Monday Reads: “Unprecedented Crisis”

Good Day Sky Dancers!

You must read this piece in The New Republic by Walter Shapiro “Joe Biden’s Great Reclamation Project.”  It’s coupled with this great illustration by Zohar Lazar. It’s difficult to deal with the level of indecency, corruption, lawlessness, and incompetency that have be the predominant features of these last four years.  None of us can wait to get rid of it but  I keep trying to imagine the incredible task of rebuilding alliances, trade agreements, confidence in institutions, normalcy and functionality.  This is what Shapiro tackles.  It’s all about the chaos in everything awaiting the Biden/Harris administration.

Only Franklin Roosevelt, taking the oath on a cloudy and gloomy March day in 1933, inherited comparable challenges. But the Depression was only an economic catastrophe, and Herbert Hoover, paralyzed though he may have been as president, was an honorable man. Barring a dramatic turnabout in the country’s fortunes, Biden will confront joblessness, disease, and the hateful legacy of the most lawless president in history. Much as in 1933, when establishment figures such as Walter Lippmann suggested that America required a dictator for the duration of the economic emergency, the country will greet Biden’s first year in office as a crucial test of whether our battered democracy can again flourish.

These existential questions mean that the pundit’s traditional late-campaign thought experiment of envisioning a Biden presidency requires an imaginative leap far beyond position papers and policy speeches. So many issues that were points of conflict during the Democratic primaries now seem—in the midst of a pandemic—as peripheral as John Kennedy and Richard Nixon squabbling over Quemoy and Matsu, two insignificant islands off the Chinese coast, during their 1960 debates. With Trump in apparent free fall after his disastrous Tulsa rally and his race-baiting embrace of Confederate statues, Biden, for the most part, has traded policy specifics for periodic reminders that he is neither a hate-monger nor a low-rent huckster peddling miracle virus cures from the White House.

Specifics are also in short supply for the simple reason that these days everyone in the Democratic Party, with the possible exception of John Edwards, can claim to be a Biden policy adviser. Like any traditional presidential candidate running a big-tent campaign, Biden distributes titles with the lavishness of a shady trace-your-British-ancestry firm. In addition to the campaign’s policy staffers and longtime outside advisers to the former vice president, Biden and Bernie Sanders with great fanfare in May announced unity task forces to supposedly meld the centrist and progressive wings of the party. In mid-July, the task forces unveiled an ambitious $2 trillion climate change plan (without explaining how it would get through a closely divided Senate) that prompted Trump to risibly claim that Biden wanted to “abolish the suburbs.” (The president did not explain where he thought Biden planned to put the existing land around cities.)

After nearly four years of Trump, it is hard to remember what a normal presidency feels like.

Indeed.  But, it’s going to take a lot more than a normal president to handle this task. There is so much on the list that it’s amazing Shapiro doesn’t need a book volume to list them all.  Each of the cabinet officers have been corrupt and incompetent. Every Department will have to be reset at their replacement.  Then there are the two big problems of the economy and the Pandemic.  Will he appoint czars for these?  And then there’s the crisis in Justice and policing, will he hand this to Vice President Harris to work with congress on appropriate legislation and systemic change?  What role will she play and what will land on her desk?

Former Admiral William McRaven writes today a WAPO Op Ed about the current attack on democracy and our federal government. “Trump is actively working to undermine the Postal Service — and every major U.S. institution”  Trump has shown his willingness to do every legal and illegal dirty trick in the book to get elected.  We have continuing Russian interference,  Republican States blocking access to voting, and now this.

Today, as we struggle with social upheaval, soaring debt, record unemployment, a runaway pandemic, and rising threats from China and Russia, President Trump is actively working to undermine every major institution in this country. He has planted the seeds of doubt in the minds of many Americans that our institutions aren’t functioning properly. And, if the president doesn’t trust the intelligence community, law enforcement, the press, the military, the Supreme Court, the medical professionals, election officials and the postal workers, then why should we? And if Americans stop believing in the system of institutions, then what is left but chaos and who can bring order out of chaos: only Trump. It is the theme of every autocrat who ever seized power or tried to hold onto it.

Our institutions are the foundation of a functioning democracy. While they are not perfect, they are still the strongest bulwark against overzealous authority figures. The institutions give the people a voice; a voice in the information we receive, a voice in the laws we pass, a voice in the wars we fight, the money we spend and the justice we uphold. And a voice in the people we elect.

As Trump seeks to undermine the U.S. Postal Service and stop mail-in voting, he is taking away our voice to decide who will lead America. It is not hyperbole to say that the future of the country could depend on those remarkable men and women who brave the elements to bring us our mail and deliver our vote. Let us ensure they have every resource possible to provide the citizens of this country the information they need, the ballots that they request and the Postal Service they deserve.

Trump may have a war on the Post office, but Republicans in states have a direct war on voting.  Take this headline today from The Advocate’s Sam Karlin here in Louisiana. “Louisiana mail-in voting would be rolled back in November under new proposal”.  I’m pretty sure Republican leges are trying to do this every where possible.

Louisiana Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin has proposed a plan for the Nov. 3 presidential election that rolls back mail-in voting significantly from the recently-held summer elections, allowing only one category of people to vote by mail if they don’t meet the normal requirements–those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The plan, submitted to lawmakers Monday morning, is surely to spark a new round of outcry from Democrats and advocacy groups who have sued the state for not doing enough to accommodate people at risk from the virus. If it passes, it will ensure Louisiana is one of eight states to require an excuse for voters to obtain an absentee ballot; the rest either mail all voters a ballot or make them available to everyone.

Then there’s this continuing nightmare of school openings.

This is eyepopping for our once great nation. “Only 17 states meet the WHO’s criteria for safely reopening a community.”

The U.S. attempt to return children to the classroom this fall has turned into a slow-motion train wreck, with at least 2,400 students and staff either infected with COVID-19 or self-isolating because of exposure, and the vast majority of large school districts opting to go online this summer amid rising cases of the virus.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have mostly waved off the situation unraveling this week in states like Georgia, Alabama, Indiana and Tennessee, where schools opened their doors after a months-long hiatus due to the pandemic — only to quickly backtrack as soon as infections popped back up.

Trump and DeVos have demanded that schools stay open full-time and threatened to pull federal funding if the institutions fail to do so. At a White House event this week, DeVos made no mention of the crisis in Georgia and elsewhere and said families shouldn’t be held “captive to other people’s fears or agendas.”

DeVos has “consistently said the decision to reopen should be made at the local level, and some schools may need to temporarily remain virtual based on local public health situation,” Angela Morabito, a spokesperson for the Education Department, told ABC News late Thursday in an emailed response to questions about the recent school closures.

“She’s also, for the last 30 years maintained that parents and families need options when it comes to the child’s education and that has never been more evident than now,” Morabito wrote. “Parents need to have access to safe, in-person options as well as distant or remote learning options if that is what is best for their family. The key word here is safe.”

But what is “safe” is not at all clear to most school officials and at the heart of a bitter debate unfolding just months ahead of the presidential election.

As all of this continues to take up the air waves, there’s stuff sneaking under and around them. There’s some coverage of this today but not enough. “US approves oil, gas leasing plan for Alaska Wildlife refuge. The Department of the Interior has approved an oil and gas leasing program within Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’.  We got too much of the stuff now!  Why do we need this?

The Trump administration on Monday took another step to opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil and gas, potentially fulfilling a decades-long dream for Republicans.

Environmentalists, however, promised to fight opening up the coast plain of the refuge, a 1.56-million acre swath of land along Alaska’s northern Beaufort Sea coast, home to polar bears, caribous and other wildlife, after the Department of the Interior approved an oil and gas leasing program.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed the Record of Decision, which will determine a program for where oil and gas leasing will take place in the refuge’s coastal plain.

“The establishment of this program marks a new chapter in American energy independence,” Bernhardt said during a conference call with reporters.

“Years of inaction have given away to an informed and determined plan to responsibly tap ANWR’s energy potential for the American people for generations to come,” he said.

President Trump insisted Congress include a mandate providing for leasing in the refuge in a 2017 tax bill.

Over the last four decades, Republicans have attempted to open the refuge to drilling. President Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill to allow drilling in 1995, and Democrats blocked a similar plan 10 years later.

There’s just only so much we can all put up with.  This is all outrageous and it’s draining and exhausting.  It’s difficult to deal right now with  my twin threats of a dead ac evaporator coil in 90 degree weather and what looks like termites that have moved into the water heater shack.  Where am I supposed to get money and time and patience for any of this?  I ‘m anxious and stressed and depressed. Certainly, no help is coming from the US Senate under Mitch McConnell.  From CNBC “‘We will lose everything:’ Americans express frustration at Congress adjourning without a stimulus deal.”

Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said members will return to vote if a deal is reached, that could still be weeks away, CNBC reported. In the meantime, around 28 million Americans are currently collecting jobless benefits, and as many as 40 million could face eviction if Congress does not pass a relief bill soon, according to Emily Benfer, a housing expert.

Hundreds of readers — from all over the country and across the political spectrum — wrote into CNBC Make It to detail how the Senate’s failure to pass another aid package is affecting them and their families. Many expressed outrage at Congress’s inaction. Others simply wanted to vent to someone about their situation, they said.

“When I saw them ignore the desperate need for a new stimulus for almost two months, I was stunned,”  Hugh Wasson, 66, writes to CNBC Make It. Wasson is currently unable to find work, and lives off of his Social Security payments and jobless benefits from Florida, which do not cover all of his bills. “I am still unable to believe anyone could be so callous, let alone a whole roomful of them.”

Here’s how seven other unemployed Americans across the country are faring.

Before Covid-19, Jane, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for privacy purposes, made a good living as a waitress in Southern Indiana, taking home around $600 to $800 per week. Now, with her restaurant still closed, she receives $141 per week, after taxes, in state jobless benefits.

With so little money, her rent, electric and cable bills have gone unpaid this month, and she has let her car and rental insurance policies lapse. Waiting for Congress to do something, she says, has turned her into “a ball of stress.”

“Literally the only thing[s] I think about [are] money, bills, money, debt, food,” she says. “I wake up thinking about these things, and I go to bed, struggling to fall asleep, thinking about these things.”

The 33-year-old has been working since she was 15, she says, and this is the longest period of time she’s been without a job. She says that if any member of Congress were in her place — unsure of how’d they’d pay rent or be able to buy groceries — they’d come to a deal fast.

“I get that [Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] wants $600 extended benefits, I’d love that, when I was getting that I was able to keep up with all of my bills,” she says. “But at this point, I’d take anything.”

So, let me return to Shapiro.  Of all the things on his list, this tugged at me.  What do we do with this mad, lawless man once we extricate him?

Once in office, Biden will immediately confront a legal question that has only a single precedent in American history: How does an incoming president handle his immediate predecessor’s suspected abuse of office? Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon—although it helped end the national nightmare—was unpopular at the time and precluded any trial. But Nixon as president did not shield his underlings from federal investigation, which is why there was enough evidence early in Ford’s presidency to convict former Attorney General John Mitchell and former top White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman of illegally covering up the Watergate break-in and the broader scandals surrounding it

There will be a political argument that going after Trump after he slinks out of the White House will only add to national divisions. But if you can’t prosecute a lawless president when he is in office and it is in bad taste to prosecute him after he has left office, about the only remaining legal option would be to prosecute him for thought crimes before he takes office

I’m still thinking on this.

Anyway, it’s getting very hot in my room. I did go out to buy a small window unit to keep the back and center part of the house cooler.  It wasn’t something really on the budget but it was 93 yesterday and it’s hard to function in that kind of heat.

I hope you are safe and able to stay someplace to stay that way.  We have to find a way to vote and fight this despite our individual and shared exhaustion.  They want us that way.  It’s what autocratic wannabes do so we just give in and go along.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?