Win McCormack Needs a New Chauffeur

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The New Republic is a magazine that’s been kicking around since 1914, taking mostly disapproving, left-wing positions on things ordinary Americans hold dear. So much so that one of its publishers in the 1940s and 1950s had been a spy for Russia. The New Republic continues down its strange political path today. Lead articles, as I write this, are “GOP Senator Reveals the Sick Truth About the Trump-MAGA Border Scam” and “The Right-Wing Media Takeover is Destroying America.”

I say “mostly” left-wing positions because in December 2014, when its new owner hired an editor from Gawker to steer the magazine a bit more toward the businesslike and the mainstream, two-thirds of his staff quit, and the magazine was forced to suspend its December edition. Fourteen months and $20 million later, the now not-so-new owner sold the entire operation to Portland multimillionaire and thought leader Win McCormack who, in true Portland lefty-political style, had made his bones by inheriting a banking fortune.

Under McCormack, the magazine plunged headlong into the kind of scandals that previously didn’t exist.


McCormack spun the wheel hard to port, steering the magazine back onto its traditional course although he may have undercorrected a bit. Or, maybe, during the 14 months The New Republic was out of touch with the more evolved strains of political thinking, the Left had moved further left, colonizing territory hitherto incognito. In any event, under McCormack the magazine plunged headlong into the kind of scandals that previously didn’t exist, the first involving the hiring process for something called an “Inequality Editor.” Followed, almost immediately, with an article by an openly gay magazine writer making fun of Pete Buttigieg, a piece that was trashed as homophobic by openly gay letter-writers. Horrified by its transgression, The New Republic retracted the piece so thoroughly that, even after a Google search, I was unable to find it.

While these scandals were erupting, McCormack was dealing with his household staff in an equally awkward way. According to the Portland Oregonian (January 28, 2024, from which the details of this asserted affair are largely drawn), between 2017 and last Tuesday, when the FBI caught up with them, his chauffeurs, a pair of Ukrainian immigrants named Sergey and Galina Lebedenko, allegedly made “unauthorized and inflated charges of up to $34 million to his American Express card . . .”

I don’t pretend to be particularly attentive in my own financial recordkeeping, but if $34 million disappeared from one of my Amex accounts, I do believe I would have noticed. Yet as the Oregonian delicately put it, “McCormack didn’t regularly check his account.” After he began noticing it, and complaining about it to his employees, it took him 17 months to report it to the law.

Where the bulk of the money wound up, nobody knows. The FBI did find $100,000 in cash and 150 ounces of gold bullion in the Lebedenkos’ houses, although which Lebedenko houses has not been revealed. They have the one they live in when they aren’t renting places to stay while vacationing in tropical paradises or snowmobile wonderlands, and the ones they bought for their daughters. There’s the $2 million one in Bermuda Dunes, California; and the $2.3 million one in Sunriver, a tony resort in the Oregon high desert.

I don’t pretend to be particularly attentive in my own financial recordkeeping, but if $34 million disappeared from one of my accounts, I do believe I would have noticed.


Along with the cash and bullion, the Feds found guns. It seems to me that the Lebedenkos probably bought jewelry and clothes and cars and other accoutrements besides guns, but the Oregonian didn’t highlight that. Guns are like hate crimes, a thing publications of a certain ilk emphasize to make ordinary baddies seem badder.

Also, food. From their picture in the paper, it looks like the Lebedenkos purchased more than their share of it.

Now I don’t mean to imply that McCormack never had an inkling that anything was going on. Eventually he did, when he wondered about a few “excessive charges” to his accounts. But he could have gotten the news from other things. The private jet the Lebedenkos kept at the Aurora, Oregon, airport could have tipped him off. Or the houses in Silverton, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, that they’d already sold by the time the FBI came a-calling. But the day came when he noticed something was amiss and questioned them about it, only to have Sergey get in his face with, “Why you always think I’m doing something? If I’m problem in your life fire me and that’s it.”

You can just see what went through McCormack’s European-American-guilt-ridden, snowflakey mind when confronted with something like that. What right do I have as a privileged resident of the “First World” to use the same worn-out standards capitalistic Western society imposes upon the Other to inflict even more harm on poor immigrants from the Second World who came to our shores seeking nothing more than sanctuary, and instead of being open and welcoming and multicultural and nonjudgmental and inclusive here I am exercising my power as a violent cis-male to further oppress people that anybody can see are Slavic and automatically of color, even if they look as white as that actress who married Prince Harry. All the assuredness that would have welled up in righteous indignation against any chauffeurs who had suddenly revealed themselves as closet Republicans melted like the snows of August, and he dithered for 17 months before going to the law.

As Seneca or somebody probably should have said a couple of thousand years ago, sic semper ignoramus.


What makes all this even more comical is the paternalistic way McCormack comes across, imagining he’s just the guy to arrange how the rest of us live. He was chairman of the Oregon Steering Committee for Gary Hart’s presidential campaign, and was, of course, a member of various Democratic Party fund-aising groups. He was involved in founding Mother Jones and is on the board of something called New Perspectives Quarterly. Outside the state, he’s on the Board of Overseers of Emerson College and cofounder of the LA-based Liberty Hill Foundation (no relationship to Liberty magazine), which, according to Wikipedia, “presents an annual award in the name of [socialist and prohibitionist] activist and writer Upton Sinclair to ‘a person of unwavering idealism and vision, whose work illustrates an abiding commitment to social justice and equality.’” All along he was so out of touch with ordinary life that he couldn’t be bothered to check his credit card statements for five years, thereby allowing himself to become the victim of what the Oregonian described as “the largest alleged heist against a single person in the history of Oregon’s federal court system.” He still believes, and puts his inherited funds into this belief, that he has something important to impart to the rest of us. Or, as Seneca or somebody probably should have said a couple of thousand years ago, sic semper ignoramus.

I’m on the side of the Ukrainians. At least they showed a bit of spunk, of what one version of the American dream is all about. Working hard. Being smart. Rising to the top. In a private jet, if you can manage it.

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