• DeSantis Is Preparing for 2024--Very Carefully
• Republicans Are Testing New Attacks on Biden
• Clyburn Doesn't Want Trump to Testify
• Biden Wants to Encourage Legal Residents to Apply for Citizenship
• The New Cold War?
• Plentiful Jobs and Rising Wages Help the Democrats
• Garcia Could Yet Win the NYC Mayor's Race
• Alvin Bragg Wins
• The Numbers Didn't Add Up
Joe Biden wanted to declare independence from the coronavirus by getting 70% of adults to have at least one vaccine shot by July 4th. Well, it is July 5th now, and Biden narrowly missed his goal. Only 67% of adults have had at least one shot as of today. Biden celebrated anyway with a big party on the South Lawn of the White House with 1,000 first responders and military personnel eating burgers and watching fireworks. The unsaid message is: "America is back to normal." If Republicans attack Biden for hosting the gathering, he is going to say: "Gee, I don't understand why Republicans hate police officers and military personnel."
At the present rate of vaccination—357,000 shots per day—it will take several more weeks for the whole country to get to 70%. With the new delta variant spreading, vaccination is more important than ever. In some cities, including Los Angeles, authorities are urging even vaccinated people to wear masks again in public. Now with Donald Trump largely silenced, even Republican governors are free to speak the truth. In Utah, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is double what it was in May and Gov. Spencer Cox (R-UT) said: "What I'm here to say is that 95% of you don't have to die and 95% of you don't have to be hospitalized and go through that incredible pain." Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) told ABC's Martha Raddatz yesterday that the only way to get the nearly half of West Virginia adults who are unvaccinated to get a shot is for them to see a lot of people die. Nevertheless, the state is actually trying to get residents vaccinated, including such measures as holding a lottery only for vaccinees, with prizes including cash, trucks, and guns, but with limited success.
Vaccination rates vary wildly by state. The Washington Post has put together this graphic showing when each state has or will hit 70% vaccinated based on the current vaccination rate:
As you can see, 20 states + D.C. have already hit 70%. Every one of them voted for Biden. Fifteen states won't hit 70% until 2022 and 14 of those voted for Trump. The only Biden state in the list is Georgia. There seems to be a pattern here. It's not that state officials aren't trying. Mississippi is last in vaccinations, as it is in so many other health and educational metrics, but the state health officer, Thomas Dobbs, said: "We still have people who are getting sick and dying but we are seeing some complacency." Interesting way of putting it.
Other groups have looked more specifically at the relation between vaccination rates and partisanship. For example, the Denver Post made a scatterplot of the vaccination rate as a function of how a state voted in 2020. It turns out you can predict the vaccination rate pretty well from the 2020 vote, as shown below:
Circle size is proportional to number of votes. It is not perfectly linear, but it's pretty close. So taking care of your own health has now been added to the list of issues decided by partisanship. Or put a different way, given the vaccination rate you can fairly accurately tell how a state voted. Other studies have shown that the same is true at the county level. The higher Biden's voting percentage, the higher the vaccination rate for the county and vice versa. The U.S. is increasingly two countries, Blueland and Redland, that differ in countless ways. (V)
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) clearly has vision, and it goes beyond winning reelection next year. He is obviously focused on the 2024 presidential election, in case Donald Trump doesn't run—or maybe even if he is indicted, convicted, or otherwise weakened and runs nonetheless.
DeSantis is definitely running in the Trump lane, as evidenced by some of his recent actions, including signing legislation that:
- Makes voting harder
- Cracks down on protesters
- Punishes social media firms that remove politicians
- Bans the teaching of Critical Race Theory
- Forbids companies from requiring customers to show "vaccine passports" to get services
- Restricts high school athletes from joining gendered teams that don't match their birth certificates
DeSantis also wants students and professors at public universities to fill out a form listing their political views (which will probably skew liberal) so he can demand that the university hire more conservative professors. In addition, he appears on Fox News all the time. Of course, he says that he signed those bills because they are good for Florida and claims that he is merely focused on his reelection, but he isn't fooling anyone.
If this is going to work, it is absolutely essential that DeSantis not offend Trump or even upstage him. So, the Governor is taking great care, as he travels around the country amassing piles of cash, not to trigger Trump. Like all Republicans, he is deathly afraid of Trump. Maybe a better question would be whether Trump is afraid of DeSantis. If he isn't, maybe he should be. One wag described DeSantis as "Trump without the golden toilet."
But DeSantis has to walk a fine line. If he were to go full-bore Trumpism with no holding back, he could lose moderates in 2022 and not be reelected, which would end his presidential dreams. Florida is not Texas and he knows that. It is still a swing state, so once in a while he throws a bone to the left to prove he is not a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump. For example, he did launch a plan to clean up Florida's polluted waters. He also acknowledges that climate change exists and threatens low-lying Florida. And he's been playing nice with Joe Biden in the aftermath of the Surfside condo collapse.
One thing that helps DeSantis is that Trump sees the Governor as his own creation. Trump endorsed DeSantis' run for governor in 2018 and even now says: "I endorsed Ron, and after I endorsed him he took off like a rocket ship." As long as DeSantis acts like a feudal vassal and constantly tells his lord how great and powerful he is, Trump may not desert him. But if DeSantis starts to get too big for his britches and begins outshining Trump, the former president could drop him like a hot potato.
Florida Democrats understand that the best way to take DeSantis down a couple of pegs (and maybe defeat him in 2022) is to make Trump angry with him. Consequently, a new group called RemoveRon has made an ad that suggests DeSantis is more popular than Trump among Republicans:
In case you don't care to watch, it also says that once DeSantis wins reelection in 2022, he will have no more use for Trump. The ad ends with: "The clock is ticking, Donald. What are you going to do about it?" If Trump sees this ad and feels threatened, he could turn on DeSantis on a dime, which is what the Democrats are hoping for. Child psychology in action. (V)
Republicans want to stop Joe Biden in his tracks, but can't figure out how to do it. Their usual approach to taking down any politician is to find one (supposed) vulnerability and just harp on it day and night. Was Hillary Clinton's e-mail server really the most important issue facing the country in 2016? If you listened to the Republicans, it was, narrowly beating out Benghazi and Russian uranium.
But Biden is a bland, nonthreatening guy—more like your kindly grampa than like a grubby politician. So far, the Republicans have tried a variety of attacks, including:
- Biden's mental fitness
- Defund the police
- Gas prices
Nothing has worked so far. Biden is as popular as ever. Whit Ayres, a long-time Republican pollster, said: "Attacks that are far-fetched generally fall flat, as they are not believable." The only people who believe Biden is a socialist are people who already believe every Democrat is a socialist and they don't need to be convinced. Everyone who is paying any attention to politics knows very well that Biden is a moderate and progressive Democrats are regularly faulting him for that. Biden's recent announcement of a bipartisan deal on infrastructure makes him even harder to attack. After all, if Senate Republicans are willing to work with him, can he really be far to the left of the late Chairman Mao?
Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said: "They're trying everything they can think of. It's absolutely a scattershot approach and nothing is sticking." Polls indicate that both Ayres and Schwerin are right. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll just out has 49% of American adults approving of how he is doing his job and 42% disapproving. As to how he is handling COVID-19, it is 62% approval and 31% disapproval. Calling him a socialist doesn't seem to cut it.
One old favorite that Republicans have often used against all Democrats is crime. If Republicans can convince the public that crime is soaring and that they are probably going to be mugged tomorrow, that could work. The approach doesn't actually depend on whether crime rates are higher than they were last year or 5 years ago or 20 years ago. It's the perception of crime, not the actual crime, that matters. However, Biden has proposed spending more money to support law enforcement. If Republicans vote against it, Democrats are going to say: "We tried to increase funding to the police and Republicans killed it." That could neutralize crime as an issue.
Biden's biggest liability is probably on immigration. Many voters want to reduce the flow of immigrants. It is tough politically for Biden to actually reduce the flow, even though legally he has almost unlimited authority to do so. The problem is that Latino voters strongly oppose limiting immigration and Biden needs those voters. However, if Republicans make 2022 all about closing the border, that is going to backfire with many Latinos, a group with which they were starting to make inroads in 2020.
In short, so far, the GOP can't seem to find any silver bullet that works against Biden. (V)
Yesterday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and was asked about the 1/6 select committee Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is setting up. He told Dana Bash: "I would not want to see a former president testify in such a situation as this, but if that's what it takes in order to get to the bottom of this..." Clyburn is likely to get his wish. Assuming the committee can be fully populated and assuming that it issues a subpoena for Trump, he probably won't come, setting up a years-long court battle.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), however, has a marginally different view. He told CNN: "I would not, if prompted, say that we should do it, but I would not resist it if we went there." (English translation: "I don't want to wait 3-4 years before the Supreme Court rules that Trump is now a private citizen and must obey a subpoena.")
So far, the committee has only one member, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was picked by Pelosi. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is supposed to select the Republican members in consultation with Pelosi. So far he has not done so and hasn't given any indication when he might, if at all. If he picks grandstanders like Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Pelosi will veto the choices. If he picks people who will actually cooperate, Trump will be furious with McCarthy and start calling him names. McCarthy, like the true leader he is, is scared to death of someone calling him names. (V)
One of Joe Biden's first executive orders upon becoming president was one instructing federal agencies to welcome immigrants and encourage those eligible for U.S. citizenship to apply for it. It is estimated that 9 million green card holders could become citizens just by asking for it. We don't have statistics on them, but Biden probably does and most likely expects to pick up more Democrats than Republicans if they all sign up and vote.
As part of his pitch, on Friday Biden held a naturalization ceremony at the White House. Over 100 such ceremonies will be held this week, welcoming almost 10,000 new citizens. Also on his agenda are naturalization ceremonies in National Parks to raise awareness, promotional posters in Post Offices, and pitches to veterans who are not citizens.
This is a complete about-face from what Donald Trump did. Trump opposed immigration and even said he wanted to end birthright citizenship. He also made the naturalization exam more difficult, a step Biden has already reversed. Biden also made a video to be played at naturalization ceremonies around the country. In it, he thanks the immigrants for choosing the United States and points out that his ancestors immigrated from Ireland. Can you imagine Trump making a video graciously thanking immigrants for choosing the United States? That is a rhetorical question, though we admit we could see him making two videos; one to be shown to sh**hole country immigrants, and another for non-sh**hole immigrants. (Note that we know that all presidents, including Trump, record a video to be shown. Trump's involves him basically shouting a message that was written for him to deliver.) (V)
The old Cold War consisted of a lot of saber rattling and threatening to bomb the other side into oblivion. But now a new Cold War seems to be developing. Russian hackers shut down a major pipeline in May by encrypting the operator's disk. This produced gasoline shortages all over the East Coast. The hackers extorted $90 million in bitcoin from dozens of victims.
Another ransomware attack hit a major Miami-based IT software provider, Kaseya, just before the holiday weekend, when many of the people who might have tried to mitigate it were hanging out on the beach. The attack was on software that companies use to manage and monitor their computer systems remotely. Over 1,000 companies have been hit worldwide. For example, a grocery chain in Sweden couldn't operate because its cash registers (which are just computers these days) were locked up. The attack could be one of the biggest in history. The attackers want a ransom of $70 million. Experts believe the attack was perpetrated by a group called REvil, which operates out of Russia and which shut down JBS Meats with a similar ransomware attack earlier this year.
The attack demonstrates the growing popularity of supply-chain attacks. Rather than infiltrating computers at hundreds of companies one at a time, the attackers penetrate a software company that pushes out updates to its (software) products on a regular basis. When the new update is installed by the hacked company's customers, it goes to work. Some ransomware programs lock the screen so the only way for the user to log in is to buy and enter the key. Other ransomware programs encrypt enough files to disable the computer. (For nerds, think the master boot record and master file table [Windows] or inode table [UNIX/Linux].) If you want to learn more about the technology behind ransomware, here is a good introduction. And here are some tips about preventing ransomware attacks in the first place.
These kinds of attacks are becoming more common. Can anything be done? One thing is for the government to help small and medium businesses (via the SBA) protect themselves by providing low-cost loans to buy backup systems and hire experts to set them up. If a company suddenly discovers that its computers don't work because the disk is encrypted, but it has a current backup, it can restore the system from the backup without paying the ransom. Doing this takes some time but it is generally better than paying the ransom and hoping the attackers are honest criminals and provide the decryption key after they get the bitcoin ransom. Setting up backups requires expertise that most small and medium-sized companies don't have, although they can hire security companies to do that. Doing so costs money, of course, but as the problem grows, it is becoming essential.
Maybe the Constitution can help here, too. Art. I, Sec. 8 gives a specific enumeration of the powers of Congress, like levying and collecting taxes, borrowing money, regulating commerce with foreign nations, establishing post offices and many more. One sentence in there stands out. It gives Congress the power:
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water...
Maybe a short refresher course might be helpful here. In the Middle Ages, European kings who wanted to defeat an enemy but didn't have the cash to raise a navy to do so would issue letters of marque and reprisal (which we would now call a permit) for private ships to attack, plunder, and even sink enemy ships, with the captured booty being split among the ship owner, the captain, the crew, and the king in specific proportions. The folks having such a letter were called privateers (as opposed to pirates), and had royal permission to do things that would otherwise be illegal.
Declaring war on Russia probably wouldn't be such a good idea since that is way out of proportion to what the Russians are doing, and the ensuing nuclear war would probably end all human life on the planet as well. But maybe the way to counter the Russian hackers is to grant modern letters of marque and reprisal, something the U.S. hasn't done since 1856, to hackers to go after Russia. They wouldn't even have to call for splitting the booty. The modern privateers could keep it all. All the letters would have to do is guarantee the hackers that they would not be prosecuted for their approved ransomware attacks on Russian companies and government agencies. As long as the letters remained secret, Joe Biden could honestly tell Vladimir Putin: "I swear to you, those attacks were not the work of the CIA or any government agency." That's basically what the "attacking" king said to the "defending" king in the Middle Ages. This is definitely a different model than adding a seventh branch to the military, the Hacker Corps. If the attacks began hurting Russia badly enough, Putin might get the message and agree to a truce (while at the same time denying that he had anything to do with the attacks). (V)
When economists evaluate the economy, they look at things like whether GDP is higher than it was in this quarter a year ago. Not so ordinary workers. They tend to look at things like (1) are jobs available and (2) are wages stagnant or going up? When James Carville said: "It's the economy, stupid", he meant the worker's view, not the economist's view.
Multiple indicators are now showing that the economy is behaving well for workers. The June jobs report shows that 850,000 new jobs were created in June, many of them in the hospitality sector, especially in restaurants and hotels. One thing holding back even more growth is the shortage of workers. Many people who were laid off from crummy low-wage jobs are now being more picky and looking for better jobs at higher wages. This scarcity of workers is forcing employers to pay more to attract workers.
Republicans have complained that the problem is the extended unemployment benefits created by the various COVID-19 relief bills, but the effect here is probably small, as 26 states have already announced that they are ending benefits before the federal deadline of September. Workers whose benefits have already been ended are no doubt actively seeking employment. It is just that they don't want to go back to the crummy, poorly paying, possibly dangerous jobs they had before and the cushion provided by the benefits is allowing them to look for better ones.
The Washington Post also has an article on this topic that notes that the hourly pay in the hospitality sector is up 6% in the past three months, averaging $16.21/hour for workers who aren't managers. Who needs a $15/hr minimum wage if companies are voluntarily paying $16+/hr to get enough workers? Here is a sign at a not-terribly-special burger joint:
The hospitality sector isn't the only one experiencing wage growth, though. Warehouses are now averaging $19.13/hr for nonmanagement jobs. Bank of America said that it would pay its workers at least $25/hr by 2025. Waste management companies, education services, casinos, and retail stores are also increasing wages in order to attract the quantity and quality of workers they want.
The labor shortage is likely to end before Nov. 2022 as unemployment benefits end everywhere and workers decide they need jobs, even ones that aren't ideal. However, wages tend to be sticky. Once a company has started paying $16/hr, if it tries to go back to $7.25/hr or even $12/hr, there will be a revolt and many workers will quit, bringing the business to a standstill.
If people perceive wages as going up—even if they have leveled off by next summer—they will be happy and are likely to believe the Democrats when they crow about the great economy Joe Biden created. Of course, Biden has no role in setting wages if he can't get a minimum wage bill through the Senate, but people believe he does, and that matters more than the reality. Normally the president's party loses seats in Congress in the first midterm, but if the economy is booming and people have more money, that is going to be a very powerful argument for the Democrats. How are the Republicans going to counter that? Say that companies voluntarily raising wages to attract enough workers is a telltale sign of creeping socialism? (V)
A new analysis of the NYC mayor's race by CNN's Harry Enten shows that former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia has a decent chance at becoming the Democratic nominee, and thus New York's first female mayor. With all the early ballots and Election Day ballots now counted, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leads Garcia by just under 15,000 votes. To win, Garcia must beat Adams by 12 points on the 126,000 absentee ballots not yet counted.
Enten's analysis is based on where absentee voting was most common. The five assembly districts that returned the most absentee ballots are all in Manhattan and make up 19% of all the absentee ballots. The in-person voting from those districts showed that Garcia beat Adams by 28 points on Election Day. The reason that she did well there is due to the demographics. Those districts are largely white and well educated (and people there probably read The New York Times, which endorsed Garcia). In fact, 80% of the adults over 25 in those districts have a college degree, double the citywide average. In addition, 70% are white, also double the citywide average. Only 5% are Black. Garcia is white and Adams is Black. These districts are full of Garcia's people. The analysis didn't address where the other 81% of the absentee ballots came from. If they are also largely from Manhattan, though, Garcia is in good shape. (V)
Remember that name: Alvin Bragg. You're going to hear more about him next year. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., who just indicted the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, is retiring in December. The candidates trying to succeed him were on the NYC ballot on June 22. Unlike the race for mayor, which is still uncertain, the DA race is now over. Alvin Bragg came in first with 34%, while Farhadian Weinstein, who came in second at 30%, has conceded. No one else is even close. So Bragg, who will be the first Black Manhattan DA, will almost certainly take over the DA's office in January.
It is possible that the trial of Weisselberg or the Trump Organization will happen this year, but probably the defense's lawyers will stall for as long as possible, pushing the trial into 2022, after Vance has left office. So Bragg will be in charge when the rubber meets the road. He's the one who could send Donald Trump on a long, all-expenses-paid vacation in lovely Ossining, NY. No need to bring your golf clubs, though, Donald.
Bragg is certainly up to the job. Until recently, he was the New York state chief deputy attorney general, where he handled high-profile cases like suing Harvey Weinstein and challenging the Trump administration on the proposed citizenship census question. Before that he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York office, where he prosecuted money laundering cases and mortgage fraud. Here is his campaign website. (V)
The Manhattan DA indicted the Trump Organization's CFO, Allen Weisselberg, last week. But the events leading up to that are a bit odd. It all began when Weisselberg's son, Barry, and his wife, Jennifer, were in the throes of a messy divorce. Jennifer was afraid her soon-to-be ex would try to cheat her financially, so (with some difficulty) she got ahold of their joint tax returns from the firm that did them, Mazars, which also handles Donald Trump's taxes.
She saw that Barry made $211,000 for running the Wollman Rink in Central Park for the Trump Organization. She also knew that her two kids went to a fancy private school that charges $50,000 per student and they had a luxurious apartment. It didn't add up. Something was fishy. So she went to the media, sharing the tax returns with Bloomberg News for a story about Barry's finances. It didn't take long for the DA and New York AG to call her asking for copies, which she happily provided.
While Jennifer may not have fully understood what was going on, the DA most certainly did. That got the ball rolling. So far, only her ex-father-in-law has been indicted, but her ex-husband could well be next. After all, he signed fraudulent tax returns for years. She explained her decision to provide boxes of documents with tax returns, bank records, apartment records, and more to the DA by saying she was fighting for her kids: "They [Allen and Barry] wanted to set up a situation where, whenever they were with Barry and the Weisselbergs, they have this life and they were going to Miami, Doral, and Vancouver, skiing, and everything was great. And they felt comfortable and safe because their grandfather pays for school and their grandfather pays for camp. But when it came to me, they wanted to act like it was going to be miserable and scary and 'good luck if you can eat.'"
Clearly, the Weisselbergs' scheme didn't work out so well, and many people could pay the price for not paying their taxes. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul03 Saturday Q&A
Jul02 RIP Voting Rights Act, 1965-2021
Jul02 Pelosi Makes Her Picks for 1/6 Commission
Jul02 A Win for Biden (Not That Anyone Will Notice)
Jul02 Weisselberg Surrenders, TrumpWorld Spins
Jul02 At Least It's Not Just a Blog...
Jul02 It's a Date!
Jul02 New York City Releases Update on Mayoral Race
Jul01 Report: Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg to Be Charged Today
Jul01 Trumpers Want More Arizona-style "Audits"
Jul01 Maricopa County Will Replace the Tainted Voting Machines
Jul01 Wisconsin Republicans Cower in Fear of Trump
Jul01 Select Committee to Investigate Insurrection Passes
Jul01 McConnell Now Has a Tough Choice to Make on Infrastructure
Jul01 Pelosi Pushes Back against McConnell on Infrastructure
Jul01 New Study Shows How Biden Won
Jul01 New Ranking of the Presidents--Trump Beats Pierce, Johnson, and Buchanan
Jun30 No News Is Bad News (for RCV)
Jun30 The South Will Fall Again
Jun30 Trump Says Herschel Walker Will Run for Senate in Georgia
Jun30 Whither Lisa Murkowski?
Jun30 A Famous Name Is Not Enough
Jun30 What Happens to Sh** Stirrers When There's No Sh** to Stir?
Jun30 A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Part I
Jun29 RuJoe's Drag Race
Jun29 Pelosi Spells Out Commission Details
Jun29 No Charges for Trump in New York?
Jun29 Maybe Trump Should Be Focused on Some Image Management
Jun29 Political Themes of the Olympics Are Emerging
Jun29 Arizona Audit Is Not Helping Trump
Jun28 Biden: I'll Sign Bipartisan Bill without Reconciliation Bill
Jun28 Donald Trump Wants to Make the 2022 Elections about ... Donald Trump
Jun28 Two States Undercut Secretaries of State for Not "Finding" Votes for Trump
Jun28 Dept. of Justice Sues Georgia over Voting Law
Jun28 Barr Dumps on Trump
Jun28 Axios: J.D. Vance Will Announce a Senate Run in Ohio This Week
Jun28 Democrats Have a Gerontocracy Problem
Jun28 Socialism Is Not a Bugaboo with Young Voters
Jun28 Voting Machines Are Black Boxes--and So is the Entire Voting Industry
Jun28 Former Alaska Democratic Senator Mike Gravel Dies
Jun27 Sunday Mailbag
Jun26 Saturday Q&A
Jun25 As the Infrastructure Turns
Jun25 Pelosi Makes It Official...
Jun25 ...As Does the New York Bar
Jun25 DeSantis Cements His Claim to the Trump Lane
Jun25 This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
Jun25 COVID Diaries: The Origin Story
Jun24 We Have a Deal, Part 29