Friday, April 16, 2021

BTRTN: What Can Brown Do For You? UPS, MLB, Delta, and the Role of Business When Democracy is Threatened

Remember UPS's old ad slogan: “What Can Brown Do For You?” Steve thinks citizens in Georgia whose voting rights are being threatened may have an answer. 

Ever wonder why UPS trucks are brown?

Company lore has it that the founder felt that the trucks would look cleaner with a dark shade than with, say, yellow or white.

Later, UPS managers would realize another advantage: brown tends to recede. It is unobtrusive. When city traffic is being choked by double-parked delivery vehicles, it’s a good thing they are brown and not, say, bright blue.

Is this lesson guiding UPS with more than the avoidance of parking tickets?  

UPS, based in the pleasant Dunwoody section of Atlanta, is actually ranked higher on the Fortune 500 than two other Georgia-based companies -- Coca Cola or Delta Airlines -- that have been in most of the headlines when people ask where corporate America stands on Georgia’s new voting law. Major League Baseball and Will Smith’s new film have actually taken strong actions in light of Georgia’s new law. But UPS, an $84.6 billion colossus, seems to be preferring that unobtrusive approach in more than just its corporate color.

When the very people who are supposed to be protecting our voting rights – in this case, the Republican-led legislature in Georgia – are the people taking steps to suppress voting, where can we turn to protect democracy?

UPS used to run flashy ads on the Olympics and other big sporting events with its tag line, “What Can Brown Do For You?” It is suddenly a very pertinent question to many Black Americans who are targeted to be disenfranchised by Georgia’s new voting laws.

So we decided to find out: what is UPS doing about the new voter suppression laws in its home state? More broadly: what should corporate America -- in general -- be doing about the raft of voter suppression laws moving forward in state legislatures all across the nation? Indeed, does corporate America have a role, an interest, and a responsibility to take a stand when the institutions of our democracy are under attack?

The issue is far from simple. At the most basic level, it seems understandable why major corporations try to avoid political issues. There seems to be no upside but plenty of downside.

Take a stand on a political issue, and watch some significant portion of the country call for a boycott of your product or service. Witness political leaders of the opposing stripe try to paste your company with punitive taxes or cancel whatever tax privileges you might have enjoyed. Observe a sizeable chunk of your own employees vent rage about the hypocrisy: odds are that your HR department frowns on political activism in the workplace, particularly for fear that it could lead to a hostile work environment lawsuit.

But it can get uglier. Perhaps some PAC for the other team will take out an ad in The New York Times painting your company as ignorant and biased. Maybe the CEO of one of your biggest clients happens to disagree with you and terminates your contract. Watch the PR sharks for the opposing political stance do oppo research on your company, dredging up minor incidents and turning them into raging scandal in order to tarnish your brand.  And if any and all of the above happens to trigger a hit to your stock price, you are going to feel mighty lonely in your next Board meeting.

The upside? A feeling that you’ve taken a stand, done the right thing? Perhaps. It’s not like the people who support your stance are going to start buying twice as much Coke or take an extra connecting flight through Atlanta to reward you for your guts.

It’s pretty easy for a CEO to connect all the dots and then hide behind the old saw that fiduciary responsibility to shareholders argues for avoiding political controversy.

There’s certainly evidence for the wisdom of that course in what’s unfolded in Georgia since the new voter suppression law was enacted.

Major League Baseball slid into the hot seat when it decided to move its All-Star game out of Atlanta. Of course Republicans politicians were incensed by the action. But leading Georgia Dems Stacey Abrams, John Ossoff, and Rafael Warnock -- all vehemently opposed the new Georgia law -- have all come out in opposition to punitive actions on the part of commercial enterprises, taking the position that removing business only hurts the low-wage workers who stand to benefit from the millions in revenues that your ballgame brings to town. Even pundits on CNN accused MLB of making a rash, ill-thought out decision… but then again, guess what Southern city CNN is based in?

And then there was the full page ad place by the “Job Creators Network” in The New York Times on Friday, April 2, which features an open letter to Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. The letter states that “despite urban legend and your previous statement, the Georgia law makes it easier to vote and hard to cheat.” It asserts that the new law “permits no-excuse absentee ballots,” and that “even states like New York, Connecticut, and President Biden’s home state of Delaware require a valid excuse to cast an absentee ballot.” The letter claims that the new law simply requires that existing laws demanding that residents present an ID prior to voting be applied to mail-in ballots. The ad even offers a spirited defense of the most notorious component of the Georgia law -- the part that makes it a crime to bring water to people standing on line to vote:

“And no, it doesn’t ban people from quenching their thirst in line. Poll workers are more than welcome to set-up self-service beverage stations and others can distribute water outside of the pre-designated voting area.”

Why, read that ad and you’d think that Georgia is leading the nation in its embrace of universal and equal access to the polls, and that their new law is as American as, uh, baseball and apple pie.

The first problem, of course, is that the worst parts of the Georgia law are not even mentioned in the “Job Creators Network” ad.

The most grotesque dimension of voter suppression in the new Georgia law is that part that enables the Georgia State General Assembly to suspend local voting officials and replace them with political appointees. This provision of the law is supposedly intended to allow the state to intercede when local officials are doing an inadequate job managing the process. But the state has the sole power to make the judgment whether such suspension is necessary.

This means that the Republican-majority Georgia Assembly has the ability to place a party hack in charge of a local precinct, and that such an official would have the power to certify the voting in precincts that are Democratic strongholds. We all recall hearing the recording of Donald Trump leaning into a speakerphone and telling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that "I just want to find 11,779 votes.” The new Georgia voting law has just given the Republicans the mechanism to do exactly that. It provides legal cover for overt election-rigging.

Had this law been in place prior to the 2020 election,  Republicans who control the legislature would have had the power to swoop in, remove election officials in heavily Black counties, nullify votes, and – yes – hand the state’s electoral votes to Trump. Instead of Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock in the Senate, you’d have Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, and – wait for it – Mitch McConnell would still be Senate Majority leader. That means a trickle of cabinet officers approved, no Covid relief bill, no infrastructure bill, and four more years of McConnell bent on destroying a Democratic Presidency.

Yes, there are also despicable provisions in this bill that will suppress the Black vote…limiting access to drop boxes, increasing ID requirements for mail-in voting, and exacerbating the problems of long lines that always plague the Black voting districts in Atlanta.

Perhaps the most thoroughly racist component of the law is criminalizing the act of bringing water to persons standing in line waiting to vote. This acutely punishes the Black communities where the voting lines are longest. Again, the “Jobs Creators Network” shames itself with its response to this element of the legislation: what local election board feels responsible for providing (and paying for) a “refreshment stand?” And if Republicans are appointed to run the election in a Black community, do you think they are going set up a water stand? And sure, voters can depart from the line to go back to their cars and get a water bottle – but you know that the Republican poll watchers will forbid them from resuming their position in line. There is simply no explanation for this provision of the law other than to try to make voting as difficult as possible.

And – in the most colossal irony of all – the most common Republican rationale for this all-new power to legally rig an election is that it is needed to “restore confidence in the electoral system because of the claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.” In 2020, Georgia became the epicenter for refuting Donald Trump’s “Big Lie:” when Trump put pressure on Georgia officials to change the results of the election, it was Republicans Raffensperger and Gabriel Sterling who stood their ground, emphatically repudiating Trump’s claims of election fraud.

Yes, Georgia Republicans are using Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 elections were “rigged” as the grounds for new voter restrictions that are all but certain to ensure that future Georgia elections actually are rigged. 

Still, in spite of the brazen deceit of Georgia Republicans and the overt effort to manipulate the election results, Georgia companies are taking very different approaches in their public responses.  

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastion said that “After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.” Bravo, Mr. Bastion. I take back everything I’ve ever said about trying to make connecting flights at Hartsfield.

On the other hand, some companies attempted to lay low and take the blandest possible stand on a thorny political issue.

Which appears to be the game plan followed by the United Parcel Service.  Consider how hard the UPS PR department labored to appear to be saying something about the new voting law without saying much at all. Here is the statement from UPS as quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 15:

UPS believes in the importance of the democratic process and supports facilitating the ability of all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty. We are committed to voter awareness and engagement. In the last election, UPS ran an education campaign for our employees called “Drive the Vote” to encourage employees to vote. The Drive the Vote campaign was nonpartisan and endorsed no specific candidate or party. Like other businesses in the community, we are working with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber to ensure equitable access to the polls and the integrity of the election process across the state.

For students of the art of saying nothing, this is Shakespeare.

“Facilitating the ability of all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty” is a phrase that UPS hopes sound fair to progressives, but the inclusion and implicit stress on the word “eligible” can be interpreted by Republicans as supporting their efforts to suppress voting by creating greater expectations of proof of qualification.

The statement goes on to boast about UPS’s internal communications effort to support voting, which comes complete with the mandatory corporate cute name. Given the gravity of the issue, this comes off as a bit underwhelming. Here at UPS, we are taking action! We put up posters in our hallways!

The final sentence is what happens when a logic nerf ball is hurled into a vat of tapioca pudding. “Like other businesses” seems to be saying, “please don’t single us out, we are the same as everybody else.” “We are working with…” is to be interpreted that UPS is actually taking action, without offering the slightest clue of what that action is. “Ensure equitable access” appears to be endorsing the Democratic position, while ensure “the integrity of the election process” endorses the Republican effort.

You see, it actually takes a lot of carefully crafted phrases to precisely articulate pretty much nothing.

Annoyed by this corporate posturing, I contacted UPS to ask them to comment, requesting an interview. I received a response saying “thank you for asking about an interview, but we are not doing any on this topic right now, in addition to it being part of our quiet period before earnings.” When I asked if I would be granted an interview after the earnings release, I received no answer.

I was referred to the statement about the election laws on the company website. I will say this: the text from the statement on the UPS website was a real improvement from the one that had been quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution weeks before. It was more definitive in its stance, and “new” statement eliminated the reference to “eligible voters:”

“UPS believes that voting laws and legislation should make it easier, not harder, for Americans to exercise their right to vote. UPS will continue to work with elected officials across the country to strengthen our democracy by facilitating equitable poll access and voting.”

The remainder of the statement reiterated some of the bland points that had been in the newspaper, but there were references to funding for non-partisan voter registration efforts and enabling opportunities for UPS employees for volunteer to aid the voter registration and voting process. The statement on the website was stronger.

But the main problem was not really what it said, it was where the message was located: three clicks down the navigation from the home page… and that’s if you knew where to look for it.

Does UPS – and other corporate giants – have a responsibility to step out of its corporate shell and participate in a debate in the society at large on matters that have enormous impact on their business, their community, their employees, and on the very health of our democracy?

When must companies take a public stand that involves risk?

Recently, we’ve heard about very significant steps being taken by the private sector to sound the alarm about the danger of voter suppression in a democracy.

Last Saturday, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Organization and Management was one of the organizers who convened a ZOOM gathering of some 100 CEOs and business leaders to discuss what concrete measures business can take to stop the enactment of voter suppression legislation. Separately, a group of progressives based in California is urging business leaders to recognize and take action based on their own self-interest: a healthy democracy is crucial to a vital economy, entrepreneurship, and a thriving capitalist system.

In short, there appears to be increasing recognition that the crippling polarization of our politics is rendering government ineffective, unable to solve problems, and – now – has finally arrived at the point where certain of our elected officials are actively undermining our democracy.

What can companies do? Turns out there is a good deal.

Start with the fact that many major corporations announced back in January that they were cutting off – or “suspending” the campaign donation spigot to the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the Electoral College results that led to Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President. American Express, Verizon, MasterCard, Disney and a host of other companies announced that they were suspending donations, with many specifying a time period. Dow noted that it would not make contributions for the full terms of these Republicans – two years for members of the House and up to six years for Senators. Multiple that by the Fortune 500, and you make an impact. Of course, it will be important to monitor donations and see just how long these companies withhold donations.  

Following this precedent and cutting off the funding spigot to elected officials who favor voter suppression initiatives would be an excellent step in the current debate.

Threatening to move offices, regional headquarters, or future business conferences is another step business can take. It does risk triggering the question of whether the companies are effectively only punishing themselves, their own employees, or the working classes in these states who rely on large business for jobs. But there’s little doubt that the intense squeeze that major national businesses put on North Carolina following its passage of its repressive LGBTQ measure in 2016 led to the compromise legislation the following year. Then, companies threatened to withhold building expansion projects in North Carolina, and both the NBA and the NCAA moved major events out of the state. These hardball tactics led by business worked.  

This past Wednesday, we saw a step in the right direction in the role companies can play to fight voter repression legislation: a two-page ad in the Washington Post and The New York Times with the headline “We Stand for Democracy.” Brief body copy spoke of the importance of the right to vote, and included this sentence: “We all should feel a responsibility (italics mine) to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.” Yes, we should all feel this responsibility.

Below this copy were the names of well over 500 individuals, corporations, law firms, and non-profits, including Apple, United Airlines, Facebook Ford, Microsoft, Salesforce, Starbucks, and Goldman Sachs. Spoiler alert: no UPS, and no Coke or Delta, either. Perhaps these companies were not asked.  

Yes, there is strength in those numbers, but individual companies must take this on in the states where they do business. That’s where the legislation is being enacted. That is where the rubber meets the road.

Indeed, local business leaders have the unique perspective of being able to shame politicians on the issue that is always at the top of every voter’s list of concerns: jobs, and the health of the economy. Publicly communicating to local leaders that their voter suppression tactics are poisoning their municipalities as desirable locations for commerce is a potent message for local businesses to deliver.

Perhaps private sector leaders are finally realizing that if Republicans successfully choke off the right of many Americans to vote, the result will be an increasingly authoritarian state in which the government will be permanently run by the same idiots who ignored the coronavirus and left our economy in a shambles. In an increasingly authoritarian state, companies that align with the authoritarian leaders would be favored, and corporations would no longer be competing on a level playing field.

My favorite reason for urging corporate America to step up to the plate?  Mitch McConnell thinks it’s “stupid.” Here’s the full quote from McConnell: “It’s quite stupid to jump in the middle of a highly controversial issue. Republicans drink Coca-Cola too, and we fly and we like baseball. It’s irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.” McConnell’s statement reveals the logic of a man whose entire approach to life is based on transactional calculation rather than principle: you are “stupid” to have an opinion on something that is “controversial.”

Hey, Mitch: people of principle understand that the only time having an opinion matters is precisely when the issue is controversial. That’s exactly when we want to hear what real leaders think.

Come on, Corporate America: Take a stand. Take a stand for the principle that we should be making it as easy as possible for every citizen to exercise their right to vote.

And if not for the principle, then how about for the practical? What’s good for authoritarians is bad for business. What’s good for democracy is good for business.

Had I had the opportunity to actually talk to someone at UPS, I would have tried to explain that this issue actually represents a branding opportunity.

Imagine, if you will, that UPS simply took the words that exist on their “press statement,” and used them as the body copy for a thirty-second television ad. Literally do not change a word of the current statement that is already there for anyone to read on their website – but simply put those words over visuals of the company’s diverse workforce going about its business. And then put this message on television:

“UPS believes that voting laws and legislation should make it easier, not harder, for Americans to exercise their right to vote. UPS will continue to work with elected officials across the country to strengthen our democracy by facilitating equitable poll access and voting. UPS will also take the following action steps to support equitable poll access and voting: continuing to provide voter education resources to employees through its Drive the Vote program, including information such as registration and voting deadlines, printing absentee ballot request forms for UPSers at its facilities, where permitted by state and local laws, dedicating funding support to nonpartisan nonprofits that organize voter registration and engagement activities, having UPS volunteers facilitate voter ID and registration efforts at UPS facilities for employees, working with Secretaries of State to identify locations for UPSers to volunteer as poll workers.

Then, just to make the point, perhaps UPS could add this:

“At UPS, we believe that the more people vote, the more our government will reflect the true will of the American people. And that will be good for our citizens, good for business, and good for our common belief in the American dream and a more equal society.”

Hey, UPS… we are not asking you to say anything that you are not already saying.

All we are suggesting is that burying your message several layers down in your website navigation makes it look like you really don’t want people to know how you feel.

Taking the exact same words and putting them on television would suddenly make you the leading voice in America on this extremely important topic.  With a leading company setting the example, others would follow. All I know is that UPS can’t keep leaning into that “unobtrusive” part of its DNA when it is taking in $84.6 billion a year.

Call me crazy, but I think that would be a great television commercial… and it would be terrific for the UPS brand.

And it would be a pretty terrific message to bring to the Republicans in your state house, to the people of Georgia, and to all of the legislatures across America considering these pieces of legislation.

Corporate America can bring a great of leverage to bear on government if it chooses to do so.

Which brings us to the question of what we can each do as an individual.

Do you work at a big national company, or a major regional or local company in one of the states considering voter suppression laws? It might be interesting to find out exactly what your company is saying – and doing – on this issue. If the answer is nothing, or a bland statement in the back pages of a website, ask why.

Sure, we'd like to ask UPS what Brown can do for you if you are a Black American in Georgia.

But the bigger question is what corporate America can do to step in where government failing, to ensure that every citizen’s right to vote is being protected. 

As the ad says: “we should all feel that responsibility.”


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Saturday, April 3, 2021

BTRTN: The Biden Agenda Meets a Confluence of New Crises

Tom with the BTRTN March 2021 Month in Review.

New presidents often have to manage the conflict between getting their “first 100 day” agendas accomplished versus dealing with the inevitable crisis du jour that competes for attention.  JFK’s New Frontier ran headlong into the Bay of Pigs just months into his presidency.  Bill Clinton raised the issue of lifting the ban on gays in the military in a press conference just days after the inauguration, not anticipating how totally the ensuing controversy would engulf his early presidency.  Barack Obama focused his post-election political capital on his eponymous health care legislation, Obamacare, much to chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s chagrin; he wanted Obama instead to push on jobs, jobs, jobs with the country still in the throes of the Great Recession.

Joe Biden faces something a bit different.  His 100-day agenda – principally to tame COVID and restore the economy -- is in itself a response to a ongoing mega-crisis.  Not since FDR has a new president truly faced such a trauma-stricken nation.  But in March, a whole new set of crises emerged that threatened to divert Biden from his intended course. 

Biden has resolutely – in a shockingly disciplined way – focused first on his American Rescue Plan, which was passed in mid-month, and now has moved on to his infrastructure package (which is actually about far more than fixing highways and bridges).  But he is being pulled massively -- from all sides – due to eruptions on immigration (driven by a vast migrant influx at the Mexican border), gun control (two mass killings within a single week) and voting rights (a wildly restrictive law passed in Georgia).  And as the month ended, America was holding its breath, watching the Derek Chauvin/George Floyd murder trial unfold, sickened by both the weight of the testimony and the prospect of an acquittal.

Biden is making solid progress on his COVID plan, to be sure.  With 17% of the country fully vaccinated at month’s end, it is clear that Biden’s team has brought new thinking, federal muscle and creativity to the distribution problems, and dosages are getting into American arms at a dramatically improved rate.  He has well exceeded his initial goal of 100 million doses administered in his first 100 days.  That goal was critiqued as being too mild, not far different from the daily rate he inherited, but he is not only going to exceed it, he will shatter it.  The US is at 156 million doses administered after just 72 days of the Biden presidency, and will easily double his initial goal and achieve over 200 million doses in those hundred days.

The mitigation side, however, is proving to be the far bigger problem.  While new COVID cases dropped from 2.1 million in February to 1.6 million in March, by month’s end the weekly numbers were growing again at a frightening clip (+13% for the last week), and the latest daily national new case totals were the highest, at near 70,000, since early February.  More to the point, much of America (and not just red states) were ignoring Biden’s and the CDC’s pleas for discipline amid the onset of a potential “fourth surge.”  Sure, deep red Texas and Mississippi shed their masks and flung open their doors.  But New York, just a year removed from the worst of COVID devastation, was also easing restrictions rapidly, even as they led the country in new cases per capita throughout most of March.  Anthony Fauci has stated that “coronavirus restrictions should not be lifted until the daily toll of U.S. cases falls below 10,000 cases.”  The U.S. is at roughly six times that level right now – and growing, and the Biden Administration is at the mercy of foolish governors, both red and blue, in getting it under control.

Biden’s other COVID focus has been on the economy, and he has been extremely successful with his legislative program, featuring the American Rescue Plan, showing off a dexterity that one might have not assumed was in his toolkit.  He affably courted the GOP in the hopes of a bipartisan bill, but when the GOP moderates put forth their meager best effort, resulting in a whopping  $1.3 trillion gap between the parties (his $1.9 trillion versus the GOP’s $600 million), he politely moved on.  He courted Joe Manchin enough to ensure the Democrats had 51 votes to pass the bill via reconciliation, and claimed the mantle of bipartisanship based on public opinion, which indicated that the majority of Republicans indeed supported his American Rescue Plan.  The bottom line: while Biden strongly supported “unity” in his inaugural address, he also realized he will be judged by Americans of all political stripes more for what he did and whether it worked than how he did it.  And he dared the GOP to oppose sending $1,400 checks to those in need – and they did.

Biden has been rewarded for his overall efforts to battle the pandemic, scoring a 60% approval rating on his handling of COVID, well above that of Trump, who languished in the low 40% range.  Clearly Biden is winning that middle 20% of the nation that is less partisan – indeed, less interested in politics in general – and more interested in outcomes.  And, rather shockingly, at Biden’s first press conference in late March, there was not a single question about COVID.

Perhaps that was a testament to his note-perfect handling of the crisis, but more likely it had to do with the crush of events of a kind that a president can neither foretell nor prevent.  Biden certainly wished to move on to his next priority -- the infrastructure bill – but the headlines would not cooperate.

The first issue to emerge was a growing border problem.  The Biden team has been doing its best to avoid labeling it a “crisis,” which would feed into the Trump/FOX/Newsmax frenzy that Biden has simply knocked down the Wall and opened up the gates, with chaos ensuing.  The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer rather elegantly pointed out that, with respect to this new migrant influx, “the word ‘crisis’ is both an overstatement and an understatement.”  On the one hand, he said, such border surges are hardly new; there were more asylum seekers at the border one year ago under Trump.  And yet, the sheer complexity of the issue, which has its root cause in the desperation families feel in Honduras and Guatemala – a true crisis.  This means that there are no easy answers, and no magic bullet can stop the flow.  And Biden can rightly complain that Trump stripped away – by design – the infrastructure to handle such influxes humanely.

While the border situation flared, a deranged man killed eight people in a spree that covered three separate Atlanta spas.  The mass killing tragedy echoed so many in recent years – Orlando, Las Vegas, El Paso, Parkland, Pittsburgh and more.  Democrats and Republicans replayed, on cue, the outrage that predictably follows these shootings; gun control and 2nd Amendment playbooks were hauled out, fingers were pointed, and nothing was done.  The only productive aspect of the conversation was the focus on racism against Asian-Americans, who comprised six of the eight Atlanta victims.  Violence against Asian-Americans has surged with COVID-19, with Trump’s “China Flu” branding having had that predictable effect.  And less than a week after the Atlanta killings came another mass shooting, in Boulder, Colorado, as a man entered a King Soopers with an AR-15 and mowed down 10 defenseless victims, including an officer on the scene, before being subdued.

Georgia was also the scene of a different kind of terror, the kind of cold-blooded legislative malpractice that one can hardly believe can occur in our democracy.  Georgia’s GOP leadership had achieved near heroic status in their determined staredown of Trump just a few months before, opposing his attempt to subvert his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden by demanding they somehow “find” 12,000 Trump votes.  But having defended the integrity of their voting process, and proven its accuracy, they proceeded, nevertheless, to revise their voting laws based on the canon of Trump’s Big Lie.  The restrictions had one goal:  to disenfranchise Black voters who led the way not only to Biden’s November victory but the twin January Senate wins by Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock over two GOP incumbents, which threw the Senate into Democratic control.  One can draw a straight line from those victories to the bold legislative agenda that Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have begun to implement through the magic of reconciliation – and continue to trace it to the act of the Georgia legislature.  The photo op of Governor Kemp signing the bill at his desk, surrounded by four other white men, beneath a photo of a Georgia plantation, said it all.

In the wake of these new crises, as Biden announced his infrastructure plan, activists cried out for immediate action on gun control, immigration and voting rights.  But Biden well knows that the reconciliation process can only do so much – it can only be applied to legislation involving government revenues, expenditures and raising the debt ceiling.  When it comes to immigration reform, gun control and voting rights (not to mention climate change and a raft of other hot-button issues) 60 votes are required in the Senate.  And thus came the call, swiftly and resoundingly, to end the filibuster and let the majority rule.

Biden’s response to all this was surprisingly resolute.  Essentially, while nodding in agreement that vast reforms were needed in all of these areas, he remained focused on the infrastructure bill and stated quite clearly that timing was the essence of elective politics.  And, at this point, the time was not ripe for any of those reforms, including ditching the filibuster.  With respect to the latter, there are practical realities.  For one thing, Democrats Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona made it clear they opposed to filibuster reform, and consequently, Schumer does not have the votes to nuke the filibuster even if he so desired.  And for another, one can hardly fail to see the benefits of the filibuster for a future minority Democratic Party, holding at bay GOP efforts to outlaw abortion, strip away climate change controls, close the borders completely, and the like. 

One might argue that one solid national voting rights law could ensure Democratic control “forever,” the GOP assigned to the role of a permanent minority with the unleashing of restrictions that exist in so many states today that suppress potential Democratic voters.  But the two-party system has proven durable as the parties evolve.  One only has to note the GOP has started to improve its standing among the Latino population, particularly among Cuban-Americans, to see this in action. 

And so Biden answered the challenge posed by the new crises by holding firm to his agenda and moving on to infrastructure, to what he calls the American Jobs Plan.  And it is a doozy of a bill, as stated, well beyond highways and bridges -- although there is a hundred billion in it for them, too.  There is a hundred billion for broadband expansion, another hundred billion for new schools, another hundred billion for power lines and clean energy, and almost two hundred billion to accelerate the electric car market.  The list goes on, retrofitting lead pipes for clean water and buildings to be more energy efficient; billions more for the elderly, the disabled, for manufacturing and job retraining.  All in all, a total of $2 trillion in stimulus, but this bill, unlike the American Rescue Plan, which was deficit funded, will be paid for in tax hikes to corporations and wealthy citizens, anyone who makes more than $400,000 in a year.

While Manchin has stated that he’s opposed to passing more legislation via reconciliation, it’­s easy to envision many of the billions flowing to West Virginia schools, highways, bridges and industry, with plenty of ribbon-cutting ceremonies with Manchin holding the big scissors, all paid for by Big Business and elites on the coasts.  There will be lots of twists and turns in getting this one done, but Biden has already demonstrated a mastery of the art, honed in 36 years of dealing in the Senate.

Or he may be dealing with the aftershocks of the Chauvin trial.  It is hard to imagine a more open and shut case of murder, a clearer case of needlessly taking a man’s life, captured so painfully on a cell phone on the scene that has now been seen by tens of millions.  Chauvin’s lawyers are surely putting George Floyd on trial, straining for any semblance of exculpatory evidence, and attempting to divert the jurors from the horror of the reality of those nine long minutes.  Acquittals are the order of the day in many prior cases of police brutality, and we shudder at the potential of such a verdict, and of what America might look like in the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that would follow.  George Floyd’s death raised a firestorm in this country, a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice.  If those jurors don’t return a guilty verdict, Joe Biden would find himself with a crisis to manage that could not await better “timing.”



Trumpland has been muffled as the business of Biden dominates the airwaves and the blogosphere, but the remnants remain utterly astonishing.  This month’s madness entry comes from the legal defense team of Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who was sued by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation in stating that their voting machines were rigged to switch millions of Trump votes to Biden.  This was proven false on the merits, and Powell’s defense team instead offered this juicy defense:  that “reasonable people would not accept [Powell’s] statements as fact.” 



Joe Biden’s approval rating remained in the mid-50’s in March, though his disapproval rating continued a modest rise (and thus his net positive shrank to +14).























The same dynamic was at work with the public view of how Biden is handling COVID-19.  But his approval rating on this measure is stronger than his overall approval rating, and thus hit net positive is much higher.






















The “Bidenometer” began to reflect the early days’ impact of the Biden Administration, moving from the baseline zero to +4.  An uptick in consumer confidence and in the Dow-Jones drove the increase, although those were partially offset by rising gasoline prices.  The +4 measure means that on average, our five economic measures have improved by 4% since Biden’s inaugural.

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we will see how it does under Biden.


Presidents >>>







Measures (all as of last day of term, except GDP which is rolling last 12 months)

End Clinton  1/20/2001

End Bush 1/20/2009

End Obama 1/20/2017

End Trump 1/20/2021 (base= 0)

Biden February 2021

Biden March 2021

Bidenometer (Now) >>>














  Unemployment Rate







  Consumer Confidence







  Price of Gas







  Dow Jones







  GDP (last 12 months)








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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.