Sunday, May 9, 2021

Last Call For Jab And A Brewski


The idea of getting vaccinated had been rolling around in the back of Tyler Morsch's mind for weeks. As a 28-year-old, he didn't feel in any particular danger, but he finally decided he should start looking for a Covid-19 vaccination clinic this week. Then he heard the magic words. 
"Free beer," he said.

Saturday was the first day that Erie County worked with a local microbrewery to host its Shot and a Chaser program, offering individuals who got their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at Resurgence Brewing Company a free pint glass and coupon for the vaccinated person's drink of choice.

Under normal circumstances, it would be beyond strange for a brewery to host a vaccination clinic in the shadow of 1,000-gallon fermentation tanks, with a brick wall separating a bustling bar service from health care professionals handling syringes filled with the Moderna vaccine. But these are not normal times.

"Given the world we live in right now, it's not so weird," said Ben Kestner, Resurgence Brewing's director of taproom operations.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who was nursing his own drink in one hand while directing vaccine recipients to open table with the other, was happy to see the county's first Shot and a Chaser effort going so well. Before the vaccinations started at 11 a.m., there was a line out the door.

Programs like the Shot and a Chaser program are among the more creative outreach efforts to try and attract individuals who would otherwise not consider vaccination a priority, especially younger adults. New Jersey and Suffolk County have picked up on the idea, offering free drink vouchers at participating breweries for those who agree to get vaccinated.

Poloncarz said he's happy to see others pick up the idea.

"We're going to do more people today at our first-dose clinics than most of our first-dose clinics in the last week combined," Poloncarz said. "It's been a success. We figured it would be pretty good, but now we're seeing the results."

That's not a very high bar, given that many of the county's first-dose clinics have had less than two dozen people show up. At one site, only one person showed up, Poloncarz said. Comparatively, more than 100 people had been vaccinated at Resurgence by mid-afternoon, including some walk-ups and restaurant patrons who decided to get the vaccine at the spur of the moment
.
 
We've heard a lot about the stick end of the approach to incentivizing vaccinations and making it mandatory to return to the office or to in-person classes, for example. But there's a lot to the carrot approach too. 

Besides, you can always use another pint glass.

Generation COVID, Con't

Schools are reopening for kids across the nation for in-person learning, but not everyone wants to go back. High schoolers in large cities picked up jobs to help out their families, and day care arrangements are in place now for families. Whether we turn this into a new normal or fight it like vaccine hesitancy, a major debate is raging right now about whether or not kids should return to in-person learning later this fall, and it will affect an entire generation of kids for decades to come.

Pauline Rojas’s high school in San Antonio is open. But like many of her classmates, she has not returned, and has little interest in doing so.

During the coronavirus pandemic, she started working 20 to 40 hours per week at Raising Cane’s, a fast-food restaurant, and has used the money to help pay her family’s internet bill, buy clothes and save for a car.

Ms. Rojas, 18, has no doubt that a year of online school, squeezed between work shifts that end at midnight, has affected her learning. Still, she has embraced her new role as a breadwinner, sharing responsibilities with her mother who works at a hardware store.

“I wanted to take the stress off my mom,” she said. “I’m no longer a kid. I’m capable of having a job, holding a job and making my own money.”

Only a small slice of American schools remain fully closed: 12 percent of elementary and middle schools, according to a federal survey, as well as a minority of high schools. But the percentage of students learning fully remotely is much greater: more than a third of fourth and eighth graders, and an even larger group of high school students. A majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American students remain out of school.

These disparities have put district leaders and policymakers in a tough position as they end this school year and plan for the next one. Even though the pandemic appears to be coming under control in the United States as vaccinations continue, many superintendents say fear of the coronavirus itself is no longer the primary reason their students are opting out. Nor are many families expressing a strong preference for remote learning.

Rather, for every child and parent who has leaped at the opportunity to return to the classroom, others changed their lives over the past year in ways that make going back to school difficult. The consequences are likely to reverberate through the education system for years, especially if states and districts continue to give students the choice to attend school remotely.

Teenagers from low-income families have taken on heavy loads of paid work, especially because so many parents lost jobs. Parents made new child care arrangements to get through the long months of school closures and part-time hours, and are now loath to disrupt established routines. Some families do not know that local public schools have reopened, because of language barriers or lack of effective communication from districts.

Experts have coined the term “school hesitancy” to describe the remarkably durable resistance to a return to traditional learning. Some wonder whether the pandemic has simply upended people’s choices about how to live, with the location of schooling — like the location of office work — now up for grabs. But others see the phenomenon as a social and educational crisis for children that must be combated — a challenge akin to vaccine hesitancy.

“There are so many stories, and they are all stories that break your heart,” said Pedro Martinez, the San Antonio schools superintendent, who said it was most challenging to draw teenagers back to classrooms in his overwhelmingly Hispanic, low-income district. Half of high school students are eligible to return to school five days a week, but only 30 percent have opted in. Concerned about flagging grades and the risk of students dropping out, he plans to greatly restrict access to remote learning next school year

 

The conventional wisdom for the last 14 months has been "We have to get kids back into school ASAP."  But as usual with conventional wisdom, the actual reality on the ground is a lot more complex, and it always has been, especially for low-income Black and brown families. Money is a lot bigger issue than people think.

Not everyone is going to go back, folks.  Maybe we should find ways to provide education for them, rather than punishing them.

Just an idea.

Sunday Long Read: The Maine Problem With Sharks

There's still a hell of a lot we don't know about great whites and sharks in general, but in the era of climate change and ocean acidification, it's important to remeber that sharks have survived for millions of years by staying on the move, as this week's Sunday Long read from Down East reminds us, even to places like Maine's coast.

Monday, July 27, 2020, dawned sultry and bright on Bailey Island, a village of about 400 full-time residents in the midcoast town of Harpswell. Early that morning, lobsterboats sputtered out of picturesque Mackerel Cove. A lone harbor seal appeared, then ducked back underwater. A handful of summer visitors watched from their docks, sipping coffee. On the cove’s east side, at a small and shallow inlet off the bridged island’s main road, Charlie Wemyss-Dunn and his wife, Katy, walked from the water’s edge back to the small cottage they and Charlie’s parents had rented for the month. There, they began a day of remote work at their computers.

By early afternoon, the temperature had topped 90 degrees. Katy was settled onto an outdoor sofa on the house’s back deck. Charlie sat with his laptop at the kitchen table, near a picture window. They both remember looking up as Julie Dimperio Holowach and her daughter, Alex, wandered down to the water from their house, a few doors down. Julie and her husband, Al, had purchased the summer property some 20 years earlier, the culmination of a long-standing love affair with Maine’s islands. After both retiring from careers in the New York fashion world, the couple had begun spending more and more of each year there. During that time, Julie had become known for her community work: she served on boards, mentored young women, and volunteered for several nonprofits. Alex, a physical-education teacher at a private school in New York City, visited for holidays and long summer vacations. Over the years, the entire Holowach clan had become much-loved community members on Bailey Island, where residents — summer and year-round — tend to treat one another like family.

Julie and Alex descended a neighbor’s sloping yard, walked out onto a dock, and slid off it with the ease of swimmers who spend a good deal of time in the water. Although the ocean was temperate by Maine standards, Julie wore her usual wetsuit. A high tide filled the inlet. As the pair bobbed around, their chatter and laughter floated up and into the nearby rental houses. The Wemyss-Dunns took a momentary break from their work, both thinking how nice it was to hear a mother and daughter enjoying their time together. They listened as the two women took turns diving below the surface and marveled at how clear the water seemed.

For an hour, the Holowaches swam easy circles, gradually making their way some 50 feet from shore. Then, at about 3:20 p.m., Julie Holowach let out a terrified scream. Katy Wemyss-Dunn looked up just in time to see the swimmer thrown into the air, then dragged below the surface. Both she and Charlie heard Alex cry for help. Still in the kitchen, Charlie assumed someone had experienced a medical crisis — a heart attack, maybe. He ran outside, where Katy was already struggling to launch a tandem kayak. By then, Alex had clamored onto the inlet’s one exposed rock. Nearby, Julie floated on her back, unmoving. The water around her had turned red.

As Charlie and Katy tumbled into the kayak and started paddling, Charlie suggested that Julie had been struck by a boat propeller. Katy, in a state of shock, shook her head. She was having trouble speaking, but she knew what she had just witnessed was no boating accident. It was a deadly shark attack.

By the time the Wemyss-Dunns got out beyond their long dock, Alex had swum back to shore, near where she and Julie had entered the water. She was still shouting for someone to help her mom. A man renting the house next door dialed 911 to report the attack.

When Charlie saw Katy struggling to catch her breath, he paddled her back to shore, where neighbors had begun comforting Alex. Charlie’s mother took Katy’s spot in the kayak, and the duo paddled back out to the rock, where Julie Holowach still floated on her back, not moving. Charlie’s mother grabbed the swimmer’s hand and supported Julie’s head with her kayak paddle as Charlie slowly ferried them back to shore. By the time they arrived, police and ambulance crews were pulling into the house’s circular drive, along with several other members of the Holowach family who also live on Bailey Island. They dragged Julie out of the water and laid her on the lawn. Emergency medical technicians pronounced the 63-year-old dead at the scene.

Maine didn't even bother tagging or tracking sharks, because sharks aren't on Maine's coast.

Sharks are on Maine's coast.

More things will change as climate does.

Laboring Under A Misconception, Con't

 Like Montana, South Carolina is also cutting off federal COVID-19 benefits in order to make people suffer, because there's nothing more American than making the least among us miserable.

Gov. Henry McMaster is ordering the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce to withdraw from the federal government’s federal pandemic unemployment programs.

Starting on June 30, the state will no longer participate in the expanded unemployment benefits put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“South Carolina’s businesses have borne the brunt of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those businesses that have survived — both large and small, and including those in the hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors — now face an unprecedented labor shortage,” McMaster wrote in a letter to DEW Executive Director Dan Ellzey.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate reached 12.8% in April of last year. In March, the unemployment rate was down to 5.1%, below the national rate of 6%.

McMaster said South Carolina has more than 81,000 available job openings as the economy has reopened and as restrictions have been lifted and the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed.

Nothing says GOP policy quite like "Get back to flipping burgers for $8 an hour during a pandemic that we're prolonging on purpose, peons."


No two ways about it: The April jobs report was extremely disappointing. And it’s likely to heat up the debate, now preoccupying the White House, over whether government policy might be subtly discouraging unemployed people from returning to work.

Economists and analysts had been expecting around a million jobs to be added on net in April, given the rising share of vaccinated Americans and relaxation of restrictions on business. Instead, employers created a measly 266,000 positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Job growth for March was revised downward, too.

The size of the jobs deficit — the difference between how many jobs there are today vs. pre-pandemic — remains quite large, with employment in April still 8.2 million jobs, or 5.4 percent, below the peak from February 2020. If April’s hiring pace were to continue indefinitely, it would take 2½ more years before we regained all the jobs we had pre-covid (and we actually want more jobs than that, given population growth).

The disappointing numbers are almost certain to strengthen the narrative that there’s a labor shortage.

What do I mean by that? Unemployment is still elevated, at 6.1 percent in April compared with 3.5 percent in February 2020. So at first blush, that would suggest that there are still a lot of excess workers needing jobs. For about a month, though, a debate has been raging about whether there are too few workers willing to accept the jobs on offer. Restaurants and other small businesses have complained about their inability to hire, which is being disproportionately blamed on (depending on your politics) either Big Government’s too-generous unemployment benefits, or stingy employers’ reluctance to raise wages.

The industry that has been complaining the loudest about an inability to find workers, accommodation and food services (think hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.), accounted for nearly all of the hiring in April — 241,400 new jobs. This might suggest that their complaints are much ado about nothing.


Whether you think there's a labor shortage or not, the reality is more red states are going to "solve" the problem by hurting the unemployed rather than treating the root cause: getting enough of us vaccinated so that we can open schools, offices, and public buildings and do it safely. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

It's Infrastructure, Weak

Criminal and possibly terrorist cyberattacks are landing more and more often on America's critical infrastructure systems, and after the last guy made sure those doors were left wide open, it's a wonder then that the country hasn't been forced offline by more assaults like these.


The attack hit Colonial Pipeline, which carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas to New York and moves about 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.

In a statement late Friday, Colonial Pipeline said it was "the victim of a cybersecurity attack" though the company didn't say who launched the attack or what the motives were.

"In response, we proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems," the company said.

Colonial Pipeline said it contacted federal agencies and law enforcement, as well as enlisting a third-party cybersecurity firm to help with an investigation "into the nature and scope of this incident."

The Georgia-based company transports more than 100 million gallons, or 2.5 million barrels of fuel daily, including gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, jet fuel and fuels for the U.S. military through its pipeline system, according to the company's website.

The pipeline shutdown comes amid growing concerns over vulnerabilities in the country's infrastructure after several recent cyberattacks, including last year's attack at the software company SolarWinds that hit several U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as reported by NPR.

The Biden administration responded to the SolarWinds attack by issuing an executive order to help the country better protect itself against cybersecurity attacks.

"The fact that this attack compromised systems that control pipeline infrastructure indicates that either the attack was extremely sophisticated or the systems were not well secured," said Mike Chapple, a computer science professor at Notre Dame.


"This pipeline shutdown sends the message that core elements of our national infrastructure continue to be vulnerable to cyberattack," he said.

Chapple notes that securing infrastructure involves different federal agencies and requires centralized leadership. "Last year, Congress authorized the creation of a national cybersecurity director within the White House, but this position remains unfilled by the Biden administration," he said
 
Part of Biden's infrastructure plan needs to be funding for and implementation of new security measures for the systems that control pipelines, sanitation systems, water works, and power plants. If those go offline for an extended period of time, we're done.

And everyone knows it.

Retribution Execution, Con't

So turns out the Trump Regime went directly after the phone records of Washington Post reporters over the Russian collusion story back in 2017 in order to smoke out the Post's national security sources.

The Trump Justice Department secretly seized the phone records of three Washington Post reporters who covered the federal investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the newspaper said Friday.

The disclosure sets up a new clash between the federal government and news organizations and advocates for press freedom, who regard the seizures of reporters’ records as incursions into constitutionally protected newsgathering activity. Similar actions have occurred only rarely over the past decade, including a seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors over a 2012 story that revealed a foiled bomb plot.

In a statement published by the newspaper, Cameron Barr, the Post’s acting executive editor, said: “We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

The action is presumably aimed at identifying the reporters’ sources in national security stories published in the early months of Trump’s administration, as federal investigators scrutinized whether his 2016 campaign had coordinated with the Kremlin to sway the election.

The records’ seizure was approved by Justice Department leadership last year. The reporters — Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Adam Entous, who has since left the Post — were notified in letters dated May 3 that the Justice Department had obtained records for their home, work or cellphone numbers.

The records sought cover the period of April 15, 2017, to July 31, 2017, according to the newspaper. Justice Department guidelines for media leak investigations mandate that such actions are to be taken only when other avenues for obtaining the information have been exhausted, and that the affected reporters are to be notified unless it’s determined that it would impede the investigation or interfere with national security.

“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement.

“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required,” he added.

Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said it “raises serious First Amendment concerns” for the government to obtain records of journalists’ communications.

“It is imperative that the new Justice Department leadership explain exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past,” Brown said in a statement.
 
That's actually quite true,  AG Merrick Garland needs to explain whey this happened. 
 
On the other hand, we pretty much know why this happened, because Trump ordered it. We're only finding out now because making this public 3 years ago would have completely turned the press against Trump, even FOX.

So let's start there, shall we?

Friday, May 7, 2021

Last Call For Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

Even though Derek Chauvin, the officer that murdered George Floyd last June in Minneapolis, was convicted on state murder charges, all four officers involved in that lethal incident now face federal civil rights charges thanks to the Justice Department.

A federal grand jury has indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and death, accusing them of willfully violating the Black man’s constitutional rights as he was restrained face-down on the pavement and gasping for air.

A three-count indictment unsealed Friday names Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao.

Specifically, Chauvin is charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure, alleging they did not intervene to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.

Floyd’s May 25 arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked protests nationwide and widespread calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.

Chauvin was also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the arrest and neck restraint of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.

Lane, Thao and Kueng made their initial court appearances Friday via videoconference in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Chauvin was not part of the court appearance.

Chauvin was convicted last month on state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death and is in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison as he awaits sentencing. The other three former officers face a state trial in August, and they are free on bond. They were allowed to remain free after Friday’s federal court appearance.

 

Since there's a non-zero chance that Chauvin's state conviction will be completely overturned on appeal, I'm glad the DoJ is stepping in here. Federal charges are going to be much harder for these assholes to beat.

Black Lives Still Matter.

The Turtle Versus History, Con't

Kentucky certainly isn't immune to battles over the new bogeyman of "Critical Race Theory" that Republicans are misusing and purposefully misrepresenting, as Senate GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell believes it's the issue that will give him the Senate majority 20 months from now.


The University of Louisville has issued a rare rebuke of one of its most famous and powerful graduates, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, over McConnell’s comments on Monday about the significance of slavery in American history.

Taking questions at a U of L event, McConnell was asked about his stance on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which seeks to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

The name of the project refers to the year enslaved Africans were first brought to American shores.

“There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history,” McConnell said Monday. “I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years.”

On Thursday, a senior U of L administrator and the head of the committee overseeing the university’s new antiracism initiative snapped back at McConnell in a university-wide email.

“To imply that slavery is not an important part of United States history not only fails to provide a true representation of the facts, but also denies the heritage, culture, resilience and survival of Black people in America,” V. Faye Jones, U of L’s interim senior associate vice president of diversity and equity, said in the email.


She continued, “It also fails to give context to the history of systemic racial discrimination, the United States’ ‘original sin’ as Sen. McConnell called it, which still plagues us today.

“What we know to be true is that slavery and the date the first enslaved Africans arrived and were sold on U.S. soil are more than an ‘exotic notion.’ If the Civil War is a significant part of history, should not the basis for it also be viewed as significant?”

Jones added that U of L President Neeli Bendapudi shares her view: "President Bendapudi, Provost (Lori Stewart) Gonzalez and I reject the idea that the year 1619 is not a critical moment in the history of this country."

McConnell, a 1964 U of L graduate, has long been a booster of the university and maintained close ties to it. In 1991, he established U of L’s McConnell Center, a nonpartisan program that “seeks to identify, recruit and nurture Kentucky’s next generation of great leaders.”

Bendapudi, who was hired in 2018, has embraced an “antiracist agenda” for the university and added the word “antiracist” to U of L’s formal mandate from the legislature to become a “premier metropolitan research university.”

Bendapudi has said such an agenda should not be controversial.

“To me, anti-racism is extremely simple,” she told WDRB in October 2020. “A racist idea is when you say that one race, by itself, is superior or inferior to another. So, anti-racism is the very simple premise that your race does not confer any inherent inferiority, or superiority, to somebody.

 

McConnell of course wants a fight over this, knowing it will help the KY GOP defeat Gov. Beshear in 2023. The larger issue is that President Bendapudi is right, but Republicans will just say that anti-racism is racism because it makes white people the villains and thus "inferior" in the eyes of other folks. It'll never end, it's the battle America's been fighting for 400 years, and it just ebbs and flows depending on how this current generation of mostly white electorates feel.

And so it goes.

Retribution Execution, Con't

It's no longer a question of if Rep. Liz Cheney will remain in the House Republican leadership, it's a question of how soon she's ejected from from Congress and the party itself by the Wyoming GOP.

Rep. Liz Cheney’s colleagues are set to boot her from House GOP leadership this month. Now Republicans back in her home state of Wyoming are plotting how to remove her from Congress entirely.

There is no shortage of Republicans eager to take on Cheney in a 2022 primary since her vote to impeach President Donald Trump and her subsequent criticism of him tanked her popularity in Wyoming. But the crowded field is also a risk for the anti-Cheney forces, making it more possible for her to win with a plurality.

That might be the only path back to Washington for Cheney, barring a drastic change of fortune: Internal polling conducted for Trump’s PAC in January and, more recently, for the pro-Trump Club for Growth show a majority of Wyoming Republicans disapproving of Cheney and continuing strong support for Trump.

The collapse in support is a remarkable fall from grace for Cheney, who just last year passed on an open Senate seat in her state to remain in House leadership instead. After ascending to GOP conference chair — the same post her father once held — she was touted as a future House speaker. Now, it’s impossible to call her anything other than an underdog in her own congressional seat.

Trump and his orbit have taken a strong interest in the race, and an endorsement could help clarify the field, which already features four Republicans who have filed to run against Cheney. But more contenders are waiting on the sidelines, and Trump’s political team, according to two people familiar with the efforts, has shown early interest in recruiting a pair of Republicans who aren’t already in the race: attorney Darin Smith, who ran for the seat in 2016, and Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.

“I think anybody who's a decent Republican is going to get behind whoever Donald Trump eventually endorses,” Smith said in an interview. “He's gonna look under every rock and look over the lay of the land, and he's going to determine who that person that he's going to get behind is.”

He said he’s been approached about entering the race and is seriously considering it. "We need somebody, for sure, that will export Wyoming's values to Washington and not the other way around,” Smith said.

Smith placed fourth in Wyoming’s Republican congressional primary in 2016, when the seat was open, and appears more likely to enter the fray than Buchanan, who would have to forgo reelection as secretary of state to challenge Cheney. The two are unlikely to both jump into the primary, and people close to Buchanan said they think he is leaning against a run. 


I wouldn't go out of my way to feel bad for Liz Cheney though, she's just as awful as her father.  If she does lose her seat, she'll land at a law firm and then move on to think tanks and fellowships for a while. But she will stand as an object lesson to Trump and the GOP, and hopefully to voters who will realize which side really is using "cancel culture" to crush all dissent.

Hint: it's not the Democrats, guys. And after the GOP gets done smashing all resistance in their party, they'll come for the rest of us. As Adam Serwer reminds us, Cheney is a fraud who made Trump possible, and she's upset she's lost control of the monster she made.

During the Obama administration, Cheney was a Fox News regular who, as was the fashion at the time, insisted that the president was secretly sympathetic to jihadists. She enthusiastically defended the use of torture, dismissed the constitutional right to due process as an inconvenience, and amplified the Obama-era campaign to portray American Muslims as a national-security threat.

Until the insurrection, she was a loyal Trumpist who frequently denounced the Democratic Party. “They’ve become the party of anti-Semitism; they’ve become the party of infanticide; they’ve become the party of socialism,” she said in 2019. Her critics now, such as Scalise and the buffoonish Representative Matt Gaetz, formerly gushed over her ability to bring, as the Times put it in 2019, “an edge to Republican messaging that was lacking.”

That “edge” was Cheney’s specialty from the moment she emerged as a rising star in the GOP. In 2010, Cheney launched a McCarthyite crusade against seven unnamed attorneys in the Obama-era Justice Department who had previously represented terrorism suspects held in the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. The Bush administration’s assertions of imperial power in the War on Terror violated the Constitution many times over—the conservative majority on the Supreme Court agreed—and the lawyers who represented detainees were defending the fundamental constitutional right to counsel. They were affirming the integrity of the American legal system; Cheney smeared them as terrorist sympathizers, as The Enemy.

“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country,” Cheney lamented in her Washington Post op-ed. But her colleagues are merely following her example.

“Americans have a right to know the identity of the Al-Qaeda Seven,” a 2010 ad from Cheney’s group, Keep America Safe, intoned ominously, as if it were referring to the actual 9/11 hijackers and not the attorneys who had represented them in court. “Whose values do they share?" The Enemy has no rights, and anyone who imagines otherwise, let alone seeks to uphold them, is also The Enemy.

This is the logic of the War on Terror, and also the logic of the party of Trump. As George W. Bush famously put it, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” You are Real Americans or The Enemy. And if you are The Enemy, you have no rights. As Spencer Ackerman writes in his forthcoming book, Reign of Terror, the politics of endless war inevitably gives way to this authoritarian logic. Cheney now finds herself on the wrong side of a line she spent much of her political career enforcing. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, infamously announced that America might have to employ “the dark side” in its fight against al-Qaeda; forgetting the entire point of Star Wars, which is that the dark side ultimately consumes its adherents. Not until the mob ransacked the Capitol in January, it seems, did she begin to understand that millions of Americans believe the things their leaders tell them.

 

Cheney, Scalise, Trump, Stefanik, Gaetz, and Taylor Greene: they're all fascists who want complete control of the country by any means necessary. They just have slightly different tolerances for various tactics.  

The answer to the Trump problem is not "better Republicans".

The answer is voting them all out of power.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Last Call For Laboring Under A Misconception

The Trump states would rather punish workers for not working than help raise people out of poverty, starting with Montana's GOP government planning on rejecting all federal COVID-19 relief bill unemployment funds because Biden was the person who signed the bill into law.

Montana plans to stop some of its federally-funded unemployment benefits to address “the state’s severe workforce shortage,” according to its labor department, which will leave many out-of-work residents without any support at all.

“Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” Governor Greg Gianforte said in a statement on Tuesday. “The vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good.”

Instead, the state will begin to offer return-to-work bonuses to help employers looking to hire.

Starting June 27, Montanans will lose access to the extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, but maintain their regular benefits. Contractors, gig workers, and others will also lose access to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, meaning those workers won’t get any benefits.

Those relying on the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which gives additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers, will stop receiving benefits. The state also plans to reinstate the requirement that stipulates workers must be actively searching for a job to qualify for unemployment benefits.

“Montana’s move to end these fully federally-funded UI programs, along with their COVID-19 exceptions, is cruel, ill-informed, and disproportionately harms Black and Indigenous People of Color and women,” Alexa Tapia, unemployment insurance campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, told Yahoo Money. “Ending these programs would leave 22,459 people unable to support their families and hurt thousands more.”

Montana's unemployment rate was 3.8% in March, down from its 11.9% pandemic peak in April 2020, according to data by the Labor Department.

The federally-funded unemployment programs run through September 6 nationwide. Montana’s cancellation would cost workers at least $3,000 per worker in supplement benefits if they couldn’t find work through the program expiration. Workers on PUA and PEUC would lose at least $4,500 in benefits because they no longer will be eligible for the base unemployment benefit.

Different papers have established that the extra $600 in benefits distributed earlier in the pandemic had limited labor supply effects and likely didn’t disincentivize work, including one by the National Bureau of Economic Research and another by Yale University. The current supplemental benefit is worth half of what those papers reviewed.

“The 100% federally-paid unemployment benefits have boosted spending and contributed to the strong economic recovery,” Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told Yahoo Money. “It's shortsighted for the state to sacrifice that economic stimulus based on the anecdotal labor shortages concerns of a few employers, especially given the limited evidence of work disincentives from unemployment pay during the pandemic."
 
Of course, being shortsighted and disproportionately hurting Black, brown, and Indigenous folks in Montana is the entire point of the "labor shortage" lie. Montana's minimum wage is just now getting to $8.75 an hour, and people don't want to work for peanuts even in states with low costs of living. The answer is to make more high-paying jobs available and to raise wages to attract more workers, but that side of economics doesn't exist for the GOP.

Unemployment benefits don't keep workers from working, but if you think $300 a week is too much, maybe pay workers more to work?

Naah, let's just hurt those people some more.

Welcome To Gunmerica, Con't

As more and more Americans live in states that no longer allow the death penalty, the remaining states are going for MAXIMUM OVERDEATH.

The South Carolina House voted Wednesday to add a firing squad to the state’s execution methods amid a lack of lethal-injection drugs — a measure meant to jump-start executions in a state that once had one of the busiest death chambers in the nation.

The bill, approved by a 66-43 vote, will require condemned inmates to choose either being shot or electrocuted if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The state is one of only nine to still use the electric chair and will become only the fourth to allow a firing squad.

South Carolina last executed a death row inmate 10 years ago Thursday.

The Senate already had approved the bill in March, by a vote of 32-11. The House only made minor technical changes to that version, meaning that after a routine final vote in the House and a signoff by the Senate, it will go to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he will sign it.

There are several prisoners in line to be executed. Corrections officials said three of South Carolina’s 37 death row inmates are out of appeals. But lawsuits against the new death penalty rules are also likely.

“Three living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat that this bill is aimed at killing,” said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg, rhythmically thumping the microphone in front of him. “If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.”

South Carolina first began using the electric chair in 1912 after taking over the death penalty from individual counties, which usually hanged prisoners. The other three states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Three inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Nineteen inmates have died in the electric chair this century.

South Carolina can’t put anyone to death now because its supply of lethal-injection drugs expired and it has not been able to buy any more. Currently, inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. Since the drugs are not available, they choose injection.

The bill retains lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or firing squad if it doesn’t.

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out,” said Republican Rep. Weston Newton.

The lack of drugs, and decisions by prosecutors to seek guilty pleas with guaranteed life sentences over death penalty trials, have cut the state’s death row population nearly in half — from 60 to 37 inmates — since the last execution was carried out in 2011. From 2000 to 2010, the state averaged just under two executions a year.

The reduction also has come from natural deaths, and prisoners winning appeals and being resentenced to life without parole. Prosecutors have sent just three new inmates to death row in the past decade.

Democrats in the House offered several amendments, including not applying the new execution rules to current death row inmates; livestreaming executions on the internet; outlawing the death penalty outright; and requiring lawmakers to watch executions. All failed.

Seven Republicans voted against the bill, while one Democrat voted for it.

Opponents of the bill brought up George Stinney, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. He was 14 when he was sent to South Carolina’s electric chair after a one-day trial in 1944 for killing two white girls. A judge threw out the Black teen’s conviction in 2014. Newspaper stories reported that witnesses said the straps to keep him in the electric chair didn’t fit around his small frame.

“So not only did South Carolina give the electric chair to the youngest person ever in America, but the boy was innocent,” Bamberg said.
 
To sum up, the party that considers the possibility of fraudulent voting enough to overturn a presidential election and resort to armed insurrection has no problem murdering people who may be wrongfully convicted, and wants to murder them more quickly

With guns!

Because guns are always the answer here in Gunmerica.

The Next Housing Crisis, Con't

Republicans got their federal judge to overturn the CDC's moratorium on evictions as a public health measure, this time in the DC Circuit, which almost certainly means this will be fast tracked to the Supreme Court.

Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich struck down on Wednesday the national eviction moratorium, potentially leaving millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes two months earlier than expected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned most evictions across the country since September. The protection was slated to expire at the end of January, but President Joe Biden has extended it, first until April, and later through June.


Some 1 in 5 renters across the U.S. are struggling to keep up with their payments amid the coronavirus pandemic, and states are scrambling to disburse more than $45 billion in rental assistance allocated by Congress.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it planned to appeal the ruling. It also seeks a stay of the decision, meaning the ban would remain in effect throughout the court battle.

Speaking at her daily briefing, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the Biden administration recognized the importance of the eviction moratorium for Americans who’ve fallen behind on rent during the pandemic.

“A recent study estimates that there were 1.55 million fewer evictions filed during 2020 than would be expected due to the eviction moratorium, so it clearly has had a huge benefit,” Psaki said.

Housing advocates have said that the national ban is necessary to stave off an unprecedented displacement of Americans, which could worsen the pandemic just as the country is turning a corner.

Researchers have found that allowing evictions to continue in certain states caused as many as 433,700 excess cases of Covid-19 and 10,700 additional deaths in the U.S. between March and September, before the CDC ban went into effect nationwide.

At least two other federal judges have questioned the CDC’s power to ban evictions. And landlords have criticized the policy, saying they can’t afford to continue housing people for free.
 

The city of Cincinnati will not have to find $50 million to fund a new affordable housing trust fund.

Voters on Tuesday rejected Issue 3, a charter amendment designed to force city leaders to provide additional housing for Cincinnati’s low-income residents, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

With all precincts reporting, 73% of voters had said no, while only 27% approved of the measure.


“We knew that the voters would come through for us,” said Matt Alter, president of the Cincinnati Firefighters Union Local 48. “We knew that they would see through this.”

The union leaders and politicians who fought against Issue 3 agree the city needs more affordable housing, he said, and now must work to find other, better ways to create that.

“I know the Cincinnati Labor Council and some of the other stakeholders, including some of the political parties, are interested in also sitting down and being a part of that,” Alter said. “The voters voted ‘no’ on this. But how do we make sure that this doesn’t just fall to the back burner, and we continue on this pace to ensure that we can bring affordable housing to Cincinnati in a responsible manner that doesn’t damage and doesn’t hurt current services?”
 
City police and firefighter unions made sure the vote died screaming, warning that they would all but go on strike if Issue 3 passed, and they got what they wanted. Aftab Pureval, the Hamilton County Clerk running for Mayor, also opposed the bill. Issue 3 essentially had no chance.

Pureval is the favorite for replacing outgoing Mayor John Cranley, which is all you need to know about where Cincy's affordable housing situation is going.

It's worse here on the Kentucky side of the river, believe me.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Last Call For The Galleria Of Crime, Con't

Jared Kushner's family real estate firm just got rung up by a Maryland judge as being a slumlord, forcing thousands of tenants in their substandard apartment buildings to overpay for rent without the company providing basic repairs and utilities under state law.

It’s been six years since Dionne Mont first saw her apartment at Fontana Village, a rental housing complex just east of Baltimore. She was aghast that day to find the front door coming off its hinges, the kitchen cabinet doors stuck to their frames, mouse droppings under the kitchen sink, mold in the refrigerator, the toilet barely functioning and water stains on every upstairs ceiling, among other problems. But she had already signed the lease and paid the deposit.

Mont insisted that management make repairs, but that took several months, during which time she paid her $865 monthly rent and lived elsewhere. She was hit with constant late fees and so-called “court” fees, because the management company required tenants to pay rent at a Walmart or a check-cashing outlet, and she often couldn’t get there from her job as a bus driver before the 4:30 p.m. cutoff. She moved out in 2017.

Four years later, Mont has received belated vindication: On April 29, a Maryland judge ruled that the management company, which is owned by Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm, violated state consumer laws in several areas, including by not showing tenants the actual units they were going to be assigned to prior to signing a lease, and by assessing them all manner of dubious fees. The ruling came after a 31-day hearing in which about 100 of the company’s current and former tenants, including Mont, testified.

“I feel elated,” said Mont. “People were living in inhumane conditions — deplorable conditions.”


Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh brought the consumer-protection case against Westminster Management, the property-management arm of Kushner Companies, in 2019 following a 2017 article by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine on the company’s treatment of its tenants at the 15 housing complexes it owned in the Baltimore area, which have served as profitable ballast for a company better known for its gleaming properties in New York. The article revealed the company’s aggressive pursuit of current and former tenants in court over unpaid rent and broken leases, even in cases where tenants were in the right, as well as the shoddy conditions of many units.

To build its case, the attorney general’s office subpoenaed records from the company and solicited testimony from current and former tenants, who provided it via remote video link to Administrative Law Judge Emily Daneker late last year.

In her 252-page ruling last week, which was first reported by the Baltimore Sun, Daneker determined that the company had issued a relentless barrage of questionable fees on tenants over the course of many years, including both the fees identified in the 2017 article and others as well. In more than 15,000 instances, Westminster charged in excess of the state-maximum $25 fee to process a rental application. In more than 28,000 instances, the company also assessed a $12 “agent fee” on court filings against tenants even though it had incurred no such cost with the courts — a tactic that Daneker called “spurious” and which brought the company more than $332,000 in fees. And in more than 2,600 instances, the Kushner operation assessed $80 court fees to tenants at its two complexes within the city of Baltimore, even though the charge from the courts was only $50. “The practice of passing court costs on to tenants, in the absence of a court order,” Daneker wrote, “was deceptive.”

The manifold fees suggested a deliberate strategy to run up tenants’ tabs, Daneker wrote, repeatedly calling the practices “widespread and numerous.” She concluded that “these circumstances do not support a finding that this was the result of isolated or inadvertent mistakes.”

Daneker also found that the company violated consumer law by failing to have the proper debt-collection licenses for some of its properties and by misrepresenting the condition of units being leased to tenants. However, she found that the attorney general’s office did not establish that the company violated the law in several other areas, such as by misrepresenting its ability to provide maintenance on units or in some of its calculations of late fees.

Kushner Companies, which has since sold some of the complexes and put others of them on the market, declined to be interviewed for this article. A statement from Kushner general counsel Christopher Smith suggested that the ruling amounted to a victory for the company, despite the judge’s many findings against it. “Kushner respects the thoughtful depth of the Judge’s decision, which vindicates Westminster with respect to many of the Attorney General’s overreaching allegations,” Smith said.

In previous statements, the company had alleged that Frosh, a Democrat, had brought the suit for political reasons, and was singling out the company owned by the then-president’s son-in-law for a host of practices that the company said were common in the multi-housing rental industry. In her ruling, Daneker stated that she found no evidence of an “improper selective prosecution” in the suit.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment, noting that the case is not yet final. Each side will next have the chance to file exceptions, as objections are known, that will be considered by the final arbiter in the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office. The state’s lawyers will also propose restitution sums for tenants and a civil penalty. Once the consumer protection arbiter issues a ruling, both sides will have the right to challenge it in the state’s appeals courts.

Also awaiting resolution is a separate class-action lawsuit brought by tenants that alleges, among other things, that the company’s late fees exceeded state limits. A Court of Special Appeals judge has yet to issue a ruling following a January oral argument on the plaintiffs’ appeal of previous rulings against both their attempt to certify themselves as a class and against the substance of their claim regarding late fees.
 
So there's still a huge legal fight ahead, but it's one Kushner Companies is bound to lose, and it's going to be costly for them. Frankly, by then I hope Jared Kushner is in prison along with his wife and orange father-in-law.

 

Retribution Execution, Con't

As I told you yesterday, not only is GOP Rep. Liz Cheney's goose cooked, but the smart money was on Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace her as the Number 3 House Republican. Today, that looks to be all but assured.

Former President Trump and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise are openly supporting Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as House Republican conference chair.

The latest: "Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership," Trump said in a statement. "Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!"

Why it matters: The public endorsements of Stefanik mark a new escalation in Republicans' internal feud over Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and has continued to criticize the former president. The rift has threatened to derail Republicans' chances of taking back control of the House in the 2022 elections. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) — the leader of the largest conservative caucus in the House — suggested to Axios last week that Cheney could be ousted within a month. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was caught on a hot mic on Tuesday saying he's "lost confidence" in Cheney and "has had it with" her behavior.

What they're saying: “House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair,” Scalise’s spokesperson Lauren Fine said in a statement. Scalise told Axios late last month that the "idea that you just disregard President Trump is not where we are, and, frankly, he has a lot to offer still."

The other side: "Liz will have more to say in the coming days. This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight," Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler said in a statement.

Between the lines: While Stefanik rose to prominence in part due to her defense of Trump during his first impeachment, she only voted in line with the former president's positions 77.7% of the time — compared to Cheney's 92.9%, according to FiveThirtyEight.

What to watch: The House GOP conference will meet next Wednesday, May 12, at which point most members expect the process to oust Cheney will begin
.

 

Now House Republicans under Kevin McCarthy are capable of messing up a two-car parade, so who knows how the actual vote next week will go once we come down to it. But Cheney, for her part, seems to want to make the House GOP pay a public price for doing this, and she's not expected to resign. 

Still, Cheney is willing to lie about everything but Trump's election being stolen, so don't feel bad for her. She'll be back.

Trump Cards, Con't

Facebook, to my great surprise, is upholding Trump's account perma-ban.

Facebook Inc (FB.O)'s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company's suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump in a much-awaited verdict that may signal how the company will treat rule-breaking world leaders in the future.

Facebook indefinitely blocked Trump's access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts over concerns of further violent unrest following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the former president.

At the time of the suspension, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post that "the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great." The company later referred the case to its recently established board, which includes academics, lawyers and rights activists, to decide whether to uphold the ban or restore Trump.

"Both of those decisions are no-win decisions for Facebook," said Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St. John's University who embedded at Facebook to follow the board's creation. "So, offloading those to a third party, the Oversight Board, is a win for them no matter what."

The binding verdict marks a major decision for the board, which rules on a small slice of challenging content decisions and which Facebook created as an independent body as a response to criticism over how it handles problematic material. Facebook has also asked the board to provide recommendations on how it should handle political leaders' accounts.
 
Meanwhile, Trump is getting his own social media platform. A blog! Wow, what loser still uses blogs in 2021?

Former President Trump has rolled out a new tool to communicate with his supporters in lieu of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which banned his accounts.

Trump's platform, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” features videos from the former president and statements from his leadership PAC, which have been sent out over email for several weeks.

Supporters can sign up to get notified when Trump sends out a message from his site, similar to functions on other social media platforms.

While users do not have the ability to reply to Trump’s posts, they can like them and share them on their own Twitter or Facebook accounts.


"This is just a one-way communication," one source familiar with the space told Fox News, which was the first to report on the platform. "This system allows Trump to communicate with his followers."

The website’s “About” page also includes a statement touting Trump’s administration and a slew of mission statements, including “We are committed to defending innocent life and to upholding the Judeo-Christian values of our founding” and “We believe in FREE SPEECH and Fair Elections. We must ensure fair, honest, transparent, and secure elections going forward – where every LEGAL VOTE counts.”

“Over the past four years, my administration delivered for Americans of all backgrounds like never before. Save America is about building on those accomplishments, supporting the brave conservatives who will define the future of the America First Movement, the future of our party, and the future of our beloved country. Save America is also about ensuring that we always keep America First, in our foreign and domestic policy,” the website says.

The website says it is run by Campaign Nucleus, a digital firm founded by Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager.

The platform could provide a way for Trump to reach out to his supporters online while he is kicked off of Twitter and Facebook, two vehicles he used to get his message out during his 2016 and 2020 campaigns.
 
I mean I at least have a comment section so you guys can yell back at me. 

Seriously though, this is Trump rolling out marching orders to his army, tens of millions strong. expect daily (if not hourly) attacks on biden and the Democrats, and on everyone else who doesn't toe the Trumpist line, and his posts will end up on millions of Facebook accounts anyway, so the ban is useless.

Now, if Facebook polices this and if news outlets ignore Trump's awful two-minute hate missives, we'll be okay. What I fear though is a rush to cover his posts on a regular basis, repeated verbatim not just on FOX (of course) but on every other news, cable, and web political outlet as well so that Trump dominates all coverage again. Our news ecosystem can't handle Trump.

It's what he wants.

It's what he'll most likely get.
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