Senate page     May 09

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Everyone's Going to Ukraine

As some readers will know, the play on which the movie Casablanca is based is Everybody Comes to Rick's. This was meant to help explain why everyone participating in World War II seemed to all end up in the same café.

We are reminded of this because everyone who's anyone these days seems to be paying an unannounced visit to Ukraine. We'll start with Jill Biden, who was there for part of the day on Sunday. That seems a strange way to celebrate Mother's Day, but what do we know? Biden met with Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska in a building that, appropriately enough, used to be a school. The last time a U.S. First Lady visited a war zone was back in 2008, when Laura Bush twice made secret trips to Afghanistan.

Also visiting Rick's Café Américain... er, Ukraine this weekend was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The PM made a surprise visit to the cities of Irpin and Kyiv, met with Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Zelenskyy, announced that Canada would be sending additional aid to Ukraine, and presided over the reopening of the Canadian embassy in Kyiv. "Having the Canadian flag fly over the streets of Kyiv once again is yet another testament to the incredible strength and solidarity of Canadians and Ukrainians," Trudeau declared.

And it wasn't just politicians who booked their tickets to Ukraine this weekend. Bono and The Edge, of the band U2, gave a surprise pop-up concert in a Kyiv subway tunnel. That is not a particularly common concert venue, but it probably has good acoustics, right? Undoubtedly more importantly, it also affords protection that was needed to keep the day from becoming a Sunday Bloody Sunday.

At this point, the Zelenskyys have received Jill Biden, Trudeau, U.K. PM Boris Johnson, Poland PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Republic PM Petr Fiala, Slovenia PM Janez Janša, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). And, of course, U2. It's a little surprising that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have both abstained thus far, but that surely must be due to security issues. As is clear from the descriptions above, these sorts of visits have to be kept a secret until they happen. Maybe it's just too hard to do that when presidential-level/vice-presidential-level security is involved. Or maybe it's too risky if the secret is blown. That's actually what happened with Trudeau; the apparently not-too-bright mayor of Irpin, Olexander Markushyn, put pictures of himself and Trudeau on social media, letting all the world know where the leader of Canada could be found.

Meanwhile, it is expected that there will be big news out of Russia today. May 9 is Victory Day in Russia, a major patriotic holiday that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Vladimir Putin could announce a new offensive, or could declare that he's officially annexed some portion of Ukraine, or he could even elevate this from a "special military operation" to a fully declared war. Since Moscow is 7 hours ahead of Washington, we should find out what he's got planned not long after this post goes live (which will happen at around 10:00 a.m. Moscow time). (Z)

What's Going On... in Ukraine, Part I: Most Recommended Sites

The Marvin Gaye song "What's Going On" is actually about the horrors of the Vietnam Era, both on the war front and the homefront, but we don't think he'd mind us borrowing it for this purpose. As readers will recall, reader B.J.L. in Ann Arbor asked for suggestions for where they might get good information about the Ukraine War. We got quite a few responses to that, and many of those respondents sent in multiple suggestions. So, organizing that into something useful was a bit of a task.

Now, however, we've taken care of business and imposed some order. And so, throughout this week, we'll share those suggestions. Today, we're going to cover the five sources that were most frequently recommended by readers. Without further ado:

  1. Daily Kos: There were two sites recommended by at least a dozen readers, and this was one of them. Those readers who endorsed the site generally noted that while the Daily Kos has an overall leftward lean, the site plays it straight on Ukraine, and that "Kos" (Markos Moulitsas) knows of what he speaks, as he is a veteran of the U.S. Army. Here, for example, is what reader E.L. in San Diego, CA, had to say:
    Unexpectedly, the best source I've found for news on the war in Ukraine is Daily Kos (DKos). I suppose most readers are familiar with this popular blogging site. The three main writers on the Ukrainian war are: Kos (that's Markos Moulitsas, the site's founder and a war veteran), Mark Sumner and Hunter.

    DKos is mainly dedicated to USA domestic political news and opinion. It leans heavily progressive, but it's not "extreme left" (examples: they strongly supported Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders). Many of DKos bloggers are well versed in military matters and history, and significantly contribute to the flow of information by posting their thoughts and linking to sources we do not see much in the MSM. (Of course, some bloggers' comments are uninformed and not smart, and can just be ignored.)

    It may be easy to dismiss DKos as not being a "news" organization. However, they have consistently been a couple of days ahead of the MSM in their reporting of this war. For example, when the MSM was still talking about the imminent fall of Kyiv to the Russians, DKos' analysts had concluded the Russians had already lost the battle for Kyiv. Subject matter addressed includes the importance of logistics, rivers, terrain, troop morale, war equipment, latest war maps, casualties, equipment losses, battle photos and videos, damage to civilian centers and population, etc.
  2. Institute for the Study of War: This is the other one that got mentioned at least a dozen times. Reader S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, explains that ISW is "a Washington think tank mainly populated by former U.S. military officers. From what I can tell, their politics run on the neocon side of things, which are expressed in various position papers they have on the site. However, their daily 'Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment' is strictly technical—but, like, readable—and focused purely on battlefield tactics and analysis. They also have periodic 'Ukraine Invasion Updates' that analyze political and information/propaganda approaches of the various actors. Takes about 5-10 minutes to read each day and is well worth it."

  3. Reddit: Reddit has threads for just about everything, and the one for the Ukraine War is apparently quite good. Reader B.J.T. in Herndon, VA, offered this endorsement: "Redditors provide content from Ukrainian Twitter feeds (translated, of course) as well as other E.U./U.S. government feeds. They include videos of battle including missile attacks, daily maps of where troop positions are, the daily Ukrainian report on Russian losses, protests by the Ukrainian people, and they track actions being taken by governments like sanctions and energy updates. Reddit even had the video of the likely Ukrainian attack on Belgorod before mainstream news picked it up. And in general, just do a search on Reddit for the Russian invasion and you will find several threads with content and commentary."

  4. Wikipedia: You wouldn't think that a source that people like to pooh-pooh would be all that useful, but crowdsourcing does have its benefits. Reader N.F. in Brussels, Belgium is definitely impressed: "I don't know who is updating these, but they sure are fast and comprehensive!"

  5. The Kyiv Independent: Among sources located within Ukraine itself, this one was far and away the one most often mentioned. We will have an entire post, later in the week, on Ukrainian sources, but this one appears to be the king of the hill in that category.

Tomorrow will be sources whose focus is aggregating Ukraine content. (Z)

Six Republican Responses to the Sinking of Roe

This weekend, just about every prominent Republican in the land had an opportunity to weigh in on the news that the Supreme Court is about to overturn Roe and Casey. Some of them were on the Sunday news shows, others wrote op-eds, and still others held cult meetings... er, rallies. The responses are all over the place; we thought we'd run down the various themes that are emerging, with a prominent example of each:

We're less than a week from the Politico bombshell, and so it's still impossible to know what course things will take. However, this rundown suggests two things, at least at this moment in time: (1) Republicans don't feel confident they have a winner here, at least not outside of deep red states and (2) that famous GOP message discipline has yet to kick in. Maybe, with something like this, it cannot and will not kick in. (Z)

More Primaries This Week

We are officially in the thick of primary season. Other than May 31, which is right after the Memorial Day holiday, each Tuesday through the end of June will feature at least two states holding their primary elections. Then, July will be a month off, and the primaries will resume in August, on every Tuesday in that month except the last one, plus one Thursday (Tennessee on Aug. 4) and one Saturday (Hawaii on Aug. 13). It would seem those two states did not get the memo as to when American elections are held.

Up this week are Nebraska and West Virginia. There is, to be frank, a rather significant shortage of drama and intrigue in these contests. As we have written several times, the contest that all eyes will be on is the Republican primary for governor of Nebraska. Donald Trump, for reasons understood only to him, has gone all-in on Charles Herbster. Herbster never played football, not even a single down, so it's not that. It must be because in a businessman with no political experience, but with a long list of sexual assault accusations, Trump sees a kindred spirit. Herbster's competition: state Sen. Brett Lindstrom and pig farmer Jim Pillen.

There hasn't been a lot of polling of the race, since someone has to pay for polls, and Nebraska is not overly endowed with well-heeled media outlets. Here are the seven polls that have been conducted since Jan. 1:

Pollster Dates Margin Herbster Lindstrom Pillen Undecided
WPA Intelligence April 30-May 2, 2022 4.4% 26% 16% 31% 19%
WPA Intelligence April 26-28, 2022 4.4% 23% 20% 24% 24%
Data Targeting April 19-20, 2022 4.9% 26% 28% 24% 16%
3D Strategic Research April 10-12, 2022 4.4% 23% 27% 27% 12%
KAConsulting LLC March 8-10, 2022 4.0% 27% 17% 18% 35%
3D Strategic Research March 7-9, 2022 4.4% 30% 20% 23% 18%
Data Targeting February 8-11, 2022 2.9% 27% 21% 26% -

The news that Herbster had been accused by eight different women of groping them broke on April 14. As you can see, he led consistently in polling before that, and he's consistently trailed since. However, that observation comes with several caveats: (1) The margins between candidates are nearly all within the margin of error, (2) these pollsters are all pretty mediocre, (3) the two WPA Intelligence polls that look best for Pillen and worst for the other two candidates were both commissioned by the Pillen campaign, and (4) the undecided voters will be decisive and nobody, apparently not even them, knows what they will do. So, any of the three Republicans could come out on top. Nebraska does not require a winning candidate to collect a majority of the vote, so whoever wins a plurality gets the nomination. That person will almost certainly face off against state Sen. Carol Blood (D), a moderate who has a history of eking out close victories over Republican opponents. Note that the Nebraska legislature is unicameral, and so all state legislators are known as "senator."

Beyond the Nebraska gubernatorial race, pickings are pretty slim for politics-watchers tomorrow. Nebraska has three U.S. House seats, and West Virginia now has two thanks to reapportionment. The staff mathematician tells us that is a total of five, and we think he might actually be right about that. Three of those five are ruby-red and have Republican incumbents who will win on Tuesday and then will win again in November. A fourth, WV-02, is also ruby-red, but has two incumbents running due to the state's having lost a seat. Rep. Alex Mooney (R) is very Trumpy and Rep. David McKinley (R) is much less so, which makes that primary a slight referendum on the former president, who did endorse Mooney, but did not do any campaigning for him.

The fifth district up tomorrow is NE-02, which is centered on Omaha, and is swingy (R+1). This one also has a Republican incumbent running, namely Rep. Don Bacon (R). The two Democrats who would like the chance to see if they can fry Bacon in November are Alisha Shelton, who is Black, progressive, and a perennial candidate, and state Sen. Tony Vargas, who is Latino, moderate, and whose legislative district covers part of NE-02. Either of them will be an underdog to Bacon, though nowhere near as big an underdog as the Democrats running in the four other districts on the ballot Tuesday. Of course, an 80-to-1 shot just won the Kentucky Derby, so you never know. (Z)

Filipinos Head to the Polls

Today, the Philippines will elect a new president. Indeed, polls are open as you read this (assuming you read within a few hours of the post going live). As a reminder, here is what we wrote about the election back in January:

Rodrigo Duterte is a right-wing populist with authoritarian impulses who has encouraged violence against his enemies, has been criticized for mismanaging the pandemic, and who caused a minor scandal when he became the first presidential candidate in generations to refuse to disclose his assets. That seems familiar, though we're struggling to put our finger on who else might match that description. In any case, Duterte is term-limited, and it looks like there will be about a dozen candidates vying to replace him. One of those may be the most famous Filipino in the world, namely boxer Manny Pacquiao, who currently serves in the Senate of the Philippines.

However, as much as Filipinos might like boxing, they apparently like political dynasties even more. Polls say the overwhelming favorite is Bongbong Marcos, son of two former leaders of the Philippines, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Bongbong is consistently polling in the 50s, nobody else is above 15%. The vice president is elected separately, and the leader in that race is... Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of Rodrigo.

We don't have a lot to add beyond that. Fortunately, we have a reader who lives in the Philippines and is dialed in to the nation's politics. And one thing you learn in academia is when to defer to those with superior expertise. And so, we are going to yield the floor to J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines (who is an American citizen) and R.C. (who is J.C.'s spouse, and is a citizen of the Philippines):

We're writing this the night before the voting, and basically—the son of a dictator is going to win. Not just win—but win by a lot. "Bongbong" Marcos, Ferdinand's son (and whose real name is the same as Sr.), has over 50% in all recent polls since campaigning was legally allowed to begin (save one, where he polled only 49.6%). This is in an election with 10 viable candidates. Leni Robredo, the current VP (in a system where the VP and President can be from different parties), is second and polling at 22%, from a high of 25%. In this first-past-the-post non-electoral system, no presidential candidate has ever won an outright majority since Marcos, and one of his elections was famously contested as fraudulent. So in the words of the (U.S.) President, this is rather a BFD. Basically, the son of the former dictator is going to be the President here in a few days. And the question is: Why?

I know your expertise is American elections, so I thought you might find this post from the blog "Why Nations Fail" helpful. (A number of posts before and after the link are great too.) Basically, I think the answer to the question is found by noting that Marcos' running mate is a Duterte—the daughter of the current President, a guy who, shall we carefully say, has some noted similarities to Dictator Marcos. President Duterte is term-limited to one term, but his daughter is free to do as she/he likes. As the linked site makes clear, the Philippines uniquely just loves dynasties. Even if someone happens to get elected who is not part of a dynasty, their relatives are then much more likely to be elected, starting a new dynasty. If they are elected to a higher office they have no problem moving to a lower office as needed. Their relatives will often then take that higher office—President Duterte earlier flirted with the idea of running for VP with his daughter as president. There are a very few families in the Philippines who fill most of the higher government offices at the federal and provincial levels. Most of them were from powerful Chinese-Filipino families, who were given a leg up during the American occupation when the Americans expropriated church lands, selling it to those who could afford it. The US colonial government also insisted that only select (wealthy) Filipinos could run for office in the nascent democracy—thus beginning a dynasty system.

But how is this possible, after all the evils that were done under Dictator Marcos? Especially considering that: (1) Bongbong worked in his father's administration, (2) Bongbong encouraged his father to murder hundreds of thousands of people at Camp Crame during the People Power Revolution, (3) Bongbong personally benefited from the $10 billion U.S. stolen from the Filipino people, (4) Bongbong was convicted of tax evasion, and (5) Bongbong has not only never apologized for what his father and family did, but has outright denied it—repeatedly and recently—so much so that there is even a Wikipedia article just on the historical revisionism of the Marcos family. How is it possible that so many would still be supporting Bongbong?

Yeah, it's a mystery to us too. Based on what we hear from some friends and family and reading news reports, it seems to be a combination of the following: If that all doesn't seem like enough to explain it—we agree.

It should be an ... interesting next 6 years.

Thanks for the benefit of your expertise, J.C. and R.C.!

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