Wednesday, September 29, 2021

David R. Mayhew, Congress

At Amazon, David R. Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection

Infrastructure Bill in Peril as Democrats Strain to Unite Party

Tomorrow's going to be a laugh riot as the $3.5 trillion social welfare climate change boondoggle is flushed down the toilet. Some folks online, I've forgotten whom, suggested that Pelosi won't even put the infrastructure bill to a vote tomorrow, so it'll be back to the drawing board.

With luck, Manchin and Synema won't cave. 

At the Wall Street Journal, "Party leaders meanwhile work to bridge gaps between moderates, progressives on $3.5 trillion bill on social policy and climate; Biden’s agenda under threat":

WASHINGTON—Democrats hurtled toward a deadline for passing a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan in the House, with the bill’s fate in jeopardy as they struggled to mend intraparty rifts threatening to derail President Biden’s domestic agenda.

Party leaders are racing to unify Democrats around changes to a separate $3.5 trillion healthcare, education and climate package, which progressives want to see advance as a condition of supporting the infrastructure bill in the narrowly divided House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) so far has stuck to her plan to bring the infrastructure bill up for a vote Thursday, saying she was taking it “one hour at a time,” though she opened the door to further delay if talks don’t progress.

“We’re obviously at a precarious and important time in these discussions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “Members of Congress are not wallflowers. They have a range of viewpoints. We listen, we engage, we negotiate.”

The Thursday deadline for the infrastructure vote is one of several scheduling crunches Democrats face in the coming days. They are also rushing to pass a stand-alone measure extending government funding, currently set to expire on Friday at 12:01 a.m., through Dec. 3.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate reached an agreement to pass the spending patch Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said, and then send it to the House.

On the eve of the possible infrastructure vote, Mr. Biden met Wednesday evening at the White House with Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer. Mr. Biden also has held a series of meetings with moderate Democrats in recent days in a bid to lock down their support for the social-policy and climate bill. That, in turn, could mollify progressives’ fears that moderates would block that legislation.

Those efforts so far have fallen short: Critical centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) said Wednesday that he didn’t think he could reach an agreement with the White House soon. Democrats need all 50 senators in their caucus to remain united to pass the $3.5 trillion package through a process called reconciliation, which requires just a simple majority rather than the 60 usually needed to advance in the chamber.

Mr. Manchin repeated his concerns about additional spending fueling inflation and called for the bill’s measures to be means-tested. He didn’t outline a possible compromise with other Democrats.

“While I am hopeful that common ground can be found that would result in another historic investment in our nation, I cannot—and will not—support trillions in spending or an all or nothing approach that ignores the brutal fiscal reality our nation faces,” he said in a lengthy statement.

Mr. Manchin’s statement sparked outrage among liberal House Democrats, who said it had expanded the ranks of lawmakers willing to oppose the infrastructure bill, if a vote is held Thursday. Progressives see threatening to oppose the infrastructure bill in the House as a way to pressure moderate Democrats, particularly Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.), to agree to the contours of the education, healthcare and climate package.

“This is why we’re not voting for that bipartisan bill until we get agreement on the reconciliation bill and it’s clear we’ve got a ways to go,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.).

In comments later Wednesday, Mr. Manchin said he wanted to overhaul the 2017 tax law and continue the expanded child tax credit.

The White House has met repeatedly in recent days with Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema. Each has voiced opposition to a bill costing $3.5 trillion. Neither of the two lawmakers, though, have publicly indicated what size bill they would support.

Mrs. Pelosi after initially tying the two bills together, reversed course earlier this week and said that the infrastructure bill would come to the floor Thursday independent of the status of the other legislation. But she changed tack again Wednesday,appearing to condition consideration of the infrastructure bill on an agreement on the social-policy and climate effort.

“I think if we come to a place where we have agreement in legislative language, not just principle, in legislative language, that the president supports, it has to meet his standard, because that’s what we are supporting, and then I think we will come together,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters Wednesday, referencing the $3.5 trillion proposal.

She held out the possibility of the House delaying a vote on the infrastructure bill for the second time. She previously had reached an agreement with moderate House Democrats to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill this past Monday.

“We take it one step at a time,” she said...

Still more.

Previously: "Kyrsten Sinema Faces a Growing Revolt From Her Former Supporters."

Kyrsten Sinema Faces a Growing Revolt From Her Former Supporters

Followingp-up, "Kyrsten Sinema Is Enigma at Center of Democrats’ Spending Talks."

This lady's got tremendous power, and radical leftists hate it. 

At the New York Times, "Kyrsten Sinema Is at the Center of It All. Some Arizonans Wish She Weren’t":

PHOENIX — Jade Duran once spent her weekends knocking on doors to campaign for Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the stubbornly centrist Democrat whose vote could seal the fate of a vast Democratic effort to remake America’s social safety net. But no more.

When Ms. Sinema famously gave a thumbs down to a $15 minimum wage and refused to eliminate the filibuster to pass new voting rights laws this year, Ms. Duran, a Democrat and biomedical engineer from Phoenix, decided she was fed up. She joined dozens of liberal voters and civil rights activists in a rolling series of protests outside Ms. Sinema’s Phoenix offices, which have been taking place since the summer. Nearly 50 people have been arrested.

“It really feels like she does not care about her voters,” said Ms. Duran, 33, who was arrested in July at a protest. “I will never vote for her again.”

Ms. Sinema, a onetime school social worker and Green Party-aligned activist, vaulted through the ranks of Arizona politics by running as a zealous bipartisan willing to break with her fellow Democrats. She counts John McCain, the Republican senator who died in 2018, as a hero, and has found support from independent voters and moderate suburban women in a state where Maverick is practically its own party.

But now, Ms. Sinema is facing a growing political revolt at home from the voters who once counted themselves among her most devoted supporters. Many of the state’s most fervent Democrats now see her as an obstructionist whose refusal to sign on to a major social policy and climate change bill has helped imperil the party’s agenda.

Little can proceed without the approval of Ms. Sinema, one of two marquee Democratic moderates in an evenly divided Senate. While she has balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag and some of the tax-raising provisions of the bill, which is opposed by all Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Washington and back home in Arizona have grown exasperated.

While the Senate Democrats’ other high-profile holdout, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has publicly outlined his concerns with key elements of the Democratic agenda in statements to swarms of reporters, Ms. Sinema has been far more enigmatic and has largely declined to issue public comments.

Mr. Biden, White House officials and Democrats have beseeched the two senators to publicly issue a price tag and key provisions of the legislation that they could accept. But there is little indication that Ms. Sinema has been willing to offer that, even privately to the administration.

On Wednesday afternoon, she and a team from the White House huddled in her office for more than two hours on another day of what a spokesman for Ms. Sinema called good-faith negotiations.

“Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans she would be an independent voice for the state — not for either political party,” John LaBombard, a spokesman for the senator, wrote in an email responding to questions for the senator about her standing at home. “She’s delivered on that promise and has always been honest about where she stands.”

That posture helped her win election to the Senate in 2018 from a state whose voters are roughly 35 percent Republican, 32 percent Democratic and 33 percent “other.” And for all the passions of the moment, Ms. Sinema is not up for election again until 2024...

I love the senator at this point. If she can piss off left-wing nutjobs like this, and with so much hilarious gusto, I can dig it. 



Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Charles Murray, Facing Reality

At Amazon, Charles Murray, Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America.

The Authoritarian Left

 From Sally Satel, at Atlantic Monthly, "The Experts Somehow Overlooked Authoritarians on the Left":

Donald trump’s rise to power generated a flood of media coverage and academic research on authoritarianism—or at least the kind of authoritarianism that exists on the political right. Over the past several years, some researchers have theorized that Trump couldn’t have won in 2016 without support from Americans who deplore political compromise and want leaders to rule with a strong hand. Although right-wing authoritarianism is well documented, social psychologists do not all agree that a leftist version even exists. In February 2020, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology held a symposium called “Is Left-Wing Authoritarianism Real? Evidence on Both Sides of the Debate.”

An ambitious new study on the subject by the Emory University researcher Thomas H. Costello and five colleagues should settle the question. It proposes a rigorous new measure of antidemocratic attitudes on the left. And, by drawing on a survey of 7,258 adults, Costello’s team firmly establishes that such attitudes exist on both sides of the American electorate. (One co-author on the paper, I should note, was Costello’s adviser, the late Scott Lilienfeld—with whom I wrote a 2013 book and numerous articles.) Intriguingly, the researchers found some common traits between left-wing and right-wing authoritarians, including a “preference for social uniformity, prejudice towards different others, willingness to wield group authority to coerce behavior, cognitive rigidity, aggression and punitiveness towards perceived enemies, outsized concern for hierarchy, and moral absolutism.”

Published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Costello team’s paper is persuasive, to the point that you have to wonder: How could past researchers have overlooked left-wing authoritarianism for so long? “For 70 years, the lore in the social sciences has been that authoritarianism was to be found exclusively on the political right,” the Rutgers University social psychologist Lee Jussim, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told me in an email. In the 1950 book The Authoritarian Personality, an inquiry into the psychological makeup of people strongly drawn to autocratic rule and repressive politics, the German-born scholar Theodor W. Adorno and three other psychologists measured people along dimensions such as conformity to societal norms, rigid thinking, and sexual repression. And they concluded that “the authoritarian type of human”— the kind of person whose enthusiastic support allows someone like Hitler to exercise power—was found only among conservatives. In the mid-1990s, the influential Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer described left-wing authoritarianism as “the Loch Ness Monster of political psychology—an occasional shadow, but no monster. ” Subsequently, other psychologists reached the same conclusion.

The Trump era likely deepened psychology’s conventional wisdom that authoritarians are almost always conservatives; the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this year showed the urgency of understanding the phenomenon. And yet calls to de-platform controversial speakers and online campaigns to get people fired for heterodox views suggest that a commitment to open democratic norms is eroding, at least in some quarters, on the left. Much further along the authoritarian continuum, people purporting to be antiracist or antifascist protesters have set fires and committed other acts of violence since the summer of 2020. These acts stop short of, say, the 1970s bombing campaign by the far-left Weather Underground, but surely call the prevailing wisdom into doubt. (Supporters of revolutionary regimes overseas have demonstrated even more clearly that some people on the left try to get their way through intimidation and force.)

But one reason left-wing authoritarianism barely shows up in social-psychology research is that most academic experts in the field are based at institutions where prevailing attitudes are far to the left of society as a whole. Scholars who personally support the left’s social vision—such as redistributing income, countering racism, and more—may simply be slow to identify authoritarianism among people with similar goals.

One doesn’t need to believe that left-wing authoritarians are as numerous or as threatening as their right-wing counterparts to grasp that both phenomena are a problem. While liberals—both inside and outside of academia—may derive some comfort from believing that left-wing authoritarianism doesn’t exist, that fiction ignores a significant source of instability and polarization in our politics and society...

Adorno? What a clown. *Eye-roll.*

Lots more at more at the link.

The Power of Political Tribalism

 At the Other McCain:

Ed McGinty is in the news again. The 72-year-old Democrat has made himself obnoxious to his neighbors in The Villages of Florida by riding around in his golf cart plastered with anti-Trump signs.

Last week, McGinty was arrested and charged with stalking after he accosted a woman at the neighborhood swimming pool who was wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Joe Biden Sucks.” The details of that incident are less important than what Ed McGinty’s obnoxiousness teaches us about political tribalism. If you’re looking for a way to explain why a grown man would act the way that McGinty does, it was revealed in a Washington Post profile last year which mentioned that McGinty, a retired real estate broker and Philadelphia native, “has always been a Democrat, just like his parents before him.”

In other words, McGinty inherited his partisan loyalty to the Democratic Party and, until he moved to The Villages a few years ago, he had lived inside a bubble where such loyalty was commonplace, especially among Irish Catholics like himself. In 1960, when young Ed was 11, America elected its first Irish Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, who got 68% of the vote in Philadelphia. For the son of an Irish Catholic family in Philadelphia in those days, being a Democrat was as natural — just “the way things were” — as it was for me, growing up in Georgia during the “Solid South” days when there was no Republican Party to speak of in the state. (Kennedy got 69% of the vote in Douglas County, where I was a 1-year-old at the time.) I remained a Democratic Party loyalist until the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton’s policies (particularly the so-called “assault weapons” ban) drove me out of the party. Probably I was like a lot of my fellow Georgians during that era. We had remained loyal Democrats until Clinton’s presidency convinced us that the party no longer shared our values, and that our loyalty was not reciprocated.

It’s difficult to believe that someone like Ed McGinty, who proudly boasts of his Catholicism and mentions attending Cardinal Dougherty High School, never reconsidered his political loyalty, given how the Democratic Party has gone all-in for abortion since 1972...

Still more.

Evening Heaven

My lord!

More heavenliness here.

And here.

Inside Biden's Controversial Decision to Abandon Bagram

At Politco, "‘Speed equals safety’: Inside the Pentagon’s controversial decision to leave Bagram early: The administration didn't second-guess its decision to rapidly withdraw from Afghanistan. Lawmakers are fuming":

On a rainy day in early May, weeks after President Joe Biden announced the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, senior leaders from across the government gathered in the basement of the Pentagon for a broad interagency drill to rehearse the withdrawal plan.

During the exercise, top Pentagon leaders including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley stressed the need for American troops to get out of the country as quickly as possible to protect against renewed Taliban attacks.

“All of them made the same argument,” said one defense official, who was in attendance at the drill on May 8, and whose account includes previously unreported details. “Speed equals safety,” the person said, referring to the message conveyed by the military leaders.

The military brass had done a remarkable 180. For the first four months of 2021, as the White House reviewed the withdrawal timeline inherited from the Trump administration, Austin and Milley, as well as senior military commanders, urged Biden to leave a few thousand troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. Both were overruled. Once that happened, the Pentagon embraced as quick a withdrawal as possible, including from Bagram. And the Pentagon stuck to that approach through the beginning of July, regardless of the conditions on the ground.

The remnants of the U.S. military at Bagram left in the dead of night on July 1 handing off the base to Afghan commanders who complained they weren’t even notified of the departure.

“They just decided they lost the argument, and OK fine let’s get the heck out of dodge,” said one former senior defense official.

At every stage of the withdrawal, the White House went along with the Pentagon’s recommendations, accepting a timetable that ended up going faster than Biden laid out in the spring. When the Taliban started to sweep through northern Afghanistan in the summer, different plans were discussed but never altered. The priority for the Pentagon was to protect U.S. troops and pull them out, even as diplomats and Afghan allies stayed behind.

By early August, when it was clear Kabul would fall sooner than expected, the American military presence was down to fewer than 1,000 troops. It was too late to reverse course.

None of the civilian officials who were at the May 8 meeting at the Pentagon questioned the military’s rapid drawdown plan, according to multiple officials. Those attendees included national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy, Jon Finer; CIA Director William Burns; Samantha Power, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the ambassador to the United Nations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was not present, but was represented by his deputy, Brian McKeon. Besides Austin and Milley, other Pentagon officials included Gens. Frank McKenzie and Austin Scott Miller, the commanding generals of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, respectively, who joined via secure video.

The internal withdrawal debates and plans are at the heart of the congressional inquiry into the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban...

Still more.

Previously: "Senators Question Milley and Austin on End of War in Afghanistan (VIDEO)."

Marvin Gaye

"Oh, mercy mercy me..."

Here we have something for you folks, we hope

You enjoy it as we enter our social section, thank you

Woah, ah, mercy, mercy me

Ah, things ain't what they used to be (ain't what they used to be)

Where did all the blue skies go?

Poison is the wind that blows

From the north and south and east

Woah mercy, mercy me, yeah Ah, things ain't what they used to be (ain't what they used to be)

Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas

Fish full of mercury

Oh Jesus, yeah, mercy, mercy me, ah

Ah, things ain't what they used to be (ain't what they used to be)

Radiation underground and in the sky

Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

Hey, mercy, mercy me, oh

Hey, things ain't what they used to be

What about this overcrowded land?

How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Oh, na, na, na

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh...

Raiders Welcome 3-0!

I was in Vegas two weekends back and checked out the Raiders vs. Steelers at a sports bar across the way from the Bellagio, where my wife and I were staying.

I'm fired up for the season, heh. (For the Rams too, who are looking like Super Bowl material, for sure.)

On Twitter:

Senators Question Milley and Austin on End of War in Afghanistan (VIDEO)

 At NYT, "Top defense officials acknowledge they advised against withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan":

Top U.S. military officers acknowledged publicly for the first time that they had advised President Biden not to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan ahead of the chaotic evacuation during which 13 American service members were killed.

Appearing before a Senate panel, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that military leaders were able to give their advice to the president during the lead-up to Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw. But, the general said, “Decision makers are not required in any manner or form to follow that advice.”

General Milley testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command. Both men, along with General Milley, were said to have advised Mr. Biden not to withdraw all troops. During the hearing, Generals Milley and McKenzie confirmed that.

Senators pressed the three men on why the Pentagon failed to predict the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and Afghan military, why the United States did not start evacuating Americans and vulnerable Afghans from the country sooner, and whether Mr. Biden heeded their advice to keep a counterterrorism force of 2,500 on the ground.

“It was a logistical success but a strategic failure,” General Milley said, echoing the words of Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, from earlier in the hearing.

Mr. Austin, a former four-star Army general who served in Afghanistan, conceded that the collapse of the Afghan army in the final weeks of the war — in many cases without firing a shot — took top commanders by surprise.

“We need to consider some uncomfortable truths: that we did not fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in their senior ranks, that we didn’t grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders, that we did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commanders struck with local leaders,” Mr. Austin said, referring to Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan who fled the country as the Taliban took control.

“We failed to fully grasp that there was only so much for which — and for whom — many of the Afghan forces would fight,” Mr. Austin said.

The hearing was also the first opportunity for General Milley to address criticism about his actions during the last tumultuous months of the Trump administration.

“My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give,” General Milley said in his opening remarks. “I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle essential to this republic and I am committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics.”

General Milley used part of his opening comments to address the turmoil of recent revelations in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. He said he made an Oct. 30 call to his Chinese counterpart, just before the November presidential elections, because there was “intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States.” He added that senior U.S. officials, including Mark Esper, the secretary of defense at the time, and Mike Pompeo, then the secretary of state, were aware of the calls...

And about the phone calls, here's more, "Milley Defends His Calls to China During Trump's Term."

Stocks Close Sharply Lower as Bond Yields Hover Near Three-Month High

I hope my retirement accounts aren't taking a hit, yikes!

At WSJ, "Tech shares pull S&P 500, Nasdaq down more than 2%, while bond yields rally on inflation concerns":

U.S. stocks tumbled Tuesday, logging their sharpest pullback since May, as rising bond yields deepened a rout in shares of technology companies.

For much of the past decade, many investors had piled into shares of fast-growing technology companies, wagering they would deliver relatively robust profit growth even in a sluggish economic environment. This week, that trade hit a roadblock.

With the economy out of the worst of the pandemic-fueled crisis, the Federal Reserve signaled last week that it could start to reverse its pandemic stimulus programs as soon as November and raise interest rates sometime next year. That appears to have prompted an unwind of some of the market’s most enduring trades—pushing Treasury yields to their highest level in months and sending investors out of popular technology stocks.

Investors agree the economic outlook has improved significantly since 2020. But many wonder how well the market will be able to stand on its own once the Fed begins to taper its monthly asset purchases—especially since they credit much of the market’s rebound from its pandemic low to extraordinary levels of monetary and fiscal support from Washington. Some investors have also expressed concerns about the economic outlook. Inflation has made a surprising comeback this year, something some worry will start to cut into companies’ profit margins. The fast-spreading Delta variant of Covid-19 has also complicated economists’ efforts to forecast the global economy’s growth outlook.

“People are realizing, or at least remembering, that central banks are going to have to start raising rates,” said Altaf Kassam, head of investment strategy for State Street Global Advisors in Europe. “The patient has become used to being given all these drugs, but soon those drugs are going to have to be reduced.”

The S&P 500 fell 90.48 points, or 2%, to 4352.63, marking its second straight day of losses and worst one-day percentage decline since May. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index slid 423.29 points, or 2.8%, to 14546.68, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 569.38 points, or 1.6%, to 34299.99.

All three major indexes are on course to end the month lower.

Tuesday’s market selloff was broad, pulling all but one of the S&P 500’s sectors down for the day.

Traders yanked money out of the technology sector. Shares of companies like Facebook, Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft, each of which had vastly outperformed the broader market this year, fell more than 3.5% apiece.

Meanwhile, selling pressure accelerated in the government bond market. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose for a sixth consecutive day Tuesday, climbing from 1.482% Monday to 1.534%, its highest level since late June. Bond yields rise as prices fall.

Shares of energy companies avoided the broader selloff...


L.A. Unified Sees Sharp Decline in Attendance

Wow, this is some serious number of absentees!

At LAT, "L.A. Unified enrollment drops by more than 27,000 students, steepest decline in years":

Enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District has dropped by more than 27,000 students since last year, a decline of close to 6% — a much steeper slide than in any recent year.

The comparison is based on an annual count referred to as “norm day,” the fifth Friday of every new school year, Sept. 17 this year. Last year’s enrollment total for pre-school through 12th grade was 466,229. This year’s figure for that same date is 439,013, according to data provided by L.A. Unified that will be presented to the school board Tuesday.

Other data released by L.A. Unified indicates other potential concerns. The district estimates that between 70% and 80% of the school staff are on target to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the district’s deadline of Oct. 15, indicating that thousands of employees face termination, which would exacerbate another problem: more than 2,000 unfilled jobs.

“We’re still seeing the impact of COVID,” said Veronica Arreguin, the district’s chief strategy officer, about the enrollment decline. Arreguin also noted that much of the decline was expected, in line with many years of dropping enrollment related to lower birth rates, families moving to more affordable areas and other factors.

Even so, the shortfall is three times what planners in the nation’s second-largest school district predicted. The district plans to act aggressively to understand what is happening and what to do about it.

“If it’s something we can change,” Arreguin said, “we need to change.”

The decline is not unique to L.A. Unified.

Enrollment dropped across the nation last year as families and school systems grappled with a pandemic that shut down in-person instruction for much of the year in most places and also prompted worried families to keep children at home when they had a choice to go back.

Statewide, enrollment in K-12 public schools fell by almost 3%, or 160,000, students last year, according to data from the California Department of Education. That was the largest drop of the last 20 years, surpassing a 1% drop between October 2008 and October 2009. More than a third of that decline was due to a lower enrollment in kindergarten.

The causes are varied, with economic factors at play — the high cost of living, including gentrification, has pushed families farther from the once-affordable urban core and also from adjacent suburbs served by L.A. Unified. Another factor has been limits on immigration, which used to funnel a steady supply of families with young children into L.A. Unified. The pandemic’s influence is difficult to pinpoint and measure.

For the 2020-21 school year, with campuses closed because of the pandemic, kindergarten enrollment declined by almost 6,000 students from the previous year, with many families dissatisfied with kindergartners having to attend class online. In a more typical year, the number of kindergarten students would have declined by about 2,000.

Unexpectedly large declines in the younger grades continued this year and, to a lesser degree, affected middle schools as well, said Tony Atienza, the district’s director of budget services and financial planning...


That's what they always say. *Eye-roll.*

Still more.


Monday, September 27, 2021

U.S. Spent Billions on Afghanistan and Failed to Build a Sustainable Economy

Afghanistan update.

At WSJ, "Country faces economic collapse with the withdrawal of foreign assistance under Taliban rule":

KABUL—The U.S. spent $145 billion over two decades in Afghanistan to turn one of the poorest nations on earth into a self-sustaining economy—the boldest effort this century at Western nation-building. That project has largely failed.

Afghanistan’s economy did grow, and millions of Afghans gained access to education, healthcare and jobs. But the economy that the U.S. helped build relies overwhelmingly on foreign aid, most of which evaporated overnight. Afghanistan’s economy—and the welfare of its people—is on the verge of collapse following the U.S. exit last month and the Taliban takeover, international experts say.

KABUL—The U.S. spent $145 billion over two decades in Afghanistan to turn one of the poorest nations on earth into a self-sustaining economy—the boldest effort this century at Western nation-building. That project has largely failed.

Afghanistan’s economy did grow, and millions of Afghans gained access to education, healthcare and jobs. But the economy that the U.S. helped build relies overwhelmingly on foreign aid, most of which evaporated overnight. Afghanistan’s economy—and the welfare of its people—is on the verge of collapse following the U.S. exit last month and the Taliban takeover, international experts say.

An Afghan farmer who took part in the soybean project in Balkh province said there wasn’t enough water to grow the crop, the proper seeds weren’t available locally, and there was no market for any harvested crops. “It was a big failure,” the farmer said. Sigar agreed.

ASA spokeswoman Wendy Brannen disputed that. She said the project had achieved “successes in line with or exceeding its original objectives.” She added, “Our acceptability and sensory analyses showed that Afghans eat and like soy and that it could be a viable source of protein in a very protein deficient country.”

The U.S. sought to introduce alternative crops to opium poppies. But Afghan farmers were reluctant to give up poppies, one of their few cash crops. Others, such as saffron, pine nuts and cotton were far less lucrative, and rutted roads and poor storage infrastructure made exports difficult.

The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $335 million building the Tarakhil diesel power plant to supply Kabul with electricity...


The Civil Rights Struggle of 2021

At FrontPage Magazine, "Mandated vaccines for all is the civil rights issue of our time":

The civil rights movement led to the end of legalized racial segregation and the beginning of the ability of African Americans to be free and equal citizens in the United States of America. But similar oppressive government injustice is happening in New York City today.

About a third of all citizens of New York City, among them the majority of African Americans, have not been vaccinated. De Blasio’s mandate to show proof of vaccination and IDs at NYC restaurants, bars, museums, gyms, theaters, concerts, and other indoor settings, discriminates against millions of unvaccinated New Yorkers, who will be prevented from engaging in normal everyday activities, and even students who are prevented from playing in high school sports. Forced vaccination mandates will prevent many New Yorkers from keeping their jobs. Unvaccinated New Yorkers will be legally prohibited from traveling by subway, bus, or plane. But it also normalizes the outrageous mandate that people are required to show their private health papers and personal identification.

Mandated vaccines for all is the civil rights issue of our time.



Sunday, September 26, 2021

'That's Not My Name'


This song popped into my mind and it was a hit back in 2009, sheesh.

Man I've been blogging a long time. *Eye-roll.*

The Ting Tings:

Kyrsten Sinema Is Enigma at Center of Democrats’ Spending Talks

She's an enigma alright. 

I blogged about her almost 10 years ago, when she, umm, came off a bit less moderates. See, "Kyrsten Sinema, Bisexual Israel-Hating Antiwar Radical, is Face of Today's Democrat Party."

And now, folks are tripping on her role of an extra-"moderate" senator who easily switch parties.

An engima alright.

At WSJ, "Arizona senator says $3.5 trillion price tag is too high, holds discussions with Biden, party leaders":

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Senate Democrats trying to pass a sweeping education, healthcare and climate package must first crack an enigma: What does centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema want?

Ms. Sinema, a key vote in the evenly divided Senate, has made clear she won’t support the package’s current $3.5 trillion price tag, announcing her opposition in July and reiterating it since then. The first-term senator from a swing state has held meetings with party leaders to discuss the legislation, but she hasn’t publicly suggested specific changes. Many Democrats remain uncertain over her policy stance and her political calculations.

Ms. Sinema is constantly engaged in “direct, good-faith discussions,” said Sinema spokesman John LaBombard. He shared a list of more than two dozen meetings or calls she has had to discuss the legislation.

Six of those conversations were with President Biden directly and three were with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). The rest were with Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), who is a member of the Finance and Budget committees, and White House and Democratic leadership staff. Representatives for Messrs. Biden, Schumer and Warner didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“Given the size and scope of the proposal—and the lack of detailed legislative language, or even consensus between the Senate and House around several provisions—we are not offering detailed comments on any one proposed piece of the package while those discussions are ongoing,” Mr. LaBombard said.

The package under discussion would represent a vast expansion of the country’s safety net, including paid family and medical leave, universal prekindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, affordable housing, and an expansion of Medicare benefits, among other measures. It would also increase taxes on companies and high-income households. Democrats hope to tackle climate change with provisions aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 80% and economywide by 50% by 2030.

Republicans are united in opposition to the proposal, calling it wasteful and potentially damaging to the economy. Democrats are aiming to pass the package through a process called budget reconciliation that allows a bill to advance in the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote supermajority usually needed.

In private negotiations, Ms. Sinema has been focused on targeting how the funding of new programs will be distributed among income levels, according to Senate Democratic aides. Narrower targeting of benefits could lower the overall cost. Ms. Sinema has also expressed concerns centering on the structure of the proposed tax changes, aides said.

In a recent interview with the Arizona Republic, Ms. Sinema expressed interest in climate proposals, which she said would directly affect the desert state which is already experiencing droughts, wildfires and damaged infrastructure.

The focus on Ms. Sinema comes amid a broad negotiation within the party between the moderate and progressive wings. While some senators have expressed concerns about parts of the proposal and haven’t committed to funding the entire $3.5 trillion, Ms. Sinema and fellow centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of deep-red West Virginia have been the only members of the caucus to rule out supporting that level of spending.

In a meeting Wednesday at the White House with Mr. Biden where both centrists were present, lawmakers discussed reducing the size of the package to below $3 trillion, according to two people familiar with the discussion.

“The main goal is to get all 50 of us together which means that we really need to get down to what are the things that will enable Joe and Kyrsten to say yes,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii). “I personally am not sure what it is programmatically that they can support. I’d like to get that identified.”

Rep. Scott Peters (D., Calif.), a centrist Democrat and close friend of Ms. Sinema from their days serving together in the House, said Ms. Sinema will be pivotal in the talks. “I certainly think that everyone is well advised to be listening to her. She’s got strong opinions and she’s not going to be pushed around.”

Others note that along with the thin control of the Senate, Democrats can afford to lose just three votes in the House, and Mr. Biden can’t afford to take his eye off any lawmakers...

I dare say I like that woman. *Shrug.*

Still more.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

American Beauty

At Country Girls.

And a bountiful lady here.

Also, Dua Lipa.

To Get Back Arrested Executive, China Uses a Hardball Tactic: Seizing Foreigners (VIDEO)

I'm still shaking my head at this story. 

The woman was living in two million-dollar homes for three years and the U.S. was never able to extradite her. 


China plays hardball and we don't? Appalling. 

At NYT, "The speed at which Beijing returned two Canadians held seemingly tit-for-tat in exchange may signal comfort with the tactic":

In a rapid-fire climax to a 1,030-day standoff, China welcomed home a company executive whose arrest in Canada and possible extradition to the United States made her a focus of superpower friction. In getting her back, Beijing brandished a formidable political tool: using detained foreign citizens as bargaining chips in disputes with other countries.

The executive, Meng Wanzhou, landed in China on Saturday night local time to a public that widely sees her as a victim of arrogant American overreach. By the same turn, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians detained by Chinese officials just days after Ms. Meng had been arrested, were released and arrived in Canada.

The exchange resolves one of the festering disputes that have brought tensions between Washington and Beijing to their worst point in decades. But it will likely do little to resolve deeper issues including human rights, a sweeping clampdown in Hong Kong, cyberespionage, China’s threats to use force against Taiwan, and fears in Beijing that the United States will never accept China’s rise.

The swiftness of the apparent deal also stands as a warning to leaders in other countries that the Chinese government can be boldly transactional with foreign nationals, said Donald C. Clarke, a law professor specializing in China at George Washington University’s Law School.

“They’re not even making a pretense of a pretense that this was anything but a straight hostage situation,” he said of the two Canadians, who stood trial on spying charges. Mr. Spavor was sentenced last month to 11 years in prison, and Mr. Kovrig was waiting for a verdict in his case after trial in March.

“In a sense, China has strengthened its bargaining position in future negotiations like this,” Professor Clarke said. “They’re saying, if you give them what they want, they will deliver as agreed.”

Chinese media reports chronicled her release and flight home, skipping over her admission of some wrongdoing or saying that it did not amount to a formal guilty plea. On China’s internet, Ms. Meng was praised as a patriotic symbol of China standing up to Western bullying. Her plane was met on the tarmac at the airport in Shenzhen, China, by a rapturous crowd waving Chinese flags.

“Without a powerful motherland, I would not have my freedom today,” Ms. Meng said in a statement issued from her flight.

Chinese news media scarcely mentioned the release of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, leaving the impression that Beijing gave nothing away for her return.

To say that the apparent swap signals a thaw in relations would be premature at best, experts said.

President Biden has designated China as a key challenge to American pre-eminence. The releases came as he hosted the first face-to-face leaders’ meeting of the Quad, a grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia, united by their apprehension about China’s power and intentions in Asia. This month, Mr. Biden unveiled a new security agreement with Australia and Britain, and plans to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

While Canadian officials and American prosecutors have insisted that they treated Ms. Meng’s case as purely a legal matter, politics has lurked in the background since she was arrested at an airport in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018.

Nine days later, security officers took Mr. Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, from a street in Beijing. Mr. Spavor was seized on the same day in Dandong, a Chinese city opposite North Korea, a country where he long did business. While Ms. Meng was allowed to live in her Vancouver mansion, the two Canadians were confined to prison under much harsher conditions.

Chinese officials rejected the idea that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were in effect hostages. But Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, scoffed at their denials, and Chinese officials and media commentators occasionally implied that there could be a trade-off in return for Ms. Meng’s release.

The United States alleged that in 2013 Ms. Meng lied to a bank over whether Huawei — the telecommunications company founded by her father, Ren Zhengfei, and where she was chief financial officer — had kept control of a company that did business in Iran in violation of American sanctions. Ms. Meng’s lawyers argued that she had been truthful.

Despite posturing on both sides, the United States and Ms. Meng had some incentive to find common ground in part because neither felt entirely sure they would win the fight over extraditing her, according to two additional people with knowledge of the talks...

Keep going


Trapped in Kabul, Prominent Afghan Women Fear Retribution Under Taliban Rule

The fate of women (and girls) in Afghanistan ... I can't.

At WSJ, "Lacking documents and unable to flee, high-profile women are at risk because of their past roles":

KABUL—Nabila, a 31-year-old Afghan judge, used to grant divorces to the wives of militants while their husbands languished in prison. Two days after the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15 and emptied prisons across the country, she received threatening calls from several of these men.

She broke her SIM card, packed light and went into hiding.

“They’ve promised to kill me,” said Nabila, who asked to be quoted by her first name. “My husband and I now change our house every four days.”

Some 200 other female Afghan lawyers and judges, unemployed and vulnerable to Taliban retribution, remain stuck in Kabul alongside her, she said.

President Biden touted last month’s two-week airlift from Afghanistan, which evacuated some 120,000 people, as an “extraordinary success.” Yet many thousands of Afghans who invested lives and careers to further a U.S.-backed political order after 2001, promoting democracy and the rule of law, remain stuck.

Women like Nabila are most at risk both because of their past roles and the Taliban’s harsh new restrictions on women’s rights.

They face an additional, and often insurmountable, hurdle to leaving Afghanistan: the lack of any official government ID, let alone a passport.

Some 52% of Afghan women don’t have a national ID, known as tazkeera, compared with just 6% of Afghan men, according to the World Bank. That discrepancy is largely due to conservative cultural norms, which impede Afghan women from going to a government office to get identification papers, or keep them at home where they rarely need one. The U.S. has usually required a tazkeera or a passport from the Afghans it airlifted from Kabul, and IDs are needed to process visa applications.

“We’re talking about the most highly educated Afghan women who don’t have documents,” said Kimberley Motley, an international human-rights attorney who has worked on Afghan issues for more than a decade.

“We absolutely have an obligation to legal professionals who were part of these programs. We sold them the idea that rule of law is the foundation for building up a ‘democratic and civilized’ society,” Ms. Motley said.

Nabila, who worked for six years as a judge in Afghanistan’s family court, only applied for an electronic ID card, a precondition for a passport, 10 days before Kabul fell. She didn’t receive it before the Taliban took control of the state bureaucracy.

Nabila and her colleagues are far from the only prominent Afghan women who are stuck. An employee of Women for Afghan Women, a grass-roots civil-society organization that promotes and protects the rights of disenfranchised women, said she and 43 colleagues had been in hiding since the Taliban went to their offices the day Kabul fell. None of the staff have been able to leave the country, she said. Most don’t have passports.

Even for women with the right papers, getting to an evacuation flight was often not an option. Without the ability to line up for hours or days in a male-dominated scrum outside Kabul airport, and afraid to pass through checkpoints manned by Taliban fighters possibly looking for them, many women in prominent legal, cultural and political positions watched as the last American evacuation flights departed at the end of August.

Since then, four chartered Qatari flights have departed from Kabul, carrying around 680 Americans, holders of other foreign passports and their dependents. Afghans without permanent residency abroad weren’t allowed to board.

The August airlift included several daring, successful escapes, including Afghanistan’s women’s national soccer team and thousands of Afghans freed through a two-week rescue operation run by a group of American volunteers.

Yet many more remain, including 34 female volleyball players and staff of the women’s adult and youth national teams. The Taliban have indicated they will ban female participation in sports. “We have no clear future after years of struggling against hurdles to have a place in our beloved sport,” said one of the players. “I have not been outside the house since the Taliban took over. It is very difficult.”

Two-hundred-eighty students, staff and teachers from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which included girls, failed to get out after an evacuation attempt crumbled 100 yards from the airport in the final days of the U.S. airlift.

The institute regularly received threats from the Taliban and was in 2014 hit by a suicide bombing during a concert that killed a German citizen.

“Musical diversity, Western music, girls and boys in music, music for social change,” said Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the institute, which housed Zohra, Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra and for years received funding from the U.S. Embassy. “Everything we did was against the Taliban’s ideology,” added Mr. Sarmast, who partially lost his hearing as a result of the 2014 bombing.

One of the most significant gains for women’s rights since 2001 has been the ability of women to get a divorce and protection from abusive husbands. Nabila, the judge, said the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan has already put at risk the lives of the women who benefited from the post-2001 family law and women’s courts...

Still more.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Biden's (In)competence

 From Amy Walter, at the Cook Political Report, "The Competency Question":

When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I'm the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable.

But, less than a year into his tenure, voters don't see the 'return to normal' they had been promised. Far from turning the corner on COVID, the country remains anxious and divided over everything from booster shots to vaccine mandates. A botched Afghanistan pull-out was quickly followed by more chaos on the southern border. Earlier success at bipartisan legislating has dissolved into intra-party fighting over the contours of the president's signature legislation.

"I'm kind of a little weary," said one woman in a recent focus of voters who had supported Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. "I think it [Biden's term] started off strong, but some scary things are happening now."

All of this has taken a toll on Biden's standing with the public. Not only are his national job approval ratings underwater (the average currently has him at 46 percent favorable to 49 percent unfavorable), but he's slipped under 50 percent in a recent Washington Post poll in Virginia — a state he easily carried in 2020. Private polling is picking up double-digit drops in Biden performance in competitive House seats.

There's nothing that remarkable — or unique — about a first-term president hitting a soft patch early in his tenure. New presidents often confront a crisis they didn't expect. For Bill Clinton, it was the April 1993 stand-off in Waco, Texas, between federal law enforcement officers and cult leader David Koresh that resulted in the deaths of 75 people. Other times, presidents create their own crises; Trump was probably the best at that (see: Comey, Charlottesville, late-night tweeting, etc.) Obama ran as a transformational candidate who would unify the country. However, his legislative efforts on health care and economic stimulus brought about significant backlash from Republicans in Washington and at the grassroots level.

The bigger question, however, is whether a president can recover after early stumbles. This is even more relevant in this ultra-polarized era where a president starts with unified support from his base, but a shallow reservoir of "benefit of the doubt" from the opposite party or independent voters. In other words, a president doesn't get much of a bump in approval rating when things go well, and he doesn't get much sympathy when he messes up (or is perceived to have messed up).

Trump was able to recover quite a bit from his 'summer swoon' of 2017. For example, at this point in 2017, Trump's job approval rating had plummeted to just 37 percent. But, by late October of 2018, his approval had climbed 6 points to 43 percent. That wasn't enough to help Republicans hold onto their House majority, but his stronger standing was enough to help red-state candidates expand their majority in the Senate.

However, the challenge for Biden is that these early mistakes go directly to the very rationale of his presidency; that it would be low drama and high competence. This was especially true with Afghanistan. While Americans are eager to have our troops out of the country, and may even have assumed there'd be some chaos due to that drawdown, they also expected that this administration's deep expertise and experience, would prepare them for any unexpected snafu. That turned out not to be the case...

Still lots more.


William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

At Amazon, William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Murder Rates Still Up in 2021

The graphs at this piece are staggering. The murder rate surged 30 percent in 2020, by far the highest since the 1960s, if not ever. 

Things are getting back to normal, though rates are still high. Any decent first cut analysis would finger Black Lives Matter for the surge from last year. 

At NYT, "Murder Rose by Almost 30% in 2020. It’s Rising at a Slower Rate in 2021."

At at Fox News, "Violent crime surged across America despite liberal attempt to rewrite narrative: Data show violent crime surged even as property crimes dipped due to COVID-19 pandemic."

Democrats in Danger

It's Stuart Rothenberg, at Roll Call, "Democrats’ deepening dilemma: Missteps, infighting threaten to shape their messaging":

With Republicans doing their best to cause chaos, Biden stumbling too frequently for his own good and virtually no margin for error in the Senate and the House, Democrats face a difficult next few weeks and months.

Congressional Democrats may eventually pass both an infrastructure bill and a much more expensive reconciliation measure, but not before West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, House Democratic pragmatists and party progressives give each other indigestion.

If Democrats succeed in enacting the White House’s agenda, they will have dramatic accomplishments that would both boost party morale and demonstrate they delivered on their promises, many of which are popular with the American public.

But trillions of dollars of additional spending, higher taxes, an increase in the debt ceiling and a more expansive government would also open Democratic officeholders to GOP attacks in politically competitive states and districts.

Even worse, if Democrats fail to deliver on infrastructure and/or reconciliation (most likely because party moderates and progressives can’t agree on bottom-line spending), Biden will look weak. That outcome would fuel the narrative that Democrats are divided and ineffectual, which would severely damage the party’s midterm prospects.

An Aug. 14-17 NBC News poll already showed Biden losing support, most notably among independents, a crucial swing group that tends to reflect the public mood.

The administration’s handling of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan obviously put Democrats on the defensive, and the fallout from a misdirected drone strike in Kabul didn’t make things any better for the president and his secretary of Defense, especially given the government’s initial insistence that the strike had saved American lives.

Biden looked stubborn on Afghanistan — not as bad as Trump often looked during his term, but not the empathetic, smart, measured foreign policy veteran his supporters once applauded. Maybe there was no way to stop the return of the Taliban, but events have raised new questions about the U.S. military’s “over the horizon” capabilities and strategy.

But the administration’s list of headaches continues to grow, now including confusion over COVID-19 vaccine boosters, trouble at the U.S.-Mexico border and Biden’s inept rollout of a new U.S.-U.K. agreement to sell submarines to Australia.

No, I’m not referring to President Joe Biden’s job approval rating in national polls, which has dropped noticeably in recent weeks. Those survey results reflect the impact of the coronavirus’s delta variant, growing questions about the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on the economy and, to a lesser extent, recent developments in Afghanistan.

Surrounded by bad news, it’s not surprising that Biden’s job approval rating has fallen from the low to mid-50s in June and July to the 40s in late August and September.

But it’s still about 13 months until the midterms, and the public’s views on those matters could change — which would impact Biden’s standing one way or the other.

More importantly, Republicans have plenty of time to do what they now do best — act like sociopaths who are willing to ignore the rule of law and replace it with the rule of former President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

But almost everywhere they look, Democrats find fundamental challenges, along with roadblocks and pitfalls.

With Republicans doing their best to cause chaos, Biden stumbling too frequently for his own good and virtually no margin for error in the Senate and the House, Democrats face a difficult next few weeks and months.

Congressional Democrats may eventually pass both an infrastructure bill and a much more expensive reconciliation measure, but not before West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, House Democratic pragmatists and party progressives give each other indigestion.

If Democrats succeed in enacting the White House’s agenda, they will have dramatic accomplishments that would both boost party morale and demonstrate they delivered on their promises, many of which are popular with the American public.

But trillions of dollars of additional spending, higher taxes, an increase in the debt ceiling and a more expansive government would also open Democratic officeholders to GOP attacks in politically competitive states and districts.

Even worse, if Democrats fail to deliver on infrastructure and/or reconciliation (most likely because party moderates and progressives can’t agree on bottom-line spending), Biden will look weak. That outcome would fuel the narrative that Democrats are divided and ineffectual, which would severely damage the party’s midterm prospects.

An Aug. 14-17 NBC News poll already showed Biden losing support, most notably among independents, a crucial swing group that tends to reflect the public mood.

The administration’s handling of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan obviously put Democrats on the defensive, and the fallout from a misdirected drone strike in Kabul didn’t make things any better for the president and his secretary of Defense, especially given the government’s initial insistence that the strike had saved American lives.

Biden looked stubborn on Afghanistan — not as bad as Trump often looked during his term, but not the empathetic, smart, measured foreign policy veteran his supporters once applauded. Maybe there was no way to stop the return of the Taliban, but events have raised new questions about the U.S. military’s “over the horizon” capabilities and strategy.

But the administration’s list of headaches continues to grow, now including confusion over COVID-19 vaccine boosters, trouble at the U.S.-Mexico border and Biden’s inept rollout of a new U.S.-U.K. agreement to sell submarines to Australia.

Democrats’ fundamental problem is that over the past few weeks, most of the political focus has been on Biden, not Trump.

Yes, the former president has injected himself into primaries and political spats (including reportedly looking to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as party leader in the chamber).

But while journalists and political junkies follow these sorts of news stories, most Americans have been focused on the coronavirus, the economy and jobs, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

For the moment, the nation’s focus is on Biden and his performance in the nation’s top job — not on Trump. But that is likely to change as the midterms approach.

In California, Democrats successfully made Newsom’s recall at least partially about Trump and the Trumpification of the Republican Party. They will no doubt need to do that again in the 2022 midterms to motivate their voters, though that strategy will be much more difficult to pursue given that they won’t be fighting in states and districts that strongly favor Democrats.



Jen Psaki (VIDEO)

She's hot but exasperating. 

I've never had a thing for redheads, but she's got it goin' on.

At NYT, "Bully Pulpit No More: Jen Psaki’s Turn at the Lectern":

WASHINGTON — Jen Psaki, President Biden’s press secretary, may be the most prominent spokeswoman in American politics, but political fame hits different in the post-Trump era.

The daily White House briefing, once a highly rated staple of daytime TV, rarely appears anymore on cable news. Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, two former Trump press secretaries, became B-list celebrities; after nine months on the job, Ms. Psaki has not even rated an impersonation on “Saturday Night Live.”

But a cult of Psaki has proliferated online, where clips of her restrained, if occasionally withering exchanges with reporters have established this once obscure political strategist as an unlikely cultural force. Her retorts earn “yas queen” praise from liberals, while conservatives jeer her attempts at spin, particularly over the past month, when the confluence of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, extreme weather and coronavirus confusion meant the questions were more pointed and the answers more scrutinized.

Ms. Psaki, 42, a veteran communications operative who was twice passed over for the top job under her previous boss, former President Barack Obama, is an unlikely avatar for the smack-down-happy, we-have-no-choice-but-to-stan culture of modern social media. A onetime competitive swimmer who grew up with a Republican father in Greenwich, Conn., she was until this past year barely recognized beyond the Beltway in-crowd, who knew her as a capable technocrat type with deep ties to Democratic leadership.

Now the hashtag #jenpsaki has 139 million views on TikTok, and its pun of a cousin, #psakibomb (the P in Psaki is silent — get it?), has racked up more than 13 million. She posed for Annie Leibovitz in Vogue magazine and answered questions on the N.P.R. show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Olivia Rodrigo stood next to her for a briefing. Her exchanges with a regular foil, the Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy, often get memed.

As the TikTok user “fabiantiktoks30sclub” put it, in a clip with 65,000 likes: “Yassss queen jen psaki let the clown doocey have it!!”

Another moment caught fire online this month, as Texas was passing a law that effectively banned abortion in the state. A reporter from a Catholic news service pressed Ms. Psaki on why Mr. Biden, a Catholic, supported abortion rights...

Iowa Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds Can't Stand Biden

Makes sense.

He's an absolute disaster.

At the Des Moines Register, "Iowa Poll: 62% of Iowans disapprove of the job Joe Biden is doing as president":

Fewer than one third of Iowans approve of the job Joe Biden is doing as president, a steep drop from earlier this year.

Thirty-one percent of Iowans approve of how Biden is handling his job, while 62% disapprove and 7% are not sure, according to the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

That’s a 12 percentage point drop in approval from June, the last time the question was asked. Biden's disapproval numbers jumped by 10 points during the same period. In June, 43% approved and 52% disapproved.

Biden’s job approval has not been in net positive territory in Iowa since March, when 47% of Iowans approved of his performance and 44% disapproved.

"This is a bad poll for Joe Biden, and it's playing out in everything that he touches right now,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer. The partisan breakdown of the poll shows Biden has nearly no support from Republicans. Just 4% of Republicans say they approve of his job performance as president, while 95% disapprove. Among Democrats, that number is largely reversed, with 86% approving and 7% disapproving. A majority of political independents disapprove, at 62%, while 29% approve.

Biden's job approval rating is lower than former President Donald Trump's worst showing in the Iowa Poll. The former Republican president's worst job approval was 35% in December 2017. Other recent presidents' worst Iowa Poll results: Barack Obama, 36%, in February 2014, and George W. Bush, 25%, in September 2008.

The poll of 805 Iowa adults was conducted Sept. 12-15 by Selzer & Co. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points...

Still more.


Haitian Migrant Crisis (VIDEO)

 At the Associated Press, "Officials: Many Haitian migrants are being released in U.S.":

DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — Many Haitian migrants camped in a small Texas border town are being released in the United States, two U.S. officials said Tuesday, undercutting the Biden administration’s public statements that the thousands in the camp faced immediate expulsion.

Haitians have been freed on a “very, very large scale” in recent days, according to one U.S. official who put the figure in the thousands. The official, with direct knowledge of operations who was not authorized to discuss the matter and thus spoke on condition of anonymity

Many have been released with notices to appear at an immigration office within 60 days, an outcome that requires less processing time from Border Patrol agents than ordering an appearance in immigration court and points to the speed at which authorities are moving, the official said.

The Homeland Security Department has been busing Haitians from Del Rio to El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border, and this week added flights to Tucson, Arizona, the official said. They are processed by the Border Patrol at those locations.

A second U.S. official, also with direct knowledge and speaking on the condition of anonymity, said large numbers of Haitians were being processed under immigration laws and not being placed on expulsion flights to Haiti that started Sunday. The official couldn’t be more specific about how many.

U.S. authorities scrambled in recent days for buses to Tucson but resorted to flights when they couldn’t find enough transportation contractors, both officials said. Coast Guard planes took Haitians from Del Rio to El Paso...

Keep reading.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Global Markets Swoon as Worries Mount Over Superpowers' Plans

Well, my investment portfolios are going to take a hit, but they'll swing back, despite what bonehead Biden does.

At NYT, "The S&P 500 closed down 1.7 percent over a number of jitters, like China’s sputtering real estate market and the phasing out of stimulus measures in the United States":

Investors on three continents dumped stocks on Monday, fretting that the governments of the world’s two largest economies — China and the United States — would act in ways that could undercut the nascent global economic recovery.

The Chinese government’s reluctance to step in and save a highly indebted property developer just days before a big interest payment is due signaled to investors that Beijing might break with its longstanding policy of bailing out its homegrown stars.

And in the United States, the globe’s No. 1 economy, investors worried that the Federal Reserve would soon begin cutting back its huge purchases of government bonds, which had helped drive stocks to a series of record highs since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The sell-off started in Asia and spread to Europe — where exporters to China were slammed — before landing in the United States, where stocks appeared to be heading for their worst performance of the year before a rally at the end of the trading day. The S&P 500 closed down 1.7 percent, its worst daily performance since mid-May, after being down as much as 2.9 percent in the afternoon.

The catalyst for the swoon was the continued turmoil at China Evergrande Group, one of that country’s top three developers of residential properties. The company has an estimated $300 billion in debt, and an interest payment of more than $80 million is due this week.

Analysts said Evergrande’s plight was severe enough that it would be unlikely to survive without Chinese government support. “The question is to what degree are there spillover risks within Chinese equities and then cascading into the global markets,” said John Canavan, lead analyst at Oxford Economics.

Few entities move markets the way the American and Chinese governments can, by their actions and inaction, and the worldwide tumble on Monday made this clear. Until recently, investors seemed content to ignore a variety of issues complicating the recovery — including the emergence of the Delta variant and the supply chain snarls that have bedeviled consumers and manufacturers alike.

But beginning this month, as Evergrande began to teeter and the likelihood of the Fed’s scaling back — or tapering — its bond-buying programs grew, the market’s protective bubble began to deflate. Some U.S. investors are also concerned that tax increases are in the offing — including on share buybacks and corporate profits — to help pay for a spending push by the federal government, the signature piece of which is President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget bill. Separately, Congress also must act to raise the government’s borrowing limit, a politically charged process that has at times thrown markets for a loop.

On Monday, those currents combined, reflecting the interconnectedness of the global markets as investors everywhere sold their holdings.

The decline was ugliest in Asia, where Evergrande’s woes — its shares fell 10.2 percent — dragged down other Chinese real estate companies’ stocks by 10 percent or more. Markets on the Chinese mainland were closed for the day, but Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 3.3 percent.

For decades, Chinese growth was driven by investment in infrastructure, including the market for residential property, which was financed with huge sums of borrowed money. Banks often lent to developers at the direction of the government, which looked at property building as a source of jobs and economic growth.

“Beijing says lend, so you lend; when or even whether you get your money back is secondary,” wrote analysts with China Beige Book, an economic research firm.

Many lenders therefore viewed companies such as Evergrande as having an implicit guarantee from the government, meaning that if the company couldn’t pay its debts, the government would ensure creditors get repaid...


We should be hammering the Chinese economy: Dump all Chinese listings off U.S. capital markets and retaliate against Chinese currency manipulation, protectionist trade practices, and theft of U.S. technological know-how. And if Xi attacks Taiwan, we should bomb Chinese cities and military-industrial centers and destroy the Chinese navy.

Still more.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Xi Jinping Aims to Rein In Chinese Capitalism, Hew to Mao’s Socialist Vision

Rein in? Yeah, we need to rein in Beijing, the freakin' lyin', cheatin,' heathen rogue regime of the new new world order. 

Jeez, I can't stand China. (Though I'm around Chinese folks all the time in Irvine, and they're just fine; indeed, I see them as hitting the lottery, coming here, getting citizenship, bringing their folks over from the Mandarin prison state; hittin' the lottery indeed.)

At Wall Street Journal, "Going beyond curbing tech giants, he wants the Communist Party to steer flows of money and set tighter limits on profit making":

Xi Jinping’s campaign against private enterprise, it is increasingly clear, is far more ambitious than meets the eye.

The Chinese President is not just trying to rein in a few big tech and other companies and show who is boss in China.

He is trying to roll back China’s decadeslong evolution toward Western-style capitalism and put the country on a different path entirely, a close examination of Mr. Xi’s writings and his discussions with party officials, and interviews with people involved in policy making, show.

For most of the 40 years after Deng Xiaoping first unleashed economic reforms in China, Communist Party leaders gave market forces wider room to flourish. That opening helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and created trillions of dollars in wealth, but also led to rampant corruption and eroded the ideological basis for continued Communist rule.

In Mr. Xi’s opinion, private capital now has been allowed to run amok, menacing the party’s legitimacy, officials familiar with his priorities say. The Wall Street Journal examination shows he is trying forcefully to get China back to the vision of Mao Zedong, who saw capitalism as a transitory phase on the road to socialism.

Mr. Xi isn’t planning to eradicate market forces, the Journal examination indicates. But he appears to want a state in which the party does more to steer flows of money, sets tighter parameters for entrepreneurs and investors and their ability to make profits, and exercises even more control over the economy than now. In essence, this suggests that he aims to rewrite the rules of business in what could someday be the world’s biggest economy.

“China has entered a new stage of development,” Mr. Xi declared in a speech in January. The goal, he said, is to build China into a “modern socialist power.”

Mr. Xi’s overhaul has generated more than 100 regulatory actions, government directives and policy changes since late last year, according to a Journal tally, including steps aimed at breaking the market dominance of companies such as e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., conglomerate Tencent Holdings Ltd. and ride-sharing leader Didi Global Inc.

The government’s recent measures to tame housing prices are worsening a cash crunch at China Evergrande Group , a heavily indebted real-estate developer, sending chills across global markets. Beijing is unlikely to bail out Evergrande the way it has rescued many state firms, analysts say, and could further tighten the regulatory screws on other private developers.

Mr. Xi has signaled plans to go much further. During a leadership meeting in August, he emphasized a goal of “common prosperity,” which calls for a more equal distribution of wealth. This would be achieved in part through more government intervention in the economy and more steps to get the rich to share the fruits of their success.

An Aug. 29 online commentary circulated by state media called it a “profound revolution” for the country.

“Xi does think he’s moving to a new kind of system that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world,” said Barry Naughton, a China economy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “I call it a government-steered economy.”

A number of countries closely regulate industry, labor and markets, set monetary policy and provide subsidies to help boost their economies. In Mr. Xi’s version, the government would have a level of control that would allow it to steer the economy and industry along a path of its choosing, and channel private resources into strengthening state power.

The big risk for China and Mr. Xi is that the push winds up suppressing much of the entrepreneurial energy that has powered China’s boom and years of innovation.

For foreign businesses, the campaign likely means more turbulence ahead. Western companies have always had to toe the party line in China, but they are increasingly asked to do more, including sharing personal user data and accepting party members as employees. They could be pressed to sacrifice more profits to help Beijing achieve its goals.

“Supervision over foreign capital will be strengthened,” said a person familiar with the thinking at China’s top markets regulator, “so it won’t be able to obtain ultra-high profits in China through monopoly and capital-market operations.”

The Information Office of the State Council, China’s top government body, didn’t respond to questions for this article.

Before this year, Mr. Xi was distrustful of capital, but he had other priorities. Now, having consolidated power, he is putting the whole government behind his plans to make private business serve the state.

A once-in-a-decade leadership transition due for late 2022, when Mr. Xi is expected to break the established system of succession to stay in power, provided an impetus to act and show he is doing something big for the people to justify longer rule, officials involved in policy making say.

At internal meetings, some of them say, Mr. Xi has talked about the need to differentiate China’s economic system. Western capitalism, in his view, focuses too heavily on the single-minded pursuit of profit and individual wealth, while letting big companies grow too powerful, leading to inequality, social injustice and other threats to social stability.

Early this year, when Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. took down former U.S. President Donald Trump’s accounts, Mr. Xi saw yet another sign America’s economic system was flawed—it let big business dictate what a political leader should do or say—officials familiar with his views said.

A few months later, when the Chinese Communist party celebrated its centenary on July 1, Mr. Xi donned a Mao suit and stood behind a podium adorned with a hammer and sickle, pledging to stand for the people. After the speech, he sang along with “The Internationale” broadcast across Tiananmen Square. In China, the song, a feature of the socialist movement since the late 1800s, has long symbolized a declaration of war by the working class on capitalism.

Such gestures, once dismissed as political stagecraft, are being taken more seriously by China watchers as it becomes evident Mr. Xi is more ideologically driven than his immediate predecessors.

The difference between his vision and Western-style capitalism, he has said at internal meetings, is that in China, “Capital serves the people.”

Industries that Mr. Xi views as being led astray by a capitalist spirit, including not only tech but also after-school tutoring, digital gaming and entertainment, are bearing the immediate brunt.

A policy aimed at turning private education companies into nonprofit entities all but killed New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc., which has provided English lessons to generations of students studying abroad. Its shares have plunged about 90% this year.

Founder Yu Minhong, nicknamed “Godfather of English Training” in China, broke into tears during a recent company meeting, according to an employee. “It’s devastating to him, and to all of us,” the employee said.

Mr. Xi’s policy changes have dashed more than $1 trillion in stock-market value and erased over $100 billion of wealth for entrepreneurs such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma. Private companies and their owners are being encouraged to donate profits and wealth to help with Mr. Xi’s common-prosperity goals. Alibaba alone has pledged the equivalent of $15.5 billion. State-owned companies, having already bulked up under Mr. Xi’s rule, are marching into areas that were pioneered by private firms but are increasingly seen as crucial to national security, such as management of digital data.

A ministry supervising state companies, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, is mapping plans to set up more government-controlled providers of cloud services for data storage, people familiar with the agency’s workings say. Such services have been dominated by private companies, including Alibaba and Tencent.

The city of Tianjin has ordered companies it supervises to migrate data from private-sector cloud platforms to state-owned ones within two months of the expiration of existing contracts, and by September 2022 at the latest, according to an official notice dated Aug. 12. More localities are expected to follow suit, the people say.

Government-controlled entities are acquiring stakes and filling board seats in more companies to make sure they fall in line with the state’s goals. ByteDance Ltd., owner of the video-sharing app TikTok, and Weibo Corp. , which runs Twitter-like microblogging platforms, recently have sold stakes to state-backed companies.

Mr. Xi is fully in charge of the campaign, instead of delegating details to Vice Premier Liu He, his chief economic adviser, as in the past. A central party office reporting directly to Mr. Xi has been sending out directives instructing ministries to take actions and coordinate policies...