How The Pandemic Has Changed Our World

Editor’s note:  David Brooks, of The New York Times ,is one of the foremost journalists in the nation.  He has worked for The Times since 2003.  He has also worked for The Wall Street Journal, and been a contributing editor for Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly.  In addition, he is a commentator for NPR and The PBS NewsHour.

Following is a very insightful article by Brooks about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the United States.. It has lots of food for thought, especially for those who thought 2020 was just a bump in the road and that we would simply go back to what we considered “normal” before we went into hibernation.  According to Brooks, those days are probably gone forever.  (I added the boldface.)

“In 1982, the economist Mancur Olson set out to explain a paradox. West Germany and Japan endured widespread devastation during World War II, yet in the years after the war both countries experienced miraculous economic growth. Britain, on the other hand, emerged victorious from the war, with its institutions more intact, and yet it immediately entered a period of slow economic growth that left it lagging other European democracies. What happened?

In his book “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” Olson concluded that Germany and Japan enjoyed explosive growth precisely because their old arrangements had been disrupted. The devastation itself, and the forces of American occupation and reconstruction, dislodged the interest groups that had held back innovation. The old patterns that stifled experimentation were swept away. The disruption opened space for something new.

Something similar may be happening today. Covid-19 has disrupted daily American life in a way few emergencies have before. But it has also shaken things up and cleared the way for an economic boom and social revival.

Millions of Americans endured grievous loss and anxiety during this pandemic, but many also used this time as a preparation period, so they could burst out of the gate when things opened up. After decades of slowing entrepreneurial dynamism, 4.4 million new businesses were started in 2020, by far a modern record. A report from Udemy, an online course provider, says that 38 percent of workers took some additional training during 2020, up from only 14 percent in 2019.

After decades in which consumption took preference over savings, Americans socked away trillions of dollars in 2020, reducing their debt burdens to lows not seen since 1980 and putting themselves in a position to spend lavishly as things open up.

The biggest shifts, though, may be mental. People have been reminded that life is short. For over a year, many experienced daily routines that were slower paced, more rooted, more domestic. Millions of Americans seem ready to change their lives to be more in touch with their values.

The economy has already taken off. Global economic growth is expected to be north of 6 percent this year, and strong growth is expected to last at least through 2022. In late April, Tom Gimbel, who runs the recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, told The Times: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.” Investors are pouring money into new ventures. During the first quarter of this year U.S. start-ups raised $69 billion, 41 percent more than the previous record, set in 2018.

Already, this era of new creation seems to be rebalancing society in at least three ways:

First, power has begun shifting from employers to workers. In March, U.S. manufacturing, for example, expanded at the fastest pace in nearly four decades. Companies are desperate for new workers. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the number of unemployed people per opening plummeted to 1.2 from 5.

Workers are in the driver’s seat, for now, and they know it. The “quit rate” — the number of workers who quit their jobs because they are confident they can get a better one — is at the highest in two decades. Employers are raising wages and benefits to try to lure workers back.

Second, there seems to be a rebalancing between cities and suburbs. Covid-19 accelerated trends that had been underway for a few years, with people moving out of big cities like New York and San Francisco to suburbs, and to rural places like Idaho and the Hudson Valley in New York. Many are moving to get work or because of economic distress, but others say they moved so they could have more space, lead slower-paced lives, be closer to family or interact more with their neighbors.

Finally, there seems to be a rebalancing between work and domestic life. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom expects that even when the pandemic is over, the number of working days spent at home will increase to 20 percent from 5 percent in the prepandemic era.

While this has increased pressures on many women, millions of Americans who could work remotely found that they liked being home, dining every night with their kids, not hassling with the commute. We are apparently becoming a less work-obsessed and a more domestic society.

In 1910 the educator Henry Van Dyke wrote, “The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.” That energy seemed to be fading away in recent years, as Americans came to move less and start new businesses less frequently. But the challenge of Covid-19 has summoned forth great dynamism, movement and innovation. Labor productivity rates have surged upward recently.

Americans are searching for ways to make more money while living more connected lives. Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban studies at Chapman University, points out that as the U.S. population disperses, economic and cultural gaps between coastal cities and inland communities will most likely shrink. And, he says, as more and more immigrants settle in rural areas and small towns, their presence might reduce nativism and increase economic competitiveness.

People are shifting their personal lives to address common problems — loneliness and loss of community. Nobody knows where this national journey of discovery will take us, but the voyage has begun.”

Alabama Education Association (AEA) Is Back In The Game

Editor’s note:  Cameron Smith’s Republican credentials can not be questioned. including a stint as executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.  So when I saw his recent piece on AL.com about AEA rising from the ashes, so to speak, it got my attention.

When the GOP took control of the state legislature in 2010 one of their primary objectives was to gut AEA.  And they did an excellent job, especially in stopping payroll deductions to fund their political action committee.  This was a crippling blow, which, coupled with a total lack of decent leadership in Montgomery, had many calling for last rites.for the organization.

But as Smith points out below, AEA has slowly, but surely, been able to reload its PAC and how has nearly $4 million in hand.  And whereas at one time AEA almost exclusively supported Democrats alone, those days are gone and AEA now has no problem contributing to Republicans:

“Years ago, I remember watching Dr. Paul Hubbert in the gallery of the Alabama legislature. Folks huddled around him and awaited instructions like officers around a general. Even if you opposed him, it was hard not to be impressed by Hubbert’s political acumen.

As votes were called, legislators would turn around and look up to the gallery for guidance if they weren’t sure where he stood on the bill. That was the zenith of the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) influence in Alabama politics. After a decade in the political wilderness, the AEA is back as a major political player in Alabama.

Just look at the tale of the tape for the AEA today. Campaign finance reports for the Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education (AVOTE) political action committee (PAC) show that the AEA is socking away over $100,000 per month in non-itemized cash contributions from education employees, 35,588 of them to be exact. As of June 7, 2021, AVOTE has more than $3.72 million cash on hand. I called Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill who confirmed that the AEA’s campaign finance compliance checks out and has since Republicans ended the dues checkoff program a decade ago.

“Dr. Hubbert’s lasting gift to the AEA was working tirelessly through Christmas in 2010 to convert our members’ political support into bank drafts after the legislature eliminated the dues checkoff,” said AEA Executive Director Amy Marlowe.

Almost $4 million may not sound like a lot of money for those of us accustomed to hearing about billions and trillions in government spending, but it’s a big deal in state politics. Most Alabama legislative races are won or lost over a few hundred thousand dollars or less. Because the state does not limit campaign contributions to candidates from PACs, the entire balance in AVOTE could be deployed against one candidate. That’s a massive political threat that gives legislators something to think about.

That wasn’t the case five years ago. Then-President Sheila Remington didn’t paint a pretty picture of the AEA’s condition. “We’re out of the business,” Remington told the Montgomery Advertiser. “We’re out of giving people money to run campaigns…as far as people calling and asking us for campaign contributions, I don’t see us getting involved with that anymore.”

Nobody paying attention to Alabama politics was surprised to hear that. The 2014 election cycle for the AEA was a masterclass in political failure. Executive Director Henry Mabry bet millions, including a $4 million loan, trying to replicate Hubbert’s political control of the Alabama legislature and came up radically short.

The AEA’s political Death Star that Hubbert has worked decades to perfect literally exploded.

Marlowe was there when it happened. Hubbert hired her as an AEA lobbyist in 2005, and she had enjoyed the heights of AEA’s success in the Alabama legislature. The decimation of the AEA’s influence was the bottom of the valley for her, but she learned from the experience.

“The AEA paid a political price for playing politics outside of education,” said Marlowe, “We’ve learned that we’re the most effective when we’re targeted and strategic about accomplishing our objectives on behalf of our members.”

Republicans rejoiced, and it wasn’t simply because they disagreed with the AEA over public school choice policies. The AEA was, before its political collapse, the single biggest weapon of the Democratic Party in Alabama. Even as the party fell into complete ineptitude, the AEA retained the ability to pack a political punch.

The AEA was so reviled by Republicans that the Alabama Republican Party adopted a rule banning the party from accepting funds from the National Education Association (NEA) and its affiliates including the AEA.

The AEA board effectively forced Mabry’s resignation, sought to stabilize its operations, and began to retire its political debt. It wasn’t a pretty process.

It’s also when people stopped paying attention to the AEA as a political force in Montgomery.

According to Marlowe, Dr. Hubbert’s response to Republicans who came after the AEA was clear, “Whatever rules you want to make, however you want to change the political game, we will adapt and overcome.”

Internalizing Hubbert’s mantra seems to have paid off for Marlowe.

Marlowe appears far more capable than others who have followed Hubbert. She’s laser focused on AEA being an organization that supports its 84,325 education employee members and also happens to engage in politics. “In the political arena, AEA’s focus is making sure Alabama’s education employees have a voice that’s heard in Montgomery,” said Marlowe.

Marlowe has Democratic bona fides and was part of the AEA when it aggressively went after Republicans, but she’s not afraid to support conservative candidates if she can wield influence when it matters.

“AEA doesn’t care whether you’re an ‘R’ or a ‘D,’” noted Marlowe, “as long as you vote ‘E’(ducation).”

More importantly, the AEA is strategically deploying capital. In the 2018 cycle, the AEA spread around hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alabama Republicans in spite of the party’s guidance to avoid AEA money. Since 2019, the top two recipients of AVOTE funds have been Republicans.

Not only is the AEA engaging politically, but it’s returning to form legislatively. In the last legislative session, Alabama enacted a $7.2 billion Education Trust Fund budget, the largest in the state’s history. Teachers received a pay raise in the pandemic. The AEA killed efforts to allow education funding to follow students to charter schools. But for Governor Kay Ivey’s veto, the AEA would have also secured a two year delay of the Alabama Literacy Act, a law which ensures third graders read at grade level before promoting them.

That’s not a bad session for a political shop that was out of business in 2016. While the AEA’s new political Death Star might not be fully operational just yet, the AEA is certainly striking back. The question is whether they’ll be a force to help pull Alabama’s children out of the educational basement or a hindrance in that effort. Will an “AEA Republican” label be a political weight or an asset? Only time will tell, but AEA is again a force to reckon with, and Alabama’s political class would be wise to start paying attention.

Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at csmith@al.com.”

Mo Brooks Helps Kyle Whitmire Win National Award

Editor’s note:  Kyle Whitmire is a longtime columnist for AL.com.  He has just been awarded the MOLLY award presented annually by The Texas Observer.  It is named in honor of the legendary Molly Ivins, a Texas journalist of many years who was known for her willingness to expose politicians.

She was once described by National Public Radio for her unflinching coverage of Texas’ “good-old boy politics,” which she covered “like a flamethrower through a cactus patch.”

Whitmire’s award was given for Excellence in Political Commentary,.  He was judged on four columns, one of which was about Mo Brooks, the Huntsville Congressman now running for the U.S. Senate.  Here is the column.  I added the boldface.

“Rep. Mo Brooks thinks he knows better than you.

And if you have a background in a particular field of study or credentials such as a Ph.D., none of that will deter him one bit. Far from it, if you have any sort of training or expertise.

Take for example the time when, in a congressional hearing, Alabama’s most embarrassing congressman argued that rising sea levels were due to rocks falling in the ocean.

“And every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise,” Brooks said. “Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.”

Brooks, like the Greek philosopher Archimedes, must have taken a bath and had his displacement epiphany — it was rocks tumbling from the white cliffs of Dover (something he actually argued in the hearing) and not our icecaps melting that was pushing the water higher.

Eureka!

It would be one thing if Brooks were blathering on talk radio or talking to himself in an empty chamber, as those congressmen you see on CSPAN often are, but not this time. No, Brooks was having a debate with a man named Philip Duffy, who holds a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University and who has dedicated his life to studying climate change. Duffy told Brooks that sediment has a negligible effect on sea levels and the cause was melting ice caps, but Brooks would have none of it.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but the data I have seen suggests — ” Brooks said.

Duffy, under the impression Brooks cared where his information came from — or for that matter that he cared about information at all — interrupted him.

“The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,” Duffy said.

Brooks replied that he has NASA people in his district and they told him something different.

This sort of thing might be amusing if it didn’t affect people’s lives. Earlier this year, Brooks attacked Gov. Kay Ivey for issuing a statewide mask order and he promoted the drug hydroxychloroquine, which by that point had been discredited as an effective treatment for the disease.

“We must fight ‘Flat Earthers’ who suppress scientific debate,” he said on Twitter.

But what Brooks wants is not debate. Rather, he wants to believe whatever the heck he might imagine — in spite of experts, research, facts or historical photographs of glaciers that once existed but now don’t.

But this merely isn’t a matter of alternative facts, anti-intellectualism or science-denial. Brooks’ broken reasoning has escalated into full-blown tautological narcissism. He believes the things he believes are true because he believes them. Anything that contradicts his beliefs must be fake.

Which now includes the votes of more than 81 million people.

On Tuesday, Brooks told Politico that he intends to challenge the results of the Electoral College, no matter that both the electoral and popular votes in the presidential election are, to most Americans, a settled matter. Brooks says the election was stolen by his favorite scapegoats — socialists and undocumented immigrants.

“In my judgment, if only lawful votes by eligible American citizens were cast, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a significant margin, and Congress’s certification should reflect that,” Brooks said. “This election was stolen by the socialists engaging in extraordinary voter fraud and election theft measures.”

Brooks claims, without a shred of evidence, that undocumented immigrants registered to vote and participated in the presidential election — which if true would really be something since president-elect Joe Biden now has 7 million more votes than Brooks’s favored Donald Trump. Benjamin Franklin said three people could keep a secret only if two of them were dead, but we are to believe millions of foreigners voted illegally and have escaped the notice of the United States Justice Department.

Earlier this week, Attorney Gen. William Barr said there is no evidence of any election fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election, but Brooks has an explanation for that, too. He says the courts and the Justice Department are not equipped to uncover fraud or determine whether any fraud exists.

“A lot of time is being wasted in court … the Supreme Court does not have the lawful authority to determine whether to accept or reject a state’s Electoral College submissions,” Brooks told Politico. “Under the United States Constitution and U.S. law, that is the job and duty of elected officials … And so it’s the United States Congress that is the final judge and jury of whether to accept or reject Electoral College submissions by states and to elect who the president and vice president of the United States might be.”

Or in fewer words, Brooks is perfectly willing to subordinate the will of millions of Americans to his own — democracy be damned — because he thinks he knows better.

Better than you.

Better than everyone.

There’s a clinical term for that, I’m sure, but unlike Brooks, I’ll defer to the experts.

Brook’s antipathy toward evidence and expertise is nothing new in America and especially in Alabama. He’s channeling a populist resentment of professionals and hostility toward facts and established knowledge that has become the fashion of his tribe.

But his actions leave just one question: Is he doing this deliberately, understanding full well that he’s exploiting a hazardous current coursing through American politics?

Or does he just not know any better?

Editor’s note II: And Mo Brooks wants to represent Alabama in the Senate?.

An Indian For A Day

Editor’s note:  J. L. Strickland is a retired textile mill employee in Valley, AL who refers to himself as a “Linthead Emeritus.”  He is also quite a good story teller and from time to time shares one of his tales with us.  They always make me smile, just as this one will do the same for you no doubt:

“To escape being removed from their traditional home, the Alabama band of MOWA Choctaw fled into forests and swamps over a century and a half ago. They existed, largely unseen, for lo, many years. However, later rulings and events led to their revealing their presence. While these benighted humans have made some gains, they have been frustrated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs refusal to recognize MOWA Choctaw as a legitimate tribe.

While an original 1830s treaty signed by all parties acknowledged the Choctaw Band as a self-governing entity, there was a sneaky snag in the fine print, as usual.  In the flowery language of that era, this document clearly recognized the Native Americans’ autonomy and guaranteed the Band would keep control of their lands for “as long as the grass grows, the winds blow, and the rivers flow.”

Or, ninety days, whichever came first.

Another fast one pulled by the White Eyes.  My heart goes out to the MOWA Band and other put-upon Native Americans.  For a fleeting moment in my life, I was a mistreated Native American, too. And believe me, I still harbor painful memories of that brief, but mortifying experience.

My transformation from an 11-year-old Scots-Irish paleface into a noble savage came during the first week of summer vacation, circa 1950.  Regular school was over, but my mother immediately signed me up for Bible School at the Fairfax (Alabama) mill-village Methodist church.

Thankfully, Bible School lasted only until noon. After that first morning’s dismissal, I trotted out of the church and headed to the drugstore up the street, seeking ice cream.

There was a barbershop beside the drugstore. Another kid, who often visited his Alabama mill-village relatives, was coming through the barbershop door that fateful day.  While I immediately recognized the older boy, I had never seen him in the majestic form he had assumed. I was stunned, awestruck. It was an epiphany.

This glorious lad had just received a fresh Mohawk Indian haircut. The shaved sides of his head seemed to be radiating some sort of mesmerizing, celestial light.  While I had often admired the Mohawk braves sporting their distinctive hairstyle in movies at the village picture show, I had never actually seen a real human being wearing such hirsute adornment. It was more than my B-movie loving soul could stand.

I had to have a Mohawk haircut and I had to have it right then! An irresistible craving had been flung upon me.  Seizing the moment, I ran into the barbershop and asked the barber, Mr. Siggers, to cut my hair just like the older boy’s. Being well aware of my red-haired mother’s fiery temper, Mr. Siggers refused.

The hesitant barber said that before he would cut my hair in such a drastic fashion, my mother would have to come with me and give her permission.  No way would that ever happen, and we both knew it.

Later, I sat on the curb in front of the barbershop, sad and dejected. I had even lost my appetite for ice cream.  Then I suddenly remembered another mill-village barber, Knotty Borders, just a few streets away. I quickly headed in his direction.

When I barged into his shop, Knotty was asleep in his barber’s chair. He was a small, wiry man, with a reputation as a drinker. As I explained what I wanted, he blinked and yawned and looked at me like I was crazy.  But, when I pulled out three wadded up dollar bills from my Hopalong Cassidy billfold, my total life savings, Knotty motioned for me to climb up on the chair.

In no time at all, he had shaved the sides of my head, leaving only a two-inch-wide strip of hair from the back of my head, across the top of my lumpy skull, to my forehead.

There, staring back at me in the cloudy barbershop mirror was my new awesome incarnation. I had taken on the fearsome visage of a Mighty Mohawk Warrior.  It was all I could do to stifle a terrifying war-whoop.

Other kids I passed on the way home stared at me with their mouths gaped open, rendered senseless by my overpowering magic.
I was Big Medicine now. My power was growing with each panther-like step. I walked a mile or so out of my way, just to practice my crouching, stalking, and glowering.

As the time grew near for my mother to come home from the cotton mill, I crept from tree to tree down the mill-village streets until I reached our back yard. There, I hid in the coal shed, planning a big surprise for her.
A real redskin’s ambush. Little did I know the true nature of surprises – a surprise can work both ways.

Shortly, I heard Mother banging about in our three-room mill house. She was busy at the sink when I snuck into the kitchen. Even though still a brand new Indian, she didn’t hear me creeping up from behind. I was a natural!

Shouting a loud battle cry, I pounced on my mother, who was washing a big cumbersome metal pot in the sink. Startled, she flinched in terror, dropping the pot, and splashing hot, soapy, greasy water all over both of us.

Since my mother was only slightly over five feet tall, and about 90 pounds, we were almost the same size.  But she had that incredible ligament strength and quickness that is commonly seen in red-headed people. It must be something to do with the freckles.

Angry and dripping wet, she grabbed my neck and the seat of my pants and body slammed me to the worn linoleum-covered floor. “What have you done to your head?” she shrieked.  I tried to explain about the older boy and his Mohawk hairdo; and how I really liked the look, and always wanted a haircut like this, but I was talking so fast I’m not sure she heard all of it.

I might as well have been jabbering in Mohawk.

Holding me in a tight headlock, Mother dragged me into the bedroom.  Totally outraged by the haircut, now it was she who was spouting gibberish.  As I vainly struggled to get away, she removed one of Daddy’s belts from the nail inside the bedroom closet.
Quickly using only one practiced hand, she expertly folded the belt into operational mode and proceeded to whip the living daylights out of my hind end.

(In fact, it was weeks before my daylights reached a normal level again. About the same time my hair grew out.)

Therefore, I get a tear in my eye every time I see or hear where Indians have been trifled with or abused or disrespected.
How well I understand the plight of the Native Americans. Been there, done that.

I was a proud Mohawk brave for fewer than two hours before I started hating white people myself. Especially those with a bad temper, a mean streak, red hair, and freckles.”

Four Chaplains

On this Memorial Day when the nation pauses to pay respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice as members of one of the branches of our military, a now largely forgotten story from World War II seems especially fitting.

It is the story of four Army chaplains, all from different faiths, who drowned at sea so that others might live.

The Dorchester was a civilian liner converted for military service.  It sailed from New York on Jan. 23, 1943.  On board were some 900 military personnel, plus four chaplains.

Reform Rabbi Alexander Goode was a native of Brooklyn, NY.  He had been on active duty for only six months.  George Fox was the oldest of eight children from Lewistown, PA.  He was a Methodist.  Clark Poling was from Columbus, OH, a graduate of Yale and a member of the Reformed Church in America.  His father served as a chaplain in WW I.  John Washington, a native of Newark, NJ, was a Catholic priest.

The four met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard in 1942.

The Dorchester was in a three boat convoy headed for Greenland.  Three Coast Guard ships were with the convoy.  But just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943 a German submarine patrolling the shipping lanes of the north Atlantic torpedoed the Dorchester and panic set in, especially among troops deep in the ship’s hold.

The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation.  As life jackets were handed out, supply ran out before each soldier had one.  Each chaplain gave their own life jacket to someone else.  They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

Only 230 of the 904 on board were rescued.  Many died from hypothermia as the water temperature was only 34 degrees.  The bravery and actions of the chaplains was recognized when each was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.

This remembrance seems particularly fitting in these times.  These four chaplains put service to mankind above their own well being.  Such action is in stark contrast to what we see in Washington every day when devotion only to one’s self and their own political future is so often on display.

Which is why GOP “leaders” Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are apparently afraid of the truth concerning the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.  Rather than answer questions such as who planned this riot, who funded it, how long had plans been made, or did any current members of Congress have anything to do with aiding and abetting those who stormed the building, they are fearful of any info that might cast a bad light on the Republican party or former President Donald Trump.

While these four chaplains showed us the best that this country has to offer, we are now in a period where the opposite is the order of the day.

Thousands will visit the graves of fallen service men and women this Memorial Day and offer up prayers for them and this country.  We would also be wise to offer up prayers for those in Congress and ask that they show the same sense of duty as George Fox, Alexander Goode, John Washington and Clark Poling.

 

We Have Lost B. J. Thomas

One of my all-time favorite singers, B. J. Thomas, passed away in Arlington, TX on May 29 from lung cancer.  A native of Oklahoma, but raised in Houston, Thomas won a number of Grammys, most of them for his gospel songs.

However, his long career included country, as well as pop tunes.  Most famous was “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” for the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I had the good fortune to hear him perform twice.  Once in Franklin, TN and in Virginia.

His first hit record was the Hank Williams classic, I’m so Lonesome I could cry.  For an amazing rendition of this song, go here.