Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Unhinged

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Unhinged

July 17, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

We start today with David A. Graham of The Atlantic writing about problems of “independence” and “competence” within the United States Secret Service.

The disappearance of the texts fits with the agency’s recent pattern of behavior. As the Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, the foremost chronicler of the contemporary Secret Service, has written, “The Secret Service’s claim of being politically independent … was tested by Trump’s tenure in the White House.” In one major example, a high-ranking Secret Service official, Tony Ornato, made a deeply unusual move from a civil-service job to being deputy White House chief of staff. New agents were assigned to Biden’s protective detail when he took office, reportedly because of concerns that the old agents were too politically close to Trump.

Mystery shrouds the agency’s work on January 6—especially with records missing. During his speech at the infamous rally on January 6, Trump told attendees to march on the Capitol, and reportedly wanted to go himself. Secret Service agents refused to allow him, citing security concerns. The former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the House committee investigating January 6 that Ornato recounted to her what happened next: Trump supposedly lunged at the steering wheel of a presidential SUV and tried to force an agent to drive him to the Capitol. Through a spokesperson, the Secret Service denied the story, and neither Ornato nor the agent have spoken about it publicly. But CNN reports that similar stories were circulating within the Secret Service for months, and a D.C. police officer reportedly corroborated the account as well. […]

The agency’s independence isn’t the only thing that looks shaky: so does the other pillar of its reputation, competence. This week, an employee staffing Biden’s trip to Israel was sent home after a reported physical altercation with a woman there. (This isn’t the first time an employee has been shipped back to the States for bad behavior.) In April, the FBI alleged that two men impersonating federal agents had fooled the Secret Service. And earlier this month, Biden announced that the agency’s chief was leaving to join the social-media company Snap (where at least he won’t have to worry about preserving his messages).

Who knew?

“Let’s just say, I knew, Oprah. Ok? I knew… let’s just leave it at that…”

— Corey🤬Reynolds (@coreyreynoldsLA) July 16, 2022

Take a moment to think about the staggering counterintelligence issues in the crazy Dec 18, 2020 WH meeting. A thread. In the Oval Office, people advocated Trump illegitimately hold on to power, including using the military to seize voting machines. That group included: (/1)

— Peter Strzok (@petestrzok) July 16, 2022

Here’s the Thread Reader link to Mr. Strzok’s thread.

In the Oval Office, people advocated Trump illegitimately hold on to power, including using the military to seize voting machines.

That group included: (/1) 

Mike Flynn, who who was paid by an organ of Russian state media to travel to Moscow to attend a dinner where he was seated next to Putin.
Flynn later plead guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador about election interference. (/2) 
Patrick Byrne, one of several men once in an intimate relationship with convicted Russian agent Marina Butina.
Byrne gave money to Butina after her return to Russia, where she ran for the Duma, hounded Navalny, and supported the invasion of Ukraine. (/3)

Bryan Bender, Alexander Nabert, and Christina Brause of POLITICO writes about a worldwide neo-Nazi group and its’ recruitment of American teenagers.

For more than a year, reporters from POLITICO, the German newspaper Welt and Insider uncovered the inner workings of this increasingly violent movement, drawn from nearly two dozen chat groups, more than 98,000 text and chat messages — including photos and videos — and interviews with members.

The data offers a rare peek into a burgeoning network of neo-Nazis threatening to kill politicians and journalists, providing instruction on how to build bombs and weapons with 3D printers, and encouraging each other to attack houses of worship, the gay community and people of color. It’s what extremism researchers call “militant accelerationism” — a movement to spark a war for white power.

There are dozens of these groups on both sides of the Atlantic with martial names drawn from Nazi propaganda. Many followers have been influenced by the writings of James Mason, the 69-year-old Coloradan who joined an American Nazi party at age 14 and whose books and newsletter are considered modern-day Mein Kampfs for adherents.

Dave Zirin of The Nation wonders why Generation X (his generation as well as mine) is providing the bulk of support for Trumpism.

Maybe it was seeing the former Oath Keeper wearing a Descendents T-shirt when testifying before the January 6 committee, but I think it’s past time we reckoned with Generation X. The backbone of Trumpist alt-right support comes from my generation. Learning that polls show people born between 1965 and 1980 are the foot soldiers and ideological minders of the new fascism has been jarring, because I’ve always considered Gen X underrated. There has been much ink spilled about the culture wars between boomers and millennials, skipping right over us. It seemed unfair. After all, we were the generation of grunge, some of the best hip-hop ever made (defined by the revolutionary sounds of Public Enemy), and the last generation to read newspapers (that matters to me, for some reason). We should be recognized. We launched movements and challenged the two-party duopoly.

Yet, somewhere along the way, we made a hard turn toward right-wing, even fascist solutions for the decline of this country. I know that grouping people by generation can be an exercise in stupidity. Not accounting for the ways race and class vivisect a generational analysis is to be derelict in duty. After all, a generation of Black Americans or immigrants have not gone full white nationalist—although the shallow inroads Trumpism has made in these groups is a cause for alarm. But still the question lingers: Why is Gen X, even by a number significantly greater than seniors, the heart of Trump’s support? […]

This is now a forgotten history, but Generation X led some of the largest and most significant protest movements in the history of this country. We were the youth of the mass marches for LGBTQ and abortion rights at the turn of the 1990s. By decade’s end, we were the heart of the Battle of Seattle and the international marches for global justice against organizations like the IMF and the World Bank. The 9/11 attack was a punch to the gut and a shock to the system, but we never stopped organizing, turning our sights toward Bush’s illegal wars. We organized the largest ever anti-war mobilization in the US—and the world—against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. We held the massive March for Women’s Lives for abortion rights in 2004. We were shaped by anti-racism, growing up under the logic of the aims of the Black freedom struggle. We were prison abolitionists and marched against racialized police violence decades before Black Lives Matter. We regularly kicked the Ku Klux Klan’s ass when they so much as lifted their hooded heads. We were both part of and inspired by the mass immigration rights marches of 2006, which filled the streets with millions. We fought for marriage equality, with hundreds of thousands descending upon Washington, D.C.

John Cassidy of The New Yorker writes about a wrecking ball named Senator Joe Manchin.

But focussing on Biden’s tactics obscures one central and overwhelming fact. For the past eighteen months, he has effectively been leading a minority government, with Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema acting as enthusiastic wreckers of his progressive proposals. Although the Senate is nominally divided fifty-fifty, the real tally is fifty, forty-eight, and two. The Manchinema Party holds the balance of power, and it has used this position to sabotage the policy agenda that Biden was elected on.

Manchin, in particular, has revelled in his role as tormentor of progressives and defender of fossil fuels. Time and again, he has suggested he might agree to a certain set of policies, only to derail their passage. Last year, he insisted on the elimination of a central element of Biden’s plan to slash carbon emissions: a set of financial incentives for power utilities to convert most of the nation’s electricity grid to clean energy over the next ten years. After the White House reluctantly agreed to strip out this proposal, which would have particularly affected coal-burning power plants, Manchin could have declared victory. Instead, he switched his attention to other bits of the package that he didn’t like, including a range of tax incentives for green energy. […]

As negotiations got going, according to a Capitol Hill source, Manchin indicated his agreement to a climate and energy package worth three hundred and seventy-five billion dollars over ten years, but he continued to object to two specific proposals: tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles and direct payments to green-energy producers. In the interest of reaching an agreement, Schumer ultimately withdrew these two elements—a concession that enraged environmental groups—but even that wasn’t enough for Manchin. On Thursday, he scuttled the entire climate-change package.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight says that President Joe Biden may be unpopular but that doesn’t tell us much of predictive value about the 2022 midterms.

1. Voters have good reasons to disapprove of Biden without wanting Republicans in Congress

When your approval rating has fallen into the 30s, you’ve not only lost the confidence of most swing voters but also some members of your own party. The Siena/New York Times poll, for instance, showed Biden with only a 70 percent approval rating even among Democrats. However, 90 percent of Democrats in that same poll prefer Democratic control of Congress, compared to just 4 percent who want the GOP in charge.

One concern for Democrats is that those disaffected voters won’t turn out. Still, there’s no particular reason to expect them to vote Republican if they do. A lot of them think Biden is too old — a concern also shared by many independent voters — but that’s more a factor for 2024 than in congressional preferences for 2022.

And on many issues — from abortion to LGBTQ rights to the integrity of the 2020 vote — Republicans are adopting highly right-wing, partisan positions that have little appeal to swing voters and might even motivate otherwise disaffected Democrats to turn out. Parties generally pay a penalty for ideological extremism. In other words, although Democrats have also adopted unpopular left-wing positions on many issues, Republicans aren’t as poised to capitalize on a high inflation and poor electoral environment for Democrats as a more moderate, less Trumpian version of the party would be.

Frances Stead Sellers and Fenit Nirappil of The Washington Post write about the new post-Roe reality for the nation’s physicians and their patients.

In the three weeks of turmoil since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, many physicians and patients have been navigating a new reality in which the standard of care for incomplete miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and other common complications is being scrutinized, delayed — even denied — jeopardizing maternal health, according to the accounts of doctors in multiple states where new laws have gone into effect.

While state abortion bans typically carve out exceptions when a woman’s life is endangered, the laws can be murky, prompting some obstetricians to consult lawyers and hospital ethics committees on decisions around routine care.

“People are running scared,” said Mae Winchester, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine in Ohio who, days after the state’s new restrictions went into effect, sought legal advice before she performed an abortion on a pregnant woman with a uterine infection. “There’s a lot of unknowns still left out there.”

The need to intervene in a pregnancy with the same medication or surgical procedure used in elective abortions is not unusual.

Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian warns that the sheer number of ethnic minority candidates (now whittled down to two out of the five candidates remaining) vying to become the head of the Conservative Party should be a matter of concern for the Labour Party, 

Consider what is actually happening here. Just before the election of 2010, the Tories could point to a grand total of one black and one Asian MP. Those two represented half the number of MPs from a visible ethnic minority that had represented the party since 1895. The general election of 2001 had brought 38 new Conservative MPs to Westminster: 37 were white men and the 38th was a white woman.

But in the past week we’ve contemplated an upending not only of those numbers, but of much of the conventional wisdom on how diversity plays out in long-established institutions. Plenty of studies note, for example, the confidence gap that often sees people of colour reluctant to put themselves forward for the most senior jobs. Yet nearly one in three Tory MPs from an ethnic minority sought the party leadership, making them 25 times more likely to run than their white colleagues.
An equally familiar pattern has the white majority in organisations appointing black or Asian colleagues as deputies while keeping the most senior positions for themselves. But that didn’t happen here. Note how Brexit hardliner Steve Baker chose not to run as the self-styled Spartan candidate, but stood behind Suella Braverman instead. Michael Gove made way for Kemi Badenoch. Ideology has trumped identity in this contest. If Rishi Sunak loses, it’ll be because of his actions on tax or Boris Johnson, not because of his Asian heritage.

Maximilian Hess of AlJazeera assesses the views of the five remaining candidates for British PM on the most important foreign policy issue: Russia’s war with Ukraine.

So far, those in the running to replace Johnson have been equally silent about their long-term plans – if they have any – on Russia-Ukraine. Rather than explaining exactly how they will address the cost of living and energy crises caused by Russia’s actions, or how they will ensure Ukraine’s post-war development and security, they chose to focus on culture war issues, from the size of the state to transgender rights, to try and grab the attention of the Conservative party members who will decide their fate.

For now, Rishi Sunak, who quit as finance minister last week helping to trigger Johnson’s downfall, is in the lead with the support of 88 Conservative members of parliament (MPs).

After announcing his bid for the Tory leadership, Sunak said very little on Russia-Ukraine or foreign policy in general. Since March, however, he has been attracting scrutiny both from his own party and the opposition due to the Russian presence of a company in which his wife has a £400m ($474m) stake. And according to recent reports, Johnson has voiced concerns that Sunak may “go ‘soft’ on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine, and ease sanctions on Russia if elected prime minister.

Antoaneta Roussi writes for POLITICO Europe about the record-breaking heat wave hitting the UK and much of Southern Europe.  

In the U.K., an emergency Cabinet meeting was called Saturday to discuss Britain’s first-ever “Extreme Red” heat warning. In France, one lawmaker described the sweltering weather as “hell.” In Portugal, the prime minister is monitoring dangerous forest fires.

With temperatures in Western Europe set to soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius next week, Southern Europe is already fighting the effects of more blistering summer heat, which scientists say is a result of the world’s changing climate.

Across the Mediterranean, firefighters have struggled to contain blazes, rivers have run dry and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. So far, more than 230 people have died from heat-related effects in Spain and 238 in Portugal, according to local media reports.

The temperatures — the result of a slow-moving high-pressure area, bringing scorching air up from North Africa — are expected to continue this week and move north and eastward toward France, Germany, Belgium and the U.K.

Here are five countries which are feeling the effects of Europe’s heat wave.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Laurie Garrett posted a couple of tweets showing that it’s not just Europe.

2/ The @NASAEarth syst sees scary global view this weekend “this large area of extreme (& record breaking) heat is another clear indicator that emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity are causing weather extremes that impact our living conditions”

— Laurie Garrett (@Laurie_Garrett) July 16, 2022

Finally today, Storer H. Rowley writes for Washington Monthly that President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East was necessary simply to show that the United States remains engaged in the region.

With the U.S. focused on Asian security challenges and finally on the verge of ending its combat mission in Iraq, Washington still has vital interests in the Mideast—especially in an era when Russia and China are making economic, political, and even security inroads such as Moscow’s naval facilities in Syria and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Criticisms of Biden’s visit to the Saudi kingdom come from the families of 9/11 victims, human rights groups, and Americans who want him to press for human rights. Biden said he plans to do so, and he has, to be fair, sanctioned the Saudis for the Khashoggi killing, including sanctioning the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force involved and issuing 76 visa bans for anyone found to be harassing dissidents abroad. But he should make that commitment clear now and in the future to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince blamed by U.S. intelligence for the operation that led to Khashoggi’s slaying inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A grim-faced Biden gave the prince a fist bump when they met.

“From the start, my aim was to reorient—but not rupture—relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years,” Biden wrote in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post. He hopes that this outreach will lead to more regional integration between Israel and some former Arab enemies, and he wants Saudi Arabia on board.

This Mideast trip can move the needle on regional security, laying a foundation for increased cooperation to counter aggression from Iran and its militant minions—Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One initiative Biden will continue to push after this trip is to build an integrated air defense system among Israeli and Arab adversaries to blunt Iran’s threat. That will take time and realistic expectations. Ending the brutal war in Yemen is a top priority for Biden, and with the help of U.S. diplomacy, there is now a truce in place, but America needs the Saudis to help ensure that it endures.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed everything in terms of diplomacy.

Have a good day, everyone!