Today’s Edition: A populist president.

September 17, 2021

          Almost everything about Biden’s presidency has been a surprise—in a good way. Some voted for Biden because they viewed him as a “safe” choice who would serve as a caretaker president, providing a peaceful interregnum to allow the nation to heal. Others voted for Biden because they viewed him as a Senate institutionalist and moderate who was a familiar presence to generations of Americans. Few expected that he would pursue a populist agenda that would draw high praise from Bernie Sanders. On Thursday, President Biden gave a speech to defend his $3.5 trillion spending package and the proposed tax increases to pay for the largest expansion of the social safety net in generations. Biden’s speech was grounded in pragmatic populism, offering to expand the safety net while promising to pay for it by recapturing tax cuts gifted to corporations and the wealthy by Trump.

          In his speech, Biden directly addressed the intransigent and reflexive naysaying of Republicans. He graciously referred to them as “my Republican friends,” saying,

          My plan benefits ordinary Americans, not those at the top, who don’t need the help. It’s a historic middle-class tax cut, cutting taxes for over 50 million families. My Republican friends are making a different choice, though. They’d rather protect the tax breaks of those at the very top than give tax breaks to working families. It’s that simple.

          Biden condemned the unfairness of the current tax code that requires regular withholding payments by wage earners but allows the wealthy to disclose their assets (or not) on their honor. He also called for expanding IRS enforcement to generate more revenue from taxpayers who conceal their income from the IRS. As Biden explained,  

          This isn’t about raising their taxes.  It’s about the super-wealthy finally beginning to pay what they owe — what the existing tax code calls for — just like hardworking Americans do all over this country every Tax Day.

Biden’s speech is here, “Remarks by President Biden on the Economy | The White House,” and an analysis of his remarks is here, Washington Post, “Biden makes populist economic agenda pitch.”

          Republicans (and Joe Manchin) are basing their opposition to Biden’s plan on two grounds: It (allegedly) involves “wasteful” spending and will spur inflation. On the first point, Americans will decide for themselves whether free tuition for community colleges, subsidized childcare, expanded Medicare benefits (dental and vision), and reductions in the price of prescription drugs are “wasteful” spending measures. If you were betting on the outcome, Republicans have the losing end of that argument.

          On the claim that Biden’s plan will increase inflation, Republicans also have an uphill battle. Fifteen economists who have each won the Nobel Prize released a letter on Wednesday saying that Biden’s plan would ease inflation:

          Because this agenda invests in long-term economic capacity and will enhance the ability of more Americans to participate productively in the economy, it will ease longer-term inflationary pressures.

          The fight over potential future inflation is an abstraction that will not motivate most Americans, and the disagreements among economists will effectively nullify the criticism. Most importantly. Biden has wrapped his message in the framework of fairness. He said,

          Since the pandemic began, billionaires have seen their wealth go up by $1.8 trillion. . . . [That is] simply not fair. . . . How is it possible millionaires and billionaires can pay a lower rate of tax than teachers, firefighters, or law enforcement officers?

          Here’s the simple truth.  For a long time, this economy has worked great for those at the very top, while ordinary, hardworking Americans — the people who built this country — have been basically cut out of the deal.

          For those hoping that Democrats would return to issues that matter to most Americans, Biden is leading the way. Let’s hope that Democrats in Congress, and Joe Manchin, can close the deal.

Biden’s deal with Australia for nuclear submarines causes French government to go nuclear

You will see a lot of reporting about the French government being angry with Joe Biden over a deal he negotiated with Australia and the U.K. The background facts are explain why France is so angry with Biden.

          In 2019, Australia agreed to purchase $66 billion of conventional-powered submarines from France. Submarines are important to Australia’s ability to check the growing maritime power of China in the Southern hemisphere. Biden offered a deal in which Australia would build nuclear-powered submarines with technology from the United States. Nuclear-powered submarines are much harder to detect than conventional submarines because they do not need to surface to refuel and are quieter than submarines with diesel engines.

          The deal is a win-win for Australia and the U.S. because it provides Australia with superior technology to help counter China’s sea power. Australia will build the subs itself (an economic benefit to the Australian economy) with U.S. technology (an economic benefit to the U.S. economy). France, on the other hand, will lose $66 billion in defense contracts. China is likewise angry because it currently has six nuclear-powered submarines in the South China Sea and would like to maintain its dominance in that theater. See New York Times, “In Submarine Deal With Australia, U.S. Counters China but Enrages France.”

          Apart from the economic loss, why is France so angry? Because the U.S. left it up to Australia to inform France that it was pulling out of its deal—something that Australia did at the last minute (if at all). The French were blindsided by Australia, and are blaming Biden.

With no hint of irony, Justice Thomas worries that politicizing the Supreme Court will “destroy our institution.”

          Justice Clarence Thomas gave a speech at Notre Dame University in which he bemoaned the fact that people believe the Court has become politicized. He worried that such beliefs will “destroy the institution” of the Court. His comments are part of the recent charm offensive by the Supreme Court to ward off efforts to reform the Court.  See The Washington Post, “Justice Thomas defends the Supreme Court’s independence and warns of ‘destroying our institutions’.”

          I could go on at length criticizing Thomas’s comments but I will restrain myself and make a simple point: Republicans embarked on a project 30 years ago to politicize the Court by appointing only those nominees who agreed to overrule Roe v. Wade. In the process, Republicans outsourced nomination of justices to a private conservative organization funded (in part) by the Koch brothers and the Mercers. In the last decade Republicans have nominated only those candidates from a list provided by the Federalist Society. Trump campaigned on the promise that he would continue that practice. See “Trump: All My Judges Will Be 'Picked By The Federalist Society' | Right Wing Watch.” Trump said in 2016,

          We’re going to have great judges, conservative, all picked by the Federalist Society.

          So, someone should inform Justice Thomas that it is far too late to save the Court from becoming politicized. The Court has become a captive of a private organization of conservative lawyers funded by dark money. It doesn’t get much more politicized than that. If the institution of the Supreme Court is destroyed, the fault will fall squarely on the Republican Party, the Federalist Society, and its dark money sponsors.

Trump praises insurrectionists ahead of rally on September 18th.

          Trump’s effort to overthrow the U.S. government continues unabated. The Department of Justice MUST act quickly to indict Trump before he incites a second insurrection. Case in point: There will be a rally at the Capitol on September 18th in support of the “political prisoners” who were arrested for assaulting the Capitol on January 6th. No sane, self-respecting politician is going near the rally because it is an obvious effort to continue the insurrection that began on January 6th. Trump, being neither sane nor self-respecting, issued a statement on Thursday praising insurrectionists who assaulted the Capitol. See “Trump Defends Rioters Ahead Of Rally Supporting Capitol Insurrectionists | HuffPost.” Trump said,

          Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election.

          Trump is a clear-and-present danger to our democracy. Every day that Merrick Garland delays prosecuting Trump for his past crimes is another day in which the rolling insurrection gains strength. A recent poll shows that 78% of Republicans believe that Biden did not win the 2020 election—a falsehood that Trump embedded in his statement praising the insurrectionists (i.e., the “Rigged Presidential Election.”) Enough is enough. It is time to charge Trump for his role in the insurrection and for extorting Ukraine.

Concluding Thoughts.

          A longtime friend and reader noted that the news in the newsletter has become less optimistic recently. That is a fair point. The governing party is subject to criticisms that do not apply to the opposition. But the reader was also referring to other news—such as 78% of Republicans believing Trump won in 2020. It can feel like Republicans have become an anti-democratic force intent on overthrowing our democracy. Although those fears are grounded in reality, it does not mean that they determine our destiny.

          We must acknowledge the bad news as we steel ourselves for the fight to come. We must be honest with ourselves, which includes recognizing that things are bad and may get worse. But that possibility should not discourage us. America is a vast country of predominantly good people who value democracy and freedom—in that order. America has momentum and scale that can withstand the temporary insanity that has gripped the Republican Party.

          We must remember that the 78% of Republicans (and R-leaning Independents) who believe Trump won in 2020 constitute only 36% of American voters. And a large percentage of people who reported that belief in the poll either don’t believe it or will never act on it. So, yes, there is a small, hardcore group of supporters who truly believe that Trump won. But even most of them (like most Americans) are struggling to pay the rent, raise their kids, and get ahead. Joining an insurrection is the last thing on their list.

          So, let’s maintain perspective. Yes, things are tough, but we can and will maintain democracy for the next generation. We can do that—I am confident of it. And you should be, too.

          As we head into the weekend, my wife and I want to acknowledge those of the Jewish faith who are observing Yom Kippur. We hope that your observance brings a sense of renewal for the coming year.

          For those who have inquired, the fire threatening our cabin has slowed its growth, allowing firefighters to create firebreaks, drop fire-retardant chemicals, wrap buildings in fire-resistant sheeting, and create defensible areas around the Giant Sequoias. It may be weeks or months before the fire is controlled, but we have some hope that our remote community will be spared. Map here: CalTopo.

          Talk to you on Monday!