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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Your New Years Eve factoids
by digby

I am way too lazy today to think too much about this but it came up on my twitter feed and I thought I'd share:

This is the only day in history when every adult was born in the 1900s, and every minor was born in the 2000s.

The picture above is Niagara Falls, which looks like something out of a Hollywood movie. It's beautiful:

Historian and author Paul Gromosiak once said that winter at Niagara Falls can be so breathtaking that it “diminishes even those skyscrapers” on the other side of the border in Canada.

Trees once thick with fall leaves as they framed the cascading falls are mere frozen branches covered in pristine white snow. In Gromosiak’s words 13 years ago, the trees are “bowing to the river, with the weight of the ice on their branches.” Icicles hanging like stalactites have formed on rocks, walls and railings surrounding the falls. The water is icy but still descending swiftly onto the river below it in a thick cloud of mist.

Such is the winter-wonderland sight that tourists, cameras in hand, are braving the frigid winter to see. Though known for its hundreds of acres of lush terrain and trails conducive to hiking, Niagara Falls State Park, just outside Buffalo, boasts equally stunning views even as temperatures drop and crowds thin.

In 2014, pictures purporting to show frozen-solid falls circulated online. But as The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey, who is from Niagara Falls, noted, these are “either totally misleading or outright false.” Many of the photos, as BuzzFeed News reported, were old ones.

More than 3,000 tons of water flows over Niagara Falls every second. Hundreds of thousands of gallons fall over each of the three falls that make up Niagara Falls.

“It would take a lot more than a few days of cold weather to completely shut that off,” Dewey wrote.

Happy New Year, everybody.

cheers --- digby

In quaaludes and red wine: a New Year's mix tape
by Dennis Hartley

Sick of “Auld Lang Syne” ? Here are 9 alternative New Year’s songs:

1.“Time” – David Bowie – From one of the greats that we lost in 2016. Time, he’s waiting in the wings/He speaks of senseless things…

2. “1999″ – Prince – (sigh) Another musical icon that we lost in 2016.

3. “1921” – The Who – I always listen to this first thing when I wake up New Year’s Day. Somehow when you smile I can brave bad weather…

4. “New Year’s Day” – U2 – I know… “Great pick, Captain Obvious!” Fabulous live version, with The Edge pulling double duty on keys.

5. “Celtic New Year” – Van Morrison – Speaking of Ireland: Van the Man! If I don’t see you through the week, see you through the window…

6. “Year of the Cat” – Al Stewart – Great Old Grey Whistle Test TV clip. Strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre, contemplating a crime…

7. “Reeling in the Years” – Steely Dan – A pop-rock classic with a killer arrangement. That’s Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter trading licks.

8. “New Year’s Resolution” – Otis Redding & Carla Thomas – Great Stax B-side from 1968, with that unmistakable “Memphis sound”. Check out my review of the Stax music doc, Take Me to the River.

9. “Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg – OK, a nod to those who insist on waxing sentimental. A beautiful tune from the late artist.

Happy New Year, everybody.

cheers --- digby

Human rights and bullets dipped in pigs blood
by digby

It's very nice that "Donald Trump" (or whatever bot he has writing his tweets the subject) is supporting the protests and calling for human rights in Iran. But it's just a teensy bit fatuous in light of his support for the crackdown by Erdogan in Turkey and Rodrigo Duterte's mass extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. Not to mention Vlad.

He's shown his "support" for human rights on other occasions as well:

Donald Trump at CPAC, March 6, 2014.

I was in Moscow a couple of ago, own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a beautiful present with a beautiful note. I spoke to all of his people. You look at what he's doing with President Obama, he's like toying with him.

So he has the Olympics, the day after the Olympics, he starts with Ukraine. The day after. How smart? You know, he didn’t want to do it during the Olympics. Boom. The day after. So our athletes leave, we all leave, and the day after. And you know, when he goes in and takes Crimea, he’s taking the heart and soul because that’s where all the money is. I was surprised. I heard that the other day. They were saying, most of the wealth comes right from that area.

That’s the area with the wealth, so that means the rest of Ukraine will fall and it’s predicted to fall fairly quickly.... When you see what they are doing in Ukraine, it's just a question of time.

And this:

What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?

I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.

You mean firm hand as in China?

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak ... as being spit on by the rest of the world—

Why is Gorbachev not firm enough?

I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness. Suddenly, for the first time ever, there are coal-miner strikes and brush fires everywhere- which will all ultimately lead to a violent revolution. Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader and we should continue giving him credit, because he's destroying the Soviet Union. But his giving an inch is going to end up costing him and all his friends what they most cherish-their jobs.

It would be nice if we had a president who could make a case for human rights, but this isn't one of them. He's the guy, after all, who repeatedly proclaimed that he loves waterboarding and thinks it's a good idea to perform mass executions with bullets dipped in pigs blood.

Lectures on human rights from this vicious imbecile aren't going to be very effective I'm afraid. He's been spewing this ugly rhetoric for more than 30 years.

He's a disgusting blight on everything decent in this world.

Happy New Year, everybody.

cheers --- digby

The age old debate
by digby

If you read nothing else over this long week-end, take a minute to read this article by Joshua Zeitz in Politico Magazine called "Does the White Working Class Really Vote Against Its Own Interests? Trump’s first year in office revived an age-old debate about why some people choose race over class—and how far they will go to protect the system."

It tracks the history of this question starting with W.E.B DuBois brilliant analysis which is as salient as ever, decades later. It's a really great deep dive into this issue that Democrats who care about the working class of all ethnic and racial demographics and especially their kids should understand. This is a fundamental characteristic of American culture.

An excerpt:

Critically, Du Bois never insisted that the psychological wages of whiteness were wholly devoid of tangible value. What they forfeited in material benefits, working-class whites also recouped in limited power and privilege. “They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools,” he wrote. “The police were drawn from their ranks. … The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule. On the other hand, the Negro was subject to insult; was afraid of mobs; was liable to the jibes of children and the unreasoning fears of white women; and was compelled almost continuously to submit to various badges of inferiority.” You couldn’t necessarily buy groceries with these benefits, but they were palpably meaningful.

David Roediger, a historian of class and race who writes with a Marxian lens, emphasized exactly this point in his classic volume, The Wages of Whiteness, published in 1991 (the title was a direct tribute to Du Bois). He encouraged a generation of scholars to consider that working-class whites may not have been unwitting dupes in their own economic subjugation; instead, they knowingly harvested certain real advantages of whiteness. While this pattern was most visible in the South, it also deeply influenced political culture in the North and West, where whiteness was no less central to popular conceptions of American citizenship. And Roediger’s focus was on Northern workers in antebellum cities—workers undergoing the jarring transition from pre-industrial forms of work and leisure to a more regimented existence as wage laborers.

The workers whom Roediger describes, and whom dozens more scholars would similarly study, understood that American citizenship was predicated on race and independence; Congress, after all, had opened citizenship to all “free white persons” in 1790. That law remained on the books into the 20th century. But what did it mean to be “white?” Congress never made that point clear. Indeed, there was no immediate consensus that certain new immigrants met the qualification. And what did it mean to be “free?” Their new status as wage earners—economically dependent on other men to earn a living—seemingly made many working men and women something less than free. Many non-black workers keenly understood that they might be left outside the boundaries of citizenship. They also resented new forms of industrial discipline that their employers foisted onto them. Many addressed these anxieties by drawing a sharp dichotomy between white and black—citizen and slave—and placing themselves on one side of that divide.

Read it all. It's vital to understanding who we are and why this latest paroxysm of hate is so violent.

For more important reading on this issue, give this piece by Adam Serwer in the Atlantic a look and Jamelle Bouie's Slate podcast called Reconstruction.

Happy New Year, everybody.

cheers --- digby

Political Survivor
by Tom Sullivan

Part 1 of 2

From a post last December:
There is a lot of "old-boyism" in party politics. Mostly because people who have the time and/or resources to pursue party work are older. But older doesn't always mean more skilled; experienced doesn't always mean the right kind.
Political leaders tend to hang onto power and neglect cultivating heirs who have mastered technologies they don't understand. They would rather turn over the reins to trusted chums. Kathy Sinclair was not in the club.

Sinclair had been the driving force in organizing an unofficial John Kerry campaign in western North Carolina in 2004. The newcomer from Chicago attended a meetup at a local tavern, and with no prior experience organized hundreds of volunteers in a region that would not be considered a part of a swing state until 2008.

Dennis Kucinich winning the presidential caucus here in 2004 was a deep embarrassment to seasoned party hands. Didn't "those progressives" know favorite-son John Edwards was supposed to win? A Kucinich convention delegate won a key seat on the county executive board the next year, but bristled at the top-down culture. Party leaders stonewalled her, as she saw it, and she resigned.

The old boys got their club back. It didn't last.

The Democratic committee in Buncombe County, NC began the transition to a more grassroots organization around 2007. It is a transition the DNC has yet to make nationally. Insiders often don't know when it is time to pass the baton. They have forgotten what skilled managers know. Training their replacements is a key responsibility.

The problem here was, as it is nationally, lack of succession planning. Insiders hold power so closely for so long that there is no one to pass the baton to except another of their graying cohort.

When Ellie Richard, the Kucinich delegate, resigned her position as 1st vice chair in 2006, Sinclair, by then party secretary, ran to fill the vacancy. The position would give her responsibility for organizing precincts across the county, a power held closely by what amounted to a shadow party known downtown as the Courthouse Gang.

In North Carolina, when partisan elected officials die or resign their seats, members of their local committee elect a replacement for appointment by the governor. Keeping tight rein on who held those voting positions ensured the Courthouse could control who was in control. For Democrats, the same group votes to fill county committee vacancies.

With her organizing bona fides and name recognition, Sinclair figured the open position was within reach. She gathered names of committee members and began making phone calls to ask for their votes.

The county chairman was coy about Sinclair’s chances. All he would tell me was, “Let’s just say, she'll have competition.”

The Saturday morning of the special election, the party headquarters was filled to bursting. Sinclair’s stunned supporters whispered, “Who are these people?” Precinct officers they had never seen at headquarters appeared for this vote, summoned by the Courthouse.

Party veterans presented one of their own: JoAnn Morgan, a native, a Courthouse employee and former county chair. After a tense relationship with progressive activists, the Courthouse was re-exerting control.

Sinclair lost. The vote wasn't even close. Progressives were blindsided, and the defeat was crushing. Sinclair went home to lick her wounds.

For many activists, that would have been the end. Nevertheless, she persisted.

The fall of 2006 was a “blue moon" election in North Carolina (as 2018 will be). There were no national or statewide races in contention. The 11th District race for Congress was, locally, the marquee race atop the ticket.

Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler ran against and defeated Rep. Charles Taylor, an eight-term Republican and associate of Russian bankers. Shuler’s was an energetic and well-funded campaign. (Full disclosure: As NCDP’s Get Out The Vote Coordinator for NC-11, I answered to the campaign.)

Progressives outside the South may have a low opinion of Shuler. (The Blue Dog left Congress in 2013 to become a Duke Energy lobbyist for a few years.) Still, sending home "Chainsaw Charlie" was a shot in the arm to local Democrats. Progressive campaign veterans now had a win under their belts and solid organizing chops.

In December 2006, a core team met at a local Greek restaurant to plan taking on the Courthouse in the party committee's 2007 spring elections.

By established practice, the county chair appointed a committee to "nominate" a slate of candidates for the six county executive posts. The list would be presented to the county convention essentially as a fait accompli. Progressives knew anyone named was likely in the pocket of the shadow party. Convention delegates deserved a choice. Sinclair and company planned to give them one.

Ensuring continuity of leadership is the chair’s responsibility, but maintaining control was a Courthouse goal. The last thing old party hands want is democracy breaking out in the Democratic Party. "Division in the party" is the traditional bugaboo veterans invoke to discourage contested races. Contested races here meant the Courthouse might not get its way.

In 2007, it would not.

(conclusion tomorrow)

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


Trump's Own Party
by digby

This piece by Michael Grunwald in Politico is the best "Trump's first year" analysis I've yet read. It's long and thorough and it hits all the highlights. He talks at length about the assault truth and the various ways in which Trump has changed the presidency and the potential for changes in the country and the world. It's bracing, to say the least. I recommend reading the whole thing but this part of the introduction struck me as the most important insight:
The most consequential aspect of President Trump—like the most consequential aspect of Candidate Trump—has been his relentless shattering of norms: norms of honesty, decency, diversity, strategy, diplomacy and democracy, norms of what presidents are supposed to say and do when the world is and isn’t watching. As I keep arguing in these periodic Trump reviews, it’s a mistake to describe his all-caps rage-tweeting or his endorsement of an accused child molester or his threats to wipe out “Little Rocket Man” as unpresidential, because he’s the president. He’s by definition presidential. The norms he’s shattered are by definition no longer norms. His erratic behavior isn’t normal, but it’s inevitably becoming normalized, a predictably unpredictable feature of our political landscape.

It’s how we live now, checking our phones in the morning to get a read on the president’s mood. The American economy is still strong, and he hasn’t started any new wars, so pundits have focused a lot of their hand-wringing on the effect his norm-shattering will have on future leaders, who will be able to cite the Trump precedent if they want to hide their tax returns or use their office to promote their businesses or fire FBI directors who investigate them. But Trump still has three years left in his term. And the norms he’s shattered can’t constrain his behavior now that he’s shattered them.

If the big story of the Trump era is Trump and his unconventional approach to the presidency, two related substories will determine how the big story ends. The first is the intense personal and institutional pushback to Trump—from the otherwise fractious Democratic Party; the independent media; independent judges; special counsel Robert Mueller; advocates for immigrants, voting rights, the poor, the disabled, the environment and other #Resistance causes; and ordinary citizens, who have made Trump the least popular first-year president in the modern era.

The second substory is the sometimes grudging but consistent support—the critics call it complicity—that Trump has enjoyed from the Republicans who control Congress. The uneasy marriage of convenience between Trump and the congressional GOP explains his two big legislative victories, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and last month’s $1.5 trillion tax cut. It also explains Capitol Hill’s see-no-evil approach to investigating activities that would have triggered endless outrage and probable impeachment hearings in a Hillary Clinton administration.

In fact, this dynamic explains a lot about politics in the Trump era. Trump’s job security depends on support from GOP legislators. Their job security depends on Trump’s base showing up to support them in 2018, and on Trump improving his approval ratings enough to avert a Democratic wave that would bounce them out even if his base does show up to support them in 2018.

So after campaigning as an anti-establishment populist, Trump has mostly governed as a partisan corporatist, earning loyalty points from congressional Republicans by stocking his administration with movement conservatives and embracing their unpopular agenda, ditching his promises to protect Medicaid and close tax loopholes for hedge funds while consistently siding with business owners and investors over workers and consumers. Congressional Republicans, even those who once called him unfit to serve, have mostly ignored his antics and even his sporadic attacks on them, kissing his ring in public even as they roll their eyes in private. They’d prefer their tax cuts without the white nationalist retweets, but it’s a package deal.

Well, some would prefer that Trump not advertise the white nationalism but really,most of them are fine with it.

I think I had held out some hope that more Republicans would balk at Trump's craziness. I know, I know. That was always a ridiculous bit of naivete. I guess I just thought that some actually believed in traditional values or took the principles of the Constitution seriously and would be concerned that someone like Trump is destroying all of it. I was wrong about that.

In truth, they have always claimed tax cuts are the answer to everything and now we know they meant it's literally the only thing they ever truly cared about. I won't make the mistake of ever taking them seriously about morality or patriotism again. Anyone who supports Donald Trump has shown that they care about neither.

As Grunwald says deeper into the piece:
Last month, Senator Lindsey Graham leapt to Trump’s defense on cable TV, denouncing “this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook not fit to be president.” He might have been thinking of an attempt by one Senator Lindsey Graham, who said of Trump in February 2016: “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.” Senator Marco Rubio, who called Trump “dangerous” and a “con man” during the campaign, has also boarded the Trump train. So has Senator Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse Trump at the Republican convention after Trump mocked his wife’s looks, implicated his father in the JFK assassination and labeled him “Lying Ted.” The Never Trump movement, to the extent it is a movement at all, consists of a few conservative intellectuals, not Republican politicians. The Republican Party is now undeniably Trump’s party.

This is one of the crucial developments of 2017, because a few Republican politicians who decided to resist Trump substantively could have become a real check on his power. A few Capitol Hill Republicans have resisted Trump rhetorically, notably retiring senators Jeff Flake, who denounced the president as a disgrace to his office, and Bob Corker, who bemoaned the lack of “adult day care” in the White House, but they have not used their considerable leverage to try to change his behavior. With Democrats voting in lockstep against many Trump nominees and most of the Trump agenda, any Republican senator could have demanded, say, that he release his tax returns in exchange for their vote on his tax bill, or that the bill include some kind of protection for Mueller against presidential interference, or for that matter that Trump defray the costs of his constant jaunts to his private clubs. But Republicans have made it pretty clear that they don’t plan to stand up to Trump. None has pushed for more aggressive investigations of his activities, and some have actively shielded him from investigations, while calling for investigations of his rivals. And while White House aides have often leaked their dismay about Trump’s defense of neo-Nazis after Charlottesville, or his attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, or his uninterest in briefings that have more than one page or don’t flatter his ego enough, none of those aides has resigned in protest.

A Republican congress is a Trump congress. And they are becoming more complicit by the day. It is vital that Democrats win back at least one House of Congress in 2018. It is everything.

Shadowy men on a shadowy planet: Wormwood (***½)
By Dennis Hartley

“Sir, I am unaware of any such activity or operation, nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist, sir.”
– Captain Willard, from Apocalypse Now

“Boy...what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?” – Joe Turner, from Three Days of the Condor

“Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” – From Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

When you peruse the history of the CIA (wait a sec...did I just hear a “click” on my phone?), at times it is indistinguishable from a campy 60s TV parody of the agency. Was there really a CIA psychotropic drugs research program called “MK-Ultra” (aka “Project Artichoke” and “Project Bluebird”) or am I conflating it with an episode of “Get Smart”?

Unfortunately, the MK-Ultra program would prove all too real for bacteriologist and former military officer Frank Olson. Olson had served as a captain in the Army’s Chemical Corps in the 1940s, which helped him snag a post-service civilian contract job with the Army’s Biological Warfare Laboratories (based out of Fort Detrick, Maryland).

Eventually (while still based out of Fort Detrick) Olson was recruited by the CIA to work with the agency’s Technical Services Staff, which led to his acquaintance with some of the architects of the aforementioned MK-Ultra research program. While on a retreat with a group of CIA colleagues in November of 1953, Olson was offered a drink that was spiked with an early form of LSD (unbeknownst to him). Just 10 days later, on the night of November 28th, 1953, Olson fell to his death from the 13th floor of a Manhattan hotel.

The NYPD called it suicide. And that was that. At least…that was the story at the time.

There is a lot more to this tale; specifically regarding what ensued during those critical 10 days between Olson’s LSD dosing at the retreat, and the evening that he died at the hotel.

Uncovering the details behind Olson’s demise has become an obsessive 60+ year quest for his son, Eric Olson. Eric’s relentless pursuit of the truth, a long slow white Bronco chase through the dark labyrinth of America’s clandestine community, makes for a hell of an interesting story in and of itself. This was not lost on documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who delves deep into the mystery with his new Netflix docu-drama, Wormwood.

Wormwood is essentially a 4-hour film divided into 6 episodes; with this sprawling running time, Morris has given himself lots of room to “delve”. Now, I feel that it’s my duty to advise you up front that “delving” into a mystery is not necessarily synonymous with “solving” it. So if you go in expecting pat answers, wrapped with a bow, I’m saving you 4 hours of your life now (and you’re welcome). However, if you believe the adage that it is not about the destination, but rather about the journey, feel free to press onward.

Morris has made many compelling documentaries, from his acclaimed 1978 debut Gates of Heaven, to other well-received films like The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1991), and The Fog of War (2003). Interestingly, Morris eschews his trademark “Inteterrotron” (giving a sense that the interviewee is “confiding” directly to the viewer).

Instead, Morris plunks himself across a table from his subjects and grills them, like they’ve stumbled into Sam Spade’s office. However, he does reprise his “reality thriller” formula (mixing interviews with speculative reenactments) which he essentially invented with The Thin Blue Line; although it has been so-often imitated that it now seems cliché.

While Morris’ penchant for this Rashomon-style construction in past projects has drawn criticism, it’s a perfect foil for Wormwood; because if there is one central takeaway from the series, it is this: when it comes to plausible deniability, the CIA has 50 shades of nay.

The “official” story as to what happened in that hotel room in September 1953 has been, shall we say, “fluid” over the years (all versions are recounted). Adding to the frustration for Olson’s surviving family members (as Eric Olson points out in the film), under current laws, any citizen may file a lawsuit against the U.S. government for negligence, but never for intent. Oops! Please pardon our negligence, just never mind our culpability.

The question of “culpability” feeds the conspiracy theory elements of the film; which Morris relays via the dramatic reenactments. These segments feature a melancholic Peter Sarsgaard, whose almost spectral characterization of Frank Olson haunts the proceedings like the ghost of Hamlet’s father. This is no accident, as Morris and Eric Olson himself make frequent analogies to Shakespeare’s classic tragedy about a son who investigates the truth behind his father’s suspicious death (hence the title of the film, taken from an aside by Hamlet, who mutters “Wormwood, wormwood” in reaction to the Player Queen’s line in the play-within-the play “None wed the second but who killed the first.”).

The Bard would be hard pressed to cook up a tale as dark, debased and duplicitous. Morris sustains a sense of dread recalling Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and The Conversation. Of course, those were fiction; Olson’s story is not. Shakespeare wrote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Wormwood not only confirms this, but reminds us why we need folks like Eric Olson and Morris around to cast light into dark corners where the truth lies obscured.

Previous posts with related themes:

Kill the Messenger
Mirage Men
Fair Game
Criterion reissues The Manchurian Candidate
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Burn After Reading

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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--Dennis Hartley

Saturday Soother: A lucky cub survives the fires
by digby

I don't even want to think about all the animals these epic fires in California have injured and killed. It's too horrible to even contemplate. But here's one story with a happy ending.

He's doing fine!

The five-month-old cub was found in Santa Paula on Dec. 22 with burn injuries to all four of his feet. The cub was also very thin. He was captured and taken to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s investigations Lab in Rancho Cordova, where he was treated.

Dr. Jamie Peyton, the chief of Integrative medicine at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, has been working with the CDFW in helping with the cub’s burns.

They are treating the burns by applying sterilized tilapia skin to the most severe injuries. The fish skin “creates a biologic bandage to protect the burn area and provides collagen to help speed healing,” the department said on its Facebook page.

We needed that happy ending, don't you think?

[I'm not sure why this didn't post in the usual Friday Night Soother slot, but I figure it's good news any time. --- d]

Follow the numbers
by digby

Ryan Struyk is one of the sharpest political analysts around and I'm always interested in what he has to say. Since everyone's doing lists, he's gathered some of the most important polling trends of the past year. You can click over to see them all, I'll just highlight a couple that I think are particularly interesting. First some good news:

The number of Republicans in the American electorate has shrunk to its lowest in a quarter century after Trump's election last year, according to numbers from Gallup.

Only 38% of Americans self-identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents during 2017, while 45% of Americans say they are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.
That also means roughly one in eight people who identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning in November 2016 no longer do so. (The number of Democrats has held roughly steady over the same period.)

Keep that in mind when you see numbers about how the Republicans are sticking with Trump. That might be true but you have to ask how many people are sticking with the Republicans. That number is shrinking and it's because the GOP is now the party of Trump and for some Republicans or GOP leaners that's just not something they want to be affiliated with.

Now for the bad news:

US global reputation takes a hit under Trump

Perceptions about the United States and the President took a major hit on the world stage in 2017, according to numbers from the Pew Research Center. (Pew conducted surveys in 37 countries during the spring and reported global medians in June.) Check out this chart from Pew:

Good lord that's bad. The US is way too powerful to be so mistrusted. I get it, of course. Most of us don't trust the US under this leadership either at this point. But this is dangerous. Trump is an f-ing moron, we know that, so he thinks that the most powerful nation on earth should be "unpredictable" when the exact opposite is true. The most powerful nation on earth should be steady and solid so nobody makes the kind of mistake that could result in a tragic move that can't be taken back. I think we've seen how that's working out so far. Trump has the whole world jumpy. And that's not good.

One bit of news that's slightly unnerving is that as Trump is in office longer he's starting to get credit for the growing economy he inherited. That's not unusual but when that happens the president is usually pretty popular. So far that hasn't happened, but you never know ...

Trump has turned a lot of the normal expectations upside down so it's unknown whether any of these trends are predictive. In the age of Trump, all bets are off. But we'll keep watching the numbers just in case.

Another innocent, unarmed citizen shot by police
by digby

This story about a fatal police shooting as a result of a "swatting" prank is all over the news. Everyone is very upset that anyone would send police to someone's home as a joke or an act of revenge. There is speculation that it was a video game grudge although they don't seem to know exactly who it was.
A police officer in Wichita fatally shot a man while responding to an emergency call that authorities now say was a tragic and senseless prank.

The 28-year-old man, whom officials did not immediately identify, was killed around 6:20 p.m. Thursday after police responded to a report that there had been a shooting and hostages taken at the house, Deputy Wichita Police Chief Troy Livingston said at a Friday news conference.

“Due to the actions of a prankster, we have an innocent victim,” Livingston said, calling it a case of “swatting.”

Swatting, which has a long history in the online gaming world, refers to the practice of making an emergency call about a fake situation often involving a killing or hostages, in the hopes of sending police to the address of an adversary or random person.

In an interview with the Wichita Eagle, the slain man’s family identified him as Andrew Finch, a father of two, and said he was not armed.

“I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot,” his mother, Lisa Finch, told reporters Friday.
But I think everyone might be missing the point:
“What gives the cops the right to open fire?” Finch said. “Why didn’t they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report.”
The police didn't even try to ascertain what was going on before they brandished their guns and fired.

Police are shooting unarmed people and getting away with it because they are going into situations as if they are invading Fallujah and average Americans who have no idea what's going on  and don't realize that they are living in a war zone fail to perfectly comply and are murdered on the spot.

I didn't write about the cop who was acquitted down in Arizona after screaming incoherent orders at an unarmed citizen and shooting him as he was on his knees begging for his life. It was so grotesquely unjust that I couldn't deal with it. But it's the perfect example of the way Americans are having to deal with amped up robo-cops like the one in this video (who used his personal AR-15 with the words "you're fucked" etched into it). Even if you try to comply they will kill you anyway and get away with it. That message has gone out loud and clear to police everywhere in this country.

So sure, SWATTing is bad. Don't do it. After all, any time you send police to someone's home you could be killing them. But the prank isn't the real problem is it?

It wasn't the dossier, fellas
by digby

The House Republicans led by Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes, a full blown Trump agent, want to smear the FBI as some kind of secret Clinton agents who used the manufactured Steele dossier in order to investigate Trump, but it's never made any sense at all. The investigation of Trump began long before the Steele dossier came into being. And today the New York Times has dropped a little bombshell with some details about exactly what it was that made the FBI decide they needed to investigate the Trump campaign. It had nothing to do with the Steele dossier:

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.

Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role.

The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.

If Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and is now a cooperating witness, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation.

While some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have derided him an insignificant campaign volunteer or a “coffee boy,” interviews and new documents show that he stayed influential throughout the campaign. Two months before the election, for instance, he helped arrange a New York meeting between Mr. Trump and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

Interviews and previously undisclosed documents show that Mr. Papadopoulos played a critical role in this drama and reveal a Russian operation that was more aggressive and widespread than previously known. They add to an emerging portrait, gradually filled in over the past year in revelations by federal investigators, journalists and lawmakers, of Russians with government contacts trying to establish secret channels at various levels of the Trump campaign.

The F.B.I. investigation, which was taken over seven months ago by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has cast a shadow over Mr. Trump’s first year in office — even as he and his aides repeatedly played down the Russian efforts and falsely denied campaign contacts with Russians.

They have also insisted that Mr. Papadopoulos was a low-level figure. But spies frequently target peripheral players as a way to gain insight and leverage.

F.B.I. officials disagreed in 2016 about how aggressively and publicly to pursue the Russia inquiry before the election. But there was little debate about what seemed to be afoot. John O. Brennan, who retired this year after four years as C.I.A. director, told Congress in May that he had been concerned about multiple contacts between Russian officials and Trump advisers.

Russia, he said, had tried to “suborn” members of the Trump campaign.

The rest of the details in the piece are all fascinating but the one that stands out is the fact that Papadopoulos spilled the information about the Clinton emails to an Australian agent in a bar in May of 2016, long before it was public, but we are supposed to believe he never mentioned it to the Trump campaign.

Does that sound right to you? Yeah, I didn't think so. They knew. They said nothing to any authorities. They went on to meet with Russians about dirt on Clinton in June and Donald Trump Jr even said he "loved it" and would like them to release it later in the summer.Trump even publicly encouraged them to do more.

Trump is right when he says this isn't collusion. It's conspiracy and that, my friends is a crime.

By the way, this Australian connection is hardly the only one. The Guardian published this some time ago:

Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.

It is unsurprising that some members of he FBI might have been just a tad concerned that Trump might actually be elected. The fact that the Republicans are crucifying them today for having those concerns shows that they too are complicit. Devin Nunes and his crew are covering up something very, very big.

Just because it can be done....
by Tom Sullivan

Still from Minority Report (2002).

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. But then later there's running and screaming.
It is time again to review that classic narrative where a scientist invents something amazing, then halfway through the story that something is threatening the hero, his girlfriend, the world, and a pair of cute kids.

A Google spinoff named Sidewalk Labs hopes to build a mini "city of tomorrow" along the Toronto lakefront. It will be greener, smarter, more inclusive, etc., etc. But also "transparent," naturally.

The New York Times reports:
Quayside, as the project is known, will be laden with sensors and cameras tracking everyone who lives, works or merely passes through the area. In what Sidewalk calls a marriage of technology and urbanism, the resulting mass of data will be used to further shape and refine the new city. Lifting a term from its online sibling, the company calls the Toronto project “a platform.”

But extending the surveillance powers of one of the world’s largest technology companies from the virtual world to the real one raises privacy concerns for many residents. Others caution that, when it comes to cities, data-driven decision-making can be misguided and undemocratic.


Nothing is too prosaic to analyze: Toilets and sinks will report their water use; the garbage robots will report on trash collection. Residents and workers in the area will rely on Sidewalk-developed software to gain access to public services; the data gathered from everything will influence long-term planning and development.
It's all about "efficiency." Just as hearing terms like "right-sizing" and "shareholder value" around the office means it's time to update your resume, you don't have to be Fritz Lang to notice efficiency for some always seems to come at the expense of others.

Renee Sieber, a professor of geography and environment at McGill University, utters a word of caution:
“Democracy and the rights of citizens is inherently political; it’s not something you should shy away from,” said Ms. Sieber, who studies the use of data by citizen groups. “Governments need to be all about fairness.” If city government were concerned only with efficiency, she said, “you don’t send buses where it’s rural or poor.”
Get back to us when you've got jet packs and flying cars.

Even non-flying, self-driving cars are proving more of a challenge than expected. in reviewing a Wired article on the over-hyping of the technology, Yves Smith writes at Naked Capitalism:
The big problem is that the people engineering these systems have yet to come close to mastering basic design requirements. They think they know how to get there, but that is sort of like being able to describe what it would take to sail across the Pacific solo and actually doing it.
Because the sensors needed are not up to the operating requirements, Smith writes, designers are using "fudges":
The self driving car proponents are also bizarrely eager to introduce a less than fully autonomous car, presumably to increase customer acceptance, when it is likely to backfire. The fudge is to have a human at ready to take over the car in case it asks for help.

First, as one might infer, the human who is suddenly asked to intervene is going to have to quickly asses the situation. The handoff delay means a slower response than if a human had been driving the entire time. Second, and even worse, the human suddenly asked to take control might not even see what the emergency need is. Third, the car itself might not recognize that it is about to get into trouble. Recall that Uber tried to blame a car accident when its self driving car was making a left turn on the oncoming driver, when if you parsed the story carefully, it was the Uber car that was in the wrong.

The newest iteration of the “human takeover” fudge is to have remotely located humans take over navigating the car. Help me. Unlike a driver in a vehicle, they won’t have any feel for the setting. That means an even slower reaction in what will typically be an emergency situation. This is a prescription for bad outcomes, meaning a much worse safety record than with people as drivers, fatally undermining a key claim for self driving cars, that they’d be safer than human operated ones.
I once heard because of the vehicles' inherent instability, it was impossible for pilots to switch seats in an airborne helicopter. This sounds just as dicey.

But even dicier is entrusting technology companies with our privacy and democracy. We can't even trust them not to slow down our phones without telling us.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

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A damaged and dangerous president is feeling his power
by digby

Against the wishes of his staff, Trump decided to sit down and chat for half an hour with the New York Times yesterday. And he really let it all hang out. Here are a few excerpts on one particular terrifying issue just to give you a flavor:
SCHMIDT: What’s your expectation on Mueller? When do you —

TRUMP: I have no expectation. I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. And you know who knows it better than anybody? The Democrats. They walk around blinking at each other.

SCHMIDT: But when do you think he’ll be done in regards to you —

TRUMP: I don’t know.

SCHMIDT: But does that bother you?

TRUMP: No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. And based on that [inaudible]. There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair. And if he’s fair — because everybody knows the answer already, Michael. I want you to treat me fairly. O.K.?

SCHMIDT: Believe me. This is —

TRUMP: Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion. None whatsoever.
He said there was no collusion 16 times. Protest much?

Throughout this part of the interview he talks like The Godfather. he keeps saying "I won't do what I have the power to do as long as I'm treated fairly, which means that everyone will be fine as long as he and his are exonerated. If not --- off with their heads.

By that he means Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: [Inaudible.] There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I’ll be treated fairly. Timingwise, I can’t tell you. I just don’t know. But I think we’ll be treated fairly.

SCHMIDT: You control the Justice Department. Should they reopen that email investigation?
Here's the threat:

TRUMP: What I’ve done is, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

Be nice and maybe I won't LOCK HER UP.

And think about what he said there: "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department."

If the Republican party allows him to do it, he can do it. That's absolutely correct. The power lies with them. Everything depends upon their integrity, their willingness to defend the constitution and rein in a rogue president who becomes an authoritarian.

Do you feel confident about that?

Then he quoted alleged liberal Alan Dershowitz saying that collusion isn't  crime.
No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion. And he has studied this thing very closely. I’ve seen him a number of times. There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion. I don’t even say [inaudible]. I don’t even go that far.
He slagged Sessions for recusing himself again and added this:
TRUMP: I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the I.R.S. scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems. 
When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.
He is an authoritarian thug. He believes he has total power. And as I pointed out above, he does --- as long as his unctuous sycophants in the GOP support him. Together, they actually do have total power. He can fire the entire top layer of the Justice Department until he finds a toady to do his bidding.

And he can follow his favorite president, Andrew Jackson's edict when the Supreme Court ruled against him,  "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"

His off-the-cuff comments indicate that he is completely capable of doing such a thing because he's a deranged, delusional egomaniac who is completely unschooled in the constitution and has no respect for its underlying principles anyway.

This next year is going to be a big test. He has not found humility in the office. He is more grandiose than ever and he's feeling his oats. If the Democrats can hold him back for a year, we might be able to stop him with a congressional check on his power in 2019. But that hope is all we have. The Republicans have shown they are not going to stop him.

Fasten your seat belts. 2018 is going to be a very tumultuous year, a make or break year. I'll be here documenting what's going on and I'll try to keep my head, but it won't be easy. This isn't normal, people. It's the biggest test of our system since 1860.


Friday, December 29, 2017

The Flynn leak
by digby

I found it interesting that the Trump camp leaked that they were ready to rip Michael Flynn as a liar if necessary since it signals that they are worried. It seems bit weird to send this message since Flynn has already agreed to cooperate. Of course they're going to call him a liar if he says something to harm their man? They're defense attorneys.

This article in VF lays out the possibility that Trump and Flynn really are pals and that the legal team was talking out of school with this leak. Maybe Flynn really doesn't have anything damning to say and maybe Mueller just wanted to get his case off the table. But that seems unlikely. They then lay out a possibility I haven't heard before:

[Y]esterday's leak is equally interesting as political strategy. It signals to Trump’s conservative media allies—who have already tried to paint Flynn as an Obama plant—that they are free to turn up the attacks on Flynn, to trash him as one more enemy of the president, which in turn embellishes Trump’s outsider image with his hard-core voters. Perhaps more significantly, the leak signals to Flynn that if he follows through on his plea deal and testifies damningly against Trump, the general can forget about a presidential pardon. On the other hand, if Flynn were to buck Mueller—to re-flip, so to speak—a pardon would still be possible.

Mueller, however, seems to have wisely anticipated such a chess move: by crafting a plea deal that basically guarantees Flynn won’t serve any time in jail, the special counsel reduced the temptation to not cooperate and be rewarded by a pardon.

All of which might help explain the recent weird tweet by Flynn’s brother, who told Trump it is “about time you pardoned General Flynn.” It was understandable as sibling sympathy—but it also came across as strangely anxious. “Flynn has a great deal—I know he’s going to be a felon, but he’s going to get probation, and all he has to do is testify about something that’s not so important,” Wisenberg says. “So why is his brother worried?”

Perhaps, Wisenberg speculates, there is a second, secret plea agreement between Flynn and Mueller, one that contains more explosive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. A separate, hidden plea would be highly unusual, but it would explain the apparent thinness of the public plea agreement.

“Mueller would have thoroughly de-briefed Flynn before making the plea deal, and this was a sweetheart deal,” says Peter Zeidenberg, who was part of the prosecution team in the Scooter Libby leak case and is now a defense attorney. “They know what Flynn is going to be saying.” Maybe it will be underwhelming. Trump’s team doesn't seem willing to count on that.

Nobody knows anything about anything, of course. This is all just idle speculation. But I was reminded of this from Flynn's lawyer back in the spring:

"General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."

Call me crazy, but it's doubtful that the "story" was about how he made a phone call during the transition that he totally thought was fine and then lied about it for no good reason at all.

Obviously, this could all be nothing and Flynn is just a sideshow. We'll find out soon enough.

"Hey look, over half the country hates me!"
by digby

A) Obama was at 51% with 10% unemployment in December of 2009 B) Trump  is actually at 37% and has 4.1% unemployment C) he's a liar


But the truth, across almost every reputable poll, is that Trump's approval ratings have lagged behind those of nearly all of his predecessors, including Obama, since day one of his presidency.

The cleanest comparison between the approval ratings of the two presidents is Gallup's daily tracking polls, which are released as both three-day rolling averages and weekly averages. The three-day averages released on December 28, 2009 -- the day Trump cited in his tweet -- showed 51% approval for Obama with 43% disapproval. On December 28 of this year, Gallup released a three-day average showing 38% approval for Trump with 56% disapproval.

The weekly numbers tell a similar story: For the week ending December 27, 2009, 51% approved of Obama, and for the week ending December 24, 2017, 37% approved of Trump.
That gap is mirrored in other polls with long-term trends and similar methodologies now as they had in 2009.

In CNN's polling among all adults, 35% approved of Trump in mid-December 2017, while Obama held a 54% approval rating in December 2009. CBS News finds a 14-point gap between Obama's approval then (50%) and Trump's approval now (36%). NBC News and The Wall Street Journal show a smaller 6-point gap on approval, but Trump's disapproval number (56%) tops Obama's by 10 points (46%). And the Quinnipiac University poll finds a 9-point gap between Trump's approval (37%) and Obama's positive rating (46%) among registered voters.

Trump's tweeted claim rests on the findings of a daily tracking poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports. Those findings come from a poll conducted using a mix of online interviews and those conducted via calls to landline telephones by a recorded voice interviewer rather than a live person. They claim to interview likely voters, without specifying in what election those people are likely to cast ballots, nor how they are identified. Polls conducted this way do not meet CNN's standards for reporting, because they can under-represent certain segments of the population.

Rasmussen's polling received a C+ rating in FiveThirtyEight's most recent pollster rankings, and it has been found to lean toward the GOP when compared with other pollsters, which means it typically understated support for Obama and has a tendency to overstate support for Trump when compared with other polls.

He's totally uninformed and dim about policy and his strategic abilities are really just a feral survival instinct. But polling is something he knows about and understands. So, I think this is a case of sheer mendacity to fool his rubes. He looks at the real polling, you know he does. And he knows he's failing. He just doesn't want his cult followers to know it.

The truth is that his cult doesn't need him to tell them this. They believe he's a genius and nothing he does will shake most of them out of their devotion. But it's telling that he feels the need to shore them up anyway. He must know there's some slippage.

QOTD: who else?
by digby

Trump in his New York Times interview:

I know more about the big bills. … Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred. … You ask Mark Meadows [inaudible]. … I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill. The first bill, you know, that was ultimately, shockingly rejected ... I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected...

Ezra Klein explains what's going on here:

In psychology, there’s an idea known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. It refers to research by David Dunning and Justin Kruger that found the least competent people often believe they are the most competent because they “lack the very expertise needed to recognize how badly they’re doing.” This dynamic helps explain comments like the one Trump makes here.

Over the course of reporting on the Trump White House, I have spoken to people who brief Trump and people who have been briefed by him. I’ve talked to policy experts who have sat in the Oval Office explaining their ideas to the president and to members of Congress who have listened to the president sell his ideas to them. I’ve talked to both Democrats and Republicans who have occupied these roles. In all cases, their judgment of Trump is identical: He is not just notably uninformed but also notably difficult to inform — his attention span is thin, he hears what he wants to hear, he wanders off topic, he has trouble following complex arguments. Trump has trouble following his briefings or even correctly repeating what he has heard.

For the layperson, this is called being a "fucking moron."

There's a lot more in this interview that Ezra tries to unpack, especially on health care, which is just startlingly ignorant even for Trump.

And then there's this:

Yeah, China. … China’s been. … I like very much President Xi.He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. … One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together...

Perhaps I should give Ezra the quote of the day:
This is the president of the United States speaking to the New York Times. His comments are, by turns, incoherent, incorrect, conspiratorial, delusional, self-aggrandizing, and underinformed. This is not a partisan judgment — indeed, the interview is rarely coherent or specific enough to classify the points Trump makes on a recognizable left-right spectrum. As has been true since he entered American politics, Trump is interested in Trump — over the course of the interview, he mentions his Electoral College strategy seven times, in each case using it to underscore his political savvy and to suggest that he could easily have won the popular vote if he had tried.

I am not a medical professional, and I will not pretend to know what is truly happening here. It’s become a common conversation topic in Washington to muse on whether the president is suffering from some form of cognitive decline or psychological malady. I don’t think those hypotheses are necessary or meaningful. Whatever the cause, it is plainly obvious from Trump’s words that this is not a man fit to be president, that he is not well or capable in some fundamental way. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, and so many prefer not to say it, but Trump does not occupy a job where such deficiencies can be safely ignored.

He's right.They cannot be ignored. But there are serious limits to what we can do about it I'm sorry to say. We have a psychologically deranged president and out system depends upon members of his own party turning on him to restrain his power.

They aren't doing it.

Trump's delusions are catching
by digby

I wrote about Newt Gingrich's latest for Salon this morning. Looks like he's just as delusional as Trump:

As we come to the end of this stressful Year One, and political observers look back on the carnage wrought by Donald Trump, there are a few rays of hope. While Trump touts his nonexistent successes and fatuously claims to be the most accomplished president in history, the people who crunch numbers are noting that the Democratic edge in the generic 2018 congressional midterm ballot is reaching historic levels.

Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight put it this way:
The Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent. That average, like the CNN poll, also shows Republicans in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle since at least the 1938 election.
He had previously calculated that in order for the Democrats to flip the House, considering their disadvantage from gerrymandering, they would have to be up by 5.5 to 8 points. According to him, there are as many as 103 GOP-held seats that could be in danger. Obviously, most of those Republicans will win because incumbents almost always do. But consider the 2010 election, when the GOP had a seven-point advantage in the generic poll and there were 101 Democratic seats in possible danger. The Republicans won 65 of them. It happens.

Of course, public opinion can change over the course of a year. But Enten points out that, historically, "most large shifts on the generic ballot from this point onward have occurred against the party that holds the White House. Once you take into account who holds the White House, the generic ballot at this point is usually predictive of the midterm House result." In other words, the Democrats have a very good chance of taking back control of at least the House -- and possibly even winning back the Senate.

One might assume the Republicans would be rending their garments over this. There have been reports of major infighting among the White House staff over the political operation, and numerous strategy memos and think pieces have discussed how to deal with what could be a major turnover next year. There are signs that the House and Senate are at odds over the best strategy. Paul Ryan, evidently full of confidence after passing his huge tax cut for wealthy donors, wants to push on with his dream of destroying Social Security and Medicare, while Mitch McConnell remembers that most GOP voters are over 65 and says it's a no-go.

President Trump, meanwhile, apparently believes he can dupe the Democrats into joining the presidential ring-kissing rituals to which Republicans have recently committed themselves. He has announced his intention to pass big bipartisan bills, after which everyone in the whole country will want to vote for the GOP. Trump believes a lot of ridiculous things.

But even Trump isn't as optimistic about 2018 as his close adviser Newt Gingrich. The former speaker has taken to Fox News to proclaim that because of all the fake news and lying about Donald Trump, "the size of the GOP victory in 2018 will be an enormous shock." He quotes a political blogger named Barry Casselman, who argues that because Roy Moore lost the seat in Alabama and the Democrats forced Al Franken from the Senate, the Republicans will win more seats in 2018 and it could be a big red wave instead of a blue wave. Gingrich doesn't really explain how this would works, but he was obviously impressed by the idea.

Gingrich also points to a column by Scott Adams -- the cartoonist who draws "Dilbert" -- which lists 20 supposedly incorrect political opinions about Trump. These include such misguided judgments as "Trump’s tweeting will cause huge problems," "Trump will not work effectively with leaders of other countries" and "Trump is incompetent." According to Adams, holding such wrong opinions requires that one stop talking about politics altogether, to which Gingrich adds that by Adams’ standard, "most elite 'analysts' would have to be quiet, because they have been so consistently wrong about Trump."

Mostly, however, Gingrich believes that 2018 will become a red wave of epic proportions because of the massive tax cut, about which he claims the liberal fake news media has poisoned the minds of the American public. He says that when average Americans find out how rich they are, thanks to Donald Trump and the Republicans, they will come out and vote in droves for the GOP.

Setting aside the nonsensical notion that a few hundred dollars will be "life-changing" to middle-class families, or that they aren't aware that the wealthiest Americans are being showered with millions of dollars in tax breaks as a reward for supporting Republican politicians, let's take a moment to recall that Newt Gingrich has always been wrong about everything. Back in his heyday during the 1990s, he had one great moment of victory in 1994 when he and his class of self-styled revolutionaries took over the Congress in a midterm rebuke to Bill Clinton's unpopular presidency. Clinton had an approval rating that year that bounced between 45 and 50 percent, numbers Donald Trump can only dream of.

You'd think Gingrich would remember that, or at least recall the moment of his great downfall in the next midterm election four years later, as colorfully described by CNN at the time:

In the same cloud of outrage and optimism that has been wrapped around him all year, Gingrich took to the phones on the afternoon of Election Day still predicting that the President would be made to pay for his sins and that the Republicans would pick up six to 30 seats. But as the hours passed, the numbers just kept getting worse, and by 10 p.m. the Republicans were barely breaking even in the House. Then another seat looked vulnerable. Then seven more. Then, around 10:45, 13 seats. "At that point, we thought we lost the House," one said later. When the last returns came in, Gingrich had lost five seats -- a setback not matched since 1822. "Well," said Gingrich when it was all over, "we all misjudged this one."
It was Gingrich who had insisted they would win big, and after that he was out as speaker within 48 hours. I'm willing to bet that his powers of prognostication haven't improved any with the passage of time.


How do we survive the lying?
by digby

The president of Bizarroworld had the best first year of any president in history:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday told firefighters that he had signed more legislation at this point in his presidential career than any previous president. "We got a lot of legislation passed," Trump said Wednesday, according to a pool report. "But I believe—and you would have to ask those folks who will know the real answer—we have more legislation passed, including the record was Harry Truman a long time ago. And we broke that record, so we got a lot done."

In actuality, Trump has signed 96 bills, the fewest of any president since before Truman. Trump may have been referencing a similar claim his then-press secretary Sean Spicer made in April, when Trump had signed 28 bills, slightly more than other modern presidents had signed at that point in their terms, but considerably less than predecessors like Truman and Roosevelt.

I think this is the most disorienting aspect of the Trump era. We've certainly had presidents who lie before. In fact, they probably all lied to one degree or another. Most people are not 100% scrupulously honest. Indeed, there is ample evidence that some lied to create a rationale to take the nation into war, which is probably the most consequential lie one can imagine.

But this is something else. It's beyond lying. It's delusional.

Trump literally lies more than anyone I've ever encountered in my life. And I've known some liars. In his case, it's almost always as an act self-aggrandizement although he will do it to defend against criticism as well. But it's about him, one way or another. And he seems to be impervious to any facts that may contradict him.

His money and now his power have bought him sycophants who will reinforce his lies. His fantasies are fed by others who seek their own ends by catering to his delusions.

I am reminded of this interesting piece in TNR from a few months back about historical imperial madmen. I think it's safe to say that Trump fits into that mold quite comfortably.

In Nicholas Hytner’s 1994 film, The Madness of King George (adapted from a stage play by Alan Bennett), William Pitt, the king’s prime minister, muses to his parliamentary colleagues:

We consider ourselves blessed in our constitution. We tell ourselves our Parliament is the envy of the world. But we live in the health and well-being of the sovereign as much as any vizier does the Sultan.

Despite George III’s obvious lunacy and incompetence, by then quite advanced, neither a fractious parliament nor the maneuvering of George’s foppish and covetous eldest son can quite seem to do anything about it. (When, eventually, they do succeed in declaring a regency, the king, to their grave disappointment, recovers his senses and returns.) Even in his earlier, more lucid moments, the king was odd and ineffectual, a self-repeating martinet prone to forgetting that America was no longer The Colonies and tut-tutting his ministers for their lack of marital and reproductive commitment. By the time the king is running around the countryside in his nightshirt and producing pots of blue piss, the business of the kingdom has ground well and truly to a halt. “Is the king ill?” the Prince of Wales is asked over dinner.

“He’s not well,” the prince drawls...

And here we return to Donald Trump, whose press conference last week read like an Ionesco play, an absurdist dialogue composed of elementary phrases from a textbook designed to teach foreigners a second language. He hemmed, hawed, cajoled, made faces, whispered, referred off-handedly to “nuclear holocaust,” asked an African-American reporter if she could set up a meeting with black people in Congress. He talked about blowing up a Russian ship, and yelled that he wasn’t going to tell anyone about his secret plans to do something to North Korea. He complained about the military giving advance warning of assaults on Mosul—he doesn’t understand that they do so to give civilians time to flee—and in so doing, he did a bunch of funny voices. It was all quite bonkers; you can look that one up in the DSM.

As far as anyone could tell from the video feeds, the entire senior staff of the nascent administration was right there, sitting in the front row. Like any royal court, this one is beset by factionalism and infighting; everyone is in charge, and so no one is. The president is so whacky, so moody, so changeable that they must attend his every public appearance and study every nonsensical utterance in order to attempt to divine where, for the next ten seconds or so, his attention might alight and then use the opportunity to promote their own advantage.

The Republican Congress, which through contrivance and deliberate inaction, has absented itself from responsibility for war, economic policy, and strategic investment and become little more than a House-of-Commons shouting-chamber to an expansive, imperial Executive, sat in its offices watching aghast before dialing their favorite reporters to privately complain that the President of These United States is a goddamn looney tune.

The result is a paradoxical feeling of panicked inertness, a sense of a rapidly unfolding crisis that is at the same time encased, immoveable, in amber. Is the president ill? Well, he’s not well. And yet, while we hope that he will be carted off, or at least held in check by whichever of his advisers and secretaries is the least odious, we are also—like all those ministers and congresspeople—transfixed.

Transfixed we are. But at least we have an election coming up in less than a year in which we can create a check on his power and send a message to his sycophants that they do not have the support of anyone but their own little cadre. Meanwhile, we cannot look away no matter how disorienting this whole thing becomes.

I don't know what to do about all the lies except try to keep my grasp on reality and not succumb to the ongoing attempts to normalize this royal lunacy. And it is happening. Just look at this:

He was going to sign it no matter what they said. This was wholly gratuitous. They are succumbing.

Anyway, I plan to do my best to keep documenting the atrocities and analyzing what they mean. It's how I keep my sanity in all this. I hope that it helps you keep yours as well, at least a little bit.

If you feel like dropping a little something into the Hullabaloo kitty over this holiday period, I would be most appreciative.

Together we can get through this.