The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Of Course There Was Corrupt Intent. Duh.

The big news tonight is that federal prosecutors appear to be gathering evidence that Trump acted with corrupt intent when he tried to overturn the 2020 election. (Duh.) Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman in the New York Times:

Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election have questioned multiple witnesses in recent weeks — including Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — about whether Mr. Trump had privately acknowledged in the days after the 2020 election that he had lost, according to four people briefed on the matter.

The line of questioning suggests prosecutors are trying to establish whether Mr. Trump was acting with corrupt intent as he sought to remain in power — essentially that his efforts were knowingly based on a lie — evidence that could substantially bolster any case they might decide to bring against him.

There was testimony during the January 6 House committee hearings that Trump admitted privately he had lost. So I don’t think this is in question.

In other news. I’m curious whether Ray Epps has yet figured out how much he was used and who used him. Epps was a Trump supporter who believed the Big Lie and who went to the Capital on January 6. And then he had the misfortune to be chosen as a sacrifice of sorts. He was picked out of the crowd to serve as a scapegoat for why the riot turned into a riot. Philip Bump writes at WaPo,

To hear Ray Epps tell it, it’s Fox News’s fault that his life was ruined in at least two ways.

The first and most obvious is that the right-wing cable news channel repeatedly and energetically insisted over the course of months that Epps must somehow have been involved in triggering the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a function of his purported (and nonexistent) role as a government provocateur. This was mostly driven by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who mentioned him in at least 20 episodes of his prime-time show.

The other way Fox used him, of course, was to sell him on the Big Lie to begin with.

Epps became a central figure in the MAGA fever swamp’s mythology about January 6. Graig Graziosi at The Independent:

After failing to pin the Capitol riot on Antifa, right-wing media outlets refocused their efforts to reshape their narrative around Mr Epps. According to the New York Times, obscure right-wing outlets like Revolver Media began reporting on selectively-edited videos of Mr Epps during the Capitol riot, and later capitalised on the footage from 5 January in which he called for people to enter the Capitol.

The theory claims that Mr Epps, who was not arrested in the wake of the Capitol riot despite apparently encouraging people to enter the building and participating in the event himself, could only have evaded law enforcement if he was working with the government.

To explain this apparent contradiction, outlets and conspiracy theorists decided that Mr Epps had to have been an FBI agent sent into the crowd to stir dissent and set up a “false flag” event meant to justify the incarceration of hundreds of Trump supporters.

According to Philip Bump, back in 2001 when Epps realized the FBI was trying to identify him from videos he called the FBI and identified himself. That’s the major reason he hasn’t faced the criminal justice system yet. But the lawsuit Epps filed against Fox indicates he has been informed he will face some charges.

Naturally Epps and his wife had their lives upended by MAGA thugs. They closed their successful wedding venue business and gave up their home to move into a trailer in another state. Yet the mouth breathers of the Right are still spreading the same lies aboubt Epps. Yesterday when FBI Director Christopher Wray was a guest at the House Judiciary Committee Clown Show, one member brought up Epps. Philip Bump:

“I want to turn my attention now to this fella, this character, Mr. Ray Epps,” Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.) said at one point in the hearing. “We’ve all heard of him. We’ve heard of Mr. Ray Epps.”

This is true.

“He was number 16 on your FBI most-wanted list,” Nehls continued. “He was encouraging people the night prior and the day to go into the Capitol. And Mr. Ray Epps can be seen at the first breach of Capitol grounds at approximately 12:50 p.m.”

This is not true. 

Bump goes on to explain why this isn’t true. The Epps-was-a-fed story has been debunked any way it can be debunked, but MAGAts like Rep. Troy E. Nehls can’t let go of it.

Speaking of clown shows, some of the more hard-right critters in the House tried to introduce measures to a defense bill to stop money going to Ukraine. But a majority of Republicans disagreed, and of course Democrats disagreed also.

Today’s Adventures in Politics

A grand jury that will decide if Trump or anyone else will be indicted in the Fulton County, Georgia, election interference case has been sworn in.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville refuses to admit that white nationalists are racists.

A couple of months ago, Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and tireless investigator of Hunter Biden’s laptop, admitted he had lost an informant.

During an interview on Fox News, host Maria Bartiromo asked Comer about evidence he had of [President] Biden’s alleged corruption.

“You have spoken with whistleblowers,” she noted. “You also spoke with an informant who gave you all of this information. Where is that informant today? Where are these whistleblowers?”

“Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer replied. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”

The mystery is solved:

Yesterday the Southern District of New York announced a wide-ranging indictment of Gal Luft, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, for various charges including unregistered foreign lobbying for China, sanctions busting for Iran and arms dealing. (Here’s CNN’s run-down of the details.) Luft was indicted last November but remained under seal until yesterday. He was arrested in Cyprus in February to be extradited back to the United States but promptly jumped bail. It turns out Comer really had “lost” his whistleblower because Luft was quite literally on the lam and actually still is.

Josh Marshall continues,

This is part of a pattern: government workers or others facing workplace or criminal investigations trying to get a get-out-of-jail-free card or at least allies in a tough situation by showing up at the doorstep of Jim Jordan or James Comer basically willing to say quite literally anything. It’s true of course that chancers in a jam often do know things and are willing to talk for protection. But that’s why such claims require real scrutiny, something Republican investigators simply never do. In Luft’s case it’s not at all clear why he would be privy to anything about the President or his son in the first place. Indeed, the pattern is so persistent that it’s pretty clear Republican investigators are, if not explicitly in on the ruse themselves, totally indifferent to the truth of any of their claims.

Philip Bump:

This has been the pattern on the right for months. Anyone making any allegation against Biden and/or his family is accepted as inherently credible, however shaky the evidence or, as in the case of Luft, however obvious the conflict of interest. Not only are anti-Biden claims taken at face value, any skepticism about those allegations or, again as in the case of Luft, external indicators of unreliability are themselves folded into a voluminous conspiracy theory.

The timeline is important. It appears, both from comments by Luft in the video reported by the New York Post and in looking at court records, the indictment was handed down last fall. (Update: It occurred on Nov. 1, as Luft indicated in the video reported by the New York Post.) As mentioned, his initial arrest was in February. It is not clear why the indictment was unsealed now, but it is not the case that the charges are new. In other words, the understood order of events suggests not that he was charged because he made public allegations but, instead, that he made public allegations after he had been charged.

That hasn’t stopped anyone on the Right from accusing the Biden administration of political harassment of Luft, of course.

The Problem With Men

There’s a good article at WaPo by Christine Emba on what’s wrong with men these days. See Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness. It is thoughtful and sympathetic to men.

A large portion of younger men especially seem to be adrift.

Deindustrialization, automation, free trade and peacetime have shifted the labor market dramatically, and not in men’s favor — the need for physical labor has declined, while soft skills and academic credentials are increasingly rewarded. Growing numbers of working-age men have detached from the labor market, with the biggest drop in employment among men ages 25 to 34. For those in a job, wages have stagnated everywhere except the top.

Meanwhile, women are surging ahead in school and in the workplace, putting a further dent in the “provider” model that has long been ingrained in our conception of masculinity. Men now receive about 74 bachelor’s degrees for every 100 awarded to women, and men account for more than 70 percent of the decline in college enrollment overall. … Men also account for almost 3 of every 4 “deaths of despair,” either from a suicide, alcohol abuse or an overdose.

I’ve written about this before, most recently in Red State Culture and Cornered Animals (June 2022) and Josh Hawley’s “Virtuous Men” Should Grow Up (November 2021). And I think that a whole lot of our societal malfunctions can be traced to this. I’m thinking the gun culture and mass shootings in particular, but IMO this also reaches into most of the tangle of pathologies that pass for “American conservatism” these days.

Hawley et al. blame the Problem With Men on “the Left” — “They want to define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage and independence and assertiveness — as a danger to society,” which of course is pure horse crap. The Left admires courage, independence and assertiveness (as opposed to aggression) and will be overjoyed if any of those virtues ever make an appearance in MAGAland. However, we are not holding our breath.

The Right says that these poor misunderstood men are being driven to pornography and video games by feminism and woke ideology or something. It’s not their fault, of course. Heaven forbid they would ever take personal responsibility for anything.

I say the problem is that too many young men are stuck in some cartoon version of “traditional masculinity” that they mostly got from watching movies. They’re stuck in a weird box of old cultural stereotypes that serve no purpose in 21st century life. They’re alienated from the larger culture. Their ideas about what their lives are supposed be gave them a truckload of expectations that are not being met.

It is a lot harder for most young folks to get started in adult life, to get a steady job that pays a living wage with benefits, never mind buy a house and the other trappings of American middle-class life they were raised to expect as “normal.” But that’s true for young women also. The difference, IMO, is that young women have different expectations. The girls know that The System isn’t going to give them anything. They know that if they want something, they’re going to have to make plans and work their butts off for it. There are young men out there who are working their butts off also, of course, but they aren’t the ones who are adrift.

I keep reading that “traditional masculinity” is stoic. I infer this is not a reference to the old Greek philosophical system but an ideal that men are not emotional. That’s the old stereotype that helped keep women subjugated for so long; women are too emotional while men are logical. Never mind that the huge majority of homicides and bar fights are perpetrated by men (see also). People who are taught to repress and deny their emotions are people who are not good at processing emotions. Throw in alienation, disappointment, lack of purpose and direction, and lots of guns and watch the mass shootings commence.

Comments to the article tend to fall along the lines of (a) What problem? Who cares? Why is this article so long?; (b) Men brought this on themselves and can kiss my ass; and (c) Let’s just have a genderless society. None of those are helpful. I think there is a real societal problem that needs addressing. However, I have no idea how we’re going to address it.

MAGA: Rage, Joy, Cruelty, Boxes

David French writes about the Rage and Joy of MAGA Americans.

It’s hard to encapsulate a culture in 22 seconds, but this July 4 video tweet from Representative Andy Ogles accomplishes the nearly impossible. For those who don’t want to click through, the tweet features Ogles, a cheerful freshman Republican from Tennessee, wishing his followers a happy Fourth of July. The text of the greeting is remarkable only if you don’t live in MAGAland:

Hey guys, Congressman Andy Ogles here, wishing you a happy and blessed Fourth of July. Hey, remember our Founding Fathers. It’s we the people that are in charge of this country, not a leftist minority. Look, the left is trying to destroy our country and our family, and they’re coming after you. Have a blessed Fourth of July. Be safe. Have fun. God bless America.

Can something be cheerful and dark at the same time? Can a holiday message be both normal and so very strange? If so, then Ogles pulled it off. This is a man smiling in a field as a dog sniffs happily behind him. The left may be “coming after you,” as he warns, but the vibe isn’t catastrophic or even worried, rather a kind of friendly, generic patriotism. They’re coming for your family! Have a great day!

French reveals that he lives in Tennessee outside of Nashville. And I also have been living in deep red territory. I never noticed the MAGAs were especially joyous. Their grievances are held just under the surface. At the least provocation the sweet old lady will start shrieking about school students using litter boxes instead of restrooms because they identify as cats.

French points out that the MAGAs share a sense of camaraderie. He brings up the Trump boat parades of 2020 — “open air water parties.” He also describes Trump rallies as “festive.” And this —

Or go to a Southeastern Conference football game. The “Let’s Go Brandon” (or sometimes, just “[expletive] Joe Biden”) chant that arises from the student section isn’t delivered with clenched fists and furious anger, but rather through smiles and laughs. The frat bros are having a great time.

Guess who else had great times?

More than 4000 African Americans were killed in racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950. Many of these extrajudicial murders were celebratory public spectacles, where thousands of white people, including elected officials and prominent citizens, gathered to witness victims being gruesomely tortured and mutilated. White newspapers advertised these carnival-like events; vendors sold food, photographers printed postcards, and victims’ clothing and body parts were given out as souvenirs.

There’s a connection here, I do believe. French continues,

Why do none of your arguments against Trump penetrate this mind-set? The Trumpists have an easy answer: You’re horrible, and no one should listen to horrible people. Why were Trumpists so vulnerable to insane stolen-election theories? Because they know that you’re horrible and that horrible people are capable of anything, including stealing an election.

At the same time, their own joy and camaraderie insulate them against external critiques that focus on their anger and cruelty. Such charges ring hollow to Trump supporters, who can see firsthand the internal friendliness and good cheer that they experience when they get together with one another. They don’t feel angry — at least not most of the time. They are good, likable people who’ve just been provoked by a distant and alien “left” that many of them have never meaningfully encountered firsthand.

Let’s just say they are not in touch with themselves. French goes on to say that we need to look at the “joy” as well as the rage, but I think the roots of the alleged joy are found in the cameraderie. The need to belong to the pack, to feel connected, is strong here. What they find in each other is validation. Their biases are validated. Their fears are validated. Their world view is validated. Validation like that feels really good, especially to people who otherwise feel alienated from their larger culture. The MAGA movement is wonderfully gratifying to a lot of people. That’s why it would be very hard to give it up once one is sucked in.

Yesteday Paul Waldman wrote about the extreme ambiguities in the MAGA world view, as displayed in political rhetoric:

On one hand, they tell voters that America’s deepest problems have been solved and that we bask in the light of the Almighty’s favor. On the other, they insist that our country is a nightmare of moral depravity and suffering.

This is worth reading (no paywall). Note this part also:

A DeSantis speech is little more than a litany of powerful enemies destroying Americans’ lives, whom he plans to finally vanquish by using the power of the government.

In this telling, every institution has become the enemy of “normal” Americans: the media, the education system, the military, big business, the government, all of it. Prominent media figures on the right tell their audiences that political developments are created by “demons” and Satan himself, who apparently rampage through the land as they please. It’s a wonder any of us get home alive at the end of the day.

DeSantis’s speeches aren’t getting much traction with voters, however, although that may be because his messages are mostly aimed at people who already belong to Trump. But it explains how thoroughly they are innoculated against facts and the real world in general.

Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog writes:

I agree with French that the MAGAs seem happy, and I think the reason is not just that they’re happy and friendly within their bubble — it’s that the societal breakdown they feel is taking place is something that they’ve “never meaningfully encountered firsthand.” …

…No one’s really coming for their guns — they have plenty, and it’s easy to buy more. No one’s really coming for their red meat or their big-ass SUVs. No one’s forcing them to be gay or bi or trans. Politically, they run half the states. They run the Supreme Court and will control it for decades. They run the House, and they have an excellent chance of taking the Senate and the White House next year.

Most of the stuff the righties are worked up about are nonsensical. We don’t have “open borders.” “Critical race theory” was not being taught in public elementary schools. Elected Democrats are neither Communists nor “groomers.” There is no “cultural Marxism.” “Woke” doesn’t refer to people being out to get you.

The bottom line, though, is that while the things they fear are mostly boogiemen, what’s really eating them is that they aren’t in total control. Their candidates lose some elections. They don’t control all the state legislatures. They don’t control the Senate or White House. Movies get made, books get published, things get said on television, that righties do not like. As long as there are people in America who are not with them and not under their control, they are going to feel rage.

And since what passes as their “political ideology” is utterly irrational, there is no reasoning with them. And this is something the great sociologist/psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm wrote about decades ago. In his essay on “The Authoritarian Personality,” published in 1957, he wrote,

When I speak of sadism as the active side of the authoritarian personality, many people may be surprised because sadism is usually understood as the tendency to torment and to cause pain. But actually, this is not the point of sadism. The different forms of sadism which we can observe have their root in a striving, which is to master and control another individual, to make him a helpless object of one’s will, to become his ruler, to dispose over him as one sees fit and without limitations. Humiliation and enslavement are just means to this purpose, and the most radical means to this is to make him suffer; as there is no greater power over a person than to make him suffer, to force him to endure pains without resistance.

The cruelty may not be the point, but it sure feels like it. And of course the members of this cult are never so happy as when they are displaying their power, whether it’s in boat parades or chanting stupid things at sports events or putting their feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. Happy happy joy joy.

Fromm is always worth reading. His observations are, of course, based on the rise of fascism in Germany, which he fled in 1933. I like what he says about the symbiosis of authoritarian followers and leaders. Both the leader and the followers are deeply alienated and frightened, but together they give each other power.

The sadistic-authoritarian character is as dependent on the ruled as the masochistic -authoritarian character on the ruler. However the image is misleading. As long as he holds power, the leader appears — to himself and to others — strong and powerful. His powerlessness becomes only apparent when he has lost his power, when he can no longer devour others, when he is on his own.

I am more and more persuaded that Trump kept his boxes and boxes of documents because they were an emotional crutch. They helped him feel connected to the power he had as POTUS. The man has no fortitude at all. He’s nearly reached the point of screaming for his binky.

Beware Fools With Money

There’s a long article about the Titan submersible that imploded a few days ago that’s worth reading. It’s by Ben Taub at The New Yorker, and if you hit a paywall open it in an incognito or inprivate window. I don’t subscribe to the New Yorker but can manage to read something in it now and then if I’m persistent.

The main character in it is Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate. Rush is depicted as someone with such unbounded faith in his own greatness that he didn’t believe the laws of physics applied to him. A number of people within the submersible industry, such as it is, knew or suspected that Rush’s submersible was a lemon. Author Ben Taub walks the reader through how decisions were made to build the thing the way it was built, which was basically the way Rush wanted it built so he could take passengers below to see the Titanic. Potential safety problems, when brouht to Rush’s attention, were dismissed out of hand. People tiptoed around him because he had a lot of money and influence and could ruin careers.

Here’s a sample:

“Stockton strategically structured everything to be out of U.S. jurisdiction” for its Titanic pursuits, the former senior OceanGate employee told me. “It was deliberate.” In a legal filing, the company reported that the submersible was “being developed and assembled in Washington, but will be owned by a Bahamian entity, will be registered in the Bahamas and will operate exclusively outside the territorial waters of the United States.” Although it is illegal to transport passengers in an unclassed, experimental submersible, “under U.S. regulations, you can kill crew,” McCallum told me. “You do get in a little bit of trouble, in the eyes of the law. But, if you kill a passenger, you’re in big trouble. And so everyone was classified as a ‘mission specialist.’ There were no passengers—the word ‘passenger’ was never used.” No one bought tickets; they contributed an amount of money set by Rush to one of OceanGate’s entities, to fund their own missions.

“It is truly hard to imagine the discernment it took for Stockton to string together each of the links in the chain,” Patrick noted. “ ‘How do I avoid liability in Washington State? How do I avoid liability with an offshore corporate structure? How do I keep the U.S. Coast Guard from breathing down my neck?’ ”

Here’s another bit.

“If you’re not breaking things, you’re not innovating,” Rush said, at the GeekWire Summit last fall. “If you’re operating within a known environment, as most submersible manufacturers do—they don’t break things. To me, the more stuff you’ve broken, the more innovative you’ve been.”

The Titan’s viewport was made of acrylic and seven inches thick. “That’s another thing where I broke the rules,” Rush said to Pogue, the CBS News journalist. He went on to refer to a “very well-known” acrylic expert, Jerry D. Stachiw, who wrote an eleven-hundred-page manual called “Handbook of Acrylics for Submersibles, Hyperbaric Chambers, and Aquaria.” “It has safety factors that—they were so high, he didn’t call ’em safety factors. He called ’em conversion factors,” Rush said. “According to the rules,” he added, his viewport was “not allowed.”

It seemed as if Rush believed that acrylic’s transparent quality would give him ample warning before failure. “You can see every surface,” he said. “And if you’ve overstressed it, or you’ve even come close, it starts to get this crazing effect.”

“And if that happened underwater . . .”

“You just stop and go to the surface.”

“You would have time to get back up?” Pogue asked.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s way more warning than you need.”

Ben Taub then interviews an expert on acrylic hull technology who said Stockton Rush had no idea what he was talking about.  And from what I understand, the submersible’s ballast had been dropped and the vessel was beginning to ascend when communication was lost. The  “mission specialists” knew something was wrong but didn’t have time to get out of trouble before implosion.

I started to title this post “Morons with Money.” But I changed my mind. I don’t know that Stockton Rush was a moron, but he definitely was a fool. One suspects he had always been cushioned with enough privilege and money that he never had to fully experiences the consequences of failure. The path to wisdom is paved with doubt.

And this takes us to Elon Musk. I take it this weekend he made changes to Twitter that just about made it unusuable for some people. See Elon Musk Finally Broke Twitter by Alex Shepherd at The New Republic. And I wouldn’t get into one of Musk’s spacecrafts if I were given a free ticket. One hopes that Musk has stayed out of managing SpaceX while he’s been busy destroying Twitter. See also 17 fatalities, 736 crashes: The shocking toll of Tesla’s Autopilot at WaPo. “… some of Musk’s decisions — such as widely expanding the availability of the features and stripping the vehicles of radar sensors — appear to have contributed to the reported uptick in incidents, according to experts who spoke with The Post.”

The recent court decision on affirmative action gives us concern for those who have too many barriers to face. But maybe we should be concerned for those who don’t have enough barriers. If there really were such a thing as an even playing field, would I be writing about Elon Musk or Stockton Rush right now?

Stockton Rush was named for two of his ancestors who signed the Declaration of Independence: Richard Stockton and Benjamin Rush. His maternal grandfather was an oil-and-shipping tycoon. As a teen-ager, Rush became an accomplished commercial jet pilot, and he studied aerospace engineering at Princeton, where he graduated in 1984.

No, probably not.

In other news. We’ve had a nice rash of mass shootings over the 4th of July weekend. Ain’t freedom grant?