• Much Drama on the Michael Flynn Front
• Takeaways from the Report on Russian Interference
• Pennsylvania Could Be Trump's Waterloo
• The Gender Gap May Haunt the Republicans in 2020
• GOP Has a Looming Evangelical Problem, Too
• Klobuchar Moving Up in Iowa
• Lamar Alexander Won't Run for Reelection in 2020
• We Know Where the Tax Break Went
Unless Congress provides some new funding, about a quarter of the government will shut down Saturday just after midnight. The House is out of town until tomorrow, so now everyone is looking at the Senate to see if a shutdown can be averted. Donald Trump wants the funding bill to include $5 billion for his wall on the Mexican border and Democrats are united against that. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) is waiting for Trump to give him marching orders, but so far no orders have been forthcoming, other than "build the wall," and the 60 votes for that aren't there.
One Republican insider said that Trump sees the budget battle as a reality TV show and he loves to maximize the tension and drama. But that works only until Friday. At that point Trump is going to have to choose among several options, each with significant downsides for him: (1) have a shutdown and take the blame, (2) accept a long-term funding bill with no wall, or (3) kick the can down the road with a 2- or 3-week funding bill. The downsides to #1 and #2 are evident; the trouble with the third option is then instead of negotiating with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), in January he will be negotiating with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who, despite her gender, has a lot more cojones than Ryan. Option 3 will have more tension and drama, but it will end with Pelosi passing a bill that funds the rest of the government for a year with no wall. Trump doesn't really have a lot of good options unless he makes the Democrats an offer they can't refuse, like a pathway to citizenship for the dreamers in return for the wall. (V)
Former Trump advisor and NSA Michael Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced today, which means that certain secrets can no longer remain secret. That made for a busy day on the legal front. To start, two of Flynn's former partners, Bijan Kian (also known as Bijan Rafiekian) and Kamil Ekim Alptekin were indicted for failing to register themselves as lobbyists working for a foreign power, namely Turkey. This development does not appear to be directly connected to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign, other than that it was uncovered during that investigation. Although with Trump, you never know, particularly given his extensive business interests in Turkey. Anyhow, once Robert Mueller concluded that this was outside his purview, he handed the job over to U.S. Attorney's Office for Eastern Virginia. However, Michael Flynn certainly must have shared quite a bit of information about the situation during his 19 interviews with Team Mueller, information that is undoubtedly in the hands of the folks who are prosecuting the matter. So, Kian and Alptekin are probably in big trouble.
Meanwhile, Mueller also released a memo from January 2017 that details the conversation Flynn had with the FBI, where he first lied about his contacts with then-Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. Specifically, he lied about trying to influence Russia's vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution about Israeli settlements, and also about whether he tried to affect Russia's response to the expulsion of a handful of Russian diplomats by the United States government in 2016. In both cases, Flynn basically said "No, I didn't" when the truthful answer was "Yes, I did." What is not clear from the memo is whether the FBI knew he was lying at that moment (and thus were effectively setting Flynn up to hang himself), or if they discovered it later. As Trump attempts to excuse Flynn's behavior, this is what he has focused on, arguing that the FBI entrapped Flynn, and so is guilty of far worse behavior than Flynn is.
A number of prominent folks weighed in on the matter on Monday. James Comey was in Washington for another day of closed-door congressional hearings, and he came out of it with steam coming out of his ears. The former FBI director ripped into Trump and House Republicans for their "shameful" behavior, in particular their failure to speak up on behalf of the good men and women of the FBI. He vigorously defended the Bureau's conduct, and said, "The FBI's reputation has taken a big hit because the President of the United States has lied about it constantly."
Taking an alternative view was emeritus Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, whose once-stellar reputation has taken a big hit recently, as he has decided that defending Team Trump is the hill he wants to die on. Dershowitz quickly cranked out an op-ed for The Hill in which he somewhat implied that it's not really a crime to lie to the FBI if they are expecting you to do so, and that while he doesn't excuse Flynn's behavior, the bad guy in this situation is really the Bureau. The professor also found time, later in the day, to share his opinion that Comey "talks too much." This would seem to be an excellent example of the pot calling the kettle black.
Flynn's sentence is going to be announced sometime late this morning. He's looking at six months in prison, at the most, though it is likely that Mueller's request that Flynn be given no prison time and minimal probation, due to his extensive cooperation, will be granted. (Z)
Yesterday we had a story on the Washington Post's scoop about the two reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Senate released the full report 1 and full report 2 yesterday (no doubt on account of the scoop). Now the analyses are starting. Here is a summary of the takeaways from the New York Times:
- Black voters were key targets:
While the Facebook pages aimed at conservatives have gotten the most attention, the real focus of the St. Petersburg
troll farm was black voters. Of the 81 Facebook pages it created, 30 were targeted at blacks. They had 1.2 million
followers. There were also Instagram accounts, YouTube videos, and ads targeted at blacks.
- The goal was to suppress Democratic turnout:
The clear goal of the focus on black voters was to turn them against Hillary Clinton and have them stay home.
For example, one post declared: "HILLARY RECEIVED $20,000 DONATION FROM KKK TOWARDS HER CAMPAIGN."
She received no such donation and if she had, she would have immediately returned it.
Another part of the vote suppression campaign was to confuse voters about how (and when) to vote. Also, supporters
of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were urged to vote for Jill Stein.
- Instagram also played a key role:
While most of the attention has been on Facebook and Twitter, the Russians targeted Instagram extensively with 116,000 posts and that may
have been as effective as the other two. For example, there were 187 million "likes" or "shares" of Russian content
on Instagram, compared to 77 million on Facebook. But the Russians didn't stop at these three. They also invaded
Reddit, Google+, Vine, Gab, Meetup, Pinterest, Tumblr, and more. They even made a podcast on SoundCloud.
It was a very thorough operation.
- Why are we still talking about this?:
Although Russia had used similar techniques in smaller countries before, they were all a test run for the big one, the
U.S. presidential election. It was basically cyberwar and many Americans still don't believe the country was attacked
by a hostile foreign power. A possible piece of fallout is that American political operatives who specialize in
"dirty tricks" will take things to a new level and start to copy the Russians' tactics.
- Even after being exposed, the Russians continued: One might have thought that after the troll farm was exposed, the fake ads and news would stop. It didn't. The Russians even ramped it up. The largest number of Russian ads on Facebook was in April 2017—after Trump was inaugurated. On Instagram, there were 5,956 posts in 2017, more than double the 2,611 posts in 2016. The platforms are making a half-hearted effort to block the Russians, but the deep-seated American fear of blocking someone's freedom of speech has kept the platforms from acting decisively.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was in charge of the troll farm, did a fantastic job for his friend and master, Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin was previously best known for being Putin's chef because he runs catering and restaurant businesses that Putin uses when he wants to impress people. Now he has another feather in his cap for running a highly successful propaganda operation that delivered.
Also noteworthy is that the Russians constantly attacked special counsel Robert Mueller, with 5,000 tweets on Twitter, and more. Some mocked him, others called for his firing, and still others called his work a fake investigation. Some of the opposition to Mueller is no doubt a result of the Russians' anti-Mueller campaign.
While Congress is dithering, one has to wonder if there is a way to stop Russian cyberattacks on U.S. democracy. There might be, but they would take some getting used to. One approach would be to make a law saying that social media sites are publishers, not platforms. Newspapers can be held liable for publishing libelous material, but Facebook can't. Maybe a false story on Facebook should be treated exactly as a false story in the New York Times, complete with all the legal consequences. This would force the social media sites to review material before putting up for all to see. They probably wouldn't like this so much.
A slightly less drastic approach would be to forbid anonymous postings. To get (or maintain) an account, a user would have to upload a scan of a government-issued ID document, which the platform would have to check with the issuing authority to make sure the name, number, birth date, etc. agreed with official records to prevent counterfeits. This probably would not be terribly popular with users, but it would make it harder for Russians to pretend they were Americans, especially if the platforms were forced to put a small flag icon next to each posting to identify the country of origin. (V)
Republican strategists think that if Donald Trump doesn't win Pennsylvania, he is unlikely to get a second term. After all, it is the Keystone State. And things are not looking good for him there. The Republican Senate candidate this year, Lou Barletta, lost by 700,000 votes. That's actually not bad compared to the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Scott Wagner, who lost by more than 800,000 votes. In 2017, Democrat Conor Lamb won a House special election deep in Trump country. Last month, three more Republican House seats flipped.
The bleeding has led to finger pointing, mostly in the direction of the GOP state party chairman Val DiGiorgio. He was elected by just two votes (173-171) and the party is still badly fractured. It's also close to broke, with only $94,000 in the bank (compared to $1 million four years ago). He is under fire from all directions. The combination of some terrible election results and a broke and fractured state party is not a great way to start an election cycle in a state Trump won by just 0.7% of the vote. (V)
In 2018, women voted for Democrats by a margin of 12 points, the biggest gender gap in three decades. Possibly as a consequence, the number of female Republicans in the new House dropped to just 13, compared to 89 Democratic women. The incoming class of representatives has 36 Democratic women and just 1 Republican woman. The disparity is also visible at the state level. For example, starting in January, all of Michigan's statewide officials (and one of its U.S. senators) will be Democratic women. That trend line does not look great for the red team.
The Democrats understand that to keep women excited about their party, they can't treat female members of Congress as ornaments to be shown off from time to time, but otherwise stowed away somewhere. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be top dog in the House, but she is not the only woman with real power. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) will run the DCCC, which is charged with electing House Democrats in 2020. Arguably the most powerful committee in the House is the Appropriations Committee, which determines how the government will spend its money. It will be run by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). Three other committees will also have female Democrats running them. Only one Republican woman will be the ranking member of a House committee (Kay Granger, TX, on Appropriations).
Over on the Senate side, Republican women have a bigger voice. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) will run the Committee on Aging. However, five Senate committees will have a female Democrat as ranking member. The imbalance is not surprising, though, considering that there are 17 Democratic women in the Senate and only six Republican women.
The upshot is that it is not difficult to see which party tends to give women politicians a chance at real power, and which party's leadership has an overabundance of Y-chromosomes:
Given that, along with the fact that the fellow likely to head the GOP ticket in 2020 remains the unrepentant pu**y-grabber in chief, there's every reason to expect that 12-point gap to hold, or even to grow. (V)
It's not just women, particularly suburban women, who may not be powering the Republican Party to victories anymore (see above). Evangelicals, a critical component of the GOP coalition for close to half a century, are in serious decline as a political force.
Part of the reason is that the electorate as a whole is changing, and non-evangelical groups are growing in numbers. When Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, roughly 85% of the electorate was white and Christian. By the time Bill Clinton ran in 1992, it was down to 73%. And in 2012, it had dropped again to 53%. If current trendlines hold, 2024 will be the first election in U.S. history where white, Christian voters are in the minority.
The other part of the reason is that the number of evangelicals, which held steady for many years, is now shrinking rapidly. Older folks are staying loyal but, because they are older, their numbers are dwindling. Meanwhile, a lot of young would-be evangelicals are none too happy with anti-LGBT attitudes, hostility to immigrants, and support for the not-even-slightly-Christian Donald Trump. So, they are jumping ship in droves, either to less conservative religious movements, or to no religion at all. When Barack Obama was first elected president, 21% of the voters identified as evangelicals. It was down to 17% by the time Donald Trump was elected, and now stands at 15%. Meanwhile, the average age of an evangelical voter is 55 years old, while only 10% of Americans under the age of 30 identify as evangelical.
The writing, then, is on the wall. Of course, there is still the possibility of a change of course. When (Z) teaches the first part of U.S. history, there is a lecture on the Second Great Awakening. The basic point of that lecture is that the clergy of that era found themselves having to make tradeoffs between doctrine and appealing to as many parishioners as is possible. Something like "Thou shalt not kill" was non-negotiable, but they quickly became very flexible about "no music in church." Catholics went through a similar thing 60 or so years ago, and decided that they wanted to stick with "priests cannot marry," but that "all services will be conducted in Latin" was not essential. In theory, evangelical pastors could decide that maybe Jesus didn't hate LGBT people, and that getting pro-life judges is not worth disregarding virtually all other doctrine. However, consider a couple of the (representative) comments on the article linked above:
"Compromise" is the problem, not the answer. Those of us who believe the Word of God do not look to politicians, our peers, Hollywood, and certainly not the media; magazine, cable, networks, etc. to tell us how to think. We look to scripture. The cultural issues of today are hideously against what scripture teaches.
This article is hogwash, editorial not news, but fake liberal faux news. Nowhere does it give accurate figures of the so-called Christian decline of the electorate. It is Newsweek's fake news and editorializing has driven Christian readers away in droves. I daresay Christian voters have increased since we have a Christian President in the White House again.
So, it certainly looks like the iceberg is looming, and there is no changing course for the Titanic. Evangelicals will stay relevant for another election or two (or maybe three), because they vote reliably and as a pretty loyal bloc, which gives them influence that exceeds their numbers. Then, around 2024 or 2026, they will cease to be a national force, and will have an impact limited to local and some state elections. (Z)
Yesterday we had a poll of the Iowa caucuses, today another one. Will we have one every day until Feb. 3, 2020? Who knows? In the new poll, the usual suspects were on top: (1) Joe Biden, (2) Bernie Sanders, (3) Beto O'Rourke. But surprisingly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) is now number 4. The first three are well known nationally, but Klobuchar has the advantage that she is from an adjacent state and is probably also well-known as a result.
While it is very, very early to believe these poll numbers will stick, at some point people may begin to notice that Biden is very old, Sanders had his chance last time and didn't make it, and O'Rourke is still a bit wet behind the ears. That could lead to an opening for a different candidate.
The new poll, run by Focus on Rural America, had an interesting takeaway: 65% of the respondents want a candidate who will foster economic development in rural America. That plays to Klobuchar's strength since Minnesota has only three cities with a population over 100,000 (Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Rochester). In other words, it has a sizable rural population, which might give her an advantage over someone like, say, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was mayor of Newark before he became a senator, and so has a background that is urban rather than rural. Again, though, it is very early and a lot is likely to change. (V)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced yesterday that he will not run for reelection in 2020. He is the first sitting senator to throw in the towel for 2020. Theoretically, an open seat might be easier for the Democrats to win than an occupied seat, but in 2018, right-wing firebrand Marsha Blackburn (R) easily beat a popular former governor, Phil Bredesen (D), for Sen. Bob Corker's (R) open seat. And Bredesen is the strongest candidate the Democrats have. So unless he decides to take another crack at it, on the theory that a presidential electorate might be blue enough to put him over the hump, then another Tennessee Republican representative will likely jump in and win. (V)
The theory behind trickle-down economics, in its various iterations, is that tax breaks for rich people and/or corporations will be invested in jobs, and purchases of goods and equipment, and the like, causing the prosperity to flow downwards through the entire economy. It never works out like that, though, not under Ronald Reagan, and certainly not under George W. Bush. Now, with year-end reports in across Wall Street, it's clear that it didn't work like that under Donald Trump, either. The news on Monday is that corporations bought back $1 trillion of their own stock in the first full year under the new tax law. That leaves the previous record of $718 billion, set in 2015, in the dust (even if adjusting for inflation).
Naturally, stock buybacks do not "trickle down" to the masses, as only half the country has money invested in the stock market at all, and for the majority of those it's in the form of retirement accounts that they cannot touch for decades. If the GOP had promised prosperity for some people, and in 30 years, then they could fairly claim to have delivered. But they promised prosperity now, and for everyone, and that most certainly did not—and will not—happen due to the tax cut. And even for the 50% of the country that owns stock, things are not so rosy. The Dow Jones index is down 12% from its high point in January. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec17 Giuliani: Trump Will Meet with Mueller over My Dead Body
Dec17 Collins Is OK with Mueller and a Challenger to Trump in 2020
Dec17 Iowa Democrats Want to Win
Dec17 The "Guess the VP" Game Has Begun
Dec17 Tom Perez Is at War with the State Democratic Parties
Dec17 Trump Is at War with Saturday Night Live (Again)
Dec17 Monday Q&A
Dec16 Interior Secretary Is Out
Dec16 Harris in Deep Trouble in NC-09
Dec16 7-Year-Old Dies in Custody
Dec16 The Koch Network Is Fading
Dec16 Weekly Standard Is No More
Dec16 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Amy Klobuchar
Dec15 Federal Judge Strikes Down ACA
Dec15 Trump Knew Hush-Money Payments Were Wrong
Dec15 Trump May Offer to Push the Border Wall Fight into January
Dec15 Trump's Inaugural Committee Is Under Investigation
Dec15 Christie to Trump: No Thanks
Dec15 Mulvaney Will Pinch Hit as Chief of Staff
Dec15 Kyl Is Retiring Again
Dec14 Trump: I Never Directed Michael Cohen to Break the Law
Dec14 Trouble Abounds for Trump on Thursday
Dec14 Pelosi: Democrats Will Seek Trump's Tax Returns
Dec14 Senate Pokes Trump in the Eye
Dec14 Trump Reportedly Has Narrowed Chief of Staff Candidates Down to Five
Dec14 Democrats Are Moving Left--and Right
Dec14 Judge to Poliquin: No
Dec14 Will More Republicans Retire in 2020?
Dec13 Cohen Gets 3 Years
Dec13 National Enquirer Turns on Trump
Dec13 House Republicans Are Mulling Their Budget Options
Dec13 Trump Just Made It More Dangerous for Americans to Travel Abroad
Dec13 Meadows Is No Longer a Chief of Staff Candidate
Dec13 McConnell Has a Secret Weapon for 2020: Dope
Dec13 Thursday Q&A
Dec12 Trump Would Be Proud to Shut Down the Government
Dec12 Pelosi Will Trade Term Limits for Speaker's Gavel
Dec12 Trump Administration Buried Wells Fargo Report
Dec12 Judge Orders Stormy Daniels to Pay Trump's Attorneys Nearly $300,000
Dec12 Stay President To Stay out of Prison?
Dec12 New Hampshire GOP Wants to Rig the Primary
Dec12 Beto O'Rourke Tops MoveOn.org Straw Poll
Dec11 Trump Calls Hush-Money Payments "A Simple Private Transaction"
Dec11 SCOTUS Gives Win to Planned Parenthood
Dec11 Trump's Base Believes Mueller Is on a Witch Hunt
Dec11 Maria Butina Wants to Plead Guilty
Dec11 Some GOP Lawmakers Want Another Autopsy
Dec11 Former Senators Urge the Senate To Do Its Job
Dec11 Comey Calls on Americans To Oust Trump