Roger Stone to Alex on Infowars: “I’m Jonesing to appear before the committee.’



Good day Austin

Let’s start with Marlanna VanHoose singing the National Anthem at President Trump’s rally last night in Louisville, Kentucky.


OK. Now to the news.

The House Intelligence Committee opened hearings yesterday on ties between Russia and the Trump administration with testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, and a lot of Democratic interest in Roger Stone.

From Maggie Haberman at the New York Times:

In President Trump’s oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants — a loyalist and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years.

But two months into the Trump presidency, Mr. Stone, known for his pinstripe suits, the Nixon tattoo spanning his shoulder blades, and decades of outlandish statements, is under investigation for what would be his dirtiest trick — colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.

At a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, Democrats pressed James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I., for information on Mr. Stone. Asked by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, a Democrat, if he was familiar with Mr. Stone, Mr. Comey replied tersely, “Generally, yes,” before saying he could not discuss any specific person.

Mr. Stone, 64, is the best known of the Trump associates under scrutiny as part of an F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference in the election. John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks, accused him in October of having advance warning of the hacks, which the intelligence community has concluded were orchestrated by Russia.

“Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Mr. Stone had mused on Twitter before Mr. Podesta’s emails were released.

When Mr. Schiff asked Mr. Comey at the House hearing how Mr. Stone could have known that Mr. Podesta’s emails were going to be released, the F.B.I. director again refused to answer. “That’s not something I can comment on,” Mr. Comey replied.

Mr. Stone has denied advance knowledge of the hacks or any involvement with the Russians. But his public statements have given investigators a focal point to consider.

Before the Podesta emails were released, Mr. Stone said in a speech that he had “communicated with” Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder — whom he has defended for years — and that he had a large trove of material on the Clintons that he would publish shortly before the election. He has acknowledged having communicated over Twitter with the online persona Guccifer 2.0, who American officials believe is a front for Russian intelligence officials. And there was the Podesta tweet.

Mr. Stone has said the timeline of his “benign” contacts with Guccifer 2.0 — “who may or not be a Russian asset,” he insisted — disprove claims of collusion. His communication with Mr. Assange, Mr. Stone has said, was through an intermediary and was “perfectly legal.” The Podesta tweet, Mr. Stone said, referred to information in an article Mr. Stone wrote that was published two months later, not any emails.

Now under scrutiny by both F.B.I. and Senate investigators, Mr. Stone has hired two lawyers to represent him. But in an interview, Mr. Stone maintained that this was “a scandal with no evidence.”

Stone responded as the hearing was going on via Twitter.
And, at far greater length, on his home away from home – the Alex Jones Show.

“There’s only one way to solve this,” Stone told Jones. ‘Mano a mano.”





Stone’s appearance with Alex Jones came amid a full-scale Jones counteroffensive against Trump’s enemies in the Deep State.

From Media Matters for America:

In order to back President Donald Trump’s false allegation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, fringe outlets and fake news purveyors — along with some right-wing media — are hyping a claim from Infowars’ Jerome Corsi and Alex Jones that supposedly reveals National Security Agency (NSA) documents that show Trump was spied on for years. Corsi and the “sources” he and Jones rely on have been major proponents of the debunked myth that Obama’s birth certificate is fake.

Infowars Claims Supposed New NSA Documents Show Agency Spied On Trump

Alex Jones: “BREAKING! Documents Show Obama Surveilled Entire Trump Family For 8 Years.” Infowars host Alex Jones claimed that Infowars had gotten a “law enforcement NSA database” that shows Trump “being surveilled by Obama, previous to even running for the presidency” and the surveillance also included “spying on the Trump kids, Trump wife, particular interest in the Trumps’ daughter.” Jones, who worried about being “SWAT team readied any minute” for his claim, also said that sources included “outgoing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” From the March 19 edition of Genesis Communications Network’s The Alex Jones Show:

Oh, and this from Media Matters on Friday: Donald Trump Jr. Liked Alex Jones Tweet Claiming That Obama Used British Intelligence To Spy On President Trump


Jones suggests he has multiple private phone numbers for Trump, though there is one – the ultimate one – he’s so far  been too scared to use.



If the Trump White House has, or develops, a bunker mentality, I think it’s fair to say, that bunker is right here at the Infowars studio in South Austin.

From the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza’s encounter with Stone at the Trump Inauguration.

Stone is intelligent and witty, and it is often jarring to listen to him as he turns from a sober analysis of politics to bizarre conspiracy theories. He is a frequent guest on Alex Jones’s Infowars radio show, where he recently alleged that he was poisoned by unspecified enemies in the “deep state,” his term for American intelligence operatives. He told me that the C.I.A. invented the allegations of Russian hacking and an influence campaign to help elect Trump directed by Vladimir Putin because the agency wanted to go to war in Syria.

“The C.I.A. has their assessment,” he said, emphasizing the last word. “Assessment means guess. The President-elect hasn’t been shown proof because there’s no proof to be shown. The deep state needs to get over it. Their candidate lost. They wanted a wider proxy war in Syria, and Trump is not for war. He is for détente.”

One of Stone’s great talents over the years has been his ability to project an aura of influence. Jacob Weisberg, whose profile of him, in The New Republic, in 1985, branded Stone “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball,” wrote last year, “Stone was less power player than con artist. He cultivated a reputation for being a bad boy, playing dirty tricks and crossing ethical lines. In practice, so far as I could tell, he was mostly shaking down his clients, who paid him a lot of money based on the largely false impression that he had real influence.”

Stone’s penchant for exaggerating his role in political events may be what got him in trouble.

As Stone told me last fall – in reference to Alex Jones –  “Let’s go back to Stone’s Rules – the only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring. The guy’s never boring.”

Ditto, in spades, for Stone himself.

A warning to Democrats on the Intelligence Committee.

Tangle with Stone at your peril.

He is endlessly engaging, will make brilliant theater, and, there is a danger that if they pin the rap on Stone and Stone alone (or even Stone and Paul Manafort), America will have to come to terms with the proposition that Roger Stone single-handedly manipulated the 2016 election to elect his thoroughly uncooperative and unpresentable candidate president, which would be too much for a big, proud nation to bear and seems a pretension too far even for the supremely self-confident Stone.

As Stone told Haberman on Sunday, “Don’t confuse Roger Stone with the character I play.”

Think the Joker.



















From the Alex Jones show last Wednesday.

And, then there was the previous assassination attempt in January, as reported on Infowars on Jan. 17.

‘I was poisoned with, they now say, a substance that may have been polonium or had the characteristics of polonium. This made me exceedingly ill. The conjecture of all the doctors was that I did not receive a large enough dose to kill me, but I have never been this ill.”

Polonium-210 is a radioactive substance that releases extremely harmful alpha particles throughout the body producing cancer-causing free radicals. It has been used in numerous high profile assassinations, including that of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, and was suspected in the death of former PLO leader Yassar Arafat.

Meanwhile, just around the bend, at The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow, it appears, is being driven mad by he Trump-Russia connection and, more broadly, by Trump.

Maddow has her personal ticks, what Jack Shafer at Politico described as the “maddening community theater dramatics she brings to every show—the eye-rolling, the sarcasm, the faux earnestness, the annoyingly conversational style that assumes that you’re a passenger on her news bus.”

But watch her here drag her Oxford Ph.D into a conspiracy thicket that, the mirror image of Jones’ own, won’t be satisfied until Trump is undone and gone.

Watch it, but in short, Maddow recounts the history of the United State developing the atomic bomb and dropping two of them on Japanese cities. But if you think Maddow is going to express some liberal misgivings about the United States being the only nation to have deployed nuclear weapons, you would be wrong.

What is upsetting Maddow is that the United States lost its sole claim to the bomb, because of internal subversion, that a theoretical physicist and atomic spy named Klaus Fuchs sold us out, costing us our nuclear hegemony, and elevating the Soviet Union at our expense, and that history is repeating itself, with witting agents of Russian influence – the likes of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and, per chance, Donald Trump – once again selling us down the river.

Once again, the Russians had help from inside America to humble America.

Maddow cites a January Washington Post story by David Ignatius.

Last February, a top Russian cyber official told a security conference in Moscow that Russia was working on new strategies for the “information arena” that would be equivalent to testing a nuclear bomb and would “allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”

Andrey Krutskikh, a senior Kremlin adviser, made the startling comments at the Russian national information security forum, or “Infoforum 2016,” held Feb. 4 and 5. His remarks were transcribed by a Russian who attended the gathering and translated for me by an independent European cyber expert

Krutskikh’s comments are important because they may help explain the radical strategic doctrine that underlies Russia’s hacking and attempted manipulation of the 2016 presidential campaign in America, as well as Russian political subversion in Europe. His title is “special representative of the president for international cooperation in the field of information security.”

A senior Obama administration official described Krutskikh as a “senior-level adviser” to President Vladimir Putin and “a long-standing player in cyber issues” at the foreign ministry. The official said he couldn’t confirm the details of Krutskikh’s remarks, but that “they sound like something Andrey would say.”

According to notes of Krutskikh’s speech, he told his Russian audience: “You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President Harry] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing.”

Krutskikh continued, “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”

Putin’s cyber adviser stressed to the Moscow audience the importance for Russia of having a strong hand in this new domain. If Russia is weak, he explained, “it must behave hypocritically and search for compromises. But once it becomes strong, it will dictate to the Western partners [the United States and its allies] from the position of power.”

Fine. But Maddow already seems persuaded that Trump and Co. are Moscow’s useful idiots and covert agents, and, wondered, as she did a couple of times last night, why the Trump administration is still accorded any legitimacy.

“It’s weird they still get to do stuff,” Maddow said.

Like nominate a Supreme Court justice.

Why, she asked, are Democratic senators dignifying that proceeding by showing up at the confirmation hearing.

Well, I guess this is to be expected from a committed Russophobe.

But Maddow was not always so worried about the Russian bear.

When Mitt Romney was widely mocked for suggesting during the 2012 presidential campaign, that Russa was our “number one geopolitical foe,” Maddow joined in the mocking.

From the Rachel Maddow blog on Feb. 23, 2012: Romney doesn’t know how to fake foreign policy acumen

Two years later, Romney isn’t done pretending he deserves a seat at the big-kids’ table. After President Obama signaled yesterday his intention to negotiate with Russia on missile defense in a second term, the former governor was indignant.

The key quote in the clip was Romney arguing, in reference to Russia, “[T]his is without question our number one geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world’s worst actors, the idea that [President Obama] has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.”

For one thing, Obama didn’t talk about more flexibility for Russia; he talked about more flexibility for himself, urging Russian leaders to be patient until after the election season. There’s a big difference between the two.

For another, calling Russia the nation’s “number one geopolitical foe” has renewed a debate over whether Romney understands these issues as well as he thinks he does.

The Democratic National Committee, for example, distributed this statement from former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig:

“Governor Romney offered his judgment today that Russia is our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. This conclusion, as outdated as his ideas on the economy, energy needs, and social issues, is left over from the last century. Does Governor Romney believe that a Cold War foreign policy is the right course in the twenty-first century? Does he believe that Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than terrorism, or cyberwarfare, or a nuclear-armed and erratic North Korea?

And then there was the debacle of Maddow’s much-hyped release last week of two pages of Trump’s tax returns from 2005 (most likely a gift from Trump or a Trump friendly), which proved that, lo and behold, at least that one year, Trump made a lot of money and paid a lot in taxes.

From Sonny Bunch, executive editor of the Washington Free Beacon writing in the Washington Post.

At some point during Rachel Maddow’s rambling monologue at the start of her show last night—which she had teased on Twitter hours before would reveal “Trump tax returns”—I realized that we weren’t watching a news broadcast so much as a modern recreation of X’s monologue from Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”

You remember the scene: A retired intelligence operative known only as X (Donald Sutherland) meets with Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orleans district attorney who hopes to solve the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by proving a conspiracy existed to have him killed. X, his monologue performed over documentary and newsreel clips, hopes to help Garrison by showing him how the dots all connect.

The comparison first flashed to mind as Maddow was running through the history of presidents releasing their taxes. “When Richard Nixon said ‘I’m not a crook,’ he wasn’t talking about Watergate, he was talking about his taxes,” Maddow explained. “And, in fact, he was kind of a crook on his taxes. He handed them over in 1973. In April, 1974, the IRS ordered him to pay almost a half million dollars in back taxes. … Donald Trump’s opponent in the presidential campaign this past year, Hillary Clinton, she released every year of her tax returns back to 1977. But Donald Trump refused to release any.”

While walking through Washington, D.C., X provides a similar history lesson, taking us through America’s postwar undercover successes (“Italy ’48 stealing elections, France ’49 breaking strikes—we overthrew Quirino in the Philippines, Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran. Vietnam in ’54, Indonesia ’58, Tibet ’59 we got the Dalai Lama out—we were good, very good.”) before getting to the big failures that began in the 1960s (“Then we got into Cuba. Not so good.”). X doesn’t have any proof that the dreaded military-industrial complex had JFK killed, but he does have a lot of coincidences. X’s own odd reassignment before JFK’s Dallas trip, an order given to the local military chief to “stand down” and not supplement the Secret Service, the fact that newspapers knew a great deal of Lee Harvey Oswald’s history: It all adds up, you see.

But what does it add up to? Who benefits? Cui bono? That’s the question and the answer seems obvious, at least to X: “You know how many helicopters have been lost in Vietnam? About three thousand so far. Who makes them? Bell Helicopter. Who owns Bell? Bell was near bankruptcy when the First National Bank of Boston approached the CIA about developing the helicopter for Indochina usage. How ’bout the f-111 fighters? General Dynamics in Fort Worth. Who owns that? Find out the defense budget since the war began. $75 going on a hundred billion … $200 billion’ll be spent before it ends. In 1950 it was $13 billion. No war, no money.”

Follow the money! Always follow the money. It is in this money-following that we saw shades of X in Maddow last night. For 19 minutes she showed us just how deep the rabbit hole goes, highlighting a real-estate transaction in which a Russian paid Trump $100 million for an estate that Trump had purchased for just $40 million.

“If this wasn’t just some Russian oligarch dumping almost $60 million into Donald Trump’s pocket for no discernible reason, couldn’t Trump tax returns clear that up? Wouldn’t Trump’s taxes show whatever reasonable real estate inflow and outflow might explain what otherwise really does look like a bizarre dump of tens of millions of dollars of Russian money into Donald Trump’s coffers? Right at a time when Donald Trump owed tens of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Bank was breathing down his neck to get it. That Russian oligarch who spent all that money on that property and never moved into it and ultimately tore it down—he’s also a large shareholder in a bank called the Bank of Cyprus which has been implicated in Russian money laundering. The chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is the former CEO of Deutsche Bank to which Donald Trump owed all that money at the time he conveniently got this very large influx of cash from a Russian guy. The vice chairman of that bank until recently was our new secretary of commerce, long time Trump friend Wilbur Ross.”

As in X’s monologue, Maddow’s coincidences pile up relentlessly, remorselessly. You sit there, overwhelmed by it all, processing, trying to pick apart just why this is nonsense but having a tough time of it because every individual datum is accurate. This is how conspiracy theorists operate: bury your opponent in an avalanche of facts and suggest there’s some secret connecting them all together, a Rosetta Stone you’re on the verge of deciphering.

I’ll let Stephen Colbert close out today’s First Reading.


Of inaugural black tie and boots – ostrich leg for Lt. Gov. Patrick and crocodile for Gov. Abbott



Good morning Austin:

Tomorrow is the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Tonight is the Texas Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, which describes itself as a “waterfront resort destination on the banks of the Potomac River,” just far enough south of D.C. to be inconvenient. It is plush with restaurants and stores, and there is a very large Ferris wheel – the Capital Wheel – “that takes riders up to 180 feet into the air, giving them great views of DC and the Potomac River.”

I am thinking that observing the transition of power from President Barack Obama to President Donald Trump from the Capital Wheel may be the way to go, offering just the right surreal – or SirFerrisWheel – distance.

I would probably go with the VIP Experience.

If you are looking for an exceptional experience, The Capital Wheel’s National Harbor One
(the VIP gondola) 
provides an especially luxurious ride with its leather bucket seats,
glass floor. National Harbor One can accommodate up to four riders. VIP tickets at
$50 per rider
allow you to step right to the head of the line, and a photo package
(a $20 value)  
is included, too!


Paying to “step right to the head of the line,” is, of course, what’s wrong with Washington, especially in the new Age of Jackson.

From a report on Trump’s day yesterday from Maggie Haberman in the New York Times:

Mr. Trump said that people compared his success to the popular movement that put Andrew Jackson in the White House.

“There hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson,” Mr. Trump quoted his admirers saying. “Andrew Jackson? What year was Andrew Jackson? That was a long time ago.”

Mr. Trump then gave the year — 1828 — and went on to suggest that his own nationalist movement had usurped Mr. Jackson’s.

He said that even “the haters” who disliked him called his movement “unprecedented.”

It is an open question which is the tougher ticket – the inauguration or Black Tie & Boots, the latter being modestly smaller, with only some 10,000 or 11,000 people.

“The event is larger than the Republican State Convention so bring your A game,” Gov. Greg Abbott said yesterday.

We pause here so you can watch a little ad for the event brought to you by Luchesse Boots and U.S. Rep. Roger Williams who, in addition to being a Republican congressman from Austin, is also president of the Texas State Society of Washington, D.C., sponsors of the 10th Quadrennial Black Tie & Boots Presidential Inaugural Ball.

The entertainment includes Cody Canada and the Departed, the Crawford Pirate Band, Texas State University Strutters, the Lil’ Wranglers, and, my favorite, the Kilgore College Rangerettes.

“I’ll wear black crocodile boots with the seal of Texas on them,” said Abbott, who said he has three pairs of black boots and three pairs of brown boots.


For Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, it’s black ostrich leg boots, off the shelf, Luchesse, that have the Texas seal on them.


“Everybody loves to be a Texan,” Patrick said.

Black Tie & Boots, “gives everyone a chance.”

I have been told by people, let’s just say close to the administration, that said, `Look, this is THE  ball. This is just it. There are other balls, there is the Liberty Ball, the balls the night of the Inauguration, but this is it.

Patrick, his wife, their son and daughter and respective spouses, are staying at the Gaylord.

Abbott and his wife Cecilia are staying steps away at the Westin Washington National Harbor.

I spoke with both Patrick and Abbott yesterday and this is what they said.

Dan Patrick

Last week at the Texas Public Policy Foundation Policy Policy Orientation in Austin, Patrick, who chaired the Trump campaign in Texas (he had previously chaired Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in Texas), said this about his relationship with the president elect: “That penny stock I bought in June … just saying.”

Q: Does the president elect know you that you referred to him as a penny stock?

DP:  No, I don’t know. I doubt it, but you know what, it really gets the point across.

Back in June, when I joined the Trump team I had a lot of friends who said, `Dan, don’t get involved in that campaign because he is going to go down and you’re going to go down with him,’ or, `He’s going to say something, and you’re going to have to respond,’ and I just made a decision, I’m a Republican, I’m going to support our candidate. I want to help him defeat Hillary by helping to raise money, but in Texas I want to be sure he wins by a wide margin, and no one else was wiling to step up, and so I stepped up, and I realized there was a risk, but I thought it was worth it.

There’s a risk any time you attach your name to another candidate because you can’t control what they’re going to say or do. But instead of explaining all that to folks, and I do it in a brief way, I say, `You know I bought a penny stock and today I wouldn’t sell it for anything.’

Q: Well they were probably telling you that you were making a mistake right up to the time he won.

DP: They were. And I honestly believed that he had a great shot of winning, despite that audiotape. I believed he had a great shot of winning, but when it happened I was in disbelief that the people actually showed up and fought back against the establishment of both parties. It was a wonderful victory for him and an incredible accomplishment. But it’s really a bigger victory for the people. It should really tell both parties, we will only take so much. If you don’t start behaving better we are going to continue to look for people who are going to work for us and not insiders in Washington, D.C.

Q: Do you think his success will draw more political outsiders into running for office?

DP: I just read that Laura Ingraham is thinking about running for the U.S. Senate from Virginia. She’s a dear friend. I sent her a note saying, if she does, I’m all in to help.

People were looking not only for a different candidate, but a different approach, and look, Ted gave him all he could handle and if not for Donald Trump, we would be here at the inauguration of Ted Cruz, no doubt about it.

This was a once in a lifetime phenomenon and there will never be another Donald Trump because anyone that replicates it, they’ll just say, `Oh you’re trying to be another Donald Trump.’ There’s nothing better than the original. But I think it will inspire more and more people to run for office.

I also think for our party, for Republicans, he is going to inspire people maybe who weren’t as bold before – I’ve never had that problem – to be a little stronger in their convictions, a little more outspoken, surely take on the media in a way that a lot of elected officials run the other way – don’t ever question the media. He’s now pulled that band-aid off. And to question their own party. He definitely has changed politics.

Q: The country is deeply divided over the election result. Some Democratic members of Congress are boycotting the inauguration. Is that polarization inexorable?

DP:  As each year goes by our country becomes more polarized. I know there are exceptions, but half the country was not as nasty toward Obama as the left has been to Trump. He has been treated horribly.

Most people I know, Republican or Democrat, when the president is elected, they respect the office and they pray for the candidate. I was asked a question at the Houston Chamber of Commerce before the election, `What if Hillary wins?’ I said, `I don’t expect her to win, but if she wins I’ll pray for her.’ I prayed for Barack Obama.

It’s important for us as Americans for our president to succeed. But there’s this loud voice in America now that wants him to fail. I don’t think the vast majority of Republicans ever wanted Obama to fail, but after so many failures, they viewed him as a failure, and that brought about discontent. Is it always going to be that way. Some of these Democrats said George Bush was illegitimate. This isn’t new. There’s a handful, a pretty large group of Democrats in Washington, D.C., I don’t think at the state level frankly, but in Washington, D.C., they have never accepted Republicans.

Friday should be a day to celebrate the peaceful transition of power from one president to another, from one party to another and for elected officials, who should know better, to be boycotting, it is disgraceful.

Q: Were you expecting Trump’s choice of  Rick Perry’s appointment for Energy Secretary?

DP:  What a great story that is.

Trump said – we were at a fundraiser in Houston in July, Trump introduced the governor, he introduced me – I’m bringing this guy to Washington with me.’ So he kept his word.

I didn’t know what position. I thought he would be a great candidate for Defense or Veterans Affairs, so I was surprised at the Energy thing, but it’s a brilliant thing. Even though it deals with our nuclear issues, he knows the oil and gas industry better than anybody else he could have selected and he’s run a major state and it’s a major agency.

And I’ve only talked to the governor very briefly a few weeks ago, and I said, `I can’t wait for things to slow down so you can tell me the whole story of how this happened,’ because I know personally that there were some very big names that were pushing very hard to get that position. And the fact that Trump selected Perry – and if you look at his other picks – he’s operating like a businessman, he’s getting the best person for the job. It doesn’t matter if they were at some point on the other side of the issue.

In this case Rick – who campaigned hard for him – it doesn’t matter (that they were somewhat bitter rivals in the primaries).  If it’s a choice between a longtime friend of Trump and another person, and the other person is better, he’s selecting the best person for the job, as you do in business. You don’t hire people for your company for important positions,because they’re your buddy.

Look it’s the most conservative Cabinet in the history of the country. Ted Cruz would have had a very conservative Cabinet. No one else would have had it, except these two guys.

I‘m sure the campaign changed him over times in many ways. You meet so many people, you hear their stories, you’re impacted by it. He probably studied issues more than he’s ever studied the issues and really started asking himself, `Is the conservative path forward better or the liberal path?’

And, he has become a Republican in later life, so on issues like pro-life, there’s no question that he’s all in. He is pro-life. Everything he’s said, everything he’s done. His appointments are strong. So I’m sure he’s evolved. Look in the year-and-a-half campaign for lieutenant governor, I evolved, we all evolve. You learn as you go and you meet people and you learn from people. You see what works and doesn’t work.

Patrick said this is his second inauguration. The first was President George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2005, which he attended with his son.

This time, “I brought my son and daughter and their spouses because it’s history, because we may not have this opportunity to do this again together. It’s something you can to back on and say, `I was there.”

Q: Should expect some selfies?

DP: Expect some selfies.


Greg Abbott

Abbott met with Toyota CEO James Lentz yesterday afternoon at the Westin to talk about their operations in Texas, manufacturing in the United States, and the like.

Earlier, he met with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at his usual spot at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Georgetown.


GA: This morning I met with Newt Gingrich, in part to pay up a bet, a losing bet, but also more substantively to talk about issues, about how states can work with the Trump administration, to really work toward our common interests. They include the kind of issues, frankly, that I’ve been working on for the past eight years.

One is to assemble a group of governors who can provide information at the state level on ways we can go about eliminating onerous regulations that are hampering business. Another, we talked about the structure to create a framework for states to begin the process of how Medicaid is going to change. Will it be block grants? Will it be a series of waivers? But more importantly, how do we go about the process of the states crafting their own standards and then being able to successfully implement them?

I have a meeting tomorrow with members of the Senate Finance Committee to talk about that very issue – the repeal of Obamacare, what the new iteration of health care will look like and what the future could look like for reformation of the Medicaid system.

It will be me and several governors and several members of the Senate Finance Committee, including he chairman, Orrin Hatch. It is my understanding, Sen. Cornyn will be there.

Newt Gingrich and I talked about working with the Trump administration, General (John) Kelly (Trump’s choice for Secretary of Homeland Security) in particular, to forge an effective relationship, to ensure that we are able to secure the border.

It’s clear that (Gingrich) is a person who understands how Washington works. He is a person with a connection to the president and his team, and is a great facilitator of getting things done in Washington, and he is a person who wants to see goals accomplished. It’s one thing to lay out an agenda, it’s another thing to accomplish that. Washington can be a challenging place to get things accomplished. Newt has a bunch of good ideas about how to actually get things done.

Most of the regulations I have thought about – such as Obamacare, such as Dodd-Frank, things like that – now we want to dig deeper, as opposed to the broad-based, let’s either repeal or restructure Dodd-Frank or Obamacare, it’s more talking to the local businessman or woman, talking to the farmer or rancher, what are your challenges, what can be done?

I’ll give you an easy example. There is this regulation called Waters of the United States – WOTUS – that basically allows he EPA to regulate water in ditches on the property of farmers and ranchers, and that’s an easy example of the type of onerous regulations that seem to be hampering either individuals, private property owners or businesses, in ways that seem nonsensical, in ways that can be reformed.

Q: It it different coming to Washington on the cusp of being entirely under Republican control?

GA: I left my legal briefcase behind. I’m not serving process on anybody.

Q: Have you been to previous inaugurations?

GA: Both George W. Bush inaugurals.

The first one in particular – he was a personal friend and a mentor of mine – and it was at that time a really big deal for Texas so it was extra special for Texas. There was a moment from that event, it was just unbelievable. In 2001 we were at the inaugural ball and George W. Bush and Laura came to it and we partied until about 2 a.m. and we left about 2 a.m. and as we were leaving it had just begun to snow and so the town was covered in white. We got into a car and drove through various parts of west Washington, D.C., and Georgetown, until about 4 a.m., by then city was blanketed in white, it was a beautiful experience.

Q: Is the First Lady excited about this inaugural?

GA: Yes. She’s co-chair of the Latino inaugural event, and will be saying a few words at that event and is very excited about it and excited about connecting the Latino culture and the Republican Party, which we’ve already done, with the Trump team.

Q: This will be a dramatic change. Any worries?

GA: The change that is coming about is a change that I fought for, and so I’m heavily immersed in everything that’s about to transition. There’s a transition of people in power but there’s also a transition of the way that America is going to be run, and a lot of the substantive changes are things that I’ve been working to see done. This is more of a sense of fruition to a lot of hard efforts that have been underway for many years now.

Q: What about Trump’s tweeting?

GA: The reality is the world is different and the world constantly changes. Listen the first president to do anything from a radio, the one who used it most profoundly originally, was FDR, that was a transformational moment. The first president to use TV, that was a transformational moment, was JFK.

And now we’ve got a president who’s changing the communications paradigm with social media. Just as there have always been changes in communications platforms, this is another change. It should be viewed as a good change in this sense and that is, citizens want to know what their leaders are thinking, and they want in a way direct access to their leaders and they’re getting information directly from their leader. Now obviously there are some national security based issues and things like that we all assume will be taken care of.

Q – This is kind of a working inaugural for you?

GA: The reality is  even during the balls I am going to among constituents, talking to constituents the whole time.












Chaos theory: On the Electoral College, Hamilton Electors and the Donald Trump Show





Good day Austin:

One of my earliest memories was being in the back seat of the family car on Election Day 1960. It was pretty late at night and we had been driving a long time coming back from I know not where. We were listening to the Kennedy-Nixon election turns on the car radio, and the news crackled. The election was close, very close, and the outcome was in doubt. It all depended, the voice on the radio kept saying, on  the electoral college. It would all come down to the electoral college.

I assumed this would work to Kennedy’s benefit, because, even at six, I knew that JFK would have an edge with any college crowd.

I finally got to see the Electoral College in action at the Capitol on Monday, and, it turned out that it was not your typical college crowd. Somehow, because Texas was home to the only going-into-it, you-can-count-on-it faithless Trump elector in Chris Suprun of Dallas, the eyes of the nation were on Texas, and the timing was such that the faithful Texas electors got to put Trump over the 270 mark, securing his victory for president.

It was a moment in history, but it was also the latest episode of the Donald Trump  Show, the one in which, amid the chaos, the star somehow always emerges victorious, thanks, in no small part to his enemies, who don’t even seem to understand that they are on the show, playing their dutiful role.

The next day, on Tuesday, Michael Hirschorn, who developed reality TV shows for VH1 and who in the 2007 Atlantic  wrote The Case for Reality TV: What the snobs don’t understand, was on Ari Melber’s show on MSNBC putting this in context.

Of Trump’s election, Hirschorn said:

Trump was speaking to an audience that really understood reality TV. People like us, well-meaning urbanites, tend not to watch reality TV, don’t really understand that language and it is a very different language from the one we’re used to. It’s a language of conflict, of being an alpha male, about dominance and it doesn’t really seek any resolution, and Trump is really the greatest celebrity reality talent of all time.

On reality television, resolution is undesirable. Hirschorn said, They seek endless conflict because conflict is interest.

Of Trump’s assembling his Cabinet as president-elect:

It literally is “The Bachelor,” down to the candlelit dinner with Mitt Romney  after he which he got kicked off the show at the end of the hour right after the commercial break.

So everyone has kind been of sucked in, including this network, CNN, other networks into really covering this presidency or incipient presidency as a kind of reality television show where everyone wins.  It’s a proven formula that’s great for ratings but it’s terrifying for the country  because it has nothing to do with governance.


And I think the thing I found about reality talent, is that reality talent, really great reality talent either doesn’t know or soon forgets the difference between reality and television and Trump strikes me as someone where we really don’t know if he understands what the joke is or not  and if I came across this guy and i had a chance to put him on the says show, I’d be, “this guy is really awesome, I’m sure he’s a lot of fun at a poker game or  dinner party, but as president he’s kind of terrifying.


I think were almost like rats in a cage feeding off this.


We’re all enabling this guy. We’re also all the saps. On all these reality television shows, the person who breaks down and cries is the loser. For liberals and progressives  who are moaning and upset and  angry, that’s a win (for Trump) in the reality TV production paradigm and giving him that is really what he wants and what people who support Trump want.


When we go into a pitch meeting with a reality star we say, “Go crazy, do some nutty stuff, it really doesn’t matter what you say,” whereas in the news business people are looking at him based on content. It really isn’t about content, it’s about show, it s about  performance, it’s about what Jeb Bush said,  which is kind  of endless chaos.

Chaos was the watchword of the Trump campaign.

Endless roiling scandal and controversy is much to be preferred to the discrete and episodic.

From the Washington Post’s Dan Balz at the Democratic National Convention this summer.

The big story at the Democratic convention for most of Wednesday was not the Democrats — not Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine or even President Obama, the evening’s star speaker. It was Donald Trump, whose loose and provocative talk about the Russians and Clinton’s emails seemed exponentially beyond even his standards for creating turmoil and controversy.

Trump thrives on chaos and above all else demands attention. When the spotlight falls elsewhere, such as on the Democrats this week in Philadelphia, he looks to shift it back in his direction. He is a candidate who uses disruption as a strategic force. Wednesday was a textbook example — whether for good or ill.

Trump veered into controversy at a Wednesday morning news conference in Florida. He suggested that the Russians should hack into Clinton’s private emails if they have not already and then release publicly those that she deleted before turning over the server to the federal government.

No one could remember a serious candidate for president seeming to urge a foreign power to carry out espionage on the United States and at the same time call on that country to intrude on a presidential election and possibly influence the outcome. It is another example of Trump doing and saying the unthinkable and daring the Democrats and his opponents to make it cost him politically.

The controversy came on a day that Democrats were planning to use their prime-time speeches to frame the contrast between the major-party nominees and attempt to paint Trump as wholly unsuited, temperamentally and by lack of knowledge, to serve as president and commander in chief. 

And from the New York Times” James Poniewozik earlier this month:

His cabinet vetting has been as much “The Bachelor” as “The Apprentice,” complete with luxurious backdrops (Trump Tower, Mr. Trump’s club in Bedminster, N.J.), public sniping among associates about the suitors and even a candlelit dinner, at Jean-Georges with the secretary of state hopeful Mitt Romney.


The whole process reflects Mr. Trump’s worldview, which was reality TV before reality TV even existed: to see life, even within a team, as gladiatorial combat. On “The Apprentice,” he relished letting candidates go crabs-in-a-barrel on each other in the boardroom. Now it was Newt Gingrich, an early supporter of Mr. Trump, calling Mr. Romney a potential “disaster” on Fox News.

Mr. Trump and cable news have the same metabolism. Cable news demands a steady stream of excitations and “breaking” updates, a constant instability that keeps you tuning in.

Mr. Trump is glad to supply that, and cable news is glad to respond. This creates a perpetual-motion machine. Mr. Trump sees something in the news; he gets mad; he tweets; that becomes the news; repeat. He’s the Hate-Watcher in Chief.

The last president with a history in entertainment, Ronald Reagan, came from the movies by way of the California governor’s mansion. He knew how to read a script and had already learned to marry politics to smooth stagecraft.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is all stream of consciousness, improv, roll the cameras and we’ll clean it up in postproduction. It’s unsteadying, disorienting. The national narrative becomes a reel of explosions and contradictions with no thread. Controversies follow one another too fast to remember any of them. Last week seems like a year ago.

This chaos may benefit only the president-elect because when there is no certainty, when there is no logic, there remains only the leader — only Mr. Trump.

The effort to block Trump in the Electoral College was a gift to Trump, enabling him to win yet again while leaving the opposition looking feeble, deluded and out of touch.

They were, in Hirschorn’s paradigm, the moaning, upset, angry, crying losers. They were Trump’s enablers.

And, it was a good story, an ongoing source of controversy and speculation even though it had zero chance of success. And, if it had somehow succeeded, the result would have been the destruction of norms that those worried about Trump ought to be seeking to bolster not weaken, leading almost certainly to a convulsion of violence in the streets, followed by the House of Representatives restoring order with the election of  a strengthened President Trump.

And so, in spite of itself, the whole episode was given a relatively serious airing.’

From the Independent last Friday: Harvard law professor says ’30’ Republican electors ready to block Donald Trump win. If it gets close to the 37 needed ‘there will be a very interesting dynamic’, says Larry Lessig

As many as 30 Republican members of the Electoral College are willing to break their pledge and vote against Donald Trump in order to block him from becoming the US President, according to a Harvard University law professor.

Larry Lessig, who was himself briefly a candidate for the 2016 Democratic nomination, has been offering legal support to electors on their right to “vote their conscience” – that is, to reject the mandate given to them by the winner of the popular vote in their specific state.

Most states bind their electors to the popular vote by state law, but Mr Lessig said there was precedent to say these are federal officials, granted powers by the federal constitution, who should “be able to exercise their independent and nonpartisan judgement about who to vote for.”.



The argument for denying Trump an Electoral College victory was built on what seemed to be two mutually exclusive lines of reasoning.

  1. The Electoral College is an abomination, an anti-democratic relic of the Founding Father’s protection of slavery that ought to give way to the popular vote, the authentic voice of the people.
  2. The Electoral College is a stroke of genius by the Founding Fathers who foresaw the possibility of a bad actor being elected who was so dangerously out-of-bounds that he needed to be stopped by wiser heads.




How cool and righteous to be a Hamilton Elector.

But, the idolization of Hamilton, I think, has a lot less to do with a careful reading of Federalists 68 and a lot more to do with the hit Broadway musical  – the haute cultural cuisine of a cognoscenti that despairs of the bread and circus Trump Show being fed the rabble.

Hamilton is not only a hugely successful production, it is also a cultural touchstone, a signifier of the Obama era.

As described by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker in February 2015, Hamilton was actually born in a White House performance by its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in May 2009, when the Obama administration was young.

That evening in May, Miranda and the other performers—among them Esperanza Spalding, the jazz bassist and vocalist, and James Earl Jones—were introduced to the President. Miranda asked him to sign a copy of “Dreams from My Father” that he’d bought at the airport. Onstage, Miranda announced that he was working on a concept album about Hamilton—“someone I think embodies hip-hop,” he said, to general laughter. He did not mention that he had written only one song. After Miranda explained that Hamilton represented “the word’s ability to make a difference,” he launched into complex lyrics that condensed the first twenty years of Hamilton’s life into four minutes. Slight of build, with dark cropped hair and thick stubble, Miranda paced the stage with coiled energy, rapping of “the ten-dollar Founding Father without a father / Got a lot farther by working a lot harder / By being a lot smarter / By being a self-starter.” His performance ignited a rising murmur of delight among the audience, and the Obamas were rapt: Miranda later heard that the President’s first reaction was to remark that Timothy Geithner had to see this.

Ah yes, Timothy Geithner and Alexander Hamilton – two peas in the anti-populist pod.

From Mead:

It does not seem accidental that “Hamilton” was created during the tenure of the first African-American President. The musical presents the birth of the nation in an unfamiliar but necessary light: not solely as the work of élite white men but as the foundational story of all Americans. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington are all played by African-Americans. Miranda also gives prominent roles to women, including Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), and sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry). When they are joined by a third sister, their zigzagging harmonies sound rather like those of Destiny’s Child. Miranda portrays the Founding Fathers not as exalted statesmen but as orphaned sons, reckless revolutionaries, and sometimes petty rivals, living at a moment of extreme volatility, opportunity, and risk. The achievements and the dangers of America’s current moment—under the Presidency of a fatherless son of an immigrant, born in the country’s island margins—are never far from view.

The election of Trump was an affront to Hamilton, and it was, of course,  the cast of Hamilton who lectured Vice President-Elect Mike Pence when he came to see the show, a scene that Pence, who loved Hamilton, accepted with great equanimity.

But for Trump, it was just another opportunity to wring some juicy conflict into a tweet and  dominate the news.



As for Hamilton, the man and not the musical, here is some of what he had to say in Federalist 68:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration


The protest outside the Capitol on Monday was hale and hearty with a goodly variety of excellent signs.






I was even reminded of how an errant apostrophe can diabolically turn the meaning of a three-word phrase into its opposite.

As it played out, history was made Monday, but not in the way that the Hamilton Electors had hoped.



From NPR:

Trump secured 304 electoral votes — two fewer than he earned in November, according to the Associated Press, which tracked results from Capitol to Capitol. That was despite a pitched effort by some on the left who wrote letters to Trump electors trying to persuade them to switch their votes or not vote at all and keep Trump short of the 270 needed.

Not only did it not happen, but more electors tried to defect from Hillary Clinton Monday than from Trump, by a count of eight to two. Three Democratic electors in Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado tried to vote for candidates other than Clinton. The electors’ votes, however, were disallowed because of state rules binding them to the statewide popular vote winner.

Four more electors in Washington state defected from Clinton. Three voted for Colin Powell and one for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American who gained some notoriety for her protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

And in Hawaii, an elector successfully cast a ballot for Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton.


It was, for Trumpers, a happy ending.

But, in true Trump spriti, not everyone on the winning side was wiling to leave well enough alone.





From the Statesman”Ken Herman:


I’m unclear on which part of the process Abbott found circusy. I was in the Texas House chamber for Monday’s Electoral College proceedings and saw no circus. It dragged on for three hours, but that’s OK. Outside the Capitol, the anti-Trump protests got a little passionate. Nothing wrong with that. No circus there.

Perhaps Abbott sees circus in the efforts of groups to encourage Electoral College members to go rogue. Did some of that go over the top this year? Maybe. But I’d call it more free speech than circus.

Abbott turned his general thoughts about the Electoral College into a personal attack on one elector at 9:46 a.m. Tuesday when he went Trumpian and tweeted this at Suprun: “YOU’RE FIRED!!!”

First of all, governors can’t fire electors. Second of all, Suprun’s job was over by the time Abbott “fired” him. Third of all, doesn’t Abbott have some important governing or Christmas shopping he should be doing instead of spite tweeting?


Maybe it was the fact that his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Perry – unlike the likes of Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz – had secured a spot in the Trump Cabinet after a couple of twirls on Dancing with the Stars,  but Abbott – who is calling for a Convention of the States to rewrite the Constitution – could not seem to resist the impulse to confirm that this really is The Trump Show.

As for binding Texas electors, perhaps a better solution would be for the political parties to do a more serious job of vetting their electors – and making it a position worthy of Hamilton’s faith in them – instead of a political bauble.

Also, if electors can never exercise their free will and best judgment, there is no reason to have them. But, just suppose that Donald Trump on Sunday had declared, “Yes, I am Putin’s pawn and will do his bidding,” it might be nice to have electors who could spare the nation the time, expense and mental anguish of having to wait until he was inaugurated to be impeached.

In the meantime, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who was there for the vote by the Texas electors, struck a different posture, declining to comment on Suprun, or on efforts to legally bind the electors, and saying that the demonstrators outside were evidence of what’s great about America, and God bless them.

As for the Electoral College, Cornyn said, “The winners always seem to like it, and the losers always seem to like it not so much.”

And then there was Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, a potential Trump Supreme Court pick, but the unTrump in his healing and happy use of Twitter, who accompanied his children to the ceremony, in which they played a role.]












The InfoWar on pizza: On Alex Jones, Donald Trump and fact-free toppings


I will begin today with a confession. Well, not actually a confession, because I am not guilty of anything, but some full disclosure before I get into what I’m going to write about today.

I moved to Austin four years ago. Before that I lived in Washington, D.C., for about 20 years. While living in Washington I went to Comet Ping Pong, a cool pizza restaurant with ping pong tables and live music in a back room, three times. Twice I went to hear music. Once I sat at the small bar up front and had pizza. As I recall it was good, but not life-changing.

I did not fraternize with any children while at Comet. I do not recall any sense of foreboding.

Since moving to Austin I have had pizza at a number of Austin  pizzerias and had some very good experiences. I took out from East Side pies a few times and liked their pizza. I did not fraternize with any children while at East Side Pies. I have not experienced any sense of foreboding picking up my pizzas at East Side Pies.

I am probably not the only person to have been to both Comet Ping Pong and East Side Pies, but I may be among a relative few. I am not sure if I am putting myself at risk by revealing this information. I know it doesn’t look good in a world in which there are no coincidences, only conspiracies.

As I thought about posting this, I realized that occasionally on Facebook friends will post a cute photo of one more of their children, and, on occasion, I have liked the post.

May God have mercy on my soul.

I assume you know the recent news  I’m referring to.

It’s a very strange situation, and last night, I sat down with an East Side pie and a couple of Southern Star Conspiracy Theory IPA’s and tried to puzzle it out.




From the Washington Post:

December 6 at 8:34 PM

What was finally real was Edgar Welch, driving from North Carolina to Washington to rescue sexually abused children he believed were hidden in mysterious tunnels beneath a neighborhood pizza joint.

What was real was Welch — a father, former firefighter and sometime movie actor who was drawn to dark mysteries he found on the Internet — terrifying customers and workers with his ­assault-style rifle as he searched Comet Ping Pong, police said. He found no hidden children, no secret chambers, no evidence of a child sex ring run by the failed Democratic candidate for president of the United States, or by her campaign chief, or by the owner of the pizza place.

What was false were the rumors he had read, stories that crisscrossed the globe about a charming little pizza place that features ping-pong tables in its back room.

The story of Pizzagate is about what is fake and what is real. It’s a tale of a scandal that never was, and of a fear that has spread through channels that did not even exist until recently.

Pizzagate — the belief that code words and satanic symbols point to a sordid underground along an ordinary retail strip in the nation’s capital — is possible only because science has produced the most powerful tools ever invented to find and disseminate information.


On Oct. 28, FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress that he was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. New emails had been found on a computer belonging to disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Two days later, someone tweeting under the ­handle ­@DavidGoldbergNY cited ­rumors that the new emails “point to a pedophilia ring and ­@HillaryClinton is at the center.” The rumor was retweeted more than 6,000 times.

The notion quickly moved to other social-media platforms, including 4chan and Reddit, mostly through anonymous or pseudonymous posts. On the far-right site Infowars, talk-show host Alex Jones repeatedly suggested that Clinton was involved in a child sex ring and that her campaign chairman, John Podesta, indulged in satanic rituals.

“When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” Jones said in a YouTube video posted on Nov. 4. “Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.” Jones eventually tied his comments about Clinton to U.S. policy in Syria.

From Matthew Odam yesterday in the Statesman.

East Side Pies co-owner Noah Polk first heard of the conspiracy theory known as “pizzagate” around the time of the presidential election. The fake news story was started by an online community, fueled by misinterpretations of emails released by WikiLeaks, that claimed associates of Hillary Clinton were behind a child sex-trafficking ring headquartered at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. The fake story turned into a real crime scene on Sunday when a gunman walked into that Washington restaurant and fired a shot.

Now, Austin police are investigating harassment and vandalism that’s been waged against the local restaurant by believers of the “pizzagate” conspiracy.

For Polk’s restaurant, the conspiracy theory first hit home when someone he’d never met left a review on East Side Pies’ Facebook page. The comment mentioned “pizzagate” and Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis. It was the commenter’s second post in a few days. The first had referenced pedophilia.

That day Polk was also alerted to a thread on the message board Reddit suggesting East Side Pies might also be a part of the fictional sex-trafficking ring. Once he went down that internet rabbit hole, Polk was shocked to find myriad posts falsely tying East Side Pies to the debunked conspiracy theory.

East Side Pies is continuing to suffer sporadic harassment and name-calling via social media, and one of its delivery trucks was vandalized with a scrawled epithet.

The online posts have made wild and baseless accusations about East Side Pies. They interpreted the restaurant’s logo as a symbol of the “Illuminati,” questioned the meaning of photos of pizza-eating children on East Side Pies’ Facebook account, inferred that a picture of staffers with former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell was proof of nefarious political ties and claimed co-owner Michael Freid, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, had “connections to the CIA.”

“This is absolutely insane and unfounded and ridiculous,” Polk said Tuesday of his thoughts after reading the initial posts. “The dots they are trying to connect are so ludicrous. I was not happy about it.”

Polk said he became worried about the safety of his employees, as well as his restaurant’s reputation, and he contacted Austin police and the FBI on Monday.

Austin police on Wednesday confirmed that a report for criminal mischief had been filed Tuesday involving one of the restaurant’s vehicles. A police spokesman said profane and sexual statements had been carved into the vehicle in the 5300 block of Airport Boulevard. The complete report on the incident and additional details weren’t immediately available Wednesday.

The online targeting of East Side Pies had gained steam Saturday when Owen Shroyer — who hosts a live-streaming podcast called “Engage Liberty” and makes videos for the Austin-based conspiracy-fueled website — hosted a 21/2-hour broadcast detailing his visits to multiple East Side Pies locations.

In the broadcast uploaded to YouTube, Shroyer said he was “weirded out and creeped out” by his visits to East Side Pies. What he saw, he says, left him “gripping my gun tighter every night.”

The “weird stuff” he encountered? Employees with large-gauge piercings and blue hair, a “weird locked-up grate in the back” of one location, disturbing rock music and band fliers with “satanic” symbols. The “coup de grace,” according to Shroyer: two children playing dominoes in the presence of an adult.

He also thought the restaurant’s logo, a pizza in the shape of an eye, with the catchphrase “We know what you want,” was a nod to the Illuminati.

Earlier this week, Jones had a man on the show  – Sharif Silmi – who had  been a customer eyewitness to Edgar Welch’s scene at Comet Pizza, and placed some of the responsibility on Jones.





We’ve got to be careful about stuff like this because, look, I’m one of the middle of the road guys, and I’m being accused of being involved in it now. So this is serious now. We do not need violence. We do not need people marching  into pizza places with guns. We need to investigate exactly what’s going on.

But he wasn’t giving much ground..


I‘m sick and tired of this obsession on the one thing. There has been some weird stuff going on there, I don’t know if you’ve researched  it ….

And he’s off …




But I’m not saying they’re involved in anything. I’m sure Podesta is a wonderful person. I’m being sarcastic now.


I say it looks really bad, but I’m not saying anything is going on. It needs to be investigated by law enforcement.


I can tell you, in the compendium of our coverage I cannot tell you what’s going on at Ping Pong pizza. I’ve reached out and I will reach out again to say that I will come there to actually debunk this if it’s not true.

That’s what I’m trying to do, but we did not create this. We simply responded to one of the biggest stories on the internet and covered it from different perspectives.

Ah yes, that’s what’s missing from this story – the arrival of Alex Jones, conspiracy debunker.



But compared to InfoWars reporter and sometime Jones’ on-air sidekick Owen Shroyer, Jones is the Amazing Randi and Sherlock Holmes rolled into one.

(It appears Shroyer’s video has now been taken down.)

From Shroyer’s report on Saturday night.

I’m going into this open minded … Boy was I wrong …. If I am creeped out by what I am going to talk about tonight, then explain it,  just explain it. It’s that simple.

There was “all this weird stuff” – the people who worked there, the art, the ambience, the bands that posted notices there.

It’s exactly what you would expect to see at Comet Pizza.


More Shroyer:

I didn’t even know how to handle this but  folks, it was so real I felt I  just had to come here and do a live broadcast if for nothing else but I was so weirded out and gripping my gun tighter every night.


I’m kidding you not folks. I’m kidding you not

And then there was the woman at the outside table reading to two kids.

It didn’t look like it was their mom.

And then the kids want to play dominoes.

  And they start playing dominoes.

The sinister significance of dominoes eludes me. When I think about dominoes I think Latinos, not Satanists or pedophiles.

(Sign above urinal at Cuban restaurant in South Austin)

I didn’t want to do this on my Saturday, Shroyer said.  I was supposed to be playing basketball.

But, he said, I had to drive around and investigate some weird pizza place that people think is associated with Comet Pizza that people think is associated with you know what.

Then, this might be the weirdest thing.

On his drive from one East Side Pies to another he passed a “weird abandoned building” with a “very strange pizza slice painted on the side.”

Not an East Side Pies. Just a seemingly abandoned building along the way, with surveillance cameras in its  parking lot.

This was just another random building that I happened to run into on the way, so who knows.

Am i digging too deep here?

Yeah, maybe

And then this other random morsel of irrelevant information.

There was a cemetery by both the East Side pizzas, if you want to take anything from that.


I’m in touch with the world and I’m in touch with my senses and they were all screaming when I walked into there.

I really enjoy pizza. I cannot even say that now without wanting to vomit in my mouth.

I actually enjoy the actual food of the Italian cuisine of pizza.

But, perhaps, no more.

After the election, I did a First Reading and story on Jennifer Mercieca who is wring a book, The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, in which she described a favored Trump technique, which also gets quite a workout at InfoWars



The post-election question is whether Trump is going to grow into the office of the presidency – you know a little more dignity, some more gravitas, a little less gratuitous tweeting, a teensy weensy bit less petty.

So maybe not.


But all the more reason why Alex Jones needs to rise to the occasion, to bear his new burdens – awesome responsibilities that he no more asked for than Donald Trump seriously asked for or thought, until sometime after the polls closed on election night, he was going to have bear.

Alex Jones is now responsible for projecting and explaining the world as Donald Trump, if recent experience is any guide, will most probably come to see and understand it. You, Alex Jones, are the architect of Trump’s reality and, it is not too much to say, the fate of the world depends on you executing that responsibility with some relative probity.

Adam Goldman, in yesterday’s New York Times, had a poignant jailhouse interview with Edgar Welch.


What did he think when he discovered there were no children at the pizzeria?

“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. However, he refused to dismiss outright the claims in the online articles, conceding only that there were no children “inside that dwelling.” He also said that child slavery was a worldwide phenomenon.

Where did he learn about the fake news involving Comet?

He said it was through word of mouth. After recently having internet service installed at his house, he was “really able to look into it.” He said that substantial evidence from a combination of sources had left him with the “impression something nefarious was happening.” He said one article on the subject led to another and then another. He said he did not like the term fake news, believing it was meant to diminish stories outside the mainstream media, which he does not completely trust. He also said he was not political. While once a registered Republican, he did not vote for Donald J. Trump. He also did not vote for Mrs. Clinton. But he is praying that Mr. Trump takes the country in the “right direction.”


Mr. Welch was soft-spoken and polite, and said he liked the outdoors. He was cautious when speaking about what happened, sometimes citing advice he had received from his lawyer. He said he did not believe in conspiracy theories, but then added that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks needed to be re-examined. He has listened to Alex Jones, whose radio show traffics in conspiracy theories and who once said that Mrs. Clinton “has personally murdered and chopped up” children. “He’s a bit eccentric,” Mr. Welch said. “He touches on some issues that are viable but goes off the deep end on some things.

And then there’s Lucy Richards.


By in People.

A Tampa, Florida woman was indicted Monday on four counts of transmitting threats to a Sandy Hook parent, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lucy Richards, 57, is a Sandy Hook “truther” — someone who believes the infamous school shooting was a hoax.

Richards made an initial court appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo in Florida and is scheduled to appear in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida court on Dec. 19.

USA Today reports that Richards made a series of death threats against the parent of a child who was killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newton, Connecticut. The parent, Len Pozner, resides in South Florida, according to Today.

“We are comforted to know that the system is working to protect the victims of violent crime from re-victimization by potentially violent hoaxers,” Pozner said in a statement obtained by CBS News.

Richards was allegedly motivated to threaten the parent because she thought the elementary school shooting never happened, according to Time.

The threats were made in January 2016 and included messages such as, “You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon,” and “LOOK BEHIND YOU IT IS DEATH,” according to CBS News.

The Sandy Hook shooting resulted in the death of 20 children and six adults. If convicted, each count carries a maximum term of five years’ imprisonment.

Alex. Look in the eyes of that women and ask yourself, but for you would there even be such a thing as a Sandy Hook truther.

From Erica Lafferty in USA Today on Nov. 25.

This Thanksgiving, I sat at a dinner table with an empty seat. It’s the very seat where my mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, should be. Smiling, laughing and enjoying a holiday meal with her daughters and grandchildren. Instead, my mom wasn’t there because nearly four years ago, she was murdered in Newtown, Conn., along with five of her colleagues and 20 first-graders. That day, as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, she died a hero trying to protect her innocent students.

My heart — and my dinner table — reflect the hole in my life that will never be repaired. And while I’ve chosen a path of gun safety advocacy that not everyone agrees with, some opponents of gun violence prevention follow a different, darker path. A fringe movement of “Sandy Hook truthers” promotes hateful conspiracy theories that the shooting never took place. My Thanksgiving table tells a different story. And so does the reality of the families who had their loved ones ripped out of their arms by senseless gun violence.

The most prominent popularizer of the “Sandy Hook hoax” theory is the radio and Web personality Alex Jones. He is the kind of person you’d expect to be confined to the darkest echo chambers of the Internet. Yet, Jones has been bolstered by the very man who has proclaimed he’ll make our country great again: President-elect Donald Trump.

Jones has been in a paroxysm of paralipsis on Sandy Hook for sometime.

“I said that’s what people have said,” he said yesterday, before launching into a riff about how CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is CIA and that, while reporting on Sandy Hook, “got caught in a blue/green screen with his nose disappearing.”

“They got caught doing fake satellite interviews,” Jones said.

But, of course, you say, there will be people surrounding President Trump who will keep him on the straight and narrow.


From Paul Farhi in the Washington Post:

Among those perpetuating the Pizzagate meme are Alex Jones, the proprietor of Infowars, a one-stop shop for conspiracies and false-flag claims. As a candidate, Donald Trump appeared on Jones’s syndicated radio program and praised Jones for his “amazing” reputation.

The story has also been pushed by Michael Flynn Jr., the son and sometime adviser of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser. “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Flynn linked to the Twitter account of Jack Posobiec, who describes himself as the special projects director of a group called Citizens4Trump. Among his many comments on the subject, Posobiec tweeted, “False flag. Planted Comet Pizza Gunman will be used to push for censorship of independent news sources that are not corporate owned.”

And of Michael Flynn, the father, this from Michael Waldman writing in the Washington Post

But to put it plainly, Michael Flynn is a crackpot.

You guys are good. Damn right.

Let’s do a quick rundown. Flynn, who was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was fired by President Obama for a number of reasons, including mismanagement. His staff got so used to him believing things that were obviously false that they began referring to them as “Flynn Facts.” Nevertheless, he had a complete certainty in his own rightness. At one meeting, “Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his.” Furthermore, “Some also described him as a Captain Queeg-like character, paranoid that his staff members were undercutting him and credulous of conspiracy theories.”

You can see it in his statements and writings since his retirement. Flynn believes that Islam is “a malignant cancer” that is actually “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” He has tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” while posting an anti-Islamic video and asking people to “please forward this to others.” On his Twitter feed, he has a propensity for spreading fake news stories from the right-wing fever swamps. As Bryan Bender and Andrew Hanna report:

But Flynn himself has used social media to promote a series of outrageous conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and their inner circles in recent months — pushing dubious factoids at least 16 times since Aug. 9, according to a POLITICO review of his Twitter posts.

Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has “secretly waged war” on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for Muslim terrorists.

Some of the looniest conspiracy theories Flynn has propagated have to do with stolen emails from John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Right-wing conspiracy-mongers took a word here or there from some of the emails and spun them into allegations that Clinton and Podesta were involved in a Satanic cult and were running a child sex slavery ring out of a Washington pizza parlor. That might be funny, were it not for the fact that the restaurant and nearby establishments have been deluged with death threats and one guy took it seriously enough to drive to D.C. with his assault rifle in an attempt to “rescue” the children he thought were being held in the restaurant’s basement.

We can debate how troubling the spread of fake news is, and what it says about our society that people are willing to believe that Hillary Clinton is connected to a pedophilia ring. What we can’t debate is that no one who believes that kind of lunacy should be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. But Michael Flynn does. He has retweeted links to insane stories like that one, and his son and chief of staff — who may or may not be part of the Trump transition team, depending on who’s answering the question at a particular moment — has gone even farther down the rabbit hole.

Here’s why this is so important. The national security adviser’s job is to coordinate policy between the multiple agencies whose work touches on national security — the Pentagon, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and others — and make sure that the president has the best, clearest, and most accurate information with which to make decisions. For a President Trump’s unique combination of ignorance, inexperience, and impulsiveness, it’s particularly vital to have a national security adviser who can encourage calm and thoughtfulness, and not be distracted by what’s irrelevant or downright false.

At some point early in his presidency, Trump is going to confront some kind of national security crisis. Every president does. Maybe it will be a terrorist attack, or a coup in a country in a volatile region, or an aggressive move by an adversary, or a conflict between two nations that the United States might get sucked into. He may have to make decisions quickly, with information that is partial and changing from hour to hour. He’ll get advice from all those different people, and when it’s over, Mike Flynn will be one of the last people in the room telling him what he should do. Trump trusts Flynn, and his words will carry particular weight — perhaps more than anyone else working on the crisis.

And when that happens, is Flynn going to look down at his phone, see that his son has just sent him a link to some story on Infowars with a ludicrous theory about what’s really going on, and say, “Hold on, Mr. President, this is something we need to consider”? It’s clear already that Flynn has prejudices that skew his ability to see the world accurately, and is lacking in the critical faculties that enable sensible people, whatever their political ideology, to distinguish what’s true from what’s false. So what happens then?













Taking the press out of the press conference. On Trump’s populist news rally.




Good morning Austin:

In Monday’s First Reading, I quoted the modest proposal of  Mike Cernovich, an influential pro-Trump social media presence. (See The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz on Trolls for Trump: Meet Mike Cernovich, the meme mastermind of the alt-right.)

Here is what he wrote on his Danger and Play blog two days after the election.

It’s Time to Disband the White House Press Corps

We know the mainstream media is not merely biased. The media is a hoaxing organization. They’ve done everything from spread hate crime hoaxes about Trump supporters, to covering up violent attacks on Trump supporters, to falsely accusing Trump’s campaign manger of assault.

Trump doesn’t need the White House Press Corp. They need him.

Through the power of social media, Trump can take his message directly to the people.

The White House Press Corps must be disbanded. You cannot allow snakes inside your house. We know what snakes do.

Last night, as I watched Donald Trump launch his Thank You tour with an extraordinary, ebullient post-victory campaign rally in Cincinnati, imbued with a heady blend of gloating and media bashing, I was struck by the phrasing of a Cernovich tweet.



Yes, to Cernovich – and a lot of other Trump partisans – this rally in front of cheering crowd and an observing but silent press was the model for a populist “press conference” in the age of Trump. He even announced his choice of James “Mad Dog ” Mattis as his pick for Defense Secretary, while asking his audience to keep it to themselves until he gets a chance to announce it Monday.


I quoted Cernovich’s tweet adding my own comment


I’m not a big tweeter, but this Tweet got more reaction than any previous I had sent, with nearly 35,000 impressions.

What follows is some of the reaction. and other related tweets.
















The tweets heard ’round the world. Donald Trump and Gregg Phillips reap the whirlwind.

Good Tuesday Austin:

I guess the president-elect does not have a consuming interest in football, so on a lazy, post-Thanksgiving, pre-actually-being-president Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump flexed his twitter finger and tapped out the following:

No biggie, right?

I mean, here he is the duly elected, stunningly, surprisingly big Electoral College winner, and yet he has to suffer through all this blah-blah-blah reporting about how Hillary was building up a sizable, couple of million popular vote margin and now, somebody named Jill Stein, who apparently also ran for president, is mounting an effort to recount the vote in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – states Trump stole in the best sense of the word right out from right under Clinton’s nose in a brazen daylight robbery that should have left the Democrats too shamed and embarrassed to do anything but avert their eyes when somebody says, “Hey, can we count those votes again?”

But, no, instead of allowing the Big Guy to blow off some steam, the media all got on their collective high horses and demanded that Trump back up his preposterous  claim, and, in their new non-normalization mode, competed with one another to most boldly, bravely, forthrightly label the president-elect’s tweet a lie.

Here is the top of the editorial in the New York Times: Donald Trump’s Lies About the Popular Vote

One big fear in the weeks leading up to the presidential election was that Donald Trump would try to delegitimize the results by claiming rampant voter fraud — a bogus specter he had raised throughout the campaign, particularly as his polling numbers got worse.

In that scenario, of course, Mr. Trump was the loser. No one imagined he would say the election was rigged if he won. And yet here we are.

On Sunday, President-elect Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets complaining about calls for recounts or vote audits in several closely contested states, and culminating in this message: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

This is a lie, part of Mr. Trump’s pattern, stretching back many years, of disregard for indisputable facts. There is no evidence of illegal voting on even a small scale anywhere in the country, let alone a systematic conspiracy involving “millions.” But this is the message that gets hammered relentlessly by right-wing propaganda sites like InfoWars, which is run by a conspiracy theorist who claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax — and whose absurdities Mr. Trump has often shouted through his megaphone, which will shortly bear the presidential seal. Mr. Trump added more fuel to the fire with the false claim of “serious voter fraud” in California, Virginia and New Hampshire — all states that went for Hillary Clinton.

Let us pause here to make a few points. First InfoWars is Austin’s own Alex Jones’ very popular site. Go Austin!

And this particular bit of what the Times disparages as right-wing propaganda, is an appropriation, or perhaps misappropriation, by Jones of a couple of tweets from Austinite Gregg Phillips, a former Texas Health and Human Services official and founder, CEO and president of AutoGov. Go Austin!



Phillips is no stranger to controversy.

And here are the tweets that has made him the man of the moment.




The Times editorial linked to Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post fact check on Donald Trump’s bogus claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton

Winning the electoral college is all that counts in the presidential race. But losing the popular vote by such a substantial margin apparently gnaws at Trump. Is there any basis for his claim?

The Facts

The simple answer is no. This is a bogus claim with no documented proof.

Our colleagues at and PundiFact have already examined this claim, back when it was hot in the right-wing blogosphere, not a statement made by a future U.S. president. The whole thing started with a few tweets by Gregg Phillips, a self-described conservative voter fraud specialist, who started making claims even before data on voter history was actually available in most jurisdictions. (It had not even been determined which provisional ballots were valid and would be counted.)


These claims were then picked up by such purveyors of false facts as, a conspiracy-minded website that, among other things, claims that no one actually died in a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. One article described Phillips as being affiliated with but in reality he says he is the founder of, supposedly an app that detects vote fraud. Phillips also has claimed that Obamacare is the “biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world” because it provided opportunities for voter registration.

In any case, Phillips made this claim — and then has declined to provide any evidence to back it up, even though reporters have asked.


“He said he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy,” PundiFact reported. “Phillips would also not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used.”

It’s certainly rather odd that Phillips would make such a claim before he had verified whether it was true. He did not respond to a query from The Fact Checker after Trump tweeted, although he gleefully celebrated anger at his claim.

The Pinocchio Test

Simply put, there is no evidence that “millions of people” voted illegally in the election.

Now that Trump is on the verge of becoming president, he needs to be more careful about making wild allegations with little basis in fact, especially if the claim emerged from a handful of tweets and conspiracy-minded websites. He will quickly find that such statements will undermine his authority on other matters.

Four Pinocchios

Same story from PolitiFact.

From PolitiFact:

Phillips would not provide any additional information when asked by PolitiFact. He said he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy. Phillips would also not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used.

Phillips said he would release the information publicly once he is finally finished.


Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, called Phillips’ claim “fake news.”

“There is no credible evidence I have seen to show large numbers of noncitizens voting in U.S. elections anywhere,” Hasen said. “The idea that 3 million noncitizens could have illegally voted in our elections without being detected is obscenely ludicrous.”

Our ruling

Reports claim 3 million “illegal aliens” cast votes in this year’s election.

The articles point back to tweets from Gregg Phillips, who has worked for the Republican Party and has a voter fraud reporting app. But Phillips will not provide any evidence to support his claim, which happens to be undermined by publicly available information.

If Phillips does release a more detailed report, we will consider that information. But for now, this claim is inaccurate. We rate it False.

The Trump Transition Team, in the meantime, pointed reporters to a 2014 Monkey Cage piece by two academics in the Washington Post, Could non-citizens decide the November election?

Here are the authors and the abstract of their findings.

Jesse Richman is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, and Director of the ODU Social Science Research Center. David Earnest is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, and Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Letters

In spite of substantial public controversy, very little reliable data exists concerning the frequency with which non-citizen immigrants participate in United States elections. Although such participation is a violation of election laws in most parts of the United States, enforcement depends principally on disclosure of citizenship status at the time of voter registration. This study examines participation rates by non-citizens using a nationally representative sample that includes non-citizen immigrants. We find that some non-citizens participate in U.S. elections, and that this participation has been large enough to change meaningful election outcomes including Electoral College votes, and Congressional elections. Non-citizen votes likely gave Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress.

So non-citizen voting enabled Obama to pass Obamacare. Well, that doesn’t seem particularly trivial.

From the Post story.

Could control of the Senate in 2014 be decided by illegal votes cast by non-citizens? Some argue that incidents of voting by non-citizens are so rare as to be inconsequential, with efforts to block fraud a screen for an agenda to prevent poor and minority voters from exercising the franchise, while others define such incidents as a threat to democracy itself. Both sides depend more heavily on anecdotes than data.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Our data comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Its large number of observations (32,800 in 2008 and 55,400 in 2010) provide sufficient samples of the non-immigrant sub-population, with 339 non-citizen respondents in 2008 and 489 in 2010. For the 2008 CCES, we also attempted to match respondents to voter files so that we could verify whether they actually voted.

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

We also find that one of the favorite policies advocated by conservatives to prevent voter fraud appears strikingly ineffective. Nearly three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted.

An alternative approach to reducing non-citizen turnout might emphasize public information. Unlike other populations, including naturalized citizens, education is not associated with higher participation among non-citizens. In 2008, non-citizens with less than a college degree were significantly more likely to cast a validated vote, and no non-citizens with a college degree or higher cast a validated vote. This hints at a link between non-citizen voting and lack of awareness about legal barriers.

The Post piece provoked considerable hubbub.

As the paper noted: The post occasioned three rebuttals (here, here, and here) as well as a response from the authors. Subsequently, another peer-reviewed article argued that the findings reported in this post (and affiliated article) were biased and that the authors’ data do not provide evidence of non-citizen voting in U.S. elections.

Here is the abstract of one rebuttal, which, like the original, appeared in the journal, Electoral Studies Volume 40, December 2015, Pages 409–410

The perils of cherry picking low frequency events in large sample surveys

 The advent of large sample surveys, such as the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), has opened the possibility of measuring very low frequency events, characteristics, and behaviors in the population. This paper documents how low-level measurement error for survey questions generally agreed to be highly reliable can lead to large prediction errors in large sample surveys, such as the CCES. The example for this analysis is Richman et al. (2014), which presents a biased estimate of the rate at which non-citizens voted in recent elections. The results, we show, are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.

Zero? Wow. Really?

And here is the response from Earnest and Richman to the rebuttal of their original piece.

Although our estimates of non-citizen registration and voting are higher than previous estimates, this should not be surprising. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to use survey data to estimate non-citizen voting, while other studies have relied upon incidents of detected vote fraud. Estimates of illegal behavior based upon survey data are frequently higher than estimates based upon detection rates. For example, survey-based estimates indicate that more than six percent of the U.S. population over age 12 uses marijuana on at least a monthly basis — a rate more than 15 times the annual arrest rate.


A final criticism concerns how we communicated our findings rather than the findings themselves. As our colleagues have colorfully suggested, our post “contributed to the circus” rather than made sense of it, and they question whether we intended “to provide fuel to the conspiracy theorists” who suspect widespread voter fraud. Ahlquist and Gehlbach even criticize the title of our post, which was not our proposed title.  (Editor’s note: Most guest post titles are written by whichever of the main Monkey Cage contributors handles the submitted post.) We trust that our colleagues do not mean to suggest that authors should self-censor findings that speak to contentious debates.

Reading the back and forth between Richman and Earnest and their critics, it seemed to me their thesis remained alive and well, thought fiercely contended. But, watching the coverage yesterday, the media generally was treating it as soundly debunked, and I’m not sure why.

Snopes also examined the claim that three million non-citizens voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. and rated it “unproven.”

Phillips offers no evidence whatsoever to back up the claim that he “verified” more than three million non-citizen votes. Nor does he divulge his data sources or methodology, much less explain how it was possible to “verify” three million fraudulent votes within five days of a national election. In point of fact, Phillips bluntly refuses to share this information with journalists, claiming it will be released “in open form to the American people”:


Phillips, who also founded the technology consulting firm Autogov and served as managing director of Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future super PAC during the 2012 presidential campaign, is no stranger to voter fraud controversies. He was quoted in a 30 October 2013 Breitbart article (which described Phillips as a “voter integrity activist”) characterizing Obamacare as “the biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world.” Per the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), Obamacare health insurance exchange web sites provide voter registration services to customers. While some observers have complained that the exchanges are inadequate to the task of signing up new voters and have actually failed to register millions of eligible people, according to a 2014 MSNBC report, others, Gregg Phillips among them, argue the opposite — that Obamacare has opened the floodgates for millions to register illegally.


In the absence of supporting data, however, he has really made no case at all. The “three million non-citizens” figure may just as well have been plucked out of thin air.

I talked to Phillips for about an hour yesterday afternoon.

Phillips is a board member of the organization True the Vote, a Houston-based, right of center group devoted to voter integrity.

Clearly, Phillips in his tweets overstated what he could prove right now. But, he said, that doesn’t mean that he is plucking the number out of thin air. He is ball-parking what he expects to find when he does an analysis of True the Vote’s extraordinary 50-state, 180-odd million registered voter database, which it is now updating following the November election.

Phillips also dramatically underestimated the impact his tweets would have.


When did a tweet become news? I’m just like a guy. I’m an ordinary guy. There are  billions of tweets every single day and because somebody picked it up, made something of something I wrote, all of a sudden the president-elect is talking about me? No he’s not referring to me. He’s not referring to our  information. He’s not referring to our analysis. He was referring to a  Washington Post story from 2014 and, the idea all of a sudden a tweet is news – it’s not news, I mean, I didn’t testify in court.

Seriously, is a tweet really news? Isn’t everything on Twitter fake?

In fact, I think that it was Phillips’ tweet that Trump was picking up on and responding to – and that the Presidential Transition Team subsequently cited the Washington Post piece to buttress his claim because that was better than referring reporters to the president-elect’s likely original source – Alex Jones’s InfoWars.


What apparently happened here is that Phillips tweets his heart’s desire, but Alex Jones, without ever having any contact with Phillips, picks it up and maybe dresses it up a little, not mentioning that what he is citing is is just based on a couple of tweets, and, for good measure, attaching some bogus organizational affiliation to Phillips.

Alex Jones has a huge audience and then, as is often the case, the Drudge Report picks up what InfoWars reports, and, then well, it can’t escape Trump’s attention, with or without a helpful  nudge from Roger Stone.


And, Phillips was simply not prepared for the whirlwind that followed Trump’s Sunday afternoon tweet.

People figure I must have the ear of the president. I’m sitting at home with my granddaughter. What?

So Phillips tweets an overstatement of what he was able to prove at this point in time. He did not intend for his tweet to reach a mass audience, let alone the president-elect. But suddenly he was besieged by a media that was now pinning the president’s lies on his disinformation, and demanding that he put up or shut up.


We’ve been working on this project since 2009. we approached the Department of Justice with some of our findings.

I am going to stand by the numbers. The numbers are accurate. I am going to do exactly what I said I’m going to do. I’m going to release all the information  whether it turns out I’m  right or wrong, whatever comes out of our final analysis and all the hard work of going through this stuff. I’m  going to come out and say either I was wrong or I was right. I’m going to come out and do that.

But, what really unnerved Phillips was the Twitter venom directed his way after he was identified as the president-elect’s apparent inspiration.

In the last couple of days I’ve beeen called a Nazi, a Russian, a traitor, an asshole, a racist, all on Twitter. I’m none of the above, none. I’m truly just an ordinary guy.




After talking to Phillips I called Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True the Vote, and we spoke for another hour.

Here is how True the Vote describes itself.

True the Vote was established in 2009, after a small group of volunteers worked at our local polls and witnessed firsthand both the need for well-trained election workers and blatant, undeniable acts of election fraud. Since then, we’ve continued to grow – and  now we’re a national organization, providing comprehensive, state-specific programs of education, research, and support for volunteers in all 50 states.  We have empowered fellow citizens, increased public awareness, advocated for continued election improvements and reforms, and spoken out about the misleading messaging of those who insist voter fraud does not exist. It does. 

As you read through the pages of our website, we hope you will gain a better understanding of who we are and what we do. Our purpose is really very simple – to remind voters that they are the safeguards of our representative democracy. Together, we can ensure that our voting process truly does reflect the will of the People. Together, we can True the Vote. 

Engelbrecht said it will be some time into the new year before True the Vote will, as completely as it possibly can, have updated its 50-state database and that Phillips and others will analyze it looking for flaws – dead people on the rolls, duplicate registrations and non-citizen voters, who they will ferret out by triangulating against other databases.
It is, she said, an unprecedented effort.

We’ve been very quiet for a very long time and we have watched the degradation of the data wash across the rolls in waves and it was hard to know when to jump in because it just consistently been getting worse and so we’ve been very thoughtful about what and how that approach would look like.

We are going to take our time.

Engelbrecht said she felt for Phillips since the tweets.

When reporters demanded that she react to his tweets, Engelbrecht, who is not on Twitter, said her initial reply was, “First of all, time out. Really?”

At the end of the day he is on my board, he is my friend, he is a rock-solid individual and I stand by him and I stand by what he said and that’s it.

We put out a statement saying we support president-elect Trump’s comment about the potential that millions of votes were illegally cast.

This isn’t  huge number in the  grand scheme of things, but we have to be grown up about the process of election integrity and the importance of securing it. Third World nations have better processes than we do. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t use voter ID as a standard.

Engelbrecht says that the tweet by Phillips and Trump provoked so much reaction because they “really hit this chord, that we’re all kind of scared, especially coming out of this election cycle, which was admittedly something like we’ve never seen. I think it hits this really deep chord in all of us that we want it to  be a Pixar movie, where everything is OK in the end and you know  we can play rough but in the end we’re Americans and nothing really really bad can really happen because somehow we just kind of have happy endings. But the dirty little secret is there has been fraud all over the place and it’s institutionalized.’

“Do I think it’s true (what Phillips and Trump tweeted)? Absolutely.”

Here is the rest of today’s New York Times editorial:

And why is Mr. Trump so hung up on the popular vote in the first place? After all, he won where it counts — in the Electoral College. And yet, in the three weeks since his victory, Mr. Trump has already admitted at least twice that he would prefer the presidency be determined by the popular vote, and not by 538 electors. It’s clear he feels threatened by Mrs. Clinton’s popular-vote lead — now more than 2.3 million and expected to exceed 2.5 million; as a percentage of the electorate, that is a wider margin than five presidents enjoyed. With support for third-party candidates added in, 54 percent of voters rejected Mr. Trump.

So maybe his touchiness is understandable. Like most people, Mr. Trump senses the fundamental unfairness of awarding the presidency to the loser of the popular vote. In fact, he made that argument himself, back on election night in 2012, calling the Electoral College “a disaster for democracy” when he believed, incorrectly, that President Obama would lose the popular vote and still win re-election. (In recent weeks he’s changed his tune, calling it a “genius” idea.) What Mr. Trump may not know, given his lack of interest in American history, is that the Electoral College was designed specifically to enhance the influence of white voters in Southern states, which were allowed to factor in their large slave populations.

Today the Electoral College continues to give an outsized benefit to smaller and less populous states — a Wyoming resident’s vote weighs 3.6 times more than a Californian’s. So the less populous states will never agree to amend it out of the Constitution. But states may allocate their electoral votes however they choose, and that opens the door to greater equity without changing the Constitution — namely, the National Popular Vote interstate compact. This is an agreement among a group of states to award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already adopted it, representing 165 electoral votes. The compact would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on — ensuring that the national popular-vote winner became president.

We can’t expect Mr. Trump to throw his weight behind this initiative, given his new support for the Electoral College. But if he’s truly worried about the legitimacy of the 2016 election, why doesn’t he call for a recount?

This is a truly fatuous argument. Trump won. Why would he ask for a recount? What is the history of winners demanding recounts? And a recount is a recount, not an examination of the citizenship of every voter, which is the only way his fraud claim could be answered and satisfied.

But let’s just suppose that on Sunday, Hillary Clinton had tweeted, “Would have won Electoral College but for GOP voter suppression in key states.”

And what if it turned out that calculation was based on informed but unprovable estimates by some voting rights activists.

Would the Times Editorial Board have written a scolding editorial, Hillary Clinton’s lies about the electoral college

I don’t think so.



Fake news and ‘useful idiots.’ On Vladimir Putin, Alex Jones and Donald Trump



Good Monday Austin:

Hope you all (or y’all) had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Since our children and the rest of our family are back East and weren’t here for the holiday, my wife and I decided to do an early Jewish Christmas this year – back-to-back movies at the Regal Stadium Gateway 16, and takeout Chinese from Szechuan House on Burnet.

The first movie we saw was Allied. My wife loves Brad Pitt, but, she agreed, it was not so good.

Michael Phillips got it right in his review in the Chicago Tribune: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard team up for gorgeous, empty WWII spy thriller

In the swank but waxy new World War II-era Robert Zemeckis film “Allied,” starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and whatever sunglasses they happen to be wearing at the time, we’re in the land of patently artificial intrigue, as opposed to fakery trying to be, in any sense, real.

But, it made me wonder, amid the recent neo-Nazi revival, what would Richard Spencer think. I mean, when a neo-Nazi goes to a World War II movie, do they root for the Nazis? Do they weep when the Nazis are foiled and cheer when the Americans are killed?

Spencer, you may recall, is the white nationalist who recently inspired some followers to snap into the Nazi salute at a well-covered gathering of supporters in the ballroom at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center near the White House.

From the account in the Washington Post:

Spencer’s voice rose as the speech neared its end.

“For us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again!” he shouted. “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

He raised his glass and, in video caught on camera by the Atlantic, the heart of the alt-right stood and cheered — and a number of them offered their leader the Nazi salute.

And from the stage, Spencer looked at his followers, smiled and applauded.

From the Atlantic:

For most of the day, a parade of speakers discussed their ideology in relatively anodyne terms, putting a presentable face on their agenda. But after dinner, when most journalists had already departed, Spencer rose and delivered a speech to his followers dripping with anti-Semitism, and leaving no doubt as to what he actually seeks. He referred to the mainstream media as “Lügenpresse,” a term he said he was borrowing from “the original German”; the Nazis used the word to attack their critics in the press.

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”   

The audience offered cheers, applause, and enthusiastic Nazi salutes.

The night before, Spencer and company had a dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italian in Northwest Washington. From the Washington Post report:

As the dinner neared its end, and with the TV cameras all downstairs, he explained the schedule for the next day’s conference. Then, as Spencer considered how they should mark its finish, he smiled and offered a joke.

“Let’s party like it’s 1933,” he declared, referencing the year Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor and the Nazis embarked on the creation of their own ethno-state.

Beneath chandeliers and amid dark, wood-paneled walls, the alt-right erupted in cheers.

Spencer, his expression now serious, waited for them to quiet, then spoke once more.

“Let’s party like it’s 2016!” he shouted, raising his bare arms and pumping them in the air as the room roared even louder.

I’ve been to that Maggiano’s a number of times and never took it to be a fascist front. The last time I was there with my daughter they had a special where for $1 they gave you the meal you had just ordered a second time – you could take it home. It a bit odd, but more socialist than fascist.

Back in February, Jimmy Kimmel presented the Trump campaign as modeled on The Producers.

Like The Producers, the Trump campaign succeeded despite doing everything it could to fail.

However, it goes even beyond that script if it turns out that the American electorate not only fell in love with the political equivalent of Springtime for Hitler, but actually believed, with Trump’s election, it was springtime for Hitler.

But, in fact, I don’t think that was what happened.

Americans may have many things to fear in a Trump administration, but goose-stepping, Sieg Heiling neo-Nazis, is not one of them

People like Spencer, with his overt neo-Nazism, are not a serious threat. They are ridiculous.

I say this with some confidence.

In 2000 and 2002 and 2006 and 2008 I was the only mainstream reporter to cover the biennial white nationalist American Renaissance conferences.

I was covering race and immigration in those years and when I started on that beat in 1991 I believed that the biggest story of my life was America’s dramatic demographic transformation into a nation in which whites would no longer be a majority as an unintended consequence of mass immigration, a policy that while it had elite support from  the multicultural left and big business, didn’t really have broad-based democratic sanction and was especially unpopular with working class people of all races who faced economic competition and loss of their sense of place.

It seemed unlikely that the transformation would come off without a hitch, and it seemed at least possible that at some point white nationalist thought would gain greater public purchase. And, it seemed to me, that Jared Taylor, American Renaissance’s smooth, sophisticated, intellectual leader, was the kind of white nationalist leader who could sell it to a larger audience.

Well, I was wrong about that. I didn’t see Donald Trump coming. Or that Richard Spencer, a Jared Taylor protege, would ride to public consciousness in Trump’s wake.


But, no one at the American Renaissance conferences I went to, which included some people whose neo-Nazi credentials were as well in order as Spencer’s, would have been foolish enough to behave the way that Spencer and company did at Maggiano’s – and in front of the Atlantic’s cameras. 

Indeed, it seemed that Spencer was playing to those cameras in a bid for notoriety, and the rush of press and profiles that has now made him a newborn celebrity in the age of Trump, but at the expense of being anything more than a self-parody.

A native Texan, Spencer will be speaking at Texas A&M on Dec. 6, and while protest may well be the order of the day when he comes to College Station, I can guarantee you, the only thing that would delight Richard Spencer more than a big crowd of supporters would be an even bigger crowd of protesters, the more ferocious, the better.

The second movie my wife and I saw on Thanksgiving was Arrival. I love Amy Adams, and it was pretty good Thought-provoking, even.

From Jia Tolentino in  the New Yorker.

“Arrival,” the new movie from Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Prisoners”), which Anthony Lane reviewed in last week’s issue of the magazine—and which, this past weekend, earned twenty-four million dollars at the box office, more than people were expecting—is based on “Story of Your Life,” by the literary sci-fi writer Ted Chiang. It stars Amy Adams as a linguist who comes to play an extraordinary role during an alien visitation. The movie is a model of faithful, transformative film adaptation. It’s also an exploration of a humble and brave ontological position that, in the aftershock of the Presidential election, feels as sublime, unfamiliar, and vaguely oracular as the iron-gray spaceships that hover in the film.


Adams plays a self-effacing professor named Louise Banks, who remains calm as the spaceships descend. Viewers, on the other hand, might find their pulses rising, as I did; post-election, the panic resonates.


As the global panic escalates, an Alex Jones type rants about the heptapods on YouTube: the smartest thing we could do, he says, is display force. A war nearly begins when the heptapods state their desire to offer a “weapon,” which Banks frantically tells her superiors could mean something as innocuous as “tool.” In a stupefying final encounter, the heptapods communicate to Banks that they’ve really been trying to pass down a gift. It’s a trade, in the long run: in three thousand years, they’ll need the help of humanity.

The Sunday after the election, I watched this and wept. What a dream—to perceive instinctive purpose in what happens around us, to submit to that teleology, to enact it. What a fantasy, to imagine that we’ll be around to help anyone in three thousand years.

OK. So take that, intertwine it with that bit from the Allied review – we’re in the land of patently artificial intrigue, as opposed to fakery trying to be, in any sense, real – and we arrive at the real subject of today’s First Reading – fake news and the 2016 election.

According to a highly-clicked Thanksgiving Day story by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post, it is not the Nazi we have to fear, but the Russkies.

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

I don’t know. Reading that, I was skeptical. Or at any rate when Timberg writes about the origins of a propaganda campaign portraying Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers or to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia, a more obvious culprit leaps to mind.

It’s not Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in Moscow. Its Alexander Emerick “Alex” Jones right here in Austin, who, I am pretty sure, doesn’t really need Putin’s help in coming up with this stuff or disseminating it to a huge audience.

Back to Timberg’s story.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

 Watts’s report on this work, with colleagues Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger, appeared on the national security online magazine War on the Rocks this month under the headline “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.” Another group, called PropOrNot, a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds, planned to release its own findings Friday showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns. (Update: The report came out on Saturday).
OK. Click on the report. Here’s how it begins:

So this story depends on a group that prefaces its earth-shaking report with, Thanks to the Generous Sponsorship of Nobody. (Funding? Hah!)


Here’s more from the Post story.

The researchers used Internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social-media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages. Identifying website codes sometimes revealed common ownership. In other cases, exact phrases or sentences were echoed by sites and social-media accounts in rapid succession, signaling membership in connected networks controlled by a single entity.

PropOrNot’s monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.

Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were “useful idiots” — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.


The Russian campaign during this election season, researchers from both groups say, worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with “buzzy” content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events.

Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.

The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience. Some of the first and most alarming tweets after Clinton fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York, for example, came from Russian botnets and trolls, researchers found. (She was treated for pneumonia and returned to the campaign trail a few days later.)

This followed a spate of other misleading stories in August about Clinton’s supposedly troubled health. The Daily Beast debunked a particularly widely read piece in an article that reached 1,700 Facebook accounts and was read online more than 30,000 times. But the PropOrNot researchers found that the version supported by Russian propaganda reached 90,000 Facebook accounts and was read more than 8 million times. The researchers said the true Daily Beast story was like “shouting into a hurricane” of false stories supported by the Russians.

This propaganda machinery also helped push the phony story that an anti-Trump protester was paid thousands of dollars to participate in demonstrations, an allegation initially made by a self-described satirist and later repeated publicly by the Trump campaign. Researchers from both groups traced a variety of other false stories — fake reports of a coup launched at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stories about how the United States was going to conduct a military attack and blame it on Russia — to Russian propaganda efforts.

The final weeks of the campaign featured a heavy dose of stories about supposed election irregularities, allegations of vote-rigging and the potential for Election Day violence should Clinton win, researchers said.

“The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” said the executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers. “It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign. . . . It worked.”

Wait. Hold on.

The executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers…


Maybe I met the executive director on Nov. 19 among the anti-White Lives Matter counter-protesters at the Texas Capitol, many of whom also wore masks to protect themselves from the alt-right’s legions of skilled hackers.

(Dave Creaney)
(Photo by Dave Creaney)

Here’s some more from the PropOrNot FAQ.

11) Who put this together? Who is PropOrNot?

We are an independent team of concerned American citizens with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including professional experience in computer science, statistics, public policy, and national security affairs. We are currently volunteering our time and skills to identify propaganda – particularly Russian propaganda – targeting a U.S. audience. We collect public-record information connecting propaganda outlets to each other and their coordinators abroad, analyze what we find, act as a central repository and point of reference for related information, and organize efforts to oppose it.

Some of our members have been aware of Russian influence operations in a professional context for quite some time, but others have become increasingly aware of existing research on the subject in light of recent events in Ukraine, Western Europe, and the Middle East. We formed PropOrNot as an effort to prevent propaganda from distorting U.S. political and policy discussions. We hope to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence and improve public discourse generally.

We are completely independent, because we not funded by anyone, and we have no formal institutional affiliations. We are nonpartisan, in that our team includes all major political persuasions except the pro-Russian kind. We are anonymous for now, because we are civilian Davids taking on a state-backed adversary Goliath, and we take things like the international Russian intimidation of journalists, “Pizzagate”-style mob harassment, and the assassination of Jo Cox very seriously, but we can in some cases provide background information about ourselves on a confidential basis to professional journalists. We do not publicly describe all of our sources and methods, although we describe most of them, and again, we can in some cases provide much more detail to journalists and other researchers in order to contextualize their reporting.

We are American, and our team has more than 30 members, including Ukrainian-American, Iraqi-American, and quite a few other varieties of folks. We are united in our overall objectives: to identify, help counter, and eventually deter Russian propaganda. Any time an outlet consistently echoes, repeats, or refers its audience to Russian propaganda, we’re going to analyze it and call it out. We work to shine a light on propaganda in order to prevent it from distorting political and policy discussions, to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence, and to improve public discourse generally.

So, to that end, they have released a list of American websites and media outlets who it identifies as either agents of Russian propaganda or its useful idiots, with this explanation:

Please note that our criteria are behavioral. That means the characteristics of the propaganda outlets we identify are motivation-agnostic. For purposes of this definition it does not matter whether the sites listed here are being knowingly directed and paid by Russian intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide “useful idiots” of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.

We assess that this overall Russian effort is at least semi-centralized, with multiple Russian projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources. There are varying degrees of involvement in it, and awareness of involvement. Some people involved seem genuinely unaware that they are being used by Russia to produce propaganda, but many others seem to know full well.

Very well, but, it seems to me that before it publishes a story that purports to name the names of those engaging in fake news, the Washington Post, which covered itself with glory for its Trump coverage, should make quite sure it is well sourced and ironclad.

At least Joseph McCarthy wasn’t wearing a Zorro mask when he said on February 9, 1950, in Wheeling, West Virginia, “I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party, and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy of the State Department.”




From Glenn Grenwald and Ben Norton at the Intercept: Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

The Washington Post on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and tand then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:


Mathew Ingram of Fortune also critiqued the Post story, under the headline, No, Russian Agents Are Not Behind Every Piece of Fake News You See

In effect, both of these groups want to portray anyone who shared a salacious but untrue news story about Hillary Clinton as an agent of an orchestrated Russian intelligence campaign.

Has the rise of fake news played into the hands of those who want to spread disinformation? Sure it has. But connecting hundreds of Twitter accounts into a dark web of Russian-controlled agents, along with any website that sits on some poorly thought-out blacklist, seems like the beginnings of a conspiracy theory, rather than a scientific analysis of the problem.


Here is how PropOrNot reacted to criticism.

As Elmer Fudd.

From the Intercept:

Included on this blacklist of supposed propaganda outlets are prominent independent left-wing news sites such as Truthout, Naked Capitalism, Black Agenda Report, Consortium News, and Truthdig.

Also included are popular libertarian hubs such as Zero Hedge,, and the Ron Paul Institute, along with the hugely influential right-wing website the Drudge Report and the publishing site WikiLeaks. Far-right, virulently anti-Muslim blogs such as Bare Naked Islam are likewise dubbed Kremlin mouthpieces. Basically, everyone who isn’t comfortably within the centrist Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush spectrum is guilty. On its Twitter account, the group announced a new “plugin” that automatically alerts the user that a visited website has been designated by the group to be a Russian propaganda outlet.

Also, of course, on the list are Alex Jones’s InfoWars and Prison Planet sites.

But, a week earlier, PropOrNot tweeted a simpler way to spot a Russian dupe

Well that would include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. And  state Party Chairman Tom Mechler.  And well, really, virtually every Republican official in Texas.

And it would include the president-elect of the United States.

And here we get to the nub of the fake news dilemma.

The person most spectacularly spreading the word about Hillary Clinton’s ill-health was Donald Trump (and, in fairness, Rudy Giuliani). It was Trump who warned that the election was rigged and was going to be stolen from him. It was Trump whose final ad was all about resisting the conspiratorial global special interests, complete, when those word were spoken, with an image of Soros,

Forget the professional propagators of fake news.

Is Twitter going to suspend President Trump’s Twitter account?

Is Facebook  going to block users from posting unfounded emanations from the president of the United States?




No evidence, huh?

So where did Trump get that idea?


No. Alex Jones.

Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens: Trump may have won popular vote


“Report: 3 million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.”

Bloggers on Monday, November 14th, 2016 in an article on InfoWars

Fact-check: Did 3 million undocumented immigrants vote in this year’s election?

Were there 3 million illegal votes from undocumented immigrants in this year’s presidential election? Well, that’s what some websites are saying.

“Report: 3 million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens,” reads a headline on InfoWars, a conspiracy website ran by Alex Jones. The article has been shared via Facebook more than 48,000 times when we last looked.

Other websites also have touted this report, including Milo, TheNewAmerican and FreedomDaily.

So is there any truth to it?

Well, we don’t know for absolute certain. But the report is actually a tweet, and the person who authored the tweet won’t explain how he arrived at his figure. If that isn’t reason enough to be skeptical, independent experts and historical analyses suggest it’s highly suspect.

In other words, don’t buy it


Meanwhile PropOrNot has tweeted and  retweeted images of Putin dining with Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, and Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, all apparently part of the Russian  conspiracy to elect Trump and defeat Clinton.



Stein, in fact, said during the campaign that Clinton was more dangerous and more likely to lead us into war than Trump.

So why did she quickly raise a lot of money – more than she had raised in her entire campaign – to seek a recount in critical states that Clinton lost?


And why has the Clinton Team now joined Stein’s Wisconsin’s recount effort?




Meanwhile, this from Lee Fang from the the Intercept on Saturday: Some Fake News Publishers Just Happen to Be Donald Trump’s Cronies


Laura Ingraham, a close Trump ally currently under consideration to be Trump’s White House press secretary, owns an online publisher called Ingraham Media Group that runs a number of sites, including LifeZette, a news site that frequently posts articles of dubious veracity. One video produced by LifeZette this summer, ominously titled “Clinton Body Count,” promoted a conspiracy theory that the Clinton family had some role in the plane crash death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as the deaths of various friends and Democrats.

The video, published on Facebook from LifeZette’s verified news account, garnered over 400,000 shares and 14 million views.

Another LifeZette video, picking up false claims from other sites, claimed that voting machines “might be compromised” because a voting machine company called Smartmatic, allegedly providing voting machines “in sixteen states,” was purchased by the liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros never purchased the company, and Smartmatic did not provide voting machines used in the general election.

Where do they come up with this stuff?

Soros Linked Voting Machines To Be Used In Key Battleground States Top globalist doing his best to control upcoming election Infowars Nightly News – October 25, 2016 65 Comments

One LifeZette article misleadingly claimed that the United Nations backed a “secret” Obama administration takeover of local police departments. The article referenced Justice Department orders that a select few police departments address patterns of misconduct, a practice that, in reality, long predates the Obama presidency, is hardly secret, and had no relation to the United Nations

InfoWars shared this report. UN Backs Secret Obama Takeover of Police International org calls for federalization of U.S. law enforcement to be ‘beefed up,’ cover all of America

Another LifeZette article, which went viral in the week prior to the election, falsely claimed that Wikileaks had revealed that a senior Hillary Clinton campaign official had engaged in occult rituals. Ingraham’s site regularly receives links from the Drudge Report and other powerful drivers of Internet traffic.

 Now that’s truly strange. Where did that come from?

Bombshell: Hillary Clinton’s Satanic Network Exposed Learn more about Hillary’s demonic ties November 4, 2016 534


But the boldest idea in this regard comes from Mike Cernovich, an influential pro-Trump social media presence. (See The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz on Trolls for Trump: Meet Mike Cernovich, the meme mastermind of the alt-right.)

From Cenovich:

The White House Press Corps must be disbanded. You cannot allow snakes inside your house. We know what snakes do.

Some will call this an attack on the free press, which is nonsense and shows ignorance of both the Press Corp and the First Amendment.

The White House press corps is the group of journalists or correspondents usually stationed at the White House in Washington, D.C., to cover the President of the United States, White House events, and news briefings. Their offices are located in the West Wing.

The First Amendment does not give hoaxing journalists the right to set up an office inside the Trump House.

Members of the press have every right to write about Trump. Under NY Times v. Sullivan, they even have a constitutional right to lie about him.



Cenovich was on the InfoWars broadcast this weekend with editor Paul Joseph Watson

They agreed that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was a embarrassment and a joke who the mainstream media was promoting to smear and undermine the alt-right.

And they agreed that, in Cenovich’s words, “We are the media. we don’t need the fake media.”

In fact, Jones has already announced the creation of a Fake News Analysis Center. to fight back as the  discredited “mainstream” media makes desperate attempt to control narrative

And, last week, in what I thought a brilliant stroke, Jones extended backward in time his identity with his hero – suggesting that Trump, like himself, is and has always been a 9/11 Truther, the very matter on which Jones went from cultish Austin gadfly to man of the world and, ultimately, most trusted news source of the president of the United States.


It’s 9/11 2001.  Donald Trump is being interviewed. The Towers have just collapsed. He talks about the fact that I’ve built buildings like this. This building is incredibly sturdy. It’s one of the strongest in the world . It’s basically solid metal. How in the world did they collapse without there being bombs in the airplane or bombs in the building.

Now, why is this so important? Because if Donald Trump had been an insider he would have known there was a stand-down that day and Saudi Arabia was involved in 9/11 with criminal elements of our government. He would have gone along with the official story but he didn’t. He he was there Day ne saying he same thing I was saying on the radio at the same time.









`The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, Demagogue for President’

(Trump Coloring Book)


Good Wednesday Austin:

A little less than a year ago, on Dec. 11, 2015,  Jennifer Mercieca, associate professor of communication and director of the Aggie Agora at Texas A&M University, wrote an influential piece for The Conversation entitled, The rhetorical brilliance of Trump the demagogue.

Trump possesses an arrogance and volatility that makes most voters recoil. So how has he maintained a grip on a segment of the Republican base that – at least, for now – seems unshakable?

And how has his support persisted, despite the fact that some have called him a demagogue and a fascist, or that political observers have found parallels between him and polarizing figures like George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Father Coughlin – even Hitler?

As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I write about and teach courses on the use and abuse of rhetorical strategy in public discourse. Scrutinizing Trump’s rhetorical skills can partially explain his profound and persistent appeal.

The Greek word “demagogue” (demos = people + agōgos = leader) literally means “a leader of the people.” Today, however, it’s used to describe a leader who capitalizes on popular prejudices, makes false claims and promises, and uses arguments based on emotion rather than reason.

Donald Trump appeals to voters’ fears by depicting a nation in crisis, while positioning himself as the nation’s hero – the only one who can conquer our foes, secure our borders and “Make America Great Again.”

His lack of specificity about how he would accomplish these goals is less relevant than his self-assured, convincing rhetoric. He urges his audiences to “trust him,” promises he is “really smart” and flexes his prophetic muscles (like when he claims to have predicted the 9/11 attacks).

Trump’s self-congratulating rhetoric makes him appear to be the epitome of hubris, which, according to research, is often the least attractive quality of a potential leader. However, Trump is so consistent in his hubris that it appears authentic: his greatness is America’s greatness.

So we can safely call Trump a demagogue. But one fear of having demagogues actually attain real power is that they’ll disregard the law or the Constitution. Hitler, of course, is a worst-case example.

Amazingly, one of Trump’s very arguments is that he won’t be controlled.

On the campaign trail, he’s harnessed his macho businessman persona – crafted through social media and years spent on TV (where he was often the most powerful person in the room) – to make his case for the presidency. It’s a persona that rejects restraints: he speaks of not being constrained by his party, media, other candidates, political correctness, facts – anything, really. In a sense, he’s fashioning himself as an uncontrollable leader.

(Slides are from Mercieca’s power point on her book in progress.)


A few notable things have happened in the last year. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president. Mercieca signed a contract with Texas A&M University Press to write a book, The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, Demagogue for President, and then, a few weeks ago, Trump, the uncontrollable leader, was elected president of the United States.




“The book is a risk,” Mercieca said yesterday.

“I think it’s a risk for the press,” she said. “It’s a risk for me. I feel very nervous. I thought I was going to be writing this book and he wasn’t going to be president.”

“I had no idea he was going to get elected,” Mercieca said. “I thought that I was writing a book where we would kind of smugly laugh. like, `Oh, ha ha,’ and then he got destroyed by Hillary Clinton, and,`Isn’t it a good thing the demagogue didn’t win.’

I sent an email to the editor the next day (after the election), Wednesday morning, I had to catch a plane to a conference, and said, `Ah, I don’t know. Can I still write this book, you know, can I call the president of the United States a demagogue?’ And she said I could, if that’s what I thought because, academic freedom.”




For nearly seven years, Mercieca had been working on an academic paper about demagoguery, but just the right example had eluded her. Until Trump.

JM: “Just watching him, I kept hear him doing the same things, over and over and over again, using the same strategies,  and so I started to think about why those strategies seemed to work when they wouldn’t normally.”

It seemed that somehow his out-of-bounds style perfectly fit a public mood founded in frustration, polarization and mistrust.

JM: “And I realized it was very smart what he was doing, diabolically smart, but smart.”



Also last December, Mercieca was contacted by the New York Times, which was preparing a piece that would call Trump a demagogue, and catalogue the evidence.

In November Trump had mocked Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter, who had formerly worked for the Washington Post, after Kovaleski contested Trump’s claim that Kovaelski’s reporting confirmed Trump’s debunked claim that crowds of Muslims in New Jersey had publicly celebrated the 9-11 attacks. (see Donald Trump Criticized for Mocking Disabled Reporter The GOP candidate performed an unflattering impression of Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a congenital joint condition, at a South Carolina rally. from Snopes)

JM: To them (the New York Times reporters) it was debased, it disqualified him from office.

Why attack the reporter in such a malicious/juvenile way?

JM: “He is vindicating himself about the terrible lie of what Muslims do. So it is a way of further alienating the Muslim population, and making fun of the reporter, an ad hominem  attack. He can’t be trusted he’s not a real person. He’s disabled.

“So it’s all of these things rolled into one. The purpose is to distract from the claim that he has misrepresented the truth. So the story shifts. It’s not about him misrepresenting the truth. Instead, it’s about him mocking a disabled person, in the mainstream. But then, in his in group, it’s not even about that. They maybe don’t care about that. It’s Trump is the hero. He’s right. He’s making fun of the guy  who the group is making fun of. He’s not areal person anyway. He’s the enemy. So we just make fun of him.”

It sounds like junior high.

But, Mercieca said, “It’s sophisticated as a strategy.”

“I would love to see his college transcript and see if he took a rhetoric class,” she said.

“It’s too consistent over the course of a year to be accidental.”


The failing New York Times.

JM: It’s associative logic. You wouldn’t want to mention the New York Times without also associating it with something negative about it. Otherwise you’re just do PR for them so it has to be failing New York Times.

Also it’s an ad hominem attack. Instead of dealing with whatever allegations or news reports are in the New York Times you instead distract the audience away from those allegation by attacking the business itself. They  are distraction techniques. Instead of looking at what we’re supposed to look at, look over here.


JM: So, don’t deal with the questions raised by the Hamilton cast, don’t deal with that issue. Instead, they’re overrated.

It’s like magic, sleight of hand. legerdemain.





There were the nicknames.

JM: If you’re trying to introduce your candidate to the American electorate and they don’t know much about Ted Cruz, you have  a certain  story you’re trying to tell, and if your opponent is consistently branding you as Lyin’ Ted,  that has as much chance to stick as your branding attempt. He was smart to do it.

Usually you don’t find a lot of mentioning your opponent by political candidates because it helps them, (the opponent). But, if you do, you’re going to call them Crooked Hillary, you’re going to call them Lyin’ Ted, you’re going to call them Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb.

Why Crooked Hillary?

JM: The through line for the campaign was corruption, leading to `drain the swamp.’ The media is corrupt. Politicians are corrupt. Hillary Clinton was the best example of corruption so she was Crooked Hillary. She represents the full swamp.

Looking back, it all makes so much sense.






From a piece in Fusion in June.

“This is the problem when you have a rich billionaire, a fractured media, a polarized electorate, and a weak party system,” said Jennifer Mercieca, an associate professor of communications at Texas A&M University and a historian of American political rhetoric. “Conditions are ripe for demagoguery.”


“Right now it seems there is no one more powerful than Donald Trump in a position to stop him or call him out and hold him accountable for what he does,” she explained. “No one—not the party, not the media, not the people. I mean, the Pope tried to call him out and it didn’t work. I say that and I’m laughing, but it’s a nervous laugh.”





The path for Trump was cleared, Mercieca said, by “the way that the nation doesn’t share truth or fact, the way that information circulates and rumor circulates without even passably being checked. That allows for an insulated truth community, and if that insulated truth community has its own version of reality that’s separate from a different one, then it’s insulated, there is not way to interact with it.

“And so that allows for someone like Trump, who tells his story over and over again in a way that resonates with them, in a way that  can’t be contradicted from the outside. The fractured media community allows for that.”




JM: The polarized electorate furthers that division. If you have distrust between parties, where they are not sharing values and they also are not sharing facts and truth and media sources. Which is why it was so crucial that he kept going after the media, over and over throughout the summer and the fall, and now, because it re-enforces the idea that, `our truth community is right and your truth community is the problem.’

Also culpable, Mercieca said, was “the weak party system. They tried, at least initially, to control him,” but Trump used his ability to dominate the news cycle every day, and his personal resources, to stay in the rac and, ultimatley, to prevail.

Mercieca it was a perfect match of man and moment.

I think it was only Donald Trump and it was only in this moment. Ted Cruz couldn’t do it this year. Donald Trump couldn’t have done it ten years ago.

Trump was also derided for his reliance on mass rallies, which seemed a quaint throwback to an older style of politics.

JM: It was a way of creating a safe space. You always saw these stories of people saying, “I feel free when I’m at one of these rallies. No political correctness. I can say what I want. This is freedom. This is America.”

It was brilliant.

What is a demagogue?

JM: It translates to leader of the people so there is no reason why a leader of the people has to be a misleader of the people. it’s not a negative thing necessarily. So if  you go back to histories of ancient Greece, one way to think about a demagogue is – and this was George Grote, who wrote a multi-volume history of ancient Greece – his version of a demagogue is that they were what was best about democracy, that they were upholding democracy and democratic values and defending it from the oligarchs who were always trying to overthrow it.

For him the demagogues were heroes. But others, like Plato and Thucydides and Aeschylus and Aristophanes, they didn’t like democracy and in fact some of them were oligarchs and they didn’t like rhetoric, they were philosophers. Our understanding of the term is loaded and it is filtered through those who hated democracy the most – Plato and friends.

The one thing that distinguishes demagogues from other leaders of the people – because we would want someone to emerge from the people to lead them – is being held accountable. A real political  leader would allow  for themselves to be held accountable for their actions. They would promote transparency and accountability, stand for questions from reporters. They would allow themselves to be interrogated and questioned. They wouldn’t have anything to hide.

Whereas a demagogue, even in ancient Athens, would be a person who proposed a policy but then wasn’t in charge of implementing  that policy, so could never be held accountable for it.

Trump’s credo, Mercieca said, was, ““I won’t be accountable,’ which, by the way, is the last thing you’d want in a leader. But that’s what he ran on. He ran on the fact that he was going to be an unaccountable leader and that we should give him the power to make America great again.”

“Anytime anyone tried hold him accountable – the Pope the New York Times, the Republican Party – it didn’t matter. Anytime anyone tried to hold him accountable, he said, “Don’t listen to them. I know how to make America great again. I got great ideas, the best ideas, I’m really smart.'”



JM: With Ronald Reagan it was, “Let’s make America great again.” Let us, let you and I – make America great again. Trump took the `us’ out. With Trump it’s Make America Great Again. “I’m going to be the greatest jobs president God ever created.”

Here are some of Trump’s demagogic rhetorical techniques.




Argument Ad Baculum.

Menace, threats of force, were a feature of Trump’s rhetoric -“when people come after me they go down the tubes” – especially at his mass rallies, which often featured the almost ritualistic expulsion of protesters.

Sometimes, it went beyond that.

From the New York Times in early August.

Repeating his contention that Mrs. Clinton wanted to abolish the right to bear arms, Mr. Trump warned at a rally here that it would be “a horrible day” if Mrs. Clinton were elected and got to appoint a tiebreaking Supreme Court justice.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd began to boo. He quickly added: “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”Oblique as it was, Mr. Trump’s remark quickly elicited a wave of condemnation from Democrats, gun control advocates and others, who accused him of suggesting violence against Mrs. Clinton or liberal jurists.

Argument Ad Hominem

Trump is the master of the ad hominem attacks.

From Mercieca’s piece in The Conversation:

When opponents question his ideas or stances, he’ll employ ad hominem attacks – or criticisms of the person, rather than the argument (dismissing his detractors as “dummies,” “weak” or “boring”). Perhaps most famously, he derided Carly Fiorina’s appearance when she started to go up in the polls after the first Republican debate (“Look at that face!” he cried. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”).




Argument Ad Populum:

JM: The crowd is wise. The experts are fools.

From The Conversation.

He often uses ad populum arguments, which are appeals to the wisdom of the crowd (“polls show,” “we’re winning everywhere”).

From First Reading when Trump came to Austin at the end of August.

Good day Austin:

You gotta be flattered.

Ostensibly, Donald Trump came to Austin Tuesday to raise money and hold a rally.

But, it turns out, he really came to Austin to figure out what he really thinks about the thing we thought  he cared most deeply about – the deportation of some 11 or 12 million immigrants without legal status.

“I mean, I don’t know. You tell me,” Trump told a packed house of rabid supporters – and a few ringers – at the Moody Theater for a taping of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s like a poll. There’s thousands of people in this room.”

(And of course, the obligatory self-congratulation: “This place is packed. Does everybody get this kind of a crowd?”)

And so, Trump asked the Moody audience to determine what his policy on deportation should be and, lo and behold, they seemed to agree that their hero should adopt the position previously articulated by the likes of Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

Except, of course, Trump, reality TV star that he is, knew how to manipulate his audience to get the results he wanted.


JM: He treats people as objects when he doesn’t respect them or they criticize him. They are enemy objects. He always uses `that’ instead of `who.’ He treats women as objects. He treats the Khan family as objects.





JM: My favorite example:

From the New York Times piece in December.

“All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak,” Mr. Trump said in New Hampshire on Tuesday of his fellow candidates. “I think they’re weak, generally, you want to know the truth. But I won’t say that, because I don’t want to get myself, I don’t want to have any controversies. So I refuse to say that they’re weak generally, O.K.? Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.”

JM: I like that example because he runs you through the thought process, he actually says out loud the whole  paralipsis. `I’m gonna say it, I’m not gonna say it because I don’t want to get in trouble. Here I am saying it but I’m not actually saying it because I don’t want to get into any controversy.’

American exceptionalism:

JM: He personifies American exceptionalism. He can make America great again. He has the best words. That gives his audience, the in group, this hopeful, ambiguous goal.

(Trump coloring book.)
(Trump coloring book.)

Stepping back to take a more meta look, Mercieca thinks Trump smashes the liberal idyll about he course of American history.

JM: We’ve had this liberal, progressive version of history that  says, you know, the status quo is fine, the Constitution is good, let’s make managerial small changes and we’re going to see progress unfold through history

However, Mercieca said that America was founded on the foreboding that “democracy will always decay, democracy will always turn into tyranny,” and that patriotic citizenship demanded a continuous critique of government, protecting against “the natural corruption of government.”

But, Mercieca said, “the language of critique wanes over the course of the 19th Century,” and the 20th Century turns to the “language of progress.”

“I think we’ve been lulled into this false sense of security from the liberal/progressive notion of the 20th Century that things are always going to get better, they’re not going to get worse and no one election really matter that much because things are going to unfold to a better life for everyone in the long run.”

“We believe that our presidents out to be heroes,” Mercieca said.


Trump has certainly presented himself as the hero.

And, raised expectations.

JM: Trump has give us some pretty specific agenda items that he’s going to make happen. if he doesn’t build a giant, great big beautiful wall in the next couple of months here then I think he’s got this expectation that is unfulfillable. If he doesn’t repeal Obamacare, if he doesn’t bring back American jobs and everybody does not have a great factory job in the next few months, I don’t know how much time people are going to give him.

He set pretty high expectations  that he can do all these things. Maybe people don’t think he can, actually. Maybe people are actually thinking, `We know the Democrats, or Hillary Clinton tried everything else, let’s give this guy a chance.’  Or maybe they take him more literally. `I want to see that wall built and see that new job.'”

He’s been wily and surprised me all the way through. Maybe he’ll find a way to misdirect or redirect our attention.

He must have a game plan.”

And if he doesn’t?

Mercieca said the media are supposed to play the watchdog role that was seen as the responsibility of patriotic citizens at the founding of the Republic

“They want to hold people accountable,” she said. But with Trump, “He’s not going to let that happen.

She recalls this modest pre-eletion proposal in the Federalist:

The GOP Needs To Elect Trump, Then Impeach Him
October 25, 2016 By Jonathan Ashbach

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the only two viable presidential candidates. Both are disastrous. Third-party candidates are a joke, electorally. Supporting them accomplishes nothing beyond weakening the candidate one would otherwise have supported from the two major parties.

The Utah scheme, if successful, would only pull support from Trump, leaving Clinton likely to win an even more impressive margin of victory in the Electoral College. Even on simple policy grounds, most conservatives would be unhappy with the two leading third-party candidates. Conservatives are left with no good options.

Or are we? There is a way out of this mess. It is a desperate plan, but desperate times, desperate measures: Elect-and-Impeach. Elect the ticket. Impeach Trump.

The Republican Party does have an attractive candidate on its ticket. Socially conservative. Economically conservative. Conservative on national defense. Morally and religiously impeccable. The trouble is, that man is the Republican candidate for vice president, Mike Pence.

But if Trump were impeached immediately after he took office, the Republican candidate for vice president would become president in his place. Further, if Republicans take the lead in removing Trump from office, the party might regain some of its lost credibility in parts of the electorate that it is anxious to attract.

Yes, We Can

There is nothing impossible about this strategy. That Republican leaders are strongly at odds with their party’s candidate is no secret. If enough of them are willing to cross the aisle and join forces with their Democratic colleagues, impeachment is a perfectly plausible outcome.

That made Mercieca laugh.

“What makes you think he’s going to stand for being impeached?”

But how would he, how could he, resist it?

JM: I don’t know. I don’t know. He has not allowed anybody to hold him accountable  yet. He has prevented every single institution from holding him accountable.



By the time The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, Demagogue for President is published, probably next fall, we will know much more about whether the skills that got Trump to the White House are serving him and the nation well as its occupant.

Here’s a TED talk Mercieca gave in June at Brinn College in Bryan.

`That’s what freedom sounds like.’ On protest, from Broadway to the Texas Capitol, in the age of Trump



Protest and counter-protest at the Texas Capitol on Saturday

Good Monday Austin:

One of perks of being the vice president-elect is you can score tickets to Hamilton. Like President Obama cutting the line at Franklin Barbecue.

One of the costs of being Donald Trump’s vice president-elect, is you collect some boos when you take your seat and get lectured from the stage when the performance is over

Pence, on Fox News Sunday, took the experience admirably, graciously in stride.

Pence was on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: Finally, I’ve got about a minute left. I got to ask you about the subject everybody is talking about today. You know what it is. And that is the fact that you went to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” on Friday night.

And afterwards, the cast addressed you as you were walking out of the theater about their concerns as to whether Mr. Trump will protect diversity in our nation. Here he is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.


WALLACE: Now, Saturday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted this, “The cast of ‘Hamilton’ was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize.” And he tweeted about it again at 6:23 this morning.

Governor, what did you think of the cast’s comments, and did you consider it rude?

PENCE: Well, first off, my daughter and I and her cousins really enjoyed the show. “Hamilton” is just an incredible production, incredibly talented people. And it was a real joy to be there.

You know, when we arrived, we heard — we heard a few boos, we heard some cheers. And I nudged my kids and reminded them that’s what freedom sounds like.

And — but at the end, you know, I did hear what was said from the stage, and I can tell you, I wasn’t offended by what was said. I’ll leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it.

But I do want to say that the basic element, the center of that message is one that I want to address. That is, I know this is a very disappointing time for people that did not see their candidate win in this national election. I know this is a very anxious time for some people.

And I just want to reassure people that what President-elect Donald Trump said on election night, he absolutely meant from the bottom of his heart. He is preparing to be the president of all of the people of the United States of America.

And to watch him bringing together people of diverse views, bringing together people that differed with him strongly, seeing him talk to leaders around the world, I just want to — I just want to reassure every American that in the days ahead, I’m very confident that they’re going to see — that they’re going to see President-elect Donald Trump be a president for all of the people, and we embrace that principle and we’re going to work hard to make that principle every day that we serve.

WALLACE: And just to button Hamilton-gate up, do you want or expect an apology?

PENCE: Well, as I said, I would just — I would leave that to others, whether that was the appropriate venue for that. But, you know, I will tell you, Chris, if you haven’t seen the show, go to see it. It is a great, great show.

You know, I’m a real history buff. So I — my daughter and I and her cousins really enjoyed it.

WALLACE: Well, I’ve seen it too. We can say Pence and Wallace, two thumbs up.

Governor Pence, we want to thank you. Thank you for joining us. Always good to talk with you, sir.

PENCE: Thank you

That was in marked contrast to the president-elect’s reaction, which began with this now-deleted tweet.



Then these undeleted tweets.


A “safe and special place?”

What kind of bubble does Trump live in?

Does he think the whole world is the Brown University campus?

And he, uniquely, has a safe place right there in Manhattan, a short walk from Broadway.

Not just Trump Tower, but, you may recall, all of Fifth Avenue, New York’s Main Street.

Trump: “I could stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot SOMEBODY and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Indeed, if Trump wants to demonstrate – or test – his continued popularity, he ought to, with a little Aaron Burr bravado, periodically test that assertion, and just go and shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and see what happens.

But, back to Broadway.

Classic Trump.

Normally, he would throw in that Hamilton is a big flop and losing money but that’s too obviously untrue, so instead he uses his favorite information source – I hear –  to say it’s highly overrated – apparently by virtually everyone who sees it (I haven’t), including Mike Pence.

The future First Tweeter then took a break to comment on what else he’s up to.


And then,  the critic returns.

Perhaps the humor of The Bubble was too subtle.

So, while Pence emerged as classy and wise, Trump burnished his reputation as emotionally seven-years-old.




Amid the Hamilton tweets, there was also these:


For some, this was the real diversionary motivation behind the Hamilton tweets.


















From,  The Hamilton-Pence Incident Was More Than Just a Distraction By

Over the weekend, “Hamilton is a distraction” became, for a surprisingly diverse group of commenters across the board, a common refrain. According to their argument, every moment spent paying attention to this silly theater kerfuffle was a moment in which we were not looking at the $25 million Trump University settlement, or at Trump’s national-security appointments, or at the unprecedented blurring of lines between his private business interests and his new temp gig as a public servant. Some journalists manifested a growing strain of Trumpanoia in which anyone who comments on anything Trump does or says on Twitter is playing right into his diabolical master plan (“Stop Being Trump’s Twitter Fool,” the veteran writer Jack Shafer warned on Politico). Not to mention all the variations of “This is why they hate us,” and “This is why we lost” proffered by people who remain determined to embrace a narrative that the election was “real” America’s calculated repudiation of diversity-based cultural elitism and of people who make mean jokes. Just days before the incident, the conservative historian Niall Ferguson wrote a Boston Globe op-ed clickbaitingly headlined, “Was the election a vote against ‘Hamilton’?”

That kind of anti-elite symbol-making, in which Hamilton represents a trinket of the smugly out-of-touch (it’s great, it’s ours, you can’t get in, and you wouldn’t like it anyway), obviously freights the show with baggage it doesn’t deserve. No, it didn’t get Trump elected. But the flare up is a bigger deal than those who are labeling it nothing more than a damaging diversion would like to believe. Little incidents can come packed with big meaning. The Hamilton episode touched on LGBTQ issues, which were shamefully underdiscussed during the campaign and remain so now. It touched on immigration; on race; on the impact and value of protest speech; on the president-elect’s temperament; on his demands for opponents to capitulate; on his disdain for First Amendment freedoms (his quartet of Hamilton tweets was consistent with his post-election attacks on public protestors and on the New York Times); and on the worries of several large populations that the Trump administration will demonize them and make them less safe. Those who consider themselves progressives — but view all discussion as a zero-sum game in which attention to one story means lack of attention to another — might do well to think harder before brushing this off as trivial because the gateway is showbiz, or because a different story is on their minds, or because they want their conversation to be the conversation.

As for showbiz itself, what was exposed on Friday night at Hamilton was the dawning of the age of anxiety. Hollywood doesn’t know what to do right now; neither does Broadway. What should oppositional entertainment be in the age of Trump — especially in a country where half the population seems to instantly discredit anything that comes from New York or Los Angeles? Is the job to buck up the left, to reach out to the right, to depict an America that’s routinely ignored by Trump, to depict an America that’s routinely ignored by the makers of entertainment, or all of the above?

Anger, fear, and sadness can, no doubt, inspire a lot of great creative work. But planning popular art as a sweaty reaction to electoral defeat is a surefire way to create something bad. One can embrace politically conscious pop culture and still realize that while it’s very good at some things — gradually expanding people’s vision of the world, slowly normalizing the misunderstood or marginal — it is not direct activism, no matter how performatively satisfying it can feel, no matter how viral it can go. Activism is activism; pop culture is the drip-drip-drip of water regrooving a rock so gradually that you’ll never pinpoint the moment the landscape changed. A hashtag is just the grate through which the water drips.

Which doesn’t mean artists shouldn’t try. In the first of his anti-Hamilton tweets, Trump (who is said to like musicals and apparently saw Evita six times, a heterosexual world record) surprised people by using language that many on the right detest and routinely mock. “The Theater,” he wrote, apparently sanctifying it with a capital letter, “must always be a safe and special place.” Ha ha, he almost said safe space! However, he’s right. What he doesn’t understand is that anybody who walks through the doors of a theater should be prepared to have preconceptions challenged, beliefs questioned, certitudes shaken, ideas adjusted, worldviews broadened, and perspectives shifted. People who consider that a threat to their safety should probably stay away from theater and the rest of popular culture altogether. For the rest of us, that’s not only safe, it’s essential.

You can do two things if you’re on a stage: Show or tell. There are those who feel Hamilton should have stuck with the first; instead, the cast and production team chose, for one night, to do both. While this is going to be a very long and ugly fight, I’d award them a narrow victory-by-decision in Culture Wars, Round One. They saw an extraordinary circumstance looming before them, they stood up, they represented themselves and others with firmness and dignity, and they sparked plenty of meaningful, non-distracting dialogue by doing so. Chances to speak truth directly to power, even when power turns its back and starts walking up the aisle, may be rarer than we would wish in the next four years. When the opportunity comes along, there’s much to be said for not throwing away your shot.


And, a counter-take from Springsteen and the Soprano’s Stevie Van Zandt.








Which brings us to Saturday’s scene at the Capitol.




From the Statesman:


Eight people were arrested and riot police were summoned to the Texas Capitol on Saturday as members of a White Lives Matter group, some of them armed, faced off against a variety of opponents.

(Ken Reed and other White Lives Matter proponents held a rally in front of the Texas State Capitol on Saturday. Photo by. Dave Creaney)
(Ken Reed and other White Lives Matter proponents held a rally in front of the Texas State Capitol on Saturday. Photo by. Dave Creaney)

About 20 White Lives Matter protesters came around midday to protest hate crime laws that they say favor minorities. “Equal justice under law” was on a sign held up by one man, who dressed all in black with what appeared to be a Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifle slung on his shoulder.

(Members of Houston-based White Lives Matter march in a demonstration escorted by Texas State Troopers. James Gregg.)

The protesters were shouted down by what a Texas Department of Public Safety officer said were 300 to 400 counter protesters, who yelled “Nazi scum” and other insults.

Riot police were summoned, with about 60 state troopers on the scene and a state Department of Public Safety helicopter buzzing overhead. Horse-mounted officers from DPS and the Austin Police Department were also involved.

(Photo by James Gregg)
(Photo by James Gregg)

The incident at the Capitol seemed to be yet another convulsion fueled by divisions, many of them about race, that have deepened across the U.S. since the presidential election nearly two weeks ago.

DPS officials said eight people were arrested — including two on the Capitol grounds — on misdemeanor charges that included assault, interference with public duty, disorderly conduct and evading arrest.

The counter protesters were organized, at least in part, by Smash Fascism Austin.

The goal, the Smash Fascism group had posted on Facebook, was to “turn out in overwhelming numbers, drown out their message of hate, and show them the people of Austin will not stand for fascists organizing on our streets.”

This too is what freedom sounds like. And, if you don’t like the obscene sounds of freedom, do not click play.


The clash of protestors and counter-protestors came on a glorious fall day right next to, and just after, the dedication of a magnificent Texas African-American History Memorial on the South Lawn of the Capitol.

(Photo by David Creaney)
(Photo by David Creaney)

The spirit of the dedication was uplifting.

And, while I usually find demonstrations of almost any kind of uplifting, because of what it says about America, Saturday’s scene was also a little dispiriting, and not just because, or even mostly because of the White Lives Matter demonstrators at its center.



(Dave Creaney)
(Dave Creaney)

What bothered me was that the anger of at least a significant number of those anti-fascist counter-protesters was disconnected from a sense of higher purpose or any kind of transcendent spirit and seemed all about a hatred of the little band of Nazis they vastly outnumbered and surrounded, and who, it seemed from some of the counter-protesters’ chants and signs and comments, they did not believe were owed or deserved the free speech rights of all Americans.’

Maybe it was simply an understandable, cathartic release under the current circumstance, but, in defense of diversity and tolerance, there seemed to be coursing through the crowd a totalitarian spirit.



(James Gregg)
(Photo by James Gregg)


Early in the afternoon, when the scene was still raging, a couple of the White Lives Matter protesters exited the confrontation heading to their car parked a couple of blocks away on East 11th Street. They were followed by about a dozen of the counter-protesters chanting at them. As the WLM’s got into their car, one of the counter-protesters kicked the car. As the car drove away, one shouted after it,: “Go home and molest your children.” Another shouted, “I hope you get in a crash and die.”

As the police began to try maneuver to extricate the remaining White Lives Matters protesters from the scene, a chant from some of the counter-protesters rose up, “Cops and Klan go hand in hand.”

Another chant suggested the cops could not keep them safe.

Department of Public Safety Director, Steven McCraw, watched events unfold from the perimeter of the scene. “We’re here to protect the protesters, the counter-protesters and the counter-counter-protesters.”

An Austin men walked up and down the line of troopers, telling the black and Hispanic officers that they should not compromise their morality to do their job. But they were there to make sure nobody got hurt. Would they have served a higher moral purpose by turning the Nazis over to the crowd and say, “Have at them,” or watch as a firefight ensued between armed belligerents?

I don’t get it.


(A group who refused to identify themselves stands near a White Lives Matter demonstration armed with loaded rifles across the street from the state Capitol. Hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters demonstrated downtown in a tense standoff and multiple arrests were made. JAMES GREGG)
(A group who refused to identify themselves stands near a White Lives Matter demonstration armed with loaded rifles across the street from the state Capitol. Hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters demonstrated downtown in a tense standoff and multiple arrests were made. JAMES GREGG)


A masked counter-protestor shouted at a Statesman reporter who had spoken with Ken Reed: “F*** you for interviewing a Nazi.”

The idea of a masked person berating a reporter not to talk to one of a small number of people -no matter how loathsome their ideology – encircled by a far larger crowd screaming at them, seemed more fascist than anti-fascist in its sensibility.




The black freedom struggle was built on heroic non-violent resistance, on Martin Luther King’s belief in radical love and the Beloved Community.

And a certain actual tolerance and humility.

And even, perhaps, a little sense of irony.





Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Donald Trump’s team of (serially humiliated) rivals

(Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walks from Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walks from Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


Good Friday Austin:

Donald Trump’s team of rivals?

Not so much. Not so far.

Donald Trump’s serial humiliation of his former rivals, more likely.

And, the genius of this is that Trump is getting huge credit for growth and magnanimity for considering his severest critics as members of his administration, without actually, so far, giving them anything.

This morning it was announced that President-elect Donald Trump has chosen U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and not Ted Cruz of Texas to be his attorney general.



Cornyn’s swift tweeting of the news suggests that our senior senator has a bit of the reporter’s delight in being the first to spread some big news.

Also, that he raced trough the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – in coping with his home state colleague being denied, moving  straight to a sixth stage – giddy delight.

Trump naming Cruz attorney general would have been a bold and daring stroke – and completely crazy. Like giving Cruz a prime speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

Cruz has as clear and consistent philosophy as any man in politics. Trump does not.

There are a panoply of issues that are of central, live-or-die, importance to Cruz – gender identity and bathrooms, same-sex marriage, abortion – that Trump either doesn’t really care about or has a live-and-let-live attitude about – issues that Cruz would, as attorney general, be the point man on for his administration.

Just watch this Cruz ad.

Were Cruz to be Trump’s attorney general, it is only a question of whether it would be a matter of weeks or months before stories would start appearing about Cruz’s fierce and independent Justice Department, and raising provocative questions about who is  calling the shots –  Cruz or Trump – and who is the real power in Washington, and did Trump miscalculate by elevating Cruz to a place where he could potentially challenge him for renomination, all culminating in Trump firing Cruz and saying he never should have trusted Lyin’ Ted.

Instead, Trump gets credit for having even considered Cruz, and gets what he really wanted – the supplication of Ted Cruz, in his comments to the press about how he wants to serve the Trump administration, and in his coming to Trump Tower in a ritual of obeisance.


Sessions is the un-Cruz. He was the first senator and the first Republican officeholder of any real rank to back Trump, an endorsement that was, at the time, a body blow to Cruz who had much coveted Sessions’ backing as the arbiter of right-wing purity on immigration.

And, Sessions simply doesn’t call attention to himself. When he enters a room, people crane their necks to see if anyone more interesting is coming in behind him.

Here is Cruz’s comment on Sessions’ nomination.

Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general is great news for all of us who revere the Constitution and the rule of law. I have been honored to work with Sen. Sessions on many of our nation’s most important issues over the last four years. Sen. Sessions has had an extraordinary career in government and law enforcement. He has been an exemplary senator for the state of Alabama, and I am confident that he will be an exceptional United States attorney general.

 Of course, for Texas reporters, this outcome is much to be mourned.

If Cruz had been named attorney general, Gov. Abbott could have sent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to Washington as Cruz’s successor until the 2018 election, where he would have quickly emerged as Trump’s de facto Senate whip (as opposed to Cornyn, the actual Senate whip), and his departure, or imminent departure, in the midst of  the Texas legislative session would have set off a once-in-a-lifetime feeding frenzy that would have been a thing to behold.

In the meantime, Cruz and the other Trump Tower supplicants have to hope that the president-elect doesn’t  have  a hidden-camera taping system.

Trump: “Ted, come sit down next to me. I ordered us taco bowls. I love them. Let’s eat. Smile.”



Now comes Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, who while he didn’t run against Trump was quite as scathing as Cruz in his denunciation of every aspect of Trump’s personal and political being, and, unlike Cruz, refused to endorse or vote for him.

From ABC News:

President-elect Donald Trump will be meeting this weekend with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, according to sources on Trump’s transition team who also said that the 2012 GOP presidential nominee is under consideration for a top cabinet position within his incoming administration.

Sources told ABC News that Romney is under consideration for secretary of state.

One senior level source directly involved in the transition efforts told ABC News the meeting is also about “mending fences.”

Romney did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

The two have had a remarkably contentious relationship. During the campaign, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate not only withheld an endorsement but delivered an impassioned and personal argument against Trump as the party’s nominee. Romney slammed Trump as a “phony, a fraud” and accused him of “playing the American public for suckers.”

“Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics,” Romney said of Trump at the University of Utah in March.

Romney also criticized Trump’s business record and economic policies during his address.

Trump’s assessment of Romney was no kinder.

“Mitt Romney was a failed candidate — should have beaten Barack Obama easily,” Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” on the same day Romney delivered his speech.

“He was a terrible candidate. He choked,” Trump said during a news conference at West Palm Beach, Florida, on March 5.

“If he would have devoted the same energy and time to winning the presidency four years ago, as he is now on trying to destroy our party and the unity of our party, he would have won that election and we wouldn’t have had the problems that we have right now,” Trump argued.

Once Trump was named the president-elect, however, Trump tweeted that Romney had called to congratulate him.

The Trump Transition Team announced this morning that Romney would be meeting Saturday with the president-elect at Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, in New Jersey, where the transition meetings are being held this weekend.

Trump naming Romney secretary of state would reassure everyone who despises Trump, but it would suggest that Trump’s foreign policy was entirely up in the air, and might require Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chairman and choice to be his chief strategist, to quit in protest.

On this morning’s Presidential Transition Team conference call, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was meeting  with Romney for the same reason he met with Henry Kissinger on Thursday.

It was jut an opportunity to get  to hear some really good ideas and thoughts on the geopolitical situation as it stands now. The conversation with Mitt Romney is just that, an opportunity to hear his ideas and his thoughts. But I think the broader point really gets back to this idea of who Mr. Trump is and the kind of president he is going to be. He wants to be inclusive and ensure that we have the best and brightest and the highest caliber of people providing their input and serving this nation and that’s all it really comes down to.

Right. That’s it.

And, if somehow Romney emerges as Trump’s secretary of state, I believe it will turn out to be some kind of Cyborg Romney and that eventually, the real Mitt Romney, stripped down to his Mormon underwear, with a beard down to his knees, will be found locked in a chamber in Trump Tower.

My advice to Romney when he meets with Trump is to resist at all costs if Trump says, “Hey Mitt. Let’s have some fun. How about come cos play. I’ll be the sovereign and you can be the knight.”








And then there is Rick Perry.

My story yesterday:

Is President-elect Donald Trump considering naming Rick Perry as secretary of energy in his administration?

According to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, the answer is yes.

But, as the Journal noted, the Energy Department is one of three that Rick Perry, during his first ill-fated run for the White House, wanted to eliminate. And it was Perry’s inability to remember that, that led to the most humiliating moment of his political career, and one of the most famous campaign gaffes in American political history.

It was at a Republican presidential debate in November 2011, that Perry, then a formidable candidate for his party’s nomination, said, “It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one, there? Let’s see. The third one. I can’t … Oops.”

“Call me a cynic,” wrote Susan Wright, at RedState, but to her, the Perry mention for Energy, “looks to be a bit of trolling.”

As unlikely as that might seem, on his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live after Trump’s victory, host Dave Chappelle said, “America’s done it, we’ve actually elected an internet troll as president.”

Perry, in his second presidential campaign, was among Trump’s most vociferous critics, describing Trump in July 2015 as a “cancer on conservatism” and a “barking carnival act” who was “appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition.”

But once Trump triumphed over Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who Perry backed after he got out of the race, the former Texas governor endorsed Trump with unbridled enthusiasm, campaigning for Trump and advertising his willingness to serve in his administration, though he was most often mentioned as a potential secretary of veterans affairs.

On Nov. 9 Perry tweeted, “Just got a call to #makeamericagreatagain Saddle up & ride, bro!!,” and an Instagram image of Perry being handed a pay phone by Marcus Luttrell, the former Navy SEAL, for whom Perry has emerged as a kind of father figure. Perry’s role at the Republican National Convention was to introduce Luttrell, who spoke in favor of Trump.




If Trump is really going to put Rick Perry in his Cabinet, fine.

But, if he is pranking him, that’s just wrong.

Perry would be the most enthusiastic Trumper the next president could want.

He has already proved his allegiance to Trump and the lessons of Trump, appearing on reality TV with great gusto to demonstrate that he understands that being the longest-serving governor of the second-largest state is simply not enough.

Please, President-elect Trump. Stop.