Senate page     Mar. 09

Senate map
Previous | Next

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Runnin' on Empty

To put the petal to the metal means to intensify a situation. To let up on the gas means to use less gasoline. Joe Biden managed to do both simultaneously on Tuesday, as he announced a ban on Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the United States.

Here are the President's exact words, per the address he delivered yesterday:

Today I am announcing the United States is targeting the main artery of Russia's economy. We're banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy. That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at US ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine.

Not only is this a bold move, it is—in contrast to the administration's general approach to the Ukraine war—a unilateral one. The White House would prefer to see the rest of the allies ban Russian petroleum, and some (like the U.K.) are making moves in that direction. However, nations like Germany and Italy are too dependent to make such a move quickly (if they make it at all), and Biden simply wasn't willing to wait.

How this plays, in terms of domestic politics, is going to be an absolutely fascinating thing to watch. Gas prices are going to rise, big-time (and so, for that matter, are prices on fuel-efficient/hybrid/electric vehicles). And Republicans are going to point the finger at Biden. We know that because they already are, although they are twisting themselves into knots so as to support the sanctions on Russia, but to also make Biden the bad guy (along with a cast of supporting bad guys). For example, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AK), in addition to blaming the President, lashed out at "children in Europe, by woke investors on Wall Street, and by politicians who actually think that electric passenger vehicles are going to solve an energy crisis and the climate crisis." We are presuming that "children in Europe" refers to climate-change activist Greta Thunberg, who occupies vast amounts of real estate in the heads of Republican politicians, free of charge.

That said, while gas prices are going to go up, up, up, and while that generally makes Americans cranky, don't assume that the GOP is going to win this particular war of words. There have been many polls of this question in the last week, such as the one from The Wall Street Journal, which found that 79% of Americans supported a ban on Russian oil, as opposed to only 13% who were opposed. The other polls have put those numbers at virtually identical levels (78-83% and 11-15%, respectively). Undoubtedly those folks understood that one implication of the ban—which, again, they supported—would be higher gas prices, at least in the short term. And surely Biden was aware of these poll numbers when he decided to move forward without the allies in tow.

A second thing that could work to the benefit of Biden and the Democrats is exactly how rapidly gas prices have risen. (Z), of course, lives in California, which is the land of high-priced gas. There is a gas station he always passes on the way home from teaching, and when he had to buy a few gallons on Monday, the price was $4.99 a gallon. When he passed by on Tuesday, just 36 hours later, the price was up to $6.16 a gallon. That is clearly speculative, or opportunistic, or something. In any event, assuming people witness similar rapid spikes elsewhere, it may cause them to think that there's more going on here than just a ban on Russian oil.

Third, it is at least possible that the gas prices will trigger a "rally round the flag" effect. We're not saying that this will definitely happen, or even that it's likely. However, as many readers will know, the U.S. government in World War II undertook a number of measures that asked for/required civilian contributions to the war effort. Gasoline was rationed, as was food and other commodities. Pennies were made from steel. Citizens were asked to donate their unneeded grease and metal scrap. Some of these mandates were actually necessary (e.g., the gas rationing), while others were largely for symbolic purposes (e.g., the grease donations). In any event, they served to make people on the homefront feel like they were doing something to help the war effort. It's not impossible that many people in 2022, instead of grousing about gas prices, will think of that extra buck or two as a donation to the people of Ukraine. This may sound like crazy talk, but remember, four out of five people said they supported the ban on Russian oil. They had to know this was coming.

An important wildcard here is that Congress is wrestling with a bill that would affirm the ban on Russian oil, which is currently being implemented solely as a presidential prerogative. If Congress agrees with what Biden is doing, particularly if they agree by large majorities, it will be rather harder to make this all about evil President Joe. That's not to say that some members of the House won't try, but it will be harder.

And finally, we will point out that this is an opportunity for both parties to work on their overall messaging about petroleum. The Republicans will continue to hammer on the need for greater domestic production, and in particular about how Keystone XL was manna from heaven that would have solved all of our problems if those persnickety libs hadn't shut it down. Meanwhile, despite the above remarks of Westerman, the Democrats will be guilty of political malpractice if they don't make a major campaign theme out of "See what we've been talking about when it comes to electric vehicles and solar panels? This is why we need to wean ourselves off the black stuff."

Anyhow, as we said, this is going to be fascinating to watch. (Z)

Russia? McDonald's No Longer Lovin' It

Thomas Friedman famously argued that large-scale wars are outmoded, reasoning that the global economy is so intertwined that the economic costs of war are simply too great. One particularly noticeable expression of this, Friedman noted, was that "No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's." This came to be known as the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention.

Ultimately, the war in Ukraine is proving Friedman wrong in several ways, including the McDonald's thing, since both Russia and Ukraine both have McDonald's. Or, at least, they both had McDonald's. Yesterday, the House of Ronald announced that the 850 locations in Russia would be temporarily shuttered. Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Esteé Lauder also ceased Russian operations yesterday, which pretty much ruins Vladimir Putin's weekend plans for a Big Mac, a venti berry hibiscus refresher, a six-pack of Coke Zero, and a makeover. He'll have to do the best he can with the equivalent Russian knockoffs. The list of prominent (and mostly American) companies that have pulled out of Russia is quite long at this point and, in addition to Tuesday's entries, includes Yum Brands (KFC and Pizza Hut); all of the Big Four accounting firms (who is going to do the oligarchs' taxes?); Boeing and Airbus; Shell, BP, and Exxon; GM, Ford, Daimler, Volkswagen, and BMW; Adidas and Nike; FedEx and UPS; Apple, Microsoft and Dell; and Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

In part, the withdrawals are due to domestic political pressure. Any company who thought it might lay low until the storm cleared quickly learned that was not going to fly, as there is a vigorous activist effort to root out and shame them. Particularly effective on this front is Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld who, aided by a team of researchers, has worked to compile a public list of companies with major operations in Russia, and the status of those operations. Something like 85% of the companies on his list have taken significant steps to pull out of the Russian market, at least for the time being. The eyes of the nation are on the remaining 15%, a list that includes Bridgestone Tire, Caterpillar, Grupo Bimbo (Mexican snacks; not affiliated with any particular members of Congress from Georgia you might be thinking of), Kimberly Clark, Mars, 3M, Nestlé, Papa John's, Philip Morris, Whirlpool, and pretty much all the major hotel chains, including Hilton, Hyatt, and Mariott. Of course, it is not easy to relocate a 20-story hotel.

Beyond that, it's not especially pragmatic to operate in a country that is at war, especially if that country is being cut off from world transportation and economic networks. It's difficult to protect employees, and it's difficult to get equipment and supplies where they need to be, particularly if the goal is to get those things to their destinations on time. Especially problematic is when the point of origin for some good or supply must be the United States. For example, all Coca-Cola syrup is mixed in Atlanta, GA, so as to help keep the recipe secret. Now is not a great time for shipments from Atlanta to Moscow or Atlanta to St. Petersburg, what with FedEx and UPS having withdrawn from Russia and all.

And so, while it may appear that corporations are responding to public pressure (and they are), the underlying dynamics also argue for a cessation of operations, at least while the war is ongoing. So, don't assume that once the heat is off, McDonald's will be back to peddling McGriddles and Starbucks will be pumping out venti chai lattes for Russians. They may well stick with this long-term, which is not going to be helpful for the already struggling Russian economy. (Z)

Florida Passes "Don't Say Gay" Bill

The Republican Party doesn't really have a platform for 2022, and hasn't really had a platform for at least 5-6 years, if not more. But, like the Democrats, the Republicans are nonetheless working on certain campaign themes in anticipation of November's general elections. And it could not be clearer that a great many Republican politicians are going to run a Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) "but the children"-style campaign focused on all the insidious stuff that is allegedly being programmed into students in the nation's schools.

Critical Race Theory is one dimension of that, of course. But now, achieving something close to equal prominence with CRT, is anything related to non-traditional gender identities/roles. And Florida is taking the lead here, as it so often does these days when it comes to passing legislation that politicizes students and their education. Yesterday, the legislature finished passing the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, which says that discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity "may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards." The bill would also allow parents to sue teachers if they feel the rules have been broken. The legislation now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) for his signature, which he has implied is coming (though he hasn't said it directly).

We are both teachers, of course, with something like 65 years' experience between us. And while we don't teach elementary or high school students, it's still abundantly clear that this legislation is an absolute dumpster fire. To start, what is a teacher supposed to do if an 8-year-old student asks about something LGBTQ-related, like "Can two daddies be married?" Should the teacher lie? Ignore the question? Not great options in a classroom context. And what does a teacher do with material that is ambiguously, but not clearly, LGBTQ-themed? Can they talk about Bert and Ernie? Peppermint Patty and Marcie? Ren and Stimpy? Snow White's seven dwarfs? Further, once the student has reached the (apparently) magical fourth-grade level, what exactly does "age-appropriate" mean? And how does that differ from what teachers already do? Finally, how is the policing of teachers going to be done, and how exactly will evidence for these hypothetical trials be gathered? Sure, a kid might say, "My teacher told me [X]," but kids are not the most reliable witnesses (as was demonstrated in the infamous McMartin preschool trial, among many examples).

Meanwhile, this legislation is equally problematic from the perspective of students, at least those who are or might be LGBTQ. Kids are perceptive—even kindergartners. And if they get the message that questions and/or feelings they may have are wrong, or bad, or may cause trouble, many of them will internalize that. That can lead to low self-esteem, depression, self-harm, and suicide, among other outcomes. This is not a secret, and it's not controversial—it's a fact backed by mountains of evidence. So, it's another case of DeSantis, et al. being willing to sacrifice the health and well being of students (COVID-19 management was another) in search of political points. Naturally, other Republican-run states, including Arizona, Oklahoma and Tennessee are already hard at work on copycat measures.

Politically, it is fair to wonder if these bills will truly be a winner, short-term (as in, in 2022 and 2024). If the Republicans had stuck with CRT, then maybe. But LGBTQ acceptance has become rather broad, and the more frequent and overreaching the "policing the schools" bills get, the more likely it is that wavering voters might conclude that it's all just political grandstanding, and that "but the children!" is just BS. Not helping matters, political messaging-wise, is that the children themselves are speaking out, such as the 500 students at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida who organized a walkout in protest of the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Long-term, we are 100% certain that these measures are going to be a political loser for the Republican Party. They are targeted primarily at older, more socially conservative people who... well, let's say, largely won't be voting anymore in 10-20 years. Meanwhile, young people are furious about what's going on; they find offensive the notion that LGBTQ is offensive. And while it might be soothing for Republicans to tell themselves that voters get more conservative as they get older, it just ain't so. Political preferences generally tend to be locked in between the ages of 18-35, and are stable thereafter. The Party of Lincoln is alienating a generation of voters (maybe two or three generations), and those voters largely won't be back.

Of course, the Donald Trumps and Rick Scotts of the world don't much care, because when it comes time for their party to pay the piper in a decade or two, they will probably be... well, in the same place as all those non-voters from the previous paragraph. You would think, however, that a younger politician—like the 43-year-old DeSantis—would take at least a slightly longer-term view. Apparently not. (Z)

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Insurrectionist Fish

As we have pointed out many, many times, Prosecution 101 strategy is to go for the small fish first, and then use them to get to the medium fish, and then to use them, in turn, to get to the big fish. A textbook example is unfolding before our very eyes with the Department of Justice's pursuit of the 1/6 insurrectionists. There were two major developments on that front yesterday.

First up is Guy Refitt, the first 1/6 defendant to actually be put on trial. The jury rendered its verdict yesterday, and it was not happy news for the accused. He was found guilty on all five counts he was charged with. The most serious of those carries a term of 20 years, and while he's not likely to get the full amount, he's also not likely to see the outside of the crowbar hotel for a good, long time.

Of course, Refitt is just a small fish. Maybe small-to-medium. He's basically just a guy who was dumb enough to leave plenty of evidence of his guilt out there for the world to see, and then dumb enough not to plead out when he was caught red-handed. A much larger fish is Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, who was formally indicted yesterday, and charged with having "conspired to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, the certification of the Electoral College vote."

Tarrio is a jerk and a bigot, and the world will be better off if he disappears from view for a very long time. However, he's also a medium-to-large fish. In fact, he may be the biggest fish of all who did not work directly for the White House. Though by virtue of his activities on 1/6, Tarrio may well have dirt on folks who did work directly for the White House. So, if you're one of the big fish, Tuesday's news is cause for more than a little anxiety. First, because Tarrio might spill his guts to save himself, and second because what comes next, after the medium-to-large fish, is the big fish and the giant fish. (Z)

See, Occasionally Congress Does Get Something Done, Part I: USPS Overhaul

For years and years, people within the U.S. Postal Service and without have lamented the rule that the quasi-governmental organization was required to fund retirees pension benefits—75 years in advance. That rule was breaking the back of the USPS, which operates on pretty thin margins, and has an army of employees (and thus future retirees). After nearly two decades of dickering about the problem, Congress has finally taken action. Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill, 79-19, that will make some major USPS changes. Since the bill was already passed by the House, 342-92, that means that all it needs is a presidential signature in order to become law. Cliff Clavin, Mr. McFeely, and Newman are undoubtedly dancing in the streets.

The biggest changes made by the new law are: (1) getting rid of the fund-retirements-nearly-into-the-22nd-century bit and (2) requiring USPS workers to enroll in Medicare when eligible. This will save $50 billion over the next decade and will keep the Postal Service solvent. In addition, and as a trade-off of sorts for rescuing the USPS from its financial cliff, unprofitable routes (which are mostly rural) and six-day-a-week service must be maintained, and there must be more robust and more public compiling and publishing of data on delivery times.

And now the question that is undoubtedly on the minds of thousands of readers: Does this mean Postmaster General Louis DeJoy can finally be cashiered? Possibly. Clearly, his efforts to "save" the USPS were not especially effective, such that Congress had to step in, and even took steps to clean up some of DeJoy's mess (collecting and publishing data will theoretically reduce the incidence of very slow deliveries). Further, the new rules will take a lot of effort to implement, and the USPS Board of Governors could decide DeJoy is not up to the task and that fresh blood is needed. So, while DeJoy's demise is not a certainty, it just got a fair bit more likely, especially if the board was already looking for an excuse to be rid of him. (Z)

See, Occasionally Congress Does Get Something Done, Part II: Emmett Till Antilynching Act

It took close to 20 years for Congress to fix what was ailing the post office. And yet, that speed is positively blazing as compared to how long it took them to do something about lynching. Lynching—that is, extralegal execution, usually by hanging—has been a part of American society for as long as there has been an American society. Lynching became a particular tool for intimidating and oppressing Black people, particularly in the South, more than 150 years ago. And perhaps the most infamous lynching of them all, that of Emmett Till, took place 67 years ago.

Since 1900, there have been more than two hundred bills introduced in Congress meant to discourage lynching. And, until this week, each of them went nowhere. Sometimes it was because members had various legal or ethical scruples about passing such a law. Or, at least, that is what they claimed (for example, some opponents argued that a bill outlawing lynching would imply that lynching had previously been legal, which seems a strange argument to us, but perhaps readers will see it differently). In most cases, opposition to lynching bills came from members who did not want to anger voters who are racist, or are Southerners, or are racist Southerners.

At long last, however, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act is about to become law. The House passed it 422-3, with the only holdouts being Andrew Clyde (R-GA), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Chip Roy (R-TX). Probably just a coincidence that the trio all represent former slave states. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent; opposing it was a potato too hot for even Rand Paul (R-KY) or Ted Cruz (R-TX) to handle. All that awaits is Joe Biden's signature, which is about as much a certainty as death, taxes, and Donald Trump being pissed that his social media platform is failing.

Of course, because lynching is a form of murder or attempted murder, it was already illegal, despite the arguments made by "scrupled" opponents of the legislation. Now, however, it is a federal hate crime. That has two major implications; the first is that it will add up to 30 years to the sentence of anyone who perpetrates a lynching, and the second is that if state authorities neglect to prosecute a lynching (or fail to secure a conviction), the federal government can step in and take a shot at it.

It is worth noting that, since gaining the trifecta, the Democrats have made Juneteenth a federal holiday (after many failed attempts to do so) and have made lynching a federal hate crime (again, after many failed attempts to do so). Further, the blue team is on the precipice of seating the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Black voters are among the most important constituencies in the Democratic Party, something that will be doubly true this year in states like Georgia and Florida. Black voters are also, on the whole, rather hit and miss when it comes to showing up for midterm elections. If they like what they are seeing, however, and that enthusiasm translates into high turnout this November, that could be a very big deal. It's worth keeping an eye on. (Z)

The World's Stupidest Poll?

Some polls are meant to be silly. Like: "Which color M&M should be added to the standard assortment?," or "Should Andy Kaufman be permanently banned from Saturday Night Live," or "After you finish your studies at USC, will be you be working at McDonald's or Burger King?" The results of such polls reveal nothing of great import. However, this poll is from a real pollster (Qunnipiac) and it is trying to assess meaningful questions about U.S. public opinion. And among serious polls, it might have the stupidest polling question we've ever seen.

So, what is the question that has our knickers in a twist? It's #8, which reads thusly:

If you were in the same position as Ukrainians are now, do you think that you would stay and fight or leave the country?

Among the poll's respondents, 68% of Republicans and 57% of independents said they'd stay and fight, while just 40% of Democrats said they would do so. This is being reported by many outlets (ahem, Fox) as evidence that Republicans are true 'muricans who love their country, while Democrats are mamby-pamby wimps who hate God, mom, and apple pie.

Of course, the people conducting the polls cannot expand upon or clarify the questions they are asking. And this hypothetical is so pointless, and so absurd, that it's open to all kinds of interpretation and guesswork. To start with, what exactly are the circumstances of this hypothetical invasion? Is it undertaken by Mexico (Donald Trump warned you!)? Is it undertaken by Canada (We warned you!)? Is it undertaken by Russians armed to the teeth, as in Ukraine? Mounting an full-scale invasion of the U.S. is no small thing, as indicated by the fact that the last time anyone tried it was 210 years ago. And even then, the mightiest nation in the world (at the time) failed to make headway against its much weaker former colony. Good luck taking on the 21st century United States armed forces on their home turf.

And that brings us to our next set of questions. What is the American response to this hypothetical invasion? The last time there was even the mere possibility of an attack on the U.S. mainland (World War II), the federal government started conscripting citizens by the millions, keeping many of the older and less fit draftees in the U.S. to serve as a security force. If the Russians, or the 'Nades, or the Mexicans, or someone else were to invade (or to even threaten to do so), presumably large numbers of citizens would be conscripted, trained, and armed. And that's a rather different scenario than "I was sitting on my porch sipping sweet tea and all of sudden four Russian soldiers showed up." The former argues for standing your ground, while the latter most certainly argues for getting the hell out of Dodge.

Ultimately, the point is that most Americans do not think the country has a more militarily powerful neighbor—one with whom it has a difficult, historically fraught, and sometimes genocidal relationship—on its border (although Sarah Palin might not agree). So, Americans cannot possibly put themselves in the shoes of the Ukrainian people, and it's actually rather offensive and cavalier to ask them to try. Imagine if the poll question was: "Say you were enslaved. Would you go along with your bondage, or would you try to escape, taking the risk of being punished or executed?" That poll would not go over well. And turning the plight of the Ukrainians into an occasion for a little peacocking isn't a heck of a lot better.

And peacocking is what we are really seeing here, we presume. Nobody can plausibly know how they will react when faced with extreme danger until they are actually put into that situation. Speculating is meaningless, especially when the hypothetical is as ill-defined as this one is. For what it is worth, men were far more likely to stay than women (70% to 40%), the age group most likely to stay was 50-64-year-olds at 66% (because nothing is more efficacious than an entire army of AARP-eligible soldiers), and while 61% of Latinos would stay, only 38% of Black respondents would. That probably does say something, though it likely doesn't say what Fox thinks it says.

Plus, there were no follow-up questions. So, in this (presumably) Russian invasion, we know that 68% of Republicans would stay and fight, but we have no idea which side they would fight on. That alone renders the result useless. (Z)

Previous | Next

Back to the main page