Cup of Joe – February 9, 2023

I did not watch the State of the Union live on Tuesday night, because anymore, 9 pm is my bed time, and if I stay up for an 70 minute speech, I would then watch all the post speech coverage and I would be awake until midnight. I watched it yesterday morning. And I think it was a great speech for two important reasons.

First, Joe Biden is a genuinely good person who cares deeply about America — and cares deeply about you. Throughout the speech, Biden highlighted policies he supported that could really improve people’s lives. He directly addressed the Democratic party’s problem with working-class voters. He threatened to veto efforts to undo his work thus far. And the way he paid homage to the parents of Tyre Nichols and then challenged lawmakers to seize the moment to pass an anti-crime and police reform bill was an incredible moment.

If public opinion polls are any indication, after the abusive relationship the country had with its previous president, America seems to be having a hard time recognizing when the president is actually being nice to you.

Second, the contrast with Republicans could not be more clear. The lack of decorum shown to the president by many Republican lawmakers was disgusting. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) channeled Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) from a dozen years ago and shouted that Biden was “a liar.” Of course, unlike Wilson, who was later censured by the House, nothing will happen to Greene. Another GOP lawmaker yelled that the soaring fentanyl deaths in the country was somehow Biden’s fault. It was just awful.

But comparing Biden to the two Republican responses to his speech — the official one by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and another by Donald Trump — was even more telling. There is no policy agenda that unites the Republican party anymore. The GOP seems to have realized that their actual policy positions are not very popular. So it’s all culture war, all the time. To win power in the future, Republicans seem to have realized they have to scare the country into voting for them, or stop the country from voting or having elections.

Biden’s speech soared well above his delivery because of these contrasts. And it’s probably why he’s so confident about running for re-election.

Jeff Greenfield: “Here’s an opening line I did not expect to write an hour or so ago: President Joe Biden gave a pretty good State of the Union address — indeed, one of the better ones I’ve heard.”

“What made it work was not just that Biden was in a buoyant spirit, with an energy that’s often lacking, but that it was a clearly political speech with a clear political goal: to define Biden as the guy who is on your side, going after the big boys who were flourishing at your expense.”

Playbook notes President Biden had a few goals last night:

  • Remind his audience of his accomplishments over the last two years.
  • Reiterate his positions in the spending debate (no negotiations over the debt ceiling and no touching Social Security and Medicare).
  • Detail the most popular highlights of his 2023 agenda.
  • Expose his congressional GOP opposition as unreasonable and chaotic.

“The speech accomplished the first three goals if you listened or read it carefully. But it will be best remembered for the dramatic clashes with jeering members of the GOP which may have done more than Biden ever could have hoped to accomplish goal No. 4.”

John Harris: “With boos, taunts, groans, and sarcastic chortles, the opposition party effectively turned themselves into prime-time props for President Joseph Biden.”

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) “had warned his colleagues ahead of the speech to behave, but they ignored him and the new speaker had to resort to shushing them repeatedly from the rostrum,” Politico reports.

Amanda Carpenter: “Back in 2009, when South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled ‘You lie!’ in the middle of an address by President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress, sensibilities were shocked. Wilson’s outburst became a days-long story, and he was formally reprimanded by the House.”

“Nowadays, though, the House Republican Conference has a whole contingent of Joe Wilsons: boorish loudmouths whose lack of impulse control is only matched by their desire for attention.”

Even if you saw it last night, it’s worth watching again.

New York Times: “Mr. Biden turned the tables on his Republican opponents and argued in real time with the insurgents. It appeared to be the start of his re-election campaign.”

“President Joe Biden brought his State of the Union populist economic messaging to Wisconsin on Wednesday, firing back at Republicans and highlighting US manufacturing in a preview of an expected 2024 argument in the battleground state,” CNN reports.

“Biden made clear that he was willing to continue the fight as he hit the road, reigniting the social safety net argument with Republicans that sparked one of the most memorable moments in Tuesday’s speech.”

“Look – a lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Well, let me just say this: It’s your dream, but I’m gonna have my veto pen make it a nightmare.” — President Biden, quoted by CNN.

“In the last six decades, no president has spoken as many words – by actual or average count – in an address to Congress than President Joe Biden,” USA Today reports.  “In his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Biden set a new record for words spoken, 9,191, eclipsing President Bill Clinton’s 1995 address by a single word.”

“In average number of words, Biden also has the most.”

New York Times: “There were no economic pivots in President Biden’s first State of the Union address to a Republican House. He did not pare back his push to raise taxes on high earners or to spend big on new government programs. He offered no olive branches to conservatives who have accused him of running the country into crisis with government borrowing.”

“It was a shift from Mr. Biden’s two most recent Democratic predecessors in the White House, who tacked toward a more conciliatory and limited-government approach to economic policy after losing at least one chamber of Congress. But on Tuesday night, Mr. Biden barreled ahead.”

David Frum: “The speech was strewn with traps carefully constructed to ensnare opponents. He opened with a tribute to bipartisanship, but the mechanics of his address were based on shrewd and unapologetic hyper-partisanship. He anticipated negative reactions in the chamber—and used them to reinforce his message.”

Rex Huppke: “I’ve never seen anything like it in a State of the Union speech – they ran at him like a pack of lemmings and, with a wink and a grin, he politely directed them to the cliff.”

Susan Glasser: “The suspense of the evening was not rooted in what Biden would say but how he would say it—and how it would be received. Would the far-right Republican extremists who had held up their own party’s leadership through fifteen long ballots at the start of the year, rather than sign off on McCarthy as Speaker, once again act up?”

“The answer, of course, was yes. As if to prove the point, even McCarthy’s audible shushing could not get a few House Republican hecklers to shut up. And if their goal was to rattle the eighty-year-old President, embattled and down in the polls and facing questions even from within his own party about whether he should run again, it’s safe to say that it didn’t work.”

“Biden, it seemed, had carefully prepared for their antics. Had he scripted their reaction, he could not have asked for a better foil than Marjorie Taylor Greene, the former QAnon promoter who flirts with white supremacy.”

Wrapped up in Republicans’ debt ceiling hostage-taking is also their long-running con to break Social Security. Despite Speaker Kevin McCarthy repeatedly assuring public audiences that Social Security and Medicare are “off the table” in debt ceiling negotiations, Republicans continue to float various ways to undermine the social safety net.

Just last week, former Vice President Mike Pence trotted out the old GOP standby for Social Security: private accounts. To its credit, the White House on Monday strongly rejected a GOP ploy to create a commission to consider “reforms” to Social Security and Medicare. This will serve as your regular reminder that the use of the word “reform” in the context of Social Security and Medicare is highly misleading and tendentious.

Republicans for decades now have opposed these popular programs on ideological grounds, but have attempted (often successfully due to unsophisticated media coverage) to mask their efforts to undermine and redefine them out of existence. Or, as the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik called it: the “Republican and conservative habit of employing plausible-sounding jargon and economists’ gibberish to conceal their intention to hobble the program.”

Hiltzik serves as a great example of sophisticated coverage of the GOP sophistry on Social Security: “But make no mistake: Diverting any significant portion of Social Security taxes into private accounts would make the program unworkable, funnel untold wealth into the hands of Wall Street promoters and leave millions of families destitute.”

Worth a read.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) writes in the Washington Post:

“Capping the annual growth of discretionary spending at 1 percent for the next 10 years would save more than $1 trillion. We can do this without threatening essential programs such as Medicare and Social Security or cutting defense spending at a time when we are grappling with the largest-scale land war in Europe since World War II and an emboldened China that blatantly violates our airspace and dominates global supply chains.”

“House Republicans are set Wednesday to launch hearings into what they describe as collusion between social-media companies and Democrats—starting with their scrutiny of the 2020 episode involving Hunter Biden‘s laptop,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Members of the House Oversight Committee plan to question former Twitter Inc. executives over their decision to limit the reach of two 2020 New York Post articles that contained disclosures from the president’s son’s laptop that was dropped off at a Delaware repair shop.”

But the hearing backfired on them….

Rolling Stone: “The Trump administration and its allied Republicans in Congress routinely asked Twitter to take down posts they objected to — the exact behavior that they’re claiming makes President Biden, the Democrats, and Twitter complicit in an anti-free speech conspiracy to muzzle conservatives online.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) claimed in a House Oversight Committee hearing that Twitter executives coordinated with the CIA to ban accounts like hers.  She took her entire five minutes of question time saying she would not let the witnesses speak because they banned her Twitter account.

“Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell stuck to his message that interest rates need to keep rising to quash inflation and this time, the bond market listened,” Bloomberg reports.

“In particular, Powell floated the idea during an event in Washington on Tuesday that borrowing costs may reach a higher peak than traders and policymakers anticipate. The talk was Powell’s first since last Wednesday, following the Fed’s decision to raise rates by a quarter point, when markets shook off his warning that rates were headed up and rallied anyway.”

The overall U.S. trade deficit rose 12.2 percent last year, nearing $1 trillion as Americans purchased large volumes of foreign machinery, medicines, industrial supplies and car parts, the New York Times reports.

“Donald Trump’s one-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen arrived Wednesday at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to meet with prosecutors investigating the former president’s role in alleged hush payments to a porn actress before the 2016 election,” ABC News reports.

“As Russia makes slow, bloody gains in a renewed push to capture more of eastern Ukraine, it is pouring ever more conscripts and military supplies into the battle,” the New York Times reports.

“Still it remains far from clear that Moscow can mobilize enough forces to sustain a prolonged offensive.”

“The U.K. is considering sending British jet fighters to Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has tasked the country’s defense secretary to explore which jets Britain may be able to send, the spokesman said. The spokesman said no final decision had been made and the U.K. would have to train Ukrainian pilots how to fly the jets first.”

“Dutch prosecutors said Wednesday that it was likely Russian President Vladimir Putin personally signed off on a decision to supply long-range antiaircraft missiles systems to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine before they shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew,” the Washington Post reports.

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed Wednesday that the U.S. assesses the alleged Chinese spy balloon shot down over the weekend was part of an expansive surveillance program aimed at gathering intelligence from targets around the globe,” ABC News reports.

New York Times: “The Pentagon said on Tuesday that China had rejected a request from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speak with his Chinese counterpart on Saturday soon after an American fighter jet shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.”

Related from the Associated Press: “As jets closed in on China balloon, hobbyists were listening.”

“The U.S. intelligence community has linked the Chinese spy balloon shot down on Saturday to a vast surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army, and U.S. officials have begun to brief allies and partners who have been similarly targeted,” the Washington Post reports.

“The surveillance balloon effort, which has operated for several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, has collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest to China including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.”

“Documents released Tuesday provided a scathing account of what authorities called the ‘blatantly unprofessional’ conduct of five officers involved in the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop last month — including new revelations about how one officer took and shared pictures of the bloodied victim,” the AP reports.

“The officer, Demetrius Haley, stood over Nichols as he lay propped against a police car and took photographs, which Haley sent to other officers and a female acquaintance.”

“Marjorie Taylor Greene is now the face of the Republican Party and it’s a mistake. There are some people who like what she does and that’s why she does it. But the vast majority of people — and especially people who are temperamentally Republicans but have been pushed away by Trump and others — react negatively to that kind of behavior, understandably. It’s a mistake.” — Former national security adviser John Bolton, quoted by NBC News.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) suggested that God used her to stand up to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), whom she indirectly referred to as one of her “demons,” the Washington Post reports.

Said Boebert: “God is using you in mighty ways… Maybe he’ll have you ball up your fists and stand in front of some demons — maybe a speaker of the House?”

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) “says the state should stop accepting the nearly $1.8 billion of federal K-12 education dollars that help provide support for low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities,” the AP reports.  Said Sexton: “Basically, we’ll be able to educate the kids how Tennessee sees fit.”

“The Mississippi House has approved the creation of a new court system in which judges and prosecutors would be appointed by state officials — who all happen to be white — for the capital of Jackson, which has the second-highest percentage of Black residents among U.S. cities,” CNBC reports.

“Local residents elect judges and prosecutors in every other county court system in the state.”

“President Biden secured a $250,000 line of credit against his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home as his son, Hunter Biden, faces an investigation into his tax affairs and amid his own classified documents scandal,” Fox News reports.

“It is unclear why Biden quietly secured the line of credit, which allows him to borrow up to a quarter of a million dollars against his home’s equity.”

“Millions of dollars are being smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan every day, providing some support for the squeezed economy after the US and Europe denied the Taliban regime access to billions in foreign reserves,” Bloomberg reports. “For Islamabad, the outflows are exacerbating a rapidly developing economic crisis.”

Washington Post: “With North Korea threatening to strike the South with nuclear weapons and no sign of a return to denuclearization talks, South Koreans are increasingly debating whether they can still trust the United States to protect them in case of war on the peninsula.”

“The shifting geopolitical landscape around South Korea in the past year — an unprecedented number of missile launches from North Korea, Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling and growing fears that China will invade Taiwan — has prompted South Koreans to take a sober look at their security dependence on the United States.”

Former prime minister John Major says Britain made a “colossal mistake” when it left the European Union, Bloomberg reports.  Said Major: “There are three great power blocs in the world today. United Kingdom is not one of them. There is America, there is China and there is the European Union.”  He added: “It is those strategic issues which make me believe we should be in Europe and that we have made a colossal mistake in leaving.”

“Around 180,000 people in the U.S. were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users,” The Information reports. “The tiny number signals the challenge Elon Musk faces in turning the subscription product into a major source of revenue.”

“French parking lots could soon generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear power plants, after a law is expected to win final passage on Tuesday requiring canopies of solar panels to be built atop all substantial lots in the country,” the Washington Post reports.

“The plan makes France a world leader in efforts to cover as many surfaces as possible with solar panels, a step advocates say will be crucial in broader plans to phase out fossil fuels in the coming years. The expansion could add as much as 8 percent to France’s current electrical capacity.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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