The Democrats’ Dilemma

The Daily Escape:

Bristlecone pine, Cedar Breaks National Monument – photo by Jessica Fridrich

Here’s the Democrats’ dilemma: They must pass legislation that protects voting rights and ballot access. Otherwise, they will allow the GOP to cheat its way to victory in 2022 and beyond, by subverting democracy to empower a minority, as they are doing in Georgia.

One aspect of Georgia’s new election law that nobody’s talking about is that the law replaces the elected secretary of state (currently Republican Brad Raffensperger) as the chair of the state election board with a new official appointed by the gerrymandered Georgia legislature.

It also allows Georgia’s election board to remove and replace any county election official it deems to be under-performing. That provision could be used to target Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold covering most of Atlanta, which came under fire after long lines plagued primary elections over the summer.

David Atkins says:

“The direct implications of the new law are alarming enough: conservatives with an interest in voter suppression could use their authority to disrupt election administration in majority-minority counties. The possibilities for mischief by a partisan legislature fearful of high turnout by opposed constituencies are endless.”

The Republicans sitting on bipartisan election boards were the reason that Biden is president. Next time, they will find reasons not to certify a close election. And as Jonathan Chait says: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“ [Republican] states that are rolling back democratic protections are not responding to demographic change nor to any change internal to their state. They are following the agenda of the national Republican Party. That agenda is spreading throughout the states, which are imposing voter restrictions almost everywhere their party has the power to do so. Restricting the franchise has become perhaps the party’s core policy objective.”

And the problem must be addressed immediately, since it will impact the 2022 and 2024 elections. Georgia’s Sen. Warnock must run again in 2022. His losing would put the remainder of Biden’s term in jeopardy.

That means that the Senate must pass some version of HR-1. Currently, the Democrats are taking an “all or nothing” approach to HR-1. That may be their opening shot, but some parts should be non-negotiable. Vox lists some important provisions: it establishes automatic voter registration for anyone interacting with designated government agencies; broadens access to mail-in voting for every eligible voter; and mandates that states accept ballots at drop boxes or polling places, and requires counting all ballots postmarked by Election Day.

Further, it establishes same-day online registration and nationwide early voting. It requires a paper trail for every vote cast. Critically, it ends partisan gerrymandering by directing states to use independent commissions in drawing Congressional maps. It also makes Election Day a national holiday.

Ezra Levin, co-founder of the Indivisible, says:

“The choice is the republic or the filibuster — there is no third option….We are at an inflection point in American history. Down one path is a Trump-inspired white plutocracy, and down the other is a representative democracy.”

But many believe some sections of the nearly 800-page bill may be unconstitutional. Rick Hasen of the Election Law Blog, writes:

“Some parts of it could well be found unconstitutional if it passed, such as a provision requiring states to re-enfranchise all people convicted of felonies who are not currently serving time in a correctional institution.”

The bill also contains controversial rules on campaign financing, including the creation of a public financing program for congressional candidates, new ethics rules for the Supreme Court, and a requirement that most candidates for president and vice president publicly disclose their tax returns.

None of those are key to the problem facing Democrats in states where Republicans control the legislatures. As written, HR-1 is unlikely to make it out of the Senate, so there are good reasons to tailor it both to survive judicial scrutiny, while also properly targeting the problems with voter registration, voting, and ballot counting.

That means whatever bill passes must have all 50 Democrats supporting it, and then, they must agree to end the filibuster to enact it. Therefore, the HR-1 wish list must be simplified and shortened. Democrats who object to ending the filibuster need to ask themselves if they genuinely want to facilitate Republicans in reclaiming Congress and the White House, in the name of preserving an arbitrary rule. The filibuster rule has been amended often in recent times: In 1974, 1975, 2013 and 2017. Time to do it again.

We can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Today, it seems more likely that HR-1 won’t become law before the 2022 mid-terms than that it will, absent ending the filibuster.

Democrats can’t be left looking back at yet another missed opportunity to protect voting.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 29, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Ranch land near Reno NV – February 2021 photo by Patrick Lanzing

The Conversation has an interesting article by Tony Kevin from Australian National University, that analyzes the Biden administration’s early missteps with both China and Russia. He says that:

“In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.”

Kevin quotes Putin saying the terms of working with the US have changed:

“Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural, and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests. And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.”

Turning to China and the initial meeting disaster, Kevin says that the Chinese feel similarly:

“Putin’s…statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.”

He quotes Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief:

“The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.”

Jiechi said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.

Biden’s campaign pitch was that his leadership would put the adults back in charge of foreign policy. But it’s hard to ignore Biden’s slap at Putin (calling him a killer), followed by the train wreck of the China summit in Alaska. Biden’s team is accomplishing the difficult task of making Trump look… er, not terrible.

Could it be that the world is moving on? That our competitors and friends no longer buy the “America is a force for good” story? After all, we’re showing them the worst of American values, by trying to overturn an election, by curtailing voting rights, and by refusing to do anything about mass shootings or the growing poverty that are endemic in the US.

The Guardian reports that we’ve fallen by 11 points in the latest report by democracy watchdog, Freedom House. We’re now below Argentina and Mongolia, and on a par with  Panama, Romania and Croatia!

Dismounting from our high horse will be difficult for the US, but do we have a choice? The world is suddenly signaling strongly that they’ve had enough of American faux exceptionalism and the belligerence we display when we engage with other nations.

Kevin concludes that we’re in a new kind of Cold War, not based on ideology like the original Cold War, but now it’s a war for international legitimacy. Moreover, Kevin adds:

“The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.”

The distribution of global power is changing. What matters now is the growing self-confidence of these two nations, particularly in comparison to what they see as a clearly weakened US. In essence, Russia and China are sending Biden a message:

“Don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over.”

Kevin concludes:

“The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money may be moving to Russia and China.”

Time to wake up America! It’s again becoming a multi-polar world. We can’t know what the outcome of this competition will be. But we seem to be at one of those points in history where things can take a very sharp and irreversible turn in a new direction.

These factors have been brewing for years. We’re witnessing a Russia/China strategic alliance which will force us and other countries to make some very hard choices about which side of the fence they’re on. To help you wake up, listen to the Foo Fighters newest, “Waiting on a War”:

Sample Lyrics:

I’ve been waiting on a war since I was young

Since I was a little boy with a toy gun

Never really wanted to be number one

Just wanted to love everyone

Here’s Dave Grohl’s motivation for writing the tune:

“Last fall, as I was driving my daughter to school, she turned to me and asked, ​‘Daddy, is there going to be a war?’ My heart sank as I realized that she was now living under the same dark cloud that I had felt 40 years ago. Every day waiting for the sky to fall. Is there more to this than that? Is there more to this than just waiting on a war? Because I need more. We all do. This song was written for my daughter, Harper, who deserves a future, just as every child does.”

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 28, 2021

A few quick thoughts on Georgia’s new voter suppression law. You may remember the day in 2013 when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote  that “Things have changed dramatically” in the South.

He had just authored the majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, where the Court struck down the Voting Rights Act’s Section 4, that determined which states needed federal approval for changes to their election law. That made one of the law’s most important parts inoperative. Today, the new voter suppression law in Georgia is Exhibit A for why Roberts was wrong.

Biden carried Georgia in November, and Black voters turned out again in record numbers in January to elect Democrats Warnock and Ossoff, thus giving control of the Senate to the Dems. The response from Georgia Republicans was to pass a sweeping rewrite of the state’s election laws, making it harder for Democratic voters to vote and have their ballots counted.

The new law allows the GOP-controlled legislature to appoint a majority of members of the state election board. It gives the board the power to take over county election boards, making it easier for Republicans to challenge election results, or to decline to certify the results.

These are things that Trump tried and failed to get Georgia to do in 2020.

The not-so-funny thing is that should HR-1 (now S-1) become law, Roberts gets another chance to review the state of voting rights in America. Will he “atone” for his egregious error in gutting the original VRA? Don’t count on that. On to cartoons.

And now it’s a crime in Georgia to give water to people in line:

It’s easy to understand Republican priorities. They make access to BALLOTS more difficult, and make access to BULLETS easier:

There’s always another Boulder for Dems to worry about:

Mitch tries offering a compromise:

Of all the busters, only the filibuster has to go:

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Saturday Soother – March 27, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Stinson Beach, Marin County, CA – photo by Merrill Dodd

A single-point-of-failure in the global economy failed last week when the Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, ran aground in the Suez Canal shutting down traffic in both directions. It’s now stuck sideways in the Canal.

And the Suez Canal isn’t just any waterway; it links the factories of Asia to the customers of Europe. It’s also a major conduit for crude oil. The WaPo reports that 12% of the world’s cargo travels through the Suez Canal. That this vast flow of cargo could come to a halt because a gust of wind blew a ship off course makes the brittleness of our global system of trade apparent.

That one mishap could spread chaos from Los Angeles to Rotterdam to Shanghai underscores the extent to which commerce today is tightly intertwined with the global supply chain. From the WaPo:

“By Friday, more than 160 ships were anchored in the Mediterranean and the Red seas. Egyptian officials appeared confident the canal could reopen within days, while salvage engineers cautioned that freeing the stuck ship might take weeks.”

A delay of two weeks could strand at sea one-fourth of the supply of containers that would normally be in European ports.

The NYT reports that a surge of Covid-related goods orders for items like exercise equipment has exhausted the supply of available containers at ports in China. The cost of shipping a container from Asia to North America has more than doubled since November. And on the US west coast, container unloading has been slowed as dockworkers and truck drivers were infected with Covid-19 or forced to stay home to attend to children who are out of school.

For decades, economists have lectured us about the virtues of “economic efficiency”. But, as the initially poor response of the global supply chain to the Covid-19 showed, economic resilience is also particularly important. We couldn’t get PPE for essential workers because we followed just-in-time inventory management and relied on China as our primary supplier. We’ve also seen shortages of computer chips for cars.

From the NYT: (brackets by Wrongo)

“It [just-in-time] has also yielded a bonanza for corporate executives and other shareholders: Money not spent filling warehouses with unneeded auto parts is, at least in part, money that can be given to shareholders in the form of dividends.”

Once again, we’re learning that the neo-liberal economic solution fails the people. So the economists and the CEOs have gotten it wrong. And the canal blockage, like the PPE shortages, show that they can be spectacularly wrong sometimes. More from the WaPo:

“And the grounding of the Ever Given has exposed how complex ownership structures in global shipping make it difficult to hold anyone accountable: The Ever Given is operated by Taiwan-based shipping company Evergreen Maritime. Evergreen charters the ship from a Japanese firm; a Dubai-based company acts as the agent for the ship in ports; and the ship flies the flag of Panama.”

So, accidents will happen, and they’re nobody’s fault.

The challenges presented by the Suez blockage come directly from the ‘just-in-time’ mantra. While a crisis cannot be predicted, it can be prepared for. Corporations and nations need to stop sticking their head in the sand about long-term planning, and get back to doing what the MBA’s call “resilience planning.”

Resilience planning’s been devalued by our push for short-term profits and stock market gains. If you doubt that, read about the massive cyberhack of US government agencies and major corporations, perhaps the biggest in history, that was discovered in early December by the security firm FireEye. Much of that was preventable by better management and planning.

Globalization isn’t our only problem. Add to it our short-term mindset which, when combined with greed, has endangered America.

It is unclear how long it will take for the Ever Given to be refloated and the flow of the canal traffic can resume. CNN reports that it may be freed over the weekend. But to do that, more than this level of effort will be required:

Credit: Reuters

As the clock ticks, Egypt isn’t collecting tolls for ships’ passage. And many ships, including some operated by Evergreen, have begun to re-route around the Cape of Good Hope. Multiple shipping firms have contacted the US Navy for protection against pirates on their rerouted trip, according to the Financial Times (paywalled).

Enough of the world’s problems for now. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, when we take a break and either watch the Sweet Sixteen if so inclined, or do more spring yardwork, since today is supposed to be the better of the weekend days.

Before pulling on the gloves, let’s take a few moments and listen to “Cloudburst” by George Winston, from his album, “Plains”. The video is of springtime in the northern Idaho plains. It’s a meditation on a few of our feathered friends in spring:

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The Filibuster Must Go

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Owens Valley, CA – 2021 photo by tokalita

It has become obvious that the Senate Republicans plan to use the filibuster to block everything President Biden and the Democrats will try to do to make this country better. It means we’re looking at government gridlock for the next two years. Without some reform or elimination of the filibuster, we can only hope that Democrats can build a larger majority in the Senate. That’s unrealistic, given the political landscape.

As Wrongo has said:

“…the next 20 months will be a battle royal for control of the last two years of Biden’s term…”

For Democrats to do well in the 2022 mid-terms, it requires dealing with the Senate filibuster this year. Unless the Dems deal with it, a single Republican can continue to keep a bill blocked by doing nothing more than sending a memo.

The Republicans threaten that if the Dems eliminate the filibuster, the GOP will repeal or privatize Social Security and Medicare once they return to power.

At this point, Democrats should call the GOP’s bluff. If the GOP tries carrying through on their threats, they would be signing their political death warrants. And Democrats would simply promise to reenact those programs in full (possibly retroactively) once they returned to power.

While the above situation is sub-optimal, once the Dems are willing to call the bluff, the question is: What should they do about the filibuster? There are three choices: Eliminate it altogether, eliminate it just for another special case, as McConnell did with judges, or modify it by returning to a “talking filibuster”.

Eliminating it altogether seems unlikely with at least two Democratic Senators (Manchin and Sinema) saying they are against doing that. OTOH, maintaining it, while requiring an old-fashioned talking filibuster seems doable, since it’s supported by Biden, along with Sens. Manchin and Sinema.

A talking filibuster means that if the GOP ever achieves control of all three branches of government, while Democrats couldn’t prevent the enactment of the GOP agenda, they could make it front page news for several weeks while holding the Senate hostage in protest. In some cases, the minority might prevail, as Wrongo said here:

“When Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was minority leader, he used the filibuster in 2019 to block funding for construction of Trump’s border wall. Dems used it twice to impede passage of the Cares Act, forcing Republicans to agree to changes including a $600 weekly federal unemployment supplement. They used it to block legislation to force “sanctuary cities” to cooperate with federal officials, and to stop a prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Wrongo also supports a limited removal of the filibuster for specific forms of legislation, like the new Voting Rights Act. As Sen. Ralph Warnock’s (D-GA) said in his maiden speech:

“…access to the ballot ought to be nonpartisan. I submit that there should be 100 votes in this chamber for policies that will make it easier for Americans to make their voices heard in our democracy. Surely, there ought to be at least 60 people in this chamber who believe, as I do, that the four most powerful words uttered in a democracy are, ‘the people have spoken,’ therefore we must ensure that all the people can speak.”

Passage of the Senate’s Bill S-1 (with changes) ought to be Biden’s highest priority. It is a key to preventing the efforts by Republicans to suppress the vote in the coming mid-terms. Meanwhile Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has already threatened to filibuster S-1. That shows us all we need to know about the bill’s chances if the filibuster stays in place.

So, eliminate it for Voting Rights, or institute the talking filibuster. Going to a talking filibuster really doesn’t require anything inventive. It’s as simple as the Presiding Officer (VP Harris) announcing, after the failure of a cloture vote, “Debate will now resume on Senate Bill X,” rather than moving on to a separate Senate bill or adjourning.

Keep doing that for a week or two, and ultimately, a substantive vote on a possibly amended bill can be had.

Right now, the Senate’s rules are exactly what the GOP want: they were able to fill all the judicial vacancies left unfilled in the Obama years; plus, they filled all the new ones with right wing ideologues, all via simple majority.

Simply put, the Dems should enact laws that enable the kind of society we all want to live in. The Republicans have no vision for America. Their plan is to keep allowing corporations to skim what they can, while letting our infrastructure wear out.

They purposefully avoid legislation that could lead to an abundant future for America. And now, we’re worn out, hollow, and unable to pass laws to change our destiny.

The filibuster must go.

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Monday Wake Up Call – IRS Funding Edition, March 22, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, UT – photo by chipotle42

Today we turn our attention to the IRS. David Sirota wrote in the Daily Poster that new IRS figures compiled by Syracuse University show that in the past eight years, there was a 72% drop in the number of IRS audits of people making more than $1 million.

Last year, 98% of individuals making more than $1 million didn’t face an audit. At a time when Americans face growing economic inequality, the IRS is letting billions of dollars in tax revenue slip through its fingers because budget and staffing cuts have left the agency incapable of effectively auditing the 637,212 millionaires now living in the US. It’s worth noting that the number of American millionaires has increased by 88% since 2012.

What’s more, the IRS audit focus has shifted from the wealthy to the poor. A large group of progressive organizations sent a letter to the Biden administration saying: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Since 2011, audit rates for millionaires, who are disproportionately white, have dropped more than twice as much as for taxpayers claiming the (Earned Income Tax Credit), who are disproportionately people of color. Audit coverage is now the heaviest in many low-income majority-Black counties.”

A recent Treasury Department report concluded that at the IRS:

“…high-income taxpayers are generally not a collection priority, nor is there a strategy in place to address nonpayment by high-income taxpayers.”

As evidence, the report showed that the agency failed to recover more than 60% of the $4 billion in back taxes owed by those making more than $1.5 million.

At the same time, overall enforcement has been hobbled by draconian budget reductions that have resulted in 43% fewer IRS revenue agents and 26% percent fewer IRS criminal investigators in the last decade:

There’s also been a 51% drop in the number of audits of America’s largest corporations. Sirota says that in 2012, almost all of our corporate behemoths were audited. However, in 2020, only about 38% were audited.

There are two separate problems here. First, the IRS budget has been cut dramatically by Republicans. Between 2010 and 2018, the IRS’s budget was slashed by more than 20%, and its enforcement budget has been cut by 24%, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, leading to the substantial reduction in IRS agents shown above.

A July 2020 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that increasing funding for IRS enforcement by $40 billion would boost revenues by more than $100 billion over the next decade. From Sirota:

“To that end, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) — both Congressional Progressive Caucus members — have recently introduced separate bills that would boost the IRS’s enforcement budget and audit rates.”

Khanna’s legislation would increase IRS enforcement funding by $70 billion and require the agency to audit 95% of large corporations, 50% of individuals reporting more than $10 million of annual income, and 20% of individuals reporting more than $1 million of income. Sounds about right.

IRS referrals for criminal prosecution and Justice Department tax convictions have both hit an all-time low. The US is estimated to be losing roughly $600 billion/year in revenue from unpaid taxes, while wealthy taxpayers are evading or avoiding paying their fair share. Better enforcement will produce revenue and bring renewed respect for our legal system.

We must have more tax revenue, and while Rep. Khanna’s bill would go a long way toward making things right, we also must raise our corporate tax rates, and the IRS must reassess its audit priorities.

We can’t be auditing more poor people than millionaires.

Wake up America! It’s time to stop our largest corporations and our wealthiest individuals from skating out on their tax responsibilities. To help you wake up, listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band performing  “The Sky is Crying” at the Royal Albert Hall. Performing at the Royal Albert seems to bring the best out of American groups. Here’s another great example:

Some prefer the Stevie Ray Vaughn version, but this is at least as good.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 21, 2021

Welcome to the first week of spring. Last week, 12 House Republicans voted against a resolution to award Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police, the DC police and the Smithsonian Institution in recognition of those who protected the Capitol when it was attacked by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6.

They said they objected to the use of the term “insurrectionists” in the resolution. On to cartoons:

March brings on Republican madness:

They’re mad at a few other things too:

The fearmongering never ends:

The only caravan at the border:

Jim Crow lives in the Party of Lincoln:

Cuomo needs to go:

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Saturday Soother – March 20, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Owens Valley, Mammoth Lakes, CA – photo by anraaivi

Has anyone else noticed that the media is trying to rehabilitate Florida governor Ron DeSantis? From Eric Boehlert at Press Run: (brackets by Wrongo)

“He’s [DeSantis] spent the last year brawling over Covid, trying to silence scientists, covering up data, rescinding mask ordinances, and doing his best Trump II imitation by playing down the virus’ threat, fighting with the Florida press, and portraying himself as a maverick under attack.”

More:

“In recent weeks though, the Beltway media have rallied to the southern governor’s cause. They’re holding him up as a rare Republican Covid star, pushing GOP talking points about how DeSantis has steered the Sunshine State into “boom” times, and suggesting the pandemic has thrust him to the front of the 2024 White House line.”

The LA Times recently compared Florida’s Covid results to that of California:

“From the earliest days of the pandemic, California and Florida took significantly different courses in responding to the crisis, approaches that came to symbolize the deep divisions across America on how best to respond to the coronavirus.”

California’s lock-down hurt their economy and left most public school students learning at home. Florida adopted a laissez-faire approach that most public health experts thought was very risky: Masks were optional, kids were back in school earlier than elsewhere. Restaurants were open for indoor dining.

Now, Republican DeSantis is garnering praise in conservative circles while Democrat Gavin Newsom is facing a potential recall over his handling of the crisis. Making Boehlert’s point is a recent WSJ opinion piece that had a numerical comparison between the two states, calling it DeSantis’ “vindication.”

Despite the DeSantis hype, California did a better job controlling the virus. If California had Florida’s death rate, 6,000 more Californians would be dead, and tens of thousands of additional patients would have been admitted to already overcrowded California hospitals.

And if Florida had California’s death rate, 3,000 fewer Floridians would be dead from Covid. Here’s a chart showing the differences:

As the chart shows, Florida had a cumulative death rate that was at one point, 84% higher than California’s. But the winter surge slammed California, and the gap has narrowed to 11%.

Florida has performed worse, but only modestly worse than California. The big question is, did following the CDC guidelines make a difference? The CDC just released a study of all 3,000 US counties that found that mask mandates were linked to a significant reduction in Covid deaths.

But not all states’ death rates align perfectly with their policies. Arizona and Florida both had lax rules, but Arizona’s death rate was far worse. Hawaii and Vermont, whose rules are like California’s, have the two lowest death rates in the nation, so other factors are driving the outcomes.

Within California, the Bay Area’s death rate is only one-third that of LA County. This could be due to LA’s large number of essential workers, extreme levels of overcrowding and a population that’s less receptive to restrictions.

If LA County’s deaths are subtracted from California’s total, Florida’s death rate would be 39% higher than California minus LA. It is those LA vulnerabilities that drove California’s surges and pushed its total death rates closer to Florida’s.

Florida’s older population might have prevented the virus from spreading as quickly as in California. Worldwide, young adults who socialize and mingle, either at work or in social settings, tend to spread the virus the most, while older people are more cautious. Florida’s population is the fifth-oldest nationwide. The percentage of those over 65 in Florida is 20% vs. 14% in California.

But scientists note Florida’s humid climate may have helped keep the death rate low.

Is this another case of the press airbrushing a Republican’s performance to set up a comparison? Hard to say, but California is forecasting a state budget surplus, while Florida is grappling with a state budget shortfall. More workers in California were able to work from home, keeping wages and taxes flowing.

On to the first day of spring! Many think that the availability of vaccines will bring some semblance of normalcy. Let’s hope so. It’s promising to be beautiful in Connecticut today, so we may be outside doing yard work.

But before we pick up the rakes, it’s time for our Saturday Soother. So, grab a seat by the window and listen to Robert Plant & Alison Krauss perform a sultry live cover of Led Zeppelin’s head-banging “Black Dog”. At last week’s Grammys, Beyonce took over the #1 spot for most Grammys awarded to a female performer. Few know that the person she overtook is Alison Krauss, a bluegrass singer with 27 Grammys to her credit. Watch Alison’s “Black Dog” duet with Robert Plant here.

Their duet is waaay different from the legendary Robert Plant’s 1973 duet with Jimmy Page at MSG.

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Are We Having a Border Crisis?

The Daily Escape:

Dead Horse State Park, Moab, UT – 2020 photo by Schmats1

From Pew Research:

“The US Border Patrol apprehended nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, the tenth consecutive month of increased apprehensions and a return to levels last seen in mid-2019.”

Is this a self-inflicted wound by Biden, another Republican effort to drive a wedge into Biden’s political support, or both? Since the next 20 months will be a battle royal for control of the last two years of Biden’s term, how Biden handles the immigration issue has huge political consequences.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) flipped his seat in November 2020, but he must face voters again in 2022. Immigration could easily be a powerful wedge issue against him, threatening the Democrats’ control of the Senate.

Texas elects a governor in 2022, and while Texas isn’t really in play, last November we saw Latino voters in Texas edging away from the Democrats, toward the Republicans. Residents of these border states experience unauthorized immigration directly; and it’s clear that many Texas Latinos embrace enforcement-minded views on immigration, even while empathizing with the reasons migrants want to come to America.

Republicans assume that they’ve hit on a strategy to beat Democrats in 2022 by saying that the President’s immigration policies have led to a surge of migrants crossing our southern border. But here’s a chart from the Pew Research article showing that’s not the whole story:

Apprehensions peaked in May 2019, then dropped precipitously through April 2020, and have risen ever since, including under Trump in 2020. Today they are at about 73% of the high point that occurred under Trump, but way above that of prior years.

It’s important to remember that migration is seasonal. Border apprehensions have typically peaked in the spring, before declining during the hot summer months that make migration more dangerous. That pattern started to change in 2013, when the mix of new arrivals shifted from being predominantly from Mexico to being from the countries of the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). The migrants also changed to predominantly families and unaccompanied children.

But now, according to Pew Research, those patterns are starting to reverse:

  • Around 42% of those apprehended at the southwestern border in February were of Mexican origin, up from 13% in May 2019, the most recent peak month for monthly apprehensions.
  • People from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras accounted for 46% of apprehensions in February, down from 78% in May 2019.
  • The number and share of single adults being apprehended at the border has also increased dramatically.

It isn’t clear whether these trends will continue, but it’s possible that February’s spike in apprehensions could also be a return to the seasonal nature of migration.

Republicans are saying that the current spike in border apprehensions is entirely a result of policy changes by the Biden administration. Here’s what Biden has changed according to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas:

  • The majority of those apprehended at the southwest border (71%) are single adults who are being expelled under the CDC’s authority to manage the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Families apprehended at the southwest border make up 20%. They are also currently being expelled.
  • Unaccompanied children make up 10% of the current spike. They are not expelled but are brought to a Border Patrol facility and processed for transfer to HHS while they await placement with a sponsor. These children go through immigration proceedings if they are able to present a claim for relief under the law.

What this says is that when Republicans and some in the media throw around scary numbers about a surge of more than  100,000 “illegal crossings” in February, what they’re not telling you is that approximately 90,000 of those migrants (single adults and families) were apprehended and expelled.

Still, 10,000 kids are a giant task to house, feed, and process. That’s why as a group, they are overwhelming current shelter capacity. On Wednesday, Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, the White House coordinator for the southern border, said in Spanish: “The border is not open.”

The Biden administration has struggled to find the right message but hasn’t abandoned enforcement. It removed almost 1,000 Haitian nationals in February.

Politicians criticizing what’s happening with Biden’s policy need to show us what specific change Biden implemented that they think is causing the current spike. They need to explain what should be done instead.

But, of course, they won’t do that. It is much easier to simply claim that Biden is implementing an “open border” policy, something that is complete nonsense.

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Getting Younger is Key to Democrats’ Future

The Daily Escape:

Canyonlands NP, UT – photo by Xymic

Like Biden, Wrongo is a member of the Silent Generation, but he always confuses the names and age groupings of the generational cohorts. Here’s the breakdown by cohort, age and number of each:

  • Silent Generation: Born between 1928 and 1945. There are about 23.6 million in the US
  • Baby Boomers:  Born between 1946 and 1964. There are about 68.7 million in the US
  • Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1979/1980. There are 65.1 million of them
  • Gen Y, or Millennials: Born between 1981 and 1994-1996. There are 82.2 million of them
  • Gen Z:  Born between 1997 and 2012-2015. There are 86.4 million of them in the US

Gen Z is now the largest demographic cohort, with Millennials just behind them. Boomers now represent 21% of America’s population, and Silents are 7%.

But Boomers and Silents still control our political lives. While true for both Parties, leadership in the Democratic Party skews really old: Biden is 78, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 87, and House Speaker Pelosi is 80. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is 81, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is 80, while Senate Majority Leader  Chuck Schumer is a relatively young 70.

NY Mag’s Eve Peyser:

“If you’re starting to get the feeling that the country is governed as a gerontocracy, you are correct. People over 50 make up 34% of the US population, but 52% of the electorate, according to Pew. And it’s not only political power that baby-boomers and the Silent Generation have a tight grip on: Americans over 55 own two-thirds of the wealth in this country.”

Here is a chart from Pew that shows the distribution of the new Congress by age:

There are 31 Millennials in the House, and only one in the Senate. According to another Pew survey, in 2018, the most common age for all Americans was 27, while the most common age for White Americans was 58! The over-representation of Boomers and Silents in Congress means that White interests are similarly over-represented in US politics.

This isn’t happening everywhere; it’s a distinctly American problem. More from Peyser:

“If you look at other countries, they’re not similarly controlled by older politicians. I think that the explanation here is the two-party system….[A multiparty system gets] young people involved in politics, voting, organizing, running things, organizational politics, [which] means that they are able to start accumulating institutional power.”

Democrats must let younger politicians have a crack at leadership. That was the point of Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) successful push in January for a change in the Senate’s rules to allow more junior Senators to chair better and more influential subcommittees.

It was also tried in the House. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) pushed Pelosi and House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) to be more confrontational in some committee hearings. But Porter lost the argument and is no longer a member of that Committee. However, she remains on the House Oversight Committee, and like Murphy, she has a bright future.

The Democrats have a few other young stars that can become future national leaders. In 2016, Frank Bruni showcased a few in the NYT. Among others, he mentioned Stacy Abrams, Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg, Hakeem Jefferies, and Gina Raimondo. Two (Buttigieg and Raimondo) are now in Biden’s cabinet, while Abrams and Jefferies are already powerful Party leaders.

Several House members, including Jamie Raskin, David Cicilline and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are emerging leaders who help skew the Party younger, but change will be slow. From Peyser:

“We have not yet reached the peak of Boomer culture. We’re going to see the highest number of people turning 65 in US history in 2023,”

By 2028, Millennials and Generation Z will make up almost exactly half of eligible voters. In other words, things will change, but only as the Boomer generation retires from politics, and when we actively help convert eligible voters into registered voters.

Increasing their number could pivot on the fate of HR-1 in the Senate. It would ease the way for more young people to participate in politics, since it requires every state to create systems for automatic, same-day and online voter registration. That could significantly reduce the biggest barrier to more young people voting in American elections: our complex registration system. So far, fewer younger voters have been willing, or able to navigate it.

Strategically, the Republicans will continue trying to suppress voting, while also trying to woo more Boomers to their side. Democrats will work to expand the voter rolls and also get them to turn out, particularly in swing states.

Younger voters are likely to be more progressive than the older Democrats. But even the oldsters in the Party will follow them, as Biden is doing today.

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