Say It Ain’t So, Joe

As all who care are aware, Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris respectively spent yesterday in Georgia and Texas.  I feel personally responsible; I may have jinxed their campaign by observing in a note before the last presidential debate, “No matter the election outcome, I consider former Vice President Joe Biden to have run a smart and disciplined campaign from beginning to end …” It has since been one blunder after the next: the Biden Campaign’s insistence on muted microphones for parts of the last debate, which seemingly psychologically caused President Trump to look as presidential as Mr. Trump can look; the Biden Campaign’s idiotic decision to try to expand its Electoral map – in places like Georgia and Texas; and, given that Mr. Biden’s surest path to 270 Electoral College votes is through Pennsylvania, a fracking state, the granddaddy gaffe of them all — Mr. Biden’s debate declaration that he would transition away from the oil industry.  The latter has in the days since the debate caused images of Gerald Ford’s debate denial of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, Bill Buckner, and Jackie Smith to dance through my head.  [For anyone for whom the references to Messrs. Buckner and Smith are too obscure, simply do internet searches of each of those names together with “YouTube,” and watch  ;)].

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning, Host Joe Scarborough asserted that given the apparently-generally-accepted belief that Mr. Biden’s lead over Mr. Trump is insurmountable in Michigan and Wisconsin and (unacknowledged) indications that Mr. Trump will eke out a close victory in Florida, Mr. Biden should be spending all of his time in Pennsylvania:  that the combined Electoral College votes of the three upper Midwest swing states, together with the states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, wins Mr. Biden the presidency.  Former U.S. MO Sen. Claire McCaskill disagreed, lauding the Democratic ticket’s attempt to expand the map.

I obviously lean more closely to Mr. Scarborough’s reasoning, but not entirely.  Although at the time this is typed, Mr. Biden maintains a 5.2% lead over Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania according to (538), 538 also indicates that in Ohio — a reasonable proxy for western Pennsylvania — Mr. Trump has gained 3.2% on Mr. Biden over the last four weeks.  Where I agree with Mr. Scarborough:  Mr. Biden should be spending much of his time in western Pennsylvania and/or determining where he can squeeze out additional votes in Philadelphia – although it is predicted that it will take days to finally tabulate the state’s votes, and Mr. Trump is already telegraphing that he plans to claim that the Philadelphia results are fraudulent.

Pennsylvania will provide its victor 20 Electoral votes.  Where I disagree with Mr. Scarborough:  I would seek to expand the map not in Georgia (where, despite 538’s current showing that Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump by more than 1 %, I still consider Democratic Fool’s Gold) or in Texas (where 538 shows Mr. Biden trailing Mr. Trump by over a point, an outcome seeming sealed by Mr. Biden’s politically idiotic debate declaration about the oil industry), but in Arizona, Iowa, and … Omaha.  538 has shown Mr. Biden to have a steady if not impressive lead over Mr. Trump in Arizona for months; it is a bit under 3 points as this is typed.  Mr. Biden has gained 2.6% on Mr. Trump to take a narrow but seemingly growing lead in Iowa (won twice by former President Barack Obama) over the last month; it seems that Iowans are trending in the direction of Michiganders, Minnesotans, and Wisconsinites.  Finally – something I concede I had forgotten – Nebraska is one of the few states that casts its Electoral College votes by Congressional District.  Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, worth one Electoral College vote, is essentially Omaha.  Another proxy:  538 – in admittedly somewhat dated findings – indicates that the Democratic challenger for Congress in the Nebraska Second, Kara Eastman, has moved slightly ahead of Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon in their contest.  (Mr. Trump sees his vulnerability; he was in Omaha last night.)

Arizona’s 11 Electoral College votes, Iowa’s 7, and Omaha’s 1 equals … 19.  It sufficiently makes up for any loss by Mr. Biden of Pennsylvania’s 20, and gives Mr. Biden the presidency.  Perhaps this strategy makes sense to me because we are the proud parents of Creighton University (based in Omaha) and University of Iowa graduates; my gut says that both of these areas have too much sense to want another four years of Mr. Trump.

Get out of Georgia and Texas.  Go to Pennsylvania, Arizona and Iowa.  Then go to Omaha, and help Ms. Eastman bring home the … er … Bacon.


[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  😉 ]

Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously prefers to have President Trump pull off what will be viewed as a second upset Electoral College victory over former Vice President Joe Biden, and is undoubtedly using every means at his disposal to try to help bring that result about.  A re-election of Mr. Trump seems likely to lead to the emasculation if not dissolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and will enable President Putin to take less provocative gradual steps over the next four years to further what he views as Russia’s strategic interests.  Mr. Putin has probably concluded that Mr. Biden’s succession to the U.S. presidency will make such incremental Russian advances more difficult.  I suspect that Mr. Putin sees what we see:  while Mr. Trump might still pull out an electoral victory, the odds – despite the best efforts of the American alt-right propaganda machine and Russia – currently remain in Mr. Biden’s favor.  Mr. Putin is, as well documented by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy in their book, Mr. Putin, a survivalist and superb contingency planner.  What does President Putin do if Mr. Biden is indeed certified the winner of the U.S. Presidential election?  Perhaps a few options:

American domestic relations:  the use of social media and other outlets to spread incendiary disinformation among Trump supporters that the election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump, in an effort to incite violence by the Trump fringe elements and to persuade traditional Trump supporters that Mr. Biden’s presidency is illegitimate, perhaps thereby hobbling a Biden Administration’s ability to thwart Russian initiatives.  A divided enemy is a weak enemy.

International relations:  During the interregnum between any certification of a Biden victory and Mr. Biden’s inauguration, Mr. Trump’s narcissism, bitterness, incompetence, and erraticism will reduce American foreign policy to its most impotent state in over a century.  Although Mr. Putin has certainly relished dabbling in and – due to American missteps during both the Obama and Trump Administrations – having Russia arguably supplant the United States as the most influential outside power in the Middle East, Russia’s strategic interests lie in the former Soviet Socialist Republics — referred to by Russian officials as the “near abroad” — and Europe. Hill and Gaddy report that Mr. Putin indicated in 2014 that he sought to extend Russian influence “… to all the space in Europe and Eurasia that once fell within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR.”   When (given Mr. Trump’s inadequacies, adding “if” to this sentence is absurd) Mr. Putin sees American response effectively neutered during the interregnum period, these are some of the areas in which he might consider proceeding:

Create a pretext, invade and annex the parts of east Ukraine in which the ethnic Russian population exceeds one third of the overall population.  Ukraine, a former Soviet Socialist Republic, is not a member of NATO, and thus, such an overture would not result in the invocation of NATO signatories’ collective defense obligations under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

Provide troops to actively help Russian puppet Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko put down the continuing Belarusian opposition against his recent fraudulent election victory.  Belarus is a former Soviet Socialist Republic.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is reported to have called the continuing protests against Mr. Lukashenko a geopolitical struggle over spheres of interest (dismissing the notion of an intra-national dispute between Belarusians).  The European Union’s recent award of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (ironically, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov) to Belarusian Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her followers is almost certainly seen by Mr. Putin as an EU effort to undermine Russian influence in Belarus.  Mr. Putin might anticipate that Russian military assistance to Mr. Lukashenko would receive international condemnation, but be very unlikely to trigger a more aggressive Western response in what is a non-NATO intra-national dispute. 

Consider stirring unrest in the Baltic States:  Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all former United Soviet Socialist Republics.  Since all three are now NATO nations, they present very different challenges and opportunities from Ukraine and Belarus.  Given the NATO Treaty’s Article 5, Mr. Putin would probably deem overt military operations too risky even with a distracted and figuratively disarmed United States.  Still, covert efforts through infiltrated agents to sow discord in the Baltic States’ civil affairs might increase Russian influence and disrupt NATO relationships, provided that they can be undertaken with Russia’s plausible deniability.

Make Germany a very advantageous offer with a short acceptance window on a long-term arrangement for Russian oil and natural gas.  This would cement the German-Russian energy relationship as the two nations’ Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will provide Russia with additional distribution avenues and greater capacity to provide energy to Europe, nears completion.  The project is bitterly opposed by the Trump Administration and will be by a Biden Administration.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has consistently rebuffed Mr. Trump’s efforts to kill the project, undoubtedly primarily because (whether or not correctly) she views the arrangement in Germany’s best interest, but perhaps with less heed to American concerns than she might have had five years ago given Mr. Trump’s obvious disdain for NATO, the EU and her personally.  Germany is the EU’s economic bedrock.  Mr. Putin understands that there are some areas in which use of military power isn’t feasible; use of energy leverage to unravel NATO and wean core EU nations away from the United States significantly furthers Russia’s interests.

Too dark?  Paranoid?  Perhaps; it is the Halloween Season, and I did indicate at the outset of this note that Mr. Putin is a scary book  ;).  That said, it is a seminal work; it enables one to see through Mr. Putin’s eyes.  It seemingly behooves us to consider how well over the last 20 years a man who came from nowhere has played what was in reality a very weak hand when he came into office.  President Richard Nixon reportedly once told Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev that he respected what Mr. Brezhnev said, but made policy based upon what Russia did.  I submit that Mr. Putin’s record suggests that we ignore the measures he might take at our peril.  I suspect that they will be sufficient to keep a President-Elect Biden awake at night.

Trick or Treat.

WWVD? Part I

In this Halloween Season, I’ve been reading the scariest book I’ve bought in retirement:  Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, which is more a psychological profile than a biography of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  (I thoroughly recommend it to foreign policy junkies; it makes quite a pairing with Mary Trump’s psychological profile of President Trump, Too Much and Never Enough.)  [Note:  the latest edition of Mr. Putin was published over a year before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency.]  Some excerpts:

“If Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it, and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal….Vladimir Putin is a fighter and a survivalist.  He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win….Putin’s tactics at home and abroad are geared toward gaining advantage against his opponents. [Emphasis in Original].”

On Mr. Putin’s handling of the Russian oligarchs:  “There must be some kind of hook to guarantee loyalty, even with [those] that seem most closely linked to [Mr. Putin]….The role of money in this system is important but commonly misunderstood….[I]t is not money that guarantees loyalty …. Instead, it is the fact that the money derives from activity that is or could be found to be illegal.  Participants in the system are not bought off in the classic sense of that term.  Instead, they are compromised; they are made vulnerable to threats.  Enforcement … is achieved … by implicit threats …. Loyalty is ensured through blackmail. … [T]he risk of loss is more important than any reward.  And, as in the most effective blackmail schemes, it is not the threat of loss of money or property that frightens most people.  It is loss of reputation, loss of one’s standing in the eyes of family, friends, and peers – loss of one’s identity [Emphasis in Original].”

“Viktor Yanukovych [who became Ukraine President in 2010, and fled to Russia for refuge in 2014] seemed much more interested in running Ukraine as a ‘family business’ than dealing with the business of economic and political reform. … From Putin’s perspective, the Ukrainian president’s well-documented venality was a major vulnerability that Putin could use to his benefit.  It provided leverage.  Yanukovych was similar to the foreign targets Putin and his KGB colleagues had set up … in the 1970s and 1980s.  His greed and transgressions opened him up to reputational risk at home and abroad.  They also made him relatively easy to buy off.  Putin did just that — … encouraging Russian companies to place lucrative offers with industries closely connected to the Ukrainian president and his family.”

Feel free to substitute any name for “Viktor Yanukovych” you consider appropriate.  To be fair:  in Rage, Bob Woodward reported:  “As [Director of National Intelligence, Dan] Coats had access to the most sensitive intelligence … He suspected the worst but found nothing that would show [Donald] Trump was indeed in Putin’s pocket.”

Back to Mr. Putin:

“[Into 2013] in Ukraine, Putin thought he had the situation under control with the venal and vulnerable Viktor Yanukovych in place.  But he had bet on the wrong horse.  Yanukovych could be blackmailed, but he couldn’t keep control of Ukraine.  Once it became clear that Yanukovych had [what Mr. Putin described as] ‘no political future’ … Putin had to make sure that his backup plans were in place.  Annexing Crimea and setting the rest of Ukraine on fire were contingency operations.  They were prepared in advance, ready to be used if needed – but only if needed.”

“As a consequence of his [KGB] Case Officer identity, Mr. Putin cannot simply abandon an ‘asset.’”

The Mueller Report makes clear that when Russia began its meddling in the 2016 election, its primary goal was to sow discord among the American people; it shifted its efforts to a more aggressive support of then-Candidate Donald Trump when it appeared that he actually had a chance to win.  Now that Mr. Trump is in power, Russia’s current effort is undoubtedly heavily focused upon spreading disinformation and attempting to hack American electoral systems to keep him there.  However, one point Hill and Gaddy drive home repeatedly is that Mr. Putin is a contingency planner:

“The notion that Putin is an opportunist, at best an improviser, but not a strategist, is at best a misread. …  Putin knows that unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy.  The key to dealing with the unexpected is to anticipate that there always will be setbacks.  This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them [Emphasis in Original].”

It seems not unreasonable to assume that in addition to doing whatever he can to secure Mr. Trump’s re-election, Mr. Putin has carefully considered what steps his agencies will take in the event that Mr. Trump loses.  Some of his potential avenues in Part II.

How long, O Lord?

I had no intent to post today; it promises to be a busy week ahead.  Focused as I am on the upcoming election, and as numb as I have apparently become to the endless stream of unfeeling actions perpetrated by Mr. Trump and his cohort, the instance of Trump Administration callousness revealed this week almost failed to embed with me:  that in 2017, in a brutal attempt to discourage Latinos from seeking to immigrate to our country, our government forcibly separated over 500 children from their parents at our southern border – and failed to keep records which would enable it to reunite the families.  The Administration is now unable to locate the parents.  The children remain in cages that during last week’s debate, President Trump grotesquely defended – really – as “so clean.”

Many that follow these pages are parents.  I suspect that all that read these posts cherish the love they received from their parents.  These people, who came seeking refuge from us, were and are being treated like animals.

What brought me back was the first reading in today’s Mass, a familiar one:

“Thus says the Lord:

‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourself in the land of Egypt.  You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.  If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.  My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.’”

Exodus 22: 20 – 23

Not long ago, Rev. James Altman, a pastor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, released a viral video in which he declared, “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat,” and has reportedly called liberals “fascist bullies” acting “just like Hitler’s Nazis did.” He believes that Catholics must support Republicans and Mr. Trump because of their opposition to abortion.

I’m confident that Fr. Altman has reconciled today’s Exodus passage with his vehement support of Mr. Trump.  I cannot.  That said, I cannot presume to judge; he is responsible to the Almighty for his soul, as I am for mine.

Today’s Exodus passage brought other Scripture verses to mind for me:

“How long, O Lord?  Will you utterly forget me?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look, answer me, O Lord, my God!”

Psalms 13: 1-2      

May we receive the means to aid those now suffering at our hands.

Hopefully, Mr. Biden Didn’t Frack It Up …

When one regularly posts to a blog, it’s pretty easy to remember some of the instances in which you were off base.  In the last six months, I opined that Wisconsin Republicans’ efforts to suppress voter turnout in the state’s April statewide election might cost Democratic-backed Supreme Court Justice candidate Jill Karofsky the victory.  It didn’t; she won handily.  During the speculation as to whom former Vice President Joe Biden would pick as his running mate, I indicated that I feared that if she was chosen, U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris could well be a political liability.  So far, she has instead proven to be an asset.

I fervently hope that I can chalk up what follows to the “miss” category when all the Pennsylvania presidential votes are tallied, but I think President Trump won last night’s debate – not because of anything he said, although he was markedly better (despite a couple of grotesquely tone-deaf statements and a blizzard of fabrications) than he was in the first debate – but ironically because of what Mr. Biden said during the candidates’ very last substantive exchange, when he was literally moments from escaping the stage with a sometimes wobbly but generally good-enough performance.

Mr. Trump asked Mr. Biden:  “Would you close down the oil industry?”

Mr. Biden answered:  “I would transition from the oil industry.”

I’m sure that Mr. Biden’s response was hailed in California, but he’s already won California.  His answer perhaps cost him any chance of upsetting Mr. Trump in Texas, but he was likely to lose Texas anyway (although if I was U.S. TX Sen. John Cornyn, in an unexpectedly tight race with Democratic challenger M.J. Hegar, I would have popped a bottle of champagne after the debate).  However, the race seems likely to come down to Pennsylvania.  They frack in Pennsylvania – as Mr. Trump quickly pointed out.  Even if the Biden Campaign has internals indicating that Pennsylvania’s avid environmentalists heavily outnumber the state’s fossil fuel employees, Mr. Biden is already going to get all of the environmentalists’ votes; it’s support among the state’s blue collar swing voters – including the fossil fuel workers – that may be the difference in Pennsylvania.  Although Pennsylvania state reports indicate — despite the national energy industry’s allegedly inflated job numbers – that there are only about 26,000 fracking jobs in Pennsylvania, these jobs undoubtedly feed others in some small Pennsylvania communities.  In 2016, out of almost 6 million votes cast, Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania by just 42,000 votes.  Every vote matters.  If I was a Pennsylvania energy worker, I would find his answer a reason to vote for Mr. Trump. 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign declaration, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” wasn’t, if you were one of the three people that ever listened to her complete statement that day, that controversial; it was the tone that resonated. 

One may argue that given the importance of the environment to our future, Mr. Biden’s answer was appropriate, since he’s running for the presidency of the United States, not the Governorship of Pennsylvania; I would respond that unless he wins Pennsylvania, there may be no United States presidency for him.  On the other hand, CNN Commentator Rick Santorum – who was once a Pennsylvania Senator – mentioned the fracking exchange during the post-debate analysis, but didn’t dwell on it.

As I said at the outset:  I hope I’m over-reacting, and will happily chalk this up as a “miss” if I see Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes placed squarely in Mr. Biden’s column.  In the meantime, I don’t care that the national polls uniformly state that Mr. Biden won the debate.  I’ll be watching Pennsylvania polls closely in the coming days.

The Last Hurdle [?]

No matter the election outcome, I consider former Vice President Joe Biden to have run a generally smart and disciplined campaign from beginning to end:  at the outset, making maximum benefit of his name recognition, residual personal and Obama Administration good will; doing well enough in the Democratic presidential debates to maintain his standing; while a series of adversaries briefly shone, shrewdly pinning his prospects for the Democratic nomination on African American support in the South Carolina primary (a state that he will, ironically, probably lose to President Trump); presenting himself throughout as moderate, sane and empathetic (which, by all accounts, he is); picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, who – despite my posted misgivings – has turned out to be a safe and effective choice; and focusing his attention almost exclusively on swing states with understandable (given the polls) forays into Ohio.  He’s gotten some breaks.  He was first assisted by having his moderate rivals, who had seen what happened to the Republicans in 2016, endorse him before an arguably unelectable outsider, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, could seize the nomination.  In starkly political terms, he was aided by the outrage attending the killing of George Floyd and, primarily, by the Coronavirus, which brought into naked relief President Trump’s narcissism and incompetence, for months diverted attention from any attacks that Republicans planned to level at him, and enabled him to mostly stay out of sight – gaffe-free, while demonstrating responsible Coronavirus behaviors.

In contrast, President Trump has thrown off the fetters of the Coronavirus (both the national crisis and his own affliction) and thus far reverted to his campaign brew of chaos, incendiary rhetoric, and questionable allegations.  The polls indicate that his strategy may be helping him.  The mental image of the contest seems a boat race in which the gap appears to be narrowing as Mr. Trump revs the outboard while Mr. Biden maintains smooth sail toward shore.

One can never tell in the Alternate Trump Universe in which we are trapped, but tonight’s debate may be the last major test for Mr. Biden’s steady approach.  Since reports indicate that he has been preparing for the last couple of days, presumably he sees it as so.  Each candidate has advantages and disadvantages in this last confrontation.

First, Mr. Trump’s advantages and Mr. Biden’s disadvantages.  After the President’s boorishly buffoonish debate performance in late September – when he may or may not have been infected with COVID – expectations for him will be low.  The Trump Campaign has been doing a much better job at the “low expectations” game than it did before the first debate, while decrying the “unfairness” of the debate format it agreed to.  Mr. Trump can behave when he has to – the last two weeks of his 2016 presidential campaign showed that – and my guess is that whether or not he admits it, he realizes that his all-out assault on Mr. Biden in the first debate backfired horribly, and that he needs to look restrained and reasonable to have any hope of persuading the modicum of swing state swing voters he needs.  I expect him to take his shots, but to be more the 2016 presidential debater, when he did reasonably well against Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton.  

An aside:  each candidate’s microphone will be muted when the other is giving his opening statement on each debate topic (but not during the topic’s ensuing open discussion).  This change in debate rules is apparently at the behest of the Biden Campaign, which is reportedly seeking a “more ordered” debate.  This, against Mr. Trump, was just dumb, one of the few unforced errors the Biden team has made.  The more opportunity Mr. Biden gives the President to discard his restraint, to show his true colors, the better Mr. Biden looks.  The more Mr. Biden seemingly hesitates — perhaps merely while constructing a work around for his stuttering — in ways not attributable to Mr. Trump’s interruptions, the greater the possibility of increased voter misgivings about Mr. Biden.  In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt comments that Republicans are masters at aiming at intuition, while Democrats appeal to language-based reasoning, and that intuition trumps [if you will ;)] reasoning every time.  Democrats can turn the tables by giving Mr. Trump as much chance as possible to evoke the visceral personal distaste that polls show most not in the Trump Cult feel for him.   

 Mr. Biden’s advantages and Mr. Trump’s disadvantages:  Mr. Trump’s potential lack of restraint, and the fodder Mr. Trump has given Mr. Biden.  Mr. Biden should look for the opportunities to use these:

When Mr. Trump makes his latest claims about Hunter Biden, take your pick:

“You’ve said I’m a criminal that should be arrested.  Are you standing here tonight saying that I am a criminal that should be arrested?”  (No matter what Mr. Trump says, Mr. Biden wins the visual).

“You’re basing your claim on a lead provided by Russians [ding] to your lawyer, Rudy Giuliani [ding], for a story in the New York Post, owned by the owner of Fox News [ding].”

 “You don’t have the guts to face Putin, but you’re going after my son to hurt me.”


No matter what Mr. Trump says in his own defense:  “You sat on your hands, and now over 200,000 of our people are dead.  You deny, people die.”

“The other day, you called Dr. Anthony Fauci an idiot.  Do you think you know more about how to protect us than he does?”

“We were each supposed to take a COVID test before the first debate to protect each other.  I took the test.  Did you?”  [If Mr. Trump says he did, Mr. Biden can point out that Mr. Trump said in his NBC Town Hall that he didn’t remember; he can call upon Mr. Trump – right there – to authorize Mr. Trump’s physicians to reveal his testing regime to the public.  If Mr. Trump repeats that he can’t remember, Mr. Biden can say, “I thought I was the one that wasn’t able to remember.”]

Most importantly: 

Mr. Biden’s concluding statement, no matter what the actual specified topic, needs to be:  “Do you want four more years of this?”  [Let the viewer fill in the “this.”]

Tonight, we see.

Truly Random October Monday Thoughts

If polls are to be believed, President Trump’s standing has fallen sharply among seniors.  Commentators have generally attributed Mr. Trump’s apparent loss of senior support to his mishandling of our Coronavirus response.  If he has indeed lost senior support, I wonder whether it doesn’t have more meaning than that:  while COVID has brought into stark relief Mr. Trump’s incompetence and disregard for seniors’ safety, it has also caused seniors to confront the sheer lunacy of his presidency.  Seniors remember when the president, even if you disagreed with his particular policies, at least … made sense.  While Bernie, Elizabeth, or Pete might have conjured up fears of continued craziness, Joe Biden offers the prospect of … sanity.  Even if some fellow seniors don’t share my deep abhorrence for the president’s lies, bullying, racism, and dictatorial inclinations, I suspect that many share my attendant wish for a stop to the noise and the craziness.

I’m fascinated that in recent days the Republicans have tried to resurrect their allegations about … wait for it … former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Trump has spoken about it; Vice President Pence threw in references to Sec. Clinton near the end of the Vice Presidential debate; I saw one clip in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured us (complete with sardonic smile, almost diabolically rubbing his hands in glee) that he has Ms. Clinton’s allegedly deleted emails and will tell us more before the election.  This is obviously designed to elicit the Pavlovian response from the Republican faithful.  We ourselves have family members (of both genders) who get terribly exercised at the very mention of Ms. Clinton.  My reaction to Mr. Pompeo’s claim:  unless he produces a validated Clinton email which says, “I told Joe Biden that I was intentionally violating email security protocols and exposing our most sensitive information to Russia and China, and Joe said, ‘Great – Go for it!’”, what swing voter – upon whose vote the outcome of the presidential election will rest — cares anymore?  While she’s perhaps not the most likeable, I have never understood the Republican rabid Hillary Clinton fixation.  As First Lady and then Secretary of State, her responsibility was to support the policies of the sitting President.  Has there ever been a more inept national politician?  With all of the Clintons’ institutional advantages in 2008, how does one lose to a 2-year Illinois U.S. Senator, no matter how charismatic he is?  In 2016, how does one lose to … Donald Trump?  Let her rest in peace.

I haven’t been able to muster up that much interest in Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings or Judge Barrett’s impending ascension to the Supreme Court.  As all that read these pages are aware, I’m terribly troubled by the Republicans’ hypocrisy in thwarting Judge Garland’s Supreme Court nomination while pushing Judge Barrett’s; to me, it’s not about what the Senate had the right to do or not do, it’s about partisan Senate Republicans’ failure to honorably do what they should have done.  That said, it’s clear that Judge Barrett seems overwhelmingly likely to be confirmed.  Since she is undisputedly eminently qualified (albeit staunchly conservative) and apparently has no objective disqualifying factors such as drug addiction, I believe she should be.  I will nonetheless venture that if Mr. Biden wins the election and the Democrats gain control of the Senate, the liberal angst about Ms. Barrett’s ascension is overwrought.  Demographic and cultural mores sweeping this nation will not be held back by six conservative Justices, including the three Trump appointees, frantically trying to hold back the tide.  Public perception of the Court is no longer of robed oracles on pedestals as it was when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed his court packing plan in 1937.  Although Mr. Roosevelt’s initiative resulted in the most stinging political defeat of his career [although it didn’t stop him from being re-elected – twice – thereafter ;)], some scholars suggest that Mr. Roosevelt’s legislative overture caused “the switch in time that save nine” – conservative Justice Owen Roberts’ sudden joining with the liberal Justices to uphold New Deal positions.  I predict that independent voter support for court packing will mushroom if the Affordable Care Act is struck down or Roe v. Wade overruled.  The current conservative Justices will ultimately either accommodate their rulings to changing American sensibilities, be neutered by a legislative increase in Supreme Court seats, or depart the Court via “voluntary” retirement or impeachment.  On the other hand, if Mr. Trump is re-elected, a conservative Supreme Court majority will be among the lesser of our problems.

As the polls indicate – whether or not accurately – a potential “Blue Wave” in unlikely places such as Texas and Georgia, I wonder whether former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former GA State Rep. Stacey Abrams have experienced pangs about rejecting the Democratic National Committee’s repeated requests that they run for the U.S. Senate in their respective states in 2020.  While their reluctance earlier this year was understandable – both had come off close defeats in a non-presidential election year, and presumably didn’t like their electoral prospects against apparently popular incumbent Senators in a presidential election year – arguably the enthusiasm each engendered in their narrow 2018 defeats, against a backdrop of a seemingly dramatic shift in voter sentiment brought about by Mr. Trump, might in hindsight have given either or both of them a springboard to victory.  Two years ago, everyone knew of Mr. O’Rourke and Ms. Abrams; how many can name the current Texas and Georgia Democratic Senate candidates?

A good friend recently sent me the following link to an article reporting upon the State of Wisconsin’s ongoing negotiations with Foxconn.  The arrangement touted with such fanfare in June, 2018, by President Trump, then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and then WI Gov. Scott Walker is — and there is no kinder way to accurately describe it — a debacle.

All reports indicate that we’re going in the wrong direction on COVID.  Be careful.

On the Use of Surrogates

As the renowned British philosopher, Richard Starkey, once observed:  One gets by with a little help from one’s friends.  An American presidential election takes place on many separate battlegrounds featuring different terrains, for which there are different objectives calling for different troop deployments.   The greater an army’s troop and financial strength and the more effectively it applies its resources, generally the better it will fare.

President Trump is currently in the midst of a bunch of campaign stops.  Put aside for a moment the COVID risks his stops may engender; even put aside that his forays are in large part to indulge an ego that Mr. Trump’s niece, Clinical Psychologist Mary Trump, called in Too Much and Never Enough, “a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment.”  The stark political reality is:  he has no choice.  He must carry the load.  He has no credible surrogates.  He is the Trump Show.  Only insomniacs can have any interest in His Somnolency, Vice President Mike Pence; only maniacs can be interested in Donald Trump, Jr.  To compound the President’s difficulties, current reports indicate that his campaign is now a bit strapped for funds.       

On the other hand, by all accounts former Vice President Joe Biden has a lot of friends (in this contest, some unexpected).  Mr. Biden’s campaign is reportedly well funded.  If the Biden Campaign is undertaking many of the efforts set forth below, I apologize for failing to have noted them; but this race is not over.  Even given its need to maintain a “COVID-safe” posture with the electorate, I would submit that in the campaign’s final weeks, it’s time for a full court blitz.  The Biden Campaign should aggressively use its surfeit of potential surrogates.  Saving Mr. Biden himself for toward the end of this note:       

Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris:  When she is not engaged in the Senate Confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, she should be living in the Hispanic areas of Arizona and Florida to bolster Mr. Biden’s relatively weaker support in Brown communities and regularly visiting the cities of Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee to encourage Democratic minority support.

Dr. Jill Biden:  I’ve found her impressive, and would have her appearing in the more conservative swing state suburban communities, as much to dissuade suburban Republican women from voting for Mr. Trump as to gain voters for her husband.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama:  given Ms. Obama’s popularity, to the extent she is willing to engage, having her mine swing state cities and their suburbs would be a HUGE plus for the Biden Campaign.

Territorially effective:  Ms. Cindy McCain, widow of U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain:  The Bidens and McCains were close friends for decades.  Ms. McCain’s endorsement of Mr. Biden and her accompanying Ms. Biden on stops to undercut the President’s Arizona Republican support is, in my view, very wise.

Michael Bloomberg:  Devoting millions to the Biden Campaign in strategic locations.  (This also appears to be happening.)

U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar:  when not tied up in Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Klobuchar should be stumping for Mr. Biden to hold Minnesota, and – given her Midwest credibility stemming from her presidential campaign – in the non-urban parts of Wisconsin and Iowa.

Former OH Gov. John Kasich:  I suspect Mr. Biden’s current unexpectedly strong Ohio poll showing is partly attributable to Mr. Kasich’s efforts.

The “Big Guns”:

Former President Barack Obama:  to the extent he is willing, put him on the road in the cities of Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee.  Put him in southern Florida, the area of his primary support in a state he won twice.  Put him in Charlotte, North Carolina, a state he won in 2008.  He alone can lecture minority communities:  “I told you elections matter.  You didn’t think it mattered, you didn’t come out for Hillary, and look what happened.  Get out and vote.”    

Mr. Biden:  He himself is doing much of what I would suggest:  campaigning in the areas of Mr. Trump’s strength.  Hit western Pennsylvania.  Hit central and northern Wisconsin.  Hit the upper reaches of Michigan.  Hit the retirement communities in Arizona and Florida (pledge loudly and repeatedly to protect Social Security and Medicare).  His mission in these areas is to persuade those that are distrustful of progressives but repulsed by Mr. Trump’s antics that he is sound and moderate.  He’ll gain some votes, but if he provides sufficient reassurance to wavering Trump supporters to quell Mr. Trump’s turnout, he wins.

Finally, the most territorially tactical, but potentially the most telling.  Former President Bill Clinton and the Bush Family are close; at his father’s funeral, former President George W. Bush referred to Mr. Clinton as, “my brother by another mother.”  At the same time, as John Bolton noted in The Room Where It Happened that Mr. Trump “despise[s] both Bush Presidents,” it is obvious that the Bush Family despises Mr. Trump.  I would have Mr. Clinton call Mr. Bush and encourage him to declare, as Texas voting is now underway: 

“During my administration, I asked our people to give their lives in America’s cause.  The least I owe them is to tell them directly what I think is best for our nation.  I consider the way that President Trump has conducted himself in office to be a greater danger to America than terrorism.  I have honest disagreements with Joe Biden on many issues, but he is an honorable man who wants what’s best for our nation.  Texans love our country.  As an American and a Texan, I intend to split my ballot by voting for Joe Biden for President while also voting for my friend, Republican John Cornyn, for the Senate.”

While such an endorsement by Mr. Bush might carry some weight in certain swing state Republican suburbs across the nation, it might tip Texas, where polls currently show Messrs. Trump and Biden in a statistical tie.  Given Texas’ 38 Electoral College votes, a Biden victory in Texas … would be the coup de grace.

Hit ‘em from every angle.  This race is not over.

I Cede the Rest of My Time: Redux

[Two caveats:

As anyone that reads these pages is aware, my concern isn’t that President Trump has nominated Judge Barrett, or that she is likely to be confirmed in the Senate, but that President Obama’s nominee, Judge Garland, wasn’t – for purely partisan reasons.   The purpose of much of what follows would simply be to suggest to persuadable viewers that the Republicans are acting in an unfairly partisan manner, hopefully nudging them to vote against the GOP on November 3.

Judge Barrett would obviously waffle on a number of the questions below in a real session; what I offer is what I suggest that she would say if she was being candid.  If any of the learned legal eyes that read these pages disagree with my construction of either Roe or Heller, we can debate our interpretations over a refresher in healthier times.  : ) ]

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Judge Barrett, is consistency important in a Judge?


Is consistency in judicial rulings important?

“Generally, yes.”

Is it fair to say that your philosophy of Constitutional interpretation is much like that of the late Justice Scalia?


I want to read comments I understand that you made on CBSN on February 15, 2016, two days after the passing of Justice Scalia:

“Kennedy is a moderate Republican and he replaced a moderate Republican, Powell.  We’re talking about Justice Scalia, the staunchest conservative on the Court, and we’re talking about him being replaced by someone who could dramatically flip the balance of power on the Court.  It’s not a lateral move.  And finally the reality is that we live in a different time.  Confirmation hearings have gotten far more contentious.  I just don’t think we live in the same kind of time.  I think in sum, the President has the power to nominate and the Senate has the power to act or not and I don’t think either one of them can claim there’s a rule governing one way or the other.”  

Does that sound like you?


I don’t want to put words in your mouth; in your remarks to CBSN, were you not indicating that you thought Justices Powell and Kennedy had similar judicial philosophies?


And you were suggesting that when Justice Kennedy replaced Justice Powell, there wasn’t much shift in what you called “the balance of power” on the Supreme Court?


Now despite their well-known friendship, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg had markedly different – in many areas almost polar opposite — judicial philosophies, did they not?


In your comments to CBSN after Justice Scalia’s death, as a judicial conservative, you were expressing concern that President Obama’s nominee might be liberal — might, in your words, “dramatically flip the balance of power on the Court” — were you not?


Since you are an adherent of Justice Scalia’s philosophy, and notwithstanding your undoubted respect for Justice Ginsburg as a person and a jurist, won’t your confirmation — using your words — “constitute the dramatic flip in the balance on the Court” that you yourself warned against four years ago?

[When she waffles: “To give an answer like that, you obviously agree with my wife that I’m even dumber than I look.  I’ll move on.”]

Is it fair to say that at times Justice Scalia referred to his philosophy as “Originalism” – interpreting the Constitution according to what the Founding Fathers intended – and “Textualism” – a philosophy under which Judges should interpret the Constitution and laws as they are written?

“Again, generally, yes.”

Let’s look at the President’s Constitutional power to nominate and appoint federal judges and the Senate’s power to advise and consent on such nominees.  Is there any time frame set forth in the Constitution in which the Executive and Legislative branches need to exercise their respective powers?


Do you believe that the Constitution inherently includes an obligation upon the Executive and Legislative Branches to act within … a “reasonable time”?

“No.  As I said, there is no rule governing their behavior one way or the other.”

Is it therefore your opinion that the Founding Fathers intended that either the Article I or Article II Branches – the President by failing to nominate judges, or the Senate by failing to consent to the President’s appointments – each in the last analysis has the power to extinguish the Judicial Branch?

[Don’t care what she says.]

Let’s look at this from another way.  When Justice Scalia passed away in 2016, President Obama, a Democrat, nominated Judge Merrick Garland, and Sen. McConnell, a Republican, refused to allow hearings to go forward on Judge Garland’s nomination, declaring that the American people should have a voice in the next Supreme Court Justice through the 2016 Election, because they might elect a Republican.  From general news accounts, is that your understanding?


Do you personally know of any reason that would have made Judge Garland professionally or personally unfit for the Court?


Now, four years later, in another Election Year, President Trump, a Republican, has nominated you, and Senator McConnell has allowed these hearings to proceed, when he didn’t with Judge Garland.  His stated rationale is that the President and Senate are controlled by the same political party, where they weren’t in 2016.  Have you heard that?


I understand that you are a member of the Federalist Society. You are obviously familiar with the Federalist?


Now I have the book and you don’t, but does this sound like what you recall Alexander Hamilton writing in Federalist No 1?:  Quote, “Nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties?”


Admittedly omitting some phrases, does this sound like the thrust of what you remember James Madison writing in Federalist No. 10?:  Quote, “A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points; … an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; … have … divided mankind into parties, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good”?


Does the word, “party,” in the context of “political parties,” appear anywhere in the Constitution?


Would you agree that one – perhaps even an Originalist — might reasonably infer that at least Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison would have had concerns about Sen. McConnell’s rationale in proceeding with your nomination hearings while refusing to schedule Judge Garland’s?

“I couldn’t say.”

I’m sure you couldn’t.  Let’s move on very briefly to Roe v. Wade.  Justice Blackmun wrote in the opinion, “It is undisputed that at common law, abortion performed before ‘quickening’ — the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy — was not an indictable offense,” “That prior to quickening” – I’m condensing a bit here – “the fetus was to be considered part of the mother,” and “The significance of quickening was echoed by later common-law scholars and found its way into the received common law in this country.” 

Do you agree that the “Common Law” referred to by Justice Blackmun would have been the prevailing state of the law at the time the Constitution was written?


In District of Columbia v. Heller, your mentor, Justice Scalia, wrote:  “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.  From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”  He indicated, “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.  Miller [United States v. Miller] said, as we have explained, that the sort of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’  We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”  Finally, he stated, “It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service – M-16 rifles and the like – may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause….But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.”

Judge Barrett, you may not know a lot more about the innards of weapons than I do, but I believe that in the classes of weaponry, the M-16s Justice Scalia referred to in Heller are akin to today’s AR-15s.  Is that generally your understanding?


Can we agree that AR-15s have been the weapon of choice for perpetrators of a number of the mass shootings that our people have suffered in this century?


And that AR-15s were carried by a number of the men that entered the Michigan legislature last spring to protest the Michigan Governor’s policies to address the Coronavirus?


Have you heard reports that at least one of the men that demonstrated in the Michigan legislature has been arrested by law enforcement on the charge of engaging in a plot to kidnap the Michigan Governor?


Now, Justice Scalia simply stated in Heller that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not unlimited; the rest is admittedly dicta.  Even so, do you agree that one could reasonably infer that he suggested that it might be Constitutionally permissible under the Second Amendment to – his word – ban weapons such as M-16s?


Do you agree with Justice Scalia that an American citizen’s Second Amendment right to bear arms is not unlimited?


Finally – are you aware that President Trump has recently said, “I think this” – meaning disputes relating to the presidential election about three weeks away – “will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine Justices”?

“I am.”

You’re excited by the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court, are you not?


And you are thankful to President Trump that of all the potential Supreme Court nominees he has publicly listed over the years, at this particular time he has chosen to nominate you?

“Of course.”

Thank you.  Mr. Chairman, I cede the rest of my time.

Reflections on the Vice Presidential Debate

In Wednesday night’s Vice Presidential debate, I would submit that U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris did very well – by maintaining her poise, looking at the camera, and not trying to do too much.  She left some opportunities on the table, but was seemingly cognizant (in my view, wisely) that her main assignment was “do no harm.”  The evening appears likely to have little effect on the polls, and if such is the case, she won.  She effectively wielded a terrific asset that I had frankly forgotten she possessed, despite commenting on it in the earliest days of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination:  the best smile I’ve seen in politics since President Jimmy Carter’s run in 1976.  Although she initially muffed her description of Vice President Joe Biden’s tax plan by not making clear that the plan will not increase income taxes for anyone making under $400,000 a year, she recovered nicely.  She was effective on the consequences of the Administration’s intent to kill the Affordable Care Act.  Michigan remains, at least nominally, a swing state; she was deadly in pointing out that Mr. Biden was pivotal in the passage of the U.S. auto industry relief package during the Great Recession, while her adversary, Vice President Mike Pence, then in Congress, voted against it.  Her foreign policy answer was weak, but she got by.  Most importantly, she looked like she belonged on the stage with Mr. Pence, and that she could assume the presidency if need be.  As Theodore White commented in The Making of the President 1960 about then-untested U.S. MA Sen. John Kennedy’s first debate against the well-known Vice President Richard Nixon:  “There was, first and above all, the crude overwhelming impression that … the two seemed evenly matched – and this even matching in the public imagination was for [the lesser known candidate] a major victory.”  Although anyone that reads these pages is aware that I have doubts that Ms. Harris actually is ready to assume the presidency, I felt while watching the debate that she seems the only one of the four candidates on the two tickets that looks like the future.   

At the same time, I would credit Mr. Pence with doing as well as he could with what he had.  In certain areas, he was the more substantive.  He provided reassurance to those wavering Republicans looking for a reason to stick with Mr. Trump.  That said, his defense of the Trump Administration’s handling of the Coronavirus – positioned as it was at the beginning of the debate, when viewers would have been most closely attending – flew in the face of public experience and perception; he simply looked like the tired Trump apologist he’s been for four years.  He ducked question after question (as did Ms. Harris, although seemingly not as noticeably).  In sharp contrast to Ms. Harris’ smile, I would submit that Mr. Pence’s most notable shortcoming – a mistake that I was surprised that he made, given the terrible reviews President Trump’s boorish debate performance garnered last week – was his overbearing manner.  He regularly interrupted Sen. Harris (she also interrupted him, but again, seemingly not as frequently or egregiously) and repeatedly ran roughshod over Moderator Susan Page’s attempts to have him abide by the debate rules.  I suspect that many women found the Vice President’s performance disrespectful, a suspicion perhaps supported by CNN’s post-debate “Instant Poll,” which found that men considered the debate essentially a tie, while women judged Ms. Harris the victor by 69% – 30% — a terrible impression for Mr. Pence to have left with the largest voter segment, one in which he and Mr. Trump are already significantly trailing.  Surprisingly and ironically, Mr. Pence may have made the same mistake that I consider U.S. VA Sen. Tim Kaine to have made against him during the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate when Mr. Kaine chose to strike a somewhat contentious posture:  devalue his brand as a “nice guy.”

Both left glaring openings that Messrs. Trump and Biden will undoubtedly try to exploit in their next debate (assuming such occurs):  Mr. Pence failed to provide assurances that Mr. Trump will peacefully vacate the White House if Mr. Biden is certified the Electoral College victor, and Ms. Harris completely sidestepped Mr. Pence’s charge that Democrats will try to add seats to the Supreme Court if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the Senate.  Mr. Trump’s expressed reservations about accepting a Biden victory could appear unseemly to his conservative senior supporters and has certainly increased enthusiasm among Democrats to get out their vote.  Mr. Biden’s and Ms. Harris’ unwillingness (thus far) to expressly state that they will not support any Democratic effort to “pack the Court” if Judge Barrett’s nomination is confirmed is obviously an attempt to thread the needle between their Democratic supporters, who polls show favor expanding the Supreme Court if Judge Barrett is confirmed, and Independents, who the same polls show overwhelmingly oppose any plan to “pack the Court.”  [I concede that the level of Independents’ sentiment against such a plan somewhat surprises me, while at the same time being surprised that given my institutionalist instincts, I am not more offended by the notion of such a plan; both reactions presumably stem from my deep revulsion at Senate Republicans’ despicably partisan refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.  Some old outrages apparently never heal  ;).]    

Finally, as to the true star of the Vice Presidential Debate:  as we watched, I thought maybe I was seeing something, but TLOML suddenly said, “Is that on our screen – or is that a fly on his head?”  We were transfixed; I have no idea what Mr. Pence actually said during the minutes he and the fly shared the stage.  Of the many fine summations of those moments I’ve heard over the last day, my favorites are those of Ken Olin and Joe Scarborough.  Mr. Olin:  “The fly just got a Netflix deal.”  Mr. Scarborough:  “An update this morning:  the fly checked into Walter Reed Hospital.  Our thoughts and the prayers are with the fly.”

On we march.  Stay safe.