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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Everybody's Passing the Buck in Ohio
      •  Kohrs Is Enjoying Her 15 Minutes of Fame; Others Are Less Enthused
      •  Polls Have Interesting News for (Some) Republicans
      •  Williamson Is In
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: McCarthy Under Fire
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: They Call Me Mister Mayor

Everybody's Passing the Buck in Ohio

It's been exactly 3 weeks, so most readers probably know about the Ohio train derailment. But just to make certain, a massive, 18,000-ton train with either 150 or 151 cars (reports differ), went off the rails just before 9:00 p.m. on Feb. 3, local time in East Palestine, OH. Of those 150/151 cars, 20 were carrying various sorts of hazardous materials, and 11 of the 20 were among the roughly 50 cars that derailed. They spilled about 100,000 gallons of toxic stuff, most of it things you couldn't spell if we spotted you three-quarters of the letters (e.g., 2-ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl). The disaster displaced a large number of human beings (and exposed them to chemicals that may do long-term damage), killed more than 45,000 animals, and did as-yet-uncounted millions in property damage.

We held off on writing about this story since our focus is politics, and we were waiting to see how it developed on that front. And the manner it which it developed was... entirely predictable. Republicans, for their part, are pointing the finger at the Biden administration, in general, and at Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in particular. There has been particular annoyance that Biden has not visited East Palestine yet, and that Buttigieg took a couple of weeks to make an in-person appearance.

The Republicans are operating on the "the buck stops here" theory. That is to say, anything bad that happens on a particular president's watch is necessarily the fault of that president (unless, of course, the president is Donald Trump). This is a questionable argument, in this case, until someone can point out something that was in Biden's power that he could have done but did not. Or something that Biden or Buttigieg did do, but should not have. We have seen nobody on the right who was offering any such specifics.

As to the in-person visits, we almost wrote something about this in our item about Biden going to Ukraine, but we rarely see the point of them (Ukraine was the exception, which is why we excised that passage). (Z) has been in California for nearly half a century, and has seen visits from presidents and other high-ranking people after floods and earthquakes and wildfires. And his response has always been "Who cares?" Sure, turn on the FEMA spigot and back up the emergency aid truck. But feel free to do that from Washington. Carping about whether or not a politician has shown up for a photo-op is just an easy way to take a cheapshot.

As to the Democrats, their focus is on the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), which was adopted near the end of Barack Obama's term (in 2015). It required railroad operators to be more aggressive about maintenance, and in particular to install electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems on trains carrying large amounts of hazardous materials. The railroads complained mightily about this, and many of the rules, including the ECP rules, were rolled back by the Trump administration. Had the Ohio train had ECP brakes, it is possible the derailment might have been avoided, or at least would have been more limited in scope.

Note, however, the presence of the word "possible" there. The NTSA's report on the derailment isn't done yet, and even when it is, they can only speculate how things might have been different with better equipment. More significant, however, is that the Obama-era rules wouldn't actually have applied to this train. Some people on the left, including some who helped craft the FAST Act, have said that if railroads had been forced to upgrade the brakes on some trains, then other trains—including the one in Ohio—would also have been upgraded. You know, "a rising tide lifts all boats." But that's also rather speculative, and even if the general supposition holds true, it's entirely possible that this particular train would not have been upgraded by 2023.

In other words, neither side's finger-pointing is quite on the mark. The real story here is that, since the 1950s, the U.S. has allowed its national infrastructure to decay. That's on the ledger for both parties. It is also the case that corporations in general, and railroads in particular, have learned to play the Republican Party like a fiddle when it comes to getting rid of regulations they don't like. So, if you would like to assign two-thirds of the blame for the Ohio disaster to Republicans in general, and one-third to Democrats, we could get on board with that. But blaming just Biden, or just Trump, is too facile.

That said, "facile" is Donald Trump's stock in trade. He's looking for opportunities to get some publicity, and to score some points with the base, and so he visited East Palestine on Wednesday to blame Biden, to bring some relief supplies, and to perform empathy. Here is the "highlight" of the remarks he delivered:

I do want to especially thank some of the incredible people that helped us because we're bringing thousands of bottle[s] of water. Trump water, actually, most of it. Uh, some of it we had to go to a much lesser quality water. You want to get those Trump bottles, I think more than anybody else.

But we're bringing a lot of water—thousands of bottles and we have it in trucks and we brought some on my plane today. But to that end, I'm pleased to announce that we've helped coordinate the delivery of the water and bottled water, as well as the tractor-trailers full of it. We have big tractor-trailers full of water. I think you're gonna have plenty of water for a long time maybe.

We assume that Trump's handlers know he is just terrible at these things, and that they were unable to dissuade him from going. Anyhow, maybe this will help him score a few political points, but we are inclined to guess that the whole incident will be long-forgotten by the time people cast ballots in 2024. Maybe not in Eastern Ohio, mind you, but Ohio's already a red state, and the rural east is already Trump territory. (Z)

Kohrs Is Enjoying Her 15 Minutes of Fame; Others Are Less Enthused

We noted, earlier this week, that former foreperson Emily Kohrs, who led the grand jury looking into election shenanigans in Georgia, has been making the media rounds this week. And in that item, we wrote: "We would think that someone like that should not be talking to the media, and certainly should not be sharing details about the grand jury's findings." Turns out, we're not the only ones who felt that way.

The general consensus is that Kohrs did not break any laws with her various press appearances, but that it was unseemly for her to dish on the grand jury deliberations before charges have been filed. Anderson Cooper and his guest, lawyer Elie Honig, were particularly aghast. "First of all why this person is talking on TV, I do not understand. Because, she's clearly enjoying herself, but I mean, is this responsible?" wondered Cooper. "This is a horrible idea," agreed Honig.

Of course, the important question is whether or not this could interfere with a future prosecution of Donald Trump or any other person who is indicted. There, the lawyers are somewhat divided. Honig, for example, thinks it could. So do some other lawyer-commentators. On the other hand, lawyers Norm Eisen and Fred Wertheimer write: "It certainly would have been better for decorum if Kohrs had refrained from speaking to the media, and she may even trigger motions challenging potential indictments. But that won't change anything legally."

We—though again, we're not lawyers—are inclined to think that Eisen and Wertheimer have the right of this. If a grand juror's loose lips were enough to torpedo a criminal case, that would open a rather giant (and easily exploited) loophole in the whole system. That said, even Eisen and Wertheimer concede that as Trump and/or other defendants cast about desperately for a lifeline, they are surely going to seize upon this. Even if it doesn't get them anywhere, legally, it does waste the time and resources of DA Fani Willis and her staff. So, we're back to where we started: Kohrs really should have kept her lips zipped. (Z)

Polls Have Interesting News for (Some) Republicans

They may control one-half of Congress, but the Republicans are not the party in power in Washington right now. They would very much like to be so, while also holding on to the one-third of the federal trifecta they've already got. Some members are also in search of a promotion. So, there has been much staking out of political positions meant to create a difference between Republicans and the current, Democratic administration. A couple of new polls give the holders of those "we're not Biden" positions a lot to chew on.

To start, there's the newest from Fox. Recall that their news operation is basically an embarrassment (outside a few folks), but their polling is OK. Working with Beacon Research and Shaw & Company Research, Fox asked registered voters about their support for Ukraine. The outlet found that 50% of voters want to support Ukraine "as long as it takes," while 46% would prefer to establish a limited time frame.

A number of prominent Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and many members of the Freedom Caucus, have expressed skepticism about U.S. support for the war in Ukraine. Clearly, that is a minority position right now, even among Republicans, since virtually no respondents to the Fox poll wanted to cut bait right now. Obviously, the Freedom Caucusers can embrace politically unpopular positions without much risk, but anyone who wants to run a national campaign, like DeSantis, needs to think hard about this. Undoubtedly, there was a time when most Americans supported staying in Vietnam "as long as it takes," but that certainly did not hold. The Governor (and for that matter, Donald Trump) could conclude that is where this is headed, and that they are just ahead of the curve, or they could conclude that it's time to get on board Team Zelenskyy.

Perhaps even more interesting, however, is the newest poll from Marist, which asks about various issues related to the current Congress. The poll's top-level finding is that 70% of respondents favor compromise, while only 28% say members should stand on principle at all costs. Since some portion of those 28% is undoubtedly lefty Democrats, this does not bode well for the political approach of the current House Republican Conference. Beyond that, however, and more specifically, 52% of respondents favor raising the debt ceiling, while 46% oppose.

On its surface, the latter figures might seem like very good news for the GOP, since you might interpret them as saying "if the Republicans can shift a small portion of the voting public on this, then they will have the backing of a majority of voters, and will be dealing from a position of strength during the upcoming game of debt-ceiling chicken."

Not so fast, though. First, there are undoubtedly many, many voters out there who don't really understand the debt ceiling and, in particular, the consequences of a default. Some chunk of that 46%, and we would guess a sizable chunk, is really just saying "we'd like the national debt reduced." But that, of course, is not the issue that is in play here, and if there is a default, most of that 46% is not going to say "Well, I guess I asked for this" (not unlike the pro-Brexit voters who came to regret their votes). Second, when Marist asked this same question 12 years ago (during a different debt-ceiling showdown), the support for raising the debt ceiling was just 24%. So, the trendline is headed WAY in the wrong direction from the perspective of the House Republican Conference.

We shall see what happened when push finally comes to shove, probably in a couple of months. On one hand, we assume the folks running the GOP are sophisticated enough to read between the lines of poll numbers like these to understand what they are really saying. On the other hand, when people want to believe they're right, they tend to glom on to whatever information supports that belief. (Z)

Williamson Is In

Earlier this week, Marianne Williamson implied that she would be announcing a presidential bid on March 4. Apparently, she just couldn't wait, though, because yesterday she gave an interview to Medill News Service confirming that she is entering the race.

For those who haven't heard of Medill News Service—which is probably 99.5% of readers—it's a version of what the AP and Reuters do, except it's run by Northwestern University, with an eye towards providing opportunities for student journalists and for graduates of the Medill School. In other words, we're at least a couple of steps below The New York Times and The Washington Post, here. And if that's the biggest outlet that Williamson could get interested in her "big" announcement, it runs rather contrary to the headline on the interview, which describes the wannabe president as the "FIRST PROMINENT DEMOCRAT IN 2024 RACE." We are not entirely persuaded that she's really a Democrat, since she spent much of her life as a registered independent. And we're definitely not persuaded that she's prominent.

That said, the announcement has two obvious significances. The first, which we have pointed out before, is that the barely-a-Democrat Williamson is unconcerned with the DNC or with its rules. So, if the Party tries to tinker around with the calendar, and threatens to punish Democrats who do not fall into line, Williamson will ignore that. Under the right circumstances, she could "win" New Hampshire as the only name on the ballot. The DNC doesn't want her to get that kind of exposure, so her presence makes it much harder for them to force changes in the calendar.

The other significance is that Williamson is going to let Joe Biden have it with both barrels, as she searches for attention and for some traction. And as she is allegedly a "prominent Democrat," her pronouncements will get way more attention than they should. This is particularly true for right-wing outlets, and will be particularly true for as long as she's the only visible non-Biden candidate in the race. Since serious Democrats are staying out (unless Biden announces he's not running again), Williamson could be getting lots of attention and headlines for the next 12 months.

That said, she's not likely to get much attention from us, unless she does or says something that we think might actually have some meaningful impact. Since she did not manage to do or say anything like that in 2019-20, we think it unlikely that she will pull it off in 2023-24. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: McCarthy Under Fire

Let us start by making something clear: We understand that politicians, by the nature of their jobs, have to be a bit chameleon-like. Maybe even a lot chameleon-like, depending on the circumstances. But there are also limits to this. First, there's a difference between "shifting around a bit on an issue" and "making a 180-degree turn, because that's what's most convenient." Second, and more importantly, if a politician does not have at least some bedrock principles on which there is no compromise then, by definition, they have no principles at all.

It is on this basis, then, that we assert that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is not a chameleon, he is a weasel. Actually, that's probably unfair to weasels, because at least they have spines. Maybe it's better to call him a hagfish, since hagfish have only rudimentary vertebrae (and no vertebral column), and they are known for leaving anything they touch covered in a layer of slime.

What has us on our soapbox right now is the news, which we wrote about earlier this week, that McCarthy has handed over all the 1/6 Capitol footage to Fox's chief propagandist, Tucker Carlson. The Speaker, hagfish that he is, has spoken to some outlets and implied that he didn't really want to share the footage, but that he had no choice because "I promised." On the other hand, he's also sending out fundraising pitches in which he takes credit for his bravery in this matter:

I promised I would give you the truth regarding January 6th, and now I am delivering. I have released the full 44,000 hours of uncut camera surveillance footage.

It is in the public interest to know everything that happened that day—not just the narrative that Pelosi's partisan committee wanted you to see ahead of the 2022 midterm elections...

So which is it, Mr. Speaker? Did you make a brave decision, or did you have no choice? Excuse us while we wash the slime off our hands.

And even this might be accepted as garden-variety politician flip-floppery: tell the base one thing, tell the media something less problematic. However, let us not forget that, when the winds were blowing in one direction, this is a man who condemned the insurrectionists and pointed the finger at Donald Trump. Then, once the winds settled down, he became a Trump apologist and a 1/6 Truther. And giving the footage to Carlson, and only to Carlson, is a dramatic embrace of that latter posture.

Since he handed over the footage, McCarthy has been loudly and rightly lambasted. Democrats (most Republicans remain too frightened to say "boo," for fear of angering Trump) have pointed out that by giving away all that footage, the Speaker has undermined security at the Capitol complex. After all, it won't be hard to figure out where the cameras are—and, therefore, where they aren't. Given the increased violence directed at politicians these days, it makes it that much easier for a nutter to put a lawmaker's life at risk. Oh, and it also provides useful information for those who might want to try insurrection v2.0 in, say, 2024.

Also justly receiving scrutiny (and we noted this in the previous item) is the choice to give the footage to only one media figure, and to choose as that one media figure someone who is in the bag for the Republican Party. Surely we don't need to say that this is all kinds of sleazy. If McCarthy really wants "the truth" to come out, and felt this was the only way to do so, then he should have made the footage available to anyone who wants it. Or, if there was some reason that only one person or outlet could have it, then he should have chosen a recipient with a reputation for being fair-minded; perhaps Neil Cavuto, or Chris Wallace, or Chuck Todd, or the BBC, or the AP.

And that actually brings us to the news that qualifies this item for "This Week in Schadenfreude." You see, there are some people we could not imagine ever agreeing with on anything. And yet, on this particular subject, it turns out that we are on the same page as... the MyPillow Guy. Our reasons are very different, of course, but Mike Lindell also thinks that McCarthy should have made the footage available to anyone who wants it. Lindell, who knows a propagandist when he sees one (i.e., the pot calling the kettle black), believes "Fox is going to sift through it and only put out what they want." So, he's going to sue McCarthy.

What you have here, then, is one prominent insurrectionist enabler in a giant pi**ing contest with a different prominent insurrectionist enabler. They're going to end up fighting it out in court, and this is the extremely rare circumstance where the MyPillow guy actually has a case and should actually survive summary judgment. Get out your popcorn, because that's about as schadenfreude as it gets. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: They Call Me Mister Mayor

The town of Earle, AR, (population: 1,831) has many of the sorts of issues that have hit small towns in recent decades. Jobs have left, and so have the businesses that serve residents, like the local supermarket. Young people flee town as soon as they graduate from the local high school, never to return. There are lots of boarded-up, decrepit buildings. Crime is on the rise.

Quite understandably, the residents of the majority-Black town felt they needed new leadership. Jaylen Smith thought he was the man for the job. So, he spent much of 2022 campaigning, and also shadowing other towns' mayors to see how they did the job. The residents of Earle were impressed with what they saw, and so they elected Smith last November. He was formally inaugurated last week, and presided over his first city council meeting.

Smith's plans for Earle are ambitious. He wants to increase spending on law enforcement, so that the police station is staffed 24/7. He hopes to lure a few big-box stores back to town. He has already made arrangements for many of the abandoned houses and buildings to be torn down. He wants to improve public transportation. These things all take money, which is not necessarily in great supply in a small, poor, majority-Black town. But, back when he was a student, serving in governance at his school, Smith gained a lot of experience with laying hands on state and federal resources.

Now, when we say "back when he was a student," we mean... 2022. And by "his school," we mean "his high school." See, Smith is 18 years old, and was elected mayor just months after he got his high school diploma. He is, in fact, the youngest Black mayor in American history. He decided that instead of fleeing Earle, like so many of his classmates, he would try to save it. Town founder Josiah Francis Earle, a Confederate veteran who led the local Ku Klux Klan klavern before dying in 1884, is probably rolling in his grave. And if so, good.

Smith's election is part of a larger trend, noticeable in 2022, of young people running for office. In that election, the number of Gen Z office-seekers tripled, while the number of Millennials who made a run jumped nearly 60%. Even if we allow for the fact that teenagers and twenty-somethings often can't, or just won't, run for office, these increases are considerably higher than the historical norm for generational change. It would seem that many young people have decided it's up to them to be the change they want to see. And if so, that's a good thing for the country.

Meanwhile, Mayor Smith's aspirations go beyond just fixing up Earle. Once he's made progress on that front, he sees a future for himself in higher office. Starting as mayor of a small, rather forgotten town was exactly how Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) launched his career, and at a considerably older age. So, Smith is someone worth keeping an eye on. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb23 To Run Or Not to Run, That Is the Question...
Feb23 ...But Not for Tester
Feb23 Early Presidential Primary Polls Actually Do Matter
Feb23 Biden's New Asylum Policy Is Trump Lite
Feb23 Republicans Are Divided on Ukraine
Feb23 Former Arizona AG Hid Report Debunking Election Fraud Claims
Feb23 Barbara Lee Formally Announces a Senate Run
Feb23 Greene Calls for a National Divorce
Feb22 Wisconsinites Cast Their Ballots
Feb22 The Lord Giveth a Congressperson, and He Taketh Away a Congressperson
Feb22 Putin Makes His Countermove
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Feb22 Vivek Ramaswamy Announces Presidential Bid
Feb22 C'mon Fani, Time for the Other Shoe to Drop
Feb22 Fun with AI
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Feb21 ...And He Definitely Has all the 1/6 Capitol Footage
Feb21 O'Keefe Gets a Dose of Veritas
Feb21 Beshear Appears to Be Sitting in the Catbird Seat
Feb21 It Was Presidents' Day!
Feb20 Fox News Hosts All Knew Trump Lost but Lied about It Anyway
Feb20 Republican Losers Want to Run Again
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Feb19 Sunday Mailbag
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Feb17 More Health Problems for Fetterman
Feb17 Lake Loses...
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Feb17 Biden Gets Clean Bill of Health
Feb17 Gasping for Oxygen
Feb17 This Week in Schadenfreude: Gimme Some Truth
Feb17 This Week in Freudenfreude: Buzz Off
Feb16 Nikki Haley Would Be a Great Candidate--for the 2016 Republican Nomination
Feb16 Why the Republican Hardliners Don't Care about a Default
Feb16 A Very Early Look at the Electoral College for 2024
Feb16 Poll: Jim Justice Is the Strongest Republican against Manchin
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