Well, that was certainly much ado about nothing. As we noted yesterday, there was much speculation that Vladimir Putin would use the occasion of Victory Day, a major Russian patriotic holiday, to drop a metaphorical bombshell related to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Or maybe a real one. But he didn't. He gave a standard, boring patriotic speech of the sort that a million politicians have given a million times before, and that was pretty much it.
Victory Day commemorates the Russians' role in defeating Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and so the theme of the speech was that the fighting being done now is a continuation of the work done by "our fathers" during World War II. (Z), of course, is a Civil War historian, and will observe that you can't even imagine how many politicians gave that exact same speech a couple of generations removed from the 1860s. To give one example, here is Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering a speech very much like Putin's on the eve of World War II.
Not only did Putin fail to announce any new offensives, or to claim any major victories, or to try and annex any new territory, he didn't even mention Ukraine by name in his speech. That is how vague and platitude-reliant the Russian president was. He could also have used the opportunity to take a few potshots at the United States, since everyone now knows that the U.S. is helping Ukraine to target and kill Russian generals. But Putin didn't even do that.
Putin's a pretty cagey fellow and, to be honest, it would be a little stupid to make any sort of big move or big announcement exactly when everyone is expecting it. So, possibly he's behaving like a snake lying in wait, and he'll strike when everyone has relaxed a bit. On the other hand, he pretty obviously timed the commencement of hostilities so that he might declare victory (again) on Victory Day. That clearly did not happen and, until there is evidence otherwise, the speech has to be taken as a sign that things are not going well for the Russians, and that Putin is operating from a position of such weakness that he can't even conjure up an imaginary accomplishment to crow about. (Z)
And now, some more reader-recommended sources for information about what's going on in Ukraine. The four remaining entries will emphasize specific types of sources. We recognize that some of the sources we already shared in the first post in the series could also fit in one of these thematic posts. However, we separated yesterday's recommendations out as, in effect, the crème de la crème. Anyhow, here's the next set, which covers folks who are trying to collect information from many sources in one place:
Tomorrow will be sources from within Ukraine. (Z)
As we noted yesterday, and as we note again below, Republicans are finding a lot of things to talk about when it comes to the leaked Supreme Court decision, except... the content of the decision itself. We are watching very closely for clues as to what the politicians really think when it comes to their political prospects in the midterms, and it's likely instructive that folks like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are expending lots and lots of oxygen this week talking about how wrong it is that liberals/Democrats/socialists/Antifa/'Murica haters are protesting in front of some of the justices' houses. Based on their rhetoric, and how red their faces are getting, this is an offense apparently many orders of magnitude worse than, say, storming the U.S. Capitol.
Last week, of course, the angry rhetoric from the right was aimed at the leaker. However, at least among the GOP pooh-bahs, and their most highly placed friends in the media, that talk has almost completely stopped. Maybe the judge-house protests are more aggravating. Or maybe blasting the leaker isn't getting a rise out of the base. Or, just maybe, folks on the right are beginning to suspect that the leaker is one of their own, and the McConnells and Cruzes of the world don't want to say anything about, say, giving the leaker the electric chair that could come back to haunt them.
In our initial items on the matter, we suggested it was certainly possible the leak came from the right, including from Chief Justice John Roberts himself, but that we thought someone on the left was more likely. These days, that opinion is definitely in the minority. NPR's legal correspondent Nina Totenberg, who is pretty dialed in, says that the "leading theory" among insiders is that it was a conservative clerk. Former senator Al Franken, who is also pretty dialed in, is confident it was a conservative, and speculates it might well be Samuel Alito.
These folks have good reason for thinking that the leak is coming from the right, as there have been further revelations since the original leak. Most obviously, The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Roberts is definitely in the minority, and that the 5 justices in the majority are holding firm. The Post claims that its reporting is based on not one, not two, but three conservative sources with access to insider information from the Court. Maybe one of those three was the leaker, but even if they weren't, it's clear that the vaunted secrecy of the court is not so vaunted as it might seem, and also that folks on the right apparently have much interest in controlling the narrative and, it would appear, using the media to maintain discipline among the five conservative justices.
Last week, Roberts said that he would bring the full weight of his office to bear in seeking to identify the leaker. And maybe he meant it, and maybe the person will be outed. However, Politico's executive editor Dafna Linzer said nobody working for the Court or for federal law enforcement has contacted her, as yet. That seems a pretty obvious first step, no? And one that should take, what, an hour to execute?
We'll also point out one other thing. In the 1970s, anyone and everyone wanted to know the identity of Deep Throat. And, unlike the Supreme Court Leaker, he actually broke the law. And yet, despite much effort, nobody figured out who he was until he outed himself 30-plus years later. So, if Roberts eventually throws up his hands and says "couldn't find them!" it could be because it just couldn't be done. Or it could be because Roberts didn't try very hard. We may never know. (Z)
It's been a week since the draft of Samuel Alito's majority opinion in Dobbs leaked. And in politics, the early bird gets the worm. So, it is no surprise that some officeholders who are up in November, and who face primaries in the next month or two, are already making their moves.
Indeed, if you think about it, it should be relatively obvious what kind of officeholder is going to have the clearest plan of action here. Once abortion becomes a state-level issue, then governors are going to be front and center. But it may take purple-state governors a little while to triangulate and to see how far they want to go with this. Meanwhile, most red-state governors have already signed abortion restrictions into law, so there isn't much for them to do at the moment. Blue-state governors, by contrast, will be expected to take strong steps to make sure that abortion is protected in their states and, perhaps more noticeably, that opportunities are created for out-of-state women who want assistance.
And so it is that the big, blue-state governors have already claimed the initiative. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) had a pretty bad month in April, between the disaster with the congressional maps, and her lieutenant governor being indicted, and much carping about the corporate welfare she arranged for the Buffalo Bills in an effort to help them win a Super Bowl before the century is out. But now, the Supreme Court has changed the narrative. Hochul has noticed that not only is this an issue that New Yorkers care about, but also that she's the only woman and the only mother in the Democratic primary, which gives her significant credibility. So, she's now running on a loudly pro-choice platform, and she cut a pair of ads on the subject, including this one, with dizzying speed:
It's only 7 seconds, but what do you want with just 24 hours' turnaround? Undoubtedly, longer ads will follow.
Meanwhile, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) is a little bit worried about his job, and a lot worried about some of his fellow Democrats, so he's putting on a full-court press. He's already marched in a pro-choice protest, is monitoring Planned Parenthood clinics—particularly those close to the state border—to make sure they are properly funded and staffed, has held preliminary discussions with other blue-state governors to form some sort of abortion-provision consortium, and has made appearances with just about any outlet who will have him. "In Illinois we have a heated gubernatorial race that I'm running in, a bunch of state legislators are in tough races," Pritzker said while on MSNBC, "and we want to make sure we elect a pro-choice majority that we need."
And then there is Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), who is surely the safest of the three governors named here, but who is not interested in leaving things to chance. Newsom blasted last week's news, describing the draft decision as "an appalling attack" on abortion rights and said he will work to make California a "sanctuary" for those seeking the procedure. The Governor also has a commercial his team put together:
We are taking the fight to anti-choice Republicans.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 4, 2022
This will be the defining issue of the 2022 election.
I won't sit back. pic.twitter.com/FYmO3QuSjn
It took a few more days than Hochul's to be unveiled, but it's full-length (30 seconds) and is already airing in heavy rotation on television across the state.
Yesterday, we had an item about prominent Republicans who can't quite figure out what to say about the Alito draft, though few of them are taking victory laps. And today, we have Democrats who are treating this as, to use Newsom's words, "the defining issue of the 2022 election." The early returns thus suggest we were right in guessing that this news will be a boon for Democrats, and an anchor around the neck of Republicans, heading into the midterms. (Z)
The Biden administration yesterday made public an initiative that has apparently been in the works for months. In partnership with the nation's largest Internet service providers, the government will facilitate access to high-speed Internet for 48 million American households.
In an appearance at the White House Rose Garden, Biden framed this as an effort to help poorer families while also fighting inflation:
The bottom line is this—my top priority is fighting inflation and lowering prices for families on things they need. Today's announcement is gonna give millions of families... a little more breathing room to help them pay their bills. We worked with Democrats and Republicans, with businesses and nonprofits, to make this happen, and we're going to keep working to fight inflation and lower cost of all American families, and a lot of other things as well.
Suggesting this will combat inflation may be going a bit far, but certainly access to high-speed Internet is a necessity in the 21st century, and will do some families a lot of good. Well, it will do them good the 70% of the time, on average, that it's not used for downloading... certain kinds of content. Although this program was only officially announced yesterday, 11.5 million households signed up in the pre-launch period.
Something like this is not going to make a big splash, and it certainly didn't get a lot of headlines yesterday. However, it's the sort of thing that can be accomplished without the House of Obstruction, a.k.a. the U.S. Senate, and when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of voters, every little bit helps. Note also that "below the radar" and "accomplished by knowing exactly which strings to pull" is exactly Biden's style. (Z)
Although today's primaries will be somewhat low on drama, next Tuesday should make up for that, since there are five states taking their turn, and at least four of them (Idaho, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) have races of interest. Sorry, Kentucky, but renominating a bunch of Republican incumbents isn't going to get you many headlines.
The two biggest races next week are both Senate contests and are both in Pennsylvania. On the Democratic side, we are all-but-certain to see the nomination of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. The latest poll, conducted from Apr. 20 to May 1 by Franklin & Marshall College, has him with 52% support. Not only is that close to quadruple the support of Rep. Conor Lamb (14%), it means that Lamb could somehow attract all the undecideds (22%), and all the Malcolm Kenyatta voters (4%), and all the voters backing other candidates (6%), and it still wouldn't be enough. But although the drama level is likely to be low, unless Fetterman is caught on his motorcycle—er, in his Jeep—with a goat, there will be much attention paid to that result since many Democrats see big things in the Lieutenant Governor's future.
By constrast, the race on the Republican side of the contest is neck-and-neck. Yes, Donald Trump-backed TV quack Mehmet Oz has consistently led in polls for the last month. However, that lead is consistently small and is within the margin of error. For example, the Trafalgar Group released their latest yesterday, and it had Oz at 25%, Kathy Barnette at 23%, and David McCormick at 22%, with 15% of voters undecided and a margin of error of 3.0%. So, it's anyone's race.
Still, McCormick is nervous, as well he should be. And so, he and his wife have been making increasingly frequent use of dog whistles in the past couple of weeks. As most people know, Oz is of Turkish descent. Fewer know that he served in the Turkish military and he still holds Turkish citizenship. And so, McCormick is claiming that if Oz is elected to the Senate, he "could pose significant security risks." McCormick has also accused Oz of having "dual loyalties." However, McCormick campaign spokespeople have repeatedly insisted (bragged?) that they are not making an issue out of Oz's Muslim faith.
Yeah, whatever. "Dual loyalties" is the great-grandfather of all dog whistles, dating back to at least the 19th century. It has historically been used to denigrate Jews, but the core message is: "This person is not a Christian, is not one of us, and might betray us." So, for McCormick's people to claim that they haven't brought up Oz's religion is incredibly disingenuous. McCormick has degrees from the U.S. Military Academy (B.S.) and Princeton (M.A. and Ph.D.), and so either the education being proffered at those institutions isn't as good as we thought, or else he's lying when he insists he is as pure and innocent as the driven snow. Readers can decide for themselves which it is.
Note also that McCormick isn't the only Republican foe of Oz to resort to this sort of language. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gab founder Andrew Torba have questioned Oz's "loyalty," with the latter going so far as to refer to Oz as a "globalist." This is the other great-grandfather of all dog whistles, has also historically been used to denigrate Jews, and also means "This person is not one of us, and might betray us." Torba has also attacked Trump for endorsing Oz, wondering if the former president has been "compromised."
When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) decided, a few years back, that his Canadian citizenship might be a problem, he promptly renounced it. But Oz's explanation for retaining his Turkish citizenship, which we have no reason to doubt, is that keeping that citizenship (and passport) makes it easier for him to return to Turkey to visit his ailing mother. So, if Oz renounces now, like Cruz did, it will look like Oz is throwing his sick mother under the bus. Oz does say he will renounce if elected, which is probably the best middle path available for him, at least politically.
In any event, this is exactly the kind of thing that we are referring to when we write that a bitter primary can leave a candidate badly damaged for the general. Assuming Oz wins, and our guess is that he will, McCormick will have made sure that every Pennsylvania Republican is reminded that the doctor is a Turkish citizen and a Muslim. And in the modern Republican Party, there are certainly some voters for whom that is a problem. (Z)
In the Philippines, elections are not "called" until every vote has been counted. And so, everyone is writing this story using future tense. Nonetheless, it is quite clear that the polls had the right of it, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., popularly known as "Bongbong," has secured a massive victory in the Filipino presidential election. Dad died in 1989, but wherever he is, the victory surely warms his heart. Although we suspect he's already pretty warm, if you take our meaning.
Finding exact numbers is none too easy, but here are the returns with 97.4% of the vote in:
|Manny Pacman Pacquiao||3,599,071||6.9%|
|Isko Moreno Domagoso||1,872,955||3.5%|
|Leody de Guzman||91,499||0.2%|
|Jose Montemayor Jr.||59,537||0.1%|
Candidates' names are rendered as they appeared on the ballot. As you can see, Marcos won an outright majority, something no presidential candidate has done in the Philippines since Ferdinand Sr. pulled it off in 1981. In that election, Senior claimed 88.0% of the vote, a tally that just screams "totally legitimate, no funny business here."
Although Junior couldn't quite match Senior, he still left #2 Leni Robredo in the dust. There were some who thought #3 Manny Pacquiao might have a puncher's chance, due to his celebrity, but not so much. The new vice president of the Philippines will be Sara Duterte, daughter of current president Rodrigo Duterte. She actually did a bit better than Bongbong did, collecting 31,280,191 votes (59.1%). In theory, the younger Marcos and the younger Duterte will each serve 6-year terms, but given that dictatorial instincts are in their blood, we'll see what happens. We hope to have a follow-up from our correspondents in the Philippines later this week. (Z)