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Democracy: for better and for worse by @BloggersRUs

Democracy: for better and for worse

by Tom Sullivan

Rick Hasen had a particularly blue Monday: "I believe I've never been called a Nazi before today." Twitter users piled on over a Slate headline Hasen did not write atop an article many did not read. So it goes with social media.

Hasen argues against Democrats calling the Georgia governor's race "stolen" (Sen. Sherrod Brown) or "illegitimate" (Stacey Abrams) for three reasons. One, "rhetoric about stolen elections feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process." Two, former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's blatant efforts to suppress the vote in Georgia, while odious, have not been proven illegal. Hasen believes, "making charges of a stolen election when it cannot be proved undermines Democrats’ complaints about suppressive tactics." And three, "stolen election" rhetoric diverts attention from how erecting bogus obstacles to voting violates the "dignity and respect" due each voter and onto election outcomes instead.

One reader counters that a fine distinction between voter suppression and stolen elections does not exist for the disenfranchised. Fair point, Hasen replied, "I guess that I'm desperately worried about both voter suppression and about delegitimization of our electoral system and democratic processes."

On points one and two, calling the election stolen is inflammatory in the same way for Democrats as it is for GOP voters. But concern for their credibility has never stopped GOP operatives from making unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud that led us to this point.*

An argument Hasen doesn't quite make is that after so many months of inflammatory and baldfaced Trumpish lies, Democrats trading in similar talk, even if justified, reduces the argument over voting rights to he-said/she-said. So it will be portrayed in the press: overheated rhetoric.

Concern about delegitimization of the election process is valid, of course. But that horse has left the barn. The GOP spent decades purposefully undermining the public's confidence in elections. Kris Kobach, Hans von Spakovsky, Brian Kemp and other GOP hucksters spun the legend of voter fraud to create public demand for voter ID and other vote-suppressing regulations that would tilt game the system in their favor. They personalized their pitch, arguing that a single illegitimate ballot "steals your vote." Promoting "election integrity," they mug, is oh, so vital for rebuilding public trust they themselves worked so assiduously to undermine to their benefit.

That they have done so through "bureaucratic legerdemain and malfeasance in office" is beside the point, argues Charlie Pierce: "Is there an exemption by which theft is not theft if it is done under the color of law?"

In similar fashion, red-leaning states starve efforts to replace aging and vulnerable voting equipment as well as improvements to the process Hasen wants to see. When machines break down, when clerks turn away purged voters, when standing in line to vote takes hours, those too undermine voter confidence in democratic government. Just as planned. Hasen's point about calling it theft is well-taken, but the experience of having your voice stolen by a sabotaged process is far more potent than the rhetoric.

Rachel Maddow last night provided graphics to illustrate how rigged the system is, albeit legally.

On Hasen's third point, attention does indeed need to remain fixed on how rigging the election process degrades the dignity and respect of voters who out of respect for and in service to our hard-fought democracy stand for hours to have their voices heard, only to have doors slammed in their faces by patriotic poseurs.

But nobody is fooled by flag-hugging that what is left of the Republican Party has any scruples left to shed. Nor has the party faith in any form of democracy that does not guarantee its rule. The sitting president is not the source of that royalist sentiment, but a product of it. The GOP has spent decades and innumerable dollars undermining the public's confidence in elections to lock in its power. In the process of repairing what is broken, will bluntly pointing that out make it worse?

* I just re-reviewed the Heritage Foundation’s updated bundle of 1,088 “voter fraud” cases used to bolster the case for voting restrictions. To pad out their count, the archive includes cases going back to 1948. Any and all varieties of election rigging, registration fraud, vote-buying, even ballot petition fraud are lumped together under the rubric of voter fraud (which they use interchangeably with election fraud). Counts are approximate because some crimes overlap. A sampling:

Impersonation Fraud at the Polls: 13. A couple of those involve election judges and one by a man wanting to demonstrate how easy it is to impersonate someone at the polls.

Duplicate voting: 54. Many of the duplicate voting cases involve 2-state voting; 7 cases were attempted & thwarted by election judges.

Ineligible Voting: 201. Most of the ineligible voting cases involve felons and non-citizens improperly registered, many already possessing IDs.

Altering the Vote Count: 5. One dates from 1948.

Ballot Petition Fraud: 72


@CharlesPPierce FTW

Charlie Pierce FTW

by digby

Pierce makes a very important point:

This interesting moment that occurred on Meet The Press between Chuck Todd and the recently re-elected Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Under discussion was the manner in which Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp used the power of his office to help him finagle his way to the governorship over Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.

Senator Brown recently decided to point out the elephant in the room.

TODD: Let me start with you were out this week, talking about another race in 2018. And it was in Georgia and Stacey Abrams. It was before she had acknowledged her defeat. She has now admitted defeat, didn't call it a concession. But I want to ask you about something you said this week about Georgia. Let me play it.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: If Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it. It's clear. It's clear. And I would say, I say that publicly. It's clear.

TODD: Strong language to throw that out there. You believe, today, that this is a stolen race, that basically, Brian Kemp is, is somebody who's illegally governor right -- or governor-elect of Georgia.

It is here where Sunday Showz protocol demands that the politician cavil, hedge, or otherwise walk his argument back over his own feet. However, Senator Brown wasn't playing that.

BROWN: Well, I think you look at the lead-up to this election as secretary of state -- and I was the secretary of state in Ohio 30 years ago. I know what you do, as secretary of state. You encourage people to vote. You don't purge millions of voters. You don't close down polling places in rural areas where voters have difficulty getting to the polls, which were mostly low-income areas. You don't do what Republicans are doing all over the country.

And you've seen it, Chuck. You've seen the kind of voter suppression that, all over this country. And you end with the secretary of state of Georgia should have recused himself from running that election, as Jimmy -- as former -- Georgia resident, former-President Jimmy Carter said he should. And clearly, he did everything he could to put his thumb on the scale and won that election, quote unquote, "won" that election by only about a point.

Chuck Todd was appropriately dismayed. But Senator Brown wasn't playing that, either.

TODD: I guess I would ask this. Couldn't you bring up all of those, all of those issues, lay all of that out, without using the word, stolen? And I throw that out there, because we have enough distrust in our institutions as it is...Does that add to it?

BROWN: Okay, Chuck. Don't do the false equivalency of, of, of, the, you know, the lack of respect in institutions. I mean, we have a president that attacks your profession day after day after day. You, if you saw the earlier part of my election-night speech, you would've heard me thank the media. And you would've seen hundreds of people in Ohio, on the Democratic -- at this election-night gathering, turn around and clap for the media. We see a president that goes after the courts, that goes after the judicial system, a president that says, as the votes were counted, that something's been wrong with the elections. He criticizes the elections that way. So don't play this false equivalency. Because a former secretary of state, like me, said that about this election, which clearly is an effort to suppress the vote, not of people that look like you and me, Chuck--


BROWN: --but people of color especially. And it's happened. Now spend your air time-- I don't mean to lecture--

TODD: No, no, no, I, look --

BROWN: -- but spend your airtime critical of those people who are trying to suppress the vote.

This is not to single out Chuck Todd. His interplay with Brown was merely the most obvious public manifestation of dismay over the senator's quite accurate assessment of what happened in Georgia. More than a few pearls were clutched over Brown's choice of language.

Rick Hasen, the election-law guru, writing in Slate, made the same argument at greater length. I confess I don't follow Hasen's line of thought at all. He seems to be arguing that calling the election in Georgia "stolen," as Brown clearly did, undermines the fight against suppressing the vote, as Kemp clearly did.

I'm unclear how this is the case.

First, rhetoric about stolen elections feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process, an attack pushed by President Donald Trump and other Republicans who have been yelling “voter fraud” every time they are behind in the count. I’ve already set out my fear that Trump could refuse to concede the 2020 presidential election if he is ahead in the count on election night and then ballot counts inevitably shift toward Democrats as the counting continues. A democratic polity depends on losers accepting election results, even if the election was not conducted perfectly. I would hold “stolen” election rhetoric for conduct even more outrageous than Kemp’s decisions, which, while odious, either have not been found to be illegal or that courts allowed to remain in place for this election.

I mean, holy hell. Because Kemp used the power of the office he held to help himself gain the office to which he was aspiring, this means that he could not be said to have "stolen" the election, even as a shorthand designation for his clearly corrupt conduct? If a state legislature in, say, Nebraska, were to use its eminent domain power to appropriate a farmer's land in order to help a foreign corporation build, say, an oil-sands pipeline, is it really not permissible for people to say that the legislature "stole" the farmer's land, even though it used its power corruptly to benefit a private interest? Is there an exemption by which theft is not theft if it is done under the color of law? A lot of local sheriffs who got rich behind civil forfeiture laws are going to be happy to hear that.

And as for the growing cycle of distrust and delegitimization, that's already been underway for some time, as Rick Hasen's previous work has demonstrated. In our current historical moment, it began with the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore. Do the people making the tone-police argument on this issue really believe that the Georgia voters who showed up at their polling place only to find that it had been closed, and who then went out of their way to the nearest one only to find that they couldn't vote because the hyphen in their last name really was a dash, wouldn't say their votes were "stolen," and that, therefore, the election was, too? They don't need Sherrod Brown to believe that, I assure you.

Hasen also seems to misunderstand the nature of El Caudillo Del Mar-A-Lago, too. If the Democratic Party tries to temper its rhetoric based on whatever the most recent egregious lie has emerged from the presidential* gob, the Democratic Party is going to have a nervous breakdown. The president, because he is both corrupt and something of a dunce, will say what he's going to say regardless of how temperate the Democratic response is. Sometimes, blunt instruments have to be met with blunt instruments.

Much of the most loyal portions of the Democratic Party's political base already believe from their own experience, and not because of anything Sherrod Brown and Stacey Abrams have said, that their elections are being stolen out from under them. It's up to the opposition to speak for those whose right to choose their own leaders was, yes, stolen from them through bureaucratic legerdemain and malfeasance in office. Which is a long way around to point out that the run-off election for Secretary of State in Georgia is the most important election of many lifetimes.

Furthermore, we are in a time in which the very concept of the truth is at issue. It's vitally important that everyone who cares about that just keep it simple and stick with the facts and the truth. If they steal an election, use the clear words to describe it, don't hedge, don't be "nuanced." At this moment we need all the clarity we can get.

Russia, if you’re listening and you have Ivanka’s emails…

Russia, if you're listening and you have Ivanka's emails...

by digby

Oh, Trey Gowdy? This is your jurisdiction. Surely you must be extremely concerned. This is actually current:

Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence.

White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.

The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign. Trump attacked his Democratic challenger as untrustworthy and dubbed her “Crooked Hillary” for using a personal email account as secretary of state.

Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. Trump said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction.

She's playing dumb, of course. But the fact is that when she was alerted to this she had her lawyers forward only what the determined were government emails to the White House server for record retention. Just like Clinton. With her, however, there is every reason to wonder if she did that to hide the fact that she was doing Trump organization business while in the White House. After all, she didn't resign from the company right away.

She's cute so it probably won't matter. Still, you couldn't make this up. After all that bullshit in the campaign she didn't know that she shouldn't use her personal email? Please.


More trouble in wingnut paradise?

More trouble in wingnut paradise?

by digby

George Conway isn't just going up against his wife KellyAnn over Trump, he's also making moves against the Grand Duke of the rightwing legal community:

Via Axios:

Leonard Leo attacks George Conway's "Checks and Balances" group

In a rare public rebuke of an old friend, Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo is sharply criticizing a group of conservative lawyers called "Checks and Balances," helmed by George Conway, who argue President Trump is breaking legal norms.

"I find the underlying premise of the group rather offensive," Leo told me. "The idea that somehow they need to have this voice because conservatives are somehow afraid to talk about the rule of law during the Trump administration." 

"And my response to that is, no, people aren't afraid, many people just don't agree that there's a constitutional crisis and don't agree with the people who have signed up with this group." 
Leo spoke in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the Federalist Society.

Why it matters: Leo, who has known Conway for more than two decades, is one of the most influential figures in the conservative legal world. He is a key outside adviser to Trump on judicial nominations.

Behind the scenes: Conway's actions have irritated Trump, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Conway's wife, Kellyanne Conway, is a top White House adviser.
I asked Leo if he saw any merit in Conway’s criticism. For example, Conway told Yahoo News he was "appalled" that Trump attacked Jeff Sessions because the Justice Department indicted two Republican congressmen ahead of the midterms.

Leo's response:

"I measure a president's sensitivity to the rule of law by his actions, not his off-the-cuff comments, tweets or statements. And the president has obviously had lots of criticisms about former Attorney General Sessions and about the department, but at the end of the day, he hasn't acted upon those criticisms. 

"He's allowed the department to have an awful lot of freedom and independence. ... He can say what he wants to say, but at the end of the day, words don't threaten the rule of law, actions do. I've been to 48 countries around the world. I know a constitutional crisis, and I know what a rule of law crisis is. Lots of countries have them. This country doesn't right now." 

This is nonsense. The President of the United States' words are important in themselves. It matters what he says. People listen and they take signals from it.

And let's be serious here. Long before he installed his stooge Whittaker he's tried to impede the Mueller investigation. If the likes of Rosenstein and Mueller were people with less integrity he would have gotten the job done just with his tweets. For all we know they have had some effect.  To the extent he hasn't been successful, it's simply a matter of incompetence and cowardice not intentions.

And in any case, he does use his twitter feed to fire people and announce directives that nobody has vetted and the White House staff has to scramble to make them happen. And his henchmen in Congress certainly hear what he's saying and have commonly taken action. Devin Nunes and the boys have done their jobs admirably. I don't think I have to mention that he fired the FBI director and his own Attorney General because they didn't adequately protect him from a counter-intelligence investigation based on evidence that he may have conspired with a foreign government and then covered it up.

This is happening. It's not just about Trump acting stupid on twitter.


Will Trump protect those he loves?

Will Trump protect those he loves?

by digby

I'm not talking about his family or even Kim Jon Un and Vladimir Putin. I'm talking about Wikileaks, which Trump said many, many times that he "loved."

I am reserving judgment over this Wikileaks sealed charges stuff. I no longer have respect for the organization or Assange because of his biased meddling in the election, which I think destroyed his credibility as an honest broker. And anyone who consciously worked to help Donald Trump become president, as Assange's correspondence proved he did, is not someone for whom I can offer a blanket defense anymore.

Having said that, if the government is planning to indict him simply on the basis of publishing information that was given to him, even by the Russians, I will do it, as unpleasant as that may be. There are some other reasons to justify prosecution, as Marcy Wheeler points out, that may make more sense. But as much as I loathe him, I hope they only go after him if they have some incontrovertible proof that he committed a real crime. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially with this anti-press, First Amendment degrading president.

Trump may end up protecting Assange because he "loves Wikileaks" as he said literally hundreds of time during the campaign. And I would imagine he'll do it by making a thoroughly insincere defense of the "free press" even as he degrades that freedom in every other way. It's a truly unpleasant thought but it could happen.

Marcy has a new post up today about the difference between the Wikileaks of 2011, for which I had admiration, and the Wikileaks of 2018. It's not the same organization:

Since DOJ confirmed last week that it does have at least one sealed criminal complaint against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks has adopted a notable defense strategy. In most of their responses, WikiLeaks has claimed a continuity between what it has done in the last two years and what it was doing in 2010, when the US government first took aggressive action against WikiLeaks. For example, this timeline claims vindication of persistent claims among WikiLeaks supporters that Assange had already been indicted, even while linking to reports that make it clear DOJ has changed its approach recently (and ignoring, entirely, the NYT report that says the charge dates to this summer and which WikiLeaks’ Twitter feed attacks elsewhere).

November: US prosecutors inadvertently reveal that Julian has been charged under seal (i.e., confidentially) in the US – something which WikiLeaks and others have long said but which has been denied by some US officials. The document making the admission was written by Assistant US Attorney Kellen S Dwyer. The Wall Street Journal reports that “over the past year, US prosecutors have discussed several types of charges they could potentially bring against Mr. Assange”. It notes that charges against Julian could include violating the US Espionage Act, which criminalizes releasing information regarding US national defence.

Assange’s UK lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, did the same in an appearance with MSNBC. She claimed that the charge came out of the investigation started in 2010 in response to WikiLeaks’ publication of US Diplomatic cables, the Iraq war logs, the Afghan war logs, which she argues (correctly, I’d agree) was demonstrated to be in the public interest and had been published by other media outlets, including the NYT. She says this criminal charge proves it was correct for Assange to have sought asylum from Ecuador. And she emphasized that Assange would be extradited “for publishing truthful information.” She repeated “public interest” over and over.
In other words, WikiLeaks is working public opinion by pretending it is being prosecuted for the stuff it did in 2011, even to the point of claiming that news of a recent complaint proves that Assange has been indicted all this time. It is true that the prosecutor who made the cut-and-paste error that revealed the existence of a complaint, Kellen Dwyer, has reportedly been on the WikiLeaks investigative team for years. But that doesn’t mean, at all, that the US prosecution is in any way related to those earlier actions.

The reports of both the WSJ and NYT seem to prove the opposite. Whether because the Trump Administration that WikiLeaks worked so hard to elect turned out to be far less respectful of freedom of the press than the Obama Administration, or because the US started collecting more aggressively on WikiLeaks and therefore learned more about its operations, or because the nature of Assange’s more recent actions are fundamentally different from what he did in 2011, DOJ came to charging Assange this summer when Eric Holder refused to do so. Indeed, while no one has confirmed this one way or another, the assumption has been that Assange’s charges relate either to his involvement in the 2016 Russian hack-and-leak (though that would presumably be charged in DC) or his involvement in the 2017 Vault 7 and Vault 8 files as well as his exploitation of them.

The possible crimes may have expanded, too. Espionage is definitely still a possibility, particularly given how DOJ charged accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte, including possibly suggesting his leaks were designed to help another nation (presumably Russia). If Assange had advance knowledge of any of the Russian hacks (or the Peter Smith negotiated efforts to obtain Hillary’s server emails), he might be exposed to CFAA as well. And if he is charged by Mueller, he will surely be charged with at least one conspiracy charge as well; WikiLeaks was already described as an unindicted co-conspirator in the GRU indictment.

But there may well be other charges, starting with extortion or something akin to it for the way Assange tried to use the threat of the release of the Vault 7 documents to obtain a pardon. Some of his actions might also amount to obstruction. Yochai Benkler’s latest post also imagines Assange may have coordinated more closely with Russian intelligence, which might lead to different charges.

WikiLeaks’ attempts to rest on its earlier laurels is telling, for several reasons. It suggests they and their supporters don’t seem to want to defend Assange’s more recent actions. I find it remarkable, for example, that Robinson didn’t mention how many stories the NYT and WaPo wrote based on the 2016 files, which would support her argument that the files were newsworthy.

The attempt to pretend Assange is being prosecuted for his earlier actions seems to serve another purpose — to defend his years of asylum claims, which are also the basis for his claims to be a victim of US political targeting (and the premise for his demands for immunity on threat of releasing the Vault 7 files). Don’t get me wrong. I think some of the things DOJ is known or suspected to have done in 2010 and 2011 are problematic. But those did not directly merit an asylum claim (and in fact they preceded Assange’s asylum claim by over a year).

That may, in turn, serve to obscure what Assange wanted immunity for in coercive negotiations that started in 2017: Was it 2011, his role in publishing the State cables? Or was it 2016, as his offers to explain what (he claims) really happened in 2016 would suggest?

Whichever it is, WikiLeaks seems to have a lot staked on making a defense of Assange’s 2011 activities. Which suggests they’re a lot less confident they can defend his 2016 and 2017 activities.

The fact that this famous radical transparency activist supports the authoritarian, anti-press zealot Donald Trump is all you really need to know about where Assange is today. He is siding with the autocrats. It makes no sense but that's the reality of it.

However, once again it's important that the principles be maintained. If they go after Assange for his earlier releases it will set a very bad precedent. His recent activities may add up to something more. We'll have to see.


A young right winger declares, “to be quite honest? I like to be offensive. It’s fun.”

A young fascist declares, "to be quite honest? I like to be offensive. It's fun."

by digby

This article about "California Conservatives" or rather, the "intellectual" basis for Trumpism that's being fleshed out by certain academics and media stars centered in California, is very interesting. It boils down to the fact that the conservative movement no longer has any interest in ideas or ideology and basically is just about racism and owning the libs. And they are vastly enjoying the freedom of just being themselves.

I'm not sure how groundbreaking it really is, however. This is just the right being boiled down to its essence, a project that started a long time ago and which was evident in California when the OG Trumpist, the obnoxious Andrew Breitbart from LA, became their biggest star well over a decade ago.

They are simply right wing assholes and are well-represented by people like this young fascist who demonstrated in Charlottesville:

"To be quite honest? I like to be offensive. It's fun."

These California Conservatives are exactly like him. No difference at all. Its what the Republican Party has become all over the country.


“Afghanistan takes from the US and gives nothing in return”

"Afghanistan takes from the US and gives nothing in return"

by digby

If you want to see someone with zero understanding of how the world works look no further than the leader of the free world:

The simpleton can only see the world in one way: Other countries aren't paying enough protection money to the US coffers and their trade policies are all unfair, no matter what they are.

That's all he knows. He even admits he's believed those things for decades.

It's fine with me if the US military leaves Afghanistan and re-thinks its relationship with Pakistan (for entirely different reasons.) But there will be consequences, none of which Trump is capable of dealing with because of his simplistic view of the world and his top adviser, John Bolton, will use as an excuse to start another war.


Lies and Traps

The adage that there are two sides to a story makes sense when those who represent each side accept the factuality of the world and interpret the same set of facts. Putin's strategy of implausible deniability exploited this convention while destroying its basis. He positioned himself as a side of the story while mocking factuality. "I am lying to you openly and we both know it" is not a side of the story. It is a trap.

- Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom

This week's featured post, "The Big Picture: from Russia to Ukraine to Brexit to Trump", looks at Timothy Snyder's The Road to Unfreedom.

His analysis of the Putin/Trump style of propaganda has me rethinking how I cover Trump, so this week's summary is an experiment: Putin and Trump say outrageous things in order to become the story themselves, shifting the focus away from the issues on the ground. Just this week, for example, Trump has blathered a lot of nonsense about the California wildfires. It would be easy to get focused on Trump's nonsense, and lose sight of the fact that homes are burning, people are dying, and millions of Californians are dealing with a serious air-quality problem.

On the other hand, we shouldn't all just ignore that our President is disinforming the public, which includes a segment that is inclined to believe him. So here's what I'm trying this week: I will try to stay focused on the underlying issues. At places where Trump made headlines with a crap statement, I'll mention that this happened, characterize it with a single adjective (like "Trump said something stupid about this"), and provide a link in case you feel that you must know what it was.

We can't lose sight of the fact that Trump says ignorant and offensive things on an almost daily basis. But that's not really news any more.

This week everybody was talking about undecided races

Almost all of them came to a conclusion this week (other than the run-off in the Mississippi Senate race, which will happen next Tuesday).

  • Republicans took both the governorship and the Senate seat in Florida.
  • Stacey Abrams admitted that Brian Kemp will be Georgia's next governor. But after a long series of voter-suppression abuses by Kemp in his role as Secretary of State, Abrams refused to concede: "Let’s be clear, this is not a speech of concession. Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith I cannot concede that. But my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy."
  • Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona Senate race.

A number of close House races weren't decided until this week, and three are still out. The most interesting was in Maine-2, where the state's ranked-choice-voting system made a difference:

In this election, the initial round had GOP incumbent Bruce Poliquin winning 46.1 percent and [Democrat Jared] Golden receiving 45.9 percent. Third party candidates garnered 8 percent. After re-allocating these third party votes, the final result was 50.53 percent to 49.47 percent in favor of Golden.

The Republican loser is going to court, claiming that ranked-choice-voting is unconstitutional. But I don't think he has any kind of a case. Here's the sum total of what the Constitution says about House elections:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

I don't know how you read a ban on ranked-choice voting into that.

Think how much grief would be avoided if every state had RCV: If you want to vote Green or Libertarian or write in Bozo the Clown, fine. As long as you also express a preference between the Republican and Democratic candidates, you've got that base covered.

So here's where we stand at the moment: Republicans control the Senate 52-47, with the Mississippi run-off pending. Democrats control the House 233-199 with three seats still undecided. The new Congress will be seated on January 3.

The current House popular vote count has the Democrats ahead by 7.7%, or more than 8.5 million votes. (Nate Silver expects it to get into 8-9% range when the final votes are tallied.) The Republican wave of 2010 had a margin of 6.8% or just under 6 million votes. The Republicans' smaller 2010 victory gave them a larger 242-192 majority, because the system is rigged in their favor.

Don't say it can't happen: A Democratic challenger for a seat in the Kentucky legislature appears to have won by 1 vote.

and Nancy Pelosi

20 House Democrats have told the Washington Post that they won't vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. If they all follow through, that would keep Pelosi from having the 218 votes necessary to win. Most of the 20 are from purple districts where Pelosi had been demonized as a far-left liberal, but some are also progressives who think Pelosi is too close to big donors and too willing to compromise with the business interests Republicans represent. But if she isn't re-elected, it's hard to guess what happens next: Other candidates may be able to block Pelosi, but who has enough support to win?

I'm for Pelosi. She is a brilliant behind-the-scenes tactician. When she was Speaker before, she skillfully steered Obama's agenda through the House, including a bunch of progressive measures that then died in the Senate, like a cap-and-trade bill to fight climate change and a public option for ObamaCare. She was key in the legislative maneuver that finally passed ObamaCare (after Scott Brown's upset win for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat ruined the original plan). Arguably, Democrats lost the House in 2010 because she had convinced members from conservative districts to risk too much.

While leading the minority these last few years, she has repeatedly run rings around Paul Ryan. By holding her caucus together against bills like ObamaCare repeal, the Trump tax cut, and the early versions of budget bills, she made it necessary for Ryan to hold his caucus together, something he was often unable to do.

It would be very strange for a party to get back into power and then reject its leader. Typically, a party leader is in trouble when his or her party loses seats. Tennis great Martina Navratalova (whose Twitter feed is highly political) summed up what I suspect a lot of women are thinking:

It is amazing,really. loses in the Senate and keeps his leadership role and makes the biggest democratic gain in the House since Watergate and they want her to quit. Go figure. A man loses and keeps his place, a woman wins and gets booted?!?

The point here isn't that anti-Pelosi Democrats are against women having power. The dynamic is more complicated than that. Many Democrats are concerned about the baggage that comes from Pelosi being a decades-long target of Republican demonization -- demonization that sticks to a woman more easily than a man. (We saw this with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Bill could abuse women and continue to be a charming scamp, but Hillary was tarred by her defense of Bill.) Others want someone who would cast a better public image, in an era when our subconscious image of a "leader" is still inescapably male. Alexandra Petri satirizes:

That’s not a woman thing, though. It’s just a her thing. I would have that issue with anyone who had her baggage, that same difficult-to-pin-down sense that something about her was fundamentally tainted. ...

What I want is not impossible! I want someone who is not tainted by polarizing choices in the past, but who also has experience, who is knowledgeable but doesn’t sound like she is lecturing, someone vibrant but not green, someone dignified but not dowdy, passionate but not a yeller, precise but not mechanical, someone lacking in off-putting ambition but capable of asking for what she wants, not accompanied but not alone, in a day but not in a month or a year, when the moon is neither waxing nor waning, carrying a sieve full of water and a hen’s tooth. Easy!

That’s why I’m so worried about our current slate of choices. A woman, sure, but — Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? Kirsten Gillibrand? There are specific problems with each of them, entirely personal to each of them, all insurmountable. We need someone fresh. Someone without baggage. Joe Biden, maybe. But female! If you see.

I can’t wait to vote for a woman in 2020. A nameless, shapeless, faceless woman I know nothing about who will surely be perfect.

If Pelosi isn't progressive enough for you, who is the progressive candidate that the caucus can unite behind, and how does that Speaker not lose all the suburban Republican seats that Democrats just flipped? If she's too far left for you, who is the more moderate candidate, and how does that candidate inspire young people to vote? How does this leadership struggle resolve without sparking a round of those Democrats-are-in-chaos stories that the media is always eager to write? Is that how we want the new Congress to introduce itself to the American people?

I think Nancy Pelosi represents an ideologically diverse party as well as anybody else can. And she also is good at her job. She should keep it.

In October, I was at a fund-raiser for Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois, who currently is one of the 20 planning not to vote for Pelosi. Foster made what I think is an excellent procedural suggestion: discharge petitions should be anonymous.

OK, that's some inside baseball that needs an explanation. One of the maddening things about the House is that the Speaker can keep a bill from coming to a vote, even if a majority of the membership supports it. One example of this was the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that the Senate passed in 2013. It never got a vote in the House, despite the widespread belief that it would pass if it did. If the DREAM Act could have come to the floor any time in the last several years, it would have passed. But Republican speakers have repeatedly blocked it.

The way get around the speaker's roadblock is a discharge petition: If a majority of the House signs a petition asking for a bill to come up for a vote, it does. But this almost never happens. The reason is that signing a discharge petition against a speaker of your own party is considered treason, and members who do this will be severely punished by losing their committee assignments, losing support from their party's national campaign committee, and so on.

That's why Foster thinks discharge petitions should be anonymous: Some neutral official could verify the petition and report the number of signatures without revealing who they are. It would make the House a little less dysfunctional.

and fires

Record-setting wildfires continue to burn in California. The death toll is up to about 80, but with more than a thousand people missing, that number is bound to go up. In San Francisco, masks and filters are necessary if you want to breathe normally.

Grist outlines the conditions that led to the fire that destroyed the town of Paradise:

According to local meteorologist Rob Elvington, the Camp Fire began under atmospheric conditions with “no analog/comparison” in history for the date. Northern California’s vegetation dryness was off the charts — exceeding the 99th percentile for any single day as far back as local records go. “Worse than no rain is negative rain,” wrote Elvington. The air was so dry, it was sucking water out of the land.

The problem is how global climate change is affecting the local climate: Summers are hotter and the winter rains come later.

Fire disasters on a scale recently considered inconceivable now appear to be the inevitable. Six of the 10 most destructive wildfires in California history have ignited in the past three years. In little more than a year, two other California towns (Redding and Santa Rosa) have been similarly devastated by fires. As long as we continue on a business-as-usual path, it’s a matter of where, not when, another California town will be erased from the map.

So Trump went out to view the damage and said something stupid, in case you haven't had your daily dose of outrage yet.

But I think a better use of your time would be to watch this episode of Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously" from 2014.

It follows two story lines, one of which is Arnold Schwarzenegger interviewing people who fight brush fires and reflecting on how climate change has (in a very short period of time) turned California's wildfire season into a nearly year-round event. (The other story line, Harrison Ford looking into deforestation in Indonesia, is pretty interesting too.)

and you also might be interested in ...

The Brexit deadline hits in March, and it's still not clear how it's all going to resolve. Prime Minister May's proposal has already led to resignations from her cabinet and might bring down her government. My opinion: The problem is that the British public was bamboozled by the Leave campaign. Now that it's time to produce the unicorns and rainbows Brexit was supposed to bring, no one can find them.

As someone (I can't remember who) observed, the structure of the Leave/Remain vote was screwed up. Leave was a "do something else" option rather than a plan. Any actual plan will result in a majority saying, "That's not what I voted for."

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Brett Kavanaugh joining the Court: "The nine of us are now a family." I am reminded of a line from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash: "It was like being in a family. A really scary, twisted, abusive family."

Nothing is what it used to be, not even the kilogram.

A Pacific Standard reporter goes home to Michigan and reports on the effects of gerrymandering.

Trump responded to criticism from retired Admiral Bill McRaven by saying something childish. Here are details, if you need them.

The CIA has concluded that the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. But Trump has a history of believing what he wants to believe rather than what the experts conclude. Just as he believes Putin's denials of interfering in the 2016 election, and he believes MBS.

Jim Acosta has his White House pass back, following a court order. The judge didn't rule on Acosta and CNN's First Amendment claims, but found against the Trump administration on 5th Amendment grounds of no due process. So the White House is drafting a process for expelling reporters who ask hard questions and won't take lies for answers.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded:

Today, [LIE] the court made it clear that there is no absolute First Amendment right to access the White House [/LIE]. In response to the Court, we will temporarily reinstate the reporter’s hard pass. We will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future. There must be decorum at the White House.

I will repeat something I've written many times: When Trump defines some standard of decorum that he is willing to live by, then he'll be in a position to ask other people to uphold that standard. But if his rules say that other people have to behave while he can keep on doing anything he wants, the rest of us should just laugh at him.

For example, Sunday (in the middle of a tweet demonstrating that his complete ignorance of the legal issue he was discussing), Trump called incoming House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff by a derogatory name he probably hasn't heard since junior high. That's White House decorum, and there's nothing Jim Acosta could do to lower it.

Meanwhile, Trump's people are moving the goalposts on the First Amendment. Wayne Slater tweets:

Cory Lewandowski on : "There is no freedom of speech to ask any question you want or to ask it in a derogatory manner." Actually, that's what free speech is.

Remember the middle-class tax cut that Trump pulled out of nowhere just before the midterm elections? Surprise! It's not happening. Chief Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow told Politico:

We’ve been noodling more on this middle-class tax cut, how to structure it, and even pay for it. I don’t think the chances of that are very high, because the Democrats are going to go after the corporate tax and all that stuff.

Kudlow is also skeptical of any infrastructure deal.

Anybody that thinks, you know, like this trillion-dollar [infrastructure spending] number, which is over 10 years — we don’t have that

The top Republican in the new Congress was blunter:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday flatly rejected the idea of doing a big infrastructure deal with Democrats. “Republicans are not interested in a $900 billion stimulus,” he told reporters.

As I suggested last week, Democrats in the House should pass an infrastructure bill. The American people should know that Democrats want to rebuild the country, but Republicans don't.

Another story that has all but vanished (now that it can't be used to bring Trump voters to the polls) is the migrant caravan. Migrants who hitchhiked rides rather than walking all the way have started to arrive in Tijuana, where they are waiting for caravan leaders. The bulk of the caravan is still hundreds of miles away.

A Methodist minister from San Antonio is traveling with the caravan and sharing his experiences on Facebook.

Refugees sharing their stories with the pastor tell of having their children kidnapped and other relatives killed in Central America. Their journey, Rogers says, is “not about a better life in American terms, it’s just about living.” Their goals, he adds, are to seek an education for their children and “be free from violence and rape and murder.” Rogers admits that claim may sound “extreme,” but says he has firsthand knowledge, obtained by being “willing to talk and learn,” that it’s “exactly what is going on here.”

Teen Vogue (whose articles often are deeper and more serious than its name would lead you to expect) also has a correspondent in the caravan.

Drain the swamp:

The Trump administration’s top environmental official for the Southeast was arrested Thursday on criminal ethics charges in Alabama reported to be related to a scheme to help a coal company avoid paying for a costly toxic waste cleanup.

It's not hard to see why our national political discussions are so bizarre when you consider the history that many of our students have been taught:

Texas' Board of Education voted Friday to change the way its students learn about the Civil War. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, students will be taught that slavery played a "central role" in the war.

The state's previous social studies standards listed three causes for the Civil War: sectionalism, states' rights and slavery, in that order. In September, the board's Democrats proposed listing slavery as the only cause. ... In the end, the Republican-led board landed on a compromise: Students will be taught about "the central role of the expansion of slavery in causing sectionalism, disagreements over states' rights and the Civil War."

But no doubt some Texas history teachers are reading this line and rolling their eyes about "political correctness".

Stan Lee -- the man who really told Peter Parker that "with great power comes great responsibility" -- has died at age 95. Stan and artist Jack Kirby created the core of the Marvel Universe in the early 1960s. Unlike the previous generation of comic creators, Stan made heroes (Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil) with insecurities, self-doubts, and moral quandaries. His teams (Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men) had internal divisions. His villains (Dr. Doom, Magneto) had backstories that explained their choice of the dark side.

Another seminal figure in popular culture also died this week: writer William Goldman, who was responsible for The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

and let's close with something unexpected

Finally, Roy Clark died this week at 85. People my age (and younger folks who watch re-runs on obscure cable stations) may remember him from the country comedy show "Hee-Haw". Or maybe his hit "Yesterday, When I Was Young" rings a bell. But amidst the jokes and popular country songs, people sometimes overlooked that he could flat-out play the guitar. In a guest appearance on the sitcom "The Odd Couple", he went outside his usual genre to show another side of his talent.


Trump’s desperately clinging to the high wire but he thinks he’s flying

Trump's desperately clinging to the high wire but he thinks he's flying

by digby

My Salon column today:

We knew politics was going to be tumultuous in the post-election period, and that's certainly been true. The days of dealing with some boring last-minute business in the lame-duck Congress, followed by a long holiday break after midterm elections are long over. With Donald Trump in the White House, it's obviously crazier than ever.

The president visited California on Saturday and mercifully didn't throw any paper towels at the victims of the horrific wildfires that have left more than 70 people confirmed dead, with more than 1,000 still missing. He screwed it up anyway, of course:

This assurance that forest fires will soon be fixed "spectacularly" is reminiscent of his other recent assurance that the nuclear threat had been eliminated because of his love affair with Kim Jong-un. It was reported last week that the U.S. intelligence community has determined that Kim is actually building 16 new missile facilities. In an interview with Chris Wallace which aired on Sunday, Trump dismissed that finding, saying that he simply doesn't believe it's true.

Trump also told Wallace that despite the CIA's "high confidence" that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last month, the prince told him he didn't do it, so what can you do? You'll recall that he used the same excuse for Russian President Vladimir Putin's apparent interference in the 2016 election. If an authoritarian lies to him he just shrugs his shoulders and says, well, that's it then. If the prime minister of Canada or a European ally even whispers a complaint he immediately starts threatening them. This pattern is now firmly established and can no longer be ignored. His most valued allies are what we used to think of as adversaries, and vice versa.

The Wallace interview featured a number of interesting exchanges, including one shocking response to a long line of questions by Wallace about Trump and the media. Responding to some comments that the president's attacks on the press are the greatest threat to our democracy, Trump insulted retired Adm. Bill McRaven, a Navy SEAL and former head of special operations, by suggesting that he dropped the ball by not getting Osama bin Laden sooner. Then he went on a weird rant about how he'd seen better compounds than the one in Pakistan where bin Laden had been living.

Trump just can't seem to stop showing his contempt for the military and its leaders lately. Indeed, one of the more important bits of news in the interview was his tepid show of support for White House chief of staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Wallace asked Trump if he planned to keep Kelly on.

Trump: We -- I wouldn’t -- look, we get along well. There are certain things I love what he does. And there are certain things that I don’t like that he does -- that aren’t his strength. It’s not that he doesn’t do -- you know, he works so hard. He’s doing an excellent job in many ways. There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault, it’s not his strength ...

Wallace: So 2020 is no longer written in stone?

Trump: It could happen. Yeah, it could -- I mean, it could be. But let’s see what happens. I have not -- look, I have three or four or five positions that I’m thinking about. Of that, maybe it’s going to end up being two. Maybe, but I want to -- I need flexibility.

It's also pretty clear that the rumors about Homeland Security director Kirstjen Nielsen being on the chopping block are true. Trump told Wallace that she just isn't "tough" enough on the border. It's hard to imagine what being tougher than putting babies is cages will look like, but it appears we're going to find out. As for the other three cabinet members likely to get the ax, the ones most often discussed are yet another military man, Defense Secretary James Mattis, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose corruption charges are starting to pile up to a level that can't be ignored. But who knows? With the exception of the family, it could be anybody.

One person who is actually solidifying his relationship with the president (and who may be the ultimate catalyst for Kelly being fired) is National Security Adviser John Bolton. Despite recently having his second-in-command exiled to a different department by the first lady, according to the Wall Street Journal, Bolton is consolidating his power and consolidating his authority in the White House. Eschewing the adviser's traditional role as an honest, impartial broker for the various departments, he is imposing his worldview. This isn't really too difficult as long as he pays lip service to Trump's policy of ranting incoherently about trade, whining childishly about "fairness" and making foreign countries stop "laughing at us." He seems to have figured out how to flatter the boss while still advancing his own agenda, which is best described as good old-fashioned right-wing hawkishness.

The Wall Street Journal article points out one possible pitfall, however:

Mr. Bolton’s ability to shape Mr. Trump’s priorities and pursue his own causes have given rise to a new nickname among some critics: President Bolton. His allies know the term could earn him the ire of Mr. Trump, who has been known to turn on others seen as stealing his spotlight.
“If John ever behaved in a way that led people in the administration to refer to him as ‘President Bolton,’ his effectiveness would be destroyed,” said Elliott Abrams, a longtime Bolton friend and one-time member of President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. “It’s critical that the president never think that, and no one understands that better than John.”

That's something he really can't control. Trump will hear about it eventually. He's got a lot of "executive time" to fill.

Toward the end of their interview, Wallace asked Trump where he ranked himself in the pantheon of great presidents. He said, "There’s Lincoln and Washington, there’s FDR and Reagan, do you make the top 10?" Trump doesn't have the capacity to do such an analysis so he just said he's doing a great job and that we'd be at war with North Korea if Obama were still president. And then he added:

I would give myself, I would – look, I hate to do it, but I will do it, I would give myself an A+, is that enough? Can I go higher than that?

I think he actually believes that, which may be the most alarming thing about him. It's one thing to survive each day, barely balancing on the high-wire act of this crazy presidency. It's quite another to imagine you're actually flying.

The rake flake by @BloggersRUs

The rake flake

by Tom Sullivan

"He came. He saw. He said something stupid," tweeted NBC producer Ken Olin. Pretty much sums it up. Except several stupid things, really.

Surveying California fire damage he blames on poor forest management, American president Donald J. Trump repeated something he misunderstood from something he half-heard about forest management from the president of Finland. That makes him an expert on the subject:

“We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, very important,” he continued. “You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland and he said… we’re a forest nation, he called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. They don’t have any problem, and what it is, it’s a very small problem.”
All Finnish President Sauli Niinistö remembers is telling Trump is "we take care of our forests." He only rakes his yard. In announcing on "Face the Nation" that Trump would not cut funding to California for fighting fires, California Gov. Jerry Brown called it a "big, big win." The magic word. Speak it and the sitting president is putty in your hands. But on Saturday, Brown looked like he wanted to be anywhere else except standing beside a fool spewing nonsense.

Finnish social media had a much better time with Trump's raking comments.

CBS reports the death toll stands at 76 and the estimate of the missing has risen since Friday to 1,276.

Watch Brown's head whip around (video at top) when Trump mentions "a lot of study going on." Brown has actually read "peer-reviewed scientific articles" [timestamp 2:40] attributing a doubling of land burned in California over the last 15 years to climate change. He wisely did not argue the point with the man who thinks the fire threat results from inadequate raking of federal forests by the state of California.


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