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Moderators have run out of excuses not to ask about climate change in the presidential debate.

The climate discussion in both the Democratic and Republican debates has been a disappointment, especially considering that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been keen to address the issue. The networks have blown the chance to have an interesting, nuanced debate on climate in favor of sillier questions that probe the candidates’ belief in science. 

Fortunately for Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, who will be moderating PBS’s Democratic debate Thursday, that means there is no shortage of interesting questions to ask. They even have a fresh news hook to focus the debate: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court made the unusual decision to halt President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan as lawsuits make their way through a lower court. The CPP is key not just to the U.S.’s plans to cut carbon emissions, but to the world’s effort to tackle climate change; the worry is the whole Paris climate change deal reached in December will unravel if the U.S. doesn’t deliver. Ifill and Woodruff could ask Sanders and Clinton how they’d approach damage control if SCOTUS throws out the plan or demands an overhaul. 

Or, the moderators could ask Clinton about her relatively new position on banning extraction of fossil fuels on public lands. Mother Jones surveyed experts who offered plenty of other smart questions.

February 24, 2017

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Donald Trump thinks all the humiliating things about him should be classified information.

In implicitly confirming that, yes, his chief of staff Reince Priebus did in fact interfere in the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia, the president suggested the disclosure, first reported by CNN, somehow broke the law.

Any attempt to squash an FBI investigation is wildly inappropriate and possibly illegal, but telling a reporter that the White House is trying to squash an FBI investigation is not. At least not yet. This is all amusingly pathetic, but it’s also a dark depiction of a the fantasyland Trump inhabits, where embarrassing him is or should be illegal. And now he has the power to make it so.

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Trump’s CPAC speech shows that conservatism isn’t an ideology. It’s a tribe.

A year ago, then-candidate Donald Trump canceled his planned appearance at CPAC, amid accusations from activists and GOP primary rivals that he was not a true conservative. But this year, President Trump had conservatives at CPAC eating out of the palm of his hands, even when trampling on longstanding pillars of conservative doctrine. The First Amendment? Trump shrugged off its importance. Evoking God? Trump did it, but in his usual insincere way.

In addition to continuing to be fascinated by Bernie Sanders, he hated on free trade. “Not that I’m a fan of Bernie, but a lot of Bernie people voted for Trump,” he declared. “You know why? Because he’s right on one issue: trade. He was right about trade—our country is being absolutely devastated with bad trade deals.”

One of Trump’s biggest standing ovations came in response to an abdication of over 70 years of American global leadership: “Global cooperation—dealing with other countries, getting along with other countries is good, it’s very important. But there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I’m representing. I’m not representing the globe. I’m representing your country.”

How is this possible? Because Trump railed against a reliable set of enemies. The “fake news” media, for example, dominated the early part of his speech. And when he revisited Hillary Clinton’s line last year about Trump supporters being “deplorables,” the crowd broke out into a new round of “Lock her up!”

Kellyanne Conway predicted yesterday that they would rename the yearly conservative conference “TPAC.” She was basically right. Trump has taken over the conservative movement along with the Republican Party, which has been reduced to a loose confederation of people who don’t like liberals. Trump has shown that it’s not really about what you stand for. It’s whom you stand against.

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The GOP’s emerging Obamacare replacement is a horror show.

The latest Bloomberg Politics report on the House GOP plan is an eye-opener. Instead of treating health care as a social responsibility, as the Affordable Care Act does, the bill would make it a luxury service for just the right kind of people.

Most notably, while repealing the dreaded individual mandate, the plan would still penalize people for going without insurance. That is, it would punish them when they get insurance, by allowing insurers to charge higher premiums to people who had a gap in coverage. In addition, subsidies for premiums would be based on age, rather than income—practically guaranteeing that poorer people are left out.

Republican lawmakers aren’t even pretending to care. “Not everybody is going to have health care—some people just don’t care enough about their own care,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), adding that “whether they take it or not is like trying to legislate responsibility.”

Of course, “responsibility” is legislated all the time, including in the GOP’s own plan to backload the punishment on people for needing insurance later on. But what if the whole point of this is to make sure people don’t have insurance?

“We’re not going to send an IRS agent out to chase you down and make you buy health insurance,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-FL), who would apparently celebrate the prospect of lower insurance coverage in America. “If the numbers drop, I would say that’s a good thing, because we’ve restored personal liberty in this country.”

Yes, the liberty for people to not afford health care, and to be guaranteed even higher price tags when they need it.

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Trump can’t stop the flood of Russia stories. And it’s driving him nuts.

In the latest chapter of the sordid narrative of Trump’s ties to Russia, CNN reported last night that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked FBI officials to deny stories of the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian sources—in violation of longstanding regulations regarding White House communications on pending investigations. The FBI rebuffed him.

The president’s response? Enraged tweets.

Last night, Press Secretary Sean Spicer also told CNN: “We didn’t try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth.”

For an administration that got into office thanks in part to FBI actions that kneecapped Hillary Clinton, the Trump White House’s outrage at leaks is a marvelous display of situational morality. But perhaps even worse than that, they don’t understand that their efforts to stop the story make it seem as if they are protesting a tad too much.

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Ed Schultz hits a new low at CPAC.

It wasn’t entirely surprising that the former progressive talk radio host and MSNBC personality agreed to speak at annual conservative conference this year. Once a self-styled “prairie populist,” he signed on last January with RT America, where he anchors the nightly news for the state-run Russian network. He’s changed his tone on President Vladimir Putin, whom he used to deride as “Putie.” “Schultz, who once said on MSNBC that Putin is ‘crippling’ his country, now has a Russo-friendly, or perhaps American-skeptical, viewpoint on any number of issues,” The Washington Post reported in December.

Schultz has done an about-face on Trump, too. After calling him a racist and ridiculing his presidential ambitions in 2011, he praised Trump’s political skills during the campaign and downplayed Russia’s role in his election. Still, none of that quite compares to the praise Schultz heaped on the president on Thursday, talking with reporters on CPAC’s radio row. “I think he’s pragmatic, and I think he wants to win—he wants to win for the little guy,” Schultz said.

Schultz predicted Trump “will go with the people” on healthcare, speculating that the president might slow Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and criticized Democrats’ opposition strategy. “They ought to be focused on saving healthcare,” Schultz said. “They ought to be focused on making sure we don’t privatize Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That’s where the Democrats ought to be. Instead, they’re chasing down scandals or they’re making them up. I’m just—I’m a little disappointed in them right now.”

Rather, Democrats are probably disappointed in Schultz. He used to be a warrior for the working class—cable’s biggest critic of union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who also spoke at CPAC on Thursday. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews even once told Schultz he should run the AFL-CIO. But like a disconcerting number of white-working class Democrats, Schultz found common cause with Trump after supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primaries.

“I don’t agree with Trump on everything,” Schultz said on the radio row. Though he insisted his personal politics haven’t changed, he embraced Trump’s moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Asked about the president’s remark to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that America has “a lot of killers” and is “not so innocent,” he said, “I think the president was spot on saying that. I mean, could we say that Barack Obama was a killer? Let me just state the facts. The rest of the world is a little mad at America right now for the civilians that have been killed in drone strikes.”

Schultz praised liberal commentator Alan Colmes, who died Thursday, as “a prince of a person” and “a great radio talent.” He saidthe fact that Fox News had him in prime time was a real statement of how good Alan was and how much he was respected.” Schultz’s apparent opportunism isn’t likely to bring him the same respect. He was a talk-radio conservative before he was a liberal, and his latest political persona is awfully convenient.

Schultz insisted that Russia has never told him what to say on air, and that he’s never even slanted a story to be more favorable to the nation. “The perception is that we’re propaganda, and we simply are not,” Schultz said. Which is worse: that he might be taking direction from the Kremlin, or that he’s doing their bidding freely?

February 23, 2017

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Betsy DeVos seems confused about what “civil rights” are.

The education secretary, who reportedly opposed President Donald Trump’s reversal of Obama-era federal guidelines for transgender students, defended her eventual support for the move during an appearance at CPAC on Thursday. “This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach,” she said.

And yet, DeVos also cited civil rights protections as a key part of her agency’s mission. “I think the role of the federal government should be as light a touch as possible,” she said, but added that “the areas in which the Department of Education has an important role are really around the needs of special needs students and around some of the civil rights issues.”

LBGT students, under greater threat thanks to the Trump administration, can only hope that reports are true about the education secretary’s private advocacy for their cause. Yet her public remarks on Thursday suggest something less hopeful: that her conservative fealty to “states’ rights” overrides her nominal tolerance.

Why does the alt-right like Depeche Mode?

As you may have heard by now, alt-right leader Richard Spencer on Thursday told a group of reporters at CPAC that “Depeche Mode is the official band of the alt-right.” The news spread so quickly that Depeche Mode responded before the original breaker of the news, Olivia Nuzzi of New York magazine, could even file her story. “That’s pretty ridiculous,” a band representative said. “Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt-right and does not support the alt-right movement.”

Spencer became the umpteenth conservative to feel the scorn of his beloved pop culture idols, joining the company of Chris Christie (diehard Bruce Springsteen fan) and Rand Paul (Rush). He and his kind were subjected to heaps of Depeche Mode–related mockery online, including being told to “enjoy the fucking silence nazis.” Video resurfaced of Spencer being sucker-punched by an anti-fascist protester on Donald Trump’s inauguration day, to the tune of “Just Can’t Get Enough.”

But it also prompted the question: What could be the connection between the racist right and an avowedly liberal synth-pop band that had its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s? According to Spencer, Depeche Mode is an example of “white music,” not merely in the sense that its band members are white, but that its music (allegedly) has no roots in R&B and blues, making it different from the Rolling Stones and other rock bands. The idea seems to be that electronic-inflected music has both a futuristic sheen—very important to those on the transgressive right who view themselves at the cutting edge—and is cleansed of associations with a musically miscegenational past. This penchant for electronica has led to such horrors as “fashwave” music; Spencer has previously described Depeche Mode as one of the “fashiest 80s electropop bands.”

Still, there is something more at work here. Anyone familiar with Depeche Mode at their peak knows they were almost as famous for their look as they were for their music. At the time, David Gahan, Martin Gore, and Co. were considered bold sex symbols. In retrospect, particularly when you watch the videos for “Personal Jesus” and “Policy of Truth,” they look a little Village People. As Nitsuh Abebe wrote of Gahan and Depeche Mode before they reached peak fame: “He looks so young! And shy! And they haven’t even started dressing like leather men yet!”

Part of Depeche Mode’s appeal, in other words, has always stemmed from the very strong suggestion of S&M and kinkiness—transgression of a sexual nature. We might suggest something similar about the supposedly “dapper” Spencer, who matches his tweed vests with a “fashy” high-and-tight haircut and clearly aspires to be a kind of rebellious style icon. When I asked my colleague what the connection between Depeche Mode and Richard Spencer could be, she said they both “let their fans enjoy gay culture without admitting to being interested in gay culture.” Spencer is aware of this aspect of his appeal, but in typical fashion turns it into something bigoted: “The gays love me,” he has declared.

Trump administration: states’ rights for transphobic bigots, federal crackdown on casual pot smokers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions insists he was joking years ago when he said, “I used to think [the KKK] were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” It’s not looking much like a gag today.

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Depeche Mode reject Richard Spencer’s strangelove.

During a press gaggle at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, the alt-right founder said this of the iconic British techno-rock band:

Spencer once posted to Facebook his ranking of all the band’s albums, clearly demonstrating that he just can’t get enough of them. However, he really should try to enjoy the silence while he can. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the band told Gothamist: “That is a pretty ridiculous claim. Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt right and does not support the alt right movement.”

As Gothamist points out, lead singer Dave Gahan just this month compared Trump to Adolf Hitler: “The things that he’s saying sound very similar to what someone was saying in 1935. That didn’t work out very well! The things that he’s saying are cruel and heartless and promoting fear.” In its latest video, “Where’s the Revolution,” the band rips exactly the sort of fascist demagoguery that Spencer and his ilk are spreading.

Spencer was later ejected from CPAC, as part of the conference’s muddled attempt to shake the disease of fascism.

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John Boehner admits Republicans don’t have an ObamaCare replacement—and won’t come up with one, either.

You might have thought that after eight years of endless, one-note messaging to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, opponents would have come up with a plan of their own, or at least formulated some ideas. But maybe that was just never going to happen.

Boehner, who during his time as speaker of the House held an interminable number of votes to repeal the ACA, may have let that cat out of the bag. Politico reports that Boehner, speaking at a health care conference today in Orlando, said that Republicans are instead going to make modest fixes to the law. “I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

On Thursday, Boehner said the talk in November about lightning-fast passage of a new health care framework was wildly optimistic.

“I started laughing,” he said. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”

He concluded, “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there.” Good to know!