The American Jobs Plan

Here is the White House fact sheet on the American Jobs Plan, also known as the infrastructure plan. See also Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, explained, at Vox.

Yes, it’s now a $2 trillion plan, down from $3 trillion a couple of days ago. It’s not clear to me what was left out. I suspect some things they were talking about a couple of days ago will be introduced in a separate package, but as of right now I’m not sure about that.

Oh, wait, here it is — “The American Jobs Plan is expected to be followed by a second economic package in April that includes a major expansion in health insurance coverage, child-care subsidies, free access to community colleges and other proposals.” So that much was separated out of the main package.

Because I can’t deal with a lot of information all at once, I want to just discuss this piece from Axios, Changes to capital gains taxes omitted from Biden’s infrastructure plan. The plan President Biden proposed today does not increase individual income tax at all, including capital gains taxes. Instead, it raises the top corporate rate from 21% to 28%. Axios says it also proposes “a global minimum tax of around 21% (calculated on a country-by-country basis), cutting a tax exemption on the first 10% of overseas profits and ending tax subsidies for fossil fuel producers.”

I like that last one a lot. See also Biden’s infrastructure plan aims to turbocharge U.S. shift from fossil fuels. Excellent.

The Axios article focuses on speculating why capital gains are untouched. I’m guessing this was a political decision.

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent wrote yesterday about how the Republicans will gaslight the infrastructure package. Their talking points “will revolve around fearmongering about deficits and tax hikes.” They also will “cherry-pick from the package to portray it as stuffed with wasteful boondoggles.”

Possibly the Biden team anticipated this and decided that NO increase in individual income taxes would be harder to gaslight. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, about 7 out of 10 Americans believe corporations are not paying their fair share in federal taxes. Assuming that’s still true, it may be that most Americans aren’t going to get too worked up about the tax hikes on corporations. We’ll see.


Another Police Brutality Trial Fails to Bring Justice

While the nation’s attention is turned to the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, people may have missed another police brutality trial involving a black victim taking place in St. Louis. Yesterday, the jury in that trial failed to deliver justice.

In this case, the victim wasn’t killed, but beaten to a pulp by three St. Louis cops. The twist in this story is that the victim, St. Louis Police Detective Luther Hall, was himself a police officer working undercover. 

Hall told jurors last week that he had a hole in his lip, and pain in his head, jaw, back and neck after the attack. He lost 20 pounds because he couldn’t eat solid food for weeks, and a ruptured gall bladder later led to chronic pancreatitis. He also had spinal surgery, with two damaged discs in his neck replaced by titanium and cadaver bone.

Again, Detective Hall was on the job when he was assaulted. He was working undercover during protests of another miscarriage of justice, the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who had shot and killed a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, in 2011.

When the 2017 incident began, Hall didn’t immediately reveal himself to be an undercover cop because he was trying to do his job.

Hall, who had been recording criminal activity during the protests, became separated from his partner while fleeing officers who were firing pepper-spray pellets and bean bag rounds into the crowd.

The assistant US attorney Carrie Costantin told the jurors that as Hall was complying with orders to get on the ground, he was knocked down, hit, picked up and knocked down again before being attacked with fists, feet and a baton.

Hall said he did not push, fight or pull away from the officers. He said he was stunned.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” he told the jury.

Let us be clear that what happened in St. Louis in September 2017 after Stockley’s acquittal was a police riot. I wrote about it at the time; see Police Brutality in St. Louis.

It appears that last Sunday night, some vandals broke some windows and flower pots, and the police conducted a sweep that covered several blocks. Among those arrested were an undercover cop, who was beaten by his own “brothers.” Another was an air force lieutenant who was standing outside his home, watching. Another was a photojournalist working on assignment from Getty Images. Another was one of the stage crew for U2, scheduled to give a concert on September 16, who got caught in the sweep when he stepped out of a bar.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported at the time,

That incident began when two uniformed officers near the protest ordered the man to show his hands, sources said. When he refused, they knocked him down and hit him at least three times and zip tied his hands behind his back. When he stood up, his mouth was bloodied, the sources said.

Commanders the next day told the officers they had arrested one of their own.

Detective Hall wasn’t the only one brutalized:

A documentary filmmaker from Kansas City, visiting with his wife, said he was knocked unconscious during the sweep. Drew Burbridge, 32, said he never heard orders to disperse until officers started to advance, banging their batons and chanting, “Move back.”

“I turned my camera off and asked if there was anywhere I could go, but I was denied the right to leave,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a part of this.”

Officers ordered him to turn his camera off and get down on the ground, and he complied.

“The only thing I cared about then was putting my arms around my wife,” he said. “I just, I just kept saying: ‘It’s going to be OK.’”

Burbridge said officers then grabbed him by both his arms and dragged him away.

“I just said: ‘I am a member of the media, I am not protesting, I am not resisting,’” Burbridge said.

An officer sprayed his face with a chemical, his head was forced into the ground and an officer ripped his camera from his neck.

Burbridge claims his hands were then bound by zip ties before two officers started kicking him in the back, neck, arm and legs while he lay restrained on the ground. He said he was knocked unconscious on the pavement for about 10 to 30 seconds.

After he came to, Burbridge said an officer lifted his head by his hair and pepper sprayed him in the face again.

Many people — including onlookers and passers-by — complained that the cops told them to disperse but then wouldn’t let them leave.

Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer:

We live in a nation that has always given broad leeway to law enforcement, and I have no doubt that many people reading this — perhaps the majority — will insist that the overzealous police response was nonetheless necessitated by the handful of folks among the crowd who did, most regrettably, commit acts or vandalism or violence. But that attitude overlooks the bigger and most alarming reality of what actually has been happening in St. Louis: A police force determined to go well beyond its public-safety responsibilities to assert an intimidating level of social control, to show who runs public spaces in “their” city — them, and not its citizens — while crushing any dissent targeting its own sordid history of misconduct, including a record of white officers killing black civilians at a rate unmatched by other large cities.

Lest there be any doubt of this last Sunday night, as scores of people were carted away, deprived of liberty, officers marched in formation through the pacified thoroughfares of St Louis, stunning the remaining journalists and onlookers by chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” — both echoing and mocking the protesters in greater St. Louis who have been marching for social justice since the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. A short time later, the city’s acting police chief bragged that “we owned the night.” Left unanswered was the question of whether a community where police own the streets and own the night is, by definition, a police state.

Back to Detective Luther Hall, who ended up having to conduct his own investigation into what had happened to him that night. The trial began brilliantly when an all-white jury was seated. At some point a white juror left because of a “family emergency” and was replaced by a black alternate juror. Possibly someone realized the optics were bad.

The defendants were former officers Dustin Boone and Christopher Myers and current officer Steven Kortebut. Two others cops involved in the incident,  Randy Hays and Bailey Colletta  had pleaded guilty already. Hays had admitted pushing Detective Hall to the ground and beating him with a baton. Colletta pleaded guilty to making false statements to a grand jury about the assault.

The testimony did not make the St. Louis police force look good.

Hays testified against his former colleagues, saying Boone kept his knee on Hall’s shoulder and Korte kicked Hall in the head while he was lying face down on the ground. Hays was questioned about day-after texts justifying the assault during which he claimed Hall had resisted arrest.

Hays insisted that upon subsequent recollection, he was wrong, and Hall did not resist arrest. But defense attorneys representing the other officers seized on inconsistencies in Hays’ previous statements and testimony.  He is awaiting sentencing and faces up to 10 years.

Many other current and former officers also testified during the trial. Uzoma Onwumere, an FBI agent, was a St. Louis police officer in 2017 and witnessed Hall’s arrest and assault. Onwumere testified he watched Myers beat Hall despite being handcuffed.

Sgt. Joseph Marcantano testified he got blood on his hands when he pulled down a neck gaiter around Hall’s face. When questioned by the defense, Marcantano said he never reported what he knew to the Internal Affairs Department.

Naturally, after all this the three defendants were acquitted on most charges. Jurors could not agree on two charges — that Myers had smashed Hall’s cell phone, and that Boone had deprived Hall of his rights. On those charges, the judge declared a mistrial. Otherwise, the jury apparently didn’t have a problem with the cops’ behavior.

At least, Luther Hall received a $5 million settlement from the city of St. Louis last month. Other lawsuits against the city are still pending, filed by citizens who claim police officers used unjustified force against them that weekend in September 2017.

On to Infrastructure

President Biden is supposed to announce his infrastructure plan on Wednesday. It’s a safe bet that Biden’s proposals will be a huge improvement on those of the last (cough) inhabitant of the White House. If you need to review what a disaster that was, see Trump’s Infrastructure Plan: Sell off the Infrastructure from 2018.

And if you need to review the decrepit condition of U.S. infrastructure, see the Council on Foreign Relations, The State of U.S. Infrastructure — words like “deficient” and “antiquated” come up a lot — and America’s infrastructure is decaying — here’s a look at how terrible things have gotten from Business Insider, February 2019.

So we’re way behind on maintenance, never mind needed improvements.

Ella Nilsen at Vox explains what is expected to be in President Biden’s proposal.

The White House discussed an approximately $3 trillion infrastructure package on a call last week with Senate Democrats, but the price tag and final details are still under discussion, a person familiar with the plan told Vox.

Those close to the Biden White House underscore this is a key part of the president’s agenda, and his goal of steering America’s economy toward clean energy and manufacturing. Biden and Democrats see an infrastructure package as the best way to tackle climate change and get the country to net-zero electricity emissions by 2035, by installing more electric vehicle charging stations on the nation’s roads, modernizing the electrical grid, and incentivizing more wind and solar projects. It could be financed at least in part with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

This sounds great to me.

In addition to using infrastructure to tackle climate change, administration officials are planning to introduce a second package that deals with the care economy, including child care and paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten, and free community college tuition, the New York Times first reported and White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed this weekend.

Better and better. Now, let’s talk about getting it passed.

Reconciliation is very much on the table again. In fact, Talking Points Memo reports that Chuck Schumer may try to push through two more bills through reconciliation this year. Yes, two. The covid bill was passed as part of the 2021 budget, which wasn’t passed last year. Another bill could be part of the 2022 budget. And it may be possible to put through a third bill as a revision to the 2021 budget. See TPM for details.

But see also Peter Nicholas at The Atlantic, Why an Infrastructure Deal Everyone Wants May Fail. As usual, within the Democratic Party there is a division between the progressives and the so-called “moderates.” The moderates want to spend less and don’t have the same hair-on-fire concern about climate change that intelligent people do. And the wild card is Joe Manchin, who is making noises about bipartisanship but has given himself plenty of space to land just about anywhere.

Republicans, assuming Republican votes are needed, want to spend a whole lot less and want to include deregulations, assuming there are any regulations left the Trumpers didn’t already kill. “It doesn’t do any good to spend $1 billion on roads and bridges if you can’t get a permit to build the damn road or bridge,” Ted Cruz said. He’s talking mostly about environmental and safety regulations, of course. Who needs those? And, of course, the part about raising taxes to pay for it is off the table as far as Republicans are concerned. And many of them are just whiny little brats.

Consider Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He should be a Republican whom Democrats have a shot at capturing. He is one of seven GOP senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment trial last month. He’s not running for reelection in 2022, so he doesn’t have to worry about a far-right primary opponent. An American Society of Civil Engineers report from 2018 (the most recent year available) found that Pennsylvania’s bridges were 15 years older than the national average and “continue to be in need of repair and modernization.” Nearly a third of Philadelphia’s water mains were installed in the 1800s, the report showed.

But he won’t say he will support the infrastructure package because he’s still pissed about the Dems using reconciliation to pass the covid bill.

Regarding the $3 trillion price tag — I found a Fortune article from bleeping 2016 that said America needs to spend $3.32 trillion to keep its ports, highways, bridges, trains, water, and electric facilities up to date. Biden is proposing $3 trillion to do a lot more than maintenance. I suspect the $3 trillion is just a down payment. But this work needs to be done.

See Greg Sargent, Biden’s next big move could blow up one of the silliest myths in D.C.

You can already see how this game will unfold. Republicans will declare that infrastructure repair could be bipartisan. But Republicans will add both that we can’t spend nearly what liberals want because of the deficit and that we can’t raise taxes to pay for it, because that will be “job-killing.”

But, as I’m sure most of you know, long history and real-world experience has shown us that raising taxes on the rich and on big corporations is not “job killing.” That’s nothing but a myth. And we’re not even talking about all the jobs these infrastructure projects will create. And Republicans oppose any spending that goes to ordinary people, even spending meant to help families (whom Republicans love to claim they support) and workers (ditto).

Finally, see David Atkins, Progressive Priorities Are Good for Democrats in Frontline Districts.

For decades, any time progressives wanted to push the Democratic Party to go big on social democratic priorities, the most common response was this: we can’t do it because it would be bad for candidates in frontline districts.

It was never entirely clear why this would be the case. There was never any real credible polling indicating that voters in purple districts were significantly more concerned about deficit spending than voters in other districts–and in any case, Republicans never seemed to factor those concerns into their own guns-and-butter policy decisions. There was never any indication that purple districts were significantly more opposed to expansion of healthcare–and in fact, the actual policies of the Affordable Care Act have proven very popular even in red states.

Hard-line Republican voters are opposed to anything Democrats do, because that’s what they’re told to think by right-wing media. And right-wing media will be against anything the Democrats do because it’s the Democrats doing it. That’s not going to change.

Maybe going into conservative districts and hiring the menfolk to rebuilt the bridges and hospitals and electric grid would persuade a few conservatives that maybe the Democrats aren’t so bad after all. Maybe. “But whether or not good policy can work as a persuasion tactic, at the very least there’s a growing sense that doing the right thing for the country can both mobilize the left’s voters, and it can do little significant political damage among conservatives that the rightwing media apparatus was not going to do in any case,” Atkins writes.

BOSTON – OCTOBER 16: This is a view of the rusted Long Island Bridge. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Jim Crow: Alive, Well, and Living in Georgia


An elected Georgia state official is facing two felony charges for knocking on a door.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The arrest of state Rep. Park Cannon — who faces two felony charges — far overshadowed the victory lap that Kemp and other Republicans hoped to take with the signing Thursday of Senate Bill 202, legislation that imposed new ID requirements, limited drop boxes and instituted other restrictions.

The image of Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat, being forcibly dragged from the statehouse lobby was hard to watch and the arrest could be legally questionable, since state law protects sitting lawmakers from arrest during a session except for charges of treason, felonies or breach of the peace.

The Hill reported that Rep. Cannon was charged with “obstruction of law enforcement, as well as ‘Preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.’” She had bruises on her arms after the arrest. See more details of the arrest and charges at CNN.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp must be proud.

Brian Kemp

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, possibly.

Yes, I’m angry.

Let’s back up and look at what happened. Ed Kilgore writes at New York magazine,

Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday signed into law a measure passed by Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature to restrict voting rights in reaction to Democratic gains there last year. While it’s not the “Jim Crow 2.0” critics feared — and that earlier versions threatened — the new law shows a determined effort by Republicans to restrict voting in order to claw back power.

The bill imposed a new ID requirement on those wishing to vote by mail and tightened deadlines on mail ballots. It also restricted mail ballot drop boxes, banned provisional ballots for votes cast in the wrong precinct, and perhaps most ominously, allowed for state takeover of election administration from county election boards if it deems such interventions necessary.

The legislation also overhauled rules governing Georgia’s unique general election runoffs, which produced two Democratic wins in January that gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. Going forward runoffs will occur four weeks after the general election, with very limited time provided for the early voting on which Democrats generally, and minority voters specifically, tend to rely. The new law also eliminates special election non-partisan “jungle primaries” like the one held last November to choose someone to fulfill the rest of the term of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons. Now parties will hold primaries before a general special election to fill vacancies. The idea may be to give Republicans more time to recover from the kind of intra-party fisticuffs engaged in by appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler and right-wing challenger Doug Collins before Loeffler’s runoff loss to Raphael Warnock.

As soon as the bill was passed yesterday, Kemp and six white men gathered in his office behind a closed door for the signing ceremony. Rep Cannon knocked on the door to be admitted to the ceremony and was arrested.

See also Five Big Takeaways on Georgia’s New Election Law. The most alarming part is this:

The law allows the State Elections Board to temporarily suspend county elections directors and boards that it deems in need of review. At the same time, the secretary of state will be removed as chair of the state board and will be made an ex-officio, nonvoting member.

Those provisions have raised particular concerns among Democrats, who say that it will give far-reaching control over state and local elections procedures to partisan legislators and allow them to determine, for example, which ballots to count.

So next time, say, DeKalb County’s votes are just way too Democratic, Republicans in the legislature can just swoopp in and change that.

Ari Berman, Mother Jones:

The Georgia House of Representatives passed a major power grab on Thursday on a party-line vote that would remove Raffensperger as the chair and a voting member of the state election board, which oversees the certification of elections and voting rules, and instead allow the GOP-controlled legislature to appoint a majority of the board’s members, including the chair. “This is extraordinarily dangerous,” says Sara Tindall Ghazal, the former election protection director of the Georgia Democratic Party. “When you’re appointing the majority of the body that you’re responsible to, it’s self-dealing.”

The state board, in turn, would have extraordinary power under the bill to take over county election boards it views as underperforming, raising the possibility that elections officials appointed by and beholden to the heavily gerrymandered Republican legislature could take over election operations in Democratic strongholds like Atlanta’s Fulton County, where Trump and his allies spread conspiracy theories about “suitcases” of ballots being counted by election officials in November after GOP poll monitors had left.

“It will make what we all lived through in 2020 child’s play,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, head of Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group started by Stacey Abrams, said on a call with reporters this week. “Donald Trump won’t have to strong-arm our election administrators. The most radical fringes of the Republican Party sitting in the state legislature will be able to wipe out boards of elections, challenge voters because they don’t have the right name according to them or they don’t look the way they think they should look. This is Jim Crow 2.0.”

A coalition of voter’s rights groups have already filed a suit challenging the law.

Voting rights groups on Thursday night filed a lawsuit just hours after Georgia enacted a Republican-crafted law that gives state lawmakers more power over elections and imposes a raft of new voting restrictions.

The 35-page complaint filed in federal court in Atlanta alleges that minority voters will be hit especially hard by the new legislation, which plaintiffs say illegally suppresses voters’ rights in violation of constitutional protections and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. …

… The lawsuit was filed by voting rights groups New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise, Inc., and is backed by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias.

See also Greg Sargent, A scorching reply to Georgia’s vile new voting law unmasks a big GOP lie.

The Problem With Press Conferences

For several weeks I have seen op eds pop up in several media complaining that President Biden hadn’t yet had a press  conference. Most presidents have had one or two press conferences by this point in their first terms, the op eds say. Why not Biden?

So now President Biden has had a press conference. I didn’t see it, but opinions of how well he did depends a lot on the political biases of the observer. The views of Washington Post columnists so far have been favorable; Washington Examiner writers are still spitting out bullet points of objections to everything President Biden said.

What I’m mostly seeing, though, is an indictment of the Washington Press Corps. It appears they asked a lot of stupid questions.

For example, Anita Kumar writes for Politico that none of the reporters asked questions about the pandemic, the signature issue of the moment. Mostly they asked questions they should already have known the answer to, such as where Biden stood on the filibuster or the so-called border crisis.

“It’s the same persistent disconnect we saw between Twitter and newsrooms on the one hand and voters on the other,” said a former Biden campaign aide. “The questions are too often motivated by what personally entertains cable news panelists—like trying to predict the outcome of the 2024 GOP primary. When superficiality crowds out the top issue to the American people… that’s a real failure.”

In other words, they aren’t asking questions about things most Americans want to know. They’re asking questions to provoke a “gotcha” they can put on a cable news chryon.

Jackie Kucinich, Daily Beast:

He was asked several times about the conditions undocumented children face in U.S. facilities after they cross the border. One pointed question asked Biden if he thought the conditions were “acceptable.”

“That’s a serious question, right? Is that acceptable to me? Come on,” Biden said, showing frustration. “That’s why we’re going to be moving 1,000 of those kids out quickly. That’s why I got Fort Bliss opened up. That’s why I’ve been working from the moment this started to happen to try to find additional access for children to be able to safely—not just children, but particularly children to be able to safely be housed, while we follow through on the rest of what’s happening.”

As he finished his answer, he summed up conditions as “totally unacceptable.”

At Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilly slams CNN’s Kaitlan Collins for wasting time with this line of questions:

COLLINS: You made news by saying you are going to run for reelection.

BIDEN: I said that is my expectation.

COLLINS: So that is a yes that you are running for reelection.

BIDEN: I don’t know where you guys come from. I am a great respecter of fate. I have never been able to plan for three and a half years ahead for certain.

COLLINS: If you do, will Vice President Harris be on your ticket?

BIDEN: I would expect that to be the case. She’s doing a great job. She’s a great partner.

COLLINS: Do you believe you will be running against former President Trump?

“To this,” Mathis-Lilly continues, “Biden gave a longer answer which started with the phrase ‘Come on.’”

This is the kind of empty time-filler that the late Tim Russert used to pull on Meet the Press that somehow earned him the praise of other media people. Maybe there should be a general rule that you can’t ask questions about a next election more than a year before it’s gonig to happen.

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post:

The media did not distinguish themselves. By asking about immigration multiple times and echoing the false narrative that Biden had created a “surge,” they showed they were more interested in sound bites than actual news. Their failure to ask about the pandemic, the recession, anti-Asian violence, climate change or even infrastructure (Biden had to bring it up himself) was nothing short of irresponsible. They pleaded for a news conference and then showed themselves to be unserious. They never laid a glove on Biden; they did, however, make the case for why these events are an utter waste of the president’s time.

I don’t think press conferences per se are a waste of time. All politicians should put themselves out there and take questions from the press from time to time. But the next time anyone whines that Biden isn’t holding enough press conferences I’m sending a link to Rubin’s column.

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Is This Time Different?

If you missed Rachel’s rant on the last time Congress tried to pass universal background checks, here it is. Worth watching.

For a reminder of why Joe Manchin has to be treated carefully in spite of the problems he is causing, see Why Joe Manchin Owns Washington Right Now.

See also Is this time different? The latest GOP lunacy on guns demands a tougher response. by Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent at WaPo.

It just so happens that less than two weeks ago the House passed two bills to require background checks on all gun sales transfers and to create an expanded 10-day review of gun sales. Yet both faced nearly lockstep Republican opposition and will inevitably disappear into the black hole of the GOP Senate filibuster.

At a previously scheduled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday on this very subject, Republicans were livid at the mere suggestion that we might do something about the thousands of Americans killed with guns every year.

“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

But the reason it’s theater is the filibuster. Senators don’t need to consider gun legislation in a serious way, because Republicans can and will kill it no matter what it does or doesn’t do.

We’ve reached the point at which Republicans don’t have to seriously do anything except suppress votes, but that’s another rant. Waldman and Sargent go on to quote several Democrats saying that this time feels different, especially with the NRA on the ropes. We’ll see.

Also: Today my seven year old PC is having issues, so I’m getting this post in before I have to start fiddling with it. Wish me luck. It may be time to let this one go to PC heaven and get a new one. Good thing I just got my stimulus money.

Two 21-Year-Old Men Killed People Recently

On March 16, a young man with a head stuffed full of conservative evangelical notions about sex shot and killed eight people, six of them Asian women. The accused shooter is 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia. Yesterday, a young man who appears to have been struggling with and defensive about his identity as a Muslim in America shot and killed ten people. The accused shooter is 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of Denver.

I’m hearing that the Right was joyous when they found out the Boulder shooter was a Syrian immigrant and Muslim. Now they can blame Islam, or terrorism, or both. But I’m not seeing a significant difference between the Boulder and Atlanta shooters, and the Atlanta shooter was a Christian. From what little we know at the moment, it appears they were both confused young men who would have benefited from some psychological counseling. Instead, they bought guns.

I’m not saying either one was “mentally ill,” mind you. I’m not even sure what that means. No one is saying that either shooter was psychotic, although psychosis often presents itself in young adulthood. Assuming Mr. Alissa is not psychotic, I doubt that a serious terrorist would choose a neighborhood grocery store as a target. We may learn more about what was eating at him eventually.

Mr. Long had been a patient at an evangelical treatment center very near the first spa that he targeted. He was there to be treated for “sex addiction.” The treatment center doesn’t seem to be of the sort operating under American Psychological Association guidelines.

HopeQuest has ties to major evangelical institutions and has promoted “ex-gay therapy,” the idea that people can become heterosexual through counseling. Long, 21, who grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist church, was a patient at the treatment facility in 2019 and again in 2020, according to his former roommate Tyler Bayless. … The founder and creator of HopeQuest, Roy Blankenship, was once considered one of the nation’s foremost conversion therapists.

So it’s a quack center, and the “help” Long got there probably made him worse. It’s a damn shame.

Oh, and targeting three different Asian-women-owned businesses in three different locations kind of does speak to Long’s having an issue with racism and misogyny, no matter what Andrew Sullivan thinks.

A number of articles have been published since calling out evangelical “purity” culture as a possible motivator. For example:

 The murders in Georgia represent a uniquely American twinning of racism, sexism, and religion.

“It’s not a jump to say white conservative Christianity played a role here,” said Joshua Grubbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “The facts need to come to light, but all the facts that are in the light right now suggest it’s at play.” …

… gender experts say it’s impossible to understand the role of misogyny in the killing of six Asian women at massage parlors without also thinking about the way sexist stereotypes objectify Asian women. And religious studies scholars say it’s impossible to understand either without looking at evangelicalism.

Please also read Atlanta Suspect’s Fixation on Sex Is Familiar Thorn for Evangelicals by Ruth Graham in the New York Times and Evangelicals Must Confront Their Toxic Sexual Politics by Sarah Jones in New York magazine. At the very least, Long’s “Christian” upbringing failed to teach him that Asian women are human beings, not objects sent by the Devil to tempt him.

Back in 2017 I wrote a post titled Evolutionary Psychology and Extreme Gun Ownership that proposed that American mass shooters, violent gang members, and Islamic men who join ISIS are being motivated by similar if not identical social-psychological factors. One person quoted in the post called them all “street kids drunk on ideology and power.” Again, we don’t yet know enough about Alissa to know if he fits this description.  But certainly there’s some kind of toxic stew that involves extremist, reactionary political or religious views, some sort of fanatical grievance, and young males stumbling on their way into adulthood at the root of a lot of atrocities these days.

And, as ever, there’s just too damn many guns.

Is the Border Crisis a Crisis?

Philip Bump at WaPo provides a really good backgrounder on what’s going on with the Mexican border and how old immigration patterns everyone was used to have been scrambled, possibly forever. It’s worth reading all the way through.

At the moment, there’s no question the number of people trying to enter the U.S. from the southern border is increasing from what it was late last year. However,  that number is still below what it was in May 2019. See this WaPo graphic:

I don’t remember Republicans screaming about the border crisis in 2019, do you? It appears there was one. It’s also the case that the Biden Administration did not inherit falling numbers from the Trump Administration, as Republicans are claiming. The increase we’re seeing now is part of an already established upward trajectory.

The crisis is a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied minors being detained. Right now, there are about 10,000 children with the Department of Health and Human Services, and another 5,000 with Customs and Border Protection. This is double the previous record.

Note that last November a federal judge ruled against the Trump Administration policy of expelling unaccompanied minors. Biden doesn’t really have a legal choice about the unaccompanied minors.

Another complication is the Flores Agreement from 1997, which stipulates that detention facilities for minors meet certain standards and that minors should not be detained longer than 72 hours. Exactly how much the Flores Agreement has ever been upheld I do not know. The Trump Administration totally blew it off, obviously, and got away with it. The Biden Administration is scrambling to uphold the Flores Agreement, although they are still falling short. I assume they will continue to throw resources at the border until conditions are better. I assume bringing conditions up to code is do-able.

The point, though, is that from the perspective of the Biden Administration the crisis at this point is mostly about unaccompanied minors. Currently, other people apprehended crossing the border without documentation are being detained and expelled from the U.S., just as they were under the Trump Administration. This is true no matter how hysterically Jeanne Pirro shrieks otherwise.

Unaccompanied minors are coming here from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador because they are fleeing gang or drug-related violence, including rape and sexual abuse. They are also fleeing hardships caused by economic crises and  crop losses caused by climate change. If they are expelled, many of these young people could die. If they survive, they may be driven into the gangs that righties are always shrieking about.

Will Bunch writes at the Philadelphia Inquirer that the Biden Administration is making a mistake in not allowing more transparency and press access to what’s going on at the border.

The border situation is neither the first crisis facing the new administration nor close to the biggest — not with a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and the related economic crisis leaving 10 million out of work — but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry. Indeed, the Sunday morning talk shows — ABC even flew its panelists to an outdoor location at the border — seemed to openly salivate at a return to the days of swinging at Democrats with a club furnished by the RNC.

With America’s former demagogue-in-chief retired to a golf pasture and banned from Twitter, House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has gamely stepped up to the plate — claiming that “this crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration” and tweeting nonsensically about “open borders” when the reality is instead that thousands are detained. But attacks like McCarthy’s are now driving off-kilter coverage like Sunday’s breathless, four-byline lead story in the Washington Post that centers the notion that Biden’s policies are to blame — with amnesia about the Post’s own reporting last fall while Trump was president that awful conditions in Central America were already driving an uptick in refugees, let alone the role that the inhumane policies of POTUS 45 have played in making things worse. What’s more, overall border crossings right now are similar to 2019 — when Trump was in the White House.

Will Bunch points out that many critics of the Biden Administration are hailing the “success” of Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy that blocked all asylum seekers and left families crowded together in squalid camps south of the border. Apparently inhumane conditions are okay if they’re in another country.

See also EXPLAINER: Is the US Border With Mexico in Crisis? by the Associated Press.

Trump, responding to a massive increase in Central American families and children that peaked in May 2019, expanded his “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. It was unquestionably effective at deterring asylum — less than 1% have won their cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse — but asylum-seekers were exposed to violence in Mexico, as documented by advocacy group Human Rights First and others. Attorneys were extremely difficult to find in Mexico.

Other Trump-era policies included fast-track asylum proceedings inside U.S. Customs and Border Protection holding facilities, where access to attorneys was next to impossible. Agreements were struck with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for the U.S. to send asylum-seekers to the Central American countries with an opportunity to seek protection there instead.

The Biden Administration is expanding detention facilities while working to release children and minor teens to relatives or possibly foster care in the United States. “The Biden administration is also stepping up efforts to have children apply for asylum from their homes in Central America instead of making the dangerous journey to the U.S. border,” the Associated Press says. Long-term, the Biden Administration wants to address the root causes of the violence and economic deprivation in Central America. but that’s probably down the road a bit.

But for right now, the issue is that there is a huge wave of children seeking refuge in the United States, and the previous administration left us entirely unprepared to cope with it. This is not the result of a policy failure on the part of President Biden.

Messing With Texas

I understand the power did come on in Texas awhile back, although it isn’t clear to me if everyone is getting clean water out of their faucets by now. The one thing I do know is that Texas isn’t going to reform the system that caused the power/water disaster last February.

On March 5, the Austin American-Statesman reported that $16 billion in overcharges for wholesale electricity would not be reversed.

The overcharges occurred because the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the grid and is commonly known as ERCOT, kept the prices at the maximum level allowable — $9,000 per megawatt hour — during the 32-hour period. ERCOT should have stopped intervening by then because the power crisis was over and instead let supply and demand determine pricing, Potomac said.

As I understand it, the issue is not that the  $9000-per-hour rate was allowed for the entire time of the weather emergency, but that the rate was allowed to remain at $9000 per hour for 32 hours longer than the actual emergency. Thus, it was a windfall. “Potomac” is “Potomac Economics, a Virginia-based firm that’s paid by the state to provide an arm’s-length assessment of the Texas power grid.”

The Public Utility Commission oversees ERCOT. At ERCOT’s request, it initially set the price at the $9,000 cap — from a market price of about $1,200 at the time — during a specially called meeting Feb. 15 in an effort to incentivize as many generators as possible to keep producing power early in the weather emergency.

I am guessing this is connected to the outrageous bills some Texans got after the power outage. OK, but why can’t the outrageous overcharges be reversed?

Because it’s hard.

“There are always winners and losers on both sides (of a transaction), because that pie doesn’t change size, even if you reprice,” said Randa Stephenson, LCRA’s senior vice president for wholesale markets. “It’s really hard to go back and change the rules when people make business decisions off of them.”

LCRA is Lower Colorado River Authority, a company that was able to keep most of its power operations functioning. I take it they cleaned up, big time.

A couple of days ago, Texas Monthly reported that LCRA and others have nothing to worry about.

While many Texans last week were worried about sky-high electric bills from February’s winter storms, the state’s sole utility commissioner was privately reassuring out-of-state investors who profited from the crisis that he was working to keep their windfall safe.

Texas Monthly has obtained a recording of a 48-minute call on March 9 in which Texas Public Utility Commission chairman Arthur D’Andrea discussed the fallout from the February power crisis with investors. During that call, which was hosted by Bank of America Securities and closed to the public and news media, D’Andrea took pains to ease investors’ concerns that electricity trades, transacted at the highest prices the market allows, might be reversed, potentially costing trading firms and publicly traded generating companies millions of dollars.

“I apologize for the uncertainty,” D’Andrea said, promising to put “the weight of the commission” behind efforts to keep billions of dollars from being returned to utilities that were forced—thanks to decisions by the PUC—to buy power at sky-high prices, even after the worst of the blackout had passed.

But wait, there’s more — the Texas legislature proposed that $5.1 billion of the $16 billion windfall be “reallocated.”  Lt. Governor Dan Patrick advocated doing this, a development that perplexed Texas Monthly, since Patrick really isn’t into doing things. Texas Monthly reported today:

In normal times, the lieutenant governor is most comfortable focusing on red-meat culture war issues, such as bathroom bills and demanding the Star-Spangled Banner be played before sporting events. But as Texas’s second-ranking statewide elected official, one who controls every bill that passes through the state Senate, his job often calls for him to oversee legislative responses to crises. When it does, the former radio host usually becomes a bullhorn, drawing attention to himself and the crisis, and demands private solutions to issues rather than legislative ones that conflict with his conservative worldview.

And, indeed, Patrick seems utterly uninterested in overhauling the stupid “free market” system that left much of the state without power and water for days. But for some reason he has zeroed in on the $5.1 billion as the hill he’s prepared to defend, if not die on.

Little more than two weeks after his press tour, Patrick berated Governor Greg Abbott’s only remaining appointee on the PUC, Arthur D’Andrea, in a rare Senate committee hearing appearance. The lieutenant governor then suspended every rule he could to rush the passage of a contested plan to claw back the $5.1 billion, before encountering opposition from House Speaker Dade Phelan. Finally, after his fight seemed all but dead Tuesday evening, Texas Monthly broke news that D’Andrea had promised to try to protect the windfall of investors who made money off the blackouts. Patrick then revived his push for the House to follow the Senate’s lead and order the PUC to reprice.

Patrick’s trying to do something useful, which is totally out of character, has fueled spectulation that he will run for governor in 2022.

Oh, and D’Andrea has resigned.

What this whole episode reveals, seems to me, is the degree to which the Texas Republicans are more interested in maximizing profits for fossil fuel companies than in providing affordable and reliable energy. If I lived in Texas and had gotten some $10,000 bill for a few days of electricity I think I would be a tad, um, miffed at all this.

And from what I’ve read, no one is seriously considering such reforms as uniting with the national grid or requiring energy suppliers to weather-proof their oil pumps and gas lines. Some bills introduced in the legislature sorta kinda proposed that weatherproofing would be nice, but they did not stipulate who would pay for the upgrades. And there has been no serious discussion of eliminating the unregulated system.

Many Texas politicians are, I’m sure, assuming that the February freeze was a once-in-a-century freak storm. But it probably wasn’t.

Back in February, Ezra Klein wrote an op ed for the New York Times that made two important points:

One, “Climate change promises far more violent events to come.”

Two, “The most common mistake in politics is to believe there is some level of suffering that will force responsible governance. There isn’t.”

The next big unexpected but much predicted actic freeze in Texas could easily wipe out the power grid for months, not days. And that could happen next winter. It’s almost certain to happen while a lot of the bozos in the Texas government now are still in office. And as they stand on  the ruins of many lives and jobs, and the Texas economy in general, they will promise to build back some other Ayn Rand monstrosity of an unregulated system so that their cronies in the fossil fuel industry can get richer. That’s a given.

And I’m not at all certain that Texas voters will demand anything different.

Along these lines, do see In the shadow of its exceptionalism, America fails to invest in the basics at the Washington Post. Excellent analysis of how we’ve been neglecting infrastructure for more than 50 years.

Let’s Try to Do Better

So another mass shooting by some screwed-up white man who decided the answer to his personal problems was to kill women, preferably Asian women. Another Tuesday in America.

With the caveat that anything I say about Robert Aaron Long, the alleged Atlanta spa killer, is speculation on my part — misogyny and racism certainly seem apparent in his actions. I have also read today about the way conservative evangelicalism foments a “purity culture” that could have driven Long to want to kill Asian women who work at massage parlors. (See this analysis at Religion Dispatches.)  According to this theory, Long’s extremely screwed up notions about sex and sexuality led him to see himself as a victim of his own desires, and in his mind he was justified in killing women who were the objects of those desires. Because heaven forbid he should take any responsibility for himself.

But, as I said, that’s all speculation. The more important question right now is how are we responding to the Atlanta mass shooting?

Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Department, showed us What Not to Do. “While hedging a bit, Baker told reporters there was no immediate reason to think that the White shooter had a racial motivation,” writes Margaret Sullivan at WaPo. “Why not? Well, because that’s what the suspect told police, Baker said at a news conference Wednesday.”

This was followed by The Words That Will Live in Infamy: “He was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Baker said. We learned later that Baker had a history of posting anti-Asian imagery on Facebook.

Let us be clear: Screwed-up individuals are always the last people in the world to recognize and understand their own screwiness. For this reason, they don’t get to decide what their deeper motivations are. That’s up to courts and maybe some consulting psychologists. And this applies to both Long and Baker.

For another profile in WTF?, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) spoke today at a House hearing on on violence and discrimination against Asian-Americans. His words are an exercise in stepping in every cow pie in the pasture. He began well enough — “Victims of race-based violence and their families deserve justice,” he said. And then he should have stopped. But he didn’t.

“I would also suggest that the victims of cartels moving illegal aliens deserve justice. The American citizens in south Texas, they are getting absolutely decimated by what’s happening at the southern border deserve justice.”

The conservative congressman continued: “The victims of rioting and looting in the street… last summer deserve justice. We believe in justice.”

And then came an admiring reference to lynchings, a violent and public form of vigilante action that most often targeted people of color: “There’s an old saying in Texas about ‘find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.’ You know, we take justice very seriously. And we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.”

So, in other words, in a hearing about violence against Asian-Americans we can’t just stay focused on Asian-Americans and why they might be suffering from a spike in violence against them. This is a common way to dismiss the victimization of particular groups, by reminding us that a lot of other people get victimized. And all lives matter. Ending on a ode to lynching was an especially insensitive touch.

Meanwhile, we still don’t know the identities of all the victims. Those we do know: Delaina Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44. One man, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, survived.

See also Atlanta spa killings stir even more fear among Asian Americans at Axios.