Saturday Soother – May 22, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Little Island Park, NYC – May 2021 photo by Amr Alfiky/The New York Times. Little Island is a new park that opens this weekend. It was developed by Barry Diller and has gardens, an amphitheater and dramatic views. The architect is Thomas Heatherwick, who designed the Vessel at Hudson Yards. Hundreds of free and/or modestly priced concerts and children’s programs are planned for this year.

(There will be no cartoons tomorrow as Wrongo and Ms. Right are spending time with family celebrating the 50th birthday of their youngest child.)

Despite all the pundits who predict that the Republicans may regain control of the House in the 2022 mid-terms, the charts below say that Trump isn’t all that popular with Americans. They come from a new Yahoo News / YouGov Poll conducted between May 11th and 13th of 1,561 adults, with a 2.8-point margin of error:

Graphical presentations by Ted McLaughlin

Overall, the poll says that Biden would beat Trump by 48% to 36%, a substantial weakening of Trump’s popular vote support in the 2020 presidential election, where it was Biden, 51.3% to 46.9%.

OTOH, the news isn’t totally terrific for Biden, who falls short of the 51% + who voted for him in 2020.

But Biden has a clear edge in that undecided category, while the poll also showed that 12% of Trump 2020 voters would either flip to Biden or, are now “not sure”. That’s twice as many as the 6% who would potentially flip from Biden to Trump. Among Republicans, 10% say they would vote for Biden in 2024.

In fact, on the question of whether Trump is helping or hurting the Republican Party the poll showed this:

Among all Americans, 47% say Trump’s hurting the Republican Party, while 32% say he’s helping it. Among Republicans, 68% saying he is helping the Party. We know that Congressional Republicans are still tied to Trump, but they’ll need more than their base voters to return to power. As these charts show, it isn’t clear that will happen if all they do is continue to cling to Trump.

On to the weekend and our Saturday Soother. There’s still some yard work to do on the fields of Wrong. Our new specimen birch tree ordered by mail has stopped looking like it’s dormant and has finally leafed out. There’s plenty of spring trimming to do of some flowers on what is going to be a warm weekend.

Before we put on the bug spray, let’s take a few minutes and hydrate with Bourbon Barrel Aged Ethiopia Cold Brew from Glendale California’s Regent Coffee. This ready-to-drink black coffee is sweetly tart with an invitingly rich finish, with suggestions of Bourbon barrel integrated with classic Ethiopia notes of dried stone fruit and sweet herbs (or so says the roaster).

Now grab a seat by a window and listen to trumpeter Alison Balsom perform the 3rd Movement of JN Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto in E Major, live with the London Mozart Players, conducted by Howard Shelley:

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January 6th Must Be Investigated

The Daily Escape:

Muldrow Glacier, Denali NP, AK – 2021 photo by Tim Raines with NPS. The glacier has started moving rapidly, something called a glacial surge. From September 2020 to March 2021, the ice has moved down mountain by as much as 1.9 miles.

On Wednesday, 35 Republicans broke ranks to join the Democrats in the House, voting to create a 9/11-style Commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The final vote on the bill to create the commission was 252-175, with all “noes” coming from GOP Congress critters.

That means 83% of House Republicans voted against investigating the attack. For those keeping score, that’s an increase over the 66% of Republicans who voted against counting the Electoral College votes on January 6. The anti-democratic caucus is growing before our eyes.

The Senate will take up the Jan. 6 Commission bill next week. Most pundits say it will be DOA in the Senate, but Wrongo disagrees. Republicans can filibuster it, which will look bad politically, particularly after it received a bipartisan vote in the House.

The GOP could negotiate with Schumer. Will Democrats search for a way to get 10 Republican votes by tweaking the bill? We’ll soon learn just how far Schumer and Pelosi will go to establish the Commission.

If Democrats can find 10 Republican Senators to support bringing the bill to the floor, the Republican concern is that bipartisan commissions produce written reports. As we saw with the “9/11 Report,” these reports establish baseline facts that create a national viewpoint about an event that linger for decades to come.

If they can’t get 10 Republican votes in the Senate for this, what are the odds that any Democratic compromise on any legislation can get to 10? If the filibuster allows the Party that incited the insurrection to prevent Congress from forming a nonpartisan Commission to investigate and document the insurrection, then why keep the filibuster?

Even if it passes both Houses, Republicans can hobble it. McCarthy and McConnell get to choose the five Republican members of the committee. They could choose not to appoint any Committee members. Since subpoenas by the Committee require at least one Republican vote, it could never call a witness. Alternatively, they could appoint very radical Party members to sit on it, which would mean no subpoenas are ever issued to Republicans.

That McConnell and McCarthy are opposing even a balanced Commission suggests they are intent on simply covering up what was arguably the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.

It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to understand why many Republicans would prefer to keep as much as possible about January 6 out of the realm of delivered knowledge. If Mitch McConnell can kill the Commission, he ensures that Trump, Cruz, Hawley, and all the House Republican deniers will never have to deal with their willingness to usurp power.

If Dems can’t find 10 GOP Senators, the House should hold hearings anyway. They should do for a critical issue what Republicans did with Whitewater and Benghazi, two rabbit hole issues of zero importance.

The 2020 mid-term campaign needs to be nationalized. The Democrats’ message should be that any Republican who denies that nothing wrong happened at the Capitol on January 6 is ineligible to serve. Campaigning on issues also matters. But any Democrat that doesn’t understand this doesn’t deserve to be in office.

What’s curious to Wrongo is that most polls show that Republicans are in a good position to take back the House, and possibly the Senate in 2022. This hardly seems possible when Trump’s popularity continues to hover in the high 30’s to low 40’s while Biden popularity is in the mid-50’s.

Let’s close with the words of Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) on the House floor. He thanked the Republicans supporting the creation of the independent Commission and then turned on the nay sayers:

“Benghazi. You guys chased the former secretary of state all over the country, spent millions of dollars. We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship. What else has to happen in this country….If we’re going to take on China, if we’re going to rebuild the country, if we’re going to reverse climate change, we need two political parties in this country that are both living in reality—and you ain’t one of them.”

Why oppose a bipartisan commission on the January 6th insurrection? Because it focuses a spotlight on an event that most Republicans want to forget.

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US Banks Want Another Bailout

The Daily Escape:

Beach near Avon Fishing Pier, NC – April 2021 photo by Greg Kiser

Many of you know that Wrongo spent many years as a banker for one of the top-three US banks. Banks have several challenges when trying to make a buck. They must first find a borrower. The borrower must be able to afford and repay the loan, and when the loan is repaid, the banker must find another borrower. That summarizes the raison d’etre for loan officers and banks in general. Full disclosure: Wrongo receives a pension from the big bank.

That background may help with the following story from the NYT:

“The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.”

This debt relief is part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March. It is intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other farmers of color have faced from lenders and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). More from the NYT:

“But no money has yet gone out the door. Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of reverse discrimination sued the USDA over the initiative.

Now, three of the biggest banking groups — the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and National Rural Lenders Association — are complaining about the cost of being repaid early.”

The impacted banks will receive 120% of the outstanding loan balances. They are getting that additional amount to help cover their costs and taxes. Their complaint is that 120% isn’t enough, that they have been short changed because they won’t receive future interest on a loan that will no longer exist.

What has happened to corporate America if this is really a legitimate issue?

When a bank loan is repaid early, the bank now has that money available to lend again. The bank isn’t losing money, they’re losing the ability to earn the total return they projected when they originally made the loan. Most loans have a right of prepayment, usually without penalty. So, once repaid, the bank has an opportunity to create new loans and a new earnings stream with a new borrower.

Where’s the problem unless Wall Street requires another bail-out because they can no longer operate profitably under their basic business model?

A glitch is that the banks do not always hold the loans they originate to maturity. Instead, they package them and sell them to other investors. The bank lobbying groups have been asking the USDA to step in and make the loan repayments on behalf of the borrower. Of course, this makes what was a loan to a Black (or other minority) farmer a riskless US government security.

The USDA says that obliging the banks would put an undue burden on taxpayers and that the law doesn’t allow the agency to pay interest costs or reimburse secondary market investors. This quote from Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council says it all: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and [some] have lost their land and their livelihood….And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.”

In addition to the banks, a group of white farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Ohio are suing the USDA, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory. The lawsuit was filed by a group led by (who else?) the former Trump administration troll Stephen Miller. Miller’s fear of people of color getting anything is at the diseased heart of America’s economic, justice, and social systems.

Investing involves risk, including the risk of losing money. These banks aren’t going to “lose” money. And they’re ignoring the historical injustices visited on these farmers while focusing on their bottom lines. They’re also ignoring that they were an important part of that systemic racism.

This is another example of a huge flaw in our national ethos: The notion that maximizing business profits must always be a primary consideration when formulating government policy, and that enriching shareholders should take precedence over everything else.

The banks protesting debt relief for Black farmers says plenty about their sense of entitlement, particularly when their profits are soaring. It’s more proof that we need revolutionary change to American capitalism.

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Should America Still Be 100% Behind Israel?

The Daily Escape:

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge MD – photo by abitslippy

America has supported Israel since it became a country. That support has largely been through foreign and military aid, as well as diplomatically, against threats from its Arab neighbors. Throughout this period, most Americans have supported that policy. Biden supports it today.

But things may be changing, considering what’s happened in Israel and Gaza for the past two weeks. It may be time to reassess our unqualified support.

A major flash point was the campaign led by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. There was also an Israeli police raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque on the first night of Ramadan, not to prevent violence, but to cut off its loudspeakers preventing Muslim prayers from drowning out a nearby speech by Israel’s president.

The violence surprised those who believed that the 2020 Abraham Accords and subsequent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan would somehow move the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to the backburner. In fact, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner who was dubbed the architect of the Abraham Accords, said this in March in the WSJ:

“We are witnessing the last vestiges of what has been known as the Arab-Israeli conflict,”

But he was wrong. The reason nothing changed is that the “Arab-Israeli conflict” has always been about the Israelis and the Palestinians. Kushner was even more wrong when he said:

“The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real-estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians…”

Aren’t most wars real estate disputes?

No matter how many treaties Israel signs with Arab states, nothing will change until they make a peace deal with the Palestinians. And that peace deal will require justice for the Palestinians. From the NYT’s Michelle Goldberg:

“Palestinians fear, not without reason, that Israel is trying to push them out of Jerusalem altogether. That, in turn, has let Hamas position itself as Jerusalem’s protector. And Israel seems to consider its right to defend itself from Hamas justification for causing obscene numbers of civilian casualties.”

The Palestinian current anger stems from the ongoing moves by Netanyahu’s government to locate more settlers in East Jerusalem. This is seen in Palestine as straightforward ethnic cleansing, further encouraged by the far-Right Jewish parties that Netanyahu now must depend on to retain power.

Let’s remember what defines “Ethnic Cleansing”: It refers to the expulsion of a group from a certain area. Other than that, it hasn’t been defined, and isn’t recognized as a crime under international law. The lines between ethnic cleansing and genocide can be blurry. As James Silk, of Yale Law says:

“Your motivation may be that you want the people out, but if in doing that you intend to destroy the group, then it’s also genocide…”

OTOH, by targeting Israeli civilian areas with unguided rockets, Hamas is certainly committing a war crime. It may also be true that Israel is committing war crimes by its bombing of Gaza. Despite Israel’s claims that its strikes are against military targets, the vast majority of those killed and injured in Gaza are civilians.

The core of Israel’s justification for expelling Palestinians is that they are bad actors who can’t be trusted. And Israel is justified in launching attacks to defend itself. That’s partially true, but you can’t defend yourself in a court of law by saying that the other guy is even worse than you are, so you shouldn’t be in court at all.

Today’s Republicans are 100% behind any Israeli government, no matter what actions they take. And right on cue, 44 Republican Senators used the conflict with Gaza as a pretext to demand that Biden break off talks with Iran regarding restoring the Nuclear Deal.

On the Democrat’s side, there seems to be a growing divergence, with people under 50 saying they are disenchanted with the decades of bad behavior by Israel. Older Democrats agree generally with the Republican position. In fact, the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel two weeks ago.

We should remember that Israel is the regional superpower. It possesses nuclear weapons. Its GDP is 26 times that of the Palestinians. While it styles itself as the only regional democracy, it practices elements of apartheid and ethnic cleansing with the Palestinians.

Where do we go from here? Wrongo’s guess is that it will be more of the same, only more intense, and brazen.

The West really doesn’t care enough about the Palestinians to attempt bringing Israel to heel. Despite lukewarm calls by Biden for a cease fire, the US blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement aimed at reducing the escalating violence.

Every member of the UN Security Council except the US unanimously supported the statement, which had no force of law.

If our government is content to protect successive Likud (or Likud-like) governments at the UN, no serious diplomatic pressure will be possible. Someday, a US Administration will abstain from some Israel related vote at the Security Council.

Then you might see some accommodation of the Palestinians by the Israeli government.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 16, 2021

Both Houses of Congress have finally agreed to set up a committee to investigate the causes of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Democrats wanted a Congressional investigation to reveal the causes of the insurrection so Congress could pass laws to prevent it happening again.

Republicans had been blocking its creation. Initially, they wanted to investigate all political violence in the country, including that caused by “Antifa”. Their strategy was that could water down the committee’s report and possibly obscure the role of Trump’s supporters in the insurrection.

The 10-person bipartisan commission will be evenly split between the parties. The Speaker of the House and Senate Majority leader will together appoint five commissioners, including the chair. The House and Senate Minority leaders will appoint the other five commissioners, including the Vice Chair.

Commissioners cannot be current government appointees and must have significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity.

This might look like a victory for the Democrats, but it isn’t. The Republicans can control the investigation through the committee’s subpoena power. To issue any subpoena, at least 6 members of the committee must agree. This gives the GOP the power to veto calling any witnesses.

It will probably result in a milquetoast committee report. The GOP’s inherent veto over the subpoena process is a flaw that potentially dooms the investigation to failure. On to cartoons.

Same as it ever was:

If the elephant’s trunk was like Pinocchio’s nose:

How business’s view changed from stimulus #1 to #2:

Fox keeps the anti-vax message going:

Market for fake IDs seems to be the gas hoarders:

Will this ever end?

Israel is losing control of the narrative because there are only so many viral videos of brutality that it can dismiss by saying, “Actually this is way more complicated than it looks.” As Caitlin Johnstone says, a nation that cannot exist without nonstop warfare is not a real nation, it’s a military operation with suburbs. This map should tell you that there is no possibility of a two-state solution. Palestine won’t be viable unless large numbers of settlers are removed, and that’s not happening:

More: Back in the Nineties, Netanyahu said that then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was “against Jewish values” for offering to withdraw from some of the occupied territories in exchange for peace. He led a mock funeral at which his followers brandished signs with Rabin’s head in the crosshairs of a gun. And when Rabin was assassinated by one of Netanyahu’s followers, he said he never condoned violence.

He’s also the guy who hasn’t been able to form a government after four tries, who’s also in danger of going to prison for corruption, assuming he can’t somehow cling to power.

The US has to think carefully about what our role should be in this conflict.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 10, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Lone Juniper, Black Canyon, Gunnison NP, CO – 2020 photo by Mattbnet

Isn’t it time that corporations paid decent wages?

After the Labor Department released its April jobs report, the US Chamber of Commerce blamed last month’s weak employment growth on the $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit. They then urged lawmakers to eliminate the enhanced unemployment payments that were extended through early September by Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

This, from the dudes who willingly spend $300 on a lunch.

According to the US Chamber’s analysis, the extra $300 unemployment insurance (UI) benefit results in roughly one in four recipients taking home more pay than they earned working. But, if one in four recipients are making more not working than they did working, that’s not an indictment of $300 a week in UI benefits. It’s an indictment of corporations who pay less-than-living wages.

We could blame Asia for this, or we can blame our managerial and ownership class who engineered the outsourcing deals that made it possible. They built factories in Asia as an economic-production-economic-aggression platform to disintermediate American workers by sending higher wage jobs to lower wage locations in the Far East. And in many cases, the same companies who closed the American plants owned the Asian factories.

It’s sickening to hear these big business types complain that raising wages will destroy the economy! That’s the same argument which was used in the South against ending slavery (it would hurt the economy).

The US Chamber isn’t alone. South Carolina is cutting off extended unemployment benefits starting on June 30. From the SC governor:

“South Carolina’s businesses have borne the brunt of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those businesses that have survived — both large and small, and including those in the hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors — now face an unprecedented labor shortage,”

South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 12.8% in April of last year. But this March, it was down to 5.1%, significantly below the 6.1% national rate. Still, these Governors (Montana has done this too) are simply acting as shills on behalf of corporations to force workers back into low wage jobs.

Many studies have shown that the employees of big box stores like Walmart and Target cannot meet their basic economic needs on the money they make at their minimum wage job. Many turn to community social services just to feed their families.

It’s not China (or other Asian countries) that are to blame. We demand ever-lower prices, so something had to give. That something was middle-class American jobs. The American public was never part of the discussion about the pros and cons of offshoring manufacturing to lower wage countries, or how that would both lower costs for goods, but also destroy American jobs.

A lot of the people who now shop at Walmart and Target lost their jobs to Mexico, China, or Bangladesh. At which point, they needed some form of welfare, and/or another part time job at Walmart-type wages. And now that they’re on Walmart wages, Walmart prices are all they can afford.

Time to wake up America! We should be asking how can it be that food banks are overwhelmed while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits an all-time high? Simply, the stock market isn’t the whole economy. The stock market is about corporate profits, while food banks are about minimum wage jobs and unemployment.

We should be asking: Why do these corporations (the small as well as the large) persist with business models that don’t allow them to pay living wages?

We could also ask whether more red states will try to “solve” the employment problem by hurting the unemployed rather than treating the root cause: paying living wages.

To help you wake up, listen to Rag’n’Bone Man and P!nk on Rag’n’Bone Man’s new release, “Anywhere Away from Here”. We often feature music to have fun with, or to dance to. And then there are tunes like this, music for the heart and soul:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 9, 2021

The Department of Labor released its employment statistics for April on Friday, and it was a big disappointment. Many economists thought the economy would create around a million jobs for the month, but the actual figure was only 266,000 jobs. That total would be acceptable if America had a healthy economy, but it falls far short of what is needed to recover from the Covid-created recession.

The increase in the civilian workforce was 430,000 in April. The net result was a rise in the number of unemployed workers. This caused the unemployment rate for April to tick up by 0.1% to 6.1%.

The media are filled with reports that employers say they can’t find enough workers for the jobs they have available. Leaving aside the devastating loss of childcare that occurred during the pandemic which is keeping many women at home, more workers will return if employers do two things: First, make sure the workplace is safe for returning workers. Second, PAY A LIVABLE WAGE. Enough ranting. On to cartoons.

What’s with the vaccine hesitancy?

“Incentives” are the new solution:

GOP tells Cheney it isn’t personal, it’s just business:

Two-faced Mitch:

 

The GOP is showing it intends to control the government, no matter what:

Happy Mother’s Day:

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Saturday Soother – May 8, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Old North Bridge, Concord, MA  – 2019 Photo by Kristen Wilkinson photography. Old North Bridge is where in April 1775, 400 American colonists engaged 90 British Army troops, routing them. The current bridge is a replica of the bridge that stood at the time of the 1775 battle.

Sorry for the long break.

Anyone else have the feeling that we’re in the beginning stages of a third revolution in America? Take a look at what’s happening in Republican-controlled state legislatures.

Arizona has outsourced an audit of its 2020 presidential vote in Maricopa county to a firm called Cyber Ninjas, a Florida company with no history in voting audits. One of the people helping coordinate the audit is John Brakey, who explained one of the tests that was being conducted as part of the review process:

“There’s accusations that 40,000 ballots were flown into Arizona and…stuffed into the box…And it came from the southeast part of the world….And what they’re doing is to find out if there’s bamboo in the paper…[because] they use bamboo in their paper processing…in southeast Asia.”

Thus, democracy hangs by a thread, possibly made of bamboo. But their audit isn’t about bamboo, it’s about bamboozling their base. It’s about keeping the contributions flowing and the outrage boiling. This speaks to a larger and growing problem. From The Bulwark: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Political sorting has created a country in which even local elections are highly polarized. In practice this means that divided government…[isn’t common]…even at the state legislative level. Forty-seven states have both branches of the legislature controlled by the same party….Of these, Republicans overwhelmingly dominate—meaning either complete control of both branches or veto-proof legislative majorities with a Democratic governor—in 25 states, giving party leaders carte blanche to set the agenda and pass bills.”

It’s been six months since the 2020 presidential election, and Trump’s lies about the election continue to corrode our democracy. Unfortunately, his lie is now a litmus test for Republicans. Republicans who spoke out against Trump’s lies are facing consequences as the Party coalesces around the former guy.

In Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said:

“One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration”

In the House, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to be forced out of her leadership post because she called Trump a liar. The House GOP members will stand against her and behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Why the unanimity? Because the House is different from the Senate.

McCarthy has 212 members who say to him, “your number one job is to get me re-elected,” while in the Senate, every senator is an island and has six years to reassure their voters that they’re ok with Trump, despite not all acting like his buddy. House members don’t run statewide. They only run for two-year terms, so they’re much more vulnerable to primary challenges.

The belief that the 2020 election was stolen isn’t amenable to fact-checking. The assertion of fraud has become an ideological statement that political opposition to the Republican Party and to Donald Trump is illegitimate. To oppose Trump is to be The Enemy, and The Enemy has surrendered any claim to fundamental political rights.

To paraphrase Norm from Cheers: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and Democrats are wearing Milkbone underpants.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that most Republicans believe that the election was stolen. A majority of them believed the Obama birther lies. They believed Hillary killed Vince Foster. They believed giving tax breaks to the rich would “trickle down” to the rest of us. Most of them believe that universal health care, public day care, and free college will make America a communist state.

Biden has tumbled to the fact that he won’t be able to cut deals with the GOP. On Wednesday, he offered his least confident assessment:

“I don’t understand the Republicans.”

He now faces a basic question: What if Republicans have changed so fundamentally that they’ve become a rogue Party? The answer is, they have. So, what does that mean for Biden’s presidency? And for our democracy?

Enough, it’s time for our Saturday Soother. Time to get near a window and breathe in the pollen-soaked air in the Northeast. Our delicate fruit trees have made their annual journey outside for the summer, and the vegetable garden is planted. Now, like America, we await good results.

To help take your mind off how precipitously things have changed, spend a few minutes listening to “Kashmir”, by Led Zeppelin, in a symphonic cover version recorded live at the Epic Symphonic Rock show in Lima Peru in February 2018. The cello soloist is Ghislaine Valdivia. This is a real treat and a must watch:

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 3, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset and wild Iris, over a flooded Tomici Creek, Gunnison CO – Spring 2019 photo by Matt Burt

The GOP is preparing an army of “poll watchers” to discredit elections, and GOP state legislatures are delivering in nearly 20 states.

“Bills in several states would grant new authority to poll watchers…to observe voters and election workers. Critics say it could lead to conflict and chaos at polling places and an improper targeting of voters of color.”

A new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as of April 15, lawmakers in 20 states had introduced at least 40 bills to expand poll watchers’ powers.

The Texas GOP is bringing back having trained partisans intimidate minority voters whom they consider possibly illegitimate:

“The red dot of a laser pointer circled downtown Houston on a map during a virtual training of poll watchers by the Harris County Republican Party. It highlighted densely populated, largely Black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods.

‘This is where the fraud is occurring’, a county Republican official said in a leaked video of the training, which was held in March. A precinct chair in the northeastern, largely white suburbs of Houston, he said he was trying to recruit people from his area “to have the confidence and courage” to act as poll watchers in the circled areas in upcoming elections.

A question at the bottom corner of the slide indicated just how many poll watchers the party wanted to mobilize: “Can we build a 10K Election Integrity Brigade?”

Republicans in battleground states are trying to make voting harder and more confusing. They’re making a concerted legislative push to grant more autonomy and access to partisan poll watchers, that is, citizens trained by a campaign or a party and authorized by local election officials to observe the electoral process.

Many questions: Who will train the poll watchers? Who will certify them? And importantly, who watches the poll watchers? Before this effort to make poll watching partisan, poll workers were trained by the county and certified by the county to perform the job. Without a standardized and transparent process, poll watchers are simply harassers violating voters’ privacy.

In Florida, an election bill passed last Thursday by Republicans in the state legislature specifies that partisan observers must be able see the ballots as canvassing boards work to authenticate voters’ signatures on absentee ballots. There are no limits on how many ballots poll watchers can challenge. Florida Gov. DeSantis has indicated he will sign the law.

There’s a long history of poll watchers being used to intimidate voters and harass election workers, often targeting communities of color. During the 2020 election, Trump’s campaign repeatedly exhorted  its “army” of poll watchers to venture into Black and Latino cities and hunt for voter fraud.

There’s no evidence that justifies giving poll watchers expanded access and/or autonomy in their jobs. We should fight a system where a random citizen can watch you vote, and then complain. That should be expressly prohibited.

The Republicans have grounded their reasoning in the argument that their voters want more secure elections. That desire is driven by Trump’s repeated lies about last year’s presidential election, which included GOP complaints about insufficient poll watcher access.

Should we be worried that these a-holes will actually scare people away from the polls? Yes, some will be frightened away. A bunch of MAGA Hat yahoos will flood voting places and try to harass and terrorize racial minorities, students, and the elderly, anyone who they believe might be voting the wrong way.

And if the GOP has their way, it will be legal to do so.

Time to wake up America! The GOP plans to turn every state that they control into little banana republics. The solution is to keep them from controlling any battleground states.

To help you wake up, listen to Larkin Poe, a Nashville-based sister group, do a cover of “Layla”, from their album of cover songs, “Kindred Spirits“. You’ll love the slide guitar:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 2, 2021

Republicans are angry. Again. This time, they’ve just learned that the US Post Office was monitoring right-wing online threats to federal post office buildings and postal workers after January 6th.

Last week, Yahoo News revealed that the USPS’s Inspection Service have been tracking Americans’ social media posts as part of its Internet Covert Operations Program, known as iCOP. That prompted more than two dozen Republican lawmakers to demand hearings about the program. But in the hearing, the Chief Postal Inspector testified that the USPS had been given authority to monitor Americans in 2017 by Trump.

Apparently, the Trump administration used this power to monitor Black Lives Matter protesters after George Floyd’s death last summer. Naturally, they weren’t satisfied. From Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ):

“Their theory of the case is, they’ve got to protect their workers and properties….If you already have engagement with other agencies like FBI, Homeland Security, NSA, whatever, then why aren’t you asking them for help….Why not just call the agencies whose job it is, who are probably already surveilling American citizens?”

Imagine their silence when the chief postal inspector told lawmakers that those agencies:

“…would not cooperate…so the USPS [decided] to have iCOP patrol social media, searching for potential threats from upcoming protests.”

But they still love all the Trump they can get. On to cartoons.

What Biden’s first 100 days really is about:

We’re in a second Gilded Age. One where 50% of Americans with just 2% of the wealth pay 41% of the income taxes, while corporations only pay 6% of the federal government’s income.

Sen. Tim Scott gave the Republican speech response. Things didn’t go well:

Rudy’s efforts to shop Hunter Biden’s laptop computer at the DOJ comes back to bite him:

Arizona GOP starts yet another recount of Biden’s votes:

America hates it when we’re not first:

Some prefer Zooming:

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