Monday Wake Up Call – Infrastructure Edition, March 15, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Ruby Beach Overlook, Olympic NP, WA – 2021 photo by Erwin Buske

Back in pre-history or as Wrongo likes to call it, 2004, John Edwards said that there were two Americas. He was talking about social stratification and its pernicious impact on social cohesion in America.

Biden and Congress have just passed the American Recovery Plan into law. It provides a temporary assistance to many Americans, particularly for those in the two Americas who are struggling in our economy. As Wrongo said yesterday, although total wages are now at the level they were before the Covid recession, almost 10 million fewer Americans are working! If we are to be a healthy society, these people need jobs.

Listening to Republicans, there’s no money left in the piggy bank to fund the rest of what America needs to do. They say our debt is too high, and that it would be a terrible mistake to raise taxes on corporations or the wealthy to fund our needs.

Yet, something must be done about the disaster that is America’s infrastructure. Biden has said that improving and modernizing our infrastructure is a high priority for his administration. He campaigned on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to create a:

“modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future.”

But there is a huge chasm between where we are and where we need to go. From the WaPo: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“America can put a rover on Mars, but it can’t keep the lights on and water running in the city that birthed the modern space program (Houston). It can develop vaccines….to combat a world-altering illness but suffers one of the developed world’s highest death rates due to lack of prevention and care.”

America’s recent historic breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology coexist alongside monumental failures of infrastructure, public health, and education. More from the WaPo: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The disparities reflect a multitude of factors…but primarily stem from a few big ones: Compared with other well-to-do nations, the US has tended to prioritize private wealth over public resources, individualism over equity and the shiny new thing over the dull but necessary task of maintaining its infrastructure, much of which is fast becoming a 20th century relic.”

One of our two Americas pays a heavier price for our politicians’ unwillingness to build new infrastructure. Yet politicians kick the can down the road, since higher taxes to fix things is rarely a winning political strategy.

From highways to airports, from internet access to schools, to the electric grid, our infrastructure isn’t distributed equally. Even in richer zip codes, infrastructure quality is uneven. The myth that America treats everyone equally regardless of race, color, or creed is as decrepit as our bridges and highways.

Americans used to be proud of their infrastructure. But since Reagan, Republicans have believed that government spending is a problem. Loving new roads, bridges and tunnels changed to outright suspicion when austerity became the Republican religion.

They are always willing to cut taxes by $trillions to further enrich wealthy people. But they scoff at building a high-speed rail network, a high-speed internet network, or an integrated electric grid. If you’ve ever traveled through a Chinese airport, or traveled by rail in Europe, you have experienced awesome infrastructure projects, things that are normal in most developed nations.

Yet in America, we’re far behind, mostly because Republicans put growing personal wealth ahead of supporting the public good. Much of this hurts the bottom half of the US population more than the top half. It hurts rural America more than urban and suburban America. Most suburbs are as modern and safe as any major city in Europe or Asia. Their public schools are modern and largely well-equipped.

None of these are true in rural or inner-city America.

The time has come to address infrastructure. At least some of it must be paid for by new taxes, even if that means zero Republican political support.

Time to wake up America! We can do better for both Americas by investing in education, infrastructure, and people. And we can give some of those 10 million long-term unemployed workers a new opportunity to succeed in a growing US economy.

To help you wake up, let’s go back to the 1980s, and listen to the Eurythmics do a live version of “Would I Lie to You”. High energy and lots of fun:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 14, 2021

Most Republicans say the American Recovery Plan isn’t necessary, that the economy is on its way back without additional intervention. They should read this report from the Associated Press: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a stark sign of the economic inequality that has marked the pandemic recession and recovery, Americans as a whole are now earning the same amount in wages and salaries that they did before the virus struck — even with nearly 9 million fewer people working.”

AP says that Americans earned $9.66 trillion in wages and salaries in February 2020 but by April, that figure had shrunk by 10%. It recovered to $9.67 trillion in December, last year. That’s just wages and salaries; it doesn’t include unemployment payments, Social Security, or other benefit payments.

Of the nearly 9 million jobs that have been eliminated by the pandemic, 40% have been in restaurants, bars, hotels, arts, and entertainment. Retailers have lost nearly 400,000 jobs while many low-paying jobs, such as nursing home attendants and home health care aides, have also been laid off.

Another reason why job losses have had zero impact on the nation’s total pay is that so many of the affected employees work part time. The average work week in the industry that includes hotels, restaurants and bars is less than 26 hours. The average for all industries is nearly 35 hours. The New York Fed’s research shows how concentrated the job losses have been. For people making less than $30,000 a year, employment fell by 14% as of December. For those earning more than $85,000, it has actually risen slightly.

The wage and salary data also help explain the big stock market gains, which have been led by companies whose products are being purchased by higher-income Americans, such as Apple iPads, Peloton bikes, or Amazon’s online shopping.

So clearly, the bottom 30% need help. Too bad Republicans can’t see it. After not voting for the Recovery Plan, they introduced a bill to repeal the estate tax. If it passed, it would provide a $1.7 trillion tax break to millionaires and billionaires! On to cartoons.

Why they wouldn’t vote for it:

It’s no longer one America:

Still, some GOP’ers are touting a stimulus they didn’t vote for:

It’s a question of priorities:

Birds of a feather:

How the story has changed:

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Saturday Soother – March 13, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Warwick RI – 2021 photo by Rick Bateman

The WaPo reports that a Georgetown University law professor was terminated and a second placed on leave after a video clip showed a conversation between them that included what a University official called “reprehensible” statements about Black students.

The conversation between adjunct professors Sandra Sellers and David Batson was shared on Twitter this week. It shows Sellers discussing student performance:

“I hate to say this. I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are Blacks,” Sellers said in the video. “Happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on.’ You get some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy.”

Full disclosure: Wrongo is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Context for the video: The professors held their conversation on a zoomed negotiations class on February 21. It was recorded so that students could view it later. Sellers and Batson stayed on the call after the students left, and their conversation was also recorded. It was saved online for about two weeks before students noticed the conversation between Sellers and Batson. Then it was reported by students to the administration. The university fired Sellers and issued a statement on Thursday after the video went viral.

Ever notice how racists always start with a comment that gives them away? They try blunting the racism with phrases like “I hate to say it” or, using weird phrasing like “a lot of my lower ones are Black.” Most White people know that they can say 90% of the same shit they’ve always said, if they preface it with a disclaimer:

  • “I’m not a racist, but…”
  • “I have black friends, but…”

But what we hear most since Trump is:  “(big sigh), I know it’s not politically correct (eye roll), but...”

That’s used when they want to make sure everyone knows that they’re political martyrs who are living dangerously.

Imagine reversing professor Sellers’s thought: “I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are Whites…You get some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom.” That shows how odd it is to divide your law students into racial groups.

Georgetown Law doesn’t have trouble finding top quality students. US News rates it as number 14 among American law schools. They receive more applicants than they can accept. They may not be getting the topmost Harvard and Yale candidates, but they can choose from among the very high quality law students. Logically, all of their admitted students should be able to perform at a high level.

Still, a normal distribution of performance should be expected because multiple factors go into creating a final grade. Think about a student’s commitment to studying, or their individual contribution in class. Sometimes, group assignments are graded, which are at least partially dependent on others. So, it should be common for grades to be normally distributed.

Every day, we learn again that racism is a norm, not an exception in America. One day, that may no longer be true, but that day isn’t going to get any closer by pretending it’s already arrived. So it’s good that Sellers was fired.

Finally, graduating at the top of your class isn’t necessary or sufficient to insure high-level future performance. Doubt that? Remember that Ulysses S. Grant graduated at the bottom of his West Point class and did just fine. While Mike Pompeo graduated first at West Point, so there you go.

It was a big week in DC, with the passage of the American Recovery Plan, and the one-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic. But now, it’s time for our Saturday Soother. We’ve started on the spring clean-up on the fields of Wrong. The deer fences have come down, and we’re starting to think about some new split rail fencing. Remember, Daylight Savings Time starts tonight, but the dog has no plans to “spring ahead”. He’ll still want breakfast at the same time on Sunday morning.

Let’s settle back near a window and listen to the” Flute Quintet in D Major, Op. 51 No. 1: III. Adagio ma non troppo”, by Fredrich Kahlau, Danish composer who knew Mozart, and died in 1832. Here it’s played by the Kodály Quartet along with soloist Ginervra Petrucci:

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Should the Filibuster Die?

The Daily Escape:

Inspiration Point, late winter, Bryce Canyon, NP UT – March 2021 photo by CampsG

Biden’s pandemic relief plan became law, and the Senate confirmed Merrick Garland as attorney general. Those, and a few more cabinet level confirmations are all that’s likely to pass the Senate before the 2022 mid-terms.

That’s because the American Relief Plan, along with cabinet confirmations, and Supreme Court justices are no longer subject to the filibuster, while most other bills are.

Back in the dim past, when Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was Majority Leader, Obama could not get his federal judge nominees an up or down vote because they were blocked by the 60-vote requirement to close debate (“cloture”) in the Senate.

In November 2013, Reid and Senate Democrats used the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote rule on executive branch nominations and federal judicial appointments. In April 2017, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans extended the nuclear option to Supreme Court nominations to end debate on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, when McConnell couldn’t get the required 60 votes for ending the debate.

Today, the three-fifths majority vote (60 of 100) is still required to end debates on legislation. That means we most likely won’t see HR-1 (S-1 in the Senate) the bill to reform voting rights in America make it to an up or down vote in the Senate, as long as there is a filibuster.

That’s probably also true for the minimum wage, for Biden’s infrastructure initiative, and other wish-list items like DC statehood, a carbon tax, and reasonable gun legislation.

The best argument for keeping the filibuster is that it keeps the Party in the minority from being steamrollered by the Party in the majority, what pundits call the “tyranny of the majority”. Both Parties should take stock of everything they were able to delay or derail because of the filibuster. Then they should imagine all of that (and more) enacted by simple majority vote, when the opposition Party regains control of Congress and the presidency, which eventually will happen.

The worst argument is that it fosters compromise. But we know that the Senate is substantially more partisan today than it has ever been in the modern era. In fact, we’ve seen limited compromise on legislation, unless there was no way around it, such as when needing to extend the federal borrowing limit.

The Democrats haven’t been shy about using the filibuster. 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. And a few other times while Trump was President.

So, should the filibuster go? It should, at least in its current form. Several proposals to change the filibuster are out there. From the NYT:

“One proposal would bar its use for legislation involving voting rights or other democratic expansions. Another would require the old-fashioned “talking” filibuster. A third would entail holding a series of cloture votes spaced three days apart, lowering the number of senators needed to end the filibuster each time.”

The Democrats do not currently have the votes to end the filibuster, since Sens. Manchin (D-WVA) and Sinema (D-AZ) say they will not vote to abolish it. We’ll have to wait to see whether they back McConnell against Schumer and Biden when the Republicans launch a filibuster against the major Biden initiative that requires 60 votes for cloture. Or, if they’re open to one of the reforms mentioned above.

Wrongo favors eliminating the filibuster at least for bills that concern voting rights. That would allow the H-1/S-1 bill to move forward at a time when Jim Crow-style laws are likely to be re-introduced in many Republican-controlled states. The Republican falsehoods surrounding the 2020 election, culminating in insurrection, should convince Democrats that HR-1/S-1 is worth passing, even if the price is eliminating, or partially eliminating the filibuster.

Manchin and Sinema can probably be strong-armed into agreeing with that.

In 2017, a Republican-controlled Senate found it easy to forget tradition and eliminate the filibuster for the confirmation of Supreme Court justices, despite that being the key instance where the requirement for a broad, bipartisan vote should be obvious.

So, why should it be such a problem to remove it entirely? The framers of the Constitution didn’t include a supermajority requirement for the Senate to pass legislation; that came into being in 1837. It has been modified many times since.

Now, it’s long overdue for the filibuster to go. It’s the biggest roadblock to democracy in America.

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Japan’s Botched Response to Fukushima

The Daily Escape:

Winter’s end, NH – photo by Betsy Zimmerli

Today marks ten years since a tsunami rolled over the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on Honshu, Japan’s main island. The disaster was bad enough that the event is still known as 3/11 in Japan.

The tsunami and the earthquake that triggered it killed nearly 20,000 people, destroyed over 100,000 homes, and threw Japan into turmoil. The estimated remediation costs so far are about $300 billion, larger than that for any other natural disaster the world has seen.

We remember it largely for the core melt-down at the nuclear plant. That was caused by poor design: The tsunami easily topped the plant’s sea walls, flooding the underground bunkers that contained its emergency generators. The earthquake had cut any outside source of electricity, meaning that water couldn’t be pumped in to cool the reactor cores. The nuclear fuel began to meltdown.

In 2011, nuclear power provided about one-third of Japan’s electricity. Today, only four of 33 commercial nuclear reactors are operating, and only nine have met safety standards set after the disaster.

Across Japan, 53% are opposed to restarting the nuclear power plants. Naturally, that number is worse for people who opted not to return to Fukushima: just 16% said they were in favor of further restarts.

Overall, the Japanese think that both Fukushima plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), and the government have lied to them. At the time of the disaster, a botched response cost then prime minister Kan his job, opening the way for Shinzo Abe.

Tepco didn’t even confirm that the meltdowns had occurred until two months after the disaster. At the time, the government and Tepco said it was a natural disaster, but a 2012 inquiry found that it was a “profoundly man-made disaster”, in part due to the chummy relationship between the Japanese regulator and Tepco.

Credibility hasn’t improved. There are 1,000 metal tanks that store contaminated water used to cool the still-hot molten cores of the three reactors. The tanks contain nearly 1.25 million tons of spent cooling water, that’s still radioactive. Tepco and the government are running out of space to build more tanks, so they want to gradually release the water into the sea (after it is decontaminated and diluted) over the next 30 years.

However, in 2018, Tepco acknowledged that 70% of the water stored at the site contained extremely dangerous radioactive contaminants such as strontium-90, rather than just the tritium Tepco said it contained, another huge black eye for the state’s and Tepco’s credibility.

Tritium is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen that isn’t considered dangerous to human health. It’s routinely released into the ocean by nuclear power plants worldwide.

So, just like in the US state of Texas, Japan has favored the utilities over public health, and still is doing so today. This is important since Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. Japan’s renewable energy sector currently produces nearly 24% of its electric needs, but the government thinks that nuclear’s contribution will need to rise from today’s 6% to 20% within 10 years to meet the goal.

But growing nuclear’s contribution to Japan’s energy needs will require rebuilding public trust in nuclear energy. There needs to be more straight talk about how to expand safely, along with clear thinking about the very cozy government-business relationship.

Japan’s handling of the immediate crisis and the long-term solutions makes any discussion of adding additional nuclear power difficult. A survey by Edelman, a public-relations firm, found that the percentage of Japanese expressing trust in their government plunged from 51% before the disaster to 25% after. It now stands at 37%. As Azby Brown of Safecast, a Tokyo NGO says:

“Trust is not a renewable resource. Once you lose it, that’s it.”

Nuclear’s weakness is that it’s expensive and dangerous, which makes new nuclear power a hard sell. It is increasingly being deployed in autocratic nations; exactly where careful regulation is least likely. Russia is exporting nuclear power plants.

China’s nuclear plants are growing as part of an effort to reduce reliance on coal. China produced four times as much nuclear energy in 2019 as it did in 2011 and has 16 reactors under construction.

Countries wanting new nuclear plants now look to China and Russia as suppliers.

Skeptical people always ask nuclear power utilities one simple question: “What will you do with the radioactive waste?” Radioactive waste has always been, and remains, an intractable problem.

And now here we are, wanting zero-emissions power. But we’re faced with the intractable problems of what will resolve the after-effects of the Fukushima disaster, and how to store the radioactive waste from other power plants.

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American Rescue Plan: A Bold Bet by Biden

The Daily Escape:

Jay Peak, VT – photo by Alan Baker

Today, Wrongo listened to a NYT podcast that tried to dissect “Republican Populism”. Based on the American Rescue Plan that is about to become law, no one should EVER again say that the GOP are populists, except in the demagogic sense.

Long-time blog reader David P. called yesterday to alert Wrongo to Steve Rattner’s appearance on Morning Joe. Wrongo never watches morning television, so he would have missed the charts Rattner used to compare Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to Biden’s American Rescue Plan. They are important:

The two bills are nearly the same size, but Trump’s plan on the left above shows that 85% of the benefits from Trump’s plan were tax cuts for businesses and people making more than $75k/year. Just 16% went to people making less than $75k.

Biden’s American Rescue Plan (on the right above) gives 52% of its benefits to individuals making LESS than $75k, of which, 8% is in the form of tax cuts for dependent children. Biden’s plan also spends $1.75 Trillion on attempting to return the American economy to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Rattner’s next slide shows where each plan’s benefits went by income level:

This bar chart divides America by income bracket. The blue bars are Biden’s plan, and the red bars are Trump’s plan. Starting from the left, Biden’s plan provides 23% of the overall benefit to people in the bottom 20% income, while Trump’s plan gave them just 1%. Instead, Trump’s plan gave 65% of the benefits to the top 20%, while Biden’s gives them just 11%, mostly in the form of the $1,400 checks.

It’s easy to see which bill has helped the rich, and which did not. A key Republican talking point in the past few weeks was that the American Rescue plan isn’t focused enough on the pandemic. Yet when Trump and the Republicans had their chance, they showed themselves to be the same old plutocrats.

A key difference between the two Parties:

The CARES Act was a Republican accident. They got scared, and when the Republicans are scared, they’ll flirt with doing the right thing for self-preservation.

The America Rescue plan is a big win for Biden and the Democrats. When signed, it gives more than just cash to American families. It makes Obamacare more affordable for more people. It  provides $27 billion in rental assistance and much-needed help to cities and states, and it establishes a child allowance of $3000-$3600, which could become permanent down the road.

It doesn’t contain the $15 an hour minimum wage provision, but compared to previous big pieces of Democratic legislation, like Clinton’s 1993 tax bill or Obama’s 2009 ACA, despite the American Rescue plan’s huge price tag, it passed relatively easily. And just like those two earlier bills, no Republicans voted for it.

Let’s hope that the media continue to describe all of the things Republicans hate in the bill. Who gets what and when, and how, down to the last Biden buck. That they continue to talk about Republican consternation about the deficit and how we pay for it all.

Republicans today have zero ideology. For decades, tax cuts were their preferred economic tool. Tax cuts also caused revenue shortfalls for the government, who would then be unable to offer more safety net programs for the middle and working classes. A Republican delight!

Progressive Democrats believed that putting money in the hands of working people and the poor would be a better economic stimulus because it provided material support to people who needed it.

That’s Biden’s plan.

Progressives want to make things better; conservatives want to maintain the status quo. Progress is usually a good thing, but it isn’t a baseline premise for both Parties.

Reagan turned “liberal” into an epithet. Modern Republicans are doing the same with “progressive.” That will be a hard sell if progressives are bringing jobs and a measure of economic security to hometowns across America, while all the Republicans have to offer is “Look what the progressives did to Mr. Potato Head!

They will always have the cultural issues, real or imagined, to run on.

But on economic issues, the whole “progressive wish list” compliant from the Republicans is pretty weak tea, when they’re unwilling to vote for anything.

Biden and the Democrats are making a big net on progressive, Democratic ideology. It will be exciting to see how it works. And all of it is going to be popular.

 

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Monday Wake Up Call, Minimum Wage Edition – March 8, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Point Betsie Lighthouse via Michigan Nut Photography

At the risk of wearing you out about the minimum wage, there are a few more things to consider. The Brookings Institution found that more than 23.8 million people made less than $15 per hour in 2019, according to an analysis of census data.

This is useful, because the actual working population earning the minimum wage or less was only 1.1 million workers in 2020. The larger population is a better approximation of the number who would see a wage hike under the proposal.

By state, of the 23.8 million people who make less than the proposed minimum wage, around 12.4 million (52%) live in the 22 states with two Republican senators. By contrast, 7.3 million (31%) live in the 23 states that have two Democratic senators. The remaining 4.2 million live either in states with one senator from each party or, in DC. Here’s a handy map:

This makes it clear that while low-wage work is everywhere, the worst effects are concentrated in the south and Midwest. Nine states already have passed some form of ramp to a $15/hour minimum wage. While a number of red states have raised their minimum wage, Florida is the only one on track to $15.

Opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15/hour is mostly Republican. All Senate Republicans voted against it, along with eight Democratic Senators who voted against including it in the newly passed Covid relief bill. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is one Dem who voted against it, even though Arizona has already passed one of the highest minimum wages in the country ($12.00). The question is why would Sinema deny the same benefit to others.

And no Republican Senators, not even the few with populist pretensions, have endorsed a $15 minimum wage. This is despite the fact that the policy commands supermajority support in opinion polls. Republicans oppose it saying that it will cause small business job loss. But data are not conclusive on this point. Regardless, the GOP sees its “populist” base as business owners of different sizes.

But there are far more workers in the US than there are small-business owners. Condemning a large swath of the workforce to economic precarity so that a much smaller strata can keep mining profits won’t improve America’s general welfare.

The map showing states’ share of minimum wage workers also correlates with the states that take the most out of the US Treasury via the Earned Income Tax Credit. So those states take tax money from the blue states to pay their low wage workers welfare, while their Republican leaders call the blue states sending their tax dollars, socialist.

And they also refuse to make their business owners pay their own citizens a living wage. Most Republican Senators could not care less about our lowest paid workers. And, in general, the real costs of supporting their lowest paid workers are borne by taxpayers.

These Senators fall into two categories: One says of course, he and his wonderful colleagues across the aisle favor a higher minimum wage, who wouldn’t? But maybe not that high, maybe a little lower, who knows, but not $15.

The other says of course he favors a $15 minimum wage, who wouldn’t? But, sadly, this just isn’t the time. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe next week? Maybe in 20 years? But for sure, now isn’t the right time, Covid you know.

Time to wake up America! The time is now to pass an increased minimum wage. And $15 should be the floor, not the ceiling. To help you wake up, we turn to Bunny Wailer, who died last week. Now, all the original members of Bob Marley and the Wailers are gone.

Blackheart Man” is the debut album by Bunny, released in 1976. He’s joined here by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh of The Wailers on backing vocals, and the Wailers rhythm section on some tracks. Let’s listen to “Dreamland”, his song of repatriation, from the album:

Lyric:

There’s a land that I have heard about

So far across the sea.

There’s a land that I have heard about

So far across the sea.

To have you on my dreamland

Would be like heaven to me.

To have you on my dreamland

Would be like heaven to me.

 

Oh, what a time that will be,

Oh, just to wait, wait, wait and see!

We’ll count the stars up in the sky

And surely, we’ll never die.

And surely we’ll never die.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 7, 2021

With the Senate’s passage of the Covid relief bill along Party lines, Wrongo is certain that given the chance, the GOP will do to Biden precisely what they did to Obama: Obstruct nearly everything in the hope that it will help them return to control of House and/or the Senate in 2022.

There may be agreement on an infrastructure bill, but if the filibuster remains in place, that will be the only other thing that Democrats achieve before the 2022 midterms.

It’s important to remember that a family of four that makes $13.25/hour is living at the poverty level if they are working a 40-hour week. Few of those workers receive retirement, health benefits, or paid vacations.

Yet America is willing to provide many school-age children in this socio-economic segment three meals a day, often when school isn’t in session.  It’s analogous to America failing to provide health care to the neediest, while letting the most critically ill into a local emergency room. The case for increasing the minimum wage is overwhelming.

Rome is burning. We should be willing to overpay for more fire extinguishers. That means end the filibuster. On to cartoons.

Opinions differ based on viewpoints:

Elephant plans to update Seuss:

People are starting to think we might get back to normal:

But not in Texas:

Two presidents compared:

Cuomo looks to the future:

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Saturday Soother – March 6, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport, RI – photo by Ray Dickson

A few random Saturday thoughts: The Capitol wasn’t invaded by hordes of Trump dead enders on Thursday demanding that their leader assume the presidency.  But the House of Representatives was fearful enough to take the day off. So mission accomplished!

Second, those dead enders were probably too busy digging through their mom’s basements looking for their old Dr. Seuss books. They heard that Dr. Seuss has been “cancelled” by Biden and the Democrats. According to Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade:

“The cancel culture is canceling Dr. Seuss….It’s out of control.”

There’s nothing like a culture war to distract the Republican rank and file from noticing that none of their House and Senate representatives voted for the Covid Relief Bill or for HR 1.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a private company. It made a private business decision about its private property, taking six Seuss books out of circulation. Republicans, those stalwart defenders of private property and free-market capitalism, of course, are going nuts.

OTOH, the Dr. Seuss tempest is capitalism in action. Dr. Seuss Enterprises is minting money off the conservative backlash to the sidelining of his six racist books: Nine of the top ten bestselling books on Amazon right now are Seuss books that aren’t being “cancelled”.

Third, on the economic front, we added 379,000 jobs in February, outpacing expectations. But we’re still about 9.5 million jobs behind where we were one year ago, before the pandemic hit. Even if we were to continue adding jobs at last month’s rate, it would take two full years just to get back to that level.

That should tell us that the only real answer to the jobs crisis is containing Covid. Too bad so many Republican governors are all about undermining that effort by refusing mask mandates. Here’s a map showing the states that have no mask mandate:

It shouldn’t be news that ALL these states have Republican governors, including WY and KS, who have limited mask mandates.

Fourth, here’s a great chart showing how many hours it took to pay rent back when the $7.25 minimum wage was new and how long people have to work for the same space now:

Source: WSJ

Back in 1968, no minimum wage worker had to work more than 20 hours/week to make rent. The chart makes it clear that even if a $15/hour minimum wage is passed, only workers in Toledo OH would be better off than they were in 1968. So, why can’t Republicans see this? Who are they afraid of? Certainly not their own economically distressed voters. Shouldn’t they get on board and say it’s time to pass the $15/hour minimum wage?

But enough of all that ails us, it’s Saturday, and time to take a break from the big questions of the day, and concentrate on smaller things, in other words, a Saturday Soother. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, we have finally taken down our Christmas tree. Since it’s a faux tree, we have zero dead needles on the floor.

We’re also looking forward to setting up our new treadmill today. Because of the pandemic, these babies are in short supply. The delivery team said yesterday that we were their 12th stop of the day. Should have bought stock in that company.

Today we’re brewing up your coffee from the Brooklyn Roasting Company in Dumbo, on Brooklyn’s coffee waterfront. Today, let’s pop the top on a 12 oz. can of their 3D coffee, ($15) with its notes of berry, dark chocolate, and honey. The roaster says it pops out and pulls you in.

Now take a seat by a window and listen to “Meditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera, “Thaïs”. It is based on the novel “Thaïs” by Anatole France and was first performed in Paris in March 1894. Here it is played by Nathan Farrington on Bass, and Allison Allport on Harp, not the more traditional violin or orchestral version:

BTW, Wrongo checked, and today is the fifth time he’s featured the “Meditation” on a Saturday. He must really like it. If you’ve never listened to it before, please try it today!

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HR 1 Must Pass in the Senate

The Daily Escape:

Florida Beach – photo by Wrongo. Most years, we’re in FL looking at the ocean this week. That’s another thing cancelled by Covid.

The House passed HR 1, the “For the People Act,” an omnibus voting rights, and ethics and campaign finance bill. If passed by the Senate and signed by Biden, the legislation would set national standards for federal elections, require nonpartisan redistricting, and put the brakes on hundreds of bills introduced by Republican legislatures across the country to limit ballot access in the wake of Democrats gaining control of Congress and the White House.

Jonathan Last says that Senate Democrats now must make three calculations as they decide whether to take up the legislation:

  1. Do they have the votes to pass it?
  2. Do they have the votes to break the filibuster?
  3. If the answers to (1) and (2) are yes, should they move forward?

Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that the answers to (1) and (2) are yes. Then, of course they should move forward! Last observes that:

  • We have one party with a small—but clear, and durable—majority.
  • We have another party that has given up on trying to create a majority and instead has retreated into attempts to use systemic leverage—of both geography and anti-democratic gerrymandering — to preserve power for their minority.

Last says the only counter to the Republican’s efforts to game the system is to use the system to create more democracy — to lessen the points of leverage available to Republicans.

So, the Senate must pass HR 1. That expands voting. It moves the leverage away from politics and for the first time in America, towards the people. Last brings up a NY Magazine interview with David Shor, where he says:

“Since the maps in the House of Representatives are so biased against us, if we don’t pass a redistricting reform, our chance of keeping the House is very low. And then the Senate is even more biased against us than the House. So, it’s also very important that we add as many states as we can.”

So, if Democrats can kill the filibuster and pass HR 1, a next step is to bring up statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. Republicans will howl, but as Last says, if the Dems have learned anything in the last four years it’s that there are only two relevant questions when Congress acts:

  • Are you explicitly forbidden from doing something by the black letter of the law?
  • Do you have the votes to do it?

If the answer is No to the first and Yes to the second, then you can do it. That is exactly what Republicans did every time in the Trump era. Remember Merrick Garland, and Amy Coney Barrett? Remember that members of the Trump administration refused to testify in front of House committees?

Remember too that the Constitution allows Congress to add states by simple majority vote. If Democrats have the votes, then they can also do that. Republicans aren’t the only Party who can use the political leverage available in our system.

The difference would be that Republicans have used that leverage to empower electoral minorities, while the Democrats in this case, could use that leverage to empower electoral majorities.

Vote suppression is the Republican’s default position. They have become truly authoritarian, despite continuing to give lip service to the Constitution and to democratic principles. January 6 taught us that the only election reform Republicans will unanimously accept is one that declares its candidates the winners regardless of the election’s results.

To do any of this, the Senate Democrats need to be united, and that is the most important test for new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) laid out the case for getting rid of the filibuster:

“We have a raw exercise of political power going on where people are making it harder to vote and you just can’t let that happen in a democracy because of some old rules in the Senate…”

Schumer’s task is to corral Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Surely, they see the Republican Party’s antidemocratic bad faith. The Republican Party is no longer republican.

As Wrongo has said before, Jan. 6 should have shattered any illusions about the intentions, not just of Trump and his dead enders, but about the Republican Party’s allegiance to our Constitutional republic.

Democrats must act accordingly. And as soon as possible.

The course of action available to them won’t be an option in 2022 after the GOP passes all the voter suppression legislation that they now have pending.

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