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Inflation Damnation

There are few subjects we feel less comfortable writing about than economic news. However, that was the big story of the day yesterday, so we've really got no choice. The Bureau of Labor statistics released its monthly report on inflation, and the number was grim: 9.1%, which is the worst number that the Bureau has reported since November 1981.

We've linked to the CNBC story above, because they are an outlet that specializes in financial news. However, even they wrote a headline that is misleading: "Inflation rose 9.1% in June, even more than expected, as consumer pressures intensify." Just about all outlets report it this way, for reasons we really don't understand. Unless you're pretty well versed in how this works, you could easily be left with the impression that there was 9.1% inflation over the course of a single month. In fact, the announced figure always refers to the previous 12 calendar months. So, the announcement yesterday means there was 9.1% inflation from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.

Politically, of course, high inflation is bad news for the party in power. Joe Biden has been around the block enough times to know that very well, and so he quickly issued a statement reiterating his commitment to taming inflation, and laying out his plans for doing so. Most outlets reported it as a "three-part plan," but if you read the statement, it's clearly four parts:

  1. Keep doing whatever possible to reduce gas prices
  2. Work with Congress to pass legislation to help Americans
  3. Resist Republican calls for tax increases on working people and/or cuts to Social Security/Medicare
  4. Stay out of the way of the Federal Reserve

All of this is pretty obvious, and some of it is just empty rhetoric. There is no risk, for example, of Republicans raising taxes given that Democrats have the federal trifecta. Still, he had to say something and, as we've pointed out many times, there isn't actually all that much a president can do about inflation. If there was, Jimmy Carter would have done it. And Gerald Ford. And Richard Nixon. And Harry S. Truman.

Other than trying to get a bit of useful legislation through Congress, all Biden can really do is sit and wait with the rest of us. The good news for him and the Democrats is that there are a few silver linings right now:

At some point in the Biden presidency, inflation will return to normal levels. The immediate questions, politically, are: (1) Will there be enough movement by November to keep voters from being in a "throw the bums out" mood?, and (2) Will abortion and other social issues elbow out the economy in voters' minds? (Z)

Looks Like the Clock Is Ticking on Trump 2024

While president #46 has problems aplenty to worry about, president #45 isn't having a great time these days, either. The 1/6 Committee hearings are hurting him badly, his grip on the Republican Party is weakening, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is making a strong play to be the GOP's champion in 2024.

Two new polls speak to the former president's woes. The first is from Siena/The New York Times. It reports that while 49% of Republican voters would support Trump if he was the Republican candidate in 2024, 50% would like him to stand down, and to give someone else a chance. The second is from Politico/Morning Consult. It says that 56% of Americans think Trump committed a crime on 1/6, as opposed to 35% who think he didn't. That's a 21-point gap, and the gap grows every time the poll is repeated, including a noticeable spike after Cassidy Hutchinson's public testimony.

Trump is very upset about these developments. Here, for example, is the statement he issued in response to the first poll:

The failing New York Times is down 40% year-to-date because they are Fake News. Their reporters are dishonest, and their front page has become a work of total fiction, not news. They hate our Country, and they hate reporting the truth, which is why America is not respected and our Nation has never been weaker. Instead, they obsess over January 6, just like they did over Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, the Mueller Witch Hunt, and Russia, Russia, Russia. The New York Times will continue to decline because people no longer believe their reporting is even close to being true. Fake polls, phony stories, and made up quotes—they are a disgrace to journalism and have set it back many many years. THE NEW YORK TIMES IS TRULY THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!

Also see below for more evidence of Trump's anxiety about the 1/6 Committee.

Trump, of course, is not a fellow who likes to sit on his hands and wait for events to play out. However, given that he's not in power and that he has no access to major social media platforms, his options for changing the narrative (and, perhaps, fending off DeSantis) are limited. In fact, he's really only got one ace in the hole to play: announcing his candidacy for president in 2024.

The upsides for Trump in declaring are pretty clear. First, he would generate a huge burst of publicity, as anyone and everyone wrote about his prospects for being reelected. He'd also be an ongoing news story, and his every utterance and outburst would become much more newsworthy. Further, it might make filing charges against Trump a little more difficult. And finally, it would also force DeSantis to end the is-he-or-isn't-he-running game, and to either mount a frontal challenge to the throne or else to back down. Well, actually, DeSantis is a pretty slick operator, so he might be able to walk the line for a little longer. But a Trump announcement would definitely force many Republican donors and operatives to make a choice.

There appear to be three main downsides to declaring right now. The first is that Trump would be constrained by campaign finance rules and, in particular, would have to back away from his PACs. The second is that Republican pooh-bahs are putting on a full-court press in an effort to try to convince him to remain on the sidelines for now, for fear that it would make the 2022 midterms all about him. The third is that once you've played your ace in the hole, well, you don't have your ace in the hole anymore.

We doubt that Trump cares all that much about campaign finance, and we know for sure that he doesn't care at all about the rest of the Republican Party. That means we actually think that, reality TV star that he is, his main constraint is that he might not want to use up his "big reveal" this far before the election. But he's a very impulsive person, and if he has many more bad days (and bad polls), and if DeSantis continues to eat away at his base of support, he will almost certainly jump in before the summer's out. (Z)

LIV, and Let LIV

And now, a development that you did not need a crystal ball to predict—just a golf ball. Or a pulse. This general story is something we've been thinking about writing up for many weeks, but it was not quite political enough to clear the bar. That problem has now resolved itself, however.

As some readers will know, the planet's dominant golf tour is the PGA Tour. In the last year or so, however, the Saudi Arabian government decided to get into the golf business, and founded the LIV Golf Tour. LIV is, of course, the Roman numeral for 54; the name was chosen because if a player birdies every hole in an LIV event, they'll card a 54. The establishment of the new tour is entirely an exercise in PR; the Saudis are lavishing cash on (some of) the world's best golfers to put a kinder, gentler face on their repressive and often murderous regime.

The new tour has, at least so far, created a sharp divide in the golf world. Some of the world's premier golfers, including Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, refused to have anything to do with LIV. Others, including Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, were more than happy to take the Saudis' money. The PGA Tour has banned LIV golfers from participating in PGA-sanctioned events. Is this a principled stand, based on the Saudis' dismal human rights record? Is it an attempt to protect the PGA's turf? Probably some of both, but mostly the latter.

The PGA's strong stance on LIV, not to mention the less-than-sweet odor emanating from the latter tour, has put the United States' premier golf courses in a little bit of a bind. On one hand, the folks who own and manage those courses would love a visit from the Saudi Brink's truck. On the other hand, that risks alienating club members, customers, and the leadership of the PGA tour. So, most elite American courses have said "No, thanks" to LIV events thus far.

And now we get to the part where you didn't exactly need a crystal ball to see what was coming. The LIV Tour needs some top-flight venues in the U.S. where it can stage events. And it's going to have to be venues owned by someone who already has a hostile relationship with the PGA Tour, who is willing to do anything in exchange for big piles of money, and who doesn't care a whit about the Saudis' human rights record. Perhaps you can think of someone who matches that description...

Yep, you got it. Later this month, Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey will host an LIV event. And in October, the LIV season will conclude with an event at Trump National Doral Miami. Both courses are believed to be losing money hand-over-fist, given that the name on them is now quite toxic to half the country. That's the same half of the country that might look askance at the Saudis, so for the courses to climb in bed with the Saudi government isn't likely to lead to an even greater loss of business.

What this means is that former president Donald Trump and former first son-in-law Jared Kushner are now both openly doing business with the Saudi government, an arrangement that was undoubtedly made easier by the Trump administration's laissez-faire approach to things like the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone kvetching about (alleged, unproven, and pretty small potatoes even if true) business relationships between Hunter Biden and [fill in bugaboo here]. (Z)

Whaddya Know? Trump Lied

Last item on the Trump beat today. During Tuesday's 1/6 Committee hearing, Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) made pretty specific allegations that people in Donald Trump's orbit, including Trump himself, were attempting to influence witnesses. Cheney specifically asserted that Trump had placed phone calls to an upcoming witness who has yet not appeared during the televised hearings. A Trump spokesperson fired back, sending a tweet that implied that Cheney was wrong, lying, corrupt, etc.

We would have bet the farm that Cheney was telling the truth and that TrumpWorld was lying. And that would have been a good bet, as it turns out. Well, maybe not that good, since the odds the books would have laid would probably have been something like 1-to-100. Still, the bet would have cashed, because it turns out Trump was indeed lying. It took less than 24 hours for CNN (later followed by NBC) to confirm the story.

CNN did not learn the name of the person in question, as it is being kept closely guarded, in large part for that person's safety. However, the outlet was able to confirm that the details of Cheney's claim were entirely accurate, and that the individual was/is "White House support staff." That is pretty vague, and could cover anyone from "the guy who replaces the empty rolls of toilet paper in the White House bathrooms" to "former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows." Presumably, we shall soon learn the person's identity, since the matter will undoubtedly come up during their hearing.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder what's going through Trump's head. Is he stupid? Mentally unstable? Desperate? So used to getting away with things that he doesn't bother to think through consequences? It's probably several of these things. Whatever the case may be, his greatest vulnerability is not necessarily the big crimes, it's the crimes that are easiest to prove. With witness tampering, there's not only the account of the person who was tampered with, there's also a phone record that supports their claims. And there's probably also a pattern of behavior; Trump likely tried to influence other witnesses, and what he did in Georgia is a very similar sort of thing. If he ends up before a jury on this, it could well be a slam dunk.

One other thing worth pointing out. Trump keeps pooh-poohing the 1/6 Committee, at least publicly. But if he's desperately trying to influence witnesses to tell a less damning tale, well, that tells you how he really feels about the Committee's work. (Z)

Former Prosecutors Unimpressed by Garland

Ok, this is sorta on the Trump beat, so the first sentence of that last item may not have been 100% accurate. Readers can decide for themselves. Anyhow, when it comes to Donald Trump and his enablers tasting the steel of cold, hard justice at the hands of the federal government, two very prominent former prosecutors are not impressed with how AG Merrick Garland has played his cards.

First up is Andrew Weissmann, who was an assistant U.S. Attorney, and who has participated in a number of high-profile cases and investigations, most obviously serving as Robert Mueller's right-hand man during the compiling of the Mueller Report. Weissman kept a low profile for a couple of years, but that's over, it would seem. Earlier this week, he penned an op-ed for The New York Times that was highly critical of the AG's approach to the Trump investigation.

As we have noted many times, a classic approach to prosecutions is to start with the small fish, then use them to get to medium fish, and then use the medium fish to get to the whales. This is pretty much what the DoJ has done with the 1/6 insurrection, having thus far spent most of its time going after rioters (a.k.a. small fish). Weissman thinks that the correct approach, instead, is to treat 1/6 as a "hub and spoke" conspiracy, in which the insurrection is just one part of a much larger picture. Here's the main assertion of the piece:

Instead, what the [1/6] hearings have revealed is evidence of a plot orchestrated by Mr. Trump and his allies in the White House and elsewhere—including players from the Mueller investigation like Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani as well as new players like Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman. The "spoke" of the Jan. 6 riot should be seen and investigated simultaneously with the other "spokes": orchestrating fake electors in key states, pressuring state officials like those in Georgia to find new votes, plotting to behead the leadership of the Justice Department to promote a lackey who would further the conspiracy by announcing a spurious investigation into election fraud, and pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to violate the law.

Investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection in the context of the other means by which Mr. Trump appears to have sought to undermine the transfer of power serves to strengthen any future case by presenting the complete evidence of the perpetrators' actions and intent. And it undermines possible defenses.

Weissman concludes that while the DoJ's efforts have not been up to snuff thus far, there's still time for them to course-correct.

Meanwhile, the other former prosecutor who took a potshot at Garland this week is... Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is, of course, a member of the 1/6 Committee. Schiff appeared on MSNBC, and was asked if he shared Weissman's concern that the DoJ isn't moving quickly enough. The Representative replied:

I very much share his concern. I have been expressing a similar concern, really, for months now. It is so unprecedented, and I've been part of many congressional investigations that have been contemporaneous with justice department investigations, but it is unprecedented for Congress to be so far out ahead of the justice department.

Schiff also speculated that Garland's caution stems from his desire to repair the damage done by predecessors like AG Bill Barr, and to re-establish the DoJ's reputation for being above politics.

It's probably worth noting that while Garland came to his current post with a sterling reputation, he was a judge for nearly 30 years. While he did have some prosecutorial experience before that, it's understandable that his skills might be a little rusty. The chair of the 1/6 Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), said yesterday that his team is now working more closely with the DoJ. It appears that, in particular, the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson sent shockwaves through the Department. And if Garland & Co. ultimately reach the correct destination, then it will quickly be forgotten how clumsily or indirectly they got there. (Z)

"Fake News" About 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Turns Out to Be All Too Real

When it comes to the end of Roe, and the hardcore approach to abortion favored by right wingers, their worst nightmare (politically speaking) is when the hypothetical worst-case scenarios become actual worst-case scenarios. Like, say, when a 10-year-old girl is raped and impregnated, and can't get an abortion due to her state's antiabortion laws.

That, of course, is exactly what happened in Ohio, compelling the victim to travel to Indiana to undergo the procedure. That's gotta be the first time ever that anyone ever said "Let's head to Indiana; they're much more liberal." In any event, the Hoosier State won't be more liberal for long; it is expected that restrictions will soon be imposed that match those in Ohio.

Given the PR disaster that this all represents, prominent Republicans—without a plausible defense for why this situation is OK—went the "fake news" route. For example:

A week ago, @DanaBashCNN tried to trap me with a story about a 10-year old girl who got an abortion. I pointed out that nobody was asking about the pervert who raped that child.

Now it looks like the story was fake to begin with. Literal #FakeNews from the liberal media.

— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) July 9, 2022

You will note that a doctor who is unable to reveal details of a case she's handled is not suspicious, she's just following the law.

In any case, the doctor is no longer the only corroboration for the story. On Tuesday, a man was arrested and charged with the rape. It's true that does not prove his guilt, but the fact that he's already confessed does. In fact, he admitted to raping the girl twice.

The perpetrator has a Spanish last name, and pretty clearly appears to be Latino (you can see his mugshot here, if you wish), so we have a pretty good guess what new direction the right-wingers will take as they try to defang this story. However, in a nation of 300 million+ people, there are going to be other horrors like this, and it's going to be very difficult for the anti-abortion crowd to gaslight them all away. (Z)

California Makes Its Move on Guns

The most important thing about a federal system of government is that it lets individual states (or cantons, or districts, or counties) do their own thing. Whether someone thinks this is good or bad tends to depend on the issue in question. Residents of red states, for example, tend to be big fans of local rules for schooling, but national rules for prohibiting abortion.

Thanks to the right-wing Supreme Court, the political right is in the midst of a series of victories right now. But, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the response from the political left is coming. It is not terribly likely that much is going to get done in Washington, unless the midterms go very well for the blue team. So that puts blue states, and their governors, in the driver's seat right now.

Everyone expected that big moves would be coming down the pike from the blue states of New York, California, and Illinois, and this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and his fellow Golden State Democrats made their first big move. The Governor signed into law a bill that allows gunmakers to be sued if their products are "abnormally dangerous," are sold in a manner that allows them to be converted into illegal weapons, or if the guns end up in the hands of people who should not have them.

The linked article reports that "The law is likely to face a court challenge." Yeah, in the sense that the sun is likely to rise today. Of course there will be court challenges, as it would be devastating for gun manufacturers if one or more of these new rules was allowed to stand. We haven't the faintest idea what will happen when the law (and others coming down the pike) end up in Court. But the point is that the blue states are perfectly capable of playing the same game that red states have played on abortion in the last 20-30 years, and now the blue states have begun playing it. They won't win every round, but they won't lose every round, either. (Z)

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