Sunday, August 11, 2019

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Cause of Death, Cause of Conspiracy Theories

Jeffrey Epstein’s “apparent suicide” and the mysterious and troubling circumstances surrounding his death (or “apparent death”) are horrible for his victims, horrible for justice, and horrible for America.

They are good for those who need to provide August news, information, and infotainment content.

There are the conspiracy theories and there are the parallel legitimate, skeptical questions about Epstein’s “apparent suicide.”

Donald Trump, Joy Reid, and a cast of thousands across the political spectrum agree that conspiracy theories should be considered.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“We need answers. Lots of them.”), Rudy Giuliani (“What does the word suicide mean in the phrase suicide WATCH?”), and a cast of thousands across the political spectrum agree that they are many unanswered questions that need prompt, authoritative explanations.

Voice of reason and skepticism, Marco Rubio: “While scrutiny of Epstein’s apparent suicide is ‘warranted,’ Rubio said, he added: ‘the immediate rush to spread conspiracy theories about someone on the “other side” of partisan divide having him killed illustrates why our society is so vulnerable to foreign disinformation & influence efforts.’” 

Voice of skepticism and reason, Democratic Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel: “There are a lot of very powerful people who wanted to see this man dead. So was it really just a suicide? Was it just negligence by the officials who had custody of him? I don’t know, but I definitely think it needs to be investigated.”

The New York Post has an anonymous and compelling account from a former Metropolitan Correction Center prisoner who says a suicide is not plausible.

The Washington Post: “People close to Epstein, noting that he seemed recently to be in good spirits, were surprised by reports of suicide, according to one person familiar with their discussions Saturday, and expressed concern about the possibility of foul play.”

“Two law enforcement officials said there were no early indicators of foul play, but they noted that the FBI investigation was in its infancy.”

“’We don’t have an indication of that right now,’ one law enforcement official said of the notion that someone may have killed Epstein.”

The Washington Post columnist Harry Littman has theories and facts, without resorting to conspiracies:

“If he was not on suicide watch, it would be astonishing. Yet if he were on suicide watch, his death would be virtually inconceivable…. The BOP’s suicide prevention protocol entails, first and foremost, human eyes on the prisoner 24 hours a day. It also requires a strict deprivation of anything — shoelaces, sheets, pillowcases — that could possibly be used to hang oneself. It also requires disabling anything that could be used to tie a noose — vents, sprinkler heads, etc…. Is there a video of Epstein’s cell at the crucial time? There should be, and it will reveal exactly how and when Epstein killed himself.”

My take: Government officials often call for thorough, prompt, and transparent investigations in cases of public controversy.  For a variety of reasons too obvious to type, this matter absolutely needs a fast and unambiguous explanation.  Unfortunately, for many, the fact that the two main investigations will be overseen by Bill Barr’s Justice Department will cast a significant cloud over whatever conclusions are reached.

Unless, of course, Barr announces early this week that Putin, Trump, and the Clintons all conspired on a Friday night conference call to have Epstein murdered.  That is likely the only outcome that will satisfy the conspiracy theorists.

Biden’s Lead and How He Could Lose It

This is the headline on the essential reading Washington Post story: “Democrats fret in Iowa: Can Biden beat Trump? If not Biden, then who?”

Summarizing Biden’s recent wave of gaffes:

“Most of the missteps are minor, but they risk adding up to an overall picture of a politician whose sharpest days are behind him — an image seized by Trump at every opportunity, and one the president would probably mention unceasingly should Biden be the nominee.”

“On Saturday, he said he met with Parkland students while he was vice president, even though the Florida shooting took place a year after he left office.”

“In his speech Thursday at the state fair, Biden bungled a line and said, ‘We choose truth over facts!’ He initially referred to former British prime minister Theresa May as one of her predecessors, Margaret Thatcher. And speaking before a Latino and Asian group, he argued for challenging students in underserved areas — but briefly appeared to conflate whiteness and wealth.”

Then with one voter quote and mini anecdote, the shiv is inserted:

“Such episodes give some Democrats pause. As Arlene Davis, 67, a retired schoolteacher from Indianola, waited to hear Biden speak the other night, she panned his candidacy so far, especially his debate performances.”

“’I was extremely disappointed. I expect more of him. He was uninspired,’ she said. ‘He’s trying to ride Obama’s coattails instead of blazing his own path to distinguish himself from others. Gee, it was nice he was vice president. However, he is not vice president now, and if he wants to stand out, he has to do it soon, on his own two feet.’ Davis added: ‘I want to know what he thinks, not what he did with Obama. That’s why I’m here.’”

“But Biden’s appearance that evening evidently did not convince her: Halfway through, she took out her phone and began playing a card game.”

And this, on Biden, from Alan Feirer, the Democratic party chairman in Madison County, “There is starting to be a real fear that he cannot hold his own in the debate against Donald Trump.”

Steve Bullock and Tim Ryan seem most eager to make something of all this (so far), with Ryan saying, “This is such an important election, and we’ve all got to be at our best. We all can’t make mistakes because with the right-wing noise machine, they take something like that, and they put up a false equivalency, making him and Trump sound like they’re the same.”

However, Politico suggests and reflects the current Gang of 500 view of Biden’s gaffes: they are priced into the stock of the frontrunner’s lead.

David Axelrod captures the exact state of play quotily to the Associated Press: “He has been durable.  The question is whether that durability is because we aren’t fully geared into the race or whether there are inherent strengths there.”

The Wall Street Journal, in a story about Trump’s wavering support from older voters, has this money quote:

“’Right now, I’m a Biden man, but the only reason I am is because, according to all the polls, he could beat Trump,’ said David Freund, a 65-year-old truck driver in Fort Wayne, Ind. Mr. Freund said he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans but is put off by Mr. Trump’s attitude.”

The Washington Post also found what the New York Times and others have in Iowa: “In surveying nearly half of the state’s 99 Democratic county chairs this week, there was widespread agreement that Warren has the most formidable organization.”

My take:  Watch the Biden gaffes, sure, but keep another eye out on the short fuse.  Recall that in his 1988 campaign, Biden famously snapped at a New Hampshire man who challenged his academic credentials (“I probably have a much higher I.Q. than you do, I suspect.”).  Gaze at the video of that chilling past-could-be-prologue moment here.

Biden, whose White House-era love affair with the media is largely over, has lashed out at inquisitive reporters and provocateurs on several occasions recently, including with one “Don’t be a wiseguy,” weekend jibe in Iowa.  Some of these moments have gone semi-viral.  If he keeps at it, one could go super viral and seriously damage his campaign. Biden will almost certainly be told about this paragraph, but it probably won’t make him less likely to keep losing his cool. 

It might, in fact, make him more likely. 

Given Donald Trump’s own propensity to suddenly bite a head off, his criticism of such Biden outbursts is and will be rich and hypocritical, but make no mistake: the president will try to take advantage of these moments big league.

But, eye on the ball, when evaluating the most likely reasons Biden could lose his lead:  lack of a message about the future>losing his temper>gaffes.

Top sports story: Mets rally again, down Nats for 8th straight win

Top business story: Elizabeth Warren unveils gun control plan that pushes for higher taxes on firearms and bullets

Top entertainment story: Universal cancels ‘The Hunt’ release

Clarification: The spelling of “Warshington” in Friday’s edition was not a typo, but rather a stylized rendering of the way some people pronounce the name of the city that John F. Kennedy described as having “Northern charm and Southern efficiency,” which, in the view of many, is the second-best JFK quote (after the one about Jefferson dining alone).

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One thought on “Sunday, August 11, 2019

  1. Mark: I just don’t think Warren is electable and Harris kinda rubs people the wrong way. Also, while the economy is weakening, it won’t be in recession or we won’t know it. I also think Trump will increase tariffs to 25% then cut them drastically in 2020 making the market pop. If Warren is the nominee, Trump wins in a walk. She needs to take MI, WI and PA. He only needs to take one of them. Ballgame.


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