• Stormygate Continues to Move Forward, Inches at a Time

    Stormy Daniels: Clinton Wallace/Globe Photos/ZUMA; Michael Cohen: Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    Stormygate continues to amble along. By now everyone agrees that evangelical Christians and other Trump supporters couldn’t care less that Donald Trump had a lengthy affair with a porn star shortly after his wife had a baby. I mean, Melania was probably gross looking, right? What was the guy supposed to do?

    But there’s still the issue of that $130,000 paid to Stormy Daniels a few weeks before the election in return for her agreement to say the affair never happened. Trump and his comically bellicose attorney, Michael Cohen, have somehow managed to avoid having to address this even though nobody denies the payment itself. That’s enough of a knothole for the good folks at Common Cause to jump through:

    Today, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that the payment of $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels), through an LLC, was an unreported in-kind contribution to President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign committee in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The complaint also asks the agencies to determine whether the payment was made by the Trump Organization or some other corporation or individual, which would additionally make it an illegal in-kind contribution to the campaign. Corporations are prohibited from contributing to federal candidates and individual contributions are limited to $2,700.

    I eagerly await comment from election law experts about the critical question at the core of this lawsuit: Is hush money a campaign contribution that needs to be reported to the FEC? Maybe! In the meantime, the folks at CREW uncovered an interesting tidbit this morning:

    Huh. So…maybe the Trump Organization paid off Stormy, and then got reimbursed by the campaign? I would normally be skeptical on the grounds that no one could possibly be this stupid, but this is Trump we’re talking about.

    Then again, maybe the Russians paid off Stormy! I definitely think that’s plausible enough that Robert Mueller should subpeona Cohen for a brief chat under oath. Remember, kids, attorney-client privilege doesn’t cover conversations made with the intention of committing or covering up a crime or fraud.

  • A Brief Observation About Our President

    Gary M Williams/EFE via ZUMA

    Roughly speaking, there are three institutions that can investigate a president:

    • The press
    • The opposition party in Congress
    • The FBI and the Justice Department

    Donald Trump has declared war on all three. Coincidence?

  • New Poll Suggests People Are Pretty Satisfied With Work

    There’s a new NPR/Marist poll out today titled “Picture of Work in the United States.” It’s got a zillion questions about various aspects of work that I mostly didn’t find especially enlightening,¹ but there was one question that caught my eye. They asked respondents whether they feel their employer values their work. Here are the results for various demographic pairs:

    This is just one small data point and I don’t want to make too much of it. That said, feeling valued is a strong component of job satisfaction and therefore of satisfaction with the economy in general. As you can see, it approaches 90 percent for nearly everyone. In particular, Trump voters don’t feel any less valued than anyone else. Neither do millennials or men or conservatives. In fact, the only groups that feel substantially less valued than average are the poor and working class (income < $50,000) and nonwhites. But both of those are generally Democratic constituencies, not Trump supporters. Even among the white working class, 89 percent say they feel valued at work, right in line with the average.

    By itself, this poll question doesn’t mean too much. But if you combine it with other survey results about job satisfaction, personal financial stress, and so forth, it’s one more small bit of evidence that economic anxiety is not really all that widespread.

    ¹It’s not that the questions themselves were uninteresting. The problem is that a big pile of one-time data doesn’t tell us very much about the changing workplace. What we really want to know is how things have evolved over time, and this poll just doesn’t do that. This is true of the “value your work” question too, but comparing different demographic groups does tell us something about a political question.

  • Quote of the Day: Always Remember Your Twitter Password!

    From Hawaii Governor David Ige, explaining why it took him so long to tell everyone that the missile alert a couple of weeks ago was a mistake:

    I have to confess that I don’t know my Twitter account log-ons and the passwords, so certainly that’s one of the changes that I’ve made.

    I suppose that’s not as bad as nearly starting a nuclear war over a flock of geese, but it’s in the same category, just updated for our brave new social media era. A million years from now, when some future historian writes about the demise of the first human civilization, I expect they’ll conclude from archeological evidence that it was due to some 13-year old posting a joke on Facebook.

  • There’s No Such Thing as Populist Conservative Economic Policy

    Zach Gibson/CNP via ZUMA

    Over at National Review, Peter Spiliakos writes that Sen. Tom Cotton’s sterling hardline performance in the immigration standoff has strengthened his chance of being president someday:

    He was the most effective Trump surrogate and has earned the “fighter” reputation that Cruz wanted so desperately. He needs a broader populist economic policy to go along with his support for transitioning to a system of high-skill immigration. He should work with Senator Mike Lee on pro-parent tax policy and with James Capretta on health care. A populism that is only about immigration isn’t populist.

    This is a real question, not snark: what “populist” economic policies could a Republican nominee for president possibly support? “Pro-parent” tax policy is mostly just handwaving: usually a modest increase in the child tax credit and elimination of the marriage penalty. It’s peanuts. And no Republican has ever proposed anything in the same zip code as populist health care policy. Spiliakos mentions James Capretta, but Capretta is a standard issue conservative who champions “market-based” reforms like forcing consumers to pay a bigger share of their health care expenses; premium support for Medicare; high-risk pools; and killing off Medicaid in all but name. This may be conservative health care policy, but it would be wildly unpopular. There’s nothing remotely populist about it.

    What else? Taxing the rich? That’s out. Support for labor unions. Please. Higher taxes on capital income. Not gonna happen. Government regulation to rein in the cost of pharmaceuticals? Nah. Free college for everyone? Nope. A higher minimum wage? Not a chance. Wage subsidies (the “thinking man’s minimum wage”)? That costs money, so it’s out of the question.

    It’s popular these days on the right to simply declare policies they like to be populist, but that doesn’t actually make them populist. Anything truly populist is almost by definition something that corporations and the rich oppose, and that means Republicans will never be economic populists. Donald Trump sure isn’t, no matter how much he blusters about his love for the common man.

  • Christopher Wray Is Finally Fed Up With Trump’s War Against the FBI

    The Republican obsession with FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe is too bizarre to bother trying to explain. The nickel version is that he’s literally done nothing wrong, but details are here if you really want to torture yourself. The end result of this jihad, however, has been an increasing drumbeat to fire McCabe even though he’s already set to retire in a few months. Axios reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray finally got tired of this crap:

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge. Wray’s resignation under those circumstances would have created a media firestorm. The White House — understandably gun-shy after the Comey debacle — didn’t want that scene, so McCabe remains.

    Good for Wray. The insane war against the FBI by Republicans desperate to derail the Russia probe needs to get more of a spotlight. If it doesn’t stop, Wray should start calling it out publicly.

  • Trump Slashes Jobs in Solar Industry

    Dong Naide/Xinhua via ZUMA

    America first, bitches:

    The Trump administration announced Monday that it would impose hefty tariffs on the cheap, imported panels that have driven the rapid expansion of solar power in the United States, a move that industry groups warned would slow the spread of renewable energy and cost thousands of jobs….Companies that install solar panels will probably trim their workforces, industry analysts warned, as the tariff — which starts at 30% on the imported panels and gradually declines each year — threatens to substantially raise the price of solar power in the United States.

    There are a couple of ways this could play out:

    • The price of solar panels rises. This might seem to be good news for American solar panel manufacturers—though there are hardly any left—but if prices go up 30 percent it means that solar becomes less cost effective vs. other forms of electricity, which means fewer roof installations and fewer utility-level installations. This in turn means fewer jobs for Americans who work in the solar industry.
    • Other countries get into the solar panel biz and prices stay low. American manufacturers aren’t affected one way or the other.

    Behind Door #1, consumers have to pay 30 percent more for solar panels. Behind Door #2, the whole thing has no effect at all. So this policy might be bad for America or neutral for America, but there’s not much chance it will be good for America.

    On the bright side, these tariffs basically act as a subsidy for fossil fuels, so Trump can pretend that it’s good for coal miners. And that’s what matters, amirite?

  • We Are All Just Overclocked Chimpanzees

    Imago via ZUMA

    Having spent the weekend arguing about whose “fault” the government shutdown was, we have moved on. The government is back up and running and we’re now obsessed with who “won.”

    So who did win? Beats me. On the one hand, Democrats caved by agreeing to yet another continuing resolution that doesn’t restore DACA. On the other hand, Democrats got CHIP funding out of the deal, as well as a promise from Mitch McConnell—admittedly a bit nebulous—to allow a vote on DACA restoration in the Senate. Is that a win? On the one hand, Democrats got CHIP. On the other hand, they would’ve gotten CHIP eventually anyway. On the third hand, getting CHIP now means that kids won’t start losing health care as the current funding slowly disappears state by state.

    OK, but what other evidence is there? Well, there’s the fact that Mitch McConnell seems to be really happy today. Does that mean he’s pretty sure he put one over on the Democrats? Probably—but then again, McConnell is no immigration hardliner, and he hates the Bannon/Miller wing of the GOP. So maybe he thinks he put one over on them. Besides, if McConnell was really so sure that Republicans were winning this showdown, why didn’t he just let it continue to play out?

    But wait. A bunch of Democrats voted against the deal and are unhappy about it. Is that evidence that Democrats are admitting that McConnell beat them, as Aaron Blake suggests in the Washington Post? Maybe. But let’s not be too naive here. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein? They’re both from California, where a hard line against Republicans plays well. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? They’re the leaders of the resistance. Kirsten Gillibrand? She’s running for president. They all have good reasons to insist that they’d never betray the Dreamers like this.

    And anyway, if there’s no deal in the next three weeks, the government will shut down and Democrats will have a fresh chance to show how dedicated they are to DACA. So maybe this doesn’t even really matter.

    To summarize, then, I have no idea who won. But I do know this: the fact that we’re so obsessed with this is just a bit of fresh evidence that H. sapiens as a species is little more than a modestly souped up version of P. troglodytes. For chimps, knowing precisely who won and who surrendered in every encounter—and therefore who outranks you—is vitally important and has been bred into the species by millions of years of evolution. A few hundred thousands generations later, it still controls human society. The only difference between chimps and humans is that they do it with screeching and feces flinging, while we do it with Twitter and cable news. I think their way is probably more dignified.

  • Lunchtime Photo


    The Women’s March in Los Angeles on Saturday was huge. I don’t think the crowds were quite as big as Hizzoner Garcetti claimed, but the most reliable estimates still put it at 300-400,000, about as big as last year. I spent several hours there, but my train was late so I went straight to City Hall and didn’t see any of the crowds at Pershing Square, where the march started. However, Spring St., Broadway, and Hill St. were all jammed for the entire mile between Pershing Square and City Hall, as was much of First St. And Grand Park in front of City Hall was thronged too.

    The mood was loud and vibrant, and the theme of the marchers seemed to be at least as much anti-Trump as it was pro-feminism. In fact, if I had been a Martian who parachuted into the scene, I probably would have guessed it was an anti-Trump rally with a few other social issues tossed in. Here’s a small gallery of photos from the march.

    A view of the crowd looking south on Spring St.

    Faces in the crowd.

    A protester at the corner of First and Spring St.

    The main stage seen through a sea of pussy hats.

    Another view of the crowd looking south on Broadway.

    A little girl on Broadway near City Hall. She and her mother were having a ball.

    Signs of the time.

    “Respect my existence or expect my resistance.”

  • America Is Getting More Liberal Every Year


    Over at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson gives a glowing review to Sorry to Bother You, “the loony directorial debut from rapper Boots Riley….a commentary on race, labor, and American capitalism that veers in so many directions that it’s best to just strap in and let it take you where it wants you to go.” One of the central conceits of the movie is an exploitive company called WorryFree:

    [WorryFree] encourages people facing financial difficulty to sign a lifetime labor contract in which they’ll work for the company for the rest of their lives. In turn, they can stop worrying about things like rent and car payments; the company guarantees bunk-style housing and lousy-looking meals that WorryFree customers insist are delicious. In other words, it’s modern-day indentured labor.

    ….WorryFree also evokes some familiar practices — labor in for-profit prisons and the endless cycle of debt that keeps people in poverty — that may feel ripped from a dystopian novel, but are just one tick away from plausible.

    I’m not trying to pick on anyone here, but this is a trope that bugs me. Modern-day indentured servitude—though it sounds like Boots Riley actually means for us to think of WorryFree being in the slavery business—is not “one tick” away from being plausible. Neither is The Handmaid’s Tale, which frequently gets the same treatment as an “all too possible” look into the near future.

    I don’t quite get why so many people feel like they have to say things like this. On the evangelical right it’s practically the stuff of day-to-day conversation. They really and truly seem to believe that gay marriage and access to abortion are signs that America’s moral decay has gone so far that the country will be literally beyond saving within a few years. There’s nothing quite like that on the left,¹ but there is a weird tendency to believe that America is just a hair’s breadth away from 1984 or The Hunger Games whenever a Republican is president. This is despite the fact that on social issues related to race, feminism, gay rights, trans right, and so forth, the country has done nothing but get steadily more liberal for the past 50 years. Nor has that slowed down recently. Here’s a sampling of Gallup poll numbers on the evolution of opinion on various moral issues since 2001:

    I’m sure there are a few social issues that poll more conservative today than they did in 2001, but I’m not sure what they are. I think the evangelical obsession with the decay of America is crackpot stuff, but at least they’re responding to genuine losses. All that stuff in the chart above is bad news for them. But for liberals? It’s just one good thing after another.

    POSTSCRIPT: I forgot about immigration! There’s no long-term data for stuff like DACA and the wall, which are fairly recent developments, but here are a couple of things that Gallup has tracked since 2002:

    The number of people who worry about illegal immigration has stayed steady for the past 15 years—including 2016 and 2017, when it was a mainstay of Donald Trump’s campaign. The number of people who want to cut back on immigration (both legal and illegal) has declined by 20 percentage points. At the same time, DACA is extremely popular and the wall isn’t. Despite the loudness of the voice on the far right, most of the evidence suggests that Americans have generally gotten more liberal on immigration issues since the turn of the century.

    ¹I wouldn’t count climate change alarmism here, since climate change is objectively real and might genuinely lead to disaster if we don’t do something about it.