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Archive for May 8th, 2021

The Republican party has actively turned against American democracy

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It’s telling that Mitch McConnell stated explicitly that he is 100% focused on stopping the Biden administration. Mitch is not interested in helping the country or its citizens. He simply wants to stop the Biden administration from accomplishing anything — despite the fact that a large majority of Americans approve of Biden’s programs.

The thing about autocrats is that they really don’t can what people want, but instead are focused on what they (the autocrats) want. That’s the current Republican party. For example, the Republican party is busy enacting state laws to prevent people from voting.

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo articulated today what many have been reluctant to say: What is at stake in the Big Lie and all the Republican efforts to keep it in play—the shenanigans in the secret Maricopa County, Arizona, recount; the censuring of Republicans who voted to impeach the former president; the expected removal of Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from a leadership role in the party; and so on—is not the past election of 2020, but the upcoming election of 2024.

The Republican Party has demonstrated that it intends to control the government in the future, no matter what most Americans want. Iowa, Georgia, Montana, and Florida have already passed voter suppression laws, while other states are considering them. (Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s bill yesterday live on the Fox News Channel.)

As Marshall points out, though, making sure that states return only Republicans to Congress is also about controlling the White House. Republican lawmakers are purging from state election machinery members of their own party who refused to change the outcome of the 2020 election and give a victory to Trump. The former president has fed speculation that he still hopes to overturn the 2020 election, but Marshall looks forward: Is it really possible to think that in 2024, members of the new Trump party will protect the sanctity of any election that gives a victory to a Democratic candidate? If Republicans capture the House in 2022, will they agree to certify electoral votes for a Democrat? In 2020, even before the current remaking of the party in Trump’s image, 139 House Republicans contested them.

Trump is systematically going after leading members of the Republican Party, determined to remake it into his own organization. Several former senior White House officials told Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post that “[t]he defeated ex-president is propelled primarily by a thirst for retribution, an insatiable quest for the spotlight and a desire to establish and maintain total dominance and control over the Republican base.” Republican strategist Brendan Buck noted that Trump seems to relish fighting, rather than victory to achieve an end. “Usually,” Buck said, “a fight is the means to an end, but in this case fighting is the end.”

The Republicans are consolidating their control over the machinery of government in a way that indicates they intend to control the country regardless of what Americans actually want, putting Trump and his organization back in charge. Democrats have proposed the For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S. 1), which would start to restore a level playing field between the parties. The For the People Act would sideline the new voter suppression bills and make it easier to vote. It would end partisan gerrymandering and stop the flow of big money into elections permitted after the 2010 Citizens United decision.

But Republicans are determined to stop this measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is especially engaged in its obstruction. He has called it a “partisan takeover” that would “give Washington Democrats unprecedented control over 50 states’ election laws.” He recognizes that restoring a level electoral playing field would hamstring the Republicans’ ability to win elections. Defeating the act is McConnell’s top priority.

The story of how Republican leaders embraced voter suppression and gerrymandering starts back in the 1980s, though the mechanics of overturning a presidential election are new to 2020. Still, their undermining of our democratic system begs the question: Why are leading Republicans surrendering their party, and our nation, to a budding autocrat?

Two days ago, when asked if he is concerned about the direction of his party,  McConnell told reporters that he is not paying attention to it because the Democrats are trying “to turn American into a socialist country,” and that “[o]ne-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”

In his April 28 address before a joint session of Congress, President Biden indicated he intended to reverse the course the government has been on since the Reagan years. “My fellow Americans,” Biden said, “trickle-down… economics has never worked, and it’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.”

Republicans have tied themselves to the idea that, as Reagan said, “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” (although in 1981 he prefaced that statement with the words: “In this present crisis”). Since the 1990s, they have focused on tax cuts and deregulation as the key to building a strong economy, even though that program has moved wealth dramatically upward.

Today, Republicans interpreted a jobs report that showed job growth slowing in April as a sign that Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which pumped $1.9 trillion into the country to help it heal from the coronavirus recession, has failed. Rather than speeding up growth, they say, it is slowing it down. Biden pointed out that the nation has added 1.5 million jobs since he took office and that the recession will not end overnight, but Republicans insist that the federal $300 weekly unemployment checks included in the law are keeping people from going back to work.

The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, issued a statement saying: “This is a stunning economic setback, and unequivocal proof that President Biden is sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas.”

Citing help wanted ads, Republican governors in South Carolina, Montana, and Arkansas are ending the unemployment benefit in their own states to get people back to work. Other Republican-led states are suing the administration to force it to let them use the money provided in the American Rescue Plan not to offer help to workers, but to subsidize tax cuts. Meanwhile, still others . . .

Continue reading. Emphasis added. There’s more. And the comments are interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2021 at 12:27 pm

Suzanne Simard Changed How the World Sees Trees

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Robert Moor writes in New York:

Suzanne Simard has given her life to the study of trees. She sweated for them. Bled for them. Damn near died for them — once at the claws of a grizzly, and once from the invisible clutch of cancer. (Working with toxic herbicides and radioactive isotopes in the course of her research likely contributed to her breast cancer, which resulted in a double mastectomy.) But Simard’s sacrifices as a forest ecologist have paid off. Her work with herbicides uncovered the fact that denuding tree farms doesn’t help them grow faster — a finding that overturned the forestry industry’s prevailing logic for half a century. Later, upending basic Darwinian logic, she showed conclusively that different trees — and even different tree species — are involved in a constant exchange of resources and information via underground fungal networks, known technically as mycorrhizae and popularly as the Wood Wide Web.

Her long fight against the twin patriarchies of the logging industry and the scientific Establishment has yielded startling discoveries about tree sociality — and even, some believe, about tree sentience. Now Simard, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has published a memoir, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest — which is being adapted into a film, with Amy Adams set to star. We spoke recently about what studying trees has taught her about how to live in our increasingly tenuous world, and how forests can help fix our compounding problems.

Do you feel that being a woman in a male-dominated field has given you any special insights into the workings of the plant world?
For sure. I was always on the outside, because it was a man’s world. Women weren’t allowed into forestry until my generation. The whole perspective on forests was all from this one-gendered perspective. It very much focused on competition and dominance. When I came in, saying, “What about the collaborative things going on?” — I don’t think that my male colleagues would have asked those questions. I did learn from them, of course, and they started looking at collaboration too, well before me. But I was the one who took it further and fought the industry.

Your book is full of harrowing stories about your adventures working in the forestry industry, deep in the mountains, being chased by grizzlies and scrambling up trees. But to me, perhaps the scariest thing was the state of forestry back then. What kinds of practices were you witnessing?
I would say that the state of forestry is even worse now. But back then, for me, it was a shock, because I came from a family where we were horse-logging and selective logging, and suddenly I’m working in an industry where it was all clear-cutting and replanting monocultures. I really loved the work, and I try to convey that in the book. I loved being in the old-growth forest, even though I was laying out clear-cuts and roads, because I was so free, and I was doing this dangerous work among grizzlies. But at the same time that I had this love affair with the job, I also saw the devastation that it was wreaking.

You describe how logging companies will fly around in helicopters and spray their clearcuts with Roundup to kill off undergrowth, believing that this will get rid of “competition” and make their tree farms grow faster. But you started to discover that it doesn’t really have the intended effect.
I got a position with Canada’s minister of forests as a research silviculturist, and my job was to research how to regrow these plantations. They had adopted these policies and practices from the U.S., where it was a war on the forest, clear-cutting like crazy and applying multiple layers of herbicides. I did all this research on what the impact of that practice was on different kinds of plant communities. In almost all cases, it made no difference in how fast the trees grew. They grew the same, but the biodiversity was lower. Now, there were some forest types where it did improve growth. But it also caused survival rates to go down, because the trees were getting infected with pathogens and insect infestations. I did this work for like 11 or 12 years, and I published it all, and I’m just going, “The evidence is not there for what we’re doing!” It was making the forest worse. And yet they’ve actually hung onto those policies.

How does it feel, to have your work ignored?
I’m not the only scientist who gets ignored, so that’s okay. These policies get entrenched, and people feel like that policy is their life’s work, so as long as those people are in place, they will protect it to their death. Then, as the policy is in place for longer and longer, there’s a whole industry that evolves around supporting that work — the herbicide industry and the brush-clearing industry and the growing-fast-trees industry. The momentum starts, and once that whole thing gets going, it’s really hard to change.

In the book you describe standing in tree plantations, looking at rows of trees, and a lot of them don’t look healthy. And then you look just off to the side, where there’s a wild forest with a mix of species, and they seem to be doing quite well. It seems like the whole of your career is an investigation of that mystery: Why is it that those trees over there are doing better than the trees on the plantation?
When I started my Ph.D., I learned about this work in the U.K. by David Read, where he had grown pines in root boxes in the lab, and found they connected together; he labeled one pine with carbon-14 and saw it move into another pine. I wanted to find out if that was partly what was going on in my forest. I ended up discovering that the mycorrhizae are really what links the plant with the soil. They were the conduit from the photosynthetic machinery into the soil, which drove everything, all the cycles.

At first people were resistant to the idea that one tree species would be helping another. But that’s precisely what you found.

Yeah, in fact, in that little system that I was working in, with birch, fir, and cedar, the more the birch shaded the fir, the more the birch shared its resources with the fir. That upended our notion that birch was just this competitor; it was actually collaborating. And the system was fluid, so later, when the birch needed resources, the fir would provide it. The upshot of this was that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2021 at 10:52 am

He Bought Health Insurance for Emergencies. Then He Fell Into a $33,601 Trap Created by the Trump Administration.

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Jenny Deam reports in ProPublica:

In the spring of 2019, Cory Dowd suddenly found himself without health insurance for the first time. A self-employed event planner, he had just finished a Peace Corps stint that provided health benefits, but he was still more than a year away from starting a graduate program that would provide coverage through his university.

So, like countless others in an online world, he went insurance shopping on the internet.

But the individual insurance market he was about to enter was one dramatically changed under President Donald Trump’s push to dismantle Obamacare, offering more choices at cheaper prices.

Dowd is well-educated and knew more than most about how traditional health insurance works. But even he did not understand the extent to which insurers could offer plans that looked like a great deal but were stuffed with fine print that allowed companies to deny payment for routine medical events.

Not bound by the strict coverage rules of the Affordable Care Act, the short-term plans that Dowd signed up for have been dubbed “junk insurance” by consumer advocates and health policy experts. The plans can deny coverage for people with preexisting conditions, exclude payments for common treatments and impose limits on how much is paid for care.

Dowd, like millions of other Americans who have flocked to such plans in the past three years, only saw what looked like a great deal: six-month coverage offered through an agency called Pivot Health, whose website touts the company as a “fast-growing team obsessed with helping you find the right insurance for your needs.”

Monthly premiums for the two short-term plans he bought were surprisingly cheap at around $100 a month each, with reasonable co-pays for routine doctor visits and treatments. Best of all, the first plan he bought promised to cover up to $1 million in claims, the second up to $750,000. That should more than do it, he thought. Dowd was 31 and healthy but wanted protection in case of a medical emergency. He signed up and began paying his premiums without closely reading the details.

Then he was hit with the very kind of emergency he had feared. And he wasn’t protected after all.

Short-term plans have been around for decades, and are meant to temporarily bridge coverage gaps. Under the Affordable Care Act they were limited to three months. But when the Trump administration allowed them to be extended to nearly a year, they became a fast-growing and lucrative slice of the insurance industry.

Because these plans are not legally bound by the strict rules of the ACA, not only do they come with hefty restrictions and coverage limitations, but insurers can search through patients’ past medical histories to find preexisting conditions.

All companies selling short-term plans have to do is acknowledge that they are not ACA-compliant and may not cover everything — a disclosure the insurers insist they do.

Still, the Biden administration faces a challenge on what to do about the proliferation of such plans.

Once in office, President Joe Biden quickly moved to make enrolling in comprehensive ACA coverage easier and make plans more affordable. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced 940,000 people had signed up for ACA plans this spring after enrollment was reopened in February. In many states, enrollment will run through the summer.

Yet, while health policy experts say ACA expansion is important, it does not specifically address those who remain in plans outside the health care law and could be at risk for financial ruin.

“The Biden administration is going to have to find a way to put the genie back in the bottle,” said Stacey Pogue, a health policy analyst for Every Texan, an Austin-based advocacy group.

True numbers of how many people have noncompliant plans remain elusive, as such plans often fly under regulatory radar and industry tracking. Still, an investigation last year by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce concluded that at least 3 million consumers had short-term limited duration plans in 2019, the last year for which information was available. That was a 27% jump from the previous year, when deregulation began in earnest, the investigation found.

“I would not be surprised if  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2021 at 10:24 am

Shave-stick discovery and another Clubman Pinaud/Pinaud-Clubman aftershave: Lustray Coachman

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Since I’m using a shave stick today, preshave prep was with MR GLO rather than Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave. The shave stick is a Razor Emporium stick, which has oxidized somewhat and also dried out a lot, leaving a surface that is quite hard and scratchy.

My first thought was that D.R. Harris is clever in having a screw-on (air-tight) cap for its shave sticks, which prevents drying out. My second thought was, “Wait a minute, my Arko, Speick, Wilkinson, and Valobra shave sticks have no cap and, despite being exposed to air, don’t dry out, harden, and crack the way this one did.”

This was the first shave stick Razor Emporium brought to market, however, and those other brands have been around for decades. I think what we see is that experience is a good teacher. It may well be that the current RE shave sticks have been reformulated to avoid the problem, especially since those other brands seem to have found a solution.

Nevertheless, I was able to get enough soap scraped off for the Sabini brush to create a workable lather. The process of rubbing the stick against the grain all over my stubble was not, however, the usual pleasant experience. It was actively uncomfortable, and I bid the stick adieu when I finished.

My Feather AS-D1 (one of the good ones) did its usual wonderful job and left my face completely smooth and undamaged for a good splash of Lustray Coachman aftershave. (For the relationship of Lustray, Clubman, and Pinaud, see the previous shaving post.)

And the weekend begins at last.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2021 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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