Friday, April 28, 2023

BTRTN, The Wendy Rant: The Inconvenient Truth of Covid

It is no surprise that Wendy has quickly found another topic for her latest rant.  .

It’s not lost on me that we’re all gnashing our teeth about guns, abortion, and ejections of elected statehouse officials who dare to do their jobs in Tennessee and Montana.  Oh, and Disney.  It’s like attacking baseball and apple pie.  I’m going to save those topics for another day though, and talk about Covid.  I know you have it in the rearview mirror, and I hope that on the personal health front, it stays there for you.  But if you were among those who believed in the public good at the beginning of the pandemic (remember bend the curve?), I’ll go so far as to say that it’s hypocritical of you to turn a blind eye now. 

I’m not advocating a return to mask requirements or other restrictions.  For most Americans, especially those who are vaccinated and boosted, it isn’t necessary right now.   But the Biden administration’s complete dismantlement of its Covid team is irresponsible.  I won’t say it’s government at its worst because lord knows, bad as it is, we’ve got better examples of that in the recent past, but it’s irresponsible. 

I worked as a contact tracer for the first year of the pandemic.  At that time, my friends were very interested in my experiences in the job, but now it’s behind them.  That’s understandable.  It’s not really behind me though.  The conversations I had over the course of that year stick.  I talked to many people with such labored breathing that we couldn’t get through my interview; I’d cut the call short and advise them to get to an ER.  One time, when I called the next day, a daughter answered.  Her mom had died.  You don’t forget about that. 

I do understand that we’re in a different place now.  Cases appear to be low (but no one’s really counting!) and vaccines and boosters, for those who have taken them, offer robust protection against death.  But only 69% of the nation has received the initial two vaccine series (or one for the old J&J vaccine).  I’m not even sure getting those first two vaccines back in early 2021 gets you anywhere at this point, and of course, the percentage of people boosted is much lower – only 18% have taken a bivalent booster.  We’re not all the way to bright here, folks. 

I am haunted by the memory of talking to an elderly Black couple, both sick with Covid.  This was soon after the first vaccines were available but they’d not gotten one.  Their doctor had advised them to take zinc.  Maybe zinc is great, I don’t know, but I do know that given some horrific history in this country, many Black people were suspicious of the vaccine.  I also know that compounding that suspicion was the couple’s inability to easily leave their apartment, to get to the supermarket let alone navigate their way onto a bus to get to a vaccine clinic that they couldn’t find anyway because they didn’t use the Internet.  The husband told me that they’d lost their appetites, that they were losing weight, that his wife cooked beautiful meals every day, but they couldn’t eat more than a few bites.  He was worried about her. They had no children or neighbors to call on, and they refused my offer to connect them with assistance from the county.   They were lovely, lovely people.  The wife had a calendar with meticulous records of every place they’d been – stores, doctor’s offices, sitting outside for a breath of fresh air   all carefully logged to help with my contact tracing.  She reviewed every minute of every day with me in her soft earnest voice, trying to help stop the spread of Covid.  That, we know now, was an almost fruitless pursuit, and in the meantime, she and her husband were dying in their little apartment. It’s so deeply poignant. I spent a long time on that call, far longer than I was supposed to, but I simply couldn’t cut off those frightened and lonely people.  When we finally hung up, I cried for quite some time before dialing the next call.

I’m telling you all this because people like that are still out there.  We’re back to Broadway and travel and restaurants, but Covid remains one of the top ten causes of death in this country.    160 people a day.  And the Biden administration is dismantling its Covid team.  Huh?

I can’t say it better than something I read in The Washington Post from the People’s CDC:

The decision to tolerate preventable deaths in disproportionately vulnerable groups, in exchange for the convenience of more able-bodied, younger, wealthy, and white individuals, is unethical and demonstrates a reckless disregard for the lives of communities disproportionately impacted by COVID.

I’ll tell you another thing.  Last night I went to a book talk featuring the author of a recent best seller.  She was everything you’d expect from a successful author talking about her book, except that it was noticeable that she was having difficulty with word retrieval.  She couldn’t remember the name of the novel that she’s currently reading and once or twice, she drew a blank mid-sentence trying to find the right word to express her thought.  She even said, “I can’t find the word.” So I googled her and learned that following a mild case of Covid in 2022, she’s been suffering from brain fog associated with long Covid. 

That could be you. 

It is an enormous failing that long Covid is not a research priority in this country.  And future generations are going to pay the price for it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m back to theater and travel and other activities that enrich life.  I don’t feel badly about that, I agree that we need to live our lives.  But while we’re living them, we lose our humanity if we pretend that Covid doesn’t deprive many of that option.  It is, plain and simple, wrong to dismantle the resources that can help.  It’s just another in a long list of ways that we turn our backs on those who need us most. Now that some of us are on the safer side of the Covid equation doesn’t give us license to abandon those who continue to be at risk.  If morality doesn’t move you, don’t forget that in the Russian roulette of long Covid, you might be next.  I know you’re weary, but how can we sleep at night as a nation?  

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

BTRTN: Hey, Dominion! Here’s How to Really Nail Fox News.

Think that settlement was a big win for Dominion Voting Systems? Think the settlement – or the firing Tucker Carlson – will make Fox change in any way? Think again. Here is a game plan for finishing the job that Dominion only started.

Nobody’s saying much about why Tucker Carlson got fired. But one thing is clear:  it sure wasn’t about concern for his, um, journalistic standards.

Now that would be news.

Nah. Some think Carlson angered Fox top brass with his texts about how stupid and incompetent the management was. Others speculate it is because of what will come out in Fox Producer Abby Grossberg’s lawsuit charging that Carlson’s show was a hostile work environment.

But nowhere do we see Fox stepping forward and saying that lying to its viewers is the reason Tucker Carlson had to go.

In some ways, the handling of the Carlson firing reinforces a crucial point: nothing – not the Dominion lawsuit, not the settlement, not Carlson – is going to change Fox’s modus operandi.

And that is a problem for all of us.

You see, the lawsuit was all about the defamation of a company… Dominion Voting Systems.

But nothing is being done about the defamation of the American system of free and fair elections. Donald Trump and Fox News conspired to make a full quarter of Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Who is going to fix that? And how do we do it? Today, a modest proposal…

The idea that Fox had been humiliated and would change its stripes certainly seemed to be the progressive pundit fantasy when word exploded on April 17 about the last-second settlement with Dominion Voting Systems. The liberal media bubble veritably climaxed with an eruption of schadenfreude the likes of which have not been witnessed since the Red Sox came back from down three to beat the Yankees in the ALCS in 2004.

Lawrence O’Donnell opened his 10:00 segment on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” by labeling Rupert Murdoch “stupid” at least once a minute until the first commercial break.  The essence of O’Donnell’s argument was that if Fox was going to settle, the infinitely more logical time to do so would have been before document discovery began… that is, prior to the dizzying parade of texts and emails that revealed Fox News executives and Prime Time personalities to be morally bankrupt charlatans who lied on the air in order to stoke their ratings and profits. 

Other left-leaning pundits salivated not only at the enormity of the settlement, but simply that the financial details of such agreements were not required to be held secret -- as is almost always the case in such negotiations.  Many opinion writers rejoiced in the official statement that Fox acknowledged “the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” Clearly, taken in sum, this appeared to be a colossal triumph for Dominion.

Well, not so fast.

Dominion won a big cash settlement, to be sure. And yes: Dominion is a business, and they have no obligation to think about anything beyond their shareholders, their customers, their bottom line, and their own goals in filing the suit. They can walk away from this deal with a big smile.

But there’s a strong argument that Fox News also got exactly, precisely what it needed out of the settlement.

Nowhere in this settlement was Fox News ever required to have its Prime Time line-up of liars stare into the cameras and announce to their loyal audience that they had routinely deceived them.

Nowhere in this settlement did Fox News face the risk of having those big Prime Time personalities and top management testify under oath, admitting to having said all the ugly deceits that were revealed in texts.

In no way did this settlement risk the long term viability of Fox News. Fox viewers, who never venture out of their insular media bubble, may never, ever, once hear that Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Laura Ingraham lied to them for money. Fox viewers will never know a thing… and that gives Fox a true “get out of jail free,” enabling them to continue to print money off the back of ignorant, easily manipulated viewers for far into the future.

The defamation trial itself was going to be six weeks of daily gruesome humiliation for Fox News executives and on-air personalities. Now… poof! That worrying threat is gone.

Heck, even the amount of the settlement -- as huge as it sounds – is not that heavy a lift for Fox News. They make that kind of money every six months.

Now what we hear out of the left-leaning media is how the settlement with Dominion sets Fox up for another calamity with Smartmatic, the next election technology company to sue Fox for defamation. Maybe. But the far more likely interpretation is that there is now a playbook that both companies can follow to a far more rapid, private settlement.

No, the conclusion has to be that Fox will navigate this potentially mortal blow with a few skid marks and a couple of irate Board members. 

And as of today, a full 25% of Americans still believe that the election of 2020 was rigged, fraudulent, stolen.  

Dominion Voting Systems came away from this lawsuit with buckets of cash… but what about the rest of us?

It is time that we realize that the real losers in this corporate war are the American people.

The American people are the losers because a bunch of politicians and a major television network decided to lie in order to stoke the outrage of their viewers to spur higher ratings and more profit. In so doing, those politicians and that network destroyed the reputation of American elections for a full quarter of our voting population.

Fox News viewers – who tend to be those who now doubt the integrity of our elections – will never know that the attack on our elections was a coordinated, malevolent, orchestrated lie.

And the majority of Americans – that is, people who do believe in the integrity of our elections -- must deal with the fact that a quarter of the population will not accept the results if their candidate loses.

There is, however, an answer that addresses all these issues. And it’s not that hard to implement.

Dominion Voting Systems should take $100,000,000 of its settlement money and make a gigantic advertising buy on NFL Football this fall.

It should use this advertising campaign to tell Americans that when Fox News pushed a phony story about election fraud, it was lying. And it should use the ad campaign to tell Americans that its elections are free, fair, and should be respected as binding.

Why run ads on the NFL? Well, Fox would never let Dominion run ads on Fox – but NFL football is the next best way to reach viewers of Fox News.

Everyone watches the NFL. In 2022, the eight top-rated television shows were NFL football games. Of the top 100 television programs in 2022, a mind-frying 82 were NFL football telecasts.

Yes, everyone… including tons of Fox News viewers. Sure, MSNBC viewers too. And CNN. Nearly 100,000,000 Americans watch the Super Bowl.

We may have political media bubbles, but there is no bubble when it comes to NFL football. We all tune in.

Pony up $100,000,000 for an advertising buy on the NFL, and you will be as ubiquitous as Bud Light, Verizon, and Chevy Silverado.

That’s the idea, Dominion: make an ad buy that is absolutely guaranteed to reach a huge segment of Fox News viewers, and then hire an ad agency to create TV commercials that are simply a compendium of every text, every email, and every quote that a Fox employee ever said about Dominion Voting Systems, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump… and Fox viewers themselves.

The commercials don’t have to be fancy. Heck, all you need is to have the actual quotes in scrolling type over photos of Powell, Giuliani, Fox executives, and Fox on-air personalities as the voice-over announcer reads…

Proposed Dominion Commercial #1:

Primary Voice Over:

“On November 18, 2020, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham at Fox News exchanged texts about Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who appeared frequently on Fox News to claim that there was rampant fraud in the 2020 Presidential election. Carlson wrote:”

A second, different male voice-over reads the actual Carlson quote:

"Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It's insane.”

A female voice-over reads the actual Ingraham quote:

"Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy."

Primary Voice Over:

“We at Dominion Voting Systems are running television commercials to show that Fox News knowingly lied to its viewers to try to create doubt about our voting machines – and about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

It’s time that all Americans learn that Fox News knowingly lies to its viewers.

And it’s time that Fox viewers finally know what the rest of America already knows… elections in America are free, fair, and honest.”


Proposed Dominion Commercial #2:

Primary Voice Over:

“On January 21, 2021, Rupert Murdoch wrote an email to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, in which he expressed regret for the claims that Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham made on Fox News alleging that the election was rigged.”

A second, different voice-over reads the actual Murdoch email:

“Maybe Sean and Laura went too far. All well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump… but did he have to tell his viewers?”

Primary Voice Over:

“We at Dominion Voting Systems are running television commercials to show that Fox News knowingly lied to its viewers to try to create doubt about our voting machines – and about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

It’s time that all Americans learn that Fox News knowingly lies to its viewers.

And it’s time that Fox viewers finally know what the rest of America already knows… elections in America are free, fair, and honest.”


Proposed Dominion Commercial #3:

Primary Voice Over:

“In November and December, 2020, lawyer Sidney Powell appeared frequently on Fox News to claim that there was rampant fraud in the 2020 Presidential election. Fox executives and broadcaster personalities knew that Powell was lying, but they continued to feature her lies prominently in their coverage.

On November 23, Fox Senior Vice President Raj Shah wrote to his superiors and admitted that Powell had no proof for the allegations of election fraud, even as they continued to feature her on their programming.

A second, different voice-over reads the actual Raj Shah quote.

“We encouraged several sources within the administration to tell reporters that Powell offered no evidence for her claims and didn’t speak for the president.”

Primary Voice Over:

“We at Dominion Voting Systems are running television commercials to show that Fox News knowingly lied to its viewers to try to create doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

It’s time that all Americans learn that Fox News knowingly lies to its viewers.

And it’s time that Fox viewers finally know what the rest of America already knows… elections in America are free, fair, and honest.”


Go ahead, Dominion Voting Systems, make a dozen commercials like this and run them on the NFL, the Country Music Awards, and local programming in every Red State in the Union.

Go ahead and finish the job that your defamation suit started.

Don’t want to spend a hundred million? Ok, how about you kick in fifty mill and ask Michael Bloomberg to match your ad budget dollar for dollar. Then hit up Tom Steyer. MSNBC and CNN. Ask the Democratic National Committee.

The fact of the matter is that roughly a quarter of the population of the United States still believes the election was rigged. Some percentage of those people still believe Dominion Voting Machines are rigged.

They still believe it because Fox News told them those machines were rigged, and now Fox News has no obligation to tell its viewers they were lying.

That is now your job, Dominion Voting Systems. It is your obligation to your employees, your stockholders, your customers, and, yes, to your country.

Yes, maybe you should stop and consider that you owe that much to do a country that built the legal system and paid for the courts and wrote the laws that enabled you to cash a check for $787,500,000.

You’d be telling the people of this country that their elections are sound, that Donald Trump lost the election of 2020, and that anybody who tells you anything different is a liar.

You know… a liar like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rupert Murdoch, and Suzanne Scott.

And every single person that continues to work at that sleazy, trashy, septic tank of a television network, Fox News.

That, Dominion, is how to really nail Fox News. 

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Monday, April 17, 2023

BTRTN Campaign 2024: Trump Indictment “Surge” and Local Republicans Gone Wild Bode Poorly for GOP Prospects

Tom is back with his mid-month look at the latest in the 2024 campaign.  

This has been a surprisingly consequential month (since our last update) in the 2024 campaign.  A spate of events occurred that have tipped the electoral environment for 2024 markedly in the blue direction.

·       Trump’s felony indictment in New York has energized his campaign and materially expanded his lead over his main challenger, Ron DeSantis, who has had troubles of his own.  The indictment set Trump's faithful afire and is clearly a positive for Trump in his battle for the GOP nomination.  But the indictment, and others likely to follow, will almost surely be a negative for the GOP in the general election in 2024.  Trump’s candidacy will inflame the Democrats, his indictment(s) turn off independents, and Trump-weary Republicans, of which there are many, will be further demotivated to support him.  A Trump nomination has massive consequences not only for the White House, but also for control of the Senate and House. 

·        Apart from the indictment, there have been a series of extraordinary, even shocking, political events in the past few weeks that also bode poorly for GOP prospects in 2024, including Democratic victories in key elections in Wisconsin and Chicago; the Nashville shooting and subsequent expulsion brouhaha in the state legislature; and the verdict in Texas to revoke a decades-old FDA approval of a medication abortion drug. 

The only surprise in the Trump Indictment Effect is the speed with which it rippled – in entirely predictable fashion – through the GOP nominating process.  We, and others, have been saying for months – even years now – that the day Trump is indicted would be the biggest single event in his impressive fundraising history.  That may or may not have been true, but what is indisputable is that Trump raised a whopping $12 million in the first five days after news of the jury decision leaked on March 31.

But more impressive than the monetization of the indictment has been the abrupt change the indictment has wrought in GOP presidential nomination polls.  It takes rather momentous events to jolt polls, which have congealed in the tribalism of modern times – even intraparty tribalism, as with the GOP with its Trump- and Anti-Trump “lanes.”  The indictment in New York was just such an event, and in short order New York Southern District D.A. Alvin Bragg’s indictment turned what had been a steady ~15-point Trump advantage over Ron DeSantis into an astonishing 30+ point lead.  We carry over this chart from last month, updated with April polling data, which includes five polls from across a range of pollsters.

Trump’s pickup of roughly 10 percentage points has put him back at his highest level of support since 2021, and, significantly, came almost entirely at DeSantis’s expense.  DeSantis has not achieved lift-off yet in his yet-to-be-announced campaign and has faced a triple dose of troubles in the past month.  He is not connecting with the major donors, who have been concerned with his public statement on Ukraine, which echoed Trump’s “America First” diatribes.  He has not exactly been a firecracker on the stump in Iowa.  And Trump has been lacerating him, particularly on DeSantis’s positions on Medicare and Social Security, while DeSantis has yet to find an effective message to attack Trump in return -- mainly because he would ultimately need the Trump-loyal voter’s supports to get to the White House, so he cannot afford to offend them by attacking their idol.

All of this begs the question of whether DeSantis should run at all.  It surely seemed like his time after he won reelection in Florida last November by an unheard-of 20 points.  But logic tells you – particularly after a flat start – that he might be wise to hold off in 2024 and wait for 2028, when both Biden and Trump will be gone.  DeSantis’s two biggest obstacles are the former president (with his iron grip on at least 40% of the primary voters) and the current one (an incumbent with a record).  At 44, DeSantis could pass, back Trump, and thus likely count on Trump’s support in 2028 in return.  His only risks are that some other GOP contender might pull off a win in 2024, but that seems incredibly unlikely, or that someone new might emerge by 2028.  

One apparent impact of the Trump indictment was the annoucement by Mike Pompeo that he is going to sit it out.  One wonders if others who are making pre-announcement noise might do the same.  Right now only four candidates have formally thrown their hats in the ring:  Trump, Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchingson and Vivek Ramaswamy.  Plenty of others have yet to do so, among them DeSantis, Mike Pence, Chris Sununu, Tim Scott, Glenn Youngkin, Kristi Noem, Liz Cheney and John Bolton.  

What remains to be seen is whether the surge that followed the New York indictment – the weakest case of them all, and served up rather poorly by Bragg at that – will be replicated by indictments that are likely to come in Georgia and by the DOJ that will likely offer far more compelling evidence of far more serious crimes.  At some point, the scales could tip against Trump as he is hauled off to more hearings, looking more morose, weak and vulnerable with each trip.

The essential problem for the GOP is that the local crazies whom the GOP has worked so hard to elect since the Tea Party revolution in 2010 cannot keep from firmly grabbing various third rails of national electoral politics.  Let’s be clear: national Republicans, whether they support Trump or someone else, want to talk about only three things, the economy, immigration and crime.  These are the issues they see as advantageous, regardless of the merits, the ones where they believe Biden is vulnerable.  Here are the issues they want to avoid:  abortion, guns, climate change, Trump/election denial/Jan 6/indictments.  They know that the majority of the country does not agree with the GOP positions on those issues, period. So the goal is to manage the national conversation around the economy, immigration and crime.  So imagine when members of their own party take some inflammatory action on any of the GOP’s vulnerable issues that forces national candidates to take a position – this is beyond the pale, and it is easy to see why

This happened in spades over the past several weeks.  The Trump indictment sent GOP politicians scurrying for cover, because what are they going to say?  Well, on this one, at least, they can point to Bragg and his alleged connections to Soros, his weak case and so on.  But even this one is tough, because while the esoterica of the law may be on their side (at least until Bragg shows compelling evidence that links the hush money to a felony like campaign finance or tax fraud), the basic facts are hard to defend.  Trump had an affair with a porn star (Trump denials aside); he tried to buy her silence weeks before the 2016 election through the tried-and-true “catch and kill” method with David Pecker; Pecker refused, so Cohen paid her off and Trump had to come up with some way to re-pay Cohen on a tax-neutral basis and cover his tracks in the bookkeeping.  Ugh, imagine defending that to Swing State Middle America night after night on the campaign trail!

But even THAT is more palatable than talking about guns.  There are more than twice as many mass shootings in the U.S. as there are NFL football games (647 of the former in 2022, 272 of the latter).  The GOP game plan for mass shootings is simple:  express sympathy, talk about mental health, and wait for the hysteria to die down.  But in Nashville, the scene of the last mass shooting, the local GOP-controlled legislature decided to try to expel three Democratic members who violated a few norms in protesting the shootings.  Talk about killing the ant with an elephant -- suddenly it was national news, real time.  Then they managed to expel the two young Black guys while sparing the white woman on national TV.  Then the districts that had been disenfranchised voted to replace the expelled Black legislators with….the very same two Black legislators!  So the locals took a terrible look – another mass shooting featuring an AR-15 – and managed to add free speech and racist overtones to it, all apparently for symbolic purposes only!  Imagine trying to defend that on the campaign trail?

But even THAT pales when compared with the insanity in Texas over abortion.  Unless the economy roars in 2024 – and it might - there is no more potent campaign issue for the Democrats than abortion.  Ever since Roe became law in 1973, the GOP crazies have conspired to bring about its downfall.  Epic twists of fate and bad-ass cold-blooded politics (as practiced by Mitch McConnell) gave Trump and the Federalist Society the opportunity to select three conservative judges, who, joining with two other conservative SCOTUS judges, made the ultimate judgment to overturn Roe with Dobbs in 2022.  Dobbs was a clarion call, the galvanizing force that propelled the Democrats to hold the Senate in November of that same year, and come damn close to doing the same in the House.  As recently as two weeks ago was the deciding factor in a crucial Wisconsin state supreme court race that flipped that body into progressive control.  (A progressive Democrat also won the mayoral race in Chicago in the same week.)

So imagine how Mitch McConnell – who desperately wants to regain Senate Majority Leader status in 2024, and has a remarkably favorable GOP Senate map to pull it off -- feels about Texas federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk.  That judge singlehandedly decided that his medical chops were superior to the FDA’s in overturning a ruling that body made 23 years ago.  Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, ruled that the drug in question, mifepristone, had been unwisely approved and should no longer be available to effect medication abortions – which account for more than half of all abortions performed in the US.  It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of this ruling, which has already been blunted (in part) on appeal.  So the one issue that no GOP lawmaker wants to discuss, abortion, is now the major issue on the table, thanks to a solitary crazed Trump judicial appointee.

These events – the Trump indictment, the Nashville violence and crazed aftermath, and the Texas judge’s verdict – illustrate Republican values in bold relief.  They epitomize what the Republican Party has become, the vision of the country they desire, with fear-driven, anti-everything, authoritarian regimes striking down decades of progress in the last gasp of their gerrymandered-based power.  This bodes poorly for the GOP in 2024 because it is all in plain sight.  They are going to nominate a disgraced ex-president, who will likely be a convicted felon by November 5, 2024, who wants to lead the country to this dystopian future.  Democrats hate it.  Independents do not like it.  Mainstream Republicans are unenthused by it.  And the Trumpian base to whom it speaks is only about 20% of the electorate.

This is not going to end well for the GOP in 2024 – and beyond.  Much can happen in 19 months, and will.  But a Trump nomination, in plain terms, means this:  a recipe for a Biden reelection, a Senate hold for the Dems (overcoming that map), and a blue retaking of the House – a.k.a., the reestablishment of a Dem trifecta.  Think what Biden might accomplish with such control and absent the pressure of reelection.  And who knows what might happen with SCOTUS, with the two oldest and most conservative members, both GOP-appointees (Thomas and Alito), approaching their 80’s during that four-year term.  I wish no ill to anyone, but the reality is that Biden may yet get his chance to reshape the Court as well.  Every mainstream GOP politician recognizes that these are the stakes of a Trump nomination, yet they appear helpless to prevent it from happening.

Stay tuned.




Saturday, April 15, 2023

BTRTN, The Wendy Rant: On the New Florida Abortion Law

It did not take Wendy long to find something else to rant about.

Someone asked me why I chose to rant about book bans rather than our slow but steady backward march to the days of coat hangers and back alley abortions.  I didn't choose abortion as my first rant because the press has been chock full of it.  But sure, I can rant about abortion.  No problem. 

I came of age immediately post-Roe so I’ve seen the before and after. I know a couple who fifty years later is still coping with the consequences of conceiving on the wrong side of that line.  And I know people whose lives took a vastly better trajectory as a result of being on the right side. 

The reasons for having an abortion don't matter.  What matters is that without control over our bodies, women lose agency over their lives.  And the options are shrinking fast for my daughters and nieces.  

How to talk about abortion is kind of daunting because there are so many poisonous tentacles to this issue. Today I'm choosing Florida.  This week, Ron DeSantis signed a bill approved by an overwhelming majority of the Florida statehouse that makes abortion after six weeks of conception illegal.  

A problem we have in this country is an inability to walk in another person's shoes. To help you with that, I started to write a hypothetical example of why a woman might need an abortion, of what her desperation might feel like.  But I've decided, frankly, that unless individual women choose to tell you their stories -- and many have -- it's none of my business or yours.  Women don't need to justify their decisions about how they choose to control their bodies.  But I can try to illustrate for you the repercussions of a six week abortion ban. 

Not surprisingly, it's particularly difficult for a man to project himself into what a menstrual cycle is like, but maybe he should educate himself a little.  Or failing that, at least give a nod to the experience of women. Listen, I know that many, many men support abortion access and that some women don’t.  So that’s not a dis on men or a statement that all women are kumbaya on this.  It’s just hard to watch DeSantis grinning like a crazed hyena while signing a bill I’m fairly certainly he’s never really thought about except as a political stepping stone.

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, or four weeks.  But a cycle as long as 35 days, or five weeks, is considered normal.  It's a rare woman whose body works like clockwork, so maybe one month it's 25 days, the next 30. Lord only knows, sometimes it's hard to remember where you put your car keys let alone the timing of a bodily function that comes on its own schedule.  It's hard to keep track.  In Florida now, if you're fortunate enough to realize on day 35 that you might be pregnant, you need to make a very fast decision about whether or not you want to carry that pregnancy to term. Because if you don't, you only have one week to test, make an appointment with an abortion provider, arrange time off from your job and childcare for your toddlers.  It's an almost insurmountable hurdle.  But it gets worse because the sad truth is that many, perhaps most, women don't know that they're pregnant until after six weeks.  Home pregnancy tests are finicky. Taken too early in the menstrual cycle or even too late in the day may lead to a false negative. Tests are most accurate when taken after a missed period. If you get a negative result but still think you may be pregnant, the Mayo Clinic advises to test again in a few days or a week.  A week!  If your normal cycle is 35 days and you need to wait a week, you’re at day 42.  By my multiplication, six weeks is 42 days.  C'mon folks, abortion has been all but outlawed in Florida.

So now what?  If she can afford it, that woman in Florida needs to go to another state for her abortion.  (This all presumes she can afford the cost of travel, missed work, and childcare in a country where 60% of us live from paycheck to paycheck.  Assuming there is a paycheck.  That's a whole other rant.) 

Florida was heretofore the oasis for people in the south who need abortions.  Because according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, with the fall of Roe, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia all enforced trigger or other bans making abortion illegal.  And access in Georgia and North Carolina is severely restricted. Look at that map. The end result is that more and more women are traveling further and further for health care, and as health centers close, logic tells you that demand for care will exceed the number of appointments available in the day.  

Tom tells me that the GOP has overreached and we’ll see a swing back to saner abortion policy in the future.  I think he’s right.  He also tells me it could take decades.  I think he’s right about that too. In the meantime, individual women – perhaps a whole generation of them – will suffer mightily and turn to those coat hangers.  They can’t wait for change (and mind you, this isn’t quantum-leap-forward change, it’s back-to-where-we-were change). They are being denied the opportunity to control the trajectory of their lives. And that is a heartbreaking tragedy.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

BTRTN, The Wendy Rant: On the Llano County Library Closures

We introduce "The Wendy Rant," which will be an occasional feature when Wendy reads something so absurd that she simply must vent her frustration at the state of the world.

Many years ago, I was given a button that said, "Ignore your rights and they'll go away."  The button was distributed by Planned Parenthood, and boy oh boy did they get that right.  The words on the button apply to so much that's happening now that we may not have enough fingers to plug the holes in the dike.  In their infinite wisdom, today the trustees of the The Llano County Library system, about 75 miles outside of Austin, Texas, will vote on whether or not to close the doors of its three libraries. If this motion passes, former library patrons in this rural community will no longer have ANY access to digital materials, meeting spaces and BOOKS in their public libraries!  This decision followed a judge's ruling that the library had to return to the shelves books it had previously censored.  Titles included Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, and It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health

There are others, but I cite these three because I've read them.  Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, was described by The New York Times as "an instant American classic." It's written for adults, who presumably can make their own decisions about it or of course, not read it at all if they don't wish, so why would it be banned? I found it to be enlightening.  If you ever read In the Night Kitchen to your children, you're probably madly googling it now to try to figure out what the heck is going on.  I have an old copy of It's Perfectly Normal in our basement which I read with my daughters when they were children.  Seemed like a great supplement to our discussions at the time, and I'm sure the updated version is even better.  A lot of the other banned books, with which I'm not familiar, apparently contain the word "fart."  Puerile, maybe?  Yes, but after all, these books were written for kids, and what could be better than making a child giggle while learning to appreciate reading?   

Rather than make these books accessible to readers, the trustees are considering closing the libraries.  Closing them.  Not in China.  Or Russia.  Or North Korea.  In the United States of America.  Maybe they'll backpedal and the libraries will remain open.  But just the fact that this is up for discussion should be a noisy reminder not to ignore your rights. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

BTRTN: He's Baaaaaaaaack

Tom with the BTRTN March 2023 Month in Review.

March 2023

It has been nearly two years since Donald Trump dominated a BTRTN month in review.  Trump has not exactly receded from view, but he has had to compete with others for attention, including Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Kevin McCarthy, Ron DeSantis – heck, even George Santos -- and many others who are (unlike Trump) active players on the world and domestic stage.  But there is no denying that he once again – and almost certainly not for the last time – took up nearly all of the political oxygen the country could muster in March, 2023. 

But wasn’t this inevitable?  Trump committed many apparent crimes in the post-election period, and he has never let go of his stranglehold on a substantial subset of the GOP.  These two facts have been in plain sight for a long time, and guaranteed a return to the bright lights.  That time has come. 

Trump’s indictment today in New York City is, of course, historic, the first time a former president (or current or future one) has been charged with a crime.  For any other politician, the facts of this case, whether proven or not, would have destroyed their career when they first became public – just starting with an alleged affair with a pornographic film actress. That alone would disqualify just about everyone.  The apparent payment of hush money by a presidential candidate to silence the pornstar just weeks before the election takes the offense, rather spectacularly, to a whole new level.  Had those facts been known at the time, just days after the Access Hollywood video, they might have indeed prevented a Trump presidency.  But Trump is no ordinary politician, and between his impressive lowering of the acceptable bar and his willingness to suppress damaging evidence, he prevailed.

Less heralded is the fact that it also is the first-ever indictment for Trump, despite a lifetime of shady behavior.  He has escaped the wrath of the law through threats, persuasion, flattery and surprising care in leaving no fingerprints at the scenes of his crimes.  But attempting the grafter routine while occupying the White House (and in post-presidency) is a far different world.  Trump has relied on his instincts thus far and that got him to the Oval Office.  But once there, the same type of behaviors were bound to have inescapable consequences.

When Trump was in office, the Department of Justice followed precedent in not attempting to indict a sitting president.  While Trump clearly committed acts that might have warranted DOJ attention, instead impeachment was the only available recourse to attempt to bring him to account.  But impeachment is, of course, a political process, not a criminal proceeding, and the Senators who comprised the jury followed their political own instincts, rather than their constitutional duty, in twice failing to convict him. 

It has been obvious (if not yet proven) that Trump has repeatedly broken the law since he lost his bid for reelection to Joe Biden.  Any non-lawyer with a basic grasp of the facts could easily see that Trump was clearly the motivating force and primary agent in attempting, by any means, to overthrow the election, crying fraud based on no evidence whatsoever.  Whether he was involved in the detailed planning of January 6 is nearly irrelevant; the insurrection was merely the most visible aspect of the entire attempted coup.  Trump’s myriad efforts to subvert the result are far too numerous to recount.  It will certainly be interesting to see if the DOJ attempts to prosecute crimes related to the election beyond, say, what the Fulton County, Georgia D.A. is investigating.

There is no question that Trump attempted to bully Georgia state election officials to “find” the votes he needed to surpass Biden in that state – it’s all on tape.  And the facts involved in his possession of national security documents and failure to return them promptly once discovered also would strike the lay person as an obvious criminal offense, especially in view of the mounting evidence that Trump clearly sought to retain the documents, and was personally involved in decisions not to return them.

There are criminal proceedings underway in each of these areas.  Impartial grand juries comprised of ordinary citizens have been empaneled to hear the evidence.  They will decide whether there is enough damning evidence to warrant an indictment.  They do not have to contemplate their political futures, or, if they are properly protected, worry about their fate if they decide a certain way.  The wheels of justice move slowly, but they are now rolling directly at Trump and the reckoning has begun. 

The only real surprise is that the first indictment to come down was the Stormy Daniels case rather than any of the post-election potential crimes.  This was a case that other prosecutors have passed on over the years, and all of the events in question pre-dated the Trump presidency.  The affair occurred nearly two decades ago, in 2006, and the alleged hush money payment was made, a decade after that, as said, just weeks before the 2016 election.  This is generally viewed as a weaker case than either the Georgia or documents cases, involving supposedly relatively minor offences (in comparison, though any crime that has the power to sway a presidential outcome seems quite serious to me) and a relatively complex interplay of business fraud and campaign finance violations, with serial liar Michael Cohen a star witness (though hardly the only source of evidence). 

If indictments were inevitable, so was Trump’s return to presidential politics.  The two are related, of course, in that a primary theory of why Trump is running again is so that he can secure once again the legal shield a stint in the White House appears to guarantee.  It would also give Trump the opportunity to fire at least some of his tormentors.  His entire legal strategy now, as always, is to delay, delay, delay, and rarely has the consequence of its potential success been so clear. 

If Trump’s return to presidential politics was a given, so was his frontrunner status in the GOP race, because nothing – apparently – can shake the grip Trump has on a sizable chuck of the GOP, the fabled base that will turn out in primary elections in droves.  The mainstream GOP has not been able to organize the “non-Trump” lane – a larger slice of the GOP at this point than the Trump base – behind one candidate, and even the formidable-on-paper Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, fresh off an epic 20-point reelection win, has not been able to get within shouting distance of Trump since then. 

DeSantis has not announced yet, but his early performance in his faux campaign has not been scintillating.  At best he is still 15 points back of Trump (at roughly a 45% to 30% margin), but a close look at some of the polling suggests some backsliding in the past month in polls that have repeated in that time.  If DeSantis should falter, it would take a miracle for any of their other candidates, either announced or yet-to-be-announced, to rise from their single digit status to become a serious threat.  That is a long climb indeed, for candidates who have yet to connect with GOP voters in any meaningful way (I’m talking about you, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, Asa Hutchinson, Chris Sununu, Kristen Noem, Chris Christie and on and on).

As we have noted before, Trump’s legal troubles will have large but potentially countervailing impacts on his presidential prospects.  They will likely help him win the GOP nomination, as Trump’s base gets truly inflamed by attacks on him (they have already contributed $7 million to his campaign since last Thursday when word of the pending indictment leaked).  The base, which comprises somewhere in the range of 35-45% of the GOP, will vote disproportionately higher in the primaries than other Republicans.  The indictments will also force all of Trump’s opponents to either defend him or risk the wrath of the base, and the circus will overwhelm their attempts to position themselves as viable alternatives to Trump.

The general election is another matter.  The indictments will hurt there.  CNN just released survey results that indicated 60% of Americans are in favor of the hush money indictment, roughly the same figure as Independents.  Even 21% of Republicans favor the indictment, far outstripping the very few Democrats who oppose them.  It is hard to imagine future indictments faring differently, and perhaps even worse for Trump.  Apart from the indictments, Trump’s grievance-based messaging is unpopular outside of the base, even within the GOP and surely outside it.  But Trump is hardly the type to “pivot” when the lure of filling arenas with the faithful is so powerful (and every time he has tried to tone down his act, as with his 2024 launch announcement, he comes off as wooden, unconvincing and downright dull).

As for Joe Biden, he is apparently considering delaying his own announcement for months, preferring to simply act presidential while the madness of the Trump and the entire GOP unfolds.  Having established a surprisingly progressive track record in his first two years, he is now shoring up his centrist credentials in advance of his reelection push.  In the month, he refused to veto a District of Columbia crime ball that seemed a given; gave the green light to a massive oil drilling project on federal land in Alaska that shocked environmentalists, and signaled that he is considering restarting family detention at the border.  Biden quite obviously senses political vulnerability on crime, energy and immigration and is thusly taking positions that provide separation from progressives on each.

Biden is also fervently hoping that the Fed can tame inflation without inducing a recession in 2024 (so far, so good).  He is undoubtedly anxious about OPEC’s latest decision to cut crude oil production, which could spike U.S. gas prices this summer.  In general, he will pick his spots – and those spots will largely feature big ribbons to cut as his infrastructure bill yields tangible projects to unveil across America.  Biden did well in 2020 in simply hiding (protecting himself from Covid as well as potential campaign gaffes) and a quasi-Rose Garden strategy may be appealing in 2024 as well.

But the real spectacle lies ahead, with Donald Trump campaigning for office, continually interrupted by the cold force of the law impelling to return to courthouses again and again for arraignments, motions and trials in New York, Georgia and Washington, DC.  Never has the term “uncharted territory” been so widely applied.  Will the Trump faithful truly weather all that without a second thought?

Stay tuned.


Biden’s approval rating in March remained in the low-to-mid 40’s, ending at 43%, a tick mark below that of February.  His issue management ratings also remained nearly identical to the prior month as well.  The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate measure of economic performance, dropped ever so slightly to +40, with very minor changes both up and down offsetting, indicating that the economy on average is 40% stronger than it was when Trump left office (see below).


The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

The Bidenometer measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +40 for March, 2023 means that, on average, the five measures are 40% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +40, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move upward from 0 to +40 under Biden. 

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