Do What’s Right

No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear on November 4.

I have had the privilege and the honor of working with a lot of presidents. And I didn’t always agree with them. But I always believed that they were men of principle, that they were trying to do what was right by the country. They didn’t always get it right, but they were trying to do what was right. I don’t see that in this president.

– retired Admiral William H. McRaven
former commander of the U.S. Special Forces Operations Command
10-17-2019

This week’s featured posts are “A Liberal View of Intervention” and “The Leader or the Law?“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

One of the featured posts looks at Trump’s defense strategy, which I see as a pure power play: Forget the law, forget the facts, forget the Constitution — are you with me or against me?

This week’s testimony to the impeachment inquiry didn’t have a standout moment, but a parade of foreign-service officers put a lot of detail into the picture: Trump didn’t just get a wild idea during a phone call and say something he shouldn’t. There was a months-long program to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats, and a clear intention to withhold military aid until they did. Anybody who wasn’t down with that program (like recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovich) was pushed out.


On Fox News, John Yoo made the absurd point that the framers of the Constitution “would never have wanted an impeachment within a year of an election”. I’ve discussed this objection before, but Eric Columbus sums up the counter-argument very succinctly.

Any caution about not impeaching too close to an election makes no sense where the impeachable conduct is aimed at subverting that election.

Also worth pointing out: Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial before the Senate was in March of 1868, only eight months before a presidential election.


Thursday, retired Admiral William McRaven, famous as the architect of the Bin Laden raid, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times called “Our Republic is under Attack from the President“.

We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate. … President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years. … And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.

But if you are a Fox News viewer, you probably don’t know about this. Friday and Sunday mornings I searched for “McRaven” on the Fox News web site and turned up no articles since September 20.


More reason to believe that you’ll strike corruption in TrumpWorld anywhere you drill: Months ago, Michael Cohen claimed that Trump manipulated reports on the value of his properties, estimating high when he was looking for loans and low when he was paying taxes. This week, a new Pro Publica report fleshed that out.

For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. … A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

This is how they found out:

ProPublica obtained the property tax documents using New York’s Freedom of Information Law. The documents were public because Trump appealed his property tax bill for the buildings every year for nine years in a row, the extent of the available records. We compared the tax records with loan records that became public when Trump’s lender, Ladder Capital, sold the debt on his properties as part of mortgage-backed securities.


Josh Marshall raises another corruption question: When you see how much trouble Trump was willing to go to to get illicit favors out of Ukraine, you have to wonder what he has gotten from far more pliable countries like the monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

Trump’s willingness has always been a given. That of crooked oligarchies looking for advantage is equally so. The question has been the acquiescence, if not necessarily the connivance, of high level advisors. That is clear now too.

In other words, there is every reason to think, the very strong likelihood that Donald Trump’s corruption and lawlessness has already infected relationships with numerous countries abroad. It’s now just a matter of finding out the details.


Wednesday afternoon at Trump’s press conference with Italian President Mattarella, the translator’s face expressed how a lot of us feel when we listen to him.

and Syria

In one of the featured posts, I take a step back and seek some consistency in my own positions. I oppose Trump’s running out on the Kurds. But I also want to limit America’s military interventions. How do those fit together?

Along the way, I look at the situation of the Kurds, and Mitch McConnell’s restatement of the post-World-War-II, pro-intervention foreign policy consensus.


Lapdog Lindsey Graham is back in his kennel. He now thinks Trump’s Syria policy can lead to “some historic solutions in Syria that have eluded us for years”. Whatever he said last week has gone down the memory hole.


Wednesday, Trump was supposed to present his Syria policy to a bipartisan collection of skeptical leaders from Congress, where the House had just voted to condemn it 354-60. The meeting quickly fell apart, with Democratic leaders walking out to report Trump’s “meltdown” into shouting insults at Nancy Pelosi.

Trump countered by claiming Pelosi had a meltdown — sort of like in the 2016 debate when Trump cleverly responded to Clinton’s accusation that he was Putin’s puppet by saying “No. You’re the puppet.” (Trump must have been a hell of a debater in second grade.)

Trump decided to back up his case by posting this historic picture, which otherwise we would never have seen.

Apparently Trump believed that it made Pelosi look “unhinged”. But just about everyone else thinks it makes her look badass. Pelosi herself is using the picture as her Twitter cover photo. If you look closely at the men (they’re all men) on Trump’s side of the table, most of them look ashamed, particularly General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs, who sits to Trump’s right.

After Trump is finally gone, however that happens, somebody should turn this image into a oil painting and hang it in the Capitol.

BTW, this example points to a factor that makes me hopeful about removing Trump from office, despite the obstacles: Trump has bamboozled himself, as propagandists often do, and that will cause him to make mistakes — like imagining that this photo is a good look for him and a bad look for Pelosi.


I have treated with skepticism all Republican or conservative voices who have denounced Trump, wondering if they will nonetheless find some excuse to vote to re-elect him in 2020. Many of them knew what Trump was in 2016. (But her emails!)

Anyway, David Brooks is saying no to that, at least for now. He’s rooting for a moderate Democrat to win the nomination, but eventually comes around to this conclusion:

And yet, if it comes to Trump vs. Warren in a general election, the only plausible choice is to support Warren. … Politics is downstream from morality and culture. Warren represents a policy wrong turn, in my view, but policies can be argued about and reversed. Trump represents a much more important and fundamental threat — to the norms, values, standards and soul of this country.

He leaned the same way in his last column before the 2016 election.

Many of us disagree strongly with many Clinton policies. But any sensible person can distinguish between an effective operating officer and a whirling disaster who is only about himself.

But in that column he didn’t come out and say explicitly that he would vote for Hillary, or that other conservatives should.

and the Democratic debate

I’m ashamed to admit how little attention I’ve given this. It’s startling how the action in American politics has shifted to Congress and the courts recently, and away from the campaign trail.

You can watch the whole thing starting here.

and Brexit

For a moment it looked like this might all work out. Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he had reached a Brexit deal with the EU. The deal is complicated, but essentially leaves Northern Ireland running by EU rules on trade.

In practice, that meant that, rather than putting a border on the island of Ireland, Britain would have to put one in the Irish Sea, and impose regulatory and customs checks for items passing from Britain into Northern Ireland.

Johnson’s allies representing Northern Ireland might not like that, but it was the best he could do.

Parliament was supposed to vote on the deal Saturday, but then things got interesting: Parliament decided to put off a final vote on the Brexit deal until after it passed all the implementing legislation. The point of that, as I get it, was to make sure that no last-minute stunt could throw the country into a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

Anyway, that meant that an October 18 deadline passed, requiring Johnson to request an extension from the EU. He did, but also told them he didn’t mean it. It’s not clear what they’re going to do about it. The BBC has a flow chart that explains all the possibilities.

and you also might be interested in …

Elijah Cummings died Thursday. He was 68 and had been in poor health for some time.


The State Department’s official investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server concluded in September and its unclassified report was released this week.

While there were some instances of classified information being inappropriately introduced into an unclassified system in furtherance of expedience, by and large, ‘the individuals interviewed were aware of security policies and did their best to implement them in their operations. … There was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information. [italics added]

Well, I’m glad nobody made a big deal out it, then. [BTW, I will take credit now for having gotten this issue right at the time in “About Those Emails“.]


The details of Trump’s “tremendous” trade deal with China are already starting to unravel. The markets apparently don’t take seriously Trump’s claim that the Chinese have agreed to buy $40 or $50 billion of American agricultural products. The price of soybeans hasn’t budged.


It’s bad enough that US immigration officials are continuing to separate children from their parents. But it turns out that in some cases the separation may be permanent: Some states are letting Americans adopt children whose parents have been deported.


An important addition to the abortion discussion is “I Had a Late-Term Abortion. I Am Not a Monster.” by

I ended my child’s life. At 23 weeks and six days into my pregnancy, I had a “late term” abortion. When people ask, “How could you?” I reply that allowing her to live would have been a fate worse than death. Her diagnosis was not fatal, not incompatible with the bare mechanics of a living body. But it was incompatible with a fulfilling life. … I know I made the best choice for my child. I do not regret it, and I will not hide it.

It is important to tell the stories of actual late-term abortions, because they almost never match the vicious portraits painted by the anti-abortion movement. More typically, late-term abortions are morally serious decisions made with great care and anguish.

The point of Werking-Yip’s essay isn’t that of course you would have done the same thing, but that you probably have no idea what it’s like to face such a decision.

You might swear up and down that you could never make the choice I did, but you never know for sure until the time comes.

What makes the abortion question so difficult to discuss is that it’s actually two questions:

  • What should be done?
  • Who should decide what to do?

Pro-life advocates focus on the first question, and their answer is that abortions should not be done, no matter the circumstances. Having come to that conclusion, they want the government to decide once and for all: no abortions.

Pro-choice advocates focus on the second question, and say that pregnant women should decide what happens to their pregnancies, in consultation with the people they trust and rely on: spouses, families, friends, doctors, religious advisors. They reject a one-size-fits-all government decision.

That’s why the two sides talk past each other: They’re answering different questions.


A Sandy Hook father won a defamation suit against an author whose book claims the father faked his son’s death as part of a government plot to impose gun control. The jury awarded him $450,000. Similar defamation suits against Alex Jones are still pending.


Responding to Attorney General Barr’s speech blaming all societal problems on secularism, never-Trump Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin lists the issues that she never wants to hear Trump Republicans lecture about again:

  • moral values. “If one spends years tolerating, supporting and defending a president whose character is lower than any president in modern memory, one loses the right to wag his finger.”
  • the rule of law. “As with morality, no more Federalist Society lectures on limited government and constitutional conservatism, please.”
  • foreign policy. “I never want to hear that Republicans are the strong-on-defense and pro-democracy party. Ever.”
  • deficits.

Years ago, Nike ran an ad campaign for Air Jordans with the slogan “It’s got to be the shoes.” It was intentionally ridiculous, because anyone could see that the difference between Michael Jordan and the rest of us wasn’t his shoes. But Nike’s new running shoes have people raising that issue seriously, and oversight organizations are wondering whether they should be banned from competitions.

and let’s close with puppies

I’m guessing we could all use some puppies about now.

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Comments

  • dagoldner  On October 21, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    I know the framing of the article In your link “letting Americans adopt children whose parents have been deported” is adoption, but the reality is that it is kidnapping; perhaps changing your language will help clarify for people who don’t read the article

  • Guest  On October 21, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    What, no mention of the Bernie’s tremendous NYC rally and AOC endorsement, Doug? Nina Turner’s speech hit the crowd in all the right spots and had me modifying my current dream ticket to include her as Sander’s VP. Without the polling data in front of me I’d guess they’d be able to at least approach Obama’s margin of victory, if not top it.

    If you haven’t seen much of Ilhan Omar, check out her endorsement of Sanders too. Megawatt poise and a clear, moral, democratic vision…AOC seems to get the lion-share of attention, but don’t sleep on Omar.

    Also, for those confused by folks on the left bemoaning media bias against Sanders, even from traditionally liberal/mainstream outlets (I believe George Washington Jr was one, but could be wrong), check out the fan-made “Rising Up Bernie 2020” video. You get a visceral sense of the huge disconnect between the campaign on the ground and how it gets covered by the media. It’s a great starting point, and from there you can get into airtime and positive/negative coverage ratio disparities and so forth all the way down to petty moves like CNN changing color/tone/saturation to make Bernie look less healthy than he is.

    • weeklysift  On October 21, 2019 at 7:41 pm

      I’ve been assuming all along that AOC was for Bernie, so her endorsement didn’t feel like news to me. I haven’t made a study of it, but I think Bernie gets about the amount of coverage that a candidate with his poll numbers can expect, particularly given that he is a familiar candidate running on the same platform he had four years ago. “Bernie still believes in Medicare for All” is not a compelling headline.

      • Guest  On October 22, 2019 at 11:54 am

        Thanks for the response. Respectfully, reasonable people have made a study of it and found a deeper dynamic than Bernie’s remarkably consistent track record at play. First, it’s not happening in a vacuum, so if you want a refresher check out Thomas Frank’s Nov 2016 “Swat Team” piece in Harper’s…some things haven’t changed. More recently, Matt Taibbi’s “The Campaign Press: Members of the 10 Percent, Reporting for the One Percent” from August makes a study of the dynamic, while finding the humor in the Post publishing 16 negative Bernie articles in 16 hours. The Hill’s Krystal Ball has an anti-Bernie media bias piece if video is more your thing. The “Rising Up” video mentioned above doesn’t give the broader context that these other pieces do, but puts the bias directly on display and so is useful in that way.

        I get the fact that our typically most reliable media outlets (NYT, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC et al) exhibit anti-progressive bias is a bitter pill for liberals to swallow and I think most, like you, prefer to assume that everything is fair *this time* or are otherwise sort of blissfully unaware.

        Re AOC, I heard reports that team Warren was heavily courting her endorsement, so at least they hadn’t written her off. Your assumption is telling though, and presents interesting parallels/divergences from Warren’s infamous non-endorsement in 2016. Refreshing to see AOC take a stand even when it’s far from clear that it would be the politically expedient course for her personally.

  • frankackerman0617  On October 22, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Trump’s agenda

    I have a fantasy that there are at least a few thoughtful conservatives that look at this blog. Given that out public political discourse is seriously broken, I consider this a positive sign. To hopefully encourage a lot of liberal/conservative dialogue the following is an attempt to objectively list Trump’s public agenda. In this comment I’m trying to (1) create a complete list of non-overlapping items, and (2) objectively cite each agenda item. Is my list accurate/complete? My list attempts to just note agenda objectives, not any of the actions Trump or his administration is taking to achieve these objectives. If there is some response to this comment, we can then try to objectively list actions that we think support these items in subsequent posts.

    – Reduce immigration
    – Reduce the number of resident non-citizens
    – Reduce annual trade balances
    – Strength military defensive capability
    – Protect cyber infrastructure
    – Protect American intellectual property
    – Keep improving the US economy (by a variety of measures)
    – Replace Obamacare
    – Increase number of conservative judges
    – Decrease number of abortions
    – Withdraw from multilateral international agreements
    – Bring troops home
    – Replace cooperative diplomacy with informal bilateral understandings between heads of state
    – Support American fossil fuel industry
    – Support American agriculture
    – Support American manufacturing
    – Strengthen the power of the Presidency vis-a-vis Congress
    – Reduce central government regulation and oversight
    – Weaken the power of the press to objectively inform citizens
    – Deny climate change
    – Re-elect Trump in 2020, and increase Republican votes in Congress

    While most comments on this blog just address Dr. Murder’s posts and comments, it seems to me that this blog, with its small number of posters (usually) might be a good place for more dialogue. Please let me know if I’m out of line here.

    • pauljbradford  On October 23, 2019 at 10:18 am

      That list mostly seems fair. However, I would not say the goal is to “Replace” Obamacare, it is to repeal Obamacare. Trump never proposed his much better solution that he promised would be “far less expensive and far better.”
      Also, The Weekly Sift’s author’s name is spelled is “Muder”.

      • weeklysift  On November 5, 2019 at 8:33 am

        About the name: I was a chess player in high school, and my USCF membership card said “Doug Murder”. I shouldn’t have corrected it; it would have been a great tournament name.

  • Anonymous  On October 22, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    “But if you are a Fox News viewer, you probably don’t know about this. Friday and Sunday mornings I searched for “McRaven” on the Fox News web site and turned up no articles since September 20.”

    Personally, I think this is something that Fox news watchers might be interested in. They wouldn’t be interested in the opinions of “liberals,” but they might be interested in the opinions of a retired Admiral. So far, I haven’t thought a way to get this more known in those sorts of circles…

  • Anonymous Fed  On October 23, 2019 at 11:58 am

    You said “It’s startling how the action in American politics has shifted to Congress and the courts recently, and away from the campaign trail.” And I say… HALLELUJAH! After working over eight years as a civil servant in the White House (OMB, if folks know what that is), I am very certain that the media is over-inflating the importance of the Presidency by at least an order of magnitude. What Congress and the courts do is ACTUALLY MORE IMPORTANT, but much harder to cover, because there are so many more people involved. Every illegal or immoral move that Trump makes could be reversed by the Congress and the courts, if those institutions were as independent and healthy as they should be. We need to pay more attention to them.

    Remember how the Republican Congress kept Obama from closing Guantanamo? If the Congress really wanted American troops staying in Syria, they could just pass a law barring DOD from spending money on pulling troops out.

  • lffile  On October 26, 2019 at 7:28 am

    “…classified information being inappropriately introduced into an unclassified system in furtherance of expedience,” Sometimes the risks posed by untimely action clearly outweigh any concerns about protecting secrets. Making this judgment and ignoring security rules in the situation must be in the hands of the responsible official since they could be violating their oath of office with either choice. Cabinet officers are carefully vetted and confirmed because we trust them to make these decisions. I don’t know how closely this was considered in the FBI evaluations but given the accepted inefficiencies – some unavoidable – of the DOS systems I think this played a large role.

    Also, I wish everyone would stop using the term “Pro-Life” to describe conservative anti-abortion advocates. It is clearly a misnomer. “Anti-Abortion” describes the movement perfectly.

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