The original model for the presidency was George Washington. Now it’s the Mafia.

Portrait of George Washington
Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (via Wikimedia Commons)

The most important, and most disturbing message of the Barr hearings and all the back and forth over the Mueller report:

The presidency was designed with George Washington as its model. The model we have now is, “Can you make the rap stick?” In other words, the Mafia.

You might think that’s hyperbole. But our current president enthusiastically agrees with it.

As he’s boasted repeatedly, his mentor — and his model for the the perfect US Attorney General — was the notorious mob lawyer Roy Cohn.

Mug shot of John Gotti
Roy Cohn client John Gotti (via Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout his real estate career, he did business with the New York mafia and then the Russian mafia — without them, he probably had no career. Building on a reported record of financial and tax fraud, stiffing creditors and investors, and six bankruptcies, he specialized in selling overpriced real estate in cash transactions to known Russian gangsters, or to anonymized entities in places like the Cayman Islands. No reputable business person does that. Money launderers do.

As the Mueller investigation and other proceedings have documented and as we see for ourselves in plain sight, Trump cajoles, pays off, or threatens witnesses who might testify against him. Those who do are “rats” who “flip.”

As he’s been telling us, over and over, he’s a mobster.

His cowering co-partisans have convinced themselves that’s the same as a president.

We’re supposed to as well. Will we?

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The Time for Impeachment Is Here

House of Representatives chamber
The chamber of the House of Representatives (public domain)

I think they were right to wait, but it’s now time for House Democrats to move forward with impeachment. Yes, it’s almost certainly doomed in the Senate by the Republican majority, which long ago chose power over patriotism. But sometimes doing what’s right requires doing what’s hard, and may even require accepting defeat.

If the rampant corruption documented by the Mueller report were to be accepted as unimpeachable, it would establish a terrible precedent and do further damage to our democracy.

And it may not be as politically costly as some fear:

1) The process begins, not ends, with a vote to impeach, and even that follows the proceedings that lead up to the vote. The airing of the evidence will take a long time. That time will not go well for Trump or his enablers.

2) The Trumpist strategy has been to count on the death of reading and overwhelm the public with video. Impeachment will turn the 400-plus pages of the Mueller report into months of very compelling video.

3) Yes, the Republicans will claim the impeachment vote was driven only by politics, but of course they will. If it’s not one lie, it’ll be another. Politics has always been rough, but the modern GOP is an ethical catastrophe.

4) In voting No to impeachment, Senate Republicans will put the failure of their integrity on the record — not just for this election season, but for all of history. Voters will be presented a clear choice (made much clearer by all those clips).

5) It will be a clear choice if, that is, Democrats don’t look like they too are afraid to stand up when it counts. If they do, they risk endorsing the core of Trumpism: nothing means anything, except power. Furthermore, they risk looking weak, which is as politically costly as it gets.

6) If and when impeachment is voted down in the Senate, yes, of course Trump will claim it as vindication. But he’s claiming vindication now. The Senate’s “vindication” will ring even more hollowly, and hopefully that doleful sound will wake up a few more voters.

But in the end, if voters have had every possible opportunity to see what Trump is and they still choose him again, that will be their democratic choice. We’ll have to accept that he really is what they want. As important as it is to defeat Trump, defending democracy is the reason.

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Mueller Report: The “Fake News” Was Right

Special Counsel Robert Mueller
Special Counsel Robert Mueller (public domain)

A few inescapable facts staring out of the Mueller report at anyone who still wants to believe in Trump:

(1) The “fake news” was right. Again and again, reporting by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC, and the rest is corroborated by contemporaneous records and the testimony of sworn eye-witnesses facing jail time if they lied — the same people who were the supposedly made-up anonymous sources for reporters. The “fake news” about Trump turned out to be as real as it gets.

(2) “Spying” (aka legal, court-ordered surveillance) doesn’t play a role in the report. As Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman has pointed out, the federal indictments of Russians were full of evidence obtained by (legal) surveillance, but the Mueller report is based on testimony and documents.

(3) The same report that the president claims is a “complete and total” exoneration (BTW can someone explain the difference between “complete” and “total?”) can’t be phony, as the president also claims. Mueller can’t be both “honorable” and a “dirty cop.”

(4) The President of the United States is a fraud: both dishonest and incompetent. The report shows him repeatedly lying, instructing others to lie for him, attempting to commit crimes, and often being saved by how bad he is at it. President Trump is the demagogue the founders warned us about: corrupt and unqualified, possessed only of what Hamilton described as “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” (Federalist 68). None of this is surprising to anyone who saw the reality of Trump’s business career as opposed to the reality TV show version — basically, the entire City of New York. But it should be shocking, and disqualifying, when seen in a president.

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How TV Has Changed Us: Barr Didn’t Need to Make an Argument, Just a Video Clip

What we saw from Barr yesterday was a deeply cynical exploitation of how television has changed us. Barr wasn’t trying to make an argument — he knew he didn’t have to. Instead, he was just trying to make a video clip. 

I doubt if he was worried about anyone exposing the hollowness of his repeated assertions of “No collusion,” echoing those of his client. He had to know discovery was waiting within minutes of anyone reading the document he was about to release. But he could count on most of us not reading.

Instead, we consume video clips, which don’t even open a case before closing it. They sidestep thought altogether and function like incantations: “This is true because it becomes true when we say it.”

So the point of Barr’s appearance was only in the appearance itself, how he looked and sounded: the blandly reassuring mask of the bureaucrat, the measured rhythm and downward cadences, the podium, the suit, and the suits behind him.

The only flaw: one of those other suits, Rosenstein. We couldn’t know what was going through his mind, but we couldn’t escape how he looked: like someone staring into a mirror and discovering nothing there.

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i24’s “Clear Cut” with Michelle Makori: Bernie, Immigration

I was on the April 16, 2019 show to discuss Bernie topping a recent poll after appearing on Fox News, and how to accommodate the surge in ayslum seekers.

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i24’s “Clear Cut” with Michelle Makori: The Barr Letter, Healthcare

On the March 27. 2019 show I spoke about Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, and President Trump’s efforts to end Obamacare.

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i24’s “Stateside” with David Shuster: Joe Biden

I was on “Stateside” on the Israeli global news network i24 on March 20, 2019 to talk about the “inappropriate touching” allegations against Joe Biden.

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What Makes a Life-Changing Teacher

Kamala Harris is doing a nice thing on Twitter, asking people to share stories of teachers who changed their lives. Here’s one of several I can think of right away: Kenneth Clegg, the chemistry teacher at Warwick Academy in Bermuda. He made us all love to be in his class because he so clearly loved all of us.

My dad, David Critchley, who knew what he was talking about, would have said Mr. Clegg was an example of what really matters in good teachers — more even than how well they know their subject (although Mr. Clegg knew his very, very well). Quoting Charles Truax, Dad said three simple things make the difference: empathy, warmth, and genuineness.

The trouble is, those are hard to turn into checklist items in a teacher training curriculum. You don’t so much learn them as you’re given them, usually in childhood, by your parents or other mentors — or, if you’re not so lucky, through the hard work of clearing away all the junk that gets built up in their place.

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Democratic Socialist or Social Democrat? There’s a Difference — and It Matters a Lot.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Words matter. And if Democrats aren’t careful, they’ll use them to lose the 2020 election.

Led by popular figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, some on the left are calling themselves Democratic Socialists.

Are they really? I hope not. I hope what they really are is Social Democrats, and what we have here is just a confusion in terms. But either way, it hands Trump and his re-election campaign one of the best weapons he could hope for, and one of the only effective ones he’ll have.

Here’s the difference between “Social Democrat” and “Democratic Socialist,” and why it matters.

A Social Democrat is basically what we’ve traditionally thought of as a progressive: someone at the left edge of the mainstream of American politics, and closer to the center in many other Western democracies — familiar, friendly, and prosperous places like Canada and Britain. They favor more regulation and higher taxes than do many Americans, but like most Americans, Social Democrats believe in free markets. Meanwhile, nearly all Americans support some degree of socialism along with their free market, in the form of services like Medicare, Social Security, public roads, or a taxpayer-funded military.

So what’s a Democratic Socialist? I suspect many of those who think they are one assume it’s about the same thing. But no. Democratic Socialists are, as the name states, actual, full-on socialists.

They believe in centralized control of the economy, as Marquette University sociologist Michael McCarthy explains (approvingly) in the Jacobin: “Democratic socialism, on the other hand, should involve public ownership over the vast majority of the productive assets of society,”

Given the rampant inequality generated by the last few decades of deregulated capitalism, apparently this sounds like a pretty cool idea to a lot of people now. The trouble is, it turns out to be really bad policy.

Whole-hog, centralized-control socialism is an experiment that has been run, and it’s an experiment that has failed. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the formerly socialist countries who’ve abandoned it — like, say, Russia and China — or the Nordic countries, which went part of the way there and chose to stop.

The reason has little to do with whether or not we think wealth should be shared more fairly. It has everything to do with complexity.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

The idea that a modern, complex economy could be run under centralized control is an artifact of the 19th Century. It was born out of the rise of science and the Industrial Revolution. Karl Marx based his economic analysis in large part on the new mechanical technologies he saw transforming the world around him, for good — for capitalists — and for bad — for workers, like those he saw suffering in the nightmarish slums and factories of England.

Marx, also drawing on Hegel and other sources, thought he had discovered the science of history, and therefore that history could be predicted. What he couldn’t see was that the linear processes of machinery — this switch trips that lever, which releases that blast of steam — don’t begin to encompass the nearly infinite complexity of the interactions of millions of humans.

And since Lenin established the first one, in the Soviet Union, centrally planned economies have failed to control complexity, five-year plan after five-year plan. It turns out reality refuses to play ideological ball, unless it’s forced to.

And that leads me to the second big problem with full socialism: if we really want the government taking over most of the economy, we’re going to have to accept a lot of coercion — and we’ll need to cut back the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

None of that is likely to be popular with most Americans.

And that’s why Republicans, and Trump in particular, are so delighted when they hear Democrats calling themselves socialists, instead of leaving that to GOP attack ads.

We can only hope it doesn’t become any more fashionable.

As the historian and socialist-turned-Social Democrat Tony Judt said towards the end of his life, in “Thinking the 20th Century,” the biggest story of that era was “how so many smart people could have told themselves such stories with all the terrible consequences that ensued.”

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What the Feinstein-Kids Video Teaches About Effective—And Ineffective—Advocacy

About the kids and Dianne Feinstein. I understand why some people feel outraged by what they think they’re seeing in the video, but I’d like to ask them to step back for a moment and try something that may feel unnatural: exercise some empathy for a politician.
Feinstein could have expressed it better, but if the group, especially the adults who organized it, had been able to listen to what she was saying, they might have learned some things about being effective in advocating for change.
Like not starting off by attacking an ally, in public. The full video, which provides much more context than the widely circulated two-minute edit, is here:


Senator Dianne Feinstein with a delegation of schoolchildren. Video by Sunrise Movement Bay Area via Storyful and the Sacramento Bee


Feinstein has a 100% 2017 rating from the League of Conservation Voters, and a 90% lifetime rating. She probably doesn’t need to be lectured about the danger of inaction on climate change. And, as a powerful ally, she just might be able to help move solutions forward.
Also: if an elected official who’s already on your side isn’t giving you everything you want right away, it may not be because that hasn’t occurred to them, or because they don’t want to do it. It may be because they can’t. They have to try to make things work in a democracy, where one person or group doesn’t have all the power.
Instead, people who disagree with you have power too — sometimes more than you, like when you’re in the minority in the Senate. So you’re forced to try to find paths forward other than the obvious one of just telling people what to do.
And that’s the hard part, which people in Feinstein’s position have to wrestle with every day: not what to do, but how to get it done.
So she could have been more polite, but her visitors could have been a little less focused on making demands, and a little more focused on making progress.
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