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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Battle of the Bridges Begins
      •  Maybe the Georgia Law Isn't As Bad as Feared
      •  Other States Are Watching What Happens in Georgia
      •  Biden's Infrastructure Plan May Hurt Unions
      •  The Old White Guy Is More Progressive than the Young Black Guy
      •  Thanks, but No Thanks
      •  Trump Scammed His Supporters
      •  Private Property Is Socialism

Battle of the Bridges Begins

On Wednesday, Joe Biden proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure+ plan. Yesterday his team went on television to defend it and Republicans went on television to say it is a terrible idea.

Since the proposal is largely about bridges, roads, tunnels, harbors, airports, and the like, the Secretary of Transportation is the natural point person here. And indeed, Secretary Pete Buttigieg went on "Meet the Press" to praise the plan and say it would be fully funded in 15 years by raising corporate taxes. Buttigieg: "Now is our chance to make infrastructure choices for the future that are going to serve us well in the 2030s and on into the middle of the century, when we will be judged for whether we met this moment here in the 2020s." He memorized the script. That is exactly what he was supposed to say. If he is on TV a lot in the coming year and people come to perceive him primarily as a competent young man, rather than a gay young man, he will have a big future in politics.

On "Fox News Sunday," National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said: "Let's also think to the longer-term about where those investments that we can make that will really drive not just more job growth but better job growth." OK, he knows the script, too. The team is on the same page.

Republicans are on a different page. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) went on "This Week" and also "Fox News Sunday." His message was: "I think there's an easy win here for the White House if they would take that win, which is make this an infrastructure package, which is about 30 percent [of what their proposal entails]." So he is saying if the Democrats remove all the progressives' wish-list items and just make it about repairing potholes, the Republicans would go for it. Is he negotiating in good faith? We don't know. If the Democrats threw out all the stuff they really want, would Republicans sign off on it, or is that merely their starting position for the serious haggling to follow? Also, what about the financing? It seems very unlikely that the Republicans would be willing to raise the corporate tax rates to pay for it. So how would they pay for it? Put it on the national credit card and then moan how the debt is out of control?

Oh wait, we know exactly how the Republicans will react to raising the corporate tax. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) explained it yesterday. He said that Biden's plan represented "a repeal of one of our signature issues in 2017." So no, the Republicans are not going to agree to pay for any infrastructure plan, no matter how small, by raising the corporate tax. So how would they pay for it? Good question.

One possibility is not to pay for it and just print or borrow more money, but they also fear inflation and hate increasing the deficit, respectively. Another possibility is to introduce a national sales tax, which is very regressive and mostly hits lower-income people. Democrats would never buy that. You can tell if the Republicans are serious by the presence or absence of an alternative plan, complete with financing. Merely complaining about Biden's plan and not offering an alternative means they are not negotiating in good faith.

So now we have the opening moves. What comes next? Well, the Democrats are planning to try to use budget reconciliation again. They don't need Republican votes for that. If the Democrats can actually write the bill and get the House to pass it, that will focus the Republicans' minds very clearly because then it is either: (1) negotiate in good faith or (2) have the bill rammed down their throats, including all the goodies the progressives want. Will they come up with a serious proposal then? We'll see, but don't bet the farm on it. (V)

Maybe the Georgia Law Isn't As Bad as Feared

Nate Cohn of The New York Times isn't quite as worried as some people about the new Georgia voting law. He says that the data show that making it harder to vote doesn't really affect turnout all that much. If people have to jump through hoops to vote, they often do it. Of course there are limits. If people must wait in line for 6 hours on Election Day to vote that is sure to depress turnout appreciably.

The Georgia law has a mixed bag of provisions, including these:

  • The required number of days of early voting has been increased
  • Large precincts must add machines and staff or split the precinct
  • Absentee voting is much harder
  • Volunteers may not give waitees food or drink
  • It shortens early voting for runoffs
  • The (partisan) legislature took control of voting for itself, away from the (partisan) elected secretary of state

The first two provisions might actually increase turnout, while the next three might decrease it. Whether a partisan legislature or a partisan secretary of state can be trusted more is hard to say. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) decided to uphold the law in 2020 even though it hurt his party. However there is no guarantee that every secretary of state will be so honest.

The data shed some light on this matter. In states that implemented no-excuse absentee voting for the first time in 2020, Joe Biden beat Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance by an average of 3.0%. In the states that did not implement no-excuse absentee voting, he beat her by 2.9%. It's not a big effect.

A study from political scientists at Stanford compared turnout among 65-year-olds in Texas, who were eligible to get no-excuse absentee ballots, to 64-year-olds, who were not. Large numbers of 65-year-olds indeed used absentee ballots, while 64-year-olds didn't (except those who are disabled). Turnout was pretty much the same. The partisan makeup of the two electorates differed by only 0.2%, which could be statistical noise.

The Georgia senatorial runoffs provide some data as well. There were fewer early voting days than for the November general election. Analysts were predicting a dropoff of 20% for the runoff. It didn't happen. The number of people who voted in the January runoff was actually slightly larger than the number of people who voted in November. What is probably most important is that the voters know when early voting is. If they know that they have only, say, 8 days of early voting, then they will make a point of voting in those 8 days.

Another factor to take into account is how making voting harder affects marginal voters. These are the ones who may not apply for an absentee ballot until it is too late or may not even be aware of early voting until it is over. They are the ones who may be eliminated by making it harder to vote. But whether there is a partisan effect with these folks is something quite different. Highly educated voters will make a point of learning the rules and be sure to vote. Of late, these voters are trending Democratic. If affluent college-educated voters absolutely make a point of voting and marginal blue-collar voters miss out because they don't understand the rules, that doesn't necessarily hurt the Democrats. And if the word spreads among Black voters that the state is trying to disenfranchise them, just like in the old days, this may motivate them very strongly to vote, probably on Election Day.

Cohn's bottom line seems to be that convenience doesn't seem to matter as much as motivation. If people are motivated enough and they know how to vote, they will actually vote unless if it is very inconvenient. So he is not quite convinced that the Georgia Republicans are going to get the effect they are hoping for. Of course, they can try to tweak the rules even more to make voting especially difficult in Black areas (e.g., by having only a handful of precincts) while making it easy in white areas (e.g., by having many precincts). Still, in a democracy, they shouldn't even be trying. (V)

Other States Are Watching What Happens in Georgia

The decision by Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia is having an effect, but not entirely in Georgia. Legislatures in other states that were planning to pass similar laws are watching carefully how things play out and how local businesses respond. For example, Texas is considering following the Georgians' lead, but now that American Airlines, whose headquarters are in Fort Worth, has announced that it is against such a bill, legislators are on notice that passing it would anger a major employer. Southwest Airlines, which is headquartered in Dallas, has not openly opposed the bill, but did issue a statement saying "the right to vote is foundational to our democracy." If more major employers come out against bills like this, it certainly puts pressure on the legislators. Do they really want to have big companies say they are undemocratic? Do they think that these companies are going to donate to their campaigns in the future? It does add a new twist to the issue.

Of course, the legislature can fight back. The Georgia House has already passed a bill to rescind a tax break on jet fuel, to punish Delta. But does the legislature really want to get into a food fight with the state's biggest employer, by far? At the very least, Delta could tell its employees which members of the legislature voted for the bill to hurt Delta and which ones voted against it, then leave it to them to figure out how to vote next time.

Public-facing companies are going to be forced more and more to take stands on public policy, especially if they are threatened with boycotts for just saying "No comment." It adds a whole new dynamic to running a company. If they, in effect, say: "We don't care if people in our state can vote. It's not our problem," that is not going to help their public image, something big companies worry about a lot.

Not that the companies have a lot of choice, actually. Millennials and young voters generally are pushing hard to get companies to take political stands. And these are precisely the customers the companies want. Saying "We have a great product but we don't care if people can or cannot vote" is not the way to win their hearts and minds. Corporate image matters to them.

The legislatures in Arizona and Florida are busily working on bills like the Georgia one. However, both states are scheduled to have major sporting events in the future. The 2023 Super Bowl is currently planned for Glendale, AZ. That is far enough in the future that it would be easy for the NFL to move it somewhere else. Southern California has good weather in February and several large stadia. The Rose Bowl can hold 91,000 people, the Los Angeles Coliseum can hold 78,000, and the Rams' new stadium can hold 70,000. Does the Arizona legislature want to risk losing the Super Bowl, and all the revenue and publicity that goes with it?

And then there is Florida. Miami is in the running to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. FIFA is not a U.S. organization, but would be sensitive to a sizable U.S. contingent arguing against choosing Miami. Generally FIFA wants to pick a host country that really wants the competition, not one where they might have to deal with boycotts and a substantial number of people saying they don't want the World Cup. How this is all going to play out will be interesting, to say the least. Georgia probably won't back down but in Arizona, the Republicans have only a two-seat majority in the state Senate and state House. If two Republicans in either chamber get scared, the bill will fail. (V)

Biden's Infrastructure Plan May Hurt Unions

Joe Biden's plan to move away from coal and oil and on to green energy may hurt unions, which are especially strong in the old 19th century fossil fuel industries he wants to phase out. In contrast, the millions of jobs he wants to create are largely temporary and not unionized. For example, there is a lot of money for expanding Internet access to rural areas. In practice, that requires hiring people to run heavy equipment to dig trenches and lay optical fibers in them to small towns and then erect towers on which 4G or 5G antennas are placed. Once that is done, the workers are no longer needed. The people who will get permanent jobs with Internet providers once the fibers and towers are in place typically have degrees in engineering, computer science, finance, or marketing. Former coal miners are not going to be much in demand. The unions have taken notice of this and are not happy.

There has been some talk, mostly from Democratic politicians, that if Biden succeeds in moving manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines from China to the U.S., there will be permanent jobs in the factories that produce them. So, maybe that could be the coal miners' silver lining? They probably shouldn't get their hopes up. To start, the reason the panels are made in China now is that Chinese workers are cheaper than American workers. Biden will have to deal with this somehow—for example, by putting tariffs on Chinese solar panels and wind turbines. China won't like this and will retaliate by putting tariffs on Boeing aircraft, Intel chips, and Microsoft software. The USTR, Katherine Tai, will have her hands full dealing with this.

And even if Biden succeeds in making all the solar panels and wind turbines in America, that may not help the displaced coal and oil workers all that much. New factories built from scratch nowadays are highly automated. Robots build everything. They certainly need workers, but those workers need degrees in mechanical or software engineering, and they certainly aren't going to assemble the products themselves. So where does it leave the displaced workers? It will take years for Biden's plans to fully ramp up, but the unions see the long-term future as gloomy. What is a 40-year-old former coal miner going to do for the next 25 years? Biden doesn't really have an answer. But he is going to need to find one if he wants to sell his plans to the unions. (V)

The Old White Guy Is More Progressive than the Young Black Guy

Everyone was expecting Joe Biden to be a timid, boring centrist. But apparently he didn't get the memo. In fact, in many ways he is to the left of the guy he used to work for when he was #2. On LGBTQ rights, he's an unabashed supporter of transgender rights (which Barack Obama never was). On immigration policy, he wants a shorter time before undocumented immigrants can become citizens. He's said he wants filibuster reform. When Obama was faced with a crisis, he proposed a limited $1 trillion solution that basically just tackled the crisis. Biden wants a $2-3 trillion solution that contains a long wish list of items progressives want. He is not pushing the envelope, but he is certainly not resisting calls from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Unlike Obama, Biden does not see moderation as a good thing in and of itself.

Part of the reason that Obama was cautious is that it is his nature to be cautious. But another is that he was keenly aware that the country was having enough trouble accepting a Black president, and a very progressive Black president might have been about 10 bridges too far for some people, so he didn't want to push it on the policy front. Biden doesn't have to worry about that. He knows people aren't going to say: "See, I told you we shouldn't elect an old white guy because they are way out of the mainstream."

Another part of Biden's move to the left is that Congress has changed. Many of the old Southern Blue Dogs are gone and have been replaced by moderates from suburban areas. But their constituents tend to be socially liberal and financially more conservative. Supporting transgender rights isn't going to get him in deep trouble with affluent college-educated voters. They tend to have a "live and let live" attitude toward that kind of issue. In addition, there are now more progressive young activists in the House than there were in 2008. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is the most prominent, but she is by no means alone, and they are speaking up. Biden knows he needs to at least listen to what they have to say. (V)

Thanks, but No Thanks

AOC is a fundraising machine. Money pours into her campaign account without her even bothering to ask for it. She is also a generous person and a team player and wants to see the Democrats hold the majority in the House in 2022. So, she sent $5,000 to the accounts of a number of vulnerable House Democrats recently. Many of them don't want it and don't know what to do. They are asking DCCC Chairman Sean Maloney (D-NY) for guidance.

The problem isn't the money itself. It is perfectly legal for House members to donate money to their colleagues. The problem is that in many districts she is completely toxic. Republicans running against the recipients of her money are going to be advertising that AOC supports their opponents. They could return the money, but the FEC fundraising reports will show her donations, even if they do. In effect, she has created attack ads aimed at the members she wanted to help. Three Democrats—Conor Lamb (PA), Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA), and Elissa Slotkin (MI)—are planning to return the money, but it may be too late. AOC should have checked with the members before sending them money. Then the member could have decided if the extra cash was worth it. Alternatively, she could have given the money to the DCCC, which could then have distributed it without her fingerprints on it. In effect, she could have used the DCCC for money laundering.

She's a newbie and probably not even aware of how toxic she is in many districts. She sees what she wants to do as good for America and good for the Democrats, but doesn't realize how much some people hate her. Her House colleagues don't hate her, even the moderates, but they know that many of their voters do, and they are afraid that now they will be branded as socialists—and their opponents will have "proof" of it. The lesson here is that newbie politicians should check with the leadership before doing something they think is helpful but might turn out to be the reverse. (V)

Trump Scammed His Supporters

Now that we are on the subject of campaign finance, The New York Times has discovered how Donald Trump raised money near the end of his campaign, when he was being greatly outspent. Starting in September, when supporters were sent a desperate request for funds, they were directed to the WinRed website to make a donation. Most of the supporters thought they were making a one-time donation. Little did they know that in the fine print of the terms and conditions it said they were signing up to make a weekly donation unless they unchecked a prechecked box almost no one knew about. Then the campaign got more greedy and introduced a second "money bomb" hidden box that doubled the donation unless the supporter discovered it and unchecked it as well. Not only did this generate extra funds for the campaign, but also more revenue for the profit-making firm, WinRed, that processed the donations and kept 3.8% of each one.

When people saw their credit card bills later and noticed that their $500 donation was repeated every week, many of them called their banks and said they were victims of fraud. Soon the banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints. Victor Amelino, a 78-year-old Trump supporter in California intended to make one $990 donation to Trump and ended up with a bill of almost $8,000 that he could ill afford. And he was far from the only one.

By October the campaign had started to get so many complaints it changed its tactics. It made the notice of recurring donations more visible by putting it in a couple of yellow pop-up boxes, shown below:

Trump campaign disclaimer, presented in
ugly yellow boxes, that has a checkbox, a bunch of rah rah language in bold type, and then a non-bold sentence at the very bottom that makes 
clear the donation is recurring

Now people were more aware that something was going on, but the wording was so complex that not everyone understood what it meant. Even some professional politicians were fooled.

The technique worked so well, and so many people were tricked into making multiple recurring donations without knowing how to stop them, WinRed couldn't give it up. When it started taking donations for the two Georgia senatorial runoffs, it used the same techniques, with the same results, including many angry donors demanding refunds.

Eventually, the Trump campaign saw that it was going to have to refund the money or deal with thousands of lawsuits. In the final period of the campaign, Trump 2020 and the RNC had to make more than half a million refunds worth $64.3 million. All campaigns make refunds from time to time, usually when enthusiastic supporters inadvertently exceed the maximum legal donation. But the magnitude of the Trump refunds is startling. By way of comparison, in the same period, the Biden campaign made 37,000 refunds totaling $5.6 million. In fact, the Trump refunds exceeded the refunds of all the federal Democratic campaigns combined. For the entire year, the Trump campaign refunded $122.7 million to donors.

And the donations didn't stop once the election was over. The people who didn't understand how to stop the donations continued to make involuntary donations through Dec. 14, more than a month after the election.

Marketeers in other businesses often use scams like this to get people to buy extra products they didn't know about, but for campaigns to behave like this is new. (V)

Private Property Is Socialism

Three of the core beliefs of the Republican Party since at least World War II, if not much further back, have been: (1) welcoming legal immigrants, (2) free trade, and (3) private property. Thanks to Donald Trump, they are all gone with the wind.

  • Immigration: Republicans liked immigration due to the GOP's history of being the party of big business. Companies like hiring immigrants because they are vulnerable, don't know their legal rights, aren't apt to complain much, don't unionize easily, and work for peanuts, thus depressing wage levels in general. Before becoming the culture war party, Republicans generally loved all immigrants, legal or not. Lest you forget, one of the main legacies of St. Ronald of Reagan was to sign a bill that granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. Yup. Amnesty. Not something modern Republicans are keen on. Businesses still like immigrants, but they aren't running the show anymore in the (post-) Trump era.

  • Free Trade: Free trade, free markets, that good old invisible hand generating the most good for the most people, was the Republican credo for generations. OK, (Reed) Smoot and (Willis) Hawley were Republicans, but their tariff bill was passed in 1930, almost 100 years ago. Since WW II, Republicans have been staunch free traders. Their motto has been to allow each country to produce whatever it is best at producing and then sell it on the free market. This works to everyone's benefit and produces the best goods at the cheapest price for everyone. That was then. This is now. Since Donald Trump began tossing out tariffs like bead necklaces at Mardi Gras, Republicans have forgotten all about free trade.

  • Private Property: Now on to the most holy of holies: private property. If you worked hard and earned money and bought something, that was your property and you could do pretty much anything you wanted with it. This was especially true of land, buildings, vehicles, and the like. You, as the owner, could decide who could come on your property, at what times, for what purposes. Republicans were wildly opposed to eminent domain—the taking of private property for public purposes, because that intruded on the sacred rights of the property owner.

    The Republicans' love for private property is about to get a real test shortly. The issue is vaccine passports. In particular, private companies, including those that run airlines, movie theaters, concert venues, sports arenas, and many others are gearing up to demand that folks wanting to enter their private property show proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Republicans are going to go bonkers over this because they say it will infringe on their constitutional, God-given right to intrude on private property against the owner's explicit instructions (in this case, when the owner says that you are welcome only if you have been vaccinated). Of course, there has never been any such "right." To see a demonstration of this, try boarding a commercial flight totally nude, valid boarding pass in hand. You will quickly discover that airlines have this quaint idea that they can set conditions above and beyond merely buying a ticket for who may enter their property. Needless to say, a case is going to end up in the Supreme Court before too long. If the Court rules that property owners may not set conditions for who may enter their property, that is going to open a gigantic can of worms as people try to fly nude, photograph everyone on their flight, smoke cigarettes, use cell phones, harass cabin personnel, and a whole bunch of other things that violate company policies. Vaccination passports are not far down the road. The U.K. is already issuing them.

Will Republicans really say that property owners' rights don't matter any more? We'll soon see. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr04 Sunday Mailbag
Apr03 The First Shoe Drops...But What Will Follow?
Apr03 Saturday Q&A
Apr02 Let the Games Begin
Apr02 Gaetz' Troubles Mount
Apr02 Democrats Hope Johnson Breaks His Word
Apr02 Past as Prologue, Part II: Midterm Elections and the House
Apr02 Guess It Kinda Worked Out, After All
Apr02 COVID Diaries: No Light at the End of the Tunnel
Apr01 Biden Unveils His Big Plan
Apr01 Biden Won't Ask for a Wealth Tax
Apr01 No Gas Tax or Mileage Tax, Either
Apr01 Democrats Are Arguing about H.R. 1
Apr01 EPA Starts the DeTrumpification of Its Scientific Panels
Apr01 The 2020 Election Is Over
Apr01 Rick Scott Heads to Iowa
Apr01 House Freedom Caucus Is Split
Apr01 Summer Zervos' Case Can Resume
Apr01 New York Legalizes Pot
Mar31 Biden Branches Out
Mar31 Biden Will Announce Infrastructure Plan Today
Mar31 Just Assume the Russians Are Reading Everything
Mar31 Matt Gaetz In Hot Water
Mar31 While You Weren't Looking...
Mar31 Another Poll, More Good News for Newsom
Mar31 DNC Gets Ready to Tinker With the Rules
Mar30 What Is Going on in Georgia?
Mar30 Get Ready to Hear a Lot about Section 304
Mar30 This Is Going to Take a While
Mar30 World Leaders Propose Pandemic Alliance
Mar30 Past as Prologue: Presidential Retirements
Mar30 Van Drew Draws Potential Nightmare Opponent
Mar29 The Voting Wars Have Now Officially Begun
Mar29 Taxes Are Going to Go Up for Corporations and the Wealthy
Mar29 Dominion Sues Fox News for $1.6 Billion
Mar29 Another Autopsy Looks at Why Democrats Lost House Seats
Mar29 Bannon Could Face State Charges
Mar29 Raffensperger Is in Trouble
Mar29 Biden's Approval on COVID-19 Hits 75%
Mar29 Biden Has Frozen the 2024 Field
Mar28 Sunday Mailbag
Mar27 Saturday Q&A
Mar26 Biden Faces the Music
Mar26 Republicans Are Losing the Filibuster Debate
Mar26 Cheney 1, Trump Jr. 0
Mar26 Old Presidents Never Die--They Just Fade Away
Mar26 Pelosi Flexes Her California Muscle
Mar26 COVID Diaries: The Return
Mar26 Bye-Bye, Bibi?
Mar25 Harris Gets a Job