Yesterday was supposed to be the big reveal, with Cyber Ninjas unveiling their report on how the 2020 election was conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona. But, like Donald Trump's return to the White House, now scheduled for October, the "proof" that he was cheated out of a victory in the Grand Canyon State has once again been delayed.
So, what is the reason for Cyber Ninjas blowing yet another deadline? It would seem that...wait for it...three of the five members of the team that is putting together the report have contracted COVID-19. You just can't make this stuff up. Schadenfreude? Karma? A monument to irony the size of the Titanic (which is itself a monument to irony the size of the Titanic)? We report, you decide.
The recount commenced on April 23, and was originally scheduled to be completed in 16 days. That's 124 days and counting (or 108 days late), with no apparent end in sight. We don't doubt that the team members are ill, and that their Cyber Ninja jiu-jitsu was not enough to allow them to dance around the virus. If it was a lie, why would they tell this particular lie, out of all the others available? (For our part, we'd go with "The dog ate my trumped-up election fraud report.") That said, this also feels like yet another excuse to avoid facing the music. If the report really was on the cusp of being finished, surely the two non-ill members of the team could have put the finishing touches on it?
If and when the Ninjas finally do issue their report, and if it does make claims of massive fraud, surely nobody who matters will take it seriously. The True Believers, from The Donald on down, will crow, of course. However, they already believed there was fraud, and they have already been using the mere existence of an investigation as "proof" of that fraud. The point here was to win over some fence-sitters, either to the notion that Trump was cheated or, more importantly, to the notion that stricter voting laws are needed. But no fence-sitter can look at this fiasco and be impressed, right? And if that is the case, then there was no point in this charade, since everyone is going to believe exactly the same things they believed before the whole stupid sleigh ride began. (Z)
On Monday, the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received full FDA approval. It was expected this would happen sometime in late August or early September, and now it has. Part of the process is choosing a formal brand name, and Pfizer has chosen Comirnaty. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions developing and focus-grouping these brand names, in hopes that they will be evocative and memorable. You might plausibly guess, for example, that Nexium (acid reflux) lets you get on with your life, or that Viagra allows you to recapture a bit of youthful...vigor. But what they're going for with "Comirnaty," we do not know. It sounds like a branch of the Politburo, or a cable television conglomerate.
In any case, the approval is a helpful step forward, as it will give additional legal and political cover for vaccine mandates in both the public and private sectors. Indeed, Joe Biden took the opportunity to call for business owners to insist that their employees get vaccinated. At first glance, this may seem to be an abrogation of presidential responsibility: If Biden wants vaccine mandates, then why doesn't he impose them, rather than passing the buck to others? However, a president doesn't really have that authority, unless the argument was made that the U.S. is in a "state of war" against the pandemic, and that—like Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt—Biden is entitled to assume extraordinary powers. That would be quite the stretch, however, and would get slapped down by the Supreme Court so fast that Chief Justice John Roberts' robe would produce a sonic boom. Congress could pass a mandate, of course, but good luck getting that through the Senate, and then further good luck enforcing it.
By contrast, businesses most certainly have the power to make vaccination a condition of employment; this particular legal issue has been addressed by the courts many times, including several times in the last couple of months. Further, the businesses have an actual means of enforcing their rules: terminating employment. By contrast, what is the Biden administration going to do if a million Mississippians refuse to get the shot? Arrest them all? Put them all in federal prison?
Speaking of Mississippi, they made some COVID news of their own this weekend. It would seem that, instead of the vaccines, quite a few folks down there have taken to protecting themselves against COVID-19 by dosing themselves with ivermectin. You probably haven't heard of it, unless you're a vet, or a rancher...or a horse. That is because it's a treatment for roundworm in livestock. Needless to say, it does not treat or prevent COVID-19 and, in the potency needed to treat thousand-pound animals, it's quite toxic to humans. The practice has become widespread enough that the Mississippi State Department of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both issued bulletins reiterating what ivermectin is and (more importantly) is not used for.
This news caused the Mississippians to be roundly mocked and derided. Which, you know...fair enough. However, there's also a very clear lesson here, beyond the one about family trees that don't branch: Even many (most?) of the anti-vaxxers fear COVID-19, and want something they can take to protect themselves. They just don't want to take the vaccines. Perhaps that is due to fear and paranoia about vaccines in general. Perhaps it is because they want a solution, they just don't want a solution that "the libs" came up with.
One possible solution to this issue is to get the Dear Leader on board, to relentlessly promote and take credit for the vaccine. That might just solve the "libs" issue by making it into the "Trump vaccine" in red staters' minds, as opposed to the "Biden vaccine." Or maybe not. Trump actually did do some of this at his latest rally, and he's being slammed by folks like Alex Jones for being stupid, a sell-out, etc. Now, Alex Jones has his own agenda here, since he makes a lot of money selling quack medicines, including quack COVID-19 medicines. He'll probably have a line of ivermectin products by the end of the week. Still, he's a guy who speaks to, and often for, the kooky fringe of the Republican Party.
Anyhow, this is why business owners could well hold the key to this thing. They don't need to persuade and cajole; they can just decree. If someone is embarrassed to do what "the libs" want, this would give them plausible cover. "I didn't want to get the shot, but my a**hole boss forced me to do it. Did I mention he's an a**hole?" And if someone is fearful of vaccines, well, they might be even more fearful of being unemployed, unable to afford rent, etc. (Z)
It's gotta be a real blast being Joe Biden right now. He gets to spend his mornings worrying about the COVID mess, and then his afternoons worrying about the Afghanistan mess. Or, for variety, he can spend the morning worrying about Afghanistan, and then the afternoon worrying about COVID. It's a wonderful life.
Anyhow, the Taliban is running the show in Afghanistan right now, and so the focal point—at least, in terms of American domestic politics—is trying to extract all of the Americans still in the country, as well as the various Afghans who assisted the U.S. occupation, and now are at risk of being killed. The good news is that things are going pretty well, on that front; 28,000 people have been evacuated, including more than 11,000 this weekend. The President has also activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which you've probably never heard of. Certainly, we've never heard of it, and that's as people who presume to answer questions about the nuances and subtleties of U.S. politics, civics, and history every weekend. Anyhow, it's kind of like the U.S. Army Reserve, except with airplanes. Several airlines are paid by the federal government to have passenger planes available on demand, and if those planes are needed, then they stop carrying paying passengers and are redirected to whatever task the government needs. At the moment, 18 planes—several each from United Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, and Hawaiian Airlines—are set to report for duty. This is only the third time the Civil Reserve Air Fleet has been activated since the program was created in 1952 (the other two occasions were during Bush-led invasions of Iraq).
And then there is the bad news. Afghanistan is a fairly sizable country with very poor infrastructure. There are still a lot of people the U.S. would like to extract. ISIS and other unfriendlies are making things more difficult. And the final deadline for American withdrawal, at least at the moment, is...one week from today.
Even with all the things being done to hasten this process, a week is not enough time. And so, Biden is under much pressure, both at home and from allies, to unilaterally extend the deadline. That prospect does not please the Taliban, as you might guess, which does not appreciate the optics of twiddling its thumbs while an enemy does whatever it wants within the borders of their country. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen spoke to Sky News (UK), and decreed that August 31 is "a red line" and "If they [the U.S.] are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction."
And so we now have a very unpleasant and high-stakes game of chicken underway. It would be very Taliban-like to grab a couple of Americans, execute them, and make sure the whole world sees the pictures and/or video footage. They watch the news, too, and they know what a disaster that would be for Biden. On the other hand, that would all but guarantee severe retribution, most likely in the form of years of bombing via drones. So, the Taliban has to decide what is more distasteful for them—another week or two of looking the other way while the U.S. evacuates, or years of being bombed.
Meanwhile, Biden has to decide whether he would rather choose a path that could end up with a few dead Americans on the front page of every newspaper in about a week, or one that could end up with a few thousand dead Afghans, who helped the U.S. and then were left high and dry. This is the sort of situation where a little diplomacy would come in handy. As a general rule, the Taliban are not the sort of folks where diplomacy works well, but news broke very late Monday/early Tuesday that CIA Director William Burns held a "secret" meeting yesterday with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. It's not much of a secret, since the whole world now knows about it, just hours after it concluded. Still, Burns is the most experienced diplomat in the Biden administration, except perhaps for Biden himself, so maybe cooler heads can prevail here.
In any event, we won't have to wait long to see how the President decides to play his hand; he promised yesterday that he would make a decision within 24 hours. And that's an actual 24 hours, not 24 hours calculated on the Cyber Ninjas scale. (Z)
At the moment, the bipartisan infrastructure bill is creating headaches for both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as they attempt to deal with pushback from the members of their caucus/conference. Interestingly, each leader's solution to their problems is somewhat dependent on the other leader's solution.
Let's start with Pelosi. At the moment, as we've noted a couple of times, she's got more defectors (all of them moderates) than she can afford, assuming that House Republicans remain unified. The moderates want to vote on the bipartisan bill right now, and "consider" the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill later. The threat is that if they don't get an immediate vote on the bipartisan bill, they will vote against the $3.5 trillion bill when it comes up in a month or so. The problem is that if Pelosi allows the bipartisan bill to come up right now, she yields her leverage over the moderates, who would then likely find some (other) excuse to vote against the $3.5 trillion bill.
On Monday, the Speaker and her leadership team tried to find a compromise, proposing a series of complicated parliamentary maneuvers that would, in effect, commit House Democrats to passing both the bipartisan bill and the (not-yet-written) reconciliation bill. The moderates did not jump at the offer, but we will see. These bills are both must-haves for Pelosi, and she usually gets her way when that is the case. The bills are also must-haves for most (if not all) of the Democrats in the House. Already, the rest of the Democratic caucus is furious with the rebellious moderates. If the moderates tank one bill (or both), they will be personae non grata, and they will also face serious and well-funded primary challenges. So, we suspect they'll eventually strike a deal with the Speaker.
Meanwhile, McCarthy's issue is a little simpler. His needs are best served by "owning the libs" and giving the Democrats zero votes for either bill. However, there are some members of his conference who are going to run for reelection in swing districts, and would very much like to be able to run on the bacon they brought home by supporting the bipartisan bill. At the same time, they would not like to keep dealing with the question "If the bill was good enough for 19 Republican senators, why wasn't it good enough for you?" So, the Minority Leader is trying to figure out if he wants to try to whip the Republicans into a unanimous "no" vote, or if he wants to give members permission to vote as they see fit.
As we note, the choices made by one leader will clarify the situation faced by the other. On one hand, if Pelosi can't get her caucus in line, McCarthy has far more motivation to keep the Republicans unified, to tank the bill, and to deny the Democrats/Joe Biden a "win." On the other hand, if McCarthy lets his conference loose, and there are even a handful of GOP "yea" votes to be had, Pelosi's hand is strengthened. Needless to say, neither leader wants to help the other, so both will play their cards as close to the vest as they can. (Z)
Yesterday was the day that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) set for his resignation. And, on his exit from the political stage, he decided one last speech was in order. In his roughly 11-minute farewell address, Cuomo was humble, and remorseful, and seemed to have accepted that he made serious mistakes and that he has some work to do on himself.
Wait, no, that's not what happened at all. He's an alpha male politician from New York who thinks he's been treated very unfairly. And we know how people who fit that description generally behave. In fact, Cuomo's speech was full of finger-pointing, as he blamed his political rivals and a mob mentality for ending one of the finest gubernatorial tenures the Empire State has ever seen. He did not use the phrase "cancel culture," at least not that we heard, although he might as well have done so. Cuomo also issued a few last-minute commutations, but none of the recipients' last names rhymes with 'Dump.'
Who knows what comes next for the now-former governor? His aides said he's never going to run for office again. That's a safe assumption, regardless of how he feels about it since he's pretty toxic, and since there really aren't many options available to him. He doesn't seem to be the type to tolerate a lower-ranked position in the New York state government, or seat in the House of Representatives. He might deign to be a U.S. Senator, but New York's two seats are pretty well set. Maybe he has his eye on corporate boards, or academia, or a cushy commentator position on cable TV. If so, Monday's speech didn't help much when it comes to marketing himself. Well, unless he's hoping to be the token "liberal, so we can claim to be balanced" on Fox. Then the speech might be just the right thing.
At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) was sworn in. As everyone knows at this point, she becomes the state's first female governor. She will come into an office with a full plate of stuff to deal with, not the least being the COVID-19 surge. She's also going to immediately start work on her reelection campaign. Beyond that, she's spent most of her career flying beneath the radar, so beyond a generally moderate political orientation, it's not clear what she might do now that she's in the pilot's seat. Given the political and economic significance of New York, not to mention the fact that more than one New York governor has relocated to a bigger, whiter mansion about 365 miles to the south, millions will be watching. (Z)
Larry Elder never really thought he was going to become California governor. All he really wanted was some extra press coverage, and some PR for his radio show (which has declined in reach since his heyday). This was the main goal of many of the candidates back in the 2003 recall, and is the main goal of several of the candidates this time around.
Anyhow, to the surprise of everyone—undoubtedly including Elder himself—he's emerged as a real possibility to win this thing. If he'd launched his campaign by riding down a golden escalator in Elder Tower, then it might have been foreseeable, but since he didn't, it's a surprise. The yes/no vote on recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has gotten too-close-for-comfort for the Democrats, and the other candidates in the Republican field are so weak that it wasn't too much of a trick for Elder to capture 20% of the vote. Under the circumstances of this recall, that's enough to leave the rest of the GOP aspirants in the dust, and very possibly to claim the governor's mansion.
Now that victory is a possibility, Elder has actually gotten serious about his campaign. He cashiered his original campaign manager and replaced him with a person who has actual experience running a statewide campaign, namely GOP consultant Jeffrey Corless. Admittedly, Corless' experience comes from having run Carly Fiorina's disastrous U.S. Senate campaign, so we're not exactly talking James Carville or Karl Rove here. But if you're looking for a Republican political operative in deep-blue California, you're not going to be picking from a bunch of A-list options.
Corless' job is primarily going to be to blunt some of the blowback Elder is getting due to his past behavior. He's said some not-so-forward-thinking things about women on his show, he was accused last week of abusing and pulling a gun on his former fiancee, and he's also got a moderate-level campaign finance scandal, as his disclosure forms contained some rather inaccurate information. Was that a rookie mistake, or a deliberate attempt to mislead? California's Fair Political Practices Commission is looking into that very question right now.
Meanwhile, Newsom has figured out that he is, to a greater or lesser extent, running against Elder. The Governor is not currently touching Elder's various scandals, presumably thinking those have enough oxygen without any help. However, Newsom is using a wedge issue to frighten voters into opposing the recall. What's the wedge issue? It's an oldie but a goodie, namely abortion. In a red state, pro-choice is often toxic for a politician. In a blue state, however, the shoe is on the other foot. So, Newsom is making the case that if Elder becomes governor, he might well veto pro-choice bills, cancel abortion funding, appoint pro-life judges, etc. This is mostly an exaggeration, since Elder's hands would be tied by an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, but some of it is on the mark (for example, Elder could appoint pro-life judges to vacant spots on the courts, although they would eventually have to win election in their own right).
The upshot is that just as the drama in New York has reached its end, at least for now, the drama in California is heating up. The recall election is 3 weeks from today. (Z)
Voting rights advocates have scored a victory in North Carolina, as a panel of three judges has just ruled that 56,000 felons who are on probation, parole or post-release supervision must be given back their right to vote. This follows on the heels of another decision, announced last year, that restored the voting rights of an additional 60,000 felons. In both cases, the judges found that stripping people of their vote after they are out of prison is a violation of the North Carolina state constitution.
Obviously, these developments come with the usual caveats. To wit: (1) they could be reversed or pared back on appeal, and (2) not all of the newly enfranchised people will vote and, even among those who do, predicting their behavior is tricky. That said, the last two U.S. Senate elections in the Tar Heel State were decided by 95,633 votes (2020) and 267,211 votes (2016). Things are trending blue, and next year's Senate election will be for an open seat, unlike the past two. It's not impossible that the Democrats could net 10,000-12,000 more votes as a result of the 116,000 folks who are having their voting rights restored, and that those 10,000-12,000 votes could prove to be very important, indeed. (Z)