Massive Changes

In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn't exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed.  ... It's clear that we need a reset on the entire issue of immigration, illegal and legal.

- Laura Ingraham,
The Ingraham Angle on Fox News (8-8-2018)

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

- Benjamin Franklin,
"Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc." (1751)

This week's featured post is "Anti-immigrant rhetoric is an insult to your ancestors".

This week everybody was talking about corruption

The Russia investigation gets all the headlines, but the widespread corruption of the Trump administration goes way beyond whatever accounts for his abject subservience to Vladimir Putin. Reason -- a magazine that is more libertarian than liberal -- calls the roll of Trump-administration crimes and cons. (They did the basic research, but I've summarized, inserted links, added a couple of people, and injected a little of my own commentary.)

  • Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is currently on trial for tax fraud and bank fraud. His assistant campaign manager Rick Gates (who stayed with the campaign after Manafort had to leave, and who went on to have a position on the Trump Inaugural Committee) has testified against him, saying that they committed crimes together.
  • Rep. Chris Collins, an early Trump supporter, was indicted Wednesday for insider trading. He's on the board of a foreign biotech company whose products are overseen by the committee Collins served on until this week. But that turns out to be legal for some unimaginable reason. What's not legal is that as a board member he got an email saying that a major drug trial had failed, and then he immediately called his son, resulting in the whole family (other than Collins himself) saving hundreds of thousands by dumping stock before the news became public. Prosecutors have the email, the record of the call, and records of the stock sales by numerous relatives, but Collins calls the charges "meritless" and at first was going ahead with his re-election campaign. By Saturday he had backed down, though, denying his Democratic opponent the chance to run on the Nixonesque slogan: "I am not a crook."
  • Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Gates pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to investigators. If I were Hillary Clinton, I would find it hard to resist attending Flynn's sentencing hearing so that I could lead a chant of "Lock him up!"
  • Andrew Puzder withdrew as a nominee for Secretary of Labor after it came out that he had employed an undocumented immigrant and an ex-wife had accused him of violent abuse.
  • White House secretary Rob Porter similarly had to resign after two ex-wives accused him of abuse, including one who backed up her story with a black-eye photo.
  • Long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen is waiting to see if he'll be indicted by the Southern District of New York. He seems to be working on the assumption that he will be and has been floating various tidbits of what he might have to trade prosecutors. It's still not clear whether the pay-offs he engineered to Trump mistresses Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were unreported campaign expenses, or if he met with a Putin ally in Prague, as the Steele dossier claims he did.
  • Former HHS Secretary Tom Price is also unindicted, but had to resign after running up big travel bills and sticking the taxpayer with them. He's long been ethically suspect because, like Collins, when he was in Congress he traded stocks in an industry his committee oversaw. (The NYT says a third of the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have traded biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device stocks.)
  • After examining a long list of similar accusations from multiple sources, Forbes concludes that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have stolen as much as $123 million during his investing career.
  • Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is the subject of so many investigations that it's hard to say which one brought him down.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may be the luckiest guy in Washington. In any other administration, his long list of scandals would be front-page news. Instead, it's like "Ryan Who?"
  • Trump himself reached a settlement to pay $25 million to the Trump University students he defrauded. The series of ever-more-expensive courses was supposed to teach them how Trump makes money, which (in a way) it did.
  • Pro Publica reports that the Veterans Administration (the second largest department in the government), is being overseen by a secret shadow council of Mar-a-Lago members. This is the clearest example of why Chris Hayes has dubbed Mar-a-Lago "the de facto bribery palace": If you want to have access to the president, you pay him $200K to join Mar-a-Lago or $300K to join his Bedminster golf club. If your organization (or the foreign government you represent) wants to get in good with Trump, it can put money in his pocket by holding events at his clubs or at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
  • Don Jr. appears to have lied to Congress, and probably also violated laws against political campaigns seeking help from foreign governments.

At least for the moment, while Robert Mueller is hanging on to whatever evidence he has assembled in the Russia probe, the Russian connection seems not to be affecting the voters much. But the Trump administration's ubiquitous corruption does seem to be breaking through. "Drain the Swamp" has become an issue that favors Democrats.

and Alex Jones

Just about all the social media giants kicked conspiracy theory mega-star Alex Jones off their systems this week. Apple, Facebook, and YouTube (but not Twitter, for some reason) decided they'd had enough of his hate speech -- most famously his persecution of the Sandy Hook parents, who he has repeatedly claimed are "crisis actors" who didn't really lose their kids in a mass shooting.

It's hard to know how to feel about this. First off, Jones is pond scum. Even if an injustice is happening here, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Second, it's not a First Amendment issue, because the First Amendment only applies to the government. Nobody is fining Jones or putting him in jail for his rants; the social media giants are private companies that have no obligation to provide Jones with a platform.

But that's where it starts to get tricky. A lot of The Weekly Sift's traffic passes through Facebook. (A lot more did a few years ago, before they changed their algorithms to make it harder for posts to go viral.) What if they decided they didn't like me? What if all the social media companies got together and decided they don't like socialists or libertarians or people who promote Esperanto? What if saying something bad about the president -- either Trump or some future Democrat -- could get you banned? That wouldn't exactly silence anybody, but it would tip the national conversation. Should a handful of commercial companies have that kind of power?

The Jones case caused a lot of people to recall the Martin Niemöller quote "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. ... " Over at World News Daily, another conservative site that promotes a lot of conspiracy theories, they made that comparison seriously:

So, first the Digital Cartel came for Alex Jones. Who will be next? I don’t know, but I don’t plan to find myself in the position in which Martin Niemöller found himself in Nazi Germany.

So did The Deplorable Climate Science Blog, which pushes its own global-conspiracy-of-climate-scientists theory of climate change:

Make no mistake about it. The evil empire has declared war on America.

But a lot of other people found the analogy ridiculous, like Denizcan Grimes:

First they came for Alex Jones, and I did not speak out because fuck that guy.

Or Alex Griswold:

First they came for Infowars, and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t like Infowars. Then they never came for me because I never accused grieving parents of murdered children of being crisis actors.

Or John Fugelsang:

First they came for Alex Jones & Infowars - but I wasn't a race-baiting transphobic conspiracy cultist who claims murdered children in Newtown are hoaxes and admitted in court that I'm just an entertainer who makes shit up, so I said nothing.

Or Patrick Tomlinson:

First they came for Alex Jones, and I said nothing because the entire point of that poem was a warning against letting fascist assholes like him have a voice in the first place.

and Nancy Pelosi

It's getting to be a thing among Democratic House candidates facing close elections: They say they won't vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Republican House candidates, OTOH, love to attach Pelosi to their Democratic opponents like an anchor.

So should Pelosi announce she won't run for Speaker? It's a tough question for a bunch of reasons.

First, Pelosi was a very effective Speaker during the first two years of the Obama administration. She got a bunch of good stuff through the House that then failed in the Senate, like a cap-and-trade bill to fight global warming, for example. When Democrats unexpectedly lost their filibuster-proof margin in the Senate, it was largely Pelosi's maneuvering that made ObamaCare a law.

A more progressive Speaker would not have produced more progressive legislation -- just more division in the caucus and more bills that would have died in the Senate. If Democrats do get the majority back this fall, there's every reason to believe that Pelosi will once again be effective at keeping the Democratic caucus together and pushing Democrats from purple districts to take a few risks they might otherwise back away from.

When you get outside of Congress, though, she hasn't been a good national spokesman for the party. As Speaker in an era with a Republican president and a Republican Senate (which I think we'll still have next year), she would be the top-ranking Democrat in the country, and I don't think she'll be good at that.

And then you reach the same dilemma that we had with Hillary Clinton: A lot of what makes her so easy to demonize is that she's a woman. Republicans have put a lot of energy into demonizing her, and it has worked. But I hate to give in to that: We can't let Republicans choose our leaders for us. At some point we have to stand up to demonization and defeat it. If you think that the next Democratic leader -- especially the next female Democratic leader -- will somehow escape demonization, you're kidding yourself.

Even so, I find myself hoping Pelosi steps down. In the short term, that would improve Democrats' prospects in the fall elections. And I'm not sure how much of a long term American democracy has if Trump is allowed to rule for two more years without congressional oversight.

and Charlottesville

People marked the anniversary of the Charlottesville Unite-the-Right rally in a variety of ways. Jonathan Capehart reviewed a year's worth of Trump's race-baiting pronouncements.

Trump himself tweeted a message that some pundits saw as conciliatory:

The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!

But the tweet is full of dog whistles that white supremacists will read differently than the rest of us. "all forms of racism" means that he is also condemning racism against whites, as if that were a thing. "all acts of violence" reinforces his "both sides" rhetoric of a year ago. "come together as a nation" means that white supremacists are part of the mainstream now, and the rest of us just have to tolerate them.

Why can't he condemn white supremacists specifically, even when marking the anniversary of a murder one them committed? He certainly has no problem condemning Black Lives Matter by name. If BLM protesters and Antifa demonstators do something he doesn't like, he doesn't condemn "all forms" of whatever, he calls them out. But he can't do that with white supremacists, because they're a key part of his base.

So no, I'm not going to "come together" with Nazis or take their claims of anti-white racism seriously. I refuse to accept an even-handed view that puts Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrators on the same level.

and you also might be interested in ...

Speaking of calling out black people by name, Trump went after basketball star LeBron James.

Consider the context: James had just welcomed the first class to the I Promise school in his hometown, Akron Ohio. It's  a school for at-risk kids, and gets a lot of its funding from James' foundation.

At the I Promise school, tuition is free for all students, who were randomly selected among all Akron public school students between one to two years behind their peers in reading. Students get free uniforms, free meals and snacks during the school day, and free transportation to school. Every kid also gets a free bicycle and helmet, as James has said that having access to his own set of wheels gave him a way to escape from dangerous parts of his neighborhood and the freedom to explore during his childhood. And in a nod to the realities of the way schoolwork gets done in the digital age, every kid gets a free Chromebook, too.

In other words, James is a multi-millionaire who remembers where he came from, and who is trying to help people who are like him, but lack his all-world athletic talent. Any other president would give him a shout-out.

But with some nudging from CNN's Don Lemon, James softly criticized Trump, saying that Trump

has kinda used sport to kinda divide us, and that's something I can't relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. And I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them and they got an opportunity to learn about me. And we became very good friends, and I was like "Oh wow, this is all because of sports." And sports has never been something that divides people, it's always been something that brings someone together.

Racism, he said, has "always been there"

But I think the president in charge now has given people ... they don't care now. They throw it in your face now.

Trump didn't answer those criticisms but couldn't ignore them, so he struck back with insults:

Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!

"I like Mike" refers to Michael Jordan, and is a way of saying that LeBron is only the second best player in basketball history. The tweet could hardly be a better example of "using sports to kinda divide us".

All I can say is that you should watch the Lemon/James interview, and then listen to one of Trump's incoherent and mistake-filled rants, and decide for yourself which of these men is truly smart.

Trump is back to another of his favorite bits of race-baiting: attacking NFL players who kneel to protest racial injustice. Seriously: the guy who can't stand up to Putin is lecturing NFL players about patriotism. It's not the state of Colin Kaepernick's patriotism that worries me.

This morning the NYT editorial board assembled a compelling collection of graphs and charts to make a point that gets a little clearer all the time: The Trump tax cut is doing great things for stockholders and executives, but nothing at all for workers.

Inflation-adjusted wages are dropping, capital investment and productivity have been unaffected, and the federal deficit is skyrocketing (to the point that in a few years the record Bush/Obama deficit of FY 2009 will be the baseline). But the stock market is near a record, so it's all good.

If you ever argue with somebody about voter fraud, chances are that they will tell you about "evidence" they have seen: something obviously not right that must be the result of fraud. Invariably, though, the fraud is by the people who constructed the claim of fraud. I took apart one example of this back in 2013 in "The Myth of the Zombie Voter", but it's a whack-a-mole process. Republicans are extremely gullible on this issue; it's easy for fraudsters to gin up BS that they will believe and pass on to their friends.

Here's another example, referring to the recent special election in Ohio's 12th congressional district. First the accusation tweet:

Voter fraud is real: 170 Voters in Ohio Race ‘Over 116 Years Old,’ World’s Oldest Person Is 115

How much more obvious can fraud get? Well, Sean Imbroglio takes the time to figure out what's really going on, and finds something even more amazing: According to the official database, which is available for inspection by the public, a bunch of those voters are actually 218 years old! Their birth years are listed as 1800!

So I called the Franklin BOE and guess what? isn’t overrun with immortal vampires or Napoleonic-era alchemists. Board of Elections confirmed 1800 means they registered under the old system which didn’t collect birthdates, and haven’t updated their registrations since.

Imbroglio goes on to google a bunch of the 218-year-olds, and finds out that they are real people who live in the district and actually have more reasonable ages. But in the time it took him to do that, probably five other voter-fraud conspiracy theories got launched. (If you follow the tweet-thread, it's instructive to watch Proud Conservative argue with Imbroglio. He really, really wants to believe that voter fraud has been found and documented.)

Having investigated half a dozen or so of these stories over the years, I've come to a conclusion: Examples of rampant voter fraud are all like this. Something perfectly ordinary creates an anomaly that conspiracy theorists can trumpet without bothering to look for more mundane explanations.

I didn't think Omarosa was worth paying attention to when she worked in the White House, and I don't see any reason to change my mind now that she's pushing a book about her White House experiences. Ping me if she releases any of the Trump tapes she claims exist.

Here's the sad thing about Omarosa's book, Sean Spicer's book, and all the Trump-administration-insider books that will ever come out: In order to work for Trump to begin with, you had to be either dishonest or ridiculously gullible. Either way, I won't believe your book unless you have proof.

Back in the 19th century, somebody remarked that watching the heavily manipulated wheat market at the Chicago Board of Trade was like watching men wrestling under a blanket; you could tell when something was happening, but not see what it was.

I feel that way when I hear about Trump negotiating an interview with Robert Mueller. There's so much we don't know. Trump's people claim he is eager to talk to Mueller, but that his lawyers want to insist on prior conditions that Mueller so far has not agreed to. Is that true, or is Trump like the guy who complains about his friends holding him back from a bar fight he doesn't really want any part of?

From Mueller's side: Does he need Trump's testimony to complete his report, or is he simply offering the president the courtesy of allowing him to tell his side of the story? If negotiations with Trump fail, as I think they will, does he then insist with a subpoena, or does he shrug and go on?

Trump's lawyers claim they're worried about a "perjury trap", as if some mysterious prosecutor magic tricks witnesses into lying. But if Trump has done nothing wrong, as he claims, then he has a foolproof strategy against perjury: don't lie.

The perjury problem, I think, arises because Trump is actually guilty of something, maybe many things. If he could be sure exactly what Mueller knows, then he could concoct a lie that fits within those bounds. But because he doesn't know -- and that's why his allies in Congress keep demanding the Justice Department produce more and more documents -- then he risks telling a lie Mueller can disprove. That's the "perjury trap".

The only real perjury trap I can imagine is the situation Bill Clinton found himself in: You want to cover up something (like an affair with an intern) that is legal but politically embarrassing. Finding an excuse to ask the question under oath is a way for your enemies to turn your political problem into a legal problem. But I don't see anything like that here.

The trade war with China continues: The latest round of Chinese retaliatory tariffs have been announced and will take effect on August 23.

and let's close with something cute

What could be cuter than a baby elephant who enjoys a bath?