The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

This Midterm Cycle . . . Doesn’t Look Nearly as Bad for the GOP as It Once Did

U.S. President Donald Trump is applauded by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring former Senate majority leader Bob Dole on Capitol Hill, January 17, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The 2018 midterms are starting to look not-so-bad for Republicans; Facebook finds itself apologizing to users yet again; another Obama-administration lie about the Iran deal is exposed, and a brilliant observation about how we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility that the circumstances for today’s immigrants have changed.

Improving Prospects for Republicans?

There had been some worries that because of California’s “top two finishers of any party advance to the general” primary system, Republicans would get left out of the state’s governor’s race. By that measure, last night was a win for the GOP.

Gavin Newsom, the favorite of the California Democratic Party’s core liberal base, coasted to a first-place finish in Tuesday’s primary election for governor and faces a November showdown with John Cox, a multimillionaire Republican hitched to the far-right policies of President Trump.

The results mark a stunning defeat for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, representing the fall of a politician who embodied the growing power of the Latino electorate when he was elected mayor in 2005. Villaraigosa conceded late in the evening, urging those who voted for him to give their support to his opponent.

That’s a surprising defeat for Villaraigosa, who brought “being in bed with the media” to a new level back in 2007. No doubt he’ll console himself over this defeat by spending more time with his Telemundo correspondent.

No one has any illusions about Cox winning in November, but Golden State Republicans had performed so poorly, and made up such a small share of the state’s registered voters, some feared the GOP simply wouldn’t have many candidates on the general-election ballot. There may not be many competitive statewide elections in California this year, but there are competitive U.S. House district elections, and a November ballot where the GOP simply wasn’t represented on the ballot for the big offices would not be good for Republican turnout.

Meanwhile, looking across the country at the 2018 Senate elections, the latest “deserves reelection” numbers for incumbent senators are terrible. That’s bad news for endangered incumbent Republican Dean Heller in Nevada . . . and bad news for Democrats Bill Nelson in Florida, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Joe Manchin in West Virginia . . . and maybe even Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the buzz that “Beto O’Rourke is going to pull off a miracle for Texas Democrats!” died down after Quinnipiac showed Ted Cruz up by eleven points.

The polls for Republicans continue to look “eh, not so bad.” Unsurprisingly, two of the most popular governors in the country, Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker and Maryland’s Larry Hogan, are in strong position as summer begins. In Pennsylvania, with the newly redrawn U.S. House district lines, Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick is hanging on in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Yes, polls can be wrong, there’s a lot of road ahead, etcetera, etcetera.

Facebook: Oh, Hey, Sorry We Let the Chinese Government Get Your Personal Data

Oh, Facebook. What are we going to do with you?

Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including a manufacturing giant that has a close relationship with China’s government, the social media company said on Tuesday.

The agreements, which date to at least 2010, gave private access to some user data to Huawei, a telecommunications equipment company that has been flagged by American intelligence officials as a national security threat, as well as to Lenovo, Oppo and TCL.

The four partnerships remain in effect, but Facebook officials said in an interview that the company would wind down the Huawei deal by the end of the week.

“Relax, American consumers, Chinese intelligence has to finish collecting all of your personal data by Friday.” I suppose that once the Chinese had obtained 30 years’ worth of information about federal-government workers, including fingerprints, in the hack of the Office of Personnel Management, the only thing left was to start collecting data on the American citizenry.

What does the Chinese government know about Facebook users?

Facebook officials said the agreements with the Chinese companies allowed them access similar to what was offered to BlackBerry, which could retrieve detailed information on both device users and all of their friends — including religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status.

This is the sort of thing that ought to generate as much heat for Facebook as Cambridge Analytica; we will see if the media coverage reflects this. My cynical suspicion is that the nation’s cable-news producers and headline writers and clickbait-chasers find the 2016 Trump campaign way more sinister and menacing than the Chinese government.

Facebook is still running apology ads about the previous scandals and misuse of personal data. “That’s going to change,” the ad declared. “From now on, Facebook is going to do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy.”

No, they’re not! Someone who’s dedicated to keeping us safe and protecting our privacy would stay far, far away from any institution even remotely connected to the Chinese government!

Yet Another Obama-Administration Lie About the Iran Deal

Everything the Obama administration said about the Iran deal was a lie, including the punctuation.

The Obama administration secretly sought to give Iran access — albeit briefly — to the U.S. financial system by sidestepping sanctions kept in place after the 2015 nuclear deal, despite repeatedly telling Congress and the public it had no plans to do so.

An investigation by Senate Republicans released Wednesday sheds light on the delicate balance the Obama administration sought to strike after the deal, as it worked to ensure Iran received its promised benefits without playing into the hands of the deal’s opponents. Amid a tense political climate, Iran hawks in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere argued that the United States was giving far too much to Tehran and that the windfall would be used to fund extremism and other troubling Iranian activity.

The report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that under President Barack Obama, the Treasury Department issued a license in February 2016, never previously disclosed, that would have allowed Iran to convert $5.7 billion it held at a bank in Oman from Omani rials into euros by exchanging them first into U.S. dollars. If the Omani bank had allowed the exchange without such a license, it would have violated sanctions that bar Iran from transactions that touch the U.S. financial system.

The effort was unsuccessful because American banks — themselves afraid of running  afoul of U.S. sanctions — declined to participate. The Obama administration approached two U.S. banks to facilitate the conversion, the report said, but both refused, citing the reputational risk of doing business with or for Iran.

“The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the subcommittee’s chairman.

The administration also lied when it said the Iranians had disclosed all their previous work on its nuclear program.

Despite the administration’s claims that the deal ensured the most extensive monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program ever, nonpartisan experts concluded Iran “did not provide the kind of transparency and cooperation required for the International Atomic Energy Agency to conclude its investigation.”

The administration also lied when it said sanctions would not be lifted until Iran had fully complied.

If you have to constantly lie to the public about what the deal does, maybe it’s a pretty lousy one.

ADDENDA: This observation, from Reihan Salam, is brilliant and cuts to the core of how we debate immigration today:

To allow for the possibility that low-skill immigration has different implications today, when the prospects for upward mobility among low-skill workers are almost universally acknowledged to be bleaker than in years past, before a cavalcade of social and technological changes greatly reduced their power, seems almost sacrilegious. It smacks of dishonoring one’s parents or grandparents. And so piety wins out. We badly want to believe that we still live in a non-zero-sum nation, in which good-paying jobs for low-skill workers are abundant, and opportunities for advancement are always just around the corner. Instead we have taxi drivers who are being driven to suicide because they can’t bear the competition from slightly more desperate people who want the little that they now have. And all this is unfolding at a moment when the labor market is the tightest it has been since the turn of the century, and before the potential of labor-displacing automation is close to being fully realized.


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