A rolling Constitutional Crisis

And this is Good News for John McCain as it helps him consolidate his Teabagging base.

This is basically saying that any Democrat is fundamentally illegitimate and they are not allowed to do their job. A Senate that is split 51-49 in either direction with Clinton in the White House gives the Republicans plenty of space to haggle over nominees. They could make it clear that nominees X, Y, Z could easily get approved by eighty votes while nominees A,B,C would need either a party line vote (which is a tough vote for Plain state Democrats) or would fail completely.

But no, no to haggling, no to norms, no to anything other than control. This is a rolling Constitutional crisis.

But it is good news for John McCain.

The Election Is Not Rigged & It Is Not Going To Be Rigged

A quick note from Speaker Ryan (R-Profile in Courage!):

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Saturday dismissed Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the November elections will be rigged.

“Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong toldBuzzFeed.

It is important to note and remember that 23 states are led by Republican governors that also have Republican legislatures – both chambers, referred to as the trifecta. Another 11 states have Republican governors and just 7 states are under Democratic control -the trifecta of a Democratic governor and legislature. There are 20 states total that share control – either GOP governor, Democratic legislature, or vice versa. Apparently the Trump campaign is suggesting that the Republican Party is rigging elections against the Republican nominee at the state level… Wait, what were we talking about again?

A somewhat more definitive explanation of the process of just how hard it would be to actually rig US elections has been provided by the Ashby Law firm, which focuses on electoral law and primarily works for Republican clients:

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The Republican Party is tearing itself apart. It’s about damn time.

The following is from a Tweetstorm I composed yesterday in the hours before that shitshow of a “debate.” There are probably some spelling and grammar errors, because for the most part, I just copied and pasted from my Twitter account, @soonergrunt.

Someone asked me recently why I’m a dick to Conservatives who engage me on Twitter. I’m not to everyone. @RadioFreeTom is a notable example. There are others. But I’ll tell you the answer now. I came to political conscience in the age of Ronald Reagan. I liked him as a person, but I didn’t agree with him on much. But I respected him. He was my President, for one thing, but also my parents taught me that the other side were decent people who wanted what they saw as best for the country. They just happened to usually be wrong. And sometimes they were right. That kind of consideration is something I’ve rarely received in return. Rare enough that I remember a lot of those respectful interactions.  They stick out due to their rarity.

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Donald J. Trump Rally in Melbourne, FL

Equal time, both sides, etc…

Here’s the live feed:

A President Trump’s Foreign Policy Preview: For Sale, To the Highest Bidder

This is just a quick pointer to the essential read of the day.  If Kurt Eichenwald’s brutal, beautiful story on the Trump Organization’s seemingly limitless overseas conflicts of interest with US policy doesn’t become the dominant campaign story for the day and much longer, then, again, we’ll know who and what our media are.

One of the best minor pleasures of this deeply important piece is the way Eichenwald brutally dismisses the false equivalence crap that so many in the press promise us doesn’t exist.  A sample:

The Trump Organization is not like the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the charitable enterprise that has been the subject of intense scrutiny about possible conflicts for the Democratic presidential nominee. There are allegations that Hillary Clinton bestowed benefits on contributors to the foundation in some sort of “pay to play” scandal when she was secretary of state, but that makes no sense because there was no “pay.” Money contributed to the foundation was publicly disclosed and went to charitable efforts, such as fighting neglected tropical diseases that infect as many as a billion people. The financials audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global independent accounting company, and the foundation’s tax filings show that about 90 percent of the money it raised went to its charitable programs. (Trump surrogates have falsely claimed that it was only 10 percent and that the rest was used as a Clinton “slush fund.”) No member of the Clinton family received any cash from the foundation, nor did it finance any political campaigns. In fact, like the Clintons, almost the entire board of directors works for free.

On the other hand, the Trump family rakes in untold millions of dollars from the Trump Organization every year.


Much of that comes from deals with international financiers and developers, many of whom have been tied to controversial and even illegal activities. None of Trump’s overseas contractual business relationships examined by Newsweek were revealed in his campaign’s financial filings with the Federal Election Commission, nor was the amount paid to him by his foreign partners.

That should (but probably won’t) leave a mark in a certain building on 8th Ave between 40th and 41st st.

One more sample, just to get a sense of how utterly at odds with US national interest a Trump presidency would be:

With Middle Eastern business partners and American allies turning on him, Trump lashed out. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal—the billionaire who aided Trump during his corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s by purchasing his yacht, which provided him with desperately needed cash—sent out a tweet amid the outcry in Dubai, calling the Republican candidate a “disgrace.” (Alwaleed is a prodigious tweeter and Twitter’s second largest shareholder.) Trump responded with an attack on the prince—a member of the ruling Saudi royal family—with a childish tweet, saying, “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected. #Trump2016.”

Once again, Trump’s personal and financial interests are in conflict with critical national security issues for the United States. During the Bush administration, Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, and Washington reached a bilateral agreement to improve international standards for nuclear nonproliferation. Cooperation is particularly important for the United States because Iran—whose potential development of nuclear weapons has been a significant security issue, leading to an international agreement designed to place controls on its nuclear energy efforts—is one of the UAE’s largest trading partners, and Dubai has been a transit point for sensitive technology bound for Iran.

Given Trump’s name-calling when faced with a critical tweet from a member of the royal family in Saudi Arabia, an important ally, how would he react as president if his company’s business in the UAE collapsed? Would his decisions in the White House be based on what is best for America or on what would keep the cash from Dubai flowing to him and his family?

There’s tons more at the link — and yet Eichenwald says, correctly, that this article only scratches the surface. This is (truly) disqualifying stuff, folks. That it almost surely won’t drive Trump from the race is an indictment of him, his party, and a political process, shaped in part by a flawed media culture.  That just leaves us as a last line of defense.

You know, voters.

The common clay…

[Had to leave that hanging curve out for the Balloon Juice Jackals, right?]

Seriously. Eichenwald has done really important work here.  Go read what he’s found, then get it out to everyone you can.

Image: Marius Granet, A Peasant Girl Buying an Indulgence 1825

Dear Washington Post

Here’s another slightly edited dispatch from my ongoing off-social-media conversation with some political reporters on the obvious implicit bias I see in coverage of Clinton vs. Trump.  The reporters I’ve engaged publicly and privately don’t see it that way — and they are, I firmly believe, sincere and honest in that belief.  So the task, as I see it, is to build the argument story by story and (as possible) in analysis of the sum of coverage, that they’re wrong, and to do so in a way that honest and expert reporters can read, analyze, and, I hope, become persuaded by.

What caught my eye today was this article in the Washington Post, “Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘Honorary Chancellor’ of a for-profit university,” by Rosalind S. Hellerman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.  That story has received professional praise as a well reported deep dive — and it is!  Really.

School of athents

By that I mean:  it is definitely a long (2604 words) and detailed dissection of Bill Clinton’s involvement with Laureate University, a major international for profit higher-ed company.  The reporters play fair by the rules of the craft:  they show their work, and a reader can see where each individual fact comes from.

But does that make it a good story, an honest one, or one that within the larger story — that of the 2016 presidential election — meets basic standards of journalism as it serves readers interests?

Not at all.

That’s what I argued below in my note to one of my correspondents.  Here, the point is that the elite political press — like any group of people working on the same stuff in substantial isolation from the outside world — has its own professional criteria for excellence.  They’ve got a value system and an expectation or understanding of what represents good work or bad.  They’re not all wrong in that.

But as far as I can see from the outside, theirs is a bunker-dwelling, mostly technical standard: well reported = good, for example.  I don’t think that there is a conspiracy at the Times  or the Post, or CNN or what have you simply to shiv the Clintons.

But what I think outside the bunker (and please do recall:  a presidential campaign is a mind-and-body deranging experience; these folks really are working without access to a lot of the reality checks that could help) those of us who are looking at the coverage both closely and synoptically see the problem not as one of reporting, but of coverage.

That is, what matters is the way stories are assigned, framed, their narratives interpreted within each piece, how they’re edited and placed (2604 words!) affects the overall message readers and the electorate as a whole receive.

Thus, the ongoing and increasingly inexplicable failure of The New York Times to engage what should be a burgeoning Trump bribery scandal with state attorneys general and Trump U.  Thus all the stories on the Clinton foundation which (a) failed to show what was implied and (b) omitted crucial context, like the Bush Foundation headed by a Powell.  And thus today’s story, in which two good reporters distill what had to have been a substantial amount of work that taken all-in-all demonstrates that Bill Clinton made a lot of money while there was, in the words of the story itself, “no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton…”

What there was, instead, was a reason to ask whether or not such special favors might have taken place.  The answer was no.

There the story should have ended.  But because this was the Clintons, and this is the elite political press, it was impossible to accept that answer.  Hence what is a type specimen for how the press is getting this election wrong — with potentially disastrous consequences.

With that as prologue (I know…logorrhea…), my breakdown of the piece for my journalist-contact.  We began by marveling at the size of Bill’s fee — which truly is pretty astonishing:


I agree with you on the sum, though from where I sit, with my full time job in higher education (and a professor’s kid, and w. two professor-siblings and, and, and…) what bothers me most about that clearly outsize wage is that it is less of an outlier than it should be.  As I’m sure you know, top academic positions at a lot of places are now paid at seven figure levels.  A million or so/year as a college president  is different from $3.6 million/year as an honorary chairman, certainly.  But it’s also true (and a scandal) that higher ed, both non and for profit has headed down the same path for CEO and senior management compensation that large businesses have.  That’s troubling.

But what got me about the story was the contrast between the reporting craft you rightly recognize: meticulous, detailed pursuit of both individual incidents and the financial details…and the lack of any substance to the clear thrust of the story: that this was another example of soft corruption in the Clinton family.  You look at the lede and it clearly asserts a pay-off.  Clinton invites someone to a working dinner who is an FOB, who later hires Bill for lots of money.   Read more

Dear New York Times…

POSTER’S NOTE:  Dear all,

I’ve just done something I essentially never do.  I’ve gone into two comments and redacted a couple of sentences that made what read to me as sexually hostile statements about a specific reporter.

The commenters are long time and respected members of the community, and I not only get that this is a delightfully expressive environment — I’ve certainly had occasion to discuss unnatural acts with oxidized farm tools myself.  But in the real world, reporters are being threatened daily by Trump folks and others — and female reporters get savaged more, and in more horrible ways.  I don’t believe in banning except in true extremis, and the comments edited don’t come close to ban-hammer eligibility.  But I don’t feel OK leaving that particular line of attack up on the blog, or attached to a post under my name.  So I’ve exercised the god-like powers of the blog to take out a couple of lines that hit too close to home, at least for me, in a time and place where women doing difficult jobs have enough to deal with as it is.

If anyone’s bothered by this, write to me, and I’ll make sure you get a full refund —



Hey, folks.  Been spending way too much time on Twitter lately, ranting about coverage and the election, and hence have sucked up all the would-be blogging time.  But in doing so, I’ve managed to begin a conversation with some folks who actually perform such coverage.  One of them asked me to be specific about a charge they found hard to swallow:  that there is a systematic difference between the way Trump is covered and Clinton is in the major venues.

Rockwell fact and fiction

That correspondent and others pointed out, accurately, that at least since May, and in many cases before then, there have been major, damning, utterly critical stories about Trump.  Given that, wouldn’t complaints about, say, stories on Clinton’s emails or the alleged corruption inherent in the Clinton Foundation-State Department nexus suggest more a partisan reaction, hypersensitive about stories critical of the side I favor, rather than a measured accounting of the full coverage record?

My answer was and that while there are indeed such stories, and that many of the Clinton pieces that have enraged me are at some definition of accuracy perfectly on-the-beam.  But then I go on to say that the question of systematic bias is not about each single story.  Rather, it turns on the entire editorial apparatus of campaign coverage: how those stories are assigned, pursued, resourced, and extended past day one or two coverage, and how the facts within them are set up for interpretation.

That argument leads to an obvious and appropriate response:

Prove it.

It’s going to take me some time to do so across the range of questions I’ve actually received.  But there was a piece in today’s New York Times that provides a case study (the fancy name for anecdata) that offers an example of the gap between fine-scale factual accuracy and a truthful exercise in journalism

For the record:  what I’m attempting to do isn’t simply to say “You Suck!” to The New York Times, the first target of my logorrhea below, or anyone else.  It is to help smart and incredibly hard working people realize what’s often hard to notice deep in the weeds and the mud.  That would be exactly where one is in the maze — which would be the first step to navigating to somewhere better.

With that as prologue, here’s what I just wrote to one of my correspondents.  That reporter challenged me on several points, and I began what will be a multipart response by walking back, just a little,  my somewhat incendiary claim that current campaign coverage reminded me of the Times’ Iraq war lead-in coverage — to which I added my own desire to give a specific example of what I meant by a biased approach to a story.  So here goes, in a slightly edited version of what I sent in private:


…The Iraq War mention isn’t a perfect analogy, I’ll agree:  there’s no comparison to Judith Miller in the Times’ current campaign coverage, and there’s no sign I can see of the editorial or management errors that allowed her coverage (and other stuff too, TBH) such impact.

 The Iraq war serves for me, and I think many critics of the Times as a kind of existence proof:  the Times is capable of major failures that have huge consequences, which means, to me, that it’s important to be very vigilant.  I know this seems obvious, and perhaps even insulting to those inside the organization – but from outside the newsroom, it often appears that the NYT has a difficult time admitting errosr, especially those more complicated than a straightforward factual mistake.   A personal anecdote:  I had drinks some years ago with a NYTimes reporter (still there, not on the politics desk) and at one point in our conversation (late, after a number of rounds) he said something like NYTimes reporters don’t write stuff that’s not true; we get more scrutiny than you believe so we make sure it doesn’t happen. (Fallible memory, some years, but that was the gist).  And I’m sure the scrutiny is there (heck – here I am part of it.) But that was not a reassuring statement, as I think you can see. 

 I’ll get into this more below but my broad framework is that with exceptions, the way the thumb is on the scale (from my point of view) in NYT coverage of the campaign is not at the level you work, on the reporting day by day and the production of individual stories.  It is rather on the editorial apparatus that creates the framework for readers to interpret your coverage.

You ask for specifics – let me give you an example from today’s paper, “Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation to State Dept.”

[Edited to add:  Hmmm, didn’t realize how long this sucker was on the page. Continued after the newly inserted jump] Read more