Friday, December 09, 2022

Beyond Whelan

This is fairly typical of Republican criticism of the Bout for Griner trade made by the Biden Administration:

And so is this:

The hypocrite-in-Chief, who as President refused to be bothered by Whelan's imprisonment, posted on his Truth Social "Why wasn't former Marine Paul Whelan included in this totally one-sided transaction? He would have been let out for the asking. What a 'stupid' and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA!!!"

Whelan deserved to be released by Russia, just as Brittney deserved and was. After making an offer, in May Secretary of State spokesman Kirby had stated “We urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal, so we can get these two individuals home. The details of it, I think, are best left between us and our Russian counterparts.” A few days ago, he stated that he was he was “led to believe that things were moving in the right direction and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.”

The President’s critics have not only focused on Whelan, their expressed concern for those left behind in Russia has been confined to the ex-Marine.  Why is that?

The answer, at least partially, is that he is a Marine. Not currently, but formerly. After enlisting in the Marines, he rose to the level of staff sergeant, served two tours in Iraq, and later was discharged for bad conduct “after being convicted of several charges related to larceny, according to the records.”

That was in 2008, fourteen years ago, and if the Administration’s negotiators didn’t resemble marks at a poker table, the deal Joe Biden signed off on wouldn’t have been one-sided.

While determined to bring a basketball star home, the Administration should address the plight of other Americans, including doing work important to both the American people and their government.

The Washington Post in July reported

“There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,” Jane Fogel said. “It’s terrifying. I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”

In suburban Pittsburgh, Jane Fogel has been watching the Griner case spool out and wondered whether her husband has been forgotten. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, received a call from the president. The Fogels have been stalled at the mid-functionary level of the U.S. State Department. Speculation about a possible prisoner swap before Blinken’s announcement on Wednesday had earlier trickled into his Russian prison cell, compounding his anxiety.

“That hurt,” Marc Fogel wrote in a letter home referencing the prisoner-exchange reports. “Teachers are at least as important as bballers.”

Surely he jests. He believes teachers are at least as important as basketball players. I believe teachers are at least as important as basketball players.

But whatever the First Lady's professional background, the Biden Administration doesn't believe teachers are at least as important as basketball players. Democrats are partial, as Representative Walz maintains, to celebrities- and being a lesbian and black didn't hurt her. And Republicans are avoiding the opportunity presented to them in promoting the importance of teachers. After all, Foley wasn't a Marine.

So Marc Fogel- and others- languish. They are not stars, and they are not ex-Marines. And, so, they get left behind, unsurprising given the quality of the people we've been electing for years.



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Thursday, December 08, 2022


This is exactly what President Joe Biden and the State Department wanted to hear:

Amid criticism of the Biden Administration for failure to secure the release of Paul Whelan when it traded convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout for Britney Griner, Whelan's brother has applauded the deal which, reportedly unavoidably, left the other high-profile captive of the Kremlin behind. His written statement included "The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen.

In so doing, he emphasized the importance of bringing back to the USA political prisoners, of whom his brother is one. In supporting the "deal that was possible" rather than waiting for an unlikely one, he was encouraging the Administration to do the same for his brother. And "you got the release of a gay black basketball star and left my brother behind" probably would not have gone over very well.

Gaining buy-in (publicly, anyway) from the Whelan family, whose supporters on Twitter are incensed that the ex-Marine remains in Russian custody, was critical for the Administration. It gives it breathing room to continue negotiating for the release of Whelan, an outcome now made a little likelier, notwithstanding the Administration's significantly reduced leverage. Going into the 2024 election after securing the release of a basketball star while leaving behind an ex-Marine would not be good for Joe Biden's political health, nor that of his party.

The President, as well as his acolytes in traditional and social media, will contend that this is the best deal that could have been made. In his statement Thursday morning announcing the swap, Biden contended "This was not a choice of which Americans to bring home. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's."

Tastefully, the President has chosen not to turn the deal into a victory lap, which would be unwarranted. And good thing, too, because asked in late May about speculation that convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout would be part of a bargain with the Kremlin

White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday the focus was on getting Griner and Whelan home.

“We urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal, so we can get these two individuals home,” Kirby said. “The details of it, I think, are best left between us and our Russian counterparts.”

Saale said releasing Bout would send a message that detaining Americans can yield major concessions from the U.S. government. But the administration, he added, is stuck “between a rock and a hard place” at this stage. A prisoner swap of this sort is “probably one of the only ways they’re going to get [Griner and Whelan] out.”

Another former official who worked on international prisoner exchanges said the Russians have raised the issue of Bout’s release many times before, but such an exchange “has always been a hard no” from the U.S. Justice Department.

“I know Blinken is having discussions, but I can’t imagine Blinken agreeing to it,” said the former official, adding that “lower-level criminals” who are nearing the end of their sentences would be more likely candidates for an exchange. The former official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing case.

So make no mistake about it. The USA has gone in 6-7 months from the likelihood that the State Department would be unwilling to trade Viktor Bout for even two Americans, Griner and Whelan, to a deal in which the notorious criminal is exchanged for only one of the Americans.

Arguing that a deal is better than no deal, officials will applaud this outcome, as they will when an agreement eventually is reached for the release of Paul Whelan.  But given the terms reached this time with our adversary, the most reasonable conclusion is that we've been had.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Not Joe

Journalist excited about the outcome of Senate elections tweets before thinking:

Individuals don't vote for or against members of the President's party because the President is doing a good or bad job. They vote in large measure because of a perception of whether the President is performing well- and whether the things are going well, especially when his party ostensibly controls both chambers of Congress.

As of the date of the congressional elections (November 8, 2022), approval of President Biden stood at 41%-42%, disapproval at 53%-55%.  (It has improved since then, but is still "underwater.")  

The right track-wrong track numbers are even more startling at first glance, although some voters believe the country is on the wrong track while nonetheless supporting the Chief Executive. A Morning Consult "right track- wrong direction" survey (updated 12/5/2022) found that only 30% of voters presently believe the nation is on the right track while 70% believe it's headed in the wrong direction. On November 5, as you would expect, the numbers were even worse, at 26%-74%.  Dropping gas prices can be quite the palliative.

So, no, Mr. Millhiser, something else is at play. In late November, The Washington Post reported that Ballotpedia

broke out key battleground races for 2022, contests that weren’t simply Trump rubber-stamping the likely Republican winner. In those, they estimate, Trump’s candidate won in only 14 of 37 general-election contests (though the results are incomplete, awaiting other election calls). That includes Oz’s loss in Pennsylvania.

Georgia is particularly instructive. As has been frequently noted, Herschel Walker ran significantly behind Brian Kemp, as the latter won his race to be re-elected as Georgia governor. Additionally, Kemp had won re-nomination by defeating by roughly 42 points the candidate, David Perdue, who had the endorsement of Trump. 

In most states, Trump's support aided the GOP candidate in the party primary.  However, most were bad candidates. Kari Lake appeared to be a very strong candidate and likely to win the election for governor of Arizona. However- and even though she opposed a weak Democratic candidate running a bad campaign- Lake came out on the losing end.

So Donald Trump contributed mightily to preventing the "red wave" some observers expected. Nonetheless, as Cook Political Report found (as of mid-November) that Republican House candidates in the nation as a whole won the popular vote "51.7 to 46.8 percent, a result that would normally translate into GOP gains of 20-30 seats." It argued "This time, candidate quality and the toxicity of former President Trump and the MAGA movement hurt certain Republicans where it mattered most."

That's not President Joe Biden- that's Donald J. Trump and unless voters perceive 23-24 months from now that Democrats have delivered the goods, the outcome likely will be much worse.



I think this is dead-wrong:

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Calendar Error

There may be no better indication of what is wrong with the Democratic Party (or at least the liberal street)  than this.

No, not the article, which is very sound, nor Chris Hayes' positive response to it. Instead, it's the comments of the liberal twitterati which, as usual, is obsessed with a four-letter word.

"Because you have always been a racist bro.Full stop. You dragged Hillary. You cannot bring yourself to support VP Harris. You love Bernie. Case Closed dude. it is dude isn't it?"

"Both IA & NH are 90% white. You find it “persuasive” that Bernie Sanders’ advisor (no agenda, right?) is trashing SC— a state more demographically representative of the Democratic Party? ..."

"I’ll save you all some time—Faiz doesn’t mention “Black voters” once in the piece."

"Faiz Shakir has done the almost impossible: Write an entire article about the Democratic primary process without once using the words “race” or “African-American.” It’s as if he saw nothing but a world of white voters yearning for socialism. Hey, BernieBro: Black Lives Exist."

"The piece literally comments (sic) Biden for choosing to move Nevada, Michigan and Georgia earlier because of their diversity And then recommends NC as an alternative to SC because it has a large Black population, but is actually a swing state."

Well, actually, diversity wasn't Faiz Shakir's rationale in applauding that portion of President Biden's plan to shake up the Democratic nominating process. It was because, if including New Hampshire

All four of these states have the distinction of being among the 10 closest states in the 2020 presidential election.

Why does it matter that general election battlegrounds are placed so early in the process? This is a Democratic team effort to invest in voter outreach, voter contact and voter enthusiasm at a much earlier stage, for a longer period, with more resources.

Shakir also recognizes that Iowa should be replaced as the state with the first contest- but not by South Carolina. Going first is a "special honor" and

South Carolina is not a battleground state: Mr. Trump carried it by double digits in 2020. It is way more ideologically and culturally conservative than our party and our nation. And the state is not trending in any way toward the Democratic Party.

Moreover, Shakir notes, launching the nominating process conveys a considerable economic advantage to the state and Iowa

has benefited greatly over the years from the high level of campaign spending and travel. Aware of the process’s economic power, many of our Democratic campaigns employed union-friendly hotels, restaurants and vendors when we were active in Iowa. Good luck finding that in South Carolina, one of the fiercest anti-union, anti-labor states in the country. In fact, South Carolina is already first in the nation at something that it shouldn’t be proud of; it is the lowest-density union state in America. It should thus never be in contention to be first on our calendar.

Good luck, Shakir, in getting center-left liberals, for whom "economic class" or "worker rights" might as well be a four-letter word, to agree that a state with a majority of its primary voters black shouldn't be given priority simply because of race.

The premise of the argument over South Carolina is that being first is most consequential in choosing a nominee.  I think, ironically, that South Carolina and its political class would benefit most by remaining third, but that's a distinctly minority opinion.

When President Biden recently sent his letter to the Democratic National Committee, he invoked the word "diversity" six times. However, South Carolina is not especially diverse. Its population is disproportionately African-American; it is not a state with a substantial number of Latinos, Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders, or American Indians/indigenous persons.  You would look to, among others, California, Nevada, and New Jersey for this, were that the intent.

Nor is South Carolina economically diverse, with 1.7% of its wage and salary workers unionized in 2021 while the national average was 10.3% (probably about 10.5% without considering S.C., which brings the average down).

There are several possible reasons Biden & Co. are promoting South Carolina: to give the President himself an (probably unneeded) edge in a re-election battle; to reward Jim Clyburn, without whom Biden would have had little shot of being nominated in 2016; to boost the Vice-President in her expected bid in 2028 (or in 2024 if the President bows out).

But it comes down to race, which Biden nearly acknowledged but won't, and which everyone realizes, but won't themselves acknowledge. 

The closest anyone comes to being forthright are the race-obsessed Twitter liberals who charge  Shakir and anyone questioning South Carolina's primacy with animus toward African-Americans. They seem to have forgotten that whites are not the only members of unions. Members of other ethnic groups also belong to unions, and blacks in greater percentages than whites.

Yet, that's not terribly important in today's Democratic Party, which could boast of its first decidedly pro-union President in a few generations. It could, but it won't. And this time, Joe Biden isn't helping.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Not Him, Them

Former President Donald Trump called for the termination of the Constitution to overturn the 2020 election and reinstate him to power Saturday in a continuation of his election denialism and pushing of fringe conspiracy theories.

“Do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump wrote in a post on the social network Truth Social and accused “Big Tech” of working closely with Democrats. “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

So Bill Kristol is correct:

When discussion turns to the issue of why very few GOP officials criticize the ex-President, many pundits and virtually all Democrats asked maintain that those Republicans fear the GOP base.  Democratic politicians assure their audiences that in private, GOP politicians tell them that of course, they don't agree with Trump but must keep silent or Republican voters will turn against them.

Those Democrats are being played. They're told by their Republican colleagues what the latter know the former want to hear. It's the fault of those unwashed, perhaps ignorant, Republicans in the street rather than their fellow Senators and Representatives.

Hogwash. In post-election news, The Hill has found "In an Iowa caucus-based survey, 48 percent of 508 respondents said they’ll support DeSantis as the party’s next White House nominee, compared to 37 percent who said they’ll support Trump." The Texas Tribune reports "Republican voters in Texas support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election over former President Donald Trump by more than 10 percentage points, according to a new poll commissioned by the Republican Party of Texas." And The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that including people who say they would "definitely" or "probably" support Trump or DeSantis, notes the latter "leads Trump, 45% to 40%, in a hypothetical head-to-head 2024 primary election, according to a survey of Pennsylvania Republican voters."

This is subject to change and probably will, possibly soon. However, as of right now, Republican voters obviously are looking for a nasty, right-wing alternative to Donald Trump. If GOP officials want to jump ship on Trump, now is the perfect time.

But they haven't, and won't, and it is becoming increasingly clear that Republican voters are not primarily to blame. The men and women they vote for agree with Donald Trump who now says he wants applicable "rules, regulations, and articles" of the U.S. Constitution overturned so he can be installed as President. They want what he wants.

Bill Kristol understands what Charlie Pierce calls the "prion disease." It's Donald Trump but not primarily Donald Trump. It's the Republican Party.




Saturday, December 03, 2022

Just Spell It Out

In a letter to the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process, President Joe Biden properly slammed

Caucuses – requiring voters to choose in public, to spend significant amounts of time to caucus, disadvantaging hourly workers and anyone who does not have the flexibility to go to a set location at a set time – are inherently anti-participatory. It should be our party’s goal to rid the nominating process of restrictive, anti-worker caucuses.

Nonetheless, he was blowing smoke up our posterior when he wrote (typed?)

For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process. We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.

Too often over the past fifty years, candidates have dropped out or had their candidacies marginalized by the press and pundits because of poor performances in small states early in the process before voters of color cast a vote. As I said then, 99.9% of Black voters had not had the chance to vote at that point, and 99.8% of Latino voters had not had the opportunity. That is unacceptable in 2024 and it must change.

Now, for the inconvenient facts:

Who won the black vote in the Democratic presidential primary?

Since 1992, no candidate has won the Democratic nomination for president without winning a majority of black vote. Black voters are likely to account for one of every four primary ballots cast in 2020.

YearCandidateEventual nominee
2016Hillary Clinton (won 77 percent of the black vote)Hillary Clinton
2008Barack Obama (82 percent)Barack Obama
2004John Kerry (56 percent)John Kerry
2000Al Gore (86 percent)Al Gore
1992Bill Clinton (70 percent)Bill Clinton
1988Jesse Jackson (92 percent)Michael Dukakis
1984Jesse Jackson (77 percent)Walter Mondale
1980Ted Kennedy (45 percent)Jimmy Carter

Jesse Jackson had very little money, not government experience, was running primarily to make a  point, and would have lost 50 states had the impossible- as it always was viewed- happened and he won the Democratic nomination. Biden's argument that black voters have been marginalized in the nominating process is legitimate- but only if we go back to 1980, which will be a full 44 years before the next Democratic nominee is selected.

Since then, the candidate- WJ Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, H Clinton, Biden- garnering a majority of the votes of blacks won the party's presidential nomination. That's five consecutive nominees favored by the voting bloc Biden professes to believe need "a louder and earlier voice in the process."

The AP notes

In a letter Thursday to the rule-making arm of the Democratic National Committee, Biden did not mention specific states he’d like to see go first. But he has told Democrats he wants South Carolina moved to the first position, according to three people familiar with his recommendation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

After three states- New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada- had their say, it was unclear exactly whom those Democratic voters favored. It was, clear, however, that they wanted no part of the man who had served decades in office, whether as a U.S. Senator or as a Vice-President. However, Joe Biden procured the endorsement of US Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina. As Majority Whip, had achieved the highest-ranking position of any black person in House of Representatives history, and was the pre-eminent Democrat in a state with two Republican US Senators and a Republican governor. His support carried weight.

In the run-up to the primary in South Carolina, the cry ran out on the left's news network of choice, MSNBC, and by many pundits and some politicians: "blacks have not been heard from." They were right.

As expected, a clear majority of the votes in the South Carolina primary was cast by blacks.  Biden won a strong majority of these votes, thus winning the primary easily.  Thus, prior to Super Tuesday, three Democrats, most notably Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, dropped out of the race and endorsed the former V.P.  On the heels of his success in the African American-dominated primary in South Carolina- and its aftermath- Biden won handily on Super Tuesday and was not seriously challenged for the nomination afterward.

Yet, Joe Biden says "we...... have not recognized their (black voters) importance in our nominating calendar."  If Joe hasn't noticed, virtually everyone else has.  White voters recognized "we rely on these voters in elections" and voted accordingly after South Carolina.

The President wants black voters to have “a louder and earlier voice in the process.” Louder? A louder voice is unnecessary when “no Democrat has won the nomination without the support of a majority of black voters in three decades.” He claims "too often over the past fifty years, candidates have dropped out or had their candidacies marginalized by the press and pundits because of poor performances in small states early in the process before voters of color cast a vote." 

Biden isn't thinking about "voters of color." In favoring South Carolina and thereby downgrading Nevada, he's little interested in Latinos (despite the obligatory nod to the group) and ignoring Asian-Americans and individuals of tribal background.  He invoked "diversity" six times with nary a nod toward linguistic, religious, or educational diversity. Those latter three may pale in importance to race- but it is Biden himself who is obsessed with what he terms "diversity."

The nominating process in 2008 is telling. After Barack Obama won in Iowa, Hillary Clinton defeated him and John Edwards in Nevada. Between Iowa and Nevada, Clinton won in Michigan. Edwards and Obama had chosen not to be on the ballot there, a strong move strategically because Clinton clearly would have led the field, anyway. (Edwards already had begun to fade and Michigan's electorate was dominated by the white working class.) Thankfully for Edwards and Obama, the DNC then stripped Michigan of its delegates because it had not gained the organization's approval to hold its primary at that stage.

Clinton then won in Nevada- but was defeated in South Carolina by Obama, who went on to win the nomination. Somehow, though, we are to believe that sometime during the period when South Carolina gave its nod in 2008 to eventual nominee Barack Obama (and in 2012, in which he was effectively unopposed), to eventual nominee HRC in 2016, and to eventual nominee JR Biden in 2020,  its voters, and black voters in general, were neutered.

The President could try treating his party's voters as adults and level with us: black, especially non-young black women, constitute the base of the party and the voters who most carry it to victory. We are rewarding them. Period.

Beyond Whelan

This is fairly typical of Republican criticism of the Bout for Griner trade made by the Biden Administration: Joe Biden left a Marine stra...