Another chapter closes.
August 2, 2022
President Biden announced on Monday that the US killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a precision drone strike on Saturday. No civilians were injured or killed in the strike, which took place in an affluent area of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Because details are still emerging, I will be brief in my comments. I suspect that we will learn much more in the coming days about a remarkable counter-intelligence operation that closes another chapter in the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans on US soil.
First, it is difficult to overstate the significance of killing the second of the two masterminds of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The US vowed on that dark day that it would hold the leaders of al Qaeda accountable for the attack. President Obama ordered the killing of bin Laden in 2011, and President Biden ordered the killing of al-Zawahiri a week ago. Al-Zawahiri was also involved in multiple terrorist attacks that killed US soldiers, sailors, and embassy personnel over the span of two decades. Killing al-Zawahiri brings some measure of justice and closure to the families of the victims.
Second, early reports suggest that President Biden was intimately involved in the review and command of the operation. He reportedly demanded assurances that civilians would not be harmed (they weren’t) and that the intelligence community prove to a certainty they had located al-Zawahiri (they had). After a thorough review by Biden, the president authorized the intelligence community to strike at the moment of maximum advantage. They did.
Most presidents have one or two defining moments that will forever mark their tenure. Biden has already accumulated a record of defining moments longer than most presidents in the last half-century: Restoring order to our national response to Covid, withdrawing from Afghanistan, reestablishing America’s role as a trusted partner in global affairs, and securing the largest infrastructure investment in US history.
And now, acting as a careful but decisive Commander-in-Chief, Biden has delivered on a promise made from Ground Zero as smoke was still rising from the ruins—that America would pursue and punish everyone responsible for the attack, regardless of how long that effort might take. That promise defined America when made and has again defined America when fulfilled.
There will be much more to his story as the details emerge. But today’s announcement highlights why we elected Joe Biden. He is a seasoned, steady, trusted leader who keeps his word—and America’s. In a fraught and uncertain world, keeping your word matters. Joe Biden has made us all safer because America’s enemies understand that it will keep its promises, no matter how long it takes.
Chastened, Republicans will support veterans bill re burn pits.
Senate Republicans ran into a buzzsaw of public condemnation when they flip-flopped last week on a bill to provide healthcare to veterans injured by burn pits. After the blowback, they attempted to fabricate excuses for their duplicity, to no avail. Per Politico, Mitch McConnell is raising the white flag, promising the bill will pass this week. See Politico, Senate GOP backtracks after veterans bill firestorm. The latest reversal will not remove the ugly mark left by the GOP’s willingness to hold ill veterans as hostages for political retribution.
This is the dystopian future that Justices Scalia and Thomas have inflicted on Americans.
As the result of decisions authored by deceased Justice Scalia (Heller) and reactionary Justice Thomas (Bruen), Americans can now carry concealed weapons anywhere in public. States like Georgia are interpreting “in public” to mean large, publicly owned entertainment venues like stadiums, arenas, and parks. So, the organizers of an annual music festival in Georgia have decided they cannot accept the liability of hosting an event with thousands of gun-toting fans and have canceled the event. See Rolling Stone, Atlanta's Music Midtown Fest Canceled Because of Georgia Gun Laws.
The relevant Georgia law was signed in 2014 and is known as the “guns everywhere law.” It allows Georgians to carry guns in public parks, churches, bars, school zones, and portions of airports. See CNN, Georgia law allows guns in some schools, bars, churches. The standard form contracts for many entertainers say they will not perform in any venue where guns are permitted. Gun extremists are now driving away businesses and entertainers from Georgia. Thanks to Scalia, Thomas, and the Georgia legislature, guns now have more rights than peaceful citizens who want to enjoy music in the park.
Op-ed in NYTimes regarding fundraising scare tactics—and postcards to voters.
I received emails from dozens of readers attaching an op-ed in the NYTimes, Opinion | Fed Up With Democratic Emails? You’re Not the Only One. The op-ed struck a chord with many readers but also stirred doubt and confusion among others, especially about the effectiveness of using postcards and letters to encourage turnout.
The op-ed covers a lot of ground, so I will quickly paraphrase its thesis and main points:
Democrats use scare tactics and hysterical language in texts and emails to fundraise. People are tired of those tactics. (We all agree on this point, so, let’s ignore it and move on.) The wave of activism unleased after 2016 “wasted millions of dollars and hours” on postcarding and letter writing to encourage voter turnout. The authors describe a supposedly revolutionary new approach to encouraging turnout used in a school board election in Pittsburgh:
“The [school board campaigns] sent the candidates themselves and trusted endorsers (community leaders and popular local incumbents) to knock on doors.”
“Knock on doors.” That’s it. That is the revolutionary insight that justifies denigrating the engagement of millions of Americans whose first step into activism has been postcarding and letter writing.
It is wrong of the authors to suggest that Democrats do not engage in canvassing (“door knocking”) by candidates or their surrogates. Of course, they do. There is nothing new or revolutionary in canvassing, which is employed in virtually every Democratic campaign—to the extent possible. But what is feasible in a local school board election in Pittsburgh may not necessarily scale up to statewide races. Given that reality, what additional strategies are available to encourage turnout?
The authors spend a significant portion of their article disparaging the additional strategies designed to encourage turnout, including texting, postcarding, and letter writing. Incredibly, the authors question whether postcarding and letter writing are deceptive fundraising schemes where the volunteers are the unwitting victims of a “con.” The authors write:
Are “letters to voters” just chum to draw in small-dollar donors? A gig-economy scheme that works only because volunteers pay for their own stamps?
The authors then suggest that postcarding and letter writing are ineffective and counterproductive. They cite a study (behind a paywall) in which the researchers conclude that postcarding depressed turnout in a state legislative election. The study's outcome is so counter-intuitive and unbelievable that the researchers admit their own “surprise” at their findings and suggest that others investigate their conclusion. For good reason, the suspect study was all but ignored until it was splashed across the NYTimes by the authors of the op-ed. (I am not going to pay $47 for a copy of the study, but if any reader is an expert researcher with a background in study design and statistical analysis, I would appreciate your views of the study.)
With all of the above as background, let me say that I could not disagree more with the authors of the op-ed in the NYTimes. Their analysis is mistaken on many levels. Let’s start with the fact that their analysis is little more than anecdote and “just so” stories designed to prove their point. Good for them that they helped elect four school board candidates in Pittsburgh. But isolating one tactic used in those races—door knocking—does not address the complexity and scale of statewide and national races that Democrats must win.
The authors mischaracterize (by omission) studies conducted by the Sister District Action Network. The authors cherry-pick findings in a single sub-study in a comprehensive series of studies by Sister District to determine which postcarding strategies are effective. While it is true that a so-called “three-wave educational campaign” tested by Sister District had a “marginally negative” effect in one election, four other formats of postcarding campaigns tested by Sister District had a positive impact on turnout. The research is here: Voter Engagement and Turnout. Other research found that postcarding has a similar effect on turnout as canvassing.
Are the increases in voter turnout due to postcarding and letter writing large? No. But the point is that in an evenly divided electorate, we must use multiple strategies to encourage turnout to a degree large enough to make a difference. Postcarding and letter-writing organizations tend to focus on close races that can make a difference. In many of those races, a 1% increase in turnout is the difference between victory and defeat. If we don’t chase that 1% increase in turnout, Republicans will. The op-ed authors are wrong to discourage Democrats from participating in targeted activities in races that can make a difference.
But most importantly, the authors ignore the obvious increase in engagement among those who commit themselves to postcarding and letter writing—both of which serve as points of entry to greater engagement and activism. Postcarding and letter writing frequently occur in a group setting—a vital component of maintaining morale and engagement during a period of negative press coverage and predictions of doom. If that is the only thing that postcarding and letter writing achieved, it would be more than enough to justify the effort.
Postcarding and letter writing are good. So is canvassing. Indeed, all three are necessary complements in a multi-pronged approach to encourage every voter to show up on Election Day. Let’s not set up a false dichotomy that discourages people from engagement that is good for Democrats, good for democracy, and good for them.
A reader from Kentucky, Joanie P., sent a note in response to my query yesterday about how readers in Kentucky were faring after the floods. Here is a portion of Joanie’s note:
The people of Eastern Kentucky are a proud, resilient group of communities. The loss of life (28 so far, but expected to rise) has been devastating, as has the loss of homes, belongings, medical clinics and all of their supplies, businesses, roads, bridges, power and water infrastructures and so much more. However, the sense of community that makes Kentuckians remarkable, has shown itself in all its magnificence. The outpouring of supplies, people-power, and willingness is not surprising.
The devastation will take months, if not years, to rebuild and will require massive coordination of state & federal resources. Our Governor, Andy Beshear, has acted with great speed and compassion to get coordinated help from state and federal agencies.
Thank you for caring. Most of the people affected by this tragedy already face tremendous struggles with poverty, poor access to good jobs, clean water, and other services that most of us take for granted.
You can hear America in Joanie’s words. Community. Resilience. Pride. Generosity. Compassion. Yes, we are a contentious lot, but scratch beneath the surface and we are one people, one nation—as we were on a day of national tragedy twenty-one years ago. It is unfortunate that it takes disaster to remind us of that fact, but the shortcoming is a human trait not confined to Americans.
For however long we can, let’s hold onto that sense of community, a current that runs strong and deep below the agitated surface of partisan discord. We should not underestimate or forget that the things that unite us are stronger than those that divide us.
Talk to you tomorrow!