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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Restore Our Values?

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox is about to get some six-figure help on his effort to gain traction and name recognition in California – thanks to a new independent expenditure campaign called “Restore Our Values,’’ which launches a new ad today attacking leading Democrats Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the issue of values – and their past sexual transgressions.
-- The spot, called “California Deserves Better,” declares “Powerful men are finally being held to account and punished for inappropriate sexual conduct with women over whom they exercised power,’’ and features a parade of high profile #MeToo transgressors, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, former “Today” show host Matt Lauer and former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
-- Then comes the pitch: “Gavin Newsom had such a sexual relationship with a woman on his mayoral staff. Antonio Villaraigosa did the same with a reporter assigned to cover him. Newsom and Villaraigosa think the rules shouldn’t apply to them. They don’t want punishment — they want a promotion.” The tagline: “Californians deserve better: John Cox for governor.”Watch the ad, which debuts Monday, here.
This pitch is rather strange for the party of Donald Trump and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Also note that Phil Willon reports at The Los Angeles Times:
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in a new radio ad by GOP gubernatorial hopeful John Cox, calls the San Diego County businessman a “conservative champion” who is gaining momentum in California’s 2018 race for governor.
When he was speaker of the House in the 1990s, Gingrich carried on an extramarital affair with a House staffer.  He later divorced his second wife and wed his paramour. Trump named her as ambassador to the Vatican. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

California Polls and Candidate Names

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race.


John Wildermuth and Joe Garofoli at The San Francisco Chronicle:
A new U.S. Senate poll that shows a Republican hopeful leaping into a near dead heat for second place may say more about the state of the GOP than it does about little-known and under-financed James P. Bradley.

While the poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on top with 28 percent support among likely voters, Bradley, a Laguna Niguel (Orange County) businessman, moved into third at 10 percent, just a tick behind Democratic state Sen. Kevin de León’s 11 percent.

“Why Bradley and not the other 10 Republicans running for Senate?” asked Mark DiCamillo, the poll’s director. “That’s the big question.”

There might be an easy answer.

Since the poll was conducted online, it could include the list of all 32 candidates for Senate, rather than the much smaller number of selected front-runners used in telephone polls.

The candidates were listed in alphabetical order, and Bradley was second on the list of 11 GOP contestants.

And the first Republican on that list? Arun K. Bhumitra, a teacher/engineer/businessman from Torrance (Los Angeles County).

Neither Bhumitra nor any GOP candidate other than Bradley received much more than 2 percent in the poll, suggesting that people looking to vote Republican just picked someone with a name they liked from high on the list.

 Also note that two of the top five Republicans in the Senate poll are Hispanic and "John Jack Crew" sounds like a 1980s band.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The RedState Purge

 In  Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.

Rosie Gray at The Atlantic:
RedState was a rare thing these days in the conservative media: a platform for an array of different opinions about President Trump.

That now seems to be a thing of the past, as media on the right has split into two camps: the full-on Trump boosterism of Breitbart or Fox News’s opinion programs, or anti-Trump critique as exemplified by National Review. On Friday, several contract writers were let go from the conservative website RedState and its editor, Caleb Howe, was fired. One thing many of them had in common was their vocal criticism of Trump.
...

The Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year showed the extent to which Trump has overwhelmed the conservative movement. His ascendancy has either marginalized movement conservatives or co-opted them, remaking their worldview in his image. RedState, which was founded in 2004, now seems a relic from a time when Tea Party activism propelled a new set of writers into the conservative media, blessed with a certain freedom in being in the opposition to the party in power. It’s not that there weren’t intra-party and intra-movement fights; there were. But the fighting over Mitt Romney pales in comparison to the savage infighting caused by the rise of Trump.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Fearful Symmetry

Democrats are just as ideological as Republicans.  They are just as uncompromising.

From Pew:
Roughly half of Americans say they prefer politicians who stick to their positions (53%), while slightly fewer say they like those who make compromises with people they disagree with (44%). This represents a substantial shift from July 2017, when 58% of the public said they preferred politicians who compromised compared with 39% who said they liked politicians who stick with their positions.
There is now no difference between Republicans and Democrats in their views of compromise. In six previous surveys conducted since 2011, Democrats were consistently more likely than Republicans to say they liked those who compromised. As recently as last July, 69% of Democrats said they preferred elected officials who made compromises; today just 46% say this. These views are little changed among Republicans and Republican leaners in recent years: Today, 44% say they like elected officials who make compromises, while 46% said this in July 2017.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Status Threat in 2016

In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House.

Diana C. Mutz has an article at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "Status Threat, not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote."
Significance
Support for Donald J. Trump in the 2016 election was widely attributed to citizens who were “left behind” economically. These claims were based on the strong cross-sectional relationship between Trump support and lacking a college education. Using a representative panel from 2012 to 2016, I find that change in financial wellbeing had little impact on candidate preference. Instead, changing preferences were related to changes in the party’s positions on issues related to American global dominance and the rise of a majority–minority America: issues that threaten white Americans’ sense of dominant group status. Results highlight the importance of looking beyond theories emphasizing changes in issue salience to better understand the meaning of election outcomes when public preferences and candidates’ positions are changing.

Abstract
This study evaluates evidence pertaining to popular narratives explaining the American public’s support for Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential election. First, using unique representative probability samples of the American public, tracking the same individuals from 2012 to 2016, I examine the “left behind” thesis (that is, the theory that those who lost jobs or experienced stagnant wages due to the loss of manufacturing jobs punished the incumbent party for their economic misfortunes). Second, I consider the possibility that status threat felt by the dwindling proportion of traditionally high-status Americans (i.e., whites, Christians, and men) as well as by those who perceive America’s global dominance as threatened combined to increase support for the candidate who emphasized reestablishing status hierarchies of the past. Results do not support an interpretation of the election based on pocketbook economic concerns. Instead, the shorter relative distance of people’s own views from the Republican candidate on trade and China corresponded to greater mass support for Trump in 2016 relative to Mitt Romney in 2012. Candidate preferences in 2016 reflected increasing anxiety among high-status groups rather than complaints about past treatment among low-status groups. Both growing domestic racial diversity and globalization contributed to a sense that white Americans are under siege by these engines of change.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Specials

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

At NYT. Alexander Burna and Denise Lu report that the GOP has lost ground in every special election during the Trump presidency.
In a special House election on Tuesday, Debbie Lesko, a Republican, won the conservative Arizona district, but was ahead by less than six points as of 12:00 a.m. Eastern with most of the votes counted. That is a narrow win compared to the victory margin of Trent Franks, who beat his opponent by 37 points in 2016, but resigned amid scandal.
In 2016, President Trump won the district in a landslide, but on Tuesday, Republican support dropped in nearly all precincts.





Matthew Yglesias at Vox:
In a Tuesday night special election race on Long Island, Democrats flipped a long-Republican State Assembly district to mark their 40th Trump-era takeover of a GOP-held seat. The seat had been held by a Republican since 1978.

The New York State Assembly is firmly in Democratic hands, and control of the New York state Senate is caught up in intra-caucus weirdness, so the flip has no particular concrete result. But it does serve as a further sign of the strong wind at Democrats’ backs downballot in the Trump era, with their candidate Steve Stern running 11 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin in the seat and 15 points ahead of Barack Obama’s 2012 margin.

The race was also notable as yet another example of the GOP trying and failing to make the Salvadoran street gang MS-13 into the Democratic candidate’s running mate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"The Best People"

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of  scandal


Ed O'Keefe and Nancy Cordes at CBS:
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee is reviewing allegations he's hearing about Ronny Jackson, the White House physician and President Trump's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was unclear late Monday whether the Senate panel would postpone Jackson's confirmation hearing, which was scheduled for Wednesday, in light of stories about the nominee told by current or former White House medical staff.

Sources familiar with the tales say Sen. Jon Tester's committee staff is reviewing multiple allegations of a "hostile work environment." The accusations include "excessive drinking on the job, improperly dispensing meds," said one of the people familiar, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the situation. The other people familiar with the stories also confirmed those details.

If proven true, "it'll sink his nomination," said one of the sources.
Although Jackson has the rank of rear admiral, he has had very little command responsibility.  And he has no firsthand experience with the VA.  He is on active duty with the military, which has a completely separate system of medical and other services.  Nicholas Fandos at NYT:
The White House did little or no vetting of his background before announcing his nomination on Twitter. Before serving as a White House physician, Dr. Jackson had deployed as an emergency medicine physician to Taqaddum, Iraq, during the Iraq war.

The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing Dr. Jackson’s nomination last week.
  Chris Cillizza at CNN:
Less than 48 hours after The New York Times published a lengthy front-page piece detailing Scott Pruitt's long pattern of ethically dicey moves prior to being named EPA chief, the White House's defenses of him are clearly softening.
Asked about the series of recent negative headlines on Pruitt, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded Monday: "We're continuing to review a number of the reports that you've mentioned, and we'll let you know if we have any changes on that front."
Pressed later in the daily briefing on Pruitt, Sanders remained guarded.
"We're reviewing some of those allegations," she said again. "However, Administrator Pruitt has done a good job of implementing the president's policies, particularly on deregulation, making the United States less energy-dependent and becoming more energy-independent. Those are good things. However, the other things certainly are something that we're monitoring and looking at, and I'll keep you posted."

Monday, April 23, 2018

Trump Monday

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character

CNN's Brian Stelter takes a look at Fox News' coverage of the Russia probe and similarities in Trump's speech on the investigation.



Patrick Radden Keefe at The New Yorker writes about national security briefings.
“By the time I left, we had these cards,” the former staffer said. They are long and narrow, made of heavy stock, and emblazoned with the words “the white house” at the top. Trump receives a thick briefing book every night, but nobody harbors the illusion that he reads it. Current and former officials told me that filling out a card is the best way to raise an issue with him in writing. Everything that needs to be conveyed to the President must be boiled down, the former staffer said, to “two or three points, with the syntactical complexity of ‘See Jane run.’ ”


"Sleepy eyes" is a longstanding anti-Semitic slur.  During the campaign, Trump retweeted anti-Semitic material.




Sunday, April 22, 2018

Buchanan v. Democracy

 In Defying the Odds, we note that Pat Buchanan's 1992 campaign foreshadowed the Trump campaign:
After growing up in Washington, DC, earning degrees at Georgetown and Columbia, working as a White House aide in two Republican administrations, and logging many hours on the television talk-show circuit, Buchanan was yet another insider who took up outsiderism. Specifically, he became a spokesperson for a faction of conservatism that disdained internationalism and free trade, and even flirted with Holocaust denial. Bush’s support for NAFTA and Israel outraged him. “He is yesterday and we are tomorrow,” Buchanan said in his announcement speech. “He is a globalist and we are nationalists. He believes in some Pax Universalis; we believe in the Old Republic. He would put American's wealth and power at the service of some vague New World Order; we will put America first.”
 Pat Buchanan at The American Conservative:
 And if what “our democracy” has delivered here has caused tens of millions of Americans to be repulsed and to secede into social isolation, why would other nations embrace a system that produced so poisoned a politics and so polluted a culture?
“Nationalism and authoritarianism are on the march,” writes the Washington Post: “Democracy as an ideal and in practice seems under siege.” Yes, and there are reasons for this.
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” said John Adams. And as we have ceased to be a moral and religious people, the poet T. S. Eliot warned us what would happen:
“The term ‘democracy’ … does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces you dislike—it can be easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and he is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.” Recall: Hitler rose to power through a democratic election.
Democracy lacks content. As a political system, it does not engage the heart. And if Europe’s peoples see their leaders as accommodating a transnational EU, while failing to secure national borders, they will use democracy to replace them with men of action.

DCCC and Primaties

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional races as well as the presidential election.

Alex Burns at NYT reports on national Democratic involvement in 2018 House primaries. On Wednesday, the DCCC backed Gil Cisneros in the crowded race to succeed Ed Royce in CA39.
They are moving most aggressively in California, where the state’s nonpartisan primaries present a unique hazard: State law requires all candidates to compete in the same preliminary election, with the top two finishers advancing to November. In a crowded field, if Democrats spread their votes across too many candidates, two Republicans could come out on top and advance together to the general election.

There are at least four races in California where Democrats fear such a lockout, including the 39th Congressional District, where in addition to Mr. Cisneros and Ms. Tran there are two other Democrats running: Sam Jammal, a youthful former congressional aide, and Andy Thorburn, a wealthy health insurance executive who is backed by allies of Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. The district is among the most coveted for Democrats nationwide — a seat left open by the retirement of Representative Ed Royce, a popular Republican, in an area Hillary Clinton won by about 8 percentage points.

National Democrats may also intervene in the Southern California districts held by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Jeff Denham, where multiple Republicans and Democrats are running, and in the seat held by Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican who is retiring. Voters receive mail-in ballots starting in early May, making the next few weeks exceptionally important.

House Majority PAC, a heavily financed Democratic group that spends millions in congressional elections, recently polled all four races and has been conducting digital surveys that simulate the complicated California ballot, according to people briefed on the group’s strategy. The super PAC has run ads in California in the past when Democrats have faced disaster in primary season.

Earth Day News: The Swamp Is Doing Just Fine

  In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal.   An update on his team of grifters.

Theodoric Meyer and Eliana Johnson at Politico:
The prominent lobbyist whose wife rented a condominium to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt lobbied the agency while Pruitt was leading it, contrary to his and Pruitt’s public denials that he had any business before the agency, according to a Friday filing by his firm.

The disclosure from the lobbying firm Williams and Jensen contradicts Pruitt's public statement last month that the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, had no clients with business before the EPA, and came hours after Hart’s resignation from the firm.
Clare Foran at CNN:
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt held a meeting with lobbyist J. Steven Hart during the time last year that Hart's wife rented him a room, a spokesman for Hart has confirmed to CNN.

The session also included a former executive vice president for Smithfield Foods, who is on the board of a nonprofit that the company describes as its philanthropic arm and is also a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which works to improve conditions in the bay.

Pruitt has said the lobbyist had no clients with business before the agency, and Hart told E&E News last month that he has not lobbied the agency in the last two years.
Hart and Smithfield maintain that the meeting was personal, not business-related.

 Steve Eder and Hiroko Tabuchi report at NYT about then-state-senator Pruitt's 2003 purchase of a fancy house in Oklahoma City:
A review of real estate and other public records shows that Mr. Pruitt was not the sole owner: The property was held by a shell company registered to a business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Mr. Wagner now holds a top political job at the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Pruitt, 49, is the administrator.

The mortgage on the Oklahoma City home, the records show, was issued by a local bank that was led by another business associate of Mr. Pruitt’s, Albert Kelly. Recently barred from working in the finance industry because of a banking violation, Mr. Kelly is now one of Mr. Pruitt’s top aides at the E.P.A. and runs the agency’s Superfund program.

At the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt is under investigation for allegations of unchecked spending, ethics lapses and other issues, including his interactions with lobbyists. An examination of Mr. Pruitt’s political career in Oklahoma reveals that many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.
According to real estate records, the 2003 purchase of the house for $375,000 came at a steep discount of about $100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier — a shortfall picked up by her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma.

SBC, previously known as Southwestern Bell and later as AT&T, had been lobbying lawmakers in the early 2000s on a range of matters, including a deregulation bill that would allow it to raise rates and a separate regulatory effort to reopen a bribery case from a decade earlier. Mr. Pruitt sided with the company on both matters, state records show.

In 2005, the shell company — Capitol House L.L.C. — sold the property for $95,000 more than it had paid. While shell companies are legal, they often obscure the people who have an interest in them, and none of Mr. Pruitt’s financial disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the company or the proceeds — a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Donny and Rudy

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal
The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince. And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.
-- Machiavelli
Trump has added Giuliani to his legal team.  He has recently aired more truth about Giuliani than he intended.

Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin at AP:
For weeks, President Donald Trump had grown increasingly frustrated with the cable news chatter that he couldn’t hire a big-name attorney for his legal team.
But the president boasted to a confidant this week that he had struck a deal that he believed would silence those critics: He was hiring “America’s F---ing Mayor.”
Trump also had this retweet:

Um, yes, he was America's [expletive deleted] mayor and he certainly knows crime.

In 2007, Jonathan Stein reported at Mother Jones:
This Giuliani scandal keeps getting better and better. First Politico found that when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, he billed the costs of his extramarital love trysts with Judith Nathan, his then-girlfriend and now-wife, to obscure city agencies. It was also shown that Giuliani billed his 2000 campaign expenses and his then-wife Donna Hanover’s travel expenses to the same obscure agencies. The Giuliani campaign has had a hell of a time explaining the mayor’s actions.
In 2007, Michael Powell of NYT reported:
If the rise of Bernard B. Kerik under the mentorship of Rudolph W. Giuliani was meteoric, the speed of his fall was breathtaking.
In December 2004, President Bush nominated Mr. Kerik, a former New York police commissioner, to head the federal Department of Homeland Security. Seven days later, Mr. Kerik withdrew as a nominee.
A cascade of questions followed about his judgment as a public official, not least that he had inappropriately lobbied city officials on behalf of Interstate Industrial, a construction firm suspected of links to organized crime. Mr. Giuliani defended Mr. Kerik, a friend and business partner, whom he had recommended to the Bush administration. But he also tried to shield himself from accusations that he had ignored Mr. Kerik’s failings.
“I was not informed of it,” Mr. Giuliani said then, when asked if he had been warned about Mr. Kerik’s relationship with Interstate before appointing him to the police post in 2000.

Mr. Giuliani amended that statement last year in testimony to a state grand jury. He acknowledged that the city investigations commissioner, Edward J. Kuriansky, had told him that he had been briefed at least once. The former mayor said, though, that neither he nor any of his aides could recall being briefed about Mr. Kerik’s involvement with the company.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Half Past Trump: The 2018 Midterm Elections


Midterm Losses:  the president's party usually loses seats in the House, often in the Senate as well.

Approval:  the losses are more severe when the president is unpopular. And Trump is unpopular.


rakich-trump-approval-0213_net


The House  the generic ballot, and seat ratings

Lots of R retirements


Lots of D candidates, with money

This Tuesday, watch a special election in Arizona.

Senate races:  the map constrains Democratic gains

Governorships





Priebus and Comey

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

From the Comey memos, a conversation with Reince Priebus:

David Frum writes that the conservatives have built a closed information system (what Julian Sanchez calls "epistemic closure"). Within their little echo chamber, Republicans actually thought that the release of the memos would help Trump.  Frum explains how they hurt:
But before the crisis arrives, the habit of relying on false information leads to bad decision-making—like the very bad decision to leak the Comey memos. Those memos have enhanced James Comey’s testimony, and left Trump looking guiltier than ever. The big news in the Comey memos is that Comey directly told Reince Priebus that a federal court had issued a FISA warrant against his national-security adviser. The president presumably knew this—and kept Flynn on the job while pressuring Comey to end the investigation of Flynn. The leak of the Comey memos has succeeded only in more deeply implicating Trump in the gravest espionage scandal of recent decades.

"The Most Beautiful Hookers in the World"

  In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Philip Bump at WP:
By the top of the second page of the first memo former FBI director James Comey wrote to memorialize his conversations with President Trump, prostitutes are mentioned. Sex workers are a running theme in the seven memos released on Thursday evening, a function of their prominent role in the dossier of unproven allegations involving the president’s 2016 campaign and the president’s apparent insistence on raising the subject on most of the occasions in which he and Comey spoke.

One particular discussion of the subject, though, is important for non-titillating reasons.

In a memo dated Feb. 8, 2017, written after an informal Oval Office meeting between Trump and himself, Comey writes:

“The President said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense but that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin had told him ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.’ He did not say when Putin had told him this and I don’t recall [REDACTED].”

As is often the case with redactions, the missing section in this quote raises a lot of possibilities. But the point on which we should focus is the point onto which Comey also latched: When, exactly, did Trump and Putin have this conversation about sex workers?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I am the Storm

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character


From the Public Religion Research Institute:


 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

From Russia With Love

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Peter Baker, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and Maggie Haberman at NYT:
President Trump was watching television on Sunday when he saw Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announce that he would impose fresh sanctions on Russia. The president grew angry, according to an official informed about the moment. As far as he was concerned, he had decided no such thing.

It was not the first time Mr. Trump has yelled at the television over something he saw Ms. Haley saying. This time, however, the divergence has spilled into public in a remarkable display of discord that stems not just from competing views of Russia but from larger questions of political ambition, jealousy, resentment and loyalty.

The rift erupted into open conflict on Tuesday when a White House official blamed Ms. Haley’s statement about sanctions on “momentary confusion.” That prompted her to fire back, saying that she did not “get confused.” The public disagreement embarrassed Ms. Haley and reinforced questions about Mr. Trump’s foreign policy — and who speaks for his administration.
...

According to several officials, the White House did not inform Ms. Haley that it had changed course on sanctions, leaving her to hang out alone.
 Travis Gettys at Raw Story:
One of Sean Hannity’s former directors — who claims an instrumental role in developing Fox News — moved to Russia to help a sanctioned oligarch start up a right-wing TV network.

Jack Hanick, whose now-deleted LinkedIn profile shows he began working for Fox News three months before its first broadcast aired in October 1996, left the network in August 2011 and helped launch the Orthodox Christian network Tsargrad TV three year later.

The religious network’s founder, Konstantin Malofeev, is a Kremlin-connected oligarch who’s been under U.S. sanctions since 2014 for financing pro-Russian separatist rebels in Crimea.

“Throughout the Ukraine crisis, Mr. Malofeev, [now 43], has emerged as a key figure linking the pro-Russia forces on the ground in Ukraine and the political establishment in Moscow,” reported the Financial Times.

Josh Marshall at TPM:
In today’s podcast, we look into the background of Michael Cohen. TPM first reported last year that Cohen was actually a childhood friend of Felix Sater, whose father was himself a reputed capo in the Mogilevich organized crime syndicate, said to be Russia’s largest and most dangerous. Filling out this picture of how Cohen fell into this milieu we’ve always been focused on the fact that Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, owned and ran a Brooklyn social club, El Caribe, which was a well-known meeting spot for members of Italian and Russian organized crime families in the 1970s and 1980s. (Levine, a medical doctor has never been charged with a crime.) But now it turns out there’s a bit more to this story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tax Cut: A Political Flop

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  

Moments after the Republican tax overhaul passed in the Senate in mid-December, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that if he and his party members couldn’t sell the cuts to the American people, they should find “another line of work.”

Four months later, some GOP lawmakers who hoped the law would save them from defeat may have to start dusting off their resumes.
Some recent polls show that the majority of Americans still don’t support the tax law, despite an uptick in sentiment since the end of 2017. And a special House election in a conservative district of Pennsylvania in March delivered an upset victory to the Democratic candidate, who’d framed the tax cuts as a giveaway to the wealthy.
John Harwood at CNBC:
The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the tax-cut law, never broadly popular, has sagged in public esteem lately. Just 27 percent of Americans call it a good idea, down from 30 percent in January. A 36 percent plurality call it a bad idea, while the rest have no opinion.
Moreover, a majority gives thumbs-down on the plan when asked to consider its potential effects. Just 39 percent foresee a positive impact from a stronger economy, more jobs and more money in their pockets; 53 percent foresee a negative impact from higher deficits and disproportionate benefits for the wealthy and big corporations.
Jonathan Salant at NJ.com:
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly preferred to have a Democrat rather than a Republican representing them in the U.S. House, and the unpopularity of President Donald Trump and the GOP tax plan were major reasons, according to a poll released Monday.
The Democrats held a 54 percent to 35 percent edge in the Monmouth University poll's generic ballot holds up, threatening five Republican-held seats.
"This is pretty astounding," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "If these results hold, we could be down to just one or two - or maybe even zero - Republican members in the state congressional delegation after November."
...
Fueling the negative numbers for Republicans was New Jerseyans' disapproval of Trump's performance in office. More than 6 in 10 voters, 61 percent, disapproved of the job he was doing as president, compared with 35 percent who viewed his performance positively.
And 45 percent disapproved of the Republican tax bill, which disproportionately affected New Jersey and other high-tax states by capping the federal deduction for state and local taxes. Just 36 percent approved of the new law.
Lloyd Green sums up at The Hill:
In California, the average state and local taxes deduction exceeds $18,000, and among higher-income Californians that figure jumps to more than $64,000. In New York the number is more than $84,000.
Already in the Golden State, two Republican-held seats are leaning Democratic, another three are toss-ups, and two more are merely leaning Republican. In New York, a similar story emerges. There, two Republican districts are regarded as toss-ups, and a third seat held by an incumbent Republican is only leaning red.
Although the Democrats’ progressive wing may have little sympathy for tony suburbia, they have unvarnished antipathy for Wall Street and the Fortune 500, and that’s how coalitions are built. In that vein, money center banks have emerged as the big winners under the tax bill.
Last week, Citigroup reported that first-quarter profits rose by 13 percent from a year earlier, with a reported a profit of $4.62 billion, or $1.68 a share. Oh, and much of those newly found profits stemmed from the tax law.
By anyone’s calculation that’s a lot of money, and in some quarters much reason to be grateful. But elsewhere, the new tax law has folks gnashing their teeth as 2018 emerges as a year of tax hikes. For the GOP, that’s far from ideal. For the Democrats, it’s an opportunity.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Trump, Comey, and the Russians

In Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign

ABC News interview:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?

JAMES COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That's stunning. You can't say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised by the Russians?

JAMES COMEY: It is stunning and I wish I wasn't saying it, but it's just-- it's the truth. I cannot say that. It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I woulda been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can't. It's possible.
Trump suggests the imprisonment of a critic.