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Biden Gives Americans Gas

Given that gas prices are sky-high right now, and that sky-high gas prices mean bad politico mojo for the party in the White House, this was surely inevitable. On Thursday, Joe Biden announced the release of 1 million barrels per day from the United States' strategic reserve, each day for the next 6 months. That's about 5% of the daily total the country consumes, is a bit more than the amount that was being provided by Russia, and is the largest release in U.S. history.

The oil release is the highest-profile action that the White House announced yesterday, but it's not the only one. The administration also wants to punish petroleum companies that are not using the federal lands they've leased—either they have to use those lands to produce oil, or they have to pay a fee for each unused acre. This is obviously meant to encourage domestic producers to ramp up production, though it's not clear it can be done on presidential authority alone. At the moment, Biden wants Congress to take action, although it's not likely such legislation could get through a Senate that includes Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, John Hoeven, Kevin Cramer, Jim Inhofe, James Lankford, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (all R-Big Oil). Such a move would be controversial, which is why the President wants the legislative branch to share the burden. But should Congress be unable to act, Biden may try to find a way to do it himself.

Already, Biden has found a way to encourage greater production of lithium, nickel, graphite, cobalt and manganese, which are used to make batteries for electric vehicles and for storing electricity. He will invoke the 1950 Defense Production Act to make it happen. One imagines that the White House will discover that the Act also applies to oil, if and when Congress tells Biden to pound sand on the penalties for unused land.

Releasing the oil from the strategic reserves is a pretty slick move, but the real question is: Will it matter? Oil prices dropped a little yesterday, from around $110/barrel to around $100/barrel, after the White House made its announcement. However, two previous Biden administration releases from the strategic reserve had a similar effect, and yet it didn't last. Will a much bigger release result in a longer-term decrease in prices? That's the question, and nobody knows the answer.

It could also be that the administration's actions don't work out economically, but they do help out politically. That is to say, sometimes voters appreciate seeing that the politicians are at least trying. Such was the case, for example, during the early years of the New Deal, when the Roosevelt administration's initiatives tended to be more symbolic than substantive (of course, Biden is no FDR). It's also the case that, if nothing else, Biden will be in a position to spread some of the blame around. Should Congress fail to act, then they bear some responsibility. Should OPEC fail to increase production, they're bad guys, too. And OPEC's reduced production is due, in part, to the deal negotiated by Donald Trump, who also earns some blame. Finger pointing isn't the optimal option, at least for most presidential administrations, but it's better than taking 100% of the responsibility for bad times. (Z)

About Those Trump vs. Biden Polls...

In the last few months, there has been a surfeit of polls of a hypothetical 2024 presidential matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Here's a list of the ones from March:

Pollster Dates Trump Biden Undecided Net
Marquette Law School March 14-24 41% 37% 22% Biden +4%
Harvard-Harris March 23-24 47% 41% 12% Trump +6%
McLaughlin & Associates March 17-22 46% 49% 5% Trump +3%
Echelon Insights March 18-21 46% 44% 10% Biden +2%
U. Mass, Lowell March 15-21 44% 42% 14% Biden +2%
Redfield and Wilton March 20 41% 41% 18% Tied
Emerson March 18-20 45% 42% 13% Trump +3%
YouGov/Yahoo March 10-14 47% 39% 14% Biden +8%
Wall Street Journal March 2-7 45% 45% 10% Tied
Schoen Cooperman March 2-6 44% 44% 12% Tied
Average   44% 43% 13% Biden +1%

There have already been at least 70 such polls, in toto, dating back to the first month of the Biden presidency. And yet, despite the fact that we are a polling-focused site, we have paid them almost no notice. That is because these polls are dumb. They are polling porn. And we are going to give you half a dozen reasons they are dumb:

  1. The Electoral College: This is so obvious that it hardly even needs saying, especially when it comes to readers of this site, but the winner of the presidential contest is not determined by popular vote, it's determined by the Electoral College. It is true that it would be pretty hard for a Democrat, these days, to win a presidential election without winning the popular vote by at least 3-4 points. However, beyond that, without knowing how these hypothetical Biden and Trump voters are distributed, the totals are useless.

  2. The Pollsters: Someone has to pay for polls. In some cases, media outlets are footing the bill for these Biden-Trump polls, since it is content that attracts eyeballs. For example, Harvard-Harris has an agreement with The Hill and Ann Selzer (who isn't doing Biden-Trump polls yet) works with the Des Moines Register. However, a lot of these pollsters are funding the polls themselves, for some free advertising. Generally speaking, good pollsters don't need to do that. Also, some of these pollsters are being paid by a PAC/political organization. That doesn't necessarily mean they're cooking the books (though they could be), but it often does mean that unfavorable numbers don't get released. The upshot is that while there are some decent polls and pollsters on the list above, there are also some not so good ones (like McLaughlin, for example, or Schoen Cooperman).

  3. The Undecideds: Allow us to let you in on a little secret: If Donald Trump runs for president again, he's going to get about 46.5% of the vote. He got 46.1% in 2016 and he got 46.9% in 2020. There is, by all evidences, nothing that either he or the Democratic Party can do to move him outside that narrow range.

    What this means is that we do not believe for one second that more than one American in 10 is "undecided," and is theoretically available to either candidate. Is there really any person who does not have enough information about Trump and about Biden to know which way they would vote if presented with that choice again? Much less millions and millions of people? We assume that most of those undecideds are really "I'm not voting Trump, but at the moment, I'd prefer a Democrat other than Biden." Maybe we're wrong about that, but whatever is going on, there's no way 13% of people are truly undecided.

  4. Many Lifetimes: As we have written many, many times, a week in politics is a lifetime. If so, then there are 136 lifetimes between today and the next presidential election.

    Consider that the 2024 World Series will be contested a couple of weeks before that presidential election. Try to guess with any confidence which teams will be playing and, most importantly, which team will win. OK, it will probably be the Los Angeles Angels, but you can't be certain. There are three seasons' worth of baseball to be played between now and then and, with so many moving parts, guessing the future that far out is a crapshoot, even with a team that has talents as remarkable as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

    It is true that there are probably fewer viable presidential candidates than there are potential World Series teams, but still. Think about all the known unknowns right now: the economy, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the 2022 midterms, the Supreme Court's decisions about abortion, the passage/failure of Build Back Better, etc. Then add in whatever unknown unknowns present themselves. The political landscape of 2024 will be so different from that of 2022 so as to be like a foreign country. We can but hope that country isn't Russia.

  5. The Candidates: Speaking of known unknowns, there are also a whole bunch of them when it comes to these particular candidates. Will Biden get more things done? Will Trump be prosecuted? Will both men's mental and physical health hold up? Will their parties rebel against them? Does Trump really want to run again? Does Biden?

    Let us imagine that each man is 75% to run again (which is probably on the high side). We would imagine that their decisions are not really correlated; that is to say, Biden's not significantly more/less likely to run if it's Trump for the Republicans, and Trump's not significantly more/less likely to run if it's Biden for the Democrats. If our assumptions here are correct, then the odds of them both running are still just 56% (a.k.a. a coin flip). If you speculate that each man is just 65% to run again, then the odds of both running drop to just 42%.

  6. The Matchup: And not only is it a coin flip (or less) that this matchup comes to pass, but we would suggest that the matchup is essentially impossible under current circumstances. That is to say, Joe Biden is both a savvy politician and a team player. And he knows that presidents with approval ratings in the low 40s don't get reelected. He also knows that, faced with that sort of anemic support from voters, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson bowed out. It is all-but-certain that Biden would do the same, if his middling approval numbers hold.

    Of course, they may get better. In fact, they probably will get better. But if they do, then the Biden vs. Trump numbers will change. So, these current polls are either testing a matchup that won't happen, or that will happen under different circumstances than hold right now. Either way, it makes these polls meaningless.

These are the reasons that we don't write up these polls, even though there are a lot of them. And now, with that said, we will resume our habit of paying them no notice unless something unexpected happens. (Z)

Judges Smack New York Democrats, Florida Republicans

Politicians more than a thousand miles apart (but both located on the eastern seaboard) got a bit of bad news yesterday, courtesy of the judiciary. That said, both have lost only the battle thus far, and not the war.

Let's begin up in New York. Michelle Obama famously observed that "When They Go Low, We Go High," referring to the Republicans and the Democrats, respectively. That may sometimes be true, but not when it comes to gerrymandering. Both parties are definitely willing to go as low as necessary when it comes to squeezing another seat or two out of the district maps. And so it is that in New York, where Democrats have the trifecta, the map is gerrymandered six ways to Sunday in favor of the blue team.

Naturally, New York Republicans cried foul and filed a lawsuit, which ended up on the docket of Judge Patrick McAllister of the Steuben County Surrogate's Court. And yesterday, McAllister issued his ruling: The map is an illegal political gerrymander. He wants the legislature to come up with a new map that has "bipartisan support," and he wants that map on his desk no later than April 11.

We have no idea how sound McAllister's decision is, and we can't find it online so we can read it over, but we can tell you three things. The first is that the U.S. Supreme Court has said that political gerrymanders are acceptable, so the map does not violate federal law. The second is that it is entirely possible it violates state law; a number of states have verbiage on the books that tries to limit or prohibit political gerrymanders. That's why lawsuits in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, among others, have a chance of succeeding.

The third thing we can tell you is that McAllister was elected to his judgeship as a Republican, defeating Conservative Party candidate Chauncey J. Watches. There was no Democrat on the ballot. Does this mean McAllister is the further right candidate? The more moderate candidate? Was his decision influenced by his politics? These things, we do not know, and there's not a lot of information out there about lower-level state judges. Heck, we can't even figure out why he got the case, since the Surrogate's Court is a probate court, and Steuben County is nearly 300 miles from the state capital of Albany. In any event, New York law will automatically stay McAllister's decision if the legislature appeals, which it will do. So, the wildly gerrymandered map isn't dead yet, probate court or not.

And now, moving down I-95 to Florida (or I-81, if you prefer an inland route), the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) used their trifecta, as did Republicans in so many red states, to pass a gaggle of restrictive new voting laws. Democrats objected, and a bunch of different voters' rights groups filed suit.

Yesterday, Mark E. Walker, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, issued his ruling, and it was a scorcher. Across 288 pages, he spared no punches. For example, he wrote:

At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental. Based on the indisputable pattern set out above, this court finds that, in the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates. In summation, Florida has a horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting.

This wasn't exactly a secret, but now it's right there, in black and white, from the pen of a federal judge.

Broadly speaking, Walker found that Florida is in violation of the Voting Rights Act. He decreed that the state's new limits on drop boxes, on giving food/water to people waiting in line to vote, and on which groups are allowed to help with voter registration, are all unconstitutional. Further, given the pattern of behavior the judge described, he ordered that for the next 10 years, Florida must seek pre-clearance for any other changes to voting laws.

Walker is an Obama appointee, and so DeSantis has already blasted the ruling as "performative partisanship." As with much of what comes out of the Governor's mouth (most? all?), this is nonsense. We are not election law experts, nor did we read the entire 288-page document, but it looked solid to us. Meanwhile, UCI's Rick Hasen is an election law expert, and he did read the whole thing, and he also concluded it's solid. Further, it is not common that the chief judge of a circuit produces partisan blather, nor that the blather is laid out over nearly 300 painstakingly written pages.

That said, while the legal reasoning is fine, the decision is not terribly likely to stand, at least not in its entirety. DeSantis is appealing, of course, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is pretty conservative. After that, the case could head to the Supreme Court, and you already know about them. So, both of Thursday's decisions are definitely not the final chapter in their respective stories. (Z)

FEC Smacks Hillary Clinton, DNC

At this point, anyone who was involved with the Clinton presidential campaign, or with the DNC during that time, probably wishes they had never heard the phrase "Steele dossier." After all, it's not like the revelations therein derailed Donald Trump's presidential bid, or caused him any real trouble at all (at least, not so far, and the statute of limitations has nearly run). Meanwhile, the whole matter, fairly or not, has played into a narrative of gross Clintonian/Democratic corruption.

This week, the story that just keeps on giving (to Republicans) gave a little more, as the FEC handed down fines for improper disclosure of the funding behind the dossier. Actually, the fines were assessed back in February, but they were made public this week thanks to a FOIA request by the conservative Coolidge Reagan Foundation. The Clinton campaign was dinged for $8,000, while the DNC has to pony up $105,000. Right-wing media, of course, treated this as proof of corruption so deep and abiding that it makes Richard Nixon look Gandhi. Undoubtedly, it will remain a talking point until about 10 years after Clinton has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Donald Trump also greeted this news with delight that his enemies had suffered a setback, and also with... a lawsuit. Those are pretty much the only two responses in his arsenal, so neither is much of a surprise.

The lawsuit is barely worth a mention, and we're only including it here because of the connection to the FEC story. You can read the complaint here, if you want, and the supplementary documents here. However, the document reads like it was written by someone who did not graduate law school... or high school, for that matter. The amount of damages Trump seeks varies wildly depending on what page you're reading; sometimes it's $20 million, and other times it's $70 million. That's a pretty big difference. At one point, the filing cites a "federal law" that is actually a Florida state law (and thus not the purview of the federal court in which the suit was filed). Oh, and the offense that Clinton and her associates are allegedly guilty of? Racketeering. Yes, that is a potential civil tort, but it's not a particularly common one. Nor an easy one to prove in court.

You never know exactly how deluded the members of Team Trump are, but it's hard to believe this slapdash lawsuit is seriously meant to win in court. To us, it sure looks like the basis for the next round of fundraising pleas: "The Dear Leader needs money NOW so he can fight Satan's representative on Earth, Hillary Clinton! Donate now—666x matching!" The case has already been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks, who is an appointee of... Bill Clinton. That alone should be good for at least three fundraising e-mails. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

The United States Navy has (and has had) a lot of ships. At the moment, there are 480 of them afloat and another hundred or so that are either on the drawing board or under construction. That means a lot of ship names are needed. As a general rule, there are traditional conventions used for various classes of ships; for example, battleships are generally named after states, aircraft carriers are named after famous battles/past ships, and cruisers are named for U.S. cities, with the exception of the one that was named after a foreign city (Can you guess which foreign city? Answer below, mate.).

Still, even with tradition dictating many/most ship names, there's sometimes a need for navy leadership to put on their thinking caps and to channel their inner creativity. And so, the decision was made to name the most recent generation of oilers—typically named after American rivers that have Native American names—in honor of prominent civil rights activists and leaders. The first ship in the class, appropriately enough, is the USNS John Lewis, which is already in service. So too is the USNS Harvey Milk. Under construction are the USNS Earl Warren and the USNS Robert F. Kennedy. Already ordered, with contracts awarded, are the USNS Lucy Stone and the USNS Sojourner Truth. And announced last month is the future USNS Thurgood Marshall.

Yesterday, the final day of Women's History Month, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro revealed the latest name to be added to the naval register. It will be the USNS... Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "It is my absolute honor to name the next [replenishment oiler] after the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg," the Secretary declared. "She is a historic figure who vigorously advocated for women's rights and gender equality."

Although the previous Lewis-class ship names did not excite much comment, the naming of the USNS Ginsburg has triggered something of a firestorm among many right-leaning types. Some of them are angry that the choice is too political, apparently overlooking the fact that a civil rights activist, an LGBTQ activist, an anti-segregationist, a former AG and presidential candidate, two abolitionists, and the first Black Supreme Court justice are also a tad bit political. So, for that matter, are all the ships named for presidents, senators, representatives, cabinet secretaries, etc. All of these folks are clearly historically significant, and that is what ship names are supposed to recognize. If the Navy, in addition to oilers, also had ships responsible for hauling water, it would be entirely apropos to name one of them the USNS Antonin Scalia. After all, he toted the Republican Party's water for years and years. And note that we would 100% have made that joke even if the shoe was on the other foot and the gavel was in the other hand.

The other point of complaint coming from the right is that war is a manly affair, and naming ships after women is just wrong. It has apparently escaped these folks' notice that women are now allowed to serve in combat roles in the U.S. armed forces, and that 17% of all U.S. military personnel are female. Oh, and the U.S. Navy has been naming ships after women for close to 250 years. George Washington had, under his command, the USS Hannah, the USS Lady Washington, and the USS Queen of France. These were named, respectively, after the daughter (Hannah Glover) of the man who oversaw construction of that ship, Martha Washington, and Marie Antoinette. Anyhow, it didn't seem to bother old George that some of his ships were named for women. And if it's good enough for George Washington, well...

Anyhow, whether the angry folks like it or not, the name is staying in place, as the 21st century is well underway. And watching people like that gnash their teeth, rend their garments, and clutch their pearls because they would prefer to remain stuck in, what, the 17th century? Well, there's certainly a bit of schadenfreude in that.

Oh, and the only U.S. Navy cruiser not named for a U.S. city was the... U.S.S. Canberra. That ship was built during World War II and was supposed to be the U.S.S. Pittsburgh, but it was decided that a ship named for the home city of the Pirates was not likely to win very often. No, wait, that's not it. Actually, the ship was launched very shortly after the HMAS Canberra was sunk in the Battle of Savo Island (August 1942). So, the would-be Pittsburgh was rechristened Canberra in honor of that ship and the sailors that went down with her. (Z)

March... Sadness, Part VI (Others, Round 2)

Today, we reveal the identities of the final entrants for the round of 32:

The Others bracket now looks like this:

#16 Megadonor Charles Koch vs. #9 Fox personality Sean Hannity;
#4 Infowars personality Alex Jones vs. #5 Trump adviser Roger Stone;
#6 HBO personality Bill Maher vs. #3 Trump adviser Steve Bannon;
#10 Fox personality/Former speaker Newt Gingrich vs. #2 Fox personality Tucker Carlson

Here are all the ballots for the Round of 32:

This round of voting runs until Monday at noon. As always, we appreciate your comments on the matchups. (Z & V).

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