• Quick tip: Normally, the Neo-Nazis are NOT the Third Rail of American Politics

    How can you managed to turn a simple matter–morally and politically–into a day-after-day controversy and ultimately a political firestorm?

    Good heavens, man, condemning the neo-Nazis and KKK when they instigate the event and cause a death: not a hard call.

    When the anarchists or some other group lead the chaos, then condemn them.

    But not now.

    When progressives go too far–demanding the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be excised from history and honored status–condemn them when they do. (The chances they will go too far? Very high.)

    But not now.

    Act like the President of the whole country.

    Now.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Is there anybody in the West Wing saying, “At least that got the Russia investigation off the front page”?

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, August 4

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ EXCELLENT ECONOMIC NEWS: Surging jobs in July means that the US has now regained all the jobs lost in the recession. Wages rose 2.5% last year. Unemployment remains 4.3% Dow-Jones above 22k for the first time ever (Washington Post)

    Comment: Now, to get more healthy people back into the labor force.

     

     ◆ After latest leaks of private Presidential phone calls to foreign leaders, AG Jeff Sessions announces more measure to find and punish the perps (Fox News)

    Based on the leaked documents, The Washington Post reported new details Thursday about Trump’s tense phone calls in late January with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In the former, Trump reportedly told the Mexican leader to stop publicly saying his government would not pay for a border wall.

    The newspaper said the transcripts had notes indicating they had been classified by the chief of staff on the National Security Council. The Post said it obtained full transcripts, which were “produced by White House staff” and based on records kept by White House note-takers. –Fox News

    Comment: My guess: holdover staff from the last administration or people who have just been fired.

    Special Counsel Mueller empanels Grand Jury in Washington (The Hill)

    They already had one in Virginia, so this is really not new, just a more convenient location for Mueller’s office, which now has 16 full-time prosecutors.

    Comment: It means the investigation is

    • Clearly a criminal one, not limited to counter-intelligence
    • Not limited to Mike Flynn, who was the subject of the Virginia panel
    • Likely to last many more months

    Who should be worried? Anybody in Trump’s circle who has extensive business dealings with Russia or Russian-sponsored entities and, of course, anybody who lies to Federal agents. Lying to the media is not a crime, but a pattern of lying could indicate intent to cover up and prompt further inquiry.

    West Virginia’s Democratic Governor announces switch to GOP at Trump rally (Charleston WVa Gazette-Mail)

    West Virginia, once reliably Democratic, has voted for Republicans in each presidential race since 2000, and dramatically last year. Four of the state’s five Congressional seats have flipped to Republican.

    The most important elected Democrat in the state is now centrist Joe Manchin, who said he will remain a Democrat.

    Comment: Democrats now control only 15 governorships and the fewest state legislatures in the party’s history.

    Sticking with Bernie and Nancy is not going to help, but the ineptitude of the current Congress will.

    Israel: PM Netanyahu’s top aide agrees to testify against him in a bribery, fraud investigation (Bloomberg)

    Comment: Likely outcome: Netanyahu indicted.

    It’s grim when top officials are suspected of corruption, but it is good news when an independent judiciary can investigate them, as they do in constitutional democracies . . . and nowhere else.

    Chief of Staff John Kelly emerges as key supporter of National Security Council Adviser McMaster in White House in-fighting (Politico)

    Comment: Yes, it helps that they are both former generals. But the main point is that they are both experienced at high-level Washington bureaucratic politics.

    McMaster has been cleaning house in his operation, putting his own people in place.

    The problems: McMaster has a violent temper, often on display in staff meetings, and is frequently pitted against Steve Bannon, who is an important link to Pres. Trump’s populist constituency–and who would be harder on the Trump Administration outside the tent than inside.

    Fragile economy limits Putin (Reuters)

    And US sanctions weak him further.

    Comment: ZipDialog has made this point repeatedly. Most news commentary has overlooked it.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Michael Lipson for the Grand Jury story

  • This isn’t just a dumb political idea. It turns dumbness up to “11”

    It’s from the anti-Israeli left, specifically from a small group with the misleading name “Jewish Voice for Peace.”

    They back every anti-Israeli group and idea put forward by their fellow progressives.

    In the process, they came up with this brilliant thought:

    Israel has no right to “appropriate” Jewish symbols!

    I guess they belong to somebody else.

    Yes, that’s right, the Jewish state has no right to use Jewish symbols.

    This is what “intersectionality” means when its bizarro-world logic is directed at Zionism.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    For those who don’t know what “intersectionality” is, count yourselves lucky.

    Here’s a quick definition and analysis.

    It’s simply a fancy name for “all of us oppressed people have the same enemies and the same cause, so we need to stick together.”

    The main enemy is white people in general, especially white men who have succeeded in business, are heterosexual, and “identify” as men because they were born male (the left terms that “cis-male,” to parallel “transgender.”)

    As a political strategy, that’s the oldest one in the books. It’s simply a cohesion strategy to increase the collective clout of diverse interest groups.

    As a logical statement, it’s nuts. Their only interests are negative. They share almost no positive goals.

    As a practical statement today, it means left-wing feminists and gays are allies with extremist Muslims who would demolish their agenda instantly if they gained power. Indeed, they have done so wherever they do have political power.

    But, since these are allies in a highly-ideological movement, they have to pretend they have some deeper shared interest in human liberation. They don’t.

    Btw, there are lots of gay men and women–in the US and abroad–who support Israel.

    They just don’t receive enough attention. They should.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to John-Paul Pagano, Kevin Reiss, and Mark Finkelstein for this.

     

  • Will sports wagering expand to political events? Should it?

    The Los Angeles Times has a news report on Las Vegas bookmakers taking some bets on non-sporting events.

    Let me explain why that’s important and why it should be encouraged.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    As Vegas sports books expand betting options, MVP voting is fair game. Will presidential elections be next? (Los Angeles Times)

    And though bets on nonsporting events — such as the Academy Awards, the presidential election and reality TV shows — are not allowed in Nevada, they are permitted overseas, and interest in such betting provides a push for casinos to expand their portfolios beyond traditional wagering.

    But regulators and casinos remain mindful of tampering or influence where voting, rather than scoring, decides an outcome. They have instituted safety measures, such as halting betting well before voting takes place and capping the amount that can be won — usually about $10,000. Most casinos require identification through a player’s card for bigger bets.

    “We’re not going to take six-figure bets on these,” said Jay Kornegay, Westgate’s vice president of race and sports book operations. –LA Times

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    My Comments

    These “Prediction Markets” provide valuable information to the public

    • Everything we know about these betting markets suggests they give us the best, unbiased forecasts of future outcomes
      • To put it concretely, you cannot regularly beat the “line” in pro football bets unless you have valuable, non-public information, such as the extent of a player’s injury.
      • If you actually have such information and can legally bet by using it, your bet will change the odds. That gives the public some real information, in the same way that price movements for milk or chicken at the supermarket give you information about shortages or surpluses.
    • The deeper the betting pool, the more reliable the forecasts
      • Are they more reliable than polls? Yes, because the bettors incorporate information from the polls in their betting.
      • In fact, they incorporate information from every source and have powerful incentives to get more information and to distinguish signal from noise.
      • There are such markets now in England, but Americans are restricted in using them; there are small markets (largely for academic purposes) in the US. Larger, deeper markets would be far more informative.
    • Allowing legal betting on political events such as presidential or Congressional elections would make these markets much, much deeper–and give the public better information
    • The only reason to block these bets (besides general opposition to gambling) is the possibility the events themselves could be corruptly influenced by bettors.
      • The fact that many states have lotteries indicates there is no general opposition (though state legislatures may not want any competition)
      • Corrupt influence is far more likely in sports, such as mobsters bribing fighters to throw a match
      • It can also happen in financial markets, such as a major oil-producing country betting on the futures markets, using inside knowledge that the state itself will expand or cut its production
    • The risks of bettors corruptly changing outcomes they bet on is remote and almost certainly less than in other markets were wagering is permitted.
    • For these reasons, political wagering should be permitted in states that also permit sports wagering

    Some examples where it would be valuable for the public to know the odds:

    1. Will the government of Venezuela be overthrown by Dec. 31, 2017
    2. Will Bashar al-Assad still be in office by December 31, 2017?
    3. Will Boris Johnson be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on September 1, 2017?
    4. Will Pres. Donald Trump complete his full first term in office?
    5. Will the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2018?

    Lots of people are interested in these events and some would like more accurate forecasts about the outcome. For example, oil producers would like to know more about Venezuela as they plan their own production. By the same token, they may have good sources of information about the situation there so their bets would inform others by changing the odds.

    Knowing the odds in political-prediction markets would be very informative to them and to policymakers.

    On international events, for instance, it would give the National Security Council, CIA, Defense Department, and State Department additional information to incorporate in their policy planning.

    For these prediction markets to work well, the outcomes would have to be well-defined before the events. To bet on the outcome in Venezuela, for instance, I need to know the exact definition of “overthrowing the government.”

    That is obviously more complex than setting a 3.5 point spread for a football game, but it is already done in today’s thinner prediction markets. So, I don’t see any insurmountable technical reasons why political prediction markets cannot be expanded.

    They would certainly be useful–to the public and to policymakers.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    If the general topic interests you, I highly recommend a fascinating (and non-technical) book:

    The Wisdom of Crowds Paperback by James Surowiecki

    Surowiecki is not a cheerleader for all crowdsourcing.

    The book explains, in clear, lucid prose, when it works well and when it does not.

     

  • What matters in Comey’s Testimony . . . and what doesn’t

    What was in the brew Comey stirred up and served to the world on Thursday?

    There was some red meat for both Democrats and Republicans. So you can expect them to emphasize different things.

    • In the media world, that means ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and others will see it one way.
    • Fox News commentators will see it another. Fox News’ flagship program, Special Report with Bret Baier, plays it straight. The other shows feature a lot more conservative, pro-Trump commentary.

    The Washington Post thinks the big news is Comey’s statement that “Trump lied” about the reasons for Comey’s firing since he, Comey was doing a great job and the FBI was not demoralized, as the president said. That was Trump’s lie, said Comey.

    That is a headline grabbing statement. But it is not what’s important.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Remember, there are ultimately two big legal issues:

    1. Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to throw the 2016 election?
    2. Did Pres. Trump obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation of the Russian matter, Michael Flynn, or any other politically-sensitive issue

    There is one big political issue: Can the Democrats damage the Trump Administration? 

    • To do that, they need to find enough material to keep Trump on the defensive.
    • While Trump is on the defensive, he’s have a harder time moving appointments and legislative agenda (a gain for the Democrats)

    A weakened and vulnerable President will increase the Democrats’ chances of winning the House in 2018.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Turning to Comey’s testimony. . . he

     Confirmed that Trump has never been the subject of an FBI investigation and said he told that to Trump several times (as Trump claimed)

    Effectively stirred up the Russia issue again without offering anything substantive

    • Comey simply said what he now thinks 

    “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

    Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House, which has struggled to respond to growing questions about the president’s conduct. -Washington Post (link here)

     Said Trump did not try to slow or stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election

    Comey declined to say whether he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.” –Washington Post

    • Comey offered no evidence of obstruction, which he would have been legally required to report contemporaneously.
    • He tried to square the circle by saying he now thought it might be obstruction
    • And, by raising the issue’s profile, he made set it high on Mueller’s agenda (and gave the Democrats talking points)

    ◆ Reaffirmed the leaks of “people familiar with Comey’s thinking” that Trump had privately told him he “hoped” Comey would be able to conclude the Flynn investigation and clear Flynn. But he did not order him to end the investigation.

    • At the time, he did not think that was obstruction, did not tell the President he was uncomfortable or that the conversation should end, but he did feel some pressure

    Confirmed that, in one disputed conversation, Trump asked AG Sessions to leave the room. 

    • Trump’s desire for secrecy supports those who think he was doing something improper. (Note, however, that improper is not the same as illegal.)

    ◆ But–and this is crucial–Comey changed his mind after being fired: now Trump was “directing” him to end the investigation of Flynn

    • His public statements about this pressure and his carefully chosen term, “directed” will force Special Counsel Mueller to look at the matter as possible obstruction
    • Mueller might have done that anyway
    • It won’t come to anything legally, but Democrats will seize on “possible obstruction” as a political hammer

    ◆ Admitted that he had orchestrated leaks of his private conversations, as FBI director, with the President.  

    • These documents almost certainly did not belong to Comey but to the government (but that is a legal matter)
    • He lacked the courage to leak the documents himself or simply disclose them in a press conference. He gave them to a “cutout,” a friendly law professor at Columbia and had him leak them to the New York Times.
    • Under questioning from Congress, he effectively outed the professor without naming him directly. NBC names the professor as Daniel Richman. (NBC)
    • Comey’s statement that he took the memoranda, which belong to the government, and converted them to private use is potentially a legal violation in its own right.

    Claimed his leaks were done for an explicitly political reason: to get a special counsel appointed. An extraordinary admission

    Admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch (in Obama’s final years) ordered him not to call an ongoing criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails what it was: “an investigation.” She told him to call it only a “matter.”

    • Comey said he knew Lynch’s terminology was deliberately false and misleading,
    • Comey acknowledges bowing to this order. Apparently, he did not push back.
    • Comey thinks Lynch’s order was to ensure the DOJ and FBI used the same language the Clinton Campaign was using, even though they knew it was false.
    • This is clear evidence that Lynch was using her office to try and influence the 2016 election.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The most interesting comment on the Comey-Trump fight

     Matthew Continetti writes a fascinating opinion column in the Washington Free Beacon, entitled:

    This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump’s Impeachment

    The logic is this:

    • A Trump tweet after firing Comey further angers the former director; this is the one that said Comey better hope there are no “tapes.”
    • Comey decides to leak his Cover Your Ass memos (via a friend) with the goal of getting a Special Counsel
    • He succeeds
    • The investigation by that Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, could ultimately undermine the Trump administration and even lead to impeachment

    Continetti writes:

    It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller. –Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Today’s British Tabloids have Dramatically Different Front Pages. Is America Moving that Direction?

    Britain’s tabloids have always been feisty and highly partisan.

    Today’s front pages are a perfect illustration.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    British Media: Always Partisan

    American Media: Getting More So

    Strong covers matter for tabloids because they depend on newsstand sales. That’s true in the US, as well as Britain.

    But US papers are less overtly partisan, less stark. Every reader still knows the NY Daily News is liberal, the NY Post conservative, but the differences are more muted, less in-your-face than those of Britain’s Sun and Mirror.

    In my opinion, though, America’s mainstream media is sliding down the same slippery slope. That’s not confined to the few remaining tabloids. It’s true of mainstream papers, cable news, and broadcast channels.

    The trend is not new, but it has accelerated with their hatred of Donald Trump and his vituperative reciprocation, calling them “enemies” of the people. Lots of presidents have thought that, but he has shouted it from the bully pulpit.

    If we continue down this slope, those tabloid front pages await us.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Is Open Partisanship Actually Better than Subtle Suasion?

    There is one interesting response, worth considering.

    Many conservatives already think the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN are “homers” for the Democrats and progressives. But their slanted coverage is more pernicious, these critics say, because it is less obvious. Ordinary readers and viewers find it harder to detect. They drink the Kool Aid, not knowing it is a sugary drink of editorial bias slipped into hard news stories. If would be better, these critics say, if the media simply declared themselves, as MSNBC has, so viewers would understand.

    Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe you do.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to Joe Morris for the English tabloids and for stimulating this response

     

  • Why America’s Political Crisis is So Profound. My latest at Real Clear Politics

    The column is here at Real Clear Politics.

    The op-ed tries to go beyond the partisan arguments you already know.

    Instead, it focuses on the country’s deep divisions, as they are reflected in sharply divergent responses to the allegations against Pres. Trump and his aides.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The heart of the matter is that the opposing sides are making very serious allegations–and making them sincerely.

    Each side thinks it is defending America’s most fundamental constitutional values, while the other side is deliberately undermining them.

    These opposing positions build on already-deep divisions in American politics and society–and reinforce them.

    There are some bright spots in this dark tangle, and I consider them, too.

    Here, again, is the link.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    I welcome your thoughts.

    And, of course, please feel free to share this or any other post at ZipDialog.