Thursday Reads: Two Selfish Senators vs. Democracy

Soft Winds, by Daniel Pollera

Soft Winds, by Daniel Pollera

Good Morning!!

Hopes for the future of U.S. democracy and opportunities to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and improve the lives of working and middle class Americas are all being held hostage by two people who call themselves Democrats, but refuse to compromise to advance those Democratic goals. Now one of those people is threatening to leave the party, according to Mother Jones editor David Corn: SCOOP: Manchin Tells Associates He’s Considering Leaving the Democratic Party and Has an Exit Plan.

In recent days, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has told associates that he is considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill do not agree to his demand to cut the size of the social infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, according to people who have heard Manchin discuss this. Manchin has said that if this were to happen, he would declare himself an “American Independent.” And he has devised a detailed exit strategy for his departure.

Manchin has been in the center of a wild rush of negotiations with his fellow Democrats and the White House over a possible compromise regarding Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better package, and Manchin’s opposition to key provisions—including Medicare and Medicaid expansion, an expanded child tax credit, and measures to address climate change—has been an obstacle that the Democrats have yet to overcome. As these talks have proceeded, Manchin has discussed bolting from the Democratic Party—perhaps to place pressure on Biden and Democrats in these negotiations.

He told associates that he has a two-step plan for exiting the party. First, he would send a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, removing himself from the Democratic leadership of the Senate. (He is vice chair of the Senate Democrats’ policy and communications committee.) Manchin hopes that would send a signal. He would then wait and see if that move had any impact on the negotiations. After about a week, he said, he would change his voter registration from Democrat to independent.

It is unclear whether in this scenario Manchin would end up caucusing with the Democrats, which would allow them to continue to control the Senate, or side with the Republicans and place the Senate in GOP hands. In either event, he would hold great sway over this half of Congress.

Without Manchin’s vote, the Democrats cannot pass the package in the 50–50 Senate. And a vote on this measure is key to House passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan road-bridges-and-broadband infrastructure bill the Senate approved in August. (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, has also been a problem for the party.) Manchin has met with Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and a variety of his fellow Senate Democrats this week in an effort to strike a deal. Through it all, he has insisted that $1.75 trillion is his top and final offer, and he has constantly said no to proposed programs that almost every other congressional Democrat supports. He has told his fellow Democrats that if they don’t accept his position, they risk getting nothing.

At Politico, Playbook reporters have the “backstory” on Corn’s scoop.

A rather angry Manchin told our Burgess Everett that Corn’s story was “bullshit.”

We talked to Corn on Wednesday night and came away with the impression of a reporter who is 1,000% sure his story was correct.

“The sourcing was impeccable,” Corn said. “Even if he had told me it was bullshit the story still would have run.”

Corn contacted Manchin’s office early Wednesday telling his press secretary that he had a time-sensitive story and wanted to make sure he had a good Manchin contact who could respond. Manchin’s press secretary asked the reporter to send it to her.

At around 10:30 a.m., Corn sent her an email outlining what he would be reporting. No response.

At noon he followed up. “I said we are going to post soon, will you be getting back to me,” Corn told Playbook. “And silence — crickets.”

We’ve known Corn for a long time and we trust him. We’ve known his scrupulous editor Clara Jeffery for even longer. (Full disclosure: One of us was her intern in 1997!) Corn and Mother Jones did not invent this. Manchin clearly told someone the account that Corn relayed in his piece.

Why now? We’ve heard several theories that this was a strategic leak. Some say it was designed to reduce Manchin’s leverage in the reconciliation talks by making him seem desperate.

“I’m just wondering if Joe is blowing off some steam to someone or whether someone planted the story to put pressure on Joe,” a friend of the senator told Playbook. “He hasn’t talked about leaving the party in a very long time. And he’s just not in a desperate situation. He’s feeling like he’s holding all the cards.”

Conversely, others say the story was meant to increase Manchin’s leverage by scaring Democrats. A Manchin exit from the Democratic Party would be hugely embarrassing for Biden. (Though, as several of Manchin’s Senate colleagues told us, even if Manchin became an independent it doesn’t necessarily mean that he wouldn’t caucus with the Democrats.)

But our best (informed) guess is that it was neither — that this story, like many good scoops, fell into Corn’s lap without any Machiavellian strategy behind it.

FWIW, we couldn’t help notice that both Corn and Manchin were spotted circulating at the same party Monday night at the French ambassador’s residence, where Steve Clemons was being honored with France’s Legion of Honor.

Manchin Democratic Party exit rumors seem to spike once a season, and they’ve been circulating recently. Even the most plugged-in operatives don’t completely discount the idea that Manchin may have discussed the idea. For instance, when we asked a senior White House official about the Corn report, the person replied, “It’s all been kicking around. Who knows?

More Manchin reads:

The Washington Post: All eyes on Manchin after Republicans again block voting rights legislation.

CNBC: Billionaire investor Nelson Peltz says he talks every week to Sen. Joe Manchin, who is pushing to cut Biden agenda.

And then there’s Kyrsten Sinema. At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait writes: Report: Sinema Bent on Destroying Biden Presidency to Keep Taxes on the Wealthy Low.

The Wall Street Journal today reports that Sinema “has told lobbyists that she is opposed to any increase” in taxes on high-income individuals, businesses, or capital gains. Her opposition is reportedly “pushing Democrats to more seriously plan for a bill that doesn’t include those major revenue increases.”

If this report is true, it would likely be a death blow to Biden’s social agenda. Senate rules require that creating or expanding any social program — health care, child care, education, or anything else — can only be made permanent if it has some funding source. If Sinema refuses to support any tax increases on the wealthy, there’s no financing available to come anywhere close.

Biden’s plan does have some other funding. One stream of income is beefed-up enforcement of taxes owed by the Internal Revenue Service. That plan is under pressure from centrist Democrats and likely to exist in shrunken form, if at all. The other is a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, which would save half a trillion dollars over a decade that could be used to cover new spending. But Sinema reportedly opposes that, too.

Summer Porch, by Sally Storch

Summer Porch, by Sally Storch

Politico has a more restrained version of the same report on Sinema’s position, leaving open the possibility of theoretically finding some way of taxing rich people other than the ones Democrats have been planning on. But even if she identifies such a method, it would start the arduous process of building consensus and then overcoming the inevitable lobbying response from scratch, probably dooming the entire process. CNBC’s Kayla Tausche likewise reports that Sinema has endorsed small, but not nonexistent, increases in rates on the wealthy. Either she has changed her mind or is telling different things to different people, but the upshot is that she has a wildly divergent position on taxing the wealthy than any other member of her caucus.

What makes her opposition to taxing the wealthy so peculiar is that it is not a public opinion winner. Democratic promises to raise taxes on the wealthy are one of the most popular elements of their plan. What’s more, Sinema voted against the Trump tax cuts — and those tax cuts completely failed to produce the promised increase in business investment that was their rationale.

The Democratic party’s main political asset is its willingness to make a very tiny number of people pay more money that can finance programs that benefit a very large number of people. That only works up to a point — at some level, you can raise taxes on the rich so high it fails to yield any new revenue — but there is no evidence the current tax code is anywhere near that level. Indeed, after the Trump tax cuts, the tax code for the wealthy has become scandalously lax.

From The Daily Beast: Kyrsten Sinema’s Own Advisers Just Dumped Her.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s own advisors are the latest former allies to have had enough of the Arizona Democrat’s political maneuvering: on Thursday, the New York Times reported that five military veterans resigned from a board advising the senator on policy issues.

In a letter to Sinema, they confronted her with a litany of offenses—accusing her of using them as “window dressing” for her political brand, ignoring their recommendations, and going back on her campaign promises to protect voting access and reduce the price of prescription drugs.

Andrew Wyeth, The Porch

Andrew Wyeth, The Porch

“Are you choosing to answer to big donors rather than Arizonans?” they asked. “These are not the actions of a maverick.”

Their joint resignation letter was highlighted in a new ad from the progressive veterans’ group Common Dreams, which has already bankrolled ad campaigns targeting Sinema for her resistance to a multi-trillion dollar social spending package championed by President Joe Biden and nearly all Democratic lawmakers.

Sinema’s objections could well reduce the size of that legislation by at least $1 trillion and scuttle elements that are broadly popular in the party—like raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for investments in health care and energy. Unlike fellow objector Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sinema has largely been silent on her positions through negotiations, exasperating Democrats who need her support in order to pass the bill.

Onetime allies and friends of Sinema’s in Arizona have been flummoxed by her moves, too, and The Daily Beast has reported that she is increasingly isolated after having alienated much of her former political network. Amid her public silence, she has largely stiffed national and constituent groups hoping to engage with her on the legislation.

Manchin and Sinema are determined to destroy the country for their own selfish reasons. A pox on both their houses!

I’ll end with this sobering piece from Dame Magazine: Sleepwalking Toward A Post Democracy America, by Brynne Tannahill. This is what Manchin and Sinema are enabling.

There has been a dawning realization among some of thecenter-left that the GOP fully intends to end democracy in the U.S. and assume permanent control of the government. Even neoconservatives like Robert Kagan have come to this same conclusion. The GOP is telegraphing their punches clearly: They’re forcing out any Republicans who would oppose a soft coup; Trump will run in 2024; he will win the nomination, and, if he doesn’t win the Electoral College outright, he will declare the election fraudulent the morning after. Whereupon states with GOP governors and legislatures will overturn the state election results and send alternate slates of electors, forcing a constitutional crisis, the GOP is likely to win.

The fact that it has taken this long for people to recognize the real danger here is something of testament to how omnipresent and blinding the myth of American exceptionalism is, resulting in “it can’t happen here” becoming cultural dogma. In reality, John Eastman wrote amemorandum proposing this exact method to overturn the election in 2020, which Trump latched onto, and was the raison d’être for the January 6th assault on the capitol, where the insurrectionists were trying to force Vice-President Pence to carry out part of the plan.

John Eastman isn’t just some random Republican lawyer. He was a professor of law. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He founded the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage. And he served as chairman of the Federalist Society’s Federalism & Separation of Powers practice group, and as a board member of the Claremont Institute—a powerful conservative think tank providing support to the GOPs efforts to enact acompetitive authoritarian coup.

Cape Cod Morning, Edward Hopper

Cape Cod Morning, Edward Hopper

Claremont president Ryan Williamsdeclared in an interview with The Atlantic that “the mission of the Claremont Institute is to save Western civilization.” Their plan to save “Western civilization” requires that conservatives “effect a realignment of our politics and take control of all three branches of government for a generation or two.”

Ultimately, Claremont believes that Western civilization is at stake because the U.S. is controlled by people who aren’t really American. “Most people living in the United States today—certainly more than half—are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.” This is in great part because they (wrongly) think: “The Founders were pretty unanimous, with Washington leading the way, that the Constitution is really only fit for a Christian people”

The narrative is clear: Conservatives believe that they need to seize permanent control and re-center their brand of Christianity as the basis for government, culture, and law. They do not believe that more than 50% of America matters, because they are not “real Americans.” Their vision for government is one in which more than half the country is systematically disenfranchised and forced to live in a society in which they have little say.

The greatest irony of Williams’s Atlantic article is that he says he fears a civil war, but fails to acknowledge his plan for overthrowing democracy and instituting a theocratic authoritarian government as the likely cause. In the same way that some Republicans shrug off slavery as a “necessary evil,” modern conservatives see the destruction of democracy and disenfranchisement of most Americans as vaguely regrettable, but necessary to save “Western civilization.”

This is a very long article, so I hope you’ll go read the Rest at Dame Magazine.


Wednesday Reads : F- Reality

Cartoons from Cagle:

Not sure if this has been posted before:

I can’t remember what I read yesterday, much less if that op/Ed has been brought to anyone’s attention.

In another disturbing article:

And lastly, some notes on a big underwater volcano…

This is an open thread. By the way….


Sunday Reads: Ice, Ice, Baby

Cartoons via Cagle:

Just a few quick tweets:

Lab grown coffee…🤮

Ending it there, I’m not feeling well so …this is an open thread.


Wednesday Reads: Hello Boy!

Not many cartoons today…

Now for some tweets,

What is wrong with these people?

That’s a little review of the Surpremes …in yet another abortion case, this one from Kentucky.

This bird:

And finally a beautiful picture:

This is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads

Long Liyou, Chinese artist

Painting by Long Liyou, Chinese artist

Good Morning!!

For once I have something to smile about. The Red Sox, after a fairly lackluster end to their season, are now on the way to the American League Championship series. They beat the Tampa Bay Rays, supposedly the best team in baseball this year. I doubt if anyone else here cares, but I’m glad I finally have something to celebrate in this depressing time.

Now back to the discouraging topic of U.S. politics. If anyone can come up with something good about it, I would love to know about it.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is still doing his best to kill Texans–by banning mask and vaccine mandates. At the same time he is trying to force women to bear children against their will, which will lead women to die from back alley abortions like they did in the bad old days before Roe v. Wade. Freedumb!

The Washington Post: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bans coronavirus vaccine mandates, including for private businesses.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday banned any entity in his state — including private businesses — from mandating coronavirus vaccines for workers or customers, expanding prior executive orders from his office that prohibited state government entities from imposing similar requirements.

Abbott’s move puts him at odds with some large corporations and with the Biden administration, which last month announced plans to require all employers with 100 or more workers to adopt vaccine mandates or testing regimens. A number of large private companies in Texas have issued mandates.

“If indeed the mandate now is everyone must be vaccinated or . . . tested once a week, we will obviously comply by that mandate,” Doug Parker, chief executive of Fort Worth-based American Airlines, said in a Washington Post Live interview in September.

“All along, as we’ve been going through this, we have been considering mandates and may have done one on our own. But what we wanted to do was do everything we could first to encourage everyone to do so,” he said.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines last week gave all employees until Dec. 8 to get vaccinated or face possible termination. (Many U.S. airlines also are government contractors, which must meet a Dec. 8 federal deadline for coronavirus vaccinations.) Telecom giant AT&T, also based in Dallas, in August ordered most of its management employees to get vaccinated by this week. Hewlett Packard Enterprise, headquartered in Houston, announced a similar move the same month.

Abbott called the Biden administration’s sweeping plan “yet another instance of federal overreach,” saying in his order that the administration is “bullying” private entities into vaccine mandates, hurting the livelihoods of Texans and threatening the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

But bullying a woman into bearing her rapist’s child is A-OK with Abbot. Make it make sense. Also, Abbott hasn’t explained how he will enforce his ban at U.S. military bases in Texas. Will he send the Texas Rangers in to battle the feds?

 

This is from Ryan Cooper at The Week: It’s time for bold action to save Republicans’ lives, whether they like it or not.

President Biden is in trouble. As my colleague Damon Linker writes, his approval numbers have been steadily declining for months, now hovering in the low 40s in some surveys. Without some upward movement, that will spell disaster for the Democrats in the upcoming midterms.

There is one straightforward policy Biden can undertake, completely on his own initiative, to turn this around: vaccine mandates. Strict policies to force vaccine-resistant populations to get their shots would do more than anything else under Biden’s direct control to improve the condition of the country — and his own polling numbers.

(c) John Croft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Harold Knight, The Green Book, 1915

Now, there are no doubt many reasons Biden’s approval is down. The shrieking tantrum from the mainstream media over the American empire being humiliated in Afghanistan plays a part, as does the general tendency for presidential approval to decline following inauguration. The relentless drumbeat of conservative propaganda takes its toll as well.

But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is surely the largest part. Political science has shown for years that the incumbent party in the White House tends to be blamed for bad things that happen on its watch — even if that assignment of blame makes little sense. That’s what’s happening here. 

As long as the pandemic continues, it will play hell with the economic recovery. Unemployment is relatively low, but recent jobs numbers have been weak, and supply chains are badly snarled up across the globe. That, coupled with the worst mass casualty event in a century — more people have died of COVID-19 this year than in 2020 — is surely sandbagging presidential popularity.

Republican resistance to measures to control the pandemic is the reason for Biden’s slipping poll numbers as well as the horrible case and death rates in red states and counties.

Right-wing media and leaders have constantly spewed anti-vaccine propaganda for months, while Republican politicians have bitterly fought any kind of forcible pandemic controls. Even as Florida suffered by far its worst surge of the virus since the pandemic started, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) continued to punish schools that required masks. He’s currently in a legal fight trying to ban private cruise ship companies — perhaps the most notoriously disease-prone businesses in the world — from implementing vaccine requirements.

Sure enough, if you plot former President Donald Trump’s vote share by county in 2020 versus vaccination rate, you find a large and consistent negative correlation. That is, the more Trump voters, the fewer shots in arms. A recent study in The Lancet found that if Texas and Florida alone had matched the vaccination rates of the most-vaccinated states, more than 22,000 Texans and Floridians who died of COVID-19 would still be alive today.

As I have previously argued, Republicans like DeSantis (who is vaccinated, by the way) are functionally conducting human wave attacks against Joe Biden’s approval rating, sacrificing their own loyal base for cheap political wins. The extent to which this is a conscious calculation may vary, but the practical effect is that the pandemic continues; Biden is blamed for it; and that (probably) does more damage to Democrats’ vote totals than the GOP loses in dead voters.

This ruthlessness must be met with bold, uncompromising action to save life rather than end it. A minority of Republicans insist they absolutely will not choose to get the vaccine? Fine. Force them to do it.

Keith Larson, A Page Turner, 2012

Keith Larson, A Page Turner, 2012

On the abortion issue, this is from the AP, via NBC News: Justice Department again presses to halt Texas abortion law.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Biden administration urged the courts again to step in and suspend a new Texas law that has banned most abortions since early September, as clinics hundreds of miles away remain busy with Texas patients making long journeys to get care.

The latest attempt Monday night comes three days after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the nation’s most restrictive abortion law after a brief 48-hour window last week in which Texas abortion providers — following a blistering ruling by a lower court — had rushed to bring in patients again.

The days ahead could now be key in determining the immediate future of the law known as Senate Bill 8, including whether there is another attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in.

The law bans abortions in Texas once cardiac activity is detected, which is usually at six weeks and before some women even know they are pregnant. Although other GOP-controlled states have had similar early bans on abortions blocked by courts, the Texas law has proved durable because the state offloads enforcement solely onto private citizens, who can collect at least $10,000 in damages if they successfully sue abortion providers.

“If Texas’s scheme is permissible, no constitutional right is safe from state-sanctioned sabotage of this kind,” the Justice Department told the appeals court.

In wording that seemed to be a message to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department raised the specter that if allowed to stand, the legal structure created in enacting the law could be used to circumvent even the Supreme Court’s rulings in 2008 and 2010 on gun rights and campaign financing.

Former Republicans seem to be doing a better job of defending the Biden agenda and elucidating the threat to democracy posed by the former guy than Democrats are. Of course the mainstream media plays a role in this too; they simply refuse to explain what’s in the Democrat’s infrastructure bills.

Former Republican Tim Miller at The Bulwark: Dear Democrats: Only 10% of People Even Know What You Are Fighting For.

Quick: What is in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better,” “Human Infrastructure,” “Reconciliation,” “Unicorn Boner,” “Bed Bath & Beyond” legislation?

Can you tell me?

I’m guessing that you can. Well maybe you don’t know everything that’s in it. But I bet you can name a couple things. Because you, dear reader, are an engaged citizen. You participate in our rollicking national civic dialogue. You subscribe to a few substacks.

Vincenzo Irolli, Italian artist

Painting by Vincenzo Irolli, Italian artist

But do you understand just how rare you are, person who knows what is in the BBB plan? You are like the recherché and retired Batty the Bat beanie baby or the sweet Nikola Jokic double behind the back dribble TopShot NFT.

Because when CBS News asked the American public how much they know about the “Build Back Better” plan only 10 percent replied “a lot of the specifics.”

10 percent!

And let me tell you a secret: Even that number is wrong, because a bunch of those people were lying.

There is copious political science research which demonstrates when people are asked whether or not they voted, those who didn’t will often report that they had. It’s human nature. You don’t want to sound like a laggard to the stranger on the phone!

So we have 1-in-10 as our absolute ceiling when it comes to the share of Americans who know what is in the bill that is cock-blocking the done-and-ready infrastructure bill.

This seems like a problem!

Read the rest at the link.

From former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson: Opinion: The Trump nightmare looms again.

It is increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics — unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025 — is also the likely outcome.

Why this is a nightmare should be clear enough. Every new tranche of information released about Trump’s behavior following the 2020 election — most recently an interim report from the Senate Judiciary Committee — reveals a serious and concerted attempt to overthrow America’s legitimate incoming government.

At roughly the same time that Trump was gathering and unleashing his goons to intimidate members of Congress on Jan. 6, he was pressuring Justice Department leaders to provide legal cover for his effort to prevent certification of the election. When they refused, Trump conspired with a lower-level loyalist to take over the department and run it according to the president’s dictates. Under the threat of mass resignations, Trump eventually backed off.

This led to one of the lamest excuses in the long history of lame political excuses. Trump defenders such as Brit Hume want to award Trump kudos for desisting in the end. “Trump decided against it,” Hume tweeted. “It is not to his credit that he even considered it, but his rejection should be part of any story on it.” But this retrenchment, on Trump’s part, was a recognition of positional weakness, not a display of public virtue. The thing that matters most is this: The current front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination would have broken the constitutional order if he could have broken the constitutional order.

Meanwhile, it is clear that this same lawless, reckless man has a perfectly realistic path back to power. The GOP is a garbage scow of the corrupt, the seditious and their enablers, yet the short- and medium-term political currents are in its favor.

Ian Henderson, UK

Painting by Ian Henderson, UK

Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman at The New York Times: We Are Republicans. There’s Only One Way to Save Our Party From Pro-Trump Extremists.