this morning, the state legislature may tip to the Democrats. At minimum, Virginia Democrats will now have veto power for the first time in over 25 years and had their biggest night in four decades. The New Jersey governorship and New York mayoral race went against the GOP. Other state legislative races and mayoral races went against the GOP. It was bad night for them, a clean sweep by the Democrats.

Trump’s popularity hasn’t changed that much since election day. He’s still got most of the GOP behind him and most of the Democrats against him. Moderates have shifted against him but he’s still polling in the high 30’s, lower than election day but not drastically so. I’ve noted before that Trump’s performance in 2016 was terrible. It was the worst performance in a post-incumbent election in American history (i.e., an election where a two-term incumbent President is retiring). Now we’re seeing what would have happened had his opponent not been almost equally despised. With a meh candidate, Virginia shifted almost five points to the Democrats, enough for the gubernatorial election to become a rout and the legislature to tip. The Democrats won young people by nearly 40 points, a huge shift from 2012 and even 2016. An advantage of even a tenth that size would have given Clinton the election.

Here’s another thing: the Democrats are not popular. Their approval rating is the lowest in their history. So this was not a stampede toward Democrats, much as they’d like it to be. This was a backlash against Trump without the tempering influence of Clinton hate.

The implications of this for the GOP have to be frightening. Without Clinton as a foil, Trump’s unpopularity could completely sink the party. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen solid conservatives like McCain and Flake leave the party. Now we’re seeing decent Republicans run out of office because people hate Trump so much.

If this keeps up, the Republicans will be dead in the cities, dead in the suburbs and only alive because of rural support. We will see a shriveled husk of a party devoid of conservatives, devoid of moderates and comprised entirely of Trumpist populism. This would be a party unable to stop the Democrats from going Full Metal Socialist. Their only accomplishment would be ranting on raving on Sean Hannity’s show, which is apparently now the apotheosis of political achievement for Republicans these days.

Trump is not going to change course in response to this election. His response to the election was to immediately stab Gillespie in the back and I’m sure he’ll stab every Republican if he feels the need. He’s not a Republican. He only used them to vault into office. If the Democrats take Congress, he’ll claim credit then happily sign off on single payer healthcare as long as it had his name on it (as shown by his spineless deal on DACA).

Yeah, it’s just one election. We’ll see what happens next year. And, come 2020, the Democrats are going to need an actual Presidential candidate, who might be a fiasco in his or her own right. But you can’t help but be alarmed by where this is going. In 2016, Warren Meyer said the Republicans had chained themselves to a suicide bomber. It may turn out that it just took a bit longer for the bomb to go off.

Brazile Spills

When it comes to the Russia collusion thing, I find myself thinking two related thoughts:

  • There was definitely an effort by the Russians to at least cause disruption in our election. It’s worth investigating. And anyone who worked with the Russians should be run out of politics.
  • I seriously doubta few facebook memes and a Wikileaks e-mail trove that no one outside of Washington cared about decided this election. Or even had a big impact.
  • I think the attention on Russia’s influence is, to a significant extent, driven by the Democrats’ need to distract from their own incompetence. Indeed, accounts of the election night indicate that Clinton decided quickly to blame the loss on the Russians, rather than her own mismanagement.

That latter point just got a big jolt of support:

The Saturday morning after the convention in July, I called Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary’s campaign. He wasted no words. He told me the Democratic Party was broke and $2 million in debt.

“What?” I screamed. “I am an officer of the party and they’ve been telling us everything is fine and they were raising money with no problems.”

That wasn’t true, he said. Officials from Hillary’s campaign had taken a look at the DNC’s books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama’s campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.

In return for this bailout, the Clinton campaign basically took over the DNC’s finances and strategy. It’s normal for Presidential campaigns to joint fundraise with the Party to bypass campaign finance limits. And it’s normal for the Presidential nominee to fill the DNC with their own people. But this began in 2015, long before she was officially the nominee. And the Clinton campaign canted the DNC’s strategies to favor Clinton and, instead of sharing money with the state committed, funneled almost all the money the Democratic Party was raising into Clinton’s presidential campaign. In short, the Democratic Party spent over a year serving as nothing more than a vehicle to advance Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, the rest of the country be damned.

You should read the whole thing, which is from Donna Brazile, current interim DNC chair. Brazile, of course, has her own history here: she was fired by CNN for feeding primary debate questions to Clinton. And this crosses me an effort to throw Wasserman-Schulz and Clinton under the bus to conceal her own perfidy. Althouse wonders if campaign finance laws were broken, which is a very good question.

We periodically get these reminders that, as bad as Trump is, Hillary Clinton was no panacea. Right now, her cultish followers are screaming sexism and crying, “Well, the DNC didn’t actually force people to vote for Clinton so the election wasn’t rigged!” But the DNC canted the entire process toward her. And she deprived them of any resources they needed for the kind of national presence that might have sustained her momentum. And then she went out and, despite these advantages, lost to her hand-picked tangerine opponent.

I said at the very beginning of the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton was bad at politics and the Democrats were going to be reminded of this in the hardest way possible. This decision to route all the money to her campaign wasn’t just corrupt and unethical, it was stupid. The Republican Party has as national presence; the Democratic Party does not. And decisions like this are why that is so. Even if Clinton had won, her burning of the party to support her own ambitions would have deprived her of the coattails needed to get a compliant Congress. Instead of Trump rage-tweeting about Congress, we’d have Clinton throwing lamps in the Oval Office. I guess that’d be an improvement, but not much of one.

NYC Again

What’s amazing about yesterday’s truck attack in NYC is the lack of immediate panic over it. We used to be able to count on these things to dominate the news and call for legislation. But I’m not hearing a lot of that (other than Trump’s call to end visa lotteries). I don’t know if we’ve gotten used to it or smarter in our approach — probably the former. The latest reporting is that he was radicalized in the United States. It’s hard to imagine some set of laws that will prevent gullible idiots from fall the delusional rantings of maniacs.

In any case, it’s been a long time since New York got hit, partially from luck and partially because they’ve been smart and prepared. This is a horrifying tragedy but they are bearing it well, as they always have.

First Indictments Down

It’s Manafort and Gates:

Paul Manafort and his former business associate were indicted on Monday on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges, a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over President Trump’s first year in office.

Mr. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services.

“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment reads.

Mr. Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements.

“As part of the scheme, Manafort and Gates repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants and legal counsel, among others,” the indictment read.

Right now, this is a little less than a giant conspiracy to enthrone Trump. This is about what we expected: Manafort concealed his work for a Russian puppet, tried to hide the money and has now gotten burned. But, as far as I can tell, most of the charges are for things that long pre-date his association with Trump.

That having been said, this is a big deal. The supposed swamp-draining President’s former campaign manager is facing very serious federal charges. This would explain why the Administration suddenly decided to make a big deal about the Uranium One deal and call for Mueller to step down. I suspect more is coming, but it may be quite some time. Manafort was fairly long-hanging fruit, his misdeeds discovered quickly. We’ll see what else comes out.

The Clinton Files

Remember the Steele dossier? Sure you do. This was the file that Buzzfeed ran back in January detailing a mix of rumors and innuendo about Trump’s ties to Russia. At the time, it wasn’t clear where this came from. The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele working for a company called Fusion GPS. But who hired them to compile that dossier?

Turns out: the Clintons.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the firm in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.

So no deep state. No Obama coup. Just the Clintons up to their usual shit, trying to smear their opponent. The Clintons have a long history here, highlighted by things like Alma Powell’s struggles with depression suddenly becoming news, Newt Gingrich’s first divorce morphing into him serving papers to his sick wife, Bush’s DWI arrested coming to light days before the 2000 election, the sudden interest in Jeremiah Wright, Bernie Sanders’ 40-year old essays, etc., etc. The curious thing was that they couldn’t get the media to bite. As I noted in post above, this dossier was shopped around to the media but they refused to run it because so little of it could be verified. Some of it has since been verified (the conversations with Russian officials) but not the more dramatic allegations (financial ties, peeing hookers).

This is just a reminder that while Trump may be a dumpster fire, his opponent was hardly a shining bastion of decency and decorum. The Clintons spent real money trying to get dirt on Trump and then tried to shop around a file containing spectacular but unsubstantiated allegations. They tried to shop around a file so speculative that the media, all of whom hated Trump, refused to touch it. Do we have any doubts as to what Clinton would be doing right now where she in office with the powers of the FBI, NSA and CIA at her disposal?

Another Gold Star Feud

One of themes I keep returning to on Twitter is this:

Yes, the media has it in for Trump and will happily blow up even minor gaffes into major crises. Our entire media-political establishment has gotten twitchy and panicky about everything.

But, good Lord does Trump make it easy for them.

I have no idea what was said on the call between Trump and the family of La David Johnson. A Democratic Congresswoman says he said some dumb things and couldn’t remember the soldier’s name. The family has vaguely confirmed this; the Administration has vaguely denied it. I suspect that the family — like most Gold Star families — would rather keep politics away from their tragedy. If forced, I would guess that Trump tried to say something nice but bungled it — i.e., intended to commend Johnson’s bravery but it came out wrong. And now, being Trump, he’s refusing to let it go.

As I said in my post on empathy, part of the job of the President is to make them feel like their concerns are being listened to. Bill Clinton was probably the best I’ve ever seen at this but most Presidents have at least some ability to look people in the eye and make them feel like they care. Trump is able to speak to people’s fears and prejudices, which is probably why he won. But he can’t speak to their higher aspirations, their hopes, their dreams … or their very real sorrows.

This is who he is. We shouldn’t act surprised anymore.

Willet for the Fifth

One of the few bright spots for the Trump Administration so far has been his nominations for the judiciary. Gorsuch has worked out well so far and other conservative justices are joining the ranks. To be fair, Trump is mainly working from a list produced by the Federalist Society. But that, in itself, shows a bit more wisdom than we’re used to seeing: he’s recognizing that he’s not a legal expert and should defer to those who are.

This week, he nominated Justice Don Willet, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, for the Fifth Circuit. It’s a great choice. While Willet’s court doesn’t deal with criminal matters, his decisions on civil matters have shown a libertarian bent. He’s also one of the more popular accounts on Twitter, where he stays away from hot button issues and mainly posts about history, the law and occasional humor. He has an inspiring
life story
, having been adopted, raised by a single mom and become the first college graduate in his family.

My only reservation is his lack of experience in criminal matters, which I think is something badly lacking in our judiciary. But hopefully he will bring the libertarian tendencies to that as well. We’ll see.

All the President’s Tweets

This weekend, Puerto Rico was whomped by Hurricane Maria. The entire island is without power and a humanitarian disaster is unfolding. By yesterday, the internet was aghast because Trump, while sending out numerous tweets about his ongoing feud with two sports leagues, hadn’t tweeted about Puerto Rico. They claimed he was ignoring the problem.

He wasn’t:

Large amounts of federal aid began moving into Puerto Rico on Saturday, welcomed by local officials who praised the Trump administration’s response but called for the emergency loosening of rules long blamed for condemning the U.S. territory to second-class status.

In northwest Puerto Rico, people began returning to their homes after a spillway eased pressure on a dam that cracked after more than a foot of rain fell in the wake of the hurricane.

The opening of the island’s main port in the capital allowed 11 ships to bring in 1.6 million gallons of water, 23,000 cots, dozens of generators and food. Dozens more shipments are expected in upcoming days.

Further reports detail that FEMA, the Coast Guard and they Navy are all on scene and helping as best they can. Congress needs to step up to the plate now by passing an aide package and waiving or repealing the Jones Act which drives up the price of goods on the island to benefit American shipbuilders.

So why was everyone on Trump about it? Because he hadn’t tweeted about it. Our political culture has become so engrossed in the 140-character emissions of our President while he is sitting on the can that we’ve lost the ability to look any further.

The President did eventually tweet about it, noting Puerto Rico’s bad infrastructure and debt problem. He got bashed for that too. I wouldn’t have said that but it crossed me less as “blaming Puerto Rico for their problems” and more of “explaining why the situation is so dire”. But I’m known to be generous in interpreting the words of Presidents because (a) I’m a bit outraged out and have been for about ten years; (b) I’m a bit of a contrarian at times.

Look, I don’t like the way the President tweets garbage. And I do think he should have used the medium to voice support for Puerto Rico and to call on people to donate to organizations helping out. But there’s a line to walk in how we respond to him. We can’t confuse Trump’s twitter feed with the government. Trump clearly sees Twitter, at least his personal account, as entertainment and a way to rile up his base (the official POTUS account tends to be more mundane and tweeted out support for Puerto Rico on the 20th). We’re going to exhaust ourselves if we continually flip out over what the President has tweeted about and what he hasn’t. And we really REALLY need to reign in this pathological need to assume the absolute worst about everything he says or does. There’s plenty of bad to go around. We don’t have to start inventing stuff.

I’ve been as bad as anyone about this. So I’m probably going to simply start ignoring Trump’s twitter feed. It is utterly devoid of substance and has no function beyond stirring up partisan bullshit. Knowing me, I probably won’t keep to that promise for very long. But this Twitter business is getting unhealthy.

The NFL and Politics

I’ve been a football fan for as long as I can remember, for both college and the pros. I grew up in Atlanta on Steve Bartkowski and Herschel Walker and having my heart broken (although this year’s Super Bowl was probably the biggest sports heartbreak of my life). But there’s something to fall weekends when you can just on turn on the TV and watch a game between two teams you don’t care about that is unique and special.

This year, we’re seeing a bit more controversy though. NFL ratings are down significantly. There’s a lot of blame being thrown around and a lot of it is being thrown at politics, particularly the recent trend of black players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police misconduct.

First of all, I don’t think that’s the reason for the NFL’s ratings drop. It is probably a reason, but not the reason. Ratings had been going up for a long time but weren’t going to rise forever. There is a growing concern about the damage the game does to players’ bodies and minds, particularly with regard to CTE. That is the one thing that really gives me pause. The dominance of certain teams — Alabama in the college ranks, New England in the pros — has turned some people off. The Falcons were the closest thing we’ve had to a Cinderella in recent year and, come on, even this lifelong Falcons fan has to admit they weren’t going to capture America’s hearts. Some people say the quality of play is down, but I’m not convinced.

But, second of all … I do think politics are a problem for the NFL. It’s very easy for the elites in our society to forget, but players kneeling during the national anthem bothers people. Politics being injected into the NFL bothers people. It may not seem like a big deal when you’re inside the political bubble. But, for most people in this country, sports is a place where we can be passionate, angry, elated, dejected or thrilled without having to worry about politics. While watching the Super Bowl last year, I shared my excitement and then my devastation with Falcons fans of all political stripes. That’s the beauty of the thing. As Doug Mataconis likes to post every year:

We’re tired of politics in everything. We’re tired of it in our movies — witness the drop in this year’s box office. We’re tired of it in awards shows — notice the plunging ratings. And we’re tired of it in our sports. Politics infests our lives in too many ways and many of us just wanted a damned break.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic. I do think these players have a point. I will never understand how enraging it must be to see cops caught on video gunning down unarmed black people only to be acquitted. Yeah, some of those shootings turns out to be justified (e.g, Michael Brown). But not all of them. And every time it happens, the media starts going through the dead man’s past to find any black mark that can retroactively justify his death. It is a relentless and maddening rhythm. So … I’m not going to begrudge them their small non-violent protest. I’m not going to tell them to just shut up and play football.

But protest comes at a price. There is always a price to pay for social activism. And that price may be falling ratings and a lot less money. I suspect Kaepernick et al. are fine with the price being paid if it brings attention to the issue. But let’s not pretend there isn’t a price or be all surprised when the bill comes due.