"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress" ~Mark Twain
CBS aired a report last night about congressional insider trading, based on a new book by Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution. The allegations are pretty lurid:
After seeing similar accusations floating around the web for years, I finally wrote a story about this phenomenon a few months ago. While I have not yet read Schweizer's book, the academic evidence on congressional insider trading is mixed: an older study found a huge effect (Senators outperform the market by 12%, while house members outperform by a still impressive 6%); but a newer study, as yet unpublished, showed that as a group, congressmen slightly underperform index funds.
How to reconcile this with the eye-popping trades described in the 60 Minutes piece? Spencer Bachus betting that the economy would tank right after he was briefed on the financial crisis in 2008; John Boehner buying health insurance stocks shortly before the public option was finally killed; Nancy Pelosi getting preferential IPO shares in Visa right around the time a bill that would have hurt credit card processors was defeated.
Well, each of these trades does have an innocent explanation. In late September 2008, it was getting fairly obvious that there was big trouble afoot in the markets. Similarly, it was clear that the public option was dead long before its obituary ran. And Nancy Pelosi is a very wealthy lady; those types of accounts do get preferential access to IPOs.
The problem is, they also have a non-innocent explanation. And there's the rub: we don't know. We ought to be able to trust our congressmen. But when they won't take even small steps to improve their transparency--Louise Slaughter's STOCK Act has gone nowhere even though its requirements are hardly onerous--then the mistrust gets even worse.
There's not even a way to prosecute this under the law; it is at best ambiguous whether it's even a crime for our legislators to trade based on their inside information (the way it is for every single other person in the country). And even if it were decided that it is a crime, I encountered a reluctance among government officials to even talk about the subject, which suggests that it would be difficult to get anyone to bring a case.
Schweizer and I agree on the solution: with some exemption for family-owned businesses and real estate, all the assets of congressmen ought to go into a blind trust (I would also be okay with stock and bond-market based index funds that they can only reallocate once a year). That would eliminate both the appearance of impropriety, and the temptation that any human being must feel to lean on the scales in a way that benefits their portfolio.
But past results offer little chance that this will happen. These studies come out a few years, some outraged journalists cover them, and then . . . nothing. Congress has no incentive to fix the problem. And voters don't seem to care enough to make them.
Overshadowed by headlines about chaos and infighting, the new administration is notching a string of early victories.
From some angles, the Trump presidency is off to a rocky start. There were the somewhat disappointing crowds at the inauguration, and then the needless lies about them, presented as “alternative facts.” There’s the controversy over Trump’s remarks to the CIA, and precisely who in the crowd cheered his visit. On Monday, the president repeated a dumb and unnecessary lie about illegal ballots having cost him the popular vote during a meeting with members of Congress. The Washington Post reports in detail on White House infighting and an attempted reboot—just four days into the administration. ABC’s The Notefrowns, “He can’t help himself, and he isn’t helping himself.”
But what if the Trump presidency is actually off to a surprisingly effective start? For months, Trump has shown a perverse ability to overshadow his own message with chaos and disorder, and the first five days of his administration fit right into that pattern.
The technology has been used to create sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.
One of the first measures that Republicans in the 115th Congress proposed was the “Heartbeat Protection Act.” On January 11, a group led by Steve King of Iowa introduced a bill that would require doctors nationwide to “check for a fetal heartbeat” before performing an abortion, and prohibit them from completing the procedure if they found one. In December, Republicans in the Ohio state legislature put forth a similar measure. Governor John Kasich vetoed it, observing that such a law would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional, but approved a 20-week abortion ban.
Opponents of the heartbeat bills have pointed out that they would eliminate abortion rights almost entirely—making the procedure illegal around four weeks after fertilization, before many women realize that they are pregnant. These measures raise even more elementary questions: What is a fetal heartbeat? And why does it matter?
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s assertion that the National Mall was "full when the president took the Oath of Office" is demonstrably false.
On January 21, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement criticizing journalists for their coverage of President Trump's inauguration. Some media outlets, Spicer claimed, were using photographs of the event in misleading and deceptive ways. To back this claim up, Spicer made a number of assertions that turned out to be false. He offered incorrect D.C. Metro-ridership numbers, and said that white ground coverings had never been used on the Mall during Inauguration before, when they had been employed in 2013. Two days later, during his first press conference, Spicer blamed the bad Metro numbers on an "outside agency" and stated that his claim about the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," was meant to include all viewership, in person and online, rather than referring to the in-person crowd specifically.
The NSA is relaxing its privacy rules, allowing more information on the private communications of Americans to be sent to 15 different intelligence agencies.
Long before Donald Trump entered politics, I fretted about ongoing mass surveillance on Americans powered by technology beyond what’s found in some dystopian novels. We have no idea who the president will be in 2017, I wrote, “nor do we know who'll sit on key Senate oversight committees, who will head the various national-security agencies, or whether the moral character of the people doing so, individually or in aggregate, will more closely resemble George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Yoo, or Vladimir Putin.” Whoever is in charge, I declared, “will possess the capacity to be tyrants––to use power oppressively and unjustly––to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could've scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we're counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils.”
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
The Trump administration seems wedded to a political strategy of lying to the public, challenging the media to adjust.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, called Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first official press conference a “tour de force.” That’s not strange, because Trump advisers’ main rhetorical approach is to reflect their boss’ penchant for exaggeration. What’s strange is that much of the media seemed to agree.
Two days earlier, reporters from mainstream outlets had panned a bizarre appearance by Spicer in which, flanked by photographs of the inauguration, he loudly berated the media, saying that the press had “engaged in deliberately false reporting” for failing to note that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration––period––both in person and around the globe.” Spicer also berated a reporter for erroneously reporting that Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the White House, even though the reporter had apologized on social media, an apology Spicer accepted.
The White House didn’t release the text of the executive order at first.
Updated on January 24 at 2:45 p.m.
On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum ordering the Secretary of the Army to expedite approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,100-mile pipeline linking the North Dakota oil fields to a river terminal in Illinois. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied final approval to the project late last year, after months of protests from the local Standing Rock Sioux tribe and from Native people nationwide.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
One of the women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct has sued him for defamation after he labeled her claims false.
Donald Trump is now president and not just a private citizen, but that doesn’t mean he’s free of the controversies that dogged him in his former life.
Last week, a few days before Trump’s inauguration, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos sued him in New York state, accusing the president of defamation. Zervos, who’s represented by the famous lawyer Gloria Allred, was one of the several women who accused Trump of sexual assault or misconduct prior to the election. She claims that he kissed her and pressed his genitals against her non-consensually. Trump denied those claims, saying all of the women who had accused him had made their stories up. So Zervos sued him for defamation.
“I wanted to give Mr. Trump the opportunity to retract his false statements about me and the other women who came forward,” she said, as my colleague Nora Kelly reported. She added that she would withdraw the suit if Trump said she had been truthful. That seems unlikely, since a spokeswoman dismissed the suit immediately.