Guest Post From Cheryl Rofer: The Department of Energy, What Does it Do? 🤔

(Not Cheryl Rofer!)

Fails Dancing With The Stars, Wins Nuke Prize

by Cheryl Rofer

According to the New York Times, Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, presidential aspirant, and now Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, um, didn’t know what the Department of Energy does when he accepted Trump’s nomination. “Sure I’ll be Ambassador for Oil and Gas,” he said. Twitter is meeting this revelation with humor and “We’re all going to die.”

In a better world, like the one we’ve been living in the past eight years, Cabinet secretaries actually know something about the organizations they are leading. It’s time to disrupt that fusty idea. We have Betsy DeVos, who wants to eliminate public education, as Education Secretary, a fast-food executive as Labor Secretary, and so on. Rick Perry has advocated eliminating the Department of Energy, so he was the natural pick.

Does that mean we are all going to die? That’s not so much the purview of the Energy Secretary. The President has a military guy who carries around the “football,” which is the most immediate starter of nuclear wars. As far as policy goes, the Secretaries of State and Defense have much more to say about starting wars nuclear and conventional. And, surprisingly for this administration, they actually seem to have responsible views on nuclear weapons. Here are excerpts from James Mattis’s and Rex Tillerson’s testimony to Congress. They are quite different from what Donald Trump has tweeted, and much more like the policies that Obama has followed.

Mattis almost says something that the arms control community has wanted to hear from the president:

the role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”

Change that to

the only role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”

and a lot of arms-controllers would be very happy.

The Secretary of Energy is in charge of building and maintaining nuclear weapons, so there is some concern about accidents and such, but fortunately it will not be Rick Perry handling the wrenches or working the gloveboxes. A big downside of someone like Perry is that there is no way he can play the role Ernie Moniz did in developing the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Now the question is how much influence Mattis and Tillerson will have on their boss.



The spy who loved us

If you you put your ray gun to my head and made my guess what’s going on with Trump and Russia and how it will play out, I’d say that Trump is probably being blackmailed in some way by Russia, that this will never come out explicitly, and that the lingering story will hurt Trump a little but not a lot.

It’s more than a little distressing that the only reason the story’s being discussed at all right now is the work two people: a former MI6 agent and reporter-turned-GOP operative
(via).

Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

[….]

Mr Trump’s surprise election victory came and the Democrat employers of Mr Steele and Mr Johnson no longer needed them. But the pair continued with their work, hopeful that the wider investigation into Russian hacking in the US would allow the Trump material to be properly examined.

On the bright side, history will likely see the Republicans and Tories attacking the reports the same way it now sees Nazi collaborators and appeasers in the US and England.



You used to call me on my cell phone

Nothing to see here, folks:

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.



Late Night Open Thread: Back to the ’60s Future!

Couriers
.

Jelani Cobb, in the New Yorker:

Last summer, the A.C.L.U. issued a report highlighting the ways in which Trump’s proposals on a number of issues would violate the Bill of Rights. After his victory, the A.C.L.U.’s home page featured an image of him with the caption “See You in Court.” In November, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal ballots cast. This was not just a window into the conspiratorial and fantasist mind-set of the President-elect but a looming threat to voting rights. Ten days after the election, the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund released a statement opposing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, as Attorney General, based on his record of hostility to voting rights and on the fact that he’d once brought unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud against civil-rights activists. But, with a Republican majority that has mostly shown compliance with Trump, despite his contempt for the norms of democracy, the fear is that he will achieve much of what he wants. Even if he accomplishes only half, the landscape of American politics and policy will be radically altered. This prospect has recalled another phenomenon of the nineteen-sixties: the conviction that “democracy is in the streets.”…

In that context, the waves of protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in the days after the election look less like spontaneous outrage and more like a preview of what the next four years may hold. Unlike the specific protests that emerged during the Obama Administration, the post-election demonstrations have been directed at the general state of American democracy. Two hundred thousand women are expected to assemble in front of the Capitol, on January 21st, the day after the Inauguration, for the Women’s March on Washington. Born of one woman’s invitation to forty friends, the event is meant as a rejoinder to the fact that a candidate with a troubling history regarding women’s rights—one who actually bragged about committing sexual assault—has made it to the White House.

The first Inauguration of George W. Bush, in 2001, saw mass protests driven by the sentiment that the election had been stolen. The protests that greet Trump will, in all probability, exceed them: some twenty other groups have also applied for march permits. Given his history with African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, unionized labor, environmentalists, and people with disabilities, it is not hard to imagine that there will be many more to come. The Congress is unlikely to check the new President, but democracy may thrive in the states, the courts, the next elections, and, lest the lessons of the sixties be forgotten, the streets.



LOL Draining the Swamp

Nothing to see here:

Defying the wishes of their top leaders, House Republicans voted behind closed doors Monday night to rein the independent ethics office created eight years ago in the wake of a series of embarrassing congressional scandals.

The 199-74 vote during a GOP conference meeting means that the House rules package expected to be adopted Tuesday, the first day of the 115th Congress, would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

The OCE was created in 2008 to address concerns that the Ethics Committee had been too timid in pursuing allegations of wrongdoing by House members. Under the current House ethics regime, the OCE is empowered to release a public report of its findings even if the Ethics Committee chooses not to take further action against a member.

This should be mentioned every time this is brought up:

Democrats, then in the House majority, established the OCE in 2008 in the aftermath of the lobbying scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff to conduct ethics investigations free from political influence. But in recent years, some members of Congress have sought to limit the office and its work.

Democrats fix shit. Republicans burn shit down.



North Carolina Legislative Coup Under Cover of Law is Underway

North Carolina’s GOP majority state legislature and its outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory are attempting to overturn McCrory’s loss through legislative shenanigans. Their intention is to so weaken the governorship and the now Democratic majority NC Supreme Court so that neither the incoming Governor or the new Democratic majority on North Carolina’s have any power or authority to actually exercise. Rick Hasen from Electablog has all the details.

As Hasen elaborates on his site:

While many people were worried about whether there would be a court-packing plan for the NC Supreme Court (about to have a majority of Democratic members)  in the special session on disaster relief that NC Governor Pat McCrory had called, it seems that NC GOP legislative leaders had a different trick up their sleeve: they have called a special session to start now at the end of the session called by the governor, and the plan seems to be to propose measures to cut the power of the incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper.

Among the bills that have now been filed is one that would move from giving the state board of elections and county election boards a majority of seats for the sitting governor, to one which would make the sessions be evenly divided on a bipartisan basis.  So a partisan advantage was good enough when there was a Republican governor, but no longer.

In the meantime, NC Democrats are claiming that the call for the special session was itself unconstitutional, potentially rendering any bills from the session invalid.

And here’s the kicker: any lawsuit over these alleged rules will end up before the state Supreme Court with its new Democratic majority, unless the special session itself produces a court-packing plan, and if that happens the Court itself would have to resolve a key question about its own membership.

Democratic representative Darren Jackson on the special session: ““This is why people don’t trust us. This is why they hate us.”

Ow.

UPDATE:

It is much, much worse than it looks now that the bill is posted. The Democratic party appointees to the election board would chair in odd numbered years, and the Republican party appointees would chair in even numbered years (see page 4 of the bill), meaning that they would chair in each of the years in which there are legislative, congressional, and presidential elections.

The state supreme court would be limited in reviewing state constitutional and federal challenges, giving the power instead first to an en banc panel of intermediate appellate court judges (who of course are Republican majority) and limiting appeals as of right (see from pages 20 on in the bill).

If the bill passes in this form, I could see potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges here, in part because the legislature would potentially be diluting minority voting power and making minority voters worse off, just at the time that their candidate of choice (Gov. Cooper) is poised to assume power.

The Reverend Dr. Barber and his Moral Monday’s movement is on the job and have already begun the response, including legal pushback if necessary.

This is obviously a fluid situation and will be a quickly moving story, so expect information to change as today turns into tomorrow, pressure is brought to bear, and the GOP majority in the North Carolina legislature have to bring their actions into the light of day.



Open Thread: “It Was A Corruption Election”

A shonda for the neighbors!, my (impeccably lace-curtain NYC Irish) Nana would say. Sarah Chayes, in Foreign Policy:

In the past 10 years, populations have rejected “rigged systems” that had stood for decades. They have risen up in mass protests in Brazil, Guatemala, South Africa, and South Korea. They have overthrown their governments in open insurrections like the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s Maidan. Or they have fallen in behind self-proclaimed Robin Hoods such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Occasionally, they have joined violent religious movements like the Islamic State or Boko Haram.

With Trump’s election, the United States just joined this list….

Whatever our affiliation or walk of life, we must also, each of us, discover and hold on to that dividing line that marks off the reasonable compromises from the unacceptable.

For, like the people of Mosul in Iraq or northern Nigeria, who traded intolerably corrupt regimes for Islamist crusaders who were worse, Americans will wake up in January under a system that is more corrupt than the one that fueled their rebellion. That is the irony of resorting to a wrecking ball to bring down a corrupt regime. Too often, the kleptocratic networks prove resilient, while those who revolted end up with crushed heads.

Already, President-elect Trump’s questionable affiliations and potential conflicts of interest — as genteel vocabulary would have it — are making headlines. The issue is not one of technical legality or poor vetting. His actions and associations are deliberate. While tweeting out distractions to disguise the fact, he will unleash a feeding frenzy. Our laws and institutions will be bent to the purposes of personal enrichment. Industry lobbyists will draft the bills. He will negotiate business deals with foreign counterparts, confusing his personal interests for the good of the nation. Agencies that try to hold the line will see their budgets slashed, their officials belittled in public. Law enforcement will be even more selective than it is today. The labor of human beings, the land, and what’s on it or under it will be converted to cash as efficiently as possible. And what can’t be converted will be bulldozed out of the way.

And what will Americans do in the face of this exacerbation of our own brand of corruption? Will we further relax our standards, shrugging our shoulders and referring to the letter of ever-changing laws? Or will we reach for a definition of corruption that is in line with common sense and rebuild our foundations upon that bedrock?…