erik lundegaard

Politics posts

Thursday January 19, 2017

An Open Letter to NPR on Why They'll Never Get Another Penny From Me

January 19, 2017

Dear NPR:

This has happened too often lately: While brushing my teeth in the morning, I turn on NPR, hoping I’ll be informed about the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow; about what’s going on in the world. Instead, I’ll get enraged by your coverage.

This morning, the day before the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency, as we anticipate the horror of a Trump presidency, Morning Edition ran a piece about how Pres. Obama was responsible for the divisiveness in our country that led to Trump.

Yeah, that’s right. Here’s how it began:

STEVE INSKEEP: On this final full day of Pres. Obama’s term, we are of course far from history’s final verdict about him. But the first drafts are being written. One person who believes the president failed in what he set out to do is Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

OK, first: “Ethics and Public Policy Center” sounds anodyne. It isn’t. It’s a right-wing think tank funded by the usual sources: the Koch Bros., the Scaife Foundations, Castle Rock Foundation. Not sure why this isn’t mentioned. At least use the word “conservative,” as Wikipedia does. Let people know. But of course the Koch Bros. help fund you, too. and maybe they don’t want you to say? Or maybe you worry that they don’t want you to say?

BTW: “history’s final verdict”? Ick. If history gets one (doubtful), it will fall on all of us. Right now, it’s falling heavily on the press. The lesson is obviously unlearned.

Onward...

RACHEL MARTIN: Wehner served three Republican presidents, and this election year he was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump. His fellow conservatives railed against him for criticizing their nominee and their party. But Wehner had some tough words for Democrats, too—particularly Barack Obama. Wehner said the president contributed to the current divisions in this country. Here’s his conversation with our co-host, Steve Inskeep.

So at least we know why you chose this guy: Wehner doesn’t like Obama or Trump. He thinks they’re equally problematic. That means he’s ... middle of the road! He’s the rational person who can explain in non-partisan fashion what’s going on in the world. Even though he’s really a neo-con from a right-wing think tank.

INSKEEP: What makes it the president’s fault for the divisions in the country?

WEHNER: Well, I don’t think they’re all his fault, but it happened on his watch, and he’s the president, and he came into office promising to heal the divisions. And he knew the nature of the Republican party, knew what he was going into, and really the core promise of the Obama campaign in 2008 was to transcend the divisions, and that he would act in a post-partisan, trans-political way. I don’t think he did.

Journalism 101 students, what’s your follow-up? I might ask, “What is the nature of the Republican party?” That’s an odd phrase, isn’t it? Wehner, a Republican, is making it sound like Obama should’ve known better than to promise to be able to work with Republicans since: Republicans is crazy. I would’ve asked for clarification on that. We shouldn’t let that hang there.

I might also bring up whether the GOP worked particularly hard to ensure Obama couldn’t transcend divisions. Alex MacGillis suggests as much in his 2014 biography of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. See #18 here.

Inskeep’s follow-ups? Zero.

WEHNER: But it’s not simply that he wasn’t able to achieve common ground with Republicans on legislation. It is more broadly that the political culture is rancorous and divided and angry—I don’t lay all of the blame on President Obama for that—Republicans have their role in that, conservatives have their responsibility. But so does President Obama. He used rhetoric that for a president I think is unusually divisive. He constantly accused Republicans of putting party ahead of country.

Is that unusually divisive? It feels like it happens a lot. And when did Pres. Obama say it? And how often? Most important: Was it true? Did the GOP put party above country? I would argue they did. To be honest, anyone who has read Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” about the Koch Bros., knows they did. Conservative, moneyed forces first gathered in January 2009 to stop him. Sen. Mitch McConnell was about obstruction from Day One. He wasn’t interested in economic recovery. Are you kidding? That would make the Dems popular. We might have another FDR on our hands. No, he was interested in making Barack Obama a one-term president. He said exactly that. So why deny it here?

But Wehner is on a roll.

WEHNER: And that rhetoric over a sustained period of time has consequences. And I think some of the failures of the Obama presidency, unfortunately, led to the Trump presidency.

INSKEEP: How so?

Glad to know Steve’s alive. 

WEHNER: Well, I think there was so much alienation and anger in America, that it opened the way for a cynical demagogue like Donald Trump to rise up and win. I wish Trump had not won. I’m a lifelong Republican, I’m a conservative, and I was never [for] Trump from the moment he announced his campaign all the way through.

Wehner’s bona fides again: Right down the middle, folks!

WEHNER: But he wasn’t elected in a vacuum. There was a lot of acrimony, a lot of division. A lot of Americans, particularly blue-collar Americans, felt dishonored, and unheard and voiceless, during the Obama years.

Follow-ups: Why did they feel this way? What are the causes of it? How complex and myriad and how far back do these issues stretch? Nothing.

By now I’m pissed. I’m thinking, “What kind of mind frames the last eight years in this way?” And, amazingly, Steve reads my thoughts!

INSKEEP: Is this a description of what you think happened?

Wow, maybe I shouldn’t think Steve Inskeep is the worst journalist in the world! Maybe he is, as the NPR website suggests, “known for probing questions to everyone from presidents to warlords to musicians.”

Except I mishear what he’s saying. He’s not questioning Wehner; he’s giving him answers.

INSKEEP: Is this a description of what you think happened: This is a president who tried to think technocratically, analytically, about policy, and he would reach a conclusion. And if someone reached a different conclusion, he believed it must have been cynical. Because the facts were so obvious to him.

WEHNER: Yeah, I think that’s a fair description of it.

Good god. How many words did this “probing questioner” just put into the mouth of his subject? And why is he doing it in the first place? Does he think it’s reporting? 

WEHNER: He’s a person who has enormous confidence, and he when he arrived at a position he thought it was the only reasonable and rational position. And if you didn’t share his conclusion, then it must’ve been informed by cynical— 

INSKEEP: Because you should know better.

WEHNER: Because you should know better. Because I arrived at this position, and I arrived at it because it was reasonable and it was logical, and everyone who is reasonable and logical should arrive at the same position I do. I think that is exactly what happened.

And I think you’re both full of shit. I would like at least one concrete example rather than a vague description. A story. An anecdote. This was the issue: Obama thought X, McConnell thought Y, nothing was done. Because then at least we could see what we thought about X or Y; and whether we thought X or Y were cynical. So one specific example. Surely Mr. Inskeep will ask for that. 

Nope.

The vagueness of this accusation—which, again, comes from the mouth of NPR's own reporter—is, I assume, the whole point. Defending against the vague is like punching out of cotton. 

And by now we’re onto the second half of the equation.

INSKEEP: How has President-Elect Trump done in bringing the country together in your view?

WEHNER: I think he’s been horrible. I think he ran one of the most divisive and pernicious and demagogic campaigns in American history.

Non-partisan!

INSKEEP: Well, let’s just talk about his time as President-Elect. How do you think he’s done there?

WEHNER: As President-Elect? I think he’s continued to divide the country. He’s continued his Twitter wars. He has this propensity to create enemies, and to go after them, and he seems to thrive in division. But this is supposed to be the easy part—the transition period—this is as easy as it gets. And normally the President-Elect takes advantage of that, and he acts in a way that unifies the country. Donald Trump has not done that.

INSKEEP: So as a person from the Ethics and Public Policy Center ...

Which is funded by the Koch Bros., like NPR...

INSKEEP: .... what would you have political leaders do in this situation after Inauguration Day?

WEHNER: Well, I think political leaders need to give President Trump a chance to govern well, and to govern effectively. And for critics of President Trump like me, we have to give him the space and the room to prove us wrong.

Sure. Because what do we have to lose by waiting? Just safety, security, prosperity, civil rights, democracy.

WEHNER: On the other hand, I think he has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has problematic tendencies. I think, therefore, the political institutions in this country, and the leaders of those political institutions—in this case, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell...

INSKEEP: The House and Senate leaders.

WEHNER: ... The House and Senate leaders, and the people they represent, have to be prepared to act as a check on Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: Peter Wehner, thanks very much.

WEHNER: Thanks for having me on.

And that’s the piece. Feel free to listen to it yourselves. It’s... insidious. It’s right-wing propaganda. On NPR.

A neo-con is presented as a middle-of-the-road ethics specialist who blames Pres. Obama for dividing the country (which has always been divided) without giving specific examples and with the interviewer actually leading him to other non-specific answers. And the solution he offers against divisiveness? Mitch McConnell, who obstructed legislation for the entirety of Obama’s eight-year term, and who has worked his entire career at keeping money, and dark money, in the political realm; and Paul Ryan, who wants to cut Medicare and Medicaid funding for the poor and elderly.

NPR, go fuck yourselves.

Best,
Erik Lundegaard
Seattle

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Posted at 01:30 PM on Jan 19, 2017 in category Politics
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Wednesday January 18, 2017

Pres. Obama's Final Press Conference: 'I Think We're Going to Be OK'

Obama's last press conference

Take a good long look, America. You're not going to have a president this smart, articulate, kind, open-minded, willing to bridge gaps, for a long, long time. 

Via the New York Times, here's the last question of the last press conference for the best president in my lifetime. You should watch the whole thing. We shall not see his like again: 

QUESTION: The first lady put the stakes of the 2016 election in very personal terms, in a speech that resonated across the country. And she really spoke the concerns of a lot women, LGBT, people of color, many others. And — so I wonder now, how you and the first lady on talking to your daughters about the meaning of this election and how you interpret it for yourself and for them?

OBAMA: You know, every parent brags on their daughters or their sons. You know, if your mom and dad don't brag on you, you know you got problems.

(LAUGHTER)

But man, my daughters are something. And they just surprise and enchant and impress me more and more every single day as they grow up. And, so these days when we talk, we talk as parent to child, but also we learn from them. And, I think it was really interesting to see how Malia and Sasha reacted. They were disappointed.

They paid attention to what their mom said during the campaign and believed it because it's consistent with what we have tried to teach them in our household and what I've tried to model as a father with their mom and what we've asked them to expect from future boyfriends or spouses. But what we've also tried to teach them is resilience and we've tried to teach them hope and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.

So, you get knocked down, you get up, brush yourself off and you get back to work. And that tended to be their attitude. Both of them have grown up in an environment where I think they could not help but be patriotic, to love this country deeply, to see that it's flawed but see that they have responsibilities to fix it. And that they need to be active citizens. And they have to be in a position to talk to their friends and their teachers and their future co-workers in ways that try to shed some light as opposed to just generate a lot of sound and fury. And I expect that's what they're going to do. They do not — they don't mope.

They also don't get cynical about it. They have not assumed because their side didn't win, or because some of the values that they care about don't seem as if they were vindicated, that automatically America has somehow rejected them or rejected their values. I don't think they feel that way.

I think they have in part through osmosis, in part through dinner time conversations, appreciated the fact that this is a big complicated country and democracy is messy, it doesn't always work exactly the way you might want. It doesn't guarantee certain outcomes. But if you're engaged and you're involved, then there are a lot more good people than bad in this country and there's a core decency to this country and —  they've got to be a part of lifting that up. And I expect they will be.

And in that sense, they are representative of this generation that makes me really optimistic. I've had some off-the-cuff conversations with some journalists where they said, “You seem like you're OK, but really, what are you really thinking?” 

(LAUGHTER)

And I've said, “No, I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there's evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we're true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time. That's what this presidency has tried to be about. And I see that in the young people I've worked with. I couldn't be prouder of them.

And so, this is not just a matter of ”no drama Obama,“ this is what I really believe. It is true that behind closed doors, I curse more than I do publicly...

(LAUGHTER)

... and sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does. But at my core, I think we're going to be OK. We just have to fight for it, we have to work for it and not take it for granted. And I know that you will help us do that. Thank you very much, Press Corps, good luck.

END

Obama has always been more optimistic than I. To me, that ”END" at the end of the transcript feels nothing but ominous.

During the presser, Obama did take some shots at the GOP for their modern-day Jim Crow campaigns to try to stop folks (folks who generally vote Democrat) from voting. There was some fire in the eyes then. I'd like to see more of that whenever Pres. Obama has had enough quiet time to reflect on all that's happened. That's what he said he wants to do—and I want him to do it for him. I wish him all the best. He deserves it. He was a better president than we are a people. But we still need him. More than he knows. 

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Posted at 06:04 PM on Jan 18, 2017 in category Politics
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'If you take it all seriously, it's a world crisis'

We're two days from Ground Zero and our president-elect is readying himself by insulting top actresses, civil rights leaders and our allies around the world. 

From Robin Wright's New Yorker piece “Trump Disrupts World,” about his comments on NATO, Angela Merkel, BMW, China:

“What he's saying is so serious, so grave, that if you take it all seriously it's a world crisis,” a senior envoy from a long-standing ally told me on Monday. “And he's saying it all in such a reckless and ignorant way that I suspect everyone is praying that this is not serious.”

Over the next four years, Trump's comments—made by an ingénue in foreign policy and national security, with no apparent respect for the nuances and niceties of diplomacy—could throw an already fragile world into disorder. It's one thing to go after Meryl Streep and Hollywood, on Twitter, in polarized America after the Golden Globes. It's quite another blithely to go after China (the world's most populous country, with one of the two largest economies and the three strongest militaries), Germany (Europe's largest economy), and twenty-eight allies (in the mightiest military alliance in world history)—and all at once and all on a global stage.

So our hope is that our president-elect is not a serious person. Which he isn't. Except maybe in this one way. 

The insider stuff in the piece, how the embassies are getting zero direction as Trump nears inauguration day, is equally disturbing. As I've read elsewhere, Angela Merkel is now leader of the free world. 

Crazy what you could've had. Crazy what you could've had. 

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Posted at 01:41 PM on Jan 18, 2017 in category Politics
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Tuesday January 17, 2017

How Mitch McConnell Lost His Soul: a Tragedy (for the Country) in 24 Quotes

Mitch McConnell: evil

This man once fought for abortion rights and gun control. Then he needed to win elections in rural Kentucky.

Everything below is taken from “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” by Alec MacGillis, which is a quick read, and recommended, for anyone who cares about the future of the country: 

  1. In 1964, McConnell wrote a column urging Republicans to get on board with strong civil rights legislation. He disputed the claim to constitutional rationales against the legislation:“One must view the Constitution as a document adaptable to conditions of contemporary society,” he wrote, and any “strict interpretation” was “innately evil” if its result was that “basic rights are denied to any group.”
  2. In the 1970s, he actually declined an honorary membership in the Kentucky State Rifle & Pistol Association: “This would probably hinder effectiveness in fighting [strict gun control] laws,” he said.
  3. Running for Judge-Executive of Jefferson County, Kentucky in 1975, he told the unions that he would support passing a state law to legalize collective bargaining for public employees. The labor council endorsed him.
  4. With Roe v. Wade only a few years old, abortion opponents tried to rein in the procedure via local ordinances that, among other restrictions, required married women to get their husbands' approval. Abortion rights supporters had an ally in McConnell: every time one of the ordinances was introduced, McConnell would see to it that it never came up for a vote, says Jessica Loving, who was then the director of the Kentucky chapter of the ACLU. “He just stopped the legislation dead in its tracks,” she says. “Mitch understood procedural ways to stop legislation, and that's what he did.”
  5. Frustrated with how close he'd come to losing his reelection, McConnell decided it was time for a new media and polling team. In 1984, running for U.S. Senate, he hired Roger Ailes. 
  6. When Ronald Reagan came to Louisville for one of his debates against Mondale, the president referred to the candidate for U.S. Senate as “O'Donnell.”
  7. At the 1984 Republican victory party, Gene Snyder, McConnell's first boss in Washington, was overheard remarking with wry wonderment that Kentuckians had just elected someone to the U.S. Senate who had fewer friends in Kentucky than “anybody elected to anything.”
  8. To the dismay of Jessica Loving and his other abortion rights allies in Louisville, McConnell flipped to the pro-life side on votes such as blocking Medicaid funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest. Years later, Loving ran into McConnell at a cocktail party and told him, “By the way, I've never properly thanked you for what you did—you were the best elected official for the pro-choice issue,” to which, she recalls, “he got this pained look, his face got paler than usual and his lips got thinner than usual and he said, 'You know, I don't really want anyone to know that.'”
  9. McConnell fought against expanding voter participation by allowing citizens to register to vote when getting their driver's license. McConnell was candid about his reasons for opposing the “Motor Voter” bill: expanded voter registration helped Democrats. 
  10. With money at his disposal, McConnell would set about countering voters' lukewarm feelings toward him by making his opponents unacceptable. And he would make them unacceptable in the same way: he would cast them as elitists out of touch with working-class Kentuckians—even if it meant attacking wealth and success in business in ways that made Republicans uncomfortable.
  11. He was, by his 1996 race, a wealthy man from his marriage in 1993 to Elaine Chao, the daughter of a Taiwanese shipping magnate.
  12. He warned any and all opponents, “I will always be well financed, and I'll be well financed early.”
  13. Former senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican who served alongside McConnell for 12 years, says this avidity was one of the most striking characteristics of McConnell. “When you raise the flag and somebody hollers from the back of the room, 'Does anyone want to go to a fund-raiser and raise some bucks?' Mitch will be right there,” says Simpson. “It's a joy to him. He gets a twinkle in his eye and his step quickens. I mean, he loves it.”
  14. As efforts to limit soft money gained momentum late in the decade—led by the bipartisan duo of Arizona Republican John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold—the first line of resistance was McConnell. From his new perch as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, he would parry endlessly with the advocates of greater restrictions on soft money who would appear before him at hearings.
  15. In 2007, after Democrats reclaimed majorities in both chambers in 2006 and Mitch McConnell ascended to become his party's leader in the Senate, the use of the filibuster soared. When Democrats were in the minority under W., there were about 60 “cloture motions” to break or preempt filibusters filed per session. Under McConnell's leadership, cloture motions spiked to 140 per session. 
  16. In the midwinter of 2009, as Barack Obama assumed the presidency and the country was losing 600,000 jobs per month, McConnell assembled his caucus for a retreat in West Virginia and laid out a strategy that focused a whole lot more on undermining the former than addressing the latter.
  17. Bennett recalls, “Mitch said, 'We have a new president with an approval rating in the seventy percent area. We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win, and we begin to take him down, one issue at a time. We create an inventory of losses, so it's Obama lost on this, Obama lost on that. And we wait for the time where the image has been damaged to the point where we can take him on.”
  18. McConnell knew how much voters hated partisan strife, that it soured them on government in general, and that this souring would hurt the party in power—particularly if the party in power was also the party that advocated for more government. He knew that the public tended to tune out the details of partisan haggling, and that his party would therefore be unlikely to suffer for blatant reversals such as the flip on the deficit commission. He knew that he not only had Fox News and the rest of the conservative media on his side, but that the mainstream press would be reluctant to enlighten the public about who was at fault for gridlock—many commentators were loath to get into policy particulars, and even more loath to be seen as favoring one side over the other. ... And McConnell knew how much Obama had staked on the promise of transcending partisan divides in Washington, and that denying him the opportunity to do so would come to seem like a defining failure of his presidency.
  19. “The Obama election reinvigorated Mitch McConnell and gave him a reason for being,” says Kelleher. “He genuinely dislikes him . . . and thinks the guy has no business being in the White House.”
  20. Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer, Clinton administration trade official, and author of a history of the Senate, argued in a May 2014 opinion piece that the Senate would be functioning better with just about any other Republican in McConnell's place.
  21. The midterm election of 2014 had been, in a sense, the perfect Mitch McConnell election. It had been dominated by the dark money made possible by the court rulings that McConnell championed—and by his blockage of legislation to require disclosure of the spending. Groups that did not disclose spent more than $215 million, up by more than a third from the 2010 midterm election. More than two-thirds of this undisclosed spending was on behalf of Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  22. McConnell himself benefited hugely from this dark money. He received $23 million from outside groups, more than double what his opponent did. Some of the spending was from known entities like the NRA, but the single biggest outside spender was a mysterious group called the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which spent more than $7.5 million on ads attacking his opponent. Because the organization classified itself as a group engaged in “social welfare,” not just elections, it did not need to disclose its donors.
  23. “Nobody in the state loves him—hell, his friends don't love him. It's not about love,” says Jim Cauley, the consultant who worked on Sloane's and Beshear's challenges.
  24. “It's always been about power, the political game, and it's never been about the core values that drive political life,” says John Yarmuth, the Democratic congressman from Louisville who used to work with McConnell. “There has never been anything that interested him other than winning elections.”
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Posted at 05:40 PM on Jan 17, 2017 in category Politics
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Saturday January 14, 2017

The Trump-Putin Connection is an *American* Concern

Here's the Independent's report on the findings of the MI6 agent, with the movie-ready name of Christopher Steele, who uncovered the dirt on our president-elect, Donald J. Trump, and his connections to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Everyone should read it. It's astonishing that it's happened. That it's happening

It's astonishing on two levels. The first is the quid pro quo—the details of just how much Trump is in Putin's pocket. How much he is Putin's puppet:

In the same month Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the FBI, stating that Mr Trump's campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow's intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow's annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party's election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

The second is how little FBI director James Comey did about it; and what he chose to do instead:

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton's email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you're going to hear about in the next few days. We've got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around”.

The mainstream American press is almost reporting it as if it were a partisan concern—New York Times, I'm looking at you, assholes—when it's an American conern. Or should be. But Republicans are too busy dismantling healthcare for 30 million Americans. 

The world is mad.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Jan 14, 2017 in category Politics
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