Donald Trump Is Least Popular President-Elect In Modern History

A Pew Research Center survey shows what was expected after a campaign with the two most unpopular candidates in memory. Donald Trump is the least popular president-elect in modern history. Even George W. Bush, who like Trump failed to win the popular vote, received a 50 percent approval rating in a country which was divided 50:50. Trump is well below this with an approval of only 41 percent.

A majority also disapprove of his cabinet choices and appointments by a 51 percent to 40 percent margin. This is hardly surprising in light of appointments including Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn at NSA, Ben Carson at HUD, and Betsy DeVos at Education. It says something when one of his least objectionable choices is someone known as Mad Dog (James Mattis at Defense).

The poll found many of the same negatives which came out during the campaign:

…many of the same doubts and concerns that voters expressed about Trump’s qualifications and temperament during the campaign are evident as he prepares to take office. Just 37% of the public views Trump as well-qualified; 32% of registered voters described Trump as well-qualified in October. Majorities continue to say Trump is reckless (65%) and has poor judgment (62%), while 68% describe him as “hard to like.”

In addition, more than half of the public (54%) says that Trump has done too little to distance himself from “white nationalist groups” who support him, while 31% say he has done the right amount to distance himself from such groups; 6% say he has done too much in this regard.

And despite all this, the Democrats managed to come up with a candidate who still managed to lose to Trump. There are many reasons why Clinton was such a terrible candidate, all of which were predictable. It also came as little surprise that Clinton ran such an awful campaign, concentrating on personal attacks and avoiding discussion of issues. As people saw Clinton as being as terrible a person as Trump, and were supplied with plenty of confirmation of this with her behavior during the campaign, personal attacks on Trump were not enough to win the election. Perhaps Clinton should have discussed major issues such as Medicare, which the voters had little knowledge of. Pew found:

Overall, only about half of the public (51%) has heard a lot (12%) or a little (39%) about a proposal to change Medicare to a program that would give future participants a credit toward purchasing private health insurance. About as many either have heard nothing (48%) or don’t know (1%).

Instead Clinton gave no reason to vote for her beyond her gender and it being her turn. This left the race as an unpopularity contest among two incredibly unpopular candidates.

Media Coverage Of Election News & Credibility Of Media Outlets

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A  report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed news coverage during the 2016 election found that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received  coverage that was “overwhelmingly negative in tone and extremely light on policy.”

While supporters of either candidate can find plenty in the analysis to argue that their candidate was treated unfairly by the press, both candidates had such major negatives that this is not unexpected. While Clinton did receive more negative coverage, this was largely driven by a coverage of a scandal in progress. Both old news and news driven by Donald Trump’s bizarre acts did him almost as much harm.

Some are complaining about the amount of coverage of Clinton’s scandals, but Democrats should not be surprised that this would be the result of nominating a candidate in the midst of a major scandal. It was as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal broke. Clinton is the one who violated the rules in effect, and then repeatedly attempted to stonewall the press and lie about her actions. Therefore I am not impressed with the claims that there is a false equivalency between Clinton’s negatives and Trump’s. Democrats should have know better to nominate a candidate with the negatives of Hillary Clinton, which have been well known for quite a long time.

When both candidates are unfit to be president, that is precisely the message which should come from the media coverage. Arguments over which scandals are worse are secondary.

My complaint about media coverage pertaining to the email scandal is not the amount of coverage but that the media concentrated too much on the question of indictment for mishandling classified information, leading some Clinton apologists to mistakenly equate a lack of indictment with exoneration. While the more dramatic aspect, this was not the major issue.

This was far more a matter of government transparency, with the classified information only being one portion of the scandals. Rather than concentrate so much on the question of whether Clinton would be indicted, which I never thought was going to happen, more attention should have been paid to the State Department Inspector General Report which showed how Clinton violated the rules, tried to cover-up her actions, and failed to cooperate with the investigation.

It is typical for the media to concentrate more on negative aspects of candidates and on the horserace. In most years I would be more critical of the media for this, but this year the candidates are largely to blame. Donald Trump was generally contradictory and incoherent on most policy matters. Clinton would chose her policy views based upon what was most politically expedient that day, and avoided the media as much as possible. I would have liked to see the media cover issues more, but the media dislikes complex issues at any time. They are even less likely to discuss them when the candidates are rarely doing so in a coherent manner.

The media’s concentration on negative news does distort how some issues are seen. As the report noted: “Although the nation’s economy has steadily improved since the financial crisis of 2008, one would not know that from the tone of news coverage. Since 2010, news stories about the nation’s economy have been 2-to-1 negative over positive.” This did benefit an outsider and “change” candidate, but here too, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They had a far stronger candidate in Bernie Sanders to capitalize on such feelings, but preferred to rig the system for the most anti-change establishment candidate possible.

The report also points out that “negative news erodes trust in the press, which is now at its lowest level in the history of polling.” This leads to consideration of a Morning Consult survey which looked at trust in the media, and broke it down on party lines. The results are summarized in this table:

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The major differences here are in how credible Fox is seen to be, with The Wall Street Journal showing a comparable but less severe partisan divide. Any consideration of the credibility of The Wall Street Journal should take into consideration the tremendous difference between its news pages and the opinion pages, which take far greater liberties with the truth.

There is far more agreement that I might have predicted with other news outlets. Democrats trust MSNBC more then Republicans, but the difference is not all that great.Both Democrats and Republicans rank Huffington Post and Breitbart fairly low, with some degree of the expected partisan difference. I find it encouraging that only 26 percent of Republicans find Breitbart to be credible, placing it below MSNBC, NPR, and Huffington Post. It is notable that Democrats find The Onion to be more credible than Beritbart, but Republicans do not.

A Probably Futile Attempt To Stop Trump In The Electoral College

Everyone was upset when Donald Trump said he might not accept the results of the election. Now that he has been elected, there are those who do not accept this and are trying to block his election in the electoral college. One roadblock is laws in some states which require electors to vote for the winner of their state. Electors in Colorado are challenging this:

Two presidential electors in Colorado are heading to court Tuesday to try and boost their extreme long-shot gambit to stop Donald Trump from officially being elected president when the Electoral College votes on Dec. 19.

Democratic electors Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich are filing suit in federal court to overturn a state law that forces them to support the winner of Colorado’s presidential popular vote, in this case Hillary Clinton. But a successful bid, they say, would undermine similar laws in 28 other states, empowering Republican electors in those states to reject Trump.

In the legal filing, obtained by POLITICO, lawyers for Baca and Nemanich argue that Colorado’s statute is flatly unconstitutional because the Founding Fathers intended presidential electors to have free will when casting their votes — and to consider the popular vote as merely advisory.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to exercise their judgment and free will to vote for whomever they believe to be the most qualified and fit for the offices of President and Vice President, whether those candidates are Democrats, Republicans, or from a third party,” they argue in a brief signed by Denver attorney Jason Wesoky.

Regardless of what happens with this suit, it is highly unlikely that Trump will be prevented from becoming president. While laws such as those in Colorado are somewhat of a roadblock, I suspect it would actually be hard to enforce such laws. The real problem here is that it is Democratic electors who are making the most noise about a challenge in the electoral college. Some are engaged in a probably futile attempt to get the support of Hillary Clinton, who has no real incentive to see her electoral vote count decrease. Their goal is to switch votes to John Kasich, seeing him as a less objectionable Republican than Donald Trump. This might have a long shot chance at working if Republican electors were joining them, but it makes no difference in the end if Democratic electors vote for Kasich rather than Clinton.

Some are urging Republican electors to vote for Clinton over Trump. It is even less likely they would support Clinton as opposed to another Republican.

So far there is one Republican elector who is saying he will not vote for Trump:

A Republican member of the Electoral College from Texas said Monday that he won’t cast one of his state’s 38 electoral votes for Donald Trump because “I am here to elect a president, not a king.”

Dallas paramedic Chris Suprun previously indicated he would support Trump. But he now says the president-elect’s postelection attacks on the First Amendment and the country’s electoral process, as well as the billionaire businessman’s continued promotion of his brand and business interests overseas, changed his mind.

The loss of his electoral vote will not prevent Trump from being elected, even if he should convince a handful of other Republican electors to take the same action. If enough electors do vote for Kasich over Trump to prevent him from reaching 270 electoral votes, in theory the House of Representatives could then choose Kasich over Trump to be president, but is is questionable if this would actually occur.

James Mattis Might Be Best We Can Hope For From Trump As Defense Secretary

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Like most observers, I am apprehensive about the names being mentioned for top positions in the Trump administration. His national security advisers are far too hawkish, although the same would be the case if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Although more hawkish than I would like, I had been thinking that General James Mattis might be about as good a choice for Secretary of Defense as could be expected in a Trump administration. He is certainly a better choice than picking Michael Flynn to be national security adviser.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton invited General Mattis to speak at their nominating conventions, which was not surprising with Clinton being the more hawkish of the two. Mattis declined both invitations, which I consider to be a point in his favor.

Mattis is more hard-line on Russia than Trump. While I was concerned about the history of belligerence and Cold War mentality towards Russia seen from Hillary Clinton, it might be safer to have someone suspicious of Russia to counterbalance Donald Trump’s crush on Putin. I am more worried about his hawkish position on Iran.

Another benefit of Mattis advising Donald Trump is that Trump was impressed when Mattis advised him that waterboarding and other forms of torture are not effective means of obtaining information. Trump quoted Mattis as saying, “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” This is advice I want Donald Trump to hear.

Thomas Ricks, author of books including Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq had the following to say about Mattis in The New York Times:

Usually, I’d oppose having a general as secretary of defense, because it could undermine our tradition of civilian control of the military.

But these are not normal times. The incoming president appears to be a profoundly ignorant man who often seems to act on gut impulse or on what pleases the crowd. That is a dangerous combination to have in the White House. Having known General Mattis for many years, I am confident that he will be a restraint on Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness. I also think he will provide a strong counterweight to some of those around Mr. Trump who hold isolationist or pro-Putin views…

It helps that General Mattis, unlike Mr. Trump, is extremely well read. I once casually mentioned to him that I planned to learn more about the Carthaginian general Hannibal. He immediately named two books that he considered good studies. He told me once that in combat he liked to have a copy in his rucksack of “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, the second-century Roman philosopher-emperor, the better to help him gain some mental distance from the battlefield.

I also think that General Mattis will provide a useful balance to Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general chosen by Mr. Trump to be national security adviser. General Flynn strikes me as an erratic figure. For example, his joining in the “lock her up” chant at the Republican convention was unseemly and, for a career military officer, unprofessional. Also, General Flynn did not have a good reputation as an administrator when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency before being moved out by the Obama administration. It will help that General Mattis retired with four stars, while General Flynn wore just three — among military men, rank matters, even in retirement.

The public notion of generals is that they know how to use only the military as a means of policy and so are more likely to get the nation into wars. That is a false conception in most cases, but especially in this one. General Mattis knows that war is the last resort, not the first one. He also understands that the threat of force works best when it works in conjunction with robust diplomatic efforts.

If it is inevitable that Trump is going to chose someone who is conservative on foreign policy, Mattis might be as good a choice as we can hope for under Trump.

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Bernie Sanders Wishes He Had The Opportunity To Run Against Trump (And So Do I)

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The nomination of Hillary Clinton by the Democratic Party in 2016 was among the worst blunders in the history of politics. She was the about the most status-quo candidate possible in an election where voters wanted change, representing everything which is most reprehensible in our political system. She was shown to have engaged in serious corruption in a year in which voters wanted reform, but many partisan Democrats continue to ignore the well-established evidence against her. It was clear Clinton would have difficulties with young voters, independent voters, many Obama voters, Sanders voters, swing state voters,  and voters in rust belt states. (Yes, there is considerable overlap in these groups, and it should have especially been obvious that many of those who voted for Obama in 2008 or Sanders in 2016 were doing so because they did not want Hillary Clinton to become president).

Beyond Clinton’s corruption and being wrong on virtually every major decision in her career, Clinton is terrible at running political campaigns. She is totally out of touch with the voters, and her political instincts are awful. She could not beat Obama in 2008, and could not have won the nomination in 2016 if the party insiders hadn’t cleared the field for her, in a system already rigged to favor a centrist over insurgent candidate, and then further intervened to support her when there was an unexpected challenge. The failure of the Democratic Party to pay attention to the desires of the voters resulted in the election of Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders had double digit leads over Trump while Trump and Clinton were close in head to head polling. If Bernie Sanders was the nominee, Democrats, not Republicans, would have won the voters who wanted change. Sanders could get the young, independent, swing state, and rust belt voters to turn out for him in far larger margins than Clinton could. Sanders would have addressed issues of concern to voters while Clinton ran a dreadful campaign which never gave voters a reason to vote for her  beyond gender and the feeling that it was her turn. Sanders would have spoken to the press to get out his message, while Hillary Clinton avoided them as much as possible. With Sanders, there would have been no scandals, and no problems raised by being investigated by the FBI. Only partisan Democrats could think that she was exonerated after being exposed for conducting unethical and reckless behavior, and lying about it to the American people, because she was not indicted.

Bernie Sanders appeared on Conan (video above) and, while too modest to say he would win, showed that he regretted he did not have the opportunity:

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday said he wished he had the chance to run against Donald Trump.

In an interview on “Conan,” Sanders said that while he was unsure whether he would’ve defeated Trump, early hypothetical head-to-head matchups showed him far ahead.

“What the polling showed that early on was all the polls nationally and statewide, I was beating him by much larger margins, much more than Secretary Clinton, but you know, then you go through a three-month campaign,” Sanders told host Conan O’Brien.

“All I can tell you Conan: I wish to God I’d had the opportunity. I would’ve loved to have run against him,” he added.

During his appearance Tuesday night, Sanders also ruminated on the nature of Trump’s election victory. He suggested that Trump used rhetoric to inflame racial and ethnic tensions but successfully branded himself as an outsider who could relate to many voters’ frustration with established industries.

“What Trump managed to do was convince people that he was the antiestablishment candidate at the time when people really are not happy with the economic establishment, the political establishment, and the media establishment,” Sanders said. “I think, sadly, much of what he said will not be true — he will not keep his word.”

He added: “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or a sexist or a homophobe. There are a lot of people who are hurting very badly. They saw him as a glimmer of hope. That’s why they voted for him.”

Today’s attempt in the House to replace the establishment candidate also failed, but the challenge did show signs of growing discontent over the failures of the Democratic Party under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi:

Pelosi easily beat Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a seven-term lawmaker who launched an upstart bid to lead House Democrats two weeks ago in response to the party’s disappointing November election results and concerns that Democrats have become out of touch with working-class voters in key swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

But Pelosi’s margin of victory, 134 votes to 63 for Ryan, signaled a large degree of discontent with her leadership after 14 years atop the caucus and, more broadly, with the Democratic policy agenda that many lawmakers say has grown stale. While she cleared her self-declared margin of victory, a two-thirds majority, many Democrats were stunned that almost a third of the caucus was willing to vote for a backbench lawmaker with no major policy or political experience.

Many were left wondering whether a more seasoned Democrat could have actually toppled Pelosi, with several privately suggesting these next two years would have to be Pelosi’s last as leader. Ryan’s 63 votes marked the largest bloc of opposition Pelosi has faced since winning a deputy leadership position 15 years ago that set her on a course to become the first female House speaker.

Being “out of touch with working-class voters” is only part of the problem. Democrats are also out of touch with liberal voters, including many younger potential voters, on foreign policy, mass surveillance, civil liberties, and social/cultural issues. A Republican-lite party has little constituency beyond those content with voting for the lesser evil.

Trump Sides With Clinton In Opposing First Amendment Rights

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Issues were generally ignored during the 2016 election campaign, with media coverage concentrating on what atrocious things Donald Trump has said and the latest revelations in the Clinton scandals. The media generally ignored how both major party candidates are very far right on First Amendment issues. The First Amendment has finally come under discussion in response to a tweet from Donald Trump (which appears to be in  response to a story Trump saw on Fox):

Trump tweeted: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

This puts Donald Trump to the right of Antonin Scalia. As I noted following his death, this was an issue where Scalia sided with civil libertarians.  Scalia has voted for a Supreme Court decision which ruled that the First Amendment protected the right to burn the American flag. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has sponsored legislation to make flag burning a felony.

This puts Trump on the same side of Hillary Clinton, once again showing how Trump and Clinton are far more alike than many partisans supporting either candidate will ever admit. As is often the case, Trump has found a position somewhat to the right of Clinton’s by bringing up loss of citizenship. Both the prohibition on flag burning and the suggested penalty of loss of citizenship are unconstitutional.

It is a shame that an entire election went by with so little discussion of how both candidates hold positions which are extremely conservative with regards to civil liberties. Democrats will probably criticize Trump for this while ignoring that their candidate was not all that much better. We are screwed either way when elections turn into a contest based upon lesser-evilism.

Nate Silver Defends The Recounts Advocated By Jill Stein

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It is doubtful that the recounts which Jill Stein has pushed for in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania will change the election results. Despite this, Nate Silver has made the following case as to why this is beneficial, calling it more of an audit than a true recount:

The first proviso: Let’s not call it a “recount,” because that’s not really what it is. It’s not as though merely counting the ballots a second or third time is likely to change the results enough to overturn the outcome in three states. An apparent win by a few dozen or a few hundred votes might be reversed by an ordinary recount. But Donald Trump’s margins, as of this writing, are roughly 11,000 votes in Michigan, 23,000 votes in Wisconsin and 68,000 votes in Pennsylvania. There’s no precedent for a recount overturning margins like those or anything close to them. Instead, the question is whether there was a massive, systematic effort to manipulate the results of the election.

So what we’re talking about is more like an audit or an investigation. An investigation that would look for signs of deliberate and widespread fraud, such as voting machines’ having been hacked, whole batches of ballots’ intentionally having been disregarded, illegal coordination between elections officials and the campaigns, and so on. Such findings would probably depend on physical evidence as much or more than they do statistical evidence. In that sense, there’s no particular reason to confine the investigation to Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania, the states that Hillary Clinton lost (somewhat) narrowly. If the idea is to identify some sort of smoking gun indicating massive fraud perpetrated by the Trump campaign — or by the Clinton campaign, or by the Russian government — it might be in a state Clinton won, such as New Hampshire or Minnesota. Or for that matter, it might be in a state Trump won fairly easily, like Ohio or Iowa.

A second “condition” is that the burden of proof for claims of a fixed election ought to be high. That’s because there’s enough evidence for there to be a clear presumption against theories of massive vote-rigging…

In many ways, undertaking an audit of the election results is tantamount to performing a test for a rare but potentially fatal disease. You want to weigh the probability of successfully detecting an anomaly against the invasiveness of the procedure and the chance of a false positive result. Oftentimes, the risk outweighs the reward. For instance, many experts warn against mammograms for women in their 40s because the underlying risk of breast cancer is low for women of that age and the rate of false positive tests is high, causing undue stress for the patients and subjecting them to further tests and operations that might be harmful.

What are the costs of an election audit? Running them will cost several million dollars, but that’s fairly trivial in an era of billion-dollar campaigns. Instead, since these audits aren’t routine — although maybe they should be — the cost is mostly that they could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the election and the longstanding norm toward uncontentious transitions of power from one president toward the next. Which might be more persuasive … if Trump hadn’t spent the weekend peddling a conspiracy about how he thought the results were rigged in Clinton’s favor because millions of people had voted illegally…

Ultimately, though, I’m in the information business. An audit very probably won’t detect a conspiracy, but it will reveal information about our voting systems. FiveThirtyEight and most other American news organizations are founded on the premise that more information is better, even if it risks being misinterpreted. I’ve never questioned that premise more than I have over the course of this election. But over the next four years, we’re all going to have to get used to an environment in which nuggets of insight come buried in mounds of misinformation. An audit is as good a place as any to start.

Plus there is a certain satisfaction in seeing Donald Trump get upset over the recounts after he has claimed before the election that the election was rigged, and more recently claimed that he was only denied a victory in the popular vote due to voter fraud. Bernie Sanders called this claim “disgraceful and unfounded nonsense.”

One thing we are learning is that there are road blocks interfering with the recounts. The most complicated of the three is Pennsylvania where Stein is both filing suit and trying to obtain a recount through a rather complicated procedure:

To initiate a statewide recount through the courts, the Stein campaign must sufficiently prove that there was a strong probability of election fraud in Pennsylvania.

But with that high bar for the Stein campaign to meet, the campaign is also hoping to initiate a recount through another route, with Pennsylvania voters in every precinct submitting affidavits to their precinct clerks asking for recounts in their respective precincts. So far, the Stein campaign said, they had successfully gotten 100 precincts to make the requests — a fraction of the necessary 9,163 voting precincts.

Further complicating the effort, the Pennsylvania Department of State noted that some of the precincts are in counties that had finished certifying their election results, closing the five-day window for petitioning precincts to hold recounts.

Stein is also filing suit in Wisconsin after the Wisconsin Elections Commission refused the hand recount she requested.

Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee Discussed The Election

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The Guardian features a conversation between Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee about the election. Spike Lee started out by describing what Sanders was up against in running for the Democratic nomination:

SL I want to thank you, though. Because what you did is great. And reading this stuff that’s coming out – the revelations about Wasserman [Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, who during the campaign leaked emails shown to be biased against Sanders in favour of Clinton] and Donna Brazile [interim DNC chair, who gave Clinton a heads-up on questions in advance of a CNN debate], whom I know. Cheating goes both ways, huh? [Laughs.]

BS Well, you know. We took on the entire establishment and that’s what happens. But we have some enormously difficult times now. We gotta go forward, and I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

They discussed how some people voted for Obama and then voted for Trump this year:

BS Well, I think a number of people who voted for Obama once, or twice, voted for Trump. And I think the issue is that there are millions of people in this country who voted for Trump but do not accept… I’m not going to deny for a second that there’s a lot of racism and xenophobia and sexism out there; there certainly is. But there are a whole lot of other people who are just really, really hurting. They’re working two or three jobs, they’re worried about their kids, they can’t afford to send them to childcare or to college. And Trump comes along and says, “I’m a champion of the working class.” And he’s a good showman and a good entertainer, and people believed him.

But our job now, it seems to me, is in three areas. Number one: to fight him tooth and nail in any movement toward racism, xenophobia, sexism, trying to divide our country up. And number two: if he is at all sincere – and we will see if he is – in developing programmes to create jobs and raise wages, I think we should work with him. But I’ll tell you what also concerns me, not just for this country but the planet, is this guy thinks that climate change is a hoax. Well, let me tell you, it ain’t a hoax. Climate change is real, and if we don’t transform our energy system, the planet we leave for our kids and grandchildren may not be a pretty place.

This led into how Clinton managed to lose the election. It came down to Clinton’s attitude of entitlement, and a failure to present a case as to why she should be president–or as Mark McKinnon put it at The Daily Beast, she failed to tell a story. She thought the election was hers, and tried to run out the clock:

SL Excuse me, if I may, sir; you know I love sports. I’ve seen it too many times, when a team thinks they’ve got it all won, just wrapped up, and you see players go down the sideline and start celebrating, and then they reach the goal line and fumble. The Clintons – and I’m not asking you for a comment; this is my opinion – thought they had it won. And what do the great coaches always say? Keep playing until there is no time on the clock! And it seems to me the Clintons were celebrating before the day was up.

BS [Mirthlessly.] Ha.

SL It was not Hillary Clinton’s birthright to be president of the United States of America! And Trump, he played it like he was going to keep going at this until the whistle blows, until time has run out.

BS Right. You’re right. Now, no one can deny that Trump was holding three or four rallies a day, he was running all over this country, working 20 hours a day. And that’s the truth. But I think that speaks to, Spike, something that goes beyond Hillary Clinton. It really goes to the very nature of the Democratic party.

SL The DNC!

BS That’s right. And it calls for the transformation of the Democratic party, and making it clear it’s going to be a party that brings together blacks and whites and Latinos and women and gays, and everyone else. But it’s also going to be a party…

SL Would you say that it’s a shambles, now, Senator – the DNC?

BS Yes. Yes. And I am supporting…

BS Yes. I think we need a house-cleaning. I think the DNC needs an entirely new direction. I think it needs leadership, and I think it needs to be very clear about the fact that it stands with working families and is prepared to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street, and corporate America, and the drug companies and the insurance companies. People are hurting. And we need a programme that stands with working families and brings people together.

SL Were you ever offered the VP position, sir?

BS No. Absolutely not.

SL Would you have taken it?

BS Er. Probably, yes. But that’s again looking through the rear-view mirror.

If Clinton had chosen Sanders to be her running mate she probably would have won as many of those who voted for Obama in the past but had stayed home, voted for Trump, or voted third party would have voted for a Clinton/Sanders ticket in the midwest states which Clinton narrowly lost. Instead, many saw the choice of Tim Kaine as further evidence that Clinton was sticking with the centrist/conservative DLC philosophy and was ignoring the left. Now that we do have Trump coming into the White House, the next question was about where we go next:

SL [Long silence.] Hmmm. This is a rhetorical question, but I just want readers to understand this, very clearly. Where do we go? Where is the hope?

BS OK, here is where the hope is. The hope is to understand that the Democratic party has stumbled very significantly in the last number of decades. It’s not just this election, Spike, as disastrous as it has been. It is the fact that the Republican party controls the Senate, controls the US House, controls something like two-thirds of the governor seats in this country, and that the Democrats have lost over 900 state legislature seats in the last eight years. What that tells me is that the Democratic party has got to very fundamentally rethink who it is and where it goes. It has to shed the current situation where it’s a party of the liberal elite, a party of wealthy people who give substantial sums – we can use that money, that’s fine, but it must reidentify itself as a party of working people. Whether you’re black, white, Latino, there are millions of people today who are working longer hours for lower wages, and they’re seeing almost all new income and wealth going to the top 1%. The Democratic party has got to say we are on the side of the 99%. Our party is not about having fancy fundraisers, it’s about going into union halls, veterans’ halls, farm communities, the inner cities. It has to bring people together around the progressive agenda and make government work for all of us and not the 1%. That’s why I’m supporting Keith Ellison [as prospective chair of the DNC].

SL Who?

BSKeith Ellison. Of Minnesota.

SL Oh, yes. He’s the Muslim brother, right?

BS Yes. He’s a very good guy, and he’s the co-chair of the house progressive caucus. Very progressive guy. And I think Keith understands that the future of the Democratic party is a grassroots party. So I’m going to be supporting him and shaking up the Democratic party.

SL Let me ask you another question. The coalition that Obama got, that put him in office – did the Clinton campaign think it would automatically win [those people] without having to work? I don’t understand it. Because I did not feel the energy there was for Obama – even for you – for Hillary Clinton. I respect the woman, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there.

BS I think nobody would argue with you on that. What we have seen is that in 2008 Obama ran a historical campaign where the turnout was extraordinarily high: enthusiasm in the minority community, strong support in the white working class, and that carried over in 2012. But in 2016, what we saw – I think your point is quite right – it would be hard to suggest that the people of this country were enthusiastic about the Clinton campaign. There was not the energy we have seen in the Obama campaign, and what ended up happening was voter turnout was low. She won the black community overwhelmingly, but turnout was low. She lost a lot of white, working-class people. That’s just the fact.

The Democrats have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now in 2016 when they ran as Republican-lite. They will need to rebuild at the grassroots, and they will need to stand for something.

Civil Liberties Groups Urge Obama To Curtail Government Surveillance Following Trump Victory

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After the revelations of NSA surveillance my concern, along with others such as Daniel Ellsberg, was not that we were already in an Orwellian totalitarian state, but that the infrastructure for a police state was being developed. In 2013 Ellsberg warned:

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

Civil libertarians now fear another development which risks the progression to a police state–the election of Donald Trump. Even those who trusted Obama with these powers recognize the dangers of abuse under Trump. Politico reports:

Tech and civil liberties advocates are imploring the Obama administration to rein in the government’s massive surveillance apparatus before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, fearful he will carry out his campaign promises to register Muslims, spy on mosques and punish companies that offer Americans unbreakable encryption.

But many national security experts and former administration officials say the effort is almost certainly doomed to fail. “I don’t know how you tie the king’s hands in just the weeks going out,” said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.

And some civil libertarians blame Democrats for being too content to allow President Barack Obama to wield the sweeping, post-Sept. 11 surveillance powers he inherited from George W. Bush, rather than rolling them back so that no future president could use them.

“We shouldn’t be relying on the benevolence of the leaders put in power after an election to ensure that people’s privacy and civil liberties are protected,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“You have a situation where the executive branch has control of a surveillance apparatus that is unparalleled in history,” said Trevor Timm, a surveillance critic and head of the activist group Freedom of the Press Foundation. “And because the Obama administration either retained the right to use a lot of these unprecedented powers, or expanded them, they are now in the hands of somebody who many people consider to be a madman.”

…Hoping to head Trump off, civil liberties, digital rights and watchdog groups are pleading with Obama to take a series of actions to weaken the surveillance state. Those include releasing classified inspector general reports and the secret legal rationales behind the government’s spying efforts, which could help advocates challenge Trump in court. Some also urged Obama’s team to purge the NSA’s databases of some of the information they hoover up, wiping out reams of data that are focused on foreigners but incidentally drag in details on an unknown number of Americans.

Thirty advocacy groups banded together this week in a letter telling Obama to take action, writing: “No less than our shared legacy of a vibrant democratic government is at stake.”

…Obama came into office vowing to “revisit” many of these powers, but privacy advocates believe he has largely failed to do so. While the president has regularly spoken about the need for greater checks and public oversight of the system, he has defended the powers themselves.

“This may go down in history as President Obama’s most consequential mistake,” Timm said.

Civil libertarians have been concerned about the danger of abuses under Donald Trump, but the degree of government surveillance placed civil liberties at risk regardless of whether Trump was elected. Other than for Trump’s xenophobia, Hillary Clinton’s views on civil liberties and the surveillance state are not all that different from those of Donald Trump.

There is one benefit to Trump as opposed to Clinton winning–Democrats will be far more likely to protest abuses under Trump than they would protest abuses from Clinton. Many partisan Democrats have been whitewashing her record and excusing her extremely conservative views on First Amendment rights. Those of us who protested the growth of the surveillance state under both Bush and Obama were often ignored by Democrats when Obama was president and they thought he would be succeeded by Clinton. The election of Donald Trump is opening more eyes to the danger of such powers in the hands of the president.

Insight Into Two Top Trump Advisers: Jared Kushner & Steve Bannon

jared-kushner-forbes

While we approach Donald Trump’s presidency with some dread, at least this stage is more interesting than it would be if Clinton had been elected. Rather than what would be a fairly predictable list of old Clinton cronies, Wall Street insiders, and the interventionist foreign policy establishment, we are seeing people new to politics. While Donald Trump is new to politics, he has a long public record. Perhaps the key member of the next administration that we know the least about is his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Kushner out-smarted the old Clinton political experts, and pulled off a victory in the electoral college with both less money and no political experience. Forbes has interviewed Kushner. The full article is worth reading, but here is an excerpt to show how Kushner changed how political campaigns are run to take advantage of social media and ideas from Silicon Valley:

“I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff,” Kushner says. “They gave me their subcontractors.”

At first Kushner dabbled, engaging in what amounted to a beta test using Trump merchandise. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner says. Synched with Trump’s blunt, simple messaging, it worked. The Trump campaign went from selling $8,000 worth of hats and other items a day to $80,000, generating revenue, expanding the number of human billboards–and proving a concept. In another test, Kushner spent $160,000 to promote a series of low-tech policy videos of Trump talking straight into the camera that collectively generated more than 74 million views.

By June the GOP nomination secured, Kushner took over all data-driven efforts. Within three weeks, in a nondescript building outside San Antonio, he had built what would become a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging and targeting. Run by Brad Parscale, who had previously built small websites for the Trump Organization, this secret back office would drive every strategic decision during the final months of the campaign. “Our best people were mostly the ones who volunteered for me pro bono,” Kushner says. “People from the business world, people from nontraditional backgrounds.”

Kushner structured the operation with a focus on maximizing the return for every dollar spent. “We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote,” Kushner says. “I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?” FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did.

Just as Trump’s unorthodox style allowed him to win the Republican nomination while spending far less than his more traditional opponents, Kushner’s lack of political experience became an advantage. Unschooled in traditional campaigning, he was able to look at the business of politics the way so many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have sized up other bloated industries.

I wonder who will get the movie rights to this story.

While Kushner’s political views are not clear, he does not appear to be a doctrinaire conservative. The anti-nepotism laws written after JFK made Bobby Kennedy his Attorney General might prevent Kushner from having a formal role in the Trump administration. I think we are better off with Trump continuing to listen to Kushner and hope this can be circumvented. Even if he cannot have an actual position, Trump will probably continue to receive advice from him.

During the interview Kushner defended Steve Bannon from accusations of being anti-Semitic based upon the hate speech often found at Breitbart. While this is hardly enough to make Bannon look acceptable, there was another sign today that Bannon might be more complex than he is portrayed. IndieWire reports that previously Bannon had been involved in the distribution of independent films which differ from the world view he is now involved with:

Ten years ago, Bannon oversaw the distribution of independent films released by Wellspring Media, a company that supported a wide range of international cinema as well as gay-themed and other “transgressive” titles. Movies acquired and released under his tenure include the experimental LGBT documentary “Tarnation” and “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” a pro-Kerry documentary that opened during the 2004 election. According to one insider who dealt with Bannon at this time, he directly approved and often supported several of these films with great enthusiasm.

It’s a history that raises fascinating questions about the newly minted White House staffer’s motives: Did Bannon, whose alt-right allegiances have turned him into a leading proponent of nationalism, shelve his personal beliefs for the sake of perceived business opportunities? Did those beliefs — and a tolerance for the hate groups drawn to the alt-right movement — come later? Or does he, as so many have theorized about the president-elect, only believe in himself?P

Hopefully we will see a new version of Bannon in the White House, but this will not negate all of the hate speech he has spread in more recent years. The same can be said of President Trump as compared to candidate Trump.