Tuesday, May 31, 2022

On Our Virtual Route 66 : Around the World as a New Month Dawns.....


America remembered the fallen on Memorial Day 2022.   This was as the war in Ukraine continued with no apparent end in sight.  This was also as Iranians rose up against corruption and mismanagement.   As we went to press, protests continued with slogans like, "..Khameini ...shame...let go of the country..." and "Death to Khameini"...and "Khameini is a killer...his regime is no more".    This was as the regime continued its brutal crackdown.   

In Europe, there is a continued struggle to overcome dependence on Russian Energy.   Turkey continues to balk at Sweden and Finland joining NATO.  Meanwhile, here in the United States, there was UValde that our team released a retrospective on it over the Memorial Day Week-End.

As a new month dawns, we present our "virtual route 66" this week courtesy The Economist, Financial Times, politico and other leading media outlets  as we look forward to the continued privilege to serve:  

Business as flusual

What if the flu were treated more like covid, not the other way round?

A post-pandemic thought experiment

A change is gonna come

A leftist ex-guerrilla and a populist face off for the Colombian presidency

Voters rejected safer options on May 29th

The Economist explains

What the abolition of America’s right to abortion could mean for other rights

“Substantive due process” protects contraception and same-sex marriage, too


Reheated plans for a multi-tiered Europe revive familiar suspicions

Nobody wants to join a diluted EU

Daily chart

Why America spends so little on research into gun violence

Funding is increasing—but is still a fraction of the amount spent on suicide or drug deaths

Archaeological revelations

Turkey’s temple mounds illuminate the birth of civilisation

The finds at Gobekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe have upended conventional wisdom

Marriage makers

Qatar wants to become a leader in genomics

Better screening could make cousinly marriages safer

The Intelligence

“It’s clear that China is seeking to establish a security presence in the region”—Pacific dealmaking

Also on the daily podcast: Russia’s war puts Arctic science on ice and breaking down the mythology of punk

Will Biden Run in 2024?

Spoiler: There is no alternative.

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

1. Plan B

I’ve been saying since November 2020 that, barring a health event, Biden will run for re-election in 2024 for one simple reason: There is no other option.

The Democratic coalition is currently made up of a giant mass of factions, some of which are in tension. They cannot win the presidency without getting close to 52 percent of the popular vote and even that margin gives them only about a 50-50 shot of winning the Electoral College.

Democrats need to hold together (and turn out) progressives, African Americans, young voters, women, Hispanics, and college-educated suburban voters. They need to do this without losing even more ground to white, high-school-educated men.

Joe Biden is the only Democrat even theoretically capable of shouldering this burden.¹

Are there negatives to another Biden run? Yes! He is very old! He is quite unpopular!

But on the other hand: He has a fairly successful legislative agenda to run on. He did return American political life to something like normal. His administration has been scandal-free. He is completely and totally vetted. He will campaign with all the benefits of an incumbent president. He starts with 81.2 million Americans who have already voted for him. His weaknesses—age and unpopularity—also apply to his likely challenger, Donald Trump.

All of which is to say that—again, barring a health event—I still think that it’s about a 95 percent likelihood that Biden is the Democratic nominee.

But there is that skinny 5 percent and health events do happen. So what’s Plan B?

That’s what Gabriel Debenedetti asks in this big New York magazine piece.

Debenedetti’s reporting focuses on Democratic governors: Rory Cooper from North Carolina, Jared Polis from Colorado, Gavin Newsom from California.

That’s because, as Debenedetti explains, the entire sense of instability is a byproduct of Kamala Harris’s failure as vice president.

Now maybe this isn’t fair to Harris. Maybe she’s been set up to fail. Maybe she hasn’t gotten a fair shake. I’m not judging. But just as an objective political matter, it’s clear that she’s a dead end. She is unpopular; she has no independent base of support. As a political commodity, she is less the smooth operator she was as a senator and more the flat-footed bumbler she was as a presidential candidate. She has failed to launch.

But she hasn’t failed so spectacularly that she couldn’t win an open primary in 2024:

[I]f Biden did step aside, Harris would start the succession contest as the clear front-runner. A Politico newsletter recently pointed out that 27 surveys have tested the prospect of a Biden-free primary in the past year, and Harris has led 21 of them. (The remaining six were led by Michelle Obama, who is perhaps less likely to run than her constitutionally ineligible husband.) Underwater or not at the national level, Harris’s popularity among Black voters in particular may make her impossible to beat in a primary. . .

Most think Harris would win the nomination if Biden backed her, and no one thinks he would ever actively endorse anyone else. But to her doubters, that itself is reason to think that “Biden has to run again, because he desperately has to keep Trump out of the White House and defend our democracy,” as one Capitol Hill supporter puts it. “And I have no doubts Kamala Harris can’t win.”

And this has created a problem because part of the Biden pitch was that he would be a transitional figure. Here’s Debenedetti:

“Look, I view myself as a bridge,” Biden said that day. “Not as anything else.” He was onstage in Detroit, on an exhilarating high, less than a week after a shock Super Tuesday romp that supercharged his once-flagging primary campaign and made it almost impossible for Sanders to catch up. One by one, younger competitors had dropped out and endorsed him, consolidating his power and momentum. Biden had appeared triumphantly with Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke in Dallas; now he was in Michigan with Harris, Whitmer, and Cory Booker. A strange new virus was days away from effectively shutting down the nominating contest. As Biden made his closing argument, more attention was focused solely on him than at any point since he left the vice-presidency. Gesturing at Harris, Whitmer, and Booker, he said, “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.” Biden didn’t intend his remarks to be a one-term pledge, but the notion had been in the air; . . . this appearance in Detroit was replayed frequently and promoted enough in the ensuing months to become a symbol of Biden’s promise to defeat Trumpism and then let the country move on, ushering in a new era of leadership.

He did get Trump out of D.C. and away from the nuclear football. But after the immediate crisis slunk away to Palm Beach, Biden’s presidency passed from early success into torpor. . . . It became clear that Biden’s bridge, to consider his analogy on its terms, wasn’t built to completion at the far side. For liberal and progressive voters, the cognitive dissonance has been significant. It is possible for Democrats to feel profound gratitude to Biden for vanquishing Trump and even to love some of his work as president (UkrainevaccinesKetanji Brown Jackson) and at the same time to retain an intense feeling of unease about a visibly aging 79-year-old whose Republican opponents are only growing more extremist.

You hear a lot of complaining about how the Democrats have no bench, but this isn’t really true. Mayor Pete, Cory Booker, Polis, Cooper, Stacey Abrams—JOHN FETTERMAN—are all interesting and formidable commodities. The problem is that they are mismatched with the moment. The ones who could be ready for 2024 don’t match up well with Trump. The ones who match up well with Trump might not be ready in 2024.

Which leaves us back at the start: Biden will run because he has to. For 2024, against Donald Trump, there is no workable alternative.

Daily chart

Guns are the things most likely to kill young people in America

The school shooting in Uvalde is the latest addition to a deadly pattern

Despite Biden's pleas, advancing gun control remains unlikely

Despite Biden's pleas, advancing gun control remains unlikely

Some of President Joe Biden's closest allies have little faith that his impassioned responses to the Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, mass shootings will result in any concrete action on guns before the end of the year.

Read the full story here.

Few gun control advocates are as close to President JOE BIDEN as FRED GUTTENBERG. Their relationship began after Guttenberg lost his daughter JAIME during the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., that also claimed the lives of 16 others.

In the years since, Guttenberg has balanced his increasingly prominent place in the advocacy world with his connection to the establishment wing — in this case, the president. After Tuesday’s shooting at an elementary school in Texas that claimed the lives of 21 people, Gutenberg has been ubiquitous on TV, helping the public comprehend the grief and horror and articulating his view of its political fallout.

We caught up with him on Wednesday. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

What is it like to be a parent of a kid attending school during a shooting?

I remember getting the call from my son to tell me there was a shooting. I remember him begging me to tell him to turn around to go look for his sister; and me telling him he needed to run.

When I finally got to my son, I had him do a “Find my” iPhone thing. At that moment, we knew Jaime’s phone was, in fact, on the third floor and we couldn’t reach her. I was hoping maybe she was running with people and dropped her phone. She’d call us from her friend's phone. But one by one all of her friends started to call parents. But they hadn’t seen Jaime.

Does the weight of it all fully set in? 

My wife and I drove to the hospital hoping she was there, hoping that at worst, all she had was bad gunshot injuries. But she wasn’t there.

After that, you start to realize you’re dealing with a worst-case scenario. I called my friend, who is a local police officer who was on scene earlier that day. And he went back to the school and with the FBI walked the campus. He found my daughter and identified her. He had to call me while I was driving. All of a sudden we went from uncertainty to certainty and my life fell apart.

What about your son?

My son looked after Jaime like a hawk. He would have given up his life for her. To this day, he doesn’t understand why it was his sister. He genuinely wanted me to say it’s OK to turn around and go back. But I wouldn’t do it. He struggles with that every day.

Here’s the thing: gun violence isn’t only about those we bury. It is about all the others that are collateral damage: the families who have to go on, the kids in the school who saw it, the siblings who now have to deal with the reality that they don’t have a sibling.

In the wake of these tragedies, do you reconnect with family members of Parkland victims?

We do. It’s not like every family is a part of it, some families choose not to be. But we do. And we’ve all developed a connection to one another that is based around the loss of a loved one.

You’re now an outspoken activist. Did that come naturally? Was it a conscious decision?

It chose me. The day after the shooting, I went to the Parkland vigil and the mayor asked me if I wanted to take her speaking spot. And I just remember going up on that stage and for the first time in 24 hours, I had clarity. And I walked into my home that night, and I didn’t know what it meant, but I just said: ‘I’m going to break that fucking gun lobby.”

Do you think it is a vehicle in which to feed your grief? 

I’m a father of two people and I visit one of them at a cemetery. This is me continuing to be a father to my daughter.

You have a close relationship with the president. How do you think he internalizes these moments and debates?

He reached out to me within the week after Jaime was killed. We had a really lengthy conversation. He asked me what my plan was. And I told him I want to break the f-ing gun lobby. That night he spoke to me about mission and purpose. It kind of aligned with where my thoughts were.

We developed a kinship. A few weeks later, I met with him in person. He spent quite a bit of time talking to me about going forward with grief. He has a really unique ability to talk to people because of what he’s experienced. The things he said to me helped me to go forward. I’ve just developed a real commitment to him as a human being. And that’s unbreakable.

He’s taken criticism from the gun advocacy community for not being more aggressive. 

He has taken criticism.

Do you think that’s fair?

Listen, he’s president. I think criticism is part of that experience. However, I also think that in the world of gun violence prevention, the American public needs to be clear where the opportunity is to get something done. The truth is Biden would sign legislation. He is passing executive actions. He’s nominated a tremendous person to lead the ATF. So he’s not sitting on the sidelines. I think, though, that what we will see is fighting harder for more. Let’s go have that political fight in the Senate. If we lose we lose, but we put people on the record.

It is the Second Amendment, Not the “Gun Lobby” That Must Be Satisfied on Gun Control


May 27

Below is my column in The Hill on the call for bans and limits on guns like the AR-15 since the massacre in Texas.  Both President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama have blamed the gun lobby for the violence in calling for new major gun controls. However, the barrier to banning weapons like the AR-15 rests more with the Second Amendment than the gun lobby. Any effort to reach some "commonsense" solutions will depend on the willings to end the sweeping rhetoric and deal with the realities of the constitutional limits on gun control.

Here is the column: Read more of this post

Neither black nor white

Sue Gray produces a strikingly patchy account of the Downing Street parties

A civil servant’s blend of precision and pixellation

Primary colours

Two Republicans whom Donald Trump tried to oust triumph in Georgia

But that doesn’t mean his grip on the party has loosened much

Home run

Wall Street’s housing grab continues

As rising rates deter families from buying, being a rentier looks as appealing as ever

Free exchange

How to unleash more investment in intangible assets

A new book urges financial and economic reforms

A big teal

Australia’s election sets a heartening precedent on climate change

Maybe in America, too, greening politics seems impossible…until it isn’t

Tweak and ye shall find

Gene-edited food is coming to Britain

A new law allows the cultivation and sale of gene-edited crops. Good

The Economist explains

Why banning food exports does not work

It pushes prices up around the world, and may not even help in domestic markets

Seer shells

In Brazil, if you need answers, see a cowrie-shell thrower

A mystical Afro-Brazilian tradition thrives in a changing country

Money Talks

What’s behind the slowdown in the world’s two biggest economies?

Our podcast on markets, the economy and business. This week, the two different reasons economic growth is sputtering in America and China.

Global Economy

Viktor Orbán refuses to discuss Russia oil embargo at EU summit


What is America’s end-game for the war in Ukraine?

Has Ukraine Broken the Russian Military?
By Tara Copp

There’s no way to verify that 29,600 Russian troops have died in the invasion, as Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed on Thursday, but what is known is that Russia is calling for more volunteers and raising the upper age limit of enlistees. 

Read more »

The first flight of the B-21 bomber has been delayed until next year; however, the public might get to view the yet-to-be seen aircraft this year. Aviation Week first reported the slip in schedule. This week, B-21 maker Northrop Grumman said the first stealth bomber finished a key ground test. "In early May, Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first—and most critical—loads calibration test of the first B-21 aircraft," the company said. "The recent test is one of three major conditions the aircraft will undergo in this phase of ground testing as it progresses toward first flight."

The National Reconnaissance Office this week awarded BlackSky, Maxar, and Planet the "largest ever" commercial imagery contacts, which are "valued at billions of dollars over the next decade." The Maxar contract is worth $3.2 billion and BlackSky $1 billion over the decade, according to Space News. Terms of the Planet deal were not disclosed. "[T]hese contracts mark a historic expansion of the NRO's acquisition of commercial imagery to meet increasing customer demands with greater capacity than ever before," the agency said.

May 26, 2022 – While millions of Iranians are struggling to make ends meet, the Iranian government has shut down the country’s oldest and largest independent non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on poverty alleviation, the Imam Ali Popular Student Relief Society (IAPSRS).

“The Iranian authorities are so threatened by any independent individuals and organizations that they sever lifelines for the Iranian people even when they are needed most,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

An appeals court’s decision to uphold a preliminary ruling issued last year to dissolve the NGO, commonly referred to as the Imam Ali Society, comes at a time when the Iranian people face debilitating inflation and growing poverty.

The government in Iran has meanwhile been violently repressing protests that erupted earlier this month over skyrocketing food prices. Scores of activists and protesters have been arrested under the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi and protesters have been killed by security forces.

“Iranian society is facing intensifying state suppression that is aimed at eliminating grassroots, civil society activists and organizations through all means—from killing defenseless protesters to handcuffing individuals who are trying to alleviate hunger,” said Ghaemi.

Court Ordered NGO to Pay for “Study” That Was Never Carried Out

The preliminary court order to dissolve the IAPSRS was issued in March 2021 upon request by the Interior Ministry, which was then operating under President Hassan Rouhani, and was followed by the detention of several of the organization’s senior staff.

Branch 28 of the Appeals Court in Tehran province upheld the ruling, the IAPSRS announced in a statement on May 23, 2022.

“The case judge decided to refer the matter to a panel of experts and the IAPSRS paid 15 million tomans (497 USD, free market rate) in fees to conduct a study about its activities,” the statement.

“However, the study was not implemented, and no report was presented by the expert panel. Also, the indictment contains unproven opinions and accusations,” the statement said.

Established in 2009, the Imam Ali Society is the only NGO in Iran with UN advisory status and is a member of the UN’s Economic and Social Council. It is devoted to providing services and support to impoverished families and children.

It was shuttered through an unprecedented and unlawful judicial process, with the state’s security-intelligence establishment arresting the organization’s staff under manufactured accusations that were never proven.

Reacting to the Appeals Court ruling, Iranian human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan noted that the direct intervention of the Supreme Leader’s Office, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization in this civil matter was unprecedented.

“In the past, it was the Revolutionary Court that would issue revolutionary decisions in such cases,” he tweeted.


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (archive).  Photo: GPO/Kobi Gideon.


(Communicated by the Prime Minister's Foreign Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett commented this evening, (Tuesday, 24 May 2022) on the decision to keep the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett:

“I commend the U.S. administration, led by my friend President Joe Biden, on the decision to keep the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in their rightful place — on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.

“President Biden is a true friend of Israel who is committed to its strength and security.

“Over the past few months we made our stance clear — the IRGC is the world’s largest terror organization, involved in planning and carrying out deadly acts of terror and destabilizing the Middle East.

“This is the right, moral and correct decision by President Biden, who updated me on this decision during our last conversation. For this I thank him."

The U.S. State Department has cleared three major arms deals this week that could collectively be worth more than $3.1 billion. A $2.6 billion deal for Egypt to buy up to 23 Boeing-made CH-47F Chinook helicopters makes up the lion's share of the deals. State also approved a $385 million deal for Australia to buy 20 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and 30 M30A2 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. Lastly, State OKed a $117 million deal for The Netherlands to buy 115 AIM-9X Block II missiles.

We close out this weekly "Virtual Route 66" with these #RandomThoughts: