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WaPoABC poll: Majorities want more sanctions on Russia — and a summit

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How should the Trump administration deal with Russia? Turns out that the carrot-and-stick approach gets the most support from American voters, even if we’re more enthusiastic about the stick. A new WaPo/ABC poll shows majority support for a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit meeting, but much larger — and bipartisan — majorities for more sanctions:

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans support tougher U.S. sanctions against Russia, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that also finds roughly half the public saying President Trump has done “too little” to criticize Russia for alleged violations of international law.

Despite support for penalizing Russia, 52 percent of adults say Trump should invite Vladimir Putin to the White House in an effort to improve U.S.-Russia relations, while 42 percent say Trump should not do so, because it would grant Putin legitimacy.

The legitimacy argument is odd. No one doubts that Putin is the leader of Russia, although there are certainly doubts about how he wields power and the methods he applies to elections. We have diplomatic relations and head-of-state contacts with a variety of nations where that’s true without necessarily those contacts being portrayed as an endorsement of the leader in question. The purpose is to dial down tensions, not to cheer each other’s existence.

For instance, the upcoming (presumably, anyway) meeting between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un will be seen as an opportunity to avoid war, not as a Trump endorsement of Kim, which wouldn’t be useful for either nation. Given all the friction points between Russia and the US — Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, cyberspace, the Skripal poisoning, missile-defense systems in eastern Europe, and so on — a meeting between Putin and Trump should be in the same category. In fact, it might be even more urgently needed than the Kim-Trump summit. Even if one is inclined to consider Putin illegitimate, the threat Russia represents isn’t.

In fairness, the numbers in the poll for the two summits are about the same, although the expectations remain low:

The results on both countries underscore a longstanding public preference for talking rather than fighting between nations. Indeed, six in 10 oppose Trump threatening military action against Pyongyang. It’s also notable that most support a summit with Kim even though, in an ABC/Post poll last fall, just 32 percent trusted Trump to act responsibly in dealing with North Korea. In January, 52 percent expressed concern Trump would launch an unjustified nuclear attack; surely talks are preferable.

Well, yeah, although it seems very doubtful that Trump would launch a first-strike nuclear attack, simply because there are plenty of other weapons to use in a “bloody nose” strategy. China would retaliate immediately for a nuclear strike, too, not to mention what the remnants of the Kim regime might cook up. Just because 52 percent of respondents worry about a scenario doesn’t mean it’s a probability or even a possibility.

Let’s go back to sanctions on Russia. The support for more punitive action gets majorities across all partisan demographics, scoring 68% overall and the same among Republicans and independents, with 74% of Democrats supporting the idea. It’d be a good political move for the White House to at least propose some new sanctions, although they just got done launching fresh sanctions earlier this month that took special aim at Putin’s inner circle. So why are they balking after Nikki Haley’s announcement? The Washington Post reports that Trump wants more time to consider them and to see whether the existing sanctions will have an impact:

Preparations to punish Russia anew for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government over an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria caused consternation at the White House. Haley had said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that sanctions on Russian companies behind the equipment related to Assad’s alleged chemical weapons attack would be announced Monday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

But Trump conferred with his national security advisers later Sunday and told them he was upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them, according to several people familiar with the plan.

Administration officials said the economic sanctions were under serious consideration, along with other measures that could be taken against Russia, but said Trump had not given final authorization to implement them. Administration officials said Monday it was unlikely Trump would approve any additional sanctions without another triggering event by Russia, describing the strategy as being in a holding pattern.

Bear in mind that the new sanctions were only three days old at the time this survey was taken (April 8-11). One can read this as a desire for even more sanctions or perhaps as an endorsement of the new sanctions that had just been rolled out. In any case, it makes sense to give the new sanctions more than ten days to gauge their effect before amplifying and expanding them. If Trump decides to push forward, though, the political consensus for them will make additional sanctions a very safe policy.

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Fearless Girl to stand on her own, at least for now

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Fearless Girl is finally going to move and, at least for now, she won’t be taking Charging Bull with her. The decision to move Fearless Girl a few blocks away to a position opposite the New York Stock Exchange was prompted by concerns about crowds and traffic. From the NY Daily News:

The much-beloved statue will depart her perch opposite the iconic Charging Bull to stare down some new scenery: The New York Stock Exchange, the Daily News has learned…

The move comes as the city and the company sought a more permanent home for the popular statue — and one with fewer safety issues than her current spot in a Bowling Green median, which gets overrun with onlookers who often stand in the busy street…

Due to safety concerns about traffic — and potential terror attacks using cars — the city said it was also exploring moving the Charging Bull itself.

But while Fearless Girl will move by year’s end, there are no immediate plans to move the bull — the city said Wednesday it was “exploring” putting it somewhere else downtown.

However, there’s really no doubt that Fearless Girl doesn’t work without some opponent to be fearless about. So will staring down the New York Stock Exchange be enough? The NY Times reports that Mayor de Blasio really wants to keep the statues together:

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said that it was important to the mayor, who has posed with “Fearless Girl” and spoken of its meaning to young women and girls, to keep the two works together.

“The mayor felt it was important that the ‘Fearless Girl’ be in a position to stand up to the bull and what it stands for,” said Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary. “That’s why we’re aiming to keep them together. The bull has also always been a traffic and safety issue the city’s hemmed and hawed over. The moves achieve a few goals.”

Artist Arturo Di Modica, the creator of Charging Bull, has said his figure was meant to be a symbol of “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” It was, of course, a symbol of America’s economic strength and, implicitly at least, of the power of capitalism itself. Di Modica felt the addition of Fearless Girl turned his optimistic statue into a corporate comment on gender politics and, worse, a threat to be defied.

It’s interesting that the progressive Mayor is so eager to maintain that reinterpretation of Di Modica’s art. In fact, I think his press secretary’s statement goes a long way to proving Di Modica’s point about the attempt to reinterpret his work. Fearless Girl isn’t just standing up to the bull but also “what it stands for.” Why would Mayor de Blasio want to do that? A statement he made last year to New York Magazine might give a hint:

I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development. . . .

Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality. [Emphasis added.]

Fearless Girl’s placement opposite Charging Bull goes well beyond standing up for more women in high finance jobs and boardrooms (the alleged point of the statue). The Mayor who praised the “socialistic impulse” toward government planning is doing is best to change one of the best-known symbols of America’s free market into a threat to be defied. I really don’t think that’s an accident.

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Whoa: DOJ Inspector General sends criminal referral for Andrew McCabe to U.S. Attorney

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You know who you can thank for this? James Comey! He’s the one who initiated the IG investigation into leaks to the WSJ in October 2016 about the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation, or so he claimed to the Daily Beast. Which makes this tweet from January seem … awkward now:

Comey will be on Jake Tapper’s show for an interview within the hour. I wonder what the first question will be.

The Justice Department inspector general referred its finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a media disclosure to the top federal prosecutor in D.C. to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime, according to people familiar with the matter…

Lying to federal investigators is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and some legal analysts speculated in the wake of the report that the inspector general seemed to be laying out a case for accusing McCabe of such conduct. The report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies “was done knowingly and intentionally” — which is a key aspect of the federal crime

Ironically, Comey — who appointed McCabe to his post as the No. 2 official in the FBI — stressed in his book released this week the importance of telling the truth to federal investigators and holding accountable those who do not.

“People must fear the consequences of lying in the justice system or the system can’t work,” wrote Comey in his new book, per WaPo, and how here we are. Will the next McCabe fundraising webathon be for bail money?

Comey reiterated yesterday on “The View” when asked about McCabe that lying to the feds isn’t okay. McCabe and his lawyer didn’t like that:

“In his comments this week about the McCabe matter, former FBI Director James Comey has relied on the accuracy and the soundness of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) conclusions in their report on Mr. McCabe. In fact, the report fails to adequately address the evidence (including sworn testimony) and documents that prove that Mr. McCabe advised Director Comey repeatedly that he was working with the Wall Street Journal on the stories in question prior to publication. Neither Mr. Comey nor the OIG is infallible, and in this case neither of them has it right.”

The wrinkle here is that the IG’s recommendation is based partly on a test of credibility between McCabe and Comey himself. McCabe claims that when Comey asked him in October 2016 whether he had authorized any info on the Clinton Foundation probe to be released to the WSJ, McCabe told him yes, that he was working with the paper to correct inaccuracies in the story. Comey, however, told the IG that McCabe told him he didn’t know who’d been talking to the paper. Upon further investigation, the IG agreed with Comey. Which is to say, if this turns into a prosecution — and there’s no guarantee that it will — the star witness against Andrew McCabe might be … James Comey.

The statute here, by the way, is the same statute that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to violating: 18 U.S.C. 1001, which makes it a crime to lie to federal officials. The U.S. Attorney will be under heavy political pressure to indict McCabe in order to show that the “no lying” rule applies to its own officers just as much as it does to Trump’s aides. Although I wonder if Trump might inadvertently let them off the hook by tweeting something celebratory about the McCabe referral, leaving the U.S. Attorney to argue that the president’s endless Twitter attacks on McCabe have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial. As such, he might not be charged or, if he’s amenable, he may be allowed to cop a plea with a wrist-slap penalty. If anything is capable of driving home the lesson to Trump that he shouldn’t be tweeting about pending legal matters, watching McCabe walk free because of his big mouth might be it.

Nah, who are we kidding. Nothing will drive that lesson home. Exit question: What if McCabe and Michael Cohen end up as cellmates in the federal pen? I smell sitcom.

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Trump: Feds will not pay for Jerry Brown’s National Guard ‘charade’

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The war of words between President Trump and California Governor Jerry Brown over illegal immigration heated up again this morning. Just yesterday Gov. Brown suggested 400 National Guard troops would be headed for the border and that the federal government had agreed to pay for it. But this morning President Trump tweeted this:

This all started a couple weeks ago when President Trump announced that, since funding for his border wall was stalled, he was calling on states to send National Guard troops to the border. A week later, there was another surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he would be sending 400 National Guard troops to the border to fight smuggling and drug trafficking. However, Brown also drew a line at getting involved in preventing illegal immigration saying, “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

That made it a bit unclear what California’s troops were actually going to do. National Guard troops are not allowed to arrest people at the border. That’s the job of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Troops from other states were using surveillance equipment and notifying the border patrol if they saw someone trying to cross the border. They were also given jobs doing paperwork and other support roles aimed at freeing up more border patrol officers. But earlier this week the Associated Press reported that California was rejecting most of the actual jobs the border patrol wanted the troops to do.

The state informed federal officials it will not allow its troops to fix and repair vehicles, operate remotely-controlled surveillance cameras to report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, operate radios and provide “mission support,” which can include clerical work, buying gas and handling payroll, according to officials with knowledge of the talks who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The next day, California officials said they were not backing away from sending troops to the border even as a CBP Deputy Commissioner confirmed the core of the Associated Press report, i.e. Gov. Brown would not let his troops do a number of support jobs for the border patrol.

Wednesday, Gov. Brown released a statement saying 400 troops were headed to the border, “after securing the federal government’s commitment this week to fund the mission.” That certainly makes it sound as if some agreement has been reached. But if so, Trump’s tweet this morning appears to be rejecting that agreement. So far, there has not been a response from Gov. Brown clarifying whether or not his National Guard troops are still headed for the border.

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