Avoiding Weakness

Not executing John Bolton will be a sign of great weakness by the Americans.

Vee Terra, reacting to the news (which turned out not to be true)
that Kim Jong Un had executed his envoy to the U.S.

This week’s featured post is: “What makes Donald Trump so smart?

This week everybody was talking about Robert Mueller

Bob Mueller made his first public statement since submitting his report. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait observed the wildly different reactions on different sides of the partisan spectrum. If you either read the report yourself or got your news from the so-called liberal media, Mueller’s statement seemed like a non-event: He just repeated what he wrote in the report.

But those who live in the conservative news bubble were shocked.

What so vexed the right about Mueller’s curt affirmation of his previous conclusions? The answer, as we’ll see, seems to be that they believed their own propaganda about what Mueller had (and had not) found. Presented even briefly with reality, their minds have reeled in shock.

Mueller produced massive evidence that President Trump committed Nixonian-scale obstruction of justice in office. But Department of Justice policy prevented him from charging a sitting president with a crime, and Mueller reportedly believes he can’t openly state that this policy prevented him from accusing Trump of crimes. Mueller views his job as sending his evidence to Congress without prejudice, where the impeachment mechanism serves as a substitute for the jury trial that such crimes would normally call for.

Trump, William Barr, and the Republican Party followed a strategy of systematically lying about this.

Conservatives had heard a he-says/she-says that allowed them to continue believing whatever they wanted: Democrats say Mueller found evidence of crimes, but didn’t feel he could charge them; Trump says Mueller found “no collusion, no obstruction”. So they were stunned to be confronted by the idea that there is a fact of the matter — Mueller wrote a report that actually did say something.

and yet another trade war

Trump believes in tariffs so much that he’s going to keep trying them until they accomplish something. The new target is Mexico:

starting on June 10, 2019, the United States will impose a 5 percent Tariff on all goods imported from Mexico. If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed. If the crisis persists, however, the Tariffs will be raised to 10 percent on July 1, 2019. Similarly, if Mexico still has not taken action to dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of illegal aliens crossing its territory into the United States, Tariffs will be increased to 15 percent on August 1, 2019, to 20 percent on September 1, 2019, and to 25 percent on October 1, 2019. Tariffs will permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.

Trump’s move is yet another usurpation of congressional power. Normally, Congress would set tariffs, but the President has the power to set them under a “national security” provision. The Eisenhower-era law was meant to apply to products of strategic military importance, with some assumption of good faith on the part of presidents. (If, say, foreign competition was about to bankrupt our last domestic producer of jet engines, the president could use tariffs to protect it.) But Trump is a bad-faith president, so he can claim that all Mexican trade has national security implications.

The president has told his advisers that he likes tariffs because they can take effect immediately and unilaterally.

In other words, he gets to act more like the dictator he wants to be.

Senator Grassley (R-Iowa and chair of the Senate Finance Committee):

Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent. Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country.

Mexico’s President Andrés López Obrador doesn’t seem inclined to respond to threats:

President Trump: You can’t solve social problems with taxes or coercive measures.

It is hard for me to imagine how any Mexican government could give in to this kind of bullying. (It’s also hard for me to imagine Trump deciding that Mexico had done enough and his imaginary border crisis — “the United States of America has been invaded” — was over now.) The main thing Trump has accomplished here is to doom ratification of the one big trade agreement he has managed to negotiate so far. And then there’s this:

If the tariffs damaged the Mexican economy, more of its citizens would try to cross the border to find work in the United States, experts said.

The point here is not to solve a problem; it’s to rile up Trump’s base.

Vox notes an interesting detail: Trump’s people say they’re going to “judge success here by the number of people crossing the border. And that number of people needs to start coming down immediately in a significant and substantial way.” But that’s bound to happen anyway, because undocumented border crossings always dip in the summer, when heat raises the danger.

Philip Levy, a senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, explains why this move undermines any kind of trade negotiations going forward, not just with Mexico, but with all nations.

A very straightforward interpretation is that trade deals with the U.S. buy you nothing. You may be asked to jump through hoops and do things that are painful, but in the end you have no guarantees that the president won’t stick on tariffs when something irritates him.

and another state trying to end abortion

This week’s threat to abortion rights was Missouri, where the attack came not from a new law, but from state regulators, who had refused to renew the license of the state’s last remaining abortion clinic. The license would have expired Friday, but a judge’s order will keep the clinic open until tomorrow, when he will consider an injunction that could keep the clinic open until a hearing can be held on the merits of the state’s complaints.

If the clinic closes, Missouri will become the first state since Roe v Wade to completely shut down access to a legal abortion.

This is the kind of abortion prohibition I can imagine the Supreme Court getting behind: Yes, Roe is still settled law, but who are we to overrule the judgment of the state health board, even if their complaints are obviously manufactured? Is it the state’s fault — or the Court’s — if no clinic can manage to fulfill the requirements to stay open?

and hiding the USS John McCain

As you’ve probably heard, the White House asked the Navy to keep the USS John McCain out of sight during Trump’s visit to Japan, presumably because the sight of a ship honoring his political enemy might anger the President.

I was inclined to ignore this story, but it’s turning into a case where the response is the real scandal. Rather than get bogged down in the administration’s excuses and lies, I think the right way to think about this is to ask: What would an honorable White House have done after this report surfaced?

I think that’s clear. First, the President would have found out what the facts were, rather than immediately tweet that it’s all fake news.

Second, somebody would take responsibility and apologize to the people who have been dishonored. Ideally, the President himself should have been on the phone to John McCain’s widow, and a video statement should have been sent to the crew of the McCain, assuring them that the Commander in Chief is not ashamed of them or their ship, but in fact respects their service.

Of course, none of that will happen, because no one in this administration — from the President on down to the hypothetical (and possibly fictional) 23-year-old staffer that Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney suggests may have made the request — has enough character to do the right thing. Instead we’ll just hear that no one is to blame and it’s no big deal.

and you also might be interested in …

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was reported to have executed the diplomat he blames for the failure of his February summit with President Trump. One Twitter wag opined: “Not executing John Bolton will be a sign of great weakness by the Americans.”

Update: As one of the commenters notes, the reportedly executed diplomat later turned up alive. So I guess John Bolton is safe.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell verified that his rhetoric during the Merrick Garland nomination was all bullshit. If a Supreme Court seat comes open in 2020, the Senate will see it filled. A lot of people expressed shock and outrage at this hypocrisy, but I’m not sure why. McConnell only has one principle: to maximize his party’s power. Surely we all knew that by now.

Another thing we all knew: The point of the Trump tax cut was to shift more money into the hands of the rich. A study by the Congressional Research Service shows that this is the main (and perhaps only) effect it had, and yet the people who supported it seem not to care.

From the beginning, it appeared that the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to next year’s census was an attempt to undercount Hispanics and shift congressional seats from immigrant-heavy blue states to whiter red states.

Now there’s a smoking gun: The idea goes back to gerrymandering advocate Thomas Hofeller, who

wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

The new evidence comes from a hard drive found by Hofeller’s daughter after he died.

But will the obvious fraud being perpetrated matter to the Supreme Court, which will rule on the legality of the census question later this month? As they did in the Muslim Ban case, the Court’s conservative majority may decide that it’s not their role to examine the motives of the Executive Branch (until a Democrat is elected).

It’s going to be a busy month at the Supreme Court. CNN lists the major cases: census, partisan gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering, allowing religious displays on public land, and several others.

Trump has arrived in the UK, where he’ll meet the Queen prior to attending a D-Day anniversary celebration. Not everybody in the UK is happy about his visit. Massive protests are expected.

and let’s close with some things I learned during my recent travels

The federal government’s interpretative centers are gems. I’ve been to two recently: the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center in Great Falls and the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center in Casper. Some are under the National Park Service and others under the Bureau of Land Management. In the future, I will look for them wherever I travel.

Also, I had grossly underestimated the Dakotas, which I had always pictured as Kansas with more snow. But the Black Hills region in South Dakota is well worth your time, especially the unfortunately named Custer State Park. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is not as well known as Yellowstone or Yosemite, but is also well worth seeing. (A hike I had planned got derailed when a bison sat down on the trail.)

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Tom  On June 3, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    To paraphrase an old adage:
    All skill is for naught when a bison sits across your trail.

  • Matie Tyson  On June 3, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks for the ‘shout out’ for our Black Hills. Read you every week. Matie

  • John Warmuth  On June 3, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    The guy you state unequivocally was killed for a poor performance in a negotiation is in fact alive. Chosun Ilbo is the Breitbart of south korea, and in fact the correction has been on the internet all weekend to still end up published here. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/purged-not-purged-leading-north-korean-official-re-emerges-in-public/2019/06/03/fbb55d02-85f6-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html?utm_term=.50edb9d28591

    • weeklysift  On June 3, 2019 at 4:54 pm

      Thank you for the correction. I’ll make a note of it in the text.

  • Nancy Rubinstein  On June 3, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    You hit some of the places I went last year. We camped at the northern Theodore Roosevelt National Park section, and took some excellent hikes. I loved the Great Falls Lewis and Clark center, and we stayed a couple of days in Glacier. Fort Buford (confluence of Missouri & Yellowstone) and the Fort Peck dam were fascinating stopovers. We missed the Interpretive Center at Casper (it was closed the day we were there), so we toured Fort Casper instead. Glad you got our there and saw all that country!

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On June 3, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    As the News stories about the U.S.S. John McCain started to trickle out, it seems that the Navy was neither impressed or amused by the request. As the son of a combat-serving U.S. Navy veteran, neither am I

    • nicknielsensc  On June 4, 2019 at 10:52 pm

      There’s also the point that the Senator was John S. McCain III, and the McCain was originally named for his father and grandfather, John S. McCain Jr & Sr, respectively.

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