Saturday, March 20, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


The Old Joe Biden Has Disappeared

It is still early in the Biden/Harris administration but so far Joe Biden as president - and to some extent during the 2020 campaign - is not the Joe Biden of old, prone to gaffes and talking himself into trouble (he was not my first choice among the would be Democrat nominees).  Instead, to date we are seeing a disciplined and focused Biden who is staying on message and finally jettisoning the futile quest for bi-partisan support from Republicans who want nothing other than all out obstruction.  Will the Biden transformation last? Only time will tell, but so far it's as if Biden was uniquely qualified to not only win the Democrat nomination and 2020 election but to perhaps also have a transformational presidency that can foster in much benefit to average Americans (despite GOP sabotage efforts) and perhaps show the hollowness of Trumpism that offered nothing other than a trashy daily reality show with a huge dose of hatred of others and pandering to racists.  I wish Biden much success - changing the hearts of Trump voters will not be an easy task.  A column in the New York Times looks at the new Biden.  Here are excerpts:

For the life of me, I can’t find Joe Biden. Should we send a search party? . . . . I know there’s a man with Biden’s name in the White House, taking meetings, reading briefing papers (how novel!) and most definitely signing legislation. That $1.9 trillion behemoth was epochal. Hail to the chief. He has a sense of urgency and big ambitions.

But he doesn’t resemble the Biden I observed and even interacted with a few times during his four-and-a-half-decade political career until mid-2019, when a markedly muted version stepped out to campaign for the presidency. This new Biden lacks the old Biden’s goofy exuberance, cartoonish loquaciousness and all-around indiscipline. This new Biden lacks the old Biden’s inimitable Biden-ness.

[I]t will be transformational to the extent that it’s unlike any presidency that anyone would have predicted for Biden. It’ll be transformational to the degree that he approaches it in an un-Biden-like fashion — with his head down, his comments proscribed and his focus precise.

That’s how he beat a crowded and talented field of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, a steady-does-it, more-tortoise-than-hare victory made possible by a caliber of patience and kind of calm that had never been his trademarks.

That’s how he vanquished Trump — by not babbling too much, not taking the bait, tamping down his ego and making his quest about what Americans needed from whoever became their president, not about what an amazing president he in particular would be. He was less showboat than tugboat, humbly poised to pull us out of perilous waters.

And he’s still tugging and tugging. No culture wars for America’s 46th president: Those are just distractions that give oxygen to a Republican Party gasping for it. No distractions, period, for him. He’s coming to your rescue. He’s sending you money. Emphasis on “your” and “you.” The dirtiest word in his revised vocabulary is the first-person singular.

This new, self-effacing Biden is an exorcism of Donald Trump. This new, no-drama Biden is an echo of Barack Obama, whose lessons, good and bad, he has obviously learned. In the process he has accomplished one of the most striking personality transplants I’ve seen in American politics.

He has also exploded that musty maxim about old dogs and new tricks. When Trump failed to “grow” into the presidency, as critics and even some fans hoped he would, the consensus was that it had been foolish to expect otherwise.

Biden was 78 on the day of his inauguration, and in the year and a half immediately leading up to it, he demonstrated the new tricks of reticence and restraint. He continues to demonstrate them — “The Invisible President?” was the headline on a recent article by Joel Mathis in The Week — presumably on the theory that the less flamboyant his style, the more likely his actual policy triumphs, which won’t be complicated by his becoming a symbol of grander battles or turning himself into a cultural lightning rod.

His new tricks include a more progressive bent than in the past and, it seems, a less firm attachment to bipartisanship than he once claimed — developments that take into account the ravages of a pandemic, the toll of income inequality and his party’s current pulse. Remember those history-class debates about whether the leader makes the moment or the moment makes the leader? The moment is making — or, rather, remaking — Biden.

The boldness of Biden’s stated policy aims — on racial justice, voting rights, L.G.B.T.Q. equality, infrastructure and immigration — is belied by a recessive approach. Does he even tweet? (The answer is yes, as both @JoeBiden and @POTUS, but with prudent blandness.) Trump got himself kicked off social media. Biden has never fully nudged himself onto it.

And he hasn’t avoided gaffes altogether. . . . . But that’s nothing in the context of oratorical pratfalls past, and it doesn’t contradict the larger truth that Biden, closing in on 80, has given himself an extraordinary makeover — and has turned the experiences of yesteryear into the adjustments of today.

Many officials in the Obama administration came to believe, in retrospect, that the enormous 2009 stimulus was in fact too modest and that its mechanism for delivering relief to Americans in need was neither obvious enough to its recipients nor adequately touted. With the American Rescue Plan and his state-hopping celebration of it, Biden has addressed that concern.

Biden enacted the American Rescue Plan without a single Republican vote in the Senate or the House.

That arithmetic doesn’t fit the way Biden described himself across the decades or even how he talked during much of his 2020 campaign. But Republican obstructionism, a fraught passage in American history, and the prevailing passions of today’s Democrats have collaborated in a late-in-the-game metamorphosis that defies the usual arc of a life, political or otherwise.

So much for the Biden whose unfettered musings helped to tank his first two presidential campaigns, . . . .  He made himself vanish.

Friday, March 19, 2021

More Friday Male Beauty


Biden and Democrats are Destroying Trumpism’s Big Lie

Aside from the big lie that the 2020election was stolen - despite no evidence whatsoever and 60 plus lost court challenges - the biggest Trump/GOP lie was that a Biden/Harris victory combined with Democrat control of both houses of Congress would unleash socialism and empower socialists and the radical left which would in turn bring on a depression.  None of that has happened and now, Biden and the Democrats are implementing widely popular programs and displaying a quiet competence at addressing many of the nation's problems, including the Covid-19 roll out.  The contrast with the Trump/Pence regime with its incompetency, positions held by hacks out of their league and the daily chaos of a bad reality TV show could not be more stark.  Most upsetting to Trump and congressional Republicans is the wide popularity of the Covid-19 relief act which Republicans made a big show of not supporting.  With many economists predicting an economic boom to come, the GOP game plan for the 2022 mid-terms could end up in tatters.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at what we are witnessing.  Here are highlights:

A funny thing is happening in U.S. politics right now. President Biden and Democratic leaders are working closely with the left on a variety of fronts, and while complications, challenges and future divisions loom, it’s all unfolding more smoothly than you might have expected.

And the political sky isn’t crashing down on Democrats’ heads. In fact, Americans appear to be concluding that things are getting better.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The GOP’s 2020 campaign narrative — made especially poisonous by a certain former president — was that Democratic rule would run the country into the ground precisely because Democrats would prove wholly captive to their crazy socialist left flank.

Now Biden and Democratic leaders actually are working with the party’s left to a surprising and salutary degree. And that surely helps explain some of their early successes — and those successes’ popularity.

The overwhelming takeaway here is that Biden and the White House are working hard to keep things running smoothly with the party’s left. Meanwhile, Biden and Democratic leaders have largely adopted the progressive reading of the folly of chasing bipartisanship for its own sake.

In short, they are talking to the left, while largely accepting that the GOP is essentially cutting itself out of the conversation about how to address the country’s major challenges.

Take the $1.9 trillion rescue package. While some outcomes disappointed the left — the loss of the minimum wage hike — the ultimate result was the most far-reaching piece of progressive legislation in a half century. . . . Its scale and ambition, secured precisely because Democrats refused to chase GOP support, unified the party.

It’s hard to overstate how dramatically different all this is from the 2020 Trumpist/GOP narrative. The story was that a mentally deteriorating Biden would quickly become captive to the radical socialist left, and that this would drive the stupendous Trump economy (soaring after he vanquished covid) into a “depression.”

The GOP tactic of lumping together mainstream Democrats and liberals with terrifying radical elements (such as depicting civil rights liberals as tools of communism) has a long history. But Trumpism added his own special poison to the brew.

Think back to the Georgia Senate runoffs. Republicans argued that the radical left threatened to take over the Senate through the (moderate and unassuming) figures of Jon Ossoff and Raphael G. Warnock. GOP ads depicted violent, unchecked antifa mobs and non-White socialist lawmakers plotting to convert the country into a hellscape of socialist devastation.

Now go watch Ossoff on MSNBC, talking soberly about the benefits the rescue package will deliver to Georgia residents, and how this passed without any GOP support in Congress but with extraordinarily broad support among voters, including many Republican ones. Meanwhile, competent governance has vaccinations on track and may soon defeat covid-19.

A Democratic center-left alliance largely did that. And the country broadly approves, even as GOP lawmakers sat it out entirely.

All this has important implications for what’s next. Republicans are reduced to admitting we’re likely to see an economic boom while arguing it has nothing to do with Biden or Democrats.

But as Michael Grunwald points out, Trump’s prediction of a Biden depression will make that harder to pull off. That has left Republicans hoping all this spending produces inflation or that they can fearmonger about the deficits that they themselves pumped up with tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

To be clear, a lot can still go wrong. . . . . But as of now, the entire Trumpified tale we heard throughout 2020 looks to be collapsing. And ironically enough, it’s that center-left alliance that is on track to burying it.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Thursday Male Beauty


Good Riddance to the Filibuster

One of the reasons for Congress' paralysis in passing popular legislation is the filibuster in the U.S. Senate which allows  the minority party to effectively block legislation backed by a majority of Senators.  Combined with the disproportionate representation of small rural states in the Senate and the anti-democratic aspects of the Electoral College, America's democracy is increasingly become a joke.  The filibuster is nowhere in the constitution and was infrequently used until the 20th century and then mainly for the purpose of blocking civil rights legislation.  Now we are seeing a similar use by Republicans who at the state level are seeking to disenfranchise voters and also seek kill the For the People Act, already passed by the House of Representatives, which would end GOP abuses at the state level and also limit gerrymandering and so-called dark money in political campaigns. Originally, to use the filibuster, one Senator or a series had to speak nonstop to the chamber to stall legislation.  Now, no such requirement exists.  Democrats and President Biden are moving towards abolishing the anti-democratic practice which allows tyranny of the minority.  A column in the Washington Post looks at where we find ourselves.  Here are highlights:

Change is on the way. President Biden has signaled that the days of the Senate filibuster’s stranglehold on majority rule are numbered. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is scared to death that he’s right.

McConnell is particularly worried that Democrats will use their majorities in the House and Senate to enact fundamental reforms to our political system, from protecting voting rights to containing dark money’s influence on elections. That’s why the man who supposedly loves Congress’s upper chamber promised to create “a completely scorched earth Senate” if Democrats try to make it easier to pass legislation.

Biden warming up to the idea of making the filibuster much harder to use is big news, given his reluctance to take this step in the past. He’s responding to reality. As the president told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday: “It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning.”

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, made it clear where things are headed when he declared on Monday that the filibuster was “making a mockery of American democracy.” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in an interview that it is becoming ever more obvious that Republican abuse of the filibuster “is a direct threat to President Biden’s effort to pass his ambitious agenda.”

Biden is a well-known Senate institutionalist. He practically grew up in the Senate, having arrived shortly after his 30th birthday. He thus has more standing than just about anyone to persuade the filibuster’s staunchest Democratic supporters, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, of two things. First, the time for major new restraints on the filibuster has come; second, and just as important, that the current abuse of the filibuster flies in the face of authentic Senate tradition.

At the beginning of the republic, he noted, “there was no filibuster.” Then, “there was the talking filibuster, used rarely, mostly against civil rights. Then there was a slow rise [in its use] through the latter half of the 20th century, then it skyrocketed under Sen. McConnell,” Jentleson said to me in an interview. Little wonder, as the author noted, that the word filibuster comes from Dutch references to pirates.

Biden underscored the history in his ABC interview, noting that when he first arrived in the Senate, stalling action required its members “to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.”

And changing filibuster rules would be nothing new. McConnell himself instituted the most recent shift. Eager to guarantee a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the narrow Republican majority voted to remove the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations. Not one of President Donald Trump’s three nominees — not one — got close to 60 votes. When it came to court-packing, McConnell had no problem with majority rule.

Biden made his comments on the filibuster on Tuesday, the eve of the formal Senate introduction of the For the People Act that has already passed the House. The comprehensive political reform bill would block the scandalous attack on voting rights in some Republican states. It would also curb gerrymanders that distort representation, take major steps to limit the power of dark money by expanding disclosure and create strong incentives for politicians to rely on small as opposed to large contributions.

[I]t would be legislative malpractice for Democrats to walk away from a broadly popular (and much needed) suite of improvements to our political system when doing so won’t get them to 60 votes anyway.

Moving away from the filibuster will take time. Change is likely to be gradual, not sudden. The Senate might have to start with narrower reforms (including Biden’s “talking filibuster”) before it becomes inescapable that legislating will require getting rid of the filibuster entirely for whole categories of bills.

Of course, the alternative is for Republicans to become a more moderate, less monolithic party and to work constructively with Biden on major legislation. The fact that you just chuckled dismissively at that sentence is why filibuster reform is inevitable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Biden Seeks to Circumvent the GOP's Culture War

Given that the Republican policy agenda that seeks to shift wealth to the wealthy offers little or no economic benefit to working class and most middle class Americans, for decades the GOP has used the so-called culture wars to induce voters to vote Republican and against their own economic interests.  Hence the GOP obsession of pandering to right wing religious extremists through stances on abortion and LGBT rights and much more openly after Trump the appeals to racists and white supremacists.  Democrats can try to counter these GOP efforts by trying to educate voters but frankly, racial and religious based hatred and bias are difficult to undo, especially among older voters and uneducated white males who are the bedrock base of the GOP.  Joe Bid. en and his administration rightly see bringing tangible economic benefit to a wide cross section of voters as one of the best ways to undercut GOP efforts to fan the flames of bigotry - most recently by focusing on refugees at the southern border - is to have voters experience real economic gains.  People under less financial and economic strain are simply less likely to embrace the GOP's calls to open racism and religious based bigotry.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon.  Here are column highlights:

The Biden administration appears to have adopted a two-pronged strategy to reduce the corrosive impact of hot-button social, cultural and racial issues: first by inundating the electorate with a flood of cash via the $1.9 trillion Covid relief act and second by refusing to engage fractious issues in public, calculating that deprived of oxygen, their strength will fade.

The sheer magnitude of the funds released by the American Rescue Plan, the White House is gambling, will shift voters’ attention away from controversies over Dr. Seuss, who can use which bathroom and critical race theory. So far, the strategy is working.

Biden has a favorability rating of 52.9 to 41.9, according to the Real Clear Politics average of the seven most recent surveys, and a Pew Research poll the first week of March found that a decisive majority of voters, at 70-28 percent, have a positive opinion of the Covid stimulus bill.

According to a rundown by the Center for American Progress of the bill’s exceptionally generous provisions, the bill will cut child poverty in half, . . . . This kind of money will focus attention where the Biden administration wants it.

In addition, a plurality of the beneficiaries will be white. Of the 39.4 million people at or below poverty in 2019 who qualify for the largest benefits, 17.3 million were white, 8.2 million were Black and 10.2 million were Hispanic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The second prong of Biden’s strategy is to lower the volume on culture war issues by refusing to engage — on the theory that in politics, silence saps attention — exemplified by the president’s two-month long refusal to hold a news conference in which the press, rather than the chief executive, determines what gets talked about.

The strategy of diverting attention from incendiary social issues is spreading.

“Taking their cues from a new president who steadfastly refuses to engage with or react to cultural provocations,” Democratic officeholders “have mostly kept their heads down and focused on passing legislation,” The Week’s Damon Linker wrote in “Will the G.O.P.’s culture war gambit blow up in its face?”  That raises the possibility, Linker continued, that while Republicans are busy trying to bait Democrats on culture war issues, those Democrats end up winning public opinion in a big way by refusing to play along, changing the subject, and actually making the lives of most Americans concretely better.

Biden’s approach, Feldman continued, “is clearly putting many conservatives in a difficult position as they try to counter with stories about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.”

Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster with decades of experience in federal and state elections, is optimistic about Biden’s current prospects, but he warned that the administration will have to gain control of immigration: “The border matters,” he said, “and Republicans will use images from the border to seer into people’s consciousness.

Biden and other Democrats, in Greenberg’s view, should “ignore cancel culture attacks” while making the case “that Democrats are fighting and delivering for the working class and it is Democrats you can trust to have a strong economy.”

Biden himself appears willing to tackle the potential political fallout the recent increase in migration might cause. In an interview on Tuesday with ABC News, Biden described his message to potential migrants as: “I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” before adding, “Don’t leave your town or city or community.”

“Immigration is way down on voters’ list of concerns,” she said. “With Covid and the economy voters don’t think that immigration is a serious concern.”

In the case of growing fears of a surge of immigrants seeking entry on the border with Mexico, Lake continued, There is not a crisis. There is a problem that has emerged because of mismanagement and uniquely flawed policies under Trump. What is needed is a road map to citizenship and reasonable, workable policies with leadership that returns to American values and workable policies.

Because of this, Lake argued, the most important strategy for Democrats is keep focused on vaccines, jobs, wages and small businesses. Voters will measure success by how much their families and communities are helped. Voters will ask in 2022 what did Democrats deliver.

The focus of the Biden administration on economic issues is, in part, a strategy to apply crosscutting pressures on white working class voters who have moved to the Republican Party.

While culturally conservative, many of these voters remain liberal on economic policy, suggesting that a Democrat who lowers the temperature on cultural issues while stressing an expansion of economic benefits could make inroads with this constituency. Even small inroads would provide huge political dividends.

In this context, one of the things Biden has going for him is the likelihood of strong economic growth in the near future. . . . . Economists have begun to talk of something stronger: a supercharged rebound that brings down unemployment, drives up wages and may foster years of stronger growth.

The steady diminution of Donald Trump’s presence is a godsend for Biden (and not just Biden). As Politico reported on March 14, “Trump was supposed to be a political Godzilla in exile. Instead, he’s adrift.”

While Biden “tried to work with Republicans on the Hill — and polls show that the public believes he was sincere in that effort — he also proved able to act on his own when the GOP party leaders blew him off,” Putnam told Salon. “His rising poll numbers show that he’s got most of the public, including many Republican voters, on his side.”

For the moment Biden has achieved respite from the chaos of the Trump years. The enactment of the American Rescue Plan was a major first step in the implementation of the Biden agenda. But the hurdles Fukuyama and others cite, and the persistence of a still powerful Republican Party — riddled with pathologies, determined to draw blood — suggest that the road ahead will be rough.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Open Racism Is Now Acceptable in the GOP

One thing that Donald Trump accomplished was stripping away any veneer that the Republican Party had constructed that it was not a racist organization where only lip service was given to non-whites being welcome. Trump may be out of office, but other Republicans are continuing to shine a spot light on the rampant racism that motivates the GOP nowadays.  One such is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) shown at right who seems oblivious - or he simple feels he can say what he really thinks - to just how racists and offensive he views on race are to anyone who believes in equality under the law.  To Johnson, the true test of whether or not one is a "true American" is one's skin color.  Seemingly, nothing else matters.  Johnson is an embarrassment to decency and underscores just how obscene the GOP has become on matters of race.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Johnson's shockingly candid racism.  Here are excerpts: 

It has become perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party to just go ahead and say the racism out loud — and to do so with apparent pride, and with no fear of consequences.

 The most recent proof came from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who said last week that he “never felt threatened” by the overwhelmingly White crowd of insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, chanting, among other things, “Hang Mike Pence.” But, depending on who the protesters were, Johnson said, well, it might have been a different matter.

Johnson made the comments on conservative talk-radio host Joe Pagliarulo’s nationally syndicated show. “Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this will get me in trouble — had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.” 

But Johnson described the White mob this way: “I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.”

As anyone whose brain is not addled by white supremacy recalls, the rioters showed how much they “respect law enforcement,” with their actions leading to the death of one police officer who was defending the Capitol and the injury of some 140 others. One policeman was beaten with a pole bearing the American flag, which is a strange way for his attackers to demonstrate love of country.

Johnson should have been pilloried by his GOP colleagues in the Senate, but none spoke up in outrage — or even mild disagreement. Asked Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” about Johnson’s comments, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) mumbled something about how members “speak for themselves.” That’s not the way it works, though. When it comes to such unambiguous racism, Republicans have only two choices: denounce it or own it.

For a while, he {Johnson] tried to claim the violence was somehow sparked by leftist provocateurs just pretending to be supporters of then-President Donald Trump — until FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified under oath that there was no evidence of any “fake” Trump supporters in the crowd.

But the racism of Johnson’s latest words is breathtaking. As far as he is concerned, a White mob at the Capitol that overruns police lines, smashes windows and ransacks offices isn’t breaking the law. In Johnson’s view, the millions of Americans who participated in Black Lives Matter protests do not “love this country.” And according to him, Black people who demonstrate against police violence and structural racism do not “truly respect law enforcement.”

[T]oday’s Republicans have radically devolved — and are becoming increasingly frank defenders of White privilege and position.

Keep Johnson’s words in mind when you hear GOP officials claim that the scores of voter-suppression bills making their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures are merely attempts to guarantee the “integrity” of our elections. If they were — if they had any intent other than to keep Democratic-leaning Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters away from the polls — then surely we would hear Republicans across the land making clear there was no place in the party for views like those Johnson expressed. Instead, we hear only guilty silence.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Republicans Are Lying About the Just Past Covid Relief Bill

The signature accomplishments of the Trump/Pence regime - if one can call them that - were the fraying of America's global alliances, children in cages at the nation's southern border, a coarsening of the political culture, the emboldening of white supremacists and domestic terrorists that culminated in the January 6th insurrection, and a massive tax cut for the very wealthy and large corporations.  While Republicans touted the latter as benefiting all Americans, the reality was very different and largely a lie.  Now the Biden administration and the Democrat majority in Congress has passed a economic relief/stimulus package that actually helps large numbers of Americans and which, to the horror of Republicans is wildly popular even among Republicans. What do congressional Republicans and those who support vulture capitalism - think Texas governor Greg Abbott - do?  They lie about the benefits of the bill and are desperately trying to change the subject.  If Democrats are smart, they will continue to push their advantage and continue to deliver relief and benefits to average Americans.  A column in the Washington Post looks at where we are.  Here are excerpts:

The just-passed stimulus package is a rarity in today’s Washington: a major new law that’s a win in terms of both politics and policy. Poll after poll shows overwhelming support. As my colleague Greg Sargent notes, the bill is even popular with both lower-income Republicans and non-college Whites, two key components of the Trump-era GOP coalition. Millions of Americans are already receiving desperately needed payments to help the country get back on its feet from a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Or, to hear Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) tell it on ABC’s “This Week”: “This is a Nancy Pelosi payoff to the liberal left.” Interviews with Barrasso and his colleague Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on the Sunday talk shows aptly illustrated how Democrats, with a straightforward, tangible relief package, have rather easily neutered Republicans politically. The best way for Democrats to maintain that momentum is more of the same.

In the face of those strong polls for the president, the New York Times reports that “Republicans’ approach is to label the measure wasteful, unnecessary and packed with goodies for political allies of the Democrats.” But those attacks wilt next to the bill’s obvious benefits, as Barrasso found Sunday. After he complained that the bill “is not supposed to be a bailout,” host George Stephanopoulos showed Barrasso the front page of his home-state paper the Casper Star-Tribune, which “shows $1 billion going to your state of Wyoming.” Barrasso conceded that, but complained that “the formula they used to send this out was biased and unfair.” He might sincerely believe so, but it is doubtful that Wyomingites who are putting food on their tables thanks to this new bill care whether its formulas were fair or not.

Those flimsy complaints aside, Cassidy and Barrasso fell back on exploitative talking points: “This coronavirus relief bill was not supposed to be about $1,400 checks to illegal immigrants or $1,400 checks to felons who are behind bars,” Barrasso complained. Cassidy also warned of “$1.9 billion to give stimulus checks to inmates.” Setting aside the fact that the money will provide crucial assistance for the families of the incarcerated, the two senators left out that previous stimulus packages from last March and December both included checks for prisoners. Republicans, including Cassidy and Barrasso, backed both.

But it seems not even conservatives really expect these attacks to work. Right-wing media has largely eschewed the stimulus bill, turning instead to the border crisis and painting it as the first big scandal of the Biden presidency. . . . . But the fact that Bartiromo and her ilk have largely ceded the stimulus fight says all anyone needs to know about which party has the upper hand.

But Democrats can’t rest on their laurels. Whether the stimulus ends up helping Biden and the Democrats in next fall’s midterms remains an open question. Twenty months is an eon in politics.

The best way to keep Democrats’ assistance top of mind with voters is to keep passing more needed assistance. The Biden White House, fortunately, seems to recognize this, with infrastructure aid and a $15 minimum wage still on the agenda. Already some moderate Democrats — especially Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — are wavering. They must understand that the more voters see Democrats working for them, the better the party’s fortunes. As for the inevitable question of how to pay for it, Democrats can raise trillions in revenue from politically popular proposals such as a wealth tax, a higher top income-tax rate and increased funding for IRS crackdowns on tax-dodging. The bigger the avalanche of aid, the more Republicans will be forced to rely on voter suppression and other counter-majoritarian tactics . . . .

It’s a simple equation in the end: The more straightforward, tangible policies Democrats pass, the more Americans helped and the greater the political rewards. The relief package has gotten the Biden presidency off to a strong start. Now, Democrats must press their advantage.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


The Ugly Truth About American Exceptionalism

Politicians of both major political parties bloviate about "American exceptionalism," yet among advanced nations America is exceptional for its failures to provide universal health care and to simply maintain its infrastructure.   The nation is a study in contrasts of immense wealth and abject poverty with the highest child poverty rate, access to the best technology and where poor students have to sit outside of fast food restaurants and Starbucks to access the Internet for virtual schooling during the ongoing pandemic.  Compared to European nations, Americans have little in terms of a social safety net.   Meanwhile, the wealth get richer and richer. This stark picture is the result of decades of vulture capitalism that has made short term profit its god and made employees a disposable commodity despite lip service by corporate CEO's that employees are the most important asset.  The recent fiasco in Texas where the power grid lacked regulation and profits were all that mattered has helped draw attention to some of America's immense flaws.   Some on the right will call me "un-American" for these views, but all I want is to see America be its best and to provide for all of its citizens, not just the wealthy.  A long piece in the New York Times looks at where America finds itself.  Here are article excerpts:

Compared with its developed-world peers, America has always been a study in contrasts, a paradox of exceptional achievement and jaw-dropping deprivation. Rarely have the disparities been rendered as vividly as in recent weeks and months.

Historic breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology coexist intimately — and uneasily — alongside monumental failures of infrastructure, public health and equitable access to basic human needs.

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. It can develop vaccines, in record time, to combat a world-altering illness, but suffers one of the developed world’s highest death rates due to lack of prevention and care. It spins out endless entertainment to keep millions preoccupied during lockdown — and keep tech shares riding high on Wall Street — but leaves kids disconnected from the access they need to do their schoolwork.

“What kind of state are we living in, what kind of society are we living in when kids have to educate themselves on the curb of a Taco Bell?” said Brian Smoot, a Salinas, Calif., chiropractor who invited neighborhood students to use his WiFi after two girls were photographed outside a nearby location of the fast-food chain last year, their Chromebooks wobbling on their laps as they tried to connect to high-speed Internet.

And this in a city just a short drive from the extraordinary wealth of Silicon Valley, a global symbol of American innovation, where Apple, Facebook and Google have gleaming campuses — with record stock prices to match.

The disparities reflect a multitude of factors, experts say, but primarily stem from a few big ones: Compared with other well-to-do nations, the United States 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. 

The nation’s infrastructure — the airports, broadband networks, transit systems, utility lines, ports and sewers that keep society humming — is in a perilous state from decades of underinvestment that has transcended both Republican and Democratic administrations. Perhaps even more important than the lack of cash, Kane said, is the absence of a plan.

“The Eisenhower administration is really the time we really had a goal or a vision for our infrastructure,” he said. “Now we’re in a fundamentally different era with a more unpredictable and extreme climate, more inequality, a lack of accessibility. And we’re still operating as if it’s the 1950s.”

All that neglect is showing: The American Society of Civil Engineers earlier this month gave the country a C-minus for the overall quality of its infrastructure.

That middling mark is actually up slightly from the group’s last report card, four years ago, when the grade was an ignominious D-plus. But it still reflects the decrepitude of a nation where a water main breaks every two minutes, and where nearly half of public roads are in either poor or mediocre condition.

The Biden administration has said that reimagining infrastructure — with increased funding to match — will be a central focus of its legislative agenda this year. In theory, it should be a relatively easy sell: The issue is one of the few that enjoys bipartisan backing.

Yet the same was true during the Trump administration, when the notion of “infrastructure week” became a running gag and the self-described “builder president” ultimately failed to sign legislation to get workers digging and backhoes rumbling.

The federal level is not the only place where lawmakers will be wrestling with the country’s gaping disparities this year. In 38 states and Puerto Rico, legislators will be weighing whether to spend more to bring broadband Internet to poor and rural communities. 

Salinas may be geographically close to Silicon Valley, but in other respects it’s a world away.

The city was made famous by John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” an account of tenant farmers who escaped the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and set out west for California. The “Okies,” as they were called, found exploitation and discrimination rather than relief.

Today, largely Latino field workers harvest lettuce and strawberries, earning low pay and enjoying few protections. The city has the highest child poverty rate in the state, and the lack of basic Internet access has kept many from attending virtual school during the pandemic.

“I can see from my window students working outside a Starbucks right now for the fast WiFi,” said Carissa Purnell, director of the Alisal Family Resource Center, which helps the area’s vulnerable families. “There are thousands of kids still in this situation.”

And that’s just in the Salinas area. Statewide, an estimated 1.5 million students — more than half of them Black, Latino or Native American — lack adequate Internet access . . . . . Nationwide, the number is as high as 16 million.

In most other wealthy countries, health care is considered a basic human right; a view reflected in the universal healthcare systems in place across Europe, Canada and Australia. In the United States, it is a commodity, a fact that Britons took to Twitter to remark upon recently when they noticed — with considerable alarm — all of the medication advertisements aired during Oprah Winfrey’s interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. “If these medicine ads are what it’s like to not have an NHS [National Healthcare Service] I never want to experience that,” one viewer tweeted.

As with the digital divide, the pandemic has brought disparities in health care into sharp relief.

Even as American scientists, laboratories and pharmaceutical companies working at breakneck pace have helped blaze a path to effective vaccines, the country has consistently lagged behind other developed nations in the more elementary tasks of coronavirus testing and prevention.

Those failings have contributed to a tragic toll: The United States accounts for just four percent of the world’s population but 20 percent of worldwide coronavirus deaths. A disproportionate share are poor or people of color.

In 2019, about 28.9 million non-elderly people in the United States were, like Jones, uninsured, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Roughly 45 percent of non-elderly adults are also considered “inadequately insured”—meaning that even those who have insurance still struggle to afford the care they need. The CEO of GoFundMe in 2019 said that a third of the donations raised through the charitable giving site help people struggling to pay their medical bills.

Back in Houston, the inadequacies of America’s basic support systems were compounding and colliding. A failure to properly weatherize power generation systems after Texas’s last major cold snap, in 2011, had led to a power crisis, which led to a water crisis. And that, in turn, was leading to fears of a health crisis made worse by an inability to take basic precautions to ward off illness.