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The Last Commander

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Is There a Doctrine in the House?
      •  Bush Comes Out Against Afghanistan Withdrawal
      •  The Cart Before the Horse
      •  Take Me Home, Country Roads
      •  What Do Republicans Believe? (Capitalism Edition)
      •  McCarthy Heads to Bedminster
      •  Didn't We Already Know This?
      •  Didn't We Already Know This, Too?
      •  Another Reason Recall Elections Are Dumb
      •  (Un)Mark Your Calendars

Is There a Doctrine in the House?

As you might have noticed, Joe Biden's plate is pretty full. Domestically, he's got infrastructure, voting rights, corporate monopolies, and COVID-19, among other matters. Internationally, there's China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, and Angela Merkel's exit from the world stage. He would really prefer not to add additional troubles, in America's back yard, to the list. Unfortunately for him, the people of Cuba and Haiti did not get the memo.

Just to bring everyone up to speed, the Castro family is finally out of power in Cuba after 60+ years, and that nation's economy has hit the skids. As a result, there have been massive protests, and some near-riots, in the last week or so. Meanwhile, in Haiti, there was a dispute over the start date (and thus the end date) of President Jovenel Moïse's term. Did his time "in office" commence with his election, or with his inauguration? His opponents said it is the former, and thus that his term ended last week, while Moïse, his supporters, and most of the international community agreed that his term began upon his inauguration and that he was therefore still in office. In response, some of Moïse's rivals (aided by mercenaries who have worked for the U.S. in the past) assassinated him, and shot his wife, last Friday. This has plunged that nation into chaos, and left unclear exactly who has a legal claim to power there.

As Biden wrestles with these situations, on two islands that are only about 50 miles apart at their closest points, there are a number of concerns he has to balance. Among the biggies:

  • The Monroe Doctrine: Since the 1820s, the U.S. has assumed special responsibility for monitoring and policing the affairs of Latin America. That's a rather imperialist mindset, yes, but it is also the case that allowing either or both of those nations to descend into violence and anarchy would not be very humanitarian.

  • International Rivals: For the last few decades, the U.S. has lavished attention and resources on the Middle East, and has substantially ignored Latin America. That has created something of a vacuum, and both the Russians and the Chinese have moved to fill that vacuum.

  • Past Mistakes: The list of disasters that have resulted from U.S. involvement, and in particular military involvement, in Latin America is long: Manuel Noriega and Panama, Iran-Contra, the Banana Wars, the Mexican Revolution, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. Any president who sends in the soldiers is playing with fire.

  • Cuba: Cuba is one of the most significant political footballs in American politics, primarily because Cuban-Americans are geographically concentrated (in south Florida) and their votes are affected heavily by the United States' Cuba policy. If Biden plays his cards just right, he could plausibly achieve any or all of the following: (1) elect a Democrat as governor next year, thus dealing a serious blow to potential 2024 rival Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL); (2) unseat Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) next year; and (3) drag Florida into the blue column in 2024. Of course, if Biden screws up, he could help reelect DeSantis/Rubio while securing Florida for the Republicans in 2024.

In view of all of this, not to mention all the other things he has to contend with, Biden has been very cautious thus far. Yesterday, he blasted Cuba as a "failed state," and said his administration is looking at different options for helping the Cuban people without opening up potential opportunities for the Cuban government to take advantage. As to Haiti, Biden said the U.S. will help investigate Moïse's assassination, but that he will not send troops, for now. In other words, he's buying himself some time. However, sometime soon, he's going to have to make some tough choices, particularly as regards Cuba. (Z)

Bush Comes Out Against Afghanistan Withdrawal

Among all the various hotspots that Joe Biden is dealing with, Afghanistan is in many ways the one with the most clarity. The President wants out after 20 years, the American people (largely) want out, the decision to pull out has been made, and there it is.

Not everyone is on board, however, and that includes one of Biden's predecessors, namely George W. Bush. During the Barack Obama and Donald Trump years, Bush almost invariably honored the tradition of remaining silent on political issues and not interfering with whatever the White House was trying to do. However, he has strong feelings about the Afghanistan situation, and so sat for an interview with—of all choices—the German news outlet Deutsche Welle. And he told the Teds that the withdrawal is a mistake, and that the consequences will be "unbelievably bad."

Is his opinion worth paying attention to? Maybe so. He clearly knows more about this issue than most of us (including classified information that he has/had access to and that 99.999% of people do not). Further, as someone whose political career is over, he can speak unfiltered truth without worrying about what voters will think.

Or maybe not. Bush's presidential reputation is on the line here, since he launched the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. withdraws and...nothing bad happens, then it makes it appear that he made a decision that was both unwise and very costly. Also, he's commenting from the vantage point of the cheap seats, wherein he can object to the decision that has been made, but he doesn't have to come up with a better alternative. Anyhow, readers can decide for themselves which points they find more compelling. (Z)

The Cart Before the Horse

There was a time when the two political parties actually got along pretty well in the Senate, even if they didn't see eye-to-eye on all the issues. There was also a time when the process of adopting legislation went something like this:

  1. Write bill
  2. Vote on bill

It would appear that procedure is now as passé as leisure suits, fax machines, and statues of Confederate generals. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that the chamber would vote next Wednesday to open debate on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This despite the fact that the bill has not, you know, been written yet.

The purpose behind Schumer's move is basically twofold: (1) he wants to compel Republicans, as well as Democrats who might be tempted to waver, to commit to the process; and (2) he wants to exert maximum pressure on the members who are actively negotiating to make as much progress as is possible before the break. The bill that will actually be voted on next week is a placeholder that will be "updated" with the actual bill once the actual bill is ready.

There are risks here, however. To start, the GOP is outraged over Schumer's maneuvering. Of course, they tend to be outraged with anything Schumer does, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing if he were running the show, so take their outrage with a few grains of salt. Beyond that, however, members will likely be asked to vote without knowing exactly what's in the bill, how much it will cost, or how it will be paid for. Just minor things, right? Anyhow, these things could cause defections, either due to honestly held concerns, or because the process will give members who want to vote "nay" political cover. So, Schumer could find himself short of 60 votes on Wednesday. If so, expect him to figure that out by Tuesday, and to reschedule the vote.

There's one other bit of news on the infrastructure front, though it involves the other bill, the one that the Democrats want to pass via reconciliation. Many members of the Party have concluded that the only way to get meaningful immigration reform is to roll that into the infrastructure package, and so are pushing for that. They will have to persuade Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that changes in immigration policy have a substantive economic impact, and that this isn't just an end-run around the rules. The good news for them is that changes in immigration policy most certainly do have a substantive economic impact. The bad news for them is that it is most certainly an end-run around the rules. So, MacDonough could rule either way, once she is asked to do so. The way things apparently work these days, maybe Schumer will just ask her to approve a blank bill. (Z)

Take Me Home, Country Roads

We checked the lyrics of that song, which became the state song of West Virginia in 2014, and not once are potholes mentioned. Maybe they should be, however, as the infrastructure of the Mountain State is apparently in very bad shape.

Each year, CNBC does a survey of the infrastructure in the 50 states, based on roads and bridges, broadband access, and the power grid. They've just released the 2021 edition; here are the 10 worst:

10. West Virginia
9. Rhode Island
7t. Arkansas
7t. Montana
6. New Hampshire
5. Vermont
4. New Mexico
3. South Dakota
2. Alaska
1. Maine

And here are the 10 best, in case you're interested:

8t. Maryland
8t. Delaware
8t. Arizona
7. Utah
6. Georgia
5. Florida
4. Tennessee
3. Indiana
2. Nevada
1. Illinois

We are not in a position to judge CNBC's methodology, and we certainly can't judge how well their numbers match the perceptions of voters on the ground. However, one cannot help but notice that "worst" list includes the home states of Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Steve Daines (R-MT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Susan Collins (R-ME). Those are probably the five swingiest votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. If CNBC is on target, then it suggests that most or all of those votes should ultimately be gettable for Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. (Z)

What Do Republicans Believe? (Capitalism Edition)

At risk of overgeneralizing, we would argue that Republican politicians, over the course of 150 years, embraced three basic approaches to the private sector. And once they—especially the presidents—picked an approach, they pretty much stuck with it. To wit:

  1. Whiggish: "The government and private industry should try to function as partners." This was the preferred approach of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and then again for Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.

  2. Adversarial: "The government must keep a watchful eye on private industry." This was the approach of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

  3. Laissez-Faire: "The government should keep its hands off the business interests' money and operations as much as possible, though if they need the occasional subsidy, that's fine." This was the style of the Gilded Age Republicans, the Warren Harding/Calvin Coolidge/Herbert Hoover run, and the Republicans from Ronald Reagan onward.

If you buy our assessment, it would mean the Republicans went from whiggish, to laissez-faire, to adversarial, to laissez-faire again, to whiggish again, and then to laissez-faire for a third time.

These days, however, it is very hard to figure out what Republicans want or expect from the business interests. As a general rule, since the 1980s, the Party has taken the stance that the best regulation is as little regulation as is possible. However, many GOP muckety-mucks have suddenly gotten comfortable with regulating businesses in...interesting ways. For example, the law passed by Florida that forbids cruise lines from discriminating against passengers who are not vaccinated. That certainly isn't laissez-faire, nor is it very pro-capitalist, given the enormous pressure it would put on cruise lines to further suspend travel/limit ticket sales, or otherwise to risk massive legal exposure/PR damage. Can you imagine what would happen if 800 people on a Carnival cruise got COVID-19, and 100 of them died?

Not surprisingly, one of the cruise lines, Norwegian cruises, has just sued the state of Florida. And the state is going to vigorously contest the lawsuit, just as they did for another, similar lawsuit last year (the state won that one, though it's under appeal). It's a very interesting position for a Republican administration to take, especially since enforcing the law (should it survive the court challenge) would require a rather vigorous assertion of government power. Not what one would expect from a party that is ostensibly pro-small government.

Similarly, everyone knows at this point that many Republicans are furious (or, at least, are pretending to be furious for the benefit of their voters) about the relocation of the baseball All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Many of them have supported sanctioning Major League Baseball (MLB), or else backed the lawsuits that were filed against the League (later dropped). It would appear that, when it comes to politics, the Republicans feel that businesses should be seen and not heard. This is also not very laissez-faire.

Now that the All-Star Game is over, however, many Republicans—most notably Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)—are pursuing a different line of attack, a 180-degree reversal from the previous one. Taking note of the troubles in Cuba (see above), and of the fact that MLB sometimes signs players out of Cuba, they are wondering why the League has not taken a stand on the issue. So, MLB is damned if they do, and damned if they don't. If there is a business concern out there that is confused about what they are expected to do in order to keep Republicans happy, they are to be forgiven.

Ultimately, the point is this: In contrast to generations past, today's Republican Party barely has an economic philosophy beyond supporting tax cuts (and opposing tax increases). They are now primarily about culture wars and owning the libs, and if that means being wildly inconsistent, then so be it. This is hardly a surprise given that the party is led by Donald Trump, a man who knows virtually nothing about economics besides that he hates paying taxes, and who cares primarily about culture wars and owning the libs and settling his own personal grievances, no matter how inconsistent he has to be in order to do it. (Z)

McCarthy Heads to Bedminster

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has much to think about right now, perhaps most obviously what to do about the 1/6 commission that is going to happen whether he plays along or not. There are those who would say that situations like these are when a leader earns their paycheck. McCarthy is apparently not one of those people, however. So, he paid a visit to Donald Trump at his Bedminster golf club to kiss the ring and whatever else needs to be kissed, and to discuss the situation.

It is not known exactly how McCarthy approached the issue, and the two people involved in the conversation (i.e., McCarthy and Trump) are not likely to tell. It is possible that the Minority Leader asked what he should do. Or, it could be that McCarthy has already decided to appoint a bunch of grandstanders and bomb throwers, and that he merely wanted to explain his reasoning so as to avoid ex-presidential blowback. Or, it could even be that the Minority Leader already decided, but that he asked what he should do nonetheless, knowing that Trump would push for grandstanders and bomb throwers, and then would think it was his idea when McCarthy made that choice. In any case, it suggests McCarthy is going to pick a bunch of Jim Jordan (R-OH) clones, and then dare Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to veto them all, which she will do. And it definitely makes clear that the Republican who has the most power in the House of Representatives ain't Kevin McCarthy.

That said, not every Republican is interested in kowtowing to The Donald all the time. OH-15 is R+9, and was represented by Steve Stivers (R) until he resigned to run the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Since it is basically a safe Republican seat, there has been a feeding frenzy among Republicans who want to succeed him, with 10 of them entering the race. Donald Trump has endorsed Mike Carey (R), a lobbyist with no political experience. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), by contrast, has endorsed former state representative Ron Hood (R). And Debbie Meadows, wife of Trump's former chief-of-staff Mark, has endorsed evangelist Ruth Edmonds. Apparently, the apostasy of Paul/Meadows has infuriated Trump, such that his surrogate Corey Lewandowski was sent to speak to the media, and to bluster that "Organizations that endorse candidates against the president's endorsement do so at their own peril and, like the Democrats, will fail," and also to threaten that "it will be remembered."

One of the problems with enemies lists is that the more expansive they get, the harder they are to enforce. And who knows what Trump thinks he can do to Paul, who basically has a job for life in red, red Kentucky, or to the Meadowses. However, The Donald has invested a lot of political capital into this Ohio race. If Carey does poorly, it certainly isn't going to help reinforce the lesson that those Republicans who have Trump's blessing will flourish, while those who have his ire will burn. (Z)

Didn't We Already Know This?

It would appear that someone leaked several internal Kremlin documents, Edward Snowden-style. (Hopefully, for their sake, they took a cue from the Dread Pirate Roberts, and have been building up their immunity to Polonium.) It would further appear that the intelligence pros, in the U.S. and elsewhere, have seen the documents and judged them to be authentic. And finally, it would appear that someone finally decided the media should get a look.

As a result of all this, we now know that Russia conspired to help elect Donald Trump in 2016. About halfway through the primaries—and get ready for your vocabulary word of the day—the Putin administration and the Russian intelligence establishment determined that Trump was perspektivny—the candidate most likely to be of use in advancing the Russkies' imperatives. So, the various relevant agencies of the Russian government were ordered to find ways to help Trump win the election. And, of course, they complied and succeeded.

To the extent that there's something new here, it's in the details. To start, the Russian psychological assessment of Trump concluded that he is an "impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex." Of course, we already knew all of that too, but now we know that the Russians also knew it. The documents also imply that the Russians do have some sort of kompromat on Trump, though the appendix with the specifics was not included in the leak.

We recognize, incidentally, that the leak could be the work of the Putin administration, and not some rogue. However, we cannot see how that would serve the Russian president's interests unless he has now decided he wants to be rid of Trump. If that is the case—though we doubt it is—then it's likely the kompromat itself will "leak" sometime soon.

We don't know what the kompromat might be, but there have been stories floating around that when in Russia for the Miss Universe pageant in 2001, Trump cavorted with prostitutes. Putin might have sent them to him and arranged for the ensuing activity to be captured on video. We doubt that the release of any such videos would actually hurt Trump, though. He would probably even brag that they were beautiful women and he got their price down to 20 rubles (even though Putin was paying them and they were expected to tell Trump they were free because he was so handsome). Would the older white male voters who form Trump's base be appalled that he negotiated a great deal on Russian prostitutes, or would they merely be jealous? (Z)

Didn't We Already Know This, Too?

When it comes to Associate Justice Stephen Breyer's future plans, there are only two possibilities:

  1. He hasn't decided when he will retire.
  2. He has decided when he will retire, but is keeping the specifics to himself.

Whichever it is, he is going to answer questions about his potential retirement by saying that he hasn't decided yet. And that is exactly what he did in an interview that aired on CNN yesterday.

This story got broad coverage across the media, despite the fact that it doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know. To the extent there was anything revelatory in the almost entirely noncommittal interview, it was his declarations that (1) his decision to retire will be governed, first and foremost, by the state of his health, and (2) he's really enjoying being the senior liberal on the court. That does not sound like a guy who's ready to throw in the robes. (Z)

Another Reason Recall Elections Are Dumb

Courtesy of two object lessons in the last 3 years, the country has learned that impeachment doesn't necessarily work as advertised, particularly when it comes to holding a problematic chief executive accountable. When the jurors just so happen to have a strong, vested partisan interest in the outcome, it is rather naive to hope that they can be impartial.

That would seem to be an endorsement for the alternative (where it's available), namely putting the decision in the hands of the voters. However, as California is demonstrating right now, that option doesn't necessarily work as advertised, either. As it turns out, most citizens have a partisan agenda as well. And generally, the rules for recalls (as is the case in California) allow a minority of voters to trigger the special election. If it works, it can (and often does) mean that the minority is undemocratically overturning the will of the majority. If it doesn't work, then a vast amount of time, energy, and money are wasted.

There is a second problem, too. The general idea behind giving fairly lengthy terms to chief executives (and U.S. senators, for that matter) is to give them some insulation against the ebbs and flows of the political winds. Obviously, very few politicians completely ignore those winds, at risk of their career being marooned. And in election years, they pretty much all pay close attention. But there are at least some times, and some issues, where they can focus on governance while having the luxury of time while the fallout from tough choices has a chance to settle.

On the other hand, if a politician has to face the voters partway through their term, then everyone gets to spend some additional number of months where the emphasis is on catering to the whims of the voters, and not on governing. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is demonstrating that right now. The school year will commence right around the time the recall election takes place (it's on Sept. 14). And the following things are all true:

  1. Thanks to the Delta variant, COVID-19 is surging in the state (and nationwide) right now.
  2. Parents want their kids to return to in-person instruction, 100% of the time.
  3. Parents want their kids to be safe, 100% of the time.
  4. Many parents find mandatory mask rules to be offensive, undemocratic, fascist, an insult, etc.
  5. The handling of the pandemic in general, and the handling of schools during the pandemic in particular, present the biggest threat to Newsom, politically.

Not surprisingly, then, Newsom has been thrashing around on this issue like a freshly caught bass. Or like the average Republican member of Congress when they are asked who won the presidential election. Earlier this week, the Governor issued an order that all students would be required to mask up, unless they have a medical excuse. And after there was huge blowback, his office issued additional "clarification" that said that by "every student must wear a mask," what Newsom actually meant was "every district can decide for itself what to do." It would be nice if the Governor could just do what he thinks is best, but the recall makes that ill-advised unless he wants to become former governor Newsom.

And as long as we're on the California gubernatorial beat, on Thursday, former Trump administration ambassador/official Richard Grenell confirmed what has been evident for months, and said he would not run in the recall election. He has no natural constituency in California, a place where many Republicans dislike Trump, and many other Republicans dislike LGBTQ+ people. The only poll in which his name was included confirmed that his support was tepid, with only 5% of Republicans naming him as their preferred candidate (and since only 30% of Californians are registered Republicans, that means he's the preferred candidate of only 1.5% of Californians). So, Grenell wisely decided not to waste his time. (Z)

(Un)Mark Your Calendars

Undoubtedly, you had August 13—the day Donald Trump was to be restored to the presidency—circled on your calendar. Perhaps you planned to stage a parade, or maybe to host a barbecue, or maybe to commit hara-kiri. Whatever the case may be, you are going to have to stand down on those plans, because the revolution has been temporarily postponed.

Yesterday, MyPillow guy Mike Lindell, the noted political sage, appeared on the Steve Bannon radio program, putting to the test whether a dedicated 38-Gbps OC-768 fiber optic line is capable of handling that much lunacy. And during his appearance, Lindell explained that when he said that Donald Trump would be reinstalled on August 13, he didn't mean that Donald Trump would actually be reinstalled on August 13. Here are his exact words:

Here's what I said about a week ago. I said, everyone, you know, we're gonna live stream this to the world on the 10th, 11th, and 12th of August. What I said was, when you all see what I've seen and what I have, you're...the morning of the thirteenth you're going to wake up and go, wow, now what are we gonna do? Everyone's gonna know it and that's when we're going to bring it to the Supreme Court. I didn't say that everything's gonna change the morning of the thirteenth.

Don't you feel foolish for having misunderstood him, when he was so very clear?

Since there is a zero percent chance of Trump being reinstated on August 13, or any other day prior to January 20, 2025 (when the odds jump to maybe 10%), of course Lindell was going to revise his prediction. The only question was when he would do so. Heck, you could have run a pretty good betting pool based on it ("If you had July 15 at 11:00 ET, you're a winner!"). We shall see now if the whole fantasy fades away or if, like the doomsday preacher who identifies the date and time when armageddon will begin, Lindell will keep insisting that the blessed day is just around the corner, he's absolutely sure of it this time. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul15 Biden Lobbies Congress
Jul15 Manchin Is Open to the $3.5-Trillion Reconciliation Bill
Jul15 McConnell Blasts the Reconciliation Bill
Jul15 More Than 150 Companies Back the John Lewis Act
Jul15 House Republicans Raise More Cash than House Democrats
Jul15 Poll: DeSantis Is 2024 Favorite among Republicans If Trump Doesn't Run
Jul15 Vaccination May Be the Next Front in the Culture Wars
Jul15 Beasley and Jackson Are Running Very Different Campaigns in North Carolina
Jul15 Tucker Carlson: The Voice of White Grievance
Jul15 House Republican Losers Want Rematches
Jul14 A Speech Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
Jul14 Senate Democrats Say They Have a Deal on Reconciliation
Jul14 Two More Trump Books Dropped Yesterday
Jul14 Flake Tapped for Turkey
Jul14 Cheney's Huge Fundraising Haul Suggests That She's in Trouble
Jul14 Kemp, Georgia Republicans Lost Their Balls, Blame Democrats
Jul14 Can You Say EGOT?
Jul14 Today's Schadenfreude Report
Jul13 East Bound and Down
Jul13 Infrastructure Reconciliation Bill Picks Up Speed
Jul13 Who Is the Biggest Threat to Abbott?
Jul13 California Voters Will Just Have to Guess...
Jul13 Who Will Replace Eric Garcetti?
Jul13 Edwin Edwards (1927-2021); Donald Rumsfeld (1932-2021)
Jul12 Clyburn Warns Biden: Encourage Filibuster Reform or Lose the Majority
Jul12 Republican Voters Want to Make Voting Harder
Jul12 Biden Is on the Move
Jul12 The Suburbs Will Be the Big Battleground in 2022
Jul12 Biden Supports Capitalism
Jul12 Trumpists Are Running for Governor in Many States
Jul12 Alaska Republican Party Endorses Murkowski's Challenger
Jul12 Yellen Sets Out Timeline for Global Minimum Tax
Jul11 Sunday Mailbag
Jul10 Saturday Q&A
Jul09 Biden Puts Monopolies in His Crosshairs
Jul09 Texas Is at It Again
Jul09 Another Potential Infrastructure Wrinkle
Jul09 The Republican Party Stands for Nothing
Jul09 Trump Says He Welcomes Deposition
Jul09 An Artful Solution?
Jul09 A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Part II
Jul08 House Group Approves Senate's Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Jul08 Trump Sues Facebook, Twitter, and Google
Jul08 McCarthy Is at a Crossroads
Jul08 Biden Can Reshape the Fed
Jul08 Do Republicans Really Believe the Lies They Are Telling?
Jul08 Giuliani to Help the Democrats on Saturday
Jul08 Beasley Raises $1.3 Million for North Carolina Senate Race
Jul08 Pollsters Still Don't Know What Went Wrong in 2020
Jul08 Garcia and Wiley Concede