Of Course It Was Collusion

Which, yet again, is not the same as criminal conspiracy (although it was probably that as well). From The New York Times:

The Biden administration revealed on Thursday that a business associate of T____ campaign officials in 2016 provided campaign polling data to Russian intelligence services, the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The revelation, made public in a Treasury Department document announcing new sanctions against Russia, established for the first time that private meetings and communications between the campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and their business associate were a direct pipeline from the campaign to Russian spies at a time when the Kremlin was engaged in a covert effort to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.

Previous government investigations have identified the T____ aides’ associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, as a Russian intelligence operative, and Mr. Manafort’s decision to provide him with internal polling data was one of the mysteries that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, sought to unravel during his two-year investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

“During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” the Treasury Department said in a news release. “Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

Rachel Maddow responded on her MSNBC program tonight:

We now know the T____ campaign secretly gave their own data to Russian intelligence in the middle of that attack, which again presumably helped what the Russians were doing. . . . 

What’s the definition of collusion again? Not just passively benefiting from somebody else’s crime, but actively helping them commit it? Is that what we call collusion? Tell me more about how the whole Russia thing is a hoax.

Maddow covered the topic for more than 20 minutes. As of this moment, the whole segment  is available on YouTube. Twelve minutes is available from MSNBC.

As America Changes, Reactionaries Will React

A political scientist at the University of Chicago seems to have confirmed something the January 6th insurrectionists had in common (in addition to the obvious factors, like being fans of the former president):

The Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST), working with court records, has analyzed the demographics and home county characteristics of the 377 Americans, from 250 counties in 44 states, arrested or charged in the Capitol attack.

Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters we have surveyed in the past. They typically have no ties to existing right-wing groups. But like earlier protesters, they are 95 percent White and 85 percent male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties. . . .

By far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists’ backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges. . . .

All 36 of Texas’s rioters come from just 17 counties, each of which lost White population over the past five years. Three of those arrested or charged hail from Collin County north of Dallas, which has lost White population at the very brisk rate of 4.3 percent since 2015.

The same thing can be seen in New York state, home to 27 people charged or arrested after the riot, nearly all of whom come from 14 blue counties that Biden won in and around New York City. One of these, Putnam County (south of Poughkeepsie), is home to three of those arrested, and a county that saw its White population decline by 3.5 percent since 2015.

When compared with almost 2,900 other counties in the United States, our analysis of the 250 counties where those charged or arrested live reveals that the counties that had the greatest decline in White population had an 18 percent chance of sending an insurrectionist to D.C., while the counties that saw the least decline in the White population had only a 3 percent chance. This finding holds even when controlling for population size, distance to D.C., unemployment rate and urban/rural location. It also would occur by chance less than once in 1,000 times.

Put another way, the people alleged by authorities to have taken the law into their hands on Jan. 6 typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest.

CPOST also conducted two independent surveys in February and March . . . to help understand the roots of this rage. One driver overwhelmingly stood out: fear of the “Great Replacement.”

Great Replacement theory has achieved iconic status with white nationalists and holds that minorities are progressively replacing White populations due to mass immigration policies and low birthrates. Extensive social media exposure is the second-biggest driver of this view, our surveys found. Replacement theory might help explain why such a high percentage of the rioters hail from counties with fast-rising, non-White populations. . . .

To ignore this movement and its potential would be akin to [the previous administration’s] response to Covid-19: We cannot presume it will blow over. The ingredients exist for future waves of political violence, from lone-wolf attacks to all-out assaults on democracy . . .

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post reacted to the study:

We’ve known for some time that many [Americans feel] a deep cultural anxiety, the sense that the world is changing in ways they don’t like and can’t control, and is leaving them behind. To a great degree, they’re right: Popular culture is far more diverse now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and in many ways it reflects liberal values. If you think it’s an abomination for people of the same gender to marry, TV is going to make you feel very uncomfortable (as will your own kids’ opinions, in all likelihood).

And if you’re a White person living in a town that is steadily becoming less White, just like the country as a whole? Many such people will welcome that diversity, but some will see it as a threat to their status.

Status is complicated. It comes not only from your income, the prestige of your occupation or the esteem of your neighbors. It can also come from the feeling that you and people like you are in charge. . . .

As someone who spent a lifetime chasing status, [Biden’s predecessor] understood that the feeling of status threat could be turned into a powerful political weapon. For instance: The point of insisting Mexico would pay for his border wall wasn’t that we needed the money, but that we’d regain status and potency by dominating and humiliating that country. Vote for [him] and that status and potency would be restored, he claimed.

It is almost impossible to overstate the role that the conservative media plays in creating and sustaining the feeling that White people’s status is under threat — and that the appropriate response is resentment and fear. The encroachments of liberalism are a daily drumbeat on Fox News and conservative talk radio, as is the message that everything you cherish is on the verge of collapse. You may have thought a “Happy Holidays” sign at the department store was just a seasonal decoration, but Fox will tell you it’s actually part of a war to outlaw your religion, so you’d darn well better get mad.

After the past couple of decades, we should understand that there’s almost nothing Democrats can do to diffuse those feelings of cultural displacement. Fox is gonna Fox, and [Republican] politicians . . . are going to see culture war rabble-rousing as their key to rising within the party.

The degree to which Democrats “reach out” to guys in Midwestern diners or try to show them “respect” by paying homage to their cultural markers won’t make a difference. . . .

The degree to which Democrats “reach out” to guys in Midwestern diners or try to show them “respect” by paying homage to their cultural markers won’t make a difference. . . .

That rage still burns, because the forces of societal change that feed it continue inexorably, and some people will always try to profit from it, politically or financially. That’s true even if conservatives find it harder to loathe President Biden than they did Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Unquote.

President Biden had his first cabinet meeting last week. The fact that the cabinet “looks like America” was a mark of progress.

Many of our neighbors would have been more comfortable if Biden’s looked like the Nixon cabinet in 1972. That’s not going to change any time soon.

If Only Silly Talk Fixed America’s Infrastructure

What’s known as Biden’s “infrastructure bill” is actually called “The American Jobs Plan”. There’s an 11,000 word summary at the White House site. These are the opening paragraphs from what would print out as twenty, single-spaced pages:

While the American Rescue Plan [the Covid relief bill] is changing the course of the pandemic and delivering relief for working families, this is no time to build back to the way things were. This is the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new economy. The American Jobs Plan is an investment in America that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China. Public domestic investment as a share of the economy has fallen by more than 40 percent since the 1960s. The American Jobs Plan will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.

The United States of America is the wealthiest country in the world, yet we rank 13th when it comes to the overall quality of our infrastructure. After decades of disinvestment, our roads, bridges, and water systems are crumbling. Our electric grid is vulnerable to catastrophic outages. Too many lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet and to quality housing. The past year has led to job losses and threatened economic security, eroding more than 30 years of progress in women’s labor force participation. It has unmasked the fragility of our caregiving infrastructure. And, our nation is falling behind its biggest competitors on research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and training. It has never been more important for us to invest in strengthening our infrastructure and competitiveness, and in creating the good-paying, union jobs of the future.

Instead of a debate about the details, we’re getting a stupid argument about the word “infrastructure”. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post discusses:

Republicans are still road-testing their attacks on the giant infrastructure bill Democrats are assembling, and while some are predictable (It would be disastrous to raise taxes on corporations!), their most frequent one is not only weak; it also shows how disconnected the debate in Washington can sometimes get from the things that actually affect people’s lives.

Unfortunately, the news media are giving them a big hand.

If this past weekend you tuned into the Sunday shows, where the conventional wisdom is lovingly shaped and admired, you would have seen the same theme replayed over and over about the infrastructure bill:

  • “This $2 trillion ask, only about 5 percent of the funding goes to infrastructure,” Margaret Brennan of CBS News’s “Face the Nation” asked Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers. “Can you honestly call this a focus on building roads and bridges?” [Mr. Waldman lists three more examples from NBC, ABC and Fox, but one is painful enough.]

First, let’s be clear that the “only 5 percent” counts as “real infrastructure” talking point is utterly bogus. It defines infrastructure as only roads and bridges, leaving out railroads, water and sewer systems, the electrical grid, broadband, housing and any number of other things that you probably think of when you hear the word.

The idea that only roads and bridges are infrastructure is like saying, “You said your house needed work, but the floors and walls seem fine. Why bother fixing the leaking pipes and the broken roof and the electrical system that shorts out? That’s not really the core of the house, which as we all know is floors and walls and nothing else.”

But the more important question is: Why in the world would it possibly matter what definition of “infrastructure” we use?

Imagine it’s a few years from now. This bill has passed and as a result, the crumbling bridge in your town has been replaced and the roads have been resurfaced — no more banging your car over all those potholes. In addition, there’s a new senior center in town with all kinds of facilities and services, operated by a skilled staff making a living wage.

Do you think your neighbors will say, “I like the bridge and the roads, but the senior center? Sure, my mother-in-law loves her fitness class there, and they helped her solve that Medicare problem she had, but it just doesn’t seem like ‘infrastructure’ to me.”

Of course not, because that’s not what people care about. They want to know that government did worthwhile things with their tax dollars, whatever category you might put each line-item into.

Now it’s true that Democrats have indeed thought broadly about what to put in this bill, including things that are not installed by burly men in hardhats but that they believe are important. Republicans may find some of those things — like building housing, or improving care for the elderly and disabled, or promoting electric vehicles — not to be worthwhile. Which is fine.

But if that’s what Republicans think, they should explain why we shouldn’t actually build more housing, and we shouldn’t fund care for the elderly, and we shouldn’t promote electric vehicles. Just saying “That doesn’t sound like ‘infrastructure’ to me” is not an argument. This isn’t the Merriam-Webster editorial board; it’s the U.S. government.

So what if instead of asking Is this really infrastructure? about the various provisions in this bill, we ask Is this a good thing?

You can apply that standard to both road repairs and increased spending on elder care. Is this something important and worthwhile? Will funding it in the way that is proposed accomplish the goals we set out? Will it improve life for Americans?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then we should probably do it.

There may well be provisions in the initial proposal that don’t meet that test. But I want to hear Republicans explain why they think we shouldn’t invest in elder care or electric vehicle charging stations. Maybe their arguments are so well-informed and persuasive that we’ll say, “You know what, they’re right — Democrats should take that out of the bill.” I doubt it, but it’s always possible.

That’s how policy debate is supposed to work: We argue about which problems need addressing, then we argue about which solutions to deploy. If it all works out, the legislation that gets passed reflects the outcome of that deliberation, with the unworthy ideas jettisoned and the worthy ideas becoming law. But arguing about the definition of words such as “infrastructure” gets us precisely nowhere.

Yet because one of the parties is repeating this talking point, journalists feel that to be “tough” they have to use it to frame their questioning of the other party. The result is that we miss what’s really important.

Unquote.

Calling talk show hosts “journalists” is an insult to journalism. “Talking heads” would be more accurate. “Overpaid talking heads” to be more precise. We can hope, however, that talking about semantics will serve to educate the public, the politicians and even some talking heads.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia “Democrat”, says he can’t support putting the corporate tax rate back at 28%. Playing the sensible statesman for the folks back home, he thinks 25% would be all right. In a way, it’s good that he’s got so much power at the moment, providing the last vote for Democratic initiatives. It shows that Biden is trying to make progressive changes. If the president was being more conservative, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would be the 50th vote. So we’ll continue to hear Manchin’s pronouncements. He must love all the attention.

Why Infrastructure Is More Than Roads and Bridges

Merriam-Webster defines “infrastructure” as “the system of public works of a country, state, or region — also : the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity”.

Jonathan Cohn of Huff Post explains why improving the services that help people prosper counts as infrastructure:

Building roads and bridges is good for the economy, pretty much everybody agrees. But helping senior citizens stay out of nursing homes? Raising pay for child care workers? 

President Joe Biden says those sorts of initiatives can help, too. And he’s got a strong case.

Ever since the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden has talked about having the government spend a lot more on caregiving ― for children, older adults and disabled people. . . [He] pointedly included them as part of his economic agenda, arguing they would create better, higher-paying jobs and unleash untapped potential for growth.

Now Biden is president, and his approach hasn’t changed. On Wednesday, he introduced the first half of what he has called his “Build Back Better” agenda. And although he proposed big new spending on traditional infrastructure projects like bridges and waterways, he also proposed a dramatic increase in federal support for “home- and community- based services.” 

Those are supports and services for elderly and disabled people who need help with daily living to stay out of nursing homes or other types of congregant care settings. In practical terms, that means everything from personal attendants who help seniors with bathing to counselors who help people with intellectual impairments find jobs so they can live on their own.

More proposals are on the way. The second half of the Build Back Better agenda, which Biden plans to introduce later this month, is likely to include major new initiatives to make child care and preschool more widely available, as well as some kind of paid leave program.

And these do not appear to be token gestures. Wednesday’s home care proposals envision $400 billion in new federal spending, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the $2 trillion package Biden unveiled. A meaningful initiative on child care and preschool would likely require hundreds of billions of dollars more.

The primary case for these initiatives is that they make life easier on a day-to-day basis. That’s certainly true for the home- and community-based services Biden proposed on Wednesday to support.

Medicaid, the government health insurance program that states operate using federal funds and under federal guidelines, already pays for nursing homes and other forms of institutional care. And there’s no pre-set limit on that spending. The more people who need the help, the more funding Medicaid provides.

Medicaid also pays for services at home and in the community, but with limited allotments that don’t rise with demand. This disparate treatment is a legacy of the program’s history. When Democrats created Medicaid in 1965, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, there was a much bigger push to keep older and disabled people in institutions ― and much less awareness of how many of them wanted to, and could, stay at home.

The lack of open-ended funding forces states to cut off enrollment and put everybody else on waiting lists. Nationwide, about 800,000 people are now on those lists, and some have been for years. It’s a well-known fact that deters many others from even trying. Most experts think the actual unmet demand for home- and community-based services is closer to 1.5 million.

For decades, advocates have proposed putting home-based care on an equal footing with institutional care. That way, the choice between whether to stay at home or to go into a congregant living setting would be about the preferences and needs of individual people and their families ― not because of a financial disparity rooted in a decision lawmakers made half a century ago. . . . 

Biden’s proposal “can help millions of Americans who live with disabilities or chronic illnesses receive needed care at home or on a human scale within their own communities rather than within institutional settings,” Harold Pollack, professor at the University of Chicago and an expert on long-term care, told HuffPost.

Other types of caregiving are just as sorely in need of extra federal support.

Quality child care in the U.S. is notoriously hard to find and financially out of reach for large numbers of working families. The U.S. is the only country in the developed world that does not offer paid leave, which puts a huge strain on workers whenever they have children or older family members battling medical problems ― and sometimes when they have medical problems of their own.

Caregiving has gotten more attention generally in recent years, especially from Democrats. The new twist, from Biden, is to place these proposals alongside traditional infrastructure projects as part of a broader economic agenda.

That’s bound to seem like an awkward fit, at least to some people, because infrastructure spending more commonly consists of front-loaded or one-time expenditures ― money for airport runway expansion or the construction of a pipeline that stops flowing once the projects are done.

But the economic benefits of caregiving initiatives are real. For one thing, caregiving is literally an investment in making individual human beings more productive. This is most obviously the case when it comes to early childhood programs. Research has shown repeatedly that, when infants and toddlers get good care, they are more likely to stay in school, remain employed and stay physically healthier as adults.

That logic applies just as surely to home- and community-based services, especially for disabled people, many of whom can go to school and join the workforce with proper support.

“It has a huge economic development component,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc, a civil rights organization for people with intellectual disabilities. “You’ve got all these people with disabilities who right now are on waiting lists, and can’t work because of services they need in order to … become part of the economy.” 

Another way government caregiving initiatives can help the economy is by providing the families of children, disabled and older people with more choices about how they spend their time. Many caregivers will choose to work more outside of the home, putting specialized skills to use, because they will be able to know their loved ones are getting the care they need. . . . 

One final way a caregiving agenda can help boost the economy is by improving the pay and working conditions for the professional caregiving workforce, which is another part of Biden’s agenda.

The median hourly wage for home health aides is barely more than $12, for example, which is about what retail workers and parking lot attendants make. For child care providers, the median hourly wage is even lower. Meanwhile, those caring for children and older people do some of the most intimate, difficult jobs imaginable.

“We place a high value on the work that [caregivers] do, and we don’t pay them in a way that’s consistent with that value,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) told HuffPost. . . . 

Doing this all at once ― helping more people to pay for caregivers while simultaneously requiring that caregivers get higher pay ― makes the project a lot more expensive. . . .That’s bound to be a hard sell politically . . . , perhaps even among some conservative Democrats . . . . That is undoubtedly one reason why Biden and his allies are talking about these proposals in the context of their potential to create a more dynamic economy. . . .

As Ai-jen Poo, executive director of National Domestic Workers Alliance, put it on Wednesday, “like our physical infrastructure — roads, bridges, green energy — our care infrastructure needs permanent investment to ensure our communities can thrive.”