Saturday, December 03, 2022
There will be no rail strike. President Biden and the news media are celebrating that as a good thing. I'm not so sure that it is. To me, it represented a failure to support and protect union workers. And it could have repercussions in future elections.
It one thing for politicians to say they support unions and workers (as Democratic politicians do). But it's another to actually put that support into practice -- and in passing this bill, the Democrats failed to do that.
The sticking point was on whether to grant workers seven days of paid sick leave. Seven days is not an excessive amount. The Republican dominated (and anti-union) government of Texas grants its workers 12 days of paid sick leave. It is not too much to ask rail companies to give their workers a paltry seven days.
The failure started with President Biden, when he negotiated an agreement without paid sick days.
Then the House Democrats failed, when they split the bill into two bills -- one to approve the agreement and avert a strike, and a second that would have given the workers seven days of paid sick leave. The Democrats had the votes to combine and pass the two bills, and that's what they should have done.
Then Senate Democrats failed, when they passed the first bill after knowing the second would not pass. They should have refused to vote for the first bill unless the second was also passed. This would put pressure on Republicans to vote for the sick leave or be responsible for a rail strike.
President Biden, in signing the bill, said it was the right thing to do. I'm sure the rail corporations agreed, but I doubt the union workers did. They will remember that Democrats abandoned them when they needed support. And other unions will now wonder if Democrats will support them when push comes to shove.
Union workers used to be a solid block of votes for Democrats. It's this kind of thing that has destroyed that.
The Labor Department released its unemployment figures on Friday. It showed that the economy created 263,000 new jobs in November. That was good enough to keep the unemployment rate at 3.7% -- marking the 10th month in a row with an unemployment rate below 4%.
Here are the relevant statistics for November:
SIZE OF THE CIVILIAN WORK FORCE:
OFFICIAL NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYED WORKERS:
OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE:
DEMOGRAPHIC BREAKDOWN OF OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT:
No HS diploma...............4.4%
Bachelor's deg. or more............... 2.0%
NUMBER OF MARGINALLY-ATTACHED WORKERS (unemployed but no longer counted):
MORE REALISTIC NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYED WORKERS (marginally-attached + official):
MORE REALISTIC UNEMPLOYMENT RATE:
The following is part of an essay in The New York Times by writer Dante Stewart:
Mr. Walker is part of a long tradition of Black people willing to distance themselves from the humanity and dreams of their community in exchange for white praise and white power. Black people betraying Black people has a legacy stretching from the plantation to today. Mr. Walker has willingly, as he did in the N.F.L., taken the handoff from the likes of Mr. Trump, Ron DeSantis and Lindsey Graham, shucked and juked and jived over Black people’s real needs, just to hit the end zone and win at the white man’s game. . . .
No matter how perfect or upstanding we are or how well Black people lead our state, white people seem to always become indifferent when we shout: Once again Black people have to prove that we are trustworthy and that Senator Warnock is the best choice not just for us, but for America.
Politics aside, positions aside, I have to wonder: what is it that so many white people see as desirable in Herschel? A recent letter to the editor in the Los Angeles Times suggested that it was the power of “celebrity” — that there was something alluring about Mr. Walker dancing his way to the end zone before winning a Heisman Trophy. For others, Mr. Walker is someone who represents Republican exhaustion with what Democrats have to offer. But it is not just celebrity or exhaustion. The race and runoff is a reflection of who white people believe is best for Black people and the nation. Herschel Walker is a very visible and violent symbol of just how far many white people in America will go to preserve a dying world of whiteness they refuse to let go of.
What a sad thing it is to watch a man’s and a people’s desire to destroy even themselves in an attempt to control what America is, means and can become. It is not just white supremacy. It is not just white hatred. It is .
White ingratitude is bent on breaking people’s hearts. It is white ingratitude that refuses to appreciate what Senator Warnock means to Georgia and this country and forces him to prove himself once again. It is white ingratitude that desires the stereotype of the ignorant charismatic Black athlete. It is white ingratitude that disrespects and disregards the Black tradition of faith that wants to both heal the soul and save society. It is white ingratitude that refuses to acknowledge just how deeply racist a vote for Mr. Walker actually is. White ingratitude is not just about open hatred and violence, it is also the everyday ways many white people make life so much harder for those who don’t look like them.
White ingratitude is very real and it is the heart of white power and white supremacy. If you are ungrateful for another person’s humanity and freedom, then you will do all types of things to devalue and disrupt it. Many white people are ungrateful for what Black people mean to America, what we have been, what we have done, what we have given them and what we have endured.
It seems that Reinhold Niebuhr’s words from “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” published in 1932, still ring true: “However large the number of individual white men who do and who will identify themselves completely with the Negro cause, the white race in America will not admit the Negro to equal rights if it is not forced to do so.”
We have done the forcing, again and again. And now what we are left with is not just rage, but the sadness associated with exhaustion. An exhaustion that none of us deserves.
Senator Warnock just might win. The celebration will ensue. A sigh of relief will be had. People will dance and declare how this country “works.” And yet, he just might lose. That is life, American life, American fragility.
Friday, December 02, 2022
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that about 225,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on November 26th. Here is the official Labor Department statement:
In the week ending November 26, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 225,000, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 240,000 to 241,000. The 4-week moving average was 228,750, an increase of 1,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 226,750 to 227,000.
The following post is by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner:
Antisemitisim. Racism. Homophobia. Misogyny. Bigotry. The demonization of immigrants.
That these forces are ascendant is newsworthy. And it is vital they are considered thus. That these forces exist, however, is not news. Neither is the fact that they are being stoked, winked at, and normalized by the previous president. And neither is how most of the Republican Party leadership is silent, supportive, or insufficiently disapproving.
To say all this is not a political criticism. It is about confronting a grave threat to our nation and the world. Politics should be about a competition for ideas that fall within the realm of civilized discourse. What these people are peddling is not policy, but prejudice.
Repeating these sentiments should not diminish the importance of the message. The need for us all to confront this with the frequency that we are is evidence of the salience of the mission. And let’s be clear: It is of extra importance for those not directly targeted to speak the loudest. Silence is complicity. To speak softly is cowardice.
The latest outrage swirls around an occasion at Mar-a-Lago in which the former president dined with avowed antisemites. But we do a disservice to history and the dangers we face by bundling recriminations under the banners of combatting “MAGA” or “Trumpism.” The former president may have built his political power by tapping into a well of hate, but the reservoir was already there. Others are eager to draw from its waters as well.
Discrimination, often enforced with violence, has been a hallmark of our country since its founding. White supremacy is embedded in our Constitution. And the biases and bigotries of the American electorate have shaped some of our national narrative ever since.
To be sure, there is a powerful counter-narrative. It begins with the noble words of our founding documents, which laid out a vision of equality and justice unimaginable at the time of their writing. Over the centuries, countless activists and dreamers have leaned on the courage of their convictions to wrest the nation toward a path of greater inclusion and enlightenment. Most who signed up for service in this army of conscience are not famous, but we are lucky to live in a world made better by their mettle. They have helped to make the nation better and now keep hopes alive that it can and will be getting better, a lot better, still.
We have undoubtedly made progress, but the undercurrents of hatred have never been fully expunged. It takes very little for them to resurge. Far more energy and commitment are required in combating them than in fomenting them.
We should find hope in the journey our nation has taken before. The bigotry we are now decrying was once largely accepted political discourse, in both parties. This is not ancient history. Many of us were of memory age when antisemitic, homophobic, and racist statements were spoken without a second thought. Our country was a weaker place because of it. Our struggle now is to be vigilant in making sure we do not return to that darkness.
We know we have shared these sentiments in this space before. And we know we will almost assuredly have ample reason to do so again. That is the reality. And that is all the more reason this needs to be said. By all of us. Often.
Thursday, December 01, 2022
The U.S. Senate has passed the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. President Biden has already said he will sign the bill into law. Here is part of how Amy B. Wang and Mariana Alfaro reported this in The Washington Post:
The Senate on Tuesday passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would enshrine marriage equality in federal law, granting protections to same-sex and interracial couples.
The bill passed in a 61-36 vote, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats to vote for it. Three senators did not vote. The bill includes a bipartisan amendment that clarifies protections for religious liberties, and it will now return to the House for another vote before it can go to President Biden to sign into law.
The 12 Republican senators who voted “yes” were Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyo.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Todd C. Young (Ind.).
Before the final vote, Collins stood to “thank all of the Republicans who have supported this. I know that it’s not been easy, but they’ve done the right thing.”
Biden celebrated the passage shortly after the tally was announced.
“With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” the president said in a statement. “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled.”
The Respect for Marriage Act would not force states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but would require that people be considered married in any state as long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. The bill also would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman and allowed states to decline to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That law has remained on the books despite being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in United States vs. Windsor and its 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
The talking heads on cable news seem to have lost their minds about Donald Trump's latest hate stunt -- having dinner with an antisemite (Kanye West) and a white supremacist (Nick Fuentes). They seem to be surprised about this.
I have to ask why.
This is nothing new at all. Anyone who has been paying attention since Trump entered the political arena in 2016 has to know that. Donald Trump has never tried to hide his hateful beliefs.
Donald Trump is a racist.
Donald Trump is an antisemite.
Donald Trump is a misogynist.
Donald Trump is a homophobe.
Donald Trump is a xenophobe.
Trump has not only not tried to hide his hate beliefs -- he has actually campaigned on them. He knew that in the last decade or two, the haters took over the Republican Party. And being one of them, he used that to his advantage.
The media is also upset that most leading Republicans have not taken Trump to task for the hate dinner. But this is nothing new for them either. They know Trump is a hater, and they know the haters now control their party. They also know it would be political death to say or do anything about it (and like it or not, that makes them also haters).
I have always disagreed with the economic beliefs of the Republican Party, but I respected those beliefs -- and I believe this country needs two vibrant political parties. It allows for debate and compromise, and that's good for the country.
But this is not your father's Republican Party. They no longer have a political agenda worth debating. They are controlled by the haters, and only interested in spreading that hate (in the hope it will give them power).
Donald Trump knew that and used it to his own advantage. It's sad, but not surprising.
Donald Trump was just being Donald Trump
Domestic terrorism has become the most serious threat facing our nation. Here is part of what Jennifer Rubin writes about it in The Washington Post:
Earlier this month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a largely overlooked — yet damning — report detailing the failures of national security agencies on this front.
“Over the past two decades, acts of domestic terrorism have dramatically increased," the committee reports. "National security agencies now identify domestic terrorism as the most persistent and lethal terrorist threat to the homeland.” The uptick is predominately attributable to “white supremacist and anti-government extremist individuals and groups.” Yet “without better data, it is difficult to evaluate whether federal agencies are appropriately allocating resources and setting priorities.”. . .
The extent of the threat is staggering. The report mentions a 2021 study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies that found there were 110 domestic terrorist plots in 2020 alone, a 244 percent increase from 2019. The Anti-Defamation League also reports that over the past decade, domestic extremists have killed 443 people. More than half of the deaths were attributable to white supremacists. Had foreign terrorists committed such crimes, Republicans would have raised a ruckus.
Although FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified about the threat of domestic terrorism in March 2021 and pledged to work with the Senate committee on reporting, his agency has done little to address it. The committee reports, "the federal government — specifically FBI and [the Department of Homeland Security] — has failed to systematically track and report data on domestic terrorism as required by federal law, has not appropriately allocated its resources to match the current threat, and has not aligned its definitions to make its investigations consistent and its actions proportional to the threat of domestic terrorism.” And even when the feds have accumulated data, “DHS and FBI have not appropriately allocated their resources to match the current threat, despite recent increased investments and efforts.”
Former assistant FBI director Frank Figliuzzi tells me, “The Senate report raises questions as to why the FBI and DHS still don’t have their act together." He also notes that the FBI’s decision to merge data on white supremacy cases with black nationalist cases into a “race-based” category "takes political correctness to a dangerous extreme.” He adds, "This work demands transparency not politics.”
Certainly both the DHS and FBI have many pressing priorities. Border control takes up much of DHS’s attention, and the FBI covers everything from cyberterrorism to white collar crime to foreign espionage. Nevertheless, there’s a nagging sense that the two institutions are uncomfortable with cracking down on domestic terrorists, either because of legitimate concerns for civil liberties or because a handful of agents sympathize with right-wing authoritarianism (as is the case in law enforcement and the military).
“The difficulty with addressing violent domestic terror has all too often been that the ‘bad guys’ look too much like the rest of us,” former prosecutor Joyce White Vance tells me. She adds that the FBI often grouped white supremacist domestic terrorist movements with other, less dangerous groups and insisted they all be treated the same. “We are paying the price for that failure now,” she said. . . .
Congress passed a law in 2019 requiring intelligence agencies to produce a report on domestic terrorism threats, but they failed to do so. The Brennan Center explains, “In reports filed in 2021 and 2022, the FBI argued that while it could provide topline statistics regarding the number of investigations it opened, it couldn’t provide data regarding domestic terrorism incidents because the bureau didn’t collect it and no law required state and local law enforcement agencies to report it.”
Part of the problem is that whenever law enforcement indicates an interest in pursuing such threats, right-wing actors go nuts. When Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to investigate violent threats against public officials, Republicans wrongly accused him of suppressing dissent and labeling ordinary Americans as “domestic terrorists.” To his credit, Garland created a unit within the Justice Department to combat domestic terrorism, but it must rely on the FBI and other law enforcement groups to track and investigate crimes.
Congress must lead the way for reform. The House Jan. 6 select committee, which is investigating the FBI’s failure to respond to credible threats to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, can address the lapses and make specific recommendations to correct the problem. And in the new Congress, Senate Democrats must be unstinting in holding Wray accountable for complying with information-gathering requirements.
Meanwhile, as Republicans grill (and possibly even impeach) DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, House Democrats should use their time during such hearings to explore the response to domestic terrorism in Mayorkas’s ranks. A DHS official insisted that domestic violent extremism is a “top priority," that the agency has worked with state and local partners, and has produced 110 “intelligence products.” But despite setting up a domestic terrorism branch within the DHS, the report documents shortcomings in data collection and sharing.
Finally, lawmakers need to take a hard look not only at Twitter, but also TikTok, Facebook and YouTube for providing platforms to violent and extremist individuals and groups. Without infringing on First Amendment rights, Congress should compel these companies to be more transparent about their moderation policies. . . .
If the government had made such little effort to crack down on foreign terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, the political backlash would have been intense. The same must be true of domestic terrorism. Federal agencies and social media companies should not get a pass.
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
With more than a month to go in the year, the United States has had 617 mass shootings and 40,252 gun deaths. No other country has this problem, and to be blunt, the U.S. has it only because of the ease of anyone - even criminals and other dangerous people - in buying any kind of gun they want.
The following is from the editorial board of The Washington Post:
The mass shootings that plague this nation are a uniquely American jumble of contradictions. Each new one horrifies, and yet fits into a depressingly familiar pattern. Communities count the dead — nearly 50 so far in November — and tally the gruesome details. The country vows to honor the lives cut short. And then it all fades from the headlines and people move on, leaving behind thoughts and prayers but no concrete policies to stop the next bloodbath.
The United States has averaged nearly two mass shootings a day this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks when four or more people are shot. To put that another way, it’s now unusual to have a day without a mass shooting. “We aren’t numb — we’re traumatized,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, which has been urging action to stop gun violence in America since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six staff a decade ago.
It can happen anywhere, to anyone. Fourteen Americans mowed down this month at the University of Virginia, Club Q in Colorado Springs and a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., were doing normal activities of daily life — going to school, enjoying a performance, working. They leave behind grieving loved ones, who ask: Why?
In each case, as usually happens, there were warning signs missed — or ignored. The chilling note the Walmart shooter left in his phone railing against his co-workers and claiming his phone was hacked suggests he was a deeply disturbed 31-year-old. And yet, he was able to buy a pistol just hours before he massacred six fellow employees in a break room. In Colorado Springs, a 22-year-old suspect who had been arrested last year for an alleged bomb threat, but never prosecuted, was not prevented from obtaining an AR-15-style weapon and a handgun. It’s eerily similar in the University of Virginia shooting: The 22-year-old suspect hadmultiple prior run-ins with the law, including a 2021 conviction for possessing a concealed firearm without a license.
Too often these tragedies are written off to individual cases of mental illness. That does not explain why the United States has had more than 600 mass shootings every year since 2020 and why no other country has anything close to this level of gun violence. We must confront the truth about guns in America and why it is so easy for practically anyone to get them — including some that are weapons of war.
The fact that no single action will stop all mass shootings is no excuse not to do things that could prevent some of them or lower the toll when they happen. President Biden is right to call for another nationwide assault weapons ban, which he helped enact for 10 years when he was a senator in 1994. Poll after poll show wide support for stricter gun laws. The House passed the ban in July, but the Senate has yet to act.
Earlier this year, Democrats and some Republicans worked together to pass a gun safety bill as the nation mourned the 19 elementary school students and two teachers who died from a horrific mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex. The new law included more funding for mental health services and school safety, expanded background checks on 18- to 21-year-olds trying to buy guns, and more funding for programs that help seize guns from troubled individuals. It was a start, but lawmakers cannot stop there.
The U.S. Congress is not the only place where action is needed. When Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) was asked whether he would support tighter restrictions on guns after two mass shootings occurred in his state this month, he replied: “Today’s not the time.” So when is the right time?
In 2020 and 2021, with Democrats controlling both the legislature and the governorship, Virginia passed modestly enhanced gun control laws. The changes included sensible reforms: Universal background checks, a three-year ban on firearm possession for people convicted of assaulting a family member and a red-flag law that gives authorities the ability to seize weapons from people considered a threat. Clearly, it wasn’t enough.
The spate of gun violence has erupted even as the Supreme Court has limited the tools that government at all levels can use to address the problem. The court’s June ruling, striking down a New York state law that limited concealed carry permits, instructed lower courts to find gun laws unconstitutional unless proponents could point to a historical analogue — in other words, show that regulations are based on or similar to ones that existed in the past. This is an unnecessary and unworkable standard that is making its way through the lower courts, with predictably dreary results. The court should make clear that its focus on history does not need to be applied with monomaniacal precision.
Army veteran Richard M. Fierro is rightly being called a hero for tackling the gunman at Club Q in Colorado Springs and preventing the death count from climbing even higher. But it’s chilling to hear him describe how events that night looked similar to what he saw in Iraq and Afghanistan. How his combat training kicked in after he saw the shooter’s weapon and body armor. His daughter’s boyfriend was one of the victims. “Everybody in that building experienced combat that night,” Fierro said. It took only three days for another war-zone scene to arise, this time at a Walmart.