Bits ‘n’ Pieces: May 27, 2021

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

Albert Watkins, the attorney for several defendants accused of rioting Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, (including the so-called “QAnon shaman”), told Talking Points Memo that “a lot of these defendants … are people with brain damage … these aren’t bad people … Fuck, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which we haven’t seen since fucking Hitler.” 

One of Watkins’ clients, a member of the Proud Boys, is requesting a separate trial due to the comments, and objects to what appears as Watkins’ plans to portray his clients as mentally deficient, according to Business Insider.

The Government Accountability Office produced a report exploring the connection between big corporations and their employees’ need for federal assistance like Medicaid and food stamp benefits. The GAO found the nation’s largest big box store — Wal-Mart — topped the list for employees needing such help, The Seattle Times reported. The nation’s top burger flipper, McDonald’s, also on the list, defended its low wages as being above the federal minimum of $7.25. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders commented that it is corporate welfare when big business benefits from employees being paid “starvation wages” that force them to seek federal aid.

In a new report the Economic Policy Institute provided a new take on why wages have become stale. Once it was thought that technology had flattened wages, but the report blames policy decisions, such as trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid overseas labor; toleration of high unemployment; allowing employers to fight unions “aggressively,” which has led to keeping wages low; employment contracts that make it difficult for workers to find new jobs; and lack of backing for adequate economic influence by the government to rebuild after the Great Recession. 

According to The New York Times, the report showed that from the 1940s to the 1970s, hourly pay typically grew as quickly as productivity. The EPI paper stated that a typical worker earning $23.15 an hour in 2017 would earn $33.10 now had compensation kept up with productivity growth. 

Some economists found fault with the report, such as dismissing market forces, but others say the report points in the right direction.

In the House last week 35 Republicans joined Democrats in a 252-175 vote in favor of creating a bipartisan and independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. USA Today reported that the body is modeled after the 9-11 Commission. The proposed commission would be able to call witnesses and deliver a report by Dec. 31. Along with analyzing what provoked mob actions, it would also explore how to prevent such attacks in the future. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the commission would be more thorough, since it would combine all known information, as opposed to separate hearings on narrow topics. Next step for gaining approval is the Senate, where House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he will vote against the bill, and Republicans are expected to follow his lead. 

Sen. Angus King, Jr., I-Maine, commented that, “When people start moving Heaven and Earth to block an investigation, I have to wonder if there is something to hide.” 

House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has refused to say whether members of his caucus engaged in communication with rioters; and, in January, when arguing against impeachment of ex-President Donald Trump for his role in Jan. 6 events, several Republicans, including McConnell, argued that there should first be a fact-finding commission. Now they are arguing against it.

A year after the killing of Minneapolis Black man George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by white police officer Derek Chauvin (the latter recently sentenced to 40 years in prison), the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House, is now hung up in the Senate. The police reform bill is designed to address police misconduct, excessive force and racial bias.

Blast from the past: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” It was reminiscent of 2010, when Republicans planned to do “everything we can do to kill it [the Obama agenda].” The goal was to “make Obama a one-term president,” McConnell admitted at the time. Obama said he remained committed to trying to work across the aisle to put people back to work after the recession, noting that “you can’t just focus on the next election. You’ve got to focus on the next generation.”

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