Senate page     May 02

Senate map
Previous | Next

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

Nancy Pelosi Visits Kyiv

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) paid a surprise and secret visit to Kyiv this weekend, where she met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Except for a small number of insiders, no one knew she was going there until she was safely back in Poland after the visit. She told Zelenskyy: "Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done." Since Kyiv is in the middle of a war zone, it was a dangerous trip for Pelosi, and so Zelenskyy gave her a medal for bravery.

Pelosi and Zelenskyy in Kyiv, they both look
tired as Pelosi gets her medal

Pelosi was accompanied by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA). Meeks is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Schiff is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, so they were clearly appropriate people to take along. McGovern is chairman of the Rules Committee, but since there are no rules in Ukraine now, it is not clear what he was there for. Pelosi's group was the first official congressional delegation to visit since the war started. That makes Pelosi the highest-ranking official to visit the war-torn country, as neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris has visited.

Pelosi's visit comes just days after Biden asked Congress for another $33 billion in weapons for Ukraine. Now when the bill comes to the House, Pelosi will be able to tell the members firsthand what it is like over there. One thing she can report back is that Ukraine needs fuel badly. Russian attacks on fuel depots and refineries have led to a gasoline shortage, with miles-long lines at gas stations. Some people have waited for over an hour to buy the maximum of 10 liters (about 3 gallons).

But shortages aren't limited to Ukrainian gas stations. Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that food prices are up 34% since a year ago due to the Russian invasion, because Ukraine used to supply a huge amount of grain to Africa and the Middle East and that has been upended by the war. The resulting grain shortages have driven up food prices in those regions with disastrous consequences for poor people there. (V)

Biden Kills It at White House Correspondents' Dinner

Donald Trump did not see fit to attend the two White House Correspondents' Dinners that took place during his presidency because he cannot handle being the butt of jokes, even a little bit. Joe Biden is not as thin-skinned, and so he showed up to this weekend's event with bells on, and gave what may be the most effective speech of his presidency. Among last night's presidential zingers:

Biden did end on a serious note, acknowledging the importance of a free press, commending those in attendance for their coverage of Ukraine in particular, and also paying tribute to several folks, including Madeleine Albright.

The President was followed by the "headliner" (a dubious assertion when the President of the United States is on the stage). Anyhow, this year it was The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, who also uncorked a few winners. Among them:

Biden seemed to appreciate the jokes made at his expense. Maybe he was faking it, but he seems like the type to be able to take some ribbing. Further, when the targets of jokes are actually angry, they generally aren't very good at hiding it. Certainly, everyone knew what was on Trump's mind when he was roasted by Barack Obama in 2011. Similarly, George W. Bush didn't have much of a poker face when he was shredded by Stephen Colbert in 2006.

The White House Correspondents' Dinner presents a potentially valuable opportunity, at least for most presidents. First, by making and taking a few jokes, a president can humanize themself and make themself a bit more accessible. Second, because the humor provides plausible deniability, a president can say things that would be problematic if said directly. Like, could Biden get away with calling the Trump presidency a "plague" if the remark was not (allegedly) tongue-in-cheek?

Trump is actually the rare president who had little to gain from attending. Not only is he preternaturally unable to take a joke, he's also completely unable to make one. Though he's been an entertainer, in various ways, for four decades, he's never, ever, ever been funny. Not when he was on Howard Stern, not when he was on Letterman, not when he was on The Apprentice. Even the best writers in the world couldn't have come up with a speech for him to deliver that would have actually generated laughs. Meanwhile, The Donald has no filter, so he hardly needed the benefit of a once-per-year occasion where a president can get away with pushing the limits. In short, there was no real upside to his showing up to the dinner, taking withering fire from every other speaker, and giving the networks extensive footage of him glowering.

Biden's a different fellow, however, and the event suits him well, just as it did Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan, among others. We'll see how wide a circulation the President's performance gets, as it's kinda inside baseball, but he might actually have done himself a little good this weekend. (Z)

The Primaries Are Starting in Earnest

Texas held its primary back on March 1, but since there hasn't been any primary action. Now things are finally really getting going. Here is the schedule for May:

State Primary Runoff
Indiana May 3  
Ohio May 3  
Nebraska May 10  
West Virginia May 10  
Kentucky May 17  
Oregon May 17  
Pennsylvania May 17  
Idaho May 17  
North Carolina May 17 Jul 26
Alabama May 24  
Arkansas May 24  
Georgia May 24  
Texas (Mar 1) May 24

Most of the primaries aren't terribly exciting (e.g., incumbents running in heavily gerrymandered districts), but here are 17 races that are worth watching.

There you have it. And that's only for May. We still have June, with 18 states holding primaries, possibly some postponed to July, 14 in August, and at least 4 in September. (V)

Biden May Wipe Out Some Student Debt

Joe Biden has been agonizing about what to do about student debt for ages. On the one hand, young people are marginal voters and doing something concrete for them—like eliminating some student debt—might get him and the Democrats some love and votes. On the other hand, people with all kinds of other debt might get furious with him for helping former students but not people who didn't go to college. There is also an issue of equity, since people who borrowed money to go to medical school or law school may be doing quite well now, thank you very much, and don't need government help.

It is beginning to look like Biden is getting closer to making a decision on this. The basic idea would be to limit relief to people earning less than some cutoff. One number being bandied about is $125,000 (or maybe $150,000) for single individuals and $250,000 (or maybe $300,000) for couples. Operationally, this is straightforward: If your adjusted gross income last year was under the cutoff, you get relief, otherwise not. Or possibly there could be two cutoffs. If you are below the lower one, you get full relief. If you are above the upper one, you get no relief. If you are in between, the relief is proportional to where you are in the range. If there is a single hard cutoff, then people who made, say, $124,999 last year get their debt canceled and people who made $125,000 don't, which is awkward.

Biden has already said that the $50,000 of relief that Bernie Sanders and other progressives are asking for is not going to happen. The amount of debt canceled is more likely to be around $10,000 or somewhat more, but nowhere near $50,000.

Administration officials have also said that forgiveness is going to be only for former students who took out loans for an undergraduate degree. People who took out loans for medical school, law school, and other graduate studies won't get any forgiveness for those loans, only for any undergraduate loans they might have, if they otherwise qualify.

In any event, it seems likely that something will happen on this front in 2-3 weeks. It is absolutely certain that it will become politicized within a nanosecond of it being announced, with nearly all Democrats supporting it and nearly all Republicans opposing it. This is because a large part of the Democratic base went to college and some of them have student loans. In contrast, a large part of the Republican base didn't go to college and doesn't have student loans. From Biden's point of view, it is probably worth doing because it might make marginal, but pro-Democratic, voters happy and get them to vote. The noncollege voters who will hate this probably vote Republican anyway. For him, the question is: Are there many Democratic voters who will be angered enough by his canceling some student debt to switch to the red team? And if so, are there more of them than grateful former (and current) students who will vote on account of this and wouldn't have otherwise? (V)

What Will Twitter Contain If Musk Stops Censorship?

It now appears that the world's richest man, Elon Musk, will buy Twitter and take it private so he alone will control how it works and who can use it and what they can say there. The deal could still fall through, but at this point it seems likely to succeed.

Musk has said that he will make the algorithms open source and stop bots. He didn't say how he would do this because he doesn't know. In fact, there is some contradiction here. If the inner workings of Twitter are made public, it will be easier for botmasters in the St. Petersburg troll farm and elsewhere to figure out how to evade scrutiny. For example, if it becomes known that sending out, say, 12 tweets in a day gets you labeled as a bot, they will just cut back to 11.

One thing Musk could do is require everyone using Twitter to provide proof of his or her real identity, but as was pointed out in the mailbag yesterday, that could lead to harassment or worse. We doubt that he will do that since many users would probably leave Twitter if he did.

One thing he might do, however, is make providing proof of identity optional. People who did so would be labeled as "verified humans" and might get some advantages. Or people who didn't might get some disadvantages (e.g., a maximum number of tweets per day/week/month).

But a bigger issue lies in content moderation. Musk has said if it is legal, you will be allowed to put it on Twitter. That opens a huge can of worms because currently Twitter bans many things that are legal. Here are a few areas where problems are sure to arise if Musk allows all content that is technically legal.

The list goes on and on and you can count on people pushing the envelope to see what they can get away with. If Musk really means what he is saying and doesn't start censoring legal content, Twitter will quickly become a cesspool, advertisers and users will leave, and Twitter will shrink to a hard core of libertarians who believe "anything goes." Or he will start censoring it again, only eliminating content he doesn't happen to like.

Then there is the matter of what is legal. It depends on the jurisdiction. There are things that are legal in the U.S. that are not legal in France (e.g., selling Nazi memorabilia) or Saudi Arabia (e.g., saying nasty things about Mohammed). Twitter operates worldwide. Having 200 or so sets of rules, one per country, will be unmanageable. Twitter adopted its current rules after a lot of trial and error and experience with what happens when you allow anyone to post anything. (V)

A Handful of Billionaires Control the News

Elon Musk isn't the only problem. Technology has given a very small number of billionaires control over almost all the news. Many people get most (or all) of their news from social media. Soon they can choose if they want that to be the news as billionaire Elon Musk sees it or as billionaire Mark Zuckerberg sees it. Or if you are one of those old-timers who prefers newspapers for news, you can read The Washington Post and get the news as billionaire Jeff Bezos sees it. Or you could read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Post and get the news as billionaire Rupert Murdoch sees it. William Randolph Hearst had nothing on these guys.

Jon Schweppe, policy director at conservative think tank American Principles Project, put it this way: "I don't think it's a great commentary on the state of affairs that we are relying on a billionaire oligarch to save free speech online." Activists on the left are even less enthusiastic about giving any individual so much power over the flow of information, and certainly not white men who live in bubbles of limitless luxury. Academics are not wild about giving so much power to so few (unelected) people. Robert McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois, said: "Even if Elon Musk was the smartest person on earth, had the best heart, had been touched by God, I wouldn't want him to have that much power. It is antithetical to democratic political theory."

These people aren't alone. A Pew poll showed that 62% of Americans think social media companies (and by implication, the billionaires that control them) have too much say over what people see as news.

Some people may shrug and say nothing can be done about the situation. That's not true. The European Union is showing what can be done. The Digital Services Act was just approved. Among other things, it puts many obligations on social media (and other) platforms. For example, if someone posts something that is illegal and the company is informed about this and does not take it down, it becomes liable for the content and can be sued. This is not true in the U.S. Platforms also have to disclose to regulators how their algorithms work. There are also rules about how platforms moderate content, how they use algorithmic processes, and what can be said in advertising. In addition, there are many rules about transparency. Finally, users of online services get more rights. The Act has teeth for enforcement. Companies can be fined up to 6% of their revenues for violation and in extreme cases, can be banned from operating in Europe altogether. (V)

Mayorkas Is Working on His Defense Already

Last Friday, we had an item on how the Republicans have already secretly drawn up articles of impeachment for Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. They say he looks the other way when Bad People come over the border. That's garbage, of course. What they mean is they don't like Joe Biden's immigration policies. Mayorkas is just the scapegoat.

He must read our site since yesterday he was already preparing his defense. He appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and addressed would-be immigrants with the message: "Do not come." This way, when the Republican prosecutors accuse him of letting dirty, filthy, disease-ridden terrorists in, he can say: "On April 30, on national television, I clearly told the would-be immigrants not to come. You should get Dana Bash to come here to verify that." He also clearly stated that the border is not open to head off accusations that he did nothing about the "open border." (V)

Tucker Carlson's Audience Just Loves White Nationalism

On Saturday, The New York Times published a three-part story on Tucker Carlson. After the disgraced Bill O'Reilly was kicked out of Fox News' highly desirable 8 p.m. time slot, Rupert Murdoch chose Tucker Carlson, a millionaire heir to the Swanson TV dinner fortune (via his father's wife, Patricia Swanson), to take it over. Carlson quickly decided that he couldn't compete with Sean Hannity in the "who loves Trump the most" sweepstakes, and also didn't want to hug The Donald so tightly that he would have to explain away every stupid thing Trump did every night. So, Carlson picked a different theme to pitch: white nationalism. He understood the key reason some white people adored Trump: their fear of the country's changing ethnic composition. He made this the centerpiece of his show, which is now the most highly rated one on cable TV.

Carlson's gut feeling that Trumpism without Trump would be a winner was right, but now he and Fox are much more scientific (who says Fox doesn't believe in science?). They do minute-by-minute ratings analysis, which is expensive but gives them valuable data. What they discovered is that stories about the white nationalist Great Replacement Theory and warnings about demographic change are the biggest winners with the viewing audience. So he talks about these things more and more since that's what the viewers love most.

Carlson's style also changed as this sank in. He used to open the show with a few questions. Now it is a full-blown filibuster, with the audience addressed as "you" and today's boogeyman referred to as "they." He keeps pushing the envelope on immigration and racism and keeps getting rewarded for it in terms of higher ratings. That's his (not-so) secret formula and it keeps on working.

Carlson has already said that he won't read a word of the Times' articles and he believes that the scrutiny will only make his fans more rabid. (V)

Previous | Next

Back to the main page