Democrats Slap Donald Trump On the Wrist In the Midterms

The midterms were a mixed success for the Democrats in 2018. Most notably the Democrats took control of the House, but unfortunately this probably means Nancy Peolsi returns as Speaker. They also regained about three hundred of the near one thousand seats in state legislatures they lost over the past decade, have a majority of state attorney generals in the nation, and won some key governorship battles, especially in the midwest. On the other hand, despite a Republican president as terrible as Donald Trump, their midterm gains in the House were historically not terribly impressive for the party out of power, and they did poorly in the high profile battles in the Senate. (I’m waiting to hear Rachel Maddow explain why the Russians meddled in the Senate races but not the House races this year.)

This was far more a slap on the wrist than a shallacking for Donald Trump.

The Senate map was undoubtedly very unfavorable for Democrats, but it will be so virtually every year as long as Democrats are unable to come up with a message to win in the smaller states beyond the east coast. The system of giving two Senators to each state regardless of size makes the Senate extraordinarily unrepresentative. Still, don’t be tempted to repeat the memes showing up since the election regarding winning the popular vote. They are misleading as the entire nation did not vote for Senate, and this can be tilted by which states do vote. This was especially true in 2018 as California had two Democrats running for Senate due to a system where the two leaders in the primary get on the November ballot regardless of party. This leads to a tremendous number of Democratic votes if the mythical Senate popular vote is counted, but only one Democratic Senator.

Democrats are always far quicker to list off the problems which make it more difficult to win than to change their strategy. They showed once again that moving to the right in the hopes of attracting Republican votes does not work. Nor did recruiting veterans help them do any better than expected. I would prefer to see Democrats be more consistent in supporting a reduction in  the role of government in the private lives of individuals–an attitude which might make defense of reproductive rights part of a consistent philosophy that might be accepted in the more libertarian minded portions of the country. Taking a rational anti-war line, as opposed to acting as if they are apologizing for appearing weak on national security, might also help in those areas which are hurt by perpetual warfare–and rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016.

This does note mean that the Democrats don’t have many valid complaints, including regarding voter suppression and gerrymandering. Some of the election results will help, including increasing their strength in several state governments before the next redistricting. While the high profile races in Florida did not turn out as hoped (how badly did campaigning with Hillary Clinton hurt Andrew Gillum?), but there was a victory in passing a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time.

While Democrats continued to struggle in Florida and Ohio, their hopes for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin being more blue in 2018 look favorable after Tuesday’s results, including the defeat of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Besides possibly giving the Democrats their electoral votes again in 2020, there might be an increased number of representatives as the heavily gerrymandered system of drawing Congressional districts will be replaced by an independent redistricting commission in Michigan.

Other ballot proposals passing in Michigan will make it easier to vote and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer is looking at legislation or issuing executive orders to free prisoners convicted for marijuana related charges which will no longer be crimes after the ballot proposal passed. I did hold my nose and vote for Whitmer, despite her reliance on dark money and financing by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Action such as this will make me happier that I did so. A judge has already put some new marijuana cases on hold.

Medicaid expansion passed in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah, and is also expected in Kansas due to the victory for a Democratic governor. While there is no chance of it becoming law imminently, there are also more Democratic supporters of Medicare for All in the House.

There were victories for various groups. The media has covered extensively how there are more women and people of color in the House. In addition, seven more scientists were elected to the House–all Democrats as the Republican war on science continues.

It remains to be seen how some issues will play out now that the midterms are over. Are we still supposed to be terrified by the caravan? Donald Trump quickly took advantage of having control of the Senate by firing Jeff Sessions.  I never would have guessed that I would see this as a bad thing when Sessions first became Attorney General. On the one hand, Sessions might have been the worst Attorney General in history. On the other hand, Sessions was absolutely right in his dispute with Trump in recusing himself from Mueller’s investigation, and his firing could be a sign that Trump plans to take action against Mueller. I suspect that Mueller has prepared for this by being ready to turn over evidence of financial crimes committed by Trump and his cronies to state prosecutors. Congressional Democrats will also be able to take over the investigation if needed. Hopefully they concentrate on Trump’s financial crimes and obstruction of justice, as opposed to the dubious conspiracy theories popular among many Democrats blaming Russia for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Gallup Poll Shows 78% Of Democrats Mistakenly Believe Russia Changed Election Results

Democrats have often claimed to be the reality based community, citing many false beliefs held by Republicans. For example, a poll as recent as 2015 showed that half of Republicans still believed that WMD had been found in Iraq. Gallup shows that Democrats are doing even worse regarding false claims being used to promote neocon goals. A Gallup poll released August 20 shows 78% of Democrats believe not only that Russia interfered in 2016 election but that it changed the result, despite a lack of evidence for this view.

As with false views about WMD in Iraq, false views by Democrats about the 2016 election have negative consequences. Democrats are using the belief that Clinton lost because of Russian actions to avoid necessary reform in the party. Democrats must face reality, accept responsibility for their losses, and reform their party, as opposed to dwelling on conspiracy theories blaming others. Rigging the nomination for a candidate as terrible as Clinton cost the Democrats about 10% of the vote and is the main reason they lost in 2016–not any foreign interference.

Even worse, this has led to a more hostile view on foreign relations by Democrats. The same poll found that, “Americans believe it is more important to try to continue efforts to improve relations between the countries (58%), rather than taking strong diplomatic and economic steps against Russia (36%).” In contrast a majority of Democrats (51%) favor taking steps against Russia while 45% believe it is more important to continue efforts to improve relations. Hysteria over Russian bots and “fake news” has also led to an increase in censorship of Americans on social media, as I most recently discussed yesterday.

A majority agree that Russia did interfere in the election. This is hardly surprising considering that Russia has meddled in our politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in elections in Russia and around the world. I find that many Democrats have difficulty separating the different aspects of this. They see legitimate criticism of Trump’s policies as somehow being proof that Russia changed the result of the election, or fail to distinguish between low level meddling and actually altering the result.

Some of this comes from misinformation deliberately spread by Clinton and the DNC to distract from the reasons for her loss.  As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton decided upon the strategy of blaming others such as Russia for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The Washington Post exposed the fact that the Clinton campaign and DNC had paid for the Steele dossier, after they had denied their involvement for months.

We also have often seen false information being repeated, even after retracted. Today we saw one of many false claims being retracted, this time a claim from Democrats about a hacking attempt turning out to be a false alarm. I’ve repeatedly found that Democrats will continue to cite the original incorrect stories without realizing they have been retracted. This includes the repeated incorrect claims about seventeen intelligence agencies, and incorrect reporting regarding hacking of voter databases. I listed additional examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia.

Just as many Democrats are quick to accept any excuse for Clinton’s loss, many reporters who had predicted Clinton would win easily prefer to blame her loss on Russia, rather than admitting they had totally misread the election. In reality, signs of Clinton’s weakness in the battleground states, among independents, among liberals, and among young voters was apparent even before she was nominated, as I had warned in multiple posts.

Evidence from the Congressional investigations showed that the Trump Tower meeting, while possibly a violation of election laws, was of little consequence. No evidence came up showing any evidence that any votes were changed during the Congressional investigations. The hearings revealed that Russian ads and propaganda accounted for a minuscule portion of overall Facebook content, representing  “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half of the ads were not seen until after the election, most had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton, and the ads were more concentrated in safe blue or red states as opposed to the battleground states.

The various guilty pleas and indictments from Robert Mueller have dealt far more with crimes such as money laundering and tax evasion as opposed to anything which involved the election. Some indictments were for violations of campaign law, and others were for allegedly hacking the DNC, with neither claimed to have altered the election results.

With the DNC having refused to allow the FBI to investigate their computers, there remains question as to whether the release of email was really a hack or a leak. Even if a hack, there has been no question as to the validity of the email released by Wikileaks. Blaming the loss of the election based upon the release of factual information which exposed dishonesty by Clinton and the DNC is hardly a meaningful excuse, and the blame for the loss still falls on Clinton and the DNC.

Democrats must face reality as to why they lost the 2016 election and make necessary reforms in the party–including reforming the nomination process at their meeting this week where super delegates are under consideration. Rigging the nomination for a candidate who could not win the nomination fairly on her own both alienated many potential voters, and left the Democrats with a candidate too unpopular to beat even a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

ACLU Joins Other Civil Libertarians In Warning About Dangers Of Censorship On Social Media

Censorship on social media has been an ongoing problem involving people on both the left and the right, but the recent banning of Alex Jones has increased attention to the issue. While many civil libertarians have seen the dangers, others have allowed their views of Alex Jones to distract from the urgent civil liberties issues at stake. Attacks on civil liberties have often started with unpopular targets, and then extending to others. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned about the worrisome implications:

Several companies, including Facebook and YouTube, have removed Jones and his radio show for violating their hate speech policies. But doing so may set a dangerous precedent, according to Ben Wizner, director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

As private institutions, these sites have the constitutional right to decide whether to host Jones. But a hate speech policy defining when an individual warrants being banned could be “misused and abused,” Wizner told HuffPost on Monday.

“If [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, for example, were deciding what’s hate speech, he would be less likely to think KKK and more likely to think [Black Lives Matter],” Wizner said. “It turns out to be an extremely subjective term.”

“I have some of the same concerns about platforms making those decisions,” he added. “Governments at least purport to be acting solely in the public interest, but platforms are making these decisions based on what’s in their financial interest. So their interest might be in avoiding controversy, but do we want the most important speech platforms in the world to avoid controversy?”

“Who should decide what’s fake? … It’s not so easy to do in a way that is objective,” he said. “If these platforms get in the business of trying to be the arbiters of truth or falsity, pretty soon everyone is going to have something to complain about.”

“Do we really want corporations that are answerable to their shareholders and their bottom lines being the ones who decide which political speech Americans should see or not see?” he added. “Because that’s what we’re asking for here.”

Some have questioned whether this is a civil liberties issue as on the surface it involves private companies as opposed to the government. The point is not that whether this is a First Amendment issue, but that our concept of censorship and the First Amendment must be updated due to how social media is being used by government to restrict speech. Social media has become the equivalent of the old fashioned town square. When we have a near monopoly controlling social media on the internet (which happened to be developed with taxpayer’s money), and government then instructs these companies to restrict the speech of people, it can be more dangerous than our conventional concept of censorship. Making matters worse, there is no due process when done with supposedly private companies in this manner.

The purpose of the First Amendment was to protect free speech–not to give excuses to support censorship when it does not strictly fall under the wording of the First Amendment. Wired had  warnings about allowing Facebook to censor free speech, and responded to the argument that this is not a First Amendment issue:

The lamest of counterarguments to Zuckerberg’s absolutist position is the drearily predictable one of “the First Amendment doesn’t apply to companies.” It’s the nitpicky point of the eighth-grade know-it-all. How about I quarter troops from my private army in your house, and when you cite the Third Amendment, I’ll reply with “well, they’re not government troops,” and see how you feel about it?

Concepts like “trespassing” and “privacy” are not mentioned in the Constitution and did not then exist in the form we know today. We have extended the animating spirit of the Third and Fourth Amendments—respecting a person’s property and privacy—more broadly, because it’s a foundational value we want to see respected everywhere. Ditto the First Amendment: We want companies to embrace it too.

Internet censorship greatly increased as a result of pressure from Democrats who blame Russian ads and “fake news” for the defeat of Hillary Clinton, as opposed to being willing to acknowledge the serious problems in nominating Clinton, and the terrible campaign she ran, which caused her defeat. Clinton herself called on Congress to regulate what she considered to be fake news after her defeat–a rather serious attack on First Amendment rights.

It is easy to look the other way when someone as vile as Alex Jones is the target, but internet censorship has extended to many others on both the left and the right. If censorship is justified based upon expressing hatred, promoting violence, and spreading false information, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are far more dangerous. If kooky right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should be banned, the same could just as easily be said about kooky left wing conspiracy theorist Rachel Maddow, whose conspiracy theories risk starting a war with a nuclear power.

Before the government pushed internet companies to act as their censors, they preferred to be regarded as common carriers who are not responsible for regulating content. Either we go with that concept, or we have a handful of executives in Silicon Valley deciding what any of us can say. There is no middle ground. As Matt Taibbi pointed out, “as was obvious during the Senate hearing with Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, politicians are more interested in using than curtailing the power of these companies. The platforms, for their part, will cave rather than be regulated. The endgame here couldn’t be clearer. This is how authoritarian marriages begin, and people should be very worried.”

After Alex Jones was removed by multiple social media companies, Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.”

Instead of falling into the trap of saying this is not a First Amendment issue as it is not the government doing the censorship (at least directly), we should be exerting pressure on both members of Congress and the social media companies to consider social media companies as common carriers rather than taking on the job of censoring speech. The alternative would be as if AT&T, when they had a monopoly, was also entrusted with determining what types of speech could be allowed over its telephone lines.

In a follow up article to the one I quoted from above, Taibbi wrote on this topic in greater detail:

Two weeks ago, we learned about a new campaign against “inauthentic” content, conducted by Facebook in consultation with Congress and the secretive think tank Atlantic Council — whose board includes an array of ex-CIA and Homeland Security officials — in the name of cracking down on alleged Russian disinformation efforts.­ As part of the bizarre alliance of Internet news distributors and quasi-government censors, the social network zapped 32 accounts and pages, including an ad for a real “No Unite the Right 2” anti-racist counter-rally in D.C. this past weekend.

Last week, we saw another flurry of censorship news. Facebook apparently suspended VenezuelaAnalysis.com, a site critical of U.S. policy toward Venezuela. (It was reinstated Thursday.) Twitter suspended a pair of libertarians, including @DanielLMcAdams of the Ron Paul Institute and @ScottHortonShow of Antiwar.com, for using the word “bitch” (directed toward a man) in a silly political argument. They, too, were later re-instated.

More significantly: Google’s former head of free expression issues in Asia, Lokman Tsui, blasted the tech giant’s plan to develop a search engine that would help the Chinese government censor content…

Both the Jones situation and the Facebook-Atlantic Council deletions seem an effort to fulfill a request made last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last October, Facebook, Google and Twitter were asked by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hizono to draw up a “mission statement” to “prevent the foment of discord.”

Companies like Facebook might have balked before. They have long taken a position that’s very Star Trek, very Prime-Directive: We do not interfere. Mark Zuckerberg, as late as 2016, was saying, “editing content… that’s not us.”

…After Trump’s shocking win in 2016, everyone turned to Facebook and Google to fix “fake news.” But nobody had a coherent definition of what constitutes it.

Many on the left lamented the Wikileaks releases of Democratic Party emails, but those documents were real news, and the complaint there was more about the motives of sources, and editorial emphasis, rather than accuracy…

Within a year, Google bragged that it had deleted 8 million videos from YouTube. A full 6.7 million videos were caught by machines, 1.1 million by YouTube’s own “trusted flaggers” (we’re pre-writing the lexicon of the next dystopian novels), and 400,000 by “normal users.”

Subsequently, we heard that Facebook was partnering with the Atlantic Council — which, incidentally, accepts donations from at least 25 different foreign countries, including United Arab Emirates and the king of Bahrain, in addition to firms like weapons manufacturer Raytheon and my old pals at HSBC — to identify “potential abuse.”

…For more than half a century, we had an effective, if slow, litigation-based remedy for speech violations. The standards laid out in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan were designed to protect legitimate reporting while directly remunerating people harmed by bad speech. Sooner or later, people like Alex Jones would always crash under crippling settlements. Meanwhile, young reporters learned to steer clear of libel and defamation. Knowing exactly what we could and could not get away with empowered us to do our jobs, confident that the law had our backs.

If the line of defense had not been a judge and jury but a giant transnational corporation working with the state, journalists taking on banks or tech companies or the wrong politicians would have been playing intellectual Russian roulette. In my own career, I’d have thought twice before taking on a company like Goldman Sachs. Any reporter would.

Now the line is gone. Depending on the platform, one can be banned for “glorifying violence,” “sowing division,” “hateful conduct” or even “low quality,” with those terms defined by nameless, unaccountable executives, working with God Knows Whom…

Google and Facebook have long wrestled with the question of how to operate in politically repressive markets — Google launched a censored Chinese search engine in 2006, before changing its mind in 2010 — but it seems we’re seeing a kind of mass surrender on that front.

The apparent efforts to comply with government requests to help “prevent the foment of discord” suggest the platforms are moving toward a similar surrender even in the United States. The duopolistic firms seem anxious to stay out of headlines, protect share prices and placate people like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who just said deleting Jones was only a “good first step.”

Americans are not freaking out about this because most of us have lost the ability to distinguish between general principles and political outcomes. So long as the “right” people are being zapped, no one cares.

But we should care. Censorship is one of modern man’s great temptations. Giving in to it hasn’t provided many happy stories.

Slate warned that, “placing the distribution of information in the hands of a few tech companies will remain a very big problem.”

Did anyone vote to make Google and Facebook monopolies. Did anyone vote to say we are going to make private actors make these decisions? There hasn’t been such a vote. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys are monopolies. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys have built these machines and amplified these kinds of voices. We only had our first major hearing in Congress last summer. This is pretty fresh, pretty new. I think if you put it to a vote, you sure as hell wouldn’t have anybody say, “We will choose these people to be our censors, we will choose these people to be our regulators.” And remember that this is a two-edged story. Any time you say that you are going to allow for this type of private action or private censorship, it is something that can be used against your friends next year, tomorrow.

Caitlin Johnstone, who herself was the target of internet censorship this month, further discussed how In A Corporatist System Of Government, Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship:

In a corporatist system of government, wherein there is no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, corporate censorship isstate censorship. Because legalized bribery in the form of corporate lobbying and campaign donations has given wealthy Americans the ability to control the US government’s policy and behavior while ordinary Americans have no effective influence whatsoever, the US unquestionably has a corporatist system of government. Large, influential corporations are inseparable from the state, so their use of censorship is inseparable from state censorship.

This is especially true of the vast megacorporations of Silicon Valley, whose extensive ties to US intelligence agencies are well-documented. Once you’re assisting with the construction of the US military’s drone program, receiving grants from the CIA and NSA for mass surveillance, or having your site’s content regulated by NATO’s propaganda arm, you don’t get to pretend you’re a private, independent corporation that is separate from government power. It is possible in the current system to have a normal business worth a few million dollars, but if you want to get to billions of dollars in wealth control in a system where money translates directly to political power, you need to work with existing power structures like the CIA and the Pentagon, or else they’ll work with your competitors instead of you.

For more on this topic, I would also recommend the following video discussion with Glenn Greenwald (who has written extensively on civil liberties and social media), Sam Biddle, and Briahna Joy:

Further Evidence From Congress Shows No Evidence That Clinton Lost Election Due To Russia

While Hillary Clinton is on a world-wide bitterness tour to continue to give excuses for her loss, further evidence released from the Congressional investigations continues to show that Russia did not cause Clinton to lose. This includes both a review of the Facebook ads from the Internet Research Agency and the testimony regarding the Trump Tower meeting. Democratic attempts to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia, as opposed to Clinton’s own serious flaws and poorly run campaign, again fail to hold up.

USA Today reviewed the Russian ads which were released last week:

The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.

While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.

The company continued to hammer racial themes even after the election.

USA TODAY NETWORK reporters reviewed each of the 3,517 ads, which were released to the public this week for the first time by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The analysis included not just the content of the ads, but also information that revealed the specific audience targeted, when the ad was posted, roughly how many views it received and how much the ad cost to post.

Among the findings:

  • 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.

To repeat the key finding, out of approximately 3,500 ads, “Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton.”

It is also to keep the impact of Facebook ads in perspective. While perhaps bombarding people’s newsfeeds with product ads might account for some sales, people are far less likely to change their views regarding political parties based upon a Facebook ad. As I noted previously, the Russian ads and other material accounted for a minuscule portion of overall Facebook content. Information previously released from the Congressional investigations found that this accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half of the ads were not seen until after the election and, as is confirmed with this new data, most had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.

Earlier this year Philip Bump reviewed the data and noted that the ads did not target the swing states which affected the election, with larger numbers of ads being targeted to users in states such as New York and Texas. After reviewing the evidence, Bump concluded, “There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything.” He also wrote, “As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.”

Russia’s use of Facebook for propaganda appears to just be an updating of the propaganda methods used by both Russia and the United States against each other for decades. There is no evidence that this was a unique effort to attack Hillary Clinton or anything which impacted the election results. While it raises some concern that they are attempting to increase racial tensions, this is also nothing new. Actual racism in the United States, including American news footage of violence against minorities by police officers, is also likely to be far more damaging to race relations than anything coming from Russia.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also released 2,500 pages of congressional testimony today regarding the Trump Tower meeting. This confirms what we already knew that Donald Trump, Jr. attended the meeting hoping to receive dirt on Clinton. While his actions might be unethical, and possibly in violation of elections laws, again there is no evidence that this had any effect on the election results. As The Washington Post found in reviewing the testimony, “the meeting was a bust.” Trump failed to obtain the desired information on Clinton. There is evidence that at least some in the Trump family and campaign were willing to collude with Russia and even attempted to collude with Russia. There is no evidence of any actual collusion or any actions with Russia which affected the election results.

Haspel Evades Questions On Torture, Cheney Backs It, And Will Democrats Back Down On Resisting Once Again?

The American Civil Liberties Union has outlined how Gina Haspel evaded multiple questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. This included a question from Kamala Harris whether she found torture to be immoral. She evaded questions from Ron Wyden about whether she had wanted the use of torture “to be continued or expanded” between 2005 and 2007. She refused to recuse herself from decisions on declassifying her role in torture, with Haskel making the decisions regarding which documents the CIA will release. She misrepresented the content of torture tapes. She evaded questions on Trump’s views on torture.

While Haspel evaded questions, Dick Cheney had no qualms about presenting his views, which unfortunately consist of strong support for resuming the use of torture. He also said that that he thinks Haspel would “be a great CIA director.”

The vote on Haspel could be very close. So far one Democrat, Joe Manchin, said he would vote for her while John McCain has said he would vote against. Rand Paul previously stated he would oppose the confirmation of both Pompeo and Haspel, but folded on Pompeo.

Stopping her confirmation will depend upon the remaining Democrats sticking together, along with additional Republican defections. Glenn Greenwald questions whether the Democrats will stick together to block her nomination:

It is difficult to be optimistic, to put that mildly. The history of Democrats throughout the war on terror is to ensure that just enough members of their caucus join with the GOP majority to ensure passage of even the most extremist pieces of legislation or nominees justified in the name of terrorism or national security.

The ruse Democrats typically use to accomplish these dirty deeds is quite ingenious: The defectors change so that no one member bears the blame for enabling right-wing measures, while the party itself is able to claim that a majority opposed the extremism. In 2010 — as the Bush-era tactic of Democratic defections to the GOP continued under Barack Obama — I referred to this tactic as “Villain Rotation” and described it this way:

The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation.  They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it.  One minute, it’s Jay Rockefeller as the Prime Villain leading the way in protecting Bush surveillance programs and demanding telecom immunity; the next minute, it’s Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer joining hands and “breaking with their party” to ensure Michael Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney General; then it’s Big Bad Joe Lieberman single-handedly blocking Medicare expansion; then it’s Blanche Lincoln and Jim Webb joining with Lindsey Graham to support the de-funding of civilian trials for Terrorists; and now that they can’t blame Lieberman or Ben Nelson any longer on health care (since they don’t need 60 votes), Jay Rockefeller voluntarily returns to the Villain Role, stepping up to put an end to the pretend-movement among Senate Democrats to enact the public option via reconciliation.

We most recently saw the Democrats act more like collaborators than a resistance civil liberties during the votes on FISA renewal with eighteen Democrats siding with the Republicans to prevent consideration of amendments to reform the law. The eighteen Democrats provided exactly the number of votes for cloture to pass.

Nancy Pelosi Defends Party’s Intervention In Primaries As Progressives Protest

The tape released this week of a Democratic Party leader trying to get a progressive to drop out of a Congressional primary has raised far more attention to the issue. The tape was initially posted by The Intercept and I also posted it here yesterday.

Nancy Pelosi has further angered progressives by speaking out in support of this practice. The Washington Post reports:

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) defended her party’s electoral operation on Thursday, after a candidate in a contested Colorado primary released audio tape of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) urging him to quit the race.

“I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “In terms of candidates and campaigns I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”

…The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has thrown its weight in the race behind Jason Crow, an attorney and veteran running a more center-left campaign than Tillemann, who supports universal Medicare and other planks of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) campaign platform. In the December conversation, Hoyer told Tillemann that “a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation” to back Crow, and that it would continue to do so.

“Staying out of primaries sounds small-D democratic, very intellectual and very interesting,” said Hoyer, according to the tape. “But it was clear that it was our policy and our hope that, early on, try to come to an agreement on a candidate that we thought could win the general, and to give that candidate all the help we could give them.”

While Nancy Pelosi rationalize this as “the realities of life,” as I pointed out yesterday, this long-standing strategy has been a disaster for Democrats. The claim that more conservative candidates are more electable has not held up. The Democratic leadership has a terrible record of choosing more “electable” candidates. They lost control of both houses of Congress and around 1000 state seats in state legislatures in a decade based upon this misconception. The ultimate example of how the party’s strategy conflicts with reality came when they violated the party’s by-laws to rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, the one candidate who could not even beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

While we have known that this has been an issue for some time, including in a Texas Congressional race this year, having the taped evidence has also led to the loudest protests I have heard so far from progressives within the Democratic Party. USA Today reports:

Progressive groups that support Tillemann are going ballistic over what they say is yet another example of establishment Democrats meddling in primary elections.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee says it’s raising money for three candidates, including Tillemann, that the DCCC has pressured to drop out.

“There is a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and Steny Hoyer and his corporate cronies already lost,” said Stephanie Taylor, PCCC’s co-founder.

Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain called for Hoyer to resign or “be removed” from House leadership.

“We saw what happens when Democratic Party leaders put their fingers on the scale in primaries in 2006 through 2016, when we lost nearly 1,000 elected offices up and down the ballot,” he said.

Democratic Leader Caught On Tape Trying To Force Progressive Candidate Out Of Congressional Race

The Democratic leadership, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have shown they are not our allies as they repeatedly attack the left, have purged progressives from the DNC, and attack more liberal and progressive candidates who are often more in tune with the voters. The Intercept secretly recorded Steny Hoyer, the second highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, trying to pressure a progressive candidate, Levi Tillemann, to drop out of a race. They described Tillemann as “an author, inventor, and former official with the Obama administration’s Energy Department.” From their account:

He focused his campaign on clean elections, combatting climate change, “Medicare for All,” free community college, and confronting economic inequality and monopoly power. Another candidate for the nomination, Jason Crow, a corporate lawyer at the powerhouse Colorado firm Holland & Hart and an Army veteran, meanwhile, appeared to have the backing of the Democratic establishment, though it wasn’t explicit. In November, it became clearer, as Crow was named by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to the party’s “Red to Blue” list, which the committee specifies is not an endorsement but does carry symbolic weight.

With Hoyer in Denver, Tillemann met the minority whip at the Hilton Denver Downtown to make the case that the party should stay neutral in the primary and that he had a more plausible path to victory than the same centrism that Coffman had already beaten repeatedly.

Hoyer, however, had his own message he wanted to convey: Tillemann should drop out.

In a frank and wide-ranging conversation, Hoyer laid down the law for Tillemann. The decision, Tillemann was told, had been made long ago. It wasn’t personal, Hoyer insisted, and there was nothing uniquely unfair being done to Tillemann, he explained: This is how the party does it everywhere.

Tillemann had heard the argument before from D.C. insiders and local Democratic bigwigs, all of whom had discouraged him from challenging the establishment favorite. The only difference was that for this conversation, the candidate had his phone set to record.

The secretly taped audio recording, released here for the first time, reveals how senior Democratic officials have worked to crush competitive primaries and steer political resources, money, and other support to hand-picked candidates in key races across the country, long before the party publicly announces a preference. The invisible assistance boosts the preferred candidate in fundraising and endorsements, and then that fundraising success and those endorsements are used to justify national party support. Meanwhile, opponents of the party’s unspoken pick are driven into paranoia, wondering if they are merely imagining that unseen hands are working against them.

Hoyer bluntly told Tillemann that it wasn’t his imagination, and that mobilizing support for one Democratic candidate over another in a primary isn’t unusual. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chair of the DCCC, has a “policy that early on, we’d try to agree on a candidate who we thought could win the general and give the candidate all the help we could give them,” Hoyer told Tillemann matter-of-factly…

In races in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Nebraska, California, and beyond, progressive candidates are finding that the DCCC has mobilized support for moderate candidates with access to early campaign cash at the expense of progressives. As we’ve reported, many first-time candidates are told by the DCCC that before they can even be considered, they have to perform the “rolodex” test to show they can raise $250,000 or more from the contact list on their phone.

In February, the DCCC made the unusual move to release opposition research, the term of art for political dirt, against activist Laura Moser, who the party viewed as too liberal to win in the 7th Congressional District of Texas, a Houston-area seat. The strategy, however, appeared to backfire. Moser placed second in the Texas Democratic primary, meaning she’ll have a shot at the nomination in the May 22 runoff…

To a certain extent, people like Elizabeth Warren and people like Bernie Sanders have been ostracized by the party, and they have been marginalized by the establishment to the extent that is possible,” says Tillemann. “But the fact of the matter is that the people are crying out for genuine leaders, and the people are crying out for a solution to inequality and systemic injustice, and to the extent that I am fighting for those solutions, then I think there will be a powerful constituency for that.”

I’m proud to be on the side of truth,” he added. “I’m proud to be on the right side of democracy, and I’m proud to be on the right side of free and fair elections.”

The recording could be heard in the video below, which also has animation added:

This practice calls into question whether there is any point in liberals and progressives to support the Democratic Party if they are ignoring small-d democratic principles to promote more conservative candidates? They appear to want either conservative businessmen or ex-CIA agents. As Jimmy Dore pointed out, out of 102 competitive Democratic Congressional primaries in 2018, “44 involve candidates with a military-intelligence or State Department background, with 11 districts having two such candidates, and one district having three.”

Putting ethics aside, it isn’t even good politics. The claim that more conservative candidates are more electable has not held up. The Democratic leadership has a terrible record of choosing more “electable” candidates. They lost control of both houses of Congress and over 1000 state seats in a decade based upon this misconception. The ultimate example came when they violated the party’s by-laws to rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, the one candidate who could not even beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

(more…)

Attack on Progressive Candidate Backfires Against DCCC

Liberals and progressives have two major opponents in American politics–the Republican Party and the Democratic Party establishment. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which, as I noted last week, is forefront in the effort by Democrats to avoid taking a stand on the issues, also raised concern on the left for its attacks on a progressive candidate in Texas’s  7th Congressional District. Their attacks against Laura Moser appear to have backfired. Vox reports:

Until a few weeks ago, Laura Moser was a little-known name, one of seven candidates running for the Democratic primary in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District.

That was, until the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unleashed a scorched-earth campaign against the former freelance journalist and progressive activist, releasing an opposition memo highlighting past statements Moser made seemingly denigrating her home state.

The move may have helped propel Moser across the finish line in the first round of the primary and into a May runoff election, along with Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was endorsed by the pro-female candidate Super PAC Emily’s List.

By trying to finish off Moser early, the DCCC ended up elevating her national profile and opened up an intraparty rift in the process, galvanizing progressive groups that came out supporting her.

The Intercept, along with Vox, pointed out  that, “Voter-turnout expert Ben Tribbett argued that the DCCC pushed Moser over the top.” More on the race at The Nation:

Moser was one of the two top finishers in the initial primary, beating out several other serious, and well-funded, contenders. A May runoff will feature Moser, a tech-savvy activist who popularized the Daily Action text-messaging tool that became a favorite with resistance campaigners against Trump and Trumpism, and corporate lawyer Lizzie Fletcher, who ran with the backing of Emily’s List and a number of wealthy donors. Moser won 24 percent of Tuesday’s primary vote to 29 percent for Fletcher. The next closest contender, progressive physician Jason Westin, won 19 percent.

There’s a good case to be made that the DCCC helped Moser, whose grassroots fund-raising spiked after the attack. She also earned a late-in-the-race endorsement from Our Revolution, the group formed by Bernie Sanders backers that had established a strong presence in Texas—and when the results came in, Texas populist Jim Hightower, an Our Revolution Board member, said: “The voters of Texas showed they are the only deciders in the race to represent them in Congress.”

Republican Congressman Claims Jews Could Have Survived The Holocaust If They Had Guns

In the past I would periodically have posts just to highlight really dumb things said by politicians. Once Donald Trump began running, he both overshadowed dumb comments from all other sources, and made so many that I couldn’t attempt to blog on them all. Today I heard a comment from a Republican other than Donald Trump which was so absurd that I couldn’t let it pass without a post. According to Alaska Public Radio,  “Alaska Congressman Don Young argued against gun control by suggesting Jews might not have died in the Holocaust if they had been armed.”

This is an argument which conservatives have made in the past. Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded to this argument in 2016 after it was made by Ben Carson:

  • Guns or lack of them did not cause the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the product of anti-Semitism and the moral failure and indifference of humans.
  • It is mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000 remaining in Germany in 1938) could have stopped the totalitarian onslaught of Nazi Germany when the armies of Poland, France, Belgium and numerous other countries were overwhelmed by the Third Reich.
  • Despite the overwhelming military force of the Nazi regime, there were thousands of brave civilians — Jewish and gentile — who indeed often resisted with every fiber of their being. Unfortunately, arming every European Jew would not have been enough to stop an evil force that was only overcome by the military might of the Allies.

Young also supports allowing teachers to carry firearms–not that many have any desire to do so.

In other political news today, Hope Hicks announced she is resigning the day after she admitted to telling white lies. If Hope Hicks is resigning after telling white lies, shouldn’t Donald Trump resign for telling really big lies?

Jeff Flake Denounces Donald Trump For Accusing Democrats Of Treason

Last summer, when people were accusing Donald Trump of treason, I wrote in opposition to misusing the term. While there was then, and continues to be, strong evidence of illegal activity by Donald Trump, his actions have not met the legal criteria for treason. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no qualms about throwing the word around incorrectly, having gone so far as to accuse those who did not applaud for him at his State of the Union address of treason.

Jeff Flake is among those who spoke out against Donald Trump for this. From The Wall Street Journal:

“Mr. President, respect is earned and not commanded,” Mr. Flake, of Arizona, said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Applause signals approval of an idea, not loyalty to one’s country. Our Democratic colleagues love this country as much as we do, and to suggest otherwise is simply unconscionable.”

The impetus for the senator’s remarks was a Monday appearance in Cincinnati, where Mr. Trump came close to labeling as traitors the Democrats who didn’t clap during portions of his speech to Congress last week.

“They were like death and un-American,” said Mr. Trump, who for days has been brooding that Democrats, as he characterized it last week, were “stone-cold” while he spoke. “Somebody said ‘treasonous,’ ” Mr. Trump said on Monday. “I mean, yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”

…In his speech, Mr. Flake warned against “numb acceptance’’ of Mr. Trump’s use of the word treason. “I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek,“ Mr. Flake said. ”But treason is not a punchline, Mr. President.”

…Mr. Trump’s comments jolted Democrats, and Mr. Flake described them as “vile.” He suggested that silence from Republicans could end up undermining the republic, which is based on adherence to a set of norms and conventions.

“One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry,” he said. He said that declining to respond shows “that we failed to recognize that this conduct in an American president simply is not normal.”

Following is the video: