And so the Bush dynasty comes to an end.

After coming in fourth in New Hampshire with a slim 11 percent of the vote, Jeb Bush needed a strong performance in South Carolina. The Palmetto state didn’t come through, even with cameos on the campaign trail by George W., and Jeb conceded defeat tonight in a speech to supporters. His campaign suffered a huge blow on Wednesday when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave her endorsement to Marco Rubio. “We felt we had some momentum after New Hampshire. And Jeb was feeling good about his brother. But it wasn’t as good as we thought it would be. Then this happened,” one close Bush supporter told Politico’s Eli Stokols. Combined with sparse attendance at campaign events and dwindling cash on hand, the outlook was grim.

With the Bush clan gathered in South Carolina, they watched Jeb speed through a tough concession speech. A political dynasty ended not with a bang, but with choked-back tears and a whimper.

December 06, 2016

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Chris Christie is America’s least popular governor in two decades.

A full 77 percent of New Jersey voters now disapprove of Christie, compared to just 19 percent who approve, giving him “the lowest approval rating for any governor in any state in more than 20 years,” according to the latest Quinnipiac survey released Tuesday.

“Voters say 48-43 percent that Gov. Christie personally ordered the ‘Bridgegate’ traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in 2013,” the poll found. They also believe, 71 percent to 22 percent, that he knew his aides were causing the jam.

This historically dismal polling comes at a particularly pitiful time for Christie, who, after debasing himself as a shameless yes man for Donald Trump during the campaign, was forced out of the president-elect’s transition team. He did not get the coveted nomination for attorney general, and is struggling to claim the Republican National Committee chair as a consolation prize.

December 05, 2016

If you can’t convict Michael Slager for killing Walter Scott, then you can’t convict any cop.

The news coming out of South Carolina is that a judge in Charleston County has declared a mistrial in in the murder trial of Slager, “after jurors were unable to reach a verdict after several days of deliberations,” according to CNN. This is depressingly consistent with almost every attempt to prosecute police for killing black civilians. One difference, however, is that Slager was caught on camera shooting Scott as he ran away, apparently undercutting with all the force of video evidence Slager’s claim that he feared for his life when Scott allegedly gained control of his Taser. It would suggest that the problem lies with a criminal justice system that is virtually incapable of convicting police officers for their crimes, particularly when African-Americans are the victims.

Last week, the Slager trial appeared to hinge on the opinion of one holdout on the jury who could not bring himself to approve a guilty verdict. But today, it was reported that a “majority” of jury members were undecided. CNN reports that it remains unclear whether Charles County prosecutors will seek a retrial.


Did Reddit ruin Westworld?

If you want to spend hours embroiled in a debate about what will happen in a given show, then Reddit is the place to go. For a show like Game of Thrones—which has five books of material to serve as fodder, a rotating cast of nearly 50 characters, and a penchant for killing off said characters—this can result in as many theories that are later debunked as sure-to-be-confirmed ones. But over the first season of Westworld, it became clear there was very little that its dedicated subreddit was going to get wrong. Fans predicted that William would grow up to become a balding Ed Harris and that Maeve’s grand escape was part of a programmed narrative. Reddit predicted that Bernard = Arnold (Bernarnold) and that Dolores = Wyatt. Even the complex multiple timelines were all mapped out in advance. (There is already a theory for season two that looks pretty solid.)

The result was that, if you were online, you knew nearly everything that was going to happen in advance. Instead of getting big twists, fans ended up just checking boxes.

However, in the season finale, there was one big development that Redditors failed to see: that Ford was on the side of the hosts the entire time, working to continue what Arnold began. As one user wrote, “This subreddit somehow got everything right, and yet still knew nothing at all.” As it turned out, when it came to the overall narrative and its significance, the show’s creators were still in control. This was, perhaps, the most fitting lesson Westworld had for its fans. Putting the puzzle together doesn’t matter if you can’t step back and see the whole picture.

Anthony Kwan/Getty

Was Donald Trump’s Taiwan phone call just a phone call?

Making the rounds on the Sunday news shows, two of Trump’s closest advisers—campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and incoming chief-of-staff Reince Preibus—insisted that Trump’s decision to accept a phone call from the president of Taiwan was a nothingburger. Asked by Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace if there was any meaning to the call, which has unsurprisingly pissed China off, Conway said, “It was just a phone call at this point.” Preibus told Face the Nation’s John Dickerson more or less the same thing, insisting that it was not a “change in policy” and that Trump did not feel like he was speaking to the “leader of a sovereign nation.”

Trump’s own defense of the phone call, tweeted out from his account on Friday, was more convincing.

I wish there was a way to convey how deeply I am sighing as I write this, but Trump does have a point! The double standard here is exactly of the variety that Trump has no patience for—and his willingness to call this stuff out has always been an underrated part of his appeal.

But identifying double standards does not a foreign policy make. Like buildings and democratic institutions, diplomatic relationships are hard to build and easy to tear down. Taking a phone call—seemingly on a whim—risks jeopardizing an important, complicated relationship for no discernible political benefit. As one academic told The New York Times, “I don’t know how you are then going to expect China to cooperate on Iran and North Korea and climate change. You are going to ask Taiwan for that?”

Ironically, despite all of Trump’s talk about the importance of not tipping one’s hand during negotiations, that seems to be the only thing accomplished here.

Jim Watson / Getty Images

Will Donald Trump uphold the Dakota Access Pipeline decision?

Sunday brought good news for the protesters at Standing Rock, when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army, said in a statement. The decision represents a victory for members of the Sioux tribe, environmental activists, and anyone who believes in the power of the people to enact real change.

The pipeline, which was to be built under a section of the Missouri River near the tribe’s reservation, posed significant human rights issues. “The Dakota Access Pipeline not only threatens the water supply that is fundamental to the Tribe’s existence, but it will also pass through and destroy burial sites and sacred places,” said Robert T. Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center. For months, Native and non-Native protesters camped out at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, near the proposed site of the pipeline, battling the bitter weather and facing off with police.

Still, Sunday’s decision does not guarantee the end of the pipeline’s construction. The Army’s announcement merely calls for further research into “alternate routes,” meaning the pipeline could simply be redirected—maintaining its environmental risk. Second, there is little insurance that this decision, granted under the Obama administration, will be honored by the next. Donald Trump, who has investments in the pipeline’s company, endorsed the completion of the pipeline. So while this moment is worthy of celebration, it probably does not mark the end of this fight.

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Pizzagate is exactly why Team Trump shouldn’t legitimize conspiracy theories.

The man arrested Sunday for walking into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., and firing an assault rifle told police he was there to “self-investigate” Pizzagate, a grotesque alt-right conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton aides operating a child sex ring out of the restaurant. No one was hurt in the incident, but it underscored the very real danger of the politically charged lies that have proliferated online amid the rise of Donald Trump.

Trump himself is a well-documented conspiracy theorist, and the son of his incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, spread Pizzagate on Twitter after Sunday’s incident:

(Contrary to a Washington Post report on Sunday, Flynn Sr. has not promoted Pizzagate—but he has proven susceptible to other Clinton conspiracy theories.)

Sunday’s incident is proof that even the most absurd stories online can inspire violence in the real world. “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences,” Comet owner James Alefantis said in a statement. “I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”

It’s fortunate that no one was physically hurt at Comet Ping Pong, but plenty of damage has been done. A beloved establishment may no longer feel quite as family friendly to many customers, and indeed an entire block of businesses—a bustling stretch that serves as the neighborhood’s main street, both commercially and socially—has been terrorized by vicious lies.

Ben Carson will run HUD, which has a $50 billion budget and 8,000 employees. What could go wrong?

Carson reportedly turned down an offer to run the Department of Health and Human Services shortly after Donald Trump’s election. In a rare moment of self-awareness, Carson realized that his lack of administrative experience could be disastrous. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency,” Carson’s friend Armstrong Williams told The Hill. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.

The HHS has a budget of a $100 billion and 80,000 employees; HUD, in contrast, has a budget half as large and only 8,000 employees. So, it’s possible that Carson simply did the math and decided that there were half as many opportunities to cripple a Trump presidency from HUD. (It’s also possible that this was a big song-and-dance routine to keep people from remembering that Carson and Trump reportedly made an illegal quid pro quo deal several months ago, wherein Carson endorsed Trump in exchange for a cabinet position.)

But HUD is also an enormously important agency, especially when it comes to fighting poverty. Its responsibilities include underwriting one in six mortgages, ensuring equal access to housing, and collecting data on housing. Unfortunately, we have every indication that Carson will do extremely little to use HUD to help the poor, particularly through the Fair Housing Act. Even if Carson somehow manages to survive for four years without instigating a major scandal, its highly likely that his management of HUD will be scandalous, particularly for the country’s poor and most particularly for those who live in the “inner cities” Carson and Trump are always talking about.

There is little in Carson’s background that suggests that he has any ideas about urban planning or fighting poverty, though he has cited his biography—he grew up poor in Detroit, and recently took Trump to visit his childhood home—as experience, a trick that often works in job interviews but pays little dividends on the job. Well, maybe that’s not fair—Carson has one idea about urban planning. Come 2020, 20 percent of America’s poor will be living in pyramids.

December 02, 2016


The separation of church and state may be another casualty of the Trump administration.

An anti-LGBT amendment didn’t make into the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed on Friday. But the amendment’s author, U.S. Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), told Buzzfeed News today he’s been assured by the incoming Trump administration that his legislation has a future:

“These issues will be resolved, and we have gotten some very good assurances moving forward,” Russell said at the Capitol, suggesting Trump could take executive action without waiting for Congress. “I am certainly encouraged by the signs that I am getting from the administration that is inbound.”

The Russell Amendment is intended to undermine an Obama executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. ThinkProgress reported at the time that the order extended protections to over a million workers, but social conservatives, including Russell, have demanded carve-outs for religiously-affiliated contractors. If President-elect Trump eventually signs a version of the amendment or otherwise rolls back Obama’s executive order, these contractors will again be able to practice certain forms of discrimination despite receiving public funds for their work.

Russell’s optimism probably isn’t just a manifestation of his small-minded hopes and dreams. Mike Pence is poised to be an influential vice president, and he isn’t the only member of Trump’s incoming administration with ties to the religious right. That has disturbing implications for the future of separation of church and state—and LGBT rights.

David McNew/Getty Images

Turns out raising the minimum wage does not cause Armageddon.

According to The Big Picture, a financial blog, Seattle’s unemployment rate has tumbled despite the city’s minimum wage hike.

The unemployment rate in the city of Seattle—the tip of the spear when it comes to minimum wage experiments—has now hit a new cycle low of 3.4 percent, as the city continues to thrive. I’m not sure what else there is to say at this point. The doomsayers were wrong. The sky has not fallen.

This development tracks with earlier reports. In July, The Seattle Times noted that the city’s labor market was actually growing. Though this growth can’t be attributed to the wage hike, it does rebut the idea that raising wages kills businesses. And in August, economist Jared Bernstein reported that “low-wage workers’ employment, hours, and wages all rose substantially” after the wage hike.

We still don’t have enough information to know if Seattle’s model can be replicated nationally. But this is further evidence that a $15 minimum wage doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster—and helps workers as it was intended to do.

Ben Jackson / Getty Images

Breitbart is already passing for scientific authority in Washington.

The House Science Committee, which oversees the government’s role in scientific research and development, retweeted a debunked article from the website claiming to have evidence against global warming.

Climate scientists like Katharine Hayhoe criticized the accuracy of the article, which cited the Daily Mail, a publication about as scientifically literate as the committee’s leader, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who bullies scientists, accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil and gas companies, and sometimes writes for Breitbart himself.

The Breitbart article claims that global land temperature averages are decreasing. NASA, an organization the House Science Committee oversees, has previously demonstrated that this a function of weather, not climate (there’s a reason it’s not called “weather change”). Luckily for the committee, it won’t have to worry about its own programs contradicting its tweets if Trump fulfills his promises to slash funding for NASA’s climate research.

At least we can count on Bernie Sanders for a comeback.