Daily Kos

How Manchin's voting rights proposal puts GOP on defense

After months of heartache over Democrats' signature voting rights bill, the For The People Act, progressives finally got a small but distinct glimmer of hope this week. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia detailed what he thinks should be included in the bill, and his proposal was good enough to receive a gold-standard embrace from voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

"Absolutely," Abrams responded enthusiastically Thursday, when she was asked if she could support Manchin's proposal. "What Sen. Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible no matter your geography," Abrams explained.

As I noted earlier this week, getting Manchin invested in this bill—getting him to take some ownership—is a critical step in the direction of final passage even though plenty of hard work remains.

Senate Republicans also played their part beautifully, lining up practically arm-in-arm Thursday to assure Manchin that the 10 votes he's hoping to get to safeguard our elections have always been and will continue to be sheer fantasy. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that "all Republicans" would oppose it. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri dismissed Manchin's proposal as a "Stacey Abrams substitute" after she endorsed it. Why not just literally slap Manchin in the face and get it over with?

On the bright side, the united front Senate Republicans presented is a sure sign the GOP caucus is a touch nervous about what they are seeing. They had been perfectly happy with the status quo—praising Manchin as a great defender of democracy and Senate procedure while he continued to foil Biden's agenda. Manchin's proposal upended that GOP comfort zone pretty quickly.

But even if Democrats manage to coalesce around a substantive bill that excites Manchin and still passes muster with progressives, the Senate filibuster—which imposes a 60-vote procedural threshold—remains the effort's single biggest hurdle.

Still, it's at least possible that Manchin will find his way to a solution, even if it's for this singular bill and no other. Remember, he already suffered a humiliating defeat on the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, where Senate Republicans inexplicably killed a measure that had met every single one of their demands. Now Republicans are telling Manchin to expect the same exact fate on voting legislation that he has said is critical.

"The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics," Manchin wrote in the opening sentence of his proposal. In the next sentence, Manchin insisted that any federal voting bill must be the "result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together" to find a solution.

That is clearly not going to happen, and then it will be choosing time for Manchin.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this negotiation isn't happening in a vacuum. Republicans dooming the Jan. 6 bill is at play. So are the ongoing bipartisan negotiations over an infrastructure/jobs plan. One school of thought is that the Senate managing to get a bipartisan infrastructure deal will free up Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to do the right thing on a voting rights bill. The other possibility is that Republicans proving their undying commitment to killing every piece of Biden's domestic agenda could eventually paint Manchin into a corner.

It's impossible to know how it will all play out, but the point is, negotiations either succeeding or falling apart in one area will absolutely effect the give and take over the voting rights legislation. And vice versa—if Republicans succeed in killing a voting rights bill that Manchin was central to negotiating, he may be far more willing to help Democrats go it alone on another reconciliation bill.

Whatever the case, I head into this weekend—our first official Juneteenth holiday—heartened by the small but important step forward Democrats made this week. Even if we do not succeed in getting a voting rights bill over the finish line this session (and we just might), the midterms are still not lost to us.

As Abrams told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace on Thursday, Republicans' brazen attack on democracy is likely to fail one way or the other precisely because of its brazenness.

"I think they are misreading the moment, just as they misread 2020 and indeed as they misread 2018," Abrams said. "Voter suppression works best when people aren't paying attention."

And people are most certainly paying attention.

Here's a fuller Abrams clip:

Stacey Abrams: 'Voter suppression works best when people aren't paying attention'

Stacey Abrams discusses Republicans' continued efforts to suppress the vote after Sen. Joe Manchin outlined his voting rights proposals.

At least eight Royal Caribbean crew test positive for COVID-19 despite vaccinations

At the start of the pandemic, multiple cruise lines made headlines for having passengers or crew members on board who tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the cruise lines were forced to either dock at the nearest port or delay their trips. The struggle continues, with a Royal Caribbean International cruise delaying its inaugural sailing of the Odyssey of the Seas cruise ship after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19. But the twist is that all eight members who tested positive were vaccinated, officials said Tuesday, according to NBC News.

In a statement posted to Facebook Tuesday, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Michael Bayley said the situation was "two steps forward and one step back." All crew members were to be fully vaccinated by June 18; however, before the date of departure could arrive, at least eight tested positive, two with mild symptoms and six who were asymptomatic. Bayley noted that the "positive cases were identified after the vaccination was given and before they were fully effective."

All eight have quarantined and are being closely monitored by a medical team, but the company has delayed the ship's first trip from July 3 to July 31 in order for all crew members to observe quarantine and prevent further infection."While disappointing, this is the right decision for the health and well-being of our crew and guests," Bayley said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it is rare for people to test positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, but not impossible. Such cases are known as breakthrough infections. Out of more than 130 million people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in the U.S., only 10,262 have reported breakthrough infections, the CDC said in May, NBC News reported.

While many Republican governors are against companies requiring passengers to prove they have been vaccinated, the CDC and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission support their ability to do so. While Royal Caribbean has set up guidelines for its cruises, including it being mandatory for all guests over 16 to be fully vaccinated, the rules do not apply in Florida. Florida's exception follows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order that bans companies from asking people for proof of vaccination.

According to the company, starting August 1 the age requirement for vaccinated guests will be 12 years or older. Younger passengers who are not yet eligible for the vaccine will be allowed to sail with a negative test as long as they follow safety regulations.

"Guests eligible but not fully vaccinated or able to show proof of vaccination will be subject to testing and additional health protocols at their own expense," the company said. "Children not eligible for vaccines will be subject to complimentary testing and health protocols."

This isn't the first time Royal Caribbean has faced a similar situation. Last week the company's first cruise ship from Miami had two passengers test positive for coronavirus despite the entire ship being filled with "fully vaccinated" crew and adult guests, CBS News reported. Guests were required to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before sailing from St. Maarten.

Cruise ships have been considered superspreaders for the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and were not given the go-ahead to resume operations until May, according to NBC News. In order to avoid being a superspreader ship, CDC guidelines require that 95% of ship passengers should be fully vaccinated prior to sailing. Additionally, everyone on the ship, whether or not they are vaccinated, is advised to wear a mask.

The incident goes to show that just because you're vaccinated doesn't mean you cannot be infected by the novel coronavirus. Despite things opening up and safety regulations easing down, we are still in a global pandemic.

Manchin finishes negotiating with himself over voting rights legislation

It's feeling like Groundhog Day: Sen. Joe Manchin has emerged to announce voting rights provisions he would support, and for which he has reportedly suggested he could win Republican support. Up next, Republicans will refuse to support Manchin's modest, centrist proposal, followed by questions about whether or when Manchin will consider reforming the filibuster so that all these things he claims to support can actually pass.

Maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and Manchin will admit, in deep sorrow, that 10 Republicans are never going to support anything Democrats want, and that therefore, though he wishes it could be otherwise, he is left with no choice but to back changes to the filibuster. Much more likely, he will whine and complain about how sad it is that few or no Republicans will join him, but will continue insisting that the filibuster is a requirement of bipartisanship which must never, ever be changed.

Crucially, Manchin supports the For the People Act's ban on gerrymandering. He also supports instituting 15 days of early voting, automatic voter registration, making Election Day a holiday, and disclosure of dark money.

Those are good or potentially good things. In the middle ground, Manchin supports a voter ID requirement, a measure often used by Republicans to make voting more difficult. But Manchin explicitly says he'd allow for things like utility bills to be used as ID, which would dramatically lower the barrier. (Or, as Stephen Wolf suggests, Democrats could think big and offer a free national ID to meet the requirement.)

On the negative side, Manchin opposes no-excuse absentee voting, same-day voter registration, and public financing of elections. He is just fine with voter purges. He wants to continue disenfranchising people over past felony convictions.

But of course none of what Manchin supports or opposes here matters unless he can either find 10 Republicans to support his plan (ha) or is willing to make significant changes to the filibuster so that Republicans cannot painlessly filibuster everything other than budget reconciliation bills. At present, Manchin is offering Republicans veto power even over things he strongly supports, like a Jan. 6 commission. Is he going to shift position on the filibuster over voting rights? Or infrastructure? Is there a point when Manchin will acknowledge what every honest observer can already see: that Republicans are not acting in good faith and will not suddenly begin acting in good faith?

At the exact same time he's supporting these voting rights provisions, Manchin is crankily equivocating on his support for infrastructure spending on exactly the same bipartisanship grounds he's used to hold up every other thing. So maybe he's doing a truly masterful job laying the groundwork for that sorrowful turn against the filibuster due to the endless bad faith of Republicans. But does Joe Manchin really seem that nimble and adept to you?

'Pure insanity': DOJ emails show what officials really thought of election fraud conspiracy theories

On Tuesday, the House Oversight Committee released a set of selected documents demonstrating the level of pressure that Donald Trump applied in his efforts to pressure the DOJ into investigating claims of election fraud. Part of that was pressure Trump applied to William Barr's replacement over a whole series of claims that were absolutely bizarre. That included no less than three letters directed to the DOJ that insisted that votes had been changed by Italian satellites. It's not clear if any of these satellites was also carrying Jewish space lasers.

But it does mean that then chief of staff Mark Meadows sent letters, in both English and Italian, to the DOJ ordering them to investigate a claim that "Leonardo Aerospace, at Pescara facility, using advanced military encryption capabilities, changed the U.S. election result from President Trump to Joe Biden." This switch was "conducted by the head of the IT department" in coordination with the CIA. It's a claim so ludicrous that it barely merited a mention when it surfaced back in January. Reuters took the time to write up a fact check debunking "Italygate," but it honestly passed by unnoticed by most sometime between claims of intervention by dead Venezuelan dictators, and that time thousands of Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol looking for blood.

But Meadows didn't just pass this letter on to the DOJ with a laugh, he pressed them about this at least three times. That was far from the worst thing that happened over the post election period. As the letters confirm, Trump and Meadows made it crystal clear they expected the DOJ to play their part in wrecking democracy.

In December, William Barr official stepped away from his spot. As Trump prepared to appoint acting replacements, he made sure that the first thing they saw was claims about election fraud. These emails were not just "here's something I want you to investigate." The emails contained talking points that asserted "a Cover-up is Happening regarding the voting machines in Michigan," and, "Michigan cannot certify for Biden." These emails were distributed both to Rosen and to U.S. attorneys in Michigan, and these emails actually hit Rosen's inbox in the hour right before he was officially announced, making it clear that Trump believed his first job was to get in there and break democracy.

After naming Rosen as acting attorney general, and Jeffery Clark as assistant attorney general, Trump then met with them both and pressured them to actively contest the results of the election in several states. Following that meeting, Meadows directed Rosen to have Clark look into supposed issues with signatures in Fulton County, Georgia. Meadows then helpfully sent Clark the cell phone of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung Pak, so he could involve Pak in this "investigation."

Within days, Clark was working with Trump in a plan to oust the just-appointed acting attorney general, and replace him with Clark, who would then proceed to have the DOJ intervene in the election directly. That plan fell through when audio was released of Trump attempting to pressure the Georgia secretary of state into lying about the results. On the Atlanta end, Pak resigned after being pressured by the White House to get on board with claims that there were fraudulent votes in Fulton County. His decision to leave is clearly difficult for him in the sense that he understands the importance of his role as U.S. attorney. However, it also seems easy, in the sense that he knows Trump is pushing him to a place he cannot go.

In what might be the most jaw-dropping effort, two days before the Georgia plan unraveled, Trump tried to push Rosen into having the DOJ take a case directly to the Supreme Court to "nullify the election." This plan involved a legal brief directed at the Court asking them to "declare that the Electoral College votes cast" in six states that President Trump lost "cannot be counted." The brief also asked that the Court order a "special election" giving Trump a do-over.

And as if attempting to simply get the Supreme Court to throw out the whole election wasn't enough, Meadows also passed along at least five conspiracy theories for the DOJ to investigate. That included not just the letters about the Italian satellite scheme (which seems to be connected to a disgruntled former employee under indictment for cyber crimes against the company), but a link to a YouTube video explaining the whole strange conspiracy theory. It was this letter in particular that generated a very special response from acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue. His reply: "Pure insanity." The person behind that YouTube video turned out to be, of course, working with Rudy Giuliani. Which would seem to confirm Donoghue's opinion.

If the pressure was audacious in scope—from demands to investigate a single county, to an attempt to have the DOJ join in to nullify the whole election—it was also amazing in its range. Voting machines in New Mexico. Signatures in Georgia. Satellites in Italy. It seemed there was no rumor or claim that Trump wasn't willing to push, even when it came with no supporting evidence. And in Italian.

As a result of all this, the Oversight Committee will seek testimony from Meadows, Clark, Donoghue, and Pak, along with former associate deputy attorney general Patrick Hovakimian. Bringing in Clark would definitely be a popcorn opportunity, as his scheme to conduct an internal coup at DOJ, oust Rosen, then somehow have the DOJ itself nullify the election is begging to be explained. Considering what Donoghue wrote on the day, it would be interesting what he thinks now about the whole enterprise. And considering that Pak determined that he had to resign his position as U.S. attorney rather than participate in this farce, his testimony might be particularly compelling.

In short—these would be a very interesting set of interviews. If they will appear when, as is certain, Trump tries to assert some form of post-executive privilege. If the House wants to hear them speak, then there has to be a willingness to not just issue subpoenas, but follow through.

American business owners discover a novel solution to the worker shortage problem

Disgruntled business owners around the country have been complaining loudly about the lack of hired help available to them as the nation slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these folks have gotten positively churlish about it, declaring "No one wants to work anymore," and blame the worker shortage on the additional $300 per week some are receiving to bolster their normal unemployment benefits, an effort instigated by Democrats to try to compensate Americans for the economic calamity left in the wake of hundreds of thousands of business closures.

But an investigation by Eli Rosenberg for the Washington Post, based on interviews of several business owners throughout the country, suggests that the hiring problem facing employers has less to do with extended unemployment benefits and more to do with the the fact that American workers simply don't want to go back to jobs that won't pay a decent wage. As Rosenberg found, businesses that increase their pay scales are actually being deluged with applications from willing workers.

As Rosenberg notes, many of the complaints about "unwilling workers" are coming from businesses long-accustomed (in the era before COVID-19) to paying their employees the minimum allowable wage:

Across the country, businesses in sectors such as food service and manufacturing that are trying to staff up have been reporting an obstacle to their success — a scarcity of workers interested in applying for low-wage positions.

These people assumed that once the pandemic started to wane, the American economy could simply be flipped on like a light switch after its year-long hibernation, with Americans marching dutifully back to work for these same companies as if COVID-19 had never happened. Encouraged by Republican governors and Fox News, many are now blaming their inability to attract workers on the extra unemployment benefits afforded by the COVID relief legislation passed by Democrats and signed into law in March. In this blinkered view, the prospect of giving unemployed individuals and families an additional $300 per week through September 2021 was nothing but an an extravagant windfall for tens of millions of Americans, one that prompted able-bodied workers to sit at home watching TV and playing video games rather than rushing back to work for these companies that pay a paltry $7.25 an hour in wages.

The idea that an additional $300 per week could possibly substitute for holding a regular job in order to pay their mortgages, rent, health insurance, food, car payments, transportation, utilities and the multitude of intractable expenses most Americans face in any given month, was always a myth. It conveniently ignored the fact that if people were actually shirking work for such a paltry sum, then the wages they were forsaking were just as paltry. As one unemployed worker, interviewed for Business Insider put it, "These guys are just dumbasses if they actually think that the UI is the problem and not the wage."

Nevertheless, this myth has been a useful cudgel wielded by Republicans against the unemployed, prompting GOP governors in 25 states to cut off extended aid in hopes of forcing workers to return to these dismal, low-paying jobs. The very fact that these governors acted in such unison and in such a wholly partisan fashion—based on no hard economic evidence whatsoever—suggests that something far more fundamental is at stake here for the Republican party than simply trying to force people back into low-paying jobs. What we may be seeing in the refusal of workers to fill these types of jobs are the early signs of a labor force that is collectively rethinking its relationship to work.

As explained in Rosenberg's article, the data is anecdotal, but the trend is unmistakable: once businesses start treating employees as an asset to be maximized rather than a necessity to be exploited, their hiring woes immediately vanish. Rosenberg profiles several business owners, including Patrick Whalen who owns five restaurants in North and South Carolina, all of which had enjoyed success before the pandemic. As people finally began to venture out to eat, his restaurants filled up again. Suddenly he couldn't find enough people to staff them, and was soon facing a wave of negative reviews.

But he didn't whine about it. He didn't try to blame anyone. He simply increased his wages from $12 to $15, and added a tip line for the kitchen workers who (unlike the wait staff) wouldn't normally have received tips, a move that pushed their total hourly wages to over $23 an hour.

As reported by Rosenberg, Whalen's staffing problems vanished within three weeks:

Applicants began pouring in nearly overnight, Whalen said. A manager at one of his restaurants, Tempest, told him that 10 people walked in to drop off résumés over the course of one week after the policy change, compared with just 15 people over the four previous months.

The owner of Punch Pizza, a chain of pizza shops with a dozen locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, had similar results when its owner raised wages from $11 to $15 an hour: as Rosenberg observes, "Job applications increased fivefold on its website and were 10 to 15 times higher on the jobs portal Indeed." Rosenberg cites similar examples for restaurant chains in Buffalo, Detroit, Oakland and Philadelphia, all of which elected to increase their starting wages.

The routine objection to increasing workers' salaries is that doing so will raise the cost of doing business to the point where the business itself cannot survive. That too is debunked by Rosenberg's investigation. Yes, some businesses compensated for their increased labor costs by slightly raising their prices, but the increases needed to do that turned out to be minimal, for the most part:

Three of the 12 businesses interviewed said that they had raised prices for consumers to help offset the wage increase. White Castle increased menu prices in the Detroit area after increasing its minimum wage there to $15 an hour, as did another restaurant that raised wages, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif. The Midwest-based clothing and design store Raygun increased prices by about 1 percent after raising wages to an average of $15 last year, owner Mike Draper said.

Rosenberg's research acknowledges that every business's situation will be different; in Philadelphia, HipCityVeg, a vegan restaurant, estimated that its veggie-burger prices might increase by 25 cents, but they didn't expect an all-out customer revolt because of this. Another had to trim hours and staff, mainly for seasonal workers. Others acknowledged that they might have to operate at a loss for a limited time but that the higher quality of their services (thanks to happier, more dedicated workers) was expected to balance that factor out over time. The improved staffing situation at Whalen's restaurants, for example, has markedly increased its overall sales numbers, as reviews have improved and satisfied customers return.

Rosenberg's article notes that in addition to increasing worker pay, employers are introducing other measures to improve working conditions, such as guaranteeing sick leave and paid time off. And some, including an owner of a hardware store chain in the Washington, D.C., area who has raised her employees' wages, have frankly acknowledged that raw material shortages due to the pandemic rather than increased wages are driving whatever price increases she has to pass on to her customers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged last year, several voices pointed out that such a drastic, unprecedented employment catastrophe also provided a rare opportunity to rethink the relationship between labor and capital, and specifically between workers and management. Although Rosenberg's interviews are anecdotal, it does appear that many businesses are re-evaluating their past policies, not necessarily out of some sense of altruism, but for their own economic benefit and continued survival. Rosenberg concludes his investigation with a quote from Gina Schaeffer, owner of that chain of hardware stores in and around Washington, D.C.:

"There's a shaming that's happening to working-class people," said Schaefer, the owner of the D.C.-area hardware stores. "Nobody talks about the fact that the economy is going to fall apart when a tech guy gets a $195,000-a-year salary with a 5 percent raise every year, or when lawyers are making $300,000. This conversation only happens when you're talking about the people who make the lowest wages. And I think as a society, that's just really insulting."

What Rosenberg's article ultimately shows us is that from a labor perspective the America that emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic does not have to be the same America that entered into it. Many businesses are finding out the hard way that they can no longer count on a workforce willing to accept substandard wages, and have decided that the best course is to convince Republican governors to declare a five-alarm fire, trying to force people back to work for the same, dismally low pay. Other, more forward-thinking businesses are embracing a more generous and fairer ethic that elevates both the pay and dignity of their employees, discovering that such an approach works in everyone's interests.

It's impossible at this early stage to say which approach will ultimately win out, but as more workers find alternative, higher paying opportunities available to them, history and human nature suggest they will naturally be far less willing to settle for anything they consider substandard, unfair, or inferior.

Texas power prices are skyrocketing again. The people in charge say they have no idea why

Apparently, wind turbines can also freeze when it gets hot. Or at least, after a deadly outage that left much of Texas in the dark over the winter, the Texas energy grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is once again warning that Texans need to cut back on energy use, or face the possibility of a new extended outage.

It's a situation that will surely lead Republicans to howl once again about the unreliability of renewable power. However, just as in the winter outage, wind and solar are actually performing at a rate above projections. The real problem comes because of "power plant outages," according to ERCOT. That would be the coal and natural gas plants that make up 64% of Texas' electrical energy mix. The energy management organization describes those outages as "unexpected," but it's providing no additional details.

Even at the time it was occurring, it was clear that the primary cause of the outage during the winter was a cascade failure of fossil fuel plants—and especially of natural gas. But what's happening now isn't so much a feature of natural gas as it is a function of Texas' "conservative" politics. The winter outage may not have generated much electricity, but it generated windfall profits for power companies, who sucked in more profit in two days than they made in the rest of the year.

That's happening again. In less than a week, peak period electricity prices in Texas have increased over 10,000%. Pricing at several locations has exceeded $2,000 per megawatt hour. That means that even as residents brace for blackouts, they're set to receive another round of soaring bills.

But don't worry. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is right on those things things that matter—building a wall, censoring textbooks, and restricting the right to vote.

The problem in Texas is that the great majority of the state was purposely cut off from neighboring grids. That's because Texas Republicans wanted to create a little experiment in capitalism where electrical providers have every incentive to build just enough power to meet every day demands, and not enough to meet exceptional circumstances. Because power prices in Texas—the original home of Enron—are allowed to float on instantaneous market pricing, the cost to consumers is exquisitely sensitive to energy supply and demand. That means that, in addition to seeing power out for days, watching as their homes were ruined by frozen water pipes, and dealing with a clean up that isn't covered by insurance, Texans were left paying massive energy bills after electricity over the winter rose to $9,000 per megawatt-hour.

This is exactly how the system is designed to work. It's not just an example of disaster capitalism, it's an example of capitalism that creates disasters by design.

Which makes what's going on at the moment especially interesting. As the Texas Tribune reports, while those ERCOT messages warn that there are unexpected plant outages, they don't have a reason for those outages. In fact, the senior director of planning for ERCOT says, "I don't have any potential reasons that I can share at this time. It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers."

To make that clear: Texas is warning people to use less power, and prices are running wild, and the people that are supposed to manage the power grid are saying that not only don't they have a reason for why so many plants are going offline at the same time, it's "not consistent" with past behavior.

And 80% of the outages are from natural gas and coal-burning steam plants. ERCOT notes that these plants usually go offline several times for maintenance during a typical period in the summer. Despite not having a cause, the effect is clear enough. A week ago, the highest price for electricity was $17 per megawatt-hour. By Sunday, that had increased to $150. By Tuesday, it was averaging $1,464 with spikes above $2,000.

What would it look like if power companies were deliberately manipulating the market by taking plants offline to create an artificial shortage? It would look one hell of a lot like this.

At the moment, ERCOT rates the potential for prolonged outages as low. However, electricity demand hit record highs on Monday as temperatures in the high 90s settled in across the state. And that's before a powerful heat wave sweeps across the Southwest in coming days. As The Guardian reports, the brunt of that heat wave will be felt in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Some areas are expecting temperatures in excess of 120° F. That heat wave is also expected to bring with it increased risk of fires across the region, and will serve to exacerbate the area's already extreme drought.

When the Texas grid collapsed in the winter, Texas Republicans—led by Gov. Greg Abbott—leaned hard into their well-honed finger-pointing skills. There were claims that the outage was caused by frozen wind turbines (it wasn't), by the Green New Deal (which has never even been voted on, much less passed), and by federal government regulations (that don't exist). Former energy secretary Rick Perry put on his very serious glasses to say that Texans, "would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business." And yes, it must have been a great comfort to those with ruined houses and five-figure power bills, to know that they were free of those regulations that elsewhere keep the lights on and prevented companies from exploiting an emergency.

It was surely super comforting to the family of an 11-year-old boy who died of hypothermia while huddled under blankets during the midst of the outage. Or the family of an 8-year-old girl who died of carbon monoxide poisoning as her family tried to set up an unfamiliar generator. The outage generated more than 500 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. All of them surely proud that they had kept the federal government out of their business.

As his state was shivering, Abbott went on Fox News to give his insights to Sean Hannity. Which were perfectly predictable. The outage, he said, showed how renewable energy and the Green New Deal "would be a deadly deal for the United States of America." Abbott then blamed all of the outage on wind and solar which—again—were performing at above predicted levels for the time of year. In the winter outage, just like the current shortage, the problem was with the fossil fuel plants, which had "unexpected outages" both then, and now.

But Abbott has certainly stayed busy in the intervening months. As Yahoo News reports, he's signed an "1836 Project" bill requiring students to be given a "patriotic education" into the "state's values." As The Texas Tribune reports, Republicans have also passed a bill to limit early voting, nearly eliminate voting by mail, limit the number of polling locations, increase ID requirements, and overall make it much more difficult to vote—in cities, though not so much in rural areas. And as the Houston Chronicle reports, Abbott has now informed the citizens of Texas that he will spend billions to take up the Trump mantle by promising (and failing) to build a wall across the southern border.

So Texas can't have electricity, or democracy, but gets a big boost in propaganda and xenophobia. All of that is going to really help Texans keep their cool when the A/C stops.

GOP admits they're plotting to kill Biden's infrastructure plan — with help from Manchin and Sinema

It's not at all surprising that Republicans are using President Joe Biden's willingness to engage them in infrastructure negotiations to drag the process out until it dies under the weight of lost momentum. It's slightly surprising that they are talking about it out in the open, basically gloating over the fact that they've peeled Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema away, coopting them into doing their dirty work.

Minority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, explained to Politico all about how it's going to work. Republicans agree to spend a lot of money—"a massive amount of new spending on infrastructure"—in order to draw Democratic support away from a potential reconciliation bill coming together on a second track. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have started work on that effort, a way that Democrats can pass Biden's larger agenda without Republicans. Republicans think they can make a deal on physical infrastructure, pull Democratic votes to that, and then pull the rug out from everyone.

"It'll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that," Thune said. "The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation—in some ways, with certain Democrats—it gets a lot harder." Walking right into that trap is Joe Manchin, who declined to say whether he would support a reconciliation bill for the ambitious part of Biden's agenda. He would just say that "there's a lot more that needs to be done, so we need to work it the same way we're working this one."

Note that there's no promise from Thune that in the long run, there will be 10 actual Republican votes for the deal that is supposedly being worked on now by the Sinema-led gang. But he's going to pretend that it could happen, telling CNN "I think there would be substantial Republican support" for a bill that looked something like what some of the group last week said was an agreement. That agreement of course didn't have much in the way of specifics and certainly didn't have a means of raising revenue that is real. Republicans are still talking about putting fees on electric car drivers—which would raise a tiny fraction of what's needed—and stealing money from COVID-19 relief, which has been rejected already by the White House.

Note also that Mitch McConnell hasn't actually said whether he supports these negotiations, lending more credence to the theory of a trap. Never mind that he's already made clear exactly where he stands: "100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration … 100% of my focus is on standing up to this administration." If he doesn't say anything about this specific effort, everyone can continue on with it as if McConnell would allow it to actually happen. As if he weren't poised to upend the whole enterprise at the last minute.

Democrats do seem to get what's going on here. For example, liberal Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says they would need an "irrevocable" commitment from the moderates—the Democrats in Sinema's "gang"—to agree to use budget reconciliation for a larger bill. Blumenthal considers what he's seen from the gang "very, very paltry and disappointing" and said he's "running out of patience" over all this bipartisan foot-dragging. If, however, there's an "irrevocable commitment" on the next reconciliation package, then, "I could hold my nose and vote for this package."

Democratic leadership is there as well, apparently. "Will the Democrats who are part of this be with us on reconciliation on what is not included? I think that's an important question. … That's a question that's come up with several times and it's a legitimate question," Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said. One of those five, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, told CNN she would back reconciliation, and believes the others would as well. "It's my understanding that everybody has said that they can support reconciliation in some form. Now the devil is in the details as we know," Shaheen said Monday. That might be overstating things. Manchin has been cagey on the issue, Sinema hasn't spoken publicly about it.

As far as anyone knows, the gang's agreement, that may or may not actually have been agreed to depending on who you ask, includes $1.2 trillion over eight years, with just $570 billion in new spending. In the previous failed negotiations between President Joe Biden and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, he set a floor of $1 trillion in new spending. The Senate group would spend $974 million of the total over the first five years on "core, physical infrastructure," would not raise taxes, and "[m]any of the specific details still need to be ironed out."

The White House has informed the Senate "gang" that they have just a week to 10 days to come to some kind of deal. That's plenty of time for Republicans to blow this all to hell, especially since we're just a few weeks away from recess for July 4 and then August.

'It makes the hill harder to climb': Distress signals already emerging within GOP over sticking with Trump

Fresh off promoting a return to fiscal austerity principles, members of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) met with Donald Trump last week to talk midterms.

The committee, whose members represent nearly three-quarters of the entire House GOP caucus, had floated an alternative budget only weeks earlier that was chock full of rewarmed Ryan-era ideas about cutting government spending to the bone. Still, their meeting with profligate GOP spender Trump went just peachy according to RSC chair Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana.

"He was all about the future," Banks told Politico of Trump's forward-thinking approach to the midterms. "It was not focused on the past."

Nothing but unicorns and rainbows, folks.

But the truth is, Trump's toxic effect on party politics at the state and federal level is already roiling the GOP, and we're starting see signs of that everywhere. Just over a week ago, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri reverted to a practice that Republicans developed during the Trump-era amid efforts to reach a leader who never listened to his advisers—he made an entreaty to Trump on the airwaves.

"He could be incredibly helpful in 2022 if he gets focused on 2022 and the differences in the two political parties," Blunt said of Trump, on NBC's Meet The Press.

And who could miss Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week telling Fox News that Trump "has his own agenda" when it comes to the midterms?

Then there's the GOP candidates who are clearly scared out of their wits over what Trump could do to the party's electoral hopes in 2022 given that he continues to be obsessed with relitigating his 2020 election loss, which he called "the crime of the century" just last month.

"He should have learned from what happened in Georgia," said one GOP lawmaker, who represents a purple district but obviously didn't want to risk Trump's ire by going on the record. "He cost us Georgia by focusing on the election."

The words "should have" appear to be the operative part in that sentence.

"If Trump focused on Pelosi and Biden's policy failures, he would help us. If it's about election fraud and sour grapes from 2020, it will hurt us," the GOP lawmaker added.

Again, the word "if" is telling and not particularly hopeful from a Republican lawmaker who was likely speaking more frankly based on being granted anonymity.

The lawmaker acknowledged that Trump's 2020 grievances animate the base, but said it's not particularly helpful when it comes to retaking the majority—presumably in more swingy districts.

"We may be able to still win the majority, but I think it makes the hill harder to climb."

In other words, in the eyes of a purple-district House Republican, Trump could be more of a liability to the GOP in the midterms than a boon.

Not exactly unicorns and rainbows, folks.

Watch: Video shows Maryland cop shock Black tourist with Taser after accusing him of vaping on boardwalk

Viral videos showed Maryland police tackling a teen, kneeing him in the stomach, and shocking another man with a Taser because of their response to allegations they were vaping on the Ocean City boardwalk Saturday evening, according to The Washington Post. A city ordinance prohibits "smoking and vaping outside of the designated areas on the Boardwalk," city officials said in a news release. It is the kind of blameless-cops-meet-defiant-troublemakers news release that has become commonplace among city agencies. In it, city officials described in detail alleged missteps of those police encounters but failed to include any description of the involved officers' actions. At one point in the release, authorities described the crowd that assembled was "aggressive and hostile," but they simply described the cops—some of whom were shown in the video brutalizing tourists—as "officers making an arrest." One video of the police encounter showed one of the men who police targeted raising his hands above his head just before he was shocked with the Taser. The encounter led to four arrests of tourists from Harrisburg, Pittsburgh.

Warning: Video throughout this story contains footage of profanity and police violence that may be triggering for some viewers.

Khalil Dwayne Warren, 19, was accused of doing nothing more than "standing on private property next to two 'no trespassing signs'" when officers targeted him. He ended up facing charges of trespassing and resisting/interfering with an arrest. "We are aware of the social media videos circulating regarding this incident," city officials said in their release. "Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance. All uses of force go through a detailed review process.

"The uses of force from these arrests will go through a multi-level examination by the Assistant Patrol Commander, the Division Commander and then by the Office of Professional Standards."

Although there have been conflicting reports of the ages of those involved, none were older than 20 years old according to the police officials' account. The confrontation allegedly started when officers saw what they described as "a large group vaping on the boardwalk." The officers approached the tourists, asked them to stop vaping, and the group walked away, city officials said. "As the group walked away, officers observed the same male start vaping again," city officials said. "During the course of the interaction, the male refused to provide his proof of identification and became disorderly. A large crowd of people began to form around the officers."

The situation escalated when officers tried to arrest Brian Everett Anderson, 19, for what officials described as "failure to provide necessary identification for the violation of the local ordinance." Authorities claimed in the release that "Anderson began to resist arrest" and was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct, resisting/interfering with an arrest, assault in the second degree, and failure to provide proof of identity. "During the interaction with Anderson, Kamere Anthony Day, 19, Harrisburg, PA, was yelling profanities and approaching officers during the lawful arrest," authorities said. "Officers placed a marked police bike in front of Day and advised him to back up. Day refused to comply with the officer's orders, continued yelling profanities while attempting to approach the officers placing Anderson under arrest."

Officials said "officers approached Day to place him under arrest for disorderly conduct" and he "resisted arrest." The city added that as officers and public safety aides tried to "provide a perimeter to separate the aggressive and hostile crowd" and "the officers making an arrest," they saw Jahtique John Lewis, 18, push one of the aides in the chest while yelling profanities. Officials also accused John Lewis of picking up a police bicycle and trying to hit an aide with it.

"John Lewis assaulted the Public Safety Aide again," officials said. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, obstructing and hindering, assault in the second degree and resisting/interfering with an arrest. All four of the men arrested were released on their own recognizance after appearing before the Maryland District Court Commissioner.

The incident follows both national and local calls for measures to hold officers accused of excessive force accountable. In Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, about 10 miles north of the Hennepin County Courthouse where ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stood trial for murdering George Floyd, a white cop shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Kim Potter, who later resigned her position with Brooklyn Center police, said she mistook her gun for her Taser and fired at Wright, a Black man, after he was pulled over on April 11 because his air freshener blocked a portion of his rearview window.

In Ocean City, the police department has been the subject of increased scrutiny following its policing of the city boardwalk, a popular spot amongst tourists visiting the area. Ocean City police are investigating Lt. Frank Wrench to determine if the force he used in video showing him punching and wrapping his arm around the neck of a 20-year-old white man accused of carrying an open container of alcohol. "You can tell he was getting mad from what I was saying and right when I called him a 'pig,' that's when he got mad, came over, grabbed me by my throat and punched me in my face and then put me in a chokehold for literally no reason," Taylor Cimorosi, the accused man, told Delmarva Now. "I was really just speaking my First Amendment. And I just, I feel like that cop shouldn't be, shouldn't have a badge no more."

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed three police reform bills the General Assembly passed earlier this year to mandate police use of body cameras by July 2025, limit no-knock warrants to emergency use only, and allow greater access to police discipline records, the Associated Press reported. The package of legislation would have also meant harsher penalties in excessive force cases, including 10 years in prison if excessive force leads to death or serious injury.

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones mentioned the reform effort in a tweet on Monday condemning how officers handled the tourists on the Ocean City boardwalk. "The video from this weekend in Ocean City is deeply disturbing. Vaping on the Boardwalk is not a criminal offense," Jones said in the tweet. "Black and brown children should not be tased while their hands are up. Officers should not kneel on the back of a minor. Vaping should not yield a hog tie."

She continued in another tweet:

"Each of these actions is why the Maryland General Assembly passed police reform this year. I urge Ocean City officials to make review of this incident a top priority, dismiss the overzealous charges against this young man and reform or retrain officers on use of force immediately."

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, made a similar request in a tweet Sunday, tagging Maryland's Democratic attorney general and Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland. Ifill wrote: "Attorney General @BrianFrosh can you please investigate these multiple incidents involving police and unarmed Black teens in Ocean City, MD? @RepAndyHarrisMD is this your district??"

View other responses from social media below:

Federal judge dismisses anti-vaxxer lawsuit — sides with Texas hospital

After a hospital followed through on its warning to suspend and terminate any employee who did not abide by its mandatory vaccination policy, anti-vaxxers attempted to pursue a lawsuit. The employees involved in the suit claimed that it violated their rights to be told by an employer that they must be vaccinated. But, despite their confidence that the Houston Methodist hospital did not have the right to require them to be vaccinated in order to work, they were wrong.

In the country's first ruling on vaccine mandates, a Texas judge dismissed the lawsuit creating a precedent for similar cases nationwide. In the lawsuit employees of the Houston Methodist, one of the first hospital systems in the country to require all employees to be vaccinated, attempted to challenge the company's mandatory vaccination policy. The company suspended more than 170 employees last week after months of warning them that they had until June 7 to be fully vaccinated. Once suspended, the employees were told they would have until June 21 to complete their vaccinations or risk termination, Daily Kos reported.

Despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supporting policies that employers could require "all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19," at least 117 employees of the company attempted to sue the hospital claiming it violated state policy and made them "human guinea pigs."

According to the plaintiffs, federal law prohibits employees from being required to get vaccinated without full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines. While the lawsuit was filed in Texas state court, it was moved to federal court at Houston Methodist's request. As a result, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate because the law in question did not apply to private employers.

"The hospital's employees are not participants in a human trial," Hughes wrote. "They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees."

He continued that the mandate was a way to make the environment safer for both employees and patients. "This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer."

Hughes' ruling addressed each and every one of the plaintiffs' arguments including the vaccination requirement violating Texas law and a comparison to forced medical experiments in Nazi Germany. "Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible," Hughes wrote. "Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death."

Ultimately Hughes concluded that the plaintiffs "misconstrued" the law and "misrepresented the facts" and "will take nothing" from the hospital. If they had an issue with the policies in place, they should seek employment elsewhere, he wrote.

Upon hearing the ruling, lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges noted that she would continue to fight her case. "This doesn't surprise me," she told USA Today. "Methodist is a very large company, and they are pretty well-protected in a lot of areas. We knew this was going to be a huge fight, and we are prepared to fight it." Bridges has also started a petition against mandatory vaccinations by employers.

In response to the ruling, attorney and conservative activist Jared Woodfill who represents her and the other 116 plaintiffs said: "We took the position that it shouldn't be dismissed for a whole host of reasons and we believe that forcing an individual to participate in a vaccine trial is illegal."

"This is the first battle in a long fight," Woodfill continued. "There are going to be many battles fought. Not just in this courtroom, but in courtrooms all across the state. There are battles that are going to be fought in the higher courts, the 5th Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court, even the United States Supreme Court. So this is just one battle in a larger war. It's the first round, if you will."

Woodfill confirmed that they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court "if necessary."

So despite the judge noting and clearly addressing that they had no case, the plaintiffs refuse to back down.

The employees who were suspended from their roles made up only 1% of the hospital's total number of employees, according to Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom. Boom noted that many other hospitals are working on similar initiatives but were only waiting on this case's verdict to take action. "We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation," Boom said after the ruling. "Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do."

According to CBS News, as of this report, nearly 25,000 Houston Methodist employees had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and at least two employees who worked in management chose to leave rather than receive the vaccine.


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