Lars Baron/Getty Images

Could the Russian team be banned from the Rio Olympics?

It’s certainly looking more likely following the publication of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s report, which accused the Russian government of falsifying the test results of a least 500 athletes across 30 different sports. In response, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that another Sports Cold War was imminent, “The Olympic movement, which plays a colossal unifying role for humanity, could again wind up on the edge of schism.”

It’s unclear if Putin knew anything about the cover-up, which went all the way up to the Russian sports ministry, the Centre of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia, and the FSB security service. The report accused the Russian government of aiding the doping cover up through a process called “the Disappearing Positive Methodology.” Any positive results would be brought to the attention of the Russian deputy sports minister, at which point a decision would be made to either “save” the test by falsifying the results or “quarantine” the athlete.

Following what was Russia’s worst showing ever at the Vancouver Olympics, Putin told his subordinates, “You go into the Games not just to sweat, but to win.” It seems they really did not want to let him down.

December 07, 2016

Giphy

Donald Trump has already neutered the deficit hawks in the GOP.

TIME magazine announced its 2016 Person of the Year on Wednesday and it was not at all surprising. Moving away from “you” and “person ruining Germany,” the magazine selected Trump. They also made him sit in a ratty chair.

The accompanying cover story is good. There’s talk about the gulf between Trump and his voters (he’s rich, they’re not); the power of Trump’s gut instinct, which both propelled him to the presidency and will likely be his biggest liability in the White House; and Trump’s total inability to take responsibility for the horrific forces his candidacy has unleashed. Reflecting on Trump’s insistence that crime is out of control, despite a wealth of statistical evidence to the contrary, Michael Scherer distills Trump’s worldview: “The world is zero-sum, full of the irredeemable killers that Obama’s idealism fails to see.”

But Scherer also gets at what may have been the second-most important force driving Trump’s victory: his departure from decades of party orthodoxy. This paragraph is key:

While Trump offered public words of support for the Iraq War at the time, he sees George W. Bush’s great adventure as a disaster now. He rejects wholesale the social conservative campaign to keep transgender people out of the bathrooms they choose, but promises to reward conservative ideologues with a Supreme Court Justice of their liking. And he has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts. Instead, he seems to favor expensive new infrastructure spending and tax cuts as economic stimulus, much like Obama did in 2009. “Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” he says. “So sometimes in order to get jobs going and the country going, because, look, we’re at 1% growth.” The next day, the third-quarter gross-domestic-product estimates would be released, showing an increase of 3.2%, up from 1.4% earlier in the year.

If the unified government that will take over Washington on January 20 has a fault line, this is it. Thanks to polarization, gerrymandering, and dark money, Congress is full of conservative ideologues and Trump has made it clear that he has little patience for ideologues. You can see that Trump is willing to carrot-and-stick it with Congress, giving them a conservative Supreme Court justice—perhaps the biggest prize there is—with the expectation that they will follow his tune when it comes to the economy. Deficit hawks, after all, tend not to be so hawkish when they’re in control. Carping about America’s balance sheet is a political tactic as much as anything else, a clever way of arguing that the other party is irresponsible.

For Republicans, it’s also been a dog whistle—the deficit means “the government is spending too much on nonwhite people”—and Trump’s knack for demagogic scapegoating makes it less relevant than it has been in decades. That dog whistle was key to the Tea Party’s success, and while Trump may differ from that group ideologically, he’s speaking their language when it comes to identity.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The report that the Pope condemned fake news as a sin is itself a kind of fake news.

This morning, Reuters published a story with the catchy headline, “Pope warns media over ‘sin’ of spreading fake news, smearing politicians.” To go by the headline, you might think the Pope is weighing in on how fake news contributed to the election of Donald Trump. But a closer inspection of Francis’s actual words show they have nothing to do with fake news at all, but rather are a standard warning against slander and scandal-mongering. It’s hardly news for a clergyman to condemn slander, which has been a sin since at least the biblical injunction against bearing false witness.

Tellingly, the Pope condemned even truthful scandal-mongering. As quoted by Reuters, he said, “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into—no offense intended—the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true.” Coprophagia literally meaning eating excrement. The Pope doesn’t seem to care whether that excrement is real or not; he is saying that the love of spreading damaging and hurtful information about other people is morally dubious.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Thomas Piketty’s latest opus paints a grim picture of income inequality in America.

Piketty and the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have released a study showing that fully one half of the American population has been “completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s.” This means that while while the economy has nearly doubled in size in that time period, roughly 120 million working adults have seen no income growth, even when you factor in the income transfers they receive from the government. While other studies have shown similar findings, this is considered the most sweeping, revealing “the full impact that tax payments, government spending, noncash benefits, and nontaxable income together have on inequality,” according to The New York Times.

The vast majority of the wealth produced in the last three and a half decades went, of course, to the very rich, who largely made their money through investments, as opposed to salary.

The dynamic on display here, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, at least partly explains the deep economic dissatisfaction that turned 2016 into a change election—despite the fact that President Barack Obama is leaving the economy in ostensibly good shape. The punch line is that Donald Trump’s proposed policies will only broaden inequality in this country: His tax cuts would deprive the government’s coffers of $6.2 trillion in revenue over the course of ten years, according to the Tax Policy Center. This is an almost comically bad proposal. “There have never been any legislative proposals that I’m aware of that would come anywhere near $5 (trillion) to $6 trillion in deficits over a decade,” Len Burman, one of the report’s authors, told The San Francisco Chronicle in October.

Whether Trump will follow through on his wild pledges now that he’s about to take control of the White House is another question. But it’s worth noting that there was only one candidate who was actually going to try to reverse this state of affairs.

Donald Trump is Time’s Man of the Year and he’s still complaining.

Appearing on The Today Show Wednesday, the president-elect called the magazine’s accolade “a great honor,” but griped that it was “snarky” for the publication to call him “President of the Divided States of America.”

Trump told Matt Lauer, “I’m not president yet, so I didn’t do anything to divide,” ignoring that his entire campaign for the White House was built on the denigration of undocumented Mexican immigrants and included assaults on Muslims, women, the disabled, and virtually every other marginalized group in the United States.

Naturally, this isn’t the first time Trump has complained about Time’s choices:

December 06, 2016

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The press has to stop echoing Trump’s talking points without checking them.

Donald Trump’s tweets move the stock market. He tweeted this morning: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” This caused a sharp sell-off in Boeing stock, even though the company later claimed that it was under a $170 million contract to “help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the president of the United States.”

The tweet naturally raised the question of whether Trump himself could personally benefit from stock market shifts caused by his pronouncements. His spokespeople re-assured the press this was not a problem because Trump sold off all his stocks in June. But as Amy Sullivan of Yahoo News noted, the press coverage was too credulous, simply taking what the Trump team said at face value without getting any documents to confirm it. For example, a Washington Post tweet read: “The move will help combat conflict-of-interest worries about his $40 million portfolio.”

Given Trump’s history of deception, the challenge going forward will be to come up with headlines and push notifications that make clear which statements are mere claims and which have actually been verified.

Youtube

David Brock isn’t going away.

Points to Brock for stubbornness, if nothing else. The Clinton operative is soliciting donations for a new anti-Trump war room run by his super PAC, American Bridge. From The Hill:

Brock claims to have the largest archive of Trump opposition research in the Democratic Party, including thousands of hours of footage that operatives are mining for damaging material.

“The Trump administration is shaping up to be one of the most corrupt since the Gilded Age,” Brock said. “American Bridge will use everything at its disposal to hold it accountable.”

The Trump administration merits watchdogs, and if Brock has the footage he says he does, there’s obvious value in putting it to use. But there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that a Brock-engineered Trump resistance will be effective.

Let’s look at his record. He runs Media Matters for America, which effectively functioned as a Clinton campaign surrogate during the election and failed to wrest the narrative away from Donald Trump. He runs Shareblue, a more blatant propaganda outlet, which similarly failed to damage Trump’s momentum. And in an anti-establishment age, Brock, as a devoted ally of the Clintons, represents nearly everything voters rejected.

The Democratic Party needs a new direction. It’s not going to come from David Brock. And if the Democratic donor class doesn’t recognize this soon, it’s in for another terrible surprise in 2020.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

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.

giphy

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.