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Leaked Audio of Sen. Joe Manchin Call With Billionaire Donors Provides Rare Glimpse of Dealmaking on Filibuster and January 6 Commission

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A little glimpse of the process of making sausage legislation. Lee Fang and Ryan Grim report in the Intercept:

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, in a private call on Monday with a group of major donors, provided a revealing look at his political approach to some of the thorniest issues confronting lawmakers.

[report at the link includes an audio playback of the call – LG]

The remarks were given on a Zoom teleconference session that was obtained by The Intercept.

The meeting was hosted by the group No Labels, a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Among the gathering’s newsworthy revelations: Manchin described an openness to filibuster reform at odds with his most recent position that will buoy some Democrats’ hopes for enacting their agenda.

The call included several billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them Louis Bacon, chief executive of Moore Capital Management; Kenneth D. Tuchman, founder of global outsourcing company TeleTech; and Howard Marks, the head of Oaktree Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country. The Zoom participant log included a dial-in from Tudor Investment Corporation, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Also present was a roster of heavy-hitting political influencers, including Republican consultant Ron Christie and Lieberman, who serves as a representative of No Labels and now advises corporate interests.

The meeting was led by Nancy Jacobson, the co-founder of No Labels.

The wide-ranging conversation went into depth on the fate of the filibuster, infrastructure negotiations, and the failed effort to create a bipartisan commission to explore the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and offers a frank glimpse into the thinking of the conservative Democrat who holds the party’s fate in his hands.

Manchin told the assembled donors that he needed help flipping a handful of Republicans from no to yes on the January 6 commission in order to strip the “far left” of their best argument against the filibuster. The filibuster is a critical priority for the donors on the call, as it bottles up progressive legislation that would hit their bottom lines.

When it came to Sen. Roy Blunt, a moderate Missouri Republican who voted no on the commission, Manchin offered a creative solution. “Roy Blunt is a great, just a good friend of mine, a great guy,” Manchin said. “Roy is retiring. If some of you all who might be working with Roy in his next life could tell him, that’d be nice and it’d help our country. That would be very good to get him to change his vote. And we’re going to have another vote on this thing. That’ll give me one more shot at it.”

Regarding Blunt, Manchin appears to be suggesting — without, perhaps, quite explicitly saying so — that the wealthy executives on the call could dangle future financial opportunities in front of the outgoing senator while lobbying him to change his vote. Senate ethics rules forbid future job negotiations if they create a conflict of interest or present even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Manchin, notably, doesn’t suggest that the donors discuss a job, but rather says that people who Blunt may later be working with would be likely to have significant influence, reflective of the way future job prospects can shape the legislative process even when unspoken.

The commission, Manchin tells No Labels, is important in its own right, necessary to determine how security failed and what former President Donald Trump’s role was in the riot, if any. But it’s also critical to maintaining support for the filibuster. The January 6 commission got 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster — a thorough embarrassment for those like Manchin who claim bipartisanship is still possible in the divided Senate chamber.

Manchin told the donors he hoped to make another run at it to prove that comity is not lost. He noted that Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who missed the vote, would have voted for it had he been there, meaning only three more votes are needed. “What I’m asking for, I need to go back, I need to find three more Republican, good Republican senators that will vote for the commission. So at least we can tamp down where people say, ‘Well, Republicans won’t even do the simple lift, common sense of basically voting to do a commission that was truly bipartisan.’ It just really emboldens the far left saying, ‘I told you, how’s that bipartisan working for you now, Joe?’” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 9:37 am

Republicans are on a mission to destroy democracy in the US, and Mitch McConnell is their leader.

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that it is “highly unlikely” that he would permit President Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if the Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022.

While it seems certain that, if returned to his leadership role in the Senate, McConnell would block any Biden nominee, the fact he said it right now suggests that he is hoping to keep evangelical voters firmly in the Republican camp. In 2016, after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, McConnell refused even to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s justification for this unprecedented obstruction was that Obama’s March nomination was too close to an election—a rule he ignored four years later when he rushed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the Court in late October when voting in the upcoming election was already underway—and yet the underlying reason for the 2016 delay was at least in part his recognition that hopes of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, especially on the issue of abortion, were likely to push evangelical voters to the polls.

McConnell’s stance was at least in part directed to the changing nature of the judiciary under President Biden. Last week, the Senate confirmed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, a truly astonishing first since Muslims have been part of the U.S. since the earliest days of African enslavement in the early 1600s. By a vote of 81 to 16, the Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

More to the point, perhaps, for McConnell, is that the Senate today confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jackson takes the place of Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. This post is generally seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Biden has suggested he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is widely thought to be a top contender.

Aside from its implications for the Supreme Court, McConnell’s stand makes a mockery of Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on bipartisan support for legislation that protects voting rights. Manchin is demanding that bills protecting voting win bipartisan support because he says he fears that increasing partisanship will injure our democracy. McConnell’s flaunting of his manipulation of Senate rules to cement Republican control of our courts leaves Manchin twisting in the wind.

States, too, are passing voter suppression legislation along strictly partisan lines. The Brennan Center for Justice keeps tabs on voting legislation. It writes that “Republicans introduced and drove virtually all of the bills that impose new voting restrictions, and the harshest new laws were passed with almost exclusively Republican votes and signed into law by Republican governors.”

The Republican domination of the government over the past four years is on the table today as Democratic lawmakers try to get to the bottom of who authorized the FBI under former president Trump to spy on reporters, Democratic lawmakers and their families and staff members, and on White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife. CNN chief congressional reporter Manu Raju tweeted that Adam Schiff (D-NY) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says after speaking with Garland that he still doesn’t know who started the investigation. “We discussed the need to really do a full scale review of what went on in the last four years, and make sure that steps are taken to re-establish the independence of the department,” he said.

While Attorney General Merrick Garland has referred the issue to the inspector general of the Justice Department, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), tonight announced the committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s secret seizure of data. “It is…possible that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 10:48 pm

GOP Senator Says Democracy and Majority Rule Are Not What Our Country Stands For

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In New York Jonathan Chait writes about Rand Paul and his radical beliefs:

One of the edifying side effects of the Trump era has been that, by making democracy the explicit subject of political debate, it has revealed the stark fact many influential conservatives do not believe in it. Mike Lee blurted out last fall that he opposes “rank democracy.” His fellow Republican senator, Rand Paul, tells the New York Times today, “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for. The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

Paul is a bit of a crank, but here he is gesturing at a recognizable set of ideas that have long been articulated by conservative intellectuals. Importantly, these ideas are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives. Indeed, they have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.

The belief system Paul is endorsing contains a few related claims. First, the Founders explicitly and properly rejected majoritarianism. (Their favorite shorthand is “We’re a republic, not a democracy.”) Second, to the extent the current system has shortcomings, they reveal the ignorance of the majority and hence underscore the necessity of limiting democracy. Third, slavery and Jim Crow are the best historical examples of democracy run amok.

National Review has consistently advocated this worldview since its founding years, when it used these ideas to oppose civil-rights laws, and has persisted in using these ideas to argue for restrictions on the franchise. “Was ‘democracy’ good when it empowered slave owners and Jim Crow racists?,” asked NR’s David Harsanyi. Majority rule “sounds like a wonderful thing … if you haven’t met the average American voter,” argued NR’s Kevin Williamson, rebutting the horrifying ideal of majority rule with the knock-down argument: “If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.”

It is important to understand that these conservatives have taken Trump’s election, and escalating threats to democracy, not as a challenge to their worldview but as confirmation of it. If Trump is threatening democracy, this merely proves that the people who elected him are ignorant and therefore unfit to rule. The attempted coup of January 6, another NR column sermonized, ought to “remind us of the wisdom that the Founders held dear centuries ago: We are a republic, not a direct democracy, and we’d best act like it.”

The factual predicate for these beliefs is deeply confused. The Founders did reject “democracy,” but they understood the term to mean direct democracy, contrasting it with representative government, in which the people vote for elected officials who are accountable to them.

It is also true that they created a system that was not democratic. In part this was because they did not consider Americans like Black people, women, and non-landowners as deserving of the franchise. On top of this, they were forced to grudgingly accept compromises of the one-man, one-vote principle in order to round up enough votes for the Constitution; thus the “Three-Fifths Compromise” (granting extra weight in Congress to slaveholders) and the existence of the Senate.

Since the 18th century, the system has evolved in a substantially more democratic direction: The franchise has been extended to non-landowners, women, and Black people and senators are now elected by voters rather than state legislatures, among other pro-democratic reforms. To justify democratic backsliding by citing the Founders is to use an argument that proves far too much: Restoring our original founding principles would support disenfranchising the overwhelming majority of the electorate, after all.

Even more absurd is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

The most insidious aspect of the Lee-Paul right-wing belief system is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 6:17 pm

“I took a vote that cost me my seat. I know what Joe Manchin is facing.”

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Impressive column in the Washington Post by Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and a former U.S. Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes Region, now serving as the U.S. executive director of the Open Society Foundations. He writes:

“Just promise you will never forget that Judgment Day is more important than Election Day.” That was the advice — directive, really — my father offered when I asked about running for Congress. He was born and raised in Dunbar, W.Va., with the deep faith in the community, the Catholic Church and the New Deal that defined many Italian immigrant families recruited by the coal mines or Union Carbide. My dad died a few months after seeing me sworn in as a member of the 111th Congress in 2009, just three weeks after he retired as a pediatrician. He had cared for so many children of every race, faith and class that more than 1,000 people showed up for his funeral.

When I cast one of the deciding votes to pass the Affordable Care Act that year— a vote many warned might cost me my seat — I wore one of my father’s old wool suits. He had opposed Hillary Clinton’s 1993 health-care plan but watched regretfully as the insurance companies spread like a cancer across his profession, choking out the space between doctor and patient. I felt him nodding with approval from on high.

My dad liked Governor Joe Manchin and would have really loved Sen. Manchin for his decency and determination to fight for forgotten towns and workers. This year, the Democratic senator from West Virginia has shown marked political courage by embracing at least the aspirations of President Biden’s agenda to “build back better,” sending a signal to colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this is a time to unite around solutions rather than hide in the shadow of base politics.

[Yes, the Senate is rigged for small states. But not for Republicans]

As his colleagues fail to answer this call, Manchin is rapidly approaching a test of his convictions on what he must do to protect America’s historic experiment with democracy. West Virginia became a state when its citizens had the honor to break away from Virginia to defend our more perfect union. Now, their senior senator may need to break traditions to defend voting rights and the integrity of our elections. Manchin recently indicated his inability to support the For the People Act unless Republican senators show the courage to put democracy over party. He stated no substantive disagreements with the reforms, which would limit partisan gerrymandering, dark money, foreign election interference, and corporate corruption, while adopting existing voting rights and expanded election protections.

Defending voting rights and election integrity should not and cannot be a partisan issue. As the Pew Research Center found, large majorities of Americans support making it easier to vote and reducing the power of special interests through the kinds of policies enshrined in the For the People Act. It’s just the Republicans in Congress who refuse to support it.

One party is attacking democracy, and that same party is blocking attempts to protect it. Citing that as an excuse to disarm unilaterally is like telling a farmer whose cattle are being stolen that he needs the thief’s permission to put up cameras or hire guards. The bipartisanship Manchin celebrates from the 1980s, at its best, represented genuine compromise. Frankly, in this era, anything the diverse body of 50 Democratic senators can agree on probably would have been seen as “bipartisan” back then. My father’s family swung from JFK Republicans to Reagan Democrats, but they’d be at a loss to understand the Republican caucus of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

When I came to Congress, I represented a deep red district and dreamed of bipartisanship, and I was proud to retain support from independent and Republican voters and outperform the party brand by double digits. But the one place I found no bipartisanship was on the Hill. A few months after I was sworn in, I knew reelection the following year was a long shot. We Democrats failed to convince Americans that we were focused on the economy, and the quiet recovery was not being felt by fall of 2010.

Biden’s bold approach today reflects an understanding that, had we been able to move bolder and earlier — for instance, passing health-care reform in the summer of 2009 with a Medicare buy-in and cheaper prescription drugs — we would have won over more moderates than by taking the perceived “moderate” path that enabled corporate-captured senators to waste time and water down reforms.

A decade later, I carry three lessons from my 2009 health care vote.

First, no regrets. Why ask the voters for political power if not to use it when it matters most? I still get letters from people thanking me: Parents whose kids are growing up with the security Obamacare provides, or entrepreneurs able to start businesses because they no longer felt tied to their old job for the health insurance. I have also been reminded time and again that there is a job much better than being in Congress, and that’s being a former member of Congress. I have devoted the past decade to issues of justice at home and abroad dear to my heart, with a bigger staff and free from the constant fear that an innocuous remark will be taken out of context to become a viral attack ad.

Second, tough votes are better taken early in the election cycle than late. The months we took debating health care did not make the bill stronger or more popular. It just left more time for it to be demonized and less time for the positive effects to be felt. The reforms in these two new voting rights bills are widely popular — for instance, making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering eligible voters. They’ll be even more so when voters see how easy and safe it is for them to vote, how much harder it is for politicians to gerrymander districts, and why corporations will have a harder time corrupting our politics.

Manchin has taken a strong stance in favor of protecting voting rights and election integrity. He has said he supports another important voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the voting and election protections in the For the People Act are urgently vital complements to that legislation for addressing 21st century threats to our democracy. Many other reforms Manchin has touted are in the 800 pages of the For the People Act and must find their way into law.

Third, Americans . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 June 2021 at 7:27 am

Koch-and-switch

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

About seven months ago, billionaire businessman Charles Koch’s smiling face was in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The 85-year-old Koch had spent decades funding a vast network of far-right causes, including the Tea Party, the movement which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

Koch said his prior work was a mistake. He vowed that, from now on, he would eschew partisanship and focus on “building bridges across ideological divides.”

Koch’s feature in the Wall Street Journal was part of a broader rebranding effort that coincided with the release of a new book:

Mr. Koch said he has since come to regret his partisanship, which he says badly deepened divisions. “Boy, did we screw up!” he writes in his new book. “What a mess!”

In a separate interview with the Washington Post that was released the same day, Koch congratulated Biden and said he wanted to “work together” with the new Democratic president on “as many issues as possible.”

We’ve got people so hyped on politics now that it seems like they think that’s all there is. You know, ‘If the other side wins, it’ll ruin the country and destroy us forever.’ Both sides are saying that, and feel that, and think this is the most important thing. Well, it is important, but it isn’t going to make any difference unless we all learn to work together and help each other and move toward a society of equal rights and mutual benefit.

Koch said he regretted hiring “ex-Republican operatives” and then “doing nothing” as they engaged in bare-knuckled political combat. Koch insisted that things would be different moving forward. “Let’s get together and make that happen so we can start helping each other, rather than hurting each other,” Koch said.

In the seven months since those interviews, however, Koch has deployed the full resources of his political network to try to stymie virtually every aspect of Biden’s agenda.

Most recently, one of Koch’s primary political organizations, Americans for Prosperity, has pressured Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to block various priorities of the Biden administration. CNBC reports that Americans for Prosperity has created ads, a video, and a website targeting Manchin. The website calls for Manchin to block a public option for Obamacare, a minimum wage increase, an infrastructure bill, and the For The People Act.

The effort appears to be working, as Manchin announced his opposition to the For The People Act in an op-ed on Sunday. But the campaign targeting Manchin is just one aspect of Koch’s multi-faceted attack on the Biden presidency.

Americans for Prosperity also . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I find that Popular Information has a lot of good content, though I don’t that often quote it in the blog. But I do read it and find it worthwhile.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 2:03 pm

Seemingly normal: Profile of one insurrectionist — a geophysicist who seriously wounded a defenseless Capitol police officer

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Melanie Warner reports in Politico:

The text message showed up on John Bergman’s phone in late January. Sent to him by a former work colleague, it came with the question “Have you seen this??” and linked to an article and video from a news channel. Bergman pressed play.

It was a scene from the Capitol riots on January 6. Amid a throng of rioters outside the building’s western terrace tunnel was a figure wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, teal backpack, steel-toed boots and black tactical helmet. The article identified the man as Bergman’s longtime friend, Jeffrey Sabol. In the video, Sabol vaulted over a railing and appeared to drag a defenseless cop down a set of stairs.

Bergman could barely fathom what he was seeing. He had worked with Sabol for a decade and had known him for 18 years. “I’ve always revered Jeff as one of the most intelligent, capable, thoughtful, helping people,” Bergman says. “We had just spoken a few weeks earlier, and next thing I know he’s in Washington, D.C., doing this crazy thing.”

Sabol, 51, is a geophysicist from Kittredge, Colorado, a small town in the mountains outside Denver. In the weeks after the insurrection, he became one of the approximately 465 people charged so far for their participation in the January 6 insurrection. Sabol faces eight counts, several of them felonies, including the assault of police officers. He and four other defendants named in the same indictment are accused of participating in some of the day’s worst violence, which took place around 4:30 p.m. and resulted in several officers being stripped of their protective gear, dragged, stomped on, and attacked with crutches and a flagpole. [Politico article here includes a video of Sabol in action during the insurrection. – LG]

According to the indictment, Sabol wrested a baton from a second D.C. police officer who had been knocked down by another rioter outside the Capitol’s western terrace entrance, which would be the site of Joe Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The officer later needed staples to close a wound on his head. Before being dragged into the mob by Sabol and others, prosecutors say, these officers had tried to reach a woman who died amid the throng (the D.C. medical examiner declared her death an amphetamine overdose). Images published in the government’s criminal complaint against Sabol show the woman lying on the ground at the top of the stairs wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, while Sabol and other men clash with police above her.

Sabol, who is divorced and has three teenagers back home in Colorado, also seems to appear in a YouTube video shot about two hours earlier and unearthed by a Twitter user who is part of a group of self-styled “sedition hunters.” In it, Sabol, known to the sedition hunters as #OrangeNTeal because of his highly identifiable jacket and backpack, runs headfirst into a row of officers trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the west steps of the Capitol.

Denied bail, Sabol is now locked in a cell at the Washington, D.C., Correctional Treatment Facility awaiting trial, deemed by a judge to be the “epitome of a flight risk” because of what he did after the riots. Unlike defendants who posted about their Capitol exploits on social media, Sabol immediately seemed to have grasped the gravity of his post-January 6 predicament. Back home in Colorado, he destroyed several electronic devices in his microwave and instructed friends to delete anything he had sent them, according to Sabol’s own statements to investigators. Several days later, he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston with a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. Worried he had been recognized, he never got on the plane. Instead, he rented a car and drove to New York state, eventually ending up in a suburb of New York City. At some point along the way, he tossed his phone off a bridge and grew so distraught that he attempted to take his own life by slashing his wrists and thighs, his criminal complaint states.

“I’ve really been struggling with this, that my bro tried to kill himself,” Bergman says, his voice cracking with emotion. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Sabol’s actions on January 6 and the days afterward have left many in his life confused and grappling for answers. How did a highly educated, middle-aged man with so much to lose participate in what FBI director Christopher Wray called “domestic terrorism,” and then try to kill himself? How did someone with strong views about government overreach, but also plenty of friends and neighbors outside his political bubble, end up on the steps of the Capitol, in attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results?

In some ways, Sabol’s radicalization mirrors that of other insurrectionists, a group that collectively has put a new face on American extremism. While many of those arrested for political terrorism in recent decades have been young, underemployed and socially isolated, the majority of the 465 (and counting) defendants in the Capitol attack are much like Sabol—older individuals, mostly white men, with well-established careers. A report by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that 67 percent of Capitol defendants are at least 35 years old, and 30 percent worked in white-collar jobs. Sabol was a geophysicist for an environmental services company. Other defendants include an investment manager at BB&T Bank (who died by suicide after his arrest), a State Department employee, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a real estate agent, many small-business owners, a doctor and an attorney. There are several dozen current or former military members, and at least 10 current or former law-enforcement officers. For all the public attention to right-wing groups and militias, just 12 percent of the defendants belonged to organized operations like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or boogaloo boys. The majority of the defendants, including Sabol, also came not from the heart of Trump country but from counties Biden won.

Based on multiple interviews with people who knew him, as well as extensive public records, Sabol’s story offers a vivid example of how “normal” this new form of radicalization might look from the outside—and how hard it can be to detect. Sabol, according to his ex-wife, was involved in volatile episodes at home, and court records show that he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2016, for injuring his teenage son. Yet in letters sent to the court on his behalf, 30 friends, neighbors and family members, including Army officers and a Denver police sergeant, describe the man they know in glowing terms. The kind of guy who gives his jacket to an underdressed hiker and goes down a 14,000-foot mountain in a T-shirt. A guy who steps in to prevent altercations. A guy with a peace-sign tattoo on his back.

“We discussed all kinds of topics—parenting, religion, politics, relationships, work, hobbies, and life experiences. Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort,” wrote a retired schoolteacher who volunteered with Sabol at a youth horse-riding organization nearly every Saturday for the past two years. “I can’t conceive of him being a danger to the community in any way.”

Nearly six months after the insurrection, hundreds of defendants are awaiting trial or plea deals as their cases move through the justice system. Sabol is among the approximately 50 who have been denied bail and are being held in jail in Washington, D.C., in their cells for nearly 20 hours a day due to Covid concerns. The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to begin to combat violent domestic extremism across different federal departments, even as Congress recently failed to agree to create a commission to study the events of January 6.

But the larger problem—of how so many Americans came to see violence or forced entry into a government building as their best options, and whether it could happen again—isn’t at all resolved. Millions of Americans continue to hold some of the same beliefs that propelled Sabol to the Capitol. Experts say the new wave of right-wing extremism on display at the Capitol is both unprecedented in its size and scope—and far more challenging to track and root out. Understanding Jeffrey Sabol’s transformation reveals how radicalization can happen under the radar, while offering lessons for those who want to combat it going forward: about how personal challenges can collide with political messages, and how a person’s job, education level, community and even their social media profile aren’t reliable predictors of extremist behavior. Thousands of people descended on the Capitol terrace, with thousands of individual routes taken to get there.

Where will they go next? “What’s concerning is that many did not see January 6 as the end of something,” says Susan Corke, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They saw it as the beginning.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it indicates that there’s trouble ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 12:11 pm

Be Afraid, America; Be Very Afraid

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Michael A. Cohen (the columnist, not the lawyer) writes:

Yesterday, I had an op-ed in USA Today looking at how Republican-controlled state legislatures seek to criminalize political protest in red-state America. I wrote about this issue earlier this year, but that was before any news laws had been enacted. Over the past several months, cooler heads have not prevailed, and Republican state legislatures have passed a series of bills that threaten the First Amendment-guaranteed to right to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Here’s just a few examples that I cited in the piece:

In Oklahoma …the Republican-controlled state legislature and GOP governor granted civil and criminal immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill protesters while driving away from a riot. In effect, Oklahoma Republicans are making it easier for drivers to run over and potentially kill political protesters.

Not to be outdone, Florida Republicans enacted a similar law as part of a larger “anti-riot” bill. Floridians who block traffic, even temporarily, could now be looking at up to 15 years in jail if convicted. The law also now classifies a public gathering of three people or more as a “riot” and anyone who chooses to participate in such a protest can now be charged with a felony – even if their behavior is not violent.

In Arkansas, a riot can involve as few as two people engaged in “tumultuous” conduct that creates a “substantial risk” of “public alarm.” Those convicted of rioting will also be required to pay restitution – and would face a mandatory 30 days in prison.

In Tennessee, simply joining a protest in which there is “isolated pushing” and no one is hurt would now be considered a crime.

The Volunteer State is a trailblazer in anti-protest laws. After Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered for weeks on the grounds of the state Capitol last year, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill that made it a felony to camp out on state property. The bill also made it a crime to make it “unreasonably inconvenient” to use a street or sidewalk – and those found guilty could face up to one year in jail. The governor signed it last August.

Other states have passed laws making it illegal to demonstrate near “critical infrastructure” such as gas and oil pipelines. In Florida, it’s now a third-degree felony, punishable up to five years in prison, to deface a monument. In Arkansas, such behavior is considered an “act of terrorism.”

It’s an open question about whether these laws are constitutional or even that prosecutors would be willing to bring cases to court, but that isn’t really the point. As I note in the piece, “The goal of these bills is to make protesters question their decision to demonstrate in the first place. How many Americans would want to risk substantial jail time merely for peacefully participating in a demonstration that the police now have broad discretion to define as a riot?”

The impetus for this legislation is not January 6, but instead, the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer. Republicans appear to be okay with insurrectionists storming the Capitol and putting lawmakers in harm’s way. But deface a monument or block a roadway, and that means war.

Indeed, after several weeks of BLM protesters gathering at Tennessee’s State Capitol building, the GOP-controlled state legislature enacted legislation making it a crime to camp out on state property. Laws that prevent protesters from blocking traffic or broadly define what constitutes a riot seem almost surgically enacted to target BLM activists – and to dissuade them from trying to make their voices heard.

The GOP’s Creeping Authoritarianism

A few months ago, relying on the work of two Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, I wrote about the GOP’s authoritarian trajectory. This chart comes from their book “How Democracies Die,” and it’s what they call the “four key warning signs of authoritarian behavior.”

What is stunning is that , arguably, the answer to every single one of these questions is yes.

Over the last six months, a majority of congressional Republicans have refused to accept the credible results of the 2020 election. The former Republican president endorsed a violent insurrection, and now congressional Republicans are blocking a full investigation of it. Donald Trump has regularly portrayed Democrats as a threat to America’s way of life and accused them of being pawns of the Chinese government. Now Republican-controlled state legislatures are enacting laws restricting the ability of ordinary citizens to protest, criticize their government, and exercise their right to vote.

Now I am the guy who has praised those Republicans who not only refused to go along with Donald Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election but actively thwarted it. There were many of them, and their adherence to the rule of law is laudable. But, incredible as it may seem, the Republican Party (as currently constructed) is arguably more radical and less wedded to democratic norms than it was when Trump was president. During his four years in office, the vast majority of congressional Republicans were happy to look the other way at Trump’s crimes. Most didn’t want to get their hands dirty. That’s less the case now. Republicans who have challenged Trump or who upheld the rule of law during the 2020 election face tough primary challenges from Trump acolytes. Marginal conspiracy theorists, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are becoming rising GOP political stars, and, as was the case with Trump, establishment Republicans seem loathe to criticize her for fear of alienating their supporters. In GOP-controlled state legislatures, there has been a feeding frenzy of new voters restrictions, all based on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Last Fall, I was convinced that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2021 at 6:53 pm

America’s scarcity mindset

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Noah Smith writes Noahpinions:

“This land was made for you and me” — Woody Guthrie

“I’m all right Jack, keep your hands off of my stack” — Pink Floyd

I’ve been reading Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980. Like all Perlstein books, it’s excellent and you should read it. Anyway, one of the things that really jumps out about the Carter years is the way scarcity and pessimism (which is just anticipation of future scarcity) made the country more selfish. The oil crises of the 70s created absolute chaos, with gunfights at gas stations and violent trucker strikes. It’s not hard to see how that era led to the every-man-for-himself attitude of the conservative 1980s.

But the crazy thing is that America seems to be falling back into this scarcity mindset. Only this time, the shortages are almost entirely of our own creation.

Stephen Covey, the self-help author who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the terms “abundance mindset” and “scarcity mindset”. Basically he means that some people going around thinking of the world as a set of positive-sum, win-win situations, while other people go around thinking of everything as a zero-sum competition where you’re either a winner or a loser.

Meanwhile, the psychologist Ronald Inglehart came up with the related idea of “self-expression values” vs. “survival values”. Survival values, which supposedly come about because of economic scarcity, include ethnocentrism, xenophobia, fear of disease, and a hunger for authoritarianism. Sounds a lot like Trumpism, but I think you can also see echoes of this in various leftist ideologies and spaces.

The World Values Survey keeps track of these values, and it’s interesting to see how the U.S. has evolved over time. Here’s the map of countries from 2008 (click graphic to enlarge):

You can see that while we were more traditionalist than most other rich countries, we were also very high on the “self-expression” end of the scale — about the same as Australia, New Zealand, or Denmark. This is basically the classic view of the U.S. — a bit religious, but a very open and tolerant society. Now check out the map for 2020: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including the second map, which shows some significant changes.

For whatever reason, the US does seem to have lost or abandoned a united effort to work for the common good.

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2021 at 3:33 pm

The Republican Party is a clear and present danger to American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 8:07 pm

The Frightening New Republican Consensus

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David A. Graham writes in the Atlantic:

Former President Donald Trump has been speaking publicly about running to reclaim the White House in 2024, but he’s also reportedly expecting to make a comeback before then. “Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August,” Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ ace Trump reporter, tweeted Tuesday.

There’s no such thing as reinstating a president, but Trump is echoing claims made by Sidney Powell, the lawyer who briefly pursued his specious election-fraud claims in court after the November election. Trump “can simply be reinstated,” she said this weekend. “A new inauguration date is set, and Biden is told to move out of the White House, and President Trump should be moved back in.” Powell is the same person who argued in a court filing this spring that no reasonable person would believe her election-fraud arguments.

If reinstatement sounds kooky, that’s because it is. Most Republicans don’t believe that Trump is set to return to the Oval Office later this summer. But there is widespread agreement inside the GOP that Democratic fraud is stealing elections, and that Republicans must not let that happen. If there’s a civil war in the Republican Party, it’s not about whether the problem exists, but how to fix it—by trying to undo the 2020 result, or instead by preparing for 2024.

From the most devoted QAnon fringes of the GOP to the surviving redoubts of old-school country-club Republicanism, the party’s leaders have come to a shared conclusion that the party doesn’t lose close elections—Democrats steal them. Republicans grant that Democrats win in heavily blue areas. Hardly anyone doubts that Democrats are winning big in majority-minority U.S. House districts in the South or in urban centers (though Trump did question low vote tallies for Republican candidates in Philadelphia).

But in close elections—which in this divided era include practically every presidential race and many U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races—the GOP has come to largely reject the notions that it didn’t turn out its core supporters, failed to persuade swing voters, or alienated former supporters by nominating fringe candidates. Instead, Republicans insist, they are losing because of rampant and systemic fraud. If this were true (which it is not), then it would stand to reason that Republicans must be able to prevent such theft or, failing that, overturn the results. In the Senate last week, the GOP caucus even filibustered a bipartisan panel to investigate the violent attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Conservatives have long complained about election shenanigans, especially in urban areas. Historically, there is evidence that major fraud once occurred, but changes to laws and processes make old-school corruption nearly impossible, and even advocacy groups have been able to find only a handful of cases of fraud, despite diligent searching—practically none of it having been enough to swing an election’s outcome. (One rare counterexample, in a U.S. House race in North Carolina, benefited the Republican candidate.)

The new claims are different in scale—encompassing jurisdictions across the country—and popular support. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that more than half of Republicans view Trump as the true president. But even GOP leaders who reject Trump’s allegations of fraud are happy to back stricter voting laws predicated on bogus fraud claims.

The responses of elected Republicans to this new consensus form a spectrum from the ridiculous to putatively respectable. On the far end of the range are chimerical answers such as those that Powell and Trump are apparently spreading, rooted in faith but with no factual basis.

More dangerous, and slightly more realistic—or at least achievable—are calls for a coup to topple the Biden presidency, which these opponents view as illegitimate. Over the weekend,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:35 am

The Capitol Rioters Won

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Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic:

Republicans say they would like to move on from the 2020 election.

“A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward,” John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told CNN on May 19. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”

After Thune and 34 of his Republican colleagues used the filibuster last week to block a vote on creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Republicans of fearing the wrath of former President Donald Trump. “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump,” Schumer said on the floor.

But Republicans are not blocking a bipartisan January 6 commission because they fear Trump, or because they want to “move on” from 2020. They are blocking a January 6 commission because they agree with the underlying ideological claim of the rioters, which is that Democratic electoral victories should not be recognized. Because they regard such victories as inherently illegitimate—the result of fraud, manipulation, or the votes of people who are not truly American—they believe that the law should be changed to ensure that elections more accurately reflect the will of Real Americans, who by definition vote Republican. They believe that there is nothing for them to investigate, because the actual problem is not the riot itself but the unjust usurpation of power that occurred when Democrats won. Absent that provocation, the rioters would have stayed home.

Americans have suffered through a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a presidential election in the past year; it’s understandable that many would want to disengage from politics. With Trump gone from the White House and banned from his favorite social-media platform, the most visible symbol of the nation’s democratic backsliding is out of office. But Trump’s absence has not arrested the Republican Party’s illiberal turn—on the contrary, he is now a martyr to an election that he falsely claims was rigged. If anything, though, our electoral system is rigged in favor of Republicans; Democrats had to overcome a significant structural bias in the Electoral College, meaning Trump almost prevailed again even as his opponent won 7 million more votes.

As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote, the “accommodation” that Republicans “have reached between their violent and nonviolent wings is a legal regimen designed to ensure that the next time a Trump rejects the election result, he won’t need a mob to prevail.” Trump did not impose this belief that elections are valid only if they result in Republican victory on the conservative rank and file; he was a manifestation of it. Nor are Republican officials held hostage by a base they fear; falsehoods about election fraud have been deliberately stoked by Republican elites who then insist that they must bow to the demands of the very misinformed constituents they have been lying to. The last thing ambitious Republicans want is to let this fire go out.

Trump infamously refused to concede the 2020 election until after the mob he had incited ransacked the Capitol in an effort to overturn the outcome. But even afterward, most Republicans in the House, and several in the Senate, refused to vote to certify the results. The rioters were outliers in the sense that they employed political violence and intimidation in an attempt to overturn the election. But the rioters fell squarely within the Republican mainstream in sharing Trump’s belief that his defeat meant the election was inherently illegitimate. The main ideological cleavage within the GOP is not whether election laws should be changed to better ensure Republican victory, but whether political violence is necessary to achieve that objective.

The large majority of Republicans are content with simply changing the rules to make it harder for Democrats to win elections, but figures beloved by the party fringe, such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Representatives Matt Gaetz and Majorie Taylor Greene, openly flirt with the possibility of seizing power by force.

Greene has warned that freedom is “earned with the price of blood”; over the weekend, Flynn backtracked on a public call for a military coup; and Gaetz, on tour with Greene, told a receptive audience that “the Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government, if that becomes necessary.” As far as these three are concerned, this is the idle talk of studio gangsters. The issue is that it reflects a very real rejection of liberal democracy and the peaceful transfer of power among Republican voters.

Republicans are not “moving on” from the 2020 election. In state after state, Republican-controlled legislatures have passed laws making it more difficult to vote, in some cases explicitly targeting Democratic constituencies. Over the weekend, Texas Democrats temporarily blocked one such measure that would have not only outlawed methods that Democratic-led counties have used to increase turnout, but also curtailed early Sunday voting, a tradition for many Black churches. The Texas Republican state legislator Travis Clardy later insisted that the limitation on Sunday voting was a “typo”; if lawmakers can’t draw up legislation dealing with Americans’ fundamental rights without egregiously discriminating on the basis of race, they shouldn’t hold office to begin with.

Texas joins 14 other states in attempting to curtail voting rights in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Some Republican-controlled states have purged officials who refused to obey Trump’s instructions not to certify the election results; a few are considering measures that would allow state legislatures to overturn such results outright.

The risks of such measures are obvious. Between the effectiveness of gerrymandering and the partisan polarization of urban and rural districts, in some states winning a legislative majority is well-nigh impossible for the Democratic Party as currently constituted. In the event that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2021 at 2:34 pm

At least sobering, and more likely depressing: Does the U.S. Senate Resemble Ancient Rome?

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James Fallows quotes some readers, who agree that things look bad:

Over the weekend, this space held the third installment in the “Lessons of Rome” chronicles by my friend Eric Schnurer. This one went into the comparison between the Roman Senate, in the era of Cicero and the Catiline conspiracy, and the current one in Washington.

If you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try—among other reasons, for the speechwriter’s view of classic Latin rhetoric. This third piece also updated the “doomsday sundial”—a Roman Empire twist on the famous “doomsday clock” of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists—and set its time to “a year before midnight.”

Now, some reader reactions. First, from a reader with extensive experience in national government:

Thank you for conveying the very thoughtful observations of Eric Schnurer comparing our situation to that of late republican Rome.

One striking element is the complacency highlighted by Schnurer at the time of Cicero, and so evident now in the mistaken belief that “it” can’t happen here because we’re “exceptional.”

As political scientist David Faris observed in a recent interview on “Vox,” we could not be more wrong. Republicans are working to deprive the majority of its ability to control the agenda or to change the leadership. If they succeed, the result will be undramatic but definitive: “People are going to wake up the next day and go to work, and take care of their kids, and live their lives, and democracy will be gone.”

For all their failures (which have become ever more obvious), the Founders did not have this outlook. They had a lively fear that “it” could indeed happen here, and they constructed the government they made to preclude that outcome.

Our misfortune is that, partly because of the deficiencies of that design (owing largely to several forced compromises) and partly because of later developments (such as the emergence of parties and of the filibuster), we face the reverse of one of their fears: a dictatorship not of the mob but of an entrenched minority. And we don’t seem to be coping with that danger any better than did Ciceronian Rome. So we come to where Faris placed himself in his interview: “My current level of concern is exploring countries to move to after 2024.”

He did not quite despair, nor evidently does Schnurer. But the hour is indeed late, and time by our “atomic clock” is swiftly passing.

Race against time,” from another reader:

Reading your précis of Schnurer’s articles (thanks for bringing this to a wider audience), and the lead in of O Tempora! O Mores! my mind did a sort of leap to the smart Alec translation as Oh Times, Oh Daily Mirror ! [JF note: this was from the fabulous mid-20th century British comedy duo Flanders and Swann, whose records I loved listening to as a boy.]…

Schnurer is bang on, about the corruption (I think it’s way beyond cynicism) at the heart of the not-so-grand old party.

I sometimes find it ironic that ‘conservatives,’ who should be conserving our institutions, so often slide into radicals’ intent on destroying those institutions. Their focus on ends by any means would make Machiavelli blush. [JF note: compare the different approaches to considering a Supreme Court nominee in an election year applied by Mitch McConnell in 2016, when the nominee was Merrick Garland, and 2020, when it was Amy Coney Barrett.]

It is a race against time in my view. Will they succeed in subverting American democracy before people wake up to the con trick. I suspect they will.


.
Storm Before the Storm”—a reading tip:

I read with interest the excellent article comparing Rome with today’s political situation. It immediately brought to mind a book called The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan, written in 2017 about Rome between 146-78 BC, starting with the Gracchi brothers. He reached a similar conclusion to Eric Schnurer at the end of the book. You might know Duncan from his history podcast “The History of Rome,” the granddaddy of history podcasts on the net.

In the book he wrote about,“rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct” as well as “a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.” The parallel between that and what you wrote caught my attention.


.
Looking Across the Atlantic (Ocean), 
from a reader in Texas:

This article is very well-taken. Reading Gibbon even 20 years ago felt like reading the news … now we can even go back to ancient Greek experience of demagogues.

I wonder if you would ask conservative Republicans you know, not whether they agree with those of us who fear a reprise of 1933 Germany, but if they could say at what point in German political history it would NOT have been wildly premature and hyperbolically alarmist to raise a cry that would bring developments to a halt. (Were that possible.)


.
Ecocide
—the most sobering of the responses:

In these last four years of our own personal Catiline, I did read up on ancient Rome, and read Gibbon. I also wondered about the validity of democracy in this country, and now, with this article, the validity of democracy in Rome before Caesar.

It would seem to me that if there is a decline and fall of an American Empire, I agree that it would happen more quickly than the centuries it took Rome to splinter and disappear.

But I think the outside forces that will eliminate us will be natural in origin, and not a sleepy Chuck Grassley, Visigoths or Sandinistas pouring across the border at Brownsville. Argument by analogy may be the only tool historians have to predict the future, but it is still invalid.It isn’t hard to see that our highly interconnected world is dependent on resources that are nearly magically acquired and brought to life, and that have a limited abundance and existence. Yet our lives are increasingly dependent on them. So, just soothsayer-wise, I would predict that industry will be chewing holes in the Congo in search of the latest element needed for the most advanced iPhone in 2050, when the world population will hit 10 billion and the oil will run out.

That while Bangladesh is awash with the Bengal Sea, the Musk Ox, Polar Bear and Caribou go extinct, Mar-al-Lago builds a wall around itself and starts pumping, and LA burns back into the desert it once was.

Those natural phenomena are actually predictable and I think, regardless of what surprises democracy has in store for us, will be the end of us.

Because we still solve problems like the Romans did, after all is said and done. By killing them. Yet we are far more destructive, given our machines, than they ever were. Rome never had the ability to kill the biosphere. Everyone in America, and indeed, on planet Earth, is participating in that execution right now.

These are bad times.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2021 at 7:03 pm

Democracy at risk

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, more than 100 scholars who study democracy issued a letter warning that “our entire democracy is now at risk.” The letter explains that the new election laws in Republican-led states, passed with the justification that they will make elections safer, in fact are turning “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.”

If we permit the breakdown of democracy, it will be a very long time before we can reverse the damage. As a nation spirals downward, the political scientists, sociologists, and government scholars explain, “violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity. It is not just our venerated institutions and norms that are at risk—it is our future national standing, strength, and ability to compete globally.”

The scholars called for federal action to protect equal access to voting and to guarantee free and fair elections. Voting rights should not depend on which party runs the state legislature, and votes must be cast and counted equally, regardless of where a citizen lives. They back the reforms in the For the People Act, which protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, and curbs the flood of money into elections.

They urged Congress “to do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want. Our democracy is fundamentally at stake.”

“History,” they wrote, “will judge what we do at this moment.”

But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, today, President Joe Biden noted that the events that transpired in the Greenwood district of that city 100 years ago today were written out of most histories. The Tulsa Massacre destroyed 35 blocks of the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, wiping out 1100 homes and businesses and taking hundreds of Black lives, robbing Black families of generational wealth and the opportunities that come with it.

Biden pointed out that he was the first president to go to Tulsa to acknowledge what happened there on May 31 and June 1, 1921. But, he said, “We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or doesn’t impact us today, because it does.” He drew a direct line from the terrorism at Greenwood to the terrorism in August 2017 at Charlottesville, Virginia, to the January 6 insurrection. Citing the intelligence community, he reminded listeners that “terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not Isis. Not al-Qaeda. White supremacists.”

Victims’ trauma endures, too, and it eventually demands a reckoning when “what many people hadn’t seen before, or simply refused to see, cannot be ignored any longer.” Today, Americans are recognizing “that for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester, the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there’s only one winner. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up. Instead of if you do well, we all do well.” Biden promised to invest in Black communities extensively to unlock creativity and innovation.

Then the president took on the elephant in the room: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2021 at 2:44 pm

Biden vs The Deep State: Hearing Aid Edition

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This post by Matt Stoller is of particular interest to me because I wear hearing aids (which cost me CAD 5100 — and have a lifespan of only around 5 years due to corrosion). Stoller writes:

One of the scams in American medicine is hearing aids, which can cost up to $5-10k apiece. That is an insane price, for what is essentially an adjustable microphone. There are roughly 40 million Americans with some form of hearing loss, which can lead to dementia, and many of them can’t afford hearing aids because of the ridiculously high price.

There is no reason for these prices except monopoly power. In this case, the monopoly is government-created through a requirement that hearing aids be accompanied by a prescription offered by an audiologist. Audiologists are necessary specialists in many cases of hearing loss, but not all. The requirement that every hearing aid must be a prescription hearing aid redounded to the benefit of audiologists, as well a small cartel of firms who made approved hearing aid devices that cost huge sums of money. (It’s a similar dynamic in glasses and contact lenses, which is why they are so much cheaper in Asia.)

Back in 2017, Elizabeth Warren and a group of Republican Senators passed a bill forcing the Food and Drug Administration to break this monopoly. The bill mandated the FDA allow over the counter hearing aids, which is to say, hearing aids that do not require a prescription and can be adjusted by the individual user. With smartphone technology, over the counter hearing aids have become far more practical, and so such a regulatory change was long overdue. The day the bill passed, shares of the firms that control the hearing aid market took a 10-20% dive, anticipating lots of competition. And sure enough, Bose announced a cheaper hearing aid in 2018.

But the FDA has been dragging its feet, missing the 2020 deadline in the bill to issue guidance for an over the counter hearing aid market. Bose, with special dispensation from the FDA, finally launched its $850 device, but is not allowed to market it as a hearing aid because regulators haven’t created the category yet.

It’s a frustrating situation. There will be lots of competition in this market, and prices will plummet. Indeed, they are plummeting already, but we should be further along by now.

Under Biden, I suspect it won’t be long before the FDA finally overcomes its inertia and acts. That said, the delay reflects a sloth and soft corruption across the U.S. government, where bureaucrats really dislike having to address market power problems because it conflicts with what they prefer doing, which is keeping things the way they are. You can also see this dynamic at the Federal Trade Commission, where the attitude towards critics is either condescension or ‘how dare they we’ve done great.’ But this bureaucratic sloth is everywhere. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2021 at 1:12 pm

Amazon Prime Is an Economy-Distorting Lie

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Last week, the Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed an antitrust suit against Amazon. The point of the suit is simple, but not stated explicitly – to unravel Amazon Prime, which at this point has at least 126 million members, roughly the same number of households in America (128.5 million).

I’ve read a bunch of the coverage, but no one has hit that point yet. So that’s what I’m going to write about today.

“Happily and Deeply Intertwined”

It’s a fascinating moment in the political fight over big tech. On the one hand, the four dominant tech firms have never been more powerful or profitable. On the other hand, there is increasingly a consensus that our political leaders have to do *something* about their power. As a result, Google and Facebook are facing government litigation, and Apple has been fighting off legislative attempts to reign in app stores. Nothing has yet breached the castle walls of any of these firms, but we’re getting closer all the time.

This week, it was Amazon’s turn. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleged that Amazon was using its power to manipulate online retail prices. But there is something a bit different about this case than the ones targeting Google and Facebook. As Shira Ovide put it in the New York Times, Racine is making the claim that Amazon isn’t just crushing competitors, but *raising* consumer prices in the process.

It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.

The reason this case is considered important is because higher consumer prices fit within the orbit of the consensus for antitrust. While there are possible problems with the case, Racine isn’t going outside the orthodoxy of modern antitrust the way enforcers are with the Facebook case. Against Facebook, enforcers are trying to claim that Facebook is engaged in more surveillance than consumers would otherwise prefer, and that this choice is akin to a price hike. That’s true, but it’s a somewhat novel antitrust claim. In this case, Racine is saying Amazon raised consumer prices using monopoly power. This case is not pushing the boundaries of antitrust law, it’s straightforward consumer harm.

That said, I think there’s another important aspect of this case that has gone largely unmentioned, which is that the Amazon Prime program, the keystone that holds Amazon’s dominance over retail together, is effectively being subsidized by the scheme Racine laid out. If you get rid of Amazon’s ability to force sellers to keep their prices high, then Prime, and its promise of free shipping, falls apart, as does much of the Amazon Marketplace business model. Other parts of Prime, such as Amazon’s ventures in Hollywood (like its recently announced purchase of MGM), may also not make sense if Racine wins.

To understand why, we have to start with the idea of free shipping. Free shipping is the God of online retail, so powerful that France actually banned the practice to protect its retail outlets. Free shipping is also the backbone of Prime. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knew that the number one pain point for online buyers is shipping – one third of shoppers abandon their carts when they see shipping charges. Bezos helped invent Prime for this reason, saying the point of Prime was to use free shipping “to draw a moat around our best customers.” The goal was to get people used to buying from Amazon, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges. Once Amazon had control of a large chunk of online retail customers, it could then begin dictating terms of sellers who needed to reach them.

This became clear as you read Racine’s complaint. One of the most important sentences in the AG’s argument is a quote from Bezos in 2015 where he alludes to this point. In discussing the firm’s logistics service that is the bedrock of its free shipping promise, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), he said, “FBA is so important because it is glue that inextricably links Marketplace and Prime. Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things. Their economics . . . are now happily and deeply intertwined.” Amazon wants people to see Prime, FBA, and Marketplace as one integrated mega-product, what Bezos likes to call ‘a flywheel,’ to disguise the actual monopolization at work. (Indeed, any time you hear the word ‘flywheel’ relating to Amazon, replace it with ‘monopoly’ and the sentence will make sense.)

Why would FBA be the glue here between Prime and Marketplace? Shipping and logistics is extremely expensive, far more than the membership fees charged by Prime; Amazon spent $37.9 billion on shipping costs in 2019, and much more in 2020. No matter how amazing your logistics operation, you can’t just offer free shipping to customers without having someone pay for it. Amazon found its solution in the relationship between Prime and Marketplace. It forced third party sellers to de facto pay for its shipping costs, by charging them commissions that reach as high as 45%, according to Racine, merely to access Amazon customers. That’s nearly half the revenue of a seller going to Amazon! And this high fee isn’t just because fulfillment or selling online is expensive; Walmart charges significantly less for its fulfillment services and access charges to its online market, and eBay’s market access fees are also much lower than Amazon’s.

(A brief word on numbers. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance found a slightly different number for Amazon’s seller charges, 30% for FBA plus 5-10% for seller fees, while agreeing with Racine on significant price hikes from 2014-2020, what is known as ‘recoupment’ in predatory pricing cases. Another firm calculated the amount paid to Amazon at 27% for an average seller in 2019, and found that number had jumped 42% over five years. One reason we don’t know the actual number Amazon charges third party sellers is because Amazon is hiding this data from investors and fighting the SEC to do so.)

How does Amazon force sellers to pay such high fees? Monopolization! The scheme itself is subtle, and requires a bit of explanation. Nearly anyone may list their wares on Amazon, but the ability to actually get your wares in front of customers is dependent on being able to ‘win the Buy Box,’ which is that white box on the right-side that you get to after you search for an item on Amazon. Over 80% of Amazon purchases go through the Buy Box. The Buy Box is the lever Amazon uses to control access to customers. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Amazon has between a half and three quarters of all customers online, so not being able to sell on Amazon is a nonstarter for brands and merchants. As a result, to keep selling on Amazon, merchants are forced to inflate their prices everywhere, with the 35-45% commission baked into the consumer price regardless of whether they are selling through Amazon. When you buy on Walmart, or at some other retail outlet, or even direct from the brand, even if you aren’t paying Amazon directly, the price reflects the high cost of selling on Amazon. As a result, sellers and brands tend to raise their prices across the board so that Amazon users can’t find better deals anywhere else. Prime thus looks like a good deal, but only because sellers are prohibited from offering customers a better one anywhere else.

. . . To most consumers, Prime looks like a lovely convenience offering free shipping, and it’s hard to find better prices elsewhere. But the reason you can’t find better prices isn’t because Amazon sells stuff cheap, but because it forces everyone else to sell stuff at higher prices. All of this is done so Amazon can continue to offer ‘free shipping’ while using access to its hundred million plus Prime members as a cudgel to force third party sellers to pay high fees.

Amazon also uses its bazooka of cash from Prime members paying high consumer prices, laundered through third party sellers, to distort industries across the economy.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2021 at 12:11 pm

What Ancient Rome Tells Us About Today’s Senate

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James Fallows has a good column in the Atlantic. He writes:

The U.S. Senate’s abdication of duty at the start of this Memorial Day weekend, when 11 Senators (nine of them Republican) did not even show up to vote on authorizing an investigation of the January 6 insurrection, makes the item below particularly timely.

Fifty-four Senators (including six Republicans) voted to approve the investigative commission. Only 35 opposed it.

But in the institutionalized rule-of-the-minority that is the contemporary Senate, the measure “failed.” The 54 who supported the measure represented states totaling more than 190 million people. The 35 who opposed represented fewer than 105 million. (How do I know this? You take the list of states by population; you match them to Senators; you split the apportioned population when a state’s two senators voted in opposite ways; and you don’t count population for the 11 Senators who didn’t show up.)

The Senate was, of course, not designed to operate on a pure head-count basis. But this is a contemporary, permanent imbalance beyond what the practical-minded drafters of the Constitution would have countenanced.

Why “contemporary”? Because the filibuster was not part of the Constitutional balance-of-power scheme. As Adam Jentleson explains in his authoritative book Kill Switch, “real” filibusters, with Senators orating for hours on end, rose to prominence as tools of 20th-century segregationists. Their 21st-century rebirth has been at the hands of Mitch McConnell, who made them routine as soon as the Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2006.

The essay below, by a long-time analyst and practitioner of governance named Eric Schnurer, was written before the Senate’s failure on May 28, 2021. But it could have been written as a breaking-news analysis of the event.

Several days ago I wrote a setup for Schnurer’s essay, which I include in abbreviated form below. Then we come to his argument.


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Back in 2019, I did an article for the print magazine on Americans’ long-standing obsession with the decline-and-fall narrative of Rome. Like many good headlines, the one for this story intentionally overstated its argument. The headline was, “The End of the Roman Empire Wasn’t That Bad.” Of course it was bad! But the piece reviewed scholarship about what happened in the former Roman provinces “after the fall,” and how it prepared the way for European progress long after the last rulers of the Western Empire had disappeared.

Many people wrote in to agree and, naturally, to disagree. The online discussion begins here. One long response I quoted was from my friend Eric Schnurer. I had met him in the late 1970s when he was a college intern in the Carter-era White House speechwriting office where I worked. Since then he has written extensively (including for The Atlantic) and consulted on governmental and political affairs.

In his first installment, in the fall of 2019, Schnurer emphasized the parts of the America-and-Rome comparison he thought were most significant—and worrisome. Then last summer, during the election campaign and the pandemic lockdown, he extended the comparison in an even-less-cheering way.

Now he is back, with a third and more cautionary extension of his argument. I think it’s very much worth reading, for its discourses on speechwriting in Latin, among other aspects. I’ve slightly condensed his message and used bold highlighting as a guide to his argument. But I turn the floor over to him. He starts with a precis of his case of two years ago:

I contrasted Donald Trump’s America then—mid-2019—with the Rome of the Gracchus brothers, a pair of liberal social reformers who were both assassinated. Of course, the successive murders of two progressive brothers at the top rung of national power would seem to suggest the Kennedys more than, say, Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren, to whom I compared them. But that’s to say that no historic parallels are perfect: One could just as fruitfully (or not) compare the present moment to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period we managed to make it through without ultimately descending into civil war.

Yet, historical events can be instructive, predictive—even prescriptive—when not fully de-scriptive of current times and customs.

What concerned me about the Roman comparison was, I noted at the time, “the increasing economic inequality, the increasing political polarization, the total eclipse of ‘the greater good’ by what we’d call ‘special interests,’ the turn toward political violence, all of which led eventually to the spiral of destructive civil war, the collapse of democracy (such as it was), and the wholesale replacement of the system with the imperial dictatorship: Looks a lot like the present moment to me.”

In the 1960s, such developments were in the future, although perhaps apparent then to the prescient …

The question that raised was the extent to which the tick-tock of republican decline in Rome could provide a chronometer something like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ famous “doomsday clock”:

If we could peg late summer 2019 to the Gracchi era—roughly up to 120 B.C.—with the fall of the Republic equated to Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon and subsequent assumption of the dictatorship (roughly speaking, 50 B.C.), we could set our republican sundial at, more-or-less, “seventy years to midnight.” But time under our atomic-era clocks moves more quickly than in ancient Roman sundials, so how could we equate a seventy-year margin on a sundial to our own distance from a possible republican midnight?  We’d need another contemporary comparison to understand not just where we stood, but also how fast we were moving.


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A year later I wrote about the developments of 2020 that seemed to move us closer to midnight. I compared last year’s Trump to Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix: Despite common descriptions of Trump as a would-be Caesar, Sulla is, in terms of temperament and background, a closer match to The Donald: “Sulla, a patrician who indulged a fairly libertine, sometimes vulgar, lifestyle even throughout his several marriages, was nonetheless the champion of the economic, social and political conservatives.”

Of perhaps greater similarity—and great concern, in my view—was the increasing hollowing out of the Roman state from a “common good” into simply another form of private corporation benefiting the already-wealthy and powerful who could grab hold of its levers and hive off its components … After a tumultuous reign, Sulla retreated to his villa at Mar-a-Lago, er, Puteoli, and Rome fell into a period of relative quiescence.

That took us from the 120’s B.C. in July 2019 to roughly 80 B.C. by August 2020:  By that measure, our republican doomsday clock had lurched forward about 40 Roman years—a little more than halfway to midnight—in roughly a year …

But as U.S. politics fell into a period of relative quiescence lately, with Trump ensconced quietly at Puteoli—er, Mar-a-Lago—and a relatively calming, moderate and institutionalist Everyman (if no Cicero …) installed in the White House, I didn’t think much further about the Roman comparison.


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That is, until last week, when . . .

Continue reading. There much more.

Schnurer concludes:

The conspiracy ultimately collapsed and was defeated, but not without further militant uprisings aided by Rome’s enemies abroad. Catiline, a demagogue but in the end not the best of politicians or insurrectionists, was killed. Democracy, and the old order of things, seemed to have survived, and matters returned to a more-or-less normal state under Cicero’s stable hand.

But it turned out to be a brief reprieve. The rot had already set in. What mattered most in the long-term was not the immediate threat of the insurrectionists, but rather the complacency, if not sympathy, of the other ostensibly-republican leaders. It revealed the hollowness of not just their own souls but also the nation’s.

Another 10 months in America, another 15 years forward on the Roman sundial. At this rate, we’re about a year before midnight.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2021 at 10:45 am

US government sinks to new depths of dysfunction

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The Republican party has blocked an independent commission (which met  the demands the Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans insisted on). This makes sense if the Republicans were complicit in that attack.

A special shout out to Sen. Joe Manchin, who insisted that the filibuster remain, regardless of the damage it does.

I don’t see much hope for the US government going forward. Nicholas Fandos reports in the NY Times:

Republicans on Friday blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, using their filibuster power in the Senate for the first time this year to doom a full accounting for the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries.

With the vast majority of Republicans determined to shield their party from potential political damage that could come from scrutiny of the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, only six G.O.P. senators joined Democrats to support advancing the measure. The final vote, 54 to 35, fell short of the 60 senators needed to move forward.

The vote was a stinging defeat for proponents of the commission, who had argued that it was the only way to assemble a truly comprehensive account of the riot for a polarized nation. Modeled after the inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the proposed panel of experts would have been responsible for producing a report on the assault and recommendations to secure Congress by the end of the year.

The debate played out in the same chamber where a throng of supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, egged on by his lies of a stolen election and efforts by Republican lawmakers to invalidate President Biden’s victory, sought to disrupt Congress’s counting of electoral votes about five months ago.

Top Republicans had entertained supporting the measure as recently as last week. But they ultimately reversed course, and the House approved it with only 35 Republican votes. Leaders concluded that open-ended scrutiny of the attack would hand Democrats powerful political ammunition before the 2022 midterm elections — and enrage a former president they are intent on appeasing.

“I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “Frankly, I do not believe it is even designed to do that.”

Though Mr. McConnell said he would continue to support criminal cases against the rioters and stand by his “unflinching” criticisms of Mr. Trump, the commission’s defeat is expected to embolden the former president at a time when he has once again ramped up circulation of his baseless and debunked claims.

In a matter of months, his lies have warped the views of many of his party’s supporters, who view Mr. Biden as illegitimate; inspired a rash of new voting restrictions in Republican-led states and a quixotic recount in Arizona denounced by both parties; and fueled efforts by Republican members of Congress to downplay and reframe the Capitol riot as a benign event akin to a “normal tourist visit.”

“People are just now beginning to understand!” Mr. Trump wrote in a statement on Thursday.

Democrats denounced the vote as a cowardly cover-up. They warned Republicans that preventing an independent inquiry — led by five commissioners appointed by Democrats and five by Republicans — would not shield them from confronting the implications of Mr. Trump’s attacks on the democratic process.

“Do my Republican colleagues remember that day?” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, asked moments after the vote. “Do my Republican colleagues remember the savage mob calling for the execution of Mike Pence, the makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?”

“Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they are afraid of Donald Trump,” he added.

The six Republicans who voted to advance debate on the commission included . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 12:25 pm

These corporations broke the commitments they made after January 6

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Judd Legum reports in Popular Information:

It’s been nearly five months since the attack on the United States Capitol. But in many respects, nothing has changed.

None of the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election on January 6 — fueling the lie that motivated the attack — have expressed contrition or remorse. Several have attempted to recast the riot as a peaceful protest. This month, Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-GA) compared the events of that day to a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol and Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said the Department of Justice, which has filed criminal charges against more than 400 people, was “harassing peaceful patriots.”

Last Wednesday, of the 139 Republican members of the House who objected to the certification of the Electoral College, all but six voted against the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack.

In January, hundreds of corporations announced they were suspending PAC donations to the Republican objectors or all members of Congress. These corporations — explicitly or implicitly — recognized that the Republican members who voter against certification bore some responsibility for the violence.

Since then, most of these corporations have kept their promises. But others have not.

There are hundreds of corporations, each making a slightly different commitment after January 6. And there are a variety of ways the campaign finance system allows corporations to funnel money to campaigns. Each month a flood of campaign finance records are reported to the FEC. The most recent data dump came last Thursday.

But Popular Information has been keeping a close eye on the issue. This is a breakdown of companies that have broken the letter or spirit of their post-January 6 commitments. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Election, GOP, Politics

Tagged with ,

America’s Final Descent Into a Failed State

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In Medium Umair Haque lays out a future for the US:

By now, the contours of what look like a strategy are emerging. A strategy to take revenge on American democracy — this time, successfully. The five elements of this strategy — it’s the GOP’s, of course — go something like this.

One, put in place as party leaders those who’ve basically sworn allegiance to Trump, his movement, and his aims, which seem to be the violent overthrow of American democracy. Two, have them propound the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Three, at the state level, restrict voting rights as severely as possible. Four, elevate a new generation of fanatics and radicals — who openly bask in violence, like Marjorie Taylor Greene — to prominence. And five, of course, block any attempt to investigate the coup on Jan 6th.

All of that adds up to a nightmare scenario, come the next election. This fivefold strategy gives the GOP options. Options of the kind it shouldn’t have. To overthrow American democracy in any number of ways.

Let’s consider a few.

One: the Republicans take the house, and refuse to certify the President, if he or she’s a Democrat. What happens then? Constitutional crisis — of the most severe kind. It ends up at the Supreme Court — which, of course, leans heavily, heavily Republican.

Two: the Republicans lose the election — and attempt another coup. Only this time, they’re successful — remember, last time, America got lucky, and it was a minor miracle political leaders weren’t assassinated, which was the explicit goal of the coup. But this time, Republicans do manage to block vote certification through outright violence. What happens then? Chaos does. The GOP claims they’re the “true” winners — and America’s left in a twilight zone.

Three: the many, many ways the Republicans are attacking voting at the state level pay off. Through a combination of gerrymandering, sympathetic officials who are fanatics, restrictions, and “fraudits,” the Republicans manage to swing the election their way — by simply hacking away at the most basic mechanisms of democracy.

I could go on, but the point is this. Trump may seem “gone” — for now — but American democracy is in grave danger. It may be in more danger now than during the Trump years, in fact. Why is that?

Because what all the above means is that the GOP has radicalized. They have made three significant choices, in the last few months, as an institution, as a set of people, as a social group. One, they have doubled down on the idea that if democracy doesn’t serve their ascendance to power, then it’s OK to do away with democracy. Two, they’ve doubled down on the idea that violence is a perfectly acceptable means to take power. Three, they’ve decided that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 2:10 pm

Polarization is Destroying America

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Michael A. Cohen describes the elephant destroying the room:

Most close observers of modern American politics would agree that we are living in an era of extreme partisan polarization. The political divides between the two parties have seemingly never been greater.

But if polarization is well understood, its impact is gravely underestimated. Polarization is transforming American politics and American society – and bit by bit, it is doing terrible damage to the country. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to start writing about this issue in far more detail because I believe that political journalism is failing to fully grapple with this ongoing sea change in the nation’s politics. There is still a media inclination to view politics through an outdated lens – one in which persuadable voters matter, bipartisanship is still possible, lying, hypocrisy, or blatantly anti-democratic acts are disqualifying, policy outcomes move voters, and there are political rewards for addressing parochial and constituent concerns.

These factors have not disappeared, but their relevance to modern politics is waning. Instead, we’ve reached a political inflection point in which the primary factor in determining voter preferences is whether there is a “D” or an “R” next to a candidate’s name.

Split ticket voting has largely disappeared. In 2009, there were 13 Democratic senators in states won by John McCain. Today, there are 3 Democratic senators in states won by Donald Trump in 2020. In 2009, there were 10 Republican senators in states Obama won. Now there are 3 Republican senators in states where Biden prevailed. In the House of Representatives, a mere 16 members represent districts won by the other party’s presidential nominee. In 2009, that number was 83.

The result of this divvying up by party identification is that most members of Congress run for reelection in districts that are not competitive, and the key to victory comes down to a candidate’s effectiveness in mobilizing the segment of the electorate likeliest to vote for them. For most Republican candidates, the greatest challenge to their political future is not losing to a Democrat but instead being felled in a primary by a more conservative Republican. The same is increasingly true of Democrats. For example, in the Senate, every Democratic candidate up for reelection in 2022 is running in a state won by Joe Biden. This makes the vast majority of Senate Democrats much more inclined to follow the national party – a phenomenon we’ve seen play out in today’s narrowly divided Senate.

For Republican politicians, outreach to Democrats or the shrinking number of swing voters runs the risk of alienating Trump Republicans. As we saw in Senate races across the country in 2020, Republican candidates, when given the choice between upsetting their Trump-supporting base or moderating their positions to expand their political support, overwhelmingly chose the former. And for those running in red states, it ended up being the smart move – they all handily won reelection.

As these dividing lines between the two parties become more sharply defined – and it becomes more difficult to move voters away from their partisan homes – there is little inclination for members of either party to compromise, work across the aisle, or seek bipartisan agreement. Party loyalty trumps all other considerations.

The SALT Fight

One recent example of this phenomenon is the fight in Congress over the state and local tax deduction. Last month, House Democrats from some of the wealthiest districts in America delivered an ultimatum to President Biden – lift the cap on state and local tax deductions (SALT), that was part of the 2017 Trump tax cuts or lose their vote on the tax bill that would pay for Biden’s more than $3 trillion infrastructure bill. With the party’s ultra-slim majority in the House, the defection of a mere handful of Democrats could doom Biden’s legislative efforts.

On the surface, this looks like a classic parochial concern and a clear demonstration of how local issues drive federal legislating. But this drama is playing out in a very different political world – one in which the SALT deduction is not a political bargaining chip to negotiate an agreement between members of Congress from different parties or different regions, but rather a blunt political tool that a handful of Democrats can use to hold their party hostage. The SALT deduction is an issue that affects both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Indeed, in 2017 more than a dozen House Republicans did not vote for the Trump tax bill because the legislation capped the SALT deduction. (Conversely, Republicans included it in the legislation because they knew it would hurt Democrats).

Those Republicans in California, the Northeast, and the affluent suburbs of Illinois and Virginia, where capping the SALT deduction can cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in higher taxes, who did vote for the bill were wiped out. According to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center, “the largest shift towards Democratic house candidates occurred in the 20 percent of counties with the greatest percentage of tax filers taking the SALT deduction.”

Ironically, taking the opposite position on SALT didn’t do much to help either. On the twelve GOP members who went against their party and voted to protect their constituents from tax increases, five lost reelection, and two retired. Once again, partisan loyalty trumped parochialism, even for voters.

Today, the SALT fight is being fought almost exclusively within the Democratic Party. For the vast majority of Republicans, the political imperative of opposing Democratic bills and a Democratic president dwarfs all other political considerations.

This new reality makes bipartisan legislation  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

In more than a dozen red states, recalcitrant Republican state legislators continue to refuse to accept billions of dollars in federal dollars to expand Medicaid. Doing so is not only depriving 4 million people in these states access to health insurance; it costs money because states still need to provide emergency coverage for the uninsured. Study after study has shown that Medicaid expansion is a financial winner for states – and that’s not even to mention the longer, healthier lives of those who receive coverage.

In Missouri, last Fall, a ballot initiative passed to expand Medicaid, but last month the Republican-dominated state legislature balked at allocating the money. Their rationale was that it would bust the state’s budget. Keep in mind, the federal government pays 90% of the bill for those who received care under Medicaid expansion, and Missouri currently has a budget surplus. In addition, the recently passed American Rescue Plan allocates another 5% of the costs for states that expand coverage.

But none of that matters because Medicaid expansion is associated with Obamacare, and Republicans don’t want to be on the record supporting any aspect of that legislation.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 11:39 am

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