Does America Vote Too Much? – The New York Times

“Americans casting their ballots in tomorrow’s midterm elections might be voting in their 30th or 40th contest in four years. In the same amount of time, a German citizen might vote in six to eight races.

Put simply, the U.S. has an unusually high number of elections. The federal government alone holds elections every two years, compared with around every four or five years in other advanced democracies.

Why does this matter? Some experts argue that the saturation of elections has significant downsides — exhausting voters and hurting the quality of governance by pushing lawmakers toward more campaigning, fund-raising and short-term thinking.”

David Leonhardt – A Functional   Congress? Yes. – The New York Times

“Describing Congress as dysfunctional seems unobjectionable, even clichéd. I’ve done it myself this summer. Yet as the current session enters its final months, the description feels off. The 117th Congress has been strikingly functional.

On a bipartisan basis, it has passed bills to build roads and other infrastructure; tighten gun safety; expand health care for veterans; protect victims of sexual misconduct; overhaul the Postal Service; support Ukraine’s war effort; and respond to China’s growing aggressiveness.

Just as important, the majority party (the Democrats) didn’t give a complete veto to the minority party. On a few major issues, Democrats decided that taking action was too important. They passed the most significant response to climate change in the country’s history. They also increased access to medical care for middle- and lower-income Americans and enacted programs that softened the blow from the pandemic.

Congress still has plenty of problems. It remains polarized on many issues. It has not figured out how to respond to the growing threats to American democracy. The House suffers from gerrymandering, and the Senate has a growing bias against residents of large states, who are disproportionately Black, Latino, Asian and young. The Senate can also struggle at the basic function of approving presidential nominees.

The current Congress has also passed at least one law that seems clearly flawed in retrospect: It appears to have spent too much money on pandemic stimulus last year, exacerbating inflation.

As regular readers know, though, this newsletter tries to avoid bad-news bias and cover both accomplishments and failures. Today, I want to focus on how Congress — a reliably unpopular institution — has managed to be more productive than almost anybody expected.

I’ll focus on four groups: Democratic congressional leaders; Republican lawmakers; progressive Democrats; and President Biden and his aides.”

David Leonhardt – Morning Report – Perils of Invisible Government – The New York Times

“More than a decade ago, the political scientist Suzanne Mettler coined the phrase “the submerged state” to describe a core feature of modern American government: Many people don’t realize when they are benefiting from a government program.

“Americans often fail to recognize government’s role in society, even if they have experienced it in their own lives,” Mettler wrote. “That is because so much of what government does today is largely invisible.”

Her main examples were tax breaks, including those that help people buy homes, pay for medical care and save for retirement. The concept also included programs so complex or removed from everyday life that many people did not understand them, like federal subsidies for local governments.

Mettler’s thesis is both a defense of government’s role and a criticism of the modern Democratic Party’s preference for technocratically elegant and often invisible policies. It wasn’t always this wa: y, she points out. Social Security, Medicare and the G.I. Bill — as well as New Deal parks, roads and bridges, many with signs marking them as federal projects — helped popularize government action because they were so obvious. If voters don’t know what the government is doing to improve their lives, how can they be expected to be in favor of it?”

David Lindsay:  The biggest problem facing the Democrats is easier to recognize, than the solution. They must do a better job of tooting their own horn.

A City Under Siege – David Leonhardt – The New York Times

” — in southeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border — has been under siege for more than two weeks. It is the city where Russia last week bombed a maternity hospital and yesterday attacked a theater that hundreds of civilians were using as a shelter. It was unclear how many of those sheltering survived, according to a Ukrainian official.

Since the war began, two of the few working journalists in Mariupol have been Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka of The Associated Press. My colleagues and I were deeply affected by their dispatch, and we’re turning over the lead section of today’s newsletter to an excerpt from it.

The bMariupolodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.

There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns and who was among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.”

Imagining Peace in Ukraine – David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick – The New York Times

“Vladimir Putin’s history makes it hard to imagine a peace agreement in which an independent Ukraine continues to exist.

Consider the obstacles: Putin views Ukraine as a natural part of greater Russia. To control it, he has at his disposal a military vastly stronger than Ukraine’s. He has also demonstrated — in Chechnya and Syria — that he will kill large numbers of civilians to achieve his aims. In Ukraine, Putin seems willing to spend months if not years fighting a brutal war over a place that matters more to him than to the rest of the world.

But if it is hard to imagine his accepting some version of defeat, it is not impossible. It would probably involve his deciding that the war was becoming too costly — that it threatened the rest of his priorities and perhaps even his position as Russia’s authoritarian leader.

This kind of cost is exactly what the U.S., E.U., Britain and Ukraine’s other allies are trying to impose on Putin. How might they plausibly succeed? Today’s newsletter considers that question, through four main points.

Putin “probably wants all of Ukraine,” Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has written. “Then again, he may now be appreciating the huge costs he will pay for any such conquest, and be open to settling for lesser objectives.”

Putin has been a destructive force in the world for much of his two decades in power. He annexed the Crimean peninsula and abused Chechnya and Syria. He has used his power to enrich himself. His regime has murdered journalists, human-rights activists and political opponents. In the U.S. and Europe, Putin has used misinformation to influence elections.

For all these reasons, many U.S. and European officials would like to see Putin forced from power. But ending the war in Ukraine — and allowing Ukraine to survive as a nation — does not require regime change in Russia. And if Putin’s ouster is the goal, the chances of success become even smaller.

“There’s loose talk by people now about, well, this will only end if Putin disappears,” Fiona Hill, the Russia expert and former White House official, told our colleague Ezra Klein. “This just feeds into this mentality that Russia is always under siege, its leaders are always under siege, people always want regime change in Russia.”

Putin might at some point be willing to give up Ukraine. He probably will not be willing to give up Russia.”

Preventing This War (was possible)- David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“. . . Putin is someone who responds to brute force,” Ian Brzezinski of the Atlantic Council told The Times before the invasion.

Yes, such a showdown would have carried big risks. Confronting a nuclear power is not easy. But there is a long history of successfully doing so, dating to the Cold War. (Otherwise, any country with a nuclear weapon could simply annex any country without one.) And of course the lack of a military response also carried big risks — which have now turned into terrible costs.

Thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have died. More than two million Ukrainians have fled their homes. Cities are being destroyed and nuclear plants attacked.

Given all of this, it’s striking that Western allies gave so little consideration to a bolder attempt to stop Putin. They merely pleaded with him not to invade and threatened relatively modest economic sanctions (which have since become more aggressive). He scoffed at them.

The meekness of the initial Western response stems from two recent realities: the European Union’s wishful pacifism and the U.S.’s failed belligerence. Together, they created a power vacuum that Putin exploited.

If that vacuum remains — if today’s democracies are unable to mount coalitions like the one that defeated Hussein — future wars may become more likely.”  . . .

A Guide to Protecting the Vulnerable from Covid – David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“With the Omicron wave receding, many places are starting to remove at least some of their remaining pandemic restrictions.

This shift could have large benefits. It could reduce the isolation and disruption that have contributed to a long list of societal ills, like rising mental-health problems, drug overdoses, violent crime and, as Substack’s Matthew Yglesias has written, “all kinds of bad behavior.”

But the removal of restrictions has downsides, too. Millions of Americans remain vulnerable to Covid. The largest group of the vulnerable, by far, is the unvaccinated, who have the ability to protect themselves and have chosen not to.

Another group of people, however, have done what they can to stay healthy — by getting vaccinated — and yet remain vulnerable. They include the elderly and people with immunodeficiencies that put them at greater Covid risk. According to the C.D.C., more than 75 percent of vaccinated people who have died from Covid had at least four medical risk factors.”

David Lindsay:   In the last two months I cut the cable with Comcast Xfinity triple play. It required a lot of work. Fixing my home network, identifying and replacing a trunk wire gone bad, replacing an out of date router, upgrading two old 10/100 switches to 1000s, setting up fiber optic internet with GoNetSpeed, offering 150 Mbps up and down, and then learning how to use Google TV through Roku, and moving my phone to Ooma. I spent weeks trying to reuse my old coax network, before it dawned on me that I already also had cat 5 ethernet throughout the house, which fiber optic and these new services prefer anyway. I had to polish off old skills, to put plugs on the ends of several cat 5 cables, 8 colored wires organized exactly into a a space the size of a finger nail. Did you know that the entire cat 5 internet empire runs in the following wired order: white-orange stripe, orange, white-green stipe, blue, white-blue stripe, green, white-brown stripe, brown.

My new internet is twice as fast to begin with, and my wireless at 94 mbps up and downs is 20 times faster, thought partly due to issues with my second router. My bill for internet, TV and phone should go from $200 to $136 a month. Fingers crossed, and I can leave Youtube TV at any time, no contract, and save another $70.
So I am behind in my postings from my blog, and I will catch up with a few straight reposts. You have to click through to get the the NYT.
David Leonhardt below, was a mathematician who became a journalist, and is a crisp and clear writer. Following his bit on covid, he summarizes the best of the NYT for the day? or the day before, which is his new beat.

 Republicans for Democracy – David Leonhardt – The New York Times

Republicans for Democracy

Liz Cheney opposes most abortions and most gun control. She favors tax cuts for the wealthy and expanded drilling for oil. The right-wing Family Research Council has given her voting record a perfect score. Her political hero is her hawkish father, who was the architect of the second Iraq War.

This description may remind you why you loathe Cheney or have long admired her. Either way, it helps explain why she has become such an important figure for the future of American democracy.

Today is the first anniversary of the violent attack on the Capitol, by a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters who were trying to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election. The mob smashed windows and threatened the vice president and members of Congress. Seven people died as a result of the attack, including three police officers.

The Jan. 6 attack was part of a larger anti-democracy movement in the U.S. In the year since, the movement — which is closely aligned with the Republican Party — has changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. The movement’s supporters justify these actions with lies about voter fraud

Encouraged by Trump, other Republican politicians and conservative media stars, the anti-democratic movement is following a playbook used by authoritarians in other countries, both recently and historically. The movement is trying to use existing democratic laws — on vote counting and election certification, for example — to unravel democracy.

“We are in a terrible situation in which one of two major parties is no longer committed to playing by democratic rules,” Steven Levitsky — a political scientist and co-author of “How Democracies Die” with his Harvard colleague Daniel Ziblatt — told me. “No other established Western democracy faces such a threat today, not this acutely anyway.”

(Related: “I fear for our democracy,” former President Jimmy Carter writes in Times Opinion.)

The experience of other countries does offer some lessons about how to defeat anti-democratic movements. The most successful approach involves building coalitions of people who disagree, often vehemently, on many issues but who all believe in democracy.”

America’s Anti-Democratic Movement – David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“American politics these days can often seem fairly normal. President Biden has had both big accomplishments and big setbacks in his first year, as is typical. In Congress, members are haggling over bills and passing some of them. At the Supreme Court, justices are hearing cases. Daily media coverage tends to reflect this apparent sense of political normalcy.

But American politics today is not really normal. It may instead be in the midst of a radical shift away from the democratic rules and traditions that have guided the country for a very long time.

An anti-democratic movement, inspired by Donald Trump but much larger than him, is making significant progress, as my colleague Charles Homans has reported. In the states that decide modern presidential elections, this movement has already changed some laws and ousted election officials, with the aim of overturning future results. It has justified the changes with blatantly false statements claiming that Biden did not really win the 2020 election.

The movement has encountered surprisingly little opposition. Most leading Republican politicians have either looked the other way or supported the anti-democratic movement. In the House, Republicans ousted Liz Cheney from a leadership position because she called out Trump’s lies.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you David Leonhardt. You wrote: “This is a five-alarm fire,” Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, who presided over the 2020 vote count there, told The Times. “If people in general, leaders and citizens, aren’t taking this as the most important issue of our time and acting accordingly, then we may not be able to ensure democracy prevails again in ’24.” It sounds like a five-alarm fire to me. We will all have to interrupt our other agendas, and deal with this.

What Moves Swing Voters – The New York Times

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“Political pundits often talk about swing voters as if they were upscale suburbanites, like “soccer moms” or “office-park dads.” And some are. But many are blue-collar. They are the successors to the so-called Reagan Democrats, who let Republicans win the White House in the 1980s and Democrats retake it in the 1990s.

This century, blue-collar swing voters helped elect Barack Obama twice, Donald Trump once and Joe Biden in 2020. They have also played a deciding role in congressional and state elections, including in Virginia last week.

In the current polarized political atmosphere, many college graduates follow politics obsessively — almost as if it were a sport — and identify with one of the two parties. Many working-class voters, on the other hand, vote for both parties and sit out some elections.

Figuring out what moves these swing voters is a crucial question in American politics. It has become an urgent question for the Democratic Party, which is struggling to win working-class votes in many places, including some Asian and Latino communities.”