Browsing the blog archives for November, 2017.


Newsflash: Men Are Jerks

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Trump Maladministration

(Not all of you, maybe, but most of you, at least sometimes.)

We may be reaching a danger zone where the #metoo and #believewomen movements could collapse into a morass of bad faith and overzealousness. Now we’re hearing from a woman who claimed Al Franken grabbed her behind while they were posing for a photo (the photo doesn’t show his hands) and NYT White House correspondent Glenn Thrush has been suspended because he is accused of behaving boorishly toward and making a clumsy pass at a woman colleague in a bar.

If true, this is not okay. However, it’s not in Harvey Weinstein territory. I fear we’re about to be hit by a wave of increasingly picayune charges aimed at famous men, many of which will be unprovable, that will dilute the movement. And these also will have the effect of inoculating more serious offenders. People will just stop listening, or believing.

As for Thrush and Franken — let the punishment fit the crime. Bring back stocks, I say. Make an example of them. Let them be held up to public humiliation. Let us pelt them with tomatoes and call them names for awhile. Once they are thoroughly chastised, send them back to work with a warning that future bad behavior will not be tolerated.

In other words, send a message to all the men who haven’t been accused yet. It might improve their behavior.

Update: Charlie Rose.

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Jared’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

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Jared Kushner, May 2017:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Jared Kushner, July 2017:

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, denied in a statement Monday that he suggested setting up a “back channel” communication line to the Kremlin that would bypass US intelligence agencies and persist after Trump was inaugurated.

But Kushner acknowledged in the statement, which came ahead of a closed-door appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that he asked Russia’s ambassador to the US in December whether the Trump transition team could use Russia’s embassy to communicate privately with Moscow about Syria.

Jared Kushner, November 2017:

The President’s son-in-law and trusted adviser Jared Kushner failed to provide Senate investigators with emails he was forwarded about WikiLeaks and an invitation to contact Russia through a “backdoor,” two senior lawmakers claim.

In a letter to Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell, Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Dianne Feinstein reveal that Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” …

The Senate lawmakers say they know of the existence of the documents from other witnesses in their investigation. Yet Kushner, who says he is cooperating, has not produced them.

“There are several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production. For example, other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Мr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official,” the letter reads. “Likewise, other parties have produced documents concerning а “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” which Mr. Kushner also forwarded.”

It’s not clear from the article exactly what happened when or who issued the invitation to Kushner, although it may have been Sergei Millian, a Russian-American businessman who may be one of the sources included in the Steele dossier. But it certainly sounds like the backdoor-backchannel thing was something Kushner at least tried to set up.

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Treading Water in a Watershed: What to Do About Al Franken

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Since the Harvey Weinstein moment we’ve been having a lot of other moments, while I’ve been hanging back and watching. Now we’re having an Al Franken moment, and the burning question on the Web is whether Franken should resign from the Senate.

First, whether anyone should be disqualified from serving in public office for moral (as opposed to criminal) shortcomings should be left to the voters. I would argue that if that odious Roy Moore is elected to the Senate next month, he should be seated. See Josh Marshall for an argument about not setting precedents based on political expediency.

Regarding Franken — this may be jaded, but it’s how I see it — the United States Congress is mostly a collection of older alpha males.  It’s highly unlikely any of those alpha males are innocent as far as “inappropriate behavior” is concerned. Some of their offenses may be minor, some of their offenses may be in the distant past, and I’m sure some of their offenses are pretty damn hideous and ongoing, and they are still getting away with it. This is how the world is. Singling just one out of the herd for punishment is pretty close to the textbook definition of scapegoating, even if he is guilty as charged.

Kate Harding writes at WaPo:

It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.

In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.

Yeah, that’s kind of how it is. We’re being goaded into unilateral disarmament.

Whatever went on between Franken and Leeann Tweeden, he has apologized and she accepted his apology. His former female staffers have defended him. We may yet learn more about what happened that mitigates the accusations somewhat, or not. He’ll probably never hear the end of it.

I’d like to add that boorish objectification of women’s bodies must be the oldest shtick in comedy.

Kate Harding continues,

Then, when (okay, if, but like I said: I’m a realist) another Democratic politician’s sexual misconduct is revealed, we can ask the same of him. Don’t just apologize and drop out of sight. Do penance. Live the values you campaigned on. Be a selfless champion for women’s rights.

Sounds about right. I’d like to see us move beyond “gotcha” politics and instead make a serious commitment to changing our values. That includes our comedy routines.

Paul Waldman wrote,

I’m not arguing that liberal men are any less likely to be sexual harassers than conservative men. It has become more than clear that the abuse and objectification of women happens in every industry, every major institution, every religion, at every socioeconomic level and among people of every political orientation.

But we should all be asking ourselves some very hard questions, not only about the people now in positions of power but about how we’ve each thought about these issues in the past and what we want to change in the future. Democrats are doing that — perhaps imperfectly and arriving at different answers of varying quality, but at least they’re grappling with it. Republicans, by and large, are doing anything but.

You can read the remainder of Waldman’s column for examples.

Erin Gloria Ryan writes at Daily Beast:

Writing with almost creepy prescience at Crooked.com this week, Brian Beutler warned against the coming Breitbart-style weaponization of the “Believe Women” movement. “Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion,” Beutler writes. “But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the ‘believe women’ campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.”

That’s why Weinstein fallout could go up in smoke in a second. Because enough people believe that women are all liars, that one liar will fuck it up for all of us.

This Roy Moore Old Testament-Original Sin-Women Are Liars mindset is the worldview that needs to change in order for women to truly have access to the same opportunities that men have. But its opposite—the notion that women must be believed without any evidence whatsoever—will lead the worst among us to exploit the proof loophole and wreak as much damage as they can before their lies are discovered and skewered. At that point, the loophole irreversibly closes. And if that happens, we’re stuck in Roy Moore’s world, where men are the arbiters of morality and if women aren’t lying, they must have been asking for it.

This concerns me also (and do read Brian Buetler’s post, too). My sense of things is that we’ve reached Peak Watershed here, and it might be a good thing if we moved past #MeToo and the gotcha du jour and into a discussion of how to change our culture. At this point I’m less concerned about punishing people than I am about making changes. That’s why I’d rather have a contrite Franken in the Senate that some guy who hasn’t been caught yet.

See also: “The Unforgiving Minute” by Laurie Penny.

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Another Jared-Russian Connection

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Trump Maladministration

The drips, they keep dripping. Jared Kushner is in trouble with the Senate Judiciary Committee over emails he received and forwarded but did not disclose.

 

In the letter, Grassley and Feinstein instruct Kushner’s team to turn over “several documents that are known to exist” because other witnesses in their probe already gave them to investigators. They include a series of “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks,” which the committee leaders say Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Earlier this week, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he had had direct communication with WikiLeaks over private Twitter messages during the campaign.

Committee leaders said Kushner also withheld from the committee “documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ ” that he had forwarded to other campaign officials. And they said Kushner had been made privy to “communications with Sergei Millian” — a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow — but failed to turn those records over to investigators.

See also The Senate Judiciary Committee sent Jared Kushner a big request for documents he has refused to provide.

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GOP’s Tax Bill of Doom Passes House

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The House passed the Tax Bill of Doom today with no Democratic votes, and now it’s up to the Senate. A former senior aide to  George W. Bush puts its chance of passing in the Senate at 70 percent. Fortunately there are significant differences between the House and Senate bills that might make those odds worse. But maybe not worse enough.

This is an unpopular bill. The Senate bill kills the individual mandate to buy health insurancce; without that, Obamacare is dead. It also has an immediate $25 billion cut from Medicare. The House bill eliminates deductions for medical expenses in 2018. This would be a disaster for most older people and all people with medical issues. The wealthy, of course, make out like bandits.

Paul Waldman:

The Republicans’ theory about their tax-cut bill goes like this. We absolutely have to pass it, or else our base will be disgusted and our donors will abandon us. The substance doesn’t matter — we’ll get it past complex Senate rules, and even if some provisions look troubling, after it passes we can have a triumphal Rose Garden ceremony and proclaim we’ve delivered prosperity for all. In coming months and years, people won’t remember the details, as long as we keep saying “We cut taxes” over and over again.

That theory is going to be put to the test, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be proven wrong. That’s because this bill won’t just fail to deliver on its promise of riches trickling down to everyone; it’s actually going to be a disaster for millions of Americans. And there’s not going to be any doubt about who inflicted it on them.

Robert Rubin:

To start, the tax cuts will not increase growth and, given their fiscal effects, would likely have a significant and increasingly negative impact. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s latest report estimated that, over 10 years, the average increase in our growth rate would be roughly zero, counting the crowding out of private investment by increasing deficits but not counting other adverse effects of worsening our fiscal outlook. The Penn Wharton Budget Model, using the same approach, estimates virtually no increase in long-term growth. Goldman Sachs projects an increase of 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent in the first couple of years and an average increase over 10 years of just 0.05 percent per year, not counting any of the adverse fiscal effects. …

… Adding $1.5 trillion or more to the federal debt would make an already bad situation worse. A useful measure of our fiscal position is the ratio of publicly held government debt to economic output or gross domestic product, called the debt/GDP ratio. In 2000, the debt/GDP ratio was 32 percent. The ratio is now 77 percent. Looking forward, the CBO projects the debt/GDP ratio to be 91 percent in 2027 and 150 percent in 2047. After $1.5 trillion of deficit-funded tax cuts, those future ratios have been estimated to increase to roughly 97 percent in 2027 and 160 percent in 2047. These estimates likely substantially understate the worsening of our fiscal trajectory. That’s because they do not account for the increasingly adverse effect on growth of the difficult-to-quantify effects of fiscal deterioration.

So why are the Republicans determined to pass this disaster?

In a candid moment last week, Rep. Chris Collins conveyed out loud what many members have been thinking for months.
“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,'” the New York Republican told The Hill.
So that’s why.

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Some Judge Needs to Answer for This

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Trump Maladministration

Yesterday’s mass shooting in Tehama County, California, is already being forgotten. But let’s not forget it right away.

Alleged shooter Kevin Neal

In case you missed it, the shooter’s name was Kevin Janson Neal. Law enforcement says that his first victim was his wife, whose name is not given in news stories. After Neal killed her, he hid her body under floorboards. Then he shot and killed two neighbors. After that, he went tearing around on a spree, killing two more people. In total, he shot 14 people in seven locations, including an elementary school; fortunately, nine victims survived, including two children. Neal was killed by police.

No one can say this couldn’t have been anticipated. The guy had a long history of domestic and other violence.

In February, the shooter was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, battery, crimes against an elder or dependent adult and discharging his firearm with gross negligence, PEOPLE confirms.

He was to stand trial on those charges on Jan. 11 and was out of jail on $300,000 bail at the time of his shooting spree.

Soon after the shootings on Tuesday, another neighbor spoke to reporters and said the killer had been firing off his guns in recent weeks and threatening his roommate. The neighbor said police were aware of this erratic behavior.

Also:

At the time of the attack, the gunman was out on bail after he was charged with stabbing a neighbor. Others had complained about him firing hundreds of rounds from his house, and he had been the subject of a domestic violence call the day before the shootings.

Yet he was out on bail. This is what he did at the elementary school:

The rampage could have been worse, Johnston said, had not the staff at the school heard gunshots around a quarter-mile away and initiated a lockdown.

“The shooter literally took his vehicle and rammed their fence and gate, entered the grounds on foot with a semiautomatic rifle,” Johnston said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

“It appears that because he couldn’t make access to any of the rooms — they were locked — that he gave it up and re-entered the vehicle and then went on his killing spree and took it to the streets of Rancho Tehama,” Johnston said. “So I really want to say that the quick action of those school officials, there is no doubt in my mind based on the video that I saw, saved countless lives and children.”

One child was wounded at the school and another child being driven to school was struck after Neal fired into a vehicle driven by a woman who was also wounded, Johnston said.

Yes, it could have been worse. And if he’d been in the county jail where he belonged, it would have been better.

Yet Kevin Neal was free and able to use a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns on Tuesday to shoot 14 people, killing four, in seven different locations across his rural community, including an elementary school, before he died in a shootout with police.

It is not yet clear what the terms of Neal’s bail were, and whether he would have been allowed to possess and fire the weapons on his property at the end of a dirt road in Rancho Tehama Reserve. Nor did sheriff’s officials give details on the domestic violence call.

But his many contacts with authorities raised questions of why he was out of custody and able to go on the 45-minute rampage that began with the killing of two neighbors in an apparent act of revenge before he went looking for random victims.

Someone — besides the now deceased Neal — needs to answer for this.

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The Trump Campaign: Too Screwed to Collude?

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Trump Maladministration

In light of Jeff Sessions’s testimony today, I call your attention to Paul Waldman’s commentary:

Unlike his boss, who claims he possesses “one of the greatest memories of all time,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who gazes into the past and sees only a fog of out-of-focus associates and half-remembered events. But in his testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions may have hit on the new Trump administration defense for the Russia scandal, one that can be applied to almost any future revelation.

Its essence is that the Trump campaign was such an ungodly, bumbling mess that it was simply incapable of colluding with the Russians in their campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump get elected, and generally disrupt and discredit the American electoral system.

As weaselly a defense as that may seem, it contains a good bit of truth. With each new revelation about the campaign’s contacts with Russia, a picture is filling out. It’s one not of a well-organized collusion conspiracy, but instead of a bunch of nincompoops engaging in a kind of ongoing, ad hoc, fitful sort-of-collusion, one that involved lots of meetings, lots of emails, and lots of contacts between various Russians with Kremlin connections and people at different levels of the campaign. Whether it fits your definition of “collusion,” it was one heck of an incompetent conspiracy.

Yesterday the Atlantic published some private direct messages sent through Twitter between Julian Assange and Donald Trump, Jr.  What struck about these is that Junior seemed to have no clue what to do with Assange. Assange clearly was trying to rope Junior into collusion. Junior didn’t always respond, as if he wasn’t sure who Assange actually was, but he was too dim to have realized he should have nothing to do with Assange and did go along with some of his suggestions.

See also Charles Pierce:

To get back to Junior, however, how stupid do you have to be to get involved even marginally in something like this? Assange believes in nothing but himself. He’d sell Junior to the Somali pirates if he thought that would advantage him in some way. No game is worth that candle. And you can see how desperately WikiLeaks wanted to keep Junior on the string. (That request for the president*’s tax returns, so that WikiLeaks could publish them and thereby establish a neutral bona fides for future anti-Clinton news dumps, is positively Machiavellian—and it would’ve worked, too.) And now, in another perfectly predictable development, those emails are in the hands of congressional investigators. Apologies, again, to Eric Trump, who heretofore will be known as The Smart One.

Anyway, Paul Waldman continues:

There was the meeting that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russians connected to the Kremlin on the promise of dirt about Hillary Clinton. There were the contacts multiple Trump officials like Papadopoulos and Carter Page had with Russians, and the fact that others within the Trump campaign were likely more aware of these contacts than we had been led to believe. Among other things, Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had “thousands of emails” that could prove damaging to Clinton, before the Russian hacks came to light; we still don’t know whom in the Trump campaign he relayed that juicy tidbit to. And I promise you, there will be more revealed about Michael Flynn; the fact that Trump was so incredibly eager to protect him after he left the White House is a flashing red light.

And Julia Ioffe reports on secret correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, which was essentially acting as an agent of the Kremlin during the campaign (and may still be to this day). Perhaps most striking, when WikiLeaks released a batch of information, it wrote to Trump Jr. suggesting that his father tweet about the revelations, which Trump did just 15 minutes later.

So to review, this appears to be what happened in that case: 1) Russia hacks the emails of Democrats, including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 2) Russia passes some of what it finds to WikiLeaks for public release. 3) WikiLeaks asks Trump’s son to promote the release. 4) Trump urges media to focus on WikiLeaks’ findings.

Was that a violation of the law? Maybe not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump Jr.’s defense will be, “Hey, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!”

You know, they probably didn’t. Take Michael Flynn, for example. Today Sessions, whose infamous lack of recall suggests brain damage, had to deny that he knew anything about Flynn’s alleged plan to kidnap U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey, where he is wanted to stand trial for being the “mastermind” behind an attempted political coup in 2016. In exchange for Gulen, Flynn would have been paid $15 million. And this was while Flynn was part of the Trump campaign.

Flynn brings us to another dim bulb named Steve Bannon. During the time Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, Christie wanted to keep Flynn completely away from the administration. Gov. Beachball may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. But Nancy Cook wrote at Politico,

But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.

And do we want to talk about Stephen Miller? If that boy has an IQ in triple digits I’m the Tooth Fairy. Josh Marshall wrote last week:

According to the Times, Miller is the “senior policy advisor” referenced in the Papadopoulos court documents. He was the only unnamed player still unidentified. This means that Miller was one of the top Trump advisors Papadopoulos was keeping posted on his efforts to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials, perhaps even (preposterous as it may seem) a meeting between Trump and Putin himself. …

… Miller came to Trump via Jeff Sessions. He was a top staffer to Sessions in the Senate. By 2016 he had risen to Communications Director. And when Sessions endorsed Trump in late February 2016 he brought Miller into the Trump circle. As a speechwriter and advisor, Miller played a key role taking Trump’s instinctive racist-nationalist politics and aligning it with the comparable policy mix Sessions had been pushing, with no great luck, in the Senate for years. Here’s an interesting look at the relationship.

We still don’t have a terribly good explanation of how Jeff Sessions got on the Russia bandwagon, how he ended up having as multiple private conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the course of 2016, including one private meeting in Sessions’ senate office in September. Miller seems like at least one likely conduit. At a minimum, Miller getting updated on Papadopoulos’ adventures makes it much less credible that Sessions knew nothing about the channels opening up between the campaign and Russia.

And of course, in the center of this nest of nincompoops is the Mega Moron himself, Donald Trump, who is something like a perfect storm of idiocy. “Dimmer than a 5-watt bulb,” this guy says. Bob Mueller, save us.

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The Tax Plan Everybody Hates

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Trump Maladministration

I did a google search for “tax plan” to see what was going on with it in Congress. Here are some of the headlines that came up:

Forbes: How GOP Tax Plan Would Ruin Retirees, Underinsured

Mother Jones: The Republican Tax Plan Is an Assault on Renewable Energy

Business Insider/Motley Fool: The Republican tax plan could cut major tax breaks for education

Axios: Senate GOP tax plan causing heartburn for startups

New York Daily News: GOP tax plan ignites fear among N.Y. Republicans trying to keep control of Senate

Los Angeles Times: GOP tax plan may not curb incentives for firms to shift profits and jobs overseas

Buffalo News: Tax plan is a payoff to big contributors

WBIR-TV, Knoxville: GOP tax plan won’t ‘unleash’ economic growth. It’ll make things worse.

And that’s not counting the headlines quoting Democrats criticizing it. The only headline that says anything good about it is one in which Ivanka Trump gushes about it being “critical” for the middle class. But apparently the event in New Jersey in which she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared to talk up the bill didn’t go over very well.

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It’s Armistice Day

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Click here for the Mahablog Armistice Day archives.

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Roy Unmoored?

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Judge Roy Moore is being accused of inappropriate relations with a minor. I’m not surprised in the least. However, the interesting development here is that Mitch McConnell and a bunch of other Republicans are telling Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations are true.

This tells me McConnell et al. really don’t want Moore in the Senate. If they supported him, they’d be blustering about liberal media slandering this upstanding virtuous Christian man blah blah blah.

At this point the Alabama ballot cannot be changed, but Moore could still withdraw or be disqualified by his state party. The guy Moore defeated for the nomination, Luther Strange, could run as a write-in candidate.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have adopted a unique strategy for helping Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent. Well, not so unique for the Democrats.

With less than a month until Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate, political experts say national Democrats are deploying a unique strategy to support their nominee, Doug Jones: They are staying away.

“I don’t have a sense at all that the DNC (Democratic National Committee) is anywhere in this state,” said Derryn Moten, chairman of the Department of History and Political Science at Alabama State University. “They don’t want to damage or do anything that might damage Jones’ chance to win that Senate seat,” he said. The party “doesn’t want to do anything that would be an albatross around Jones’ neck.”

That’s so … lame.

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