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Codetermination? Why Not Just Powerful Unions Instead?

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Kevin Drum poses a good question in Mother Jones:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren thinks big corporations have too much power, so next week she’ll be introducing new legislation to address that:

That’s where my bill comes in. The Accountable Capitalism Act restores the idea that giant American corporations should look out for American interests. Corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue would be required to get a federal corporate charter. The new charter requires corporate directors to consider the interests of all major corporate stakeholders—not only shareholders—in company decisions. Shareholders could sue if they believed directors weren’t fulfilling those obligations.

This approach follows the “benefit corporation” model, which gives businesses fiduciary responsibilities beyond their shareholders….My bill also would give workers a stronger voice in corporate decision-making at large companies. Employees would elect at least 40% of directors.

Warren’s basic idea is that workers have lost power over the past few decades and therefore have seen sluggish wage growth. At the same time, this has allowed management and shareholders to pocket the rising profits of corporations since they don’t have to fight workers for a bigger share. She’s certainly right about that. Labor and management shares of income vary a bit during booms and recesssions, but the overall trend since the Reagan era is crystal clear:

But here’s the thing I don’t get. Warren’s theory is that this has happened largely because workers have lost negotiating power over the past four decades. Even conservatives, I think, wouldn’t argue too strongly against this notion. It’s pretty plain that the demise of unions has stripped workers of wage bargaining power and this has reduced their ability to claim the same share of overall corporate income that they used to.

But if that’s the case, why introduce a bill that primarily changes the composition of corporate boards? My objection isn’t that it won’t work. It might. But we know that making it easier for workers to unionize would work, and Republicans will fight just as hard against one as the other. So why choose an oddball proposal that sounds European and vaguely socialist even to the American working class?

Why not instead propose a truly simple and powerful proposal to boost unionization throughout the American economy? If your goal is to increase the power of the working class, this is the way to do it. It’s been done in America before, notably during the “Golden Age” of the 40s and 50s when America was supposedly greater than it is now. It produced a strong economy. It didn’t pauperize the rich. It’s easy for workers to understand. And you’re going to need a Democratic president and 60 Democratic senators to pass it, just like Warren’s bill. If the Democratic Party is ready for Warren’s new idea, it’s ready for my old idea. What’s not to like?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2018 at 1:44 pm

“Rigged Witch Hunt,” Meet Trump’s “Red Wave”

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A leader who lives in a delusion does his followers great harm. Susan B. Glasser reports in the New Yorker:

Donald Trump’s Presidency is often described as a reality-show version of the White House, with Trump himself as the producer, director, and main character. There’s something to the metaphor, of course; Trump is a showman, a veteran of the reality-TV genre who relishes the notion of himself as a master manipulator, able to dominate the news cycle at will by changing plotlines and introducing new controversies to distract us from the old. But the President’s volatile behavior and untethered public comments in recent days suggest that the analogy misses the mark: Trump’s act today is an unreality show. The President is not so much trying to shape our perception of events with his theatrics as he is trying to sell the American public, or at least his narrow slice of it, on an entirely opposite version of what is actually happening.

honesty wins!” the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon, and, arguably, ever, tweeted on Thursday morning. On Wednesday, he announced that he had revoked the security clearance of John Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, who has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest public critics, citing as grounds Brennan’s supposed “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary,” an example if ever there was one of a President projecting onto his enemies his own attributes. To bolster his case, Trump paraphrased his friend Sean Hannity, the Fox TV host, accusing Brennan and an array of other former national-security officials of a grave crime, the very one that Trump and his advisers are being investigated for: “They tried to steal and influence an election in the United States.”

For months, Trump and amplifiers like Hannity have promoted an increasingly elaborate and Orwellian version of the 2016 election meddling, in which the actual outrage was not the Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, or the serious possibility of the Trump campaign’s collusion with it. Instead, there was a vast conspiracy to benefit Hillary Clinton by Brennan and other former officials of the Obama Administration; the special counsel, Robert Mueller; James Comey and the rest of the F.B.I.; Trump’s own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions; “17 Angry Democrats”; and a rotating cast of others. In a revelatory interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump even tied the plotlines together, announcing that he had decided to withdraw Brennan’s security clearance because of “the rigged witch hunt” and “sham” Brennan helped lead. “It’s something that had to be done,” he declared.

The “Rigged Witch Hunt” may have become the signature story of Trump’s unreality show, but there are many other examples. Over the next ten weeks, expect the President to emphasize, with increasing urgency and intensity, the personal campaign he has started to reshape public perceptions of the upcoming midterm elections. The numbers, the polls, the battleground map, and the entire previous history of midterm elections in the modern era suggest a Republican defeat in November of large and possibly massive proportions. And yet President Trump now insists that there will be no “blue wave,” and that a “red wave” is coming instead.

Trump first started tweeting his “red wave” slogan in June, responding to California primary-election results showing Trump’s Republican Party in serious trouble in the historically G.O.P.-leaning suburban districts that the Party needs to keep to retain control of the House. Trump insisted the opposite. “Great night for Republicans!” he wrote. “So much for the big Blue Wave. It may be a big Red Wave.”

Ever since, the President has adopted this as his election mantra. Earlier this month, he tweeted this reality-defying version of his latest plotline: “Presidential Approval numbers are very good – strong economy, military and just about everything else. Better numbers than Obama at this point, by far. We are winning on just about every front and for that reason there will not be a Blue Wave, but there might be a Red Wave!” Three days later, buoyed by a series of rallies for the Trump faithful at which he repeated his new slogan, Trump tweeted it again. “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win! I love the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!” The President repeated it again after this week’s contests: “Great Republican election results last night. So far we have the team we want. 8 for 9 in Special Elections. Red Wave!”

The problem with all these tweets is not so much that they are riddled with factual inaccuracies, although they are. (Obama’s approval numbers were better at this point; pending the results in Ohio’s Twelfth District, Republicans have only won seven of nine special elections for this Congress.) The problem is that there is no red wave in sight, nor do the Republicans who have to deal with that reality expect one to somehow magically materialize. “No, there is no red wave. There is no one who thinks that,” a Republican strategist who has been advising the Party’s keep-the-House efforts told me on Thursday. “It’s like the phrase from his book, ‘The Art of the Deal’: Lying isn’t lying if it’s in the service of Trump.”

The Republican strategist told me that he and his colleagues at the national Party know what they are up against. “He’s not convincing political operators in Washington, D.C., but that’s not his goal,” the strategist told me. “He’s convincing people wearing maga hats in Waffle Houses across the country.” Even the Wall Street Journal’s conservative opinion pages, owned by the Trump promoter Rupert Murdoch, have taken issue with this particular Trumpian alternate reality. “Our sense is that Republican voters haven’t recognized how much jeopardy the party is in. Many are content to listen only to their safe media spaces that repeat illusions about a ‘red wave’ and invoke 2016 when the media said Mr. Trump couldn’t win,” the Journal editorialized last week. “But that’s not an excuse for ignoring the evidence of GOP trouble.”

That evidence is overwhelming. “I haven’t spent thirty seconds thinking about a red wave, because I think it is totally delusional. Any Republican pollster or strategist worth their salt just rolls their eyes at the thought of it,” Charlie Cook, the dean of American election forecasters, told me. Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, has followed closely every midterm election since 1974, when the Republicans suffered historic losses amid Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, reshaping Capitol Hill for a generation. His team at the Cook Political Report currently assesses thirty-seven Republican House seats as highly vulnerable, up from twenty in January, including three more moved to “toss-ups” after the primary-election results Trump touted in his red-wave tweet this week. Another fifty Republican-held seats are currently assessed as potentially vulnerable. Given that Democrats only need to defend their two vacant seats and pick up twenty-three more to win back control of the House, they have many possible routes to a majority. As for other metrics used to assess the midterm-election outlook, Trump’s approval ratings remain historically low, hovering around forty per cent, and Democrats register leads of between eight and twelve points in most recent national surveys of generic congressional-ballot preference. Over the last twenty-one midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average of thirty seats in the House and four in the Senate. No wonder Trump is trying to sell the one metric that is trending in his favor, the strong economy. But, even here, he is selling an alternate reality by declaring that the economy is “better than ever,” a conclusion that would surprise, among others, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, each of whom saw growth numbers as good or better, depending on which ones are cited.

Cook told me that he currently believes that “we are looking at a twenty- to forty-seat loss” for Republicans in the House, along with significant losses in state legislative and gubernatorial contests. (The U.S. Senate, he said, is a much murkier picture, with anything from a small G.O.P. gain to a small Democratic gain possible.) What’s more, he added, “Republican losses would be looking in the sixty- to seventy-seat range right now,” if not for the uneven battleground dictated by partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures. In short, he said, the midterm election is shaping up to be a “train wreck” and “a complete shit show” for Trump and his party. So, yes, there is a blue wave—the only question is how big. Cook was categorical that Trump would not be able to somehow turn things around between now and November. “We have never seen a midterm election change directions between midsummer and Election Day,” he said. “I have never seen it happen. They either stay the same or they get worse; we’ve never seen it diminish or reverse.”

For Cook and others, Trump’s red wave comes from the same place that his “Rigged Witch Hunt” originates: Trump’s insistence on the legitimacy of his election victory in 2016 and his unwavering belief that it was the product of his own, precedent-defying brilliance. “The President is emotionally incapable of dealing with the fact that he got elected on a statistical fluke,” losing the popular vote by a wide margin and yet still winning the Electoral College, Cook said. Trump’s alternate reality for 2018 is built on the conviction that he can break the political laws of history once again, never mind that the only evidence to support that conviction, so far, is his own certainty of it. “All the experts said he was wrong and he won, and therefore there’s no reason to listen to an expert ever again.”

On Thursday, I spoke with one of the Democrats who is hoping to ride an actual blue wave this November. Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official under the Obama Administration, is running against a Republican incumbent in the Seventh Congressional District of New Jersey, a largely suburban district that includes Trump’s Bedminster golf club, where the President just spent his August vacation. (“We jokingly talk about turning his putting green blue in November,” Malinowski told me.) A Republican has represented the district since 1981, but Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Trump there in 2016, Democratic turnout far exceeded Republican turnout in the June primary for the first time, and Malinowski has so far outraised the incumbent, Leonard Lance. Cook ranks the race a toss-up, and  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2018 at 12:22 pm

How to Cure Corporate America’s Selfishness

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David Dayen has an interesting article in the New Republic:

Corporations have always been “creatures of the State,” as Teddy Roosevelt once called them. But they have become a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, unmoored from their creators to wreak havoc on the countryside. Corporations no longer consider the broad public interest in making decisions, nor do they worry that the state will ever revoke their license to operate. They only consider the desires of their shareholders, which has led to record corporate profitsstagnant wages, soaring inequality, and a shrinking middle class.

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a counterweight to this relatively recent phenomenon in American business. Her bill, the Accountable Capitalism Act, revolves around a simple idea: The government would grant corporations the right to exist through a public charter, and could use that power to put obligations on corporations to benefit the broader public rather than a small handful of shareholders.

A federal corporate charter, required for all companies with over $1 billion in annual revenue, would be granted through a new Office of United States Corporations in the Commerce Department. The charter could be revoked if corporations didn’t follow its rules, including engaging in “repeated and egregious illegal conduct.” Shareholders could also sue companies for charter violations. “For the past 30 years we have put the American stamp of approval on giant corporations, even as they have ignored the interests of all but a tiny slice of Americans,” Warren wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing the bill. “We should insist on a new deal.”

I’ve argued previously that the corporate charter can be a powerful tool against recidivist corporate lawbreakers who continually harm the public. But charters are primarily conferred at the state level, and states haven’t really enforced them, worried about losing corporate tax revenue. A federal charter short-circuits that fear, and establishes a set of common, enforceable standards of corporate conduct.

Under the federal charter, companies would be required to consider the interests of workers, customers, communities, and society before making major decisions. Employees would elect at least 40 percent of all company directors, giving them representation on corporate boards. That would involve worker representatives in decisions like whether to engage in political spending, which would require sign-off from 75 percent of all directors and shareholders. Finally, executives who receive shares of stock as compensation would have to hold them for at least five years.

Warren is using a variety of strategies to attack shareholder value theory, the way capitalism has been practiced in America since the 1980s. Free market evangelist Milton Friedman created this theory, eliminating what had been a much broader conception of corporate social responsibility. According to Friedman, companies have a duty to act in the sole interests of their shareholders. And shareholders have the overriding goal of increasing the value of their investment.

As the late Cornell professor Lynn Stout explained in her book The Shareholder Value Myth, Friedman’s concept rested on the legal error that only shareholders are stakeholders in a company. But it gradually became the standard in business, and the source of all kinds of perversions of capitalism.

Keeping down worker wages, busting unions, and outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries are all seen as beneficial because a higher percentage of profits goes to the firm. Stock buybacks and other financial engineering have funneled those profits outthrough the capital markets; as Warren notes, “between 2007 and 2016, large American companies dedicated 93 percent of their earnings to shareholders.” Because over 80 percent of all stock is held by 10 percent of the population, inequality has soared. Passive income, which confers a lower tax rate, requires only having money to make money. Most CEO compensation comes in the form of stock, creating powerful incentives to goose the stock price. Corporations spend heavily to influence government to change laws and soften regulations that reduce potential profits, out of an obligation to shareholders.

In short, if corporations are people, shareholder value theory requires them to operate like psychopaths, pursuing only cash and bulldozing any obstacle in their path. A sense of ethics or responsibility to other citizens is disallowed in this framework.

Warren’s agenda would break the tyranny of shareholder value. Giving companies a duty to other stakeholders would force them to consider more than maximizing stock returns. Worker representatives on corporate boards would make the decision-making process far more democratic. Throwing sand in the gears of financial engineering—in addition to the five-year hold on executive stock sales, there would be a three-year lag after any buyback—would discourage both the leaking out of corporate profits to investors and the payment of executive compensation in stock.

There’s proven evidence that this model of corporate governance can work. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2018 at 10:58 am

The Las Vegas Massacre Report and the Rise of Second Amendment Nihilism

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Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker:

A document, recently released—“LVMPD Criminal Investigative Report of the 1 October Mass Casualty Shooting,” to give it its official name—offering the local-police-department summary of the Las Vegas gun massacreof last year, makes for reading that is both hallucinatory and tragic, and in another way absurd. The tragic part comes from the earnest police effort to quantify, tabulate, and graph the actual, horrific effects of machine-gun bullets ripping apart human bodies. We know that each name on the map of casualties—fifty-eight deaths, alongside more than eight hundred wounded, victims left helpless as an invisible storm of death rained down on them during a country-music concert—is a center point from which an unimaginable arc of suffering and grief radiates. But what are the investigators to do but dutifully mark them down? Drawing lines around bodies is what police are supposed to do, in domestic homicides and mob murders. What else is there to do here?

At the same time, it’s hallucinatory to see how little all of the admirable and well-understood procedures that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department—like those of every police department in the country, evolved to deal with violent crime, including mass shooters—could do to halt the massacre before so much damage had been done. In the report, the language of “crime scene analysts,” “lock interrogation documents,” and “key witnesses” is intact even in describing how Hell opened a portal on a happy country-music crowd. This sergeant reached out to that security expert, who spoke to this member of the swat team, and decisions were made to force entry—but was that “service cart” in front of the door perhaps an improvised explosive device?—and, meanwhile, a man with incredibly powerful weapons was killing helpless people. The massacre ended when the murderer put a gun in his own mouth and pulled the trigger. (“Entrance: roof of mouth with abundant soot”—the autopsy of Stephen Paddock, the killer, explains.) The many obscene weapons of mass death he had collected are photographed as they were found in his hotel room, with their specifications delicately included in the captions: “AR-10 .308/7.62 with a bipod and red dot scope. No magazine.”

And it’s absurd, in a mad way, because the premise of the killings was one that no other civilized country would have tolerated for a moment. Paddock bought fifty-five guns, mostly rifles, in the space of a year—most of them the kind of lethal weapons properly called assault rifles or military-style weapons, several augmented with an accessory known as a bump stock, which allowed for even more rapid firing. There is no reason on earth why any citizen of a democracy would ever need even one of these weapons, let alone fifty-five. Not to mention that the simple act of buying that many weapons of murder might be a sign that murder was being planned—an alert missed.

The report takes on the supposedly baffling question of Paddock’s motive, and what comes through is that—unless some astonishing new connection or fact appears in the future—his intention appears to have been purely nihilistic. Paddock wanted to kill a lot of people because he wanted to kill a lot of people. Feelings of frustration and insufficient power, the frequent ignition of such killings, may have moved him, too, and yet they seem to have been more unrooted than such feelings usually are among mass killers. He came from a troubled family, but had managed to acquire money, a girlfriend, an occupation. Basically, it seems to have been an item on his bucket list. He knew that the one thing he could do before he died was murder a lot of people. Why did he want to kill a lot of people? Because he wanted to kill a lot of people. So, he Googled any number of cheerful outdoor concerts, in California and Chicago and also in Las Vegas, and made reservations at hotels looking down on them, and kept buying weapons of mass murder, and finally, there he was, a little god of death.

It’s hard for us to accept that it was as inconsequential as this, but all the evidence suggests that it was. And it reminds us that the attempt to attach a motive to mass killing—as with many individual murders—is, as often as not, a mistake. Killings, whether their perpetrators are fairly called “mentally ill,” can be motiveless in significant ways. Many of the most famous assassinations in our history were so strangely under-motivated that there’s still an odd imbalance between the reason and the act, including Lee Harvey Oswald’s killing of John F. Kennedy. Pure opportunism seems to count for a lot for a man with a weapon.

But then it is in the nature of human violence that there can be a very tenuous connection between the decision to take the act and the desire to perform the act. The motive of the act, the desire, can be in wild disproportion with its effects—or not in any logical way connected at all. That’s what Dostoyevsky and Camus struggled to show to us in art: that the logic of murder was almost always an illogic. One doesn’t have to be grounded in a motive as large as a human life in order to take a human life, much less fifty-eight.

In a horrific way, that side of mass violence is familiar; what makes the American epidemic so appalling is that the nihilism at the heart of Paddock’s acts has now communicated itself to those who attempt to defend it in his right to own fifty-five guns, designed only to kill as many people as possible, in the name of some distorted idea of American liberty. We have entered a new phase in the American horror—that of Second Amendment nihilism. No effort will be made to stop gun massacres. This is, in practical terms, indistinguishable from arriving at a state where the point of having lethal weapons in private hands is to have massacres become ritual sacrifices to be greeted, as all ritual sacrifices are, with prayers. The massacres have become essential to the demonstration of the power of guns, a kind of tribute to the Moloch of absolute autonomy, to a fantasy view of “liberty” that involves the destruction of another person.

Nor can the fight between gun sanity and gun fetishism rationally be called a “culture war” any more than the Civil War was a culture war, rather than, as it really was, one in which human compassion met traditionalized cruelty. One side wants to end the American plague of gun massacres; the other side does not want to end the American plague of gun massacres. Culture wars do exist; people do fight ferociously over symbols. But, if words are to have any sense at all, the phrase “culture war” needs to refer to things that are indeed cultural. The argument over kneeling at N.F.L. games is of that kind: one side believes that the assertion of patriotism overwhelms the demands to appeal for justice, the other that an appeal for justice is what patriotism is all about. Culture wars rightly refer to disputes in which the symbolic or public show of something is what’s at stake. Fights over the legality of crèches on Christmas lawns are culture wars. The right to burn the flag, pro and con, is a culture war.

But mass murder is not a symbolic problem. If you are burning the flag with someone wrapped inside it, then you are no longer making a cultural statement. If, while kneeling on the field, you have your knee on someone else’s neck, it is no longer a symbolic protest. You are attempting a criminal act. What people who talk about gun violence as a “culture war” in which both sides deserve respect really mean is that their right to a fetishized object of power has become so fanatical that they are prepared to ask other people to allow their children to be murdered at concerts rather than interfere with it.

Fantasy and fetishism, as any psychiatrist knows, are intimately linked. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2018 at 3:24 pm

Why the Space Force Is Just Like Trump University

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David Graham writes in the Atlantic:

Late Thursday morning, after playing a round of golf and firing off an angry missive about the Russia investigation, Donald Trump wrote this:

The tweet is a perfect synecdoche for the program in question: short, punchy, and memorable, but ultimately substance-free. The Space Force and the White House’s rollout for it are the most focused exercises in Trumpian branding the nation has seen since the president took office, a project reminiscent of Trump University. Trump is selling the public one idea—a glitzy, pathbreaking new wing of government—and giving it instead a potentially kludgy reorganization of existing government functions.

[Trump has called for the creation of a new military branch. So far, Congress is ignoring him.]

Trump first announced the Space Force, which he says will be a sixth, co-equal branch of the military, in June, when he signed a space-policy directive. But that directive didn’t even mention the Space Force, nor was it totally clear how it would work. As my colleague Marina Koren has reported, many top commanders in the military (including Secretary of Defense James Mattis) opposed the plan, arguing that the Pentagon already had the right infrastructure in place to achieve what Trump wanted: the ability to defend American interests in space. There’s even an existing Air Force Space Command.

Of course, bureaucratic maneuvering isn’t as sexy as the first new branch of the military since 1947. The actual function of the Space Force isn’t nearly as sexy as its name implies, either. As Vice President Mike Pence outlined in a speech Thursday announcing a new Pentagon report on the project, the Space Force is not so much about sending battalions of armed astronauts into the atmosphere as it is about satellites and space-based defense systems. Those functions are potentially important, and American adversaries are interested in making plays for space weapons, but the Defense Department is already working on them.

When Pence complained Thursday that “while our adversaries have been busy weaponizing space, too often we have bureaucratized it,” he was protesting too much. Even though what Trump is proposing is basically a reorganization of existing systems, he has treated it as if he is launching something unprecedented. (The Space Force also can’t go forward unless Congress authorizes it.)

Later on Thursday, the Trump reelection campaign sent an email inviting supporters to vote on a logo for the Space Force. Here are the options: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2018 at 3:20 pm

Congress Makes Corruption Too Easy

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David Dayen writes in the New Republic:

Six years ago, Congress passed the STOCK Act, which for the first time made members of Congress liable for insider trading, just like any other investor. On Wednesday, the Justice Department issued the very first indictment under that law when it arrested Representative Chris Collins, Trump’s earliest supporter in Congress, and accused him of sharing inside information about an Australian pharmaceutical company with his son and other investors.

Last year, Collins allegedly learned, before the public did, about the failure of a clinical trial for a multiple sclerosis drug by Innate Immunotherapeutic. He told Cameron Collins, his son and a fellow shareholder, who dumped his stock. Cameron then distributed the information to at least six other investors, who also sold the stock before news broke about the failed trial, dropping the stock price by 92 percent. All told, the defendants and their friends avoided over $768,000 in losses, according to the indictment.

The STOCK Act was intended to prevent members of Congress, who have access to all kinds of non-public information, from using their knowledge to make money for themselves and others. But Collins came by his information in a different, almost unbelievable way: He was on the board of directors of Innate Immunotherapeutics while also serving in Congress. Collins also held 16.8 percent of the company’s stock, and he was the company’s unofficial tout on Capitol Hill, getting at least six colleagues—including, at one point, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price—to buy shares.

Meanwhile, Collins sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee, a position that gives him policymaking responsibilities over the pharmaceutical industry. As many Americans are learning for the first time today, there is no law prohibiting a congressman from serving as a corporate board member—even if that congressman specializes in policymaking that covers that corporation’s industry.

The details in the indictment are comical in the retelling of such naked corruption. When Collins learned about the failure of the multiple sclerosis drug trial, Innate Immunotherapeutics had halted trading on its shares at the Australian Stock Exchange, a routine circumstance when a company receives important news that they will later make public. But the U.S. over-the-counter market did not stop trading Innate, giving insiders the chance to financially benefit.

On June 22, 2017, Collins was at the White House Congressional Picnic when he got an email from Innate’s CEO about the “extremely bad news” from the clinical trial. Innate had put most of its hopes in the success of the multiple sclerosis drug, but it proved ineffective.

Collins got the email at 7:10 p.m. He wrote back, “Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???” Because Collins’s stock was held in Australia, where trading was halted, he couldn’t get his big stake out of the company. But his son Cameron had shares in Innate with a U.S. broker, which meant he could dump them.

From inside the White House, Collins immediately called his son, and they exchanged seven calls before finally connecting. Father and son had a short discussion, and the next morning Cameron began the first sale orders of what would eventually be a dumping of 1,391,500 shares, before release of the information on June 27. Cameron Collins also informed other shareholders, and at least six dumped their shares in Innate.

When news of the clinical trial failure broke, Collins’s spokesperson gave a statement to a local paper that “Cameron Collins has liquidated all his shares after the stock halt was lifted, suffering a substantial financial loss,” conveniently leaving out the 1.39 million shares Cameron Collins sold prior to that point.

While all this was going on, Chris Collins was already under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog, about his relationship with Innate. Collins was a co-author of the 21st Century Cures Act, which included provisions that would accelerate the approval process for drugs like the multiple sclerosis treatment being developed by Innate. He encouraged a National Institutes of Health employee to meet with Innate about its clinical trials in 2013.

Collins was also popping off to anyone who would listen about what a great investment opportunity Innate was, leading Republican representatives Markwayne Mullin, Billy Long, John Culberson, Mike Conaway, and Doug Lamborn to buy shares. Tom Price got in under a special discounted offer available to less than 20 people in the U.S. After being nominated for Health and Human Services secretary, Price sold his shares; it’s unclear if the others were tipped off. (Lamborn still owned shares as of last October—unfortunately for him, as they’re effectively worthless.) . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2018 at 11:27 am

War Without End: The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.

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C.J. Chivers paints a grim but realistic picture:

Second Platoon did not hide its dark mood as its soldiers waded across the Korengal River in the bright light of afternoon. It was early in April 2009 and early in the Pentagon’s resumption in earnest of the Afghan war. The platoon’s mission was to ascend a mountain slope and try to ambush the Taliban at night. They were about 30 men in all, riflemen and machine-gunners reinforced with scouts, a mix of original platoon members and replacements who filled gaps left by the wounded and the dead. Many of them considered their plan foolish, a draining and dangerous waste of time, another example of a frustrated Army unit’s trying to show activity for the brass in a war low on focus and hope. They muttered foul words as they moved.

Specialist Robert Soto had been haunted by dread as the soldiers left their base, the Korengal Outpost. His platoon was part of an infantry unit that called itself Viper, the radio call sign for Bravo Company, First Battalion of the 26th Infantry. Viper had occupied the outpost for nine months, a period in which its soldiers were confined to a small stretch of lower valley and impoverished villages clinging to hillsides beneath towering peaks. Second Platoon had started its deployment with three squads but suffered so many casualties that on this day even with replacements it mustered at about two-thirds strength. With attrition came knowledge. Soto knew firsthand that the war did not resemble the carefully considered national project the generals discussed in the news. He had enlisted in the Army from the Bronx less than two years before, motivated by a desire to protect the United States from another terrorist attack. But his idealism had turned swiftly into realism, and the war had become a matter of him and his friends surviving each day as days cohered into a tour. He was doubtful about the rest, from the competence of the war’s organizers down to the merits of this ambush patrol. There’s no way this works, he thought. The valley felt like a network of watchers who set up American platoons, relaying word to those laying traps.

Soto sensed eyes following the patrol. Everybody can see us.

He was 19, but at 160 pounds and barely needing to shave, he could pass for two years younger. He was nobody’s archetype of a fighter. A high school drama student, he joined the Army at 17 and planned to become an actor if he survived the war. Often he went about his duties with an enormous smile, singing no matter what anyone else thought — R. & B., rap, rock, hip-hop, the blues. All of this made him popular in the platoon, even as he had become tenser than his former self and older than his years; even as his friends and sergeants he admired were killed, leaving him a burden of ghosts.

He faced the steep uphill climb, physically ready, emotionally spent. We’re just trying to get out of here in two months, he thought. He and his fellow soldiers had been in the valley long enough that they moved in the sinewy, late-deployment fitness of infantry squads seasoned by war. Sweat soaked his back. His quadriceps and calves drove him on, pushing him like a pack animal for the soldier beside him, Specialist Arturo Molano, who carried an M240 machine gun. The two fell into a rhythm. One soldier would get over a hard patch, turn around and extend a hand to the other. “Hey, man, you good?” Soto would ask. Molano would say he was fine. “You want me to carry the gun?” Soto would offer. Molano declined every time. Soto considered Molano to be selfless and tough, someone who routinely carried more than men of much larger size. He liked being partnered with someone like this.

After a few hours, Second Platoon reached the crest, high above the valley. The soldiers inhaled deeply, taking in the thin air. Away from the outpost’s burning trash, the air tasted clean.

A few soldiers went forward to check the trail before the rest of the platoon moved to the ambush site. With little more than whispers, the soldiers arranged themselves in a triangle astride a mountain footpath. Second Lt. Justin Smith, their platoon leader, put Molano at one corner and a second man with an M240 at another, with their machine guns angled back toward each other so their fire could create an interlocking zone of flying lead. Other soldiers set claymore mines on small stands.

Everything was ready before dark. The air was chilly and the ridge raked by gusts. Soto was shivering. He pulled a dry undershirt and socks from his pack, changed clothes, ate a protein bar and washed it down with water. He saw his company’s outpost below, across the open space, and realized this must be what it looked like to militants when they attacked. A distant call to prayer floated on the mountain air.

In early October, the Afghan war will be 17 years old, a milestone that has loomed with grim inevitability as the fighting has continued without a clear exit strategy across three presidential administrations. With this anniversary, prospective recruits born after the terrorist attacks of 2001 will be old enough to enlist. And Afghanistan is not the sole enduring American campaign. The war in Iraq, which started in 2003, has resumed and continues in a different form over the border in Syria, where the American military also has settled into a string of ground outposts without articulating a plan or schedule for a way out. The United States has at various times declared success in its many campaigns — in late 2001; in the spring of 2003; in 2008; in the short-lived withdrawal from Iraq late in 2011; and in its allies’ recapture more recently of the ruins of Ramadi, Falluja, Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State, a terrorist organization, formed in the crucible of occupied Iraq, that did not even exist when the wars to defeat terrorism started. And still the wars grind on, with the conflict in Afghanistan on track to be a destination for American soldiers born after it began.

More than three million Americans have served in uniform in these wars. Nearly 7,000 of them have died. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. More are killed or wounded each year, in smaller numbers but often in dreary circumstances, including the fatal attack in July on Cpl. Joseph Maciel by an Afghan soldier — a member of the very forces that the United States has underwritten, trained and equipped, and yet as a matter of necessity and practice now guards itself against.

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

As the costs have grown — whether measured by dollars spent, stature lost or blood shed — the wars’ architects and the commentators supporting them have often been ready with optimistic or airbrushed predictions, each pitched to the latest project or newly appointed general’s plan. According to the bullhorns and depending on the year, America’s military campaigns abroad would satisfy justice, displace tyrants, keep violence away from Western soil, spread democracy, foster development, prevent sectarian war, protect populations, reduce corruption, bolster women’s rights, decrease the international heroin trade, check the influence of extreme religious ideology, create Iraqi and Afghan security forces that would be law-abiding and competent and finally build nations that might peacefully stand on their own in a global world, all while discouraging other would-be despots and terrorists.

Aside from displacing tyrants and leading to the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, none of this turned out as pitched. Prominent successes were short-lived. New thugs rose where old thugs fell. Corruption and lawlessness remain endemic. An uncountable tally of civilians — many times the number of those who perished in the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 — were killed. Others were wounded or driven from their homes, first by American action and then by violent social forces American action helped unleash.

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine. Much of the infrastructure the United States built with its citizens’ treasure and its troops’ labor lies abandoned. Briefly schools or outposts, many are husks, looted and desolate monuments to forgotten plans. Hundreds of thousands of weapons provided to would-be allies have vanished; an innumerable quantity are on markets or in the hands of Washington’s enemies. Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves. National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world — exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

Almost two decades after the White House cast American troops as liberators to be welcomed, large swaths of territory where the Pentagon deployed combat forces are under stubborn insurgent influence. Areas once touted as markers of counterinsurgency progress have become no-go zones, regions in which almost no Americans dare tread, save a few journalists and aid workers, or private military contractors or American military and C.I.A. teams.

Across these years, hundreds of thousands of young men and women signed on in good faith and served in the lower and middle ranks. They did not make policy. They lived within it. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US cannot afford this.

Denying reality is ultimately a losing strategy.

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