Category Archives: Political

How to Write a Country & Western Hit

RULES
1. Start with tragedy.

If your life is going great, write a pop song.
Sample: “I Don’t Care”
I’m dancing with my girlfriend
to crappy music
and
I don’t care
.

2. Pick the tragedy style:
a. Relationship: My baby left me
b. Natural disaster: I lost my town in the great flood.
c. Your pet: My dog left me.

3. It’s okay to combine the styles
My baby got washed away in the flood.

4. Pick the perspective:
a. Historical: My baby left me standing at the altar.
b. Contemporary: My baby drove away in my brand-new Tesla.
c. Existential: My baby left or maybe she didn’t; was it all a fantasy?

5. Add seasoning:
a. Getting drunk: My baby left and I’m drinkin’.
b. Going to prison: My baby’s in prison; my dog, too.
c. Mama: I got drunk the day my mama went to prison

6. Mix and match:
My dog drank my last beer.
PG&E turned off my power and now I can’t find my baby.
My mama got drunk, took my dog for a walk, and fell into a volcano.

View from the Barricades: The Labor Market


If you’re confused by the state of the US economy, you’re not alone.  Market watchers know that stocks are sending confusing signals.  Some “experts” say we are in a recovery, other predict big problems.  In August, consumer sentiment (https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/consumer-confidence ) hit a decade low.  The unemployment rate is falling but tens of thousands of workers are leaving the labor market.  What’s happening?

Duh: we’re in the middle of a civil war.

Thankfully, so far it’s a non-shooting civil war.  Nonetheless, it’s a civil war marked by two vectors: one is the millions of folks who insist that the orange menace won the 2020 presidential election; they’re more interested in creating chaos than a better world.  The second is the millions of Americans who refuse to get vaccinated.; they leaving and aggravating the labor market.  (By the way, these populations overlap.)

The Unemployment Rate: The latest jobs report ()https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf ) indicated that the US economy added 194,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent.  That seems like good news, but it must be tempered by the understanding that 183,000 workers dropped out of the labor force (mostly women). The “job participation rate” increased to 61.6 percent and remains below the 63 percent norm — pre-pandemic.

What’s happening? For one thing, the latest jobs report indicates that there’s no truth to the Republican claim that workers were staying out of the job market in order to get unemployment insurance benefits; many are reentering but looking for better jobs.  The churn in the  labor market can be understood by studying the relationship between unemployment and vaccination rates.  For example, California the state with the highest vaccination rate is also one of the states least impacted by the labor shortage.  (Conversely, South Dakota one of the states with lowest vaccination rate is also one of the states most impacted by the labor shortage.) Where it’s safe, workers are returning to the labor market, but they are being picky.  Where it’s not safe, workers are quitting their jobs.

Unfilled Jobs: There remains a big gap between the number of job openings and those who are looking for work — a deficit of several million.  Many employers — particularly small businesses — are desperately looking for employees.  There are several explanations for the lower than expected “job participation rate.” The most obvious is that “caregivers,” mostly women, are staying at home taking care of vulnerable family members: children or the elderly.  Their justification is that they don’t feel safe letting others care for their family members or, in some cases, there’s no safe hospital or nursing home option. (More than 300,000 women over 20 dropped out of the labor force in September.)

The second explanation is that some unemployed workers came from sectors that are on the “front lines” dealing with the pandemic: leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, and public education.  Many of these workers left  jobs where there was a high probability of exposure to the coronavirus — such as bus drivers — or they were put in the unpleasant position of having to enforce a mask mandate — such as restaurant employees.  They don’t want to return to that hassle.  (Consider this Buzzfeed article where restaurant workers report the abuse they’ve recently had to endure  https://www.buzzfeed.com/rossyoder/why-people-left-restaurant-industry  or this similar Axios article https://www.axios.com/bars-restaurants-angry-violent-customers-pandemic-515777d8-8550-4cee-9193-c55eda96d2f1.html?  )

The third explanation is that many American workers now feel empowered to quit their jobs. The August labor report ( https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/jolts.pdf) indicated that a record number, 4.3 million, quit in August. (“Quits increased in accommodation and food services (+157,000); wholesale trade (+26,000); and state and local government education (+25,000)..”)

Writing in The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/30/during-great-resignation-workers-refuse-accept-unacceptable/ ) Karla Miller observed there are four main causes for “the great resignation:” “A backlog of workers who wanted to resign before the pandemic but held on a bit longer; burnout, particularly among frontline workers in health care, food service and retail; “pandemic epiphanies” in which people experienced major shifts in identity and purpose that led them to pursue new careers and start their own businesses; and an aversion to returning to offices after a year or more of working remotely.”

Worker Power:  UC Economist Robert Reich postulates that we’re experiencing a form of national strike (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/13/american-workers-general-strike-robert-reich ). “American workers now have bargaining leverage to do better. After a year and a half of the pandemic, consumers have pent-up demand for all sorts of goods and services…But employers are finding it hard to fill positions… Over the past year, job openings have increased 62%. Yet overall hiring has actually declined… My take: workers are reluctant to return to or remain in their old jobs mostly because they’re burned out… What’s really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage.” [Emphasis added]

Summary: We’re living in interesting times.  We’re in the middle of a (low key) civil war and similarly subdued national employment strike.  And then there’s climate change.  Stay tuned.

Extreme Measures


A recent Washington Post Robert Kagan oped (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/23/robert-kagan-constitutional-crisis/) says what a lot of us have been thinking: the United States is heading into a constitutional crisis.  Would-be dictator Donald Trump is determined to run for President in 2024 and “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.”  To deal with this existential threat to our country, it’s necessary for all of us — not just our leaders in Washington DC — to take extreme measures.

Robert Kagan observes that Trump has consistently been underestimated: “[The establishment] underestimated the extent of [Trump’s] popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power.” Kagan details the forces that animate the Trump movement: “Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world…”  Kagan continues: “What makes the Trump movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, Trump himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements.” [Emphasis added]

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but this an existential crisis.  It’s time to get back on the barricades.  Here are the measures I suggest:

1.Guaranteeing fair elections has to be our number one priority.  In these difficult times, many policy initiatives are vying for our attention: climate change, racism, economic justice, reproductive rights, affordable housing, public health…to name only a few.  But we have to focus our efforts: guaranteeing fair elections has to be our unmistakable top priority.

The problem is that millions of Americans have pledged their fealty to Donald Trump.  And he is willing to do anything to regain power.  A recent University of Virginia study (https://www.alternet.org/2021/09/clear-and-present-danger-majority-of-trump-voters-believe-its-time-to-split-the-country-in-two/? ) detailed the extent of this problem: “A majority of Trump voters believe it’s time to split the country into two, with ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ seceding from the Union.”

2. Enact Vaccine Mandates.  While enacting vaccine mandates might seem peripheral to the central problem, it isn’t, because vaccine mandates are a rare “two-for.”  First, requiring vaccination helps keep us (relatively) safe from Coronavirus; second, vaccine mandates drive a deep wedge into the Republican Party.  Mandates are a powerful wedge issue because hard-core Trumpers subscribe to conspiracy theories and many of these theories suggest that Coronavirus vaccines are evil.  (Recently Trump has given half-hearted support for vaccination; but there’s no evidence that this has changed the behavior of his rabid base.)

Therefore, if you are Trump supporter and you are required to get vaccinated, you have a difficult choice: get vaccinated to save your job — as a nurse, police officer, bus driver, or whatever — or not get vaccinated and lose your employment and possibly die.  This choice largely falls on Republicans.

Approximately 55 percent of all Americans have been fully vaccinated;  A recent NBC News poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/nbc-news-poll-shows-demographic-breakdown-vaccinated-u-s-n1277514 ) found that 69 percent of ADULTS had been vaccinated: 88 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and 55 percent of Republicans.  The NBC poll found that among those “Republicans who support Trump more than party,” only 46 percent had been vaccinated. (Nationally, there’s about a 13 percentage point difference between counties that voted for Biden  and counties that voted for Trump — there’s a 17 percentage points difference in California.)  Many Trump followers are going to get very sick, and possibly die, because they won’t get vaccinated.

Bottom line: Unless they are vaccinated, Trumpsters shouldn’t be allowed to be public employees, use public facilities, go to theaters or sport arenas, or use public transportation.

3. Restrict Hate Speech.  One of the consequences of the Trump ascendancy is that “hate speech” has been empowered.  Trump has obliterated the boundaries of political correctness.  He feels he can say whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like it.  And because of his stance, Trump’s followers believe they can say whatever sexist, racist, or xenophobic phrase that pops into their mouths.  Because of Trump, is it any surprise that the daily news features videos of minorities being threatened or taunted by white folks?

But the Trumpster conduct goes way beyond speech; opponents of Trump are threatened.  It’s become common for public officials — those who are perceived to be in Trump’s way — to be threatened with physical assault or death; often their families are threatened.  (This is the same “brown-shirt” behavior that characterized Hitler’s early followers — “Sturmabteilung”.)

Robert Kagan deplores the current state of the GOP: “The Republican Party today is a zombie party. Its leaders go through the motions of governing in pursuit of traditional Republican goals, wrestling over infrastructure spending and foreign policy, even as real power in the party has leached away to Trump. From the uneasy and sometimes contentious partnership during Trump’s four years in office, the party’s main if not sole purpose today is as the willing enabler of Trump’s efforts to game the electoral system to ensure his return to power.” [Emphasis added] Kagan speculates that many erstwhile Republican leaders are afraid of being primaried.  Sadly their motivation is more basic: they fear for their lives.  Many otherwise decent Republicans are afraid to oppose Trump because of the damage his deranged followers might do.

Trump is a thug.  He’s the reincarnation of Hitler.  The conduct of his followers needs to be opposed and penalized.

(By the way: we need to severely penalize those who planned and participated in the January 6th insurrection.)

4. Protect Voting Rights: Robert Kagan understands the nature of the dilemma facing the republic: “Senate Democrats were wise to cut down their once-massive voting rights wish list and get behind the smaller compromise measure unveiled last week by Manchin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar… Heading into the next election, it is vital to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It will also still be necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab.”

Passing these changes in the Senate means either abolishing the filibuster — a move that seems unlikely — or gaining the support of ten Republican Senators.  Kagan asks, “If that means political suicide for this handful of Republicans, wouldn’t it be better to go out fighting for democracy than to slink off quietly into the night?”

Summary: This is not a drill.  We’re in the middle of an existential crisis.  Get to work!

What Did We Learn From the California Recall?

(Red = “no on recall” county.)

The September 14, 2021, California recall is over and Governor Gavin Newsom won a resounding victory.  What does this portend for California politics? There are four takeaways:

1. Democrats demonstrated they can mobilize their base in an off-election year.  The Republican recall “logic” had two aspects: first, Republicans wanted to get rid of Governor Newsom because of his strong response to the Coronavirus pandemic (the lockdown and mask mandates) and, second, they believed the recall would succeed because  Democrats would not be bothered to vote in an “off” election year.  However, Democrats did mobilize and blocked the recall with 63 percent of the vote.

There had been concern that California’s Latino voters might not show up.  However, Latinos did participate in the recall election and overwhelmingly supported Newsom; that is, voted “no.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/15/california-newsom-recall-latino-voters-democrats-lessons/ )

Republicans made three miscalculations.  First, because they didn’t like Newsom, they assumed that some Democrats and many Independents also did not like him.  That turned out not to be the case.  Second, they assumed that most Californians were also anti-vaccination, anti-mask, and anti-mandate.  That was also not the case; most Californians are tired of the pandemic and mad at those who will not get vaccinated, who will not take Coronavirus seriously.  Third, Republicans assumed they could mobilize behind a Trump clone, Larry Elder, and voters would prefer him to Newsom.  That was not the case; a strong majority of voters were horrified by Elder. Check out the CNN exit polls: (https://www.cnn.com/election/2021/exit-polls/california/recall )

(There were moderate Republicans who might have gotten traction with independents and some Democrats; for example, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.  However, Faulconer is now too moderate for mainstream Republicans.)

2. Most of Southern California voted “No” on the recall. This surprising result has consequences for six Republican held congressional seats.

California has 53 Congressional seats, 11 are held by Republicans: 4 of these are in Northern California — above San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield– and the remaining 7 are in Southern California: CA8 (Obernolte), CA 23 (McCarthy), CA25 (Garcia), CA39 (Kim), CA42 (Calvert), CA48 (Steel), and CA50 (Issa). Except for CA 23 (in Kern County), all of these districts opposed the recall. Before the recall, 3 of those congressional districts (CA25, CA39, and CA48) were already prime Democratic targets; perhaps CA8 and CA42 have been added to the list.

If Democrats continue to mobilize Latino voters, this will increase the likelihood of these Republican congressional seats flipping.

3. As a Republican candidate, linking yourself to Trump may be the most expedient thing to do, but it’s not a viable strategy, in California, because it doesn’t attract any crossover votes.  Trump is not popular in California.  For this reason, it didn’t make much sense for Larry Elder to run as a Trump “clone.”  In the upcoming midterm elections, all 11 Republican incumbent members of Congress will be linked to Trump and to Larry Elder.  This may help those incumbents who are in deep red districts, but it won’t help those who are in toss-up districts.

4. Republicans aren’t interested in most of the issues that concern the general California electorate.  One of the factors that hindered Larry Elder was his cavalier attitude about the pandemic.  Elder’s position appeared to be “We don’t need mandates to deal with Coronavirus, this is a matter of personal responsibility. I trust Republicans to do the right thing.”  Most Californians don’t trust individual Republicans to do “the right thing.”  Most Californians feel that individual Republicans have prolonged the pandemic by their irresponsible behavior. ( https://www.cnn.com/election/2021/exit-polls/california/recall)

Elder expressed opinions on a wide-variety of issues: crime, homelessness, education, immigration, etcetera.  His problem was that his positions never gained traction — outside the Republican base — because he didn’t have a realistic plan to deal with the pandemic.  (Elder also took extreme positions on social issues that diverted media attention from his bread-and-butter policy positions; for example Elder said that if he became governor, he would immediately issue an executive order banning all abortions.)

Summary: On November 8, 2022, Gavin Newsom will be up for reelection.  Based upon the September 14th recall results, Newsom will have no viable Republican opponent.  This suggests that Democrats will make a strong showing, in the 2022 midterm election, and probably pickup several house seats.

The New Civil War


On September 14th, Californians will decide whether to recall Governor Newsom.  In a difficult period, this recall is another Republican effort to disrupt democracy, to blow up government.  It’s another manifestation of the new Civil War.

The latest 538 polls ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/california-recall-polls/) indicate that the recall will fail.  If this occurs, it will be due to the fact that Democrats mobilized and that they have been willing to spend millions of dollars defeating the recall.  If the recall fails, it will likely be the result of conservative radio commentator, Larry Elder, becoming the leading Republican recall choice.  Elder is a Trump acolyte.  If he were to “win” the recall contest, he’d be able to issue “executive orders.”  Elder has promised to issue an executive order banning all abortions in California; he also would outlaw mask mandates and other common-sense public health measures to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a period where Californians are concerned about climate-change disaster (fire and drought), Covid-19, housing, and other issues, the Republican party wants to blow up government.  This summer, nihilism has become the dominant GOP theme.  In Red states, such as Texas, while the Republican governor has failed to protect citizens agains the pandemic, GOP operatives have taken draconian steps, such as banning abortion.

This has made a difficult period much worse.  The latest PBS News/Marist poll (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/2-out-of-3-americans-believe-u-s-democracy-is-under-threat ) shows that two-thirds of respondents believe “democracy is under threat.”  As we might expect, the poll results are heavily influenced by Party affiliation: 87 percent of Republicans believe the country is NOT going in the right direction; while 87 percent of Democrats believe the country is going in the right direction.

What’s happening?  Why are Republicans so negative; so destructive?

There are three explanations, the politics of grievance, ideology, and greed.

Grievance: Donald Trump has had political success mobilizing the politics of resentment. At the core of this collective resentment is a sentiment shared by many Trump voters, the belief they have lost their shot at the American dream because others have played “the game” unfairly.  That is, Red voters believe they are economically and socially disadvantaged because some groups — such as women and “people of color”  — have received preferential treatment.  These Red voters have lost faith in the democratic process and, therefore, believe only “a strong leader” can save them.

Many Trump voters cling to the belief that Trump is the strong leader they have been waiting for.  Further, they believe he was cheated out of a win in 2020.  A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll (https://www.reuters.com/world/us/53-republicans-view-trump-true-us-president-reutersipsos-2021-05-24/) found: “A majority of Republicans still believe Donald Trump won the 2020 U.S. presidential election and blame his loss to Joe Biden on illegal voting…The May 17-19 national poll found that 53% of Republicans believe Trump, their party’s nominee, is the “true president” now, compared to 3% of Democrats and 25% of all Americans.”

Because of their suspicion of government, in general, and their belief they have been cheated, many Trump voters believe that the January 6h “Insurrection” was not the serious event portrayed by the media.  A recent NBC News poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/attitudes-jan-6-capitol-attack-settle-along-familiar-partisan-lines-n1277534 ) found that “Forty-six percent of adults say the attack has been exaggerated to discredit former President Trump and his supporters,”  This belief is held by 82 percent of Republicans.

Many Trump voters continue to be angry, to believe that they have been cheated, and lied to by the Federal Government.

Ideology: Although the level of Republican anger feels new, the underlying ideology is familiar. The first American Civil War was precipitated by a dispute regarding states’ rights and slavery,  The new Civil War involves a dispute about states’ rights and human rights.

Because of the widespread Republican belief that Trump “won” the 2020 election, the GOP leaders have asserted “states’ rights” in response.  For example, they have enacted draconian restrictions on voting rights.  As another example, Red states like Florida and Texas have defied Federal Public Health advice on vaccinations, masks, and social distancing. Finally, Red States are enacting new legislation restricting abortion rights.

Many observers described the Trump regime as “the new confederacy” because of its demonstrated preference for white men and its antagonism to women and “people of color.”  Many of us believe that Trump is a misogynist and a racist.  Predictably, Trump has responded to his 2020 election defeat by lashing out at women and people of color.  He’s despicable.  And his presence as the head of the Republican Party has caused many GOP partisans to adopt their own despicable stance.

Republicans seek to establish a confederacy where there is a weak central government and each state would establish their own definition of citizenship and the attendant rights. In this new confederacy, each state would establish their own environmental and business standards.

Greed:Of course, behind any political movement is money.  Donald Trump would not continue to be a political presence if he did not have the backing of wealthy donors. Trump’s funders include executives with conservative media organizations (such as “the Epoch Times” affiliated with the Falun Gong organization), fossil-fuel companies, real-estate developers, financial services companies, and others.

What do these donors want? The common thread that runs through these Trump loyalists is the desire for lower taxes and reduced government regulation.  They wholeheartedly get onboard the “blow up government” express because they resent taxation and government oversight of their business sector.  They can support notions such as viewing mask mandates as an infringement of individual freedom, because they espouse a libertarian philosophy that maximizes personal responsibility.  They see Trump as a “means” to their end game.  And this end game is, in effect, the establishment of a new confederacy.

Summary:  It’s not your imagination.  These are hard times.  Made more difficult by the Republican push to blow up democracy.  Tighten your seat belts, we’re flirting with civil war,

Afghanistan: 10 Takeaways


On August 30th, The United States military left Afghanistan.  This departure ended the longest war in our history, the 20-year US presence in Afghanistan.  Our military command announced: “Over an 18-day period… U.S. and coalition aircraft combined to evacuate more than 123,000 civilians.” There are ten takeaways from this experience.

1. The US presence in Afghanistan began with national unity and ended with divisiveness. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States was traumatized.  Congress wanted to do something and therefore passed the “Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States” — an authorization that led to the US military operation in Afghanistan.   On September 14, 2001, when Congress considered the  joint authorization of military force, only Representative Barbara Lee opposed it.

20 years later, the United States is divided. The latest Pew Research polling (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/08/31/majority-of-u-s-public-favors-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal-biden-criticized-for-his-handling-of-situation/) indicates that the majority of Americans (54 percent) support the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, but 42 percent oppose this, and 4 percent are not sure.  (Not surprisingly, attitudes about Afghanistan are split along Party lines.)  42 percent of respondents feel that Joe Biden has done a poor job “handling the situation in Afghanistan.”

The national Republican leadership opposed the evacuation.  Speaking on Fox News, Senate Minority Leader McConnell called the decision to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan “one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history… We leave behind exactly what we went in to solve 20 years ago.” Republicans continue to be the party of No: no evacuation, no vaccination.

2. The War in Afghanistan has ended but the War on Terror continues.  The US went into Afghanistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the others responsible for the 9/11 attacks.  In May of 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan.  Most of the other original Al Qaida leaders have been captured or are dead.

On August 31st, Biden observed (https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/joe-biden-speech-transcript-the-war-in-afghanistan-is-now-over ): “This is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan. We face threats from al-Shabab in Somalia, al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates across Africa and Asia.”  In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen an Al Qaida variant in Afghanistan, ISIS-K; on August 26th, they took credit for the huge suicide bombing at the Kabul airport.  Biden said, “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what’s called Over The Horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, or very few if needed.”

It will take a while to determine whether our total withdrawal from Afghanistan was the right step to take in the ongoing war on terror.  I think it was, but many Republicans disagree.

3. The US evacuated most but not all critical evacuees.  In his 8/31 speech, President Biden touted the effectiveness of the evacuation.  He indicated that more than 5500 Americans had been evacuated and somewhere between 100-200 remained in Afghanistan,  Biden explained, “Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long time residents, [who] earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.”

Republicans are apoplectic that some Americans remain.  It will take a while to determine how effective the evacuation actually was.

4. We’ve taken a critical step towards a new foreign policy.  In his August 31st speech, Joe  Biden talked about ending “the forever war.”  He said, “As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation in the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals. Not ones we’ll never reach. And second, I want to stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.”

This is potentially a big deal: a policy shift that will see a reduction in Us foreign bases and a reduction in the DOD budget.

5. The US may have lost prestige.  There’s been a lot of talk suggesting that the United States has lost international prestige, because of the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Perhaps, but to the best of my knowledge, all of our allies pulled out before our last troops left.  (Politico reported that our additional support of UK evacuations set up the August 26th suicide bombing.)  Hmm.  These same allies were already pissed off by Trump’s unilateral deal with the Taliban.

6. This was Trump’s fault.  Biden said, “By the time I came to office the Taliban was in it’s strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country…
So we were left with a simple decision, either [carry] through on the commitment made by the [Trump] administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren’t leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating. I was not going to extend this forever war and I was not extending a forever exit.”

7. Biden conducted a level-headed cost-benefit analysis:  “I refuse to continue to war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people… After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan…And most of all, after 800,000 Americans served in Afghanistan, I’ve traveled that whole country, brave and honorable service. After 20,744 American service men and women injured. And the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week. I refused to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan” “We see it in the grief born by their survivors. The cost of war, they will carry with them their whole lives. Most tragically, we see in the shocking and stunning statistic that should give pause to anyone who thinks war can ever be low grade, low risk or low cost, 18 veterans on average who die by suicide every single day in America.”

8. This was not the disaster Republicans predicted: On September 29th, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said: “The parade of horribles are about to unfold … We’re leaving thousands of Afghan allies behind who fought bravely with us. We’re going to leave hundreds of American citizens behind. The chance of another 9/11 just went through the roof.”  Graham is wrong.

On August 31st, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted: “Trump REPEATEDLY demanded that we bring our soldiers home, but only President Biden had the balls to do it.”  She described Trump as a “Wuss.”

9. The 20-year Afghanistan War was marked by Intelligence failures.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we’ve seen massive intelligence failures for the last few months; the entire war has been marked by intelligence failures. Late in November 2001, Osama bin Laden and many Al Qaeda fighters were cornered in the remote Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. Then President George W. Bush made the decision to capture bin Laden by relying upon Afghani mercenaries.  This didn’t succeed, because of bad intelligence.  And on and on.

In July. Joe Biden said this about the withdrawal of American troops: “it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.   Together, with our NATO Allies and partners, we have trained and equipped… nearly 300,000 current serving members of the Afghan National Security Force… We provided our Afghan partners with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military.  We provided advanced weaponry….  But most critically, as I stressed in my meeting just two weeks ago with President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah, Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”  At the time US intelligence believed that the Afghani forces would withstand the resurgence Taliban.  Our intelligence was wrong.

10. Biden’s approval rating has taking a hit, but it won’t last.  The latest 538  poll summary shows that 46.2 percent approve of Biden’s performance and 47.9 percent disapprove — the first time, since taking office, that Biden has been “underwater.”

BB prediction: Joe Biden is a leader.  He will weather this storm, and his approval ratings will go  up.

The Tragedy of Afghanistan


National telethons used to be an annual event.  (The longest running was the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon; which closed in 2012.) If telethons reappear, I’m going to host the Bob Burnett Telethon to cure short attention span.  I’ll highlight the protracted failure of Americans to pay attention to the tragedy of Afghanistan.

On August 16th, President Joe Biden appeared on national TV and let the Afghanistan “buck” stop with him: “I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces.” God bless you, Joe Biden!  Thanks for being a real leader!

The US involvement in Afghanistan began twenty years ago, next month. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States was traumatized.  Congress wanted to do something and therefore passed the “Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States” — an authorization that led to the US military operation in Afghanistan.   On September 14, 2001, when Congress considered the  joint authorization of military force, only Representative Barbara Lee opposed it: “I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter… However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, ’let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.’” [Emphasis added] [For years after making this speech, Congresswoman Lee was subject to death threats and harassing phone calls.]  God bless you, Barbara Lee!  Thanks for being a real leader!

Over the past 20 years, i have written dozens of times about the tragedy of Afghanistan.  My most prophetic article was written July 30, 2010, Afghanistan: America’s Failed Project.

Writing in Rolling Stone Michael Hastings concludes: “There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word ‘victory’ when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible.”  Reading this sobering article I was reminded of the advice proffered by a seasoned Silicon Valley software developer: “good projects may go bad, but bad projects almost never get better…” no matter how many billions the US spends, the situation in Afghanistan isn’t going to improve… The US effort in Afghanistan has become a failed project. We may follow Obama’s plan and tough it out for another 11 months, but there’s no reason to expect the situation to improve. We should cut our losses now; go to plan B.  Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have a plan B.

We’ve known for years that Afghanistan was lost.  Until Joe Biden became President, no one had the guts to admit this.  Why?

1.Failed Presidential Leadership: Over the past twenty years, there have been four American presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.  Earlier in the year, historians ranked the 44 presidents before Biden.  George W. Bush was ranked 29, Obama  10, and Trump 41.  For twelve of those twenty years, we had terrible leadership.

George W. Bush is the president most responsible for the Afghanistan tragedy.  In case you’ve forgotten, it was Dubya’s failure to heed intelligence reports that opened the door to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Then he bungled the intervention in Afghanistan: Late in November 2001, bin Laden and many Al Qaeda fighters were cornered in the remote Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. Bush made the decision to capture bin Laden by relying upon Afghani mercenaries, who were not up to the job. By the time regular American forces arrived, bin Laden and most of his companions had slipped across the border into northwest Pakistan. In March 2002, Dubya abruptly changed his focus: “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.” Bush had a short attention span; his focus shifted from bin Laden in Afghanistan-Pakistan to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Trump made the Afghanistan situation much worse.  To score political points, in February of 2020, Trump brokered a “deal” that called for US troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Under the fourteen-month timeline, approximately 5,000 Taliban prisoners were also set to be released, including major Taliban leaders.  This legitimized the Taliban.

2. Failed Congressional Oversight:  Although the blame for the Afghanistan tragedy primarily rests with the four Presidents, Congress has a major share.  Under the Constitution, Congress has the responsibility to declare war.  Congress skirted this with the September 14, 2001, “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” which in effect gave the President carte blanche to send troops wherever he thought there were terrorists.  Afghanistan was occupied for twenty years because Congress stubbornly  held onto the attitude that Afghanistan might become a staging area for further terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Let’s be clear.  Since late in 2001, when Osama bin Laden and many al Qaeda fighters departed Afghanistan, there has been no justification for a U.S. presence in the country.  No President has defended the occupation on the grounds of “nation building.” Congress failed to do its job because it was very difficult for most members of Congress to stand up to U.S. military leaders, who were all too ready to argue: “Just give us a few thousand more troops and we will complete the mission in Afghanistan.”

3. Failed Military Leadership. In twenty years, the U.S. has spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan (https://www.forbes.com/sites/hanktucker/2021/08/16/the-war-in-afghanistan-cost-america-300-million-per-day-for-20-years-with-big-bills-yet-to-come/? ).  Take a moment to consider that.  $2 trillion.

With $2 trillion we could have ended U.S. poverty.  We could have built 10 million affordable homes.  We could have taken steps that directly benefited the American people.

The U.S. spent $2 trillion because the military lied to us.  First they said they could defeat the Taliban and pacify Afghanistan.  When that didn’t work, they created the myth of creating a reliable non-Taliban fighting force that we could trust to do the work when our troops left.  Biden called out this myth, noting that in the last couple of weeks the Afghanistan military collapsed. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

Americans want to trust our military leaders.  Nonetheless, these military leaders misled us in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

4. Failed American Public Awareness: It’s a familiar maxim: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Since the end of World War II, the citizens of the United States have twice been lied to by the military.  Shame on us for believing them about Afghanistan.

Americans believed the lies we were told about Afghanistan, because we are lazy and arrogant.  We are lazy, because too many of us didn’t take the time to uncover the truth.  We are arrogant, because we believed that we could buy our way out of this mess.

Summary: The best words to describe this tragedy were written by Bob Dylan in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll:”

Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace
and criticize all fears

Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

Biden’s Infrastructure Win

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/ ).  After four months of negotiation, on August 10th the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan plan. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/08/10/senate-infrastructure-bill-what-is-in-it/)

Even though Donald Trump lobbied against passage of the bill, the final vote was 69-30.  That is, nineteen Republican Senators voted for it, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump toady Lindsey Graham. The infrastructure bill now goes to the House where it is certain to pass — eventually.

The bipartisan infrastructure plan polls well.  The Hill (https://thehill.com/opinion/opinion/565157-mellman-voters-favor-bidens-infrastructure-plan?rl=1) reported:  “[When asked] ‘do you support or oppose President Biden and a bipartisan group of Senators passing a new infrastructure plan to improve roads and bridges, expand power infrastructure, increase passenger and rail access, expand broadband access, and improve water infrastructure?’ Sixty-six percent [of respondents] supported the plan, 22 percent opposed it.”  It’s noteworthy that most poll respondents want to pay for infrastructure by raising taxes on corporations and the rich: “AP-NORC found 66 percent in favor of raising taxes on corporations to pay for these improvements and 64 percent supporting higher taxes on households making more than $400,000 a year.”

The infrastructure bill will eventually wend its way into law.  Let’s look at what’s in it:

1.Transportation Projects: (Original plan $621 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $500 Billion)  In essence the compromise plan kept the traditional infrastructure projects, including: $110 Billion for roads and bridges; $66 Billion for passenger and freight rail lines; $39 Billion for “public transit,” that is, upgrades of buses and rail cars; $25 Billion for airport modernization; $17 Billion for port upgrades; $15 Billion for electric vehicles, including $7.5 Billion for EV charging stations and $7.5 Billion for electric school buses. Etcetera.

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.” It focuses on modernizing the electric grid, $65 Billion.  It also includes providing broadband internet access to rural and low-income communities.  In addition there is $55 Billion to upgrade America’s water system — with a focus on bad pipes.  (There is also $8 Billion to build a new western water infrastructure,) It also includes $47 Billion for “Resilience,” funds for cybersecurity and climate change mitigation. There’s $21 Billion for Remediation; that is, “funds to clean up brownfield and superfund sites, abandoned mines, and old oil and gas wells that need to be plugged.”  There’s also $11 Billion for highway safety. Etcetera.

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.)

Jobs: The good news is that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will create jobs: “Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, estimates growth of about 660,000 jobs could result by 2025.”

The bad news is that the funding is sketchy: “The spending is partially paid for with unused covid-19 relief dollars, unused federal unemployment aid, sales of spectrum and oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increased fees for some superfund sites and customs, and delaying a Medicare expense for a year. Some money would also come from tighter enforcement to ensure cryptocurrency investors pay taxes once they sell and realize their gains.”  Many progressives feel that the appropriate way to pay for infrastructure improvements is to increase taxes for millionaires and corporations.  Unfortunately, Republicans in general, and some Democrats, won’t support this.

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.”

Next Steps: On August 11, the Senate narrowly approved Biden’s $3.5 trillion framework for improving health care, family services, and environmental programs.  In These Times noted (https://inthesetimes.com/article/infrastructure-reconciliation-senate-bernie-sanders-biden-deficit-climate-filibuster? ): “For Medicare, there is an expansion of benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing, and a reduction of the minimum age of eligibility, along with a lowering of prescription drug prices. The new expanded Child Tax Credit is extended beyond the current year. If the bill is passed in its current form, Americans will finally have access to at least some paid family and medical leave, child care, as well as two free years of community college and universal Pre‑K. The government will make massive investments in affordable housing, as well as a Civilian Climate Corps.”

Now the action moves to the House of Representatives which will return early from recess — on August 23rd: “to vote on the fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the $3.5 trillion over the next decade. Final congressional approval, which seems certain, would protect a subsequent bill actually enacting the outline’s detailed spending and tax changes from a Republican filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, delays that would otherwise kill it.” (https://www.npr.org/2021/08/11/1026635503/senate-passes-3-5t-budget)

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.

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.