Manafort has flipped. 8 legal experts on what it means for Trump.

This article was originally published at Vox.com

Paul Manafort has finally flipped.

The president’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty in court on Friday to two felonies: conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Part of Manafort’s plea deal includes an agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — including offering interviews and briefings to the special counsel’s office, handing over documents, and testifying in other court proceedings.

It’s not clear why Manafort agreed to flip after a year of refusing to do so. Nor do we know the extent of Manafort’s cooperation, or what he actually knows about Trump and any possible collusion with Russia. But Manafort’s cooperation is still a big deal, since he was one of the first people Mueller targeted.

So how worried should Trump be? And how does Manafort’s cooperation impact the Mueller probe? To find out, I reached out to eight legal experts.

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Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia go back 3 decades

Aritcle originally published at Vox.com

On November 9, 2016, just a few minutes after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, a man named Vyacheslav Nikonov approached a microphone in the Russian State Duma (their equivalent of the US House of Representatives) and made a very unusual statement.

“Dear friends, respected colleagues!” Nikonov said. “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections, and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America, and I congratulate you on this.”

Nikonov is a leader in the pro-Putin United Russia Party and, incidentally, the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov — after whom the “Molotov cocktail” was named. His announcement that day was a clear signal that Trump’s victory was, in fact, a victory for Putin’s Russia.

Longtime journalist Craig Unger opens his new book, House of Trump, House of Putin, with this anecdote. The book is an impressive attempt to gather up all the evidence we have of Trump’s numerous connections to the Russian mafia and government and lay it all out in a clear, comprehensive narrative.

The book claims to unpack an “untold story,” but it’s not entirely clear how much of it is new. One of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. So much of the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and somehow that has made it harder to accept.

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Walter Lippmann’s critique of democracy revisited

Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, published in 1922, is the most persuasive critique of democracy I’ve ever read. Shortly after it was published, John Dewey, the great defender of democracy and the most important American philosopher of the era, called Lippmann’s book “the most effective indictment of democracy as currently conceived.”

Lippmann poses a straightforward question: can citizens achieve a basic knowledge of public affairs and then make reasonable choices about what to do? His answer is no, and the whole point of the book is to expose the gap between what we say democracy is and what we know about how human beings actually behave.

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The Brutal Mirror

When I finally puked on the fourth night, I felt an odd sense of pride.

Inside the loud, stuffy ceremony room, people were laughing, crying, chanting, gyrating, and, yes, vomiting, around me. When my time finally comes, I think: Just aim for the bucket and keep your ass above your head like the shaman told you.

I try to wipe my face but can’t grab the tissue paper because it melts every time I reach for it. Nearby, a man starts to scream. I can’t make out what he’s saying on account of the shaman singing beautiful Colombian songs in the other room.

I finish vomiting and start crying and laughing and smiling all at once. Something has been lifted in this “purge, something dark and deep I was carrying around for years. Relief washes over me, and I slowly make my way back to my mattress on the floor.

For four consecutive nights, a group of 78 of us here at a retreat center in Costa Rica have been drinking a foul-tasting, molasses-like tea containing ayahuasca, a plant concoction that contains the natural hallucinogen known as DMT.
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20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared.

Is American democracy in decline? Should we be worried?

On October 6, some of America’s top political scientists gathered at Yale University to answer these questions. And nearly everyone agreed: American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts — socially, culturally, and economically.

The scholars pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion.

No one believed the end is nigh, or that it’s too late to solve America’s many problems. Scholars said that America’s institutions are where democracy has proven most resilient. So far at least, our system of checks and balances is working — the courts are checking the executive branch, the press remains free and vibrant, and Congress is (mostly) fulfilling its role as an equal branch.

But there was a sense that the alarm bells are ringing.

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard University, summed it up well: “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.”

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