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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Texas Takes Off Its Masks

The Daily Escape:

Monument Valley, AZ – Winter 2019 photo by Petar_BG

From CNN:

“Gov. Greg Abbott announced…he’s lifting the mask mandate in Texas, even as health officials warn not to ease safety restrictions. Abbott….issued an executive order rescinding most of his earlier executive orders like the mask mandate…‘Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%…’”

Texas is among the worst states in vaccination rates, especially in the poor and minority communities. But to Abbott, that’s no problemo!

Like Trump before him, since they’re most likely Democratic voters, he doesn’t seem to care so much.

Biden replied: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms.…The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking — that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”

Biden’s calling Abbott a Neanderthal may make their meeting after Texas’s next natural disaster less hospitable than the last one. OTOH, Abbott is undermining a national strategy to end the pandemic.

Think about it: In a marathon, you don’t call yourself a winner at mile 24, because the race is 26+ miles long. Abbott’s declaring victory early.

America’s running a marathon against Covid and its variants. It’s a miracle that we now have three acceptable vaccines to combat the virus. It’s been a long struggle trying to ward off the disease. So many have died, in part because so many Americans have refused to stay physically distant, and when they can’t, to mask up.

After a year, we finally have a president who takes the virus and the methods to control it seriously. But there’s no question that a large sub-set of our people are either vaccine or virus skeptics who will refuse to act to protect themselves or others.

Leadership on the town, state and federal levels have worked to contain the spread of infections and deaths, finally with some success. And now, just when we can have some optimism again, when we can envision a time where we can return to some form of normal, a few of the Republican Abbotts of America pull the plug.

By eliminating Texas’ mask mandate, Abbott’s betting that fewer, not more cases and deaths will occur. Every time a governor has relaxed these guidelines, cases and deaths have risen. See this tweet from Julian Castro:

After @GregAbbott_TX reopened Texas businesses in May, we saw a 300% jump in hospitalizations.

The question that Abbott and other governors (like Mississippi‘s Tate Reeves) need to answer is, what constitutes an acceptable number of increased cases? Or deaths? If Abbott and Reeves are so concerned about the economies of Texas and Mississippi, shouldn’t they have figured out acceptable casualty counts?

How many Texans/Mississippians are worth sacrificing so that their states’ business owners can have a better year?

Abbott is betting that the pandemic no longer poses a serious threat in Texas. Here is what’s really happening on the ground:

Does Abbott simply care more about businesses than people? How can someone responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of his fellow citizens treat that responsibility so cavalierly? Presiding over a state that from a virus viewpoint, is a larger version of South Dakota, isn’t a great way to demonstrate one’s leadership chops.

What’s going on right now is a contest between the literally incredible achievements of medical science, and the almost literally incredible stupidity and perversity of our right-wing politicians.

Tune in to see who wins this exciting race! Spoiler, there won’t be any winners.

The Biden administration says there will be enough doses available to vaccinate every adult by the end of May. The soon-to-be-passed Covid relief package has money to assist states deliver their doses.

The latest KFF COVID vaccine monitor poll puts the “definitely refuse” the vaccine at 15%. They also found that about 18% had been vaccinated, 37% would get it as soon as it was available, and 22% would wait and see how well it is working. So, we might be able to get up to around 75% vaccine uptake voluntarily.

Having a President rather than a Twitter troll in the White House seems to be helpful. Who could have predicted?

Even with the millions of doses of the vaccines that are coming, a spike in Texas may mean that instead of getting them where they’re needed, we’re going to be spending time, money, and shots in a place that could have avoided another spike in the first place.

But most of the sociopaths in the Republican Party can’t accept a good thing, even when it’s handed to them.

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We’re Riding on a Slow-Moving Train Wreck

The Daily Escape:

El Matador State Park, Malibu CA – 2021 photo by stephencovar

It’s commonly accepted knowledge that it’s hard to look away from a slow-motion train wreck. We should note that it’s even harder when you are riding on the train. And it’s harder still when some of the people riding along with you would be totally happy to see it wrecked.

Let’s start by revisiting CPAC and Trump. He attacked the Supreme Court for not overturning an American election, and his supporters cheered. We can’t let ourselves forget how wrong that was, and if unchecked, its implications for the future.

Second, the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans has decided that Catholics may take the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, but not the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They say the J&J shot is “morally compromised”, since it was developed using cloned cells derived from fetuses aborted nearly a half a century ago.

New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore writes:

“It’s worth noting that another Catholic diocese not far away, in Tyler, Texas, has rejected all three vaccines as having been “produced immorally”….But….the Vatican itself is administering the Pfizer vaccine (with Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, among its recipients).”

The faithful in New Orleans and Tyler, TX must decide whether they must be more Catholic than the Pope. Anybody else wonder how America can get the pandemic behind us when religious leaders won’t follow science?

Third, as Bill Kristol notes at the Bulwark, our democracy is in crisis. For the first time in our history, we failed to have a peaceful transfer of power, and Republicans want to ensure that fewer people can vote next time around. They’re supporting many new voting restrictions at the state level.

The Brennan Center has identified 253 bills to restrict voting rights in 43 states that would impose measures to make voting harder. They include reducing early voting, limiting the use of mail-in ballots, eliminating drop boxes, and imposing new voter ID requirements.

This is crucial to our democracy, since Democrats only control 15 states, none of which is a swing state like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Republicans have compounded the Dem’s problems through aggressive gerrymandering in Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

It’s difficult to understand how in a democracy, there is any discussion of restricting the right to vote. Unless we protect this right, we’re heading down a slippery slope. So to help avoid this slow-motion train wreck, Democrats need to get as many people registered as possible right now.

Finally, secession is on the map again, exactly where you might have expected it to be. Bright Line Watch, in a study released in February, showed that one-third of Republicans said they support secession. And it gets worse: Half of Republicans across the former Confederacy (plus Kentucky and Oklahoma) are now willing to form a newly independent country. Here is Bright Line Watch’s map of secessionist support by Trump approval ratings:

The Texas Republican Party recently supported a referendum on Texas seceding from the union. While secessionist rhetoric is couched in claims about fiscal responsibility and burdensome federal regulations, it doesn’t take much to see ethno-nationalism lurking behind it.

Secession in Texas is a combination of nativism, xenophobia, and white grievance. Texas secession Facebook pages are saturated with fantasies of forcing Democrats to leave the state and seizing their property. Just like the Confederates of the 1860s, this modern secessionist push is rooted in large part in maintaining white supremacy and authoritarian governance.

The increasing marriage of secessionist chatter and GOP ideology should be cause for concern since it is widespread throughout the heartland of America. Of course, state-level secession is illegal in the US. Even Justice Scalia said:

“If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”

America has argued about secession since the days of John C. Calhoun, who worked to protect the south’s commitment to slavery from the 1820s until his death in 1850. Trump’s efforts to overturn an election in which Black voters did so much to defeat him in the south, recalls Calhoun’s efforts to deny them citizenship and the franchise almost two centuries ago.

We’re living in a moment when we will see whether American democracy survives these attacks on it by Republicans.

The ability to vote is central to our Democracy. It is at the core of our belief system and without it, all else is meaningless.

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Saturday Soother – February 27, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Boulder Beach, Acadia NP February 2021 photo via Scenes of Maine Photography

It’s Saturday, so we have a lightning round of news you can use. First, the Daily Beast reports:

“A pickup truck parked at the US Capitol and bearing a Three Percenter militia sticker on the day of the Jan. 6 riot belongs to the husband of freshman Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois, who approvingly quoted Adolf Hitler a day earlier,”

The Three Percenters are a para-military group who wish to overthrow the US government. And before you ask, yes, Rep. Miller is a new Republican Congresscritter, who spoke at a pre-coup “Moms for America” rally in front of the Capitol the day before the riot. She said:

“Hitler was right on one thing: whoever has the youth has the future…”

This is Republicanism today. She later apologized for the remarks. Sure.

Second, a new poll on Covid vaccine skepticism shows that since last fall, it has come way down for Blacks and Hispanics. Skepticism remains high among white Republicans. Nearly 60% of White Republicans will either not take the vaccine or are unsure:

Source: Civiqs

One of the great challenges during the pandemic has been establishing public trust, particularly among racial minorities who have a long history of both exploitation and neglect by the medical establishment and the government.

The good news is that vaccine skepticism is falling substantially over the past few months. It now appears that the only barrier to achieving herd immunity is White Republicans.

Their skepticism about government involvement in health is part of a long trend among Republicans. In the 1960s, Reagan was against Medicare, and called any expansion “socialized medicine”. He refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich blocked Clinton’s health care plan, although he was in favor of a similar program that was adopted by Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts.

The Romney plan was the template for Obamacare, which all Republicans opposed, including Newt Gingrich, who was for it before he was against it.

It isn’t just ideological resistance, it’s a bone-deep antipathy to any collective attempt to have high quality public health in America. Their antipathy toward health is beyond ideology, it’s pathology.

Finally, a few words about just how old and out of touch members of Congress have become. Demo Memo, a site Wrongo highly recommends, posted about the demographics of Congress. The bottom line is that the Baby-Boom generation dominates both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“According to an analysis of the 117th Congress by Pew Research Center, Boomers account for a 53% percent majority of the House and for an even larger 68% percent of the Senate…”

House: number (and percent) of members of the 117th Congress by generation

Millennials: 31 (7%)

Gen Xers: 144 (33%)

Boomers: 230 (53%)

Silent: 27 (6%)

Senate: number (and percent) of members of the 117th Congress by generation

Millennials: 1 (1%)

Gen Xers: 20 (20%)

Boomers: 68 (68%)

Silent: 11 (11%)

The ages of the 117th Congress range from 25.5 years to 87.7 years. The median age of the House is 58.9. The median age of the Senate is 64.8. That may explain why Sen. John Thune (R-SD), can reminisce about working for $6/hour in a restaurant in 1978, as part of his objection to a $15/hr. wage.

A $6/hr. wage in 1978, adjusted for inflation, would equal $24.07/hr. in 2021. A person making $24.07 an hour, working 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year would earn over $50,000 a year before taxes. And a person working the same hours and earning the proposed wage of $15/hr. would earn just over $31,200 a year before taxes.

A person working the same hours and earning the current national minimum wage of $7.25/hr. earns just over $15,080 a year, before taxes today.

Time to let go of the DC merry-go-round for a few minutes and enjoy a brief Saturday Soother. It’s going to rain in Connecticut today, helping to melt some of the snow remaining on the ground. So, settle back and watch this stunning video from “Playing for Change” who we’ve featured a few times in the past. Here, Peter Gabriel is singing his song “Biko”, that he wrote and performed in 1980.

It’s a tribute to the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died while in police custody. More than 25 musicians from seven countries join Gabriel for this global rendition, including Beninese vocalist Angélique Kidjo, Silkroad’s Yo-Yo Ma, and bass legend Meshell Ndegeocello:

Lyric:

You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire. Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.

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If the Covid Relief Bill Passes, Who Wins?

The Daily Escape:

Sedona, AZ – 2021 photo by jess.kesti96

Republicans are closing ranks against Democrats’ proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Despite thin majorities in both Houses of Congress, Democrats are poised to start by pushing it through the House today.

The Senate may be another matter, as changes to the bill seem likely. Specifically, the $15/hour minimum wage may not be in the final version of the bill. And it appears that there will be little or no Republican support in either House. Not one Republican in either chamber has officially announced that they are backing the legislation.

From Politico: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“Instead, Republicans are…foisting blame on Biden for shutting them out of the legislative process and hammering Democrats over the slow pace of school reopenings across the country — an issue they think will become a potent political weapon, particularly in key suburban battlegrounds….On Tuesday, Senate GOP leaders devoted most of their weekly press conference to the school reopening debate. [Sen. John] Thune said Democrats seem more interested in money for Planned Parenthood “than they are about getting kids back into class,” while Sen. John Barrasso said Biden “has surrendered to the teachers’ union.”

Voting against the relief bill is a unity test for the GOP following their bitter infighting after the Capitol riots and last month’s impeachment vote. But Republicans are playing a dangerous game. The pandemic has killed over a half-million people and damaged the economy by throwing millions out of work. And people like the bill, although the Republicans oppose it.

In this case, while the bill is controversial in Washington, there is little disagreement about it anywhere else in the country. In fact, a substantial majority support the bill: 66% of adults and 65% of registered voters. The chart below is from a new Economist /YouGov Poll, conducted between February 19 and 22 of 1,500 adults (including 1,201 registered voters). The margin of error for adults is 2.7 points, and for registered voters is 3 points:

The data say that the bill is consistently popular across all age and gender groups, with only a plurality of Republicans objecting to it. A Quinnipiac poll similarly found that 68% support the rescue package, and 78 % support its $1,400 relief checks.

The Republicans have tried to discredit the bill, but their efforts haven’t been effective. They’ve complained about the overall size of the stimulus, and that too many people will be helped. They’re against assistance to state and local governments, saying that most of it may go to cities and states where there are lots of Democrats. But little in their arguments seems to be persuading many voters.

In fact, the bill is one of the more popular pieces of major legislation in recent US history. That demonstrates how small the risk is for Democrats, even if they get zero Republican votes for the aid package in either the Senate or the House.

To its eternal credit, the Biden administration has made it plain that it will go it alone if needs be. So far, it has waved off half-measures like the alternative proposal on the minimum wage proposed by Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton.

To be passed under the reconciliation process by the Senate, the minimum wage increase would have had to survive a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian that it complies with the Byrd Rule. That rule requires that each part of the bill must produce a significant effect on federal spending, revenues, and the debt within 10 years. However, the Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday evening that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader relief bill.

Now, it’s likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, since it can’t be passed with a simple Senate majority that Democrats are planning to use for the stimulus bill.

Even without the minimum wage, Republicans are betting that the voters won’t punish them in the 2022 mid-term election for opposing it. They may be wrong, especially if Republicans in the Senate can either block the bill, or substantially reduce its benefits.

They could also turn out to be right if the Biden administration mis-handles the roll-out of stimulus funds. But voters have long memories if you try to take money out of their pockets.

It’s vital for Biden & Co. to show Americans early on that it’s possible for them to get what they voted for. While there are many things on Biden’s agenda that will require compromise, they should push this one through.

COVID-19 relief is controversial in Washington. Everyone knows that the Republicans aren’t objecting to relief, they’re objecting to this Democratic administration getting off to a successful start.

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Republicans Were More Successful in 2020 Than We Knew

The Daily Escape:

The Grist Mill, Chelmsford MA – photo by Michael Blanchette. The original mill was established in the 17th century by Captain Samuel Adams, an ancestor of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

We dodged a bullet on Jan. 6, but the gun is still loaded.

Trump says he plans to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024, and there doesn’t seem to be much standing in his way. After all, the Republican Party’s leader attempted a coup to overthrow our democracy, and they refused to punish him for it.

Most of Republican voters won’t even admit that the GOP was responsible. Trump got 74 million votes despite all that went wrong under his leadership. The Republicans won House seats. They lost 2 Senate seats in Georgia by just 150,000 votes out of 9 million cast.

Had the Republicans only lost 2 seats instead of 3, Mitch McConnell would still be Senate Majority Leader.

Biden’s 43,000 votes in AZ, GA and WI are why Trump isn’t on his second term right now. With a reasoned response to Covid, including encouraging masks/distancing, had he sent more relief to Americans, he would almost certainly be the president today.

And it’s far from certain that Trump would be a two-time loser. Data from an NBC News poll shows that there are signs across racial and ethnic demographic groups that Republicans are fast becoming the party of blue-collar Americans and the change is happening quickly:

The blue-collar voter shift has policy implications for both Parties. Blue-collar voters tend to want different things from the government than those with white-collar jobs, on issues such as trade and even Wall Street regulation. Here’s another way to look at the growing GOP share of White blue-collar voters:

Among white-collar voters, the numbers have remained stable, with Democrats seeing a one percent increase and Republicans seeing a tiny drop. Turning to Hispanic voters, the Republicans are also dramatically improving their share by 57% in ten years:

Looking at these numbers, the big jump in the GOP’s blue-collar growth took place during Trump’s presidency. If the Republicans continue to try and peel these groups away from the Democrats, it means that they will be tied even more closely to Trump.

This is where we’re at as a country. There are two ways to appeal to these groups that are moving away from the Dems. A cultural appeal, and an economic one.

It’s obvious that what spoke to most of those who moved to the Republicans, was a cultural appeal, not economics. Trump signed the biggest tax cuts in US history for wealthy people. He tried awfully hard to repeal health care benefits and never produced anything better. He rolled back safety regulations.

He appealed to this cohort almost exclusively on cultural grounds. If some of these voters were to become motivated by economics, they should vote for Democrats next time, since they offer a far friendlier economic agenda. As a reminder, Democrats must be successful EVERY TIME the Republican Party attempts to steal an election. They only need to be successful once.

Moreover, the Big Lie, the claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump via massive voter fraud, is now a standard Republican talking point. So the national media allow them to say it repeatedly:

This was last Sunday. Even after an insurrection based on a lie, it’s become a Party talking point. The Capitol riot mob has become the Republican Party. And the moderators were ineffective in their efforts to push back.

OTOH, Democrats need to react to this clear Republican strategy to continue to peel off Dem voters based on cultural issues, along with a few conspiracy theories like Trump’s Big Lie that the presidential election was stolen in broad daylight, and that few believe Covid is an existential threat.

Andrew Levinson at the Democratic Strategist says Democrats need some out-of-the-box thinking to win in 2022 and 2024. He says that White working-class people can hold traditional attitudes about cultural and racial issues while supporting a range of progressive economic policies. He thinks that running as economic populists with vaguely Red cultural values, even in solid Red districts, will eventually bring success.

According to a USA Today/Suffolk poll released over the weekend, 46% of Republicans would join him if Trump made an effort to create his own party. That means about half may be still be open to persuasion by Democrats if they come with the right message.

Building a plan that will successfully counter the GOP’s effort to continue peeling away Democrats should be what all of the Democratic Party leadership are working on right now.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Extremists in the Military Edition, February 22, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Lake Willoughby VT – February 2021 photo by John Rowe Photography

For decades, domestic extremists have flaunted their ties to the US military, seeking to attach themselves both to the military’s credibility, and their tactical skills.

The January attack on the US Capitol showed us that the ties between US military members and the extreme right are deeper and more pervasive than we thought. Among the Capitol crowd were many military emblems: Some waved Marine Corps flags, many wore military gear, or specific unit patches signifying their time in service.

The AP found that at least 21 active-duty US Army and law enforcement personnel were present at the riot. We know that about 207 people have been arrested so far. The Military Times reported that 32 of the participants in the US Capitol coup had previously served in the military. If you want to get a current reading on the attitudes of the military to the Capitol coup, read the 640 comments on the article. It’s chilling.

How big is the problem? Last year, the FBI told the Pentagon that it had opened criminal investigations that involved 143 current or former service members. Sixty-eight of those involved domestic extremism and the vast majority involved veterans, not active-duty troops. Importantly, the Defense Department has no central database for tracking the allegations or disciplinary actions related to extremism.

Also, military regulations allow service members to have extremist affiliations and use extremist rhetoric if a service member doesn’t act upon them. In fact, the Pentagon reported in 2020 that only 21 service members had been disciplined or discharged over the previous five years for extremist activities. It’s doubtful that reflects the true scope of the problem.

According to a Pentagon report delivered to Congress last October:

“Despite a low number of cases in absolute terms, individuals with extremist affiliations and military experience are a concern to US national security because of their proven ability to execute high-impact events….Access to service members with combat training and technical weapons expertise can also increase both the probability of success and the potency of planned violent attacks.”

Military leaders say tackling the problem is difficult because the Constitution protects freedom of speech, and the law prohibits criminalizing affiliations that are deemed fundamentally political in nature, rather than a threat to harm the public. New defense secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin, vowed at his confirmation hearing in January to:

“…rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity.”

And Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Feb. 3:

“Extremism has risen to a top priority as the new secretary called in the service secretaries and Joint Chiefs of Staff…directing them to conduct a 60-day stand-down for leaders to speak with troops about the problem….”

Monitoring the potential extremist activities of 1.3 million active-duty service members is challenging. It’s difficult to distinguish between the casual gestures of some troops and the real warning signs of potentially illegal extremist activity by others.

Another concern is that 35 US Capitol Police officers are being investigated for their actions during the Capitol riot, and six have been suspended. In addition, the NYT reports that at least 30 police from around the country took part in the rally before the Capitol riot. Many are being investigated, and three have been arrested on federal charges related to breaching the Capitol.

The military appears to be less politically representative of society, with a long-term downward trend in the number of officers identifying as Democrats. Instead, identification with the Republican Party has become the norm. The junior officer corps, apart from its female and minority members, appears to be overwhelmingly hard-right Republican. And military personnel have for the past decade been voting in greater percentages than the general population.

In many ways, the military and civilian police seem to have, as Samuel Huntington wrote in 1957, “the outlook of an estranged minority.”

Time to wake up America! We can’t bury our heads in the sand, hoping that the linkage between the military, our police, and groups like QAnon and the fringe of the GOP won’t grow stronger. We need to call out the problem whenever and wherever we see it.

To help you wake up, listen to the group Kiwi Jr.’s “Maid Marian’s Toast” from their brand-new album “Cooler Returns”:

Sample Lyric:

now you’ve got something we want

it’s the Twenties and you’ve got something we want

so you’ve made the decision to make the decision

now spare us all from these half-assed revisions

you’ve got something we’ve always wanted

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Study of MAGA Supporters Reveals Dangers

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mt. Hood, OR – 2021 photo by debuggerfly. The “smile” on Mt. Hood is called the Mississippi head wall.

The MAGA movement isn’t going away. Even if Trump’s political strength fades, the MAGAs are strong enough to remain a toxic element in our politics. Chris Parker at the University of Washington, along with Rachel Blum of the University of Oklahoma, have conducted what may be the first comprehensive national survey of MAGA supporters.

They surveyed about 1,500 self-identified MAGA members in December 2020 to try to better understand them. This wasn’t a poll, but an in-depth survey of MAGA attitudes. The study participants were found based on their MAGA activity on Facebook. Interestingly, the numbers are huge: They found 6,610,370 Facebook users self-identify as MAGA.

They are well-represented throughout the country, and their numbers correlate with population density. Less populous states have fewer members. This shows that MAGA presence is not limited to rural areas. In most states, MAGA respondents were clustered around major cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, LA and New York.

After the Capitol riot, a subset of the group was re-interviewed specifically about that event. That questioning wrapped up around the end of January. It seems that to the MAGAs, there’s an alternate universe where the Trump coup didn’t happen:

  • More than 80% of the MAGA survey respondents say the Capitol riot wasn’t the fault of the GOP, and not Trump’s; Antifa was behind it.
  • 98% said they agree with Trump’s claim that the election was stolen.

In other words, it wasn’t Trump’s fault, so they don’t think Trump deserves any punishment or criticism for what happened.

And a new national poll released on Feb. 11, the American Perspectives survey of 2,016 adults, found that half of GOP voters nationwide agreed with this statement: “Antifa…was mostly responsible for the violence that happened in the riots at the US Capitol.” That’s an astounding level of delusion. It makes crystal clear how and why so many Republican politicians could end up looking the other way at an anti-democratic insurrection that killed five people.

The Parker/Rubin study found that MAGA members are not demographically diverse:

  • 60% are White, Christian, and male.
  • About half are retired, over 65 years of age, and earn at least $50K per year.
  • Roughly 30% have at least a college degree.

Since about half are middle-class by income, and nearly a third are middle-class by education. the data show that economic anxiety isn’t the primary explanation for Trumpism.

Roughly 85% of MAGA supporters are members of gun-rights groups. Approximately 60% are members of pro-police groups. In addition, 50% belong to anti-lockdown and pro-life groups. Significantly, only 38% of the MAGA movement identify with the “Stop the Steal” campaign, and only 23% identify with militia movements of any kind.

So what IS driving the MAGA movement? Parker and Blum ask: if they want to Make America Great Again, what’s wrong with America? They started with questions about racial resentment:

Note that 90% disagreed with whether “slavery and discrimination make it difficult for Blacks to work their way up,” and whether “Blacks have gotten less than they deserve”. A lot of their response seems to boil down to “I don’t want those people doing better than me.” What seems true is that resentment over possibly losing status is the driving force behind Trumpism.

What about views on immigrants and women?

  • 85% of respondents believe that “Immigration is changing the culture for the worse,”. They also believe that “Immigrants refuse to abide by our laws.”
  • On questions used to assess sexism, about 75% agreed that: 1) Women are seeking special favors; 2) Feminists make unreasonable demands of men; and 3) Feminists are seeking more power than men.

Parker and Blum asked a series of questions about political activism. At least 50% have signed a petition, contacted a representative, participated in a boycott, or donated funds to a campaign. Roughly 45% attended a political meeting, 35% have attended a rally, and 30% have volunteered for a campaign.

Approximately 90% of MAGA supporters self-identify as Republicans, or lean GOP, the rest saying that they are independents. Importantly to Trump’s Big Lie, they found that 90% of the MAGA movement disagreed with making it easier for people to vote:

Based on this survey, these MAGA loyalists do not believe in democracy. They are a threat to our country and will be a threat for many years to come. The GOP can’t let Trump go, because doing so would mean losing the MAGA vote, and the GOP needs each one of them in order to hold on to power.

This is why we should disregard the rosy comments that: “Our democracy was tested and survived! The system worked!

Every Republican needs to be asked two simple questions:

  1. Who won the 2020 US presidential election?
  2. Was it a free and fair election?

The answers are one word each: “Biden” and “yes.” If they can’t answer correctly, they are an enemy of democracy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 15, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Nauset Light, Cape Cod, MA  – February 2021 photo by Michael Blanchette photography

The impeachment trial is behind us, but the Big Lie of the 2020 election, that there was massive voting fraud, remains with us. That Lie is propelling Republicans in many states to try to minimize, or end entirely, mail-in voting.

Republicans have reason to worry. Mail-in voting alone constituted nearly half the votes cast in the 2020 election, a significant increase from previous years. This chart from 538 shows the remarkable decline in same-day voting in America:

Traditional same day, in-person voting has dropped from more than 90% of ballots cast in the 1990s to 60% in 2016, to just 28% in 2020. Early in-person and vote-by-mail now accounts for 71% of total voting.

Overall, despite the Big Lie, early and by mail voting was a remarkable success. It was less prone to errors than expected, and had almost zero documented fraud. As expected, 538 reports that absentee votes broke blue, Election Day votes, red. They only have data for 15 of the 50 states, but it is consistent:

“Biden won the absentee vote in 14 out of the 15 states (all but Texas), and Trump won the Election Day vote in 14 out of the 15 as well (all but Connecticut).”

Trump used this historic change in voting patterns to claim that Democrats used mail ballots to steal the election. Now, in a backlash to the historic trends in voter turnout, Republicans are again looking to make it more difficult to vote.

A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice shows that legislators in 33 states have introduced 165 bills to restrict voting rights. The proposals primarily seek to: a) limit mail voting access; b) impose stricter voter ID requirements; c) slash voter registration opportunities; and d) enable more aggressive voter roll purges.

Many of these bills parrot the same lies Trump used to claim the election was stolen. And they’re sponsored by the same state officials who backed Trump’s efforts to reverse the results of the election.

Remember how narrow the Biden win was: he won three states by a combined margin of 43,560 votes: Arizona (10,457 votes), Georgia (12,636 votes), and Wisconsin (20,467 votes). These three states have 37 electoral votes, and had Trump won all three, the Electoral College would have been tied, 269 to 269. Then the House would have determined the winner, with each state delegation getting one vote. Since the Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, Trump would have won a second term.

It was worse. The WaPo reports that

“Republicans came, at most, 43,000 votes from winning each of the three levers of power.”

Just 32,000 votes would have flipped control of the House to Republicans, while 14,000 votes would have kept control of the Senate in Republican hands. The Republicans have a built-in structural advantage in all three political levers of power: In the House it’s gerrymandering; in the Senate it’s the population imbalance favoring rural states; and in the White House, it’s the Electoral College.

So, beating back voting restrictions has to be a top priority.

Republicans have been restricting voting for years. We were lucky that state and local election officials acted in the best interests of the people and the country. That may not happen next time, so these anti-democratic pieces of legislation must be highlighted publicly and fought tooth-and-nail.

Think for a minute about last week’s impeachment trial: 34 GOP senators representing just 14.5% of the US population can block the conviction of an impeached president. Said another way, the 57 senators who voted to convict Trump represent 76.7 million more Americans than the 43 senators who voted to acquit him.

We should also remember that every state sets its own rules when it comes to voting and counting the votes. And we’ll soon see the impact of Republican gerrymandering, once the 2020 census is complete. The long-term solution is a Constitutional amendment that finally establishes that all citizens have the right to vote, and describes the approved methods of voting.

Time to wake up America! Voting reform must be a top priority just behind beating the Coronavirus and getting kids back in school. To help you wake up, listen to John Fogerty perform his newest, “Weeping In The Promised Land“, released this January:

Partial Lyrics:

Forked-tongued pharaoh, behold he comes to speak

Weeping in the Promised Land

Hissing and spewing, it’s power that he seeks

Weeping in the Promised Land

With dread in their eyes, all the nurses are crying

So much sorrow, so much dying

Pharaoh keep a-preaching but he never had a plan

Weeping in the Promised Land

Weeping in the Promised Land

This is another very powerful video, a must-watch.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine’s Day! Of course, you may still be bummed out, reflecting on the Senate voting 57-43 to acquit Trump yesterday. While that wasn’t enough votes to convict, it wasn’t an exoneration. Once again, a group of horribly shitty human beings proudly showed themselves to be horribly shitty human beings.

But we need to give this some time. OJ was a pariah after his acquittal, but soon there were a series of state and civil cases that sent OJ away for a few years, and took most of his money. Also, the FBI has charged only 207 people so far. Most of the militia-types haven’t been charged yet. Those FBI charges will lead to people telling grand juries about who organized them to attack the Capitol. And the Democrats in the Senate now have subpoena power, so expect to see some hearings on what Trump knew, and when he knew it.

Let’s start today with other Republican outrages in Georgia and Tennessee. Legislation proposed by members of the Republican Party. You know, the party that says they want to keep the heavy hand of the state off your back. First, Georgia:

“Genitalia assessment boards” will surely win the 10th grade male vote. This could be enough to get Alabama’s former governor Roy Moore to move to Georgia. Wrongo is pretty sure “assessing” the genitalia of high school freshman girls is his dream job.

Second, in Tennessee, Republican lawmakers have put forward a bill that would grant a man the power to veto a woman’s abortion. Wrongo hasn’t read the bill, but couldn’t they at least make the man show a deed or a receipt to prove that he is in fact the legal owner of the pregnant woman?

On to cartoons: Many are showing love for the shot:

No worries about injection deniers. GOP has them covered:

Finally, all Republicans decide to wear masks:

GOP experiments with CDC guidance on more masks:

 

Trump lawyers present false equivalence about what “fight” means:

Rather than presenting the merits of their case, Trump’s lawyers delivered sound bites that reinforced what the right-wing media have been echoing for months. They insisted that Trump’s language leading to the riot was the same sort of rhetoric all politicians use. They claimed Trump was the victim of years of witch hunts by Democrats who hate him. Some Republican Senators bought it.

When you just can’t see what’s in front of you:

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