Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, October 23, 2021
Insurrectionists Are Pouring Dark Money into Glenn Youngkin's Campaign
A billionaire Trump donor who funded a group that marched on the Capitol ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is bankrolling a dark-money group boosting Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin's attacks on Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe.
The Republican-aligned Restoration PAC this week launched new ads attacking McAuliffe, who served a previous term as governor, over crime rates. . . . The PAC has spent $1.767 million funding ads against McAuliffe, making it by far the largest independent expenditure group in the race.
The group is funded almost entirely by Republican mega-donor Richard Uihlein, co-founder of the Wisconsin shipping supply giant Uline. Uihlein contributed $24.5 million to the group in the 2020 election cycle, making up 97% of its funding, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. He put another $1.5 million into the group in May, according to FEC filings.
Uihlein and his wife Liz are among the biggest Republican donors in the country, having given more than $65 million to former President Donald Trump, Republican candidates and conservative groups since 2019. The Uihleins have also contributed $4.3 million over the past five years to the Tea Party Patriots, including $800,000 in October 2020, making them by far the group's biggest donors. The Tea Party Patriots participated in the "March to Save America" rally that preceded the Capitol riot and were one of 11 groups listed as part of the "#StopTheSteal coalition," according to WBEZ. . . . . Tea Party Patriots also contributed to Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who led objections to the certification of Electoral College results in the Senate.
Restoration PAC last month also gave $942,000 to Women Speak Out Virginia — 2021, a PAC affiliated with the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List that launched a $1.4 million campaign to attack McAuliffe on abortion.
Uihlein's foundation also contributed $275,000 to Trump booster Charlie Kirk's Turning Point Action between 2014 and 2016. The group was listed as a participant in the Capitol protest and Kirk took credit for "sending 80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president" in a since-deleted tweet.
Turning Point Action also previously received $50,000 from the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative dark-money group that helped Trump fill federal courts with conservative judges and is pushing to restrict voting. The group also funds the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), giving it $2.1 million last October and a total of $12.7 million since 2014. RAGA's fundraising arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, sent out robocalls urging supporters to "march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal" on Jan. 6.
The Judicial Crisis Network has multiple legal aliases it uses for other initiatives, including The Concord Fund and Free to Learn Action. That latter group has launched a $1 million ad campaign focused on "critical race theory" in schools, an issue Youngkin and other conservatives have seized on. The group is spending $1 million attacking McAuliffe for arguing that parents should not dictate school curricula.
Youngkin has tried to walk a fine line on Trump's election lies as he tries to solidify his Republican base without alienating independent and suburban voters in the increasingly blue state. He refused to acknowledge President Biden's election victory while seeking the Republican nomination, doing so only after he had already triumphed over Republican rivals. And while Youngkin has said he would have voted to certify the election results, he is nonetheless calling for an "audit" of voting machines in Virginia (something the state already does) and boosting election conspiracy theorists.
Youngkin, the former CEO of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group, is also the primary funder of Virginia Wins, contributing $1 million to back Republican candidates in down-ballot races. The PAC has funneled tens of thousands to candidates who attended the Stop the Steal rally, organized transportation for others to attend the event, defended Capitol rioters or pushed election conspiracy theories, Mother Jones reported on Thursday.
"It's no surprise that some of the most powerful, pro-insurrection dark money forces are rushing to Glenn Youngkin's side in this campaign," Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "They are supporting Youngkin because he's all in on their agenda — and they have full confidence that if elected, Glenn will do exactly what Donald Trump says. He belongs nowhere near the governorship."
Many of us in Virginia are very, very afraid and rightly so.
Friday, October 22, 2021
Bullying, Right Wing Parents Have No Place In Public Education
As Virginia’s governor in 2016, Terry McAuliffe (D) faced the decision of whether to sign into law a bill that would have required schools to notify parents of instructional material with sexually explicit content. “Parents,” we wrote, “should be involved in their children’s education and schools should heed their concerns.” Nonetheless, we urged Mr. McAuliffe to veto the measure. Most school districts have in place policies or practices that take into account the concerns of the community and those of individual parents; the bill would have undermined the ability of local school boards to make decisions, and it targeted notable books by authors of color.
Mr. McAuliffe rightly vetoed the bill, and that decision has surfaced as an issue in his race to reclaim the governorship against Republican Glenn Youngkin. In defending his decision, Mr. McAuliffe misspoke in saying “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign said the comment, made last month in the second and final debate before the November election, was taken out of context.
Mr. Youngkin has seized on the misstep, putting Virginia front and center in the nation’s increasingly heated debate over what should be taught in schools and who gets to decide. . . . there also are legitimate concerns about some Republicans stoking a “parental rights” movement for political gain, furthering cultural divisions. By their telling, a cabal of school administrators and teachers have sidelined parents from critical decisions including mask wearing, sex education and the teaching of U.S. history.
No question that parents should have a say in the education of their children, but individual parents can’t dictate that schools teach what they want.
Allowing one parent — or a group of parents — to bully, threaten and intimidate school officials into their way of thinking is not what our democracy is about. And it is not what learning should be about. It is chilling that a school administrator in Texas suggested that an opposing view of the Holocaust needed to be taught to comply with the state’s controversial law on curriculum content. Everyone — parents, teachers and school administrators, as well as politicians — needs to focus less on what books are being taught and more on giving students the skills to think critically and form their own judgments.
If not stopped, these right wing elements will next be pushing for creationism to replace hard science and many will be erased from curriculums across the country. White Christian nationalists should never be allowed to dictate school policies and ban books they dislike from school libraries as is now happening in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Thursday, October 21, 2021
The GOP Is Losing Military Voters
ALLEGATIONS OF FRAUD can seldom be stood up by mere insinuation of fishiness. But with scant evidence, one Republican Party poll-watcher in Detroit fell back on that in 2020. In a notarised statement presented by the Trump campaign, the onlooker noted that most of the military ballots he “saw were straight ticket Democrat or simply had Joe Biden’s name filled in on them”. “I had always been told that military personnel tended to be more conservative, so this stuck out to me as the day went on,” he added. Although military voters and their families do tilt conservative (see chart), there is little evidence that they are a Republican constituency. In fact, analysis by The Economist suggests that Mr Trump performed far worse in 2020 across precincts that map onto military bases than he did four years earlier.
[W]hile today’s soldiers are encouraged to exercise their right to vote, for some, including a number of America’s most distinguished generals, non-partisanship has precluded boots in the ballot box. General George C. Marshall once wrote, “I have never voted, my father was a Democrat, my mother was a Republican, and I am an Episcopalian.”
“There’s a broader narrative that the military is monolithically conservative or Republican, and that just really isn’t the case, or at least is not any more”, says Danielle Lupton, a scholar of civil-military relations at Colgate University in New York. Enlisted soldiers are drawn from, and thus generally reflective of, the American public, although they have greater racial diversity (a constituency that leans Democratic) and far more men (who tend Republican). As voting patterns shift nationwide, so too do they shift among the armed forces.
The Economist’s analysis of precincts that map closely onto military bases found a median swing of nearly eight points towards Joe Biden, compared with a nationwide shift of a little over two points in the same direction. On average, Mr Trump still won these precincts, though his margin shrank by nearly half.
This method is inexact: two-thirds of enlisted service members who vote send in absentee ballots and military bases are often sprawling compounds where spouses, civilian contractors and other support staff reside and vote.
But so too is this finding borne out in the limited available polling of active military personnel. Shortly before the election of 2020, the Military Times and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University augured an even more extreme swing. Whereas in October 2016 their joint poll showed Mr Trump outpacing Mrs Clinton by 20 points, four years later Mr Biden was ahead of the incumbent by four points.
The Military Times-IVMF polling before the election showed Mr Trump lost ground among both enlisted soldiers and the officer corps, the latter of whom had historically voted disproportionately Republican. Looking ahead to 2024, for Republicans to regain what was lost of the military vote, Mr Feaver speculates the best thing would be “for Trump to shuffle off stage”.
Again, let's hope the trend continues.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
The G.O.P.’s Race to Out-Trump the Trumpists
Anyone in need of a warning about what the 2022 midterm elections could bring might consider what took place last month at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Republican Women of Coffee County, Alabama. Katie Britt, a contender for the Republican nomination to replace Senator Richard Shelby, who is retiring, was asked if she had supported Roy Moore in the 2017 special Senate election. Moore is the Constitution-defying judge who was accused of sexually pursuing teen-age girls . . . . “I have never supported or voted for a Democrat in my life,” Britt said, but added, “I also think it’s important to stand with women.” That hedged response appeared to provoke the next candidate to speak, Representative Mo Brooks, who accused her of lacking party loyalty.
What was most notable in this exchange was Britt’s reply: she accused Brooks of being the disloyal one. “Every single time, I voted for Donald Trump, and stood with him,” she said. “That wasn’t the step you took.” During the 2016 Presidential primaries, Brooks initially supported Senator Ted Cruz.
Trump has enthusiastically endorsed Brooks, and has derided Britt, who once served as Shelby’s chief of staff, as an unqualified “assistant” to a “RINO.” Britt has the backing of Alabama’s business establishment, yet she apparently thought that her best move was to try to out-Trump an unapologetic insurrectionist.
She’s not the only one. Earlier this month, Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, a purported establishment figure who, at eighty-eight, is running for an eighth term, came onstage at a Trump rally in Des Moines. “If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got ninety-one per cent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart,” Grassley said, grinning.
A CNN poll last month indicated that, nationally, seventy-eight per cent of Republicans believe that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected President. Increasingly, they seem to expect their party’s candidates to agree.
With the Senate divided fifty-fifty, just to maintain a status quo in which Biden’s agenda depends on the whims of Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, Democrats need to concentrate on holding on to Mark Kelly’s seat, in Arizona, and to Raphael Warnock’s, in Georgia. (Both men won in special elections, and are seen as vulnerable.) Or they need to pick up seats, perhaps in North Carolina or Pennsylvania, where the incumbents are retiring, or in Florida, where Representative Val Demings is challenging Marco Rubio. In the House, the Democrats’ margin is just eight seats . . . . The task for Democrats could hardly be more crucial: so much depends on so few seats—including, possibly, another Supreme Court appointment.
The numbers aren’t all that matters. Even if the Democrats hold the Senate, the dynamic there will change for the worse if their Republican counterparts are more Trumpist—more conspiracy-minded, more jingoistic, more convinced that the people on the other side of the aisle are godless, evil, amoral socialists. Such a caucus would be even more likely to engage in reckless acts of obstruction and conflict. The effect would almost certainly be more exaggerated in the House, where the Marjorie Taylor Greene contingent will likely grow. As the average level of extremism in Congress rises, it becomes harder to tell true believers from opportunists. . . . . the G.O.P. is heading into the midterms with Trump as its leader.
In Pennsylvania, Trump has endorsed Sean Parnell, a retired Army captain who has written several military-themed books (“Outlaw Platoon,” “Left for Dead”), joined a lawsuit in his state to get mail-in ballots thrown out, and is in the middle of a contentious divorce. His main primary opponent, Carla Sands, was a Trump donor and his Ambassador to Denmark; she got into trouble for posting pro-Trump tweets on her government account, a Hatch Act violation. There are similar stories in other states.
Trump, meanwhile, has endorsed Mark Finchem, a state legislator at times associated with QAnon, in the race for Arizona’s secretary of state. (He pointed out Finchem in the audience at the rally in Des Moines.) Trump’s attentiveness to a race for a state election official is unsettling, given the pressure he exerted on such officials to shift results in his favor in 2020. The Republican leaders who defer to his preferences and echo his delusions now are building the scaffolding for his own next campaign. The nomination, at least, appears to be his for the taking. Ahead of 2022, G.O.P. candidates are scrambling for Trump’s endorsement. In 2024, he may be demanding theirs.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Unlike Other Advanced Nations, America Does Not Invest in Its Children
We hear ad nausea from politicians about "American exceptionalism." Much of the bloviating is based on a sanitized version of American history and a wilfull blindness as to where other advance nations far exceed America. Once such area is investment in the nation's children compared to other advanced nations. There's a reason for America's embarrassing level of child poverty and the fact that the potential of so many of our youth is thrown away. As the chart above from a New York Times article shows, America pays almost nothing towards investing the nation's children and ultimately in our future. A column in the New York Times looks at this embarrassing and shameful reality - a reality the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats (save Joe Manchi and one must assume Sen. Sinema) would like to recity if only by a small measure. Meanwhile, Republicans at both the state level - Glenn Youngkin would slash spending on children and public education to give tax cuts to the wealthy - and federal level continue to pursue their reverse Robin Hood agenda and would eliminate the social safety net entirely,and not just for children. Just as shameful is the fact that the vast majority of evangelicals (who disingenuously claim to be Christ's followers) support the GOP's anti-child policies out a warped belief that non-whites receive the bulk os social safety net spending. Here are column highlights:
If you’re active on social media there’s a decent chance you came across this chart this month from a Times article about how much less the U.S. government spends on young children’s care than other rich countries.
The infrastructure and family plan that President Biden proposed and that’s now being negotiated in Congress is an attempt to shrink the gap through four key policies: a federal paid family and medical leave program, an extension of the child tax credit (in the form of a monthly payment) that debuted this year, subsidized day care, and universal pre-K.
Two weeks ago, however, the unofficial kingmaker of the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said Democrats would have to choose only one of the first three proposals. “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society,” he said.
Why does the United States have such an exceptional approach to family and child care benefits, and what are the arguments against expanding them now? Here’s what people are saying.
As Mona Siegel, a historian at California State University, Sacramento, explained in The Times in 2019, the origins of paid parental leave programs date back to 1919, when the first International Congress of Working Women — a group of female trade unionists, feminists and allies from around the world — convened in Washington and called for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave as a medical necessity and a social right.
European and Latin American countries began enacting these policies over the next two decades, but the end of World War II accelerated the process, particularly in Europe, whose economies had been ravaged by mass death and destruction.
“Part of it had to do with fears of demographic decline . . . . . European countries also looked to the welfare state as a means of safeguarding democracy against authoritarianism. In the United States, by contrast, opposition to the Soviet Union — and to any political program that might be maligned as socialist or communist — made building support for social insurance more difficult.
Where things stand today: Out of 185 countries with available data, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only ones whose citizens are entitled to no paid parental leave. In Europe, on the other hand, parents have paid leaves of 14 months, on average, and children commonly start public school at age 3. Before that point, governments pay a significant portion of the cost of child care. A child allowance similar to the new child tax credit is also common among America’s peer nations.
Half of Americans live in places where there is no licensed child care provider or where there are three times as many children as slots. One in three children also doesn’t attend preschool; those who don’t are more likely to be Hispanic or from low-income families.
[T]the “entitlement” critique that Manchin voiced this month is a running theme in the history of America’s opposition to a larger social safety net. At its root is a centuries-old tendency to sort the population into productive makers and unproductive takers, a binary that formed the basis of “producerism”: the idea that people who made and grew things were most valuable to society.
“Entitlement” logic may be one reason the child tax credit is less popular than its proponents had hoped. When the Biden administration made all but the most well-off families eligible for monthly checks of up to $300 per child this summer, Democrats predicted that the program would be a big hit. But in a recent poll of registered voters, only 36 percent said it should be made permanent.
Today, many social conservatives still oppose state-subsidized child care as a form of social engineering. “Democrats don’t want to put the option to stay home on equal footing with day care,” The Washington Examiner wrote in an editorial in May. “They know that, overwhelmingly, it would be mothers who choose to care for children full time, and these are the very complementary gender roles that they want to eradicate.”
It’s a similar story with opposition to universal pre-K. New research has shown that public pre-K programs have the potential to improve children’s development and long-term well-being, if not their standardized test scores. But some argue that these benefits can be achieved through other methods — more time at home with a parent, for example — and that it’s not the government’s role to favor one at the exclusion of others.
In some conservative intellectual circles, “entitlement” logic still shapes opposition to state-sponsored paid leave programs. “If the private sector doesn’t provide it and we have to go to the government to get it, then you’re relying on the government,” Rachel Greszler of the Heritage Foundation said in 2019. “You’re not relying on yourself.”
But this argument may hold less sway with the American public on paid leave than it does with the child allowance: A recent CBS News/YouGov poll found that 73 percent of adults surveyed supported federal funding for paid leave. According to another poll conducted in May, 69 percent of respondents, including 55 percent of surveyed Republicans, would support such a policy even if it raised their taxes.
Public pre-K for children ages 3 and 4 was the winner, with half the experts choosing it. They said it was most likely to achieve multiple goals of family policy:
· It could help decrease poverty and ease family life by making child care free for toddlers.
· It could increase gender equality by enabling mothers to work.
· It could decrease long-term inequality by giving children from different backgrounds the same preparation for kindergarten.
“When my collaborators and I have explored different outcomes — employment, wages, poverty — across a range of wealthy countries, the policy that has had the most powerful effect has been universal early childhood education,” said Joya Misra, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Glenn Youngkin and The New Lost Cause
One of my favorite things about covering political rallies is that they typically start with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. For anyone above school age, occasions to recite the pledge with a large group of people are irregular, and the ritual serves as a good reminder of what politics is about at its best, no matter how divisive what follows might be.
The pledge at a rally for the Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in Virginia on Wednesday night was different. At the beginning of the event, which Steve Bannon hosted and Donald Trump phoned into, an emcee called an attendee up onstage and announced, “She’s carrying an American flag that was carried at the peaceful rally with Donald J. Trump on January 6.” Attendees then said the pledge while facing the flag. (Youngkin didn’t attend, and later tepidly criticized the moment.)
This is a bizarre subversion. The pledge affirms allegiance to the republic, indivisible and offering justice to all. This flag was carried at a rally that became an attack on the Constitution itself: an attempt to overthrow the government, divide the country, and effect extrajudicial punishment. Elevating this banner to a revered relic captures the troubling transformation of the events of January 6 into a myth—a New Lost Cause. This mythology has many of the trappings of its neo-Confederate predecessor, which Trump also employed for political gain: a martyr cult, claims of anti-liberty political persecution, and veneration of artifacts.
[T]he New Lost Cause, like the old one, seeks to convert a shameful catastrophe into a celebration of the valor and honor of the culprits and portray those who attacked the country as the true patriots. But lost causes have a pernicious tendency to be less lost than we might hope. Just as neo-Confederate revisionism shaped racial violence and oppression after the war, Trump’s New Lost Cause poses a continuing peril to the hope of “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In the immediate aftermath of the failed January 6 insurrection, Trump flailed in his efforts to interpret the day’s events. He praised the participants even as the riot was ongoing, saying, “Go home; we love you.” He insisted (despite ample video footage) that what had happened was a peaceful protest—some demonstrators were pacific, while many others were not—though he has also falsely claimed that antifa and Black Lives Matter had instigated a riot. He praised the protesters for courageously fighting back against what he insists, again falsely, was a stolen election, but also criticized police for using excessive force.
Out of this murk, a unified mythology has begun to form. Trump hasn’t so much resolved the contradictions as transcended them. To him and his movement, January 6 was a righteous attempt by brave patriots to take back an election stolen from them. . . . The rioters who remain imprisoned, meanwhile, are “political prisoners.” Now objects carried that day have become sacred too.
During his term as president, and especially during its last summer, Trump—though a lifetime New York City resident—celebrated the Confederate battle flag, praised Robert E. Lee’s generalship, and defended statues honoring Confederates. These statues were not erected immediately after the war. Rather, they first required the creation of the “Lost Cause” mythology late in the 19th century. As the law professor Michael Paradis wrote in The Atlantic,
[T]he Lost Cause recast the Confederacy’s humiliating defeat in a treasonous war for slavery as the embodiment of the Framers’ true vision for America. Supporters pushed the ideas that the Civil War was not actually about slavery; that Robert E. Lee was a brilliant general, gentleman, and patriot; and that the Ku Klux Klan had rescued the heritage of the old South, what came to be known as “the southern way of life.”
Many of the monuments themselves were put up at times of conflict over civil rights for Black Americans. They took on a quasi-religious cast.
After Congress decided in 1905 to send back flags captured during the Civil War to their home states, Virginia placed the ones it received in a Richmond museum that, as Atlas Obscura describes, “began as a shrine to the Confederate cause, filled with memorabilia sourced from Confederate sympathizers.” To Lost Cause adherents, these flags were hallowed because they had been carried by the boys in gray as they bravely fought against Yankee aggression.
Like Pickett’s Charge, the January 6 insurrection was a disastrous error. It did nothing to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election, and, in fact, several Republican members who had planned to object to the results decided against doing so after the riot. It got Trump impeached, a second time, and further tarnished his reputation, which hardly seemed possible.
Martyrdom is not necessarily nefarious, and some who die in battle do deserve veneration. Some heroes deserve veneration. . . . . Trump’s aggrandizement of her [Ashli Babbitt] death is rooted not in any genuine affection—he is largely incapable of caring about anyone but himself—but in opportunism.
The problem with these myths, the Lost Cause and the New Lost Cause, is that they emphasize the valor of the people involved while whitewashing what they were doing. The men who died in Pickett’s Charge might well have been brave, and they might well have been good fathers, brothers, and sons, but they died in service of a treasonous war to preserve the institution of slavery, and that is why their actions do not deserve celebration.
The January 6 insurrection was an attempt to subvert the Constitution and steal an election. Members of the crowd professed a desire to lynch the vice president and the speaker of the House, and they violently assaulted the seat of American government. They do not deserve celebration either.
Yet Glenn Youngkin quietly celebrates these treasonous individuals. We do not need him as governor.
Monday, October 18, 2021
Sunday, October 17, 2021
The Revolt of the American Worker
For America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries.
Add to this the lack of respect many workers receive from customers - wait staff in restaurants being one such category - and many have opted for career changes, early retirement if feasible, or finding more supportive employers. For decades too many businesses have given lip service to "our emplyees are our most important asset" while treating their employees like dirt (I have been in law firms where attorneys being nice to paralegals and secretaries was frowned upon) and in some cases refusing to pay them a living wage. Perhaps the current worker revolt will usher in some much needed change in how workers are paid and treated. First these highlights from the piece in The Atlantic:
In April, the number of workers who quit their job in a single month broke an all-time U.S. record. Economists called it the “Great Resignation.” But America’s quittin’ spirit was just getting started. In July, even more people left their job. In August, quitters set yet another record. That Great Resignation? It just keeps getting greater.
“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August.
[Q]uitting is a concept typically associated with losers and loafers. But this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better. You may have heard the story that in the golden age of American labor, 20th-century workers stayed in one job for 40 years and retired with a gold watch. But that’s a total myth. The truth is people in the 1960s and ’70s quit their jobs more often than they have in the past 20 years, and the economy was better off for it. Since the 1980s, Americans have quit less, and many have clung to crappy jobs for fear that the safety net wouldn’t support them while they looked for a new one. But Americans seem to be done with sticking it out. And they’re being rewarded for their lack of patience: Wages for low-income workers are rising at their fastest rate since the Great Recession. The Great Resignation is, literally, great.
Leisure and hospitality workers might be saying “to hell with this” on account of Americans deciding to behave like a pack of escaped zoo animals. Call it the Great Rudeness. Airlines in the United States reported that, by June 2021, the number of unruly passengers had already broken records—doubling the previous all-time pace of orneriness.
Meanwhile, the basic terms of employment are undergoing a Great Reset. . . . In fact, the share of Americans who say they plan to work beyond the age of 62 has fallen to its lowest number since the Federal Reserve Bank of New York started asking the question, in 2014. Workism isn’t going away; for many, remote work will collapse the boundary between work and life that was once delineated by the daily commute. But this is a time of broad reconsideration. . . . . we may instead look back to the pandemic as a crucial inflection point in something more fundamental: Americans’ attitudes toward work. Since early last year, many workers have had to reconsider the boundaries between boss and worker, family time and work time, home and office.
The Times column picks up on the possible motivations for this phenomon and the supply-chain issues currently hitting the economy as well. Here are excerpts:
In 2021, . . . . many of our problems seem to be about inadequate supply. Goods can’t reach consumers because ports are clogged; a shortage of semiconductor chips has crimped auto production; many employers report that they’re having a hard time finding workers.
Much of this is probably transitory, although supply-chain disruptions will clearly last for a while. But something more fundamental and lasting may be happening in the labor market. Long-suffering American workers, who have been underpaid and overworked for years, may have hit their breaking point.
About those supply-chain issues: It’s important to realize that more goods are reaching Americans than ever before. The problem is that despite increased deliveries, the system isn’t managing to keep up with extraordinary demand.
Earlier in the pandemic, people compensated for the loss of many services by buying stuff instead. People who couldn’t eat out remodeled their kitchens. People who couldn’t go to gyms bought home exercise equipment.
The result was an astonishing surge in purchases of everything from household appliances to consumer electronics. Early this year real spending on durable goods was more than 30 percent above prepandemic levels, and it’s still very high. But things will improve.
The labor situation, by contrast, looks like a genuine reduction in supply. Total employment is still five million below its prepandemic peak. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector is still down more than 9 percent. Yet everything we see suggests a very tight labor market.
On one side, workers are quitting their jobs at unprecedented rates, a sign that they’re confident about finding new jobs. On the other side, employers aren’t just whining about labor shortages, they’re trying to attract workers with pay increases. Over the past six months wages of leisure and hospitality workers have risen at an annual rate of 18 percent, and they are now well above their prepandemic trend.
[W]hy are we experiencing what many are calling the Great Resignation, with so many workers either quitting or demanding higher pay and better working conditions to stay? Until recently conservatives blamed expanded jobless benefits, claiming that these benefits were reducing the incentive to accept jobs. But states that canceled those benefits early saw no increase in employment compared with those that didn’t, and the nationwide end of enhanced benefits last month doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the job situation.
What seems to be happening instead is that the pandemic led many U.S. workers to rethink their lives and ask whether it was worth staying in the lousy jobs too many of them had.
The harder question is, why now? Many Americans hated their jobs two years ago, but they didn’t act on those feelings as much as they are now. What changed?
Well, it’s only speculation, but it seems quite possible that the pandemic, by upending many Americans’ lives, also caused some of them to reconsider their life choices. Not everyone can afford to quit a hated job, but a significant number of workers seem ready to accept the risk of trying something different — retiring earlier despite the monetary cost, looking for a less unpleasant job in a different industry, and so on.
And while this new choosiness by workers who feel empowered is making consumers’ and business owners’ lives more difficult, let’s be clear: Overall, it’s a good thing. American workers are insisting on a better deal, and it’s in the nation’s interest that they get it.
What the Supply Chain Crisis Reveals About American Infrastructure
We’ve gone from fruitless “infrastructure weeks” in the Trump administration to fruitless “trying to pass infrastructure and reconciliation” weeks in the Biden administration to, now, “an attempting to make our infrastructure work” week that might have to be repeated until the end of the year and beyond.
As part of a push to get our logistics unstuck, the president is prodding the Port of Los Angeles, one of the most important in the country, to operate on a 24/7 basis. This is welcome news, although it might cause most people to stop and think, “Wait a minute — our ports don’t already operate 24 hours a day?"
No, which speaks to the thick layer of irrationality that encrusts our supply chain. It’s beyond the power of any one person to change this anytime soon, but trying to scrape off as many of these encumbrances as possible should be a national priority.
We are experiencing the worst disruption of the supply chain since the advent of the shipping-container era in the late 1950s, driven, at bottom, by the pandemic. A surge in e-commerce, coupled with a labor shortage, helped to create the conditions for a spiraling series of bottlenecks.
Ships are idling waiting to unload their cargo at ports, while containers are waiting at the ports to be shipped further inland, while cargo is waiting outside full warehouses on chassis that aren’t available to use to pick up other containers, and so on. In theory, there are plenty of ships, trucks and other capacity to handle the volume, but not if so much of that capacity is tied up and frozen in place.
Everyone along every part of the U.S. logistics chain is pointing fingers at each other, and everyone deserves some blame, whether it’s the ports, the truckers, the warehouses, the railroads or other players.
Yet the situation also highlights how, as Scott Lincicome of the Cato Institute persuasively argues, our logistics system is beset by idiotic policies and practices that make it hugely inefficient. There is a tendency in the political debate over infrastructure to assume that more — and more spending, in particular — is better, but it matters how you are making use of what you already have.
Consider our ports. U.S. facilities are nowhere near the top-performing facilities around the world. They are generally less automated and less efficient than those in other advanced economies. It takes, for instance, twice as long on average to move a container from a large ship at the Port of Los Angeles than it does at top ports in China.
The main culprit for this massive inefficiency is the incredibly powerful International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has a lock on the ports up and down the West Coast. It hates automation, and has won extraordinary pay for its workers (dockworkers make an average of $171,000 per year, with foremen making nearly $300,000) and strict work rules. When it negotiates contract renewals, the union can effortlessly snarl freight everywhere in the West — work slowdowns are its specialty.
As Peter Tirschwell writes in the Journal of Commerce, “Huge cost increases, limited ability to automate terminals, chronic avoidable disruption during contract negotiations, and far lower productivity and working hours compared with ports in Asia and elsewhere around the world are at the core of the issue.”
Notably, the highly automated Port of Virginia has been weathering the current crisis better than its counterparts.
Long-haul truckers around the country need about 20,000 more drivers, and have also been hit by a shortage of chassis. In the midst of a major logistical nightmare, the U.S. International Trade Commission imposed roughly 200 percent duties (on top of Trump-era duties of 25 percent) on the world’s biggest manufacturers of chassis, China Intermodal Marine Containers. The company does indeed benefit from unfair subsidies, but the timing of the trade commission’s action was hardly propitious. The head of the Harbor Trucking Association, representing port truckers on the West Coast, complained, “Now we’ve created scarcity and increased the cost.”
[T]here are longstanding rules like the Jones Act, which makes it much more expensive to ships goods from port to port within the U.S., putting a premium on the over-taxed ground systems.
Eventually, U.S. logistics will get out of the current fix and reach a new equilibrium. Still, this crisis should prompt a rethinking of the needless inefficiencies we foist on ourselves. It will be too late to hold this coming Christmas harmless, but will serve us well going forward, whatever the season.