hearings

We arrived home from the UK just in time for the first primetime hearing of the findings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Since that hearing held on June 9th, there have been three more during the daytime with several more on the schedule.

Because I follow the news closely, I had thought that the hearings might not be very revelatory for me but I have found them to be very powerful. Part of the impact is that the testimony is all under oath. While some of the information had been revealed by investigative reporting or published in books by various participants, one was never quite sure of the veracity of claims. Knowing that witnesses are sworn to tell the truth makes it more likely that they are, given that committing perjury before Congress or a court can result in imprisonment. The vast majority of the 1000+ people who have been interviewed in the investigation came forward voluntarily without being compelled by subpoena, so they intended to tell what they had seen and heard for the good of the country. The committee also has access to hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, enabling it to stitch together a detailed timeline of the web of activities that led to the January 6th attack as well as what happened on that day and in the aftermath.

In the daytime hearings, a different member of the Committee has taken the lead in questioning, sometimes paired with a member of the staff. The staff includes experienced lawyers and investigators who have done the lion’s share of the work with witnesses and evidence.

At this point, the Committee is providing a preliminary review of its findings; a written report will be issued later in the year. They are doing a very comprehensive job of laying out evidence in an organized and cogent way. It probably helps that many of the committee members are themselves lawyers with courtroom experience. Their questioning of live witnesses is very straightforward so that each witness can tell their story without the distraction of political grandstanding. Most of the witnesses, whether appearing live or in recorded clips, are Republican officeholders, officials, or staff, so that it is clear that the Committee is not just interviewing critics of the Trump administration or engaging in hearsay. The Committee is putting forth actual evidence that you would expect to find in a court of law.

Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, presides and does opening and closing statements at each hearing; Vice-chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, also does opening and closing statements each time. She has been particularly vocal in calling out Trump and the Republicans who assisted him in the lies about the 2020 election that led to the Capitol attack.

The testimony has revealed some previously undisclosed details. For example, in the hearing that centered on threats to then Vice-president Mike Pence, we learned that attackers got within forty feet of him as he was being evacuated, that he refused to leave the Capitol grounds, and that he was acting as commander-in-chief in calling in the National Guard as Trump refused to act.

It’s sobering and terrifying to see through this evidence how close our country came to an actual collapse of our democracy. If Pence and Republican members of Congress had delayed certification in violation of the Constitution, there would likely have been widespread violence in all regions of the country; Trump would have declared martial law and it would have been very difficult to recover our democracy. It’s also chilling to see the continuing impacts on our electoral process. A number of states have enacted provisions that make it easier to disenfranchise voters or ignore their legally cast ballots. Supporters of the lies about the 2020 election are winning elected office in some states, enabling them to interfere with government from within.

It’s very tense to be in the middle of all this, gaining all this knowledge but not knowing if/when there will be consequences for those who engaged in wrongdoing. We know the Justice Department is investigating but we don’t know if they will charge Trump, members of his administration and staff, and members of Congress with crimes pertaining to attempts to stage a coup. The Committee will make recommendations for legal reforms to the Electoral Count Act and other measures to try to avert another attempt to interfere with the certification of the election. These should be widely endorsed and enacted with large majorities of both parties but it remains to be seen if they will.

It scares me that so many current Republicans still cling to lies about the 2020 election and refuse to take responsibility for their activities that supported it. Even after the attack, eight senators and 139 representatives voted against acceptance of some of Biden’s electors, even though there was no factual basis to do so. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican who led a group on a long tour of the House office buildings the day before the attack though the entire Capitol complex was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, is denying he did anything wrong, even with evidence that a member of the tour group was part of the January 6 mob. There are dozens of members of Congress who should resign over their shameful disregard for their oath to uphold the Constitution but there is not even the possibility of Republican votes in favor of censure, much less removal from Congress.

I’m trying to remain hopeful that these hearings will break through the denial bubble that surrounds many Republican voters. After being the only major broadcast/news outlet to not air the initial primetime hearing, Fox News has begun to provide some coverage. I think that the powers that be at Fox News knew that the hearings would be important because during the primetime hearing, they did not take their usual commercials breaks so that their viewers wouldn’t be tempted to check in on the hearings. It’s also important to remember that Fox News, despite its name, is not really a news channel. While there are actual journalists who work for Fox News, they only have a few hours of airtime per week. The vast majority of their programming is classified as “entertainment” with pundits/personalities who are not constrained by any standards of truthfulness or propriety. The breath-taking amount of fear-mongering that Fox News and other right-wing outlets echoes and engenders the civic divide that Trump and the Republicans created and which threatens our democracy.

If Republicans watch the hearings, they will hear a number of familiar people and themes. Retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the most revered conservative jurists, was featured in one hearing, speaking about the current dangers to our democracy. A number of the witnesses have spoken about the role of their faith in their actions. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was particularly eloquent in this regard.

I have been moved by the real-world consequences for those who protected the integrity of the election and of the Capitol. Speaker Bowers’ account of the threats against him and his family, including harassment at his home as he and his wife attended to their terminally ill daughter. US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards’ testimony on being injured on January 6th and still trying to aid her fellow officers in what amounted to hand-to-hand combat, not the policing work for which they had been trained. The appalling loss of any sense of safety or security for election workers Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, including even the ability to use their own names in public for fear of being attacked after being repeatedly vilified by Trump, Giuliani, and their followers.

I will continue to watch the hearings and the analysis and urge all the people of the United States to do the same. I hope that they will mark a turning point for the electorate so that we can root out all those who have failed in their oaths to uphold the Constitution before it is too late.

The hearings are showing us how close we came to disaster and how little time we have to strengthen our democratic institutions against attack.

mass shootings and Broome County and beyond

On May 14, 2022, a shooter from Broome County in the Southern Tier of New York State where I live killed ten and injured three in a Tops Supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, a city about three and a half hours away.

This horrible crime evoked immediate grief and rage. In such circumstances, commentators in the media react quickly, which can result in oversimplification of a complex situation. I heard commentators say that mental health problems are just an excuse used when the shooter is white. That his parents must be monsters. That his town must be filled with racists.

I understand the passion and fury of their reaction but they had not had time to look into the realities on the ground here in Broome County. The shooter did have mental health issues. He had been evaluated at a hospital after making disturbing comments about murder/suicide in an online high school class last year, not long before he graduated. He managed to convince people that he had been joking but we now know that he was not. I don’t know if he was referred for any counseling but mental health services in our area, especially for youth, are not easy to access. Wait lists can be long as there aren’t enough providers to meet the needs of residents, especially with the increased mental strain brought about by the pandemic. New York State does have a red flag law which would have removed weapons from his home but it was not triggered because he wasn’t reported as a threat.

The shooter went to great lengths to hide his activities from his parents. He hid his newly acquired assault weapon in his room. Because ammunition clips of more than ten rounds are banned in New York State, he modified the Bushmaster himself. He told his parents he was going hiking when he was making a reconnaissance trip to Buffalo.

The students at the high school in Conklin mobilized to send messages of support to the victims in Buffalo and to raise money for their needs. While it’s true that less than 1% of residents in town are Black, the students wanted to show that their school is not racist. The “white replacement theory” that the shooter espoused was not something he learned there or in town but from mass media and the internet. This is not to say that there aren’t racists in Conklin, as I’m sure there are, but to show that many people there are anti-racist and working to show that in the wake of the shooting.

That mental illness is part of the story in mass shootings is not confined by race. The mentally ill shooter in the April 12, 2022 New York City subway shooting is a Black man. While the Broome County shooter in Buffalo is white, the shooter from the other Broome County mass shooting was not. On April 3, 2009, a Vietnamese-American man killed thirteen people and wounded four before killing himself inside the American Civic Association in Binghamton. He was known to be mentally ill; his father had begged the state not to allow his son a handgun license. This was before red flag laws in New York, which were not enacted until after the Newtown shooting.

The ACA shooting, though it was among the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US at the time, did not enter the national consciousness like other mass shootings. While there was a brief descent by national media, there was no presidential visit or long-standing news coverage of the aftermath of the families and community, except in limited local sources. I wrote this post on the fifth anniversary, positing that, because most of the victims were immigrants from various countries, the American public failed to relate to the victims as people like themselves. Because it was dismissed from public discourse so quickly, Broome County largely did “move on” from the shooting. As a young child at the time, the eventual shooter from Conklin may not even have heard about the ACA shooting, despite it happening in a bordering city to his town.

I had been mulling all this, preparing to write this post, when the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas happened. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman, who also injured others, including his grandmother before he went to the school. He was later shot and killed by police.

The United States suffers mass shootings like this on a regular basis. Political leaders offer thoughts and prayers. Democrats typically call for legislation to reduce gun violence and Republicans typically say it isn’t the right time or that nothing should be done to restrict access to guns or that a proposed legal change would not have helped the situation. The Republicans even say that we need more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens so that they can stop the bad guys with guns, despite the fact that even trained security officers have trouble stopping a gunman with an assault weapon and body armor. So nothing gets done and the cycle repeats.

Will the juxtaposition of these two horrific shootings, each by an 18-year-old wearing body armor and armed with a military-style assault weapon, change any national policies in order to reduce future mass shootings?

I’m trying to have hope but it’s difficult to maintain.

I believe that national level laws are needed. New York has enacted a number of laws that have reduced gun violence and mass shootings, including red flag laws and limiting the size of gun magazines. Sadly, the shooter in Buffalo evaded those. If the size of magazines was limited throughout the US, though, he would not have been able to modify his gun to shoot more than ten rounds, which would have afforded a better opportunity to stop him when he had to pause to reload.

Besides national red flag laws and limiting the size of magazines, other measures for consideration could be universal background checks for all gun sales, requiring safety courses and licensing to own a gun, increasing the age to buy a gun to 21, and banning the sale of military-style weapons. From 1994-2004, the United States did have a ban on these weapons. The number of mass shootings fell in those years and skyrocketed after the ban expired.

The main reason that opponents of gun safety measures give is the Second Amendment to our Constitution. This is due to a misinterpretation; regulation of arms is permitted as has been shown in the courts many times. In his retirement, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, “The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.” Still, most Congressional Republicans and many Republican governors maintain that gun ownership is an absolute right, which keeps them from taking action to reign in gun deaths and injuries.

While mass shootings generate the most public outrage, the sad fact is that the majority of gun deaths occur in smaller incidents. The greatest number of gun deaths are self-inflicted. This fact again shows the intersection of mental health and gun violence. In a country with more guns than people, easy accessibility to guns makes suicide attempts more likely to be lethal.

One of the excuses politicians use is that reform X would not have prevented this specific incident. This misses the point. We need to enact a broad swath of reforms which will still not prevent every death but will prevent many of them.

The sickening thing is that the long delay has enabled more and more deaths and injuries to occur. It was discouraging to look back on my posts on this topic, for example, here and here and here. In 2016, I even had a guest viewpoint printed in our local newspaper. I make the same arguments that many others have made in the media and in the political arena.

And here we are again, in national mourning, waiting for action to address the carnage, this time with the spectacle of the National Rifle Association, the most powerful anti-reform group, holding its convention in Texas just days after the shooting in Uvalde.

Will we finally see national action this time, however slight? Will the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, added to Newtown, Charleston, Las Vegas, El Paso, etc., etc., and, yes, even Binghamton, finally tip the scales in favor of action by the Republican officeholders who have been preventing protective laws? Or perhaps the belated recognition that they are continually losing constituents to violent crime, domestic violence, shooting accidents, and suicide? Maybe they will begin to suffer the cognitive dissonance of laws that withhold alcohol and tobacco sales until age 21, while allowing 18-year-olds to vote, serve in the military, and buy guns – and that charge even young teens as adults for violent crimes.

Congress is currently in recess. When you come back to Washington, please, do something, however incremental, to make a difference. A first step will lead to others so that the United States can make progress toward the rates that nearly every other Western country has regarding gun violence. We elected you to lead us to “domestic tranquility.”

Our current state of sorrow and rage is its opposite.

One-Liner Wednesday: freedom over tyranny

Tonight, we meet…with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny. 

U.S. President Joe Biden, near the beginning of his State of the Union address to Congress last night

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voting in the US

I’m tired of politicians in Republican-led states that are restricting voting practices boasting that their policies still make voting easier than in “liberal” New York.

I live in New York state and here’s the deal. New York has long had very cumbersome voting rules. Registration and changes in party affiliation had to be completed months in advance of election day. Absentee voting by mail was only for medical issues with a doctor’s letter or being out of the county on election day. Until the pandemic, there were no early voting days. When we did have some early voting for the November 2020 election due to the pandemic, I waited in line for three hours to cast my ballot. Fear of COVID was allowed as a medical exemption so voting by mail was easier in 2020 but those ballots were not counted for over a week.

I envied family and friends in other states where most of the voting was done by mail, often with ballots mailed routinely to registered voters. States with open primaries, same-day registration, weeks of early voting days. States where it was not as cumbersome to fulfill the fundamental responsibility of being a citizen.

Because of the election interference problems of 2016, there had been a lot of preparations done to make the 2020 election more secure. The pandemic added another layer of complexity but the election was very successful with high turnout and accurate results reported. There were only scattered instances of voter fraud. Despite the vociferous and continuing lies from the former president and other Republicans, the election was free and fair. Dozens of recounts, audits, and court cases have upheld the results.

That is not to say that there were no problems. In my Congressional district, New York 22, the vote count was so close that it had not been certified when the new Congress first met in early January. During the January 6 attack, there was no representative from my district huddled in the House chamber and then evacuated to a safer location. The contested election results wound up in court. One of the main issues was that one of the counties did not process new voter registrations even though they arrived before the deadline. When those people appeared to vote, they were not allowed to cast ballots, which was significant in a district where only a few dozen votes separated the candidates. The court allowed the vote count to stand, seating the Republican candidate who had won in 2016 in place of the Democratic incumbent who had beaten her in 2018.

In a way, this foreshadows some of the efforts underway in various states to make registering and voting more difficult for people who are deemed likely to vote for Democrats. This has variously been applied to people of color, urban dwellers, elders, college students, and Latinx populations, depending on the state. For example, in Texas, a handgun license is accepted as identification for voting but a student ID is not. There have also been moves to close polling locations in certain areas, for example, to create long lines to vote in majority black neighborhoods while white neighborhoods have more polling places with only a few minutes’ wait. We also see increased amounts of gerrymandering, whereby districts are drawn in convoluted ways to dilute the voting power of a group, whether that is regarding political party, race, or ethnicity.

These kinds of voter suppression tactics and interference in representation have been around for a long time but are worse now than in recent US history due to Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2021 which made much of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unenforceable.

What is even more unsettling are the new laws in some states that are empowering partisans to determine which of the votes cast get counted and which get thrown out. The counting of valid votes should be totally straightforward and non-partisan. It’s math. Inserting politics means that it’s possible for electoral college votes to be awarded to the candidate who lost the popular vote in the state, perhaps overseen by the state legislature. We have seen a frightening example of this already with several states sending fraudulent slates of electors for Trump in states where Biden won the popular vote. We have just learned that these cases are being investigated by the Department of Justice.

There have been several bills in Congress to try to address these problems. They have passed the House but not the Senate where they have been impeded by the filibuster that would need ten Republicans to join with the Democratic caucus to advance the bills for a vote.

It’s shameful that Republicans are not standing up for democracy and the right of all citizens to participate in free and fair elections. They are apparently afraid that, if everyone votes and all the votes are counted accurately in fairly drawn districts, they will lose elections and power.

They should, though, be prioritizing our democratic principles and highest ideals. The last time the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized in 2006 it passed in the Senate 98-0 with 17 currently serving Republican senators supporting it. The Voting Rights Act originally targeted black voter suppression in certain jurisdictions with known discriminatory practices and the Supreme Court considered these formulae outdated. The current legislation under consideration goes further in securing voting rights for all in that it addresses a wider range of problems over the country that have appeared or been threatened over time. It would help voters in Democrat-led states like New York as well as Republican-led states like Florida.

Some have argued that the courts will prevent injustice but that does not always happen, as we found in the case in NY-22 where voters were disenfranchised without redress. We are also seeing, unfortunately, cases where judges are acting in a partisan way rather than an impartial, merits-of-the-case way.

Our Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”. Over our history, voting has been restricted by race, age, gender, and wealth. As we strive to “form a more perfect Union,” we must ensure that all adult American citizens have equal access to voting, whatever their race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, political opinions, education, place of residence, or health status. We need just and enforceable laws to make that possible. I call on all members of Congress to support their fellow citizens in order to make our union stronger and “more perfect”.
*****
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seditious conspiracy and excess electors

As we have just passed the one-year anniversary of the attack on the US Capitol, we are getting more public insight into the investigations surrounding it.

In the United States, law enforcement and local, state, and federal judiciary officials do not publicly comment on ongoing investigations. They do this to avoid tipping their hand to those who might potentially be contacted to testify or who might eventually be indicted and also to not prejudice future jurors. This does, however, lead to lots of public speculation. Over 700 people had been charged in connection to the January 6th attack, many with misdemeanors but some with felonies, such as assaulting police officers.

This week, eleven members of the extremist group Oath Keepers, including their founder Stewart Rhodes, were charged with seditious conspiracy in conjunction with the attack on the Capitol. While there had been a few prior conspiracy charges, such as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, this is the first instance of charges of seditious conspiracy.

The indictment is quite detailed about the weeks of planning and the actions of the Oath Keepers before, during, and after the January 6th Capitol breach. It helps explain why it took a bit over a year to issue the indictment, as it takes time to amass the evidence needed for the grand jury to charge the defendants. Now that this indictment focused on the Oath Keepers has been handed down, it’s possible that we may see other, similar indictments of members of the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. Given the way that these big investigations tend to start with lesser crimes and work their way through to more serious charges among those who engaged in orchestrating events, we may eventually see indictments of some elected officials who helped or coordinated with these groups.

It is likely that we are seeing a similar dynamic with the House select committee investigation. Investigative reporters have recently obtained copies of forged electoral college certification documents for Donald Trump from five states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin) that Joe Biden won, which were sent to the Congress and the National Archives. This suggest an organized attempt by Republicans to commit election fraud. Note that these materials were obtained by journalists through Freedom of Information Act requests in the states. They were not leaked from any Congressional or judicial investigations but it seems that those investigations already have these documents as part of their evidence.

Patience is required to see if this evidence will eventually result in charges but it seems that more and more evidence of conspiracy to overturn a valid presidential election is coming to light. I find it unnerving to see how close the US came to a coup but I hope that these investigations will root out all those responsible and bring them to justice before they have another chance to try again. If they do get that chance and succeed in rigging an election or overturning the results of a fair election, the United States will cease to be the oldest functioning democracy in the modern world.

We must not risk that happening.

In the United States, no one is above the law.

At least, that is what we keep telling ourselves.
*****
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January 6

January 6, like December 7 and September 11, has entered the consciousness of the United States as a date on which we were attacked. January 6 is more painful to me because the attack was perpetrated by our own citizens, animated by lies about the integrity of the 2020 election.

The harm of the attack on the Capitol was compounded by over one hundred members of Congress who voted on January 7 against certifying the votes from some states, despite dozens of recounts, audits, and court cases verifying the accuracy of the vote count. Investigations since have also shown there was no widespread voter fraud or irregularities with the 2020 election.

Strangely, the same people who insist the 2020 election was rigged have discounted the election interference that took place in the 2016 election. This interference, which was known publicly in part before the election and elucidated further by the Mueller report and the talking indictments of Russian operatives after the election, could have impacted the result of the election, especially in the targeted districts that the Trump campaign told the Russians about from their internal campaign polling data.

After the Republicans refused the opportunity to set up an independent investigation of the events leading up to January 6 and the day itself, the House of Representatives set up a special committee, which has been meeting for months. There has been some public testimony and there will probably be more coming soon. I try to hope that this will be helpful in showing what happened and why – and who was responsible for the violence and the lies that have weakened our country and its democratic norms.

It is obvious that Trump has been the loudest voice saying the elections are rigged, but his own words dating back to 2016 show that, for him, “rigged” equals I lost and “fair” equals I won. It has nothing to do with accurate counts of votes cast or fair voter registration and ballot access or lack of foreign interference.

What is even more disheartening is that the Republican party, which had an opportunity to stand up for the fairness of the election, our democratic system, and the Constitution, chose instead to undermine our government in a quest for power, even when that power is gained at the expense of the majority of our own citizens. While there have been a few brave Republicans who have stood up for the truth and for the Constitution – and many more who have abandoned the party altogether – most have supported the lies of the former president and have not voted for bills to help the country deal with the pandemic, the many needs of our people, and the strengthening of voting rights.

I am still in the UK visiting family on this first anniversary of the insurrection. If I were at home, I’d probably be watching coverage about it today, analyzing where the country stands and what the future might be. I would like to be hopeful, but I’m not. While I try to do what I can to spread facts, it doesn’t reach, let alone convince, those who have fallen victim to lies and conspiracy theories.

I will try, in the coming year, to do what I can to keep spreading facts, as will millions of others in their professional and personal lives, in hopes that we can get national voting rights legislation passed and that the Democrats can strengthen their majorities in order to govern more effectively. It’s probably too much to hope that the Republicans will decide to honor their oaths and help to govern, which is sad and frustrating and scary.

Who knows what the next year will bring and what January 6, 2023 will look like?
*****
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One-Liner Wednesday: Bob Dole

I stood up for those going hungry not as a leader in my party but as someone who had seen too many folks sweat through a hard day’s work without being able to put dinner on the table.

Senator Bob Dole, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 98

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alarm

Because of family circumstances, I have spent most of the last six years focused on taking care of various generations, fitting in some writing and environmental/social justice advocacy as time and energy allowed.

During all those years, there has been an undercurrent of increasing alarm and distress over the unraveling of the social structure and government of the United States.

The roots of the current dysfunction predate the Trump candidacy and presidency. While there has always been racism, discrimination, and prejudice in the US, it became more overt during the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the first Black man to be elected to that office. There were wild conspiracies that President Obama had not been born in the United States, that he was secretly a Muslim terrorist, that he was going to take away all the civilian guns, and on and on.

During his presidency, we also saw the Republican party lying and fear-mongering about legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act. They blocked valid appointments to executive and judicial branch posts. It was the precursor to the current situation where the Republicans have essentially stopped cooperating in governing, even on previously non-partisan issues like raising the debt ceiling and voting rights. They have even blocked votes on nearly all the ambassadorial appointments, so that President Biden is in Europe for global meetings without having ambassadors in most of the countries involved.

The Trump presidency seemed to radicalize – or, at least, reveal unexpressed sentiments of – a swath of the electorate who, through fear or inability to distinguish between truth and lies, have perpetrated or suffered harm because of it.

The largest amount of suffering and death are due to the lies about COVID-19, possible treatments, and vaccines. Because Trump, his administration, and some Republican governors did not convey and act on the evolving medical and research science, the numbers of Republicans/Trump voters who have been sickened or have died from the infection is disproportionately high. It’s sad and appalling. It’s also made it impossible to tamp down community spread in the ways needed to end the pandemic and get our country to the point of establishing a “new normal.” I’m trying to be hopeful that the impending authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged five to eleven will help to cut down community spread; it may well in some regions, such as the Northeast where I live, that have higher rates of teen and adult immunization, but in places where the majority of adults remain unvaccinated despite almost a year of availability, a higher proportion of people will continue to get sick and die. Those people will include vaccinated people because no vaccine is 100% effective and some people, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, do not build up as strong an immunity from the vaccines. They need the additional protection of being surrounded by vaccinated people so that the virus can’t find enough vulnerable people to infect and stops spreading.

The more terrifying impact for the future of the country is the millions of people who now believe that our elections are rigged and that President Biden is not rightfully serving as president. Court cases, recounts, and audits have shown over and over again that Biden beat Trump. Investigative journalism and official investigations are continuing to reveal how some members of the Trump administration tried to engineer overturning the election results. Some of these machinations boiled over into the attempted insurrection on January 6th, which, even though much of it was recorded and has been attested to by Trump supporters who were participants, many Republican officeholders claim was not really an insurrection. Many Congressional Republicans refuse to even state the obvious truth that Joe Biden was fairly elected president, despite there being no credible evidence of wide-spread election fraud.

Cynically, these same Republicans are now voting against legislation that will strengthen voting rights to ensure that all eligible voters can have their say in our elections, even as some states are acting to restrict voting rights and putting in place partisan election officials or even giving state legislatures the power to appoint presidential electors pledged to the candidate that did not win the popular vote.

These kinds of things are terrifying because they have occurred in the past when autocrats have come to power. I have heard several interviews with Timothy Synder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which are stark reminders of parallels between recent currents in the US and a number of countries in Europe in the last century where democracy was subverted by fascism, Nazism, or communism. (Ironically, many current Republicans try to paint Democrats or Independents as being socialist or communist when they are actually continuing to espouse capitalism and US constitutional values.) There have also been several more recent books looking specifically at the current state of democracy in the US, including Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could by Rep. Adam Schiff.

While I know my own reach is limited, I make sure I post facts about vaccines and the pandemic. I also post facts about the political situation. Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president. The Republican party has no current policy platform, having carried over the 2016 platform at the 2020 convention instead of writing a new one that addresses current issues such as COVID and increased incidence of violence against people of color, people of faith, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Rather the Republican minority leaders in Congress, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell, instruct their caucuses to vote against all Democratic proposals with only rare exceptions, such as the Senate infrastructure bill.

Tuesday is Election Day. In New York State this year, the elections being contested are local but there are several state-wide ballot propositions which will strengthen our voting laws. I will proudly vote in favor of all those propositions.

I also will continue to participate in civil discussion whenever the opportunity presents itself. Granted, there are not many opportunities these days, but I will continue to try.

SoCS: hope

I have long said that hope is the virtue that I struggle with.

Or maybe it is that I struggle with the intersection of hope and reality.

I do try to keep my hopes realistic, not veering off into fantasy, but lately, it seems, even my realistic hopes get dashed on a regular basis.

On a personal level, my biggest struggle to maintain hope has been with my father’s health condition after a fall four weeks ago. I keep hoping that the medical team will be able to figure out what is causing his increased confusion, disorientation, and fatigue, so that we can make him more comfortable, but we don’t seem to be able to. I am not hoping for a miracle. Paco is 96 and has several underlying health conditions. I know the time we have left with him is limited. I just want to help make things as comfortable and stress-free as possible. I didn’t think this was an unrealistic hope, but perhaps it is.

Even with this personal struggle, there is always an awareness of what is going around us here in the US. I had hoped that, with several effective vaccines widely available, we could tamp down the pandemic, including the newer and more contagious variants. Instead, we are seeing some areas with very low vaccination rates experiencing spikes in COVID cases. Another realistic hope dashed.

Equally or perhaps even more alarming is the increasingly bizarre behavior of the Republican party. I had hoped that, after what even Republican election officials knew was a fair election, and especially after the horror of the January 6th insurrection and attack on the Capitol, the Republicans would fulfill their Constitutional duties and govern, at this point as the minority party. But they are not. In states that have a Republican legislature, especially if there is a Republican governor, too, we are seeing rafts of legislation that try to suppress votes of people who are less likely to choose Republican candidates. This isn’t just another dashed hope. It feels dystopian.

Of course, some hopes are more mundane. I had hoped to get an SoCS post written before I fell asleep and I have managed that.

I hope that Paco will have a decent day tomorrow.

And a decent week.

I hope that isn’t too much to hope for.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “hope.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/07/09/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-10-2021/

The American Jobs Plan

At the moment, the Biden administration is meeting with Republican officeholders, including members of Congress, to revise his American Jobs Plan to gain bipartisan support. While many local and state level Republicans support the measure, Republican Congressional leaders are opposing it.

The plan is often referred to as the infrastructure bill and much of the debate has revolved around the definition of infrastructure. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of infrastructure is “the system of public works of a country, state, or region also the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity.” The Congressional Republicans have been using the more narrow “public works” definition and complaining the bill goes far beyond “roads and bridges” which is true, but, while we certainly do need investment in car/truck transportation, the country needs much more than that.

In the transportation sector, we need to upgrade airports and railways, subways and bus systems, and charging systems for electric vehicles. Our electrical grid is antiquated and fragile, leading to horrible consequences such as the Texas blackout this part winter. It needs to be modernized to better incorporate distributed and utility-scale renewable energy and storage, which will make energy systems cheaper and more reliable. Water and sewer systems need massive overhauls to eliminate lead pipes, avert leaks, and bring clean drinking water to places that still do not have access. (One of the truly heart-breaking deficiencies in our water systems brought to public notice during the pandemic was that many people living on Tribal lands do not have access to clean running water needed for the recommended hand-washing protocols and daily life in general. The infection and death rates among indigenous peoples were higher than average, due to the ongoing lack of resources and medical care.)

The pandemic also pointed out the inequities in our communication systems. With so much learning and so many jobs going online, fast and reliable internet access became essential. Those with low income and rural folks suffered when they didn’t have those services available. This deficit has been obvious for a number of years and a few states, such as New York, have been working on it, but it is better to have the federal government involved to make sure that no one is left out.

The US also needs a lot of upgrades to buildings. Many of our schools, hospitals, and housing units are deficient in their heating/cooling/ventilation systems and need insulation and energy efficiency upgrades. Some also need structural work and renovation. Sadly, this impacts low-income areas more than high-income areas. Again, the federal government needs to step in to make sure that all people have safe, functional buildings.

The part of the plan that Congressional Republicans object to the most is support for our care system. There has long been a dearth of high-quality, affordable caregivers for children, elders, and people with debilitating illnesses or conditions, due in part to the low wages paid for this kind of work. During the pandemic, many child-care centers and schools closed, leaving parents with the tasks of 24/7 childcare plus tutoring, often combined with paid jobs. This impacted mothers more than fathers, with many more women leaving the workforce or cutting back hours of paid work to tend to caregiving duties. Now that more employers are wanting people to work on site, parents are faced with difficulties in trying to find child or elder care that they can afford. It’s also worth noting that the US is woefully behind other advanced economies in supporting social needs. The greater support for caregiving, health, and education in the UK versus the US was an important factor in my daughter and son-in-law deciding to settle their family in the UK.

The American Jobs Plan has provisions to support caregiving, such as paying good wages to people who provide care and good wages to other workers so that they can afford to pay for care if they need to. It also offers free access to pre-school for three- and four-year-olds and community college for high school grads. Somehow, Congressional Republicans have twisted this into a negative, arguing that the Plan is against family caregiving and would force more years of mandatory schooling. The pre-school and community college funding is available to all, but not compulsory. The option to choose family caregiving would expand if one salary can support the household, leaving a second adult free to engage in unpaid caregiving or to take an outside job without having all the money earned go to pay the cost of care. For households with only one adult, affordable, high-quality care availability makes it possible to work and support their family. One of the difficulties with the pandemic economic recovery is that many employers are not offering enough hours at a high enough wage for workers to be able to cover living expenses, often including caregiving costs. The answer to this problem is not to cut off unemployment payments as some have suggested; the answer is to pay living wages for all jobs. If a business cannot afford to pay its workers a living wage, it does not have a viable business plan and should not be operating.

What strikes me about the Congressional Republican position is that they favor jobs, like construction, that are predominantly filled by males, while discounting jobs, like caregiving and education, that are predominantly filled by females. In many areas, caregiving jobs are held predominantly by women of color. The Congressional Republican approach to the American Jobs Plan seems to be that physical objects like roads and bridges and the workers that make them are more important than people and the work to care for and educate them.

This is unfortunate. The Plan’s comprehensiveness is one of the things that impresses me the most. It integrates employment with addressing social, environmental, and justice concerns. For example, it creates jobs for workers displaced by the winding down of fossil fuel extraction to cap abandoned wells and clean up mines. It creates a Civilian Climate Corps to help us conserve land and prepare for future conditions. There are provisions to support US research and development and manufacturing within the country to boost employment and make sure we have supplies of important products made here to avoid shortages, especially in crisis situations. We all saw what happened in the early months of the pandemic when masks, gloves, and other medical equipment were in short supply because they were almost all imported goods. The Plan also looks to increased membership in unions which traditionally facilitate good wages and worker protection measures.

While the American Jobs Plan has majority support among the public, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that no Republicans will vote for it. I don’t know if that will change after negotiations are complete. If the vote fails in the Senate after negotiations because Republicans still are not on board, then the Democrats should pass the original bill under budget reconciliation rules.

I should also point out that the Plan includes a way to pay for the costs over time, mostly through corporate tax reform and enforcement. The Republicans don’t like that. The public does. When pollsters ask about the American Jobs Plan and include the payment mechanism in the description, the approval rating rises even higher.

I do have a Republican representative in Congress and I ask her and her colleagues to think about whether they are there to serve their constituents or their corporate donors. We’ll be able to tell their answer by how they vote on this bill.

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