Can Macbeth explain Trump’s impending downfall

I’m actually not the biggest fan of Shakespeare (updating into a language– modern English– humans actually speak would be a great start), but I love this Atlantic column from Eliot Cohen:

But to really get the feel for the Trump administration’s end, we must turn to the finest political psychologist of them all, William Shakespeare. The text is in the final act of what superstitious actors only refer to as the “Scottish play.” One of the nobles who has turned on their murderous usurper king describes Macbeth’s predicament:

Those he commands move only in command,

Nothing in love. Now does he feel his title

Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe

Upon a dwarfish thief.

And so it will be for Trump…

But in the moment of losing power, the two will be alike. A tyrant is unloved, and although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical—that is, utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others, knowing no moral restraint. He expects fealty and gives none. Such people can exert power for a long time, by playing on the fear and cupidity, the gullibility and the hatreds of those around them. Ideological fervor can substitute for personal affection and attachment for a time, and so too can blind terror and sheer stupidity, but in the end, these fall away as well.

And thus their courtiers abandon even monumental tyrants like Mussolini—who at least had his mistress, Claretta Petacci, with him at his ignominious end. (Melania’s affections are considerably less certain.) The normal course of events is sudden, epic desertion, in which an all-powerful political figure who loomed over everything is suddenly left shrunken and pitiful, a wretched little figure in gaudy robes absurdly too big for him, a figure of ridicule as much as, and even more than, hatred.

This is going to happen to Trump at some point. Of the Republicans in Congress it may be said of most of them: Those he commands move only in command, nothing in love. For now, admittedly, there are those who still court his favor—Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, once the trusty vassal of Senator John McCain, the bravest of warriors and noblest of dukes, seems to have switched his allegiance from his dying lord to the swaggering upstart aged prince. But that is about ambition, not affection.

For the moment, the Republicans will not turn on Trump. They fear a peasant revolt, many of them; they still crave favors; they may think his castle impregnable, although less so if they believe what the polls tell them about some of its tottering walls. But if they suffer a medieval-style slaughter on Election Day, the remnants of the knights of the GOP will know a greater fear than that of being primaried. And at the moment when they no longer fear being swept away in 2020, when the economy may be in recession and Robert Mueller’s probe is complete with revelations whose ghastliness would delight the three witches of the Scottish play, they will suddenly turn on Trump. Act V of this play will also have a nonlinear finish.

This sounds good to me.  I wonder if the 5th avenue shooting scenario isn’t more likely, though.

Shooting on 5th Avenue

I don’t usually expect good political satire out of Thomas Friedman, but he nails it here:

President Trump stopped his motorcade in Manhattan today, jumped out of his limousine and shot a man on Fifth Avenue who was shouting anti-Trump epithets. The shooting was recorded by the White House press pool as well as by dozens of bystanders with cellphones and by security cameras in the area. When asked for his reaction, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, We will need more information than is available at this point.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said through pursed lips that he was not going to comment on every up and down with this president.House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he already had information indicating that the man whom Trump shot worked for the Clinton Foundation and may have been a relative of former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Fox News did not cover Trump’s shooting at the top of its broadcast, which focused instead on the killing of an Iowa woman by an undocumented immigrant. Fox’s only reference to the fact that the president shot a man on Fifth Avenue was that a New York City man died today when he ran right into a bullet fired by the president.

Senator Lindsey Graham quipped that Trump shoots as well as he puttsand that this incident would not cause the South Carolina senator to cancel his coming golf round with the president at his Bedminster, N.J., course.

White House spokeswoman Sara Huckabee Sanders told reporters that she was looking the other way when the shooting happened so she had no comment, adding: I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with the president. I’ll get back to you if I have something. But the president has stated many times that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. So he’s just keeping a campaign promise. He did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. And even though I have no comment, and he has no comment, we’ve commented on this extensively.

Hours later, though, the president tweeted: Actually, some people are saying that a man who looked a lot like Barack Obama did the shooting. I’m not saying that — but some people are. It also could have been somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds who fired that shot. Like Rudy said: Truth is not truth — unless I say so.

Jerry Falwell Jr., a top evangelical leader, announced that his movement would be holding a vigil this evening, praying that the president had not stressed himself too much by having to shoot a man on Fifth Avenue. Falwell added, “This would never have happened if Jeff Sessions were doing his job.”

The day ended with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declaring that the fact that the president could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight only proves again why we need to arm all our schoolteachers.

My biggest challenge in writing all of the above? Worrying that readers wouldn’t realize it was made up.

Of course Trump is a tax cheat

You know, sometimes I mean to write a post, and then forget, and then think, “Well, gee, is this still relevant?  Haven’t we moved beyond this?”  Of course, that makes me just as guilty as the media bias I was writing about yesterday.  With a virtual tidal wave of awfulness from Trump, really problematic news from the previous week can really seem like ancient history.

I was about to just move this excellent Catherine Rampell column on Trump’s likely tax fraud over to the quick hits queue, but then thought, damn it, a little old or not, this is good stuff more people should read:

There’s plenty of precedent for prosecuting those. And the Cohen filings this week raise serious new questions about whether Trump has criminal tax-fraud exposure.

To be clear, we don’t know whether Trump has violated any tax laws. But there’s a red flag in prosecutors’ filings against Cohen regarding the fate of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes one would expect to have been paid Uncle Sam.

It’s a little technical, so bear with me.

[Or, just trust her, I’m not pasting it all, but it’s solid]

“These are not normal business practices,” said Jenny L. Johnson Ware, a criminal tax lawyer. “None of this is how a company normally does business.” Other tax practitioners I consulted said the same.

Why go through all this rigmarole? Well, maybe to hide something.

Maybe Trump Organization execs were helping hide an excessive campaign contribution, one of the charges Cohen pleaded guilty to. Or maybe, as current Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani has argued, it was merely a payment for a personal legal settlement designed to “save” the “reputation” of Trump’s marriage.

Under neither explanation, though, would the $420,000 be a legitimate business expense that Trump or his company could deduct on their tax returns.

And yet: “The reason to go through the shenanigans of making this transaction look like legal expenses, to me, is to make something not deductible look deductible,” said Johnson Ware…

There’s an easy way for Trump to clear up these concerns: He could release his tax returns.

Or maybe Congress could help a brother out and release his returns for him — which it could do by majority vote in any of three committees.

That would, of course, require a Republican or two to “flip” — which I know could pose a problem. As Trump and Capone could both tell you, the family doesn’t care for rats.

Honestly, given everything that is already public knowledge about Trump and how he runs his business, it would be pretty shocking if he were somehow not actually guilty of criminal tax fraud (like Al Capone!).  Collusion or not, Trump is so obviously a criminal.  And, presumably, Mueller is on that case.

The Pro-Trump media bias

No, seriously.  Somehow, I just came across this excellent Tim Miller (thanks to his appearance on The Gist) article from back in May about how the media’s norms and conventional procedures largely serve to benefit Trump.  So true!  Of course, most individual mainstream journalists likely recognize Trump for the disaster he is, but the way in which journalists cover the news so works to Trump’s advantage.  Miller:

No politician in my lifetime has benefited more from his relationship with the media than President Trump, and that is in part because keeping tabs on the extent of his scandals is a Herculean task…

It is true that on a personal level, national political journalists tend to be socially liberal and not only dislike Trump, but are ensconced in bubbles where nobody imagined voting for him. But this type of personal ideological bias distorts coverage of Trump much less than the avalanche of bullshit Trump and his allies unleash everyday. A mixture of fundamental human nature and incentives in journalism that reward recency, access, and “balance,” pressure reporters into treating President Trump with far more leniency than he deserves.

Take for example, his rally in Nashville, TN this week. Over the course of a typically meandering and unhinged speech he propounded and repeated several bald-faced lies, including his second favorite lie (the first is “No collusion!”) that Mexico is going to pay for a wall on the southern border. This lie touched off an international incident in which the president of one of our largest trading partners tweeted a formal rebuke at our own. Trump incited grievances against minority groups, bragged about his hand size, invented fake people who demanded policies that their real-life incarnations opposeattacked John McCain who sits at home dying of brain cancer, cursed, attacked Jay-Z for cursing more than him, leveled absurdly false attacks against Democrats that lie well beyond the pale of normal political discourse, and, finally, advanced an insane conspiracy theory that Barack Obama infiltrated his campaign with a spy. Most of the above links come from Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star who uses his Twitter feed to comprehensively fact check Trump’s speeches. But even someone who dedicates his professional life to documenting Trump’s lies understands that simply cataloging them is insufficient.. “One thing I still haven’t figured out well,” Dale added, “and I don’t think anyone really has, is how to capture Trump’s level of rally unhingedness in a regular article.”

And the evidence bears Dale’s point out. The Tennessean topped its article about Trump’s speech as if it were any standard campaign event: “At Rally for Blackburn Senate bid, POTUS calls Phil Bredesen ‘Tool’ for Democrats.” USA TODAY took a tongue-in-cheek approach that largely gave Trump a headline he’d want, “Trump Vows To Rebuild USA With His Big Beautiful Hands.” The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal didn’t give the speech any mention on their front pages, which wouldn’t be remarkable if Trump were giving an ordinary political stump speech, but reflects a depressing level of desensitization to what he offers instead. The president of the United States gathered supporters to incite racism, to spread lies and propaganda, to slander his political enemies, and the most important newspapers in the country didn’t think anything of it. [emphases mine]

Through strategy, instinct, and horseshoe-up-his-ass blind luck, Trump has abused the media into grading him on the steepest of curves and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he has proven time and again he deserves nothing but the most extreme scrutiny.

Miller also uses an analogy functionally similar, though, more polite than my pet urine theory.

Trump is employing a strategy that might be familiar to coaches of inferior middle school basketball teams: Foul your opponents on every play, because, by human nature, referees are not equipped to blow the whistle on every play for fear of seeming biased. They are going to let some plays go by. In politics, journalists are the referees. And because they give Trump a pass on so many of his fouls, he avoids scrutiny that politicians who play by the rules would be subjected to regardless of ideology.

Plenty more good stuff in there.  I think this will be on the Fall 2019 Intro to American government syllabus when we cover the media.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’m not sure what the solution is for crushing medical school debt, but insofar as it encourages new physicians to choose over-compensated specialties over primary care, that’s a really bad thing for all of us.

2) Kevin Drum on how segregated urban schools are.  You know who is not so bad?  North Carolina (i.e., Raleigh and Charlotte):

3) I had no idea you could add periods and pluses to gmail addresses.

4) I gotta say, I think this new approach to biometrics and computer security is really cool:

When you’re browsing a website and the mouse cursor disappears, it might be a computer glitch — or it might be a deliberate test to find out who you are.

The way you press, scroll and type on a phone screen or keyboard can be as unique as your fingerprints or facial features. To fight fraud, a growing number of banks and merchants are tracking visitors’ physical movements as they use websites and apps.

Some use the technology only to weed out automated attacks and suspicious transactions, but others are going significantly further, amassing tens of millions of profiles that can identify customers by how they touch, hold and tap their devices.

The data collection is invisible to those being watched. Using sensors in your phone or code on websites, companies can gather thousands of data points, known as “behavioral biometrics,” to help prove whether a digital user is actually the person she claims to be.

5) Tim Miller on Democrats’ “embarrassingly timid” opposition to Trump.

6) Parenting without reward or punishment?  Hmmm.

Many parents grew up with punishments, and it’s understandable that they rely on them. But punishments tend to escalate conflict and shut down learning. They elicit a fight or flight response, which means that sophisticated thinking in the frontal cortex goes dark and basic defense mechanisms kick in. Punishments make us either rebel, feel shamed or angry, repress our feelings, or figure out how not to get caught. In this case, full-fledged 4-year-old resistance would be at its peak.

So rewards are the positive choice then, right?

Not so fast. Rewards are more like punishment’s sneaky twin. Families find them alluring (understandably), because rewards can control a child momentarily. But the effect can wear off, or even backfire: “How much do I get?” a client told us her daughter said one day when asked to pick up her room…

The whole concept of punishments and rewards is based on negative assumptions about children — that they need to be controlled and shaped by us, and that they don’t have good intentions. But we can flip this around to see kids as capable, wired for empathy, cooperation, team spirit and hard work. That perspective changes how we talk to children in powerful ways.

There’s actually lots of good parenting advice in this, but, I cannot imagine parenting without fairly common use of reward and punishment.

7) It’s hard to imagine a policy change more representative of today’s GOP than changing coal regulations that will result in about 1400 more Americans a year dying.

8) Those damn Russians, “Russian Trolls Used Vaccine Debate to Sow Discord, Study Finds: Twitter accounts that were used to meddle in the 2016 presidential election also sent both pro- and anti-vaccine messages and insulted parents.”  On a totally unrelated note, I found “Red Sparrow” not great, but pretty damn entertaining.

9) Just came across this interesting CityLab feature on public bus ridership.  Something I am paying far closer attention to now that it is how my oldest son is committing to community college.  So far, (mostly) so good, but definitely some hiccups.  Also, it needs to work better, but the Transloc app is so cool.

10) It is amazing to me, sometimes, just how alike I think with Kevin Drum and Mike Pesca.  Pesca had a great “spiel” on straw bans recently, but there’s no transcript, so here’s Drum’s post on the matter:

For the moment, I’ll highlight a trivial story that will nonetheless probably piss off a whole bunch of you:

The California Senate on Monday approved legislation barring dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested….The measure exempts fast-food restaurants and other businesses.

“This bill is the last straw,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “This is a first step to the total banning of plastic straws. To me it almost looks silly. I think the negative consequences [of straws] are a bit overstated.”…But Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) said the proposal will help educate the public about the environmental hazard of plasticsthat are not biodegradable. “Let the consumer request it if they want it,” he said.

Here’s what’s going to piss you off: I agree with the Republicans about this. California is too full of performative legislation that’s designed to make some point or other but is almost certain to have no actual effect. I’d prefer that folks pick a career and stick to it. If you want to be a performer, go to Hollywood. If you want to be a politician, propose legislation that actually accomplishes something. How about a plastic packaging tax, similar to what France is doing? If that’s not enough, go bigger. But whatever you do, make it something that delivers real results, not just a pat-on-the-back for getting on board with the fad of the week.

11) I got in yet another ridiculous argument about diet soda last week.  This time with somebody who just kept going on about how your liver turns aspartame into formaldehyde.  Oh no!

Questions about aspartame relate to its metabolites – the chemical products created when our bodies digest the sugar substitute. Critics have raised concerns about the metabolites methanol and phenylalanine.

Over time, methanol can produce the known carcinogen formaldehyde. While this might seem scary, the video claims that the body actually produces and uses 1,000 times more formaldehyde than you could consume through aspartame. After helping to make important proteins, formaldehyde gets turned into formic acid and exits the body through urine.

12) Should you choose a female doctor?  Ummm, yes:

Does gender matter when choosing a doctor?

Whether your doctor is male or female could be a matter of life or death, a new study suggests. The study, of more than 580,000 heart patientsadmitted over two decades to emergency rooms in Florida, found that mortality rates for both women and men were lower when the treating physician was female. And women who were treated by male doctors were the least likely to survive.

Earlier research supports the findings. In 2016, a Harvard study of more than 1.5 million hospitalized Medicare patients found that when patients were treated by female physicians, they were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital over a 30-day period than those cared for by male doctors. The difference in mortality was slight — about half a percentage point — but when applied to the entire Medicare population, it translates to 32,000 fewer deaths.

Other studies have also found meaningful differences in how women and men practice medicine. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed a number of studies that focused on how doctors communicate. They found that female primary care doctors simply spent more time listening to patients than did their male colleagues. But listening comes with a cost. Doctors who were women spent, on average, two extra minutes, or about 10 percent more time per visit

My doctor is a man, but I chose him because he listens.  And I found him through my kids’ amazing pediatrician who is a man and a terrific listener.

13) Good take on Sacha Baron Cohen: and conservative fear.

But Cohen’s real trump card is Col. Erran Morad, an Israeli “anti-terrorism expert” who plays into every fantasy American conservatives seem to have about Israel. Many of the show’s targets show an admiration for him as uncritical as it is unstinting; for the most part, they’re putty in his hands. But I would argue that—unlike “pitiable” Baron Cohen characters, who tend toward absurdism in ways that frequently absolve the targets—Morad does reveal some pretty unsavory things about the American right. For one, the miasma of fear in which it simmers. This was Spencer’s excuse: He claimed he feared for his life and that Cohen “exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety.” Shaun McCutcheon—an Alabamian Republican activist whose main achievement until now was helping to eliminate limits on aggregate campaign contributions—was similarly fearful, telling Morad that he has “a large concern about terrorism and the fact that terrorism is possibly coming to the United States more than it already has.” Three conservative men who decided to throw a fake quinceañera in order to entrap “illegal” Mexicans expressed similarly paranoid sentiments: One claimed that the purpose of the traditional coming-of-age party was to rape young girls.

14) I added a couple of these Chrome extensions the Wired staff cannot live without.  (I saved this week’s quick hits on onetab instead of a bunch of open tabs).

15) Really liked Yglesias‘ generally positive, but honest and not hagiographic, obituary of McCain.  He was a complicated man.

15) If you’ve been looking for the really negative McCain obituary, this is the one for you.

16) Adam Davidson on the serious jeopardy that Alan Weisselberg places Trump in.

There are now multiple investigations of the Trump Organization being conducted by the special counsel Robert Mueller, the New York Attorney General, The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Manhattan District Attorney, the Southern District of New York, and—quite likely—other jurisdictions. President Trump is unable to stop most of these investigations. With Cohen and, now, Weisselberg providing information, it is becoming increasingly certain that the American people will—sooner or later—have a far fuller understanding of how Donald Trump conducted business. That is unlikely to go well for him.

75% ≠ 100%

Nate Silver’s Midterm forecast has the Democrats chance of taking the House at almost 75% (currently 72.7, to be precise).  Very worth noting that while most everybody else (including me who was too credulous of the more optimistic forecasts) way over-estimated HRC’s chances, Silver had her at about 75%.  So, very important to remember that Democrats taking the House is far from a done deal.

That said, I actually think the chances are notably higher than that.  Probably over 80%.  Why?  The model does not account for Mueller and all the criminality surrounding Trump.  Now, much of that is already factored into Trump’s approval numbers, but, there’s lots of reasonable belief that Trump may face substantially more bad news before November.  And little basis for reasonable belief that he will have substantial good news.  If we figure it fairly likely that Trump takes some meaningful hits (and, no, he’s not totally immune– if he were his popularity would be way higher in this economy), then the 75% figure is low.

For example, a nice summary of yesterday’s implications via Brian Beutler and the Crooked media team:

In the course of investigating hush-money payments Michael Cohen made to silence Donald Trump’s former mistresses ahead of the 2016 election, federal prosecutors from the southern district of New York granted immunity to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg—the one person reported to have as much visibility into Trump’s business practices, legal and illegal, as Trump himself.

The fact that Weisselberg was given immunity means he was in real legal jeopardy and agreed to cooperate with investigators to make that problem go away. It’s possible prosecutors gave him immunity simply to investigate the campaign finance violations Cohen already pleaded guilty to. But even if Weisselberg has thus far only provided information about Cohen, he may still be obligated to cooperate with other investigations, including the one Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading.

Weisselberg’s cooperation makes Trump’s potential legal jeopardy all-encompassing: his private business, his family, his campaign, and his administration are all vulnerable. Even if prosecutors never ask Weisselberg for any information about Trump beyond the hush-money payments, Trump is still exposed to:

  • The Mueller investigation
  • The SDNY’s investigation of Cohen and the National Enquirer
  • A DOJ public integrity investigation of former RNC Deputy Finance Chair Elliott Broidy, who allegedly tried to sell access to the Trump administration
  • Charges in Manhattan stemming from the way the Trump Organization recorded reimbursements of the hush-money payments
  • A New York state criminal tax investigation of Cohen

And that’s just what’s public.

From Brian: Not all of these distinct, overlapping lines of inquiry will necessarily touch Trump. But some of them likely will, and there’s little Trump can do to stop it. For over a year now, we have been worried, for good reason, that Trump might fire Robert Mueller and try to shut down the Russia investigation. It’s still an important concern, but at this point that would only obstruct one avenue of his legal exposure. There’s nothing he can do about his exposure in New York state, and pragmatically speaking, he won’t be able make three separate federal criminal investigations go away. He can’t fire and pardon his way out of the mess he’s made anymore.

Yeah, maybe I’m a little optimistic and projecting what I want to believe, but, honestly, it is so absurdly clear that Trump is a crook who has surrounded himself with crooks and that Mueller is well onto that fact.  The more we learn about that, the worse for Republicans.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this NYT article about how we need to fail and talk about it the right way to enable growth.

We’ve all flopped on a big presentation.

After weeks of careful preparation and practice, you feel ready to knock it out of the park. But the day comes and, for whatever reason, every joke seems to fall flat, you bumble through all your numbers and your technology seems to be working against you.

The embarrassment and blow to your self-worth can manifest in unlimited ways — and sometimes it feels like it’s manifesting in all ways — and our bodies’ response to failure can even mimic that of physical pain, Bradley Staats, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Business School, writes in “Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself and Thrive.”

“We respond that way, and then we feel bad about responding that way, and so we try to cover it up instead of learn from it,” Mr. Staats said. “We shouldn’t be ashamed of the reaction. It is natural.”

Even though most people prefer to process failure internally and quickly move on for fear of causing a scene or seeming unprofessional, taking the time to reflect on and communicate about unwanted outcomes can go a long way in creating more congenial, trusting and ultimately productive workplaces.

2) NYT again, “An Underappreciated Key to College Success: Sleep.”  To be fair, replace “college” with any number of potential words there.  But, yeah, perhaps a particular problem for college students.  Then again, we aren’t crazy enough to start at 7:30 like they do in HS.

Whatever you may think can get in the way of a successful college experience, chances are you won’t think of one of the most important factors: how long and how well you sleep. And not just on weekends, but every day, Monday through Sunday.

Studies have shown that sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating.

3) More research on how sitting for too long is bad for your brain.  This study suggests an advantage to getting up every 30 minutes.  Between my kids always wanting something at home and my frequent bathroom breaks at work, I should be doing pretty well.

4) Really loving Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show (and appreciating the deal I just got on Showtime).  Here’s why it is so hard to win a lawsuit against him (mostly, because he lets people entirely voluntarily make fools of themselves, whether false pretenses or not).

5) Child services launches weeks long investigation for 8-year old walking dog on her own.  Ugh.  It all ended up okay, and I get that child services needs to investigate, but this should have been a 5-minute investigation.

6) NYT’s “Smarter Living” guru argues for the value of life-tracking apps.  I’m mostly with him.  (Big fan of My Fitness Pal).

7) How fun and not surprising that the did Trump or John Gotti say it quiz is not all that easy.

8) It should not take a special counsel investigating the president to hold people accountable for white-collar crimes.  Alas, in 2018 America, it pretty much does.  Sad.

Oh, the audacity of dopes. The crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are notable not just for how blatant they were but also for their lack of sophistication. The two men did little to hide their lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service. One can almost sympathize with them: If it wasn’t for their decision to attach themselves to the most unlikely president in modern history, there’s every reason to think they might still be working their frauds today.

But how anomalous are Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen? Are there legions of K Street big shots working for foreign despots and parking their riches in Cypriot bank accounts to avoid the I.R.S.? Are many political campaigns walking felonies waiting to be exposed? What about the world of luxury residential building in which Mr. Cohen plied his trade with the Trump Organization?

The answer is more disturbing than the questions: We don’t know. We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement. The F.B.I. shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s. The I.R.S.’s criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition. The Federal Election Commission is a toothless organization that is widely flouted.

No wonder Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort were so brazen. They must have felt they had impunity.

How could they not? Any person in any bar in America can tell you who was held accountable for the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which peaked 10 years ago next month: No one. No top officer from any major bank went to prison.

But the problem goes beyond big banks. The Department of Justice — in Democratic as well as Republican administrations — has lost the will and ability to prosecute top executives across corporate America, at large industrial firms, tech giants, retailers, drugmakers and so on. Instead the Department of Justice reaches settlements with corporations, which pay in dollars instead of the liberty of their top officers and directors.

9) NYT NeverTrumper Brett Stephens makes the post-Manafort and Cohen convictions case for impeachment.  Honestly, Trump is so corrupt, but I think campaign finance violations (the whole system is so convoluted and so much of what’s wrong is what’s actually legal) that I really do not think this is the hill upon which to take down the self-dealing, corrupt, incompetent liar in the White House.

10) One area of clear bipartisan agreement?  Not in my backyard.

11) Perhaps you heard about the toppling of the Confederate memorial statue, Silent Sam, at UNC.  Forbes give us, “Scholars Explain The Racist History Of UNC’s Silent Sam Statue.”

12) Just throw some white nationalist chum to Trump (via Fox, of course) and he cannot resist.  Ugh.

13) You really can get addicted to marijuana.  And it’s not great.  That said, cost-benefit wise, I’d still argue almost anything is an improvement over the disaster that is federal schedule I and strict criminalization.

14) An interesting speculation on what if there were a tape of Trump saying the N word:

Let’s play this out for a moment. What would happen if a tape surfaced featuring the president using the N word? History is useful here. For a subset of the country, it would weaken the taboo on using the word. Some of these Americans would likely litigate whether the usage was, in fact, a slur directed at black people, or whether he was merely discussing the word. It was very improper language, and he’s acknowledged that, but I don’t characterize it as a slur.It’s always wrong to use that word. But as the president today he has not used that word. It was a quipLocker-room talka private conversation that took place many years agoTalk and action are two different thingsAlso within this subset would be the vocal contingent of folks—most, apparently, white men—for whom the proscription on saying the word constitutes the last, totemic vestige of racial discrimination. This is part and parcel of the left’s hypocrisy when it comes to the N wordThe question is, will the American people be smart enough to see beyond the manipulation? I expect this group already glories in the usage of the word in private, and if the president used it, they would consider that full license to take their newly desegregated word public, and shout it from the mountaintops. Free at last.

15) Your scientific guide to making friends.

So what should you do if your social life is lacking? Here, too, the research is instructive. To begin with, don’t dismiss the humble acquaintance. Even interacting with people with whom one has weak social ties has a meaningful influence on well-being. [7] Beyond that, building deeper friendships may be largely a matter of putting in time. A recent study out of the University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of socializing to go from acquaintance to casual friend, an additional 40 hours to become a “real” friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend. [8]

If that sounds like too much effort, reviving dormant social ties can be especially rewarding. Reconnected friends can quickly recapture much of the trust they previously built, while offering each other a dash of novelty drawn from whatever they’ve been up to in the meantime. [9] And if all else fails, you could start randomly confiding in people you don’t know that well in hopes of letting the tail wag the relational dog. Self-disclosure makes us more likable, and as a bonus, we are more inclined to like those to whom we have bared our soul. [10]

[7] Sandstrom and Dunn, “Social Interactions and Well-Being” (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2014)

[8] Hall, “How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friend?” (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, March 2018)

[9] Levin et al., “Dormant Ties” (Organization Science, July–Aug. 2011)

[10] Collins and Miller, “Self-Disclosure and Liking” (Psychological Bulletin, Nov. 1994)



What should the 2018 message be?

I got it– “We’re not Trump!”  That should get things 90% of the way there.  Seriously.  That said, I’ve read some interesting takes on the Democrats’ “message” in the last few weeks.  I truly think “Not Trump” really is a successful strategy, but sure, some other themes, too:

Margot Sanger-Katz on the Democrats pushing health care (as well they should):

After nearly a decade of playing defense on the issue, Democratic congressional candidates around the country are putting a health care message at the center of their campaigns. After the Republicans’ failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Democrats have detected a newfound concern that the consumer protections established under the law might go away. And that fear has turned into a potent campaign theme.

More than a quarter of working-age adults have a pre-existing health condition, like asthma, diabetes or cancer, that might have locked them out of the insurance market in the years before Obamacare, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Surveys show that far more have a friend or family member with a serious medical problem. Because health problems tend to pile up as people age, the older voters who tend to turn out most reliably in midterm elections experience such worry disproportionately.

“I completely can see why they’re excited to be able to talk about this issue again,” said Mollyann Brodie, a senior vice president at Kaiser, who runs the group’s public opinion polling. The foundation’s most recent survey, released last week, found that pre-existing conditions had become the most important health care concern among voters, ranked the most important campaign issue for many of them over all. “I agree with the strategy, based on our polling and everyone else’s polling. It’s a time when it is going to work.”

It’s not just red-state Democratic senators who are focusing on pre-existing conditions. The issue is coming up in House races across the country. Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ticked off districts — in Arkansas, Washington, New Jersey — where it’s a major campaign theme. In markets with close races, the committee is running its own advertisements on health care.

The Democratic mantra for this election should basically be “Republicans want to take away health care for people with pre-existing conditions.”  Of course it is more complicated than that, but this has the advantage of actually being mostly truthful and personally potent for millions and millions.

In an idea near-and-dear to my own research, Catherine Rampell says, let’s make it about the kids:

Democrats have been casting about for a winning theme this November. Here’s one suggestion: Kids.

After all, despite once declaring themselves the party of family values, Republican politicians have more recently ceded this territory. The GOP is now the party of state-sanctioned child abuse, of taking health care away from poor children, of leaving young immigrant “dreamers” in legal limbo.

It is GOP policy, and GOP policy alone, that has ripped thousands of immigrant children from their parents and locked them in cages, where they cannot be held or comforted when they cry…

There is a theme here. Trump and his partisans care mostly about indulging constituencies of the past.

The tools that normalized Japanese American imprisonment during World War II are being deployed against asylum-seeking immigrants today. 

Which gives Democrats an opening to fight for the future. Starting with proposals focused on children.

And I don’t mean only the obvious proposals like “don’t rip babies from their mothers’ breasts.” There are lots of popular, ambitious ideas that could improve children’s well-being — and pay dividends in an economy that requires turning today’s children into tomorrow’s healthy, productive, taxpaying adults.

Such proposals include expanding access to high-quality early-childhood education, a cost-effective strategyfor reducing future criminal-justice system costs and other social spending.

Or offering parents paid leave, which is supposedly a priority of the Trump administration, though aside from a recent Senate hearing, still hasn’t gotten much traction.

Or expanding parents’ access to Medicaid, which has been shown to improve health outcomes for their children.

These are all objectives that are not only important to the women and millennials who increasingly dominate the Democratic base. Policies such as paid family leave and early-childhood education have broad bipartisan appeal, too.

Because, hey, it’s not exactly controversial to be pro-child.

And Steve Israel argues that we need to just let candidates work it out bottom-up:

But my fellow Democrats have it wrong that they need a national-message template in the first place. Past elections have shown that the most effective messaging is local and specific to each district…

At one point, we sent a survey to every House Democrat, asking for suggestions for a succinct national message. The responses included: “Make It in America”; “Rebuild the Middle Class”; “When Women Succeed America Succeeds”; and various slogans and themes emphasizing jobs, health care, campaign-finance reform, free college tuition, equality, opportunity, security, and, in one case, access to contraception. (After all that, we came up with: “A Stronger America: A New American Security Agenda.” It didn’t take.)

It’s difficult to get all Democrats on a single coherent message, because of the precise problem we identified with our survey: There’s just too much ground to cover. Republicans don’t have these same issues. Meetings of the Republican conference generally offer all the brilliant diversity of its members’ Brooks Brothers ties. Aside from a few hand-wringing moderates, GOP members of Congress are bound in ideological lockstep. They’re parroting the White House—and being parroted by Fox News—on taxes and spending, terror and immigration, and any other hot-button issue that can frighten voters, including who uses which bathrooms. It’s easy to impose message discipline on a group like this: When you look alike and think alike, you’ll inevitably sound alike, too.

This isn’t what Democrats should aspire to. Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill was correct in saying that “all politics is local,” and nothing in politics is more local than message. Democrats have won all the progressive seats they can win. The path to the majority is taking those remaining districts that are evenly divided or leaning Republican, and whose voters aren’t motivated to turn out over the prospect of impeaching the president or abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It seems so obvious, but it’s lost on so many: A message that resonates in downtown Brooklyn, New York, could backfire in Brooklyn, Iowa—which happens to be located in a Republican district that’s now highly competitive. Midterm elections, which are fought in dozens of ideologically diverse media markets, should be thought of like tuning your car radio on the interstate. You’ll pick up that great country-and-western station in some markets, National Public Radio in others.

Yep, I’m all on board for that, too.  Though, I’d say mostly go with “Not Trump” and “Republicans really will take essential health care protections away from you and/or your loved ones.”

My take for Slovakia

Here I am blogging a lot on a day I still desperately need to finish a syllabus.  Guess it will be a late night.  Anyway, I did just write out some thoughts for Slovakian Pravda, so I figured I might as well share them here… [Bold is the Andrej Matisak’s questions]

While Donald Trump probably pushed all norms of what is “normal” for the US President did two courtroom dramas of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen just create probably the worst day of his Presidency as with Cohen’s case his former lawyer claims that Trump (a candidate for federal office as legal papers say) directed him to make payments that violated campaign finance laws? It is hard to imagine that Trump can escape this totally unscathed. What effect it might have on his Presidency?

think, this is the worst day of his presidency.  But honestly, I think I’m far from alone in now distrusting my ability to predict when Donald Trump will actually pay serious political consequences for his actions.  There is a strong consensus that he is in serious legal jeopardy, but, for now, the political consequences remian quite uncertain.  Thus far, Republicans in Congress seem willing to protect him at basically all costs.  One has to wonder what would happen if he actually did shoot someone on 5th Avenue in NYC (as he once claimed he could get away with).  That said, his approval is around 40% and a normal president would probably be above 55% in this economy.  And if he manages to fall down to 30% or so,that is pretty close to politically disastrous, especially with the 2018 midterms coming.  I think, as always, the question becomes what will it take for his remaining 35-40% base to finally abandon him.  And now, we just don’t know.  It is hard to dismiss guilty pleas and verdicts as “fake news,” but a lot about Trump has already been dismissed (e.g., “locker room talk”)

Short version: I just don’t know what to expect politically, but it does seem pretty clear that for their to be any genuine accountability for Trump, Democrats need to win back the House in the November elections.

Manafort simplified

Nice interview with Jeffrey Toobin in Slate and this paragraph summing up Manafort is just terrific:

It was just a totally squalid story about a guy stealing money. Basically, the story of the Manafort case was that when he was making money he cheated on his taxes. When he ran out of money, he lied to banks to get money under false pretenses. That’s all it was, which made the president’s comments tonight about what a wonderful person Paul Manafort is all the more reprehensible because it’s not like you could excuse Manafort’s behavior as some sort of misguided patriotism. This was just a guy who wanted money for his ostrich jacket. There was nothing to this except greed.

Meanwhile, in Fox News world

I did wonder what Fox is making of yesterday.  Here’s their lead story:

Because I see Fox in the gym I was already vaguely aware of “missing white girl.”  How utterly perfect for them that it appears to be an illegal immigrant responsible for the murder.

The criminal-in-chief

Short version: Donald Trump is a criminal who has surrounded himself by criminals.  Seriously, that’s pretty much impossible to honestly dispute.  Longer version, David Graham:

Yet what Cohen did say is plenty damaging to the president. 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.

That exposes several lies that the president made about the hush money. The White House initially denied that Trump had any knowledge of the payments. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president said in April. Later, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said Trump had repaid Cohen as part of a retainer. In May, Trump disclosed the reimbursements on an ethics form. In July, Cohen released a recording in which he is heard discussing the payments with Trump during the campaign…

The harsh treatment for Cohen points to the bleak big picture for Trump. Hisformer trusted lieutenant is headed to prison. At the same time that Cohen was in court in Manhattan, a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, delivered guilty verdicts on several of the 18 criminal counts against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. (Jurors deadlocked on others.) One of the witnesses in that trial was Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, who also pleaded guilty to federal crimes. Trump’s first national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, and a campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, have both pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents. It has become banal to point out that almost any of these would have constituted a monumental scandal under any other president, but it remains true and important.

Nor are these troubles likely to dissipate any time soon. No matter how many times Giuliani calls for it, there’s little indication that Mueller will wrap up his investigation by September 1. The Senate Intelligence Committee continues its work as well. The Cohen plea could have been much worse for Trump, but there’s little relief for the president in sight.

And Adam Davidson:

he President of the United States is now, formally, implicated in a criminal conspiracy to mislead the American public in order to influence an election. Were he not President, Donald Trump himself would almost certainly be facing charges. This news came in what must be considered the most damaging single hour of a deeply troubled Presidency.

On Tuesday morning, it was still possible to believe that Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort might be exonerated and that his longtime attorney Michael Cohen would only face charges for crimes stemming from his taxicab business. Such events would have supported Trump’s effort to portray the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” perpetrated by overzealous, partisan prosecutors. By late afternoon, though, Cohen, the President’s long-time adviser, fixer, and, until recently, personal attorney, told a judge that Trump explicitly instructed him to break campaign-finance laws by paying two women not to publicly disclose the affairs they had with Trump. At precisely the same moment, Manafort was learning of his fate: guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, with the jury undecided on ten other counts.

The question can no longer be whether the President and those closest to him broke the law. That is settled. Three of the people closest to Trump as he ran for and won the Presidency have now pleaded guilty or have been convicted of significant federal crimes: Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn. The question now becomes far narrower and, for Trump, more troubling: What is the political impact of a President’s criminal liability being established in a federal court? How will Congress respond? And if Congress does not act, how will voters respond in the midterm elections? …

We will know far more about Trump, his business, and his campaign in the months to come. The country will be moving down two tracks simultaneously. There is one track of investigation and prosecution in which more of the people close to Trump fall or coöperate and the man himself appears increasingly vulnerable and desperate.

There is the other track, though, in which he remains President. He will likely successfully transform the Supreme Court and imperil the environment, immigrants, consumers of financial products, and others. Those who carefully study Trump and those around him know where this story likely ends—in humiliation and collapse—but we can’t underestimate his embrace of mendacity and deflection. Shortly after the fateful hour, Trump flew to West Virginia for a rally with some of his strongest supporters. The crowd, referring to Hillary Clinton, chanted, “Lock her up.”

I am glad that Mueller is out there doing his thing and that even if Trump himself is, so far, avoiding accountability, the net is tightening around him.  That said, how said that our nation has elected a so obvious crook.  This is literally not the least bit surprising to anyone paying attention at all in 2016 and not totally blinded by partisanship.  But, it still is sad.

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