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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  North Korea Summit Is on Again
      •  Trump Is Actually a Poor Negotiator
      •  Mattis Issues Warning to China
      •  Trump Leaks Jobs Information Early
      •  Trump Is Trying to Save the Coal Industry
      •  Koch Brothers Support a Key Democrat
      •  Brown Has Big Lead over Renacci in Ohio Senate Race
      •  Cell Phone Spying Equipment May Be in Operation near White House

North Korea Summit Is on Again

The summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un is back on again. This is surprising since Trump personally canceled it a week ago. The only explanation that makes any sense at all is that Trump was afraid Kim might cancel it, so he canceled first to avoid the embarrassment of having Kim dump him. Now that it is clear that Kim really wasn't planning to cancel the meeting, Trump can go forward with it.

Trump is already downplaying the possibility that anything serious will be accomplished on June 12. By now he has probably been told by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, NSA John Bolton, and everyone else with any knowledge of North Korea that denuclearization is not going to happen. U.S. presidents have been striving for decades to get North Korea to behave, but with no success. If someone like George H.W. Bush, who was ambassador to China and director of the CIA, couldn't pull it off then it is hard to imagine that Trump will seal the deal. Most likely Trump's goal for the meeting is to produce a "win," any kind of win. For example, an agreement for the North Korean and South Korean soccer teams to play a game somewhere would probably do.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is worried about precisely that. Not the soccer game, the possibility that Trump will do anything for a "win." Yesterday, he warned Trump not to get "snookered" by Kim. McConnell said: "I think for these situations to work you have to not want the deal too much." McConnell understands, of course, that if Trump is not willing to walk away from the table with no deal, then he is going to be forced to accept whatever Kim offers. A good negotiator needs to convince the other party that if he doesn't get the deal he wants, there will be no deal at all. Kim knows that Trump needs a "win" or he will look bad, and McConnell is rightly afraid Trump will give away the farm to get any kind of deal, no matter how little the United States gets from it.

We would be remiss, incidentally, if we did not point out that there is still plenty of time for the meeting to be canceled again. With Trump, you never know. Actually, there is one thing we do know. An emissary from Kim named Kim Yong-Chol personally delivered a bigly letter from the North Korean leader to the President on Friday afternoon:

Trump gets a huge envelope

Remarkably, Trump did not bother to open and read the letter before announcing that the summit was back on. It presumably doesn't contain anything terribly serious—coming in an envelope so comically large—but you can never be sure with Kim, and the contents have not made public. The Donald could read it Saturday morning, pitch a fit, and use Twitter to call the whole thing off. Of course, that would still leave plenty of time to announce "it's back on" again, maybe sometime next week. (V & Z)

Trump Is Actually a Poor Negotiator

While Donald Trump likes to brag about how great a negotiator he is, his track record isn't actually very good. In 1985, Tony Schwartz, a not very famous writer, was interviewing Trump for a magazine article when Trump told him that Random House had asked him to write a book. Schwartz suggested calling it The Art of the Deal. Trump said he liked the name and asked Schwartz to write it. Normally ghost writers get a small flat fee, but Schwartz asked for half of the $500,000 advance and half the royalties and got both, an incredible deal for Schwartz (who could have been replaced by any one of a hundred other ghostwriters) and an incredibly bad deal for Trump. The book was a big success and the millions of dollars in royalties that Schwartz got all came directly out of Trump's pocket. Thus we have the irony that Trump negotiated a terrible deal for himself on a book about how great a negotiator he is.

There were other situations as well when the Donald didn't negotiate well, either. When he was owner of a team in the United States Football League, he didn't negotiate good deals with the players, paying them too much. His skills didn't help the league, either, since it failed. In 1988, he bought the Manhattan Plaza Hotel for $408 million, about $60 million more than anyone else thought it was worth. Also in 1988, he bought Eastern Airlines. He paid $365 million, also about $60 million more than anyone else thought it was worth. There are other examples. Generally, great negotiators don't pay tens of millions of dollars more for properties than other potential buyers think they are worth.

Since becoming president, Trump hasn't negotiated any deals at all. He bungled the efforts to repeal Obamacare, wasn't even involved in the tax-cut bill negotiations, and hasn't come close to getting Congress to approve his border wall. The only things he has done, like the Muslim ban, pulling out of the Paris Accord, and killing the Iran deal, haven't involved any negotiating at all. The presidency gave him the power to do things unilaterally and he did them. The nature of being a great negotiator is to be able to get the other party to agree to terms more favorable to you than a weak negotiator could get. So far, we have not seen any evidence that Trump has any special negotiating skills at all. Of course, if he gets North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons, or if Europe and China don't retaliate in response to Trump's tariffs, that will be some proof that Trump is a super negotiator. But we aren't there yet, and we likely never will be. (V)

Mattis Issues Warning to China

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who usually keeps pretty quiet, was in Singapore on Friday in order to give a speech, and it was a ripsnorter. The Secretary clearly packed his saber, because he was rattling it loudly for the audience. He blasted the Chinese for their activities in the South China Sea, describing them as "intimidation and coercion," and warned that, "America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater."

In other words, it was not a China-friendly address. Donald Trump's decision to move forward with the North Korean summit is also somewhat unfriendly to Chinese interests. With any other presidential administration, two shots across the bow on the same day would clearly be part of a larger plan. With this administration, though, who knows? Mattis definitely knew that the Korean summit was back on. He briefly alluded to it in his address, but that portion had little substance and appeared to be shoehorned in at the last minute. And with Team Trump, it is often the case that the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing. (Z)

Trump Leaks Jobs Information Early

With any other administration, this would be the starting point for a major scandal. For Donald Trump, it will likely be forgotten by Monday. Anyhow, the federal government releases a report on jobs on the first Friday of each month. A number of folks, including the president, are given early access to the report. However, they are supposed to stay silent until 8:30 a.m., when the report is made public. Trump got his preview of this month's report, and could not help jumping the gun by a little more than an hour:

Naturally, as the rest of the country learned 69 minutes later, it was good news. There were 223,000 jobs created in May, beating expectations, while the unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent. National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow promptly went on TV to defend Trump, and to opine that, "I don't think he gave anything away." But the Donald did give something away, and investors noticed. Treasury yields and the value of the dollar both jumped dramatically in the hour after Trump's tweet; the only plausible explanation is that investors took the President's message as the hint it was and made decisions based on it.

Members of past presidential administrations were, predictably, horrified. Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "This certainly was a no-no. The advance info is sacrosanct-not to be shared." Lawrence Summers, who led the Treasury Dept. for Bill Clinton and the NEC for Barack Obama, had this to say:

Indeed, Obama took the embargo so seriously that, knowing he would not be able to speak to reporters about the report while on board Marine One, he sometimes delayed travel plans for 10-20 minutes rather than jump the gun.

There are two reasons that the information is embargoed. The first is the immediate impact—if investors get the data (or some clue about the data) at different times, then it affects the markets, as it did Friday. At best, it encourages risky speculation. At worst, it could trigger a panic, particularly if the market misreads Trump's clues. At very worst, it could lead to insider trading if—for example—Trump was chatting with his buddy Carl Icahn on Thursday night, and happened to let slip whatever is in the report (the presidential briefing is usually the night before). And is there really any question that Trump might do just that, even if it's just to brag? Heck, the odds are pretty good that he's already done it, if not with Icahn, then with one of his other phone pals.

The second reason the information is guarded—and, by all accounts, the more important one—is that it is very important that it be seen as unbiased and nonpartisan. If the financial sector and the general public believe that the data are being manipulated or utilized for political purposes, then the information becomes essentially worthless. And low-information environments encourage frequent occurrences of the kind of troublesome things described above: speculation, panics, and insider trading, and so forth.

Now, one might argue that Team Trump didn't fully appreciate the expectations, and didn't know that it's important to keep a lid on the report. The problem with that is that this "mistake" has already happened once before, with then-press secretary Sean Spicer. And given that precedent, we can state with some confidence two things: (1) The administration has little interest in not repeating the same mistakes, over and over; and (2) Trump will suffer no fallout due to Friday's breach. (Z)

Trump Is Trying to Save the Coal Industry

When Donald Trump was running for president, he couldn't stop talking about "clean and beautiful" coal, despite the fact that coal is neither of those things. He was absolutely confident that he would be able to single-handedly save the coal industry, which is in serious decline, as soon as he took office. Embracing a bit of longstanding GOP doctrine, he was persuaded that the problem was regulatory, and that as soon as the regulations were eliminated, the industry would come roaring back to life.

As it turns out, however, that is not the case. The bigger problem—much bigger—is that coal no longer makes much sense, economically, as compared to other options like solar, wind, and natural gas. The basic economics are actually pretty simple: Coal requires much more human labor (which is expensive) than the other options. The equipment needed to turn coal into electricity is also more expensive and difficult to maintain. And while the technology involved in coal mining and processing is not getting better, the technology involved in other forms of energy production is. So, the gap is getting wider and wider.

Still, Trump promised progress on coal. And he badly wants to see Republican Patrick Morrisey elected in West Virginia, a state where coal is still king. There is little chance that he would be able to get Congress to do anything on this front, though, and he generally prefers unilateral action anyhow. So, Trump has found a way to take matters into his own hands. His staffers have dug up a couple of fairly obscure laws, most importantly the Truman-era Defense Production Act, which authorizes the president to nationalize private industry in the case of a war or disaster. On that basis, the President is reportedly planning to order electrical utilities to purchase electricity from coal (and nuclear) plants, even if cheaper options are available. Exactly what war or disaster justifies invoking the Act is unclear.

Trump has the support of at least one senator, although unfortunately for him, it's Joe Manchin (D-WV), the guy that the President is trying to unseat. If we imagine that a person who has had a three-decade career in politics has more finely-turned political instincts than a person who has had a three-year career, then it suggests that Trump's plan is not likely to affect the West Virginia Senate race in the way he hopes. Meanwhile, if Trump does move forward, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the Republican Party reacts. In theory, they are the party of free markets and laissez faire. What Trump is proposing definitely isn't that; the correct term to describe nationalizing industries and government management of whole sectors of the economy would be...socialism. (Z)

Koch Brothers Support a Key Democrat

Donald Trump promised to shake things up, and he certainly has. But some of the changes may not be what he had in mind. Up until now, the Koch brothers, conservative Republican megadonors, have always supported Republican candidates. Trump may have changed that. Starting yesterday, the brothers are running a digital ad campaign thanking Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) for her support on a banking bill they favored. This may be evidence that the brothers may be moving away from a "always support Republicans" model to a "support the candidate who helps us the most" model.

Koch-backed groups also singled out another moderate Democrat, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) for his work on giving terminally-ill patients access to unproven medications. The reasoning here is that if you are going to die soon anyway, what harm is there in taking an experimental medication that may kill you? If Trump continues to pursue policies that the brothers really dislike, he may cause an important source of funding to dry up. So far the brothers haven't funded any Democrats directly, but if there are races in which a moderate Democrat is doing things they like and the Republican is clinging to Trump like a baby monkey does to its mother, it is conceivable it could happen.

Ultimately, this is a development that, while not necessarily inevitable, was at least foreseeable. The Kochs aren't really Republicans, they are libertarians. They generally want the government to stay out of the way, particularly when it comes to regulating business, but also when it comes to things like drug use and what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Trump's not really a Republican, either, at least not in the way the term has been understood for the last 50 or 60 years. He's a populist, and populists are happy to wield government power, particularly to advance the interests of poor and working people, and also to promote "morality" as it is understood by evangelical Christians (never forget that it was the original Populist, William Jennings Bryan, who prosecuted the Scopes Monkey Trial).

The upshot is that Trump and the Kochs don't really belong in the same party, because they believe things that are essentially opposite of one another. The American political system, of course, generally gives voters and donors only two viable options to pick from, and it's entirely plausible that a pro-Business Democrat could—in some situations—be more appealing to the Kochs (and others of their political stripe) than a rabid pro-Trump populist. The system realigns every two or three generations, as various interest groups jump to one side or the other (e.g., black voters flipping to the Democrats in the 1960s, while white Southerners flipped to the Republicans). A realignment is clearly underway right now, and exactly how things end up will be one of the major stories of the Trump era, and will be fodder for generations of political scientists and historians. (V & Z)

Brown Has Big Lead over Renacci in Ohio Senate Race

A new poll of the Ohio Senate race has Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) leading Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) 48% to 34%. One poll in March had Brown up 41% to 29%. Another March poll had Brown ahead 52% to 38%. These leads of 14, 12, and 14 points, respectively, are all consistent with the fact that Renacci raised only $257,000 in the first quarter of 2018. He doesn't seem to be catching fire with either the donors or the voters and the recent poll is going to make it unlikely that big donors come to his rescue since there are other Senate races that look more promising for the GOP. In short, it looks like the GOP internal poll last week that had it "even" was not worth the paper it was written on, and that Brown is getting another term.

This race could end up being important in 2020. Imagine that Brown wins by 12-14 points. Now imagine that the Democrats need a presidential candidate who can unify the Hillary and Bernie wings of the party. This unicorn would need to be a middle-aged white man from the Midwest with progressive positions on almost everything and who gets along very well with the unions. Where would they find such a beast? Maybe by checking out the Ohio Senate delegation, especially if they could find a member who just won a smashing victory in a state Trump took by 8 points.(V)

Cell Phone Spying Equipment May Be in Operation near White House

A federal study was released on Friday, and it says that unusual cellular signals detected in the environs of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are likely coming from IMSI catchers. This affirms the findings of several other, non-governmental studies. IMSI catchers work by tricking cell phones into connecting to nearby cell towers. Once a connection is made, data can be hijacked and malware can be installed. The devices are in the toolkit of every foreign intelligence agency in the world.

Of course, this isn't really a big issue unless there happens to be some high-ranking member of the White House staff who is careless about the security of his cellular phone. Someone should look into that. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun01 Trump Denies that He Fired Comey to Stop Russia Probe
Jun01 European Union and Mexico Will Retaliate for Trump's Tariffs
Jun01 NAFTA Looks to Be in Trouble
Jun01 Foreign Powers May Hit Trump Where it Hurts
Jun01 Trump to Pardon Conservative Author Dinesh D'Souza
Jun01 Trump Doesn't Know Who Voted for the Tax Bill
Jun01 Trump Does Know Whom to Ask for Help
May31 Trump: I Shouldn't Have Picked Sessions for Attorney General
May31 Trump's Midterm Strategy: Stoke Outrage
May31 Roseanne Saga Enters Day Two
May31 Judge Sets Deadline for Review of Cohen's Computer Files
May31 Trump Is Undermining McConnell's Midterm Plans
May31 McCain, Ducey Meet
May31 Trump Plans to Hit Allies with Steel and Aluminum Tariffs
May31 Cruz Leads O'Rourke by Double Digits in Texas Senate Race
May31 All the Way with the ERA?
May30 Trump Will Impose Tariffs on Chinese Goods
May30 Giuliani Says Trump Won't Sit for Interview Until He Gets Info on Informant
May30 Roseanne Launches Atom Bomb in Culture Wars
May30 Trump Claims Mueller Will Meddle in the Midterms
May30 Midterms May Determine Control of the House for 10 Years
May30 Cohen to Appear in Court Today
May30 Greitens Resigns
May29 Trump ComME-ME-MEmorates ME-ME-ME-morial Day
May29 New Dark-Money Tactics Could Be Used This Year
May29 Democrats Plan to Run on Gas in Midterms
May29 Franklin Graham Is Campaigning for Republicans in California
May29 China Has Granted Ivanka Trump 13 Trademarks in 3 Months
May29 McCain Writes His Own Eulogy
May29 Another Republican Congressman Retires
May29 Giuliani Booed at Yankee Stadium
May28 Giuliani Says Muller's Investigation Is Illegitimate
May28 Trump (& Co.) Will Say Anything
May28 Preparations for Talks with North Korea Are Proceeding
May28 Heitkamp Has a Native American Problem
May28 Democrats Are Spending Millions to Avoid Disaster in California
May28 Almost Half of Republicans Believe Millions of Illegal Votes Were Cast in 2016
May28 In Case There Was Any Doubt...
May27 Clocks Are Striking Thirteen in Washington
May27 American Held in Venezuela Is Released
May27 FBI Obtained Wiretapped Calls from Spain
May27 Bolton Wants to Eliminate Cybersecurity Job
May27 Warren Tries to Blunt "Pocahontas" Slur
May27 McConnell Thinks Sherrod Brown's Seat Is in Play
May27 Nunes Gets Ready for the Fight of His Life
May26 Cohen Was Paid over $500,000 by Top Lobbying Firm
May26 About that Russian Oligarch...
May26 Trump's Foreign Policy Is a Mystery, Probably Even to Him
May26 McConnell Supports Mueller's Investigation
May26 Quick Question: Is It Bernie vs. Hillary All over Again for the Democrats?