Linky Friday: Not Great, Bob Edition
Well, that week was certainly…something. But, it did give us plenty to talk about, so there is that.
LF1: Georgia Republicans File Sweeping Elections Bill That Limits Early, Absentee Voting
Republicans in the Georgia House have released an omnibus elections bill that proposes tougher restrictions on both absentee and in-person early voting, among other sweeping changes to election laws after a controversial 2020 election.
HB 531, filed by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) was introduced directly into the Special Committee on Election Integrity on Thursday, and the text of the bill was made available about an hour before the 3 p.m. hearing.
Section 12 of the bill would provide “uniformity” to the three-week early voting period, Fleming said, requiring all counties to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for three weeks before the election, plus a mandatory 9-to-5 period of voting the second Saturday before the election. It would allow counties to extend hours to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but would prohibit counties from holding early voting any other days — including Sunday voting popular in larger metro counties and a high turnout day for Black voters that hold “souls to the polls” events.
Like other bills making their way through the GOP-controlled legislature, there would be a new photo ID requirement for absentee ballots. In HB 531, voters would need to include their driver’s license number, state ID number, or a copy of acceptable form of photo ID. The driver’s license number or state ID number is already required for the newly created online request portal, and photo ID is required to vote in person.
But the proposal would also shrink the window voters can request an absentee ballot and limit the timeline that county officials can mail them out. No absentee ballot could be requested earlier than 11 weeks before an election or later than two Fridays before the election, and absentee-by-mail ballots would not be sent out until four weeks before day of the election.
The bill restricts the location of secure drop boxes to early voting sites, and limits the use of those drop boxes to just the days and times where early voting takes place. Another section would ban county elections offices from directly accepting outside funding for elections, coming after the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the Schwarzenegger Institute gave tens of millions of dollars to counties across Georgia to run the November and January elections amidst a pandemic.
LF2 The Long History of the FBI’s Surveillance of Martin Luther King by Robert Greene II for The Nation
MLK/FBI works best when it situates the long-running saga between King and the federal government as part of a larger, and longer, pattern common to much of the “American century.” From Hoover’s battle against the Black freedom struggle to his dogged quest against radical and communist organizations in the United States, he and the FBI were only one flank in a long-standing war against those in the United States—and those outside it too—who were seeking to expand the meanings of freedom and equality in the modern world. Ironically, this was often done under the claims of helping protect liberal democracy, but it often meant the very opposite. The very American leaders proclaiming that the nation was the chief defender of freedom, democracy, and all the central precepts of liberal democracy were the ones routinely flouting them at home.
The documentary is a welcome addition to the growing canon of documentaries, movies, and specials on the life of King that attempt to move away from the public, cuddly version of the man and toward a more nuanced portrayal of him and his life. It engages directly with King’s personal failures, along with the contempt he was held in by many leading Americans. But it also offers a less cuddly version of the United States. Along with films like King in the Wilderness and Citizen King, MLK/FBI reminds us how deeply unpopular King was during his life. Indeed, MLK/FBI’s most startling revelation may be just how popular J. Edgar Hoover was, at least in comparison with a man who now has a national holiday to commemorate his birthday.
LF3 Pro-Life but Anti-Morality by Kimberly Ross for Arc Digital
It seems as if, for many people, the fact that Trump could probably be counted on to be more anti-abortion than his opponent covered a multitude of his sins. Describe Mexicans as rapists? Not to worry, he’ll protect the unborn. Viciously mock a disabled reporter? Here’s the thing, he’s going to nominate someone like Gorsuch. So don’t let that stop you from showing enthusiasm for him.
Marjorie Taylor Greene and Laura Loomer Make a Mockery of Conservatism
Indeed, for these people, the question of abortion seemed to be exhaustive of morality itself. It’s as if once you checked that box, you were free to be as scummy and as despicable as you wanted. That’s a very strange view to take, though, as there is much more to ethics than just this.
Others — I count myself among them — did not believe Trump worthy of our vote even if he promised to protect unborn life. For us, morality, competency, and fitness to lead go far beyond a candidate’s thoughts on the issue of abortion.
This, of course, was unacceptable to those who believed pro-life voters must select Trump or be morally guilty of condoning abortion. That Flight 93-ish argument was always a bad one.
LF4 Why Democrats Are Fighting Over an Obscure D.C. Bureaucrat by Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic
Progressives, backed by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the new Senate Banking Committee chair, have their own preferred candidate for the job: Mehrsa Baradaran, a UC Irvine law professor who’s written widely praised books on the racial wealth gap and discrimination against minorities in the financial system. As a young woman of color without ties to either the Clinton or Obama presidencies, she also embodies the desire of many younger progressives for a generational turning of the page from those earlier administrations. Looking back, not only many liberal but even some centrist Democrats have concluded that both administrations overly favored the interests of the biggest financial institutions on too many issues.
But community-development and low-income-housing advocates view Barr as an implausible focal point for that larger conflict. David M. Dworkin, the president and CEO of the National Housing Conference and a former Treasury Department official under Obama and Donald Trump, is sharply critical of choices Obama and Geithner made, including those that resulted in many Americans losing their home during the mortgage crisis. That wave of foreclosures “is one of the great tragedies of American government in the 21st century,” Dworkin told me. But Barr, he said, “was the voice in the room who was willing to step up and say we need to” protect more homeowners. “Unfortunately, he was in the minority. When I hear people criticize Michael Barr, it blows my mind.”
For community-redevelopment groups, Barr’s nomination would culminate a policy evolution that can trace its roots, at least partly, back to May 1992, when Clinton toured South Central L.A. In office, the former president used various levers to fulfill the central promise he made that afternoon—to channel more private capital into low-income neighborhoods. Among other measures, the Clinton administration created empowerment zones that offered tax breaks to employers who invested in low-income areas; updated and toughened regulations for the CRA, the 1977 anti-redlining law that requires banks to serve the neighborhoods where they operate; and created a federal fund to seed the development of a nationwide network of community-development financial institutions (CDFIs), small banks and loan funds that provide credit in low-income neighborhoods usually overlooked by conventional financial institutions.
LF5 Robinhood, Citadel CEOs Spar With Lawmakers Over Retail Trading By Robert Schmidt, Benjamin Bain, and Jeff Kearns
House Democrats sparred with the leaders of Robinhood Markets and Citadel Thursday, with lawmakers pressing the firms on whether they’re profiting at the expense of retail investors and complaining that they got few satisfying answers.
At a closely watched hearing before the Financial Services Committee, Robinhood’s Vlad Tenev and Citadel’s Ken Griffin took fire on issues ranging from trading halts provoked by capital shortfalls to whether “free trades” are really free. At times, the chief executives’ long responses were cut off and met with derision. They were both adamant that their businesses have helped small-time investors access markets that were long the domain of Wall Street.
“You are doing a great job of wasting my time,” Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, told Griffin as he demanded the hedge fund billionaire provide a more succinct answer on whether the brokers Citadel pays for orders get the best deals for their clients.
Tenev, whose brokerage has attracted young investors with a simple mobile phone app and offer of commission-free trades, was accused of not fully informing its inexperienced clientele of the risks they are taking. The firm, said Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, needs to “ensure retail customers don’t get the rug pulled out from under them.”
The exchange elicited a mea culpa from Tenev, who admitted the brokerage fell short of meeting its customers’ needs. “I’m sorry for what happened,” he said. “I’m not going to say that Robinhood did everything perfect and that we haven’t made mistakes in the past. But what I commit to is making sure that we improve from this.”
LF6 Here’s why Virginia’s unemployment system is backlogged by Christina Thompson
The VEC says they were already understaffed when the pandemic hit. Since November, the commission has hired more than 500 new employees to try to get the backlog under control, but it takes time to get these new hires fully trained and able to handle assessing claims. Fogg says to completely train a new employee on how to process claims, it takes about two months. New employees can be trained to answer the phones in two weeks.
In addition, the VEC says an outdated, 35-year-old computer system slowed the process even more. It was in the middle of being updated before the pandemic hit, but the VEC put the update on the backburner when claims started piling up. This caused delays to assess claims and deliver benefits to some.
So, the backlog remained high through the fall and winter.
In December, the VEC decided to just give the money out to each claimant. The catch? Unemployed Virginians would have to pay the money back, plus interest, if their application was denied.
RELATED: 80,000+ Virginians received unemployment benefits – but many will need to pay those back
Distributing benefits was stalled again for the month of January when the VEC needed the U.S. Dept. of Labor to interpret the new pandemic assistance laws before they could continue making decisions on claims. The law itself is close to 5,000 pages long.
The VEC needed to wait for the DOL to answer their questions before any more decisions could be made on the claims. This added about four more weeks to the backlog.
The VEC heard back in late January and continued working on claims.
“We aren’t blaming [the Department of Labor],” says Fogg. “These things take time.”
Eleven months into the pandemic and the VEC says they won’t be 100% caught up on the backlog until at least the spring.
LF7 House aims to vote on Covid relief bill by the end of next week, Pelosi says by Jacob Pramuk
The House aims to pass its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan before the end of February as Democrats race to beat a deadline to extend key unemployment programs, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
The California Democrat told reporters she hopes for a vote “sometime at the end of next week.” House leaders will stay in touch with the Senate about what Congress can include in the aid package under budget reconciliation, which enables Democrats to approve the plan without Republican votes, Pelosi added.
The party aims to speed up Covid-19 vaccinations and buoy jobless Americans as the U.S. approaches a year of fighting the health crisis. Some Republicans have backed a smaller bill based around vaccine distribution money, but Democrats wielding control of Congress and the White House say they risk a tepid response that leads to more financial pain.
Millions of Americans could lose jobless benefits if lawmakers fail to act in the coming weeks. A $300 per week federal unemployment supplement and provisions expanding eligibility for insurance will expire on March 14.
The Democratic plan would increase the enhanced payment to $400 per week through Aug. 29. It would extend the pandemic-era jobless programs, which offer benefits to self-employed and gig workers and increase the number of weeks Americans can receive payments, through the same date.
The legislation would also send $1,400 direct payments to most Americans and up to $3,600 per child to households over a year. It would put $20 billion into a national vaccination program, $350 billion into state, local and tribal aid and $170 billion into K-12 schools and colleges for reopening and student aid costs.
Republicans have criticized the bill’s overall cost and raised concerns about the amount of money going into stimulus checks and schools.
The House bill includes a plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The Senate parliamentarian will decide whether the proposal complies with rules governing budget bills.
LF8 In case you missed yesterday’s Main Character in the news cycle, it was Senator Ted Cruz (R-Daily Wire)
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said his family vacation to Mexico was “obviously a mistake” as he returned stateside Thursday following an uproar over his disappearance during a deadly winter storm.
The Republican senator said he began second-guessing the trip since the moment he first got on the plane Wednesday. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” he told reporters.
The Associated Press and other media outlets reported that he had traveled out of the country with his family as hundreds of thousands of Texans were still grappling with the fallout of a winter storm that crippled the state’s power grid. The trip drew criticism from leaders in both parties and was seen as potentially damaging to his future political ambitions.
Cruz said in an earlier statement Thursday that he accompanied his family to Cancun a day earlier after his daughters asked to go on a trip with friends, given that school was canceled for the week.
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Cruz wrote.
“My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas,” he continued. “We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm.”
Cruz told reporters Thursday night that he returned to the U.S. because he realized he needed to be in Texas. He said he had originally been scheduled to stay in Mexico through the weekend.
“I didn’t want all the screaming and yelling about this trip to distract even one moment from the real issues that I think Texans care about, which is keeping all of our families safe,” Cruz said.
“It was obviously a mistake, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said.
The fierce political backlash comes as Cruz eyes a second presidential run in 2024. He was already one of the most villainized Republicans in Congress, having created adversaries across the political spectrum in a career defined by far-right policies and fights with the establishment.
More recently, he emerged as a leader in former President Donald Trump’s push to overturn the results of the November election. Billboards calling for his resignation stood along Texas highways earlier in the month.
Even the state Republican Party chair declined to come to Cruz’s defense on Thursday.
“That’s something that he has to answer to his constituents about,” Texas GOP Chair Allen West said when asked whether Cruz’s travel was appropriate while Texans are without power and water.
Read For Yourself:
US Citizenship Act (Immigration bill proposed by Democrats)
Rep Ayanna Pressley Federal Jobs Guarantee Resolution
President Biden Calls for “Commonsense Gun Law Reforms”
SCOTUS Rules in South Bay v Newsom II (Religious gatherings restrictions in California)
This Week At Ordinary Times:
Thursday Throughput: Texas Power Outages Edition
Republicans and editorial boards have taken to blaming alternative energy for the Texas power outages. Is this accurate? Not Really.
Rush Limbaugh Dead at 70
Radio and conservative political icon Rush Limbaugh has died at 70, his wife announced to open his radio show today.
Wednesday Writs: The Ku Klux Klan Act, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Suing Donald Trump
A lawsuit by the NAACP alleges Trump conspired with Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers to violate the Ku Klux Klan Act
ZZ Top and Me
Who was going to grab the stupid kid on the traffic signal island first? The military police or ZZ Top in a limo?
This is when we listen to a lovely rendition of Ave Maria and, in recent years, discuss what we’re giving up for Lent.
The Legend of Michael Hedges
It is hard to find a living professional acoustic guitarist that does not feel indebted to Michael Hedges in some way.
One, Twice, Three Times A Maybe: A History of Presidential Losers and Potential Trump Run
Now acquitted, again, will Trump run in 2024? A look at Presidential candidates who ran for office again despite losing a previous election
Why Doesn’t the US Get to Have High Speed Rail?
If American cities could buy high speed rail systems at European costs, they very well might. But they can’t, so they don’t.
Sunday Morning! “The Guermantes Way” by Marcel Proust (pt. 2)
We’re halfway through Marcel Proust’s epic The Guermantes Way and Death makes an appearance or two to complicate matters.