Monday, March 29, 2021

Last Call For Buttigieg, Building Bridges

Mayor Pete, now Secretary of Transportation Pete, has some bridges, roads, highways and other assorted pipes, drains, and dams to sell to voters, and the self-proclaimed "infrastructure nerd" may be the right person in the right place at the right time. At least, that's the plan...

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.
Hey, if Secretary Pete is going to build bridges in order to well, build more bridges, I'm all for that. We'll see what he can do, but something tells me it's only a matter of time before he has a political fender-bender or worse.
Then we'll see what happens when, well, the rubber meets the road.

Welcome To Gunmerica, Con't

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.

Koch-Bottled Corruption, Con't

At this point the GOP is no longer pretending to hide the fact they work for their billionaire donors, and that they don't give a damn about voters one bit. Jane Meyer at the New Yorker drops this neutron blast:

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.
Even Republican voters hate billionaires.  Well, the ones not named Trump, anyway. But even the "Cancel culture" bullshit can't hide the stench of covering up dark money billions. Voters want the For The People act passed, and the GOP is getting orders from their real bosses to kill it by any means necessary.
That's how the GOP works, folks.

Florida Goes Viral Yet Again, Con't

The fourth surge in US COVID-19 cases is underway as states reopen for business, and in places like Florida, drop all restrictions. No wonder then that new COVID-19 cases are rocketing higher, especially among spring breakers.

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.
Florida's going to be a mess for months, well into summer.  The question becomes if America will follow suit, get lazy on masks and distancing, and continue to refuse to get the vaccine. If that happens, we're looking at hundreds of thousands of more deaths to come.

Ridin' With Biden, Con't

House Democrats correctly saw that liberalism has its limits among voters, and embracing the more moderate Biden plan kept them control of the House, albeit narrowly. But even the Blue Dogs are lining up now behind Biden's big spending bills, as they see the key to expanding their House lead in 2022.
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.
Democrats have a short window to make legislation that allows them to prove that the federal government works for the 99% and not just the 1%. Blue Dogs finally understand this, because the alternative is fascist Trumpism. But in order to do that, they will have to be willing to kill the filibuster completely.

We'll see what they are willing to do.
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