Spencer Platt / Staff

Democrats don’t need to feel “sympathy” for poor whites to conduct good politics.

In a piece for New York magazine, Frank Rich argues that the Democratic Party shouldn’t bother with “sympathy” for white working class Americans who voted for Donald Trump. Better surrender them to the loving death grip of the GOP, he argues, while blaming everyone from Nicholas Kristof to J.D. Vance for a misguided post-election emphasis on these voters.

Rich’s fixation on the conservative Vance is particularly strange. Vance, he writes, has become “his people’s explainer-in-chief, the Ta-Nehisi Coates, if you will, of White Lives Matter.” He compares sections of Vance’s flawed memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, to the film Moonlight. Elegy applies respectability politics to a mythically monolithic Appalachia; Moonlight is the survival story of a gay black man. These stories bear little to no resemblance to each other. But Rich similarly compares something he terms “Hillbilly Chic” to “white elites in Manhattan then fawning over black militants” in the 1970s. Something deeper and grimmer than classism is at work in this piece.

Perhaps this is why Rich fundamentally misunderstands the argument for a more populist Democratic Party. It’s not about “feeling sympathy” for poor whites. Emotion is not a substitute for politics. You do not have to feel a certain way toward a certain population to promote policies that will benefit them. Those policies aren’t about them, per se. Poor whites are part of the progressive political project because they are part of society; they matter no more and no less than anyone else in it.

This is an ideology Rich seems to reject. He justifies his perspective by arguing that Republican voters are simply too antagonistic to Big Scary Government to ever vote for Democrats. But there is reason to think that Democrats can win some of these voters (after all, they have done so in the past) and that they can do it without rejecting social liberalism. Pew Research Center reported in January that 52 percent of Republican voters making under $30,000 a year agree that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure access to health care; the same poll showed they are far likelier than wealthy Republicans to do so. Their support for accessible health care is also on the rise: Last March, Pew’s figure for the same demographic stood at only 31 percent. And as Vox’s Jeff Stein reported last week, a new Roosevelt Institute study provides interesting evidence that Michigan Trump voters are mostly open to populist Democrats. There’s a shift underway, and it could benefit Democrats.

But not if Democrats listen to the likes of Frank Rich, who would abandon these voters. “If [Trump’s] administration crashes into an iceberg, leaving his base trapped in America’s steerage with no lifeboats, those who survive may at last be ready to burst out of their own bubble and listen to an alternative,” he concludes. They may suffer, they may even die, but at least they’ll finally listen—this is an acceptable resolution to Frank Rich. It shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone else.

October 22, 2018

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Trump wildly exaggerate benefits of selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

On Saturday, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale noted on twitter that between March and last week, President Donald Trump stretched the number of jobs created by selling arms to Saudi Arabia from 40,000 to a million, a forty-fold increase:

On Sunday, Axios fleshed out Dale’s observation by providing more details quotes showing the evolution of the President’s claim:

On March 20, during the Crown Prince’s visit, Trump claimed the Saudi purchases of U.S. weapons he arranged would generate “over 40,000 jobs in the United States.”

Last Saturday, Oct. 13, when Trump was asked if he’s considering punishing Saudi Arabia for murdering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump mentioned the same arms deal as the reason he was reluctant to stop the arms sales. That time, he said the deal created 450,000 jobs.

On Wednesday, Oct. 17, during a Fox Business interview, Trump inflated the statistic to 500,000 jobs.

On Friday, at lunchtime during a water rights memorandum signing, Trump increased the jobs number to 600,000.

A few hours later, on Friday evening at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Trump said the deal was worth 600,000 jobs for the military but “over a million jobs” in total.

Trump is, of course, a notorious prevaricator. Still, even by Trumpian standards, his disregard for truth or consistency on this matter is remarkable. Trump also also repeatedly misstated the size of Saudi arms deals he has negotiated, often throwing around the figure of $100 billion, when the actual sum to date is $3.4 billion.

Trump’s dissembling about the benefits of selling arms to Saudi Arabia is likely an outgrowth of the genuine importance the oil-rich kingdom has to the president’s foreign policy. Trump’s has made Saudi Arabia a lynch-pin for his Middle Eastern policy, the key force behind the anti-Iran coalition that the president hopes to create. Given that agenda, Trump needs to hold tight to Saudi alliance. As a result, he’s not afraid of juicing the numbers to help sell the benefits of remaining friends with the Saudi regime.

October 19, 2018

A South Carolina foster care agency wants permission to discriminate against non-Protestants.

The Intercept is reporting that the state government of South Carolina is lobbying to allow a foster care agency to deny children to parents who are not Protestant. The move comes at the request of Miracle Hill Ministries, which dominates the foster care service in the state and refuses to send children to Jewish families.

Beth Lesser, who belongs to the family being denied, told The Intercept, “Understand, in the upstate of South Carolina, if you want to be a foster parent or a mentor, there’s [Department of Social Service], which is the government. And there’s Miracle Hill. There really isn’t anybody else.” She added, “What Miracle Hill does, is they scoop up these kids from foster care, and they have these group homes. And then once they get the kids in there, their whole objective is to indoctrinate them into their brand of Christianity.”

The state’s DSS has said they would not renew Miracle Hill’s license unless it stops discriminating. However, the foster care agency has powerful friends in the state’s legislature who are lobbying the Trump administration to grant an exception.

An order granting the exception has been prepared. According to The Intercept, “It’s awaiting final signature on the desk of Secretary Alex Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services. If granted, Miracle Hill will be allowed to continue denying qualified families from adopting kids based on religious views.”

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

Russia is still interfering in American elections, the Justice Department says.

Federal prosecutors charged Elena Khusyaynova, a Russian national, with conspiracy to defraud the United States on Friday for her role in a Russian influence campaign aimed at inflaming American political tensions ahead of the 2018 midterms. Khusyaynova is the first foreign national charged with interfering in the upcoming November elections.

In court filings, the Justice Department identifies Khusyaynova as the chief accountant for “Project Lakhta,” an influence campaign funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin through two firms he owns. The project’s conspirators used accounts on Facebook and Twitter to post inflammatory content related to immigration, civil rights, gun control, and other divisive issues in American politics.

Russian conspirators were forthright about their goals, which sought to create “political intensity” by boosting “radical groups” and “oppositional social movements,” according to messages quoted by prosecutors. Another conspirator said their goal was to “effectively aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” As with previous Russian influence campaign, the conspirators impersonated Americans on both ends of the ideological spectrum.

The charges were brought by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, which often handles national-security cases. The investigation appears to be independent of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference during the 2016 elections. Friday’s charges follow the Justice Department’s announcement in July that it would notify the public when it uncovered foreign influence campaigns targeting the American democratic process.

Khusyaynova, who resides in St. Petersburg, is not in U.S. custody. The absence of an extradition treaty between Moscow and Washington makes it unlikely that she will ever face trial for the charges. But the indictment means she could be arrested if she travels to a third country that would be willing to hand her over to U.S. authorities.

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The voter suppression in Georgia is even worse than previously thought.

APM Reports has posted an in-depth analysis of the purging of voter rolls in Georgia under Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running for governor. The scope of the purge strengthens the claims of Kemp’s Democratic rival Stacey Abrams that the GOP is using voter suppression to win a tight race. In an appearance on The Daily Show in August, Stacey said, “I have an opponent who is a remarkable architect of voter suppression.”

According to APM Reports, in July 2017 more than half a million names, making up roughly 8 percent of registered voters, were taken off the rolls. “For an estimated 107,000 of those people, their removal from the voter rolls was triggered not because they moved or died or went to prison, but rather because they had decided not to vote in prior elections, according to an APM Reports analysis,” the outlet notes. “Many of those previously registered voters may not even realize they’ve been dropped from the rolls. If they show up at the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in the heated Georgia governor’s race, they won’t be allowed to cast a ballot.”

The new reporting complements other accounts of Kemp’s voter suppression efforts. As Mother Jones reports, one tactic is a law requiring an exact match between registration and other information in government databases. “Kemp has implemented a stringent voter verification process that flags and suspends registration applications if the information on them does not exactly match information in existing databases, down to each letter and hyphen,” Pema Levy notes. “Last week, the Associated Press reported that 53,000 people who attempted to register to vote have not been added to the rolls due to this process. Though Georgia is 32 percent African American, 70 percent of those flagged by Kemp’s protocols are black.”

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid for progressive power was a sad farce.

Politico has posted a devastating autopsy of the “Progressive Agenda” campaign that de Blasio launched in 2015 in a failed attempt to become a liberal kingmaker in American politics. Based on thousands of pages of e-mails, the Politico report paints a picture of an overextended mayor who tried to moonlight as a national figure while also performing his official duties, a conflict which led to repeated mishaps. De Blasio’s vehicle for his national ambitions was a non-profit group called Progressive Agenda, which flourished briefly in 2015 and managed to spend $860,000 to little avail.

One incident illustrates the pattern: In September of 2015, Progressive Agenda wanted the mayor to participate in the screening of a film with the winning title, “Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers: Whose Side Are You On?”

Unfortunately, the organization for the event was terrible. “A nebulous plan to have Cynthia Nixon moderate a panel before the film screening fell through,” Politico reports. “The organizers couldn’t find a prekindergarten teacher to appear as part of an accompanying panel. A week before the film’s screening, aides discovered the film had misspelled the word ‘kindergarten.’” Progressive Agenda had trouble finding anyone who even wanted to attend the screening and had to beg for de Blasio staffers to do so.

More importantly, the film was at cross purposes with de Blasio’s own politics, since it targeted business leaders who supported the mayor.

“Sorry that actual government (as opposed to the freedom of campaigns) involves having to get the whole team in the discussion, but that’s reality,” de Blasio wrote to an outside advisor named John Del Cecato. “I didn’t focus on this in time. But brother, you’re smart enough to know that attacking a Wall Street firm comes with ramifications.”

But it was Del Cecato who had the best analysis of the root problem. As Politco notes, he told the mayor that “however much he might protest, de Blasio simply didn’t have the time to simultaneously micromanage a national political campaign and govern as mayor.”

Politico also reports the fallout from a story they reported in 2015 about de Blasio’s failed attempt to host a candidates’ forum. Paul Walzak, then a spokesperson for the mayor, apparently emailed his colleagues when the report dropped: “So fucking annoying...dunno what you want to do here but we are prolly fucked.really goddamn wish this hadn’t leaked out yest...fiasco.”

Getty Images

Republican congressman mocked women who complained of sexual harassment.

CNN is reporting that audio recordings show that Minnesota Republican Congressman Jason Lewis repeatedly minimized and trivialized concerns about sexual harassment on a radio show he hosted from 2009 to 2014. Some of these comments came in 2012, when Lewis spoke about allegations of unwanted touching made against then Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.

“I don’t want to be callous here, but how traumatizing was it?” Lewis told radio listeners. “How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen, but is that really something that’s going to be seared in your memory that you’ll need therapy for?”

According to CNN, Lewis used “a voice mocking an emotionally distraught woman” and asked, “You’ll never get over? It was the most traumatizing experience? Come on! She wasn’t raped.

CNN also said Lewis “viewed sexual harassment law as an assault on First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, calling it ‘unconstitutional.’ Lewis said he did not think off-color comments, jokes and offensive remarks about or to women rose to the level of needing government enforcement.”

Lewis did not respond to CNN’s request for comments but an attorney representing the radio network that produced the show sent a “cease and desist” letter to prevent the network from posting the recording. CNN has ignored the letter, arguing that the recording falls under the category of fair use.

Lewis is running for re-election in a race that is considered a toss-up.

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Some Trump allies decide to defend his Saudi policy by smearing Jamal Khashoggi.

Even as President Donald Trump is under increasing fire by some moderate Republicans for his protective attitude towards Saudi Arabia amid the crisis caused by the disappearance of Khashoggi, other more strident members of the party have taken the approach of attacking the journalist, who is presumed dead. As The Washington Post reports, “Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia—and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.”

On Thursday, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner told viewers that “Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.” She added that, “I just put it out there because it is in the constellation of things that are being talked about.” The same day, Corey A. Stewart, the Republican senatorial candidate in Virginia, told a radio program that, “Khashoggi was not a good guy himself.” Right-wing media and talk radio has been rife with suggestions that Khashoggi had ties to Osama bin Laden. (The reality is that Khashoggi covered bin Laden as a reporter. Furthermore, while he had Islamist sympathies when younger, Khashoggi evolved into a supporter of secularism and liberal reforms).

As The Washington Post notes, this mudslinging campaign appeals to the distrust many on the hard right have for the mainstream media and for establishment Republicans. For this audience, conspiracy theories about a Washington Post columnist such as Khashoggi are naturally plausible.

Trump played to anti-media emotions in his own way in a rally in Montana on Thursday night when he praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a journalist last year. “Any guy that can do a body slam … he’s my guy,” Trump said. Gianforte had pled guilty to the charge of assault for the incident and had to do 40 hours of community service.

October 18, 2018

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White House shouting match belies Trump’s claim he runs a “well-oiled machine.”

Multiple news outlets are reporting that there was a shouting match outside the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Bloomberg described the melee as “a profanity-laced argument.” The report added that, “The shouting match was so intense that other White House aides worried one of the two men might immediately resign.”

CNN offered a parallel account:

The fight between Kelly and Bolton startled several aides throughout the West Wing on Thursday, a person who heard the shouting said, adding that the raised voices went well beyond the heated discussions of the Trump administration.After the blowup, aides whispered privately that one of the men might leave the White House given the deep disagreement over the border. The fact that the President sided with Bolton, which only added to Kelly’s fury.

Whatever the outcome, the incident reinforces the sense of a chaotic White House, an impression that was furthered by a bizarre visit from musician Kanye West last week.

On October 10, Olivia Nuzzi of New York magazine published a revealing account of an interview she had with Trump, where they discussed rumors that Kelly was about to leave the White House. In order to reassure her, Trump brought in Kelly himself, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Their entrance into the Oval Office seemed to be done on cue, as if Trump wanted to present a show of solidarity. Trump described the White House as running like a “well-oiled machine.”

His underlings agreed:

“He’s a great president,” Kelly said. “Do we disagree sometimes? We do. My job is to make sure that that man has all of the information available from whatever source so that he makes the best decision, and then, when that decision is made, my job is to then implement that decision. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no chaos in this building. We’ve gotten rid of a few bad actors, but everyone works very, very well together. The biggest surprise when we bring new people in, like Bill Shine, it’s like, ‘I thought this place was gonna be full of backstabbers and chaos and, Chief, people all like each other.’ To the best of my knowledge …”

A smile spread across the president’s face. Cutting Kelly off, he said, “Bill was actually a little disappointed.” This prompted laughter around the room, but not from Kelly. “He thought it would be a lot more exciting,” Trump added.

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New documents show how Trump intervened in controversial FBI headquarters decision.

House Democrats have released emails which show that that President Donald Trump was more actively engaged in stopping a proposed move of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., than previously realized. These new emails strengthen the narrative established by a report released by the Office of the Inspector General in August, which documented that the president participated in meetings where the fate of the FBI headquarters was discussed. Trump’s involvement is potentially scandalous because the FBI building is near a hotel the president owns, raising the possibility that the decision was made for personal reasons.

As The Huffington Post reports, “President Donald Trump personally intervened to stop the FBI from moving its headquarters in Washington, D.C., to the Maryland or Virginia suburbs.” The emails contain phrases such as “what was decided in the meeting with POTUS,” “the President’s instructions,” and “direction from WH.”

Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, one of the authors of a letter expressing concern on the matter, suggested that the possible private motives of the FBI building decision would be taken up by the Democrats if they became the majority party in the House of Representatives after the midterm elections.

“It is Congress’s duty under the Constitution to make sure President Trump is serving the interests of the American people rather than his own financial bottom line,” Mr. Cummings told The New York Times. “Republicans have failed to conduct basic, independent investigations of President Trump’s conflicts of interest, but this is exactly what the Constitution requires, and it is what Democrats will do if we are fortunate enough to be in the majority in November.”

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Conservative think tank starts a secretive program promoting doctrinaire law clerks.

The New York Times is reporting that the Heritage Foundation, one of America’s leading conservative think tanks, has started a “training academy” for conservative law clerks, who have to guarantee that they won’t share any information about what they’ve learned. According to the Times, the application material for the training academy speaks about “generous donors” who were providing “a significant financial investment in each and every attendee.”

Legal experts have expressed concern about this program. Groups like the Federalist Society have long worked to groom conservative law professors and judges, nurturing Supreme Court Justices like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. But the covert nature of the program as well as the promise of lucrative funding from unnamed donors go far beyond earlier attempts to shape the law for private purposes.

Sanford University law professor Pamela S. Karlan was among those expressing alarm. “Law clerks are not supposed to be part of a cohort of secretly financed and trained partisans of an organization that describes itself on its own web page as ‘the bastion of the American conservative movement,’” she told the Times. “The idea that clerks will be trained to elevate the Heritage Foundation’s views, or the views of judges handpicked by the foundation, perverts the very idea of a clerkship.”

Heritage Foundation spokesperson Breanna Deutsch was reticent when questioned by the Times. “It’s a private program, and that’s the way we’d like to keep it,” Deutsch said. “Word did leak out a little bit about it, which is fine, but it’s going to remain a private program.”

Update: on Thursday afternoon, the Heritage Foundation announced it was reevaluating the controversial program.