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Joe Biden Fumbles Toward Re-Election
Everything about our leadership class feels so old and frail
I heartily enjoy working alongside the hilarious Brits at The Spectator, and I strongly recommend you sign up for THE newsletter for Friday gossip from the always entertaining Cockburn. You can do so for free here. Today’s edition includes a question that might be more meaningful should polls continue in the direction they’ve been trending on the Democratic side: Will Joe Biden have to debate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? It could prove a significant challenge depending on the time of day according to Axios:
Behind the scenes: Biden's close advisers say he's mentally sharp. But even some of them concede his age has diminished his energy, significantly limiting his schedule.
Many White House officials say they're amazed at Biden's stamina — often adding the caveat: "for his age.” Some White House officials say it's difficult to schedule public or private events with the president in the morning, in the evening, or on weekends: The vast majority of Biden’s public events happen on weekdays, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Jen Psaki, who was Biden's first White House press secretary, acknowledged this dynamic: She noted that the president's remarks on the Silicon Valley Bank crisis must have been a high priority since he delivered them at 9:15 a.m.
"President Biden does nothing at 9 a.m.,” she said last month on MSNBC's “Morning Joe." "He is a night owl."
Biden has said he takes his time in the mornings. "I'm up at 7, 7:15," he told the "Smartless" podcast last November, adding that he works out from about 8 to 8:45 a.m.
By the numbers: A breakdown of Biden's schedule so far in 2023 reveals how his staff tries to ensure he's at his best:
Only four public events before 10 a.m.
Just a dozen public events after 6 p.m. — mostly dinners and receptions with foreign leaders or fundraisers.
12 full weekends with no public events.
In response to this reporting, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O'Malley Dillon sent a one-word reply: "False."
Except it’s the opposite of false, it’s well apparent to anyone with eyes: the office ages you, and the aged age faster.
AMLO Sides With The Cartels Against America
Mexico’s president, the increasingly authoritarian and erratic leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aka AMLO, visited Veracruz this past Friday to commemorate the 1914 American occupation of that city. In his remarks was a startling declaration: the Mexican state and military, under his leadership, will defend Mexico’s criminal cartels from the Americans.
“There is talk in the United States,” said AMLO, “of intervening and confronting organized crime, drug traffickers, treating them as terrorists and that for this reason they will come to ‘help’ us, to ‘support’ us to confront organized crime… we do not accept any intervention… if they did, it will not be only the sailors and soldiers who will defend Mexico, all Mexicans will defend Mexico.”
The remarks, shocking in themselves, went mostly unnoticed by US media, and unaddressed by a US State Department whose bureaucracy has been so friendly to AMLO — against the interests of its own countrymen — that even the New York Times runs stories on the American ambassador’s intimate relationship with the Mexican autocrat. This blind eye on the part of both American media and government is a mistake — because AMLO’s remarks in Veracruz were neither a one-off nor a misstatement. They are part of a pattern in which the Mexican state under this president has openly moved to end Mexico’s generational experiment in democratic liberalization, and toward a sort of cooperative symbiosis with its own narco cartels. Mexico is trading the uncertainty of a free society for a return to the old days of Mexican autocracy and stage-managed politics, underpinned by truly staggering corruption and an overt alliance with some of the most violent and terroristic organizations, not just in Mexico or this hemisphere, but the world.
Facile analysis of AMLO’s rhetoric focuses upon the traditional anti-Americanism of much of Mexican political society. This sentiment is real, but it’s unmatched in Mexican civil society — any American who has spent time in Mexico will tell you it is almost uniformly welcoming on the individual level — and therefore exists more as an instrument than a thing in itself.
Last fall, I had the privilege of addressing the eightieth anniversary gathering of the American Society of Mexico. There, in Mexico City, before an overwhelmingly Mexican audience, I called for the state of Texas to declare an invasion from Mexico under the US Constitution’s Article I, Section 10 authority. We expected a negative response from the audience. Instead, to our surprise, there was applause and, afterward, congratulations. Those who live the reality of AMLO’s Mexico know how far things have gone.
AMLO speaks of American conversations on, for example, the use of the United States military against Mexican cartels, or US foreign-terror organization, or FTO, designations for Mexican cartels, as insults to Mexican sovereignty. But AMLO has no similar concern for his country’s sovereignty when it comes to voluntarily surrendering 30 to 40 percent of the national territory to cartel rule — a figure estimated by former US ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau and generally agreed by Mexican security analysts to be broadly accurate. That surrender is a choice, not imposed upon the Mexican regime, and should be understood as a signal of the AMLO-cartel alliance that, by now, is one of the defining features of the Mexican state.
Understanding the existence of this Mexican cartel-state nexus — in conjunction with the multiple crises emanating from Mexico including mass deaths from fentanyl, criminal violence and human trafficking in the millions — is the key to understanding why that American conversation exists. It is also key to why the solutions toward which it tends, specifically on FTO designations for Mexican cartels, and use of the US military against cartels, are the right ones. In the past few months, there has been a notable and bipartisan shift in DC-policymaker sentiment on these issues, from the Republican House majority discussing FTO designations for Mexican cartels and formal Authorizations for Use of Military Force in Mexico, to President Biden’s own secretary of state affirming his openness to the FTO designation. These moves would place AMLO and his regime in a difficult position that they are desperate to avoid — either cooperate with the United States in the restoration of (real) Mexican sovereignty, or defend the cartels that are a foundational element of his autocratic regime.
The Veracruz remarks strongly suggest that AMLO has made his choice — or at least wants the Americans to think he has. AMLO counts on a familiar array of American policy and bureaucratic reflexes to facilitate his escape from American-imposed consequences. For those of us who have watched Mexico policymaking for a long time US-side, the list is unsurprising. There are the State Department bureaucrats who know well the AMLO-cartel relationship, but cannot imagine any policy alternatives: call it the Saigon-1962 cohort. There is the business community that has for decades successfully kept US-Mexico trade and US-Mexico security de-linked, a failed approach that now requires revision. There is the well-worn ideological reflex among American progressives to valorize the very worst of Latin American autocrats, so long as they are of the left. And there is, even among some conservative policy institutions, a profound slowness to understand that the old paradigm of the US-Mexico relationship is over. The Mexican state is no longer a partner, and may well be en route to becoming something much worse.
In this scenario, an endorsement of a catastrophically failed status quo is policy malpractice.
All of this is well understood in Mexico itself. Conversations with Mexican journalists, policymakers, scholars and more, of left and right, all tend toward the same exhortation these days: the United States must put all options on the table — including FTO designations and the credible prospect of military force — if we want results from the AMLO regime. They themselves understand that the survival of their own hard-won democratic freedoms, now badly eroded, may well rest upon American resolution in this sphere.
It is past time for the policy community in Washington, DC, on both sides of the aisle, to arrive at the same understanding. The president of Mexico has spoken: his state will defend the cartels that kill Americans in our own homes and communities. We should do him the courtesy of believing him — and acting accordingly.
White House Forced To Adjust By McCarthy
Speaker Kevin McCarthy did more than pass a debt-ceiling bill this week. He blew up President Biden’s entire operating assumption. Democrats aren’t the only game in town after all.
They’ve certainly been acting like it, even after voters in last year’s midterms took away their spending keys by handing House control to the rival party. And perhaps they can be forgiven, after the spectacle of 15 House speaker votes and a bare GOP majority in open disarray. The Biden bet was that Mr. McCarthy would never unify his caucus around a package of spending reductions and that Democrats would continue dictating policy—including a “clean” debt-ceiling increase. He lost that bet.
The GOP for its part relearned one of Washington’s oldest truths: Unity is strength. This is a legitimate victory for Mr. McCarthy, especially given the effort it took to achieve it. Don’t forget, this was a vote to raise the debt ceiling—something many Republicans oppose in their DNA. Wednesday’s legislation was for dozens of members their first vote ever for a ceiling increase.
That was only the first hurdle. The package of spending reductions was months and hundreds of meetings in the making. Republican leaders have never proved able to rule their members in the style of Nancy Pelosi—with threats or rewards. Credit goes to leadership for the early realization that this bill would have to be bottom-up, not top-down. Credit goes to the heads of “the five families”—the ideologically diverse caucuses that make up the GOP majority—for choosing to keep the peace. Credit goes to (nearly) every member for choosing not to exploit a narrow majority to act as a king maker.
Senate Republicans did their part by giving Mr. McCarthy the space to get a bill done. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s promise that any House bill would be dead on arrival was designed to coax Senate Republican deal makers into acting on their own. They refused to take the bait. If anything, Mr. Schumer’s ceaseless taunting—claiming Mr. McCarthy would never get the votes—helped push the House GOP to prove him wrong.
Is Sports Betting The New Fentanyl?
Well, no, because it’s not killing people. But it is addictive, writes Eric Spitznagel.
Legal sports betting can be traced to May 2018, when the Supreme Court overturned a law banning it. But the marketplace of online bettors and sportsbooks (people or companies that accept bets from individual bettors) didn’t really take off until the next month, when Delaware became the first state to legalize it. (Governor John Carney kicked things off with a $10 bet on the Phillies, who went on to beat the Cubs that night.) Less than two weeks later, New Jersey followed suit. Less than two months after that, Mississippi joined the fray. Soon after, West Virginia.
Today, sports betting is legal in 33 states and Washington D.C., and will soon be legal in four more. Six additional states are debating legislation that would make it legal. An array of betting apps has sprouted to meet the new demand: DraftKings, WynnBET, BetRivers, FanDuel, and Caesars, among others.
Professional sports leagues, which were once dead set against sports betting, have come around to it—eager to cash in on advertising revenue and betting partnerships. The NFL is, by far, the most popular sport for mobile gambling in the United States, followed by the NBA and MLB. College football is fourth. (Despite all this, or because of it, the NFL is very sensitive to the appearance of its games being rigged—hence the recent suspension of the five NFL players for betting.)
Brian Hatch, a recovering gambling addict who’s now an addiction counselor in Hartford, Connecticut, compared the rise of sports betting to the opioid crisis.
Referring to the family behind Purdue Pharma, Hatch told me: “This industry is profiting off of people with an addiction the same way the Sackler family profited off of opioids. Opioids were pushed by the drug companies and doctors relentlessly. Gambling is pushed by the industry and state governments.”
To make sure would-be gamblers know it’s now easier than ever to win (or lose) heaps of cash, gambling app ads have flooded the cable airwaves, becoming more ubiquitous than insurance commercials. “I haven’t seen an online sports betting ad in almost 7 minutes,” Conan O’Brien tweeted last year. “Am I dead?”
Dave Goldsmith, a solar technician from Arizona who’s lost thousands in online bets, told me: “These apps are incredibly clever in drawing you in. I’ll be scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, and an ad will pop up, offering promotions or free spins. They tease you. It’s fun—at least, when you win.”
Elected officials across the country who have welcomed legal sports gambling into their states prefer not to talk about the money the bettors are losing and instead focus on the revenue flowing into state coffers.
In New Jersey, where bettors have wagered nearly $35 billion since June 2018, the state has reeled in $309 million in revenue. In Pennsylvania, bettors have wagered $19.6 billion, generating more than $380 million in revenue. In Kansas, where sports betting became legal a little over six months ago, bettors have already bet $1.1 billion, and the state has collected almost $2.7 million.
“I just could not sit and watch other states take our money,” New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, told me. “That bothered me. New York should be on the forefront. And we could use the revenue.”
Ninety-five percent of the online sports betting money flowing into New York State—in 2022, that was $909 million—goes to education, Addabbo said, although he couldn’t specify how or where the money is spent.
Addabbo would like to see online casinos in New York—the bill he’s been pushing to make that happen is stalled, for now—and he wants bettors to be able to bet on things like Coach of the Year or Most Valuable Player.
“I’ve had colleagues come up to me with concerns about gambling,” Addabbo said, “and then I tell them about the $900 million in revenue for education, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is great!’ ”
Far from exacerbating New Yorkers’ gambling addiction, Addabbo said, legalization makes it easier for the state to identify who has a problem. “They were doing it in the shadows, and we couldn’t help them,” he said. Now, he added, “We can make sure they get the resources they need.”
Brian was unconvinced. “Even if it were true that they’re able to identify addicts easier—which I don’t really believe—the ease of gambling still means there are more addicts being created every day,” he said.
Items of Interest
“We have devalued the singular human capacity to see things whole in all their psychic, emotional and moral dimensions, and we have replaced this with faith in the powers of technical calculation.”
— Neil Postman