New York’s move to legalize marijuana will create a “significant shift” in policing and everyday quality of life, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday as he voiced concerns over people being allowed to smoke marijuana in public.
“I hope I’m missing something but it appears (the bill) is legalizing the smoking of marijuana outside,” Shea said on PIX11. “That’s not something that most other states did. They legalized marijuana but it was still illegal to smoke outside and in public.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo signed the legislation legalizing adult use of marijuana.
The bill, passed by both the Democratic-led Senate and Assembly on Tuesday, removes cannabis from the list of controlled substances and will eventually legalize, tax and regulate recreational pot for adults over 21. It also expunges past pot convictions.
A large percentage of tax revenue will be set aside for community reinvestment grants and social equity for minorities who have faced harsh penalties for marijuana possession.
The NYPD fields “10s of 10s of 10s of thousands” of complaints from the public about people smoking marijuana in public, Shea said.
Now it’s not going to be a police matter and that’s troubling,” Shea said. “I don’t know what we’re going to be telling New Yorkers when they call up and say there’s people smoking in front of my house or apartment building or I take my kids to a parade, whether its on Eastern Parkway or on Fifth Ave., and there are people smoking marijuana next to me as I try to enjoy the parade.”
“It’s a significant shift,” Shea added. “You pass new laws and you always worry about what the unintended consequences are. I have no doubt that they think they are doing the right thing but these are some of the things I worry about and New Yorkers are worried about.”
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
President Biden will unveil an infrastructure plan on Wednesday whose $2 trillion price tag would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.
Biden administration officials said the proposal, which they detailed in a 25-page briefing paper and which Mr. Biden will discuss in an afternoon speech in Pittsburgh, would also accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy.
The spending in the plan would take place over eight years, officials said. Unlike the economic stimulus passed under President Barack Obama in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president, officials will not in every case prioritize so-called shovel ready projects that could quickly bolster growth.
But even spread over years, the scale of the proposal underscores how fully Mr. Biden has embraced the opportunity to use federal spending to address longstanding social and economic challenges in a way not seen in half a century. Officials said that, if approved, the spending in the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s.
The proposal is the first half of what will be a two-step release of the president’s ambitious agenda to overhaul the economy and remake American capitalism, which could carry a total cost of as much as $4 trillion over the course of a decade. Mr. Biden’s administration has named it the “American Jobs Plan,” echoing the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Mr. Biden signed into law this month, the “American Rescue Plan.”
“The American Jobs Plan,” White House officials wrote in the document detailing it, “will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.”
While spending on roads, bridges and other physical improvements to the nation’s economic foundations has always had bipartisan appeal, Mr. Biden’s plan is sure to draw intense Republican opposition, both for its sheer size and for its reliance on corporate tax increases to pay for it.
Administration officials said the tax increases in the plan — including an increase in the corporate tax rate and a variety of measures to tax multinationals on money they earn and book overseas — would take 15 years to fully offset the cost of the spending programs.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has privately told confidants he's seriously considering not seeking re-election and possibly leaving Congress early for a job at Newsmax, three sources with direct knowledge of the talks tell Axios.
Why it matters: Gaetz is a provocative figure on the right who's attracted attention by being a fierce defender of former President Trump. The Republican also represents a politically potent district on the Florida panhandle.
What we’re hearing: Gaetz has told some of his allies he’s interested in becoming a media personality, and floated taking a role at Newsmax. One of the sources said Gaetz has had early conversations with the network about what a position could look like.
The backdrop: Many Republicans turned to the network after Fox News called Arizona early for President Biden. Some critics now say Fox is not conservative enough for their tastes, providing an opening for Newsmax and the One America News Network (OANN).
Gaetz has previously toyed with the idea of running for higher office.
Federal authorities are investigating potential sex trafficking violations by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a probe that emerged from the prosecution of former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, according to a report by the New York Times.
Citing three people briefed on the matter, the Times reported Tuesday that Justice Department investigators are looking into whether Gaetz, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him.
The probe of Gaetz reportedly stemmed from the investigation of Greenberg, who faces a slew of charges including sex trafficking of a child. He is currently slated to stand trial in June.
The Times report noted that many details of the Gaetz probe remain unclear, including how the congressman allegedly met the girl. The encounters allegedly occurred about two years ago and the investigation began in the final months of the Trump administration under then-Attorney General William P. Barr, the report said.
No charges have yet been brought against Gaetz. Neither the congressman nor his office could be reached for comment.
But in an interview with the news website Axios, Gaetz described himself as a generous romantic partner who had “absolutely” not dated underage girls.
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
New research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health argues that Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully.
Conservatives have celebrated DeSantis for his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 30,000 residents of the state. Critics of the combative governor, meanwhile, say that many of those deaths would have been prevented if he had listened more diligently to health experts. DeSantis resisted lockdowns, downplayed masks and has made it increasingly difficult for localities to institute public health measures of their own.
And the state could be on the cusp of a new coronavirus surge.
The impact of the pandemic in Florida “is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggest,” the researchers wrote. They came to that conclusion by comparing the number of estimated deaths for a six-month period in 2020, from March to September, to the actual number of deaths that occurred, a figure known as “excess deaths” because they exceed the estimate.
There were 400,000 excess deaths across the United States in 2020, a spike closely correlated to the coronavirus pandemic.
The lack of testing early in the pandemic may also have undercounted COVID-19 deaths, explains Daniel Weinberger, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health who has also studied the coronavirus and excess deaths.
The issue was further complicated because each state has its own death-counting methodology. “Some states classify a death as due to COVID if a positive molecular test was obtained, while other states allow the death to be classified as due to COVID if there is a suspicion that it was caused by COVID (even without a molecular test),” Weinberger wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
Polymerase chain reaction tests — another name for the molecular tests Weinberger referenced — are the most reliable way to tell if a person, dead or living, has been infected with the coronavirus.
In the case of Florida, the researchers say, 4,924 excess deaths should have been counted as resulting from COVID-19 but for the most part were ruled as having been caused by something else, thus lowering Florida’s coronavirus fatality count. That’s possible because people who die from COVID-19 often have comorbidities, such as diabetes and asthma. That leaves some discretion for medical examiners, who have sometimes struggled with conflicting science and been subject to political pressures during the pandemic.
In Florida, the state’s 25 district medical examiners are directly appointed by the governor. Last spring, the DeSantis administration was accused of trying to keep those medical examiners from releasing complete coronavirus data. (In August, the state said coronavirus deaths no longer required certification from a medical examiner.)
In other words, DeSantis, like a dozen other Republicans (and even a few Democrats, looking at you Andrew Cuomo) fudged the COVID-19 numbers to look better.
They can't stop lying about this, because none of these governors can admit the fact that the GOP failed miserable at the local, state, and national level when it came to COVID. If they do, they're done, and they know it.
So they lie, we get articles like these on a regular basis, and it becomes a "both sides disagree" issue, only it's about hundreds of thousands of dead Americans.
The Republican-run Kentucky legislature on Monday easily overrode Gov. Andy Beshear's veto of a notable bill that restricts his ability to fill any vacancies that arise if one of the state's U.S. senators dies or leaves office early.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the commonwealth's powerful senior senator, threw his support behind Senate Bill 228. That sparked speculation that the 79-year-old statesman, who just got reelected last fall, might be eyeing the exits.
However, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, SB 228's lead sponsor, has said the longtime senator plans to stick around and McConnell himself has never given any public indication he doesn't plan to serve out his new six-year term.
Historically, Kentucky's governor has been able to choose anyone — of any political party — to fill in temporarily if a vacancy pops up in the Senate, whether that happens by the senator's choice, expulsion or death.
SB 228 changes that appointment process in key ways. Most notably, it requires the governor to pick a temporary successor who shares the same political party as the departing senator.
It also makes them select that person from a list of three names provided by the executive committee of the departing senator's state party.
SB 228 also includes fresh stipulations about how long the governor's appointment to the Senate can last before voters get to elect someone to take over that seat — which depend largely on when the vacancy happens — as well as new rules about how such elections would work.
Kentucky hasn't had a Democratic senator since January 1999, when former Sen. Wendell Ford retired. And with the state's increasingly conservative electorate, SB 228 is designed to ensure the governor can't appoint a Democrat to what's likely to be a safe seat for Republicans.
When Beshear vetoed SB 228 earlier this month, he claimed the bill violates the U.S. Constitution's 17th Amendment, which aimed "to remove the power to select U.S. senators from political party bosses."
Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, likewise cited the 17th Amendment Monday night when she objected to overriding the veto. She also noted how SB 228 is part of a batch of bills GOP lawmakers have passed lately that strip Beshear of power.
"It wouldn't be happening if we had a Republican governor," Minter said of SB 228. "It’s a blatant power grab, and it’s something that strikes right at the heart of what people dislike about the political system."
The Kentucky General Assembly passed significant legislation Monday night that will make three days of widespread early voting a regular part of the state's future elections and expand people's access to the ballot in other ways while also instituting new security measures.
The state House of Representatives' Republican and Democrat members overwhelmingly voted late Monday night, in a 91-3 decision, to give House Bill 574 final passage and send it to Gov. Andy Beshear's desk.
As long as the governor doesn't veto it, HB 574 will make significant changes to state law, including:
- Establishing three days of in-person early voting on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Election Day;
- Letting people "cure" their absentee ballots if a problem, such as a mismatched signature, would otherwise cause it to be thrown out;
- Making the online portal through which Kentuckians requested — and government officials tracked — absentee ballots in 2020 a standard feature of future elections;
- Letting counties offer vote centers where residents from any precinct can cast their ballot;
- Allowing for secure drop-boxes where people can turn in their absentee ballots;
- Requiring counties to gradually phase out electronic-only voting systems and switch to equipment that can process paper ballots;
- Letting state officials quickly remove someone from the voter rolls if they're notified that person moved to and registered to vote in another state.
Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams made notable but temporary changes to Kentucky's elections last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. HB 574 will adopt some of those things, such as no-excuse early voting and the online portal for absentee ballots, for the long term.
Adams, who advocated heavily for HB 574, recently told The Courier Journal this legislation significantly revises the commonwealth's election system, which dates back to the "horse-and-buggy era."
"My campaign slogan was 'make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,' and this bill does both," he said. "We take a model based in the 1800s and update it to the modern reality of people’s busy lives, and we do it in a way that actually makes the elections more secure than they used to be."
Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.
As many Americans celebrate Easter and Passover this week, Gallup updates a 2019 analysis that examined the decline in church membership over the past 20 years.
Gallup asks Americans a battery of questions on their religious attitudes and practices twice each year. The following analysis of declines in church membership relies on three-year aggregates from 1998-2000 (when church membership averaged 69%), 2008-2010 (62%), and 2018-2020 (49%). The aggregates allow for reliable estimates by subgroup, with each three-year period consisting of data from more than 6,000 U.S. adults.
The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.
As would be expected, Americans without a religious preference are highly unlikely to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, although a small proportion -- 4% in the 2018-2020 data -- say they do. That figure is down from 10% between 1998 and 2000.
Given the nearly perfect alignment between not having a religious preference and not belonging to a church, the 13-percentage-point increase in no religious affiliation since 1998-2000 appears to account for more than half of the 20-point decline in church membership over the same time.
Most of the rest of the drop can be attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference. Between 1998 and 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen to 60%.
People my generation or younger are not churchgoers. That trend has continued to the point that the national average is now under 50%. I don't see it recovering anytime in my lifetime either, now with the way evangelical Christian outfits are being run today with their open antagonism towards LGBTQ+, Hispanic, and increasingly, Black communities. Oh, and let's not forget decades of Catholic church sexual predator scandals involving kids.
It seems these days, that pastors, priests, and bishops, and even a few imams and rabbis, are more interested in telling you who they don't want to be part of their various congregations. And that's fine with me, I haven't attended a religious ceremony in two decades and I have no desire to do so.
- Czech billionaire and investment guru Petr Kellner was among five people killed in a helicopter crash in Alaska, the 56-year-old Kellner and his party were on a skiing trip.
- Dominion Voting Systems is "building a legal armada" to sue multiple members of the Trump regime and GOP for defamation over false claims the company was involved in voting fraud.
- Water traffic in the Suez Canal reopened Monday after a giant container ship ran aground sideways, blocking the canal for seven days and costing more than $100 million in lost shipping business.
- The Biden administration says it is weighing final options in response to last year's massive Solarwinds hack by Russia, saying the response will be both "seen and unseen".
- Troubled social media platform Parler claims it warned federal law enforcement officials dozens of times about potentially dangerous posts days before the January 6th Capitol terrorist attack.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Buttigieg may be the youngest of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet secretaries and the one with the most on-the-job learning to do. But he also comes with the most prominent reputation — a small-town mayor with big ideas and even bigger ambitions; the type of person who plunges so deep into new subjects that he might spend a casual evening sifting through a digital library on transportation and actually enjoy it.
With the White House’s massive infrastructure bill set for its formal unveiling, he and his boss are looking to turn that reputation into a political asset. They want to make him one of the package’s chief pitchmen.
In recent weeks, Buttigieg has held scores of meetings with transportation, business and labor groups on infrastructure, which will take up a major part of the upcoming $3 trillion "Build Back Better" plan. Central to his approach is a Capitol Hill tour that’s part listening session, part charm offensive. It has included meeting with those Democrats helping craft the legislation and those Republicans who he and Biden hope will have a say in the process. Buttigieg, while still in the early stages, has found friendly responses on both sides.
In interviews, more than a dozen people who have spoken with him or been read-in on the conversations — including lawmakers and their aides, and transportation industry groups, environmental outfits and labor organizers — described a capable and engaged emissary for Biden. While many say he’s living up to his reputation as an affable policy wonk, others say they still came away unclear about how much policy influence he will ultimately wield.
Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, a high-ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke by phone with Buttigieg. The congressman conceded that when the former mayor took over the department, his expectations were not especially high.
“I’ll be really candid with you: My initial impression when they announced the appointment was here we go, a guy who has no knowledge, background or understanding of infrastructure,” Graves said. “But I do think he’s been able to demonstrate some proficiency, and clearly has some experience in the department’s portfolio. I’m trying to keep an open mind.”
The shift to Buttigieg from his predecessor, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, has been among the more jarring transitions of any of the Cabinet posts this year. Chao was reclusive, and a classic Washington insider, having served in prior cabinets and with a powerful husband holding the title of Senate majority leader.
This is Buttigieg’s first D.C. job. And instead of being a homebody, he is seemingly everywhere. He’s continued his torrid pace of television appearances that began during his 2020 presidential campaign and into his role as a top Biden campaign surrogate. And in Washington, where Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, have relocated to an apartment on Capitol Hill after selling their home in South Bend, Ind., the two have been spotted alone or joined by other dignitaries on strolls through their new neighborhood.
Buttigieg was seen with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and their dogs, in what was described as a chance run-in. He was noticed going for a walk with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a one-time debate sparring partner, as part of a scheduled get-together so the two could continue what was described as frequent talks about improving infrastructure.
“Secretary Buttigieg’s experience in local government and ability to work across the aisle are key assets,” Klobuchar said, pointing to their desire to expand access to broadband and fixing roads and bridges.
Less than two weeks after a shooting rampage left eight people dead at multiple massage parlors, Georgia Republicans are making it even easier to buy a gun and slaughter people.
Georgia state senators voted 34-18 on Monday for a bill that loosens the state’s gun laws less than two weeks after police say a man bought a gun and killed eight people at three different massage businesses.
Although some Democrats introduced measures to require a waiting period before buying a gun in Georgia, Monday’s vote shows the continuing push in Republican-controlled states to extend gun rights rather than tighten them.
“I’m proud to say this bill will protect the Second Amendment rights of Georgians,” said state Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Republican from Cornelia.
In Georgia, the conflict could figure heavily into 2022 state elections, when Democrats hope to make further gains in a state that had in recent years been dominated by Republicans, until Joe Biden won Georgia’s electoral votes in November and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Senate runoffs in January.
Because the Senate made changes to House Bill 218, it goes back to the House for more debate. If the House agrees with the Senate changes, the measure would go to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto. It would take effect as soon at the governor signs it.
Minority Democrats attacked the measure as wrongheaded, saying the United States already has too many guns and too much gun violence. Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Republican, said Georgia and the United States should instead study what can be done to reduce violence.
“We don’t have to see three establishments shot up and eight people dead in our state, to be followed six days later by 10 more people dead,” Parent said, referring also to last week’s shooting at a Colorado supermarket. “We don’t have to live in fear of the next mass shooting. We don’t have to bear this huge number of grieving families.”
The measure would loosen Georgia law to allow anyone from any state that has a concealed weapons permit to carry their gun in Georgia. Before now, that privilege was only extended to residents of states that recognized Georgia’s law.
“We’re going to open that up,” Hatchett said. “Anyone with a concealed weapons permit in another state that comes into Georgia will have reciprocity. Georgia will recognize those.”
The measure would expand prohibitions against seizing firearms during a state of emergency to say government officials can’t prohibit the manufacture or sale of guns during an emergency, can’t refuse to accept weapons carry license applications if courthouses are open, can’t suspend or revoke weapons licenses. Officials also wouldn’t be allowed to limit operating hours of gun stores, gun makers or shooting ranges unless every business in an area is subject to the same operating restrictions.
The measure says the governor can’t use his emergency powers to suspend the law, unlike most other laws. Gun rights advocates have reacted with alarm to restrictions imposed during the pandemic, fearing that they could be turned on gun owners, although few have. However, some Democrats said that with indications that suicides and domestic violence have risen during the last year, there might be a reason to consider restrictions on sales during the pandemic.
“Firearms don’t make people safer during a pandemic,” said Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat.
The bill also prevents the creation of any multijurisdictional database with information about anyone who even applies for a weapons license and requires agencies to auction confiscated firearms at least once a year, making sure agencies can’t just hold firearms. If a city, county or state agency didn’t hold the required auction, the bill allows anyone who wanted to buy the guns to sue.
Added onto the measure was an amendment not related to guns that is designed to keep the governor from regulating religious gatherings and closing businesses during a state of emergency.
This is completely bonkers, even for gun-humping Republicans.
This bill literally makes gun stores the most sacred businesses in the state.
It's ludicrous fetishization of guns.
In public, Republicans have denounced Democrats’ ambitious electoral-reform bill, the For the People Act, as an unpopular partisan ploy. In a contentious Senate committee hearing last week, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, slammed the proposal, which aims to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics, as “a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.” But behind closed doors Republicans speak differently about the legislation, which is also known as House Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 1. They admit the lesser-known provisions in the bill that limit secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections.
A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers’ network—reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.
Kyle McKenzie, the research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, told fellow-conservatives and Republican congressional staffers on the call that he had a “spoiler.” “When presented with a very neutral description” of the bill, “people were generally supportive,” McKenzie said, adding that “the most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description.” In fact, he warned, “there’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”
As a result, McKenzie conceded, the legislation’s opponents would likely have to rely on Republicans in the Senate, where the bill is now under debate, to use “under-the-dome-type strategies”—meaning legislative maneuvers beneath Congress’s roof, such as the filibuster—to stop the bill, because turning public opinion against it would be “incredibly difficult.” He warned that the worst thing conservatives could do would be to try to “engage with the other side” on the argument that the legislation “stops billionaires from buying elections.” McKenzie admitted, “Unfortunately, we’ve found that that is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives.” He said that when his group tested “tons of other” arguments in support of the bill, the one condemning billionaires buying elections was the most persuasive—people “found that to be most convincing, and it riled them up the most.”
McKenzie explained that the Koch-founded group had invested substantial resources “to see if we could find any message that would activate and persuade conservatives on this issue.” He related that “an A.O.C. message we tested”—one claiming that the bill might help Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez achieve her goal of holding “people in the Trump Administration accountable” by identifying big donors—helped somewhat with conservatives. But McKenzie admitted that the link was tenuous, since “what she means by this is unclear.” “Sadly,” he added, not even attaching the phrase “cancel culture” to the bill, by portraying it as silencing conservative voices, had worked. “It really ranked at the bottom,” McKenzie said to the group. “That was definitely a little concerning for us.”
Scientists view Florida — the state furthest along in lifting restrictions, reopening society and welcoming tourists — as a bellwether for the nation.
If recent trends there are any indication, the rest of the country may be in trouble.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida has been steadily rising, though hospitalizations and deaths are still down. Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8 percent from its average two weeks earlier.
B.1.1.7, the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, is also rising exponentially in Florida, where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to numbers collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Florida has had one of the country’s most confusing and inefficient vaccination campaigns, and has fully vaccinated about 15 percent of its population — well below what top states, like New Mexico and South Dakota, have managed. Still, immunization of older people and other high-risk individuals may blunt the number of Florida’s deaths somewhat. The state has announced it will start offering the vaccine to anyone over age 18 on April 5.
At least some of the cases in Florida are the result of the state’s open invitation to tourists. Hordes of students on spring break have descended on the state since mid-February. Rowdy crowds on Miami Beach this month forced officials to impose an 8 p.m. curfew, although many people still flouted the rules.
Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami Beach, has experienced one of the nation’s worst outbreaks, and continues to record high numbers. The county averaged more than 1,100 cases per day over the past week.
In Orange County, cases are on the rise among young people. People 45 and younger account for one in three hospitalizations for Covid, and the average age for new infections has dropped to 30.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has rejected stringent restrictions from the very start of the pandemic. Florida has never had a mask mandate, and in September Mr. DeSantis banned local governments from enforcing mandates of their own. Among his scientific advisers now are architects of the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for political leaders to allow the coronavirus to spread naturally among young people, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions sheltered in place.
Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan could be forgiven if he wanted to break with early parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Ryan’s Youngstown-centric district went through a political transformation over the course of the last decade, going from safely Democratic to a place where Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump by just 4 percentage points in 2020. Furthermore, Ryan is “looking very, very closely” at entering the race for Ohio’s open Senate seat, putting himself in front of a solidly pro-Trump electorate in 2022.
But Ryan didn’t hesitate when asked what Democrats should do next after the passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
“Double down,” he told HuffPost in an interview last week. “Double down on working families.”
Across the country, Democrats are uniformly lining up behind the most essential parts of Biden’s policy program, aggressively trying to sell the already-passed American Rescue Plan ― which sent $1,400 checks to most Americans and which Democrats say will help crush the coronavirus pandemic and reopen schools ― with Biden himself embracing a prediction of 6% economic growth at his press conference last week.
They are eagerly anticipating his next legislative proposal, which Biden is expected to lay out in a speech in Pittsburgh this week. Early reports indicate the more than $3 trillion package will contain hundreds of billions in infrastructure spending, a permanent expansion of the child tax credit, free community college, aid for caregivers, and a package of tax increases on wealthy Americans and corporations.
Driving this party-wide political bet is a conviction that robust economic liberalism can renew Americans’ faith in their government, give them a political advantage on economic issues and stem continued defections among working-class voters of all races to a GOP almost exclusively focused on culture war issues.
“We’re going to keep building until every American has that peace of mind and to show that our government can fulfill its most essential purpose: to care for and protect the American people,” Biden said Tuesday during an event at Ohio State University in Columbus, with Ryan in attendance. “When we work together, we can do big things, important things, necessary things.”
Ryan said the relief package amounted to a “huge sigh of collective relief” in his district ― not only because of the checks but also because of rental assistance and aid to restaurants and music venues.
“I think people are starting to get confidence in the government again,” Ryan said. “You can already feel a lot of voters saying, ‘I didn’t vote for Biden, but I appreciate what he’s doing.’ And if we keep going down this road, a lot of these people are going to approve of it.”
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers formally announced a final deal on legislation to legalize marijuana in New York State late Saturday night.
The bill—called the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act—would permit adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana, grow the plant in their home, and divert funds to education and drug treatment.
It would also create a cannabis management office and a regulatory framework that would cover adult-use, medical marijuana, and cannabinoid hemp, the latter which includes CBD products. (Existing medical and cannabinoid hemp products programs would be expanded under the legislation.) A social and economic equity aspect of the bill aims to help people harmed by marijuana prohibition enforcement get into the upcoming business.
"For generations, too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use and sale of adult-use cannabis, arbitrarily arrested and jailed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences," Cuomo said in a statement. "After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York State."
The governor's office says the adult-use program is expected to bring in $350 million in taxes each year as well as create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs statewide. Retail sales of marijuana would include a state sales tax of 9%. Localities' sales tax would be 4%, with counties getting one-quarter of tax revenue and three-quarters would go to the municipality.
Under the bill, 40% of the revenues would go towards education, 40% to community reinvestment grants to communities harmed by criminalization of drugs, and 20% to drug treatment and public education programs.
Lawmakers are expected to pass the bill this coming week, after hammering out an agreement with Cuomo late last week.
One of the legislation's sponsors, Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger, said in a statement, "My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities."
She added, "I believe we have achieved that in this bill, as well as addressing the concerns and input of stakeholders across the board. When this bill becomes law, New York will be poised to implement a nation-leading model for what marijuana legalization can look like."
I'm not questioning the legislation, in too many states with marijuana legislation, it continues to punish Black and brown folk and freezes them out of yet another business opportunity in favor of white-owned business investors who only see dollar signs. The criminal justice reform elements are definitely here in New York's proposed legislation. Colorado, Ohio, and even California need to take notice.
What I'm questioning is the timing.
If this is part of an unspoken deal to look the other way on the voluminous allegations against Cuomo, it's eventually going to come to light, and it's going to be the end of Democrats in New York. If Republicans in the state were even remotely sentient, they'd make that accusation straight away.
That needs to be investigated by Tish James in the AG's office. This is some dank weed, indeed.
It is a remarkable turn of events for a conventional Republican politician whose down-ballot election in 2018 went largely unnoticed outside his own state. Yet after refusing to buckle to Donald Trump’s requests to change the state’s vote count and feuding with Trump over the former president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, Raffensperger’s reelection campaign is unfolding, improbably, as one of the most consequential of the election cycle — with implications for the GOP in every state and at all levels of government.
Jason Shepherd, the chair of the Republican Party in Cobb County, Georgia, said he has friends who are “completely uninvolved in politics” who tell him “there is no way they are going to vote to reelect Raffensperger.”
That sentiment, he said, is coming from “the type of person you’re almost surprised they know the name of the secretary of state.”
“I don’t want to say there’s zero chance, but at this point right now, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone in the party who supports the reelection of [Raffensperger],” he said.
Raffensperger still has more than a year to turn it around. But he is running up against the heavy weight of GOP’s election fraud orthodoxy. Earlier this week, Rep. Jody Hice, a defender of Trump’s effort to overturn the election, announced he’s running with Trump’s endorsement to unseat Raffensperger. And the Georgia Republican Party isn’t exactly sitting on the sidelines.
The state executive committee publicly called this week on Raffensperger to repudiate his staff for misquoting Trump’s words in a December phone call in which Trump urged a Georgia elections official to find “dishonesty” in the vote in an attempt to reverse the election results.
The party said Raffensperger has “dodged repeated attempts” by committee members to discuss the issue with him.
Closer to home, Raffensperger failed this past weekend to get Republicans in his own precinct to elect him as a delegate to his county’s upcoming Republican Party convention, said Stewart Bragg, executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. After Raffensperger wrote a letter asking to be elected, no one at the precinct meeting moved to nominate him, Bragg said.
In a statement, the chair of the Fulton County Republican Party, Trey Kelly, said he was unaware of any letter from Raffensperger, adding that, “like many others who did not attend Saturday, he was not added to the delegate or alternate list for the county convention.” A person close to Raffensperger also denied that he sent a letter seeking election.
His representatives otherwise declined to comment for this story, pointing to Raffensperger’s past public statements.
Raffensperger's official responsibilities have also been targeted by Republicans in the state. On Thursday, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law, signed by Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, that removes the secretary of state as the state election board chair — to be replaced by a person approved by the state legislature.
The law, in effect, hands control of the five-person board over to the state legislature: Two other members on the board are picked by the respective legislative chambers. The law also gives the state election board the ability to suspend county election officials, who are replaced by an individual picked by the board.
Raffensperger is not without a fan base. In fact, he’s the most popular Republican in Georgia, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in January — even more than Kemp or Trump.
But that feat is in large part because Raffensperger is admired by Democrats, who viewed him as a truth-telling, elections administration equivalent of Dr. Anthony Fauci after the November vote. Nearly 45 percent of Republicans in the state disapprove of Raffensperger’s performance, according to the poll.
Raffensperger has been a focal point for Trump and his supporters since shortly after the presidential election. Even as early as November, he said he was preparing for a primary challenge because of how angry some in the state may be with him.
In an election cycle where secretary of state races are likely to get a near-unprecedented amount of attention, Georgia’s may be the most competitive. Not only is Raffensperger facing a Trump-backed primary challenger, Democrats will be gunning for the office in 2022 as well, enraged by the Republicans in the legislature pushing through bills that will restrict voter access to the polls and emboldened by the party’s successes in the state’s last election.
It was a mill town, a tobacco town, and a railroad town. But as the new millennium loomed, it was a dying town.
“The severe textile slump has done what the Yankee soldiers could not: forced the closing of the South’s oldest textile company,” wrote The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A grand building on the banks of the Tar River, Rocky Mount Mills had been twice burned down and twice rebuilt. But by 1996, it closed—a casualty, some claimed, of NAFTA.
The tobacco companies were next. In 1998, the industry that had made the town a city 100 years earlier finally heard its death knell as a group of major tobacco companies surrendered to the throng of state attorney generals and entered into the Master Settlement Agreement, which obligated the companies to pay over $200 billion in damages.
Then in 1999, there was Hurricane Floyd. The storm tore through a region still recovering from a tropical storm that had hit just 10 days prior, flooding the Tar River and submerging the city. According to some estimates, 4,000 housing units were destroyed. Dozens died.
The industrial exoskeleton of the city barely remained intact.
“The main business corridors in Rocky Mount soaked for days in several feet of brown water,” reported one newspaper, a year after the storm. “Decades of work spent building the communities were washed away in a single event.”
That was then. To read about Rocky Mount today is to read about a city on the eve of its debutante, with tire manufacturers, freight companies, and even the DMV all flocking to the city and committing to new manufacturing plants, cargo terminals, or headquarters there.
In 2019, Forbes listed the city as one of the best “small places” to do business. Last year, PBS NC profiled its historic preservation and revitalization. WRAL-TV lauded the city’s craft brewery incubator and tiny-home hotel.
When the Goodmon family-run Capitol Broadcasting Company purchased Rocky Mount Mills to repurpose it as a mixed-use complex, the Urban Land Institute wrote that the investment would turn the city “into a destination for millennials ... ultimately shifting the fortunes of the eastern North Carolina town of Rocky Mount."
It’s a familiar story for CBC, whose massive investment in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus helped convert the vestiges of the city’s industrial economy into a charming and nostalgic backdrop for trendy, modern living.
Some might call this revitalization. Others might call it gentrification. What cannot be denied is that Rocky Mount—a city Forbes listed just 12 years ago as among the country’s 10 most impoverished––is now the center of a well-financed campaign for its revival.
This would be a relatively straightforward story about a resurgent city finding its stride. But Rocky Mount isn’t a city united. Two Main Streets run downtown, separated by railroad tracks that divide the city and demarcate the boundary between its twin counties. To the west, majority-white Nash County and to the east, majority-Black Edgecombe County.
A fall from prosperity, the potential of a renaissance, all on a foundation of deep racial divisions––that’s the challenge ahead for Rocky Mount. And on the ground, there are widely different views about just how insurmountable those difficulties are.
Local media in Myanmar say security forces killed at least 114 civilians in 40 cities and towns on Saturday, in what appears to be the deadliest day of protests since the coup last month.
The brutal crackdown came as the military marked the annual Armed Forces Day holiday. In a televised speech in the capital, Naypyitaw, coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing continued to justify the coup by accusing the government of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi of failing to investigate the military's accusations of voter fraud in the November general election — which saw Suu Kyi's party win in a landslide.
Min Aung Hlaing addressed the ongoing protests against the military indirectly — denouncing demonstrations against the coup as "terrorism" that is "harmful to state tranquility." The general promised fresh elections, but did not provide details on when a new vote would be held.
The deaths of 114 protesters on Saturday comes in addition to the 328 killed by the junta since the coup, according to figures released Friday by the activist group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. AAPR notes that around a quarter of those killed died from shots to the head, which the group says raises concerns that demonstrators are being targeted for killing. In addition to the dead, more than 3,000 demonstrators have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the start of the coup, according to AAPR.
As violence continues to escalate, so too do fears that armed groups who oppose the military coup are positioning themselves to join the fray.
"The Myanmar Armed Forces Day isn't an armed forces day, it's more like the day they killed people," said Gen. Yawd Serk, chair of one of Myanmar's ethnic armies, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South, in an interview with Reuters. "If they continue to shoot at protesters and bully the people, I think all the ethnic groups would not just stand by and do nothing."
In a statement on Twitter, the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, Thomas L. Vajda, denounced what he described as "horrifying" bloodshed and called for "an immediate end to the violence and the restoration of the democratically elected government."
"These are not the actions of a professional military or police force," Vajda said. "Myanmar's people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule."
The European Union, which earlier this week sanctioned 11 people in relation to the coup, called the killing of unarmed civilians — including children — "indefensible" in a post on Twitter. "This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour," wrote the bloc's delegation to the country.
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Enter the Roberts Court, fortified by Trump’s appointees. With six conservative justices, the Court has the votes it needs to make Bannon’s goal a reality — and at least five members of the Supreme Court have already endorsed a plan to erase much of the executive branch’s authority.
It wasn’t always this way. In the late 1980s, Justice Scalia was one of the Court’s staunchest defenders of a strong administrative state. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered three landslide victories in a row to Republicans, and the GOP was at the apex of its ability to gain power the old-fashioned way — by winning elections.
So conservatives benefited from court decisions that gave the Reagan and Bush administrations broad leeway to set federal policy. Both administrations could use this leeway to deregulate.
But the right’s approach to federal agencies shifted drastically during the Obama administration. With the GOP’s grip on the presidency waning at the very same time that they had a firm hold on the judiciary, conservatives had an obvious interest in increasing the judiciary’s power to strike down new rules pushed by federal agencies. By Obama’s second term, the conservative Federalist Society’s national lawyers convention became a showcase of proposals to deconstruct the administrative state.
All of this culminated in Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in Gundy v. United States (2019), which called for strict new limits on federal agencies — and for the judiciary to even strike down many federal regulations as unconstitutional. Though Gorsuch’s opinion was a dissent — that is, he didn’t yet have a majority for it — five justices now on the Court have largely endorsed his framework, which relies on a conservative legal principle known as “nondelegation.”
In other words, it may be only a matter of time before the Court starts striking down Biden administration regulations that rely on legal arguments that would have been treated as nonsense just a decade ago.
At least since the Franklin Roosevelt administration, federal agencies have had wide latitude to implement the policies the president campaigned on. And agency-initiated regulations answer such important questions as who has access to health care, how much workers are paid for their labor, and a wide range of environmental questions that go well beyond the Clean Power Plan.
So, no matter what issue you care about, there is likely a federal regulation that shapes the nation’s approach to that issue. If the Supreme Court strips the government of much of its power to promulgate these regulations, it could effectively grind down the Biden presidency — not to mention dismantle much of American law.
It was Thursday afternoon before a Senate recess was about to begin, and senators were in a hurry -- especially Marsha Blackburn.
As senators bolted from the chamber after the week's final vote to catch their afternoon flights, the Tennessee Republican hopped in a waiting car along with an aide and made her way down Constitution Avenue. But the car was pulled over by US Capitol Police.
Blackburn then jumped out of the car, identified herself as a senator and showed the officer her congressional pin, according to a text message and a source familiar with the matter. The officer then let the car go.
US Capitol Police says it has no record of the incident, yet the senator's office later confirmed the account and said it was the police asking for her identification. Her office said she was a passenger when the car was pulled over.
CNN's account of the incident is based on a text message from one of her aides and two other sources who have been told about the matter.
Leo Kowalski, an aide to Blackburn, told his friends that after being pulled over, the senator "hopped out, flashed her pin, hopped back in the car [and] said 'drive!'"
"Officer didn't say a word, just shook his head," the aide said in a text message, which was reviewed by CNN.
One source familiar with the account told CNN that Blackburn identified herself as a senator and was allowed to leave. The source added it's unclear whether the responding officer made that call or was directed to let her go by a superior.
While minor traffic infractions are common for many Americans, legal experts say senators using the power of their office to get off the hook for a ticket could either run afoul of Senate ethics rules -- or at least create the appearance of impropriety.
"Ethics applies to infractions large and small," said Norm Eisen, who served as then-President Barack Obama's special counsel and special assistant for ethics and government reform. "The whole idea of ethics is we are all the same. No one is above the law. That is one of the core principles. Here when you have a member flagrantly using of all things congressional insignia to get preferential treatment, that's improper."
Eisen added: "That is not what that badge is for: to be treated differently than any other American motorist."
Friday, March 26, 2021
John, who is Black, and his wife, who is Japanese American, purchased a family home in a suburb of Atlanta in 2004.
When he was interviewed for my book, John — who asked to be identified only by his first name to protect his family’s privacy — said the couple chose to buy in College Park, where 80 percent of the residents are Black, because they expected their children to identify and be treated as Black. They wanted the kids “to be in the village of Black community life, and to understand the cadences and relationships that are built there.”
But the family’s time in College Park didn’t last long. Because of the relatively low home values in their neighborhood and the resulting low property taxes, the public schools in the area were underfunded. So after their second son was born, they decided to move to an area with a better-funded school district.
This time, they bought in Candler Park, an area that is 87 percent white and less than 5 percent Black. In 2014, John and his wife sold their College Park home in a short sale for $60,000 — $144,000 less than what they paid for it.
Were they just unlucky? No. Is this massive loss through real estate unusual? Not for Black families.
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Black Americans are often unable to build wealth from homeownership in the same way their white peers are, in large part because home prices are generally set by the people who make up the majority of buyers: white Americans. White families typically prefer to live in predominantly white neighborhoods with very few or no Black neighbors. Homes in these neighborhoods tend to have the highest market values because most prospective purchasers — who happen to be white — find them most desirable.
Black Americans, on the other hand, tend to prefer to live in racially diverse or all-Black neighborhoods. Research has shown that once more than 10 percent of your neighbors are Black, the value of your home declines. As the percentage of Black neighbors increases, the property’s value plummets even further.
A study published in The American Journal of Sociology in 2009 found that “race, per se, shapes how whites and, to a lesser extent, Blacks view residential space.” The researchers showed videos of neighborhoods with different racial makeups to Black and white participants and found that even after they controlled for social class, whites found the all-white neighborhoods significantly more desirable than either the racially diverse or all-Black neighborhoods. The mere presence of Blacks in a neighborhood made it less appealing to whites.
This is where the past meets the present. “There’s a carry-over of the redlining and steering days, before the fair housing laws were passed. So the difference in property values almost tracks 100 percent with the demographics of the area,” said Wayne Early, an Atlanta-based realtor and community economic activist.