Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Last Call For The...Sinema...On The Hill

Apparently seeing WV Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin getting all the attention over the filibuster made Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema angry, so now she demands the sacrifice of American democracy at the altar of bipartisanship, and she wants her pony too dammit!

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to expand health-care access or retirement benefits: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to later see that legislation replaced by legislation dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women’s reproductive health services?

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to empower federal agencies to better protect the environment or strengthen education: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see federal agencies and programs shrunk, starved of resources, or abolished a few years from now?

This question is less about the immediate results from any of these Democratic or Republican goals — it is the likelihood of repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty, deepening divisions and further eroding Americans’ confidence in our government.

And to those who fear that Senate rules will change anyway as soon as the Senate majority changes: I will not support an action that damages our democracy because someone else did so previously or might do so in the future. I do not accept a new standard by which important legislation can only pass on party-line votes — and when my party is again in the Senate minority, I will work just as hard to preserve the right to shape legislation.

Good-faith arguments have been made both criticizing and defending the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. I share the belief expressed in 2017 by 31 Senate Democrats opposing elimination of the filibuster — a belief shared by President Biden. While I am confident that several senators in my party still share that belief, the Senate has not held a debate on the matter.

It is time for the Senate to debate the legislative filibuster, so senators and our constituents can hear and fully consider the concerns and consequences. Hopefully, senators can then focus on crafting policies through open legislative processes and amendments, finding compromises that earn broad support.

A group of 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans that I am helping lead has reached an agreement on an infrastructure investment framework. We are now negotiating with the administration. Bipartisan working groups to which I belong are negotiating how to address our broken immigration system and raise the federal minimum wage. I strongly support bipartisan discussions underway on police reform. The Senate recently passed a critical water infrastructure bill, as well as crucial research, development and manufacturing legislation.

It’s possible that not all of these efforts will succeed — and those that do may not go as far as some of us wish.

But bipartisan policies that stand the test of time could help heal our country’s divisions and strengthen Americans’ confidence that our government is working for all of us and is worthy of all of us.

And as several people, myself included, several of you in the comments, pundits and columnists ranging from Never Trumpers to progressives and everyone in between have all exhaustively noted over the last several months, Sinema's argument about the filibuster as a tool of moderation would be correct if it wasn't for the fact that Republicans are currently using it to block everything the Democrats are trying to do, just as they did during the Obama years.

The second strike against this curious naiveté is the fact that the GOP also refuses to operate in good faith on nearly anything. Mitch McConnell is on record as opposing the entire Biden administration, Sen. John Barasso has openly said that he wants to make Biden a half-term President, burying his agenda. This isn't two opposing sides of democracy, folks, this is one side wants democracy and the other side wants authoritarian dictatorship.

Thirdly, Sinema's "Group of 21" is also a trap, one designed to give both Democrats and Republicans cover to not do anything about the filibuster and keep it as is as a tool of obstruction. The For The People Act is about to be blocked by every single Republican senator. The infrastructure bill isn't being made better by Republican filibuster threats, every time the bill gets smaller and smaller. Sinema is just as guilty as using this bipartisanship as an excuse to pass no legislation, so she doesn't have to answer for failure. Senators rarely do.

And I'm tired of it.

Europe's Little Trumps Get Thumped

Europe's "Little Trumps", Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, Polish right-wing ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Slovenian PM Janez Jansa, are all facing revolts at home as hopefully they are headed towards suffering the same political fate as The Former Guy™ and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.
A right-wing populist wave in Eastern Europe, lifted by Donald J. Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, has not crashed as a result of his defeat last November. But it has collided with a serious obstacle: Its leaders are not very popular.

After winning elections by railing against widely disliked elites, right-wing populists on Europe’s formerly communist eastern flank, it turns out, are themselves not much liked. That is due in large part to unpopular coronavirus lockdowns, and, like other leaders no matter their political complexion, their stumbling responses to the health crisis. But they are also under pressure from growing fatigue with their divisive tactics.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is being countered by an uncharacteristically united opposition. In Poland, the deeply conservative government has made an abrupt shift to the left in economic policy to win back support. And in Slovenia, the hard-right governing party of the Trump-loving prime minister is slumping disastrously in the polls.

Slovenia’s leader, Janez Jansa, who made international headlines by congratulating Mr. Trump on his “victory” in November and is a self-declared scourge of liberal, or what he calls communist, elites, is perhaps the most at risk of the region’s unpopular populists.

Propelled by nationalist promises to bar asylum seekers from the Middle East and “ensure the survival of the Slovenian nation,” Mr. Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party won the most votes in a 2018 election. Last year, a new coalition government led by the party had an approval rating of 65 percent.

This has since plunged to 26 percent and Mr. Jansa is so unpopular that allies are jumping ship. Street protests against him have attracted as many as tens of thousands of people, huge turnouts in a normally placid Alpine nation with a population of just two million.

Mr. Jansa has staggered on, narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote in Parliament and a recent impeachment attempt by opposition legislators and defectors from his coalition.

But he has been so weakened “he does not have the power to do anything” other than curse foes on Twitter, said Ziga Turk, a university professor and cabinet minister in an earlier government headed by Mr. Jansa, who quit the governing party in 2019.

An admirer of Hungary’s Mr. Orban, Mr. Jansa has sought to bring the news media to heel, as nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland have largely succeeded in doing, at least with television.

But the only television station that consistently supports him, a bombastic and partly Hungarian-funded outfit called Nova24TV, has so few viewers — less than one percent of the television audience on most days — that it does not even figure in ratings charts.

Slavoj Zizek, a celebrity philosopher and self-declared “moderately conservative Marxist” — one of the few Slovenians well-known outside the country, along with Melania Trump — said it was too early to write off leaders like Mr. Jansa, Mr. Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland, whose three countries he described as a “new axis of evil.”

Nationalist populists, he said, have rarely won popularity contests. Their most important asset, he said, has been the disarray of their opponents, many of whom the philosopher sees as too focused on “excessive moralism” and issues that do not interest most voters instead of addressing economic concerns.

“The impotence of the left is terrifying,” Mr. Zizek said.
The same problem as always: the fractured left can't get it together against the unified right, but the right has become fractured again, and that is giving the left hope.
We'll see if it's enough.

Anatomy Of An Illness

America barely escaped COVID-19 being an order of magnitude worse as The Former Guy was so worried about the disease becoming his bete noir that he nearly scrapped the federal response entirely and left 100% of the work to dealing with infected Americans to the states. WaPo's new book on the early days of COVID-19 reveals Trump's response was just as horrible as I imagined.

“Testing is killing me!” Trump reportedly exclaimed in a phone call to then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on March 18, yelling so loudly that Azar’s aides overheard every word. “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”

“Uh, do you mean Jared?” Azar responded, citing the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Just five days earlier, Kushner had vowed to take charge of a national testing strategy with the help of the private sector, Abutaleb and Paletta write.

Trump countered that the U.S. government never should have become involved in testing, arguing with his health secretary over why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was seeking to track infections at all. “This was gross incompetence to let CDC develop a test,” Trump reportedly said as he berated Azar.

Public health experts contend it was inadequate testing that allowed the novel coronavirus to spread largely undetected across the United States in early 2020, making contact tracing and isolation all but impossible in the early days of the outbreak and fueling the first staggering wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Trump’s rages frequently distracted senior officials and slowed the national response, the authors found, with the president touting his hunches and eventually turning to handpicked advisers including the radiologist Scott Atlas, who had no infectious-disease or public health experience. But the book also depicts the president as ineffectual and out of touch while his health and national security officials tried to manage the worsening outbreak.

Despite his famous reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired,” Trump proved markedly ineffective at removing staffers during the pandemic, Abutaleb and Paletta write, boxed in by deputies who worried about political fallout and the implications of undermining public health.

For instance, Trump repeatedly told his aides in February to fire a senior State Department official who allowed 14 coronavirus-infected Americans on the Diamond Princess cruise ship to return home. The decision “doubles my numbers overnight,” the president complained to Azar, as the number of official U.S. coronavirus cases rose to 28.

But senior officials balked at firing the diplomat, and Trump and then-acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney eventually “gave up,” Abutaleb and Paletta write, adding that the official’s decision to bring the sick Americans back to the United States may have saved their lives, given there were no later flights they could take.

Trump also would call for firing Robert Kadlec, the HHS emergency preparedness chief who signed off on the Diamond Princess evacuation. Later, he would push to replace Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn when the agency chief refused to expedite vaccine approvals before the election and deferred to career FDA officials instead.

Both men would stay on for the duration of Trump’s presidency, along with Anthony S. Fauci — the longtime infectious-disease expert who became a top target of Trump and his allies but whose public popularity helped insulate him. Rather than fire Fauci, White House officials increasingly tuned out the advice from him and other top health officials, the book says, with Trump instead leaning on Kushner, an array of economic advisers and other trusted allies who lacked infectious-disease expertise.

Trump’s top deputies adopted a similar strategy of issuing threats or isolating their rivals, undermining efforts to manage the outbreak, Abutaleb and Paletta write.

Kadlec, who had overseen the purchase of 600 million masks, took the plan in late March to Kushner — who exploded in anger, throwing his pen against the wall in frustration when he learned the masks would not arrive until June.

“You f---ing moron,” Kushner reportedly said. “We’ll all be dead by June.”

Mark Meadows, whom Trump abruptly installed as White House chief of staff with little warning to Mulvaney, also berated Kadlec as the federal government struggled to distribute a new antiviral treatment called remdesivir, whose use the FDA had just authorized.

“I’m going to fire your a-- if you can’t fix this!” Meadows reportedly yelled at Kadlec in a surprise phone call as the remdesivir rollout sputtered when scarce supplies were wrongly delivered to hospitals without eligible patients or appropriate refrigeration and the White House’s hopes for positive headlines slipped away.

“That was what the response had turned into: a toxic environment in which no matter where you turned, someone was ready to rip your head off or threatening to fire you,” Abutaleb and Paletta write.


I know the term "kakistocracy" gets tossed around a lot when referring to the Trump regime, government by the least suitable individuals, and yet here we are with reams and mountains and terabytes of evidence affirming that for four years we trudged through that flaming manure pile and we barely made it out as a democratic nation.

And notice that all the major Trump villains were present: Jared Kushner, Mark Meadows, Mick Mulvaney. The worst possible chief executive hired the worst possible people to run the show.

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