Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Little Nuts The Way We All Are? Or Is Trump Dangerously Insane?

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Yesterday, writing for New York, Gail Sheehy looked at psychiatrists willing to break tradition and do their duty to warn people about how mentally unfit Trump is to be president. I don't know anyone who thinks he's sane. Do you? But how insane and how dangerous?

A few minutes ago a friend of mine, a psychologist, e-mailed me a note about a sign she had seen at the Science March: "How are Trump and atoms alike? They make up everything." Delusional is pretty crazy but pretty crazy isn't what Sheehy had in mind. "Psychiatrists and psychologists," she wrote, "operate under a norm-- the so-called Goldwater Rule-- that their professional organizations made up in 1973, forbidding them from evaluating public figures they haven’t been able to question in person. In the face of minimal trust at home and abroad in President Donald Trump’s stability and his tenuous grasp of reality, a group of eminent professionals are daring to depart from the party line." They're worried about what harm "this abnormal president" could do to 300 million Americans. They're increasingly calling him "mentally ill."
This moment (which itself is “unprecedented”) led to an open town-hall meeting on Thursday, at Yale Medical School, to discuss the elephant in the room. Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a diminutive Yale psychiatry professor who along with Dr. [John] Gartner called the meeting, puts it this way: “We have a ‘Duty to Warn,’ about a leader who is dangerous to the health and security of our patients.” She has formed a coalition by that name, and it now comprises almost 800 mental-health professionals who are “sufficiently alarmed that they feel the need to speak up about the mental-health status of the president.” Gartner has posted a similar petition on the web, and it has attracted 41,000 signatures, a high proportion of them from mental-health practitioners. Anyone can look it up and sign it.

“Duty to Warn” is a term with some history. In 1974, a trial known as the Tarasoff case established the law-- now in force in 38 states-- saying that if a patient is in imminent danger of physically hurting someone, his or her doctor may break confidentiality and alert the likely victim or call the police. As for the Goldwater Rule itself, it is essentially a gag order, part of the code of ethics of the American Psychiatric Association. It was created in the years after the 1964 presidential election, when the fiery conservative Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination. (Goldwater ran on anti-communist rhetoric suggesting that he just might start a nuclear war, on the slogan “In Your Heart You Know He’s Right”; Lyndon Johnson’s counter-slogan was “In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts.”) Press outlets, notably a magazine called Fact, asked psychiatrists and psychologists to diagnose Goldwater, and they did, enthusiastically and damningly. Goldwater sued Fact and won. The APA set down its rule a few years later.
One of the speakers was Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, former Yale professor of psychiatry and author of the ur-text about the ways Nazi doctors were perverted into killers.
He told the tiny audience he had an important concept to discuss: “malignant normality.” Lifton defines it as “arrangements put forward as being normal when in fact they are dangerous and destructive.” An extreme example on which he has done studies is that of German doctors who were assigned to Auschwitz. Their job was to be active in the mass killing. They were given perverted training to defeat their fears and shame and brainwash them into believing it was normal to gas Jews to death. (As, it’s worth noting, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad must do something similar to “normalize” the gassing of babies and women by their countrymen in his army.)

Dr. Judith Herman spoke next. She’s a renowned professor of psychiatry trained at Harvard and Cambridge and, after Trump’s election, she wrote a letter to President Obama expressing alarm at the symptoms of mental instability she saw in the president-elect. Was there some way to insist on a neuropsychiatric evaluation, she wrote, “before this man assumes the terrifying power of a U.S. president?” Only two of her colleagues were willing to co-sign the letter, which went viral and was read at the Women’s March on Washington.

Dr. James F. Gilligan, a senior clinical professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical School, was on next and offered that Trump’s mental unfitness had multiple causes. And before the meeting was over, the following diagnoses had been brought up: narcissism combined with a sociopathic personality, pathological lying, and paranoia, which makes him vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Anyone who doesn’t flatter him extravagantly is meant to be destroyed. He engages in exploitation and violation of the rights of others, and sometimes goes as far as sadism, with no evidence of remorse. “When you add all these elements,” Gilligan observed, “this is a class of people of whom Hitler is a member.” Only at the end did Gartner introduce a note of gallows humor. Imagine tomorrow’s grandparents, he suggested, stuck in a refugee camp in icy Idaho, trying to warm their hands over a fire while asked to explain it all to the grandkids. “Grandpa, you knew there was a dangerous man running our country — why didn’t you say something?

“Well, you see, in 1967 there was a lawsuit brought by a candidate for president called Barry Goldwater — “

“Wait, Grandpa — what’s a lawsuit?”

Chagrined, the grandfather tries to explain that a magazine had warned that Goldwater was unstable and had been sued.

“Wait, Grandpa — what’s a magazine?”

After the session ended, Lifton spoke to me, and I asked whether he sees Trump as an abnormal personality. “Trump creates his own extreme manipulation of reality,” he explained. “He insists that his spokesmen defend his false reality as normal. He then expects the rest of society to accept it-- despite the lack of any evidence.”... I pressed him to interpret the angry meltdown that seized President Trump when he was told, after the fact, that his closest campaign cohort, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from the Justice Department investigation of Trump’s Russian connections. “Trump’s version of reality did not include Sessions having done anything wrong,” he explained, “despite evidence of his reported contacts with the Russian ambassador.” Trump himself, he explained, cannot bear the humiliation of being exposed as wrong, and is “ultra-sensitive” about the Russian connection. “He’s more than a little threatened by the idea of a full independent inquiry. A sudden influx of new information about his business holdings could create an explosive situation.”

Can our institutions that guarantee a separation of powers survive such a manipulative presidency? “Open institutions are still in effect, but he’s doing his best to ignore them and break them down,” says Lifton. “Trump is a person bent on authoritarian behavior.” He continued with a sobering quote from the contemporary poet Craig Morgan Teicher: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

And, oh, the stories Melania could tell about the psychotic whack-job she's been stuck with longer than anyone deserves to be! (Yeah, that Vanity Fair link is pretty scary.)

OK, he's a hustler, but does that make him insane?

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When A Really Bad Democrat Sneaks Into Congress, It's Serious And It's Harmful-- Vicente González

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Members of Congress don't call bloggers and apologize much. But just over a year ago Blue America was backing Sonny Palacios for an open south Texas seat, TX-15, a long narrow district that heads north from the Rio Grande through McAllen and Edinburg, up Route 281 and zigging and zagging up to Seguin east of San Antonio. It's a pretty safe Democratic district. Obama won it both times with 57% and Hillary beat Trump by about the same margin. My congressional friend though, was backing a very wealthy right-wing hustler, Vicente González. González, desperate to win the crowded primary pretended to be a progressive and put a million dollars of his own money into his campaign.

The run-off between Palocios and González was May 24. Sonny is a proud outspoken progressive, a proactive leader with valuable experience as a community leader, school board member, attorney and single father. González is hard to pin down. To one audience he'll claim to be progressive and to another he'll call himself a conservative Democrat. He told a students event that he had voted for Bernie Sanders and a few days later sent out a mailer saying he was a Hillary Clinton endorser. He's very much like Trump in that way... He says whatever pops into his mind based on who the immediate audience is. People in McAllen are calling him the "Trump of South Texas." And, like Trump, he talks a good game about women but his actions speaker louder since, like Trump, exploiting women is part of his business model. He swore in the McAllen Municipal Court (case number 2010-00096858) that he owned the Longhorn Saloon, a topless bar and strip club, which was eventually closed down due to illegal prostitution and drug trafficking on the premises. You cannot run for Congress and claim to be a champion of women’s rights when you're enriching yourself by prostituting vulnerable women.

González persuaded my friend to endorse him. By that time he had self-funded to the tune of $1,650,000 into his campaign and he swamped Palacios, burying him in dishonest advertising. Not long after my friend endorsed him, local radio hosts mentioned to González on the air that "You were endorsed by the Progressive Caucus... I've heard you say once before you see yourself as a conservative Democrat." He immediately responded, "I do in a lot of ways but I guess they agreed with some of my views... I'm not changing my principles... I appreciate the endorsement but my views are my views." Those views aren't remotely progressive, not even pro-Choice. And he's a 100% NRA shill. "I govern from the middle. You know I'm not for raising taxes... I believe we should have the strongest military in the world-- always-- and we should lead the world militarily." One of the interviewers, the more overtly Republican one, listened to him speaking and asked "Why are you running as a Democrat?" He said he's been a Democrat all his life and reiterated that he's a conservative and then said "There are a lot of great candidates on the Republican side as well. I'll reach across there aisle and work with them." Too bad they didn't ask him to name any. The only other congressional candidate he's ever contributed to is right-wing Blue Dog, Filemon Vela, who routinely votes against every progressive proposal... as González has been doing as well.

So, that apology... "You were right on this one. González took my campaign contribution, committed to progressive positions in the CPC questionnaire, and then reneged on joining the CPC and seems to be headed towards being even worse than you told me he would be when you warned me not to endorse him. Not too proud to acknowledge when I'm wrong. He and his team lied to us. It's as clear as that."

González joined the Blue Dogs and has begun running up a truly horrible voting record. ProgressivePunch has already given him an overall "F" rating. His crucial vote score is 57.14, slightly worse than Dan Lipinski. Alas, though, this isn't the kind of district where the idea of primaries is built into the collective DNA. America is going to be stuck with González for a long time-- unless or until he gets caught doing something illegal.

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It's Taken Forever, But Democrats Are Finally Starting To Boo Dianne Feinstein

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You know who has a really big mailing list? AARP. For starters, they have over 37,000,0000 members. But they add people to their mailing list even before they become members. Yesterday I got a mailing from them. Inside the envelope were three petitions, one to each California senator and one to Adam Schiff, my congressman. Other than the names, they were identical:
As one of your constituents and as a member of AARP, I urge you to oppose any efforts to cut my Medicare benefits. Along with tens of millions of other Americans, I have paid into Medicare over my lifetime and I count on the benefits that have been promised to me.

I also urge you to take action to update and strengthen Social Security. If you fail to act, future retirees could lose more than 20% of their benefits. Social Security is the largest source of income for most older Americans, and many seniors already live near or below the poverty line. Substantial cuts will drive millions more into poverty.
I've never been a Feinstein fan; in fact, I've never voted for her for anything-- and that goes all the way back to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, when she was the representative from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. Harvey Milk was a close friend of mine back then and after Board of Sup meetings he used to tell me what an asshole she was even then. After he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a whacked out Republican politician, Dan White (dealt with extra-judicially when the wheels of justice misfired), Feinstein ran for mayor. I helped Jello Biafra's campaign against her.

Over the years it's always saddened me that my state had such a corrupt and conservative senator representing us. But conservatives and even Republicans love her and she's been seen as a virtual fixture for life. I was happy to see her roundly boo-ed and heckled last week at the first town hall she's done in San Francisco in the 25 years she's been in the Senate. These town-halls mostly seem to target Republicans but it's really great when they target Democrats from the Republican wing of the party-- like her. The video up top will show you what happened. And it was covered by the L.A. Times as well.
Progressive activists who have sought to address Sen. Dianne Feinstein face-to-face for months got what they wanted Monday as Feinstein held a town hall meeting in her hometown of San Francisco.

The most tense moment of the hourlong forum came when she answered an audience member's question about healthcare by saying she doesn't support efforts to move to a single-payer system.

Faced with boos, Feinstein said when it comes to a "total takeover" of healthcare by the government, "I'm not there."

One audience member called Feinstein a "sellout" as others joined in chants of "Single-payer now!"

But the event was mostly calm. One heckler who yelled at Feinstein repeatedly was quickly shouted down by other town hall participants. Questioners pushed Feinstein to make public statements condemning "fascists in the White House" and calling Trump "corrupt" and "incompetent."

"All of this takes a plan," Feinstein responded. "I'd be surprised if you found too many senators, if any, that have gotten more done.... I don't get there by making statements I can't deliver. I get there through some caution, some discussion, some smart help, good lawyers and we generally get where we're going."

At least several audience members held up signs reading "Retire Feinstein" as protesters outside urged her not to seek reelection.

Feinstein, who will turn 84 in June, has hinted that she will seek reelection. Asked about whether she'll run as she left the town hall, Feinstein told reporters, "You'll find out soon enough," according to the Sacramento Bee.

It was Feinstein's first hometown public town hall meeting since being elected to the Senate 25 years ago.
ProgressivePunch rates her an "F" and finds her the 11th worst Democrat in the Senate with a lifetime crucial vote score of 78.24. This is California; we want someone to lead the way Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley lead, not drag the country and the party backward. Democratic voters are finally starting to catch on. People want her to retire when her term ends in 2018. She's given contradictory signals about whether or not she's running again, although, mostly recently, she's said she would. There's no one remotely plausible who would oppose her either. Sickening. And even if she retires, those most eager to replace her aren't an improvement at all: Loretta Sanchez, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff-- all conservatives. I keep forgetting to ask Ted Lieu if he'd run.



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Steve Bannon Has Big Plans For Next Weekend-- A 100th Day Government Shut Down

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Ryan held a conference call with his members yesterday to assure them that he has no intention of shutting down the government despite what the White House appears to be angling for. He promised not to let his failed TrumpCare bill get in the way. Some Republicans in Congress are worried they'll be blamed by next year's midterm voters if there's a government shutdown. Those worries are not part of Steve Bannon's calculus. He's fighting for his political life. What happens to Martha McSally, John Culberson, John Katko, Brian Fitzpatrick, Leonard Lance or Ed Royce isn't remotely on his radar. Making something BIG happen for the obsessed and mentally unbalanced boss on his 100th day in office is. Yesterday Ryan Lizza penned a piece in the New Yorker suggesting "the White House" wants a shut down. That's Bannon.
“For weeks, the House and Senate Democrats and Republicans have been working well together,” a Democratic aide said. “Then, all of a sudden, the White House is looking at next week and they have nothing to show for the first one hundred days, and they either want a health-care bill to pass next week, which seems like a heavy lift, or to get more on immigration from this process. Even Republicans don’t want this fight, and they don’t want a shutdown on Day One Hundred of the Trump Administration.”

The White House, which is trying to force another vote on an Obamacare repeal, seems desperate to either win some of Trump’s priorities in a deal next week, or force a government shutdown that it can blame on Democrats. That might energize Trump’s supporters, who don’t have much to celebrate yet.

But it’s not just the Democrats who oppose several Trump priorities. Congressional Republicans, who are generally united in support for the increase in defense spending, are divided on the border wall, which is not popular among border-state Republicans, and the deep domestic-spending cuts.

So far, it does not look like a bridgeable gap. “This is going to be high-stakes poker,” the White House official said. When I asked if a shutdown was likely, the official paused for several seconds. “I don’t know,” the official said. The official added, “I just want my wall and my ice agents.”
Bannon-- always the Hollywood drama queen. And Señor Trumpanzee can relate. After all what did those fuckers in Congress do for him anyway. They wouldn't even vote on TrumpCare, denying him targets for his wrath and vengeance. So late Friday night El Señor surprises everyone by announcing his powerful Armanda is steaming up the Potomac with submarines. Oops, sorry, he didn't do that yet. No, he announced that he would unveil a "massive" tax cut for Americans next week, vowing a "big announcement on Wednesday," but he revealed no details about what is certain to be an enormously complicated effort to overhaul the nation’s tax code, except, as a Trump-watcher might expect that it would be "bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever." You almost feel sorry for Ryan and Miss McConnell. Almost. I bet they would have preferred the Armanda steaming past Point Lookout.

Trump's showy-- albeit crackpot-- announcement Friday surprised Capitol Hill and left El Señor’s own Treasury officials speechless as he arrived at the Treasury offices to sign directives to roll back Obama-era tax rules and financial regulations that protected consumers from bankster predators. "Earlier in the day," reported the Times' Alan Rappeport, "when reporters asked Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, how far away a tax overhaul proposal was, he said he could not give an answer. 'Tax reform is way too complicated,' he said." Nothing's too complicated for El Señor-- nothing as in everything-- same/same. He doesn't comprehend a word of any of it and depends on Kushner-in-law, who's mentally slow and something of a remedial student-- I know his tutor who told me he's incapable of critical thinking-- to explain it all to him over dinner.
Starting that fight next week is further complicated by Mr. Trump’s hopes to revive the Republican health care plan that collapsed last month. And it would mean trying a tax overhaul as his White House faces the prospect of a government shutdown if lawmakers cannot agree on a funding bill by April 28.

The details of Mr. Trump’s tax plans remain the subject of intense speculation, with stock markets regularly gyrating when White House officials discuss the subject. Since taking office, the president has suggested that he wants to enact the deepest cuts to individual and corporate tax rates in history.

But despite Mr. Trump’s statement on Friday that his tax overhaul “really formally begins on Wednesday,” White House officials quickly cautioned against high expectations that Mr. Trump would provide the legislative text of a detailed tax plan next week.

Instead, a senior administration official said the president would release only the “parameters” that Mr. Trump expected a tax plan to follow in the long congressional debate that would surely follow. Another official said the information released next week would be more like a “broad” outline. Wall Street, which tends to celebrate tax cuts, barely reacted; the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 0.3 percent Friday.

The administration has maintained that middle-income tax cuts, a simplification of personal income taxes, and making business taxes more competitive with other countries are the top priorities. Mr. Trump insisted that his plans were on track and that his strategy to remake the economy would change history.

“This is really the beginning of a whole new way of life that this country hasn’t seen in many, many years,” Mr. Trump said as he sat at the desk of Mr. Mnuchin, near a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary.

He said, “We’ve lifted one terrible regulation after another at a record clip from the energy sector to the auto sector.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm, the directives he signed at the Treasury Department on Friday to review measures put in place by the Obama administration were largely preliminary. As business groups cheered the moves, some skeptics were left questioning whether Mr. Trump was keeping his campaign promises to give working-class Americans a higher priority than Wall Street bankers.

“From our perspective, it is a direction that is dramatically backwards on financial stability,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform.

The presidential order asks Mr. Mnuchin to review the tax regulations imposed by President Barack Obama in 2016. Those include efforts to clamp down on “corporate inversions”-- in which American companies merge with foreign companies to take advantage of lower tax rates abroad.

Viewed alone, undoing the rules would appear to be at odds with Mr. Trump’s campaign pledge to reduce incentives for companies to move overseas to minimize taxes.

Last year Mr. Obama’s Treasury Department, concerned about Pfizer’s $152 billion bid to acquire Allergan, which makes Botox, issued rules to thwart the practice. Among those efforts were regulations to prevent moves like “earnings-stripping,” in which an American subsidiary borrows from a parent company and uses the interest payments on the loans to offset its earnings. It was intended to make the financial relocations less attractive.

The uproar over inversions dogged a number of transactions over the last five years including Burger King’s takeover of the Canadian chain Tim Hortons and the drug maker AbbVie’s planned acquisition of an Irish rival, Shire.

But the major target of the outrage was the Pfizer-Allergan deal, by far the biggest effort by a company to give up its American citizenship to cut its taxes. Pfizer executives braced themselves for opposition from the Obama administration-- but were surprised by how aggressively the White House fought the deal. Within a few months, Pfizer and Allergan surrendered and ended their agreement.

Robert Willens, an independent tax consultant, said reversing these rules would be a gift to Wall Street bankers and lawyers who have complained that they have hampered international deal making.

“They’ll be dancing in the streets and jumping for joy,” Mr. Willens said.

...Democrats warned that Mr. Trump was putting vulnerable middle-class Americans in danger. “Simply eliminating these regulations and putting nothing in their place leaves a hole in the tax system that sophisticated corporations will continue to take advantage of, to the detriment of the country,” said David Kamin, a New York University law professor who worked on the Obama administration’s National Economic Council.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, assailed Mr. Trump for trying to undermine rules that were put in place to protect the economy. “Any actions to undermine these protections encourage Wall Street’s risky behavior and leave taxpayers and our economy exposed to another catastrophe,” he said.

Mr. Brown said that Mr. Trump appeared to be breaking a campaign promise by making it easier for companies to use inversions. “We should be working to lower taxes for hardworking families and workers across Ohio, not helping multimillion-dollar corporations cheat the system to avoid paying their fair share,” he said.

Mr. Mnuchin insisted that would not be the case and argued the tax overhaul legislation plan that they would propose will address the problem of companies moving overseas.

Mr. Trump has shown an affinity for tariffs. He proposed a “reciprocal” tax this month that matches the import taxes other countries impose on American goods.

It remains unclear if Mr. Trump is on board with the “border adjustment” tax that is central to the plan being promoted by Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Republicans. The concept would allow Republicans to raise more than $1 trillion of revenue, making it possible for them pass legislation without adding to the deficit.



Mr. Trump has been cool to that plan in interviews, and recently his advisers have been making the case that a surging economy, rather than Mr. Ryan’s border adjustment tax, will pay for deep rate cuts.

“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mr. Mnuchin said an Institute for International Finance conference on Thursday.

Mr. Trump’s economic team had initially set an August deadline to get tax legislation passed, but that target was delayed to the end of the year after Republicans expended time on their failed health plan.

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If The Democratic Party Doesn't Stand For Something, It'll Just Turn Into A Clintonian Mush In A Big Pointless Tent

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As I've been explaining over the last couple of weeks, when Blue America tries to get to know candidates as part of our vetting process, we basically try to understand where they are on the issues involving economic opportunity. Where do they stand on living wage vs minimum wage? How do we achieve universal healthcare? How do we come up with a fair taxation system? But we never even get to those questions if the candidate is anti-Choice, anti-LGBT or unsupportive of racism equality. I hate identity politics but and the reality of divisiveness used for political purposes isn't something you can wish away by burying your head in the sand.

Egged on by a fully corrupt Democratic establishment and donor class fearful of losing ground to the increasingly popular Bernie Sanders and his movement, the media has been trying hard to drum up an internal Democratic Party conflict over "unity." Scratch the surface and who do you find inciting the disunity? The Hillary dead-enders so aptly described in Jonathan Allen's and Amie Parnes' new book Shattered. If you don't want to read the whole book-- I don't blame you-- read Matt Taibbi's review in Rolling Stone. These are the people whose arrogance and incompetence helped pave the way for the worst thing that's happened to America since the Civil War.
What Allen and Parnes captured in Shattered was a far more revealing portrait of the Democratic Party intelligentsia than, say, the WikiLeaks dumps. And while the book is profoundly unflattering to Hillary Clinton, the problem it describes really has nothing to do with Secretary Clinton.

The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.

In fact, it shines through in the book that the voters' need to understand why this or that person is running for office is viewed in Washington as little more than an annoying problem.

In the Clinton run, that problem became such a millstone around the neck of the campaign that staffers began to flirt with the idea of sharing the uninspiring truth with voters. Stumped for months by how to explain why their candidate wanted to be president, Clinton staffers began toying with the idea of seeing how "Because it's her turn" might fly as a public rallying cry.

...Most don't see elections as organic movements within populations of millions, but as dueling contests of "whip-smart" organizers who know how to get the cattle to vote the right way. If someone wins an election, the inevitable Beltway conclusion is that the winner had better puppeteers.


The Clinton campaign in 2016, for instance, never saw the Bernie Sanders campaign as being driven by millions of people who over the course of decades had become dissatisfied with the party. They instead saw one cheap stunt pulled by an illegitimate back-bencher, foolishness that would be ended if Sanders himself could somehow be removed.

"Bill and Hillary had wanted to put [Sanders] down like a junkyard dog early on," Allen and Parnes wrote. The only reason they didn't, they explained, was an irritating chance problem: Sanders "was liked," which meant going negative would backfire.

Hillary had had the same problem with Barack Obama, with whom she and her husband had elected to go heavily negative in 2008, only to see that strategy go very wrong. "It boomeranged," as it's put in Shattered.

The Clinton campaign was convinced that Obama won in 2008 not because he was a better candidate, or buoyed by an electorate that was disgusted with the Iraq War. Obama won, they believed, because he had a better campaign operation-- i.e., better Washingtonian puppeteers. In The Right Stuff terms, Obama's Germans were better than Hillary's Germans.

They were determined not to make the same mistake in 2016. Here, the thought process of campaign chief Robby Mook is described:

"Mook knew that Hillary viewed almost every early decision through a 2008 lens: she thought almost everything her own campaign had done was flawed and everything Obama's had done was pristine."

Since Obama had spent efficiently and Hillary in 2008 had not, this led to spending cutbacks in the 2016 race in crucial areas, including the hiring of outreach staff in states like Michigan. This led to a string of similarly insane self-defeating decisions. As the book puts it, the "obsession with efficiency had come at the cost of broad voter contact in states that would become important battlegrounds."

If the ending to this story were anything other than Donald Trump being elected president, Shattered would be an awesome comedy, like a Kafka novel-- a lunatic bureaucracy devouring itself. But since the ending is the opposite of funny, it will likely be consumed as a cautionary tale.

Shattered is what happens when political parties become too disconnected from their voters. Even if you think the election was stolen, any Democrat who reads this book will come away believing he or she belongs to a party stuck in a profound identity crisis. Trump or no Trump, the Democrats need therapy-- and soon.
These people are petrified that Bernie's revolution is taking over the Democratic Party and they're using their one and only weapon (aside from the corporate cash that keeps them afloat and motivates their existence)-- identity politics-- to fight back. The NY Times' Jonathan Martin, thrilled to emphasize that Bernie "is not even a Democrat," was their stenographer yesterday:
“This is very raw,” said Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, conceding that “after the presidential election, there is still this ongoing debate about identity politics versus economic opportunity.”

Mr. Sanders and the new leadership of the Democratic National Committee touched a party sore spot this week when they took their “Unity Tour” to Omaha to rally for a mayoral candidate who opposes abortion rights. Mr. Sanders, repurposing the themes of his presidential bid, told a crowd of about 6,000 on Thursday night that the candidate, Heath Mello, 37, would be a future star in the Democratic Party who could help break the grip of big money on the nation’s politics.

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a prominent abortion rights advocacy group, called it a betrayal, especially of the women who have fueled the “resistance” that has energized Democrats since Mr. Trump’s unexpected triumph.

“It tells your most active political base that we’re just negotiable political property,” Ms. Hogue said of the statement sent by Mr. Sanders and Representative Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee’s new deputy chairman, who appeared with Mr. Mello. “Since the election, women have been engaged on the front lines of every progressive fight. So what message does it send for the party to start this tour with an anti-choice candidate?”

Mr. Mello, a practicing Catholic, supported a Nebraska State Senate bill requiring that women be informed of their right to request a fetal ultrasound before an abortion. The anger over that position reflects a long-running argument among Democrats over whether, or how much, to support candidates who depart from party orthodoxy on abortion.

But the ferocity of the dispute this time reveals a much deeper debate on the left: Should a commitment to economic justice be the party’s central and dominant appeal, or do candidates also have to display fealty to the Democrats’ cultural catechism?

An Omaha mayoral election on May 9 may seem an unlikely place for this fight to play out, but a collision was inevitable. Despite being the most sought-after Democrat in the country today, Mr. Sanders is actually an independent and self-described democratic socialist animated chiefly by class uplift. But the clamor for his attention comes as the party is increasingly defined by its positions on issues related to race, gender and sexuality.

The wounds from his clash with Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary clearly have yet to heal, in large part because the overarching debate between them has yet to be reconciled.

Mr. Sanders has emerged as the most popular active politician in America, according to a new survey by Harvard University and Harris Insights and Analytics, and his presence is demanded in Democratic campaigns no matter the political tint of the region. Yet his recent moves have infuriated some progressives.

First, Mr. Sanders campaigned with Tom Perriello, the Virginia Democratic candidate for governor who supported some anti-abortion measures during a single term in Congress (though Mr. Perriello has apologized for doing so).

Then Mr. Sanders pointedly declined to campaign for Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running for an open House seat outside Atlanta, deeming him insufficiently populist. (Mr. Sanders issued a statement on Friday offering his support for Mr. Ossoff.) Not only is the Ossoff race the highest-profile campaign of the moment, but the Republican nominee, Karen Handel, is loathed by the abortion rights movement for her role as an official at the Susan G. Komen foundation in separating that group, the nation’s largest breast cancer organization, from Planned Parenthood.

Then Mr. Sanders arrived in Omaha for Mr. Mello, after persuading the Democratic National Committee to make the rally a part of a party-sanctioned tour.

Coming against the backdrop of Mr. Trump’s election and the wave of new, female-led activism in opposition to a leader they believe is a repugnant misogynist, many female progressive leaders are adamant about keeping reproductive rights front and center. And they see the matter of Mr. Mello as an opportunity to send a statement to the party’s leadership.

“It is incredibly important that people within the progressive movement and Democratic Party realize that women are sick of this” stuff, said Erin Matson, a Virginia-based abortion rights activist, “and we’re not going to take it anymore.” (She used a more pungent word than “stuff.”) “What Bernie doesn’t seem to realize,” she added, “is that the abortion rights movement has really bucked up and gotten some tough ovaries in the last couple of years.”

Tom Perez, the party’s newly elected chairman, had been campaigning with Mr. Ossoff in Georgia when Mr. Sanders was in Nebraska. But in interviews leading up to the event, Mr. Perez was unapologetic about supporting Mr. Mello, who has recently said that although he personally opposed abortion, he would uphold abortion rights as mayor.
An aside here-- that's exactly what the dishonest and untrustworthy Perriello told me-- on tape-- to get a Blue America endorsement. And then he stabbed us in the back by voting generally with the Blue Dogs and specifically against Choice.
Yet after the backlash, Mr. Perez retreated. He conducted some quiet diplomacy, telephoning Ms. Hogue and Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, according to Democrats briefed on the calls. Casting aside their efforts at unity, Mr. Perez’s aides blamed Mr. Sanders for the event, putting out word that it had been the senator’s idea to include the rally on the tour and criticizing him for not vetting Mr. Mello.

By Friday afternoon, Mr. Perez had issued a far more strongly worded statement. “I fundamentally disagree with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health,” Mr. Perez said. “It is a promising step that Mello now shares the Democratic Party’s position on women’s fundamental rights. Every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.”

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Perez further toughened his language, saying he respected those Democrats who “have personal beliefs” against abortion rights but warning them not to pursue such policies in office. “If they try to legislate or govern that way, we will take them on,” he said.

Not every liberal sees the issue as so clear-cut. Ms. Weingarten, who was a Clinton supporter, argued that the question of whether to focus on economic justice or social issues was “not an either-or” proposition. The red-and-blue-state tour that Mr. Sanders and the Democratic National Committee officials are on “conveys to the public that the Democratic Party is first and foremost a party of economic opportunity,” she said.
Bingo!
That back-and-forth is an extension of Democrats’ soul-searching after losing an election that they thought they would win. Many Democrats believe that Mrs. Clinton erred by not making economic populism more central to her campaign against Mr. Trump, relying instead on a mix of cultural liberalism and character attacks.

Just as the Republican establishment battled the nascent Tea Party over conservative purity after its 2008 loss, Democrats are enduring internecine strife over what it means to be a progressive.

“Anytime your party is out of power, you face a choice,” said Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist. “Do you want to hunt down heretics or seek out converts?”

Mr. Sanders and his supporters are the ones preaching inclusion, at least on social issues.

“Every single Democrat is not necessarily pro-choice,” said Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator from Cleveland and an ally of Mr. Sanders. “And Democrats need to understand that, and not vilify people because of it.”
Absolutely-- and keeping them out of leadership positions is absolutely essential. They can be anti-Choice if they want to but if they are they can't be nominees of the Democratic Party. Is that so difficult to understand? As I explained the other day, the racists who once dominated the Democratic Party's congressional caucus are no longer welcome, nor should they be, as candidates. The party has to stand for something or it becomes irrelevant.

This morning, addressing this privately, author and native Nebraskan Mike Lux told a large group of activists why he wasn't withdrawing his support from Mello: "One of the hardest things about politics is the contradictions of it. Last year for me was the ultimate example. The issue I have spent more time on than any other in recent years is Wall St reform, because I think it is the financialization of the economy that is at the heart of the 1% having dominion over everyone else. There is no more core issue for me. I also care enormously about peace issues, which are so central to who lives and dies; and to fracking, which is poisoning the water for so many people in this country. Hillary sucked on all of those issues. But she was running against Donald Trump so I dropped everything to go help her in the general election.

"Politics is not pure, it is messy as hell. And progressives sometimes don't get to have completely progressive politicians to support. That is in absolutely no way to diminish the choice issue, it is so important and central. But the incumbent mayor in Omaha is a terrible person, worse than Heath on abortion, much worse on Planned Parenthood and family planning, and dreadful on everything else that matters to people on this list. I don't want to consign the people of Omaha to that awful mayor when there is someone much, much better on most things as the alternative to her."

Yep, "politics is not pure" and its a sign of maturity to deal with it from that perspective. I'm glad Blue America chose to not endorse Heath Mello for mayor (or Tom Perriello for governor) and I find Lux's argument acceptable-- even if it isn't one I'd adopt for myself or advocate for Blue America to adopt.



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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day-- But Not To Señor Trumpanzee And Not To Texas Crackpot Lamar Smith

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Today was the March for Science. It's kind of embarrassing we even need a march like that. But as Bill McKibben wrote in the NY Times this week, The Planet Can't Stand This Presidency. "Trump’s environmental onslaught," he wrote, "will have immediate, dangerous effects... [T]here’s an extra dimension to the environmental damage. What Mr. Trump is trying to do to the planet’s climate will play out over geologic time as well. In fact, it’s time itself that he’s stealing from us. What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating... [E]ven when we vote him out of office, Trumpism will persist, a dark stratum in the planet’s geological history. In some awful sense, his term could last forever."

The Intercept carried a piece today that mentions Micahel Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist, has pioneered computational models based on patterns of the past 600 years of climate changes. He said he marched today because "Science and scientists are now under attack in this country." Mann is one of the favorite targets of climate deniers, particularly the witch-hunter Ryan placed at the head of the House Science Committee, Texas dangerous crackpot Lamar Smith. "When congressional Republicans are denying basic science,” Mann said, “and the Trump administration-- run largely by polluting interests-- is trying to revoke policies to protect our health and our environment, more than ever we need to hear the voices of scientists, loudly and clearly."

That lunatic freak and earth-wide villain Grand Inquisitor Lamar Smith issued a statement today-- dripping in irony: "I support the right of science supporters to gather and march this weekend. Opening new frontiers of scientific knowledge, on Earth and beyond, will pave the way to a better, more secure future for the next generation. I will continue to support scientific research that furthers our national interest and is of the highest intellectual merit. In the last few months, the Science Committee has enacted three bills that highlight this commitment: the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017, and the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017. The Committee also has worked to help ensure new opportunities for the next generation of scientists and engineers by enacting the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act. I look forward to continuing to promote scientific integrity and a healthy, transparent and vibrant research and technology environment in the United States." Smith is ceratinly among the most dangerous and harmful dozen members of Congress. Please help Tom Wakely replace him as the representative for TX-21.

After we saw Smith's statement we called Tom and asked him what he could make of it. He told us that Smith "never ceases to amaze and astound" him. "The press release he sent out today in response to the March for Science, is nothing more than a meager attempt to portray himself as 'pro-women.' By supporting the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act he is hoping his constituents will forget how he really feels about women. His support of these two bills  belie the fact that he has consistently, over his thirty year career in Congress, voted against women. He voted NO on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood. As far as his anti-science schtick goes, his policy positions and statements are not only wrong-headed but extremely dangerous. Lamar seems to relish in the thought that by turning back the clock we will somehow be the better for it. Maybe he thinks if we all smoked a little from the Mary Baker Eddy Christian Science pipe we would see the world as he does. This man represents the Texas we all want to forget, the Texas that has consistently been found by the federal courts to discriminate against minorities. I truly believe that Smith wants to return to the days of 'no dogs, no Mexicans allowed' and to days where teaching evolution in our schools was a crime."

This morning cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff explained to his followers that "the enormous role played by science-- especially government-sponsored science-- in our everyday lives is barely appreciated." Trump and Trumpists are at war with Science. They have to be stopped.
Start with modern medicine. We, the public, paid for it through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and research universities where the medical researchers, surgeons, doctors and nurses were trained, and where tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) developed. Modern drugs were also developed through basic research sponsored by NIH. Modern medicine is the dividend of our investment over decades in medical science.

Next, computers. Computer science didn’t just appear. It was developed through grants from National Science Foundation (NSF) and Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARP). The Internet was developed by the Defense Department. It was originally called the Arpanet. Satellites were developed through NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Defense Department, with vast amount of new science: rocket fuels, physics, new materials for rocket shells, advances in radio communication, and aerial photography.

Cell phones and GPS systems depend on a system of satellites run by the Defense Department, with four satellites accessible from any point on earth, electromagnetic waves traveling at the speed of light and requiring the physics of relativity, and switching equipment able to receive and pass on signals within nanoseconds-- billionths of a second. A millionth of a second off and your cellphone call is hundreds of miles off. Cellphones are required by business all over the world. American science is supporting not just personal communication but the economy of the world!

And then there is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): No more ozone hole. No more acid rain. The air in Los Angeles is very much cleaner than it used to be. The EPA’s information is valuable beyond measure.

It has scientifically measured and tracked lead in the water -- not just in Flint, but in many cities. It has measured mercury levels in the oceans and in fish. It has alerted us to the effects of global heating, effects that arise from the systemic complexities of the global ecology. Effects like droughts, floods, monster storms, and extreme temperatures. It has monitored poisons in our air and water put there by corporations that have been irresponsible, greedy, and just plain inefficient and careless. Those poisons threaten our food supply because they kill bees that are responsible for 1/3 of our food supply. Mercury in our oceans makes many fish dangerous to eat.

EPA regulations issued and, until recently, enforced, are all that affords us protections from man-made poisons. Every regulation eliminated is a major loss of protections for the public. The administration’s plan for eliminating regulations would wipe out most protections from poisons and other threats.

The Defense Department has issued a report that cites global heating via the use of oil, gas, and coal as a major national security threat. Why? Droughts, and oil, and rising seas start wars. Global heating is matter of life and death in all sorts of ways. It is the moral crisis of our age. Reversing it requires science more than ever!

The positive effects of science on our lives are everywhere. And the needs for more and more responsible science are also everywhere.

Notice science!

And how it has made possible so much of contemporary American life.

Then march for science-- because it is under political threat like never before.



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Chaffetz and Nunes-- Which One Is Heading For Disgrace And Which For A Job At Fox?

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I couldn't make it to Visalia for the anti-devon Nunes town hall at the College of the Sequoias on Wednesday. (Good excuse-- I had to spend the day at City of Hope working with my doctor on a marijuana protocol for the chronic cough that got left behind after a post-stem cell replacement operation bout of pneumonia. All these medicines aren't working; marijuana oil is.) Anyway... good people don't use marijuana but I missed the Nunes-without-Nunes shindig. About 150 people did show up, constituents according to them but "a bunch of left-wing activists" according to Nunes. They invited him to the event and he replied by insulting them. He claimed the event was designed to make him look bad, but could anyone have made him look as bad as Trump already has?
“We aren’t here to scream at him,” said Natasha Moiseyev of Central Valley Indivisible, one of the organizers. “It’s not a fringe left gathering of crazies. We want to get the facts out and speak respectfully. We are dying for a conversation. We have questions and we would like answers.”


...The event was hosted by Together We Will-- Fresno/Central Valley and Central Valley Indivisible, and the costs were covered by Health Access California, according to organizers.

Organizers asked speakers to announce their ZIP codes to show that they lived in Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District.

The format Wednesday consisted of presentations-- including mention of Nunes’ voting record and public statements-- about health care, immigration and government transparency and accountability, followed by questions and statements from people in the audience.

Marsha Comant of Fresno, a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said if Nunes were there she’d tell him “people in the district without health care will die. This is my question: Do you not care?”

Celeste Cook, 63, a retired teacher from Visalia, led a brief chant of “Not Nunes” as the elected representative in Congress.

Some of the most emotional moments came from advocates of immigration law reform for so-called Dreamers-- young adults brought to the United States as children-- to get legalized.

“These are some the hardest working, most bright people I’ve ever met,” said Alexander Flores, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate in English literature. “They’re scared ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will arrest them.” He said he’d say to Nunes, “Will you protect my friends? Will you protect my community from being torn apart?”

Jose Sigala, a Tulare City Council member elected in November, said the event demonstrates that town hall meetings are needed in a democracy.

“I am excited about the momentum that has developed to hold our elected officials accountable,” he said.

But getting support for them from fellow elected officials can be hard, he said. Sigala said he asked the Tulare council to put on its agenda an item about sending a letter asking Nunes to hold a town hall in his hometown. The council split 2-2, with one absent, so the topic won’t be on the agenda.

Republicans have largely avoided town hall meetings on recent visits home. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, for instance, held one-on-one meetings in Hanford with constituents.

The 22nd Congressional district that Nunes represents includes Tulare, Visalia, Reedley, Clovis and part of Fresno. It’s considered a safe Republican district with 43-33 percent Republican to Democratic registration.

Last year, Nunes won re-election last year with 68 percent of the vote. He was first elected to Congress in 2002.

He’s been in the national news lately as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a strong supporter of President Donald Trump. But he stepped aside from a probe of alleged Russian interference in the presidential election amid intense criticism over his late-night visit to the White House to review purported intelligence documents with the assistance of White House staff.

Retired music teacher Carole Greening of Visalia said she attended the town hall event to send him a message.

“I want him representing the ordinary people,” she said. “He’s in Washington representing the richest people in our area. He goes where the money is. We’re the people in his district. He needs to pay attention to us.”
It's Pelosi's dogged policy to not allow the DCCC to challenge Republican House leaders or committee chairs and Nunes has never had a serious challenge for reelection. Younger fed up Democrats in Congress are working to make sure than regardless of Pelosi's bullshit, Nunes will have a challenge in 2018. Another top candidate for Democratic ire was Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), but as you know, he announced this week that he won't be seeking reelection and then said he's thinking of resigning altogether. Wants to spend more time with the family! That usually needs something's up. Yesterday, the Deseret News set tongues in Salt Lake City and DC wagging... if you could get beyond the GOP propaganda in the first couple of paragraphs. The infamous Chaffetz town-hall in Cottonwood Heights, engineered by Chaffetz to be as far from the heart of his district and as close to leftists as he could get, included protesters "masked and dressed in black. They worried Chaffetz most. They carried guns and, he would later learn, were prowling the parking lot trying to find his car." This is the substitute most Americans get instead of actual journalism.
[H]e parlayed his rising visibility into a chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he used to go after Planned Parenthood, Hillary Clinton and other favorite punching bags of the right. He became the most high-profile antagonist of the Obama administration, the tormentor-in-chief, and in the final weeks of the campaign he vowed that he would continue to investigate Clinton for using an unclassified email server, improperly staffing the embassy in Benghazi, and any other possible crimes, whether she won re-election or not.

Then Donald Trump got elected and everything changed.

“Trump getting elected was the worst possible thing for him,” says one Utah political insider. “Under a Hillary Clinton presidency, he would have had a nightly gig on Fox News. It would have been Crooked Hillary every night. Instead he got Trump.”

Had Clinton won, Chaffetz would have used the platform to attack the administration at every turn, the subpoena power literally resting in the pen in his pocket. But now, he was suddenly limited by demands to play team ball for a team that was already struggling, fumbling health care right out of the gate. And whatever Trump and the fractious House Republicans did, he would be held accountable, even though he would have little control.

And if the town hall was any indication, he was already being held accountable for his team’s performance. His approval rating in the 3rd District had dropped by 14 points since the election, according to an April Dan Jones and Associates poll.

Money, mostly from out-of-state, had started to pour in for a Democratic challenger with no political experience named Kathryn Allen. Allen had only raised $20,000 in an exploratory account and then her campaign went viral when Chaffetz went on CNN in early March and made one of his most embarrassing gaffes trying to sell the Republican overhaul of Obamacare.

"Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice," he said. "So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” In less than a week, Allen’s campaign war chest had skyrocketed to $410,000.

It’s unlikely Allen or any Democrat would have beaten Chaffetz, who still had a 72 percent approval rating in his district, but the amount of money Allen had raised suggested that for the first time since his election, Chaffetz would actually have to campaign and spend a good chunk of the next year aggressively fundraising, a chore he’s never enjoyed. The campaign could get costly, loud and bruising. And for someone who had much greater ambitions than the House, it could do lasting damage to his brand.

Chaffetz says the decision not to run came down to family, and there’s no doubt that was a factor. His wife, Julie, always made a point of never complaining, never being an obstacle to his aspirations, insiders say, but the strain and isolation were wearing on her, and Chaffetz said it was time for him to spend more time with family now that he and Julie were nearly empty nesters.

Among political insiders in Utah and Washington, there was widespread speculation Thursday that Chaffetz was stepping down because of a scandal, and that word of his resignation was imminent. Chaffetz told Politico news of a scandal was “absolutely, positively not” true.

“Not in any way, shape or form,” he told Politico. “I’ve been given more enemas by more people over the last eight years than you can possibly imagine. From the Secret Service to the Democratic Party. I am who I am. If they had something really scandalous, it would’ve come out a long, long time ago.”

And yet, it’s hard to imagine Chaffetz truly stepping away from the spotlight. This is a man who appears on TV so willingly and so often he carries two earpieces with him for live interviews and has the names of Fox News hosts programmed into his phone. As the New York Times recently put it, he practically rushes “toward television cameras with an eager smile.”

Chaffetz’s announcement came the same day Fox News announced it was severing ties with Bill O’Reilly, its most popular host. When asked Wednesday about rumors Fox has offered Chaffetz a hosting gig, he demurred. “None of that can come to fruition until you actually go forward and make this announcement,” Chaffetz said. “Then you can pursue what these opportunities might be.”

Chaffetz hasn’t revealed how long he's going to stay in office, but he probably won’t remain chairman of his committee. A Fox hosting gig would be lucrative-- Sean Hannity makes many millions each year-- and it would provide Chaffetz the sort of platform he had on the committee during the Obama years but with an even wider audience. By 2020 he’d be perfectly poised to run for office again. Already the page for jasoninthehouse.com redirects to jasonforgovernor.com. And that might not be the full extent of Chaffetz’s ambitions. Two weeks ago, Chaffetz’s campaign committee registered domains for a possible presidential run: jason2028.com and jasonchaffetz2028.com.

It’s unlikely this is the end of Jason Chaffetz’s political career, but if his abrupt announcement is a pivot to something bigger and better, what is it? More importantly, how and why did someone so ambitious walk away from one of the most high-profile positions in American politics?

A month or so before Chaffetz announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, he was in Washington on his way to dinner with two reporters. He checked his phone, where he keeps apps for his favorite restaurants: McDonald’s, Dominos and Five Guys. Tonight, he wanted Five Guys. The apps sped things up, he explained, at least in theory. He could order his favorite burger while his press secretary, MJ Henshaw, drove. The apps also saved money. He was always finding deals on the McDonald’s app.

Except tonight the apps weren’t working, and Chaffetz was getting mildly annoyed. As Henshaw slowed for a motorcade of blacked out SUVs, Chaffetz looked up.

“Looks like Mike Pence,” he said. “We love Mike Pence.”

“Would you rather Pence were president?” a reporter in the back seat asked.

Chaffetz nervously chuckled and changed the subject.

At Five Guys, Chaffetz ordered a burger and a jumbo-sized carton of fries and tucked his large frame into a small corner table. He talked with great enthusiasm about how much he loved fast food and how often he ate out of vending machines. He ate out of the one in the basement of his office in the Rayburn Building so often he had the number memorized for his favorite Hostess cupcakes.

Chaffetz seems determined to push the image of the everyman, the guy who eats out of vending machines and drives a truck, even though he lives in one of the most expensive zip codes in Utah and wears camo not to hunt, but to take pictures of wildlife. Every politician has an image, a brand they’d like to push, and this is Chaffetz’s: the tightwad congressman who sleeps on a cot to save his constituents money (even though it actually saves him money). The cot has become his most reliable prop in self-branding, and it still comes up in pretty much every profile written about him, but the thing is, it’s actually uncomfortable, and he said he’s getting a little tired of sleeping on it.

“I’m turning 50 and I’m sleeping on a cot,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life.”

Chaffetz seemed constrained by the image he’d created for himself. If he was governor, he could sleep in his own bed.

“I say I’m a definite maybe,” Chaffetz said of running for governor. “You also think about when you hang up the cleats, too. I’m not a lifer. I’m just not.”

It had become clear to him he would have a hard time rising any higher in the House. Two years before, he’d thrown his hat in the ring for speaker, testing the water and he got crickets.

He seemed wistful when asked if another run for speaker was in the cards, as if he wanted it, but couldn’t imagine it happening.

“I don’t know how I would get from here to there,” he said. “I would have to do some things that are very hard. And I’m up for hard and difficult, but I would have to be a prolific fundraiser. That’s part of it. Never say never, but only a handful of people in the nation have ever been able to pull that off. It’s harder than anybody thinks.”

Chaffetz was also struggling to find his footing as oversight chairman in a Republican administration. “I think most people, including myself, expect me to hold the Trump administration to the same high standard, of course they do.”

He pointed out that he had, in fact, opened a number of inquiries into the Trump administration, including Trump’s lease of the Old Post Office building (which Trump turned in to a Trump hotel), and Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, but he’d left most of the heavy lifting on possible collusion with the Russians to the House Intelligence Committee, which had frustrated the Democrat Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the oversight committee.


“When it comes to Russian interference issues, it’s hard for me to tell whether it's his own beliefs that he should not look into that too deeply, or whether that is also coming from higher-ups. I don’t know. I can’t tell,” Cummings said. “… We’ve sent all types of letters to Chaffetz trying to get him to join in on the various things. And he says he wants to wait to see if something is going to go wrong. I keep telling them, I say, ‘Chaffetz, you keep saying we will cross that bridge when we get to it, and as each little thing happens, I keep telling them, we’re on the bridge.’”

Tom Davis, who chaired the oversight committee during the George W. Bush administration, said the very nature of the chairmanship was political, and there was no way Chaffetz could avoid it. “Your job is to over-investigate when the other party is in power and under-investigate when your party is in power,” Davis says. “Part of his job is to protect the quarterback.”

Gowdy, a fellow member of oversight committee, agreed with Davis. If Chaffetz got too aggressive to appease the Do Your Job! crowd back home, his party could turn on him, Davis said.

Chaffetz shook his head when he heard this.

“No, heaven’s no,” he says. “The quickest way to lose all the credibility I’ve built over eight years is to give Donald Trump a pass. That’s not my job... We need to call balls and strikes as we see them.”

...The last three times one party held the Senate, House and presidency, they lost in the midterms, and if history holds, that may happen again.

If Democrats were to take the House, Chaffetz would have been reduced to ranking member on the oversight committee, playing the role of foil and defender for Trump, but mostly having to go along with a committee now doing to the bidding of Democrats who would like nothing more than to see Trump lose re-election, or face impeachment.

By getting out now, Chaffetz clears the path for other Republicans to run in the 3rd District, and by making it clear he won’t run for Senate either, donors can decide if they want to bet on Hatch for one more term, or back Mitt Romney, who is being pushed to enter the race.

Politically, at least, Chaffetz’s most likely path seems the governorship. “My guess is he wants to start rebuilding a base for (governor) in 2020,” a Utah political heavyweight says. “No member of Congress has been elected Utah governor in recent years-- maybe ever-- though many have tried. His PR instincts probably tell him that he can't be seen as coming straight from Congress, therefore some distancing before things get serious.”

Despite the public hectoring Chaffetz got at the town hall, the death threats, the zingers from late night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live writers, conventional wisdom is that he’d have a good shot of winning in a race for Utah governor, even against Josh Romney, who some see as inexperienced and unqualified. While Chaffetz was initially seen as a policy lightweight, more interested in attention than actually getting anything done, that perception has changed, and he’s now seen as a serious politician with a strong grasp of policy.

“I had initially been pretty skeptical of him,” said someone in the governor’s office who requested anonymity. “But I’ve become very impressed. He’s very intelligent and articulate.”

Then again, maybe Chaffetz is serious about a return to the private sector. On Thursday afternoon, rumors circulated he planned to announce his retirement, and he told Politico he’d already started looking for a job, hoping to “link up with a television network.”

“I started poking around to see what I might be worth and what sort of possibilities are there,” Chaffetz said. “And I got a series of ‘Let us know when you’re serious.’ Well now I can say, ‘Can you tell I am serious?’”

Perhaps a Fox deal is already in hand. Joe Scarborough left Congress to become a TV host at MSNBC, and it didn’t kill his political career. As recently as the last election, his name was floated as a potential vice presidential candidate for the Trump ticket.

As for when Chaffetz might leave Congress, only he knows.

“I might depart early. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next week," he told Politico. "If it is, it’s going to be in the months to come.”

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