Friday, December 30, 2016


Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   09:05 A.M.

Donald Trump

MOSCOW (The Borowitz Report)—Capping an extraordinary year for the former television host, the Kremlin has named Donald J. Trump its Employee of the Month for December.

"No one has worked more tirelessly for the glory of the Fatherland than Donald Trump," the Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an official statement. "He has set a high bar for all Kremlin employees, and for that, we salute him."

To mark the honor, Trump's name will be added to a plaque that hangs in the hallway outside the Kremlin's H.R. office.

According to Kremlin sources, Trump faced tough competition in the Employee of the Month voting, besting both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ExxonMobil's C.E.O., Rex Tillerson.

Speaking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate, in Florida, Trump called the award "a tremendous honor, just tremendous."

"Obama was President for eight years and he didn't win this a single month," he said. "Loser."


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Something to Know - 27 December

Nick Anderson

Rather than pass on articles that continue to expose the funny, peculiar, and sad things about the incoming administration (and its leader), let's look at an example of what will happen when the actual sentiments and policy of the trumpets settle in.  One of the mutterings being released is that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will either be dismantled or de-funded.   This agency, which was the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, was opposed at every step by the Republicans.   In this story of sad and shoddy and intentional business practices by the buyers and sellers of homes, who concentrate on an unknowing and disadvantaged clientele, points out that the CFPB seems to be the only government agency in the line of city, county, or state protections that looks out for the little guy.  This of course, seems to be contrary to the business model of the Trump administration.

Seller-Financed Deals Are Putting Poor People in Lead-Tainted Homes

Kendra Harrell's home, second from left, in West Baltimore. Many houses in Baltimore were built when lead paint was common during the first half of the 20th century. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

BALTIMORE — A year after Tiffany Bennett moved into a two-story red brick house at 524 Loudon Avenue here, she received alarming news.
Two children, both younger than 6, for whom Ms. Bennett was guardian, were found to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Lead paint throughout the nearly 100-year-old home had poisoned them.

Who was responsible for the dangerous conditions in the home?

Baltimore health officials say it was an out-of-state investment company that entered into a rent-to-own lease with the unemployed Ms. Bennett to take the home in 2014 "as is" — chipping, peeling lead paint and all.

Ms. Bennett, 46, and the children moved out, but they should never have been in the house at all. City officials had declared the house "unfit for human habitation" in 2013.

Throughout the country, tens of thousands of rundown homes have been scooped up by investment companies that have offered high-interest financing or rent-to-own deals largely to poor people. Many of these homes were foreclosed on during the housing crisis.

These investors, however, often put no money toward renovation, or for fixing lead paint problems. The low-income buyers and renters are forced to make all repairs. When there are serious problems with the homes, victims can be required to sign confidentiality agreements to keep them quiet in a settlement after they have been compensated, as happened in Ms. Bennett's case.

As a result, seller-financed housing contracts have aggravated a persistent problem of lead poisoning among young children in this country.

About 535,000 children a year nationwide test positive for lead in their blood, which can cause brain damage and other developmental delays. Problems with lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., put the issue on the map. Yet exposure to lead paint in aging and poorly maintained homes remains the biggest source of poisoning.

It is not known how many homes nationwide are in seller-financed contracts, and not every state requires that such contracts be recorded. Still, health officials say they are increasingly seeing a connection between homes that are in seller-financed contracts and lead-poisoning cases.

"Unfortunately they have this contract which removes the actual owner of the home from the liabilities of fixing the home and requires these people who have no money to fix their own home," said Dr. Jennifer Lowry, chief of toxicology in the pediatrics unit of Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Dr. Lowry said she had seen an increase in patients with lead poisoning who live in homes bought through a seller-financed contract on both the Missouri and Kansas sides of the city.

"What I care about is this kid who has elevated blood levels and yet I can't get anybody to fix the home," she said.

Ms. Bennett entered into a rent-to-own contract with Vision Property Management of Columbia, S.C., one of the biggest players in this fast-growing market.

Vision failed to register the property with Baltimore housing officials after buying it in 2014 from Fannie Mae, the government-controlled mortgage finance firm. It then ignored the city's previous building code violation, according to public records reviewed by The New York Times.

The details of Ms. Bennett's situation were pieced together through interviews with public officials, court records and documents provided through public records requests to various city and state agencies. Some of the documents were redacted to protect the privacy of the children.

In many cases, families who had been affected by lead poisoning declined to comment when reached, citing concerns about reprisals.

Baltimore has fined Vision more than $11,300 for failing to register 43 homes in the city, a requirement that applies to all landlords. State lead investigators visited at least two other Vision homes earlier this year but could not physically enter and inspect them.

A representative for Vision said that the company "does not comment on the specific details of matters pertaining to tenants or properties" and that noted the matter with Ms. Bennett had been resolved.

Vision, which was featured in a front-page article in The Times, manages more than 6,000 homes across the country through nearly two dozen limited liability companies.

When it came to fixing the lead issues in Ms. Bennett's home, Vision did not respond to the city's request in late 2015. The company has argued its contracts put all responsibility for repairs on its tenants.

In most cities and states, landlords are required to keep the properties they rent in habitable condition. Some legal experts say seller-financed contracts like those used by Vision may violate that requirement and could be unenforceable in housing court.

Baltimore, as a matter of law, requires landlords to ensure that a home is fit for human habitation, and building officials said that includes rent-to-own landlords. But homes that are leased in rent-to-own deals can fall through the cracks because the city has so many abandoned and rundown homes.

Jason Hessler, deputy assistant commissioner for Baltimore Housing, said, "The house was in violation at the time it was sold by Fannie Mae to Vision and was supposed to be unoccupied until approved by the building department." But he added that unless it was obvious that someone had moved into a house without the department's permission, building inspectors might not know.

For many poor families who want to own a house and cannot get a mortgage, nontraditional housing transactions like Ms. Bennett's have become their only option. Some do not understand what they are signing.

Dr. Lowry says that many of the families she works with do not speak English and thought they were buying a house outright. She was one of several housing officials and doctors who discussed the problems caused by seller-financed deals at a recent conference on childhood lead poisoning in Washington.

Seller-financed deals, which include contracts for deed and rent-to-own leases, are loaded with risk. They lack basic consumer protections, and residents can be easily evicted since the title to a home is not transferred until the final payment is made.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has begun to investigate whether some companies are taking advantage of consumers. State regulators in Wisconsin, New Mexico and New York have begun their own inquiries, while officials in Minnesota and Missouri have issued consumer alerts.

Poor families that buy or rent one of these rundown homes often find themselves with another problem: Because they do not technically own their house, they are ineligible for any state or local grants to help defray the cost of removing lead paint.

Kendra Harrell, 23, moved into a Vision home in Baltimore with her mother in 2014 on a rent-to-own contract. Ms. Harrell, who has two young children, estimated that she had paid more than $1,000 to repair the home, which still has a leaking roof.

A rowhouse at 524 Loudon Avenue was found to have lead paint. It is being renovated and is listed for rent. Credit Matt Roth for The New York Times
"Pretty much everything is on me," said Ms. Harrell, who works as a cashier at a local Home Depot.

Now she worries about the chipping paint on the banister in the home, which was built in 1915, adding that her son had tested positive for lead while living in another house. "I figured maybe I could try to get someone out to break off the paint and paint over it," she added.

In New York State, some grants provided to residents in rural communities to eliminate "critical health and safety threats" from homes, including lead paint, specifically exclude anyone buying a home with a contract for deed.

A lead-safe program in Columbus, Ohio, is open only to property owners — again shutting out people buying homes through a contract for deed or a signing a rent-to-own lease.

Katarina Karac, an assistant city attorney for Columbus, recently helped one woman who bought a home with a contract for deed get the seller to apply for a lead paint removal grant. Ms. Karac said the woman, who has three young children, had applied at least twice to the lead-safe program and was rejected because she did not legally own the home.

"She was lucky enough the property owner was willing to work with her," she said. "I can't imagine someone in her position ordering a lead test, and if lead is found, asserting a claim against the owner."

In Michigan last month, a special lead-poisoning task force set up by the governor after the water crisis in Flint recommended a one-time lead inspection, the results of which property owners must disclose to buyers and renters. The proposal stipulated that the requirement could not be "waived in the event of a sale through land contract."

In Ms. Bennett's case, Baltimore's health department sued a limited liability company tied to Vision in December 2015 for failing to promptly comply with an order to eliminate the lead paint condition in the home.

Many of Vision's homes were bought cheaply from Fannie Mae and had been empty for years. Vision bought the house at 524 Loudon Avenue from Fannie for about $5,000.

Ms. Bennett, who paid a monthly rent of $440, sued Vision after learning the children were poisoned by lead. She declined to talk about her situation, citing a confidentiality provision in the settlement of her lawsuit. She left the house in November 2015 as part of a settlement with Vision.

Lead poisoning has been particularly acute in Baltimore because of its aging housing stock. The city has about 40,000 abandoned homes; on some streets the vacant, rundown homes outnumber the occupied ones.

Maryland's environmental agency says some 1,100 children age 6 or younger tested positive for elevated lead levels in the city of Baltimore in 2015.

"This is something that everyone has an obligation to fix — certainly the landlord has an obligation as well," said Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore's health commissioner.

And the company has violated rules in other cities.

In 2012, legal aid lawyers in Minnesota sued Vision on behalf of a couple with four children and two grandchildren, contending the company knowingly sold them, through a contract for deed, a home in Minneapolis that the city determined had a "severe" lead paint problem. Conditions in the home, which Vision bought from Fannie Mae, were so bad that the city posted a "do not occupy" warning notice on the house.

But the couple, Charles and Leona Rush, claimed they did not see any warning sign when they bought the house. In court papers, Vision disputed the Rushes' claim. The company's lawyers argued that "unless plaintiffs closed their eyes as they entered the property, they saw the bright green lead hazard sign."

The lawsuit ended with a confidential settlement.

Ruth Ann Norton, who heads the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that promotes national policies to combat childhood lead poisoning, says the federal government can do more to make sure homes with lead paint problems are not dumped onto the market. Fannie Mae sold some 900,000 foreclosed homes after the crisis.

Peter Bakel, a Fannie spokesman, said, "Fannie Mae has policies in place designed to ensure compliance with applicable laws regarding lead paint disclosures and remediation."

Ms. Norton's group is proposing that government housing agencies be required to eliminate dangerous lead conditions in vacant and foreclosed homes before putting them on the market.

"We should not allow houses to go on the market that will poison children," said Ms. Norton, whose organization provided assistance to Ms. Bennett.

Vision has since washed its hands of the Loudon Avenue home. The company settled with Baltimore health officials by paying a $10,000 fine in October and sold the house last summer.

The house is being renovated, but a sign posted in the dirt yard advertised the house as "FOR RENT!!!"


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Monday, December 26, 2016

Something to Know - 26 December

Jeff Danziger

Read though this story in today's NY Times, and interpret it any way you want.  However, I read it as how a thin-skinned ego-motivated blowhard of a president is going to put reporters and the media behind a WALL that will not nag him.   The new president thinks that he can just skate through his new job by Tweeting his way from day to day.  The last thing he needs or want is a reporter on full TV coverage asking him to account for his behavior and that of his administration.  The media is there to represent the the people of this country, and we deserve the format that has covered the office of the president in the past.  Any antagonistic disregard of the media by the White House is bad for the country, and will have unintended consequences:

Changes Coming to White House Press Room: Who, Where, When and How

The last briefing in the White House's James S. Brady Press Briefing Room before it underwent extensive renovations. President George W. Bush, Laura Bush and an array of former White House press secretaries attended the event in 2006. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
With the naming of Sean Spicer as White House press secretary, Donald J. Trump has selected a Republican Party insider and communications veteran.

But that doesn't mean it will be business as usual for the press corps that covers the next administration.

Mr. Trump's unconventional, sometimes hostile, relationship with the news media and his penchant for communicating through unfiltered Twitter posts threaten to upend a decades-old Washington tradition that relies almost entirely on protocol. The result, reporters and editors say, could be a loss of transparency that would hinder the press's role as a conduit for information to the people.

But Mr. Trump's advisers, and even some former White House press secretaries, say that some of the conventions of White House coverage are outdated and due for a face-lift.

In a radio interview this month, Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, suggested that traditions including the daily televised press briefings and seating assignments could change.

"I think it's time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House, and I can assure you that change is going to happen, even on things that might seem boring like this topic," he told the radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Mr. Spicer, in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night, said the new regime wanted to be "innovative, entrepreneurial" about its media operations. While he said he believed there would be daily briefings, he suggested the format could change, perhaps by adding new elements, eliminating some television coverage and bringing "more people into the process."

All this has stirred concern among journalists who say seemingly small changes to the system could lead to the diminishing of other traditions.

"Beginning to suggest the daily briefings shouldn't happen every day in the format that they are, I think, begins to establish a slippery slope," said Scott Wilson, the national editor for The Washington Post, who was a White House correspondent during the Obama presidency. "There is value in having a formal setting where the administration's position is stated and can be referred to and can be archived."

Since his election, Mr. Trump has shown few reservations about ignoring the norms of presidential media coverage. He has defied convention by refusing to allow journalists to travel with him on his plane — including on his flight to the White House for his first meeting with President Obama.

In a highly publicized incident in mid-November, he left Trump Tower for dinner with his family without telling the reporters assigned to cover his whereabouts, sending the reporters scrambling for information. And while Mr. Trump has granted some interviews, including with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, he also has not held a news conference since late July, preferring instead to use Twitter as his megaphone.

The protocols that underpin the relationship between the news media and the president might seem arcane to many Americans. But press advocates say these traditions, even in the age of Twitter, ensure fundamental tenets of democracy: historical record and access to information.

"The American people deserve to have someone stand up and be accountable for the work of the president and the White House every day," said Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary for President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. "I think any White House needs to explain its position and reasoning in more than 140 characters."

Many journalists also said that the new administration should retain the so-called protective pool — a group of journalists that travels with the president whenever he goes outside the White House, and through which he can communicate with the public during an emergency or crisis.

"We're not asking to be at his dinner table with him," said Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, which coordinates the pool. "We just want to be nearby in case something happens."

Veteran journalists point to the presence of a pool reporter with President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001, as an example of providing a witness to history in a matter of urgent national interest. The pool's presence ensures timely reporting on the president's activities and essentially "protects" the ability to deliver coverage should something unexpected occur.

But there is acknowledgment on both sides of the lectern that some re-examination of the system is warranted, especially at a time when news organizations, which must pay their way to follow the president, are increasingly hamstrung by budget constraints.

"The question really should be, why do you need a protective pool when everybody has cellphones?" said Marlin Fitzwater, who was the press secretary under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. "When you have a president who can operate a tweet and reach 28 million people from the driveway of any building in America, you don't really need 14 people sitting there and watching him all night long." (Mr. Trump's Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has about 18 million followers.)

Mr. Mason said that, since the election, the correspondents' association and Mr. Trump's team had "made a lot of progress in forming a protective pool" and that he was confident Mr. Trump would allow reporters to accompany him on Air Force One once he became president.

Mr. Trump's team has floated the possibility of other changes as well. In his radio interview, Mr. Priebus hinted that the Trump administration might assume control of the seating assignments in the briefing room. The correspondents' association has decided seating assignments since 1981, in large part because administrations of both parties did not want even the appearance of favoritism in determining press access.

Mr. Priebus's remarks prompted concern that the new administration would try to usurp some of the association's control.

Still, many said some kind of seating reform was appropriate.

Mr. McCurry and Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary under George W. Bush, said they had discussed a setup that would allow a revolving group of journalists into the briefing room rather than reserving seats only for the existing White House press corps. Foreign journalists could attend on Wednesdays, for example, while alternative online media outlets such as Breitbart News and Think Progress could rotate in on Thursdays.

Breitbart — the hard-right website whose former chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, was named Mr. Trump's chief strategist — is already part of Mr. Trump's transition pool. The organization's presence has raised some eyebrows, particularly in liberal media circles, because of its connection to Mr. Bannon. But members of the pools said they did not see it as an issue and pointed out that other partisan news outlets, like the left-leaning Huffington Post, were part of the pool.

Some former press secretaries suggested that Mr. Trump's administration should rethink the tradition of broadcasting press briefings on live television, which many say has led to posturing and performance.

Mr. McCurry, who introduced the tradition, said the live format had turned the daily briefings "into an alternative to the daytime soap operas."

"It was not a mistake to allow broadcast media to record the daily press briefing, but I should have put some restrictions and rules on it," he said.

One idea, he said, would be to embargo the briefings until their conclusion so they might be more informative for reporters and less like a theatrical show.

Mr. Fleischer also recommended taking the briefings off live television. But given Mr. Trump's propensity for showmanship, the live broadcasts may be the tradition least likely to change.

"There's a piece of me that thinks what Trump wants to do more than anything else," Mr. Fleischer said, "is make the briefing a red-hot TV show."


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Something to Know - 18 December

Jeff Danziger

There is this article from The Nation magazine that has begun circulating here in Claremont (courtesy of Merrill Ring).   The author is Professor Susan McWilliams of Pomona College, and it offers a view of "Trumpsim" that began back when Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs . It may help to understand what is being thrust upon us and advice (warning?) on how to react.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   12:01 P.M.


WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—After having difficulty persuading prominent entertainers to participate at the event, the Trump transition team announced on Sunday that the Russian President Vladimir Putin would sing at Donald J. Trump's Inauguration next month.

In a brief statement from the Kremlin, Putin said, "I will be most delighted to perform for my comrade."

The choice of Putin raised eyebrows in Washington, since the Russian, while famous for invading neighboring countries and imprisoning political opponents, is not particularly well known as a singer.

The Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway pushed back against such criticism during an appearance on CNN. "If we limited ourselves to people who had talent and experience, that would disqualify half of our Cabinet," she said.

Putin's choice of musical material also stirred controversy, as politicians on both sides of the aisle questioned his plan to perform the Russian national anthem.

According to those critics, the spectacle of Putin praising the glory and majesty of Russia in song would be inappropriate for the Inauguration of an American President.

In an attempt to quell that controversy, Putin said late on Sunday that he would instead serenade Trump by singing the Bette Midler classic, "Wind Beneath My Wings."


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Friday, December 16, 2016

Something to Know - 16 December

Clay Bennett

The "new guy" continues to parade and seek adoration.  With all the rancor and angst that this guys is creating, we are compelled to get to the bottom line, and ask the question that I am now watching on Morning Joe - Is Trump endangering the future of our national security?

SundayReview | OPINION


Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?

Donald J. Trump's election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? With the possible exception of the Civil War, American democracy has never collapsed; indeed, no democracy as rich or as established as America's ever has. Yet past stability is no guarantee of democracy's future survival.

We have spent two decades studying the emergence and breakdown of democracy in Europe and Latin America. Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy's demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a "litmus test" to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals' civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

Mr. Trump tests positive. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton; threatened legal action against unfriendly media; and suggested that he might not accept the election results.

This anti-democratic behavior has continued since the election. With the false claim that he lost the popular vote because of "millions of people who voted illegally," Mr. Trump openly challenged the legitimacy of the electoral process. At the same time, he has been remarkably dismissive of United States intelligence agencies' reports of Russian hacking to tilt the election in his favor.

Mr. Trump is not the first American politician with authoritarian tendencies. (Other notable authoritarians include Gov. Huey Long of Louisiana and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.) But he is the first in modern American history to be elected president. This is not necessarily because Americans have grown more authoritarian (the United States electorate has always had an authoritarian streak). Rather it's because the institutional filters that we assumed would protect us from extremists, like the party nomination system and the news media, failed.

Many Americans are not overly concerned about Mr. Trump's authoritarian inclinations because they trust our system of constitutional checks and balances to constrain him.

Yet the institutional safeguards protecting our democracy may be less effective than we think. A well-designed constitution is not enough to ensure a stable democracy — a lesson many Latin American independence leaders learned when they borrowed the American constitutional model in the early 19th century, only to see their countries plunge into chaos.

Democratic institutions must be reinforced by strong informal norms. Like a pickup basketball game without a referee, democracies work best when unwritten rules of the game, known and respected by all players, ensure a minimum of civility and cooperation. Norms serve as the soft guardrails of democracy, preventing political competition from spiraling into a chaotic, no-holds-barred conflict.

Among the unwritten rules that have sustained American democracy are partisan self-restraint and fair play. For much of our history, leaders of both parties resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage, effectively underutilizing the power conferred by those institutions. There existed a shared understanding, for example, that anti-majoritarian practices like the Senate filibuster would be used sparingly, that the Senate would defer (within reason) to the president in nominating Supreme Court justices, and that votes of extraordinary importance — like impeachment — required a bipartisan consensus. Such practices helped to avoid a descent into the kind of partisan fight to the death that destroyed many European democracies in the 1930s.

Yet norms of partisan restraint have eroded in recent decades. House Republicans' impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 abandoned the idea of bipartisan consensus on impeachment. The filibuster, once a rarity, has become a routine tool of legislative obstruction. As the political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have shown, the decline of partisan restraint has rendered our democratic institutions increasingly dysfunctional. Republicans' 2011 refusal to raise the debt ceiling, which put America's credit rating at risk for partisan gain, and the Senate's refusal this year to consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee — in essence, allowing the Republicans to steal a Supreme Court seat — offer an alarming glimpse at political life in the absence of partisan restraint.

Norms of presidential restraint are also at risk. The Constitution's ambiguity regarding the limits of executive authority can tempt presidents to try and push those limits. Although executive power has expanded in recent decades, it has ultimately been reined in by the prudence and self-restraint of our presidents.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Trump is a serial norm-breaker. There are signs that Mr. Trump seeks to diminish the news media's traditional role by using Twitter, video messages and public rallies to circumvent the White House press corps and communicate directly with voters — taking a page out of the playbook of populist leaders like Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Hugo Ch√°vez in Venezuela and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.

An even more basic norm under threat today is the idea of legitimate opposition. In a democracy, partisan rivals must fully accept one another's right to exist, to compete and to govern. Democrats and Republicans may disagree intensely, but they must view one another as loyal Americans and accept that the other side will occasionally win elections and lead the country. Without such mutual acceptance, democracy is imperiled. Governments throughout history have used the claim that their opponents are disloyal or criminal or a threat to the nation's way of life to justify acts of authoritarianism.

The idea of legitimate opposition has been entrenched in the United States since the early 19th century, disrupted only by the Civil War. That may now be changing, however, as right-wing extremists increasingly question the legitimacy of their liberal rivals. During the last decade, Ann Coulter wrote best-selling books describing liberals as traitors, and the "birther" movement questioned President Obama's status as an American.

Such extremism, once confined to the political fringes, has now moved into the mainstream. In 2008, the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin linked Barack Obama to terrorism. This year, the Republican Party nominated a birther as its presidential candidate. Mr. Trump's campaign centered on the claim that Hillary Clinton was a criminal who should be in jail; and "Lock her up!" was chanted at the Republican National Convention. In other words, leading Republicans — including the president-elect — endorsed the view that the Democratic candidate was not a legitimate rival.

The risk we face, then, is not merely a president with illiberal proclivities — it is the election of such a president when the guardrails protecting American democracy are no longer as secure.

American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency. It is less clear, however, how democracy would fare in a crisis. In the event of a war, a major terrorist attack or large-scale riots or protests — all of which are entirely possible — a president with authoritarian tendencies and institutions that have come unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy. We must be vigilant. The warning signs are real.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   11:20 A.M.

The New Yorker

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—In what Donald Trump's transition-team members are calling a further example of international co√∂peration, Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to receive daily U.S. intelligence briefings in the place of the President-elect.

Trump, who had earlier decided that he did not need the briefings and had assigned Vice-President-elect Mike Pence to receive them, said on Tuesday that Putin was a "much better choice."

"No offense to Mike, but Vladimir Putin is just a terrific, terrific guy to do this," he said. "He knows all the players."

Trump said that, while he was "totally uninterested" in receiving the briefings, Putin appeared to be "extremely interested."

"He's just terrific," he said.

Trump also touted his deal-making prowess in securing the Russian President's services. "The American people are getting an amazing deal here," he said. "Putin is doing this totally for free."


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Monday, December 12, 2016

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   10:39 A.M.

The New Yorker

Photograph by Yadid Levy / Anzenberger / Redux

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Donald Trump stirred controversy on Monday by revealing that he intends to spend only half his time as President at the Kremlin—and the remainder at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

His decision to limit his time at the Kremlin reportedly stemmed from his wife Melania's desire not to uproot the Trump family by relocating full-time to Moscow.

"It was part of the deal when he ran for President that he would go to the Kremlin and she would stay behind in New York," a source close to the Trumps said.

Appearing on Russian television, Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway said that Trump's decision to split his time between Moscow and New York would have "no impact whatsoever" on his ability to function as an integral part of the Kremlin team.

"Mr. Trump doesn't need to be physically down the hall from President Putin," she said. "When he's at Trump Tower, they're on the phone with each other all day. It's all good."

In a televised interview later in the day, however, the Russian President expressed displeasure at the amount of time that Trump plans to be away from the Kremlin. "This is not what Russian taxpayers paid for," he said.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Friday, December 9, 2016

Something to Know - 9 December

Jeff Danziger

The election is over.  The interesting recaps and opinions on what went wrong and what went right are just opinions.   What continues is the assault on sanity and reason on things like EPA (no protection), HHS (no health and inhuman services), Labor (workers are paid too much), etc.etc.   The resistance should not wait.   Making nice is not an option:


Donald Trump's Inauguration Day Walk
Timothy Egan DEC. 9, 2016

Taking a selfie with the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue is closed so reviewing stands can be erected for the inaugural parade. Credit Mark Wilson/Getty Images
A few days ago I was in the capital, taking a last look at the White House under the present occupant, and trying to imagine Washington after all its sacred real estate is under new management.

The air was crisp and clean. The monuments were aglow and festive. The inscriptions behind this great experiment of a nation were as stirring as ever. But there was no escaping the incoming blizzards of a man who will govern by Twitter tyranny and the blunt force of an impulsive executive office.

One day, the president-elect took a shot at the First Amendment, urging deportation and prison for anyone whose freedom of expression includes burning a flag. Another day, he was played by a 93-year-old lobbyist, Bob Dole, working as an agent for a foreign government, Taiwan. And as I left, the soon-to-be most powerful person in the world was bullying a union man who dared to challenge him.

It struck me, as a citizen-tourist from one Washington visiting the other, that it will take all the sentiments embodied in marble to contain the dangerous excesses of Donald Trump. Most everything inscribed in stone will be tested.

I took a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol steps to the White House — a preview of the parade route Trump will follow on Inauguration Day. It was worrying for what was to come, and encouraging for what had come before.

Not long after he swears to uphold the Constitution, Trump will dine in the People's House. This may be the first test of Trump's fragile ego, for he was not the people's choice, having lost the popular vote by more than 2.6 million.

Congress will have its hands full with Trump's cabinet nominees. What's the plan of an education secretary who doesn't believe in public education? Why put a man who wants to take away public health care in charge of public health? And please expose the crackup theorizing behind a climate-change skeptic picked to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

At street level, Trump will pass the National Archives Building, sheltering the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — documents that the incoming president appears never to have read. Though he does not care for history, he should pause on the parade route to read the words on a pedestal outside that building, from Shakespeare: "What is past is prologue."

He'll walk right by the Newseum, which celebrates those who used the First Amendment as a license to fly. Journalists, Trump says, are "the lowest form of life." Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Teddy Roosevelt — all professional scribes — would have to be counted among the scum.

The ugly edifice of the J. Edgar Hoover Building is next, named for an authoritarian with many grudges. Trump owes a big part of his election to the man who oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey. But woe to any president who tries to enlist G-men and women in private vendettas.

Across the street is the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. Kennedy used his power to integrate public places in the South, and he walked with Latino migrants in California. Trump's choice for attorney general, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, is an advocate of heavy police surveillance and a hard-liner on immigration. His views on race were once sufficiently odious for a Senate committee to deny him a federal judgeship.

Now President Trump will stroll by Trump International Hotel, in the handsome Old Post Office building. It's already become one of many ways for the Trump presidency to enrich the Trump family, as visiting diplomats suck up by bucking up for rooms with high-thread-count sheets. The Trump organization leases the hotel from the General Services Administration, the head of which will be appointed by a transition team dominated by the Trump organization. Follow the money.

This conflict cycle repeats up and down the avenue. The Trump organization owes millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank, which is negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department. Treasury — whose building is near the end of the parade route — oversees the Internal Revenue Service, which is supposedly auditing Trump's tax returns.

Finally, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump will enter his latest home, a palace with 132 rooms, 35 baths. On Inauguration Day, the president will likely huddle with a national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who could not pass a security test to be a mall cop. It'll be the job of a man who promotes fake news to sift fact from rumor in a precarious world.

Trump would do well to consider the statues he will have passed over the last mile or so — Americans who fell in wars against slavery and wars against fascism, Americans who fought for equal opportunity and fair play. If he remembers the dead, he's less likely to do great harm to the living.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Something to Know - 7 December

Rob Rogers

As we sit in the warm comfort of our homes, well fed, and still smarting from the election results, and confused and alarmed with the latest antics of a narcissistic recreation of Benito Mussolini at the helm of our soon-to-be government, we should acknowledge that there are people who have worked harder, endured greater hardship, and have found rewards for their hardships:


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Andrew Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz , 10:29 A.M.

The New Yorker

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—In a stunning rebuke of the President-elect, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans favor keeping Air Force One and cancelling Donald Trump.

According to the poll, ninety-four per cent of Americans believe that Air Force One is qualified to be an airplane, while only twenty-one per cent feel that way about Trump as President.

When told that Air Force One has a mobile command center capable of launching a nuclear attack, a broad majority said that they would feel safer with Air Force One flying around with no one in it for four years than with Trump on board.

And, in perhaps the most troubling result for Trump, if a Presidential election were held today, Air Force One would defeat him by seventeen points.

Appearing on CNN, Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway called the poll results "meaningless" and said that they would not prevent Trump from starting Twitter wars with other inanimate objects.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Monday, December 5, 2016

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz , 04:00 P.M.

The New Yorker


WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In his first public statement since Donald Trump chose him to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson said on Monday that the Bible "makes absolutely no mention of housing or urban development."

Carson said that, when Trump initially asked him to accept the post, "the first thing I did was check the Bible to see if there was anything about housing or urban development in there, and much to my dismay there was not."

"As you can well imagine, I did not want to be in charge of something that the Bible does not condone," he said. "But then I realized that perhaps the Lord wants me to take this job so that I can banish housing and urban development from the earth."

Carson offered no details about how he would eliminate housing, but said that he was seeking advice from Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. "She's basically trying to do the same thing with education," he said.

The retired neurosurgeon said that he was looking forward to taking the reins at hud but that he had "a lot of loose ends to tie up" before then. "Right now, I need to find my shoes," he said.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz , 10:10 A.M.

The New Yorker


WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an Oval Office meeting that White House aides described as "friendly but strained," President Obama politely asked President-elect Donald Trump to wait until he is officially sworn in to begin destroying the world.

According to the aides, Obama said that, while he understood that Trump was eager to create potentially cataclysmic diplomatic crises around the world, tradition dictated that he wait until he is actually President to do so.

Obama cited the example of George W. Bush, who waited until he took the oath of office before wreaking destruction on a massive scale.

"There'll be loads of time for you to do stuff like that," Obama reportedly said.

During the meeting, which lasted nearly an hour, Obama repeatedly asked Trump "if he understood what was being said to him," the aides reported.

After the meeting, Trump spoke briefly with reporters but cut the session short to "jump on a phone call with Kim Jong-un."

"He's a terrific guy, he's doing just a terrific job over there," Trump said, of the North Korean leader.

Obama did not take questions from reporters but was later seen sitting at his desk, holding his head in his hands.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Friday, December 2, 2016

Andy Borowitz

The gift that keeps on giving:

By Andy Borowitz , 01:34 P.M.

The New Yorker

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—President-elect Donald J. Trump drew a line in the sand on Friday as he warned that U.S. companies planning to ship jobs overseas will be slapped with enormous bribes.

"If you think you're going to get away with sending jobs out of the U.S., think again," Trump said. "You are about to be bribed, big league."

He raised the cautionary example of Carrier Corporation, which this week decided to keep a few hundred jobs in the U.S. in exchange for a seven-million-dollar government incentive. "I warned those boys at Carrier: we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, where you get seven million dollars," he said. "They backed down so fast—it was terrific."

The President-elect said that the Carrier story should strike fear into the hearts of all American businesses that might be contemplating shipping jobs overseas. "Do you really want to wind up like Carrier, with seven million dollars in your pockets?" he asked. "I don't think so."

In a parting shot, Trump warned companies that he was prepared to back up his tough rhetoric with even tougher action. "I will bribe you so hard, your grandchildren will get paid," he threatened.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Something to Know - 2 December

Jeff Danziger

Attempting to get back to a normal life, this story from SLATE analyzes the election result.  The suggestion is that Trump did not so much win the Rust Belt as it may have been Clinton who lost it.  Rather than embrace Trump, people of color gave up and either did not vote or remained at home:

DEC. 1 2016 3:59 PM

The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt

Donald Trump didn't flip working-class white voters. Hillary Clinton lost them.

Flint Michigan voting
People line up to cast their ballots at a polling station on Nov. 8 in Flint, Michigan.

Nova Safo/AFP/Getty Images

Commentators in charge of explaining Donald Trump's surprise victory seem to have settled on the idea that the white working class in the Rust Belt played a decisive role. In the New York Times, for example, Thomas Edsall notes that Trump won 14 percent more noncollege whites than Mitt Romney, and that those working-class voters Trump carried by "huge margins" were heavily concentrated in the Rust Belt states of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (which we will call the Rust Belt 5).

But this emerging consensus around a Rust Belt revolt is wrong. People like Edsall have missed the real story: Relative to the 2012 election, Democratic support in the Rust Belt collapsed as a huge number of Democrats stayed home or (to a lesser extent) voted for a third party. Trump did not really flip white working-class voters in the Rust Belt. Mostly, Democrats lost them.Our analysis projects publicly accessible exit-poll data for the past two elections onto turnout figures in the Rust Belt 5, to look at the whole picture, including third-party voters and those staying at home. Here's what we found.

1. In the Rust Belt 5, the GOP's pickup of voters making $50,000 or less is overshadowed by the Democrats' dramatic loss of voters in that category.

Compared with Republicans' performance in 2012, the GOP in the Rust Belt 5 picked up 335,000 additional voters who earned less than $50,000 (+10.6 percent). But the Republicans' gain in this area was nothing compared with the Democrats' loss of 1.17 million (-21.7 percent) voters in the same income category. Likewise, Republicans picked up a measly 26,000 new voters in the $50–$100K bracket (+0.7 percent), but Democrats lost 379,000 voters in the same bracket (-11.7 percent).  The working class is not the only part of this equation. Analysis elsewhere suggests that in states such as Wisconsin, a significant fraction of Democrats' loss relative to 2012 came from poor districts, and it's unclear how much voter ID laws affected those numbers.

Shift in absolute votes cast by income and party since 2012 in the Rust Belt 5. (Sources: CNN, NYT, US Election Project, US Election Atlas.)

Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr

2. Republicans in the Rust Belt 5 picked up almost as many wealthy voters making over $100,000 as voters who made less than $50,000.

Relative to 2012, Republicans gained 225,000 voters earning $100,000 and over (+8.1 percent). Recall that they gained 335,000 additional working-class voters who earned less than $50,000 (+10.6%). It's hardly a working-class revolt if wealthy voters are marching together with them, hand in hand. Democrats picked up more wealthy voters, too.

3. Trump did not flip white voters in the Rust Belt who had supported Obama. Democrats lost them.

Relative to 2012, Democrats lost 950,000 white voters in the Rust Belt 5 (-13 percent). This figure includes a loss of 770,000 votes cast by white men (-24.2 percent). Compare that number to the modest gains Republicans made in terms of white voters: They picked up only 450,000 whites (+4.9 percent).

Democrats also lost the black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) vote in the Rust Belt 5, with 400,000 fewer voters in this category (-11.5 percent). While disaggregated exit-poll data on BIPOC voters was inconsistently available across the five states we examined, in those places where numbers were available, Democrats saw losses among both black American and Latino voters. Importantly, some of the greatest losses in BIPOC votes were in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, both of which adopted voter suppression laws beginning in 2012. But even in states with no such laws, such as Pennsylvania, BIPOC turnout was significantly lower this election cycle. In short, more people of color stayed home in the Rust Belt in 2016 than in 2012.

Shift in absolute votes cast by race and party since 2012 in the Rust Belt 5. (Sources: CNN, NYT, U.S. Election Project, U.S. Election Atlas.)

Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr

4. The real story—the one the pundits missed—is that voters who fled the Democrats in the Rust Belt 5 were twice as likely either to vote for a third party or to stay at home than to embrace Trump.

Compared with 2012, three times as many voters in the Rust Belt who made under $100,000 voted for third parties. Twice as many voted for alternative or write-in candidates. Similarly, compared with 2012, some 500,000 more voters chose to sit out this presidential election. If there was a Rust Belt revolt this year, it was the voters' flight from both parties.

In short, the story of a white working-class revolt in the Rust Belt just doesn't hold up, according to the numbers. In the Rust Belt, Democrats lost 1.35 million voters. Trump picked up less than half, at 590,000. The rest stayed home or voted for someone other than the major party candidates.

This data suggests that if the Democratic Party wants to win the Rust Belt, it should not go chasing after the white working-class men who voted for Trump. The party should spend its energy figuring out why Democrats lost millions of voters to some other candidate or to abstention. Exit polls do not collect information about why voters stay home. Perhaps it's time someone asked them.


Some defeats are only installments to victory.

 Jacob Riis