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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Apparently Wants to Hand the Democrats Another Campaign Issue
      •  Biden Less Popular Than Any Governor
      •  Inflation? Not So Much, Say the Numbers
      •  Tuberville About to Come Up Short... Again
      •  Kevin McCarthy, Historian
      •  Sports Illustrated Goes There

Trump Apparently Wants to Hand the Democrats Another Campaign Issue

Figuring out what is going on in Donald Trump's head is no easy task. And this weekend, it was particularly tough, as he decided to dig up an old bugaboo for... some reason.

The specific bugaboo in question is Obamacare. On Sunday, Trump used his failing boutique social media platform to send this out:

The cost of Obamacare is out of control, plus, it's not good Healthcare. I'm seriously looking at alternatives. We had a couple of Republican Senators who campaigned for 6 years against it, and then raised their hands not to terminate it. It was a low point for the Republican Party, but we should never give up!

That's not only a shot at Obamacare, it's also a shot, of course, at John McCain. Trump just can't let that man rest in peace.

At this point, we will note the following:

  1. Obamacare isn't going anywhere; it's too deeply enmeshed in the U.S. healthcare system these days.

  2. Republican efforts to kill Obamacare helped fuel the Democrats' unexpectedly successful 2018 midterm elections.

  3. In view of the above, the same Republican senators who used to rub their hands gleefully when considering the prospect of slaying the ACA are not interested in revisiting the issue.

  4. Trump has not had, does not have, and will never have, an "alternative" to Obamacare.

Add it up, and there is no world in which this is a winner for Trump. And the odds are, if he runs with it, he hurts himself a little and downballot Republicans a lot.

Normally we don't take notice of Trump's empty meanderings. But in this case, well, we can only come up with one explanation for what's going on here: This is unfinished business, in his mind, and it's a score he desperately wants to settle. After all, he loathes Obama with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns, and Obamacare is #44's premier accomplishment.

In view of this, it strikes us as entirely plausible that Trump could make this a core part of his 2024 platform, even if it makes no political sense whatsoever. And so that is why we mention it. (Z)

Biden Less Popular Than Any Governor

We're not entirely sure what's going on with the management of Morning Consult. For a while, they will produce approval ratings of high-ranking non-presidential politicians—either governors, or senators, or both. Then, they'll announce they're getting out of that business, because there's no money in it. After a year or so, however, they are back at it.

And so it is that the pollster has just released a comprehensive overview of gubernatorial approval ratings. The most unpopular governor in America is currently... Tate Reeves (R-MS), who is one point underwater, with 45% of Mississippians approving of the job he's doing and 46% disapproving. This is not surprising, as he's an uninspiring fellow who has presided over some disastrous governmental failures, most obviously the occasion when the capital city of Jackson was left without potable water for weeks on end.

That said, as The Hill breathlessly reported yesterday, Reeves is still doing better than Joe Biden. The President is currently around 40% approval, with 54% disapproving, putting him 14 points underwater. The staff mathematician advises us that is far worse than 1 point underwater.

We suppose that, from the vantage of the White House, there's a glass-half-full and a glass-half-empty way to look at this. The glass-half-empty view is that Biden is really unpopular; the most unpopular chief executive in the country. That is not the best starting point for a reelection bid.

On the other hand, the glass-half-full view is that Reeves is very unpopular, and yet he still got reelected. As we have noted many times, it's entirely possible that approval ratings in 2023 don't mean the same thing that they used to. It's also worth noting that as unpopular as Biden might be, he's likely to be matched up against another historically unpopular candidate in Donald Trump. (Z)

Inflation? Not So Much, Say the Numbers

This weekend, we ran this letter:

M.B. in Overland Park, KS, writes: If Joe Biden loses the election, I postulate that the main reason will be food prices. Inflation may be coming down on the wholesale level, but it's not reflected in food prices, which are continuing to rise. Many items at my local store are over 50%, and sometimes 75%, higher than pre-pandemic. When I go to buy milk or bread, it absolutely pisses me off. I do most of the shopping. My wife went the other night to pick up a few items and came back just searingly angry about being gouged by the grocers.

This is what the U.S. consumer feels and sees. They also see Biden doing absolutely nothing to publicly call for prices to go back down. There is obviously price-gouging because the manufacturers and distributors can really just charge what they want at this point, while using inflation as a shield and excuse.

Biden is invisible. He doesn't use the bully pulpit. He doesn't make any statements to the press. He says nothing about the things that are pissing off American consumers while the Republicans slam him for the prices.

My wife is as blue as me, and would not vote Donald Trump even under torture, but she is absolutely furious with Biden for doing absolutely nothing to address or even just acknowledge this issue. Where the hell is he on this issue? We can absorb the cost, but many can't. How pissed off must they be?

Pissed off people who shop and feel gouged, combined with a totally disengaged president and Democratic party will not be voters that are enthusiastic enough to show up, or may just vote for the team that at least acknowledges their pain.

Food prices will determine this election. Mark it on your list.

That prompted this response:

A.S. in Chicago, IL, writes: This is in response to M.B. in Overland Park, who claimed, without evidence, that food prices are up 50-75%. My question to M.B. would be, "Where are you shopping?" I have not paid more than $1.20 for a dozen eggs, for example, in 10 months. Last week, I bought a whole chicken for 99 cents a pound. If Joe Biden loses, it will be because people believe things that are false under the guise of "everybody knows." Well, everybody does not know what they are talking about. I shop sales and coupons and while some items are slightly higher than they were, my overall food budget is where it was before the pandemic. should not publish letters from people that are factually inaccurate without pointing this out.

Fair enough. There are a lot of economists in the world, and economists love, love, love to collect data. So, it's not too hard to examine whether food prices have spiked or not. We will consider the average price of a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, a pound of bacon and a pound of coffee. In each table we'll give the actual price and the adjusted-to-2022-dollars price for the ten years from 2013-22, as well as for selected years prior to that:

Year Actual Adjusted
1995 $0.92 $2.24
2000 $0.91 $2.03
2005 $1.22 $2.49
2010 $1.66 $2.53
2013 $1.91 $2.50
2014 $2.02 $2.44
2015 $2.47 $2.53
2016 $1.68 $2.18
2017 $1.47 $2.11
2018 $1.74 $2.26
2019 $1.40 $2.02
2020 $1.51 $2.09
2021 $1.67 $2.21
2022 $2.86 $2.86

Year Actual Adjusted
1995 $2.48 $4.82
2000 $2.78 $4.51
2005 $3.19 $4.39
2010 $3.26 $4.34
2013 $3.46 $4.10
2014 $3.69 $4.13
2015 $3.42 $4.08
2016 $3.20 $4.01
2017 $3.23 $4.09
2018 $2.90 $3.77
2019 $3.04 $3.85
2020 $3.32 $3.97
2021 $3.55 $4.04
2022 $4.09 $4.09

Year Actual Adjusted
1995 $1.99 $6.34
2000 $3.03 $6.54
2005 $3.39 $6.19
2010 $4.11 $6.77
2013 $5.29 $7.13
2014 $5.78 $7.38
2015 $5.45 $7.44
2016 $5.42 $7.35
2017 $5.77 $7.32
2018 $5.47 $7.06
2019 $5.61 $7.10
2020 $5.58 $6.89
2021 $6.64 $7.24
2022 $7.31 $7.31

Year Actual Adjusted
1995 $4.04 $5.79
2000 $3.45 $5.17
2005 $3.26 $4.73
2010 $3.91 $4.88
2013 $5.45 $6.16
2014 $4.99 $5.77
2015 $4.72 $5.29
2016 $4.39 $5.07
2017 $4.45 $5.14
2018 $4.30 $5.08
2019 $4.14 $4.95
2020 $4.43 $5.26
2021 $4.71 $5.42
2022 $5.89 $5.89

Obviously, the 2023 numbers aren't in yet, but inflation has been much flatter this year than last, so the likelihood is that the inflation-adjusted prices will drop a bit. In any event, it is clear that eggs are up some, coffee's up a bit, and milk and bacon are steady. And none of them are at historically high inflation-adjusted prices.

That said, just because inflation isn't actually wildly out of control doesn't necessarily mean anything in terms of people's perceptions. Joe Biden, or any other president who is getting banged for inflation, is running up against at least two politically unfriendly cognitive processes:

  1. Even though people should account for inflation—which does mean higher prices, but also means higher wages, increased 401Ks, higher home values, etc.—they don't.

  2. People don't look at their shopping cart or food order holistically; they tend to zoom in on the one or two things that stick out as concerningly expensive. That's how an oddly expensive Big Mac, one that has nothing to do with normal McDonalds menu prices, ends up as a million-man meme.

There is not a single thing here that Joe Biden's advisers are unaware of, which means there is not a single thing here that Joe Biden is not aware of. And we have no idea what the President does with all of this. He could channel his inner class warrior, and moan and groan about food prices being out of control. But he'd know he was selling a basically phony line, and he's not too good at that. And we all know how much damage a phony "what's with these prices?" performance can do (think crudités).

Alternatively, Biden can do what he's probably going to do: Hope that inflation stays reasonably low, that people adapt to current prices, and that a year from now a $5.89 (or so) pound of coffee doesn't stick out as particularly problematic. (Z)

Tuberville About to Come Up Short... Again

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has essentially tied up his entire identity in being "the coach." He still calls himself by that title, and his official U.S. Senate photo has him tossing a football.

The thing is... he wasn't actually all that great a football coach. In 2004, he coached Auburn to a 13-0 record, an SEC championship, a win in the Sugar Bowl, and a #2 ranking in the final AP poll. That's very good, but missing a national championship by that much is also pretty much his whole résumé. In 21 years total, he won one other conference title (the 2014 AAC title, with Cincinnati), and he collected victories at a 61% clip. That's not terrible, but it's not getting you into the College Football Hall of Fame (at least, not without a ticket), and it's poor enough to get someone fired from a top-tier program like Auburn (which, indeed, was Tuberville's fate there).

We bring it up because Tuberville appears to officially be on a crash course with another loss. Parliamentary procedure is a strange and arcane thing, but it would seem the Democrats have finally figured out a way to kill Tuberville's military promotions blockade without having to fundamentally rewrite the rules of the Senate. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted this out:

The Rules Committee acted on a resolution that would allow the Senate to quickly confirm the more than 350 military nominations being blocked by Sen. Tuberville.

I will bring it to the floor so we can swiftly confirm these highly qualified and dedicated military leaders.

The tweet also included a copy of a letter Schumer wrote to his colleagues, but the letter doesn't clarify, in any way, exactly what the plan is.

Luckily, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who is chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and who was the driving force behind the workaround, was more thorough. He put out a press release that explains that the resolution in question will create a standing order, one that expires when this Congress does, that will allow military promotions (except for the Joint Chiefs) to be confirmed en masse, and with just 60 votes. So, instead of one person gumming up the works, it would take 40.

The resolution will require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, of course. And then 60 votes will again be required to confirm the various nominees. But Schumer clearly believes he has those votes, or he wouldn't be announcing that the end of the blockade is nigh. That said, the Senate has budgetary matters to deal with first, so this probably won't come up until mid-December. Still, by the time the end of Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas, Festivus, Kwanzaa and Zartosht No-Diso roll around, the promotions should be a done deal. (Z)

Kevin McCarthy, Historian

Now that we've dumped on Tommy Tuberville a bit, let's move on to his fellow scholar, Speaker Emeritus Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Recently, McCarthy gave a speech to... the Oxford Union. We don't know much about that organization, but he was wearing a tuxedo (with a poorly tied bowtie), so it must have been pretty chichi. Anyhow, McCarthy decided that as part of his remarks, he'd include a little history lesson:

Think for one moment. In every single war that America has fought, we have never asked for land afterward—except for enough to bury the Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

Since the video of the speech is incomplete, it's also not clear what modern-day political point he was trying to make. Was this something about the evils of Russia? Probably. Maybe it had something to do with Hamas, though we're not sure how that would work.

In any event, the "history" here is so bad that tearing it apart is like shooting fish in a barrel. Here is a list of occasions when the U.S. did indeed demand, and receive, territory after a war:

  • 1775-1891: The U.S. fought many wars, some of them named, some not, against Native tribes, almost invariably seizing some amount of land at the conclusion of each conflict.

  • 1783: In the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, the U.K. ceded a great deal of territory to the U.S.

  • 1817-18: The First Seminole War led directly to the Adams-Onis treaty, in which Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

  • 1846-48: The Mexican-American War concluded with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded half her territory to the U.S. in exchange for a trifling sum. That territory included the future state of California, a state you would think McCarthy would be familiar with.

  • 1898: The Spanish-American War concluded with the Treaty of Paris (one of 31 of those, over the years), by which the U.S. acquired Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and "temporary" control of the Philippines.

  • 1945: The post-World War II order, established at diplomatic conferences like Yalta and Potsdam, gave the U.S. significant control (albeit not ownership) of territory across Europe, most significantly West Berlin. The U.S. also took control of some of the islands in the vicinity of Japan.

So, instead of "America has never asked for land after any war," it would actually be more accurate to say that there are more wars where America has asked for (and received) land than there are wars where it hasn't.

We find it very hard to believe that McCarthy is unaware of any of this, particularly the story of how California became a part of the United States. That leaves us with only two possibilities that we can think of: (1) He was lying through his teeth and he knew it, or (2) He, along with so many other Republicans, is so used to just rewriting the past to suit present-day political needs that it's done without any thought whatsoever. In any event, it's a reminder that when a politician, particularly a Republican politician, starts pontificating on the past, it is well to remember the old Russian proverb: "Trust, but verify." Except you can skip the trust part, and go right to verify. (Z)

Sports Illustrated Goes There

We don't often have cause to make reference to Sports Illustrated, since they are sports and we are politics. However, we've also been on the AI beat, and SI appears to have become the first publication to enter a brave new world on that front.

It's not a secret that many publications have already commenced using AI-generated content for certain purposes. And the sports media are something of an obvious place for that, since an awful lot of sports content is pretty rote (e.g., game wraps). That said, when an article is credited to some impersonal byline (e.g., "Sports Illustrated Staff" or "Sports Illustrated Digital Services"), it does cheapen the piece a little bit, robbing it of the human touch.

And so, SI decided to solve that problem by creating AI-generated identities to go with their AI-generated articles. For example, meet "Drew Ortiz":

A fake looking guy with a blank look on his face

According to "Drew's" bio:

Drew likes to say that he grew up in the wild, which is partially true. He grew up in a farmhouse, surrounded by woods, fields, and a creek. Drew has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature. Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend goes by where Drew isn't out camping, hiking, or just back on his parents' farm.

SI might have gotten away with it, even if "Drew's" articles are badly written and his bio is extremely clunky. However, the magazine used a mugshot from a site where AI-generated headshots are for sale. Further, when it comes to keeping things on the down-low, it did not help that SI kept "firing" its AI-generated "writers," and that it would habitually change the bylines on AI-generated content from a fired "writer" to an on-staff "writer."

Now that the cat is out of the bag, the magazine's management is very embarrassed, and the staff (which is unionized) is furious. Presumably, SI will be dialing down the chicanery, at least for a while. But how long can it be until other sites, including news and politics sites, start doing the same thing (and presumably with greater skill, and thus less chance of detection)? Fox strikes us as an obvious candidate, though we could see CNN getting some ideas, too, particularly for the garbage advertorial content that appears all over their website's front page. (Z)

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