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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Party Above Country
      •  Trump Announces Moroccan Recognition of Israel (But Check the Fine Print)
      •  Biden Picks McDonough to Lead the VA
      •  Biden, Harris Are Time's "Persons of the Year"
      •  Biden Might Ride the Rails to Inaugural
      •  Parler Falls Flat
      •  Biden Will Campaign for Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia

Party Above Country

There are currently 196 Republicans in the House of Representatives. And 106 of them have now signed on to an amicus brief for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's (R) pending SCOTUS case, declaring that the presidential election was illegitimate, and that the Court should step in and overturn the results. Put another way, 54% of the GOP House caucus is openly calling for a coup because they don't like the results of an election. If that is not putting party before country, we don't know what is.

Just so we are clear, let's review the state of the Trump legal fight. Although the President and his official underlings (Rudy Giuliani, etc.) and unofficial underlings (Sidney Powell, etc.) have insisted until they are blue in the face that there is evidence aplenty of electoral fraud, they have produced nothing of substance. On top of that, they have made many comically inept court filings and equally inept oral arguments. As a consequence, every suit but one has been tossed out, often accompanied by laughter, or by a sharp scolding from a judge.

At this point, Team Trump (including Paxton) is no longer bothering to argue massive fraud (which, if they could prove, would actually be a plausible cause of action). Instead, they are focusing on facts that are universally agreed upon, and arguing based on those. For example, Paxton is emphasizing that Pennsylvania should not have allowed some voters to "cure" their ballots, that Michigan should not have preemptively mailed out so many absentee ballots, and that Georgia should not have counted ballots received after the deadline.

There are so many problems with this case that it boggles the mind. Let's start with the fact that courts, including SCOTUS, are leery of getting involved with elections unless they have to. Then there's the fact that no judge is seriously going to consider invalidating millions of votes because a few hundred votes may be screwy. Oh, and don't forget the small matter that the Constitution empowers states to run elections pretty much as they see fit, and everything Paxton's kvetching about was in accordance with state law in those states and was already sustained by state courts in those states (often multiple times). There is also a wee problem of standing; assuming that something problematic did go down here, then the injured parties are presumably citizens of Pennsylvania, or Michigan, or Georgia. Not, you know, the attorney general of Texas (or the people he ostensibly represents).

At best, then, 106 GOP members of the House are signing onto a lawsuit that they know has no chance of succeeding, and that is just a publicity stunt. At worst, however, they are helping to facilitate some truly venal corruption. See, Paxton is under indictment for fraud, and sure could use a pardon right about now. Unfortunately for Paxton, he may be kissing the wrong ring. He has been indicted in state court, so the ring he needs to kiss is that of Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). But maybe Paxton doesn't know that.

Even many Republicans are outraged about their colleagues' willingness to trample on the Constitution in service of self-serving personal goals. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), for example, described the lawsuit as "a dangerous violation of federalism and sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states," and categorically refused to sign onto the amicus brief. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) described the effort as "simply madness."

It is only a matter of time until Paxton's lawsuit is tossed. The bigger question, and the one that will take longer to answer, is whether any of these folks who feel no compunction at punching holes in the fabric of American democracy will ever pay a price for their poor citizenship. (Z)

Trump Announces Moroccan Recognition of Israel (But Check the Fine Print)

Donald Trump is trying to pile up some accomplishments before he leaves office. Perhaps this is to give him something to brag about for the next X years, perhaps it's to give him a platform to run on in 2024, perhaps it's both of these, or perhaps it's something else. He has also correctly recognized that the biggest foreign policy achievement he's got is the Abraham Accords, which he'd love to expand upon, by hook or by crook. So Thursday's announcement, that the White House has brokered an agreement by which Morocco will formally recognize Israel, was not much of a surprise.

And now, the fine print. In 1975, Spain surrendered one of its last colonies, Western Sahara, which Morocco promptly claimed. The people who live there, who are ethnic Sahrawis (a mix of Arab, Black African and Berber cultures), would prefer to be independent (under the name Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) and so they rebelled. The U.N. brokered a peace agreement in 1991, which included a promise that a referendum on independence would be held. Morocco has never allowed the referendum to take place. U.S. policy during this 45-year period, under both Republicans and Democrats, has consistently supported self-rule. Well, until Thursday, that is. It turns out that the bargaining chip that Trump used to get what he wanted was U.S. recognition of Morocco's claims to Western Sahara. Oh, and the sale of a bunch of weapons, too.

Foreign policy is not really our area of expertise, but upon hearing this news, our insta-response was that this is an example of a worst-case scenario for a presidential lame-duck period: On one side, a fellow who is willing to toss anyone or anything under the bus if he sees benefits for himself. And on the other side, Morocco, a foreign actor that saw an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and to achieve something it had failed to achieve for half a century.

It turns out that we're not the only ones who reacted this way. For example, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who is not exactly a flaming liberal, expressed outrage at the announcement, and described it as "shocking and deeply disappointing," while adding that he was "saddened that the rights of the Western Sahara people have been traded away," and vowing "I will make every effort to make sure that we will go back to the policy that we had."

Inhofe and his colleagues can (and probably will) scotch the arms sale, but dialing back the recognition of Morocco's territorial claims is likely beyond their power, and is probably too fraught for the incoming Biden administration, as both Morocco and Israel are important allies (and Israel is a giant political football, too). Probably the only play is not saying anything about the situation, and hoping the status quo will be maintained by the fact that no other nation has recognized Morocco's right to Western Sahara. (Z)

Biden Picks McDonough to Lead the VA

We got scooped on another cabinet job, the second one that Joe Biden got to before we could (he also beat us to the punch on DHS). For Veterans' Affairs, the second- or third-largest cabinet department depending on how you count, the President-elect has chosen Denis McDonough, who served as Barack Obama's fourth and final permanent chief of staff.

This is definitely an "off the board" pick, since the VA usually goes to a veteran and McDonough is not one. It was widely assumed that the job would go to Pete Buttigieg, or Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), or Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), all of whom are veterans. Obviously, Biden continues to favor folks who are long-time Washington insiders, and preferably friends of his, as the key members of his team. On that note, the President-elect also announced the selection of Susan Rice to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council, which is also an "off the board" pick, since she is, of course, a foreign policy expert.

Biden is getting a fair bit of criticism, at this point, for being too insular, and for not doing enough to bring some fresh blood into his White House (see here and here, for examples). Perhaps that is fair, but it is at least worth considering some counter-arguments:

  • Biden did pick two people outside his orbit, Marcia Fudge and Xavier Becerra, for the eight cabinet posts he's filled so far.

  • He still has seven cabinet posts to fill, and it makes sense that the nominees who are less well known to him would take longer to vet and to commit to.

  • Given that the country is dealing with at least two or three crises right now, there won't be much time for learning on the job; folks need to hit the ground running.

  • Given that Biden was VP for 8 years, and was in the Senate for nearly 40 years before that, it would be somewhat tough to develop the résumé needed to lead a cabinet department in a Democratic administration without knowing him.

  • There is no such thing as a cabinet that remains intact wire-to-wire, so there will certainly be future opportunities to bring in fresh blood.

In short, it's probably best to take a wait-and-see approach rather than forming firm conclusions right now. In particular, we would not be surprised to see Biden tap at least one outspoken progressive in his next few picks. First, because the progressive wing of the Party (at least some of it) is spitting mad about how little recognition they've gotten so far. Second, because of the old filmmakers' trick of putting a few extra naughty bits into a film for the MPAA review, so that the board can be satisfied by those bits being cut, allowing the merely naughty bits the filmmaker wanted all along to stay in. If Biden gives Senate Republicans a sacrificial lamb, they can crow to their constituents that they're holding the line on socialist Marxist radical Commie appointees, while at the same time it will be a bit harder for them to claim someone who is 30% less liberal is also too much of a socialist Marxist radical commie.

It appears that the next nominee to be announced will be the Attorney General, and reportedly Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is the current frontrunner. If he does get the nod, hopefully he'll do better than the last Alabama-senator-turned-AG. Not being named after two prominent Confederates is probably a good start. Also still in the running, apparently, are would-be SCOTUS justice Merrick Garland and former deputy AG Sally Yates. That said, Biden has tossed enough curveballs during this process that any rumors like this should be taken with a few grains of salt. (Z)

Biden, Harris Are Time's "Persons of the Year"

This year, the "race" to be Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" appeared to excite particular interest. A lot of folks thought that the title ought to go to the frontline workers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic, or perhaps those who have been working on a vaccine, or maybe Black Lives Matter, or the volunteers who staffed polling places during the election, or maybe even some combination of the above. While it's not unheard of for Time's editors to choose a large group of people for the title, having chosen the American soldier (twice), the Hungarian freedom fighter, U.S. scientists, baby boomers, middle Americans, American women, you, protesters, Ebola fighters, "The Silence Breakers," and "The Guardians" in the past, they narrowed it down to just two people this year: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

While this story is getting a lot of attention, probably because it's interesting and generates clicks, it's hard to see that it has much importance. Certainly, the choice isn't much of a surprise. The magazine's editors are quick to remind everyone that this is not an "honor" (which is good, because Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were recognized in back-to-back years), and that their sole barometer for judgment is who (or what) drove the news the most. One might interpret "drove the news" in many ways, but the way the staffers at Time interpret it, presidential-election-year Persons of the Year are almost always whoever won the presidential election. The last time a presidential winner did not get picked was 1996 (AIDS researcher David Ho over Bill Clinton), and the only time in the last half-century that a newly elected president did not get picked was 1988 (Earth over George H.W. Bush). One imagines that next year's pick will be COVID-related. (Z)

Biden Might Ride the Rails to Inaugural

In contrast to the previous story, which is getting lots of attention despite being of limited importance, this is a story that got virtually no attention despite having some real potential significance. Planning for the Biden inaugural is underway, and one possibility being seriously considered is having Joe Biden (and presumably Kamala Harris) arrive for the festivities via Amtrak train.

The inaugural is a big chance for an incoming president to execute a bit of stagecraft, and to try to say something about who he is while much of the nation is watching. Consider, for example, this famous moment:

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter walk part
of their inaugural route on foot

The "everyman" imagery there was so effective that every president since, save Ronald Reagan, has followed suit. Biden will be limited in the amount of pageantry that is possible for him, but shots of him arriving in D.C. in the manner he has more than 8,000 times before, presumably masked, will similarly communicate an "everyman" image, will announce that there's a new sheriff in town when it comes to COVID-19, and will even give a small nod to the importance of infrastructure investment. That's a lot of bang for the buck. Certainly it's better than, say, Abraham Lincoln, who also arrived in D.C. via train. Abe's problem was that he did it in the middle of the night, in order to foil a (very real) assassination plot. He was attacked mercilessly for being a coward, and for being so arrogant as to presume someone would want to kill him. Those criticisms did not age so well, obviously. (Z)

Parler Falls Flat

Given the major social media platforms' alleged bias against conservatives, barely moderated Twitter knockoff Parler was supposed to be the Next Big Thing™ for conservatives. A few prominent folks, like Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) headed over there, and were joined by a few million acolytes. For a while, the Parler App was the top download at the Apple App Store. But it would appear that the party is over. App downloads are down 90%, and usage rates appear to be down about the same (the latter has to be inferred from various metrics, because the only folks who know for sure—the staff at Parler—aren't sharing).

In the end, there appear to be at least three significant problems that make it implausible for Parler to become anything other than a niche platform like 8chan, Gab, Behance or Houzz. The first is that Twitter has something of a natural monopoly. The investment needed to match their hardware and software infrastructure would be massive, and that is before we talk about the significance of a large user base to an endeavor of this sort. A platform with 300+ million users is, in general, vastly more useful than one with just a few million.

The second problem is Parler's biggest selling point: It's largely unmoderated. That's great news for people who want to post Nazi stuff or racial slurs or nutty conspiracy theories. However, it also means a steady stream of stuff that may not be so desirable, like porn, and spam, and stupid animated gifs. It appears that few white supremacists have the patience to plow through all the ads and dancing hamsters to get to the good stuff.

And finally, the fact of the matter is that many highly political people on social media platforms—liberal and conservative, Republicans and Democrats—are kinda jerks, who often fire up their Twitter or Facebook or Instagram so they can poke their perceived enemies in the eye. There are few "libs" to be owned on Parler, and so one of the big appeals for many conservative users just isn't there.

Anyhow, there will undoubtedly be some other flavor-of-the-day alternative to the mainstream social media platforms that has its day in the sun, sometime soon. It's just worth keeping in mind that it's likely to be not much more than a day. (Z)

Biden Will Campaign for Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia

Joe Biden's team has announced that Biden will travel to Georgia next Tuesday to campaign for the Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Since the election, Biden hasn't gone anywhere because he is up to his ears in the transition and also does not want to risk getting COVID-19 at 78.

It has not been announced where in Georgia Biden will go or what exactly he will do there to minimize his health risk. Given how much the President-elect has riding on the Senate elections, it would make the most sense to go to the Atlanta suburbs, particularly Gwinnett County, as it is the most populous of the suburban counties around Atlanta with 936,000 people, of whom 24% are Black. Cobb County has a larger percentage of Black voters (28%) but a smaller total population (760,000). Atlanta is in Fulton County, which has 1.1 million people, of whom 44% are Black. Presumably most of the Black population will be highly motivated to turn out for Warnock, who would be the state's first Black senator, so a focus on the suburban whites of Gwinnett might make the most sense. But we'll see.

Trump went to Valdosta, GA, last week, and mostly whined. Biden, of course, is smart enough to put the focus on Ossoff and Warnock and how all of his plans will be blocked unless both of them win and the Democrats take control of the Senate. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec10 Ron Johnson May Challenge the Electoral Votes
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Dec08 Federal Judges to Trump: What Part of "No" Do You Fail to Understand?
Dec08 State Republicans See the Writing on the Wall
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Dec08 Barr May Quit the Cabinet before Jan. 20
Dec07 Republican Lawmakers Are Still Fighting for Trump
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Dec06 Sunday Mailbag
Dec05 Saturday Q&A
Dec05 Today's Senate Polls
Dec04 Four Out of Five Presidents Believe in Setting an Example on COVID-19
Dec04 Pardon Power Is no Panacea
Dec04 Graham Could Be in Hot Water
Dec04 Georgia Republicans Brace for Trump's Arrival
Dec04 And Now We Know
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Dec04 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Dec04 Today's Senate Polls
Dec03 Biden Wins Georgia--Again
Dec03 Biden Is Focusing on Mid- and Lower-Level Appointees
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