Norms and Flukes

Unwanted dollhouses; call a hoax a hoax; the group pressuring advertisers to abandon Breitbart; and more.


  • Ari Melber reports for NBC News that the Office of Government Ethics staff has spent much of the last several weeks since the election struggling to gain access to the leaders of Donald Trump’s transition team, even sending emails warning the Trump staff that they “run the risk of having inadvertently violated the criminal conflicts of interest” law.

  • The rush to hold hearings on many of Trump’s top cabinet nominees this week has caused the head of the OGE, Walter Shaub, to warn in a letter to top U.S. Senators released Friday that the pace “has created undue pressure on OGE;s staff and agency ethics official to rush through these important reviews,” adding, “More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues before their scheduled hearings.” Shaub ended his letter with a warning: “It would, however, be cause for alarm if the Senate were to go forward with hearings on nominees whose reports OGE has not certified. For as long as I remain Director, OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials will not succumb to pressure to cut corners and ignore conflicts of interest.”

  • A reminder about the norm being broken here: In February 2009, then-Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell wrote majority leader Harry Reid to remind him that nominees had to have their financial disclosures and OGE review completed before he’d even discuss floor votes on any of President Obama’s nominees.

  • Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo, Andrew Rice reports in long profile in New York magazine, noting that it is “the story of a wronged man who escapes prison, becomes rich, and uses his wealth to stealthily visit vengeance upon his unsuspecting enemies.” Recall that Kushner told David Wildstein, the mastermind of Bridgegate, that he though the traffic closure as political retribution was “badass.”

  • While President-elect Trump now says that information published by WikiLeaks “had absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” in the month before Election Day he mentioned the site at least 164 times, Judd Legum of ThinkProgress reports, citing transcripts of speeches, media appearance and debates.

  • This is civic tech: Meet the “Sleeping Giants,” a Twitter group that sprang up in mid-November that has been engaging in a new form of consumer activism, as Pagan Kennedy describes for the New York Times. They’re going after companies whose advertising shows up on alt-right news sites like Breitbart.com because they’ve been using so-called “programmatic ad” services that place ads with little to no human oversight. Here’s a list of companies that have dropped Breitbart from their media buying as a result.

  • Related: If you manage to respond to one of President-elect Trump’s tweets within seconds of his posting it, you may find yourself getting tens of thousands of views and engagements, according to journalist Mike Elgan.

  • Bills don’t become laws; complex networks of proposed bills become laws. That’s the insight that drives a new analytical tool unveiled by GovTrack founder Joshua Tauberer. As he writes, “bills that finally get a vote are an amalgam of provisions from other bills that either can’t or won’t get a standalone vote themselves.” One additional insight: often provisions from the minority political party get incorporated into bills that are ultimately passed by the majority. “Without looking at the network, Congress may appear to be far more partisan than it is,” Tauberer writes.

  • Civic Hall member organization Rhize, which trains, coaches and partners with leaders of social movements worldwide to help them deepen and scale their impact, is looking to hire a deputy director and an activation manager.

  • Do you struggle with foundation grant-making requirements? Check out Vu Le’s new Funding Logistics Aggravation, Incomprehensibility and Laughability (FLAIL) Index, to see where the foundation you’re dealing with scores.

  • Our good friend Jakub Gornicki, the founder of Poland’s ePantswo Foundation and the chief mover and shaker behind Personal Democracy Forum-Poland, reflects on his six-plus years in civic tech activism there as he transitions into a new role.

  • From the history books: In 1999, Donald Trump toyed with running for President of the Reform Party, the third-party offshoot of Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential bid. Writing for BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen carefully reconstructs how much of that non-run was a harbinger of Trump’s successful 2016 bid. Along the way, she surfaces a 1999 New York Times oped from presidential historian Michael Beschloss that noted that Trump could avoid the usual political gatekeepers by turning to cable TV and the Internet, but that his appearance on the presidential scene (along with others like Warren Beatty and Cybil Shepherd) was a “flukish moment” driven by “celebrity politics.” Beschloss predicted that “if the economy starts to collapse or if the country faces a foreign crisis, the threshold for leadership is likely to magically rise once again.”

  • Petersen then notes an “eerily prescient response letter” to the Times from some dude named Sifry, who wrote that Trump’s potential rise “exist[ed] because of deep voter dissatisfaction with the major parties, disaffected citizens’ new power to unite via the Internet and the television media’s increased need to fill empty air time, giving third parties and unconventional candidates more attention than ever. These conditions can only intensify in the event of an economic downturn or foreign crisis. Rather than evaporating, as Mr. Beschloss projects, the voters’ demand for new leadership will grow. This may spell good news for one of the current crop of would-be insurgents or for candidates and/or parties still waiting on the sidelines today.” That Sifry dude sure hopes Trump didn’t read that letter and think, ah, just wait for the economy to tank and some foreign troubles to rise…it’ll be yuuuge.

  • Speaking of celebrity businessmen entering politics, Davey Alba ponders in Wired whether Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is pondering a run for the big house in 2020, when he’ll actually be old enough.

  • Media matters: The smart folks at the Data & Society Institute have posted a package of six essays aimed at helping us understand the interplay of media, technology and politics. Read this one by danah boyd to be reminded of how people started playing with social media to hack public attention years ago—though back then, she notes, it really just was for the lulz, not for power. And read this one, also by boyd, about some of the less obvious ways that technology is enabling Americans to self-segregate into housing, schools and social networks filled with people just like themselves, while undermining some of the countervailing institutions and processes that help build cross-cutting social capital.

  • Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan says “fake news” has already lost its meaning, and “Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, ‘fake news’ is an imprecise expression to begin with.” Amen to that.

  • The New York Times’ Steve Lohr looks at the ways that regulators may start antitrust investigations of companies that control vast stores of data about the rest of us.

  • Brave new world: A San Diego TV anchor reporting on a story of a child who accidentally bought a dollhouse and four pounds of cookies by talking in front of her parents’ Amazon Echo had the effect of causing Echos all over the city to start trying to buy dollhouses, reports Carlos Correa for CW6 San Diego.

  • Your moment of zen: Actress Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes last night.