Aug. 09

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A Day of Ill Omens for Trump

Donald Trump was very cranky on Thursday. Behind closed doors, he reportedly raged at his staff, unhappy about the negative coverage of his visits to Dayton, OH, and El Paso, TX. Publicly, he lashed out at the Federal Reserve, castigating them for not reducing the rates, so that the dollar would be weaker. Maybe his ill feelings were left over from Wednesday or, just maybe, they were a response to the fair bit of adverse news he got on the investigative front on Thursday.

To start, various Wall Street banks have started to give House committees vast numbers of documents related to Russians who may have had dealings with Trump, his family, and his business. Some of them have also been turning over documents to New York state authorities. The companies that have decided to comply with subpoenas include Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo & Co., and...gulp...Deutsche Bank AG. There's been quite a bit of smoke on the Trump-Russia financial front, and it would appear that if there's any fire, it will be uncovered.

Meanwhile, on a related note, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) appeared on CNN on Thursday, and let everyone in on a little secret: As far as he's concerned, he's already conducting formal impeachment proceedings. The only question is whether his committee makes a recommendation to the entire House to adopt articles of impeachment. Ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA) did not much care for that news:

Chairman Nadler is either uniformed about what a formal impeachment inquiry is or he is deliberately misleading the American public to score cheap political points. Which is it, Chairman? #moveon

— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) August 9, 2019

Regardless of Collins' take, it is unlikely that Nadler said this merely for cheap political points. After all, what would be the value in that fifteen months before the election? The Chairman might just be trying to strengthen his legal case, as he asks judges to enforce subpoenas and contempt orders. Or, he might be putting some pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Or, there might be a grand strategy here that he cooked up with Pelosi, with small, step-by-step measures ultimately culminating in articles of impeachment. Whatever is going on, it is not good news for Trump.

And finally, Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI Director who was fired last year two days before his pension vested, has filed suit in federal court. He claims that the charges of improper conduct that were leveled against him (although sustained by an FBI review board) were just an excuse, and that his termination was politically motivated. McCabe is asking for his job back, so he can accrue the additional service time he needs. If that request is granted by the courts, it would be embarrassing for the Trump administration, but only a little bit. However, as part of his suit, McCabe also claims the President threatened many high-ranking FBI/Justice officials, sometimes because he deemed them unfriendly, and sometimes because they did not do enough to undermine the Russiagate probe. The former acting director has an ax or two to grind, and a legal case to sell, so his assertions should be taken with a grain of salt, at least for now. However, if his claims are somehow verified, it would certainly add weight to the case that Trump obstructed justice.

In short, nothing that happened on Thursday has harmed Trump, as yet. But any or all of it could, particularly if the President knows he has skeletons in the closet that are soon to be exposed. That thought would undoubtedly make anyone cranky. (Z)

Trump Administration Turnover Remains Brisk

After more than two years of unprecedented turnover, the Trump administration...never really stabilized, and continues to experience all sorts of turnover. On Thursday, the President announced his pick for acting DNI (after the previous nominee, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-TX went down in flames). It's Joseph Maguire, the current Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. As least he has some relevant experience (unlike Ratcliffe).

However, giving the nod to Maguire promptly cost Trump his deputy DNI, Sue Gordon, who announced her resignation on Thursday. Officially, she resigned because the next DNI "deserves to have his own team." However, the behind-the-scenes story is that she was not happy about being passed over for promotion, which didn't happen because the President does not view her as enough of a loyalist. So, the truth, depending on whom you believe, is either that she quit in anger, or she was ordered to resign by Trump. Either way, she's gone, and she's leaving unhappy.

Gordon is not the only one to depart, or to be unhappy. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier also jumped ship this week. Her official reason was family obligations. The behind-the-scenes explanation is that she was unhappy with the direction of immigration policy (more on that below), and had reached the end of her rope. On a similar note, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan hasn't quit yet, but he almost did a few weeks ago. He too is unhappy with the direction that immigration policy has taken (again, more below), and he's spending a lot of time and energy trying to keep the impulses of the hardliners (ahem, Stephen Miller) under control. Plus, any time anything goes wrong on the immigration front, Trump tears into McAleenan, just as he did with the acting Secretary's predecessor, Kirstjen Nielsen. So, McAleenan could very well be a short-timer.

Meanwhile, speaking of unhappy departures, the State Department's Chuck Park also quit on Thursday. He's not particularly high-ranking, but his exit made headlines nonetheless because of the blistering op-ed/resignation letter he published in the Washington Post. He writes:

I'm ashamed of how long it took me to make this decision. My excuse might be disappointing, if familiar to many of my colleagues: I let career perks silence my conscience. I let free housing, the countdown to a pension and the prestige of representing a powerful nation overseas distract me from ideals that once seemed so clear to me. I can't do that anymore.

My son, born in El Paso on the American side of that same Rio Grande where the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter were discovered, in the same city where 22 people were just killed by a gunman whose purported "manifesto" echoed the inflammatory language of our president, turned 7 this month. I can no longer justify to him, or to myself, my complicity in the actions of this administration. That's why I choose to resign.

Park was a 10-year employee of the State Dept.

Also quitting this week, and burning a bridge or two on his way out of town, was climate scientist Lewis Ziska, who resigned his post on Monday, telling news media that he did it because he was infuriated by the suppression of his report on rising carbon dioxide levels. "You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don't agree with someone's political views," he said. "That's so sad. I can't even begin to tell you how sad that is." Maria Caffrey is also a climate scientist, and was in the news last week for almost the same exact reason. She completed a report on different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, saw its publication delayed, learned that her conclusions were being re-written by others, filed a whistleblower complaint, and was fired.

Needless to say, the President doesn't much care if every climate scientist in the whole government quits. He doesn't have a lot of use for foreign service careerists like Park, either. However, this is an administration that, more than 2-1/2 years in, still has 244 of 730 (33.4%) key positions vacant, including 138 that have yet to have a nominee. At some point, you do need to have enough people to sustain the basic functions of the federal government. Further, the constant churn, both of those who are not sufficiently loyal/valuable to Trump, but also those whom he turns against, raises an excellent question: What on earth is he going to do if he gets reelected and has to staff his administration for four more years? (Z)

Operation Wetback, v2.0

For many years, the United States did not have much of an immigration policy, beyond "please come and work here!" In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Congress established an increasingly large corpus of rules about who could come to the country, and under what circumstances, but there wasn't much of an enforcement apparatus if someone snuck in without permission. It wasn't until 1941, when the United States was concerned about the possibility of Japanese/Italian/German enemies within that enforcement of immigration policy became a concern for federal law enforcement, with Franklin D. Roosevelt moving what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service from the Dept. of Commerce to the Justice Dept.

World War II also had another consequence that would eventually play a pretty big role in the development of immigration policy. Most physically fit young men ended up serving in the armed forces, while many physically fit young women ended up working in industrial jobs (see Riveter, Rosie the). This created a severe labor shortage on the nation's farms, particularly in California, a state that had already emerged as an agricultural powerhouse by that time, and one where large-scale industrial farming (rather than small-scale family farms) was the norm. Hence the creation of the bracero program, by which the federal government imported laborers from Mexico during the planting and harvesting seasons, and then arranged for transport home during the fallow season.

The bracero program was in effect, providing a cheap and plentiful source of farm labor, from 1942 to 1964. It solved the labor issue that emerged during the war, and that continued after, as returning soldiers gravitated toward the vast number of high-end blue-collar and white-collar jobs that the booming economy facilitated. There was one problem with the program, however, from the viewpoint of many Americans: It provided cover for many Mexicans to come to the U.S. without permission from the federal government, or to remain in the country after they had been told to go home for the year. These folks who were in the United States without federal government sanction were slurred as "the wetbacks."

On taking office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower promised to do something about this situation. Being a military man himself, Ike assigned Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Swing (ret.) to attend to the matter. This was the genesis of the notorious Operation Wetback, which primarily unfolded in 1954 and 1955. Well over one million Mexicans were rounded up and returned to Mexico, despite the fact that some of them had bracero paperwork and others were citizens. The whole process was notoriously cruel. People were rounded up and held in open-air pens not suitable to the task. Often, they died terrible deaths waiting to be deported; in one incident, a group of deportees suffered 88 deaths due to heatstroke, as they were subjected to 115-degree heat without shelter or water. Those who were "lucky" enough to make it to the point of being transported were often loaded onto crammed cargo ships that, during a later Congressional investigation, were compared to an "eighteenth-century slave ship" or a "penal hell ship." The people who actually managed to make it all the way back to Mexico were often dumped in a part of the country to which they had no connection. Sometimes, it was the middle of nowhere; somewhat akin to being deposited in the middle of North Dakota or Montana today.

Why was this so badly handled? There appear to be a number of reasons. First of all, Maj. Gen. Swing had little idea what he was doing; immigration enforcement like this was nearly brand-new, and he had no particular qualifications for the task (he was mostly an artillery officer). On top of that, there was the racism that was endemic to the 1950s. Also, there were some folks in the government who feared that "the wetbacks" included many communists, and they wanted harsh treatment to send a message to any other potential pinkos, and to communicate to the American people that "the red menace" was being dealt with aggressively. And finally, California farming interests appear to have played a major role. They did not oppose undocumented immigration, per se, they just wanted to make sure that the laborers knew exactly who was boss, and exactly what might happen if they made trouble by doing things like trying to unionize, or demanding higher wages.

This week, the Trump administration has made some headlines due to its harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants. In Mississippi, 680 folks were rounded up in a crackdown that seemed designed to inflict maximum cruelty. Taking place on the first day of the school year, children were separated from parents, and then left in the dark as they tried to figure out what was happening, or what would happen next. Dozens of the detainees have already been released without explanation from the federal government, strongly suggesting that the roundup captured a sizable number of U.S. citizens.

At first glance, Mississippi may seem a strange place for a wide-scale enforcement action, as that state is not known for its sizable Latino population, undocumented or not. In fact, as a percentage of population, the 2.9% of Mississippians who are Latino place the state at number...47 on the list. Only Vermont (1.9%), Maine (1.6%), and West Virginia (1.3%) are less Latino than Mississippi. However, then one learns that the Trump 2020 campaign has run over 2,000 Facebook ads like this one recently, targeted exclusively at residents of Southern states over the age of 45:

A Facebook ad, paid for by Trump 2020,
warns people that an INVASION (in capital letters) is underway, and that we must build the wall to keep America safe

All of a sudden, the choice of Mississippi as a target doesn't seem so curious at all.

Mississippi is a macro-level example of harsh enforcement; how about a micro-level example? Will do. Jimmy Aldaoud was born in Greece to Iraqi parents. At the age of 6 months, his parents brought him to the United States, where they settled in Detroit. That would be a city in Michigan, the state that Donald Trump won by just 11,000 votes. Aldaoud lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years, but was never able to acquire citizenship. In June, he was seized by federal officials and, without being given a chance to speak with his family, was deported. He had to be taken somewhere, so he was dumped in Iraq, where he had citizenship through his parents. Never mind that he had never visited Iraq and could not speak Arabic. He was also left without money or food, and also without the insulin he needed to control his diabetes. He posted a video to Twitter pleading for help, but it did not come in time, as he died on Tuesday (apparently from the lack of insulin).

Donald Trump is not exactly a student of history, but he does know about the original Operation Wetback (at least, in a vague sense), and expressed admiration for it during the 2016 debates:

Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower—a good president, great president. People liked him. I like Ike. Moved a million and a half illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border: They came back. Moved them again, beyond the border. They came back...moved them way south. They never came back.

For most presidents, Operation Wetback is a case study in what not to do when it comes to border enforcement. But if you have pretty much the same influences as existed in 1950s: A desire to scare other immigrants and to communicate strength to your voters, while mixing in a dash of racism and more than a dash of incompetence, it's not terribly surprising that you might end up with Operation Wetback v2.0. (Z)

The State of the State Polls

Yesterday, we took a look at how the Democratic candidates are doing with various segments of the Party. Today, we're going to look at a number of state-level polls that have been published since the second debates. Specifically, there are new polls in Texas (DMN/Emerson), New Hampshire (Boston Globe/Suffolk), Pennsylvania (Franklin & Marshall), North Carolina (Civitas/SurveyUSA), Iowa (Monmouth), and California (KGTV-TV/SurveyUSA). Here is everyone who got above 1% in any of the six polls:

Candidate TX NH PA NC IA CA
Joe Biden 28% 21% 28% 36% 28% 25%
Elizabeth Warren 14% 14% 21% 13% 19% 21%
Bernie Sanders 16% 17% 12% 15% 9% 18%
Kamala Harris 5% 8% 8% 8% 11% 17%
Pete Buttigieg 7% 6% 6% 5% 8% 6%
Beto O'Rourke 19% 0% 1% 0% 0% 0%
Andrew Yang 3% 1% 0% 0% 2% 0%
Cory Booker 2% 1% 2% 1% 1% 1%
Tulsi Gabbard 0% 3% 0% 0% 1% 1%
Julián Castro 2% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Amy Klobuchar 0% 0% 0% 0% 3% 0%
Tom Steyer 0% 0% 0% 0% 3% 0%
Kirsten Gillibrand 0% 0% 0% 0% 2% 0%

A few observations:

We're in the dog days of summer, when everyone is appearing at state fairs and talking about pig bellies and soy bean futures. It's hard to make much of a move during that portion of the campaign season, but the money keeps burning up at the same rate. For some of these folks, then, the end is surely near. (Z)

Gabbard for VP?

Speaking of candidates whose campaigns are in deep doo-doo, a reading of the tea leaves suggests that Tulsi Gabbard may know the game is up, and that she has shifted gears. Recalling that she attacked Kamala Harris at the second debate, while completely ignoring Joe Biden, it could be that she's auditioning for the #2 spot on the Biden ticket.

If Uncle Joe gets the nomination, would he be interested in a Biden/Gabbard ticket? He might be. She's young, female, a minority, and comes from the west, which balances him in many ways. Also, she's more lefty than him on most issues, and so has some support among the liberal wing of the Party. On the other hand, she's got some ideas about foreign policy (particularly Syria) that are way out of step with the Party, and she's got some unpleasant anti-LGBTQ activism in her background. Also, there is little question that her candidacy is being promoted by the Russian propaganda machine, and possibly also by GOP operatives. Team Biden might not want to touch that with a 10-foot-pole. Our guess is that the debate performance is nice and all, but that Biden has folks in mind that bring many of the same positives to the table, with considerably less baggage. Someone like Stacey Abrams, for example.

On the other hand, picking a woman as running mate simply because she is a woman doesn't always work out so well. If he were alive, you could ask John McCain about that. If Biden goes down that road, he will probably vet Abrams a bit more thoroughly than McCain vetted Sarah Palin. (Z)

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