PG149: Iran Nuclear Deal, North Korea Summit, Torture & the CIA Nomination, 2018 Primaries, Michael Cohen’s Shenanigans

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This week’s show opens with a look at the Iran nuclear deal that President Trump pulled the U.S. out of. Both Mike and Jay agree that it was an imperfect deal, but Mike feels we should have stayed in and worked to improve it. Jay feels that the deal was far more imperfect than Mike does, but he agrees that the president’s propensity for walking away from international agreements isn’t the best way to handle things.

The Guys next turn to the historic summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, which President Trump announced would be held in Singapore on June 12. Jay sees this as a potential step in the right direction and though Mike has plenty of doubts about President Trump’s diplomatic ability, he agrees that after decades of stalemate, things could possibly be changing for the better. Even so, it’s still very early days, and the U.S. is dealing with an incredibly secretive and untrustworthy country, so expectations should be very low.

After that Mike and Jay discussion Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA. Mike acknowledges Haspel’s experience and expertise, but agrees with Senator John McCain that Haspel’s position on torture / ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is disqualifying. Jay disagrees arguing that much of the outcry against Haspel is simply due to her being Donald Trump’s nominee.

Next is a look at the Senate primary elections in Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana. Neither Mike nor Jay saw much to surprise them, with Jay pointing out that there seemed to be a move away from extreme Republicans.

Finally, Mike and Jay talk about former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen raising millions peddling his connection to the president. Mike says that while this sort of thing goes on all the time – in Republican and Democratic administrations – he’s troubled by yet another Russia connection. Jay sees things more or less the same way, and in discussing the topic he clarifies his position on Trump, Russia, and collusion.

What Mike’s Reading
Why the specter of Marx still haunts the world.

Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx!

Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!

What Jay’s Reading
I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye: Kanye West wants freedom – white freedom. Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Broken Healthcare, The Value of Protest, Labor Unions, Syria, Thoughts on Trump

This listener comment show begins with Mike and Jay taking a question from a listener who wonders if it’s fair to conclude that healthcare in the United States is broken given the far greater amount per capita the U.S. spends to get results not too different from other rich, developed countries. Mike says yes, and Jay doesn’t quite say no, though he points out some important features of the United States that may make international comparisons somewhat tricky.

Next is a listener who writes in to argue against Jay’s seeming dismissal of protests by telling the story of how his experience attending a march led him to become deeply involved in politics. Jay responds by acknowledging that in some cases a protest experience can be a springboard for greater political action, but argues that in most cases that isn’t what happens.

Then it’s a listener questioning the value of labor unions. Mike says that while it’s true that unions may have been slow to adapt to a globalized market, they still have a critical role. Jay, who points out that unions have done a lot of good in the past, is a lot more skeptical about their continued relevance.

After that the Guys make some recommendations for books that cover Clinton shenanigans – books that aren’t partisan hit-jobs but rather well-researched examinations written by highly respected authors. (Yes – those sort of politics books *do* exist.)

This is followed by several questions about Syria, involving the president’s authority to authorize military action and a more macro-level look at U.S. policy in Syria and the Middle East as a whole.

Mike and Jay close the show by answering a listener who wonders what it would take for Jay to be personally appalled by Donald Trump, and what, if anything, Mike likes about the president.

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PG148: Mueller’s Questions for Trump, Pornstar Payoffs, Trump’s Trade Wars, Sprint T-Mobile Merger, States Sue EPA

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The show starts off with Mike and Jay discussing the list of questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller has for President Trump, and whether or not the president will end up answering them. They both agree that it would be extremely unwise for Trump to sit down for an extended interview, even if that means ‘taking the 5th’, which President Trump has previously (and erroneously) suggested only guilty people need to do. As a legal matter, even if Mueller concludes that President Trump obstructed justice, the only remedy is impeachment and removal by Congress, something that would require extremely compelling evidence.

Then it’s a look at the latest in the Stormy Daniels payoff, in light of new Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s statement that the president reimbursed his attorney Michael Cohen for Cohen’s hush money payment to Daniels. Mike thinks that Trump may have known about the payment, but proving it will be extremely difficult. Jay wonders if the media referring to Daniels as a ‘former porn star’ is a way of making her seem more legitimate, though Mike questions whether ‘former porn star’ is really that much better sounding than ‘porn star’.

After that, the Guys talk about trade – specifically the tariff extensions President Trump recently extended to Canada, Mexico, and the EU, as well as a high-level U.S. trade delegation that was in China this week. Jay argues that this is of a piece with Trump’s typical business strategy of staking out a bold position, never letting go of leverage, and walking away from deals if they aren’t favorably enough. Mike points out that this may work in the private sector, but doesn’t always transfer over to global politics all that well.

Then it’s a look at the proposed T-Mobile / Sprint merger. Mike and Jay are in agreement that it’s likely to enhance competition and be a better deal for consumers. Jay thinks that the Trump administration will ultimately not try to block the merger and while Mike hope’s that’s the case, he’s not as optimistic as Jay is about that outcome.

Finally, the Guys discuss the lawsuit filed by 18 states against the EPA’s move to lower fuel economy standards as well as revoke a longstanding waiver that allows California to set more stringent standards. Mike supports the higher standards and the continuation of the waiver, while Jay feels the standards are worth reevaluating and that California shouldn’t be allowed to set its own, tougher standards.

What Jay’s Reading
Why the Justice Department is Defiant. Kimberly Strassel (WSJ – paywall)

What Mike’s Reading
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. James Martin, S.J.

Pope Francis Isn’t Catholicism’s Trump. Andrew Sullivan.

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Kurt Andersen on Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire

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Mike talks with journalist and best-selling author Kurt Andersen about his most recent book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

Mike and Kurt discuss America’s founding by ‘a nutty religious cult’, the long history of American pseudo-empiricism, the dynamic equilibrium between fantasists and realists that made American great, how the fantasists ended up in the driver’s seat, ways in which the 1960s empowered the modern right, Donald Trump as a 21st century P.T. Barnum, and lots more.

Kurt Andersen on Twitter.

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PG 147: North and South Korea Meet, Macron Goes to Washington, How Special of a Special Election in Arizona?, Ronnie Jackson Withdraws, and the Scott Pruitt’s “Secret Science”

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This week Trey and Mike host together for the first time in a number of episodes. Picking up with one of last week’s topics the hosts discuss the meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. Trey and Mike both agree the meeting was important, but it was a show over a substantive policy meeting. Despite the need for caution, both are weakly optimistic about the future. The devil will be in the substantive policy details, especially in the meaning of “complete denuclearization.”

The conversation then turned domestic as Trey and Mike examined Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to the U.S. The hosts argued that President Macron was trying to simultaneously highlight his personal relationship with President Trump while pushing for Trump to concede on a few important policy points. Trey and Mike spend time discussing those policy points, including Syria. tariffs, and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The Trey and Mike didn’t agree on each of these issues and, on Syria, both took opposite policy positions.

The conversation then shifted to the Arizona special election. Both hosts, as political scientists, agree that the actual campaign is generally not the best variable in understanding elections. They discuss how much of the current wave of Democratic inroads is due to over arching structural variables and how much of it is explained by a post-Trump Republican Party.

Next Trey and Mike briefly analyze Dr. Ronnie Jackson’s withdraw from consideration as head of the VA. Trey and Mike agree that the vague accusations were not the right grounds for this to occur, they were simply the “sexiest” news items. Instead the more important, and theoretically boring issue, was the experience to lead such a large organization. That, unfortunately, was not the conversation the American people had.

Finally Trey and Mike have little positive to say about Scott Pruitt. Trey argues, and Mike agreed, that Pruitt has two majors issues: 1) a rule change on “secret science” and 2) a series of potential ethical lapses concerning spending. The hosts, as scientists themselves, spend time explaining why some science requires privacy for participants and the importance of the peer-review process. As for the ethical violations, the problem is everyone is for fiscal conservatism when it is brandished as a weapon, but not so interested in it when in power.

What Trey is Reading

A River in the Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa.

What Mike is Reading

Mencken: The American Iconoclast. Marion Elizabeth Rogers.

Notes on Democracy. H. L. Mencken.

Sheila Tate on First Lady Nancy Reagan

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Mike talks with Sheila Tate, who served as press secretary to First Lady Nancy Reagan from 1981 to 1985. After leaving the White House staff, she co-founded the Washington D.C. public relations firm Powell Tate. She served as press secretary to George H. W. Bush during his successful campaign for the presidency in 1988, as well as for his transition. Sheila remained in close touch with Nancy Reagan after the Reagans returned to California, speaking with her often until Mrs. Reagan’s passing in 2016. Ms. Tate is the author of the recently released book The Lady in Red: An Intimate Portrait of Nancy Reagan.

Mike and Sheila discuss what First Ladies do, what Nancy Reagan was like, the role she played in the Reagan presidency, the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign, her ‘Dragon Lady’ reputation, what people most commonly get wrong about Nancy Reagan, and lots more.

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PG146: North Korea, Russia, Gorsuch Sides with Liberals, Crafty Congressional Republicans, James Comey’s Media Blitz

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This week, Mike welcomes special guest co-host Will Miller, a center-right political scientist. Mike and Will start the show by discussing the upcoming negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea in the wake of Secretary of State Nominee Mike Pompeo’s Easter weekend visit to North Korea and recent indications by the regime that they’re willing to freeze nuclear testing and discuss denuclearization. Both Mike and Will are skeptical, but believe that getting the North talking is a step in the right direction.

After that, it’s a discussion of the Russia sanctions that didn’t happen, when UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement of upcoming sanctions was walked back by the administration, which claimed that Haley had gotten ahead of herself. Mike and Will see this as yet another example of the Trump administration’s poor message discipline – a problem that seems to stem largely from President Trump himself. The Guys also discuss whether additional sanctions should have been imposed.

Next is a discussion of a Supreme Court decision on immigration in which Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch joined with the Court’s four liberals to strike down part of a law used to deport immigrants on the grounds that it is unconstitutionally vague. Will argues that this isn’t really a partisan issue, but rather one of statutory construction, and says that the real surprise is that other conservatives on the Court didn’t have more of a problem with the vague wording of the law.

Then Mike gets to talk about his favorite government agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as explain the intricacies of the Congressional Review Act, which Senate Republicans used to overturn a CFPB ‘guidance’ issued during the Obama administration. Mike says that this is a clever / sneaky move by Republicans that could lead to a good deal more Obama-era regulatory guidance being overturned. Will agrees, but as he’s no fan of regulation, he sees this as a potentially good thing.

The Guys close with a discussion of James Comey’s media blitz and what his new book and memos tell us about whether or not President Trump obstructed justice. Mike says that it tells us next to nothing, and the media is making focusing far too much on the clash of personalities. Will agrees, and says that the Republicans’ move to release the Comey memos may have partially backfired on them.

What Will’s Reading & Watching
Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (PBS documentary)

Why Historically Black College Are Enjoying a Renaissance. (National Geographic)

The Paradox of Choice. Barry Schwartz

What Mike’s Reading
Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Kenneth Whyte

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Economist Tyler Cowen on The Complacent Class

Mike talks with economist Tyler Cowen. In addition to being a professor of Economics at George Mason University, Dr. Cowen blogs at Marginal Revolution, hosts the ‘Conversations with Tyler‘ podcast, is a regular contributor at Bloomberg View, and is the author of a number of books, including The Great Stagnation, An Economist Gets Lunch, Average is Over  and The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, which recently came out in paperback.

Mike and Tyler discuss how the United States got so complacent, the rise of segregation, monopolies and anti-trust regulation, ‘matching’ and inequality, why Americans don’t riot like they used to, Brazil as the best comparison country to the United States, Donald Trump’s ‘placebo presidency’, if the future belongs to China, and lots more.

Tyler Cowen on Twitter 

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PG145: US Strike on Syria, Ryan Out, Zuckerberg Testifies, Cohen Raid, IG McCabe Report

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Mike and Jay open the show with a discussion of the US-led missile strike on Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure, in response to Syria’s alleged chemical attack on Syrian insurgents. Both Mike and Jay agree that the international community can’t stand by and allow anyone to use chemical weapons, and they feel the strike was justified. Mike takes issue with the way the strike happened, arguing that President Trump doesn’t have the Constitutional authority to carry out such attacks without Congressional authorization.

After that, they discuss House Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement that he would not seek reelection. Mike points out that Ryan is the 27th Republican in Congress to either resign or not seek reelection, compared to only 11 Democrats, which suggests to him that many Republicans know a ‘blue wave’ is coming. Jay doesn’t entirely buy this, arguing that many Republicans may simply be tiring of working with President Trump. Both Mike and Jay feel that Ryan has been unfairly portrayed by many in the left-wing media as an ‘evil guy who hates the poor’, though Mike points out that the right engages in this sort of thing all the time too, when they say that liberals ‘hate America’.

Next is a look at Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s nearly 10 hours of testimony before Congress. They both thing he did a good job, and that it’s unlikely any government regulation of Facebook is coming, at least not in the short term. Jay doubts whether the attempt by Russia to use Facebook to help defeat Hillary Clinton was very important. Mike agrees, but argues that the fact that a hostile foreign power was making any attempt is reason for serious concern.

Following that is discussion of the FBI raid of Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s office, including the seizure of attorney-client communications. Jay says that this is very serious, and suggests that there may be a double standard at work, with officials being more willing to authorize actions targeted at President Trump than they would be against others. Mike disputes this, saying that he’s more inclined to trust in the integrity of top FBI and Justice Department officials than he is to trust in the integrity of President Trump.

In a semi-related story, Mike and Jay talk about the Department of Justice’s Inspector General report on former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, which concluded that McCabe lied to investigators as well as to former FBI Director James Comey about a story leaked to the Wall Street Journal. They discuss President Trump’s reaction to the finding – that McCabe was under Comey’s control – and point out that that’s the exact opposite of what the report concludes. Mike point out that this IG finding puts something of a hole in the narrative of some on the left that McCabe was unfairly forced out of the FBI.

What Jay’s Reading
Guys and Dolls: The Stories of Damon Runyon.

What Mike’s Listening To
Ezra Klein talks to Sam Harris about Charles Murray.

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Danielle McDonald on Barriers to Justice

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Mike talks to Dr. Danielle McDonald, a criminal justice professor at Northern Kentucky University about her book Race, Gender, Class, and Criminal Justice: Examining Barriers to Justice.

Mike and Danielle discuss racial profiling, the militarization of law enforcement, problems with public defenders, racial sentencing disparities, and capital punishment.

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