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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Space cadets FTW

This is not good:

Within months, DoD will start standing up a new combatant command, a new space-procurement agency, and a new Space Operations Force.

The U.S. Defense Department this week will take the first steps to create the Space Force, a new branch of the military ordered up by President Trump but not yet fully backed by Congress.

In coming months, Defense Department leaders plan to stand up three of the four components of the new Space Force: a new combatant command for space, a new joint agency to buy satellites for the military, and a new warfighting community that draws space operators from all service branches. These sweeping changes — on par with the past decade’s establishment of cyber forces — are the part the Pentagon can do without lawmakers’ approval.

Creating the fourth component — an entirely new branch of the military with services and support functions such as financial management and facilities construction — will require congressional action. Defense officials plan to spend the rest of 2018 building a “legislative proposal for the authorities necessary to fully establish the Space Force.” That would go to Congress early next year as part of the Trump administration’s 2020 budget proposal.

This plan, developed for execution by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian, is laid out in a 14-page draft report slated to go to lawmakers on Wednesday. Defense Onereviewed a draft of the report dated July 30.
Related: What Trump’s Space Force Announcement Means
Related: The US Air Force Is Reorganizing to Fight in Space

“The Department of Defense is establishing a Space Force to protect our economy through deterrence of malicious activities, ensure our space systems meet national security requirements and provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces across the spectrum of conflict,” says the draft report. “DoD will usher in a new age of space technology and field new systems in order to deter, and if necessary degrade, deny, disrupt, destroy and manipulate adversary capabilities to protect U.S.interests, assets and way of life…This new age will unlock growth in the U.S. industrial base, expand the commercial space economy and strengthen partnerships with our allies.”

The Military Industrial Complex is obviously thrilled by this new money pit and they're gearing up for some sensationally wasteful grift.


The tale of a grovelling sycophant

by digby

This man is running for Governor of Florida by turning himself into Donald Trump's love-slave:

Of course this makes sense. He is, after all, a mutual beneficiary of foreign electoral sabotage. Emptywheel:

Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis has presented a bill that would defund the Robert Mueller investigation six months after the bill passed.

DeSantis has put forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign. 
The amendment is one of hundreds filed to a government spending package the House is expected to consider when it returns next week from the August recess. The provision is not guaranteed a vote on the House floor; the House Rules Committee has wide leeway to discard amendments it considers out of order.

It’s interesting that DeSantis, of all people, would push this bill.

After all, he’s one of a small list of members of Congress who directly benefitted from Guccifer 2.0’s leaking. Florida political journalist Aaron Nevins obtained a huge chunk of documents from Guccifer 2.0.
Last year, a Republican political operative and part-time blogger from Florida asked for and received an extensive list of stolen data from Guccifer 2.0, the infamous hacker known for leaking documents from the DNC computer network. 
The Wall Street Journal reported that Aaron Nevins, a former aide to Republican state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, had reached out to Guccifer through Twitter, asking to “feel free to send any Florida-based information.” 
About 10 days later, Nevins received about 2.5 gigabytes of polling information, election strategy and other data, which he then posted on his political gossip blog HelloFLA.com
“I just threw an arrow in the dark,” Nevins told the Journal
After setting up a Dropbox account for Guccifer 2.0 to share the data, Nevins was able to sift through the data as someone who “actually knows what some of these documents mean.”
Among the documents stolen from the DCCC that Nevins published are five documents on the DCCC’s recruitment of DeSantis’ opponent, George Pappas. So effectively, DeSantis is trying to cut short the investigation into a crime from which he directly benefitted.

The changing Democratic chances in the south

by digby

Brownstein speaks, you listen:
One key measure of any Democratic wave in the midterm elections will be whether it crests high enough to overcome the formidable Republican defenses in the growing suburbs across the South. The answer will have implications that extend far beyond 2018.
While Democrats have notched significant gains since the 1990s among white-collar suburban voters in most parts of the country, they have until recently made very little progress at loosening the Republican hold on affluent and increasingly racially diverse suburbs around such Southern metro areas as Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

But suburban unease with Donald Trump's turbulent presidency may finally provide Democrats an opening to establish a beachhead in such places -- a development that would rattle the electoral map. Although the recoil from Trump among white-collar suburbanites inside the South is not as great as outside of it, both public and private polls signal that enough suburban voters are pulling away from him to create much greater opportunity than usual for Democrats this fall in the governor's race in Georgia, Senate races in Tennessee and Texas, and several suburban House seats across the region.

"The South is not immune," says Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster working in both Georgia and Tennessee. "We start off lower in some of these (Southern suburbs), definitely. But we are also definitely making inroads first and foremost with college-educated white women, but also college-educated white men."

Many of the most vulnerable Republican House seats around the country are centered on white-collar suburbs. Democrats have strong opportunities in suburban seats from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia through Northern Virginia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Denver and Los Angeles. That vulnerability is rooted in the unusual resistance Trump faces among well-educated white voters: Three national polls last week each found that around 60 percent of whites holding at least a four-year college degree disapproved of his performance.
But one of the key questions for November is whether Democrats can extend that pressure into suburban Southern seats that have previously been safe for Republicans, including districts near Richmond, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, Austin and Atlanta.

In addition, gains in white-collar suburbs will be critical to Democratic prospects in the Georgia governor's race between African-American Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp; the highly competitive Tennessee Senate contest between former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn; and the more uphill, but still competitive, challenge by Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. 
Even if Democrats fall short in some or all of these races, a significantly improved performance in white-collar suburbs could offer them a roadmap for seriously contesting North Carolina, Georgia and perhaps even Texas against Trump in 2020 -- when African-Americans, Latinos and other minority voters, who mostly lean Democratic, will likely comprise a bigger share of the electorate than this fall.

Most discussion on whether Democrats can restore their tattered competitiveness in the big Southern states has focused on whether the party can increase turnout among those minority voters, who are rising as a share of the population in many Southern states. Registering and turning out more African-Americans, Latinos and other non-white voters undeniably represents an essential part of the equation for Democrats across the region, strategists in both parties agree. Abrams, in particular, has staked her campaign in Georgia largely on spurring greater turnout among minority and young voters who don't usually participate in midterm elections. 
But in virtually every state in which Democrats have grown more competitive since the early 1990s, increased minority participation has been only part of the equation -- it has been necessary, but not sufficient. Whether in California, Illinois and New Jersey, which tilted toward Democrats in the 1990s, or Colorado, Virginia and (more equivocally) North Carolina, where the party strengthened its position in the 2000s, the winning Democratic formula has combined both an increase in minority participation and improved performance among college-educated white voters. In the states where Democrats have gained ground in recent decades, those two changes have offset lackluster, and an often deteriorating, performance with evangelical, rural and non-college educated white voters.

"The idea that changing demographics alone are going to carry Democrats through, particularly in a deep South state, is fanciful," says Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has polled extensively across the South. "Changing demographics make it easier for them if they run a good campaign that appeals to whites as well." 
In the South, though, Democrats have failed to even remotely approach the gains among well-educated white voters that they have posted in other areas. Democrats, for instance, had high hopes for cracking the Georgia suburbs in 2014 when they nominated the scions of two prominent local political families in the key races:  
Michelle Nunn (the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn) for US Senate and Jason Carter (the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter) for governor. Yet both Nunn and Carter were crushed overall, and neither won more than 30 percent of college-educated white voters, according to exit polls. That's far below the typical Democratic performance among those voters in their best states, from Virginia through California, which generally ranges from the mid-40s through the mid-50s, according to exit polls.

Democrats were just as disappointed that year in Texas, when Wendy Davis, their gubernatorial nominee, suffered a stinging defeat to Republican Greg Abbott. Davis had emerged as a compelling national figure leading a filibuster in the State Senate against a Republican bill to restrict abortion rights, and Democrats hoped she could pry away suburban voters, especially women. But exit polls showed that Davis also carried only about three-in-ten college-educated whites -- and Abbott won comfortably.

In an interview, Davis pointed to two principal reasons Southern suburbs have remained so difficult for Democrats.

"One is that we've had a booming economy and it's the economy stupid as the saying goes, so people have felt pretty satisfied with where things are," Davis said. "We also suffer the problem of being absolutely ignored in presidential election contests which means that we haven't built the infrastructure that's necessary to communicate with a lot of the voters that are needed."

Other observers point to another systemic challenge for Democrats. The Democratic improvement in white-collar suburbs in other regions has been keyed largely by cultural affinity, since many college-educated voters, especially women, take more liberal positions on social issues from abortion and gay rights to gun control. But fewer Southern suburbanites are social liberals, probably because more of them than elsewhere are evangelical Christians or otherwise religiously traditional.

"Even among white college graduates in the South you have a much higher percentage of evangelicals," said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. "My guess is that's the biggest factor in it: they are more conservative, but that is mainly because they are more religious."

The Trump factor

Democrats still confront all of these barriers this year. But Trump's rise has provided them a new opening. With his racially infused nationalism and belligerent personal style, Trump conspicuously lost ground across many Southern suburbs in his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton when compared to Mitt Romney's performance in the same places in 2012.

Trump's erosion in these Southern suburbs wasn't solely because of defections from well-educated white voters -- almost all of them are also growing more racially diverse. Exit polls showed Clinton stuck at about 30 percent support from college-educated white voters in Georgia and Texas and around 40 percent in North Carolina, all comparable to the Democrats' performance in the 2014 statewide races in those states. Yet in key suburbs around the major metropolitan areas, such as Gwinnett and Cobb counties outside of Atlanta, the shift away from the GOP was undeniable and ominous for Republican strategists.

"I still am stunned that the two most rock-ribbed counties in Georgia that we use to base statewide Republican wins on, Gwinnett County and Cobb County, both went for Hillary Clinton," said Ayres. "There has been so much emphasis on the blue collar counties in the Rustbelt that switched from Obama to Trump. There has been less focus on suburban counties in places like Atlanta or Houston that moved from Romney toward Clinton. Basically we've traded the smaller, slower growing more rural counties for larger fast growing suburban counties."

Elections since 2016 have offered Democrats some additional signs of progress in Southern suburbs. In last November's Virginia governor's race, Democrat Ralph Northam posted big advances not only in suburbs outside of Washington DC, which politically behave more like Northern suburbs, but also the suburban communities around Richmond, which have tilted more reliably Republican. Unusually strong performance in white-collar suburbs around Huntsville and Birmingham helped propel Democrat Doug Jones' narrow win in last December's Alabama special election for US Senate. And Democrat Jon Ossoff came close before ultimately falling to defeat Republican Karen Handel last June in a suburban Atlanta special election for a US House seat that Republican Tom Price had carried comfortably for years.
He goes on to analyse the races in Texas and Georgia which are moving in the general direction he describes but are anything but shoo-ins. Getting working class minority voters to the polls is difficult (they're busy working) and college educated whites are an unreliable constituency. But the trends are real and they've been accelerated by Trump. It's possible that this new coalition will fall into place more quickly than people thought.

*And no, nobody is saying that the Democrats should abandon the working class. They can't --- a large faction of their coalition are working class. They happen to be racial and ethnic minorities but all the policies Democrats put forth tp help the working class (which they actually do, unlike the Republicans) will help all workers. White working class voters have other reasons for voting for Republicans but they will benefit equally from Democratic policies that favor the working class.


Evil vs evil

by digby

Let the overfed billionaire disaster games begin:

President Trump lashed out at the Koch brothers Tuesday, saying their conservative political funding and policy network has “become a total joke in real Republican circles” and is “highly overrated.”

The president’s assessment, made in a flurry of morning tweets, followed a weekend gathering at which top officials affiliated with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch sought to distance the network from Trump and his base in the Republican Party, citing tariff and immigration policies and “divisive” rhetoric out of Washington.

On Monday, the network also announced that it does not currently plan to support Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in his effort to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this November. That decision was at odds with Trump, who campaigned for Cramer at a rally in Fargo last month.

“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas.”

Trump asserted that the Kochs “love” some of his policies, including tax cuts and conservative picks for federal courts. But he said the Kochs were being driven by a desire to “protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed.”

“I’m for America First & the American Worker — a puppet for no one,” Trump said. “Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!”

They're a total joke but they're nice guys who he made a lot richer with his tax cuts. He's pissed but he's also a little bit scared of them, isn't he?

They are way, way, way richer than he will ever be. But by a fluke he is the president.

.May they destroy each other in this fight.

A crime by any other name...

by digby

... would still lead to indictment:

Chuck Rosenberg, a former FBI chief of staff under former Director James Comey, on Monday said collusion is “absolutely a crime,” a day after President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said it was not a crime.

“Collusion is a crime,” Rosenberg said on MSNBC's "MTP Daily." “We just happen to call it something else, we call it conspiracy, but it is absolutely a crime.”

“You probably won’t find the crime bank heist in the criminal code but bank robbery is a crime too, and so I am sort of perplexed that it has come down to synonyms,” said Rosenberg, who once headed the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“If these folks don’t know that collusion and conspiracy are synonyms for one another and this is a legal strategy, then they might want to consider changing horses in this race,” Rosenberg added.

In several interviews on Monday, Giuliani asserted that collusion is not a crime.

“I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime,” Giuliani said on “Fox & Friends.” “Collusion is not a crime.”

This whole thing is so lame that I have to wonder if we aren't missing something.


Rick Gates knows things

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

As the whole world knows, CNN reported last Thursday that Michael Cohen was prepared to testify that Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russian emissaries supposedly bearing dirt on Hillary Clinton. And ever since then, the atmosphere around the Russia scandal has changed. If there is any real evidence that Trump knew about that meeting and approved it, it goes a long way toward proving one element of a criminal conspiracy that includes the president of the United States and confirms many other suspicions surrounding that event.

On the other hand, this is Michael Cohen we're talking about. He's not exactly a stellar witness (at least not yet), and the CNN story said all this was based solely on Cohen's word that he had witnessed Trump being told about the meeting before it happened, which makes the assertion less than airtight. Still, Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani both immediately lurched into high gear.

Giuliani appeared with CNN's Chris Cuomo that night and said that Cohen had "been lying all week, he's been lying for years," calling him "the kind of witness that can really destroy your whole case" because he's a "pathological liar." The gloves were obviously off.

Trump has refused to take any questions about the latest Cohen charges, but he had an epic Twitter tantrum about the Russia investigation over the weekend, starting on Friday:

Trump moved on to bragging about his "accomplishments" and saying that his poll numbers are better than Abraham Lincoln's. He complained that Democrats are refusing to help him pass legislation and, of course, ranted about "Trump Derangement Syndrome" and the media. Then he really got hysterical:

The "nasty, contentious business relationship" apparently refers to the fact that Mueller once belonged to Trump's golf course and asked for a refund. You can understand why the president believes that only his ardent supporters should be allowed to investigate him, since that's worked out so well for him in the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes. The rest is sheer hysteria, which his social media people apparently tried to bury with a flurry of anodyne tweets on Monday morning.
But that's when the fun really began. Rudy Giuliani appeared on "Fox & Friends" and then on CNN, in response to the Cohen allegations. Then he had to call in to both networks by phone later, to try to explain what in the world he had said in his earlier appearances. In the course of all this, Giuliani suggested that Cohen had doctored the tape in which Cohen and Trump discuss paying for Karen McDougal's silence -- and then went on a tear explaining that collusion is not a crime, as if he had suddenly decided to abandon Trump's tiresome mantra of "no collusion!"

That last bit seems to be a crafted talking point, since Trump defenders, including Chris Christie, had gone on the Sunday talk shows to make that argument.

Nobody has ever claimed that "collusion" is the technical legal term for what Trump and his minions are suspected of doing. It's simply a description of their behavior. The legal term is "criminal conspiracy." I would guess that Trump's team has now ensured that the media will use that latter term from now on, which may not be the outcome they were looking for.

Giuliani claimed that the crime was the hacking of Democratic Party emails, which Trump didn't personally do and didn't pay for, which seems like an awfully specific denial. But all that craziness was only the half of it. Giuliani spoke at length about Cohen's supposed accusation that Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting. That's when it emerged that there were rumors about another meeting on June 7, 2016, two days before the one with the Russian emissaries. Giuliani characterized that earlier gathering as some sort of pre-strategy meeting that included Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates and one other person he couldn't remember.

It was an extremely confusing storyline, which Alisyn Camerota of CNN couldn't make heads or tails of, as you can see:

Giuliani later called in to both Fox and CNN to "clarify" what he was trying to say. The upshot (I think) is that Giuliani believes Cohen will say that he was in the room with Donald Trump when Don Jr. popped his head in to tell his father about the upcoming meeting with the Russians. Giuliani says this never happened and Cohen is a liar. Then he said that the press had also inquired about this earlier meeting on June 7, which he indicated was being shopped around by Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis even though Cohen wasn't reported to have been present. Giuliani said the press wasn't going to publish anything on this supposed meeting because it couldn't be corroborated.

This is, of course, ludicrous. Giuliani would not have brought this up if he didn't believe it was going to come out. At one point he even admitted that he was trying to get ahead of the story. He did it clumsily, but the significance of this alleged earlier meeting is clear enough. June 7, 2016, was the day when Donald Trump won the California primary and said this in his victory speech:
I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend, who knows?
Anyone who's been following this story has known that the odds of Trump not knowing about this meeting with visiting Russians were nil. If there is now some corroboration of a "pre-strategy" meeting to discuss this matter, and that later that night Trump went out and telegraphed that he knew about it, it only adds to the suspicions. Moreover, if that meeting happened with the people Giuliani named, there is almost certainly corroboration: Manafort's former deputy, Rick Gates, is cooperating with Robert Mueller. Whether Gates can say for sure that Trump was told about the Russian meeting is unknown. But something has Giuliani and Trump jumping out of their skin.

Giuliani says that Cohen's team has been shopping this June 7 meeting to the press. But former Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Goldman has another theory. He believes that Manafort's lawyers have now seen Gates' testimony and have given the Trump team a heads-up:
If, as Goldman suspects, they're now privy to everything Gates has told Mueller, it would certainly explain the sense of barely contained panic we been seeing these past few days. Remember, Gates remained part of the Trump team well into 2017.

Update: Giuliani now says that he was trying to kill a NY Times story. The NYT says they are confused by Giuliani's story. So who knows?


Race paranoia strikes deep

by Tom Sullivan

It was the subtext to the sitting president's entire 2016 campaign. Donald Trump promised to take America back, back to the way things were before They claimed a rightful share of the American Dream: strong, self-reliant women; people of non-Christian faiths; gay people; non-binary people; brown people; people who insisted black lives had value. Mostly, he promised supporters that an America of people who looked like him, by people who looked like him, and for people who looked like him, would not perish from the earth.

Trump never couched his pitch in white backlash terms; it was understood. Ezra Klein examines the underlying demographic shifts for Vox. The Census Bureau minces no words about the trends, he writes. Their March report states:

The fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States is people who are Two or More Races, who are projected to grow some 200 percent by 2060. The next fastest is the Asian population, which is projected to double, followed by Hispanics whose population will nearly double within the next 4 decades. In contrast, the only group projected to shrink is the non-Hispanic White population.
The foreign-born population is expected to rise, and swiftly. "Women now make up 56 percent of college students," Klein writes, "and are 8 percentage points more likely than men to have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 29." The changes are "tectonic," and will have profound psychological consequences.

A 2014 study by Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson surveyed responses of "white, self-identified political independents" exposed to news that California had become a majority-minority state:
This was a gentle test of an unnerving theory: that the barest exposure to the concept that whites were losing their numerical majority in America would not just make whites feel afraid but sharply change their political behavior. The theory proved correct. Among participants who lived in the western United States, the group that read that whites had ceded majority status were 11 points likelier to subsequently say they favored the Republican Party.
A follow-up study found white subjects exposed to demographic information showing whites losing majority status “produced more conservative views not only on plausibly relevant issues like immigration and affirmative action, but also on seemingly unrelated issues like defense spending and health care reform.”

Astute readers know without a formal study that white voters are reacting to real changes that predate Barack Obama's presidency. Trump simply took the temperature of his base and exploited it.

Conventional wisdom that because of their historic numerical superiority whites did not "possess their own sense of racial identification" has proved wrong. Ashley Jardina, a political scientist at Duke University, found the emergence of white identity to be conditional.
“When the dominant status of whites relative to racial and ethnic minorities is secure and unchallenged, white identity likely remains dormant,” she writes. “When whites perceive their group’s dominant status is threatened or their group is unfairly disadvantaged, however, their racial identity may become salient and politically relevant.”
Note the use of may, not will, Klein writes. "None of this is inevitable."
“There are a lot of incentives for elites across the political spectrum to try and stoke identity in the first place,” Jardina told me. “Donald Trump has done a great job on this.” Then she added, a bit ruefully, “My dissertation reads sort of like a playbook.”
There is much more at the link. All of which is a long introduction to how that research might actually work if built into a conscious program.

Sigal Samuel wrote in The Atlantic that an international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others have collaborated on using artificial intelligence to build virtual models that predict how people ("agents" in the model) in a secular culture change "their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on." One goal was to predict and mitigate the effects of stressors such as an influx of immigrants on secular societies:
Using a separate model, Future of Religion and Secular Transitions (FOREST), the team found that people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. This, they believe, is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe.

“The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools, anything can happen,” said Shults’s collaborator, Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University. “Lately, there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming cultural attitude to pluralism. These are forms of resistance to secularization.”

"That keeps me up at night."

The Mutually Escalating Religious Violence (MERV) project "aims to identify which conditions make xenophobic anxiety between two different religious groups likely to spiral out of control." Monica Toft, an international-relations scholar with expertise in religious extremism, was shocked how well the results aligned with her field observations:
MERV shows that mutually escalating violence is likeliest to occur if there’s a small disparity in size between the majority and minority groups (less than a 70/30 split) and if agents experience out-group members as social and contagion threats (they worry that others will be invasive or infectious). It’s much less likely to occur if there’s a large disparity in size or if the threats agents are experiencing are mostly related to predators or natural hazards.

This might sound intuitive, but having quantitative, empirical data to support social-science hypotheses can help convince policymakers of when and how to act if they want to prevent future outbreaks of violence. And once a model has been shown to track with real-world historical examples, scientists can more plausibly argue that it will yield a trustworthy recommendation when it’s fed new situations. Asked what MERV has to offer us, Toft said, “We can stop these dynamics. We do not need to allow them to spiral out of control.”
Unless seeing things spiral out of control is your goal. Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University, worries that if private-sector actors find these models powerful, military agencies—better-funded and highly motivated—or others might consider using the results for generating social strife.
“The MODRN model gives you a recipe for accelerating secularization—and it gives you a recipe for blocking it. You can use it to make everything revert to supernaturalism by messing with some of those key conditions—say, by triggering some ecological disaster. Then everything goes plunging back into pre-secularism. That keeps me up at night.”
But that may be giving these applications too much credit, says Neil Johnson. The physicist reminds Samuel that society is too complex to steer it by modifying a single factor.

Still, someone with enough resources might see no reason not to experiment on some small population somewhere. The United States, maybe?

USA Today examined the 2016 Facebook ad buys of the Russian Internet Research Agency:
* Of the roughly 3,500 ads published this week, more than half — about 1,950 — made express references to race. Those accounted for 25 million ad impressions — a measure of how many times the spot was pulled from a server for transmission to a device.

* At least 25% of the ads centered on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups.

* Divisive racial ad buys averaged about 44 per month from 2015 through the summer of 2016 before seeing a significant increase in the run-up to Election Day. Between September and November 2016, the number of race-related spots rose to 400. An additional 900 were posted after the November election through May 2017.

* Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. A few dozen referenced questions about the U.S. election process and voting integrity, while a handful mentioned other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.
Exacerbating racial tension is a decades-old, Russian go-to tactic. Indictments from Robert Mueller allege Russians used it to "reduce black voter support for Clinton while increasing white voter turnout by riling racial resentment" and increase distrust in American democracy.

Klein cites an experiment by Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos that suggests how easy moving the needle can be:
In another experiment, I sent Spanish speakers to randomly selected train stations in towns around Boston to simply catch the train and ride like any other passenger. I focused on stations in white suburbs. The intent was to create the impression, by subtle manipulation, that the Latino population in these segregated towns was increasing.

Before and after sending these Spanish speakers to the train platforms, I surveyed passengers on the platforms about their attitudes about immigration. After being exposed to the Spanish speakers on their metro lines for just three days, attitudes on these questions moved sharply rightward: The mostly liberal Democratic passengers had come to endorse immigration policies — including deportation of children of undocumented immigrants —similar to those endorsed by Trump in his campaign.
That's not to suggest Russia's propaganda effort in 20916 was concieved as a massive social science experiment on the United States. But three days makes it look easy to pull off.

* * * * * * * * *

For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Yet an other massive tax cut for the wealthy?

by digby

It's all they know:

The Trump administration is considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy, a legally tenuous maneuver that would cut capital gains taxation and fulfill a long-held ambition of many investors and conservatives.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina this month that his department was studying whether it could use its regulatory powers to allow Americans to account for inflation in determining capital gains tax liabilities. The Treasury Department could change the definition of “cost” for calculating capital gains, allowing taxpayers to adjust the initial value of an asset, such as a home or a share of stock, for inflation when it sells.

“If it can’t get done through a legislation process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mr. Mnuchin said, emphasizing that he had not concluded whether the Treasury Department had the authority to act alone. “We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth.”

Currently, capital gains taxes are determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference, usually at 20 percent. If a high earner spent $100,000 on stock in 1980, then sold it for $1 million today, she would owe taxes on $900,000. But if her original purchase price was adjusted for inflation, it would be about $300,000, reducing her taxable “gain” to $700,000. That would save the investor $40,000.

The move would face a near-certain court challenge. It could also reinforce a liberal critique of Republican tax policy at a time when Republicans are struggling to sell middle-class voters on the benefits of the tax cuts that President Trump signed into law late last year.

“At a time when the deficit is out of control, wages are flat and the wealthiest are doing better than ever, to give the top 1 percent another advantage is an outrage and shows the Republicans’ true colors,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “Furthermore, Mr. Mnuchin thinks he can do it on his own, but everyone knows this must be done by legislation.”

Capital gains taxes are overwhelmingly paid by high earners, and they were untouched in the $1.5 trillion tax law that Mr. Trump signed last year. Independent analyses suggest that more than 97 percent of the benefits of indexing capital gains for inflation would go to the top 10 percent of income earners in America. Nearly two-thirds of the benefits would go to the super wealthy — the top 0.1 percent of American income earners.

Making the change by fiat would be a bold use of executive power — one that President George Bush’s administration considered and rejected in 1992, after concluding that the Treasury Department did not have the power to make the change on its own. Larry Kudlow, the chairman of the National Economic Council, has long advocated it.

Conservative advocates for the plan say that even if it is challenged in court, it could still goose the economy by unleashing a wave of asset sales. “No matter what the courts do, you’ll get the main economic benefit the day, the month after Treasury does this,” said Ryan Ellis, a tax lobbyist in Washington and former tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

Liberal tax economists see little benefit in it beyond another boon to the already rich.

Uhmm yeah:

Pushing Mr. Trump to make the change, Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has cited a 2002 Supreme Court decision in a case between Verizon Communications and the Federal Communications Commission that said regulators have leeway in defining “cost” to make the case that the Treasury Department can act alone.

“This would be in terms of its economic impact over the next several years, and long term, similar in size as the last tax cut,” Mr. Norquist said, suggesting that making the change would raise revenue for the government by creating new economic efficiencies and faster growth. “I think it’s going to happen and it’s going to be huge.”

He and others said last year’s tax cut would also pay for itself, but despite strong economic growth, corporate tax receipts have plunged and the deficit has soared.

According to the budget model used by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, indexing capital gains to inflation would reduce government revenues by $102 billion over a decade, with 86 percent of the benefits going to the top 1 percent. A July report from the Congressional Research Service said that the additional debt incurred by indexing capital gains to inflation would most likely offset any stimulus that the smaller tax burden provided to the economy.

Don't worry. They'll rediscover "the deficit" just as soon as they are out of power and demand that we throw anyone who isn't an able-bodied serf for the ultra wealthy be thrown into the streets to beg.

They know exactly what they're doing. They always run this game to one degree or another. With Trump they're running the table.

Oligarchy FTW!


by digby

The R base isn't the only one reading and watching his ignorant, juvenile performance as president. The whole world is seeing it.

I don't know that the US will ever recover even the slightest bit of respect after this.


Even in private he's a dolt

by digby

This spat between Trump and the New York Times is pathetic on so many levels. But this... good lord:

At another point, Mr. Trump expressed pride in popularizing the phrase “fake news,” and said other countries had begun banning it. Mr. Sulzberger responded that those countries were dictatorships and that they were not banning “fake news” but rather independent scrutiny of their actions.

The president has the mind of a child.

Love that populism

by digby

This should calm that economic anxiety right down:

Some of the biggest winners from President Donald Trump’s new tax law are corporate executives who have reaped gains as their companies buy back a record amount of stock, a practice that rewards shareholders by boosting the value of existing shares.

A POLITICO review of data disclosed in SEC filings shows the executives, who often receive most of their compensation in stock, have been profiting handsomely by selling shares since Trump signed the law on Dec. 22 and slashed corporate tax rates to 21 percent. That trend is likely to increase as Wall Street analysts expect buyback activity to accelerate in the coming weeks.

“It is going to be a parade of eye-popping numbers,” said Pat McGurn, the head of strategic research and analysis at Institutional Shareholder Services, a shareholder advisory firm.

Get a load of this next line:

That could undercut the political messaging value of the tax cuts in the Republican campaign to maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections.

Lol. I don't think they care, do you? They got what they wanted out of Trump. So he destroys the country and maybe the world. It's worth it. Those Supreme Court seats and the tax cuts are the only things that matter to them. It's all good as far as they're concerned.

Steve Doocey is running the country

by digby

I'm not kidding:

“He comes down for the day, and whatever he saw on 'Fox and Friends,' he schedules meetings based on that,” said one former White House official. “If it’s Iran, it’s ‘Get John Bolton down here!’ … If he’s seen something on TV or [was] talking to Hannity the night before, he’s got lots of flexibility to do whatever he wants to do.”

That story is from a Politico profile of John Kelly about all the trouble he's seen as White House chief of staff. I still don't feel sorry for him.


They've been fans of the strongman for quite some time

by digby

People still seem surprised that the right wingers are suddenly fans of Russian and Vladimir Putin. They shouldn't be. I wrote about this back in 2015, during the GOP primary:

What the Sabbath Gasbags were most interested in were his comments about Vladimir Putin. Trump has been saying for some time that he and Putin would get along great. Months ago he told Anderson Cooper, "I think the biggest thing we have is that we were on '60 Minutes' together and we had fantastic ratings. One of your best-rated shows in a long time. So that was good, right? So we were stable mates." They weren't actually on "60 Minutes" together, there were simply stories about each of them on the same program, but that's Trump. They made ratings together so that makes them blood brothers.

In fact, they've never met.

Nonetheless, on that and on numerous other occasions, Trump has said that he believed he and Putin would "probably work together much more so than right now." And last week, Putin returned the compliment. In an end of year press conference he called Trump “a very bright and talented man,” and an “absolute leader.”

Trump nearly swooned at the compliment saying, "it is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond." It didn't matter in the least that the media was gobsmacked, he was thrilled, telling Joe Scarborough "when people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.” He even went out of his way to defend him against the charges that Putin had been responsible for the deaths of opposition journalists, saying "our country does plenty of killing."

On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday he went to the mat for him:
"They are allegations. Yeah sure there are allegations. I’ve read those allegations over the years. But nobody’s proven that he’s killed anybody, as far as I’m concerned. He hasn’t killed reporters that’s been proven."
He said it would be terrible if true, but "this isn’t like somebody that stood with the gun and taken the blame or admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it. He’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country.”

This is the same man who calls for the summary execution of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in every stump speech, usually followed by a nostalgic comment about how we used to do such things "when we were strong." It's also the same man who routinely points to the press in the back of the hall at his rallies and calls reporters disgusting and "scum," sometimes even naming names.

The GOP establishment is clutching their pearls over all this under the assumption that saying you admire Vladimir Putin surely will be the ultimate put-away shot. After all, we just had a debate in which the candidates were variously vowing to "punch Russia in the nose" and to shoot Russian planes out of the sky. Perhaps the most bellicose was Chris Christie who has long criticized President Obama for being soft, saying a few months back, “I don’t believe, given who I am, that [Putin] would make the same judgment. Let’s leave it at that.” Evidently, "who he is" is so macho that Putin will roll himself into a ball and have a good old fashioned cry if Christie looks at him sideways.

Mitt Romney tweeted furiously about Trump's coziness with Putin and his former advisers were all up in arms throughout the week-end calling him a "seriously damaged individual." Trump responded by saying, "they're jealous as hell because he's not mentioning" them.
Trump doesn't care one whit about any of this carping. His reasoning is clear in this one comment:
“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.”
Later he said, “I think that my words represent toughness and strength."

Trump understands the base of the GOP a lot better than Mitt Romney and the Sunday talking heads. These GOP base voters like Putin. Like so much else, Trump is just channeling an existing right wing phenomenon. Marin Cogan at National Journal wrote about the right wing Putin cult two years ago:

Putin­phil­ia is not, of course, the pre­dom­in­ant po­s­i­tion of the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment. But in cer­tain corners of the In­ter­net, ad­or­a­tion for the lead­er of Amer­ica’s No. 1 frenemy is un­ex­cep­tion­al. They are not his coun­try­men, Rus­si­an ex­pats, or any of the oth­er re­gion­al al­lies you might ex­pect to find al­lied with the Rus­si­an lead­er. Some, like Young and his read­ers, are earn­est out­doorsy types who like Putin’s Rough Rider sens­ib­il­ity. Oth­ers more cheekily ad­mire Putin’s cult of mas­culin­ity and claim re­l­at­ive in­dif­fer­ence to the polit­ic­al stances — the anti-Amer­ic­an­ism, the sup­port for lead­ers like Bashar al-As­sad, the op­pres­sion of minor­it­ies, gays, journ­al­ists, dis­sid­ents, in­de­pend­ent-minded ol­ig­archs — that drive most Amer­ic­ans mad. A few even ar­rive at their Putin ad­mir­a­tion through a strange brew of an­ti­pathy to everything they think Pres­id­ent Obama stands for, a re­flex­ive dis­trust of what the gov­ern­ment and me­dia tells them, and polit­ic­al be­liefs that go un­rep­res­en­ted by either of the main Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al parties.
[T]he Obama’s-so-bad-Putin-al­most-looks-good sen­ti­ment can be found on plenty of con­ser­vat­ive mes­sage boards. Earli­er this year, when Putin sup­posedly caught — and kissed — a 46-pound pike fish, posters on Free Re­pub­lic, a ma­jor grass­roots mes­sage board for the Right, were over­whelm­ingly pro-Putin: 
“I won­der what photoup [sic] of his va­ca­tion will the Usurp­er show us? Maybe clip­ping his fin­ger­nails I sup­pose or maybe hanging some cur­tains. Yep manly. I can’t be­lieve I’m sid­ing with Putin,” one wrote. “I have Pres­id­ent envy,” an­oth­er said. “Bet­ter than our met­ro­sexu­al pres­id­ent,” said a third. One riffed that a Putin-Sarah Pal­in tick­et would lead to a more mor­al United States.
Is it any wonder that Trump is saying he's "honored" that Putin thinks highly of him?

But the pearl clutching about all this Putin love from the other presidential candidates is seriously hypocritical. They may not be tapping into the macho Putin cult as directly as Trump, but they are very much on Putin's authoritarian wavelength. Just like Putin they are very upset at the idea gay people might have equal rights and they are prepared to use government power to discriminate against them:
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee vowed to push for the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), legislation that would prohibit the federal government from stopping discrimination by people or businesses that believe “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” or that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
The pledge is supported by three conservative groups: the American Principles Project, Heritage Action for America, and Family Research Council Action.

Apparently, Bush, Graham, Paul and Trump, have also publicly expressed support for FADA. In the name of freedom, of course, just as the old Soviets would have done. These liberty lovers may shake their fists and pretend they are in opposition to Putin's tyrannical ways, but when you get down to it they're all on the same page.

And the rest of us should probably stop laughing and start paying attention according to a warning from someone who knows what she's talking about, Maria Alekhina, aka Masha of Pussy Riot:
"When Putin came to his first term or second term, nobody [in Russia] actually thought that this is serious. Everybody was joking about it. And nobody could imagine that after five, six years, we would have a war in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, and these problems in Syria," in which Russia has become involved. 
"Everybody [is] joking about Donald Trump now, but it's a very short way from joke to sad reality when you have a really crazy president speaking about breaking every moral and logic norm. So I hope that he will not be president. That's very simple."
Strongman cults of the likes of Putin and Trump are often dismissed as silly and unserious at first. And then, all at once, it's too late.


Fingers crossed

by digby

According to the NYT's Nate Cohn
, it's looking good for the Democrats in November. But take nothing for granted ...

The battleground in the fight for control of the House is starting to come into focus with 99 days to go until the November election. It’s not exactly the battleground that analysts expected.

It’s not dominated by well-educated, suburban districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. Instead, the battleground is broad, and it includes a long list of working-class and rural districts that voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016.

The broader battleground is a positive development for Democrats. It’s a reflection of how much the Republican structural advantage in the House has eroded over the last year. What remains of it isn’t helping the Republicans as much as analysts assumed it would, at least not yet.

The broader battleground has also opened up a gap between two common ways of thinking about the midterms. National polls and historical voting patterns suggest that Democrats are only slight favorites to take the House, while early polls of individual districts, special election results and the ratings of expert prognosticators suggest that Democrats are in a stronger position.

To this point, we have mainly seen polls of the generic congressional ballot, which asks voters whether they intend to vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress. Democrats have generally led on this ballot by six to eight percentage points over the last few months, which is around what analysts believe Democrats need to have an even shot of retaking the chamber.

There's a lot more at the link.


Illegitimi non carborundum

by Tom Sullivan

Is it time to question the legitimacy of Donald Trump's presidency? Virginia Heffernan asked over the weekend:

A nation devoted to majority rule has a minority president. Who squeaked into office on an electoral college technicality. Against most data projections. Using dark money. Using voter suppression. Using Russian disinformation.

And, most chilling of all, with a massive assist from the Russian military, which not only hacked the Democrats, but also hacked voting software and a voting-system manufacturer.

Some people were motivated to vote for Trump because they believed Russian lies about Hillary Clinton’s health or email. But at least they got to cast their votes, and have them counted.

Others, many who planned to vote against Trump, were kept from the ballot entirely. In Wisconsin, as Mother Jones has reported, discriminatory ID laws prevented 45,000 eligible voters from participating in the election, including 23,000 in two heavily Democratic counties. Trump won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes.
I get it, but have little time to pointlessly grind my teeth over it. Problem is, we have no constitutional provision for a presidential recall, whatever our definition is for "illegitimate." There are few recourses for opponents but to neuter Trump electorally (which has an appealing ring to it) or to impeach him (which seems unlikely to succeed) or to drive him from office with massive public protest (which seems unlikely both to happen and to succeed, pending more from Robert Mueller). It is among the flaws in the system bequeathed to us.

So God grant us the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to kick some ever-lovin' electoral ass this fall. There is little more satisfying than that.

* * * * * * * * *

For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Dishonest or delusional? It's getting harder to tell

by digby

Come on. This is bad, even for him:

Speaking at a roundtable in Iowa, where he was joined by state and local officials, as well as a few members of his Cabinet, the president highlighted forthcoming health plans that serve as an alternative to the ones offered under ObamaCare.

Trump said Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who was at the event, “has come up with incredible healthcare plans.”

“Alex, I hear it’s like record business that they’re doing,” Trump said of the plans, which aren't available for another five weeks. “We just opened about two months ago and I’m hearing that the numbers are incredible -- the numbers of people getting really, really good healthcare instead of Obamacare, which is a disaster.”

The administration announced its association health plans last month. The plans, which allow small businesses and other groups to band together to buy health insurance, are part of a broader administration effort to offer slimmed-down, cheaper plans as an alternative to ObamaCare plans.

Trump did not cite any numbers regarding the health plans at Thursday's event, while Acosta said he’d heard Iowa businesses are “putting those associations together."

The Labor Department has said associations cannot establish association health plans until Sept. 1.

He is their strategic ally

by digby

It's no surprise that the man who wrote that screed is a favorite of White Supremacists, is it?

The traffic sign that greets visitors on the south side of Ulysses, a tiny town in rural far north-central Pennsylvania, is suitably quaint — a silhouette of a horse-drawn cart reminding drivers that the Amish use the roads, too. But on the north side of town, along the main thoroughfare, is a far different display: a home dedicated to Adolf Hitler, where star-spangled banners and Nazi flags flutter side by side and wooden swastikas stand on poles.

White supremacy has had a continuous presence in Ulysses and surrounding Potter County since the Ku Klux Klan arrived a century ago, giving the town — with a population today of about 650 — improbable national significance. In the mid-2000s, it hosted the World Aryan Congress, a gathering of neo-Nazis, skinheads and Klan members.

This year, after a sting operation, federal prosecutors charged six members of an Aryan Strike Force cell with weapons and drug offenses, contending that they had plotted a suicide attack at an anti-racism protest. A terminally ill member was willing to hide a bomb in his oxygen tank and blow himself up, prosecutors said. The group had met and conducted weapons training in Ulysses.

Neo-Nazis and their opponents here say that white extremists have grown more confident — and confrontational — since the rise of Donald Trump. Two months before the 2016 presidential election, the KKK established a “24 hour Klan Line” and sent goody bags containing lollipops and fliers to hundreds of homes. “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” the message read. A regional newspaper ran Klan advertisements saying, “God bless the KKK.”

Local police said the group had not openly recruited in years.

Two weeks later, the area’s two neo-Nazi groups, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and Aryan Strike Force, held a “white unity meeting” in Ulysses to discuss their response to Trump and plan joint action. One organizer would not say when the groups had last met, simply commenting: “It’s just a good time.”

Potter County is staunchly Republican and has voted Democratic once since 1888; Trump received 80 percent of the vote, tying with Herbert Hoover for the highest percentage won.

“I can tell you with certainty that since November 2016, activity has doubled, whether it’s feet on the street or money orders or people helping out,” said Daniel Burnside, 43, a woodcarver who owns the Nazi-themed home and directs the state chapter of the National Socialist Movement, a far-right group that was founded in Detroit in the mid-1970s. It has a presence in many states, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, and the NSM was among the groups taking part in the violent August 2017 rally in defense of Confederate statues in Charlottesville.

“We have meetings every 30 days,” he said. “ There’s more collaboration.”

Daniel Burnside poses for a portrait on July 7, 2018, in Galeton, Pa. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)
Burnside, who declined to say how many local residents were involved in his group, was born in Ulysses and raised there by a grandfather who he said was a Nazi sympathizer who fought in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. Burnside said his beloved grandfather drank himself to death because of the war’s impact on him.

The younger Burnside said he joined the NSM four years ago but has long harbored anti-Semitic views and is a practicing Odinist — the pagan religion Odinism is popular among some neo-Nazis. Burnside does not see Trump as a leader of the NSM cause but as a politician who amplified long-standing white-nationalist views at the right time.

“Personally, I don’t know about Trump,” he said. “You won’t necessarily see MAGA hats at an NSM meeting. We’re anti-Semitic. Something’s off about Trump with the Jews. That said, we’re strategically aligned. When Trump says something that aligns with us — close the borders, build the wall, look after your own — that’s good: We’ve been saying this for 25 years, but he has made it mainstream.”

“We’re still a white nation, and I respect that he supports that,” Burnside added. “He’s also highlighted social problems. The kids who go to bed hungry, people who can’t pay their bills, the damage being done to society.”

Joe Leschner, 38, a white restaurant manager, fled the county this year because of what he said was abuse aimed at him and his wife, Sashena, who is black, after Trump’s election.

After he discovered a KKK leaflet outside their home, Leschner organized an anti-racism gathering in Ulysses. “And these guys drove by us and gave the gun signal, like they’re going to shoot us,” he said.

One of those who Leschner said made a pistol gesture had previously been jailed for 10 years for an aggravated assault on a black man. This year he was convicted of possession of firearms he was not legally allowed to own and intent to sell drugs.

Photographs of the Leschners were circulated on VK, a Russian-run social media site, with users posting death threats, he said.

“A guy came up to us in a restaurant and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ I wanted to say something, but just couldn’t. This was where I grew up, at the restaurant where I got my first job. My wife was almost in tears,” he recalled.

“We had to leave,” said Leschner, who now runs a restaurant in Frederick, Md. “Most people aren’t racist, but there are enough that are and enough who let it happen.”

They're right about one thing. He's made it mainstream.

Puppet POTUS

by digby

Visitors to the gallery of US presidents in the Colorado state Capitol could be excused if they did a double take this week.

There, displayed near paintings of George W. Bush and Barack Obama and in a space set aside for President Donald Trump, was a portrait of a very different president:

Vladimir Putin.

According to the group that funds the portraits, the mug of the Russian leader was placed in Trump's would-be spot by an unknown prankster Thursday morning. It was discovered during a tour.
This might not have happened but for one problem: The state hasn't raised the $10,000 needed for a Trump portrait, leaving an empty spot on the third-floor rotunda in Denver.

Colorado Citizens for Culture, an arts-advocacy group that collects donations for the paintings, said that before the Putin prank it had raised exactly $0 for Trump's portrait. Since news of the stunt spread, two donors had chipped in a total of $45 by midday Saturday.

Colorado State Sen. Steve Fenberg, a Democrat, tweeted a photo of the Putin painting, writing, "As seen in the Colorado State Capitol Hall of Presidential Portraits today...#putinpotus."

Even this level of mockery doesn't move him. And this is a man who felt the need to defend the size of his penis on national television during a presidential debate. It just doesn't make any sense.


They've been interviewing "Trump voters" for a very long time

by digby

I saw someone making a crack about journalists interviewing Trump voters in some diner in middle America this morning and I was reminded of this piece (among many, many others) that I wrote over a decade ago. It could have been written 50 years ago for that matter. An excerpt:

I would actually take the argument another step and point out that Broder and others also venture out into the American landscape with a sort of pre-conceived notion of what defines "the people" that appears to have been formed by TV sit-coms in 1955. They seem to see extraordinary value in sitting in some diner with middle aged and older white men (sometimes a few women are included) to "ask them what they think." And invariably these middle-aged white men say the country is going to hell in a handbasket and they want the government to do more and they hate paying taxes. There may be a little frisson of disagreement among these otherwise similar people on certain issues of the day because of their affiliation with a union or because of the war or certain social issues, but for the most part they all sit together and politely talk politics with this anthropologist/reporter, usually agreeing that this president or another one is a bum or a hero. The reporter takes careful notes of everything these "real Americans" have to say and take them back to DC and report them as the opinions of "the people."

Meanwhile, someone like me, who lives in a big city on the west coast and who doesn't hang out in diners with middle aged white men are used as an example of the "fringe" even though I too am one of "the people" as are many others --- like hispanic youths or single urban mothers or dot-com millionaires or elderly southern black granddads or Korean entrepreneurs (or even Sheryl Crow.) We are not Real Americans.

This fetishization of that other mythical "Real American" seems to stem from a public epiphany that the previous "Dean" of the DC press corps, Joseph Kraft, had almost 40 years ago when confronted with the disconcerting sight of violence in the streets perpetrated by nice white boys and girls:

"Are we merely neutral observers, seekers after truth in the public interest? Or do we, as the supporters of Mayor Daley and his Chicago police have charged, have a prejudice of our own?

"The answer, I think is that Mayor Daley and his supporters have a point. Most of us in what is called the communications field are not rooted in the great mass of ordinary Americans--in Middle America. And the results show up not merely in occasional episodes such as the Chicago violence but more importantly in the systematic bias toward young people, minority groups, and the of presidential candidates who appeal to them.

"To get a feel of this bias it is first necessary to understand the antagonism that divides the middle class of this country. On the one hand there are highly educated upper-income whites sure of and brimming with ideas for doing things differently. On the other hand, there is Middle America, the large majority of low-income whites, traditional in their values and on the defensive against innovation.

"The most important organs of and television are, beyond much doubt, dominated by the outlook of the upper-income whites.

"In these circumstances, it seems to me that those of us in the media need to make a special effort to understand Middle America. Equally it seems wise to exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public."

Joseph Kraft defined "Middle America" as a blue collar or rural white male, "traditional in his values and defensive against innovation." Ever since then, the denizens of the beltway have deluded themselves into thinking they speak for that "silent majority." (And what a serendipitous coincidence it was that this happened at the moment of a right wing political ascension that also made a fetish out of the same blue collar white male.) The converse of this, of course, is that they also assume that the "fringe" liberals from the coasts are way out of the mainstream, even to the extent that editors of Time simply make up data to conform to Kraft's outdated observations.

It reached the zenith of synergistic absurdity during the Lewinsky scandal when the cosmopolitan beltway courtiers finally went all in and portrayed themselves as as the salt-of-the-earth provincial town folk who were appalled by the misbehavior 'o them out-a-towners from thuh big city:
When Establishment Washingtonians of all persuasions gather to support their own, they are not unlike any other small community in the country.

On this evening, the roster included Cabinet members Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala, Republicans Sen. John McCain and Rep. Bob Livingston, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, PBS's Jim Lehrer and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, all behaving like the pals that they are. On display was a side of Washington that most people in this country never see. For all their apparent public differences, the people in the room that night were coming together with genuine affection and emotion to support their friends -- the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt and his wife, CNN's Judy Woodruff, whose son Jeffrey has spina bifida.

But this particular community happens to be in the nation's capital. And the people in it are the so-called Beltway Insiders -- the high-level members of Congress, policymakers, lawyers, military brass, diplomats and journalists who have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it.

They call the capital city their "town."

And their town has been turned upside down.

Here you had the most powerful people in the world identifying themselves with Bedford Falls from "It's A Wonderful Life" when the court of Versailles or Augustan Rome would be far more more apt. The lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. Thirty years after Kraft's epiphany, this decadent world capital that had recently seen the likes of Richard Nixon's crimes and John F. Kennedy's philandering (and corruption of all types, both moral and legal at the highest levels for years), were now telling the nation that they themselves were small town burghers and factory workers upholding traditional American values. And even more amazing, the rest of America was now morally suspect and needed to be led by these purveyors of Real American values:

With some exceptions, the Washington Establishment is outraged by the president's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The polls show that a majority of Americans do not share that outrage. Around the nation, people are disgusted but want to move on; in Washington, despite Clinton's gains with the budget and the Mideast peace talks, people want some formal acknowledgment that the president's behavior has been unacceptable. They want this, they say, not just for the sake of the community, but for the sake of the country and the presidency as well.

They were just defending their lonely little outpost against the interlopers:

This is where they spend their lives, raise their families, participate in community activities, take pride in their surroundings. They feel Washington has been brought into disrepute by the actions of the president.

"It's much more personal here," says pollster Geoff Garin. "This is an affront to their world. It affects the dignity of the place where they live and work. . . . Clinton's behavior is unacceptable. If they did this at the local Elks Club hall in some other community it would be a big cause for concern."

"He came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."

"This is a company town," says retired senator Howard Baker, once Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. "We're up close and personal. The White House is the center around which our city revolves."

Bill Galston, former deputy domestic policy adviser to Clinton and now a professor at the University of Maryland, says of the scandal that "most people in Washington believe that most people in Washington are honorable and are trying to do the right thing. The basic thought is that to concede that this is normal and that everybody does it is to undermine a lifetime commitment to honorable public service."

"Everybody doesn't do it," says Jerry Rafshoon, Jimmy Carter's former communications director. "The president himself has said it was wrong."

Pollster Garin, president of Peter Hart Research Associates, says that the disconnect is not unlike the difference between the way men and women view the scandal. Just as many men are angry that Clinton's actions inspire the reaction "All men are like that," Washingtonians can't abide it that the rest of the country might think everyone here cheats and lies and abuses his subordinates the way the president has.

"This is a community in all kinds of ways," says ABC correspondent Cokie Roberts, whose parents both served in Congress. She is concerned that people outside Washington have a distorted view of those who live here. "The notion that we are some rarefied beings who breathe toxic air is ridiculous. . . . When something happens everybody gathers around. . . . It's a community of good people involved in a worthwhile pursuit. We think being a worthwhile public servant or journalist matters."

"This is our town," says Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Democrat to forcefully condemn the president's behavior. "We spend our lives involved in talking about, dealing with, working in government. It has reminded everybody what matters to them. You are embarrassed about what Bill Clinton's behavior says about the White House, the presidency, the government in general."

And many are offended that the principles that brought them to Washington in the first place are now seen to be unfashionable or illegitimate.

Muffie Cabot, who as Muffie Brandon served as social secretary to President and Nancy Reagan, regards the scene with despair. "This is a demoralized little village," she says. "People have come from all over the country to serve a higher calling and look what happened. They're so disillusioned. The emperor has no clothes. Watergate was pretty scary, but it wasn't quite as sordid as this."

"People felt a reverent attitude toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," says Tish Baldrige, who once worked there as Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary and has been a frequent visitor since. "Now it's gone, now it's sleaze and dirt. We all feel terribly let down. It's very emotional. We want there to be standards. We're used to standards. When you think back to other presidents, they all had a lot of class. That's nonexistent now. It's sad for people in the White House. . . . I've never seen such bad morale in my life. They're not proud of their chief."

That "demoralized little village" was all a-twitter, wasn't it? You'd never know that they were running the most powerful nation the world has ever known, would you?

Yet, even while they ostentatiously ranted and wailed hysterically with anachronistic notions of bourgeois American values, they still carried on as if the White House and the nation's capital belonged to them instead of the American people, which is the very definition of elitism. What an achievement! The very rich and powerful (but we won't talk about that) "bourgeoisie" now had to save degenerate "Middle America" from itself.

When the equally phony George W. Bush came to town it was love at first sight, and why wouldn't it be? Here you had a man whom these people could truly admire --- a rich man of the bluest blood, born into one of the most powerful families in America who nonetheless pretended to be some hick from Midland Texas. He took great pride in his phoniness, just as they did, and they all danced this absurd kabuki in perfect step for years each pretending to the other that they were all "just regular guys."

You can see then why some of us have concluded that the Dean and his cadre of establishment courtiers don't actually care much about what "the people" think about anything. And it should also be obvious why we are so skeptical of their reporting skills when they venture out on their anthropological expeditions to find only examples of Americans who strangely hew to their own Hollywood casting of themselves -- an America of Sally Quinns warmly played by plucky Donna Reed and David Broder himself, brought to life by loveable Wilfred Brimleys. ("They came in and they trashed the place. And it's not their place." Can't you just hear it?)

Of course political reporters should go out and interview Americans and write stories about what those Americans have to say about the issues of the day. But those interviews are not any more representative of what "the people" as a whole think than are the liberal blogs or Sally Quinn's fictitious "small town" or the fans at a NASCAR race. This is especially true when it's filtered through the phony bourgeois posturings of a bunch of highly paid reporters and insiders who have contrived a self-serving little passion play in which they are regular blue collar guys from Buffalo and corn fed farmers from the Midwest (Real Americans!) who just happen to summer on Nantucket and get invitations to white tie state dinners with the Queen of England. Pardon us fringe dwellers for being just a tad skeptical that these forays out into "America" are informing us about anything more the embarrassing neuroses of some very spoiled elites.

The fetishizing of the "Real American" didn't start with Trump. Now it's just become a surreal funhouse mirror.

They need to stop doing this.