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The Dirty White Collar

Yesterday, Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in jail (3 years, 11 months) on his conviction for defrauding banks and the government, and for failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars of income. Considering that prosecutors asked for a sentence of 19 to 25 years, that is quite a light sentence. Subtracting time already served and the customary time off for good behavior, Manafort could be released in just over two years.

Why would a judge give such a light sentence to someone who never expressed any remorse for his crimes? The judge who sentenced him leniently even said “I was surprised I did not hear you express regret for engaging in criminal conduct. I hope you will reflect on that.”

But something else the same judge said triggered a backlash. He claimed that Manafort “lived an otherwise blameless life,” and that he was also a good friend and generous person to others. Seriously.

The Atlantic compiled a long list of the evil and corrupt things Manafort has done in his “blameless life”. Here are some of them:

  • Manafort worked for Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos to improve his image in Washington after Marcos assassinated his main political opponent.
  • He worked to keep arms flowing to Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, “a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa”. These arms included millions of landmines, which resulted in 15 thousand innocent people losing limbs or their lives.
  • As for being generous and a good friend, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded because he inflated his expenses and cut his partners out of deals.
  • The income taxes he failed to pay came from his work as “the chief political advisor to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine” who corruptly enriched themselves with government contracts and collaborated with the Russians.
  • During his time as head of the Trump presidential campaign, Manafort “installed one of his proteges as the head of a pro-Trump super-PAC” who then funneled $125,000 to Manafort.
  • During this very trial, Manafort tried to tamper with a potential witness, so their stories would align.
  • And of course, he promised to fully cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, and then repeatedly lied to them.

Social media erupted, including posts from legal experts and lawmakers, criticizing the lenient sentence and pointing out instances where people convicted of much lesser crimes received far harsher punishments. For example:

  • A public defender in New York posted that the day before Manafort was sentenced, a client of his was given 36 to 72 months in jail for stealing $100 in quarters from a residential laundry room.
  • A woman who received 5 years in prison for voting while on probation, something she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to do.
  • A mother of six who got 15 years in prison for drug possession. Her 18-year-old is now raising five kids.
  • Or a 16-year-old who spent three years in jail without ever being convicted of any crime. The charges against him — stealing a knapsack — were finally dropped, which means that someone who was never convicted of a petty crime spent almost as much time in jail as Manafort’s sentence.

Their point is not that Manafort should have received a stronger sentence, but that the poor and people of color consistently receive far harsher sentences than white collar criminals who show up at their trials wearing expensive suits (Manafort’s lavish lifestyle included spending more than a million dollars on custom suits).

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More Trump Doublespeak

On June 13, 2018, as Donald Trump arrived home after his first summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, he tweeted:

Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

Now, on the eve of Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong Un, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was interviewed by Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: Do you — do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?

POMPEO: Yes.

TAPPER: But the President said he doesn’t.

POMPEO: That’s not what he said.

These cannot both be true.

Actually, they are both lying: Trump for claiming that North Korea is no longer a Nuclear Threat, and Pompeo for claiming that that is not what Trump said.

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Election Fraud is Real!

Ok, I admit it. Republicans have been warning us that massive election fraud is real for years. In last year’s Florida election, Donald Trump warned us that the vote count was “massively infected” with “large numbers of new ballots” showing up “out of nowhere” while other ballots were “missing or forged.” And he claimed election officials were suspiciously “finding votes in Florida and Georgia” after the election. Trump also insisted “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

And the Republicans even put their money where the president’s mouth is. They diligently combed through voter rolls, removing anyone who was the least bit suspicious. They passed laws requiring voters to show ID in order to vote. They insisted on allocating billions of dollars to build a wall to keep illegal aliens from flooding into the US in order to vote. But we didn’t believe.

Now, we have an actual case of election fraud. A well documented case that by all appearances changed the result in a federal election.

That’s horrible! Why didn’t we listen?

Well, as New York magazine puts it “The irony is pretty rich“. This was election fraud, not voter fraud. There is no evidence of people voting illegally at all. What there is plenty of evidence of is that absentee ballots were massively tampered with by a Republican operative — hired by (and with the knowledge of) the Republican candidate for a congressional seat in North Carolina:

Unused absentee ballots were fraudulently filled out with signatures forged, and actually filled-out absentee ballots cast for the “wrong” candidate were discarded.

It is obvious that none of the Republican remedies for voter fraud — tighter voter-ID laws, purges of voter rolls, or closer scrutinized voter-registration drives — would have made any difference at all. In fact, the only real purpose of these Republican remedies is to suppress people from voting, people who typically vote Democratic. That’s why in Texas, the GOP passed a law making a concealed-weapon permit acceptable ID for voting, but not a student ID.

And now that there is an actual case of election fraud (albeit committed by Republicans), the same Republicans who argued “The sanctity of the vote must be protected at all costs” are now strangely silent. When Trump was asked about the fraud in North Carolina, he changed the subject to imaginary fraud elsewhere. Other Republican politicians, and right-wing news outlets, have also been silent.

Kevin Siers
© Kevin Siers
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Pretend-Meta-Pretend

How many layers of pretending can we put up with from our Onion in Chief?

Jen Sorensen
© Jen Sorensen

As usual, creator Jen Sorensen has good commentary to go with her comic:

This cartoon was inspired by Trump’s recent Twitter explosion over Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of him on SNL. Among other things, Trump called for “retribution” and added “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Garry Kasparov noted that this was reminiscent of Putin’s attack on the Russian satire show Kukly. Per Newsweek:

In Kukly’s most infamous episode, broadcast in January 2000, Putin was depicted as an evil, infant gnome muttering the kind of earthy expressions that had built up his tough-guy persona. Putin was reportedly furious, and the removal of his puppet was one of the conditions required by Kremlin aides for the TV channel’s survival. NTV refused to comply, and within months, the channel was under state control. Putin jokes quickly vanished from Russia’s television screens.

While we aren’t quite there yet, we seem to be on an authoritarian slide. 

In the SNL skit, Alec Baldwin (as Trump) refers to his “personal hell of playing president” and I thought I’d riff on that.

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Better Trump than Trump

Alec Baldwin on SNL is doing a better job of being Donald Trump than Trump himself does. If you don’t believe me, watch this video, also from SNL, that has actual clips of Trump from his declaration of the fake national emergency. I think we elected the wrong TV personality!

Baldwin hit the nail on the head so hard that it got even Trump’s attention. So the official presidential proclamation is that there is “Nothing funny about tried Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC!”

Trump went on, saying “Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!” Has anyone ever had thinner skin than Trump?

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A Nation of Immigrants!

Jen Sorensen
© Jen Sorensen

Not to mention that these same (white) folks have committed more terrorism than any minority group. Law and order starts at home, especially if your home is espousing hatred, racism, and misogyny.

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What we stand for

Electoral Vote has a good piece talking about the importance of Democrats taking a stand on big issues. They chastise a recent column by Chris Cizzilla titled “How Democrats are handing Donald Trump a viable path to a second term”. Cizzilla claims that it is dangerous for the Dems to support the “Green New Deal” and late term abortions (in the case when the fetus is not viable or the mother’s life is in danger). Cizzilla doesn’t want the the Democrats to endorse any policy that the Republicans might use against them in the next presidential election.

Electoral Vote points out that this is exactly the attitude that has people fed up with the Democratic Party status quo – they are afraid to stand for anything even remotely controversial. And they point out that the Republicans don’t need any real reason to attack the Democrats – Trump has demonstrated again and again that he will simply make something up when he wants to attack the Dems.

I’ve been watching AOC, and I have to say that while I don’t agree with many of her proposed policies, I find her “damn the torpedoes” approach very appealing. It feels good to have Democratic politicians who aren’t afraid to stand for something.

Tom Tomorrow
© Tom Tomorrow
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Q&A

Last summer, somebody asked on Quora “Why do many British people not like Donald Trump“. They got back 43 answers. Here’s one of them:

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.
Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.
And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a bully’s snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

1. Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
2. You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

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Surveying Racism

An ironic twist in the scandal rocking Virginia governor Ralph Northam coming from a new poll. Overall, Virginians are deadlocked, with 47% saying that he should step down as governor, and 47% saying he should not (6% with no opinion).

However, while 48% of whites say that Northam should resign, among blacks, only 37% want him to resign. Does this mean that whites are more upset than blacks about Northam having a photo showing someone in blackface in his medical school yearbook page.

Maybe, but probably not. The same survey shows that 56% of Republicans think he should resign. It is difficult to believe that Republicans are saying this because they are upset about any alleged racism. Among Democrats, 40% think he should resign.

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What’s in a name?

An 11-year-old boy named Joshua Trump was invited by Melania Trump (no relation) to the State of the Union speech Tuesday night. He was invited because he had to drop out of school in Maryland after he was bullied about his last name. I applaud Melania for inviting him, even if it was (likely) done to score a political point against critics of her husband.

But the ironic part is that during the speech, Joshua Trump fell asleep.

Of course, people on Twitter noticed this when the cameras panned across the audience, and immediately hailed him a hero, tweeting “JOSHUA TRUMP RULES”, “Joshua Trump, welcome to the resistance”, and “All of us were Joshua Trump Midway through President (no relation) Trump’s State of the Union”.

Maybe the youngster just needed some “executive time“, like his namesake. And that just might be a good thing.

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The Right to be Offended?

I fully expect I’m going to get a bunch of pushback on this one. I welcome discussion about this.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is being pressured into resigning because of a photo from his 1984 yearbook, showing two people, one in blackface and one wearing a KKK costume, both holding beers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he didn’t make a mistake. But people make stupid mistakes all the time. You make amends, apologize, and move on.

I don’t know if that photo was taken at a Hallowe’en party, but it is actually somewhat funny having a black person and a KKK person drinking a beer together. I haven’t seen any evidence that it was intended to be racist.

Wearing blackface was not always considered racist. Al Jolson, probably the most famous person to wear blackface, worked hard his whole life to improve race relations and was considered a hero by most blacks.

Again, I’m not defending what he did. I just don’t see it as anything more than a small stupid mistake made a long time ago. And it is one more example of the left exercising the dubious right to be offended.

Of course, the GOP doesn’t know when to shut up and let the Dems sling mud at each other. Indeed, on Twitter Saturday an outraged Donald Trump Jr. claimed that the Republicans would never be able to get away with a racist scandal like this. In response, Twitter gleefully reminded him of all the racist scandals they have been able to get away with:

Twitter followers reminded him that his dad called black nations “shithole countries,” hailed Charlottesville protesters, including neo Nazis, as “very fine people,” and long pushed the “birther” lie that the nation’s only black president was born in Africa. Meanwhile, white nationalist GOP Iowa Rep. Steve King is serving his 16th year in Congress. (One Twitter response included a photo of President Donald Trump’s oldest son happily posing with King.)

Clay Jones
© Clay Jones

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The End of The Wall

I doubt if anyone knows how it will end. Including Donald Trump.

Previously, he didn’t seem to care if they called it a wall or even something silly like “peaches“. Now he is back to insisting that everyone call it a wall again and “stop playing political games”, even though it is obvious that the person who keeps changing the name is Trump himself.

Regardless of what you call it, a wall is a completely stupid idea, and no matter how much Trump lies about the need for one, it is obvious that the only thing a wall will do is help Trump with his most rabid base.

© Drew Sheneman
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Out-Foxed

In July 2017, Donald Trump announced that Taiwanese manufacturer “Foxconn will build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for the production of LCD panel products in Wisconsin”. The 20-million square foot campus was supposed to cost $10 billion and employ 13,000 workers. Trump bragged that this was proof of his ability to revive American manufacturing.

Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker lured Foxconn by giving them a stunning $4 billion in tax breaks, which means that the taxpayers were ponying up over $300,000 per job. I’ve often been a critic of luring big companies with corporate welfare, because such schemes simply move jobs from one place to another, rather than creating new jobs. In addition, the loss of tax revenue for schools and other needed infrastructure often means that fewer new jobs will be created in the future. Indeed, Walker made deep cuts to the state university system and under him, Wisconsin ranked dead last of all the states in new-business start-up activity.

But it gets worse. Foxconn just announced that they will not build a manufacturing facility in the US after all, saying “In terms of TV, we have no place in the US. We can’t compete.” Instead, it will be more profitable to build the panels in China and Japan, ship them to Mexico for final assembly, and import the finished product to the US, because of the high cost of labor in the US. Duh.

Foxconn will instead build an R&D facility in Wisconsin, but rather than 13,000 jobs, the number is likely to be around 1,000 workers. Despite what Trump said, these will not be manufacturing jobs, they will be “knowledge” positions, the kind of jobs for which you need highly educated workers.

Trump’s base is screwed again. Will they notice?

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Reality

© Tom Tomorrow

Reading this comic, one has to be amazed at how absolutely insane our reality has become. I’m beginning to think that impeachment won’t be enough, that maybe it is time to bring back tarring and feathering (in this case, perhaps using Sparky’s penguin feathers). The future, if we are lucky enough to have one, will probably look back at this time with horror and disgust.

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F-ing Impossible

The blog Margaret and Helen has been quiet since before Thanksgiving. But Helen Philpot finally broke the silence with an epic rant, titled:

Do you have any idea how hard it is not to use the F-word when talking about Donald Trump? It’s damn near f-ing impossible. #FactsMatter #HowToTrainYourDragon

Philpot gloriously lambasts Twitter, Roger Stone (saying “given enough time I can probably prove that while not every asshole is on Twitter, they are all on a Republican payroll somewhere”), the Washington Post, Fox News (“the only place with more assholes full of shit than Twitter”), the NRA, and (of course) the “Cheeto in Chief”, AKA “the Great Orange Yeast Infection”.

Go read it. Just one warning: Philpot actually uses the F-word (for the first time ever).

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