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Donald Trump is wrong: Putin isn’t a strong leader.

The fetish for Putin on the right is well-known. Trump has heaped praise on him throughout the campaign, most recently putting on his cultural relativist cap to tell Matt Lauer, “The man has very strong control over a country. It’s a very different system and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”

Over the years, Putin has been praised by Rudy Giuliani, Pat Buchanan, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh. On Friday morning, right-wing radio host Hugh “The Smart One” Hewitt bought into Trump’s argument:

Later, Hewitt clarified his position a bit.

My sense is that Trump thinks that Putin is a strong leader simply because he has good poll numbers, though obviously the authoritarian flourishes are attractive as well. Hewitt, however, is a smart guy trying to make a dispassionate, almost academic argument about effective leadership: Mao was a monster, but he got shit done!

The problem with the argument that Putin is operating from a position of strength, however, is that it’s wrong. Seen properly, the invasion of Crimea wasn’t evidence of Putin’s swashbuckling vigor—it was a desperate land grab to prevent yet another country formerly in Russia’s sphere of influence from gravitating toward the West. Putin’s popular support, while real, is precariously built on an oil-and-gas economy that is in shambles. The government remains one of the most corrupt in the world, presides over several simmering insurgencies, and in recent years has been rocked by huge democratic protests. That Putin’s regime has also taken to assassinating political opponents and journalists is only further evidence of the profound insecurity and weakness of Putin’s standing.

Maybe I’m grading on a curve, but if we’re talking about “strength” and “leadership” and “effectiveness” and “national interest,” I’ll probably stick with Obama.

February 23, 2017

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Depeche Mode reject Richard Spencer’s strangelove.

During a press gaggle at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, the alt-right founder said this of the iconic British techno-rock band:

Spencer once posted to Facebook his ranking of all the band’s albums, clearly demonstrating that he just can’t get enough of them. However, he really should try to enjoy the silence while he can. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the band told Gothamist: “That is a pretty ridiculous claim. Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt right and does not support the alt right movement.”

As Gothamist points out, lead singer Dave Gahan just this month compared Trump to Adolf Hitler: “The things that he’s saying sound very similar to what someone was saying in 1935. That didn’t work out very well! The things that he’s saying are cruel and heartless and promoting fear.” In its latest video, “Where’s the Revolution,” the band rips exactly the sort of fascist demagoguery that Spencer and his ilk are spreading.

Spencer was later ejected from CPAC, as part of the conference’s muddled attempt to shake the disease of fascism.

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John Boehner admits Republicans don’t have an ObamaCare replacement—and won’t come up with one, either.

You might have thought that after eight years of endless, one-note messaging to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, opponents would have come up with a plan of their own, or at least formulated some ideas. But maybe that was just never going to happen.

Boehner, who during his time as speaker of the House held an interminable number of votes to repeal the ACA, may have let that cat out of the bag. Politico reports that Boehner, speaking at a health care conference today in Orlando, said that Republicans are instead going to make modest fixes to the law. “I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

On Thursday, Boehner said the talk in November about lightning-fast passage of a new health care framework was wildly optimistic.

“I started laughing,” he said. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”

He concluded, “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there.” Good to know!

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CPAC leader: The alt-right is actually alt-left.

Dan Schneider—executive director of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual conservative conference—denounced the white nationalist movement from the stage Thursday. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks,” he said. “We must not be duped. We must not be deceived.”

It’s tempting to give Schneider credit for distancing CPAC from overt white identity politics. He explicitly condemned an alt-right conference in Washington last year, where movement leader Richard Spencer waxed nostalgic about when America was “a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity” and audience members hailed him with Nazi salutes.

But then Schneider explained who he really blames for the movement that backed Donald Trump’s bigoted campaign: progressives. “They are nothing but garden-variety left-wing fascists,” he said of the alt-right.

Fascism is right-wing by definition, and the modern, multicultural left is precisely the opposite of the alt-right’s white identitarian politics. Schneider was similarly off-base arguing that the alt-right is more akin to socialists than conservatives, and suggesting they’d “hijacked a once-decent term” in calling themselves “alt-right.”

Spencer, who coined the term, was having none of this on Thursday. He was on hand at CPAC, and said Schneider’s comments were “objectively stupid.”

“Total bullshit,” he told reporters. “I wasn’t aware that left-wing fascists were so numerous—such a common persuasion.”

Spencer said Schneider’s remarks were evidence of the alt-right’s growing influence in politics, as it battles the traditional conservative movement. “The fact is, they weren’t talking about the alt-right a year ago, two years ago,” he said. “They now feel the need to talk about us.”

There’s something to that. Despite CPAC’s denouncement, Spencer certainly had fans at the conference:


Air pollution doesn’t kill people, and other revelations from the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Climate change is “fake news.” Environmentalists’ “only goal is power.” The government “has completely corrupted science.” Recycling is “pretty useless.”

Those were just a few of the claims made at a CPAC panel on Thursday entitled “Fake climate news camouflaging an anti-capitalist agenda—and what President Trump plans to do about it.” It was organized by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a coal industry–funded non-profit best known for filing lawsuits against climate scientists. Among the panelists was Steve Milloy, a paid advocate for the tobacco and coal industries, who argued that excessive air pollution is not linked to premature death, and that, in fact, those activists at the EPA are “paying for the science it wants.” Consequently, Milloy said, Trump must completely overhaul the scientific research process at the EPA and other federal agencies. “Our government is lying to us,” Milloy said.

This can’t be dismissed as fringe rhetoric. Trump is listening to people like Milloy. E&E’s legal counsel, David Schnare, is a member of Trump’s transition landing team for the EPA. And Schnare has partnered with Milloy in legal action against the agency.

You can watch the whole panel below.

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Ivanka Trump’s child care plan would mostly benefit people like Ivanka Trump.

In today’s edition of Ivanka Trump Is Not The Progressive You Want Her To Be, Bloomberg reports that her vaunted child care proposal would do little for lower-income parents:

A deduction for child care expenses is both costly and regressive because it would favor wealthier families with two working parents. The deduction would cost the federal government $500 billion in revenue over a decade, according to an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a politically conservative, nonprofit research group.

Two-parent households earning under $500,000 a year would receive the child care deduction; according to Bloomberg, low-income families would simply receive a larger income tax credit. That translates to some savings, but wealthier families would still benefit the most from Ivanka’s proposal. That’s not exactly a surprise: Ivanka is no policy expert. She may be drawing on personal experience, however: Nannies raised her; now she employs nannies of her own.

If Ivanka really wanted to improve American child care, she’d tell her father to spend more money on programs like Head Start. Or she could urge him to veto any bill that reduces the availability of free school meals. If she doesn’t, it’ll be even more obvious that she, like her father, sees the presidency as a means to protect her class’s interests.

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Melania Trump’s $150 million emotional distress.

The First Lady has refiled her libel lawsuit against Daily Mail Online, CNN reported yesterday, over their false publication last year of a story that she had worked for an escort service. But the new wrinkle is very interesting, as she and her lawyer seek to take back the admission that she wanted to personally profit from being First Lady.

The original lawsuit document clearly stated as a claimed damage: “Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

After two weeks of harsh media criticism, though, the lawsuit has been refiled to omit that language. The new claim is purely based on emotional distress—including the recent incident in which New York Times reporter Jacob Bernstein publicly apologized after he was overheard referring to her as a “hooker” at a party.

The amount she’s asking for now: $150 million—the same exact damages as were claimed before, from alleged commercial harm.

This raises many questions. But mainly, how exactly is “emotional distress” still worth the same $150 million that they were previously claiming as a concrete, material damage? Is it the emotional distress that comes from having lost opportunities to make money off being First Lady?

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Betsy DeVos is no hero.

The secretary of education released a pointed statement last night in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the Obama-era federal guidelines that would have allowed transgender students to use bathroom facilities according to their gender identities. In the statement, she apparently sought to lay out in public what has been her own reportedly independent position, which was overruled in favor of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools...

I have dedicated my career to advocating for and fighting on behalf of students, and as Secretary of Education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.

But what does this even mean, when the administration’s LGBT policies are being run by the likes of Jeff Sessions and Vice President Pence? And as has been noted, DeVos caved after raising the issue that transgender students have high rates of suicide and suicide attempts. So she knows what the consequences are.

DeVos nevertheless chose to go along with the administration’s collective policy, instead of taking the option to resign. There are no heroes in the Trump cabinet—they signed up for all of it, the bad and the ugly.

February 22, 2017

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Mike Pence wants you to exercise the “individual responsibility” to not be poor or sick, like in the good ol’ days.

The vice president describes his party’s aspirational replacement for Obamacare as one that will “bring freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”

Keen-eyed health wonks will note the irony of Pence highlighting the importance of “individual responsibility.” Democrats cribbed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate from conservatives—who devised it to prevent free-riding in the insurance market—to such an extent that its provisions are spelled out in law under the heading of “individual responsibility.”

This is clearly not what Mike Pence means when he talks about replacing Obamacare with something that enshrines “individual responsibility.” The key to understanding what he means is the word “back.” Before the ACA, there was no “individual responsibility” requirement to maintain insurance, and, relatedly, no requirement that insurance companies sell insurance to everyone on the individual market at an affordable price. If you were sick, or poor, or sick and poor, you were very likely priced out of the market or denied coverage altogether. The only way to guarantee yourself access to the market was to show enough “individual responsibility” not to be sick or poor in the first place. That’s what Mike Pence wants to go “back” to.

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The Washington Post is a light in dark places when all other lights go out.

As Twitter has discovered today, the Post has quietly updated its homepage banner to accommodate the new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” The slogan was first rolled out on Snapchat before making its way to the website’s front page, where the paper’s full audience could take it in—and subsequently mock it for sounding a whole lot like the official family words for House WaPo or a nugget of unusually contemporary Gandalf wisdom.

The origins of the phrase are fuzzy—according to WaPo communications VP Kris Coratti, it’s been a popular idiom among the staff for years. Apparently it’s been a longtime favorite of Bob Woodward (he’s been quoted as saying it as far back as 2010) and was parroted by Post owner/ambivalent Trump collaborator Jeff Bezos at least as early as May 2016, at a company event.

While it’s easy to make fun of the slogan’s grandiosity (as plenty on the right have been doing) and all the hard consonant alliteration, it is difficult to fault the sentiment in the same week that our president publicly branded the press the enemy of the American people. It’s too bad, then, that Coratti denied the move had anything to do with Trump.

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“Fake news” is still more trusted than Donald Trump.

Lots of folks became alarmed last week when the president lambasted “FAKE NEWS media” outlets (such as The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN) as “the enemy of the American People.” But so far his efforts to delegitimize the press may only be hurting himself, according to today’s new Quinnipiac poll. In addition to finding that Trump’s approval rating is only 38 percent, the poll also tested Trump against his major domestic political target.

The first question on this subject asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way the news media has covered President Trump?” Here the media only made out at 45 percent approval, to 50 percent disapproval—thus suggesting that Trump’s instincts to target the media are good.

The problem is that when he was put up against the media, he didn’t fare so well. The next question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Trump talks about the media?” The result was only 35 percent approval, and 61 percent disapproval.

And then this: “Who do you trust more to tell you the truth about important issues: President Trump or the news media?” The result was only 37 percent for Trump, and 57 percent for the news media.

These results were notably in line with Trump’s own approval ratings. Which might tell us something: Sure, people are iffy on the media. But if Trump thinks that blaming them can get him out of trouble, it doesn’t appear to actually be working for him.