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Trump inherited the booming Obama economy and claims he created it



Some people, mainly Republicans, say that if the 2020 election cycle is about the economy, Trump wins (assuming he’s still in office and decides to run again).

This is a possibility, and it’s something Democrats would be wise to address. A strategic position is needed to counter Republican arguments for a Trump economy, and it’s not too early for Dems to come up with talking points now.

Economic theory is dense and boring for almost everybody, so these Democratic talking points have to be easy to comprehend. Three points suggest themselves.

One point is this: Although Trump takes credit for the stock market’s performance, the fact is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been on a sharp upward streak since October, 2009, when Barack Obama had been president for ten months.

A picture is worth a thousand words: Trump can’t take responsibility for the booming stock market, because it began its upward momentum under President Obama. Another reason why Trump can’t take credit for the stock market—as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman points out—is that no actual laws affecting the markets were put into place until late December of last year, when the tax bill passed. The stock markets were performing via sheer momentum.

Trump also takes credit for job creation and a lowering of the unemployment rate. But once again, these trends started strongly under President Obama. This graphic, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

easily shows that unemployment peaked in late 2009, at the height of the Great Recession, and has been falling steadily at a consistent rate since then.

These above two points—the stock market and unemployment—will be two of the most important points Trump will make if he runs again; indeed, in tonight’s State of the Union, he will brag about them. Earlier this week, he tweeted, Our economy is better than it has been in many decades. Businesses are coming back to America like never before. Chrysler, as an example, is leaving Mexico and coming back to the USA. Unemployment is nearing record lows. We are on the right track!”

There’s a third point he will make that Democrats will have to deal with: the effect of his new tax law. Republicans will argue that the law unshackled corporations, leading to new job creation, new U.S. manufacturing and higher salaries for workers.

That’s a strong argument, one that hits Americans directly in their pocketbooks. How can Democrats counter it? Easily. Polls show that a sizable majority of Americans thinks the tax bill benefits billionaires, not ordinary people. One such, the fairly conservative Quinnipiac Poll, showed 53% opposed to the law, with only 29% in favor. Another poll, from Monmouth, shows 47% opposed and only 26% approving. And, just yesterday, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that just “two percent of U.S. adults said they had gotten a raise, bonus or other additional benefits due to the Republican tax law…”.

Republicans will claim that it’s too soon for the new law to have kicked in. Maybe so, but by late summer, the law will have had eight months, and I have no doubt there will be lots of evidence suggesting that American workers are still waiting for those raises, bonuses and new benefits that Trump promised them. The Democratic mantra should be repeated early and often: The Trump tax cuts are for billionaires.

So there they are, three powerful talking points for Democrats, easy to understand. If Dems can advance them persuasively, they’ll retake both Houses of Congress in November, and Trump doesn’t have a prayer for 2020.

His act is getting old



Had enough yet? The breaking news, the embarrassments, the “He said whaaat?” moments, the sex scandals, the lies, the bullying and insults, the drama and incredulity, the upsetting of norms. It’s only been a year, but it seems like forever.

Once upon a time—actually, as recently as 11 a.m. on January 20, 2017–we had a president of dignity and class, a man without stain, who never had a sex scandal, whose family life was above reproach, a Constitutional scholar whose respect for the law made him a role model around the world. Now, the circus is in town.

Remember what Trump said in June, 2016? [Hillary Clinton] is likely to be under investigation for criminality for a very, very long time to come,” he alleged, referring to the Republican-manufactured faux scandal of her emails. “We’re going to be tied up in court for the rest of our lives with this deal…She will be under protracted criminal investigation likely followed by the trial of a sitting president.”

Hillary wasn’t elected; Trump was. So what do we have?

  • A president under investigation for criminality for a very, very long time (with the clock still ticking), and
  • The likelihood of a trial of a sitting president.

Trump saw the future accurately enough, but the protagonist was not Hillary Clinton, it was his own face in the mirror.

Only a month into the new year of 2018, Trump’s act is getting tired. His antics were amusing last year; they made for entertaining T.V. and gossip. Now, though, he looks more and more like a stale old Vaudevillian, with his dyed hair and faltering step, trotting out the same old one-liners: “Fake news,” “the failing New York Times,” “Crooked Hillary”—lines few are buying anymore. Washington Republicans, as we know, are standing by their man, doubling down on him—for now. I will make this prediction: When they wake up (and they will), they will turn against him, for there is no love lost between them and him. Even now, there are a few Righteous Republicans willing to take Trump on: Richard Painter, Bill Kristal, Joe Scarborough, George Will. They are the tip of the spear that will run Donald J. Trump out of town.

A tasting of Pauillac wines




Bordeaux is the most famous wine region in the world. On the western bank of the Gironde estuary (the Médoc), influenced by its position on the Atlantic, the climate is continental. Red wine grapes have been grown for a thousand years. Since the sixteenth century, Bordeaux’s chateaux have been famous: Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and others have thrilled wine lovers, from Kings and Popes to Thomas Jefferson and, today, rich Chinese businessmen.

Bordeaux is divided politically into communes–areas around small towns. Its most famous commune is Pauillac, where winegrowing dates back to the Middle Ages. The great grape of Pauillac, and throughout the Médoc, is the Cabernet Sauvignon, which also is the great red wine grape of California. However, unlike California, in Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon never constitutes 100% of the wine. Instead, it is blended, in various percentages depending on house style and vintage, with other Bordeaux grapes, primarily Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Pauillac wines are considered the epitome of power, finesse and elegance. They age  well. Invariably hard in tannins in their youth, they require time for the tannins to precipitate out as sediment, revealing pure, sweet flavors of currants and cassis, often with an herbal note suggesting tobacco or, in some cases, chocolate. On Thursday of last week, I went to a wine tasting in San Francisco sponsored by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, the region’s trade organization. At the tasting, I focused on the wines of Pauillac, which also is the home of three of Bordeaux’s five “Premier Cru” (First Growth) wineries: Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild. So famous are these Premier Crus that they do not pour their wines at the Union des Grands Crus trade tastings.  They do not need to market themselves to buyers, the way the other chateaux do, since demand for them is inexhaustible.

All the wines below are from the 2015 vintage, a very fine one in Bordeaux (England’s authoritative Decanter Magazine calls it “unquestionably great.”) I still use the 100-point system in rating wine quality. Were I a beginning wine critic today, I might not employ that controversial system. But old habits die hard.

Chateau Clerc Milon. I found the wine rather hard and rustic, especially compared to its Pauillac brethren. It has a strong, ripe aroma suggesting blackcurrants, toasted oak from barrels, roasted coconut and shaved chocolate. It feels full-bodied and big in the mouth, but a little hot in alcohol. The fruit reprises on the mid-palate into the finish. I would give the wine 5-6 years in the cellar. The winery is part of the Mouton-Rothschild empire. Score: 88 points.

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. This is a celebrated wine, highly sought by connoisseurs and expensive. The 2015 has been lavishly praised by critics, but I have to admit I found it disappointing. Considerably more forward than its neighbor, Pichon Baron [see below], with generous blackberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, soft and silky, yet very tannic. Perhaps it was the fault of the tannins, but I found the mid-palate and finish a little thin and brittle. Chacun a son goût! Score: 89 points.

Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse. The terroir of this rather underrated chateau is very superior, bordering on Mouton and Lafite. Its wines were at the height of their fame in the mid-nineteenth century; production is among the lowest in the Médoc. I called the 2015 “Californian” in style for its fruity ripeness. Big aromas and flavors of blackberries, cassis and cedar, powerful and delicious. I might have mistaken it for a Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, except for the vibrant acidity. Score: 92 points.

Chateau d’Armailhac. This winery also is part of the Mouton-Rothschild stable. The wine has less Cabernet Sauvignon, and more Merlot, than the average Pauillac wine, which makes it rounder and more supple than many others. The 2015 is dry and tannic, but very elegant, with ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruit flavors and a long, spicy finish. I liked it quite a bit for its instant appeal and generosity. It drinks well now and should age for 15-20 years. Score: 92 points.

Chateau Lynch-Moussas. A very small winery, not seen much in the U.S.; the name “Lynch” comes from an Irishman who owned the estate in the 19th century. The 2015 is a pretty wine, polished and supple and drinking well now despite a high level (70%) of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a tannic wine, with good structure and acidity and some real complexity. I liked the way the blackcurrant and berry flavors were interwoven with the oak. Score: 92 points.

Chateau Lynch-Bages. One of the most famous of the Médoc chateaux, Lynch-Bages traditionally contains one of the highest percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine long has been a favorite of the Brits; they called it “Lunch Bags.” The 2015 is very fine, with a gorgeous garnet hue. The aroma is strong, primary and immature: blackberries, cassis, violets and cedar wood. It feels hard and youthful in broad-based but supple tannins. Yet its elegance is apparent. The wine needs lots of time. Score: 93 points.

Chateau Pichon Baron. For me, the star of Pauillac in the 2015 vintage (other than the three Premier Crus, which were not included in the tasting). The first recorded wine off the estate was produced in 1694; the neo-classical chateau dates to 1851. It is right across the street from Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande; the two properties long have been distinguished by Baron’s “masculine” character and Comtesse’s “femininity.” The 2015 Baron has a pure ruby-garnet color. I tasted it immediately after Lynch-Bages, and found it more generous in comparison, with chocolate shavings and freshly crushed summer blackberries. A big, big wine, powerful, complex, yet the definition of elegance. Needs lots of time to come around. Score: 95 points.

The fight over the jury is in high gear



We can see with greater clarity the outlines of Trump’s defense. He expects to be slammed by Mueller, possibly criminally indicted for obstruction, if not collusion. He knows it’s coming and, street fighter that he is, is laying down his strategy against the oncoming freight train.

And that strategy is—ta da!—self defense! “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” he declared on Wednesday, at his surprise popup at the press gaggle. This is, of course, the man who, when he’s attacked, “will punch back 10 times harder,” a man whose political mentor was the ruthless, perfervid Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s hitman. Trump got royally pissed at Jeff Sessions after Sessions recused himself because he thought he had (in the immortal words of Rush Limbaugh) “a brawler and a fighter in the attorney general”—someone just like Trump himself.

So there’s the strategy: not a legal defense, but a political one. But If Mueller charges Trump with legal crimes, what good is a political defense? The Nazis tried that at Nuremburg, and it didn’t work. You need a strong legal defense to be acquitted in a criminal prosecution. Well, Trump knows he has no legal defense. Mueller’s got him dead to rights: there’s no way Trump can spin, finagle, bluff, lie or insult his way out of this mess.

But things don’t end with accusations. There has to be a trial by jury. It could be in a public courtroom, it could be in the United States Senate, or it could be in the court of public opinion. And clearly, it’s the latter two that Trump is banking on.

A criminal trial in open public court is highly unlikely to the point of impossible. Most experts believe the only way to prosecute a sitting president is through Impeachment. So the proper legal venue for a trial would be in the Senate, following Articles of Impeachment voted on in the House of Representatives.

Under its current Republican lineup, it’s impossible to believe the House would vote Articles of Impeachment. Trump is already working to shore up his House support among Republicans to ensure that Articles never happen. But being a fighter, he has to consider the dire possibility that Articles do emerge when Democrats retake the House next year. Then, Trump’s strategy moves to the Senate. And that’s where his defense becomes, “Hey, I was attacked by Mueller, by a rogue FBI, by Democrats in the Justice Department, by the swamp creatures of D.C. All I’m doing is fighting back.”

Fighting back is good strategy. In courtrooms, it’s often a defendant’s best defense. “Yes, I killed him, but I did so because he was trying to kill me.” A jury wouldn’t expect someone under attack to just stand there, waiting to be murdered. People are entitled to defend themselves. It’s the American way. There would be a certain amount of sympathy for Donald Trump were he to paint himself as the innocent victim.

But what is the difference between “fighting back” and obstruction of justice? The United States Code, which is the official codification of laws of the U.S., defines a person who obstructs justice as “whoever . . . . corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice…”

With everything we know that Trump did (and there may be additional things he did that we don’t know, but that Mueller does), it’s clear that Trump acted to stop or slow down the investigation. As of last night, we now even know he wanted to fire Mueller last summer! Did he use “threats”? It’s not clear if he actually threatened Comey in that now-infamous one-on-one meeting, but a case can be made that he did. Senator Mark Warner said of that meeting, “the president appears to have threatened [the] director’s job while telling him ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’” Did Trump use force? No one’s alleging that he did. Were there “endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice”? Absolutely, and they are ongoing.

So Trump is already working on influencing his possible jurors in the Senate, and his strategy seems to be working: the few Republican Senators who opposed him are shifting in their attitudes, with Corker and Graham in particular now more favorably inclined towards him. As for the court of public opinion, Trump, with his “fighting back” comment, has given his Republican base a huge weapon. Of course Trump was under attack (they’ll allege). An unpatriotic cabal of America haters, led by Hillary Clinton, Obama, Comey, the New York Times, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and [fill in the blank] conspired to topple a duly-elected President of the United States. Trump was perfectly entitled to do whatever he could to protect, not only himself personally, but the Office of the President.

This argument is strong and, for Trump’s defenders, persuasive. It draws a very fine line between obstruction of justice and self-defense. Of course, not even Nixon attempted to redefine “obstruction of justice” as “fighting back,” the way Trump is doing. Nixon and his lawyers accepted “obstruction” in its traditional sense and gave in to the inevitable, with Nixon resigning before a Senate trial could occur.

Well, this is the stuff trials are made of: quibbles over evidence, over meanings, over intentions. And it’s what defense lawyers do all the time: work to get a jury that will be most favorable to their client. This is how we should interpret Trump’s “fighting back” remark: the battle of jury selection, in the Senate and in the court of public opinion, is underway.

And if he’s exonerated?



I don’t think he will be, but…I have to admit to a nagging fear in the back of my mind that Trump ends up being exonerated by Mueller and the other Congressional investigations.

In the end, they might criticize his judgment, and suggest that he did things he should not have done. They might say he approached the line in a dangerous way—but didn’t cross it. Jared, Don Jr., Pence, Sessions and others close to Trump might be similarly criticized, and some of them might even be indicted. But that nagging little fear in my mind is that Trump himself gets off scot-free.

The immediate reaction on the far right would be a gigantic War Whoop of exultation. Brietbart would go nuts. “Fake charges against President Trump by Democrats are demolished!” The entire Republican attack machine will be on parade in front of the T.V. cameras, claiming that “the witch hunt” ended just as Trump had predicted: No collusion, a nothing burger. The House Freedom Caucus will call for a brand new investigation on how Democrats conspired to try to bring down a sitting president. Congressional Republicans will be re-emboldened in their efforts to enact their agenda: end immigration, fund the wall, do away with what remains of environmental protections, lower taxes even further, make it harder than ever for minorities to vote, outlaw abortion, amp up homophobia, promote Christianity as the state religion, and march America to the brink of war with whatever country is piquing us at any given moment. The FBI no doubt would be purged.

A Trump exonerated, you see, will be a Trump unleashed. You remember how King Kong went ape (forgive the pun) after he escaped from chained confinement in New York City? He went on a towering rampage, wrecking everything in his path, an elemental force of destruction no one and nothing could stop (until “beauty killed the beast”).

That is how I envision an exonerated Trump. He will boast that he took hits from Democrats and the fake media for the better part of two years and emerged unbowed and unscathed. His ego will be on steroids, his vengeance unbound. He will know exactly upon whom to train his desire for retribution. Aided and abetted by the angry, armed right wing in his red districts, he will stoke the crowds forward with incitements to physical action, to intimidation of enemies, to payment of debts past due, to ridicule of liberals. He will never directly tell anyone to perform acts of violence, but the underlying suggestion will be in every tweet—dog whistles everyone hears.

Democrats and independent liberals will be crestfallen. An exonerated Trump will be a crushing blow to those of us who fear and loathe this personally corrupt, indecent man, who weep at him defiling the seat George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR and JFK once occupied. We’ll have to suffer through the ordeal of getting clobbered.

Well, that’s the fear in the back of my mind. Counter-balancing it is the hope, indeed the expectation, that there’s no way Mueller can exonerate Trump, so overwhelming is the evidence that he colluded and/or conspired to obstruct the investigation. But we’ve learned to expect the unexpected, to have to accept the illogical and irrational. Is it possible Trump will be exonerated? Yes. But there’s also this: After his “fighting back is not obstruction” comment yesterday, it’s clearer than ever that he expects to be indicted or otherwise charged with obstruction of justice. He’s laying down–not his legal defense–but his political one. His angry white legions will buy into it like pigs into slop, leading to consequences I don’t even want to think about.

Monday a bad day, Tuesday a great day for Dems



Democrats were demoralized on Monday by the passage of the government funding bill and the associated facts that Senate Democrats allowed McConnell to get away with a vague “intention” to save the Dreamers and Schumer’s agreement—in exchange for that vague intention—to fully fund Trump’s ridiculous wall.

So, yeah, Monday wasn’t a good day. But things happen so fast, in this OCD administration, that, by Tuesday, most of us were happy again, with reports of Sessions and Comey being interrogated by Mueller’s lawyers, and Trump asking his acting Attorney-General, Andrew McCabe, whom he voted for for president. We heard also that Mueller intends to question Trump, presumably under oath, about RussiaGate, a development that would never have happened unless Mueller were persuaded “there’s a there there” concerning Trump’s collusion with Russia. That’s a big deal.

The reason these developments make Democrats happy is because they’re bad news for Trump. Very bad news. There are so many indications that he tried to obstruct justice in the Mueller investigation that it’s impossible to believe that Mueller doesn’t have a solid case—and that’s just with the information we already know he has. Who knows what else Mueller has? Who knows what else he’ll discover?

As for the Dreamers, yesterday Schumer shocked everybody by withdrawing his days-old offer to fund the wall! I must admit I was surprised. Schumer, of course, had “put the wall on the table” in order to get DACA. It was a sacrifice, but Democrats want compassionate treatment of Dreamers so much that, as Luis Gutierrez said, “I’ll build the wall myself if it helps the Dreamers.”

So here’s the way I look at the ballgame: Trump scored a couple runs on Monday. But Democrats scored far more runs on Tuesday. Let’s not forget that, regardless of what happens with DACA, and regardless of what happened with the tax bill, and regardless of what happens with anything else, whether it’s a victory or a defeat for Trump, the overwhelming reality is that Mueller trumps (pun intended) everything. Trump can win the battle, so to speak, but lose the war—the war being his job, and possibly his freedom from incarceration.

The ballgame will surely change many more times, play by play, inning by inning, day by day. But the important thing is, Who wins when it’s all over? By “winning” I mean getting rid of Trump. I know that, if we do, we’ll be stuck with Pence—unless Pence is also implicated in the crimes—and even if we get rid of Pence, then we’ll have Paul Ryan. But I’d rather have Pence or Ryan than Trump going into the midterms. Pence, with his crazy beliefs about the age of the universe and the literal truth of the Bible, will be easy to demolish; and he doesn’t have Trump’s communicative skills. Ryan is a lightweight. Democrats can deconstruct either of them easily, and it will be fun doing so.

Can Democrats trust McConnell?



In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced widespread criticism after returning from a Teheran summit meeting with Stalin and Churchill in which he accepted Stalin’s promise to reach a fair and equitable solution to the problem of Poland’s borders and freedom, but without any date-certain or guarantee.

After all, World War II had started over Poland. The Allies—America and Britain—could hardly be expected to walk away from that troubled country and leave it at the mercy of a growing, aggressive Communist Soviet Union. Yet, in retrospect, it’s clear that that is what they did, with the inevitable result: Poland disappeared behind the Iron Curtain for nearly fifty years, ruled by an autocratic dictatorship that marched to Moscow’s beat.

Roosevelt probably had to do as he did, in order to keep the Soviet Union in the war, instead of dropping out and negotiating a separate peace with Hitler, on the eve of Operation Overlord, the invasion of the Normandy beaches. Politics means making hard choices. Winston Churchill, who did not trust Stalin, hated what FDR had done, but, being the junior partner, he had to yield to Roosevelt’s wishes. Stalin was delighted with the results of the Teheran agreement. And Roosevelt? Historians still debate. Was he ill at Teheran, his brain arteries slowly hardening? Was he secretly pro-Russian? We may never fully understand, but his words speak for themselves. Responding to the criticism that he had sold Poland down the river, Roosevelt replied, “I know that you [the American people] agree with me that it is of the utmost importance that faith in these undertakings should not be left in any doubt.” By “faith,” FDR meant trust in Stalin’s word that he would respect Poland’s integrity and not absorb it into the Communist bloc.

But he did. Stalin hoodwinked Roosevelt: on this, most historians agree. FDR let himself get snookered by a negotiator, Stalin, who was even wilier than he. He took Stalin at his word; the problem was, Stalin had lied. And by the time the West realized the extent of Stalin’s perfidy, Poland—and the rest of Eastern Europe, “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” in Churchill’s words—had fallen behind the Iron Curtain.

Trust, in politics, is a fragile bird. Politicians on opposite sides must trust each other in order to form functioning governments, but wars begin because trust is broken. Now, today, we have another issue of trust, namely, McConnell’s promise to take up the Dreamer issue very soon. True, he didn’t exactly call it a “promise,” only an “intention.” But it was good enough for Chuck Schumer to advise Senate Democrats to vote to end the government shutdown, which they did, followed by the House passing the bill, followed by Trump’s signature. So the government is now funded, the Dreamers are still hanging fire, and we are left with the “intention” of the Republican Senate Majority Leader to take up a DACA bill shortly.

No wonder so many Democrats are so unhappy! We all know that McConnell can do nothing, or will do nothing, without the approval of his master, Trump. So, by trusting McConnell, Democrats are really being asked to trust Trump. Now, even Trump’s most ardent defenders would concede that he’s not the most truthful person in the world. By the Washington Post’s count (and there’s no reason not to believe it), Trump tells 5.5 lies a day, and is on track to lie 8,000 times by the end of his term (if he makes it that far).

There’s an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This is why the Democratic base is so annoyed with this deal. Trump is not what is known in diplomacy as “an honest broker.” He doesn’t even want to be: his vindictiveness and need to win preclude that. With the fiercely anti-immigrant Steven Miller and Gen. Kelly by his side, fueled by the racial animus of the Republican base, Trump has no reason whatsoever to do anything for the Dreamers, and every reason not to. Nobody knows what the eventual outcome will be, but if I were a Dreamer, I’d be worried.

So where do Democrats go from here? Hold McConnell’s feet to the fire. Hold, also, the feet of the Gang of Moderates—Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, Lindsay Graham and 14 other Senators—to the fire. They have implicitly placed their political collateral, their integrity, on McConnell keeping his word. Were he to fail to do so, on the orders of his master, there ought to be bloody hell in the Senate.

This is going to be tricky for Democrats going forward, because immigration isn’t a top priority for voters (even though 79% of us want Dreamers to stay in the U.S.). Trump will use his considerable media and propaganda skills to undermine support for the Dreamers, to distract voters, to push other volatile issues to the forefront. Even were the Senate to pass a bill of love for the Dreamers, Paul Ryan’s far more conservative House is guaranteed to offer pushback. That could be countered by a President Trump who sincerely wanted a good DACA deal. He says he does. But, again, his lies have eroded trust in him. Just as FDR trusted Stalin, who lied, Democrats are being asked to trust Republicans, whose track record for truth is in tatters.


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