The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

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.

Its Hour Come Round at Last: Trump Indictment Countdown

Trump says he’s going to be arrested on Tuesday.

This could very well be true. There have been a lot of signals that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is about to indict Trump. Manhattan prosecutors requested meeting with law enforcement to go through the details about how arresting a former president would work.

The former president has around-the-clock Secret Service protection, raising questions about how routine procedures — such as fingerprinting — would work amid a coterie of armed guards and obvious security concerns surrounding an ex-president. Fox News, citing a source, said that Manhattan prosecutors had requested a sit-down Thursday to “discuss logistics for some time next week, which would mean that they are anticipating an indictment next week.” 

I understand that if there is an indictment, Trump’s lawyers would be notified first, before the indictment is made public. S it’s possible Trump has been notified that he will need to surrender, or at least be available to be taken into custody, on Tuesday.

This would indicate that Trump intends to stay and fight rather than flee the country. He seems to believe an indictment will boost his election chances. Ed Kilgore at New York magazine:

Whether an indictment would hurt Trump’s campaign is a separate issue. Trump certainly does not think it would end his reelection bid. In fact, he told the Associated Press that criminal charges wouldn’t deter him in the slightest. “Oh, absolutely, I won’t even think about leaving,” he said this week. “Probably, it’ll enhance my numbers.”

That may sound like just another outlandish Trumpian brag, but it’s actually entirely plausible — in the short term at least. There is no reason to assume that a criminal indictment will change any minds among the MAGA faithful. Trump clearly benefited from both of his congressional impeachments among rank-and-file Republicans. And Trump’s base has been instructed for years that the “deep state,” with its tentacles extending into every branch of government, is determined to remove him from the picture in order to resume its persecution of “patriots” and its globalist destruction of the U.S.

It’s also the case that the Stormy Daniels payoff story is an old one that everybody’s heard. It’s also among the least interesting of the many legal problems Trump is facing now. There are arguments floating around that it’s to Trump’s advantage that this is the case going forward first, because he can so easily claim this is just old fake news, and Alvin Bragg is just grasping at anything to stop Trump from being elected POTUS again. We’ll see. See also Josh Marshall, Does It Matter That the Stormy Case Goes First?

In other news, yesterday a Washington DC district court judge ordered that Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran has to testify to Jack Smith’s investigation. Corcoran can’t claim attorney-client privilege because of the crime-fraud exception.

Somebody Explain History to Republicans

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I’m looking forward to corned beef and Guinness this evening. You, too, I hope.

I am reminded that we’re nearing the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Spencer Ackerman has a retrospective at The Nation, The Unlearned Lessons From the War in Iraq. “You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to view US foreign policy through a lens of logical consistency rather than according to its signature mix of material interest and exceptionalist fantasy,” he writes.

U.S. foreign policy has been more about what sells at home and what helps win elections than about what’s really best for the U.S. and the world for a long time. Consider the Republican Party. Way back when, before Pearl Harbor, U.S. conservatives were isolationists. Some of them even admired Hitler. Then after World War II they flippy-flopped to being proactive hawks ready to send troops anywhere to fight the Commies before they attacked us.

By 1950 U.S. foreign policy was mostly about shutting down anything that looked like less than 100 percent support for capitalism. That’s why U.S. and British intelligence agencies orchestrate a coup in 1955 that ousted Iran’s democratically elected and secularist Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. This was mostly because Mossadeq wanted to nationalize his nation’s oil industry. Can’t have that. But this bit of stupidity set up a world of hurt for a lot of people, including us, in the future. U.S. “tough on commies” foreign policy tended to backfire a lot, such as its support for the dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, which you might remember didn’t end well, either. 

Democrats got sucked into Red Scare hysteria too, of course. Lyndon Johnson sent troops into Vietnam because he feared being accused of “losing” Vietnam the way the U.S. had “lost” China. A “soft on Communism” label was a hard thing to overcome.

Richard Nixon sabotaged peace talks with Vietnam so he could win an election against Johnson — which resulted in the Vietnam War continuing even longer and Nixon owning it.  Did Ronald Reagan negotiate with the Ayatollah Khomeini to sabotage hostage negotiations so he could win an election against Jimmy Carter? Reagan really didn’t have anything to do with the Iran hostage release, according to everyone who knows anything about it, but Reagan got the credit anyway.

I don’t have the strength to review the messes made by Ronald Reagan (Lebanon, anyone? Iran Contra? Grenada?), but it has to be said the high point of movement conservatism was probably the moment that Reagan went to Berlin in 1987 and said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  Or something like that. Republicans liked to give Reagan sole credit for ending the Soviet Union, but in truth he was a very tiny part of a much bigger picture. The USSR likely would have ended as it did had Reagan never gone to Berlin, or even been elected President. Try telling a Republican that, though.

Bill Clinton wasn’t really a foreign policy president as much as he was a globalization president, which is a whole ‘nother mess that needs its own discussion. But toward his last couple of years in office he really was focused on the rising threat of Islamic terrorism and tried to warn the incoming Bush II administration about it. The Bushies blew him off and ignored al Qaeda, until September 11, 2001.

People forget that a majority of House Democrats (126 to 81) voted against the Iraq War Resolution in October 2022. Had they all voted against it, it still would have passed with 215 Republican votes. It was the Senate Democrats who let us down on that one. The Dems had 50 seats in the Senate, plus the former Republican turned Independent James Jeffords was caucusing with the Dems. They could have stopped it. But 29 Democrats voted with 48 Republicans to pass the thing. There’s a list of who voted how at Wikipedia.

My impression is that many of those Dems voted for the damn resolution because they didn’t want to be blamed for being soft on terrorism. Hillary Clinton later tried to claim that she didn’t realize Bush was going to really invade Iraq. Yeah, right.

Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions don’t stand much scrutiny either, frankly. Providing support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen was an indefensible thing to do, IMO. But then … Donald Trump? Who wanted to destroy NATO? Who negotiated with the Taliban? Who sent Turkish President Erdogan an engraved invitation to go ahead and wipe out our Kurdish allies in northern Syria (because “betraying the Kurds” is another recurring theme in U.S. foreign policy)? Who enabled a mass release of ISIS prisoners?

Trump’s so-called foreign policy was what you’d expect if you put a spoiled 9-year-old who had already flunked third-grade geology in charge of foreign policy. But he got one pass after another because the Republican Party, the one-time party of foreign policy toughness and anti-Communist hawks, protected him.

And now the Republican party can’t even rally behind defending Ukraine, because a big chunk of younger (as in under age 60) Republicans are isolationists who admire Vlad Putin and would possibly turn the nation over to Viktor Orban if they could. A portion of the Republican Party has come full circle to about where it was in 1940. From the Washington Post:

When Ronald Reagan addressed a brand new organization of upstart conservatives nearly five decades ago, he cast U.S. entanglements abroad as part of the nation’s destiny to take on “leadership of the free world” and to serve as a shining “city on the hill” that inspired other countries, sparking thunderous applause.

At a dinner named after the former president at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering earlier this month, failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake pushed a very different message to the party’s activists.

“We are living on planet crazy where we have hundreds of billions of dollars of our hard-earned American money being sent overseas to start World War III,” Lake said in her keynote address, inflating the amount of U.S. aid that’s been sent to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. “This is not our fight. We are ‘America First!’”

Charles Lindbergh was making very similar speeches 80-something years ago. The new isolationists are even using the same old slogans.

I would like to say that I flinch a bit whenever Democrats make defending Ukraine all about doing something nice for another democracy. That’s fine, but there’s also the little matter of not risking a wider war in Europe. If Putin isn’t stopped in Ukraine he is likely to want to start taking nibbles out of other eastern European countries that used to be part of the USSR. He’s got to be stopped somewhere. Might as well do it in Ukraine. If Putin can be stopped without risking the lives of U.S. troops, so much the better. And if stopping Putin in Ukraine gives Xi Jinping second thoughts about invading Taiwan, better still. It’s very possible that not stopping Putin is what could lead to World War III. See, for example, World War II.

Speaking of Vladimir Putin, the International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for him.

Well, happy St. Paddy’s, anyway.

Republicans Have a Republican Problem

I keep reading that the Republicans have a DeSantis problem or that Florida has a DeSantis problem, but in Politico I read that DeSantis has a Florida problem. Get this:

In the run-up to the primary, DeSantis solidified his place as Trump’s chief rival for the nomination largely based on an electability argument. He was MAGA, like Trump, but without the former president’s baggage or toxicity to moderate Republicans and independents — the kind of voters Republicans will need to run Joe Biden from the White House next year.

But as DeSantis edges closer to announcing, he is testing the limits of how hard right he can go without undermining his rationale for running in the first place. It’s a significant risk in a primary in which Republican voters — sore from losing the White House in 2020 and a less-than-red-wave midterm two years later — are desperate to nominate a candidate who can win.

“In a way, the Republican dominance of the Florida Legislature may end up hurting DeSantis because his proposals can become reality,” said Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in Arizona. “That may help him in a primary in Iowa or Texas or South Dakota, but in a general election in Arizona, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, it could be ruinous for him.”

To restate, DeSantis might be in trouble because the Florida legislature is likely to pass some of his hard-right policy proposals in the next few months, which would be a big screaming warning that as President he would actually do what he promises to do, which would turn off voters. Reflect on that for a bit.

His most recent thing is to call for a ban on abortions past six weeks’ gestation. That by itself should destroy him in a general election for POTUS. How many times must Republicans get beaten up over this issue before they get the memo? Or does DeSantis think he can somehow pivot to a more “moderate” position once he get the nomination? I don’t think so.

A DeSantis spokesperson declined to comment. But a top Republican consultant in Tallahassee, who was granted anonymity to talk freely about DeSantis, said there is a logic behind the governor’s moves.

“The bottom line is that if he decides to run he wants to have the most robust cultural and policy conservative list of accomplishments,” said the consultant. “This makes him impervious to hits from the right.”

Taken to logical conclusions, this seems to be saying that no presidential candidate who can win a Republican nomination has a prayer in a general election. At some point the Republican Party may need to address this.

One New York Republican, granted anonymity to speak freely about the party primary dynamics, said a six-week ban viewed as unpalatably restrictive to some will be considered too weak by some anti-abortion rights purists in the right wing of the GOP.

“This position is so scrutinized that you’ll lose a core constituency in allowing for any abortion at any time,” said the person, who is partial to Trump. “Six weeks sounds like the middle ground that a political operative would advise you to take. Six weeks is not what the Christian right voters will accept. There is a definite bifurcation between political realities and politically paid staffers.”

There is a definite bifurcation between the Republican base and the sense God gave turnips, in other words. See also S.C. Republicans propose bill that could subject women who have abortions to the death penalty. So “pro life” they are.

Speaking of bifurcations, one may be closing between Trump and justice. Dozens of Mar-a-Lago staff, from servers to aides, are subpoenaed in classified documents probe is the latest at CNN. Jack Smith is also pushing to get Evan Corcoran to testify.

And yesterday we learned the Fulton County special grand jury heard testimony we didn’t even know about.

Fulton County investigators have an audio recording of a phone call that former President Donald Trump made to the Georgia House speaker to push for a special session to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Fulton County special grand jury, which investigated Trump’s actions in the state after the 2020 election, heard the recording of Trump’s call to David Ralston, according to five of the jurors who spoke anonymously to the AJC. A source confirmed to CNN the existence of the recording, which hasn’t been made public.

Don’t take too long, folks.


SVB Failure: Twilight of the Tech Bros?

I blame the tech bros. Edward Ongweso Jr. writes at Slate,

If the technological innovation coming out of Silicon Valley is as important as venture capitalists insist, the past few days suggest they haven’t been very responsible stewards of it. The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank late last week may have resulted from a perfect storm of ugly events. But it was also emblematic of a startup ecosystem and venture-capital apparatus that are too unstable, too risky, and too unmoored from reality to be left in charge of something as important as the direction of our technological development.

As the startups that make up Silicon Valley Bank’s customer base scrambled to figure out whether they would be able to make payroll, a group of extremely online venture capitalists spent four days emoting on Twitter, ginning up confusion and hysteria about the threat of a systemic risk if depositors didn’t get all their money back, pronto. All weekend, they screamed that there would be an economic collapse, that they were concerned about the workers, that the Federal Reserve was responsible, that-that-that … until finally, on Sunday evening, they got what they wanted: the government promising full account access to all Silicon Valley Bank depositors.

The Republicans are screaming about bank bailouts today. It’s important to stipulate that the bank is not getting a bailout. It is gone. “The banks’ equity and bond holders are being wiped out,” said the official at Treasury. “They took a risk as owners of the securities, they will take the losses,” it says here. The DEPOSITORS will get back the money they had on deposit, including deposits in excess of the $250,000 that already was insured by FDIC. But this money is not coming out of our taxes. It is being paid out of the Deposit Insurance Fund, which is funded with quarterly fees assessed on financial institutions and interest on government bonds.

But the venture capitalists helped cause the freaking problem by being willing to fund just about anything with “tech” attached to it. The Silicon Valley bros got used to snapping their fingers and getting wads of cash for it. Ongweso continues,

For over a decade, low interest rates have allowed venture capitalists to accumulate huge funds to give increasingly unprofitable firms with unrealistic business models increasingly larger valuations—one 2021 analysis found that not only were 90 percent of U.S. startups that were valued over $1 billion unprofitable, but that most would remain so. Give metens of billions of dollars and a $120 billion valuation and someday, somehow, I will replace every taxi driver with gig workers paid subminimum wages—or robot taxis paid no wages—while charging exorbitant fares for rides, increasing pollution, and adding to traffic. Or not, and I will sell off all the science-fiction projects I’ve promised, but still fail to make a profit.

Over the last year, rising interest rates to combat inflation have meant less free money for science-fiction projects, pressuring investors to change their entire approach and actually fund realistic ventures at realistic valuations with realistically sized funds and deals. Drops in valuations meant smaller checks, which meant smaller deposits at Silicon Valley Bank, and more and more withdrawals as startups ran out of cash themselves. It also meant the bonds SVB bought were now worth less than when purchased, so they’d have to be sold at a loss to generate some liquidity, so that clients could withdraw their deposits.

Martin Levine wrote last week at Bloomberg that the SVB collapse was a problem having to do with venture-capital backed tech startups, not the financial system generally. And here Ongweso is saying the same thing. Until recently the tech startups were having big wads of cash thrown at them by the venture capital people, so they didn’t need business loans. Since SVB wasn’t being called on to make a lot of business loans, it put its money into long-range fixed-rate securities, which are usually safe unless there is inflation. But there was inflation, and SVB’s securities lost market value,  and suddenly the bank was short of cash on hand to cover deposits.

Some writers at the Wall Street Journal put it more succinctly: “Bankers that grew up in the easy-money era following the 2008 crisis failed to ready themselves for rates to rise again. And when rates went up, they forgot the playbook.” Jeez, that was just 15 years ago, people.

Andy Kessler writes at the Wall Street Journal,

SVB got caught with its pants down as interest rates went up. Everyone, except SVB management it seems, knew interest rates were heading up. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been shouting this from the mountain tops. Yet SVB froze and kept business as usual, borrowing short-term from depositors and lending long-term, without any interest-rate hedging.

The bear market started in January 2022, 14 months ago. Surely it shouldn’t have taken more than a year for management at SVB to figure out that credit would tighten and the IPO market would dry up. Or that companies would need to spend money on salaries and cloud services. Nope, and that was mistake No. 2. SVB misread its customers’ cash needs. Risk management seemed to be an afterthought. The bank didn’t even have a chief risk officer for eight months last year. CEO Greg Becker sat on the risk committee.

Mistake number 1, Kessler wrote, was what they did with the mountain of venture capital startup cash that they had on deposit. “There was no way SVB was going to initiate $131 billion in new loans. So the bank put some of this new capital into higher-yielding long-term government bonds and $80 billion into 10-year mortgage-backed securities paying 1.5% instead of short-term Treasurys paying 0.25%.”

I’m reading now that an accounting firm called KPMG gave both Silicon Valley and Signature banks  clean bills of health just days before they both failed. (Signature was big into crypto; the feds just took it over, too.) Is KPMG the new Arthur Andersen?

But at the Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz puts some of the blame on Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell and his interest rate hikes. This was bound to put a lot of strain on the financial sector, Stiglitz said.

Now, as a result of Powell’s callous – and totally unnecessary – advocacy of pain, we have a new set of victims, and America’s most dynamic sector and region will be put on hold. Silicon Valley’s startup entrepreneurs, often young, thought the government was doing its job, so they focused on innovation, not on checking their bank’s balance sheet daily – which in any case they couldn’t have done. (Full disclosure: my daughter, the CEO of an education startup, is one of those dynamic entrepreneurs.)

Stiglitz understands the economy a lot better than I do, and there have been many reasons to criticize the interest rate hikes. But I’m leaning more toward Edward Ongweso on this one. The venture capitalists and the tech bros generally have been operating with serious disregard for reality. And anyone managing a bank should have noticed the interest rate hikes, which started just about a year ago. Did SVB take any steps starting a year ago to be sure it had cash on hand? Not that I’ve seen.

Spreaking of Arthur Andersen, I wrote back in 2006 when the Enron boys were on trial that people who become Captains of Industry tend to be very sure of themselves and their ways of doing things. As their companies start to go south, all too often they keep doing the same old thing and figure that with enough time it will all right itself. They will always be proved to be right, if given enough time. If they fail, it’s because someone lacked faith. And this is why these people need to be regulated.

Oh, and Ron DeSantis is going around saying that SVB failed because of its diversity programs. It’s too woke. I’m serious. And here is more proof the Right has a collective IQ of minus seven and should not be trusted with anything more complicated than a squeaky toy.

There Are No Libertarians in a Bank Failure

The collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank may be a bigger deal than I first realized. As I live far from Silicon Valley I had never heard of this bank before. Here’s a basic explanation of what happened:

On Friday, regulators took over Silicon Valley Bank, a 40-year-old institution known for lending to tech startups, seizing all deposits. Earlier in the week the company had announced emergency measures in order to preserve its liquidity, leading to a customer bank run. On Friday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took control of the insolvent bank. CNBC called it “the largest U.S. banking failure since the 2008 financial crisis and the second-largest ever.” Thousands of tech companies are now scrambling to figure out what this means for their future. The bank liked to brag that nearly half of all venture-capital funded startups had accounts there. $250,000 is insured by the F.D.I.C. But that’s not much of a comfort to a company like Roku, the creator of a popular digital media player, which had nearly $500 million in the bank, according to an SEC filing.

On the other hand, a company called CAMP that sells toys and play spaces used it for a sales promo:

l hope CAMP gets its money back. Here’s some more background:

The regulation that was put in place for the nation’s biggest banks after the financial crisis includes stringent capital requirements, which means they must have a certain amount of reserves for moments of crisis, as well as stipulations about how diversified their businesses must be.

But Silicon Valley Bank and others its size do not have the same regulatory oversight. In 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed a bill that lessened scrutiny for many regional banks. Silicon Valley Bank’s chief executive, Greg Becker, was a strong supporter of the move. Among other things, it changed requirements for the amount of cash that these banks had to keep on their balance sheets to protect against shocks.

The financial sector guys cannot learn. They always think they’re smarter than the last financial sector guys who screwed up and caused a meltdown. But they aren’t. Anyway, I understand the fallout of this on other financial institutions has been mixed.

Word is that Peter Thiel had many millions in Silicon Valley Bank but pulled it all out last week at the first sign of trouble, and that’s what precipitated the run on the bank.

Matt Levine writes at Bloomberg that part of SVB’s problem was that it had a lot of its assets in fixed-rate bonds rather than in loans, which means rising interest rates really messed it up. The bank was buying fixed-rate bonds with money on deposit because the tech startup companies it catered to had lots of cash from equity investors and didn’t need loans. I’m sure that’s an oversimplification of the situation, but that’s how I understand it. Banks usually profit from higher interest rates, because they raise the interest rates on loans. But SVB was stuck with long-term fixed-rate bonds, and the market rate of the bonds was going down. At the same time, the startup clients were withdrawing deposits to keep their companies afloat during a slow time for IPOs.

Anyway, on Wednesday the bank sold almost all of its securities, some $21 billion worth, at a $1.8 billion loss. Then the bank tried to sell $2.25 billion in new shares, but failed. Then Theil pulled his money out and told all his clients to pull their money out. SVB was done for.

There’s been much snickering about all the Silicon Valley libertarians who hate government regulation but now want the feds to bail out Silicon Valley Bank. Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, perhaps there are no libertarians in a bank failure.