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Michael Lewis’ New Book: Trump vs. the Federal Government

By now the incompetence of the Trump campaign and White House is well known, but Michael Lewis is always worth paying attention to. His newest book, The Fifth Risk, is about just how unprepared the incoming Trump administration was to govern the country. The Guardian has an excerpt:

Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said. “Now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy — the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain — but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Christ. Lewis’ very next line is: “That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble.” — which makes Chris Christie the most tone-deaf individual in the world (he was fired the next day, a complete surprise to him).

 

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Current Events Recommended Reading

Constitutional Convention: The GOP’s Long Game Should Scare the Shit Out of You

There is an enormous threat to our democracy that most people have never heard about. That threat is a constitutional convention called by the states.

The last time such a thing happened was in 1787 and it was a total fucking mess. But there is a renewed effort spearheaded by the GOP and its funders (Kochs) underway, an effort that should keep you up at night.

Conservatives are pushing to call an Article V convention to add amendments to the Constitution. They need the approval of 34 state legislatures to compel Congress to call such a gathering. Right now, they have 28 states on board.

“I think we’re three or four years away,” said former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn speaking at the annual convention for American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) – a powerful rightwing organization that links corporate lobbyists with state lawmakers.

Conservatives have been talking about this for some time, completely off the radar of most on the left. The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republica book by talk radio host and lawyer Mark Levin, published in 2013 lays out many of the right’s wishes. In it, Levin lays out and makes a case for eleven Constitutional amendments which he believes would “restore” the Constitution’s chief components: federalism, republicanism, and limited government. That’s right, “Constitutional Conservatives” want to re-write the Constitution.

Here’s what Levin proposed:

  1. Impose Congressional term limits
  2. Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment, returning the election of Senators to state legislatures
  3. Impose term limits for Supreme Court Justices and restrict judicial review
  4. Require a balanced budget and limit federal spending and taxation
  5. Define a deadline to file taxes (one day before the next federal election)
  6. Subject federal departments and bureaucratic regulations to periodic reauthorization and review
  7. Create a more specific definition of the Commerce Clause
  8. Limit eminent domain powers
  9. Allow states to more easily amend the Constitution by bypassing Congress
  10. Create a process where two-thirds of the states can nullify federal laws
  11. Require photo ID to vote and limit early voting

The book debuted at #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list in all three categories for which it qualified. It’s sold millions of copies and barely a peep has been made about it in left-leaning media.

It’s a scary list, ironically almost entirely devoted to removing liberty from U.S. citizens. It’s what Conservatives are pushing for and it’s worth the read to be informed on what the opposition is up to.

Also worth a read, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. It’s a fantastic look at the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, stop action on climate change, and as discussed here, there plan to permanently alter the Constitution itself.

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A Progressive Definition of Freedom

Pete Buttigieg, a progressive Democrat, it the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is also a Rhodes scholar, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan during his time as mayor, and is openly gay.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Buttigieg talked about the need for progressives to win back and recast concepts that conservatives currently “own.” He argues that it’s time for progressives to own freedom, family, and patriotism.

You’ll hear me talk all the time about freedom. Because I think there is a failure on our side if we allow conservatives to monopolize the idea of freedom — especially now that they’ve produced an authoritarian president. But what actually gives people freedom in their lives? The most profound freedoms of my everyday existence have been safeguarded by progressive policies, mostly. The freedom to marry who I choose, for one, but also the freedom that comes with paved roads and stop lights. Freedom from some obscure regulation is so much more abstract. But that’s the freedom that conservatism has now come down to.

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Universal healthcare = freedom.

Good public education = freedom.

Clean drinking water and air = freedom.

Fair wages = freedom.

Affordable housing = freedom.

Easy & Secure voting = freedom.

Gun control = freedom.

Policing by consent = freedom.

The concept of freedom has been corrupted, distorted and bastardized. It’s time for progressives to own it.

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Current Events Recommended Reading

Connecting Some Dots on Trump Revoking Brennan’s Clearance

By now you should know that Trump has revoked John Brennan’s security clearance, an unprecedented move. Brennan claims Trump made the decision because he worked with Russians and is getting desperate. Then Trump himself essentially admitted that he revoked Brennan’s clearance to obstruct justice.

Through it all there are some very interesting connections to be made. Check out this tweet from July 24th:

That’s Artem Klyushin a Russian Oligarch and here is more about him. And here’s that tweet translated:

Ex-CIA directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden, ex-FBI director James Komi and his deputy Andrew McCabe, ex-director of the National Intelligence Service James Clapper, ex-national security adviser Susan Rice say goodbye to access to classified materials.

The date of the order to revoke Brennan’s security clearance given by Trump yesterday was July 26. The original suggestion of it was on July 23.

A little more on Artem Klyushin. His wife which he is separated from is Yulia Alferova. She started promoting Trump to run for president in 2015. She met him when he was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.

Seth Abramson has been doing some great work following stories linking Artem Klyushin and Yulia Alferova to Trump. The contact began before he started his campaign, seemingly in order to get kompromat on him.

Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov, Yulya Alferova and her then-husband Artem Klyushin: these four people, with Konstantin Rykov in support, lured Trump to Moscow to ink a Trump Tower Moscow deal, get kompromat on him via Rykov’s Dosug prostitutes, and link him up with Vladimir Putin.

And here…

A tweet from Russian Artem Klyushin, around the time his pal Rykov—pictured here—said it was time to “start helping Trump.” There are now credible allegations that Kluyshin and Rykov master-minded the 2013 Russian-prostitute kompromat scheme at the Ritz Moscow (November 9, 2013).

Then today, this:

“That’s how we make history”

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The White Nationalists Are Winning

Recommended reading over at the Atlantic. With Fox News anchors and high-profile Republican politicians openly pushing the racism and talking points of the alt-right. The fringe movement is no longer fringe, it’s just the Republican Party.

A year after white nationalists in Charlottesville chanted, “You will not replace us!” their message has been taken up and amplified by Fox News personalities. Tucker Carlson tells his audience that “Latin American countries are changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country.” Laura Ingraham says that “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore” because of “massive demographic changes” as a result of “both illegal and sometimes legal immigration that progressives love.” They echo the white-nationalist claim that America is at risk because the nation is growing more diverse, an argument that treats the mere presence of nonwhite people, citizen or noncitizen, as an existential threat to the country. White nationalists like Cantwell are cheered to hear their beliefs championed on Fox. Cantwell wrote last year that Carlson “is basically telling white America to prepare for war as directly as he can get away with while remaining on Fox News.”

 

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Jon Stewart Tried to Warn us of the GOP’s love affair with Vladimir Putin back in 2014

So this is a thing that is happening, but maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, Jon Stewart warned us back in 2014.

The GOP has a love affair with Vladimir Putin.

Stewart makes a great point, among many. It’s funny how Republicans just love Putin’s dictatorial style, while they accuse Obama of wearing “mommy jeans.” But then whenever Obama actually does something, like pass health care reform, the President suddenly becomes “Dictator Obama” who jams unconstitutional legislation down the throats of the American public (by letting the Congress vote on it 50 times).

Where have I heard that before?

“Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

Umberto Eco, from Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt

A story told a thousand times. Just like Schrodinger’s Immigrant — simultaneously a lazy welfare leech, and a job hoarder at the same time. How the Jews are, at once, a degenerate, filthy, inferior race, and the menacingly powerful puppetmasters controlling the world through the banking, media, and delicatessen industries. Obama the pansy-ass pussy bitch atheist, and also a dictatorial, menacing, all-powerful muslim! And Hillary the brain damaged feeble grandmother who can’t get into a van without help who is also controlling elements of the deep state within DOJ, SCOTUS, FBI, NSA and the DOD to overthrow Trump.

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Mike Pence Once Wrote that a President Should Be Impeached for Moral Failings

Mike Pence used to document his opinions on the website for his old radio show. In one of his columns, Pence argued that the president should be held to a higher moral standard than your average American. These writings were recently brought to light by CNN’s KFile and by Splinter in 2016. They were originally posted in the late 1990s.

Mike Pence wrote:

On the second count, that the President is ‘just like the rest of us’, he is the most powerful man in the world. If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet. Seriously, the very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the Chief Executive that we place on our next door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous. Throughout our history, we have seen the presidency as the repository of all of our highest hopes and ideals and values. To demand less is to do an injustice to the blood that bought our freedom

http://web.archive.org/web/19990821083429/http:/www.hublergroup.com:80/pence/clinton2.html

Mike Pence also wrote:

Further, the Presidents repeated lies to the American people in this matter compound the case against him as they demonstrate his failure to protect the institution of the presidency as the ‘inspiring supreme symbol of all that is highest in our American ideals’.

If the President does not resign, the Republican Congress must impeach him even if it costs them their majority because the laws of this republic charge them with the duty to so act. Absent an uncharacteristic act of selflessness by the President, it is left to the Republicans to live up to their label and defend the laws and institutions of this Republic. If our leaders flinch at this responsibility, they would do well to heed the Proverb “if a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked”. Our leaders must either act to restore the luster and dignity of the institution of the Presidency or we can be certain that this is only the beginning of an even more difficult time for our land. For the nation to move on, the President must move out.

http://web.archive.org/web/20010306205858fw_/http:/www.cybertext.net/pence/pres.html

Pence has been radio silent on the allegations Trump currently faces.

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America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats

Great article over at the Economist about how the US Constitution, our first-past-the-post voting system, and demographic changes give Republicans a significant advantage in legislative elections.

The source of this discrepancy is that Democrats will win their seats with big majorities in fewer districts, whereas Republicans will prevail by narrower margins in a larger number of districts. In 2016 Democrats who beat Republican opponents won an average of 67.4% of the two-party vote in their districts, whereas Republicans who defeated Democrats received an average of 63.8%. This imbalance is partly due to deliberate attempts to create districts that provide such results, and partly just down to the fact that Democrats tend to live more tightly bunched together in cities. Together, these two factors put up quite an obstacle. According to our model, the Democrats need to win 53.5% of all votes cast for the two major parties just to have a 50/50 chance of winning a majority in the House.

If this imbalance were limited to a single chamber of the legislature, or a single election cycle, the Democrats’ frequent carping about a stacked electoral deck might sound like sour grapes. All electoral systems have their oddities. But changes in where Americans live and contradictions in their constitution — a document designed to work with many weak factions that has instead encouraged and entrenched an increasingly polarised two-party system — have opened gaps between what the voters choose and the representation they get in every arm of the federal government. In recent decades these disparities have consistently favoured the Republicans, and there is no reason to think that trend is going to change on its own.

In the past three House elections, Republicans’ share of House seats has been 4-5 percentage points greater than their share of the two-party vote. In 2012 they won a comfortable 54% of the chamber despite receiving fewer votes than their Democratic opponents; in 2014 they converted a 51% two-party-vote share into 55% of the seats.

Such comparisons are harder for the Senate, where only a third of the 100 seats are contested in any election. But adding together all the votes from the most recent election of each senator, Republicans got only 46% of them, and they hold 51 of the seats.

Then there are presidential elections:

In all the world’s other 58 fully presidential democracies — those in which the president is both head of state and head of government — the winning candidate gets the most votes in the final, or only, round of voting. But due to the “electoral college” system that America’s founders jury-rigged in part to square the needs of democracy with the demography of slavery, this does not hold true for America. States vote in the college in proportion to their combined representation in both houses of Congress. This set-up means that a candidate who wins narrowly in many small and smallish states can beat one who gets more votes overall, but racks most of them up in big majorities in a few big states.

During almost all of the 20th century this did not matter much; the candidate who got the most votes won every election from 1896 to 1996. But both of the past two Republicans to win the presidency have received fewer votes when first elected than their Democratic opponents did. In the contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, this margin was a modest 0.5 percentage points. In 2016, however, it was substantial: Hillary Clinton’s lead of 2.1 percentage points was larger than those enjoyed by the victorious John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.