If Not For The Water: Georgia’s Stick In The Eye Of Democracy

April 5th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

Major League Baseball and Major League Corporations are turning on the state of Georgia. The baseball All-Star game, originally scheduled for Atlanta’s Truist Park in July, is picking up its bats, balls and gloves and heading somewhere else, depriving the stadium of more than 43,000 fans and all the money they bring with them.

This, of course, is due to the Georgia Election Integrity Act, a 98-page, nearly 2,500-line piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp a week ago Friday behind locked doors in the presence of nobody but six older white guys and a painting of Calloway Plantation. None of the more than 100 people the Calloways enslaved are pictured in the painting. In addition to MLB, the Coca Cola and Delta Airlines corporations, headquartered in Georgia, sharply criticized what they considered terrible voter suppression by the majority Republican legislature.

Coca Cola and Delta did not stand alone. The following major corporations have issued sharply condemnatory statements: Merck, Porsche’s North American operations, headquartered in Georgia, Georgia-based UPS, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft President Brad Smith, Bank of America Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, Home Depot, headquartered in Georgia, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, American Express, Facebook, and Viacom CBS.

Texas, a few states to the west of Georgia, appears ready to pass similar legislation, prompting American Airlines and Dell, both based there, to issue similar strongly worded rebukes before any legislation has been voted and enacted. Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he will sign the legislation when, not if, it reaches his desk. And Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the powerful Senate leader, slamming the corporations’ criticism, said, “Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy.”

As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, according the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting legislation around the country. Arizona, alone, has 23 in the hopper.

It seems that the irresistible force is about to meet the immovable object as corporate America issues a ringing indictment of what it considers perfidious attempts by red states to restrict voting rights. What caused this immediate and strong opposition? MLB traditionally takes a long time to decide anything, let alone a law about voting.

I submit it has everything to do with water.

More than half of the Georgia Election Integrity Act deals with absentee and early voting. Reading those parts is like trying to negotiate the Labyrinth without Theseus’s ball of twine. However, there is one, immediately understandable sentence found on page 73, a section of which reads:

No person shall…offer to give…any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector…within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.

Violation of this section is a crime, albeit a misdemeanor.

The state of Georgia holds primary elections during or near summer. Summer is hot in Georgia, and the state is the seventh most humid in the country. Voting lines can be long in Georgia, and will be longer now due to the new law decreasing voting places and limiting drop boxes to either one per county or one per 100,000 people, whichever is smaller. People standing in long lines in the summer heat will get thirsty. Perhaps they will not have brought water with them. The urge to give a drink of water to a thirsty person in a long line in the Georgia heat is something very human, very Christian. What is neither human nor Christian is having to do so by putting the drink on a 26 foot pole.

This is the one thing that got America’s immediate attention, one person in particular: the President of the United States, who, during his first press conference, called it “sick.” Nielson reports 32 million people watched him live.

Biden calling out the provisions dealing with absentee ballots or early voting would have left many saying, “Well that’s a matter of opinion. He’s a Democrat, so, of course, he’ll criticize a new law Republicans wrote.”

But there’s no “matter of opinion” about the water. It’s a Black and White thing (the whole law is, but this part is special). If Georgia’s Republican legislators had told the genius who came up with it, “Now, hold on, son, we can get what we want without this,” it would have been ever so much harder to get corporate America to go full out in opposition.

Republicans in Georgia, especially Governor Kemp, are not backing down. No, they’re doubling down. But they’ve now set something in motion that will be hard to stop. And former friends in high places are aligned against them. In the long run, the Georgia Election Integrity Act may prove to be the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party in Georgia — and beyond.

 

Reflections On WCRI’s Recent Virtual Annual Conference: In A Word, It Was Excellent

March 30th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

COVID-19 impact analysis

Last year, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute held its Annual conference in Boston at the Westin Hotel on 5 and 6 March. The ballroom was full. COVID-19 was talked about in the conference and on the breaks, but it was too new to be on the Agenda. Everyone was doing elbow bumps instead of hand shaking. Four days after the conference wrapped, Governor Charley Baker declared a Massachusetts State of Emergency. The WCRI conference was likely the last one held in the City before everything shut down.

At that time, per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, the nation had seen ~139,000 cases and 2,425 deaths. In Massachusetts, where the conference was held, there had been 4,955 cases and 48 deaths.

The following month, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) issued a Research Brief titled, COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation: Modeling Potential Impacts. 

NCCI’s analysis projected a best case scenario, in which loss costs would increase $2 billion, and a worst case scenario, in which they would increase $81.5 billion, or 250% more than then current total loss costs. Willis Towers Watson also released a scenario-based analysis that suggested pretty much the same thing.

Also in April, the California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) projected loss costs if conclusive (rebuttable) presumptions were provided to front line workers, something Governor Gavin Newsom actually did through Executive Order one month later, so the “if” became a “done.” The WCIRB report concluded costs would range “from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion with an approximate mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion, or 61% of the annual estimated cost of the total workers’ compensation system prior to the impact of the pandemic.

A year later, at this week’s virtual annual conference, WCRI Economist Olesya Fomenko, Ph.D., reported results from her analysis of workers’ compensation claims in WCRI study states for Q1 and Q2, 2020. This period, ending 30 June, encompassed the pandemic’s first of what has been up to now three surges.*

Her data and presentation slides are preliminary, but more than likely will stand up to future scrutiny. Her findings confirmed what most students of COVID-19 were intuitively thinking. To wit, it does not appear that, at least through the study period of two quarters, COVID-19 would deal a death blow to the workers’ compensation industry. Claims in her analysis of 27 study states are plentiful, but relatively inexpensive. There is wide variation in the geographic distribution of claims, probably because COVID-19 surged at different times in different states. New York is not among the WCRI study states, but during the period of Fomenko’s analysis, it was the state with more COVID problems than any other. A lot more.

During the study period, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey had the most reported claims. Massachusetts claims were 42% of all reported claims in the study states and 59% of all lost time claims. Dr. Fomenko suggested that the presence of presumption laws, pay without prejudice (in the case of Massachusetts) and other compensability issues (in New Jersey) might is some way contribute to the high numbers in those states.

Looking at Massachusetts for a moment might be instructive.

At the top of this column we showed Massachusetts with relatively few cases as of early March, two-thirds of the way through Q1. Let’s look at Massachusetts now, at the end of Q1 a year later. The state has been hit hard, but has also rebounded. Here’s a look at the state by county:

As you can see, no county has had less than 3,000 infections, and three have had more than 10,000. But what came of those infections? How did the patients make out medically? Here is a look at cumulative cases from 9 March 2021 through yesterday, 29 March 2021.

There have been 17,130 total deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, but 97% of infected patients have recovered. Deaths are at 3%, which is less than the 5% predicted by the CDC one year ago. And this is the case for most of the country, and is one of the reasons Dr. Fomenko’s data shows claims to be relatively inexpensive.

NCCI Analysis

The WCRI studies define the concept of “early days.” So do those from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). The point is, however, that analyses from both organizations appear to be congruent and complementary.

The lasting costs of COVID-19 to the workers’ compensation industry, aside from deaths, are going to come from permanent total and permanent partial disability awards. To that end, in October, 2020, NCCI published a Research Brief updating the Brief cited earlier in this column and titled, COVID-19 And Workers’ Compensation: Permanent Disability. These costs will be significant. NCCI’s analysis determined the average age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at 49.5 years old. Average life expectancy allows for about 30 more years of benefits. The organization writes:

Given that severe cases are expected to have a higher likelihood of permanent disability, particularly PTD injuries, NCCI
assumed that all PTD claims would occur in this symptom grouping (infections and lung claims). Adjusting our PTD rate to between 0.0% and 1.5% to be applicable to only severe cases, we observe a PTD rate between 0% and 10% (= 1.5% / 15%) using the default Critical Care Rate from the NCCI Hypothetical Scenarios Tool.

Permanent Partial Disability cases are another matter. Here the frequency will be higher as well as the costs:

One interpretation of this assumption could be that moderate cases behave more like infection claims which tend to have a
near-zero PTD rate. If we compare the lung and infection PPD rates, we observe that lung claims have about twice the
likelihood of a PPD injury compared to infection claims. To the extent that moderate cases of COVID-19 behave like
infection claims and severe cases behave like lung claims, then a similar difference in the PPD rate may be expected. Under
this view, the Severe PPD rate would range between 40% and 50% with an implied Moderate PPD rate ranging between
20% and 25%.

With assumptions it clearly states contain wide variability, NCCI suggests the following COVI-19 benefits by injury type:

We’ll continue to follow the NCCI analyses as well as WCRI’s ongoing research.

Interview by John Ruser, PhD, with John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, LLM, MBA

John Howard is the longest serving Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, three terms and counting. He is a legend in the field, and WCRI attendees got a good look at why during this wonderful interview by John Ruser. Howard, who has more letters after his name than there are years in elementary and high school combined, put on quite a show.

Some people are one inch wide and ten miles deep; others ten miles wide and one inch deep. Howard seems to know no inch or mile boundaries.  His subject was The Future of Work, and he made a number of highly interesting and prescient points, even going so far as to describe Aristotle’s concerns about automation in the ancient world of 350 BCE.

Asked about fears of jobs disappearing because of Artificial Intelligence and automation, Dr. Howard pointed to a study showing that in 2018 there were 60% more jobs than existed in 1940. Jobs have always gone away, but they’ve been replaced, and then some, by new jobs.

He’s concerned about a safety ergonomic vacuum employers are going to have to manage somehow. He believes employers are facing a “real challenge” adjusting to the new Work From Home paradigm.

My question is: How do employers deal with, let alone manage, workers’ compensation claims bound to occur while working in the home. You’re at your desk or dining room table working, get up for lunch, fall down the stairs and break an arm. Is that compensable? Is your employer going to make you prove it actually happened while you were actually working, and not just taking Junior out to the back forty for a little tag football?

And what responsibility does an employer have with respect to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, the one about providing a safe and healthful workplace?

If anyone can figure this stuff out, my money’s on John Howard.

Conclusion

Under trying circumstances, WCRI did an admirable job of hosting its 2021 Annual Conference. I’m told attendees gave it high marks, as well they should have. At the end of the second day, Dr. Ruser announced next year’s conference as being back in Boston’s Copley Westin Hotel on 15 and 16 March 2022. And I have a suggestion: After this ridiculously stressful year, it would be helpful and probably appreciated to devote a session to the impact of COVID-19 on employee mental health. A lot has happened in the last year to the field of Behavioral Health. It seems to have fitted in quite well to the new paradigm called Telehealth. It would be interesting to learn about that.

 

* Yesterday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “We do not have the luxury of inaction. For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet.” Walensky said she is now feeling a sense of “impending doom.”

**The Future of Work: The Economist is presenting a discussion on 8 April, at 4 pm, EST. To reserve a place, go here.

The Georgia Election Integrity Act: A Desperate Attempt By The Republican Party To Retain Power

March 29th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

There was already a perfectly fine election statute in the state of Georgia. Perfectly fine. Chapter 2 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated had just completed governing the November election for President and the January election for two US Senate seats. The Presidential election had withstood lawsuits and multiple audits and been judged to have been exemplary on all counts. It was a perfectly fine statute, except for one thing: The wrong people won. And they were Democrats.

The Republican elites, who currently hold the key to the Governor’s office, as well as majorities in both the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate, could not abide that. Something had to be done. And something was. Senate Bill 202 amended the perfectly fine Chapter 2 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. It became the Election Integrity Act.

The Election Integrity Act was signed into law last Friday by Governor Brian Kemp behind locked doors, no reporters allowed, in the presence of six other aging white guys (and a photographer, for whose presence and work we are grateful) and in front of a painting of the Calloway Plantation, where, in the mid-19th century, more than 100 Black Slaves toiled day and night to make the very white Calloway family ever so comfortable and rich.

As Governor Kemp, who, ironically, served as Georgia’s Secretary of State from 2010 to 2018, was getting ready to sign this obviously much-needed legislation, State Representative Park Cannon, who is Black, knocked on the locked door asking to be let in to observe. For her trouble, she was arrested by three burly state troopers and hauled off in handcuffs, and now faces two charges: willful obstruction of law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and preventing or disrupting general assembly sessions. Video taken at the time showed none of that.

After the unfortunate interruption, Kemp signed the amended legislation, shook hands with the six aging white guys, and that was that.

That was that, that is, until certain people, including the current President of the United States, upset with the whole thing, noticed the wording in lines 1,872 through 1,881, which is this:

So, unless you have a 26 foot pole with a drink on the end of it, you’re not giving water to anyone standing in the Georgia Sun patiently waiting to cast a ballot. If you do, you’ll share Representative Cannon’s fate. In his nationally broadcast press conference, President Biden called this provision of the law, “sick.”

A new national study led by economist Keith Chen of the University of California, Los Angeles, found voters in predominantly black neighborhoods waited 29 percent longer, on average, than those in white neighborhoods. They were also about 74 percent more likely to wait for more than half an hour.

The new food and drink prohibition quite understandably got a lot of press attention. It oozes racism. But throughout the amended statute one will find other instances of intentional voter suppression. For example:

  • Drop boxes: Created by emergency rule due to the pandemic, these proved extremely popular during the two elections in question. In heavily democratic Fulton County, alone, 146,000 votes were made by absentee ballots placed in drop boxes. Republicans noticed immediately.

“As soon as we may constitutionally convene, we will reform our election laws to secure our electoral process by eliminating at-will absentee voting,” the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus wrote in an 8 December email. “We will require photo identification for absentee voting for cause, and we will crack down on ballot harvesting by outlawing drop boxes.”

The result in the Election Integrity Act: No more than one drop box per county. Officials, at their discretion, may place others, but no more than one per every 100,000 voters.

  • Voter challenges: In Georgia, voters are called “electors.” Prior to the new legislation, any elector could challenge the qualifications of anyone applying to register to vote or could challenge anyone whose name appeared on a list of registered electors. The Election Integrity Act added the following sentence: There shall not be a limit on the number of persons whose qualifications such elector may challenge. One can imagine an entire group of people being challenged.
  • Mobile Voting Buses: Under the old legislation, groups could use buses, approved by the Secretary of State, as mobile voting centers. Two were used in predominantly minority Fulton County (I cite Fulton County again, because in his infamous call with Secretary of State Raffensperger, President Trump mentioned the County 11 times in his quest to get Raffensperger to find him 11,780 votes). The Election Integrity Act prohibits Mobile Voting Buses.
  • Absentee Ballots: The Election Integrity Act, which is 2,427 lines long, devotes more than 1,450 to redesigning Georgia’s entire absentee ballot system. It is obvious Georgia’s Republican Party abhors the very thought of absentee ballots, even though a significant number of Republicans vote by absentee ballot. The law prohibits no-excuse absentee ballot application, as well as the universal sending of absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. Absentee ballot violations are considered felonies by the new legislation.
  • The Secretary of State: Until Brian Kemp signed the Election Integrity Act, the Secretary of State, as in most U.S. states, was responsible for conducting elections. But Raffensperger and those in his office angered many fellow Georgia Republicans during the presidential and senate races, because, after exhaustive audits, they found no fraud significant enough to change anything. The new law strips him of his authority by creating an Elections Board, whose chairperson will be elected by the legislature. The Secretary of State is now an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Board.

It is understandable why Georgia republicans are going to such lengths to suppress minority voting. Consider this from statistics from Georgia’s Secretary of State:

  • Since 2000, the percentage of white voters in Georgia has decreased from 68% to 58%. At the same time, the Black voting percentage has increased from 27% to 33% of total voters.
  • From 2000 through 2019, Georgia’s eligible voting population grew by 1.9 million; 48% were Black. White growth was only 26%.
  • The majority of single-race Blacks live in the South – 59%

As the proportion of white voters in the nation continues to shrink, the Republican Party is shrinking right along with it. It is unmovably the Party of Barry Goldwater and his small tent, Ronald Reagan and his “welfare queen,” and, of course, Donald Trump and his racist white supremacy. It is exhibiting all the characteristics of the self-cannibalistic rat snake that cannot stop itself from eating itself. Georgia’s Election Integrity Act is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the aforementioned aging white guys to blunt the impact of an irresistible demographic force.

In the end, it will fail.  Democracy will prevail.

The WCRI And Sidney Powell’s “No Reasonable Person” Nutty Defense

March 23rd, 2021 by Tom Lynch

Interesting day today at the first 3-hour day of the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s virtual and strange two-day conference where all the presenters looked as if they’d really rather be in the Grand Ballroom of Boston’s Westin Hotel. I’ll have a wrap up of the two-day, six-hour conference after it ends tomorrow. But for today…

In early February, 2021, an Associated Press-NORC* poll found 65% of Republicans believed Joe Biden was not legitimately elected President of the united States. One week ago, a Monmouth University National Poll found exactly the same thing. Nothing had changed in a month and a half. Why do you suppose that is?

 

 

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that since the election, in fact since well before it, authority figures in the Republican Party, including the President, insisted the only way Donald Trump could lose the election would be through massive fraud. One of the leaders of this disinformation campaign is the lady pictured here: Attorney Sidney Powell, Trump’s on-again off-again lawyer in his attempt to overturn the election result.

Powell manufactured far-fetched claim after monstrously far-fetched claim of election fraud beginning two days after the election. Powell and her team of conspiracy theorists filed more than 60 lawsuits around the country that all died in court. But that didn’t stop her and her sidekick Rudy Giuliani from sharing their bird-brained ideas from the stage of the Republican National Committee in a November press conference carried on C-Span. Neither did it stop them from doing the same dozens of times on Fox News and Fox Business, never challenged by anybody from the network.

When none of that worked, Powell went for the big time and won the Gold Medal for the craziest claim of 2021 (thus far). To wit, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems conspired with Venezuela’s communist leadership, ditto with Cuba, and “likely” China to create software to fix the election for Joe Biden against Donald Trump. On 8 November on Fox Business she was interviewed by Maria Bartiromo and claimed Dominion created a secret “algorithm to calculate the votes they would need to flip. And they used the computers to flip those votes from Biden to—I mean, from Trump to Biden.”

In late January, after the Dominion Voting Systems leaders had heard this lie a few thousand times, they had enough and sued Powell, Giuliani and others for $1.3 billion for defamation. That’s billion.

Yesterday, Powell’s defense team responded to the lawsuit. It’s 90-page filing can be summarized in two words: Just kidding.

In legalese, what her lawyers said was, “no reasonable person would conclude that [Powell’s] statements were truly statements of fact.” Moreover, her high-priced defense team writes that Dominion itself “characterize(s) the statements at issue as ‘wild accusations’ and ‘outlandish claims,’” and that “Such characterization of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact…”

In otherwords, if the company she defamed considers the accusations off-the-chart lunacy, then nobody else could ever possibly believe them.

Finally, the Powell team claims she never knew her accusations were false. “In fact,” they write, “she believed the allegations then and she believes them now.” So, she’s not guilty; she’s just crazy.

This would all be riotously funny if it weren’t so deadly serious. Deadly, as in five people died and more than 140 were injured at the Insurrection of 6 January, a day, to quote Franklin Roosevelt, “that will live in infamy.”

But notwithstanding the Insurrection, could Sydney Powell’s defense team actually be right? Would no one believe her claims, as well as all the other ridiculous claims made by Trump apologists, because they are all so nutty? The early February AP-NORC and the mid-March Monmouth University polls, as well as the Insurrection itself, appear to give the lie to that defense. Sixty-five percent of Republicans still believe Biden cheated his way to the Oval Office. They’re getting that belief from somewhere. And unless we figure out how to disconnect this significant faction of the American public from the Big Lie, it will continue as a grotesque cancer on our society.

In the 1930s, Joseph Goebbels made famous the Big Lie.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

We have seen this movie before. And it never ends well.
________________
* The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, founded in 1941 whose name is now officially NORC.

 

Our Unending Tragedy: America’s Middle East Fiasco

March 21st, 2021 by Tom Lynch

Hubris is the one word that defines war to me. I’m reminded of that when I think of our experiences in the Middle East over the last nearly 30 years, and when I consider my own odyssey in Vietnam.

We’ve been in Afghanistan since invading the country on 7 October 2001. After 20 years, like the dog that caught the bus, we still have no idea what to do next, which is exactly what President Biden and his team are trying to figure out now.

In a superb piece for The New Yorker (8 March issue), Dexter Filkins makes a compelling case that after America leaves, the Taliban will once again command the country with Sharia law. Although the Trump administration went through the motions of trying to craft a power-sharing deal between Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban to let America save a bit of face as it leaves, a Talib leader Filkins met with said, “We’re not sharing power with anyone.” And he meant it.

I can’t help thinking that when we do pull our last troops from the country, Afghanistan will be in precisely the same position as it was before the twin towers came down. So much for $130 billion and 22,266 American casualties.

Yesterday, 20 March, was the 18th anniversary of America’s second invasion of Iraq. The war officially ended on 15 December 2011, but it wasn’t until three days later, on the 18th, that the last 500 troops left the country. During that nearly eight-year war, 4,497 Americans died in combat and more than 32,000 were wounded, wounds that echo resoundingly to this day.

In Iraq and Afghanistan we never figured out what to do next.

Just as in Vietnam.

In 2005, I wrote a column for the Boston Globe comparing the Iraq war to my own experiences in Vietnam. In memory of the Iraq anniversary, I want to share that column here. It’s as true now as it was then.

Where Have All The Soldiers Gone

Listening to all the arguments about the Iraq war is like being at a rappers’ convention; it’ll make your head spin. It reminds me of another national mistake, one that I was part of, 40 years ago.

I graduated from college in June 1967, without a care in the world, a thought in my head or a desire to find a job.

My grandfather, the retired chief of police for Haverhill, Massachusetts, population 65,000 or so, was chairman of the local draft board. He and my grandmother lived with us. Every Monday night someone would drive to our house, pick up Grampie and take him to the weekly meeting of the draft board where a group of older men would decide the fate of a group of younger men.

One night during dinner Grampie looked across the table and said, “Tommy, I can’t keep you out of this any longer. It doesn’t look right.” I hadn’t known that he was keeping me out of anything, and it took me a minute to figure out that he was talking about the draft.

My father, sitting at the head of the table, put down his fork, but didn’t say a word. During World War II, after slogging through Italy and France for three years, he’d been seriously wounded and left alone to die in an army field hospital corridor. He didn’t die, but it was eight months before he was well enough to be discharged for home. My dad knew war.

When my grandfather spoke of the draft, Dad immediately decided that what happened to him wasn’t about to happen to his first-born. So he and Grampie determined on the spot that I would become a card-carrying, uniform-wearing, quasi-killing machine in the Army Reserve: a weekend warrior. And the very next afternoon I found myself, along with the two of them, sitting on the porch of the Lawrence Army Reserve unit’s commanding officer, signing on for six years of weekly drills and two-week summer camps.

I started going to the drills with the other reservists. Every Monday night we’d march around the Reserve Center’s parking lot, a small sea of out-of-shape, overweight 20-somethings in olive drab, singing cadence and lusting for battle. Well, the simulated kind, anyway. “I want to be an airborne ranger.”

Today, members of the Army Reserve and National Guard are fighting courageously, many of them dying, in Iraq. More than 425,000 have been deployed. More than 95,000 have served two or more 18-month tours. Clearly, these men and women, as well as their families, are making large sacrifices every day.

But in the late 1960s, because of the draft, there were only two kinds of people in the Army Reserve. There were veterans of the Korean conflict, men who had been to war, but had decided to stay in the Reserves for the camaraderie, and, then, there were the rest of us, all college grads who knew the right people, or whose parents did, and had joined the Reserves to avoid Vietnam, and we’d march around playing silly soldier games to do it.

I did that for three months. Then a high school friend, Bobby Schena, came home in a coffin. Then another friend and then another, each in his individually wrapped, olive green shroud.

In Fenruary,1968, to the consternation of my father (“Have you lost your mind, Tom?”), the displeasure of my grandfather and the utter disbelief of my peers in the Army Reserve, I joined the regular Army to become a real airborne ranger, went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, then Airborne, then Ranger, and in 1969 found myself, a newly minted second lieutenant, passing through Saigon and heading north. I was in a C-130 with a planeload of young soldiers who did not know the right people and had no idea of why they were there or what they were in for. Most were teenagers, lonely souls far from home. Regardless of who they were, all of them, all of us, eventually became somebody’s cannon fodder, and more than 50,000 of us didn’t make it out alive. Like my dad, we all learned to know war.

Now, nearly 40 years later, our country is in an awful, no-win position, maneuvered there by men with names like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Kristol, Feith and, of course, Bush. All of them did know the right people and either had deferments, lots of them, or, like the president, were weekenders. Although it appears to have been fine for weekenders of Mr. Bush’s social and political status to skip those tiresome drills if they proved inconvenient.

What these “neocons” know of war they got from a board game. In their clueless imperialism they have managed to move their game pieces, us, to the brink of an obscene disaster, an American and global tragedy.

A lifetime spent walking war’s sanitized sidelines, never hearing that unforgettable, but very special, sound a bullet makes as it whizzes past your ear, prevents one from appreciating the chaotic hell of war and from grasping how terrifying it really ought to be to rip men and women from the fabric of their families to face the horrifying prospect of fighting and dying in a strange land for a counterfeit cause.

This new national nightmare is certainly sad, but what is sadder still is that nobody, not I, not you and, least of all, not the egotists that tossed us into this deepest of pits, has any idea of how to get us out without causing even more harm than we already have. Posterity will be tripping over America’s arrogance for a long time to come.

In the pantheon of man-made catastrophes, this has been a monumental achievement.

What Is The Real Reason Republicans Oppose The American Rescue Plan?

March 5th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

At this moment, the Senate is debating the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal currently enjoying deep and wide bipartisan popularity across the country. Consequently, of course, not a single Republican senator will vote for it.

Why is this?

The Federal Reserve, not what you’d call a radically socialist organization, the Treasury Department, and nearly all reputable economists back the plan. A highly credible Morning Consult / Politico National Tracking Poll, with a 2% margin of error, conducted two weeks ago from 19 through 22 February, reported 66% of all registered voters considered stimulating the economy a “Top Priority,” and 76% of registered voters support the $1.9 trillion plan. And the icing on the cake — 60% of died-in-the-wool Republicans support it.*

Additionally, 63% of small business owners support the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, according to the Q1 2021 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, including 46% of Republican entrepreneurs.

With that kind of support, what possible reasons could congressional Republicans have for doing “everything we can to fight it,” as Mitch McConnell proclaimed this week?

There are a few reasons, and, is so often the case in political argument, most of them are nothing more than sound bites.

For example, Republicans claim the proposal is “replete” with giveaways having nothing to do with the pandemic. They object to the plan’s $350 billion aimed at helping cities and states, most notably the $10 billion (less than 1% of the entire plan) to shore up pension plans or lower future taxes.

Let’s look a little more closely at Republican opposition to city and state aid. No municipality — red or blue — has designed its fiscal affairs to withstand a simultaneous public-health crisis and economic lockdown. Unlike the federal government, states and cities cannot print or borrow money at near-zero interest rates. Most are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. When a pandemic annihilates their sales and income tax revenues — while dramatically increasing their Medicaid and health-care outlays — states have little choice but to lay off public-sector workers, cut social services, and/or raise taxes. All of those measures would make our current economic woes worse. There is no economic theory to support a stimulus strategy that combines massive stimulus at the federal level and simultaneous austerity at every lower level of government. If you believe that governments can improve economic welfare by filling in shortfalls in private incomes and consumer demand, then forcing state governments to reduce employment and spending is economically indefensible.

In the face of this, there is no coherent theoretical argument behind the GOP’s opposition to fiscal aid for states. But that hasn’t stopped it from trying. Unfortunately, every strata of our nation’s economy, from business, small and large, to the public sector’s 20.2 million federal , state, county and city employees, to nuclear families and single Moms, to you and me — all are in need.

On the other hand, I’d be interested in knowing just how much economic need our elected representatives and senators are experiencing at this moment. Would you?

*To be precise, this is the exact wording of the question in the Tracking Poll. It can be found on page 229 of the 368 page report: “Would you support or oppose a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that provides up to $1,400 in direct payments to Americans making less than $75,000 a year, $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments, funding to support K-12 and higher education to re-open, and extends increased unemployment benefits until September 2021?”

From Dreyfus To Trump: Only The Tech Has Changed

February 20th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know – Harry Truman

Here in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, I find myself thinking about the events of 6 January and of how 87 years ago the French suffered a similar tragedy. The fact that Americans have not learned from this long ago fiasco, in fact, don’t even know about it, should be remedied. So, let me tell you a story.

At the end of 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer of the French General Staff, was accused and convicted of espionage for Germany. The verdict was unanimously adopted by the trial court, and the sentence was lifelong deportation to Devil’s Island. The trial was conducted behind closed doors and only a so-called “bordereau” was publicly shown. This was a letter, a detailed memorandum, allegedly in Dreyfus’s handwriting, offering to procure French military secrets and addressed to German military attaché Maximilian Von Schwartzkoppen. French agents had discovered it in the attaché’s waste paper basket

In July, 1895, Colonel Georges Picquart became head of the Information Division of the General Staff. The following May, he became convinced of three things: There had been espionage, Dreyfus was innocent and Major Walsin-Esterhazy was the guilty party. The Army did nothing, and six months later Picquart was transferred to a dangerous posting in Tunisia.

Dreyfus’s brothers then began a movement aimed at freeing him. Subsequently, Picquart, back from Tunisia, but in a reduced role, met with the Vice-President of the Senate, persuading him of Dreyfus’s innocence. In June, 1897, future Prime Minister (twice) Georges Clemenceau, took up the cause primarily through his influential newspaper L’Aurore. Four weeks later, prominent journalist and author (Les Miserables), Emile Zola, penned his famous J’Accuse attacking the military for its anti-Semitic injustice in the Dreyfus matter, and then immediately fled to England before he could be arrested. In absentia, he was tried by a Paris court and convicted for “calumny of the army.” He never returned to France.

In August, 1898, Esterhazy was dishonorably discharged, and then confessed to a British journalist that he, forging Dreyfus’s handwriting, was the author of the “bordereau” on the orders of his superior officer Colonel Sandherr, former head of the counterespionage division. A few days later Colonel Henry, of the same department, confessed to forging other documents aimed at incriminating Dreyfus, and promptly killed himself. Finally, after four and a half years, the Court of Appeals ordered an investigation into what came to be known as The Dreyfus Affair, but it never went anywhere, because of what happened next.

It was then that a small group of anti-Republican, anti-Semitic Frenchmen, thinking the Dreyfus case was being hijacked by leftist elites like Clemenceau and Zola, created Action Francaisea far-right, extremist organization that grew steadily over the next 35 years in France. Its leader, Charles Maurras, a highly educated bigot, founded what became one of France’s leading newspapers, L’Action Francaise, and sold his bigotry and hatred to the masses through his Twitter feed of the day. The movement called Maurassisme takes its name from Maurras. It advocates absolute nationalismmonarchism, and opposition to democracy and liberalism. Sound familiar?

During those years, with an interlude for the First World War, a cultural divide opened in France, much as it has in America today, with Dreyfusards on one side and anti-Dreyfusards on the other. Things came to a head with the Parliamentary elections of 1934, when the Action Francaise far-right candidates were defeated and the job of running the government went to more moderate leaders, just as in November, 2020, the egomaniacal autocrat Donald Trump was shown the door, the more moderate Joe Biden became president, and Democrats took over the Senate.

As on 6 January when Trump’s cultist loyalists, refusing to accept defeat, stormed our nation’s Capitol, Action Francaise loyalists did not take defeat lying down, and on 6 February 1934 rioted on the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in the capital lying at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées. Fifteen people died that day and hundreds more were injured.

Over the next ten years, after siding with the pro-Nazi, soon-to-be-disgraced, Vichy government of General PetainAction Francaise slowly faded into the mist of history, finally disbanding in 1944.

As for Dreyfus, he continued to fester on Devil’s Island until 1906, when Clemenceau became President and ordered the Court of Appeal to reexamine the case. In July of that year, the Court of Appeal annulled the sentence and acquitted Dreyfus. But his troubles weren’t over. Maurras and others continued to stoke the fires of anti-Semitism, and in 1908, when Clemenceau brought Zola’s body back from England for entombment in the Pantheon, a mob attacked Dreyfus on the street. A Paris court acquitted his assailants and wrote in its decision that it “dissented” from the Dreyfus acquittal.

Friends, as Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” The rhymes are ringing loud and clear today.

Deception, Deception, Deception (Tennessee Williams – The Glass Managerie)

February 18th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive.
Sir Walter Scott: Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field

The last 24 hours have not been the best for Ted Cruz.

First, the situation: Citizens of the Lone Star State are living through their worst weather crisis since 2010, (and that includes 2015’s Hurricane Harvey) in which at least 24 people have died, millions have been without power for days, water pipes have burst all over the state, and now two million are under orders to boil water, presuming they have any to boil in the first place. With that terrible scenario, Cruz, the Trump toady, who, to this day refuses to acknowledge that Joe Biden defeated the former president, boarded a United Airlines plane with his family last night and jetted off to Cancun, Mexico, where, as I write this the temperature is a balmy  84 degrees and the water is fine and fit to drink.

Next, a fellow traveler took a picture of the Junior Senator on the plane bound for Cancun.

Then the photo went more viral than Covid-19 presenting Mr. Cruz with a bit of a public relations nightmare. So, thinking quick like a bunny he released a statement saying his daughters had wanted a vacation so, like a “good dad,” he accompanied them to Mexico and was immediately returning to Texas to…well, here’s what he said:

“This has been an infuriating week for Texans. The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power. We have food lines, gas lines and people sleeping at the neighbors’ houses. Our homes are freezing and our lights are out. Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too.

“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon. My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on and homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe.”

Did you notice the “Like millions of Texans” line?

Cruz’s statement makes it seem as if all along he was planning to drop off his girls in Mexico, then jump on the next plane out to return to Texas “to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.” Of course, he was pulling quite the overnight bag behind him through the Cancun International Airport. Makes one wonder.

And then Edward Russell, a reporter for Skift, who writes on the airline industry, scooped everyone by revealing his sources at United Airlines confirmed to him that Cruz was originally booked — with the family — through Saturday, the 20th, but rebooked his trip early this morning — after the fecal matter impacted the spinning instrument — to return this afternoon.

As Cruz was awaiting departure, but before Russell broke his story, the Senator told reporters, “Yesterday, my daughters asked if they could take a trip with some friends, and Heidi and I agreed, so I flew down with them last night, dropped them off here and now I’m headed back to Texas.”

Sources within United Airlines subsequently confirmed Russell’s story to NBC News.

We’ll have more about the continuing Texas tragedy later, but Cruz’s hypocrisy, lack of sincere empathy and smarmy superior attitude deserve to be called out and condemned. Texans deserve better than this. We all do.

Now What?

February 16th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

The Trial of the Century —  So Far

During and after the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, even Republicans admitted the House Managers had done a masterful job of presenting their case. Having voted the trial constitutional by a margin of 55 – 45, the Senate subsequently acquitted Trump with Republicans contending the trial was an unconstitutional abuse of power. And, as I have written earlier, that became the painted hook on the Senate wall upon which they hung their acquittal hats, all 43 of them.

The entire proceedings seemed scripted and predicable — that is, until Saturday morning, originally scheduled for closing arguments. That was when the leader of the House Managers, Representative Jamie Raskin, of Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, announced that overnight the Managers had learned of a phone conversation between House Minority Leader Keven McCarthy and President Trump at the height of the insurrection on the 6th. Representative Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Republican of Washington, had issued a statement saying McCarthy had described the conversation to her, a conversation in which McCarthy had begged Trump to forcefully call off the mob. Trump had dismissed the request cavalierly, saying, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

Herrera-Beutler, one of the ten House Republicans who voted for impeachment, had said she was willing to testify under oath about the conversation with McCarthy, and that’s what Manager Raskin said was going to happen. Instead, Hellzapoppin happened.

Trump defense attorney Michael van der Veen, who is a personal injury lawyer, not a civil liberties lawyer, objected strenuously (to be kind about it; as I was watching I thought the Republicans were going to have to peel him off the Senate ceiling), saying if Herrera-Beutler were called to testify, he had at least a hundred witnesses he wanted to call, starting with Nancy Pelosi, and, by the way, he would depose all of them in his office in Philadelphia, because “that’s how these things are done.” At this point, the bell sounded and the fighters went to their separate corners to decide what to do next.

The House Managers, having made their point, and realizing that nothing short of something akin to the parting of the Red Sea, would persuade seventeen Republicans to vote to convict, and even that might not be enough, decided not to call Representative Herrera-Beutler as a witness. Instead, they and the defense team compromised by reading her statement into the record of the proceedings, thereby sparing us of more of Mr. van der Veen’s histrionics.

Shortly thereafter, Donald Trump was acquitted — again.

This was a show trial. With the conclusion foregone, the House Managers knew their real audience was the American public, not the 100 Senators in the chamber. It remains to be seen whether they won their case with the public. An Ipsos poll conducted Friday evening after the Defense had wrapped its case, if you could call it that, but before the Herrera-Beutler bombshell, revealed 55% of Americans believe Trump was “fully” or “largely” responsible for inciting the violence, but only 50% believe he should have been convicted. Strangely, 53% said he should be barred from holding public office again. The poll, which had a confidence level of 4%, shows in stark relief how deeply polarized this nation remains.

There will be more Trump litigation, a lot more. We may never see the end of it. Mitch McConnell, after voting to acquit, specifically mentioned this in a fiery speech (for him) putting Trump on notice that criminal and civil penalties are appropriate for what he did.

And today, it begins. This morning, Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, filed a federal lawsuit accusing former president Donald Trump, attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and two extremist groups whose members have been charged in the 6 January storming of the Capitol with illegally conspiring to intimidate and block Congress’s certification of the 2020 election. Citing an 1871, rarely used law aimed at the KKK, Thompson is suing in his personal capacity and is joined by the NAACP.

So many miles to go

With the conclusion of the world’s fastest impeachment trial, the Biden presidency can take center stage. Job #1: Defeat the pandemic and, in the words of someone who knew a thing or two about national division, “bind up the nation’s wounds.” However, right out of the gate we keep getting reminded just how delicate an undertaking that’s going to be.

Case in point: The scary growth of far right extremism in America and around the world got a boost from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Using historical data-sets from Germany, Kristian Brickle, of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, concludes influenza mortality during the pandemic of 1918 – 1920 was directly correlated with both lower per-capita spending in the next decade, especially by the young, and the rise of extremist parties in 1932 and 1933, primarily the National Socialist Workers Party (the NAZI party). In her study, Pandemics Change Cities: Municipal Spending and Voter Extremism in Germany, 1918-1933, (May 2020, Revised June 2020), Brickle shows how Germany suffered high mortality in the pandemic, mortality that varied significantly across the country’s municipalities and regions. This variation represented tangible differences between cities and regions that reflected the beliefs and preferences of the inhabitants. In effect, the pandemic served as a means to exacerbate beliefs already held. One of these exacerbated beliefs was distrust for and hatred of minorities, predominantly Jews. Hence the significant increase of the deep-seated antisemitism of the late 1920s and 1930s.

Although Brickle’s work does not blaze a new trail — she builds on the work of many others — her research paints a clearer picture of what can be the unfortunate and unforeseen consequences of a pandemic. The United Nations and others have documented an “explosion” of antisemitism throughout the tenure of the Donald Trump presidency, but with a significant spike during 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Joe Biden is going to need all the help he can find.

 

 

Making Trumpism Trumwasm

February 8th, 2021 by Tom Lynch

Tomorrow, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump begins. Don’t blink. It will be quick. There is a single charge: Incitement of Insurrection. The charge is all about Trump’s speech, if you can call it that, at the Ellipse on 6 January, after which…well, you know what happened.

Many people say, “Why bother? It’s a foregone conclusion he’ll be acquitted.” There may be a few Republicans who vote to convict, but it will take 67 total votes to do it, and, as my Dad used to say when I would plead for the keys to the car after not exactly distinguishing myself in my studies, “Son, that ain’t happening.”

Also, there are serious and sincere people who believe the way to make Trumpism Trumpwasm is to deprive Trump of any attention at all. Ignore him. Simply let him fade away and disappear into the mist of time. Without him, his cult-like followers will lose the leader they need. That seems wishful thinking to me.

If the trial focuses only on Trump’s speech, it will be like looking at an arrow whizzing past a crack in the door. But to get the full measure of what happened we need to throw open the door to see where the arrow began its flight and where it ended.

The events of 6 January had been carefully planned and orchestrated for nearly three weeks. On 18 December, Trump tweeted, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there. Will be wild!” Thus began the insurrection.

Trump’s cattle call to protest mobilized his followers around the country and resulted in seven different rallies in D.C. on the 5th and 6th, all of which received permits from the National Park Service. Excluding Trump’s, the other six were:

  1. The Rally To Revival, sponsored by The Eight Percent Coalition which had been founded by Trump supporter Cindy Chafian. This rally was on Freedom Plaza.
  2. The Save Our Republic Rally, sponsored by Moms For America, held at Area 9, across from the Russell Senate Office Building.
  3. The One Nation Under God Rally, sponsored by Virginia Women For Trump, held near the Supreme Court Building (Roger Stone spoke at this rally).
  4. The Silent Majority Rally, organized by Proud Boys member James Epley, and held the evening of 5 January and morning on 6 January at the North Inner Gravel Walkway on the National Mall. There were more than ten arrests at this rally on the 5th, and there were  weapons charges.
  5. The Wild Protest Rally, organized by Stop The Steal and held at Area 8 across from the Russell Senate Office Building.
  6. The Freedom Rally, organized by the Virginia Freedom Keepers, Latinos For Trump, and the United Medical Freedom Super PAC, and held at 300 First Street, Northeast, near the Russell Senate Office Building.

Finally, there was Trump’s own rally, the March To Save America. After Trump’s 18 December tweet, Amy Kremer, co-founder of Women For Trump,  and “one of the founding mothers of the modern day tea party movement,” according to her website, began the planning for this event and applied for and was granted a D.C. permit for a gathering of 5,000 protesters on the Ellipse. After Trump tweeted on 2 January he’d be at that rally, Kremer turned over managing it to the White House.

Prior to Trump’s speaking at the rally, his openers were his two sons and Rudy Giuliani, who admonished the crowd,  “Let’s have trial by combat,” and showed a propaganda video Joseph Goebbels could learn a thing or two from.

Then Donald Trump took the stage.

He spoke for one hour, thirteen minutes and twenty-two seconds; more than 11,000 words.

During the speech, he used the word “peacefully” once, which will be one of the painted hooks on the Senate wall upon which his attorneys will hang part of his defense:

I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.

He also made 17 incendiary, insurrection provoking statements:

These people are not going to take it any longer. They’re not going to take it any longer….

We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved….

Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with: We will stop the steal….

We will not let them silence your voices. We’re not going to let it happen, I’m not going to let it happen….

(At this point the audience began chanting, “Fight for Trump.”)

And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We’re just not going to let that happen….

(Here, the audience began to chant, “We love Trump.”)

We’re gathered together in the heart of our nation’s capital for one very, very basic and simple reason: To save our democracy….

We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them….

Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated….

You will have an illegitimate president. That’s what you’ll have. And we can’t let that happen….

That’s going to be the end of the Republican Party as we know it, but it’s never going to be the end of us. Never. Let them get out. Let, let the weak ones get out. This is a time for strength….

We got to get rid of the weak Congress, people, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world. We got to get rid of them. We got to get rid….

The radical left knows exactly what they’re doing. They’re ruthless and it’s time that somebody did something about it….

The Republicans have to get tougher. You’re not going to have a Republican Party if you don’t get tougher….

And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore….

So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we’re going to the Capitol…

The Democrats are hopeless, they never vote for anything. Not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help. We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country….

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The insurrection on the 6th showed just how fragile democracy can be. It also illustrated in granular detail the depth of the political and social fissures besetting America. Trump may be gone, but the Republican Party is still Trump’s party. Correcting that will be a generational undertaking. The Biden administration’s successful revival of the economy with significant movement toward economic equality, and the defeat of the coronavirus, would be monumental first steps.

By the way, although he said he would, Donald Trump did not “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Rather, he retired to the White House to watch the bomb explode from the fuse he lit.