Angry Freedom

If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life.

– Jonathan Franzen, Freedom
quoted by George Packer in “How America Fractured Into Four Parts

This week’s featured post is “Four Narratives of America“.

This week everybody was talking about voting rights

https://jensorensen.com/2021/03/09/more-voter-suppression-funnies-georgia-edition/

Joe Manchin, the Senate swing vote and the lone Democrat who wasn’t supporting the For the People Act, put forward his plan for defending voting rights. That plan got a big boost when Stacey Abrams supported it. Manchin believes he can get the 10 Republican votes he needs to overcome a filibuster, but Mitch McConnell predicts he’ll get zero.

So far, no Republican has expressed support for bringing the For the People Act to the floor, where Manchin could propose the amendments he wants. Even Romney and Murkowski have said they’ll support McConnell’s filibuster.

Missouri’s Roy Blunt laid out the Republican framing:

When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Senator Manchin’s proposal, it became it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute.

New York Magazine’s Sarah Jones explains:

Ever eager to press the case against any expansion of voting rights, Republicans fell back onto an old strategy: They racialized the proposal. The moment Abrams, who is Black, expressed a measure of support for Manchin’s compromise, it became a radical, even dangerous, idea. Her name is a byword, evidence that liberals have breached an unacceptable standard. The hope is that, to the GOP’s base, she inspires a kind of fear that Manchin — older, white, and male — can’t possibly provoke.

It’s been clear for months that this bipartisanship drama about voting rights — and the parallel dramas of Biden’s infrastructure proposal and the January 6 commission — needs to play out:

  • Democrats need Manchin’s vote either to pass the infrastructure bill through reconciliation or to circumvent the filibuster on voting rights.
  • Manchin represents an overwhelmingly Republican state, and needs to show his voters that he is trying everything to get Republican cooperation.
  • Republicans are not going to cooperate, because they don’t want the economy to do well under Biden, they don’t want the full story of 1-6 to come out, and (most of all) they don’t everybody to vote and have their votes count equally.

All along, the question has been: What happens after we get through all the predictable parts of this scenario — after Manchin has tried everything to bring Republicans in, and they have clearly refused? We still don’t know.

Ezra Klein holds out hope that Manchin knows what he’s doing, and will manage to pass meaningful legislation one way or another. I (and many other people) worry that the drama itself is the point: Manchin will be happy to have held center stage and demonstrated to West Virginia that he is at least trying to do things the right way, even if ultimately nothing is accomplished.


So anyway, what would Manchin’s version of a voting-rights bill do? He published a long list of reforms he wants. The big one is to ban partisan gerrymandering. That’s a great proposal, because even Republican voters know the practice is corrupt. (That’s why anti-gerrymandering ballot initiatives have passed even in red states like Utah.)

Beyond gerrymandering, Manchin also supports several fairly modest proposals that are likely to make it easier to vote in many states. He would allow voters who show up at the wrong polling place on Election Day to still cast a ballot, although these voters might not be allowed to vote in certain local elections. And he would require at least 15 consecutive days of early voting in federal elections.

Manchin also supports the DISCLOSE Act, which requires certain groups to disclose their election-related spending, and the Honest Ads Act, which imposes disclosure requirements on online ads.

Manchin also proposes a reasonable compromise on voter ID: You’d have to show some kind of ID at the polls, but the number of acceptable IDs would expand so that any legitimate voter could easily provide one (a utility bill showing your name and address, for example). This would make voting more like getting a library card rather than a passport or a security clearance.

Manchin’s ID compromise is good politics for Democrats. Being against voter ID in any form sounds bad to a lot of people, even if they realize that voter fraud is quite rare. Americans who have an up-to-date driver’s license, know where their birth certificate is, and have lived at their current address for many years grossly underestimate the number of legal voters who have trouble assembling a rigorous collection of ID documents. Making a principle out of “no voter ID” gives Republican fantasies of massive fraud some credibility.

His proposal restores some parts of the Voting Rights Act that Chief Justice Roberts hand-waved away in 2013, but isn’t as strong as the proposed John Lewis Act. (TPM argues that Manchin’s changes to John Lewis are major, and “gut the bill”. It would still improve on the current state of the law.)

In short, passing a Manchin voting rights bill would be a great thing, if that’s really what he’s trying to do. I hope it is.

and Juneteenth

http://www.garthtoons.com/

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, but it will take a few years to determine what that means in any practical sense in most of the country. Officially, the federal government can only declare a holiday for its own workforce, so unless you work at a military base or a post office, you won’t notice much difference until your state government decides to participate.

What Juneteenth should mean for White Americans is still something of a work in progress, and there are a number of mistakes to avoid. Hardly anybody these days still remembers that Labor Day is supposed to honor the union movement. Cinco de Mayo (which isn’t an official holiday in the US) often gets celebrated in an offensive way, as Anglos wear sombreros and drink a lot of margaritas at some corporate fake-Mexican chain restaurant.

Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the US, when a Union general began enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. Implicit in the holiday are the gaps between January 1. 1863 (when the Proclamation was supposed to take effect), June 19, 1865 (when it actually did), and the dawn of true racial equality (still to come). So it’s both a celebration and a moment to reflect on what still needs to be done.

While the holiday will always be special for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, the rest of us should also appreciate living in a country without slavery. So there is something here that everyone can celebrate.

and the Supreme Court

In a 7-2 ruling, the Court once again refused to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, i.e. ObamaCare.

This is the third time the Court has ruled on the ACA, and the challenges to it have become increasingly bizarre. The first challenge, in 2012, was based on a novel restriction on the commerce clause that literally had not come up in the year-long debate leading to the ACA’s passage in 2009.

The constitutional limits that the bill supposedly disregarded could not have been anticipated because they did not exist while the bill was being written. They were invented only in the fall of 2009, quite late in the legislative process.

The root idea of the first challenge was that the commerce clause allows Congress to regulate actions that affect interstate commerce, but not inaction. So penalizing people for not buying health insurance is unconstitutional.

No one had ever heard of this idea prior to ObamaCare, but the Court supported it 5-4. However, Chief Justice Roberts saved ObamaCare by reinterpreting the individual mandate’s penalty as a tax. (Congress could have written it as a tax from the beginning, but didn’t want the political baggage of “raising taxes”. The possibility that it might be unconstitutional as a penalty was not mentioned at the time by either the advocates or critics of the bill. Nobody decided to “chance it”; the inaction doctrine just wasn’t a thing.) So ObamaCare was 5-4 constitutional, but for a different reason than Congress had imagined.

The second challenge made even less sense. Somebody noticed that if you took one sentence of the bill completely out of context, it didn’t seem to allow the federal government to subsidize insurance policies bought on exchanges that HHS set up on behalf of states that chose not to create their own exchanges, even though the law specifically authorized HHS to set up such exchanges, which couldn’t function in anything like the way intended without the subsidies.

It was sort of a “gotcha” argument. No one claimed that anyone had ever intended the law to work that way, just that you could take that one sentence out of context and screw everything up. The Supreme Court rejected that interpretation 6-3, with Thomas, Alito, and Scalia dissenting.

Meanwhile, Republicans kept trying to repeal the ACA, and came within one Senate vote of doing so in 2017, even though no Republicans either in Congress or in the Trump administration had the faintest idea what to do about the tens of millions of people who would lose their health insurance.

Later that year, one part of Trump’s tax cut reduced the penalty/tax of the individual mandate to zero, and that set up the latest attempt to get the Supreme Court to skewer the ACA. Try to follow this one:

So, under current law, most Americans must either obtain health insurance or pay zero dollars. The Texas plaintiffs didn’t just claim that this zeroed-out tax is unconstitutional (on the theory that a zero dollar tax can’t be an exercise of Congress’s taxing power), they claimed that the entire law must be declared invalid if the zero dollar tax is stuck down.

It was an audacious ask of the Supreme Court — requesting the justices strike down the entire law despite only claiming that a single provision of Obamacare is unconstitutional. Especially since the provision that the plaintiffs challenged literally does nothing at all.

Not even Clarence Thomas would go for that one. (Oversimplifying just a little: The Court ruled that a tax of $0 causes no injury to anyone, so the plaintiffs don’t have standing to sue.) That made it a 7-2 decision, with Alito and Gorsuch approving of this nonsense.

Leaving us with this question: Is ObamaCare safe yet? Maybe Republicans need to learn a Hunting-of-the-Snark lesson: What the Supreme Court tells you three times is true. ObamaCare is constitutional.

The general lesson of these three cases should be that the Supreme Court isn’t willing to make a purely political decision to get rid of ObamaCare — and without politics, cases with so little merit would never have been filed in the first place. (Samuel Alito voted for all three challenges, and wrote the dissent on this one. That tells you all you need to know about him.)

So ObamaCare should be safe unless Republicans gain control of Congress and the Presidency again. And even then, repeal is starting to feel like tilting at windmills. If the GOP ever comes up with an actual healthcare policy — beyond Trump’s empty promise of a “beautiful” healthcare plan to be unveiled after the ACA was repealed — then ObamaCare might wind up in trouble again. But that seems unlikely.


Jonathan Chait sees the 12-year ObamaCare drama as a paradigm of Republican politics: They motivate their voters by inventing a dire threat to the American way of life — has anybody faced an “ObamaCare death panel” during the past dozen years? — and then they get trapped by their own rhetoric and can’t let it drop.

Turning a policy question over insurance-market regulation and subsidy levels into a cultural fight was a shrewd, and perhaps necessary strategy. But it left the party’s elite with no way to back down. Having persuaded their own voters the law was evil and an existential threat, they had to act as if this claim was true. Hence red states refusing to opt into the Medicaid expansion, even at the cost of punishing their own doctors and hospitals, who have been stuck with the cost of treating uninsured people who show up in the emergency room. …

For a lawyer in a Republican state, refusing to join a lawsuit to eliminate Obamacare merely because its legal merits were preposterous was therefore unthinkable. If they had ambitions to a future court nomination, how could they dare mark themselves as ideologically unreliable by opposing the holy cause of Obamacare repeal, in any form?

Something similar is going on now with respect to Trump’s Big Lie about the “stolen election”. Having whipped up such a fever with so little truth to it, they find themselves unable to deny even blatantly ridiculous conspiracy theories. That’s how 17 state AGs signed on to a baseless lawsuit to prevent four other states from certifying their electors. How could they not?


The other major case this week concerned balancing non-discrimination laws with the rights of conservative Christians. (Most news outlets are calling this “religious freedom”, but I see little evidence that the Court wants to protect religious freedom in general.) As is the pattern in several recent cases, the court ruled narrowly in favor of the Christian group, which was Catholic Social Services. They are allowed to continue receiving public funding in Philadelphia while they refuse to consider same-sex couples as candidates to be foster parents.

But the Court once again resisted making a sweeping ruling with broad implications. This means more such cases will be filed, and will rise up to the Supreme Court. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for.

and Biden’s meeting with Putin

The world will little note nor long remember President Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva Wednesday, and that’s a nice change. One Trump-administration notion that deserves to be forgotten is that political relationships between major powers depend on the personal relationships between their leaders.

Trump was never America, and whether or not Putin liked him (or at least found him amusing) didn’t have much to do with anything. Ditto for President Xi of China or anybody else. North Korea was going to keep doing what North Korea does, independent of whether Trump and Kim Jong-un “fell in love“.

That said, it was good once again to see a president at least try to represent our nation’s interests, rather than his own. Trump could never separate the two; Russia helped him get elected, so Putin was a good guy. Trump and Putin could stand together against the American intelligence services, which worried about having a president indebted to one of our enemies.

Trump, BTW, is doubling down on that question:

As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our “Intelligence” from the Obama era, meaning people like Comey, McCabe, the two lovers, Brennan, Clapper, and numerous other sleezebags, or Russia, the answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious.

Indeed it should.

but you should look at what George Packer has been writing

The featured post discusses his new book Last Best Hope.

you also might be interested in …

Covid case numbers are still falling: The 7-day daily average is down to 11,000. The average number of deaths per day has fallen below 300. 45% of Americans are fully vaccinated, with 53% getting at least one dose. Reported number of doses per day actually went up last week, to 1.2 million. The differences between states are getting starker. Vermont has fully vaccinated 64%, Mississippi only 29%.


Last week I anticipated the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists, which happened in Nashville this week. Tuesday, the convention narrowly defeated the most conservative candidate for president. The NYT describes the new president, Ed Litton, as a “moderate”, but in an interview with Vox, scholar Greg Thornbury pointed out that moderation is relative. (“Compared to what? Idi Amin?” Thornbury described Litton as “a pretty conservative guy”.)

The Convention also beat back a resolution denouncing critical race theory by name. The root problem seems to be that while the denomination’s recent leadership has wanted to take at least token steps towards rooting out racism and making the SBC more welcoming to people of color, the rank-and-file are still pretty comfortable with white supremacy.

I think the people who are the dyed-in-the-wool evangelicals are the people that showed up to the polls and voted for Trump in the face of four years of utter vulgarity. They did so anyway, because that’s where they are. When you looked at January 6, and you looked at the crowd that stormed the Capitol, look at how many prayer meetings there were before the storm happened? How many praise songs were being sung?

Anti-Trump Republican Peter Wehner makes a good point in an NYT column: While the SBC is trying to defend against critical race theory and wokeness, it’s ignoring a far more serious problem: QAnon and the conspiracy theory habits of thought that are taking root in evangelical congregations.

This reminds me of a rule-of-thumb I came up with years ago for separating authentic religious leaders from charlatans: An authentic religious leader challenges the congregation to think about their own failings. A charlatan flatters the congregation by talking about other people’s failings.

Not many Southern Baptists are in danger of being pulled into Marxism by critical race theory. But a lot of them are in danger of sliding into the QAnon fantasy world.


If Mike Pence can find a friendly audience anywhere, you’d think it would be at a Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting in Florida. But no. Pence was heckled Friday, facing calls of “traitor” because he refused to help Trump stay in power after losing the 2020 election.

By now, Republicans ought to understand that there’s no station where you can safely get off the Trump train. If you’re not for a full fascist takeover that makes the Donald president-for-life, eventually you’ll be discarded. Pence may not recognize that his political career is over, but it is.


The vaccine wars continue. Florida won an injunction against the CDC, which at least temporarily sets aside CDC guidelines that determine whether cruise ships can sail. A Florida law stops cruise lines from requiring passengers prove they’ve been vaccinated, but Carnival and Norwegian say they will require vaccinations anyway. Celebrity will have different rules for unvaccinated passengers, who may be charged more for testing and may not be able to get off the ship in all ports.

The Washington Post writes about the family conflicts caused when a bride wants everyone at her wedding vaccinated, and key relatives (usually her father) refuse.


Trump was interviewed by the conservative Jewish magazine Ami:

You know what really surprised me? I did the Heights, I did Jerusalem, and I did Iran—the Iran Deal was a disaster, right? And I also did many other things. Jewish people who live in the United States don’t love Israel enough. Does that make sense to you? I’m not talking about Orthodox Jews. I believe we got 25% of the Jewish vote, and it doesn’t make sense.

Two things he doesn’t seem to understand:

  • A lot of Jews take the social-justice message of the prophets seriously. They’re liberals because their God cares about the poor, the persecuted, and refugees.
  • American Jews are genuinely freaked out by the violent white supremacists in Trump’s base.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that 21% of American Jews — not 25%, Trump always exaggerates how much support he has — were able to put all that aside and vote for him anyway.


A guy who drove his car into a crowd of anti-police-brutality protesters in Minnesota has been charged with murder.

Meanwhile, that St. Louis couple who stood on the porch of their mansion waving guns at peaceful protesters have pled guilty to misdemeanors and paid a fine. They had to give up the specific firearms they misused, but nothing stops them from buying replacements.

They appeared at the Republican Convention last summer, because threatening Black people with violence is what the GOP stands for these days. The husband is currently running for the Senate, hoping to replace retiring Missouri Republican Roy Blunt.

This is a good time to do a reverse-the-races thought experiment: If peaceful White protesters walk past a Black family’s home, and the Black husband and wife come out and threaten them with guns, what happens next? Assuming they survive and escape prison, is there any chance Democrats want them running for office?


The First Dog has died. Champ Biden, a German shepherd, was 13. Champ is survived by his adopted brother, Major.

Meanwhile, Joe and Jill Biden celebrated their 44th anniversary on Thursday. You know who was also married in 1977? Donald and Ivana Trump, in April. But I don’t recall anybody making a big deal out of that anniversary. Media bias, I guess.


Lake Mead, created on the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam, seems to be drying up, due to a combination of climate change, development, and excessive water use. The current drought is exacerbating a 20-year trend. 25 million people depend on the lake for water.


Reuters described this week’s heat wave in the Southwest as “apocalyptic“. Las Vegas hit 116 degrees Wednesday and Phoenix got to 118 Thursday. Denver had three straight 100-degree days. Both California and Texas strained to keep up with the electricity demand. The heat wave and drought has raised anxiety about wildfires later in the summer.

and let’s close with a message about safety

The Danish Road Safety Council made a truly clever public service announcement about wearing bicycle helmets. A Viking warrior’s wife lays down the law: “You can go looting and pillaging all you want, but you have to wear a helmet.”

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Comments

  • SCL  On June 21, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    I’m sorry but I just don’t buy this at all. Manchin is a bought and sold corporatist taking bribes from the Koch brothers and pretending to be a democrat. He has no goals or integrity, just serving his corporate overlords like the rest of them. I don’t know why we keep pretending that this is some civics class version of America. This is not a democracy, we are not free, and we are all slaves to the corporate capitalist regime. Pretending otherwise is naive and counter productive.

    • Anonymous  On June 24, 2021 at 7:00 am

      Given your opinions, I’m very much hoping that you are working to change that dynamic. There are many organizations working on the problem, but here’s one option: http://www.issueone.org

  • frankackerman0617  On June 21, 2021 at 7:23 pm

    I hope this post won’t be meet with censure. It’s a genuine personal question.
    The US appears to be on track to have a large enough percentage of the population that has not been vaccinated to insure that covid-19 will continue to infect a noteworthy number of citizens for some time. There appears, on the left, to be universal alarm over this. State and federal governments are planning to continue to spend public funds to try to convince vaccine hesitators to “get the shot.” Is that reasonable?

    As the virus continues to infect the unvaccinated the result will be that they will eventually be infected. Almost all will then spontaneously produce the same antibody response as that invoked by a vaccine. In this way the US population will reach herd immunity, and the virus will fade away. Yes, if we start to taper off on our vaccination efforts, some hesitators will get sick, and some will die. But a high percentage of the hesitators are adamant in their decisions not to be vaccinated. Does it really make sense to keep spending public funds to try to get then to change their minds?

    One affirmative argument is that people who have health conditions that increase the risk that taking the vaccine are currently legitimate hesitators. If we back off our efforts to reach herd immunity by vaccination, some of these people will become infected and some will die. But this will happen to some extent on our current course. Is lowering this number slightly worth the present effort?

    Another affirmative argument is that as the virus continues to slowly spread it may develop a strain that can defeat the current vaccine. The result could be devastating. The difficult question is: Is the probability of such an event high enough to warrant additional efforts to get hesitators vaccinated? Also, to be considered is the certainty that worldwide the virus will continue to spread for some time, and continue to mutate. These mutations will eventually reach us, so spending to avoid the threat of mutations is foolish.

    • thebhgg  On June 23, 2021 at 10:34 am

      > As the virus continues to infect the unvaccinated the result will be that they will eventually be infected. Almost all will then spontaneously produce the same antibody response as that invoked by a vaccine.

      I think this point deserves some severe push back. You are right that *one* result will be the same antibody response as a vaccine, but *another* result will be a much higher change that (as you point out…)

      > as the virus continues to slowly spread it may develop a strain that can defeat the current vaccine. … The difficult question is: Is the probability of such an event high enough to warrant additional efforts to get hesitaters vaccinated?

      I don’t find that question to be at all difficult. A virus cannot mutate if it does not replicate. Every addition vaccinated person costs some resources, but eliminates a small chance of needing MASSIVE additional resources. I suspect COVID vaccination costs to go down over time, perhaps as the vaccine is included in other childhood vaccinations. The costs of a variant outbreak will remain catastrophically high (multiplied by the small chance that it will happen today).

      But if any trained, experienced, epidemiologist says otherwise, I will defer. I am not an expert.

  • Dale  On June 22, 2021 at 1:14 am

    Thinking that Manchin is in this as a sort “triangulating” strategy is wrong. Its 2021 and he isn’t up for re-election till 2024. No one will remember this in three years and he knows it.

    No. He is doing this because not passing it is in his ideological interests. He is not, as SCL says, a Koch bribed corporatist. But he is a rich man with an anti-progressive ideology. And he is working specifically towards that ideology.

    Granted, knowing this doesn’t really change the landscape. We still can’t treat Manchin like that because he can always swap his caucus vote and do even more damage. But i don’t think that, internally, we can pretend that Manchin is doing this because he doesn’t think he can get elected in WV if he passes it.

  • Dale  On June 22, 2021 at 1:46 am

    “But the Court once again resisted making a sweeping ruling with broad implications. This means more such cases will be filed, and will rise up to the Supreme Court. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for.”

    The SCOTUS judges doing this are not foolish. They know that the court is a political institution and are treating it as such. They are using the same strategy that they have been for Roe(and many others). Which is to uphold it in name only, while chipping away at the actual ruling such that the binding law no longer resembles the basic cite that is referenced in the colloquial lexicon.

    I am not sure they do not run into the same problem that legislative Republicans are having, in that they will continually have to field these cases and continually face pressure to “do something” about the “evil” they keep walking around. But impending fascist violence is a problem for tomorrow.

    The strategy is keep religious freedom and anti-discrimination in name only. And to have the de-facto situation that evangelical christianity/white supremacy is the established religion of the United States. Just as abortion is meant to be legal until you try to get one. And its legal to immigrate to the US until you cross the border. And you can have health insurance until you need to use it. This is the “hegemonic freedom” of the cavaliers put into practice. (See Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in the United States)

  • Anonymous  On June 23, 2021 at 1:54 am

    “Not many Southern Baptists are in danger of being pulled into Marxism by critical race theory. But a lot of them are in danger of sliding into the QAnon fantasy world.”

    If the SBC leadership denounced QAnon, it would do good to individual members, the sect in general, and the US as well. But they won’t do that because that would require making a few members uncomfortable, and require some bravery on their part, which they are lacking. They far prefer to take pseudo-brave stances against CRT, because they can grimace and make make brave-sounding statements, without actually having to do anything brave.

    At this point, I think that it is legitimate to level Southern Baptists an accusation usually aimed at Unitarian Universalists. That is, that it is not a religion, it is a social club.

  • ccyager  On June 27, 2021 at 5:37 pm

    I continue to wait for Dr. Fauci to address the very real issue of people with autoimmune diseases not responding to the vaccines because they are on immunosuppressant meds. I am one of those people. My antibody test came back negative. None of my doctors know what to do about it. They claim they’ve not received guidance on how to interpret the test. I thought if there are no antibodies against Covid-19 being produced in my body that that was pretty clear.There are millions of us in America. When will this issue be addressed and resolved?

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