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.