• Our Institutions Are Under Assault

    Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says our institutions are under assault:

    In many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system — and I think as well our institutions are under assault internally … the founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that’s under assault and is eroding.

    “Asked directly whether he meant ‘internally from the president,’ Clapper responded: ‘Exactly.'”

  • Kushners, Trump In-Laws, Weigh $400 Million Deal with Chinese Firm

    Amazing conflict of interest by Jared Kushner:

    A New York real estate company owned by the family of President Trump’s son-in-law has been negotiating to sell a $400 million stake in its Fifth Avenue flagship skyscraper to a Chinese insurance company with ties to leading families of the Communist Party.

    The Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group, would pay to get a high-profile piece of Manhattan real estate and would commit to spending billions more to completely transform the 60-year-old tower into a chic condominium and retail citadel.

    If signed, the potential agreement would create a financial marriage of two politically powerful families in the world’s two biggest economies, but it would also present the possibility of glaring conflicts of interest. The Kushner family, owners of the tower, would reap a financial windfall courtesy of a Chinese company, even as Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump as well as his son-in-law, helps oversee American foreign policy.

    News of the negotiations surfaced as President Trump and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, were preparing for their first meeting, to be held next month.

    How can anyone who was bothered by the appearance of corruption by Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation not be completely alarmed by deals like this? Imagine a firm with ties to the Chinese leadership doing lucrative deals with Chelsea Clinton. And she wasn’t going to have a senior job in a Clinton White House.

  • American Carnage

    From The Economist:

    “CARNAGE”. That word—one not usually associated with inaugural addresses or any appeal to national unity—formed the smouldering, incendiary core of President Donald Trump’s first speech after taking his oath of office on January 20th. The term is how Mr Trump summed up the past few decades of social and economic change witnessed in America. Other presidents have called for reconciliation in their inaugural addresses, celebrated progress or appealed to the “better angels of our nature”—soft, hand-wringing naïfs that they were. Not Mr Trump. Speaking to Americans who live far from the West Front of the Capitol, the 45th president addressed himself to those citizens that he called “righteous people” and “forgotten men and women”. He told them that they were part of an unprecedented historical movement that had taken back power from the corrupt and selfish elites that control both political parties in Washington, an establishment that had enriched and protected itself while leaving the real America wracked by poverty, crime and insecurity. No longer, the new president promised. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

    And importantly:

    All populists are at heart conspiracy theorists, who pretend that easy solutions exist to society’s woes and have only not been tried to date because elites are wicked and deaf to the sturdy common-sense of decent, ordinary folk.

  • Abraham Lincoln on Anti-Immigrant Populism and Despotism in Russia

    Abraham Lincoln in a letter written in 1855:

    I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.

  • Americans keep looking away from the election’s most alarming story

    Good piece in The Washington Post questioning why we’re not paying more attention to Russia’s successful intervention in the U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump:

    In assessing Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Americans continue to look away from this election’s most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.

    U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government actively interfered in our elections. Russian state propaganda gave little doubt that this was done to support Republican nominee Trump, who repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and excused the Russian president’s foreign aggression and domestic repression. Most significantly, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed that the Russian government directed the illegal hacking of private email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individuals. The emails were then released by WikiLeaks, which has benefited financially from a Russian state propaganda arm, used Russian operatives for security and made clear an intent to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

    From the Russian perspective, the success of this operation can hardly be overstated. News stories on the DNC emails released in July served to disrupt the Democratic National Convention, instigate political infighting and suggest for some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — without any real proof — that the Democratic primary had been “rigged” against their candidate. On Oct. 7, WikiLeaks began near daily dumps from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, generating a month of largely negative reporting on Clinton, her campaign staff, her husband and their foundation. With some exceptions, there was little news in the email beyond political gossip and things the media had covered before, now revisited from a seemingly “hidden” viewpoint.

    Russian (and former communist) propaganda has traditionally worked exactly this way: The more you “report” something negatively, the more the negative is true. Trump and supportive media outlets adopted the technique and reveled in information gained from the illegal Russian hacking (as well as many “fake news” stories that evidence suggests were generated by Russian intelligence operations) to make exaggerated claims (“Hillary wants to open borders to 600 million people!”) or to accuse Clinton of illegality, corruption and, ironically, treasonous behavior.

    And:

    Again, was there coordination with this foreign intervention? Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, boasted that government representatives maintained multiple “contacts” during the campaign with Trump’s “immediate entourage.” (Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks issued a denial.) This is on top of reported U.S. government suspicions that a Trump adviser met with the intelligence operative directing the hacking. Where are the committee chairmen in Congress demanding an investigation? How is it that Republican Party leaders accept the intervention of a foreign power in the election of their party’s presidential candidate?

    The answer to the last question is easy: because they won. They don’t want to delegitimize either their candidate or the election that brought him victory. The only exception of which I’m aware is Lindsey Graham, who has called for the Senate to investigate Russia’s involvement.

  • Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’

    Here’s a fun quote from a man who apparently makes his living from publishing fake news stories online:

    “My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up.”

  • Why Aren’t We Talking About Russia?

    In all the news surrounding Trump’s election, it seems we’ve lost track of the fact that by all indications, a hostile foreign government apparently succeeded in influencing the result of the American presidential election. Today the Director of the NSA spoke on the topic:

    There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s minds, this was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.

    One hopes that once some of the immediate post-election excitement dies down, this will get much more attention than it has been.

  • Nazis for Trump

    More good news coming out of the Trump transition team today. White nationalist groups of all stripes are cheering the appointment of Steve Bannon to a senior role in the Trump White House:

    Chairman of the American Nazi Party, Rocky J. Suhayda, who wrote a post after Trump’s election night victory celebrating it as a call to action, said he was surprised at the pick of Bannon, but said it showed him Trump could follow through on his campaign promises.

    “I must admit that I was a wee bit surprised that Mr. Trump finally chose Mr. Bannon, I thought that his stable of Washington insiders would have objected too vociferously,” Suhayda wrote in an email. “Perhaps The Donald IS for ‘REAL’ and is not going to be another controlled puppet directed by the usual ‘Wire Pullers,’ and does indeed intend to ROCK the BOAT? Time will tell.”

    This is where we are in our politics today. Checking in with the Nazis to see how happy they are with Trump.

  • Ignorance Is Not a Virtue

    More reporting on Trump’s transition:

    During their private White House meeting on Thursday, Mr. Obama walked his successor through the duties of running the country, and Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the scope, said people familiar with the meeting. Trump aides were described by those people as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term.

    After meeting with Mr. Trump, the only person to be elected president without having held a government or military position, Mr. Obama realized the Republican needs more guidance. He plans to spend more time with his successor than presidents typically do, people familiar with the matter said.

    I have never understood the assumed inherent value in electing an “outsider”. If a retail chain is about to go bankrupt, who would hire, say, a military general to come in and “shake things up”? No one. Because a general doesn’t know shit about running retail stores. The only difference between a situation like that and the presidency is that the latter is much more difficult, and real human beings might die if he makes the wrong decision. But please, by all means, let’s get the know nothings in there.

  • First Post-Election Controversies Starting to Take Shape

    It looks like the relatively quiet period in the immediate aftermath of the election is over. Donald Trump’s naming of Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, as his “chief strategist and senior counselor”, will start to really test how Trump handles intense criticism outside of the context of a campaign.

    Bannon’s appointment drew sharp criticism from political operatives on both sides of the aisle who see Bannon as being too close to the alt-right and white nationalism. Breitbart has published stories with headlines stating that women faced with harassment online should “log off” and called Republican Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.”

    I don’t see how this kind of an appointment can stand as a senior advisor to the President of the United States.

    Let’s also take this moment to remind ourselves that, like Trump himself, Trump surrogates lie routinely when defending him. Newt Gingrich claimed that Trump’s connection to the alt-right is fabricated by the media:

    Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich blasted the idea Sunday that Trump’s campaign catered to the alt-right, calling it “garbage.”

    Hiring Steve Bannon proves that its connection could hardly be closer.

    Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump should put his assets in a blind trust “for the good of the country,” but on CNN that putting the Trump companies into a blind trust would “basically put his children out of work.”

    The kleptocracy begins to takes shape.

    Finally let’s take a minute to note a couple other casual lies from today. Here’s one:

    On undocumented immigrants, Trump said on “60 Minutes” that his administration will “get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million. We are getting them out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country; they’re here illegally.”

    The remarks are another sign of retreat from Trump’s vows throughout much of the presidential campaign to remove all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. By focusing on criminals only, Trump would be mirroring current Obama administration priorities, and experts say his numbers are highly inflated.

    And another:

    [Trump] took aim at the New York Times, suggesting that a letter sent to subscribers amounted to the paper “apologizing for their BAD coverage of me.” The letter did not apologize for bad coverage.

    And another:

    [Trump] also tweeted, “The ­@nytimes states today that DJT believes ‘more countries should acquire nuclear weapons.’ How dishonest are they. I never said this!” Trump said during the campaign that perhaps South Korea and other countries should have nuclear weapons.