Sunday, February 28, 2021
They were not enemies, even though they pursued different economic goals. They talked to each other, and debated the important issues facing the country. And then they negotiated to find compromises that moved the country forward.
This is the way it must be in a democracy. At least two parties are needed to prevent either party from making a mistake in their passion for their beliefs. Throughout our history this has worked well to preserve our democracy and solve our problems.
Unfortunately, that is no longer true. The Republican Party has died -- or at least is critically ill and unable to act like a true political party. It has been taken over by racists, white supremacists, religious bigots, and conspiracy theorists. And those people have only one true belief -- supporting Donald Trump and his lies.
They even said as much in their 2020 political convention. Instead of writing a party platform, they simply stated that their party believed whatever Donald Trump wanted to do was what they want.
They are no longer a Conservative party. Trump has tossed many conservative values under the bus, and that is OK with the members. They no longer believe in free trade, but have accepted Trump trade war tariffs. They no longer believe in democracy, but are willing to overturn the results of a democratic election. In fact, they only have one value -- loyalty to Trump. They have truly become the Cult of Trump.
This is bad, because Trump sees the country (and world) as peopled only by friends and enemies. The friends are those who praise him and show loyalty (regardless of what he might do). The enemies are those who dare to speak the truth. And he will not negotiate with those he considers an enemy.
That means the elected officials in his cult cannot negotiate either. Whatever Democrats want, or try to do, they must oppose it. They call for bipartisanship, but for them that means surrender to whatever they want.
I have never voted for a Republican, and disagree with the policies they used to have. But they performed a valuable function in our democratic form of government. We need them. Sadly, I don't know if the party can survive its current illness. I hope it can. Our democracy cannot survive without two viable parties.
There are about 29,349,300 people in the United States that do not have any kind of health insurance. That is inexcusable. The United States is the only country in the developed world that does not cover all its citizens with health insurance or government provided medical care. The charts above use numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation. They show the number of uninsured citizens in each state.
The House bill contains everything President Biden wanted, but is likely to not include a minimum wage raise after it goes through the Senate. It will still have the $1400 checks for citizens, money to help state and local governments, money to help schools safely open, money for unemployment, money to help small businesses survive, and money to pay for COVID-19 testing and vaccination.
But the bill also contains something most Americans don't know about. It will contain some improvements for Obamacare. It won't solve our health insurance problem completely, but it will make it a little better.
It doesn't do enough though. Biden, and other Democrats, campaigned on providing a public option that will help all Americans get health insurance. They still need to follow through on that promise.
Here's part of how The New York Times is covering the bill's improvements to Obamacare:
Saturday, February 27, 2021
Our economy was already in trouble before the pandemic hit this country. While the rich were getting richer, the working and middle classes were struggling to stay up with inflation. And the gap between the wealth and income of the top 1% and the bottom 90% was larger than before the Great Depression, and it was continuing to grow.
The pandemic just made things even worse. The rich kept on getting richer, while millions lost their jobs.
The biggest thing to correct the economy, and make it fairer for everyone, would be to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The relief bill proposed by President Biden included that minimum wage. The bill would not only provide money necessary to fight the Coronavirus, but would start putting the U.S. economy back on track. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen now.
The Democrats were trying to pass that relief bill by using the reconciliation process. A Senate rule says that process can only be used for items that involve taxing and spending. And on Thursday, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that the provision to raise the minimum wage did not meet that criteria -- and therefore could not be included in the bill.
Frankly, I don't understand that ruling at all. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would affect both taxing and spending. Many of those receiving the raise would start paying taxes (which they don't do now because they live in poverty), and many (perhaps millions) would no longer qualify for government benefit programs (food stamps, etc.) which would affect government spending in a positive way.
Republicans are celebrating the decision. They only care about the rich, and have always opposed raising the minimum wage. In fact, some of them have proposed doing away with the minimum wage and letting businesses pay even less than $7.25 and hour (the current minimum wage). They are still trying to claim that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs. That's not true, and has been disproved in all the states and cities that have raised the wage.
This means there will be no minimum wage raise for the next two years. That's because the Republicans, while they don't control the Senate, have enough votes to kill any attempt by filibustering it to death. It would take 60 votes to pass a minimum wage bill in the Senate, which means at least 10 Republicans would have to support it. That is simply not going to happen, because there are 10 Republican senators that give a damn about workers.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has provided its first disappointment. It is going to wimp out and accept defeat. Senate experts say Vice-President Kamala Harris could overrule the Senate Parliamentarian and keep the minimum wage proposal in the bill -- but the administration has signaled that it will accept the ruling. They are afraid the relief bill would not pass the Senate with the minimum wage proposal in it.
President Biden says he still supports the $15 an hour minimum wage and will continue to fight for it.
Sadly, those just sound like empty and meaningless words now.
Even sadder is that the American public supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Note the chart below, which reflects the results of the new Economist / YouGov Poll -- done between February 19th and 22nd of a national sample of 1,500 adults (including 1,201 registered voters). The margin of error for adults is 2.7 points, and for registered voters is 3.0 points.
The charts above are from the Pew Research Center. They questioned 2,596 Americans between February 1st and 7th, and their survey had a 2.7 point margin of error.
The tool they are going to use to block anything proposed by President Biden (or congressional Democrats) is the filibuster. It is time to eliminate that archaic filibuster rule in the Senate. If we don't, we are looking at another two years of gridlock.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) knows this, and she is calling for an end to the Senate filibuster.
Here is what she wrote to her supporters:
It's hard to imagine two-thirds of Americans agreeing on much of anything. But two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.It's a broadly popular, badly needed policy to help families who are struggling through this pandemic and lift people out of poverty.
That's why President Biden included this plan in his COVID relief package. That's why the House of Representatives put it in their bill, too. That's why the Senate needs to take action.
But right now, raising the minimum wage is getting bogged down in the Senate. Why? Because of the filibuster — a procedural loophole that lets an extreme minority of senators block the majority from passing bills that have the broad support of the American people.
Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to Mitch McConnell. A veto to the gun industry. A veto to the oil industry. For generations, racist senators took advantage of the filibuster to block anti-lynching laws and civil rights bills. And it's still blocking progress today.
Unless we get rid of the filibuster, the Republican Senate minority will be able to keep using their favorite word — "no" — to block so many things we need to get done. "No" to protecting the right to vote. "No" to rooting corruption out of Washington. "No" to commonsense gun safety reform. "No" to raising the minimum wage for the first time in over a decade.
Raising the minimum wage would increase income for about thirty million and lift nearly a million families out of poverty. It would help boost income for people of color, who make up a disproportionate share of low-wage earners. It would give workers more money in their pockets to put back into the economy — lifting all boats. It would help our country build back better, stronger, and more resilient.
The American people elected a Democratic House majority, a Democratic Senate majority, and a Democratic president with a mandate to take bold action. Now, we need to deliver results — and that means getting rid of the filibuster.
Friday, February 26, 2021
The House of Representatives has passed the Equality Act. This bill would give members of the LGBTQ community the same rights that other Americans have. It would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in areas such as employment, housing, education, public accommodation, credit, and jury service. Only three Republicans voted for the bill.
Most Republicans voted against it. They claimed it violated First Amendment rights (such as freedom of religion). Of course, that argument is ridiculous. No religion mandates the breaking of federal or state law, and if it does, then it's not the religion of love (as christians and other religions claim). Any religion that permits discriminating against others is a religion of hate -- not love.
The House passed this bill in 2019 also, but Mitch McConnell was the Majority Leader in the Senate at that time and he refused to allow the bill to be debated or voted on. He's no longer in charge in the Senate, but the bill may still have a tough time in that body. It will require 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster -- which means that 10 Republicans will have to support it.
It seems it should be a given to me that all Americans should enjoy the same rights under the Constitution. But Republicans (and the evangelicals that support them) don't agree. They feel they should have the right to force other people into following their own weird version of morality. But that's not freedom. And the primary goal of this nation is the freedom of its citizens -- all of them.
Bigotry is Un-American -- even if you claim its basis is religion.
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that 730,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on February 20th. That's the lowest figure in more than two months, but it's still far too high. Before the pandemic was out of control the number was around 220,000 to 260,000. We still need to get control of the pandemic before we can fix our economy.
Here is the official statement from the Labor Department:
In the week ending February 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 730,000, a decrease of 111,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 20,000 from 861,000 to 841,000. The 4-week moving average was 807,750, a decrease of 20,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 5,000 from 833,250 to 828,250.
Here is how National Public Radio (NPR) is reporting this:
The cost of repairing damages from the attack on the U.S. Capitol and related security expenses have already topped $30 million and will keep rising, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton told lawmakers on Wednesday.
The events of Jan. 6, he said, were "difficult for the American people and extremely hard for all of us on campus to witness."
Blanton said that congressional appropriations committees have already approved a transfer request of $30 million to pay for expenses and extend a temporary perimeter fencing contract through March 31.
But more money will be needed, he added: "History teaches us that project costs for replacements and repairs beyond in-kind improvements across campus will be considerable and beyond the scope of the current budgetary environment."
The price tag will go even higher, Blanton told lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee, if the fence and other security measures are needed beyond March.
In his prepared testimony, Blanton described how his employees tried to minimize the threat to the Capitol and lawmakers on Jan. 6, when thousands of former President Donald Trump's supporters breached security perimeters at the Capitol grounds. Many of them then engaged in a pitched battle with police and security personnel.
"[Architect of the Capitol]employees sheltered congressional staff in their shops to protect them from the roving mob," Blanton said, adding, "Other members of our team raced to the roof to reverse the airflows within the building to help clear the air of chemical irritants, like bear repellents and pepper spray, while more team members rushed bottles of water and eyewash stations to Capitol Police officers in need of assistance."
When the mob thronged the Capitol, the Architect of the Capitol's painters and artisans were laboring to complete the massive task of readying the campus to host a presidential inauguration.
"Over the course of a couple of hours, the hard work of our team was destroyed," Blanton said.
"The [inauguration] platform was wrecked. There was broken glass and other debris. Sound systems and photography equipment was damaged beyond repair or stolen. Two historic Olmsted lanterns were ripped from the ground, and the wet blue paint was tracked all over the historic stone balustrades and Capitol building hallways."
In the Capitol building complex, historical statues, murals and furniture were damaged, mainly from pepper spray accretions and residue from chemical irritants and fire extinguishers, requiring expert cleaning and conservation. Work crews covered gaping holes with plywood and cleared "a small mountain of debris left behind on the west and east fronts," Blanton said.
Blanton also said many lawmakers have asked his office about preserving mementos from the unprecedented violence wrought by U.S. citizens on their own Capitol. While most damaged items had to be removed because of safety concerns, he said his staff preserved the panels of the historical Columbus Doors on the east front "for a potential presentation or display."
Thursday, February 25, 2021
The Republicans are playing a dangerous game. They don't want to give President Biden what he wants -- the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. They seem to have decided that they will oppose everything President Biden tries to do, just like they did when President Obama was in office.
But this time things are different. There's a pandemic doing serious damage to the country. It has killed over a half-million people and damaged the economy (throwing millions out of work). While the Republican officials oppose the relief bill, the American people don't. In fact, a substantial majority of them support the bill -- 66% of adults and 65% of registered voters.
They are saying they don't think the voters will punish them in the 2022 election for opposing the relief bill. I think they are wrong -- especially if they are able to block the bill, or substantially reduce the bill's benefits. People have a long memory if you take money from their pockets, or cost them a job. And they won't forgive their family being hurt so the GOP can play politics.
The chart above reflects the results of a new Economist / YouGov Poll -- done between February 19th and 22nd of a national sample of 1,500 adults (including 1,201 registered voters). The margin of error for adults is 2.7 points, and for registered voters is 3 points.
The charts above are from the Gallup Poll. They show that the number of Americans willing to identify as members of the LGBT community is growing each year. In 2012, that number was only 3.5% of the population. By 2020, that had climbed to 5.6%.
This is not because more people are LGBT, but because more people are now willing to admit it as the community has achieved broad acceptance in the country.
And that is also exhibited by the fact that each generation has more willing to say they are LGBT than the previous generation. The most willing is Generation Z (born 1997 to 2002), where 15.9% say they are LGBT -- as compared to 9.1% of Millennials, 3.8% of Generation X, 2.0% of Baby Boomers, and 1.3% of the Silent Generation.
The area most claim is bisexual (54.6% of LGBT community). About 24.5% say they are gay, 11.7% claim to be lesbian, and 11.3% as transgender.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
The charts above are from the Gallup Poll. The survey was done between February 3rd and 18th of a national sample of 1,021 adults, with a 4 point margin of error.
It shows that the public's approval of Congress is currently 35%. That's higher than it's been since 2009. The rise is approval is due to Democrats and Independents having a higher opinion of Congress. For Independents, the approval has risen by 17 points since December -- from 16% to 33%. For Democrats, the approval has risen by 50 points since December -- from 11% to 61%.
Only Republicans have congressional approval that has gone down -- from 18% in December to 8% currently.