Given that yesterday was a holiday, there wasn't much news. The biggest story, from a politics standpoint, was that Elon Musk staged another one of his not-so-scientific polls and "learned" that users would like all suspended Twitter users to regain access to the platform. Their wish is apparently his command, and so he announced that, with the exception of spammers and people convicted of crimes, amnesty will be granted to all suspended Twitter users.
What this means is that a bunch of really upstanding Americans, from David Duke to Roger Stone to Milo Yiannopoulos, will theoretically be returning to Twitter. Groups that monitor social media platforms have already noted an uptick in racism, antisemitism, sexism and other forms of bigotry on Twitter since Musk took over. Needless to say, welcoming back a bunch of Klansmen, Proud Boys, conspiracy theorists and Trump administration officials isn't going to help on that front.
It is at least possible that Musk is just playing around here. Maybe, after earning a bunch of headlines (admittedly, on a day when there isn't much competition), he'll announce he changed his mind. Alternatively, maybe the "amnesty" only lasts until the person tweets something problematic, and then they're banned again. We're not so sure what the point of that exercise would be, though; why let David Duke back on board for 6 hours until he shares yet another choice thought about Jews or people of color? And in case you are wondering, the tweet that bought him the banhammer the last time was one denying that the Holocaust ever happened.
Musk's overall plan for Twitter also remains an inscrutable mystery. Reinstating the whack jobs is not going to help assuage the concerns of skittish advertisers. It's also going to increase the risk that Twitter violates E.U. rules and gets itself blocked in those nations. Oh, and if he crosses enough lines, then Apple and Google might well remove Twitter from their app stores.
That said, let us give you the two best guesses we have at the moment. Guess #1 is that Musk recognized that Twitter wasn't making money under its old business model, and so he's going to make it an actual right-wing platform (as opposed to a wannabe right-wing platforms, like Gettr, Truth Social, and Parler). After all, Fox only attracts 10% of the nation's eyeballs (and virtually no eyeballs worldwide), and yet it makes good money.
Guess #2 is that Musk realized he blew it when he agreed to buy Twitter, and so he's going to run it into the ground, declare bankruptcy, and try to escape as much of his financial obligations as is possible. We are not privy to the precise details of how he financed the purchase, nor do we fully grasp the nuances and subtleties of bankruptcy law (and, unfortunately, the staff financial analyst got confused and is now stuck in Türkiye), but maybe taking a $10 or $15 billion hit when the platform fails is the cheapest way for him to escape this albatross. (Z)
A new study of COVID-19 mortality published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the U.S. ranked first in COVID deaths per capita among its peer nations. It also analyzed the COVID-19 deaths by state and concluded that if the 10 states with the worst vaccination records had matched the 10 best states, 122,000 deaths would have been avoided. If the whole country had matched the 10 most-vaccinated states, over 266,000 deaths would have been avoided.
The study compared the 10 most-vaccinated states to other advanced countries, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The all-cause mortality rate in these states was lower or equal to those of these countries. The all-cause mortality rate is a better indicator than official COVID-19 deaths because many COVID-19 deaths are labeled wrong. Thus, the U.S. was capable of avoiding COVID-19 deaths as well as any other country but ended up with the worst record in the end because so much of the country was less vaccinated than the best states.
Of course, the reason so many people avoided vaccination is that the Republican Party in general and Donald Trump in particular didn't urge people to get vaccinated. If Trump had said: "Get vaccinated right now and make sure you get the Trump Vaccine, the best vaccine there is," many more people would have gotten vaccinated. Trump could even have made a case that the Moderna vaccine was the "Trump vaccine" because Moderna got a billion dollars from his Operation Warpspeed program to develop a vaccine. Pfizer didn't take federal money to develop its vaccine. Since COVID-19 deaths were far greater in red counties than blue counties, it may well have been a major factor in some narrow Republican losses
Of course, Trump wasn't the only factor here. Anti-vax mentality has been floating around the Republican Party, in particular, for years because Republicans have a strong inclination to be anti-science. This is because once you start believing in science, you will probably start believing in evolution, which is the glue that holds all of modern biology together. And evolution says that the idea that the world was literally created in 7 days just as it is now, with no evolution, is just complete garbage. For many evangelical Republicans, such a conclusion is unacceptable, so they don't trust science. There are, of course, ways of interpreting the Bible that can resolve this, such as thinking of 7 "days" as something more like 7 eons or 7 discrete steps. But that means no longer reading the Bible in literal terms, which then complicates a bunch of other evangelical theology. (V)
We'll have many stories about 2024 Senate races in the next 2 years. Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia will be especially tough for the Democrats. Let's start with Ohio, where Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will be seeking reelection.
For starters, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) just lost a Senate race in Ohio to an ultra Trumper, J.D. Vance (R), who has no political experience and who ran a dreadful campaign. That's not an ideal situation for Brown. On the other hand, the Democrat who just lost, Tim Ryan, has never won a statewide race in Ohio. Brown has done that three times, all by decent margins:
And remember, beating an incumbent is always tough, especially one as well known as Brown. Also, Ohio is a working-class state and Brown is well known as a guy who does well with working-class voters. On the other hand, the northeastern part of Ohio, especially Mahoning County, has to be the base for any Democrat. Ryan lost Mahoning County. That signals that the Democratic hold on Youngstown is weakening, certainly not a good sign for Brown. One Ohio Democratic strategist, Irene Lin, was asked if Brown could survive now. She said: "I'm not sure."
Demographically, Ohio and Pennsylvania are very similar in terms of race and educational level. Democrats did just fine in Pennsylvania, so what's the difference? For one thing, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are huge sources of Democratic votes. By contrast, Ohio's largest city, Columbus, is only 60% the size of Philly and has nothing like the collar counties around that city, full of those much-desired college-educated suburban women.
One advantage Brown will have over Ryan is money. He is a lefty and can count on vast amounts of money flowing in from all over the country. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are sure to campaign for him big time and help him raise oodles of dough.
And the Democrats are not in full retreat in Ohio. They flipped a House seat in the Cincinnati area, held a Toledo-based district that Donald Trump won in 2020, and won the most competitive House race is the state, an open seat in Akron. That doesn't speak to "Democrats can't win in Ohio."
A lot hinges on who the Republican candidates is. People looking at the race include the outgoing Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the incoming Secretary of State Mark Kvamme, a venture capitalist, and Matt Dolan, co-owner of the Cleveland Guardians baseball team. Of course, if Donald Trump finds some ultra Trumper to run and gets him through the primary, that changes the picture, especially if that candidate doesn't live in Ohio but went to junior high school there 30 years ago. Maybe Mehmet Oz will be intersted. After all, he was born in Cleveland, so he's genuinely a native.
It's obviously early, but this will be one of the key races and a race to watch. (V)
New York State AG Letitia James (D) has filed a $250 million lawsuit against Donald Trump, his oldest children, and the Trump Organization. Most of the preliminary events are now done, so the judge, Arthur Engoron, has set a trial date and laid out the parameters for the trial. Engoron wants it to start on Oct. 2, 2023. Trump's attorney, Alina Habba, said: "My clients, they will be there. All of them."
Our first take is: Why does everything in the court system take so long? Both sides have been on this case for years. Surely they should have been preparing for the trial long, long ago. It isn't suddenly being sprung on them. But justice moves very slowly. Thomas Jefferson nailed it when he said: "Justice delayed is justice denied."
The judge said there will be live testimony. The AG's office wanted to just provide sworn statements, not have live witnesses. But if Trump takes the stand, anything could happen, since he is not very good at following his lawyer's instructions. The judge hasn't decided yet whether there will be a jury or he will handle the case alone. He appeared angry at the hearing on Tuesday when Trump's lawyer again asked him to dismiss the case. He has refused before and nothing has changed.
If the trial really starts in Oct. 2023, that could be when some of the primary debates are going on, if there is a Republican primary and if there are debates. Having Trump on trial in New York (and possibly in Georgia and D.C.) could certainly add some spice to the debates if they happen. (V)
Yesterday, we announced a new contest we're doing. It's using the format of the World Cup, with an eye toward identifying the most significant political slogan in American history. Yesterday's entry explained the background and the basic plan, and introduced the first four contenders:
Today is the first of four groups of presidential slogans, this one covering the years before the Civil War:
| The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved! (1830, sort of): Undoubtedly, readers will know that there are many famous lines that
changed between the original utterance and the version that became famous. For example, Mohandas Gandhi actually said
"As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him," not "Be the change you wish to
see in the world." Machiavelli wrote "One must consider the final result," not "the end justifies the means." And Mark
Twain said "The report of my death was an exaggeration," not "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." It
even happens in fiction; Sherlock Holmes never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" and Captain Kirk never said "Beam me
up, Scotty" (at least, not in the TV show). Both characters said similar things, in different formulations, but not
these exact things.
We bring this up because while this quote is attributed to Andrew Jackson, he didn't say it in this exact way. Jackson's relationship with his first vice president, John C. Calhoun, was kind of like the relationship between Donald Trump and Mike Pence, except that in the former case, it was the vice president who was fomenting potential insurrection (over tariff rates, and not "stolen" elections). Calhoun was more subtle than Trump, but Jackson was no fool and knew what was going on. And so, at a dinner in honor of the birthday of (the recently deceased) Thomas Jefferson, at which both the President and VP were in attendance, Old Hickory rose and offered this toast: "Our Federal Union, it must be preserved!"
The quote acquired its famous form sometime in the 1850s, by which point Jackson was too busy being dead to object. And since the former president was one of America's great heroes at that time, his (sorta) words carried great weight with Americans. So much so that Abraham Lincoln embraced the phrase as one of his campaign slogans in 1860, despite the fact that Lincoln hated Jackson. However, it was a pithy and effective way for the Railsplitter to communicate the core message of his campaign, namely that he would do whatever necessary to save the country. This wasn't strictly true, mind you; Lincoln did not demand an end to slavery, but he was not willing to allow it to spread, even if committing to doing so would have "saved" the union. Still, even Honest Abe had to fudge the truth a bit once in a while.
| Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too! (1840): This was the election that established both campaign slogans and campaign
songs as fundamental elements of American political culture. Throughout its entire existence, the Whig Party was not only the minority party,
but was also a coalition of interests that didn't agree on much, beyond their dislike of Andrew Jackson. And the folks who ran the Party
figured out that their only hope of winning presidential elections was to nominate popular generals and then to avoid taking stands on any issues.
As a consequence of this strategy, the 1840 presidential election was as devoid of substance as any in American history. The Whigs largely ran on William Henry Harrison's image as a wise military chieftain (and Indian killer), and otherwise relied on clever wordplay and campaign theater to carry the day. To that end, G. E. Blake wrote "Tip and Ty," a song that was very catchy (listen here) but that contains absolutely nothing of substance. Here's the first verse and the chorus:
What's the cause of this commotion, motion, motion,"Van" is Martin Van Buren, Harrison's opponent. And Tyler is John Tyler, his running mate. Anyhow, although the original slogan was actually "Tip and Ty," that didn't have enough syllables for song lyrics, so Blake spelled it out. And ultimately, the longer version is what caught on. It also worked, as Harrison was elected. And then quickly died. The Whigs successfully used the same strategy in 1848, although Gen. Zachary Taylor's slogan was the more pedestrian "For President of the People."
|54-40 or Fight! (1846): This slogan, which encouraged Americans to take an aggressive attitude in the dispute with Britain over the Oregon border, is one of the most famous in U.S. history. So, we certainly have to include it. That said, we also have to point out two things. First, James K. Polk ran for president in 1844. While he did eventually embrace the line, he didn't actually use it to win the presidency, since it didn't exist until 2 years after he was elected. Second, the actual boundary that was agreed to is 49-40, so it's not like Americans carried through with the threat that is embedded in the slogan.
|Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Frémont (1856): We did not select too many slogans from losing presidential candidates, but we do have a few. This is certainly the most alliterative presidential slogan in American history, and it's arguably one of the most poetic. And while it did not get Frémont elected, it did help launch the newly-formed Republican Party as a national organization and a successor to the Whigs. Further, it committed the Party to a free soil position—that slavery would be allowed to remain where it was, but that it could not be allowed to spread to any new territories. As we note above, Abraham Lincoln's commitment to the free soil position created a red line he would not cross, and so helped usher in the Civil War.
Yesterday, we had six reader answers to the question ""How much damage to relationships do you or readers think has occurred from the widening divisions in political views exacerbated by the party of T-Rump?" Here are six more:
Thanks to everyone who wrote in. We'll have a few more comments in Sunday's mailbag. (Z)
Readers who have followed Saturday Night Live through its entire run will recall Gilda Radner's Emily Litella character. For those who don't know the bit, however, Litella was a hard-of-hearing old lady who would deliver impassioned op-ed pieces on "Weekend Update" expressing her outrage over the issues of the day. The problem was that she had invariably misunderstood the issue, such that she delivered harangues on such subjects as violins on television, making Puerto Rico a steak, air fags in cars, endangered feces and busting schoolchildren. Once she had run out of steam, she would be informed as to the actual issue in question (e.g., violence on television, making Puerto Rico a state, air bags in cars, endangered species and busing schoolchildren) and she would withdraw the op-ed.
One of the best-loved Litella appearances started thusly:
What's all this fuss I've been hearing about the 1976 presidential erection? Now, I know they erected a monument for Mr. Lincoln and President Washington, but that's because they're DEAD! Hopefully, the 1976 President won't be DEAD! So he won't NEED an erection! If Americans are going to spend money to erect anything, why don't we tear down those nasty slums and erect luxury high rises for poor people and senior citizens! Not for presidents who can afford to pay for their OWN erections!
When legendary SNL writer Alan Zweibel originally wrote this piece, it was about a different sort of presidential erection, but the censors wouldn't allow that, even at 11:30 p.m., so they changed it to this. As per usual, when Litella was advised that the issue in question was the 1976 presidential election, she said: "Oh, that's very different. Never mind!"
We could not help but be reminded of this nearly 50-year-old comedy bit when we read about the latest appearance on Hannity by Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R). The host tossed the would-be senator a softball question about how he'd advance the Republican agenda, and this was the reply:
First of all, this election is more than Herschel Walker. This erection is about the people. And I said this is we the people, not we the government. That's what the left want to do is make it the government...
Walker was accompanied by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during that appearance; they were clearly there to keep him from getting into trouble. But it didn't work, and since Walker made his gaffe just hours before Thanksgiving, Twitter users had all kinds of time to toss off bon mots, such that #erection was trending most of the day on Thursday. Here are the 10 best lines we saw:
Obviously, people misspeak all the time. And swaps of "r" and "l" are so common that speech therapists actually have special tongue twisters to help people with that particular impediment (e.g., "reliability is being learned by Riley," "reading alone allows you to really relax," and "low rent allows regular lending"). Still, it's pretty funny that a guy with zipper problems would make this particular mistake. And since he's run a sleazy campaign, and has apparently led a fairly sleazy life, we think it's OK to experience a little schadenfreude when he has such an amusing tongue slip. (Z)
We were considering this story for freudenfreude this week, and then reader E.S. in Half Moon Bay, CA, recommended it, and that was enough to push it over the top.
The subject here is Richard M. Fierro, who is a 15-year Army veteran who left the service with the rank of major and who did four tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, he was already a military hero before he became famous (at least temporarily) this week. Fierro was at a table in Club Q last week when the venue was invaded by a mass shooter. The shooter was heavily armed, and was certainly in a position to inflict the sort of death toll that we've seen in similar circumstances in the past. In the Orlando club shooting, for example, 49 people were killed. It's not so easy to escape from an enclosed space, especially when everyone is trying to do the same. So, in such circumstances, there's all kinds of potential for a shooter to just mow people down.
Five people died at Club Q, which is tragic, but it would surely have been more if not for Fierro. As a highly trained (former) combat soldier, the gunfire caused his martial instincts to kick in. He charged across the club, tackled the gunman, and beat him senseless with his own weapon. Fierro also got some help; a second clubgoer managed to seize one of the gunman's weapons, while a trans woman stomped on the gunman with her high heels.
So, a fellow who was already a bona fide hero as a soldier is now a bona fide hero as a civilian. His story also reminds us to resist reaching conclusions with incomplete information. In the day or two after the shooting, the story told by most media outlets was the shooter was straight and that the victims and the person who disarmed the gunman (i.e., Fierro) were gay. That makes for a tidy narrative, perhaps, but not a correct one. In fact, the shooter's lawyer now says that the shooter identifies as nonbinary. Meanwhile, two of the five victims are straight. And as to Fierro, he is also straight, and was at Q Club to see a drag show with his wife and daughter. And from where we sit, "Grizzled Army veteran, in the middle of enjoying drag show, saves lives while disarming mad gunman" is a hell of a better story than the original, incorrect version.
Have a great Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. (Z)