Saturday, February 29, 2020

Biden Blowout In South Carolina

Numerous outlets have projected that Joe Biden is the winner of the South Carolina Democratic primary. As of this writing, Biden holds a commanding lead with over 50 percent of the vote.
With 59 percent of precincts reporting, Bernie Sanders is running a distant second at 19.3 percent. Tom Steyer is in third with 11.6 percent. At this point, no other candidates have more than 10 percent of the vote. Fourth through sixth places are held by Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar respectively.
The former vice president currently leads Sanders by more than 90,000 votes, leading Nate Cohn of the New York Times to predict that Biden will emerge from the primary with more votes than any other candidate even though he lost the first three nominating contests.
The 54 delegates at stake in South Carolina could put Biden back into the lead of the delegate race. Going into the Palmetto State, Sanders had 45 delegates and Biden had only 15. Pete Buttigieg had 26 while Elizabeth Warren had eight and Amy Klobuchar had seven.
So far, Biden is estimated to have won 25 delegates in South Carolina while Sanders has gained six. So far, no other candidates have won any South Carolina delegates.
While the evening is still early, Joe Biden is obviously the big winner tonight. Just a few weeks ago, polling showed Bernie surging and a tight race between the two frontrunners. However, if Biden’s 30-point lead holds, it will exceed even the most optimistic polling of recent days.
Tonight’s poor showing for Bernie Sanders may break the Vermont senator’s momentum going into Super Tuesday. The South Carolina results likely point to a problem for Sanders among black voters, a core constituency of the Democratic Party. The South Carolina election also indicates that Sanders has taken damage from attacks by other candidates and the Democratic establishment and may show that he has peaked.
There are rumors on Twitter that Tom Steyer will be dropping out the race following his disappointing showing and other candidates may soon follow as well. There seems to be no path forward for Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar, or Bloomberg even if they have funds to stay in the race.
As other moderate Democrats drop out, Biden stands to gain further. Polling in many states shows that Biden could more easily challenge Sanders if Bloomberg and Steyer dropped out.
Joe Biden’s South Carolina blowout changes the narrative and the state of the Democratic race. The next hurdle will be Super Tuesday next week where we will see if Biden’s strong performance tonight translates into momentum elsewhere.

Did We Just Surrender To The Taliban?

The Trump Administration and the Taliban have announced the long-awaited signing a peace deal in Afghanistan this morning. Under the terms of the agreement, all US troops are to be withdrawn in 14 months.
Per Politico, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at a joint declaration in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, “Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we are finally making substantial progress toward ending our nation’s longest war. Today’s release of the Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States marks a pivotal moment in the peace process.”
Per the report, the hinges on the Taliban meeting several major commitments. These include breaking with al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other terrorist groups, and maintaining the reduction in violence seen over the last week as well as negotiating a separate power-sharing agreement and cease-fire with the Afghan government. If the conditions are met, the US will make an initial troop reduction from about 13,000 to 8,600 soldiers.
On March 10, the Taliban, called the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in the agreement, will begin negotiations with the Afghan government. On that date, the US will also review its sanctions on the Taliban with the aim of eliminating them by August 27. If the Taliban meets its commitments, the US would withdraw all of its troops within 14 months.
While most Americans are understandably tired of the 19-year war, in its rush to declare victory and leave, the Trump Administration seems to be making the same mistakes that the Obama Administration made in leaving Iraq. Back in 2011, just ahead of presidential elections, Barack Obama unilaterally withdrew American forces from Iraq. The Obama Administration failed to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed an American contigency force to stay in the country. Three years later, American combat soldiers were back in Iraq to fight a growing ISIS insurgency.
If President Trump goes through with his plan to abandon our Afghan allies, it seems likely that Obama’s experience will be repeated. The Taliban will behave just long enough for the last American troops to leave and then restart their war against the government. The peace agreement represents less an end to the war than an intermission.
“Should the Taliban fail to honor their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to sit with fellow Afghans and deliberate on the future of their country,” Esper said. “Moreover, the United States would not hesitate to nullify the agreement.”
However, the Taliban undoubtedly understands that Esper’s threat is hollow. If the US withdraws, there is very little chance that either Donald Trump or any of the Democratic candidates would order them back in, no matter what the Taliban does.
Those who argue that it is high time to bring the troops home should remember that it was the same Taliban who provided their country to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to train for the September 11 attacks. There seems to be no evidence whatsoever that the Taliban would not resume these activities given the chance, not to mention killing and enslaving their own population.
While American nation-building in Afghanistan has been less than completely successful, we have succeeded at our most basic aim, that of carrying the war to our enemies and denying them a base from which to attack us. Whatever else you can say about our venture in Afghanistan, the US military has been successful at denying the jihadists a sovereign base of operations.
At this point, I’m skeptical that the Taliban will meet the objectives set forth by the Trump Administration. Even that might not keep American soldiers in the country, however. The president obviously wants to bring the troops home no matter the cost.
And while any loss of American life is tragic, the cost of staying in Afghanistan has been relatively low in recent years. In 2019, only 22 American soldiers were killed there, a far lower tally than just a few years ago. Financially, the presence in Afghanistan cost $52 billion in 2019, about once percent of the federal budget. This is less than the Coronavirus package currently being considered by Congress and far less than the economic impact of the September 11 attacks.
Withdrawing American troops doesn’t end wars. It just hangs our allies out to dry and leaves them at the mercy of our common enemies. We have seen that time and again from Vietnam to Syria.
George Orwell famously said, “The quickest way to end a war is to lose it.” Several American presidents from Nixon to Obama have found that statement to be true. President Trump may be about to learn the same lesson.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, February 28, 2020

Biden Campaign Is Not Dead But Tomorrow Will Make It Or Break It

ust when it seemed as if the Biden campaign was on life support, there are signs that the former vice president’s campaign is stirring. After weeks of Bernie Sanders surging in the polls, a couple of strong debate performances by Joe Biden and some optimistic new polls have breathed life back into the Biden campaign.
A few weeks ago, it seemed as though the Sanders surge paired with self-funded campaigns by Bloomberg and Steyer might upend Biden’s chances of carrying the Palmetto State. Now, however, Biden is trending upward in a number of recent South Carolina polls with several showing him holding a double-digit lead over Sanders.
Biden’s resurgence comes not at Sanders’s expense, but at the expense of pretty much every else. The Real Clear Politics average shows Sanders stagnant while Steyer, Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar are all in decline.
Biden undoubtedly owes his comeback to good debate performances in Nevada and South Carolina as well as a surprisingly strong second-place finish in Nevada. Voters who had written him off are now giving him a second look, especially since he is the only candidate positioned to stop Bernie Sanders.
Nationally, Sanders is still the frontrunner. The Real Clear Politics average shows the Vermont socialist with an average lead of 11 points. However, if Bernie turns in a disappointing performance in South Carolina and Super Tuesday, which includes many states with large minority populations, it could slow his momentum.
Here is a rundown on Super Tuesday polling (based on the current Real Clear Politics averages) :
  • Alabama primary – no polls
  • American Samoa caucus – no polls
  • Arkansas primary – Bloomberg leads Biden by one and Sanders by four
  • California primary – Sanders leads by an average of 16 points
  • Colorado primary – Sanders at 30 percent, Biden in fifth at 10 percent
  • Maine primary – Sanders at 25 percent, Biden in fourth with 12 percent
  • Massachusetts primary – Sanders averages 23 percent, Biden in fourth with 11 percent
  • Minnesota primary – Klobuchar leads with 28 percent followed by Sanders at 22. Biden in fourth with nine percent.
  • North Carolina primary – Biden and Sanders are in a statistical tie with about 20 percent each
  • Oklahoma primary – Bloomberg leads Biden by about four percent with Sanders in third
  • Tennessee primary – no polls
  • Texas primary – Another near-tie for Sanders and Biden
  • Utah primary – The sole recent poll gives Sanders 28 percent and shows Biden in fifth with nine percent
  • Vermont primary – Sanders up by 38 in his home state
  • Virginia primary – One poll shows a Sanders-Bloomberg tie and the more recent shows Sanders up by nine. In both cases, Biden is in third.
The big question for the Biden campaign is how much has changed in these states after the last two debates. Poor performances by Sanders and Bloomberg may have hurt those candidates while benefitting Biden. There is also the question of how many early voters may have locked in their votes before the debates began to fuel the Biden surge.
Biden can also hope to gain from attacks on Sanders from the media and Democratic establishment. Many prominent Democrats have warned voters that Sanders would be likely to lose the election to Donald Trump.
“If you want to vote for Bernie Sanders because you feel good about his program, you don’t like the banks on Wall Street or you don’t like pharmaceuticals, that’s legitimate, I understand that,” Democratic strategist James Carville said on MSNBC. “If you’re voting for him because you think he’ll win the election, politically, you’re a fool.
Some Democratic voters may also be put off by the Republican glee at the prospect of a Trump – Sanders race. The movement by some Trump supporters to cross party lines and vote for Bernie in the Democratic primary should be a warning sign to the Bernie-curious.
At this point, Biden is fighting to stay in the race. A win in South Carolina could fuel a strong showing on Super Tuesday. A good Super Tuesday would increase his momentum going forward, but would likely mean a long, tough race to the convention.
Joe Biden’s plan has long been to focus on South Carolina and not seriously contest the other early primary states. He currently looks set to win the Palmetto State, thanks in large part to black voters. With Bernie Sanders’s momentum, however, South Carolina may be too little too late.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bernie Sanders Could Actually Win

Many Trump supporters seem almost giddy about the prospect of Trump-Bernie race this fall. To many people, the biggest question is whether Sanders will do better or worse than Walter Mondale’s 49-state loss in 1984. Very few people, even among the Democratic establishment, seem to consider the possibility that Bernie might win.

Mitch McConnell is one of the few who seems to be trying to tamp down what former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan would refer to as “irrational exuberance.” Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the Senate Majority Leader attempted to rein in the premature celebrations.

“I’m reminded of when the Democrats back in 1980 were all pulling for Ronald Reagan to be the nominee because they thought he’d be the easiest to beat,” McConnell said in Politico. “I think it’s going to be a contested general election with a lot of energy on both sides, and for myself, I’ll leave it up to the Democrats to pick who they’d like to be their candidate.”

Republicans are licking their chops and waiting for the opportunity to dump a veritable truckload of opposition research on the Sanders campaign. Bernie’s trips to the Soviet Union and apologetics for dictators are no secret, but many undecided voters (read, voters who don’t argue politics on Facebook and Twitter ad infinitum ad nauseam) will not yet be familiar with them. These skeletons in Bernie’s closet will be devastating, the Republican reasoning goes.

Yet, it doesn’t occur to most Republicans that the Bernie campaign has plenty of ammunition with which to return Trump’s fire. Republicans are going full steam ahead in nominating the man who may well be the most corrupt president in American history.

The Republican victory in acquitting Donald Trump only prolonged the public discovery process about the president’s activities. Because the Senate decided not to call impeachment witnesses, itself an unprecedented act, the public will now find out what John Bolton has to say about Trump and the quid pro quo for aid to Ukraine when his book hits the shelves on March 17. The White House response is to try to halt publication of the book on the national security grounds.

Bolton’s book isn’t the only potential problem for the Trump campaign. Trump’s second national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, is also publishing a tell-all that will be released in April. McMaster and the president had a rocky relationship before the former general was dismissed in April 2018.

In fact, there is no shortage of former Trump Administration officials who had rocky relationships with the president and any number of them could come out with damaging books, op-eds, or statements between now and November. In particular, the former “adults in the room,” Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and John Kelly could do a lot to sink Trump’s re-election chances if they want.

To some extent, the members of the trio have already spoken out. For example, Tillerson called the president a “pretty undisciplined” person who likes to do illegal things in a 2018 interview with CBS News while Mattis let his venomously polite resignation letter do his talking for him. Just a few weeks ago, Kelly let loose at Trump in a question-and-answer session at Drew University where he told students and a reporter from The Atlantic that a major problem in the Trump Administration was the shortage of confident advisors who were strong enough to tell the president “no.” Any of these former Trump Administration officials could make big trouble for the Trump campaign by telling of their experiences with the president and pronouncing him unfit to lead the country.

But wait, as Billy Mays used to say, there’s more.

Among the host of Trump Administration cases winding their way through the courts are two lawsuits over the disclosure of Donald Trump’s tax returns. The Supreme Court issued a temporary stay in November after lower courts ordered the president’s tax documents released to Congress. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in March but it seems likely that the tax returns will be made public prior to the election. No one knows exactly what is in the president’s tax documents, but the Administration has fought tooth and nail to keep them secret after Trump’s initial promises to release them to the public.

And then there is Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani who rocked Washington in January with his photos with a Who’s Who of Republicans and tales of Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine. Parnas previously released an audio recording of the president discussing the firing of Marie Yovanovitch and his lawyer says that he has more tapes of the president.

Yet another possible problem for Team Trump is the prospect of a Coronavirus recession. For years, the sole, unequivocal bright spots of the Trump Administration have been the rising stock market and the strong economy. Now, however, stock markets have shown declines for three consecutive days as investors worry about the virus’s effect on international trade.  

I’m not predicting that Bernie Sanders will be our next president, but I am saying that the election could easily go either way. In 2016, Hillary was bedeviled by a constant drip of bad and embarrassing stories throughout the last few months of the campaign. In 2020, a similar pattern could emerge for Donald Trump. If the election boils down to a grudge match between socialism and corruption, there is a good chance that the socialist will win.

Republicans who are longing for a Bernie Sanders nomination should be careful what they wish for. They could get more than they bargained for.

Originally published in The Resurgent

Monday, February 24, 2020

Coronavirus Is An Election Year Wild Card

A recurring joke among people dissatisfied with the choices in recent elections has been the “Sweet Meteor of Death.” The dark humor has become uncomfortably close to reality as the Coronavirus outbreak becomes a wild card in the 2020 elections.

Although the virus is still being studied, the Centers for Disease Control notes that the Coronavirus, officially dubbed “COVID-19” (Corona Virus Disease -2019),  is a disease that is easily transmitted through person-to-person contact. The virus is primarily spread through “respiratory droplets” disseminated by coughing and sneezing. A secondary form of transmission may be through touching objects where these droplets have landed and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms are believed to appear in as little as two days after exposure but can take as long as 14 days to manifest. However, a recent statement by a Chinese provincial official suggests that the incubation period for the virus could be as long as 27 days.

The mortality rate for the disease is estimated to be about 2-3 percent. By way of comparison, the death rate for this year’s flu virus is about 0.1 percent. The mortality rate for SARS was 10 percent, MERS was 34 percent, and Ebola was 90 percent.

About two-thirds of the Coronavirus deaths are male and more than 80 percent were over 60-years-old. In about 75 percent of the fatal cases, there was another underlying illness such as cardiovascular disease. The median time between the first symptom to death was 14 days with a range of 6 to 41 days. Most fatalities have been in Wuhan where there were not enough resources to care for the influx of patients.   

At this point, the Coronavirus cases are concentrated in China. While the virus has appeared in numerous countries, including the US, most cases outside China are in isolation and are measured, at most, in the hundreds. At last count, Japan has 691 cases and South Korea has 602. The number of cases in Italy has surpassed 100 while Iran has reported 43 cases. There are 35 confirmed cases in the US. China has more than 77,000 cases.

The epidemic is growing at this point and represents a wild card for upcoming elections. While COVID-19 is not as lethal as some previous viruses, it spreads rapidly and could conceivably sweep the world in a pandemic.

During the Great Depression, it was said that “when America sneezes, the world catches cold.” In the 21st century, it may be China that gives the world economy a cold. China is one of the world’s largest economies and many global corporations have international supply lines that run through the country. Those supply lines may be interrupted by the disease and travel moratoriums. Already, many airlines have suspended flights to and from China and shipping companies such as Maersk are warning that decreased demand will impact their bottom lines.  

Obviously, the more the virus spreads, the larger the impact will be. Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser to financial services company Allianz, told CNN, “They first paralyze the region of the virus outbreak. Then they gradually spread domestically, undermining internal trade, consumption, production and the movement of people. If the virus is still not contained, the process spreads further, including regionally and internationally by disrupting trade, supply chains, and travel.”

The flip side is that the outbreak may help some sectors of the market. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, told MarketWatch that the epidemic could help suppress interest rates in a way that helps the housing market.

“The coronavirus is sort of a dark irony helping out housing,” Zandi said. “It’s keeping rates down as global investors come piling into the U.S. but it’s not hurting our economy to the point where it’s costing us jobs.”

Other industries that could see a boost from the crisis include medical suppliers and pharmaceutical companies. There is currently no antiviral treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, but in severe cases, patients are treated to support vital organ functions.

There are currently too many unknowns to say how the outbreak will affect either the economy or the election. China’s manufacturing losses may represent gains for other countries, including the US where manufacturing was in a mild recession throughout 2019. On the other hand, if trade is suspended between more countries, manufacturing demand may fall further. If the number of new cases slows, then Chinese factories may reopen and trade resume after a relatively short interruption.

At this point, the impact seems likely to grow, however. Stock markets today gave a hint of what may be to come with an 800-point drop in the Dow that may just be a tip of the iceberg. Given the fact that the US has had a bull market for the past 11 years when the business cycle is normally five to six years, we are long overdue for a correction. The Coronavirus may do what the trade war failed to do and tip both the world and American economies into a recession.

“The second-largest economy in the world is completely shut down. People aren’t totally pricing that in,” said market analyst Larry Benedict, who predicts a 10 to 15 percent market correction. “It seems like there’s much more to come.”

Politically, the effect is also unknown. Fears of the epidemic spreading to the US could build support for Trump’s brand of quasi-isolationism. Ironically, the outbreak began in China, the foil for President Trump’s economic populism. Trump supporters will argue that the crisis calls for a more self-contained economy and less dependence on international trade.

Conversely, concerns about public health could make health care a more prominent issue in the election. If Coronavirus concerns make health care reform a bigger issue, it would likely be to the opposition’s advantage since voters typically trust Democrats more on health issues. Republicans have been largely silent on health care reform since the abortive attempt to repeal or replace Obamacare in 2017.

If the epidemic sparks a recession, then the one unequivocal bright spot of Trump’s presidency will be gone. Among many voters, the strong economy is the only thing propping up their support of the president. As the Great Recession swept Barack Obama into power, a Coronavirus recession could elevate Bernie Sanders (or whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is) to the White House.

Another factor is how Coronavirus in the US could affect voter turnout. If current trends continue, a virus outbreak in the US would potentially affect the elderly disproportionately. Older voters also disproportionately support Donald Trump. If there is an epidemic that depresses turnout, it is possible that the Trump campaign will bear the brunt of the outbreak politically.

Yet another possibility is that a strong, competent reaction from the Trump Administration will provoke a rally-around-the-flag response from voters. In the past, unpopular presidents have redeemed themselves by rising to the occasion in a crisis.

The best way to ensure that the Coronavirus has a minimal effect on the election and the world in general is to take precautions to protect yourself and your family. The CDC recommends basic precautions such as covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throwing the tissue away. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth and wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing, or trips to the bathroom. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Disinfect household surfaces with cleaners or wipes. Stay home when you are sick.

At this point, the CDC does not recommend face masks or respirators for people who are not sick with the virus. However, it is good practice to stay about six feet away from people who are coughing or sneezing to help prevent transmission of airborne particles. If you feel the need to invest in masks or respirators, however, there are many reasonably priced N95 respirators available online.

As an Eagle Scout and a survivor of floods, tornados, and a hurricane, I’ll add that being prepared for a disaster is always a good idea. Be ready for the worst-case scenario by maintaining a supply of food and water to last a couple of weeks. Power supplies for flashlights, radios, and cell phones are also good to stockpile in your emergency closet. So is a gun and ammunition.

Right now, there are more questions than answers about the Coronavirus outbreak. The good news is that the virus is not as lethal as other diseases while the bad news is that containment could still strain the economy. It will likely be months before the full extent of the epidemic is known, but it would be prudent to follow the old maxim which advises us to hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Chaos At MSNBC After Chris Matthews Compares Bernie To Nazi Invasion Of France

Angry progressives are calling for Chris Matthews’ resignation after the “Hardball” host compared Bernie Sanders’ campaign to the German army’s 1940 blitzkrieg across France.
The “thrill” that famously went up Matthew’s leg during the 2008 Obama campaign has not turned to a chill running up his spine. Instead, Matthews was using a historical metaphor to describe Sanders’ victories in New Hampshire and Nevada.
“I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940,” Matthews said during MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. “And the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says, ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.'”
First off, let me stipulate than comparing anyone in American politics to Nazis is not a good idea. The only people who should be compared to Nazis are actual Nazis. The Nazis were uniquely evil and vilified in the history of the world. Bernie Sanders is not a Nazi and Donald Trump is not Hitler. We should all be able to agree on that.
Godwin’s Law aside, whenever you bring Nazis into a discussion, the discussion becomes more about Nazis than its original topic. That was the case with Matthews’ comments as legions of offended progressives began to point out the obvious facts that Bernie Sanders is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust. (Sanders himself was born in Brooklyn in 1941.)
Mike Casca, communications director for the Sanders campaign, was one of those who attacked Matthews’ panzer-laden characterization of the Democratic primary with this tweet:
In the second place, a much better metaphor for Bernie would be the Red Army. There are plenty of examples that Matthews could have used that would have been more ideologically correct. For example, “The Sanders campaign is rolling over Nevada like the Red Army rolling across Poland.”
No? Maybe something more current? How about “The Sanders campaign is crushing opposition like Vladimir Putin’s tanks rolling into Georgia and Ukraine?” Incidentally, Sanders blamed Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia on the Georgians but was critical of Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
As Erick Erickson pointed out on Twitter, there is a difference in the way we react to Nazis and communists even though both were very similar, at least in the fact that they were both murderous, authoritarian police states.
The difference may be in the details. The Soviets were on our side against the Nazis and mostly killed their own people. Rather than mass firing squads and gas chambers, many of Stalin’s murders were committed through deliberate starvation. But the communists were more than capable of using Nazi methods when it suited their purpose. The Katyn forest massacre of 5,000 Polish military officers by Soviet troops in 1939 is only one example.
The facts that communist mass killing was often done in secret and that they also fought the Nazis was enough to partially rehabilitate the Russians. You can make a critically-acclaimed movie called “Reds” celebrating an American revolutionary but you could never make a “National Socialists” film the same way. Thirty years after the fall of communism, a Soviet sympathizer can be a frontrunner for a major political party but 75 years after the fall of Berlin, avowed Nazi candidates still get rejected.
I don’t think Matthews was calling Bernie Sanders a Nazi. His comment was likely due to the foot-in-mouth disease that is relatively common when people have to talk extemporaneously for extended periods of live television coverage. To the extent that Matthews thought about it at all, it probably sounded good – even intelligent and historically relevant – in his head.
But both odious ideologies should be piled onto the ash heap of history. In practical terms, there was very little difference between living under communism and living under nazism. Endorsement of either failed political philosophy should be disqualifying for American political figures.

Originally published on The Resurgent