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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  More Good News on the COVID Front
      •  Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows, Part 413
      •  The Courts Are Busy
      •  Biden Administration Pushes Back on Uyghur Genocide
      •  Cruz for President, Part II (and III, and IV...)
      •  Arizona Adopts New District Maps
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude
      •  A December to Rhymember (Part 31)

More Good News on the COVID Front

Yesterday, we had an item about paxlovid, which is Pfizer's anti-COVID pill. It's not preventative, but it does reduce the severity of symptoms in most patients. It could make a big difference for people who are unwilling or unable to get vaccinated due to politics or underlying health problems or fear of needles.

After that post went live, there was additional good news, pandemic-wise. To start, the FDA approved a second pill, molnupiravir, which comes from Merck. Who knows where they come up with these names, since that looks more like a word jumble than a drug name. Actually, maybe that IS how they came up with it, since "molnupiravir" unscrambles to "murr pavilion," which would mean something like "place for people with congestion of the nose or throat." That George Soros sure is clever! Or is it Bill Gates?

In any event, the Merck pill is to be used in the same way as the Pfizer pill; if a person gets sick and then quickly commences a course of the medication, their chances of being hospitalized are reduced. That said, the Merck pill appears to be less efficacious than the Pfizer pill, and it could also have side-effects, particularly for pregnant women. So, it looks like it will be a backup/stopgap until Pfizer can produce enough doses to satisfy demand.

Meanwhile, there may soon be another vaccine available, courtesy of...the U.S. Army. This one is called the Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine, which sounds like it was created by a 1940s big band leader. Early results suggest it is effective against all variants of COVID, including omicron. The last two trial stages still have to be conducted, a task complicated by the fact that the Army is having trouble finding enough unvaccinated folks who are willing to take part. However, if the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, it could represent another big step forward. First, because at least some of the conspiracy theorists are also military fetishists, and it might be harder for them to dismiss a vaccine that comes straight from the Pentagon. Second, because if and when the Biden administration decides to launch a worldwide vaccination campaign, it's easier and cheaper if there's no need to worry about the intellectual property rights of a private corporation.

There was also some promising news about the omicron variant. South Africa was the first place the new variant was identified, and so the first place where there was a huge surge in cases. Now, the surge is dissipating almost as rapidly as it came on. This trendline may be specific to the omicron variant, though there is much supposition that it's actually a product of widespread vaccination. That is to say, even though omicron is quite infectious, there just aren't enough potential carriers or enough severe cases for there to be a repeat of what happened in, say, April of last year.

And speaking of the seriousness of omicron, two draft papers released on Thursday (see here and here) both reach the same conclusion: If omicron sends you to the hospital, then it's just as bad as delta, but omicron is roughly 75% less likely to reach that point. These papers are based on analysis of hospital admissions data, and haven't been peer-reviewed yet, so don't take them to the bank. Still, it's another tentative indication that omicron won't exact as great a toll as past COVID variants.

We said it yesterday, but it's worth saying again: The quicker the pandemic recedes, the better it is for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. They were given full control of the federal government just less than a year ago, and so they now own COVID, for better or worse. It is improbable that the disease is going to disappear anytime soon, but there are plenty of projections that suggest it will settle in alongside the flu or pneumonia: annual vaccinations (for those who partake), a sizable number of moderate-level infections each year, and a small number of serious-to-fatal infections each year. In the last pre-COVID year, namely 2019, the U.S. had 13 million flu-related medical visits, 380,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 28,000 flu deaths. If that is where COVID settles in, well, clearly the nation has decided that those are acceptable levels of hospitalization and mortality. (Z)

Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows, Part 413

Yes, it is something of a cliché, but the reason that clichés exist is that there's (usually) a fair bit of truth to them. And so it is that COVID-19 has given us an ad hoc partnership between Joe Biden and...Donald Trump.

The two presidents aren't cooperating directly—there are no phone calls or strategy meetings. But they are both pulling in the same direction on vaccines, and urging people to get them. In Biden's case, the motivations are simple and clear: He has empathy for Americans, and he also ran for office on a promise to wind down the pandemic. So, he's willing to stand on his head if it will cause more people to get jabbed.

In Donald Trump's case, he is also urging people to get vaccinated. Sitting for an interview with The Daily Wire's Candace Owens, he pushed back against her claims that the shot doesn't work, telling her: "Look, the results of the vaccine are very good, and if you do get (Covid), it's a very minor form. People aren't dying when they take the vaccine." While the former president said that he respects the rights of people to go unvaccinated, he reiterated that "The ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don't take their vaccine."

Trump's motivation is also pretty clear: He wants credit for the vaccine and for its positive effects. He said so in the Owens interview, asserting that "I came up with a vaccine, with three vaccines. All are very, very good. Came up with three of them in less than nine months." Presumably he did that in the same Washington, DC, lab where Al Gore invented the Internet. It's possible that Trump also has empathy (though that's not really his thing), and it's also possible that he's noticed that a disproportionate number of the dead are people who voted for him. But his #1 concern is clearly bringing glory and honor to himself.

Interestingly, Trump's ego/desire to be loved has also encouraged his "partnership" with Biden in a different way. In his address this Tuesday, Biden twice took time to thank Trump for his work on the pandemic. Well, the way to Trump's heart is through his id, as Kim Jong-un demonstrated multiple times. And the former president says it's now "very tough" to attack Biden. We shall see how long that holds, though a joint Trump-Biden PSA, which once seemed a pipe dream, is increasingly plausible. (Z)

The Courts Are Busy

Two of the three branches of government, both on the federal and state levels, have basically shut down for the holidays. The third branch, however, continues to do a land-office business. There were quite a few stories on the legal front this week.

To start, in case the Supreme Court does not have enough hot potatoes on its plate, it's picked up two more. One of those taters is the Biden administration's vaccine mandates, specifically the ones that require healthcare workers to be vaccinated and that require employees of large-scale enterprises (100+ staff) to be vaccinated. Recognizing that time is an X-factor here, SCOTUS has taken the somewhat unusual step of scheduling oral arguments for Jan. 7. Presumably, it won't take long for the Supremes to issue a decision once they've heard from the various factions.

On top of that, Donald Trump did what everyone thought he would do and appealed his executive privilege case to SCOTUS. He's already lost at every other level of the court system, and now he's going for the complete set. The House's 1/6 Committee promptly filed a request asking that the Court do whatever it is going to do by mid-January at the latest. All of these filings took place late Thursday, so there's no indication yet as to what the Supremes are going to do. Maybe we'll find out today, though maybe it will have to wait until Christmas is in the rearview mirror. They could just let the two Jews on the Court handle it, but if so, Trump is not likely to be happy with what Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan decide.

There was also legal business this week involving two of Trump's acolytes. Michael Flynn was one of the (now) dozen people who countersued in order to avoid talking to the 1/6 Committee. And it took District Judge Mary Scriven less than 24 hours to decree that she's not buying (at least part of) what Flynn is selling. She found that his filing did not meet the minimum requirements for the claim he is making (that he will suffer "immediate and irreparable" harm), and so she denied his request for a temporary restraining order. The underlying case lives on, though Flynn might want to find better lawyers to try it.

Rudy Giuliani's name also made the legal blotter yesterday. Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss served as poll workers in Atlanta, GA, for the 2020 general election. And they became the focal point of election-related conspiracies. As in, by name. Giuliani, for example, lit into them in a court hearing, declaring "They should have been questioned already. Their places of work, their homes should have been searched." Why this duo, in particular? Well, we're just spitballing here, but it may just have something to do with the fact that the mother-daughter duo is Black. They say that they have both been targeted by MAGA hooligans, that their lives have been threatened many times, that their online business has been ruined, and that they have suffered various other depredations. So, they sued Giuliani and One America News for damages. Freeman and Moss appear to have a strong case, though whether they can get any money out of this is an open question, given how many big-time suits targeting Giuliani/OAN have already been filed.

That, then, is the legal news for the week. The only person working harder than the judges this week is Santa. (Z)

Biden Administration Pushes Back on Uyghur Genocide

A "diplomatic boycott" of the Olympics, in protest of the ongoing persecution of Chinese Uyghurs, is a high-profile gesture but it will be forgotten soon after the Olympics close. On Thursday, the White House did something a bit more substantive, as Joe Biden signed a bill banning imports from the Xinjiang region of China (where the Uyghurs reside) unless there is "clear evidence" the products were not made by forced labor.

The timing here may seem a little odd, since the news is going to get completely lost while Americans focus on the holidays. However, the Congress did not pass the bill until Monday, which meant that Biden was going to have to sign it at some point during the holiday lull, or else it would have become law automatically on New Year's Eve (pocket vetoes can only happen when Congress is out of session, and they are holding pro forma sessions through the break so that doesn't happen).

The goal here, beyond putting a little American pressure on the Chinese, is to provide a model for other countries to follow. Xinjiang does not produce a huge quantity of exports—about $20 billion/annually, most of that oil or agricultural products—so other countries could very well jump on board, since the pinch they feel won't be that severe. Whether this will ultimately improve the Uyghurs' situation is a tougher question to answer. Chinese leader Xi Jinping cannot afford to look weak and lose face in front of his citizenry, and a loss of $10-$20 billion in trade is a rounding error for the Chinese economy, so he might not take notice of the sanctions. Or, they might just cause him to dig his heels in even deeper. (Z)

Cruz for President, Part II (and III, and IV...)

We have often mentioned the old line that 100 U.S. senators, when they look in the mirror, see a future U.S. president. That number may be a tad bit high, since at least one senator isn't eligible to be president (Mazie Hirono), and several others (Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Grassley, etc.) will be in their nineties by the time Inauguration Day 2025 rolls around. Still, it's a good general rule of thumb.

One person who definitely sees a future president is everyone's favorite senator, namely Ted Cruz (R-TX). He's made no secret of the fact that he regards himself as next-in-line once Donald Trump stops running for president. Sitting for an interview this week, the Canadian-born Senator reiterated that, declaring that he would run again "in a heartbeat," and that he's clearly the heir apparent for the nomination, as it usually goes to the second-place finisher from the previous cycle.

Before we continue, let's consider that assertion. Presumably, Cruz means second place in terms of delegates won. So, here are the last ten second-place and third-place finishers from years in which there was no Republican incumbent, followed by the person who was nominated the next time there was no Republican incumbent. (Any time there is a Republican incumbent, that person generally wins the nomination unanimously, or nearly so, which is why we exclude those contests):

Year Second Place Third Place Next Nominee
1948 Robert A. Taft Harold Stassen Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952)
1952 Robert A. Taft Earl Warren Richard Nixon (1960)
1960 Barry Goldwater None Barry Goldwater (1964)
1964 William Scranton Nelson Rockefeller Richard Nixon (1968)
1968 Nelson Rockefeller Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan (1980)
1980 John B. Anderson George H.W. Bush George H.W. Bush (1988)
1988 None None Bob Dole (1996)
1996 Pat Buchanan Steve Forbes George W. Bush (2000)
2000 Alan Keyes John McCain John McCain (2008)
2008 Ron Paul Mike Huckabee Mitt Romney (2012)
2012 Ron Paul Rick Santorum Donald Trump (2016)
2016 Ted Cruz Marco Rubio ???

As you can see, since World War II, the second-place finisher has claimed the next Republican time. And that was only because Goldwater got 10 protest votes, compared to over 1,000 for Richard Nixon. So, as with most of Cruz's "facts," this one is nonsense. Heck, third-place finishers actually have better odds than second-place finishers (Rubio 2028?). Now, if you also include elections where there was a Republican incumbent, then that adds one more "the next nominee came in second" (Ronald Reagan in 1976). You can also go holistic and say that, for example, Alan Keyes may have won more delegates in 2000, but John McCain was the more serious candidate. But even with all sorts of twists and gyrations, the second-place finisher is still no better than 1-in-3 to be the next nominee.

And those numbers just consider your average nominee. But Cruz is not an average nominee—he's Ted Cruz, one of the most hated politicians of the last century. He makes Nixon look lovable. And he's not only hated, he's a giant phony. He says all kinds of ridiculous stuff, like whining this week about people who are allegedly trying to "cancel" the song "White Christmas" because it's racist. If he were to become a serious presidential candidate, the oppo file would fill a warehouse, and a whole bunch of that ridiculous stuff would be trotted out to remind everyone what a phony and what an opportunist Cruz is. The Texas Senator can try to re-create himself in the image of Trump, but Trump—as improbable as it seems—managed to convince his base that he is authentic and that he really cares about the things that they care about. That's largely a lie, but a lie that Trump was able to sell, and, at the same time, a lie that Cruz will never, ever be able to carry off.

So, Cruz can continue to delude himself that he's a future president, but to us he looks more like a future Harold Stassen; a once-serious candidate who never got the message that people aren't interested, and "ran" for president over and over, ultimately becoming a parody of himself. (Z)

Arizona Adopts New District Maps

Arizona is another state where district maps are drawn by a commission. In this particular case, the commission has two Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent. That means that the independent better be chosen very carefully, or fairness/independence/bipartisanship goes right out the window. We're not saying that the choice of Erika Neuberg, who also served as chair, was a bad one, because we just don't know. But what we can say is that Republicans are very happy, and Democrats are seething, after the commission adopted final maps on Thursday.

Here, first of all, are the old (left) and new (right) maps, from Politico:

The biggest difference between the maps 
is that the very blue district in the southeast corner of the state is now a purple district. Otherwise, Phoenix and the southern 
part of the state are blue, the Phoenix suburbs and the western quarter of the state are red, and the eastern three-quarters
of the state, outside of Phoenix and its suburbs, are red. Phoenix is located at about the halfway point of the state longitude-wise
and about one-third of the way north of the Mexican border, latitude-wide.

Arizona only has nine districts, so the easiest way to do this is just to run through them all:

  • AZ-01, represented by Democrat Tom O'Halleran, will become AZ-02, and will go from R+6 to R+15. O'Halleran will have to decide if he wants to take on an uphill reelection battle, or if he wants to jump to some other district, or if he just wants to retire. He's 75 and has had a long career in public service, so we're guessing it will be option #3.

  • AZ-02, represented by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, will become AZ-06, and will go from D+2 to R+7. Kirkpatrick saw this coming, which surely played a role in her decision to retire at the end of this term. Without an incumbent, this one is going to be hard for the Democrats to hold on to.

  • AZ-03, represented by Democrat Raúl Grijalva, will become AZ-07, and will go from D+22 to D+27. Grijalva can have another five terms, if he wants them.

  • AZ-04, represented by Republican Paul Gosar, will become AZ-09. It's going to get slightly less Republican, but will still be plenty red—R+45 to R+33—and so will keep electing Gosar.

  • AZ-05, represented by Republican Andy Biggs, will keep its number, and will almost keep its current partisan lean, going from R+23 to R+24.

  • AZ-06, represented by Republican David Schweikert, will become AZ-01, and will go from R+13 to R+7. So, Schweikert's life just got a little harder, but not a lot harder.

  • AZ-07, represented by Democrat Ruben Gallego, will become AZ-03, and will get a tiny bit bluer, going from D+43 to D+44. So, this Phoenix-based district is entirely safe for the blue team, even if Gallego jumps ship for a U.S. Senate run.

  • AZ-08, represented by Republican Debbie Lesko, will keep its number and most of its partisan lean, shifting from R+24 to R+22.

  • AZ-09, represented by Democrat Greg Stanton, will become AZ-04, and will become a true swing district, changing from D+15 to D+1.

Again, this does not mean anything untoward took place, but you can see why Democrats are unhappy. One Republican-held district (Schweikert's) became a bit more competitive. And, in exchange, three Democratic-held districts became a lot more competitive. In fact, if you just go by the numbers, then 2022 will see a delegation with the Democrats up 5-4 be transformed into a delegation with the Republicans up 6-3. And if Stanton can't hold on, due to a red wave of even moderate size, it could easily end with the Republicans up 7-2.

This isn't necessarily the final word, as lawsuits are definitely coming. They won't be easy to win, though, since the new map has two predominantly Latino districts, and so can hardly be described as a racial gerrymander. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Donald Trump and Bill O'Reilly are both quite good at selling a particular type of outrage, and appealing to a certain type of American. However, there is a reason that, for example, the magicians Penn & Teller have been playing the Rio for 20 years and counting: They change up their act on a regular basis to keep it fresh. Trump and O'Reilly can't, or won't, do that.

That problem was on display this past Saturday, when the two Republican bomb-throwers launched their "History Tour." Good name, since for both men, their best years are in the past. In any event, the pair is trying to get Penn & Teller prices—seats run from $106 to $7,500—but for the same old, heated-over talking points. As a result, attendance was very poor, with something like one-third of the FLA Live Arena's 20,000+ seats filled. To avoid embarrassing photos, the folks in the cheap seats were given complimentary upgrades to the more expensive seats on the floor; a decision that will undoubtedly encourage future History Tour attendees to buy the cheap tickets and hope for a freebie.

Another thing about Penn & Teller—who, by the way, are not all that different from Trump and O'Reilly in age; 66 and 73, as compared to 75 and 72—is that they put in the work. They practice a lot and work on new tricks all the time. On-stage, they put on a two-hour show during which they give their all (Z once sat close enough to see them sweating from exertion). After the show, they stand out back and shake hands/take photos/give autographs until everyone who wants one of those things has been accommodated. By contrast, Trump and O'Reilly put on a 90-minute "show" that included a 20-minute intermission (during which some people left) and then hightailed it out of there.

It is possible this is a sign that now that these two men spend most of their time "out of sight, out of mind," interest in them is fading. At very least, it's a reminder that they are both kind of lazy, and both kind of greedy, and that even their fanbase has a limited tolerance for those things. Whichever it is, it's a poke in the eye for both of them, courtesy of the folks who theoretically love them most. And given how obnoxiously both have behaved over the years, in particular towards women and towards those who are weaker than they, that certainly justifies a little schadenfreude. (Z)

A December to Rhymember (Part 31)

Looks like this feature will indeed run all month long (at least, on weekdays). Here are the previous entries:

Today is the last day we'll run this feature before Christmas arrives. So, we're going with a single poem, one that is different in tone and style from the previous entries, and comes from T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK:

Twas the week before Christmas
and through much of the world
Warehouse shelves creaked
as wallets unfurled

And shoppers did panic
and gifts went unbought
as parents and children
became over-wrought

But then came a thought and
ideas did spring
to the hearts of those people
and joy did they bring

For Christmas is special
and a meaning shone bold
as buying gave way
to a truth that is told

To all came the knowledge
that getting is great
But much better yet
Is the world we create

And consumption did fall
as we looked to our peers
in countries so torn
and suffering for years

In conscience we stopped
and prayed for our friends
whose heartache was real
and whose future depends

on our seeing out of
our short sighted ways
to look for the best
we can do for their days

For Christmas is not
just a day for a feast
It's a day to be good
to the weak and the least.

So now let us stop
and think of the Child
not come for the rich
but the meek and the mild

And goodness and peace
he gives to our heart.
Let's carry it out to
the world as we start

To believe that we get so much
more than we give
when love makes us want
for all others to live

Pause for a moment
And think for a while
What you can achieve
With a prayer and a smile

And a hand that gives help
to the sick and the weak
As you offer the warmth
that the lonely do seek

So this is our prayer,
that our Christmas shall cheer
the hopeless and needy
twelve months of the year

Start this pure season
and pledge to go on
giving hope and love freely
'til all sadness be gone.

Be at peace as you wake
On the crisp Yuletide morn
And know that you honored
that child that was born

in the way that he taught
as he gave of his life
For the bringing of peace
Not trouble or strife

Bring joy to the world
As you work for the day
When all pain is gone
And love holds its sway

Stay safe in your home
And show that you care
As we ride out the storms
And the maelstroms out there

For the year that has passed
May feel closer to hell
But the love that is true
Pledges all will be well

In all manner of things
And we'll come to perceive
That the promise of hope
Is the truth to believe

Merry Christmas to you
And all of your kin
Let us all spread the love
which can never grow thin.

The letter of the poem might not fit everyone's style, but hopefully the spirit does. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec23 Schumer Promises a Vote on the Reconciliation Bill in January
Dec23 McConnell Is Actively Courting Manchin
Dec23 Thune Might Retire
Dec23 Hope Hicks Joins Team McCormick
Dec23 Jan. 6 Select Committee Wants to Hear from Jim Jordan
Dec23 FDA Approves COVID Pill
Dec23 Biden Extends Student Loan Pause
Dec23 Democrats Get Their New Jersey Congressional Map
Dec23 A December to Rhymember (Parts 29-30)
Dec22 Biden Speaks
Dec22 Scott Perry, by Contrast, Declines to Speak
Dec22 Biden Administration Finally Has Its Ambassadors
Dec22 Dominion 1, Fox 0
Dec22 Trumper vs. Non-Trumper Senate Races Already Getting Ugly
Dec22 Iowa May Get a Temporary Reprieve
Dec22 A December to Rhymember (Parts 27-28)
Dec21 The Day After
Dec21 Pandemic: Deja Vu All Over Again?
Dec21 1/6 Committee Turns Inward
Dec21 Trump Sues Letitia James
Dec21 Democrats Get Good News from California...
Dec21 ...But Bad News from Florida
Dec21 A December to Rhymember (Parts 25-26)
Dec20 Manchin Doesn't Want to Build Back Better
Dec20 Democrats Are Hoping They Lose Only 10-20 Seats in the House
Dec20 House Republicans Are Already Planning What They Will Do with the Majority in 2023...
Dec20 ...But Some Republicans Are Worried about Roe v. Wade
Dec20 Omicron Is Going to Take over This Winter
Dec20 Capitol Rioter Gets Sentence of Over 5 Years
Dec20 Another House Democrat Calls It Quits
Dec20 The FDIC Is in Turmoil
Dec20 In Nevada, It's Environmentalists vs. Environmentalists
Dec20 Johnny Isakson Passes Away
Dec19 Sunday Mailbag
Dec18 Saturday Q&A
Dec17 Build Back Better Will Wait Until Next Year
Dec17 FDA Makes More Relaxed Abortion-Pill Rules "Permanent"
Dec17 Rep. Jim Jordan Sent Insurrectionist Text Message
Dec17 Gonna Turn My Red State...Redder
Dec17 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec17 Is BoJo about to BoGo? Readers Weigh In...
Dec17 A December to Rhymember (Parts 22-23-24)
Dec16 Is This The 1/6 Committee's Endgame?
Dec16 Senate Democrats Are Pushing Hard to Change the Filibuster Rules
Dec16 DeSantis Announces His Christmas Stunt
Dec16 Voter Fraud Is Almost Nonexistent
Dec16 When Fox Says "Jump," Oz Says "How High?"
Dec16 Jackson to Bow Out of North Carolina Senate Race
Dec16 Is BoJo about to BoGo?
Dec16 A December to Rhymember (Parts 19-20-21)