Saturday, March 2, 2024

BTRTN: An Embarrassment of Embarrassments

Tom with the February 2024 BTRTN Month in Review.


Our politics are a full-fledged embarrassment.  The departure of Donald Trump from the White House has far from eliminated his pervasiveness.  We suffer still for his peculiar talent of infecting every chance we have to be normal, decent or admirable, and turning it into a national humiliation.  From his own Inaugural, and his insistence on lying about the size of the crowd (of all things to be his first priority), to his pathetic departure, refusing to abide by the sanctity of the orderly transition, instead mounting an insurrection to overturn the outcome, his presidency was an embarrassment.  But, remarkably, everything since has been even worse.  Trump dominates the Republican Party today more than he ever did as president, and our entire political system now seems infected with the embarrassment disease. 

This is not Joe Biden’s fault, although he occasionally contributes to the spectacle.  But it is his burden.  The wonder of Biden’s presidency, and its myriad legislative accomplishments, is seen only by those few with any sense of our nation’s history, but historians will be kind, perhaps even amazed, at how Biden has managed through this national nightmare.

But as for February 2024, let’s hope they bury this month.  It’s hard to know where to begin.  This will be a mind-bending dash through absurdity, so take a deep breath.

We’ll start with the GOP-led House of Representatives.  (They are such a reliable source of embarrassment that we will end with them, too.  And they will make guest appearances along the way.)  Impeachment insanity is their specialty.  Knowing there is widespread skepticism about their Biden impeachment efforts, they set their sights on a more focused target, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.  They decided to impeach him because they don’t like the way he is doing his job and don’t agree with his policies.  Impeachment has never, ever been used in this manner.  While this is embarrassing enough, even more humiliating was actually failing to pass the impeachment resolution.  Rookie Speaker Mike Johnson violated the Pelosi Rule – that is, never take a bill to the floor unless you know it will pass.  They lost by a single vote, when an ailing Democrat showed up in a wheelchair, an appearance (and vote) the GOP whippers failed to account for.  The recently expelled George Santos (speaking of embarrassment), whose vote would have been decisive, tweeted “Miss me?”

Then it was the Senate Republicans’ turn.  Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, as conservative as they come, led the drafting of a hardline border security bill that addressed concerns about the recent massive influx of immigrants.  Biden, playing master politics on his toughest issue, embraced the bill, as did enough Senate Democrats to ensure passage with the assumed GOP support.  But Trump has no real interest in trying to fix the immigration issue, since he needs it for his campaign (especially with a rapidly improving economy), so he ordered Puppet-in-Chief Johnson to kill the bill in the House (I told you the House would be back), which he did.  But GOP Senators, who consider themselves a higher life form than their House colleagues, caved to Trump as shamefully as did Johnson – which is hard to do – and ended up casting only four votes for their own bill: by the furious Lankford and the usual suspects Romney, Collins and Murkowski.

Embarrassment is not the sole province of the Republicans (though they have a more-than-healthy market share).  Consider Fani Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney whose office is prosecuting the case of the century, if not the case in the life of our country, The State of Georgia Versus Donald J. Trump, et al.  In that formulation, she is the embodiment of the State of Georgia.  A judge in Georgia is now determining whether to disqualify her from the case because of her personal relationship – of some kind -- with the lead prosecutor that she hired, Nathan Wade, a man who does not have deep criminal court experience.  If he does disqualify her, the whole D.A.’s office is off the case, and a new prosecutor would have to be found.  That prosecutor would have to review the case to determine whether he/she wants to pursue it, and along what lines.  Not only would this delay the case, but it could jeopardize it entirely.  And this was the one criminal case that Trump could not shut down if he returned to the White House, and also the one that would be televised, so that it might actually influence swing state Georgia voters.  But regardless of the outcome of the judge's deliberations, Willis's behavior, given the stakes, was abominable.  Never was the expression, “what was she thinking” more apt. 

Who’s next?  How about Special Counsel Robert Hur?  In the best tradition of James Comey, Hur was not about to let his 15 minutes of fame be wasted on a simple “no evidence of a crime” statement in the Joe Biden document case.  But his report went beyond even Comey’s editorializing.  Instead of merely ripping Biden for loose handling of national security documents, as had Comey about Hillary Clinton, he proceeded to opine on Biden’s age and memory.  He is neither a qualified medical doctor nor an aging specialist in any way, and what he described is simply not evidence that Biden is not up to the job he occupies.  Hur’s overreaching opinion was an embarrassment to the DOJ and to prosecutors in general.  Like Willis, Hur could learn a simple lesson about boundaries: “stay in your lane.”

Joe Biden, for his part, was not about to let the Hur bombshell go unanswered, so he held an impromptu presser in which he showed outrage, fire and command of the situation.  This was a welcome show of vitality for a man who is plainly being kept away from most public interactions.  Except for one small thing -- that Biden confused the “President of Egypt” with the “President of Mexico,” which thereby totally undercut his vigorous performance and reinforced the Hur narrative, and therefore did nothing to reverse the "aging Joe Biden" narrative.  Of all the times to commit an embarrassing gaffe, sheesh.

We’ve gotten this far without devoting a whole paragraph to Trump (though we did note his pivotal role in the Senate immigration bill humiliation.)  Let’s make amends, since he was a star player (as usual) in the embarrassment follies of February.  How did he debase himself?  Let us count the ways.

·        He rescued Joe Biden from the news cycle after that disastrous press conference by announcing, less than two days later, that Russia should do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries if they did not “pay their bills.”  This is a complete abrogation of NATO’s Article 5, which provides that “if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.”  Trump’s absurd construction is, of course, exactly what Vladimir Putin wishes to hear.  Trump also took credit for NATO countries upping their defense budgets to closer to the 2% of GDP level that countries agreed to “work toward” in 2005.  In fact, the increase he referred to came mostly in 2015, the year before he was elected president.  That 2015 increase followed years of President Obama cajoling NATO allies to increase their defense budgets, but in reality, was spurred more by Putin’s aggression in Crimea in 2014.

·        Trump was also convicted in Court of building his real estate empire by cheating on the valuation of his properties for loan securement purposes. He thereby incurred a $355 million fine, was banned from doing business in New York for three years and the Trump Organization now has to endure on overseer (speaking of embarrassment), among other penalties (such as goodbye Don, Jr. and Eric).

·        In the wake of the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, Trump had the utter gall to compare himself to Navalny, a man who voluntarily put his life at risk by returning to Russia to protest Putin after nearly dying from being poisoned by the same.  Trump used a fake bone spur diagnosis to get out of serving in Vietnam, and he is being prosecuted, not persecuted, for crimes he actually committed, not for being an enemy of the state.  But did I really need to waste two sentences explaining the differences between Navalny and Trump?  Apologies.

·        It does not stop there.  Trump has been famously vague on abortion, the GOP’s most vulnerable issue.  But reports stated that Trump was coming around to supporting a national ban on abortions, after 16 weeks, a number that had not yet been proposed in the GOP's contorted national abortion limit conversation.  Why 16 weeks?  Trump explained “It’s even.  It’s four months.”  Ah, science.

·        And finally, for Trump, because we have to cut this off somewhere, there was his court contention that he should be immune from prosecution for any actions he committed while president.  This is simply absurd on the face of it, as the Appeals Court ruling made clear, especially when they asked Trump’s lawyers if their construction allowed for Trump to order the death of a political opponent by the Navy Seals and could only be prosecuted for that act if he was first impeached.  (Trump’s lawyer said, yes, that was their contention.)

The U.S. Supreme Court suffered its own embarrassing moments in connection with Trump.  It is rare that millions tune in to listen to arguments that are presented to the high court, but there was intense public interest in the 14th amendment case, in which Colorado ruled that Trump could not appear on the primary ballot in the state because of his role in the January 6 insurrection.  The justices, including the liberal wing, abased themselves by not addressing the insurrection or any of the major constitutional issues that the case poses, but rather scurried like mice to find exit ramps on trivial issues on which they might decide the case.  Particularly egregious was the newest justice, Kentaji Brown Jackson, who seemed content to focus the case on the absurd notion that the president is somehow not an officer of the United States in the context of the 14th Amendment.  We have not seen such esoteric parsing since Bill Clinton attempted to define the word “is” to his advantage.

The court also decided to hear the immunity case, a waste of time, since they will surely uphold the Appeals Court, but, of course, it is the delay Trump wanted, not the verdict, which he knows is unwinnable.  But the delay itself lessens the odds of Trump being convicted before Election Day, his main legal strategy.

Speaking of supreme courts, the one in Alabama ruled that frozen embryos are children, which led to yet another disastrous post-Dobbs turn for the GOP.  The ruling in effect ended in vitro fertilization in Alabama, an enormously unpopular outcome, given that a full 1 in 6 people worldwide face infertility issues. Trump quickly tried to the walk back the verdict immediately for the GOP, and the Alabama state attorney general said he would not pursue IVF-related crimes -- but it is simply not that easy. Mike Johnson and 125 House GOP members sponsored a bill last year that declared that life begins “at the moment of conception.”  Try wiggling your way out of that one, Republicans (as Alabama Republicans who are trying to craft a legislative fix are finding).  The hypocritical squirming continues.

There’s so much more.  Two presidential candidates found themselves at least somewhat embarrassed in the primaries by opponents who were not even human beings.  Nikki Haley was beaten by “none of these candidates” in the Nevada primary and Joe Biden had a double-figure challenge from “uncommitted” in the Michigan primary.  And don’t forget Tucker Carlson humiliating himself as Putin’s stooge in an interview with the beast, and so on.  But we have to end somewhere, and as promised, it is where we began, with the U.S. House of Representative as they practice the fine art of impeachment with exquisite incompetence, this time with respect to their insane pursuit of Joe Biden.

The House quest to impeach Biden is, of course, Trump payback.  With such a slim margin in the House, the Biden impeachment is a flat-out political loser for the GOP, a virtual death vote for swing district Republicans like Mike Lawler from NY-17, who serves in a district Biden won in 2020.  Much of the House’s case, flimsy as it was, rested on an FBI informant who claimed to have documented evidence that both Hunter and Joe Biden were paid $5 million by a Ukraine energy firm, Burisma, to buy political influence when the latter was Vice President.  This evidence was never forthcoming, and now the source, who has strong ties to Russian intelligence, admitted that he made the whole thing up.  This shatters the already incredibly suspect case into pieces – and yet Jim Jordan and his gang of dopes carry on.  They know the truth does not matter.

They might make stuff up, but we do not.  All of this actually happened.  In February alone!  It is simply embarrassing beyond belief.

Stay tuned.


Joe Biden’s approval rating in February remained at 40%, though his net negative dropped from -14 to -16 percentage points.  His issue ratings remained at the same levels, with an ever-so-slight one point increase on the two economic measures. 

The generic ballot is now a dead heat between the Democrats and the GOP.

The "Bidenometer" dropped slightly from +52 to +49, driven by slight decreases in consumer confidence and a readjusted Q4 GDP, plus a small increase in the price of gas, offset by a modest rise in the Dow.  The +49 level means the economy is in far better shape under Biden than the one he inherited from Trump (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 +49 for February, 2024 means that, on average, the five measures are 49% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +49, 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 much higher, the GDP is MUCH higher.  Only the price of gas is higher, which is a proxy for general inflation.

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 +49 under Biden.

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