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Political Wire logo Biden Offers Aid to Florida Schools Defying DeSantis
U.S. Sees Afghanistan Accomplishments Crumble
Judge Dismisses Avenatti’s Defamation Claim Against Fox
Mississippi Puts Hospital Beds In Parking Garage
What’s Behind Lindsey Graham’s Devotion to Trump?
New Jersey Democrats Get Tiebreaker Edge in Redistricting

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Let the Games Begin
      •  The Sh*t Hits the Taliban
      •  SCOTUS to Students: Get Vaxxed
      •  Hochul Running for Reelection
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude
      •  It's a Snap Eh-lection
      •  Donald Kagan, 1932-2021

Let the Games Begin

Thanks to Trump administration meddling, the Census Bureau blew the data-release deadline mandated by federal law, which either means it's not much of a mandate, or not much of a deadline. In any event, the bean counters are finally done with their work, and so yesterday the Bureau released the detailed data that is needed to draw/redraw the congressional maps.

There are a number of notable developments on the population and demographics fronts; here are the biggies:

  • The White Shadow: If you're invested in KKK futures, you might want to sell, because for the first time in U.S. history, a census has found that the white population of the country declined over the previous decade. That's true in absolute numbers (196 million to 191 million) and in percentage (63.7% to 57.8%). (Advantage: Democrats)

  • The Real World: Meanwhile, as the white population shrank, the Latino and Asian populations boomed. The growth rate for all ethnicities was 7.4%, but for Latinos it was nearly 25% and for Asians it was over 30%. In addition, California—which was already one of six majority-minority states—now becomes one of three states where the largest ethnic group is not white people (it's Latinos, of course, as is also the case in New Mexico, while Hawaii's largest ethnic group is Asians). (Advantage: Democrats)

  • Married...with Children: Actually, more like unmarried, and without children. Because so many more people are making those two choices, especially the latter, children declined as a percentage of the population. Now, only 22% of Americans are below the age of 18. This increases the relative size of the various "adult" generations, particularly the Baby Boomers. (Advantage: Republicans)

  • Sex and the City: Most of the people who are having kids live in urban areas, such that 80% of urban areas experienced growth in the past 10 years. It was less than 50% among non-urban areas. And nearly all rural areas lost population. The fastest-growing city in the country was Phoenix, allowing it to leapfrog Philadelphia as the nation's fifth-largest city (behind New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston). (Advantage: Democrats)

  • Golden Girls: It turns out that senior citizens prefer to retire to warm climates. Who knew? And so, there was much growth, thanks to relocation, in places that skew warm and old. In fact, the fastest growing metro area in the U.S. was...the Florida retirement community The Villages. (Advantage: Republicans)

  • Dallas: It also turns out that Americans use lots of energy. Once again, who knew? So, cities and towns with significant energy concerns also saw disproportionate growth. McKenzie County, North Dakota, which has extensive oil reserves, was the fastest growing county in the country, by percentage (+131%). (Advantage: Republicans)

So, that's three trends that would generally be expected to favor the Democratic Party, and three that would generally be expected to favor the Republicans. Normally, 3-3 is a wash, except that the Democratic-favoring trends are an order of magnitude larger, in terms of number of people involved, than the Republican-favoring trends. So, the census looks to be good news for the blue team, on the whole. We'll explore that point a fair bit more next week. (Z)

The Sh*t Hits the Taliban

The United States military is getting out of Dodge, if by "Dodge," you mean "Afghanistan." And it's going about as badly as it could. The Taliban are on the march, and yesterday Kandahar and Herat apparently both fell to them. That's the second- and third-largest cities in Afghanistan, the largest is the capital Kabul, and the current guess is that the Taliban will make a point of taking over that one on—yuck—September 11. The United States is working to get its embassy staff out safely before that happens. The Department of State has also warned all Americans to leave the country immediately.

Nobody is all that surprised about this; this sort of response was expected when Donald Trump negotiated an agreement to pull out of Afghanistan, and it was expected when Joe Biden set a formal deadline for withdrawal. That said, the President is getting lambasted right now. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had sharp words for the administration, describing its approach as "reckless," and decreeing that "President Biden's decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975."

The punditry—left, right, and center—is not being any kinder. Here are examples from one of each:

  • The Left: Fred Kaplan, Slate, "It would have been more honest for Biden to say that Afghanistan's fate is no longer a vital interest, so we're leaving. It damages our interests to say, as he did in April, that we will still secure the government, protect women's rights, hold the Taliban accountable, and all the rest—knowing that, after the withdrawal, we would have no ability to do so. And if Biden didn't know that, he should fire whoever assured him that we could."

  • The Right: Frederick W. Kagan, The New York TImes, "Both the U.S. and Afghan governments are now scrambling to mitigate the effects of Mr. Biden's specific decisions. Amid the chaos, there is an important lesson to be learned: Whether announced by tweet or speech, decisions made without concrete plans or robust implementation strategies are wrong—regardless of which president or party spearheads them."

  • The Center: Peter Bergen, CNN, "Was the complete American withdrawal necessary? Of course not. In Iraq, around 2,500 US troops remain in the country—the same number that were in Afghanistan at the beginning of this year. In July, Biden announced an agreement with the Iraqi government that effectively relabeled the American troops in Iraq as "non-combat" service personnel, while still leaving them in place. Biden could have taken a similar approach in Afghanistan. He didn't. Why Biden chose one path in Iraq and another in Afghanistan isn't clear. But what is clear is that a predictable debacle is now unfolding under Biden's watch in Afghanistan."

We did not find any "Go, Joe!" op-eds so, although foreign affairs is far from our area of expertise, it looks like we'll have to play devil's advocate. It would appear to us that these are the three strongest counter-arguments to the points above:

  1. Donald Trump really did commit to leave Afghanistan (by May 11 of this year). The folks in the Taliban are not known for their patience, nor their fondness for negotiating, and so Biden was pushing his luck by staying this long. If a bomb was detonated at the U.S. embassy, as punishment for "dawdling," that would really have angered people (see: Benghazi).

  2. Further, the leitmotif of the items above (and many others) is "Why not just a little more time?" The United States was in Afghanistan for 20 years. If whatever it is the U.S. built—Afghan government, Afghan military—collapsed this fast, those 20 years don't appear to have been spent well, and it's hard to see how another, say, two months (a.k.a. 0.8% more time) would change much.

  3. If one does not buy Biden's reasoning ("Trump tied my hands!"), then it is incumbent to come up with an alternate explanation for what's happened here. There's no election coming soon (at least, not in the U.S., but see below), so impressing the voters before Election Day is not a reason for rushing things. Several of the authors above vaguely suggest that Biden didn't really understand the situation in Afghanistan, but that is not very believable, given his longtime service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (including four years as chair), his eight years as Barack Obama's right-hand man, and the fact that he actually reads the President's Daily Briefing.

As we said, this isn't our area of expertise, so maybe there was a better option. That said, the op-eds above (and others we looked at) were written by experts, and none of them made an effective case for what the better course of action would have been, and why.

What is our area of expertise is domestic politics. And it is here that we think McConnell's comparison to the fall of Saigon is useful. That was indeed a very bad moment (and a bad photo) for the United States. That said, it moved few votes, if any, in the 1976 presidential election. The key issues in that contest were corruption/the Nixon pardon, the state of the economy (Whip Inflation Now!), and energy shortages. Similarly, whether Biden is right about Afghanistan or he is wrong, we doubt that he or his party will pay a price at the polls next year or in 2024. Our guess is that Afghanistan is far, far away in the rearview mirror by the time folks cast their ballots on Election Day.

Did you know that "Afghanistanism" is actually a word? Yup, it is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It means: "The practice (as by a journalist) of concentrating on problems in distant parts of the world while ignoring controversial local issues." It is definitely a pejorative word, as in "Who cares what is going on in Afghanistan?" As long as the Taliban stick to oppressing women and trying to take Afghanistan back to the 8th century, what goes on there won't affect American elections. Of course, if there is another terrorist attack on America, all bets are off. (Z)

SCOTUS to Students: Get Vaxxed

When a group of Indiana University students, represented by James Bopp, asked the Supreme Court to declare that they can't be forced to vaccinate in order to enroll, we thought it was rather unlikely the students would succeed. First of all, the law does not support their argument, namely that the vaccine mandates constitute illegal discrimination and deprivation of due process rights. Second, consistent with that, vaccine mandates of various sorts predate COVID-19 by generations, and have already stood up to various forms of legal scrutiny. Third, there are some hot potatoes that this Court will be happy to take on—voting rights definitely, abortion rights probably—but vaccine mandates aren't among them.

The only surprise, then, is how quickly Bopp & Co. lost their case. On Thursday, Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejected their application for an emergency injunction. That means that the plaintiffs have now lost at three levels of the federal court system, in each case with Republican-appointed judges pointing out that this is already settled law. Bopp has not yet commented publicly, but it looks like he and his clients have reached the end of the road.

Meanwhile, the unanimity of the judges, not to mention the surging Delta variant of COVID-19, strengthens the hands of those who would impose such mandates. On Thursday alone, the White House expanded the list of federal employees for whom vaccines will be required, and San Francisco imposed a vaccination requirement for (most) indoor activities. At the same time, the hands of those who would oppose such mandates, like Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Greg Abbott (R-TX), appear to be weakened. "It is acceptable to require students/employees/customers to be vaccinated" is not exactly the same thing as "It is NOT acceptable to block such requirements," but it's close. Plus, every time a judge has weighed in on the latter question so far, they have ruled against the DeSantises and Abbotts of the world. (Z)

Hochul Running for Reelection

This is not the usual order in which these things happen. New York's Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is still more than a week away from becoming governor, and yet she announced on Thursday that she's already making plans for her reelection bid next year. Donald Trump started running for reelection before taking office as well, so maybe that's just how it's done these days. Or maybe that's just how New Yorkers do it.

Specifically, when asked about her plans on "Today," Hochul said: "I fully expect to [run for reelection]. I've prepared for this, I've led a life working in every level of government from Congress to local government, I am the most prepared person to assume this responsibility, and I'm going to ask the voters at some point for their faith in me again." Before being elected lieutenant governor in 2015, she had just 6 years in elective office, having served 4 years as County Clerk of Erie County, along with one term in the House of Representatives. However, she did work in a number of behind-the-scenes roles, mostly as a legal/policy aide, and she has also been an activist for various causes. So, readers can assess how on-target Hochul's accounting of her political career is.

In any event, if Hochul wants the job in her own right—and what ambitious politician wouldn't?—she really had no choice but to jump the gun a bit. At very least, there's some value in scooping AG Letitia James (D), who is widely expected to run, but has made no announcement. There are many other candidates who might join them, including New York City mayor Bill de Blasio (D), Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D), Al Sharpton, and—hold onto your hat—Hillary Clinton. The former senator and first lady says she's not interested, but some of the Democratic pooh-bahs are trying to get her to change her mind, and the chance to end her political career on a high note, as opposed to the current low note, could be irresistible. Anyhow, point is, things are likely to get crowded, so better for the soon-to-be-governor to make her intentions known now.

That said, it is worth noting that the last lieutenant governor to succeed to the governorship, namely Democrat David Paterson, said that he was going to run for a term in his own right and then didn't. In his case, he didn't have a great run while sitting in the big seat, and there were also a few skeletons in the closet that presented themselves. Either or both could also happen for Hochul. And speaking of Paterson, he made some headlines yesterday when he said it is "suspicious" that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D-NY) resignation won't take effect for 14 days. On one hand, we can't really see why Cuomo is going to let so much time pass, especially since Hochul will inherit most of his staff, and says she's already ready to go. On the other hand, we also can't see what sort of nefariousness Cuomo might be up to. Maybe he's got millions in gold bullion stashed in the basement of the governor's mansion, and he needs to sneak it out under cover of night, like in the movie "Three Kings." Unfortunately, Paterson did not explain what he was getting at, so all we've got is wild speculation. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Rudy Giuliani is dealing with a number of lawsuits, most obviously a $1.3 billion civil claim filed against him by Dominion Voting Systems. His personal finances are reportedly a mess, he spent much of 2020 representing a client famous for not paying legal bills, and he's not currently allowed to practice law in New York or Washington D.C. due to a suspended license. Under the circumstances, what's a cash-strapped fellow to do?

Join Cameo, it would seem. For those unfamiliar with the site, it allows users to purchase brief video greetings from celebrities for themselves, or as gifts for other people. The buyer provides the basic information ("This is for cousin Itt; it's Itt's birthday!") and then the celebrity records and sends back the message within a day or two. For someone like Giuliani, who has basically run out of grifts, it's the 21st century equivalent of heading to Times Square with a guitar, in hopes of busking for people's spare change.

Giuliani's Cameo page, including his "drum up some business" first video, is here. By all indications, he's not dyeing his hair anymore, which is probably a good call, since he can't afford the expensive stuff, and we know what happens when he uses the cheap stuff.

Initially, the price for a custom Giuliani video was $199. Apparently, someone underestimated the staggering demand for "America's Mayor," because it's now up to $375. To put that in context, here are some other folks in the $300 range: saxophonist Kenny G, actor John "Bo Duke" Schneider, singer Ted Nugent, "actor" Dolph Lundgren, former president of Mexico Vicente Fox, actor and comedian Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, insult comic Jeff Ross, reality star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, football player Michael Vick, and rapper Flavor Flav. Personally, we would rather have Flav if we're going to drop three bills, but maybe that's just us. If you're interested in folks who are apparently a cut above Giuliani, then that list includes "doctor" Mehmet Oz ($500), actress Fran "The Nanny" Drescher ($500), singer Chaka Khan ($650), football player Troy Aikman ($750), boxer George Foreman ($800), and entrepreneur Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary ($1,500). That's right, it costs more than four times as much to talk to the Canadian O'Leary than to the American Giuliani. Of course, one of them is a legendary jerk who associates with wannabe billionaires, is hated by everyone who sees him on TV, and has absolutely no loyalty to America, while the other is on the show "Shark Tank."

In other words, Giuliani's been on the take for decades, has worried not one whit about any collateral damage that he does, and now he's desperately scrounging for money. Definitely a schadenfreude moment. Meanwhile, at his new, increased rate, Giuliani will only need to make a bit more than 4.6 million videos, and he'll be able to pay off that $1.3 billion judgment, if it goes against him (Cameo takes 25% as their cut; if they didn't, he'd only have to make about 3.5 million videos). It should be noted that some of the folks on Cameo send 100% of their earnings to charity, but if you think Giuliani is one of those, well, we have an excellent bridge-purchase opportunity we'd like to talk to you about. (Z)

It's a Snap Eh-lection

We've had letters in the last several mailbags about the differences between the Canadian political system and the American political system, and we're about to be reminded of another. It is expected that, this weekend, PM Justin Trudeau will call for a snap election, sending Canadian voters to the polls 2 years earlier than required by Canadian law. "You can have a brand new election at any time—sounds great!" is what Donald Trump and Mike Lindell are thinking.

In other words, Trump is wishing right now that he'd been born in Canada. Of course, tens of millions of Americans have been wishing that for years, not that it spared them from the career of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Anyhow, Trudeau's approval is up right now—after starting the year in the high 40s, he's now in the high 50s, apparently because of his satisfactory management of the pandemic. His Liberal Party is the largest in the Canadian parliament, but does not have a majority, which leaves them beholden to members of other parties. Imagine Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), except that you have to deal with more than a dozen of him. The PM likes his chances of picking up the 15 more MPs he needs, so he can tell the Canadian Manchins to shove it. Politely, of course.

The date that Trudeau is targeting is reportedly Sept. 20; the election should cement his hold on power such that he'll be around for the rest of Joe Biden's first term, and into a second, if it happens. They know and like each other (Biden also knew Justin's father, Pierre), so that's a good thing when it comes to relations between the two nations. On the other hand, another 4 years is plenty of time for the PM to work on any invasions he might be planning. So, maybe this snap election is not so good for relations between the two nations, after all. (Z)

Donald Kagan, 1932-2021

Yale historian Donald Kagan, one of the preeminent scholars of ancient Greece, has passed away. Unless you (1) are conservative, (2) consider yourself to be an intellectual, and (3) were pretty deeply involved in Republican policy debates 20 years ago, the chances are you haven't heard of him. But if you check all three of those boxes, then the odds are high you had one or more of his books on your bookshelf, and that you caught at least one of the flattering obituaries written about him by conservative intellectuals yesterday, for publications including Politico, The Bulwark, The National Review.

Nearly all the obits written yesterday make some reference to how "rare" it is to find an a conservative in academia these days. That is a bit of an overstatement; there are plenty of conservatives in some disciplines (economics, business, medicine, etc.), and even many of the "liberals" vote and live in ways that aren't all that in tune with their rhetoric. Kagan's specific type is a bit rarer, but still not unheard of. He was a staunch leftist back in the 1960s, but then veered far-right in response to the Civil Rights Movement/Black Power, the Cold War and, later, terrorism. Others who traveled this same basic path include anti-reparations activist David Horowitz, TV reporter and author Bernie Goldberg, radio talker Michael Savage, and astrophysicist Michael Hart. Hart is the only one of those who remained in academia throughout his career, and he's also the one who veered the furthest right, having become an out-and-out white supremacist after his retirement.

Anyhow, Kagan first made his bones with his magisterial four-volume series on the Peloponnesian War waged by Athens and Sparta. He also became a local legend on the Yale campus, in part because of his teaching style and his jam-packed courses, but also in part because of his activism. He was an outspoken advocate for freedom of expression on campus (at least, as he understood the concept, since he was also a staunch opponent of ethnic studies courses and "political correctness"). He also railed against many of the usual conventions of academia, and in particular felt that hyper-specialization is an intellectually bankrupt approach, and also that the professoriate has a duty to come down from their ivory tower and share their insights with the general public.

The latter pair of imperatives—"be a generalist" and "be a public intellectual"—are what laid the groundwork for the "political influencer" dimension of Kagan's career. He became persuaded that (1) Western/American civilization is exceptional, (2) future conflicts between "exceptional" Western civilization and not-as-exceptional rivals can be predicted based on past wars, and (3) when a war is probable, preemptive action is both justified and necessary. Western/American exceptionalism is not an idea that finds much audience among today's academics, though even more dubious is the notion that one can confidently predict the future based on the past. That's particularly true when the past event that one is relying upon for insight happened well over 2,000 years ago.

In other words, Kagan's works on the Peloponnesian War made him a star in the academy, and remain classics. His works on the similarities between that war and the wars of the 20th century, and how those similarities can be used to project the future, were not so well received by scholars. However, they were devoured by the folks who eventually became known as "neocons." In particular, the neocons embraced Kagan's disdain of multinational alliances (he compared NATO to the evil—in his view—Spartan League), and his view that Western/American culture should be defended by all means possible, including preemptive military attacks.

As his star rose in right-wing political circles, Kagan began to rub elbows with many preeminent members of the neocon movement, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who became close friends. He joined with them to found the neoconservative PAC Project for a New American Century (now dissolved), which pledged to advocate for a "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity." In case anyone had any doubts as to where Kagan stood, he also published While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today in 2000, which might as well have been subtitled "We need to attack the Middle East RIGHT NOW!" The book provided Cheney, et al., with an intellectual argument for invading Iraq and "finishing" the Persian Gulf War; the 9/11 attacks, which came less than a year after the book's release, provided the political argument.

Kagan's passing is a reminder that the wing of the Republican Party he helped create is also (pretty much) dead. The party of Trump, while certainly celebratory of Western culture, and suspicious of NATO and other such alliances, is isolationist and is generally opposed to military intervention in other nations. The Trumpists are dovish, not so much because they abhor violence, but because they just don't see what's in it for them. Meanwhile, to the extent that the Trump wing has any intellectual foundation at all, it comes from kooky, basically conspiratorial works like The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny, which takes the (academic) sins of Kagan ("We can confidently predict the future based on the past!") and amps them up to the Nth degree. Kagan at least tried to be guided by the evidence, whereas The Fourth Turning just shoehorns things, as needed, into the authors' model of "how the world works." Like the predictions of Nostradamus, the book is "right" about everything, because it commits to specifics on nothing.

If you'd like to take a look at (the abridged version) of Kagan's magnum opus, it's here; just remember that it's all Greek to us. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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