Sunday, September 20, 2020

Last Call For Biden, His Time Con't

CNN pollster guru Harry Enten finally talks about a very real possibility: a blowout by Biden in November that sees him get 400 electoral votes.


If you were to look at the polling right now, there's a pretty clear picture. Biden has leads of somewhere between five and eight points in a number of states Trump won four years ago: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those plus the states Hillary Clinton won get Biden to about 290 electoral votes. 
If you add on the other states where Biden has at least a nominal edge in the averages (Florida and North Carolina), Biden is above 330 electoral votes.

That's not quite at blowout levels, but look at the polling in places like Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. We're not really talking about those places right now, even though one or both campaigns have fairly major advertising investments planned down the stretch in all four.
The polling there has been fairly limited, but it's been pretty consistent. Biden is quite competitive. 
If you were to do an aggregation of the polls that are available in those states, Biden's down maybe a point or two at most. 
In other words, Biden's much closer to leading in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas than Trump is in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, let alone Minnesota. 
Indeed, it's quite possible he's actually up in either Georgia, Iowa, Ohio or Texas, and we just don't know it because there isn't enough fresh data. For example, Clinton only lost in Georgia by five points in 2016, and Biden's doing about five points better in the national polls than she did in the final vote. It would make sense, therefore, that Biden's quite close to Trump there at this point. 
Wins in any of those states by Biden could push his Electoral College tally up to about 340 electoral votes or higher, depending on which states Biden wins. Victories in all four would push him well over 400 electoral votes. 
Models such as those produced by FiveThirtyEight show just how possible it is for Biden to blow Trump out of the water. The model actually anticipates a better chance of Trump closing his deficit than Biden expanding it. 
Even so, Biden has a better chance (about 45%) of winning 340 electoral votes than Trump has of winning the election (about 25%). Biden's chance of taking 400 electoral votes is pretty much the same of Trump winning.


The assumption is that the polls are unfairly favoring Biden, because that's what happened to Clinton in state polling in 2016. In Ohio especially, the state polls were all inaccurate to the point of uselessness, turning a three point Clinton lead into an 8-point Trump win.  Granted, a lot of that was the Bradley effect of men refusing to actually vote for a woman president, plus the Comey effect in the last two weeks of the campaign.

I don't see that being the case with Biden.  I think he's doing much better, and the polls are more accurate state-wise.

The Race To Replace

Where does Mitch McConnell go from here? Jane Meyer and Norm Ornstein figure the ever-pragmatic McConnell will hedge his bets on replacing the late Justice Ginsberg before the election.

As I reported in April, behind closed doors McConnell has been raising money from big conservative donors for months by promising that no matter how close it might be to the election, he would install Trump’s Supreme Court pick. As a former Trump White House official told me, “McConnell’s been telling our donors that when R.B.G. meets her reward, even if it’s October, we’re getting our judge. He’s saying it’s our October surprise.”

But now that the moment is here, the calculation isn’t quite so simple. On Friday night, McConnell released a statement vowing that a Trump nominee “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” While McConnell’s obstruction of Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, made him the bane of liberals, he has regarded it with pride as the single “most important decision I’ve made in my political career.” He and many others believe it handed Trump his victory by motivating the politically powerful evangelical bloc to vote for Trump, despite their doubts about him, because he promised to fill the Court vacancy with a social conservative. It’s entirely possible that the same scenario will play out again this November, with Trump and McConnell offering another enticing gift to evangelicals.

But McConnell is also what Ornstein calls “a ruthless pragmatist,” whose No. 1 goal has always been to remain Majority Leader of the Senate. He’s made the conservative makeover of the federal court system his pet project, but if he faces a choice between another right-wing Justice and losing his control of the Senate, no one who knows him well thinks he’d hesitate for a moment to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. In fact, back in the summer of 2016, when it looked like Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton, far from being distressed at his party’s dim prospects, McConnell was savoring the probability of being the single most powerful Republican in the country, according to a confidant who spoke with him then.

The problem for McConnell now is that it may be impossible for him to both confirm a new Justice and hold onto his personal power as Majority Leader. A power grab for the Court that is too brutish may provoke so much outrage among Democrats and independents that it could undermine Republican Senate candidates in November. As he knows better than anyone, polls show that Republican hopes of holding the Senate are very much in doubt. If Joe Biden is elected, enabling a Democratic Vice-President to cast the deciding vote in the Senate, Democrats need only to pick up three seats to win a majority. And, at the moment, according to recent polls, Democratic challengers stand good chances against Republican incumbents in Maine, Arizona, and Colorado. Democrats also have shots at capturing seats in South Carolina and Iowa.


On the other hand, this is much bigger than McConnell and even Trump, and the GOP knows it.

Much as he has already done on the judicial front, conservatives need him to deliver once more. “This nomination is why Donald Trump was elected,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Friday evening. A graduate of Harvard Law School whose name was on a recent list of potential Trump nominees to the Supreme Court, Cruz urged Trump to nominate the justice next week and confirm him or her before the presidential election on Nov. 3.

That would make for the speediest nomination-to-confirmation process in American history. A 2018 analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that the first hearing for a Supreme Court nominee occurred 40 days after the formal nomination.

Obama nominated Garland with 237 days before the 2016 election. Now the 2020 presidential election is 45 days away, and in some states, people have already begun to vote. Trump will still have more than two months after Nov. 3 to govern, even if he loses, but that day’s results could complicate things if Biden is elected or the Senate flips to the Democrats. Either of those developments could rob Republicans of the mandate they believe they currently have.

Speculation about Ginsburg’s health has been rampant in conservative judicial circles for years, stoked by recent trips to the hospital for treatment related to her recurring cancer. Only last week, Trump released an expanded list of potential Supreme Court nominees in what seemed at the time like a ploy to stoke conservative enthusiasm and remind his supporters of why they voted for him in the first place. Now that list will serve as a road map for the weeks ahead.

Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, is expected to lead the process. Though well-liked on Capitol Hill, Meadows, a former House member, doesn’t have experience dealing with the Senate confirmation process. Meadows’s negotiations with House Democrats over coronavirus relief measures do not suggest exceptional skill in either pressuring or persuading legislators, and both those attributes will figure into the fight over Ginsburg’s seat.

Joshua Geltzer, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and is now a professor at Georgetown Law, believes that there might be just enough of a gap between McConnell and Trump for Democrats to exploit.

“As a pure political calculation, I think Senate Majority Leader McConnell and President Trump might actually be in different camps here,” Geltzer explained to Yahoo News. “McConnell might be inclined to rush a nominee through the Senate before Election Day, despite the obvious hypocrisy with how he handled the Garland nomination in 2016, because the court is a genuine high priority for him.”


So which McConnell shows up for this fight, the one that will cautiously move in order to preserve his Senate majority, or the ruthless power broker who knows he can end 50 years of progress in less than 50 days?

We're about to find out.

Sunday Long Read: Spies Like Us, Con't

An Iranian materials scientist with family in the US was made an offer by the Trump regime that he couldn't refuse: spy for the US as an informant in Tehran or spend time in federal prison as a enemy of the state. When he did refuse, the regime was ruthless.

In the spring of 2017, an Iranian materials scientist named Sirous Asgari received a call from the United States consulate in Dubai. Two years earlier, he and his wife, Fatemeh, had applied for visas to visit America, where their children lived. The consulate informed him that their requests had finally been approved. The timing was strange: President Donald Trump had just issued an executive order banning Iranians from entering the U.S. on the very kind of visa that Asgari and his wife were granted. Maybe applications filed before the visa ban had been grandfathered through, or some career State Department official wanted to give families like his a last chance to reunite.

Asgari, who was then fifty-six years old, considered the U.S. a second home. In the nineties, he had attended graduate school at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and he came to like America’s commonsense efficiency. His daughter Sara was born in the U.S., making her an American citizen. His two older children, Mohammad and Zahra, had attended American universities and stayed on. Asgari was now a professor at Sharif University of Technology, in Tehran, and former graduate students of his worked in top American laboratories; his scientific research, on metallurgy, sometimes took him to Cleveland, where he had close colleagues at Case Western Reserve University.

Asgari and Fatemeh boarded a flight to New York on June 21, 2017. They planned to see Mohammad, who lived in the city, and then proceed to California, where they would visit Zahra and meet the man she had married. But when the Asgaris stepped off the jet bridge at J.F.K. two officials accosted them.

The officials whisked the Asgaris into a room, where a phalanx of F.B.I. agents awaited them. Asgari was under arrest, the agents told him, accused of serious charges in a sealed indictment whose contents they couldn’t reveal at the airport. He could go with them to a hotel and look over the indictment, or he could go to a local detention center, and then be transferred to Cleveland, for an arraignment. In the turmoil of the moment, he barely registered that nobody had stamped his visa or returned his passport.

Asgari was fluent in English, but the word “indictment” was new to him. He’d never had a problem with the law. He was a high-spirited man accustomed to middle-class comforts, a professor’s lectern, and an easy repartee with people in authority. Surely, he figured, he was the subject of some misunderstanding, and so he would go to the hotel and quickly clear it up.

At the hotel, the agents handed Asgari a twelve-page indictment. It charged him with theft of trade secrets, visa fraud, and eleven counts of wire fraud. To Asgari, the indictment read like a spy thriller. It centered on a four-month visit that he had made to Case Western four years earlier, which the document presented as part of a scheme to defraud an American valve manufacturer of its intellectual property in order to benefit the Iranian government. The punishment, the agents made clear, could be many years in prison. Their evidence had been gathered from five years of wiretaps, which had swept up his e-mails before, during, and after the visit in question.

The charges were nonsense, Asgari said. The processes he’d studied at Case Western were well known to materials scientists—they were hardly trade secrets. If the government really meant to prosecute him, it would inevitably lose in court.

“We haven’t lost a case,” one agent told Asgari.

“This will be your first,” he replied.

Asgari didn’t realize it, but a vise was closing around him. He had never seen his visits to America through the prism of its tensions with Iran. “Science is wild and has no homeland,” an Iranian philosopher had once said, and Asgari believed this to be so. His scientific community spanned the globe, its instruments and findings universally accessible. That national boundaries and political intrigue should interfere with intellectual exchange seemed to him unnatural. He had confidence in the capacity of cool rationality to set matters right.

If he could just make the F.B.I. agents understand the science, Asgari told himself, they would see their mistake. He described the relationships and the laboratory equipment that had attracted him to Case Western, and explained how the properties of a material emanated from the arrangement of its atoms, and could be altered by engineers who understood that structure. But even as he talked he began to have a sinking feeling that an indictment was not something he could dissipate with words.

That night, Fatemeh went home with Mohammad, and two guards stayed in Asgari’s hotel room as he slept. In the morning, the agents drove Asgari to Cleveland, his wife and son following behind.

He was arraigned at the federal courthouse and delivered to the Lake County Adult Detention Facility, a maximum-security jail in Painesville, Ohio. For the first of the seventy-two days he would spend in that facility, Asgari occupied an isolated cell. Lying on his bed, he could hear other inmates screaming.

And there Asgari started his journey into hell, a hell created by a vindictive, white supremacist government that wanted to make an intelligence asset out of him...or an example.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Physical violence by white supremacist domestic terrorists are a direct threat to polling places and in-person voting in 2020, according a recent DHS terrorism intelligence assessment.

The intelligence assessment, first referenced by Yahoo News and published in full by The Nation, was produced by the DHS’ Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) division. In an interview with The Nation, a former senior DHS I&A intelligence officer corroborated the whistleblower’s claims, describing the challenges he had faced to monitoring white supremacists under the Trump administration.

“As soon as Trump came in, counterterrorism ended,” the former intelligence officer said, pointing to the Trump administration’s decision to dissolve DHS’s domestic terrorism division. Since then, DHS I&A’s focus has turned to trivial immigration matters like individuals overstaying their travel visas, he explained.

“The only immigration we should be worried about is a nexus to terrorism, not student overstays and bullshit,” the former intelligence officer said.

The assessment, dated August 17 of this year and marked for OFFICIAL USE ONLY, provides an overview of different threats to the election. Threats are said to include not just white supremacists but also individuals wary of the government’s Covid-19 restrictions, Second Amendment extremists, and confrontations between protesters and counterprotesters.

The report reads: “We continue to assess lone offender white supremacist extremists and other lone offender domestic terrorist actors with personalized ideologies, including those based on grievances against a target’s perceived actual political affiliation, policies, or worldview, pose the greatest threat of lethal violence.”

The assessment links the white supremacist threat to anti-immigrant sentiments, stating, “Immigration-related grievances contributed to motivations of three separate white supremacist extremist shootings since 2018, resulting in 35 total fatalities.”

The intelligence assessment contrasts sharply with the Trump administration’s characterization of threats to public safety. Trump has repeatedly inveighed against violent protesters, especially “antifa,” which he has vowed to designate a terrorist group. While a formal terror designation requires evidence of foreign sponsorship, The Nation recently reported that DHS intelligence officials have quietly sought to tie antifa to foreign militant groups.

Trump’s Attorney General William Barr reportedly instructed prosecutors to consider charging violent protesters with sedition, a rarely invoked law that applies to individuals seeking to overthrow the government.

“The proposal to charge protesters with sedition seems like one more step in the unraveling of constitutional government,” Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told The Nation. He added that “accusing them of sedition adds a preposterous political overlay that itself is a form of incitement by the attorney general.”

All of this is bad, but taken together, it's just a matter of time before scenes like this in Michigan this week become bloody carnage where white supremacist terrorism turns to mass murder of Democratic lawmakers and voters.


Hundreds of pro-gun activists have demonstrated at Michigan's State Capitol in support of the right to open-carry firearms inside the government building.

Heavily-armed protestors, some waving Confederate flags and Trump campaign banners, stood on the lawn outside the capitol building in Lansing brandishing AR-15 firearms and wearing body armour.

Among those in attendance were members of the Proud Boys—a far-right, all-male organization with a history of violence against political opponents—and the Michigan Liberty Militia, a paramilitary group.

After two hours of speeches a group gathered on the steps of the Hall of Justice chanting "U-S-A" and "four more years" for Donald Trump.

Estimates put the number attending the "Second Amendment March," which caused the legislative session to be cancelled, at between 200 and 1,000.

Tom Lambert, former president of Michigan Open Carry, addressed the crowd. "Whether you decide to open carry or concealed carry, that is your choice. It is not my job to make that decision for you," M Live quoted him as saying. "It is not their job to make that decision for you either."

Commenting on the protests, Democratic Senator Dayna Polehanki, who represents Michigan's 7th District, said: "While I did not relish the thought of facing more armed men in the senate gallery on Thursday, we can't keep canceling session ahead of these armed events.

"We were elected to work for our constituents, and this is preventing us from doing that. Ban guns from the Capitol now."


We're now seeing the threat of deadly violence by armed militias canceling legislative sessions. In any other scenario the federal government would call this open domestic terrorism and make arrests.

But this government encourages it.

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