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Amazon shows how trickle-down inequality works

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Sarah Jones writes in the “Intelligencer” section of New York:

Bill Bodani liked his old job. He cleaned slag out at the Sparrows Point steel mill in Maryland, cleared the flues and the broken brick out of the blast furnace. He loved it despite the asbestosis it gave him, writes Alec MacGillis in his new book, Fulfillment. “I enjoyed the people,” Bodani told MacGillis. “They made it enjoyable. The Black, the white. It was a family thing. I don’t care if you knew them for five minutes, they took you in. No matter how bad I got hurt, or how bad things got, there was always a bright side. You had those guys with you.”

Until he didn’t. The mill closed, and Bodani needed a new job. He found one with Amazon, working in a Baltimore-area fulfillment center. He started out at $12 an hour — much less than he’d made at the mill. He’d traded his old friends for a place that would, as MacGillis put it, fire workers “by algorithm.” And Bodani had a problem. He was older, and he needed to use the bathroom more often than did his younger co-workers. When he had used up his breaks, he resorted to an undignified option. He’d piss in a corner of the warehouse, using a forklift as a privacy shield.

MacGillis completed Bodani’s story before the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union announced that it would try to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the country in Bessemer, Alabama. Workers there reported their own versions of Bodani’s problem. The company regimented their days so strictly that they often didn’t have the time they needed to use the restroom. The union still lost, an election now contested before the National Labor Relations Board. Despite the outcome, the stories stick. Workers said they couldn’t stay six feet apart from each other in the middle of a pandemic, spoke of dirty workstations that never got clean. Amazon, they insisted, was a bad place to work. Why, then, are cities so desperate to bring Amazon home?

In Fulfillment, MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica and the author of 2014’s The CynicThe Political Education of Mitch McConnell, offers answers. The digital economy has fattened a handful of cities while others, often old industrial hubs, fall behind. There is historical precedent for industries to cluster: “History,” he writes, “is the story of cities with the right confluence of people in close quarters to spin the world forward, whether in classical Athens or Renaissance Florence or industrial-age Glasgow.” That dynamic, however, has “trebled” in recent years, he claims, with innovation the new resource to mine. Amazon and Microsoft swelled Seattle, brought it new wealth, a new class of resident, and a new set of problems. That wealth never reached a number of Seattle’s long-term residents, who could recall an older, more livable version of a vibrant city. What dispersed out from Seattle was not wealth, either, but something else. Inequality trickled down.

MacGillis understands the bargain Amazon offers the public and explores the consequences of that bargain with a sharp, humane eye. He succeeds in telling a story about Amazon from the bottom up — the right way to scrutinize a company that projects a progressive image. Amazon wants us to believe it treats its workers well: It pays them $15 an hour now, a fact it has repeatedly tweeted to its congressional critics. Other companies, even governments, ought to follow Amazon’s stellar example, the company says. MacGillis argues that governments have already been too eager to take Amazon at its word, and that the consequences, for workers and for the places they live, have been catastrophic.

To cities in need of jobs, Amazon can look like a savior. But salvation is an exchange: a soul for a different future. MacGillis argues that this trade is good for Jeff Bezos alone; workers and cities lose out in both a psychological and material sense. Bill Bodani has nothing to offer the new economy but his body. Amazon accepts, and forces him to accept something even more nefarious than a pay cut. To take a job at the mill was to join a community. Young high-school graduates, MacGillis writes, had walked into a union and the welcoming arms of their uncles and fathers. By contrast, the warehouse is a sterile place. Workers are welcomed not with warm introductions but with “a sheet of paper scrawled with AMAZON” and representatives for an Amazon subcontractor. The job itself can be isolating, as Amazon workers themselves have reported; steep quotas and pervasive surveillance offer few opportunities to socialize. This is a useful union-avoidance strategy. It’s also a spiritual blow.

Once cities like Sparrows Point offer up their souls, Amazon gives them a cheap future. Corporations rarely make decisions out of abundant public spirit; Amazon is no exception to the rule. Instead, it eludes taxes. MacGillis calls Amazon’s approach to tax avoidance “a veritable Swiss Army knife, with an implement to wield against every possible government tab,” and the description lines up with reality. Amazon paid no federal income tax for two years before coughing up a paltry $162 million in 2019. It settles upon cities and towns like a locust, chewing up tax breaks totaling $2.7 billion by 2019, according to MacGillis. In 2018, Amazon threatened to cancel a planned expansion in Seattle, its home turf, over an employee-hours tax intended to address the city’s homelessness crisis. The city council passed it, only to reverse itself less than a month later.

In smaller cities, the costs of attracting Amazon can be especially steep. Consider . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 2:53 pm

Curbing gun violence in the United States

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In a post yesterday, I set out the reasons that suicide should, like homicide, be viewed as part of the serious gun violence problem the US has. What can be done to implement ways of combating gun violence? Colleen Walsh describes in the Harvard Gazette some steps that could be taken.

In the wake of several deadly mass shootings, President Biden announced a list of executive orders last Thursday aimed at reducing gun-related violence, and called for Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Biden’s orders included better regulation of “ghost guns” — homemade weapons that lack traceable serial numbers — and stabilizing braces that transform pistols into more lethal, short-barreled rifles. They also called for increased support for violence-intervention programs, and model “red flag” legislation to make it easier to get guns away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Stopping gun violence will take myriad approaches, including a range of public health efforts, according to David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and author of the 2006 book “Private Guns, Public Health.” Hemenway, who is working on a new book about firearms and public health while the Elizabeth S. and Richard M. Cashin Fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, spoke with the Gazette about what needs to be done to curb gun violence in the U.S.

Q&A with David Hemenway

GAZETTE: What was your impression of Biden’s executive orders around gun control?

HEMENWAY: Biden’s overall plan seems excellent—a response that is more than just more law enforcement — and these executive actions are good first steps to reduce the terrible problem of firearm violence in the U.S. There are various specific actions taken, such as beginning to address the issues of ghost guns (which aren’t subject to background checks), and they are all important. He could do more, but there are so many important things he can’t do by himself with executive orders. Overall, I think it’s a nice first step, but he needs Congress to work with him to do many of the most important things.

GAZETTE: What are some of those things?

HEMENWAY: Universal background checks need to be passed by Congress, but even more important than that would be universal gun-licensing laws (which implies universal background checks) and handgun registration. Just as everyone who drives a motor vehicle needs to have a license and vehicle registration, the same should be true for anyone who owns a firearm. Only a few U.S. states have gun licensing, but as far as I can tell, virtually every other developed country has some form of gun licensing, and their levels of gun violence are all far lower than ours. Licensing and registration helps keep guns out of the wrong hands.

There are so many other actions the federal government could take to help further reduce firearm violence. For example, the federal government could model what good training for gun owners should look like. In our work at the School of Public Health, we sent people out to take dozens of basic gun training classes throughout the Northeast. Some of the trainings were excellent, but some were horrible. Only half of the trainers discussed how you should store your guns appropriately, while a few said if you have kids you can just hide your guns. Almost no one discussed the role of guns in suicide, the curiosity of children, methods of de-escalating conflict, alternative methods of self-defense, or the type of continual training one needs to effectively use a gun in self-defense. The federal government could play an important role in helping to create and model rules around training.

We also need better gun-safety standards. Many children (and some adults) don’t know that when you take out the magazine from a semi-automatic pistol, the gun is still loaded, not realizing that there is a bullet left in the chamber and that if you pull the trigger you could kill somebody. This is the most common way that children are killed unintentionally with guns in this country. Even better than teaching every child or even having guns that make it apparent when they can still be fired, semi-automatic pistols can be made so the gun won’t fire when the magazine has been removed. We should also have childproof guns. Many 2- to 4-year-olds kill themselves when they find a loaded firearm. We made childproof aspirin bottles because children would find aspirin bottles and die from ingesting the aspirin, but we still make it too easy for toddlers to find guns and kill themselves.

I also think we need strict liability laws for gun owners. One of the reasons accidental pool drownings decreased in many parts of the world is because people who don’t properly fence and protect their pools became liable in the case of accidental injury, especially to children who gained access to the pool and drowned. The same should be true for something as dangerous as a gun. If you own TNT, or anything which is extremely dangerous, you have to be safe and responsible with it. Right now, that’s not the case for many guns, which are too commonly stored insecurely. Roughly 350,000 guns are stolen each year and end up in the wrong hands.

GAZETTE: Picking up on the issue of liability, Biden said during his press conference if he could do one thing it would be to eliminate immunity for gun manufacturers.

HEMENWAY: That’s certainly important. The reason the law was passed during the Bush administration was to protect the gun manufacturers and distributors who saw what had happened in the tobacco arena, and they didn’t want it to happen to them, so they got Republicans to pass a law giving them incredible immunity compared to other products. So yes, that would be a useful thing.

GAZETTE: Why do you think there is so little appetite in America, even after so many mass shootings, for any additional controls on the sale and use of guns?

HEMENWAY: I think it’s a combination of misinformation and the culture wars. I looked at Google news this morning, and the headline about the Biden initiatives was from Fox News: “Sen. Hawley: Biden ultimately seeks civilian gun confiscation while permitting rioters and crime.”

GAZETTE: What do you think of Biden’s pick to head the ATF, David Chipman?

HEMENWAY: I know David. I think he’s great. He’s very smart, very personable, hard-working, and quite experienced. He was an ATF agent for years ­— he’s certainly well-qualified. It would be good if he could strengthen the ATF’s oversight of gun dealers. The agency has been hamstrung through the years, and there seem to still be too many bad-apple gun dealers who make it too easy for the wrong people to gain access to firearms.

GAZETTE: Biden’s plan also calls for a new report on gun trafficking to be conducted by the Justice Department. In your mind, why is that data so important?

HEMENWAY: Reports are good, but perhaps even more important would be

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 12:07 pm

Why Is Clarence Thomas Attacking Google? — and more

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Matt Stoller has several interesting reports in his current BIG column:

Last week, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued two statements attacking Google’s concentrated market power. Thomas is an unusual justice, almost never speaking during oral arguments, but also quite influential on the right. So today’s topic is how, and whether, the right’s views about big tech are evolving.

Also short pieces on:

  • Why Amazon beat organized labor in Alabama
  • Why Logitech just killed the universal remote control industry
  • Google’s Eric Schmidt goes full Communism against telecoms
  • Why the big dumb ship in the Suez was Bill Clinton’s fault
  • How razor blade companies negotiate with Amazon and Walmart
  • How Google’s fancy lawyers screwed up and jeopardized Sheryl Sandberg, at $1500/Hour

And now…

Realignment Strain

Last month, in a little noticed House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on big tech, conservative stalwart Congressman Jim Jordan and Republican FTC regulator Noah Phillips went back and forth over how to address the internet giants. Jordan and Phillips had, until recently, been quite aligned, as fellow Republicans.

But this time, something was different.

Jordan was disturbed about the power of big tech to remove important political voices, like Donald Trump, from the public square. He asked Phillips, as a regulator, what can you do about this? Phillips responded, “I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer.”

It was a shocking moment. Normally, parties defend their own, but in this case, much of the hearing was Republican members of Congress training their fire on their own commissioner. Phillips had voted against bringing the Facebook antitrust suit, and was the only witness who didn’t want to do anything about big tech. His own side wasn’t having it.

There’s an argument on the right, known as “the realignment,” which is that the GOP will break with big business and become a party of the working class. There are reasons to be quite skeptical of this possibility, because the conservative movement has been intertwined with large corporations since the 1970s. I’ve watched some Republican members shouting publicly about big tech, but when it comes to legislating, these same members will oppose any actual changes.

But being totally dismissive isn’t reasonable either. Trump, after all, did launch antitrust suits against tech giants, as did Ken Paxton, the right-wing Texas Attorney General. Wyoming, led by Republican state Senator Tara Nethercott, just strengthened its state antitrust law, and Arizona Republicans nearly pulled off an anti-monopoly coup against Apple’s app store monopoly. And Senator Josh Hawley just introduced an antitrust bill that would not only address big tech’s market power, but would block mergers for firms worth $100 billion or more.

Moreover, there’s also a push factor at work, as big businesses fight against Republican priorities, most recently an election bill in Georgia passed to restrict voting. To protest the law, Major League Baseball moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Colorado, and Delta and Coca-Cola, among others, publicly criticized the state GOP. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pushed back, warning that “corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.” McConnell’s warning had little effect. On Saturday, 100 corporate leaders in media, airlines, tech, retailing, etc held a phone call to discuss how to coordinate in opposing conservative voting rights legislation.

This ferment has now reached the pinnacle of the Republican Party, the conservative legal movement, which sets the legal philosophy of the party. Clarence Thomas, who is deeply embedded in these conservative legal networks, is beginning to mark out a different path.

Thomas: Google Is a Monopoly

Last week, Thomas issued two remarkable statements criticizing the concentrated power of Google and tech platforms. In one decision, Thomas mused on a long-running battle between Oracle and Google, where Google copied certain parts of Oracle’s software under the guise of fair use. The specifics of the decision are heated and interesting in and of themselves, but what I’m interested in here is that Thomas called out Google as a monopoly.

“If the majority is worried about monopolization,” he wrote, “it ought to consider whether Google is the greater threat.”

Thomas noted that Google copied Oracle’s work without licensing it, and then develop a monopoly in mobile phone operating software. Whatever the other merits of the case, it was a stark, and accurate, observation.

In his second claim, Thomas went even further. In a case involving Trump’s right to block people on Twitter, Thomas issued a statement on the threat to free speech by dominant tech platforms. “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms,” he wrote.

Noting Google’s control over search, Amazon’s control over books, and Facebook and Twitter’s control over social media, Thomas observed these firms aren’t merely private, but are clothed with a public interest. He called for treating tech firms like public utilities, forced to serve all comers, citing precedents involving railroad, telegraph, and telephone regulation. He dismissed the idea of network effects as leading to inherently large firms, noting that network systems don’t need to be contained within the corporate form. While Facebook, Google, Amazon, and so forth are run by a few people, that’s not inherent to technology. “No small group of people,” Thomas wryly observed, “control email.”

The deeper you go into the opinion, the more extraordinary it becomes. Thomas tied big tech dominance to monopoly power, citing “astronomical profits” and a lack of new entrants as evidence of a lack of competition. These observations might seem obvious to you and me, but in the antitrust world, that’s a significant intellectual concession, because the law and economics movement has traditionally held that high profits are a sign of efficiency and not barriers to entry.

One can read these opinions as in some ways an endorsement of the 2020 Democrat-led House Antitrust Subcommittee Report, which called for treating big tech firms as common carriers, a sort of net neutrality for Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Thomas’ opinion marks a big shift for Republicans, who have generally been unfavorable to the idea of such public utility rules.

More fundamentally, Thomas’ recent work is a rebuke of the economics-heavy thinking that both conservative and liberal judges have prioritized. None other than Clarence Thomas, in fact, two years ago penned the notorious Ohio vs American Express decision, which essentially gave special antitrust immunity to big tech firms solely because economists said that network businesses are special. For Thomas, what was in 2018 network economies of scale, has now become tyranny.

Are These Shifts Mere Rhetoric?

For decades, the conservative movement has had a ‘fusion strategy,’ with white social conservatives and big business libertarians as close allies. The deal was that the social conservatives would supply the votes and the corporations would provide the money. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. The Suez Canal report is particularly interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 4:46 pm

Republicans going off in all directions

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Heather Cox Richardson has a post that’s worth reading because it sets out a variety of developing issues, including a serious conflict within the Republican party regarding the direction it should take. She writes:

Congress has been on break since March 29, and tomorrow members will go back to Washington, D.C., to resume work. The next weeks are going to be busy for the lawmakers, not least because the political ground in America appears to be shifting.

In the two weeks the lawmakers have been back in their districts, a lot has happened. The Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan on March 31, calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The plan includes traditional items like railroads and bridges and roads; it also uses a modern, expansive definition of infrastructure, including support for our electrical grid, green energy, and clean water delivery, as well as the construction of high-speed broadband to all Americans. The plan also defines childcare and eldercare as infrastructure issues, an important redefinition that will not only help more women regain a foothold in the economy, but will also help to replace manufacturing jobs as a key stabilizer of middle-class America. The administration is selling the infrastructure plan, in part, by emphasizing that it will create jobs (hence “American Jobs Plan” rather than something like “American Infrastructure Act”).

President Biden has proposed paying for the plan by raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before Trump’s 2017 tax cut) and by increasing the global minimum tax from 13% to 21% (so that companies cannot stash profits in low-tax countries). He has also proposed saving money by ending the federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and by putting teeth in the enforcement of tax laws against corporations who have skated without paying taxes in the past.

The president also put together a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to look at the question of adjusting the Supreme Court to the modern era. While people are focusing on the question of whether the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be increased—it has held at 9 since 1869, even as three more circuits have been added—the commission is also looking at “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court.” It is only very recently that justices grimly held onto a Supreme Court appointment until death; the positions used to turn over with some frequency. The commission is an astonishingly distinguished group of scholars, lawyers, and judges.

Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed the establishment of the commission displayed “open disdain for judicial independence.” And yet, the Supreme Court itself undermined his position in favor of a nonpartisan judiciary late Friday night. It issued an unsigned opinion in which the court decided, by a vote of 5-4, that state restrictions on private religious gatherings during the pandemic infringed on people’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the minority.

Biden has also asked Congress to take on the issue of gun control, after yet more mass shootings in the country. And overshadowing all is the Democrat’s demand for the passage of voting rights legislation that would protect voting, end gerrymandering, and curb the influence of big money in U.S. elections.

While the legislative world has been rocking, so has the world of the Republicans. The party is torn between the Trump wing and the business wing, and in the course of the past few weeks, that rift has widened and destabilized.

On March 25, Georgia passed a sweeping new voting restriction law. Legislators argued that they were simply trying to combat voter fraud, but the law, in fact, significantly restricts voting hours and mail-in voting, as well as turning over the mechanics of elections to partisan committees. The Georgia law came after a similar set of restrictions in Iowa; other states, including Texas, are following suit.

But this attack on voting rights is not playing well with the corporate leaders who, in the past, tended to stand with the Republicans. Leaders from more than 170 corporations condemned the new Georgia law, saying, “We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.” Major League Baseball grabbed headlines when it decided to move this summer’s All-Star game out of the state.

Following the corporate pushback over the Georgia law, the leader of the business Republican faction, Mitch McConnell, said that it was “stupid” for corporations to weigh in on divisive political issues, although he specified he was “not talking about political contributions.” Republican lawmakers have said that corporations should not take political stances, a position that sits uneasily with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which said that corporate donations to political candidates were a form of political speech and could not be limited by the government. The so-called “Citizens United” decision opened up a flood of corporate money into our political system.

Yesterday, more than 100 corporate executives met over Zoom to figure out how . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and some interesting aspects are discussed later in the column.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 10:47 am

Disproportionate representation: The opposite of 1 person, 1 vote

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Joe Munchin doesn’t understand this, so he supports the filibuster. He believes that without the filibuster populous states would have too much power over small states. Is he that uninformed? or is he willfully blind?

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life

“I’m finally done with the Senate filibuster. We’re running out of time to save democracy.”

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Noah Bookbinder, a former criminal prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, writes in USA Today:

I worked as a counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee for eight years. I heard senators that I admired repeat the apocryphal story of George Washington supposedly explaining to Thomas Jefferson that the Senate was “the saucer that cools the tea,” preventing the House from rushing through ill-advised legislation.

While the filibuster was not part of the framers’ plan — and indeed some of the framers warned against a supermajority requirement for legislation — it seemed consistent with this idea of the Senate as an intended obstacle to tyranny by a bare, partisan majority. Perhaps more importantly, I saw the cycles of control in the Senate. I saw how those tactics of delay and obstruction that drove a majority party crazy one year were lifelines when that party ended up in the minority the next

Those seemed like compelling arguments to keep the Senate filibuster, so I passionately resisted the idea of eliminating it for years. Too slowly perhaps, it has become clear to me that times have changed. The old arguments are no longer enough — in fact, our democracy might not survive at all unless Congress passes reforms that a minority seems determined to block. The Senate must get rid of the filibuster in order for us to maintain a democratic system of government going forward, and the sooner the better.

White minority wants to keep control

Our democracy already teetered on the brink when Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 presidential election by more than 7 million votes and a substantial margin in the Electoral College, falsely and repeatedly claimed to have won and then actually tried to convince officials in multiple states to overturn the results of the voting in those states.

When efforts by Trump and his supporters to undermine and overturn the election failed, Trump’s supporters switched to a quieter but no less dangerous tactic. Bills have now been introduced in 47 states to restrict access to voting, curbs which will disproportionately impact non-white voters. Many of these bills are on their way to passing. Efforts are also in the planning stages to aggressively gerrymander districts to benefit the former president’s party.

The cumulative effect of all this is to prevent a mostly white minority of Americans from losing control of the United States government. There is legislation that could prevent this, but it looks like it will be blocked in the Senate by the filibuster, something that has often happened to bills meant to advance racial equity and justice.

Now, the combination of systematic disenfranchisement of Black and brown voters, aggressive use of gerrymandering, and a system of unchecked money in political campaigns could allow a minority of voters to ensure that those who supported Trump’s abuses are ushered into control of Congress and the presidency; once in power, they have already shown their willingness to use it to further degrade checks and balances for their own advancement. The democracy as we know it might begin to crumble.

We need H.R. 1: It would maintain voting rights and voting integrity that states saved amid COVID-19

This sounds apocalyptic and maybe a little crazy. It is not. We need only look at the four years of Trump’s presidency, moving from emoluments violations, obstruction of investigations, embrace of white supremacists, and sidelining of watchdogs and prosecutors who threatened him to full-scale attempts to overturn an election and incite insurrection, to see how quickly and completely the foundations of our democracy can be shaken.

Worry about comity later

Legislation before Congress can stop all this from happening. H.R. 1, the For the People Act, contains crucial voting rights protections that will prevent many of the efforts in states to restrict the ability to vote; it will ensure fair, non-partisan redistricting and reform money in politics, as well as curbing much unethical conduct and many abuses of power. We can also shore up our democracy against attack with bills like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Protecting Our Democracy Act and an act to finally grant District of Columbia residents the same rights to democratic participation that people in all 50 states have.

GOP ex-officials:We need a voting rights champion like Vanita Gupta at Justice, and fast

But if the Senate’s intractable minority is allowed to continue to prevent all legislation to protect our democratic system, we will run out of time. Efforts in the states to curb voting rights and ensure rule by a shrinking white minority will be able to take effect without any check; after the rules are changed and the deck stacked, it might not again be possible to elect a Congress and a president amenable to protecting democratic participation and checks and balances.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Senate must  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2021 at 12:47 pm

America’s Immigration Amnesia: Despite recurrent claims of crisis at the border, the United States still does not have a coherent immigration policy

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Caitlin Dickerson writes in the Atlantic:

In the early 2000s, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas were accustomed to encountering a few hundred children attempting to cross the American border alone each month. Some hoped to sneak into the country unnoticed; others readily presented themselves to officials in order to request asylum. The agents would transport the children, who were exhausted, dehydrated, and sometimes injured, to Border Patrol stations and book them into austere concrete holding cells. The facilities are notoriously cold, so agents would hand the children Mylar blankets to keep warm until federal workers could deliver them to child-welfare authorities.

But starting in 2012, the number of children arriving at the border crept up, first to about 1,000 a month, then 2,000, then 5,000. By the summer of 2014, federal officials were processing more than 8,000 children a month in that region alone, cramming them into the same cells that had previously held only a few dozen at a time, and that were not meant to hold children at all.

As the stations filled, the Obama administration scrambled to find a solution. The law required that the children be moved away from the border within 72 hours and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, so they could be housed safely and comfortably until they were released to adults willing to sponsor them. But HHS facilities were also overflowing. The department signed new contracts for “emergency-influx shelters,” growing its capacity by thousands of beds within a matter of months. Government workers pulled 100-hour weeks to coordinate logistics. And then, seemingly overnight, border crossings began to drop precipitously. No one knew exactly why.

“The numbers are unpredictable,” Mark Weber, an HHS spokesperson, told me in 2016, just as another child-migration surge was beginning to crest. “We don’t know why a bunch of kids decided to come in 2014, or why they stopped coming in 2015. The thing we do know is these kids are trying to escape violence, gangs, economic instability. That’s a common theme. The numbers have changed over the years, but the themes stayed the same.”

The cycle repeated itself under President Donald Trump in 2019, and is doing so again now. And as border crossings rise and the government rushes to open new emergency-influx shelters, some lawmakers and pundits are declaring that the Biden administration is responsible for the surge. “The #BidenBorderCrisis was caused by the message sent by his campaign & by the measures taken in the early days of his new administration,” Marco Rubio tweeted last week. The administration is “luring children to the border with the promise of letting them in,” Joe Scarborough, the Republican congressman turned cable-television host, told millions of viewers during a recent segment.

But for decades, most immigration experts have viewed border crossings not in terms of surges, but in terms of cycles that are affected by an array of factors. These include the cartels’ trafficking business, weather, and religious holidays as well as American politics—but perhaps most of all by conditions in the children’s home countries. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found that young peoples’ “motives for migrating to the United States are often multifaceted and difficult to measure analytically,” and that “while the impacts of actual and perceived U.S. immigration policies have been widely debated, it remains unclear if, and how, specific immigration policies have motivated children to migrate to the United States.”

The report pointed out that special protections for children put into place under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 may have shifted migration patterns by encouraging parents to send their children alone rather than travel as a family. But it found that blaming any one administration for a rise in border crossings ultimately made no sense—the United States has offered some form of protection to people fleeing persecution since the 1940s, and those rights were expanded more than 40 years ago under the Refugee Act of 1980.

This is not to say that President Joe Biden’s stance on immigration—which has thus far been to discourage foreigners from crossing the border while also declaring that those who do so anyway will be treated humanely—has had no effect on the current trend. Like other business owners, professional human traffickers, known as coyotes, rely on marketing—and federal intelligence suggests that perceived windows of opportunity have been responsible for some of their most profitable years.

For example, border crossings rose in the months before President Trump took office in part because coyotes encouraged people to hurry into the United States before the start of the crackdown that Trump had promised during his campaign. With Trump out of office, some prospective migrants likely feel impelled to seek refuge now, before another election could restore his policies.

But placing blame for the recent increase in border crossings entirely on the current administration’s policies ignores the reality that the federal government has held more children in custody in the past than it is holding right now, and that border crossings have soared and then dropped many times over the decades, seemingly irrespective of who is president.

Given, then, that the movement of unaccompanied minors has long ebbed and flowed—we are now experiencing the fourth so-called surge over the course of three administrations—why do border facilities still appear overwhelmed? The answer, in part, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 1:36 pm

Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century

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Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker:

In public, Republicans have denounced Democrats’ ambitious electoral-reform bill, the For the People Act, as an unpopular partisan ploy. In a contentious Senate committee hearing last week, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, slammed the proposal, which aims to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics, as “a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.” But behind closed doors Republicans speak differently about the legislation, which is also known as House Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 1. They admit the lesser-known provisions in the bill that limit secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections.

A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers’ network—reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.

Kyle McKenzie, the research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, told fellow-conservatives and Republican congressional staffers on the call that he had a “spoiler.” “When presented with a very neutral description” of the bill, “people were generally supportive,” McKenzie said, adding that “the most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description.” In fact, he warned, “there’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”

As a result, McKenzie conceded, the legislation’s opponents would likely have to rely on Republicans in the Senate, where the bill is now under debate, to use “under-the-dome-type strategies”—meaning legislative maneuvers beneath Congress’s roof, such as the filibuster—to stop the bill, because turning public opinion against it would be “incredibly difficult.” He warned that the worst thing conservatives could do would be to try to “engage with the other side” on the argument that the legislation “stops billionaires from buying elections.” McKenzie admitted, “Unfortunately, we’ve found that that is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives.” He said that when his group tested “tons of other” arguments in support of the bill, the one condemning billionaires buying elections was the most persuasive—people “found that to be most convincing, and it riled them up the most.”

McKenzie explained that the Koch-founded group had invested substantial resources “to see if we could find any message that would activate and persuade conservatives on this issue.” He related that “an A.O.C. message we tested”—one claiming that the bill might help Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez achieve her goal of holding “people in the Trump Administration accountable” by identifying big donors—helped somewhat with conservatives. But McKenzie admitted that the link was tenuous, since “what she means by this is unclear.” “Sadly,” he added, not even attaching the phrase “cancel culture” to the bill, by portraying it as silencing conservative voices, had worked. “It really ranked at the bottom,” McKenzie said to the group. “That was definitely a little concerning for us.”

Gretchen Reiter, the senior vice-president of communications for Stand Together, declined to respond to questions about the conference call or the Koch group’s research showing the robust popularity of the proposed election reforms. In an e-mailed statement, she said, “Defending civil liberties requires more than a sound bite,” and added that the group opposes the bill because “a third of it restricts First Amendment rights.” She included a link to an op-ed written by a member of Americans for Prosperity, another Koch-affiliated advocacy group, which argues that the legislation violates donors’ freedom of expression by requiring the disclosure of the names of those who contribute ten thousand dollars or more to nonprofit groups involved in election spending. Such transparency, the op-ed suggests, could subject donors who prefer to remain anonymous to retaliation or harassment.

The State Policy Network, a confederation of right-wing think tanks with affiliates in every state, convened the conference call days after the Democrats’ twin victories in the Senate runoffs in Georgia, which meant that the Party had won the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, making it likely that the For the People Act would move forward. Participants included Heather Lauer, the executive director of People United for Privacy, a conservative group fighting to keep nonprofit donors’ identities secret, and Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, who expressed alarm at the damage that the disclosure provisions could do. “The left is not stupid, they’re evil,” he warned. “They know what they’re doing. They have correctly decided that this is the way to disable the freedom movement.”

Coördinating directly with the right-wing policy groups, which define themselves as nonpartisan for tax purposes, were two top Republican congressional staffers: Caleb Hays, the general counsel to the Republicans on the House Administration Committee, and Steve Donaldson, a policy adviser to McConnell. “When it comes to donor privacy, I can’t stress enough how quickly things could get out of hand,” Donaldson said, indicating McConnell’s concern about the effects that disclosure requirements would have on fund-raising. Donaldson added, “We have to hold our people together,” and predicted that the fight is “going to be a long one. It’s going to be a messy one.” But he insisted that McConnell was “not going to back down.” Neither Donaldson nor Hays responded to requests for comment. David Popp, a spokesperson for McConnell, said, “We don’t comment on private meetings.”

Nick Surgey, the executive director of Documented, a progressive watchdog group that investigates corporate money in politics, told me it made sense that McConnell’s staffer was on the call, because the proposed legislation “poses a very real threat to McConnell’s source of power within the Republican Party, which has always been fund-raising.” Nonetheless, he said that the close coördination on messaging and tactics between the Republican leadership and technically nonpartisan outside-advocacy groups was “surprising to see.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 1:24 pm

Trump’s secret sit-down with Ohio candidates turns into ‘Hunger Games’

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Alex Isenstadt reports in Politico:

It was a scene right out of “The Apprentice.”

Donald Trump was headlining a fundraiser on Wednesday night at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla. But before the dinner began, the former president had some business to take care of: He summoned four Republican Senate candidates vying for Ohio’s open Senate seat for a backroom meeting.

The contenders — former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, technology company executive Bernie Moreno and investment banker Mike Gibbons — had flown down to attend the fundraiser to benefit a Trump-endorsed Ohio candidate looking to oust one of the 10 House Republicans who backed his impeachment. As the candidates mingled during a pre-dinner cocktail reception, one of the president’s aides signaled to them that Trump wanted to huddle with them in a room just off the lobby.

What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. Mandel said he was “crushing” Timken in polling. Timken touted her support on the ground thanks to her time as state party chair. Gibbons mentioned how he’d helped Trump’s campaign financially. Moreno noted that his daughter had worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign.

The scene illustrated what has become a central dynamic in the nascent 2022 race. In virtually every Republican primary, candidates are jockeying, auditioning and fighting for the former president’s backing. Trump has received overtures from a multitude of candidates desperate for his endorsement, something that top Republicans say gives him all-encompassing power to make-or-break the outcome of primaries.

And the former president, as was so often the case during his presidency, has seemed to relish pitting people against one another.

One person familiar with what transpired in Wednesday evening’s huddle described it as “Hunger Games,” an awkward showdown that none of them were expecting. Making matters even more uncomfortable, this person said, was that the rival candidates sat at a circular table, making it so that each had to face the others.

Trump kicked off the meeting by asking everyone to tell him about how the race was going. Timken, who was Trump’s handpicked state party chair, was the first to speak. She talked about the early support she’d received and how she’d worked to reelect him.

Two people familiar with the discussion said that Trump at one point reminded Timken that she’d initially defended Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) after he’d voted for Trump’s impeachment in January. That evening’s fundraiser was to benefit Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was running to unseat Gonzalez, and the former president spoke derisively about the member of Congress throughout the evening, several attendees said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 12:31 pm

Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.

The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:

First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.

Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.

They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.

Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”

The bloody attempts of the Ku Klux Klan to suppress voting didn’t work. The new constitutions went into effect, and in 1868 the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with Black male suffrage. In that year’s election, Georgia voters put 33 Black Georgians into the state’s general assembly, only to have the white legislators expel them on the grounds that the Georgia state constitution did not explicitly permit Black men to hold office.

The Republican Congress refused to seat Georgia’s representatives that year—that’s the “remanded to military occupation” you sometimes hear about– and wrote the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right of formerly enslaved people to vote and, by extension, to hold office. The amendment prohibits a state from denying the right of citizens to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

So white southerners determined to prevent Black participation in society turned to a new tactic. Rather than opposing Black voting on racial grounds—although they certainly did oppose Black rights on these grounds– they complained that the new Black voters, fresh from their impoverished lives as slaves, were using their votes to redistribute wealth.

To illustrate their point, they turned to South Carolina, where between 1867 and 1876, a majority of South Carolina’s elected officials were African American. To rebuild the shattered state, the legislature levied new taxes on land, although before the war taxes had mostly fallen on the personal property owned by professionals, bankers, and merchants. The legislature then used state funds to build schools, hospitals, and other public services, and bought land for resale to settlers—usually freedpeople—at low prices.

White South Carolinians complained that members of the legislature, most of whom were professionals with property who had usually been free before the war, were lazy, ignorant field hands using public services to redistribute wealth.

Fears of workers destroying society grew potent in early 1871, when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 9:24 pm

The Real Reason Republicans Couldn’t Kill Obamacare

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Adapted from The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage, St. Martin’s Press 2021, and quoted from the Atlantic:

The affordable care act, the health-care law also known as Obamacare, turns 11 years old this week. Somehow, the program has not merely survived the GOP’s decade-long assault. It’s actually getting stronger, thanks to some major upgrades tucked in the COVID-19 relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month.

The new provisions should enable millions of Americans to get insurance or save money on coverage they already purchase, bolstering the health-care law in precisely the way its architects had always hoped to do. And although the measures are temporary, Biden and his Democratic Party allies have pledged to pass more legislation making the changes permanent.

The expansion measures are a remarkable achievement, all the more so because Obamacare’s very survival seemed so improbable just a few years ago, when Donald Trump won the presidency. Wiping the law off the books had become the Republicans’ defining cause, and Trump had pledged to make repeal his first priority. As the reality of his victory set in, almost everybody outside the Obama White House thought the effort would succeed, and almost everybody inside did too.

One very curious exception was Jeanne Lambrew, the daughter of a doctor and a nurse from Maine who was serving as the deputy assistant to the president for health policy. As a longtime Obama adviser, going back to the 2008 transition, Lambrew was among a handful of administration officials who had been most responsible for shaping his health-care legislation and shepherding it through Congress—and then for overseeing its implementation. Almost every other top official working on the program had long since left government service for one reason or another. Lambrew had stayed, a policy sentry unwilling to leave her post.

On that glum November 2016 day following the election, Lambrew decided to gather some junior staffers in her office and pass out beers, eventually taking an informal survey to see who thought Obama’s signature domestic-policy achievement would still be on the books in a year. Nobody did—except Lambrew.

Yes, Republicans had already voted to repeal “Obamacare” several times. But, she knew, they had never done so with real-world consequences, because Obama’s veto had always stood in the way. They’d never had to think through what it would really mean to take insurance away from a hotel housekeeper or an office security guard on Medicaid—or to tell a working mom or dad that, yes, an insurance company could deny coverage for their son’s or daughter’s congenital heart defect.

A repeal bill would likely have all of those effects. And although Republicans could try to soften the impact, every adjustment to legislation would force them to sacrifice other priorities, creating angry constituents or interest groups and, eventually, anxious lawmakers. GOP leaders wouldn’t be able to hold the different camps within their caucuses together, Lambrew believed, and the effort would fail.

All of those predictions proved correct. And that wasn’t because Lambrew was lucky or just happened to be an optimist. It was because she knew firsthand what most of the Republicans didn’t: Passing big pieces of legislation is a lot harder than it looks.

It demands unglamorous, grinding work to figure out the precise contours of rules, spending, and revenue necessary to accomplish your goal. It requires methodical building of alliances, endless negotiations among hostile factions, and making painful compromises on cherished ideals. Most of all, it requires seriousness of purpose—a deep belief that you are working toward some kind of better world—in order to sustain those efforts when the task seems hopeless.

Democrats had that sense of mission and went through all of those exercises because they’d spent nearly a century crusading for universal coverage. It was a big reason they were able to pass their once-in-a-generation health-care legislation. Republicans didn’t undertake the same sorts of efforts. Nor did they develop a clear sense of what they were trying to achieve, except to hack away at the welfare state and destroy Obama’s legacy. Those are big reasons their legislation failed.

Obamacare’s survival says a lot about the differences between the two parties nowadays, and not just on health care. It’s a sign of how different they have become, in temperament as much as ideology, and why one has shown that it’s capable of governing and the other has nearly forgotten how.

Democrats were so serious about health care that they began planning what eventually became the Affordable Care Act more than a decade earlier, following the collapse of Bill Clinton’s reform attempt in the 1990s. The ensuing political backlash, which saw them lose control of both the House and Senate, had left top Democrats in no mood to revisit the issue. But reform’s champions knew that another opportunity would come, because America’s sick health-care system wouldn’t heal itself, and they were determined not to make the same mistakes again.

At conferences and private dinners, on chat boards and in academic journals, officials and policy advisers obsessively analyzed what had gone wrong and why—not just in 1993 and 1994 but in the many efforts at universal coverage that had come before. They met with representatives of the health-care industry as well as employers, labor unions, and consumer advocates. Industry lobbyists had helped kill reform since Harry Truman’s day. Now they were sitting down with the champions of reform, creating a group of “strange bedfellows” committed to crafting a reform proposal they could all accept.

Out of these parallel efforts, a rough consensus on substance and strategy emerged. Democrats would put forward a plan that minimized disruption of existing insurance arrangements, in order to avoid scaring people with employer coverage, and they would seek to accommodate rather than overpower the health-care industry. The proposal would err on the side of less regulation, spending, and taxes—basically, anything that sounded like “big government”—and Democrats would work to win over at least a few Republicans, because that would probably be necessary in Congress.

Proof of concept came in 2006, in Massachusetts, when its Republican governor, Mitt Romney, teamed up with the Democratic state legislature to pass a plan that fit neatly into the new vision. It had the backing from a broad coalition, including insurers and progressive religious organizations. Ted Kennedy, the liberal icon and U.S. senator, played a key role, by helping secure changes in funding from Washington that made the plan possible. “My son said something … ‘When Kennedy and Romney support a piece of legislation, usually one of them hasn’t read it,’” Kennedy joked at the signing ceremony, standing at Romney’s side.

Kennedy’s endorsement said a lot about the psychology of Democrats at the time. No figure in American politics was more closely associated with the cause of universal health care and, over the years, he had tried repeatedly to promote plans that looked more like the universal-coverage regimes abroad, with the government providing insurance directly in “single-payer” systems that resembled what today we call “Medicare for All.” But those proposals failed to advance in Congress, and Kennedy frequently expressed regret that, in the early 1970s, negotiations over a more private sector-oriented coverage plan with then-President Richard Nixon had broken down, in part because liberals were holding out for a better deal that never materialized.

Kennedy was not alone in his belief that the champions of universal coverage would have to accept big concessions in order to pass legislation. The liberal House Democrats John Dingell, Pete Stark, and Henry Waxman, veteran crusaders for universal coverage who’d accrued vast power over their decades in Congress, were similarly willing to put up with what they considered second-, third-, and even fourth-best solutions—and they were masters of the legislative process, too. Waxman in particular was an expert at doing big things with small political openings, such as inserting seemingly minor adjustments to Medicaid into GOP legislation, expanding the program’s reach over time. “Fifty percent of the social safety net was created by Henry Waxman when no one was looking,” Tom Scully, who ran Medicare and Medicaid for the Bush administration in the early 2000s, once quipped.

Obama had a similar experience putting together health-care legislation in the Illinois state legislature—where, despite proclaiming his support for the idea of a single-payer system, he led the fight for coverage expansions and universal coverage by working with Republicans and courting downstate, more conservative voters. He also was a master of policy detail, and as president, when it was time to stitch together legislation from different House and Senate versions, he presided over meetings directly (highly unusual for a president) and got deep into the weeds of particular programs.

Obama could do this because the concept of universal coverage fit neatly within . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the column:

Another problem was a recognition that forging a GOP consensus on replacement would have been difficult because of internal divisions. Some Republicans wanted mainly to downsize the Affordable Care Act, others to undertake a radical transformation in ways they said would create more of an open, competitive market. Still others just wanted to get rid of Obama’s law and didn’t especially care what, if anything, took its place.

“The homework that hadn’t been successful was the work to coalesce around a single plan, a single set of specific legislative items that could be supported by most Republicans,” Price told me. “Clearly, looking at the history of this issue, this has always been difficult for us because there are so many different perspectives on what should be done and what ought to be the role of the federal government in health care.”

The incentive structure in conservative politics didn’t help, because it rewarded the ability to generate outrage rather than the ability to deliver changes in policy. Power had been shifting more and more to the party’s most extreme and incendiary voices, whose great skill was in landing appearances on Hannity, not providing for their constituents. Never was that more apparent than in 2013, when DeMint, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and some House conservatives pushed Republicans into shutting down the government in an attempt to “defund” the Affordable Care Act that even many conservative Republicans understood had no chance of succeeding.

The failure to grapple with the complexities of American health care and the difficult politics of enacting any kind of change didn’t really hurt Republicans until they finally got power in 2017 and, for the first time, had to back up their promises of a superior Obamacare alternative with actual policy. Their solution was to minimize public scrutiny, bypassing normal committee hearings so they could hastily write bills in the leadership offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan and, after that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 4:52 pm

What’s omitted from the news about Sen. Joe Manchin

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From a ProPublica blog:

Hi everybody, I’m Karim Doumar, an audience editor at ProPublica, filling in for Logan this week. Welcome back to the Weekly Dispatch.

If you followed the passage of President Joe Biden’s stimulus bill, you know about Sen. Joe Manchin. And this is probably what you know: The West Virginia Democrat is the most conservative member of the Senate Democrats, and their majority is so tiny that it’s almost impossible for them to pass anything without him.

If you read the daily papers, Manchin has one of two roles: Either he has worked with Republicans to forge bipartisan compromises (remember the December stimulus bill?), or he is the final hurdle facing progressive legislation before it can be enacted (remember the March stimulus bill?).

Either way, all the thorniest Senate issues of the day, including infrastructure, the filibuster and climate change, run straight through Manchin, leaving him competing with the president for the Most Important Joe award. So we wanted to get to know him better.

Lucky for you, reporter Ken Ward Jr., a distinguished fellow working with ProPublica, has spent a lifetime as an investigative and environmental reporter in the state Manchin serves. Ward, who is also a reporter at nonprofit Mountain State Spotlight, isn’t as interested in the Manchin you read about in most political coverage, that highly sought 50th D vote in the senate. What he’s interested in is policy and how it impacts people’s lives. That may sound obvious, but when I sat down with him (via Zoom) to ask what he’s learned about Manchin in his years covering the man, he frequently had to gently nudge me back toward policy and people, and away from looking at the world through a political lens.

Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Karim Doumar: There’s this national narrative of Joe Manchin as a Democrat in a deep red state, navigating a series of wedge issues to survive politically, but a lot less attention is paid toward him as a politician being responsive specifically to needs of voters who elected him. Do you think that’s a fair characterization? And what do you think people who are reading that kind of stuff are missing about residents and voters in the state?

Ken Ward Jr.: The real sticking point for me with the way the national narrative is [it’s] as if the goal of politics is to decide whether red or blue wins, as opposed to looking at what’s being accomplished either way. With Sen. Manchin, I’m looking at: What is it that his constituents elected him to do? And is he serving them? Or to what extent in some cases might he not be serving them?

The example that is in my wheelhouse reporting-wise is: What is he going to do in his role on the Energy Committee on climate change issues? So much of the narrative is more about whether he is going to help President Biden achieve his legislative goals on that or not, as opposed to the parts of it that I think are important. Is he going to be successful in insisting that any sort of action about climate change that might further reduce the ability of states like West Virginia to rely on fossil fuels for the economy, is he going to do something to make sure that the states that would be hurt economically by that have something else in place, some sort of just transition for coal communities, which has been this kind of elusive concept?

KD: Can you talk about West Virginia, its relationship to coal and natural gas, and what role he’s had in that? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2021 at 4:36 pm

A scorching reply to Georgia’s vile new voting law unmasks a big GOP lie

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Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

The 2020 elections in Georgia should have been cause for celebration among everyone, not just Democrats who won the state’s presidential and Senate races. Amid extremely challenging conditions, election officials took smart, public-spirited steps to ensure that as many voters as possible could participate.

And it worked. Turnout was high on Election Day and during the Senate runoffs, especially among African American voters.

That should have been widely cheered. Yet it’s precisely what the state’s Republican officials apparently want to ensure never happens again.

Georgia Republicans just passed a far-reaching voter suppression law that is shockingly blatant in its efforts to restrict voting. It was signed Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), as one Democratic lawmaker who sought to watch was arrested.

In multiple ways, the measure appears designed to target African American voters, the very voters who drove the 2020 Democratic wins. That complaint is at the core of a new lawsuit filed on Thursday night against the law.

But the lawsuit also exposes — in a fresh way — the appalling dishonesty of Republicans who continue using former president Donald Trump’s lie about the election to justify voter suppression efforts everywhere.

Voter suppression on steroids

Most conspicuously, the new law bars third-party groups from sharing food and water with people waiting in voting lines. It imposes new ID requirements for vote-by-mail, restricts drop boxes for mail ballots and bans mobile voting places, among many other things.

The lawsuit by several voting rights groups — represented by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias — argues that the package unduly burdens the voting rights of all Georgians, disproportionately African Americans, violating the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

The lawsuit cites the extremely high voter turnout in the general and runoff elections, facilitated amid a raging pandemic by vote-by-mail, which was used by African American voters at higher rates than White voters.

The law is largely targeted toward that fact, the lawsuit argues. Restrictions on drop boxes and mobile voting units come after both were heavily utilized in Fulton County, a populous, majority-Black area. African Americans are more likely to use drop boxes because they more often work multiple jobs, the suit argues.

Meanwhile, bans on sharing food and water target the fact that voting lines and wait times tend to be longer in African American areas. And Black voters are disproportionately less likely to have the right ID to qualify to vote by mail, the lawsuit argues.

The critical point is that the past election worked, due to the very practices Republicans now want to curb. Organizers distributed food and water, enabling voters to brave lines. Election officials used expanded vote-by-mail, drop boxes and mobile units to facilitate pandemic voting.

“This successful mobilization was widely heralded as crucial in facilitating Black voter turnout,” the lawsuit notes. Which is precisely the problem, the lawsuit argues: What Republicans want to avert is another such “successful mobilization.”

Republicans give away the game

The justification that Republicans themselves offer for these measures gives away the real game here. Defenders say they are needed to ensure the integrity of future elections and boost public confidence in them.

But the elections in Georgia actually were conducted with absolute integrity, and the Republican secretary of state has himself attested to this. That official, Brad Raffensperger, declared the elections “safe” and “secure.”

This caused Raffensperger to become the target of Trump’s rage. But that doesn’t mean what Raffensperger said isn’t true. It is true.

This was confirmed in a statewide audit. Indeed, Raffensperger has attested to the integrity of Georgia elections more generally, declaring: “Georgia’s voting system has never been more secure or trustworthy.”

Which raises the question: Why are these new measures needed, if Georgia elections are already secure and trustworthy? Why, to avert another “successful mobilization.”

As the lawsuit argues, the very fact that GOP election officials confirmed the integrity of Georgia elections shows the measures “serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters.” . . .

Continue reading.

The column concludes:

p class=”font–body font-copy gray-darkest ma-0 pb-md ” data-el=”text”>All this points to a bigger lie. All across the country, Republicans are escalating voter suppression efforts, fake-justified by the lie that the election was stolen from Trump.

In the softer version of this, it’s fake-justified by the notion that many Republican voters believe that to be true and just need their “confidence” restored to ensure future participation.

But the real way to restore such confidence is to tell voters the truth: That the election was an inspiring success amid very difficult conditions — and its outcome was unimpeachably legitimate — precisely because of the integrity of election workers everywhere. Grounds for confidence in future elections

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:37 pm

Trump Complains Government Is ‘Persecuting’ Capitol Rioters

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The situation in the US is actively getting more dangerous because Donald Trump is leading and fomenting an already-violent insurrection against the government — against the administration, really, to force someone — Congress, Georgia Governor, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence… anyone — to provide an election “count” sufficient to put Trump back in the White House. And he’s not going to shut up until he is in the White House. He’ll butt into every situation he can. As we’ve seen, he has zero sense of shame and zero decorum.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the most dangerous, long-lasting changes effected by Donald Trump is the rightward extension of the Republican coalition. A wide array of far-right militias and cults was either created or inspired to join the Republican Party by Trump’s racist, paranoid, and authoritarian rhetoric. Now those groups are the subject of regular apologias in party-aligned media.

The new reality was driven home in Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham Thursday night. At one point, the Fox News host, whose “interview” was more like an exchange of talking points, brought up a new report that the Homeland Security Department will be giving more attention to right-wing domestic extremism. “The idea is to identify people who may, through their social-media behavior, be prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists,” Ingraham noted. “Mr. President, their DHS is going after people who may be your supporters.”

It is worth pausing for a moment to record that Ingraham’s reaction to a description of people “prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists” is hey, they’re talking about us!

Trump, taking the cue, denounced federal authorities for charging his supporters with crimes. “They go after that, I guess you’d call them leaning toward the right … those people, they’re arresting them by the dozens,” he complained.

Ingraham did not follow up by asking who was being arrested by the dozens. But Trump’s answer became clear a few questions later. Ingraham prompted him with a safe question about the security fencing around the Capitol, a precaution even Democrats have deemed excessive long after the insurrection ended.

Rather than simply denounce the fencing, Trump launched into . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:14 pm

Earth, wind, and solar fire: The next Carrington event

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Ian Steadman writes in Increment:

By the time COVID-19 started spreading in late 2019, experts had warned for years that a pandemic was the high-probability global threat. Still, many countries seemed caught on the back foot. As someone morbidly interested in the apocalyptic, I couldn’t help but wonder: What else do we think we’re prepared for, but really aren’t?

Plenty of disasters are a case of when, not if. Each has its own flavorclimate change is a whole buffetbut one in particular has similar traits to the pandemic: We know it’s coming, we know it’ll cause disruption on a global scale, and if we aren’t prepared, it could have a high death toll. It wouldn’t kill directly like a disease; instead, it could take out our electrical and communications infrastructure, disabling the health, food, and fuel supply chains that sustain billions of people. To understand why, and how, let’s go back to 1859, to the English astronomer Richard Carrington.

Carrington was part of the first generation of astronomers to study the Sun in detail. Born into a wealthy brewing family, he could afford to drop out of academia and build his own observatory on the grounds of his country manor in Redhill, a rural town halfway between London and England’s South Coast, where he would sit each day watching the surface of the Sun projected onto a cotton sheet via his telescope. At 11:18 a.m. on the morning of September 1, 1859, he saw two brilliant white points of light emerging from a large cluster of sunspots. He quickly sketched what he’d seen, and included the illustration with a report published in the Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society a couple months later. (Richard Hodgson, an amateur astronomer who lived in Essex, offered a less detailed version of events in the same journal.)

By the following evening, the particles from those flares had reached Earth, and the sky was ablaze with aurorasthe northern (and southern) lights. In the Rocky Mountains, campers woke and started making breakfast at midnight; a man in New Orleans went hunting at 1 a.m. From North America to East Asia, Hawaii to Colombia, Brisbane to Cape Town, crowds stayed up all night to stare at the razzle-dazzle: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves,” reported The New York Times, “rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red [until] lost in the beams of the rising sun.

The appearance of auroras near the equator might not sound like a disaster, but the lights were just a sideshow. The huge, invisible storm behind the phenomenon is what should worry us today.

Earth is constantly being struck by charged particles blown out by the Sun across the solar system. Solar storms result from coronal mass ejections (CMEs), a release of billions of tons of charged plasma that follows solar flares. Particles travel along Earth’s magnetic field lines, which converge at the polesand, as they travel through the atmosphere, they excite oxygen and nitrogen atoms so they emit light. The worse the weather in space, the further south or north the particles break in, and the further the auroras travel: The Carrington Event was caused by the biggest known CME of the last 200 years. But the charge in those particles has to go somewhere. The Carrington Event happened during the early years of the telegraphthe first human-made technology vulnerable to such geomagnetic fluxwhich gives us an inkling of how chaotic a similar solar storm could be in the present.

During the most extreme storms, changes in Earth’s magnetic field induce electrical current in conductors on the planet’s surfacenotably, metallic structures like oil pipelines, railway tracks, and electrical transmission lines. In 1859, the global telegraph network had more than 200,000 kilometers of cables, mostly in North America and Europe. As the storm peaked, operators from San Francisco to Bombay found their cables and equipment overwhelmed by the “auroral current.” In New York City, one man was left stunned by an “arc of fire” that shot off a ground wire onto his forehead; an operator in Pittsburgh saw “streams of fire” pouring from his circuits as they nearly melted. Telegraph operators in Boston and Portland, Maine, disconnected their batteries but found the storm current was enough to power the line on its own, while across the world messages were blocked, their signals overwhelmed. Normal service only resumed after several days, as the flux faded and equipment was repaired.

The Carrington Event happened before mass electrification. Today, the world is criss-crossed by billions of kilometers of cablesand if a similar storm were to hit, the disruption could be orders of magnitude worse. Anything that handles high-voltage AC power, like substation transformers where power from the electrical grid is stepped down, is especially vulnerable to overheating, melting, or catching fire.

Transformers are large, expensive objects, often taking months to design, build, and test for specific sites. A 2014 Congressional report found that if more than eight transformers in the United States were destroyed simultaneously, the country’s entire grid system would collapse. Since it can take up to 20 months to build, test, and install new transformers, many areas could see extended periods with reduced grid power, or even none at all. At worst, the damage to the grid could lead to cascading economic and public health failures across large regions, or even continents, as logistics chainsfor food, gas, medicines, delivery of replacement partsstruggle to recover. A 2016 FEMA training exercise assumed the worst problems in urban and populated suburban areas would kick off on the eighth day after a hypothetical 1859-scale storm because most facilities that use backup generators, like hospitals, often only keep a week’s worth of fuel on site.

But even if the grid remains intact, solar storms can cause communications blackouts. High geomagnetic flux in space and the atmosphere can overwhelm some of the frequencies used for radio transmission, even interfering with cellular services. Some storms have temporarily or even permanently disabled satellites and significantly degraded GPS accuracy: A relatively minor storm in October 2011 knocked out North America’s flight navigation system for several hours. Anything that relies on satellites and/or radio transmissions could be affected.

The most dangerous place for satellites to be during a storm is . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and unfortunately, it’s grim.

We know clearly what will happen and that it will happen. We don’t know when, so we have collectively decided, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” — or, more likely, “We’ll die on that bridge when we come to it.”

UPDATE: After sleeping on it, I realized that all humans, individually and collectively, have trouble bring focus and action to bear on things that are important but not urgent. I can see evolutionary reasons for that: we developed razor-focus on urgent things. By definition, non-urgent things are not an immediate threat, so those get pushed aside.

The whole point of Covey’s 7 habits is to bring focus and action — identifying things that are both important and not urgent, and then schedule some actions every week to address those.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2021 at 8:59 pm

Bad blood and bad faith in the US Senate

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2021 at 11:05 am

When lies come home to roost

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.

After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”

In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.

The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.

In the 19 days after the election, Trump and the Republican National Committee took in more than $207 million, prompted mostly by their claims of election fraud. John Horgan, who runs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University, told Smith that “Trump successfully convinced many of his followers that unless they acted, and acted fast, their very way of life was about to come to an end…. He presented a catastrophic scenario whereby if the election was — for him — lost, his followers would suffer as a result. He made action not just imperative, but urgent, convincing his followers that they needed to do everything they could now, rather than later, to prevent the ‘enemy’ from claiming victory.”

And yet, on Monday, Trump’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, moved to dismiss the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against her. Powell helped to craft the Big Lie, and won the president’s attention with her determination to combat the results of the election and restore Trump to the presidency. In January, Dominion sued Powell for $1.3 billion after her allegations that the company was part of an international Communist plot to steal the 2020 presidential election.

On Monday, Powell argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her statements about a scheme to rig the election “were truly statements of fact.” Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist, explained away the Big Lie to NBC News’s Smith: “[T]here are a lot of dumb people in the world…. And a lot of them stormed the Capitol on January 6th.”

And yet, 147 Republicans—8 senators and 139 representatives—signed onto the Big Lie, voting to sustain objections to the counting of the electoral votes on January 6.

So the Republicans are left with increasing evidence that there was a concerted plan to attack the Capitol on January 6, fed by the former president, whose political campaign pocketed serious cash from his declarations that he had truly won the election and that all patriots would turn out to defend his reelection. Those claims were pressed by a lawyer who now claims that no reasonable person would believe she was telling the truth.

The Republicans tied themselves to this mess, and it is coming back to haunt them. President Biden’s poll numbers are high, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Friday showing that 59% of adults approve of Biden’s overall performance. (Remember that Trump never broke 50%). They are happy with his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the economy.

Rather than trying to pass popular measures to make up the ground they have lost, Republicans are trying to suppress voting. By mid-February, in 43 states, Republicans had introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. Today, Republicans in Michigan introduced 39 more such bills. In at least 8 states, Republicans are trying to gain control over elections, taking power from nonpartisan election boards, secretaries of state, and governors. Had their systems been in place in 2020, Republicans could have overturned the will of the voters.

To stop these state laws, Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping federal voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would protect voting, make it easier to vote, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics. The bill has already passed the House, but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with all they’ve got.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told them: “This . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 9:06 pm

US sinks to new low in rankings of world’s democracies

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Sam Levine reports in the Guardian:

The US has fallen to a new low in a global ranking of political rights and civil liberties, a drop fueled by unequal treatment of minority groups, damaging influence of money in politics, and increased polarization, according to a new report by Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group.

The US earned 83 out of 100 possible points this year in Freedom House’s annual rankings of freedoms around the world, an 11-point drop from its ranking of 94 a decade ago. The US’s new ranking places it on par with countries like Panama, Romania and Croatia and behind countries such as Argentina and Mongolia. It lagged far behind countries like the United Kingdom (93), Chile (93), Costa Rica (91) and Slovakia (90).

“Dropping 11 points is unusual, especially for an established democracy, because they tend to be more stable in our scores,” Sarah Repucci, Freedom House’s vice-president for research and analysis, told the Guardian. “It’s significant for Americans and it’s significant for the world, because the United States is such a prominent, visible democracy, one that is looked to for so many reasons.”

While Freedom House has long included the US in its global ranking of freedoms, it traditionally has not turned an eye inward and focused on US democracy. But this year, Repucci authored an extensive report doing just that, a move motivated by increasing concern over attacks on freedoms in the US.

The report details the inequities that minority groups, especially Black people and Native Americans face when it comes to the criminal justice system and voting. It also illustrates that public trust in government has been damaged by the way rich Americans can use their money to exert outsize influence on American politics.

And it points out that extreme partisan gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral district lines to boost one party over the other – has contributed to dramatic polarization in the US, threatening its democratic foundations. Gerrymandering, the report says, “has the most corrosive and radicalizing effect on US politics”.

“We’re really concerned about these longer-term challenges that aren’t going to be addressed with quick fixes, that were kind of highlighted during the Trump administration and, in some cases, taken advantage of, by that administration.” Repucci said. “A change of president is not gonna make them go away.”

The report offers three recommendations for improving American democracy:  . . .

Continue reading. You will not be surprised to read that Democrats in Congress are pushing to implement all three recommendations and Republicans are fighting all three. Republicans do not want democracy.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 1:04 pm

How a Federal Agency Excluded Thousands of Viable Businesses From Pandemic Relief

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Lydia DePillis reports in ProPublica:

Like every other storefront in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, the Coffee House — a cavernous student hangout slinging espresso and decadent pastries since 1987 — saw its revenue dry up almost overnight last spring when the coronavirus pandemic made dining indoors a deadly risk. Unlike most, however, the business wouldn’t have access to the massive loan fund that Congress made available for small enterprises in late March.

The reason had nothing to do with the business itself, which had been having one of its best years ever, according to its owner, Mark Shriner. Rather, it all came down to one box on the application for the Paycheck Protection Program money, which asked whether the company or any of its owners were “presently involved in any bankruptcy.” Shriner had filed for Chapter 13 in 2018 after a divorce and was still making court-ordered debt payments, so he checked “yes.” He was automatically rejected and lost about $25,000 in payroll and other costs that the program would have covered.

“My money is my store’s money. When I got divorced and she was entitled to half, it’s not like a company can raise money real quick,” Shriner said, noting the way in which many small businesses are structured as pass-through entities that pay taxes on any profits as individual income. “All these businesses that had a tough time and are trying to make payments at the same time are getting kind of hosed.”

Thousands of people file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy every year — 282,628 did so in 2019 alone. Although it’s not clear how many of them own businesses, all of those individuals were barred from the PPP program, along with the thousands of businesses currently working through a reorganization plan under Chapter 11 and the family farms that file under the lesser-known Chapter 12.

In December, Congress allowed the Small Business Administration to give exceptions to some debtors. But so far the SBA has stuck to its position that debtors in bankruptcy aren’t entitled to government aid. “Currently, the SBA is administering the law as written,” SBA spokeswoman Shannon Giles emailed in response to questions.

Although Shriner did receive the $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance payment, which doesn’t have to be repaid, the SBA turned him down for a larger Economic Injury Disaster Loan because of his personal credit. Instead, he took out two loans worth $107,000 from Square — with total fees of nearly $12,000 — to keep the lights on and the staff paid as they operated on a drastically limited basis, still down by more than half since before the pandemic.

“The biggest consequences are that we haven’t had the time to take a week and shut down and plot our way forward, come up with a to-go menu or some new things, because we’re busy working the counter trying to save money,” Shriner said. “A lot of other businesses that got PPP have been able to hire people to help them head in a different direction, get apps made, fix their websites, that kind of thing.”


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The prohibition on PPP loans going to debtors began with the SBA’s original concept for the program: It extended its 7(a) loan program, its most common credit offering for small businesses, which already bars bankrupt companies. New pandemic relief measures were basically grafted on to those rules, which reflect an agency position dating back to its beginnings in the 1950s that bankrupt companies were more likely to default.

“SBA has an institutional prejudice against people who file bankruptcy,” said Ed Boltz, a North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer who serves on the board of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. “The attitude of government in a lot of things is, ‘Bankruptcy is hard and confusing and these people are probably bad people.’”

Almost immediately, this position was challenged in courts across the country. In Hidalgo County, Texas, for example, an emergency medical transportation company in bankruptcy sued after it was denied a PPP loan. A bankruptcy judge issued a temporary injunction against the SBA, saying it was in the public interest during the pandemic to make sure the company’s trucks and helicopters could keep ferrying patients to hospitals. In June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that decision, saying the judge had exceeded his authority.

Meanwhile, the SBA hastily published a rule explicitly barring companies in bankruptcy from participating in its pandemic relief program. “The Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, determined that providing PPP loans to debtors in bankruptcy would present an unacceptably high risk of an unauthorized use of funds or non-repayment of unforgiven loans,” the rule read. “In addition, the Bankruptcy Code does not require any person to make a loan or a financial accommodation to a debtor in bankruptcy.”

Around the same time, a Florida radiology center also serving COVID-19 patients received a PPP loan, even though it was reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it filed for approval with its bankruptcy court to take on the additional debt, the SBA objected again. The bankruptcy court found in favor of the radiologists in June, writing that “it is plain Congress did not intend to exclude chapter 11 debtors from the Paycheck Protection Program.” In December, however, the 11th Circuit overturned the lower court and sided with the government.

Maury Udell, the radiology company’s lawyer, said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. The PPP is more of a grant than a loan, he argues, since all companies had to do in order for the money to be forgiven is spend most of it on payroll. Bankrupt companies are arguably more likely to do so, given that they’re on court-ordered plans for how they must manage their expenses. Besides, the program did not require that companies demonstrate their ability to repay — plenty of businesses on very shaky footing applied for and received funding, sometimes filing for bankruptcy later.

“The SBA’s argument for not allowing Chapter 11 debtors is that the risk of nonpayment is high,” Udell said. “That’s not a factor in whether you were approved. It’s just as high as anyone else, because there’s no other underwriting guidelines.”

Frustration with the SBA’s position mounted through the fall until December, when Congress passed a fresh round of $900 billion in pandemic-related relief, along with the regular budget. It included $285 billion for a second draw of PPP loans, and a bit of potential relief for debtors: an amendment to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that allows PPP loans to businesses that have filed for bankruptcy under Chapters 12, 13 and Subchapter V, a new category for small businesses established in 2019. (Chapter 11 debtors were left out.)

However, there was a catch: In order to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 12:15 pm

That right to bear arms — what does it mean, exactly, to “bear arms”?

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Heather Cox Richardson discusses some history regarding guns in the US:

Ten more people in Boulder, Colorado, died yesterday, shot by a man with a gun, just days after we lost 8 others in Atlanta, Georgia, shot by a man with a gun.

In 2017, after the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, political personality Bill O’Reilly said that such mass casualties were “the price of freedom.”

But his is a very recent interpretation of guns and their meaning in America.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

The path to today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.

One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War Two. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.

In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan– for the first time.

When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.

In 1981, a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.

After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Although until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun, in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

In 1997, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.

Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

Increasingly, NRA money . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 11:05 am

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