Cheney Way Behind

The Caspar Star-Tribune reports, The poll results are in: Hageman holds commanding lead over Cheney.

Natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman leads Cheney 52% to 30%, the poll shows. No other challenger received more than 5% support. Only 11% of voters were undecided.

The poll, conducted for the Star-Tribune by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, surveyed 1,100 registered Wyoming voters likely to participate in the primary, resulting in a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, according to Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon managing director.

While the Cheney-Hageman race is one of the nation’s most closely watched, this is the first independent, public in-state poll to be conducted. It was performed from July 7 to July 11 – shortly after early voting began here.

The odds of this poll being off enough to be wrong in these results is practically zero. Mason-Dixon is a reputable polling agency (they have an A- minus rating at FiveThirtyEight) and while primaries are trickier to poll than general elections, a 22-point gap is huge (especially in the context of early voting having already started).

So, I would say that Cheney deserves recognition for putting at least her short-term, and perhaps longer-term, political career on the line here to stand up for basic democratic practices and in pursuit of the public presentation of the facts about January 6th. She has behaved in public the way more craven politicians like Kevin McCarthy behaved behind closed doors (until it became clear to him that the route his Precious (e.g., the Speakership) ran through Mar-a-Lago, not through protecting American democracy).

In regards to the possibility of Cheney running as an independent in November, Wyoming has a “sore loser” law that would preclude her from losing the primary and then running as an independent in the general election. If she wanted to go that route, she would have had to have skipped the GOP primary. In truth, the polling related to the primary suggests to me that she would have had a hard time winning that way (really, impossible). Even if the Democrats did not run a candidate and threw support behind Cheney, the state is so overwhelmingly Republican, with Republican support overwhelmingly against Cheney that the math just doesn’t work. (Plus, if Wyoming Dems endorsed here, that would just be more evidence of her traitor status).

So, unlike Mike Pence, who is trying to have his cake and eat it too (i.e., he deserves credit for doing the right thing on January 6th, 2021 in the face of pressure from Trump, he also wants to leverage his time in the Trump administration to his political advantage–not to mention that he helped lend legitimacy to Trump’s initial run for office, and later to the administration as veep). A remarkable thing about Pence is that he seems to think he has a shot at being the GOP presidential nominee at some point, and therefore maybe be president (denial is not just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes). However, I honestly think his chances of using the Trump presidency as a pathway to the Oval Office were always slim. Consider that he was always a bit of a lightweight and, really, the vice presidency is far from an automatic pathway to the White House. Further, he isn’t MAGA enough to be Trump 2.0. That is a job for someone like DeSantis.

This is all the more true now that a chunk of MAGA-Americans think that he betrayed them. If Pence wanted to go down in history in a positive way, he would be fully cooperating with the January 6th committee. Instead, he clings to vain hopes of being president.

The post Cheney Way Behind first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

More Thoughts on Teixeira’s Move to AEI

From the Politico piece on Run Teixeira’s exit from the Center for American Progress (CAP) and move to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that was mentioned several times on the site yesterday:

Whether it’s Teixeira’s fault for being oversensitive to “this endless talk about equity, anti-racism, and so on” or CAP’s fault for so frustrating a quirky lefty that he flew the coop, it’s undoubtedly a sad thing for liberalism than a prominent institution no longer feels like home for the guy.

While I fully understand the desire to make this into a “the wokes did it” story about ideological struggles in American politics, I am struck by an alternative hypothesis.

It goes like this: Teixeira has worked at CAP for roughly two decades and like anyone who has worked at the same place for a long time he acquired enough frustration that he wants some new surroundings (and some new things to be annoyed about, as opposed to the older things that are annoying him–which is ultimately all that happens when you switch jobs: you swap out existing annoyances for new ones and you buy some time wherein you are ignorant of what those new annoyances will be).

One suspects, too, that there are conditions as they pertain to both money and workload that are relevant here (but are less sexy than blaming the wokes). As such, while it is clear that Teixeira (based on quotes in these pieces) is frustrated with the focus of his colleagues at CAP on topics less likely to be on the table at AEI, perhaps we ought not make this into something more than a guy changing jobs.

It is worth noting that Teixeira has worked on Brookings-AEI projects in the past and one suspects the world of elite think tanks is a relatively small one, so the notion that frustration led to conversation that led to a job offer is not hard to conjure.

Further, as the Politico piece notes: this is really about AEI trying to find its place in the post-Trump conservative universe. And it fits the existing media narrative about how the progressives are beaking the Democratic Party the same way MAGA is breaking the GOP, because, you know, both side and all…

Bottom line is that Teixeira made a decision that moving to AEI will allow him to do the work he wants to do, and AEI is trying to rebrand itself into a more heterodox think thank.


Note: my point here is less taking a side in the wokes v. social democrats part of this debate as much as it is pointing out how existing narratives make these stories into far more than they actually are. And, of course, Teixeira has a point of view about his former employer, don’t most people who have left a job have their own story about why they left, and aren’t they normally the hero of said tale?

The post More Thoughts on Teixeira’s Move to AEI first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Public Manchin, Private Manchin

portrait

In yesterday’s post “Democrats Even Madder at Manchin,” I accused the West Virginia Senator of “pulling away the football” after scuttling yet another deal made by his party’s caucus. Washington Post Congressional bureau chief Paul Kane offers a different take.

For a full year, Democrats have tried to divine what Sen. Joe Manchin III would say yes to, beginning with private huddles last fall at the White House to more recent Zooms with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

They seem to have all made the same mistake: hearing the nice tones that the West Virginia Democrat said in their private meetings, while dismissing his pessimistic comments in public as standard negotiating ploys.

Instead, Manchin is the odd politician whose public pronouncements, whether in brief Capitol hallway interviews or in detailed prepared statements, carry more weight than whatever he tells his colleagues in private.

Offhand, that strikes me as a distinction without a difference. He’s deliberately signaling to colleagues that he’s negotiating in good faith and then gets the vapors when it comes time to shake hands. But Kane persists:

[I]n private, Manchin often allows other negotiators to hear what they want to hear. He says nice things about certain proposals, talks about wanting to get a deal, creating what turns out to be false momentum for the really big deal.

Out in the hallways, after those meetings, Manchin has continually delivered more neutral assessments of where things stood.

His comments to the press Wednesday, after the latest scorching inflation report showed prices continuing to rise, telegraphed his decision Thursday to support only the slimmest of measures.

“I’m very, very cautious. And I’m going to make sure that I have every input on scrubbing everything humanly possible that could be considered inflammatory,” Manchin told reporters that day.

He said it was “not tougher at all” to reach a deal after that inflation report because it only confirmed his fears that he has been talking about for months.

“I was talking about inflation before it was even thought about it. Now I’m more concerned than ever,” he told reporters.

So, yes, it’s true that Manchin has been warning about big spending packages leading to inflation for quite a long time. If he was never going to sign off on these deals, that’s his right. From the beginning, I’m defended his rather unique position of being a Democrat from a one of the most conservative states in the union and cautioned his colleagues to be careful in what they wished for when railing against him.

But the very essence of legislating is reaching acceptable compromises. Manchin, by virtue of potentially being the 50th vote in a reconciliation package (which is therefore exempt from the filibuster), holds all the leverage. So, why not be clear on where he stands? Whatever his threshold is simply has to serve as the ceiling for a deal (unless Krysten Sinema has a low threshold on a particular issue).

“Allow[ing] other negotiators to hear what they want to hear” is dishonest, cowardly, or both. Either way, it’s inimical to the legislative process.

The post Public Manchin, Private Manchin first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Housing Trans Inmates

No sooner does our “Who Can Get Pregnant?” conversation wrap up than memeorandum sends me to a bizarre story out of New Jersey (“Transgender woman who impregnated 2 inmates removed from N.J.’s female prison“). And, frankly, the headline doesn’t do the real story justice.

A transgender inmate who impregnated two women while incarcerated at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women has been moved to a new facility, according to the Department of Corrections.

Demi Minor, 27, was transferred to Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, a prison for young adult offenders in Burlington County, last month, Dan Sperrazza, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said.

He said the DOC moved Minor to the vulnerable unit at the facility and that she is currently the only woman prisoner on the site. Sperrazza said he could not comment on the DOC’s specific housing actions in Minor’s case because of policies around privacy.

According to the corrections department, Minor is serving a 30-year sentence for manslaughter and is eligible for parole in 2037.

Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment Friday.

Having established that a trans man or nonbinary individual still possessed of a uterus can get pregnant, it stands to reason that a trans woman still possessed of a penis and testes can get someone pregnant. Indeed, the latter seems, for whatever reason, decidedly less controversial than the former given all the consternation over bathrooms and the like.

But why was Minor housed with inmates should could impregnate?

Why was Minor unsupervised for periods long enough for her to impregnate not one but two women?

Why is she being transferred now? Why not after the first impregnation?

Why is a 27-year-old being moved to a youth facility?

Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment Friday.

But a July 5 post on Minor’s website claims corrections officers forcibly removed her from Edna Mahan and beat her during the transfer to Garden State Youth Correctional facility.

The DOC said it couldn’t comment on the allegations but is investigating.

Given history, let’s stipulate that the prison guards almost certainly beat this trans woman after forcibly removing her from prison. (Although I have another question: Why does a prisoner have a website?)

Alas, I found said website and here is Minor’s exceedingly plausible account of what happened:

On June 24, 2022 I was shipped to Garden State Youth Correctional Facility (male facility), due to the fact that I had hung myself in the van, I was placed on Sui-cide watch, prior to going to this darkly lot cell, I attempt to ask Officers if I could be strip searched by a female officer which I felt comfortable doing …The Lieutenant refused and mocked me as I asked for this, he said if I did not follow his commands to allow two male officers to strip search me he was going to cut all my clothes off of me and place me in a dry cell. I cried and complied with his commands as the male officer said things to me that I perceived as wrong. I was placed in a dark cell within Detention housing, as inmates who are on watch are placed in the detention unit and not the infirmary!

Subsequently I was transferred to New Jersey State Prison, where guards continued to call me he and him….I was called he and him well over 30 times, this has not happened to me in years being referred to primarily as a man. When I arrived at Trenton state prison several guards strip searched me and placed me in the infirmary on constant watch. While on constant watch I was off camera where a guard told me “I don’t give a fuck what you do ….there is no camera here..” “everyone here is man including you”. Each time they opened my door I was handcuffed and yanked by officers using a handcuff belt. I was scared that I refused to speak, I kept shaking by the site of their billy clubs that they held in their hand.

That’s simultaneously shocking and not the least bit surprising.

The news of Minor’s transfer comes nearly three months after NJ Advance Media reported that Minor impregnated two women during “consensual sexual relationships.”

Let’s stipulate that the relationships were consensual. Or, at least, that Minor didn’t force herself on the women she impregnated.

Are prisoners in New Jersey permitted to have sex with one another? Because, given the involuntary nature of the living arrangements, “consensual” is an iffy proposition. Further, there seem to be serious equity issues involved for heterosexuals given that prisons are gender-segregated.

The revelation drew criticism of state corrections officials, who have grappled with allegations that correctional officers sexually abused and exploited prison inmates for the past decade.

Again, while I have no knowledge of the specific allegations or their veracity—convicted criminals might certainly have reason to lie about a prison guard—the long history of incarceration in America is such that I would be shocked if inmates weren’t routinely sexually abused and exploited.

It also cast a spotlight on New Jersey’s transgender prisoner policy established following a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey in June 2021. The policy stipulated that the DOC house transgender prisoners according to their gender identity. The settlement agreement mandated that the policy remains in place for at least a year. The year ended last month.

Sperrazza said the DOC continues to operate under the policy agreed upon with the ACLU but added that “the department is currently reviewing the policy for housing transgender incarcerated persons with the intention of implementing minor modifications.”

He said decisions related to an incarcerated person’s housing, like Minor’s, “are made within the parameters of the settlement agreement which requires consideration of gender identity and the health and safety of the individual.”

Advocates hailed the settlement agreement as necessary reform that moved New Jersey to the forefront of trans rights along with states like California and Massachusetts that have implemented policies on how transgender prisoners should be housed and medically treated.

The majority of transgender inmates in the United States are housed in prisons according to their gender assigned at birth and are often subjected to violence and harassment, according to an NBC News investigation published in 2020.

I’m still grappling with these issues. Offhand, there don’t seem to be any good solutions.

Putting transgender folks into prisons based on their gender assigned at birth strikes me as obviously cruel and potentially quite dangerous. Then again, putting a trans woman who has not begun physically transitioning into a women’s prison likewise presents a danger. And, especially given that prisons are mostly state-run, it’s almost certainly not practical to have separate accommodations for transitioning individuals—which itself may well be cruel even if it were feasible.

Minor, frankly, does not strike me as a model case. Judging only by her website and social media accounts, she entered the prison system at 16 identifying and presenting as a male. At some point, apparently during or just before the COVID pandemic, she decided that she was trans but had been unable to get hormone treatment until recently and does not want gender reassignment surgery. She admittedly has unspecified “mental health issues,” which one can only imagine.

Apparently, she thought the hormones meant she couldn’t get anyone pregnant. And she considers one of the impregnated women her “partner” and is very stressed by the prospect that the state will force the child into foster care—a fate she herself suffered in her youth.

The whole thing is a giant mess. Our criminal justice system is a national shame under the best of circumstances and is in no way equipped to handle those who are mentally ill. And the combination of that and gender dysphoria almost certainly exceeds the limits of the system.

Presumably, Minor killed somebody. She’s under a 30-year sentence and not eligible for parole for another five years. And one can’t imagine that impregnating two fellow inmates will go down as “good behavior.”

Practically speaking, then, Minor can’t simply be released. And we can’t tailor-make a corrections system for every set of individual circumstances that might arise.

The post Housing Trans Inmates first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Biden and bin Salman

The US-Saudi relationship has long been an odd one, with the ostensible leader of the free world being forced to overlook massive human rights violations in exchange for cooperation on oil prices and stability in a volatile region. Things have to say the least, not improved in recent years, with multiple incidents of Saudi nationalists murdering American citizens in acts of terrorism.

President Biden’s weekend trip to smooth things over has, not surprisingly, been without controversy.

CNN (“Biden’s fist bump with MBS ‘a win’ for US President: Saudi foreign minister“):

Joe Biden’s controversial fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “a win” for the US President, the Saudi foreign minister told CNN in an exclusive interview on Saturday.

The US President has faced a backlash over the informal way he greeted the kingdom’s de facto ruler on his arrival in Jeddah on Friday. Critics have said the fist bump was inappropriate given US suspicions that the Crown Prince was responsible for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — and Biden’s subsequent 2020 campaign trail pledge to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah”.

“Suspicions” my ass. He ordered him murdered.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan played down the controversy in an interview with CNN’s Nic Robertson hours after the President left Jeddah on Saturday.

“I see the image as a win for President Biden,” bin Farhan said.

“He got out of it a meeting with a key leader in the region. He got out of it, I think, reinvigoration of the strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”

Bin Farhan said it was “quite normal” that the leaders had exchanged “pleasantries”, adding, “I don’t know why we’re hung up on a fist bump.”

Considering that the image was released by the Saudi Press Agency, he knows damned well why we’re “hung up” on it. It signifies friendship and respect, seemingly conveying approval. One doesn’t generally fist bump a person one believes responsible for the torture and dismemberment of a journalist from an American newspaper.

Biden came to Jeddah seeking solutions to one of his top political problems at home — sky-high gas prices — as diplomacy with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East was seen as one of the few routes he could take to bring down prices that are putting strain on millions of Americans. Bin Farhan said the Crown Prince was open to increasing Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity — within limits.

“The most important point in the Crown Prince’s statement today was that we need to have a balanced approach towards our energy transition because the kingdom, while it’s increasing its capacity to 13 million barrels cannot go beyond that,” he said.

However, critics say Biden’s visit has been overshadowed by lingering unease over human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.

Concerns over the optics of the trip were highlighted on Saturday as it emerged that when Biden had raised the matter of Khashoggi’s killing, the Crown Prince responded by saying the US had “made its own mistakes”. In particular, the Crown Prince referenced the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abbu Akleh in the occupied West Bank as incidents that reflected poorly on the United States.

This surely did not come as a surprise. It’s the kind of thing Donald Trump says in justifying despots.

For its part, the White House has defended Biden’s use of the fist bump as part of an effort to reduce physical contact amid the rapid spread of a new coronavirus variant, noting that Biden also fist-bumped several Israeli leaders before his arrival in Jeddah.

This . . . is not helping. I have plenty of criticisms of the Israeli government over the years. They have committed human rights abuses of their own. They are not, however, monsters. And they’re genuine American allies sharing most of the same values.

On returning to the White House Saturday evening, Biden appeared annoyed when asked whether he regretted the greeting. “Why don’t you guys talk about something that matters. I’m happy to answer a question that matters,” he said.

It actually matters quite a lot, Mr. President.

The meeting between Biden and the Crown Prince was among the most closely watched moments of Biden’s landmark visit to the Middle East, with the controversy distracting from some of the other items on the President’s agenda — including discussions of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Before Biden’s arrival, Saudi Arabia had been pressuring the US to provide security guarantees if negotiations with Iran were to fail. The last round of talks between the US and Iran resulted in a standstill.

In a statement following the meeting, the White House said Biden had “affirmed the United States’ commitment to working with Saudi Arabia and other allies and partners in the Middle East to integrate and enhance security cooperation.”

Again, I get it. The United States has worked with some incredibly unsavory regimes in the past and will almost certainly continue to do so.

Indeed, President Bush the Younger was infamously photographed holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah while hosting him at his Crawford ranch almost twenty years ago. He was criticized for that—and for hypocrisy, given how much the Global War on Terror was ostensibly about global freedom and spreading democratic values.

Diplomacy is a messy business. But this trip was poorly handled. It’s not as though this controversy was a surprise. His staff let him down here.

And he’s paying the price for it with brutal criticism from all sides.

Robin Wright, The New Yorker (“Biden Caters to Autocrats and Draws Battle Lines in the Middle East“):

On his final stop, in Jeddah, Biden held talks with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The C.I.A. has concluded that M.B.S., as he’s popularly known, authorized the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for the Washington Post, in 2018. Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents to legalize his impending marriage. “Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered—and, I believe, on the orders of the crown prince,” Biden declared, at a Presidential debate, during the 2020 campaign. He called Saudi Arabia’s current government a “pariah” with “little” redeeming value. He vowed to make the Saudis “pay the price.” Khashoggi’s body has still not been recovered.

In an open letter to Biden, published in the Post, Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, implored him to cancel the visit. She had waited for Khashoggi outside the consulate as he was suffocated and his body was sawed into pieces. “The details of the suffering he endured have haunted me,” she wrote. She was horrified that Khashoggi’s killers “roamed free” as the U.S. funnelled billions of dollars in military equipment to the Saudi government. The trip “represents not just an unprecedented capitulation to M.B.S.’s reckless, unaccountable rule but an unprecedented doubling down on support for the autocrats of the region, gifting them with a security agreement that no U.S. Administration has ever committed to in the past,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of dawn, a pro-democracy group founded by Khashoggi, told me. (On Friday, Biden said that he confronted M.B.S. about the killing.)

Bethan McKernan, The Guardian (“Oil trumps human rights as Biden forced to compromise in Middle East“):

For all the careful choreography of Joe Biden’s Middle East tour, the White House made a major miscalculation when the president finally came face to face with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the first time.

Before Air Force One left Washington, the administration said that Biden would be avoiding physical contact and not shaking hands owing to a rise in Covid cases, a move widely believed to allow him to avoid creating an uncomfortable photo op with the powerful heir to the throne.

But the image of the two leaders leaning towards each other, hesitant smiles on their faces as they bumped fists, came across as more relaxed and familiar than the US president probably intended.

Biden came to office determined to take a firmer line with the strongmen and autocrats beloved by Donald Trump. He had a particular enmity towards Prince Mohammed, the ambitious 36-year-old who deposed his uncle to become next in line as king, waged a ruinous war in Yemen, and locked up or killed his critics.

On the campaign trail, in the aftermath of the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state”. He has since refused to speak to the crown prince directly, liaising instead with his ailing father, King Salman. Shortly after arriving in the White House, Biden released US intelligence findings – suppressed by Trump – which concluded that Prince Mohammed approved the operation targeting the Washington Post journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

When the US president brought up Khashoggi with the de facto Saudi ruler on Friday, the prince reportedly hit back, accusing Washington of hypocrisy by not investigating the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, and for allowing the abuse of inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Yet Riyadh has been one of Washington’s closest strategic partners for decades for a reason that no US president can ignore. Biden has heard the siren song of the kingdom’s vast oil reserves: the war in Ukraine has unleashed chaos in global oil markets, and he can no longer refuse the call.

Worse yet, Biden’s attempts to do damage control seem to be backfiring.

Peter Baker, NYT (“Biden Says He Confronted Saudi Prince Over Khashoggi. How True Is That?“):

As President Biden told the tale, it sounded pretty dramatic.

After meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, on Friday for the first time since taking office, the president insisted that he had pointedly blamed him for the murder of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it,” Mr. Biden recounted to reporters. “I indicated that I thought he was.”

The only hitch? That’s not the way it happened, according to Saudi officials. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, who was present for the encounter, told reporters that he had not heard the president blame the crown prince.

The White House on Saturday did not back down. “The president was very clear about the conversation, and we stand by his account,” said John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council.

Asked by reporters after landing back in Washington whether the Saudi minister was telling the truth, Mr. Biden replied simply, “No.” He seemed exasperated by the second-guessing of his trip. When a reporter asked if he regretted the fist bump he had greeted Prince Mohammed with, he complained, “Why don’t you guys talk about something that matters?”

Both sides had an interest in spinning the closed-door meeting. Mr. Biden has been denounced by rights groups, media organizations and politicians in both parties for meeting with the crown prince, who the C.I.A. says ordered the 2018 operation that killed Mr. Khashoggi, a United States resident and columnist for The Washington Post. By promoting how tough he was behind closed doors, the president clearly hoped to defuse some of the criticism for abandoning his campaign promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”

For their part, the Saudis were eager to present the meeting as a return to business as usual between the leaders of two longtime allies, and had every hope of minimizing the lasting import of the Khashoggi case. Mr. Jubeir confirmed to reporters that Mr. Biden had raised the matter but characterized it in less confrontational terms. The last thing the Saudis wanted was the image of a president lecturing their young leader.

Indeed, both sides were acutely attuned to the choreography of the encounter. American news photographers traveling in the White House motorcade were given no opportunity to get in place to capture the image of the president greeting the crown prince upon his arrival at a palace here, a picture Mr. Biden’s aides had dreaded. The Saudi government, for its part, made sure its official photographers were everywhere and snapped myriad shots of the two together, which were promptly posted online.

Mr. Biden is by nature a storyteller with a penchant for embellishment. He has often told the story of meeting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in 2011 as vice president and telling him, “I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” Others present at the time had no memory of that specific exchange.

Mr. Biden has similarly described an unvarnished confrontation in 1993 with Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalist leader who unleashed an ethnic war in the Balkans. “I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one,” Mr. Biden, then a senator, related having told Mr. Milosevic, according to a 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.” Some other people in the room later said they did not recall that line.

Mr. Biden likes presenting himself as standing up to dictators and crooked figures. Another favorite story stemmed from a meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in 2008, when the Afghan leader denied that his government was awash in corruption. Mr. Biden said he grew so irritated that he threw down his napkin, declared, “This dinner is over,” and stormed out.

Often, others in the room for such sessions say that some version of what Mr. Biden has described did take place, only not with quite as much camera-ready theatricality. During his presidential campaign, for instance, he told a moving story about honoring a war hero that fact checkers at The Post later concluded conflated elements of three actual events into a version that did not happen.

All of us, from time to time, will falter in the moment only to come up with the words one wishes one had said after the fact. Biden, it seems, likes to pretend that he actually said them. Charitably, that’s a reflection of who he wishes himself to be. In the movies, the hero is always ready with the right lines. In real life we don’t have a script.

Regardless, as David Sanger and Peter Baker write in the NYT (“As Biden Reaches Out to Mideast Dictators, His Eyes Are on China and Russia“) these uncomfortable optics come in service to an actual policy agenda.

During his painful encounters with a series of Arab strongmen here in Saudi Arabia this weekend, President Biden kept returning to a single reason for renewing his relationship with American allies who fall on the wrong side of the struggle he often describes as a battle between “democracy and autocracy.”

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Mr. Biden said at a session on Saturday with nine Arab leaders in a cavernous hotel ballroom in this ancient port on the Red Sea. “And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.”

Mr. Biden’s framing of America’s mission as part of a renewed form of superpower competition was revealing. For decades, American presidents largely saw the Middle East as a hotbed of strife and instability, a place the United States needed a presence largely to keep oil flowing and eliminate terrorist havens. Now, more than 20 years after a group of Saudis left this country to stage terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and strike the Pentagon, Mr. Biden is driven by a new concern: That his forced dance with dictators, while distasteful, is the only choice if his larger goal is to contain Russia and outmaneuver China.

A return to “great power competition” was ostensibly at the center of President Trump’s national security strategy and, arguably, that was presaged by President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” back in 2011. But Biden seems to genuinely be prioritizing said competition and organizing the rest of his foreign policy around that.

“We’re getting results,” he insisted on Friday night as he emerged from a meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who clearly sees the opportunity to get diplomatic rehabilitation after Mr. Biden refused to see him for months, accusing him of complicity in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist.

Mr. Biden’s effort here to negotiate greater oil production — jarring enough for a president who came to office vowing to help wean the world from fossil fuels — is driven by the need to make Russia pay a steep price for invading Ukraine.

To be sure, it’s also motivated by domestic politics. Americans are furious at the higher prices at the pump.

So far, that price has been scant: Not only are the Russians continuing to collect substantial oil and gas revenues, they are even supplying Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported recently, with fuel for its power plants — at discounted prices.

Perhaps the most notable of Mr. Biden’s flurry of announcements with the Saudis was an agreement signed Friday night to cooperate on a new technology to build next-generation 5G and 6G telecommunications networks in the country. The United States’ main competitor in that field is China — and Huawei, China’s state-favored competitor, which has made significant inroads in the region.

It is all part of a larger Biden administration effort to begin pushing back on Beijing in parts of the world where for years the Chinese government has made progress without feeling much competition.

Three weeks ago, at the NATO summit meeting, Mr. Biden celebrated a new “strategic concept” for the Western alliance that, for the first time, recognized China as a systemic “challenge,” describing its policies as coercive and its cyberoperations around the world as malicious. The doctrine said that along with Russia, Beijing was trying to “subvert the rules-based international order,” words similar to those the Biden administration has used on this trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

After that summit, European officials said they would focus on pushing back on China’s influence inside Europe, and on reducing dependency on its electronics, software and other products.

The effort here in Jeddah is similar — to show that the United States will help push back on Chinese and Russian influence. Mr. Biden outlined a five-part “new framework for the Middle East” that included supporting economic development, military security and democratic freedoms. “Let me conclude by summing all this up in one sentence,” he said. “The United States is invested in building a positive future in the region in partnership with all of you, and the United States is not going anywhere.”

Frustrating though it may be, human rights aren’t always at the top of our foreign policy agenda. Certainly, the prospect of China setting the global agenda is more problematic than how the Saudi government treats its subjects.

The post Biden and bin Salman first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Being Known by the Company you Keep

There is a lot that we knew about Donald Trump’s actions on January 6th (for example, I think it is important to remember that he basically ended that day by releasing a video statement that was highly sympathetic to those who had stormed the capitol, and told them that “we love you”). There are mountains of inflammatory statements made, in public, about the election, its alleged theft, and how much people ought to be fighting mad. There are now hours of testimony from, I would hasten to add, Republican politicians* and officials as to Trump’s unwillingness to accept reality and, instead, his interest in exploring all options, including the extralegal, to stay in power.

Now, I know wading through all of that takes some work, so let me focus on the old adage, “you are known by the company you keep.” I am also not going to focus here on the issue of legal culpability, but simply on the question of suitability for office (which is largely a political question).

My most general question is: should a politician who has knowingly met with persons who came bearing extralegal, extraconstitutional (if not blatantly illegal and unconstitutional) theories about how that politician can remain in power be seen as qualified to run for office again?

We know and have known for going on two years, that Trump was associated with attorney John Eastman. We know that Eastman was at the “Stop the Steal” rally, for example, and met with Trump at the White House on many occasions. We also know that Eastman wrote a memo that stated that the Vice President had the power to simply reject electoral votes from the states. And, further, he argued that the sitting Vice President, Mike Pence, should reject the electoral votes from a set of states that Trump lost. In no uncertain terms, this was an argument for granting the Vice Presidency the power to decide the outcome of American presidential elections.

This was a memo designed to steal an election, plain and simple.

And I would venture to assert that most Americans if they read this story in a history book apart from the passions of the moment, would easily see the problem. Moreover, I think a lot of current Republican voters who are downplaying all of this (if not in active denial) would readily see the threat if we were talking about a Democrat hosting an attorney with such theories.

To be frank, the above fact should be enough for current Republican office-holders to be behaving more like Liz Cheney than like Kevin McCarthy. Or, if you like, they should be acting more like private Kevin McCarthy and less like public Kevin McCarthy.

We now have the following via the NYT: Little-Known Lawyer Pitched Trump on Extreme Plans to Subvert Election.

Around 5 in the afternoon on Christmas Day in 2020, as many Americans were celebrating with family, President Donald J. Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Fla., on the phone with a little-known conservative lawyer who was encouraging his attempts to overturn the election, according to a memo the lawyer later wrote documenting the call.

The lawyer, William J. Olson, was promoting several extreme ideas to the president. Mr. Olson later conceded that part of his plan could be regarded as tantamount to declaring “martial law” and that another aspect could invite comparisons with Watergate. The plan included tampering with the Justice Department and firing the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, according to the Dec. 28 memo by Mr. Olson, titled “Preserving Constitutional Order.”

“Our little band of lawyers is working on a memorandum that explains exactly what you can do,” Mr. Olson wrote in his memo, obtained by The New York Times, which he marked “privileged and confidential” and sent to the president. “The media will call this martial law,” he wrote, adding that “that is ‘fake news.’”

Again, if the partisan labels were different, I think a lot of Trump-defenders who read this would take a very different view of the situation (and, I know, not some number of Democrats would change their tunes).

But here’s the bottom line, apart from any other evidence or arguments: it should be unthinkable and unacceptable for a sitting president, especially one post-election, to entertain these kinds of persons or ideas. If the local youth pastor was getting visits from NAMBLA ( associates, or from attorneys writing memos about how six-year-olds are actually adults, no one in their right mind would be sending their kids to youth group. Moreover, no member of that church should be willing to continue to employ such a person.

Would you hire an accountant who had lunch with a guy who wrote a book called Fifty Ways to Cheat your Clients?

In short, just these two examples (Eastman and Olson) should be enough to make reasonable people seek to move away from Trump–whether we are talking office-holders or voters. Trump was a sitting president listening to people who wanted him to subvert our electoral process. That should be disqualifying on its face. But, alas, this is not the case for a lot of Americans.

(I could also note the letter that Jeffrey Clark wanted to send).

When a bunch of people are making serious attempts at subverting the system and the sitting president is willing to listen to them, that should be disqualifying, plain and simple. There are other Republican politicians for the party to nominate. Nominate them and move on. Think about what supporting Trump for 2024 would mean.

I could do on, but will note Sidney Powell as well. Her theories included utter fabrications about Dominion Voting Systems and crazy theories about Hugo Chavez. Indeed, her claims were such that her defense in the defamation suit brought by Dominion included the notion “no reasonable person would conclude that [her] statements were truly statements of fact.” If one watches any of Powell’s press conferences, interviews, or testimony before the committee and finds her cogent and credible, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona one might be interested in. I might even throw the Golden Gate in free.

Let’s not forget Mike Lindell. Just on its face, and without getting into Lindell’s behavior and claims, the notion that some random CEO and TV pitchman of a relatively minor company would have deep information about the electoral systems of various states is farcical. If Lindell was a character in a prestige TV drama we would think that the writers had gotten quite sloppy. This is like Ron Popeil being a key figure in Watergate. And what was up with the Overstock.com guy being at the WH? It would all be laughable if who the president is and who they act and think wasn’t serious on a global scale.

I could go on and on and it is one ugly picture.

If one can look at people like Eastman and Olsen and not see the threat, or look at people like Powell and Lindell and not see dangerous clowns, then I would say that either one has no ability to judge expertise and character, and/or one’s partisan lenses are way too thick.

To cut to the chase: if you are a Trump supporter reading this, ask yourself what you are supporting and defending? I understand that having your side attacked is no fun and that the automatic response is defense. But you would not defend the above if a Democrat did it, so what is the moral, logical, evidence-based argument for defending Trump? Moreover: what is the basis to support him for the nomination in 2024?

(And please: to the regulars, can this not be another “it’s a cult!” discussion thread?).


A side note:

On this theme of the company one keeps, I will state that one of the things that has really struck me about the testimony in the hearings (and really, back to the behavior of various actors throughout the administration) is that we always knew, to use a phrase from Bill Sepien, Trump’s former campaign, there was a Team Crazy and a Team Normal in the White House. One of the things that really, truly concerns me is that a second Trump administration will be all Team Crazy. I have little doubt that one of the lessons that Trump learned is that careerists and professionals with actual resumes stopped him from doing what he wanted, but that there is a coterie of enablers out there who will be more than willing to do his bidding. I would expect a second Trump administration to be rife with such folks, and I honestly find that to be a horrifyingly frightening prospect.

This is not about Democrat/Republican or conservative/liberal. This is about basic competence and respect for logic, reason, and the basic rule of law.


*I keep being struck by the fact that almost all of the testimony at these hearings has been from either people who worked in the White House/for Trump directly or were supporters of Trump. They are, in a word, overwhelmingly Republicans. They all certainly voted for Trump, if not actively worked, let me again note, in the Trump administration. While I recognize that these hearings are not adversarial affairs (i.e., there is not a defense to counter the prosecution), the notion that they are simply a Democratic hit job is simply untrue on its face when the witnesses are almost all Republicans who worked with/for/near Trump himself.

I will also note that if a bipartisan or adversarial process was a good idea, then the Republicans shouldn’t have blocked one. I have no patience for such complaints as there could have been an independent commission, which would have been bipartisan, and McCarthy could have appointed members to this current committee. That Pelosi rejected a set of members who might be subject to the investigation itself was simply not an unreasonable position to take.

The post Being Known by the Company you Keep first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Democracy Dies in Dumbness

Poynter has published an essay from Tara McGowan, founder of Good Information Inc., with the subhed, “Paywalls bolster news organizations’ bottom lines, but leave Americans in the dark. As a public service, let everyone read election stories for free.”

Much has already been said, tweeted and complained about The Washington Post’s tagline, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” that was unveiled at the start of the Trump administration. It’s harsh, foreboding and alarming. But it’s also true. When people don’t know the facts, a government of the people is impossible.

So then why do the Post and many other legacy news publishers leave so many Americans in the dark?

See, if you want to read a Post article, including this one about how they came up with the tagline back in 2017, you might be blocked by a paywall. Big Tech giants like Facebook and Google are gorging on the advertising revenue that once sustained news organizations, so the publications have tightened access to their products to get people to pay for it through subscriptions. While that strategy has helped bolster news organizations’ bottom lines at a time when a healthy free press is sorely needed, it has also had the dangerous side effect of leaving the vast majority of Americans in the dark.

The answer to the Why is rather obvious: it’s really expensive to run a news operation. The Washington Post is a prestige outlet, so young journalists are willing to work there at something of a discount. But it’s really expensive to live in DC, New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago—the cities where our best newspapers are published—so there’s only so little they can accept. More senior reporters, editors, publishers, and the like command more money. And that’s to say nothing of the expenses of actually gathering the news. Or printing a newspaper, running websites, and keeping the lights on. The Washington Post is a major undertaking. There’s only so much even a Jeff Bezos is going to be willing to lose operating it.

I often refer to people who don’t pay for news as “passive” news consumers. That doesn’t suggest a moral failing on their part. It just means they’re simply consuming the news that comes to them through their daily scrolling of social media feeds, email inboxes and conversations with people they trust.

American news consumers fall into three groups today: a small lobbying class that can afford thousands of dollars in news-analysis subscriptions like Politico Pro; a larger but still very limited group that will pay to get behind paywalls; and by far the largest group of Americans — those who will not or cannot pay for their news.

So, I’m in the middle group. I pay for monthly access to the NYT, WSJ,* the Atlantic, and various niche sites. I’d pay for WaPo as well but I’m eligible for a free subscription thanks to a .mil email address. (It used to be free with a .edu, which I also have, but that was discontinued long ago.) I’d pay for LAT if it were cheap enough but it doesn’t provide enough unique content to justify it otherwise.

But here’s the thing: outside of a few short years beginning in the late aughts, I’ve always paid for daily news reporting. I had a NYT paper subscription as an undergrad. As an Army officer, I paid for daily copies of Stars and Stripes, usually by putting a quarter into a newsbox. As a grad student, I paid for both the NYT and the Tuscaloosa News. As I moved around, I paid for the Chattanooga Free Press, the Bainbridge (Georgia) Post-Searchlight, and WaPo. At some point during my blogging career, I stopped taking the print edition of WaPo and just relying on free access to the various newspaper websites. (And there was never I time, going back to my high school days, when I wasn’t subscribing to at least a couple of magazines.)

Was I a bit miffed when paywalls started going up? Sure. I had gotten accustomed to getting all the content I wanted for free. And early attempts to put up paywalls at NYT and elsewhere failed because some other outlet would simply “re-report” any stories they broke. Eventually, though, the sheer necessity of figuring out a way to make the businesses profitable forced just everybody worth reading behind a paywall.

Does it suck for those unable or unwilling to pay? Sure. But, again, until 20 years ago, the notion that you could get the local newspaper—much less NYT, WaPo, and WSJ—for free would have been absurd. And 25 years ago, it was damned near impossible to get the great national papers on the same day they came out at any price. (NYT tended to have arrangements to deliver copies to locked containers at various universities, maybe just in the eastern part of the country.)

Further, the amount of still-free news that exists today would have been unimaginable back then. Google News, YahooNews, CNN, and NPR alone provide enough to keep most people reasonably informed. And that’s to say nothing of CNN and NPR’s broadcast outlets.

Passive consumers may have faith that good, accurate news about the world and their own communities will somehow find them. But with few exceptions, they’re wrong about that. Increasingly, the fact-based news that’s necessary for a pro-democracy citizenry is behind a paywall. On social media, passive consumers are more likely to see propaganda that capitalizes on the ways information is distributed there. Biased algorithms reward salacious and emotionally charged content — often favoring right-leaning messaging that is outright false. Platforms could turn off these algorithms with a click, but we know that they won’t — because disinformation is their business model.

So, if you’re getting your news primarily from your Facebook feed, you’re simply not interested in being a contributing member of society. And it wouldn’t matter if Steve Inskeep personally knocked on your door offering to give you a briefing; you’re just not going to listen.

McGowan disagrees.

We don’t have to accept this. News organizations can take their own actions right now to channel their pro-democracy mission statements into action, get good information to the people who need it most, and slow the spread of disinformation. Here are some ways:

Make 2022 election coverage free.

Most news outlets with paywalls have a policy to offer certain news stories for free when the story is of overriding public importance. They did just that in the early days of the pandemic. The future of our democracy is a critical enough issue to fall under that policy, isn’t it? And publishers should realize that dropping the paywall for election news is not economic suicide. In fact, most local news outlets saw an increase in subscriptions at the start of the pandemic even though they made their coronavirus stories free. Why? Because their coverage reminded consumers that they were a valuable product for the long term.

So, while the pandemic was far and away the most pressing story of 2020—people were literally dying—it wasn’t the only story. People were still willing to pay to get access to other news. If the papers give away politics coverage—the bread and butter of national outlets—there’s essentially nothing left. What are people going to pay for? Wordles? Recipes?

Create a pro-democracy underwriting program.

If news outlets are worried that they’ll lose money by making their most click-worthy political content free, they should find corporate sponsors for that content. This would be the kind of image marketing that works for many companies today. Many corporations are being called out for funding pro-insurrection candidates. Surely there are corporations out there that would want to be on a list of businesses that support democracy by bolstering a free press.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

News outlets have spent the last two decades plus trying to replace the advertising model. If there were good samaritan corporations out there interested in funding news coverage, don’t you think they’d have been found by now?

Now, I’m sure there are companies out there who would be willing to sponsor certain categories of content so long as they had editorial control over it. But, rather obviously, that’s counter to McGowan’s goal.

Team up to spread free, reliable information.

An encouraging trend in U.S. journalism is collaboration among news organizations. Often a for-profit outlet teams up with a nonprofit newsroom, or multiple nonprofit news outlets get together on a project to lift up under-covered stories and voices, or reach new audiences. In either case, the stories they collaborate on are often available for free online. This growing trend toward mission-first and nonprofit news must be supercharged by people who have the money to make a difference.

Good luck with that. Bezos bought the Post, which I believe remains a top-notch newspaper. But many are understandably leery that coverage of Amazon’s many businesses is more timid than it would otherwise be.

And, again, if there were a lot of billionaires out there itching to provide great journalism for free, don’t you think they’d have announced themselves? They tend not to be a timid lot.

Stop writing for the elite.

Even with historic turnout records in 2018 and 2020, more than half of eligible voters didn’t cast ballots. One reason: The vast majority of political news coverage is written for elites. Most Americans don’t care about electoral horse races or legislative sausage-making. That style of reporting actually exacerbates Americans’ distaste for and mistrust of our government and the media. Effective reporting informs people about decisions that impact their families, who makes those decisions, and what motivates those decisions. And because humans are the way that they are, the most effective method to inform people is through storytelling. Put everyday people — not senators — at the center of stories. (Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan has great advice on this.)

So, first off, 66.9% of the voting-eligible population voted in the 2020 election—the highest total on record. The lowest turnouts in recent times were in 1996 and 1988—before paywalls, or even the World Wide Web—were a thing.

Second, while the critique of horserace politics is as valid as it is longstanding, there’s a reason why it continues to dominate: the kind of people who read about politics in the 45 months of the 48-month presidential cycle that 85% of the country tunes out are very interested in it. You and I, reader of a politics blog in July of an off-year cycle, are among them. We happen to be the kind of people who fit into McGowan’s second category: non-passive news consumers willing to pay to keep the lights on at newspapers.

I also consume sports (mostly Crimson Tide and Dallas Cowboys football) coverage year-round, even during the very long offseasons when there’s very little news. I always laugh when people who not only pay to subscribe to sites like The Athletic but participate in its message boards bitch that the sportswriters are offering speculation about the upcoming season in June when, after all, the games will play out in the fall. I mean, what the hell else are they supposed to write about from February through August?

Politics, obviously, offers more real news than football because there’s no offseason. But coverage of, say, Build Back Better is very inside-baseball and of very little news to any but the wonkiest policy wonk. So, it becomes a soap opera about the latest drama involving Joe Manchin because that provides characters and a plotline.

Go where non-subscribing Americans are.

When it comes to news media, the old adage “if you build it they will come” is not only irrelevant, but dangerously out of touch. To reach specific groups of people, you need to show up where they spend their time. Concise and direct presentation is vital. We founded Courier Newsroom in 2019 to provide passive consumers with fact-based journalism from a progressive perspective. We proactively find and target these audiences because social algorithms will simply not do that for us, and all of our original reporting is available to them for free where they get their information online.

One strategy that news outlets can deploy immediately is to boost their content directly to specific new audiences through targeted ad spends on platforms like Facebook and Google, using third-party data or their own targeting capabilities — the same way their marketing teams are targeting likely paying subscribers to grow their audiences and bottom lines.

I lack the technical know-how to evaluate this suggestion. I push out OTB content to Twitter and used to do the same to Facebook before they blocked auto-posting.

But the obvious question arises: Courier Newsroom has been doing this since 2019. Why is there still a problem to be solved? Clearly, all the progressive news that’s fit to print has now been absorbed by the great unwashed masses. Right?

Another approach is to build new capacity in newsrooms to identify the digital spaces where under-reached audiences spend their time and to share content through existing trusted messengers to these communities. The key is to go where they are, and make the information as accessible as possible. Think Instagram carousels and TikTok videos, not 2,000-word stories or clickbaity headlines. The Post’s investment in TikTok and relatively new approach to sharing headline graphics on Instagram is worth emulating.

So . . . and I’m just spitballin’ here . . . what if this solution actually just reinforces the problem?

Look,, there’s simply no shortage of news out there. I can get all of the politics I want from NPR, BBC, Reuters, and numerous other high-quality, low-bias websites. There’s a near-infinite supply of high-quality podcasts out there. All for free, sometimes without even having to fast forward past the ads.

If you’re not willing to read 2000-word stories or listen to a 45-minute podcast and are getting your news from fucking TikTok and Instagram, you’re a goddamn simpleton who should not be allowed to leave your home, much less help decide who our next President is. We really, really, really, should not encourage more people to join their ranks.

I’ve long advocated some sort of universal subscription service, much like we have for music and video content, that allows people to pay for access to a wide range of content rather than having to pay for individual access to multiple papers. Few people, indeed, can justify paying for both WaPo and NYT, let alone a half dozen papers; there’s just too much overlap. But most of us would like to have unfettered access to them all and be willing to pay some sort of tiered rate.

________________

*WSJ is a great paper but I’d never been willing to pay its premium subscription rate. A few months back, they were offering it for something like $3 or $4 a month for the first year. I’ll likely cancel after that unless I can get a similar discount.

The post Democracy Dies in Dumbness first appeared on Outside the Beltway.