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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.9.16

12/09/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is a story worth watching closely: "President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to deliver to him a dossier of the evidence that the Russian government used cyber attacks and other means to intervene in the 2016 election, possibly with the idea of making more information public, a senior intelligence official tells NBC News."

* Perhaps the best news I've heard all week: "Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has removed his name from consideration for a position in President-elect Donald Trump’s new administration, the Trump transition team said on Friday." Note, he's not just out of contention for Secretary of State; Giuliani is out altogether.

* South Carolina: "Dylann Roof began his videotaped confession with 11 chilling words: 'I went to that church in Charleston and I did it.' And then for the next two or three hours, the self-declared white supremacist described to the FBI how he gunned down nine black worshippers last year at a historic South Carolina church in a bid to spark a race war."

* Not many vacant cabinet slots left: "President-elect Donald Trump is expected to tap Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) to lead the Interior Department, according to a person familiar with the matter... [If confirmed,McMorris Rodgers], would lead Mr. Trump's efforts to open up federal lands and waters to fossil-fuel development and reverse environmental policies the Obama administration has pursued over the past eight years."

Korea: "For her nearly four years in office, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea cooperated closely with the United States, particularly when it came to dealing with her volatile neighbor, North Korea. Her impeachment on Friday now throws both her country and American policy in the region into deep uncertainty, as the North's nuclear program advances and the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump deliberates over whether to adjust Washington's stance."

* Technically, there's a chance we'll have a brief government shutdown tonight, but don't bet on it: "Senate Democrats are fighting a legislative battle they appear unlikely to win, demanding new negotiations on a critical spending bill after Senate Republicans have already closed off talks and the House has gone home for the holidays."

* Alabama "executed a former Eagle scout on Thursday for a convenience store killing in 1994, the 20th person executed in the United States this year and the second in Alabama."
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Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at Trump Tower, Nov. 17, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Trump's National Security Advisor struggles to outrun his record

12/09/16 04:59PM

It's become something of a parlor game in some political circles: of all the people Donald Trump has chosen for key government posts, which one has you the most frightened? Which nominee/appointee is likely to do the most harm?

For what it's worth, my vote would go to Michael Flynn. To understand why, consider this new report from CNN's Andrew Kaczynski.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's pick to be his national security adviser, claimed in an August radio interview that Arabic signs were present along the United States border with Mexico to guide potential state-sponsored terrorists and "radicalized Muslims" into the United States.

Flynn further said in the interview he had personally seen photos of such signs in Texas.
All available evidence suggests no such signs exist in reality. In fact, no one, anywhere, has been able to substantiate such bizarre claims, which Flynn appears to have either made up out of whole cloth, or learned from one of his weird sources, who made it up out of whole cloth.

Either way, this isn't the sort of thing we'd expect from a White House NSA -- though increasingly, it's exactly the sort of thing we'd expect from Michael Flynn, who's embraced all kinds of bizarre theories and conspiracies, both before and during his tenure as a leading Donald Trump ally.

As we talked about the other day, when the president of the United States has a chief national security advisor who struggles to separate fact from politically satisfying fiction, but who nevertheless is responsible for identifying key information that should matter to the man in the Oval Office, there's a real problem.

A Politico piece added, "[S]ome say Flynn's fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House's national security adviser, suggesting that he either can't spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies."

Indeed, even some of his allies are starting to come to the same conclusion.
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A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 16, 2012.

Trump eyes yet another Goldman Sachs vet for his team

12/09/16 12:52PM

In February, Edward Snowden characterized the 2016 presidential election as "a choice between Donald Trump and Goldman Sachs." Ten months later, the assessment isn't holding up especially well.

The Washington Post reported last week that Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, walked into Trump Tower recently, it served as a reminder that "one of the world's most important banks is making its way back into Washington's inner circle." Americans' election of Donald Trump means that Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street elite "are poised to come roaring back."

And that assessment is looking more and more true all the time. CNBC reported this morning:
Donald Trump has offered Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn a key economic post, which would add to the administration another veteran of the powerful firm he bashed during his campaign, sources close to Cohn told NBC News.

Cohn, Goldman's 56-year-old president and chief operating officer, has been offered the directorship of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, the sources said.
If Cohn accepts the invitation, he'll join two other Goldman Sachs veterans who've already accepted leading roles in the incoming administration: Steven Mnuchin, Trump's choice for Treasury Secretary, and Steve Bannon, Trump's chief White House strategist.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Trump assured voters he'd "drain the swamp," targeting special interests' power in Washington, claims that now appear almost comical in hindsight. But of even greater interest is what Trump said as a candidate about this particular financial giant.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.9.16

12/09/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* At a self-congratulatory rally in Iowa last night, Donald Trump noted that he was named Time's "Person of the Year," but he also whined a bit about the magazine switching from its previous "Man of the Year" honor.

* While Trump assured voters that he'd invest $100 million of his own money in his presidential campaign, we can apparently add this to the list of things Trump said that plainly weren't true.

* In light of the president-elect's recent tweets, it doesn't look great that Boeing is contributing $1 million in support of Trump's inaugural festivities. Note, however, that that company has said it committed the money before the Republican started attacking Boeing this week.

* A week after Rep. Tim Ryan's (D) bid to become House Minority Leader fell short, the Ohio Democrat is now eyeing a gubernatorial campaign. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich's (R) second term ends in 2018, and term limits prevent him from running again.

* Speaking of Democrats and gubernatorial campaigns, New Mexico Democrats were pushing Sen. Tom Udall (D) to run for governor in 2018, but the senator announced this week that he intends to stay on Capitol Hill.

* As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) hasn't been humiliated enough lately, multiple reports yesterday indicated that Trump has decided not to give him the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he leads the news media at the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building in Washington, March 21, 2016. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Team Trump defends his ongoing reality-show work

12/09/16 11:20AM

Before entering politics, Donald Trump was known for several things: his work in real estate, his role in pushing a racist conspiracy theory, his work in professional wrestling, his ghostwritten best-sellers, and of course, his NBC reality show in which Trump appeared once a week to fire people.

As Rachel noted last night, on that last part of Trump's background, it appears the president-elect isn't ready to let go just yet. NBC News reported:
President-elect Donald Trump will remain an executive producer on the reality television show "The Apprentice" even after takes office next month, and could continue earning a profit from the show, it was revealed on Thursday.

His involvement was confirmed by a representative for MGM, the company that owns the show -- which is broadcast on NBC -- and Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email that "Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show and conceived of it with Mark Burnett."
Trump apparently won't be in front of the camera, but Variety reports the president-elect will likely receive a "per-episode fee," valued in "the low five-figures, at a minimum."

It's unclear if Trump intends to give that money to charity, though it's worth noting for context that in recent years, Trump's "Apprentice"-related charitable claims proved to be untrue.

By way of a defense, I expected the president-elect's team to say that Trump's role as an executive producer would largely be a formality: his name would appear in the credits, and he might get a check, but Americans shouldn't expect Trump to do any real work associated with the reality show.

Except, that's not what Team Trump is saying.
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In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Va. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S....

Michigan Republicans can't make up their minds about voter fraud

12/09/16 10:47AM

When Donald Trump recently got caught lying about voter fraud, it led to speculation about why he'd push an obvious falsehood. The obvious reason was that the president-elect was embarrassed by how badly he lost the popular vote and needed some kind of excuse, no matter how ridiculous, to soothe his ego.

But the less-obvious reason fits into a larger pattern: usually when Republicans lie about voter fraud, it's because they're planning to impose new voting restrictions intended to tilt the political playing field in their direction.

And with that in mind, The Nation's Ari Berman explained yesterday:
Less than a month after Donald Trump unexpectedly carried Michigan by 10,000 votes, Republicans in the state legislature are already pushing to make it harder to vote. The presidential recount hasn't even finished yet and Michigan Republicans are trying to pass a strict voter-ID law through the lame-duck legislative session before the end of this year. [...]

Already, Trump's discredited lie that "millions" voted illegally in 2016 seems to be impacting Republican actions. "A multitude of candidates have raised the concerns about the integrity of elections," said GOP Representative Lisa Lyons, who sponsored the bill. "We need to respond to those questions. We are going to make sure that we're protecting you -- all voters -- and the integrity of the election."
But those raising "concerns" and "questions" are mistaken: neither Lyons nor any of her Republican colleagues have offered any proof of any voter fraud in the state. Not to put too fine a point on this, but legislators aren't supposed to pass legislation on the basis of ignorance, discredited urban legends, and demonstrable lies from the likes of Donald Trump.

Making matters much worse, when the Green Party's presidential nominee, Jill Stein, sought a recount in Michigan, Republicans in the state immediately balked and demanded the courts block the process -- there was no fraud in the state, GOP officials declared, so there's no point in a recount.

Trump's lawyers made this argument explicitly in its legal filings against the recount in Michigan.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks off his plane at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Trump-owned businesses received millions from Trump's campaign

12/09/16 10:20AM

In 2000, when Donald Trump was openly discussing the possibility of a White House campaign, he made a curious boast: "It's very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it."

Sixteen years later, it's not at all clear he was kidding.

In June, Rachel noted on the show that Trump was spending a striking amount of his campaign resources on Trump corporate products and services. As it turns out, this only intensified as the campaign progressed: NBC News reports this morning that Trump's political enterprise ended up spending $3 million on Trump's other enterprises in the election cycle's closing weeks.
The billionaire real-estate mogul donated $10 million to his campaign in the lead up to the election.... Much of that went back into his and his family's pockets, however, as Trump frequently used his own businesses and properties to host campaign events, provide lodging, transportation and even meals at various points throughout the campaign.

During the home stretch and the three weeks after Nov. 8, the campaign committee spent $2 million on his airline TAG Air to pay for the 737 he used to campaign across the country, and nearly $54,000 at various Trump restaurants. Other payments included more than $236,000 to his hotel in Las Vegas, where he stayed for two nights during the third presidential debate at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Trump's campaign also generated some revenue for his children. Trump's son, Eric Trump's wine manufacturing company, received $21,164 worth of payments.
Remember, Trump spent months insisting without evidence that Hillary Clinton was somehow "corrupt," but it was the Republican's operation that resembled an elaborate shell game.
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People rally in support of a $15 minimum wage at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington March 15, 2014.

Seattle's minimum-wage experiment offers encouaraging results

12/09/16 09:26AM

When Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, the right predicted an economic disaster for the city. The predictions were entirely in line with what Republican policymakers say anytime the subject comes up anywhere: raising the cost of labor will lead employers to hire fewer workers, which has the effect of pushing unemployment higher.

Bloomberg View's Barry Ritholtz published a piece this week taking a look at how those predictions are holding up in Seattle's case study.
As one of my colleagues wrote last week, the “unemployment rate in the city of Seattle – the tip of the spear when it comes to minimum wage experiments – has now hit a new cycle low of 3.4%.” Meanwhile, a University of Washington study on the minimum wage law found little or no evidence of job losses or business closings.

Although you can never declare a game over until the final whistle, this experiment is starting to look like a rout.
In June 2014, local officials approved the $15 minimum wage, to be phased in over several years, and at the time, the city's unemployment rate was 5.4%. The law first took effect in April 2015, when Seattle's unemployment rate was 4.3%. As of last month, after the wage hike, the city's unemployment rate was down to 3.4%.

There are a couple of relevant caveats to keep in mind. For one thing, Seattle's minimum wage has gone up each of the last two years, but it's not yet at $15 an hour. Depending on the size of the business, it's currently between $10.50 and $13 -- well above the federal floor, but not yet at its destination. For another, local economies can vary quite a bit for all sorts of reasons, and Seattle's successes may or may not be easily duplicated elsewhere.

But in this experiment, the right's predictions were plainly wrong. The question then becomes what conservatives will learn from this case study.
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