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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Trump v. the Rule of Law

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.  In our forthcoming update, we bring the story up through the 2018 election.

Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt at NYT:
As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.
 The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was a collaborator:
“Do I think it’s right that our work in the Congress has aided in the president’s defense?” he asked, before answering his own question.
“Yeah, I think it is right.”
Steve Collinson at CNN:
Then, in an interview with CNN, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe -- who was instrumental in opening an obstruction inquiry against Trump -- made his strongest claim yet that he was fired hours before his scheduled retirement as a result of an internal investigation rigged against him at the instigation of the President.
The revelations appear to fit into a consistent pattern of attempts by Trump to influence investigations in which he may be implicated and a constant campaign of public and private pressure on the officials involved.
Even in his public remarks, the President has often left the impression that top law enforcement officers had a duty to protect him -- like a personal lawyer -- rather than to the neutral administration of justice and to the Constitution.
Fired FBI Director James Comey said Trump tried to establish a mob-like relationship of patronage with him. Trump also repeatedly berated his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his failure to rein in the Russia probe.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

No Refund for You, or The Revenge of Behavioral Economics

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  Our forthcoming update will explain why the Trump tax cut backfired on Republicans in 2018.

The IRS reported Thursday that the average tax refund as of the second week of filing season was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from the year earlier. The total number of refunds is down 16 percent.
Experts caution it is too early to draw conclusions about a tax season that ends in April. Plus, the number of returns — 27 million as of Feb. 8 — is down 10 percent from a year ago, due in part to the partial government shutdown. The picture will become much clearer as more filings are processed, refunds are issued and the IRS gets back up to full speed.
All the same, the initial results have surprised early filers and worried those who haven't yet tackled their taxes.
Part of the problem centers around how employees and employers adjusted (or didn't adjust) withholdings from paychecks to account for the law's changes. The government issued updated withholding guidelines to help employers determine how much to set aside from an employee's paycheck to cover taxes. Withhold too much and you get a refund at tax time; too little and you owe.
It is at best, an estimate. But it's an estimate that grew drastically more difficult to make under the new law.
The Government Accountability Office estimated in a report last summer that about 30 million workers had too little withheld from their paychecks, which made their take home pay bigger but increased their tax liability. That's about 3 million more workers than normal.
David Dayen at The Intercept:
In theory, people should be happy about a lower refund: that means they didn’t give the government an interest-free loan throughout the year. But normal humans don’t think that way, and the lack of a refund would feel like a loss, tax experts agreed. “Ask people how much they paid in taxes, nobody knows. Ask them how much they got in their refund, people know,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “Everyone focuses on size of the refund, and it does affect perception.”

Klobuchar and Free College

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns.  In our forthcoming update, we bring the story through the 2018 midterm. We are now in the early stages of the 2020 race.

"I am not for free four-year college for all, no," she said. "And I wish -- if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would," she said.
Realizing her answer might not be popular among some of the college students in the crowd -- many of whom are likely burdened with debt of their own -- she explained why:
"I've got to tell the truth. We have this mounting debt that the Trump administration keeps getting worse and worse. I also don't want to leave that on the shoulders of all these we've got to do a balance. Some of it is major tax reform in terms of reversing some of the things this administration has done. Some of it making sure that students are getting degrees and being led to jobs where we actually have jobs."
Klobuchar invoking the national debt is a significant break with numerous top Democrats, who often dismiss the debt in face of pressing issues like climate change, health care and education.
She said she wants to find a mix of incentives for students, and talked about expanding Pell grants for students and refinancing student loans as some examples.

America as International Threat

In Defying the Odds, we discuss foreign policy issues in the 2016 campaign. Our forthcoming update takes the story through the 2018 election.

John Gramlich and Kat Devlin at Pew:
A growing share of people around the world see U.S. power and influence as a “major threat” to their country, and these views are linked with attitudes toward President Donald Trump and the United States as a whole, according to Pew Research Center surveysconducted in 22 nations since 2013.

A median of 45% across the surveyed nations see U.S. power and influence as a major threat, up from 38% in the same countries during Trump’s first year as president in 2017 and 25% in 2013, during the administration of Barack Obama. The long-term increase in the share of people who see American power as a threat has occurred alongside declines in the shares of people who say they have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs and who have a favorable view of the United States. (For more about global views toward the U.S. president and the country he leads, see “Trump’s International Ratings Remain Low, Especially Among Key Allies.”)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Retribution, Trump, and Nixon

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to the media -- which is Nixonian.

In a July 2, 1971 taped conversation, Nixon spoke with Chuck Colson about using antitrust action against media companies: "If the threat of screwing them is going to help us more with their programming than doing it, then keep the threat. Don't screw them now. [Otherwise] they'll figure that we're done."

We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations with which stations have relationships (such as PBS or NPR), except to the extent that those entities may also be station licensees. We also do not regulate information provided over the Internet, nor do we intervene in private disputes involving broadcast stations or their licensees. Instead, we usually defer to the parties, courts, or other agencies to resolve such disputes.
But even if FCC does not license networks themselves, it can cause trouble for media companies.  On September 15, 1972, Nixon talked about using it to punish The Washington Post.
PRESIDENT: The Post has asked -- it's going to have its problems.

HALDEMAN: (Unintelligible)

DEAN: The networks, the networks are good with Maury [Maurice Stans]coming back three days in a row and --

PRESIDENT: That's right. Right. The main thing is the Post is going to have damnable, damnable problems out of this one. They have a television station.

DEAN: That's right, they do.
PRESIDENT: And they're going to have to get it renewed.

HALDEMAN: They've got a radio station, too.

PRESIDENT: Does that come up too? The point is, when does it come up?

DEAN: I don't know. But the practice of nonlicensees filing on top of licensees has certainly gotten more,...

PRESIDENT: That's right.
DEAN: more active in the, in the area.

PRESIDENT: And it's going to be God damn active here.

DEAN: (Laughs)

PRESIDENT: Well, the game has to be played awfully rough.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.  In our forthcoming update, we bring the story up through the 2018 election.

In his 2019 State of the Union, he said:  "But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good."

But seriously ... Trump is into retribution.

Hail Caesar

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's place in the American constitutional system

Lloyd Green at The Guardian:
A shutdown averted, a constitutional crisis born. On Friday, Donald Trump declared a national emergency to gain additional funds for his much promised border wall, bypassing Congress and raiding the Pentagon for $3.6bn, already a legally dubious proposition in the eyes of the justice department. So much for Mexico paying.
Once upon a time, Trump and his legal minions brayed against unilateral executive actions, calling them tyrannical. Not any more. Barack Obama is out of the White House.
Hail Caesar, hello his praetorian.
Take Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer. In April 2016, in a brief to the supreme court attacking Obama’s unilateral expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, Sekulow painted Obama as a despot.
Echoing James Madison, founding father and fourth president, Sekulow thundered that the “accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands … may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny”. He also compared Obama and his executive order to Harry Truman’s unconstitutional seizure of America’s steel mills during the Korean war.

According to Sekulow, Truman “violated controlling precedent and abdicated [his] constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law”.
In other words, by expanding Daca without a congressional green light, Obama had committed an impeachable offense.
 Justice Robert Jackson Concurring opinion, Youngstown v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (June 2, 1952)"
When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter. Courts can sustain exclusive presidential control in such a case only by disabling the Congress from acting upon the subject. [Footnote 4/4] Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.