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Political Wire logo Florida Starts Turning on DeSantis
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Presidential Legacies Are Built on Past Presidents
Economic Crisis Deepens In Afghanistan
Man Who Organized Anti-Mask Protests Now on Ventilator

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  From Bad to Worse
      •  Who Saw This Coming?
      •  SCOTUS Nixes Eviction Moratorium
      •  TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part I: Trump Sued
      •  TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part II: Trump's Lawyers Sanctioned
      •  The Grift of the Magai
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude

From Bad to Worse

By now, presumably everyone knows that there was a brutal terrorist attack in Afghanistan yesterday. As of early Friday morning, the casualty figures were 13 U.S. service members dead and 18 injured; 90 Afghans dead and 140 injured.

The attack took place at Kabul's airport, where throngs of refugees have congregated for days, trying to find a way out of the country. The damage was inflicted by a pair of suicide bombers, at least one of whom was wearing an explosive vest and managed to make it fairly deep into the airport before detonating. There is already much finger pointing going on, as American military officials say the Taliban did a poor job of securing the airport gates, while the Taliban says the bombers were in an area the U.S. forces were responsible for. The group claiming responsibility for the attack is Islamic State Khorasan, an offshoot of ISIS that is usually known as ISIS-K. They dislike both the U.S. and the Taliban. ISIS-K has provided no proof that they are responsible, but no other group has stepped up to challenge their claim, and U.S. intelligence believes they are telling the truth.

With the obvious proviso that this is a developing news story, and "facts" could change rapidly, we can see three ways Americans might interpret this development:

  1. The Biden Administration Incriminated: The obvious, to the point of being knee-jerk, reaction to this is that Joe Biden and his team botched the evacuation of Afghanistan, and so are wholly responsible for this tragedy. That is the point of view being taken by prominent Republicans, as you might guess. Sometimes those folks pay lip service to "thoughts and prayers" for a day or two, and sometimes they skip the niceties and get right to making political hay out of perceived setbacks for the Democrats.

    Yesterday was definitely in the latter category; the extent of the destruction wasn't even known (more specifically, only four Americans had been reported dead at that point) when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued a statement ripping Biden and heaping all of the blame on him. Not long thereafter, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) held a conference call with several of his Republican colleagues, and promised that there will be a "reckoning" for Biden over this.

    Obviously, this pair was going to point the finger at the President regardless of what actually happened. And it's certainly possible that, as the picture becomes clearer in the next few days, the minority leaders will be sustained. However, we spent much of the day on Thursday considering the situation, and there are two fundamental dynamics that seem unavoidable to us. The first is that whether the evacuation was fast or slow, organized or disorganized, on time or behind schedule, U.S. troops were going to be there until the very end, and were going to be the last Americans to leave. The second is that ISIS-K was desperate to send a message to the world, and the way to do that was to hit U.S. soldiers with a terrorist attack. Add it all up, and it feels like there was a certain inevitability to this, particularly as the withdrawal date grew nearer, and ISIS-K grew more desperate to make their statement before it was too late. The only possible "solution" we see is maintaining a presence in Afghanistan and propping up the Afghan government, so that the Taliban does not seize power, and an evacuation is not necessary. However, that would have run contrary to the deal that Mike Pompeo/Donald Trump negotiated, and also contrary to public opinion. Plus, that ship sailed at least a week ago.

    If one wants to point a finger at the Biden administration, the much more concerning news is that, in an effort to extract the folks that the U.S. wants to extract from Afghanistan, U.S. officials gave the Taliban lists of names of people the U.S. was trying to get out. Critics are calling this a "death list," since it will tell the Taliban exactly who to go after once the Americans are gone.

    We are most certainly not foreign service officials, nor experts on how things work on the ground in a situation like this, but the presumption being made by the critics is that Team Biden was stupid/careless in giving out this information. That doesn't seem particularly plausible to us; most of these folks are pros who have been at this a long time. The administration's explanation is that these lists are used to tell (warn?) the Taliban which individuals they should not harass. That seems more plausible to us. It's also the case that the Taliban holds most or all of the cards right now, and also that we're at the stage where the U.S. hopes the Taliban will behave like a mature government, and has to treat them like a partner until given evidence to the contrary. So, maybe this is not so damning after all.

  2. The Biden Administration Vindicated: There is an entirely different way of looking at this, though nobody seems to be advancing this interpretation right now. We have written several times that if the President unilaterally extended the August 31 deadline, he would be putting Americans and their Afghan helpers at risk of a terrorist attack. Well, the attack happened anyhow, without blowing the deadline. But if Biden had stayed on for additional weeks or months, wouldn't that have dramatically increased the risk of a violent response from the Taliban, while also extending the window for ISIS-K or other groups to make a "statement" by killing Americans? In short, maybe there was no such thing as leaving too soon.

  3. Uh, Oh: One of the main concerns with the Taliban taking over, beyond their repression of their population (complete with a restoration of medieval-era women's roles), was that Afghanistan would once again become a breeding ground for terrorist groups of various sorts. And it would appear that it already has, even more quickly than the Afghan government/army gave up the ghost. Of the three interpretations we submit for your consideration here, this one seems to be on the firmest ground.

The President responded to the attacks with fire and brimstone, of course, delivering an address in which he promised revenge against ISIS-K, decreeing "We will hunt you down and make you pay." He also said that increasing the size of the U.S. presence in Kabul is a possibility. We shall see if these are just words, or if he will actually be able to follow through. After all, deploying more troops is not easy (particularly given the increased risk of them being targeted for additional attacks), while hunting down terrorist-guerrillas is basically needle-in-a-haystack time. In any event, the evacuation is continuing, well over 100,000 people have been extracted, and everyone involved now has even more motivation to try to get it done by the August 31 deadline. (Z)

Who Saw This Coming?

Besides everyone, that is. Well, everyone who is not part of the MAGA crowd. When you put a bunch of people in a limited space, largely without masks, and while a new variant of COVID is running wild, you are likely to get...wait for it...a whole bunch of sick people. You did not need our crystal ball to predict that.

There have been several proofs of concept unfolding this week. Well, apparent proofs of concept, because they tend to happen, not coincidentally, in places that don't believe in contact tracing. Last year, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally went forward, and only some people died, so that was seen as a success. It also went forward this year, ending on Aug. 15. And whaddya know? A bit more than 10 days out, and the number of COVID cases in South Dakota (where the rally is held each year) has jumped a staggering 3,400%. And that, of course, does not include the folks who attended the rally and then took a "souvenir" case of disease home with them.

Then there is Iowa, a state that is nearly as laissez faire about public health as South Dakota is. There, the Iowa State Fair just concluded; it attracted over 1 million guests from August 11-22. And the COVID cases are already spiking, with a 25% increase in hospitalizations, and a trendline that is headed to scary places once the 10-12 day gestation period has elapsed. Nearly all of those hospitalized were not vaccinated, and the newly ill are disproportionately young, with 56% under the age of 40 and 17% under the age of 17.

And speaking of young people, the unhappiest news comes from the nation's schools. With the school year just underway in most places, 180,000 students tested positive for COVID last week (this week's numbers will surely be worse, once they are compiled); at least 90,000 have had to quarantine; more than 1,400 students have been hospitalized; and there have been at least a dozen deaths. The bulk of the sick students are in states hostile to masking/vaxxing, with Mississippi "leading" the way. The folks at Sturgis and the Iowa State Fair made their own beds, generally speaking. Schoolchildren, by contrast, often have little choice but to expose themselves to risk.

The next few months will reveal whether the suffering wrought by cavalier approaches to the pandemic will outweigh political considerations, owning the libs, "freedom," and other public-health-undermining attitudes. With Donald Trump somewhat sidelined these days, the two leaders (champions? capos? reapers?) of the "you can't tell us what to do" resistance are Govs. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL). At the moment, they are employing rather different approaches to the messes they are helping to make for their states.

Abbott, for his part, is—for all intents and purposes—talking out both sides of his mouth. On one hand, his rhetoric continues to be focused on how this is 'murica, goddammit, and God-fearing Texans aren't going to yield their God-given freedoms just because of some annoying disease. On Wednesday, a day where the Lone Star State witnessed more than 23,000 new COVID diagnoses, he issued an executive order forbidding any government agency in Texas from imposing a vaccine mandate. Then, on Thursday, he announced that his administration was bringing in 2,500 healthcare workers from other states because, you know, the pandemic is spiraling out of control again, and Texas' healthcare system is overwhelmed.

DeSantis, meanwhile, has decided to try out a little gaslighting. Florida has about 20,000 new cases per day, and almost no ICU beds left. Even more grim, an average of 227 Floridians are dying each day from COVID, the highest number in the nation right now, the highest number the Sunshine State has seen, and a 613% increase from a week ago. So, naturally, the Governor went on Fox News to brag about his state's "great success" in fighting the pandemic, while also proposing that the Biden administration really ought to be following his lead. It certainly takes...well, something to go on TV and say that with a straight face. Host Jesse Watters did not challenge DeSantis because, you know, it's Fox.

Beyond that, what else is there to say? Maybe, despite the obvious turn for the worse, these "freedom first" folks don't mind dying on this hill, and their upwardly aspirational leaders will remain happy to make that possible. After all, once you take up residence in a cemetery, nobody ever again nags you about wearing a mask. (Z)

SCOTUS Nixes Eviction Moratorium

Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh warned that this was coming and, in contrast to some of the other key moments from his career, he wasn't lying. When the COVID eviction moratorium last came before the Court, Kavanaugh provided the swing vote that kept it in place, while warning that he was not open to an extension past July. The second version of the moratorium, announced by Joe Biden earlier this month, came before the court, and Kavanaugh did indeed switch sides. The Court issued its ruling yesterday, striking the moratorium down. The three liberals on the Court were furious, and signed on to a fiery dissent, but they are the minority and so don't matter.

The White House was not happy with the ruling, of course; Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden is "disappointed," and that "As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19." We think it's fair to wonder how disappointed they really are, though. Undoubtedly, the President feels great empathy for the folks who are about to lose their homes. On the other hand, the administration knew this was coming, because it knew that the rules were being stretched, and only Congress has actual power to do something like this. In addition, in something of a strange parallel to the Afghanistan withdrawal, this was a band-aid that likely had to be ripped off at some point. At very least, Biden set things up so it's not in the middle of winter, it's not particularly near the election, and the Court gets to be the villain. That might be about as much as the President could have salvaged here. (Z)

TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part I: Trump Sued

Another day, another lawsuit against Donald Trump. This one comes from seven U.S. Capitol Police officers, who filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday. It targets a large group of people who were on the scene for the 1/6 insurrection, but the star of the filing is the former president. This is the fourth civil suit he's named in due to the events of 1/6; he's also been sued by a different group of police officers, and by two different members of Congress.

We have taken the view, which we stand by, that Trump is unlikely to face federal criminal charges due to what happened on that day. The feds usually only go after someone if it's a slam dunk. And, whatever the case against Trump might be, it's definitely not a slam dunk. Existing law and precedent don't really speak all that clearly to what The Donald did, because it is unprecedented for a sitting president to behave in that manner. And that is before we consider how politically fraught such a prosecution would be.

These civil suits, however, are a different matter. The main claim in yesterday's filing reads "Because of Defendants' unlawful actions, Plaintiffs were violently assaulted, spat on, tear-gassed, bear-sprayed, subjected to racial slurs and epithets, and put in fear for their lives. Plaintiffs' injuries, which Defendants caused, persist to this day." The plaintiffs' attorneys also make frequent use of the word "incitement."

With the usual warning that we're not lawyers, this looks to be a much lower bar to clear than the one that AG Merrick Garland & Co. would face if they tried to bring criminal charges. Showing that the plaintiffs were damaged should be a piece of cake, which means the only question, when it comes to Trump, is proving that he has some culpability. And, well, everyone saw his speech that day. The allegation of incitement is particularly instructive, we think. As far as the law is concerned, that is a criminal act. And when Trump got in the habit of making oblique threats against Hillary Clinton, he was protected by the fact that the threat has to be imminent, and with her, it wasn't. It was just empty talk. In the case of 1/6, however, the threat was clearly imminent, since the crowd literally turned around, marched to the Capitol, and invaded it. The argument, then, is that his actions were likely enough to meet the criteria for a criminal charge of incitement, so they are surely enough to pin some of the blame on him for civil damages.

There's also one other problem that Trump and his lawyers will have, if and when this finds its way into a courtroom: the case will be tried by a civil jury. Since it is D.C., they abide by federal civil procedure, which means that the jury will have to be unanimous (in contrast to some states, where civil juries need not be unanimous), but also means that it will probably have only six people. Under those circumstances, it will be a bit harder to find someone who is willing to hold out and hang the jury.

Since it's a civil matter, the former president obviously isn't looking at prison time. Nor is he looking at a backbreaking financial judgment. However, we could end up with one or more courts finding that he bears partial responsibility for the insurrection. That might be enough to put a nail in the coffin of his 2024 presidential hopes. Certainly, it would significantly complicate Republican efforts to claim that this was no big deal, and that the rioters were just a bunch of rambunctious tourists. (Z)

TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part II: Trump's Lawyers Sanctioned

Speaking of civil matters, on Wednesday District Judge Linda Parker, of the Eastern District of Michigan, imposed sanctions on several of the, lawyers who tried to overturn the 2020 election results on behalf of Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani, who has already had his law license suspended in two jurisdictions, did not get popped by Parker, but Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and several others did. As with other judges who have dealt with these folks, Parker wrote a lengthy (110 pages) and blistering ruling.

If these shyst...lawyers avoid hefty judgments in the cases filed against them by Dominion Voting Systems, Smartmatic, etc., then they better invest in green clothes, a six pack of Guinness, and a shillelagh, because they've got the luck of the Irish. And if they keep their bar cards once the dust has settled, that will be a miracle on the order of the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the Red Sox winning three World Series in 10 years. If things do turn out poorly for the Trump legal team, we can only hope that teaches a lesson to lawyers who might consider the same sort of trickery in the future. That said, keep reading... (Z)

The Grift of the Magai

That's not a typo of "magi." Magi are wise men, and there are definitely none of those to be found in this story. Because there's no agreed-upon word yet to refer collectively to the MAGA faithful, we decided to coin a new one and take it out for a spin to see if we like it. It's true that the base phrase MAGA doesn't end in "us," and so we're guilty of a crime against Latin grammar. However, that is a dead language, so we are not too worried about consequences. If Julius Caesar wants to rise from the dead and sue, he is free to do so. Et tu, E-V?

In any event, when we wrote about the latest delay of the Cyber Ninjas' audit report, we posited that "there was no point in this charade," since nobody who isn't already a true believer is going to buy the results, and so the twin goals of giving a win to Donald Trump and rallying support for voter restrictions won't really be achieved. Several readers wrote in and observed that we were overlooking an important goal, and possibly the most important goal, of the thing. For example, C.J. in Burke, VA, who writes: "The point was not to win over fence sitters. The point is to keep the issue alive among the faithful and to make money. So far, it has been successful in doing both." C.J., and the others who made the same point, are quite right, of course.

That helps explain the actions of state Sen. Jake Corman (R) of Pennsylvania, who has been watching the Arizona recount closely, and likes what he sees. Inspired by Cyber Ninjas' valiant commitment to undemocratic nonsense, he said this week that he wants to mount a "forensic investigation" of how the presidential election was conducted in Pennsylvania. That would be the same state that was decided by a margin eight times larger than the one in Arizona.

In other words, Corman isn't going to come up with anything meaningful. Maybe he'll come up with something less embarrassing and costly than what's unfolding in Arizona, but maybe not. Either way, he doesn't care, because the opportunity for grift is the same either way. And we don't mean money, at least in his case. Cyber Ninjas is chasing the Benjamins, and so is Trump, while Corman's game, and Arizona Senate President Karen Fann's game, for that matter, is to leverage the power and money that have been put at their disposal to advance their own political prospects, democracy be damned. Living in purplish states, as they do, they both look in the mirror and see a future governor or U.S. senator, and they think this is the way to get there. They are thus following the exact playbook of the machine bosses of the 19th century, who were also none too good for the democracy. Those would be the same political bosses who are generally viewed as villains today, which says a little something about Corman and Fann, perhaps. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

We ran out of time last Thursday night, and so didn't get to write this item. So, this week, you get two for the price of one. Who said that isn't a bargain?

We begin in San Antonio, TX, home of Louis Tussaud's Palace of Wax. You may have heard of Madame Tussaud, who achieved much wealth and fame in the wax museum business. Louis was her great-grandson and did not have, shall we say, quite the same gift for realistic renderings of famous people. People bought tickets 100 years ago, and still buy them today, for purposes of camp and/or irony, so they can laugh at the sculptures, rather than marveling at them.

The San Antonio location, as you might guess, has a Trump figure:

His hair is too long and too full and too blond, his skin is a reasonable
tone rather than orange, he's too thin, and his face doesn't look like his actual face

It's not as bad as the painting sent in by C.S. in Linville this weekend. At least the wax Trump doesn't look like a wax Jimmy Carter. But the wax Trump is still pretty bad, nonetheless.

Anyhow, Tussaud's has had to remove the Trump sculpture. It's not because he's an alleged tax cheat, or an alleged sexual predator, or due to his having fomented insurrection against the United States, though. No, it's because visitors to the museum kept punching the sculpture, and wax is not really up to the rigors of being used as a punching bag. Undoubtedly, many folks are lamenting that they didn't know to hustle down to San Antonio to get their shots in before it was too late.

Our second example also involves a lecherous politician from New York. And this one's a Democrat, so this item has balance! We speak of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), of course, who exited his post earlier this week. And, to add just a little insult to injury, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences voted to rescind the special Emmy he was awarded last year for his COVID briefings. And then, to add even more insult on top of that, Cynthia Nixon—the actress who ran against Cuomo in 2018—tweeted this:

Ouch. If that is not schadenfreude, we don't know what is. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug26 Jan. 6 Select Committee Starts Asking for Documents
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Aug20 ...And in Arizona, the Drama Nears Its Denouement...
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