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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Picks Haaland for Interior, Regan for EPA
      •  U.S. Government Hacked
      •  Republican Party: All Is Well
      •  Georgia on Everyone's Mind
      •  It's a Pardon Frenzy
      •  Mike Pence: MIA
      •  Jill Biden: Ed.D.
      •  About the Betting Markets
      •  What to Get for the Person Who Has it All?

Biden Picks Haaland for Interior, Regan for EPA

Joe Biden said that he wanted to have all of his cabinet picks announced by Christmas, and he's on pace to make that happen, as he announced one more cabinet official—Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), to lead interior—as well as one cabinet-level official—Michael Regan, to lead the EPA—on Thursday.

The selection of Haaland comes as no surprise. Biden asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for permission to poach the Representative, and Pelosi granted it in a publicly issued statement that said "Haaland knows the territory, and if she is the President-elect's choice for Interior Secretary, then he will have made an excellent choice." None of that would have happened if the nomination was not already a done deal. Haaland's political career has been relatively brief, commencing in earnest in 2012, but prior to that she had a long career promoting entrepreneurial opportunities among the Laguna Pueblo tribe, of which she is a member. If confirmed, she will be the first cabinet secretary of Native American descent.

Regan, though only 44, has had a long career as an advocate for the environment, with stints at the EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund. He is currently leading the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, North Carolina's top environmental agency, and has gotten rave reviews for his efforts. His selection will please progressives, who pushed for a minority candidate, given the disproportionate effect that a poor environment has on minority communities. It will also please the Congressional Black Caucus; in particular, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) said he wanted a Black Southerner to occupy the post, and now he's got one.

At the moment, Biden has four cabinet posts left to fill (Commerce, Education, AG, and Labor) as well as two cabinet-level posts (CIA Director, Administrator of the Small Business Administration). Only the President-elect and his team know exactly what boxes they feel still need to be checked, but thus far, beyond Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, he's only tapped two Asian Americans for top jobs (Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative, Neera Tanden as Director of the Office of Management and Budget), both of them for cabinet-level rather than actual cabinet posts. There is also no Republican, as yet; presumably either Commerce or the SBA will go to a member of the GOP. In any case, all will be revealed in the next week, assuming Biden sticks to his schedule. (Z)

U.S. Government Hacked

This story has been unfolding for a few days, and yet it remains hazy, because the key players have much motivation to keep details to themselves. Nonetheless, it is at very least clear that the U.S. government was hacked in a large-scale and very sophisticated operation.

Based on what is publicly known, it would appear the hacking began back in March, that it was accomplished by hiding malware in a well-known network safety tool called Orion, and that it is the work of the Russians. Among the federal agencies targeted were the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, and Energy, with particular attention paid by the hackers to the agency that manages the United States' nuclear stockpile. Gulp. Private concerns were also targeted, most notably Microsoft. SolarWinds, the company that makes Orion, estimates that up to 18,000 of its more than 300,000 customers have been compromised.

Donald Trump has, thus far, said nothing about the hack, or what will be done in response. Perhaps he has already shifted into ex-president mode. Or maybe he sees this as a black mark against him, and doesn't want to bring undue attention to it. Or possibly he doesn't want people talking about a nominally related story, which also broke this week, that a Dutch hacker named Victor Gevers managed to break into the President's Twitter account a few years back with the password "yourefired." and then managed to do it again this year with the password "maga2020!," which are only slightly better than "123456" or "password."

Joe Biden has promised strong action in response to the attacks but, of course, he's not in a position to make good on that until January of next year. Further, this is the sort of thing that the U.S. system of government is not really set up to incentivize; few Americans have ever voted for a political candidate because of their strong record on cybersecurity. Oh, and there's also the fact that publicly bragging about one's security measures is a good way to give the bad guys information about how to proceed. So, the American people will just have to hope there's follow-through once Biden takes over, though they may never really know. (Z)

Republican Party: All Is Well

Usually, when a party has a bad election cycle, they try to figure out what went wrong. The Republican Party commissioned a postmortem after John McCain's loss in 2008, and an even more thorough one after Mitt Romney's shellacking in 2012. The Democrats are conducting several right now, in an effort to understand what happened in the congressional and local races. However, the RNC—whose presidential candidate just lost by a staggering 7 million votes—has apparently decided there's nothing to see here, and there are no lessons to be learned.

The reason for this—at least, as reported in the linked article—is that many (most?) Republicans have taken to accepting Donald Trump's alternate facts hook, line, and sinker. Since he says he won the election, they believe he won the election, and there's no real problem to be solved other than making sure the next election isn't "rigged." To that end, the Party will redouble its efforts when it comes to fighting vote-by-mail and the like, and will try to tighten up its legal arguments in anti-voting lawsuits. But that is all the course correction they anticipate in the next few years.

For our part, we are deeply skeptical that the majority of Republican pooh-bahs really believe Trump won the election. However, any assessment of the election begins with him, and probably ends with the conclusion that while he brought a lot of Republicans to the polls, he brought out even more Democrats. If so, that means Trumpism is the problem, and not the solution. And writing that down would just alienate his base while revealing things that the GOP already knows. So, better to perform the head-in-the-sand routine, and hope that the Trump candle burns out quickly. (Z)

Georgia on Everyone's Mind

Perhaps you have wondered why, after half a year of gridlock, Congress is finally making progress on a new COVID stimulus package. The answer, in a nutshell: the two U.S. Senate races in Georgia. Basically, both sides want to illustrate that they can get things done if given the keys to the Senate chamber, and so have grown very willing to back off of previously non-negotiable demands. The basic message of the two Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, is: "Imagine how much we could get done with Democrats in charge of both houses." And the basic message of the two Republican candidates, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, is: "Don't worry that nothing will get done if the government is divided."

In addition to the jockeying going on in Congress, the two parties are also back to waging the ongoing battle over voter access. The Democrats, for their part, have been busy signing up new voters. Thanks in significant part to the efforts of Stacey Abrams, 75,000 new voters—the majority of them under the age of 35—were added to the Georgia rolls before the Dec. 7 deadline. All other things being equal, one has to assume the new voters will break heavily Democratic.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have filed three lawsuits, two of them in federal court and one in state court, seeking to restrict absentee voting for the January elections. The Party is focusing on ballot dropboxes, and on the process by which signatures on absentee ballots are verified. How much merit do the suits have? Well, the two federal suits were promptly dismissed from the bench, so maybe not too much. That said, Republican leadership considers this to be the opening salvo, and will be filing such lawsuits into the new year and beyond the Georgia runoffs. The Republicans have thus far had little success convincing judges that when the Constitution says that states can run their elections as they see fit, the Constitution doesn't actually mean that states can run their elections as they see fit. But if they keep trying, the GOP hopes it will somehow stumble upon the right combination of legal argument and judge. (Z)

It's a Pardon Frenzy

Donald Trump may or may not accept that his term is drawing to an end, but many of the shady folks around him see the writing on the wall. They want to get while the getting is good, and so the White House is being inundated with requests for pardons while the President still has that power.

The large number of requests is a function, in part, of the sort of folks Trump tends to associate with. It's also due, in part, to the fact that the President doesn't really care what the person did (or is accused of doing), he just likes having powerful people kiss the ring. In that way, the Donald is very much like the first president to be impeached, Andrew Johnson. Johnson was also inundated with requests for pardons; not because he associated with shady people, but because of all the former Confederates who wanted to avoid prison. And while he was a humble tailor who hated the wealthy and the elite, Johnson was also a racist white Southerner. So, it was more than enough for the former VP for former generals and plantation owners to come to the White House and prostrate themselves before him.

In any case, a tidal wave of presidential pardons is imminent. The only real questions are: (1) Will the White House try to sneak them under the radar by announcing them on, say, Christmas? and (2) How far will Trump push the limits of the pardon power, up to and including a self-pardon? (Z)

Mike Pence: MIA

On Thursday, Kelly Loeffler was asked nine times who won the presidential election, and she declined to answer each time. Just about every other prominent Republican has also been put on the spot by that question (usually multiple times), from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on down. And yet, there is one guy who has somehow managed to stay above the fray: VP Mike Pence.

Who knows where exactly the VP has been hiding. Maybe a fortified bunker underneath Number One Observatory Circle. In any event, he harbors future presidential aspirations, and has clearly done some triangulating. On one hand, he will need most of Trump's base to make that plausible. On the other hand, if Trumpism remains extremely strong in 4 years, then the candidate will be someone Trumpier than Pence, possibly Donald Trump himself, or maybe one of his kids. Pence really needs Trumpism to fade a bit, so that he can be the "unity" candidate who unites the remainder of Trump's base and the traditional Republicans who can be brought back into the fold. No wonder, then, that the VP is holding Trump close, but not too close.

Pence will continue his Houdini act in January. On Jan. 6, he will have the "honor" of formally certifying that Trump has been defeated. And then, to avoid any fallout or awkward questions, the VP will promptly run for the hills, commencing a foreign trip to Bahrain, Israel and Poland. At the moment, the trip is scheduled to last for one week, but the VP's office warns "it may be extended a bit." You can pretty much take it to the bank that it will be, since being abroad not only insulates Pence from Biden-related fallout, but also from the possibility of any last-minute "I'll make you president for a week if you pardon me" schemes. (Z)

Jill Biden: Ed.D.

We didn't want to touch this story, because it gives oxygen to an "issue" where none actually exists. Still, it's lingered for four news cycles, and the future First Lady has now weighed in, so we figure we gotta take the plunge. As you may have heard, over the weekend, a former lecturer at Northwestern—who only earned a B.A.—appointed himself arbiter of academic titles, and wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he said that Jill Biden should not call herself "Dr. Jill Biden," since she is an Ed.D. and not an M.D.

Since then, the matter has become a cause célèbre among the members of the right-wing media, with Tucker Carlson taking the lead. Carlson, who has never let his own ignorance stop him from slurring the accomplishments of others, ripped into Biden's dissertation, which he described as "borderline illiterate," observing that it contains typos, and opining that "Dr. Jill can't write. She can't really think clearly either."

Now, we will concede that we haven't read Biden's dissertation. However, we don't need to read it to know that Carlson has no idea what he's talking about. And now we will explain why, for those who are interested, and who do not have experience with this sort of thing. To start, every academic discipline has its own form of writing, and its own scholarly debates, and its own style of presentation. A history Ph.D. cannot properly evaluate an education Ed.D.'s dissertation, an education Ed.D. cannot properly evaluate a physics Ph.D.'s dissertation, and a physics Ph.D. cannot properly evaluate a history Ph.D.'s dissertation. For lack of a better description, it's as if they are written in different languages. And a fellow with a bachelor's degree from Trinity College, like Carlson, is in no position to evaluate any of them.

Further, every university has really strict formatting guidelines for the final draft (for example, they usually spell out detailed rules for the layout of the title page, including fonts and sizes and spacing), and often the finishing touches are applied at the last minute and on a tight deadline (it is very difficult to get four professors in a room for oral exams, and "can we push it back a couple of days?" never works). As a result, every dissertation has a few typos in the front matter. If we could read German, we'd point out the typos that Albert Einstein surely made in his.

In any event, the fact is that Biden got her degree, and "Doctor" is the courtesy title that comes with that degree, end of story. Outsiders (or even insiders) can dislike it, and some holders of doctoral degrees (like both V and Z) prefer not to use the title, but the tradition dates back many, many centuries, since "doctor" actually means "teacher," and not "practitioner of medicine." To focus on a female holder of the degree, and to make a stink about her title, smacks of sexism. Biden did not say so when she went on Stephen Colbert's program on Thursday to talk about how proud she is of her doctorate, but plenty of other folks have (rightly) pointed it out on her behalf.

Meanwhile, this sure looks like a preview of what the next four years are going to look like in the right-wing media bubble. The Bidens are, in the end, kinda boring. And unless the FBI comes up with some surprises, the wheels have fallen off the Hunter Biden story. So, we are left with a week's worth of kvetching about someone's academic title. It's "he wore a tan suit!" and "he saluted a Marine while holding a cup of coffee!" all over again. (Z)

About the Betting Markets

One of the few strategies for coming out ahead when it comes to betting is to identify situations where bettors are being guided by their hearts and not their heads, and then to bet the other side. For example, if today is the day that Derek Jeter is playing his last game, then bet against the Yankees. If the Cubs are playing to win their first World Series in 108 years, bet against the Cubs. If Notre Dame is playing for the national title in football, bet against Notre Dame.

One of the (minor) mysteries of this election cycle, up to and including election night, was Donald Trump's excellent performance at the sports books, as he was getting much better odds from the books than even the most optimistic polls seemed to justify. For much of the cycle, the President was only a slight underdog to Joe Biden. Occasionally, Trump pulled even. And there were significant chunks of election night where the Donald was actually the favorite.

A new piece from Slate explains what was going on. The headline is "How Offshore Oddsmakers Made a Killing off Gullible Trump Supporters," which kinda tells you everything you need to know. In essence, Trump loyalists desperately wanted to believe their candidate was winning, and sports books were the only places selling that narrative. As members of the base dumped more and more money into bets on Trump, his odds got better and better, fueling their confidence in him even more. And so, a vicious cycle developed.

Although books don't release their takes (generally), it's clear that they made a mint on the election—more than they make on two or three Super Bowls, according to multiple analysts. This was something of a perfect storm—many Trump supporters are pretty fanatical, there is much overlap between "Trump's base" and "sports bettors" (i.e., white guys with disposable income), and there hasn't been that much to bet on this year such that there was pent-up demand for a "big" event. In any case, the lesson would appear to be that Donald Trump broke sports betting, in much the same way that he seems to have broken the polls. (Z)

What to Get for the Person Who Has it All?

It's Christmas season, which means Christmas shopping for many readers. And just about everyone has at least one person on their list who is impossible to shop for. Luckily, we are here to ride to the rescue. At the moment, for the bargain price of $172,500, you can purchase (and gift) the right to push the button when Trump Plaza Atlantic City is blown up next month.

It's actually an auction, so the price will probably go higher. Plus, there is a 10% buyer's premium. Still, the proceeds (except the buyer's premium) go to charity. And what's six figures between friends, particularly when presented with the opportunity to give such a unique Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Festivus, or Kwanzaa) present? Bidding comes to an end on Jan. 19, and the Trump Plaza comes to an end 10 days later. The detonator is responsible for getting themselves to Atlantic City but, given the ongoing pandemic, we bet that a remote detonation setup can be had for the asking. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec17 Congress Is Getting Close to a New COVID-19 Relief Bill
Dec17 Pelosi Greenlights Haaland
Dec17 McCarthy Still Silent about Biden's Win
Dec17 Democrats Are Thinking about Reining in the President
Dec17 Ron Johnson Is Betting the Farm on Trump
Dec17 Trump Is Not Welcome in Florida
Dec17 Three-Quarters of the States Will Elect Governors in 2021 or 2022
Dec17 Today's Senate Polls
Dec16 McConnell Concedes Presidential Race
Dec16 The Grift Is Getting on Republicans' Nerves
Dec16 It's a Matter of Economy
Dec16 Iran Nuclear Deal Looks Likely to Come Back to Life
Dec16 It's Buttigieg for Transportation...
Dec16 ...and Granholm for Energy
Dec16 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Education
Dec16 Today's Senate Polls
Dec15 Biden Is Elected President
Dec15 Dis-Barred
Dec15 Trump Is Already Waffling on 2024
Dec15 Over 1 Million Absentee Ballots Have Been Requested in Georgia
Dec15 Newsom May Get to Appoint Two Senators
Dec15 Curtain Pulled Back on The Federalist's Funding
Dec15 The Biden Cabinet: Secretary of Transportation
Dec14 Today Is Election Day
Dec14 Trump: Election Challenges Are Not over
Dec14 Trump Is Cementing His Control over the Republican Party
Dec14 The Virus Is Spreading
Dec14 Trump Vows to Veto the Defense Spending Bill
Dec14 Democrats Have to Decide Who Their Nemesis Is
Dec14 Biden Has a Secret Weapon: His Faith
Dec14 Twenty Americans Who Explain the Election
Dec13 Sunday Mailbag
Dec12 SCOTUS to Texas: Mind Your Own Business
Dec12 Trump Orders Hahn to Approve Vaccine, Hahn Complies
Dec12 Saturday Q&A
Dec11 Party Above Country
Dec11 Trump Announces Moroccan Recognition of Israel (But Check the Fine Print)
Dec11 Biden Picks McDonough to Lead the VA
Dec11 Biden, Harris Are Time's "Persons of the Year"
Dec11 Biden Might Ride the Rails to Inaugural
Dec11 Parler Falls Flat
Dec11 Biden Will Campaign for Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia
Dec10 Ron Johnson May Challenge the Electoral Votes
Dec10 A bipartisan Senate Group Releases a $908 Billion Coronavirus Relief Plan
Dec10 Hunter Biden Is Under Investigation
Dec10 Trump Can't Wait to Leave the White House
Dec10 Republicans and Independents Expect Trump to Run in 2024
Dec10 How to Be Cheated and Take It Gracefully
Dec10 FTC and 40 States Are Suing Facebook
Dec10 What's the Matter with Georgia?