• Barr Orders Investigation of Russiagate Origins
• Republicans Launch Abortion Offensive
• Neil 1, Shapiro 0
• Trump Strongest Among "Semi" Evangelicals
• Target on Biden's Back is Growing by the Day
• The Amazing, Astounding, Vanishing Beto O'Rourke
The Chinese don't often make idle threats, and they proved that again on Monday, as Xi Jinping did what he said he was going to do and imposed tariffs on another $60 billion in U.S. imports to that country. Targeted goods include cotton, machinery, grains and aircraft parts. This is a response to the tariffs Donald Trump imposed last week on $200 billion in Chinese goods.
Neither nation's economy is responding well to this news. The Dow Jones dropped 617 points in trading on Monday—investors' second freak-out in a week. The S&P 500 was also down big, and the NASDAQ had its worst day of the year. On the other side of the world, the Chinese yuan hit a four-month low, Chinese car sales are down for the 10th month in a row, and Chinese soybean prices hit a 10-year low. Innocent bystanders are also getting sucked into the maelstrom; European markets had their worst day in months on Monday.
At the moment, a resolution to the impasse does not seem likely, as both sides are digging their heels in. Donald Trump, for his part, said, "I love the position we're in. I think it's working out really well." He also suggested that tariffs are coming for all Chinese goods that have not already been targeted. That would add another $300 billion in imports to the list. Senate Republicans, for their part, made clear on Monday that they have no intention of reining the President in. While most of them disagree with his maneuvering, and recognize that some (or many) of their constituents are being hurt, their general response has been to throw up their arms and declare that it's China's fault. For example, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) remarked that farmers are "disappointed but, you know, recognizing that China is the one that is forcing this."
Meanwhile, the Chinese appear to be just as set on their course as Trump is on his. Chinese media—which, of course, takes its marching orders from Xi—is in the midst of a full out propaganda blitz, blaming this situation on U.S. "greed and arrogance," calling for a "people's war," and declaring that China will "never surrender" on trade. As we've pointed out, the Chinese are pretty good at playing the long game. And since a couple years' suffering doesn't affect Xi's reelection hopes, given that he doesn't have to worry about pesky things like elections, there's every reason to believe China's ready to ride this out.
So, is there any hope whatsoever? Maybe. There is a meeting tentatively scheduled to take place between Xi and Trump next month, and so much of this could be posturing in anticipation of that confab, and it might be dialed back then. Increasing the odds that, just maybe, Trump moves off of his position is the fact that Ernst isn't correct when she says that farmers understand what's going on, and recognize that China is to blame. In fact, a lot of them are quite angry, and are starting to lose faith in the President. Trump says he intends to use much of the new tariff revenue to subsidize those farmers who are struggling, but such things are always a dodgy business, as such money never seems to end up in the right hands.
Anyhow, if Republicans start to truly fear the wrath of the farmers, then it may all of a sudden put Trump in a concessionary mood. On the other hand, this is pretty much the only policy idea he's embraced for his entire adult life besides immigration, even as he switched parties and flip-flopped on every other issue under the sun. So, Trump may very well be willing to risk dying on this hill, polls, pundits, and partisans be damned. (Z)
When it comes to Attorney General William Barr, the ship has sailed on the possibility that he is an independent defender of the laws, whose only client is the people of the United States. Nope, he's a company man, with that company being the Trump Organization. Alberto Gonzalez was pretty thoroughly in George W. Bush's pocket during his tenure as AG, but by all indications, Barr has Gonzalez beat.
Late Monday, Barr followed through with his promise/threat to look into the origins of the Russiagate investigation, appointing U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham to investigate the matter. Durham is a legitimate prosecutor, and not a partisan hack, who has been deployed by AGs from both political parties. His speciality is finding wrongdoing by federal employees, particularly members of federal law enforcement. So, Barr is definitely pursuing the possibility that some of the subpoenas/wiretaps that ultimately helped foment the Mueller investigation were corrupt or illegal. This will actually be the third concurrent investigation of this basic issue, as Justice Dept. Inspector General Michael Horowitz is also checking it out, as is John W. Huber, who is U.S. Attorney for Utah. There is no evidence that anything untoward took place, but Donald Trump wants this looked into, and as we know, whatever Trump wants, Trump gets. (Z)
Now that Brett Kavanaugh is safely ensconced on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion activists sense the time is ripe to try and gut Roe v. Wade. When the Justice was seated, it was generally expected that the plan would be to undermine abortion rights, bit-by-bit. However, what has actually happened is a full-out, frontal assault. Georgia governor Brian Kemp (R) has just signed a "heartbeat" bill that would, as of 2020, make it illegal to abort a fetus that shows any sign of a heartbeat. Since that happens around the three-week mark, before most women know they are pregnant, the law would de facto end abortions in Georgia, except in cases of rape or incest. A bill that is currently working its way through the Alabama legislature would be even more restrictive, as it would exclude the rape and incest exceptions. And a host of other states, all of them in the Deep South or the Midwest, are also set to consider heartbeat bills.
There has been much ado about the Georgia bill, which allegedly would put women who have a miscarriage, or who travel across state lines for an abortion, at risk of going to prison. This is probably not true, because the targets of these bills are not women, but instead their doctors. The linked article makes clear that the law is a little fuzzy on this point, and that it requires a law degree to parse, but says that other areas of Georgia law almost certainly protect women from these sorts of prosecutions. What definitely could happen, though, is that a woman who miscarries or who gets an abortion could get dragged into a prosecution of the doctor who treated them. At best, that would be a difficult emotional burden. At worst, it could put the woman at risk of imprisonment—not for the abortion, but for contempt of court or for perjury, if they decide not to take sides against a physician who was trying to help them.
The bills in Georgia, Alabama, and any other states who hop on the bandwagon will not take effect, of course, until Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other groups have had a chance to challenge them in court. And what happens during that part of the process is anyone's guess. On one hand, courts have consistently struck down restrictive abortion laws since Roe was decided in 1973. Further, Chief Justice John Roberts surely realizes that the Supreme Court would be tarred for decades as a partisan arm of the Republican Party if it struck down Roe. However, it could be that Roberts and the four other conservative justices decide it's worth it to trade the Court's reputation for the one victory conservatives have dreamed of for close to half a century.
Meanwhile, all this wrangling could have an interesting impact on the 2020 elections. Marist has been polling Americans' views on abortion for about a decade, and they've found that support for keeping the procedure legal is generally pretty steady at about 55%, with roughly 40% wanting it to be outlawed. However, in the last couple of months, the percentages have shifted, such that they are currently about equal (47% on either side). This appears to be the result of GOP propagandizing, particularly about late-term abortion bills in New York and Virginia. That messaging was quite effective with—unexpectedly—younger Democrats. So, it could be that a somewhat dramatic expansion of abortion rights in a few states gave the GOP a much-needed angle for peeling off some Democratic votes in 2020, but that the Party has handed that issue right back by pursuing even more radical action in the other direction. Needless to say, it's going to take a while for this all to shake out, before anyone can say for sure how wedge-y this issue will really be during next year's elections. (Z)
The Georgia abortion bill is not just a hot topic on this side of the Atlantic, but across the pond as well. And so it was one of the first topics of discussion when conservative wunderkind Ben Shapiro appeared on Andrew Neil's BBC program to promote his new book, "The Right Side of History," which simultaneously argues that Greek philosophers are awesome, that western religions (besides Islam) are awesome, and that it would be nice if modern politics weren't so nasty. Here is the video of the appearance:
It's 16 minutes long, which may be a bit much for most people. However, for those who haven't heard already, it was disastrous for Shapiro. He didn't like Neil's questions about the Georgia abortion bill, or about his past statements and tweets, or about how his (Shapiro's) own behavior is not at all consistent with his call for less divisiveness in American political discourse. Over the course of the 16 minutes, Shapiro got defensive, and lashed out several times, including accusing Neil in particular and the BBC in general of being leftist shills. This was laughable; Neil is famously on the right wing of British politics—a Thatcherite through-and-through, his rough American equivalent is Brit Hume or John McLaughlin. Eventually, after running through his bag of "debate" tricks, and failing to shake Neil or put him on the defensive, Shapiro threw down his microphone and stormed off.
The point here is not to enjoy a little schadenfreude at Shapiro's expense, even though it's tempting, given that he has responded to childhood bullying by himself becoming one of the biggest bullies in the media. And certainly, if anyone wants a catalog of the techniques that Shapiro uses to "destroy" college students in alleged "debates" (passive aggression, responding to questions with questions, creating straw men, avoiding questions, ad hominem attacks, etc.), the video certainly offers that. However, there are actually two larger, and more important lessons to be drawn here.
The first thing the interview makes clear is exactly how far rightward Republicans have moved in the past 10-20 years. We've made this point using DW-NOMINATE scores (while also noting that Democrats have moved aggressively leftward, though not so far left as Republicans have moved rightward). We've also pointed out, many times, that the GOP is the only major political party in the world to deny global warming. But when you make Andrew Neil—who is, again, about as far right as it gets in the British press—look like Bernie Sanders, that makes quite a statement.
The second thing the interview shows is exactly how damaged the U.S. system of journalism is. The reason that Ben Shapiro got so angry is that he's not used to being challenged. That's basically true of pundits on both ends of the spectrum, who thrive in the echo chambers that support them, and largely avoid unfriendly outlets. Partisans in the United States have done such a good job of equating critical questions with bias and bad intentions that it's basically impossible for any journalist in this country to do what Neil did. So, even if Shapiro does appear on CNN, or Keith Olbermann does appear on Fox, any Socratic-style questioning will just be dismissed as a partisan "takedown," and will have no impact. That makes it effectively impossible to hold pundits and politicians accountable, and so the echo chamber just gets worse and worse. (Z)
It appears that voting for Donald Trump may not be the "come to Jesus" moment we've been led to believe it is. In fact, among regular, churchgoing evangelicals, only 55% definitely want him to be the GOP candidate again. The President does much better among evangelicals who go to church only occasionally, as 70% of them want him to be the nominee again.
This would certainly seem to suggest that it's not so easy to reconcile Christian principles with Trump support, and that the folks who are able to do so are the ones who are also "flexible" on other things, like the Lord's commandment to keep the sabbath holy (that would be #4, which is conveniently several spots above the one about adultery). Politically, this news does not mean much for the Democrats, since even those evangelicals that don't care for the Donald would still like to keep a Republican in the White House. However, it does mean that there might be a sliver of hope available for a GOP challenger, particularly if he or she is an evangelical, and if Trump's trade wars wreck the economy. (Z)
Donald Trump is not the only king of the hill with things to worry about. While Joe Biden is atop the polls of the Democratic field right now, the spotlight upon him is very harsh, and it's possible that some Democrats won't like what it shows them. To start, Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley points out that for a fellow who talks a lot of pro-blue-collar talk, and who held his launch event surrounded by union workers, Biden takes an awful lot of money from management folks who are none too friendly to labor. For example, he held a fundraiser at the house of Cynthia Telles, who is on the board of Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser is enmeshed in a labor dispute with its workers right now, one bitter enough that there were protests outside the Biden fundraiser. The candidate had nothing to say about the incongruity, nor did he address the picketers. Whether he will be able to keep taking management money while being the pro-labor candidate is a good question.
Another good question: What about global warming? 2020 Democratic voters care a lot about that issue, perhaps more than any other besides getting rid of Donald Trump. And what is Biden's plan to combat climate change? Well, he doesn't have one, actually. His campaign says one is coming, but by all indications, it will be not very aggressive, as Biden tries to triangulate between workers (who don't want to lose jobs to regulations), and big money donors (some of whom make big bucks from petroleum and/or manufacturing), and independent voters (who instinctively rebel at "radical" policy proposals). Whether a lukewarm approach to global warming will be enough to get the job done with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party remains to be seen. (Z)
Joe Biden may have issues right now, but at least he's doing better than Beto O'Rourke. The one-time Next Big Thing™ has largely dropped off the radar. His polling numbers are mundane (and are being eaten into by Pete Buttigieg and others), while he's making a fraction of the headlines as a national candidate that he made when he was running for one of 100 U.S. Senate seats.
To an extent, O'Rourke's (temporary?) fall from grace is his own doing; he's been doing a lot of local boutique-style campaigning, and he's also made a few gaffes. And, to an extent, it's because running against nearly two dozen Democrats, many of whom are quite popular, is very different than running against one widely reviled Republican. In any event, the candidate realizes he's got a problem, and admitted he needs to "do a better job ... of talking to a national audience." But can he turn it around? Remarkably, with (exactly) 538 days until the election, time may be running short. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May13 Democrats May Rethink Impeaching Trump
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May09 Trump Claims Executive Privilege over the Original Mueller Report
May09 Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Trump Jr.
May09 Trump Implicitly Admits that He Lost a Billion Dollars in a Decade
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