Sunday, May 3, 2020

Last Call For No Help Coming

Don't expect fast action on the next coronavirus stimulus package, known on Capitol Hill as "phase 4." Senior sources in the Republican Senate conference tell me that most GOP senators want to wait a bit before passing another big aid bill.

Between the lines: The two parties are miles apart ahead of the next stage of talks. 
Mitch McConnell has sounded the alarm about the deficit after $3 trillion so far in virus spending. 
In a conference call last week, McConnell urged Republican senators to push back against the White House's impulse to spend trillions on infrastructure. 
Democrats want significantly more money to help state and local governments. 
And McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy put out a rare joint statement in which they said they won't support another coronavirus bill unless it protects businesses from lawsuits should they choose to reopen during the pandemic. 
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed this idea: "Especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this. So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability."

Yes, but: On CNN's "State of the Union," this morning, Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Jake Tapper, "There's kind of a pause period right now." 
Kudlow added: "We have put up $3 trillion of direct federal budget assistance in one way or another. The Federal Reserve has actually put in as much as $4 trillion to $6 trillion. So it's a huge, huge package. Let's see how it's doing as we gradually reopen the economy."

Behind the scenes: One idea that's gathering momentum on the Hill and in the White House: legislation that would encourage American companies to build critical supply chains at home, reducing foreign dependency — especially on pharmaceuticals from China.

That's right: more corporate tax incentives.

The White House is now officially operating on the assumption that the worst of the pandemic is over.  They are getting cover from pundits and industry groups who want to get back to record profits, and from dark money groups funding protests around the nation.  Governors are breaking down and giving in across the country, and Americans are simply ignoring social distancing anyway.

It's going to be abundantly clear what the consequences will be very shortly, and may God have mercy upon us when that happens.

Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

The "grassroots" anti-government protests against COVID-19 measures to help Donald Trump and sponsored by big GOP interests are of course being used by white supremacist domestic terrorist militias to recruit and to plan further attacks.

America’s extremists are attempting to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a potent recruiting tool both in the deep corners of the internet and on the streets of state capitals by twisting the public health crisis to bolster their white supremacist, anti-government agenda.

Although the protests that have broken out across the country have drawn out a wide variety of people pressing to lift stay-at-home orders, the presence of extremists cannot be missed, with their anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic signs and coded messages aimed at inspiring the faithful, say those who track such movements.

April is typically a busy month for white supremacists. There is Hitler’s birthday, which they contort into a celebration. There is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the domestic attack 25 years ago that killed 168 people and still serves as a rallying call for new extremist recruits.

But this April, something else overshadowed those chilling milestones. It was the coronavirus, and the disruption it wreaked on society, that became the extremists’ battle cry.

Embellishing Covid-19 developments to fit their usual agenda, extremists spread disinformation on the transmission of the virus and disparage stay-at-home orders as “medical martial law” — the long-anticipated advent of a totalitarian state.

“They are being very effective in capitalizing on the pandemic,” said Devin Burghart, a veteran researcher of white nationalists who runs the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a Seattle-based research center on far right movements.

What success the groups have had in finding fresh recruits is not yet clear, but new research indicates a significant jump in people consuming extremist material while under lockdown. Various violent incidents have been linked to white supremacist or anti-government perpetrators enraged over aspects of the pandemic.

The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said in March that white supremacists have encouraged followers to conduct attacks during the crisis to incite fear and target ethnic minorities and immigrants. “We have noticed domestic extremist groups taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic by spreading disinformation,” Jared M. Maples, its director, said in a statement. The coronavirus has been dismissed as a hoax, painted as a Jewish-run conspiracy and, alternatively, described as a disease spread by nonwhite immigrants, he said.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement officials throughout the United States of the mobilization of violent extremists in response to stay-at-home measures, according to a senior law enforcement official and a congressional staff member, who were not authorized to discuss the warning publicly.

A department memo dated April 23 noted the recent arrests of individuals who had threatened government officials imposing coronavirus-related regulations. The memo was distributed to law enforcement “fusion centers” that counter terrorism nationwide and to congressional committees, the officials said.

Extremist organizations habitually try to exploit any crisis to further their aims. While not monolithic, a spectrum of organizations — from anti-immigrant groups to those with a variety of grievances and those that overtly espouse violence — found something to like about the coronavirus.

“They view it as a chance to turn people,” said Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks online extremist chatter.

At its core is one of the oldest fallacies in the books, the suggestion that COVID-19 is a disease that only kills the inferior. To the white supremacist, it's a tailor-made recruiting tool.

Please note that the biggest proponent of the notion that everything is fine and that everyone is overreacting is our racist-in-chief himself.

But let's not forget the domestic terrorism angle, too.

An emergency proclamation issued Thursday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, requiring the use of face masks in stores and restaurants was amended Friday after threats of violence. 
"In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse," Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement. 
"In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of Covid-19." 
Due to the threats of violence the city has decided to amend their emergency order but still want people to wear face masks whenever possible, the statement said. 
The proclamation issued Thursday required, among other things, businesses to require patrons to cover their faces to combat the spread of coronavirus.  
But on Friday, Mayor Will Joyce softened the rule to encourage, not require, face coverings, after several reports emerged of employees being verbally abused and being threatened with physical violence while trying to enforce the order -- all in just three hours of the rule going into effect. 
"Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view," said City Manager Norman McNickle in a statement. "It is further distressing that these people, while exercising their believed rights, put others at risk."

It's going to get a lot worse in the weeks and months ahead.

Sunday Long Read: Going Postal

The GOP has been trying to get rid of the US Postal Service and privatize it for decades in order to corrupt the mail and make bank, not to mention rob African-Americans of thousands of postal service jobs, and our Sunday Long Read this week comes to us from Esquire's Jesse Lichtenstein achives from 2013 on why rural America in particular should be going to the pitchforks to keep the USPS.

The letter is mailed from Gold Hill, Oregon. 
The eleven hundred residents of this lingering gold-rush town, mostly mechanics and carpenters and retail clerks in other places, wake with the sun and end their day with a walk to the aluminum mailbox bolted to a post at the edge of their yard. In between, Carrie Grabenhorst heads out of town on highway 99, follows the Rogue River, and turns right on Sardine Creek Road. She turns left at a large madrone tree and heads up a quarter mile of dirt road, takes the right fork, goes past the sagging red barn to a white clapboard house with green trim, where she takes a dog biscuit from her pocket and offers it to the large golden retriever. It's a Monday, about 2:00 p.m. The dog stops barking. This is the usual peace, negotiated after thousands of visits over eighteen years. 
Often Grabenhorst's elderly customers are waiting at the door, or even by the mailbox, for her right-hand-drive Jeep to edge onto the shoulder. Many of them are alone all day. Their postal carrier is that one reliable human contact, six days a week. Some are older veterans. Quite a few have limited mobility, and it isn't uncommon for her to lend a hand with an errand; she's been known to pick up milk in town and bring it along with the mail. Grabenhorst drives seventy miles a day and makes 660 deliveries. On a typical day, that might include fifty packages of medicine. 
Her route is one of 227,000 throughout America. On the South Side of Chicago, carriers walk cracked sidewalks, past empty lots and overfilled projects. In the suburbs of Phoenix, mail trucks deliver to banks of mailboxes outside gated communities. In Brooklyn, they pushed their carts up sidewalks and ducked into bodegas on September 11, as they always do. Residents say they were comforted to see their postal workers still making the rounds, the government still functioning. In rural Alaska, mail comes by snowmobile and seaplane. In chaps and a cowboy hat, Charlie Chamberlain leads a train of postal mules down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where a tribe of Havasupai Indians lives. Wearing blue trunks and a ball cap, Mark Lipscomb delivers letters by speedboat up and down the Magnolia River in Alabama. 
Want to send a letter to Talkeetna, Alaska, from New York? It will cost you fifty dollars by UPS. Grabenhorst or Lipscomb can do it for less than two quarters: the same as the cost of getting a letter from Gold Hill to Shady Cove, Oregon, twenty miles up the road. It's how the postal service works: The many short-distance deliveries down the block or across the city pay for the longer ones across the country. From the moment Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general in 1775, the purpose of the post office has always been to bind the nation together. It was a way of unifying thirteen disparate colonies so that the abolitionist in Philadelphia had access to the same information and newspapers as the slaveholder in Augusta, Georgia. 
Today the postal service has a network that stretches across America: 461 distribution centers, 32,000 post offices, and 213,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the world. Trucks carrying mail log 1.2 billion miles a year. The postal service handles almost half of the entire planet's mail. It can physically connect any American to any other American in 3.7 million square miles of territory in a few days, often overnight: a vast lattice of veins and arteries and capillaries designed to circulate the American lifeblood of commerce and information and human contact. 
Grabenhorst sports a few blond streaks in her brown bangs, which curl over her forehead, perfectly framing her azure eyes and chiseled cheekbones. Rural carriers don't wear official uniforms, so today she's in shorts and an Oregon State T-shirt. Letters arrive at the post office in Gold Hill already sequenced in the order Grabenhorst will deliver them, but the "flats" — magazines, catalogs, large envelopes — and packages do not, so in the back of the post office she and her two colleagues stand at their own three-sided bank of metal slots, hundreds of them, one for each address, and merge the separate streams — a process called "throwing the mail." 
As the junior carrier, Grabenhorst has the peanut route. Paula Joneikis is the senior carrier, thirty-three years on the job; she took over her route from another lifer named Bev Washburn. That's how these jobs work — when you get a route, you hold on to it, maybe even try to pass it on to someone in your family. Failing that, you take a younger colleague under your wing and share your particular wisdom: the life history of your customers, how this one is related to that one, when so-and-so got to town, when so-and-so split up. Joneikis has a lot of "silver foxes" on her route — she tries to remember who's recently had an operation, and she'll come to the door with the mail. "We're a lifeline to these people," she says. 
"All of these people are family," Grabenhorst adds. She color-codes all 660 addresses for her morning sort: a little pink flag affixed to a slot means the customer is on vacation; a yellow flag means the whole family has moved; an orange flag is for customers who don't want packages left when they aren't home; a green flag means an individual has left the family: moved out, gone to college, divorced, died. 
When she gets to their driveway, she'll put the bundle into their box, her box. By law, only the postal service can put mail into a mailbox. It's a monopoly that ensures every citizen, in every square mile of the country, has the ability to receive mail and that the government can reach every citizen. No branch of government serves us so consistently, so intimately — a federal employee literally touching every house in America every day but Sunday. 
In mid-November, the postmaster general, Patrick Donahoe, reported that the post office had lost $15.9 billion for the year and was operating on just a few days' cash flow, having reached its legal debt limit. He all but begged Congress to take action. Mail was down 5 percent from the year before, and wages and benefits and other worker-related costs were an unsustainable 80 percent of the postal service's $81 billion operating expenses.
But nobody wants to hear that more than 70 percent of those losses were for extraordinary budget obligations mandated by Congress, or that the postal service posted its thirteenth-straight quarter of productivity gains. In a nation obsessed with cutting budgets and government fat, there is no better target than the federal postal worker who will have her route delivering paper mail for life, and then try to pass it on to her daughter. 
Eighty-five percent of America's critical infrastructure is controlled by the private sector. We let private companies fight our wars; we have 110,000 defense contractors in Afghanistan compared with 68,000 American troops. We let private companies lock up 16 percent of our federal inmates and instruct 10 percent of our students. They provide our phone service and Internet access and air travel and hospital care. Surely, many believe, private companies can deliver our mail better and faster and cheaper than the federal government. 
If you work with actual pieces of mail — if you are a carrier, a handler, a clerk, but not an administrator — it is said that you "touch the mail." The postal service has more than half a million full-time workers and a hundred thousand contract employees, the vast majority of which are mail touchers. Each morning, Grabenhorst enters into a ledger she keeps at her workstation exactly how much mail she's thrown and will be delivering that day. In Washington, D.C., they count in billions of pieces, but carriers talk about mail volume in feet — the width of a mail stack laid on its edge, face to flap.
On this unremarkable Monday, she'd written 14.75 feet. She flipped the pages of the ledger back to the previous year, to the same date: 17.5 feet. 
That we're sending less mail is not debatable. Nor is it debatable that the post office as we've known it for the past forty years, one built for speed and brute force in sorting and distributing an ever-surging flood of paper documents, is outdated in our digital world. 
This isn't a story about whether we could live without the post office. 
It's about whether we'd want to.

Seven years later the guy in the Oval Office is trying to destroy the postal service just to hurt the man who owns the Washington Post.

Mississippi Burning (With Fever)

Suddenly, the Magnolia State reopening businesses last Sunday is turning out to be a very, very bad idea.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is reconsidering his plan to keep reversing his stay at home order after his state saw its largest spike in COVID-19 cases in one day following his first partial rollback.

“Things can change quickly,” the GOP governor said during a press briefing on Friday. “We have to stay flexible.” 
Mississip State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who was also present at the briefing, reported that there were 397 new cases in Mississippi, “the largest number of cases we’ve reported in a single day.” 
Tate, who had issued an executive order that allowed some businesses to reopen effective April 24, told reporters that he had originally planned to announce more reopenings during the press conference, then changed his mind upon hearing about the sudden surge in cases. 
“The increase was a large enough change to make me take a step back, reexamine things and must hold on and reconsider at least over the weekend,” the governor said. “Not to recklessly put people in harms way.”

Two dozen more states have already reopened or are expected to start reopening businesses in the next few weeks, including Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky locally.

Indiana is getting the jump on its neighbors, Ohio and Kentucky, when it comes to reopening restaurants. That’s good news for Steve Van Wassenhove. 
“We miss the day to day,” said Van Wassenhove, owner of Willie’s Sports CafĂ© at Hidden Valley Lake. “It’s been extremely challenging at times, but extremely uplifting at times.” 
Van Wassenhove said he and his staff didn’t expect to be back on the job so soon, getting ready for a May 11 reopening after Gov. Eric Holcomb gave the OK, even though they're limited to 50% capacity. 
“We’ve heard from our customers. That’s what they want. They want to be back here, back to normal,” Van Wassenhove said. 
“We want to make sure that everyone that comes here feels as safe as possible and we’re doing everything under the guidelines we can to reopen.” 
That means setting tables and chairs a bit further apart. 
“We’ve set up a floor plan to allow social distancing and allow our customers to be as safe as possible,” Van Wassenhove said.

Holcomb’s announcement came as a surprise, Van Wassenhove said. 
“We were assuming right away we’d be closer to June. Our plans have always been to reopen as soon as we can to get our folks back in here,” he said.

Kentucky is also reopening construction and manufacturing plants on May 11, and Ohio's Mike DeWine is expected to announce a similar schedule on Monday.  Restaurant dining areas aren't expected on the list though, which means the restaurants and eateries over the state line in Indiana are going to be packed with folks from KY and OH here in the Cincy metro area.

It's going to be bad, folks.
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