Night Cap | Sunday May 21, 2017

The Seth Rich conspiracy shows how fake news still works

by Dave Weigel (Washington Post)

The most effective conspiracy theories target both the left and alt-right. What’s often forgotten about the DNC hack is how banal the emails were. There were three major hacks of the Democrats’ political operation. They were the DNC hack, released by WikiLeaks on July 22 last year; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) hack, released on Aug. 12; and the hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, which were released in a daily dump throughout October. The resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz during the Democrats’ convention fed into the idea that the DNC hack must have been devastating, revealing — in the words of Fox News conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity — that the “DNC was conspiring to hurt Bernie Sanders and help Hillary Clinton win the nomination.”

That’s not what the emails revealed. In fact, Wasserman Schultz’s mismanagement of the DNC, and personal bias toward Hillary Clinton, had been known, and a sore spot for supporters of Sanders, long before the hack. Wasserman Schultz scheduled debates late in the process, and had to be pushed by the Sanders campaign to allow a debate before the New York primary. Clinton, who’d narrowly lost the 2008 primary, came into 2016 with the vast majority of endorsements from party leaders — not actually a factor under the DNC’s control. What the emails found was that in May, after Sanders had no serious chance at the nomination, some DNC staffers got irresponsibly snarky and irritated. On May 1, for example, Wasserman Schultz reacted to news that Sanders would seek to contest the nomination at the convention by writing “so much for a traditional presumptive nominee.”

But by May 1, Clinton had a lead in the delegate count and popular vote that was not going to be outpaced by Sanders, even if he won a landslide in California’s looming primary. The theory that Rich was offended by these emails assumes that 1) he saw them, which is not suggested by any of the emails’ headers, and that 2) he would have interpreted exasperated emails in May as proof of anti-Sanders perfidy that the world needed to see. This doesn’t comport with reality — but it is attractive to the most die-hard progressive foes of Clinton. The Rich conspiracy thrived not just because fringe conservatives liked the idea of a break in the “Clinton body count” theory, but that the idea that someone would murder a leaker to cover up a conspiracy against Bernie Sanders would justify so much angst. Briefly, before Wheeler recanted his story, the Young Turks network’s “Jimmy Dore Show” chewed over the revelation that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

When Your Child Is a Psychopath

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (The Atlantic)

Psychopaths have always been with us. Indeed, certain psychopathic traits have survived because they’re useful in small doses: the cool dispassion of a surgeon, the tunnel vision of an Olympic athlete, the ambitious narcissism of many a politician. But when these attributes exist in the wrong combination or in extreme forms, they can produce a dangerously antisocial individual, or even a cold-blooded killer. Only in the past quarter century have researchers zeroed in on the early signs that indicate a child could be the next Ted Bundy.

Researchers shy away from calling children psychopaths; the term carries too much stigma, and too much determinism. They prefer to describe children like Samantha as having “callous and unemotional traits,” shorthand for a cluster of characteristics and behaviors, including a lack of empathy, remorse, or guilt; shallow emotions; aggression and even cruelty; and a seeming indifference to punishment. Callous and unemotional children have no trouble hurting others to get what they want. If they do seem caring or empathetic, they’re probably trying to manipulate you.

Researchers believe that nearly 1 percent of children exhibit these traits, about as many as have autism or bipolar disorder. Until recently, the condition was seldom mentioned. Only in 2013 did the American Psychiatric Association include callous and unemotional traits in its diagnostic manual, DSM-5. The condition can go unnoticed because many children with these traits—who can be charming and smart enough to mimic social cues—are able to mask them.

The Suddenly Real Possibility of President Mike Pence

by Abigail Tracy (Vanity Fair)

Brenden Thorne | Getty Images

Impeachment may yet be a liberal pipe dream—to say nothing of a 25th Amendment coup—but conservative pundits have begun floating the possibility of President Pence. “Republicans who are reflexively defending the self-inflicted wounds of this president have no need for him with Mike Pence in the wings,” Erick Ericksonwrote on Wednesday. As Ross Douthat noted in his most recent column, the political cost to Republicans would come in primary challenges, not policy setbacks. “Hillary Clinton will not be retroactively elected if Trump is removed, nor will Neil Gorsuch be unseated.”

Whether Pence’s reputation will actually survive Trump remains to be seen. “I think, to some degree, no matter how hard he tries to stay above the fray, he is going to be forever linked to Donald Trump,” a G.O.P. strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. He added that Pence, who along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions was reportedly in the room with Trump and Comey before the president allegedly asked the F.B.I. director to close the Flynn investigation, will likely have some questions of his own to answer. “I think at the end of the day, Mike Pence is in a really hard spot and doesn’t necessarily have the best hand to play.” If he runs in 2020, “I don’t think Pence would get a free pass by other potential Republican candidates.”

Wilson concurs: impeachment could make Pence president, but it could also crush his future career. “The question is, does Mike Pence become Gerald Ford if Donald Trump goes down for whatever reason (and I think there are multiple scenarios of how Trump could go down, the likeliest is he just gets sick of doing this and leaves), a caretaker president after a collapsed administration—which doesn’t bode well for [his political] future, as we saw from Gerald Ford.”

Pence, who is said to have long harbored presidential ambitions, seemingly tried to take control of his political future on Wednesday, when he filed paperwork with the F.E.C. to launch his own PAC, the Great America Committee. According to NBC News, it marks the first time a sitting vice president has established an independent political arm. A source close to Pence dismissed the narrative that the unusual move portends a presidential bid. “Don’t read into 2020 as anything other than his running for re-election as vice president in 2020 and supporting other candidates,” the source told NBC News.

The Night Cap is a round up of interesting pieces that crossed my plate across the Internet, along with the occasional video and / or cat picture. If you have suggestions of stories to check out or ideas for me that would make this more interesting, please shoot me a note.