Russian Journalist Warns Of Dangers To The Free Press Under Trump

Donald Trump’s confrontation with the press on Wednesday has reinforced the view among civil libertarians that Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the free press. In November, the Freedom of the Press Foundation pointed out that–

he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment.

While much of Trump’s behavior is unprecedented by American standards, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev found this to be similar to what journalists face in Russia. He wrote:

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now …

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

Kovalev had other warnings for the press, such as not to expect any camaraderie from other members of the press: ” It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.”

While Kovalev addressed this to “my doomed colleagues in the American media,” fortunately the United States is not Russia. We have a tradition of supporting freedom of the press which Russia lacks. Trump might attack journalists, but he is not likely to have them killed as has become far too common in Russia. PolitiFact points out that “Russia currently ranks 180 out of 199 countries for press freedom, behind Iraq, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the international watchdog Freedom House.”

Unlike Russia, elected government officials can be voted out of office, and public opinion has some effect on them. While it is common for winning presidential candidates to receive a positive bounce after being elected, Donald Trump is taking office with record low approval. The latest Gallup poll found:

In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving. Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving…

Trump’s 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton’s in 1992-1993. Trump’s current rating only further separates him from his predecessors — particularly Barack Obama, who earned 83% approval for his handling of the transition process in January 2009, up from 75% in mid-December 2008….

The last president before Trump to win the election despite losing the national popular vote was George W. Bush in 2000. However, while Bush’s transition scores were lower than those of both his predecessor (Clinton) and his successor (Obama), his 61% approval rating in mid-January 2001 was nowhere near as low as Trump’s is today.

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.

Donald Trump Again Acts Like Hillary Clinton In New Year’s Message

While there is no question there are also major differences between the two, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also have far more similarities than supporters of either are likely to admit. They both have problems with financial ties including a Foundation and involving family. Trump has acted like Clinton in avoiding press conferences. Policy wise, both will continue the warfare/surveillance state, both have a similar disdain for freedom of speech, and both were seen as a threat to freedom of the press.

Trump also reminded me of Clinton when he released this Tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

I have often noted similarities between Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon. There is something rather Nixonian to this Tweet (along with Trump’s earlier talk of being the law-and-order candidate, a phrase also used by Bill Clinton). Trump referring to his “enemies” reminded me of Clinton dismissing half of Trump voters as “irredeemable” and fitting into a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton’s statement was foolish for alienating a large segment of the country when trying to attract voters, just as Trump’s tweet is foolish for alienating those who voted against him at a time when he should be seeking to unite the country around him as he prepares to take office.

It is debatable as to how accurate Clinton’s statement was about Trump supporters, while Trump’s statement is clearly wrong on the facts. He did win, but it was a narrow win. Perhaps trying to distract from his loss in the  popular vote, Trump has been falsely attributing it to illegal voters, and exaggerating the degree of his victory in the electoral college. Fact checkers including Factcheck.org and PolitiFact have debunked him on these claims.

He is also wrong in saying that those who fought him “just don’t know what to do.” There has been a tremendous increase in donations to progressive organizations, and organization to prepare to oppose Trump’s agenda. The good that could come from a Trump presidency as it stimulates progressive action:

Trump’s ascendancy is already calling forth social and political initiatives aimed at defending the achievements of the Obama years (particularly Obamacare), protecting the environment, standing up for immigrants and minorities, preserving civil liberties, civil rights and voting rights, and highlighting how Trump’s policies contradict his promises to working-class voters. Here is a bet that the mobilization against Trump will rival in size and influence the tea party uprising against Obama.

Another positive for the future: Trump’s campaign forced elites and the media to pay attention to the parts of the country that have been falling behind economically and to the despair that afflicts so many, particularly in rural and small-town America.

It should not have taken Trump (or Bernie Sanders) to bring their problems to the fore. If the powers that be had been paying more attention, the resentments and dissatisfactions that Trump exploited might not have been there for him to stoke.

Of course we would be in a completely different situation if the Democrats had listened to their base and nominated Sanders instead of Clinton.

While Dionne probably would not agree, I would extend his argument to pointing out that, rather than leading to such mobilization of progressives, a Clinton victory would have its dark consequences. Democrats would be split in pushing more liberal goals versus rationalizing and justifying Clinton’s conservative positions, as many did during the campaign, and as they ignore the negative aspects of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The Death of Clintonism

The 2016 election had the deleterious result of electing Donald Trump president, but at least we did not wind up with another Bush or Clinton as many had predicted. While some still talk about Clinton running again in 2020, hopefully her loss this year will be the end of her political career, with 62 percent of Democrats and independents not wanting her to run again.

Todd Purdam is probably right in declaring The Death of Clintonism in his article in Politco, but he  does not seem to understand the reasons. He white washed the triangulation under Bill while ignoring most of the consequences. He repeated the conventional wisdom on how such compromise led to a victory for Bill, but ignored how much the Democrats have suffered afterwards in failing to stand for anything in a changing world. Running as a Republican-lite party lead to major Democratic defeats in 2010, 2014, and now 2016.

There is not a word on how the Clintons and the DLC were on the wrong side of the major issue to divide the country politically after Bill left office–the response to terrorism and the Iraq war. Hillary  not only supported the Iraq war, but was one of its strongest proponents, spreading false claims of ties between Saddam and an Qaeda. She made the same mistakes with support for regime change and interventionism in Libya and Syria.

Similarly Clinton was on the wrong side of the the response to 9/11 in her support for increasing the power of the surveillance state, sounding just like Donald Trump in mocking freedom of speech. Clinton has never had a very good record on civil  liberties, including introducing legislation to make flag burning a felony while in the Senate, and even after the 2016 election calling for government action against the “fake news” which harmed her in the election. Regardless of how undesirable fake news might be, there is not a requirement for accuracy in the First Amendment.

Clinton’s horrible record on First Amendment rights also included her working with The Fellowship while in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy. Her religious views made her further out of touch with an increasingly secular nation.

Clinton’s support for mass incarceration was wrong when Bill was president, and her continued hard line on drugs, including marijuana, made her further out of touch with current views. At least she did revise her views with the times on marriage equality, but even this change looked like a change for political expediency.

Clinton made a comeback after the 2008 election, but had a very negative influence on the Obama administration. Obama ultimately recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton has continued to defend her failed policy. Clinton continued to push for further intervention in Syria, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt the Democrats the most politically also involved accepting a Clinton policy position. Congressional Democrats and Obama implemented the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after Obama had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program. Clinton has never understood the difference between providing a safety-net when necessary and nanny-state programs which intrude upon everyone’s life.

While Purdam downplayed Clinton’s Wall Street ties, this became a bigger issue with the increased concentration of wealth among the ultra-wealthy. Clinton was seen as part of this problem, not someone who would do anything serious about it. Her change in views on  trade deals was not convincing. Purdam also ignored concerns about the corrupting influence of money in politics, especially with people such as the Clintons who used their political connections to amass a large personal fortune.

Purdam was right that Hillary Clinton lacks the political skills of Bill Clinton. It was also a mistake for Clinton to run by trying to stress Donald Trump’s negatives, while failing to provide a positive argument to vote for her, when her own negatives were comparable to Trump’s. It was another variation in Democrats losing because they were afraid to stand for anything.

The death of Clintonism is not about giving up once-winning ways as Purdam put it. It is about putting aside conservative views on social issues, rejecting the damage of the warfare/surveillance state which grew tremendously after 9/11, rejecting corruption, as well as rejecting a strategy which is not working for the Democrats.

Clintons Continue To Blame Others For Their Loss But Democrats Must Face The Facts To Recover

Normally when someone loses an election they keep relatively quiet. I thought that the horror of seeing Donald Trump being elected president would at least be balanced by being through with the Clintons. That has not been the case. Since losing the election Hillary Clinton, who has never had a very good record on First Amendment issues, has essentially been promoting censorship when calling on Congress to take action against the “fake news” which has been negative towards her, along with fueling the recent surge in anti-Russia hysteria. The Clintons are also keeping Democrats from taking an honest look at why they lost with their constant claims that they lost because of Russia, James Comey, angry white men, Bernie voters, Stein voters, and the media, never taking any responsibility for the terrible campaign Clinton ran and her flaws which kept people from wanting to vote for her.

Michael Daly commented on this at The Daily Beast:

Former President Bill Clinton is quick to apportion blame for his wife’s defeat.
“James Comey cost her the election,” Clinton was quoted telling a group of holiday shoppers during an impromptu chat in a Westchester County bookshop last week.

But he has yet to place any blame at all on an otherwise great man with a great fault who bears considerably more responsibility for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

That man is Bill Clinton himself. His great fault is one he shares with his wife; they too often act as if rules that apply to you or me do not apply to them.

Clinton apologists totally ignore the fact that there would have not been a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton if Clinton had not violated the rules regarding handling email, as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then go on to repeatedly lie about the situation.

Similarly, Clinton would not have been harmed by the hacking of John Podesta’s email (regardless of whether they were Wikileaks source–which has not been proven), if the email did not contain such incriminating information about the actions of Clinton and the DNC.

It would have also been better if Clinton had come clean on everything months earlier when the scandals broke, rather than engaging in a coverup, putting herself at risk of all hell breaking loose in the final days of the campaign.

None of this might have mattered if Clinton hadn’t run such a terrible campaign. This includes the mistakes made in states such as Michigan, and ignoring the advice of Sanders supporters. Asawin Suebsaeng wrote:

Ever since election night—when Hillary Clinton tanked and Donald Trump became the next leader of the free world—the most prominent allies and alumni of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign have maintained a succinct message for Team Hillary: We. Told. You. So.

In the final months of the brutal and chaotic 2016 campaign, there were plenty of Democratic activists freaking out about Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (the three states that ultimately cost the Democrats the White House) and Clinton’s fatal shortcomings there. Many of them were envoys of the Sanders camp who wanted to help fix those problems, including Clinton’s difficulties with the block of the mythical “white-working-class,” economically anxious voters who Sanders had championed during the primaries.

“They fucking ignored us on all these [three] battleground states [while] we were sounding the alarm for months,” Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and former Sanders surrogate who served on the 2016 Democratic National Committee platform committee, told The Daily Beast. “We kept saying to each other like, ‘What the fuck, why are they just blowing us off? They need these voters more than anybody.’”

Later in the article:

“The Clinton campaign believed they had the strongest and brightest people in the room… and they had no concept of why people would choose Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton,” Kleeb continued. “They mocked us, they made fun of us. They always had a… model that was supposed to save the day. We were street activists and they don’t get that. And that’s a fundamental divide. They ran a check-the-box, sanitized campaign. And voters don’t think like that. You don’t win elections that way.”

Clinton failed to take advantage of what the Sanders campaign had already figured out about the electorate in 2016, and ignored the voters who backed Sanders over her in the primaries. Dave Lindorff discussed how It Wasn’t the Russians: Hillary Lost Because She Blew Off Sanders and His Voters:

The truth is that it was Clinton’s own actions that lost her the support of Sanders voters. Her repeating lying about Sanders during the campaign, and her gratuitous dissing of Sanders and his supporters even after it was becoming clearer that she would win the primary because of the corrupt support she had lined up from the party’s unelected so-called “super delegates,” and her decision in the fall, after winning the nomination, to ignore the 13 million Sanders voters from the primary and instead to pursue the support of what she hoped were disenchanted Republican voters upset that Donald Trump had won the Republican nomination, all doomed her in the general election.

If the Democrats are to recover, they must learn from the mistakes they made in nominating a flawed candidate such as Hillary Clinton,  along with also suffering loses when running as a Republican-lite party in 2010 and 2014. It does no good to claim Clinton did nothing wrong in the email/Foundation scandals as many Clinton supporters still argue, or to place the blame on others for losing the election.

Trump Sons Selling Access To President-Elect In Exchange For Donations

Under the best of circumstances there will be major conflicts of interest and ethical problems when someone with business interests as vast as those held by Donald Trump becomes president. One argument often given for supporting Trump was that he was so wealthy that he would not need to take advantage of using his government position to make money. This assumes a type of ultra-moral human which Trump has given no indication of being. It remains to be seen how Trump will act as president but there are already questions raised by the actions of his kids. The Center For Public Integrity reports that Donald Trump’ sons are selling access to their father:

A new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s grown sons is offering access to the freshly-minted president during inauguration weekend — all in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

And the donors’ identities may never be known.

Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,” as well as tickets to other events and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump team is disputing the connection between Trump’s sons and the event. A spokesperson stated, “Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsman and supporters of conservation efforts, which align with the goals of this event, however they are not involved in any capacity.” The Wall Street Journal disputes this:

The filing with the Texas secretary of state shows the Trumps were registered as directors for the nonprofit on Dec. 14. The registered agent for the group is Gentry Beach, a longtime friend of Donald Jr. whom the president-elect last month appointed to his inaugural committee…

In addition to Mr. Trump’s sons, two top fundraisers for Mr. Trump registered with the Texas secretary of state as directors of the nonprofit: Mr. Beach, an investor, and Tom Hicks Jr., son of a Dallas billionaire. Both are listed as co-chairmen for the fundraiser, and last month Mr. Trump appointed them to serve as finance vice-chairmen for his inaugural committee.

This sounds like the same type of influence peddling by the Clintons which Trump criticized during the campaign. Rather than draining the swamp, the Trump family appears to be swimming in it.

Beyond this, there are serious questions raised by Trump’s children being on the transition team while also planning to take control of the family’s business when Trump becomes president.

Now Democrats Take A Stand Against Government Corruption


Donald Trump had previously announced a press conference to explain how he would avoid conflicts of interest as president. He subsequently canceled the press conference. A group of Democratic Senators including Elizabeth Warren, Ben Cardin, Chris Coons, Dick Durbin, and Jeff Merkley are introducing legislation to force Donald Trump to shed financial holdings which will pose a conflict of interest. The Hill reports:

A group of Senate Democrats will introduce legislation requiring President-elect Donald Trump to divest any financial assets that pose a conflict of interest and place the money into a blind trust

The bill would also consider any violation by Trump of conflict of interest or ethics laws a “high crime or misdemeanor under the impeachment clause of the U.S. constitution,” according to a fact sheet on the forthcoming bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s office.

“The American people deserve to know that the President of the United States is working to do what’s best for the country — not using his office to do what’s best for himself and his businesses,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

The bill would also block appointees from engaging in matters that are directly linked to Trump’s financial interests or business that are controlled by his family.

While I am all for eliminating corruption in government (even if this is an impossible goal to achieve), there is little chance the bill will pass. Presumably it is primarily a political stunt to force Republicans to appear to take the pro-corruption side in the vote. I also wonder if  it would be constitutional for Congress to pass such a law regarding another branch of government.

The motives of the sponsors would appear more pure if they hadn’t been so willing to look the other way when the corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton was involved. There are certainly many legitimate concerns that Donald Trump’s business interests can lead to abuses of government power to further increase his wealth. On the other hand, the business of the Clintons since Bill left office, including (or I should say especially) when Hillary was Secretary of State, has been to use their government influence to increase their personal wealth.

Working to oppose government corruption is a noble goal, but it should not be used to advance a partisan agenda, and the same standards should be applied to politicians regardless of party.

Turkey of the Day: Trump Ignoring Intelligence Briefings Since Election

trump-golf-club

The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump has been “turning away intelligence briefers since election win.”

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower — at least so far — than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said.

A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, by contrast, has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election, officials said.

Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority.

But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies’ capabilities and findings during the campaign.

A senior U.S. official who receives the same briefing delivered to President Obama each day said that devoting time to such sessions would help Trump get up to speed on world events.

“Trump has a lot of catching up to do,” the official said.

In contrast, George Bush received daily briefings, although they were delayed until December 5 due to the recount. Bill Clinton first started receiving intelligence briefings ten days after being elected, and then received them most working days. Obama also received regular intelligence briefings:

After his election in 2008, President Obama took part not only in regular intelligence briefings but also scheduled “deep dives” on key subjects including Iran’s nuclear program and covert CIA operations, including the accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.

“During the transition, President Obama was an avid consumer of intelligence,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director when Obama was elected.

I guess Trump thinks he is so smart that he doesn’t need those briefings–or he plans to have Pence handle all this stuff.

Late Night Comics Post Trump Victory

colbert-trump

Trump doesn’t even believe in the existence of global warming, having tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” and calling global warming “very expensive BS.” Of course, “Very Expensive BS” is also the motto for Trump University.  –Stephen Colbert

(The New York Times reports that Donald Trump has agreed to settle the lawsuits over Trump University for $25 million.)

Trump is now receiving the classified daily intelligence briefing known as “the book,” making it the only book he owns that doesn’t have his picture on it. –Stephen Colbert

Experts say one of the biggest threats facing Donald Trump’s presidency could be North Korea. Evidently, Kim Jong Un is so incompetent and unstable, they’re worried Trump will give him a Cabinet post.  –Conan O’Brien

(Actually the problem isn’t so much that his top picks are incompetent as that they are racist and extremists.)

Donald Trump said the transition is going well and he has spoken to “many foreign leaders.” Then someone had to explain to Trump that Barack Obama is not a “foreign leader.” –Conan O’Brien

There are reports that Bill Clinton encouraged Donald Trump to run for president. When asked about it, Bill Clinton said, “It hasn’t been this tense around my house since … well, you know…”  –Conan O’Brien

While President Obama met with Donald Trump, Michelle Obama met privately with Melania Trump. Michelle said, “It’s a pleasure to welcome you and Donald to the White House.” Melania said, “It is a pleasure to welcome you and Donald to the White House.” –Jimmy Fallon

Hillary underperformed among women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and young voters. Really the only place she did very well was among pollsters. –Jimmy Kimmel

Sanders And Warren Chosen For Democratic Party Leadership Positions

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the California Democrats State Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Chuck Schumer, as expected, has been elected to succeed Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader.  The Democrats need to stop being a Republican-lite party if they are going to get more people to turn out to vote for them, and Schumer is not the person to bring about such a change in direction. At least there was some good news with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being included in the Senate leadership. The Hill reports:

Sanders was named chairman of outreach during a closed-door Senate Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday morning.

In the role, Sanders will be in charge of reaching out to blue-collar voters who flocked to President-elect Donald Trump this year.

Sanders told reporters that he has a “heavy responsibility to help shape the priorities of the United States government.”

“I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the budget that leaves the United States Congress is a budget that represents the needs of working families and a shrinking middle class and not billionaires,” he said.

Elizabeth Warren was formerly a strategic policy adviser and has now been named vice chair of the conference.

The addition of Sanders and Warren to the leadership will give stronger voices to progressive economic views, but it is not clear how much influence they will actually have. I would also like to see signs that the Democratic Party planned to take a stand against military interventionism and mass surveillance, and in defense of civil liberties. Having Schumer as minority leader is not reassuring on these issues.  The Intercept recently described why Schumer is a poor choice for leader. Among the reasons:

  • He possesses the same impressive political acumen as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, sagely explaining “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
  • Schumer’s done more than anyone except Bill and Hillary Clinton to intertwine Wall Street and the Democratic Party. He raises millions and millions of dollars from the finance industry, both for himself and for other Democrats. In return, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and voted to bail out Wall Street in 2008. In between, he slashed fees paid by banks to the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay for regulatory enforcement, and eviscerated congressional efforts to crack down on rating agencies.
  • Schumer has long been the Democrats’ point man in efforts to craft a bipartisan deal to slash taxes on multinational corporations.
  • Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and sponsored its predecessor, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. During a Senate hearing, Schumer explained that “it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” In certain cases, he said, “most senators” would say “do what you have to do.” Schumer also defended the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims across the region, which Trump has cited as a national model.
  • In October 2002, Schumer voted for the Iraq War by giving George W. Bush authority to invade. In a speech explaining his vote, Schumer warned of Iraq’s imaginary yet “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”
  • Schumer voted against Barack Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and potentially develop a nuclear weapons program.

The Democrats have done poorly in recent elections in which they did not have Barack Obama on the ballot, including the 2010 and 2014 midterms elections. They faced further setbacks as a result of choosing Hillary Clinton to be the nominee as opposed to having a fair nomination fight.

I have often said that this was an unusual election between two terrible candidates, with the party which loses the presidency likely to do better in the long run–assuming they learn from their defeat. Ron Elving of NPR has made an argument similar to what I have been saying as to why the Democrats might be better off with Clinton losing. He began by describing how Clinton would not be able to get very much done with Republicans controlling at least the House. I would add that, as unpopular as Clinton is now, she would probably be even more unpopular during the 2018 and 2020 elections. Elving went on to argue:

So we are imagining an uphill struggle for a Clinton re-election, especially given the outlook for Congress and the races in the states. And a defeat in 2020 would be disastrously timed for Democrats, because 2020 is also the date of the next census. The national headcount will launch the next round of redistricting, as the last was launched in 2010. If triumphant in that decennial year, the GOP could look forward to another decade of running downhill in most congressional and legislative elections…

So stop and think about it. Democrats simply cannot expect to move legislation again until they can regain control of Congress. And all signs are that it will take a Republican president, and voter dissatisfaction with a Republican president, to make the Democrats truly competitive in congressional races again…

So that builds pressure on 2020, a fortuitously numbered year that could be the next hinge in our political history. That could be an advantageous case of timing for the Democrats, a great year for a comeback for all the reasons it would have been a disastrous time for a punishing rejection.

All of this is mere projection, and it may not ease the pain of a narrow loss in a presidential election. But it paints a realistic picture of what would have come next. And for Democrats, the prospect of losing the presidency in 2020 would clearly be worse.

What Democrats have to do is adjust their thinking and their time frame. They should stop trying to maintain what they won the last decade (mostly in 2006 and 2008 while George W. Bush was still in the White House) and start thinking about how a Republican president can help them rebuild. They need to go back to the base and raise a new pyramid from the ground up, with a new generation of candidates and activists and motivators. There need to be new approaches to issues, new messages to take to the disaffected.

Having Clinton in the White House would probably lead to bigger Republican gains in 2020, including in the state governments which are responsible for redistricting. A Trump presidency is likely to result in the Democrats doing better in 2018 than if Clinton was president. It is unlikely they can retake control of the Senate with more Democrats up for reelection, but they will be in a better position to potentially take control of Congress and the presidency in 2020. They also have a far better chance to win victories in state elections without Hillary Clinton dragging down the Democratic Party, with votes for state government often being based upon the voters’ view of the president.

The question is whether Democrats can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Republicans having Donald Trump in the White House, and being  responsible for what happens in light of their complete control of government. Listening to Sanders and Warren is a start in the right direction. We will not be happy with what comes out of the government for the next four years, but if the Democrats had won with Hillary Clinton we would probably be faced with a turn to the right under Clinton, and a more sustained turn to the far right after the probable Democratic loses in 2018 and the crucial 2020 election.