Friday, January 31, 2020

Courage, At The Moment

Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics under President Obama who usually is right on target:

Media personality Soledad O'Brien, who has it right a little less often, evidently agrees with Shaub with

Romney may or may not vote to convict the President in his impeachment "trial." However, if he does, he imperils his re-election prospects in Utah. If instead he decides to walk away from the Senate, his opportunity to be a GOP talking head or lobbyist declines significantly. Two weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune reported

Mitt Romney’s approval among Republicans and independents appears to be slipping as he heads into the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, where the Utah Republican is breaking with the president and GOP leaders by calling for at least one witness, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, to testify.

Romney, though, appears to be gaining traction with Democrats who are giving him better marks.

A Morning Consult poll shows an 18 percent drop of Romney’s approval rating among Republicans in the last four months of 2019 as compared to the quarter before that. And 9% of independents swung to disapproving of Romney quarter over quarter, the poll found.

This is Utah. If Mitt Romney is re-nominated, he is re-elected. He does not need support among Democrats in Utah, in which Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 3-1. 

The former Michigan governor needs only limited support among Unaffiliated voters (and none among Democrats), probably a majority of whom in conservative Utah oppose conviction of the President. He must win a primary and opposition to Donald Trump makes that much harder. The tweets would not be kind and the rallies for his opponent would sting.

That's a different situation than faced Senator Susan Collins. The main obstacle to re-election of the Main incumbent is the general election. Moreover, she notably waited until the last minute to make her decision, and Howard Dean understands
Mitt Romney believes there should be witnesses, urged by the prosecution to prove (further) its case. Defenders of the President, his team of attorneys, argued against it and won the day because neither integrity nor courage is in big supply in the GOP caucus.

Nonetheless, as irrational as it would be, it is possible that the Utah senator will vote to acquit Donald Trump. However, in this one moment, on Thursday, January 30, Senator Mitt Romney showed some courage, and did so alone among his Repub colleagues.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Deal Worth Making

Steve M. notes that Senate Democrats have made their case that Trump should be impeached and believes that the congressional Democrats and their eventual presidential nominee eventually will "be better off if the trial is over soon, and is perceived as one-sided and unfair."  He wonders why "all the Republicans (are not) rushing to embrace" the proposal of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that both John Bolton and Hunter Biden testify. He argues

If I were a Republican, I'd embrace it, for the most cynical reasons. If Democrats get John Bolton, Republicans will get Hunter Biden. If the Democrats' list lengthens, maybe Joe Biden is next for the Republicans, or maybe it's Adam Schiff or the whistleblower. The more witnesses the Democrats get, the more Republicans have a chance to make the case all about the Bidens, House Democrats, and the Deep State, after which they can use their superior messaging skills to proclaim that all their narratives have been borne out by witness testimony. (Schiff can hold his own, and I imagine the whistleblower can as well, but do you trust Hunter Biden on the witness stand? Do you trust Joe Biden, who can be maddeningly inarticulate, and who often seems to go into debates, especially in this election cycle, showing signs of having underprepared?)

Do you think testimony from Bolton, Mulvaney, or other witnesses on the Democrats' wish list will bust the case wide open? Why? Just because Bolton, in particular, appears willing to offer a firsthand account confirming Trump's guilt? The whole point of Alan Deshowitz's presentation last night in the trial was: It doesn't matter if Trump did it. You can't impeach him even if he is guilty of everything mentioned in the articles. Forty-plus percent of the country has believed from the beginning of Trump's presidency that literally nothing he does can be called a crime, or even an error in judgment. To these people, Trump is amazing. They're unbudgeable. Nothing said against him in the trial will matter to them. And if it doesn't matter to them, it won't matter to the Republicans who represent them in the Senate, who'll be thanked for their votes to acquit even after damning witness testimony.

This is accurate and insightful as far as it goes. However, there is a trade Democrats should offer.

Polls indicate that many Democratic voters have as their highest priority finding a nominee who would defeat President Trump.  It's impossible to determine now who that candidate is. However, a couple of Republicans, including Iowa senator Joni Ernst, think they know.

In an ad looking toward a possible presidential candidacy in 2024, Republican governor Rick Scott, as reported by Politico, "also vowed that, if witnesses are called in Trump’s impeachment, he’ll make sure Biden is called to testify." And it's clear he's not talking about Hunter because

“If that happens, he will be too cowardly to show up,” Scott said. “But if he did show up, here’s what I will ask him: Mr. Biden, why did you as vice president of the United States threaten a foreign country and force them to fire a prosecutor, who was investigating a company that was paying your son $83,000 a month?”

Earlier, this month, the Emperor himself:

Though probably wrong, Washington Republicans certainly seem to believe that the former senator and vice-president is the strongest candidate against The Chosen One. That is the reason- though only part of the reason- that they lust after the testimony of Hunter Biden. 

O.K., Democrats should say, "we'll play along,"  You want Hunter Biden we'll give you Hunter Biden. But we don't want John "Bombs Away" Bolton in return. We'll permit the testimony of Biden the Younger- but only after Donald J. Trump testifies.

Republicans would nix that deal because there is no one they want to shield from testifying more than Mr. Trump. They understand that as their king went down in flames, so, too, would their political career..

We'd be back where we are now, in which Republicans don't want witnesses while Democrats and the voters emphatically do. Only at that point it would be even more obvious that Republicans don't want witnesses, and that they denied the public an opportunity to hear from the one individual at the very center of this scandal.

Steve M., therefore, is right- Democrats should reject a Bolton for H. Biden deal. But a counter-proposal is nearly always appreciated by onlookers (voters, in this case) and a refusal by President Trump to testify would make very clear what still appears murky to some Americans.

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Monday, January 27, 2020

Do As You Will

We were told on Saturday that Donald Russia reportedly gave an order to fire the USA ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, when he evidently told Rudolph Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it."

The meaning of "get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow.... Get her out tomorrow" is clear: fire her.

Nonetheless, there is the seemingly innocuous phrase "I don't care." That can mean either of two things:

1) "I don't care how you fire her- via tweet, in person, by telephone, nicely or belligerently"; or

2) "I don't care how you get rid of her- by firing her or something more permanent" ('taking her out').

"Take her out" may be meaningless, just something for the boss to emphasize how angry he is with an individual, in this case the ambassador. However, in the real estate world in which  Donald Trump consorted with La Cosa Nostra, "take her out" does not mean "treat her to a world-class steak at a swanky Washington, DC restaurant."

On Sunday morning
Trump did not say that Schiff has not "paid a price" but instead "paid the price." For a guy who is a shoo-in for re-election, paying "the price" is not defeat at the polls.

President Trump did not order anything specific- whether dismissal or a more permanent solution- be done about Ambassador Yovanovitch. He does not do that:

Code is not needed to fire anyone.  Code is used so that if an extreme action is taken, the boss reserves plausible deniability.  Donald Trump is not ordering or directing the assassination of a US Senator or an ambassador. But were it to happen- "accidentally," preferably- whatever accusation is made comes from a mere enemy of the people.

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Sunday, January 26, 2020

An Elusive Courage

This was not Winston Churchill, determined to rally his nation to continue the fight against the Nazis despite a military setback. Nor was it President Kennedy challenging those who saw no difference between "the free world and the communist world" to "come to Berlin." It wasn't quite as good as Hubert H. Humphrey's address at the 1948 Democratic Convention in which he boldly and bravely declared "the time has arrived for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of state's rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights."  Certainly it wasn't the equal of arguably the greatest speech ever given by an American, in which Reverend King quoted a 19th century Unitarian minister in reminding us that "the arc of the moral universe is long."

But it was excellent, elegant and eloquent, notwithstanding pundits being loathe to admit it. The rats were sent scurrying as their cowardice was called out by one congressman who said out loud what is whispered among his colleagues in Washington but must not be spoken of in polite company. Adam Schiff's closing statement in the impeachment near-trial on Friday included

Is moral courage really more rare than that on a battlefield? And then I saw what Robert Kennedy meant by moral courage. Few, he said, are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues and the wrath of their society.

And then I understood by that measure just how rare moral courage is, how many of us are willing to brave the disapproval of our fellows, the censure of our colleagues, and the wrath of our society.

Just as those who have not served in uniform can't fully understand what military service means, so, too, there is a different kind of fraternity and sorority among those who have served in office.

I always tell my constituents there are two kinds of jobs in Congress and it's not Democrats and Republicans. It's those from a safe seat and those from an unsafe set, and I'm sure the same is true for those from a safe state and those from an unsafe state.

It's why I think there is a certain chemistry between members who represent those swing districts and states because they can step in each other's shoes.

And one of the things that we in this fellowship of office holders understand that most people don't is that real political courage doesn't come from disagreeing with our opponents but from disagreeing with our friends and with our own party because it means having to stare down accusations of disloyalty and betrayal. He's a Democrat in Name Only or she's a Republican In Name Only.

What I said last night if it resonated in this chamber didn't require courage. My views, as heartfelt as they are, reflect the views of my constituents. But what happens when our heartfelt views of right and wrong are in conflict with the popular opinion of our constituents?What happens when our devotion to our oaths, to our values, to our love of country depart from a momentary passion of the people back home? Those are  the times that try our souls.

CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that GOP senators were warned "vote against our president, vote against the President and your head will be on a pike."

Now, I don't know if that's true. Vote against the President and your head will be on  a pike. I have to say when I read that- and again I don't know if it's true- but when I read that I was struck by the irony, by the irony. I hope it's not true, I hope it's not true.

But I was struck by the irony of the idea- where we're talking about a president talking about a president who could make himself a monarch that whoever that was would use the terminology of a penalty that was imposed by a monarch- head on a pike.

The feigned shock and outrage by GOP senators was stunningly dishonest, as numerous commentors noted. However, it was perhaps bestunderstood, and most poignantly explained, by the former Department of Justice employee and current MSNBC security analyst:

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Not So Consistent Any More

Zack Beauchamp of Vox explains

For about 10 years, Rogan has been the host of The Joe Rogan Experience, an internet talk show that’s become astonishingly popular both in podcast and video form on YouTube. It’s been the No. 1 or 2 show in the world on Apple Podcasts for the past few years; its YouTube channel, PowerfulJRE, has over 7 million subscribers.

It’s given a new relevancy to the 52-year-old media veteran. He started his career as a standup comedian, starred in the ’90s sitcom NewsRadio, and then worked as the host of the gross-out reality show Fear Factor from 2001 to 2006. He’s also a passionate mixed martial arts fan who has worked as an announcer at MMA fights.

Rogan’s show is a meandering interview series with a very strange panel of guests that reflect the host’s personal interests, ranging from MMA fighters to comedians to evolutionary biologists to Dr. Phil....

Rogan is an engaging host, one who lets conversations float freely on a range of diverse and often quite interesting topics. When you watch some of Rogan’s more thoughtful interviews, it’s easy to understand why he has such a big cult following.

But the show’s treatment of politics, a common topic in the interviews, is something else entirely. While Rogan claims to be left-wing, the show’s principal political enemy appears to be liberal identity politics. He’s a leading light of the “Intellectual Dark Web,” the loose confederation of anti-PC thinkers including Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and right-wing gadfly Ben Shapiro. In fact, the question that led to his Sanders endorsement came from one of the IDW’s chief popularizers, New York Times columnist Bari Weiss.

Rogan’s contempt for political correctness comes through throughout the show. In a 2013 episode, for example, he “joked” that seeing a screening of Planet of the Apes in a mostly black neighborhood was “walk[ing] in to Planet of the Apes.” He described the experience of finding out that his comedy hero Richard Pryor had sex with men as “a spike to the heart.”

Not surprisingly, Rogan- who has a large number of Trump supporters among his listeners- responded to a question on Thursday by stating "I think I'll probably vote for Bernie... He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”

And then Bernard Sanders tweeted out a video of Rogan endorsing him.

This sparked a controversy on Twitter as to whether the candidate should trumpet support from a very popular podcaster whose listeners might not otherwise cast a vote for any Democrat.  Many commenters viewed the issue as did Beauchamp, whether the Democratic Party should embrace a big tent-approach, welcome a thumbs up from popular figures despite their occasional lapses of bigotry to gain support from conservatives (especially male). The latter are believed to be the sort who often are believed to have cost Hillary Clinton election to the presidency, and whose inclusion many Berniecrats believe necessary to build a majority for progressive economic policies.

Please spare me.   On December 12, 2019 Bernard endorsed the candidacy of Cenk Uygur for election to the 25th congressional district in California, vacant since the abrupt resignation of Democrat Katie Hill.

Sanders was understandably proud that day to boast the endorsement by a genuine progressive, founder and host of The Young Turks, with a very popular podcast. Yet, within 24 hours, the Vermont senator had rescinded his endorsement of Uygur, notwithstanding the latter's impressive populist credentials.

It turns out that Uygur had posted misogynistic posts- long since deleted- on a blog 15 years ago. He has renounced those earlier remarks but not to the satisfaction of a few feminists and, evidently, the Sanders campaign.

A lot of people change in 15 years and Uygur, a Republican as a young man, is no exception. There is no indication that he presently harbors hostile views about any minorities, and every indication that Rogan does. Nonetheless, the man whom Joe Rogan says has been "insanely consistent his entire life" dropped Cenk Uygur in less time than a New York minute.

Trumpeting support from Rogan is notable not only because the campaign decided that Uygur is persona non grata. On October 19, 2019, shortly after Sanders had suffered, and recovered from, a heart attack, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced at a Sanders rally that she supported the Vermonter for president.

Ocasio-Cortez, generally considered the leader of "The Squad," is extraordinarily popular among progressives and almost from that moment (possibly no "almost"), Sanders' campaign began to soar.  He is now one of the two leading candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination, that due in no small measure to the tremendous boost he evidently received from the Queens, NY congresswoman.

And so it should have received more attention, then and arguably more now, that in early January Ocasio-Cortez told New York magazine

“Oh, God. In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.” But she didn’t stop there.

The freshman New Yorker took a shot at her party’s congressional leadership and then aimed her fire on the Congressional Progressive Caucus, arguing for the ouster of those without the proper liberal credentials. “They let anybody who the cat dragged in call themselves a progressive. There’s no standard,” she charged.

She capped off her critique with a decidedly undemocratic suggestion that maybe the Democratic Party “can be too big of a tent.”

So if not the most prominent, the most important supporter of Sanders for President believes that Joe Biden is not someone who should be in the Democratic Party, or at least a Democratic Party she's comfortable in. However, her man for President believes that Joe Rogan is a gosh darn fine guy to be in the tent of Sanders supporters.

It may not be bad strategy; Bernard is riding high currently and appears to have pushed almost all the right buttons.  As with the other presidential aspirants, whether a guy like this can win a general election depends less on him than it does with incumbent Donald Trump.  But it does raise a red flag for any Sanders administration.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

If Only She Had Been Referring to Donald Trump

As almost everyone has heard or read:

Personally, I'd lean a little further south, even below Mongolia, to come up with our "greatest enemy" but your mileage may vary. However, I'll bite and recall reading in May 2017

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

Were Donald Trump a private citizen, he'd be known by the word spy. Instead, one of his toadies, this one from Tennessee, suggests that President Bone Spurs is more patriotic than a Purple Heart recipient who served in Iraq.  It's tempting to say "can Republicans go even lower?"  However, the answer is the same as it would be to "will Republicans go even lower?"  Yes.

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Not Now, Then

The title of the autobiography of George Allen, the 1970s era coach of the Washington Redskins, was "The Future Is Now" because he believed in winning that season, the future be damned. The following decade,  anti-incumbent activists of the left and the right (at varying times) began warning "we'll remember in November."

Both are at play in the impeachment saga.

Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the US Senate, President Donald Trump is unpopular, and therefore conventional wisdom has it that there are three possible outcomes in November.  Trump may be defeated while the Senate turns Democratic with 50 Democratic seats (VP as tie-breaker); Trump is defeated and Republicans, now boasting a fairly strong advantage, remain in the majority in the upper chamber; Trump is re-elected and the Senate remains in GOP hands.

Nonetheless, there is an unconventional take that is becoming realistic, if still a fairly long-shot.  A CNN/SSRS survey released January 22 shows any of the six most likely Democratic presidential nominees defeating the incumbent were the election to be held today. However

The poll included an oversample of those living in 15 battleground states, defined as those where the race between Clinton and Trump in 2016 was decided by 8 points or fewer. In those states, the poll finds consistently tight races regardless of the nominees, with Democrats ranging from 46% to 49% support and Trump from 47% to 50%. In none of the six tested matchups does either candidate hold a significant advantage.

A presidential election, as we learned painfully and to the nation's disadvantage, is determined in the Electoral College- and there the election appears to be a toss-up.

President Trump's acolytes equate him with Jesus Christ. However, it would be more accurate to turn the comparison on its head, in which others pay for the sins of Donald Trump. Never-Trumper Rick Wilson, who is still a proud conservative Republican, is wrong about most things, but he's right about this:

In other words: while most Americans want witnesses in the impeachment trial, the GOP Senate, frightened of retaliation by their party's leader, won't allow it.  After Trump is acquitted, there will be a drip-drip-drip connecting the President to impeachable crimes which threaten the USA. Republican senators running for re-election will be stuck with having to defend their vote for a brazen criminal.

Donald Trump won't necessarily suffer.  He has a low ceiling and high floor; bad news about him or the nation affects him marginally at most. As we move closer to Election Day, his huge authoritarian-style rallies will only get larger and more vigorous. For whatever psycho-social reason, including Donald Russia's nearly incomparable charisma, Trump can get away with what others can't. If GOP senators think that Teflon will rub off on themselves, they're deluding themselves.

He'll notice that GOP senators up for re-election are in big trouble but he'll become increasingly focused on himself. Many Republican elected officials will have to pay the Donald Trump tax, and if it's them but not him, because there can be only one Chosen One, anyway.

The impeachment dance playing out now in Washington is not about guilt or innocence of the President. The fix is in for now. If the President's commission of impeachable offense(s) hadn't already been established, it was once Adam Schiff was finished laying out the case. Pursuing removal of the President pertains to doing the right thing- presenting the facts, putting them on the record, and leaving at least a small impact on the American people and voting public.

As in the title of Rick Wilson's book: Everything Trump Touches, Dies.  Jesus Christ died for the sins of sinners.  There are are Republican senators who will die (politically) for Donald Trump's abundant sins and will have only themselves to blame. The future is now because, by denying witnesses, GOP senators will be able to vote against conviction and thus avoid The Wrath of Trump. However, we will remember in November, and they'll wish we had amnesia.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Denial Is Not Only A River In Egypt

Call it stupid or call it stubborn. But call it something beginning with "s" (or maybe "i"). Three Politico writers report

Every Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders supporter seems to have an opinion on their infamous Dec. 2018 meeting.

One side believes Warren's account that Sanders told her a woman couldn’t beat Donald Trump: “He totally said it! Women are watching, Bernie." The other is just as convinced she embellished or lied for political advantage: “We obviously know that it was complete BS."

Interviews with more than two dozen voters at events for Sanders and Warren last weekend made clear that the hard feelings between the two progressive icons have extended to their supporters. The situation has injected a volatile mix of gender politics and alleged sexism into the final weeks of the campaign, and added another layer of uncertainty to a primary where any number of outcomes remain possible.

The issue has lingered not because of the media- which did what it could to gin up the issue initially- but because of supporters of the Vermont senator, as Politico implies. 

And it has lingered because of Bernie Sanders, who could have said that Senator Warren misinterpreted his remarks. However, with hand caught in the cookie jar, he instead responded in a manner nearly assuring the controversy would continue.

Bernard made two arguments: 1) Hillary Clinton, a woman, got more votes than did Donald Trump; and 2) Having encouraged women for decades to run for public office, why would I possibly have told Warren that she wouldn't be elected because she is female?

Though Hillary Clinton did get more popular votes than did Donald Trump, she lost an election virtually everyone thought she would- and should have- won. And Sanders, with his history of supporting women's causes, no doubt recognized misogyny as a factor in the defeat. It is realistic to assume that Bernard would have told Warren that gender would be an obstacle to her election effort because of precisely that recognition- and thus believed that he would have a better shot at beating Trump.

The Politico reporters quote one male Sanders supporter, presumably approving of Bernard's support of women's rights, maintaining "I can't imagine him saying it."

But that's exactly why this guy should realize his candidate made the alleged statement, or something close to it. As someone who does realize that a woman might not be able to be elected President and clearly disapproves of this bias, Sanders would have been comfortable making this argument. By contrast, master misogynist Donald Trump has never said such a thing- and never would because his approval of this sad state of affairs would be obvious.

One Sanders surrogate, according to Politico, sarcastically remarked “When I lie on my good friend I always make sure it’s a year after the fact, and only once they’re hammering me in the polls." Of course, it could have been because the non-aggression pact between her candidate and Ms. Warren was broken only a few days earlier, and by the Sanders campaign.

In a Politico article published on January 14, we learned

The controversial talking points attacking Elizabeth Warren that Bernie Sanders' campaign deployed were given to teams in at least two early voting states on Friday, three Sanders campaign officials confirmed.

Volunteers and staffers used the script on Saturday while canvassing for votes, meaning the talking points were more official than what Sanders previously suggested after POLITICO reported on the language.

The campaign pulled back the script — which described Warren's appeal as limited to the highly educated and financially well off — later on Saturday after the story published. Sanders initially appeared to blame the controversy on rogue employees.

“We have hundreds of employees. Elizabeth Warren has hundreds of employees. And people sometimes say things that they shouldn’t,” Sanders said Sunday in Iowa. His press aides never denied the veracity of the document.

The script mostly focused on Sanders' ability to beat President Donald Trump in a general election. But one page included attacks on the electability of Warren, as well as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders initially implied the talking points, criticizing his main rivals, were the product of individuals who "sometimes say things that they shouldn't." Later, the candidate largely confirmed that, well, they were going negative as directed.

On January 13, CNN was first to reveal a description of the controversial meeting "based on the accounts of four people: two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting."

As the Sanders surrogate charged, the allegation did come a year later- but two days after the negative script was used by Sanders canvassers in two states. Moreover, it was after Sanders "who, me?" response and before his campaign admitted "yes, us." (Is that the real meaning of "not me. us?")

So maybe it wasn't stubbornness or stupidity but mere ignorance (case in point, below). (Or Sanders actually may believe he said it.) However, now that it is clear that Bernard Sanders wasn't honest about the meeting, nor in being called out for bending the truth, it's time for the candidate himself to admit to at least his supporters that mistakes are sometimes made.  He has nearly done so, having now stated that as a 78-year-old, "I think everybody has their own sets of problems." He should go all the way, which evidently will be the only way his supporters can admit the obvious.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Just Say "Yes"

Asked a question, most politicians go on and on in order to avoid answering a question and/or to consume so much time that the interviewer doesn't have the time (or possibly the patience) to ask a follow-up question.

But sometimes a "yes" or a "no" will suffice, and even be helpful. In anticipation of the four-hour , four-part documentary "Hillary" which will air in March on Hulu, Hollywood Reporter reporter (that's its name; not my fault) Lacey Rose interviewed Hillary R. Clinton. She asked the former senator and presidential candidate

In the doc, you're brutally honest on Sanders: "He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It's all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it." That assessment still hold?

The response? "Yes, it does."

That was a good answer because it was, respectively: a) accurate; b) accurate (Jeff Merkley of Oregon); c) no doubt an exaggeration but probably within the margin of error; d) could be, because he is obviously cantankerous; and e) largely accurate (see (d)).

It also may be close to meaningless that he has gotten little done.  The Center for EffectivePolicymaking gives each member of Congress a ranking "regarding the bills that members of Congress sponsor, how far they move through the lawmaking process, and how important their policy proposals are." Everyone is ranked as "above expectations," "meets expectations," or "below expectations." Amy Klobuchar ranked as #1 among all Senate Democrats (and thus "above"); Elizabeth Warren and Representative John Delaney as "meets expectations"; and Tulsi Gabbard and Bernard Sanders as "below expectations."

Without further analysis, this is (though interesting) next to meaningless.  Perhaps Sanders ranks low because as someone on the far left, his approach may be off-putting to Republicans, which- depending on circumstances- may not be a bad thing.

Rose then asked the critical, albeit obvious "if he gets the nomination, will you endorse and campaign for him," wherein Clinton responded

I'm not going to go there yet. We're still in a very vigorous primary season. I will say, however, that it's not only him, it's the culture around him. It's his leadership team. It's his prominent supporters. It's his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, [he] seems to really be very much supporting it. And I don't think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don't know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you're just giving them a wink and you want them to go after Kamala [Harris] or after Elizabeth [Warren]. I think that that's a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions.

The explanation is good; the answer is not. She would have been better off responding "yes, I would endorse him."  Or the response could have been "anybody is better than Trump," which would have the advantages of being an implied put-down of Sanders and of being true. If then asked whether she would campaign for Sanders, Clinton might have stated "I don't know whether he'd request that."  That remark could have been followed by her comments about Bernard's "prominent supporters" and his "Bernie Bros"  (video below for entertainment purposes only). 

Nonetheless, under no conditions should she have avoided stating definitively that she would endorse Sanders.  If queried about the superficially evident contradiction between that assurance and her criticism of the Sanders campaign, she need only have stated "Donald Trump."

That would be enough for virtually every Democrat and should be enough for most Americans. It's the easy answer, and the correct one.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

The Democrat, For Now

We've heard something similar throughout the Democratic primary campaign and on January 11, 2020 we learned that a Washington Post-Ipsos national poll found

48 percent of Democratic-leaning black voters back Biden as their choice for president, citing his time as former President Barack Obama’s vice president among reasons for their support.

Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second with 20 percent of support and led the field among black voters aged under 35.

In a group which includes four candidates with roughly equal support among non-blacks, 48% of the black vote for any one- white- candidate is truly extraordinary.

The most obvious, and probably most dominant, reason is that Joe Biden served eight years as vice-president (and a very loyal and warm one) to the first black President. And maybe voting for Biden is an affirmation that Obama was a great and successful President.

Consequently, Matt Stoller believes "One possible reason older black voters dislike Warren/Bernie is their candidacy is an implicit rebuke to Obama."

It's not surprising that Biden doesn't do as well among young blacks as among those middle-aged and older. That's not only because Bernard Sanders is particularly popular among young people across-the-board but also because there has been a continuing effort by Democratic politicians (and to a much lesser extent, pundits) to portray Joe Biden as the pragmatic, safe choice most likely to deliver a Democratic victory over Trump. The threat posed by this President, which never has been posed by any president of the USA, is perceived less by youth than by older people, who have more of a frame of reference. And black voters are very likely more terrified of Trump than are others.

Pragmatism- in this case, the "fierce urgency of now" to rid the nation of the scourge of the evil from Queens/Manhattan- dovetails with the the presence of more moderate or centrist African-Americans in the south than elsewhere (video below from 11/19).

Nonetheless, there is a completely unexplored reason that Biden has done particularly well with blacks. Conventional wisdom has it that among blacks, Senator Barack Obama overtook Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democrat primary campaign once Obama demonstrated that he had a viable path to the nomination. However, there probably is more to it than that because as reported by Reuters In early 2007

polls show he lags well behind Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York among black voters, the most loyal Democratic voting bloc, and his candidacy has been greeted cautiously by some veteran black leaders uncertain about his experience and views.

The wary approach is not surprising given Obama is a relative newcomer on the national stage and, unlike many established black leaders, did not build his reputation during the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s, analysts said.

“People don’t know who he is. Outside of Illinois, black voters and everybody else are asking, ‘Who is this guy?’” said Ron Walters, a former adviser to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and head of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.

“They don’t know his record, they don’t know his background or where he came from, so they are asking very understandable questions

The key phrases are "relative newcomer," "don't know his background or where he came from," and "the most loyal Democratic voting bloc."

As the first two phrases indicate, Obama was relatively unknown to most black voters (and a lot of others). As he became better known, he began to fit like a glove, or as whatever your favorite applicable cliche is. He no longer was the candidate challenging the establishment Democrat. Joe Biden has been around a long time and is well known to African-Americans, who probably feel reasonably comfortable around him.  

But the significance of being "the most loyal Democratic voting bloc" typically is ignored.  With fewer members of organized labor than in decades past and working class voters (whites, but not only) gradually growing more disaffected with the Democratic Party over the same time period, blacks constitute the popular base of the Democratic Party.

That prompts a preference- all else being equal for the candidate who best represents the Establishment of the Democratic Party. Further, it conveys a special interest in contributing to the victory of the nominee of the Party in which they have a stake.

A Democratic office-holder since 1969, a vice-president for eight years, and the leader from the beginning among likely primary voters, Joe Biden most clearly represents the Democratic establishment. He is Establishment.  

He also is being sold in part as the individual most likely to win an election against a President deeply unpopular in the black community. He probably is not, but that case is a difficult one to make until and unless Joseph R. Biden loses an early primary or caucus, and a caucus might not be enough.

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Need To Know

On December 15, 2019 Joe Biden's physician released "a summary of the medical and surgery history" of the former vice-president. The summary included quite a bit of detail, including the usual, as well as the prescription medication he is prescribed for "standard anticoagulation" and for gastroesophageal reflux, as well as the over-the-counter medicine for sinus symptoms.

Release of Biden's records may have been motivated by release of Elizabeth Warren's medical records on December 6, wherein Dr. Beverly Woo described her as being "in excellent health." Of course, when candidates for political office release letters from their physician or even full medical records, they are typically characterized by their doctor as healthy as an ox. However

Woo also disclosed Warren's "only" condition is hypothyroidism, a common auto-immune condition most often in women.

"She currently takes levothyroxine 0.88 mg per day, which restores her thyroid hormone level to normal," wrote Woo, who has been Warren's doctor since 1999.

Warren's Thyroid Stimulating Hormone level, released as part of her medical records, suggests her hypothyroidism is well controlled. Results of her blood test and vital signs were within normal limits.

Senator Warren also had received a flu shot. Whatever its benefit or risk for the general population, that was a wise decision. Were the Senator to contract the flu, she might be subjected to similar vitriol as faced presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who contracted pneumonia in September, 2016 and practically declared dead by some political opponents. Like Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Warren is a woman.

The New York Times conducted an interview of Bernard Sanders amidst its other interviews of presidential candidates leading to its endorsement of one on January 19. It could not avoid asking the Vermont senator "Now I’d like to turn to your health for a moment. Do you know when you plan to release your complete health records to the public?"

We hope to — I want to make sure that it is complete. So we hope to do that, the goal is by the end of the year. I won’t swear to you. It may be a few days later, or a week or two later, but we will release them fully.

So we hope to do that, the goal is by the end of the year. In an interview otherwise blasted by supporters as biased against Senator Sanders, the editorial board here conspicuously left the candidate off the hook. Next up was the puff question "what are you doing to take care of yourself now?" ("If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?")

Declaring something a "goal," of course, is a means to avoid responsibility.  Millions of boys and girls in the USA aim one day to become a rich and famous athlete, a goal probably fewer than 1% of them will attain. My goal is to live to be 100 and healthy until the end. Spoiler alert: ain't gonna happen.

Bernard Sanders is more likely to achieve his goal. And why shouldn't he? It's to release his medical records by the end of the year, which is, to those keeping score at home, approximately eight weeks after the presidential election. By that time, either Sanders will have been elected President and looking forward to being inaugurated roughly a month later. Or he will have been defeated in the general election or earlier, in which case few people outside of the State of Vermont will care about his health.

Given that The New York Times failed to follow up on Sanders' pledge to release his records (maybe) until after the election, it is not unnecessary to point out that this is too late.  The media must demand full medical records of all the candidates- and especially of the incumbent, obviously not a well man.   If they are not released- as in the case of Donald Trump- this should be made into a major issue. Because it is.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Pixie Dust

The New York Times on Sunday will endorse someone for the Democratic nomination for President.  It has now published its interview of Bernie Sanders, self-described socialist and by far the preferred candidate of the avowedly socialist publication, Jacobin.

Responding to the interview by "the famously establishment-friendly New York Times editorial board," Jacobin asserts "In this era of resurgent left electoral activity, the conflation of left and right populism is one of the preferred tactics of the elite political center."

As it understands, not falling prey to this is B.S., who is "insistent upon" his "professed intention to use the presidency to inspire popular mobilizations." Conversely

None of the other Democratic presidential candidates are. In one way or another, they all reliably communicate the message, “Elect me and I’ll take it from there.” Bernie is alone in candidly saying that he will rely on the active participation of the masses to govern....

Bernie’s promise to encourage mass mobilizations is heartening: it means he understands the obstacles to reform he’ll face if he wins. If he does win, expect him to take every opportunity to impress upon ordinary people that they’ve been cast in the leading role.

Charlie Pierce recognizes:

And it's probably why Bernard Sanders leads Elizabeth Warren in polls of likely Democratic voters and nationwide.   This surely feels good and it flatters those masses, boosting egos. It makes them feel warm inside.

Nonetheless, among those things the presumably progressive masses don't understand is that if Senator Sanders is elected, it won't be exclusively protesters of the left who hit the streets.  The right would not be immune to the lure of the professed intention to use the presidency to inspire popular mobilization, nor will it be any more than the left be reticent to "tap into a powerful force outside the state that can bend it in the right direction."

But o.k. It at least sounds exciting and plays to the ego of those of us on the left. When Barack Obama, senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, intoned "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek," his supporters cheered.  It was inspiring and empty rhetoric. The Tea Party, however, took him at his word and responded.

Yet that is not the major problem with placing faith in the hope of mass mobilization of the left. Rather, it is that it removes agency and accountability from (in this case) him: the elected public official.  Instead of assuming agency for his actions, a President Sanders (assuming he's not conning us) would be abdicating the responsibility that is his as a result of having stood for election, requested our votes, and given the powers of the job. It would be failing the test of leadership.

Some 75 years ago, a Missourian became a highly successful chief executive and commander-in-chief in part because he did not pass the buck, instead embracing the slogan "the buck stops here."  Accurately or otherwise, the presidency is often referred to as "the most powerful job in the world"- and he or she is not elected to follow. Democratic presidents should take their cue from Republican presidents, who treat the office as a way to impose their values and beliefs effectively upon American government. Do the damn job.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Party Inching Rightward

Charlie Pierce made two valid points about Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate. The one which he himself would concede is the less significant is

.... the Warren-Sanders business is going to be what people take away from Tuesday night. I have no idea what was said during the famous conversation about whether a woman can be elected president. But the response from the Sanders supporters, especially on the electric Twitter machine, has been so hysterically over the top—Responding with snake emojis? That’s only the oldest misogynistic smear of all time, going all the way back to Genesis.—that it does make me wonder whether or not there’s something in that campaign that attracts the Democratic equivalent of the incel boys. I hope it stops soon, but I doubt that it will.

If the Sanders people want to go down in history as the campaign that kneecapped two talented, accomplished women, that’s their decision. I thought Warren recovered nicely with her bit about how she and Klobuchar were the only two people on the stage who’d never lost an election. Other than that, the debate was little more than a reminder that starting this process off in Iowa is no way to elect a president of this whole country. That’s absurd.

It's Thursday, the response still is over the top and increasingly brings into question the tolerance of Twitter Sanders supporters, Warren recovered nicely, and this is no way to run an airline- or an election. More critically, however, was that during the debate

Joe Biden was punished with the soft cushions and the comfy chair. Nobody laid a glove on him after Sanders jibed him about his Iraq War vote early on. In the run-up to the debate, it was widely believed that Sanders would press Biden on his past support for various Simpson-Bowlesian notions for “reforming” Social Security, while Warren seemed ready to tee him up (again) on the noxious bankruptcy bill that Biden wrote.

Both of these are very big fish in very small barrels, and both of these continued un-shot through the evening’s festivities while Pete Buttigieg soft-shoed his way through every discussion and Amy Klobuchar decided this was the time to be a deficit scold.

These are three critical points- about the financial industry (bankruptcy bill), Social Security, and the deficit- which put a lie to the quaint and comforting notion that Bernard's two presidential campaigns have nudged the discussion among national Democrats leftward.

Senator Warren inexplicably said nothing about the bankruptcy bill, though it not only clearly separates her from Biden, but also demonstrates her economically progressive bonafides and her willingness- nay, eagerness- to take on the powerful in a way a President Sanders is unlikely to do.

For his part, Sanders, who has an excellent record on Social Security, joined Warren in remaining completely mum about the earned benefits program.  Biden long has been cool toward Social Security, including supporting: in the 1980s freezing benefits freezing Social Security and all federal spending in 1994; supporting cutting the program as part of President Obama's Grand Bargain effort in 2011; and in 2018 means-testing benefits in order to "save" the program. In 2008 he boasted that he resisted political advisers, who told him to avoid the issue because it is the "third rail" of American politics.

Yet, neither Sanders (nor Warren) even mentioned Social Security. If not a glaring omission, it was a crucial omission.

But while Biden's support for a modest Social Security program was motivated in part by his concern about deficits and the federal budget, even he did not become the "deficit scold" in the Des Moines debate. Instead, it was Amy Klobuchar who bragged

I am the one person up here who has on her website in her plan a plan to actually start taking on the deficit, by taking part of that money from that corporate tax cut that they put in there and putting it in a fund to pay back the deficit.

Or it could be used to expand accessibility to health care, fight climate change, provide free pre-kindergarten programs, rebuild dangerous bridges and expand public transit, or (insert your own favorite long-neglected need).

Buttigieg then maintained

And my plan is paid for. Look, our party should no longer hesitate to talk about the issue of the debt and the deficit. Now, we've got a dramatically better track record on it than Republicans do. In my lifetime, it's almost invariably Republican presidents who have added to the deficit, a trillion dollars under this president. And it's why everything I've put forward — from Medicare for all who want it to the historic investments we're going to make in infrastructure to dealing with climate change — is fully paid for.

The Democratic Party never has hesitated to talk about the debt, even after Walter Mondale tried it in 1984 and got shellacked by Ronald Reagan, nor when President Clinton balanced the federal budget, nor when President Obama boasted that he had changed the trajectory and set the nation on the way to a balanced budget. Republican presidents explode the federal deficit to pay for their favorite programs (especially defense) and get rewarded at the polls.

In 2016, big-government Trump challenged for the GOP presidential nomination traditional Republicans, who at least posed as "fiscal conservatives" opposed to big government spending and deficits. We know what happened next.

Very few Americans care about the debt or deficits. It's something they like to tell themselves and pollsters they care about (like PBS in the past) right before they vote for whatever candidate wants to blow up the federal budget.  We care about where the money goes- but we all want the money to go somewhere.

One of those priorities is Social Security, which no one wanted to talk about Tuesday night.  And no one challenged Klobuchar and Buttigieg, pointing out that "but the deficit!" is merely something conservatives invoke to cut spending on social services and other needs of Americans.  Coupled with avoidance of the issue of financial reform (the obvious argument for Warren's candidacy), this is a Party which largely has not been driven left by Bernard Sanders' influence, but bafflingly in the opposite direction.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sanders Whiffed

A lot of Democrats are looking for a candidate who can stand toe-to-toe against Donald Trump; a candidate who not only can take Trump's slings and arrows but also be the aggressive "tough guy." (It's cliche day at the blog.)

Prior to Tuesday's debate in Des Moines, I believed the Democrats might be on the precipice of finding that man- and that it would be a man. Bernie Sanders has shown flashes of impatience at a "corporate" media more interested in profits or horse races than in substance.  And as the candidate whose supporters are most hostile toward the mainstream media, he faced the least risk in making that argument.

Moreover, he had the issue- the kerfuffle with Elizabeth Warren over a November, 2018 meeting, which probably pertained merely to a differing interpretation of a statement that he has a better chance of winning over an electorate which still views being female as disqualifying for a President.

However, he didn't seize the opportunity. Abby Phillip asked "Sen. Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?" Sanders responded "well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it. And I don't want to waste a whole lot of time on this because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want."

There is no "maybe" about it. Much of the media- CNN and MSNBC, as I have observed, and probably Trump News Network- have played this to the hilt (cliche day, remember?).  It has nothing to do with policy, what the individual would do as President. Further, what transpired in a private meeting cannot be definitively determined.

Left, right, and center, voters distrust the media, and Sanders could have turned it on here. Instead, he foolishly pivoted to

Anybody knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.

Go to YouTube today. There's a video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States. In 2015, I deferred, in fact, to Sen. Warren. There was a movement to draft Sen. Warren to run for president. And you know what, I said — stayed back. Sen. Warren decided not to run, and I then — I did run afterwards.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States? And let me be very clear. If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination, I hope that's not the case, I hope it's me.

Hillary Clinton also lost a winnable election, one which Bernie Sanders likely believes he would have won, and which was lost in part because of attitudes toward women.  Yet his argument here boils down to "of course, there is no problem with female candidates. Hillary Clinton did so well."

If Sanders had stressed criticism of the media, he would have played on his turf, making a charge every other Democrat is unwilling or unable to make. Instead, he decided to play on the turf of Elizabeth Warren (and of Amy Klobuchar).

That was, on this question, a fatal error because it allowed Senator Warren to transfer seamlessly to

 .... Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised, and it's time for us to attack it head-on.

And I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump?

Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections.

This, of course, was met by approving laughter and Warren added "the only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women."

This, in turn, was meant by predictable applause, followed by the inclusive "Amy and me," which appeared generous toward a rival. A moment later, Warren continued

And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.

And here's what I know. The real danger that we face as Democrats is picking a candidate who can't pull our party together or someone who takes for granted big parts of the Democratic constituency.

We need a candidate who will excite all parts of the Democratic Party, bring everyone in and give everyone a Democrat to believe in. That's my plan and that is why I'm going to win.

That was a strong finish and Sanders should have left it at that. However, he couldn't resist self-inflicted damage and a moment later this transpired:

SANDERS: Well, just to set the record straight, I defeated an incumbent Republican running for Congress.


SANDERS: Nineteen-ninety.

That's how I won, beat a republican congressman.


Number two...

WARREN: Thirty years ago.

SANDERS: ... of course, I don't think there's any debate up here...

WARREN: Wasn't it 30 years ago?

SANDERS: I beat an incumbent Republican congressman.

WARREN: And I said I was the only one who's beaten an incumbent Republican in 30 years.


SANDERS: Well, 30 years ago is 1990, as a matter of fact.

That's not a good look, not a strong look, but at least the look of someone who, inexplicably, did not seem to have anticipated that the matter would be raised. However, at least he then noted "But I don't know that that's the major issue of the day." (Actually, it was the major issue but most definitively should not have been.)

The back-and-forth will not be determinative, nor should it be.  It's not health care, foreign policy, education, privatization of the economy, or any policy. But at least for a few moments, Democratic primary voters saw a candidate who does not understand that 30 years is a long time, and one who does; one who was not prepared, and one who was; one who was passive, and one who is active, engaged, and goes for the jugular.

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Turning a Blind Eye out of Fear

Have you heard the one about the minister who got himself into hot water because of illegal sexual behavior in which he repeatedly engaged ...