While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) statement decrying the “bullying” of Americans by corporations might mark a new low in the once-fruitful backscratching relationship between corporate American and the GOP, the tension between the two institutions has been building and moving us in this direction for some time.
Throughout the last year of the COVID pandemic and through the polarized debates over lockdowns and mitigation one constant refrain from politicians has been that aggressive lockdowns are taking lives as well as saving them. In its crudest form, remember ex-President Trump’s constant insistence that ‘the cure can’t be worse than the disease’. He and others who made this argument focused particularly on depression and suicide. But now preliminary data for 2020 shows that death by suicide actually declined by a small but significant amount. Year over year in 2020 death by suicide (44,834) declined by 5.6% and was the lowest in absolute numbers since 2015 (44,193).
Is this a surprise?
As Tierney Sneed explains here, big corporations are lining up in opposition to the voter suppression law in Texas as many have been over the last couple weeks in response to the legislation in Georgia. This broader trend has spurred a generally insipid and perhaps offensive debate about whether corporate America is now “woke” as well as a more interesting question about whether we should applaud a system in which corporate America tries to exercise a veto over the political choices of state governments. (Remember, it may not always be laws you disagree with.) But apart from loaded questions this phenomenon is an illustration of a broader reality undergirding almost all American politics today, which is important to focus on.
Why are corporations doing this?
The Matt Gaetz story is exploding in so many bizarre and incriminating directions at once that it’s pretty hard to keep up with all the threads of the story. But there’s one broader element of the saga which has become increasingly evident over the last couple days: Matt Gaetz lifestyle and behavior, if not the specific alleged crimes, appear to have been common knowledge in MAGA world and among DC Republicans generally.
A few examples.
Yesterday was two weeks after I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the first day I was officially immune from COVID, or as immune as an mRNA vaccine gets you. Obviously vaccinated people still get COVID, though serious or fatal cases are extremely rare, almost to the point of non-existence, according to the latest data. Two additional studies have been released over the last week: one a batch of follow-on trial data from Pfizer which places the vaccine’s efficacy just over 90%; another from the CDC, probably more consequential, suggests the vaccine is almost as effective against infection as it is against disease. But for the moment, whatever the latest science says, I’m as vaccinated as you get.
My family and I have been very ‘tight’ when it comes to COVID. On the spectrum of mitigation we’ve leaned strongly to the side of caution. Still though I go to the pharmacy to pick up medicines, to the grocery to get food, for the occasional outdoor dining. But each time it’s not only masked or now double-masked, it’s with a persistent consciousness of vulnerability and a general imperative to limit my time indoors with people I don’t know as much as possible. Do what I need to do and get back to the relative safety and isolation of my home.
Apparently, they were always few and far between. At least in Washington.
According to a new Daily Beast report, Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) colleagues on the Hill have been wary for some time that he might eventually become embroiled in scandal. Lawmakers told the Daily Beast that it’s widely known in Congress that the Florida Republican has an affinity for partying hard, and it was an open secret in 2018 that he was dating a college student who came to Washington, D.C. as an intern.
Here’s a fascinating new wrinkle to the Matt Gaetz story. Jeff Stein has a piece up about the backstory of this Iranian rescue operation which – absurd as it sounds – is the center of what the Gaetzes claim was an extortion plot.
The Gaetzes gave purported screencaps of text messages to The Washington Examiner, a friendly rightwing outfit, to support their extortion claims. But even at face value what is described doesn’t sound like an extortion plot.
When I saw the first reports of the Gaetz story I figured he was hooked up with some sleazeball who kept a coterie of young women on hand for his male pals enjoyment. Gaetz partook and got swept up in the investigation of the sleazeball associate. Some version of that seems broadly true and the friend is a disgraced GOP rising star named Joel Greenberg, who was the tax chief in Seminole County before getting indicted for stalking, child sex trafficking and more.
But Gaetz’s performance on TV and Twitter last night makes me think his legal predicament is significantly more serious. Sex with a minor, with money involved and crossing state lines, is certainly bad enough. But these wild claims about good guy and bad guy factions at the DOJ, feds pressuring various friends to testify against him, denials about photographs with underaged girls that no one had at least publicly accused him of yet – these are the flounderings and flailings of a guy wrapped up in something considerably more serious.
The global community has taken significant steps in the last week to try to properly arm the world against the inevitability of another pandemic. In a letter published in newspapers around the world, 24 world leaders — including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron — made the case for some form of a global treaty for pandemics, arguing COVID-19 was “a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”
I hear again and again that people shouldn’t ‘amplify’ Trump now that he’s lost power and his platforms on social media. This is a theory and understanding of politics and speech that I have always thought was more or less bankrupt. It crops up again now when Trump releases one of his Twitter-esque statements “from the office of” the 45th President, which he distributes to reporters. This happened again yesterday when he released a lengthy – quite lengthy – tirade against Drs Fauci and Birx. The idea is that journalists posting these on Twitter or discussing them somehow does Trump’s work for him rather than keeping him bottled in what really must be a personal hell of exile from the social media platforms which were so central to his political rise and the supply of endorphins in his bloodstream. But really these blasts only underscore how distant he has become from the centers of power, both literal and figurative. He used to yell in our faces or live in our heads. Now he’s reduced to nailing his rants to a public bulletin board way on the outskirts of town.
It’s like he’s barking into a pipe deep in a mine shaft and you can only faintly hear him out of the exposed pipe end sticking up out from the ground.
As we’ve discussed in various contexts over recent months, a big, big question is whether mRNA vaccines prevent COVID infection itself or the just illness that the virus causes. If the vaccine keeps you from getting a severe case of the disease or dying that is obviously a huge benefit. But the initial efficacy studies could not rule out one possibility: that vaccinated individuals were still getting infected and that the vaccine was pushing their cases into the asymptomatic category. That may not be a huge difference for individuals. But it’s all the difference in the world in terms of stopping the on-going spread of the disease through the population.
Now we have a study that seems to address this question directly.
Now that the COVID relief bill has passed the nation’s politics are stuck in an uncanny pause or floating space. I can’t think of any analog to it in my living memory or any obvious one in the decades of previous history. Democrats have a big and fairly dramatic legislative agenda. They appear to have buy-in for much though not all of it from all fifty senators in their caucus. The question is whether they’ll make some basic change to the rules of the senate to make it possible to pass legislation with majority votes.
After more than a year of crisis we can all taste the end of the COVID pandemic. The rapidly accelerating rate of vaccinations secures that hope firmly in reality. For the moment though we remain in a standoff with the virus. In key parts of the country we’re actually losing ground.
There’s no question that COVID cases are now on the rise in the Greater New York region and have at least plateaued in much of the Northeast. Michigan, particularly metro-Detroit, is in the midst of surge. Cases there have more than doubled in the last two weeks. New York and Michigan are among 22 states where the number of COVID infections have gone up at least 10% over the last week.
The final results of the fourth successive Israeli election are now in and the verdict is clear: Netanyahu lost. Or to put the matter more precisely, the results make it almost impossible for him to form a government. His bloc, which includes his Likud party and a group of far-right and religious parties, gained 52 seats. You need a minimum of 61 to form a government. Another natural ideological ally, the Yamina party led by an erstwhile Netanyahu lieutenant named Naftali Bennett, has resisted sitting in yet another Netanyahu government. But at the end of the day they probably would. But even that’s only 59 seats, two short of the bare minimum to form a government.
After back-to-back mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder in the past week, gun reform advocates are once again hoping to see an expansion of red flag laws, which allow authorities to confiscate guns from individuals deemed to be particularly dangerous. They’re one of the few gun control measures that some members of the pro-gun lobby will get behind due to their case-by-case enforcement.
Here are some fascinating takeaways from a series of focus groups Democracy Corps conducted with Trump supporters and various varieties of conservatives. One notable thing is the difficulty they had recruiting volunteers. “It took a long time to recruit these groups because Trump voters seemed particularly distrustful of outsiders right now, wary of being victimized, and avoided revealing their true position until in a Zoom room with all Trump voters — then, they let it all out.”
Forty years ago today my mother died in a car wreck. I was twelve. And the trauma and repercussions of that night have echoed down through the subsequent forty years of my life. It is mystifying to me that it was so long ago. Yet in another way it might be centuries, it seems so distant and alien. From the perspective of today I see that it was just a brief prelude before my life, as I now understand it, really began.