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Quite a Week for Democrats

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sinema Gets to "Yes"
      •  DeSantis Reminds Us Who He Is
      •  Sweden, Finland Join the Club
      •  Lake Triumphs in Arizona
      •  Johnson Gives Barnes an Early Birthday Gift
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: A Life Poorly Lived
      •  Insert Headline Here (Again): A Life Well Lived

Sinema Gets to "Yes"

The biggest roadblock remaining in the path of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has been cleared. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D!-AZ) has now had time to read the bill over, and to do some haggling, and has signed off on a revised version of the measure. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already said he's OK with the changes, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has promised his entire caucus will vote "yea."

So, what changes did the Arizona senator insist upon? Here they are:

  • "Carried Interest" Loophole: Sinema has gotten big bucks from fund managers and, they will be pleased to learn, she stayed bought. So, as anticipated, this provision, and the $14 billion it would have raised, are out the window. That said, the fund managers are on notice that they're one more Democratic senator from their sweetheart deal coming to an end.

  • Tax on Stock Buybacks: In place of the money that would have been realized from the carried interest loophole, the Democrats decided to add a provision that places a 1% tax on stock buybacks. This is expected to generate $73 billion over the same timeframe. According to the staff mathematician, $73 billion is more than $14 billion.

  • Minimum Tax on Corporations: That said, there will be some as-yet unclear change to the 15% minimum tax on corporations. So, maybe some of the additional $59 billion the lord giveth with the buyback provision, he will taketh away with cuts to the minimum tax.

  • Money for Droughts: Sinema also insisted on the inclusion of $5 billion for drought mitigation. A little pork never hurt anyone (and note that "pork" refers to projects meant to benefit a specific state or group of states, and not necessarily to wasteful projects).

And, a small note on sausage-making: Sinema really wanted to see Roopali Desai on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and has been lobbying colleagues on that point all week. Desai was approved yesterday, and on a very rapid timetable. Just a reminder that when it comes to these big bills, there are usually lots of quids, pros and quos the average Joe is entirely unaware of.

Now, the biggest challenge left for the Democrats is Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. As we have noted previously, she might strike a bit here or there, but it is hard to imagine that she'll look at provisions that impose new taxes, and provisions that fund new initiatives, and will decide they're not budgetary in nature. This bill is not an effort to get around the rules by packaging border policy or voting rights as a "budgetary issue." She's expected to work pretty quickly, such that the Senate might even vote on the bill this weekend. (Z)

DeSantis Reminds Us Who He Is

Florida, of course, took the earliest available opportunity to impose a new law forbidding nearly all abortions. And 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren responded by taking the earliest available opportunity to announce that he would not enforce the new law and would not prosecute those who violated the law in his circuit (Hillsborough County). Yesterday, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) suspended Warren.

On one hand, this is not nearly as big a deal as many media outlets are making it seem. The fact is that Warren is openly flouting state law, and DeSantis is legally entitled to do what he did. If Warren was refusing to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ+ couples, along the lines of Kim Davis in Kentucky, folks on the left would have no problem with his removal. If he was refusing to uphold the statutes on murder, people on both sides of the aisle would want him gone.

Indeed, Warren certainly wanted this outcome. He's regarded as a rising star in Democratic politics; he wants to be the face of protecting reproductive choice in Florida, and he wants to be a martyr. And he's certainly going to get the latter wish, at least, as it's now up to the Florida Senate to decide Warren's fate. Given that the body is dominated by Republicans and lives in the Governor's pocket, well, Warren can pretty much pack up his office right now.

If DeSantis had suspended Warren by fiat, without any legal authority whatsoever, that would be plenty scary indeed. But as it is, this isn't even among the 10 most antidemocratic things he's done during his time in office.

On the other hand, there is one way in which this news is very concerning, indeed. We have written about Schedule F, a Trump-era draft executive order that would have reclassified the vast majority of federal employees as people who "influence policy." This would have eliminated their job security, and would have freed the former president to terminate tens of thousands of civil servants who weren't Trumpy enough and to replace them with loyal foot soldiers. The Donald ran out of time before the scheme could be imposed, but there's no question he'll get it out of mothballs if he's reelected. And now (in case we didn't already know), we have the clearest indication possible that if DeSantis is elected, he would do the same. (Z)

Sweden, Finland Join the Club

First up, Sweden and Finland had to ask to join NATO. They did that. Then, the North Atlantic Council had to agree unanimously to extend an invitation to the two nations. That's been done. The last step is for the legislatures of the 30 member states to approve the new memberships. On that front, the U.S. did its part this week, with the U.S. Senate (which, remember, has sole power to approve treaties—sorry, Nancy & Co!) voting 95-1, with 1 abstention, to give its assent. Inasmuch as the U.S. tends to call the shots on the NATO front, and the U.S. Senate tends to be the least... cooperative legislature among the 30, this is now effectively a done deal.

Undoubtedly you're wondering who the 1 "nay" and the 1 "abstention" are, though you can probably also guess if you haven't already heard. The "nay" was, naturally, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). He says that NATO is a waste of American money and that adding more members will just cost the U.S. more money. Because if there's one thing the Swedes and Finns are known for, it's being goldbrickers. The Senator thinks he's a presidential candidate, after all, and wants to own "America First." The abstention, meanwhile, was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). He disapproves of all international alliances, but he also doesn't like to be on the wildly unpopular side of legislation. So, he went for neutrality. A profile in courage, he is not.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden and the Democrats are—as you may have noticed—on quite a run in the last week or two:

  • The CHIPS Act
  • The PACT Act
  • The Inflation Reduction Act
  • The killing of Ayman Al-Zawahri
  • The abortion vote in Kansas
  • The DoJ turning up the heat in the insurrection probe
  • Seven federal judges approved since July 20, and another dozen expected by the end of the month

Some of this is just fortuitous that it happened in close sequence, some of it is not, but the Party clearly has something to run on in November beyond "Republicans BAD."

Also, Biden's approval ratings appear to be headed upward, though these trendlines take weeks and weeks to really become clear. On the other hand, in the 21st century, memes can be something of a leading indicator. And interestingly this week, the Internet has been flooded with "Dark Brandon" memes that appropriate the "Let's Go Brandon" bit, blend in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" character, and add in a dash of humor borrowed from Chuck Norris "facts", to create a persona of the President as a bada**. For example, there's this:

Biden with glowing yellow eyes and an evil grin

And this:

Biden with glowing red eyes and a caption 'Your malarkey has been going on long enough, kiddo'

And this:

Trump and Biden; the Trump picture is captioned 'Gets COVID, can't breathe,' the 
Biden picture is captioned 'Gets COVID, kills top Al-Qaeda leader

Maybe one day, a scholar will figure out how to translate meme production into a somewhat objective measure of public support. For now, however, we can certainly say that "bada**" is a much better image, politically, than "old and infirm." (Z)

Lake Triumphs in Arizona

Normally, the order is:

  1. Candidate wins election
  2. Candidate declares victory

That is not always how it works with the Trump wing of the Republican Party these days, including in the Arizona gubernatorial primary. Kari Lake (R) was leading by a few percentage points with 85% of the votes counted, and—borrowing a trick that, to be frank, the George W. Bush campaign pioneered in Florida in 2000—declared that she was the winner. The election wasn't actually over, and if Lake had finished in second place, particularly by a narrow margin, it could have gotten very messy. But a few hours after Lake made her announcement, the various news organizations crunched the numbers and decided that, with about 90% reporting, the would-be governor was correct.

So, that means that Lake (joined by a whole slate of election deniers downballot) will face off against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. We think it is unlikely that Lake (or, very probably, any of the others) will win. There is a big population of far, far right Republicans in The Grand Canyon State. These are the folks that kept powering Joe Arpaio's election wins, among others. However, there is a also a meaningful population of Republicans there who are not insurrectionist election deniers. Call them the McCain Republicans, if you will. A Democratic-McCain Republican alliance is likely to carry the day, just as it carried the day for Kyrsten Sinema in 2018, for Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in 2020, and for Joe Biden in 2022. The careful reader will note that all three of those elections took place after Donald Trump revealed his true colors for all to see.

The other big factor is the abortion issue, which will surely be a big part of Hobbs' campaign. As a woman candidate, it is legitimate for her to bring it up early and often in a way that might be a little less accepted if coming from a male candidate facing off against a woman. And even when Hobbs doesn't bring it up, the press will. Whatever Lake says is going to cost her with voters that she needs. Polls suggest that about 54% of Arizonans favor abortion rights while 41% oppose, putting Lake's position 13 points underwater. Not a good place to be, especially when early polls of the gubernatorial race have her down 5-10 points. (Z)

Johnson Gives Barnes an Early Birthday Gift

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes' (D-WI) actual birthday is December 1. But that's after the election, and who can wait? So, his soon-to-be U.S. Senate opponent, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), decided to give him something nice right now. The Senator was appearing on "The Regular Joe Show" podcast, and began lamenting how much Social Security and Medicare cost, and suggesting that they be renewed on an annual basis, so that Congress is in a position to take a hacksaw (or a chainsaw) to their budgets, as needed. "Social Security and Medicare, if you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost," Johnson complained.

Whether his position has merit or not, this is a colossally stupid thing for a politician to say. That is doubly true in a swing state and triply true when the politician is up for reelection in just a few months. Johnson's office tried to walk the comments back, but it's not like he just flubbed one word or sentence. He went on at great length. And he is pushing for at least one of these things: (1) reduced benefits for some/all, (2) booting some people off the list of recipients and/or (3) getting rid of the programs entirely.

Once he's the nominee, a major element of Barnes' campaign will be that Johnson is too far-right for Wisconsin. Now, the would-be senator has a very clear policy position he can use to emphasize that (Johnson's involvement in overturning the election is another). Oh, and for the record, Wisconsin has 3,467,840 registered voters as of July 1 of this year and a shade over 1 million Social Security recipients. Not all Social Security recipients are registered, and not all of them vote, but we bet a very large portion of them are, and do. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: A Life Poorly Lived

We try our best to be evenhanded around here, at least most of the time. But that ain't gonna happen with Alex Jones, who is one of the biggest jerks walking the planet. It's bad that he's willing to victimize American institutions, the American people, and numerous prominent Americans with his baseless attacks and conspiracy theories. That said, there are a lot of people who do this, and so it's not enough by itself to elevate him to the jerk stratosphere.

What makes his far, far, far worse is his willingness to target private-citizen victims of various tragedies and to make that fodder for his "show." Most famously, he decided the parents of the Sandy Hook victims—who had already suffered the greatest loss that a human can know—were faking it, and were participating in a vast false flag action. And so Jones harangued them relentlessly for years, encouraging his fans/followers/cult to do the same. If there really is a hell, they better goddamn well be already at work on the new Alex Jones Memorial Wing.

And then, if you want some icing for this vile cake, Jones really isn't even in the business of entertainment. The show is just so he can hook the rubes and sell them expensive, useless "health supplements" and "survival supplies." That's right, Jones rides roughshod over, and mercilessly exploits, everyone, including his biggest fans. No wonder he and Donald Trump are simpatico.

So, we're not going to behave as if it is anything but happy news that Jones' house of cards might just be tumbling down. This week, he has been participating in the first of several hearings where he will be assessed damages for what he did to the Sandy Hook families. He already lost the actual trials by not showing up. And as the plaintiffs' attorney was grilling Jones on the stand this week, he laid a trap for the Infowars star, getting him to testify that there were no Sandy Hook-related text messages on his cell phone. The problem is that the attorney knew for certain that there were, which means Jones committed open-and-shut perjury.

How did the attorney know for sure? Well, that's where it starts to get really good. Jones turned the complete contents of his cell phone over to his defense team. And the defense team turned them over to the plaintiffs... without redacting or withholding any of them. The plaintiffs know all. And once the gaffe was revealed, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble refused to declare a mistrial or to seal the contents of the phone. We are assuming that she ruled on the merits, but it surely didn't help Jones' case that he's been going on air and slamming her as an idiot while the hearings are still underway. In any case, Gamble said there might have been time for such considerations if Jones hadn't disrespected the trial process and dragged his feet on discovery, but now he must reap what he sowed. Reading between the lines, it sure looks like the plaintiffs aren't the only ones in the courtroom who hate Jones. The judge and his own attorneys apparently hate him, as well.

And it still gets better. Everyone who's been looking at Jones, and hitting a brick wall, now wants a copy of the treasure trove. That includes the Dept. of Justice and the 1/6 Committee. And the plaintiffs' attorney is delighted to send it to them. He specifically told the judge he would do so unless she put a stop to it. She issued no such order.

And guess what? The schadenfreude keeps on coming. There appear to be other... goodies on the phone that could prove embarrassing or incriminating. For example, there have been allusions during the current proceedings to "intimate messages" between Jones and Roger Stone. Who knows what exactly that means, but we could totally see them being gay for each other. In a much more criminal direction, a filing in one of the other Sandy Hook cases—those plaintiffs' lawyers already got their USB sticks with all the text messages—asserts that child porn has been found on the phone.

By the way, the final number for the first case came in late Friday. Jones has been ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages (i.e., to "compensate them for the harm he has caused them. But he is also subject to punitive damages for punishment. That amount hasn't been determined yet but it could be more than $4.1 million. He's going to appeal, and to try to claim bankruptcy, but it's not going to work, and he's going to pay. And that's before we talk about the payments he'll have to make in the other trials he's already lost.

Last week's schadenfreude item, on Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) getting badly outmaneuvered on Twitter by a Houston teenager, was suggested by more readers than any other story in the history of this feature. Until this week, that is, when 50 readers must have written in suggesting we highlight Jones' woes. You folks might enjoy Knowledge Fight, where two fellows pick apart Jones' show and talk about what a jerk he is. The episodes are about 90 minutes, and they are up to number... 711. You have to be a real a**hole to power 1,000+ hours of discussion about what an a**hole you are. And when someone like that is served up several buffets worth of just desserts in one week, with many more coming down the pike, we can't think of a clearer occasion for a heaping helping of schadenfreude. (Z)

Insert Headline Here (Again): A Life Well Lived

We got over 800 suggestions for headlines for this new feature (some of them more than once). Thanks to everyone who took the time to write in with their thoughts!

We don't quite feel comfortable narrowing 800+ down to 1, so we're going through them all, and we'll ask you to vote. Note that we don't even feel all that great narrowing it down to 25, since there were a lot more good ideas than that, but we have to keep things manageable.

We shall begin the voting on Tuesday and we'll start using the new, permanent headline next week. Note that we've already adopted a reader's suggestion to add subheads to these features.

And now, the actual item. The previous item was about an absolute reprobate who just takes, takes, takes, so let's shift gears to someone who made sure to leave the world better than they found it. Nichelle Nichols was born in 1932 in Illinois. That's not the Deep South, but the Midwest had plenty of racism at that time, and Nichols certainly experienced it (though she refused to complain about that later in life, preferring to focus on moving forward with positivity rather than looking backward with negativity). She decided on a career in show business, and appeared in a number of plays and musicals, and also a few movies. She also had a side-career in activism, and wrote some newspaper and magazine articles, mostly for publications catering to Black audiences.

It was in 1966 that Nichols landed the role that would make her legendary. That, of course, would be Lt. (Nyota) Uhura, the Enterprise's communications officer, on the show Star Trek (the character had no first name while the show was on the air; fans unofficially adopted one after Trek was canceled, and Nyota finally became canon in the 2000s). Working on the show was no party because of the massive ego on William Shatner (Captain Kirk), and Nichols nearly left after the first season. However, she was attending an NAACP banquet, was informed that "a fan" really wanted to meet her, and consented. Here's how she told the rest of the story to the TV Academy in an interview:

I thought it was a Trekkie, and so I said, "Sure." I looked across the room and whoever the fan was had to wait because there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He reached out to me and said, "Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan." He said that Star Trek was the only show that he, and his wife Coretta, would allow their three little children to stay up and watch. [She told King about her plans to leave the series because she wanted to take a role that was tied to Broadway.] I never got to tell him why, because he said, "you cannot, you cannot... for the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful, people who can sing, dance, and can go to space, who are professors, lawyers." Dr. King went further, stating "If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a Black role, and is not a female role; he can fill it with anybody even an alien."

Nichols concluded that being a role model to the Black community was worth putting up with Shatner, so she stayed to the end. And undoubtedly, King knew of what he spoke. One young (at the time) Black fan says he loved the show and that he most certainly saw Uhura as a role model. That fellow, who was only 7 when the show left the air, was Barack Obama.

For most who star on one of the Star Trek shows, it's something of a terminal role, as it's hard for audiences to see them as anything else. That's not to say that Nichols had no non-Trek projects after 1968, but the bulk of her professional time was spent on Trek and Trek-adjacent stuff, including the (busy) Star Trek conference circuit. In her free time, meanwhile, she agreed to work as a volunteer for NASA, helping to recruit minority and women candidates for the agency. Among the folks she helped attract were the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, the first Black astronaut, Col. Guion Bluford, and the first Black, female astronaut, Mae Jemison. Jemison, in particular, has noted that Uhura inspired her to think about the sciences as a career, while Nichols helped bring her to NASA.

In short, as a role model on television, and as an outreach ambassador in real life, Nichols impacted millions of people for the better, often helping them to set their course in life. She passed this week, after a long and full life, and we wanted to take this chance to give a (metaphorical) 44-phaser salute to one of the greats of the small screen. Have a good weekend, everyone. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug04 Takeaways from the Primaries
Aug04 Election Deniers Could Run Elections in Four Key Swing States
Aug04 Sinema Gets an A+ for Drama
Aug04 Blue Dogs Are Disappearing
Aug04 Dept. of Justice Subpoenas Cipollone
Aug04 More Phones were Wiped
Aug04 Trump Will Speak at CPAC on Saturday
Aug04 Pelosi Says China is Angry Because She Is a Woman
Aug04 Walker Will Debate Warnock
Aug04 Rep. Jackie Walorski Killed in Car Wreck
Aug04 Democrats Increase Their Lead in New Generic Poll
Aug03 Toto, I Have a Feeling the Problem Isn't Just Kansas Anymore
Aug03 She Went There
Aug03 Republican Senators Try to Clean Up Their Mess
Aug03 U.S. Government Sues Idaho
Aug02 U.S. Drone Kills Top Al Qaeda Leader
Aug02 A Trumpist Might Be Elected Secretary of State in Arizona
Aug02 Arizona's Election for Superintendent of Public Instruction Race Is Also a Battleground
Aug02 Court Battles over Dobbs Have Barely Begun
Aug02 Do You Want to Play Nice or Do You Want to Win?
Aug02 Capitol Rioter Gets 7 Years in a Different Federal Building
Aug02 Lindsey Graham Renews Attempt to Quash His Subpoena
Aug02 Fetterman is Laughing at His Opponent
Aug02 How to Start a Third Party and Win
Aug02 Wood Files to Run as an Independent Senate Candidate in Missouri
Aug01 Primary Action Resumes Tomorrow
Aug01 Republican Senators Don't Want Trump to Run
Aug01 Kellyanne Conway Is Advising Trump to Wait Until after the Midterms to Announce
Aug01 In Politics, a Week Is a Long Time
Aug01 Poll: Abortion Is Motivating Democrats More than Republicans
Aug01 Don't Believe Everything You Read
Aug01 Some Republicans Want a New Constitution
Aug01 Pelosi Is Going Somewhere
Aug01 And Then There Was One
Aug01 The DNC Will Delay a Key Vote Until after the Midterms
Aug01 Inflation Is Way Up in the Eurozone
Aug01 Ruben Gallego Is Fundraising Off a Senate Race He Hasn't Even Entered Yet
Jul31 Sunday Mailbag
Jul30 Saturday Q&A
Jul29 CHIPS Will Soon Be Law
Jul29 RNC Hits Trump Where It Hurts
Jul29 Andrew Yang, Meet Maurice Duverger
Jul29 Vote by Mail Is Expanding in the Northeast
Jul29 Does the Constitution Ban Restrictions to Voting Rights?
Jul29 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jul29 Insert Headline Here
Jul28 We Have a Deal?
Jul28 Hello, Mr. CHIPS
Jul28 Fed Raises Interest Rates by 0.75% Again
Jul28 Hutchinson Is Cooperating with the Dept. of Justice