To Speak or Stay Silent?

It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything.

Christine Blasey Ford

This week’s featured post is “10 Years After: the Post-Recovery Economy“.

This week everybody was talking about hurricanes

Early in the week, it was thought that Hurricane Florence might make landfall as Category 4 or even 5. But it spread out, slowed, and weakened, hitting North Carolina as Category 1. It’s now down to a tropical depression, but its cloud-field still covers a huge chunk of the Southeastern seaboard. Swansboro, NC has gotten over 30 inches of rain.


Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit China’s Guangdong province (south of Hong Kong) yesterday.

The decision to evacuate towns and cities in southern China came as Hong Kong was left reeling by ferocious winds of up to 173 kilometers per hour (107 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 223 kph (138 mph).

Before getting to China, Mangkhut ravaged the Philippines, killing 54 people.


The series of huge storms we’ve seen in recent years is either an enormously improbable coincidence, or it’s evidence of global warming. But it’s not just that the administration doesn’t want to do anything about climate change, it’s actively been undoing what little Obama managed to get done.

In its latest retreat from federal action on climate change, the Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to lift rules on the leaking and uncontrolled release of the potent greenhouse gas methane from oil and natural gas operations.

Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that (depending on your estimate of how much methane gets leaked between the well and the consumer), it might make natural gas less climate-friendly than coal. Environmental Defense Fund writes:

Whether natural gas has lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. … Technologies are available to reduce much of the leaking methane, but deploying such technology would require new policies and investments.

In particular, government regulation is needed to make energy companies care about the methane they leak. Trump’s EPA is making sure they have no reason to care.


Florence is drawing attention back to the complete botch of the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The NY Post reports:

Hundreds of thousands of water bottles meant for victims of Hurricane Maria are still sitting at a Puerto Rico airport — nearly a year after the deadly storm


Trump, of course, denies everything. The federal response to Maria was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about“. And the 3,000 excess deaths? Fake news, made up “by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible“.

It’s important to realize just how not-normal this is. George W. Bush was known to spin and dissemble (that’s how he got the Iraq War started), but it’s impossible to imagine him claiming that Katrina only killed a few dozen people, and that stories about more than a thousand deaths were just Democratic inventions meant to make him look bad. Literally NO previous president has ever been this dishonest, or willing to insult the public intelligence to this degree.

Jennifer Rubin draws the inescapable conclusion:

Trump’s outburst should remind us of several troubling facts. First, whether he is lying (or is simply a victim of his own self-delusion that he is incapable of error) is beside the point. He’s not functioning as a president or any other officeholder should. He cannot comprehend facts, process them and take appropriate action. He is, in a word, non-functional.

… Republicans’ inability to check or challenge the president and their insistence on rubber-stamping his decisions while ignoring his outbursts pose more than a constitutional and moral challenge. They, too, are responsible for confirmed Cabinet officials who are incompetent or corrupt, for lack of serious governance, for failure to hold officials accountable, and for the suffering and deaths (e.g. separated families, dead Puerto Ricans) that come about by virtue of a president who is never forced to confront reality.

and Paul Manafort

On Friday, Trump’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal that involves him cooperating with the Justice Department. He also will forfeit ill-gotten assets that might be worth as much as $46 million. That means that the Mueller investigation could making money for the government. I have been unable to track down where I heard this line, but it’s not mine: “Trump will be impeached, and Russia will pay for it.”

There’s a big guessing game going on concerning what Manafort might be able to testify about, but nobody outside the investigation really knows. Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and Norman Eisen  wrote in the NYT:

According to prosecutors, Mr. Manafort has already participated in a so-called proffer session, in which he described information that investigators deemed valuable. Mr. Manafort’s agreement will also require him to give further interviews without the presence of his own counsel, turn over documents and testify in other proceedings. His surrender is complete.

Even if you’re a die-hard MAGA-hatter, you have to be wondering where this stops. With Flynn, Cohen, and Manafort all cooperating, the only bigger fish to go after are in the Trump family.

and Brett Kavanaugh

Last week, my comment about the hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was “nothing matters”. Was Kavanaugh’s paper trail being covered up? Did he lie under oath in previous confirmation hearings? Would he gut abortion rights and grant conservative Christians the special right to ignore discrimination laws? Was he so pro-business that he was anti-consumer and anti-worker? It didn’t matter. Even an anonymous accusation of sexual assault (which became publicly known on Wednesday and which Kavanaugh denied) wasn’t worth taking the time to investigate. The Republicans have the majority in the Senate and were determined to push Kavanaugh through as fast as possible.

But now, finally, a few Republican senators are asking to slow this train down. The difference is that the anonymous accuser came forward yesterday. She’s Christine Blasey Ford,

a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Her work has been widely published in academic journals.

At WaPo’s “The Fix”, Amber Phillips assesses:

As far as tracing decades-old sexual harassment allegations go, Ford’s story is remarkably credible. Ford is speaking on the record about her experience. She passed a polygraph test, the results of which The Post reviewed. She told other people about the alleged attack years before Kavanaugh was a Supreme Court nominee. She allowed her records from a therapy session about it to be reviewed by The Post. She says she didn’t want to come forward and decided to do so only after her story was leaked to news outlets.

Will the presence of an actual accuser, a woman willing to stand up and watch her life be shredded by right-wing media outlets (as it inevitably will be), make a difference? Maybe. Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have both called for Thursday’s vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to be delayed. Flake’s view is particularly important here, since he is on the Judiciary Committee, and could be a swing vote against Kavanaugh if his doubts are not addressed. “We can’t vote until we hear more,” he said.

So what happens after Republican senators “hear more”, assuming they do? I can’t guess.


Jeet Heer:

I want a venn diagram of people willing to argue “Give Kavanaugh a break, he was only 17” and “Trayvon Martin got what he deserved.”


The accusations are about events that happened a long time ago, but Kavanaugh’s response to those accusations is happening now. We’ll see how that unfolds, and what it tells us about his character. Matt Yglesias:

There’s a good case for forgiving teenage misconduct but to receive forgiveness you have to seek it, not call the victim a liar and participate in a smear campaign against her.


Here’s the text of the letter Ford wrote to Senator Feinstein in July.


Other Kavanaugh issues: Kavanaugh’s previous Senate testimony under oath appears to not entirely correspond to the truth. But the legal scholars Vox consulted say the case falls short of criminal perjury.

Senator Kamala Harris showed a clip in which Kavanaugh appears to characterize contraceptives as “abortion-inducing drugs”, an extreme claim by religious-right groups that the science doesn’t support. If true, that would be disturbing, because a lot of court cases hang on whether or not a judge takes seriously some fantastic unscientific claim. But a longer version of the clip makes it clear that Kavanaugh was summarizing the position of one side of the case, not stating his own opinion. Politifact rated Harris’ charge false.

and you also might be interested in …

Thursday evening, dozens of fires broke out in the Boston suburbs of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The cause hasn’t been officially identified, but the most likely speculation is that Columbia Gas overpressurized a gas main, resulting in multiple gas leaks.


The Trump administration is taking in many fewer refugees than the U.S. has in recent years. But one group’s numbers are up: white Evangelicals from the former Soviet Union.


Jonathan Chait’s take on Elizabeth Warren  is pretty similar to the one I gave a few weeks ago.

The Massachusetts senator has made a series of unusually early moves that, taken together, suggest a well-designed strategy to compete across the spectrum of the Democratic Party without risking her viability in a general election. … She is building a national profile to position herself to win a primary and a general election, without sacrificing one for the sake of the other.

Earlier this year, I often told people I had no idea at all who would win the Democratic nomination. In a potentially huge field, it is still impossible to predict the outcome with much confidence. But at this point, Warren’s early moves position her as a clear front-runner.


NRATV hit a new low last week: The September 7 edition of “Relentless”, hosted by Dana Loesch, closed by ridiculing the Thomas the Tank Engine TV show, which has made the trainyard more diverse by bringing in girl trains, including one from Kenya. Loesch rejected the idea that the trains had ever had races before, and showed this parody image, which presumably is how liberals saw the show before the new characters were introduced.


The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer explores the NRA’s perverse attitude towards police violence against blacks.

When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. … If innocent unarmed black men like [Botham] Jean are shot, it’s because they lack firearms; if innocent black men who are armed like [Fernando] Castile or [Alton] Sterling are shot, it’s because they had a gun. Heads, you’re dead, tails, you’re also dead.

He also notes that in recent years the NRA has become much more of an across-the-board right-wing organization, as the Thomas example above illustrates.

In recent years, the NRA has made frequent forays into culture-war disputes that have little to do with gun rights per se.

His explanation is that the NRA is primarily about selling guns, not defending gun-owners’ rights. (It’s funding comes primarily from gun manufacturers.) And its current why-you-should-be-armed message is a right-wing dystopian fantasy.

NRATV tells its viewers that they are under assault from liberals, black people, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims and that they might one day need to kill them—in self defense, of course. Like the president, the NRA has correctly divined that fomenting and exploiting white people’s fears and hatreds is an effective sales strategy. If marketing murder fantasies is what it takes to move the product, then so be it.


A Kansas woman who was born at home, rather than at a clinic or hospital, was denied a passport.

[S]he received a letter from the federal division of the U.S. Passport Agency out of Houston, TX, telling her the application was denied and required further documentation. … The letter stated, because her birth certificate was not issued at a institution or hospital, it was not considered proof enough of her citizenship.

She received a letter asking her to submit any number of the listed additional documents. “Border crossing card or green card for your parents issued prior to your birth? My parents were born in the United States….Early religious records? We don’t have any. Family Bible? They won’t accept a birth certificate but they will accept a family Bible?” Barbara said.

Eventually her senator intervened, and the passport came through.


If you live in Arizona (or are thinking of moving there), you should be aware that a young-Earth creationist was on the special committee that reviewed the state’s science curriculum standards on evolution. The outgoing Arizona Secretary of Education appointed Joseph Kezele, who teaches at Arizona Christian University and is president of the Arizona Origin Science Association.

He advocates for a literal interpretation of the history presented in the Bible, and claimed that all land animals, including humans and dinosaurs, were created on the sixth day when God created the universe. Adolescent dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark because adult dinosaurs would have been too big, Kezele said. “Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem,” Kezele said.

and let’s close with something to make people look twice

Imagine flying this radio-controlled version of Snoopy’s dog house around your neighborhood.

10 Years After: The Post-Recovery Economy

The recovery from the Great Recession didn’t bring back some previous state of prosperity and resume growth from there. It created a new economy that, in some ways, may never again be what it was.


In addition to 9-11, which was a Tuesday this year, this week included one other important anniversary: Saturday marked ten years since the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, the spark that ignited the financial crisis that started the Great Recession.

Like most major world events, the Great Recession didn’t begin in an instant and didn’t have a single cause. Just as Europe had started sliding towards World War I long before Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, the world financial system had been showing signs of strain long before Lehman declared bankruptcy. But Lehman had been one of the biggest players in the international financial markets, so its insolvency was a huge shock: If their debts weren’t good, whose were? Who knew what other financial institutions were insolvent, now that Lehman wouldn’t be repaying its loans? Suddenly, banks were afraid to loan money even to other banks, and the dominoes began to fall.

The worst financial panics are marked by cascading waves of bankruptcies. Alice can’t pay Bob, and Bob had been counting on Alice’s money to pay Charlie and Darlene, who now won’t be able to meet their payrolls. Charlie and Darlene’s employees, in turn, won’t be able to pay their rent, and so their landlords won’t be able to make their mortgage payments to the bank, which may also become insolvent. Where does it stop?

Wikipedia sums up the effects:

While the recession technically lasted from December 2007-June 2009 (the nominal GDP trough), many important economic variables did not regain pre-recession (November or Q4 2007) levels until 2011-2016. For example, real GDP fell $650 billion (4.3%) and did not recover its $15 trillion pre-recession level until Q3 2011. Household net worth, which reflects the value of both stock markets and housing prices, fell $11.5 trillion (17.3%) and did not regain its pre-recession level of $66.4 trillion until Q3 2012. The number of persons with jobs (total non-farm payrolls) fell 8.6 million (6.2%) and did not regain the pre-recession level of 138.3 million until May 2014. The unemployment rate peaked at 10.0% in October 2009 and did not return to its pre-recession level of 4.7% until May 2016.

This week, the New York Times ran a series of articles pointing out all the ways in which the economy has still not recovered. Or, putting it another way, how the economy has changed. We haven’t simply returned to some previous state of prosperity and continued growing from there. We have entered a new economy, parts of which may never return to previous levels of prosperity.

The most significant change is an increase in inequality. The lower your pre-Lehman income and net worth, the longer it has taken the recovery to reach you. People at the top of the economy are far better off than they have ever been. But people at the bottom are still waiting to get back to where they were, and some never will. In fact, if you take the top 10% of earners out of your statistics, the 90% who are left are only just now getting back to their 2006 incomes, and that’s only because of tax cuts and government programs like unemployment insurance, Food Stamps, and ObamaCare. If you just look at pre-tax income, it’s still underwater.

Wikipedia noted that household net worth was back to its pre-Lehman levels by 2012. But that number has been pulled up by the huge gains of the richest households. Median household net worth, the net worth of the households in the middle of the economy, has still not recovered. In fact, it is still below its level at the beginning of the previous recession, the one that started when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 and 2001.

GDP recovered by 2011, but Wednesday the Census Bureau announced that median household income had only just recovered by 2017.

[T]he details of the report raised questions about whether middle-class households — which have experienced an economic “lost decade” — are now likely to see actual income gains or if they will simply tread water. One reason for concern is that income growth slowed in 2017, to 1.8 percent. Median income had grown more rapidly in previous years, by 5.2 percent in 2015 and 3.2 percent in 2016.

Another NYT article (by Nelson Schwartz) digs a little deeper:

Data from the Federal Reserve show that over the last decade and a half, the proportion of family income from wages has dropped from nearly 70 percent to just under 61 percent. It’s an extraordinary shift, driven largely by the investment profits of the very wealthy. In short, the people who possess tradable assets, especially stocks, have enjoyed a recovery that Americans dependent on savings or income from their weekly paycheck have yet to see. Ten years after the financial crisis, getting ahead by going to work every day seems quaint, akin to using the phone book to find a number or renting a video at Blockbuster.

Basically, there are two dividing lines: About a fifth the households in America either own nothing to speak of, or have debts that are greater than their assets. They live paycheck-to-paycheck, and miss out entirely on that 39% of national household income that now comes from something other than wages.

A large chunk of households in the middle of the economy have a positive net worth, but that wealth is almost entirely in the form of home equity. (Their IRAs or 401(k)s may own a few shares of stock, but those shares are not a significant percentage of their assets.) After paying the mortgage, they also live paycheck-to-paycheck. In most of the country, house prices collapsed in the Great Recession, and (except in a few hot markets) they haven’t grown much (if at all) in the last ten years, so these families’ net worth has remained relatively stagnant.

But at the top of the economy, people own stocks. They get dividends and capital gains that are taxed at a lower rate. And the government’s economic-recovery policies worked much better for them than for homeowners.

Like the bankers, shareholders and investors were also bailed out. By cutting interest rates to near zero and pumping trillions — yes, you read that right — into the economy, the Federal Reserve essentially put a trampoline under the stock market. The subsequent bounce produced a windfall, but only for a limited group of beneficiaries. Only about half of American households have any exposure to the stock market, including 401(k)’s and retirement plans, and ownership of the shares of individual companies is clustered among upper-income families.

For homeowners, there wasn’t much of a rescue package from Washington, and eight million succumbed to foreclosure. Sometimes, eviction came in the form of marshals with court orders; in other cases, families quietly handed over the keys to the bank and just walked away. Although home prices in hot markets have fully recovered, many homeowners are still underwater in the worst-hit states like Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Meanwhile, more Americans are renting and have little prospect of ever owning a home.

The housing crash hit middle-class black and Hispanic families harder than middle-class white families, worsening the racial wealth gap.

[F]amilies in the latter two groups were more dependent on housing as their principal form of investment. Not only were both minority groups harder hit by foreclosures, but Hispanics were also twice as likely as other Americans to be living in Sun Belt states where the housing crash was most severe.

In 2016, net worth among white middle-income families was 19 percent below 2007 levels, adjusted for inflation. But among blacks, it was down 40 percent, and Hispanics saw a drop of 46 percent.

Young people have also been set back. With their parents’ home equity all but gone, they face a choice between entering the economy without marketable skills and borrowing heavily to go to college or get other training. Student debt, says the NYT, “is now the second-largest category of consumer debt outstanding, after mortgages.”

A personal view comes from NYT editor M. H. Miller, who tells of his parents attending his 2009 graduation while facing foreclosure. At an age when previous generations of Americans were taking on mortgages and building for the future, Miller still owes $100K of student debt. “The financial crisis remains the defining trauma of my generation,” he says.

Finally, we come to what has happened at the bottom levels of the job market, covered by Matthew Desmond. He follows Vanessa Solivan, a home health aide raising three children in Trenton, New Jersey.

In May, Vanessa finally secured a spot in public housing. But for almost three years, she had belonged to the “working homeless,” a now-necessary phrase in today’s low-wage/high-rent society. … After juggling the kids and managing her diabetes, Vanessa is able to work 20 to 30 hours a week, which earns her around $1,200 a month. And that’s when things go well.

These days, we’re told that the American economy is strong. Unemployment is down, the Dow Jones industrial average is north of 25,000 and millions of jobs are going unfilled. But for people like Vanessa, the question is not, Can I land a job? (The answer is almost certainly, Yes, you can.) Instead the question is, What kinds of jobs are available to people without much education? By and large, the answer is: jobs that do not pay enough to live on.

It’s not that safety-net programs don’t help; on the contrary, they lift millions of families above the poverty line each year. But one of the most effective antipoverty solutions is a decent-paying job, and those have become scarce for people like Vanessa. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour, and almost none of their employers offer health insurance.

Desmond did well to focus on Vanessa. I suspect that the majority of NYT readers (whom I picture as better off than most Americans) have little contact with low-wage workers. Janitors, dishwashers, and busboys are almost invisible. Farm workers are out there in the country somewhere doing God-knows-what. You can imagine that waitresses make a lot in tips, and a few of them actually do. When your personal experiences don’t connect you to people, it’s easy to accept stereotyped accounts of their lives and problems: It’s their own fault. They just need to work harder and stay off drugs. If they learned to practice middle-class virtues, they’d be middle class themselves soon enough.

But lots and lots of professional-class folks have had needed home health aides at one time or another, either while recovering from something themselves or when they were trying to keep aging parents out of a nursing home. I dealt with several in my parents’ final years, and I know the agency didn’t charge us enough to pay them very well. The aides are not nurses, but they do hard, necessary work. The ones I met did it cheerfully, without complaining. None of the negative stereotypes of low-wage workers — that they’re lazy, stupid, resentful, unreliable, irresponsible, and have to be watched every minute — applied to the aides who took care of Mom and Dad.

In short, when I picture a home health aide, I picture someone who deserves to have a decent life. (Whether anyone deserves not to have a decent life is another question. But surely home health aides shouldn’t fall into that abyss.) The thought of Vanessa doing all the work she can get and still living in her car — that’s jarring to me in a way that stories of other low-wage workers might not be. I can’t easily make up some excuse to explain it, or make it seem just. I suspect that a lot of NYT readers had a similar reaction.

Similarly, many professional-class people recall the low-paying jobs they held as teen-agers, or during the summers of their college years, and may regard the experience as a harmless hazing that welcomes young people into the workforce. But Vanessa is 33, and is not on the road to some future prosperity. This is her life, and it’s the life of a lot of adult Americans.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a “working poor” person as someone below the poverty line who spent at least half the year either working or looking for employment. In 2016, there were roughly 7.6 million Americans who fell into this category. Most working poor people are over 35, while fewer than five in 100 are between the ages of 16 and 19. In other words, the working poor are not primarily teenagers bagging groceries or scooping ice cream in paper hats. They are adults — and often parents — wiping down hotel showers and toilets, taking food orders and bussing tables, eviscerating chickens at meat-processing plants, minding children at 24-hour day care centers, picking berries, emptying trash cans, stacking grocery shelves at midnight, driving taxis and Ubers, answering customer-service hotlines, smoothing hot asphalt on freeways, teaching community-college students as adjunct professors and, yes, bagging groceries and scooping ice cream in paper hats.

There was never a golden age when the American Dream (whatever it may have been in that era) was available to all on equal terms. Inequality has always been with us, and has been increasing since the late 1970s. It is not some new development of the last ten years, but class lines have increasingly hardened since the Great Recession.

If you are a child of wealth, your path to success is comparatively smooth: As a child, you will get whatever help you need to maximize your talents and your attractiveness to elite colleges. With appropriate effort on your part, you will graduate not just with a punched ticket to the professional class, but without debt. If at some point your further development requires either more training or the capital to start a business, that won’t be a problem. Quite likely, you will reach 40 in good shape, ready to give your own children similar advantages, but with no awareness of ever having taken a “handout”. You got the grades, you did the work, you started the business — by what right can these socialists tax “your” money away and spend it on the people who lost the games you won?

But if your parents are not rich, you face difficult hurdles and choices. Depending on where you live, public schools may or may not give you the grounding you need to move on and get an advanced education. If that path is available to you, will it be worth all the money you will have to borrow? Or should you take your chances in the unskilled workforce, knowing that jobs and wages can evaporate in an instant, and that the best you can hope for is to scrape by from one week to the next?

That is our “recovered” economy. It’s “booming”, we are told. And for many people, it is. But not for everybody.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The late-breaking news is all about the Kavanaugh nomination: The woman who accused him of sexual assault (when he was 17 and she was 15) has come forward, so it’s not an anonymous accusation any more. Two Republican senators, including one on the Judiciary Committee, say the committee shouldn’t vote on the nomination until they investigate this charge.

As I’ve often said, the Weekly Sift doesn’t do breaking news; I’m not going to try to compete with CNN. Sometime in the next day or two we should find out whether or not the Judiciary Committee is going to try to ram a vote through on Thursday, as originally planned. Watch your usual breaking-news sources.

Instead, my featured article this week summarizes a few of the more insightful ten-years-after articles about the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, which sparked the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession. If you just look at the nationwide statistics, that financial crisis seems to be comfortably in the rear-view mirror: It was bad, but it’s over, and things are better than ever now.

But the reality is more complicated. The pre-collapse economy didn’t recover, exactly. It changed, and in many ways became even more unequal than it was before. The soaring stock market and low unemployment form one part of the story, but soaring student debt and the increasingly untenable situation of the working poor are another part. “10 Years After: the Post-Recovery Economy” should be out between 10 and 11 EDT.

The weekly summary has the Kavanaugh nomination to cover, plus Hurricane Florence (and the echoes of last year’s Maria), Paul Manafort flipping, and a few other things. It should be out between noon and 1.

Complicity

The thing about autocracies, or budding autocracies, is that they present citizens with only bad choices. At a certain point, one has to stop trying to find the right solution and has to look, instead, for a course of action that avoids complicity.

– Masha Gessen, “The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed
and the Trumpian Corruption of Language and the Media”

The New Yorker, 9-6-2018

The officials who enable the Trump administration to maintain some veneer of normalcy, rather than resigning and loudly proclaiming that the president is unfit, are not “resisters.” They are enablers.

– Adam Serwer,
There’s No Coup Against Trump
The Atlantic, 9-6-2018

This week’s featured post is “What should we make of Anonymous?

This week everybody was talking about “resistance” inside the Trump administration

See the featured post. Short version: Yes, Trump is unfit to be president. But setting up a government-within-the-government to thwart him is not the right solution.

and Brett Kavanaugh

I’ve had a hard time making myself pay attention to the Kavanaugh hearings, because as best I can tell nothing matters. This is a power play, and Republicans have the power to force it through.

Various Republican senators are posturing in various ways. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski pretend not to know that Kavanaugh will be the deciding vote to reverse Roe v Wade. (Nothing Collins takes as reassuring is interpreted as disturbing by the religious right; they know what Kavanaugh will do.) Mitch McConnell pretends not to know that Trump nominated Kavanaugh precisely so he would be a pro-executive-power vote when the Court has to decide whether Trump can be subpoenaed or indicted. Chuck Grassley pretends nothing is hidden in all those Kavanaugh papers we aren’t allowed to see. And all the Republicans avert their eyes so as not to see that Kavanaugh lied in his previous confirmation hearings.

All the Republicans will vote for him because they just will. Nothing matters. Collins continues to describe herself as undecided, but nothing she has said is laying the groundwork for a No vote.


I agree whole-heartedly with Katherine Stewart’s article “Whose Religious Liberty Is It Anyway?“. She notes Kavanaugh’s endorsement of “religious liberty”, and explores what that really means: Christian supremacy (as I’ve been claiming since 2013). Stewart writes:

Let’s call it by its true name: religious privilege, not religious liberty. Today’s Christian nationalists want the ability to override the law where it conflicts with their religious beliefs, and thus to withdraw from the social contract that binds the rest of us together as a nation.

… Religious privilege of this sort was never intended for all belief systems, but rather for one type of religion. Sure, its advocates will on occasion rope in representatives of non-Christian faiths to lend the illusion of principle to their cause. But the real aim and effect of the religious liberty movement is to advance their idea of religion at the expense of everyone else.

If your religion or deeply held moral beliefs include the view that all people should be treated with equal dignity, then this religious liberty won’t do anything for you. If you’re a taxpayer who helps to fund your local hospital, a patient who keeps it in business, or a professional who works there, then your sincerely held religious and moral conviction that all people are entitled to equal access to the best medicine that science can provide and the law permits won’t stand a chance against a Catholic bishop’s conviction that some procedures are forbidden by a higher authority.

Today’s Christian nationalists will insist they are the only victims here. But that is as false as it is lacking in compassion. The terribly real effect of the kind of religious supremacy they seek is to target specific groups of people as legitimate objects of contempt.

and Nike

Nike unveiled the full version of its ad narrated by Colin Kaepernick yesterday. (It also includes footage of Serena Williams, LeBron James, and a lot of other amazing athletes.) Nike is intentionally thumbing its nose at Trump here, and taking the side of players like the Miami Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, who is carrying forward the protest Kaepernick started.

Vice News explains the business reality pretty well:

Conservative old white guys may love Trump, hate Colin Kaepernick, and now hate Nike as well. But how many top-of-the-line athletic shoes are they going to buy this year? And how many younger people want to be like them? Nike showed how much it worries about the shoe-burning protesters with this ad:

The shoe-burnings practically parody themselves. But Brent Terhune pushed it a little farther.

and Barack Obama

President Obama went to the University of Illinois to receive an award Friday, and gave the students there the kind of speech ex-presidents rarely give: a serious one that went right at the problems of the current moment. If you have the time, it’s worth watching or reading in its entirety.

The overarching theme of the speech is that, in the long run, America makes progress towards the dreams it was founded on: equal rights for everyone, government of the people, and so on. But that progress isn’t steady; it doesn’t advance like clockwork, year in, year out. Instead, whenever we make progress, the forces of inequality and special privilege regroup and counterattack.

The status quo pushes back. Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

… Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

He goes on to summarize what Republicans are doing and what Democrats want to do instead. And then he tells the students to vote.

and you also might be interested in …

The Atlantic has an article about “zombie small business“: small businesses that are entirely under the thumb of the large businesses who control their pipeline to the consumer. The prime example is chicken growing: A handful of companies control just about the entire chicken market, and each works with “tied-and-bound contractors—so controlled by their agreements with giant food corporations that they no longer act like independent entities.”

The big company provides the chicks. The contract farmer raises them into chickens. The big company slaughters them for meat. It packages and brands that meat under one of dozens of labels. And it sells it cheap to the American consumer. … These big operations do not act like department stores, choosing goods from a broad variety of vendors and fostering competition and innovation. They instead act like a lord with serfs, or a landowner with sharecroppers.

The article quotes the head of a poultry-growers association:

I’ll list what they tell you: what time to pick up the chickens, what time to run the feed, what time to turn the lights off and on, every move that you make. Then, they say we’re not an employee—we are employees, but they won’t let us have any kind of benefits or insurance.

But it’s not just chickens:

The top four beef producers account for more than 80 percent of the market. The top four hog processors account for more than half. Much the same is true across the economy. The top four players account for more than 90 percent of overall revenue in a wide variety of market sectors and for a wide variety of consumer goods: web search, toilet paper, wireless services, arcade operations, soda, light bulbs, tires.

We’re used to thinking about the danger of monopolies, companies that can charge what they want for their product, because they are the only ones selling it. We need to think more about monopsonies, companies that can dictate to their suppliers, because they are the only buyers.

A monopsony-dominated economy is not a good place to achieve economic equality. Starting your own small business has traditionally been a way to get ahead in America. But if being a small businessman just means that you take orders in a different way, and your sole customer dictates how much money you get to make, then that avenue is shut off.

and let’s close with something awesome

Brightside collects the “100 best photographs taken without Photoshop“. It’s hard to chose just one, but I think I like the first one best: what it looks like to toss hot tea into the air in the Arctic.

What should we make of “Anonymous”?

As I’m pretty sure you already know, Wednesday the New York Times published “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” by an anonymous “senior official”. [1] The author claims to be one of many similarly placed people who are “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations”. They do this because “we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”

Anonymous diagnoses problems that run deep in Trump’s character and competence: He is “amoral” and has “no discernible first principles”. His “impulses are generally anti-trade [2] and anti-democratic”.  And his leadership style is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective”, resulting in “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back”.

In response, the internal resistance works to “preserve our democratic institutions” by keeping “bad decisions contained to the West Wing”. This results in a “two-track presidency”, where Trump may say one thing, but the government actually pursues a different policy entirely. Anonymous gives the example of how we deal with other countries:

In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

So don’t worry, America, “there are adults in the room … [who are] are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t”.

The questions this raises. Since Wednesday, debate has sprung up in a number of areas.

  • Is this for real? If it isn’t, then the NYT (which claims to know who Anonymous is and to have verified that he really wrote this) has made the whole thing up. To me, that kind of fraud would be way more incredible than anything in the essay, but I imagine some Trump supporters will believe that “the fake news media” and “the failing New York Times” do stuff like this all the time. Trump himself, as usual, wants it both ways: He both suggests that the article is fake and demands that the Justice Department find out who wrote it (even though there is no crime to investigate, so this shouldn’t be a DoJ matter).
  • Who is Anonymous, and who else is part of this “we” he describes? (Like most commenters, I’m going to use a male pronoun, which is a good bet for a “senior official in the Trump administration”.) This is the kind of guessing game that Washington insiders love, because getting it right proves you’re more savvy than everybody else. But what difference does it make? Suppose I tell you it’s Mike Pompeo or Dan Coates; does that change anything? [For what it’s worth, here’s my guess: Somebody who just barely qualifies as “senior” wrote it, but he did it with the blessing of his boss, who can now say “Not me!” to Trump and to the public. I’ll illustrate with analogies from previous administrations: What if Lawrence Wilkerson had written such an essay with the blessing of Colin Powell, or Huma Abedin under the direction of Hillary Clinton?]
  • Should the NYT have published this? I hadn’t thought this was a particularly interesting question, but The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen convinced me otherwise. More about that below.
  • Are the internal resisters heroes or villains? This is complicated. Obviously, if Trump throws a fit and wants to nuke Belgium, any staffer who loses that order before it reaches the missile silos is a hero. But when unknown people consistently decide that they’re smarter than both the elected officials and the voters who elected them, that’s a problem for democracy. (It reminds me of countries like pre-Erdogan Turkey, where the military was always checking to make sure the voters got it right.) More below.
  • How will this article affect events going forward? As many people have pointed out, publishing this essay is just going to make Trump more erratic and more paranoid, so it’s hard to see how it furthers the author’s apparent goals. On the other hand, it’s got to have an effect on the mid-term voters. Stories about Trump’s unfit behavior have been around for a while now, but they’ve been filtered through reporters who could be exaggerating or distorting. (Bob Woodward is harder to dismiss on that count than Michael Wolff or Omarosa, though the MAGA-hatters will manage somehow.) But the Anonymous essay is on a different level. Unless you’re willing to believe that the NYT conjured Anonymous out of pure smoke, you have to admit that even some Republicans who work with Trump and his administration every day think that he’s dangerous. Suddenly it makes a lot of sense to elect a Democratic Congress to fill the constitutional check-and-balance roles that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have abdicated.

Gessen’s take on the NYT’s decision. Masha Gessen argues that the Anonymous essay is not newsworthy enough to offer the author an anonymous platform. The anonymous Trump “resister” is just repeating a point of view that we’ve heard many times before: Trump is unfit. He doesn’t understand the presidency, the American system of government, or the details of any particular issue. He doesn’t respect democracy or the rule of law. He doesn’t think rationally, or even hold an idea in his head from one minute to the next. The people around him try to manipulate him (and often succeed) because they believe (correctly) that he’s a dangerous fool.

That’s not news. We’ve been hearing it from anonymous White House sources for a long time now, and just heard it again in Bob Woodward’s new book (out tomorrow, but already widely quoted). The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer sums up:

The biggest open secret in Washington is that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. His staff knows it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows it. House Speaker Paul Ryan knows it. Everyone who works for the president, including his attorneys, knows it.

If you know about Trump’s unfitness, are in a position to do something about it, and choose to do nothing, then you are complicit in his presidency. It’s really that simple, no matter what story you tell yourself. Gessen expands the circle of complicity further:

The thing about autocracies, or budding autocracies, is that they present citizens with only bad choices. At a certain point, one has to stop trying to find the right solution and has to look, instead, for a course of action that avoids complicity. By publishing the anonymous Op-Ed, the Times became complicit in its own corruption.

The way in which the news media are being corrupted—even an outlet like the Times, which continues to publish remarkable investigative work throughout this era—is one of the most insidious, pronounced, and likely long-lasting effects of the Trump Administration. The media are being corrupted every time they engage with a nonsensical, false, or hateful Trump tweet (although not engaging with these tweets is not an option). They are being corrupted every time journalists act polite while the President, his press secretary, or other Administration officials lie to them. They are being corrupted every time a Trumpian lie is referred to as a “falsehood,” a “factually incorrect statement,” or as anything other than a lie. They are being corrupted every time journalists allow the Administration to frame an issue, like when they engage in a discussion about whether the separation of children from their parents at the border is an effective deterrent against illegal immigration. They are being corrupted every time they use the phrase “illegal immigration.”

The corrupt exchange here is that (in return for an article that everyone wants to read), the Times allows Anonymous to paint a virtuous self-portrait: By keeping the American people from knowing what its government is actually doing or why, people like him become “unsung heroes”. I’m sure they tell themselves that, but few things could be farther from the truth. Rather than actually resist, they cover for Trump’s incompetence. Rather than stand up to him, they flatter him.

But since the NYT has bestowed anonymity, we can’t effectively contest that self-portrait, or hold Anonymous responsible for the Trumpian policies he actually did carry out. Why, you might wonder, didn’t some internal resister get in the way of Trump taking children away from asylum-seeking parents? Officials who participated in that evil policy, or helped justify it after the fact — what kind of “resisters” are they really? Or why couldn’t the “adults in the room” manage to get Puerto Rico some help before thousands of American citizens died there?

The Devil’s bargain. If Trump really is unfit, and if this is widely known in the administration and Congress, then why don’t they remove him, either through impeachment or the 25th Amendment? Even if the resisters are only a minority of the cabinet, why don’t they stage a mass resignation and bring their case to the public? Why do the never-Trumpers continue to be such a lonely and pathetic segment of the Republican party?

Serwer explains:

But they all want something, whether it’s upper-income tax cuts, starving the social safety net, or solidifying a right-wing federal judiciary. The Constitution provides for the removal of a president who is dangerously unfit, but those who have the power to remove him will not do so, not out of respect for democracy but because Trump is a means to get what they want. The officials who enable the Trump administration to maintain some veneer of normalcy, rather than resigning and loudly proclaiming that the president is unfit, are not “resisters.” They are enablers.

We’re seeing this process right now with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. It makes literally zero sense to allow a president like Trump (who may only hold his office because he committed a crime to get it) to appoint judges who will probably have to rule on important points of his case, like whether he can be subpoenaed or whether he can pardon himself. But Kavanaugh will cement a far-right majority on the Supreme Court, something the conservative movement has been trying to achieve for decades. Why let that questing beast get away, just because the President is unstable and may have to use undemocratic methods to stay in power?

This is how tragedies happen: because everyone in a position to prevent them has some special reason not to. And usually they all have some way of telling the story that makes them sound like heroes.

They’re not. An official who refuses to carry out an illegal or unconstitutional order is a hero. When a staffer conveniently ignores orders given when the president is not in his right mind, ones that the president himself will soon be glad weren’t implemented — that staffer may be a better friend than the president deserves. There is virtue in openly refusing to implement policies you believe to be immoral or catastrophic, in telling the president directly that you will resign first, and then carrying out that threat and warning the public about what is happening.

But there’s nothing virtuous about setting yourself up as a permanent unelected government-within-the-government, and tasking yourself to implement a policy agenda the voters rejected. Elections ought to be consequential, and if those consequences are too much for the country to bear, then the president should be removed by legal means.


[1] Don’t miss the parodies: Slate’s “I Am Part of the Police Department Inside This Bank Robbery” and McSweeney’s “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside Nyarlathotep’s Death Cult“.

[2] Of all the Trump policies that officials can justifiably monkey-wrench in the name of democracy, I would think trade is about last, because protectionism and getting tough with our trade partners was a big part of Trump’s message from the beginning. If Americans really wanted free trade, somebody like Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush should have been able to make that case against Trump in the Republican primaries. So I have to agree with Ross Douthat:

One might say that insofar as the officials resisting Trump are trying to prevent his temperamental unfitness from leading to some mass-casualty disaster or moral infamy, they are doing the country a great service. But insofar as they are just trying to prevent him implementing possibly-misguided populist ideas, they are being presumptuously antidemocratic and should resign instead.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I moved to Massachusetts this week. (Sorry, Annie Kuster. I really wanted to vote for you.) So I spent a lot more time carrying boxes up stairs than scanning news sites and blogs. But there were two stories it was impossible to miss: the Anonymous article in the New York Times and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

In the long run, the prospect of Kavanaugh pushing the Supreme Court much further to the right in the coming decades, threatening not just abortion rights, but worker rights, consumer rights, and the rights of anybody conservative Christians disapprove of, is the much bigger deal. But at the same time, the Kavanaugh hearings are themselves of little consequence, because the fix is in: Democrats get a chance to explain to the country why he shouldn’t be on the Court, but Republicans are going to approve him no matter what. You can hope the hearings convince a lot of voters that we need a Democratic Congress, but that’s about it.

With that in mind, this week’s featured article is about Anonymous, the so-called “resistance” within the Trump administration, and what its official announcement in the NYT might mean for the future. The Kavanaugh nomination takes up a big chunk of the weekly summary, along with the reaction to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad, Obama’s pro-democracy (and consequently anti-Trump) speech, and a few other things.

The featured post should be out by 9 EDT, and the summary by noon.

America Is Better Than This

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

– President Barack Obama, eulogy for John McCain
9-1-2018

To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist: We are better than this. America is better than this.

President George W. Bush, eulogy for John McCain
9-1-2018

This week’s featured post is “John McCain Shot Liberty Valance“.

This week everybody was talking about John McCain

Last week, pundits were announcing the worst week of the Trump presidency, as the legal dominoes started to fall more swiftly. But I wonder if Trump actually disliked this week more, because so much of it wasn’t about him. Instead, it was about one of the few elected Republicans who didn’t kowtow to him, Senator John McCain.

From his funeral in Arizona on Thursday to his burial at the Annapolis Naval Cemetery on Sunday, the national focus was on the memory of McCain. And what most people seemed to remember was that he was nothing like Donald Trump.

The featured post uses the classic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to discuss the phenomenon of a man whose life gets mixed up (and partially lost) in the myth we need to tell about him.


Many of the eulogies of McCain were seen as indirect attacks on Trump, because they praised McCain virtues that contrast so strongly with Trump vices. Humorist Andy Borowitz took the indirect-attack angle one step further: “Obama’s Barrage of Complete Sentences Seen as Brutal Attack on Trump“.

and revoking Hispanics’ US citizenship

Over the last year or so, a lot of different stories have revolved around a central theme: The Trump administration wants to use any excuse it can muster to get non-whites out of the country.

  • The most visible of those efforts has been the zero-tolerance policy on migrants crossing the southern border, which has had the effect of voiding the US’s commitments under treaties and international law to give reasonable consideration to pleas for asylum.
  • In May, the administration revoked the temporary protected status granted to 57,000 Hondurans in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch. (The hurricane, of course, is long gone. But the question remains: Is it safe for those people to go home?) All in all, about 400,000 people from a variety of countries have lost their permission to live in this country.
  • A program that offered citizenship to immigrants who had skills needed by the military hasn’t been eliminated, but it has become much harder to complete the process. According to Military Times: “The bottom line is that far more than 40 may soon be weeded out – and it’s possible that the majority of the remaining 1,000 or so participants in the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MAVNI, program will be let go before they can be cleared for duty.”
  • Spouses of H-1B visa holders are being denied work permits.
  • A “denaturalization task force” has been formed to re-examine immigrants who have already been granted citizenship. “The creation of the task force itself is undoing the naturalization of the more than twenty million naturalized citizens in the American population by taking away their assumption of permanence,” wrote author Masha Gessen in a widely circulated New Yorker column. “All of them — all of us — are second-class citizens now.”

This week produced a new entry in this series: Because there have been cases in which midwives working in Texas near the Mexican border have provided fake Texas birth certificates for babies actually born in Mexico, the administration is regarding everyone delivered by a midwife in that area as suspect.

In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.

Given the demographics of the area and who uses midwives, just about everybody affected is Hispanic.

Eugene Robinson:

If the government had specific evidence that an individual’s birth certificate was falsified, then we could have a debate about the right thing to do. But this administration is assuming that a person of a certain ethnicity, recorded as being born in a certain part of the country and meeting other unspecified criteria, is de facto not a citizen — and has the burden of proving otherwise.


Oh, and those kids the Trump administration took away from their parents at the border? 500 of them are still in government custody. We can’t forget about them just because no new events keep them in the headlines.

and the Catholic Church

The clergy sexual abuse story has now turned into a political football within the Catholic hierarchy. Last week, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published a letter calling on Pope Francis to resign. It would be one thing if this looked like an honest call for a house-cleaning. But it seems to be a power move by conservatives in the hierarchy to get rid of a liberal pope and (simultaneously) blame the issue on homosexuality rather than abuse of power.

and the midterm elections in November

Both Florida and Georgia will have fascinating governor’s races that pit black progressives against right-wing whites with a history of dog-whistling about race.

We’ve known since July about Stacey Abrams against Brian Kemp in Georgia. Abrams is a black woman testing the theory that Democrats can do better with a clear progressive message that motivates its core voters than by shifting to the center to compete for moderates. Kemp was endorsed by Trump and has ads featuring guns, chain saws, and a get-tough attitude towards undocumented immigrants.

Now in Florida we’ve got black Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum against another Trumpist, Congressman Ron DeSantis. Things might get kind of dicey there.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday morning, the representative said Florida voters should not “monkey it up” and vote for what he called Gillum’s “socialist agenda.” DeSantis’ campaign denied the comment had any racial intent.

Again we’ve got the Trump base against an effort to give Democrats — especially poor and minority voters who often stay home — something exciting to vote for.

Whether or not DeSantis himself keeps dog-whistling, race is going to be an issue. A neo-Nazi group is already robo-calling against Gillum.


538 adds the right amount of skepticism to the poll showing Beto O’Rourke within one point of Ted Cruz in Texas. Specifically: Stranger things have happened, but they usually don’t. Lots of polls have the race within single digits, but none show Beto with a lead. So he has a real shot, especially this far out from election day, but it’s still an uphill struggle.

Trump is promising to campaign for Cruz. But when he gets to Texas he may see a few billboards like this:

and NAFTA

A sad symptom of the times: Monday, when Trump announced a major new trade deal with Mexico (“an incredible deal for both parties” and “maybe the largest trade deal ever made”), my first thought was: “I wonder if anything actually happened.”

I mean, Trump announced the denuclearization of North Korea, too, and that meant nothing at all. It’s weird. I’ve often disliked, disapproved of, or disagreed with American presidents. But I’ve never been so inclined to discount presidential announcements as meaningless. If Trump announced that we were bombing Pyongyang, I’d think: “I wonder if the Pentagon knows about this.” And I wouldn’t believe it until somebody there had confirmed it.

Vox shares my skepticism:

The countries involved are closer to achieving Trump’s dream of a changed NAFTA that mostly helps America, but still not that close — which means the president may be celebrating too early. “There is still a long road ahead,” says [Christopher Wilson, a NAFTA expert at the Wilson Center].

Trump also announced a deadline of Friday for Canada to join the so-called agreement. But Friday passed and the negotiations continue.

Many people speculate that Trump is looking for an excuse to pull the plug on NAFTA. Republicans in Congress are mostly against that idea, but it’s not clear what can be done. Under NAFTA rules, the president can give Mexico and Canada six months notice.


A sidebar to this story is the off-the-record comment Trump made to reporters from Bloomberg, that somehow found its way into the Toronto Star:

Trump made his controversial statements in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday. He said, “off the record,” that he is not making any compromises at all with Canada — and that he could not say this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”

Trump immediately blamed the Bloomberg reporters for breaking his confidence, but the reporter who broke the story says that’s not true.

I’d said I wasn’t going to say anything about my source for the quotes Trump made off the record to Bloomberg. However, I don’t want to be party to the president’s smearing of excellent, ethical journalists. So I can say this: none of the Bloomberg interviewers was my source.

The NYT’s Maggie Haberman raises the possibility that Trump had it leaked himself.

but let’s not forget about Puerto Rico

The latest estimates are that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico from the effects of Hurricane Maria last year. The federal government’s disaster-relief effort was its own kind of disaster, and the Trump administration has really paid no price for that. (This is one of the many events that you might think would call for congressional hearings. But Republicans’ attitude towards the Russian investigation has expanded to cover all areas of government: If Trump did something wrong, they don’t want to know.)

Vox makes the connection between this mistreatment and Puerto Rico’s lack of statehood, which it is seeking.

That a sitting US president would expect no political consequences from showing zero empathy toward the deaths of so many American citizens crystallizes the fact that Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory is more than a civil rights issue — it’s a human rights issue.

More than 3 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico with fewer constitutional rights than anyone living in one of the 50 states. Americans on the island can’t vote for president in the general election or elect a voting member of Congress. But the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria has shown that the problem is even uglier than that: Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory, which is rooted in racist legal rulings, has created a class of citizens whose lives are valued less, and whose deaths can be ignored by America’s most powerful leaders.

and you also might be interested in …

Tom Tomorrow:


With all the talk of a “blue wave” in November, it’s worth remembering that it won’t happen by itself. If anyone you know hasn’t registered to vote, or is thinking about not voting, remind them of this scenario (from Matt Ygelsias):

Really worth emphasizing that there’s a good (~25%) chance Republicans hold the House, gain a senate seat or two, replace McCain/Flake/Corker with Trump loyalists, Mueller gets fired, Manafort gets pardoned, and then that’s game over — the coverup worked.

Nate Silver’s 538 quotes similar odds: a 28% chance that Republicans hold the House. If that happens, the People will not have held Congress responsible for not holding Trump responsible for anything he’s done. The door will be wide open to anything he wants to do in the future.


If you’re thinking far ahead, here’s the betting on who the Democrats will nominate in 2020. Kamala Harris is the front-runner, but not by a convincing margin. A ticket that pays $1 if she’s nominated is going for 22 cents. Other notables: Elizabeth Warren at 16 cents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at 15 cents. I still think Somebody You’ve Never Heard Of has a good shot.

Compare this to January, 2015 (the closest to a 4-years-ago parallel I could find), when Hillary Clinton’s nomination shares were at 75 cents.


Having not been invited to speak at McCain’s funeral, Trump held a rally in Indiana Thursday instead. It included this howler:

They want to raid Medicare to pay for socialism.

Medicare, of course, is socialism. (If you don’t believe me, believe Ronald Reagan, who predicted Medicare would lead to a socialist dictatorship.) The centerpiece of the Democratic Socialist agenda is to extend Medicare to everyone.


I guess Chuck Grassley has given up on Ivanka or John Kelly or anybody else keeping Trump in line. He’s handing the job to God.


Trump blocked a 1.9% pay raise for federal workers, citing the budget deficit that his recent corporate tax cut made much worse:

We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.

A few observations:

  • 1.9% isn’t a huge raise.
  • During the Great Recession, federal workers’ pay was frozen. They haven’t made up that ground yet.
  • Conservatives like to paint federal workers as “bureaucrats” and “paper-pushers”, but they do a lot of useful and necessary stuff. For example: the doctors and nurses at the VA, the disaster-relief folks at FEMA, air-traffic controllers at the FAA, and the Secret Service agents Trump is relying on to protect his life. Think about NASA, the CDC, the FBI, and all the people working to keep mercury out of your water and E coli out of your vegetables. They’re federal employees.

This is a “first they came for …” situation. “Bureaucrats” are not popular, so they’re the first ones to be sacrificed on the altar of Tax Cuts. After the election, though, Republicans are going to be trying to fill the tax-cut budget hole by cutting more popular stuff like Social Security and Medicare. (That’s what “entitlement reform” means.) That’s not a partisan charge against them, it’s what they’ve been saying for months.

and let’s close with something bigger

I know it doesn’t make any sense to close with an opening, but it’s hard to find anything bigger than Neil Patrick Harris’ opening to the 2013 Tony Awards.

John McCain Shot Liberty Valance

This week’s eulogies told us more about the hero we need
than the man we’ve lost.


In the classic John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a senator from an unnamed western state (Ranse Stoddard, played by Jimmy Stewart) is a living legend, and the legend goes like this: Once an idealistic young lawyer from the East, he arrived in the West to discover a town being terrorized by the gunslinger and gangster Liberty Valance. Though he barely knew how to shoot, Stoddard’s refusal to run away landed him in a gunfight with Valance, which he somehow won. Then Valance was dead and his tyranny ended.

Stoddard himself was ashamed to have killed a man in a lawless gunfight, but ever after, he was the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. On the strength of that reputation, he was chosen for the statehood convention, and then to represent the territory in Washington. When the territory became a state, he served three terms as its first governor, and then went on to the Senate. Now a national figure and a senior statesman, he is in line to be the next vice president.

But the truth about Stoddard is a bit more complicated: He did face Valance, got a shot off, and Valance wound up dead — but not because Stoddard’s shot killed him. Though he never promoted himself as Valance’s killer, he was never in a position to deny it either. So the story grew up around Stoddard and stuck with him because it was the myth that the West needed to tell: The Lawyer had killed the Gunslinger; the rule of law had ended the reign of violence.

Now Stoddard is finally able to tell the true story, because the man who did kill Valance is dead and can’t be tried for murder. But after he is done telling it, the local editor tears up his reporter’s notes and burns them. “This is the West, sir,” he explains. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

This week we celebrated the memory of another legendary western senator, John McCain. And we did it in pretty much the same way: We told the legend of the hero we need. That legend intersects with John McCain’s actual life in a number of ways, but the story of the real man is much more complicated — and in many ways less relevant to those of us who didn’t know him.

So by all means, let us discuss the legend, because it tells us a great deal about the times we live in.

The Trump Era. No president in my lifetime (or maybe ever) has dominated the national conversation the way Donald Trump does. Whether you love him or hate him, whether he fills you with pride or disgust, it’s hard to talk about anything or anybody else for very long.

The Trump style is made up of bombast, rudeness, and above all, divisiveness. Unlike previous presidents, he does not reach out to those who voted against him. [1] When he speaks, he does not talk to the nation, he talks to his base. He lies constantly, and his personal life is a parade of sleaze. [2] Every issue, first and foremost, is about him.

Trump’s story is full of irony. Having run on a pledge to “Make America Great Again”, his character is defined by smallness. There is nothing magnanimous about him, and there seems to be no situation that he is able to rise above. He cannot laugh at himself, and rarely laughs at all. Every personal slight must be answered, every blow returned with double force. Gold Star parents, bereaved widows of soldiers, leaders of our closest allies — it doesn’t matter. No one must be allowed to cast a shadow on Trump’s fragile ego.

Having taken offense at every perceived disrespect for the symbols of America — the flag, the anthem, the police — his own loyalty to the nation is questionable; when the Russians attacked our system of government, his weak and subservient response added to the speculation that he is in league with them. Having pledged to “drain the swamp”, he has flaunted his conflicts of interest and presided over the most corrupt administration in many decades. Having won on the strength of the Evangelical vote, he has governed as the anti-Jesus [3], concentrating his cruelty on “the least of these” and favoring the rich man over Lazarus. Famous for saying “You’re fired!”, he actually has no stomach for face-to-face confrontations, preferring to let John Kelly do the dirty work, or to tweet something nasty after he has left the meeting.

The hero we long for. What kind of hero do we need to celebrate in the Trump Era? One who embodies all the virtues that Trump so conspicuously lacks:

  • higher purpose
  • humility
  • willingness to endure hardship
  • courage
  • magnanimity
  • sense of humor
  • devotion to principle
  • idealistic vision of what America means and stands for
  • respect for opponents and willingness to ally with them on issues of common concern
  • compassion
  • honesty even when the truth is not flattering
  • willingness to confront facts and admit mistakes

It also wouldn’t hurt if that hero had a history of criticizing Russia. And it would be even better if he or she were a Republican, because a principled, virtuous, reasonable Republican Party is the single most conspicuous lack in America today. As a Democrat, I may yearn for a hero who can send the GOP into a long and well-deserved exile from power. But even better, I have to admit, would be to return to an America where the need to win was not so desperate, because Eisenhower-like Republicans could be trusted to preserve the Republic until we had a chance to make our case to the voters again.

McCain the legend. Was John McCain that hero? Sometimes. If we pick and choose properly, his life can bear the story we need to tell about it. [4]

He certainly endured hardship at the Hanoi Hilton, and in his final battle with cancer he showed that his fighter-pilot courage had not left him. President Obama said:

He had been to hell and back and yet somehow never lost his energy or his optimism or his zest for life. So cancer did not scare him.

Every time I heard him speak, at some point or other he stressed the importance of having a purpose higher than self. And it was there again (along with an idealistic vision of America) in his final message to the American people:

To be connected to America’s causes — liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people — brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

McCain didn’t say it explicitly, but it’s clear that he didn’t envy the guy who lives in a golden penthouse and has sex with porn stars (who he then needs to pay off). “I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth,” he wrote.

Humility, sense of humor … I first saw McCain in 1999, when he was running against George W. Bush in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. I wasn’t blogging then, so I have no record of what he said beyond my own memory. I recall that he made a point about his campaign’s momentum (he would eventually win that primary) by joking about how unpopular he had been at the outset: “The first poll had me at 2%, and the margin of error was 5%. So I might have been at minus three.”

I was blogging by the time he ran in the 2008 cycle, so I have this:

He answers questions — even hostile questions — patiently and with empathy. (“Meeting adjourned,” he announces in response to the first gotcha. The room erupts in laughter, and then he answers.) He tells corny jokes and at the same time manages to wink at you, as if the real joke is that you have to tell jokes to win the world’s most serious job. He runs himself down, confessing to being fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, saying that his candidacy proves that “in America anything is possible.” And yet no one in the room forgets that he is John McCain, and he has survived things that would have destroyed any mere mortal. It is an amazing balancing act.

McCain invited the two men who defeated his presidential campaigns, Bush and Barack Obama, to speak at his service in the National Cathedral on Saturday. (Trump was eventually invited to attend — by Lindsey Graham, with Cindy McCain’s approval — but spent the day playing golf.) Obama noted McCain’s humor, magnanimity, and respect for opponents:

After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience? And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground.

Lindsey Graham noted the contrast between McCain’s magnanimity and Trump’s churlish response to McCain’s death. (He raised the White House flag back to full staff until public outrage made him lower it again.)

John McCain was a big man, worthy of a big country. Mr. President, you need to be the big man that the presidency requires.

Obama made a similar point more obliquely:

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

And Bush agreed:

To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist: We are better than this. America is better than this.

Principle and respect for opponents were stressed by another of those opponents: former Vice President Joe Biden.

The way things changed so much in America, they look at him as if John came from another age, lived by a different code, an ancient, antiquated code where honor, courage, integrity, duty, were alive. That was obvious, how John lived his life. The truth is, John’s code was ageless, is ageless. When you talked earlier, Grant [Woods], you talked about values. It wasn’t about politics with John. He could disagree on substance, but the underlying values that animated everything John did, everything he was, come to a different conclusion. He’d part company with you if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.

For Bush, McCain symbolized America, or at least the America we want to be:

Whatever the cause, it was this combination of courage and decency that defined John’s calling, and so closely paralleled the calling of his country. It’s this combination of courage and decency that makes the American military something new in history, an unrivaled power for good. It’s this combination of courage and decency that set America on a journey into the world to liberate death camps, to stand guard against extremism, and to work for the true peace that comes only with freedom.

And Meghan McCain drew the parallel most clearly, in a litany of statements about “the America of John McCain”, that culminated in:

The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She is resourceful, confident, secure. She meets her responsibilities. She speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great. That fervent faith, that proven devotion, that abiding love, that is what drove my father from the fiery skies above the Red River delta to the brink of the presidency itself.

McCain the man. Unless we are willing to massage their stories and avert our eyes from unfortunate facts, no actual human being is precisely the hero we need. So it is no insult to point out that the actual John McCain was not that hero.

McCain had a temper and could be verbally abusive. His commitment to campaign finance reform arose out of his own scandal. His opposition to torture was never as complete as it seemed. In order to get the Republican nomination in 2008, he embraced the same evangelical preachers he had called “agents of intolerance” in 2000. He famously corrected a supporter who questioned Obama’s citizenship and religion, but he also empowered Sarah Palin to rouse that same rabble.

He vigorously supported the Iraq invasion, and opposed Obama’s withdrawal from that war. In 2013, Mother Jones published a map of all the places McCain had threatened with military intervention.

And despite that one key vote against repealing ObamaCare, McCain was not that big of an anti-Trump rebel; he voted with the president 83% of the time — more than 538’s model of his state’s electorate would predict.

He talked a good game against Trump, but how much did he actually do? He was chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which had only one more Republican than Democrat. With the Democrats, he could have led an anti-Trump majority. He had subpoena power; any Trump scandal with a national-security angle was within his purview. He did nothing with that power.

So no, the real John McCain was not the hero the Trump Era calls for. He was not the anti-Trump.

Should we be cynical about him? To a large extent, it was McCain himself who orchestrated this celebration of the anti-Trump hero. He had known he was dying, and gave serious thought to his funeral. He invited Bush and Obama to speak and stipulated that Trump not speak. He wrote an explicitly political last message to America.

He knew his death would be a political weapon, and he very intentionally set out to use it. His death, like his life, would serve a purpose bigger than himself.

As his daughter Meghan acknowledged, no one would have been more cynical about such a display than John himself:

Several of you out there in the pews who crossed swords with him or found yourselves on the receiving end of his famous temper or were at a cross purpose to him on nearly anything, are right at this moment doing your best to stay stone-faced. Don’t. You know full well if John McCain were in your shoes today, he would be using some salty word he learned in the Navy while my mother jabbed him in the arm in embarrassment. He would look back at her and grumble, maybe stop talking, but he would keep grinning.

It is tempting to denounce all this, as voices from both the left and the right have. And yet, I will not.

This era needs an anti-Trump hero. The perfect avatar of that ideal has not emerged yet. In the meantime, we have John McCain, whose life in so many ways can remind us of the thing we long for.

We should celebrate that; neither in ignorance nor in cynicism, but in hope. Someday the Trump Era will end. May that day come soon. And if the Legend of John McCain helps it come sooner, then I say: “Print the legend.”


[1] Liberals and conservatives, respectively, often think of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as divisive presidents. But each tried to appeal to those who voted against him.

Bush worked with Ted Kennedy on education policy. The day after winning re-election in 2004, he directed a  portion of his speech to supporters of John Kerry: “We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it.” For his part, Kerry recounted his post-election conversation with Bush: “We talked about the danger of division in our country and the need — the desperate need for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing.”

Obama hoped to start his presidency with a bipartisan compromise: His stimulus package was smaller than many advisers recommended, and tax cuts made up about a third of the package. (In the end he got no Republican votes in the House and only three in the Senate.) Later in his term, a variety of “grand bargains” with House Speaker John Boehner attempted to address what (at that time) was the Republicans’ central issue: the long-term budget deficit. But Boehner was never able to pull together enough support within his caucus.

Trump, on the other hand, is still tweeting about “Crooked Hillary”, pushing his Justice Department to prosecute her, and promoting conspiracy theories about the investigation that cleared her. I have tried to think of a similar situation in American history, and I have not come up with one.

[2] Think about where the hush-money story has gone. A long series of denials have collapsed, and Trump no longer bothers to argue about whether he had sexual affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during his marriage to Melania. He admits his lawyer Michael Cohen paid each woman six-figure sums so that they wouldn’t tell their stories before the election. The new line of defense is that the payments weren’t illegal, because the money ultimately came from his personal funds and not from the campaign. That’s how deep in the sleaze the President has gotten. I-paid-her-myself is a defense now.

Remember what a presidential scandal looked like during the Obama years? He put his feet up on an Oval Office desk. He ordered a Marine to hold his umbrella. His Christmas cards were too secular. Michelle wore sleeveless dresses.

[3] I’m intentionally not saying “anti-Christ”, because that evokes all the speculative Book of Revelation interpretations that have distracted so many Christians from Jesus’ teachings. I’m not postulating some end-times role for Trump, I’m just noting that it’s impossible to imagine him saying a single line of the Sermon on the Mount. Well, maybe: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” But the rest of it — turn the other cheek, love your enemies, blessed are the meek and the poor in spirit, “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on Earth” — no way.

[4] Something similar could be said about Ranse Stoddard, who really did have the virtues the myth assigned him. He didn’t kill Liberty Valance, but the people who thought he did were not disappointed when they met him.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Throughout his career, John McCain’s ability to get favorable news coverage exasperated his opponents. (He once jokingly referred to the pool of reporters covering his campaign as “my base”.) Well, he did it one last time this week, as events recalling McCain’s life took over the news stations for four days. Just about every major American political figure other than the President attended some event, and several of them spoke in his honor.

The theme was obvious: Praising McCain’s virtues was also a way of dissing the man who clearly doesn’t have them, Donald Trump. It was a way of saying good-bye to an era when politicians could oppose each other as Republicans and Democrats without hating each other as Americans, when a political rival could be “my distinguished colleague from Texas” rather than “Lyin’ Ted” or “Crooked Hillary” or “Little Mario”.

As I watched all this, part of me loved it, both because I have always felt a partisanly inappropriate affection for John McCain, and because the thought of Trump fuming makes me smile. But another part of me chafed at the injustice we were doing to the truth: We were telling the Legend of John McCain because it’s the story we need to tell right now, and ignoring anything about McCain that didn’t fit.

And then I thought about one of my favorite Westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ranse Stoddard (played by Jimmy Stewart) had his life taken over by a legend: He was the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the lawyer who killed the gunslinger, symbolizing how Law replaced Violence as the ruling principle in the West. That legend launched a long and successful career, but now Senator Stoddard is finally in a position to tell the truth: He didn’t shoot Liberty Valance. The editor who hears his confession tears up his reporter’s notes, reasoning that the West needs Stoddard’s legend more than it needs the truth.

That’s where we’ve been this week, I think. The Legend of John McCain is the story we need to tell right now. And if it’s only kinda-sorta true, we should acknowledge that, but then go ahead and tell it anyway.

So the featured post this week is “John McCain Shot Liberty Valance”.

Predicting when any post is going to appear today is tricky, because I’m in the middle of moving to Massachusetts. (I know that’s a bad move politically; New Hampshire needs my vote more.) But let’s predict the McCain post for 10 EDT, and the weekly summary for noon. Somewhere in there I need to go down to U-Haul and rent a van.

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.