Sunday, March 4, 2018

Last Call For Betting It All

As constant scold Josh Kraushaar points out, the GOP is in real trouble in the upcoming special election in PA-18 in ten days, looking at a tied race in a district Trump won by 20 points.  Trump is now betting the future of the GOP on the past: ugly trade wars and protectionism.

Here’s how tricky things have gotten for Republicans: GOP outside groups have dramatically scaled back their ads promoting the party’s tax cut, with the messaging barely moving the needle in the district’s working-class confines. The latest round of advertisements focus on law-and-order issues, like immigration and crime. A new spot from the Paul Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC slams Lamb for supporting “amnesty to illegal immigrants” because he “worked in the Obama administration.” A National Republican Congressional Committee ad portrays Lamb as soft on crime because he negotiated a plea deal with a notorious drug kingpin during his tenure as a federal prosecutor. These culture-war ads are reminiscent of those run by Ed Gillespie in his failed Virginia gubernatorial campaign, and they carry the whiff of desperation.

Meanwhile, Republicans are sufficiently concerned about the energy from the Democratic base that CLF is distributing a mailer in suburban precincts of Allegheny County “thanking” Lamb for supporting gun rights. It’s a cynical attempt to dampen Democratic enthusiasm for his campaign. The mailer, first reported by The Washington Post, underscores how even in a district where Second Amendment support is strong, gun control has become a fresh rallying cry for a supercharged Democratic electorate post-Parkland.

In another warning sign for Republicans, there are indications that conservative-minded voters in this district value government entitlements as much as tax cuts. Lamb’s rebuttal to the GOP tax-cut argument was that he supported “middle-class tax cuts” but not ones that could lead to cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In an acknowledgment that the Democratic message resonated, a new CLF ad turns the tables and accuses Pelosi of supporting “massive Medicare cuts” while arguing that Lamb “won’t protect seniors.” As Republicans learned in the 2016 presidential campaign, the agenda backed by GOP donors doesn’t necessarily jibe with the issues that the GOP rank-and-file cares about—especially in a blue-collar district like this one.

Republicans are eager to pin a disappointing result in this election on their candidate—state Rep. Rick Saccone—but the reality is the race is being defined on Trump’s terms. Saccone is running as an unapologetic Trump supporter, calling himself the president’s “wingman” in an interview with National Journal last month. Trump will be campaigning for Saccone on March 10, and he is likely to promote his newly announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. It’s a protectionist position that Saccone quickly embraced, and one that is popular with the district’s sizable union membership.

This southwest Pennsylvania district is about as Trumpian as it gets: racially homogeneous, predominantly blue-collar, and filled with energy workers revolutionizing the region’s economy. To Lamb’s credit, he’s run a disciplined campaign and staked out moderate views on guns and fracking that have distinguished him from typical Democrats. But if Republicans can’t hold onto this seat with more than $9 million of outside GOP money invested here, it will serve as an awfully rude awakening to what’s likely to come for the midterms.

Trump clearly believes steel and Aluminum tariffs will "make America great again" and in the short run it's going to help, it may even be enough to save the GOP in PA-18 (and hey, Trump's said he'd do a lot of things that he hasn't bothered to actually do yet.)

But if he goes through on these tariffs, the odds of us crashing into a depression get exponentially higher.  It might save Trump's neck but everyone else, including the Rust Belt, will pay dearly.  At least one Trump cabinet member is very loudly saying that the tariffs will happen.

Sort of.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Sunday said he has no reason to believe President Donald Trump will reverse his controversial tariff announcement this week, but left room for the often unpredictable president to change his mind.

Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen,” Ross said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.” “What he has said he has said; if he says something different, it'll be something different.”

“The president has announced that this will happen this week. I have no reason to think otherwise," Ross added

Trump announced a plan Thursday to impose a tariff of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum, which sent the stock market into a tumble and sparked fierce pushback from numerous Republicans in Congress amid international fears over a trade war.

Some United States trading partners have threatened retaliation, but Ross indicated that wasn't a concern. He did not say whether any nations could get an exception.

"Retaliation isn't going to change the price of a can of beer," he said. "It isn't going to change the price of a car. It's just not going to."

The GOP just bet their entire political future on the above sentence.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Dictator

As Chinese President Xi Jinping has now abolished term limits on his own office, meaning the 64-year-old can and most probably will be China's leader into 2030 and beyond, Donald Trump's reaction to such a clear warning that Beijing is becoming far more aggressive and authoritarian is that hey, maybe we should get rid of the 22nd Amendment!

President Donald Trump bemoaned a decision not to investigate Hillary Clinton after the 2016 presidential election, decrying a "rigged system" that still doesn't have the "right people" in place to fix it, during a freewheeling speech to Republican donors in Florida on Saturday. 
In the closed-door remarks, a recording of which was obtained by CNN, Trump also praised China's President Xi Jinping for recently consolidating power and extending his potential tenure, musing he wouldn't mind making such a maneuver himself. 
"He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day." 
The remarks, delivered inside the ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago estate during a lunch and fundraiser, were upbeat, lengthy, and peppered with jokes and laughter. But Trump's words reflected his deeply felt resentment that his actions during the 2016 campaign remain under scrutiny while those of his former rival, Hillary Clinton, do not. 
"I'm telling you, it's a rigged system folks," Trump said. "I've been saying that for a long time. It's a rigged system. And we don't have the right people in there yet. We have a lot of great people, but certain things, we don't have the right people."

Oh but Zandar, he's joking!

Oh, but he's not.  And even if somehow this was a bad attempt at humor, given Trump's record of actions, it's not very funny now is it?  This guy is still a fascist.  He's not joking about wanting to lock Hillary up, and openly calling on the Attorney General to do it.

Trump has repeatedly said that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should launch investigations into Clinton, and has continued to lambast Sessions on Twitter for not taking what he views as appropriate steps to probe Clinton's actions involving her private email server. 
The stewing anger with Sessions has soured Trump's mood over the past week, including on Wednesday evening, when he fumed inside the White House over his attorney general's decision to release a statement defending himself after Trump chastised his approach to an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses as "DISGRACEFUL" on Twitter.

Trump doesn't joke about his authoritarian impulses, folks.  Never.

Sunday Long Read: Working As Intended

Firearms remain the only product that when works as advertised, kills things, and when the product is clearly defective, it's still deadly.  Brazilian gun manufacturer Taurus has sold potentially a million firearms in the US with defective safeties that can still fire even when in the safe position when the gun is bumped, jarred, or dropped, and the NRA has made sure that no gunmaker can be touched for such a lethal product liability.  Bud and Sonie Brown found that out the hard way on New Year's Eve in 2016.

The simple answer is that no government entity has the power to police defective firearms or ammunition in America—or even force gunmakers to warn consumers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission can order the recall and repair of thousands of things, from toasters to teddy bears. If a defective car needs fixing, the U.S. Department of Transportation can make it happen. The Food and Drug Administration deals with food, drugs, and cosmetics. Only one product is beyond the government’s reach when it comes to defects and safety: firearms. Not even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can get defective guns off the market. If a gunmaker chooses to ignore a safety concern, there’s no one to stop it.

To understand how firearms makers escaped government oversight of the safety of their pistols, revolvers, and rifles, you need to go back to 1972, when Congress created the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Four years earlier, President Lyndon B. Johnson had signed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which regulated several aspects of firearm sales, and advocates of gun control hoped to give this new agency oversight of defective weapons. Representative John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan and a hunter with an A-plus rating from the ascendant NRA, blocked them. In 1975 he did it again, when a colleague introduced a bill making a second run at giving the CPSC firearms authority. “We put in there an express prohibition against them getting their nose into the business of regulating firearms and ammunition,” Dingell said in debate in Congress. That second bill was crushed, 339-80, and the issue has never been seriously considered again.

For Brown, none of that explains why he hadn’t heard that Taurus had sold bad guns. It’s one thing if the government didn’t do anything, but he reads every issue of American Rifleman, the NRA’s official magazine, and he never saw a warning about Taurus guns. “Why didn’t the NRA warn us? I guess there’s too much money and politics going into the NRA, so they had reason not to tell us,” he says.

The NRA lists gun safety as among its concerns, and in recent years, American Rifleman has covered voluntary safety recalls from Colt’s Manufacturing, FN America, and SIG Sauer. But articles on Taurus’s class-action settlement or any of the lawsuits could not be found by search on the magazine’s website. Shooting Illustrated, another NRA publication, ran a three-paragraph story on the class-action settlement.

Taurus and the NRA have had a mutually beneficial relationship for years. A lot of that was the work of Robert Morrison, president of Miami Lakes-based Taurus International Manufacturing Inc., until 2011. Morrison is a close friend of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president. Taurus has received at least eight NRA awards and has been mentioned in dozens of articles in American Rifleman.

Morrison started as an independent Taurus salesman in 1994 before moving up through the ranks to run U.S. operations in 2004. He aggressively used the NRA to sell guns, introducing a program, still in effect, whereby anyone who buys a Taurus weapon is given a free one-year membership in the NRA. The strategy appears to have worked: In 2016, American Riflemanprofiled an Alabama pawnshop that sold 1,000 Taurus firearms in a month with the promotion. The standard price for an NRA membership is currently $40.

Many Taurus models are considered starter guns. Bass Pro Shops, one of the largest firearms sellers in the country, sells nine Taurus-made models for under $400, including the $179.99 Heritage Rough Rider revolver. The cheapest Glock—a brand that works a different part of the handgun market—is $469.99.

The low end sees plenty of activity. Last year, six Taurus guns made category-based top-10-selling lists published by Gun Genius, a website owned by LLC, the country’s largest online auction platform for firearms. That included the Taurus Model 85, the No. 1-selling revolver in America, which goes for as little as $219 on (The NRA didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment for this article. Morrison, reached at his Florida home by phone, didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

The NRA is not an enthusiast's group or consumer protection organization, although it used to be.  For the last couple of decades the NRA has been a gunmaker's lobbyist group, the most effective industry lobbyist organization in political history.  They always win.  And like any pusher, they need cheap foreign starter product with shoddy safety to get new members hooked.

But maybe, just maybe, that will start to change.
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