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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Three Candidates Emerge as Top Contenders for Scalia's Seat

High on the agenda of President Trump is selecting a new Supreme Court Justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who died nearly a year ago. According to the best leaks available, three white men are finalists in the selection process. All three have met with Trump recently. The three are described below:

  • Neil Gorsuch (49) is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, located in Denver. He was appointed to the 10th Circuit by George W. Bush. Gorsuch is an originalist, like Antonin Scalia, meaning he claims to interpret the Constitution as the founders would have. Also, he is a textualist, meaning he looks at the actual words in the statute and goes by that, rather than the explanations lawmakers often attach to their output or the discussions and debates in Congress preceding passage of the law. His writing is forceful, full of verve, and elegant. His best-known decision relates to the ACA, where he held that religious objections to providing free contraception coverage were valid.

  • Thomas Hardiman (51) was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, located in Philadelphia, by George W. Bush. Some opinions including striking down a Philadelphia City Charter provision barring police officers from donating to their union's PAC, finding that federal law could criminalize sexual conduct with a minor outside the U.S., and dissenting from a ruling that held that middle schoolers were free to wear bracelets saying "I ♥ boobies" sold by a breast cancer awareness group.

  • William Pryor, Jr. (54), who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, located in Atlanta, is a protégé of Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, who is fighting hard behind the scenes for Pryor. He was also appointed by George W. Bush. He is most famous for stating that Roe v. Wade is "the worst abomination of constitutional law." Pryor was formerly attorney general of Alabama, succeeding Sessions when the latter was elected to the Senate. In that capacity, he filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting a Texas law that made homosexual acts a felony. He said if the law were struck down, then logically laws forbidding prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and incest must also be struck down. If he is the choice, Democrats will really go to the mat to try to block him.

According to people in the know, Gorsuch and Hardiman have the best chance of getting the nomination, in part because the Democrats might filibuster Pryor for months, tying up the Senate and blocking Trump's legislative agenda. But with Trump, anything that antagonizes the Democrats could be seen as worth doing for its own sake, the consequences be damned. (V)

Trump Doubles Down on Voter Fraud

Having spent much of the day on Monday tilting at this particular windmill, Donald Trump was back at it again on Tuesday, insisting that he actually won the popular vote in November but for millions of undocumented votes cast for Hillary Clinton. He sent lieutenant Sean Spicer out to face the press and to peddle this tale, and the White House Press Secretary said that Trump's conclusions are based on "studies and evidence," though he declined to share a single example of either. These claims have no basis in fact; even Fox News—currently auditioning to be the media arm of the Trump administration—has declared as much. All that repeating the charge does, at this point, is open up the administration to scorn and ridicule. While it is true that some of the Trump true believers accept that there was massive fraud, they have already glommed onto this "alternative fact" and don't need it repeated to them. Even if they do, this can be done through platforms like Breitbart, as opposed to sending out the WHPS to face withering fire.

So, what is going on here? Is there any method to the madness? Well, actually, it's probably more correct to say that there's madness to the method. On a suggestion from a reader, let us play armchair psychologist a bit. Here are the indications of narcissistic personality disorder, according to the DSM-5:

  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  • Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  • Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  • Needing constant admiration from others
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  • Unwilling to empathize with others' feelings, wishes, or needs
  • Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  • Pompous and arrogant demeanor

One struggles to find an item on the list that does not apply to Trump. The Mayo Clinic notes that people with NPD also "have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism, [and] may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person."

Lying goes part and parcel with NPD; exaggerations and falsehoods of various sorts are key to maintaining the narcissist's self-image and worldview. And over time, the lying comes more and more easily, for two reasons. The first is because it has to. As we have previously noted, lying is hard to get away with on a consistent basis, because other humans are very skilled lie detectors (it's generally agreed that lies are correctly detected about 30% of the time). The only way to improve one's odds is to believe one's lies, so as to not give off the usual cues of deception. The second is because lying acts, in many ways, like a drug. Studies show that the parts of the brain that trigger a "shame" response when a lie is told become conditioned over time (in the same way that the brain can become desensitized to the effects of caffeine, or alcohol, or heroin over time). As a consequence of these two things, a narcissist's lies generally get bigger and more frequent as time goes by. Donald Trump's career, which was liberally populated with whoppers decades before he considered a White House run, fits this pattern nicely.

The conclusion here is that Donald Trump does not lie because he is playing some sort of master chess game. He lies because he needs to, and because he largely does not perceive the difference between "truth" and "lie" anymore. This is not uncommon among presidents; a recent study suggests that many presidents fit the pathology for psychopathy, at least in part (particularly the display of fearless dominance). Where Trump appears to be different is in the extent of his affliction. And if our suppositions are correct here, it means that the candidate who spent the last year-plus lying left, right, and center is going to be the president who spends the next four years lying left, right, and center, regardless of the response or of the consequences. (Z)

Trump Administration Continues to Fall into Place

The latest member of Donald Trump's administration has been confirmed by the Senate: Nikki Haley, who will serve as U.N. Ambassador. She has no foreign policy experience, and so lacks the usual qualifications for the job. However, she is an experienced politician who knows how to wheel and deal, so she was nearly unanimous, 96-4. Meanwhile, Secretary of Commerce-designate Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Transportation-designate Elaine Chao, and HUD Secretary-designate Ben Carson all got the support of the relevant committees, so they will presumably be approved very soon.

It was also announced on Tuesday that embattled Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos would not sit for a second hearing, despite Democrats' requests. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) justified his decision thusly:

Already Mrs. DeVos has spent considerably more time answering questions of committee members than either of President Obama's education secretaries. I do not know why our committee should treat a Republican nominee so differently than the nominee of a Democratic president.

Of course, Alexander knows very well the reason: Arne Duncan had 16 years under his belt as an educator, and John King, Jr., had 14 years, with both having served in high-ranking administrative positions (Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools and New York State Education Commissioner, respectively), while DeVos has zero years. Nonetheless, Alexander had to give some reason for his denial, and this probably sounded as good as any. Presumably, DeVos is going to move forward without further opposition. (Z)

Flynn May Not Last

Ironically, of all the Trump appointees that Democrats really loathe, the one who may not survive long is the one who does not require approval from the Senate: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Writing for CNN, Juliette Kayyem observes that he has an unusually large number of liabilities. He's already battling with other members of the administration (perhaps, most importantly, Jared Kushner), he's under investigation for potential dealings with Russia, and he's violated the custom of the NSA remaining nonpartisan, having led "lock her up" chants at rallies. He's also a conspiracy theorist, an Islamophobe, and has a long history of poor interpersonal skills. None of these things is going to endear him to the federal bureaucracy and, as we have pointed out, the bureaucrats have a lot of power. As Kayyem writes:

What the White House will also soon discover is that while it may have the power, the agencies have the muscle. There are, overall, very few political appointees at departments like the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the CIA. Most employees are committed to protecting America's safety and security regardless of partisanship, and getting things done requires that the political apparatus nurture and engage the operational aspects of its agency.

Adding it up, Flynn could quickly prove to be ineffective, not worth the headaches he creates, and without allies in the White House to stick their necks out for him. Which means he could hear The Donald's catchphrase sooner rather than later: "You're fired." (Z)

Secret Service Agent Wouldn't Take a Bullet for Trump

Secret Service agent Kerry O'Grady has been suspended, and is under investigation, for her Facebook posts that supported Hillary Clinton, and that later declared that she would not defend Donald Trump if someone tried to shoot him. This either ends with her assigned to administrative duty, or—more likely—dismissed from the USSS.

While O'Grady's posts are an entirely inappropriate abrogation of her duties, and of the nonpartisan tradition of the Secret Service, they illustrate a point similar to the one made in the item above. Although she is the most outspoken, she is presumably not the only federal employee who is not enthusiastic about serving an unusually unpopular president. Indeed, the most significant check on Donald Trump may not be congressional Democrats and their senate filibusters, it may well be the federal bureaucracy. If they oppose his moves, or if they lack enthusiasm for him and his agenda, they can and will turn into a swamp where policy goes to get bogged down and (sometimes) to die. It will not help if the person leading a particular bureau does not have the respect and the confidence of the pros beneath them. So, the so-called "invisible" part of the federal government is well worth keeping an eye on in the next four years. (Z)

Opponent of Net Neutrality Named FCC Chairman

During the tenure of Barack Obama, the FCC passed regulations providing strong legal protection for the concept of net neutrality. Donald Trump's appointee to chair the FCC, Ajit Pal, strongly opposes net neutrality and will immediately start to gut the Obama-era regulations. Net neutrality is a fairly abstract concept to many people, but it is crucial to how the Internet works.

Consider an analogy: Currently, the post office has a kind of net neutrality in that all first class mail is treated equally. Imagine that its "net neutrality" were abolished and the Post Office announced that any company paying it $100,000/month would get all of its mail delivered the next day. A company paying it $50,000/month would get 2-day delivery. For $25,000/month, the company would get 3-day delivery. For all other mail, including all mail send by individuals, the Post Office would attempt to deliver it within a week or two if there was sufficient capacity left over after handling all the paying customers, but no promises.

For the Internet, imagine this scenario. Verizon signs a contract with Amazon to make sure all movies streamed from Amazon Prime are delivered perfectly and glitch free. Netflix, not a Verizon customer, would get the leftovers and its movies wouldn't stream well. Verizon also signs up Facebook, so its Website works like a charm. In contrast, AT&T works with Netflix and Google, so their services work great, but Amazon and Facebook, not so much. This might not work out so well for consumers, but the ISPs would make out like bandits extracting large sums of money from big companies to make sure their services worked well. The millions of small websites in the world would get little service, take forever to load, lose their bases, and eventually die off. The Internet could end up being like cable TV, with 1,000 big corporations each having websites that perform well, and little else. (V)

Oil Pipelines Are Back On, Maybe

In a terribly unsurprising development, Donald Trump signed executive orders on Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, meant to facilitate Congressional approval and then construction of both projects. Given that this will create jobs and supply energy (two of Trump's platform planks), and that it will primarily anger Native Americans and environmentalists (who are way at the bottom of Trump's list), the maneuver was a slam dunk for him.

With this said, Exxon should not start counting its barrels of oil yet. Congress is likely to give its approval, but then there are going to be lawsuits in which the plaintiffs (e. g., the Native Americans) will have a strong case. So, this is likely going to take years to unravel, and we have yet to be presented with evidence that Trump is interested in these sorts of long-term battles, or if he will merely take his positive headlines and his photo-op and then move on. (Z)

Jerry Brown Declares War on Donald Trump

In his state-of-the-state address, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) announced that he will do everything in his power to thwart Donald Trump on just about everything. Brown went after Trump on "alternative facts," blatant attacks on science, civility, working together, and his disregard for democracy itself. In contrast to the millions of people who marched last Saturday but have limited power to tie Trump in knots, the governor of the nation's most populous state has a great deal of power to do so, including his recently appointing a Xavier Becerra as state attorney general, with clear instructions to sue the federal government when it does things against the interests of the people of California. Due to its size, California often sets the pace. For example, if California mandates certain emission standards on cars or that biology textbooks explain evolution and not mention creationism, it is often easier for companies to make their products conform to the California standard nationwide, rather than having one product for California and one for the rest of the country.

An area where Brown might or might not work with Trump is infrastructure. If Trump is willing to fund Brown's high-speed rail initiative, the governor will cheer him on. But if Trump's only infrastructure project in California is a wall with Mexico, Brown will undoubtedly urge the state legislature to adopt laws about border walls that make them impossible to build (Art. 1. All walls on the California border must be at least 50 feet wide and 100 feet high and constructed from U.S.-made stainless steel). That will result of years of wrangling in the courts.

Trump could retaliate by killing federal projects in California, including contracts to the state's large defense industry. Brown is in his fourth and final term, is wildly popular, and certainly relishes the idea of being Trump's main opponent until his own term ends in January 2019. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan24 Trump Offers Red Meat to Three Key Constituencies
Jan24 Trump's Actions So Far Are Largely Symbolic
Jan24 McCain, Graham, and Rubio Will Back Tillerson
Jan24 Pompeo is Confirmed
Jan24 CIA Reactions to Trump's Visit are Mixed
Jan24 Trump Harps on Voter Fraud Again
Jan24 Media Are Starting to Call Out Trump on His Lies
Jan24 Did Obama Keep His Promises?
Jan23 Alternative Facts Are the New Normal
Jan23 Trump Aides Find First Weekend Worrisome
Jan23 Trump Temporarily Silences Park Service
Jan23 Trump Invites Netanyahu to the White House
Jan23 Donald Trump, Defendant-in-Chief
Jan23 Conway: No Tax Returns, Ever
Jan23 Zuckerberg 2020?
Jan23 Women's Marches in Pictures
Jan22 Massive Protests All over the Country
Jan22 Does Trump Deserve This?
Jan22 The Left Will Rise Again?
Jan22 Five Takeaways from the Inauguration
Jan22 Trump Visits the CIA and Boasts about Himself
Jan22 Trump vs. the Media: It's War
Jan22 Justice Department Says Kushner Is Allowed to Advise Trump
Jan22 Can You Plagiarize a Cake?
Jan22 Now, When Trump Deletes Tweets, He May Be Breaking the Law
Jan21 Donald Trump is Inaugurated
Jan21 The Trump Administration Gets Underway
Jan21 Protests are Numerous, Mostly Peaceful
Jan21 First Ethics Complaint Filed Against Trump
Jan21 What Will Trumponomics Be Like?
Jan21 How to Know If America Has Been Made Great Again
Jan20 Trump Will Inherit a Deeply Polarized Country
Jan20 Trump Starts with Half an Administration
Jan20 Trump to Get the Nuclear Launch Codes Today
Jan20 What Kind of Man Is Trump?
Jan20 Trump Plans Drastic Budget Cuts
Jan20 Mnuchin Doesn't Toe the GOP Line During Confirmation Hearing
Jan20 Obamacare Is as Popular as it Has Ever Been
Jan20 Yellen: Economy Near Maximum Employment
Jan20 How Did this Happen? (Part I)
Jan20 How Did this Happen? (Part II)
Jan20 Trump's Victory: A View from the White House
Jan20 Strange Presidential Transitions
Jan20 Discount for Political Wire
Jan19 Trump Taps Perdue for Agriculture; Cabinet Is Now Complete
Jan19 Pruitt Faces Withering Fire; Admits Climate Change is Man-made
Jan19 Price Says Stock Purchases Were Legitimate
Jan19 More Questions Arise About DeVos
Jan19 Dozens of Democratic Representatives Now Boycotting Inauguration
Jan19 Five Areas Where Democrats Could Make a Deal with Trump