• Schiff Will Follow the Money
• Goodlatte Subpoenas Comey, Lynch
• "President" Bolton Better Watch His Back
• Billion-dollar Politics
• Trump Calls Troops, Visits Coast Guard
• Crooked Politicians Are Thankful for Partisanship
• Soybeans Are Fungible
Yesterday, Donald Trump threatened to close down the entire Mexican border if immigration gets "uncontrollable." Actually, he said "the whole border," although most likely he meant only the border with Mexico, not with Canada (although if Canada doesn't approve NAFTA 2.0, who knows?). Earlier this week, he had a dry run by closing down some of the traffic lanes at the San Ysidro entry point in San Diego.
His rationale for closing down the entire border is that he claims, without a shred of evidence, that the "caravan" of Central Americans heading towards the U.S. has a minimum of 500 serious criminals. Needless to say, neither Trump nor ICE nor any other government agency has interviewed the people in the caravan and done background checks on them to determine who is a criminal. Trump further said that allowing so many criminals into the country would be a threat to national security. Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that 500 of the people moving north are criminals, most likely the "crimes" they would have committed would be low-level offenses like petty larceny rather than launching terrorist attacks or anything else that could be vaguely connected to national security.
Trump also said that he had authorized troops at the border to use force against the people in the caravan if necessary. In effect, Trump has ordered the troops to violate U.S. law since the Posse Comitatus Act (a remnant of Reconstruction after the Civil War) specifically prohibits the Armed Forces from enforcing domestic law. That is the job of state and local law enforcement organizations. On the positive side, the troops probably won't be faced with the options of disobeying the commander in chief or breaking the law, as they are scheduled to be removed from the border area on Dec. 15. (V)
One of the lessons of Watergate was: "Follow the money." That is apparently still true. Special counsel Robert Mueller's first hire was Andrew Weissmann, who is a specialist in prosecuting money-laundering crimes. Apparently, Mueller smelled money laundering in Trump's background from the get go. Now the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also detected the scent of money laundering. According to three sources, he is looking to hire money-laundering and forensic-accounting experts. Schiff has already said that he is interested in Donald Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank, which has deep ties to VEB, a state-owned Russian bank that is closely tied to Russian espionage.
One problem Schiff will have is not due to the Republicans, who will have no power to stop him, but from another Democrat. Maxine Waters (D-CA), whom Trump has repeatedly called a "low-IQ individual," will chair the House Financial Services Committee in the new Congress and has already said she wants to be the one to dig into Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank. Assuming the two California Democrats can work out a deal, their combined staffs will have even more resources to investigate Deutsche Bank. However, congressional committees guard their turf jealously, so the two committees may end up duplicating each other's work. (V)
House Republicans have subpoena power for about five more weeks, and apparently they are going to get as much use out of it as they can while they still have it, as news broke early Thursday that House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has issued subpoenas to former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He wants to talk to them on December 3 and 4, respectively.
It is hard to know where this is going, exactly. Comey and Lynch are connected, of course, by the various involvements the FBI had in terms of the 2016 campaign, most obviously the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. So, it certainly appears that the GOP is planning to beat that dead horse one last time. One wonders what Goodlatte hopes to accomplish this time around that was not accomplished in the half dozen or so investigations that Congressional Republicans have already conducted into the matter. Whatever it is, he better hurry, since the House is in session for only eight days in December. Further, Goodlatte will not only cease to be chair of the Judiciary Committee on January 3, he will cease to be a member of Congress. (Z)
NSA John Bolton has taken to his job like a fish to water. And, so far, he's outperformed his predecessor, H. R. McMaster, in terms of efficiency and responsiveness to Donald Trump's whims. In fact, given the disfavor that has attached to most other high-profile members of the administration, from Chief of Staff John Kelly to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Bolton may have become the single most influential member of Team Trump (non-relatives division). So much so, in fact, that a lot of beltway insiders have taken to calling him "President Bolton."
Bolton himself has been aggressive in challenging that sobriquet when it is used around him. He knows that there's nothing more dangerous in the Trump White House than appearing to challenge the throne. And administration insiders agree that the President (the actual one) would be enraged if he found out Bolton was being referred to in that way. That said, once a nickname is acquired, it is hard to get rid of it. Ask the turtle about that. And, given that Bolton is pretty unpopular with many of his colleagues, it would not be hard to imagine scenarios where "President Bolton" is name-dropped in a manner meant for Trump to become aware of it. Maybe in an off-the-record interview with the New York Times, or maybe while Trump just so happens to be in the next room, or whatever.
Of course, even if this particular thing doesn't get Bolton into trouble, it would take a minor miracle for him to survive until the end of Trump's term. First, because two men famous for having giant egos and volcanic temperaments surely cannot coexist forever, regardless of how lightly one of them tries to tread. Second, because eventually Bolton is going to give Trump some characteristically hawkish advice that goes badly. And as we know, when things go badly, it is never Donald Trump's fault, so the blame will attach squarely to the NSA. And, at that point, the administration will begin preparing to move on to NSA #4. (Z)
This week, it was announced that Michael Bloomberg donated $1.8 billion to fund scholarships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It's the largest donation to a university ever made, and will specifically be used to defray the costs of attending college for students from lower-income backgrounds. Politically, it is a reminder that if Bloomberg decides to run for president in 2020, he can fund his entire campaign by making a single call to his bank. It's just one of the perks of being an actual billionaire.
This story, along with the recent decision to award the Presidential Medial of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, has managed to remind many political pooh-bahs that there's a party with a billionaire problem. It's not the Democrats, though. Here's a list of the 10 biggest donors to the GOP this cycle, with ages and amounts donated to the Party:
- Miriam and Sheldon Adelson (72 and 85), $113,036,500
- Richard Uihlein (73), $39,110,629
- Steve Schwartzman (71), $12,814,000
- Kenneth Griffin (50), $11,064,700
- Timothy Mellon (76), $10,055,600
- Charles Schwab (81), $8,299,540
- Bernard Marcus (89), $7,902,350
- Ronald Cameron (73), $6,531,579
- Paul Singer (74), $6,162,038
- Jeff Yass (62), $6,113,933
That is an average age of 73.3 years, hence the GOP's problem. The donors that fund much of the Party's operations are getting pretty far up there in years, and the red team doesn't have replacements waiting in the wings. And this list does not include folks like the Kochs, who do their donating through PACs, and who aren't spring chickens either (the brothers are 83 and 78). Meanwhile, the Party's current platform, particularly on immigration (and possibly also global warming), is not likely to do much to excite younger ultra-wealthy people.
Here is the corresponding list for the Democrats.
- Michael Bloomberg (76), $61,340,248
- Tom Steyer (61), $59,776,188
- Donald Sussman (72), $22,865,900
- James Simons (80), $18,897,400
- George Soros (88), $17,521,950
- Fred Eychaner (73), $12,173,500
- Deborah Simon (54), $8,877,255
- Reid Garrett Hoffman (51), $7,445,033
- George Marcus (77), $8,084,725
- Karla Jurvetson (52), $6,976,335
That works out to an average age of 68.4, which is somewhat better than 73.3. In fact, we would say it's roughly 4.9 years better. On top of that, the left-leaning folks who do their donating through PACs (say, Mark Zuckerberg, age 34) are much younger than the Republicans who do so, generally speaking. The blue team also has a number of folks outside the Top 10 who are very young and could easily move into roles as the next generation of megadonors (say, Joshua Bekenstein, 51, or Dustin Moskowitz, 34).
We still have some time, of course, until we learn what the post-Trump GOP is going to look like. But the early indications are that they are going to need to retain the Donald's ability to get hundreds of millions of dollars in free publicity, because they aren't going to be able to afford any other kind. (Z)
Recently, Donald Trump has been criticized for not living up to his pro-military platform. There are the public spats with former high-ranking members of the armed forces, of course, particularly Adm. William S. McRaven (ret.). But, perhaps even more significant from a PR standpoint, is that Trump has not found time to visit troops in the field since becoming president. This means he's skipped out on a symbolic gesture that most presidents since FDR, and every president since Ronald Reagan, has made. Although the President claimed he was too busy to make time for the troops (an excuse that carries with it some not-so-great optics, particularly coming from a fellow who finds oodles of time to play golf and to call Sean Hannity), the real issue is that he is scared. "He's never been interested in going," said one White House official, who has discussed the matter with Trump. "He's afraid of those situations. He's afraid people want to kill him."
This is, of course, pretty silly. The Secret Service, et al., would never allow a president to actually be in harm's way. And Trump is clearly very sensitive to the criticism he's gotten, particularly since even Fox News has joined in. And so, he took steps on Thursday to "fix" the situation, except that his "fix" probably didn't make things better. He's still angry with John Roberts, and so took to Twitter (again) to blast the Chief Justice on Thursday:
Justice Roberts can say what he wants, but the 9th Circuit is a complete & total disaster. It is out of control, has a horrible reputation, is overturned more than any Circuit in the Country, 79%, & is used to get an almost guaranteed result. Judges must not Legislate Security...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2018
....and Safety at the Border, or anywhere else. They know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe. Our great Law Enforcement professionals MUST BE ALLOWED TO DO THEIR JOB! If not there will be only bedlam, chaos, injury and death. We want the Constitution as written!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2018
Now, this may seem like a non sequitur, given that we were just talking about Trump's interactions with the troops. And for any other chief executive, it would be. However, the matter was clearly on Trump's mind when he began making Thanksgiving phone calls to troops in the field, and so those calls turned into a series of Trump mini-rallies, in which he railed against Roberts, and immigrants, and free trade, and anyone who dares question his daughter's use of e-mail. Once again, then, the President has ridden roughshod over the norms of his office, and not in a good way. "The President's conduct on that call, the manner in which he politicized it, demonstrated an utter and complete disregard for what military service means," said Rear Adm. John Kirby (ret.). The Admiral also took time out from his Thanksgiving holiday to pen an op-ed for CNN in which he wrote:
Let me be blunt. The United States military is not a voting bloc. It's not a MAGA rally crowd. It's not a plaything, and it's most certainly not an arm of the Republican Party. Our troops, of course, must obey the orders of the commander in chief. They execute the military policy he sets forth. But their loyalty belongs to the American people and to the Constitution.
Trump seems to interpret this loyalty and obedience as political support for him personally. He simply cannot be around them without finding a way to politicize it, and them in the process.
One can only assume that Kirby will soon join his former colleague Adm. William McRaven (ret.) on the receiving end of a nasty tweet.
After his phone calls, Trump also managed to visit with some active duty personnel...in the Coast Guard. Perhaps that will satisfy the ceremonial "requirement," so that Trump can avoid visiting an actual war zone (and, very likely, making some more headlines of the wrong type). If so, it's hard to imagine that Trump could do more to avoid the slightest bit of danger. The only threat to him on Thursday was that his phone might have had a power surge, or he might have gotten sand in his shoes. This definitely won't help to dispel the notion that he's frightened, which in turn does not jibe well with the image of strength he tries to project.
For what it is worth, Trump's approval rating among active-duty troops is slipping a bit. He was at 46% approve and 37% disapprove at the start of his term, and now it's pretty much even, with 43.8% approving and 43.1% disapproving. Mirroring trends among the general public, he does much worse with officers (i.e., college-educated folks) and women soldiers than he does with enlisted men. The pollsters did not ask the coast guard what they think, so we won't be able to suss out the effect of today's visit, but among branches they did talk to, the President is most popular with the Marines, and least popular with the Air Force, for whatever that is worth. (Z)
Different people gave thanks for different things yesterday. For example, crooked politicians gave thanks for the partisan warfare that has blanketed the country. It used to be that when a politician was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, the voters of both parties would temporarily unite to kick the politician out. That is no longer true. The modern voter's slogan is: "He may be a crook, but he is my crook."
Three Republican politicians under indictment won reelection on Nov. 6. In all three cases, there is a fair amount of evidence of the crime. While in a court of law, the rule is "innocent until proven guilty," in politics the voters can judge someone not fit for public office even before a formal trial and conviction. That didn't happen this year, largely due to partisanship.
In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted on three felony charges of securities fraud and related matters in 2015, but he has managed to get the trial delayed over and over. The facts really aren't in dispute. Nevertheless, Paxson won reelection because he is a Republican in a very red state.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is under indictment for wire fraud and misusing campaign funds for personal luxuries. But he is fortunate to represent an R+11 district in northeastern San Diego County, so he managed to hang on, winning 52.5% to the 47.5% his Democratic opponent tallied.
Finally, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) also represents at R+11 district, this one in upstate New York. He has been indicted for insider trading and lying to the FBI. Nevertheless, the Republicans in his district returned him to Congress, albeit by a narrower margin than Hunter, namely 49.4% to 48.5%.
No Democrat currently under indictment ran for Congress, but one senator, Bob Menendez (NJ) had been under indictment and was tried. The trial resulted in a hung jury and the government then abandoned its case. Menendez still won easily, 53.6% to 43.1%.
While these examples don't prove that crime pays, it does show that the old adage "crime doesn't pay" doesn't seem to apply to politics. (V)
When politicians violate domestic laws, they may or may not get away with it. When they violate the laws of economics, economics always wins. Case in point: soybeans. Every soybean looks pretty much like every other soybean. You really can't tell them apart. As a result of the trade war that Donald Trump started with China and the Chinese retaliatory tariffs, U.S. soybean exports to China have dropped 98%.
Fortunately, U.S. soybean farmers are creative, so they started selling a large volume of soybeans to Brazil and Argentina. However, these countries also produce a large volume of soybeans themselves. So what are they doing with their domestic soybeans? Selling them to China, naturally. The net result is that China ends up with as many soybeans as it wants anyway, but U.S. farmers get less money because the South Americans can't pay as much as the Chinese for the beans. The moral of the story is that tariffs often don't achieve the goal they were intended to produce (in this case, to hurt China) but end up damaging the country that started the trade war in the first place. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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