With Compassion

You wanted to separate children and families, and you wanted to do it with compassion?

Rep. Nanette Barragán,
questioning Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

This week’s featured posts are “Where is Congress’ Center on Climate Change?” and “The Balloon Pops on Trump’s Economic Promises“.

This week everybody was talking about investigations

Last week’s Michael Cohen testimony was just the overture. This week House Democrats started the hard work of investigating the many irregularities of the Trump administration. The NYT runs down the various avenues of investigation.

  • Judiciary Committee (chaired by Jerry Nadler): obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
  • Oversight Committee (Elijah Cummings): hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal, and Trump’s over-ruling of the ordinary security clearance process to get clearances for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
  • Intelligence Committee (Adam Schiff): Russian interference in US elections, as well as undue influence over Trump wielded by Saudi Arabia or other nations.
  • Ways and Means (Richard Neal): Trump’s tax returns.
  • Foreign Affairs (Eliot Engel) (in concert with Intelligence and Oversight): the meetings Trump had with Vladimir Putin with no other Americans present.

Nadel announced a sweeping document request this week, sending letters out to 81 people or entities. However, this set of requests was not as onerous as it might otherwise sound: The Judiciary Committee has started by requesting documents that have already been turned over either to Mueller’s investigation or someone else.

Republicans, who investigated Benghazi eight times and would probably launch a ninth if Hillary Clinton seemed likely to run again, objected to Democrats’ overreach, obstructionism, and waste of time.

Various pearl-clutching folks worry about a public backlash against investigating Trump, similar to the backlash against the Bill Clinton impeachment. But I think that only happens if the investigations are perceived to be making a big deal about nothing, as Republicans often did when Obama was president. It looks to me like there’s so much Something to investigate that Democrats won’t get around to investigating Nothing for a long, long time.


In addition to the investigations focused on Trump himself and the Trump Organization, there are also hearings about the administration’s policies. Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified before the House Homeland Security Committee about the general situation on the Mexican border, and in particular about the zero-tolerance policy that has separated immigrant children from their parents. (Full C-SPAN video here.)

Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi led off by citing the numerous false statements the president has made to justify his national emergency declaration, and said:

Today, the secretary can choose whether to be complicit in this administration’s misinformation campaign or she can correct the record.

Nielsen tried to do neither; she acknowledged facts (the number of people trying to cross illegally is down substantially since 2000, the great majority of drug smuggling comes through ports of entry rather than across the unwalled parts of the border) without admitting that she was contradicting the President.

Questioned about kids in cages, she got semantic about the definition of a cage. And the kids weren’t kids, they were UACs (unaccompanied minors). I’ll let WBUR’s Steve Almond sum up:

Her performance was among the most chilling spectacles of the Trump era. … What stood out was Nielsen’s robotic manner, her sheer bureaucratic heartlessness. …

Over and over again, legislators asked Nielsen to reckon with the effects of tearing young children away from their parents. Nielsen responded with the kind of bureaucratic doublespeak more commonly associated with fascist regimes — a rhetoric intended to eliminate the moral problem of her own conduct by dehumanizing the children her agency routinely traumatizes.

and Paul Manafort

Trump’s former campaign chairman was sentenced to 47 months in prison, drastically less than the sentencing guidelines (19-24 years, essentially a life sentence for a man about to turn 70) for the crimes he was convicted of. The best response I saw is in a New Yorker cartoon. A couple is in their living room and Trump is on the TV. “On the other hand,” the wife is saying, “four years can seem like a life sentence.”

This sentence results from only one of Manafort’s two trials, the one in Virginia where the judge has consistently seemed sympathetic to him. He still hasn’t been sentenced for his convictions in D.C. The Virginia sentence covers the eight felonies he was convicted of there: five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud (i.e., getting bank loans under false pretenses), and one count of failing to disclose a foreign bank account. According to reports, only one holdout juror prevented his conviction in ten more crimes. The Washington Post described the eight felonies in everyday English:

At a trial last year, Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power.

The comparatively light sentence raises three issues:

  • In general, courts treat white-collar criminals with more leniency than street criminals. Manafort is an example of the adage Mario Puzo put into the mouth of Don Corleone in The Godfather: “One lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” The lawyer will also go to prison for less time. There are a variety of reasons for this: The white-collar criminal has better lawyers, so the government is usually happy just to get a conviction. Also, judges identify more with educated suit-wearing criminals than with lower-class muggers or burglars. Judges find it harsh to put an educated professional in prison, which they see as an appropriate place for low-lifes.
  • The judge at times expressed resentment with what the prosecution was trying to do: convict Manafort of crimes that had nothing to do with Trump or Russia, in order to put pressure on him to talk about Trump and Russia. This is a common enough tactic in organized-crime cases, but Judge T. S. Ellis didn’t like it here. Manafort wasn’t being prosecuted for being close to Trump, but if he hadn’t been at the center of the Trump/Russia scandal, investigators probably wouldn’t have devoted enough resources to his case to prove his crimes, so he probably would have gotten away with all this. You have to wonder how many similar crooks are walking around free. Does that make you feel like Manafort is being treated unfairly, or not?
  • Beyond simple class affinity, Ellis seemed to have a bizarre personal identification with Manafort, crediting testimony that he has been “a good friend” and “a generous person”, and absurdly concluding that Manafort has “lived an otherwise blameless life”. (A person who had lived an otherwise blameless life wouldn’t be awaiting sentence for a different set of felonies in another jurisdiction.) In response, The Atlantic laid out how Manafort’s career has revolved around enabling bad people to do bad things. Even when he wasn’t breaking the law, he was happy to be paid in blood money from the tobacco industry; from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos; from apartheid-funded Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi; and from Putin’s client in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. In short, Manafort is a dyed-in-the-wool villain. Villains may also have friends, and if they sometimes distribute their dubious profits more generously than people whose money comes from honest work, that doesn’t disprove their villainy.

Ellis is a Reagan appointee. It seems sad that we have to mention the political affiliations of judges, but that’s the point our legal system has reached. I don’t know how to explain this sentence without invoking political bias.

This week, Manafort faces another sentencing hearing in the District of Columbia, where he has pleaded guilty to witness tampering and conspiracy against the United States. Judge Amy Berman Jackson (an Obama appointee) has shown him far less sympathy. This is also where his cooperation agreement blew up because he continued lying to prosecutors and may have spied on them for Trump.

Also, Bloomberg reports that New York state is ready to file charges against Manafort if President Trump pardons him for his federal crimes.

At the state level, [New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.] is preparing an array of criminal charges. While their full extent isn’t clear, they would include evasion of New York taxes and violations of state laws requiring companies to keep accurate books and records, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is confidential.


While we’re on this topic, I’m seeing all sorts of speculation about when the Mueller report will come out and what it will say. What if it has some smoking-gun evidence against Trump? What if it doesn’t? What if Trump has AG Barr try to suppress it? I just want to remind everybody: Speculation can be fun, but it doesn’t really matter. Mueller will produce something eventually. The House majority will figure out a way to see the significant parts of it. It will say what it says. At that moment, all the TV-hours and column-inches of speculation will instantly become irrelevant.

So if speculation is a fun game you play with your friends, go ahead. But if it’s making you nuts, you can stop. Reality can take care of itself.

A piece that skirts the edge of speculation, but has value anyway, is Quinta Jurecic’s in yesterday’s NYT. The headline “Will There Be Smoking Guns in the Mueller Report” teases speculation, but the value of the article is in organizing our thoughts about what questions still need answers.

and economic reports

I cover them in one of the featured posts.

and you also might be interested in …

Arizona Senator Martha McSally revealed that when she was in the Air Force, she had been raped by a superior officer. McSally retired as a colonel in 2014.

She joins another Republican senator, Joni Ernst, who said in January that she had been raped in college, and that her husband had assaulted her. Their divorce was finalized in January.


I wish I’d gotten to edit the New Yorker’s article about Fox News: It mixes really alarming stuff with the kind of stuff we’ve come to expect.

The most alarming thing is that Fox had the Stormy Daniels story before the election, and decided not to run it because “Rupert wants Donald Trump to win.” It’s also alarming the way that Fox has merged with the administration, so that sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s leading who. Did the Fox & Friends hosts get an idea from Trump, or did Trump get it from them?

Similarly, people go from Fox to the administration and back, with no clear change of loyalties. It’s all one big operation. “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV,” says the University of Virginia’s Nicole Hemmer.

Trump has taken over Fox the way he’s taken over the Republican Party: Both used to represent American conservatism, but there’s really no room in either any more for an anti-Trump conservatism. Reagan conservatism — free trade, pro-NATO, pro-immigration, willing to compromise — is pretty much dead.


Speaking of the Fox/Trump pipeline, former Fox executive Bill Shine is out as White House communications director.


The administration is trying to hassle reporters who tell the American people what’s actually going on at the border.

Customs and Border Protection has compiled a list of 59 mostly American reporters, attorneys and activists who are to be stopped for questioning by border agents when crossing the U.S.-Mexican border at San Diego-area checkpoints, and agents have questioned or arrested at least 21 of them, according to documents obtained by NBC station KNSD-TV and interviews with people on the list.


Looks like the Trump/Kim romance has hit a rough patch. North Korea is preparing a new missile launch.


The collapse of a chain of for-profit colleges that leaves 26,000 students in the lurch illustrates the whole problem with for-profit colleges: They have no mission to educate. Rather than a duty to the students, they have a duty to make money for their stockholders.

The easiest way to extract profit from students who dream about having a college degree is to manipulate government programs: Sell the students a fantasy, get them to max out their student loan potential, and give them as inexpensive an education as will keep the scam going. If and when the whole thing goes belly-up, the scammers keep their profits and the kids are still on the hook for loans.

The wrinkle in this particular collapse is that the collapsing entity is technically non-profit: The Dream Center is a spin-off of a Los Angeles megachurch. It acquired the for-profit Education Management Corporation in 2017 in a transaction the Trump administration approved despite the church’s complete lack of experience in higher education. The original press release said:

As part of the acquisition, the Dream Center Foundation will be converting the EDMC schools into not-for-profit institutions with the intent of investing a percentage of revenue into humanitarian and charitable programs supported by the Dream Center Foundation in Los Angeles and throughout the United States.

In other words: profit by another name. The colleges would be cash cows for other Dream Center programs.

Dream Center showed little inclination to curb the tactics that got Education Management in trouble, like misleading students about their employment prospects. The executives it installed cultivated a high-pressure culture in which profit surpassed all other concerns, according to a report filed last year by Thomas J. Perrelli, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the schools’ compliance with their state settlements.

The students are left with nothing. They won’t get the degrees they were working for. Their credits probably won’t be accepted by any accredited institution. And they still owe on their loans for previous semesters, though this semester’s federal loans will be forgiven under a school-closure program.

Obama tried to shut these scams down, but the Trump administration has relaxed the regulations again.

and let’s close with something aetherial

I’ve been hearing for years that Iceland in winter is a great place to see the aurora borealis, but this display of a dragon and a phoenix are a bit much.

 

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Comments

  • wcroth55  On March 11, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Typo: “convict Mueller”, presumably meant to be “convict Manafort”.

    • weeklysift  On March 13, 2019 at 8:01 am

      I may think I do it myself, but in reality proofreading is a crowd-sourced job on this blog. Thanks.

  • Jeff R.  On March 11, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    I’d include for this week (though it may be developing) the China intrigue starting with the arrest of Robert Kraft (Patriots owner). Isn’t it interesting that Li (Cindy) Yang, owner of massage parlor in question, has ties with both Trump and the Chinese Government (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/03/the-massage-parlor-owner-peddling-access-to-trump-has-ties-to-chinese-government-linked-groups-cindy-yang/). As this unfolds, it will be interesting to see if Transportation Sec. Chao (whose family is involved in Chinese politics and is spouse of Senator Mitch McConnell) will be drawn into the sticky web that is Donald Trump.

    And thank you for leading with Secretary Nielsen’s testimony, or lack thereof. It boggles my mind that this story, and its associated real-life consequences, was so discounted while, in contrast, the statements of Rep. Ilhan Omar received seemingly endless coverage.

  • bcb5715  On March 14, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    another good post. You should correct the typo in this paragraph (you wrote Mueller but meant Manafort):

    The judge at times expressed resentment with what the prosecution was trying to do: convict Mueller of crimes that had nothing to do with Trump or Russia, in order to put

    On Mon, Mar 11, 2019 at 12:26 PM The Weekly Sift wrote:

    > weeklysift posted: “You wanted to separate children and families, and you > wanted to do it with compassion? – Rep. Nanette Barragán, questioning > Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen This week’s featured posts are > “Where is Congress’ Center on Climate Change?” and “” >

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