Another week in the U.S. means more mass shootings. For example, there was one in Tulsa on Wednesday. The shooter there blamed his doctor for an unsuccessful back operation, and so bought one gun at a gun show and then an AR-15 the day of the shooting. He then charged into St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, killing four people (including the "guilty" doctor) before turning the gun on himself. Perhaps there is a lesson here about allowing gun purchases at gun shows, or about it being so very easy to acquire assault rifles.
Yesterday, there was a mass shooting in Wisconsin. This one took place at the funeral of Da'shontay L. King Sr. King was shot to death by police, and then two of the mourners at his funeral were hit by gunfire while the casket was still above ground. It's unknown who fired the shots or what their motives were, and the condition of the victims has not yet been released.
If you tried to write a script about a post-apocalyptic America where alleged "malpractice" claims are settled at the end of a gun, and families can't grieve the loss of a member to gunshots without risking being shot themselves, nobody would buy it because it's just too unbelievable. And yet, that's the world we live in. And those are just two of the mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since the Uvalde massacre. You know how many there have been in total? Twenty. Well, as of this writing, at least. If you're reading this in the afternoon or the evening, that number is almost certainly out of date.
In short, it seems that we have a problem, Houston. And the country's most prominent Democrats are talking a big game about doing something. Joe Biden, for example, delivered an approximately 18-minute speech on gun control last night:
Here are his main suggestions for what Congress should do:
It was a nice speech, delivered with feeling. It also won't reach the people who are its intended audience. Either they weren't listening, or, if they were, they'll just get defensive. To take one example, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist, who actually used to be fairly reasonable, was breathing fire last night:
I think it's comforting for simple-minded people to think that restricting the natural right to keep and bear arms would solve all of our problems, that destroying the Constitution would solve our problems. We have a natural right of self-defense and to guard against tyranny in the Second Amendment, this is something that makes us American.
And Joe Biden showed that he does not respect the Constitution. He does not support this natural right. That really is an impeachable offense to talk this way against something so foundational to the country.
For someone who dismisses others as "simple-minded," Hemingway seems to be rather... uninformed. For example, natural rights are, literally by definition, universal, and are not linked to any particular legal system. Think life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Access to guns is actually a legal right, one that is conferred (or taken away) by the legal codes of a particular nation. Similarly, Hemingway's grasp of impeachment is rather problematic. Is that because she and other conservatives are so desperate to impeach Joe Biden that they will literally grasp at anything? Or is it part of the tendency to respond to those we disagree with in the most aggressive manner possible? If so, someone might want to point out to Hemingway that sort of impulse is what gave us Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, etc. In any case, Hemingway's ideas are useless, if not for the fact that she speaks for a lot of people who think like she does.
Anyhow, Joe Biden wasn't the only one who took endeavored to make a statement yesterday. The House Judiciary Committee, for its part, passed the "Protecting Our Kids Act." The bill would do many of the things that Biden called for, including raising the age limit for buying semiautomatic guns, banning high-capacity magazines, and strongly encouraging safe storage practices. The bill would also strengthen existing executive orders on ghost guns and bump stocks, and would establish new penalties for gun trafficking. The vote in committee broke down along party lines, 25-19. The whole House will presumably approve it, also along party lines, except with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) crossing the aisle to vote with the Democrats. And then, the legislation will head to the Senate, where it will become the latest sacrifice on the altar of the filibuster.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) also tried to do something yesterday. Endeavoring to be the point person on gun control, he wrote an op-ed for Fox. Here's the key passage:
No matter what the defenders of the status quo say about people like me, our agenda isn't radical. My desire is simple—to find a way for Republicans and Democrats to come together around a small but meaningful set of changes to our nation's gun laws, along with major investments in mental health, that will make it less likely that another Sandy Hook or Uvalde ever happens again.
No parent should have to go through what those Texas parents are dealing with right now. No mother or father should have to bury their little child.
Shooting after shooting after shooting has proved our current system is broken. There's no perfect antidote that will save every life, but even a small step forward will save thousands.
My Republican colleagues and I don't agree on much, but this time, I'm hopeful we can agree on this: inaction cannot be our answer.
Fox uncharacteristically turned off commenting on that piece. Undoubtedly, they knew full well what the response would be from their readership.
Anyhow, the bottom line is that the Democrats are trying. But a presidential speech, a show vote in the Senate, and an op-ed on Fox aren't, in and of themselves, going to do much. They are potentially the start of something, though. We are still at work on an opus that explains our thinking, but have decided that piece might be better with some reader feedback incorporated into it. And so, we ask: What do you think the Democrats should be doing here, if they want to actually effect real change? Please let us know by Sunday night, if you have thoughts. (Z)
We initially typed that headline as "Clown Prince," and only caught the error at the last second. Freudian slip? You decide. In any event, the White House announced yesterday that Joe Biden will head to Saudi Arabia later this month to meet with that nation's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Thus far, during his time as president, Biden has preferred to deal with King Salman, who is the official leader of Saudi Arabia, but who is in poor health and is 86 years old. This is not because Biden and Salman are of the same generation, "speak the same language," etc. It's because MBS is toxic, given that he leads an oppressive dictatorship, that he ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, that he's got a fraught history with the nation of Israel, etc. Unfortunately, diplomacy often involves negotiating with people of dubious character. MBS is running the show in the Kingdom, and the Saudis have lots of petroleum, as well as enormous influence in the Middle East. So, the President couldn't avoid dealing with the Crown Prince forever. And after negotiations that led to OPEC agreeing to increase oil production and to an extension of the current cease fire in Yemen, the time has come.
It's not entirely clear what will be discussed at the meeting, since details are still being hammered out. However, it is a pretty good guess that further increases in oil production will be on the agenda. It's also a pretty good guess that funding for Biden's post-presidential business ventures will not be, which will be a change for MBS. Because there are many Americans who would prefer that diplomacy only be conducted with adversaries who are as pure as the driven snow, there's going to be (and already is) blowback for the President.
And as long as we're on the subject of using one's position to (allegedly) secure support for one's post-political business ventures, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is looking into the $2 billion investment former first son-in-law Jared Kushner got from the Saudi Public Investment Fund. That Fund just so happens to be overseen by Kushner's good buddy, MBS. On one hand, the deal stinks to high heaven, since Kushner hasn't got the résumé to justify that kind of investment, according to both American and Saudi analysts (including the Saudis who evaluate opportunities for the Saudi Public Investment Fund). On the other hand, if Kushner and his in-laws have taught us anything, it's that the statutes governing corruption on the part of current/former high-ranking government officials are often pretty toothless. So, don't hold your breath waiting for Kushner to pay a price for what certainly looks to be influence peddling. That said, if he does end up in the Big House, he can ask dad for tips on how to make the best of it. (Z)
At this point, readers are presumably familiar with the drama surrounding redistricting in Florida. The legislature, which is Republican-controlled, came up with a map that was as gerrymandered as seemed plausible under Florida law. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who seems to have little concern for the law, decided it wasn't gerrymandered enough. So, after butting heads with the legislators, he managed to compel their surrender and to impose his own, even more gerrymandered map.
Since that victory, everything has gone according to plan for the governor. His map, which effectively silences Black voters in northern Florida, is probably a violation of both state and federal law. But these things take time to work through the court system, and the only real possibility that DeSantis might be stymied for this cycle was if the Florida Supreme Court stepped in and disallowed the new map. Taking note of the fact that all seven justices are Republican appointees, the Governor liked his chances. And yesterday, that Court did indeed decline to get involved.
This is not the end of this particular story, as the Florida Supreme Court was voting on, in effect, an emergency stay. So, there is still an appeals process that will play out, and the matter is likely to end up before the Florida Supremes once again. Though they will probably uphold the map again, even after a proper hearing, the vote yesterday was 4-1 with two abstentions, so you can't be sure. In any event, for this cycle, the Governor gets his way. The result is that, despite Florida being about as swingy a state as any, the state's Republicans will have 18-20 House seats when the next Congress meets, while the Democrats will have 8-10.
In addition, Rep. Al Lawson (D) is screwed. His district (FL-5) runs along most of Florida's northern border, and includes Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Under the DeSantis map, all of northern Florida is red. If Lawson stays in the district he lives in, it's roughly R+7, and he'd be up against Rep. Neil Dunn (R). Alternatively, he could jump to FL-04. Lawson doesn't live there, but it includes a small part of his old district, is an open seat, and is roughly R+6. Or, he could head down to FL-27. That district is EVEN, but it's at the other end of the state, and he'd be up against incumbent Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R). Good luck getting elected up against a Cuban-American politician in a district that includes portions of Miami. (Z)
Democratic hopes took a hit in Florida yesterday, to be certain (see above). However, there was some good news for the blue team in Michigan. As we noted earlier this week, five Republicans "qualified" for the state's primary (Aug. 2) on the strength of a bunch of phony signatures. The state Elections Bureau tossed those five off the ballot, and several of them sued. Yesterday, the Michigan Court of Appeals sustained the Elections Bureau's decision. That means the five Republicans have run out of options, since the deadline for making the ballot is today.
There were two GOP candidates who posed a serious threat to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) as she runs for reelection. Businessman Perry Johnson was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and as a result, the whole world now knows that he submitted nearly 9,000 fake signatures (out of about 20,000 total). His goose (wolverine?) appears to be cooked. Former Detroit police chief James Craig was almost certainly the frontrunner, and although he does not appear to have been a plaintiff yesterday, he's also out of luck. Craig says he is considering a write-in campaign, but those rarely work. And when they do work, it's invariably in states with very small populations, like Alaska.
The stage is thus set for Whitmer to win a second term. Of the Republicans still standing, right-wing media personality Tudor Dixon has gotten the backing of several prominent folks, including the powerful-in-Michigan DeVos family, while chiropractor/businessman/activist Garrett Soldano has done the best in polling. So, it will likely be one of those two. They're both pretty weak candidates, with serious liabilities and a total lack of political experience. If Craig does run as a write-in candidate, thus splitting the right-leaning vote, then all the better for the Governor. (Z)
The U.S. Senate race in Arizona was the last high-profile contest where Donald Trump's endorsement might matter, but where he hadn't actually made a pick. The former president has now rectified that. But before we tell you which candidate he picked, see if you can guess. Here are the polls of the race conducted this year, from newest to oldest:
|Pollster||Dates||Mark Brnovich||Jim Lamon||Blake Masters||Michael McGuire||Justin Olson||Other||Undecided|
|Fabrizio Lee||May 17-18||18%||18%||22%||7%||2%||-||34%|
|The Trafalgar Group||Apr. 25-28||24%||25%||19%||8%||3%||-||21%|
|McLaughlin & Associates||Apr. 21-24||22%||25%||16%||6%||-||-||31%|
|Remington Research Group||Apr. 5-6||20%||32%||9%||3%||2%||-||35%|
|OH Predictive Insights||Apr. 4-5||21%||16%||9%||6%||3%||-||45%|
|Data Orbital||Apr. 1-3||20%||26%||10%||7%||4%||-||33%|
|HighGround Public Affairs||Mar. 26-27||11%||10%||6%||4%||-||8%||61%|
|Fabrizio Lee||Mar. 13-14||14%||14%||16%||3%||1%||-||52%|
|Alloy Analytics/J.L. Partners||Mar. 9-12||20%||15%||15%||3%||1%||-||45%|
|Data Orbital||Feb. 11-13||22%||17%||15%||5%||5%||-||37%|
|OH Predictive Insights||January 11-13||25%||7%||6%||11%||4%||-||47%|
There was little chance that Mark Brnovich was going to get Trump's endorsement since Brnovich is the AG of Arizona, and the former president blames him (without much reason) for failing to swing the 2020 vote into the red column. And while Jim Lamon is a businessman with zero political experience, his business is solar power, and that's a little namby-pamby for the Donald. But the moment that Trump's personal pollster (Fabrizio Lee) says that Blake Masters is in the lead? It's no surprise that is "go" time. And so, if you guessed Masters, give yourself a cookie.
Masters is backed by billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, which means, in effect, unlimited funding. But the candidate's #1 selling point for Trump, beyond the fact that he's not Brnovich or Lamon, is that he has declared "election integrity" to be the "top issue" of the campaign. In case there is any doubt about what sold the former President, he issued an endorsement statement making things very clear. Describing Master as a "great modern-day thinker," Trump observed that "Blake knows that the 'Crime of the Century' took place, he will expose it and also, never let it happen again."
This is exactly the sort of race—close, three-way contest—where Trump's endorsement has actually mattered this cycle. So, Masters probably just became the frontrunner. That said, we'd like to see at least a couple of non-Fabrizio Lee polls that have Masters on top before we are confident in that assessment. And while we have some data on Trump's impact on primaries, we still don't know whether he's a pro or a con for the general. In this case, Trump did lose Arizona, and even if Masters does win the GOP nomination, he'll be up against a strong incumbent opponent in Sen. Mark Kelly (D). (Z)
As long as we're on the subject of so-called election integrity, we will note that things have taken an entirely foreseeable turn in Georgia. Just about every time we hear Donald Trump or some other Republican politician say "Stop the Steal," we think of this famous clip from the movie There's Something About Mary:
For those who don't know the movie, and don't want to watch the clip, protagonist Ted Stroehmann picks up a hitchhiker. And the hitchhiker reveals that he plans to undercut the market for the popular exercise video "Eight-Minute Abs" by selling a video entitled "Seven-Minute Abs," with the promise that people will get just as good a workout in 7 minutes as in 8. Stroehmann observes that it sounds like a great product, at least until someone releases "Six-Minute Abs." This causes the hitchhiker to lose his marbles.
The point here is that once you begin making factual claims unsupported by evidence, it's a slippery slope to more and more outlandish claims. It started with (ostensibly) Democrats stealing the reasonably close 2020 presidential election. But now, Trump is parroting a piece by Emerald Robinson, who got fired by Newsmax for being too careless with the truth, and who now works for Lindell TV. (Yes, you apparently can get fired by Newsmax for making up stuff, and yes, the MyPillow guy has a "TV channel"). Here is the main substance of Robinson's claim:
Let's begin with a basic truth that most of the corporate media continually ignore or obscure: President Trump's endorsement is the single most powerful force in the universe of American politics. There's never been anything quite like it. Trump-endorsed candidates overwhelmingly prevailed in the latest GOP primaries by a margin of 24-4. In fact, President Trump is running the table on the GOP establishment in the 2022 races. His record stands at 92-7 at the moment.
Trump's endorsement basically won the race for JD Vance in Ohio, and for Ted Budd in North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, his endorsement did the same thing for Doug Mastriano in the governor's race. This has happened again and again in 2022. Remember, Trump's record is 92-7.
That's what makes the primary results in Georgia last night so curious and so suspect.
Robinson continues in this vein, with the obvious conclusions being that Trump's candidates surely won the elections in Georgia and that "someone" cooked the books. In making her case, Robinson's crimes against evidence, analysis, and interpretation of data are enough to turn your hair white. Assuming you still have your hair, and it's not already white, that is. On the other hand, if you're looking for tips on how to pick cherries, this is just the article for you.
And remarkably, Robinson's claim is only the second most crazy "stop the steal" conspiracy theory about that election. Kandiss Taylor, she of the "Guns/Jesus/Babies" bus, is insisting that she is actually the one who was cheated out of a victory. This is the same Kandiss Taylor who collected 3.4% of the vote in the Georgia gubernatorial contest.
Modern Republican voters—not all of them, but many of them—have shown a savant-like ability to overcome cognitive dissonance. "Stop the steal" never made much sense, given that evidence was promised so many times and yet delivered zero times, and given that if someone was going to cook the books for Joe Biden, why wouldn't they also cook the books for some races downballot? But now, the necessary logical leaps are becoming so great as to require superhuman abilities. The people who manipulated the results for Biden in 2020 are now doing the same for Republicans in 2020? And there are not just one, but TWO Republicans who would have won the Georgia gubernatorial election if it was legitimate? And these cheaters not only changed the result, they managed to turn it into a landslide without leaving behind any evidence of their malfeasance? And since polls of the race also had Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) winning comfortably, apparently the evil-doers got to the pollsters as well?
The point here is not to mock the stupidity coming out of some Republicans—that's just a bonus. No, the point is that this talk, although nonsensical, has a real impact. It poisons the democracy overall, of course, and it nominally gives cover for Voter ID laws and other "election integrity" measures. But, importantly, it's almost exclusively Republicans (again, not all of them, but many of them) who buy this nonsense. And if Republican voters think the fix is in, many of them will stop voting. The Robinson piece has many comments like this one:
From The People's Republic of Georgia. Tuesday morning I had made the decision to not vote because it was pointless. My wife convinced me to go. What a waste of time. I am 73 and I have never missed voting, but at this point I believe I am done.
Republican voters staying at home likely already cost the party two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia January 2021. And if the party does not cut the "stop the steal" talk off at the pass—and there is no indication the pooh-bahs plan to do so, because they like having an excuse for Voter ID laws, etc.—then it's eventually going to hurt the GOP in many other elections, as well. (Z)
You know what they say about lawyers, that 95% of them give the other 5% a bad name. OK, that percentage might be a bit high, but there is no doubt that the profession attracts a disproportionate number of high-profile sleazeballs. And yesterday, one of those got some (more) just desserts.
There was a time, not too long ago, that Michael Avenatti appeared to be a rising star in the Democratic Party. Enough so that, on October 7, 2018, we wrote him up as a potential Democratic presidential candidate. Yes, we were casting our net very wide at that time. But Avenatti's skills in front of the cameras and his successful legal battles against Donald Trump suggested that if ever the blue team was going to line up behind a celebrity rather than a real politician, Avenatti could be the one.
Since that time, Avenatti's star has fallen so far, so fast that we wish we could go back and delete that piece. We could have guessed, even back in October 2018, that he has no substance. However, in 2019, he got popped for trying to extort Nike, and was booked for a long stay at the crowbar hotel. At that point, Avenatti's whole house of cards collapsed, and it became clear that his whole life was basically one big Ponzi scheme.
As it turns out, though, he did not quite hit rock bottom, even after losing to Nike. While he was representing his porn-star client, Stormy Daniels, he was also stealing from her, to the tune of nearly $300,000. Yesterday, having already been convicted of wire fraud and identity theft, Avenatti was sentenced to 4 years in prison and ordered to pay close to half a million dollars in fines and restitution. He's still serving his Nike sentence, and part of the new term will run concurrently with that, but it's still 2 more years in the clink. Plus, Avenatti has another trial, later this year, for defrauding five clients out of more than $10 million. And he's also been indicted on charges of tax fraud and bankruptcy fraud, with a trial date yet to be set.
In short, what we have here is a person who abused their job, and the trust placed in them by numerous clients, and who is now paying the piper, big-time. That certainly justifies a little schadenfreude, and we'd be saying that even if we hadn't been among those who were fooled by Avenatti's public persona. (Z)