To our Jewish readers: Gemar chatimah tovah!
They may not be good answers, or the answers that people would like to hear, but answers nonetheless. In other words, some amount of clarity is coming in the Afghanistan situation.
One of the big questions, of course, was exactly how the Taliban would play its cards once it was back in control. On one hand, they are religious fanatics who look at Iran and say "too liberal for our tastes." On the other hand, if they hope to have any sort of relationship with the international community, and if they hope to avoid a rebellion on the part of their less fanatical fellow Afghans, then some amount of moderation is called for.
It would seem that the folks running the show in Afghanistan, whoever they are—remember: the leadership of the Taliban is always murky—have made their decision. The new government will be made up entirely of hardliners, including a bunch of former residents of Gitmo released by the Barack Obama administration in the 2014 Bowe Bergdahl trade, as well as a fellow (Sirajuddin Haqqani) who will fatten your bank account by $10 million if you manage to deliver him to the FBI. The new government of Afghanistan includes no women, and nobody who was elected as part of the previous government.
Meanwhile, back home, a member of the Biden Administration will face the Congressional music next week. Specifically, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Tuesday to answer the senators' questions about the withdrawal from Afghanistan. This will be the first time since the U.S. departure that a Biden administration official has subjected themselves to scrutiny. There are many issues on which we would like to hear what the Secretary has to say, so hopefully this won't turn into four hours of grandstanding and finger pointing. That said, the members of the Foreign Relations Committee include Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Rand Paul (R-KY). If Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was a member, then they would have the full U.S. Senate Olympic Grandstanding Team. So, we will see. The Democrats on the committee, with the possible exceptions of Ron Wyden (OR) and Cory Booker (NJ), are about as milquetoast as it gets. We're talking Chris Coons (DE), Chris Murphy (CT), Tim Kaine (VA), Ed Markey (MA), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Brian Schatz (HI), etc. So, if there are to be shenanigans, they will almost certainly come from the Republican side of the room. (Z)
When it comes to "stopping the steal," there isn't a lot of room for maneuvering, other than trumpeting over and over that the 2020 presidential election was a fraud. Similarly, it is possible to put the kibosh on mask/vaccine mandates, but beyond that, there's not much more owning of the libs to be done on the COVID front. So, what is an ambitious governor who wants to separate himself or herself from the 2024 presidential/vice-presidential pack to do?
That is where abortion comes in. With that issue, there is room for more...creativity. Sure, it is possible to copy what Texas did, and some states certainly will do that. However, there are also opportunities to, for lack of a better word, go above and beyond. That is clearly the assessment made by South Dakota governor Kristi Noem (R), who looks in the mirror every morning and sees...well, a politician getting the hell out of South Dakota. So, on Tuesday, she issued an executive order decreeing that abortifacients can only be prescribed after an examination by a doctor, and can only be dispensed in that doctor's office. The order also forbids abortifacients from "being provided via courier, delivery, telemedicine, or mail service."
We do not claim to be experts on South Dakota law, but we assume that executive orders there work the same way federal executive orders do: They instruct government agencies how to implement existing laws. If we are correct, then the Governor is grossly overstepping her bounds. She's not telling state agencies how to implement existing laws; she's creating new laws out of whole cloth, without involving the state legislature. Further, even if she's acting in accord with the state constitution, we suspect that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will not react well if Noem actually presumes to interfere with USPS mail deliveries. There s absolutely no question that would be grossly overstepping her bounds.
Of course, Noem doesn't care one bit about any of this. She wanted to grab some headlines before one of her would-be rivals does. She may take no steps to actually enforce her order. Although if she does, and if she ends up in a big fight with the Biden administration, that might be all the better. You have to feel badly for South Dakotans who are being used as pawns/stepping stones as Noem tries desperately to leave them in the dust and to climb the political ladder.
As much as the South Dakota governor would like to dominate the news cycle, however, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) was not to be denied at least a few pixels and a couple of column inches. He held a press conference yesterday and was asked, of course, about some of the more controversial aspects of the new abortion law. That included a question about the fact that it makes no exception for the victims of rape. According to Abbott, however, that's a non-issue. Why? Because "Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets."
So, arrest all the rapists before they can act on that impulse. Problem solved! Can't believe nobody ever thought of that before! Of course, there is the small problem of figuring out who is, and who is not, a rapist in advance (along with the none-too-subtle implication that rape victims should have been able to identify and avoid their attackers). There's also the issue of arresting, charging, convicting, and incarcerating people before they've committed an actual crime. This isn't the movie "Minority Report," it's real life, and the Constitution tends to frown on things like that. The Governor might want to review the Sixth Amendment, in particular. Well, when he's not doing everything in his power to alienate women voters, that is.
And finally, in news that is surely just a coincidence—but one heck of a coincidence nonetheless—Mexico's Supreme Court legalized abortion in that country yesterday, issuing their version of Roe v. Wade. Mexico is the second-most Catholic country in the world (behind Brazil)—between 80% and 85% of citizens are adherents. And the Catholic Church does not approve of abortion, last we checked. And yet, it's now legal in Mexico nonetheless. Perhaps—though don't quote us on this—America's neighbors to the south are offering up an object lesson on the separation of church and state. (Z)
Because it's more than a week away, this story is still lurking around at the edges of mainstream news coverage. But you are probably going to hear quite a bit about it next week, particularly once the California recall election is over. Matt Braynard was a mid-level Trump campaign operative, whose job was to manipulate...er, "interpret" polling data. And he's decided that those poor, poor insurrectionists who raided the U.S. Capitol on January 6 are getting a bad rap. So, he's organizing the "Justice for J6" rally to take place at the Capitol at noon next Saturday.
There have already been plenty of warnings that the lead-up to next week's event bears a striking resemblance to the Jan. 6 lead-up. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Homeland Security Intelligence chief John Cohen, among others, have appeared on TV to warn that the chatter online and on far-right-wing radio, podcasts, etc., has been steeped in conspiratorial thinking and calls for violence. So, it could get ugly again.
That said, while we are hardly experts in domestic terrorism, and we haven't been monitoring right-wing communications (it's fantasy football draft week, after all), we wonder if this won't end up being much ado about nothing. Certainly, the members of Congress are going to make a point of taking that weekend off, so raids/hostage-taking doesn't make much sense as an agenda item. Every armed government employee in Washington, from the MPD to the FBI, is going to be on high alert. The Dear Leader won't be present to attract attendees or to egg them on. All of the mainstream social media platforms have shut down any content related to the event, which makes promoting the gathering and organizing it a lot tougher.
Further, the folks who are most likely to participate in an event like this are...what's the word we're looking for...? Assholes? No, not quite. Traitors? That's in the ballpark, but still not the word we want here. Cowards? Ah yes, that's it. A large number of these MAGAi talk a big game when they outnumber the opposition, and when they're carrying around their big, scary guns and their nooses and wearing their camouflage whatever. But they tend to fold like a cheap suit when faced with actual pushback or actual danger. Our guess is that they keep it under control, for fear of ending up on the wrong end of an MPD billy club, or they just take a pass so they can sit at home and watch the latest episode of "Justice with Judge Jeanine." (Z)
A couple of weeks ago, reader S.R.G. in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica asked what we thought would happen with the Sirhan Sirhan pardon. Making a confident prediction that he now regrets, (Z) wrote that "it is overwhelmingly likely [Gov. Gavin] Newsom [D-CA] will grant parole."
In fairness, (Z) was operating with the understanding that Kennedy's family supported parole, and that granting their wish would allow Newsom to express the politically useful message "I'm merciful." As it turns out, the kooky Kennedys were the first ones to speak up, and they came out for Sirhan. But shortly after we published that answer, most of the rest of Robert F. Kennedy's kids issued a statement saying they unequivocally opposed parole. That made the vote 6 (non-kooky) Kennedys vs. 2 (kooky) Kennedys, which is pretty definitive.
Just in case those 9 nails were not enough for the coffin containing Sirhan's parole hopes, RFK's widow issued a statement yesterday. It reads:
Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man. We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again. He should not be paroled.
The last sentence was written in Kennedy's own handwriting, and was followed by her signature.
Newsom has already successfully punted this issue until after the recall election is over; as far as we can tell, reporters aren't even bothering to ask him about it anymore. But whoever is in the governor's mansion when it comes time to decide—Newsom, Larry Elder, Kevin Paffrath—is there any chance they go against the wishes of a still-grieving 93-year-old widow who has made clear that she values mercy, but that her appreciation for mercy also has limits? Seems...improbable to us. Any governor who does defy Ethel Kennedy's wishes might as well follow that up by punching a person in a wheelchair, kicking a puppy, and spitting on a baby, so as to complete the set.
Sirhan Sirhan is 77 years old and, if he doesn't get parole this time, his next opportunity will come when he's 80, at the earliest, though it could be when he's 82 or 84 or 87. Whatever the case may be, if he makes it to octogenarian status, he figures to be celebrating the occasion with the fellas in Cell Block C.
We don't mean to overdo it on the recall election. However, one of us IS a native Californian, and both of us are registered to vote in the state. Plus, it's the only electoral contest that will reach its conclusion in the near future. And so, since we've already broached the subject of Gavin Newsom today, why don't we try to squeeze some insight out of the numbers we have, as regards the recall election? As per usual, the staff mathematician is unavailable (you know, glug, glug, glug), so these numbers are coming from the staff historian. In other words, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best.
According to the latest numbers from Political Data, Inc., 6,433,721 ballots have been returned. 3,414,683 of those are from registered Democrats; 1,577,062 of those are from Republicans, and 1,441,976 of those are from independents. The latest good poll (i.e., poll from an outfit that is not Trafalgar) says that when considering only likely voters, 90% of Democrats, 49% of independents, and 17% of Republicans plan to support Newsom's retention. Since these figures have already had a "likely voters" screen applied to them, we think they can be used to reasonably approximate what the 6,433,721 returned ballots say. And so, we'd guess that there are 3,073,215 Democratic votes, 706,568 independent votes, and 268,100 Republican votes to keep the Governor. That adds up to 4,047,883 "keep" votes against 2,385,838 to remove. Looks an awful lot like Newsom already has a margin of error in excess of 1.5 million votes.
But how many votes will he ultimately need to keep his job? That depends on turnout, of course. Perhaps apropos to the state that is home to Hollywood, Californians love elections where there's a little drama. And so, the 2003 recall had a turnout of 61.2%. And the two elections after that where no incumbent was running attracted 59.9% turnout (2010) and 63.3% turnout (2018). On the other hand, when the election was a boring slam dunk re-coronation for someone already in office, the turnout dropped like a rock. For Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection in 2006, it was 32.7%, and for Jerry Brown's in 2014, it was 30.9%.
Point is, between recent past history, and the brisk rate with which ballots are being cast in the current election, it is likely turnout will be quite high this time. Let's estimate that two-thirds of eligible voters cast a vote. That's a bit of a bump over any other recent election, because everyone's getting a ballot in the mail. We don't want to bump it too much, however, because studies show that people who want to vote make a point of doing so, absentee ballot or not. The ease with which people can participate in this election will probably get some percentage of the population to turn out that otherwise would not have done so, but we just don't think it will be enough to drive turnout into the 70s.
Anyhow, there are 22,249,865 eligible voters in California. If two-thirds of them vote, that's 14,833,243 people. Half of that plus one is 7,416,621 votes. Our crude math from above suggests Newsom already has 4,047,883 votes banked. If so, then he would need 3,368,738 more "keep" votes out of 8,399,522, or about 40%. And again, this is assuming pretty high turnout. If you project turnout to be 60% instead, then that would be 13,349,919 total votes, half of that plus one would be 6,674,960, and Newsom would need 2,627,077 of 6,916,198 remaining votes, or about 38%.
Is there a possible Republican surge, either on Election Day, or during "election week," that might just doom the governor? This does not appear to be plausible. In California, 47% of registered voters are Democrats, 24% are Republicans, and 23% are independents. The returned ballots are 53% Democratic, 25% Republican, and 22% independent. So, Republicans are already surging a little, while the much larger bloc of Democrats is surging a fair bit more. Republican voters might change the balance a bit with their in-person votes, but when the other party is much larger, and thus is able to build a big lead, it's going to be difficult to change the balance very much.
More specifically, if we flip the numbers in the "what Newsom needs" paragraph, the pro-removal folks appear to need about 5,030,784 more "recall" votes (assuming two-thirds turnout), or 4,289,121 more "recall" votes (assuming 60% turnout). If Republican turnout jumps all the way to 90%, that would mean an additional 3,233,645 votes from that side of the aisle. But don't forget that only 83% of likely Republican voters support recall. So, that would translate to just 2,683,925 more recall votes, nowhere near the necessary total to boot the Governor. We could also crank up independent and Democratic votes to 80% or 85% or 90% or some other wild number, but the former group is so evenly divided it wouldn't move the needle much, and the latter group would just extend Newsom's lead even more.
The bottom line is that Newsom looks awfully safe. The only real hopes for the pro-recall forces: (1) a huge number of people who said they planned to support Newsom were either lying or changed their minds after talking to the pollster, or (2) a huge number of people who said they who said they planned to support Newsom and were likely to vote were too optimistic, and ultimately prove unable to find the 30 seconds it requires to fill out a ballot and drop it in the mail. That sounds like "slim" and "none" to us, with slim about to leave town. Indeed, at this point, it appears more likely that Newsom is sustained by 10+ points than that he is recalled. Heck, it's possible that he comes out on top by closer to 20; our back-of-the-envelope math above has him up 26 points among the ballots that have been received (63%-37%). (Z)
Or, at very least, its most prominent military leader will. The best-known statue of Robert E. Lee is undoubtedly the one that has stood above Richmond's Monument Avenue for more than a century. But just as the general reached the end of the line on Apr. 9. 1865, the statue will reach the end of the line on Sept. 8, 2021. Sometime today, the 12-ton monument will be removed from its pedestal and will be placed in storage while a decision is made as to its disposition. There is some indication that they're going to have to cut the statue in half in order to be able to move it. If so, then that will be a pretty good re-creation of The Battle of Malvern Hill, where Lee also lost his rear end.
We imagine there will be much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among right-wing pundits and politicians. The term "cancel culture" might just come up once or twice, and we'd be very surprised indeed if Tucker Carlson does not devote at least one segment to it, presumably with a guest who pronounces "my rights" as "my rats." This bellyaching is not especially important, any more than bellyaching about Gina Carano being fired from "The Mandalorian," or Tim Allen's TV show being canceled, or Winston Marshall getting kicked out of Mumford and Sons.
However, it is the sort of thing that people will talk about, especially on social media. And while the staff historian's math skills are potentially questionable (see above), his knowledge of Civil War memory is crackerjack. So, we thought you'd like a brief review of Civil War commemoration, in the event that you end up in an argument on Facebook with someone who pronounces "my rights" as "my rats."
To start, the men who actually fought the Civil War were certainly pretty obsessive monument builders. And their monuments tended to be of two types. The first type, which made up a relatively small percentage of the overall total (maybe 5%), was statuary and other public installations that honored key Union military and civilian leaders. The second type, which made up the lion's share, was monuments to the soldiers themselves—usually to their individual units, but sometimes to larger entities, like an entire corps, or an entire army, or an entire state (e.g., there is a famous monument in honor of all Pennsylvania Civil War veterans).
The monuments that commemorated individual units were usually installed on the battlefields themselves, and tended to follow a fairly standard template, so as to communicate a particular set of information. Here's an example; this is the monument to the 122nd New York Infantry located on the Gettysburg battlefield:
We chose this particular monument because it's very typical; nothing here is unusual. If you don't know how to "read" a Civil War unit monument, well, that's what we're here for. You already know, and can see in the image, that this piece honors the 122nd New York Infantry Regiment, which had about 1,000 men (divided into 10 companies of 97 men and three officers). That is a very standard complement. The monument further communicates that the unit was part of the Army of the Potomac's VI Corps; not only does it say so at the bottom but, as per custom, the Corps' badge is prominently incorporated into the design (it's the Swiss cross at the top; other corps used a star, or a diamond, or a circle, etc.). Further, as you can see near the top, this regiment was part of the First Brigade, although today we would call that the First Division (of three in the VI Corps). The commander of the VI Corps for most of the war was Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, who is best remembered as a monument to irony. In May of 1864, at the Battle of Spotsylvania, he was warned by an underling to watch out for Confederate sharpshooters. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," he replied, and then dropped dead, the victim of a sharpshooter's bullet.
This monument has a few other bits of information, as well. You can see the state seal of New York, in bronze, on the front. The near side gives a brief history of the regiment, including when and where it was mustered. The opposite side from that, which obviously isn't visible, undoubtedly lists the important battles and engagements in which the unit participated. All of this stuff would be found on pretty much any unit monument. The materials used in the construction varied; sometimes black marble, or darker granite than this, or sandstone were used. There was variance in shapes, too—some were more square, some were circular, some were obelisks, and quite a few were...well...phalluses like this one is. But beyond these sorts of artistic choices, they were usually very similar.
Anyhow, these monuments, often funded by the soldiers themselves (or their admirers) had a couple of purposes. The first was to make sure that history remembered the unit's service. The general expectation was that monuments would be placed in whatever location(s) that a particular unit rendered its most important contributions to the war. Sometimes that did happen. However, as you might guess, there was also a bias in favor of very famous battlefields, and very famous portions of those battlefields, even if a particular unit's claim to those placements was dubious. If you visit Little Round Top—site of the most notable Union heroism at the Battle of Gettysburg—you basically can't walk ten feet without falling over a monument. There are something like 120 of them up there. That's not because 120 units fought in that part of the engagement; it's because any unit that so much as sneezed in the direction of Little Round Top took that as justification for throwing a monument to themselves up there.
The other purpose of the monuments was to make sure that the soldiers' fellow Americans remembered their service. That is not just because veterans enjoyed being fawned over, and celebrated with parades, and things like that—though they certainly didn't mind those things. It's because they wanted their fellow Americans to vote for Republicans (i.e., the party that won the war) and against Democrats (i.e., the party of traitors). Relitigating the Civil War, which they called "waving the bloody flag," was the wedge issue for a couple of decades. In addition, veterans wanted nice, fat pensions, and that meant rallying votes for pro-pension candidates. "Don't forget what we did for this country at Gettysburg" was a very effective way of also saying "So you better vote for me to get a pension." The veterans were so good at this that by the 1890s, more than 25% of the federal government's budget was given over to Union veterans' pensions.
During this period—that is, 1865 to 1890 or so—there were very few monuments built to honor Confederates, either their leaders or their rank-and-file soldiers. First of all, the South was still regarded as traitorous, and celebrating the Confederate war effort would not have gone over very well with the federal government or with Northern civilians. Further, statues cost money, and Southerners didn't have a lot of it to spare in those years.
However, by 1890 or so, things were pretty different. The Civil War was fading in emotional resonance, in part because so many of the people who fought it had died. The federal government had left the South 15 years earlier and left them to their own devices. The Confederate economy recovered, and there was more spare money floating around. This poem, which first emerged in the 1890s, and was set to music in the early 1900s, captures the tone and tenor of the historical moment:
I hates the Yankees nation
And everything they do,
I hates the Declaration,
Of Independence, too.
I hates the glorious Union-
'Tis dripping with our blood-
I hates their striped banner,
I fit it all I could
I rode with Robert E. Lee,
For three year near about,
Got wounded in four places
And starved at Point Lookout
I caught the rheumatism
A campin' in the snow,
But I killed a chance o'Yankees
I'd like to kill some mo'.
That's just an excerpt; the title of this poem/song, incidentally, is "Oh, I'm a Good Ol' Rebel."
It was around this time that Southern groups, most commonly the Daughters of the Confederacy (DoC), began raising money to build monuments to Southern leaders (primarily) and Southern soldiers (sometimes). The Lee monument, for example, was unveiled on May 29, 1890. The DoC had taken note of how effective the earlier generation of monuments were, and so they wanted to get in on the action. They weren't after veterans' pensions for Confederates (which were usually offered by Southern states, and not the federal government). No, they were trying to rally Southerners around their shared culture, their shared experience, and their shared commitment to white supremacy. It is not a coincidence, not in the slightest, that the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest statues went up at exactly the same time that Southern states were reinstituting segregation and other discriminatory laws (Plessy v. Ferguson was decided May 18, 1896), were engaged in the stifling of Black resistance and Black voting through lynching and other violent means, and were otherwise realizing a quarter-century dream of re-creating the antebellum South as closely as was possible.
And so, if someone says that history is being rewritten or erased through the removal of the Lee statue, well, that's not so true. The folks who actually participated in the Civil War had little to do with the monuments in Richmond or most of the others and, in most cases, didn't even live to see them (Lee died 20 years before his soon-to-be-dismantled statue went up). Now, if you want to argue that history was being rewritten or erased when the statues were installed in the first place, well, then you might be on to something. (Z)
As we explained yesterday, we are finally getting around to publishing some of the predictions that readers sent in way back in January. Click on the link for the full scoop on what's going on. Eventually, this list will have 12 entries:
Today, it's Part II, on the people that enable Trump:
Up next: Predictions about the Republican Party. (Z)