April 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Raid on Trump's Lawyer Sought Records of Payments to Women (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, MATT APUZZO, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, SHARON LaFRANIERE and MAGGIE HABERMAN, APRIL 10, 2018, NY Times)

Rod J. Rosenstein, the veteran Republican prosecutor handpicked by Mr. Trump to serve as deputy attorney general, personally signed off on Monday's F.B.I. decision to raid the office of Mr. Cohen, a longtime confidant of Mr. Trump, several government officials said.

The early-morning searches enraged Mr. Trump, associates said, setting off a public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Mr. Rosenstein.

As Mr. Trump has stewed over the developments, he has cast blame in many directions. Publicly, he has expressed frustration with his attorney general and deputy attorney general. Privately, people close to the president said, he has also blamed Mr. Cohen for publicly acknowledging the payments to Ms. Clifford.

The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

Searching a lawyer's files is among the most sensitive moves federal prosecutors can make as they pursue a criminal investigation. Mr. Rosenstein's personal involvement in the decision signals that the evidence seen by law enforcement officials was significant enough to convince the Justice Department's second in command that such an aggressive move was necessary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Why Trump skipping Latin America matters (dAVE lAWLER, 4/10/18, Axios)

This is the 8th Summit of the Americas, and the first time the U.S. president has declined to attend. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all attended multiple summits.

Trump is deeply unpopular in Latin America. A Gallup poll sticks his approval across the region at 16%, and views of the U.S. have slumped more in South America than on any other continent since he took office.

The guy won't go to England because of the reception.  He was never going to Latin America.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


How Trump Misunderstands Trade (Veronique de Rugy, April 10, 2018, NY Times)

The notion that trade deficits are always bad for the economy is based on several fundamental mistakes. The first mistake is the assumption that trade is a zero-sum game, suggesting that the country selling products abroad is a winner while the one who buys is a loser. That's simply wrong.

Think about your own experience. Without ever worrying about it, we run up trade deficits on a daily basis with many merchants. When you shop at the grocery store, enjoy a drink at your favorite bar or get your hair cut, you run up a personal trade deficit with your grocer, bar and hair stylist. Do they ever buy anything from you in return? When you get paid by your employer, he runs up his trade deficit with you. Do you buy as much from your employer as he buys from you?

These examples illustrate how trade deficits with other economic entities are almost always nothing to fret about. They're unavoidable consequences of the specialization and trade on which our modern prosperity depends. To be sure, on rare occasions trade deficits are symptoms of underlying dysfunctions, but they are never themselves a cause of these dysfunctions.

Even if we were to ignore the counsel of nearly every economist and blindly accept the notion that a United States trade deficit with the rest of the planet is undesirable, it would still be completely untrue that a deficit with any single country is undesirable. In this world of nearly 200 countries, bilateral trade deficits are as unavoidable and as economically meaningless as your trade deficit with your grocer. If America's overall trade deficit were balanced, we'd still have deficits with some countries and surpluses with others.

More generally, we mustn't forget that the American dollars we spend on imports eventually return to America, either by foreigners purchasing American exports or making investments. Protectionists like Mr. Trump always complain about the United States' trade deficit for goods but mention neither the surplus of foreign investment capital that we get nor our trade surplus in services.

Here's how it works: The American dollars we use to buy imports are of little use to foreigners outside our borders. They are, however, of great use to foreigners who want to invest within the United States. And that's what happens with the dollars that aren't spent on American exports.

Foreign investment is key to our economic growth here at home. In other words, we Americans win when we get to buy the stuff we want from abroad and when those dollars are pumped back into our economy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Why Stormy Daniels is so dangerous (The Economist, Mar 24th 2018)

There are three big reasons for Ms Clifford's effectiveness as a Trump-mocker. The first is that the star of "Big Busted Goddesses of Las Vegas" appears, through no plan of hers, to have put the president in serious jeopardy. That is not because of her alleged months-long affair with him, which took place long ago and reveals nothing new about Mr Trump. Rather, in the usual way of political sex scandals, it is because of the blundering way he, or his retainers, tried to cover it up. Two weeks before Mr Trump's election his lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Ms Clifford $130,000 in return for an agreement not to speak of the alleged affair, which the president denies. When this was revealed, Mr Cohen claimed, almost incredibly, that he had taken the step on his own initiative, using his money. Ms Clifford then sued to be released from the non-disclosure agreement, claiming Mr Cohen had broken its terms by talking about it and the president had done so by failing to sign it. She has recorded an interview with CBS's show "60 Minutes", which is expected to air on March 25th.

This appears to have put Mr Trump in a bind. He can let Mr Cohen try to enforce the agreement with Ms Clifford, which might look like an admission of guilt and would risk her aggressive lawyer, Michael Avenatti, airing further revelations in court. Or he can let the matter lie. But that would signal to any other woman bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the president--and Mr Avenatti claims to know of two--that it can be safely ignored.

That would in turn risk highlighting Mr Trump's broader problem with women, including the 18 who have accused him of molesting them. Indeed, the striking degree to which Ms Clifford's case contains echoes of Mr Trump's wider legal troubles is another reason she is proving such a thorn in his flank. A hint that she might have certain mementoes of Mr Trump is also illustrative of this. It recalls speculation that Mr Trump's history of sexual indiscretion could leave him open to Russian blackmail, as was alleged by Christopher Steele, a former British spy. So too, the way Mr Trump seems to have used Mr Cohen as a blunt instrument, while keeping him at arm's length for plausible deniability, is a familiar pattern. This was evident last year in the president's cackhanded attempt to sack Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating him, through two stages of intermediary.

Yet the main reason Ms Clifford is running rings around the commander-in-chief reflects what a nightmarish matchup for him she is personally. The president's recipe for political success is to appear more down-to-earth than his effete critics in the media, and so robustly transactional that his political rivals appear hypocritical by comparison. Yet Ms Clifford is no smarmy British comic or slippery senator. She is a self-made Republican-voting woman from Louisiana who has sex for a living. In a pre-agreement interview, she suggested she had indulged Mr Trump not because she was attracted to him ("Would you be?"), but because he had promised to make her a TV star. She out-Trumps Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


The Ideology of Illegal Immigration (VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, April 10, 2018, National Review)

Illegal immigration has become so deeply embedded for so long within contemporary power politics, demography, and cultural change, so charged with accusations of racism, nativism, and xenophobia, that we have forgotten its intrinsic contradictions. [...]

The illegal-immigration project will ultimately fail because although its politics are transparent, its practice is incoherent, and chaos is therefore its only possible end. 

VDH is exactly right that illegal immigration is based on ideology; he's just exactly wrong about which part, the former or the latter.  Because, it is inescapably the fact that America had rathar open immigration until limits were imposed for racist reasons.

The 1965 Law That Gave the Republican Party Its Race Problem (JOSH ZEITZ, August 20, 2016, Politico)

Between 1820 and 1924, roughly 37 million European immigrants came to the United States, in addition to a much smaller number of immigrants from Asia. (To place that figure in context, it's helpful to consider that the population of the United States in 1850 was just 23 million.) For the first 60 years, Northern Europeans--Irish and Germans, especially--predominated. The second great wave drew newcomers from Southern and Eastern Europe, including large numbers of Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Poles and Jews from the Russian Empire. Smaller numbers of immigrants also came from China and other Asian countries. By the early 20th century, immigrants and the children of immigrants comprised upwards of 75 percent of the population in major cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit.

Since 1790, when Congress passed the nation's first immigration act, prevailing law had restricted naturalized citizenship to "free white persons." What constituted a white person was by no means clear. While today it is intuitive to classify German-, Irish- or Italian-Americans as white, in the mid-19th century, many native-born Protestants regarded newcomers as unwhite and therefore singularly unfit for citizenship. In establishment outlets like Harper's Magazine, editorialists lampooned Irish immigrants as drunken, lazy and idle, while cartoonists portrayed immigrants as possessing ape-like, subhuman physical attributes.

With "whiteness" being such a crucial attribute, it was little wonder that many immigrants--including many Irish Catholics in large, northeastern cities--worked aggressively to draw a sharp distinction between themselves, on the one hand, and free African-Americans, on the other. Blackface minstrelsy, a popular form of entertainment among new immigrants, enabled racially suspect Europeans to establish that they were, in fact, white (after all, only a white person need "black up" to play the part of an African-American) and to project onto African-Americans the same vicious stereotypes that American nativists ascribed to Catholic newcomers.

By the late 19th century, America's new cultural and civic diversity--a result of immigration from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia, and the emancipation of black slaves--resulted gradually in a popular classification of humans along hierarchal lines. In 1911, a government commission broke the population into "45 races or peoples among immigrants coming to the United States, and of these 36 are indigenous to Europe." Bohemians (which, in today's terms, would translate to citizens of the Czech Republic), the report determined, were "the most advanced of all" Slavic racial groups. "The ancient Greeks were preeminent in philosophy and science, a position not generally accredited to the modern Greeks as a race ... they compare with the Hebrew race as the best traders of the Orient." Further, "the Gypsy resents the restraint of higher social organization ... to him laws and statutes are persecutions to be evaded." The Southern Italian was "an individualist having little adaptability to highly organized society." Whereas German and Irish newcomers had seemed distinctly unfit for citizenship in the mid-19th century, scientific racial analysis now considered them a higher category of white than Southern and Eastern European newcomers, most of whom were Catholic or Jewish. 

The era's nativism rested on a complex bedrock of labor competition, religious intolerance and fear of anarchism and communism. But scientific racism was always at its core. It formed the intellectual basis of the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited the annual number of immigrants from any given country to just 2 percent of the total number of persons born in that country who resided in the United States in 1890. By using 1890 as a benchmark, the law favored older immigrant groups from Northern and Central Europe. For Jews, Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Poles, Croatians and Russians, the door effectively swung shut. (For the Chinese, that door had been closed since 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.)

The year 1924 was the high-water mark for scientific racism, which became increasingly unpopular in Depression-era America. Columbia University anthropologist Franz Boas and his protégés Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict were among the first to blast away at the edifice of "race," proving in a series of devastating monographs and articles that human behavior and intelligence were products of environment, not blood, and that no "pure" races could even be said to exist.

This shift in thinking also emerged as a response to the excesses of Nazi Germany.

He's right, again, that this illegal immigration project necessarily fails.  The very notion of immigration being illegal is anti-American and our natural decency always leads to eventual amnesty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


The Search of Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen's Office: What We Can Infer Immediately (KEN WHITE, 4/09/18, Popehat)

It's very early on, but here's some things we can already tell.

1. According to Cohen's own lawyer, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (widely regarded within itself as being the most important and prestigious U.S. Attorney's Office in the country) secured the search warrants for the FBI. Assuming this report is correct, that means that a very mainstream U.S. Attorney's Office -- not just Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office -- thought that there was enough for a search warrant here.

2. Moreover, it's not just that the office thought that there was enough for a search warrant. They thought there was enough for a search warrant of an attorney's office for that attorney's client communications. That's a very fraught and extraordinary move that requires multiple levels of authorization within the Department of Justice.  [...]

3. A Magistrate Judge signed off on this. Federal magistrate judges (appointed by local district judges, not by the President) review search warrant applications. A Magistrate Judge therefore reviewed this application and found probable cause -- that is, probable cause to believe that the subject premises (Cohen's office) contains specified evidence of a specified federal crime.

Pretty delicious that a series of his own appointees are driving this.


Why Robert Mueller Handed Off the Michael Cohen Raid (JED SHUGERMAN, APRIL 09, 2018, Slate)

First, remember that Mueller has learned that Trump has already tried to fire him, and the person who reportedly stopped him--White House counsel Don McGahn--is rumored to be on his way out of the administration.

The Post is reporting that the subject of the Cohen warrant was an investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, possibly related to a hush money contract with adult film performer Stormy Daniels. Mueller probably could have made a claim that Cohen already fell under his jurisdiction, which is to investigate Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." But it has been reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the call to involve the U.S. attorney, and perhaps Rosenstein made a strategic calculation about Trump, or they agreed together. It seems, though, that both men know they need to spread Mueller's work around as a hedge against his firing, and maybe even to try to deter Trump from firing him.

In comments after the raid, Trump attacked Mueller, Rosenstein, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, hinting ominously about what he might do next. Mueller and Rosenstein may have anticipated that this raid might have been the last straw for Trump, triggering their firings as they get closer and closer to Trump's inner circle and any potential personal criminal liability. Once other prosecutors' offices are involved and have gathered evidence of crimes, though, Trump receives less benefit from firing Mueller, and at an increasing cost. And even if Trump fires Mueller, more prosecutors can carry on the work, with access to some of the same material. Trump should not be able to fire Mueller under the DOJ's rules or under the Constitution, but Mueller and Rosenstein understand they need to have an emergency backup for a president who does not care about those rules.

Second, Mueller's move also suggests that he trusts some prosecutors to cooperate, that he trusts Rosenstein to keep up his supervision, and that he at least has sufficient hope that Sessions will stay out of the way. Sessions' firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe did not inspire confidence that he would recuse himself fully from the Russia investigation, but Mueller must have some assurances from Rosenstein that the investigation can proceed in the DOJ.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


The Medical Marketplace Is Changing Fast in Push for Value (Peter R. Orszag and David Gluckman, April 09, 2018, Bloomberg)

Four trends are driving the shift: an ongoing movement toward value-based payments; improved health care data analytics; innovations in medical science; and increasing demand from consumers for greater convenience and value.

Although health care costs have been growing more slowly than they once did, the U.S. still spends far too much, and there's great variation across the country in both prices (especially for employer-sponsored insurance) and utilization (especially for Medicare). Fee-for-service payment is a major reason spending is so high and varies so much from region to region. The shift toward value-based payments -- including bundled payments and accountable care organizations -- is a necessary though not complete solution.

The arrival of Alex Azar as secretary of Health and Human Services has offered hope that Medicare, which has sufficient presence in every local market to change how providers behave, will resume pushing toward these models, and a recent McKinsey analysis highlights their potential. To thrive under value-based payments, companies will need to reduce unwarranted variation across providers and sites of care and keep costs reasonable.

The point of universal HSAs is to ramp up the market forces.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Feds Are Treating Michael Cohen Like a Mob Lawyer, Trump Allies Say (BETSY WOODRUFF & ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, 04.09.18, Daily Beast)

Lawyers told The Daily Beast that raiding lawyers' offices isn't unheard of--but is generally used for lawyers who work with alleged members of organized crime, or for lawyers who are involved themselves in elaborate criminal schemes.

"It's a tactic generally used against organized crime, against very serious, very serious criminals and lawyers who are operating outside of the protections of the law," said Alan Dershowitz, a liberal attorney and frequent critic of Mueller's tactics.

It's a RICO case, Al.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Tucker Carlson scoffs at 'geniuses' who say Assad was behind chemical attack in Syria (The Week, April 9, 2018)
Fox News host Tucker Carlson told viewers on Monday night that while "the official story" is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government used chemical weapons to attack a rebel-held enclave near Damascus on Saturday, it "ought to make you nervous" that both Republicans and Democrats agree his regime was behind the attack that left at least 48 people dead, including several children.

Boy, the folks you have to defend to try and protect Donald/Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Mueller Reportedly Investigating $150,000 Payment to Trump Foundation by Ukrainian Billionaire During Campaign (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 09, 2018, Slate)
Adding to the list of Trump's questionable financial dealings, Robert Mueller is investigating a $150,000 donation to Trump's foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate, the New York Times reported Monday. The donation was made by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk in return for the then-GOP candidate delivering a 20-minute address via video link to a conference in Kiev. The timing of the transaction in September 2015 raises questions about whether the money was, in essence, a thinly veiled alternative campaign donation in an attempt to curry favor with the Republican frontrunner for president.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Amid ad boycott, Laura Ingraham says she won't be silenced by 'the left' (Brian Stelter, April 10, 2018, CNN)

On Monday night, Laura Ingraham cast the ongoing ad boycott against her show as part of "the left's plot to silence conservatives."

The Fox News prime time host said the "bullying on the left" is "desperate" and "Stalinist," but promised: "We will never relent and we will never give in. Never."

At no point did Ingraham mention the proximate cause of the ad boycott (her tweet mocking shooting survivor David Hogg) or the fact that she apologized for posting it.

Instead, she depicted herself as a warrior in a fight for free speech rights.

...about how this works.  Corporate America and viewers are not saying she isn't free to speak, just that they won't pay for her to speak.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


A Second Paul Manafort Associate Has Turned on Him (Betsy Woodruff, 4/09/18, Daily Beast)

Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort has trouble in his own house. According to court documents, one of Manafort's former employees led an FBI agent to a storage locker filled with paperwork on Manafort's businesses and finances. The person's name is redacted from the filings. But he's now at the center of a fight over evidence that could play a significant role in the government's case against Manafort.

"People do strange things when confronted with authoritative FBI agents," said Sol Wisenberg, a criminal defense attorney with Nelson Mullins.

This makes the second Manafort associate known to have aided the government in the sprawling investigation into foreign influence in U.S. politics. Rick Gates, Manafort's long-time right hand, began cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office in February.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Chuck McCann, Zany Comic in Early Children's TV, Dies at 83 (SAM ROBERTS, APRIL 9, 2018, NY Times)

He began by doing voice-overs on radio when he was 6 and struck up an enduring cross-country friendship by telephone with Stan Laurel when he was 12 -- leading to roles impersonating Laurel's huskier other half, Oliver Hardy. (He was a founder of the Laurel and Hardy fan club Sons of the Desert.)

He got his big break in his early 20s while performing on "The Sandy Becker Show," a children's TV show on what was then WABD in New York. Without advance notice, Mr. Becker left on a Friday for two weeks in South America and asked Mr. McCann to host his show beginning on Monday.

" 'So long!' " Mr. McCann recalled Mr. Becker saying. "The elevator doors close, and off he went. That was my baptism by fire. The first day was just disastrous."

Mr. McCann survived to become the host of his own children's programs and to voice cartoon characters in "DuckTales," "Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers," "Garfield and Friends," "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," "The Powerpuff Girls" and commercials for Cocoa Puffs cereal (as the cuckoo bird, crying, "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"). He also appeared as a character actor on "Bonanza," "Columbo," "Little House on the Prairie" and other television series.

Along with Soupy Sales, Buffalo Bob Smith, Bob Keeshan (better known as Captain Kangaroo), Fran Allison and his mentor, the puppeteer Paul Ashley, Mr. McCann helped shape zany, impromptu preteen local programming in television's formative years.

In his book "Politics and the American Television Comedy: A Critical Survey from 'I Love Lucy' Through 'South Park' " (2008), Doyle Greene compared "The Chuck McCann Show" on WNEW in the mid-1960s to a blend of "Howdy Doody" and the spontaneous, experimental comedy of Ernie Kovacs.

To Mr. Greene, the McCann show represented a "deconstruction of TV taken to Dada levels (whether driving around the studio smashing into props on a scooter while lip-syncing a song, or doing a lengthy impersonation of Jack Benny playing screeching violin worthy of Stockhausen)."