Tuesday Reads: Odds and EndsPosted: May 14, 2019
There’s plenty of news today and none of it is good as far as I can see. Here are some stories that caught my eye this morning.
Following up on Dakinikat’s post yesterday, a couple of useful articles on Trump’s insane tarriffs:
Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg: Don’t Go Searching for Strategy in Trump’s Tariffs.
As China and the U.S. dig in for what may become a protracted and possibly very painful trade war, a lot of time is being wasted trying to divine whether President Donald Trump has a strategy.
If we’re defining “strategy” as a cohesive, premeditated plan designed with clear goals in mind – goals that go beyond “gotcha!” – then no, the president doesn’t. “I’m going to teach China a lesson” isn’t a strategy. Slapping rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports is punitive, of course, and may ultimately convince the country’s leaders to open their markets and stop stealing intellectual property from the U.S. It’s unlikely to convince them to significantly reshape what has thus far proven to be a wildly successful, government-brokered industrial policy that has turned China into an economic powerhouse.
Meanwhile, Trump has been tweeting a series of bonkers and factually-challenged insights recently about what he thinks the impact of his tariffs will be and how U.S. consumers will respond to the likelihood of tariff-induced higher prices. None of this is knitted into a broader geopolitical argument about how best to deal with China on the world stage and challenge it militarily on the high seas and elsewhere.
Don’t expect most of that to change in a meaningful way. The president doesn’t have a sophisticated trade strategy any more than he has a thoughtful immigration strategy or a wily political strategy. What he has are resentments – resentments that are so deeply felt that much of Trump’s fuming can come across at times as the words and bile of someone who has been personally affronted. Trump’s fear and resentment of “the other” is profound and ubiquitous and speaks to sentiments he’s been harboring for much of his life.
From the article, an example of Trump’s strategic thinking:
“I’ve read hundreds of books about China over the decades,” Trump said in “The Art of the Deal,” his nonfiction work of fiction. “I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind.”
He’s not really sure about that though, and sometimes his insecurity is transparent. “China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very large brain,” Trump said last fall.
This moron is president of the U.S.!
The Dow Jones industrial average on Monday plunged 618 points, or roughly 2.7 percent, after a flurry of belligerent tweets from President Trump — and quick retaliation from China in the form of new tariffs — threw gut punches at hopes for a deal between the two nations.
The sell-off framed a central conflict inside the White House — and seemingly within the president’s own mind. Trump loves a booming stock market, which he tracks obsessively, and views it as an indicator of success on par with his approval rating. At the same time, he loves his power to unilaterally impose tariffs, and sees winning tough concessions from China as key to his 2020 reelection bid.
But those two political imperatives are once again at odds. And Wall Street traders and economists say that if Trump doesn’t make a deal, and moves forward with a threat to slap 25 percent tariffs on everything China exports to the U.S., he could further rattle markets, tip the economy toward recession and lose his best ticket to re-election.
Click the link to read the rest.
Also following up on Dakinikat’s Monday post, Irin Carmon at The Cut on the GOP war on women and Justice Breyer’s dire warning: We Have No Idea How Scary Our Abortion Future Will Get.
No one used to take Janet Porter seriously. The Ohio activist who pioneered so-called “heartbeat” six-week abortion bans was mostly known for the gags — a YouTube video with a tinny voice singing “Have a heart, don’t let them kill / Help us pass the heartbeat bill” sung to the tune of “99 Red Balloons,” or having two fetuses “testify” via ultrasound at a committee hearing. Radical as her goals were, she didn’t seem in danger of having them come true, since mainstream anti-abortion activists and elected officials long believed in going slowly to forestall political and legal backlash.
As Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis, who convinced John Kasich to veto Ohio’s heartbeat bill in 2016, put it to me then, “When you overreach, you lose. The courts can be very vicious to you.” Establishment anti-choicers also worry about waking up voters who think of abortion rights as basically secure, and prefer chipping away at Roe v. Wade, using tendentious and inaccurate phrases like “taxpayer-funded abortion” and “fetal pain,” and falsely comparing later abortions to “infanticide.” The anti-choice split is about speed, not goals. “If the court was 7-2 pro-life I would say, let’s do a ban at conception,” Gonidakis said. “I know everyone is swept up in Trump mania, but we have to be realistic.”
But just because that’s been abortion’s past doesn’t mean Porter is wrong about its future. Kasich is gone, and so is Justice Anthony Kennedy. Heartbeat bans are suddenly in place, if not in effect, in Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, and Kentucky. On Monday, the normally plodding and passionless Justice Stephen Breyer issued a Cassandra-like warning in a dissent joined by the other liberal justices, calling the majority’s overruling of a states’ rights precedent “dangerous” and adding ominously, “Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next.” If that wasn’t clear enough, he twice mentioned the court’s major abortion precedent when he didn’t have to. Only running down the court steps shrieking would have been less subtle.
The Handmaid’s Tale could become reality for American women.
In other news:
Cover-Up General Bill Barr is following Trump’s orders to investigate the investigators.
The New York Times: Barr Assigns U.S. Attorney in Connecticut to Review Origins of Russia Inquiry.
Attorney General William P. Barr has assigned the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut to examine the origins of the Russia investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter, a move that President Trump has long called for but that could anger law enforcement officials who insist that scrutiny of the Trump campaign was lawful.
John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, has a history of serving as a special prosecutor investigating potential wrongdoing among national security officials, including the F.B.I.’s ties to a crime boss in Boston and accusations of C.I.A. abuses of detainees.
His inquiry is the third known investigation focused on the opening of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign into possible ties between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates….
Mr. Durham, who was nominated by Mr. Trump in 2017 and has been a Justice Department lawyer since 1982, has conducted special investigations under administrations of both parties. Attorney General Janet Reno asked Mr. Durham in 1999 to investigate the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious informant: the organized crime leader James (Whitey) Bulger.
In 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned Mr. Durham to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes in 2005 showing the torture of terrorism suspects. A year later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to also examine whether the agency broke any laws in its abuses of detainees in its custody.
According to Fox News, Durham has already been conducting this investigation “for weeks.”
The Guardian is reporting an incident that didn’t make it into the Mueller Report: Steve Bannon sought alliance with FBI in 2017 White House meeting.
Steve Bannon urged two senior FBI officials to put their differences with the White House “behind them” at a meeting in 2017, on the day after Donald Trump asked James Comey, the then head of the FBI, to pledge his loyalty to the president.
The exchange, which occurred on 28 January 2017 and has never been publicly disclosed, offers new insights into the ways in which senior White House officials, including Bannon, Trump’s closest adviser at the time, sought to ensure the FBI saw itself as an ally of the White House.
It also raises questions about why the incident was not included in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian influence during the 2016 election, which contained detailed allegations of the ways in which Trump sought to obstruct the FBI’s investigation into the president and his campaign.
Bannon made the remarks to Andrew McCabe, who was then serving as deputy director of the FBI, and Bill Priestap, who was serving as the FBI’s assistant director of counter-intelligence. They were written up in a memo by McCabe and later raised when Bannon was questioned by US special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, according to people familiar with the matter.
Read more at The Guardian.
From Politico, Judge set to rule on Trump’s subpoena challenge.
President Donald Trump’s strategy of outright resistance to House subpoenas will face its first test in federal court on Tuesday, setting up a ruling that could boost Democrats’ efforts to investigate the president’s business dealings.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta is set to rule on the Democrat-led House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoena to accounting firm Mazars USA for eight years of Trump’s financial records. The committee’s demand is part of its investigation into alleged financial crimes committed by Trump.
Trump filed suit seeking to invalidate the subpoena three weeks ago — the first of two lawsuits aimed at hobbling House Democrats’ investigations targeting his administration, presidential campaign and business empire.
Mehta’s ruling will represent a flashpoint in the myriad disputes between the White House and Congress — marking the first time the judiciary weighs in on Trump’s blanket strategy of refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas and oversight requests from House Democrats.
That should be interesting.
As you probably know, Trump met with Hungary’s wannabe dictator and anti-Semite Victor Orban at the White House yesterday and praised him profusely. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Anne Applebaum asks: It’s clear why Trump likes autocrats. But why are American conservatives following him?
…it isn’t necessary to be a left-wing Chavista to misunderstand a foreign country and celebrate its ugly ideas. Intellectuals of the right are just as susceptible to the lure of exotic ideologies, and equally prone to admire foreign authoritarians who seem to achieve things that democracies, with their boring coalition politics and their tedious rule of law, cannot.
On Monday, President Trump hosted one of these exotic foreign ideologues at the White House. Viktor Orban, prime minister of a country with just under 10 million inhabitants — less than the population of North Carolina — has set out to persuade British and American intellectuals to join his war against liberal democracy. At embassy dinners in London and at Washington events sponsored by Hungarian government foundations, elegantly dressed Hungarian officials expound the values of their corrupt, authoritarian state — and now some U.S. conservatives, perhaps frustrated because they can’t vanquish their own opponents so easily, have come to believe them. Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation imagines that other Europeans dislike Orban because Hungarians are “constantly reminding their neighbors not to be embarrassed by Europe’s history.” Christopher Caldwell, writing recently in the Claremont Review of Books, admires Orban’s attack on “neutral social structures and a level playing field,” presuming that the Hungarian leader derives these policies from some mystical need for organic community.
In fact, European anger at Orban has nothing do with being reminded of history, and everything to do with Orban’s all-out assault on his country’s legal and judicial institutions, on independent media, on academia and on culture. And the purpose of this assault has nothing to do with mystical organic communities: The reason the ruling party has undermined judicial independence and expelled the country’s leading university is because it wants to maintain its monopoly on power and continue accumulating wealth. No large business can operate in Hungary without ruling-party approval; many in Orban’s inner circle have mysteriously managed to make fortunes; independent businesspeople who do not toe the line are quietly threatened until they leave the country.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
That’s all I have for you today. What stories have you been following?