Joe Biden Picks Kamala Harris as his VP Running Mate!

Joe Biden And Kamala Harris In 2020" - Imgflip

Dear Commons Community,

Joe Biden announced a few minutes ago that he has chosen Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate — the first Black woman to be named to a major-party U.S. presidential ticket, and potentially the first woman vice president if Biden defeats President Trump.  As reported by Axios:

“The big picture: Harris was probably the safest choice Biden could have made among his running mate finalists. She has a national profile and experience with elected office, was vetted and tested in the Democratic presidential primaries and can boost Biden’s fundraising.

  • To get to the decision, Biden had to move past residual tensions and make peace with a fierce primary competitor.
  • The decision elevates Harris among the next generation of Democratic leaders and could give her a big advantage in 2024, if Biden were elected and decided not to run for a second term.

What he’s saying: “I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person,” Biden announced in a statement.

  • “I need someone who understands the pain that so many people in our nation are suffering. Whether they’ve lost their job, their business, a loved one to this virus. This president says he “doesn’t want to be distracted by it”. He doesn’t understand that taking care of the people of this nation — all the people — isn’t a distraction — it’s the job. Kamala understands that.”
  • “I need someone who understands that we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. And that if we’re going to get through these crises — we need to come together and unite for a better America. Kamala gets that.”
  • I first met Kamala through my son Beau. They were both Attorneys General at the same time. He had enormous respect for her and her work. I thought a lot about that as I made this decision. There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s and I’m proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign.
  • “Her record of accomplishment — fighting tooth and nail for what’s right — is why I’m choosing her. There is no door Kamala won’t knock on, no stone she’ll leave unturned, if it means making life better — for the people.”

Between the lines: The pick gives Biden a running mate with strong prosecutorial skills, as Harris has proven at Senate hearings and during her strongest debate moments. That could help them make the case against Trump in the fall.

  • But some Democrats will be watching her political skills closely, after her presidential bid fizzled and a New York Times piece depicted a campaign full of bad decisions and backbiting.
  • She has also faced public and private questions from some Democrats about whether she’d be too focused on running for the presidency again, although other Democratic operatives have said the questions about her ambitions have been sexist and inappropriate.

The backstory: Harris, who at 55 is more than 20 years younger than Biden, is a former prosecutor and has been a senator from California since 2017.

  • She solidified her national profile when she grilled Trump administration nominees and administrators, including Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2018.
  • President Obama recognized her talent early on, in 2013 famously calling her “brilliant,” “dedicated” and “tough.”

She had been seen as a front-runner when she announced her presidential campaign in January 2019, but she was never able to capitalize on the early momentum — except for a brief spike in public attention after her confrontation with Biden over federally mandated school busing at a June debate.

As a presidential candidate, Harris campaigned on a $500-a-month tax credit that she called “the largest working and middle-class tax cut in a generation.” She started out as a supporter of Medicare for All, but then switched to an alternative that would have preserved a role for private insurance.

  • In an October interview with “Axios on HBO,” she explained her decision: “I heard from people, ‘Kamala, don’t take away my choice if I want a private plan. Please don’t take away my choice.’ And I said, you know what? That is fair.”
  • “I said to my team, I know we’re going to take a political hit for it. … I knew I’d be called a flip flopper for that.”
  • She also said in that interview that “of course” it’s different to run for president as a Black woman because in Americans’ experience there is “not a reference point for who can do what, there is a lack of ability or a difficulty in imagining that someone who we have never seen can do a job that has been done, you know, forty-five times by someone who is not that person.”

Harris has also faced some criticisms based on cases she argued and policies she enacted as California’s attorney general:

  • She defended the death penalty as attorney general, despite being personally against it.
  • She didn’t take a position on Proposition 47, approved by voters, that reduced some felonies to misdemeanors.
  • She opposed a bill that would have required her office to investigate police shootings.

Reality check: It will be Biden who sets the policies if he wins — but Harris’s record will be relevant if she’s elected vice president, especially if she takes ownership of specific issues and projects as Biden did when he was Barack Obama’s vice president.

  • It will be also be relevant to her own political future.

What’s next: Harris’s speech accepting the nomination at the Democratic convention will be her chance to introduce herself to an audience of general election voters — and to show how well she and Biden will be able to work as a team.”

Good pick and good luck to both of them!


Will Colleges Shut Down Big Time Football Programs This Fall?

Coronavirus vs. concussions: College football risk assessment


Dear Commons Community,

A big issue for many colleges this fall is whether or not to allow team sports such as football to go on.  It is both a health issue as well as an economic issue.  For colleges with  big-time sports programs, football is a major revenue generator for them and their communities.  For the student players, their futures in professional sports are also at risk if the season is cancelled.

Over the weekend, a flurry of news-media reports brought disappointing news to fans still hoping for a college-football season: Commissioners of the five major athletic conferences met in the aftermath of the Mid-American Conference’s decision to postpone the season, and it was reported that the Big Ten Conference was on the verge of pulling the plug also.

But later Sunday night, a group of prominent football players tweeted their desire to play this season, to be granted firmer health protections, and to eventually form an association of college football players. The message invoked the demands of the #WeAreUnited movement that has shaken up the Pac-12 Conference.

Another prominent voice joined the chorus in favor of preserving fall football: Sen. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, who sent a letter to Big Ten presidents urging them not to cancel competition. “Canceling the fall season would mean closing down socially distanced, structured programs for these athletes,” wrote Sasse, a former president of Midland University. “Young men will be pushed away from universities that are uniquely positioned to provide them with testing and health care.”

This will be a difficult decision but I favor health over economics.


Republican Senator Ben Sasse reminds Trump “America doesn’t have kings” and calls four new executive orders “unconstitutional slop.”

Senator writes letter urging Big Ten to play

Ben Sasse

Dear Commons Community,  

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) snapped back at an imperious attack by President Donald Trump yesterday, angrily reminding him that “America doesn’t have kings.”

Trump accused Sasse earlier of going “rogue” after the Republican senator harshly criticized the president for signing four new executive actions Saturday that the senator said overstepped Trump’s authority. Sasse called them “unconstitutional slop.”  As reported by the Huffington Post.

Trump gloated that Sasse “needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination” in his state.

“I understand that you’re mad,” Sasse politely began in a statement on his campaign Twitter account. But then he unleashed this: “No president — whether named Obama or Trump or Biden or AOC — has unilateral power to rewrite immigration law or to cut taxes or to raise taxes. This is because America doesn’t have kings.”

He also snapped that he “never asked” for Trump’s endorsement — “nor did I use it in the campaign.”

Trump’s executive actions included deferring the payroll tax that exclusively funds Social Security and Medicare, and cutting the enhanced unemployment benefit from $600 to $400 a week (provided states pay $100 of that). Sasse slammed the move in a statement as “unconstitutional,” adding that Trump “does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.” 

Trump threatened to “terminate” the payroll tax if he is reelected, which would eliminate funding for Social Security and Medicare, America’s bedrock safety-net programs. Only Congress can cut taxes.

Trump’s executive actions appear to be frozen in legal limbo and ambiguous language.

Governors are also complaining that their cash-strapped states can’t afford the extra $100 a week in unemployment benefits that Trump promised on their behalf. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) compared the extra burden to “handing a drowning man an anchor.”

Trump’s measures are partly a gambit to get the Democrats and Republicans back to the table to negotiate a larger COVID-19 package. But that hasn’t yet worked.

Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman speculated that Trump “blew up” that possibility with the executive actions he signed during his golf weekend.

America needs more Republicans like Sasse to call out Trump when needed.


Report Card on Schools Beginning to Re-Open!


First Day of School at Georgia’s North Paulding High School – Students in Hallway and Some without Masks

Dear Commons Community,

Schools across America are slowly reopening for the fall, with some students resuming in-person learning. Students went back to school in Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi. Some states, like Delaware, Hawaii, North Carolina and Massachusetts, have school districts that pushed back their plans to reopen schools to allow more time to prepare.

A week isn’t a long time, but information is already seeping out about how things are going in school districts across the country that are currently open for in-person learning. Here are several stories courtesy of various news media.


At least two schools in the state — Elwood Junior-Senior High School and Lanesville Junior-Senior High School — shut down after students and employees tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press. But Greenfield Central Junior High School remained open after reporting positive cases among students and staff.

Elwood Junior-Senior High School, which opened to students on July 30, shifted to online learning this week after there were “more positive cases from staff members than expected,” school superintendent Joe Brown wrote in a letter to families. Athletic programming — i.e., students practicing sports — continued “since no coaches or student-athletes were in close contact” with the confirmed cases, the letter says. 

Lanesville Junior-Senior High School, which opened to students on July 29, shut down on Monday for deep cleaning after four students tested positive, Wave 3 News reports. “It’s been an interesting start to the school year,” Steve Morris, the superintendent and secondary principal at Lanesville Community School Corp., told the outlet. “It’s not the start that any of us would have wished for. It’s very disappointing and it’s deflating, but it was something we had anticipated all along. Our plans were prepared for this.” Classes resumed on Tuesday.

A student at Greenfield Central Junior High School tested positive for the virus after attending part of the first day of school on July 31, according to the Indianapolis Star. Families of students who spent more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of the infected student were contacted Thursday night and told to quarantine for 14 days, the district told the Star. The district did not share how many students were affected.


A “handful” of Jefferson Parish Public School System employees tested positive after the school did a soft opening this week, spokesperson Vicki Bristol told Fox 8. “The safety of our students and employees is our top responsibility. Jefferson Parish Schools continues to work closely with local public health officials to implement safety protocols that minimize exposure to COVID-19 in our schools,” school system officials said in an emailed statement to the news organization. “We expect there to be cases in our schools throughout the year given the levels of COVID-19 in our communities.” 

Hundreds of people protested the return to school before the Jefferson Parish school board meeting on Wednesday, Fox 8 reported.


Six students and one staff member in Corinth tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing 116 students into home quarantine, per the Washington Post. School superintendent Lee Childress said in a Facebook Live session that there were no plans to close schools. “Just because you begin to have positive cases, that is not a reason for closing school,” he said.

In Lafayette County, teacher and assistant high school coach Nacoma James, 42, died while self-quarantining with COVID-19 symptoms, the district’s superintendent, Adam Pugh, told Mississippi Today. James attended summer workouts for the football team, but didn’t return to the classroom for the start of the school year. Pugh told Mississippi Today that James was with students “all summer” during football workouts.

The Jackson County School District had nine reported cases of COVID-19 among teachers and students, school superintendent John Strycker revealed, per the Sun Herald. The school system added a mask mandate on Aug. 4, per an executive order by Gov. Tate Reeves.   


Coffee County Schools announced on Facebook Wednesday that two of its schools — Coffee County Middle and North Coffee — would be closed for the rest of the week “through an abundance of caution over COVID-19.” The schools opened with an abbreviated schedule on Monday. The statement said that “parents will be contacted directly if there is any reason for concern with an individual student.”

Blount County Schools, which opened on July 29, switched to a hybrid learning model for two weeks as case counts in the area rose, with students in class a few days a week and working remotely the other days, the school system shared on Facebook.

In Maryville City Schools, a student tested positive for the virus at Coulter Grove Intermediate School, and a staff member tested positive at John Sevier Elementary School, sending a class of 16 students into quarantine, per Knox News.

Several other school districts in the state, including Oak Ridge Schools and Greenville City Schools, revealed that they had positive cases, per the TennesseanAlcoa City Schools shared news of one positive case on its website.

Dr. Jeffrey Starke, a professor of pediatrics and infectious disease at the Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that he’s “not surprised” by what’s happened in schools so far. “Kids may show up to school already infected and we don’t know it — that’s going to happen,” he says. “Other kids are going to get infected at various times.” Starke says it’s also going to be “extraordinarily difficult” to keep the virus out of certain high-contact school sports like football.

Dr. Steve Turkovich, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Services at the University at Buffalo, tells Yahoo Life that it’s important for people to understand that “there’s no way we’re going to get cases in schools down to zero,” especially in areas where community spread is high. However, he said, it’s important for school districts to be aware of what’s happening in their communities. “You need to have low prevalence of COVID-19 in the community in order to reopen,” he says. “Without that metric in place, I don’t think you can do it safely.”

Watkins says it may take time to see the fallout of schools reopening — if there is any. “We should have more answers after most districts start,” he says, “so I would guess Labor Day would be a good time to gauge how things are going to play out.”


Photos (see above) from the first day at North Paulding High School went viral on Twitter that showed students — many not masked — crammed into a busy hallway. Another showed a classroom with desks positioned near each other. This wasn’t in violation of district policy, which states online that “schools will employ social distancing as it is feasible and practical. While the district will encourage students, teachers and bus drivers to wear masks, in most cases it will not be possible to enforce social distancing in classrooms or on school buses unless it is a class or a bus with fewer students.”

However, Paulding County School District superintendent Brian Otott said in a letter obtained by TMZ that “there is no question that the photo does not look good.”  

The students who took the photos were suspended. “The policies I broke stated that I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent,” 15-year-old Hannah Watters told BuzzFeed. A second student who preferred to remain anonymous said they were given the same punishment. However, according to the New York Times, the suspension was lifted and wiped from Watters’s record.

Just before the first day of school, the principal of North Paulding High School sent a letter to parents, informing them of a COVID-19 outbreak among members of the high school football team, who worked out together in an indoor gym as part of a weight-lifting fundraiser, reported 11 Alive. However, Logan Boss, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s northwest district — which includes Paulding County — told the New York Times that the agency was not aware of an outbreak at the school. “There’s widespread community transmission in Paulding County,” Boss added.  CNN reported this morning that North Paulding High School was closing temporarily.

News has been scarce out of Jefferson City schools, Phillips says, and she says it’s also unclear what is happening. “I don’t trust my school system to accurately communicate if there has been exposure at the school,” she says. From what she’s heard, mask-wearing in schools is a “50-50 split.”

“Of those, about 20 percent of people have masks and aren’t wearing them correctly,” she says.

While school hasn’t started yet for students in Barrow County schools, the district announced this week that it will be shifting from an in-person model to remote learning when school starts on Aug. 17 after 90 teachers had to quarantine due to having a confirmed or suspected case of the virus, or exposure to it, during preplanning, the school system announced in a statement. The statement said that “every precaution was taken and each staff member was required to wear a mask,” adding, “If today was the first day of school, we would have been hard-pressed to have sufficient staff available to open our schools.” 

School districts around the country will be closely followed as they deal with re-opening policies.  I am afraid that many schools will re-open only to close again.


Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Krugman Declares President Trump’s Executive Orders the Hydroxychloroquine of Economic Policy!

Dear Commons Community,

Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Krugman declared President Trump’s executive orders the hydroxychloroquine of economic policy.  In a tweet (see above) and an interview with CNN, Krugman so labeled Trump’s latest efforts to boost the economy amid the coronavirus crisis.

The four executive actions Trump signed on Saturday included deferring payroll taxes — which fund Social Security and Medicare — from Sept. 1 until the end of the year for workers earning less than $100,000 annually. Trump also warned that he might terminate the tax if he’s reelected, which would kill the longstanding social service programs.

Deferring payroll taxes was such a “known bad idea” that it had already been dismissed by the GOP in the Senate, Krugman explained on CNN Sunday. 

“Even Senate Republicans basically said, ‘Let’s forget about that. That’s a really stupid idea.’ And then Trump comes out with it,” Krugman said.

Krugman also warned that hobbling the payroll tax would starve Social Security and Medicare of much-needed funds.

Trump also reduced the enhanced unemployment insurance from $600 to $400 a week. His order would also require cash-strapped states to cover 25% of the enhanced payments, which will be unworkable, Krugman warned.

“This is just not going to happen,” Krugman said. “This is something that was thrown together by somebody who has paid no attention to how these things actually work, what it actually takes to get out money to people in need.”

Let’s hope Krugman is right!




As Joe Biden Gets Ready to Select His VP Running Mate, Maureen Dowd Looks Back at Geraldine Ferraro in 1984!

Geraldine Ferraro with Walter Mondale as he announced that he had chosen her as his vice presidential running mate in the 1984 election.

GCredit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

It is expected that in the coming week, Joe Biden will pick a woman to be his running mate for the presidential election.  Maureen Dowd looks back at the Walter Mondale/Geraldine Ferraro ticket and warns the knives will be out for Biden’s running mate.  Here are two excerpts.

“Before a fund-raiser in New York once, a Democratic official presented Ferraro with a wrist corsage. She refused to put it on. “That I will not do,’’ she told the man politely.

Sometimes, the introductory music for the petite blonde was the 1925 ditty, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” One magazine hailed her as “America’s Bride.”

When the ticket headed South, Jim Buck Ross, Mississippi’s 70-year-old commissioner of agriculture, called the 48-year-old Ferraro “young lady” and asked if she could bake blueberry muffins.”

…Kimberly Guilfoyle, Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany, Lara Trump and Jeanine Pirro — the Fox Force Five of retrograde Trumpworld — will have the knives out. Conservatives will undermine the veep candidate with stereotypes. She’s bitchy. She’s a nag. She’s aggressive. She’s ambitious. Who’s wearing the pants here, anyhow?

The entire column is below. 

The election is getting ready to rock!



 New York Times

No Wrist Corsages, Please

By Maureen Dowd

Aug. 8, 2020

On the cusp of Joe Biden teaming up with a woman, I am casting back to my time covering the first woman who was a serious contender for veep.

The feminist fairy tale — which began with women crying and popping champagne on the convention floor in San Francisco in 1984 — had a sad ending. Cinderella with ashes in her mouth.

It’s hard to fathom, but it took another 36 years for a man to choose to put a woman on the Democratic ticket with him. To use Geraldine Ferraro’s favorite expression, “Gimme a break!”

After Walter Mondale picked Ferraro, a Queens congresswoman, the first man and woman to share a ticket had to consider all sorts of things: Could he kiss her on the cheek? (No.) Could he call her “dear” or “honey”? (No.) Could they hug? (No.) Could they tell jokes, as Johnny Carson did, about how angry Joan Mondale would be when her husband kept coming home late and saying he had been in private sessions with the vice president? (No.)

They wanted to be seen as peers, more TV anchor team than suburban couple. Mondale could not seem paternal or patronizing or use phrases like “a ticket with broad appeal.” Ferraro, who walked faster, had to stop bounding ahead of her running mate.

They knew that the way they conducted themselves would forever recast the perception of men and women in politics. So they were wary in the beginning.

As one Democratic consultant put it at the time, “He looked like a teenager on the first date with that ‘How in the world do you pin the corsage on her?’ problem.’’

Before a fund-raiser in New York once, a Democratic official presented Ferraro with a wrist corsage. She refused to put it on. “That I will not do,’’ she told the man politely.

Sometimes, the introductory music for the petite blonde was the 1925 ditty, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” One magazine hailed her as “America’s Bride.”

When the ticket headed South, Jim Buck Ross, Mississippi’s 70-year-old commissioner of agriculture, called the 48-year-old Ferraro “young lady” and asked if she could bake blueberry muffins.

Ferraro’s historic campaign was full of images never before seen on the presidential trail. As she went onstage, Gerry, as she was universally known, would hand off her pocketbook to an aide. Her charming press spokesman, Francis O’Brien, sometimes ironed her dresses — as her main foreign affairs adviser, Madeleine Albright, looked on.

It was fascinating to see age-old customs through the eyes of a woman candidate.

“People hand me their babies,’’ Ferraro marveled. “As a mother, my instinctive reaction is how do you give your baby to someone who’s a total stranger to kiss, especially with so many colds going around? And especially when the woman is wearing lipstick?”

It was the first time a candidate running for the White House had talked about abortion using the phrase, “If I were pregnant,” and about foreign policy with the phrase, “As the mother of a draft-age son.” The “smartass white boys” around Mondale, as many feminists called them privately, got nervous when she talked about being a mother. How could she be tough and a mother, they wondered, not seeing the obvious: Mothers are tougher than anyone. Fearing white male backlash, they tried to control her bouncy Queens persona.

Ferraro walked the same tightrope that tripped up Hillary Clinton when she wondered if she should wheel around in that debate and tell the creeping Donald Trump to scram.

If she got angry, would she seem shrill, that dread word, and turn off voters? The Mondale inner circle wanted Ferraro to play the traditional running-mate role of hatchet man. But Gloria Steinem warned, “Nothing makes men more anxious than for a woman to be masculine.”

George H.W. Bush excitedly proclaimed after his debate with Ferraro that he had tried to “kick a little ass”; his press aide called Ferraro “bitchy”; and Barbara Bush said Ferraro was a word that “rhymes with rich.”

What started as a goose bump blind date with history curdled, as Ferraro got dragged into a financial mess involving her husband’s real estate business.

Right after the Reagan landslide, Democrats began muttering about returning to white Anglo-Saxon men on the ticket and not having any more “feminized” tickets that didn’t appeal to them.

I called women across the country for a magazine autopsy I was writing and was shocked to hear how ambivalent women still were about a woman running the country.

A 36-year-old mother of three from Bristol, Tenn., told me: “I put myself in her shoes. Could I sit down and logically make decisions for everybody without cracking up? I think women in general are weak. I know that sounds awful. But we women know we have our faults.’’

The next year, Ferraro put out a memoir talking about how depressed and paranoid she got, and how much she cried, admitting that she was not “prepared for the depth of the fury, the bigotry, and the sexism my candidacy would unleash.”

She said that Mondale’s male aides were so condescending that she instructed them to “pretend every time they talk to me or even look at me that I’m a gray-haired Southern gentleman, a senator from Texas.” (In her memoir, Sarah Palin aimed her sharpest barbs at John McCain’s aides.)

We don’t know whom Biden will choose but we do know the sort of hell she will endure at the hands of Team Trump. Even after the #MeToo revolution, even with women deciding this election, have the undercurrents of sexism in America changed so much? Hollywood, after all, only just began forking over major budgets to women directors, after years of absurdly stereotyping them.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany, Lara Trump and Jeanine Pirro — the Fox Force Five of retrograde Trumpworld — will have the knives out. Conservatives will undermine the veep candidate with stereotypes. She’s bitchy. She’s a nag. She’s aggressive. She’s ambitious. Who’s wearing the pants here, anyhow?

I asked Francis O’Brien if he thought, three and a half decades after he watched the sandstorm of sexism around Ferraro, whether her successor would have an easier time.

“I think it’s the same, in many ways,” he said. “This is a white Anglo-Saxon country founded by white Anglo-Saxon men for white Anglo-Saxon men. Sexism is like race. It’ll pop out. It’s in our DNA. We’re one of the few Western countries where women have never made it to the top.”

But on the bright side, when Chuck Schumer wanted to call Nancy Pelosi a lioness on Friday, referring to her negotiations with Republicans on the relief bill, he checked with her first to see if she would prefer lion.

The Speaker chose lioness.


Trump’s Executive Orders Would Gut Social Security and Medicare!

Limbaugh: Trump gave word he'll veto any bill without border wall ...

Dear Commons Community,

President Donald Trump signed four executive actions that included deferring payroll taxes that provide funding for both Social Security and Medicare.  While Trump characterized the move as a financial boost for Americans struggling amid the COVID-19 crisis, critics blasted it a cynical ploy to do what Trump has long intended to do: Gut the vitally important social service programs just as Americans need them more than ever during the pandemic.  As reported by various news media.

“The American people desperately need relief,” noted Rep. Val Demings (D-Florida). “Instead, the president decided to defund Social Security and Medicare.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called Trump’s action a “reckless war on Social Security.” He’s “laying out his road map” to cut the program, he warned in a statement.

House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal  (D-Mass.) called the move “a poorly disguised first step in an effort to fully dismantle these vital programs by executive fiat.”

Trump also signed an order providing $400 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits  — down from the $600 weekly benefit that expired last month.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called the orders a “stunt.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) pointed out that the president just “unilaterally cut Social Security and your unemployment benefits. In the middle of a pandemic.”

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned in a statement that the move would “endanger” Social Security and Medicare.

Trump himself presented the move as an opening gambit in his long game to eliminate the payroll taxes, which provide the funding for the social service programs. He promised to “terminate” the payroll tax if he’s reelected.

“If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax,” Trump said at a news conference at his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey. “In other words, I’ll extend beyond the end of the year and terminate the tax.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) warned on Twitter that such an action would “gut” the programs if Trump gets a second term.

An organization representing taxpayer interests slammed Trump’s executive order as a “holiday for the wealthy and a death sentence for Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries.”

“Trump’s payroll tax holiday is a lose-lose strategy,” said a statement from Tax March to HuffPost Saturday after the order was signed. “It won’t deliver any relief to struggling small businesses or laid-off workers, but it will dangerously diminish funding for Social Security and Medicare at a time when millions of people depend on these programs.”

Employers typically withhold payroll taxes to send directly to the federal government to fund Social Security and Medicare. Trump’s order would defer the workers’ portion of those taxes  — 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare — for those making less than $100,000 annually from September 1 through the end of the year.

It would do nothing to help unemployed workers, and would begin to drain the funding pool supporting the social service programs, already massively struggling as funds dwindle amid record unemployment.

“Deferred” taxes would presumably have to be repaid at some point, though Trump held out the carrot of cancelled taxes — but only if he’s reelected.

Not only would payroll tax deferments weaken the “bedrock retirement and health programs,” the money might not even reach the pockets of strapped workers, warned economists at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. 

Employers are ultimately responsible for passing on employee’s share of the tax to the government. “Employers could simply withhold the tax and keep the money until the later payment deadline,” the group warned.

It’s unclear how Trump could legally “terminate” payroll taxes. Only Congress has the power to change taxes. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) issued a statement Saturday supporting Trump’s executive actions.

Not all Republicans expressed support for Trump’s move. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement that the “pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop. President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress,” he added.

I don’t know who advised Trump on this but it is folly to attack social security and medicare so close to the election.



New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Okays Schools to Reopen – Carefully!

During Coronavirus, a Teacher Describes the Scramble to Go Digital ...

Dear Commons Community,

New York state schools can bring children back to classrooms for the start of the school year, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday, citing success in battling the coronavirus in the state that once was the U.S. heart of the pandemic. Cuomo’s decision clears the way for schools to offer at least some days of in-person classes, alongside remote learning. Students will be required to wear masks throughout each school day.  As reported by the New York Times and the Associated Press.

“Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established,” Cuomo told reporters. He said New York can revisit the issue if the infection rate spikes.

Many New York school districts have planned to start the year with students in school buildings only a few days a week, while learning at home the rest of the time. The state has left tough decisions — on how to handle sick students, how much time children will spend in class, whether to delay in-person instruction — up to individual districts.

“If any state can do this, we can do this,” Cuomo said.

More than 1 million public school students in New York City — the largest district in the U.S. — had their last day of in-class instruction March 13, just as waves of sick people were beginning to hit city hospitals. All schools statewide were closed by March 18.

The city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has been saying since the spring that his goal was to bring students back in September, with as much classroom time as possible while still allowing for social distancing.

That plan has looked exceedingly ambitious as other large school systems back away from in-person instruction.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston, among other places, all announced they would start the school year with students learning remotely.

“We will reopen safely,” de Blasio tweeted Friday. “If COVID-19 positivity rate goes above 3%, we will not open.”

He said a return to classroom instruction is vital to jump-starting the city’s economy, now hobbled by parents being forced to stay home with their children.

“It will not be easy but I think most parents feel strongly that even some time in school is a lot better for their kids than none,“ de Blasio said earlier Friday, at a separate briefing.

School districts, though, face enormous hurdles.

Cuomo warned New York’s 700+ districts still need to address the safety fears of parents and teachers. He said districts must post remote learning plans online and hold public discussion sessions.

The outbreak, while reduced, is not over in New York. Around 10,000 New York City residents tested positive for the virus in July.

Teachers unions have demanded clearer health protocols and a rule that schools should shut down immediately for two weeks if any student or staff member contracts the virus.

“As Gov. Cuomo noted, parents and teachers must be confident that schools are safe before they can reopen,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said Friday. “In New York City that is still an open question.”

Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said the New York City school principals represented by his union still have many unanswered questions about how schools can reopen safely.

“We believe that NYC school leaders do not yet have enough information and guidance from the (Department of Education) to reopen their buildings properly,” he said.

Teachers are prohibited from striking in New York state, but large numbers could still opt out of classroom instruction for medical reasons or simply refuse to work.

The governor said he doesn’t want New York to get into a legal battle with teachers, adding: “You can’t order a teacher into a classroom.”

Parents, too, have struggled to decide whether to send their children to school or opt solely for online instruction.

Schools have spent the summer coming up with safety plans, securing protective gear and figuring out how to fit fewer students into classrooms and buses. Cuomo required all school systems to submit reopening plans, saying New York would not allow any district with an unsafe plan to bring students back to classrooms.

The governor said the Department of Health will continue to go through plans over the weekend. About 50 plans are still incomplete or deficient, he said.

Earlier this summer, Cuomo set a general metric to help measure when it was safe to bring students back, saying the state would allow a return in regions where fewer than 5% of people tested for COVID-19 came back positive.

The entire state has been well under that threshold all summer.”

The schools in New York and especially in New York City will be watched closely to see how this plays out in the fall.


Jerry Falwell Jr. Taking ‘Indefinite Leave Of Absence’ As Liberty University President!

Dear Commons Community,

Jerry Falwell Jr., president and chancellor of Liberty University, is taking an “indefinite leave absence from his roles” at the school, the University’s Board of Trustees announced yesterday.

The announcement comes after Falwell, a top evangelical Christian personality in the U.S., shared ― and then deleted ― a vacation photo on Instagram in which his pants were unbuttoned and unzipped.

Falwell has faced pressure this week to resign over the photo, which he defended as having been taken “in good fun.”

Liberty’s board of trustees said it had requested Falwell take the leave of absence and that he had agreed to do so. The change is “effective immediately,” the board said.

Falwell, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, is no stranger to controversy.

Liberty was slapped with a class-action lawsuit in April after Falwell insisted on keeping campus open during the coronavirus pandemic. And last year, several current and former Liberty University employees told Politico of multiple instances of questionable behavior by the school president, including his penchant for graphically discussing his sex life with staffers and fostering a toxic, fear-based workplace. 

Can we hear an “Amen”!



Summer Reading: “For All the Tea in China – How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose

Image of For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose (2011-02-22)

Dear Commons Community,

If you are still looking for some fun summer reading, I would recommend For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. 

It is a fascinating short book (240 pages) about the British East India Company, China, opium, and of course, tea in the 1800s.  I came to understand better the monopoly that the company had on all trade in the East and how it cunningly stole seeds and tea plants from China and replanted them in India and the Himalayas. It follows the exploits of Robert Gardener, a Scottish botanist, on his quest to smuggle the tea plants out of China.  It seems China, for centuries,  was  able to keep secret the methods for growing these plants that resulted in higher quality brews.   Getting hundreds of plants from China to India over land and via slow ship voyages was no easy task and could be dangerous for the smugglers.

If you are looking for one more summer read and want something different and historical, For All the Tea in China might fit the bill.  Below is a review that appeared in the New York Journal of Books.



For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History

Author: Sarah Rose
Reviewed by Michael J. Deeb

Sara Rose begins her story For All the Tea in China, this way: “There was a time when maps of the world were redrawn in the name of plants, when two empires, Britain and China, went to war over two flowers: the poppy and the camellia.” Could this actually have been the case? Were tea and opium of such great importance? Let us examine her case.

Centuries past, England’s Queen Elizabeth gave the East India Company a monopoly of all British trade in the Far East. That included the control of India and all things produced there, such as opium. For two hundred years thereafter the Company exported this addictive product from India to China. The Chinese, who had an almost complete monopoly on the production and processing of tea, exchanged this mild stimulant for the addictive opium: so history records.

Our author stresses the importance of this trade to the British Empire. She tells us that it made the East India Tea Company immensely wealthy and by extension supported the essential activities of the British government through the taxes paid on the tea trade. So when the Chinese took steps to stop the sale of the addictive opium to its citizens and closed the port of Canton to the India Tea Company, the British reacted with violence.

History records and Ms. Rose reports that the British navy was sent to keep the opium-for-tea trade open. In fact, the treaty that ended the short Opium War not only restored the trade in Canton, but also expanded it to five additional Chinese ports. Another result of the war, we are told, was that the Chinese felt shammed and they resented the intrusion as addiction to opium spread rapidly throughout their Empire.

Aware of the fragile situation, the directors of the India Company worried that the Chinese might once again prohibit the sale of opium in their country. That would upset the trade for tea and probably destroy the East India Tea Company. Therefore, since it appeared the Himalayan mountain area of India was suitable for growing the camellia flower, the Company’s directors decided it might be a wise business move to create a source of tea they would completely control: one in India.

In fact, tea had been successfully grown in India. But it paled in comparison to the varieties of tea grown, picked, and processed in China. Chinese tea was still the most sought after by consumers, and thus the most valuable for the Company’s Far East trade monopoly and their financial bottom line.

However, to grow strains of tea in India that could compete with Chinese tea was easier said than done. There were two major impediments. First, the Company’s botanists did not have the seeds nor the flowering plants to produce the right kind of leaves. In addition, they did not have personnel with the expertise to grow, pick, and process these leaves for the demanding palates of the world’s sophisticated tea drinkers.

So the Company hired an English botanist named Robert Fortune. He had gained a good deal of notoriety as a China traveler and an expert on Chinese plant life. He agreed to travel there and gather seeds and plants for the purpose of establishing a tea industry in India to rival the one that existed in China.

From this point on, we read of this effort through the eyes of Mr. Fortune, his letters and journals. The author blends his reported experiences with historical fact in an entertaining way and clearly leads the reader from each problem he faced through each solution he devised.

For All the Tea in China is a fascinating tale. Ms. Rose fulfilled her opening pledge to show her readers how the relationship of two nations was seriously affected by two plants. And she created a good read for anyone who wishes to better understand one element that contributed to the building and destruction of empires. This is a well written and entertaining read.