Donald Trump Hides Behind Claims Of Fake News To Attack News Media

Fake news has become a greatly overused expression. A few days ago Margaret Sullivan wrote that it is time to retire the term:

Faster than you could say “Pizzagate,” the label has been co-opted to mean any number of completely different things: Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn’t like to hear.

“The speed with which the term became polarized and in fact a rhetorical weapon illustrates how efficient the conservative media machine has become,” said George Washington University professor Nikki Usher.

As Jeremy Peters wrote in the New York Times: “Conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself . . . have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.”

So, here’s a modest proposal for the truth-based community.

Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it.

Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, “fake news” is an imprecise expression to begin with.

Of course it is not only Donald Trump and Republicans who rely on term. Hillary Clinton, once again oblivious to the First Amendment,  even called on Congress to take action against fake news which she saw as hurting her campaign. During the campaign, Carol Lee, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, pointed out how both Trump and Clinton are a threat to press freedom.

Donald Trump showed the problem with the term again today in refusing to allow a CNN reporter to ask a question, accusing them of spreading fake news. (The full text of the press conference can be found here.)

There were certainly a number of problems with the story as reported by Buzzfeed, alleging deep ties between Trump and Russia. There are grounds to question CNN’s reporting of the story, along with other stories, but this hardly justifies dismissing the network work as Trump did. Besides, Democrats have put up with far more objectionable reporting from Fox over the years out of respect for the First Amendment.

CNN released the following response:

CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.

We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week.

We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.

It would have been far better if Trump had responded to a question on his objections to the story at the press conference as opposed to handling it as he did.

Damon Beres commented on the irony of Trump’s complaint about fake news:

There are a number of arguments against BuzzFeed’s publication of the document. Chief among them: It’s a totally unverified report, yet, gets legitimized as a natural consequence of its distribution. There is no doubt that plenty of people who’ve seen these rumors spread, sans context, on social media, might take them as fact, sight unseen.

But to lump BuzzFeed’s coverage into the now overly-broad category of malicious “fake news” isn’t quite right, either.

Trump should know this better than most. His campaign disproportionately benefited from the spread of viral, fabricated stories during the election…

For Trump to put BuzzFeed on blast for propagating “fake news” is ironic at best, given what he’s reaped from the viral spread of legitimate misinformation. And it’s troubling for another reason: It gives people license to cry “fake news” when the media reports something they simply don’t like.

The term has arguably outlived its usefulness at this point, distorted as its definition has become. But “fake news” was originally intended as a label for online articles that deliberately misled for some secondary purpose—to profit or electioneer.

BuzzFeed’s publication of incendiary documents, heavily couched as unverified, was not “fake news.” It is real news about information that may not be true.

There’s a difference—a big one. And if we want a free press to continue working for the public, we’d do well to understand it.

Besides, there is no exclusion to freedom of the press listed in the First Amendment for fake news–something which both Trump and Clinton need to understand.

The primary topic of the press conference was to Donald Trump to present his response to concerns about conflicts of interest. The head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has called Trump’s plan “wholly inadequate.”

“The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the last four decades have met,” OGE Director Walter Shaub said during a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective,” he said.

Republican Attempts To End Obamacare May Have Died

As I’ve discussed previously, Republican plans to repeal Obamacare are not going well for them. Donald Trump is still talking about immediate repeal, while having no idea what is actually going on. Repeal might not be possible as more Senators, in addition to those mentioned in the previous post, are jumping ship.  Jonathan Chait writes that their plans to destroy Obamacare may have died, reporting that additional Republican Senators are now pushing to include a replacement plan with legislation to repeal Obamacare.

Over in the House, Paul Ryan is also talking vaguely about including portions of a new plan in the repeal legislation.

Including a replacement plan could very well kill off any Republican plans to repeal Obamacare. From a public relations stand point, they will have difficulty obtaining public support for a health plan which does not include popular components of the Affordable Care Act. Politico confirmed this in a new poll:

Voters want — and expect — President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to repeal the 2010 health care law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Tuesday, but they are skeptical of repeal without a plan to replace Obamacare and some of its most popular elements…

Testing eight separate elements of the law, more voters want to keep each of the eight provisions than want to repeal them, in some cases by overwhelming margins.

Nearly two-thirds of voters, 66 percent, favor keeping a provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. Sixty-three percent of voters want to keep the requirement that insurance companies allow policyholders to keep their children on their plans until age 26. Fifty-six percent think subsidies for low-income Americans to buy insurance should stay, and the same percentage wants to keep federal funding for states to expand their Medicaid programs.

A 55-percent majority also wants to keep the requirement that businesses and companies with more than 50 full-time employees offer health insurance to those employees, while only 27 percent want that provision repealed. Many Republicans say that requirement has led businesses to slash jobs and hours to avoid hitting that threshold.

And 53 percent of voters want to keep requiring insurance companies to cover prescription birth control, while just three-in-10 want that requirement repealed. (The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that employers may exclude contraceptive coverage for their employees if it violates the employers’ religious beliefs.)

Pluralities of voters also want to keep two other provisions of the law, though by narrower margins: 46 percent want to keep the elimination of lifetime and annual limits on health reimbursement to individuals, while 32 percent want that repealed. And 33 percent of voters want to repeal the long-derided medical-device tax, compared to 37 percent who want to keep it.

The most-popular elements of the law are also well-regarded by Republicans. Sixty-three percent of Republicans want Trump and Congress to keep the prohibition on denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and 56 percent want to retain requiring insurance companies to allow the children of policyholders to stay on their plans until age 26.

In other words, as has been the case all along, the public opposes Obamacare by name but supports its components when asked.

Besides the public relations issues, the repeal of Obamacare might be dead due to Senate rules. The Senate can repeal Obamacare as part of a budget resolution with a simple majority, but a bill which repeals Obamacare and establishes a replacement program can be blocked with a filibuster if it lacks sixty votes. If Republicans cannot get a simple majority for repeal now, they could wind up with a choice of continuing Obamacare or only replacing it with a plan which can obtain bipartisan support. Such a plan will very likely be much like Obamacare, even if under a different name.

Meryl Streep And Others Criticized Donald Trump’s Bigotry At Golden Globe Awards

Donald Trump’s expressions of bigotry received almost as much attention as La La Land at the Golden Globe Awards last night. Meryl Streep had the most publicized criticism in her acceptance speech (video above) but there were several other references to Trump including:

Hugh Laurie accepted his trophy “on behalf of psychopathic billionaires everywhere,” noting the similarities between Trump and his role in The Night Manager. Laurie also added: “This is an amazing win, made all the more amazing in that I’ll be able to say I won this at the last-ever Golden Globe Awards. I don’t mean to be gloomy, but it has the words ‘Hollywood,’ ‘foreign,’ and ‘press’ in the title. I also think that to some Republicans, the word ‘Association’ is slightly sketchy.”

Donald Glover accepted his award for Atlanta by thanking “Atlanta and all the black folks in Atlanta just for being alive.”

The producers of Zootopia accepted their award saying the movie “also spoke to adults about embracing diversity even when there were people in the world who wanted to divide us by using fear.”

Nina Jacobson, accepting the award for The People v. OJ. Simpson, pointed out that “The trial of O.J. Simpson turned tragedy into entertainment, reminding us American justice is anything but blind when race, celebrity and gender are involved.”

Meryl Streep included this criticism in her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement:

An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. O.K., go on with it.

O.K., this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in the Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

Streep’s receipt of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, along with her well known accomplishments, made Trump’s usual attacks on his critics as “losers” appear even more absurd than usual. Soon after Streep’s speech, Trump gave a brief interview calling Streep “a Hillary lover” and saying he was “not surprised” that he had come under attack from “liberal movie people.” Trump later called her “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood,” and “a Hillary flunky who lost big.”

While Trump is correct that Streep supported Clinton, it is not necessary to support Clinton to object to Trump’s bullying and bigotry. Mocking the disabled is wrong, regardless of other views on the candidates. While Trump also denied that he had made fun of a handicapped reporter, PolitiFact previously verified the accuracy of this.

CNN Hosting Town Hall With Bernie Sanders Tonight

It is great that CNN is putting Bernie on for a Town Hall format show tonight, but why do it during the national championship game? That sounds like DNC debate scheduling.

SciFi Weekend: Sherlock; The Man In The High Castle; CW Network News; Doctor Who News; The Crown

Sherlock began the season in The Six Thatchers with a plot twist which was in some ways both shocking and predictable. Major spoilers ahead for those who have not seen the episode yet. Steven Moffat explained the decision to kill of a major character in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just so fans don’t misinterpret that ending … Mary’s really dead right?
Steven Moffat: Yes, we’re not playing games. She’s dead.

What made you decide to get rid of Mary? She died in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but the cause of death was never even mentioned…
The truth is it’s never established that she died in the stories. We just assume she died because Watson refers to his “sad loss” which is probably a death but not necessarily. The reality of this, of course, is that Sherlock Holmes is about Sherlock and Dr. Watson and it’s always going to come back to that — always always always. They had fun making it a trio but it doesn’t work long term. Mary was always going to go and we were always going to get back to the two blokes. That’s the format. [Sherlock writer-producer-actor] Mark Gatiss and I do not have the delusion that we know better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That’s how the show works and always will. We reset to the most traditional and famous version of the format…

What made Mary decide to take a bullet for Sherlock?
Well, she saved her friend. There wasn’t a lot of time to do anything about it. Throughout the episode, she’s really quite protective of them. She’s actually better at all this than they are. She regards them as a couple of talented amateurs. She doesn’t make a huge decision about it, she does what she can with no time to think.

Her postmortem message said “Save John,” meaning protect him from being lost without her?
Yes, you can assume we’re going to elaborate on that next week.

Watson made such an agonizing wail during that scene, and of course, Freeman and Abbington were partners in real life (and recently announced they’re separating). What was it like to shoot that? 
It was emotional, but at the same time, we did that scene a million times. There was a sense this was a hugely important moment in a show we’ve been making all this time and it was Amanda’s exit from a show that she’s been part of for a few years. So it was a big deal.

You said this will “reset” the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, but this seems like a rift that can never fully heal. 
We take that rift head-on in the remainder of the [season]. We don’t ignore it. We don’t have John come back and say, “Well I’ve thought about it and it’s all fine.” If anything, the rift gets worse. We decided if we were doing this we’re doing grief properly. We were doing the consequences properly. We tried to have people go through what they’d actually go through in this circumstance which, of course, is hellish. And as emotionally reticent as Sherlock Holmes is, it doesn’t take a 12-year-old to figure out he’s a profoundly emotional man. We don’t skirt around it. We don’t just get on with the story of the week — although there is a story of the week. There’s a big villain to fight. But front and center are the consequence of Mary’s death and Sherlock’s culpability. He could have done better, it’s his lifestyle that killed her in the end.

It was interesting because very clearly that whole situation could have been wrapped up without bloodshed had Sherlock not kept egging her on in that moment. 
We spent a long time trying to work out what his culpability was. Obviously, it wasn’t his fault. Mary tried to save his life. But having Sherlock unable to stop himself from showing off and that’s what riles her up to take the shot, I think it adds another layer. We were determined to make it as difficult for us as possible [as writers] to take on the following things: We will do grief in a big way, we will have the rift between them, and it will be real and will never completely go away — because you’ll always think about that, however imperishable that friendship is. At the same time, we’ve got to be a proper detective show with proper action, proper villains, proper mystery solving. We really went for it. There was a big debate about whether to kill her in episode 1, instead of more traditionally in episode 3 at the end of the [season]. But let’s not give ourselves that two years to forget how mad they are at each other. Let’s do it in a circumstance where we have to come back in a week and make this show work again. I think it does. Obviously, I’m not the person who makes the judgment. All the consequences are believable and painfully in place with a Sherlock Holmes plot and with some kind of resolution to it all that makes continuing possible. If we do pull that off that will be great.

It is understandable that the series is about Holmes and Watson, but if that is the case I cannot help but question the decision to have Watson marry Mary in major episodes if they were only going to make her this disposable and kill her off so quickly.

Beyond the incidents leading to Mary’s death, the episode just played with a more classic title, substituting busts of Margret Thatcher for Napoleon in the original story. The show has changed from early episodes to tell more of a continuing story, differing from the original stories where everything was generally reset at the start of the next. Sherlock’s detective skills were shown more in brief snippets as opposed to making this a coherent story based upon detective work. In may ways it did feel more like Bond that Holmes, raising objections from some critics. Mark Gattis responded to this criticism in rhyme:

Here is a critic who says with low blow
Sherlock’s no brain-box but become double-O.
Says the Baker St boy is no man of action –
whilst ignoring the stories that could have put him in traction.

The Solitary Cyclist sees boxing on show,
The Gloria Scott and The Sign of the Fo’
The Empty House too sees a mention, in time, of Mathews,
who knocked out poor Sherlock’s canine.

in the misspelled wrestle Doyle called baritsu.
In hurling Moriarty over the torrent
did Sherlock find violence strange and abhorrent?

In shooting down pygmies and Hounds from hell
Did Sherlock on Victorian niceties dwell?
When Gruner’s men got him was Holmes quite compliant
Or did he give good account for The Illustrious Client?

There’s no need to invoke in yarns that still thrill,
Her Majesty’s Secret Servant with licence to kill
From Rathbone through Brett to Cumberbatch dandy
With his fists Mr Holmes has always been handy.

Mark Gatiss
London

The second season of The Man In The High Castle tied up most of the loose ends from the first season. (Spoilers ahead). The ending could serve as the end of the story, but leaves things open for additional seasons in this universe. People who otherwise might be seen as villains did turn out to be heroes, at least in stopping a war between Germany and Japan which could have been devastating for America.

There was a brief flashback to John Smith witnessing the destruction of Washington, D.C., confirming that he was an American who happened to be away from the capital at the time. This raised questions as to how he rose to his rank in the first two season. It has been announced that the show has been renewed for a third season, with at least a part being a flashback which addresses these questions. SciFi Now reports:

Intertestingly, it looks like the show is going through a number of changes. For a start, it will at least in part be a prequel, more specifically during the invasion of the US when Washington DC is nuked, with John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Helen (Chelah Horsdal) in the vicinity. At this time Smith was an officer in the US army, so it will be interesting to see how he became one of the Reich’s highest-ranking – and most ruthless – officers.

Also confirmed is that Eric Overmyer will be serving as showrunner for the new season (there wasn’t one in Season 2 after Frank Spotnitz’s departure at the end of Season 1), with Ridley Scott, David W Zucker, Richard Heus, Isa Dick Hackett and Daniel Percival all on board as executive producers.

Speaking of the new appointment, Joe Lewis, Amazon Studios’ Head of Comedy and Drama, had this to say:

“As timely as ever, the exploration of characters at a dark point for humanity has provided incredible stories for two seasons. Eric and his team are doing an incredible job crafting stories about the inner lives of those who struggle to do good in a world that is not. We couldn’t be more excited to bring season three to customers in 2017.”

Cast members for Season 2 included Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, Rufus Sewell, Joel de la Fuente, Brennan Brown, Bella Heathcote, Callum Ke ith Rennie, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and DJ Qualls, with the majority of these expected to return for Season 3.

The CW Network has announced early renewals of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl,  Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin and Supernatural. No word yet on iZombie and The 100, which have not started their seasons yet. Frequency and No Tomorrow are not expect to be renewed. There are plans to wrap up the stories in a digital format to be posted on the website if cancelled.

Arrow has some hints on Laurel’s return, and Felicity might take a darker turn.

On The Flash, it appears that Barry has learned nothing about the dangers of meddling with time. Of course he must try to save Iris.

Legends of Tomorrow has the return of Rip Hunter and a young George Lucas.

Constantine is returning as an animated series.

Entertainment Weekly has a first look at the upcoming season of The 100.

The CW also plans a reboot of Charmed set in 1976.

In Doctor Who news, following The Return of Doctor Mystero, Titan comics is planning a spinoff comic of The Ghost.

Matt Smith will be regenerating into a different actor once again, this time on The Crown as the lead characters age. Claire Foy, who is working on the second season, has revealed that there will be a change in cast after the second season:

Producers plan to cast new actors for the third series of the Royal saga. A total of six series are planned.

Competition is already heating up for stars to play the Queen for the years 1965 to 1985, with Emily Watson, Rachel Weisz and Kate Beckinsale among those tipped for the role.

Presumably this means they will also cast someone older to play Prince Philip. Perhaps Peter Capaldi could replace Matt Smith once again.

 

New York City needs Hillary Clinton to run for mayor | New York Post

It seems unlikely — but the idea’s been floating around for several days now, and so far she’s not rejecting it. For what it’s worth, Secretary Clinton, we’d love to see you run for mayor.

Source: New York City needs Hillary Clinton to run for mayor | New York Post

I am skeptical that Hillary Clinton has any plans to run for mayor of New York. While I would prefer to see her out of politics, this might be a relatively safe job for her. There aren’t many places she can invade if limited to the NYPD.

Evaluating Russian Actions Based Upon Facts And Not Political Biases

With the intelligence reports released yesterday being somewhat underwhelming but raising serious questions, I fear that many people will continue to look at the Russian hacking through partisan lenses as opposed to taking a fact-based approach. Clinton supporters many partisan Democrats see a conspiracy between Trump and Russia which stole the election from who they see as the rightful winner, ignoring how weak a candidate Clinton was. Some opponents of Clinton, on both the left and right, go to the other extreme in denying any foul play by Russia, with some even displaying a misplaced admiration for a despot such as Putin. The facts we have now place matters somewhere in between.

William Rivers Pitt had a good comment on the situation on Facebook:

I am capable of holding two thoughts in my head simultaneously. 1: Clinton and her campaign fucked up royally and are in full dodge mode; 2: Russia fucked with a national presidential election. Both of these things can be true at the same time.

Try it, see what happens. This binary 1 0 1 0 shit is for the birds.

To this I would add 3: The United States also has a long history in meddling in foreign elections. This includes Clinton. Therefore it is important to keep matters in perspective. Clinton, Trump, and Putin are all bad guys here. It is not necessary to love Putin (or Trump) if you oppose Clinton.

I think we are seeing excessive push back from some on the left because of the manner in which many Clinton supporters have exaggerated the significance this, with claims that Clinton would have won if not for  Putin (or Comey). This is especially dangerous when we hear speculation that Clinton might run again in four years, which would be a colossal mistake.

It is not necessary to deny that Russia has had a policy of trying to disrupt western elections to blur the distinction between himself and the west. Improving relations with Russia as Trump speaks of is preferable to Clinton’s Cold War policies, but we also must not be naive regarding Russia, or totally ignore intelligence based upon political considerations.

Last night Rachel Maddow gave a rather one-sided account of events, portraying Clinton as the hero in opposing Putin, ignoring her history of support for regime change. Clinton is also not an innocent here, and Russia had legitimate reason for concern that the election of Clinton would greatly increase the chances of increased conflict with the United States. David Remnick provides a more balanced background, including Putin’s disdain for Hillary Clinton, and reminds us of reasons we should not admire Putin out of common ground of opposing the policies of Hillary Clinton:

Putin’s resentment of Clinton was always manifest; it is almost as severe as Trump’s. Putin saw the Clinton Administration of the nineties as having taken advantage of Russian weakness after the fall of the Soviet Union, twenty-five years ago. He viewed Hillary Clinton as a foreign-policy hawk who wanted regime change from Baghdad to Kiev to Moscow. In 2011, Putin, who lives in fear of spontaneous uprisings, events like the Arab Spring and the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia, accused Clinton of giving “a signal” to urge thousands of Russians to come out on the streets of Moscow to protest parliamentary-election “irregularities” and Putin’s intention to return once more to the Kremlin as President.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with Russian political experts, and all of them agreed that Putin was certainly pleased, at least initially, with Trump’s victory—and that satisfaction is reflected, too, on countless news and talk shows on television. These analysts added that Putin is undoubtedly cheered that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s appointment to head the State Department, was likely to leave behind American “sanctimony” about human rights and democracy and, following the pattern of his career at ExxonMobil, to concentrate on purely “transactional politics.” Some, however, wondered if Putin will remain enchanted with Trump once he encounters Trump’s inconsistencies, his alarming penchant for surprise pronouncements via Twitter.

Like many nationalist politicians in Europe, Trump has made plain his admiration for Putin, complimenting the Russian leader’s “great control over his country,” while at the same time failing to address the reality that Putin’s regime has instituted wholesale censorship of television, increased repressive measures on ordinary citizens, and unleashed his forces in Ukraine and Syria. (Putin, of course, discounts criticism of his policies as Western hypocrisy and points to everything from the invasion of Iraq, which he opposed, to the eastward expansion of NATO, which he sees as an aggressive act.)

Trump’s argument throughout the campaign, the reason for his compliments for Putin, he has said, is related to his stated desire to ease tensions between Russia and the United States and avoid the ultimate disaster, a nuclear confrontation. But what concerns many seasoned American analysts, politicians, and diplomats is that Trump is deluding himself about Putin’s intentions and refuses to see the nature of Russia’s nationalist, autocratic regime clearly. Trump has spoken critically of NATO and in support of European nationalist initiatives like Brexit to such a degree that, according to one Obama Administration official, “our allies are absolutely terrified and completely bewildered.”

Strobe Talbott, who was Bill Clinton’s closest adviser on Russia, told me recently that the hack of the D.N.C. and Putin’s other moves in Europe—including the annexation of Crimea, the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, and the financial support of nationalists like Marine Le Pen, of France—were part of a larger strategy intended to weaken the E.U. and NATO.

The reports continue to leave many questions open, as described by The New York Times:

Perhaps most arresting is the assessment that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, sees the election attack as payback — not offense, but defense. He has borne a serious grudge against Mrs. Clinton, who he believes denigrated him when she was secretary of state and encouraged the pro-democracy protests in Moscow that erupted against him in 2011.

Mr. Putin, the report says, sees the hidden hand of the United States in the leaking of the Panama Papers, files stolen from a law firm that exposed the wealth of his closest associates, secreted in offshore accounts. He even blames the United States for the exposure — carried out mainly by international sports authorities — of Russian athletes for their widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“From the Russian perspective, this is punching back,” said Christopher Porter, a former C.I.A. officer who now studies cyberattacks at the firm FireEye. “We may not think that’s fair or justified, but that’s the way they see it.”

Mr. Porter said Mr. Putin had made no secret of his view that the United States, by promoting democracy in countries like Ukraine and Georgia, had interfered in Russia’s backyard and was trying to undermine its power.

What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey.

There is only a whisper of dissent in the report — the eavesdroppers of the N.S.A. believe with only “moderate confidence” that Russia aimed to help Mr. Trump, while their colleagues at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have “high confidence.”

While most of Congress and much of the public appears to accept the agencies’ findings, Mr. Trump’s prominent doubts, accompanied at times by scorn for the agencies’ competence, has rallied a diverse array of skeptics on the right and the left. Under the circumstances, many in Washington expected the agencies to make a strong public case to erase any uncertainty.

Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to “trust us.” There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’s propaganda machinery.

While the claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed the need to be skeptical of intelligence reports, especially when used to justify going to war, they also cannot be discounted. Most likely Russia was involved in trying to influence the US election, as they have been involved in similar actions in Europe. This does not mean that there was a direct conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed without any evidence. On the other hand, it would be a serious matter if this was true, and any connections should be investigated.

This also does not mean that Russia is responsible for Clinton’s loss. While Wikileaks received a lot of news coverage, at most it was one of many factors affecting a very close election. As I mentioned previouslyFivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election. None of the released intelligence information casts any doubt on the accuracy of the leaked email, regardless of whether Russia was indirectly the source for Wikileaks.

Republicans Might Lack Votes In Senate To Repeal Obamacare

As I discussed earlier in the week, it was far easier for Republicans to vote to repeal Obamacare when it would be blocked by a filibuster or veto. Republicans might not have the votes in the Senate for repeal. The plan was to repeal the Affordable Care Act through budget reconciliation, where only a simple majority is necessary, with promises to replace it with something else in the future. The absurdity of that is obvious to pretty much everyone who is not a Republican.

The Republicans might not be able to achieve even a simple majority to repeal Obamacare. Now four Republicans, Rand Paul, Bob Corker, Tom Cotton, and Susan Collins are now showing skepticism towards the plan. Susan Collins also opposes the plans to defund Planned Parenthood.

Bloomberg reports that it is unclear how this will play out:

Only one of the senators — Rand Paul of Kentucky — has so far said he plans to vote against the procedural gambit that sets up Obamacare repeal, citing unrelated budget concerns. Paul and three others are concerned that Republicans haven’t said yet how they would replace the health insurance scheme after repeal, with one of them also opposing the plan to defund Planned Parenthood as part of the repeal.

The skeptics could end up yielding to pressure from their colleagues to support the plan when it reaches the Senate floor, but Republicans can only afford to lose two senators. If they lose a third, the effort would stall, and they’d be forced to return to the drawing board. Such a delay would be an embarrassing setback for Republicans, given the intense pressure from conservatives and the Trump team to speed this through.

One problem faced by the Affordable Care Act is that, with lack of Republican cooperation, it was rarely possible to pass further legislation to make adjustments, which a program this massive would normally receive. The ideal situation would be if Republicans fail to defund Obamacare and are forced to take ownership of health care policy, leading them to work in a bipartisan manner with Democrats to pass an improved plan. Unfortunately we cannot count on the Republicans acting in such a reasonable manner.

Following What Donald Trump Says And Tweets

The miracles of modern technology now provides a simple tool to keep up with everything Donald Trump has said on any topic. A searchable database can be found here which contains all of Donald Trump’s public statements, including tweets, videos, and material from his campaign website. This even includes deleted tweets, and an indication of the time since his last tweet. At present there are 2,457,084 total words, 254.3 hours of video, 30,379 tweets, and 153 deleted tweets. You are on your own to sort out the contradictions and absurdities.

They are testing the system with Donald Trump, with plans to possibly extend this to others in the future.

For those who prefer a more curated report on what Trump has said, or prefer a pro-Trump, source, there is always Fox. For a while, especially with Megyn Kelley there and Roger Ailes gone, it looked like there was a chance that Fox might be less partisan, or at least not be a pro-Trump organ comparable to the Bush years. While Megyn Kelley has her faults, she would at least present news critical of both Trump and Clinton during the presidential campaign–often making her preferable to both others on Fox, and to MSNBC during prime time. However, her time slot is now being given to Trump supporter Tucker Carlson.

The long term bias of Fox remains uncertain. Rupert Murdoch is more centrist and less partisan than Ailes, and tends to back the party in power. It is conceivable that he might support future Democratic administrations, or possibly even break with Trump, not having been so favorable towards Trump at times during the campaign.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.