Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

President Biden is going to have a press conference this afternoon, and I wish someone would ask him why around 30,000,000 people on Social Security, disability, veterans, and railroad pensions haven’t gotten their stimulus payments yet. Furthermore, why hasn’t he fired two Trump holdovers at the Social Security Administration who are holding up the payments and who are trying to destroy Social Security?

HuffPost: Democrats Say Agency Run By Trump Holdover Is Delaying Stimulus Checks.

Millions of disabled and retired Americans are still waiting for their $1,400 stimulus payments because of a holdup at the Social Security Administration, House Democrats said Wednesday.

Social Security hasn’t handed over payment information that the Internal Revenue Service needs to send the coronavirus relief checks to nearly 30 million people receiving retirement or disability benefits, Democrats said.

“We understand that these beneficiaries are waiting because the Social Security Administration has not sent the necessary payment files to the Internal Revenue Service,” House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a letter to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul.

Several Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), had previously urged President Joe Biden to fire Saul, a Donald Trump appointee whose term doesn’t expire until 2025. Biden has hesitated to do so even though he’s fired other Trump holdovers in other agencies before their terms have ended.

The IRS has sent more than 127 million payments so far. Neal and other members of his committee earlier this week asked Social Security and the IRS to explain the delayed payments to Social Security beneficiaries.

In Wednesday’s letter, Democrats said they became “aware that the IRS asked SSA to start sending payment files two weeks before the American Rescue Plan became law on March 11, 2021” ― and that Social Security still hasn’t provided the information.

People in these categories are the poorest of the poor, including Social Security recipients who don’t have enough income to file tax returns.

Yahoo News: Trump-appointed Social Security Administration officials test Biden’s ability to forge new agenda.

President Biden is facing increasing pressure to remove two Social Security Administration officials appointed by his Republican predecessor, a standoff that could test the limits of his ability to undo Donald Trump’s legacy.

The brewing controversy surrounds Andrew Saul and David Black, the agency’s commissioner and deputy commissioner, whom Trump appointed to fixed-term positions that don’t end until 2025. As term appointees, they can’t be removed by Biden except for cause, but unions and Capitol Hill alike are demanding that Biden find a way to remove them, accusing them of creating a toxic work environment, contributing to low morale due to staff cuts, and sidelining the agency’s administrative law judges.

The continued presence of the Trump appointees underscores the difficulties the Biden administration faces when trying to roll back some of the previous administration’s efforts to reshape the federal government. While traditional political appointees must resign or face being fired when a new administration comes in, presidents are also able to install fixed-term employees to boards and other government positions that can outlast their administration.

Saul, a New York businessman and Republican donor, and Black, a former Bush administration staffer, have been in their positions since 2019. According to critics, the two officials have engaged in “no-holds-barred union busting” and eliminated the agency’s pre-pandemic telework program, forcing over 10,000 employees to commute to work — a rule change that continues despite the onset of COVID-19. (That did not apply to Saul, who reportedly continued to work from home as thousands of his employees commuted during the onset of the pandemic.)

There’s more at the Yahoo News link.

As we all know, there’s another Trump holdover working as quickly as he can to destroy the Post Office.

The Washington Post: USPS chief DeJoy cuts post office hours, lengthens delivery times in new 10-year plan.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday unveiled the largest rollback of consumer mail services in a generation, part of a 10-year plan that includes longer first-class delivery windows, reduced post office hours and higher postage prices.

DeJoy presented his long-awaited strategic vision for the U.S. Postal Service during a Tuesday webinar. Portions of the initiative already made public have raised alarms from postal advocates, who say they could further erode agency performance. Mailing industry officials warn that substantial service cuts could drive away business and worsen its already battered finances.

Louis DeJoy

But DeJoy has cited the need for austerity to ensure more consistent delivery and rein in losses. The agency is weighed down by $188.4 billion in liabilities, and DeJoy told a House panel last month that he expects the Postal Service to lose $160 billion over the next 10 years. Without the plan, Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Ron Bloom said, the agency’s future was “profoundly threatened.”

DeJoy’s plan to make up that projected shortfall largely depends on Congress repealing a retiree health care pre-funding mandate and allowing postal workers to enroll in Medicare. The agency also will ask President Biden to order a review of how much the Postal Service should have paid into its pension funds, and credit the mail agency with any overpayments.

DeJoy projected these steps would save the agency $58 billion over the next decade, and the agency could make up the rest through postage rate increases ($44 billion in new revenue), “self-help” cost cutting in mail processing, transportation and administrative efficiencies ($34 billion), and revenue from package volume and price increases ($24 billion).

USA Today has an interesting piece on Biden by Paul Brandus: Biden is using FDR as his role model. He’s made the no-drama Obama era look wild.

Presidents get to decorate the Oval Office any way they want, and it’s usually telling. Joe Biden for example, requested that five portraits be hung around the fireplace. There’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and one of the greatest Americans who never became president: Alexander Hamilton.

And in the middle of this esteemed group is a fifth portrait in a place of honor over the fireplace: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Biden, who will be the last president who lived during FDR’s momentous era, deeply admires our 32nd president, and it shows in both his style and way of governing.

No president since Roosevelt inherited the kind of mess that confronted Biden, and he has responded as FDR did: By throwing big money at problems. The ink on the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan is barely dry, and now the White House is set to unveil a $3 trillion infrastructure plan.

There’s also talk of reforming the biggest federal program of all: Social Security, which Roosevelt launched in 1935, and which is now paying out more cash than it’s bringing in. In Washington, the word “reform” is usually a code word for more spending.

Hmmm….I hope that will involve lifting the cap on the payroll tax so that rich people have to contribute more to Social Security and Medicare.

Biden’s style — specifically how he communicates with the American people — is also a page from the FDR playbook. Two months into his presidency, he has been surprisingly disciplined and economical with his words and appearances. The verbal gaffes that dogged him throughout his long career in Washington are nowhere to be seen. I’m sure he’ll make a boo-boo eventually (he’s Joe Biden, after all) but after four years of a president who lied about everything, a gaffe on Biden’s part these days will be seen as an honest mistake, humanizing, even charming to a certain degree.

Roosevelt is remembered for his famous Fireside Chats. Forgotten, however, is how infrequently he gave them. During his 12 years in office — bookended by America’s greatest  20th century crises, the Great Depression and World War II — he took to the airwaves just 30 times. Just two or three times a year. The rarity of his appearances amped up the drama and attention when he did speak.

But, unlike Biden so far, FDR gave lots of press conferences, Brandus writes. He recommends that Biden make his first formal appearance before the D.C. press corps as boring as possible.

The news media is trying to gin up the drama for this, and Biden will certainly be asked about tough issues that already are challenging his smooth operation — including immigration problems at the southern border and the mass shootings in the Atlanta area and Boulder, Colorado. But he knows this and will be prepared.

If Biden’s lucky, his first news conference will be a dull affair. It will also likely be a rare one. Why? Here’s the deal. With platforms like Twitter, Facebook and all the rest at their fingertips, modern-day presidents need reporters and the press less than ever. We saw this during the campaign, when Biden gave individual interviews but rarely held news conferences. The pandemic was a good excuse to pull back even further.

In other news, There’s been an attempted copycat supermarket shooting in Georgia; fortunately it was short-circuited.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Man took 6 guns, body armor into Publix at Atlantic Station, cops say.

Just two days after a mass shooting left 10 people dead at a Colorado supermarket, Atlanta police arrested a 22-year-old man who walked into a Publix at Atlantic Station with six guns and body armor.

Police were called to the grocery store on Atlantic Drive just after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and met with a manager who told them a man came in with a rifle and headed straight toward a bathroom, authorities said.

“A witness observed the male and alerted store management, who then notified police,” Atlanta police spokesman Officer Anthony Grant told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Officers at the scene spotted the man leaving the bathroom and quickly took him into custody. According to police, his weapons included two long guns and four pistols, all of which were concealed.

Police identified the man as Rico Marley. He was booked into the Fulton County Jail on multiple charges of criminal attempt to commit a felony and weapons possession. Marley is scheduled for a first appearance before a judge Thursday morning.

Remember the elderly Asian woman who fought back against her attacker in San Francisco? She’s in the news again.

NPR: Asian Grandmother Who Smacked Her Attacker With A Board Donates Nearly $1 Million.

Xiao Zhen Xie, the 75-year-old woman who was punched by a white man in San Francisco — and then fought back by smacking him with a board — will not keep the nearly $1 million that has been donated for her medical expenses. Her grandson says Xie insists on donating the money to help defuse racism against the Asian American community.

“She insists on making this decision saying this issue is bigger than Her,” John Chen wrote in an update on the fundraising site GoFundMe.

Xiao Zhen Xie, 75, is recovering after she was punched by a man in San Francisco. Her family says that despite being hurt, she fought back to defend herself.
Dennis O’Donnell/Screenshot by NPR

Xie was attacked on San Francisco’s Market Street last Wednesday, the morning after six women of Asian descent were killed in a shooting rampage in the Atlanta area — the worst incident in a broader spike in incidents that have targeted the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Xie, who is originally from China, had been waiting to cross the street when she was suddenly hit in the face. San Francisco Police say the suspect, Steven Jenkins, punched Xie minutes after he assaulted an 83-year-old Asian man. The suspect was being chased by a security guard when he hit Xie.

In the moment, her instinct was to fight back, her family told TV station KPIX. They said that Xie, while badly hurt, responded by grabbing a wooden board and hitting the man.

Jenkins, 39, was left with a bloody mouth and is facing charges of assault and elder abuse.

I’ll end with this argument that violence against women is a hate crime. Click the link to read the article at The Atlantic.

As always, this is an open thread. What’s on your mind today?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Franz Marc Cat with kittens

Franz Marc, Cat with Kittens

Good Morning!!

Everyone wants to know when they will be getting their $1400 stimulus check. Some people were posting on Twitter last night that they had already gotten their direct deposit. People are also saying on Twitter that TD Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are holding the deposits until Wednesday. WTF? My bank is TD Bank. 

So I guess I can stop checking my bank balance for the time being. They have the deposits, but they are going to collect a few days’ interest before they let us have our money.

On Monday, we should be able to track our payments on-line. Forbes: 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could start sending stimulus checks as early as this weekend. If you got a first stimulus check or second stimulus check, you know how important it is to check the status of your stimulus payment. You can check the status of your third stimulus check using the Get My Payment Tool, which is available on the IRS website.

Beginning Monday, March 15, 2021, it is expected that you can use the Get My Payment Tool to check the status of the American Rescue Plan stimulus payments, also known as an Economic Impact Payment. The IRS website says that the IRS is reviewing the tax provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11, 2021.

In other news, the Washington DC media is working very hard to find ways to criticize Joe Biden. They have all been harping on why Biden hasn’t yet held a press conference. The Washington Post: After 50 days as president, Biden still hasn’t given a news conference. Critics and allies wonder why.

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both did their first one after just nine days in office.

Barack Obama waited 20 days.

The Checkered Blouse, Pierre Bonnard, 1892

The Checkered Blouse, Pierre Bonnard, 1892

And Donald Trump had been president for only a week before giving his first news conference, where he fielded questions alongside then-British Prime Minister Theresa May.

But Joe Biden still hasn’t had a formal news conference since his inauguration on Jan. 20. Thursday was his 50th full day in office.

The seven-week stretch is the longest a new president has gone without meeting the press in the past 100 years, dating back to when Calvin Coolidge, a man known as “Silent Cal,” was president, according to research by the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Biden delivered his first prime-time address to the nation Thursday night — but it appears the nation will wait longer to see him respond to questions at his first presidential news conference. He has often taken a question or two from reporters at the end of speeches or statements, as he did Wednesday after remarks about an increase in the coronavirus vaccine supply. But his record as president so far mirrors his behavior as a candidate, when Biden gave several interviews but rarely interacted with a roomful of reporters.

His reluctance to do so since becoming president has attracted comment and criticism from allies and foes alike.

Of course he’s been kind of busy rolling out vaccines and helping pass a huge stimulus bill. In addition his press secretary has been holding daily briefings. But the press has to find something to complain about.

The latest thing is the media asking why Biden isn’t giving Trump credit for the millions of vaccines have have now been distributed. 

And it’s not just Fox News either. Here’s The New York Times: Biden Got the Vaccine Rollout Humming, With Trump’s Help.

When President Biden pledged last week to amass enough vaccine by late May to inoculate every adult in the United States, the pronouncement was greeted as a triumphant acceleration of a vaccination campaign that seemed to be faltering only weeks earlier.

And it is true that production of two of the three federally authorized vaccines has sped up in part because of the demands and directives of the new president’s coronavirus team.

But the announcement was also a triumph of another kind: public relations. Because Mr. Biden had tamped down expectations early, the quicker timetable for vaccine production conjured an image of a White House running on all cylinders and leaving its predecessor’s effort in the dust.

“On Saturday, we hit a record of 2.9 million vaccinations in one day in America, and beyond the numbers are the stories,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday at a White House event to celebrate the latest vaccine advancements. “A father who says he no longer fears for his daughter when she leaves to go to work at the hospital. The children are now able to hug their grandparents. The vaccines bring hope and healing in so many ways.”

Beyond the triumphant tone, a closer look at the ramp-up offers a more mixed picture, one in which the new administration expanded and bulked up a vaccine production effort whose key elements were in place when Mr. Biden took over for President Donald J. Trump. Both administrations deserve credit, although neither wants to grant much to the other.

NBC News got in on it too. Mediaite: WATCH: NBC News’ Peter Alexander Literally Wrote a Statement for Biden to Credit Trump on Vaccines, Read it Aloud at Briefing.

NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander took the initiative to compose a statement that President Joe Biden could use in order to give former President Donald Trump some credit for the success of the vaccination program that’s currently underway.

Several news outlets, including ABC News and The New York Times, criticized President Biden’s address to the nation on the anniversary of the Covid pandemic shutdown for failing to credit Trump.

Theodore Duret in His Study, Edouard Vuillard, 1912

Theodore Duret in His Study, Edouard Vuillard, 1912

At Friday’s White House daily briefing, Alexander asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about that aspect of the speech, and went a step further by reading his own version of what Biden could have said to credit Trump.

Alexander said that Biden “spent a lot of time touting the success of vaccines, yet there was no mention of the president under whose administration these vaccines were developed,” and asked, “Does former President Trump not deserve any credit on vaccines?”

Psaki noted that the President and his team have praised the development of vaccines as “a Herculean incredible effort by science and by medical experts. And certainly, we have applauded that in the past, and we are happy to applaud that again.”

“But, I would say there is a clear difference, clear steps that have been taken since the president took office, that have put us on a trajectory that we were not on when he was inaugurated,” she added. “And leadership starts at the top, it includes mask-wearing, it includes acknowledging it is a pandemic, it includes getting a vaccine in public.”

Psaki went on to say that most of the infrastructure to vaccinate people was not in place when Biden took office.

Alexander conceded some of Psaki’s points, and said: “But on the development of the vaccines, it was Operation Warp Speed that was invented, executed, initiated under the former president.”

“So in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity last night, as opposed to the first comments which were about the denials in the first days weeks or months, why not just say, ‘With credit to the previous administration and the former president for putting us in this position, we are glad that we have been able to move it forward?’” Alexander asked.

“That is an excellent recommendation as a speechwriter,” Psaki said with a smile, then restated much of her previous answer, and told Alexander the purpose of the speech, as she saw it.

It’s looking worse for Andrew Cuomo as more women come forward and more people talk about his bullying and incompetence. Definitely check out Rebecca Traister’s long article at New York Magazine’s The Cut.

Traister also gave an interview to Audie Cornish at NPR: Gov. Cuomo’s Pattern Of Abuse Of Power.

CORNISH: Let’s just start with some of the common threads. What did you hear from some of these women?

TRAISTER: Well, I spoke to women and men, and I heard of a variety of ways in which Andrew Cuomo wields his power and in many cases, I think, abuses it both within the office, how he treats personnel and employees, and in terms of how he governs.

In terms of what I heard from some of the women who have worked for him, there were all kinds of common patterns – the feeling of being objectified, in some cases being hired because of how they looked. There is a woman who tells the story of meeting him at a party for two minutes and then getting invited in for a job offer two days later for no other reason she says she understood at the time except that he liked the way she looked at the party, a meeting where he also sort of grabbed her uncomfortably and did a dance move in front of a photographer.

Marc Chagall, The cat tramsformed into a woman,

Marc Chagall, The cat transformed into a woman,

There was a lot of women talking about how he touched them uncomfortably – again, not necessarily the kind of groping that he has reportedly been accused of by one woman in Albany in an incident that’s been reported to police, but touching them at weddings, kissing them on their heads. And then one thing is…

CORNISH: And you stress this a couple of times. You talk about the idea of diminishment, tokenization, and that sometimes that takes a sexualized form but doesn’t always.

TRAISTER: Yes, some of it is objectification. A lot of women talked about his constant commentary on how they were dressed, how they looked, whether they’d done their makeup that morning, questions about their dating life, use of nicknames or – not just from Cuomo but from some of his high-up staffers – a refusal to sort of learn their real names or refer to them by names. It’s all various forms of making other people feel small, in part to emphasize his own power and maintain these hierarchies within his administration.

CORNISH: Another thing you noted is that there was a sense that there was no information-sharing, that it allowed the governor’s office to evade responsibility on some things. Can you talk about how and why you see a link between this – the allegations we’re hearing now and the problems that Cuomo is having when it comes to the deaths at nursing homes, for example?

TRAISTER: Well, I think so much of it is about his approach to power and how he wields it. He’s often been written about for years as somebody with a hard-knuckled style of politics, which sort of refers to this kind of old white male brute patriarchy in which toughness is read as strength, you know, in which – and in some cases abuse, I think, is read as strength. But what’s common there is this sense of impunity, and I think you can see that – that he’s so powerful that he can get away with things.

Read more or listen at the link. A couple more new articles:

The New York Times: For Some Women, Working for Cuomo Is the ‘Worst Place to Be’

In interviews over the past week, more than 35 people who have worked in Mr. Cuomo’s executive chamber described the office as deeply chaotic, unprofessional and toxic, especially for young women.

It is a workplace, the current and former employees said, where tasks are assigned not based on job titles, but on who is liked by Mr. Cuomo and his top aides.

Cat with Cactus Flower', 1921 - Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen

Cat with Cactus Flower’, 1921, Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen

Those interviewed described an environment where the senior executive staff regularly deride junior workers, test their dedication to the governor and make them compete to earn his affection and avoid his wrath.

The workers, for the most part, said they did not personally witness overt sexual harassment. But many said they believed that Mr. Cuomo and other officials seemed to focus on how employees looked and how they dressed. Twelve young women said they felt pressured to wear makeup, dresses and heels, because, it was rumored, that was what the governor liked.

One high-ranking current official and two former aides said they believed they had been denied opportunities because they did not dress in the preferred manner.

The workplace culture described by the employees is not uncommon in Albany, a state capital with a long history of sexual misconduct scandals and a reputation for after-hours mingling among lobbyists, elected officials and their aides at bars and fund-raisers. But the issues are notable for a governor who has cast himself as a champion for workers and women.

Michael Shnayerson at Vanity Fair: “I Started to Think, This is a Bad Guy”:  Andrew Cuomo’s Biographer on the Governor’s Brutish History.

In 2012, I began writing an unauthorized biography of the governor of New York, who’d been in office a year. I talked to his associates and enemies. I gathered a dossier on his bullying ways and confrontational tactics. I pored over court documents surrounding his nasty split, a decade before, from his wife, Kerry Kennedy, a member of another powerful Democratic dynasty. As I plunged into writing, I hoped he might even agree to sit for an interview—and he did agree, sort of.

By the time I was about to hand in my manuscript, the governor had a book of his own in the works. It was titled All Things Possible. And his intention was to beat me to market. But I was ahead. Back came word that if I would let his book appear first, he would grant me all the interview time I wanted. So I agreed. But the governor pulled a fast one. I never did get that interview; his book came out in October 2014, a full five months ahead of mine. And there was, after all, no longer anything he needed from me. It was a quintessential Cuomo move: underhanded, stealthy, self-serving, and hard-ass.

This week I decided to dip back into the pages of my 2015 Cuomo biography, The Contender—and to do some additional reporting, given the news swirling around the governor. And I discovered that much of Cuomo’s M.O. and many of his character flaws—some of which have resurfaced as he’s been upended by the nursing home scandal and claims of sexual harassment, workplace misconduct, and predatory behavior (currently under investigation by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, and prompting an impeachment investigation by state legislators)—have been evident for years.

Here, then, are 12 hard truths I learned about Andrew Cuomo while writing The Contender.

Read the rest at Vanity Fair.

Those are my suggested reads for today. What’s on your mind?