Mr. Bloomberg: Where Are You?

President Trump’s repeated claims (without any evidence) that mail-in-voting creates election fraud, buttressed by his recent (and, amazingly, acknowledged) efforts to impede the United States Postal Service’s activities because he perceives that an efficient November mail-in voting process will assist the Democrats’ electoral prospects, is simply the latest evidence of his willingness to do anything to remain in power.  (Mr. Trump did backtrack a bit late last week to indicate that he would agree to a Coronavirus relief package that contained funding for the post office.  Even if money is allocated, I fear it may have little effect unless accompanied by nonpartisan oversight ensuring that the funding is promptly spent in a manner that actually facilitates nationwide balloting.)  Consider the malevolent genius of it.  Mr. Trump has picked an election element – mail-in-voting – that is particularly vital in this COVID era, and labeled it the source of election fraud.  (He could actually more credibly claim that elections held on Tuesdays have historically been subject to a certain level of fraud.)  If Mr. Trump loses to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, he hopes to have instilled a belief in at least a segment of his millions of followers – who seemingly believe anything he, his cohort and his propagandists at Fox News and other alt-right media trumpet – that the election was stolen from him (and them) by fraudulent mail-in voting.  What happens if he refuses to concede despite a tight but discernable loss?  Even if he departs, his claims of fraud are an attempt to create popular unrest with the potential to cripple a Biden Administration while continuing a media spotlight for Mr. Trump – the latter unquestionably his primary focus.  But even if Mr. Trump wins, the recent demonstrations in Portland and elsewhere are a clear portent that if those opposing Mr. Trump believe that the Administration’s actions have stolen the election from them, riots will ensue across the nation. Mr. Trump will use these as a pretext to impose autocratic restraints upon those who oppose him.  A close outcome in either direction accordingly seems likely to threaten the American way of life.  I would suggest that in order to reclaim our future, Mr. Biden must not only win; the Democratic ticket must determine a way to win by decisive margins in a sufficient number of the battleground Electoral College states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) to yield an impressive Electoral College margin.  I would submit that the Democrats need to wage their political war between now and Election Day on two fronts, and that at this stage, their overall success perhaps depends less upon the conventional – persuasion – and more upon the unconventional – education

The conventional is straightforward:   political professionals and pollsters of all stripes seemingly agree that although polls are starting to tighten, if all legally-eligible voters that wish to vote in November are actually able to vote and have their votes counted, Mr. Biden will defeat Mr. Trump in the Electoral College.  I would assert that deep antipathy among the electorate toward Mr. Trump is “baked in.”  Mr. Biden doesn’t need to win over any current Trump supporters to secure the presidency; he needs only a persuasion campaign to stave off material erosion in his current level of support.  Unless either Mr. Biden or presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris commit a grotesque gaffe during their respective debates with their Republican counterparts, the Electoral College victory seems near at hand.  Apparently reassuring – but I fear not enough by itself to secure a stable American future.

In my view, to facilitate Mr. Biden’s victory and enhance its legitimacy, the Democrats and their allies need to mount an extensive and effective education campaign – admittedly bordering on propaganda, to counteract the Trump and related alt-right barrage – to educate the electorate in the six battleground states regarding the states’ respective mail-in voting processes.  Even where local officials are well-meaning, neither local governments nor battleground state Democratic organizations have the funding nor the expertise required to develop and broadcast sufficient effective informational spots to reassure an electorate that polls show has increasing reservations about mail-in voting.  I see literally 25 different spots:  Four for each of the battleground states, to be run in the states’ respective progressive and independent markets, which in turn address:  (1) the given state’s voter registration requirements and deadlines, how to register online (all six allow online registration), and how a voter can obtain assistance for an in-person or online registration process; (2) the period within which the given state’s registered voters can request a ballot online, how to request a ballot, and any state nuances regarding the ballot’s completion; (3) a notice of the date by which registered voters should mail in their ballots to be confident that the votes will arrive in time to be tabulated; and (4) a notice that the date by which registered voters could confidently expect that their mailed-in votes would be tabulated has passed coupled with the observation that any eligible voters wishing to vote that haven’t already sent in their ballots should plan to vote in person, together with Coronavirus safety tips and information as to how the voter can find his/her voting place.  A last spot should be run predominantly on Fox News and other conservative outlets in conservative markets nationwide and describe, primarily through Republican election officials, the incredibly low incidence of historic mail-in voting fraud and lay expectations that tabulation delays will necessarily attend anticipated massive mail-in voting.

The effort, expertise, and cost to create, produce and broadcast accurate infomercials in the appropriate outlets would be an enormously expensive proposition – generally beyond the grasp of any campaign.  At the same time, if the content is appropriately cast, such spots would seem outside the proscriptions of campaign finance law.  At one point during former New York City, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for the presidency, the New York Times reported that Mr. Bloomberg indicated that he “wouldn’t rule out” spending as much as $1 billion to defeat Mr. Trump.  During his campaign, Mr. Bloomberg showed that he has not only the funds but the team expertise necessary to create effective campaign spots. 

Mr. Bloomberg:  Where are you?

A Dangerous Pick

I’ve made no secret in these pages of the concerns I had if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden selected U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.  I acknowledge that this note is primarily lament.

Given Mr. Biden’s age, Sen. Harris will clearly be assessed by voters as someone who could be President.  Ms. Harris isn’t qualified.  Three-plus years as a United States Senator after a career as a prosecutor does not prepare one for the presidency.  Fans of former President Barack Obama might point out that Mr. Obama assumed the presidency after the same period of Senate service.  I would counter – while having complete respect for Mr. Obama’s rectitude and offering tremendous credit for his lifting the national mood at the lowest point of the Great Recession and leading us to the Affordable Care Act – that comparing Ms. Harris to Mr. Obama is as much indictment as endorsement; Mr. Obama consistently stumbled in foreign policy, lacked the canniness to master Congressional relations, and showed no ability to establish rapport with or address the needs of the disillusioned citizens in states like Iowa and Ohio who voted for him in hope and later turned to then-candidate Donald Trump in despair.  Ms. Harris has no notable foreign policy expertise and evinces no greater affinity for these dispossessed citizens than Mr. Obama had — while lacking the former President’s charisma.

Ms. Harris’ oft-repeated phrase during the Democratic presidential debates – “I will prosecute the case against Donald Trump” – brought to my mind another potential weakness.  Any trial lawyer on a major case does exhaustive discovery to learn all s/he can about the dispute and then attempts to conceptualize the appropriate response to all variations of all aspects of whatever might come up at trial.  A daunting task – but even in complex litigation, the variables are finite.  In a presidential campaign, the variables are infinite, and cannot all be anticipated.  Presumably, Mr. Biden saw Ms. Harris’ political experience as an asset when compared to (for example) former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice.  While Ms. Harris is good when scripted, I saw her clutch several times in the early months of the presidential campaign when reporters asked her questions she did not expect.  In one of the debates, Ms. Harris blanked when U.S. HI Rep. Tulsi Gabbard claimed that Ms. Harris, when a prosecutor, withheld evidence of innocence against a defendant in a capital case.  (Different issue:  if Ms. Gabbard’s claim is substantially true — I haven’t seen any fact checking on it – I expect the Republicans to use it to attempt to suppress turnout in this George Floyd era.)  In the next three months, Ms. Harris will be asked everything from her favorite brand of running shoe (Is it made in China with child labor?) to whether we should intervene to protect the citizens in an obscure Yemen town under siege.  How she holds up will be pivotal to the Democratic ticket’s chances.  (To see what havoc an uninformed answer can wreak, do an internet search on the phrase, “Gary Johnson  Aleppo”.)  Ms. Harris also proved predictable; I do not look forward to the many times we will hear in the coming months that she ran the nation’s second largest Justice Department, and that she’s been to more funerals than she can tell us.

Ms. Harris has indisputably softened some of her more conservative “law and order” prosecutorial positions as she has sought the Senate and the presidency, which seemingly makes her vulnerable to Republican attacks both that she’s too soft on crime and a flip-flopper to boot.  I consider her California residence a weakness:  many Americans will viscerally accept the Trump Campaign’s allegations that Ms. Harris is a “radical California leftist” and perhaps pay heed to the Trump claim that Mr. Biden is under the control of the “radical left.”  On a more objective note:  Mr. Biden is going to win California’s electoral votes no matter whom he picked, so a chance to establish additional affinity with a swing state through the VP selection has been forfeited.

Finally, there remains the internet search, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  I don’t expect to see the Republicans use this line of attack until after Ms. Harris is formally nominated.  If they do, one would have to be Pollyanna on steroids not to believe that it will suppress the Democratic vote of “Me Too” advocates and swing state suburban Republican women heretofore leaning against President Trump.

Presumably, in addition to Ms. Harris’ political experience, Mr. Biden was attracted to her relatively more aggressive style – as contrasted again, for example, with Ms. Rice – for a contest that I have recently heard predicted to be “a knife fight in an alley.”  If so, in this way the pick calls to mind Dwight Eisenhower’s selection of Richard Nixon in 1952 and Gerald Ford’s selection of Robert Dole in 1976; in both instances, the presidential nominee sought to remain above the fray while selecting a brawler as his running mate.  If this was indeed Mr. Biden’s thinking, I hope it is correct.  Sitting in a swing state, my instinct is that the citizens of these states seek less contentiousness and more calm competence.  I am genuinely concerned about how Ms. Harris’ style will fare in her debate with the somnolent Vice President Mike Pence – despite Mr. Pence’s unblemished record as a sycophant, toady, fawner, bootlicker, lickspittle, and kisser of Mr. Trump’s … er … rear.  In the 2016 Vice Presidential debate, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine tried to be aggressive with Mr. Pence, and, contrary to all expectations, Mr. Pence won – handily.

In a note a while back, “The Right Choice,” I suggested, “There is no [potential Vice President] candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities that will have to be explained.  [Mr. Biden] might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve all American people and their interests.” As one who truly feels that the fate of the nation depends upon getting Mr. Trump out of the White House and will vote for the Democratic ticket no matter who the Vice Presidential nominee is, I am disappointed in Mr. Biden’s selection of Ms. Harris.  I can only hope that he didn’t make … the Wrong Choice.

Has it occurred to you …

… how odd it is for President Trump – the incumbent – to be complaining about the possibility of a rigged presidential election in 2020?  Consider some of the world’s most renowned autocracies:  Russia, China, Turkey, and Venezuela.  Add in innumerable little autocratic nations across the globe masquerading as democracies.  Isn’t it usually the challengers that claim an election system is rigged?

Although our presidential electoral “process” – which, based upon a federalized, decentralized structure, is actually 51 (counting the District of Columbia) individual processes – is less amenable to manipulation by an incumbent than those of many autocracies, and while acknowledging that four of the six generally-accepted swing states — Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – have Democratic Governors, I note that each of these four states has a bicameral legislature in which both houses are controlled by Republicans.  Arizona and Florida Republicans respectively control their statehouses and both houses of their bicameral legislatures.  Clearly, and despite Mr. Trump’s claims, Republicans will be in position to monitor the fairness of the elections in these pivotal states.

As of the time this is posted, Congress has yet to renew the federal unemployment relief that expired at the end of July.  The Trump Administration and the Senate are currently balking at the bill extending current unemployment benefits, affording funding for COVID testing, and providing relief to local governments passed months ago by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.  In purely political terms, the Republicans’ intransigence seems to me sheer lunacy.  Certain impressions are too deeply embedded in the American psyche to be readily overcome.  If one asks the vast majority of Americans whether Ronald Reagan ever agreed to an income tax increase during his presidency, they’ll say, “No”; but he did.  Given the widespread and deep [and not entirely inaccurate ;)] conception of Democrats as profligate spenders, most Americans in need will viscerally hold Republicans accountable for the delay no matter the GOP rationale.  While the Republicans figuratively quibble about gas mileage and tire tread, their dawdling – and perhaps in some instances, 2024 political posturing — arguably adds to our death total and undisputedly increases the burden upon our financially desperate people.

From a legislative perspective, there is obviously little we citizens can do but watch and wait; from a health perspective, we need to continue to be our own best friends. 

Stay safe.

End of July Random Thoughts

Thoughts as we head into what has traditionally been the hottest part of the Midwest summer:

I have seen reports that the Trump Campaign believes that the development of a Coronavirus vaccine by Election Day will boost the President Trump’s electoral prospects.  I don’t see why.  Even assuming one is developed within that time frame and it is entirely safe and effective (more on substantive questions about the vaccine below), I would submit that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden will still have the upper hand if he asks, “Based upon our nation’s experience over the past year, which candidate do you trust more to see that the vaccine is competently, quickly, fairly, and affordably made available to our people?”

Given Mr. Biden’s age, his choice of a running mate will clearly be assessed by voters as someone that could be President.  I have seen speculation in the last week that Mr. Biden is seriously considering picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris.  I hope he does not, for all of the substantive and political concerns I have already expressed in earlier notes. That said, I would add another risk related to a selection of Sen. Harris, visceral and potentially explosive.  Do an internet search on the term, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  Although Ms. Harris’ presidential bid collapsed before any of her Democratic competitors had any incentive to raise the matter, after reviewing a few of the apparently reasonably-accurate accounts of Ms. Harris’ long-ago close personal relationship with Mr. Brown (a man 30 years’ Ms. Harris’ senior, and then Speaker of the California State Assembly) and the seeming boost that Mr. Brown provided to Ms. Harris’ early political career, it is perhaps not unreasonable to ask how the Trump Campaign, the Russians, Fox News, and the rest of the Trump cohort might seek to exploit the old Brown-Harris relationship to dampen support for the Democratic ticket among feminists and swing voters in swing states.  I would respectfully suggest to anyone who says, “It won’t matter to voters if they take that tack.  Look at Trump’s past,” that s/he needs to reconsider.  Ms. Harris isn’t Mr. Trump, and California isn’t America.  Mr. Biden can’t afford a salacious distraction, and we can’t afford to have him lose. 

As polls continue to show decent leads for Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in most key measures, I have seen speculation that the polls are flawed because respondents won’t admit that they favor Mr. Trump.  While it seems a near certainty that some 2016 Trump supporters who now truthfully tell pollsters that they lean toward Mr. Biden will return to the President’s fold by Election Day – for example, I think the continuing unrest in Portland, OR, is starting to help Mr. Trump as the outrage that initially attended the killing of George Floyd fades in some voter segments – I would suggest that although there are presumably latent Trump voters (those who didn’t turn out for him in 2016), there are no longer many secret Trump voters.  While there is always a tendency to generalize based upon one’s own experience, the Trump supporters we know are vehemently, unabashedly, and proudly so.  Mr. Trump’s divisive conduct of the presidency  and the manner in which he has dominated the national consciousness over the last four years have arguably surfaced those of his supporters who, due to the social stigma then perceived to exist in some quarters, were reluctant to admit to their support for him in 2016.

As current accounts report that amazing progress is being made toward development of Coronavirus vaccines – it is not unusual to see declarations that processes that normally “take years” are being executed “in months” – I consider such speed a double-edged sword.  While the creation of a truly safe and effective COVID vaccine in such a compressed time frame would be one of the greatest scientific achievements of our lives, any prophylactic created within such a short period will seemingly likely come with unresolved questions regarding effective dosage amount, duration of benefit, unforeseen allergic reactions in certain patient profiles, unknown long-term side effects, etc., etc.  Speaking as one that believes in science, has had all the appropriate vaccinations for a person of my vintage, and gets a flu shot every year, I ponder:  If authorities assure us that through this incredibly compressed process they have a safe and effective vaccine by year’s end, and I am somehow given an early opportunity to receive it, will I get it, or prefer to wait a bit?

As of the time this is typed, we have passed 150,000 Coronavirus deaths in the United States.  One Hundred Fifty Thousand.  There can be a tendency to become oblivious as the numbers slowly rise – like the proverbial frog in the slowly-warming water.  It becomes terrifying when made concrete:  the deaths exceed the populations of the largest cities of at least seven states – Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  They approximate the combined total capacity of Michigan Stadium, the country’s largest stadium – the University of Michigan’s “Big House” – and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  Think about that.  Think of your partner, your family, your friends.  Even if thus far you and your loved ones have been fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the virus, imagine one or more of them … gone.  Anyone that reads these pages recognizes that I am preoccupied with the risk to our nation presented by Mr. Trump’s dictatorial tendencies, but how many of our people have been and will be lost, how badly will our economic downturn be extended and exacerbated, due to the President’s denial, self-absorption, misinformation, and sheer incompetence?  Even if we had a resurrected Franklin Roosevelt in his prime assume the presidency this minute, given where we are now, he’d tell us that times were going to get worse before they got better. 

He’d also tell us that from a safety standpoint, we can be our own best friends.  Each of us individually can only do our best.

Awaiting Opening Day … 2021

In January, 1942, a little more than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball – the team sport which then dwarfed all others in terms of public support – and indicated that if the Judge wished, baseball should continue despite the war.  The President wrote:

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going….  [U.S. citizens] ought to have a chance for recreation …. [Baseball players for whatever reason not able to serve the war effort] are a definite recreational asset to … [millions] of their fellow citizens – and that in my judgement is thoroughly worthwhile.”

An abbreviated MLB season opened a few days ago, to the completely understandable delight of millions.  I appreciate the point that Mr. Roosevelt was making 78 years ago, but for me, baseball’s relaxed pace and old world allure will need to wait a bit.  I don’t begrudge — indeed, I envy – those for whom the game provides a distraction in these times of political, health, and social crisis.  Perhaps, if the National Football League plays games this fall, I will be able to immerse myself in the short, intense once-a-week 3-hour distraction of the Sunday football rite ;).  As for baseball … hopefully, by next spring, the Coronavirus will no longer be raging, we will have put the blight of the Trump presidency behind us, and I can return to the languid charm of the game I love best.  So I’m hesitantly anticipating the prospect of the first pitch of Opening Day … in spring, 2021.  Hopefully, for me, it’ll then be time … to Play Ball.

Mr. Biden: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is a couple of notes below), I would start there.

I would offer a final precept that might prove vital to Mr. Biden’s winning the White House this November:

Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered.  On July 11, the New York Times ran a story I had been expecting and, frankly, dreading:  “Democrats Tell Biden to Go Big,” which reported that given Mr. Trump’s “slumping” poll numbers not only in swing states but in recently- or traditionally-conservative-leaning states such as Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Montana, and Kansas, Mr. Biden is facing increasing pressure within the Democratic Party, intent on a resounding renunciation of Trumpism, to “compete aggressively in more states,” “press his party’s advantage down the ballot,” and work “to install a generation of lawmakers who can cement Democratic control of Congress and help redraw legislative maps following this year’s census.” 

With the possible exception of Ohio, such sentiments are misguided nonsense.  Mr. Biden needs to resist this temptation.  This may be our last election based upon a predominantly two-party system (a premise obviously worthy of a future post) that until this century generally served us well for over one hundred years.  A campaign has limited time and resources.  In 2016, Democratic Presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, apparently well ahead in the polls and anticipating that Mr. Trump would claim that her victory had been “rigged,” attempted to run up her Electoral College score to establish her legitimacy.  While never visiting Wisconsin, she diddled around in states like Georgia and Utah — states that any reasonable observer recognized that she was never going to win.  (It is a classic example of Mr. Trump’s bombast causing an opponent’s unforced error.) 

There are 538 Electoral College votes at issue in November.  If Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden wins exactly 270 Electoral College votes, he gets 4 years.  If the winner gets 400, he gets … four years.  If the winner gets 500, he gets … four years.  (All assuming, of course, that if Mr. Trump is elected, he doesn’t – as in effect Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have – declare himself President for Life.)  The candidate that musters 269 or fewer gets … ZERO years.  For the good of the nation, all that matters for Mr. Biden is getting in the White House.  While closely monitoring for any slippage in any of the states won by Ms. Clinton in 2016 (232 Electoral votes, if one includes the few votes denied her by those states’ “faithless” Electors), he needs to claim (assuming no “faithless electors”) any combination of 38 additional Electoral College votes from the six swing states listed in Part I:  Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), Florida (29), North Carolina (15), and Arizona (11) [and maybe Ohio (18), where Mr. Biden – perhaps boosted by the tacit support of former OH Gov. John Kasich — shows a steady if narrow lead and his traditional northern liberalism shouldn’t alarm persuadables].  As of the time this note is posted (while recognizing that these numbers vary daily), Mr. Biden’s leads in these six swing states have actually narrowed by an average of more than 1.5% from their respective late June and July crests – and he didn’t have that much of a lead in Arizona and North Carolina at his best.  I would assert that any decision by the Biden Campaign to broaden its efforts beyond the acknowledged swing states, perhaps Ohio, and any other 2016 Trump states in which polls show that he is sustaining a lead over Mr. Trump outside the margin of error (Nebraska?), is folly. 

Even the cautious might ultimately be tempted to suggest:  Wait until a couple of weeks before the election, and if Mr. Biden retains a commanding lead, then broaden the effort.  Two weeks before the 2016 election, national polls indicated that Ms. Clinton had a 12-point lead over President Trump — days before FBI Director James Comey announced that the Bureau was reopening its investigation into Ms. Clinton’s emails.  I would recommend that Mr. Biden run hard and narrowly right to the end.  As recently as a July 19 interview on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Trump refused to indicate he would concede the election if he lost.  I would submit that it is more important for Mr. Biden to achieve convincing margins in the requisite number of Electoral College states than it is to achieve narrow – and, thus, contestable – margins in a larger number of states.  Let the Lincoln Project and other groups of disaffected former Republicans make the case against Mr. Trump in heretofore conservative states.  There is one qualification to a narrow approach:  Mr. Biden should be willing to devote time to non-swing states in which polling indicates that his assistance might help the Democrats gain a U.S. Senate majority (e.g., Colorado and Maine).

A note:  The site I consult for the poll numbers I rattle off is Project FiveThirtyEight.  I like its ease of use; I assume it’s as accurate as any.

As President Reagan indicated (reportedly to laughter, presumably rueful) in Rochester, NY, at a campaign rally on November 1, 1984:  “The polls [in which Mr. Reagan then held a substantial lead over Mr. Mondale] are scaring me to death … President Dewey [then-deceased former Republican Presidential nominee and NY Gov. Thomas Dewey, who in fact lost to President Truman in 1948 despite leading in pre-election polls] told me to tell you that isn’t true.”

Although Gov. Dewey is as hard to reach now as he was in 1984, if Mr. Biden needs any confirmation for the sentiments Mr. Reagan attributed to Mr. Dewey, Mr. Biden can always consult … Sec. Clinton.


[This is the second time in recent weeks that an action by President Trump or his Administration has warranted deferring publication of the remainder of a note (in this case, impressions regarding the Biden candidacy) for which the first part has already appeared; I suspect that it won’t be the last time.]

By this time, virtually all who care are aware that at President Trump’s order, federal officers from a number of federal agencies – among them at least the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – have been patrolling the streets of Portland, OR, for part of July, seeking to quell ongoing protests related to the killing of George Floyd.  Apparently tensions between authorities and protestors have actually escalated since the federal officials’ arrival.  There are reports that federal agents, dressed in military fatigues and traveling in unmarked cars, have grabbed a number peaceful protestors off the streets. The Marshalls Service has shot a peaceful protestor in the head, severely injuring him.  Federal agents have used tear gas on protestors – notwithstanding a state law that only authorizes the use of such agents by local authorities after a riot has been declared and those gathered given a chance to depart.

The federal authorities involved here are not the United States military.  Without delving into the full extent of its jurisdiction, DHS is obviously primarily responsible for protecting us against foreign attacks; even accepting that it has a role in safeguarding federal property, it appears undisputed that DHS agents have conducted operations well beyond the perimeter of the federal courthouse.  There likewise seems to be little in the Portland situation that would invoke the jurisdictions of ICE and CBP, federal authorities sharing responsibility for immigration, border enforcement, and customs.   

U.S. OR Sen. Jeff Merkley has stated, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

U.S. OR Sen. Ron Wyden has tweeted, “… Trump and [DHS Director] Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”

OR Gov. Kate Brown has stated that she told Mr. Wolf that the federal government should remove federal officers from the Portland streets.  Ms. Brown indicated that Mr. Wolf has refused the request.  She has called the federal deployment “a blatant abuse of federal power.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has indicated that he has told the Trump Administration to take the federal officials out of Portland.  He has added:  “[W]hat I want to do is raise awareness nationally. This could happen in your city. And what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls. And this is a direct threat to our democracy.”  (Mayor Wheeler’s assertion seems strikingly similar to U.S. UT Mitt Romney’s recent description of Mr. Trump’s unwarranted dismissal of four federal Inspectors General as “a threat to accountable democracy.”)

It is cruelly ironic that the Trump Administration – all too eager to cast responsibility for a Coronavirus response on state and local officials so as to shirk accountability for its own inability to deal with the crisis – is unwilling to accede to state and local officials’ request to let them establish and maintain order in Portland, although policing has traditionally been a local charge within our federal system.

Close friends and I recently exchanged emails on the Trump Administration’s deployment of federal policing agencies to the streets of Portland; the same thought had independently struck us:  Brownshirts. 

“In the summer of 1920 … Hitler organized a bunch of rough-neck war veterans into “strong-arm” squads … [T]hey were officially named the Sturmabteilung [the “S.A.”] …. [O]utfitted in brown uniforms … [t]hese uniformed rowdies …soon took to breaking up [meetings] of other [political parties.”

“[T]he S.A. was reorganized … to generally terrorize those who opposed Hitler.”

“From the earliest days of the Nazi movement Hitler had insisted that the [S.A. was] … to furnish the physical violence, the terror, by which the party could bludgeon its way to political power.”

William L. Shirer:  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

“[The S.A. wanted] to protect the prophets of the spiritual goal …. And in this they understood that they were not obligated to undertake the protection of a state which offers the nation no protection, but that, on the contrary, they had to assume the protection of a nation against those who threatened to destroy the people and the state.”

Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf

There is no gentler way to put it:  Since Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made it clear in June that the United States military is not willing to follow Mr. Trump’s orders to act against peacefully protesting American citizens, the Trump Administration has found other federal units more amenable to his political agenda to serve as its private enforcers.  While one can point out that unlike the S.A. – a nongovernmental Nazi militia — the officers deployed to Portland are indeed federal employees, I would submit that such is a distinction without a difference.   Consider: while securing the federal courthouse in Portland is a valid federal objective, it should be relatively straightforward for elite law enforcement agents. The local authorities have asked Mr. Trump’s force to limit its activity to that valid objective, and Mr. Trump’s force has refused. Although I have cautioned in other notes against being distracted from efforts to win the presidential election by the President’s random illiberal acts, I agree with Mayor Wheeler that the Administration’s actions in Portland are a threat to our democracy that can be brought to bear in any city.  Our best defense is to cast a spotlight on such overtly authoritarian activities.  This concludes with a link to those who it is clear are our best soldiers in any struggle to maintain the American way of life.

Mr. Biden: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Part I

As polls indicate that the lead of presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is widening over President Donald Trump and the President seems buffeted – at least outside the alt-right echo chamber – by a continuing proliferation of unfavorable news, Mr. Biden and his team are presumably plotting their final campaign strategy.  I would score their efforts since the former Vice President realistically secured the nomination – buttressed (in starkly political terms) by Mr. Trump’s grotesque mishandling of the COVID crisis – very high; they have maintained a relatively low profile and let Mr. Trump be his own worst enemy.  I suspect that they wish that continuing such a laissez faire approach will be sufficient to win the White House; I would submit that it will not, and that the race will tighten.  Accordingly, what follows are these pages’ prescriptions for Mr. Biden’s winning the presidency:

Stick to the Theme.  The most important [and shortest  ;)] first.  A projection of integrity, competence, stability, caring should be the overarching thrust of the campaign.  Even some voters who are not repulsed by Mr. Trump’s personality and conduct of the presidency have been exhausted by him.  In the same manner as a lawyer designs a trial strategy, Mr. Biden’s campaign should build toward the question he renders in his “closing argument” – i.e., his concluding remarks at the end of the first or last debate:  “Do you want four more years of this?”  (Let the voter fill in the “this.”)

Pick the woman most qualified to be president as running mate.  Along with Franklin Roosevelt’s selection of Harry Truman in 1944, Mr. Biden’s choice will perhaps be the most crucial selection of a running mate, from a substantive standpoint, in American history (and arguably the most crucial one politically, since the average American had little sense of Mr. Roosevelt’s failing health during the 1944 presidential campaign.)  Given his age, Mr. Biden must address the valid voter concern that he might not finish out his term, and he accordingly needs to select a running mate that the average voter can picture immediately effectively conducting the presidency.  I indicated in a note some weeks ago that that there is no candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities, and that Mr. Biden might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve as president.  Such a choice is good politics because it is consistent with Mr. Biden’s “brand,” and the current condition of our nation and the world demands that he do no less.  (Of the names being circulated, my preferred choice would be former U.S. National Security Adviser and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.  Although certain to face renewed Republican criticism that she lied about aspects of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a Congressional Republican-led investigation found no evidence that she had intentionally misled the public regarding the raid’s particulars; she has managed a more demanding portfolio than any other suggested candidate of whom I’m aware; and she has presidential demeanor – seemingly making her a good debate matchup against Vice President Mike Pence, who can present reassuringly when one puts aside his sycophantic record.)

Keep to the Knitting.  Maintain a policy focus that will resonate with swing voters in the generally-accepted swing states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona.  The former Vice President should return continuously to Mr. Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis (at the time this is typed, seemingly out of control in Florida and Arizona), his use of chemical agents against peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square, his Administration’s current attack on the Affordable Care Act, and his failure to act upon intelligence of Russia’s placement of a bounty on American soldiers in Afghanistan.  Mr. Biden should stick to mainstream liberal domestic and foreign policies.  So far, he has successfully resisted pressures to embrace farther-left positions that will alienate centrists while maintaining the allegiance of most progressives (with U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, cognizant of the need to beat Mr. Trump, protecting Mr. Biden’s left flank).  The “Build Back Better” plan seems a meaningful substantive policy, while being a politically-effective overture to a segment of Mr. Trump’s supporters.  At the same time:  Don’t take the bait.  Except when specifically asked, Mr. Biden should ignore the President’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence, his seemingly overwhelmingly likely pardoning of Michael Flynn if Mr. Flynn’s conviction isn’t vacated, and Mr. Trump’s other illiberal acts.  All voters who are alarmed by Mr. Trump’s aberrant conduct of the presidency are already going to vote for Mr. Biden.  Mr. Trump wants to turn the discussion back to the Russia investigation, because it distracts the voter from his blatant shortcomings to an issue in which he has successfully convinced a large share of Americans that he was exonerated. 

You Don’t Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.  After months of Mr. Trump’s assertions that Mr. Biden is in cognitive decline, the onus on Mr. Biden to look sharp in his first debate against the President cannot be overstated.  While there is a temptation to compare the upcoming first debate to the first 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate – How will the challenger measure up? – I would suggest that the a closer parallel might be the second 1984 Reagan-Mondale debate, in which a popular President Ronald Reagan – who had appeared uncertain and diminished in his first debate with former Democratic Presidential nominee and Vice President Walter Mondale – reassured voters with a very sharp performance that arguably secured his second term.  Mr. Biden might not get a debate Mulligan.  He does, however, have the advantage that Mr. Trump’s debate approach – full out, “frontal assault” — can be readily predicted.  If advising the Biden Campaign, I would recommend that they enlist U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren – as vicious a debater as the President — to play Mr.Trump during debate preparation, and have her “let it rip.”

The last prescription, which seemingly forms a nuts-and-bolts bookend to the strategic first prescription, will appear in Part II.

The Harper’s Letter

The link below is to a letter Harper’s posted online last week (the “Letter”) that has stirred what I find an inexplicably vehement response in some progressive quarters given the benign (a Harper’s Vice President called them “anodyne”) — to me, also commendable – statements expressed within it.  Apparently, the Letter has stirred such acrimony in part because some number of its signatories are claimed to hold anti-transgender views (I have no idea whether or not such is true; the document does not address gender issues) and because it warns against the possibility that resistance to right-wing demagoguery “might harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion.”

I am – this will come as no surprise to anyone that reads these pages – in my own bubble.  I only recognize the names of about ten of the 150 or so signatories.  There are two, New York Times Columnist David Brooks and The Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt, whose work I hold in high regard.  One might suggest that the very fact that the seemingly even-handed sentiments expressed in this Letter have stirred such outrage is some evidence that progressives do, indeed, need to guard against “censoriousness” and their “own brand of dogma.”  I, but a humble amateur ;), would have readily signed this Letter if asked; arguably, by including it within these pages, I have.