Monday, August 27, 2018

Losing America (for a time)

In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans enjoyed and took for granted. It wasn't until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.

- John McCain, Faith of My Fathers (1999)

This week's featured post is "Elizabeth Warren stakes out her message".

This week everybody was talking about Trump's criminality

Since Tuesday, when Michael Cohen told a federal court under oath that Donald Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, a question has been hanging in the background of almost every news segment on Trump: Do we have him now? Are we entering the endgame in this presidency?

While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

The fact that I've been wrong so often about Trump makes me reluctant to say what seems to be true: It sure looks like walls are closing in on him. In hopes that the rule of law is eventually going to win out, here's The Bobby Fuller Four singing "I Fought the Law and the Law Won".

What walls are closing in? Well, two other people Trump has trusted have now gotten immunity deals from prosecutors:

  • David Pecker, whose National Enquirer not only ran pro-Trump propaganda on its front page all through the campaign ("Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination!", "Hillary, Bill & Chelsea Indicted!"), but who bought the rights to Trump-threatening stories of women like Karen McDougal in order to bottle them up. We know of two, but Steve Bannon once claimed there were many, many more such women, though he didn't specifically insert Pecker into that claim. (Pecker's unfortunate name has led to headlines like "Trump loses his Pecker", "Trump Worried About Pecker Leaking", and other childish amusement. It remains to be seen whether Pecker will stand up in court.)
  • Allen Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization. Weisselberg's deal is described as "limited", meaning that he has agreed to testify only about very specific things, and maybe not about his general knowledge of all things Trump. He has not split with Trump and is still Trump's CFO. We'll see what that means as events play out.

The fact that new witnesses keep coming forward, or finding themselves in a position where they need to make deals, is one big reason why Republican suggestions that Robert Mueller needs to "wrap up" are so off base. Witnesses like Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg will undoubtedly produce new leads that will need to be chased down. Maybe they will nail somebody at the next level, like Jared Kushner or Don Jr., and then those people will have decisions to make. That's how investigations of mafia-style organizations go. (It's just a guess, but I don't believe Jared would go to prison for his father-in-law.)

A Trump investigation that hasn't gotten much media attention is New York state's against the Trump Foundation, which is chartered in New York. In June, the NY attorney general filed a civil suit against the foundation, claiming it engaged in "persistently illegal conduct".

“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” said Attorney General [Barbara] Underwood. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”

... The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks an order finding that the Foundation’s directors breached their fiduciary duties requiring them to make restitution for the harm that resulted, requiring Mr. Trump to reimburse the Foundation for its self-dealing transactions and to pay penalties in an amount up to double the benefit he obtained from the use of Foundation funds for his campaign, enjoining Mr. Trump from service for a period of ten years as a director, officer, or trustee of a not-for-profit organization incorporated in or authorized to conduct business in the State of New York, and enjoining the other directors from such service for one year (or, in the case of the other directors, until he or she receives proper training on fiduciary service). To ensure that the Foundation's remaining assets are disbursed in accordance with state and federal law, the lawsuit seeks a court order directing the dissolution of the Foundation under the oversight of the Attorney General's Charities Bureau.

Now New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the Trump Foundation, and has subpoenaed Michael Cohen to testify. Since it's a state investigation, Trump has no way to shut it down. Probably New York wouldn't get away with indicting a sitting president. (Imagine if Virginia had stayed in the Union long enough to indict Lincoln for something and have him extradited.) But the Trump children are directors of the foundation and appear to be in jeopardy. And presidential pardons don't work against state offenses. Like Jared, the Trump kids weren't raised to deal with hardship. Would they really go jail if they had a chance not to?

More and more, Trump is talking like a mob boss. He tweeted that White House Counsel Don McGahn is not a "John Dean type RAT" and praised Paul Manafort because "he refused to break" under pressure from federal prosecutors. In his telling, the villains are the people like Dean who tell the truth to law enforcement, while a "good man" protects his capo even if he has to go to prison.

Ralph Blumenthal has put together a surprisingly difficult who-said-it-quiz: Trump or John Gotti, the famous Teflon Don.

If the president is a crook, Republicans don't want to know about it. Paul Ryan's spokesman: "We are aware of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to these serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point." So that means Ryan will support a congressional investigation to get that information, right? ... right?

Vox interviewed eight Republican senators, including retiring Senator Bob Corker, who sometimes has criticized Trump, and didn't find one who would agree that the Senate needed to look into this. Some said they'd wait and see what Bob Mueller's report will say. Others said they'd wait for court cases to play out. None of them want to start hearings.

This is the #1 reason why the country needs Democrats to control at least one house of Congress as soon as possible. It isn't that Democrats should immediately vote for an impeachment. (As I've said before, I think impeachment should have to clear a high bar.) But if Republicans stay in control, Congress will avoid finding out whether or not Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. They just don't want to know.

I'm hearing a number of Republicans echo Trump about Manafort: He just did what lots of guys do, and he got caught because Mueller wants to get to Trump.

Here's what amazes me about those lots-of-guys arguments: Nobody who makes them goes on to say we need a nationwide crackdown on white-collar crime. If a Salvadoran Mom carries her kid across the border, we've got a zero-tolerance policy. She's got to be prosecuted no matter what the consequences for the kid, because of the rule of law and so forth. But if lots of rich white guys are laundering money, evading taxes, and getting fraudulent bank loans, well, that's just business.

Glenn Kessler, who runs Washington Post's Fact Checker column, discusses the challenge of Donald Trump, and why Fact Checker has begun using the word "lie" for the first time.

and attempts to distract with race

Wednesday night, when the other news networks were exploring the implications of Michael Cohen's Tuesday guilty plea and his apparent willingness to testify about other matters, I suddenly wondered how Fox News was handling this. So I flipped over to catch the lead of Tucker Carlson's show: the Mollie Tibbits murder. Tibbets was an Iowa college student who disappeared July 18 and whose body was found Tuesday. An apparently undocumented Mexican immigrant was charged.

Two things separate the Tibbetts murder from every other murder in the country (there are about 40-50 per day):

  • The media pays way more attention to pretty young white women than to any other victims. So even before Tuesday, Tibbetts' disappearance was already getting wider attention than most disappearances.
  • The alleged murderer is undocumented.

If only we enforced our immigration laws better, conservatives have been saying, this crime would never have happened and Mollie would still be alive. "We need the wall," Trump concluded. Carlson berated other networks for ignoring the story, and showed a clip of an MSNBC panelist saying "Fox News is talking about a girl in Iowa" (rather than the president's criminality), which supposedly belittled Tibbetts.

Here's what Fox and Trump are ignoring: If we threw everyone out of the country -- you, me, everybody -- that would stop all crime in the United States. That is obviously an absurd plan. To make their deport-the-illegals point less absurd, Carlson and Trump need to argue that there is a link between undocumented immigrants and violent crime. Otherwise, the murderer's immigration status is just a random fact about him, and tells us nothing about his crime.

But to the extent that anyone has established a link between immigration status and violent crime (it's not a widely studied topic), it goes the other way. The Cato Institute did the numbers:

increased enforcement of our immigration laws is not a good way to prevent murders.  Illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes in the United States than native-born AmericansTexas is the only state that keeps data on the number of convictions of illegal immigrants for specific crimes (I sent versions of Public Interest Requests to every state). In Texas in 2015, the rate of convictions per 100,000 illegal immigrants was 16 percent lower below that of native-born Americans.

From what we know so far, the immigration status of the guy charged with Tibbetts' murder is just a random fact about him, like the shoes he wears or what he eats for breakfast. It doesn't make his case more newsworthy than any other murder.

Of course Trump's Russian allies have helped:

Almost immediately after a guilty verdict was announced in the trial of Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud charges, there was a flurry of activity among hundreds of pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts believed to be controlled by Russian government influence operations. Those accounts began posting thousands of tweets about Ms Tibbetts, the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who had been missing for nearly five weeks.

Peter Beinart claims the Trump and Tibbetts stories "represent competing notions of what corruption is".

“Corruption, to the fascist politician,” [author Jason Stanley] suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”

Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men.

Another racial distraction was Trump's tweet about "large scale killing of farmers" in South Africa. He referenced Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who had been railing against a South African government plan to redistribute land, which has largely remained in white hands even after the end of apartheid.

Oddly, though, the killing of white farmers wasn't in Carlson's report.

We have no clue how this myth about farmers being killed ended up on the president’s Twitter feed. It didn’t come up on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News show Trump referenced in his tweet. But it has been swishing in the alt-right and white-nationalist ether for years. The Fox News segment may have jogged Trump’s memory about something he came across previously.

Something he came across while he was perusing white-supremacist propaganda -- something he apparently does with some regularity. Slate reports how happy white supremacists are to see one their issues pushed by the President of the United States. South Africa, in white supremacist echo chambers, is ground zero for the "white genocide" that will engulf all Europeans if they let non-whites take over their countries.

Take a peek at Stormfront, the oldest and largest community of neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the internet and you’ll find post after post of pro-white commenters debating what Trump’s tweet means for the movement to uplift the white race. ... Whatever happens in federal courtrooms to people like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, the president still exerts a powerful reality-distortion field, into which he has now drawn the bogeyman of white genocide. No wonder white supremacists are giddy.

Last summer, Vox put together a video "Why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson". It describes perfectly what he's doing now with both the South Africa story and the Tibbetts murder.

Another topic Fox likes to bring up in lieu of the actual news is Venezuela. Things are bad in Venezuela now, and that supposedly proves that socialism is bad. Francisco Toro debunks: Just about every country in South America has experimented with socialism, with a variety of good and bad results.

Don’t be fooled. All Venezuela demonstrates is that if you leave implementation to the very worst, most anti-intellectual, callous, authoritarian and criminal people in society, socialism can have genuinely horrendous consequences. But couldn’t the same be said of every ideology? It’s a question that supporters of the current U.S. administration would do well to ponder.

and John McCain

Despite recognizing his flaws and disagreeing with much of his philosophy, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for John McCain, who died Saturday.

Presidential politics in New Hampshire traditionally has revolved around the town hall meeting, and McCain was the absolute master of that form. No matter what they're asked, shallow candidates find a way to segue into their canned talking points. But (at least in the four events I went to) McCain always answered the question he was asked. Usually he did it knowledgeably and articulately while radiating a sense of earnestness tempered by self-deprecating humor. He would do that for two hours at a time, then go to the next town and do it again, and then maybe hit two or three more towns before his day was over. It's no wonder he carried this state's presidential primary in both 2000 and 2008. His rivals often groused about the way reporters sent to cover him would end up falling under his spell, but I understood completely.

Feeling about him the way I did, I wanted him to be a hero -- not just years ago in Vietnam, but here and now. So he was a frustrating senator for me to watch, especially during Republican administrations. When something outrageous was happening -- the Trump tax cut was a good recent example -- he very often would ask the right questions, but then accept too-easy answers. He would make a stirring idealistic speech, and then find a way to lend his vote to Mitch McConnell's cynical plan.

That's what made the moment in this picture -- last summer during the Senate's effort to repeal ObamaCare -- so magical: For once, he really did cast the decisive vote to stop something terrible from happening. (That's McConnell who is staring him down with folded arms.) That day he was the hero I wanted him to be.

As a politician, McCain had his ups and downs. On the plus side, he recognized the rot at the heart of our political system and worked together with Democrat Russ Feingold to try to control money in politics. (Our country still suffers from the corporate rights the Roberts Court invented to make much of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional.) On the minus side, he always seemed to be willing to give war a chance, and he was responsible for unleashing Sarah Palin on the world.

All in all, he was a bundle of virtues and vices that we are not likely to see again. But even when was against him -- as I was in 2008 -- I could never stop myself from wishing him well. Often an opponent, but never an enemy.

The least compassionate response to the announcement that McCain was refusing further treatment -- a virtual admission that he was near death -- came from Kelli Ward.

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward suggested Saturday that the Friday statement issued by Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) family about ending medical treatment for brain cancer was intended to hurt her campaign. McCain died Saturday hours after she made the suggestion on Facebook, The Arizona Republic reported.  "I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me,” Ward wrote.

So, Arizona Republicans: If you think Washington is overrun with courtesy and empathy, and you want a candidate who will put a stop to all that mushy nonsense, here she is. The primary is tomorrow.

The McCain funeral seems likely to have political implications. Reportedly, Presidents Obama and Bush will be among those giving eulogies, and Trump appears not to have been invited to attend. I think commentators are likely to make McCain a symbol of a pre-Trump era when politics was pursued with honor and dignity.

Trump himself is acting out in a passive-aggressive way. So far he has restrained himself from insulting McCain's memory, and has recognized his death with a tweet that says nothing about McCain's life:

CNN reports that "White House aides drafted a fulsome statement for President Donald Trump on the death of Sen. John McCain, but it was never sent out." No flag-lowering proclamation has been made, and the White House flag was back at full staff in less than 48 hours.

but I focused on how Senator Warren wants to change the national debate

The featured post gives some background on her two recent proposals, the Accountable Capitalism Act and the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act.

and you also might be interested in ...

Texas Senators Ted Cruz (who is a climate-change denier) and John Cornyn (who admits climate change is real but doesn't want the government to do anything about it) are seeking $12 billion for a seawall to protect Texas gulf coast from the storm surges that are expected to become larger and more dangerous due to climate change. The wall would "shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry", the industry which is one of the major causes of climate change in the first place.

Exxon-Mobil alone made over $78 billion last year, of which a mere $1.2 billion went to taxes. So I suppose it's only natural that those of us who pay a tax rate higher than 1.5% should bear the burden of protecting Exxon-Mobil's assets against a crisis that it is causing for all of us.

Ezra Klein wrote a fair summary of the Trump economy:

Trump hasn’t unleashed an economic miracle, but he hasn’t caused a crisis either. Plenty of liberals believed a Trump victory would be devastating for the economy, tanking stock markets amid fears of trade wars, nuclear wars, and political chaos. That Trump has managed to keep growth going might be a less impressive record than he claims, but it’s a more impressive record than many of his critics expected.

Basically, the trends were positive when Obama left office, and they've kept going.

Political-science Professor Corey Robin writes a cogent description of the appeal of socialism in the current era. One key point is the way he reclaims the word freedom from the pro-market people.

Under capitalism, we’re forced to enter the market just to live. The libertarian sees the market as synonymous with freedom. But socialists hear “the market” and think of the anxious parent, desperate not to offend the insurance representative on the phone, lest he decree that the policy she paid for doesn’t cover her child’s appendectomy. Under capitalism, we’re forced to submit to the boss. Terrified of getting on his bad side, we bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse — just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.

The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree.

For me, this touches on a point I discussed years ago in a talk called "Who Owns the World?" The traditional socialist solution -- public ownership of the means of production -- should be thought of as a means rather than an end. What we all really need is guaranteed access to the means of production. In less jargony words, we need to have confidence that we will always have ways to turn our work into the goods and services we need.

The central problem with capitalism is that (in addition to all his other roles, many of which are positive) the capitalist is a gatekeeper: You need his permission in order to enter to productive economy, and that puts him in a position to impose demands on you. Hence the "unfreedom" Robin talks about.

Statistics from Fresno flesh out the idea that police are biased against blacks. And this contrast between the coverage of two fathers accused of murder tells you something about bias in the media's crime coverage.

Remember those 3-5 million illegal votes that supposedly cost Trump the popular vote (because of course they all voted for Hillary)? Well, after God knows how much effort, the Justice Department has managed to find 19 non-citizen voters, nationwide.

Secretary of State Pompeo was about to return to North Korea, which so far has done virtually nothing towards the "denuclearization" that Trump has bragged about achieving.

“Pompeo is stuck,” said one senior administration official who was not authorized to speak. “He’s a prisoner of championing a policy that’s based on what the president would love to see happen, but not based on reality and the facts on the ground.”

Whether Trump is starting to realize that or for some other reason, he cancelled Pompeo's trip. Vox has a good summary of where things stand.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was indicted for misusing campaign funds. But that's not a reason for him to drop out of his re-election run, because he's the victim of a Deep State conspiracy, and if anything bad did happen, it's his wife's fault:

When I went away to Iraq in 2003, the first time, I gave her power of attorney. She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress. ... She was also the campaign manager so whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure, but I didn’t do it.

That's a family-values candidate for you: always willing to let his wife take one for the team. Politico quotes an anonymous Republican congressional staffer: "Like, how do you stay married to a guy who does that?" Better question: How do you not testify against him?

Fox News, though, stays fair and balanced by finding a scandal on the Democratic side as well: Hunter's challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar doesn't just have dark skin and a funny name, but his grandfather was one of the Munich Olympic terrorists. Gramps was killed by the Israelis 16 years before Ammar was born, but I guess the idea is that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree that grew from that other acorn that didn't fall far from its tree either. Those acorns somehow counterbalance the $250K Hunter stole.

Campa-Najjar artfully pulls the two stories together: "I'm happy to take responsibility for my own choices and my own decisions. I think other men are responsible for their own crimes."

You've got to wonder why CNN allows stuff like this: CNN contributor Rob Astorino admitted on camera that the NDA he signed to work on the Trump 2020 Advisory Committee prohibits him from criticizing Trump.

On Thursday, a post I wrote in 2014, "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party" (the most popular post in Weekly Sift history) got 23 hits. On Friday it got 5,338. There's still a lot about blogging I don't understand.

and let's close with something that strikes back

Earlier this summer I closed with James Veitch's tormenting of an internet scammer. This time he's going after email spam from a supermarket.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Remaining Questions

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash. The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.

- former CIA Director John Brennan (8-16-2018)

This week's featured post is "The Drift Towards Autocracy Continues".

This week everybody was talking about security clearances

In the featured post, I discuss Trump's revoking of John Brennan's clearance as one more example of his autocratic tendencies: He thinks presidential powers aren't tethered to any presidential responsibilities, and are just his to use as he pleases.

Something else worth mentioning is that when Rob Porter was facing credible accusations of beating his ex-wives, Sarah Sanders claimed that the White House had nothing to do with security clearances.

and Aretha Franklin

a.k.a. the Queen of Soul, who died Thursday at the age of 76. In tribute, I offer this clip from The Blues Brothers.

and the continuing sabotage of ObamaCare

Wednesday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had a WaPo column that makes it sound like Trump's latest effort to sabotage ObamaCare is a great thing for middle-class Americans.

Americans will once again be able to buy what is known as short-term, limited-duration insurance for up to a year, assuming their state allows it. These plans are free from most Obamacare regulations, allowing them to cost between 50 and 80 percent less.

In other words, they're junk insurance. Suppose you buy such a policy for a year. If you break your leg, fine, you're covered. If you get cancer, though, you're covered until the end of the policy, and which point the company wants nothing more to do with you. Or if your leg-break is complicated, requiring a series of surgeries and some rehab that lasts longer than the policy, forget about it.

In the meantime, these short-term junk policies will appeal to healthy people who don't expect to get sick. Drawing them out of the risk pool will raise rates for people who want real insurance.

The proper goal of American health policy should be simple: If you need care, you will get it, and you won't be forced into bankruptcy. This is a step away from that goal, not toward it.

and Trump administration epistemology

"Truth," Rudy Giuliani told us this week, "isn't truth."

"This is going to become a bad meme," Chuck Todd presciently warned.

Now is a good time to remind everybody of the concept of the "reverse cargo cult". Hans Howe explains:

In a regular cargo cult, you have people who see an airstrip, and the cargo drops, so they build one out of straw, hoping for the same outcome. They don’t know the difference between a straw airstrip and a real one, they just want the cargo.

In a reverse cargo cult, you have people who see an airstrip, and the cargo drops, so they build one out of straw. But there’s a twist:

When they build the straw airstrip, it isn’t because they are hoping for the same outcome. They know the difference, and know that because their airstrip is made of straw, it certainly won’t yield any cargo, but it serves another purpose. They don’t lie to the rubes and tell them that an airstrip made of straw will bring them cargo. That’s an easy lie to dismantle. Instead, what they do is make it clear that the airstrip is made of straw, and doesn’t work, but then tell you that the other guy’s airstrip doesn’t work either. They tell you that no airstrips yield cargo. The whole idea of cargo is a lie, and those fools, with their fancy airstrip made out of wood, concrete, and metal is just as wasteful and silly as one made of straw.

In Putin's Russia, democracy is the cargo and elections are the airstrips. Russian elections are bogus, but that just proves that all elections are bogus. The US and all those other countries don't really have democracy either.

In Trump's America, truth is the cargo, and public statements are the airstrips. There's no point claiming any more that Trump tells the truth; it's just too obvious that he doesn't. If he testifies to Mueller, of course he will lie. But that just proves that everyone lies, and no statements contain truth.

So it's totally unreasonable to put Trump under oath and expect truth, because there is no truth.

but you might wonder what's going on with Turkey

In addition to all the other trade wars Trump is fighting, we now have one with Turkey. Trade with Turkey is too small to make much difference in terms of jobs or the trade deficit, but Evangelicals have made a cause out of an American pastor the Turkish government has arrested. The result is an economic crisis in Turkey that could spill over into European banks or other emerging market countries.

and you also might be interested in ...

We're waiting for a verdict in the Manafort trial. I'm concerned that it's taking so long; the evidence seems pretty clear. Vox' Emily Stewart just thinks the jury is being methodical: There are a lot of charges.

Meanwhile, Trump has been doing his best to influence the jury, which has not been sequestered. Any Trump supporters on the jury must know what their marching orders are: not guilty.

Rick Perlstein explains the history of "voter fraud" as an argument for discouraging minority voters.

James Corden's musical version of the hoped-for Mueller report says that Trump is the "law defying, truth denying, dirty lying, Russian spying, absolutely horrifying worst".

Dinesh D'Souza's new propaganda movie is bound to restart the bogus talking point that the Democrats are the real racist party. (Somehow, Nazis and white supremacists never seem to get that memo, and keep supporting Trump.) If you find yourself in an argument about this, I already collected the research you'll need a few years ago in "A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System".

The even-shorter version is that the Democrats were the white-racist party at least until FDR. By 1948, racists had began to feel unwelcome among the Democrats, which is why Strom Thurmond ran for president against Truman as a Dixiecrat. Between then and 1980, racists had no clear home in either party, and kept flirting with the idea of running their own candidates, like George Wallace in 1968.

Nixon's Southern Strategy in 1968 began inviting racists into the Republican Party, and Ronald Reagan sealed the deal in 1980 when he launched his post-convention campaign with a dog-whistle-laden speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, not far from the site of the Mississippi Burning murders. Since then, the GOP has been the preferred party for white racists.

But the article needs this update: The Republican Party of 2012 still kept its racists in the closet and signaled to them with dog whistles. But in the Trump Era, racists have taken a central position in the party's base.

PBS' "Hot Mess" series about climate change has some clear, non-intimidating introductory videos that might get through to people still in denial about the problem. Here's one:

Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to let states set their own regulations for CO2 emissions from power plants. States that produce a lot of coal presumably will have lax standards, as if the rest of the planet were unaffected by their decisions.

The regulations look like a big win for the companies that used to employ William L. Wehrum, who is now the top air-pollution official at the EPA. #DrainTheSwamp

Pennsylvania's attorney general released a grand jury report on clergy sex abuse.

Over a period of 70 years, Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children while bishops ran a systemic cover-up campaign, according to the state attorney general.

If you wonder where the "abolish ICE" sentiment comes from, read this story: ICE agents arrest a man at a gas station, leaving his wife to drive herself to the hospital to have their baby. Would it be so hard for ICE to drive the couple to the hospital, to sit with the man until his family is safe, and THEN to arrest him?

The problem with ICE is a pervasive lack of human decency. "Illegals" have been dehumanized to the point that the humane and compassionate responses that we owe to all human beings can be withheld from them. (If you want to see examples of this kind of dehumanization, read the comments on the article.)

You know where this story fits? In a flashback where a terrorist explains why he owes no compassion to his victims. "The day I was born ..." he begins.

Much news-network time was taken up this week by speculation on whether or not there's a tape where Trump says the n-word. Count me among the people who don't see what difference it would make. If you don't already know that Trump is a racist, I don't know why an n-word tape would change your mind. I mean, we already have a tape of him confessing to sexually assaulting women, but his supporters still don't believe the women who accuse him.

Elizabeth Warren's Accountable Capitalism Act is an attempt to change the rules corporations work under. There's a lot going on here that I need more time to unpack.

Tracey Ullman has been playing with the notion of Melania being a Russian robot for a while now. In this episode, the bot needs a reboot.

So Kris Kobach is now the Republican nominee for governor of Kansas. There are few politicians I have less respect for. His signature issue, voter fraud, which he has been riding for years, is bogus, and he has to know it's bogus.

He chaired a presidential commission tasked with finding evidence of such fraud, and he didn't find it. The commission disbanded without issuing a report. But he's still talking about voter fraud as if it were a well established fact.

Denmark's response to Fox Business Network's hit piece is awesome. Just about every aspect of Denmark that FBN's Trish Regan attacked is actually something that Denmark does better than the US.

Apparently the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is in financial trouble, which is a huge shame. I realize that most of you have no occasion to pass through Springfield, Illinois. But I do, since it's on the road to my home town, so I've toured the museum. It's a very worthwhile afternoon, and if the museum were on the Mall in D.C., I think everyone would go there.

I get where NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo was coming from when he responded to Trump's MAGA slogan by saying that America "was never that great". In other words, if you pick any particular date for "again" to refer to, something pretty awful was happening in America: slavery or Native American genocide or civil war or child labor or the Great Depression or second-class citizenship for women or Jim Crow or Japanese internment or whatever. There is no magic moment that we should want to roll the clock back to.

But I wish he hadn't put it the way he did, because it's also true that there has always been something great about America. Even as it was winking at slavery, the Constitution institutionalized rights for white men in a way that could eventually extend to others. Even as America was cramming the Irish, Italians, and Jews into squalid urban ghettos, it was also letting them build a base for breaking out of those ghettos. It promoted science and invention. It created an engine for producing wealth on a previously unheard-of scale, and eventually let that wealth spread out into a large middle class. With its allies, it defended the world from Nazism and held Soviet Communism in check until it fell of its own weight. All superpowers have a degree of arrogance, but compared to historical norms, I believe we have ruled our sphere of influence with a comparatively light hand.

So I find plenty to be proud of in American history, even if there is no Golden Age I would want to return to. My greatest worry is that if we follow Russia, Hungary, and Poland down the authoritarian/nationalist path, we may someday have cause to look back on the Obama years that way. No one would have said so at the time, but that's how Golden Ages typically are.

and let's close with a baby otter

Otters may have evolved to swim, but that doesn't mean they take to water naturally. Mom has to drag the young ones in and force them under.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Massive Changes

In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn't exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed.  ... It's clear that we need a reset on the entire issue of immigration, illegal and legal.

- Laura Ingraham,
The Ingraham Angle on Fox News (8-8-2018)

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

- Benjamin Franklin,
"Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc." (1751)

This week's featured post is "Anti-immigrant rhetoric is an insult to your ancestors".

This week everybody was talking about corruption

The Russia investigation gets all the headlines, but the widespread corruption of the Trump administration goes way beyond whatever accounts for his abject subservience to Vladimir Putin. Reason -- a magazine that is more libertarian than liberal -- calls the roll of Trump-administration crimes and cons. (They did the basic research, but I've summarized, inserted links, added a couple of people, and injected a little of my own commentary.)

  • Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is currently on trial for tax fraud and bank fraud. His assistant campaign manager Rick Gates (who stayed with the campaign after Manafort had to leave, and who went on to have a position on the Trump Inaugural Committee) has testified against him, saying that they committed crimes together.
  • Rep. Chris Collins, an early Trump supporter, was indicted Wednesday for insider trading. He's on the board of a foreign biotech company whose products are overseen by the committee Collins served on until this week. But that turns out to be legal for some unimaginable reason. What's not legal is that as a board member he got an email saying that a major drug trial had failed, and then he immediately called his son, resulting in the whole family (other than Collins himself) saving hundreds of thousands by dumping stock before the news became public. Prosecutors have the email, the record of the call, and records of the stock sales by numerous relatives, but Collins calls the charges "meritless" and at first was going ahead with his re-election campaign. By Saturday he had backed down, though, denying his Democratic opponent the chance to run on the Nixonesque slogan: "I am not a crook."
  • Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Gates pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to investigators. If I were Hillary Clinton, I would find it hard to resist attending Flynn's sentencing hearing so that I could lead a chant of "Lock him up!"
  • Andrew Puzder withdrew as a nominee for Secretary of Labor after it came out that he had employed an undocumented immigrant and an ex-wife had accused him of violent abuse.
  • White House secretary Rob Porter similarly had to resign after two ex-wives accused him of abuse, including one who backed up her story with a black-eye photo.
  • Long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen is waiting to see if he'll be indicted by the Southern District of New York. He seems to be working on the assumption that he will be and has been floating various tidbits of what he might have to trade prosecutors. It's still not clear whether the pay-offs he engineered to Trump mistresses Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were unreported campaign expenses, or if he met with a Putin ally in Prague, as the Steele dossier claims he did.
  • Former HHS Secretary Tom Price is also unindicted, but had to resign after running up big travel bills and sticking the taxpayer with them. He's long been ethically suspect because, like Collins, when he was in Congress he traded stocks in an industry his committee oversaw. (The NYT says a third of the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have traded biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device stocks.)
  • After examining a long list of similar accusations from multiple sources, Forbes concludes that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have stolen as much as $123 million during his investing career.
  • Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is the subject of so many investigations that it's hard to say which one brought him down.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may be the luckiest guy in Washington. In any other administration, his long list of scandals would be front-page news. Instead, it's like "Ryan Who?"
  • Trump himself reached a settlement to pay $25 million to the Trump University students he defrauded. The series of ever-more-expensive courses was supposed to teach them how Trump makes money, which (in a way) it did.
  • Pro Publica reports that the Veterans Administration (the second largest department in the government), is being overseen by a secret shadow council of Mar-a-Lago members. This is the clearest example of why Chris Hayes has dubbed Mar-a-Lago "the de facto bribery palace": If you want to have access to the president, you pay him $200K to join Mar-a-Lago or $300K to join his Bedminster golf club. If your organization (or the foreign government you represent) wants to get in good with Trump, it can put money in his pocket by holding events at his clubs or at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
  • Don Jr. appears to have lied to Congress, and probably also violated laws against political campaigns seeking help from foreign governments.

At least for the moment, while Robert Mueller is hanging on to whatever evidence he has assembled in the Russia probe, the Russian connection seems not to be affecting the voters much. But the Trump administration's ubiquitous corruption does seem to be breaking through. "Drain the Swamp" has become an issue that favors Democrats.

and Alex Jones

Just about all the social media giants kicked conspiracy theory mega-star Alex Jones off their systems this week. Apple, Facebook, and YouTube (but not Twitter, for some reason) decided they'd had enough of his hate speech -- most famously his persecution of the Sandy Hook parents, who he has repeatedly claimed are "crisis actors" who didn't really lose their kids in a mass shooting.

It's hard to know how to feel about this. First off, Jones is pond scum. Even if an injustice is happening here, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Second, it's not a First Amendment issue, because the First Amendment only applies to the government. Nobody is fining Jones or putting him in jail for his rants; the social media giants are private companies that have no obligation to provide Jones with a platform.

But that's where it starts to get tricky. A lot of The Weekly Sift's traffic passes through Facebook. (A lot more did a few years ago, before they changed their algorithms to make it harder for posts to go viral.) What if they decided they didn't like me? What if all the social media companies got together and decided they don't like socialists or libertarians or people who promote Esperanto? What if saying something bad about the president -- either Trump or some future Democrat -- could get you banned? That wouldn't exactly silence anybody, but it would tip the national conversation. Should a handful of commercial companies have that kind of power?

The Jones case caused a lot of people to recall the Martin Niemöller quote "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. ... " Over at World News Daily, another conservative site that promotes a lot of conspiracy theories, they made that comparison seriously:

So, first the Digital Cartel came for Alex Jones. Who will be next? I don’t know, but I don’t plan to find myself in the position in which Martin Niemöller found himself in Nazi Germany.

So did The Deplorable Climate Science Blog, which pushes its own global-conspiracy-of-climate-scientists theory of climate change:

Make no mistake about it. The evil empire has declared war on America.

But a lot of other people found the analogy ridiculous, like Denizcan Grimes:

First they came for Alex Jones, and I did not speak out because fuck that guy.

Or Alex Griswold:

First they came for Infowars, and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t like Infowars. Then they never came for me because I never accused grieving parents of murdered children of being crisis actors.

Or John Fugelsang:

First they came for Alex Jones & Infowars - but I wasn't a race-baiting transphobic conspiracy cultist who claims murdered children in Newtown are hoaxes and admitted in court that I'm just an entertainer who makes shit up, so I said nothing.

Or Patrick Tomlinson:

First they came for Alex Jones, and I said nothing because the entire point of that poem was a warning against letting fascist assholes like him have a voice in the first place.

and Nancy Pelosi

It's getting to be a thing among Democratic House candidates facing close elections: They say they won't vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Republican House candidates, OTOH, love to attach Pelosi to their Democratic opponents like an anchor.

So should Pelosi announce she won't run for Speaker? It's a tough question for a bunch of reasons.

First, Pelosi was a very effective Speaker during the first two years of the Obama administration. She got a bunch of good stuff through the House that then failed in the Senate, like a cap-and-trade bill to fight global warming, for example. When Democrats unexpectedly lost their filibuster-proof margin in the Senate, it was largely Pelosi's maneuvering that made ObamaCare a law.

A more progressive Speaker would not have produced more progressive legislation -- just more division in the caucus and more bills that would have died in the Senate. If Democrats do get the majority back this fall, there's every reason to believe that Pelosi will once again be effective at keeping the Democratic caucus together and pushing Democrats from purple districts to take a few risks they might otherwise back away from.

When you get outside of Congress, though, she hasn't been a good national spokesman for the party. As Speaker in an era with a Republican president and a Republican Senate (which I think we'll still have next year), she would be the top-ranking Democrat in the country, and I don't think she'll be good at that.

And then you reach the same dilemma that we had with Hillary Clinton: A lot of what makes her so easy to demonize is that she's a woman. Republicans have put a lot of energy into demonizing her, and it has worked. But I hate to give in to that: We can't let Republicans choose our leaders for us. At some point we have to stand up to demonization and defeat it. If you think that the next Democratic leader -- especially the next female Democratic leader -- will somehow escape demonization, you're kidding yourself.

Even so, I find myself hoping Pelosi steps down. In the short term, that would improve Democrats' prospects in the fall elections. And I'm not sure how much of a long term American democracy has if Trump is allowed to rule for two more years without congressional oversight.

and Charlottesville

People marked the anniversary of the Charlottesville Unite-the-Right rally in a variety of ways. Jonathan Capehart reviewed a year's worth of Trump's race-baiting pronouncements.

Trump himself tweeted a message that some pundits saw as conciliatory:

The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!

But the tweet is full of dog whistles that white supremacists will read differently than the rest of us. "all forms of racism" means that he is also condemning racism against whites, as if that were a thing. "all acts of violence" reinforces his "both sides" rhetoric of a year ago. "come together as a nation" means that white supremacists are part of the mainstream now, and the rest of us just have to tolerate them.

Why can't he condemn white supremacists specifically, even when marking the anniversary of a murder one them committed? He certainly has no problem condemning Black Lives Matter by name. If BLM protesters and Antifa demonstators do something he doesn't like, he doesn't condemn "all forms" of whatever, he calls them out. But he can't do that with white supremacists, because they're a key part of his base.

So no, I'm not going to "come together" with Nazis or take their claims of anti-white racism seriously. I refuse to accept an even-handed view that puts Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrators on the same level.

and you also might be interested in ...

Speaking of calling out black people by name, Trump went after basketball star LeBron James.

Consider the context: James had just welcomed the first class to the I Promise school in his hometown, Akron Ohio. It's  a school for at-risk kids, and gets a lot of its funding from James' foundation.

At the I Promise school, tuition is free for all students, who were randomly selected among all Akron public school students between one to two years behind their peers in reading. Students get free uniforms, free meals and snacks during the school day, and free transportation to school. Every kid also gets a free bicycle and helmet, as James has said that having access to his own set of wheels gave him a way to escape from dangerous parts of his neighborhood and the freedom to explore during his childhood. And in a nod to the realities of the way schoolwork gets done in the digital age, every kid gets a free Chromebook, too.

In other words, James is a multi-millionaire who remembers where he came from, and who is trying to help people who are like him, but lack his all-world athletic talent. Any other president would give him a shout-out.

But with some nudging from CNN's Don Lemon, James softly criticized Trump, saying that Trump

has kinda used sport to kinda divide us, and that's something I can't relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. And I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them and they got an opportunity to learn about me. And we became very good friends, and I was like "Oh wow, this is all because of sports." And sports has never been something that divides people, it's always been something that brings someone together.

Racism, he said, has "always been there"

But I think the president in charge now has given people ... they don't care now. They throw it in your face now.

Trump didn't answer those criticisms but couldn't ignore them, so he struck back with insults:

Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!

"I like Mike" refers to Michael Jordan, and is a way of saying that LeBron is only the second best player in basketball history. The tweet could hardly be a better example of "using sports to kinda divide us".

All I can say is that you should watch the Lemon/James interview, and then listen to one of Trump's incoherent and mistake-filled rants, and decide for yourself which of these men is truly smart.

Trump is back to another of his favorite bits of race-baiting: attacking NFL players who kneel to protest racial injustice. Seriously: the guy who can't stand up to Putin is lecturing NFL players about patriotism. It's not the state of Colin Kaepernick's patriotism that worries me.

This morning the NYT editorial board assembled a compelling collection of graphs and charts to make a point that gets a little clearer all the time: The Trump tax cut is doing great things for stockholders and executives, but nothing at all for workers.

Inflation-adjusted wages are dropping, capital investment and productivity have been unaffected, and the federal deficit is skyrocketing (to the point that in a few years the record Bush/Obama deficit of FY 2009 will be the baseline). But the stock market is near a record, so it's all good.

If you ever argue with somebody about voter fraud, chances are that they will tell you about "evidence" they have seen: something obviously not right that must be the result of fraud. Invariably, though, the fraud is by the people who constructed the claim of fraud. I took apart one example of this back in 2013 in "The Myth of the Zombie Voter", but it's a whack-a-mole process. Republicans are extremely gullible on this issue; it's easy for fraudsters to gin up BS that they will believe and pass on to their friends.

Here's another example, referring to the recent special election in Ohio's 12th congressional district. First the accusation tweet:

Voter fraud is real: 170 Voters in Ohio Race ‘Over 116 Years Old,’ World’s Oldest Person Is 115

How much more obvious can fraud get? Well, Sean Imbroglio takes the time to figure out what's really going on, and finds something even more amazing: According to the official database, which is available for inspection by the public, a bunch of those voters are actually 218 years old! Their birth years are listed as 1800!

So I called the Franklin BOE and guess what? isn’t overrun with immortal vampires or Napoleonic-era alchemists. Board of Elections confirmed 1800 means they registered under the old system which didn’t collect birthdates, and haven’t updated their registrations since.

Imbroglio goes on to google a bunch of the 218-year-olds, and finds out that they are real people who live in the district and actually have more reasonable ages. But in the time it took him to do that, probably five other voter-fraud conspiracy theories got launched. (If you follow the tweet-thread, it's instructive to watch Proud Conservative argue with Imbroglio. He really, really wants to believe that voter fraud has been found and documented.)

Having investigated half a dozen or so of these stories over the years, I've come to a conclusion: Examples of rampant voter fraud are all like this. Something perfectly ordinary creates an anomaly that conspiracy theorists can trumpet without bothering to look for more mundane explanations.

I didn't think Omarosa was worth paying attention to when she worked in the White House, and I don't see any reason to change my mind now that she's pushing a book about her White House experiences. Ping me if she releases any of the Trump tapes she claims exist.

Here's the sad thing about Omarosa's book, Sean Spicer's book, and all the Trump-administration-insider books that will ever come out: In order to work for Trump to begin with, you had to be either dishonest or ridiculously gullible. Either way, I won't believe your book unless you have proof.

Back in the 19th century, somebody remarked that watching the heavily manipulated wheat market at the Chicago Board of Trade was like watching men wrestling under a blanket; you could tell when something was happening, but not see what it was.

I feel that way when I hear about Trump negotiating an interview with Robert Mueller. There's so much we don't know. Trump's people claim he is eager to talk to Mueller, but that his lawyers want to insist on prior conditions that Mueller so far has not agreed to. Is that true, or is Trump like the guy who complains about his friends holding him back from a bar fight he doesn't really want any part of?

From Mueller's side: Does he need Trump's testimony to complete his report, or is he simply offering the president the courtesy of allowing him to tell his side of the story? If negotiations with Trump fail, as I think they will, does he then insist with a subpoena, or does he shrug and go on?

Trump's lawyers claim they're worried about a "perjury trap", as if some mysterious prosecutor magic tricks witnesses into lying. But if Trump has done nothing wrong, as he claims, then he has a foolproof strategy against perjury: don't lie.

The perjury problem, I think, arises because Trump is actually guilty of something, maybe many things. If he could be sure exactly what Mueller knows, then he could concoct a lie that fits within those bounds. But because he doesn't know -- and that's why his allies in Congress keep demanding the Justice Department produce more and more documents -- then he risks telling a lie Mueller can disprove. That's the "perjury trap".

The only real perjury trap I can imagine is the situation Bill Clinton found himself in: You want to cover up something (like an affair with an intern) that is legal but politically embarrassing. Finding an excuse to ask the question under oath is a way for your enemies to turn your political problem into a legal problem. But I don't see anything like that here.

The trade war with China continues: The latest round of Chinese retaliatory tariffs have been announced and will take effect on August 23.

and let's close with something cute

What could be cuter than a baby elephant who enjoys a bath?