Mr. Biden’s First 100 Days: Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there].

In addition to President Joe Biden’s demeanor, his staffing selections, his Administration’s response to COVID, and what appears to be at least his early strategic approach to the presidency, what’s left are the nuts and bolts of his early days:

General Domestic Policy:  B

Aside from proposing the massive COVID, Infrastructure, and Family Relief legislative packages listed in Part I, most of the President’s domestic efforts have been understandably directed at undoing what Mr. Trump had done, most prominently in the areas of immigration, “equity” in government, deregulation, and the environment.  (I understand Mr. Biden’s bold pledge to halve U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, despite the criticisms that it is imprudent and impractical; at the same time, I would not have so quickly cancelled the Keystone XL Pipeline approved by Mr. Trump — a cancellation which disappointed our Canadian ally and cost U.S. and Canadian jobs.)  The Administration’s first crisis has been over the southern border, but although this is an area in which polls show the President doesn’t enjoy the support of the majority of Americans, the situation was so malignly mishandled by the Trump Administration that I, and I’ll venture most Americans, will cut him some slack until at least mid-summer.  All that said:  while all that read these pages are well aware I am not an economist, my main concern about Mr. Biden’s domestic record thus far is that he is simply spending, and seeking to spend, too much money we don’t have.  Intuitively, it seems to me that the Democrats will not be able to sufficiently increase taxes, nor will the programs they are proposing generate enough additional revenues within an acceptable time frame, to avoid a notable increase in an already massive debt.  I do find credible the argument that the ample unemployment benefits provided in last COVID package have created a disincentive for some Americans to return to work.  According to a liberal Obama economist I recently heard, the economy is already “awash” in cash.  The Bond Market is clearly nervous about inflation, and is not as confident as Federal Reserve and Administration officials that any marked acceleration will be temporary and can be controlled.  I tend to agree with the Bond Market.

Foreign Policy:  C

While I most enthusiastically support Mr. Biden’s renewed emphasis on U.S. alliances after the debacle of the Trump “America First” approach, and absolutely applaud a number of steps the President has taken – presenting a strong front to China’s increasingly aggressive measures, imposing sanctions and diplomatic expulsions on Russia for its interference in the 2020 U.S. election, withdrawing our arms support from the Saudis in the Yemen conflict, declaring a “genocide” the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire over a century ago (a poke to make Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aware that we will not coddle him) – what I consider significant missteps raise greater cause for concern.  Strategically, Mr. Biden seems to believe that the world is willing to return to the state that existed the day Mr. Trump took office.  If so, he is laboring under a dangerous misimpression.  Our allies are understandably wary of our diplomatic constancy when Mr. Trump still garnered over 70 million votes.  China and Russia are significantly better positioned internationally than they were four years ago, and have given no indication that they will readily cede their gains.  Despite Biden Administration coaxing, Iran is showing no willingness to go back to the Obama Administration-negotiated nuclear arrangement without U.S. “concessions.”  North Korea’s nuclear capacity is greatly enhanced.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is raging – and is now creating discord between Jewish and Arab Israelis.  Mr. Biden precipitously renewed for five years the Obama Era New Start nuclear treaty with Russia, a renewal actively sought by the Russians and a renewal which former Trump Administration National Security Advisor John Bolton – now no friend of Mr. Trump, and acknowledged even by his detractors to be a savvy foreign policy expert – has opined does not further American interests.  The Administration has thus far refrained, apparently for fear of offending Germany, from taking steps to block the impending completion of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, through which Russia will deliver natural gas directly to Germany, undercutting Ukraine and enhancing Russia’s leverage over Europe.  (In a partial nod to Mr. Trump, he saw the impending Nord Stream 2 danger, but by that time had so boorishly antagonized German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he had no influence with her.)  However, I would submit that Mr. Biden’s most significant foreign policy failing thus far is his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.  It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Taliban, who oppose the Afghan government we have kept upright, will overrun the country almost as soon as we depart; we leave ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks; we open the door to suppression of Afghan women; and we will appear to have abandoned another set of Middle East allies (remember the Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria), further reducing our credibility in the region.  I have made no secret in these pages that consider former President Barack Obama to have been a poor foreign policy president, particularly in his second term.  Rather than learning from Mr. Obama’s mistakes, Mr. Biden seems to be emulating them.  Both strategically and tactically, a disappointing foreign policy start.

So:  if we are grading on the 4-point scale, providing a .5 for every “+,” and giving equal weight to every category, Mr. Biden comes in with a cumulative “GPA” of 3.4 — about a B+  — with an Incomplete [looking not unlike my old report cards:  okay in some areas but less stellar in others  ;)].  That said, the President’s first 100 days are merely that.  For me, the most important grade from a prospective standpoint is the “Incomplete.”  The President’s aura of COVID competence won’t last but a couple of more months; I would submit that Mr. Biden needs to make a fiscally-responsible bipartisan infrastructure deal, bring humane coherence to the southern border, and better mind our foreign policy during his second 100 days if he is to continue his Administration’s momentum.  

Mr. Biden’s First 100 Days: Part I

[This was projected to run earlier, but a note relating to Congressional House Republicans’ recent untoward treatment of U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney seemed more immediate.]

Virtually every commentator we know has provided an assessment as to how President Joe Biden has conducted the first 100 days of his presidency – which President Franklin Roosevelt made an unofficial milestone of the American presidency during his first term – and I can’t resist doing the same.  This note will include brief references to several topics worthy of their own future posts; but in the meantime, here we go:

Presidential Tone and Demeanor:  A+

Mr. Biden owes his election partially to the promise that he would not be former President Donald Trump, and on that he has delivered handsomely.  Since he is by all accounts a kindly and decent man, he was undoubtedly going to do well here, but has excelled by reducing the national temperature, while making clear that he is sharp and fully engaged in conducting the office.  He has deftly distanced himself from hyper-partisan flashpoints such as Mr. Trump’s second impeachment and the recent FBI raid on Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani’s home.  His address to Congress was conversational, sincere, and uplifting.  A Wall Street Journal columnist recently noted that one of the President’s strengths is that at least so far, and unlike his four predecessors, no electoral segment hates him.

Administration Personnel:  B

I would not have as affirmatively focused on achieving a diverse Cabinet as Mr. Biden did, but he has for the most part chosen experienced professionals.  The President’s selections are, furthermore, generally low-key in manner – again, conducive to reducing the temperature of the presidency.  (The exception was Neera Tanden, whose nomination for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, perhaps offered up as “red meat” to the Republicans, was ultimately withdrawn.)  If reports I’ve seen of his past positions are accurate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken perhaps whiffed on several Middle East issues over the last 20 years.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland are superstar choices.  White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has been effective.  Personal Favorite:  Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who should use his time in the Administration to build relationships to key Democratic constituencies as he gets ready to make another bid for the presidency. 

Administration Execution:  A+

Mr. Biden came to the White House declaring his priority was to pass his COVID relief package and effectively disseminate the COVID vaccines.  Given his singular emphasis, the manner in which he addressed the pandemic became an immediate make-or-break test of his competence in Americans’ minds.  He passed with flying colors, consistently under promising and over delivering.

Administration Strategy:  INCOMPLETE

The President – to my surprise, and I believe to others’ – has thus far chosen not be an incrementalist or a bipartisan collaborator, but has instead “Gone Big.”  The $1.9T COVID relief bill seemingly included more than was strictly needed to address the nation’s pandemic (more on that in Part II), and was passed over Republican Congressional objections despite Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge to seek bipartisanship.  He has now proposed a $2.3T infrastructure plan including components arguably well beyond even a generous definition of “infrastructure” and a $1.8T Families Relief Plan.  He has proposed a sweeping Immigration reform.  He has pleased his party’s progressives, although he was elected in part because he was not overly progressive.  One bids high when one has strong cards; it remains to be seen whether his “Go Big” strategy is effective in a closely-divided Congress (and whether his now-proven willingness to “go it alone” on COVID relief makes Republicans more amenable in future negotiations) or instead proves too ambitious an approach that forfeits the opportunity for significant but more modest legislative achievement.

At the turn of this note, Mr. Biden is doing pretty well.  I don’t want to overwhelm these pages with too much Noise; it seems less exhausting to reserve views on Mr. Biden’s General Domestic Policy and Foreign Policy initiatives – where I would suggest that he perhaps hasn’t performed quite as well — for Part II.

A Father’s Pride

I have never met, nor will ever meet, Richard Cheney.  There is no doubt that we strongly disagree regarding the wisdom of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and whether its aftermath strengthened or weakened America.  That said, as last night I watched Mr. Cheney’s daughter, U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney, speak on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, as a father I was confident that Mr. Cheney – a former White House Chief of Staff, a former U.S. Representative for the State of Wyoming, a former United States Secretary of Defense, a former Vice President of the United States — considered her stand his proudest moment.

We will never see more important words spoken in the defense of the United States of America.  A link to Ms. Cheney’s remarks appears below.     

A Couple of COVID Notes

Two unrelated notes pertaining to the pandemic:

I’m not sure how widely know this is — it has been reported by a number of news outlets – but those Americans who turned 60 in 2020 face an adverse, and potentially significantly adverse, Coronavirus-related reduction in their lifetime Social Security benefits if Congress fails to enact a remedy in 2021.  The potential shortfall arises from the manner in which Social Security calculates recipients’ benefits, which is based on the average wages of all workers in the year in which they turn 60.  Average wages fell notably from 2019 to 2020 due to the COVID-induced recession.  It is well worth recording on these pages since several that read these posts were born in 1960. 

This issue could arguably have been rectified as part of the recent COVID relief package, but wasn’t.  Members of Congress are aware of this impending “notch” in benefits, and there appears to be bipartisan support for fixing it; a couple of bills have been introduced to alleviate the irregularity.  That said, this is a problem deserving immediate attention; those that turned 60 in 2020 will be eligible to start claiming benefits as they hit age 62 during 2022, and at that point, it will seemingly become more difficult to unscramble the egg.  The links below are to articles, now spanning almost a year, calling attention to the issue.  One of the pieces reports that those turning 60 in 2009 faced a similar “notch” due to the Great Recession that was never addressed.

https://www.prweb.com/releases/people_born_in_1960_face_permanent_social_security_benefit_reductions_says_the_senior_citizens_league/prweb17706617.htm

https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/info-2020/pandemic-impacts-1960-birth-year-benefits.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/05/some-retirees-social-security-benefits-could-dip-unless-congress-acts.html

Separately:  all who care are aware that the average weekly number of Coronavirus vaccines being administered across America is beginning to decline.  Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran an account, “Officials Push to Encourage Shots,” which reported that nonprofit sources project that the United States’ supply of vaccines will exceed demand within the next month.  We are apparently yet reasonably far from achieving herd immunity.  Public health officials across the country are now devising programs on vaccine education to overcome the hesitancy of some citizens to get the shots and on making it more convenient for some population segments – not only those facing employment, transportation, or other barriers, but those whom the article refers to as “unmotivated” — to become vaccinated.  It was presumably to these “unmotivated” that an Alabama health official was referring when described in the article as declaring that he is ready to get down on his knees and beg residents to get shots.

The programs that these health professionals are initiating are obviously vital, and all efforts should be undertaken and no expense spared to get vaccinated those who truly seek the vaccine but are constrained by barriers beyond their control.  That said, there are people dying across the globe – e.g., India is on the brink of collapse, and Brazil remains in chaos — that would do whatever was within their power to obtain protection if vaccinations were available to them.  While being mindful that we need to maintain sufficient production and supply to provide boosters to vaccinated Americans if, as Pfizer has already suggested, such might be necessary, I would favor an Administration announcement on May 1 that starting August 1 – after all Americans wishing to be vaccinated will have had at least ten weeks to receive readily-available shots — the United States will start to divert its vaccine supply and priorities from the United States to other countries in need, and that there will no longer be a vaccine availability guarantee or federal funding available to vaccinate those Americans who had not already been vaccinated.

A suggestion born of exasperation with obstinacy?  Clearly.  Even so:  what would you wager that if currently-unvaccinated Americans believed that the Administration meant what it said — that indeed, as of a certain deadline, they couldn’t be sure of getting vaccinated even if they wanted to — another 10% to 20% of our people (which, according to the Wall Street Journal article, health experts believe would put us pretty close to herd immunity) wouldn’t overcome their recalcitrance and find a way to get their shots?

One Season Following Another

On a particularly cold Saturday morning in January, 1990, our two sons and I were returning home from an errand.  Our oldest, then 9, was in the front passenger seat; our youngest, then 4, was safely – at least by the standards of the day – strapped in a back seat.  Our oldest has always thought long term; even then, he and I were casually discussing when he would someday go away to college. 

We got home; our oldest went into the house; I came around to get his brother out of the back seat.  Our youngest looked up at me, and said, “I don’t have to leave, do I?” 

Faced with that question from a small one, you respond even as you know that things will change:  “No, son.  You never have to leave.  You can always stay here with Mom and me.”

Our son — whom I assured on that long-ago day that he never had to leave home – is now based in Brazil.  A COVID silver lining for his parents:  he and our daughter-in-law just spent the better part of a month with us while they received their two-shot COVID vaccinations.  While all are aware of the stresses families face when economic difficulties require adults to rejoin their childhood households, the pleasure of having one’s adult child return home for an extended stay without such pressure cannot be adequately described. 

As we settled into a routine, our Cariocas (the Brazilian term for residents of Rio de Janeiro) at first shivered in the chill of Wisconsin’s early spring, then acclimated … at least to an extent.  Our son took our daughter-in-law around the neighborhood, which it must be conceded still retains more than a passing resemblance to the Cleavers’ 1950s TV neighborhood.  After one of their walks, he brought home an old baseball he had found in a field near his grade school.  We played catch on a couple of occasions [our boys could fling the ol’ pill around a lot longer than I could; inasmuch as I had literally not picked up a baseball in over 20 years  and given my vintage, I quickly developed “Fauci Arm”  ;)].

The two worked throughout their visit; TLOML and I found it entertaining to watch the Rio de Janeiro Bureau Chief of a major news outlet provide insights on the chaotic state of Brazil’s politics and its COVID response in televised interviews against the backdrop of one of the walls of his boyhood bedroom. Our daughter-in-law maintains an Instagram site through which she provides enticing plant-based recipes to thousands of Spanish speakers throughout the Americas; as she posted her creations, our kitchen was beamed across the world [making us particularly glad we had remodeled a few years back  ;)].  [A number of her followers were intrigued by life in a Midwestern American neighborhood; others inquired as to how her decidedly carnivorous father-in-law was enjoying her vegan dishes.  I could assure them that each was, indeed, magnifico : )].

Vaccinated, our son and daughter-in-law have now returned to their life in Rio.  Although we have been empty-nesters for over 15 years, the house is and for a while will be empty, and silent.  Even so, we have mostly felt the joy and warmth of a great visit as we have moved furniture back to normal spots, reshelved books, and returned the lawn games to their accustomed places.  Where my pang came:  picking up the baseball gloves and the found baseball.  For whatever the reason, my immediate association was to a song from TLOML’s favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof.  A part of one of its verses seemed the appropriate title for this note.

That said, I will venture that our vaccinations and the visit have made us ready to re-enter our lives.  As recently as this week, we have heard a medical professional opine that if one has been fully vaccinated, the primary obstacle to returning to normal pursuits is psychological – reticence born of a year of protective behaviors — not physical.  A number of those that follow these pages are, like us, of retirement age; I would submit that once one has become fully vaccinated, being too reclusive will result in the unnecessary forfeit of irretrievable life space.  Also, we can’t expect President Biden to run the country for too long without the benefit of our guidance  ;). 

The seasons have changed. Let’s go.

On Vaccinations

It has been reported that one out of three adult Americans has already had at least one COVID vaccination shot; we seem well on our way toward President Joe Biden’s expressed goal of being able to provide a vaccination to all Americans who want one within, at the latest, the next sixty days.  I hope that the Administration is already setting plans, assuming our domestic rollout remains on track, to make our unneeded vaccinations available to citizens of disadvantaged nations as the summer proceeds.  Although our international image has taken on more than a bit of tarnish over the last four years, I would venture that these nations, if given the option of receiving vaccines from the United States, China, or Russia, will still instinctively prefer the American option:  likely better quality, almost certainly fewer explicit or implied strings attached.

Closer to home, set forth below is a note I received recently from a very close friend of many decades – whose antics our adult children still well recall from their early days — who will only become aware of my intent to enter it here as he reads this post.  I am confident he won’t mind; when you read the note, I suspect you will share my confidence : ).

“When I was waiting for my second shot, a young lady (30 – 35) or so was pacing around.  I asked her if this was her first shot and if she was nervous.  She said yes.  I told her not to worry, this was going to be my second shot and it’s no big deal.  You just pull down your pants, they give you the shot and you are on your way. 

????!!!!!  She said WHAT???   She thought you get the shot in your arm!  I asked her who told her that?   She said she saw it on TV.   I told her that they can’t put people getting butt shots on TV plus if they did a lot of people might not get the shot.  Then they called her name and I said Good luck.   

Do you know she gave me the finger when she got out of the office?   How rude!” 

I suspect that all that read these pages either have received their vaccinations, or intend to do so when given the opportunity … while of course, keeping their pants on  ;).  Hopefully, many of our fellow citizens currently expressing reservations will soon resolve to do the same.  In the meantime, stay safe.

Easter Reflections on the Georgia Election Law

As all who care are aware, the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature recently passed the state’s “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” purportedly to address alleged irregularities in the state’s voting processes that, according to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and as established by several state presidential vote recounts, were never there.  The law appears a pretty ham-handed attempt by Georgia Republicans to limit the voting opportunities of Democratic-leaning voters in a state that has, judging by the narrow 2020 victories of Democrats President Joe Biden and U.S. GA Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the potential to trend increasingly Democratic.

A provision in the statute that has garnered a fair amount of attention is Section 33, which in the guise of preventing voter inducement, prohibits anyone but a poll officer from “… giving … food and drink, to an elector” in the vicinity of a polling place.

Clearly, anyone determined to wait in line to vote despite a notable thirst has already affirmatively decided how s/he will vote; the rationale that evil doers might be able to persuade a malleable voter to change his/her vote by offering the elector a drink of water – when the voter, if s/he cared so little about the substance of his/her ballot, could simply leave the line and slake his/her thirst — is on its face absurd.  The repressive aspect of the measure has been extensively noted; however, what also struck me were the ironies related to the provision.

First, the prohibition on furnishing food or drink to an elector waiting in the vicinity of a polling place evinces such mean-spirited pettiness that it has made me ponder whether such an obvious display of cancerous partisanship might even cause a conscientious conservative jurist to question the statute’s constitutionality.

That said, what seems to me the sharpest irony arising from this provision — perhaps brought to mind by the Easter Season, combined with a high level of confidence that the majority of the Republican Georgia legislators who voted for the Act consider themselves Christians — is embedded in the Gospel:

“Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’”

John 19:28-30

Georgia Republican legislators have prohibited the provision of a humane accommodation to fellow Georgians seeking to exercise their constitutional rights that Roman soldiers provided to one they had just crucified as a criminal.

May you have the opportunity to celebrate this time of the year, including as it does holy days sacred to those of multiple Faiths, in the manner you consider most fitting.  Stay safe.

The Process IS the Point

Without checking, I suspect that these pages have been as quiet during the last eight weeks as they have at any time since they were launched in 2017.  Frankly, with President Joe Biden’s assumption of the presidency allaying my fears of our devolution into an autocratic state and my inclination to let the Biden team settle in before making any pronouncements, it has been a pleasure to think about something else [although wrestling with income taxes, one of the last weeks’ preoccupations, can only be considered a “pleasure” in this context  ;)].  I suspect that my reticence will continue for much of the remainder of the President’s first 100 days.  This note is in no way a comprehensive assessment of the steps Mr. Biden has taken in his first weeks, but simply a few reactions:

The President and his team came in with a clearly-expressed, single-minded focus on manufacturing and dispensing COVID vaccines to Americans.  They have effectively set low expectations, and have over-delivered.  I would venture that if we have flare-ups of the Coronavirus in the future, no thinking American will consider such caused by any Administration oversight.  Thus far, an excellent job.

The President’s “luxury” of single-minded focus on COVID has now ended.  The migrant challenge at the border — which I do not think it is unfair to say has been exacerbated by what I believe is the true perception of Mr. Biden’s empathy for the downtrodden — and our two recent mass shootings are reminders that no President is ever truly in control of his/her agenda.  Mr. Biden must address these and other erupting issues without losing focus on his priorities – no small task.

There has been some media comment that Mr. Biden views himself as a “transformational” president, in the mode of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson.  I hope not.  During their presidencies, Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson enjoyed overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  As a veteran of the Senate, I assume that Mr. Biden realizes that his opportunities are more limited in a Congress almost evenly divided between the parties.  I would venture that his greatest chance of success is not, as we have so frequently heard expressed, in “going big,” but rather, in “going small”:  e.g., pushing a limited bill setting a path to citizenship for DACA recipients rather than comprehensive immigration reform; supporting a bill addressing only an expansion of background checks for gun sales rather than aggressive overall gun regulation.  If he “goes big,” he has a significant chance of achieving nothing. 

I understand that there is bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill, which is reported to be the Administration’s next major priority (although predictably, the parties are apparently not aligned on infrastructure priorities).  I am concerned about accounts that in addition to targeted tax hikes, the Administration intends to fund a significant part of its infrastructure proposal – indicated to be in the $3T range – through further deficit spending.  I fear that yet more massive deficit spending on top of the recent 1.9T COVID relief package will ultimately have significant consequences.  To me, the greatest peril is not the potential impact upon inflation (although bond traders – smart people – clearly generally harbor some doubt about U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank claims that any unhealthy inflation arising from these massive spending measures can be readily controlled), but from the seeming current perception that we can limitlessly borrow.  I’m aware that there is an economic school that preaches that deficits don’t matter; I believe that at some point, they will matter.  Our standing as the world’s foremost super power – a standing we do indeed still enjoy – arises from equally important dual pillars:  we have the most weapons and the best financial condition.  Our military is our defense, but our economic strength is our offense.  Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly appreciates this, given the manner in which his regime is attempting to reinforce the underpinnings of China’s economy and extend China’s influence in the world’s economy.  The world lends to us and will continue to lend to us at low rates – despite our profligate spending – as long as we remain the best credit risk in town.  We endanger our standing if we continue to borrow like a rich kid with his parents’ credit card.  To do so does not threaten us now, but — as the fictional Consigliere Tom Hagen advised Don Vito Corleone in a different context in The Godfather – perhaps ten years from now.  There is nothing inevitable or immutable about American primacy.  When my mother-in-law, still with us, was born, Great Britain was the world’s preeminent power.  If we had any really old Romans still with us, I’m confident that they’d observe that world preeminence cannot be taken for granted.  We can’t continue to fritter away our financial strength through irrationally inadequate tax revenue generation and indiscriminate wish list spending.

Finally, although I concede that the early signals regarding the possibility for constructive bipartisanship aren’t encouraging – few Republicans voted to impeach/remove former President Donald Trump, despite his clear culpability for the Capitol insurrection, on the pretext that their brainwashed constituents didn’t support impeachment, but nonetheless voted against Mr. Biden’s COVID package although the majority of their supporters did favor the bill – if advising Mr. Biden I would encourage him to keep on trying – and try harder.  Although I may change my mind, I do not yet favor complete abandonment of the Senate’s Filibuster Rule. (If I change my mind, what will tip me over is Senate Republicans’ blocking of the voting rights act recently passed in the House of Representatives.) While I share many of the Democrats’ priorities, it seems that in their enthusiasm regarding what they can achieve if they need but 51 votes in the Senate, Democrats somehow remain oblivious that what can be achieved with 51 votes can just as readily be undone with 51 votes.  Presidents traditionally lose Congressional support in mid-term elections.  Does anyone have any illusions as to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will do if the filibuster is ended and the Republicans gain control of Congress?  I would recommend to Mr. Biden that he get together with Mr. McConnell and literally ask him to come part way for the good of the nation – they’re both old men, who have perhaps waged their last campaigns — lest Mr. Biden, in order to retain the loyalty of the Progressive Caucus, is left with no choice but to lend his support to ending the filibuster.  I would also suggest that Mr. Biden, notwithstanding any expressions of displeasure by progressive Democrats, redouble his efforts to maintain rapport and collaborate with open-minded Republican Senators such as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney – to exploit the feelings they must have of being outcasts in their own party.  I would seek to gently remind the President of what he already knows:  that from Messrs. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton through Messrs. Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, progress through reconciliation of sincerely held competing views is the heart of the American legacy.  It’s too early to give up on bipartisanship.  I would submit that with a few exceptions, in our system the policy is not the point.  The process is the point.

Breaking Out

There was extensive focus last week on the anniversary of the day when America officially shut down because of the Coronavirus.  There has been much appropriate coverage of the COVID stresses that have built on our people over the last year:  on those infected by or taken from us by the virus, and on those that have attended or grieve for them; on healthcare and frontline workers; on the health and emotional challenges faced by large families living in cramped quarters; on parents trying to work from home while ensuring that their children maintain their studies; and on the terrified, looking at their four walls after being laid off.  These have borne the brunt of the pandemic and the attendant enforced isolation.

As all who care are aware, President Biden recently declared that during May, there will be sufficient COVID vaccine for all adult Americans who want one.  I can’t believe that someone who has been as adept at setting COVID expectations as the President would make such a statement if he wasn’t very confident that he could meet it.  This presumably means that all adult Americans seeking to be “fully vaccinated” can achieve the condition within July.  Our need for enforced separation is apparently coming to an end.

I tend to agree with those commentators that have suggested that it will be difficult for the Administration to maintain the cautious line it is currently taking – to the effect that in the summer when all Americans desiring a vaccination will have already had one, it will then be appropriate for limited gatherings.  I expect that the sentiment among the majority of those that get vaccinated will be that those who choose not to be vaccinated had best take care of themselves, and that it will be time to break out — to start “getting back to normal.”  That said, I suspect that there may be a wide variance as to how we each individually emerge from our cocoons.  Some of us have appeared to handle seclusion better than others.  While having a reserved disposition has outwardly provided a healthy coping mechanism throughout the crisis, I would suggest – being cognizant that there are learned psychologists that read these pages, and so tread lightly — that while there has been extensive reporting on the deleterious effect that enforced isolation has had on those commonly considered “extroverts,” those commonly thought of as “introverts” may now be facing a different, but perhaps nonetheless trying, virus-caused transition.  Emotional as well as physical muscles need exertion. Too much isolation for too long might have become too cozy, might have arguably bred in some a disinclination to socialize that could, unaddressed, seemingly become detrimental. 

The other night, we watched one of our favorite films, Shawshank Redemption, which, as virtually all are aware, sets forth events involving prisoners in the fictional Maine Shawshank State Prison.  Toward the end of the film, Morgan Freeman’s character, Red Redding, remarks, “These walls are funny.  First you hate ‘em.  Then you get used to ‘em.  Enough time passes, you get so you depend on ‘em.  That’s institutionalized.”

It would seem that merely getting used to COVID-induced walls, at least for the period we have had to abide thus far, wasn’t bad; that said, the fictional Redding’s observation resonates.  I would submit that this summer, it will be beneficial for those of every personality inclination to actively “break out” — while paying appropriate heed to then-current CDC COVID safety protocols, of course  :).

Foxconned

This week, a close friend forwarded me the March 2nd Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) article, linked below, which recounts various initiatives that Foxconn Technology Group has announced over the last several years that it would undertake in the state of Wisconsin.  The title for this post was the title of his email; it was too good not to repeat here.

What came to mind as I read the piece was the picture of the June, 2018, groundbreaking of what was then promised to be a major Foxconn manufacturing facility based in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, that would provide thousands of jobs, depicting Republicans then-President Donald Trump, then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, and then-Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, wielding shovels and grinning broadly.

Mr. Ryan is, of course, gone, now a member of the Board of Directors of Fox Corporation (the owner of Fox News Channel), a guest lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, and otherwise living the life of an undoubtedly well-compensated Republican frat boy.

Mr. Walker, is, of course, gone, now the president of Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization listing Stephen Miller (yes, that Stephen Miller) as an alumnus, which reportedly counts among its donors the Koch Brothers and members of the DeVos family.

Mr. Trump is, of course, gone.  We know where he is.

The homes in Mount Pleasant displaced for the project and their owners, are, of course, also gone.

What remains are vacant buildings and holes in the ground as empty as Foxconn’s promises.

I suggested to a Trump/Walker supporter I know well, at some point before the pandemic hit – probably in the summer of 2019, when the grand designs promised by Foxconn and Republican politicians were already clearly unraveling — that the last we’d see of Foxconn in this state was Election Day, 2020.  He completely disagreed.  We did agree – amicably, now a rarity between citizens of contrary political views – that there was no need to debate; time would bear out which of us was correct.

I could send him a link to this WPR article, but won’t.  He would undoubtedly respond that I have been proven wrong – that Foxconn is still in Wisconsin – but more importantly, since he is a fine man, I don’t want to risk hearing him say how wonderful it will be when our state is the epicenter of the world’s production of electric vehicles.  

https://www.wpr.org/failed-partnerships-and-vacant-buildings-foxconns-wisconsin-commitment-remains-standstill