The Financial Times published a comment, Things Could Fall Apart for Biden, by Edward Luce. Whether or not you agree with its particulars, the piece is significant by virtue of Luce being, as the Brits would say, very well networked among Democratic party insiders and power brokers.1 My reading of Luce over time is that he seeks to occupy a sweet spot similar to the one McKinsey prizes, which I describe as “leading edge conventional wisdom.” It’s no good to be too far out ahead of the crowd, even if you are proven correct; Cassandras are loathed.
Luce is almost certainly amplifying what he regards as the shrewdest concerns among Beltway/Democratic party contacts. You can almost smell the fear that a lot of rice bowls are going to break in the 2022 midterms. As Expat observer put it:
If Mr Luce starts abandoning Biden, it means the guy is beyond salvation…
Other comments were less kind (and there were quite a few in this vein), no doubt due to cringe-making statements like “This has been the best presidential start in the lifetime of most Americans.”
Yes, it’s always interesting to read the views our globalist masters are trying to assign (pretty successfully actually) to the drones.
In very article that tries to even slightly criticize Biden, the author has to start by first glorifying his administration, then by bashing Trump. Everyone has to show their allegiance to The Narrative, lest you risk being confused as a deplorable who must be cancelled…
The author isn’t really being critical or writing for critical, intelligent readers. The writer is appeasing his colleagues and trying to avoid online harassers who, at the author’s first slip, will perscrute everything he has ever written to find even slight signs of thoughtcrime.
The fact that Luce is hearing enough angst to merit speaking up is arguably more important than the details, although the critics are correct: Luce deploys a lot of factually-challenged Biden record-burnishing. But Luce unwittingly reveals how Democratic party poohbahs are scoring Biden’s tenure. Their sense of priorities is jarring.
The supposed ne plus ultra of Biden’s mistakes is leaving Afghanistan. No, I am not making that up:
Yet Biden is now entering a much tougher phase of his presidency. One of his problems stems from an unforced error — the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is hard to understand why he felt the need to pull out America’s skeletal force of 2,500 troops before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The costs of staying are minimal — there has not been a single US combat death in Afghanistan in the past 17 months.
By contrast, the risks of leaving Afghanistan are steep. It is only a matter of time before the Taliban regains control. The fall of Kabul would probably avoid scenes of Chinooks scurrying the last Americans out, as happened in Saigon in 1975. But it will nevertheless harm America’s prestige. The signal of US risk aversion will muddy Biden’s hopes of winning hearts and minds in a democracy-versus-autocracy contest with China. This setback is self-created.
Your humble blogger only very remotely pays attention to Afghanistan. Even I have worked out that the US is in control of just about nothing beyond Kabul and our bases and various warlords hold the country. And it’s not as if anyone in America besides arms merchants (who can’t stand the loss of a meal ticket) and our overextended troops (who welcome any reduction in deployment as a step in the right direction) care. Reader Sam added:
A lot of above analysis was made without proper comparison of US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1990. Why Trump negotiated with Taliban is a mystery – there was no reason to…..the situation is very different.
• In 1990’s, various factions of Afghanistan were left with lots of advanced arms of Soviets and Americans. Pakistan ISI was flush with free goodies given by CIA in 1980s and 1990s which resulted in lot of mischief all over the world.
• Situation is bad for Pakistan ISIS that they can’t control pedophilia affected Taliban leadership. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacha_bazi . Large parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran suffer from Bacha Bazi and drug abuse.
• Taliban is a tired force. This doesn’t mean they will not try to take over but this time the Afghan war is likely to be more fragmented along tribal line than in the past.
Pakistan politics is about Polo, ex & current wives and mistresses – no different than the corrupt Pakistani Generals of 1950s-60s….the jihadi fervor of late 1990 and early 2000s is dimming in the absence of free cash from CIA.
By contrast, Luce makes no mention of Iran, a far more consequential player that Biden has been trying to corner, when we’ve already thrown every economically consequential sanction at them already and they are unbowed. So all he’s done is push them harder in the direction of Russia and China. Nicely played.
Luce is on a bit surer footing in criticizing Biden’s bipartisan fixation:
Biden’s window to enact his domestic agenda is narrowing. It is far better to have 50 Democrats in the Senate than 49. But at least two of these, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are fairweather friends….
It is possible he will get 10 Republicans to vote for his bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the cost of negotiating with them is mounting….
Biden is so invested in his quest for a bipartisan moment that there are few concessions he will not make. Still, there is no assurance that he will get 10 Republican votes at the end of it. The echoes of 2009, when Barack Obama wasted the summer meeting Republicans halfway in healthcare talks, only for them to unanimously reject the bill, are real.
“Meeting Republicans halfway”? Luce apparently didn’t get the memo that Obama had a healthcare lobbyist write his bill, and more generally, that Obama’s strategy was to go 75% of the way toward the Republicans before he’d start horse trading.
No mention on Biden’s caves on issues of more import to the Democratic party base, like not doing anything about minimum wages (even Sanders was at least able to embarrass Amazon and McDonalds into making some improvements) or not requiring companies receiving Federal funds to offer one day Covid vaccine leaves for employees and contractors working over 20 hours a week? Oh, and how about not mentioning that the actual infrastructure part of his infrastructure bill pre-supposes private equity pork?
Luce finally gets around to Covid. We said early on that Biden needed to make tackling or at least managing the pandemic his top priority for at least his first three months, and aside from getting confirmations and dealing with actual emergencies, push everything else back.
Luce and I do agree that Biden’s presidency hinges on Covid, but again he’s more cheery than most NC readers would be:
The story of Covid-19 is a microcosm of Biden’s presidency. In his opening period, he plucked the low-hanging fruit with a rapid mass vaccine rollout. Death rates plummeted as the number of daily shots exceeded 3m. What remains of the fruit — the tens of millions of Americans who are suspicious of the vaccine — is hard to reach. Daily vaccinations have plummeted to just over 500,000 and infections are heading back up. Businesses and colleges are going through the same anxious cost-benefit analyses as they were a year ago.
Can Biden do anything about it? He could copy the UK’s Boris Johnson and effectively say to hell with the restrictions, or follow France’s Emmanuel Macron and adopt a more coercive vaccination policy. Neither step is fully within the power of a US president. In practice, he will have to muddle through and hope that the third Covid wave is not strong enough to upset the economic recovery. As long as Biden has that, his presidency will stay on the rails.
Erm, notice the pointed avoidance of actually crediting Trump with the Operation Warp Speed that gave Biden vaccines to distribute.
Of all places, the normally rosy-glass-wearing NPR has a fresh and gloomy Covid forecast (hat tip David L):
The current COVID-19 surge in the U.S. — fueled by the highly contagious delta variant — will steadily accelerate through the summer and fall, peaking in mid-October, with daily deaths more than triple what they are now.
That’s according to new projections released Wednesday from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, a consortium of researchers working in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help the agency track the course of the pandemic…
“What’s going on in the country with the virus is matching our most pessimistic scenarios,” says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who helps run the modeling hub. “We might be seeing synergistic effects of people becoming less cautious in addition to the impacts of the delta variant.
In the most likely scenario, Lessler says, the U.S. reaches only 70% vaccination among eligible Americans, and the delta variant is 60% more transmissible.
In that scenario, at the peak in mid-October, there would be around 60,000 cases and around 850 deaths each day, Lessler says.
Each scenario also includes a range of how bad things could get — the very worst end of the range for the most likely scenario shows about 240,0000 people getting infected and 4,000 people dying each day at the October peak, which would be almost as bad as last winter…
But overall, the main projection shows a steady slope upwards to the peak in October, and then a steady slope back down…
At that point, “herd immunity starts kicking in a little more aggressively and we start to see things going down again.” By January 2022, the model shows deaths coming back down to around the current level of about 300 per day.
First, 70% vaccinated? Since when? We are at 48.8% now.
Second, there appears to be zero allowance for vaccine efficacy waning over time. Now boosters could significantly blunt that problem, but the powers that be would need to be staring a rollout in September, if not earlier. Instead, the priority seems to be not to harsh the mellow of anyone planning a summer holiday.
Third, the “herd immunity by January” comment is insane. Did this crowd not get the memo that immunity to coronaviruses is not durable?
And our GM has been chewing his nails. He’s been regularly rumbling that SARS-COV-2 looks and acts an awful lot like a weak SARS-1. Which means the idea that the bias of mutations will be towards the virus becoming less deadly is optimistic. GM has said less technical things that come to similar conclusions, so forgive the heavy geek bent:
The nasty thing about the spike is that the polybasic cleavage site — the PRRAR motif that has now become RRRAR in B.1.617.2 — is also a superantigen. When T-cells see it, they go crazy, and this is a big part of the pathology — and also why there are such autoimmune issues.
This will not be lost, ever — the PBCS is critical for efficient spread, and is under extreme purifying selection, and up until now positive selection to become even more basic, but it looks like in B.1.617.2 the spike is 100% cleaved, so there will be no further optimization. Which is actually very bad news — first, there was a possibility that further evolution for better cleavage could disrupt the superantigen, but now it is stuck in this configuration, second, further gains in fitness will now likely not come from the spike (except in terms of immune evasion), but from the Nsp and ORF proteins, i.e. precisely what we don’t want — that’s where increased mortality will come from.
Also, in principle we could have tried to target the PBCS immunologically in order to block cleavage, but because it is superantigenic, that’s not an option…
Which is not a reason to cheer — as I said, it will never lose it, but more importantly, SARS-1 had not PBCS and was much more lethal. Which can only mean that everything else about this virus is wimpy and attenuated, i.e. if it deattenuates, we are in very big trouble.
As I so often say, it would be better if I were wrong. But winter is coming and we’ll know a lot more soon, like it or not.
1 Luce’s big claim to fame is having been Larry Summers’ speechwriter, which proves he has very high tolerance for outsized egos.