A New Tariff In Town

[ Posted Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 – 17:22 PDT ]

President Trump's White House made two announcements on tariffs today, which was likely not a coincidence. The big announcement was that Trump will be levying new tariffs on $60 billion of Chinese goods. Specifics will follow, within a few weeks. The timing of this may have been intentional, because the Trump administration also revealed today that the steel and aluminum tariffs aren't going to be anywhere near as tough as Trump initially stated. If the idea was for one bit of tariff news to hide the other, this largely seems to have worked. However, the big tariff news caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to react by plummeting 700 points.

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Democrats Should Run Against Ryan And McConnell

[ Posted Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 – 17:19 PDT ]

Although it hasn't gotten a whole lot of media attention yet, this is another one of those weeks when Congress actually does something, because they are forced to. A handful of times each year, Congress runs up against a calendar deadline (usually one of their own making), and is thus forced to pass a bill or else (choose one): the federal government will shut down, the country will default on the national debt, some large group of people will be royally screwed by congressional inaction, or (the worst of them all, to congresscritters) one of the enormous number of congressional vacation weeks will be in peril of being delayed or cancelled.

This time around, Congress is facing yet another possible government shutdown, as a gargantuan omnibus budget bill is being haggled over which will fund the government all the way through the midterm elections. Since this is going to be the last such "must-pass" bill until then, all sorts of other issues are being negotiated -- which is really just a frank admission that Congress is not expecting to do anything at all until after November. March isn't even over yet, and Congress is wrapping things up until Thanksgiving, to put this another way. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

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Two State Court Cases With National Political Impact

[ Posted Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 – 17:06 PDT ]

Two completely unrelated court actions are in the news today. There is no real common thread between the two, other than that they both involve state court actions and that both have rather large political overtones. So just to warn you up front, there won't be any sweeping conclusion at the end that ties the two cases together in any way (fair warning).


Pennsylvania's redistricting

The final nail in the coffin (the one containing the old Republican-gerrymandered district map of Pennsylvania) was hammered in today, when the United States Supreme Court declined to review a decision by the Pennsylvania supreme court. This was the expected outcome, but it is still significant.

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Dare Trump To Face The Press

[ Posted Monday, March 19th, 2018 – 16:38 PDT ]

At the end of this week, President Trump will hit a milestone -- he will have gone a whopping 400 days since giving a formal solo press conference. In his entire 14 months in office, he has given precisely one such press conference, in February of 2017. So what is he so afraid of? The press corps needs to do a much better job of pointing this out, by absolutely daring Trump to hold another no-holds-barred press conference.

The timing couldn't be better to do so. The story's got a "hook" (the 400-day mark), and it might just be effective at this particular time. In the past few weeks, Trump has reportedly grown much more confident of his ability to manage his presidency himself, and key aides who have been instrumental in holding Trump's worst impulses back have either been fired (Rob Porter, Rex Tillerson), have already quit (Gary Cohn), or have announced they will soon be leaving (Hope Hicks). The effect of having fewer people around him who counsel him to be cautious has freed Trump up to do what his gut tells him more often (as on tariffs and North Korea, to give just two obvious examples). Trump famously hates any perception that he is in any way being "handled," and as the expert handlers depart, he's feeling more confident about just doing and saying whatever he feels like at the moment.

So what better time could there be, really, to goad him into holding a full-on press conference? All it would take would be a steady drumbeat all week of "400-Day Mark Approaches With No Presidential Press Conference" stories, complete with plenty of pundits saying things like: "Trump's downright scared to face the press on his own, because he knows they'll get the better of him," or perhaps: "I won't really believe Trump has freed himself from the GOP establishment puppetmasters until I see him hold a solo press conference -- that'd be the ultimate proof that Trump is now his own man." Push his buttons -- on cable television, where he'll hear it -- and I bet he'd respond just out of spite. Maybe compare him to Obama -- that'd be almost guaranteed to do it!

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Friday Talking Points [476] -- "Everybody Fears The Perp Walk"

[ Posted Friday, March 16th, 2018 – 17:06 PDT ]

If it seems like keeping up with Donald Trump's White House antics is akin to following a soap opera, well, that's because at this point it is impossible to tell the difference.

This week's episode of As The White House Turns opened with a shock -- the handsome Rex was ousted by a tweet! How embarrassing! Then his buddy backed up his story, and he was immediately fired, too. Out West, an official administration spokesman quit in disgust over being asked to blatantly lie to the media. Then Trump's body man was frogmarched off White House grounds, over reports he was a gambler fond of making five-figure bets. By week's end, H. R. was teetering on the brink of extinction as well. Will he be pushed over the edge this weekend? Who will be the next to go? Will it be sleepy-eyed Ben? Or General John? Will Andy be fired mere hours before he can retire with a full pension? Tune in next week to find out! The answers will astound you!

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Bungle In The Jungle?

[ Posted Thursday, March 15th, 2018 – 16:39 PDT ]

There are times when a prognostication I've made turns out to be true, much to my horror. This might just be one of them, and if it turns out to be, I certainly won't be the only California voter to feel that way. Because regaining control of the House of Representatives this November might just wind up being out of reach for Democrats due to California's wacky "top-two jungle primary" system. The only thing I didn't foresee was that Republicans might actually try to actively game the system to their advantage.

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Aftershocks From The Lambquake

[ Posted Wednesday, March 14th, 2018 – 17:04 PDT ]

In practical terms, the election of Democrat Conor Lamb to Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district isn't all that big a deal. Control of the House will not switch, so Paul Ryan will remain as speaker (with one less vote he can count on). Lamb will hold the seat only until November, when the district itself will disappear in the new redistricting map imposed by the state supreme court (to counteract the egregious Republican gerrymandering). So, practically, nothing much will change. In both political and psychological terms, however, the effect of Lamb's victory has to be measured on the Richter scale, because it certainly shook up Washington in a very big way. Congress felt the earth move last night, as the political tectonic plates realigned.

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Nail-Biter In Pennsylvania

[ Posted Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 – 20:00 PDT ]

As I sit down to write, final election results are not currently known from the 18th House district in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb is making a surprisingly strong showing against Republican Rick Saccone. From listening to experts tonight, I drew one astounding takeaway -- there are 115 other House districts that are more competitive than this one. Think about that -- a Democrat is within reach of victory in a district that is only 116th-most competitive. That will have repercussions in November, obviously.

As I write, with 98 percent of the votes counted (all but 12 of almost 600 precincts), Lamb is up by exactly 700 votes, out of over 215,000 cast.

Absentee ballots have not been counted yet. A recount is likely, since the two are within a half a percentage point of each other. So we likely won't know until at least tomorrow who will win the district.

While we're waiting for any further results, we are going to share something we prepared earlier. We had fully intended to write a full column tonight on what the election meant, but it's now looking like that won't be possible until tomorrow. So, for the time being, let's all enjoy a bit of history that ends with an etymological twist.


Historical interlude

This entire section was written before the election results came in. It consists merely of interesting historical background information on southwestern Pennsylvania for your edification.

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Trump Owes Pat Toomey An Apology

[ Posted Monday, March 12th, 2018 – 17:05 PDT ]

President Donald Trump really owes Republican Senator Pat Toomey an apology. Trump also owes the same apology to all the other Republicans he recently taunted by telling them directly that they were "afraid of" the National Rifle Association. This apology is owed because Trump just showed his own cravenness when it comes to crossing the N.R.A. -- on precisely the same issue that Trump castigated Toomey about.

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Friday Talking Points [475] -- Stormy Weather

[ Posted Friday, March 9th, 2018 – 19:00 PST ]

This week, porn star Stormy Daniels sued the president, to nullify the hush agreement between them which resulted in her getting paid $130,000 hush money mere weeks before the 2016 election.

We will now take a pause for everyone to consider exactly what would be happening right now in Washington if this story was exactly the same except for the name "President Barack Obama." Just imagine what the response would have been from congressional Republicans! Especially if the porn star were white.

Of course, since Trump nominally has an "R" after his name, the silence emanating from Republicans was deafening. Nothin' to see here, folks, move along...

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