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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Lashes Out at Flag Burners
      •  Three More Additions to Cabinet
      •  Trump Saves 1,000 Jobs, But at What Cost?
      •  House Democrats Likely to Re-elect Pelosi
      •  Trump's Going to Have Legal Problems
      •  President Obama: Michelle's Not Running

Trump Lashes Out at Flag Burners

President-elect Donald Trump managed to get another bee in his bonnet in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, taking to Twitter to declare that, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" It is unclear what might have happened to move this issue, which was way on the backburner of American politics, to the forefront of Trump's mind. Maybe he was listening to his favorite Marilyn Manson album or was watching the movie The American President for some job tips. In any case, Trump's proposal runs afoul of all manner of legal precedent, along with at least three of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, namely the 1st (free speech), 5th (no withdrawal of citizenship as a punishment), and 8th (no cruel or unusual punishments). Assuming this was a serious proposal (if such a thing is possible on Twitter at 3:55 a.m.), it's a non-starter.

Of greater interest, really, is the dilemma that this tweet (and the thousands of others that are surely coming down the pipeline) creates for the media. As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick observes, by giving attention to what is ultimately a non-story, the press allows Trump to distract the American public from more pressing concerns, like his conflicts of interest or his Cabinet picks. It also grants legitimacy to whatever outrageous statements he may make, and it feeds into his narrative that the media are biased against him.

These things being the case, the argument would seem to be in favor of ignoring late-night Twitter tantrums. But not so fast. The problem is that if lies or problematic assertions go unchallenged, then a seed is planted. A tweet today about undocumented immigrants voting could grow into a Voter ID law tomorrow. As Lithwick puts it, "All of his words matter, and none of us have any notion at this stage which threats are predictors of doom and which are mere burps and farts." Or, as Masha Gessen—an expert on fascism and autocracy—argues, "Believe the autocrat...he means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization." So, it looks like we're entering into an era where the most important news of the day, more often than not, is going to break on a social media site at 4:00 in the morning. (Z)

Three More Additions to Cabinet

Donald Trump's Cabinet continues to take shape, as three more picks came down the pike on Tuesday. For Commerce, as was already reported, it's billionaire corporate raider Wilbur Ross. For Treasury, it's early Trump supporter and hedge fund billionaire Steve Mnuchin And for Transportation, it's former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

Mnuchin is the kind of pick designed to give progressives fits. Beyond being as much of a Wall Street insider as is humanly possible (unless we manage to resurrect Charles Dow and Edward Jones), he's been linked to just about every financial boondoggle of the last decade or so. For example, he's got a few million in his bank account courtesy of one Bernie Madoff. Similarly, he profited handsomely from the housing meltdown of 2008, buying failed subprime lender IndyMac for pennies on the dollar, renaming it OneWest, and then shaking down desperate people with foreclosure threats. Mnuchin netted $3.4 billion from the company when he sold it after six years. These things may just be why Elizabeth Warren slammed the pick, calling Mnuchin, "the Forrest Gump of the financial crisis [who] managed to participate in all the worst practices on Wall Street." So much for draining the swamp.

Meanwhile, the pick of Chao is much more consequential than a Transportation secretary would normally be. First of all, because she will be the point person for Trump's much-ballyhooed plans to invest billions in America's infrastructure. Second, because she is as dialed into Washington as it gets, thanks to her lengthy service in George W. Bush's cabinet, her time as director of the Peace Corps, and, oh yeah, her marriage to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Chao is an odd duck in some ways—she reportedly had gold coins with her face made while she was Labor Secretary, and she pays someone to carry her purse for her—but she will undoubtedly be a major bridge between the Trump administration and Congress. Indeed, it is easy to imagine a situation where Reince Priebus handles Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the House for Trump, and Chao handles her husband and the Senate. Plus, as an Asian-American, she allows Trump to claim that his Cabinet—otherwise made up almost entirely of white men—is "diverse." In any event, she's a pretty customary kind of selection, and one that won't raise 1/100th the eyebrows that the Mnuchin pick will. (Z)

Trump Saves 1,000 Jobs, But at What Cost?

Donald Trump has scored one of the first big successes of his presidency: Air conditioning giant Carrier had announced plans to move 2,100 jobs to Mexico, but the President-elect has persuaded them to keep 1,000 of those jobs in Indiana. Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence will hold a photo op on Thursday where they will formally announce the deal.

It's a nice gesture, but it's worth noting that 1,000 jobs is a relative drop in the bucket, given that the U.S. economy adds 150,000 jobs even in a relatively slow month. Beyond that, the devil is—as they say—in the details, which are in short supply. Relocating those 1,000 "saved" jobs was reportedly going to save Carrier $65 million per year; a corporation does not swallow that kind of money just because a president-elect makes a phone call or two. CNBC is reporting that Trump and the state of Indiana have offered "inducements," which sounds very much like some sort of corporate welfare. If the government is going to be effectively paying the salaries of those workers, then no actual problem has been solved. Meanwhile, as many observers have noted, the deal could set a troublesome precedent: Threaten to move jobs to Mexico, get money from the government. And, as you may have heard, major corporations are pretty good at figuring out these kinds of opportunities to grab some free money. (Z)

House Democrats Likely to Re-elect Pelosi

Following the beating the Party received on November 8, House Democrats are angry, nervous, and anxious to shake things up. This led to a development that would have been all-but-unthinkable two or four years ago: a challenge to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (CA) leadership, courtesy of Rep. Tim Ryan (OH). The House Democratic caucus will hold its leadership elections today, and by all indications, the Ryan challenge has not gained traction. So, Pelosi is likely to keep her job for an eighth term.

With that said, Pelosi was compelled to grant a few concessions to her colleagues, like giving them more input into the leadership of the DCCC. So, she's already showing cracks in the armor that weren't there in the past. Further, she's 76, which is getting up there, even by Congressional standards (longtime dean of the House John Dingell, for example, finally stood down at the age of 88). Most importantly, the current challenge to Pelosi's leadership coalesced rather quickly and haphazardly, following the election debacle. With a year or two to plan and network, Ryan (or some other member) will be able to mount a much more potent campaign. So, odds are pretty good that the new term that Pelosi gets today will also be her swan song. (Z)

Trump's Going to Have Legal Problems

There is no question that, at some point, Donald Trump's business dealings are going to end up in court. All that we're waiting to learn is when, where, and on what cause of action. Legal experts have been working overtime to try and anticipate the answers these questions; there are two new notions getting particular attention this week.

The first of these is a legal theory called "competitor standing." It's a bit of an amorphous doctrine, but what it essentially boils down to is that a litigant can take their financial competitors to court if those entities have an unfair competitive advantage, and can ask the court to remedy the situation. It's the same basic legal theory on which anti-trust regulation rests. Thus far, competitor standing has primarily been used to file suits against...undocumented immigrants, by such anti-immigrant types as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. However, if one of Donald Trump's competitors (say, the owner of a luxury hotel) could prove that Trump is gaining unfair advantage from occupying the White House, they could file suit under the same theory. If the suit is successful, a court might—for example—compel the sale of an asset. Such an outcome is only hypothetical at this point, however, and is very far off, in any case.

Not so far off, on the other hand, is a rather more specific problem. It is well known by now that Trump recently opened a luxury hotel in Washington. Law professor Steven Schooner has examined the contract that Trump signed with the federal government's General Services Administration (GSA), and he sees a big problem: It says that, "no elected official of the United States government shall be party to, share in, or benefit from the contract." This is a commonsense provision meant to avoid exactly the kinds of conflicts of interest that Trump will bring with him to the presidency. And while it is true that he is not subject to most federal law governing such conflicts, a contract is a contract. Schooner says the GSA should cancel Trump's lease before he is inaugurated; given the language in the document, they may have no choice. (Z)

President Obama: Michelle's Not Running

Quite a few hopeful types on the left have been keeping their fingers crossed that somehow, some way, Michelle Obama might be persuaded to make a White House run in 2020. She's popular, she's charismatic, she gives great speeches, and who else is more likely to re-capture Barack Obama's successful coalition than his wife? The First Lady has pooh-poohed such talk in no uncertain terms, and now the President has weighed in as well, declaring that, "Michelle will never run for office." He says that she dislikes partisanship, feels she's done her part, and now has other interests that she wants to pursue.

This seems to be pretty definitive, which means that Democrats should probably start looking for another savior to come to the rescue. On the other hand, there are still Bernie Bros. clinging to the notion that the Electoral College will come to its senses on December 19 and anoint the Vermont Senator as the 45th president. So, hope—even the deluded kind—springs eternal. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov29 Trump Wins Michigan
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Nov27 Trump Calls Recount Effort a Scam
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Nov27 Flynn Has Some Serious Baggage
Nov27 Falwell, Jr. Declined Cabinet Appointment
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