Tuesday, February 28, 2023
It's Still Donald Trump's Republican Party
These charts are from a Fox News Poll -- done between February 19th and 22nd of a nationwide sample of 1,006 registered voters. The margin of error for Republicans only is 4.5 points.
The Woke Joke
WaPo Gives 5 Ways To Restore Confidence In Voting
Most Americans think our voting system is administered and counted fairly. But thanks to Trump's claims that there was massive fraud in the 2020 election, a significant portion of voters now doubt the system. The Washington Post editorial board gives us five ways to restore confidence in voting. Here are those five ways:
Publicly test machines before Election Day.
That would include inviting the media and the public to witness the testing of voting machines before elections so citizens could see for themselves the accuracy of the machines and safeguards against tampering. State websites should also feature explanations, in plain language, of steps being taken to keep machines secure.
Enact ballot tracking measures.
Think of the process by which consumers can follow a package ordered online. Under this proposal, voters could see their ballots move through every step of the process — from when it’s sent after they have requested one to a notification it has been received. California, for example, already allows voters to sign up for a text message letting them know their vote has been counted.
Require a paper trail.
Six states still use voting machines without a voter-verified paper audit trail: Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas. This provides fodder for conspiracy theories, especially in tight races. All but Mississippi and Tennessee have passed laws to phase out these machines.
Pre-canvass early ballots to speed up counting.
Twelve states — including battlegrounds Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — haven’t allowed election officials to process mailed-in ballots before Election Day. This delays the counting and, in 2020, fueled claims by then-President Donald Trump that the election was being stolen from him because his early lead evaporated as absentee ballots were tabulated.
Automatically conduct high-quality post-election audits.
States should consider requiring counties to quickly and publicly hand-count a random sample of paper ballots to spot-check the accuracy of mechanized counting. If done routinely, that could avert bizarre third-party audits like the one conducted in Arizona by Cyber Ninjas in 2021.
Monday, February 27, 2023
Putin Uses U.S. Culture War To Appeal To Right-Wingers
Putin knows he has followers among GOP right-wingers, and he's trying to grow their numbers by siding with them in the U.S. culture war. Here's part of how E.J. Dionne Jr. describes it in The Washington Post:
Here’s a scoop for you: Vladimir Putin is sounding like someone who wants to enter the 2024 Republican presidential primaries.
How else do you explain that in the middle of his bellicose speechTuesday promising success in his assault on Ukraine, the Russian dictator fired a series of heat-seeking verbal missiles into our culture wars.
“Look at what they’ve done to their own people,” he said of us Westerners. “They’re destroying family, national identity, they are abusing their children. Even pedophilia is announced as a normal thing in the West.” Never mind that Russia is a world leader in sex trafficking.
Putin didn’t stop there. In one rather convoluted passage, he came out against same-sex marriage, backed off a bit, and then doubled down:
“And they’re recognizing same-sex marriages,” he said. “That’s fine that they’re adults. They’ve got the right to live their life. And we always, we’re very tolerant about this in Russia. Nobody is trying to enter private lives of people, and we’re not going to do this.”
Well, not quite, but he pressed on: “However, we need to tell them, but look at the scriptures of any religion in the world. Everything is said in there. And one of the things is that family is a union of a man and a woman.”
Among his enemies, Putin charged, “even the sacred texts are subjected to doubt.” Also, watch out, Britain: The “Anglican Church is planning to consider the idea of a gender-neutral God,” Putin mourned. “What can you say here? Millions of people in the West understand that they are being led to spiritual destruction.”
It has become a habit to cast the struggle over Ukraine in Cold War terms. Maybe that’s natural, given Putin’s old job as a KGB agent and his determination to expand Russia’s imperial reach to something closer to the hegemony once enjoyed by the old Soviet Union.
But it’s closer to the truth to see Putin as trying to build a right-wing nationalist international movement (no pun intended). And it’s obvious that his embrace of social and religious traditionalism is aimed at winning over right-wing opinion in the democracies and splitting the traditional right.
You don’t have to watch Fox News commentators waxing warm about the Russian president to see that this strategy is working. Opposition to helping Ukraine is growing among rank-and-file Republicans.
A Pew Research survey in January found that 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that the United States was providing too much help to Ukraine, up from 32 percent in the fall and 9 percent last March. A Jan. 27-Feb. 1 Washington Post/ABC News pollfound 50 percent of Republicans saying that the United States was doing too much to support Ukraine, up from 18 percent in April. . . .
The much larger problem is for U.S. foreign policy. For the medium term, enough Republicans share Biden’s view of the Russian threat and Ukraine’s heroism to maintain assistance to the war effort.
But Putin is very shrewd about opinion on the right end of politics — in the United States and in Western Europe, too. He is counting on a backlash against social liberalism and the idea of a “gender-neutral” God to rustle up support for ungodly aggression.
Sunday, February 26, 2023
U.S. Public Supports Liberal Policies For Families
GOP Is Ready To Throw Their Own Voters Under The Bus
The Republicans have a plan to cut government spending. But they are in for a rude awakening, because that plan would hurt many of their own voters (rural whites). Paul Krugman explains this in his New York Times column:
The Republican response to President Biden’s suggestion that they want to cut Medicare and Social Security has been basically that of the Monty Python knights to the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog: “Run away, run away!” But many in the party still appear to hope that they can make big spending cuts without hurting anyone they care about.
Many House Republicans are reportedly listening to Russell Vought, Donald Trump’s former budget director, who has a new think tank and has been circulating a budget proposal titled “A Commitment to End Woke and Weaponized Government,” which purports to show a way to balance the budget without touching Medicare and Social Security. The document uses the word “woke” 77 times, and — weirdly for a fiscal blueprint — also manages to mention critical race theory 16 times.
Anyway, the proposal relies in part on magical thinking — the assertion that conservative economic policies will cause a burst of economic growth that in turn increases tax receipts. Such claims have, of course, never — and I mean never — worked in practice. But it’s difficult to get politicians to understand something when their careers depend on their not understanding it.
More interesting, however, is the idea that we can achieve major spending cuts by taking on wokeness. What this means in practice is huge cuts to means-tested social insurance programs: Medicaid, Affordable Care Act subsidies and food stamps (or, to use the official term, SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
So now we know what many conservatives mean by being woke: It means showing any concern for, and offering any help to, Americans who are victims of adverse circumstances.
But if Republicans get anywhere close to carrying out the ideas in Vought’s blueprint, they’re going to get an education in both political and economic reality. The beneficiaries of the programs they want to gut aren’t whom they imagine, and the effects of slashing these programs would be far worse than they realize.
What’s going on in proposals like Vought’s, I believe, is that many conservatives are still stuck in a vision of American society that’s many decades out of date. (I keep thinking about the Florida officials who wanted to know whether the Advanced Placement course in African American history was “trying to advance Black Panther thinking.”) When they hear about means-tested programs, they think “welfare,” and when they think about welfare, they imagine that the beneficiaries are inner-city Black people.
In modern America, however, some of the biggest beneficiaries of means-tested programs are rural white people — who also happen to be the core of the Republican base.
Consider Owsley County, Ky. Eastern Kentucky is at the epicenter of the “Eastern Heartland,” a region that has been left stranded by the rise of the knowledge economy and the migration of jobs to highly educated metropolitan areas. The county is almost entirely non-Hispanic white; 88 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2020.
And 52 percent of its population is covered by Medicaid, while more than 40 percent are SNAP recipients.
Realities like this may explain why Medicaid appears to be highly popular, even among Republicans, and why large majorities of voters in states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid appear to favor expansion. It’s true that politicians like Ron DeSantis who continue to block expansion haven’t paid any obvious political price. But as we saw in the political backlash against Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare, there’s a big difference between obstructing an expansion of social insurance and taking away benefits that have become an integral part of people’s lives.
Furthermore, although it may not matter much for the politics, it’s important to be aware that “woke” social insurance programs almost surely have important benefits beyond the financial support they provide.
First, the beneficiaries of these programs are disproportionately children. Medicaid covers 39 percent of all American children under 18; in West Virginia, another almost all-white and very Trumpy part of the Eastern Heartland, the number is 46 percent. More than 65 percent of SNAP recipients are families with children.
Why does this matter? Partly for moral reasons. Even if you’re one of those people who blame the poor for their own plight, children didn’t choose to be born into low-income households, so why should they be the prime targets of fiscal pain?
There are also practical reasons to provide aid to children, because today’s children are tomorrow’s adults — and they’ll be more productive adults if they have adequate nutrition and health care in their formative years.
This isn’t a speculative assertion. Both SNAP and Medicaid were rolled out gradually across the United States, creating a series of “natural experiments” — situations in which some children had early access to these programs and some otherwise similar children didn’t. And the evidence is clear: Childhood safety net programs lead to improved outcomes in adulthood, including better health and greater economic self-sufficiency.
Actually, the evidence for long-run economic payoffs to investing in children is a lot more solid than the evidence for payoffs to investing in infrastructure, even though the latter has bipartisan support while the former doesn’t.
So if you’re concerned about America’s future, which advocates of big budget cuts claim to be, slashing benefits for children is a really bad way to address your concerns.
And there’s another benefit to Medicaid, in particular: It helps keep rural hospitals alive. America has a growing crisis in simple availability of medical care in rural areas, presumably tied to the growing geographic divergence that has stranded places like eastern Kentucky. But the crisis is significantly worse in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid. That is, Medicaid doesn’t just help its direct recipients; it helps anyone seeking medical care, by helping to keep hospitals afloat.
Now think about what would happen if Congress slashed overall Medicaid funding. One likely result is that the rural-hospital crisis would go national.
So conservatives who think that targeting “woke” spending provides an easy way out of their dilemma — they want to shrink the government, but the big-money government programs are highly popular — are deluding themselves. If they get anywhere near actually realizing their plans, they’re going to face a rude awokening.
One Year In
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Support For Legal Abortion Remains Strong
Not Going Well For Putin
There Is A Pro-Putin Cult Within The Republican Party
The following is part of an op-ed by Paul Krugman in The New York Times:
How can any American, a citizen of a nation that holds itself up as a beacon of freedom, not be rooting for Ukraine in this war?
Yet there are significant factions in U.S. politics — a small group on the left, a much more significant bloc on the right — that not only oppose Western support for Ukraine but also clearly want to see Russia win. And my question, on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, is what lies behind right-wing support for Vladimir Putin? . . .
Putin, by contrast, very much is the subject of a personality cult not just in Russia but also on the American right and has been for years. And it’s a fairly creepy cult at that. For example, back in 2014 a National Review columnist contrasted Putin’s bare-chested horseback riding with President Barack Obama’s “metrosexual golf get-ups.”
Until the invasion of Ukraine, Putinphilia also went hand in hand with extravagant praise for Russia’s supposed military effectiveness. Most famously, in 2021 Ted Cruz circulated a video contrasting a Russian military recruitment ad featuring a muscular man doing manly stuff with a U.S. ad highlighting the diversity of Army recruits. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military isn’t the best idea,” Cruz declared.
What was the basis for this worship of Putinism? I’d argue that many people on the right equate being powerful with being a swaggering tough guy and sneer at anything — like intellectual openness and respect for diversity — that might interfere with the swagger. Putin was their idea of what a powerful man should look like, and Russia, with its muscleman military vision, their idea of a powerful country.
It should have been obvious from the beginning that this worldview was all wrong. National power in the modern world rests mainly on economic strength and technological capacity, not military prowess.
But then came the invasion, and it turned out that Putin’s not-woke, unemasculated Russia isn’t even very good at waging war.
Why has Russia’s military failed so spectacularly? Because modern wars aren’t won by strutting guys flexing their biceps. They’re won mainly through logistics, technology and intelligence (in both the military and the ordinary senses) — things, it turns out, that Russia does badly and Ukraine does surprisingly well. (It’s not just Western weapons, although these have been awesomely effective; the Ukrainians have also shown a real talent for MacGyvering solutions to their military needs.) . . .
The key to understanding right-wingers’ growing Ukraine rage is that Russia’s failures don’t just show that a leader they idolized has feet of clay. They also show that their whole tough-guy view about the nature of power is wrong. And they’re having a hard time coping.
This explains why leading Putinists in the United States keep insisting that Ukraine is actually losing. Putin is “winning the war in Ukraine,” declared Tucker Carlson on Aug. 29, just days before several Ukrainian victories. There’s still a lot of hype about a huge Russian offensive this winter; the truth, however, is that this offensive is already underway, but as one Ukrainian official put it, it has achieved so little “that not everyone even sees it.”
None of this means that Russia can’t eventually conquer Ukraine. If it does, however, it will, in part, be because America’s Putin fans force a cutoff of crucial aid. And if this happens, it will be because the U.S. right can’t stand the idea of a world in which woke doesn’t mean weak and men who pose as tough guys are actually losers.
Still NOT Helping
Friday, February 24, 2023
Most Americans Are Satisfied With Their Lives
These charts are from the Gallup Poll -- done between January 2nd and 22nd of a nationwide sample of 1,011 adults, with a 4 point margin of error.
MTG Wants A Divorce
About 192,000 Workers Filed For Unemployment Last Week
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that about 192,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on February 18th. Here is the official statement from the Labor Department:
In the week ending February 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 192,000, a decrease of 3,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 194,000 to 195,000. The 4-week moving average was 191,250, an increase of 1,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 189,500 to 189,750.
Black History Is American History - Celebrate It
The following op-ed is by Theodore R. Johnson in The Washington Post:
This is the first Black History Month in a time in which lynching is a federal crime and Juneteenth is a national holiday. Last March, President Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act — only three Republicans voted against the measure in the House, and the Senate passed it by unanimous consent. The preceding summer, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act became law, when it, too, passed with the Senate’s unanimous consent and just 14 House Republicans opposing it.
And yet, shortly before this Black History Month began, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) blocked an Advanced Placement African American Studies course from being offered in his state’s high schools. His decision flowed from more than two years of manufactured outrage on the right over structural racism and elements of Black history. Critical race theory was anthropomorphized into an anti-American boogeyman lurking in our schools and libraries. The term “woke” was transformed into a catchall pejorative used to condemn a range of nonspecific critiques, including disdain for the comprehensive accounting of our nation’s history on race.
This Republican two-step, already spreading from Florida to Virginia and beyond, proclaims Black History Month with one hand while furiously erasing the ability to teach that history with the other. The result is a politics that honors Black achievement but recoils from a deeper exploration of that which makes such progress nothing short of a national miracle.
It celebrates Juneteenth while glossing over the horrors of chattel slavery. It takes pride in criminalizing lynching (after nearly 250 attempts across more than a century of trying), yet discourages discussions that touch on the terroristic intent of this often-communal violence. It quotes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrates the “colorblindness” of Frederick Douglass while ignoring their social and policy critiques that would have them labeled as disciples of wokeism today.
These politics reflect a central feature of Trumpism: uncritical patriotism. In the “America First” worldview, there is room to valorize the overcoming of a hardship, but vanishingly little space to discuss the hardship itself.
Confronted with the idea that such unwillingness to reckon fully with the nation’s history on race is itself a form of intolerance, these two-steppers hide behind the feel-good legislation and the occasional Black Republican candidate. We do not have to guess at this — Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) went into a verbal crouch at a rally last year on behalf of the party’s Black senatorial nominee in Georgia: “If Herschel Walker wins, that means we’re not racist.”
Like many issues that seem at first to be solely about race relations, these double-dealing policies are evidence of our atrophying democratic culture. Uncritical patriotism is not just a disposition that demonizes those who chastise our country for its racial inequality and for not living up to its professed ideals. It’s a pollutant that sullies the nation’s fabric and toxifies our interactions with one another.
More than this, it becomes a weapon to be wielded against whomever dissents from the pristine view of America. Historian Pauline Maier noted that overzealous displays of empty patriotism driven by political expedience are as old as the nation itself. In the “bitter partisan politics” of the 1790s, Republicans excoriated Federalists for not reading the Declaration of Independence aloud at every Fourth of July celebration. In this regard, today’s Republicans come by this proclivity honestly.
Uncritical patriotism fosters an American exceptionalism that obsesses over the things the nation has gotten right, while suggesting that there is no bad side for the camera to capture. Perfunctory nods to the nation’s symbols become more important than living out the nation’s values. It robs us of the one thing that could make us genuinely exceptional: therelentless journey of a large and diverse republic from an oppressive society to a more equal and inclusive one.
The Republican Party has increasingly been commandeered by a cohort wedded to this unnuanced and fractious nation-worship. Though the views of these right-wing extremists might not be grounded in racial hatred — many can certainly point to interracial friendships and instances when they have celebrated Black Americans. The problem is political, not interpersonal. Honest critique of our country and demands for reckoning with our past are as unwelcome to them as the White Lionin Wakanda.
Black History Month is not only a celebration of the ingenuity and perseverance of a people who are as central to the nation’s story as any other group. It is a distinctive marker of the nation’s progress — precisely because of (not in spite of) the inhumanity that greeted the formation of Black America. To recognize only the achievements of Black Americans, without duly honoring their struggle, is to deprive a people and a nation of the thing that actually makes it great. Juneteenth is special because the nation is celebrating the end of the shameful hypocrisy of slavery after rationalizing it for centuries. Historic anti-lynching legislation is more meaningful when it is correctly understood as an overcoming of domestic terrorism that the United States tolerated, and even fostered, for decades.
The beauty of America is not that it was born great and has remained so, but that it was deeply flawed and has been made by countless Americans — particularly those excluded and oppressed — a little more perfect over time.