April 21, 2020
Today, once again, the Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump president. The Senate Intelligence committee is chaired by North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, and the report released today was approved by the committee unanimously. It was the fourth volume in the intelligence committee’s review of Russian attacks on the 2016 election, and it was a “Review of the Intelligence Community Assessment with Additional Views.”
The report supports the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia worked to help Trump, and that partisan politics was not part of the driving force behind the FBI’s investigation of the Russian interference. The heavily-redacted report contradicts Trump’s frequent assertions that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that attacked America in 2016, and throws the weight of the Senate Intelligence Committee behind the intelligence community even as Trump calls FBI agents “human scum.”
This is a developing story. According to committee member Angus King (I-ME), the fifth volume from the committee will focus on “whether or not there was in fact some relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians.” Also, Judge Reggie Walton, who is personally reviewing the unredacted Mueller Report to judge the good faith of Attorney General William Barr, whose redactions seem self-serving, got access to that report on Monday. We’ll see what he has to say about it. I have wondered if Trump’s angry rehashing of the probe lately has something to do with that review.
Overshadowing this news today, though, was a razor sharp observation made yesterday by George Chidi, a Georgia journalist and former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Chidi examined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, nail salons, restaurants, theaters, and massage therapists, among other businesses, next week.
Kemp said the businesses would be required to screen workers for illness, increase sanitation rules, separate workspaces by at least six feet, telework where at all possible, and have staggered shifts. He also said that more restrictive local rules could not override his order.
Kemp told reporters that his concern was to protect small businesses, hurt by the economic shutdown, but Chidi had a different interpretation. “It’s about making sure people can’t file unemployment,” he wrote.
The state’s unemployment fund has about $2.6 billion. The shutdown has made claims skyrocket—Chidi says the fund will empty in about 28 weeks. There is no easy way to replenish the account because Georgia has recently set a limit on income taxes that cannot be overridden without a constitutional amendment. It cannot borrow enough to cover the fund either, because by law Georgia can’t borrow more than 5% of its previous year’s revenue in any year, and any borrowing must be repaid in full before the state can borrow any more.
By ending the business closures, Kemp guarantees that workers can no longer claim they are involuntarily unemployed, and so cannot claim unemployment benefits. Chidi notes that the order did not include banks, software firms, factories, or schools. It covered businesses usually staffed by poorer people that Kemp wants to keep off the unemployment rolls.
Kemp threw onto businesses responsibility for reassuring customers that reopening was the right thing to do. He warned that the “The private sector is going to have to convince the public that it’s safe to come back into these businesses,” Kemp said. “That’s what a barber is going to have to do. It’s what a tattoo parlor is going to have to do.” He also acknowledged that cases of Covid-19 would rise, but noted that the state had expanded its hospital bed capacity.
Chidi's observations are shocking, and believable. The modern Republican program calls for the end to business regulation, social welfare programs, and infrastructure development, with the idea that freedom from restraint will allow businesses to thrive and the country will prosper in turn.
To bring their ideology to life, Republicans have slashed regulation, taxation, and social programs. Under such a regime, a few individuals have done very well indeed, while the majority of Americans has fallen behind. Georgia has been aggressive in putting the Republican program into action. Now, the lack of a social safety net in Georgia has stripped the veneer off this system. Far from spreading prosperity as "makers" stimulate the economy, it appears that the determination to keep taxes low and social welfare systems small is now forcing workers to risk their lives in a deadly pandemic.
This is the logical outcome of an ideology of radical individualism: as one Tennessee protester's sign put it "Sacrifice the weak/Reopen T[ennessee]." In 1883, during a time of similar discussions over the responsibility of government to provide a social safety net, Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner wrote a famous book: What Social Classes Owe to Each Other. Sumner's answer was... nothing. Sumner argued that protecting the weak was actually bad for society because it wasted resources and would permit weaker people to dilute the population. Far from helping poorer Americans, the government should let them die out for the good of society.
Sumner wanted the government to stay out of social welfare programs, but thought it should continue to protect businesses, which men like Sumner believed helped everyone.
Today, corporations are asking Congress to protect them from lawsuits from employees and customers who might get infected with the novel coronavirus when they begin to reopen. According to Republican Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a member of Trump’s congressional task force on the economy, “There’s been a lot of discussion among conservative Republicans…. On the Republican side, I think there would be broad support, probably near-unanimous support.”
You can subscribe to this free newsletter at heathercoxrichardson.substack.com
Liability protection: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-liability-idUSKCN223179