Novel Concepts

Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.

Ellen Weintraub, Chair of the Federal Elections Commission

If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.

Donald Trump

This week’s featured posts are: “Socialism: What’s in a word?” (In short: When candidates argue about socialism, what are they really talking about?) And “The Lawless Administration” (about the most recent examples of disregard for the law).

Readers of the Morning Tease will realize that the second post wasn’t planned. But the notes I intended for this summary grew beyond the usual length.

This week everybody was talking about lawlessness in the Trump administration

See the featured post.

and the Mexico deal

As I was writing last week’s Sift, the deal averting Mexican tariffs had just been announced, and people were arguing over whether Trump had actually accomplished anything or just saved face by repackaging concessions Mexico had already made.

Trump apparently took offense at this lack of credulousness, and started talking about a “secret deal” in which Mexico had agreed to much more than seemed apparent. He waved a piece of paper around, which was supposedly this unpublished agreement.

Well, Mexico has published it. And like the North Korean deal that Trump once suggested should get him a Nobel Prize, it doesn’t amount to much.

The text of the letter reveals a commitment to begin discussions for a future agreement — essentially making it an agreement to negotiate an agreement — and is, as many expected, not a “deal.” … According to the letter, Mexico has agreed that if after 45 days this deployment and any other measures it takes “have not sufficiently achieved results in addressing the flow of migrants to the southern border” in the eyes of the US, then Mexico will take “all necessary steps” to bring the still to be negotiated agreement into force within the next 45 days.

So basically in 90 days we’ll be back where we started.

and Iran

Thursday, two oil tankers — one Japanese and the other Norwegian — were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which lies just outside the Persian Gulf. The United States is blaming Iran for the attacks, but evidence to support that claim has been spotty, and appears to contradict some of what the tanker companies are reporting.

The larger story looks like this: Last May, the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration agreed to in 2015, despite our own intelligence services verifying that Iran was fulfilling its obligations. (The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in August that Iran was still in compliance.) Since then, the US has ratcheted up pressure on Iran in a number of ways, particularly trying to shut off its oil exports by threatening its trading partners with economic sanctions. Ever since, there has been speculation that Iran might respond by interfering with the exports of American allies like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which must pass through the Straits of Hormuz to get out of the Persian Gulf. The recent attacks could be that retaliation, or the attackers could be from other nations who want to see a war between the US and Iran, or even non-state actors trying to drive up the price of oil.

The even larger story is that Iran is a regional rival of two US allies: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iran supports Hezbollah against Israel, and the Houthi rebels who are fighting the Saudis in the Yemeni Civil War. It is allied with the Assad regime in Syria, and is in a political struggle with the US for influence in Iraq.

There are reasons for Americans to be skeptical of a rush to war. National Security Adviser John Bolton has been advocating an attack against Iran since the Bush administration. In living memory, two disastrous wars have begun on false pretenses: the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam, and false reports about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program in Iraq.

This is the kind of situation where an administration relies on its general credibility. Sadly, this administration has none. Trump says the tanker attack has “Iran written all over it”. But then, Trump says a lot of things that turn out not to be true.

Matt Yglesias sums up in a tweetstorm:

It’s likely the Trump administration is lying about the tanker just because, in general, they are always lying. But it’s not central to the *policy question* which is dominated by the reality that Trump is single-handedly responsible for the downward spiral in relations. Trump blew up a painstakingly negotiated international agreement that the Iranians weren’t violating & then set about trying to destroy their economy. The only reasonable course of action is for us to climb down from this. The Iranian leadership is bad but nobody can articulate why it’s important that the United States heavily involve itself on the side of the also-bad leadership of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a regional conflict that has nothing to do with us.

and Hong Kong

Ever since Hong Kong became part of China, Hong Kongers have been determined to maintain the special status they were promised. Recently, a law allowing extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland has caused hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions) of demonstrators to take to the streets.

Hong Kong’s China-appointed chief executive has backed down somewhat, suspending the proposed law indefinitely. But the demonstrators want it officially withdrawn from consideration, so protests continue.

and the first Democratic presidential debate

The field is set: Twenty candidates, split randomly into two groups of ten, appear on two nights. On Wednesday, June 26: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

On Thursday, June 27: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, author Marianne Williamson, and businessman Andrew Yang.

Unlike the Republicans in 2016, it isn’t going to be a major-candidates/minor-candidates split, but things sort of shook out that way: Five candidates consistently poll higher than 5%, and four of them — Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris — wound up in the Thursday group. The fifth — Warren — is in the Wednesday group. This is probably a disadvantage for Warren, because everybody who isn’t Joe Biden needs to be going up against Joe Biden.

There were two ways to qualify for these debates: major polls showing that you have measurable support, or a large number of donors in multiple states.

Candidates who didn’t make the cut include Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton (my rep), and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam. They should take the hint and get out of the race. The qualifying criteria were fair and not that arduous. Twenty candidates is already too many. I hope we get down to ten fairly soon.

This is just my opinion, but in general I don’t think running for president is an appropriate way to introduce yourself to the country. A major-party presidential nomination ought to be the culmination of a career in public service, during which you have championed a number of important causes. Long before you announce, people should have been saying, “I hope she (or he) runs for president someday.”

Just don’t ask me to square that view with the affection I’m developing for Mayor Pete. At the moment I’m leaning more towards Warren — it’s still early — but whenever I see Buttigieg on TV, I find myself rooting for him to do well.

A Quinippiac poll has several major Democratic candidates ahead of Trump nationally: Biden 53%-40%, Sanders 51%-42%, Harris 49%-41%, Warren 49%-42%, Buttigieg 47%-42%, Booker 47%-42%. (Notice that Trump’s support is almost the same in all those races; the difference is whether the non-Trump 58% have decided to support the Democrat yet or not. The poll provides little support for the idea that either Biden or Sanders is attracting significant numbers of Trump voters.)

538’s Perry Bacon cautions against taking these polls too seriously. Historically, polls this far out from the election have been unreliable. Interestingly, the much-maligned 2016-cycle polls were closer to the final vote than most.

The last presidential election featured one of the more accurate sets of early polls for this point in the cycle: Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump 46.2 percent to 41.2 percent in an average of all polls conducted in November and December 2015, missing the eventual national popular vote margin by about 3 points. (The actual result was Clinton 48.0 percent, Trump 46.0 percent.)

538 founder Nate Silver also chides Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager (Faiz Shakir) for pushing the theory that polls are underestimating Sanders’ support because they undersample young voters.

Younger voters are harder to reach, but pollsters attempt to compensate for that by upweighting the younger voters they do reach to match their projected composition of the electorate, as @fshakir surely knows. This adds error/uncertainty, and primary polling is generally a rough enterprise, but the polls are probably about as likely to be overestimating Sanders as underestimating him.

Elizabeth Warren seems to be the tortoise in this race. After being written off early, she’s been steadily gaining support. Some (but not all) polls now have her passing Sanders for second place. Trump appears to have noticed.

I have never figured out what segment of the population my social-media friends represent (they’re certainly not an unbiased sample of the electorate), but for what it’s worth they seem to be settling on Warren, who now also leads in the Daily Kos straw poll.

and you also might be interested in …

Sarah Sanders is leaving as White House press secretary. According to The Beaverton, she is “looking forward to spending more time lying to her family”.

Recently, Sanders has given up all the usual duties of a WHPS, like briefing the press. Why talk to the country, when you can just talk to those who live in the Fox News bubble?

AT&T promised to add 7,000 jobs if Trump’s tax bill passed. Instead they’ve cut 23,000. They’re not the only big corporation to pocket their tax windfall and do nothing for workers.

It’s early to be worried about getting a new budget in place by the start of the 2020 fiscal year on October 1, or the increase in the debt limit that has to happen soon afterward, but the signs are not good: “We’re negotiating with ourselves right now,” says Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby. The White House and congressional Republicans are still looking for a common position they can take into negotiations with Democrats.

Nicholas Kristof points out that everything proponents think they know about the death penalty is wrong: It doesn’t deter murderers; it’s more expensive than a life sentence; a lot of extraneous factors influence who gets the death penalty; and (in spite of all the apparent safeguards) we’re still executing innocent people.

but I went to an impeachment rally

Impeachment rallies happened all over the country Saturday, though it’s hard to find much media coverage of them. I went to the one on Boston Common. I found the crowd size hard to estimate, but I’ll guess there were 250-300 people.

Public pressure is the one thing that’s been missing from the impeachment discussion. (The British did a much better job protesting Trump than we’ve done lately.) What’s needed, I think, isn’t one big march, but a regular series of events, on the model of the Moral Mondays in Raleigh. Rather than try to get the word out for this march or that one (I didn’t hear about this rally until the day before, and could easily have missed it), it should become common knowledge that impeachment rallies are going to be held, say, on the first Saturday of every month.

I’ve discussed in the past the ways in which I think Nancy Pelosi’s strategy makes sense. But its weakness is that it leaves the public confused. If we rally for impeachment, are we rallying for or against the Democratic leadership? The rally I attended had no real headline speaker; I think that probably hurt both the press coverage and the attendance. That’s probably because big-name Democrats aren’t sure what Pelosi wants them to do.

Speaking of Moral Mondays, Rev. William Barber led a group of clergy on a Moral Witness Wednesday march in front of the White House this week. Prior to the march, he tweeted:

Jeremiah 22 tells us that when political leaders abuse their office & hurt the poor, we must show up in person to deliver a prophetic indictment. Now is the time.

Pete Buttigieg, who has made a point of speaking out as a liberal Christian, did not march, but was part of the crowd waiting for the marchers in Lafayette Square.

and let’s close with something mythic

Fenrir contemplates swallowing the Moon.

This picture is one of many interesting photos to be found on the Science Nature Facebook page.

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  • George Washington, Jr.  On June 17, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Electoral-Vote had a different take on Warren’s position in the debates. As the only major candidate in her debate, she will have the opportunity to make her case without the other major candidates having the opportunity to challenge her directly. Also, if her debate had been on the second night, it would have drawn fewer viewers. Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris will undoubtedly be paying close attention to what Warren does, and crafting their own approach based on what worked for her and what didn’t.

  • Pat Diffendale  On June 17, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Please examine why you have affection for Buttiegieg and whether that makes him a good candidate for the presidency. Examine whether he has worked to reduce poverty and homelessness in South Bend, for example. What lessons did he learn from his 7 months in Afghanistan and his time working for McKinsey?

    • George Washington, Jr.  On June 18, 2019 at 7:29 am

      Like many people, my first introduction to Buttigieg was his CNN town hall. He came across, at least to me, as the anti-Trump – young, intelligent, military background, executive office experience, multi-lingual, genuinely religious, and on his first marriage to a partner for what looks like, at least now, to be a lifelong commitment. He also seems to have increased business opportunities and employment in South Bend, and has concluded that our presence in Afghanistan needs to end. I have no idea what he learned working for McKinsey.

      I’m also sure I would enjoy seeing him debate Trump.

  • jh  On June 17, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    I think Pelosi isn’t looking at impeachment as the first response. Instead, she’s doing what I would do. Smear Trump and the Republicans. Continue investigations and pick up support. Because the Republicans are corrupt amoral evil people, they will persist in lying and claiming that impeachment is a “personal vindictive” ploy by the Democrats rather than a necessary tool to restrain this corrupt Republican White House.

    The majority just look at this as the battle of two cliques. A tit for tat. Sure, the AOCs and the others are pushing for impeachment. But how will that translate to the moderate who barely listens to the news and has bills to pay? Sure, they know there is something about that Mueller report. But they never read it. They listen to pundits. Maybe they listen to better sources, but my guess is that they listen to the weekly mainstream tv news (the big three rather than a cable channel news network). And when they listen to that, they are being told, or rather, being described a “he said/she said” story where the Democrats claim Trump did something impeachable and the Republicans lie and claim it’s just a witch hunt. Anyone savvy and looking knows that Trump is guilty and corrupt. But the conservative racist base is okay with that as long as they are “winning”. And the only way they would push for impeachment is if they bothered to go out of the bubble.

    True story – I had to listen to a fox news segment with Pompeo talking about the tankers. Not once did the Fox News liar push back and say “But we have contradictory information coming from other sources.” or “Didn’t you push for war in Iraq because of WMDs… that were not in Iraq?” It was a very kiss butt situation with absolutely no push back. And when I mentioned that, I was sharply questioned about the source. It was an online news report. (I can’t bother to remember the source but it’s a hell of a lot more reliable than Fox. At this point, the National Enquirer and their alien abduction stories are far more reliable than a conservative media outlet.) The moment it was “online news”, the conservative liar immediately said “you can’t trust the internet” . Until Pelosi and other Democrats start hitting hard at the structural elements that hold up the conservative propaganda machine, we’re going to have to fight this ignorant conservative horde.

    My recommendation is to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton and subpoena all the conservative pundits. I’m sure that HRC will have a riot with this political theater and the conservative pundits will have to explain their comments. I’d also love it if Pelosi could investigate the RNC. (Hey, Norway or any western country, if you are listening, we’d really like those emails. As long as Pelosi isn’t running for office, she’s in the clear.) Also, I’d love it if the Democrats passed a law about financial requirements to hold public office. Basically, an independent group of certified fraud experts in accounting must perform an annual or semi-annual financial audit of all the people in power. I’d prefer it if all people in public office were required to put their wealth into a blind trust. But republicans are evil so they’ll never pass that kind of legislation. They’d much rather read Green Eggs and Ham or play Hide n’ Seek or shutdown the government.

    (Personally, I think the US is manufacturing the war. I think the US, in a black ops operation, attacked the two tankers. It would have been relatively simple for them to do. Especially considering the fact that the US has made it quite clear that they want to start a war with Iran.)

    • Guest  On June 18, 2019 at 10:14 am

      Thanks, j, just a few notes:

      Your points in support of Pelosi’s delay, delay, delay approach to impeachment can easily support the opposite position. Highly recommend Yoni Appelbaum’s “Impeach Donald Trump” Atlantic piece from March. Impeachment now takes control of the narrative away from a criminal presidency and thrusts crimes into center stage that would otherwise get no traction or go completely uncovered (Nixon) and even if it fails to get a conviction, can put the accused party at a disadvantage in the next presidential election (Clinton). And there’s the added bonus of upholding those perennial afterthoughts, Constitutional duty and democratic ideals.

      The National Inquirer IS a conservative media outlet.

      Hard disagree on dragging Hillary Clinton back into the limelight. She riles up the conservative base while turning off moderates, independents, and the progressive base. No, thanks.

  • Tom Zimoski  On June 17, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”

    To me this statement is clearly absurd and probably, hopefully, false. Surely there is some way for an American to legally receive information (something of value) from a foreign national in connection with a US election.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On June 17, 2019 at 7:59 pm

      Of course they can – as long as they pay market price for it. What’s illegal is accepting free services or information, which amounts to a campaign contribution. It’s also illegal to accept campaign contributions without declaring them.

      There’s no law that says a candidate can’t hire a foreign firm to conduct research, create advertising, or print campaign flyers. Trump’s own MAGA hats are made in China, but this is fine because he presumably pays for them.

      • Me again  On June 17, 2019 at 9:36 pm

        You may be right, in which case it would have nice for Weintraub to have appended “without paying for it” to her statement or to have said “…or receive a gift of anything of value”.

        STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

        Suppose Stephanopoulos had said “offers to sell you information…”. Would their have been any less uproar. I don’t think so. The issue for many seems to be “foreign interference”.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On June 17, 2019 at 11:01 pm

        Do you really think Trump would pay for something if it was given to him for free?

    • nicknielsensc  On June 17, 2019 at 10:34 pm

      That’s almost a direct quote from 52 U.S. Code § 30121. It’s unlawful for the foreign national to make the offer and it’s unlawful for the campaign to solicit or accept the offer.

  • amotionaldisturbance  On June 21, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    duh hyuh?

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