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Six More Subpoenas from the 1/6 Committee

The Department of Justice continues to have nothing to say about Steve Bannon, or about its general willingness to help the 1/6 Committee enforce its subpoenas. However, that is not stopping the Committee from pressing onward and upward. On Monday, it issued six more subpoenas to people in close orbit to Donald Trump.

Here are the six lucky recipients:

The subpoenas, which presumably haven't been served yet, command the sextet to provide documents by Nov. 23, and to appear for testimony between Nov. 30 and Dec. 13.

Naturally, there is no way to know how these folks will respond until they actually do. Some of them, like Kerik, seem very likely to tell the Committee to take their subpoena and shove it. Others may be angry about how far things went, or may take notice that people who stick their necks out for Trump are generally left to their own devices, and to bear the financial and legal consequences all by themselves. McCallum, who graduated college just a couple of years ago, particularly seems like someone who was targeted because of the likelihood that she'll flip.

Flynn is also an interesting case. He may be retired, but as a former general, he is still potentially subject to a court-martial. So, it's possible the Department of Defense could get involved here, perhaps by observing that speaking to a bunch of members of Congress is much more pleasant than chatting with a court-martial board.

Of course, AG Merrick Garland still holds an awful lot of the cards here. If he makes clear that anyone who defies a congressional subpoena is going to get a visit from a U.S. marshal, and that handcuffs will be involved, then that would do a lot to soften the resistance to showing up. How much longer can he remain silent and take no position, one way or the other? Frankly, we're surprised he's managed to make it this long. Did he not realize that judges aren't the only ones who have to make decisions? (Z)

Build Back Better: What's Next?

Joe Biden has not yet signed the $1.2 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure bill. It's not clear why, but presumably his John Hancock (or his Joseph Robinette) will be applied today, since he promised prompt action. The fact that the package is not quite yet a bird in the hand hasn't stopped a lot of moderate Democrats (including the president) from crowing about the accomplishment, or a lot of progressives from clucking that it should have been more, or some Republicans from chirping that "Hey, we deserve credit, too!"

In any event, once the bill has been signed and the glow has worn off, the crowing, clucking, and chirping will fade. However, as David Dayen points out in a perceptive piece written for American Prospect, the war is not over when the bill becomes law. Implementation will be even more important, and exactly how well it goes will determine if this ends up as a "win" or a "loss" for the President and his party.

Dayen outlines several challenges that are illustrative of his larger point. Among them:

In short, good leadership is needed (though Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg appears to be unusually competent, so that is good news). Further, there are definitely some fixes that ought to find their way into the reconciliation bill.

Anyhow, the media tends to lose interest in big, shiny bills once they are signed, sealed, and delivered. But actual voters care about results, and about improvements in their lives. So, the Democrats better make sure they do a lot of follow-through here, or this victory is going to prove short-lived. (Z)

Democrats Want Joe Biden to Give America Gas

Gas is an unusual commodity when it comes to the experience of the average consumer. Namely:

There aren't too many other purchases that check all of these boxes. Rent/mortgage are big expenses, obviously, but tend to be fixed amounts each month. Some utility bills are subject to inflationary/deflationary pressure, to an extent, but they only come once a month, and one has to pay very close attention to see if increased costs are due to price changes or just to a higher level of consumption. Food costs often change a lot, but unless you're the family who drinks 12 gallons of milk per week, the changes may not be large enough to be noticeable.

The point is that changes in gas prices tend to be very obvious, and to stick out in people's minds. And since Joe Biden took office, prices per gallon have consistently risen. As a reminder, here is the chart we ran this weekend that shows the average price of a gallon of gas over the last 25 years:

Prices were about
$1/gallon for most of the 1990s, steadily climbed during the Bush years up to $4/gallon, dropped down to $2-$3/gallon in
the early part of the Obama presidency, then up to $4 for the 4 years of Obama's term, then back to $2-$3/gallon for the
last 2 years of his term. Prices stayed at $2-$3/gallon for nearly the entirety of Donald Trump's term, but crept above
$3 around the time Joe Biden was inaugurated, and have risen steadily since, up to about $3.50/gallon right now.

This is primarily a product of the deal that Donald Trump struck with OPEC in early 2020 to reduce production, as well as the pent-up demand that is being expressed as people slowly emerge from the pandemic. But while those may be the causes, the bottom line is that, for the reasons above, people tend to notice that gas was $3 a gallon in January, and it's $3.60 now, and they blame the sitting president and the party in power, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense.

In view of this, several senators—with Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jack Reed (D-RI) taking the lead—sent a letter to Joe Biden on Monday urging him to take action to reduce gas prices. They propose that Biden tap into the United States' Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), so as to increase domestic production, or that he temporarily ban the export of American oil.

We are doubtful that Biden will yield to this pressure, however. First of all, he's been in politics for half a century, and knows how to play the long game. His correct play right now is either to get OPEC on the phone to try to make a deal of some sort, or else to sit back and hope that the market sorts itself out. He's not going to use the silver bullets available to him more than a year before an election.

Second, even if Biden wanted to go off half-cocked, Donald Trump-style, the aforementioned silver bullets are probably more like nickel bullets. It is unlikely that Biden can squeeze enough gas out of the SPR to combat the dynamics that are keeping prices high right now. Think dumping a bucket full of water into an empty swimming pool—it just won't go very far. Further, the senators seem to have forgotten the lesson of the Hawley-Smoot tariff: adopting protectionist measures tends to encourage other nations to retaliate in kind, leaving everyone worse off.

So, there probably isn't going to be much action on this front right now. However, it does underline that gas prices are a political football right now, and so are worth keeping an eye upon as the next election cycle draws nearer. (Z)

Lessons from the 2021 Elections, Part I: What's Really Behind CRT Angst

Folks are still slicing and dicing the data from last week's elections. We had an item yesterday that showed that Terry McAuliffe (D) did poorly among younger voters, took a real pasting with noncollege white women, and in general failed to match the 2017 electoral performance of Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA).

Today, however, let's take a quick look at Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin's (R-VA) pet issue, namely Critical Race Theory (CRT). This single issue clearly carried him to victory, as he was well behind in polls when he began focusing upon it, he won a narrow victory on Election Day, and Virginia voters said that "education" was the most important issue in this election. It may have been a bit of a sleazy campaign, or even a lot of a sleazy campaign, but it was a grand master level display of political skill.

The general narrative that has developed, supported by Youngkin's success with women voters, is that he won over suburbanites, and in particular suburban women, who were concerned about their children's educations. Slate's William Saletan has taken a long look at the numbers, and he argues that's not the story. Or, at least, it's not the full story. It is not too surprising to learn that the CRT shtick only worked with parents who are white. Further, white voters trusted Youngkin more on education than on any other issue. He also got 87% of voters who want Confederate monuments to stay in place, but just 62% of white voters overall.

The upshot is that CRT and education worked, but not (largely) because they appealed to parental instincts. No, they worked (largely) because they appealed to racial instincts. In other words, CRT griping isn't really about education, just like "welfare queens" isn't really about welfare. In the end, both are just dog whistles.

Supporting this conclusion is a piece from The Nation that reveals where anti-CRT fervor, which only came into being 6-7 months ago, began. And the key figure is...Charles Koch. Koch does not live in Virginia, or have school-age kids, or care about education, for that matter. However, he has built a political alliance—social conservatives, evangelicals, white businessmen, etc.—where subtle racism serves as a form of glue. And when Koch heard about CRT, he knew he had a winner, so he cranked up his shadowy political network and quickly made sure that the subject was on nearly every Republican's lips.

If the whole CRT thing was prompted more by racism than by "but the children!", then that is good news and bad news for the Democrats. On one hand, it means that the suburbs may not be in danger after all, particularly those suburbs where dog whistles are less likely to land. On the other hand, where the dog whistles do work, countering them is no easy feat, and is not something the Democrats have had much success with in the last 50 years or so. (Z)

Lessons from the 2021 Elections, Part II: Gavin Newsom and Glenn Youngkin

As long as we are on the subject of Glenn Youngkin, we had a second item about him yesterday that discussed how his strategy may not be so easy to replicate. In short, he was able to keep Donald Trump at arm's length, in part because of the purplish dynamics of Virginia, in part because he doesn't have a relationship with the former president, and in part because there was no Republican primary in Virginia this year. Those things aren't necessarily going to hold in other states, and candidates like Herschel Walker in Georgia and Eric Greitens in Missouri are likely to be joined at the hip with the toxic Trump. So, the suggestion that Youngkin has cracked the post-Trump code may be premature.

And on that point, we now remind readers of the last gubernatorial "election," namely the failed attempt to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) in September of this year. Newsom kept his job in a romp, of course, and he did it with a two-pronged strategy: (1) take ownership of "firm" leadership on COVID-19, and (2) hurt your opponent (Larry Elder, in Newsom's case) by tying them to Donald Trump. After Newsom's triumph, many Democrats and many pundits talked about how the Governor had cracked the code.

Well, Terry McAuliffe was paying attention. And Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) was paying attention. The former leaned into the "tie your opponent to Donald Trump" bit, while the latter leaned into the "brag about your pandemic leadership" bit. And they both came to regret it, as Virginia voters were left wondering what McAuliffe was actually offering, while many New Jersey voters held Murphy responsible for mask mandates, business shutdowns, remote schooling, etc.

The point here is presumably obvious: Every election is different, based on the locality, the candidates, the issues of the day (or the hour), and a dozen other factors. Every single one. And so, Youngkin may have given his Republican brethren some interesting options to think about. And, importantly, he showed that it is possible (in some places) to win election as a Republican without Trump's support. But anyone who uses that one data point to declare that the Republican Party has a surefire game plan next year is as wrong as those who said the same thing about the Democratic Party after Newsom's victory. (Z)

Eric Adams: Let's Get Digital

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams (D) has had that title for less than a week, and yet he's already working to make a splash. Just one day after his victory, he announced that he wants to take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin, to show the world that he wants New York City to be the world's epicenter for digital currency.

Adams cannot actually be paid in this manner, as city law requires him to be paid in the form of U.S. dollars. So, he's just going to toddle over to a Bitcoin exchange and convert his paycheck (Mayor re-elect Francis Suarez of Miami quickly announced that he'd be doing the same thing). In the short term, it could pay off handsomely for Adams, and for the city. Yesterday, Bitcoin and Ethereum prices both hit new highs; $68,530.34 for the former, and $4,837.59 for the latter.

In the long term, however, this has "disaster" written all over it. People are falling all over themselves to get in on the cryptocurrency gold rush, despite the fact that such currencies are unregulated and have no real backing. There are over 13,000 of them, and for every Bitcoin success story, there are a dozen that prove to be scams. Just last week, the "Squid Game" crypto collapsed, leaving the scammers that created it with over $3 million to show for their several weeks' worth of trouble, and leaving investors holding the bag.

In short, this is a classic "bubble" situation, where the bubble is sure to burst eventually. It's estimated that the crypto market currently has about $3 trillion in value, on paper. The collapse, when it comes, could severely impact the U.S. economy. And that is before we talk about the environmental impact of cryptocurrency. The computer "mining" (computers solving puzzles) that gives the illusion of value sucks up a vast amount of electrical power, and so creates a vast amount of pollution. So does the verification involved in making a bitcoin transaction. At the moment, the amount of electricity used annually for Bitcoin mining is about equal to the total annual power consumption of the Netherlands, Sweden, or Ukraine. And a single Bitcoin transaction uses as much energy as roughly 1 million credit card transactions.

As long as we are mentioning the Netherlands, it is always worth pointing out how cryptocurrencies resemble the tulip mania of 1634-1637, when a single mutant bulb sold for 10x the annual salary of a skilled artisan. Of course, the mutant bulb had almost no intrinsic value, but as long as people were willing to bid up the price, the mania continued. Until it crashed fairly spectacularly. While prices were climbing, it seemed like a great "investment," until it was too late. Will that be the fate of most or all of the 13,000 cryptocurrencies? Maybe one of them will survive, but we can't believe 13,000 will survive.

It would seem that at least one of the following statements must be true of Adams:

Whichever it is, it does not reflect well on the Mayor-elect, and it certainly does not mark an auspicious beginning for the next era of New York City governance. (Z)

Rep. Paul Gosar May Be Winning the Race to the Bottom

Truth be told, we would really prefer not to write this item, because it just gives it oxygen. But we're going to write about it nonetheless, because (1) ignoring it serves to normalize the behavior, and (2) it was top-of-the-page news for virtually every outlet.

Anyhow, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) was reportedly a decent fellow back when he was practicing as a dentist. But then, in 2010, he got elected to Congress. Maybe that career change revealed the man who had always existed within. Or maybe something happened to flip a switch in his brain. Or maybe he was swept up in the forces that eventually gave rise to Donald Trump. Or maybe it's all for show. Probably, it's some combination of all of these things. Whatever the case may be, Gosar is a leading contender for the title of "most reprehensible member of Congress." That's really saying something, given that there's quite a bit of fierce competition for that particular "honor." Incidentally, you don't have to take our opinion for it that he's turned into a horrible human being. At least six of his nine siblings say the same thing.

On Monday, Gosar stayed true to (his post-dentist) form, and tweeted an anime video that someone put together. We're not going to link it, because we certainly don't need to do anything to help the search engine rankings for the absolutely vile clip. However, it shows the Congressman attacking Joe Biden and killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The animated portions are interspersed with clips of undocumented immigrants, implying that "they're next."

We would hope that it goes without saying that this is beyond the pale. There are some lines you do not cross and this is one of them. When the Congressman's office was deluged with complaints, however, the response was not to apologize, or to take the tweet down. Instead, a spokeswoman issued a statement that declared "Everyone needs to relax." Twitter, for its part, has left the tweet up, but with this label: "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about hateful conduct. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible." This limits the extent to which the tweet can be liked, commented on, or shared.

At this point, we would like to remind you of a photo from 4 years ago. Here it is:

Comedian Kathy Griffin holding a Donald Trump mask covered in blood
along with a knife, making it appear as if she has cut Trump's head off

That, of course, is the comedian Kathy Griffin. And when she posted that image to her Twitter feed, Republicans—with Donald Trump leading the charge—excoriated her. They most certainly did not take the attitude that "everyone needs to relax." They were joined in this by Democrats, who appreciate that, once again, this is a line you do not cross. When you suggest that people commit violent acts against public figures, ha-ha, it's very easy for the ha-ha to be overlooked, and for people like Cesar Sayoc and Christopher Paul Hasson to take that as an invitation to commit actual violence.

That said, we would observe that there are some differences between the Gosar situation and the Griffin situation:

We suspect that one other major difference is going to reveal itself in the next day or two. Griffin was, to use a term that is all the rage these days, "canceled" for her "joke." She lost her New Year's eve gig on CNN, a TV show that was in development was yanked, and so too were her stand-up appearances. She has just now begun to resume her career, 4 years later. Gosar, by contrast, is unlikely to suffer any consequences whatsoever. (Z)

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