David Brooks | America Is Falling Apart at the Seams – The New York Times – And my response

Opinion Columnist

“In June a statistic floated across my desk that startled me. In 2020, the number of miles Americans drove fell 13 percent because of the pandemic, but the number of traffic deaths rose 7 percent.

I couldn’t figure it out. Why would Americans be driving so much more recklessly during the pandemic? But then in the first half of 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle deaths were up 18.4 percent even over 2020. Contributing factors, according to the agency, included driving under the influence, speeding and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Why are so many Americans driving irresponsibly?

While gloomy numbers like these were rattling around in my brain, a Substack article from Matthew Yglesias hit my inbox this week. It was titled, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.”

“. . . But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.

What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.

We can round up the usual suspects: social media, rotten politics. When President Donald Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful and challenging column. You do have a blind spot, or malfunction, like the EVSE I use to charge up my two electric cars, or one electric car, and a Prius Prime, which is only electric for 25 miles in the summer. To fix the EVSE, when some widget seizes up, the manufacturer said, turn off the breaker, and hit the unit with a rubber mallet really hard. And it worked. I wonder if a rubber mallet would unstick you. I’d like to add to your thoughtful short list of the usual suspects, climate change and the sixth extinction, and the world overpopulation which are the cause of both. My adult daughter says she might not have any children because of these environmental crises. My adult son son says nothing I do for mitigation matters, since we have probably already passed the tipping point, and human life on the planet is probably doomed. I write about this stuff, with weird dark thoughts intruding on my brain, when awake and asleep. One sick thought, is that the pandemic has failed, because it hasn’t killed enough people. I admit this is a dark and ugly thought, but so is driving thousands of non human species into extinction, which is real, and going on this century, and accelerating. Are we committing an unforgiveable sin against other forms of life?
David blogs at InconvenientNews.Net
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In addition,  one irony of this sin of human overpopulation and consumption, and of our poisoning the water, the air, the land, and the atmosphere, is that according to the late scientist Edward O Wilson, if we kill off over 50% of the world’s other species, which is where we are headed, the human species will probably not survive. During the 5th and last great extinction in the geological record, when the dinosaurs died off, so did probably about 95% of the world’s other species at that time.

Ezra Klein | Steve Bannon Is On to Something – The New York Times

“. . .  There are people working on a Plan B. This week, I half-jokingly asked Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, what it felt like to be on the front lines of protecting American democracy. He replied, dead serious, by telling me what it was like. He spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022 (and having a chance at democracy reform) and losing the race and the Senate. Wikler is organizing volunteers to staff phone banks to recruit people who believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers, because Steve Bannon has made it his mission to recruit people who don’t believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers.

I’ll say this for the right: They pay attention to where the power lies in the American system, in ways the left sometimes doesn’t. Bannon calls this “the precinct strategy,” and it’s working. “Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local G.O.P. headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers,” ProPublica reports. “They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.”

The difference between those organizing at the local level to shape democracy and those raging ineffectually about democratic backsliding — myself included — reminds me of the old line about war: Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Right now, Trumpists are talking logistics.”

Corey Robin | Why Joe Biden Needs More Than Accomplishments to Be a Success – The New York Times

Mr. Robin is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.

“No president since Ronald Reagan has achieved a more ambitious domestic legislative agenda in his first year than Joe Biden. With a razor-thin congressional majority — far smaller than that of Barack Obama — President Biden has delivered two enormous spending bills, with another, the Build Back Better act, likely on its way. Elements of these bills will have a lasting effect on the economy into the next decade; they also push the country to the left.

Every president since Reagan has tacked to the rightward winds set in motion by the conservative movement. Even Mr. Obama’s stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act owed as much to conservative nostrums about the market and runaway spending as they did to liberal notions of fairness and equality. Mr. Biden has had to accommodate the demands of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but their intransigence has not had nearly the constraining effect that the voices of austerity and market fetishism had on Bill Clinton or Mr. Obama.

Yet over the past several months, Mr. Biden’s presidency has been dogged by a sense of failure. Critics, friendly and not so friendly, point to what he has not delivered — voting rights, immigration reform, a $15 federal minimum wage, labor law reform and a path to freedom from personal debt and fossil fuels. Democrats fear that Mr. Biden’s plummeting approval ratings and the party’s losses in the November elections indicate that the Republicans will take back Congress in the midterms.

No president, however, achieves his entire agenda. And presidents have suffered first-term losses greater than those currently anticipated for 2022.”

David Lindsay: Like water in the dessert, this helped. It made me feel much smarter about the walls and forces that Biden pushes against. No one yet, has really undone the Reagan  political order or regime.

Liza Featherstone | Josh Hawley and the Republican Obsession With Manliness – The New York Times

Ms. Featherstone is a journalist who writes frequently about the politics of gender. She has a 15-year-old son.

“Senator Josh Hawley is worried about men. In a recent speech at the National Conservatism Conference, he blamed the left for their mental health problems, joblessness, obsession with video games and hours spent watching pornography. “The crisis of American men,” he said, “is a crisis for the American republic.”

The liberal reaction was flippant. A CNN analysis mocked the speech, contrasting the “decline of masculinity” with real issues like the pandemic and inflation. The ReidOut Blog on MSNBC’s website declared, “Josh Hawley’s crusade against video games and porn is hilariously empty.” But the contempt and mockery his speech received was, at least in part, misplaced.

Mr. Hawley is not alone in sensing that masculinity is a popular cause; around the world, male politicians are tapping into social anxieties about its apparent decline, for their own ideological ends. The Chinese government, for instance, has declared a “masculinity crisis,” and it is responding by cracking down on gaming during school days and by investing in gym teachers and school sports.

There can be a homophobic and fascistic component to such calls: China has also barred “sissy” men from appearing on TV; in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has said that masks are “for fairies”; and Mr. Hawley, in his speech, fueled anti-transgender prejudice by alluding to a bogus “war on women’s sports.” Nothing justifies this hateful nonsense. But Mr. Hawley, for all his winking bigotry, is tapping into something real — a widespread, politically potent anxiety about young men that is already helping the right.”

Paul Krugman | Spending as if the Future Matters – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“For centuries, America has invested taxpayer money in its future. Public funds built physical infrastructure, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system. We invested in human capital, too: Universal education came to the United States early, and America basically invented modern public secondary education. This public spending laid the foundations for prosperity and helped make us an economic superpower.

With the rise of the modern right, however, America turned its back on that history. Tax breaks — essentially giving wealthy people money and hoping that it would trickle down — became the solution to every problem. “Infrastructure week” became a punchline under Donald Trump partly because the Trump team’s proposals were more about crony capitalism than about investment, partly because Trump never showed the will to override conservatives who opposed any significant new spending.

Now Joe Biden is trying to revive the tradition of public spending oriented toward the future.”

Paul Krugman | A Deserved Nobel Economics Prize Reminds Us Facts Matter – The New York Times

“Nobel Memorial Prizes in economics are given for long-term research, not for economists’ role in current debates, so they don’t necessarily have much bearing on the political moment. You might expect the disconnect to be especially strong when the prize is given mainly for the development of new research methods.

And that’s the case for the latest prize, awarded Monday to David Card, Joshua D. Angrist and Guido W. Imbens, leaders in the “credibility revolution” — a change in the way economists use data to assess theories — that has swept economics over the past generation.

It turns out, however, that the credibility revolution is extremely relevant to current debates. For studies using the new approach have, in many though not all cases, strengthened the argument for a more active government role in addressing inequality.

As I’ll explain, that’s not an accident. But first, what’s this revolution all about?”

Nicholas Kristof | The Biggest Threat to America Is America Itself – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

” “America is back” became President Biden’s refrain on his European trip this month, and in a narrow sense it is.

We no longer have a White House aide desperately searching for a fire alarm to interrupt a president as he humiliates our country at an international news conference, as happened in 2018. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 75 percent of those polled in a dozen countries expressed “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing,” compared with 17 percent a year ago.

Yet in a larger sense, America is not back. In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity.

Greeks have higher high school graduation rates. Chileans live longer. Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts — perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two.”

Nicholas Kristof | Covid-19’s Impact on America Has Just Begun – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“YAMHILL, Ore. — As more vaccinated Americans emerge, blinking, to survey our post-apocalyptic world, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of our fellow citizens may never fully recover — even if they didn’t actually contract the coronavirus.

That’s because quite apart from the direct effects of the virus, the pandemic has aggravated mental illness, domestic violence, addiction and childhood trauma in ways that may reverberate for decades.

My friends who started out prosperous have ridden out the storm in vacation homes and seen their investments soar. Here in rural Oregon where I grew up, my friends who were already down and out are mostly struggling, homeless or even dead, and there is similar anguish across a broad swath of the United States.

That’s why President Biden’s proposals to invest in families and working-class Americans are so important. Just as we acted forcefully to address the virus, we should also move decisively to address America’s persistent pandemic of despair, addiction and educational failure.

Two of my friends overdosed on heroin during the pandemic, and the girlfriend of one is now self-medicating with meth and is wanted by the law. One of my homeless friends died; another, newly homeless, begs me for money; his mother pleads for me to refuse for fear he will use it to buy drugs and again overdose.  . . .”

David Lindsay

This is a pretty good arugment for Biden’s humongous, 6 trillion dollar spending and investiment plan.

Maureen Dowd | Liz Cheney and the Big Lies – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — I miss torturing Liz Cheney.

But it must be said that the petite blonde from Wyoming suddenly seems like a Valkyrie amid halflings.

She is willing to sacrifice her leadership post — and risk her political career — to continue calling out Donald Trump’s Big Lie. She has decided that, if the price of her job is being as unctuous to Trump as Kevin McCarthy is, it isn’t worth it, because McCarthy is totally disgracing himself.

It has been a dizzying fall for the scion of one of the most powerful political families in the land, a conservative chip off the old block who was once talked about as a comer, someone who could be the first woman president.

How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.  . . . “

Chuck Schumer Looks to Bring Biden’s Vision to Life – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — President Biden laid out his ambitious vision for a post-pandemic America on Wednesday night. Now it is up to Senator Chuck Schumer to make it a reality.

Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat and the majority leader, insists that he is willing to negotiate with Republicans on the president’s second monumental piece of legislation, seeking a consensus that some of the moderate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, are demanding.

But it is already clear that the odds of such a compromise are vanishingly slight, leaving Mr. Schumer with an exceedingly difficult path to delivering on Mr. Biden’s promises.

With Republicans suffering sticker shock from more than $4 trillion in new spending proposals outlined by Mr. Biden, and offering their own infrastructure package that is a tiny fraction of the cost, the gulf between the two parties could not be larger. Yet a handful of Democrats who could be crucial swing votes believe it is misguided and politically dangerous to pass legislation this big without buy-in from the other party.  . . . “