Today’s Edition: Good riddance, Devin Nunes.
December 7, 2021
Among the many developments on Monday, the announcement by GOP Rep. Devin Nunes that he is resigning from Congress this month was the biggest surprise. Nunes has been the staunchest Trump ally in the House and hoped to take over as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee—a top committee assignment that would a have allowed Nunes to inflict great damage on Biden’s economic agenda. When the announcement of Nunes’s retirement hit the wires, the reason given was the proposed redistricting map by California’s independent commission that would have made it tough for Nunes to win in 2022. But minutes later, a second reason emerged: Nunes is retiring early from Congress to serve as CEO of Trump’s planned social media platform that is cynically named “TRUTH Social.”
The first lesson from these developments is that we still have a long way to go until the 2022 midterms, so breezy predictions about outcomes a year hence say more about the hubris of the pundit than the likely results. The second is that the process of redistricting is still fluid and may yield surprising results. The Department of Justice put an exclamation point after that fact on Monday by suing the State of Texas over its redistricting maps. See NYTimes, “Justice Dept. Files Voting Rights Suit Against Texas Over Map.” Although the lawsuit will not change the Texas map for 2022, it may change boundaries in Texas in 2024 or 2026—a hopeful development.
For those who might be disconcerted by the notion of a Trump social media platform run by Devin Nunes, it is too early to worry. Predictably, it appears that Trump has already violated U.S. securities laws in structuring his new company’s plan for raising money in the securities markets. See Talking Points Memo, “Feds Probe Trump Social Network Funding.” The details of Trump’s violation are complicated, but it appears to be an open-and-shut case that might preclude Trump from using a so-called “special purpose acquisition company” (“SPAC”) to raise money in the stock market.
Moreover, inquiries from market regulators suggest that someone was trading the SPAC’s stock using insider information before the public announcement of the proposed merger (which is a felony; ask ex-con Marth Stewart). Hmm. . . . Who could have possibly known in advance that Trump planned a merger with the SPAC? As they say, you get two guesses to name the culprit, and the first one doesn’t count. . . .
Assuming Trump is able to evade securities regulators and launch his new venture as a public company, the question remains whether (and to what extent) we should worry about a social media platform controlled by Trump. It is too early to tell, but in my view the answer is, “Not much.” Trump loyalists already restrict their news consumption to news media controlled by Trump, e.g., Fox News, One America News, and Breitbart News. Creating a new alternative social media platform may reduce the number of trolls on Twitter, but there are already conservative alternatives to Twitter—e.g., Parler and GETTR. Moreover, running a social media platform is a headache and distraction, especially for a politician. Trump will constantly be held to account for hateful and violent speech that appears on this platform. He will either have to delete it (and incur the wrath of the right) or own it (and incur the disapproval of persuadable Independents).
Finally, if you are worried that Trump’s new social media platform will become a safe haven for white nationalists, extremists, and insurrectionists, it is too late. Two messaging apps have filled that void already—Telegram and Signal. Telegram is owned by a Russian billionaire who lives in the United Arab Emirates. The platform allows “private groups” of 200,000 members, offers a “Secret Chat” function, and offers encrypted file sharing and storage space for anyone who wants to privately share plans to overthrow the government with large groups of people. See Vox, “Telegram: Extremists’ new favorite messaging and social media app.”
All in, getting rid of Devin Nunes from Congress is a good thing for the nation. Having him serve as CEO of a company that is already in hot water with the SEC is poetic justice. May his days be filled with lengthy depositions, onerous document requests, and irate investors complaining about the stock price of Trump’s latest con.
Russia and Ukraine, again.
President Biden is speaking with Vladimir Putin later this week. Per a press briefing with the White House, Russia has made troop movements involving the addition of battalion tactical groups around Ukraine’s borders with Russia. Most worrisome is that Russia has unleased “a significant spike in social media activity pushing anti-Ukrainian propaganda, which is approaching levels that we last saw in the leadup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.”
Biden is taking a tough line with Moscow. He has already consulted with European allies (including Ukraine) and offered to send additional U.S. troops to the region if Russia invades Ukraine. Is there reason to worry? Of course. But some experts are saying that Putin is bluffing. See Forbes, “Why Putin Won’t Invade Ukraine,” which lists five reasons why Putin won’t invade Ukraine. The most persuasive is that any invasion will be costly in terms of lives and capital, which could diminish Putin’s favorable ratings among the Russian people. Although Putin’s ratings are high by U.S. standards, they have steadily drifted downward over his long tenure. A misadventure in Ukraine would make Putin’s already difficult job of governing a corrupt failed nation-state more difficult.
And here is a point worth noting: Biden gave a background press briefing on his discussion with Ukraine and European allies. Compare that to Trump’s secret call in 2019 when he tried to extort Ukraine by withholding weapons to fight Russia in exchange for fabricating lies about Joe Biden. We should be thankful for the return to regular order in foreign policy. The sea-change can go unnoticed unless we make the effort to remember how far we have come in a short time.
Senator Schumer plan to pass Build Back Better legislation by Christmas.
Only eighteen shopping days left until Christmas and Chuck Schumer wants to use that short period to pass the remainder of Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better Agenda. What’s in the Build Back Better bill? Glad you asked! The bill includes:
Expansion of Medicare benefits to cover hearing aids
Extending the Child Tax Credit
Creating paid family leave and medical leave programs
Reducing the cost of Medicare prescription drugs
Improving coverage for home health care for Medicaid recipients
Increase wages of home health caregivers
Incentive generation and use of renewable and green energy resources
Expand free meals to school children during school year and summer months
Tell a friend!
U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
The U.S. will not send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Olympics and will not participate in ceremonies in advance of the games. Athletes will be able to compete. The U.S. announced the partial boycott to protest Beijing’s human rights violations in a number of areas. Ongoing issues include the persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority and official tolerance of forced labor in certain regions of China. See The Independent, “Why is the US boycotting the Beijing olympics?” And a more recent issue relates to the treatment of China’s top tennis star, Peng Shuai. Per the Independent, pressure for the boycott increased
with the controversy surrounding the sexual assault allegations leveled by a top Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, who saw her social media posts censored by the Chinese government and a state-funded media outlet posting a falsified note purporting to have been authored by Ms Peng that claimed her allegations were falsified.
Biden is hoping to convince other nations to join the U.S. in serving notice on Beijing that there are consequences to human rights violations. As noted above, we should be thankful for the return to regular order in foreign policy.
Many readers have sent me links to an NPR study on the correlation between living in a county that supported Trump and increased death rates from Covid. See NPR, “Pro‑Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates.” Per NPR,
People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.78 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates.
Unsurprisingly, those same counties had lower vaccination rates, which is consistent with the increase in Covid deaths. And, of course, Republicans are much less likely to be vaccinated nationally. The role of right-wing disinformation is manifest. See The Atlantic, “Why So Many Republicans Won't Get Vaccinated.”
The results of the NPR study should be viewed seriously, cautiously, and with respect for the families of victims who have died of Covid. The correlation between deliberate misinformation, low vaccine rates, and higher Covid death rates makes intuitive sense. But here is the reason for caution: There may be confounding factors in the affected counties that make it difficult to measure the size of the effect. For example, if areas that support Trump tend to have voters who are (on average) older, sicker, and more obese, those factors could contribute to the increase in Covid deaths. So, I would be cautious in making statements like “counties that voted for Trump had 3 times higher death rate from Covid.” While the statement is true, it may exaggerate the correlation between county-wide support for Trump and Covid death rates.
But, most importantly, Covid doesn’t discriminate between Trump supporters and those who oppose Trump. In those Trump-supporting counties with higher death rates, there is no way to tell if the deaths occurred among Trump supporters or non-Trump supporters. That means that many people who oppose Trump but are unable to get vaccinated due to health reasons are paying the ultimate price for the political choice (or ignorance) of others. That is a tragedy. But it is likewise a tragedy that Trump supporters have been convinced to forego vaccinations. They may be complicit or morally culpable in the deaths of others, but the results of the NPR study provide no cause for feelings of vindication or smugness. Every Covid death is a tragedy.
The NPR study validates what many of us believe and serves as an indictment of the reprehensible disinformation campaign waged by Fox News personalities and other right-wing media stars. If we discuss the NPR study with friends and family, it should be to convince people that vaccinations save lives, not to prove that Republicans are irresponsible or are “getting what they deserve.” Again, Covid doesn’t care if its victims are Republicans or Democrats. Our first priority should be to make all of us safer, not to score political points in a debate.
A reader posted a comment to the newsletter yesterday that said, “Democrats are too nice.” Absolutely true! And we shouldn’t have it any other way. Someone has to be the adult in the room of democracy, which involves making responsible decisions even when that involves biting our tongues, swallowing our pride, and foregoing our “I told you so” rights. Democrats will have to lead the nation out of this pandemic by carrying others on our backs. We should not regret that fact one bit.
Talk to you tomorrow!