Jan. 14

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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Hawaii Hit in Missile Attack...Oops, Never Mind

Early in the morning (local time), just as many residents were sitting down to breakfast, this message was sent out over Hawaii's emergency alert system:

Missile warning in Hawaii

Panic reigned for 15 minutes or so before it became clear that it was a mistake. As it turned out, someone in the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency pushed the wrong button. Exactly how big this person's button is was not announced.

There could be some significant political fallout from a missile attack that never happened. The Trump administration does not care, of course, about what the people of Hawaii think. It's just an "island in the Pacific," and is the bluest state in the union. However, Saturday's incident has a lot of people beyond the island thinking, as well. About how, for example, the administration's hostile stance toward North Korea makes a missile attack on Hawaii very plausible. And about how, in times of heightened tension between two countries, a small error or misunderstanding could have disastrous consequences. These lines of thinking could certainly affect the President politically if it causes voters on the mainland (or in Alaska) to think twice about the inherent riskiness of his foreign policy.

Just because Trump cares nothing for Hawaii, and had no words of encouragement or sympathy after the scare, doesn't mean the White House had no response to the situation, however. It reminded staffers that they have completely forgotten to develop a plan for dealing with an incoming missile attack. Forgetting to turn the lights off in the East Room, accidentally excluding a few names from the Christmas card list, neglecting to develop a plan for dealing with a missile attack—these are the kinds of minor oversights that happen when an administration is understaffed. Presumably they will get right on it, in between solving the opioid crisis, building the wall, and bringing peace to the Middle East. (Z)

Twitter Won't Shut Down Trump

All year long, Twitter users have been pushing the platform to shut down Donald Trump's account, arguing that many of his tweets violate the platform's terms of service, particularly the prohibitions against targeted harassment and threats of violence. Trump's recent "bigger button" tweet, which carries with it the threat of a nuclear assault (aka, about as violent as it gets), triggered a particularly large and loud chorus of voices calling for a suspension.

Twitter will never suspend the account, because the President drives massive amounts of traffic to the platform. However, they can't say it like that, so on Saturday they came up with this:

Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.

In other words, nothing Trump (or any other world leader) says could possibly lead to a ban, since even threats and harassment are important and newsworthy topics of discussion that need to see the light of day. So, those who want The Donald's account shut down will need to bark up some other tree. (Z)

Russian Hackers Trying to Infiltrate Senate

The White House and the GOP may not believe it (or, at least, may not be willing to admit it publicly), but the Russians are still trying to do whatever they can to harm America's elections and its political system. Their latest target, according to new research, is the U.S. Senate.

The current assault is being perpetrated by the hacking group known as "Fancy Bear." Its main element is fake websites that look like the Senate's login pages, in hopes of tricking Senators and the staffers into unwittingly disclosing their login information. This kind of trickery, called phishing, is pretty crude, but it could well be paired with other shenanigans that have not yet been discovered.

If past behavior is any indication, the GOP leaders of Congress will not do anything in response to this news. Whether this is because they are in denial, or because they think that the Russians target only Democrats is not clear. Perhaps if the Russians dig up some kompromat on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), then there will be some action. (Z)

Chelsea Manning Running for U.S. Senate

The Russkies aren't the only ones trying to infiltrate the Senate. Chelsea Manning, nee Bradley Manning, has declared her candidacy as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland that will be contested in November of this year. The transgender former soldier is known for having leaked classified information to Wikileaks, then served seven years in military prison before having her sentence commuted by Barack Obama.

Manning is not likely to gain much traction in a crowded field, particular since the incumbent—Ben Cardin (D)—will probably run for re-election (though he hasn't made it official yet). Whatever happens, however, it is very likely that Manning's name and her candidacy will be weaponized by the GOP, and in particular by the Breitbart crowd. Many of those folks are none-too-fond of transgender people, nor of people who leak military secrets, nor of Barack Obama's pardon. So, Manning will likely be used to remind voters in red and purple states of "what kind" of party the Democrats are, in much the same way Roy Moore will be used to remind voters in blue and purple states "what kind" of party the Republicans are. Whether either tactic works remains to be seen. (Z)

Trump Slams Democrats Over DACA

In TrumpWorld, Saturday generally means a reduced workload (to the extent that's possible for someone with a six-hour workday) and thus extra time for tweeting and golf. So it was yesterday, when Donald Trump did not quite have time to offer support for the frightened folks in Hawaii, but did manage to fire off several shots across the bow of the Democrats, including this:

I don’t believe the Democrats really want to see a deal on DACA. They are all talk and no action. This is the time but, day by day, they are blowing the one great opportunity they have. Too bad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2018

This is actually quite similar to a tweet sent just two hours earlier. Presumably, if something is worth saying, it's worth saying twice.

Once again, we are left to wonder what the (credited) writer of "The Art of the Deal" thinks that the word "deal" really means. Democratic leaders were willing to give some ($3 billion for border security; prohibitions on dreamers sponsoring their parents' green cards) in order to get some (protection and eventual citizenship for the dreamers). In any case, Trump's tweet might please the base, but it does not improve his negotiating position. Aggravating Democrats is going to make them less interested in working with him, and at the same time is going to make it easier for them to make the case that he is the one who is "all talk." These things, in turn, make a government shutdown later this month more likely, as the game of chicken between the two sides just keeps intensifying. (Z)

About that Oil Drilling...

Whether or not Donald Trump actually has a simplistic view of the world is potentially open to debate, but what is clear is that his policy ideas are quite simplistic and lacking in sophistication. Case in point: Opening up (vastly) more federal lands to oil drilling. Trump & Co. have held this out as a panacea that will generate more jobs, a booming economy, cheaper fuel, and so forth. The reality is much more complicated, as indicated by the fact that the administration put 10 million acres of land in Alaska up for drilling, and received bids for only 80,000 of those—less than 1%.

The problems here are numerous. First of all, exploiting new oil resources is a long and costly process, and there's no certainty that the leases won't be withdrawn in, say, 3 years and 10 days. It is also the case that the industry is focused on extraction from shale right now, which is a surer bet than Alaska. So, the Trump policy has misunderstood the current state of petroleum drilling strategy, for lack of a better phrase. More significantly, however, it misunderstands the current economics of petroleum. Prices are low right now because of oversupply. Ergo, producers are trying to fix the problem by controlling supply, OPEC-style, not by producing more. They foresee a future where more and more electric cars means less and less gas being sold, and so they want to get maximum profit out of each gallon. Drilling offshore is even more difficult and expensive, so the Administration's plans to open up much of the United States' continental shelf could prove to be another bigly disappointment for Team Trump. (Z)

Porn Stars Are Coming Out of the Woodwork

On Friday, it was reported that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to porn star Stephanie Clifford (who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels) to cover up an extramarital affair she had with The Donald in 2006. Cohen denied everything, despite corroboration of the reports from many different media sources.

Yesterday, more porn star-related details leaked out. First of all, Alana Evans (who sometimes goes by the stage name Jenna Talia—get it?) came out and said she was present for the Stormy Daniels tryst as well. "All I'm going to say, is: I ended up with Donald in his hotel room. Picture him chasing me around his hotel room in his tighty-whities," she remarked On top of that, The Daily Beast has discovered a non-disclosure agreement that Trump reached with a third porn star, Jessica Drake (who performs under her real name). The existence of this third NDA does not necessarily prove anything about Trump's dalliances, but it is hard to imagine another reason he would need such an agreement with a porn star.

We shall see whether this has any effect on Trump's standing with the base. On one hand, the evangelicals don't much care for behavior like this. On the other hand, if they were previously unaware that Trump does not take the sixth commandment all that seriously, they haven't been paying attention. Meanwhile, another big part of Trump's base is older, white, blue-collar men, who may even cheer The Donald's active libido. (Z)

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