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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Hot Takes on the Democrats’ Debate

The Daily Escape:

Autumn, Zion NP, Utah – November 2019 photo by robvisserphotography

Wednesday’s two hour debate hosted by MSNBC and the WaPo gave 10 Democratic presidential candidates yet another chance to introduce themselves at a point when there is less than three months before the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But, while Wrongo likes them all in the abstract, none of them is world-class. They each have strengths, and while it is still early, and most still have time to grow into the role of top-tier presidential nominee, none is there yet.

A note about the Ukraine impeachment hearings: Shouldn’t the other candidates be willing to defend Biden against the attacks by House Republicans and the administration? Shouldn’t they spend some time attacking the Republican Party as a corrupt entity that must loose power?

Or, are they worried that the Bidens actually may be a little dirty?

The candidates seem to be relying on a calculation that detailed policies are the right way for their campaigns to win the nomination and ultimately, the election. For Wrongo’s money, the candidates should be attacking Trump, the undemocratic Senate, and Supreme Court. Warren gets closest, with her stressing corruption in the corporate and political domains. But most Democratic primary voters aren’t into the wonky details of “my plan vs. her plan”.

Here’s Wrongo’s take on how they did.

  • Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders finished in the top tier. Sanders in particular seems to be a better candidate since his heart attack, while Mayor Pete barely squeaks into this group. Warren led the field in talk time with 13.4 minutes to Mayor Pete’s 12.8. Sanders was in fourth place, with 11.8 minutes.
  • Harris, Booker and Yang are in the second tier. All had strong performances, but Harris in particular seemed to return to the form she showed in the first debate. It’s interesting, but it may not be enough, particularly since she isn’t currently top-three in her home state of California. Yang and Booker made the most of their limited talk time. Yang got 6.9 minutes, vs. 11.5 for Booker and Harris.
  • Biden, Klobachar and Steyer finished in the third tier. Biden talked for 12.6 minutes, and had good moments, but the gaffes remain. Steyer did well, but should drop out, as should Klobachar.
  • Gabbard trailed the field.

A few words about trying for consensus with Republicans. When candidates like Biden, Mayor Pete, Booker and Klobachar talk about unity and consensus, Wrongo hears them saying they will not fight for real change to our corrupt system.

Regarding Biden: He’s from an era where the Parties weren’t as ideologically coherent and polarized as today. There were both conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, so a liberal Democrat could find common cause with liberal Republicans on certain issues or, with conservative Democrats on other issues on the basis of partisan allegiance.

That doesn’t exist anymore because those guys are gone. Policy success on an issue now depends largely on partisan and ideological alignment.  So, all that “working with the other side” means in practical terms, is an expectation of failure.

For Biden, the question should be: “Why aren’t those Republicans who are willing to work with you not defending you now, when you’re at the center of a fabricated scandal?” The basic premise of his candidacy is that his personal connections with Republicans will overcome their ideological or partisan viewpoints, so he’s operating under a delusion.

In sum, the Democrats running for the presidential nomination are beginning to look like Richard Russ’s novel “Empire Falls: The leading Dems are The Old Crank at the End of The Bar, the Slightly Senile and Slightly Pervy Retired Priest, the Woman Schoolteacher Who Knows Everything and the Cub Scout Going for His Presidency Badge. It’s somehow not that lovable here in reality.

A final word about the impact of the impeachment hearings, and how they overlap with the debates. The initial debate question was about the Ukraine scandal and impeachment. From Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“This is an unprecedented moment. A sitting president is under an impeachment inquiry, and likely will undergo a trial in the Senate, while also running for re-election….sooner or later, the issue of whether or not this president should be removed before the voters pass judgment on him is going to come to a very sharp point….”

These aren’t simple calculations. So far, there isn’t sufficient evidence to get 20 Senate Republicans to vote to convict the President on impeachment articles.

And the Mueller report didn’t grab the American public, so it will be ignored by Republicans.

The questions are:

  • Whether what we’ve heard will change the minds of enough Independents and a few Republicans?
  • And/or, will it fire up enough Democrats so that they turnout and overcome Republican efforts at voter suppression next November?
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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 13, 2019

Trump suffered another legal setback in the federal courts on Friday over his plan to declare refugees and poor immigrants as “public charges”. The plan was to justify refusing them public services like heath care, and use that as a basis for deporting them.

“Judge George B. Daniels, of the US District Court in Manhattan, ordered preliminary injunctions Friday afternoon in two related cases against the administration’s new “public charge” rule that could have denied legal permanent residency and other forms of legal status to many immigrants in the country who are deemed likely to use public assistance.”

Daniels wrote that he found cause to grant the motion because the plaintiffs had sufficiently demonstrated that they would suffer irreparable harm if the rule went into effect:

“Overnight, the Rule will expose individuals to economic insecurity, health instability, denial of their path to citizenship, and potential deportation….It is a rule that will punish individuals for their receipt of benefits provided by our government, and discourages them from lawfully receiving available assistance intended to aid them in becoming contributing members of our society…”

Separately, the fourth Homeland Security Director resigned on Saturday. The entire DHS needs to be rethought and reformed from the ground up. On to cartoons.

This was the DHS’s “public charge” argument:

How did Rudy fall so far?

Trump’s brain trust circles the wagons:

Both sides try using platitudes to help make decisions:

His strategery rarely works out:

Another of this week’s best decisions was facilitated by Erdogan:

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 6, 2019

Regarding the omnipresent Trump/Biden news, virtually all Republicans are on the same page:

  • The Bidens are guilty of something
  • They should be investigated
  • Trump committed no crime
  • The Democrats are out to get Trump

The right has worked with Fox State News to neutralize facts, so every issue is up for grabs, even things you know is true. Global warming? It’s undecided. Biden’s activity with Ukraine? Every newspaper has debunked it. And it wasn’t just Obama and Biden who wanted that Ukraine prosecutor gone, all of the European leaders and the head of the IMF wanted him out too.

But for Republicans, those aren’t facts, because something must have been going on. Now, Biden’s let Trump and the GOP define him. They say he should be investigated, because he must have done something wrong, everyone says so.

You’ve got to fight to win the news cycle these days. We can’t remember what happened yesterday, let alone last month.

But, once again, it looks like the Dems plan to work very slowly, sacrificing the narrative. All they have to say is, “he did it”.

Will they again grab defeat from the jaws of victory? On to cartoons. Here’s the meme of the week:

Views differ on what the Ukraine thingy means:

GOP is strangely silent on Trump’s actions:

New movie hits theaters this weekend. Most would like to wipe this horror show from their minds:

It’s more likely that Trump would say: “It would be unfortunate if somehow, he got shot in the leg“:

 

Rudy plans a spirited defense of whatever this is:

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Is The Trump/Ukraine Story A Trap for Dems?

The Daily Escape:

Hopkinton NH — September 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Wrongo has been skeptical of the House Democrats’ ability to investigate an administration that has zero interest in playing by the old rules.

He was skeptical of the effort to make Russian interference in the 2016 elections a means of impeachment of Trump. He was skeptical of Robert Mueller as the potential savior of the Democratic Party in 2018.

Now, we’ve stepped back into the waters of impeachment because of the Ukraine president’s convo with Trump. Are Democrats once again placing false hope in impeachment? Trump is corrupt in a completely ham-fisted way that makes his efforts at self-dealing blatantly obvious. Here’s Trump, talking to the Ukraine’s president Zelensky:

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great….Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

That fired up Democrats, since it appears that Trump was trying to pressure Zelensky by withholding US military aid unless Zelensky agreed to investigate both Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Here’s Wrongo’s take. For the past few months, Americans were finally concentrating on subjects like healthcare and college debt forgiveness. These ideas were getting both air time and traction, via the debates. The battalion of Democratic candidates were telling us their positions on these ideas, and others, like a wealth tax.

But the Democrats have now introduced impeachment 2.0, focused on the Trump/Ukraine story. By doing that, they have also rehabilitated a debunked Biden/Ukraine story, something that has been high on the GOP’s radar for years.

What’s the Hunter Biden/Joe Biden/Ukraine story? It begins with the 2014 appointment of Hunter Biden to the board of Burisma Holdings, a small Ukrainian energy company. In late 2015, VP Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine, in part to send a message to the Ukrainian government that it needed to crack down on corruption.

That message was somewhat undermined by Hunter’s work with Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky had been Ukraine’s ecology minister under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Hunter had joined the board of Burisma the same month that Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, an independent government agency, was conducting a money-laundering investigation into Zlochevsky and Burisma. But the British investigation ended after Ukrainian prosecutors refused to cooperate. They wouldn’t turn over documents needed in the British investigation, and without that evidence, a British court ordered the assets unfrozen.

According to an Intercept piece on May 10th, Biden, during a visit to Kiev in late 2015, did threaten to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees unless the then- prosecutor was dismissed. But the Intercept argues that Biden did Ukraine a favor by hastening the prosecutor’s departure, because he had failed to properly investigate corrupt officials, including Zlochevsky.

By getting the prosecutor fired, Joe Biden made it more, rather than less likely, that Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch who Hunter worked for, would be subject to prosecution for corruption. Yet, it never happened.

There is no evidence that Joe Biden did anything to shield Hunter or Burisma Holdings from scrutiny, as claimed by Trump and Giuliani. But it is true that Hunter continued to work to repair Burisma’s reputation. That isn’t a praiseworthy activity for a presidential wanna-be’s son.

And Hunter’s no saint. In 2014, he was discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. Later, he was involved in a hedge fund with his uncle, James Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, that went belly up.

This story isn’t going to die. As long as the impeachment inquiry against Trump lasts, the Biden story will be linked to it for many Americans. Even if impeachment happens, the Republicans will use this against Joe Biden if he’s the nominee. Joe has said that he never discussed Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine with him, but maybe he should have.

A question that Democrats should be asking is whether this is the hill that they are prepared to die on: Is Trump’s Ukraine effort sufficient for an impeachment? Is it anything more than a “he said, she said” debate?

Are the Dems prepared for another investigative loss, much like in Russiagate and the Mueller Report?

Presidents know that they have few constraints on their activities. GW Bush (or perhaps Cheney) realized that, and went on to exploit presidential power in ways that radically changed America. And when the Dems came into power, Obama and Pelosi ruled out pursuing Bush and Cheney.

Trump is on a much more dangerous path than Bush and Cheney.

Would taking Trump down restore the balance of power in our politics?

Is that worth the downside risk to the Democrats?

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