Remaining Questions

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

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

This week’s featured post is “The Drift Towards Autocracy Continues“.

This week everybody was talking about security clearances

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

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

and Aretha Franklin

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

and the continuing sabotage of ObamaCare

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

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

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

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

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

and Trump administration epistemology

“Truth,” Rudy Giuliani told us this week, “isn’t truth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but you might wonder what’s going on with Turkey

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

and let’s close with a baby otter

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

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Comments

  • Tim  On August 21, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    One thing regarding Trump and Truth is that the white evangelicals who broadly support him are the same ones who spent years of my youth decrying post-modernism’s assault on “objective truth.” Ironically, they’re the ones most likely to agree with Rudy.

    • weeklysift  On August 24, 2018 at 6:50 am

      That is weird, isn’t it. Evangelicals, I think, have a lot to answer for. If you look at climate-change denial, for example, the tactics of it are all based on evolution-denial from a century before. That’s where the idea that scientists belong to some Satan-headed conspiracy comes from.

  • Helena Constantine  On August 21, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Why no mention of the very real possibility that Kobach was elected by voter fraud (in the supposed computer shut-down during which his opponent’s 15 percent lead evaporated)?

    • weeklysift  On August 24, 2018 at 6:48 am

      Because I didn’t notice it. Things get past me sometimes.

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