The Sunday Driver, S2, E3: Fear and Loathing in the Heart of Atlanta

A Happy Easter Sunday, Monday or Passover to all, as the case may be. It has been sometime since we had the privilege of joyriding together, and I hope folks have enjoyed my relative silence.

If you’re coming along, I will warn you that there will be no George Floyd talk while the Derek Chauvin trial remains convened and the jury is out. And the reason for that is simple; having clerked for three different trial-level judges as a younger man, no matter how one feels about the crime(s) alleged, the process itself must remain religiously sacrosanct. Make a poker face if it helps.

So, then, we can chat about history, education, voting rights, the Biden agenda and the GOP’s characteristic obstruction, but I won’t mess with that trial ‘till it’s over. And before we even get to the corner, we have to check some worrisome numbers.

As of this writing, a grand total of 31,401,789 people have been stricken with Covid-19 in the US, with 568,631 total deaths, 66,154 newly infected and 807 folks passing away in the last 24 hours.

Here in our beloved Mitten, we have suffered 692,206 total infected, with 16,218 souls lost, 8,413 newly infected and 57 newly and dearly departed. Paraphrasing the concerned motorists screaming at John Candy, word to Michigan: you’re going the wrong way. And despite the screeching and mewling from the Free-dumb Caucus about even the tiniest restrictions, they are the exact folks driving our numbers back up.

Our exasperated Gov. Whitmer (D-MI) has apparently concluded that a new shut-down will accomplish nothing but more political expense and anguish, so here we sit at the very top of the heap, with the worst surging case counts and daily infection rate in the nation. Kudos to Meshawn Maddock, Melissa Carrone, Mike Shirkey and their mouth-breathing ilk, for making us the death spiral capital of the country on Easter Sunday.

A Page of History is Worth a Pound of Logic

Along with a lot of other smart stuff, it was SCOTUS Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said “a page of history is worth a pound of logic.” And more recently, it was Ice-T who said “car-shield cars go farther.” But I digress.

Indeed, this past week or so holds more consecutively critical dates in history than perhaps any other time of the year. If you missed them, the following anniversaries just whizzed by your window: the Triangle Shirt-waist factory fire; the Camp David Accords; Nikita Khrushchev’s accession; the Three-Mile Island nuclear disaster; the US withdrawal from Vietnam; Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Reagan; dedication of the Eiffel Tower; the birthday of the Royal Air Force; the departure of St. Pope John Paul; ratification of the Marshall Plan; the assassination of Martin Luther King (on today’s date).

Ten out of the 11 events above had epic social, political, military and humanitarian consequences, and each one has caused countless reams of study and speculation. By way of a quick example, had the RAF not been able to maintain a four-to-one kill ratio against the numerically superior Luftwaffe, you might be reading this piece in German.

My own love of history came first in the form of a 16-volume set of well-illustrated books called “The Universal History of the World.” As a wee-shaver, I would select a volume, hit the bathroom (sorry), get business done and then sit there gazing at the illustrations and captions until my tiny butt hurt.

And like most of us, history in our family took its human form in grandparents, parents and other relatives. My Grandpa Urich was two days’ march from the front on November 11, 1918, when the Armistice was declared. My Grandpa Cook, the Colonel, was assigned to a special detail advising Chiang Kai-shek’s staff how to defeat the Imperial Japanese and Mao’s communists simultaneously. And my Dad and his older brother both served as Navy officers in the Pacific, with Uncle Bob nearly losing his life in the Battle of Saipan.

But truth be told, I’ve assimilated a reasonably serviceable, cohesive knowledge of history from a string of gifted teachers and professors I was just lucky enough to draw during K-12, undergrad and professional school. In 6th grade there was Mrs. Custer, who taught us about the birth of democracy in ancient Greece, and intimated a relation to the doomed cavalry General himself.

In the Spring she would lead our class trip through Washington, D.C., just three months before Nixon’s resignation. I vividly recall the Lincoln, Jefferson and Iwo Jima memorials, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the live-fire demonstration of a Tommy Gun in the old FBI Headquarters, done without the benefit of ear protection. By far the most poignant moment for me was having our attention directed across the Potomac during a bus ride after dark; through the trees and distance, you could just make out the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy flickering in Arlington.

In 8th and 9th grades, the collaborative work of Mssrs. Byrd and Buck enlightened legions in our school. They even carved out a full week away from regular classes to stage a student-run mock convention, wherein the object of the game was to suss out which political party was actually the KKK lurking in sheep’s clothing. In high school, an infamously hard-grading man named Ken Cizewski was so brilliantly captivating, I subjected myself to a second year of his instruction with AP modern American history. The study habits and love of learning he drilled into us are in use as I tap on these keys over 40 years later.

At Wayne State I landed in Dr. Melvin Small’s American foreign policy class, where the course material was carefully and legally augmented by his perspective as a former CIA analyst. And for pre-law purposes, I had the privilege of at least three terms of constitutional law and civil liberties instruction under Dr. Susan P. Fino, whose vast knowledge, humor, empathy and ethos still aid me every damn day.

On the practical end, I’m sure by now all of us recall just how important teachers are to functioning societies as a whole; if you’ve forgotten, perhaps it’s time to remember and thank a teacher, any teacher, near you. For the philosophical bit, as it says on the head-stone of British PM Harold Wilson, “Tempus Rerum Imperator,” or, time, the commander of all things. In the vernacular, as a race of mammals, we forget shit at our own peril.

The Heart of Atlanta Redux

Speaking of history repeating and such, Georgia’s “Election Integrity Act,” was passed into law at the end of March to salve the wounds of GOP butt-hurt. Designed to stem the tide of black and brown ballot access, a squad of faux-moderate Repubs hit the Sunday talks this past weekend to extol the virtues of a law desperately searching for a non-existent problem to solve.

The truth is, this law requires copies of ID’s to be submitted with absentee ballots. It limits the number of ballot drop boxes counties can put out, allows the state legislature to run roughshod over local elections officials, and essentially makes it illegal to give out things like water or food to people standing in line to vote. The Georgia GOP could not be moving the goal-posts in a more obvious way.

Said Delta CEO Ed Bastian this very week, “the entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections.” That the claim has been repeatedly disproved is entirely irrelevant to defenders of the law, who in essence want to codify the butcher’s white thumb on the scale of democracy.

Coca-Cola, UPS, Microsoft, Dell, and other formerly GOP-friendly corporate giants are actually taking their free-market citizenship seriously with their vocal disapproval. And just this past Friday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. ” He continued “We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

And with that, the MLB yanked its All-Star Game from Atlanta, inviting hilarity from Rep. Marjorie (Trailer) Greene (R-GA), who screeched the MLB should “stop listening to their corporate communist sponsors and remember the little guys who buy their tickets . . . Keep the politics off the field and stop ruining everything!” Joining in on chucklehead theater, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) whined “Georgians and all Americans should know what this decision means . . . It means cancel culture and partisan activists are coming for your business. They’re coming for your game, or event, in your hometown.”

The irony is extra-thick, of course, because the seminal SCOTUS case upholding enforcement of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was spawned out of this very State of Georgia itself in the form of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964). Jumping in our way-back machine, In 1964, two Atlanta business owners captured national attention when they refused to comply with the 1964 Act. Moreton Rolleston and Lester Maddox, owners of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the Pickrick Restaurant respectively, sued to challenge the constitutionality of Section II of the Act, which barred segregation in all public accommodations on the basis that the practice inhibited the interstate movements of people and products. They believed it was their Christian birthright to ban “negroes and coloreds” from their businesses, period.

The cases were paired and tried before a three-judge circuit court in Atlanta, which upheld the law and ordered both men to admit black patrons within twenty days. Maddox (famous for chasing POC’s out of his place with an axe-handle) decided to close the Pickrick rather than submit to integration. This earned him the admiration of so many white Georgians, it paved his way to victory in the state’s 1966 gubernatorial contest. Rolleston meanwhile appealed his decision to the Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision, holding the applicability of Title II was “carefully limited to enterprises having a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people . . . .”

As 75 percent of the Heart of Atlanta Motel’s clientele came from out of state, and it was strategically located near I-75 and I-85 as well as two major U.S. highways, the Court found that the business clearly effected interstate commerce. The Court concluded that places of public accommodation had no “right” to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation. Now back then, those poor “little guys” who wanted carte blanche to discriminate were fearful of pressure from Eastern egg-heads, commies and the FBI. In the current iteration, now that the corporate elites have turned on their neanderthal toadies, Greene and Kemp wail that capitalism itself is apparently compromised, and these perpetual adolescents bristle at any fair rules of any kind, private or public. Like they say out on the ball diamond, what do they want, egg in their beer?

Ahh, the Land of Cotton never disappoints.

100 days, 200 million shots, 4.2 trillion dollars

Last Wednesday, Pres. Biden announced his long-awaited infrastructure plan to “win the future,” stating “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs.” Predictably signaling a return to Obama era obstruction for the sake of obstruction, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warbled “I’m going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America.”

So now that there’s zero mistaking where the battle-lines have been drawn, what exactly is in this $2.3 trillion plan that makes anyone over the age of 50 a bit queasy? The numbers themselves are fairly precise. For transportation: $174 billion in electric vehicle investments; $115 billion for bridges and roads; $20 billion to improve road safety; $85 billion for existing public transit; $80 billion for railways; $50 billion to improve infrastructure resilience; $25 billion for airports; $17 billion for waterways and ports of entry; $20 billion to reconnect urban neighborhoods cut off by highways.

In the area of water, internet, and electric: $45 billion to remove lead pipes; $56 billion for modernizing water systems; $100 billion for high-speed broadband; $100 billion for the electric grid and clean energy; $16 billion for putting “hundreds of thousands (of people) to work in union jobs” plugging oil and gas wells and restoring and reclaiming abandoned mines; $10 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps.

Moving to homes, schools, and buildings, the plan earmarks: $213 billion for affordable housing; $100 billion for school construction; $12 billion for community colleges; $25 billion for child care facilities; $18 billion for VA hospitals; $10 billion for federal buildings.

And lastly, in the area of modernizing the workforce and innovation: $400 billion for home- or community-based care for the elderly and people with disabilities; $180 billion for research and development, including investing $50 billion in the National Science Foundation and $35 billion “to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis”;
$300 billion for manufacturing and business, including $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing; $30 billion for pandemic preparedness and $52 billion for domestic manufacturers; $100 billion in workforce development programs targeted at underserved groups, including $5 billion for violence prevention programs.

Of course, the number of zeros is astounding, and those of us reared by depression-era parents are wary. Moving toward the pay-for’s, then, Biden suggests raising the corporate tax rate from the Trump-initiated 21 percent up to 28 percent, which could render the plan solvent in 15 years. But while the re-escalation of that rate is still seven percent less than before the Trump goody-bag-giveaway, and corporations are salivating at improved infrastructure, they don’t want to pay for it (surprise).

Standard & Poor’s chief U.S. economist, Beth Ann Bovino, estimated last year that a $2.1 trillion boost in infrastructure spending could add as much as $5.7 trillion in income to the entire economy over a decade. And in some fairness, David Dayen of the left-leaning American Prospect described the bill as “a down payment on reversing 40 years of inequitable treatment for the middle class in America” (paging David Stockman, paging Arthur Laffer, paging Ronald Reagan).

Placing some perspective on this, Trump’s no-strings attached “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” scored an immediate $2.3 trillion hit on the nation’s coffers, and would’ve topped $5.5 trillion by 2029, with no questions asked of its beneficiaries. Not so much as the repatriation of trillions in profit still off-shored by at least 91 companies within the Fortune 500 which pay zero taxes at all. Predictably, by December of 2019, the TCJA’s affect showed business investment was actually declining, factory closings and mass layoffs continued unabated, wage growth was tepid and GDP growth slowed, all well before the pandemic made it even worse. Planning is a thing, people.

While nearly no one believes Biden will ever get anything more than token GOP support for this and other big-ticket items, and the American Jobs Plan will likely have to be passed through reconciliation to avoid a filibuster, as was the $1.9 trillion American Resuce Plan, one worthy institutional critic seemed impressed. Responding to a report showing the addition of 916,000 jobs in March and a drop in unemployment to a flat six percent, Dow futures rose 150 points at week’s end, putting the good back in Good Friday. Meanwhile, 70 percent of registered voters support large infrastructure work as well.

Until our next drive, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay hopeful.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.