Politics roundup: Manafort sentenced while Cohen pleads guilty


Big news this week as former White House associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen face serious charges for financial fraud this week.

Cohen confesses, Manafort sentenced, White House cautious

In what has been characterized as the president’s “worst hour,” this week has brought the confession of former presidential lawyer Michael Cohen and the sentencing of former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. These two stories have brought the White House ever closer to scandal and ruin, though the ultimate outcome remains obscure.

Paul Manafort, previously a relatively high-ranking official and presidential campaign manager during the 2016 election, was convicted on eight charges of bank and tax fraud. Manafort, along with other associates, had hidden millions of dollars from the IRS using shell companies and overseas accounts.

Despite the convictions, the president spent early Wednesday tweeting that Manafort is a “brave man” who did not break under the pressure of, to use a favorite phrase, the “witch hunt” that had caught him.

Yet, it’s Michael Cohen who brought some of the most shocking admissions this week. Mere minutes after Manafort’s conviction, Cohen pled guilty to eight charges of his own. There generally centered around campaign finance violations. In particular, Cohen admitted that he used campaign funds to pay off two women who claimed to have had extramarital affairs with the soon-to-be-president.

Cohen’s turn

Cohen had previously enjoyed the rank of being the president’s lawyer and personal “fixer,” both before and after the 2016 election. This made his implication of the president all the more startling. Cohen went from a man who claimed that he would take a bullet for his client, to one that almost directly implicated him in major campaign finance crimes.

At best, both Manafort’s and Cohen’s cases cast a major pall over the president’s ability to bring the “best people” into his administration. At worst, he runs the risk of being entangled in serious federal crimes, though most legal experts don’t think that a sitting president can be indicted. Impeachment, as distant that may seem to conservative commentators and die-hard supporters, is yet all that more possible now.

Given the other scandals that have hit the White House, from forced family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, to oddly cozy conferences with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s hard to tell what effect this will have. Currently, there is still no direct evidence of collusion with outside forces to influence an election, a topic which serves as the main focus of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

Then again, there is always the chance that Cohen, if he has relevant and significant information on that front, may enter into a plea deal in order to avoid significant jail time. Since Cohen pled guilty, the proceedings of his case will remain largely private. Though he will face sentencing on December 12, the details of his trial could be obscured for quite a while longer.

Rep. Duncan Hunter indicted for financial violations

With the avalanche of news about Cohen’s plea and Manafort’s conviction, it was easy to forget that many other things happened this week. Still, one thinks that Representative Duncan D. Hunter (R – California) and his wife, Margaret E. Hunter, have more immediate worries on their minds. That’s because Rep. and Mrs. Hunter were indicted for their own campaign finance violations this week.

The pair were indicted by a federal grand jury, which charged that they spent over $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses. Said expenses include trips to the golf course, family vacations to places like Hawaii, and over $11,000 spent at Costco. Moreover, they gave the Federal Election Commission falsified records in an attempt to cover their tracks.

Now, Rep. Hunter seems to be blaming his own wife, saying that she was his campaign manager and the one who handled his finances. Nevertheless, both have pled not guilty to the charges.

DeVos wants to use federal money to arm teachers

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering the use of federal funds to give teachers guns, despite a longstanding but not legally enforceable ban against the move. Previously, many federal grants to school districts expressly prohibited the use of such funds to buy firearms.

However, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant has no such ban. Furthermore, it can also be given out to “improve school conditions”, which, depending on your view of guns in schools and whether or not you’re a fan of the current Department of Education, can be used to arm teachers.

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant has about $1 billion to allocate throughout the country. Unless a specific act of Congress forbids her from doing so, DeVos could simply use her discretion to approve funds for guns. Meanwhile, educators and law enforcement officers have reacted to the news with decidedly mixed and often negative reactions.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

At this point in our collective, internet-based, pop culture consciousness, fanfiction might seem to be an innocuous thing. Sure, you’ve got your authors here and there who are overwhelmingly cranky about fans taking their characters for a whirl — looking at you, Diana Gabaldon — but it’s not quite the underground world it used to be.

No more are there quasi-legal disclaimers at the top of fics. Neither does the network of zines and online publishing platforms have that almost illicit thrill. You know, the kind of you get from writing very grown-up stories about Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, his second-in-command Mr. Spock, and a unicorn or two.

At least, that’s what it looks like on a now-infamous 1980s fanzine cover, Stellar Gas #2. Then again, it’s not as if the Star Trek fandom is all silly but well-executed illustrations of a long-haired Vulcan riding a unicorn through some nebula. As it turns out, the history of fandom, and Star Trek fandom, in particular, has some serious cred.

Related Story. Michael Cohen just pleaded guilty to criminal charges, now what?. light

Perhaps most powerfully, fandom has allowed people to explore both fictional and real worlds in ways that are richer than the original creators may have intended. After all, as progressive as the officially sanctioned 1960s Star Trek may have gotten, it sure as heck didn’t have two gay male leads — except when it came to fandom. Fanfiction and other fan works also created space for female and other creators to explore sexuality in general.

If you want to learn more, read this excellent profile of Star Trek fan and creator “Dee”, who has some seriously solid time in the fandom. Meanwhile, GQ has its own feature that convincingly argues that Star Trek created the first real fandom. While you’re at it, check out some of the best Star Trek episodes throughout the massive set of series and see if you’re inspired, too.