Crime and Infrastructure

Here’s a story that maybe isn’t getting the attention it deserves —

North America’s biggest petroleum pipeline is in a race against time to overcome a cyberattack that’s frozen fuel shipments before regional reserves of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel run dry.

Colonial Pipeline said segments of its Texas-to-New Jersey line are being brought back online in steps, and substantially all service should be restored by the weekend. The pledge eased some of the most immediate concerns about fuel shortages in major population centers up and down the U.S. East Coast. The question now is whether regional inventories held in storage tanks are enough to satisfy demand while Colonial works on resuming operations.

Several news stories report that the hack was the responsibility of a ransomware gang called “DarkSide.” And several news stories say that DarkSide was really just after some quick cash. I take it they aren’t being paid. Full service probably won’t be restored until the end of the week, though. In the meantime, gas stations in several states could start running out of gas by mid-week.

And the first moral is, this is what 21st century crime looks like.

In an interview with Reuters, a senior official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s cyber arm, CISA, said that the dramatic hack should serve as a wakeup call well beyond the energy industry.

“All organizations should really sit up and take notice and make urgent investments to make sure that they’re protecting their networks against these threats,” said Eric Goldstein, CISA’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity.

“This time it was a large pipeline company, tomorrow it could be a different company and a different sector. These actors don’t discriminate.”

The second moral is, Mitch McConnell is an ass.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled in a new interview that he is open to an infrastructure spending bill totaling as much as $800 billion.

“The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about six to 800 billion dollars,” McConnell told public television in Kentucky over the weekend.

“What we’ve got here can best be described as a bait and switch,” he added.

Awhile back Mitch was saying $600 billion, so $800 billion is up a tad, although still not in the ball park of the proposed $2 trillion. But when he talks about “what most of us think of as infrastructure” he means infrastructure in mostly a 19th century sense — roads, bridges, tunnels. The one concession to modernity is airports. But cybersecurity is infrastructure. Our power grid with all its ancillary parts is infrastructure. Anything that would cause major disruptions in how people work and live if it broke down is infrastructure. And it all needs help. The $2 trillion is just a down payment.

As I wrote in the last post, Republicans are alarmed that low-income restaurant workers aren’t lining up to go back to their old jobs. They refuse to consider that if workers can’t get gas to put in their cars, or transportation generally, or day care for their kids, or someone to watch Grandma, or running water that isn’t toxic, or a lot of other things not classified as “roads” or “bridges,” that gets in the way of being available for work.

In other infrastructure news, President Biden is meeting with Sen. Joe Manchin this afternoon. Without Manchin Dems may have to compromise with Mitch.

Map showing a portion of the Colonial pipeline, which terminates in New Jersey.

Are the Serfs Rethinking Feudalism?

You’ve probably heard the grumbling about businesses not being able to find enough workers. Where I am, this seems mostly to involve fast-food restaurants, although I’ve seen news reports saying that construction and transportation (mostly truck driver) jobs also are going unfilled. Immediately, the blame is put on enhanced unemployment benefits that are allegedly making workers lazy.

Some Republican governors are taking matters into their own hands and canceling the extended benefits to force people back to work. Montana is cutting out the extra $300 and will instead offer a one-time bonus of $1,200 to people who get jobs. This past week South Carolina also announced the end of the $300, but no bonus. Other red states are expected to follow.

I’ve seen a number of articles analyzing the so-called worker shortage that say this situation isn’t so simple. Low-wage food service workers in particular have been rethinking the meaning of life and aren’t that eager to return, especially while the pandemic is still going on. “Many workers still don’t feel safe returning to work during a pandemic. Others don’t want to fight with patrons over health and safety guidelines. Some may have left town or joined another industry while they were laid off and will return when the timing and opportunity are right,” it says here.

(This is from 2014, but I don’t know that things have changed since then — 40 Percent of Restaurant Workers Live in Near-Poverty.)

And maybe some people are reconsidering their lives and how they want to spend them. Here is a hint about which people we’re talking about:

But another way to look at this is there is a great reassessment going on in the U.S. economy. It’s happening on a lot of different levels. At the most basic level, people are still hesitant to return to work until they are fully vaccinated and their children are back in school and day care full time. For example, all the job gains in April went to men. The number of women employed or looking for work fell by 64,000, a reminder that child-care issues are still in play.

Do tell.

There is also growing evidence — both anecdotal and in surveys — that a lot of people want to do something different with their lives than they did before the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak has had a dramatic psychological effect on workers, and people are reassessing what they want to do and how they want to work, whether in an office, at home or some hybrid combination.

A Pew Research Center survey this year found that 66 percent of the unemployed had “seriously considered” changing their field of work, a far greater percentage than during the Great Recession. People who used to work in restaurants or travel are finding higher-paying jobs in warehouses or real estate, for example. Or they want to a job that is more stable and less likely to be exposed to the coronavirus — or any other deadly virus down the road. Consider that grocery stores shed over 49,000 workers in April and nursing care facilities lost nearly 20,000.

See also On this Mother’s Day, the crisis for working moms is hard to miss by Karla L. Miller.

Women suffered major job losses this year — partly because majority-female industries were the hardest hit by the pandemic, but also because no human can sustain the dual full-time duties of caring for minor children and performing a full-time job.

As a one-time single mother, I endorse that. I spent a large part of my adult life in a stage beyond burnout, giving neither my children nor my job the time I wanted to give them, because there wasn’t enough time. The pandemic gave a lot of mothers a blessed opportunity to get off the hamster wheel for a while. For those working office jobs from home, however …

Even in dual-earner families where both parents were able to work from home, it was primarily moms who took the hit in paid hours to focus on children’s schooling and care. Plenty of articles covered this phenomenon, but nothing captured it for me quite like the New York Times photo of a mother on a work call helping her child go potty while, on the other side of the bathroom wall, the child’s father took his work call in a clean, quiet home office.

I am sure there are lots of fathers who stepped up, of course. And I’m sure there are men rethinking their work lives as well.

Here’s another interesting bit, from White House grapples with reports of labor shortage, inflation as recovery picks up steam.

Typically, tight labor markets would correspond with wage growth at the bottom end of the income distribution as firms compete for workers. But economists and administration officials have yet to see that jump, suggesting that a shortage is not a major problem.

I believe that’s saying that the frustrated employers who can’t fill jobs haven’t raised their wages yet. Why is that?

Talk of higher wages inevitably sparks fearmongering over higher prices and inflation. What I want to gently suggest here is that this economy thing isn’t working. It’s not working if it depends on huge numbers of people being grossly underpaid and overworked, stuck in poverty, perpetually falling short in meeting family responsibilities and even getting enough sleep. I say we need to step back and rethink employment entirely. I’m not sure what the solution is, but there has to be a better way.

The Canceling of Liz Cheney

It must be disorienting to Liz Cheney to suddenly be persona non grata in the Republican Party. She’s a genuine GOP scion, as the daughter of Dick the Dick and Lynn “censor the rap music” Cheney.

It’s interesting to me that she and Mitt Romney — another scion — are the ones who are most visibly warning the party to back off of Trumpism. Psychologically they would be less vulnerable to the lure of the Trump cult, I would think, since the party belonged to their families before it belonged to Trump. They probably view Trump as an interloper.

Even so, until January 6 Cheney was an eager team player in the Trump drama. She’s been an eager team player in a lot of GOP dramas. Adam Serwer:

During the Obama administration, Cheney was a Fox News regular who, as was the fashion at the time, insisted that the president was secretly sympathetic to jihadists. She enthusiastically defended the use of torture, dismissed the constitutional right to due process as an inconvenience, and amplified the Obama-era campaign to portray American Muslims as a national-security threat.

Until the insurrection, she was a loyal Trumpist who frequently denounced the Democratic Party. “They’ve become the party of anti-Semitism; they’ve become the party of infanticide; they’ve become the party of socialism,” she said in 2019. Her critics now, such as Scalise and the buffoonish Representative Matt Gaetz, formerly gushed over her ability to bring, as the Times put it in 2019, “an edge to Republican messaging that was lacking.”

January 6 and the Big Lie about the election was a line she couldn’t cross with the rest of the party, however. So the crew that incessantly whines about “cancel culture” is canceling her as fast as they can cancel.

Cheney is not just in danger of being ousted from her leadership position in the House. Republicans in Wyoming are also stampeding to get her out of the House altogether. But she’s not backing down. Charles Blow (“Liz Cheney, We Have a Memory. You’re No Hero.“) notes there has been “bad blood between the Trumps and the Cheneys (her father is former Vice President Dick Cheney) that has existed from the time Trump was a candidate in 2016.”

It’s not just bad blood between the Trumps and Cheneys. David Siders writes at Politico that Trump is hunting down the GOP’s leading families.

Trump has reserved a special fury for the scions of the GOP’s leading families in his attempt to exercise full dominion over the Republican Party.

Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee. Even Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain — who herself has never run for office — has been knocked down, censured by Trump allies who run the state Republican Party in Arizona.

It’s the clearest sign that the modern Republican Party hasn’t just broken with its traditionalist past. It’s shredding every vestige of it.

Trump is still the uncouth kid from Queens who was never accepted into New York’s social elite.

Alayna Treene writes at Axios that Cheney is playing a long game. “In the long term, Cheney thinks her principled stand may not only save the Republican Party but distinguish her as a truth-teller worthy of potentially being president herself one day,” Treene writes. Maybe. I think the old guard — the Bushes, Cheneys et al. and retired Republican patricians like Chuck Hagel and John Danforth — understand that a Republican Party that is nothing but a Trump cult of personality is not sustainable. Liz Cheney, the scion, is still her father’s daughter.

But here’s another thing — the ones standing with Trump refuse to acknowledge that Cheney’s break with Trump is centered on January 6 and Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him. She has articulated this very clearly. Yet you can read one right-wing opinion piece after another about Liz Cheney and never see a word about the stolen election lie or the insurrection.

House minority speaker Kevin McCarthy “wants to get rid of Cheney so he can refocus on gaining the House majority — and the title of speaker — in 2022,” Treene says. According to McCarthy, Cheney keeps going on about Trump’s impeachment, and McCarthy wants to move on and focus messaging on stopping the Biden agenda.

McCarthy is not alone. Byron York, for example, emphasizes that House Republicans forgave Cheney for voting to impeach Trump but have had it with her because Cheney is continuing to “grandstand” on impeachment. York doesn’t once mention Trump’s dangerous claim that the election was stolen from him. But the Big Lie about the election is the issue Cheney keeps addressing, not impeachment.

You see the same thing in other anti-Cheney rants from the Right. The Big Lie is never mentioned. Breitbart, to which I do not link, went so far as to align Cheney with President Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who “have backed Cheney’s family-like style of big government politics.” I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. I think they were just trying to get “Pelosi,” “big government,” and “Cheney” into the same sentence.

Even the few conservative pundits who do acknowledge that Cheney’s central issue is with Trump’s election theft claims still slam Cheney for not moving on. See, for example, Daniel Flynn at The American Spectator, who refers to Cheney as the House GOP’s “scab-picking conference chair.”

Liz Cheney erred neither in condemning the riot nor in castigating Trump’s Ahab-like obsession over his loss but in remaining stuck in January 6 as the calendar moved on for the rest of us. Cheney’s position that Joe Biden legitimately beat Donald Trump, as readers of this column and the Spectator A.M. newsletter know, found endorsement here back in November. Trump lost by 74 electoral votes, after all, not seven. But that argument took place in the media, in courts, and in Congress more than four months ago. Cheney, perhaps more so than Trump, needs to get over this as a resolved question.

Resolved? So what’s with that farce of an election audit going on in Arizona? What about the polls that show 70 percent of Republicans still don’t believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president? (According to Flynn, Trump’s grievances about the 2020 election are no different from “the Obama administration’s Crossfire Hurricane effort to delegitimize Donald Trump’s election that naturally sowed the seeds for his 2020 bitterness.” He’s still claiming that the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference was just politics.)

So that’s the official party line — we must move on from January 6 (even as Republicans try to rewrite the history of the event) and the Big Lie about the election — still being pushed in many quarters — and just move on. That’s the reason Liz Cheney has to be canceled, because she’s just picking at scabs that have healed already. She is in the way of what should be our “100 percent focus” on stopping Joe Biden. This is not about Donald Trump.

Not so fast, says Greg Sargent, who writes that GOP hopes for the midterms depend on both keeping the Trump base and winning back some educated suburban voters who deserted the GOP in the Trump years. He points to a New York Times report on how the GOP plans to use polarizing cultural issues to paint Democrats as the real extremists, which of course is a trick that has worked well for them in the past.  “Republicans are mostly avoiding talking about President Biden’s covid-19 relief bill and plans for big infrastructure investments, because they’re popular,” Sargent writes.

Instead, Republicans are making the midterms all about supposed Democratic plans to pack the Supreme Court, defund the police and open our borders, as well as the Green New Deal, critical race theory and transgender Americans playing school sports.

As the Times reports, Republicans say they will use these issues in part to win back “moderate Republican voters and independents who broke with the party during the Trump years” but have been “alienated” by all this Democratic extremism.

The trick that Republicans will have to pull off is to keep the Trump fires burning brightly for the in-the-tank personality cult base while hiding it where the educated suburbanites don’t see it.

But why might Cheney be complicating this strategy? Because it reveals the radicalization of the Republican Party, in tandem with the GOP base’s continued thraldom to Trump, exactly the figure who drove away those suburbanites in the first place.

Oops. Note that Republican pollster Frank Luntz doesn’t believe the party can pull this off, and that Trump’s Big Lie about the election could cost Republicans next year in the midterms.

So, while most people speaking for the party are trying not to say it out loud, Trump is the basket in which the GOP is piling all of its eggs. And Liz Cheney is not being the least bit irrational when she says this is a bad idea.

It may be that loyalty to Trump combined with voter suppression and too many complacent Democrats will help Republicans in 2022. But there’s no long-term future for a Republican Party that is nothing but a Trump personality cult. There just isn’t. And it’s fascinating to me that so many prominent Republicans don’t see that.

Yesterday I read about a religious cult in Colorado that has been keeping the dead body of their leader in a sleeping bag wrapped with Christmas lights. The leader had been dead for at least a month, possibly several weeks. The followers had believed their guru would lead them into a “fifth dimension,” and her death didn’t seem to discourage them all that much.

I thought the Christmas lights were a nice touch. My point, though, is that people can be brilliant at not seeing the plain truth right in front of them. If one is invested deeply enough in believing in X, it may be that no amount of real-world evidence that X is nonsense will shake that person out of it. You can substitute X with Q if you like.

And the Donald is not going to last forever. When he’s gone, the hollowed-out Republican Party is going to be challenged to remember what it was they were about before Trump came along. Maybe they’ll stuff him into a sleeping bag wrapped with Christmas lights and pretend he’s still there.

Failures to Communicate

By now you’ve heard the good news that Facebook is not going to reinstate Trump’s account, at least for the time being.

But Trump took matters into his own tiny hands. A month ago a spokesperson for Trump announced he would be returning to social media with his own social network platform. Yesterday the birth of the platform was announced —

According to team Trump, the outlet will enable the former president to continue sharing his thoughts and opinions despite being blocked indefinitely from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.

“In a time of silence and lies, a beacon of freedom arises. A place to speak freely and safely. Straight from the desk of Donald J. Trump,” text on a video announcing the launch reads.

Except it’s just a blog. It’s not a “platform.” It doesn’t even qualify as
“social media” because it’s not interactive. It does not allow comments, although allegedly people can share Trump’s blog posts on social media. Allegedly.

Don’t let the fact that this webpage is connected to the internet fool you: This website is awful. The entire “communications platform” is a giant loophole designed to bypass Trump’s various social media bans by letting other people tweet out his message on his behalf. But the integration is gloriously janky.

That’s “janky” in the sense that the “share” and “like” buttons weren’t working yesterday. I’m betting the “donate” button works just fine, though.

Most of the posts up right now are gloating that Liz Cheney is awful and is about to be demoted and that Mitt Romney was “booed off the stage” in Utah, except that I don’t believe he was.

We’ll see if the blog brings back Trump’s social media presence. Meanwhile, Neal Rothschild writes at Axios that Trump’s spell over the media broke once he lost his megaphones. “Social media interactions about former President Trump have fallen 91% since January, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip,” he says.

By the numbers: Clicks to Trump stories fell 81% from January to February, another 56% from February to March and 40% from March to April, according to exclusive data from SocialFlow.

  • Following impeachment, the biggest storylines related to Trump have been tied to Biden administration actions, including news about the border wall; speculation about a Trump social media platform; and news about allies like Rudy Giuliani and Kayleigh McEnany, per NewsWhip.

Between the lines: Trump’s ability to broadcast his thoughts to major social platforms disappeared in recent months, but so too did the imperative for news organizations to cover him.

  • Post-presidency, Trump has tried to get his thoughts out through tweet-like press releases, which only get seen if media outlets pick them up.

“Trump’s social media superpower was never his ability to tweet — it was his ability to get the media to cover what he tweeted,” SocialFlow CEO Jim Anderson tells Axios.

See also Paul Rosenzweig, The Atlantic, Ban Him Forever.

The GOP Crazy/Death Spiral

Remember when Liz Cheney was considered Queen of the Crazy Wing of the Republican Party? Now she’s the voice of reason. I feel disoriented.

Cheney is engaged in open feuding with Donald Trump. Earlier this year House Republicans tried to remove her from her position as House Republican Conference chair, but failed. Now Charlotte Klein reports at Vanity Fair that they’re fixin’ to oust her again, and they may succeed this time. Klein writes that it appears House Minority Speaker Kevin McCarthy will not support her if her leadership position comes up for a vote again, as he did the first time.

Meanwhile, this weekend Mitt Romney was booed at a Utah GOP convention. The crowd yelled that Mittens is a “traitor” and a “communist.” I say anyone who seriously thinks Mittens is a communist should be marched to a reeducation camp. A resolution to censure Romney for voting to remove Trump from office was defeated by the convention, 798 to 711. Still, that’s close.

Both Romney and Cheney have fallen out of favor in the party for one reason — insufficient fealty to Donald Trump. Paul Waldman wrote today:

As The Post reports, in states and counties and cities across the country, the Big Lie of the 2020 election — that Donald Trump won reelection handily but his victory was stolen from him — is being pushed by some who would like it to be moved from conflict to consensus. State and local party officials who admit Joe Biden is the legitimate president are being censured, harassed and driven from their jobs.

Waldman notes what’s been going on with Cheney and Romney, and also Susan Collins:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) defended Cheney and Romney by urging Republicans to accept “differences,” adding: “We don’t want to become like too much of the Democratic Party, which has been taken over by the progressive left.”

Yeah, Republicans don’t want to be taken over by extremists or anything. Brilliant, Susan. But Waldman goes on to explain that there are no genuine policy differences in the GOP right now, as far as they are interested in policy at all. They all oppose taxes and abortion and foreigners and want to pass voter suppression laws. The only thing driving division is whether one accepts that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, or not.

Basically, they’ve all gone crazy.

Their main hope at the moment is to take back the House and Senate in the 2022 midterms, and they are doubling down on Trumpism to do it. “Trumpism,” of course, simply is loyalty to Donald Trump. This is in spite of the fact that Trump lost in 2020. I know; they are telling themselves that Biden stole the election. I wonder how many of them actually believe that, though.

Note that some reason polls have shown that Trump’s popularity among registered Republicans has dipped below 50 percent. Among Republicans, mind you. Trump is what’s going to get ’em out to vote in November 2022?

Last week Jennifer Rubin pointed out that the GOP had raised self-sabotage to an art form. Trump’s efforts to gum up the 2020 Census appear to have resulted in undercounting Republicans. Although red states gained some population, if the count had been done more robustly they probably would have gained more population, and more seats in the House.

As former Obama administration speechwriter David Litt writes in Democracy Docket: “In places like Texas, Florida, and Arizona, many local and statewide officials supported the Trump Administration’s unconstitutional attempt to add a citizenship question to the census, even though the people most likely to be deterred by such a question live disproportionately in those states.” He also noted that the “Florida GOP underfunded census outreach” and that “[Texas’s] outreach campaign operated on what the New York Times described as ‘a shoestring.’” The most remarkable finding was this: “even before the pandemic hit, 24 states were not planning to spend a single dime of their own money encouraging residents to sign up — and 17 of those 24 states were run entirely by Republican politicians.”

Oops. But now we’ve got another example — Florida Republicans rushed to curb mail voting after Trump’s attacks on the practice. Now some fear it could lower GOP turnout. by Amy Gardner at WaPo.

Not only are GOP lawmakers reversing statutes that their own predecessors put in place, but they are also curtailing a practice that millions of state Republicans use, despite former president Donald Trump’s relentless and baseless claims that it invites fraud.

That would be mail-in voting. Not only are Florida Republicans working hard to make mail-in voting more difficult, by limiting drop boxes, for example;  they are requiring Floridians to request mail ballots every other year instead of every four years. This will impact senior and military voters, groups that tend to lean Republican. And when they realized this, some Florida lawmakers tried to make seniors and people in the military exempt from the two-year rule. They were advised that would violate the equal protection clause.

Now E.J. Dionne is talking political realignment. Maybe Biden will be able to poach Republican voters.

Can Republicans begin to claw back some of the upscale, well-educated voters they lost under Trump? And can Democrats expand on the inroads Biden began to make among voters who didn’t attend college?

Democrats hold the initiative, and not just because they control the presidency and narrow congressional majorities. As long as the vast majority of GOP politicians refuse to break with Trump, they will be tethered to his minority coalition. A comeback will be tough if moderate middle- and upper-middle-class professionals continue to associate the party with Trump, far-right extremists and the Jan. 6. attack on the Capitol. It’s why reducing the size of the electorate is the GOP’s most visible initiative.

This creates a vulnerability Biden hopes to exploit. It’s hard to imagine that any Republican will win more of the White, non-college-educated vote than Trump did, so some parts of that electorate are up for grabs. Democrats do not need to carry this group; a shift of five or 10 points among these voters would put the GOP on its heels.

I personally think the GOP is betting the rent money on the wrong horse. At this point Trump’s appeal to voters is not going to grow. If he didn’t expand his base while he was president, he’s not going to do it now.

Of course, a lot will depend on how much of Biden’s agenda will be passed and in place before the midterms. And midterms nearly always go against the party of the president. I believe the last time that didn’t happen was 2002, when Republicans won big the year after the 9/11 attacks. It’s believed this happens because people only vote in midterm elections when they are pissed off. But maybe a whole lot of not-Republican voters will be pissed off next year.

Trump supporters. Los Angeles Times photo

Things Republicans Need to Explain

Back in August 2020, which seems like eons ago, the people of Missouri passed a referendum to expand Medicaid, 53.25% to 46.75%. The referendum wrote Medicaid expansion into the state constitution so that the legislature couldn’t pass a bill to nullify it. This means that 275,000 uninsured Missourians would have become eligible for Medicaid on July 1, except that yesterday the Republican-dominated Missouri Senate refused to appropriate money to fund it. Too expensive, they said.

Note that the federal government covers 90 percent of the cost of people covered under the expansion. Note also that the state is in decent financial shape, mostly because it doesn’t spend money on anything that I know of and has received billions in federal aid from the federal government in the past year. Indeed, as I wrote earlier this month, the state is sitting on more than $1 billion in covid aid, going unused. The notion of spending the money to do somethng for citizens is just too radical for Republicans to process, so they haven’t figured out what to do with it..

And Missouri really needs Medicaid expansion. Many of the rural areas of this state are desperately poor. Rural hospitals are closing because people who use them are uninsured and can’t pay their bills. Ten hospitals have closed in Missouri since 2016, half in southeast Missouri, the poorest part of the state. The Republican who represents most of this area in the U.S. House, Jason Smith, has complained that people living in rural areas deserve health care, too. But I don’t see him proposing to do anything specific and tangible about the problem. The free market ain’t gonna do it alone. If the state would expand Medicaid it would at least slow the death spiral of rural hospitals and save some of the ones remaining.

However, as I wrote last year, these same poor rural counties (big time Trump Country!) voted against the expansion. Someone spent a lot of money sending big, glossy postcards to everyone in the state urging them to vote down the referendum. Taxes will go up! Illegal immigrants will get the benefits! Government-run health care! blah blah blah. Fortunately, turnout in urban areas was strong enough to override the rural vote. But that also means the state legislators who are denying Medicaid benefits to poor rural folk probably won’t be punished for it by their voters.

I expect there will be court challenges to the legislature’s decision, but I doubt anything will be resolved before July 1.

So what I want these Republicans to explain is, what do you think government is for?

If it isn’t, for example, to use tax money to provide things people really need that they can’t get for themselves and which will not be provided by private business, then what is it for? Yes, the Preamble calls for government to provide for the common defense. But it also says something about promoting the general welfare, as I recall.

Paul Krugman writes about Joe Biden’s American Families Plan. The main elements of the plan would provide transformational benefits to millions of Americans, he says, and Republicans will never be able to reverse those benefits. “I mean, just imagine trying to take away affordable child care, universal pre-K and paid leave for new parents once they’ve become part of the fabric of our society,” Krugman writes.

The primary arguments coming from Republicans against these benefits are that raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations will kill jobs, and that the benefits themselves are a huge intrusion into private life. But Krugman painstakingly points out that raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy has never destroyed jobs in the real world, any more than cutting taxes on those same privileged entities has created jobs. And when you compare the tax rates and job availability in other countries, you see the same thing.

However, the Republican obsession with austerity, by which they mean cutting government costs on the backs of the poor, really does hurt the economy.

How can employment be so high in countries with lots of “job-killing” taxes? The answer is that taxes don’t visibly kill jobs — but lack of child care does. Parents in many rich countries are able to take paid work because they have access to safe, affordable child care; in the United States such care is prohibitively expensive for many, if they can get it at all. And the reason is that our government spends almost nothing on child care and pre-K; our outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. put us somewhat below Cyprus and Romania.

Conservatives from Miz Lindsey to columnist Henry Olson have complained recently that the increased unemployment benefits people have been receiving have kept them from going back to work, which is hitting restaurants hard. So we’ve got to squeeze the peasants enough to get them back into the kitchen. This is how conservatives think.

See also Michelle Goldberg’s America Is Brutal to Parents. Biden Is Trying to Change That. In the U.S., trying to balance a job and family responsibilities can be genuinely brutal, and how much it holds back women with children is incalculable. Among other things, Goldberg writes,

There are several reasons our domestic policy has long been uniquely hostile to parents, but two big ones are racism and religious fundamentalism. Essentially, it’s been politically radioactive for the federal government to support Black women who want to stay home with their kids, and white women who want to work.

Without reliable and very inexpensive day care, low-income mothers are pretty much screwed. If they have to pay for day care, taking a minimum-wage job may make them worse off, financially and any other way, than staying home. And if taking a job with no health benefits gets them dropped from Medicaid, they are doubly screwed. I’ve tried for years to explain that to Republicans, and it’s like talking to a lamp post.

So, what is government for? In Missouri, the people decided that they wanted government to expand Medicaid, and government is refusing to do it. Just because. The Republican chair of the state House Budget Committee has been screaming that Medicaid expansion is a “lie” (?) and it’s his job to save the people of the state from the lie, so he worked hard to block it. (I spent some time googling to find out what this meatball is for. I still don’t know.)

And for that matter, I have not heard that Republicans in the Missouri legislature have given any thought whatsoever to the problem of vanishing rural hospitals. They don’t seem to think that’s their problem.

Finally, a President Is Standing Up to Reaganism

Perhaps the most startling thing about President Biden’s speech last night is that it inspired Chris Cillizza to say something pretty much true:

In the course of his address Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden said more than 6,000 words. But,11 in particular — all part of a single sentence uttered toward the end of the speech, were the most important.

There are those words: “My fellow Americans, trickle-down, trickle-down economics has never worked.”

With that simple sentence, Biden sought to officially close the book on the dominant economic theory of the last 40ish years: That success by affluent people at the top of the economy would, eventually, trickle down to the average American. It’s been the theory behind every major tax cut pushed by Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan — including Donald Trump’s 2017 cut — and is so closely associated with our 40th president that the economic idea is known colloquially as “Reaganomics.”

And, to be honest, I’m a tad gobsmacked that that’s pretty much true. Joe Biden is, at long last, the president who stood up to Ronald Reagan and said no. No more trickle down, and no more “government is the problem” crap. Joe offered government as the solution, and his solution is to build back the nation not by going through corporations and billionaires but by directly putting working people to work doing it. Barack Obama almost went there but got wobbly. Joe Biden has declared he’s ready to do it.

David Sander writes in the New York Times,

It will take years to know whether Mr. Biden’s initiative will have the lasting power of the New Deal or the Great Society, or whether it can “change the paradigm,” as he argued a few weeks ago.

Yet it is already clear it is based on the gamble that the country is ready to dispense with one of the main tenets of the Reagan revolution, and show that for some tasks the government can jump-start the economy more efficiently than market forces. Mr. Biden has also made a bet that the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic and the social and racial inequities it underscored have changed the political center of gravity for the nation.

I think the political center of gravity could have changed a long time ago if the Democrats had displayed more vision and leadership instead of remaining stuck in Clinton-era “third way” triangulation crap.

Reuters reports that people agree with Joe: trickle down has failed.

A majority of Americans support measures favored by President Joe Biden to substantially redistribute U.S. wealth, according to an Ipsos poll for Reuters released on Thursday, including tax hikes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage.

The national opinion poll also found that Republican voters were divided over the “trickle-down economics” championed by their party’s leaders since President Ronald Reagan some 40 years ago.

Get that? Republican voters are divided over trickle-down economics. Not-Republican voters have believed it to be a crock for some time.

Even so, last night’s speech was just the opening volley. The war has yet to be waged. Paul Waldman:

… don’t count Reaganomics out. The wealthy who benefit from it, and the Republican Party that still believes in it with every fiber of its being, will never abandon it, no matter how much they might be on their heels right now. It’s an indefatigable zombie, and it’ll be back.

Miz Lindsey has hustled forth to declare Biden’s proposals “socialism,” because that’s what Republicans do these days. But watch out, Miz Lindsey; viewers really liked the speech. CNN says 73 percent said they believe Biden’s proposals would lead the country in the right direction. A CBS poll said 85 percent of viewers approved of the speech.

Of course, people who didn’t watch the speech, which I assume is most Americans, will believe what they are told about it.

I confess I didn’t watch much of the Republican rebuttal. I listened to a little bit of it, and then hit the mute button. I am tired of politicians who do nothing but mouth slogans divorced from reality, and that’s what he was doing. Life is just too damn short.

Going forward, of course, a lot will depend on how much of the agenda is enacted. And that depends a lot on Joe Manchin, unless one Republican senator can be persuaded to support it. There are “secret talks” going on between the White House and Republican senators, Axios reports, I am not optimistic about this.

Open Season on Everybody Is About to Begin

The Supreme Court is about to hear a case that could overturn many state gun control laws and limit the ability of state and local governments to limit firearm carrying in public.

As it says at Vox, this case could make the NRA’s dreams come true.

The case is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett.  As Ian Milhauser at Vox says, “The case involves New York state’s handgun licensing law — a law that has been in place since 1913 — which requires someone who wishes to carry a handgun in public to demonstrate “proper cause” in order to obtain a license permitting them to do so.” There are several kinds of gun permits in New York. If you have a job that requires you to carry large amounts of money and jewels you can get a permit to carry a handgun while on the job, for example. But a permit to carry a firearm in public for no specific reason other than hypothetical self-defense doesn’t rise to the level of “proper cause.”

The plaintiffs in Corlett applied for a permit to carry a gun in public and were denied. They argue that the Second Amendment gives them such a right that the state cannot deny. And the concern, of course, is that the current Supreme Court is right-wing crazy enough to agree with them.

What this would mean is that state permit laws would evaporate overnight. It would be open season on humans in the U.S.

Ian Milhauser provides a brief history of Second Amendment case law, much of which you probably know. Until 2008 the Court took the first thirteen words of the amendment — “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” — very seriously, and determined that the Second needed to be understood not as an individual right but as a provision that allowed for an armed militia.

This makes more sense when you understand that the militia originally organized by Congress in the 1790s was self-armed. The second Militia Act of 1792 provided that every citizen enrolled in a state militia “shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service…” The cost of this was born by the individual.

Obviously, if the federal government put limitations on firearm ownership it would interfere with militia service, which was mandatory for able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 45. You might wonder why the federal government would do that. Well, here is the answer — during the Constitutional Convention, the anti-federalists who were mostly slave-owning southerners were dragging their feet about ratification. In their states the militia was mainly used to keep enslaved persons under control. (Before the Constitution was ratified, militias were entirely under state control, but the Constitution in Article I, Section 8, paragraphs 15 and 16 said that militias were to be organized by the U.S. Congress.) The Second Amendment was worded as it was to mollify the slave-owners, who feared that some day the federal government would disarm their slave-controlling militias.

It wasn’t until the 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller that the Court called arms-bearing an “individual right.” Then in 2010 the Court decided in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second’s limitations on federal power also applied to states.

Now the Court has a big, fat opportunity to determine that state and local governments must allow citizens to carry firearms in public. And I bet they will do it.

The result of this will be that no matter how you and your neighbors feel about it, these people can march through your neighborhood whenever they like. The citizens of your community will have nothing to say about it.

Gun rights advocates march in Richmond, January 2020.

The other result will be carnage. The Giffords Center has a page of data and charts showing the correlation between firearm deaths and “gun law strength ranking,” The Harvard School of Public Health also has published considerable research showing that more guns = more homicides. Allowing citizens to carry firearms everywhere “for safety” means we’re all less safe.

So about the time we can all stop wearing masks we’ll need to start wearing bullet-proof vests. Way to go, America.

Welcome to Another Episode of, Are They Really This Stupid?

Sen. Ron Johnson wants to know why the government is in such an all-fired hurry to get everyone vaccinated.

Josh Kovensky writes at TPM:

In an interview first noticed by Forbes, Johnson told right-wing Wisconsin radio host Vicki McKenna on Thursday, “Why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine, to the point where you’re gonna impose it, you’re gonna shame people.”

“I see no reason to be pushing vaccines on people, and I certainly am going to vigorously resist any government use of vaccine passports,” Johnson added.

Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 in October, as Wisconsin faced a large outbreak. The senator later used that as a justification to avoid getting the vaccine, against CDC guidelines, telling a Wisconsin CBS affiliate that he had no plans to get the shot.

All together now — is he really this stupid?

He may indeed be that stupid. He has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Minnesota. Most of his business experience was gained by working for the plastics company owned by his wife’s family. There’s nothing in his background that suggests intellect. No offense to the University of Minnesota.

If anyone visits this blog and doesn’t already know why the government is in an all-fired hurry to get people vaccinated quickly, do read How a sluggish vaccination program
could delay a return to normal and invite vaccine-resistant variants to emerge. I’m assuming most of you aren’t that stupid.

See also Once again, we’re being held hostage by Republicans’ delicate feelings by Paul Waldman and Nation Faces ‘Hand-to-Hand Combat’ to Get Reluctant Americans Vaccinated.

 

A Time of Revelations

It’s the day after the Chauvin verdict. Even as we heard that Derek Chauvin is guilty, guilty, guilty, we also were hearing about a black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, who had been just killed by police. Details of this new shooting are sketchy. It appears 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was brandishing a knife, and so she had to be shot? Somehow I think there must be other ways to deal with such situations. That’s what we keep saying after every wasted life.

As many people have pointed out, one verdict hardly erases all the injustice that has gone before and doesn’t mean anything will change. It does represent an opportunity for change, however. I think a lot of white people especially who watched this trial (except on Fox News) may have gained some understanding of what’s wrong with U.S. policing.

Chauvin had a history of doing to other detained people what he did to George Floyd — forcing them to lie face down, and then putting a knee on their necks. He had done this six times before, that we know of. People had complained. The Minneapolis police did nothing. Now the U.S. Justice Department has announced an investigation of “the practices and culture of the Minneapolis Police Department,” it says here. Let’s hope some reforms come from that. But that’s just one municipal police department.

This moment has also laid bare the unvarnished racism harbored by a lot of influential people. I mean, Tucker Carlson? He’s gone from supporting racist “replacement” theory to calling the Chauvin verdict “an attack on civilization.” Now he’s saying the only reason the jury convicted Chauvin is that … they feared for their lives? Or that they thought Black Lives Matter would burn down Minneapolis? It’s not clear. Erik Wemple:

Leave it to Fox News host Tucker Carlson to skip past the evidence in search of some way place an asterisk on this moment of racial justice. “The jury in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: Please don’t hurt us,” said the host on Tuesday evening.

What did that mean? As best we can surmise, Carlson was suggesting that a motivation behind the verdict was to head off the the protests that would likely have erupted after an acquittal. “The jury spoke for many in this country,” continued Carlson. “Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case. After nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by [the Black Lives Matter movement], that was never in doubt.” (In fact, the overwhelming majority of racial justice protests have been peaceful.)

Tucker interviewed Former NYC Deputy Sherriff Ed Gavin, who had some constructive and reasonable suggestions for reform. Tucker wasn’t having it.

Wemple again:

When Gavin started to suggest reforms, Carlson cut him off: “How about enforce the law? Do we need to do that? So hold on, wait a second. So, wait, slow down. Do we enforce the law? Like let’s say, people are going through the windows in Macy’s and the cops are just standing there, do they resign?” As Carlson was concluding the discussion, Gavin tried to get in one more point. “Nope, done,” scolded Carlson.

So that’a another revelation. Not that I’d ever confused Tucker for a lover of civil liberties, but this is just bare-assed racism/authoritarianism. Sieg heil, Tucker.

At this moment, Americans have to decide whether they’re with Black Lives Matter or with Tucker Carlson. No fence sitting allowed. Make up your mind. Justice or injustice? That’s the choice.