This is not the republic of my imagination.
–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)
This is not the republic of my imagination.
–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)
That’s the latest spin on the Trump University/Trump Foundation/Pam Bondi scandal from the Trump campaign.Â I think we can all agree on “unfortunate.” Harder to believe in “coincidences” and “errors.”
Since the cable nets, the New York Times, and the Associated Press have all been too busy trying to find wrongdoing at the Clinton Foundation to cover it, and even now don’t seem to be able to get the facts straight, here they are (courtesy of CREW and the Nonprofit Quarterly:
So, if you’re like the White Queen, and practice believing six impossible things before breakfast, you can try to believe that:
Or, if your mind is as cynically twisted as mine, you can believe instead that Bondi asked for a bribe (or made an extortionate demand), that Trump made the payoff as demanded but tried to get a tax break for it by making it out of foundation money, the Foundation staff did the best they could to cover the whole thing up, the investigation was duly killed, and Trump made the balance of the payoff (or simply indicated his gratitude) by hosting the fund-raiser.
On the Media posted this remarkable interview with Scott Greer of the Daily Caller regarding the Caller‘s coverage of the Khan family. (Yeah, h/t Media Matters….) I’ll just leave things there.
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Good catch by Ben Mathis-Lilley at SLATE:
One of the most effective pieces of oratory at the Democratic National Convention was delivered Thursday night by Khizr Khan, a Pakistan-born immigrant whose son Humayun was killed in Iraq in 2004. (Humayun Khan, an Army captain, was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.) Khan’s speechâ€”which directly condemned Republican nominee Donald Trumpâ€”took place just after 9 p.m. and was aired in its entirety on CNN and MSNBC. As you can see above, Fox News made a different programming choice.
Watch it below. The Pravda-like mission of FOX news continues to impress.
Some of the people planning to cast protest votes in November have a bedtime story they love to tell themselves. In the story, Donald Trump’s election wouldn’t be such a bad thing because the diffusion of power in the American political system would prevent him from carrying out the worst of his lunatic schemes.
Now, there is a germ of an idea there: political and institutional constraints greatly limit the power of a President. But it’s worth noting that the political constraints generally act through the perceptions of the President and those around him about what he can, and can’t, get away with: that is, precisely the sort of thing that would have kept Trump-the-candidate from, e.g., hurling ethnic insults at a federal judge. A President unfazed by criticism, and willing to ignore advice about the limits of his lawful authority from the Office of Legal Counsel, actually can get quite a lot done. Â No President in the modern era – even Nixon – has dared to say what President Jackson said about a Supreme Court ruling: “Mr. Justice Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” But what if we had a President who was willing to behave that way, surrounded by advisers egging him on to do so? Â Trump’s power for evil might be substantially greater than (e.g.) Obama’s power for good.
Today a friend challenged me on this point: Make a list of ten really, really bad things that President Trump could actually do. A little bit of emailing around produced the following list. I’ve divided it into two groups: the “stroke-of-the-pen” things that a President could accomplish just by ordering them, and other things that would require Congressional approval or help from state governments. But let’s not forget that Trump’s election would almost certainly mean both that he had a Republican Senate and House to work with and that the Republican members of those bodies would mostly be terrified of primary challenges should they oppose the imperial will.
The distinction between the two groups is not absolute; in principle, the appropriations power could be used to constrain virtually any Presidential action, in the extreme by zero-budgeting the Executive Office of the President, leaving The Donald to write his own orders. And of course there is always the impeachment power. But again, an election that brings us Trump would be likely to disable those safeguards as well.
“With a stroke of the pen”
By legislative action or with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the help of state governments
A story is told of Benjamin Franklin. As he left the Constitutional Convention – which did its work in secret – for the last time, a woman stopped him to ask, “Well, Dr. Franklin? What have you given us? A monarchy, or a republic?” Franklin answered, “A republic, madam: if you can keep it.”
This is not a game. Institutions do not maintain themselves.Â Â Not all damage is reversible. I do not believe that Trump will be elected, and I do not believe that, if he were elected, that would be the last relatively free and fair election for President. But it’s not impossible. Â Let’s not do the experiment.
I consider this list provisional. Please suggest additions, subtractions, and edits in comments. Do not take that as an invitation to debate. Comments of the form”but howsabout Hillary?” will be relentlessly zapped.
The lower house of the Brazilian Congress has voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. The middle-class anti-Dilma crowds in the streets of big cities are ecstatic. At last the PT will be brought to account for its corruption! The smaller pro-Dilma working-class crowds are despondent. The right-wing plot to reverse the results of the 2014 reelection by a rigged quasi-judicial process is succeeding.
Not so fast. “Fewer than tenâ€ of the 511 deputies voting, by a wearisome roll-call with mini-speeches, bothered to mention the actual impeachment charges, preferring to emote about their families, the flag, and so on. (Colin Snider, h/t Erik Loomis at LGM; I watched a part of the vote on TV). They are here, in Jovair Arantes’ report to the committee that tabled them for the vote.
What the anti-corruption crowds want to see is Dilma answering for her well-paid work as a government-appointed director of Petrobras while the parastatal oil major was shovelling $2.8 billion in bribes, slush funds and kickbacks to PT and other politicians. They are not going to get this. The charges are budgetary irregularities. That’s what the trial in the Senate will be about â€“ unless it turns into a kangaroo court, bringing in corruption allegations with no semblance of due process.
The alleged offences are mind-bogglingly technical stuff I’m not competent to assess. More’s the point, the fiddles have it seems been common practice in previous administrations and state governments, and were only recently made illegal. The Congress has other, political means of remedying the ills, like refusing to adopt a budget until the objectionable spending is legitimised or unwound. The impeachment trial will fizzle as spectacle, and once the public realizes what is going on, a conviction will not obviously be in the political interest of the senators.
The other view, represented by Glenn Greenwald’s piece here, is that it’s a nefarious right-wing plot. The one claim of his I can assess from direct observation is media bias, and I don’t see nearly enough of it to explain what is going on. The powerful Globo network is conservative, sure. But it’s the Telegraph or BSkyB more than Fox or the Daily Mail. Where does it give platforms to hard right agitators, the way Fox News does in the USA, or headline stories of immigrant welfare scroungers? The key media mechanisms of the protests have been Twitter and Facebook, which are chaotic and can’t readily be controlled. Where is the Brazilian equivalent of tweetmeister Donald Trump?
The timeline doesn’t work either. When Dilma was first elected, the Brazilian rich had some reason to be alarmed. Perhaps she would revert to her youthful radicalism and follow Chavez into left-wing populism. She is now five years in, and there is no sign of this. Her administration has SFIK taken no major new initiatives on anything. It’s been content to safeguard Lula’s legacy. The rich can sleep safe. She is deeply unpopular with all classes, from her failure to prevent the commodities-driven recession, and a conservative victory in the next election is very likely. Why take very risky steps to overthrow her now?
A rival theory. The recession and the corruption revelations have made not only the PT but the entire political class deeply unpopular. 59% of the Brazilian Congress, left and right, are under investigation for â€œserious charges including bribery, electoral fraud and homicideâ€. The key driver of the impeachment process is Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker, himself under investigation for receiving bribes from Petrobras and holding undeclared Swiss bank accounts. Attacking Dilma makes sense as a path to political survival: if Dilma falls, he will become the conservative hero of the hour. A good many of those who voted for impeachment face the same incentives. The whole thing, on this analysis, is basically just opportunism.
It won’t turn out out well. The charade risks discrediting not only the existing parties but democracy itself. So far there is no Strong Man visible in the wings, but one could emerge any time. Reforming an entire political and administrative culture without revolution of left or right is extraordinarily difficult. As merely an irregular visitor I have no suggestions as to how to do it. But this impeachment will not help.
PS The Al Capone argument
They got Al Capone for tax evasion, not murder and bootlegging. Wasn’t that OK in the circumstances?
1. Al Capone was definitely guilty of tax evasion, it wasn’t a made-up or grey-area offence.
2. The reason he didn’t declare his income was that it came from crime. There was a direct link between the lesser offence, for which there was evidence that could stand up in court, and the criminal activity for which there wasn’t.
3. The claimed purpose of the impeachment is to restore integrity to Brazilian politics. You can’t do that by a fundamentally dishonest prosecution.
This seems like a bad movie plot, but apparently it’s all true:
1. Billionaire Republican donor Sheldon AdelsonÂ is involved in a lawsuit in Nevada about the corruptÂ practices of his casino in Macao. (Technically, it’s a wrongful-termination case brought by someone who claims to have been fired for blowing the whistle.)
3. Through a cut-out, Adelson bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the dominant newspaper in the state, keeping his ownership a secret until others broke the story.
4. Three staffers at the paper were then ordered to do aÂ hit-piece on the judge. No story resulted.
5. The editor of the Review-Journal then learned, by reading the front page of his own newspaper, that he had “accepted a buy-out.”
6. Michael Schroeder, who runs Adelson’s media empire, Michael Schroeder, and who also publishes a small paper in Connecticut, went straight to the printer of that paper, over the head of the editorial staff, to order a 2000-word piece critical of Judge Gonzalez to run there.
8. In fact, no one seems to have ever met Edward Clarkin in person. However, Schroeder’s middle name is “Edward,” and his mother’s maiden name was “Clarkin.” (No, serioulsy.)
9. A reporter for Schroeder’s paper quit in disgust.
Despite its comic-opera aspects, this story is truly scary. If plutocrats can buy newspapers to intimidate judges, what happens to the rule of law? And how much of Adelson’s media power will be exercised on behalf of his business partners in the Chinese Politburo? They made him a billionaire by giving him the casino concession in Macau, and they can take it away at a moment’s notice.
Here’s hoping this gets to be an issue in the campaign. I’d love to the Republican presidential candidates say what they think of Adelson’s behavior. Come to think of it, I’d love to hear Hillary Clinton do so.
The New York Times does an amazing job at data journalism within its Upshot section. This interactive map of the uninsured, by Quotrung Bui and Margo Sanger-Katz, is pretty amazing, especially when one considers that Wisconsin, nominally a non-expansion state, already provided significant coverage overlapping with ACA. Why is Medicaid expansion important? Go to the New York Times link and see for yourself. Cross the Kentucky border into any non-expansion state. If anything, this non-population-weighted-map understates the importance of Medicaid expansion, since many of those huge purple counties out west have very few people living in them. Ninety percent of the adults who fall in the Medicaid gap live in formerly-segregated states.
PS this amazing GIF showing how patterns have changed since 2013 makes me both proud and sad regarding our country.
Incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy just committed a “gaffe” in Michael Kinsley’s sense of the term: in an unguarded moment, he allowed himself to tell the truth. The truth is, as most of has have always known, that Benghazi!, like its predecessor Whitewater!, was an entirely bad-faith exercise in partisan character assassination from the get-go. But don’t listen to me, listen to what the Speaker-to-Be told Sean Hannity:
Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?Â But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because sheâ€™s untrustable. But no one wouldâ€™ve known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.
Naturally, the rest of the House Republicans are outraged: not, of course, at Trey Gowdy for ghoulishly making a political meal out of the bodies of four dead Americans, but at McCarthy for blabbing.
The political press corps is caught in the middle. Lots of those reporters and editors, especially at the New York Times, have been more than willing to peddle Gowdy’s “partial-transcript” leaks as if they had news value, and to let Gowdy and his staff hide behind anonymity to defame a political rival. In other words, they’ve been playing according to the Clinton Rules, which hold that anything a Clinton does is guilty even after it’s been proven innocent.
So far, most of that crowd has reacted to McCarthy’s stunning admission, which makes them look like fools or scoundrels or both, by ignoring it. But I’m hoping that the second round of stories, with other Republicans commenting on McCarthy’s blunder, will start to crack that Wall of Silence. And I’m starting to look forward to Clinton’s appearance before Trey Gowdy’s inquisition. He might well come out of that experience as no more than a Deuce.
…oh Lawd, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
I was a radio show once where a caller blasted me with a long indictment of my alleged opinions. The host and the other guests were all shocked, because I hadn’t said anything like what the caller was railing against. Indeed, the caller and I agreed with each other. When the host pointed this out to the caller, she just repeated her gripe. A friend of mine who listened said to me later “It doesn’t matter what you said, it matters what she wanted to hear as an excuse to rant.”
I had an unpleasant little run lately with my writing that brought that memory back to me. Regarding a post I wrote about the state prison population I got an angry tweet from someone who thought I was writing about the (utterly different) federal prison population. This was followed by someone emailing me to complain that my piece on the Euro was idiotic because I only discussed the psychological failings of the system without mentioning its absurd economic underpinnings. This angry chap couldn’t have known I agreed with him unless he had read all the way to the second sentence of my post (A lot to ask, I realize). The same week, someone wrote a whole lengthy blog post criticizing a methodological approach to research which he attributed to me, when the paper I wrote (nicely summarized by Austin Frakt here) had specifically argued that the approach he was complaining about was flawed and therefore was proposing an alternative.
I can’t personally imagine getting pleasure from attacking people who agree with me as if they were disagreeing with me, so I am not sure what motivates so many people to engage in this behavior. In addition to being rude, it is (or ought to be) embarrassing as it announces to the world that you are comfortable criticizing things that you haven’t troubled to actually read.
Writing for the public really does require a leap of faith sometimes, namely that among your readers are many people who actually want to understand what it says and to agree or disagree with with it honestly. Most days I don’t lack that faith, but a run like this is rather soul-killing for me as a writer.