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.]












‘I thought there were a lot of kisses of death, but not so yet.’ On the remarkable resilience of Rick Perry




Good morning Austin:

And they make a fuss about Richard Nixon.

You know, nearly getting dumped from the Republican ticket in 1952, only saving himself from political oblivion with a nationally televised speech named for Checkers, the cocker spaniel that proved a cuddly diversion from claims that Ike’s running-mate had benefited from an unseemly slush-fund.

And then losing the presidency in 1960 by a hair’s breadth, perhaps because he was too high-minded and patriotic to cry foul and demand a recount.

And then, two years later, losing for governor of California, a loss punctuated by a bitter, parting press conference shot, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

And then six years later, he is elected president of the United States by a hair’s breadth, and then four years later in a landslide, tarnished only by some dirty dealing that would ultimately lead to the epic humiliation of resigning in disgrace ahead of the impeachment posse.

But for sheer resilience is there anyone to compare to our own Rick Perry?

A man who went from – briefly – Republican presidential front runner to goat with a single syllable – OOPS.

A week earlier, there was his manic encounter with a bottle of maple syrup in New Hampshire.

And here’s a fun fact. Did you know that just as he was trying to get his second campaign for president off the ground he was indicted for abuse of power, charges that could have landed him in prison for something like a century.


(poster by SABO)
(poster by SABO)

And did he care?

Did he let it get him down?

Did he lose any sleep?

No one drew Donald Trump’s contempt as early and readily as Rick.

There was this.

And this.

No one – not Jeb Bush, not Ted Cruz, not Mitt Romney not Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, not Michelle Obama, not Joe Biden – gave a more powerful or timely speech denouncing Trump and Trumpism than Perry, on July 22, 2015, at the Opportunity and Freedom PAC Forum in Washington, DC.

The White House has been occupied by giants. But from time to time it is sought by the small-minded — divisive figures propelled by anger, and appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition.

In times of trouble, there are two types of leaders: repairers of the breach and sowers of discord.

The sower of discord foments agitation, thrives on division, scapegoats certain elements of society, and offers empty platitudes and promises. He is without substance when one scratches below the surface.

He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.

Let no one be mistaken — Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.

It cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world — the cause of conservatism.



I believe in America.

I believe in our people.

I believe we can out-compete, out-produce the workers of any nation.

I believe each of you can make better decisions for yourselves and your families than government.

I believe in personal freedom over bureaucratic fiat.

The era of the liberal nanny state must end.

But it cannot be replaced by reactionary politics founded on division.

We will be no better off with a Republican divider in the White House than the current Democrat divider in the White House.

Donald Trump the reality television star is a great generator of ratings. But Donald Trump the candidate is a sower of division, wrongly demonizing Mexican-Americans for political sport.

It is wrong to paint with a broad brush Hispanic men and women in this country who have fought and died for freedom from the Alamo to Afghanistan. He scapegoats Hispanics to appeal to our worst instincts, when we need a president who appeals to our best.

This is not new in America.

In the 1840’s the “Know Nothings” emerged as a political movement, scapegoating Irish and German immigrants for the problems of the nation.

They were obsessively anti-Catholic, so much so that when the Pope sent marble for the building of the Washington Monument, they smashed it to pieces and helped delay its construction for 35 years.

These people built nothing, created nothing. They existed to cast blame and tear down certain institutions. To give outlet to anger.

Donald Trump is the modern-day incarnation of the know-nothing movement.

He espouses nativism, not conservatism. He is negative when conservatism is inherently optimistic.

He would divide us along bloodlines, when conservatives believe our policies will work for people of all backgrounds.

He has piqued the interest of some Republican voters who have legitimate concerns about a porous border and broken immigration system. But instead of offering those voters leadership or solutions, he has offered fear and soundbites. This cannot stand.

Conservatism doesn’t foment agitation through identity politics. That’s what Democrats do. But as a supporter of socialized medicine, the stimulus package and Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump is quite suited to follow the Democrats’ example.

I, for one, will not be silent when a candidate for the high office of president runs under the Republican banner by targeting millions of Hispanics, and our veterans, with mean-spirited vitriol.

I will not go quiet when this cancer on conservatism threatens to metastasize into a movement of mean-spirited politics that will send the Republican Party to the same place it sent the Whig Party in 1854: the graveyard.

As a veteran, I took offense to his attack on Senator McCain, and I found lacking his defense that he spent a lot of money on veterans’ parades.

Donald Trump was born into privilege. He received deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. He breathes the free air thousands of heroes died protecting. And he couldn’t have endured for five minutes what John McCain endured for five and a half years.

Think what you want about Senator McCain’s politics, but let no one question his service to our country.

Here was a man offered the chance to go home. He refused, knowing it could cost him his life. There was no way he would leave before any man captured before him. This is the embodiment of duty, honor, country. Mr. Trump does not know the meaning of those words.

But most telling to me is not Mr. Trump’s bombast, his refusal to show any remorse for his comments about Senator McCain, but his admission that there is not a single time in his life that he sought the forgiveness of God.

A man too arrogant, too self-absorbed, to seek God’s forgiveness is precisely the type of leader John Adams prayed would never occupy the White House.

Adams, Lincoln, FDR — they all went before God on bended knee. They all held this office of great power with humility.

When a candidate under the Republican banner would abandon the tradition of magnanimous leadership of the presidency, when he would seek to demonize millions of citizens, when he would stoop to attack POWs for being captured, I can only ask as Senator Welch did of Senator McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

My fellow Republicans, beware of false prophets. Do not let itching ears be tickled by messengers who appeal to anger, division and resentment.

Resentment is the poison we swallow that we hope harms another. My fellow Republicans, don’t take the poison.

Scripture tells us “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

The candidate who wins the Republican nomination for president will articulate the best vision of “a house united.”

It will be based on a conservatism that works, that appeals to our better angels, that believes in the power of individuals, through hard work and thrift, to improve our lives.

We need a president who rises above personal grievances, petty differences, raw partisan politics. Who puts the nation first, who inspires Americans to believe again and produce again and dream again.

We must move past the empty calories of Trumpism, and return to conservatism.

Then, almost exactly a year ago, here was Rick Perry on CNN’s State of the Union, fretting about Trump’s unseemly relationship with Vladimir Putin.

December 20, 2016

TAPPER: That was Donald Trump defending Russian President Vladimir Putin who all but endorsed Trump this week. Some say Trump embraced him. His Republican rivals not quite so enthusiastic.

Ohio Governor John Kasich sending out this mock poster touting a Trump-Putin ticket, “Make tyranny great again.”


TAPPER: Just to get that all on the table. OK. So a Vladimir Putin endorsement? I mean —

PERRY: What is next? Fidel Castro. Seriously.

TAPPER: This is the frontrunner of the Republican Party. I would think that would be the kiss of death Vladimir Putin endorsing him.

PERRY: I thought there were a lot of kisses of death, but not so yet. And, you know, this is — we were just discussing in the green room. This is one of the most bizarre political environments I’ve ever been involved with and certainly even observed.


PERRY: I understand why the electorate out there. They are incredibly frustrated with Washington, D.C. Democrats and Republicans I would (INAUDIBLE).

And I think we need to really get focused on this is serious times and we need a serious individual who is going to be the president of the United States. I totally understand why these people are pulled to him from the standpoint they were so frustrated with Washington, D.C. When Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker and Jeb Bush and myself are basically discounted substantially because they are —

TAPPER: Because you are political people or because you are public servants.

PERRY: We’ve been involved with public service. Although I have got to make the argument, I think those are three pretty successful governors. But because they were seen as political insiders they’ve been cast aside, basically.

And I think Americans really need to think about is this the time in the history of this country that we need to have an individual who is so inconsistent in their thought and their proclamations, I mean, when six months ago this individual said that you need to be really — you need to watch someone who would use inflammatory political rhetoric against Muslims. And six months later he says Muslims cannot be let into the country. Period.

So, fast forward a year, and all America is fretting about Trump’s unseemly relationship with Alexander Putin but somehow, Perry is now apparently President-elect Trump’s choice to lead the third agency – represented below by Perry’s middle finger – that he wanted to eliminate if only he could have recalled it – the U.S. Department of Energy.



How did this happen?

How did this come to pass?

How did Perry and Trump get beyond their animus for one another?

Well, both of the men have a love of the game, and a sense at some level that it is a game, performance art, show biz.

It is a truism that Trump’s success has driven home and that Perry, perhaps more than any of his peers, absorbed, took to heart, and acted on.

While Ted Cruz (who will not be attorney general) was brooding, and Mitt Romney (who will not be secretary of state) was furrowing his brow, Rick Perry was Dancing with the Stars, not well and not for a long, but selling it with his gung-ho, no holds-barred Aggie yell leader gusto – embarrassing as it was to some of those closest to him – but effectively and, it seems, successfully auditioning for a spot in Donald Trump’s administration.

Secretary of Energy. Hell yes!



Eliminate the Department of Energy? Are you kidding?

That’s why, when it came time to name Energy on that long-ago debate stage, he (or his guardian angel) held his tongue, instead, on the spot acknowledging the error of what he was about to say, with that most humble of apologies – OOPS!






Meanwhile …

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.