Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.

– Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury

This week’s featured post is “Visions of a Future Gift Economy“, which discusses Cory Doctorow’s recent novel Walkaway.

This week everybody was talking about Fire and Fury

Michael Wolff’s book shipped Friday, days after excerpts appeared in New York magazine and Wolff’s account of writing the book came out in Hollywood Reporter. I like Masha Gessen’s summary of what the book tells us:

The President of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounds himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound. He is manifestly unfit for the job. Who knew? Everybody did.

I’m about 1/4 of the way through Wolff’s book, and I feel a consistent cognitive dissonance as I read it: It’s simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. If not these exact incidents, many similar ones have been reported over and over again. We all knew. We didn’t even have to rely on reporting; Trump’s tweets are not the work of a sound and capable mind, much less the “stable genius” he tells us he is. (What actually stable genius would say such a thing?) Read them yourself.

James Fallows points out that Trump’s unfitness for the presidency was already “an open secret”.

Who is also in on this open secret? Virtually everyone in a position to do something about it, which at the moment means members of the Republican majority in Congress.

They know what is wrong with Donald Trump. They know why it’s dangerous. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules, and whose vulnerability has been newly exposed. They know—or should—about the ways Trump’s vanity and avarice are harming American interests relative to competitors like Russia and China, and partners and allies in North America, Europe, and the Pacific.

They know. They could do something: hearings, investigations, demands for financial or health documents, subpoenas. Even the tool they used against the 42nd president, for failings one percent as grave as those of the 45th: impeachment.

They know. They could act. And they don’t.

Josh Marshall:

We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. … All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell.

Trump fired back by threatening to sue both the publisher and Steve Bannon, which reinforces my belief that he gets bad legal advice. David Graham at The Atlantic explains why a suit is a bad idea. First, suing the publisher is likely to do accomplish nothing more than to increase the book’s sales.

In order to win, Trump would likely have to prove that Wolff and the publisher printed information that they knew was false. In the United States, it’s very hard to win a libel suit against a publisher or media outlet—as Trump knows well, since he has repeatedly complained that libel laws need to be loosened for plaintiffs. Many of the most damaging quotes to emerge from the book so far, like Bannon’s description of the June 2016 Trump campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer as “treasonous,” or aides repeated assessments of the president as unintelligent and distracted, are matters of opinion and not fact, and therefore not subject to libel laws.

Take, for example, the quote where Bannon says Ivanka is “dumb as a brick”. In order to sue Wolff for that, Trump would have to prove not that his daughter is smarter than a brick, but that Bannon didn’t say the quote.

Whether Bannon is vulnerable depends on how sweeping his non-disclosure agreement with Trump is. But even if it’s iron-clad and Bannon’s statements to Wolff violate it, Trump would be foolish to go to court.

If a lawsuit did go forward, however, Trump would open himself up to defense lawyers poring through all sorts of information he probably doesn’t want made public. Presidents are largely immune to litigation while in office, but if Trump initiated a suit, he’d open himself up to discovery.

“It would be an opposition researcher’s dream,” Abrams said. “The sort of discovery which would result from a challenge to this book, which deals with issues as broad as the president’s intelligence, would allow enormous discovery. His college grades! It’s very hard to minimize the potentially relevant areas that discovery could go into.”

Trump tried such a suit once before, in 2007 against the author of the book Trump Nation. It didn’t go well. While being deposed under oath, he was forced to recant 30 public lies.

Stephen Miller creeps me out, so I have not watched his CNN interview, the one Jake Tapper ended early, resulting in Miller needing to be escorted out of the studio. Maybe your stomach is stronger than mine. If I were casting a movie and needed somebody to play a fascist toady, Miller would be hard to top.

and the investigations of Trump

There have been a number of recent developments. The NYT reported Thursday on Trump’s attempts to dissuade Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Anonymous sources say Trump sent White House Counsel Don McGahn to lobby Sessions against recusal, and quote him saying that it was Sessions’ job to “protect” him from the investigation. Trump also talked positively about AGs “protecting” their presidents in an on-the-record interview with the NYT in late December.

Sessions, in turn, reportedly tried to dig up dirt against then-FBI-Director James Comey, presumably to undermine the FBI’s investigation of Trump. Also, notes taken by then-Chief-of-Staff Reince Preibus apparently back up some of Comey’s claims about his interactions with Trump.

All of this supports the theory that Comey’s firing was part of a larger effort to obstruct justice.

The Republican conspiracy theory focused on Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier largely unraveled. The heart of that theory was that the original FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia was based on the Steele dossier, which was partially paid for with money from the Clinton campaign. If that were true, it would point to a dangerous politicization of the FBI.

But it’s not true. Another NYT scoop says the FBI investigation began with a tip from Australian intelligence: Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos (who has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller) bragged to an Australian diplomat at a London bar that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The diplomat initially thought nothing of it, but when such dirt started to come out, he reported the meeting.

Meanwhile, the founders of Fusion GPS published an op-ed saying that Congress already knows better than some of the conspiracy theories that Republican congressmen have been trafficking in, because they have already testified extensively under oath.

Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing him whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?

What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the F.B.I.

We did not discuss that decision with our clients, or anyone else.

They request that Chairman Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee release the transcript of their sworn testimony, but Grassley has refused to do so.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress seem more interested in punishing the whistle-blowers than in understanding how Russia interfered in the 2016 election and trying to prevent future interference. Senators Grassley and Graham made the criminal referral resulting from the Judiciary Committee’s investigation — against Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier whose contents were leaked to the public a year ago. The only bank records Congress has subpoenaed are those of Fusion GPS, Steele’s employers.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has become less resistant to political pressure from Republicans. Investigations into the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s emails have re-opened. It would be one thing if these investigations were based on some new information, but so far that seems not to be the case. It looks like Benghazi all over again: If the last investigation didn’t find anything criminal, it must be time to launch a new investigation. There appears to be no way to clear the Clintons.

We can’t lose sight of the larger irrelevance of these issues: Bill and Hillary Clinton are private citizens now. If there’s some legitimate reason to investigate or prosecute them, fine. But none of that has any political significance any more, and nothing that might be uncovered about the Clintons would justify ignoring Trump’s law-breaking.

and you also might be interested in …

Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes.

For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.

Other people are wondering if Oprah’s time is arriving. It’s hard to picture anybody better equipped to channel anti-Trump outrage.

It’s amazing how fast Trump nuclear-button tweet got knocked out of the headlines by other outrageous stuff. The best response to it was Stephen Colbert’s Viagrageddon commercial:

When Susan Collins voted for Trump’s no-billionaire-left-behind tax cut that also repealed ObamaCare’s individual mandate, she insisted that she hadn’t just caved, she had made a savvy deal: In exchange for her vote, she was promised that Congress would pass other legislation to keep the ObamaCare marketplaces from collapsing. Many observers (including me) concluded that she’d been rolled. In fact that additional legislation would never pass; or if it ever did, it would only be as part of a larger package requiring new concessions. Her vote had bought nothing.

Collins was enraged by that assessment, calling it “unbelievably sexist“.

“I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped.”

But maybe people wrote that because she was duped. TPM reports:

When Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) first announced she would support the GOP tax bill that killed Obamacare’s individual mandate, she insisted that three separate health care measures to prop up the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicare recipients be passed before she cast her vote. She then amended her demand, saying the bills had to pass before the tax bill came back from the House-Senate conference committee. She then insisted — after voting for the tax bill — that the policies pass by the end of 2017. When it became clear that wasn’t possible in the face of staunch opposition from House conservatives, she expressed confidence they would become law in January.

Now, Collins is moving the goalposts yet again.

In an interview with Inside Health Policy published Thursday, Collins said she hopes the policies she proposed will pass and be implemented before 2019, when the repeal of the individual mandate is expected to shrink the individual insurance market by several million people and drive up premiums by at least 10 percent.

Drug policy has long been the most obvious place where Republicans abandon their states-rights rhetoric. Drugs are bad, and so laws against them are good, even if they are federal laws that trump more permissive state laws.

In recent years, states like Colorado have relaxed their marijuana laws, to the point that their are retail marijuana shops like Local Product in Denver. At the New Year, marijuana laws changed in California and a few other states. The Obama administration had turned a blind eye to states legalizing marijuana. Federal law still banned it, but the Obama Justice Department decided it had better things to do than fight with states about weed.

The result has been something that Republicans ordinarily would applaud: Entrepreneurs started new businesses and created new jobs. What’s more, legally grown local marijuana keeps dollars in the country and lowers our real balance of payments deficit. (This may not show up in the official stats, because importing marijuana has always been off the books.) MarketWatch — a news site targeted at investors rather than potheads — projects that U.S. marijuana could be a $50-billion-a-year industry by 2026.

But this week Jeff Sessions announced that the oppressive hand of job-killing big-government regulation is coming back. He did not go so far as to order U.S. attorneys to crack down on those who grow or sell or use marijuana, but he rescinded Obama-era hands-off guidelines and instructed them to use their own judgment.

This policy change is expected to crimp the expansion of the legal marijuana industry, making bankers and other investors more skittish about risking their money. It will also give U.S. attorneys, who often go on seek higher office, a new temptation for corruption: Hey, Mr. Marijuana Mogul: Do you want to contribute to my campaign for governor, or should I arrest you?

Speaking of job-killing regulations, Slate points out that some jobs ought to be killed: the ones based on fleecing the public. The article points to the now-reversed regulation requiring financial advisors to act in their clients’ best interests.

Yes, these rules and regulations might technically kill jobs. But which jobs, and in order to accomplish what? Protections of this sort chase dodgy sellers out of the marketplace. If that’s job killing, good riddance.

Deregulation, in turn, paves the way for the return of these jobs for financial snake oil salesman.

Deregulation also spawns the need for regulatory sherpas—self-anointed “experts” hired by frightened members of the public who lack the time and sophistication to test the quality of (newly deregulated) drinking water, food, or prescription drugs.

Does the country really need a cottage industry of private testers and verifiers to help Americans get through the day? These are not jobs we need, nor ones we should want.

Israel’s response to Trump’s announcement that the American embassy will move to Jerusalem is to move further in the direction of annexing the territory it conquered in 1967. The NYT quotes Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan:

We are telling the world that it doesn’t matter what the nations of the world say. The time has come to express our biblical right to the land.

Whenever the Israel/Palestine conflict comes up, it’s worth remembering that there are only four long-term solutions:

  • two sovereign states
  • one democratic state in which all Jews and Palestinians are voting citizens
  • one undemocratic state in which half of the population rules the other half
  • ethnic cleansing

If you’re not for option 1, you’re implicitly for one of the other three.

Remember the commission that Trump established to prove his claim that 3-5 million people voted fraudulently in 2016, so he might have won the popular vote after all? Never mind. Trump disbanded the commission Wednesday. In the tweet announcing his decision, he continued to assert “substantial evidence of voter fraud”, though he has never produced any evidence for that claim.

One of Roy Moore’s accusers just had her house burn down. Maybe it’s a coincidence.

One of the key worries of never-Trump Republicans is coming true: College Republican groups are losing traditional Republicans and being taken over by Trumpists. That’s a trend that could affect the GOP for decades to come.

and let’s close with something remarkable

As any home-owner will tell you, construction projects take forever. Maybe they don’t have to: This house assembles itself in 10 minutes.


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  • Anonymous  On January 8, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Your Oprah Winfrey video doesn’t play. It displays the message “This video contains content from Dick_Clark_Productions_Inc, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.” This might just mean that you need to find a different source for the video.

  • dgmcmahon10  On January 10, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    Can you imagine what you might accomplish if your anti-Trump energy was directed at a pressing social issue? Your energy is wasted, and that must be personally embarrasing.

    Call or email if you need more info.

    Dave McMahon 203 520 1407

    On Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 11:16 AM, The Weekly Sift wrote:

    > weeklysift posted: “Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone > in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former > conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue. – Michael Wolfe, > Fire and Fury This week’s featured post is “Vi” >

    • Kaci  On January 11, 2018 at 8:09 am

      I find this site an incredibly useful source of concentrated news, so I definitely don’t see it as wasted energy! And I was brought to it by a friend who also relies on it; I’m sure there are more of us 🙂 Please keep up the good work, Doug!

    • weeklysift  On January 12, 2018 at 3:56 pm

      You mean an issue like the country going fascist?

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