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In thirteen months, the Trump campaign has learned nothing about damage control.

Since Trump rode down the escalator last June, his campaign hasn’t ended a single scandal in a timely fashion: Megyn Kelly, Judge Curiel, Corey Lewandowski, all went on for days and days. Trump’s damage control operation was so bad that many assumed it to be intentional—that he was fanning the flames to distract from other worse scandals, or, at the very least, to keep himself at the center of attention. Trump has shown himself to be made of a substance more stick-free than teflon, but in any case, this strategy, if you can call it that, worked in the primaries—or at least it failed to sink his campaign.

After Melania Trump was caught plagiarizing a portion of Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech, the Trump camp is sticking to its only script: deny, blame opponents and the media, and refuse to apologize. Early Tuesday morning de facto campaign manager Paul Mantafort blamed Hillary Clinton: “Once again, this is an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks to demean her and take her down.” Manafort also told CNN’s Phil Mattingly “These are common words,” which, sure, but when it comes to plagiarism it’s the order that counts. Chris Christie took a break from the unbearable sadness of being Chris Christie to go on the Today Show and downplay the plagiarism while basically also copping to it: “93 percent of the speech is completely different from Michelle Obama’s speech,” he said, seemingly admitting that seven percent was plagiarized. “They expressed some common thoughts.”

This is, in some ways, classic spin: The job of a flak in instances like these is to provide counternarratives. But the problem is that this is a cut-and-dry case: Anyone who watches the side-by-side video knows that Melania Trump and/or her speechwriter(s) lifted a portion of Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech, period. What the Trump campaign is doing now is inflaming a scandal that could swallow the next three days of the RNC.

October 25, 2016

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The Justice Department is breathing new life into the Eric Garner case.

According to The New York Times, FBI agents tasked with investigating the case have been replaced with agents from outside of New York, a decision that could propel the stalled case forward.

Garner’s death at the hands of Staten Island police in July 2014—made infamous by a video showing Garner being placed into a chokehold and saying, “I can’t breathe”—fueled national protests over police brutality against black men. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but the Richmond County grand jury decided not to indict the officers that December. That day, the Justice Department decided to charge the individual officers.

Since then, the case has reportedly been slowed by disagreements over whether the officers violated Garner’s civil rights. Prosecutors in Brooklyn oppose the charges, while the Civil Rights Division at in Washington, D.C., say the video clearly shows evidence of a civil rights violation.

While this shake-up could move the investigation forward, precedent does not bode well for those seeking justice on Garner’s behalf. Most recently, State Attorney General Marilyn J. Mosby dropped the remaining charges against officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, after three of the six officers were acquitted.

Is Donald Trump beta-testing Trump TV? Or is he just out of options?

One of the election’s most consistent narratives has been that Donald Trump is only out for himself—that he’s using the national political spotlight to make money and build his brand, which helps explain, for instance, why he frequently turns campaign events into infomercials for his new hotel in Washington, D.C. Trump is reportedly frustrated that he can’t monetize his captive audience. Since the summer, rumors have swirled around the idea of a Trump-centered TV network that would compete with Fox News for elderly, far-right eyeballs.

Trump TV seems to be more than a glimmer in Trump’s eye. Earlier this month, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly met with an investment firm LionTree to discuss a potential network. Before the final debate, the Trump campaign live-streamed what many interpreted as a low-rent test of the concept in the form of a 30-minute show featuring two anchors and General Michael Flynn. And last night, the campaign announced nightly broadcasts at 6:30PM.

The first installment of Trump TV was suitably bizarre. The show promised that it would feature none of the spin you see on “normal” news programs, but then campaign manager Kellyanne Conway came on and spun the hell out of the election, telling anchors Boris Epshteyn and Cliff Sims that everything was fine and Trump had a plausible path to victory. (Epshteyn and Sims, who often finish each other’s sentences, would be an adorable double act if the sentences they were finishing weren’t so absurd and/or horrific.) And The Blaze’s Tomi Lahren, the pundit this election deserves, came on to give Trump’s supporters a pep talk: “If you’re looking for someone that’s got a love of country as deep as Donald Trump—and I’ve seen it—then you’re going to have to join the basket, you’re going to have to jump out of the basket, and you’re going to have to make your voices heard.”

It’s certainly possible that Trump and his allies, particularly Kushner, are using these livestreams as a trial run. But Trump and company may be turning to livestreams simply ecause they have no other options. Even Fox News (aside from Hannity and, to a lesser extent, O’Reilly) isn’t the safe space it was a month or two ago: Like every other network, it is also reporting that Trump is losing. The Facebook broadcasts exist to give Trump the kind of media bubble he craves—and if they lead to something bigger, then so be it.

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Does Donald Trump have any path to victory?

The election is two weeks from today. That is both a very long time—if either campaign has juicy opposition research, it can still be dropped for significant effect—and no time at all. Presidential races rarely change shape dramatically in the final two weeks and right now the 2016 election looks like it’s going to end in an electoral vote landslide for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has many paths to the White House, and Trump really only has one: He has to win Ohio and Florida (Clinton can win either), along with North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, and Maine. Historically speaking, that’s not an unreasonable path for a Republican nominee—George W. Bush won all of those states but Maine in 2000 and 2004. The problem is that Trump is losing every single one of those states in most polls right now. Clinton has maintained a steady lead in Florida since the first debate. Ohio is the closest of the group, but it’s basically a push right now, with a slight edge being given to Clinton. In a New York Times poll released today, Clinton leads in North Carolina by seven points and has an insane 25-point advantage among early voters, which suggests that her get-out-the-vote apparatus is going to wipe the floor with Trump’s.

A lot can happen in the next two weeks. But early voting is already underway and Trump’s only path to the White House may already be blocked.

October 24, 2016

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The marriage of AT&T and Time Warner threatens internet freedom.

On Saturday, AT&T approved an $85.4 billion deal to acquire Time Warner, which, pending the permission of shareholders and federal regulators, could transform the telecommunications company into one of the country’s largest content producers and distributors. Not only would AT&T control the means by which we communicate, like internet and phone service, but also the content we consume on those channels, ranging from entertainment programming on HBO to news on CNN.

Internet scholars from Lawrence Lessig, author of Code, to Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality,” have predicted this kind of media consolidation and believe it will centralize the web at the expense of individual user freedom. In the words of Politico’s Ken Doctor, “My god, has it really come to this: the phone companies running the internet, the supposedly freeing innovation of all time?”

From its inception in 1874, AT&T controlled the entire U.S. telecommunications industry, operating all local and regional telegraph lines. In 1986, the Justice Department finally won a landmark anti-trust suit against the company on the principle that it had misused its “position in the telecommunications market to suppress competition and enhance its monopoly power.” The company was broken up and left as a shadow of its former self.

The federal government, however, may not be able to quash AT&T’s growing information empire as it once did. While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have called for stricter policies on media consolidation, a controversial provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act allows for “media cross-ownership.” It was originally intended to allow “anyone [to] enter any communications business”—but it may be having the exact opposite effect in permitting a telecom giant like AT&T to produce content that it can prioritize on its own services.

The internet democratized information. As Wu writes in his book Master Switch, it gave “individuals a degree of control, of decision-making power unprecedented in a communications system.” But if AT&T and other companies continue to extend their control over how we consume information, that decision-making power weakens.

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Jack Chick, soul-winner and Catholic-hater, is dead.

Chick, who produced hundreds of fundamentalist Christian tracts over 50 years, passed yesterday at the age of 92. He was initially known for tracts like “This Was Your Life,” which used compelling and sometimes frightening visuals to depict fundamentalist beliefs about hell and salvation. His contribution to the Satanic Panic rightfully earned him public infamy, as did his fear-mongering about feminism, LGBT rights, New Age spirituality, and even Catholicism.

Chick was a true cultural separatist whose doctrinal views were heavily influenced by works like The Fundamentals and Charles Finney’s Power From On High. Only the King James Version of the Bible sufficed; Satan is directly responsible for all other translations. Catholics? They’ve eaten the infamous Death Cookie and are doomed to hell. Infant baptism? Dangerous heresy! Dungeons and Dragons? If you have to ask, you’ve probably got one foot in the lake of fire already.

A few of Chick’s views, specifically on abortion, evolution, and LGBT people, possess a pernicious longevity. He celebrated AIDS as just deserts for anyone who didn’t adhere to his stringent sexual standards—a sentiment 14 percent of Americans still believe:

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But in other respects, his obsessive cultural puritanism has fallen out of vogue. There are still some proponents, found mostly in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches and institutions like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College, but they’re a minority, doomed partially by their own separatism. Evangelicalism dominates.

With that domination came the cultural acquiescence Chick so feared. Conservative Catholics and Protestants are now allies in the culture wars, and the targets of that war have shifted a bit. Nobody cares about Dungeons and Dragons these days, and it’s been a long time since anyone publicly burned a Harry Potter book. Young evangelicals (no survey separates evangelicals from fundamentalists) are softer than older generations on issues like evolution and LGBT rights. That’s a strong indication that Chick’s version of Christianity is set to become increasingly obscure.

His tracts therefore provide an interesting perspective on conservative Protestantism’s American mutations: Chick once arguably sat within the movement’s mainstream, only to live long enough to see it leave him behind.

At least he was spared yet another Halloween.

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Edward Snowden is wrong.

The NSA whistleblower tweeted this morning that, “There may never be a safer election in which to vote for a third option.” Attached to the tweet was a New York Times forecast showing that Hillary Clinton has a 93 percent chance of winning the election. The underlying assumption here, also made by others who favor a third-party vote even if they acknowledge Trump is unfit to be president, is that the only real danger is Trump winning. If there is almost no chance of Trump winning or if you live in state where the vote is so lopsided that it won’t influence the election, the logic goes, there’s no dire reason to vote for Clinton.

The problem with this argument is that a Trump victory isn’t the only danger. Trump has been doing his best to gin up a legitimacy crisis, saying that the system is rigged and that he might not accept the results of the election. Further, the better Trump does, the more likely it is that his political movement will have an after-life and be imitated by future Republican candidates. Trump is leading a dangerous racist movement that is mainstreaming all sorts of hate. For that reason, he needs not just to lose, but to lose by a wide margin, to be buried so deeply that Trumpism can never rise again. A vote for a third party is not at all safe, but one way of giving Trumpism a longer lease on life.

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Is Donald Trump the fabled Snake?

In his speeches, Trump often recites the lyrics of the 1968 Al Wilson song “The Snake,” written by Oscar Brown, Jr. A variation of the fable “The Scorpion and the Frog,” the song tells the story of a naive woman who takes in a wounded snake, only to be betrayed by the predator who bites her and says, “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” From the point of view of Trump and his supporters, the meaning of the song is this: The United States can’t let in Muslim refugees because they are irrevocably hostile and will turn on those who help them.

But this weekend, an old Trump tweet was recirculated that offers a new layer of meaning to his use of the story.

In “The Scorpion and the Frog,” the scorpion bites the frog even though the act will lead both to drown. He justifies himself by saying, “It’s my nature.”

The identical phrasing is uncanny. It’s almost as if Trump, in some corner of his brain, is aware that he himself is the snake or the scorpion who was too readily accepted by credulous Republicans. That he knows Republicans were wrong to put their faith in a creature who is by his nature both destructive and self-destructive.

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Evan McMullin is part of the problem.

McMullin, who announced his conservative protest bid in August, has nearly pulled even with Trump in his home state of Utah. His appeal is based largely on the fact that he is not Donald Trump; instead, he is a genuine religious conservative. He’s therefore been upheld as an acceptably sane alternative to Trump by #NeverTrumpers on the hunt for a savior.

This is a mistake. McMullin certainly produces sane soundbites, but he, like Trump, represents the extreme fringe of the GOP.

He is stridently anti-abortion and wants to repeal Obamacare. His platform is broadly anti-public education; he promotes charter schools and school vouchers, and reserves a special shout-out for homeschooling. He also supports a sort of soft privatization of the Veterans Health Administration (something the majority of veterans still oppose):

McMullin also boasts some truly fascinating opinions about federal ownership of western land:

Because this election really needed The Ammon Bundy Candidate.

McMullin, of course, is not going to become president. He might not even win Utah. Even so, #NeverTrumpers should rethink their support for McMullin. Normalizing the party’s fringe is precisely what got them into their current predicament.

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How long will Harvard hold out against its striking dining hall workers?

Seven hundred and fifty workers at one of the nation’s most elite universities have been on strike for higher wages and a revision to their health care plans since October 5. It is the first strike at the school in 33 years. But three weeks in, Harvard’s administration shows no signs of budging. Today, one of the striking workers, Rosa Ines Rivera, penned an op-ed for The New York Times in which she wrote, “While I’ve earned no college credits here, I’ve had a lesson in hypocrisy.” As a worker in the public health school dining hall, Rivera noted the gap between the school’s purported mission to make health care a fundamental right for all and its proposal that its lowest paid workers take on a larger share of their health insurance costs.

That proposal would take nearly 10 percent of the workers’ annual incomes, according to an analysis by Harvard medical students, and isn’t affordable for most of the workers based on state guidelines. Ironically, Harvard faculty protested similar changes in health insurance premiums last year, when their deductible was raised from $0 to $250 a person. The school ultimately conceded to the faculty in that fight, offering them plans without any deductibles or coinsurance costs.

The dining hall workers are also demanding a raise, to $35,000 a year. Currently, according to Rivera, the average salary for a Harvard dining hall worker is $31,193 a year. This wasn’t enough to keep her and her two children in their own apartment in the Boston area. Harvard has countered that this salary is higher than the minimum wage and higher than what other cafeteria workers make in Boston. Yet the sticking point for many is that Harvard is the wealthiest school in the nation, with its $35 billion endowment, far above the next school’s by $10 billion.

As faculty, students, local politicians, and even celebrities join the picketers, it is clear that momentum is building to push the administration to re-negotiate with the striking workers and finalize a contract. But there has been no sign from the administration that any progress has been made. Instead, the school has hired temporary workers and offered boxed lunches, a solution that has resulted in students finding meat in bread pudding, uncooked chicken, and bugs in their food. How long will the nation’s wealthiest school hold out?

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Anti-Semitism isn’t “ironic,” “sly,” “mischievous,” or “dissident.”

BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray reported Monday that the alt-right is popularizing an old Nazi term used to discredit journalists: “lügenpresse,” German for “lying press.” As upsetting as that is, the more pernicious problem Gray identifies in her piece is the way white nationalists justify this language as “serious … ironic … and with a sly reference to boot.”

This is becoming a pattern. Earlier this year, after National Review editor Jonah Goldberg was bombarded with anti-Semitic messages online, alt-right hero Milo Yiannopoulos told talk-show host Dave Rubin that “it’s not because there’s a spontaneous outpouring of anti-Semitism from 22-year-olds in this country.” “What it is,” Yiannopoulos said, “is it’s a mischievous, dissident, trolly generation who do it because it gets a reaction.”

Words have specific meanings. Using anti-Semitic slurs, however mischievously, does not erase the original meaning of those words, or the very real pain that their usage causes. Trolling with hate speech is no less bigoted than earnest hate speech.