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The Trump-Putin conspiracy theory has gone mainstream.

Trump’s affection for Putin, as well as his friendly disposition toward Russia in general, are undeniable. There is little doubt that Trump, who told The New York Times last week that he would not necessarily respond if Russia were to invade one of the Baltic states, is also the Kremlin’s preferred presidential candidate. Trump’s de facto campaign manager Paul Manafort is the cherry on top—he spent years working for the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

Some have tried to connect these dots and argue that Trump is Putin’s puppet, or at least an accidental American agent for the Kremlin. But there was little evidence to support the existence of a conspiracy—or Russian meddling in the U.S. election—until the release of thousands of hacked Democratic National Committee emails on Friday.

Building on reports that Russian hackers had infiltrated DNC servers in June, many have suggested that the Kremlin was behind the hack and the release, which was timed for maximum political impact. On Sunday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager told ABC that the Kremlin orchestrated the release of the emails because it wants Trump to be elected president, which is a fairly insane development in this very insane election.

It should be noted that Team Clinton has every reason to downplay the DNC email hack, and a salacious Trump-Putin bromance story with echoes of a John le Carre story does a pretty damn good job of that. But the craziest thing about the conspiracy theory is that it has legs. Here’s the Times, breaking down the evidence:

Researchers have concluded that the [DNC] was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyberoperations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. And metadata from the released emails suggests that the documents passed through Russian computers. Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects. Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.

That is not quite a smoking gun for those pushing the “Putin did the emails” theory, but it’s still unsettling and adds another unprecedented subplot to an election that was already overstuffed with them. Trump, for his part, denies it—though he’s clearly delighted that everyone now knows Putin likes him:

January 20, 2017

Alex Jones is having a bad inauguration day.

Protesters blocking one of the checkpoints to the inauguration surrounded a very, very sweaty Jones. Cops came to his rescue to escort him out of the crowd.

He also tried to unsuccessfully push his way through a blockade of protesters:

According to BuzzFeed, Jones, who called the protesters “mentally ill scum,” claimed that a female companion had been assaulted by them and that he was going to file a police report.

Jones, who runs the website Infowars, is dubbed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America.” There is one drawback to tussling with the king of fake news: Jones will undoubtedly use the footage as “proof” of the “numerous plots” of “planned attacks on Trump supporters attending inauguration events.”

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How will the foreign press translate Trump’s inauguration speech?

Traditionally, a translator must try to replicate something of the timbre, the je ne sais quoi, of the original text at hand. But what can a translator do when the timbre of the original is obstructionism, incomprehensibility, and repetitiveness?

Picking up on a piece by translator Bérengère Viennot in Slate last month, Le Monde today worried about the future facing translators at foreign newspapers. On the one hand, Trump’s speech is simple, so it is not hard for English speakers to understand him. But by the same token, his vocabulary is so repetitive and impoverished that a translator faces real challenges in turning them into proper sentences.

Trump’s language is characterized by the very features that make a text untranslatable. He uses intonation rather than vocabulary to express his meaning, making his words difficult to understand on the page. He repeats words over and over again: tremendous, great, horrible. So, the translator should repeat words, so that the reader can gain an accurate impression of how the most powerful man in the world expresses himself.

But this fealty to the reality of Trump’s speeches can inhibit actual understanding of his politics. A few days ago, Viennot elaborated at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

As a translator of political discourse, you also have the duty to write readable texts: so what am I to do? Translate Trump as he speaks, and let French readers struggle with whatever content there is?

Translators across the world will today struggle to extract the (deeply newsworthy) pieces of information embedded in Trump’s first speech. But foreign media outlets will be up against an unprecedented communication barrier: The president of the United States speaks like a fifth grader, even when the world is listening.

Watch the Obamas welcome the Trumps to the White House.

Amid unprecedented scandal, suspicion, and conflicts of interest, President-elect Donald Trump and wife Melania were welcomed to the White House this morning by the Obamas. Has there ever been a wider chasm between the values, humanity, and decorum of an outgoing and an incoming president? Not likely.

Good morning! Donald Trump will have the nuclear codes shortly.

It’s been two months since Election Day and it still doesn’t feel quite real. Trump will place his hand on the Lincoln Bible at noon and become our 45th president. We know relatively little about what will follow. We do know—metaphor alert—that it’s supposed to rain while Trump gives his inaugural speech.

Trump has promised that his speech will be short—it will reportedly only last 20 merciful minutes, which is surprising given the length of some of Trump’s other written speeches. According to Axios Presented By Bank of America, which had some hot scoops this morning, the speech will convey “that a nation and its people and its affairs are like a family and you need to take care of them.” Stirring stuff.

As for the parade, looks like we might be getting a spectacle straight out of Pyongyang. According to an interview Trump did with The Washington Post, that’s what he wants. The military “may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.” One source told HuffPo, “They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade.

But all this is ultimately secondary to the sheer fact of what will happen. Donald Trump will become our 45th president, and his inauguration will be traumatic for millions of Americans. Trump is utterly unprepared for the rigors of the presidency and he will undoubtedly be tested very early in his term. He has never held government office and his businesses have always been run as a fiefdom. The fact that he has no perspective on some of the most divisive political issues in this country was undoubtedly a boon during his campaign, but it is not something he can sustain while in office. He lies about anything and everything and will continue to do so after he’s inaugurated. We’re through the looking glass now.

The star of the “DeploraBall” protest was a 15-foot racist elephant.

Protesters set fires and burned a “Make America Great Again” hat. They clashed with supporters of President-elect Donald Trump and scuffled with the police, who used teargas and pepper spray. Yet the most striking visual as hundreds demonstrated outside the pro-Trump gala at D.C.’s National Press Club on Thursday night was this $1,700 nylon inflatable:

The elephant is a veteran of protests. It’s already been to the Washington State Capitol and Capitol Hill, as a favorite prop of the Backbone Campaign—a group from Vashon, Washington, that offers “creative strategies and artful activism tools,” according to its director, Bill Moyer. The goal of the elephant is to generate discussion about “the elephant in the room.”

I asked Moyer to name an elephant in the room as the new administration begins.

“The folks who really deserve change—and voted for Trump to get change—aren’t going to get the kind of change they want,” he said.

But Moyer and his friend Kevin Zeese, co-director of the Occupy offshoot Popular Resistance, had more immediate concerns than the Trumpocalypse: keeping the elephant inflated by guarding its butt zipper.

“We’ve already had one incident tonight where one of the fascists unzipped the rear,” Zeese said.

A little after 9 p.m., though, the elephant was deflated by something more mundane than fascist saboteurs: Its wind fans ran out of batteries.

January 19, 2017

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At the very end of his presidency, Barack Obama is working to fix one of the biggest blights on his record.

On Thursday, he lashed out at Congress for failing to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As a candidate, he pledged to close the prison and transfer its remaining detainees either to other countries or other facilities in America, but failed to do so in his eight years in office. In a letter, Obama wrote that the facility “never should have been opened in the first place” and that “there is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’s insistence on keeping the facility open.” Donald Trump, meanwhile, not only pledged to keep it open but to “load it up with some bad dudes.”

The Obama administration is working to reduce the number of detainees being held before Trump takes office. Ten detainees were sent to Oman on Monday and on Thursday Foreign Policy reported that four more detainees were being transferred. Foreign Policy also reported that “lawyers and Obama administration officials are working down to the wire to get remaining detainees out of Guantánamo before Trump throws away the key, potentially for good.”

The Guantanamo facility has been a blight on the United States’s human rights record and on its international reputation since it was opened. Some of the detainees are being held indefinitely and have never been tried outside a special military court. Even if Congress has proved the main obstacle to closing Guantanamo, failing to do so will undoubtedly be a black mark on Obama’s legacy. Obama is well aware of this—the last minute efforts, though certainly too late, reflect as much. “If this were easy, we would have closed Guantánamo years ago,” Obama wrote in his letter to Congress. “But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to bring it to a responsible end.”

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Betsy DeVos is such a disaster that bitter enemies are uniting against her.

Before her wince-inducing Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, the education secretary nominee’s most visible critics were teachers union leaders, like Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen García, who recognize her as a right-wing advocate of school privatization. But on Thursday, as unions organized a national day of action against DeVos, one of their fiercest foes in the education policy wars announced its opposition to her confirmation, too.

“We are strong supporters of choice married with accountability, but as vital as parental choice is, choice alone is not an answer for ensuring the education of 50 million kids,” said Shavar Jeffries, national president of Democrats for Education Reform, a left-of-center group that supports “school choice.”

Jeffries noted that DeVos was “non-committal on whether public schools should be de-funded or privatized,” and voiced a series of other concerns on issues ranging from federal support for students with disabilities to higher education regulations. “We do hope that at some point Mrs. Devos will speak more expansively about her vision for all public schools and the federal role in ensuring our schools work for our kids,” he said. “But based on the record before us, we cannot support her nomination.”

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Democrats should be doing more to hammer Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin’s “foreclosure machine.”

The bulk of Mnuchin’s hearing has so far been devoted to his offshore hedge fund—the Democrats have been trying to trap him into admitting that it’s a tax haven. Mnuchin has certainly been cornered on the issue, but has still held his ground. Mnuchin has argued it was common (who doesn’t have an offshore hedge fund?) to use such a setup. “In no way did I use them whatsoever to avoid U.S. taxes,” Mnuchin said. Instead his offshore hedge fund was for “pension funds and nonprofit institutions. And as Treasury secretary, I would look at these rules. ... I can sure you I paid all my taxes as was required.” Uh huh.

The Democrats are chasing a rabbit here. Grilling Mnuchin on the offshore hedge fund could pay big dividends if he slips up or if something is discovered later, but the questions at the start of the hearing have been very specific and don’t do as much as they could to build the narrative that they’re clearly grasping for: that Mnuchin is an out-of-touch plutocrat who doesn’t pay his fair share. (Sound familiar?) But it has been moderately effective: Mnuchin is getting increasingly irritated at having to answer the same type of question over and over again.

But so far Democrats may be missing a big opportunity to hammer Mnuchin on foreclosures. Mnuchin should be made into a poster child of the housing crisis, but it took well over an hour for Democrats, led by Sherrod Brown, to start to sink their teeth into him. That should be their central focus. Getting Mnuchin to admit that his bank OneWest foreclosed on veterans, among others, goes a long way to build that narrative.

Mnuchin, in response, has tried to play the role of the humble striver who made it big, telling the committee, “I started on a folding chair in the mortgage department.” But that’s not quite true.

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Trump is on track to fulfill the right’s dream of eviscerating programs people like.

It’s no secret that the Heritage Foundation has been in the driver’s seat for Trump’s incoming administration. While it may not have quite the influence it had in the early days of the Reagan administration, when its phone book–sized Mandate For Leadership was Reagan’s playbook, it has been vetting candidates for job openings and supplying potential Supreme Court nominees. On Thursday, The Hill reported that Trump is planning on fulfilling one of Heritage’s longtime goals: defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund thousands of local public radio and television stations. Major unspecified cuts are also proposed for the Commerce, Energy, Transportation, Justice, and State departments.

Republicans have argued that cutting funding for these entities is necessary to reduce the debt, though they have sometimes balked at seeing them through. They claim that axing all three would “reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years,” per The Hill. But reducing the debt is often a euphemism for cutting programs that Republicans don’t like—raising taxes on rich people is a much better and more efficient way to reduce the debt, and it has the added bonus of not destroying programs beloved by rich and non-rich people alike.

But the $10.5 trillion number is especially ridiculous when you consider the fact that these programs do not cost very much money in the grand scheme of federal spending.

This is why Trump’s team is throwing out a huge proposed number of budget cuts: It is a Trojan Horse to cut programs they don’t like—public services, in other words—which they will claim was necessary to reduce the debt.

Rick Perry didn’t know what the Energy Department was until about a month ago.*

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but he does have a knack for identifying people’s weaknesses. In a primary campaign full of memorable jabs, Trump’s best insult was one of his first. Targeting Perry, who would drop out of the race shortly thereafter, he said, “He put on glasses so people think he’s smart. People can see through the glasses.”

When running for president in 2012, Perry famously forgot the third government department—the Department of Energy—that he wanted to cut. Five weeks ago, Trump nominated Perry to lead that department and he accepted. And on Wednesday evening, The New York Times and Politico published stories suggesting that Perry did not know what the Energy Department did—including its principle task of regulating nuclear arms and energy—until after he accepted Trump’s offer. The Times reports:

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Perry’s views about the department have shifted, however—as, reportedly, have his views on climate science. At his hearing today, Perry plans on repudiating his call to scrap the DoE. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry plans to say, according to Politico. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Michael McKenna, a former Perry adviser who has worked on the Trump transition, described Perry’s arc to the Times: “If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy.’ If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.” Perry may be learning, but no one would confuse him with a nuclear scientist. The problem is, he’ll be replacing one at the Department of Energy.

Update: The Times is facing some criticism for basing its reporting on a sole source, McKenna, who claims his quote was taken out of context. Others have noted that Perry appeared to be aware of the Department of Energy’s remit from the day he was nominated. But was Perry aware of what the Department of Energy did when he called for abolishing it? This is a serious question.