Editors’ Blog

Watch The New Episode Of The Josh Marshall Podcast: Politics of Opaqueness

A new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast just landed. You can listen to it here.

This week, Josh and Kate discuss policing reform, analyze the dynamics around the infrastructure package and introduce a new segment.

Watch below:

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Where Things Stand: Anti-Trans Bills Are The GOP’s New Culture War. But Most Americans Aren’t On Board Prime Badge
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TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition.  Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Without any real policy agenda, Republicans in Congress have largely seized on various fronts in the culture war to distract from Biden’s successes. And GOPers at the state level are doing the same, with a new heightened focus on an element of their socially conservative base’s traditional values: Going after the LGBT community.

Lately, that’s meant a fresh wave of anti-trans rights bills.

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Extremism in US Special Forces

I wanted to flag your attention to this NBC article about radicalization among current and retired US Special Forces personnel. NBC got access to private Facebook groups for these communities – again current and former. They had a lot of racist, far-right, QAnon type content. Not universal and not uncontested, but still a lot.

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Why Now on Manafort and Kilimnik? Prime Badge

I want to recommend you read Josh Kovensky’s write up of yesterday’s Treasury Department statement about the 2016 Trump campaign’s direct tie to Russian intelligence. The Mueller report and the later Senate intelligence report were both unwilling or unable to determine whether Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik had passed the campaign information he received from Manafort to Russian intelligence. Treasury said he did. This is not a huge surprise since Kilimnik is widely reputed to be a Russian spy. And we should note that these are assertions listed in what amounts to a bill of particulars. They don’t explain what evidence underlies these claims. But this is the first time the US government has connected the pieces so clearly and categorically.

Why now?

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Where Things Stand: Fortunately, It’s Not Just The Insurrectionists Prime Badge
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ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 21: Democratic U.S. senatorial candidate Raphael Warnock walks to State Farm Arena to cast his ballot on October 21, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

While the Republican ringleaders of the Big Lie have seemingly fundraised in a big way following their efforts to overturn the results of the election, at least one Democrat is raking in substantial cash for doing, sort of, the opposite.

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The Uncanny Political Moment Prime Badge

There’s a sizable batch of new polling out which shows that President Biden’s infrastructure plan is popular with a broad cross-section of the public. The popularity isn’t quite as overwhelming as it was for the American Rescue Plan. But by almost every standard in a polarized age the numbers are still overwhelming. A new poll sponsored by the Times shows 64% support. Democrats almost unanimously support it (97%). 72% of Independents support it. And even 29% of Republicans support it. The support is spread broadly across demographic groups and the individual components of the plan poll well too.

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A Key Detail from the Gaetz Timeline Prime Badge

In recent days, most new details in the Matt Gaetz saga have been yet more nuggets of information from anonymous sources all of which add up to the same basic story: Gaetz appears to be in a lot of trouble, though whether sex with a minor will be part of an eventual indictment is not entirely clear. But there was one detail in a story published late Tuesday in Politico which adds a significant piece to the puzzle. One key question has been when Gaetz knew he was being investigated. The Politico story says federal executed a search warrant “this winter” in which they seized Gaetz’s iPhone. He changed his number in “late December.”

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Where Things Stand: GOP Acknowledges Asian Hate Crime Bill Might Not Be Right Time To Force First Filibuster Prime Badge
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Many Senate Republicans nonetheless argued the bill wasn’t necessary in the first place.

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More on the Pause Prime Badge

It’s a tough call. But I’m inclined to agree with the decision to call a pause on the J&J Janssen vaccine. Yes, based on what we know the risk is much less than many other things we do as a matter of course. Certainly it’s far lower than the risks of getting COVID. But these matters are not purely ones of statistics. They’re more centered on building trust. In that domain people’s intuitive rather than mathematical perceptions of risk can be just as important.

If I were leery of the safety of the vaccines – as opposed to holding some deep ideological or Trump-loyalist aversion – seeing federal regulators ignore or soft pedal even a small number of potential fatalities in the greater interest of getting everyone vaccinated would sap my trust more than anything else. If the US were ditching the J&J vaccine based on what we know now I’d think differently. But I don’t think that’s likely.

Here TPM Reader JS

I agree that there is a stench of innumeracy about the risks of the vaccine here. The risk of being killed driving there is less, fine. I’ve also seen that the risk of dying of COVID is actually higher than dying from the vaccine. Suppose these are both true. Then it would seem foolish to “pause” vaccinations, right?

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Who’s Repping Matt Gaetz?

I’ve heard so much on the PR front from Matt Gaetz that I was curious whether he even has a lawyer, and if so who that person or persons might be. On the PR front Gaetz hired Trump surrogate Harlan Hill, a one time Democrat who went full Trump in 2016 and has been one of Trump’s most devoted supporters ever since. He runs a firm called Logan Circle Group and is now representing Gaetz along with Erin Elmore, a former Apprentice contestant and Trump surrogate. On the lawyer front, Gaetz is also pulling from the Trump inner circle as well.

Gaetz is being represented by Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirschner. Kirschner is a respected New York criminal defense attorney who doesn’t, as far as I can tell, have a strong political profile. The same can’t be said for Mukasey. He’s the son of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and an associate and former law partner of Rudy Giuliani. Mukasey has represented President Trump in the on-going investigation run by New York City DA Cy Vance and he also represented disgraced Navy Seal Edward Gallagher and other Trump loyalists. Trump later pardoned Gallagher.

Numbers and Perception Prime Badge

From TPM Reader MM

When J&J-vaccine-related blood clots first were suspected/observed in Europe, I wrote to you about the statistical insignificance of the number of observed cases, about how and why scientists tended not to make good politicians, and about the obvious need to monitor the evolving situation closely. Not long after, I wrote again to applaud the EU leadership for having listened to their “scientists and technocrats”, who presumably told them more or less the same thing in much more detail. No doubt you’ve followed developments since then more closely than I have, despite the virtual tsunami of other, more purely-political news inviting or demanding your analysis and commentary.

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Where Things Stand: An Old Man With A Grudge Still Runs The Show Prime Badge
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on October 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

And Senate Republicans know it. 

All hope of retaking the majority in the Senate lies with the former president’s ability to put aside his personal grievances for the sake of the Party. 

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Did the FDA/CDC Make the Right Call?

There is a huge amount of criticism of the CDC and FDA bubbling up on social media about the decision to pause administration of the J&J Janssen vaccine. As I noted earlier, based on these preliminary and unconfirmed rates of risk it is virtually certain that discontinuing use of this vaccine would lead to many more deaths from COVID than any saved from the rare clotting disorder. But before you think the regulators are idiots who are down a rabbit hole of untethered risk aversion, a few points are worth mentioning.

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Feds Order Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The big news this morning is that the FDA is recommending an immediate pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine because of the same extremely rare but potentially fatal side effect which has led to limits on the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe. Just in recent days the same J&J vaccine has also come under scrutiny in Europe because of the same side effect.

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Where Things Stand: That Raised Fist Pays Off Prime Badge
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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is learning that, in 2021, sowing distrust in basic functions of democracy can be good electoral politics.

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What Is Matt Gaetz Thinking

What strikes me most about the on-going Gaetz clown show isn’t the audacity but the irrelevance. Gaetz has moved full bore into Deep State grievance/conspiracy theory mode. It’s not about statutory rape or sex trafficking, he claims. The Deep State and the Elites are coming after him because he stands for the common man. As he wrote in his Examiner Oped, “They aren’t coming for me — they are coming for you. I’m just in the way.”

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More on the South African COVID Variant

There is a new study out over the weekend from Israel suggesting that the so-called South African COVID variant is more able to breakthrough the Pfizer COVID vaccine than the original strain of the virus and other variants. The sample sizes are small and the numbers themselves have been reported in a confusing or incorrect way in a number of write-ups.

Here’s what the study found.

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On Bessemer #3 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader DG

I too have experience as a union organizer. What XX says is right on target. Besides what XX said, I believe there are two areas that need to be addressed:

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On Bessemer #2 Prime Badge

From TPM Reader LV

Like the previous reader, I too was a union organizer earlier in my career. His/her description of both sides of the campaign as “by the book” are both depressingly accurate and infinitely repeatable if something doesn’t change.

And here is where I have a rather small suggestion that the Biden administration could make to rebalance things.

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Grant

With your indulgence I wanted to re-up this appreciation of Ulysses S. Grant I wrote back in January 2018. It’s one of my favorite posts of the last decade or so.

On Bessemer Prime Badge

On the unionization vote in Bessemer, Alabama, a note from TPM Reader XX

I hesitate to comment before the votes are in. But I would be surprised if the RWSDU won the election. Based on my former experiences as a union organizer (including one campaign in Alabama,) I believe there are three reasons–

First, there’s a reason companies place factories–and this is a factory, in internal organization if not in name–in rural areas, especially in the South: The pay and benefits are so much better than anything else in the area. These are good jobs, relatively speaking.

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A Glorious Anniversary Prime Badge
Photograph of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) shown wearing a military uniform and posing for a portrait. He served in the U.S. Civil War at various levels of military command. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general in 1864 and given command of all Union armies. He was eighteenth president of the United States, elected in 1868 and reelected in 1872.

April 9th is a glorious anniversary: the day Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the US Army, received the surrender of Robert E. Lee, a renegade US Army Colonel who was a leader of a violent rebellion against the United States which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Grant offered generous terms to Lee and the other traitors making up his army. Six days later President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, DC.

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Amazon Union Drive Appears to be Failing

In case you’re not following it, the union organizing drive at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama seems to be going down to a blow out defeat. Out of 3,215 votes cast the current tally is Yes: 294, No: 691. In other words, rejected so far by more than a 2 to 1 margin. I don’t have enough experience with this to know whether there are factors that can make early votes different from late votes or if that concept even applies here. But this rough proportion has been very consistent since the first couple hundred votes were counted. So it seems like the organizers didn’t even come close.

Podcast Ep. 167: Gaetzkeeper

On this week’s pod we spend most of the time talking about the burgeoning Matt Gaetz scandal, which appears to be growing more serious for the congressman with each passing day.

Follow us on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Where Things Stand: Suppressing Democracy To Appease The Faithful Prime Badge
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Brian Kemp is up for reelection in 2022. And the true leader of the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump, has made it pretty clear that Kemp has fallen far outside of his good graces.

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New Terrible News from Manchin! Yay! Prime Badge

I just got around to reading Joe Manchin’s new OpEd in the Post. And, well … it’s pretty bad news and by my read almost all bad news. With anything less than heroic squinting and wishful thinking, it reads pretty clear: Manchin won’t support abolishing or weakening the filibuster. Full stop. This seems to take back what had seemed to be his pretty clear openness to some version of a talking filibuster earlier in the Spring. He claims early efforts to weaken the filibuster have only increased partisan polarization, a claim that makes no sense – correlation, causation, etc.

What jumps out to me most is that his argument is absurd even on its own terms.

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Europe’s Vaccine Misfortune Prime Badge

Europe is again grappling with a problem we in the US are really lucky to have avoided. European and British regulators now seem to be increasingly confident the AstraZeneca vaccine is associated with a serious but extremely rare blood-clotting side effect. Until now the UK – which has one of the world’s leading vaccination campaigns – has rejected reports of adverse side effects. But now they’re seeing them too and are recommending those under 30 get other vaccines. (There’s some indication younger people may be more susceptible to the side effect; and of course they face less threat from COVID.)

This isn’t just a major setback for Europe. It’s a major setback for the whole world. The global effort to vaccinate the populations of poorer nations (COVAX) relies heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine because it requires less complex refrigeration and transport technology.
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Where Things Stand: Traditional Conservative Values Butt Heads With The New Culture Wars Prime Badge
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Asa Hutchinson’s veto of an anti-trans bill in his state, which we covered yesterday, proved to be for naught — it was promptly overridden by his GOP colleagues in the state legislature.

But his defense of his veto saw him position himself at a crossroads for conservatism, between libertarian values and the increasing desire on the right to punish one’s perceived enemies.

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The Brave New Post-COVID Vaccine World Prime Badge

Somehow yesterday I happened on this December article about COVID vaccines by David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine. The premise is a set of facts you probably know. The Moderna vaccine, which along with Pfizer’s and Johnson and Johnson’s is now protecting millions of Americans from COVID and in all likelihood bringing a halt to the pandemic, was designed by January 13th. A month later a small first batch had already been sent to the NIH to begin phase one trials. Moderna was first but the Pfizer vaccine was almost as fast. In other words, we had the vaccines before the pandemic in the US even really got off the ground in early March.

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Yes, Ye Olde Blanket Pardon

I’ve been wondering about this from the moment we learned Matt Gaetz was under federal investigation for sex trafficking or sex with a minor. Why didn’t he ask for a pardon? Or rather, he must have asked for and not received a pardon. Public reporting suggests that Gaetz drew the interest of federal prosecutors as far back as early June of 2020. That doesn’t mean Gaetz himself knew about the probe then or perhaps for some time after. But the investigation of what seems to have been his pretty close friend, Joel Greenberg, was public. It’s hard to imagine that he still didn’t know or suspect he was in jeopardy by mid-January when Trump was still in office and preparing what turned out to be an historic pardon spree, which gave especial focus to the legal woes of people who had been consistently loyal to him.

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