Browsing the archives for the Trump Maladministration category.


Is Mueller Closing In?

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Trump Maladministration

It sure seems so

President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December, becoming the first senior White House official to pledge cooperation in the special counsel’s wide-ranging inquiry of election meddling.

Documents released as part of Mr. Flynn’s plea agreement show that his pre-inauguration discussions with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, about foreign policy were part of a coordinated effort by aides running Mr. Trump’s transition into the White House. In at least one instance, federal prosecutors say, Mr. Flynn was directed by a “very senior member” of Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team.

So what exactly did Flynn lie about?

He’s charged with lying about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 22nd, 2016 and on December 29th, 2016.

In the first set of conversations, Flynn apparently asked that Russia either delay or defeat a resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Flynn lied to the FBI about whether Russia ever described their response to this request to him, claiming that they did not.

In the second set of conversations, Flynn requested and received assurances that Russia would not respond strongly to President Obama’s announcement that he was placing new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their meddling in our election. He dishonestly claimed not to remember that Russia had made these assurances to him.

In return for pleading guilty to these charges, Flynn will be expected to cooperate with the investigation. If he doesn’t do so satisfactorily those other charges, including the kidnapping charge which also implicates his son, could be reintroduced.

 Flynn did not make these contacts on his own initiative.

Flynn’s stipulation of the facts underlying his December 2016 conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At least one of those two conversations Flynn undertook at the direction of a “very senior” transition official, the stipulation says.

The documents do not say who directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak — a conversation Flynn later reportedly lied about to Vice President Mike Pence, a lie that was the stated reason that Trump fired Flynn in February. But Flynn’s statement, following his Friday guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, shows that the transition team, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, was informed at every stage of his discussions with Kislyak.

Who was this “very senior” transition official who gave the order? Nobody really knows. Bloomberg speculates that it was Jared Kushner. Others are reporting that it was Trump himself.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is expected to testify that President Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, according to a report by ABC News.

Flynn is saying that Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians,” ABC’s Brian Ross said Friday, just moments after Flynn entered a guilty plea for lying about his contact with Russians during the presidential transition period.

Oh, let it be true, please …

Or, it could have been Pence. Josh Marshall:

The first point to note is that Flynn was the person running the Trump foreign policy operation. That is what a modern National Security Advisor does. From everything we know, it’s what Flynn was doing in the latter months of the campaign and certainly during the transition. In other words, it’s not clear that there was anyone in the campaign who outranked Flynn on foreign policy matters. Other than the President-Elect or conceivably the Vice President-Elect, Flynn is the guy who would do the directing rather than getting direction.

Let’s walk through this again.

The “senior official” is the one who talked with Flynn about how to handle his discussions with Kislyak about the sanctions. It was the “very senior member” of the transition who specifically told Flynn to contact foreign governments about the Israel resolution at the UN. The language is very specific about the direction. “On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments…”

The ‘very’ in “very senior member” seems like an almost over the top effort to convey just who it was the prosecutors are talking about. It’s hard to see that that is not either Pence or President Trump, though it also strikes me as perhaps a bit too coy to refer to the incoming President as a member of transition team.

See also Mother Jones. And there’s more …

Flynn clearly kept the President’s team in Mar-A-Lago fully up to date about his conversations with Kislyak, in more or less real time. There were repeated calls with the “senior official” about Kislyak. Critically, after the full round of calls with Kislyak, Flynn “spoke with senior members [note the plural] of the Presidential Transition Team” about his conversations with Kislyak. …

… The clear takeaway is that basically all of Trump’s top advisors, including the President and almost certainly Vice President Pence, were in the loop about these calls even if they did not themselves speak to Flynn directly.

All this may account for why Trump’s behavior has been more erratic than usual lately.

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The Yin and Yang of Sexual Harassment

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Trump Maladministration

Yesterday the “perps du jour” were Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor. I’ve yet to figure out exactly what Garrison Keillor is alleged to have done, other than put his hand in an inappropriate place during a photo shoot, à la Franken. Keillor says he didn’t notice where his hand was, which is entirely possible. Lauer’s transgressions were far more egregious and intentional, and went on for years, and were corroborated by a great many women, which are kind of big differences.

There’s a old video of Katie Couric, Lauer’s one-time co-anchor, saying that Lauer used to pinch her on the behind. Couric hasn’t released a statement this week; one suspects she is busy celebrating. At Vox, Emily Stewart writes about other women who were pushed out at the Today Show. The treatment of Ann Curry in particular was shockingly awful, and it’s a wonder she didn’t sue the network for it.

Sometimes you wonder where people’s heads are. The network execs must have known about Lauer but protected him. Why? If he were amazingly charming, popular and accomplished at his job one might understand it, but he wasn’t.

However, I’ve seen the same thing play out in my own workplaces over and over again; women employees are considered more expendable than male ones. This is not just about harassment. Especially before about 1980 sometimes a man had to practically burn down the headquarters building to be considered incompetent, whereas for women there was zero tolerance for anything but perfection. I don’t think it’s quite that bad now, but it’s still not equal.

Anyway, the point I am getting at here is that all of these accusations coming out now need to be looked at individually, not thrown into the same box.

Karen Tumulty writes at WaPo,

New charges are coming from nearly every direction: the political world, newsrooms, Hollywood, Silicon Valley. And they describe a wide variety of behavior, including rape, unwelcome kisses, sexual advances toward minors, and grabbing a breast or buttock.

“We have to preserve the uniqueness of every situation. That’s at the heart of this,” said Democratic strategist Tracy Sefl, who is on the board of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which operates a national sexual assault hotline. “In this climate that we’re in, everything has been lumped together. Then people look at it as if those crimes are all the same.”

Treating this episodes as “all the same” has the effect of trivializing the worst behavior while punishing people who really don’t deserve it. And my sense of things is that most women know this, while a lot of men haven’t figured it out. Most women want to go after the guys who make our lives hell and ruin our careers. Punishing the schmuck who occasionally does something boorish and stupid but is otherwise okay to work with is not a priority. Frankly, guys, that would describe most of you, even though you may not be aware of it.

I’m seeing a real “yin and yang” vibe on social media. In my unscientific sampling of people I bump into, men are about ten times more likely than women to want a “zero tolerance” approach, which most women realize would flush a lot of basically okay guys down the same toilet with the turds. I’ve seen men asking for bright, clear guidelines and some kind of ranking of offenses, like if putting a hand here is worse than putting it there. They want to be able to refer to a simple Powerpoint chart to know what’s okay and what isn’t. That’s very yang; simplicity and clarity.

However, women see complexity and ambiguity, which is very yin. The same act might be just annoying in one context and terrifying in another. The relationship between perp and victim, the context — whether other people were around, for example — even the perp’s apparent frame of mind can change how the incident is experienced. Women know that simplifying this issue distorts it. You really have to look at each incident separately, and consider it in all the contexts, to judge how serious it was. Sorry, guys.

Men complain that they can’t even flirt any more. Flirting in the workplace is problematic but tolerable in small doses if it’s really flirting and not harassment. Most women know the difference between flirting and harassment. It’s the difference between engaging with us as individual people and just trying to score. Flirting is sweet and subtle; harassment is gross and intimidating. Flirting is a compliment. Harassment takes away our individuality and renders us into Just Another Broad. If you really can’t feel your way around the difference, however, then perhaps you should not attempt flirting with any woman you’re not married or engaged to. (I do wonder if many men suffer from some degree of Asperger’s Syndrome sometimes.)

While we may learn more about Keillor that changes the picture, right now I suspect Minnesota Public Radio should not have reacted so quickly to fire him. And I think NBC should have dumped Lauer at least ten years ago. And now at least one woman has been caught making false claims for political reasons, which was bound to happen. But it just takes a few women to be caught lying before we’re back to the assumption that all women are liars, which is worrisome.

My other concern is that men will take over the issue and assume the lead in writing the sexual harassment response handbook, because men always think they know better than we do, and they will screw it up.

In other news, word is that Rex Tillerson will be replaced at State by Mike Pompeo, an old teabagger from Kansas who probably can’t find North Korea on a map. There’s no hope.

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O’Keefe Stung by His Own Sting; Even RedState Dissed Him

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Trump Maladministration

Yesterday WaPo published a story about an attempted Project Veritas sting of WaPo. In case you missed it, James O’Keefe sent a woman to tell Washington Post reporters that she had been impregnated by Roy Moore way back when. But the reporters checked out her background and story, and instead published a story about confronting the woman about her lies and exposing Project Veritas.

Jonathan Chait commented:

The scam collapsed for a number of reasons. His fake source provided a flimsy cover story with odd details — she claimed to have only spent a few summers in Alabama, but provided a cell phone with an Alabama area code. The supposed place of employment that she provided did not have any person by that name working there. A search of her name turned up a social-media post in which she explained that she was going to “work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt [sic] of the liberal MSM.”

If you’ve ever watched a spy movie, you’ll probably recall that the spies never get caught because they left a social-media post under their real name declaring “I’m enrolling in espionage school to become a spy!”

Instead of owning up to having been caught, O’Keefe put up a highly edited video on his Project Veritas site (to which I will not link) that purports to show WaPo reporter Aaron C. Davis admitting to O’Keefe that, among other things, the paper publishes negative opinions of Trump. However, WaPo had filmed the entire encounter also and published the unedited version, which clarified that Davis was talking about the editorial section.

This last bit of derp was so clumsy that even RedState called it out as a “a desperate attempt at damage control.”  Jim Geraghty at National Review Online published a takedown of O’Keefe that could have run word-for-word at Alternet. Scott Johnson of the Power Tools referred to this episode as “O’Keefe’s exploding cigar.” And Red Dreher at The American Conservative practically begged people to stop funding O’Keefe. This last bit inspired the following comment:

We need a better class of rube in the US. Even the dumbest grifters make out OK these days—O’Keefe gets more than $300K a year to walk around stepping on rakes.

True enough. But this same commenter also said that O’Keefe wouldn’t be going away, because their class of rubes still believes him. And, sure enough, the flaming idiots at Gateway Pundit (to which I do not link) are celebrating O’Keefe’s great success. But the best Brietbart can do is claim that O’Keefe and WaPo busted each other. And I understand Drudge isn’t touching it, one way or another.

So O’Keefe will be around for awhile to step on more rakes. However, it’s possible that he’ll disappear from mainstream media. The days when his easily debunked claims are uncritically picked up by any but extreme right-wing media outlets are over, I believe.

See also Charles Pierce.

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Today’s Clown Show

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Trump Maladministration

Today in an event honoring Navajo Code Talkers that was attended by three of the surviving “talkers,” Trump went off on Elizabeth Warren, calling her “Pocahontas.”

“You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas,’ ” he said with a chuckle. “But you know what? I like you.” The audience was quiet.

I have said in the past that Trump has no class. He’s like a black hole that sucks away any trace of class.

Warren has been a consistent critic of Trump’s and, prior to joining the Senate, was one of the key advocates for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That agency has been at the center of a fight over the past several days as Trump tries to overhaul it. Warren criticized Trump’s efforts in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday.

Unsurprisingly, many Native Americans have taken offense at Trump’s use of Pocahontas’s name to disparage a political opponent. So, too, have many Republicans. When Trump used the expression in 2016, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) expressed his disdain.

“It’s neither appropriate personally toward her, and frankly, it offends a much larger group of people,” Cole said at the time. “So I wish he would avoid that.” Instead, Trump not only used it Monday, but also did so after explicitly mentioning that MacDonald’s “great friend” Tom Cole was in the audience.

The “MacDonald” referenced above is Peter MacDonald, one of the surviving Code Talkers. Whether MacDonald and Cole actually are friends, or whether Trump was just being a dick toward Native Americans, I do not know.

If you’ve been wondering what the hell is going on with the the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, do see “What the Hell Is Going On at the C.F.P.B.?” by Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair. In brief, after longtime director Richard Cordray announced he was leaving, “he promoted his chief of staff, Leandra English, to the agency’s No. 2 position, and declared in a letter to bureau staff that she would step in as acting director,” Tracy writes. But Trump picked former congressman Mick Mulvaney to be the acting director until someone is confirmed by the Senate. In the past Mulvaney has called the CFPB a joke that shouldn’t exist. Mulvaney is expected to dismantle the agency.

But then this happened: English filed a lawsuit against Trump to stop Mulvaney from taking over as acting director.

Mulvaney appeared to escalate the battle on Monday, showing up to work armed with donuts; English countered with a post-Thanksgiving e-mail signed ”acting director.” At present, both are hard at work at the same job.

In an interview, Liz Warren sided with English:

Pressed on whether the law clearly authorizes the president to fill such vacancies, Warren challenged that premise. “Dodd-Frank is quite specific: It provides its own succession planning,” she told me. “There is no vacancy for President Trump to fill.”

Just another day in the clown car …

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Tillerson Is Dismantling the State Department

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Trump Maladministration

Gardiner Harris writes for the New York Times that State Department personnel are being dismissed wholesale as Secretary of State Tillerson pursues “efficiency.”

In a letter to Mr. Tillerson last week, Democratic members of the House Foreign Relations Committee, citing what they said was “the exodus of more than 100 senior Foreign Service officers from the State Department since January,” expressed concern about “what appears to be the intentional hollowing-out of our senior diplomatic ranks.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, sent a similar letter, telling Mr. Tillerson that “America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex global crises are growing externally.”

Some of this is petty stuff:

Mr. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has made no secret of his belief that the State Department is a bloated bureaucracy and that he regards much of the day-to-day diplomacy that lower-level officials conduct as unproductive. Even before Mr. Tillerson was confirmed, his staff fired six of the State Department’s top career diplomats, including Patrick Kennedy, who had been appointed to his position by President George W. Bush. Kristie Kenney, the department’s counselor and one of just five career ambassadors, was summarily fired a few weeks later.

None were given any reason for their dismissals, although Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Kenney had been reprimanded by Trump transition officials for answering basic logistical questions from Nikki R. Haley, President Trump’s pick as United Nations ambassador. Mr. Tillerson is widely believed to dislike Ms. Haley, who has been seen as a possible successor if Mr. Tillerson steps down.

And this:

His small cadre of aides have fired some diplomats and gotten others to resign by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether. Among those fired or sidelined were most of the top African-American and Latino diplomats, as well as many women, difficult losses in a department that has long struggled with diversity.

The article says that the State Department is being stripped of expertise in many volatile areas of the world. Apparently our new foreign policy strategy is to stumble around blind.

So many top level diplomatics are being forced out that the damage to the State Department could take many years to fix. Tillerson’s objective seems to be to cut the State Department budget by a third and make it more “efficient,” because you know foreign policy is all about … efficiency? But junior staffers who don’t know that much about the world can be paid less, so that much is efficient.

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Who’s the Turkey Now? Jared’s Wings Clipped

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Trump Maladministration

This should cheer you up. Gabriel Sherman writes for Vanity Fair:

When Donald Trump appointed John Kelly as chief of staff in July, the four-star Marine general arrived with a mandate to bring order to a freewheeling West Wing. Gone are the days of staffers waltzing into the Oval Office to lobby the president on policy or supply him with gossip. Trump still tweets, of course, but for the most part Kelly’s cleanup has been successful, according to interviews with a half dozen Trump advisers, current and former West Wing officials, and Republicans close to the administration. The aide who has ceded the most influence in the Kelly era, these people said, is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.“Kelly has clipped his wings,” one high-level Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me.

It’s perhaps hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago when Trump handed Kushner a comically broad portfolio that included plans to reinvent government, reform the V.A., end the opioid epidemic, run point on China, and solve Middle East peace. But since his appointment, according to sources, Kelly has tried to shrink Kushner’s responsibilities to focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And even that brief appears to be creating tensions between Kushner and Kelly. According to two people close to the White House, Kelly was said to be displeased with the result of Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month because it took place just days before 32-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrested 11 Saudi royals, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin TalalThe Washington Postreported that Kushner and M.B.S., as the prince is known, stayed up till nearly 4 a.m. “planning strategy,” which left Kelly to deal with the impression that the administration had advance knowledge of the purge and even helped orchestrate it, sources told me. (Asked about this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, in part: “Chief Kelly and Jared had a good laugh about this inquiry as nothing in it is true.”)

And, of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is really credible. See also Margaret Hartmann at New York magazine, “Kushner’s White House Role Was Significantly Reduced — But Not Fast Enough.”

Robert Mueller also has a special interest in Mr. Ivanka. Esme Cribb writes for Talking Points Memo:

Investigators working for Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, are looking into contacts between White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and foreign heads of state, the Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses about Kushner’s involvement in a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in disputed territories.

A day before the United Nations security council unanimously passed the resolution, Trump said it “should be vetoed.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Kushner and Trump’s former chief adviser Steve Bannon were both involved in Israeli officials’ outreach to Trump’s administration regarding the resolution.

And also:

Investigators are also making inquiries about Kushner’s meeting in December 2016 with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian state-owned bank that has deep connections to Russia’s intelligence agency, according to the report. The United States added the bank in question, Vnesheconombank, to its list of sanctioned entities in 2014.

Natasha Bertrand wrote for Business Insider:

Mueller’s team has reportedly questioned witnesses about some of Kushner’s conversations and meetings with foreign leaders during the transition, when he famously hosted former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower and asked whether it would be possible to set up a backchannel line of communication to Moscow.

Kislyak then orchestrated a meeting between Kushner and the CEO of Russia’s Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team, Bloomberg reportedlast year.

The Kremlin and the White House have provided conflicting explanations for why Kushner met with Gorkov. Reuters reported earlier this year that the FBI is examining whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance Trump associates’ business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed.

See also “Jared’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do.”

I’ll be hanging out with family for the next couple of days but will try to check in, WiFi access willing. Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

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The Russians Were Here, But Did They Make a Difference?

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Trump Maladministration

About a year or so ago I wrote a post about how the Russian meddling in our election was serious and ought to be investigated, although I doubted it made a measurable change in the election result. I want to revisit that now, very briefly.

Last December, Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight wrote a post that compared the timing of Wikileaks releases with the polls. In brief, he found no clear pattern that showed the Wikileaks releases of allegedly hacked DNC and Leon Podesta emails had any impact on polls. Further, interest in Wikileaks on social media seemed to have no correlation with polls. Enten wrote,

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after WikiLeaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the WikiLeaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that WikiLeaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial.

The first Wikileaks email drop was on July 22, 2016. This was way too late to help Sanders, note. Assange appears to have held on to the emails until the eve of the DNC convention, which began on July 25. And I seriously think that by that time, people’s opinions of Clinton were set in stone. The only people I saw who paid attention to what was in the emails were disgruntled Sanders supporters, because the emails appeared to support what they already thought to be true about unfair primaries. Clintonphiles ignored them.

The same thing may have been true of the infamous Russian-based social media ads we have learned about more recently. Babak Bahador wrote at WaPo that it’s not clear that the social media ads changed any minds, either.

Confirmation bias is one reason that contemporary research has concluded that, for the most part, political advertising and messaging aren’t very effective in changing minds. For instance, the effects of political advertising are short-term and fleeting, as people’s attitudes bounce back pretty quickly from such attempts to persuade them. Even on social media, recent research suggests that ads do not impart new information or change attitudes. Moreover, the people most susceptible to propaganda — those with weak political attitudes — are least likely to pay attention to political messages, online or elsewhere.

This is not to say that advertising media like Facebook shouldn’t be required to reveal who is paying for political advertising. The social media ads could have made a difference, even if we can’t be sure that they did.

The most serious allegation from DHS is that Russian hackers targeted the election systems of several states. But there is no evidence votes were altered, DHS said.

See also “Demographics, Not Hacking, Explain Election Results” at FiveThirtyEight. There’s a meme that goes around occasionally claiming that the 2016 general election results were so far off from the polls that hackers must have changed the votes, but the polling nerds say that’s not so.

I bring this up because Clinton and other Democrats involved in last year’s election have been going around questioning Trump’s legitimacy.

A year after her defeat by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton says “there are lots of questions about its legitimacy” due to Russian interference and widespread voter suppression efforts.

In an interview with Mother Jones in downtown Manhattan, Clinton said Russian meddling in the election “was one of the major contributors to the outcome.” The Russians used “weaponized false information,” she said, in “a very successful disinformation campaign” that “wasn’t just influencing voters—it was determining the outcome.”

Voter suppression could have been a factor and ought to be thoroughly investigated, of course, but the guys at FiveThirtyEight say that voter turnout in 2016 wasn’t really that different from 2012.

As I’m sure you have heard, fewer than 80,000 votes cost Clinton Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and thereby the Electoral College. Clinton lost a lot of former Obama voters in those states. But beside Russian meddling and voter suppression, what other differences might there have been between Clinton’s and Obama’s campaigns?

Here’s one: She didn’t open nearly as many field offices as Obama did.

Clinton’s efforts in the field simply did not measure up to Barack Obama’s: Democrats were concerned throughout the campaign that Clinton was not assembling the “army of volunteers” necessary to get out the vote, and that worry may have been well founded. Clinton had 537 offices around the country, much fewer than Obama in 2008 (947 offices) or 2012 (789) across the map and particularly in battleground states.

Clinton’s campaign went to Wisconsin, even if she did not, but only opened 40 offices — just over half of Obama’s total of 69 in 2012. In Milwaukee County, the largest source of Democratic votes in the state, Clinton opened only four offices compared to Obama’s 10. Dane County, home to Madison, received only three offices, compared to seven from Obama. Outside the large cities, Clinton failed to open offices in 10 counties (with a total population exceeding Madison) where Obama had an office in 2012, including counties where she received more than 40 percent of the vote, such as Richland, Portage, and Douglas counties.

Democratic turnout declined by approximately 44,000 votes in Milwaukee County alone from 2012 to 2016, from more than 332,400 votes to nearly 289,000, a margin greater than Clinton’s loss in the state. Clinton could have withstood her losses in rural communities with only 23,000 more votes out of Milwaukee, before even addressing the 10 ignored counties above. Given the stakes of Milwaukee turnout, failing to match Obama’s ground game there seems like a mistake in hindsight.

In the Mother Jones interview linked above, Clinton blamed voter ID laws for her loss in Wisconsin. But given that she knew about voter ID laws, wouldn’t it have been prudent to have opened a lot more bleeping field offices in Wisconsin? And the damn shame of it is, she had plenty of bleeping money. She spent more money on her campaign in 2016 than Obama spent in 2012.

However much Trump is an insult to the very concept of leadership, I think Democrats need to stop whining and admit they blew the bleeping election. Trump may be ghastly and appalling, but he’s probably legitimate.

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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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Trump Maladministration

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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Trump Maladministration

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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