Burdens and Duties

For any who remain insistent on an audit in order to satisfy the many people who believe that the election was stolen, I’d offer this perspective: No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters — particularly when the President will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That’s the burden, that’s the duty of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost.

– Senator Mitt Romney (1-6-2021)

This week’s featured post is “The Big Lie Refuses to Die“.

This week everybody was talking about the $3.5 trillion question


I’ve been resisting writing about the Democrats’ intra-party negotiations over the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that is supposed to supplement the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August.

While the issue is definitely important enough to deserve attention, the root of my resistance is that nobody really knows anything, and yet there is massive amounts of speculation about what might be happening. Maybe Joe Manchin is torpedoing the whole Biden agenda. Or maybe progressives are. Or maybe one side or the other is about to cave in. Maybe Biden is a legislative wizard who has it all under control, or maybe he’s an addled senior citizen in over his head.

It’s all speculation.

Here’s what little we know: The bipartisan bill passed the Senate in regular order, with enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. In terms of policy, the Democrats in the House agree that it ought to pass. But it leaves out a large number of progressive (and Biden) priorities. (The one that is most important to me is climate change.) So progressives in the House threaten not to pass the bipartisan bill if the Senate won’t pass the larger bill. No Senate Republicans support the larger bill, so it will have to pass through reconciliation (if at all), and all 50 Democrats are needed.

Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema have objected to the size of that bill, but so far have not made a counteroffer. Democratic moderates in the House had previously gotten Speaker Pelosi to commit to a vote on the bipartisan bill today, but that vote has been postponed to Thursday.

Midnight Thursday is the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, the annual witching hour when any shit not yet dealt with reaches the fan. So the government could shut down Friday, and the country might hit its debt limit shortly thereafter. In other words: a completely self-inflicted disaster of global significance.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe any of that will happen. I think Democrats will get something together, and two sizeable infrastructure bills will pass, with most of what all sides want included. The government will not shut down, and the debt limit will be pushed back to set up some future apocalypse. (We can’t just get rid of it, because …)

I believe this because I don’t think any Democrat in Congress benefits from sabotaging the whole Biden agenda and setting the party up for a massive 2022 defeat. I also don’t believe any of the Democrats — Manchin and Sinema included — are the kinds of loose cannons Republican leaders sometimes have to deal with. I’m also not afraid of Republicans getting some advantage out of the debt-limit battle. In the 2022 campaign, I don’t believe anybody will remember or care that this time around it was the Democrats who pushed back the limit without Republican help. (I also don’t believe voters will punish Republicans for their irresponsibility, although they should.)

As I said previously, though, I don’t know. Maybe I’m too optimistic. But I’m heartened by the account in Peril of the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March. Manchin also had problems with that, and negotiations went down to the wire. But he ultimately voted for it. The picture Woodward and Costa paint is that Manchin has to maintain his moderate image in West Virginia and separate himself from liberals like Bernie Sanders and AOC, but that he also doesn’t want to be the guy who causes Biden’s presidency to fail.

I’m not counting on Biden to be an LBJ-style wheeler-dealer, but I think he will keep all the Democrats calm enough to recognize that failure benefits none of them.

Josh Marshall points out a piece of journalistic malpractice: Progressives and moderates are often presented as rival-but-equivalent factions fighting for their rival-but-equivalent proposals, when actually Democrats are pretty much united except for Manchin, Sinema, and a handful of folks in the House.

What Manchin et al are having trouble swallowing isn’t Bernie Sanders’ bill. (Sanders, if you remember, wanted a $6 trillion package.) It’s President Biden’s bill.

and the Arizona election audit

That’s the subject of the featured post. Short version of the report written by Trumpist Cyber Ninjas: The ballots were counted accurately. But Biden won, so there must be something wrong with the ballots themselves.

and Haitian immigrants

The images of men on horseback chasing down dark-skinned people, and of 14,000 immigrants camped under the Del Rio Bridge in Texas have sparked intense reactions from both the pro- and anti-immigration factions.

The current wave was started by a major earthquake in August, but Haitians have been trying to enter the US for one reason or another for a long time. And one US administration after another has been trying to keep them out. Vox has a worthwhile article about the unique aspects of our Haitian immigration policies.

and Peril

The book Peril (that last week’s post “Seven Days in January” was indirectly based on) came out Tuesday, and I rushed to read it. I didn’t find any major surprises: The incidents discussed in the pre-publication articles are pretty much the way they’ve been described.

Woodward and Costa leave readers to guess who the source is for each scene. In general, if the book tells us what somebody was thinking at the time, you have to assume that person is the source for the whole incident (though possibly various other people were also consulted). If the book follows one character through a series of scenes, I assume that person is the source. (In the case of somebody like Mike Pence, I suppose it’s possible that a right-hand-man is the source. But even then, I doubt that person would talk in such detail without the approval of his former boss.) If one person seems reasonable and everyone else in the room is crazy, probably we’re hearing the account of the reasonable person. (I know I describe a lot of my experiences that way.)

General Milley is pretty obviously the source for the incidents that involve him. Senators Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham are clearly sources. Pence’s national security advisor Keith Kellogg was a source, and probably Pence himself. (Kellogg apparently roamed the White House pretty freely.) A bunch of people in the Biden campaign. And so on.

The closer you get to Trump himself, the fuzzier the sourcing gets, as if sources asked for more protection. Ivanka and Jared? Mark Meadows? Hard to say. Unless you believe that Woodward and Costa made stuff up out of nothing (and I don’t), it’s clear somebody talked.

A phone conversation that Milley had with Speaker Pelosi after January 6 occurs early in the book and got a lot of press. When you read it in the full context of the book, the striking thing isn’t that Milley and Pelosi both think Trump is crazy. The striking thing is how they talk about his instability. You could imagine people around Trump coming to the shocking insight that the President is dangerously unmoored. But this conversation is nothing like that. It’s more like: We always knew he was crazy, but we had hoped he was manageable.

As the book goes on, it’s appalling how many people had such conversations. I’m left with the impression that no one with a chance to view Trump close up was actually surprised that he would start raving about imaginary election-stealing conspiracies, or that he would try to bring down American democracy rather than give up power. They had hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but they weren’t actually surprised.

Lots of Republicans appear to have known, earlier or later in the process, that the election-fraud claims were bogus. Their silence is stunning. Even the ones who spoke up at one time or another have mostly shut up about it.

The lack of concern for the country is horrifying. Mitch McConnell had two chances to get rid of Trump through impeachment, and protected him both times. To this day, Republicans who know what he really is are going along with him.

and the pandemic

Once again, new-case numbers seem to be topping out, but the turn-around is slow. The seven-day average is 120K per day, down from a recent peak of 175K on September 13. Hospitalizations have also turned around nationally, though they’re still surging in some areas. Deaths are holding steady at just over 2000 per day.

Hospitals in Idaho and Alaska have instituted “crisis standards of care“, which is a fancy way of saying that they’re so swamped they can’t get to everybody.

Alaska this past week joined Idaho in adopting statewide crisis standards of care that provide guidance to health care providers making difficult decisions on how to allocate limited resources. Several hospitals in Montana have either activated crisis standards of care or are considering it as the state is pummeled by COVID-19.

Under the guidelines, providers can prioritize treating patients based on their chances of recovery, impacting anyone seeking emergency care, not just those with COVID-19. …

Typically, crisis standards of care involve a scoring system to determine the patient’s survivability, sometimes including their estimated “life years” and how well their organs are working.

Back in 2009, Republicans fighting ObamaCare warned about “death panels” that might decide old people weren’t worth saving. That didn’t happen then, but vaccine resistance is causing it to happen now.

Vaccine mandates are being tested this week, as deadlines are looming in New York and some other states. Thousands of health-care and nursing-home workers are pushing to the limit: New York says they have until midnight tonight to get vaccinated, or they’ll lose their jobs. If they hold out and are let go, care might suffer in some places. But if they remain unvaccinated and keep their jobs, care suffers in a different way.

you also might be interested in …

Germany’s 16-year Angela Merkel era ended yesterday with a federal election in which she was not a candidate. The Social Democrats appear to have won the most seats in the Bundestag, surpassing Merkel’s Christian Democrats. No party has a majority, though, so a coalition will have to be negotiated.

Among the minor parties, the Greens gained seats and the right-wing nationalist Alliance for Germany lost some.

More dramatic stories about infrastructure and debt-ceiling negotiations have drawn attention away from the collapse of negotiations over police reform. The House has already passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but police reform is yet another casualty of the filibuster in the Senate.

Right-wing Congresswoman Lauren Boebert used campaign funds to pay rent and utilities, a violation of the law. Will something be done? It’s not clear yet.

A former Washington Post arts editor returned to her roots in rural Illinois, and moved into what she remembers as her grandmother’s house in Kinderhook. It’s been challenging to live in Trump country, where only 23% are vaccinated.

My family might go back four generations here, but we are outsiders. We are the “them.”

and let’s close with something musical

A recent trend on YouTube is for choirs around the world to set local complaints to music. Here is the Helsinki Complaints Choir.

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  • Carol  On September 27, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    The Republican death panels are unofficial but set up by GOP leaders who said old folks should be willing to die so those under 65 could go back to work. Of course, if even more people under 65 had worked (as did “Frontline” workers), there could easily have been more variants and more deaths among the under 65 working population.

  • coastcontact  On September 27, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    The problem with The Weekly Shift and every other opinion writer is that no one knows enough to offer really worthwhile opinions. By your own admission you don’t know enough to offer any really good commentary. The rest of the world looks at the United States and wonders how we manage to succeed. So my opinion is just as good as yours. You have a significant following because you offer logical conclusions. I’ll keep reading your postings because you do a good job with the limited information available.

    • pauljbradford  On September 28, 2021 at 12:58 pm

      In terms of guessing what will happen week-to-week or month-to-month, I don’t think The Weekly Sift is really claiming to have better guesses than other sources. The articles I find most compelling are those that take a much longer-term view, such as https://weeklysift.com/2014/08/11/not-a-tea-party-a-confederate-party/
      *That* is something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

      • pauljbradford  On September 28, 2021 at 12:59 pm

        That article says: Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.” I think that would have gotten my attention.

    • weeklysift  On October 1, 2021 at 7:12 am

      I try to report the things that are actually known, summarize a range of what I consider reasonable opinion, and admit that I’m speculating when I’m speculating. One of the things that bothers me about cable news (and here I’ll lump liberal and conservative networks together) is that sometimes speculation gets all the air time.

  • David Goldfarb  On September 27, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    I have a little trouble with calling a 15-year-old video an example of a “recent” trend. (Not that it isn’t fun to watch.)

  • LdeG  On September 27, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    I think you are spot on about what will happen. Joe was voting about @5% Republican in previous sessions, under Trump’ this session he is voting 90% with Dems. “The picture Woodward and Costa paint is that Manchin has to maintain his moderate image in West Virginia and separate himself from liberals like Bernie Sanders and AOC, but that he also doesn’t want to be the guy who causes Biden’s presidency to fail.” WV Dems are gnashing their teeth and wailing that Joe “needs to represent the people who elected him” – meaning voting with his party. But of course most of the people who elected him are people who voted for Trump. Only Heidi Heitekamp has anywhere near the conservative constituency that Joe does, and so of course he is going to be as conservative as he can. But, I’m sure he also knows that all those Trump voters are not Republicans. Dems had a 3-1 registration advantage as late as 2012. it droped to just less than 1:1 last winter – but almost none of those are registered Republicans now – independent registration is now equal to the two major parties.

  • Thomas Paine  On September 28, 2021 at 4:20 am

    Google Kinderhook, IL. It’s in the middle of nowhere, with a population of 216. A former WaPo arts editor might as well have landed in a spaceship from Mars. Of course she’s “them”; she represents everything small, provincial, inwardly focused, closed, homogenous communities distrust and fear about the outside world and the changes it demands from all it touches.

    Anyone raised in such a place who can rub two brain synapses together flees the first moment he’s able, and what remains is almost entirely the left half of the IQ bell curve. It wasn’t always this way. Back when mass communication was much more limited and transportation more difficult, when corporations and chains didn’t dominant life at every turn, even those who left for college usually returned and helped the home town continue to thrive in its own. somewhat diverse ecosystem. But now, in a post-manufacturing, post-family-farming country, these places have virtually nothing to offer anyone, except a sameness of days indistinguishable from one another of doing little more than surviving (usually on government money) and a populace with plenty of time to absorb and be taken in by the likes of Hannity, Carlson, and Trump and told they’re the Real America being ignored and suffocated by the Big City elites.

    • weeklysift  On October 1, 2021 at 7:11 am

      I come from (and left) small-town Illinois, not rural Illinois, but I still found the WaPo article disappointing. Given that she was moving into her grandmother’s house, I might have hoped for a reaction of, “Well, they’re kind of weird, but they’re basically good folks.” The rural attitude of my youth was conservative, but quite a bit more accepting on individual differences.

  • Nancy Rubinstein  On September 28, 2021 at 10:42 am

    The Complaints Choir made me feel much better.

  • janinmi  On September 28, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    “Crisis standards of care” sounds like a euphemism for triage. I suspect the latter word isn’t being used due to its historical association with battlefield and mass-casualty medicine, but it is, in my view, the more accurate term.

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