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:

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Please Stop


I'm really bent out of shape over this cover, partly no doubt because I've been using one of these devices myself (a wheeled model like the one assigned to the Speaker Emerita here), though I'm younger than any of them, having broken my leg in a physical exploit only one of them, Biden, could possibly have attempted—in the process of being liberated from it now, I'm pleased to report, but my PT advises me I should hold on to it for the purpose of cutting the line at Trader Joe's.

But I'd note that Speaker Pelosi has already left the leadership in favor of an extremely dynamic and skillful young successor, 53-year-old Hakeem Jeffries, while McConnell, in what's clearly a last act (he has real physical issues, as we all know, and a 61-year-old successor apparent in John Thune) is doing everything he can to save us from the fecklessness and incompetence of the House's 58-year-old Kevin McCarthy. And don't tell me it's not age-bashing:

Also, the magazine's editor, David Remnick, was defending the cover on the radio this morning, and didn't try to hide the fact that the cartoon really has only one target, President Joe Biden, and the "age issue" that somehow attaches to him alone, though he's clearly the healthiest of the pictured persons, and the most effective president since Harry Truman at least, in every department, including some I could wish he wasn't so good at (does he have to work so hard at creating a Middle East condominium between Saudi Arabia and Israel?). It's "out there, it's our job to cover it," Remnick said, or words to that effect, like a latter-day Cokie Roberts, citing the polls that show it's a "concern" even when they don't (every poll that shows Biden at around 46% is now interpreted as a comment on Biden's age, even though that's not one of the questions addressed). When the interviewer mentioned that Barack Obama had the same kind of poll numbers at this point in the 2012 campaign, he hemmed and hawed and said that was influenced by different factors, which is no doubt true. So what does that prove?

Remnick also talked a lot about the gerontocracy of the dying Soviet Union, which he witnessed up close as a reporter, without drawing the obvious inferences from the fact that those leaders much more sick than old (Brezhnev, the king of stagnation, was broken in health when he died in office at 75; Andropov was just 70; Chernenko left office at 72 and died the following year, while 54-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev began overseeing the country's dissolution brought on by their mistakes; Boris Yeltsin was 60 and already suffering from heart disease and alcoholism when he became president of Russia). Why not mention West Germany's Konrad Adenauer, proudly known as "der Alte" (the old one), who spearheaded his country's Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) and the invention of the European Union, and stayed on as Chancellor until he was 86, sufficiently on his toes to continue as party leader, watching over his successors, for another four years after that?

Just stop it, OK? 

Josh Marshall blames it on Trump terror—the fear that he might win makes people crazy

This is the moment we live in in the history of the American republic, a man who talks like a character out of a dystopian novel about the end of America is the choice of about half of Americans to be the next President.


The prospect is so horrible and terrifying that virtually everyone looks for someone else to lash out at or blame. It’s Joe Biden’s age; it’s Democrats’ ineffectiveness; it’s this or that other thing.

and maybe it is that, but it keeps looking to me like an effort to make Democrats lose, by saddling us with an unneeded candidate, Gavin Newsom or Gretchen Whitmer, or maybe replace Vice President Harris with some candidate more appealing to the Times op-ed page, thus breaking up the 2020 coalition. Not that that's going to happen (Newsom in particular has made it clear), but it keeps making the party's situation look more and more discouraging, and it's starting to drive the polls into self-fulfilling prophecy mode.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Cheap Shots: Schadenfreude

This Inflation Is Enough to Drive a Man to Drink

As I wrote at Bluesky,

We wanted to understand why so many are beset by economic anxiety in spite of ample evidence that the economy is just fine. So we spoke to some professional Republican business travelers quietly stewing themselves at a barbecue joint at Newark Liberty.

I love the fact that Oates herself did this almost as much as the fact that it got done. Readers adding context confirm her estimates are about right.


Block That Chain

Tuesday, September 19, 2023


A surprising little instance of what looks like personal butthurt on the part of young Matty Yglesias, in the Substack Notes, aimed toward the Australian economist and Blogger Hall of Fame member John Quiggin:

So the first thing to say is that Quiggin's note is marked with a mock HTML tag <sarc off> suggesting we're possibly not meant to take it literally, and it's definitely not an accurate summary of Yglesias's post ("Polarization Is a Choice"), which doesn't even mention the polarization between parties that would like to overthrow US democracy and those that would not. 

Rather, it's the story of less inflammatory issues in the careers of two originally "moderate" presidents who were (according to the author) practically the same political person during their respective presidential campaigns, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and then decided, apparently for personal reasons, to radicalize in oppposite directions, Trump to the "right" and Biden to the "left", when in office. Thus, in the case of Trump:

Saturday, September 16, 2023



Senator Romney's $15-million Park City ski lodge. After he leaves politics, he won't have to take vacations in Utah any mre

That crack from Willard Mitt Romney announcing his coming retirement from the Senate

“At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-80s,” Romney, who is 76, said. “Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders. They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.”

seems particularly aimed at President Joe Biden, who will himself hit 85 in November 2027, as the 2028 campaign gets underway, as opposed to Romney's personal bête noire, the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump, who will be a sprightly 81.

It should be noted that Romney himself wouldn't be in a position to make decisions that might shape the world in any case, as perhaps the dead weakest of all the senators, with no faction and no allies, which is the real reason he's leaving it, as far as I'm concerned, ever since his lonely vote to convict Trump in the first impeachment. Whereas Biden has that job Romney wanted and will never have, with all its privileges and appurtenances, and is making those decisions on a daily basis (something Trump wasn't cognitively able to do, as Romney is well aware, as he told McKay Coppins, dishing about Trump's "warped, toddler-like mentality").

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

There Oughta Be a Law. And Maybe One Day There Will Be.

Speaking of emoluments, I had no idea of this, but apparently Democrats, I guess in the House Oversight Committee, are in fact working on the investigation of the greedy and plainly unconstitutional hoovering of foreign government money into his businesses of Donald Trump during his presidential term, as reported in the New York Daily News in mid-August:

Amid GOP howls over the Hunter Biden case, lawmakers are scrutinizing former President Donald Trump’s business dealings during his time in office, Rep. Jamie Raskin said Sunday.

The Maryland Democrat promised a new report on cash that foreign governments gave to Trump businesses, though he did not go into detail.

“We’re going to release a report about all of the foreign government emoluments — millions of dollars — we can document that Donald Trump pocketed at the hotels, at the golf courses [and] business deals when he was president and that his family got,” Raskin told ABC’s “This Week.”

It seems to me this must be entirely Raskin's own baby—the preeminent constitutional scholar of the House, you could say of the entire Congress; he's been the lonely voice of protest against Trump's avid seizing of domestic emoluments as well, proposing a bill on the subject in March 2018:

Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) has introduced legislation to help stop President Donald Trump’s ongoing violations of the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause. Raskin’s bill, the Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating, and Lodging (HOTEL) Act (H.R. 5304) would prohibit government agencies from using taxpayer dollars to stay or dine at hotels, restaurants, and other properties owned by the President, the President’s family, or the head of any other executive agency....

“If the President does not have enough respect for the Constitution to refuse extra government payments beyond his official salary,” said Congressman Raskin, “then we must cut the unlawful payments off at the source.”

Recent reports demonstrate the need for such a ban: This week, Americans learned that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had spent a staggering $138,093 in travel expenses at 12 different Trump properties in the first eight months of the Trump administration. Trump’s expensive Mar-a-Lago resort charged the U.S. Secret Service at least $63,700 between February and April of 2017 alone. It also billed the U.S. Coast Guard $1,092 for a two-night stay by an employee traveling on official government business. The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which secured a 60-year lease from the government in 2013, presents significant conflicts of interest and has also received taxpayer funds. Last month, CNN reported that the General Services Administration (GSA), the government entity tasked with overseeing the lease and protecting taxpayers’ interests in the agreement, was billed $1,650 by the Trump International Hotel and its onsite restaurant. This payment merits extra scrutiny, as it occurred shortly before the GSA suddenly reversed its previous determination that Trump’s ownership of the hotel would violate a provision of the agreement barring elected officials from deriving any benefit from the lease.

It's just immensely heartening to me that this is going on, not just because I've been obsessed with the issue (most recently last week) and really anxious for Trump's corrupt conduct to be exposed once and for all, but even more because it's happening in Congress, where these problems can and should be corrected by legislation: it's long past time that there should be ways of enforcing the constitutional ban on bribery, especially bribery of the president, and extortion. We need to make sure that no president ever again enters office in the hope of picking thr public's pocket on the one hand and selling the nation's foreign policy for his own personal gain.

And it could happen if we give Joe Biden a congressional majority in his second term.

Monday, September 11, 2023

1/6 Is What They Claimed 9/11 Was

Re-upping this meditation from two 9/11s ago, in 2021. It keeps getting truer every day:

Confederates under General Jubal Early in Maryland, getting uncomfortably close to the Capitol in 1864. Via Smithsonian.

With regard to that Spencer Ackerman op-ed ("How Sept. 11 Gave Us Jan. 6") that Steve is talking about this morning, I have a narratological take: namely, that Ackerman is right to bring the episodes of 9/11 and 1/6 together, but does it the wrong way when he treats one as the cause and the other as an effect. Rather, they belong to two entirely different stories, in paradigmatic rather than syntagmatic relation (that is, to be compared, not connected), and what we can learn about one from the other is not what Ackerman thinks.

The story of 9/11 is the story that begins in the years from 1979, when the USSR lost its war in Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards took the hostages in the US embassy, to 1990, when Saddam Hussein attempted to conquer Kuwait as the USSR hurtled toward dissolution; it's the story of how the American rightwing sought an enemy to replace the Cold War Soviets and discovered it in militant Islam. It was a terrible story, in its ignorance of the diversity and conflict among Muslims and its narcissistic certainty that everything is "about us", but when Osama bin Laden finally succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center in 2001 it seemed, for a while, to be really true.

Friday, September 8, 2023



I should really let you all know that I'm in a much better state, getting regular physical therapy and recovering well, though I've got a long way to go. My grievance with the hospital now boils down to just one item, their catastrophic inability to communicate, which I guess is a form of the "administrative burden" Brad DeLong was writing about (the day after my accident, as it happens) :

Pamela Herd & al.Administrative burden as a mechanism of inequality: ‘Ask anyone about their interactions with government, and chances are you will get an earful about a seemingly Kafka-esque experience that they or a family member has faced trying to access vitally important social rights such as health care, income support, unemployment, and food assistance, or a fundamental political right….

Administrative burdens have the odd combination of being both grindingly familiar to us as individuals, and largely unattended as a matter of policy analysis, design, and practice…. One explanation for this failing is the fragmented discourse around them, siloed both across and within academic disciplines and policy areas…

The hospital never in fact abandoned me, they just never let me know. I wasn't getting PT right away because I wasn't expected to be ready for it until considerably later (most patients are too broken to start exercising for at least a couple of weeks; I was ready, in fact, as they could have found out if they'd been paying attention, but they were treating a fictionally average patient). There's a whole series of follow-up visits going on into October I have to attend, but they didn't tell me in advance, just started scheduling them and calling me when that was done. All the medical personnel are very nice, encouraging, and happy to tell me what they know (which is of course limited by the "team" approach; I finally had an appointment this morning with the "Dr. John Muller" who undislocated my finger but never entered my brain, but he still didn't show up—it was an extremely pleasant young woman called "Dr. Miller" that examined me and sent me on my way).

It is, as DeLong's reading suggests, a form of the enforcement of inequality. We commonly think of administrative burden as a rightwing issue, complaints about excessive regulation, and the suffering of businessmen forced to furnish proof that they're not robbing the public or endangering their workers, but it falls more on the disadvantaged, who can't hire the assistance they need to emerge from the process successfully and experience it not as too much paperwork but as sheer neglect: 

My view is that administrative burdens do not vary much across different types of interactions with the government—but that means that you are f***ed if you cannot afford to buy expertise to figure out how to minimize the burdens, or if you find yourself in a place in your life where you have to have a lot of interactions with a lot of different arms of governments. And federalism is an absolute killer.

Thus it is not a mechanism that raises inequality so much as a burden that existing inequality makes much heavier on the poor than on the rich—that insulating themselves from government-imposed administrative burdens is another one of the things the rich can and do buy with their money.

Something I've been too prosperous to experience in recent years (not entirely: I've had some bad and mystifying tax issues connected with Social Security) but remember from my youth and bouts with unemployment insurance and food stamps (back when there were actual stamps) and student loans, in pathetically small amounts (low four figures), that somehow took me decades to pay.

Now I'm past the actual horror I wrote about a weekend ago, I'm taking it as an opportunity to think about these matters, and kind of glad of the experience.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Our McGyver Constitution

Illustration by George Cruikshank, via.

Once upon a time there were three brothers, the youngest one called America, and one day America was out in the forest chopping wood, and when he knocked off for a lunch break, bread and cheese and a pint of beer, a little man appeared next to him looking hungry. So America shared his lunch with the little man, and when they were done the little man said, "Hi, I'm Jemmy Madison, and if you dig under the root system of that sugar maple over there you'll find a nice little gift from me, in thanks for your hospitality," and wandered away.

So America dug, and sure enough there was a whole Constitution, stuffed with stuff America would be able to use when he went out to seek his fortune! I won't tell the whole story of how many scrapes that Constitution got him out of (I will note that the oldest brother Britannia said, "I don't need no stupid constitution" and the middle brother Francia said, "One lousy constitution? I'm going to need at least five!") but in the climax, when he's been all but defeated by a treacherous and tasteless orange-faced villain, when he thinks of looking for help one more time in the good old Constitution, and it turns out there's this little apparently useless trinket right there in the 14th Amendment, Section 3, that says or at least suggests it's illegal for treacherous villains to run for president, so hahaha, Mr. Orange-Face, you cheated last time around so this time you're not allowed to play! Go eat salted dicks!

I'm not sure what I hate most about this latest please-God-save-us-from-Trump proposal, but it's probably the idea that we can get rid of Trump without doing any work—that there's this little totally scientific doohickey in our McGyver Constitution toolbox that does it for us, automatically, for free. As if that's what a constitution were, a collection of old screws from old projects for which a use might turn up some day.

Or maybe it's the suddenness with which the legal eagles have developed this concern for the constitutionality of Trumpery:

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Annals of Whatabout


I've been noticing that too, without as clear a sense of what it was I was noticing. It's just pervasive, especially in the attacks on "weaponization" echoing the word as Rep. Adam Schiff introduced it in 2019:

“Bill Barr, on the president’s behalf, is weaponizing the Justice Department to go after the president’s enemies,” Schiff said on ABC‘s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “He’s demonstrating once again that he is merely a tool of the president, the president’s hand, not the representative of the American people.”

And I think there may be a reason, beyond the usual catchall that "it's always projection". It's a rhetorical trick of some kind they're playing, and a form of "the tribute vice pays to virtue": they're using this language to attack Biden and his family and his Justice Department because it was effective when applied to Trump.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Public Options


After I was taken from the subway station where I'd fallen down a flight of steps and broken my left femur to a well-known East Side hospital a couple of weeks ago (saga here, here, and here, I stayed in the intensive care unit while they were readying me for surgery and then got moved to an ordinary unit after the surgery was done, and was dismissed a couple of days after that, in what felt like a rush job. I had to coordinate my exit myself, via text, with various family members, and negotiate the wheelchair ride to outside with nurses who had mostly disappeared, get dressed (another nurse brought me a pair of sweat pants, my leg being much too swollen to fit in the jeans my son brought from home), and nobody seemed available to answer any questions about what the rest of my life was going to be like, or even the next few days. Then, as the kids and I waited for their mother to show up, the wheelchair-wallah got antsy—it was taking too long, and he was afraid of getting in trouble for keeping the wheelchair—with me sitting in it—too long. He suggested I should get out and stand there with my new walker, or maybe if I got too tired I could sit down on one of the 18-inch round stone objects with which the pavement was dotted, which I obviously couldn't.

So I ended up surrendering, and standing to wait for my ride to show up, which was maybe not so bad (not as bad as the horror of getting into and out of the car with the kids trying to swing the leg into position). I'll never know if the guy was reprimanded for bringing the chair back late, maybe even fired, for all I know, or if his anxiety was merely irrational, as it seemed.

It's a week since then, and the whole experience is taking on a different complexion in my memory, starting from that spot and working backwards (so that the apparently harmless events of the early part are seen to foreshadow the abandonment at the end), than it had at first, in a way that's maybe relevant to some ideas that have been floating around the Tubes in the last few days. 

Everybody I interacted most with—the nurses and physical therapists—was kind, competent, and respectful, but these relationships weren't very stable; few lasted longer than a shift, day or night. The others were still more fleeting, especially in the upper orders, social workers and doctors, of whom I never met one twice, never got a name or an offer to call, never got an effort to connect (except one of the anethesiologists, they always have a sense of humor), and at the top of the hierarchy groups of four or five from which no individuals emerged at all, except a chairman charged with the job of speaking for them, a "team", and where they mostly gave me the neurological test (name, birthdate, and "where are you?" "what year is it?"). I finally lost my temper with one of them: "What are you, tourists?" That chairman took it courteously, explained that they were the "Trauma Team", monitoring my case, and that they thought I was ready to leave. I apologized and thanked him, but I feel funny about it now.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

For the Record: Xits 'n' Giggles

Tom reupped this beautiful old piece in honor of the appearance of Indicted Trump as a kind of Fonzie figure making women faint and reducing men to helpless envy at his badassery. 


Saturday, August 26, 2023

Housekeeping note


Leg hurting too much 5 hours before next tylenol, too distracting to work at anything, scrolling all boring, nobody around, finally occurred to me I could do half a gummie and some music (Brahms 2nd piano concerto for starters, old András Schiff and Berlin Philharmoniker under K. Petrenko—don't just listen, get a video and watch the solo cello in third movement—tape below feature the incredible Yuja on piano). Very pleased to report you don't have to wait an hour for CBD to kick in, I may not be high yet but my leg doesn't hurt. See you on the other side. Shocked how fast the first 18 minutes of the concerto are done.

Can't believe how disconnected my youthful drug life was from this central German Romantic repertoire, or really any "classical" music at all, 18th to 20th century, big as the music has been in my life. Always took that music straight or with a little beer. Cannabis music was "progressive", usually with electric guitars. But it's lovely for listening to this in ways I feel I should have known, listening to the general shapeliness without necessarily needing to pay very close architectural-style attention, and appreciating very slow cantilena passages with the solo instruments, which the performers love so much more than it's natural for a listener to do. It's over so soon! If you do listen, note in the fourth movement Brahms's affection for the pop music of his own time, sweetfake Hungarian dance music.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Situation Report

Shave! Almost never get a picture of myself that I don't really hate, and I feel I have to post this one just because I don't hate it. Wish the bloody scabs on my forehead had come out more vivid but you can't have everything.

Yesterday at 2:00 am I was sitting on the edge of the couch I'd been sleeping on (it'a a sofa bed, but we'd decided not to bother to pull it out—no possibility of using the actual bed, a three-foot monster as unattainable for now as Everest) in a panic, wanting to travel down the hall for a pee but unable to nerve myself to getting up into the walker from an untried angle. It took two hours, and the kid surfacing from his own room like Dumbo's familiar with the magic feather to convince me it was possible. Waking up this morning with the same urge at a more suitable hour a little before 6:00 (we're pulling the bed out now, but otherwise similarly circumstanced) I was out to the toilet like a bat out of hell, maneuvering the walker through the byways of the little New York apartment (the hall is too narrow to tackle head on, and I have to make my way through it crabwise) with consummate skill, and finished in a couple of minutes.

And that in short is how it has been going. A series of inconceivable achievements, from the first step in the walker, leaving me exhausted for hours, after which they suddenly turn out to be easy tricks I do all the time. Every new skill I need turns out pretty easy to master, even though that first experience seems so overwhelming until I do master it. 

Pain is an issue, mostly pretty bearable but an awful distraction. Sometimes it's altogether gone (hospital acetominophen, and I am definitely going to be following our house horticulturalist's advice, maybe right after I hit post on this, with an edible present from the kids). 

I have to say how lucky I am, with a job that offers decent health insurance and a white man's license to tell people what I want. I congratulate myself on the heroism I bring to taking a pee because there are people around me letting me do that, and I know there are people all over town doing ten times more, unheralded and unremarked.

I'm also convinced (inshallah) that there's some kind of normal for me on the other side of this, and itt's not my time yet to be the old guy in the walker, though if it is I'll try to bring it some grace (there's a particularly lovely old lady on my street who carries her walker-with-seat and her book right around the block with her in the course of a day, following the sun,  and I mean that kind of grace). Anyway, be right back.


Saturday, August 19, 2023



I had a nasty accident in the subway, pitching down a flight of stone steps and landing at the landing. I must have tripped, I guess, or had a shoe issue. Maybe I was wearing reading glasses and getting a false picture of things a ilttle under six feet away. I didn't exaxtly see it happen, though I did know it was happening (oh shit), and definitely lost consciousness for a good instant there.

I opened my eyes under rhe eyes of cops doing the things they are supposed to do, making an appraisal of the situation and a plan to get me out of there and noticing that I was screaming whenever they touched my left leg (fracture in the femur, right by the knee). They got me into an ambulance which got me to Bellevue, once the fabled East Side lunatic asylum, but a very civilized place nowadays, and I'm not about to make any complaints except maybe on the subject of Mayor Eric Adams, thanks to whom all my meals are mostly plant-based and entirely vegetarian, which is fine with me—far better than any hospital food I've had before, which is not to say good, exactly, but edible enough to ensure I don't starve—but maybe not the best political move Adams could have made.

At night, the hospital becomes a symphony of irritating electronic noises, from the random bleep or bleat to the occasional full-scale melodty. This became the subject for me of a non-lucid dream on the first bight. "Methought", as dream reporters used to say, I had the computer on and was following all those sounds as notifications. I actually told the  night nurse about this in the morning: "All those noises are on the imternet!" "You were dreaming," she said, correctly.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

And Then There Were Four


I don't know why no. 4 pleases me so much, or actually I do, I just want to savor it more. It was such an exciting day starting with the story of an indictment with Trump's name appearing on the Atlanta docket and then getting withdrawn again. Everybody understood that today was going to be the earliest possible date for an indictment, and then the last witnesses were told they weren't going to be needed, and in the early evening NBC found that grand jury was in the process of voting, and then if you had TV on you could be watching Judge McBurney, a man of great panache, shuffling papers and affixing his signature to some of them, and you realized if you stayed up late enough you'd see the thing. It wasn't even particularly late when it happened.

It's the best indictment so far because of the RICO element (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), which is so much the best way to think of Trump's organization, as a racket, or organization devoted to doing any number of things, some of them not necessarily criminal, in pursuit of some particular shared criminal goal. Each defendant is charged with racketing (count 1 in the Trump indictment) and a minimum of two predicate offenses within the organization's general program (counts 2 through 41), though many, of course, are charged with more than two (Trump's got thirteen). (I've heard TV reporters suggest that "Willis only has to prove two crimes" for the entire trial, which is not true at all.)

Why can't there be a federal RICO indictment? Most of the reporters telling you about the difference between federal and Georgia law evidently don't know, and try to get away with saying vaguely that the Georgia statute is "broader", but that's not it. One important answer, in an explainer from Al Jazeera, isn't from the statutes themselves but court interpretations: the Supreme Court had held that federal racketeering cases have to deal with conduct over an "extended" period of time (establishing the existence of the association as a real gang, like a Mafia family, with a history of up to ten years), not just a few weeks or months, and Georgia's supreme court has found that doesn't apply to the state law. The attempt to overturn the Georgia election, taking place almost entirely between November 2020 and January 2021, doesn't qualify in federal court.

My dream RICO indictment for Trump World would start with crimes or preparations for crimes in 2016, with the interactions of the various actors (Flynn, Papadopoulos, Caputo, Stone, Donald Junior, Manafort) with their various Russian or Russia-related interlocutors, and the history of Trump's obstruction efforts to hide this stuff; and at the same time Trump's and Stone's preparations for a Stop the Steal movement after their expected loss in the 2016 election. 

From there it would move on to the Ukraine matter starting with the plans proposed by Manafort, and later Sater and Cohen, and Giuliani's activities, up through the extortion effort on Ukraine for which Trump was impeached, which is where the criming begins to focus clearly on the 2020 election and the expected Biden candidacy. It's about how a real estate organization with longstanding political connections (Stone, Manafort, and Giuliani) and a long history of very ordinary real estate crime (bank fraud and tax fraud) takes a turn toward politics that the boss has long contemplated out of sheer vanity, and without any very clear aims beyond his plans for flagship hotels in Moscow and D.C., and maybe the idea of using Congress to make his tax position easier, while his confederates had ambitions of their own, which adds up to a long-term effort on the part of the gang to take over the US government.

And did take over the Republican Party, most of which was generally pretty ready for it, though I'm constantly shocked at the self-humiliation of figures like Kevin McCarthy and Ronna McDaniel and the amount of power they've been willing to relinquish, especially over the party finances.

That indictment is certainly not what we're ever going to get for Trump, I'm sorry to say, in any court, though maybe it will make its way into historiography, and the snapshot provided by Fani Willis may well have to suffice. But it's cheering to see the picture taking shape.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Bad January 6 Takes

Image by Quinta Jurecic.

Jason Willick, opinionist, in The Washington Post:

The strongest part of Trump’s Jan. 6 indictment has its own weaknesses

You see, the indictment makes a whole big deal of how Trump totally had a First Amendment right to tell all the lies he wanted about the 2020 election, and yet:

Yet the bulk of the indictment is devoted to recounting instances where Trump did just that. It summarizes at length his false tweets, his false retweets, and his false statements to supporters, advisers, state politicians and his own vice president. The indictment shows that after losing the 2020 election, the former president launched a malicious campaign of political lies.

Trump’s many lies, the indictment says, were “integral to his criminal plans” to overturn the 2020 election. But if Trump “had a right” to lie about the election, by the indictment’s own admission, then which acts make him subject to prosecution? The charges are at their weakest for failing to clearly disentangle the two.

Sit down, kid, and I'll see if I can explain.

You see, in our happy constitutional republic, may God bless it, we actually have many rights. For instance every American individual has a right (discovered by Justice Scalia in 2008—apparently it was right there in the Second Amendment all the time! it just looked like it was saying something completely different) to keep and bear firearms for personal use. And yet we do not have a right to take our firearm to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and shoot some random person dead with it. How, you ask, can that be? Because your right to keep and bear firearms does not mean you are allowed to use it to commit crimes, such as homicide. So keep it in your pants.

The same goes for your God-given right under the First Amendment to tell all the fool lies you want. You can! But you cannot use a lie to commit a crime, such as libel or perjury. I bet you already knew that, if you thought about it. So does Trump, for that matter: for example, Trump never sat in a courtroom under oath and told the judge that the 2020 election was stolen from him. He saved that, wisely, for his patsies in the press and his rally audiences.

He's not so good on the defamation side, having just lost $5 million last April for his lies about the author E. Jean Carroll, and being likely to lose more in the near future.

In the same way, you also cannot use a lie to commit fraud, and Trump seems to have some trouble grasping that. For instance, if you own a multilevel marketing scheme disguised as a university, you are allowed to brag to your friends, falsely, about what a great university it is, but not to the rubes who are shelling out the money for the worthless classes. When you lie to them about the quality of the classes and they believe you to the extent of giving you the money, you are setting yourself up to be forced to pay a $25-million settlement, as then-President Trump finally did in the Trump University case in 2018, after he'd exhausted all the avenues of appeal.

Lies are to fraud what guns are to homicide. Constitutionally speaking. You can keep and bear them, absolutely, but you need to watch what you do with them. 

That's why Trump's lies about the 2020 election are mentioned in the indictment, because of what he used them for. He falsely claimed that he had won the election ("by a lot") and Democrats had fraudulently stolen it, not just for fun, or wounded pride, but as an essential part of his conspiracies to defraud the United States and to obstruct and disrupt official proceedings and to deprive people of their rights. Allegedly. He had to tell his lies to make these things, the things with which he is charged in the indictment, happen.  

The lies he told are listed in the indictment because they are the weapons he used (and there is no "stand-your-ground" exception). The caution about First Amendment free speech rights is provided in the indictment to make it clear that Trump's charges have nothing to do with that. Obviously the prosecutorial team knows that Trump's lawyers will claim his free speech rights are being assaulted, so they are carefully foreclosing that as a defense. If you really can't understand that, you need to look for another job.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Hi, It's Stupid: Beware of Sykes Bearing Gifts


GORGEOUS 3 BD 2 FULL BTH 2 HALF BTH COUNTRY FARM HOUSE W/HEATED AND COOLED 700 SQ FT OFFICE/STUDIO OVER 3 CAR GARAGE, IN-GRD HEATED POOL, 5 STALL BARN ON OVER 7 ACRES IN THE HEART OF BEDMINSTER. $6,000 month as opposed to almost three times that if Secret Service is writing the check. Via Zillow.

New Substack post on that 14th Amendment theory.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Potemkin Prison Postscript


Photo by Todd Maisel/New York Daily News.

Just a note from Gothamist on that tour of the Riker's Island jail complex where the New York City Council Common Sense Caucus had such a swell time and councilmember Vicky Paladino got to play table tennis with an inmate: Deputy federal monitor Anna Freidberg asks us to note that on the same day, the jail had

29 uses of force, four stabbings, 12 detainee fights, seven fires, two allegations of staff and sexual assault. Freidberg also listed the contraband recovered, including: nine grams of cocaine, 2 grams of fentanyl, 21 grams of marijuana, 17 pills of Prozac, 18 pills of Ambien, 15 sharp objects and two iPhones.

Seven fires.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Titting vs. Tatting

"Tit for tat" was the title of a Thomas the Tank Engine episode where Bert gets splashed by some visitors and their car, and decides to pay them back. You can watch it, but you really don't have to.

As the forces of justice close in around Trump, I've been noticing the concern trolls coming out with a warning, "Don't go too far," addressed to various people, like the Jack Goldsmith column Tom covered the other day ("The Prosecution of Trump May Have Terrible Consequences" no-paywall gift link):

The prosecution may well have terrible consequences beyond the [Justice] department for our politics and the rule of law. It will probably inspire ever more aggressive tit-for-tat investigations of presidential actions in office by future Congresses and by administrations of the opposing party, to the detriment of sound government.

Oh noes, not investigations of presidential actions by future Congresses! Anything but that! Spare us!

Or shall we say this has already started, at the beginning of this year, with Gym Jordan's tit for Jamie Raskin's tat, and it's not going anywhere? I submit that's not because it's not aggressive enough. Rather, it's because it has nothing going for it in the way of facts, as is shown in the gap between what Jordan and Comer claim on Fox News and what they've been able to show in their respective committees, which is basically nothing—it may have plunged to its nadir last week, when they claimed Hunter Biden's former partner Devon Archer would provide specific evidence of Joe Biden's corrupt participation in their dealings but publication of the transcript showed clearly that, though he certainly didn't have anything nice to say about Hunter, he'd firmly insisted Joe Biden was not involved. (What's the rule about not asking the witness any questions unless you know what the answers are going to be?)

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Potemkin Prison

Empress Catherine II touring the newly conquered lands along the Dnieper in 1787 greeted by her "Amazonskaya Rota" (Company of Amazons) under Captain Elena Ivanovna Sarandova, from a 1911 military encyclopedia. The myths are really myths (Prince Potemkin's enemies claimed that Kherson and Sevastopol didn't really exist but were just false fronts erected on the roadside), but it's time we started facing the fact that the journey really was propaganda for an imperial seizure that maybe should never have taken place. Image via German Wikipedia.

New York note: on Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex in the East River where 6,000 criminal defendants await trial because they don't qualify to do that at home on their own recognizance, is a notorious horror, which works so badly that it routinely fails to get detainees not only to their medical appointments but even to their own court dates

Councilmembers said it is unclear exactly how many make their court appearances, since state court data conflicts with stats reported by the Department of Correction, but it appears that appearance rates for incarcerated people are plummeting, and are about the same for those who are free before trial.

One Rikers detainee told investigators that he was taken to a courthouse six times for hearings on his case, but was never brought to the actual courtroom to see a judge. Other detainees complained to their defense attorneys that they missed their court dates because correction officers failed to bring them and then falsely accused them of refusing to get on a bus to go.

and where seven inmates so far this year have died, and 19 last year, likely to be put into federal receivership later this year because, as a federal monitor said in a report issued last month, of a

Tuesday, August 8, 2023



FYI, at the Substack, a slightly long read, no paywall.

Also, I would like it noted that the great Popehat (Ken White) wrote a Substack piece on the National Review's theory that it's illegal for Jack Smith to charge Trump with conspiracy to defraud the government that pretty much exactly dovetails with my Twitter thread piece, except that of course unlike me Popehat knows what he's talking about (where I've got nothing but logic).

Monday, August 7, 2023

His Head Is Bloody and Unsound


A somewhat reassuring first snapshot of reaction to indictment no. 3, from CBS/YouGov.

That's not exactly a majority accepting Trump's criminal intent—it's well inside the MOE of 2.9 points—but more a reflection of the partisan division, with Independents split down the middle.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

For the Record: Conspiracy to Defraud the Government


Donald Trump silver-plated playing cards. Spades are trumps. $11.89 from eBay.

Another dumb Xversation, this time with a very self-confident lawyer:

"Read my Twitter," she replied. So I started doing that but all I could find were things to object to, like this:

Friday, August 4, 2023

For the Record: Fan Fiction


Illustration via Haley Zapal.

Weird debate on the platform formerly known as Twitter, now going by the glyph I pronounce as "My X" ("I'm still living with my X..."), taking off from Steve's post and comments yesterday on the issue of whether to use the 14th Amendment's Disqualification of Public Office provision to knock Trump's name off the ballot:

Looked to me like he hadn't bothered to read the post, which wasn't about the procedural details. But for some reason he had read a sentence from my comment ("Unless he's actually been convicted it isn't even constitutional"):

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Speedy Trial


A couple of weeks ago, just after Trump announced his receipt of a target letter, I started a "Hey, it's Stupid" post to suggest a reason why the special counsel was putting this thing out now, and why none of the other conspiracy suspects seemed to be getting target letters of their own: to get as much of the material out to the public, preferably to hold the trial itself, before the election, so that voters would have every opportunity to factor it in to their November decision, and make it as simple as possible, with just the single defendant, putting his confederates on trial later in less of a hurry. 

But I got stuck in some legalistic weeds and never wrote it; not having the indictment in hand yet, I couldn't hack my way out of an opening paragraph, and abandoned the thing. Now we do have the indictment, and it's not even Stupid any more. I think more or less everybody is clear that this is exactly what Garland and Smith have in mind, including the Trumpies—Donald himself keeps calling out "election interference" as if it was being directed from the Kremlin, or from a Justice Department stacked, as his people intend to stack it if he's reelected, with his personal supporters and sycophants under the terms of his so-called "Schedule F" order:

Mr. Vought and Mr. McEntee are involved in Project 2025, a $22 million presidential transition operation that is preparing policies, personnel lists and transition plans to recommend to any Republican who may win the 2024 election. The transition project, the scale of which is unprecedented in conservative politics, is led by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has shaped the personnel and policies of Republican administrations since the Reagan presidency.

It's funny how these Republicans enjoy complaining about the "weaponization" of government under the Biden administration even as they're laying out these elaborate prescriptions for how do do it—among Biden's first orders in office was the one rescinding Trump's Schedule F, literally depriving himself of the tools you'd need to reshape the federal civil service in your party's image.