Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Cuts Tillerson Off at the Knees
      •  Trump Administration Losing the Battle on Puerto Rico Messaging
      •  Trump vs. NFL Continues into Another Week
      •  Kasich, Murkowski Unhappy with GOP
      •  SCOTUS Reconvenes; Big Decisions Loom
      •  Data Collectors May Have to Give Up the Goods
      •  Democrats Honing Messaging for 2018

Trump Cuts Tillerson Off at the Knees

At the moment, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is busy negotiating with North Korea in an effort to soothe tensions between that country and the United States. President Donald Trump apparently has a few opinions about Tillerson's efforts, and he took to Twitter on Sunday morning to share them:

This immediately brings to mind a few specific questions. For example, Kim Jong-un—aka "Rocket Man"—has been in power for less than a decade, so what does the "25 years" refer to? And given his short tenure, how do we really know negotiating with him doesn't work? And what is "what has to be done," if it is not negotiation?

The biggest question, though is: What is Trump's game here? Why would he actively undermine his own secretary of state? On Sunday, Axios reported that the President specifically told his staff to present him as "crazy" while negotiating with South Korea last month. "You tell them if they don't give the concessions now, this crazy guy will pull out of the deal," Trump reportedly said. In the absence of better information, we can only assume that is what the president is doing here, albeit with the other nation on the Korean peninsula. He must think that he's giving Tillerson leverage, by giving Kim the impression that the negotiations could end at any time, so the time to make progress is now. There are two problems with this strategy, though. The first is that Kim may be nutty, but he's not stupid. He knows that if Trump really didn't want Tillerson negotiating, Tillerson wouldn't be there. The second is that the "crazy" card works only on occasion, and not if you try to use it in every major negotiation. It's particularly unlikely to work on someone like Kim, who himself regularly plays the same card, and so knows what it looks like. The conclusion, then, is that this Twitter diplomacy is ultimately ill-conceived and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, longtime State Department employees Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, who accrued 50 years of service between them before departing, wonder if the time has come for Tillerson to resign. He didn't want the job, his approach has been ineffective, and Trump keeps embarrassing him on the world stage. They conclude that departing might be best for Tillerson personally, but that it won't make much difference for the United States. Their view is that nobody could be successful in that job right now, for three reasons:

  1. Trump, his mercurial personality, and his Twitter diplomacy.
  2. A State Department that has been both gutted, and also de-emphasized in favor of the NSA and other bureaus.
  3. Lack of opportunity; the world's major crises right now have all been lingering for generations or centuries, and so do not lend themselves to lasting solutions.

In short, the U.S. appears to be headed for at least three more roller-coaster years on the foreign policy front. (Z)

Trump Administration Losing the Battle on Puerto Rico Messaging

When it comes to Puerto Rico, some people think that the Trump Administration has done a good job responding to the current crisis, and others think the performance has been wanting. Whatever the truth might be, in politics it's generally appearances that matter most, and the appearances here are not good. To start, Team Trump certainly appears to have moved very slowly, particularly relative to the speed with which they helped Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. It is clear that the administration is well aware of this criticism, because on Sunday they began to circulate a flow chart trying to counter the narrative:

A flow chart is, frankly, kind of a wonky Hillary Clinton move. And it's hard to believe that any critics are going to read that graphic carefully, and then change their minds.

Beyond the apparent leaden feet, the administration has two other problems here that a flow chart isn't going to fix. First, Trump publicly attacked the victims in Puerto Rico, not only going after San Jose mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, but also tapping into racial stereotypes by suggesting the Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them." Second, for a fair portion of the time immediately after the hurricane (as well as most of this weekend), Trump was golfing at his luxury resorts. These two things, taken together, have led to headlines like, "Angry That People Think He Doesn't Care About Puerto Rico, Trump Spends Weekend Golfing and Hate-Tweeting." That's pretty brutal, but there's really nothing there that is untrue.

Naturally, Trump got ripped to shreds on the Sunday morning news programs, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) all lining up to take a whack at the piñata. We shall soon learn if this is the Trump scandal that finally sticks. (Z)

Trump vs. NFL Continues into Another Week

When it comes to Donald Trump's attacks on the NFL, it certainly appears as if he stumbled onto the issue while he was riffing during an Alabama campaign appearance. Getting a good response from the crowd, he decided to run with it, and by the time he began to realize he was setting himself up for a big embarrassment, he was in too deep.

What is the evidence for this? Well, there is the President's furious spin last weekend, when he tried to turn anti-Trump arm-linking into pro-Trump patriotism. There's also the news, reported on Sunday, that Trump made four phone calls last Sunday to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys (aka "America's Team"), begging him to stop his team from kneeling. Though Jones is a Trump supporter, having donated $1 million to his inaugural committee, the phone calls were not successful. Jones joined his team in kneeling prior to the national anthem, then they stood during the actual song.

Yesterday, the NFL protests continued. There were fewer participants, but there were still plenty who knelt, or sat, or linked arms, or raised a fist. Most notable were quarterback and former MVP Cam Newton of the Panthers, who raised a fist after scoring a rushing touchdown, and the San Francisco 49ers, who knelt as a team. Trump was noticeably silent on the subject, despite firing off dozens of tweets this weekend, so perhaps he is hoping this issue will fade away. Or maybe he will be right back at it on Monday morning. At this point, it's anyone's guess. (Z)

Kasich, Murkowski Unhappy with GOP

During his time on the Sunday morning news shows, John Kasich—in addition to criticizing Donald Trump's approach to Puerto Rico—also expressed his general dissatisfaction with the GOP. Speaking to Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union," the Governor said, "If the party can't be fixed, Jake, then I'm not going to be able to support the party. Period. That's the end of it." Kasich singled out Trump and Roy Moore, in particular, as Republicans for whom he has no use.

And he is not the only one. Sen. Lisa Murkowski conducted an interview late last week in which she echoed many of the same concerns, including unhappiness with Trump. She also lamented the Party's unwillingness to reach across the aisle, and spoke fondly of the Reagan years, when "the party leaned less to the right and was more open to others."

At the moment, this is just grumbling and nothing more. But it's not impossible that, if there are further frustrations, one or the other leaves the Party. If Kasich were to do so, he might even run for president as an independent in 2020. He wouldn't win, but he probably would siphon off votes from Trump, and that might be enough to motivate the Governor. If Murkowski were to flip—and she's won election as a non-Republican before—then it will make the GOP's hold on the Senate all the more tenuous. It's not easy being the party in power. (Z)

SCOTUS Reconvenes; Big Decisions Loom

The Supreme Court begins a new term today, and for the first time since February of 2016—when Antonin Scalia was called into the chambers of the big judge up in the sky—there will be a full complement of justices. In part due to random chance, and in part due to some cases being postponed until a ninth justice was seated, the docket is full of potential blockbusters. Among the cases, and the major question they raise:

  • Gill v. Whitford: Can math be used to stop gerrymandering?

  • Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute: Was it ok for Ohio to aggressively cull its voter rolls?

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Can businesses discriminate against gay customers for religious reasons?

  • Carpenter v. United States: Do cell phone companies have to give location data to law enforcement authorities?

  • Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis: Can businesses stop employees from arbitrating disputes collectively?

  • Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: Can non-union members be forced to pay union dues for collective bargaining work that benefits them?

So, it's going to be a momentous term, and nobody really knows what's going to happen. On one hand, new justice Neil Gorsuch is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who may well be to the right of Scalia. So, that gives right-wingers hope. On the other hand, the swing vote is held by Anthony Kennedy, aka the most powerful man in America. Studies show that he's the most liberal person to be the "swing" vote since the 1960s. So, that gives left-wingers hope. In the end, the odds are good that both sides are going to have some very good days, and some very bad ones. (Z)

Data Collectors May Have to Give Up the Goods

There are quite a few "Big Data" businesses making money by collecting information about Americans. Among others, that includes firms like Cambridge Analytica, which worked to help Donald Trump target friendly voters with his messaging. It also includes online giants like Facebook and Google. Naturally, these entities guard their information and their algorithms zealously, since they are literally their stock in trade. But they may not be able to keep all of their secrets much longer.

The first threat comes from across the pond. Actually, it comes from an American who is going across the pond to file a lawsuit. American law gives individuals virtually no control over their own information; once someone else has it, that's about it. But Professor David Carroll of Parsons School of Design discovered that British law takes a very different view. And because Cambridge Analytica has offices in London (even though it's owned by American businessman and Trump supporter Robert Mercer), Carroll was able to file suit and demand that the firm reveal whatever information it has about him, and then delete their files on him. If he prevails, and his counsel is optimistic, it would provide a mechanism for others to reclaim their information, possibly in class action lawsuits. So, other Big Data firms are watching this one with great interest.

If that was not enough, Facebook and Google are also in the crosshairs of various investigators who are looking into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. For example, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, declared that, "the use of Facebook's algorithms and the way it tends to potentially reinforce people's informational bias. This is a far broader issue than Russia, but one that we really need to know more about." So, the social media giant could be forced to reveal its tricks in response to one or more warrants. And even if that does not come to pass, there is much talk that corporate accountability demands that the algorithms be made public, so Facebook, Google, et. al. could find themselves the target of some brand new legislation in the future. In short, it looks like the days of the informational wild West could soon be drawing to an end. (Z)

Democrats Honing Messaging for 2018

Republicans have been running against Obamacare for the better part of a decade, and with great success. But now, the shoe is on the other foot. Not only has the GOP been unable to do better than Obamacare, despite their promises, they have also tried to saddle the country with plans that would inevitably have caused millions of Americans to lose their health insurance, often in order to line the pockets of millionaires.

Needless to say, this is not a good position to run from, and the Democrats know it. Not surprisingly, the blue team is getting ready to make the matter the centerpiece of their 2018 pitch. The message is going to be short and sweet, something like, "As long as Republicans control Congress, your health care is on the chopping block." That is the kind of thing that should give Republicans nightmares; that might well be the most effective line since Ronald Reagan's "If you're better off than you were four years ago, vote for my opponent; If not, vote for me," which he used to great effect in 1980, and then flipped around and then used again in 1984. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct01 It's Trump vs. Puerto Rico
Oct01 Trump Has Bad Week; Plans Distraction
Oct01 Trump Insists Strange Benefited from His Endorsement
Oct01 Even Trump's Family May Be Fired
Oct01 Pence Will Romance Kochs
Sep30 Price Crashes and Burns
Sep30 First Analysis of Tax Plan Says It Helps the Rich
Sep30 FBI Director Sworn in; Nobody Shows Up
Sep30 Bernie Supporters Won't Challenge Democratic Senate Incumbents
Sep30 DOJ Wants Facebook Information about Anti-administration Activists
Sep30 Sinema Will Challenge Flake in Arizona
Sep30 Hurricane in Puerto Rico Could Affect U.S. Elections
Sep30 Poll: Moore 50%, Jones 45%
Sep29 Lobbyists Take Notice of the Tax-Reform Plan
Sep29 The Tax Plan Creates a Giant Loophole for Wealthy Professionals
Sep29 The Kushner Plot Thickens, Yet Again
Sep29 Price Will Reimburse the Government for 13% of His Chartered Jets
Sep29 Competing Factors Will Determine the Outcome of the 2018 Senate Elections
Sep29 McConnell Meets Kryptonite
Sep29 Trump vs. NFL Not Going Away
Sep29 Gorsuch's Behavior Raising Eyebrows
Sep28 Trump Announces "Wizard of Oz" Tax Reform Plan
Sep28 Trump to Issue Executive Order on Health Care
Sep28 Private E-mail Accounts All over the White House
Sep28 Price May Have Just Become the Trump Administration's Most Endangered Person
Sep28 Trump Is Rewriting History While it Happens
Sep28 Democrats Pick Up Two Republican Seats in State Legislatures
Sep28 Bannon Is Already Picking His 2018 Team
Sep28 Will the Democrats Contest Alabama?
Sep28 Democratic Recruiting Is a Mixed Bag
Sep28 House Republicans Are Planning to Appropriate $10 Billion for a Border Wall
Sep27 Score: Outsiders 1, Establishment 0
Sep27 McConnell Formally Admits Defeat on Health Care and Cancels the Vote
Sep27 Corker Won't Run for Reelection in 2018
Sep27 IRS Is Now Sharing Information with Mueller
Sep27 Blumenthal: Flynn and Manafort Will Be Indicted
Sep27 What Is Pruitt up To?
Sep27 Acting DEA Head Departs
Sep26 Moore Strange Bad News
Sep26 Collins Is a Firm "No"
Sep26 Supreme Court Cancels Travel Ban Hearing
Sep26 NFL v. Trump Enters Day 3
Sep26 Voter-ID Laws Probably Cost Clinton Wisconsin
Sep26 McCain: Doctors Give Me a Very, Very Serious Prognosis
Sep26 Rock Falls in Michigan
Sep26 Northam Leads in Virginia Gubernatorial Race
Sep26 People in New Jersey Want Menendez to Resign If Found Guilty
Sep26 More on the German Elections
Sep25 Now the National Anthem Divides the Country; Motherhood and Apple Pie Are Next
Sep25 Muslim Travel Ban v3.0 Is Announced