Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Fixing A Hole

Under the previous regime, every week was Infrastructure Week, usually announced with fanfare to create a shiny object to distract attention from their newest cock-up.

President Biden has come up with a multi-level plan to actually do it.

President Biden will unveil an infrastructure plan on Wednesday whose $2 trillion price tag would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.

Biden administration officials said the proposal, which they detailed in a 25-page briefing paper and which Mr. Biden will discuss in an afternoon speech in Pittsburgh, would also accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy.

The spending in the plan would take place over eight years, officials said. Unlike the economic stimulus passed under President Barack Obama in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president, officials will not in every case prioritize so-called shovel ready projects that could quickly bolster growth.

But even spread over years, the scale of the proposal underscores how fully Mr. Biden has embraced the opportunity to use federal spending to address longstanding social and economic challenges in a way not seen in half a century. Officials said that, if approved, the spending in the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s.

It goes without saying that the Republicans will be opposed to it because of the exploding deficit.  Maybe in the next plan, Mr. Biden should include an investment in short-term memory care since the GOP whooped through all of Trump’s budget-busting tax cuts.

There’s no doubt among anyone that we need this kind of spending on the infrastructure.  Bridges are collapsing, water utilities are dissolving (vide Flint, Michigan), and we are lagging far behind other countries in broadband.  There’s plenty of catnip in it for the progressives — clean energy — and wolfsbane for the right — repealing Trump’s corporate tax hikes.

It’s going to go through a lot of sausage-making by the time it becomes law, and you can be certain that no Republican will vote for it.  But we need it.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Monday, March 22, 2021

Classical Gas

Back in February, I wrote Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) to ask him why he voted against the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation. Yesterday, he — or his office — replied.

I voted against his confirmation because, during his testimony in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I asked Secretary Buttigieg about the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which is almost entirely funded by revenue generated by federal gas taxes. In his response, he was open to increasing the gas tax and has on other occasions signaled support for other taxes; including a vehicle miles traveled tax on electric vehicles. I will never support a tax increase on American families, especially one that disproportionally [sic] hurts low and fixed incomes households.

I replied.

Thank you for your response.

To quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Unlike some members of your party, including the former president, I believe in paying my fair share. In fact, this year for the first time in my life, I am not receiving a tax refund but paying in addition to that which has already been withheld. But as the Republicans are proud to say, this is the greatest country on Earth. Well, if you want to fly first class, you have to pay the fare.

The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. Meanwhile, the fuel efficiency of vehicles has doubled, meaning fewer gallons of fuel are being sold, and the price of fuel, when adjusted for inflation, is close to what it was during the Reagan administration. The federal fuel taxes pay for highway maintenance and construction, and it is in sore need of being done. After all, the Trump administration promised infrastructure reform nearly every time they needed a talking point, yet they proposed nothing. Our roads and bridges are crumbling before our eyes. What solution have you proposed to replenish the fund other than raising the gas tax? Let’s hear it.

I am glad to hear you are concerned about the needs of low-income families. One way to alleviate the burden would be to raise the federal minimum wage like they’re doing in the state you represent. That way your concern about their ability to pay more at the pump would seem to be genuine. So far, you have been against it
.
I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you voted against Mr. Buttigieg for the reasons you stated, not because he is openly gay.

I’ll let you know if I hear back.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday Reading

A Big Effing New Deal — Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker says that the American Rescue Plan is the most progressive use of the economy in decades.

Traditionally, every new Democratic President starts out by passing a big economic package (and every new Republican President starts out by passing a tax cut). Jimmy Carter’s, in 1977, cost twenty billion dollars. Bill Clinton’s, in 1993, was mainly a tax increase, aimed at eliminating the federal deficit. Barack Obama’s, in 2009, which passed during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, cost eight hundred billion, some of it spending increases, some tax relief.

The American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed last week, is on an entirely different scale. It will cost the government $1.9 trillion, even though the economy today is in better shape than it was when Obama took office; and, unlike Clinton’s opening economic initiative, it is proudly indifferent to the size of the federal deficit. The law’s most famous feature, its fourteen-hundred-dollar payments to individuals (meaning that many families will wind up with much more), is only the beginning. There are also extensions of eligibility for unemployment benefits and food stamps; debt relief for renters; subsidies for state and local governments that are out of money, so that they can continue to provide services; a bailout for insolvent pension funds; health-care subsidies; and a nearly universal child-care benefit.

The left’s disappointments with the adjustments necessary to get the bill through the Senate—it doesn’t raise the federal minimum wage, and the cash value of unemployment benefits was reduced—should not obscure the important point. This is the most economically liberal piece of legislation in decades. It is not just much bigger than but different in kind from the Obama Administration’s version, which helped people mainly through end-of-year tax credits. Biden’s bill was designed to send regular monthly checks to millions of American families, so it will be palpable that the government is helping them in a tough moment. Gone are the work requirements, the sensitivity to the risk of inflation, and other centrist concerns that have been at the heart of Democratic programs for decades. The side that always seemed to lose the argument within the Democratic Party has finally won.

In 2009 and again in 2020, the Federal Reserve drew the assignment of staving off a depression, which it did by keeping interest rates low and by buying many billions of dollars in financial instruments to prevent the markets from collapsing. Those maneuvers meant that people in finance, and, more broadly, people who have secure employment and assets in the markets, were spared the severe pain felt by millions of working people. Only Congress has the tools to provide direct help to the people most in need. That it is now able to act, quickly and effectively, is a sign that our democracy isn’t as completely broken as a lot of people have been assuming, and that government can moderate the grotesquely unequal effects of the pandemic on people’s well-being.

A year ago, nobody was predicting that Joe Biden would be presiding over a neo-New Deal. His long career didn’t seem to indicate it, and he was clearly not on the way to having large majorities in both houses of Congress, as Franklin Roosevelt did. So how did this happen? The obvious answer is the pandemic, which generated the sense of urgent, universal crisis that the American system requires in order to make major changes. It’s less obvious, but just as pertinent, that the response to the 2008 financial crisis is now seen as having been woefully insufficient, in ways that led to years of unnecessary suffering and a populist political revolt that disrupted both parties. It feels as if half a century’s effort to reorient the political economy away from the state and toward the market may finally have run its course.

No Republicans voted for the American Rescue Plan—it would not have passed if the U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia had turned out differently—but the G.O.P. still played a part in what happened last week. The Party’s new sense of itself as a competitor for working-class votes meant that it was supporting major covid-relief programs through last year; the Democrats had to top the Republicans’ performance. And, their votes aside, the Republicans have chosen not to wage a full-scale rhetorical war on the new law, perhaps because polls show it to be highly popular. Because the law provides such immediate and tangible help to most Americans, it’s more difficult to campaign against than the 2009 relief effort was. Two generations’ worth of modest Democratic anti-poverty programs have foundered because their opponents portrayed them as mainly benefitting minorities; Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the welfare benefit that primarily assisted children of single mothers that Bill Clinton ended, both representing tiny fractions of the federal budget, are leading examples. Now, because the economic pain is so widespread, the new law has a very large and racially diverse group of beneficiaries, which ought to make it less vulnerable to the familiar attacks on social programs.

Yet the American Rescue Plan is actually a kind of economic appetizer. Its most progressive provisions—notably the child allowance, a monthly check of up to three hundred dollars per child, which would be the first true guaranteed family-income program in the United States, and would cut child poverty nearly in half—are temporary, expiring by the end of the year. The main course is what may be called “the Build Back Better bill,” soon to be unveiled by the White House. It will be bigger and more permanent, representing a real remaking of the government’s role in the economic lives of ordinary Americans. But that’s only if it passes.

The bill that Biden signed into law last week had the advantage of a deadline, because the Trump Administration’s pandemic-aid programs were due to expire in March. Build Back Better may contain large infrastructure programs, green-energy programs, and wealth taxes—a long list, with most of its items lacking the rescue plan’s pandemic-induced sense of crisis management. The new bill’s fate will depend on Americans embracing the idea that the reason the misery of the pandemic may finally be abating is that government can solve problems. Republicans, accustomed to caricaturing Democratic programs as élitist schemes created by a party that doesn’t care about ordinary people, will have to feel too intimidated by their constituents’ appreciation for the American Rescue Plan to stage an all-out assault on the new bill.

It is not yet time to celebrate. It is time to prepare for a months-long campaign with the highest possible stakes: a new social compact, which might finally bring an end to forty years of rising inequality.

Carl Hiaasen hangs it up at the Miami Herald.

Let’s get it over with.

This is my last column for the Miami Herald. I didn’t plan to write about that because there’s actual news to be covered, but my dear friend Dave Barry told me I’d look like a jerk if I didn’t say some sort of goodbye.

So here goes. I grew up reading the Herald and what was then the Fort Lauderdale News, my parents holding this radical notion that being factually informed would help us develop into conscientious, fully functioning citizens.

I fell for newspapers and ended up at the University of Florida’s journalism school, still one of the best. The Herald shelved my first job application, but in the summer of 1976 I got hired as a city desk reporter.

Reubin Askew was governor, and a harmless fellow named Gerald Ford was president only because the paranoid criminal who preceded him had been forced to resign, and the criminal president’s criminal vice president had also quit after getting busted for taking bribes.

Those were the days when all of us wanted to be Woodward or Bernstein.

Meanwhile, South Florida was growing into an outrageously fertile news mecca — weird, violent, drug-soaked, exuberantly corrupt — and eventually I landed on the Herald’s epic investigations team.

Years later, my oldest son, Scott, was doing that same job for the paper. I wasn’t always good at telling him how proud I was, so I’m telling him again now.

I was equally proud of my only brother, Rob, a columnist and editor who was murdered with four co-workers when an angry gunman charged into the Annapolis Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28, 2018. Rob’s family and mine will be forever grateful to the hundreds of you who reached out to us after that heart-crushing day.

Most opinion columnists start out as street reporters, an experience vital to understanding how things really work as opposed to how they should. My own approach to the column — drawn from the incomparable Pete Hamill, Mike Royko and others — was simple: If what I wrote wasn’t pissing off somebody, I probably wasn’t doing my job.

Take a sharp-edged stand on any issue, and the other side seethes. Show me a columnist who doesn’t get hate mail, and I’ll show you someone who’s writing about the pesky worms on his tomato plants. The detestable first-person pronoun will likely appear in this column more times than in the archive of my last three decades combined.

Nobody becomes a journalist because they yearn for mass adoration. Donald Trump didn’t turn the public against the mainstream media; the news business has never been popular. We’re tasked with delivering information that some readers don’t want to hear, and will claim not to believe.

Lyndon Johnson blamed the press for turning Americans against the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon blamed the press for overblowing Watergate. Trump blamed the press for everything except his bronzer.

The internet has made it easier to wage war on the truth. Yet, as shown by the Capitol uprising of selfie-snapping Trump rioters, social media also serves to lure the dumb, deluded and dangerous into the open. Seeing them all offers important, if unsettling, clarity.

I’ve done this column since 1985. No idea how many. No particular favorites, no regrets. Slash-and-burn was the only way I knew to do it.

Even the satirical pieces could be scalding, but that’s what those who betray the public trust deserve. When somebody got caught selling their commission vote under the table, or stealing outright, I felt morally obliged to write something that would make them choke on their corn flakes the next morning.

Once I called Miami City Hall a “bribe factory,” and another time described Tallahassee as a “festival of whores.” Too subtle? Possibly.

One time, the Legislature authorized random drug tests for state employees. Lawmakers mysteriously exempted themselves, so I offered to personally pay a big lab so that every one of them, including the governor, could pee in a cup.

No volunteers. Wonder why.

Another time the then-publisher of the Herald, a very decent guy named Dave Lawrence, said he might run for governor. I wrote a piece suggesting he’d “lost his marbles,” and nicknamed him Publisher Loco.

I didn’t get fired, and Dave let the column run exactly as written. A different publisher once did try to kill one of my columns, failed, and soon departed for a new career in a new line of work.

That wouldn’t happen at most papers, which is one reason I never wanted to go anywhere else. Another reason: It’s hard to put your heart in this job if you don’t have lifetime roots. My friend Hamill never gave up on New York, and that’s how I feel about Florida.

Progress, if it happens, is slow. When I was a kid, hardly anyone running for office talked about the Everglades. Meanwhile, the part that wasn’t disappearing under pavement was being used as a free latrine by corporate agriculture and subdivisions.

These days, billions are being spent trying to save the besieged River of Grass, and every ambitious candidate — Democrat or Republican — waxes rapturously about it. A few of them might actually be sincere, but all of them know how to read the polls.

It would be lovely to report that other things have also changed for the better, but Florida’s wild places and clearest waters are still under assault from overdevelopment, opioids are killing more people than coke or street heroin ever did, racism thrives likes a fungal rash and corruption is more rampant than ever.

Millions of worried seniors are still awaiting COVID inoculations because they don’t live in gated communities full of rich Republicans writing checks to the governor’s re-election committee. Then again, who’s really surprised that a resort like Ocean Reef gets special vaccine shipments while regular folks in nearby Florida City get to sit in their cars for hours, praying the supply doesn’t run out?

As you read these words, some scrofulous tunnel rat in public office is busy selling your best interests down the road. It might be happening at your town council, zoning board, water district, or county commission — but it is happening.

Certainly there are those with guts and unshakeable integrity in both political parties, but theirs is an uphill slog — and often they don’t last long.

Retail corruption is now a breeze, since newspapers and other media can no longer afford enough reporters to cover all the key government meetings. You wake up one day, and they’re bulldozing 20 acres of pines at the end of your block to put up a Costco. Your kids ask what’s going on, and you can’t tell them because you don’t have a clue.

That’s what happens when hometown journalism fades — neighborhood stories don’t get reported until it’s too late, after the deal’s gone down. Most local papers are gasping for life, and if they die it will be their readers who lose the most.

The decision to leave now is mine. It’ll be strange not having my Thursday deadline, but I’ll never stop writing about this bent, beautiful, infuriating state. Fortunately, all the scammers and greedheads remain vastly outnumbered by caring, thoughtful people who fiercely love what’s left of this place.

Thanks to all of you who buy enough of my gonzo novels that I don’t have to depend on a pauperizing newspaper pension. Thanks also for the heaps of mail, including the letters with prison postmarks.

I owe a special debt to Bob Radziewicz, who retired from the newsroom years ago but has continued editing my column out of friendship and perhaps sentimental curiosity. Same goes for my op-ed page editor, Nancy Ancrum, who’s always been there to gently remind me this is a family newspaper — please calm down and keep it clean.

Finally and most important, I’ve got to thank the Herald and its streaming cast of talented, tenacious editors and reporters. Their superb, solid work always made my job easier.

Now someone else can come along and do it better.

Doonesbury — Getting your facts free.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Today’s Chutzpah

Taking credit for a bill you voted against.

Before the House gave final approval to a $1.9 trillion stimulus package on Wednesday without any Republican support, Speaker Nancy Pelosi admonished Republicans for their opposition to the measure, declaring, “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”

As if to make her point, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, tweeted approvingly just hours after the bill passed about the $28.6 billion included for “targeted relief” for restaurants. His post did not mention that he had voted no.

“I’m not going to vote for $1.9 trillion just because it has a couple of good provisions,” he later told reporters.

Mr. Wicker’s post received an unwelcome reception on Twitter, prompting thousands of responses, many of them pointing out that he had voted against the measure, known as the American Rescue Plan.

A lot of Republicans are going to try to horn in on the credit, like they did with Obamacare and the 2009 stimulus, but I’m hoping that their next opponent in the 2022 race will remind the electorate that they voted against it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Deflection

The House is about to pass the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill which will have a huge impact on our economy and take us a long way to ending the pandemic.  Yet the bill will be passed with 0 GOP support.  Instead, they’re still upset about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.

According to polling in several places, 79% of Americans support the bill, including 59% of Republicans.

Then again, this is the party that sold its soul to a grifter who lost them the House, the Senate, and the White House and is still shaking them down for money.

Yeah, I think they would be looking for any form of deflection.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Take The Win

The $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill goes back to the House tomorrow to reconcile the differences between the version they sent to the Senate.  If all goes well, Biden will be able to sign it by the end of the week.

But some folks are already complaining that he went too far to get the bill through the Senate and caved on certain items, which proves that there’s always going to be someone who just can’t take the win and move forward.

During the debate, Senate moderates narrowed the bill’s federal stimulus payments, lowering the income cap on which Americans qualify for a $1,400 payment. And after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the Democrats could not include a $15 minimum-wage increase, an amendment Friday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to try to add the provision back into the package fell far short of the necessary votes — with seven Democrats and one independent voting against the wage increase.

The sizable Democratic pushback against the measure came as a blow to liberals, who had previously griped that their agenda was being thwarted by just one or two of the centrists.

Moderates also whittled down the bill’s unemployment insurance benefits not once but twice — initially from the $400-a-week levels Biden wanted and again, in an effort to bring onboard Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), from the compromise reached for $300-a-week benefits extended through early October. Ultimately, the Senate approved $300 a week through Sept. 6.

The relief bill also offered a glimpse at how, in an evenly divided Senate, a single lawmaker — in this case, Manchin, who represents a state that Biden lost by nearly 40 points — can grind legislating to a virtual standstill. On Friday, the Senate set a record for the longest roll-call vote, holding open a tally on Sanders’s minimum-wage amendment for 11 hours and 50 minutes while Democrats, including Biden, scrambled to woo Manchin over the disagreement on the size of unemployment benefits.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally who voted against Sanders’s minimum-wage amendment, described “some new dynamics” in the Senate majority requiring what he called “serious efforts” on issues ranging from immigration to infrastructure.

“This was a reminder that in a 50-50 Senate, if any one member changes their mind on an amendment or vote or an issue, it can change the outcome,” Coons said.

Democrats are grappling with other challenges, as well. There is significant dissent within the party over whether to abolish or overhaul the filibuster, a procedural maneuver that allows the minority party to block a final vote on Senate legislation by requiring a 60-vote threshold to continue.

Liberals are increasingly pressuring Biden and Vice President Harris to support scrapping the filibuster, arguing it hampers the administration’s chance of achieving campaign promises on issues including climate change, gun control, immigration and voting rights. But others, including Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), have said they do not support a repeal of the filibuster.

I realize that this is how the system works, and it is designed that way, but it still irks me that given the fact that over 140 Republicans in the House and almost all of the Senate GOP has yet to acknowledge that Joe Biden actually won the election, some people expected a 60-vote win and the $15 an hour minimum wage. Whereas the Democrats have to deal with a centrist coalition the progressives, at least they can talk reasonably with them. But expecting them to basically negotiate with MAGA terrorists will not get the job done, so you might as well do what it takes to work around them. Trust me, if the Republicans were in the same position, the filibuster would be a relic in some history book and they’d be whooping through their shit without a second thought, then move on to banning Black people from voting and liberating the Seuss Six.

The Republicans are lying in wait for the next move, be it voting rights or statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico.  So my advice to the Democrats is to think like they would — at least in terms of parliamentary procedure — and get going.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Happy Friday

I’ve now had my second shot of the vaccine — much thanks to the good people at Jackson South Hospital in Kendall, Florida — but I’m not taking off my mask until the CDC says it’s okay.  And I sure as hell ain’t gonna listen to the grifter in Tallahassee who sells out the citizens who need it the most to the ones who give him the most.

The Senate is beginning debate on the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill after Sen. Ron Clownshoes Johnson of Wisconsin demanded that the bill be read out loud in its entirety.  Apparently he’s not mastered the skills most kids learn in Grade 1.  When the Senate voted to move ahead with the debate, not a single Republican voted to do so, requiring Vice President Harris to cast the deciding 51-50 vote.  Thanks for the oppo research, Mitch.

The Capitol was not invaded by hordes of lunatics yesterday to demand the seating of their cheese-colored leader.  They were too busy digging through their mom’s basement to find their old Dr. Seuss books because they heard they had “racy” contents.  Actually, they have “racist” images, but hey… racy / racist…

And some intrepid reporter wanted to know if the Biden White House should be giving credit to the Trumps for getting the ball rolling on getting all those vaccines out to America.  Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s reply was perfect:

“I don’t think anyone deserves credit when half a million people in the country have died of this pandemic”

And finally, a visitor to my backyard.  “Egrets… I’ve had a few…”

Thursday, March 4, 2021

It’s Called Compromise

Via the Washington Post:

President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a concession to moderate Senate Democrats as party leaders moved Wednesday to lock down support and finalize the sweeping legislation.

Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels compared with the way the direct payments were structured in Biden’s initial proposal and the version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday.

The change came as the Senate prepared to take an initial procedural vote to move forward on the bill as early as Thursday. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders were scrambling to keep their caucus united since they cannot lose a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate if Republicans unite against the legislation.

[…]

Still, liberal lawmakers bristled at the new changes. House liberals have suggested it could be difficult for them to approve the package if it’s watered down significantly in the Senate. Presuming the Senate passes the package later this week, it still would have to go back to the House for final approval.

“I don’t understand the political or economic wisdom in allowing Trump to give more people relief checks than a Democratic administration,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “People went far too long without relief last year — if anything we should be more generous, not more stingy. It’s also an insensitive compromise for the roughly 80 percent of Americans that live in urban areas, which are known for higher costs of living.”

Biden acknowledged in his comments to House Democrats that “I know we’re all making some small compromises,” but he argued that staying united to pass the relief bill, his first major piece of legislation, would help restore the public’s faith in government and open the door to further successes.

“It’s a show of strength,” Biden said. “We know how much we have to do but it all starts here, it starts by bringing this home.”

Anyone who thought that the bill would sail through Congress untouched doesn’t understand the basics of how our system works. Yes, it would be nice to get everything you want, but it wasn’t going to happen. Even if the Democrats had more than 60 votes lined up to pass their laws, there would still be changes. For whatever reason, be it

This is one of the most maddening things about some of our progressive true believers: it doesn’t make them a whole lot different than their opposite numbers on the right. “All or nuthin’!”

Our history is replete with compromises. Some were reasonable, some were tragic, but unless you want a dictator who rules by edicts and fiat, it’s how it works.

At least this bill has a very good chance of passing. I don’t hold out the same hope for HR 1, the Voting Rights act.

The House late Wednesday night passed expansive legislation to create uniform national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws and outlaw partisan redistricting, advancing a centerpiece of the Democratic voting rights agenda amid fierce Republican attacks that threaten to stop it cold in the Senate.

The bill, titled the “For the People Act,” was given the symbolic designation of H.R. 1 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and it largely mirrors a bill passed two years ago in the early weeks of the House Democratic majority.

This year, however, the bill has taken on additional significance because of the new Democratic majority in the Senate and President Biden’s November win, as well as the efforts underway in dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures to roll back voting access in reaction to former president Donald Trump’s loss and his subsequent campaign to question the election results.

Democrat after Democrat said this week that the GOP’s state-level efforts made it more important than ever to act at the federal level to preserve expansive voting laws. Many invoked the gains won in the 1960s civil rights movement by activists including John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who died of cancer last year.

[…]

The bill has become a lightning rod for Republican opposition, spurring claims that it is a partisan attempt to rewrite federal election laws in Democrats’ favor. No Republicans voted for the bill in 2019 or Wednesday night, when it was approved 220 to 210.

“It is not designed to protect Americans’ vote — it is designed to put a thumb on the scale in every election in America, so that Democrats can turn a temporary majority into permanent control,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said during floor debate Tuesday. “It is an unparalleled political grab.”

The Republicans’ main objection to the bill is that it would allow minorities and poor people to vote. As they have proven time and again for the last fifty years, the GOP loses when all the voters vote, so the only recourse they have is Jim Crow and insurrection.

The bill will not pass the Senate in any form as long as there is the filibuster, and a lot of states run by Republicans are frantically passing draconian laws to hobble the voting system. In Georgia, for example, a provision of their new law makes it a misdemeanor to give food and water to voters standing in line. The only ancillary benefit to its defeat is that it will provide footage for campaign ads.

I don’t think that’s what John Lewis had in mind when he marched across the Edmund Pettis bridge. But I’m pretty sure he would have tried to work with the Republicans to get something done.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Power Failure, Part II

Not only are people freezing in the dark in Texas and Oklahoma, it was all avoidable.

When it gets really cold, it can be hard to produce electricity, as customers in Texas and neighboring states are finding out. But it’s not impossible. Operators in Alaska, Canada, Maine, Norway and Siberia do it all the time.

What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.

It’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices,” said Matt Breidert, a portfolio manager at a firm called TortoiseEcofin.

And yet the temporary train wreck of that market Monday and Tuesday has seen the wholesale price of electricity in Houston go from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000. Meanwhile, 4 million Texas households have been without power.

As I said before, I’ve lived in places where below-zero temperatures in winter are the norm, and the utility companies were ready for it. I’ve also lived in places where they get hurricanes, and to some degree the utilities were ready for it was well, acknowledging the fact that when the storm hits, power is going to be disrupted.

Of course there was an attempt by the nutsery to blame it all on wind turbines — not only do they kill all the birds and cause cancer, they don’t work in the cold. That’s news to Denmark, where they work just fine, and Copenhagen isn’t exactly a beach town in February.

But wind accounts for just 10 percent of the power in Texas generated during the winter. And the loss of power to the grid caused by shutdowns of thermal power plants, primarily those relying on natural gas, dwarfed the dent caused by frozen wind turbines, by a factor of five or six.

I suspect that there are more than a few politicians and government office holders in Texas who either directly or indirectly have a hand or got a hand-out from the energy companies, working to deregulate and let the free market ring. But it’s really rather cold — pun intended — to give customers cheap energy but do it on the cheap.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Happy Friday

Eleven Republicans, including three from South Florida, voted to strip the Q-Anon nutter of her committee assignments.  So that’s something.

Johnson & Johnson is applying for emergency authorization from the FDA to release their single-shot vaccine.

And after pulling an all-nighter, the Senate passed the budget bill for the $1.9 billion coronavirus relief bill.

Meanwhile, the ibis crowd stopped by for lunch.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Listen Very Nicely

Via the Washington Post, the sane wing of the GOP is proposing a compromise on Biden’s proposed $1.6 trillion Covid-19 relief bill.

The group announced plans Sunday to release an approximately $600 billion coronavirus relief package as a counter-proposal to Biden’s much larger plan, posing a test for the new president who campaigned on promises to unify Congress and the country.

The senators, led by Susan Collins (R-Maine), said they would formally unveil the plan on Monday, and they requested a meeting with Biden. Biden and Collins subsequently spoke, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced late Sunday that the president had invited the 10 Republican lawmakers to the White House “for a full exchange of views.”

The meeting will take place on Monday, according to two people with knowledge of the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.

The planned meeting comes even as Democrats prepare to move forward this week to set up a partisan path for Biden’s relief bill, which Republicans have dismissed as overly costly given some $4 trillion Congress has already committed to fighting the pandemic, including $900 billion in December.

They can exchange all the views they want, and it certainly is a better approach than not even being open to discussion. But I would rather that the president stick to his guns, however politely, and demonstrate unity by getting the GOP to come over to his side. After all, he won the election, and we have been told endlessly by the Republicans that elections have consequences and that the winner should never give an inch.

I’m sure there are some things in Biden’s proposal that could be pulled out and worked into another bill. And I’m pretty sure they stuck some things in there that are sacrificial lambs. But it would be foolish in the extreme if the Democrats were to agree to go with the GOP proposal versus their own, and I’m very sure that won’t happen.

But at least they’re willing to talk, which is better than having to negotiate via Twitter.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Reading

Tell The Whole Story — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

One of the most quoted lines in American nonfiction is Joan Didion’s “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It’s the first sentence of “The White Album,” an essay in which Didion recounts some facts, some images, and some reporting notes from 1968. Didion felt that she had lost the ability to string the stuff of stories into narratives, and, as a result, life itself seemed to drain away. She was plagued with symptoms that were variously interpreted as neurological or psychiatric—or, after the fact, by Didion herself, as a normal reaction to 1968, which could have given anyone a case of vertigo and nausea. Outwardly, she appeared to function, except when she didn’t, when her mind was besieged by disconnected phrases and an overwhelming sense of existential dread, apparently insurmountable for being well founded.

Nations, in this way, are like people: they cannot survive without a story. A common sense of past and future, a broad agreement on organizational principles, trust that your neighbors near and distant share a general understanding of reality and current events—all of these are necessary for any kind of politics to function. American politics right now are like Didion’s life in 1968: a jumble of fragments, a thin veneer of functionality, and an abyss of well-founded existential fear. At this moment, we are deciding whether we will try to forge a coherent story.

During the first impeachment of Donald Trump, in November, 2019, I wrote that it was impossible to observe the hearings without first choosing between two non-overlapping views of reality, two different stories. In one story, Trump had repeatedly abused power and was finally facing impeachment for a particularly egregious incident of abuse. In the other, Democrats had been trying to get Trump for years and had finally latched on to an inconsequential incident, staging a witch trial to get rid of the President. This week, the Republican Party is still closing ranks around the President, with a mere ten exceptions in the House. Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, like the first, was legible only through one of two frames: either Trump organized an attempted coup and was being impeached for it, or, as Representative Jim Jordan, of Ohio, claimed in his speech on the House floor, “It’s always been about getting the President no matter what. It’s an obsession.”

Although several Republican representatives acknowledged that the violence at the Capitol on January 6th was terrifying, condemnable, and un-American, some of them compared it to Black Lives Matter protests, or what they imagined the Black Lives Matter protests to be. “Make no mistake, the left in America has incited far more political violence than the right,” Representative Matt Gaetz, of Florida, said. “For months, our cities burned, police stations burned, our businesses were shattered, and they said nothing.” By this logic, since no one was impeached for, say, the property damage sustained in Minneapolis last year during the protests of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, no one should be impeached for inciting chaos at the Capitol.

President-elect Joe Biden released a statement several hours after the House voted on the motion to impeach. This timing seemed designed to signal that impeachment is not one of Biden’s top priorities. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” the statement read. Over all, Biden has distanced himself from the proceedings, underscoring that he sees his job as getting his Cabinet seated, speeding up vaccine distribution, and passing his economic-relief package. On Thursday, barely more than twenty-four hours after the impeachment vote, Biden gave a speech in which he made no mention of it, or Trump, or January 6th.

Most Democrats in the House have based their calls for impeachment on the claim that Trump is a “clear and present danger” and must be removed from office immediately. Framed this way, the process does seem to lose its urgency after Trump has moved out of the White House. The backers of impeachment will then shift their focus on the imperative to prevent Trump from ever running for office again. As malignant as Trump is, though, can the task of banning him from federal office be as urgent as legislative measures that will have a material impact on the lives and health of millions of Americans?

As long as the proceedings are narrowly focussed on Trump, the case for urgency will grow only harder to make. Instead, the goal of the Senate trial should be defined as finding and telling the truth about the insurrection. My colleague Jill Lepore has taken up the question of what we ought to call the events of January 6th. “Any formulation is a non-starter if it diminishes the culpability of people in positions of power who perpetrated the lie that the election was stolen,” she wrote. The task before the Senate, then, ought to be to produce the first draft of those history books.

Too often, we think that trials, whether in the courts or in the Senate, exist to mete out punishment—that they need to establish the facts only to the extent necessary to decide on the charges brought before them and determine the appropriate penalties. But, as of next week, whether Trump should be removed from office will no longer be an operative question. A Senate trial focussed only on Trump may not hold the attention of the media, the public, or even the lawmakers themselves. And if the trial in the Senate sputters out, the story of January 6th will be told in dozens or even hundreds of separate trials, in federal courts located in different states. Different judges will be deciding whether different defendants were guilty of trespassing, damaging federal property, assaulting officers and journalists, and taking part in an insurrection. It will not be the job of any of these judges to paint a comprehensive picture of what happened on January 6th, what led up to the insurrection, and what made it possible.

In the absence of such a story, the task of preventing future insurrections will fall to the F.B.I. and the uniformed services. Security in the Capitol and the capital will be permanently increased; domestic surveillance will grow in scale. In other words, the U.S. will respond to this crisis the way that it has responded to other crises: with securitization and the curtailment of political rights. The grave term “domestic terrorist,” which has gathered much traction in the past week, paves the way for just such a response. But the insurrectionists were not terrorists. Their primary purpose was not to inspire terror in the general population; their purpose was to prevent the elected President from taking office. Unlike most terrorists, they acted directly upon their target, going to the seat of political power in the United States and attempting to seize power, following what they perceived as orders from the President of the United States.

Reframing the Senate trial of Trump as a truth-finding mission rather than a punitive undertaking requires a voice more authoritative than that of any one senator or even a majority of the Senate. It requires the voice of President-elect Biden. Such a proposition runs against all of Biden’s political instincts: the idea that he should focus on his own Administration and his legislative agenda; the tradition of moving on in the name of healing; the knowledge that getting things done in the Senate is the process of counting votes, negotiating, making concessions; the desire to get results in the most efficient way possible.

An attempt to tell the story of the insurrection—and the story of the Trump Presidency, which made it possible—would not be efficient. It would have to be sprawling, ambitious, grand. It would require the President-elect and senators to use their full political and intellectual muscle. This needs to be done not because it is necessary to punish and banish Trump, but because this country cannot rely only on snatches of stories that float haphazardly through non-overlapping realities. Biden certainly fears that insisting on a deep and broad Senate trial would further alienate Trump’s supporters. But if impeachment is allowed to fizzle, or even to proceed in the most efficient way possible, that will guarantee nearly half of Americans will watch the process without having to challenge the notion that the Democrats are simply out to get Trump. Can they be pulled in by a more detailed, more truthful, and undoubtedly more troubling story? We cannot know—but without telling a story we cannot live.

Joe [hearts] Bernie — Charlie Pierce on Biden’s economics.

On Thursday night, we saw President-Elect Joe Biden bow to the iron constraints of The Blog’s First Law of Economics. To wit:

Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.

To which we have added the codicil:

People got the ‘Rona.

For decades, Biden’s been a fiscal liberal, but one who was willing to cut deals that made him look less like a liberal and more like a creature of the mushy center. On Thursday, with a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” he declared himself firmly on the side of Professor Keynes.

I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but we simply can’t afford not to do what I’m proposing. If we invest now boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course.

No hedging. Not even a head fake toward The Deficit. Nothing about tax cuts. We will spend, and spend big, because that’s what this unprecedented double crisis demands. And there was more.

You won’t see this pain if your score card is how things are going on Wall Street. But you will see it very clearly if you examine what the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy have laid bare. The growing divide between those few people at the very top who are doing quite well in this economy, and the rest of America. Just since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% of the nation has grown roughly $1.5 trillion since the end of last year. Four times the amount for the entire bottom 50% of American wage earners. Some 18 million Americans are still relying on unemployment insurance, some 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors. It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once in several generations economic crisis with a once in several generations public health crisis.

To hear Joe Biden sounding like Bernie Sanders, and to hear him put economic inequality in the middle of his plan to revive the country’s economy, is to hear for the first time in a long while that the federal government knows what it’s there for. After four miserable years being in thrall to the whims of an incompetent president,* and a Republican Congress that repurposed itself as nothing more than the Human Resources department of the federal judiciary, the federal government is stirring again to act on its own. If nothing else, Joe Biden knows where all the levers are. That, in itself, is a cause for hope.

Doonesbury — What’s left?

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Looking Back/Looking Forward

I’ve been wondering how I would do this post for a long time.  I even debated doing it at all, sure that everything I predicted for this year would be out the window and over the fence because once I write it, I don’t look at it.  So, let’s open the time capsule and see what’s inside.

Trump will survive impeachment.  The fix is in.  Revelations about his corruption will keep on coming, and yet the Republicans will cower with him.  It will be his big campaign rallying point.

That was an easy one.

I have no idea who the Democratic Party will nominate for president, and neither do you, but whoever it is will beat Trump in November despite the best efforts of the Kremlin.  I hope it is by such a margin that even Fox News will call it a blowout.  Trump will scream and carry on about it being rigged, but by this time in 2020, he’ll be doing everything he can to trash the place on the way out the door with pardons and lame-duck appointments of Nazi sympathizers and pedophiles.  (If I’m wrong on this and Trump is reelected, I’m moving to Montserrat.  It’s safer to live on an island with an active volcano.)

Wow, I’m impressed how I nailed that one.

Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court but by a 5-4 ruling.

They haven’t ruled on the latest attempt to kill it, but it sounds like it will survive based on the weakness of the case brought by Texas.

There will be more restrictions placed on reproductive rights, but Roe v. Wade will not be struck down.

Still with us. I give it even odds with the new court in the future.

The Democrats will take back the Senate by one seat and all that bottled-up legislation will finally get through in time for the House, still under Nancy Pelosi, to pass them all again and get them signed by the new president.

Close but no cigar. We’ll know the outcome of this one next week.

The economic bubble will burst, the trade deals with China and Europe will screw over the American consumer, and it’s going to look like one of those 19,000 piece domino videos.  Trump and Fox will blame the Democrats for the monster deficit and carry on about how we need to cut more taxes and destroy Social Security and Medicare to save them.

And it did, thanks to Covid-19. More on that later.

Even with the Democrats taking over in 2020, they won’t be in office until January 2021, so I’ll save predictions for what they’ll come up with in terms of health care, gun safety, and climate change until this time next year, assuming my house in the suburbs of Miami at 10 feet above sea level is still on dry land.

See below.

As for me, my playwriting and productions thereof will continue.  I’m planning on my 29th trip to the Inge Festival in May and hope to be invited back to Alaska in June.  As I’m writing this, the novel that I started twenty-five years ago tomorrow is on the glide path to land by the time I go back to work next week.  I can predict that it will never be published because I never meant it to be.

This was a productive year for me as a playwright: 23 new plays written since this time last year: 4 full length, 1 monologue, 2 one-acts, 1 one-minute, and 15 ten-minutes. I compiled 2 anthologies. Four of them were produced via pixels. Covid-19 postponed Inge and Valdez to 2021, and plans are in the works to return with the vaccine swimming in my bloodstream. I signed with Smith Scripts to publish and license seven plays and two anthologies. And I did finish “Bobby Cramer” on January 10, 2020.

As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

I remain in good health, so far. Regular readers know that my father died on May 25 from Covid-19. My mom, aka Faithful Correspondent, is in assisted living and spending a lot of time doing a lot a reading. She passes on her best wishes to her faithful readers.

Now on to my fearless predictions for 2021.

  • Trump will not go quietly; he may even announce his run for 2024 as they give him the bum’s rush, literally or figuratively, as Joe Biden is being sworn in.  But by March, if not sooner, he’ll be old news and as much a distant memory as “Pink Lady and Jeff.” (Look it up.)
  • The Republicans will do as much as they can to throw squirrels in the wood-chipper for President Biden like they did with President Obama, but I have a feeling it won’t happen.  For one thing, Joe Biden isn’t Barack Obama, and second, this country is so fucking tired of noise and fury and discombobulation that the GOP will find little patience for the MAGA noise.
  • Every executive order signed by Trump will be rescinded by President Biden.
  • Relations with Cuba, put on ice by Trump, will resume its thaw under Biden, and los historicos in Miami can lump it.
  • The pandemic will be under control by June — just in time for my trip to Alaska — and the masks and restrictions will slowly and cautiously be going away by Labor Day.  The final casualty count, though, will be over 500,000 deaths.  I wish I could say there will be a reckoning for those who could have prevented it, but I doubt it.
  • Racial and social justice will continue to make strides forward, and it is to be hoped that with an administration that is not actively opposed to it and supporting racism, overt or otherwise, we will be further along than we are now.
  • The economy will slowly recover as the pandemic gets under control and people emerge from isolation.  The Republicans will suddenly remember that they hate deficits, something they never seem to worry about when they’re in the White House.
  • Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court because the case brought by Texas is flawed.  Even the conservatives on the court seem skeptical during oral arguments in November.
  • Foreign relations will improve now that the bully has been sent packing.  Suddenly France, Germany, and the EU will be more willing to work with us, and although my expertise in foreign affairs is limited, I think we’ll be better off with China and Japan than we are now.  Russia will still try to mess with us, but at least they won’t have an ally in the White House.
  • We will still have soldiers in harm’s way overseas a year from today.
  • On a personal level, I will strive to keep up my writing.  I have made many connections during these uncertain times, and they will grow.
  • As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

I am glad 2020 is over.  But in reality, the date on the calendar doesn’t matter; it’s up to all of us to make this year as good or as bad as we can.  Unpredictable things will continue to happen: a year ago, “coronavirus” was a crossword puzzle clue, “wear a mask” was a Halloween suggestion, social distancing was for introverts, and Zoom was a brand of hot cereal.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  I just hope we’re all here to find out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Poison Pill

This is why people hate the way things work in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blocked consideration of a House bill that would deliver $2,000 stimulus payments to most Americans — spurning a request by President Trump even as more Senate Republicans voiced support for the dramatically larger checks.

McConnell’s move was just the beginning of a saga that is likely to engulf the Senate for the rest of the week. Democrats are pushing for an up-or-down vote on the House bill, while more Republicans acknowledge a need for larger stimulus checks.

Tension within the Republican Party spilled into public view on Tuesday, with Trump leveling pointed attacks at GOP leaders for failing to act, accusing them of being “pathetic” and suggesting they had a “death wish.”

New proponents of the $2,000 checks include Georgia’s two embattled Republican senators — David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — who find themselves in tough reelection battles that will decide the fate of the chamber next week. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) also lent support Tuesday, declaring that “people are hurting and we need to get them more aid.” They joined Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who have also supported the idea of $2,000 stimulus checks.

Before adjourning the Senate on Tuesday, McConnell began to reveal his strategy for proceeding, one that Democrats immediately assailed as a political gambit that would prevent the checks from ever being approved.

McConnell started the process for moving to votes on two bills later in the week. One would be the House-passed bill for approving $2,000 stimulus checks. The second measure would combine the $2,000 checks with the establishment of a commission to study election fraud and a repeal of liability protections for technology companies and other firms.

Many Democrats oppose the inclusion of the election commission and the liability protection repeal, so they would almost certainly vote against that broader measure. But by packaging the election commission and the liability protection repeal with the $2,000 checks, McConnell could give Republicans the ability to say they voted for the larger checks even if the bill doesn’t ever become law.

This strategy could lead to a showdown on the Senate floor Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said McConnell’s attempt to package all these items into one bill amounted to an attempt to poison the bipartisan effort to deliver larger checks and would be opposed by Democrats. In a statement, he called it “a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check.”

So, yeah, we’ll get you the two grand but we’re going to mess with the election process and liability protection for social media. Dems da berries.

So, Trump is going to be gone in three weeks but Mitch McConnell, who is screwing his own constituents in the process, will be around for another six years.

Meanwhile, Trump is playing golf in Florida and complaining about his accommodations.

CNN)His mood darkened as soon as he walked into his members-only club Mar-a-Lago, three days before Christmas, according to multiple sources. The changes to his private quarters, many of which were overseen by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, were not to President Donald Trump’s liking, and he was mad about it, according to a source familiar with the President’s response.

Several weeks in the works, the renovations, undertaken to make the approximately 3,000-square-foot space feel larger and updated in preparation for the Trumps post-White House life, didn’t appeal to Trump’s aesthetics, according to his reaction. Trump was also displeased with other renovations at the property, the source said, not just in the living space.

“He was not happy with it,” said the source, who noted several loud, one-sided conversations with club management almost immediately ensued.

The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

Not to worry, thou cheese-faced shitgibbon. With any justice, you’ll be gazing out from behind chain-link fences and wearing a tasteful orange ensemble.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Will They Blink?

So, blow up the deficit to do what Trump wants, or defy a lame-duck and stiff the poor?  Oh, what a conundrum.

The House on Monday voted to beef up stimulus checks set to go out to American households in the coming weeks from $600 to $2,000. The chamber acted swiftly after President Trump demanded the larger payments last week, but passage of the measure is uncertain because Senate Republicans have not unified behind the idea.

On Sunday, Trump signed into law a $900 billion emergency relief package that included $600 checks. His advisers had advocated for those payments, but Trump later called the check size “measly” and demanded it be increased. After he signed the law, he pledged to continue pushing for the larger payments, something many Democrats also support.

Forty-four Republicans joined the vast majority of Democrats on Monday in approving the bill on a 275-to-134 vote — narrowly clearing the two-thirds threshold it needed to pass. The measure’s fate is much less certain in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Approving stimulus checks of $2,000 would cost $464 billion, the Joint Committee on Taxation said Monday. That would be in addition to the $900 billion package Trump signed into law Sunday. Congressional Republicans had sought to keep the total price tag under $1 trillion, but that was before Trump began a fierce effort in the past week to make the stimulus payments larger.

[…]

Since Trump first demanded the larger checks on Dec. 22, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have tried to push the idea into law. They have ignored his other complaints about the new spending package, however, particularly his calls for reductions in foreign aid and environmental programs.

“It’s not exactly what we would put on the floor if Republicans were in control,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who supported the larger checks. “But I think it recognizes the fact that [Pelosi is] the speaker and as a Democratic speaker, they’re going to have an input as to what that package is going to look like in regards to the terms and conditions of the direct checks. I’m willing to take half a loaf, and I think the president recognizes that.”

Monday’s vote took place after House Republican leaders blocked an attempt last week to pass the larger checks by unanimous consent in the House. The measure now goes to the Senate, and it is uncertain whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will move to consider it in the closing days of the current Congress. Some Senate Republicans are supportive of larger checks, though. The idea has been championed by Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said he backed larger payments as well.

“I am concerned about the debt, but working families have been hurt badly by the pandemic,” Rubio wrote on Twitter on Monday. “This is why I supported $600 direct payments to working families & if given the chance will vote to increase the amount.”

Rubio is up for re-election in 2022, so anything he can do to balance between sucking up to Trump and attacking the Democrats for the deficit, which all of a sudden becomes The Most Important Thing on January 20.

In a way, you have to spare a little schadenfreude for the Republicans.  They’re dealing with King Lear-like madness and trying to keep an even keel in their own ranks that now include the likes of Qanon believers and the perpetual lunacy of Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Cray-cray) who is now suing Mike Pence for threatening to do his job on January 6.

I will be impressed if the Senate passes the $2,000 check bill and then see how they explain that the Democrats made them do it.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Last Act Of A Desperate Man

Via the Washington Post:

Trump unexpectedly capitulated Sunday night and signed the stimulus bill into law, releasing $900 billion in emergency relief funds into the economy and averting a Tuesday government shutdown.

White House officials didn’t explain why the president decided to suddenly back down and sign into law a bill he had held up for nearly a week and had referred to as a “disgrace” just days earlier.

Trump signed the bill while vacationing in Florida and on a weekend when he had allowed unemployment benefits for 14 million Americans to expire.

He had demanded changes to the stimulus and spending package for a week, suggesting he would refuse to sign it until these demands were met. This continued defiance caused lawmakers from both parties to panic over the weekend, worried about the implications of a government shutdown during a pandemic. It was unclear what prompted him to change his mind late Sunday, but he was under tremendous pressure from Republicans to acquiesce.

In a statement he issued after signing the law, Trump released a long list of false claims and grievances. He said he would be sending a “redlined” version of the bill back to Congress “insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.”

Trump has less than a month remaining in his presidency, and lawmakers are likely to ignore any such request.

This is probably the last piece of major legislation that he will sign — the Defense bill that he vetoed will most likely be overridden this week — and then that will, at long last, be it.

This whole kinderspiel is a fitting end to his ignominious regime: ranting, whining, tantrums, and then finally he caves and does the right thing only because he’s forced into it.

Word has it that Trump was pissed off by news coverage that made him out to be sidelined in the talks about what to put in the bill. That’s because he was spending all of his time either on the golf course or trying to convince the world that he really won the election. So this last-minute throwing of a turd into the punch bowl is his attempt to be a part of the discussion. That is basically his style of leadership in a nutshell.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Thick As Thieves

No one was surprised by this, were they?

Trump on Wednesday granted pardons or other clemency to another 29 people, including real estate developer Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father, and two former advisers who were convicted as part of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election — once again using his executive power to benefit his allies and undermine an investigation that dogged his presidency.

With his time in office nearing its end, Trump pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 of committing financial fraud and conspiring to obstruct the investigation of his crimes, and he upgraded to a full pardon the sentence commutation he provided earlier to longtime friend Roger Stone.

Trump also pardoned Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to having made false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and he subsequently pleaded guilty to witness tampering, and tax evasion stemming from $6 million in political contributions and gifts mischaracterized as business expenses.

The move came just a day after Trump granted commutations or pardons to 20 people, including three former Republican members of Congress and two others who were convicted of crimes as part of the investigation into Russia’s activities four years ago. The president also pardoned military contractors involved in the killing of unarmed civilians during the Iraq War. Routinely, Trump has avoided the normal Justice Department process for pardons, instead granting clemency to political allies and the well-connected.

Despite all this protests and railing to the contrary, this whole clustasrophe is an rather open admission on the part of Trump that he lost the election. He’s making his payoffs for silence and loyalty to his minions and co-conspirators before he gets hustled out of the White House on January 20. To wit, Charlie Pierce:

The pardons to people who worked for him, probably doled out to keep himself out of jail, don’t shock me. After all, this is the second Republican administration in which Bill Barr worked as attorney general that ended with pardons in order to protect the president*’s hindquarters. We all knew these were coming, just as we know a boatload of others are coming as well. But the Blackwater pardons are a different shade of equine. I am not afflicted with paranoid fantasies about militias coming to the president*’s defense as he chains himself to the Resolute desk, but doing business with Erik Prince is bad news, and currying favor with him by pardoning his war criminal employees is doing serious business with him.

Happy holidays, bitches.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Take The Money And Run

Trump threatens to veto the Covid-19 bill unless everybody gets $2,000.

Trump on Tuesday night asked Congress to amend the nearly $900 billion stimulus bill passed just one day before, describing the legislation as “a disgrace” and suggesting he would not immediately sign off on aid for millions of Americans.

In a video posted to Twitter, Trump called on Congress to increase the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 and outlined a list of provisions in the overall package of legislation that he described as “wasteful spending and much more.” He did not mention that the $600 stimulus check idea came from his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

And the Democrats called his bluff.

“Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent,” Pelosi posted on Twitter. “Let’s do it!”

While some congressional Democrats expressed their frustrations over the president’s timing one day after a nearly $900 billion bill was passed by Congress, others seized on Trump’s demand and put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his fellow Republicans to make the deal happen.

“Seems like [McConnell] is now the only roadblock to getting the American people $2,000 checks” tweeted Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

“I’m in. Whaddya say, Mitch?” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Let’s not get bogged down with ideological offsets and unrelated items and just DO THIS! The American people deserve it.”

Technically, Congress could do it. They go back into session on Thursday for a pro forma session, get unanimous consent for the amendment, and they’re home and dry. All it would take to scuttle it would be one objection by one member; let’s see who dares to take the additional $1,400 out of the hands of Americans.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Finally Something

But not enough.

Senate leadership announced a bipartisan deal on an approximately $900 billion economic relief package late Sunday afternoon that would deliver emergency aid to a faltering economy and a nation besieged by surging coronavirus cases.

After months of contentious negotiations and seemingly intractable partisan gridlock, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor to say that a deal had been finalized and could be quickly approved.

The emerging stimulus package was expected to direct hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to jobless Americans, ailing businesses and other critical economic needs that have grown as the pandemic ravages the country and batters the economy.

“More help is on the way. Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and House finalized an agreement. It would be another major rescue package for the American people,” McConnell said. “As our citizens continue battling this coronavirus pandemic this holiday season, they will not be fighting alone.”

It’s good for eleven weeks, which means it will expire in the first months of the Biden administration. By then all of the Republicans will, as they always do when Democrats are in the White House, get their tits in an uproar about the budget deficit and demand that any more relief for the nation comes with massive tax cuts, including demolishing Social Security, Medicare, and anything else that helps people who aren’t rich white folks.