Taking Care of Business

Goodbye, NSEERS; how Republicans have been intimidated into silence; and more.


  • First, some good news today, from all of us at Civic Hall! Our proposal to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to build a new Civic Hall and innovation hub at Union Square has been approved! It’s three years away, but this is a big leap into the future for us. More details here from Fast Company’s Ainsley O’Connell. This story by Sally Goldenberg at Politico New York has a great headline, too.

  • Related: Here’s more background on Omidyar Network’s recently announced $4 million investment in Civic Hall and Civic Hall Labs, courtesy of Dom Nicastro of CMSWire.

  • Also good news: The Obama administration is formally ending the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), responding to a strong public campaign by DRUM (a South Asian organizing group) and MoveOn, among others. The program, which built a registry of visitors from mostly Muslim countries, has been dormant since 2011, and by dismantling it now advocates hope to slow any effort by the new administration to revive it.

  • OK, back to our regular programming. “Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package,” reports Rachael Bade of Politico. “The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They’re afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters.” While it’s one thing for organized interest groups to try to pressure Members of Congress, this story points to a much darker and serious problem: party discipline achieved through death threats and other forms of personal intimidation. Instead of waiting to see if some on-the-ground version of Trumpian brown-shirts emerge, maybe it’s time we started to realize that their digital version is already here.

  • “Free speech is one of the hallmarks of our republic,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), one of the few House Republicans not currently intimidated into silence, told Politico. “If people are afraid to say what they think based on fear of reprisal … that’s not free speech.”

  • Kleptocracy watch: Two of Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, were the honorary co-chairs of a nonprofit fundraiser for something called the Opening Day Foundation that was offering special access to President Trump at the end of his first day in office in exchange for $500,000 or more in contributions, Matea Gold and David Farenthold report for the Washington Post. That alluring invitation has since been dialed back, they report, but many questions remain about the event.

  • One of those sons, Eric Trump, now says he understands the “quagmire” of ethical problems he is stuck in running a charitable foundation, now that his father is President-elect, Eric Lipton reports for the New York Times. Progress! Said former Obama ethics counselor Norm Eisen, “I do think there has been a baptism of fire for all of the members of the Trump family, and there are some signs that they are responding appropriately to criticism.” We shall see.

  • For perspective on just how much the Trump family and businesses’ entanglements are breaking all norms of ethical and conflict-free government, read this note from the first President George Bush to his son George W. on how he expected his family members to behave in relation to his presidency, as unearthed by Eric Lipton of the New York Times.

  • Speaking of walking conflicts of interest, how about the news that Trump is appointing Carl Icahn to advise him on regulatory reform? As Matthew Yglesias points out on Vox, the monetary value of getting to influence federal regulatory policy when you already have $20 billion in outstanding investments is enormous. Back in August, for example, Icahn was complaining to the media about a particular obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule that was hurting a refining company he owns…Complaining to the media about regulatory decisions you don’t like is, of course, as American as apple pie. So is hiring a lobbyist or three to press your case. But to have an active businessman formally in a position to do the regulatory work is a fairly open invitation to corruption.”

  • More Trump funny business: After last week’s ballyhooed tech summit with Trump, “SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk was among a handful of executives who remained behind for an extended meeting with key Trump officials,” ArsTechnica’s Eric Berger reports. “Musk’s views, along with others such as Jeff Bezos (founder of Blue Origin), convinced Trump adviser Peter Thiel to intervene with Pence, who leads the transition efforts for the Trump administration. Thiel’s voice, in concert with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, prompted a new course for the NASA transition team.” In the wake of that meeting the Trump transition is tilting toward commercialized space exploration, which would be a break from the status quo and a major boon to industry investors like Thiel. (h/t to Jeff Bercovici of Inc. magazine, who also points out that Berger failed in his story to mention Thiel’s huge investment in SpaceX.)

  • Having been beaten up by Trump on Twitter and seen his company’s stock drop $2 a share, the CEO of Boeing met with the President-elect yesterday and declared afterwards, “He’s a good man. And he’s doing the right thing.”

  • The editors of the New England Journal of Medicine offer chapter and verse on Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Service, Rep. Tom Price. A few highlights:

    Price has sponsored legislation that supports making armor-piercing bullets more accessible and opposing regulations on cigars, and he has voted against regulating tobacco as a drug. His voting record shows long-standing opposition to policies aimed at improving access to care for the most vulnerable Americans. In 2007–2008, during the presidency of George W. Bush, he was one of only 47 representatives to vote against the Domenici–Wellstone Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which improved coverage for mental health care in private insurance plans. He also voted against funding for combating AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; against expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; and in favor of allowing hospitals to turn away Medicaid and Medicare patients seeking nonemergency care if they could not afford copayments.

     

  • Writing in the American Prospect, Adele Stan puts all of these appointments in larger perspective.

  • Resistance isn’t futile: Dozens of independent researchers are downloading key health care data and documents, spurred by warnings from Jeanne Lambrew, the White House’s top health reform official, that the Trump Administration might delete or hide it all. Dan Diamond reports for Politico. This builds on earlier reports of independent researchers cataloging and downloading key climate research data.

  • Priorities USA Action, the Democratic SuperPAC that burned through $200 million backing Hillary Clinton now wants to the center of opposition to the Trump administration, Matea Gold reports for the Washington Post. Its primary mission in 2016 was to make Trump unpopular, so of course its success on that front is being rewarded. She reports that the group already has $10 million in commitments. “We’re trying to build the overall capacity of the progressive infrastructure,” said Guy Cecil, its director, promising a “comprehensive communications and digital operation.” He is also promising to partner with the Center for American Progress’ rapid-response war room and similar projects.

  • Some people are getting serious: Health care policy wonk Harold Pollack explains in The Nation why he’s personally considering committing civil disobedience to help build opposition to Trumpism.

  • lyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America and a longtime friend of Civic Hall, has announced that she is not going to run for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Hogue has been doing amazing work at NARAL and we are glad she is committed to continuing there (though she could teach the DNC a lot, too!)

  • Uber now lets you set a person, rather than a place, as your destination, Kerry Flynn reports for Mashable. Which means you can stalk your friends, if they let you.

  • Media matters: Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, cultural critic Lee Siegel accuses Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of paving the way to “fake news” with their popularization of the concept of “truthiness.” Siegel is confusing criticism with advocacy, as it was obvious to anyone but a Stewart/Colbert hater (which he has long been) that they were promoting propaganda but decrying its pitfalls. That said, Siegel is certainly familiar with fake news, having been exposed for sock-puppeting—creating a fake online persona to praise his own writing—back in 2006 when he was employed by The New Republic. He was suspended from the magazine after that episode.

  • If you want to blame anything for the rise of “fake news,” the best place to start is “spin”—the gaming of information that politicians from both sides of the aisle have been doing for decades. That went downhill when journalists started trading access for truth telling and adopted what Jay Rosen has called the “view from nowhere” style of reporting that elevated savviness about the game over serving the public with clarity. Satire, of the sort performed by Stewart and Colbert, is one antidote. But “fake news”—Politifact’s “lie of the year“—itself is a platform problem, and can be solved if the big platforms embrace their editorial responsibilities.

  • “There’s a real darkness here if we give up on facts,” Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan says. “Standing up for facts is a kind of patriotic act, and a necessary one.”

  • Based on her own experience being smeared online years ago, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum explains how fake news sites, plus volunteer trolls and software bots, can combine to damage a person’s reputation falsely. She writes, “We are living through a global media revolution, that people are hearing and digesting political information in brand-new ways and that nobody yet understands the consequences. Fake stories are easier to create, fake websites can be designed to host them, and social media rapidly disseminates disinformation that people trust because they get it from friends.”

  • About that election: New polling data from a panel survey, which tracks the opinions of the same group of interviewees over time, show that a small but significant percentage of voters definitely swung to Trump in the last two weeks of the election, Dan Hopkins writes in FiveThirtyEight.

  • Still no word from Elan Kriegel, Clinton’s data whiz.

  • Your moment of zen: Apparently former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was handicapped in his audition the Secretary of State role in President-elect Trump’s new TV show, “The White House,” Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty report for the Washington Post. “Donald was not going to like that mustache,” one associate told the Post. “I can’t think of anyone that’s really close to Donald that has a beard that he likes.” Apparently the executive-producer-in-chief (who is still going to have that role with next season’s Apprentice) likes people who come from “central casting,” a term he often uses in these deliberations, and was attracted to Rex Tillerson for his “silvery hair and boardroom bearing”; retired General Mike Mattis for his Patton-like resemblance, and Mike Pence for his good looks. This is a relief to us all, because there’s one leader from history with a mustache who all of this reminds us of, amirite?