Tariff Advocate Accused of Writing Fiction

Peter Navarro talks status of NAFTA negotiations

The Story:

Peter Navarro, an economist with the titles “Assistant to the President” and “Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy” in the White House, has been one of the very few figures with any academic credibility willing to support this administration’s “trade wars.” Recent revelations about the inclusion of a fictional source in his writings on the subject will surely harm that credibility.


President Donald J. Trump’s controversial tariffs, and the trade wars they have set off, have received very little by way of academic defense. The opinion of most scholars of world trade is that tariffs have very little to recommend them, and that if they get out of hand (as with the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930) they can prove catastrophic.

An investigation conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that there is no such person as “Ron Vara.” Vara is a supposed source for information that Dr. Navarro has drawn upon in six books, with ominous titles such as Death by China. (That particular title comes from a book Navarro co-authored with Greg Autry.)

The Thing to Know:

Upon being confronted by CHE, Autry admitted that “Vara” was not real. But he defended “Vara’s” presence in that book, and Navarro’s other work, as “a little bit of fun.”  It should be understood that inventing imaginary characters, acknowledged as such nowhere in the text, is of course not proper procedure, much less “fun,” in academic (non-fiction) publishing.

The Newly Normal Impeachment Process

It's Been 44 Years Since Richard Nixon Resigned In Disgrace | Morning Joe | MSNBC

The Story:

The impeachment of a US President was once a very rare event. A child born in 1870 might have lived to be a century old and that lifespan would not have overlapped with a single serious impeachment/removal effort regarding any President of any party. But there have now been three occasions in the last half century in which the House of Representatives has geared up the impeachment machinery: 1974, 1998, and now in 2019. The extraordinary has been normalized.

Reluctance Overcome:

This time around the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was for months reluctant to put the impeachment machinery in gear. She evidently feared that doing so would interfere with other items of business more dear to her heart, such as the drafting of a law that would limit or lower the price of some prescription drugs.

But as of this writing Pelosi is completely on board with impeachment, and there may be a vote by the full House on the articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving.

The Thing to Know:

The House brings charges (its vote to do so is the act of impeachment proper) and the Senate then treats the “articles” of impeachment as counts of an indictment and it puts the President on trial on those counts. Chief Justice Roberts would preside over the trial. In the event of a 2/3 vote finding the President guilty, (that is, 67 votes “yes”), President Donald Trump will be removed from office.

Insanity, Execution, and the US Supreme Court

The Story:

The US Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments again on the first Monday in October. This year that falls on October 7.  Some fascinating and politically sensitive cases sit on the docket for the forthcoming session, including a controversy over the constitutional status of the insanity defense, which the Justices will hear on that first day back from their break.


The 14th amendment to the US Constitution provides that “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The Supreme Court has long held that the due process requirement is most stringent for the first of those threats, a proposed deprivation of life: that is, there is a “super due process” required for application of the death penalty.

In a matter that the Court will hear Monday, lawyers for a death row inmate will argue that a Kansas law abolishing the insanity defense in a capital matter deprived their client of this necessary super due process of law, and they will ask that his sentence be overturned.

The Thing to Know: 

The Supreme Court’s capital-punishment jurisprudence has always been unpredictable, and the addition of two Donald Trump nominees to the bench over the last two years has not by any means made this case a ‘slam dunk’ for Kansas.

Secretary Pompeo May Run for Senate

Mike Pompeo calls reporter’s question ‘insulting’

The Story:

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, may run for a seat in the Senate from his home state of Kansas next year. Amid widespread speculation on the subject, Pompeo has neither confirmed nor denied such a plan.


One of Kansas’ Senators, Pat Roberts, announced early this year that he will not run for reelection next year. Roberts is a Republican, and the Democratic Party would presumably love to pick up this seat as part of the larger goal of gaining a majority in that chamber. Running a strong candidate to replace Roberts is, likewise, a critical goal for the Republicans.

Secretary Pompeo spoke at Kansas State University on Friday, September 6. He did not speak on the subject of his ambitions, but stuck with the advertised topic of human rights as a matter of foreign policy. He made reference, for example, to the oppression of the Uighurs in China.

The Thing to Know:

One issue of more pressing concern for many Kansans than the rights of the Uighurs may be Kansans’ ability to sell their wheat to China, an ability threatened by the administration’s trade war. Pompeo’s association with that trade policy may be a hindrance should he make the run for Senate there.

Changes at Fox News: The President is Unhappy

Judge Jeanine: Dems have turned into an angry, unreasonable mob

The Story:

Fox News, part of the Murdoch publishing empire, has long been considered friendly to Donald Trump — first as a candidate and later as a President. Now, though, the times may be a-changing.


Just four days after his inauguration, President Trump took time off from mastering his new duties to tweet congratulations to Fox News for having gotten the highest television ratings in its coverage of inauguration events. Fox ratings, he said, were “many times higher” than CNN’s, because the “public is smart.”  Since then (January 24, 2017) there has been a lot of mutual admiration between POTUS and Fox.

On August 28, 2019, though, the President tweeted about Fox with a very different tone. He wrote, “The News @FoxNews is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new news outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” This prompted responses from various Fox personalities along the lines of, “we aren’t supposed to work for him — we cover him.”

The Thing to Know:

It may be one sign of the shift in the winds at Fox that one of the most staunchly pro-Trump commentators there, Judge Jeanine Pirro, was briefly suspended from the air in March of this year, for a blatantly anti-Moslem comment. More recently, (September 3) Pirro complained to the host of a webcast that Fox might fire her, “You know I’m worried that that suspension was the basis to tee up for anything I’m doing wrong, they’ll fire me.”


Schultz, Citing ‘Spoiler’ Prospect, Bows Out of 2020

The Story:

Throughout 2019, Howard Schultz, the man behind the explosive growth of the Starbucks coffee empire in the 1990s, has been very publicly contemplating the use of his wealth to mount a third-party campaign for President of the United States. Last week, though, he decided that he will not, after all, run such a campaign.


The old political term “spoiler” refers to a candidate with little or no chance of prevailing himself who nonetheless divides support for one side of a campaign, therefore intentionally or not spoiling that side’s chances and allowing the other side to prevail.

Many in the Democratic Party, for example, have criticized Ralph Nader as a spoiler in connection with the campaign of 2000, when Nader arguably took critical votes in Florida away from the Democratic nominee Al Gore, allowing Republican Gorge W. Bush’s victory in that state, and in the final result.

The Thing to Know:

In his statement Friday, Schultz said “There is considerable concern that four more years of a Trump administration pose a graver threat to our democracy than four more years of political dysfunction.” In the end, he was persuaded by that concern.

The 2020 Senate Campaign: Tennessee

The Story:

Senator Lamar Alexander (R – Tenn.) has been a prominent figure in US politics for a long time: in the Senate, or in the Tennessee Governor’s mansion, or in the cabinet of President George H.W. Bush. But Alexander is now retiring from public life, and the campaign of 2020 shall decide who replaces him in the Senate.


It seems likely, although not certain, that the Republican Party will nominate Bill Hagerty to take the Alexander seat. Hagerty is at present the US Ambassador to Japan.

On the Democratic side, the only declared candidate for nomination for this post thus far is James Mackler, both an attorney (who has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney) and a twitter denizen. In that latter capacity Mackler has tweeted in a way that signals a campaign theme: “There’s common ground to fix our bridges, roads, & invest in 21st century infrastructure.”

The Thing to Know:

President Trump has endorsed Hagerty. One former Governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, has endorsed Mackler. A campaign between Hagerty and Mackler next fall could draw on national reserves of money and receive nationwide attention.  It could in other words, become the next “Sen. Cruz versus O’Rourke.”

Eugene Scalia: A New Political Flashpoint

The Story:

President Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia to be the next US Secretary of Labor: the confirmation hearings are sure to be contentious and to open up a new round of arguments over the administration’s regulatory policies and their impact on employees of major for-profit corporations.


In May of this year, Trump’s Labor Department quietly announced that it might change regulations under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some administration officials have argued that the existing regulations are too permissive, allowing employees to game the system. They would like new rules that would empower employers to investigate the realities behind an employee’s injury claim.

Confirmation hearings for a Labor Secretary are a sensible time for the Senators who would presumably oppose such a change to press for specifics on the planned changes, why they are necessary and appropriate, and where the new nominee stands.

The Thing to Know:

Eugene Scalia is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who until his death in 2016 had developed a formidable reputation as a conservative jurist. The famous family connection helps contribute to Eugene Scalia’s value to each side of the political wars, either as mascot or as target.

Epstein Scandal Fells a Trump Cabinet Member II

Washington Post obtains confidential draft IRS legal memo about Trump's taxes

The Story:

One can not say with any level of assurance what impact the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein last week, or the subsequent resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, will have on the politics of 2020 and on Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in particular. But it surely helps emphasize one of Trump’s weaknesses.


During the 2016 campaign, an audiotape surfaced of Donald Trump talking in graphic terms about how celebrity status would allow him to get away with grabbing the private parts of women. Trump has in fact been accused of sexual assault by a number of women, most recently by E. Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine advice columnist. In September 2018, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, came forward with accusations that she was assaulted in 1982 by Brett Kavanaugh, who was at the time of the accusation President Trump’s nominee for an open seat on the US Supreme Court.

Ford’s testimony did not derail the Kavanaugh confirmation process: he is Justice Kavanagh now.

In the light of all this, one might presume that the last thing the Trump 2020 re-election campaign needs is any connection between the administration on the one hand and convicted, now re-arrested, sex offender Jeffrey Epstein on the other.

The Thing to Know:

On the other hand, if the Democratic candidate seeks to score points during next year’s campaign on the basis of this connection, the President and his partisans will be sure to point out that Epstein had a personal relationship for some years with former President Bill Clinton, still an important ‘elder statesman’ in that Party. Epstein was a great networker, and given his disgraced state at present there may be many more shoes to drop.

Epstein Scandal Fells a Trump Cabinet Member I

Acosta's press conference on the Epstein matter

The Story:

Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta resigned that cabinet post Friday, July 12, less than a week after the arrest of financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges. Acosta has received a lot of criticism for a plea deal he reached with Epstein to settle similar charges eleven years ago, when Acosta was the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

A “Thing to Know” column tomorrow will look at the likely political impact of the scandal and this resignation. This column focuses on the Epstein/Acosta deal itself.

The Deal:

In the 2008 case, Acosta’s office drafted a detailed 53 page indictment based on the testimony of dozens of victims concerning a large cult-like network, in which Epstein presided over young female recruiters and the underage girls they chose as his victims, and the victims of his friends.

The settlement required Epstein to plead guilty to only two counts in connection with prostitution. In return, Acosta effectively shut down an FBI inquiry that, if aggressively pursued, could have resulted in Epstein spending the rest of his life in prison.

Instead, under Acosta’s deal, Epstein spent just 13 months in a county lock-up, leaving each day (except Sunday) for 12 hours of work.

The Thing to Know:

Intrepid reporting by Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald kept the case alive over the intervening years. The New York US Attorney’s office (which is not bound by the Miami agreement) has credited Brown’s reporting as the inspiration of its own investigation and Epstein’s arrest.