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So much for Donald Trump shaking up the electoral map.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign today released a list of states in which it will be buying ads: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia. What’s striking about this list is how familiar these states are: they are all the familiar cast of swing states going back to at least 2000. What’s also notable is what is missing: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. These are the states that (along with Ohio and Iowa, which actually are competitive) Trump was supposedly going to put into play as part of his Rust Belt strategy.

The idea was that Trump’s appeal to non-college educated whites would make him an usually strong Republican candidate in states that haven’t voted for the GOP in two decades or more. Based on these ad buys, it’s clear that the Clinton campaign thinks the Rust Belt strategy isn’t anything to worry about. The election will be fought in the same states that Barack Obama won twice in a row.

January 18, 2017

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Barack Obama won’t promise to remain silent about President Trump.

In the final press conference of his presidency on Wednesday, the president reiterated that he’ll largely keep quiet once President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Friday. “It is appropriate for him to go forward with his vision and his values,” Obama said.

Yet Obama also detailed “certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values are at stake” that mightmerit me speaking out.” He cited “systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion,” “explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote,” “institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press,” and “efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them somewhere else.”

Given that a few of Trump’s campaign pledges fall under these categories, it’s likely Obama will be speaking out in the next four years. The president’s die-hard supporters will also hold out hope that he’ll be a candidate again someday. Despite having said he’d run his last campaign, Obama said on Wednesday he’s not running for office again “anytime soon.” So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

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EPA nominee Scott Pruitt: I don’t “know about” the science of lead poisoning.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, including a failed suit in which more than 20 states attempted to block an agency rule limiting mercury emissions from oil- and coal-fired power plants. So it’s no surprise that he was asked in Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearing about the regulation of harmful pollutants.

“Do you believe there’s any safe level of lead that can be taken into the human body, particularly a young person?” Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, asked.

“That’s something I have not reviewed nor know about,” Pruitt replied. “I would be concerned about any level of lead going into the drinking water. Or obviously human consumption. But I have not looked at the scientific research on that.”

That the would-be head of the agency responsible for regulating lead pollution in our air and water has “not looked at the scientific research” is concerning, to say the least. All Pruitt need do is spend a few minutes on the CDC website, which says, “There is no known identified safe” level of lead in the bloodstream. “Millions of children are being exposed to lead in their homes, increasing their risks for damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior), and hearing and speech problems.”

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Tom Price has already screwed up his insider trading defense.

Price’s nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services hit a couple of big snags over the past week. The Wall Street Journal reported that Price and fellow Congressman Chris Collins (coincidentally the first House Republican to endorse Donald Trump) received sweetheart deals from a small Australian biotech firm looking to introduce multiple sclerosis drugs to the U.S. market. The stock, which Price and Collins purchased for a measly 18 cents a share, has since gone up more than 400 percent, though Price has pledged to divest if confirmed. And on Monday, CNN reported that Price had introduced legislation benefiting a company he had recently purchased stock in—and that the company, Zimmer Biomet, then gave Price campaign contributions. The Journal also reported that Price had traded $300,000 in health care stocks while working on health care legislation.

The Trump campaign has demanded that CNN retract its story. Price, too, defended himself against the accusations at his hearing on Wednesday, saying, “Everything that we have done has been above-board, transparent, ethical, and legal.” But Price also contradicted his own defense of his actions. After the reports alleging potential insider trading circulated, Price defended himself by saying that his trades were made by a financial adviser from a broker-directed fund operated by Morgan Stanley. But when questioned, Price said that Collins informed him about stock in the Australian company.

His testimony indicated that all of his trades were not, in fact, made by a financial adviser from a broker-directed fund and that he did play a role in what stocks were and were not purchased or sold.


The cover for Hypertension. Photo via: luakabop.com

Goodbye, Fantastic Man William Onyeabor.

The visionary funk musician has died at age 70. From the mid-70s to the mid-80s, Onyeabor recorded nine albums. All of them had spectacularly good titles, like Great Lover (1981), Hypertension (1982), and Atomic Bomb (1978). He is perhaps best known for his song “Better Change Your Mind,” which is characteristic of his synth-rich, melodic sound. Newcomers to Onyeabor’s oeuvre could start with the luscious “Good Name.”

Onyeabor worked mostly alone at his own studio, which was filled with imported analog equipment. He then pressed his records at Wilfilms Limited—his own enterprise. After this extraordinarily prolific period, Onyeabor turned to various business enterprises. He was born again in 1985, according to the record label Luaka Bop.

Onyeabor’s music came to widespread international attention in 2013, when Luaka Bop managed to get in touch with him after five years of searching. Founded by David Byrne of the Talking Heads, Luaka Bop reissued Onyeabor’s music (after some convincing) on the compilation record Who is William Onyeabor? Onyeabor did not indulge the publicity that surrounded his international “comeback” of recent years with interviews.

Onyeabor’s distinctive sound is often called synth-funk, which slightly disguises the strangeness of his process. He used strangely childish sound effects from time to time, over sophisticated horn and guitar work. His relaxed, almost angular vocals were often backed by woman singers. His keyboard work was joyful and varied.

In 2014, Vice’s vertical Noisey released a short documentary on the musician, called Fantastic Man. The documentary brought Onyeabor’s work and career to a broader and younger audience. A 2014 live touring show of Onyeabor’s music featuring David Byrne, Devonté Hynes, The Lijadu Sisters, Ahmed Gallab, and more also stoked interest in his work.

Onyeabor was six-foot-five. He died after a short illness. He was born outside Enugu, Nigeria (formerly the Biafran capital), and died there. He is survived by four children and four grandchildren. Watch the Noisey documentary about Onyeabor here:

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Has the office already changed Donald Trump?

“I’ve had a lot of briefings that are very … I don’t want to say ‘scary,’ because I’ll solve the problems,” the president-elect told Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei in an interview for their new media company, Axios, published Wednesday. “But … we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies—very big and, in some cases, strong enemies.”

In a sense, the fact that Trump is a little freaked out is good. Trump is impulsive and reckless in a way that’s literally threatening to global stability. If clear-eyed threat assessments leave him sobered—“dare we say, humbled,” Allen and VandeHei wrote—that’s heartening.

But the Axios founders would have us read Trump’s jitters as evidence that Washington changes presidents: “Dick Cheney’s friends used to tell us he was a decidedly darker, changed man once he started reading the daily intel reports after 9/11.” The bigger story is that Trump is woefully unprepared for this job—totally out of his league on deadly serious national security responsibilities. It’s no wonder he’s spooked.

Chris Christie has shifted from being Trump’s man servant to being his whipping boy.

Once upon a time, Christie—the first Republican presidential candidate to endorse Trump—thought he was headed towards a plum cabinet appointment. Attorney General Chris Christie. Secretary of State Chris Christie. Vice President Chris Christie! By endorsing Trump he had turned lemons—in this case, Bridgegate and crushing unpopularity in his home state—into lemonade. But then he was outmaneuvered by Jared “Count of Monte Cristo Jr.” Kushner and was betrayed: First subjected to a number of humiliations by Trump that were subsequently leaked to the press, then exiled back to New Jersey, where he may or may not serve out his final year in office.

But Christie still held out hope. A week ago, Politico reported that Christie liked the way things were shaping up. “I think he’s one who feels that there will be a good amount of turnover and so Trump will be looking for a range of different people and talents as time goes on,” a New Jersey Republican said.

But, alas, Christie’s hopes appear to have been dashed again. The Trump transition is going very poorly and its leaders are blaming Christie, who was shitcanned as transition leader shortly after Trump won the presidency. Per Axios Presented by Bank of America:

Trump’s advisers tell us privately that many parts of the operation remain messy — in large part, they say, because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left them with virtually no preparation for a transition. Advisers told us horror stories of struggles to fill key roles — including getting handed files of candidates, most of whom were Democrats. This is only adding to the confusion and slowed policy-making discussions.

As badly as things have gone for Trump, he’s always had Chris Christie to blame. That may ultimately be Christie’s saving grace. Eventually, Trump may need to bring him back into his orbit, if only to use as a scapegoat.

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Republicans have clearly learned nothing about Donald Trump.

Almost as soon as Trump came down the escalator in Trump Tower and declared war on the American political system, establishment types on both sides have been placing blind hope in a series of neutralizing forces—that he was a fever that just had to burn out, that voters would slowly wake up to the threat he represented, that Republican delegates would rebel and install a saner alternative at the convention, that he would eventually pivot towards something resembling orthodoxy, and that, finally, his cabinet picks and advisers would be able to temper his worst instincts.

Trump has shown a small willingness to bend to respected advisers—Gen. Michael Mattis seems to have been successful in convincing Trump that torture is actually bad—so it should come as no surprise that Republicans are placing all of their hopes in those closest to the president-elect. On Tuesday night, The New York Times published a fascinating look at incoming Chief-of-Staff Reince Preibus’s role in the administration. Preibus apparently has already played a stabilizing role in Washington, acting as a go-between between Paul Ryan and Trump when Ryan needed help in aborting a Republican attempt to neuter the Office of Congressional Ethics. According to the Times:

This is the way that many mainstream Beltway Republicans, and more than a few tremulous Democrats, pray the Trump White House will work. In a city bracing for convulsive change, Mr. Priebus has emerged as an unlikely symbol of stability, someone who they hope will domesticate the new president and transform his storm-the-gates campaign into a normal, functional White House that can “make America sane again,” in a phrase making the rounds this week among congressional Republicans.

Preibus may have been successful here, but it was in getting Trump to criticize unruly congressional Republicans, not in checking his own instincts. The OCE anecdote reveals what Preibus will probably be good at: acting as a conduit between Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. But there’s nothing yet to suggest that Preibus is the mythical Trump whisperer—someone who can get Trump to behave, or to check his worst, most destructive instincts. It’s likely that person doesn’t exist.

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If confirmed, Betsy DeVos will be a disaster for students with disabilities.

DeVos told members of the Senate Health, Education and Pensions Committee tonight that “it should be up to the states” to determine whether publicly funded schools should be forced to adhere to provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. That’s disturbing news for parents of children with disabilities.

Voucher schools are already legally able to refuse to provide necessary accommodations for students with disabilities.That’s precisely why advocacy groups like the Council for Exceptional Children oppose voucher programs. And charter schools aren’t reliably better.

DeVos should know this. Here’s The New York Times on Michigan’s charter system, the very same system she’s promoted and funded for years:

As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average.

Compared to traditional public schools, Michigan’s charter system also serves fewer children with disabilities. The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools’s Lauren Morando Rhim attributed this in part to a lack of resources.

It’s difficult to overstate how nightmarish DeVos’s policy positions would be for students with disabilities and their parents. With no guaranteed access to publicly funded private education, parents of these students would have little choice but to send their children to public schools—even if they’re underfunded due to local voucher programs. That would create a discriminatory, two-tiered educational system. And that doesn’t seem to bother DeVos, who refused to say whether she’d preserve funding for public education.

And if your child is sexually assaulted at school, good luck: DeVos also would not confirm her intention to enforce Title IX as it’s currently defined.

January 17, 2017

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Chelsea Manning is going free. It’s about time.

The New York Times reports that President Obama has commuted the “bulk” of her sentence. She will be released on May 17: 

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to commit suicide last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

NBC had previously reported that Manning was on Obama’s clemency shortlist. There is a strong humanitarian case for her release: She’s suffered a number of human rights abuses during her time in Leavenworth Prison. The ACLU sued the military on Manning’s behalf in 2014 over its refusal to grant her access to treatment for gender dysphoria; officials only granted permission for her to receive gender-confirmation surgery last September. She attempted suicide twice last year, only to be sentenced to solitary confinement despite her fragile state.  And her situation was set to worsen under Trump. As Megan Carpentier reported for The New Republic last November, Trump’s hostility to the presence of LGBT people in the military posed an imminent threat to Manning’s health and safety. 

Manning is the reason we know how Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, really died. Thanks to her, we know that two U.S. Army Apache helicopter crews gunned down both men in a crowd of Iraqis—and laughed about it afterwards.

Manning’s commutation should have happened years ago, but Obama has likely saved her life by securing her release now. Edward Snowden probably won’t be as lucky, but this is the move he implored Obama to make last week: 

Portland Press Herald / Contributor

Paul LePage thinks John Lewis should shut his mouth (unless he’s using it to thank white people).

LePage, a Trump supporter, is none too happy with Lewis. The civil rights icon recently told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd that Trump will not be a “legitimate president,” and announced he would not attend the inauguration for the first time in his congressional career. “John Lewis ought to look at history,” LePage said in an interview Tuesday with WVOM, a Maine radio station. “It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice.”

Where to begin? How about the fact that Lewis is a genuine national hero. The longtime congressman was one of the “big six” organizers of the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis has been arrested more than 40 times, and has suffered brutal beatings at the hands of police in the struggle for equal rights. And he recently added a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a National Book Award to his resume. In other words, John Lewis is the last person on earth who needs a lecture on the history of slavery and civil rights.

What’s worse, not only do LePage’s remarks reek of casual racism, they’re also just plain wrong. Jim Crow laws didn’t go into effect until after the Grant administration. And it was the election of Hayes that ushered in the end of Reconstruction, ripening the landscape for the institution of Jim Crow.

This is all to say nothing of the deeply flawed logic of LePage’s argument:

Sadly, this kind of outrageous behavior is par for the course for LePage, who has been making Trump-like statements before Trumpism was even a thing. Let us never forget the time he told the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”