Tuesday Reads: Heatwave! And Other News

Good Morning!!

collioure-in-the-summer-by-henri-matisse-1905

Collioure in the Summer, by Henri Matisse

We’re having another heatwave here in the Boston area–four days of 90 degrees or more–with a high temperature today of 99 degrees. Thunderstorms are expected to break the heat tomorrow night, with temperatures in the 80s on Thursday. But that is nothing compared to what is happening in the Pacific Northwest. I talked to my sister in Portland, OR, yesterday, and she said the temperature was supposed to hit 115 degrees! She said her garden is dying even though she is soaking her plants every morning.

The New York Times: How Weird Is the Heat in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver? Off the Charts.

Heat waves and the “heat domes” that can cause them aren’t rare, but the recent weather that’s been smothering the Pacific Northwest has little precedent in at least four decades of record-keeping….

The heat has been not only widespread, but also intense, in some places surpassing previous records by double digits.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, this past weekend’s temperatures were far above norms for this time of year, and a town in British Columbia reached nearly 116 degrees, the highest recorded temperature for any place in Canada in its history. In Seattle, there have been only two other days in the last 50 years with temperatures in the triple digits: in 2009 and 1994.

The heat has resulted from a wide and deep mass of high-pressure air that, because of a wavy jet stream, parked itself over much of the region. Also known as a heat dome, such an enormous high-pressure zone acts like a lid on a pot, trapping heat so that it accumulates. And with the West beset by drought, there’s been plenty of heat to trap.

In Seattle, Portland and other areas west of the Cascades, hot air blowing from the east was further warmed as it descended the mountains, raising temperatures even more.

Martha Walter, American impressionist painter

Beach Scene by Martha Walter, American impressionist painter

Climate is naturally variable, so periods of high heat are to be expected. But in this episode scientists see the fingerprints of climate change, brought on by human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Karin Bumbaco, Washington’s assistant state climatologist, said that any definitive climate-change link could be demonstrated only by a type of analysis called an attribution study. “But it’s a safe assumption, in my view, to blame increasing greenhouse gases for at least some portion of this event,” she said.

On a global average, the world has warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. “When you have that warmer baseline, when you do get these extreme events it’s just going to get that much warmer,” she said.

This heat wave is also unusual because it occurred earlier than most. Those two previous triple-digits days in Seattle, for example, happened in late July, about 30 days later.

This one occurred just a few days after the summer solstice, which may have contributed to the extreme conditions. “The days are longer, and we’re not getting that cool-off at night,” she said.

Read more details at the NYT, with maps and charts.

The Washington Post: The Pacific Northwest heat wave is shocking but shouldn’t be a surprise.

More than three decades ago, in his seminal study predicting the course of human-caused climate change, NASA scientist Jim Hansen wrote that “temperature changes within several decades will become large enough to have major effects on the quality of life for mankind in many regions.”

Hansen used the analogy of “loaded dice” to describe how climate change would increase the likelihood of extremely hot weather in a given year while decreasing the chance of unusually cold weather.

Even before that, in 1979, the National Research Council published a study led by the late meteorologist Jule Charney that predicted serious global warming would evolve. “It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be significant,” the report said.

Since those prescient projections 30-to-40-plus years ago, heat waves all over the world have intensified. Heat domes, the sprawling zones of high pressure at high altitudes that essentially bake the air underneath them, have strengthened.

Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse

Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse

During the European heat wave in 2003, blamed for 70,000 deaths, the average temperature was higher than any year since at least 1851. A study published in 2004 found human influence “at least doubled the risk” of a heat wave of that magnitude.

By 2010, when a historically intense heat wave killed 50,000 people in Russia, the risk of such an event was tripled due to climate change, according to a study published in 2012.

In 2016, a report from the National Academies of Sciences concluded that of the connections between human-caused climate change and extreme weather events, heat waves had among the most straightforward ties.

See also this excellent piece at Axios that summarizes a great deal of information about the heat wave. It’s much longer and more detailed than the usual Axios post: Pacific Northwest heat wave reaches astonishing peak  on Monday.

In other news, Axios analyzed traffic at “partisan” news sites and discovered big drops in clicks since Trump was ejected from the White House: Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media.

In the months since former President Donald Trump left office, media companies’ readership numbers are plunging — and publishers that rely on partisan, ideological warfare have taken an especially big hit.

Why it matters: Outlets most dependent on controversy to stir up resentments have struggled to find a foothold in the Biden era, according to an Axios analysis of publishers’ readership and engagement trends.

By the numbers: Web traffic, social media engagement and app user sessions suggest that while the entire news industry is experiencing a slump, right-wing outlets are seeing some of the biggest plunges.

  • A group of far-right outlets, including Newsmax and The Federalist, saw aggregate traffic drop 44% from February through May compared to the previous six months, according to Comscore data.
  • Lefty outlets including Mother Jones and Raw Story saw a 27% drop.
  • Mainstream publishers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters dropped 18%.

App visits tell a similar story. Both right-leaning (including Fox News, Daily Caller) and left-leaning (including Buzzfeed News, The Atlantic) saw considerable average drops in app user sessions over this time period at 31% and 26%, respectively, according to Apptopia data.

  • Data from Sensor Tower shows that downloads of fringe-right social networking apps like MeWe, Rumble, Parler and CloutHub have also plummeted.

Engagement on social media has taken the biggest dive, according to data from NewsWhip.

  • Left-leaning and right-leaning publishers have seen social interactions on stories drop by more than 50%, while mainstream publishers have experienced a slightly more modest drop of 42%.

The big picture: Opposition media traditionally relies on traffic booms when a new party takes office, but right-wing outlets have seen some of the most precipitous declines in readership since a Democratic president took office.

Untitled and undated painting by Harold Newton

Untitled and undated painting by Harold Newton

Political news sites would get a big upsurge in hits if the Trump Organization is indicted in New York this week. The Washington Post: Trump attorneys meet with New York prosecutors to argue that his company should not be criminally charged over its business practices, By David Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, and Shayna Jacobs.

Attorneys for the Trump Organization met with New York prosecutors on Monday to argue that former president Donald Trump’s company should not be criminally charged over its business dealings, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

Previously, the prosecutors — working for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) — had set Monday as the last day for the organization’s lawyers to make their case.

After Monday’s session, spokespeople for both Vance and James declined to comment. No charges were announced on Monday. Vance has convened a grand jury in Manhattan to vote on potential indictments in the investigation, but so far, no person or entity connected to Trump has been charged. It remains possible that none will be. Those familiar with the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.

Trump issued a lengthy written statement Monday denouncing the prosecutors, saying they were seeking to punish him because of his politics. Trump did not specify what practices prosecutors were focused on, but said they were “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.” [….]

In interviews with Politico and the Associated Press on Monday, Trump’s attorney Ron Fischetti said he believed the charges would focus on whether the proper taxes were paid on benefits that the Trump Organization gave to its executives, such as free apartments or company cars. In a brief call with The Washington Post, Fischetti said he did not attend Monday’s meeting with prosecutors.

The Post previously reported that prosecutors view Weisselberg as a key potential witness in the ongoing investigations, but that they have become frustrated with what they view as a lack of cooperation from him. If Weisselberg was charged with crimes, he could face new pressure to offer testimony against his boss in exchange for a reduction in his legal risk.

I’ll end with two stories on the tragic building collapse in Florida.

John Singer SargentEn Route pour la peche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878

John Singer Sargent, En Route pour la peche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878

CNN: Letter sent months before deadly Florida collapse warned damage to condo building was accelerating.

A correspondence from the board president of Champlain Towers South, part of which unexpectedly crashed to the ground last week in Surfside, Florida, describes the progression of decay at the building since 2018 saying, “the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection.”

Board President Jean Wodnicki addressed the letter to neighbors April 9

“The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated,” says the letter, acquired by CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

Wodnicki further describes issues facing the building saying, “When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.” [….]

The letter confirms what Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett has been saying all along, he said: “There was something very, very wrong at this building.

“Buildings in America just don’t fall down like this. This is a third-world phenomenon, not a first-world phenomenon. … I think from the perspective of a condominium association, which is just like a homeowner except bigger, they probably don’t grasp the intensity of the issue and probably just thought it was a pro forma sort of operation we have to get around to doing. Obviously, that was a fatal mistake.”

Miami Herald: Two days before condo collapse, a pool contractor photographed this damage in garage. (See photos at the link.)

There was nothing unusual about the lobby and pool area at Champlain Towers South condo, which looked clean and well maintained to a commercial pool contractor who visited the building last Tuesday, just 36 hours before half of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then, he saw the basement-level garage.

At-The-Beach Edward Henry Potthast

At The Beach by Edward Henry Potthast

“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. He noted cracking concrete and severely corroded rebar under the pool.

He also took photos, which he shared with the Herald.

The contractor visited the condo building last week to put together a bid for a cosmetic restoration of the pool as well as to price out new pool equipment — a small piece of the multimillion-dollar restoration project that just was getting underway at the 40-year-old building.

While he had worked in the industry for decades and had “gone in some scary places,” he said he was struck by the lack of maintenance in the lower level. The amount of water at Champlain Towers seemed so unusual that the contractor mentioned it to a building staff member, Jose, who was showing him around.

“He thought it was waterproofing issues,” the contractor said of the staff member. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.” He said Jose told him they pumped the pool equipment room so frequently that the building had to replace pump motors every two years, but he never mentioned anything about structural damage or cracks in the concrete above.

There’s much more at the link.

That’s it for me today. Please take care if you’re in one of the areas experiencing extreme heat.


Monday Reads: Heat Wave Edition

2000 Roy Lichtenstein ‘Sunrise

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Yesterday went up to 97 degrees Fahrenheit with a feels like 107 heat index.  The heat index is supposed to hit 110 today.  We got a reprieve finally when a storm blew down from the north with rain and kicked us into the high 70s.

I need to get my central air repaired and was planning on doing it last month but I have had nearly 6 years of an unwanted guest and it does no good for me to fix anything so I’ve been operating on a very small window unit in the guest room for the entire back of the house.  I’m just exhausted so need to get this up before the intense heat kicks in again. I’ll probably be in a cold bath reading something or another.

Impression Sunrise, Claude Monet, circa 1872

Ezra Klein wrote an interesting Op-Ed at The New York Times yesterday.  It has a hypothesis that’s worth considering: “What the Rich Don’t Want to Admit About the Poor.”  Basically, if the “American Dream” is the carrot, then the everlasting threat of poverty is “the stick”.

Reports that low-wage employers were having trouble filling open jobs sent Republican policymakers into a tizzy and led at least 25 Republican governors — and one Democratic governor — to announce plans to cut off expanded unemployment benefits early. Chipotle said that it would increase prices by about 4 percent to cover the cost of higher wages, prompting the National Republican Congressional Committee to issue a blistering response: “Democrats’ socialist stimulus bill caused a labor shortage, and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.” The Trumpist outlet The Federalist complained, “Restaurants have had to bribe current and prospective workers with fatter paychecks to lure them off their backsides and back to work.”

But it’s not just the right. The financial press, the cable news squawkers and even many on the center-left greet news of labor shortages and price increases with an alarm they rarely bring to the ongoing agonies of poverty or low-wage toil.

I actually tweeted one of my deplorable senators when he started at it. Got a nice number of retweets too

Back to Klein:

This is the conversation about poverty that we don’t like to have: We discuss the poor as a pity or a blight, but we rarely admit that America’s high rate of poverty is a policy choice, and there are reasons we choose it over and over again. We typically frame those reasons as questions of fairness (“Why should I have to pay for someone else’s laziness?”) or tough-minded paternalism (“Work is good for people, and if they can live on the dole, they would”). But there’s more to it than that.

It is true, of course, that some might use a guaranteed income to play video games or melt into Netflix. But why are they the center of this conversation? We know full well that America is full of hardworking people who are kept poor by very low wages and harsh circumstance. We know many who want a job can’t find one, and many of the jobs people can find are cruel in ways that would appall anyone sitting comfortably behind a desk. We know the absence of child care and affordable housing and decent public transit makes work, to say nothing of advancement, impossible for many. We know people lose jobs they value because of mental illness or physical disability or other factors beyond their control. We are not so naïve as to believe near-poverty and joblessness to be a comfortable condition or an attractive choice.

Most Americans don’t think of themselves as benefiting from the poverty of others, and I don’t think objections to a guaranteed income would manifest as arguments in favor of impoverishment. Instead, we would see much of what we’re seeing now, only magnified: Fears of inflation, lectures about how the government is subsidizing indolence, paeans to the character-building qualities of low-wage labor, worries that the economy will be strangled by taxes or deficits, anger that Uber and Lyft rides have gotten more expensive, sympathy for the struggling employers who can’t fill open roles rather than for the workers who had good reason not to take those jobs. These would reflect not America’s love of poverty but opposition to the inconveniences that would accompany its elimination.

Nor would these costs be merely imagined. Inflation would be a real risk, as prices often rise when wages rise, and some small businesses would shutter if they had to pay their workers more. There are services many of us enjoy now that would become rarer or costlier if workers had more bargaining power. We’d see more investments in automation and possibly in outsourcing. The truth of our politics lies in the risks we refuse to accept, and it is rising worker power, not continued poverty, that we treat as intolerable. You can see it happening right now, driven by policies far smaller and with effects far more modest than a guaranteed income.

Olive Trees With Yellow Sky And Sun
VINCENT VAN GOGH, 1889

I have a friend who is the walking anecdotal evidence on “shoe-leather costs” and how they relate to risks in job searches.  She had an off-and-on job as a concierge at a small hotel during the panic and had to rely on unemployment for obvious reasons. Another neighbor had a long-term job with a big hotel here and they basically paid to retire him early which may or may not have been a good deal but a year ago the risks of being out of a job were quite hard to predict.  They’re both out on the street.  He’s about my age and she’s in her 40s and on her own.

So, she gets this great job offer at a start-up hotel operation in the Garden District in a historic building about a month ago.  She was on the payroll as they were training everyone and getting ready to open which they did about 10 days ago. She quit her not-so-stable job for one that appeared to look like a great opportunity. Well, about 2 days of open hotel, the owners realized they’d be overly optimistic on business and they downsized.  That’s business-speak for leaving your employees to the wolves.

She has a job interview today.  But, look at her now.  She has two jobs from which she is unlikely to get references and look sketchy in terms of time on the job on a resume. She’s trying to get back on UI because once again, she’s out of work.  It’s risky and hard work to find a reliable, well-paying job these days. Low wages are built into the business model since we’ve been in an employer’s job market. Well, if all it takes is giving people a certain level of money to pressure low-wage payers to pony up, then call me a Marxist.

Remember the business owner in Seattle that just paid everyone what would be needed to live in Seattle?  Here are his comments about the little ticket to ride Jeff Bezos just bought.

Like Klein said, it’s about our priorities in the policy arena. Threatening families with homelessness and starvation so they’ll accept $9 an hour to sweat it out in a hot-as-hell kitchen in New Orleans is such a good example of the American Dream. Isn’t it?  And let’s not forget about who bought that 28 million dollar ticket to space.  The guy that’s rich enough to buy that can’t be bothered with paying taxes and Republican policy has granted that to him.  At least the ticket proceeds with going to a nonprofit set up to encourage children to study technology.

If you’d like a reminder, here’s the list of billionaires who avoided paying taxes while also getting richer during the pandemic. and economic meltdown.  That’s because if you can play the market, you can bet for or against the economy and still make money. Guess what group of people can’t do that easily?

Another, the weather is hell story comes from me last night working at this desk and waiting for Amazon to deliver my two packages of socks.  I noticed the storm coming in and that the parish had just shut down the causeway because of 65 mph winds.  I ran out to meet my driver–a young black woman–who was frantically trying to get the last of the packages delivered around 8 pm.  Yes, I left my desk. I wanted her to know they had just shut down the causeway and what she might get caught up in.  She didn’t know the causeway had closed but she said all of us were trying to tell them it was going to get bad but they kept telling us to get that last package out. I said please be safe and rain through the misty rain to the desk where I am underpaid and overworked while being way overeducated. The first question I had was why did those other workers in that other state turn down a union.  The only place I ever worked as a college instructor that actually paid fairly was solidly unionized and bargained for wages and would get a complaint into the NLB if the negotiations were crap.

The Senator up there is also whining that everyone is being mean to the oil and gas company. I sure hope he is here melting in the “unusual” heat we have going on with everyone else.  Maybe he’d like to work a while with the guys trying to clean out the drains before the next “unusually active” hurricane season gets on with it.  He needs to hang with those folks working outside to give his Doctor Senator Ass a chance to learn about heat exhaustion.

He’s also against equal pay for equal work and any kind of law that stops racial discrimination or anything else that has nothing to do with getting a job done.  All of these things prove that we don’t have the kinds of perfect job markets because according to classical economics (i.e. capitalism) we should all be paid according to our productivity. Sex and Racial discrimination shouldn’t exist but they do which requires some kind of intervention to make the market right.  So, the guy hates functional markets.  What else can I deduce from his prattle?

Anyway, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk and reading my rant. I’m probably going a bit crazy from the heat and I still have to work today.  My employer isn’t interested in my AC issues just that it makes me unfit for service.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

Santiago Rusiñol

By Santiago Rusiñol

Good Morning!!

Yesterday was a historic day.

But the biggest accomplishment of the day was the House passage of Biden’s $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Also huge: the Senate confirmed Merrick Garland as U.S. Attorney General. They also confirmed Marcia Fudge as the first Black woman Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in more than 40 years, and Michael Regan, a Black man, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The New York Times: Congress Clears $1.9 Trillion Aid Bill, Sending It to Biden.

Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to President Biden’s sweeping, nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package, as Democrats acted over unified Republican opposition to push through an emergency pandemic aid plan that carries out a vast expansion of the country’s social safety net.

By a vote of 220 to 211, the House sent the measure to Mr. Biden for his signature, cementing one of the largest injections of federal aid since the Great Depression. It would provide another round of direct payments for Americans, an extension of federal jobless benefits and billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and provide relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going — a fighting chance,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. He said he looked forward to signing what he called a “historic piece of legislation” on Friday at the White House.

The vote capped off a swift push by Mr. Biden and Democrats, newly in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, to address the toll of the coronavirus pandemic and begin putting in place their broader economic agenda. The bill is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty in half, with expansions of tax credits, food aid and rental and mortgage assistance.

Henri Lebasque

By Henri Lebasque

According to CNBC, people who have direct deposit could start their $1,400 checks next week.

The American Rescue Plan Act is expected to be signed by President Biden on Friday, and stimulus payments could start being sent out within days of him signing. That means Americans could start seeing the money as early as next week.

The first people to receive the checks are likely those who have direct deposit set up with the IRS. That’s because the government already has their account information on file and doesn’t need to go through the process of printing, sorting and mailing physical checks or pre-paid debit cards.

Americans who don’t have direct deposit will have to wait for the payments to be produced and sent, a process that can be time consuming.

The Washington Post: How big is the Biden stimulus bill? And who gets the most help?

This latest round of aid, which was rejected by all Republicans in Congress, marks the first major legislative victory for President Biden. In contrast with the emergency bills passed last year, the Democratic bill focuses the vast majority of aid on households, states and cities, and vaccine distribution. There is little money directed this time toward businesses….

Over half the money — 54 percent — in the bill goes toward households. In addition to the popular $1,400 checks, there is also funding for extra unemployment insurance through Labor Day, expanded tax credits, and various programs to make rent, food and health insurance more affordable.

Economists say low- and moderate-income Americans will benefit the most from this aid, especially individuals earning $75,000 or less and couples earning $150,000 or less. The number of Americans living in poverty is predicted to drop in 2021 by as much as a third because of this legislation.

The cash infusion is expected to result in a 20 percent income boost for the bottom 20 percent of earners (those making $25,000 or less), according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

At The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes that the bill will an important impact on climate change: The Weekly Planet: Biden’s Stimulus Is a Big Deal for Public Transit.

In little-noticed ways, the rescue bill is going to reshape several areas of American climate policy. It will revive a number of crucial, pandemic-hammered institutions central to the country’s climate response. More important, it shows how the prevailing atmosphere of American governance has shifted.

Giovanni Segantini

Giovanni Segantini

This isn’t to say it’s a climate bill, per se. But it is part of the broader climate agenda being advanced by the Biden administration.

First, the bill devotes $30.5 billion to public-transit agencies. “COVID has really decimated transit ridership, and that has eaten a huge hole in agencies’ budgets,” Ben Fried, the communications director at the think tank TransitCenter, told me. Including the latest bill, Congress has spent $60 billion on transit over the past year, money that has been key to keeping the agencies solvent, Fried said. “If they didn’t get funding, then transit would have faced existential peril at the end of last year.” In Washington, D.C., for instance, the local Metro system was contemplating eliminating weekend service and permanently closing 19 stations. The new bill is enough to support agencies’ daily operations into 2023, he said….

Second, the rescue bill has quietly become an infrastructure bill. It devotes $350 billion to supporting state and local governments. These funds, initially proposed to plug COVID-19-created holes in public budgets, in many cases now exceed those holes. So the Senate has allowed states, cities, and counties to spend that money on improving services such as water, sewage, and broadband. Because many water systems are vulnerable to climate change and must be adapted, this is de facto climate funding. The bill also contains $31 billion for tribal governments and Indigenous communities, including line items for new infrastructure, housing, and language preservation.

More broadly, the bill epitomizes the Biden administration’s more forceful approach to running the economy. It shows that much of the American political establishment—from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to Jerome Powell, the Donald Trump–appointed Federal Reserve chair—is comfortable pursuing a strategy of restoring full employment as quickly as possible, even if that creates some inflation in the short term.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Tonight President Biden will give a prime time speech to discuss the way forward. CNN: Biden seeks to chart a path out of the pandemic in prime-time address.

President Joe Biden can report in his first prime-time address Thursday that a vaccination drive now reaching 2 million people daily has brought America far closer to exiting the pandemic than when he took office 50 days ago.

With new infections and deaths way down from their peaks of a horrific winter, Biden can afford to conjure hope that better days may be imminent and will speak to the nation from a position of political strength. He is also armed with a newly passed $1.9 trillion Covid-19 rescue package — his first major legacy achievement — which represents an ambitious attempt to rebuild the US economy to favor the less well off.

Victor Gilbert

Victor Gilbert

“This bill represents a historic, historic victory for the American people,” Biden said Wednesday, touting his rescue plan that finally cleared Congress on Wednesday and pivoting to an address that he said would inform the country what “comes next” in the effort to prevail over the coronavirus. A clear majority of Americans — 60% — approves of the new President’s handling of the pandemic in a new CNN poll. He has reintroduced the nation to calm, functional leadership and a scientific approach to the public health crisis, and has ended the stream of vitriol that poured from the Oval Office for four years.

Yet in a national crisis this deep and in a country so polarized less than two months since ex-President Donald Trump’s insurrection, nothing is remotely normal. While Biden honored campaign promises to take the virus seriously, to secure funds to get kids back to school and to help Americans pummeled by the economic crisis, his White House is weighed down by stark challenges.

A White House official said Biden’s Thursday night speech, expected to last about 20 minutes, would focus on the lives lost and changed in the pandemic and the work Biden’s administration has done to rapidly increase the vaccination effort. The President will also explain what must still be done to defeat the virus, the official said.

Next, Biden will begin a “media blitz” to sell his plan. Vanity Fair:

After President Joe Biden signs his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law this week, he is set to embark on a press tour to sell his COVID-19 relief package to the American public, starting with a primetime address on Thursday, likely followed by his first formal news conference in the days after, CNN reports. The media and travel blitz comes as reporters have grown increasingly frustrated over lack of access to Biden, who has yet to hold the kind of solo, back-and-forth press conference that his 15 most recent predecessors—including Donald Trump—had all submitted themselves to by this point in their term. He has also yet to address a joint session of Congress, another appearance reportedly set to take place next month. 

While Biden taking off on meticulously planned sales tour may not yield the type of freewheeling exchanges that reporters are clamoring for, it makes political sense for the White House to get the president on the road. Biden’s relief package is overwhelmingly popular among Americans—about 70 percent—but less so with GOP lawmakers in Washington, whose total opposition required Democrats to push the bill through the budget reconciliation process. Going that route means many provisions, such as increased subsidies for health insurance and expanded child tax credit, have a one-year expiration date. “Making them permanent will require another act of Congress that would likely need some Republicans on board,” according to CNN.

Eerno Järnefelt

Eerno Järnefelt

It will be a two-part effort, starting with spelling out the impact of the package to Americans. Biden has said that the Obama administration “didn’t adequately explain what we had done” with the 2009 stimulus. “I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ [Barack Obama] said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility,” the president recently told House Democrats. This time around, Biden’s team is focused on making sure Americans know that relief measures, such as individual stimulus checks, come as direct results of his American Rescue Plan, and are reportedly using local media and outside coalition groups to help establish that connection. 

Among the groups and leaders supportive of the package and thus capable of being leveraged by Biden’s team are “over 400 bipartisan mayors and governors, organized labor and the business community, as well as economists and experts from across the political spectrum,” one White House official told Axios. Benefits to schools, vaccine distribution, and food supply for low-income families are among the parts of the package that cabinet officials and White House aides will team up to publicly promote, according to another administration official. Axios notes that the strategy at play extends beyond short-term goals, such as the 2022 midterms; maintaining wide support for the bill rewards Biden’s ability to “build on the legislation and make it harder for the next Republican president to unwind.”

Much more is happening. Here are some additional stories to check out today:

Buzzfeed News says that today is a one year anniversary of our realization of the seriousness of the pandemic: March 11: Tom Hanks, The NBA, And COVID’s Day Of Reckoning In The US: An Oral History.

NPR: Whistleblowers Allege Improper Hiring At Justice Department During Trump’s Last Days.

The Bulwark: Can Biden Restore the Pentagon’s Balance of Power?

The New York Times: Oath Keepers Founder Is Said to Be Investigated in Capitol Riot.

The Washington Post: Veteran charged in Capitol riot once served in Marine One squadron, officials say.

Trump is in more trouble in Georgia than we realized. CNN: Wall Street Journal: Trump pressured Georgia investigator to find ‘the right answer’ in baseless fraud push.

More trouble in New York too. Reuters: Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen to meet again with Manhattan DA in Trump probe.

Talking Points Memo: Cuomo Accuser Claims Governor Groped Her At Executive Mansion.

That’s it for me today. What’s on your mind?


Tuesday Reads: Another Crazy Day In Trump World

Good Morning!!

This morning Trump appeared on Fox and Friends and rambled on for 47 minutes. At the end of the interview, Steve Doocy expressed some surprising hostility toward the fake “president.”

Wow! Doocy’s getting a little fed up with Trump’s word salad, I guess. He even offered equal time to Joe Biden.

In another headline-grabbing moment, Trump told his Fox and Friends pals that he wanted to assassinate Syria’s Bashar al-Assad awhile back.

The Washington Post: Trump confirms he wanted to assassinate Assad. In 2018, he denied it was even considered.

In the Fox interview, Trump criticized former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who has in recent months warned the country strongly against reelecting Trump. But in the course of making that case, Trump offered an odd claim: He said Mattis had effectively stood in the way of his efforts to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I would’ve rather taken him out,” Trump said. “I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general.”

When asked whether he regretted not taking Assad out, Trump added: “No, I don’t regret that. … I had a shot to take him out if I wanted. Mattis was against it.”

The first problem with this argument is that Trump is disparaging Mattis for opposing something that Trump doesn’t even say he regrets. The second is that the commander in chief makes these decisions, full stop. If Trump wanted to do it, Mattis couldn’t block him.

That’s not what Trump said in 2018.

In 2018, Woodward published “Fear.” In the book, he reported that Trump had considered assassinating Assad. Trump, on Sept. 5, 2018, flatly denied it.

“I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed,” Trump said, adding: “No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated.”

He even held it up as evidence that the book shouldn’t have been published.

Breaking news: Trump is a pathological liar.

Lets see . . . what else is happening in the United States of crazy?

As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, Trump seems determined to continue holding super-spreader rallies that threaten the lives of his own supporters and staff. The Washington Post suggests that Trump is using these events to “rebuke” Democratic governors and mayors who have established restrictions on public behavior in order to protect their citizens.

President Trump’s first indoor rally in months was staged as a rebuke to Democrats he accuses of using coronavirus restrictions against him, but the campaign event in Nevada also prompted sharp denunciations from critics on Monday as a symbol of the president’s failure to effectively confront the deadly covid-19 crisis.

The Sunday night gathering came as the pandemic has caused at least 190,000 deaths in the United States, with the number expected to pass 200,000 sometime before Trump holds his next official campaign events on Friday. The Nov. 3 election had already become a referendum on the president’s often dismissive approach to the pandemic before revelations last week that he had told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward he knew the severity of the virus but preferred to play it down in public….

On Monday, Trump held another indoor campaign event at a luxury hotel in Phoenix that was billed as a roundtable with Latino supporters. The White House pool reporter traveling with Trump described the scene as looking much like a rally, with more than 100 people crowded closely together inside a ballroom. Television footage showed mask-free supporters waving campaign signs.

“I know this was supposed to be, you know the fake news, they said that this is supposed to be a roundtable, but it looks like a rally,” Trump said. “But it is a rally because we love each other.” He then added that “it is a roundtable.”

AP: Trump defies virus rules as ‘peaceful protest’ rallies grow.

President Donald Trump is running as the “law and order” candidate. But that hasn’t stopped him and his campaign from openly defying state emergency orders and flouting his own administration’s coronavirus guidelines as he holds ever-growing rallies in battleground states.

Democratic governors and local leaders have urged the president to reconsider the events, warning that he’s putting lives at risk. But they have largely not tried to block the gatherings of thousands of people, which Trump and his team deem “peaceful protests” protected by the First Amendment.

“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said in a statement….

Trump’s campaign insisted that it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of rallygoers.

But images of thousands of maskless supporters standing shoulder to shoulder remain jarring in a country where sports are still played in empty arenas and concerts have been largely banned. That’s especially true for those who have lost loved ones or spent months isolating at home and worry that rallies will further spread infection, undermining hard-fought progress. An indoor rally that Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June was blamed for a surge of virus infections there.

In an interview yesterday, Trump demonstrated that he couldn’t care less about threatening the health of his supporters, as long as he himself is protected. The New York Times: Trump Defends Indoor Rally, but Aides Express Concern.

President Trump and his campaign are defending his right to rally indoors, despite the private unease of aides who called it a game of political Russian roulette and growing concern that such gatherings could prolong the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday, after thousands of his supporters gathered on Sunday night inside a manufacturing plant in a Las Vegas suburb, flouting a state directive limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

The president did not address health concerns about the rally attendees, a vast majority of whom did not wear masks or practice any social distancing. When it came to his own safety, he said, “I’m not at all concerned.”

He is simply incapable of caring about anyone but himself.

Yesterday afternoon, Trump met with California officials and told them they are clueless about how to deal with wildfires. Forbes: ‘I Don’t Think Science Knows, Actually’: Trump Dismisses Climate Science In California Wildfire Discussion.

After multiple California officials confronted President Donald Trump Monday about ignoring climate change’s role in the raging west coast wildfires, the president dismissed their concerns and raised skepticism about the “science” that has concluded the Earth is warming.

“It’ll start getting cooler,” Trump said in response to California Natural Resource Secretary Wade Crawfoot, who pressed the president to acknowledge the fact untamed vegetation is not solely responsible for the wildfires in the Golden State.

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crawfoot replied back, to which the president replied, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Trump’s solution to the wildfire problem:

In other insane news, Trump loyalist Michael Caputo, who “interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19” made wild claims about a conspiracy involving the CDC and “left-wing hit squads.” The New York Times: Trump Health Aide Pushes Bizarre Conspiracies and Warns of Armed Revolt.

The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus made outlandish and false accusations on Sunday that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump, even if that opposition bolsters the Covid-19 death toll.

Mr. Caputo, who has faced intense criticism for leading efforts to warp C.D.C. weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger from opponents of the administration. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” he urged his followers.

He went further, saying his physical health was in question, and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Mr. Caputo said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He also said the mounting number of Covid-19 deaths was taking a toll on him, telling his viewers, “You are not waking up every morning and talking about dead Americans.” [….]

To a certain extent, Mr. Caputo’s comments in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page were simply an amplified version of remarks that the president himself has made. Both men have singled out government scientists and health officials as disloyal, suggested that the election will not be fairly decided, and insinuated that left-wing groups are secretly plotting to incite violence across the United States.

Read more at the NYT link.

Also at The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie argues that there’s a serious side to these conspiracy theories, even though they make no sense to normal people: Trump’s Perverse Campaign Strategy: If the president’s allies are talking about the moment “shooting will begin” and “martial law,” it’s not by accident.

On Sunday, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, warned of left-wing insurrectionists and “sedition” within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a video he hosted live on his Facebook page. After predicting victory for President Trump in the upcoming election, Caputo warned that Joe Biden wouldn’t concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” [….]

…Trump isn’t actually running for re-election — or at least, not running in the traditional manner. He has a campaign, yes, but it is not a campaign to win votes or persuade the public outside of a few, select slivers of the electorate. Instead, it’s a campaign to hold on to power by any means necessary, using every tool available to him as president of the United States. Caputo, in that sense, is only taking cues from his boss.

Of course, Trump would like to obtain a proper victory. But it’s clear he’s not counting on it. That is why the most visible aspect of Trump’s campaign for continued power is his attack on the election itself. If he doesn’t win, he says again and again, then the outcome isn’t legitimate….

Along with this warning comes Trump’s call for supporters to act as “poll watchers” to prevent imaginary fraud at voting locations….

There’s also the president’s rhetoric toward his political opponents. Asked on Fox News about “riots” if he wins re-election, Trump said he would “put them down very quickly,” before adding:

Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send in and we do it, very easy. I mean, it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it, but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes.

Trump also indicated that he supports extrajudicial killings.

Later in the interview, Trump commented on the Sept. 3 killing of Michael Forest Reinoehl by U.S. marshals. Reinoehl was suspected of shooting a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during a protest in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29. Trump, who swore to uphold the Constitution when he was inaugurated, claimed to have essentially called for an extrajudicial killing:

Now we sent in the U.S. marshals for the killer, the man that killed the young man in the street. Two and a half days went by, and I put out “when are you going to go get him.” And the U.S. marshals went in to get him. There was a shootout. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. marshalls killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.

Instead of making a conventional appeal to voters to give him another term in office, Trump is issuing a threat, of sorts: I cannot lose. If I do lose, the election was stolen. Anyone protesting my effort to hold onto power is an insurrectionist. And sometimes, “there has to be retribution.”

I guess that’s enough crazy for today. Take care of yourselves folks and check in if you can to let us know what’s happening where you are. We’ll be thinking of those of you who are in the paths of wildfires and hurricanes.


Monday Reads: Change is Imperative

Good Day Sky Dancers!

There are so many things right now that you think we should’ve figured out by now that seem to be worsening because there is no leadership in Washington.  We’ve known about global climate change making weather patterns worse for decades now.  We’ve known at least that long about the insidious institutional racism and misogyny that makes it nearly impossible for large swarths of our country to live up to their potential and be protected under the law. We have a global pandemic that is mostly out of control in places like Brazil and then the United States because we simply do not have the people in office willing to make tough decisions based on evidence to do what’s best for the country. They are either overlords of chaos and greed themselves or serving said said overlords as underlords.  Also, lessons of history should have warned us that another Nixon would try to grab power and yet, so many have ignored what’s going on and actively thwarted oversight designed in our U.S Constitution.

We should know better and the rest of the world watches us struggle with disbelief and horror as we repeat all our mistakes of history and science over and over.

This important segment on Climate Change on the 15th anniversary of Katrina is worth watching.  Our government did not learn anything from our experience from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and another set of people are reliving much of the same  horror.

Young Woman with a Red Fan (1910) By Max Pechstein.

Folks in the know continue to warn us about the impact of Global Climate Change. This is from US News and World Report: “Climate Change Bigger Economic Risk Than Pandemic, ECB’s Schnabel Says.”  How can an institution like the European Central Bank help prioritize a risk that obviously will cost lives and fortunes?

The coronavirus pandemic demonstrates in the clearest terms why central banks must take a bigger role in fighting climate change even if the issue at first appears unrelated to monetary policy, European Central Bank board member Isabel Schnabel said.

Initially just a health crisis, the pandemic has set off economic shockwaves around the globe, affecting every nation and forcing central banks to provide unprecedented support to underpin economic activity.

With climate change posing an even bigger risk, the ECB must keep this issue high on its agenda as it reviews its policy framework, Schnabel told Reuters in an interview.

“Climate change is probably the biggest challenge we are facing, much bigger than the pandemic,” Schnabel said.

“Even though this health shock was entirely unrelated to monetary policy, it nevertheless has huge implications for monetary policy,” she said. “The same is true for climate change and this is why central banks cannot ignore it.”

Through its supervisory arm the ECB could require banks to provide a climate risk assessment, which could then affect their access to central bank funding if this assessment has a direct implication on collateral valuations, Schnabel said.

The central bank should also push the European Union to add a green element to its long-delayed project to set up a capital markets union as a focus on green finance could give the bloc a competitive advantage, she argued.

Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket
Max Beckmann
Date: 1950

This new poll from STAT shows how politicized basic non-partisan policies should be in this country.  “Poll: Most Americans believe the Covid-19 vaccine approval process is driven by politics, not science.”

Seventy-eight percent of Americans worry the Covid-19 vaccine approval process is being driven more by politics than science, according to a new survey from STAT and the Harris Poll, a reflection of concern that the Trump administration may give the green light to a vaccine prematurely.

The response was largely bipartisan, with 72% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats expressing such worries, according to the poll, which was conducted last week and surveyed 2,067 American adults.

The sentiment underscores rising speculation that President Trump may pressure the Food and Drug Administration to approve or authorize emergency use of at least one Covid-19 vaccine prior to the Nov. 3 election, but before testing has been fully completed.

How have we come to this place where the most important decisions in policy are being driven by the most base aspects of governance?  Why is everything a culture issue now?  Why is everything played like some team that you root for even though what they is completely wrong?

Why are so many invested in a White Nationalist Christianist future where truly there is no hope for the planet or democracy for that matter?  Did we not settle this last century?

“Oddy-Knocky” by Alessio Radice
 2013

This is a story from Minnesota that should be told around the world.

Since last fall, Minnesota State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, has taken a keen interest in a book called Bronze Age Mindset. The self-published tome has captivated many on the American right while trafficking in neo-fascism, racism and misogyny. The writer is an anonymous internet figure who goes by the pen name “Bronze Age Pervert” and has 45,000 Twitter followers.

The book argues that equality and human rights are unnatural; that most people form a vast, inferior class who will only find “solace and meaning” through “submission” — and that the proper rulers of the world are white men.

A passage claims, “Life appears at its peak not in the grass hut village ruled by nutso mammies” — using a racial slur to refer to Black women — “but in the military state.”

Chamberlain, the influential chairman of the upper chamber’s Taxes Committee, tweeted at the author, Bronze Age Pervert, on April 30, thanking him for an introduction to Bach’s “Fugue in G-minor;” likely a reference to Pervert’s podcast, which uses classical compositions as bumper music. (The podcast is even more overtly white supremacist.)

“The most obvious form of hatred in this book is misogyny,” said Curtis Dozier, a Vassar College professor of classics who documents appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity by hate groups. “His ideal of masculinity is racialized.”

Dozier has analyzed the book’s appropriations — and misappropriations — of ancient literature.

Dozier said the title’s “Bronze Age” refers to an imagined era when a glorious warrior culture overthrew female tribal rulers and spread the Indo-European language — and male domination — from Iceland to southern India. Pervert identifies these conquerors as the Aryans, borrowing the ideas of Nazis, eugenicists and contemporary white supremacists, Dozier said.

Unlike most peddlers of hate online, however, Pervert does not disavow violence to soften the historic image of white supremacism and fascism — he glorifies it.

Gerti by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (Photo by Barney Burstein/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

But, it’s not only Minnesota. Try Kansas City on for size. 

It started as soon as her family, along with all of their belongings and their dog Kingston, arrived in Kansas City from Southern California not quite two months ago, Maureen Roland says: The smiles that froze and then disappeared when her new Northland neighbors, near Parkville, caught a glimpse of her Black husband and biracial children. The woman down the street who put her hand up and said, “No, thank you,” when Maureen introduced herself. The slurs shouted from across the way, the pointing, the pretending to retch.

“Kansas City nice” is real, but so is Kansas City not-so-nice. There are people in our town who yell, “You’re disgusting!” at the Rolands’ house as they walk by, and who have gotten out of line at the Best Buy to avoid them.

The Rolands have lived all over the world, so it’s not a revelation that there’s racism in it. But “I have not experienced it to this degree,” she says. “I have not experienced it this much. I have not experienced it this vocally.”

Or, try Lafayette Louisiana …

“Self Portrait with Hat” by expressionist painter Karl Schmidt Rottluff in 1919

We have welcomed thousands of evacuees here in New Orleans to hotels and the Mayor of Lafayette says no to any shelters at all. His reason is something that should warn us all that Republicans are emboldened to be openly and nakedly racist. Black Lives Matters is not a terrorist operation.  Any local “militia” group is definitely on the FBI watch list for domestic terrorism.

Officials with the Josh Guillory administration have asked local churches to stop trying to set up shelters for evacuees from Laura because of the “serious threat” of recent protests

I wanted to advise you that I have officially asked local churches to take a pause on any action to establish a shelter at this time. As you probably know, we have had some serious, concerning activities pop up today with armed protestors in the streets. Many from out of town.

This is a serious threat and we must handle this issue before we can care for our neighbors. It goes against what we believe and how we usually respond after a disaster but it would be irresponsible to potentially put others in harms way.

We are not in a position to safeguard people displaced by Laura with this serious, local security threat. We know that bad actors will take our hospitality and use it against us.

H. Craig Hanna (b. 1967), Paris

And, that really is disgusting.

Here’s the latest on how the national campaign is turning us against one another via Politico. “Biden forced to play on Trump’s turf as campaign turns to racial strife.  The Democratic nominee wanted to talk about Trump’s performance on the coronavirus. Instead, he’s having to straddle a line on civic unrest. ”  Of course, they don’t want to talk about the policies we need to actually do something for the big issues. Let’s focus on pitting the first and second amendments against each other in strictly racist terms.  After Trump’s horrid visit to Louisiana and Texas, he wants to head to Kenosha today.

The chaotic scenes in Kenosha, Wis. and Portland, Ore., are redefining the contours of the presidential race — shifting the immediate debate over how to quell the clashes, who should own the unrest and which candidate is better suited to lead the nation through strife.

Donald Trump, who’s planning to visit Kenosha on Tuesday, is claiming the mantle of law and order even as he stokes conflict between protesters and his supporters. Trump is trying to take credit for restoring order by loudly calling for an influx of National Guard troops and painting Democrats as too fearful of alienating their base to denounce violence.

Joe Biden last week called for a halt to the violence, though it took him longer than many Democrats wanted. The Democratic nominee decided over the weekend that he would not travel to the pivotal battleground state on Monday ahead of Trump’s visit. Instead, the Biden campaign plans to ramp up messaging that Trump’s rhetoric has only inflamed hostilities on the streets, beginning with a speech in Pennsylvania Monday.

It’s a very difficult argument to make when he is president of the United States that the unrest and chaos that’s happening on the ground is somehow not his responsibility,” Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield told POLITICO. “He owns it. He’s the president of the United States and he owns it. People are seeing a president who is failing to lead and that will be a big focus for us as we move forward.”

“We will continue to put this at his feet and hold him accountable for it because it’s hard to make a law and order argument when you’re an incumbent.”

The balancing act over the riots and police misconduct marks a new, intensifying phase of the election. Both campaigns are preparing for a burst of activity: Biden plans to break his month slong hold on travel to swing states in the coming weeks, with stops expected initially in Wisconsin and Michigan in addition to Pennsylvania. He’s also looking to appear in Minnesota and Arizona soon.

And the on going battle should really be against the Rule of Law as seen within the Justice Department.  Here’s some headlines to read on that.

So, this all should keep you busy today. I’m sorry it’s all so alarming but seriously, thing’s have to change.  We owe it to all of us that have lived and will live in this country.  These policy challenges should be faced head on with regard to our laws, science, and getting the best results we can from the political process. We cannot take an administration whose goal is to tear us all apart, tear our country down, and ruin the gifts of nature around us.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?