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Democrats are voting in record numbers, even in the dead of summer.

More Michigan Democrats turned out to vote in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary, won by Gretchen Whitmer, than in any Democratic primary in the state since 1978. The Detroit Free Press reports:

The results show Democratic voters, in particular, are more energized than they were the last time Michigan had a gubernatorial election with contested nominations in both parties. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, close to 2.1 million votes had been cast for governor, shattering recent turnout results for a midterm primary election. Democratic candidates for governor had received just over 1.1 million votes, while Republican candidates for governor had received about 975,000 votes.

Michigan’s record-breaking turnout—in August, no less—was the result of a three-way race that drew national attention, but there’s likely something else at work, too. Motivated by their opposition to President Donald Trump, Democratic voters are turning out to vote around the country. While Danny O’Connor is behind in his too-close-to-call special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district, the fact that he is just a couple thousand votes short in a reliably conservative district—thanks to high voter turnout in suburban areas—is a clear warning sign for Republicans ahead of the November midterms. (O’Connor will face Troy Balderson again this fall.)

Results prior to Tuesday already spelled trouble for Republicans. “Democratic turnout has risen more sharply than Republican turnout in at least 123 congressional districts, including districts where Republican incumbents are most vulnerable, in states like California and New Jersey,” The New York Times reported in June. It’s still too early to declare that a blue wave will hit the GOP in November, but the forecast looks more convincing by the day.

August 15, 2018

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Does the Trump White House fear black women?

On Wednesday, the president tweeted a strange birthday message to Maxine Waters:

Nancy Pelosi also wrote a birthday tweet, suggesting that Waters “strikes fear in the heart of” Donald Trump:

The idea that Trump and his circle might have a special fear of black women is gaining traction, perhaps because of the White House’s panicked reaction to a new book by Omarosa Manigault-Newman.

Ilhan Omar, the Somali-American who won a Democratic congressional primary on Wednesday, echoed this idea when she said, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare.

The White House itself lent credence to this idea by their reaction to Manigault-Newman. On Sunday, Axios published an article titled “Inside Omarosa’s Reign of Terror” which quoted lurid statements by Trump officials about how scary Manigault-Newman was:

    • “I’m scared shitless of her... She’s a physically intimidating presence,” a male former colleague of Omarosa’s told me. (He wouldn’t let me use a more precise description of his former White House role because he admitted he’s still scared of retribution from Omarosa. Other senior officials have admitted the same to me.)
    • “I never said no to her,” the source added. “Anything she wanted, ‘Yes, brilliant.’ I’m afraid of her. I’m afraid of getting my ass kicked.”
    • Three other former officials shared that sentiment: “One hundred percent, everyone was scared of her,” said another former official.

The notion that Trump has a particular reaction to women of color has been around for sometime. Former Republican Sophia Nelson discussed the president’s disdain for black women last October in Politico. But there’s renewed focus on the specific role fear might play, thanks to the controversies around Omarosa but also the increased visibility of politicians like Waters and Omar.

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Twitter CEO suspends Alex Jones but still doesn’t understand who he is.

Of all the big social media outlets, Twitter has been the most reluctant to sever ties with Jones, a notorious conspiracy theorist. While Facebook, Apple and Youtube have all banned Jones, Twitter has only suspended Jones for one week.

Defending the suspension in an interview with NBC, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey argued the goal was to get Jones to transform his behavior. “Whether it works within this case to change some of those behaviors and change some of those actions, I don’t know,” Dorsey said. “But this is consistent with how we enforce.” The CEO added: “We can’t build a service that is subjective just to the whims of what we personally believe.”

The interview is alarming evidence that Dorsey doesn’t actually understand who Alex Jones is (and, by extension, who many of the other bad actors who exploit social media are). To talk about Jones changing his behavior is to assume Jones is basically a rational person who is sometimes tactless. But conjuring up ludicrous conspiracy theories that lead to harassment isn’t incidental to Jones, but integral to his entire public project.

In a useful rundown of Jones’ ideas, Rolling Stone noted that he’s someone who has argued that satanists are taking over America, Glenn Beck is a CIA agent, Bill Gates is trying to exterminate minorities, Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring out of a pizza shop, the government controls the weather and countless shootings aside from the Sandy Hook massacre were false flag operations. In other words, lies and absurdity are inextricable from Jones, they are the very essence of his worldview. There’s no reason to think this is incidental behavior that can be changed. Or rather, there is no reason to think this unless you run a social media platform and want to keep Jones on it.

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Why Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday that Brennan’s clearance was being revoked because of his “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary.” Brennan, who served under Obama from 2013 to 2017, is currently a intelligence and security commentator for NBC News. He has also become a vehement critic of President Trump’s policies and behavior since leaving the CIA last year. In July, he said that Trump’s widely condemned press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was “nothing short of treasonous.”

It’s unclear whether Brennan will have any legal recourse to keep his security clearance. The White House did not specify what mechanism it used to strip Brennan of it. What’s crystal clear is that the president is using his national-security powers to retaliate against political opponents and punish them for criticizing him. It’s no coincidence that the other officials Sanders cited for potential revocation—former FBI Director James Comey, former national security advisor Susan Rice, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—are among his most outspoken dissenters.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Under Trump’s watch, the FBI has also effectively purged its upper ranks of officials who oversaw the early phases of the Russia investigation, or were corroborating witnesses to Trump’s pressure campaign against Comey before last year’s dismissal. Many of them were already the subject of constant attacks from the president on his Twitter feed. With these moves, Trump is sending a clear signal to civil servants in the American national-security apparatus: Your livelihood may depend on your personal loyalty to me.

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Eschewing a national strategy, Democrats are betting on a hodgepodge message winning the midterms.

While Democrats are hoping for a blue wave to help take back the House of Representative in the fall, they have decided on a risky strategy that goes against the grain of how previous wave elections have been won. As The New York Times notes, going back more than two decades, wave elections have always had victorious parties adopt a national platform, ranging from the Contract With America in 1994 to the “Six for ’06” in 2006 to the Tea Party agenda in 2010.

In 2018, by contrast, the Democrats have decided that the way to go is to let individual candidates set their own agenda. “Democrats in the House tasked with cobbling together a unifying agenda after the 2016 elections say they studied Contract With America and similar plans in detail,” The Times reports. “But in the end, they settled on a narrow ‘do no harm’ strategy rather than a granular point-by-point agenda punctuated with a high-profile unveiling at the Capitol. Midterm elections are almost always referendums on the president, regardless of the opposing party’s message.”

Foreswearing a bold wish list, “The Democratic platform, For the People, outlines a relatively anodyne agenda — lowering health care and prescription drug costs, increasing worker pay, cleaning up corruption — that Democrats say unites all of their candidates.”

To some degree, this “do no harm” strategy makes sense. After all, the Democratic Party is very heterogenous. In swaths of the Midwest, the party is running candidates that Politico describes as “white, conventional and boring.” But this isn’t true of the whole Midwest, let alone the whole party, which is becoming more diverse (fielding a record number of women and people of color) and, in the safest seats, more ideologically bold (notably with the avowed socialist (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

The danger of “do no harm” is that it’ll yield the national floor to the Republicans, who are more than happy to paint all Democrats as extremists beholden to the supposed radical Nancy Pelosi. And if the case-by-case approach succeeds, it’s hard to see how it would translate to Congressional politics: Governing is easier when the members of a party basically agree on platform.

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Tim Pawlenty’s defeat is another mark of the Trumpification of the GOP.

On Tuesday night, Pawlenty lost his bid to be the Republican nominee for the Minnesota governor’s race. His loss was unexpected since he was a major figure in the Minnesota GOP. He had served two-terms as governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011 and had enough of a national presence to run for president in 2012.

Talking to reporters on Wednesday morning, Pawlenty blamed his defeat on changes in the Republican Party. “The Republican Party has shifted,” the politician said. “It is the era of Trump and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.”

In fact, Pawlenty’s relationship with Trump and Trumpism is complex. As The Washington Post’s Robert Costa astutely points out, Pawlenty himself was a pioneer in the push to make the Republican Party more populist and working class in his 2012 run. But he did so by trying to pitch the “Sam’s Club” policy agenda (in effect, a Republican take on strengthening the welfare state) pushed by conservative intellectuals like Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. What the rise of Trump shows is that right-wing populism, or rather pseudo-populism, works if it makes a naked appeal to white nationalist grievance. Simple policies to alleviate the lives of the working class have little traction with Republican voters.

After the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, Pawlenty described Trump as “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit.” Pawlenty’s Republican opponent Jeff Johnson successfully used those quotes against Pawlenty.

As Greg Sargent points out in The Washington Post, this too is part of a pattern: “multiple Republican candidates have been placed on the defensive during this cycle for the same thing: failing to support Trump not just in a general sense, but more precisely for failing to support Trump when the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape surfaced.” The modern Republican party is increasingly shaped by those willing not just to support Trump, but to support him at his most vile. Failing to do that gets candidates ousted.

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More Americans are dying of drug overdoses than ever before.

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 72,300 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, the highest number recorded yet. Dangerous synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, seem to be driving the increase, The New York Times reports:

Unexpected combinations of those drugs can overwhelm even experienced drug users. In some places, the type of synthetic drugs mixed into heroin changes often, increasing the risk for users. While the opioid epidemic was originally concentrated in rural, white populations, the death toll is becoming more widespread. The penetration of fentanyl into more heroin markets may explain recent increases in overdose deaths among older, urban black Americans; those who used heroin before the recent changes to the drug supply might be unprepared for the strength of the new mixtures.

Some New England states did see a decrease in the number of overdose deaths, but elsewhere, the number has either stayed the same or increased; the Times cites particularly sharp increases in Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia.  

President Donald Trump bragged in May that he had acquired significant federal funding to fight the epidemic: 

Trump’s claim was false then, months before the CDC released its new data. Now it’s even more obvious that his administration has failed to do anything substantive to address the crisis.

Also this week, fentanyl became a state-sanctioned lethal injection drug after Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, won a legal battle for the right to use it in capital punishment. On Tuesday night, Carey Dean Moore was executed with a four-drug cocktail that included fentanyl.

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H. Brooke Paige wins five or six GOP nomination slots in Vermont.

Paige won the Republican nomination to run against Bernie Sanders for the Senate race. But that’s only one of the many races Paige was victorious in Tuesday night. He’s also going to be a Republican candidate in one of Vermont’s  congressional districts, the Republican candidate for auditor in Vermont, the Republican candidate for attorney general in Vermont, and the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Vermont. Finally, although voting is tight, as of Tuesday night he was also on track to be the Republican candidate for treasurer.

How did Paige end up with five or six Republican nominations? Will he really run for all those post? What will happen if he wins more than one? 

The answer to these questions is complicated and has to do with Paige wanting to protect Vermont’s small Republican Party from being taken over by Democrats. As Vermont Public Radio explains:

“As you may be aware, for a number of years the Democrats have been crossing over in the primary and taking advantage of the fact that the Republican Party did not have candidates for all the slots in the primary,” Paige explained Friday on Vermont Edition.

“About 800 to 900 and sometimes a few more Democrats would religiously grab Republican ballots and write in the published candidates from their Democratic primary ballot. Obviously, with no other candidates running, there was no concerted effort on the part of the Republicans to fill the slots in the primary.”

If there’s a vacancy on the primary ballot, the Republican Party in Vermont is then allowed to nominate a someone by petition to run for that office in the general election.

It’s Paige’s hope that by representing Republicans in every race, Democrats will not be able to write-in a candidate in the August primary, and should Paige choose to bow out, his party can select a candidate to run for the position in the November general election.

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Democrats strongly embrace diversity in primaries.

Issues of identity are at the forefront of American politics in Trump era, and Democratic voters continue to send a message in primaries that they want a more diverse political class. Tuesday night’s primaries saw a number of candidates Democratic candidates winning nominations who, if elected, would be path breakers.

Among the notable results of the night:

Christine Hallquist, winning the Vermont gubernatorial nomination, putting her on track to be the first transgender governor in America. 

Ilhan Omar, winning a congressional nomination in Minnesota. Since she is running in a strongly Democratic seat, she is expected to be one of the first two Muslim women to win. (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib is also running as a Democrat and is also a strong favorite).  

In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes won a congressional nomination and could be the first African-American congresswoman elected in that State.  

Peggy Flanagan, nominated to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Minnesota, would, if victorious be the fist Native American to hold that position.

Mandela Barnes, nominated to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, would also be a groundbreaker if he wins by becoming the first  African-American to hold that position. 

The increasing number of women and people of color winning nominations as Democrats is not matched on the Republican side. As The New York Times reported on Tuesday, “There is a record number of Democratic women running for the House this year, but Republican women did not break the record they set in 2010—when the ‘resistance’ energy was on the right. Only about 14 percent of Republican House candidates are women, compared with about a third of Democratic candidates, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

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Election updates: Randy Bryce wins the Democratic primary for Paul Ryan’s seat.

Bryce, who became famous in 2017 for a viral digital ad that highlighted his working-class background, union ties and left-wing policies, defeated another local labor activist in Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district.

Cathy Myers, who had challenged Bryce for the Democratic nomination and run a negative campaign focused on Bryce’s arrest record and debt history, had pulled in 38 percent of the vote as of 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. (Two of Bryce’s arrests occurred when he protested Ryan and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson; others concerned an old DUI.)

Bryce’s colorful personality–his nickname is Iron Stache, referring to his moustache and his vocation as an ironworker—bought him online fame. So did his ads, which movingly positioned him as a left-wing alternative to Ryan before the incumbent retired. But it wasn’t always clear that Bryce would win his primary. Now that he has, he faces Republican Bryan Steil in the general election. Steil is Ryan’s hand-picked successor, and though Bryce’s chances improved with Ryan out of the running, the race will still be difficult for him. Cook Political Report rates the district “lean Republican.”

Bryce and Myers both ran on left-wing platforms that included support for Medicare for All. Elsewhere, left-wing candidates put in strong performances on Tuesday evening. Ilhan Omar, who was endorsed by democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won the special election to replace Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district; Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib likely will be the first two Muslim women in Congress. In Vermont, Democrat Christine Hallquist became the first openly trans person to win a major party’s nomination for governor, and in Connecticut, Democrat Jahana Hayes defeated Mary Glassman, who had won endorsements from both the Chamber of Commerce and a local chapter of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders–affiliated group.

August 14, 2018

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QAnon conspiracy theory was spread by social media hustlers.

NBC News has blockbuster report by Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins tracking the spread of the so-called QAnon online conspiracy theory. While the report doesn’t answer the question of who created QAnon, it does provide a convincing account of how it went from being an obscure series of internet postings to a theory with a mass following, often visible at the rallies of President Donald Trump. Although sprawling and opaque, the core of the QAnon theory is that President Donald Trump is fighting a secret war against a cabal of pedophiles who dominate the American government and Hollywood.

Key to the spread of QAnon were a handful of social-media savvy entrepreneurs. “In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board,” Zadrozny and Collins write.

A central figure in promoting QAnon is Tracy Diaz, a Youtube creator who had previously promoted the Pizzagate theory. In early November, Diaz started promoting QAnon, at that point only a few esoterica posts.

“Diaz followed with dozens more Q-themed videos, each containing a call for viewers to donate through links to her Patreon and PayPal accounts,” Zadrozny and Collins note. “Diaz, who emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, says in her YouTube videos that she now relies on donations from patrons funding her YouTube ‘research’ as her sole source of income.”

Diaz worked with the husband and wife team of Coleman Rogers and Christina Urso, who created “the Patriots’ Soapbox, a round-the-clock livestreamed YouTube channel for QAnon study and discussion. The channel is, in effect, a broadcast of a Discord chatroom with constant audio commentary from a rotating cast of volunteers and moderators with sporadic appearances by Rogers and Urso.” Like Diaz, Rogers and Urso used QAnon as a money making venture, picking up revenue from donations. Rogers, like Diaz, had a history of subscribing to conspiracy theories before QAnon. He had previously promoted the idea that Democrats worshipped Satan.

As NBC reports, some QAnon skeptics suspect Rogers as the probably fabricator of Qanon’s posts:

Still, Qanon skeptics have pointed to two videos as evidence that Rogers had insider knowledge of Q’s account. One archived livestream appears to show Rogers logging into the 8chan account of “Q.”The Patriots’ Soapbox feed quickly cuts out after the login attempt. “Sorry, leg cramp,” Rogers says, before the feed reappears seconds later.

Whoever QAnon might be, we now have a better understanding of the mercenary infrastructure that made it popular.