Category Archives: Political

Biden’s First Six Months


So far, Joe Biden’s presidency has been a success.  Most voters continue to believe that Biden has done an excellent job handling the pandemic and the economy. As we might expect, Democrats are far more likely to approve of Biden than are Republicans.

The most recent CBS News poll (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-pandemic-approval-covid-19-opinion-poll/ ) found President Biden with 58 percent approval (42 percent disapproval).  Biden’s rating is deeply split along Party lines: 93 percent of Democrats approve while 81 percent of Republicans disapprove.  (55 percent of Independents approve.)

Coronavirus Pandemic:  66 percent of poll respondents believe the Biden Administration had done an excellent or good job “handling the coronavirus outbreak.”  The majority of respondents approve of the way the Biden Administration has responded to the pandemic and 67 percent are “hopeful” or “excited” about the future.

60 percent of poll respondents were fully vaccinated; 3 percent have had one shot and will get another; and 7 percent promise to get vaccinated.  11 percent of respondents report they are “still deciding.”  19 percent say they will not get vaccinated.  The most recent YouGov/Economist poll (https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2021/07/15/why-wont-americans-get-vaccinated-poll-data) indicates that those who say they will not got vaccinated are primarily Republicans: 29 percent of all Republican respondents.  Most of these Republicans believe: “The U.S. government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population” — 20 percent of all US adults.

Meanwhile coronavirus-related hospitalizations are on the rise; due to the Delta variant (83 percent of new cases).  The new COVID-19 cases are overwhelmingly unvaccinated individuals.  Four states dominate the appalling statistics: Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/back-to-this? )

Clinical trials have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious disease and death. (Breakthrough cases — when a fully vaccinated person becomes infected with COVID-19 — are rare after full vaccination; a recent CDC report found that they may occur in just 0.01% of all fully vaccinated people.)  “The message, loud and clear, that we need to reiterate is that these vaccines continue to [provide] strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, including the delta variant,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, during a July 16th White House briefing.

At his July 21 town-hall meeting (https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2021/07/21/joe-biden-cnn-town-hall-transcript/8051311002/ ) President Biden observed: “We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination.”  He noted, “Since I got in office, we’ve inoculated over 160 million people, 85 percent of people over the age of 50. ”

The Economy: In the most recent CBS News poll, 53 percent of respondents approved of President Biden’s handling of the economy.  (60 percent rated their personal financial situations as good or fairly good — 33 percent saw it as bad.)  Once again Biden’s rating is split on Party lines: 68 percent of Democrats saw the economy improving; 71 percent of Republicans disagreed.

51 percent of respondents — of those with children under the age of 18 — believed the child tax credit would help their family.  57 percent of respondents believe that Biden’s stimulus package helped the economy.

In his recent town-hall meeting, President Biden observed: “[The economy is going] to grow at 7 percent, it’s expected. We created more jobs in the first six months of my — our administration than any time in American history.”

Infrastructure: 59 percent of poll respondents approved of President Biden’s infrastructure plan. Again Biden’s rating is split on Party lines: 93 percent of Democrats approve, 57 percent of Independents, but only 20 percent of Republicans.  The elements of the infrastructure plan have even stronger approval: 87 percent approve of work on roads and bridges, 73 percent of replying rural broadband, and 71 percent of more care for children and the elderly.  (Even Republicans approve the first two initiatives.)

Most respondents (62 percent) want Biden to “try to get Republican support” to pass infrastructure legislation. At his July 21 town-hall meeting (https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2021/07/21/joe-biden-cnn-town-hall-transcript/8051311002/ ) President Biden expressed confidence that a bipartisan infrastructure bill will soon be passed.

Unity: Joe Biden ran on a promise to unify the nation. A recent Harris-Hill Poll (https://thehill.com/hilltv/what-americas-thinking/538905-poll-majority-say-biden-has-prioritized-unity-so-far) found that a majority of respondents (57 percent) felt that Biden has been working to do this: “they think Joe Biden has made uniting the country a priority in his actions so far as president.”

The most recent CBS News poll (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-pandemic-approval-covid-19-opinion-poll/ ) found that a plurality of respondents (41 percent) feel that President Biden has devoted the right amount of time to bipartisanship.  36 percent believed he needed to do more and 23 percent felt he had spent too much energy on this issue.

During the past six months, Biden has faced adamant Republican congressional opposition.  Republican members of Congress have seldom supported any move that he has made.  On major issues it’s unusual to find any Republican votes to go along with those of Democrats.

While Democratic-leaning pundits describe the Biden Administration as focused, empathetic, and effective, Republican-leading pundits describe Democratic actions in extremely negative terms.  Conservative voices suggest that Biden is senile, a hollow facade, being manipulated by radical socialists including Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  They decry the legislative initiatives — such as the proposed Biden Infrastructure plan — as socialist over reach.

Summary: the Biden Administration has had a productive six months, with no help from Republicans.  The bad news is that Congressional Republicans are unlikely to change.  The good news is that, on specific issues, Biden has the support of most of the electorate.

Global Climate Change

The most recent Gallup Poll indicates that American voters have a lot to worry about. So many worries that voters don’t seem particularly concerned about climate change. That’s a problem because, in the long run, climate change is the most serious problem we face.

There’s abundant evidence about the climate change problem.  On July 7th, writing in the the New York Times ( https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/climate/climate-change-heat-wave.html) Henry Fountain observed: “The extraordinary heat wave that scorched the Pacific Northwest last week would almost certainly not have occurred without global warming, an international team of climate researchers said Wednesday. Temperatures were so extreme — including readings of 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Ore., and a Canadian record of 121 in British Columbia — that the researchers had difficulty saying just how rare the heat wave was. But they estimated that in any given year there was only a 0.1 percent chance of such an intense heat wave occurring.”

Nonetheless, in the June Gallup Poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/351779/sharply-fewer-cite-covid-nation-top-problem.aspx ) of national problems, climate change was barely mentioned.  Respondents were most concerned about government (22 percent), followed by race relations (11 percent), immigration (9 percent), the economy (9 percent) and COVIDE-19 (8 percent).  As usual, there’s a partisan divide: Democrats (16 percent) are more concerned about race relations than are Republicans (3 percent), and Republicans (22 percent) are more concerned about immigration than are Democrats (3 percent).  And Democrats and Republicans see “government” through a different lens; Democrats are satisfied with President Biden and Republicans are not.  (Both parties are concerned about Congress.)

In the June Gallup Poll, climate change rated a measly 3 percent.  (The most recent You Gov poll (https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/trackers/most-important-issues-facing-the-us?) poll shows a higher number, 12.5 percent; still far from what one might reasonably expect.)

There are several explanations for climate change’s low problem rating.  The most likely explanation is that most poll respondents are overwhelmed by negative news and simply don’t have the attention span to deal with anything beyond the governmental crisis, race relations, economic turmoil, and the Coronavirus pandemic.  (An April Pew research study (https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/04/15/americans-views-of-the-problems-facing-the-nation/) indicated that most Americans (65 percent)  believe Climate Change is a serious problem just not as serious as the others.)

Another explanation is that Republicans, in general, do not take climate change seriously because their news sources do not.  During the Trump Administration, it was well known that Donald Trump did not regard climate change as a serious problem.  For this reason, the White House press secretary, and other administration press channels, did not talk about climate change.  In addition, for many years, Fox News (https://www.mediamatters.org/fox-news/2021-fox-news-still-spreading-dangerous-climate-denial ) has denigrated climate change and spread the lie that human activity is not overheating our climate.

Nonetheless, a majority of Americans believe that climate change is real (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/global-warming-perceptions-states-more-americans-accept-fault-n1265213 ).  A strong majority subscribe to the statement “global warming is mostly caused by human activities.”  Not surprisingly,  Democrats are much more likely to hold this belief.

While one explanation is that Democrats and Republicans subscribe to different news sources, another explanation is that their brains are wired differently.  There’s a growing body of neuroscience research that suggests that liberal brains are much more tolerant of ambiguity. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/conservative-and-liberal-brains-might-have-some-real-differences/) That finding has several consequences, one of which is that conservatives have a narrower span of attention, they tend to focus on only one or two political issues at a time.  At present that means that most Republicans focus on “government,” that is. a set of issues including Trump, “the big lie,” voting rights, and so forth.  In addition, they focus on “immigration,” that is the belief that the United States southern border is being invaded by Hispanic immigrants.  They do not focus on climate change because they don’t have the cognitive ability to handle an additional disturbing variable.  They are impaired.  (You probably already knew this.)

Someone has to lead.  Someone has to ensure that all of America’s problems are dealt with — not just the Fox News crisis du jour. That someone is President Biden.  He has to mount national programs to respond to climate change because the Republicans are incapable of doing this. Godspeed, Joe.

Biden’s Infrastructure Strategy

On March 31st, President Joe Biden introduced his infrastructure plan, “The American Jobs Plan” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/ )  This is an omnibus $2 trillion plan to repair the major holes in America’s infrastructure, and to create jobs.  After three months of negotiation, it appears that Congress will pass at least a $1 trillion bipartisan plan. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/24/fact-sheet-president-biden-announces-support-for-the-bipartisan-infrastructure-framework/ )

The bipartisan infrastructure plan polls well.  A recent Yahoo/YouGov poll (https://news.yahoo.com/poll-6-in-10-gop-voters-favor-new-12-trillion-infrastructure-plan-boosting-bidens-hopes-of-a-big-bipartisan-win-201833741.html) found that only 17 percent of respondents disapproved of this plan.  “The survey of 1,592 U.S. adults, which was conducted from June 22 to 24, found that a full 60 percent of self-identified Republicans approve of the compromise infrastructure plan recently put forward by Republican and Democratic senators that would “rebuild roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure and cost $1.2 trillion.”

What’s in and What’s out: The first cut of the Biden Infrastructure/Jobs plan had $2.15 billion in projects.  The compromise plan has $1.2 billion in projects.

1.Transportation Infrastructure: (Original plan $621 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $500 Billion)  In essence the compromise plan kept the traditional infrastructure projects and reduced three varieties of investments: construction of an electric-vehicle infrastructure,  funds for climate-related disasters (“infrastructure resiliency”), and projects for “underserved neighborhoods” — “a new program that will reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.”

2. “Quality of Life at Home”: (Original plan $650 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $400 billion) In essence this is the original Biden proposal less an allocation of $213B to “build, preserve, and retrofit more than 2 million affordable homes and commercial buildings.”

3. Caregivers for elderly and disabled. (Original plan $400 Billion; bipartisan plan $0) Biden’s original plan would have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable, quality care for everyone who needs it.

4. Research, Development, and Manufacturing: (Original plan $480 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $100 billion.)

The Biden Infrastructure/Jobs plan collected many of the elements of previous plans and  linked them together.  There were standard infrastructure improvements, such as roads, bridges, ports, and trains, and non-standard items such as home-improvement, removal of lead water pipes, and provision of a high-speed broadband network.  The bipartisan plan retains most of the traditional infrastructure elements.

Playing the bipartisanship card: President Biden lauded the bipartisan plan: “Democracy requires compromise. The historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will make life better for millions of Americans, create a generation of good-paying union jobs and economic growth, and position the United States to win the 21st century, including on many of the key technologies needed to combat the climate crisis.”

Clearly, Biden relishes the idea of Congress passing a significant bipartisan piece of legislation.  Writing in a June 28th editorial (https://news.yahoo.com/biden-americans-can-be-proud-of-the-infrastructure-deal-214533346.html) Biden observed: “The deal… is a signal to ourselves, and to the world, that American democracy can work and deliver for the people.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted in this agreement. But that’s what it means to compromise and reach consensus — the very heart of democracy. When we negotiate in good faith, and come together to get big things done, we begin to break the ice that too often has kept us frozen in place and prevented us from solving the real problems Americans face.”

Nonetheless, Biden hasn’t given up on the other components of his original infrastructure proposal.  In his editorial,  Biden noted: “I will continue working with Congress to pass the remainder of my economic and clean energy agenda. We have an urgent need to invest in housing, clean energy deployment and the care economy. And we need to make equally critical investments in our human infrastructure: in childcare and paid leave, universal pre-K and free community college, and tax cuts for working families with children. They are inextricably intertwined with physical infrastructure.”

BB prediction: The bipartisan infrastructure plan will pass this summer.  The remainder of Biden “Jobs Plan” will pass in the fourth quarter by means of reconciliation.

 

A Tale of Two Countries

In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Hmm.  Dickens was writing about the French Revolution but his words are relevant today.

The United States is teetering on the edge of revolution.

1.We’ve lost a governing consensus.  Perhaps I was naive, but after the election — particularly after the January 6th insurrection — I expected the American people to put aside their political differences and come together to support law and order and the Biden Administration.  This did not happen.  While most Independents, and a few Republicans, joined Democrats in an effort to try to move our democracy forward, the bulk of Republicans hardened their resistance.

The consequence is that in Washington, and most of the United States, there’s not agreement on basic issues.

2.The United States has become two nations, featuring two very different realities. One reality — the reality I represent — believes that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.  We believe that the January 6th insurrection was deplorable and that it was probably planned by Donald Trump and his co-conspirators; we believe they all should be charged with crimes. (“Lock them up!”)

It’s not sufficient to say that those of us in “Biden land” — for lack of a better term — disagree with those in “Trump land.” We are immersed in a different reality.  In our reality COVID-19 was a terrible public-health threat and the correct way to deal with this was to wear masks, socially distance, and be vaccinated.  We believe that Blacks lives truly do matter and that serious steps must be taken to provide racial justice — and we do not equate the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations, following the death of George Floyd, and the January 6th insurrection.  (By the way, we do not trust the police to act properly in all circumstances.)

Suffice it to say, the denizens of Trump land have a different perspective.  There are very few things we agree on.

3. Republicans no longer believe in Democracy.  It’s one thing to believe in an alternate universe, where Donald Trump tells the truth, but a much more serious problem when that universe no longer believes in democracy.  That’s what has happened; The majority of Republicans no longer believe in the basic tenets of democracy.

A recent 2020 Kansas University election study ( https://news.ku.edu/2018/04/17/study-prejudiced-attitudes-not-economic-concern-drove-most-voters-trump) observed: “[T]he [2020] vote was a complex reality in which many factors played a part, above all, attitudes.  And one of the attitudes that stood out statistically was a wish for a domineering leader who would ‘crush evil’ and ‘get rid of the rotten apples’ who disturb the status quo.” [Emphasis added]  Trump played “the dictator card” and it captured the fancy of a majority of Republican voters.

Usually when we accuse a large group of people of being anti-democratic, we characterize them as fascists — or communists.  Trump supporters aren’t coherent enough to be characterized as fascists, let alone communists.  They are united by white grievance. They believe that “non-whites” are getting ahead at their expense.

4. Conceptually, we are seeing a reprise of the issues that produced the American Civil War: racism and state’s rights.  Overt slavery is no longer an issue, but the life circumstances of most people-of-color remain unjust.  The majority of Republicans don’t see it this way.  They subscribe to “replacement theory:” the idea that Democrats are trying to replace white folks with “non-whites” — people of color, immigrants, Jews, and those with a non-traditional gender.

And, the dominant political sentiment of Trump World is to give states the power to make more decisions about civil rights and social programs. While Republicans want some Federal services, such as Social Security and a strong military, the predominant sentiment is to “blow up” Washington and return power to the states.

5. Hassles over slavery created the electoral college system and continue to plague us.  As part of a compromise to reconcile “slave” states and “free” states, in 1787, the Constitution framers created the electoral college system.  This specifies that the results of a presidential election are determined by state electors, not the popular vote.  In 2000 and 2016, Republican candidates won the presidency even though they lost the popular vote.

Republicans recognize that — because of demographic trends — they may never again win the popular vote in a Presidential contest — therefore their strategy is to strengthen their hand in the electoral college.  That’s why there are new Republican measures, in Republican-dominated states, to suppress voting and to make the legislature the ultimate determiner of who gets the electoral votes.

The 2024 Republican strategy is to win the presidency by taking advantage of the archaic electoral college system.

6. Expect violence.  Writing in the New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2021/07/01/reality-rebellion/? ), Mark Danner observed “’January 6 was not an isolated event,’ FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress on March 2.  ‘The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.’ After the Trump presidency, such domestic terrorism should be conceived not as a separable ‘problem’ but rather as the leading edge of a broader movement intended to delegitimize American institutions.”

Danner continued: “Trump is in the style of our moment: a man from nowhere, with no stake in the system, ignorant of history, incurious about our political habits and traditions, but happy to bash and to break old and precious things in exchange for a little attention.” [emphasis added]

7. Disinformation plays a big role.  Brookings researcher, Darrell West (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2021/01/11/the-role-of-misinformation-in-trumps-insurrection/ ), recently wrote: “Misinformation is a big part of our current polarization because it is hard to bring the country together when each side has its own facts and attributions of responsibility. It helps that some leading social media platforms have limited or banned Trump’s posting privileges, but that will not stop the spread of misinformation as Trump likely will move to other sites that have few limits on what he can post. His followers will share falsehoods on their own sites, and misinformation will continue to divide Americans and poison our political environment.”

Summary: I’m alarmed by the current situation, but believe that with hard work, we can yet save our precious democracy.  Briefly here are 5 suggested actions:
a. Get involved. Join your local political organization and support progressive candidates.
b. Support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — called HR 1 in the House version.
c. Do your part to get out the progressive vote.
c, Support lawsuits against state-level Republican voter suppression. (consider supporting Protect Democracy (https://protectdemocracy.org )).
d. Penalize sponsors of Republican disinformation — for example, major Fox News sponsors such as General Motors and Procter & Gamble.

Above all, pay attention!  We’re sliding towards civil war.

Après Trump, Le Déluge

DT won’t go away!  The most recent Quinnipiac Poll ( https://poll.qu.edu/poll-release?releaseid=3810) reports that 66 percent of respondents do not want Donald Trump to (re)run for President. Nonetheless, 66 percent of Republicans would like him to run again. (Not surprisingly, the same percentage of Republicans do not believe that Biden’s 2020 victory was legitimate.)  DT refuses to disappear and, as a result, the Republican Party keeps acting crazy.  What explains this?

Here are four explanations.

1.Psychological: DT is mentally ill; he has the  pathological variety of narcissistic personality disorder.  He craves attention and, therefore, since leaving the White House, he has been undergoing a form of withdrawal.  This situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Donald has been banned from Twitter and Facebook — as this was being written Facebook banned DT until at least January 2023 (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/04/facebook-says-donald-trump-to-remain-banned-from-platform-for-2-years-effective-from-jan-7.html)

Losing the competition for the US presidency would be hard on anyone — reportedly, Hillary Clinton was very depressed after her 2016 defeat — but particularly hard on DT because he has never been characterized as “playing with a full deck.”  After all, this is the guy who suggested a possible antidote to the Coronavirus was to drink bleach.  DT asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.  He proposed buying Greenland. And on and on.

Since losing the 2020 election, Trump’s aberrant behavior has worsened. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-other-than-that-happy-easter_n_60688dd7c5b6832c7937af52) And, he’s taking the Republican Party down the toilet with him.  Congressional Republicans seem to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome: “where hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers.”

2. Anthropological: An alternative explanation is that since June of 2015, when Trump announced his run for President, he’s turned the Republican Party into a personality cult.  In effect, he’s created a pseudo-religion featuring himself as the messiah.  This religion operates by the DT rules:
a. The truth is whatever Donald says it is.
b. Winning is everything. Whatever you have to do to win is acceptable.
c. The American system is broken and only DT knows how to fix it. Trust him.
d. The mainstream media can’t be trusted; there is no honest criticism of DT.
e. Salvation is letting DT have his way.

Some studies have shown that uneducated white males trust capitalism more than they trust religion.  These pilgrims trust DT to fix their lives.  Trump is their role model; someone who beat the system by playing by his own rules. Trump devotees believe if DT triumphs, they will triumph.  (If you think this sounds like Totalitarianism 101, you’re right.)

3. Sociological: A slightly different explanation is that Trump has provided a vehicle for millions of white, male, less-educated Americans to channel their resentment.  Writing in the Washington Post, Republican columnist Michael Gerson (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-gop-is-now-just-the-party-of-white-grievance/2021/03/01/67679480-7ab9-11eb-85cd-9b7fa90c8873_story.html) observed: “One of the poisonous legacies of Donald Trump’s presidency has been to expand the boundaries of expressible prejudice. Through the explicit practice of White-identity politics, Trump has obviated the need for code words and dog whistles… The party has been swiftly repositioned as an instrument of white grievance. It refuses to condemn racists within its congressional ranks. Its main national legislative agenda seems to be the suppression of minority voting.” [Emphasis added]

Trump devotees feel they have lost their shot at the American dream.  DT provides them with an acceptable narrative: What happened to them is not their fault: they haven’t lost out because they are poorly educated or insufficiently motivated; they’ve been cheated out of their deserved opportunity by a conspiracy — promulgated by Obama and the Clintons — that shunted them aside and favored undeserving women and people-of-color.  (And Jews.)

in this context, racism and misogyny is okay; because DT says it’s okay.  The Trump resentment express is a closed system that says and does unethical, un-American, and violent things and then justifies them on the basis that they either aren’t being reported accurately or the targets deserve payback.  The resentment express theme is not only that “anything goes” but also that DT validates any behavior seen as favoring him.

4. Political: Finally, there’s a political explanation; the Republican Party is intellectually bankrupt and has allowed itself to be taken over by DT because Republicans actually don’t have any ideas other than protecting the rich and powerful. Think hard: what policy ideas were promoted by DT during  his residency in the White House? (1) Cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy.  (2) Build the wall.  (3)….

Next time “mainstream” Republicans excuse DT by saying, “I never liked his tweets but he had a lot of good ideas;” ask them what ideas they are defending.  After cutting taxes for the rich and building the wall there were NO ideas.  Think about it.  Republicans were in total control of Washington for the first two years of the Trump regime.  All they accomplished was cutting taxes for the rich and powerful.  (And building a few miles of wall.)

When an American political Party is devoid of ideas they have no choice but to run national campaigns based upon personality.  So. Republicans were steamrolled by DT’s narcissism. At the time — 2015 — they felt they didn’t have a choice.  Since then Republican leaders have had lots of opportunities to chose the non-DT road but each time they have folded.  Because they are intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Writing in Mother Jones ( https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/06/why-donald-trump-doesnt-need-facebook/?), veteran correspondent David Corn observed, “Trump still will inhabit a supersized role in Republican—and American—politics because of two important factors: money and fear.”  (DT is by far the biggest money raiser in GOP land.)

66 percent of Republicans would like to see DT run again because he’s alive and their other GOP choices are zombies.  Out here on the Left Coast, the Republican party looks like it is going over the falls.

Polarization in California

The most recent Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/poll-release?releaseid=3810) illustrates how polarized the US has become: 66 percent of respondents do not want Donald Trump to (re)run for President. Nonetheless, 66 percent of Republicans would like him to run. (Not surprisingly, the same percentage of Republicans do not believe that Biden’s 2020 victory was legitimate.)  It’s a dismaying and, somewhat, disheartening statistic that illustrates how divided the United states has become.  To better understand this, it’s useful to examine polarization in California.

The May 26th poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/ppic-statewide-survey-californians-and-their-government-may-2021.pdf ) confirmed the Golden State continues to favor Democrats.  California Governor Gavin Newsom has an approval rating of 55 percent.  57 percent of respondents would NOT vote to recall him.  Notably, 78 percent of Republicans would vote to recall Newsom.

On issue after issue, California Democrats and Republicans disagree.  For example, 62 percent of Californians agree that income inequality is a big issue.  But they split — by Party — as to whether government ought to do something about this: “Should the state government be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor in California, or is this something the government should not be doing?”  83 percent of Democrats feel the government should do more, while 58 percent of Republicans believe the government should NOT do more.

California has a budget surplus of approximately $38 billion.  Governor Newsom has proposed that this budget surplus be used for stimulus checks.  When poll respondents were asked: “Do you favor or oppose providing another round of stimulus checks with $600 going to Californians with incomes under $75,000 and an additional $500 going to those with children?”  70 percent of Californians approved of this; 86 percent of Democrats but just 42 percent of Republicans.

When asked, “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way that Joe Biden is handling his job as president?” 66 approved; 88 percent of Democrats but just 21 percent of Republicans. When asked, “Do you think things in the United States are generally going in the right direction or the wrong direction?” 53 percent of respondents believed we are going in the right direction.  68 percent of Democrats but just 17 percent of Republicans.

Biden’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic is approved by 75 percent of poll respondents.  93 percent of Democrats approve but most Republicans (61 percent) disapprove.  Everything about the pandemic seems to be divisive.

Seventy-three percent of Californians say they have already received the vaccine (67 percent) or will definitely get the vaccine (6 percent).  Seventeen percent of respondents say they will definitely NOT get the vaccine (12 percent) or probably not get the vaccine (5 percent).  Republicans remain most likely to say they will probably or definitely not get the vaccine (38 percent).

What accounts for this polarization?  In California, this seems to be the result of the interaction of three factors: Party affiliation, race, and region.  Obviously, there is a substantial difference in perspective between Democrats and Republicans.  We can attribute this to the usual suspects: the two groups are in different media silos; for example, many Republicans get their political data from Fox News.

Race is a key determinant of polarization.  President Biden has the approval of 66 percent of all California adults, but there are significant differences based upon race:  the PPIC survey found: “Across racial/ethnic groups, overwhelming majorities of African Americans( 83%), Latinos (77%), and Asian Americans (73%) approve, as do 54 percent of whites.”  53 percent of respondents felt the US is going in the right direction, but there was a major difference in perception based upon race:  “Majorities of Latinos (68%), African Americans (60%), and Asian Americans (56%) say right direction, compared to 41 percent of whites.”

In addition, there are important regional differences in California.  The PPIC survey was taken in five distinct parts of California: Los Angeles, San Diego/Orange Counties, San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley (Shasta County south to Ken County). and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties).  The Inland Empire is substantially more conservative than the four other regions; for example, when asked, “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way that Gavin Newsom is handling his job as governor of California?” Only the Inland Empire has a net disapproval (37 percent approve to 53 percent disapprove).  

The Newsom recall petition had more than 1.7 million verified signatures.  More than half of these came from the five Southern California counties: Los Angeles 328K, Orange 285K, Riverside 186K, San Bernardino 130K, and San Diego 238K. (By the way, in 2020 Joe Biden carried all of these counties.) The California Secretary of State (https://ktla.com/news/california/highest-support-for-newsom-recall-comes-from-californias-rural-northeastern-counties-final-state-numbers-show/) analyzed the verified signatures and found a disproportionate number come from rural counties.  For example, tiny Amador County — located east of Sacramento in the “Gold country” — has 25,989 registered voters; 4966 signed the recall petition (19.1 percent).  (Many recall signatories were unhappy with Newsom’s handling of the pandemic; particularly the mandatory lockdown.)

By the way, more men than women support the Newsom recall: “Men (48%) are more likely than women (32%) to say they would vote yes to remove Newsom.”

The most recent Public Policy Institute of California poll illustrates the extent of polarization in the Golden State and helps us understand it.  California Republicans don’t approve of Biden and don’t like how he handled the pandemic. (They don’t like masks and many of them will not get vaccinated.)  These Republicans are predominantly rural white men.

Resentful redneck Republicans.  As columnist Leonard Pitts recently wrote: ““The decisive reason that white, male, older and less educated voters were disproportionately pro-Trump is that they shared his prejudices and wanted domineering, aggressive leaders …” (https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article211963789.html )

 

California’s Water Crisis

Global Climate Change affects every part of the United States.  In California, there are two major climate-change consequences: ferocious wildfires and drought.  When I lived in a city (Berkeley) i felt somewhat immune from these problems.  Now that I live in the country (West Sonoma County) the impact is more obvious.  This year we’re having a water crisis.

When we bought our rural property, we didn’t think much about our water supply.  We had a well and all our neighbors had wells.  Then, several summers ago, we learned that some of our neighbors’ wells had failed and they were having water trucked in.

The water situation in California is VERY complicated, but millions of Golden-State families rely upon groundwater wells and, this summer, many of these are drying up.  (Roughly one-third of California’s 40 million residents rely upon groundwater for their household needs.)  This is happening throughout the state but is most critical in the eastern part of the Central valley — roughly the area that extends from Sacramento to Bakersfield.

The two-thirds of Californians that do not rely upon groundwater for their personal needs, have access to systems that redeploy surface water; that is, water systems that capture rain water and distribute it from one of California’s ten drainage basins — Sonoma County utilizes water from the “North Coast” system.  This year, because of subnormal rainfall, these drainage basins are all severely below capacity.

Historically, the northern part of California is much wetter than the south: “75 percent of California’s available water is in the northern third of the state (north of Sacramento), while 80 percent of the urban and agricultural water demands are in the southern two-thirds of the state… California has more irrigated acreage than any other state, thanks to massive water projects that include dams, reservoirs, aqueducts and canals to deliver water to users, especially in the central and southern portions of the state.” (https://www.watereducation.org/photo-gallery/california-water-101 )  Southern California also gets significant water from the Colorado River.  In addition, San Diego County gets water from the massive Carlsbad Desalination plant.

Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom extended emergency drought orders to 41 counties across the golden state; 73 percent of the state falls into the most serious drought categories: “severe” or “extreme.”  2020-21 rainfall was lower than expected, particularly in the northern part of the state.  On April 1, the date when the snow is normally deepest, statewide snowpack was just 59 percent of the historical average.  Particularly in the north, reservoirs are much lower than normal.

There are (at least) four aspects of California’s water crisis:

1.Failing public water systems: Even before the 2020-21 drought, a California Water Board study (https://www.ppic.org/blog/a-look-at-californias-safe-and-affordable-drinking-water-gaps/?) found “a funding gap of $4.6 billion to resolve safe drinking water problems over the next five years… The study assessed public water systems currently out of compliance, public systems at risk, and communities served by very small systems, domestic wells, and tribal systems. Among the publicly regulated systems, we found that 326 were failing and 617 were at risk of failing.. Many of the state’s troubled systems are concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley,” This finding indicates that groundwater-based systems are failing; particularly in the eastern part of the state.

2. Depleted reservoirs.  A recent survey found that California’s reservoirs are currently at 50 percent of their rated capacity.  ( https://engaging-data.com/ca-reservoir-dashboard/)  (And 64 percent of their historic capacity at the end of May.)  This situation is particularly troubling for the big reservoirs in Northern California.  For example, the mammoth Shasta reservoir is at 44 percent of capacity (and 51 percent of its historic capacity for the end of May.)

3. Over-taxed rivers.  Although much of California’s agricultural needs are are served by wells — roughly 50 percent — and water transported via aqueducts and canals, a substantial amount is water deployed from rivers.  The largest rivers within California (Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Russian) are severely depleted.  The Sacramento Bee (https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/water-and-drought/article251654333.html#storylink=cpy) reported: “The federal government Wednesday said municipal water agencies that belong to the Central Valley Project will receive just 25% of their allocations, down from the previously announced 55%.”

To make things worse, the Colorado River — which provides water to Southern California — is nearing historic lows. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/27/weather/lake-mead-colorado-river-shortage/index.html )

4. Conflicting water rights: During periods of drought, the ancient California bugaboo — water rights — reemerges.  In many areas of the state, there are conflicting claims to groundwater — particularly rivers which historically have been oversubscribed.  (It’s estimated that portions of the San Joaquin River have been oversubscribed by 800 percent.)  This situation leads to hostile disputes and, occasionally, violence.  (https://www.alternet.org/2021/05/bundy/ )

Bottom line: This summer is going to see a severe water crisis in California.  Some areas of the state are going to see water consumption cut to 25 percent of normal.  This situation is going to impact all aspects of the state’s economy, particularly agriculture.

When Will America Get Back to Work?

One year ago, as it became clear the United States was in the throes of a devastating pandemic, we lost 21 million jobs. Now we’re recovering from Covid-19 but workers aren’t rushing back to full employment at the pace economists expected. What’s happening?

In retrospect, while the pandemic had a devastating impact on the US economy, it affected some Americans more than others.  For example, the wealthy and well-connected fared better than the less fortunate. (https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/california/california-revenues-soar-as-rich-get-richer-during-pandemic/2479807/ )  If you were a lawyer, with a good Internet connection, you were more able to work from home than was an agricultural worker.  As another example, some business sectors — such as leisure and hospitality — lost jobs while others — such as communications — stayed close to steady state.

At the moment, the economy appears to be recovering — the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported: “Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021.”  On the other hand, workers have not reentered the labor force at the rate anticipated — Reuters ( https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-job-growth-far-below-expectations-april-amid-labor-shortages-2021-05-07/) noted: “U.S. job growth unexpectedly slowed in April, likely curbed by shortages of workers and raw materials… Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 266,000 jobs last month… That left employment 8.2 million jobs below its peak in February 2020.”

As one would expect — in a deeply polarized country — there’s a Republican explanation for what’s happening and a Democratic explanation.  The Republican explanation is that Biden-Administration unemployment policies have disincentivized workers from actively seeking jobs.  That is to say, Republicans view the “hesitant” workers as “welfare chiselers;” folks who are inherently lazy and would rather stay at home, collect unemployment benefits, and “do nothing.”

Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the government to scrap the weekly unemployment subsidy.  Politico (https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/14/labor-shortage-companies-hiring-488200 ) reports: “At least 14 states, including North Dakota, Alabama and South Carolina, have moved to cut off enhanced federal jobless benefits that were supposed to last until September. Florida is among roughly 30 states reinstating a requirement that the unemployed prove they are looking for work to receive state benefits. Montana is offering return-to-work bonuses to unemployment recipients who accept a job offer.”  Writing in Alternet,  Isaac J. Bailey (https://www.alternet.org/2021/05/reagan-era-myth/? ) wrote: “An increasing number of Republican governors have decided to scale back enhanced unemployment benefits.  They claim that it’s necessary, that it’s the only way to get those who have been receiving benefits through this pandemic to go back to work. In short, those governors, along with conservative economists, have convinced themselves the working poor would rather be on the dole than man hot kitchens, wait on tables or stand on their bunions for several hours a day in retail settings to earn poverty wages.”

The Biden Administration resists this approach (https://www.reuters.com/business/white-house-jobs-report-shows-long-way-go-economic-recovery-2021-05-07/): “‘It’s clear that there are people who are not ready and able to go back into the labor force,’ Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters, citing parents whose children are still learning remotely. “‘ don’t think the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that is making a difference.'”

Liberal economists suggest that the problem is elemental: employers want workers to retake the jobs they held, before the pandemic, at the same wages they were paid then.  EPI economist Heidi Shierholz (https://www.epi.org/blog/u-s-labor-shortage-unlikely-heres-why/ ) observed: “I often suggest that whenever anyone says, ‘I can’t find the workers I need,’ she should really add, “at the wages I want to pay.’”  She continued: “The footprint of a bona fide labor shortage is rising wages. Employers who truly face shortages of suitable, interested workers will respond by bidding up wages to attract those workers, and employers whose workers are being poached will raise wages to retain their workers, and so on…  And right now, wages are not growing at a rapid pace… Unsurprisingly, at a recent press conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell dismissed anecdotal claims of labor market shortages, saying, ‘We don’t see wages moving up yet. And presumably we would see that in a really tight labor market.’”

The Democratic view is that workers are hesitant to return because of a variety of structural issues — for example, the hesitant workers are mothers who have been caring for their children who, because for Covid=19, could not go to school or daycare.  In an interview with Mother Jones, economist Heidi Shierholz (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/05/you-dont-need-to-freak-out-about-labor-shortages/? ) noted: “There’s evidence that points to other things that may be going on [that account for labor shortages]. We know that more than a quarter of schools were still closed to in-person learning in April. One of the things we saw in the April data is that… the disappointing job growth in April was caused by an increase in job separations, basically layoffs and quits.  The increase in layoffs and quits was driven entirely by women. That points to another cause, given that women still shoulder the lion’s share of care responsibilities in the home. I think health concerns are still a big issue as well. With the distribution of the vaccine, that’s going down, but there are still lots of people who have serious, legitimate health concerns about returning to work.”

When informed of the disappointing jobs report, President Biden said: “Today’s report just underscores, in my view, how vital the actions we’re taking are — checks to people who are hurting, support for small businesses, for child care and school reopening, support to help families put food on the table.”  Biden added the report is indicative of the long-term nature of the economic recovery, saying he expects improvement to be “a marathon,” rather than a “sprint.”

Americans are going back to work carefully.  And demanding a living wage.

What Happens Next?

Six months have passed since the fateful November 3rd presidential election.  Here are the BB predictions for the next six months.

1.Coronavirus Pandemic: There’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that the CDC just loosened the mask guidelines for those of us who have been vaccinated.  By mid-summer the region where I live — San Francisco Bay area — will likely have achieved herd immunity; that is, more than 80 percent of the adult population will have been vaccinated.  The bad news is that significant parts of the US will not reach these vaccination levels and, most likely, will never reach them.

Our local experts ( https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/2021-05-herd-immunity-California-Bay-Area-16148134.php) now believe that the State of California will reach herd immunity right around June 15th — the goal set by Governor Newsom for “reopening” the state.  The experts explained that California is ahead of the rest of the nation because we have a lower incidence of “vaccine hesitancy:” “About 30% of Americans on average are reluctant to get vaccinated, but the number is lower in California, with an estimated 10% to 15% of Golden State residents vaccine hesitant, according to data from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Studies have shown that people who identify as Republican are less likely to get vaccinated than Democrats, and vaccine hesitancy in California is generally higher in red counties, according to the department.”

Our experts feel that it will take several years before the United States reaches herd immunity — because of vaccine hesitancy, new virus variants, and global travel patterns.  This means travel will continue to be restricted as well as participation in large events.

Political consequences: As long as the U.S. continues to make progress overcoming the pandemic, this bodes well for the Biden Administration.  In California, given that the golden state reopens on June 15th, this progress bodes well for Governor Newsom — the recall effort was already a long shot (The latest polls (https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/04/california-newsom-recall-poll/ ) find that just 36 percent of California residents favor recalling Newsom.)

2.Donald Trump: For Democrats, the past six months has been positive — Joe Biden has done a good job, is popular, and has the nation headed out of the abyss. For Republicans, the past six months have — once again — been about Donald Trump.

After Trump’s 7-million vote election loss, the January 6th insurrection, and his second impeachment trial, the Republican Party split.  An April NBC News poll (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20690434-210098-nbc-news-april-poll-4-25-21-release) found that Trump’s approval had slipped to 32 percent (21 percent very positive and 11 percent somewhat positive).  In this poll, for the first time, more Republicans saw themselves as supporters of the GOP (50 percent) rather than as supporters of Trump (44 percent).  It’s hard to gauge the size of this split, but the intra-Party debate about the role of GOP leader Liz Cheney indicates that a substantial number of Republicans no longer want Trump to lead their Party — probably not a majority, somewhere in the vicinity of 33 percent.  (This estimate aligns with polls (https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/11/politics/voting-restrictions-analysis/index.html ) that indicate around 70 percent of Republicans feel the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump.}

Trump is down but not yet out.  He has lost his social media presence — he’s banned from Twitter and Facebook and has yet to create a replacement.  This has had two consequences: first, the DT “thought of the day” is not as omnipresent as it once was.  Second, Trump’s fundraising is not as effective as it was — nonetheless, DT’s political action committee is sitting on a reserve of about $85 million.

Political Consequences: For the moment, DT runs (most of) the Republican Party.  That’s a problem for the GOP because Trump is unpopular with the general electorate, is no longer an effective social-media presence, and is headed for a set of messy legal problems.  Hmm.  Seems like Republicans are “hoist on their own petard.”

3. The Big Lie: The recent CNN poll indicates that about 30 percent of voters (70 percent of Republican voters) believe that Joe Biden was unlawfully elected.  Trump, and his Republican cohorts, have succeeded in spreading the big lie.

In the last decade, the Republican Party hasn’t had much of a policy agenda, they’ve mostly been concerned with social issues.  During Trump’s reign their agenda consisted of build the wall, cut taxes, and repeal Obamacare.  In 2021, their agenda has been further simplified: don’t cooperate with anything proposed by the Biden Administration — because Biden has unlawfully elected — and inhibit the votes of everyone other than Republicans.

Most Republicans legislators have accepted his big lie and moved forward with voter suppression.  Ten states — including Arizona, Florida, and Georgia have pushed through new laws to make it more difficult to vote. ( https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/553012-controversial-voting-laws-add-to-democrats-midterm-obstacles) “I think we need to state the purpose: Republican politicians are using lies about the 2020 election to pass voter suppression laws that they think will hand their party power,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state in Colorado and the chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.

Although the intent of the Republican legislators is to diminish Democratic votes, some of the measures may deplete Republican votes — for example, new laws making it more difficult to cast absentee ballots will inhibit the votes of GOP seniors.  In addition, the new voter-suppression legislation has been subjected to dozens of lawsuits.

Political Consequences: Unclear.  It’s undemocratic to make it more difficult to vote but Republicans don’t care. The GOP problem is that this is not a broadly popular message and doesn’t serve as an effective alternative to the Biden/Democrat agenda.

Summary:  Hmm.  Republicans have sold out to Trump and he’s about to go down bigly.  The GOP seems to be headed over the falls.  Meanwhile, don’t expect bipartisanship.  Biden needs to hold a steady course.

It’s the Jobs, Stupid!

Judging from the amount of political email I’ve been receiving, Democrats are running scared, afraid they will lose the 2022 midterm elections.  Dems fear that they’ll squander a historic opportunity to put America on the right course. Fortunately, it appears that Joe Biden knows what he is doing and he’s determined to make job creation the centerpiece of his presidency

If you missed President Biden’s April 28th joint address to Congress (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/04/28/remarks-as-prepared-for-delivery-by-president-biden-address-to-a-joint-session-of-congress/ ), you probably didn’t hear that he mentioned “jobs” 43 times. He began by acknowledging that his Administration has created 1.3 million jobs in his first 100 days in office.  He went on to extol his “American Jobs Plan” and observe: “20 million Americans lost their jobs in the pandemic – working- and middle-class Americans. At the same time, the roughly 650 Billionaires in America saw their net worth increase by more than $1 Trillion… My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle-out. A broad consensus of economists – left, right, center – agree that what I’m proposing will help create millions of jobs and generate historic economic growth.”

Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, Biden’s focus is on three issues: overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, creating millions of good-paying jobs, and strengthening healthcare.  This agenda should be achievable in the Democratically-controlled 117th Congress.  It will give Democrats strong momentum going into the 2022 midterms.

The 2010 and 2018 midterms saw a shift in the House of Representatives.  Democrats are worried that could happen in 2022.  In 2010, Democrats lost the House because of Republican “Tea Party” scare tactics centered on the Affordable Care Act — most Republicans ran on the promise to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”  in 2018, Republicans lost the House because Democrats mobilized to take back Congress to check Trump,

Heading into 2022, Republicans seem to be assuming that they will once again take back the house because of the unstoppable tide of political precedent and the anger of Trump voters. In many states, Republicans are trying to “prime the pump” by gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Ignoring the notion of “unstoppable political precedent,” Republicans are counting on angry Trump voters turning out in record numbers to take back the House.  There are two problems with this notion.  The first is idea that Republicans will turn out because they are either angry because Trump lost in 2020 or because they don’t like what Biden and the Dems have been doing.  The second problem is that it is assumes that the voters that Trump brought out in 2020 will show up in 2022.

In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump got 74 million votes — an unprecedented number for a losing candidate but still 7 million less than Joe Biden.  Will these same Republican voters show up in 2022?  It seems unlikely for two reasons.  First, in 2020 Trump attracted  “low-propensity” voters.   According to Democratic pollsters (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/byron-yorks-daily-memo-democratic-pollsters-acknowledge-we-darn-near-lost ): “We found our models consistently overestimated Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout in a specific way… Among low propensity voters — people who we expect to vote rarely — the Republican share of the electorate exceeded expectations at four times the rate of the Democratic share. This turnout error meant, at least in some places, we again underestimated relative turnout among rural and white non-college voters, who are overrepresented among low propensity Republicans.”  Of course, in 2022, Trump will not be on the ballot; therefore, it’s unlikely that these Republican low-propensity voters will show up.

Second, there was a unique combination of circumstances in 2020; including attitudes about the pandemic, GOP enthusiasm for Trump, and the absence of a Democratic “ground game” — because of the pandemic.  In 2022, the circumstances will change.  Democrats will again have their ground game.  And, they are more likely to be enthusiastic than Republicans. A recent Morning Consult poll (https://morningconsult.com/2021/04/14/voter-enthusiasm-2022-midterms-polling/ ) found that 9 percent enthusiasm advantage among Democrats.  (Notably, 31 parent of Trump voters were not enthusiastic.)

By the way: a recent ABC News/Ipsos Poll ( https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/country-optimistic-bidens-1st-100-days-poll/story?id=77440236) found that 64 percent of respondents were “optimistic” about the direction of the country — the highest optimism rating in 15 years.

My contention is that as long as Democrats deliver on the three big issues — overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, creating millions of good-paying jobs, and strengthening healthcare — they should prevail in 2022.  An election is not solely determined by messaging, but messaging is important.  If Democrats stay on the Biden train, they will have positive messaging,  In contrast, Republicans do not have a clear message.   They cannot prevail with “Trump was cheated” — by the way, Trump’s popularity is falling; a recent NBC news poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/after-100-days-out-office-trump-s-support-softens-nbc-n1265457) found “His ratings among all adults stands at 32 percent favorable, 55 percent unfavorable.”  And, at the moment, the GOP has no “go to” message.

For the next 18 months, Biden and congressional Democrats have one task: focus on the creation of good jobs.

What’s Happening in California?

After a rough year, California is on track to declare “victory” over Covid-19 on June 15th. Nonetheless, the fabric of California society has changed.

In recent months, California has gotten onboard the vaccination train and, as of this writing, more than 38 percent of those over the age of sixteen have been fully vaccinated — and another 20 percent have had one shot. (California is current vaccinating at the rate of 330,000 doses per day.) At the same time, the number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen, as has the number of Coronavirus-related deaths. The state is now averaging about 1400 cases and 75 deaths a day — the lowest per capita rates in the continental U.S. We’re on track to meet California Governor Gavin Newsom’s objectives and “open” the state on June 15th; this means that most businesses will be permitted to reopen, so long as they follow social distancing and mask rules.

At the same time, California appears to be on course for a strong economic recovery.  Recently, the UCLA business school (https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-03-10/2021-california-covid-economic-recovery-outpaces-us) forecasted: “A waning pandemic combined with fiscal relief means a strong year of growth in 2021 — one of the strongest years of growth in the last 60 years — followed by sustained higher growth rates in 2022 and 2023…California, buoyed by high-earning technology and professional sectors that shifted to at-home work during the pandemic, will recover somewhat faster than the U.S., even though a full rebound in the tourist-dependent leisure and hospitality businesses will lag.”

Although it was initially forecast that the pandemic would hurt all aspects of the California economy, that turned out not to be the case.   “The most likely source of [California’s] recovery is in the service sectors, as half of jobs lost at the recession’s nadir were in restaurants, entertainment and the arts, hotels and tourism, and other services such as salons or dry-cleaning.” (https://www.ppic.org/blog/one-year-later-is-california-on-the-road-to-recovery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-year-later-is-california-on-the-road-to-recovery? )

Overall, in 2020, the California economy did better than expected because of technology.  A recent California study (https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/california/california-revenues-soar-as-rich-get-richer-during-pandemic/2479807/ ) observed: “[During 2020] with the pandemic forcing the closure of bars, restaurants, theme parks, sporting events and small businesses, lower-wage workers bore the brunt of the losses while the wealthier worked from home. The economic losses started at the bottom of the income ladder and so far they haven’t made their way up to the top.” [Emphasis added]  That is, the economic impact of the pandemic varied by social class — the rich were not as affected as the poor.

Coming out of the pandemic, we can see three important trends.  The first is that the pandemic has exacerbated the already wide gap between California’s rich and poor.  (https://www.ppic.org/publication/income-inequality-and-economic-opportunity-in-california/)   Before the pandemic, California was already one of the top five states in terms of economic inequality; chances are that we are now number one. (https://www.ppic.org/publication/income-inequality-in-california/ )

The second trend is that the wealthy, and information-technology workers, are moving out of the cities into the suburbs and beyond.  (This is particularly true in Northern California.)  [A recent San Francisco Chronicle article (https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/People-are-leaving-S-F-but-not-for-Austin-or-15955527.php ) reinforces this notion and dismisses the contention that Californians, en masse, are leaving for other states.]  During the pandemic, these upper-income Californians found they could work remotely — high-speed Internet is well-deployed throughout California.  This trend has driven up housing prices throughout the Golden State.  (It’s also contributed to the statewide scarcity of affordable housing.)

The third trend is that because of environmental challenges — such as the threat of fire and associated poor air quality — California’s most fortunate are moving to the coast.  That means that the price of coastal housing has increased.

There are three consequences of these trends: the first is that as California heads towards the elusive goal of “herd immunity” — somewhere north of 80 percent vaccinated — the unvaccinated will disproportionately be found among the poor and those living in the eastern areas of the state — that is between California’s central valley and the border with Nevada/Arizona.

The second consequence is that as California heads into another summer of fires and poor air quality, the bulk of this misfortune will fall on much of the same population — the rural easternmost segment of the state.

The third consequence is that  the impact of these trends will disproportionately impact Republican voters.  A recent bipartisan survey (https://www.ppic.org/publication/california-voter-and-party-profiles/ ) concluded: “47% of those we consider most likely to vote are Democrats, while 26% are Republicans and 22% are independents.”  [That is, California has become an overwhelmingly blue state.]  The most Republican areas tend to be in the eastern areas of the state — that is, the areas less likely to be vaccinated, to be able to work from home, and to be able to flee from fires and drought.

Viewed from the proverbial “10,000 feet,” these problem areas can be addressed in three ways:  First, California needs to redouble its effort to vaccinate the poor and those living in eastern areas of the state, i.e. rural Republicans.  Second, while there is already a massive state-wide effort to head off a dangerous fire season, some portion of the rural-residential danger can be mitigated by providing affordable housing — so residents don’t have to move into wooded rural areas to find housing. Third, because the pandemic provided tangible evidence of “the digital divide,” California needs to do more to provide high-speed internet to the poor and to the eastern areas of the state — and the associated training.

California has the resources to fix these problems.  The question is: does the Golden State have the political will to make these changes?

Biden’s First 3 Months

So far, Joe Biden’s presidency has been a success. Recent polling showed his approval rating at 59 percent. Biden has done an excellent job handling the pandemic. He’s managed to pass a significant recovery plan. And his administrative efforts have largely been successful.

The most recent Pew Research Poll (https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/04/15/covid-19-policies-the-u-s-economy-and-the-vaccine-rollout/) found President Biden with 59 percent approval (39 percent disapproval) — this rating is deeply split along Party lines, as only 18 percent of Republicans approve of Biden’s performance in office. Interestingly, more voters support Biden in terms of issues than in terms of his personality. For example, about 37 percent of Republicans agree with him on some or “virtually all” issues. Given this finding, it’s most important to evaluate Biden in terms of progress on specific issues.

Coronavirus Pandemic: In general, Americans feel Biden has done a good job dealing with the pandemic. 72 percent of respondents believe the Administration had done an excellent or good job “managing the manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.” It’s Biden’s most significant accomplishment: “While an overwhelming share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (88%) say the administration has done an excellent or good job in managing the vaccine rollout, so too does a much smaller majority (55%) of Republicans and Republican leaners”

Under the Biden Administration, the US is vaccinating citizens at one of the fastest rates in the world. More than 210 million doses have been administered; half of all US adults have received at least one vaccine dose. All US adults (aged 16 and up) are now eligible to receive the vaccine.

Stimulus PlanL The $1.9 trillion American Cares Act was passed in March. It has been very well received. “More than twice as many Americans approve (67%) than disapprove (32%) of the $1.9 trillion aid bill.” “Roughly a third of Republicans (35%) favor the aid package, which received no support from congressional Republicans.”

Domestic Policy: The Pew Research Poll asked participants to rate 15 domestic problems.   Health care was the major concern: “The affordability of health care is high on the public’s list of the biggest problems in the country today, with 56% of adults describing this as ‘a very big problem’ and an additional 30% rating it ‘a moderately big problem.'”

Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on the severity of domestic issues facing the country. “Gun violence, the affordability of health care, the coronavirus outbreak and racism are each seen as very big problems facing the country today by two-thirds or more Democrats and Democratic leaners….By contrast, far fewer Republicans say these are major problems in the country. Four-in-ten say health care affordability is a very big problem, and only about two-in-ten rate the coronavirus and gun violence as very big problems.”

International Policy:  The Pew Poll did not ask respondents about Biden’s performance on international issues — historically, Americans have cared less about International policy than they do domestic issues.  Nonetheless, in his first 3 months in office, Joe Biden has clearly differentiated his Administration’s policies from those of Donald Trump.  Biden had the United States rejoin the “Paris Climate Accords.”  Biden has begun talks to rejoin the nuclear disarmament treaty with Iran — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”  Biden has sanctioned Russia – and Russian citizens and companies — for interference in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and cyberattacks.  (Biden has had a long conversation with China’s  President Xi Jinping, but has not changed sanctions imposed by Trump.)  Biden has embraced our NATO allies and made strides towards eliminating Trump’s isolationist policies.

Personnel:the Senate has approved 21 of 23 Biden cabinet nominees. Neera Tanden, the nominee for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, had her nomination withdrawn; she had made too many enemies vis Tweet. Eric Lander, a renown scientist, is Biden’s Science Advisor; he’s been nominated to head a new cabinet position, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; this is still being considered by the Senate.

Biden’s cabinet is the most diverse in U.S. History.

Ron Klain, Biden’s Chief of Staff, has been lauded for running an unusually effective transition and managing a productive first quarter.  Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, has been widely praised for her informative and (sometimes) humorous daily press conferences.

Unity: Joe Biden ran on a promise to unify the nation. A recent Harris-Hill Poll (https://thehill.com/hilltv/what-americas-thinking/538905-poll-majority-say-biden-has-prioritized-unity-so-far) found that a majority of respondents (57 percent) felt that Biden has been working to do this: “they think Joe Biden has made uniting the country a priority in his actions so far as president.”

During the past three months, Biden has faced adamant Republican congressional opposition.  Republican members of Congress have seldom supported any move that he has made.  On major issues it’s unusual to find any Republican votes to go along with those of Democrats.

While Democratic-leaning pundits describe the Biden Administration as focused, empathetic, and effective, Republican-leading pundits describe Democratic actions in extremely negative terms.  Conservative voices suggest that Biden is senile, a hollow facade, being manipulated by radical socialists including Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  They decry the legislative initiatives — such as the proposed Biden Infrastructure plan — as socialist over reach.

Summary: the Biden Administration has had a productive three months, with no help from Republicans.  The bad news is that Congressional Republicans are unlikely to change.  The good news is that, on specific issues, Biden has the support of about two-thirds of the electorate.