Senate page     Sep. 14

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Danke Schoen

Why that headline? Well, the lyrics to that song include:

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Save those lies, darling don't explain
I recall Central Park in fall
How you tore your dress
What a mess, I confess...

California's also got a recall in the fall (or will, once the certifications are in), and it's been a mess. Then you toss in the similar looks of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and a young Wayne Newton:

Newsom and Newton both have
slicked-back hair and phony-looking smiles

In short, we pretty much think we've got a theme song for today's election.

Alternatively, maybe we're just reaching for ways to keep this relatively basic story at least a little fresh. In any event, today is the day, excepting late-arriving mail-in ballots (which will be accepted for another week if postmarked today). And yesterday, the Democrats mounted their final push, deploying the big guns. On television, in heavy rotation, are commercials featuring Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), or Kamala Harris decrying the "Republican Recall" (each commercial has one blue-team superstar, not the whole band). And making an in-person appearance at a rally in Long Beach was Joe Biden, who warned the crowd that if they did not vote to retain Newsom, "you'll get Donald Trump."

That, of course, is a reference to conservative radio talker Larry Elder, who is most certainly going to be the leading vote-getter among Republicans, and is likely to be the leading vote-getter of any of the people on the "who should replace Newsom?" part of the ballot (which will become moot if the recall fails). Elder's rhetoric is certainly Trumpy—indeed, he's probably a little bit to the right of Trump, right there with Genghis Khan and Generalissimo Francisco Franco (who is, incidentally, still dead).

If that were not enough, Elder performed his very best Trump impression yesterday, refusing to say whether he would accept the results of the election or not, and spending much of the day kvetching about voter fraud. He also added a link to his website under the header "Stop Fraud," which takes users to a site where they can report...whatever they want to report. The amateurish site is designed to look like it's the work of some sort of independent watchdog, but it's actually funded by Elder and his donors.

(Z) has heard plenty of Elder's Los Angeles-based show, and can affirm that he is a sleazy snake-oil salesman, just like most (or all) of the other right-wing talk radio stars. What he is not, however, is stupid. He knows full well that tomorrow's results will be legitimate, and that no amount of alleged "fraud" can create the sort of gap that Newsom looks likely to win by. However, you can't hold on to your Trumpy radio audience if you don't embrace the notion that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. And if you're going to insist on that, then you can't exactly claim that the California election was legitimate. It's gotta be all or none. And so, the would-be governor performs the song and dance. He's never even served in political office, and yet Elder kowtows to the former president like a pro—he could easily pass for a senator from Wisconsin, or a space-laser-loving representative from Georgia, or a governor from Florida.

And since we're at it, we might as well run the numbers one last time. There have now been 8,722,954 ballots submitted; 4,509,992 by registered Democrats; 2,233,539 by registered Republicans, and 1,979,423 by independents/third-party registrants. The last five polls of the race, all from the last week, report an average of 88% of Democrats want to keep the Governor, an average of 85% of Republicans want to toss him overboard, and an average of 53% of independents/third-party voters want to keep him. If we assume that the votes already received comport with those basic percentages, then Newsom has 5,352,918 votes to retain (61.4%) versus 3,370,036 to recall (38.6%), or a cushion of 1,982,882 votes. There are only 3,115,746 registered Republicans left in the entire state, with 2,648,384 of those theoretically being pro-recall. That means that either (1) at least 74.8% of the remaining pro-recall Republicans have to vote today, accompanied by absolutely nobody else, or (2) the polls (six or seven of them in the last week) have to all be way, way, way off. If one of those two things does not come to pass, then Newsom will survive, and Elder will go back to his snake oilery. We'll presumably know tonight, very possibly minutes after the polls close. And then the lawsuits can begin on Wednesday. What a mess, I confess... (Z)

Blinken Doesn't Blink

Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared (virtually) before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, to answer questions about the Afghanistan withdrawal. The four-hour-long session was about 20% substance and about 80% posturing.

The Blinken quote that every outlet is leading with, because it conveys his main argument: "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan." Aided by friendly questioning from Democratic members, the Secretary explained that while the Trump administration reached agreement with the Taliban on a firm deadline for withdrawal, it did absolutely nothing to lay the groundwork for that withdrawal. That, Blinken says, left the Biden administration with only two choices: stick to the basic deadline, or re-escalate the war. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) further added: "I would welcome hearing what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy, chaotic 20-year war looks like ... I don't believe one exists." We have written at length about this subject and said we find all of these assertions to be very plausible.

The Secretary also addressed a couple of questions that haven't previously had perfectly clear answers. First, he said that there are about 100 Americans left in Afghanistan who would like to get out, and each of them has been assigned a case worker and is in contact with the federal government. In nearly all cases, the delay is because the would-be evacuee has not yet been ready to depart due to family commitments, or health issues, or needing to settle their affairs. The planes that left Afghanistan last week had 60 seats for Americans, but only 30 of those were filled because the other 30 folks were not yet prepared to leave.

The other matter Blinken addressed was all the valuable (and destructive) equipment that was left behind. He said that some of it was turned over to the Afghan army, and it was they who surrendered it to the Taliban. Other equipment was deactivated or otherwise rendered unusable. And as to the rest, Blinken said that saving the materiel would have put lives at risk, which the President considered unacceptable. That also seems plausible; if it's tough to get people out of a country, then it surely must be tougher to get bulky, heavy military equipment out. The Secretary also pointed out that the things that were left behind require regular maintenance, which the Taliban is not equipped to do, such that the leftover equipment will soon join the "inoperable" pile.

In short, the Secretary laid out the administration's side of things, aided by Democrats on the committee, and actually shared a few useful bits of information. The Republicans on the committee, of course, were interested almost entirely in scoring political points. Several of them called on both him and Joe Biden to resign their posts. Yes, it is the job of the opposition party to hold the governing party accountable, but nobody can say that demanding resignations is a useful way to do that. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) accused the administration of surrendering to the Taliban, and wrecking America's image on the world stage. (Some might argue it was Biden's predecessor who did that.) Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who continues to demonstrate that he's a first-class jerk, suggested that State Department personnel were only looking out for themselves, and left civilians and military personnel to their own devices. Blinken grew visibly irritated at this, and shot back: "My team has been working 24/7, around the clock and around the world. They've been putting themselves on the line. They've been putting everything on the line."

Monday's hearing did nothing to change our view that this isn't going to stick to Biden and the Democrats. The administration's case is pretty reasonable, and the Republican talking points are coming across as desperate. Plus, people vote based on the things that affect them, not on foreign policy choices made more than a year before the midterm elections. Undoubtedly, the opposition party will find something to wield against the Democrats in 2022, it just won't be this. Well, unless someone publishes a book called Understanding the Afghan War through Critical Race Theory. (Z)

Money for Nothing

As long as we're on the subject of the Afghanistan War, there have been a number of pieces in the last few weeks on the question of where all the money went. All $5 trillion of it. This one, from The Guardian (UK), focuses on a few facts that will get people's blood boiling (so, stop reading if you don't want that to happen).

First, as reader S.S. in West Hollywood reminded us just this weekend, the Military-Industrial Complex is alive and well. The "big five" defense contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman—collected $480 billion thanks to Afghanistan. During the course of the war, the stock prices of these firms rose 60% more than the overall market, meaning that Afghanistan was also redistributing wealth upward. Of course, the politicians also got their cut—the big five spent $2.4 billion on lobbying over the course of the war.

There was also another $145 billion spent on "reconstruction projects" that involved little logic, little planning, and little oversight, but lots and lots of corruption. Like all the shiny new venues built for Olympic Games and then allowed to crumble afterward, most of these reconstruction projects have fallen to pieces, leaving the U.S. with nothing to show for its money. Well, nothing to show for the money the Pentagon can track. Nobody knows what happened with billions that seem to have vanished into thin air.

Perhaps worst of all are the future financial commitments that the Afghanistan War entails. Fulfilling the healthcare and other obligations made to veterans of the war is going to cost $2 trillion when all is said and done. And all of Afghanistan War expenses were put on the nation's credit card, so there will also be trillions in interest payments in the future. Add it all up, and it's almost surreal for Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and their Republican colleagues to be bellyaching about the expenditure of $350 billion per year on the United States' own citizenry. (Z)

Back in the Saddle Again

In 2020, the Republicans—who were well into their program of pretending COVID-19 was no big deal—sent vast numbers of volunteers into the field to knock on doors, register voters, raise money, etc. The Democrats, who were operating under the belief that a dangerous pandemic was underway, basically shut down their field operation. This did not hurt Joe Biden, obviously, nor does it seem to have affected the Senate very much. But it may well have played a role in the Democrats' underwhelming performance in House elections.

Now, however, it is acceptable for vaccinated Democrats to put on their masks and to get out there and talk to people. It would be a little early for 2022 ground game, but Gavin Newsom and the two other Democratic governors who will be on ballots this year—Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey—have built vast armies of foot soldiers to spread the good word on their behalf.

We actually doubt that ground game will matter much in these gubernatorial contests, since all three Democrats figure to triumph with plenty of breathing room. We cover Newsom above; the last poll of the Virginia race from a Virginia pollster had McAuliffe up 9 (50%-41%), and the last poll of the New Jersey race from a New Jersey pollster had Murphy up 16 (52%-36%). However, it does mean that the Democratic apparatus is getting the rust off right now, and will be ready to go in 2022, in races where ground game could be considerably more meaningful. Since the blue team will no longer be ceding this advantage to the red team, it is another wildcard that is going to make next year's elections very difficult to project. (Z)

This Is What Bad Optics Looks Like

The far-right version of the anti-abortion cause is significantly complicated by cases of rape and incest. On one hand, if a fetus is deemed to be alive at 2 weeks, or 6 weeks, or 16 weeks, then the manner in which that fetus was conceived does not make it "less" alive. Politically, however, there are a fair number of Americans who may waver on abortion in general, or who might even be generally anti-abortion, but who find odious the thought of forcing a woman to carry to term a pregnancy that came via rape or incest.

The Texas abortion law was "consistent," in that it requires all viable fetuses to be carried to term, regardless of the circumstances of conception. This may be further evidence that the Texans didn't actually expect the measure to survive court challenges. However, it did, at least temporarily, which left Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) holding the bag. Last week, reporters immediately went to the heartbeat of the matter, asking how Republicans could—in good conscience—compound rape victims' trauma by forcing them to continue the pregnancy. The Governor's response was patently absurd, such that everyone wrote about it, including us. He proclaimed that Texas was at work on eliminating all rapists, and once that was done, there would be no problem anymore.

We struggle to understand Abbott's mindset much of the time, but we assume that he didn't really believe something so profoundly stupid. Still, he said it, and he's stuck with it. And so, it doesn't look so good for him that reporters and anti-rape activists have gotten the numbers, and learned that there are more than 5,000 rape kits in Texas that have not yet been tested. It's rather hard to say that one is being proactive about rape when mountains of evidence are languishing on the shelves in warehouses. And the actual number is likely much higher than that. At least 240 agencies in Texas did not report how many untested rape kits they have on their hands. They are legally required to share that information, but Abbott has not forced the matter, which is yet another way he is not being proactive.

We are not sure what 2022 holds for Abbott as he runs for reelection. Maybe all this "abortion stuff" and "rape stuff" is much ado about nothing among the voters whose support he needs. But if he has national aspirations, well, we just cannot see how he can possibly be viable now, especially with suburban women voters among the most important swing groups in modern American politics. (Z)

Chris Christie's Customers Aren't Buying What He Is Selling

Who knows exactly what Chris Christie v14.3.2c is all about? He used to be a reach-across-the-aisle, "I can bring people together" centrist. Then he became a fire-breathing right-winger who tried to out-Bush the Bush administration, both in terms of rhetoric, and in terms of abuse of power (ahem, Bridgegate). Later, he ran for president in the "ultra-Reagan" lane, and when he got stomped by Donald Trump, he became a die-hard Trumper in a desperate effort to land a Cabinet post. After that didn't work out, the former New Jersey governor pivoted to the Nikki Haley lane, alternatively embracing El Donaldo and then criticizing him. And the newest Chris Christie apparently likes Trump's policy ideas, but loathes Trump. He foresees a 2024 presidential contest in which a more traditional Republican can capture the traditional Republican vote, and that will be enough when the Trumpy vote is split 10 ways.

Christie unveiled the latest iteration of himself last week, and the reviews are already in: Hard pass. Many prominent commentators, speaking for exactly the faction of the Republican Party he would need, aren't buying his makeover for one second. Some examples:

If Christie is to rise again from the ashes, these are exactly the sort of moderately-right-of-center folks he needs. However, they all see him as a Trumper in sheep's clothing. Meanwhile, the Trumpers see him as a traitor. That leaves no votes for the governor to collect, not even enough to steal a victory in a 10- or 12-person primary. And let's not forget that nobody was buying his shtick in 2016 before he sold his soul to Trump; his presidential campaign that year was a train wreck. So, this will presumably be the last time we write a full item about Chris Christie, because there is just no case to be made that he's a serious contender for any political office, much less the presidency. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is probably breathing a lot more easily now. (Z)

(Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part V--The Supreme Court

After a breather, we ease back in with a fairly short list. Here are the subjects we've covered so far:

And now, while justice itself might be blind, the readers definitely see a few things in the Supreme Court's future:

The next two lists are about Congress. (Z)

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