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.

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Comments

  • James  On August 27, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    There’s a decree to which I blame Sarah Palin’s nomination for Trump. That nomination planted the concept that anyone could be president, even if they were manifestly unqualified to be the leader of the free world.

  • reverendsax  On August 27, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    A woman from McCain’s 08 campaign blames the liberal dissing of Sarah as the cause of the rise of Trump. There is absolutely nothing that can be said these days that is beyond attack and reversal by the right. So I guess we were wrong to speak ill of Sarah and are wrong today to speak ill of Trump because it offends racists and dolts.

  • Jacquie Mardell (@jacquiemardell)  On August 27, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    There was a government-sanctioned purge of white civil servants and farmers in the 2000s that – if Trump knew any history at all, either recent or distant – he might have been thinking of https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/12/how-to-kill-a-country/302845/

  • Tesla  On August 27, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    The Melvin Harris III story rips my heart out. That’s a man who may really have just given up his life for his daughter, and he is being treated like this.

  • Larry Benjamin  On August 27, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    The South Africa white genocide story was the subject of the Michael Savage radio show for several days this week and last week. Savage often boasts that either Trump or someone in his entourage listens to his show and takes notes, so that may be where Trump picked up the story. It may be where Tucker Carlson got the story, too.

  • timo2b  On August 28, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    There is a version of ‘I fought the law’ by the Dead Kennedy’s punk band that was ‘I fought the law and I won’. That seems to be what Trump is going for.

  • ccyager  On September 8, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    A friend of mine recently suggested that the reason the GOP Congress does nothing about Trump is that Trump provides a distraction away from who is really running the country, i.e. Mitch McConnell. It gives McConnell an opportunity to be “president” without actually running for the office. Frankly, I don’t think any of them care about what’s truly good for the country. They only care about remaining in office and in power. The same goes for Trump, who is such a Mafia don it’s ridiculous.

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