The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Donald Trump Will Dance With the Banana

I don’t know what the headline means, either. I just like it.

Maggie Haberman writes at the NY Times that the indictment caught the Trump camp off guard.

Mr. Trump and his aides were caught off guard by the timing, believing that any action by the grand jury was still weeks away and might not occur at all.

Some advisers had become confident that there would be no movement until the end of April at the earliest and were looking at the political implications for Mr. Trump’s closest potential rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

How incompetent are these people? Then Haberman goes on to say that Trump has been trying to fake being normal.

On Thursday evening, after the grand jury indicted him, Mr. Trump was angry but mainly focused on the political implications of the charges, not the legal consequences, according to people familiar with his thinking.

He seemed eager to project confidence and calm and was seen having a very public dinner with his wife, Melania, and her parents at the club at Mar-a-Lago. …

… At times Mr. Trump has appeared significantly disconnected from the severity of his potential legal woes, according to people who have spent time with him in recent days.

He was also trying to tamp down his own behavior, after he posted to his social media site a news article with an image of Mr. Bragg on one side and Mr. Trump holding a baseball bat on the other. Mr. Trump’s lawyers were alarmed that he was doing himself damage. He did not repeat the act.

I understand that at his arraignment he might very well be given a gag order. And speaking of gag — Ben Jacobs writes for Vox,

Thursday night was the most cringe moment in American politics since the high times of the #resistance in the early Trump administration. After news broke that Donald Trump had become the first president in US history to be charged with a crime, there were labored, overwrought historical analogies (the number of times Fox News personalities mentioned that the Rubicon had been crossed would have allowed Caesar’s entire legion to go back and forth across the ancient Roman river a dozen times). There was ample partisan wish-casting, as right-wingers shared their fantasies of President Joe Biden condemning the prosecution of Trump in New York in order to bring our country together. And, of course, there were dark anxieties that this would spell the end of American democracy and represented what Donald Trump Jr. simply called “Communist level shit.”

Actually, letting Trump skate just because he used to be POTUS would be “Communist level shit.” And the whole point about following the grand jury process gets lost on these people. Due process of law is being followed scrupulously. And since when did any of these meatballs care about democracy, anyway?

WaPo reports that Tucker Carlson is calling for protests.

“It almost feels they’re pushing the population to react,” said Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson, referring vaguely to Democrats. “‘We think they’re demoralized and passive, let’s see if they really are.’ At what point do we conclude they’re doing this in order to produce a reaction?”

The only “reaction” I want is justice and restoration of the rule of law. We’ll see if the MAGAts turn out. I’m sure the NYPD is ready for whatever happens. My bigger concern is that some lone actors will commit terrorist acts elsewhere.

We probably won’t know exactly what the charges are until the arraignment, but I’m seeing reports there are more than 30 counts in the indictment. I have no idea how reliable that information is.

I also understand there may not be a trial for months. In the meantime, I hope, we’ll hear something from Jack Smith and Fani Willis, among others.

Elie Mystal is not optimistic about Alvin Bragg’s charges.

The problem, as Alexa is quick to remind me, is that it’s not 2020 or 2021, and this is not in federal court. We are in the year 2023, and a local DA is trying to gather up some bits of the jurisdictional authority federal prosecutors left lying on the ground. It’s not a clean shot: Bragg is trying to bank in a half-court heave off the backboard after the shot clock buzzer has already sounded.

The first issue that Bragg has is time. Trump committed the underlying campaign finance offense in 2016, and the statute of limitations on bookkeeping fraud and campaign finance violations is five years. That brings you to 2021. The statute of limitations for tax evasion is three years. Even if you don’t start the clock on that until the story breaks in the news in 2018, that brings you, once again, to 2021. To get to 2023, Bragg appears to be arguing that the statute of limitations paused while Trump was president and living out of state. That’s… a theory, but not necessarily a good one, and certainly not one that has been tested enough to know how it’s going to hold up in the courts. Remember, the alleged immunity Trump had from prosecutions applied only at the federal level. Local prosecutors, like Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance, who was the Manhattan DA during Trump’s presidency, could have charged him with this crime at any time.

The second issue is that Bragg is doing a lot of legal contortions to make this a felony, instead of a misdemeanor. For Bragg to charge Trump with felony bookkeeping fraud, he needs to show that Trump committed that crime to cover up some other crime (either a campaign finance violation or a tax violation) at the federal level. But that’s harder to do when the feds won’t prosecute Trump for the graver misdeeds that are beyond Bragg’s purview.

I’m not giving up on Jack Smith yet.

If you hear any other juicy tidbits, do post them in the comments.

Disney Shows Ron DeSantis Who’s Boss

Can we consider the possibility that Ron DeSantis is not that smart? It appears he’s been pantsed by The Mouse. Michael Hiltzik writes at the Los Angeles Times:

Did you really believe that Florida’s arrogant, petty, childish Gov. Ron DeSantis would get the better of Walt Disney Co. in their fight over Disney’s supposed “wokeness”?

If so, you don’t know your Disney.

DeSantis handpicked a board of cronies to take over control of Reedy Creek Improvement District — the quasi-governmental entity that Disney and Florida established more than 55 years ago to control development and management of the land on which Walt Disney World, EPCOT and the company’s related enterprises are located.

DeSantis’ board has now revealed that, while they were snoozing, Disney executed an agreement with their predecessors that strips the new board of all its powers except the authority to “maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” according to one of the new board members.

How did the Mouse do tihs?

Days before the takeover, Disney reached a development agreement with the old Reedy Creek board while it was still in power. The agreement prohibits the newly constituted district from using the name “Disney” or its trademarks — specifically including Mickey Mouse — in any way without the company’s written permission. The agreement also leaves the new board without the ability to make design changes to buildings or constructing new ones without Disney’s permission.

The new board members knew nothing about the agreement until they took office.

Josh Marshall:

You may remember that as one of Ron DeSantis’s culture war gambits he punished Disney’s position on gay rights in the state by abolishing the special government jurisdiction which essentially allowed Disney to run Disney World as its own town or governmental district. That was the Reedy Creek Improvement District. DeSantis had the state legislature replace Reedy Creek with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Now the political appointees DeSantis put on the Oversight District board to lord it over Disney are crying foul, saying Disney pulled a fast one on them and essentially cut them out of any effective power for decades into the future.

On the last meeting of the Reedy Creek Improvement District the then-board approved a series of agreements and restrictive covenants (you can see them here) which, according to the Oversight Board folks, locks them out of any effective power for the better part of a century.

DeSantis’s Oversight Board, you might remember, was made up of “Republican and conservative stooges, including a founder of the right-wing censorship-happy organization Moms for Liberty, who happens to be an architect of the “Don’t Say Gay” law and the wife of the chairman of the Florida Republican Party,” Hiltzik writes. No doubt they had a plan to cleanse Disney World of any trace of Woke. As far as I know none of them have any experience, or interest, in road and infrastructure maintenance.

In other news — If you’ve been putting off any cancer or other screening procedures your doctor thinks you should have, you might want to run out and get them done now. This just happened.

A federal judge in Texas on Thursday blocked Obamacare’s mandate that health insurance plans cover preventive care, including screenings for certain cancers and pre-exposure prophylaxis against HIV (PrEP), at no cost to patients.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, previously found that the PrEP mandate violated a federal religious freedom law and that other no-cost preventive care mandates were based on recommendations by an illegally appointed task force.

The judge has now blocked the federal government from enforcing the mandates, a victory for conservative businesses and individuals that sued to challenge them in 2020. The ruling does not apply to preventive services that were recommended before Obamacare was enacted in 2010, such as breast cancer screening. …

…The legal challenge was brought by eight individuals and two businesses, all from Texas. They argued that the free PrEP requirement requires business owners and consumers to pay for services that “encourage homosexual behavior, prostitution, sexual promiscuity and intravenous drug use” despite their religious beliefs.

They also said that the advisory body that recommends what preventive care should be covered without cost, the Preventive Services Task Force, is illegal because its members are not directly appointed by the president, which they argue is required by the U.S. Constitution.

What the bleep? Does this mean that any sort of preventative cancer screening that wasn’t already recommended before 2010, when the ACA went into effect, will no longer be covered? I’m not sure which ones those are. What about changes in recommendations, like starting colon cancer screening at age 45 instead of 50, which is a new thing?


House GOP: Congressing Is Hard

Today Kevin McCarthy and the House GOP made much noise over the White House’s failure to “negotiate” over the debt ceiling. Josh Marshall writes,

This morning, Speaker Kevin McCarthy went on Twitter to castigate the President for his “extreme position” on the debt ceiling, which is that he won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling. It’s a remarkable turnabout. Republicans took the hostage and now they’re waiting for the SWAT team and negotiators to show up. But they’re nowhere to be seen. And now they’re saying to themselves, what do we do now? It’s the equivalent of the hostage takers ringing up the cops and telling them to please hurry up.

The House GOP has yet to propose an official budget. I understand there are multiple groups of Republicans working separately on budgets, to be released in April, maybe. And the House Freedom Caucus released something they seem to think is a budget, discussed below. But they’ve all been so busy investigating why Twitter refused to published Hunter Biden’s dick pics, you know.

Lindsey McPherson reports for Roll Call,

Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday wrote to President Joe Biden asking him to set a date for their next negotiating meeting on the debt limit by the end of the week.

The California Republican reiterated that his conference is set on pairing any debt limit increase with policies that would cut spending, save taxpayers money and spur economic growth, while offering four examples of the types of proposals he and Biden could discuss.

McCarthy’s examples, which he stressed were not exhaustive, included cutting nondefense discretionary spending to “pre-inflationary” levels and limiting out-year growth; rescinding unspent pandemic aid; strengthening certain benefit programs’ work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents; and other legislation, such as an energy policy overhaul to spur more domestic production and border security measures that would stop the flow of fentanyl. 

I don’t want to hear anything from Republicans until the Congressional Budget Office crunches the numbers to let us know the real impact. That hasn’t happened, of course.

Biden has repeatedly said he will not negotiate conditions for raising the debt ceiling. The president has said he is willing to have separate negotiations with Republicans on spending, but that he wouldn’t sit down with McCarthy again until the GOP released a budget proposal.

“It’s time for Republicans to stop playing games, agree to pass a clean debt ceiling bill, and quit threatening our economic recovery,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “The president welcomes a separate conversation about our nation’s fiscal future. Earlier this month, he released a budget that cuts the deficit by nearly $3 trillion while lowering costs for families and investing in America.”

McCarthy has said Republicans should not need a budget to negotiate on the debt limit, especially when they’ve put forward ideas and the president has not yet engaged.

It sounds to me as if the President has “engaged” a lot more than the Republicans have. He’s put out something concrete, and the CBO has scored it. 

Citing the “rapidly approaching deadline” — experts predict the debt limit “x” date will hit sometime between June and September — McCarthy warned Biden that he is “on the clock.”

“It’s time to drop the partisanship, roll up our sleeves, and find common ground on this urgent challenge,” he wrote. “Please have your team reach out to mine by the end of this week to set a date for our next meeting.”

I agree with the President that there’s no point in meeting with anybody until there are real proposals with real numbers. Oh, wait, there’s the House Freedom Caucus. Back to Josh Marshall:

 The House Freedom Caucus is telling everyone who will listen that Kevin McCarthy is a chump who doesn’t control anything. If you want to resolve the crisis you need to talk to the people in charge — not the butler or the assistant — which is them, the House Freedom Cacuus.

Last week the House Freedom Caucus held a press conference along with Senate fellow travelers Mike Lee and Rick Scott in which they demanded that President Biden come to the next meeting of the House Freedom Caucus, last Wednesday night, and start negotiating. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who spoke for the group, said the Freedom Caucus was “the only caucus who has released a plan to address this situation.” True enough. They’re making the same argument as the White House, albeit with a different aim. How are you going to negotiate with McCarthy when he hasn’t even decided on his negotiating position?

Yes, the House Freedom Caucus has a Plan, and the White House already has responded to it. And the response is, basically, you’re kidding, right? The House Freedom Caucus  plan is so extreme it even defunds the police. Josh Marshall:

So what’s going on here? The Freedom Caucus budget blueprint is toxic. They don’t care because they’re almost all from safe districts. (Ironically, Boebert is one of the very few who is not.) But McCarthy needs to think about the whole caucus, the next election and the presidential election. McCarthy’s aim is to pressure Biden into negotiations without saying what it is he, McCarthy, actually wants. If McCarthy can get Biden into a negotiation, they’re probably going to come out of it with a bunch of cuts most voters don’t like. But it’s okay because Biden owns them just as much as McCarthy.

That’s the gambit. So far it’s not working.

In other news, Mike Pence has been ordered to testify to Jack Smith’s grand jury. “Executive privilege” claims by Trump’s legal “team” have been swept aside. Also,

The judge affirmed the idea that Mr. Pence had some protection under “speech or debate” based on his role in overseeing the certification of the election inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. But Judge Boasberg also said that Mr. Pence would have to testify to the grand jury about any potentially illegal acts committed by Mr. Trump, the person familiar with the matter said.

Just hurry it up, people.

Same Old School Shooting News

Today the former head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, David Pecker, met with the Manhattan grand jury. So no indictment today, I assume.

Today a 28-year-old woman shot and killed three students and three staff members at a private Christian school in Nashville. The children were all 9-year-olds. The shooter was killed also. Early reports say she used to be a student at the school.

At WaPo, Philip Bump writes Why guns are America’s number one killer of children.

Three children who woke up in their beds on Monday morning, who had some breakfast and maybe fussed with their parents over what they’d have for lunch or what they would do after school — three kids whose futures their parents had envisioned with hope or dread hundreds of times — were shot and killed at the Covenant School in Nashville.

In 2020, for the first time, more children in the United States died from firearms than any other cause. This is in part because the number of children dying in car accidents has decreased, thanks to decades of focus on keeping children safe and on new regulations aimed at ensuring that vehicular crashes are less dangerous. It is also in part because more children are being shot to death each year, like those three on Monday in Tennessee.

There’s no excuse for this, of course. Most of these deaths were homicides, followed by suicides, followed by accidents. We’re murdering our children.

BTW, this guy represents the private Christian school’s district in the Tennessee legislature.

Republicans Don’t Care What You Think

Trump is threatening death and destruction if he is indicted. He posted on “Truth”:

Former president Donald Trump warned early Friday of “potential death & destruction” if he is charged in Manhattan in a criminal case related to alleged hush-money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to conceal an affair. …

… Trump wrote: “What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting President in history, and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?”

Sounds to me that he’s bleeping scared. I wonder what set him off? Hmmm … maybe this

A key lawyer for Donald Trump appeared Friday before a federal grand jury investigating whether the former president sought to keep top-secret documents in his home — testimony that capped an ultimately losing effort by Trump’s legal team to prevent prosecutors from reviewing the lawyer’s notes and other documents in the case.

Shortly before 9 a.m., Evan Corcoran strode into the federal courthouse in D.C., where judges had previously ruled he could not use attorney-client privilege to shield his material from investigators.

Corcoran is testifying to Jack Smith’s grand jury, not Alvin Bragg’s, but maybe in Trump’s tiny mind it’s all running together.

I’m not too worried about the “death and destruction,” since Trump’s groupies seem reluctant to put their bodies on the line for him again. However, there could always be the one guy who goes it alone. Like the poor schmuck in Ohio who wanted to shoot FBI agents for Trump and got himself killed instead.

This next item comes under the heading of “when they show you who they are, believe them.” The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that a woman has the right under the state Constitution to receive an abortion to preserve her life. Note that the vote was 5-4. This means four bleeping judges don’t think a woman should be allowed to have an abortion even if the pregnancy is killing her.

Some news stories are saying the ruling is a “win” for women. I don’t. Even Ruth Marcus was appalled.

A chilling glimpse of life in post-Roe America: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled, just barely, that a pregnant woman has the right to abortion “when necessary to preserve her life.”

For four of the nine justices, even that shred-let of protection was too much. Weighing the life of the mother against the interests of the fetus, they said, was a choice for the legislature, not the province of judges.

The “thorny medical, philosophical, and practical debate of balancing the developing life of the unborn against the life of the mother, and the government’s involvement in those decisions,” Chief Justice John Kane wrote in dissent, “is a necessary and worthy dialogue for the people to commence.” In “some rare and terrible circumstances, people’s rights to life may conflict,” observed Justice Dana Kuehn. “How do we balance that?”

Before viability, if the mother dies the embryo or fetus dies also, so I’m not sure where they need to find a “balance.” Marcus continues,

We should, I suppose, be thankful for the outcome, and for the fact that Republican-appointed Justice James Winchester broke ranks to join with four Democratic-appointed justices to strike down part of the state’s draconian abortion law. After all, Oklahoma could be worse; it could be Texas.

You’ll appreciate this one, too — you might remember that 81-year-old Mitch McConnell was injured in a fall a few days ago and is now recovering at a rehabilitation center. I notice news stories leave out where this rehab center is. Anyway, Sherrilyn Ifill (president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund) writes at Slate that back in 2020, when Mitch was having another health issue, he lobbied the Kentucky legislature to change the law to make sure his seat remained in Republican hands if he checks out, so to speak.

… the Kentucky Republican began a campaign to pressure the GOP-controlled Kentucky Legislature to change that state’s law to remove from the governor—who is a Democrat—the authority to select a candidate to fill the unexpired term of a departing U.S. senator. The ability of the governor to appoint a nominee to fill the unexpired term of a senator without restrictions is the law in 35 states. …

… But McConnell urged, and the Kentucky Legislature took the step of changing that state’s law—overriding the veto of the governor to do so—in a way that assured that Republicans would maintain control of McConnell’s seat should it become vacant.

The new law says that the governor still appoints the person who will serve the remainder of the term, but he can only choose from a list of names “submitted by the state executive committee of the same political party as the Senator who held the vacant seat to be filled.” Mitch will still be looming over us after he dies.

Tom Sullivan writes at Hullabaloo that this is just part of a trend of Republican legislatures taking powers away from elected Democrats.

Examples in the news recently are Republicans stripping elected reform-minded prosecutors of their powers, if not their jobs. “Prosecutors who prosecute or investigate the wrong kind of criminal suspects in the eyes of Republican legislators have also received this treatment,” Ifill notes. She references recent cases in Florida and Missouri. 

And, of course, the Georgia state legislature recently voted itself the power to remove Fulton County DA Fani Willis from office if she dates indict Donald Trump. And this is all another way to make voting irrelevant.

Libertarians Are the Enemy

The Manhattan grand jury is meeting today, but news stories say the jurors will not be voting on an indictment. So let’s look at something else. How about libertarians and free market ideology?

Quinn Slobodian writes in The Guardian that back in the 1980s, South African libertarians set up a deregulated zone that they sold to the world as “Africa’s Switzerland.” It wasn’t, but I thought this was interesting:

In an interview in 1988, libertarian economist Milton Friedman declared that “a relatively free economy is a necessary condition for a democratic society”. But then he added: “I also believe there is evidence that a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy.”

Beginning in the 70s, the zone offered an alternative to the messiness of mass democracy, and therefore a way of preventing the destruction of a free economy that Friedman feared. Today the zone also holds out a promise cherished by much of the contemporary political right – that capitalism can exist without democracy.

The success of capitalism without democracy over the last 50 years is best captured in a lens-flared montage of skylines spiked with sparkling skyscrapers. Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Dubai: all profited from the suppression or elimination of internal dissent to become vessels for the global flow of mobile capital. They also sparked deep envy among the erstwhile leaders in the global economic race.

The old Cold War era propaganda, of course, was that free market capitalism and democracy were inextricably linked. This was the argument of Friedrich Hayek and his book The Road to Serfdom. I wrote about three years ago,

And this takes us to Friedrich Hayek and his book The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1944, which became a cornerstone of movement conservatism and libertarianism. Hayek was certain that the ultimate evil that would destroy democracy and individual liberty is central planning of the economy. Free markets equal free people. The key to maintaining individual liberty is to support the free exercise of capitalism and markets. Conversely, it was self-evident to conservatives that capitalism and tyranny cannot co-exist, and that if (for example) Communist countries would become more capitalist, individual liberty for their citizens would follow closely behind. 

And this was how “free markets” and deregulation of everything and “globalization” and sending manufacturing jobs overseas and everything else that has reduced the American middle class all these years was excused by a lot of people, and not just Republicans. It was all about freedom, you see. Conversely, regulations and anything that got in the way of capitalists making a ton of money was the door to Communism (appropriate musical accompaniment).

I haven’t heard anyone issue dire warnings about the evils of central planning of the economy for a while. I question if anyone, deep down, still buys Hayek’s argument that people stay free as long as they avoid central planning of the economy. And, frankly, I don’t know anyone who advocates central planning of the economy. Or Communism, for that matter. Even so, the “C” word still has power to persuade plenty of under-educated working people in America to keep voting for “freedom,” a word that has lost all coherent meaning in the U.S. today.

Back to Quinn Slobodian at The Guardian:

When Friedman visited the University of Cape Town in 1976, he gave a speech to an audience of 2,000 in which he declared that the market was a much surer route to liberty than democracy; voting by dollars was better than voting by ballots. The key to freedom was not free elections but decentralisation of state power itself. A few years later, South African libertarians followed this line – but with a version of radical capitalism that was entirely dependent on the disciplining (and subsidising) hand of the state. The creation of the Black “homeland” of Ciskei as a would-be libertarian zone in white-ruled South Africa shows how certain kinds of economic freedom depend on political disfranchisement.

Certain kinds of economic freedom depend on political disfranchisement? I wonder what kinds those might be?

The “Black ‘homeland’ of Ciskei” ended up being something between a sweatshop and a prison. The workers had no freedom at all.

The would-be libertarian utopia operated hand in glove with the South African security forces, which punished everyday civilian acts of resistance and actively enforced the prohibition on trade unions. One activist, Priscilla Maxongo, described how women in the labour movement were routinely arrested, interrogated and tortured. She recounted having a rubber tube tied around her neck to cut off her air supply until she divulged information about the groups organising for workers’ rights.

In 1983, police killed 15 protesters when they shot into crowds demonstrating against a bus fare increase. The New York Timescalled Ciskei an “ugly little police state”. Thozamile Gqweta, the secretary of the South African Allied Workers, had his house set on fire with the front door wired shut; his mother and uncle died when their houses were similarly set on fire; his girlfriend was shot by police as they left his mother’s funeral; and he was himself detained for three months and tortured with electric shock. In the same year that the American libertarian magazine Reason celebrated Ciskei as a “haven of prosperity and peace in South Africa’s back yard”, security forces entered a Ciskei church commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Soweto uprising and beat the congregation with whips made of rhinoceros hide, hospitalising 35 and killing a 15-year-old boy.

But, by golly, the investors made a ton of money. Hooray free markets!

Hayek’s ideas may be bunk, but his thinking was a cornerstone of the celebrated “Chicago School of Economics” that has dominated economic policy in the U.S. since at least the 1970s. Milton Friedman was one of its stars. And again, this didn’t just influence Republicans. The neoliberal Democrats bought into this also. America never became Ciskei, but not for lack of trying. And lots of people are still trying. Every time somebody complains about “entitlement programs” making people “unwilling to work,” you see the effort. Something else I wrote three years ago:

It’s gospel to American conservatives that providing citizens safety net benefits — also known as “handouts” — renders them lazy and shiftless and keeps them out of the workforce. In truth, the lack of supports such as paid sick leave, health care, and child care probably hampers productivity far more than the welfare recipients of Republican fantasy who are somehow enjoying carefree lives on government checks.

But keeping workers helpless and desperate makes them more compliant, you see.

Skip to a recent post from Robert Reich, What connects Trump’s likely arrest with the bank bailouts?

Start with multi-billionaire Peter Thiel, and follow the money.

You may recall that in 2016, Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention to make the case for why Trump should be the next president of the United States.

In the midterm elections of 2022, Thiel donated $15 million to the Republican Ohio senatorial primary campaign of JD Vance, who alleged that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.”

Thiel also donated at least $10 million to the Arizona Republican Senate primary race of Blake Masters, who also claimed Trump won the 2020 election and who  admires Lee Kuan Yew, the authoritarian founder of modern Singapore.

Masters lost. But thanks to Thiel’s munificence, Vance is now in the U.S. Senate.

Thiel and other wealthy self-described “libertarians” want Trump to be re-elected president in 2024. I’ll get to the reason in a moment.

And, of course, Thiel had millions in Silicon Valley Bank. Further on in the same essay, Reich writes,

Thiel is part of the anti-democracy movement, of which Trump is the informal leader.

Their antipathy to democracy comes from the same fear that the extremely wealthy have always harbored about democracy — that a majority could vote to take away their money. That fear has been heightened by the fact that more and more of the nation’s wealth is going to the top, combined with demographic trends showing the majority of voters becoming less economically secure, more non-white, and politically left.

Thiel and his ilk see in Trump an authoritarian strongman who won’t allow a majority to take away their wealth. In December 2017, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress engineered a giant tax cut for the super-rich and the companies in which they invest. Many believe that a second Trump administration, backed by a Republican Congress, will cut their taxes even further. …

… A few years ago, Thiel wrote that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Presumably he was referring to the freedom of oligarchs like himself to be unconstrained by taxes and regulations. In this narrow sense, he’s correct: Oligarchy is incompatible with democracy. Nor is oligarchy compatible with the freedom of the rest of us.

Thiel and others like him want to return to an era when American oligarchs had freer reign. In that same essay, Thiel wrote:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

But if “capitalist democracy” has become an oxymoron, it’s not due to excessive public assistance or because women got the right to vote. It’s because billionaire capitalists like Thiel are undermining democracy with giant campaign donations to authoritarian candidates.

We’re not going to get the nation back on track until the libertarian/free market crowd is pushed to the fringes of the fringe. As long as they still have power to persuade Americans that deprivation, hardship, and disenfranchisement is “freedom,” the nation will suffer.

Update: Related — see Paul Waldman, Don’t be fooled by the GOP crusade against ‘woke Wall Street’.

Trump Indictment Watch, Day Whatever It Is

The Manhattan grand jury didn’t meet yesterday and is not meeting today, and nobody is saying why. Well, some of the right-wing sites say it’s because District Attorney Bragg was accused of “withholding evidence.” but their “evidence” of this is that Robert J. Costello, the Trump lawyer who testified a couple of days ago, said that Michael Cohen was lying. Um, this is not “withholding evidence.” And who’s to say it wasn’t Costello who was lying?

Everybody knows that Michael Cohen is something of a hinky witness. I am assuming Alvin Bragg understands this better than I do, and that his case doesn’t depend entirely on Michael Cohen, and that whatever Michael Cohen said has been checked and corroborated. If it turns out that isn’t true, then we can all dump on Alvin Bragg. But nobody really knows what evidence the grand jury has seen, except for the grand jurors and Alvin Bragg and his team.

And nobody knows when they’ll vote on an indictment.

Meanwhile, the big crowds of Trump supporters standing up for their guy have not exactly materialized anywhere.

Some of the MAGAts are waiting for more instruction.

Distrustful that protests might be “traps” set by federal law enforcement and without a fixed date or event to rally around, the vast majority of pro-Trump online groups seemed to waver between apathy and confusion, showing very little appetite for organized action. “He’s not infallible and protest is very vague,” one person wrote in a popular MAGA Telegram group. “And what exactly does “Protest, Protest!!!” mean?” another person asked in a different group. “I’m not trying to be a jerk but you’d think he could give slightly more explicit instructions if he really wanted the tens of millions of people who support him to do something effective.”

I wondered that myself when so much of the initial chatter from the Right was about surrounding Mar-a-Lago to keep anyone from going in to arrest Trump. Initial reports were that Trump intends to voluntarily show up in Manhattan for his arraignment. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he changes his mind, however. I’ll come back to this.


A review of more than two dozen popular pro-Trump Telegram channels, online forums, and social media groups also suggests that many supporters feel betrayed by what they see as the former President’s abandonment of those who rallied for him on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Why would I protest for a man that left the [Jan. 6 protesters] high and dry?” one user posted in a pro-Trump Telegram group. “Trump did nothing to help them after they stuck [their] neck out for him.”

“Has he called for protests about these poor guys? No. But he’s calling for us to protest about his arrest,” another person wrote. “It doesn’t sit right with me.” Another user agreed: “He’s right. Trump betrayed the J6 patriots. How can anybody still support [him]?”

There are reports that Trump wants to do a public “perp walk” in handcuffs. I am skeptical of this. There are also reports that he doesn’t want to be seen in handcuffs. I doubt anyone intends to handcuff him. There are reports that he is fundraising on the indictment threat.

The right-wing message boards want Trump to fight the indictment.

As the days go by and anticipation builds for this turning point in American history, pro-Trump commentators and far-right message boards are increasingly urging Trump to put up a fight.

“While I can’t claim to know how President Trump would respond in this situation, I know what I would do if I were in Trump’s position,” far-right radio host Stew Peters told The Daily Beast, “and it wouldn’t include voluntary surrender to bogus ‘authorities’ from New York.”

If he chooses to take a stand at Mar-a-Lago, that means Alvin Bragg will have to ask Florida to extradict Trump, meaning Ron DeSantis will get involved. And I am not predicting what DeSantis might do. He might approve the extradition, he might sit on it a while, he might deny it. Anything is possible. And it’s possible that if this looming indictment drama drags on much longer, Trump might change his mind about cooperating.

As I understand it, his lawyers are probably begging him to surrender voluntarily if he wants to actually beat the rap. If there are any holes in Alvin Bragg’s case, it’s going to be harder for Trump to exploit those holes if he tried to avoid arrest.

Indictment Watch, Day 3

This is why I love New York City. NY Attorney General Letitia James hosted a drag queen story hour at a Manhattan LGBTQ center to show that New York supports drag queens. It was advertised as a family friendly event. Proud Boys showed up — I assume from out of town — to protest. They were not supported.

“There was at least one community member that was hit in the face,” the witness, who gave her name as LK, said of the attack.

“It was joyful, there was music, noisemakers, lots of sparkles and a really positive turnout,” added LK, who regularly comes to drag story hours to show support. “There were still protesters showing up and screaming rofanities and obscenities at the families.”

Allegedly the wingnuts hate drag queen story hours for not being morally wholesome. So they protest by showing up and screaming profanities at children. Yes, this does not make sense.

What the Proud Boys didn’t count on was being outnumbered by counterprotesters, who were pissed.

NYPD arrested one protester, I understand. More videos here. See also DRAGGED: Proud Boys get beat up at NYC drag queen story hour.

Speaking of protests — my impression is that there’s as yet more talk than action regarding protests of Trump’s pending indictment. There is a lot of chest thumping and promises to surround Mar-a-Lago so that law enforcement can’t get in to arrest Trump. But I seriously doubt the Manhattan prosecutor is planning to send anyone to Florida to arrest Trump. He will ask Trump to come to NYC and surrender. Trump’s lawyers have said Trump will comply. We’ll see.

I assume New York City authorities can’t arrest anyone in Florida without cooperation from Florida. I’m not sure the righties understand that.

Trump may want another January 6, but I doubt it will come to that. I appreciate I could be wrong. But on January 6 the protesters had a “higher” purpose. But now?

See also Some Trump supporters ambivalent on calls for protests.

Former President Donald Trump’s calls for protests ahead of his anticipated indictment in New York have generated mostly muted reactions from supporters, with even some of his most ardent loyalists dismissing the idea as a waste of time or a law enforcement trap.

The ambivalence raises questions about whether Trump, though a leading Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race who retains a devoted following, still has the power to mobilize far-right supporters the way he did more than two years ago before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It also suggests that the hundreds of arrests that followed the Capitol riot, not to mention the convictions and long prison sentences, may have dampened the desire for repeat mass unrest.

The NYPD is really good at crowd control, as I have witnessed with my own tired eyes. If a large number of people show up for unauthorized protests in the streets of Manhattan, they will likely find themselves corralled within a relatively small area and unable to get away. Demonstrators are supposed to get a permit and coordinate with the city so that they don’t cause too much gridlock, and I doubt the MAGAts are planning for that. The cops will likely leave small, peaceful demonstrations alone, permit or no permit, but New Yorkers may not.

I haven’t heard any new news about the Manhattan grand jury today. However, House Republicans appear to be getting ready to investigate D.A. Alvin Bragg.

Indictment Watch, Day 2

Trump’s lawyers are saying they haven’t been notified of an indictment yet. Trump’s declaration that he would be arrested on Tuesday appears to be about getting some protesters into Manhattan to intimidate the prosecutors. Alvin Bragg says he’s prepared for that. One suspects the NYPD is prepared as well. I understand that if indicted Trump would have to appear at the criminal court building at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan. So, wingnuts, that’s where you’ll want to be on Tuesday. I’m sure the NYPD will be there to greet you.

So what happens if Trump calls for riots and nobody riots? That would be interesting, too.

Today we learned that the Manhattan grand jury may hear from a Trump witness tomorrow. Michael Cohen says he’s been asked to be available as a rebuttal witness. From the New York Times:

Under New York law, a person who is expected to be indicted can request that a witness appear on his or her behalf. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have asked that Mr. Costello testify, but the final decision rests with the grand jury; it is unclear whether they have made a decision. 

The Trump witness is a lawyer named Robert J. Costello.

Mr. Costello is likely to argue that Mr. Cohen can’t be trusted. In 2018, as Mr. Cohen was facing the federal investigation into the hush money, a mutual friend introduced the two men. Mr. Costello offered to represent Mr. Cohen, and they spent hours meeting and speaking by phone.

As a Republican lawyer with ties to Mr. Trump’s legal team, Mr. Costello offered to serve as a bridge between Mr. Cohen and the president’s lawyers. At one point, Mr. Costello contacted one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers to ask if the president might pardon Mr. Cohen.

But the pardon never came, and Mr. Cohen never formally retained Mr. Costello. Mr. Cohen later waived their attorney-client privilege, Mr. Costello has said.

Their relationship worsened as Mr. Cohen broke from Mr. Trump, and became one of his primary antagonists.

One of the things the Manhattan prosecutor’s office is supposed to have been doing is going over all of Michael Cohen’s testimony to corroborate it or otherwise look for weak points or holes. If they’ve done that, I don’t see that Costello would be a problem. And the grand jury might decide they don’t want to hear from him.

And while there is no end of commentary out there about why Alvin Bragg probably has a weak case — based on what, I don’t know — it may not be nearly as weak as Trump and his lawyers think it is.

In other news — the Fetus People are working overtime to make sure the 2024 Republican presidential nominee is unelectable.

Leading antiabortion groups, fresh off their historic victory with the demise of Roe v. Wade, are drawing up plans for a new goal in the 2024 presidential election: Ensuring the Republican nominee promises to back nationwide restrictions on abortion.

One of the most influential groups, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is likely to ask candidates to sign a pledge supporting a federal minimum limit on abortion at no later than 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Although 15 weeks isn’t acceptable to the true believers. They’d prefer 0 weeks.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, is exploring holding candidate forums or debates, where the issue of abortion would be front and center. And Students for Life Action is developing a survey asking candidates whether they’ll promise to appoint cabinet members who oppose abortion, such as in the justice and health departments; if they’d sign legislation to restrict abortions early in pregnancy; their stances on abortion pills and more.

“Our biggest challenge right now is making sure we get everyone on the record and for them to understand that we expect substantial action to be taken,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life Action. She added: “We want to make sure that every candidate knows that they’re going to have to be ready to make their case for life.”

Go for it, Fetus People. And thanks for showing us once again that the old talking point about “we just want to return the decision to the states” was always a lie. Most of us knew that all along, but it’s nice to see it confirmed.