NBC News

What They Voted For: Why Government Doesn’t Work

#earthquakes | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

There is that part within that wonders―really, truly, genuinely in all good faith, wonders―who in these United States really thinks they can do that speech in which the audience is supposed to pretend they have no effing clue? Or, to check in with Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones:

If Pruitt’s address was meant to soothe staffers’ concerns about their incoming administrator, they may have come up short.

“Pruitt’s talk [was] as bad as expected,” said a current career EPA staffer of over 20 years, who requested anonymity, following the speech. “Not one word about public health. And talking about the rule of law as if we didn’t do EVERYTHING with the realization that it WILL end up in court. It was condescending and hypocritical.”

Some former EPA officials shared that view. “Trump’s team spent the entire campaign and the last few months railing against EPA’s existence, its staff, and its purpose,” Liz Purchia, an Obama-era communications staffer at the agency, said in an email. “Accomplishing agency priorities was no easy task when the administrator had staff’s back and politicals and careers agreed the majority of the time, so let’s see how well Trump’s EPA does getting staff to follow them when they feel disrespected. These are professionals with years of experience, who have been made to feel like their leader doesn’t trust their judgment. The American people are relying on them to defend the agency, protect its environmental statutes and stand up to Trump’s team to ensure they uphold science and the law.”

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Your Lede of the Day (Tool Time)

#PutiToots | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Her plan is to penetrate us … (Detail of frame from FLCL episode 4, 'Brittle Bullet')

“U.S. intelligence has collected information that Russia is considering turning over Edward Snowden as a ‘gift’ to President Donald Trump―who has called the NSA leaker a ‘spy’ and a ‘traitor’ who deserves to be executed.”

Cynthia McFadden and William Arkin

NBC News explains:

That’s according to a senior U.S. official who has analyzed a series of highly sensitive intelligence reports detailing Russian deliberations and who says a Snowden handover is one of various ploys to “curry favor” with Trump. A second source in the intelligence community confirms the intelligence about the Russian conversations and notes it has been gathered since the inauguration.

Snowden’s ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, told NBC News they are unaware of any plans that would send him back to the United States.

“Team Snowden has received no such signals and has no new reason for concern,” Wizner said.

Snowden responded to NBC’s report on Twitter and said it shows that he did not work with the Russian government.

“Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” Snowden said. “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.”

We would simply note:

• “Team Snowden”.

• So this is the occasion a thin, unverifiable report from unnamed sources coming through mainstream media counts as irrefutable proof?

• No country trades away spies? But what about throwing away old tools?

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Image note: Detail of frame from FLCL.

McFadden, Cynthia and William Arkin. “Russia Considers Returning Snowden to U.S. to ‘Curry Favor’ With Trump: Official”. NBC News. 10 February 2017.

Something About Alfalfa

This is something that has been bugging me, and the question doesn’t seem to want to calm down.

To the one, the infamous Yemen raid is all the more notorious for being the first military action of President Donald Trump’s new administration. To the other, Rachel Maddow spoke with a Colin Kahl, formerly a national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden:

MADDOW: In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don’t know very much about it. We are told in terms of the timeline that his National Security Advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one day. The next day, at dinner with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and with his son in law Jared Kushner, and with Secretary of Defense and some other principal-level personnel, he made the decision around the dinner table that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately. That seems like a remarkably informal, small, quick process. Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you’ve seen around potentially deadly raids like this, in the past?

KAHL: Well, it is unusual, especially in a context where a raid like this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in Yemen. So it’s not just the raid itself, it’s that there’s a broader set of authorities that are behind that, that deserve deliberation, and what I mean by that is you need to have not just the Defense Department around the table. You also need your intelligence professionals, so that they can vet the intelligence to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment the Pentagon is making. You also need the State Department at the table, so that they can go through the political implications; what happens if civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or diplomatic relations? You need the communicators in the room so that you know that you’re on message and you can coordinate with your allies. You also need the legislative team in the room so that you can notify Congress. This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic assessment, and the problem is even if you’ve got a bunch of smart capable people around the table at dinner―like Secretary Mattis, who I think the world of, and Joe Dunford, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s an amazing man―you need a fuller picture than those two general can provide so the president to make a decision of this gravity.

Quite the question; quite the answer. Nor should we look past the rest of it but for the moment, well, the words “significant escalation” stand out. And it’s just one more reason.

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American Prestige

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump, with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, after signing executive orders at the White House in Washington, D.C., 23 January 2017.  (Detail of photo by Getty Images)

“Putting aside the fact that Trump may not fully understand what ‘illegal immigrants’ means, it’s worth pausing to emphasize that Australia is one of our closest allies.”

Steve Benen

Via msnbc:

Turnbull insisted after the call that the agreement with the United States is still on – the prime minister was less eager to publicly discuss the nature of his conversation with Trump – though the U.S. president turned to Twitter last night to declare, “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

Putting aside the fact that Trump may not fully understand what “illegal immigrants” means, it’s worth pausing to emphasize that Australia is one of our closest allies. NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell noted overnight that someone should tell the White House that Australia “has more troops fighting ISIS in Iraq than any other ally [and] has fought at our side since” World War II.

That’s not a rhetorical aside. Someone really should let Team Trump know about this, because there’s reason to believe they’re unaware of it.

In #DimensionTrump, it is easy enough to expect that these stories only go downhill.

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Exceptionally American

Huang reflects on a mission barely accomplished. (Darker Than Black, ep. 14)

Do we really get to be surprised?

In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

(Silverman)

The Americans who did this did it to themselves; we ought to remember this in coming years. It sometimes seems amazing how many age peers do not remember the history of their youths a quarter century ago, so let us keep our fingers crossed for what people might recall of this election come, say, November, 2018.

It is easy enough to predict that they will blame the press they refused to believe, and scorn liberals and Democrats for failing to stop them, but the real question will be how they manage to convince themselves. The requisite neurotic matrices might seem nearly superhuman, but the simple fact of these considerations at this time reminds without question that we should never underestimate American ego defense.

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Silverman, Craig. “This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook”. BuzzFeed. 16 November 2016.

The Donald Trump Show (Piling On)

Melania Trump discusses her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, during an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, 17 October 2016.

To the one, there was no particular (ahem!) “Gary Hart moment” by which Donald Trump explicitly dared the press to do anything … or, you know, maybe there was and … and … I mean, come on, really, it would be easy to miss. After all, the Republican nominee has pretty much declared war against the press. As proverbial shows go, it would seem someone finallyα, took away Trump’s Twitter, which is probably for the best when we pause to consider the idea of a man who “privately muses about all the ways he will punish his enemies after Election Day”, as the New York Times explains, “including a threat to fund a ‘super PAC’ with vengeance as its core mission”.

Setting aside the thought that, “Of course he would”, it always occurs to wonder just how often, within whatever schematic or flow chart or whatever else by which they define their expectations, any given bully so utterly fails to account for the idea that maybe the objects of belligerence might occasionally fight back. That is to say, what does he expect the press will do?

To wit, it’s not like they didn’t have any warning; Associated Press made clear they were onto the story of Melania Trump’s immigration and work history months ago; Alicia A. Caldwell, Chad Day, and Jake Pearson delivered the confirmation of what everyone already kind of suspected:

Melania Trump was paid for 10 modeling jobs in the United States worth $20,056 that occurred in the seven weeks before she had legal permission to work in the country, according to detailed accounting ledgers, contracts and related documents from 20 years ago provided to The Associated Press.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)The details of Mrs. Trump’s early paid modeling work in the U.S. emerged in the final days of a bitter presidential campaign in which her husband, Donald Trump, has taken a hard line on immigration laws and those who violate them. Trump has proposed broader use of the government’s E-verify system allowing employers to check whether job applicants are authorized to work. He has noted that federal law prohibits illegally paying immigrants.

Mrs. Trump, who received a green card in March 2001 and became a U.S. citizen in 2006, has always maintained that she arrived in the country legally and never violated the terms of her immigration status. During the presidential campaign, she has cited her story to defend her husband’s hard line on immigration.

This is what I don’t get: Why? To the one, is it at all possible for any realistic person capable of running a business scheme like Donald Trump’s to expect that the press somehow would not or could not find this? To the other, in fairness, it is entirely possible that the GOP nominee didn’t know; it is entirely possible he is surrounded by so many yea-sayers that he has no idea what is going on, even with his own wife. To the beeblebrox, neither does the other preclude the one.

Honestly, only American conservatives could accomplish … well, this. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Donald Trump Show.

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α GOP strategist Mike Murphy, on msnbc last month after the vice presidential debate:

“Trump is a genius at stepping on his own messaging, and I don’t think there’s a force on Earth, at least without heavy weaponry, that can ever separate Trump from his ability to tweet. I think everybody in that campaign is trying to pry the smartphone away from him, and it’ll never happen.”

Image note: Top ― Melania Trump discusses her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, during an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, 17 October 2016. Right ― U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Caldwell, Alicia A., Chad Day, and Jake Pearson. “Melania Trump modeled in US prior to getting work visa”. The Big Story. 4 November 2016.

Day, Chad, Jeff Horwitz, and Alicia A. Caldwell. “Former modeling agent says he got Melania Trump’s visa”. The Big Story. 4 August 2016.

Gauthier, Brendan. “WATCH: Journalist Katy Tur responds after Donald Trump bullies her in front of 4,000 people”. Salon. 3 November 2016.

Haberman, Maggie, et al. “Inside Donald Trump’s Last Stand: An Anxious Nominee Seeks Assurance”. The New York Times. 7 November 2016.

Sheehy, Gail. “The Road To Bimini”. Vanity Fair. 1 September 1987.

Your Quote of the Day: Murphy on Trumptastic Genius

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)“Trump is a genius at stepping on his own messaging, and I don’t think there’s a force on Earth, at least without heavy weaponry, that can ever separate Trump from his ability to tweet. I think everybody in that campaign is trying to pry the smartphone away from him, and it’ll never happen.”

―Mike Murphy, 4 October 2016

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Image note: Detail of photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters.

An American Lamentation (Two by “Huh?”)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

Americans often lament the fact of their essentially two-party political league, and the top of the Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson, is capable of providing spectacular reminders of why we tend toward the binary. The former New Mexico governor and middle-tier celebrity stoner has managed to reduce a human atrocity to yet another icon of American stupidity, which really is no good legacy to build. Yet it is true, in the American discourse, “Aleppo” is … well, Matthew Kitchen tries to explain for NBC News:

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

So, yeah. Aleppo is … Gary Johnson being inexcusably stupid. (Look, dude, I mean, you’re, like, running for president, you know, like, aren’t you?)

And then there is Donald Trump.

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The Donald Trump Show (Confiscate the Guns)

Donald Trump: "I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive and, you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically, you understand, you have to have, in my opinion, I see what's going on here, I see what's going on in Chicago, I think stop-and-frisk. In New York City it was so incredible, the way it worked. Now, we had a very good mayor, but New York City was incredible, the way that worked, so I think that could be one step you could do." (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters, 2016)

“When Trump recently told African-American communities, ‘What do you have to lose?’ he neglected to mention the answer: Fourth Amendment rights.”

Steve Benen

Or, more specifically:

At a Fox News event this week, Donald Trump seemed to endorse taking “stop-and-frisk” policies to a national level to address urban crime. “I would do stop-and-frisk,” the Republican said. “I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive and, you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically.”

Of course, what Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that stop-and-frisk didn’t work “incredibly well” at all, and when challenged in the courts, the policy was ruled unconstitutional.

When Trump recently told African-American communities, “What do you have to lose?” he neglected to mention the answer: Fourth Amendment rights.

Nor is the punch line the whole of it. The msnbc producer continues:

Trump, who’s never demonstrated any real understanding of criminal-justice policy, apparently likes the idea of police being able to stop-and-frisk Americans―including those who’ve done nothing wrong and have been accused of no crimes―effectively at the discretion of individual officers. If the police find a gun, under Trump’s vision, it will be taken away.

In other words, the NRA’s favorite presidential candidate―the Republican who’s benefiting from millions of dollars in NRA campaign money and claims to be a great champion of the Second Amendment―is on board with a policy in which government officials approach random American pedestrians and confiscate their firearms without due process.

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Not the Name of My Next Band (Lester Holt and the Wicked Elements)

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt arrives at the 9th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the California Museum in Sacramento, 28 October 2015. (Photo by Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee)

Acknowledging that the filters or priorities by which one notices anything else are entirely unto that individual, and thus a psychological mystery generally describing anyone’s particular expression, there are also days when, you know, whatever, because I sure as hell didn’t―

• The Perfect Christmas Morning

• Talk About Your Grandmother

• Achieving Erection

―put those elements in that order. Talk to Jason Linkins about that.

Nor am I volunteering to psychoanalyze the fact that he’s on about Lester Holt.

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Image note: NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt arrives at the 9th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the California Museum in Sacramento, 28 October 2015. (Photo by Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee)

Commission on Presidential Debates. “Moderator Announces Topics for First Presidential Debate”. 19 September 2016.

Linkins, Jason. “First Presidential Debate To Focus On Vague Platitudes”. The Huffington Post. 20 September 2016.