• Facebook Is Scrambling
• More Contacts between Trump's Associates and Russians Revealed
• Ivanka and Jared in More Hot Water
• Tax Reform Is Getting Harder
• Could DeVos Become the Next Tom Price?
• Trump Backs Limit on Abortion after 20 Weeks
"Only Nixon could go to China," was what they said in the 1970s. The Democrats of the Cold War era had a reputation—carefully cultivated by Republicans—for being "soft on communism." Any concession to Communist China by a member of the blue team would have been interpreted as a surrender, another sign of the party's weakness. And since you cannot negotiate unilaterally, that meant that the Democrats had no room to maneuver. Nixon, on the other hand, was a confirmed Cold Warrior who smeared his opponents as pinkos, took on Alger Hiss, and rubbed elbows with Joe McCarthy. He was "strong" on Communism, and so he alone among presidents had the political capital to normalize relations with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.
There are strong parallels here to today's debate on gun control. For many years, Republicans have run against Democrats by claiming that they have nefarious plans to take Americans' guns away, a charge that was leveled at both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. When the former assumed the presidency, his hands were already tied. Even the slightest talk of changing gun laws or imposing restrictions on gun ownership appeared to confirm a secret anti-Second Amendment agenda, and triggered a massive response from the NRA, the GOP, and gun lovers. If ever Obama had any chance of making progress on this front, it was in the days and weeks after the Sandy Hook Massacre of 2012, when 26 people—most of them young children—were slaughtered by a lone gunman wielding primarily a Bushmaster XM-15, which is capable of firing 45 rounds a minute. The gun lobby has never put forward a compelling argument as to why private citizens need access to this kind of lethal force, and dead six-year-olds surely engender a particularly powerful sense of sympathy and sadness. Obama made his best attempt, tearful pleas and all, but the pro-gun forces were roused to action, and managed to nip any talk of limiting assault weapons or tightening up background checks in the bud. Indeed, some pro-gun Americans were so thoroughly convinced that Obama was just using Sandy Hook as an excuse to advance his anti-gun agenda that they persuaded themselves that the massacre never really happened, and that it was merely a "false flag" conspiracy designed to curry support for the administration's plans.
This Sunday night, as everyone now knows, the United States suffered the worst mass shooting in modern history. A "lone wolf" named Stephen Paddock managed to smuggle a cache of 23 high-powered weapons into his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, and then used those guns to open fire on a crowd of 22,000 people attending a country music festival on the street below. 59 people are dead and at least 525 are injured, some of them gravely. Inasmuch as Paddock's guns allowed him to unleash his hail of bullets from more than 1,000 feet away, and more than 300 feet up in the sky, the dead and injured never saw their assailant, and most had no idea where the gunfire was even coming from.
The incident in Las Vegas breaks a terrible, awful record set just 18 months ago at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, when 50 people were gunned down. This time, however, it's not a Democrat who is in the Oval Office, it's a Republican. If ever the circumstances were ripe for some kind of action, it is now. Thanks to the (R) next to his name, Trump has credibility on this issue that an Obama or a Clinton could never have. He could succeed where his predecessor failed, which is the President's fondest wish. There is broad support for certain kinds of measures: 90% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans would like to see background checks instituted at gun shows, for example, 84% and 56% would favor the creation of a federal database to track gun purchases (which might, for example, stop one person from buying 23 high-powered rifles), and 80% and 54% would like to see a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons to private individuals. There is even international precedent for action; in 1996, the Port Arthur Massacre in Australia left 35 dead and 23 wounded, and the Aussies decided enough was enough, so they placed strict limits on the quantity and type of guns that private citizens could own.
The point is that Trump has an opportunity here. And prominent Democrats across the land are pleading with him to take it, from Barack Obama, to gun violence victim and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, to Hillary Clinton, to late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, whose newly-politicized show featured a pointed monologue about gun violence on Monday.
So is there any chance whatsoever that Trump will seize the day? Nope, none at all. He's already given the standard somber, but vaguely uplifting speech, consisting of passages like this one:
Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence. We call upon the bonds that unite us: our faith, our family, and our shared values. We call upon the bonds of citizenship, the ties of community, and the comfort of our common humanity.
He also took to Twitter to post a mildly awkward message of support:
My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2017
On Wednesday, Trump will visit Las Vegas in person, and that's likely going to be the end of this issue for him. The President has offered no suggestions as to what he might do to prevent further tragedies, and the White House's stated position is that, "Now is not the time to talk about gun control." If now is not the time, it is hard to see when the time will come.
The difference between Trump's response to Las Vegas, and his response to other mass shootings, is telling. When (1) the shooter is Muslim, or (2) the shooting is the responsibility of someone who is not Donald Trump, like say Barack Obama or Theresa May, or (3) both things are true, then The Donald dusts off his much sharper rhetoric. For example, in his remarks after the Orlando shooting, he declared, "With 50 people dead and perhaps more ultimately and dozens more wounded, we cannot afford to talk around issues anymore. We have to address these issues head-on." But there was no such talk of action on Monday. For Trump, strong verbiage about a gun-toting white perpetrator risks aggravating his base, many of whom are gun-toting, and most of whom are white. It also risks aggravating the NRA, one of Trump's earliest major supporters, which poured $21 million into getting him elected, more than it had ever spent on any other presidential candidate. The 19th century spoilsman Simon Cameron once lauded the sort of politician who, "when he is bought, will stay bought." There's little question that Trump will stay bought by the NRA until the bitter end. Even his aides acknowledge as much.
Indeed, Republicans are already circling the wagons. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to deflect any talk of new gun-control laws with the dubious argument that (1) Chicago has strict gun-control laws, and (2) Chicago still has shootings, so (3) gun-control laws don't really work. Former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly shrugged off the dead and injured, saying that they are "the price of freedom." Pat Robertson, who can always be counted on to come up with something out of left field, went on his TV program on Monday and declared that what happened in Las Vegas is due to people's disrespect for Donald Trump and the National Anthem. In other words, Stephen Paddock may have been the shooter, but the real villain here is Colin Kaepernick. A review of the comments on right-wing news sites reveals that conspiracy theories are already taking hold, with there being a near-universal consensus that Paddock was a Democrat (in truth, he was unregistered), and a sizable minority latching on to ISIS' claim that he was a recent convert to Islam (despite the fact that they make false claims like this all the time). Meanwhile, if the NRA follows its usual pattern, it will use this incident to play up fears that the government is coming for the guns, and will have another banner year of fundraising. Which they can then use to reward the Republican members of Congress, who still plan to move forward with a law that will make it easier to purchase gun silencers, and a passel of other bills favored by the lobbying organization.
In short, then, we had a brutal mass shooting during the presidential term of a chief executive who was popular, persuasive, and had some talent at getting legislation through Congress, and nothing happened. Now, he have another one during the term of a chief executive who is desperate for wins, has credibility with the Republican base, and has talked tough about gun violence before, and nothing is going to happen. It is hard to concoct a set of circumstances where even the mildest gun control legislation might plausibly move forward, since most Republicans, along with many Democrats, are thoroughly beholden to the NRA and/or gun lovers. It would seem that mass shootings are never going away, and those deaths will just be added to the annual tote board, next to the deaths from heart disease, cancer, and stroke. (Z)
Facebook is in danger of being regulated by the Federal government. They most certainly do not want that to happen. And so, they have recently become very cooperative when it comes to giving up the goods on Russian interference in the elections. They now admit that over 10 million people saw Russia-financed political ads (none of which were identified as Russian in origin, of course). The social media platform is going to turn over the 3,000 Russian ads it has already identified, and promises it will keep looking for more. Mark Zuckerberg and Co. also say that they've taken strong steps to curtail misleading ads and fake news.
On the latter point, Facebook (and Google) just failed a major test. As the news of the Las Vegas shootings began to spread, a great many people took to the two platforms to share "information" that proved to be completely false. Some did so out of fear and/or ignorance, others for their amusement, and still others because they had a political axe of some sort to grind. The social media giants hardly managed to kill any of this nonsense, leaving them with egg on their microchips. "[W]e'll continue to make improvements to prevent this from happening in the future," said a statement from Google, while Facebook similarly promised that, "We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused." And the long arm of Uncle Sam just inched that much closer. (Z)
Despite President Donald Trump's statement that he has nothing to do with Russia, and never has, information about contacts between his close associates and Russians seems to come out weekly. The latest involves two different interactions that Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had with Russians via e-mail. In 2015, he received a proposal from a billionaire Russian oligarch to build a Trump Tower Moscow. This is the second time such a proposition has been brought to light, despite Trump saying that such an idea had never been considered. And in 2016, shortly before the Republican National Convention, Cohen was invited to travel to a conference in Russia that was attended by top Russian business and government leaders, including Vladimir Putin.
According to Cohen, he turned down the Trump Tower proposal and the invitation to the conference. Thus far, there is no evidence contradicting this assertion. However, copies of the messages are already in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller, as well as the various congressional committees that are investigating Russian interference with the 2016 election. Undoubtedly they will get careful attention, and even if no wrongdoing by Team Trump is indicated, the messages serve as further evidence that the Russians were deeply interested in him as a business partner, and/or a political candidate, and/or a possible target for shenanigans of various types. (V & Z)
Also on the e-mail front, First Daughter Ivanka Trump and First Son-in-law Jared Kushner seem to have a lot of different accounts. On Monday, yet another private e-mail account was discovered. This is the third such account that the couple is known to have used to conduct government business; it has received many hundreds of messages from the White House over the course of the last nine months. Given the questions already swirling around Kushner and his various dealings with the Russians, and given the fact that his father-in-law slammed Hillary Clinton for her use of private e-mail accounts, this does not look good. There are some excellent questions to be asked, like why the Kushners need one private account, much less three (or more), and why these accounts keep slipping the Kushners' minds until someone outside the White House happens to discover them.
In any event, the Ivanka and Jared are reportedly now scaling back their White House responsibilities, while reminding everyone that they never intended to stay in Washington through Donald Trump's entire term. In view of the various political difficulties in which they find themselves enmeshed, not to mention the fact that Kushner's business is in big trouble, and that Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly does not want them around, it certainly looks like the way is being prepared for a graceful exit from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sometime in the near future. (Z)
Because it has the backing of the administration, and lots and lots of corporate money, Donald Trump's plans to overhaul America's tax code certainly have a puncher's chance of succeeding. But as time goes by, it's not looking like the odds are much better than that, as opponents come out of the woodwork with many and varied objections.
There is none so free as one who has nothing to lose, which means that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who has already announced his retirement, is free to say whatever he bloody well pleases in interviews. He spoke to NBC, and was frank about the obstacles that the Trump plan faces in the Senate. The Senator insisted that he is a "no" on any proposal that adds "one penny to the deficit." The President's proposal would add roughly $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, which is 240,000,000,000,000 pennies. That's definitely more than one. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is almost certainly on the same page as Corker. Meanwhile, the Tennessee senator also confirmed that Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are not pleased to see tax code changes rammed through using parliamentary tricks, and strongly prefer normal order. If any three of those four is a "no," then the game is up. And that list of four does not even include the Senators for whom Corker could not personally speak, including budget hawks like Mike Lee (R-UT) and normal order fans like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
Meanwhile, a key part of passing Trump's tax package is creating the illusion that it's primarily for the benefit of the middle and working classes. To that end, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been traveling around peddling the line that corporate tax breaks are really just gifts to workers, because they bear nearly all of their employers' tax burden (in the form of lower wages). This argument really doesn't pass the smell test, and in fact, Mnuchin's own department produced a report, posted to their website, that 82 percent of corporate taxes are borne by capital owners, while only 18 percent are borne by labor. Of course, 18 percent is a shade bit less than "nearly all." Mnuchin had a very simple response to that point: He had the report scrubbed from the Treasury Department's website. Given that copies are cached all over the Internet, and that the line he's selling is hard to say with a straight face, that's not likely to do him much good. Who knew tax reform could be so hard? (Z)
In the end, $1 million in plane flights was enough to bring down former HHS Secretary Tom Price. Now we learn that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos makes him look like a bit of a piker. Although DeVos (wisely) pays for her own plane flights, she was unsatisfied with the light security provided by her department, and so ordered that U.S. Marshals be hired for the task instead. The cost to the government, thus far, has been $5.28 million. It is expected to reach almost $6.5 million by the one-year mark. That's enough for more than 100 Tom Price plane flights.
DeVos is already wildly unpopular with much of the voting public, and is the Trump cabinet officer who came closest to being rejected by the Senate (she was saved by Mike Pence's tiebreaker vote). At some point in the near future, she may need to answer some questions like "Why do you need so much security?" and "Why was it necessary that it be provided by U.S. Marshals, who don't come cheap?" It's always hard to predict which scandals will have legs, but given what happened to Price, this one certainly has the potential to leave DeVos wearing the dunce cap. (Z)
Given his rightward trajectory, and the attitudes he expressed about women during pu**ygate and on other occasions, many pro-choice advocates feared that Donald Trump would prove a threat to reproductive freedom. It would appear they were right to worry, as the administration has come out in support of a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
This is pretty clearly a ploy to give the base something to be happy about, and something of a cynical one at that. More than 99% of abortions take place prior to the 20-week mark. The ones that would be covered by this law, if it were to be enacted, are those performed to save the life of the mother, or to terminate a fetus with severe anomalies. For this reason, the great majority of Americans (including almost two-thirds of Republicans) do not favor this particular kind of ban. Beyond that, however, the bill has zero chance of becoming law. If it passes the House, which is very possible because they have passed it before, it will die in the Senate at the hands of the filibuster. Still, it is now abundantly clear that the previously pro-choice Trump is happy to take action against women's reproductive rights, if and when the opportunity presents itself. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct02 Trump Administration Losing the Battle on Puerto Rico Messaging
Oct02 Trump vs. NFL Continues into Another Week
Oct02 Kasich, Murkowski Unhappy with GOP
Oct02 SCOTUS Reconvenes; Big Decisions Loom
Oct02 Data Collectors May Have to Give Up the Goods
Oct02 Democrats Honing Messaging for 2018
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