Tuesday, December 26, 2023



As Tom Scocca was not the only one to point out, there was an actual Rubicon-crossing episode when Trump sent his irregular army of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

When Julius Caesar took a single legion, the 13th, across the river Rubicon, crossing the border just north of Rimini between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper, in 49 B.C.E. (a capital offense in Roman law, by the way—nobody but an elected official, consul or praetor, was allowed to command troops, i.e. to serve as an imperator, in Roman territory, and Caesar was neither; among the first things he did when he got to Rome was to have himself named dictator for the next six months by the Senate, and set himself up to be elected consul by the People as well), he launched the five-year civil war that ended with his unprecedented naming as dictator for life, and his assassination a few weeks later. It also ended, of course, with the end of the Roman Republic, which was to be transformed into an Imperium, a military autocracy, by his nephew Octavian over the coming years.

Jon Swift Roundup

Happy Boxing Day!

It's time for the annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of the year's best blogposts as chosen by the bloggers and curated by Batocchio at his blog Vagabond Scholar. Don't miss it! 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Post


New Substack post.

Democratic Militancy


NSDAP meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller, Munich, 1923. Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann, via Wikimedia Commons.

In October 1923, as everybody knows, a conspiracy of members of the National Socialist German Workers Party, its SA paramilitary force, and some rightwing army officers marched on the Munich headquarters of the German VII Military District (covering the state of Bavaria), with the plan of taking over the city militarily and using it as the base for a march on the national capital of Berlin, in emulation of Benito Mussolini's March on Rome of exactly a year earlier, in the hope of replacing Germany's five-year-old attempt at democracy with a Mussolini-style autocracy. The ensuing battle with the police and a group of loyalist soldiers did not work out very well for the Nazis, who lost 15 dead, but not so badly for their leader, 34-year-old Adolf Hitler, who earned a five-year sentence of Festunghaft, a particularly mild form of imprisonment, later reduced for good behavior to eight months (the same as the time Dinesh D'Souza did!), all the time he, Emil Maurice, and Karl Hess needed to draft Mein Kampf, published in 1925-26.

One other upshot of the incident for Hitler was his determination that next time, if there was a next time, he'd do it entirely by the book, as he told a courtroom in 1930: "The National Socialist Movement will seek to attain its aim in this state by constitutional means. The constitution shows us only the methods, not the goal. In this constitutional way, we will try to gain decisive majorities in the legislative bodies in order, in the moment this is successful, to pour the state into the mould that matches our ideas." (Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1998) "Now we are strictly legal!" exclaimed Goebbels.

I used to think it was funny how Trump followed this procedure backwards, starting his political career by getting elected to the presidency more or less legitimately, and ending it with an illegal adventure even more ill-planned, shambolic, and doomed than the Beer Hall Putsch.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Vivisecting Section 3

I'm still kind of dubious about the magical qualities of the 14th Amendment Section 3, as I was back in September, but I should add that I'm a lot more impressed than I was expecting to be by the case Colorado's Supreme Court makes for reversing the original district court ruling, which had concluded that Donald Trump did indeed "engage in" an "insurrection" against the United States, but 14/3 didn't apply to him, because as president he was not an "officer under the United States", as the Amendment specifies:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

The president isn't an officer? Even though he holds the Office of the presidency and swears to execute the Office faithfully when he is inaugurated and can be removed from Office if he's impeached and convicted? Not to get all originalist on you, but that's what "officer" meant in the 18th century, what we more often call an official, somebody who holds an office in an organization, and of course the president of the United States is one. Imagine a law that removes all the other officers, in Congress or the judiciary or the civil service, it they've taken part in a rebellion against the government, but doesn't disqualify the big cheese? That won't let Lieutenant Henry Numbnuts of the former Confederate Army serve as a section head in a customs office, but it's OK for Jefferson Davis to be president? No.

And so the Colorado Supreme Court reversed that, unsurprisingly, but there was no reason to mess with the main part of the decision, which was very solid, and it's intact in the new ruling. Unless you were working on such a tight deadline that you didn't have time to read it, as apparently happened to Jonathan Chait:

Monday, December 18, 2023

Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself. Maybe It Should Try Doing It.

Habima Square, Tel Aviv, November 11. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90 via Times of Israel.

Maybe this latest outrage, the IDF killing of three escaping Israeli hostages—they'd improvised a white flag and had their shirts off, I figure in the hope that would show they weren't suicide terrorists rushing the troops, and yet the troops fired—will really start making the Israeli public rethink what's being done in their names. "Israel has a right to defend itself," as the Hasbara always reminds us, but is that what it's doing? 

Then there's the other body count, of hostages killed with their captors under the collapsed buildings in the bombing raids, for which the latest number released by Hamas is 57 (of whom IDF has acknowledged 18, without, I think, releasing the names, if they have them). Israel is killing Hamas's prisoners!

And it's not obliterating Hamas, though some of those killed doubtless belonged to the organization—maybe as many as 40%, though that's only estimated by assuming that every male between the ages of 18 and 59 in the territory is a combatant, even though only a third of adults in Gaza expressed any support for Hamas in the October 6 survey.

New polling shows a hugely changed picture, though:

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Where's the Victim?


I'm feeling a nagging dissatisfaction with the conduct of the New York lawsuit against Trump, his older sons, and the family business over the flagrant fraudulence of their financial "disclosures", which report wildly exaggerated values for their assets as a way of getting banks and insurance companies to get them better rates than they could otherwise get.

It's not anything wrong with the case, or any likelihood that New York will lose the case, I'm feeling very cheerful about that, but the way Trump and his attorneys seem to be playing the publicity war: 

In defiant and rambling testimony on [November 7], Trump acknowledged that his asset valuations were sometimes inaccurate but said they were not relevant to banks and insurers.

Trump's lawyer Christopher Kise built on that argument on Thursday, saying banks that did business with the Trump Organization profited from the loans.

"There's no victim. There's no complainant. There's no injury. All of that is established now,” Kise said. (Reuters)

And all the New York lawyers can say is response is that they don't have to prove there was a victim. Or the statutes were the victims ("I would just basically point out," Judge Engoron said, "that the mere fact that the lenders were happy doesn't mean that the statute wasn't violated. It doesn't mean other statutes weren't violated.") "Help, I'm being violated!" cried § 175.10. Which is no doubt true from the legal standpoint, but it's just an awful look. No harm, no foul, right? If the banks are happy with it, where's the harm?

Can't we please come up with a better argument than that?

Monday, December 11, 2023

Executive Karma

 For no reason other than maybe my clumsy old fingers, comments from non-paying readers were disallowed on this Substack post. So I've fixed that.

The Soros of Comedy


Photo via Yiddish Book Center.

On a hunch, I asked Dr. Google to find out for me if National Review had published a memorial tribute to the late Norman Lear. No, apparently, the closest they came was this, by their then TV critic Kyle Smith (he moved on to Wall Street Journal last year), from 2019, when the great producer was a still-lively 97, reviewing an ABC experimental restaging of a couple of old episodes, one from All in the Family and one from The Jeffersons:

Edith is a simpleton, Archie is a bigot, and Mike and Gloria are mouthpieces for grindingly dull liberals like the show’s creator, Norman Lear. Occasionally the show would allow Archie to score a point, which was the only time things were a bit surprising, hence a bit funny. Far from being “brave,” All in the Family was mostly content to tread water, returning to the same tropes week after week.

Interestingly, Smith liked, or claimed to like, The Jeffersons better, but not mentioning Lear had a role in that one too:

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Road to Dictatorship


That thing about "Speaker" Mike Johnson proposing to release more video from the January 6 insurrection, but only with some of the faces of the rioters blurred out "because we don't want them to be retaliated against and we don't want them to be charged by the DOJ," is that that completely obviates the purpose Republicans claimed to have for releasing them, which was supposed to be for "transparency".

Actually, let's just come out and say it, the official reason for demanding the public release of the videos was the purported evidence they would probably have of who the "real" villains of January 6 were—not the 688 simple folks who have been convicted of crimes committed in the affair, 587 of them pleading guilty, but the masterminds of "antifa" and/or the FBI who secretly organized the thing. Which, of course, never happened, so there wouldn't be any evidence on the videos that it did. The object of Gaetz and Biggs and Gohmert and Greene and all those Republicans demanding the release of the videos was not, in fact, to get them released (against the advice of Capitol security, which feared making them generally available would reveal too much about the arrangements in the building, such as the locations of security cameras), but to nourish the paranoid belief that the 688 criminal convicts (or however many there are now) had been entrapped by the Deep State/Communist/Fascist conspiracy, by making it look as if the Capitol authorities were holding stuff back.

Friday, December 1, 2023



State of the Union, February 2023. Photo by Getty Images.

So they managed to expel George Santos. For the handicappers, the special election to fill out his term will be held sometime in February, with the candidates chosen by party leaderships; the main contenders on the Democratic side will be furious centrist Tom Suozzi (seeking to recapture the seat he abandoned last year in a stupid furious-centrist run for the New York governorship, which is what got Santos elected in the first place) and Anna Kaplan, an Iranian-Jewish refugee who's served as a "social-liberal" state senator (after losing to Suozzi in the 2016 primary for the House seat). I imagine either Democrat has a pretty good chance of winning; the district has a lot of Republicans, but not so many doctrinaire ones, and they're really angry at the Republican party for the embarrassment of Santos.

The one point I really want to make about the expulsion itself, because I don't thing anybody else is making it, is addressed to Santos's (and Speaker Mike Johnson's) assertion that expelling a Congressman who has merely been charged, not convicted, with the seven counts he was indicted for last May and the 23 more in the superseding indictment in October, is an unprecedented and therefore bad and dangerous thing to do. That's not exactly correct.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

This Would Itself Be Seen as Terrorism

Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

I've been suggesting without a lot of actual evidence that I know the Israeli bombing of Gaza, especially in the northern part of the strip, has been indiscriminate and in violation of the IDF's own targeting rules, let alone international law, ever since October 19, 9 days into the campaign, when The Economist published an assessment of the damage up to that point based on satellite images from the first five days: 11,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. In the rigorous standard procedure, an airstrike cannot go ahead until it is individually approved by an advisor outside the military deciding that the possible civilian casualties are outweighed by the value of the target; I couldn't believe it was possible to do that for 6,000 bombs in 120 hours (50 strikes per hour or about one every 72 seconds).

Now some reporting has emerged, by Yuval Abraham in the great Israeli online newsmagazine +972, based on interviews with seven current and former members of the intelligence community including some directly involved in the operations, and it's pretty disturbing: IDF has indeed loosened the rules relating the number of potential civilian casualties, they've expanded authorization for hitting nonmilitary targets, and they're using an AI system to generate targets—I was right about the number of targets being a clue, there were literally too many of them for humans to decide on unassisted.

The nonmilitary targets include private residences and high-rise apartment blocks (all those shattered buildings we see in the videos where whole floors have slipped off their supports) along with public buildings and infrastructure, and called "power targets" (matarot otzem), and what it means to say they are nonmilitary is that striking them isn't aimed at a military objective—killing combatants or destroying their facilities—but at frightening the civilian population:

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind

I'm a little embarrassed to say I've never read the influential essay On Bullshit by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, or even read anything about it, in part because it never occurred to me that I needed to. I've felt very clear on what I took to be the subject, making the distinction between lying and bullshit, with my own semiotic theory of the former (the object of a lie is to hide a particular truth, so its structure is dictated by that function) and a general moral understanding that lies are bad (they're hiding something) and bullshit is more or less harmless (it doesn't seem to do anything, beyond entertainment, in which case you can call it jive or more grandly fiction).

But apparently Frankfurt's philosophical idea is compatible with my semiotics, but much more original and interesting than I imagined, as I learn from a Substack post of the other day by the very-online political scientist Daniel Drezner. In fact bullshit (entertainment bullshit excepted, I should say) is worse than lying, as Frankfurt writes:

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Joe Did What? World Peace Edition


New Substack post here.

The Gaza war is close to killing the blog. I really don't want to write about it any more but I don't want to read about anything else. I hope I get over it soon.

There are so many important things going on, too. Anybody got a request?

Prolegomena to Any Futuristic Metaphysics


Bing Image Creator image by r/weirddalle.

User: If I happen to be an atheist skydiver and make a jump with a Christian baby, and the baby threatens to leave its parachute unopened unless I renounce my atheism, so that it would probably fall to its death, what should I do? Please offer three options.

ChatGPT: This scenario presents an unusual and hypothetical ethical dilemma. In reality, such situations are unlikely to occur. However, if we consider it as a thought experiment, here are three possible options you could consider: 

Prioritize Safety:
Open your own parachute to ensure your safety and try to find a way to safely assist the baby. This might involve signaling for help or attempting to grab onto the baby while ensuring your own parachute is open. Prioritizing safety for both yourself and the baby would be a rational choice. 

Engage in Dialogue: 
Attempt to engage in a calm and rational dialogue with the baby's guardian, if there is one present, to find a solution that doesn't compromise your beliefs. Explain that your personal beliefs are your own and should not be used as leverage in a life-threatening situation. Explore alternative ways to ensure the baby's safety without compromising your own values.
Seek a Compromise
While it might seem extreme for a baby to make such a demand, if it's a hypothetical scenario, you could consider a compromise. Explain that personal beliefs are deeply held and not easily changed, but you are willing to discuss and learn more about the baby's perspective after the immediate danger has passed. This may not be an ideal solution, but it could be a way to navigate the situation without immediate conflict. Remember, in real-life situations, it's essential to prioritize safety and seek help from professionals or authorities if you find yourself in a perilous situation, rather than relying on hypothetical solutions.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


Somewhat revised Thanksgiving post from 2019:

Well, thankful the Thanksgiving I attend won't have any of the assholes who will be competing in this Biggest Asshole contest. Not that there are necessarily no Trump voters there—it's a pretty big group—but standards of human decency still apply, and nobody gets anywhere near that drunk. 

Also, no normal person wants to do that. Business Insider had a poll done, and found that most people would rather talk about virtually anything than Trump on Thanksgiving. The only thing that's worse is religion:

And NPR ran a piece in the morning suggesting from I don't know what research that only 4% of Americans would actually be at a celebration where this is a problem, but went on like everybody else telling us how to cope with it anyway.

I really love Thanksgiving, from the inside out, warmth and family and the simplicity and breadth of the menu, but I have to say I'm not crazy about the theology of it, the thanks part, which seems kind of obnoxiously Calvinist, dividing blessed Me from the damned dude down the street who has little to be thankful for, without the equally Calvinist recognition that I don't deserve it because I'm just as vile a sinner as he is and God chose me essentially at random. I think there should be a little more embarrassment as opposed to simple acceptance. A gratitude day would be better employed in fasting and service, and I admire those who do the latter, but I just want to be in a hot room with all those smells and a glass of red and football on the TV and noisy kids and people I love but haven't seen in a few months, laughing and talking, including talking about things other than politics. But we'll definitely gather in corners and talk about politics too.

Monday, November 13, 2023

For the Record: Hippies Corner


Left to right, Tommy Smothers, John Lennon, Timothy Leary, and Yoko Ono, at a 1969 Bed-In, via Wikipedia.

Some thoughts on civilian casualties in World War II lead, improbably, to a wan little glimmer of hope.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023



Michael Cohen on television is so great at punching through the punditical assumptions of people scratching their heads to understand what Trump's lawyers are doing in the New York civil case against him and his organization, behaving like idiots and antagonizing the judge, trying to figure out what is Trump's legal strategy or Trump's political strategy: no, Cohen explains, they're doing what Trump wants them to do, and it's more political than legal, but it's not very strategic at all! Or, it's just bad! He's "fighting", is what he's doing, and convinced this will get him reelected and enable him to take care of his legal troubles, and he's wrong about that, as he has been ever since he started insulting judges with Gonzalo Curiel on the Trump University case in spring 2016 and eventually had to pony up $25 million, where this case is going to cost him up toward ten times that and put an end to the Queens-boy-makes-good-in-Manhattan part of his career, but that's probably OK because he's been in trouble before and he always gets out of it, more or less. There's always been money somewhere!

That's Trump the individual, a narcissistic and intellectually challenged fool whose success in life began with the half a billion dollars his father was able to invest in him and continued through daddy after daddy down to the Republican party and the grassroots movement of his own donors. Or maybe the kindhearted taxpayers of Florida

as suggested a couple of days ago by the Chief Financial Officer of Florida (Florida has a CFO, is that socialism?).

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Gaza Update

Photo by Janis Laizas/Reuters via Jerusalem Post.

Something is going on in Israeli cities, though I have no way of knowing if it's significant in the way I might want it to be, but it looks like a change in the character of the nightly demonstrations against the government, as Voice of America reports:

On Saturday night, thousands of Israelis took part in mass protests in Israeli cities calling for release of the 241 hostages being held by Hamas.

In Jerusalem, protesters gathered in front of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence, calling him to resign in light of the security failure over the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Another rally took place at the Tel Aviv Museum Square near the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv to support the families of the Israeli hostages, and 40 others who are missing. The crowd chanted in Hebrew "now, now, now," the words of one of the hostages from the video posted by Hamas, stressing the urgency of the hostages’ release.

It's getting billed more like a whole new family of protests, but it reads more like a kind of coalition between the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators who have been doing this since the government began rolling out their ideas for the judicial coup at the beginning of the year and the relatives and friends of the hostages. Same demonstrations, new issue, presumably in the wake of the Hamas dangle on Thursday of an offer to exchange all the hostages for "all the prisoners in the Israeli detention centers".

Noam Alon, 24, told VOA his girlfriend, Inbar Haiman, was kidnapped from the Nova Music Festival, where more than 260 revelers were massacred. He said the Israeli government should make more of an effort to bring the hostages home.

"They should put the hostages’ situation on top of their priorities, and pay any price, even if it says to release all the Palestinian prisoners, we are expecting them to pay any price to bring the hostages back — today," he said.

He is sleeping in a tent in the square, he said, his girlfriend "cannot speak for herself. We don’t even know what conditions she is in. I am here to speak for her."

It's as if the heavy, sullen, unslakable thirst for vengeance were gradually giving way to a healthier thirst, to get the family back together, something that's actually possible to achieve, though it will be very difficult (I understand you can't take the Hamas offer at any kind of face value). Incidentally freeing all the Palestinian prisoners would unleash some important Hamas enemies on the world; I'm thinking particularly of the Fatah veteran Marwan Barghouti, who's been in detention for 21 years and probably should have replaced 87-year-old Mahmud Abbas at the head of his organization a very long time ago. 

"We are expecting them to pay any price!" And so they should.

Netanyahu—the only Israeli in any kind of leadership who still refuses to acknowledge any responsibility in the October 7 disaster—is as unpopular as ever; his approval rating is 18%. Bringing the hostages home may be the only thing that can save him. Though I hope it doesn't—I hope the hostages are freed and somebody else gets the credit.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Souring of America


I can't get over this chart, from early September in The Economist, which I saw somewhere on Substack—sadly can't reconstruct where exactly.

The light blue line is the University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment, which has been going on since 1946 and is regarded as a very reliable indicator of how Americans feel about the economy and predictor of how much money they're going to feel like spending. The dark blue line is an index constructed by the magazine (after an initial idea by a Twitter user called @quantian1) to predict what consumer sentiment ought to be, based on a bundle of 13 economic indicators like inflation, unemployment, and gas prices, and as you can see it does a really good job for the first 40 years to which they applied it, tracking the actual U of M consumer sentiment very closely (the real consumer feelings are more emotional, more depressed during the lows and more excited in the highs)—it accounts for 86% of the movement in the traditional number.

And then it goes wacky, immediately after the first financial crisis of COVID in 2020. It continues to show the same shape as the actual consumer sentiment, low when it's low and high when it's high, but at a distance of some 30 points.

Judge Not

In fact Jung did not say that, Dr. Google informs me; he did say something resembling that, but meaning something quite different, in his 1959 Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies:

The story of how Jung came to write the book is kind of funny: in a kind of general-interest interview profile in 1954, he'd told a Swiss journalist that, while he had no relevant expertise, he was skeptical about UFOs, but impressed by how many people with professional qualifications seemed to take them seriously; four years later, this suddenly blew up in the international press in the form of the false report that "PROFESSOR JUNG BELIEVES IN FLYING SAUCERS". He issued a statement to clarify his actual position, but that went entirely unnoticed.

Why, Jung wondered, was the world so eager to hear that he believed in flying saucers, and so completely uninterested in hearing that he didn't? It struck him, as a psychoanalyst, to see them as expressing an unconscious need—that they wanted flying saucers to exist, and embraced supporting evidence of whatever kind they could find—and wrote up an analysis of the case, published in German in 1958.

You can see where he was going to go in the bit quoted above, with its digs at his erstwhile colleagues Sigmund Freud, who had died in 1939 and Alfred Adler, in 1937, and their obsessions with sex and power respectively. The "wholeness" concept of religious instinct was his own obsession, and that is how he would understand the appeal of the UFOs, twinkling over us after World War II the way the stars did in antiquity, with their strange movements (neither toward us nor away from us, just independent, with their own impenetrable purposes), and perhaps benevolent or protective:

As they did no harm and refrained from all hostile 
acts it was assumed that their appearance over the earth was 
due to curiosity or to the need for aerial reconnaissance. It also 
seemed that airfields and atomic installations in particular held 
a special attraction for them, from which it was concluded that 
the dangerous development of atomic physics and nuclear fission 
had caused a certain disquiet on our neighbouring planets...  

Were the apparitions hoping to save the solar system from the awfulness we had wrought when we split the atom? Were they a sign of a knitting back together of our unraveled and distressed condition? But not something the ordinary sex-ridden and power-fuddled person would be able to analyze—the masses would simply feel the alien presence, and occasionally see it, whether it was a real thing or a hallucination.

Anyway, the thing that actually interests me is the bogus quote in the meme, which uses the word "judgment" in a different way from Jung's sentence; the latter is the theological judgment of whether it exists or not, and the former the moral judgment of whether it's good. The meme accuses people of seeking to evaluate everything rather than understanding it, because evaluation is easier, and it's obviously got nothing intrinsically to do with flying saucers. (Jung seems to be refusing to see that the normal attitude toward UFOs was one of terror, as prefigured in Wells's novel and Welles's radio broadcasts War of the Worlds; the assumption that the aliens would be here to destroy us all and take the planet for their own dark uses, drawn out of our culture's unconscious guilt for its own imperial depredations—I think that's still basically the case, in spite of Steven Spielberg's alternative, Jungian takes.) 

It's a bogus quote, "Thinking is difficult—that's why most people judge", but I kind of like it. It's not Jung, but it's not inauthentic either. It's like the verse in a fast blues song,

Mama mama, take a look at sis
Mama mama, take a look at sis
Mama mama take a look at sis,
she's out on the levee doin the double twist

to which you can tack on practically any last line ("I'm the windin boy, don't deny my name" or "Do I get it now or must I hesitate?"). Of course it's authentic, it springs from the folk, and it's pretty meaningful: analyzing things well does get in the way of judging them. I may have more to say about this. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Hard Times for Tax Evasion


Drawing by Bruce Eric Kaplan.

Here's a little gratification, from John Cassidy at The New Yorker

at the start of this week, the EU Tax Observatory, an independent research laboratory based at the Paris School of Economics, released a new report on global tax evasion, which contained some positive news. “We estimate that offshore tax evasion has declined by a factor of about three over the last 10 years,” the report says. “This success shows that rapid progress can be made against tax evasion if there is the political will to do so.”

That's literally a factor of more than three: before the 2010 passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), 90 to 95% of offshore wealth went unreported to the tax authorities, and the US government alone was losing $100 billion a year to rich Americans parking their gains out of reach. Now it's more like 25%. Other countries, including the members of the OECD, followed suit in 2014, adopting a Common Reporting Standard for accounts opened by foreign residents:

This agreement effectively set up a global system of exchanging private banking information. As of October of 2022, the new report notes, more than a hundred tax jurisdictions, including many offshore tax havens, have applied the new rules, and countries have reached nearly five thousand bilateral agreements to exchange financial information: “This revolutionary development shows that new forms of international cooperation, long deemed utopian, can emerge in a relatively short period of time.”

Sadly, the US has refused to join the CRS, making it easier for the ultra-rich from elsewhere to use our country as a haven from their own tax obligations. This doesn't seem to be entirely the fault of the Trump administration (it has a good deal to do with the problem of reconciling federal law with the laws of bank-loving states like Joe Biden's Delaware and Donald Trump's Florida, along with Nevada and Wyoming), but it was in March 2017 that the European Parliament announced the refusal, so I figure that's when negotiations broke down. And guess whose very large real estate business hugely depended, and I imagine still does, on laundered money from plutocrats in petrostates like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

To me, this is the kind of issue that really matters in the core struggle between those who own almost everything already and aim to have it all, and the rest of us. It's not as exciting to talk about as abortion, or book bans, or even voting rights, but this is what those people truly care about—the other "conservative" stuff is to keep their voters engaged, and is changing all the time as the situation changes—and it looks like a victory for our side.

Did the special craziness of the right start, in point of fact, with the 2008 financial crisis and the efforts to fix the situation, such as they were, of the incoming Obama administration? The Astroturf Tea Party certainly did. Is there a new vulnerability among the incredibly rich, dating back there, making them more irrational than they were before? Between Elon Musk (Wall Street Journal reports that seven banks that loaned him $13 billion for the Twitter purchase can't sell the loans, and are expecting to lose at least 15% of their investment)

and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which seems unable to elect a Speaker. These people are not well.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

For the Record: Miscellany


Olivia Wise/San Francisco Examiner.

Twitter is just about as awful as they tell you now, and I'm spending more time at Bluesky (anybody wants an invite let me know in Twitter DMs), but things still happen at Twitter that I don't want to miss, and I keep getting involved.

"Guards! Guards! Put that bicyclist under arrest!"

"For what?"

"She disrespected me!"

Also Margie:

Here's how Mackey did the "crime of posting memes", if you don't remember:

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

More Happy Warriors

Theme of my weekend Substack post,

an extended version of  Friday's blogpost here, following on a discussion in the comments, which you've probably had a chance to read. 

There was more in those comments I wanted to address, starting with a complaint from longtime blogfriend (and frequent legal adviser to Rectification Central) Jeff Ryan, who put up a very grouchy dismissal of Vice President Harris, in the following terms:

Jeff: I disagree. I haven't been particularly enthralled with her as V.P.

Me: Jeff, you're sounding like one of those kids Scott Lemieux makes fun of, who think voting is supposed to be the expression of your personal consumer choices.

To which he offered a more serious response:

Friday, October 13, 2023



Steve M has a post on two recent profiles of Vice President Kamala Harris, by Elaina Plott Calabro in The Atlantic and Astead Herndon in the New York Times Magazine, that seem to convey a dispiriting message of a kind that's becoming familiar:

Boy, that Kamala Harris seemed so talented, yet she really gives the impression that she's struggling with the job of vice president, and while she's probably ready to be president, you can't blame voters for thinking that she isn't.

The familiar part is the regretful reportorial tone: "I recognize how good this person is, but that's sadly not important; what matters is that ordinary folk don't see it, and I can't imagine what can be done about it." It's something that's being laid on Biden all the time too, particularly over the "age issue", in the Nates' and others' insistence that they're not saying Biden is too old, they're merely saying voters think Biden's too old, and that's what makes it news. Maybe some genius could invent a profession in which reporters could help inform voters about the things the voters are misinformed about. You could call it "journalism".

Steve's point, that this is a problem for Harris, and Biden too—

Harris and Biden both seem to believe that everything they're doing is just fine and the public will come around eventually. They need to acknowledge that that might not happen, even if their opponent is a convicted felon by Election Day. 

—seems pretty much unarguably valid, but one of the things I want to say, as we're maybe sitting around contemplating ways in which they might deal with it, is that it's not exactly their fault. I mean, they have reason to think they're pretty good campaigners, not only because of a long history of winning elections handily in Delaware and California, and Biden's two victories in vice presidential contests in 2008 and 2012, but because of the big national elections they won so convincingly three years ago, against the same presumptive opponent, before he'd even been indicted (not counting the two impeachments, which are indictments in my book, because nobody else seems to take that seriously). 

You want to tell them that style of campaigning won't work any more because why? Because in 2020 they were campaigning against plague, financial breakdown, and the possibility of race war, and now they can't because they already fixed it? Or is it because the bothsiderist media keep telling people they aren't fixed even though they are? The economic problems, as least (on the plague, the media are invested in giving face to the view that it may not be a problem, and the fixes may not work, though they clearly have)? Which they definitely do, in that same regretful tone ("the economy seems to be firing on all cylinders, but there's this perception").

This is a weird conversation in terms of the normal mode of talking about vice presidential nominations. It seems to me they only have a major negative effect on the campaign when they're really disastrous, like Palin. (Quayle in 1992, after the public got to know him, might be another example). Harris's basic function on the ticket is largely the same traditional one as in 2020: to gratify important constituencies the presidential candidate might miss, in her case by being Californian, female, almost-young (she's 58 now), and a member of two key ethnic minorities (three if you count her husband, as I'm happy to do). You'd better not dump her, if you don't want some of those constituencies to feel very betrayed.

Like Pence (evangelical and rural), Biden (very white and union-oriented), Gore (environmentalist), Mondale (northern and liberal). Vice presidential candidates chosen for competence (GHW Bush, Cheney) may have been there to make up for perceived deficits in the top slot, but that was because those perceived deficits (on the part of Reagan and W Bush) were real. And you know how Cheney turned out.

But why does Harris have to go beyond those limitations of the normal to prove that she's some particularly new kind of charismatic figure, the way a presidential candidate does? I think that's the media, doing it for the most shamelessly entertainment-industry reasons. They've been trying for months to work up some primary competition for Biden, that's why they won't stop with the idiotic dementia stories, and now that that's largely failed they're trying to duplicate it at the vice presidential level. (I don't know about Herndon, but Plott made her way to the journalistic top through a National Review Buckley Fellowship, and I've thought she was part of the conspiracy for a while.)

That does't directly help with the question of how Democrats are supposed to cope with this, but maybe in an indirect way: maybe these showbiz aspirations and ratings obsessions were an important part of something we didn't yet understand.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Israel's 9/11

Beach in Gaza City, 1950s, via Quds News Network.

If I'd been a blogger around the time of the 9/11 catastrophe—I was already an opinion-haver, in any case—I'd have written something about the prospects of the Cheney administration launching a punitive expedition to Afghanistan, with or without the aim of capturing Osama bin Laden: that it wouldn't do any good, but was inevitable anyway, if only for political reasons, and it wasn't worth trying to stop it from happening.

It wouldn't do any good in the sense that it wouldn't change any hearts and minds one way or the other; it wouldn't persuade any of those Taliban to recognize the dread consequences of defying the United States, or convince any of their local enemies to resist them, or frighten anybody out of trying to do another 9/11, and I didn't think it would inspire them to violate the traditional law of hospitality by turning their Al-Qa'eda guests over to the Americans. And of course a bunch of civilians would die (in the event, in last three months of 2001, starting from the beginning of "Operation Enduring Freedom" on October 7, between 1,000 and 1,300, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives, killed in US airstrikes, plus maybe 3,200 more of "starvation, exposure, illness, or injury sustained" while they were running away from the bombing), but that couldn't be helped, because the American people, as the politicians understood them, were crying out for vengeance, for the lives lost in the Twin Towers and the other casualties of the day, and the politicians were probably right.

So I could see it would kill a lot of innocent people and accomplish nothing, but I still wouldn't have tried to stop it. What would be the use? Instead, I'd have recommended limiting it, as much as possible, to the status of a punitive expedition, like General Pershing's vain pursuit of Pancho Villa in northern Mexico in 1916-17. I'd have begged Bush not to reject out of hand the Taliban's offer to turn Osama over to a third country after the first week of bombing

Three Things They're Not Talking About

It's horrible, of course, horrible for everybody, for the families of the murdered young people at the Negev rave, itself so close to Gaza, and the hostages taken into Gaza and their families, and the Israeli soldiers in the besieged army posts (which I guess are by now liberated, but some of the soldiers are themselves in Gaza, kidnapped), and the civilians of Gaza whose lives are already so terrible and who are now formally under siege, deprived of fuel and water, and about to be massively invaded by one of the most powerful armies in the world—not especially them, except to the extent that they might be ignored or blamed in a way that people in Israel are not, but you know what I mean.

The former Palestine Tower in Gaza City, targeted by Israeli warplanes yesterday. Photo by  IEFE/EPA/Mohammed Saber

There's a vital point in the New Yorker interview by Isaac Chotiner of Nathan Thrall, former director of the International Crisis Group's Arab-Israeli Project, that I don't think I've seen elsewhere: that the shocking Hamas Organization attacks on Israel over the past two days are suicidal;

It is an attack of unprecedented scope, and Israel will retaliate to a greater degree than it has before, potentially leading to outcomes we haven’t seen before: not just a simple razing of Gaza by airplanes but also a ground incursion and potential reoccupation of parts of Gaza. So the decision to wittingly, knowingly, undertake this comes from a sense that there are no other options and that there’s nothing left to lose. And part of the reason that Hamas, and Palestinians in general, feel that they’re in such a desperate situation is that they have been entirely abandoned by those who should be their allies: the Arab states.

I was thinking about that too. as the first reports came out, of the Hamas fighters scaling the Wall (the one Trump has often celebrated as an inspiration for his own imaginary wall), breaking out on bicycles and hang gliders and motor scooters and trying to occupy IDF installations on the other side of the fence—these guys were begging to be killed!—until we all got distracted by the extraordinary failure of the Israeli intelligence, which was even more shocking, at least for the moment.

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Snakes Are Coming From Inside the Plane


David Kurtz acknowledges he doesn't entirely know what's going on in the House of Representatives,

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I have a grasp on what is happening in the House. I don’t think anyone really does.

which may make him effectively the most reliable guide, and one of the things he does think he understands is that it's much less important who succeeds to the speakership than whether they manage to scrap the Gaetz-devised rule allowing any member to force a vote on whether the Speaker should stay in office:

if the hair-trigger motion to vacate under the current rules is kept in place, then no speaker will have the authority to lead. It would be a phantom majority. Kevin McCarthy stumbled through nine months of that before it all collapsed.

No one wants the job under those circumstances, nor should they.

The rule delivers absolute power in the House to Gaetz, or some replacement for Gaetz as madman-in-chief (not Jordan, I don't suppose, or Taylor Greene, both of whom parked their loyalty with Kevin McCarthy even while maintaining close ties to Trump, and seem to have developed aspirations to "legitimacy", but more of a pure nihilist like Biggs or Rosendale), and it they can't get rid of it, the next Speaker will be just as impotent as McCarthy was.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

They're Not the Same


Rare sighting of ocelot mother and kitten near Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, via MySanAntonio.

So, the latest Biden-is-the-same-as-Trump story, on the subject of wall-building:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday defended his administration’s decision to waive 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow for construction of roughly 20 miles of additional border wall, saying he had no choice but to use the Trump-era funding for the barrier to stop illegal migration from Mexico.

Asked if he thought such walls work, he said flatly, “No.”

The new construction was announced in June, but the funds were appropriated in 2019 before the Democratic president took office. Biden said he tried to get lawmakers to redirect the money but Congress refused, and the law requires the funding to be used as approved and the construction to be completed in 2023.

Leading to frenzied denunciations of the president on the platform formerly known as Twitter for breaking his campaign promise not to engage in any wall building on the southern border:

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Raucous Caucus

 Re-upping this from 9 months ago (just after the third ballot in Kevin McCarthy's Speaker race), with one incorrect prediction and one correct one

Drawing by Harry Bliss.



Then Boebert even got a chance to deliver a funny:

Teenager in the Room

Image via CityWatchLA.

Pushing the snooze button solves nothing, because these same losers will try to pull the same shit in 45 days. I voted yes tonight to keep the government open, but I’m done normalizing this dysfunction. This is not entertainment, it’s governance. 

—Senator John Fetterman

“There has to be an adult in the room,” the speaker said. He suggested that the group of 15 to 20 GOP holdouts who regularly sabotaged Republican-backed votes act like political children.

Actually, apparently unknown to McCarthy, there were dozens and dozens of adults in the room. Whether he actually decided to join them and be an adult himself is up for debate, but I'm not buying it. I think Fetterman's analogy fits better. McCarthy is the teenager in the room, grousing: "Mom, it's not even healthy to get up this early. You're stunting my growth! I had to do a whole impeachment thingy already this week!"

Now the babies in the room have fired him, and there's no Speaker in the House at all. I'm finding that hilarious, as apparently is John Boehner, who made it out of  a similar pickle with a good deal more dignity, though dignity was never his own strong suit:

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Literary Corner: Perfect


The Worthless Clause

by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

I have a clause in there
that says, don't believe the statement,
go out and do your own work:
this statement is worthless.
It means nothing. Well,
they call it a "disclaimer"--
they call it "worthless clause" too,
because it makes the statement worthless.

I hate to be boring and tell you this.
When you have the worthless clause
on a piece of paper and the first--
literally the first page
you're reading about how
this is a worthless statement
from the standpoint of your using it
as a bank or whatever--
whoever may be using it, you tend
not to get overly excited about it.
I think it had very little impact,
if any impact on the banks.

Arranged from the text of Trump's sworn deposition in the case of People of New York State vs. Donald Trump et al., as quoted in Judge Arthur F. Engoron's response to motions on both sides for summary judgment, released, I guess, on Tuesday (granting it in part, as you probably know by now, to the people, and denying it to the Trump, who is now in the first phase of losing the right to do business in New York State, which will mean he and his children and his 500 LLCs and the Trump Organization also have to give up a lot of properties run from New York, including Mar-a-Lago, the Aberdeenshire golf club, and golf courses in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and I don't know how many more, unless he manages to absorb them into a reconstituted Trump Organization in Delaware, which Attorney General James has been trying to stop him from doing), on Trump's poetic theory of the "worthless clause", actually a whole bunch of clauses, of boilerplate that the organization prefixes to its annual Statement of Financial Conditions, which is used by financial organizations to figure out how risky it is to work with them: