Saturday, February 29, 2020

Strategic Ploy

They've blown it.

I didn't expect this, not even from this President. Nonetheless, the USA and the Taliban signed a deal Saturday which includes, as President Trump noted later during his news conference, result in the withdrawal of American soldiers from Afghanistan over a 14-month period. 

It is subject to the success of  "intra-Afghanistan negotiations," as The Hill puts it.  However, the Taliban

“will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies,” the agreement says.

The Taliban also committed to sending a “clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan” and will instruct its members not to cooperate with groups or individuals that threaten the United States, according to the deal.

In return,

The intra-Afghan talks will be launched with a prisoner release, according to Saturday’s deal. The Taliban will have 5,000 prisoners released, while the Afghan government side will have 1,000. Remaining prisoners will be released in three months.

The Hill adds

In a letter to Pompeo and Esper this week, 22 House Republicans led by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) expressed “serious concerns” about the deal and asked for “assurances that you will not place the security of the American people into the hands of the Taliban, and undermine our ally, the current government of Afghanistan.”

This is not a negotiated surrender, though it could be framed that way. It is worse than a surrender. Five-to-one (in prisoner release) is not a good ratio. In return, we get promises from the organization that gave sanctuary to the forces responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 and which aims to impose Sharia law upon Afghanistan. The situation is dicey; “other factions,” reports The Washington Post,” including breakaway Taliban groups and others claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, have footholds around the country and potentially could grow stronger without U.S.-led forces to keep them in check.”

Elizabeth Warren, Bernard Sanders, and even Joe Biden have implied that they would withdraw all USA forces from Afghanistan. In retrospect, they should have realized that President Trump, who fancies himself a master deal maker, would make a deal negotiating withdrawal of American soldiers.

With this agreement- which may, fortuitously, fall apart- Trump seems to have outflanked almost any potential Democratic nominee.  Most of the Democratic candidates haven't explicitly ruled out having any combat soldiers in Afghanistan but they have come awfully close.   The President has approved a terrorist-friendly arrangement critics can credibly label a "sell-out," but Democrats are in no position to exploit one of Trump's vulnerabilities, a man easily manipulated by the country's enemies

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Friday, February 28, 2020


The Hill reports

MSNBC host Chris Matthews came under fire this week from some progressives for pressing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on why she believed a woman who had accused former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg of pressuring her to have an abortion while she was an employee for his company.

"MSNBC needs to fire Chris Matthews. Today," Shaunna Thomas, president of the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, said in a statement. "Matthews' refusal to believe women, and history of sexual harassment, make it clear that he is not fit to continue to cover this election. MSNBC can and must do better, and they can start by firing Chris Matthews."

After the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday, Matthews asked Warren during an interview why she believed the accuser and not Bloomberg. Warren had brought up the accusation during the debate.

"You believe he is lying?" Matthews asked, referring to Bloomberg.

Warren reiterated that she believed the woman, with Matthews then asking why Bloomberg would lie.

"Just to protect himself?" Matthews asked.

"Yeah, and why would she lie?" Warren responded.

In a lawsuit filed against Bloomberg, a female employee alleged that he told her to "kill it" after he found out she was pregnant. The language was interpreted by the employee as ordering her to have an abortion in order to keep her job, The Washington Post reported.

Bloomberg has repeatedly denied making the remark.

Lauren Duca, a journalist and activist with more than 400,000 Twitter followers, called Matthews's questioning of Warren "insane."

Chris Matthews is not insane. Slate's Heather Schwedel recommends he "shut up," even as she inadvertently explains why it is unnecessary, as Warren

answered his incredulity with reason, frankness, and an elegant allusion to how the issue intersects with her own story: “Well, a pregnant employee sure said that he did. Why shouldn’t I believe her? You know, I’m just really tired of this world, this one is personal for me. It really is.” She displayed irritation without crossing over into anger that would surely give her critics reason to dismiss her, at least in their minds: “We have gone on and on and on where people say, ‘Oh, I can’t really believe the woman.’ Really? Why not?” She was composed—“And why would she lie? That’s the question, Chris”— and she didn’t back down. She answered Matthews plainly: “I believe the woman. Which means [Bloomberg]’s not telling the truth.”

It's called journalism. The Massachusetts senator made a serious charge when she maintained during the debate in South Carolina "At least I didn't have a boss who said to me, 'Kill it,' the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees."

Warren herself recognized that the employee's accusation was an allegation, unproven and ultimately a "she said, he said issue.  In drilling down on the matter, Matthews was committing an act of journalism, challenging the candidate to explain why she believed the female employee. 

And, of course, there was the inevitable demand that the offender be fired:
Along with the unlikely possibility the employee is lying, she may have distorted what was stated, remembered the incident inaccurately, or omitted important context. But that is how it has become with cancel culture, in which reactions overtake the search for truth.

Not to worry. Elizabeth has this. She understands candidates have their jobs, journalists have theirs, and if there were only sweetness and light between the two, the public would be the loser.

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Dual Motive

Investigative journalist at The Intercept doesn't understand what's going on:
It is accurate that Bloomberg's ad money- certainly not debate performances  or personality- and Warren's spending keep the field divided and have contributed to Bernard Sanders' lead in the Democratic race for President.

And Bloomberg does have a big ego, unavoidable when one has tens of billions of dollars and was chief executive of the largest city in the country (the "Big Apple") for three consecutive terms.

Nonetheless, it's remarkable, recognizing that the presence of Warren (and Bloomberg) in the field has aided the Vermont senator, that Fang completely misinterprets the Massachusetts senator's strategy.

During the most recent debate, Warren stated "I think I would make a better president than Bernie."  Of course she does- otherwise she wouldn't have been on the stage. Everyone vying for the Democratic nomination believes that he or she would make a better President than anyone. That is (for anyone but Donald Trump, who wanted to maximize his wealth) a prerequisite to running. They all have big egos and believe they can effectively lead what- before President Trump tore apart the nation's reputation- was the undisputed leader of the free world.

Were I running for office, I'd expect nothing more positive from a rival than

Look, the way I see this is that Bernie is winning right now because the Democratic Party is a progressive party and progressive ideas are popular ideas. Even if there are a lot of people on this stage who don’t want to say so. But Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president than Bernie.

Warren, given her choice, would still prefer to be President. She went on to explain, accurately, why she would be a better president than Sanders, but in a manner which was about as close to an attack as Boston is from, say, Spokane.

In the debate in Las Vegas, every Democratic candidate criticized Mike Bloomberg. However, only Elizabeth Warren lit into him like a vulture lights into a dead carcass. She started off like a hungry, mongrel dog that discovers a bone, and she barely let up. Personally, I thought her initial attack was over the line- but I'm not running for President or fronting for another candidate.

Below, one sees Warren, asked by a reporter "let me ask about Bernie Sanders," replying "I heard you. Michael Bloomberg....."

Elizabeth Warren has been competing against Bernard Sanders, who was initially propelled by a proposal for "Medicare for All," When she proposed a similar, somewhat less radical, program for single-payer health care with more details, more meat on the bones, than had her opponent, she took Sanders supporters and the right the incoming which Sanders would have expected to get. Her numbers plummeted.

Were I in Warren's position, I would have been annoyed and a little bitter. But then besides being male, a little younger, and far less knowledgeable than EW, I'm not as committed to progressive ideals as she is.  So that is why, in a manner very unusual for a politician, Elizabeth Warren's strategy does make sense. It's how she rolls.

Bloomberg is not the leading candidate for the nomination. Bernard Sanders is, and Elizabeth Warren continues to belittle and denounce Michael Bloomberg. It's almost as if she's trying.... Well, you get it.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Giving Sanders A Pass

"By the end," Ryan Lizza writes at Politico

it was clear that there was no Bernie slayer at the lecterns in Charleston, someone who alone had the time and skills to convince Democratic voters that the democratic socialist was a radical whose nomination would forfeit the party’s chance to defeat Trump.
Nor was there anyone with the desire to slay the front-runner.

Give the Democratic candidates their due. They probably figure Sanders is likely to be the nominee and viciously attacking him might help undo their chances of unseating President Trump in November and to hold onto the House of Representatives, the latter in doubt with the nomination of Sanders. And if one of them brings down Sanders, it might inure to the benefit of Michael Bloomberg- whose nomination would be dicey for another set of reasons.

Consider (times correlated with this transcript):

1) Pete Buttigieg, beginning at 3:37

We know what the President … what Russia wants, it’s chaos.

Once this campaign is over, Buttigieg will be found on the boardwalk either in Atlantic City, N.J. or at southern California beaches. Inasmuch as we don't know what the Kremlin is doing, how it is doing it, when it started, whether it is continuing or who the specific actor is, we don't know why Vladimir Putin prefers Bernard Sanders to all others as the Democratic nominee.  We do know, however, that Sanders has continually knocked USA foreign policy over the decades as one which excessively prefers regimes friendly to this country at the expense of other values. (See "Cuba, literacy.")  Therefore, assuming that Buttigieg really isn't a psychic, his remark may have reflected an unwillingness to confront Sanders here.

2) Elizabeth Warren beginning at 3:40

Look, the way I see this is that Bernie is winning right now because the Democratic Party is a progressive party and progressive ideas are popular ideas. Even if there are a lot of people on this stage who don’t want to say so. But Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard and it’s going to take someone who digs into the details to make it happen. Bernie and I both wanted to help reign in Wall Street. In 2008, we both got our chance, but I dug in, I fought the big banks, I built the coalitions and I won. Bernie and I both want to see universal healthcare, but Bernie’s plan doesn’t explain how to get there, doesn’t show how we’re going to get enough allies into it and doesn’t show enough about how we’re going to pay for it.

There could be no clearer endorsement of the candidacy of the Vermont senator than "Bernie is winning right now because the Democratic Party is a progressive party and progressive ideas are popular ideas. Even if there are a lot of people on this stage who don’t want to say so."  Moreover, while Warren's pitch all along should have been that she is "someone who digs into the details to make it happen," once she invoked this argument Wednesday night, it was not heard again. Repetition works- ask Sanders, who returns repeatedly to the same theme(s), whatever the question asked.

3)  Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar, beginning at 23:23 responding to Sanders first stating

Let me just, the answer is, it’s something that we would take into consideration. But here is the point. I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months, but what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country. And I happen to believe, I happen to believe, that what our foreign policy in the mid-east should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel. But you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people. We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians, and the Americans. And in answer to your question, that will come within the context of bringing nations together in the mid-east.

Michael Bloomberg:

Well, the battles been going on for a long time in the Middle East, whether it’s the Arabs versus the Persians, the Shias versus the Sunnis, the Jews in Israel and the Palestinians, it’s only gone on for 40 or 50 years. Number one, you can’t move the embassy back. We should not have done it without getting something from the Israeli government, but it was done, and you’re going to have to leave it there. Number two, only solution here is a two state solution. The Palestinians have to be accommodated. The real problem here is you have two groups of people, both of who think God them the same piece of land. And the answer is to obviously split it up, leave the Israeli borders where they are. Try to push them to pull back some of those extra, over on the other side of the wall where they’ve built these new communities, which they should not have done that. Pull it back-

Sanders has appeared at the convention of the largest Muslim political action committee in the nation and received its endorsement. He also has chatted on Fox News, allegedly because he believes a public official must communicate with those he disagrees with. Yet he has refused two years running to attend the convention of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and now has labeled as "racist" the leader of one of the two most steadfast allies..

No one cares what Michael Bloomberg's policy is toward the Mideast any more than voters care about Warren's 78 plans for every problem besetting the USA. The front-runner just claimed to be proud that he is Jewish- and called the leader of probably one of the two most steadfast allies of the USA a "racist." In any other context than a Democratic presidential campaign, that is called a "gaffe."

Klobuchar was no better- and should have been. According to this report, the Minnesota senator "has a solid relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobby in the country." The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has stated "she's ubiquitous in the Minnesota Jewish community." And last night, when Israel's Prime Minister was called a "racist," she was mum.

4) Joseph Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren, beginning at 26:29 with Tom Steyer:

Excuse me, Amy. This conversation shows a huge risk for the Democratic Party. We are looking at a party that has decided that we’re either going to support someone who is a Democratic Socialist or somebody who has a long history of being a Republican. And let me say that I got into this race because I wanted to fight for economic justice, for racial justice, and to make sure we had climate justice for the American people. And I am scared. If we cannot pull this party together, if we go to one of those extremes, we take a terrible risk of reelecting Donald Trump.

Here, Tom Steyer condemns Sanders as a Democratic Socialist and Bloomberg for having "a long history of being a Republican."   To the credit of Steyer- whom yesterday I wouldn't give any credit to- he opened the floor for what should have been an obvious point. 

Three days before the debate, the front-runner lumped the "Republican establishment" in with the typically unspecified, largely neutered "Democratic establishment." He plans to take on the Democratic establishment this autumn and reportedly still has not registered as a Democrat. This does not bode well for a party which  would like to take over the Senate and at least hold on to the House of Representatives, But it did provide an opening, which Biden, Klobuchar, and Warren ignored.

Those are four instances in which Bernard Sanders' rivals, whose chances decline every day, failed for whatever reason to challenge the prohibitive favorite as they should have, and needed to have. And don't get me started on Castro's Cuba.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

No Answer

The argument that Bernard Sanders has helped move the Democratic Party leftward was reflected  in Tom Steyer's response pertaining to whether he'd support "direct cash payments to the descendants of slaves reparations" if recommended by a commission. The billionaire stated on Tuesday night at a CNN town hall meeting

... If you want to tell the truth about the African-American experience here, and you -- how did we get here? If we want to figure out how to repair the wrong together, we have to go back and tell the story of what's happened, so that we understand how we got here, so together we come up with the right solution, Chris.

It would be inappropriate for me to mandate the solution. This is something that we have to work through together, but there has -- that's why, when I was talking about the historically black colleges and universities, there's a narrative there about why those schools are so important. There's a narrative about how they've performed. There is a policy that comes out of those truths that is inescapable.

And I believe -- look, the -- I'm not kidding about this moral leadership. If you go back -- one of the things that's true. George W. Bush got war powers to fight the war on terror that were virtually unlimited. And it's turned out to be a big mistake. I think most people recognize that.

There are 435 congresspeople and 100 senators in the United States; 434 congresspeople and 100 senators voted for that. One person voted against it -- a black congresswoman from Oakland, Barbara Lee. It's not a fluke. There has been moral leadership from African- Americans before Dr. King, long before Dr. King, and after Dr. King's assassination....

There are parts of the African-American experience which haven't been told. There also are parts of the immigrant experience which haven't been told, as with the history of the American government supporting dictators throughout the world, especially in this hemisphere. There is also an untold story about how powerful corporate interests gained control of the American economy from forces representing the public interest. That has been particularly the case in the health care industry and has provided impetus for single-payer health care, which Tom Steyer opposes.

The story of the African-American experience has been inadequately told, as have so many other of our stories. However, at this point, the American people have a reasonably good knowledge of the oppression of black Americans. This pertains even to the number of whites who believe, albeit absurdly, that election of a black man to the presidency in 2008 purged the nation of the stain of discrimination and repression.  Their duty done, many voters believed, election of a white bigot in 2016 would be wholly acceptable.

If Steyer wants American history to be better told, perhaps he should be a student of early 21st century history.  President Bush was not given "war powers to fight the war on terror that were virtually unlimited." He took them. The Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 authorized the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."

It permitted that specific President, and only to use force against those involved in the attacks of 9/11/01. It was abused numerous times by Presidents Bush and Obama and is a prime example of the dangerous expansion of Executive power in the last few decades- and which has been spiraling out of control in the Trump Administration.

Barbara Lee deserves credit for her vote. But she did not cast it because she is black, nor did did the 35 other members of Congress who are black who voted in favor of the resolution do it because of their race. Neither Steyer's reference to Representative Lee's wise and courageous vote nor the value of Historically Black Colleges and Universities constitutes a valid answer to a question about reparations.

Tom Steyer himself might be the answer- but to no question which ever has been posed or contemplated.

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Sanders' Choice, Klobuchar's Chance

"Paging Amy Klobuchar."

The Minnesota senator is too conservative for my tastes, andher vote for a controversial (anti-) Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions demonstrated questionable judgment because of issues pertaining to free speech.  Nevertheless, she is correct that

As staunch allies of Israel, we must also ensure that harmful movements, like the resurgence in anti-Semitism and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement are not successful. The BDS movement undermines a two-state solution and is counterproductive to both Israelis and Palestinians.

It appears unlikely that is an opinion shared by the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for President. And so it is that

It's comforting to learn that the senator is not determined to bring further war and insecurity to the  Middle East. However

his public refusal to attend last year’s conference early in his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination spurred a petition that urged other presidential candidates to steer clear of the pro-Israel lobbying group’s event.

Things have changed since last year, but the senator from Vermont on Sunday again denounced the conference, which he called a platform for “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” In doing so, Sanders has reignited the debate over the lobby’s influence in U.S. politics, at a time when some detractors have compared his supporters and campaign victories to the rise of the Nazis.

In response, AIPAC, which calls itself a “pro-Israel lobby” and holds substantial sway in foreign policy debates involving Israel and the Palestinian territories, described Sanders’s position on Sunday as “truly shameful.”

“Sen. Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” AIPAC said in a tweet Sunday. “By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Sen. Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel.”

AIPAC is not Republican or Democratic, nor does it support Likud or any political party in Israel.  A year ago, it criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for forming a coalition with three right-wing parties in order to remain in power. Probably more than anything else, it is mainstream.

Yet Bernard Sanders won't attend its conference this year, just as he refused to do so last year.  He did, however, recently appear at a forum co-sponsored by Emgage and earned the endorsement of Emgage Action, which "calls itself the biggest Muslim political action committee in the country."

Sanders may be emphasizing his support for Palestinian Arabs over Palestinian Jews as a general election strategy (read: "Michigan").  Or he actually may want to restructure radically American policy in the Middle East.

The Vermont senator may expect his Jewish affiliation to blunt or counter any charge that he does not support "the right of the Israeli people to live in peace and security," a vague phrase meaning nothing.  But he is the clear front-runner, and without a serious challenge- beginning at Tuesday's debate in Charleston, S.C.- obviously will sail to the nomination.  And for Amy Klobuchar, that might mean confronting Sanders on his preferences in the Middle East. It's a risky strategy, but for her at least there probably is no other.

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Going Low

Lamenting what he sees as Bernard Sanders' march to the Democratic presidential nomination, Chris Matthews goes on about Nazis, Jews, concentration camps, and the Holocaust. Beginning at 1:41 of the video below, he can be seen and heard remarking

That is the name of the game. It's pretty much over unless that changes. I was reading last night- Brian, I know because you're a history guy, too- I'm reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940.   And the general, Renaud, calls up Churchill and says "it's over." And Churchill says "how can it be? You got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?" He said "It's over."

So I had that suppressed feeling. I can't be as wild as Carville but he's damn smart and I think he's damn right about this one."

You're reading that right. He said nothing about Jews; nothing about the Holocaust or concentration camps; nothing, even, about Nazis per se. As noted by one who likes Sanders, denigrates MSNBC, and despises the Democratic establishment (whatever there is left of it, anyway):
However, that didn't stop numerous tweets accusing Matthews of anti-Semitism.  One came from the communications director for the candidate, obviously feared by Matthews, whose surrogates include Ilhan Omar and a brazen anti-Semite.

We can write this incident off as just another loathsome manifestation of cancel culture, the "you disagree with me, so just die" impulse. But it shouldn't be necessary for supporters of Bernard Sanders' candidacy to apply the religion (or ethnic or whatever is intended) card to an innocuous, perhaps clumsy, military reference.

Hopefully, this is merely a one-off from the Sanders campaign. Nonetheless, there you have it- a bigot in the White House, and an opposing campaign which may be gearing up to throw up some ugliness of its own.

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Yes, From His Supporters

Give him credit. Bernard Sanders finds an idea and sticks to it. Whether it is persistence or stubbornness, you always know where the Vermont senator will be on an issue because it is where he always has been.

And so it was that at the presidential debate on Wednesday evening Sanders stated (emphasis mine)

Well, Pete, if you want to talk to some of the women on my campaign, what you will see is the most ugly, sexist, racist attacks that are -- I wouldn't even describe them here, they're so disgusting.

And let me say something else about this, not being too paranoid. All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our election and divide us up. I'm not saying that's happening, but it would not shock me.

Yesterday, while revealing that Russia had determined that its favorite candidate in the Democratic race is none other than Bernie Sanders, the candidate forthrightly, definitively, and eloquently stated

I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

But then he added

In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.

Though "may... not be" are weasel words, the inclusion of  "well" between the "may" and "not" clearly suggests that Sanders is strongly implying that the ugly stuff on the Internet is not coming from supporters.

Odds are that a little of it is. However, Washington Post reporters noted

Sanders’s language was indirect, offered on the debate stage here as his opponents faulted him for the behavior of his most strident fans. It drew criticism from experts in disinformation, who said they had no direct evidence the Kremlin had masqueraded as Sanders voters to interfere in the 2020 race much as Russian trolls had done four years earlier....

Absent direct evidence, researchers said Sanders’s comments threaten to foment further doubt about a campaign that has been buffeted by confidence-shaking missteps, beginning with the technical glitches that marred the Iowa caucuses earlier this month.

"We have seen no evidence in open sources during this election cycle that an online community of Sanders supporters, known as Bernie bros, were catalyzed by what Sanders suggested could be ‘Russian interference,’ " said Graham Brookie, director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, which tracks disinformation on social media sites.

“Any candidate or public official casually introducing the possibility of Russian influence without providing any evidence or context creates a specter of interference that makes responding to real interference harder,” Brookie said.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said Thursday it also had not seen evidence of Russian trolls masquerading as Sanders supporters. Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said the company would “disclose” activity by Russia or other foreign actors if it had “reasonable evidence of state-backed information operations.”

Bernard Sanders had on Friday one brief, shining moment, amplified by a media which barely noticed that he had followed it with a remark intended to deny the obvious about his followers.  This is not over

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Giving Guns A Shot

The town hall events held separately for Democratic candidates by CNN are largely one hour unpaid political advertisements. Whatever they're intended to be, they provide little or no news nor additional information about the candidates. The best response to having watched any one of them is "an hour of my life I'll never get back."

Most of the questions are of the softball variety and the presidential hopefuls are rarely pressed. Nonetheless (or maybe "because") Anderson Cooper's friendly chat with Joe Biden Thursday evening provided at least one moment of drama while revealing a missed opportunity for Michael Bloomberg the night before.

During Wednesday evening's debate, the former Delaware senator and vice-president was asked "what would you do about these companies that are responsible for the destruction of our planet?"

Biden began

What would I do with them? I would make sure they, number one, stop. Number two, if you demonstrate that they, in fact, have done things already that are bad and they've been lying, they should be able to be sued, they should be able to be held personally accountable, and they should -- and not only the company, not the stockholders, but the CEOs of those companies. They should be engaged.

But then he added

And it's a little bit like -- look, this is the industries we should be able to sue. We should go after -- just like we did the drug companies, just like we did with the tobacco companies. The only company we can't go after are gun manufacturers, because of my buddy here. But that's a different story...

Actually, there is at least one, as a contemporary news report in 2011 noted that the Supreme Court had ruled "that a federal law prohibits lawsuits against drug makers over serious side effects from childhood vaccines." However, there is a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program which gives at least some financial relief to injured children. And of course, used properly, childhood vaccines save lives while used properly, firearms end them.

Still, it was a stinging- or should have been- rebuke to Vermont senator Bernard Sanders, whose mixed record on gun safety has reflected his conflict between leftist ideology and representing a rural state.

Then on Thursday, Biden told  the audience and Anderson Cooper (beginning at 5:20 of the video below)

I'm not suggesting you have to vote for me, but what I'm saying is, how about if I said to you, you know what, drug companies should be immune from being able to be sued. They put out 9 billion opioid pills in a matter of years, but they shouldn't be able to be sued. They misled advertising on television saying that you in fact can get -- they don't point out you can get hooked in five days on everything from -- that they advertised. And I said, but we can't sue them.

How about if I said that about the tobacco companies? I said, we shouldn't be able to sue the tobacco companies when they're misleading about how it caused cancer and the like. Or the oil companies that are out there polluting the ground? But guess what? The only industry in America that is not able to be sued are the gun manufacturers.

Now Bernie talks about my record. It's appropriate. It's not -- I'm not being mean. He voted to exempt gun manufacturers from any liability, zero. They can't be sued. And I tell you what, I'm not joking. I've sat there and looked in the eyes of those parents, as recently as today, talking about their kids and how they died, and they died at the hands of -- why can't we sue these manufacturers for advertising, for misleading, for glorifying, for promoting this godawful -- you know how many people have died since 2007 of murder with guns? Three times as many people have died in the Vietnam War and every war since. Three times as many, 150,000 murders, 150,000 murders. Those lives have crushed families. I was on the phone on the second anniversary with Fred Guttenberg down in Florida. He is the guy who lost his daughter, to just call him because I know what it's like to lose a daughter, lose a son.

And guess what? You know, he has devoted his whole life to try to make sure. And all they want, let me sue these guys who have done this stuff, this carnage on the street. Look at the people here in the greatest mass shooting in American history, the worst mass shooting at Mandalay Bay.

A guy has 12 assault weapons with bump stocks, which means you can fire it faster. You can pull the trigger faster. And 100 rounds. Why in God's name should anyone, anyone, anyone, anyone be able to own that? It's just wrong. And we've got to -- and I promise you as president...

And upon being applauded

... I am going to get these guys. I want to let them know, promise you. I'm the only guy that has beaten the gun manufacturers. I'm the only guy that has beaten the NRA nationally, and I did it twice, nationally. And gun manufacturers, I'm coming for you, period.

Maybe he would and maybe he wouldn't. Only time will tell and even time probably won't because his election is a long-shot at present. Yet, it arguably was the best moment of his campaign.

Former mayor Bloomberg has spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money supporting pro-gun control groups, and helped bankroll  Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, which recently merged  His gun safety credentials are solid and on Thursday in consecutive tweets had condemned Sanders for being "corrupt" for having helped protect firearms manufacturers from legal immunity. Still, he missed a golden opportunity in the debate because, though no question pertained to gun control, he could have pivoted to making a point about firearms- as did Biden.

Perhaps Michael Bloomberg is such an inexperienced debater that he failed to exploit the one issue on which he is superior to all of his opponents.  More generously, he may have found that one issue he needs to exploit.  Or it's possible that Joe Biden has regained his mojo with a strong line one evening, and a rally and eloquent statement the following day, all on the same topic.

The best possible scenario: both Michael Bloomberg and Joseph Biden zero in on the one issue on which Bernard Sanders falls to the right of most Democrats.It might not do either of their candidacies any good but would at least focus the attention on an issue which in the past few months had received inadequate attention in the campaign. 

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Last Refuge Of A Democratic Scoundrel

Wednesday evening in the debate in Las Vegas, Nevada we heard

Senator Warren, I have a question for you. On Sunday, on "Meet the Press," Vice President Biden accused Senator Sanders' supporters of bullying union leaders here with, quote, "vicious, malicious, misogynistic things." You said Democrats cannot build an inclusive party on a foundation of hate. Are Senator Sanders and his supporters making it harder for Democrats to unify in November?

Senator Warren replied "Look, I have said many times before, we are all responsible for our supporters. And we need to step up. That's what leadership is all about."

Warren then pivoted to blasting Bloomberg. Perhaps as someone who has largely avoided criticizing the front-runner during the campaign, she may be rooting for a Sanders nomination. In contrast, Steve M. argues "her specific line of attack, a critique of Bloomberg's sexism and use of wealth to avoid consequences, seemed heartfelt. (Where's the word 'authentic' when you need it?)"

The pivot allowed Sanders then to wail "if there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people," as if there is any question as to "if." He also played the race card because Democrats can play it as well as Republicans (in a different manner), remarking "talk to some of the African-American women on my campaign. Talk to Senator Nina Turner. Talk to others and find the vicious, racist, sexist attacks that are coming their way, as well."

Now that Senator Sanders has invoked race for political advantage, we will take note of the obvious, that his press spokesman is a black woman, Brianha Joy Gray. And Ms. Gray pulled out the race card herself when she

doubled down in a CNN interview on Wednesday, insisting that the onus is on Sanders only to be as forthcoming as the rest of the 2020 Democratic field.

“I think the American people deserve to know exactly as much as every other candidate has released in this race currently and historically,” said Gray.

“What you’re seeing right now is really reminiscent of some of the kind of smear, kind of skepticism campaigns that have been run against a lot of different candidates in the past, questioning where they’re from, aspects of their lineage,” continued Gray, in an apparent reference to “birther” conspiracy theories that said Obama was born outside the United States.

The similarities between criticism of Bernard Sanders and criticism of Barack Obama are a) they're both Democrats; and b) nothing else

It always was obviously untrue that Barack Obama was born in Africa. However, it is true that Bernard Sanders suffered a heart attack in recent months.  Birtherism directed toward Obama was prompted in part by racial bias. Demanding that Sanders release full medical records has been prompted by an actual event, a heart attack, and not by racial, religious, gender, or any other bias.

Whether through lack of self-respect or of courage, Mr. Obama remains silent as a request for a candidate to release his medical records is compared to the birther attacks upon himself. This failure is even more glaring in light of the apparent hostility between Obama and Senator Sanders.

However, Elizabeth Warren inadvertently opened the door a crack. Responding to a question in last night's debate about climate change, Warren asserted "Look, I'm going to say something that is really controversial in Washington, but I think I'm safe to say this here in Nevada. I believe in science."

That was not humblebrag. It is controversial. If it weren't, she and other Democratic candidates would demand that the medical records of each contender be released.  And Bernard Sanders should be the first to be transparent for two reasons. He has released less information than has Warren or Joe Biden. Additionally, it isn't every four years that a 78-year old man with a recent coronary event, the severity of which is unknown to the public, is the front-runner for his party's presidential nomination.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Where's Elizabeth?

There is great timing and then there is even better timing.  While considering Elizabeth Warren's strategy for the Wednesday evening debate in New Hampshire, Charlie Pierce noted the senator is "running on how monopoly power and the money power have had a corrupting influence on how we do politics in this country in the 21st century." He added

Sanders, of course, has leaned into this issue for decades as well, because his heart is in the right place. The difference between the two, I think, is that SPW knows far more about how the mechanisms of the money power work to sabotage the institutions of politics and government. In her own phrase, she knows how the tricks and traps work better than a lot of the people who set them up. She’s been one of the principal diagnosticians of financial thievery for going on 30 years now, in and out of government. I believe that’s why she worries them more than does Sanders, whom they believe, perhaps falsely, they can simply blow off.

Pierce doesn't say whether he  believes that the idea that Sanders can be disregarded is because he ultimately will not get the nomination or- more likely- because there is a notion that he hasn't thought through his ideas and doesn't know how he'd implement them.

A few hours later we have this:

Buzzfeed reports

Elizabeth Warren was left out of a national poll question Tuesday that pitted Democratic candidates against Donald Trump, angering supporters who have protested that the media has erased her candidacy in the wake of her showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The poll, from NBC and the Wall Street Journal, found Warren was effectively tied for second place nationally, with 14% of the vote.

But pollsters excluded her from a series of match-ups between Trump and top candidates. The poll include Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Mike Bloomberg, who all polled within a point of Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, who trailed significantly behind them

Peter Hart, whose firm conducted the poll, told BuzzFeed News that the poll had “space and time” for just five candidate match-ups.

"Space and time?" Hart didn't even claim to have erred but went with an excuse that's very odd. Alternatively, maybe the firm didn't want to have, nor does it want voters to have, anything to do with one of the nation's principle diagnosticians of financial thievery.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Step Up

An NBC/MSNBC host:

It's a good bet that Bernard Sanders won't be answering those questions.  After several debates, in which Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg were the main targets of other candidates, Sanders won one-half the caucus in Iowa, came out on top in New Hampshire, and is the front-runner in the Democratic primary race.

He now is the prohibitive favorite to win the caucus in Nevada later this week. Thus, the Vermont senator would be the obvious target of the candidates in the debate on Wednesday, the evening before. Then in the nick of time Michael Bloomberg becomes eligible for the debate and, if Sanders has a lot of questions to answer for, the centrist Republican turned Independent turned Democrat ex-New York City mayor has even more.  Sometimes it's more important to be lucky than good.

So Sanders may have little to gain and much to lose by addressing the constant vitriol of his supporters on social media. He simply does not have to respond in full. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the controversy in Nevada pertaining to the criticism of Sanders by the Culinary Workers Local 226.

began last week after the union began distributing fliers to members, comparing the candidates’ stances on policy.

“End Culinary Healthcare,” reads the first bullet point beside Mr. Sanders’s name on a flyer.

It was an unwelcome criticism, made worse by the reaction among some of Mr. Sanders’s supporters. Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said she received hundreds of emails, phone calls and texts calling her names and threatening her. Her home address was posted online, she said, and her adult children were worried about her safety.

“I believe in the democratic process, and to have this happen is very scary,” Ms. Argüello-Kline said. “After many years as an activist, after many strikes, I have never felt that way in my life. And we are not telling people how to vote — they can make their own decision.”

The vile language prompted Mr. Sanders to issue a statement, in which he said “harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me” and urged “supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks.”

But his general reference to “all campaigns” only further angered some of the union leaders, who, like many of the rank-and-file members, are women of color. Ms. Argüello-Kline said that she wished Mr. Sanders would have spoken out sooner to help quell the threats.

Union leaders were angered for good cause.  Sanders did not apologize.  His statement in full read

Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me, and we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks. Our campaign is building a multi-generational, multi-racial movement of love, compassion, and justice. We can certainly disagree on issues, but we must do it in a respectful manner.

The problem is not "all campaigns"; the problem is his campaign. Sanders merely applauds himself when he combines "harassment of all forms" everywhere with a boastful claim that such campaign "is building a multi-generational, multi-racial movement of love, compassion, and justice."

Even the CNN correspondent appearing in the video (from 2/7/19) below, reporting criticism of the excessive online supporters of Sanders, quotes the Senator as condemning "racist bullying and harassment of anyone." But it's not of "anyone"- it's of his opponents done in his name.

Generalizing the issue is a means to avoid responsibility because the other campaigns are not his responsibility. As Senator Warren realizes, the candidate is accountable, or should be held accountable, for condoning the excesses of his supporters, whose disappointment or anger Bernard Sanders thus far has been unwilling to risk. It does not bode well for an effective presidency.

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Monday, February 17, 2020

Act Like A President

This alone tells us relatively little about Amy Klobuchar, but anyway:

Klobuchar is not necessarily "dumb" nor especially ignorant. Many US senators probably know little about Mexico. And she is qualified to be President of the United States of America.  The senior Minnesota senator is now serving her third term, whereas when he was elected President, Barack Obama had been a senator since approximately last Tuesday (four years into his first and only term).

Nonetheless, Klobuchar's appearance on Bill Maher's Real Time on Friday exposed her as unprepared for the presidential transition period (as probably all the other Democratic presidential aspirants are).  At 8:10 of the video below, Maher can be seen broaching a subject all other interviewers havebeen too naive, timid, or cowardly to raise. After  Klobuchar takes a dig at Trump, Maher begins with

So that's what we have on our side- rapier wit, sweets, very enthusiastic audiences in liberal cities. Here's what he has: miltiary, police, and he throws in the bikers.

O.K., I'm going to ask this question because I ask it of every Democratic politician that comes on here. (Here, Klobuchar interjects with her talking points because she has no clue what Maher is getting at.)

That's not what I'm talking about. I'm saying you win, you win. That's different than him leaving. That's what I want to know what is the plan and I think we need to start talking about it now.  It's very hard for me to imagine you winning the popular vote fair and square and him sending out a congratulatory telegram, "so great that you won, we had a good match and, uh, let me tell you where I keep the important papers."

Trump is not only not sending out a telegram, he's issuing no tweet to that effect. The host continues

He's not leaving. His people are not going to give up power. What is the plan if he says "I found irregularities. The people who ran it in Iowa screwed it up again. I have to stay. It was rigged." He's already said this many times. What do you do then?

The only question is whether Trump will be able to squeeze "Hillary" or "James Comey" into his tweet. It would be amazing that no Democrat has addressed this near-certainty (if the incumbent is defeated) except that it appears no one in the media has raised the issue. Klobuchar responds

The first thing you do is you start now. Win big, which I believe will help. Secondly- come on, you win all these states in the country and it's harder. Second, you make sure we have backup paper ballots, you push for- that's my bills. You do everything to protect elections.

Ballot security is extremely important. However, the "win all these states in the country" is not only a dangerous mind-set, it's bizarre coming from a candidate whose calling card is that she has won in a swing state adjacent to swing states. Hillary Clinton wanted to win a lot of states, to establish a mandate, and in so doing failed to secure the party's electoral base.

When Maher notes "We're living in the era of fake news. There's no facts anymore. It's just about power," Klobuchar states "we have always had a peaceful transition of power in this country."

Memo to Senator Klobuchar: this is Donald Trump- Donald Trump. "Have always had" is inoperable. Emphasizing "have," Maher responds "have had. We're now in a different world."

Languishing in the old world, Klobuchar maintains "when you have the people on your side in a big way...."

That big way would be 50%-58% of the 60% of Americans eligible to register to vote, those over 18.  So that would be approximately 35% of American adults who would have voted for a victorious Klobuchar. Trump would surely stress that most Americans did not vote for his opponent.

However, there is an additional reason "the people" may not prevail, for Maher points out "oh, he has a lot of people on his side- the ones with the guns."

The Democratic nominee will need to assemble a team of lawyers prepared to do battle with a defeated Trump who would refuse to leave the White House. Promptly after winning election, the victor's team should issue press releases- in the name of "President-Elect" and signed by the 46th President. Within days, the President-elect should start announcing cabinet nominees, which would reinforce the (accurate) public perception that the incumbent had been defeated.

It would help to visit states to thank voters publicly for helping elect a new President. Rallies can be held with banners emblazoned with the Electoral College vote of each candidate.  Meetings should be held with congressional leaders, though GOP legislators probably will refuse to participate. Visits with foreign leaders can be scheduled.

The ball doesn't have to be spiked in the Trumpian manner, but voters need to know the Democratic nominee has (with their help) reached the end zone. The winner must act like he/she has won and change is a-coming.

When there is only one Democratic candidate who has asserted that charges against a Donald Trump would be investigated in her administration, it isn't only Amy Klobuchar who doesn't understand on the deepest level that things have changed dramatically. As Bill Maher understands, the rule of law has given way to the primacy of power. If he loses, Donald Trump is going nowhere until and unless he is forced to vacate the White House.

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Her Objective

Steve M argues what some of us believed all along (italics his, favorably quoting Jonathan Chait):

ordinary Americans don't care about the fate of Ukraine. They cared about the Cold War, and about the hot wars we've fought over the years. They care about fighting terrorists. They may know Russia is a bad actor, but it's not a bogeyman the way Hitler, the Soviet Union, and Osama bin Laden were. If your car is in the shop and you just found out your kid needs braces, concerns about Ukraine's security seem very, very remote. And behind that simple summary is an ungainly, convoluted narrative. (A September post by Chait was titled "The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.")

Presidential buckraking is extremely easy to understand: Trump takes advantage of his office to channel money to his own businesses. Presidents aren't supposed to personally profit from the presidency. Some of this money comes from foreign governments. The Constitution specifically forbids that. To comprehend this, you don't need to have a grasp on geopolitics. Also, when Trump pockets this money he can't claim to be engaging in a noble act, the way he can when he says he's very concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

The crimes for which Trump was impeached were serious -- but they were remote from most Americans' experience. Trump's profiteering is much simpler to understand. If House Democrats wanted to grab the attention of the public, that's where they should have turned.

"If."  If House Democrats wanted to grab the attention of the public, that's where they should have turned. Nor was the objective to undermine the President's re-election campaign nor to enhance the prospects of the eventual Democratic challenger.

Quite valid. But House Democrats- spelled "P-e-l-o-s-i"-  did not want "to grab the attention of the public."

The time frame tells the tale.  The House Speaker had been opposed to launching an impeachment inquiry despite the growing number of individuals in her caucus urging a probe.

Then on Monday, September 23, official Washington awoke to read

Our lives have been defined by national service. We are not career politicians. We are veterans of the military and of the nation’s defense and intelligence agencies. Our service is rooted in the defense of our country on the front lines of national security.

We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over. Now, we join as a unified group to uphold that oath as we enter uncharted waters and face unprecedented allegations against President Trump.

As became clear in the Washington Post op-ed, that was because of Ukraine and only because of Ukraine, in which "the president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it."

The short piece was written by seven freshmen, none of whom previously had endorsed an inquiry and all six of whom had "flipped" their seats, turning them from Republican to Democratic.  (Even better, to Pelosi, six are women.) Pelosi flipped on September 24.

Pelosi held her caucus together, with only two Democrats voting not to indict Donald Russia on either of the two counts of impeachment.

Virtually no one (with the "virtually" being questionable) thought there was a significant chance that the President would be convicted in the GOP-majority Senate.  The Senate fell nineteen (19) votes short of throwing Trump out of office which was arguably a marginally better showing for Democrats than expected.

For that reason and others, Steve M is right. The public would have better understood greed and corruption than an attempt to enlist a foreign government in subverting an American election. It also would have cared more because the vast majority of Trump supporters (unsurprisingly) are unopposed to Trump investigating a political enemy. And no one cares about the nation of Ukraine (an exaggeration, but barely).

However, that is none of Nancy Pelosi's concern. She is not the party's leader in the Senate nor is she a presidential candidate.

She is Speaker of the House and fulfilled her role. The chamber she leads did what it had to do, investigating the President's apparent high crimes and misdemeanors, holding the caucus together, impeaching the President, and sending the charges to the Senate.

It was only after the seven national security Democrats announced their support of the inquiry that Pelosi acted. The op-ed was highly influential, not only with the Speaker but probably also giving other centrist/center-left Democrats cover for impeachment. And Nancy Pelosi wants very much to maintain control of her chamber and to remain Speaker Pelosi.  Victory of these Democrats in the next congressional cycle is crucial to fulfilling that objective.

The American people were denied the opportunity to view, in a very visible arena, Trump family grift and greed. Had this been the focus of impeachment hearings, the Trump presidential campaign would have been undermined and the campaign of his eventual challenger enhanced.

But that was not Speaker Pelosi's calling, at least as she understood it. And despite the probability that the alternate approach would have been deleterious to President Trump's political health, thus favorable to national security, a note of caution is needed. Warring against corruption may not always stir the public. Just ask Elizabeth Warren.

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Racehorse Genes

Credit the discovery to Michael D'Antonio.  He conducted a series of interviews with Donald J. Trump in 2014, of whom Donald Trump Jr....