Later On

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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Democrats hope that US family leave might be made better than that of Eswatini (once called Swaziland); Republicans oppose that

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From the NY Times Evening Briefing email:

Congress is now considering four weeks of paid leave, down from the 12 weeks that were initially proposed in the Democrats’ spending plan.

Of 185 countries that offer paid leave for new mothers, only one, Eswatini (once called Swaziland), offers fewer than four weeks. The average length for those that have maternity leave is 29 weeks; 107 countries have parental leave for fathers.

“The rest of the world, including low-income countries, have found a way to do this,” said Jody Heymann, founding director of the World Policy Analysis Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Isn’t Eswatini one of the countries Donald Trump referred to as “shithole countries”? The US can only aspire to be so good, apparently.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2021 at 4:11 pm

A very brief summary of Donald Trump’s attempted coup d’etat

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Though we still have more to learn (as evidenced by the revelations in an article in Rolling Stone, the overall structure of the coup is now clear. Kevin Drum lays it out:

Based on what we know now, it’s worth a very brief recap of the events following the 2020 presidential election:

  1. Between November 3 and January 6, every organ of the Republican Party was dedicated to the proposition that Democrats had stolen the presidential election.
  2. The president of the United States—Donald J. Trump—was the foremost champion of this conspiracy theory. His supporters filed dozens of court cases claiming fraud, losing every one of them.
  3. Trump then turned to Attorney General William Barr to support his claims of election fraud, but Barr refused.
  4. As he became ever more frantic, Trump consulted with an eminent lawyer who presented him with a plan to overturn the Electoral College results. Practically speaking, the plan boiled down to “The vice president has the ultimate authority to accept or throw out whatever results he wants.”
  5. Trump pressed vice president Mike Pence to accept this. Pence called around desperately trying to convince himself that he had this authority.
  6. A war room at the Willard hotel, filled with Trump’s closest advisors, was set up to put intense pressure on Pence to play ball. On January 5 Trump issued a statement that he and Pence were in “total agreement” about Pence’s authority.
  7. This was a lie. In the end, Pence couldn’t quite bring himself to follow Trump’s orders.
  8. On January 6, a huge mob descended on Washington DC to protest the reading of the Electoral College results. Trump was thrilled with this.
  9. The mob broke into the Capitol in hopes of stopping Pence from declaring a winner.
  10. At the time, nearly every Republican politician denounced the insurrection.
  11. Today, nearly every Republican politician refuses to denounce the insurrection.

Robert Costa summarizes: . . .

Continue reading. Costa omitted a very important factor.

Drum’s post concludes:

Congress is now interested in finding out what really happened in the war room during the early days of January. Republicans are almost unanimously determined to make sure that it stays a secret forever. That’s where we stand today.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2021 at 1:11 pm

WOW!! Rolling Stone has an amazing article up

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Heather Cox Richardson’s post begins:

I had planned to post a picture tonight, but this evening Rolling Stone dropped an exclusive, blockbuster story from reporter Hunter Walker that demands attention.

The story says that two sources who are talking to the January 6th committee about planning the January rallies in Washington, D.C., have talked to Rolling Stone as well. They say they worked with congressional lawmakers and White House officials to plan rallies both in Washington, D.C., and around the country. They deny that they intended to storm the Capitol and imply they got used, which points to the sources being from within Women for America First, the organization that sponsored a bus tour and rallies around the country before heading to Washington for January 6.

They allegedly named Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), as people with whom they planned. They also claim that Gosar promised them a blanket presidential pardon, although they do not say for what.

From the White House team, they singled out then–chief of staff Mark Meadows. “Meadows was 100 percent made aware of what was going on,” one of the sources said.

Katrina Pierson was a key figure in both accounts. She was on Trump’s campaign teams in 2016 and 2020, and worked with the organizers of the rallies before the mob stormed the Capitol.

One of those talking to Rolling Stone said: “It’s clear that . . .

And read Hunter Walker’s article in Rolling Stone.

(For a while, I thought Facebook was blocking links to the article, but it turned out to be merely that Facebook was slow in getting the posts up. No censorship, just sluggish software.)

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2021 at 4:38 am

The struggle within the GOP — McCarthy v. Cheney

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Heather Cox Richardson outlines the struggle to determine the GOP’s direction and destiny and offers some reasons for optimism, a quality which I now actively pursue. She writes:

This morning, Jonathan Martin at the New York Times reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has warned Republican political consultants that they may not continue to work for both him and Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), who is vice chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

While Republican lawmakers are trying to sweep the insurrection under the rug, Cheney is calling out the attack and demanding sunlight on what happened. Republican leaders are lining up behind former president Trump in hopes of retaining his loyalist voters, but Cheney is repeatedly, and increasingly clearly, suggesting that the president was responsible for the events of that day.

That McCarthy is trying to make her a pariah indicates a fight over the future of the Republican Party. While one fund-raising company has already cut ties with her, Cheney is not operating from a weak position. Her father is Richard (Dick) Cheney, who was President George W. Bush’s vice president and, perhaps more significant for today’s events, President George H. W. Bush’s secretary of defense. The Cheneys are likely not unaware of what is happening among intelligence officials, which seems likely to involve some current Republican lawmakers.

And Liz Cheney’s stand against McCarthy and Trump is not hurting her politically at home: she has raised more than $5 million for her reelection, compared to the $300,000 raised in the last two months or so by her Trump-backed opponent.

There is an important story behind McCarthy’s attack on Representative Cheney. She presents a threat to the pro-Trump Republican Party not simply because she is standing strong against the former president and the attack on our democracy.

She is offering to women and men in the suburbs a reasonable alternative to those pro-Trump representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) whose pistol packing and aggression gets attention for all the wrong reasons. Trump Republicans have lost the support of suburban women, and Cheney seems to be picking them up and explaining that Trump and his supporters, including McCarthy, tried to destroy our democracy. That McCarthy felt it necessary to try to undercut her this way suggests they see her as a major threat.

McCarthy had another reason to be unhappy today. Longtime readers of these letters may perhaps remember that McCarthy took money from a Ukraine-born U.S. businessman, Lev Parnas.

Parnas worked with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to try to find dirt on Joe Biden’s son Hunter in Ukraine. In 2019, prosecutors said that money was illegal: Parnas had taken $1 million from Ukraine oligarch Dmytro Firtash and had illegally funneled more than $350,000 to pro-Trump political action committees and other Republican lawmakers in 2016.

Today, a jury found Parnas guilty of making illegal campaign contributions.

In other developments that might be making Republican lawmakers uncomfortable, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2021 at 3:16 am

Trump media venture and Bannon subpoena

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Last night, the “Trump Media and Technology Group” (TMTG) issued a press release announcing the creation of a “rival to the liberal media consortium” which would “fight back against the “Big Tech’ companies of Silicon Valley, which have used their unilateral power to silence opposing voices in America.” The new social media site was called “Truth Social,” and his team advertised it as the first piece of a media empire that would take its place beside the leaders in the field. Rather than a “tweet,” a statement on the new site would be a “truth,” and the terms of service prohibited criticism of the former president.

Within hours the site had been hacked. Then it crashed. It also appears to have been built on open-source software whose developer warned that the Trump social media network might have violated the software company’s licensing rules.

Watching Trump’s flailing attempts to create his own media corporation—this is his second attempt—highlights that since 1980, the project of the Republican faction that is now in control of the party has been to take things apart rather than to build them. They have focused on dismantling the government and stopping legislation. It has been a negative project, rather than a positive one, and breaking things takes little of the hard work and creativity that it takes to build things.

When those accustomed to breaking things try to build them, they seem to have little idea of how much work it actually takes. They seem to think that actual accomplishments are there for the taking, and that splashy announcements and dramatic actions can solve intricate problems.

So, for example, we recently saw the story that in the midst of the early days of the pandemic, Trump adviser Stephen Miller went around then–defense secretary Mark Esper to try to send 250,000 troops to seal the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Aside from anything else, this would have dramatically weakened the U.S. around the world.

But it was at least not as immediately damaging as the suggestion of then-president Trump, who wanted to launch military attacks on Mexican drug cartels within Mexico, an idea that he backed away from only when advisers noted that this would be seen as a U.S. attack on Mexico, which is our largest trading partner.

Building is slow, hard work.

Tonight, at a town hall hosted by CNN, host Anderson Cooper asked Joe Biden if he expected to get a deal on the large infrastructure package the Democrats have been working for months to negotiate. Biden said he did think so, and he also said that this infrastructure deal was not, actually, the most difficult deal he’d ever negotiated. The most difficult one was the deal to ban assault weapons, and, as he said, he succeeded at that.

There is reason to think that a deal on infrastructure is close. The fighting among senators—which is at least partly performative, but some of which shows underlying tensions—and news of real cuts both suggest that real negotiations are underway. Real negotiations show effort to create a real deal.

Building things is hard work.

Today, the House of Representatives voted 229–202 to refer Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who defied a congressional subpoena, to the Department of Justice on charges of criminal contempt.

In comments before the vote, the chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Bennie Thompson (D-MS), told his colleagues that if they voted against enforcing the subpoena, “you are saying to all future men and women who are called before this body that they can ignore a subpoena from Congress without consequence. The consequences of that vote won’t be limited to this investigation and this subpoena alone.” A negative vote would cause “serious long-lasting damage to Congress.”

Only nine Republicans voted yes. Two hundred and two Republicans wanted Bannon, who is closely associated with the January 6 insurrection, to be able to ignore a congressional subpoena without any consequences for that defiance. The only representative who did not vote was Greg Pence (R-IN), brother of former vice president Mike Pence, whom the rioters threatened to hang.

During the debate, the vice chair of the January 6 committee, Liz Cheney (R-WY), called out Indiana Representative Jim Banks for writing to federal agencies to ask for any information they sent to the committee, representing himself as its ranking member, that is, its top Republican. It was a childishly transparent attempt by allies of the former president to figure out what the committee knows.

I mean, literally, under his name on a letter to the Secretary of the Interior are the words “Ranking Member,” although the letter notes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who retained the right to reject appointments to the committee, refused his assignment after he made it clear he intended to obstruct its work. And yet, despite Banks’s identification of himself as “ranking member,” when asked to comment on the revelation about the letters, a spokesperson for Banks said, “This is a bizarre Democrat narrative meant to distract from the actual contents of Rep. Banks’ letter and to avoid talking about the actual activities of the Select Committee, which are partisan, authoritarian and indefensible.”

Cheney is a hard-line Republican.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for Washington, D.C., accepted the Bannon referral at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 3:14 pm

Can the U.S. Bring its Supply Chain Back Home?

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Todd Oppenheimer has an interesting piece in Craftsmanship magazine. It begins:

  1. Cutting Taxes and Regulations
  2. Playing Leapfrog
  3. The Hunt for Good Workers
  4. Will Reshored Jobs Last?
  5. Resources for More Information

Almost all of us have now read about, heard about, or directly suffered from the extraordinary shipping delays that have arisen during the COVID pandemic. Some of these hold-ups have been little more than consumer annoyances (that sweater that never arrives, the new bicycle for your 10-year-old’s birthday that’s been stuck at a U.S. port for weeks, floating on some container ship).  Others, however, have been extensive enough to seriously disrupt pillars of the American economy—industries such as construction, auto-making, and medical supplies.

Strangely, despite good prospects that the pandemic is gradually ending, the news and predictions regarding supply-chain troubles seem to only get worse. This does not bode well for the upcoming holiday season, when so many retailers hurt by the pandemic need to see their sales revive.

How can this have happened? The pandemic, it turns out, didn’t actually cause today’s shipping disruptions; it merely brought globalization’s longstanding weaknesses to the surface—and greatly aggravated them. (The vast interconnections behind this problem were well summarized recently by Peter Goodman, a New York Times correspondent, during an Oct. 15th episode of the Times podcast, “The Daily.”)

Boiled down to its essence, today’s supply-chain dilemma primarily stems from how business leaders evaluate different opportunities to lower costs. And, over the last few decades, moving factories overseas seemed like a great way to cut their costs. As we are now seeing, this was always a risky bet. But the money was so good, few executives could resist the gamble.

Today, Harry Moser often finds himself having to restrain from saying, “I told you so.” Moser is the founder of The Reshoring Initiative, a Florida-based organization dedicated to bringing manufacturing back to America. And he believes the reason that more business leaders don’t follow that path is that they don’t accurately do the math.

When the offshoring movement first began, way back in the 1960s, Chinese factory workers were being paid the abysmal wages often quoted by people like Bernie Sanders: an average of 50 cents an hour. But those wages have been rising every year—as China’s economy has grown, as its people have gotten richer, and as its manufacturing skills have improved.

Today, U.S. industries have to pay Chinese laborers an average of $7 an hour. That is still a meager wage, but when those labor costs get added to the troubles with doing business overseas—the constant miscommunications, the difficulty supervising production, the often substandard quality, the returns, the risk of intellectual property theft (read knock-offs), the cultural resistance to innovation, the frequent labor turnover, the long-distance shipping costs (and the carbon emissions that result), the delayed shipments from overseas to a market demanding increasingly fast deliveries (obviously exacerbated by the pandemic), the downside of minimal regulation in foreign countries, the political instability there, and the negative publicity that offshoring generates—all of a sudden, building a new U.S. factory starts to look pretty good.

In dollars and cents, according to The Reshoring Initiative, those extra factors add 15 to 25 percent to the cost of any item made in an overseas factory. So, in the end, maybe cheap Chinese labor isn’t so cheap after all.

Given offshoring’s many pitfalls, why didn’t American business leaders see them coming? It turns out that for many years, those pitfalls were somewhat hidden. During a U.S. executive’s first meetings with overseas contractors, Moser says, he or she is likely to be shown some impressive prototypes, manufactured by a relatively skilled production team. By the time the second and third rounds of deliveries are made, the quality of the materials has declined. And, as Moser puts it, “the work isn’t being done by the A-team anymore. The plant now has its C-team on the job.”

As this paradigm played out (making it clear that there’s still no free lunch), more and more companies started to “reshore” operations that they once gleefully offshored. Over the last decade, according to data Moser has compiled, the U.S. has gone from losing approximately 140,000 manufacturing jobs each year to regaining more than 1,000,000 jobs since Moser’s project first launched, in 2010.

Interestingly, while there was a surge in reshored jobs under the Trump administration, thanks to its tax cuts and deregulation, it looks like even more jobs are being brought back to U.S. soil under the Biden administration. In 2021, for example, the U.S. is on pace to reshore 220,000 jobs, an all time record, 38 percent higher than was achieved in the last year of the Trump administration.

Moser believes that in 2021, much of the reshoring increase has been caused by the subsidies and tax breaks Biden has offered to stimulate manufacturing of crucial goods, such as semiconductors and electric vehicles. Moser, who calls himself “a good Republican,” considers Biden’s forms of stimulus “superficial,” and thus lacking long-term power. One could also argue that cutting taxes and regulations isn’t a great long-term solution either. While that’s obviously a separate discussion, the fact that each president has felt the need to give U.S. industry a little extra help highlights the structural weaknesses in our economy—and our overdependence on other countries.

Some examples: According to the Reshoring Initiative’s most recent data, 80 percent of  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 1:45 pm

Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing

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Kevin Drum hits the nail on the head:

The Democrats’ latest voting rights bill failed again last night and activists think President Biden isn’t pushing it hard enough:

So far, the Biden administration’s response to the GOP assault on voting rights hasn’t matched the president’s urgent rhetoric. This isn’t to say the president has done nothing, or that the attention he’s devoted to other matters—infrastructure, the climate crisis, the pandemic—is unwarranted. But has the administration acted like this is the existential threat to democracy that they say it is? “He’s made clear that he supports voting reform, but that is simply not enough,” Johnson told Politico“We need him to bring this over the finish line.”

This is nuts. What do they expect Biden to do? Wave a magic wand?

There is not, and never has been, the slightest chance of passing this legislation. It doesn’t have the 60 votes to pass under regular order and it doesn’t have the 50 votes it would take to end the filibuster and pass it with Democratic votes alone. Like it or not, this is the simple reality.

It is—or should be—obvious that the urgency of a problem has little or nothing to do with the chances of doing anything about it. Climate change is Exhibit A. The Black-white test gap among high school students is Exhibit B. National healthcare is Exhibit C. I could go on forever, but why bother?

The Republican Party’s decades-long war against Black people because they tend to vote for Democrats is shameful, vile, and disgusting. The lengths they’re now willing to go to in the wake of Donald Trump’s lunatic lies is almost beyond belief. Every single member of the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a party that does this.

But they aren’t, and the plain reality is that there’s nothing Joe Biden can do about it. He’s got the bully pulpit, but that’s all. This legislation will never pass and never had any chance of passing.

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2021 at 11:20 am

Political spark that ignited firestorm across dry, divided land

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Evan Osnos writes of his book, Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury:

This book is the story of a crucible, a period bounded by two assaults on the country’s sense of itself: the attack on New York and Washington, on September 11, 2001, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, on January 6, 2021.

The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from the book:

On a hillside three hours north of San Francisco, a rancher waded through a meadow that rustled with golden grass. His name was Glenn Kile, and he lived in a sliver of the American West so blessed by nature that indigenous people called it Ba-lo Kai — the “verdant valley.” But on this day, the terrain was merciless. The temperature was 103 degrees, and it had been in the triple digits for days. All of the hottest summers in California history had arrived in the past 20 years, and the fields of the verdant valley had acquired the bone-dry smell and snap of straw.

A hundred feet from his house, the rancher stopped at the sight of a small hole in the gray-black soil at his feet. It was the mouth of an underground wasps’ nest. He lifted a steel hammer and pounded a rusty iron stake into the hole to seal it. But the clash of metal on metal spat out a spark, and the spark struck the field, and the field began to burn.

In half an hour, the inferno was 20 acres wide and racing toward a horizon of dried-out forests and scattered homes, a terrain that firefighters call “wildland” — a realm of nearly perfect tinder that is less a place than a condition. The rancher’s spark ignited the largest wildland fire in the history of California, a record that would soon be broken and then broken again. They named it the Mendocino Complex Fire, and it raged for a month — a jet engine of wind and flame, consuming an area more than twice the size of New York City, a landmark in the annals of a warming world. When, at last, the inferno was extinguished, the state of California ruled that Kile was not liable for the catastrophe. He had lit the spark, but the roots of the disaster ran deeper. The fire was the culmination of forces that had been gathering for decades.

That story reminded me of an old line about politics, from a book by the Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong. “A single spark,” Mao wrote, “can start a prairie fire.” Mao knew little of America, but he knew brutal truths about politics. Living in Washington in the years of Donald Trump, I often thought about that image of a landscape primed to burn. Sometimes it felt like metaphor, and sometimes it felt like fact. But eventually I came to understand it as something else — a parable for a time in American history when the land and the people seemed to be mirroring the rage of the other.

I left the United States a little over a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The country was preparing to go to war in Iraq, and I reported from Baghdad, Cairo, and elsewhere in the Middle East. A few years later, I settled in Beijing, where I met Sarabeth Berman, from Massachusetts, who had gone abroad as a young producer of theater and dance. We married and eventually prepared to go home. If we stayed abroad too long, Sarabeth said, we would find it hard to go back at all.

In 2013 we made plans to move to Washington. Coming home always holds the promise of a new way of seeing. In the 1940s, after covering the war in Europe, author John Gunther returned to America. At times he felt like “the man from Mars,” he wrote in “Inside U.S.A.,” published in 1947. In Gunther’s case, some features of his home unnerved him; the segregation of the South “out-ghettoes anything I ever saw in a European ghetto, even in Warsaw,” he wrote. But other encounters thrilled him. On his travels across the country, he took to asking people, “What do you believe in most?” He was told: work, children, Thomas Jefferson, God, the golden rule, the Pythagorean theorem, a high tariff, a low tariff, better agricultural prices, happiness, good roads, and Santa Claus. But the most frequent response was, as he put it, “the people, if you give them an even break.”

Sarabeth and I landed at Dulles International Airport on July 7, 2013. At passport control, I picked up a brochure with the title “Welcome to the United States.” It was published by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and it had a cover photo of the Washington Monument and cherry trees in bloom. The brochure began, “We are glad that you decided to travel to the United States to visit, study, work, or stay.”

I started keeping track of changes that had taken place during my years away, including some tiny details. Walking by the window of Brooks Brothers, the suit-maker, I noticed that it was selling suits with flag pins preattached to the lapel. A corporate spokesman told me that it was intended to advertise suits made in America. The company had adopted the practice in 2007, when Republicans were lambasting then-President Barack Obama for not wearing a flag pin.

Other changes felt so vast it was difficult to grasp their full dimensions. In 2013, the United States passed a threshold in the long evolution of immigration and diversity: For the first time in American history, the number of nonwhite newborns surpassed the number of white newborns. Initially, the gap was barely perceptible, no more than a thousand out of more than 3.8 million babies born that year. But it began to grow. As the son of a refugee, I considered it an exhilarating milestone, a mark of renewal, but I could see that many other Americans did not.

In the case of some changes, I was most startled by how thoroughly people had adapted to them. I was waiting for an Amtrak train one morning when a video screen in the station’s boarding area started playing a public-service announcement. If someone started firing at us, the voice-over explained, we should “take flight” or “take cover.” On the screen, an actor with white hair and a blue blazer huddled behind a pillar. As a last resort, it said, take action: “Yell, and look for surrounding objects, including your belongings, to throw and use as improvised weapons.”

Mass shootings were happening, on average, every nine weeks — nearly three times as often as a decade earlier. Barely six months had passed since the most heart-wrenching: a 20-year-old in Newtown, Connecticut, had killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But in American politics, that event had already faded. Politicians had offered “thoughts and prayers,” but an effort to pass new gun-control measures had failed in Congress. When I glanced around the waiting area, people were absorbed in other things. I felt like Gunther’s man from Mars.

The country had responded in very different fashion to the trauma of September 11, 2001. When Al Qaeda destroyed the towers of the World Trade Center, the historian Tony Judt wrote: “From my window in lower Manhattan, I watched the 21st century begin.” Twelve years later, the event had acquired a unique symbolic power. In the years since, Americans had been attacked more than twice as many times by far-right terrorists as they had by Islamic terrorists, yet when researchers in 2016 asked people to estimate the share of Muslims in the country, Americans, on average, estimated one in six. The real number was one in a 100.

I began to notice how far fear was reaching into our political life. Before going abroad, I had lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia, a small Appalachian city where I worked at the local paper, The Exponent Telegram. The day after September 11, the editors had published a humble declaration of commitment to a story Americans tell ourselves: “Far be it for a small-town daily newspaper to suggest what the government’s reaction should be,” they wrote, but one thing must be clear: “We are a free society, which prides itself on its diversity, its exchange of ideas and its willingness to tolerate dissent”; the attacks must “strengthen our ideals rather than shatter them.” That month, after someone desecrated a mosque in the West Virginia city of Princeton — the vandals drew the picture of a lynching and the name “Jamaal”— neighbors rallied in the mosque’s defense, and the response became a point of local pride.

But by 2008, a poll showed that one-fifth of the public in West Virginia believed that Obama was a Muslim, and hate crimes, which had subsided after 2001, were climbing, according to the FBI. In 2013, someone vandalized the mosque again, but the local reaction was quieter that time. Churches condemned the assault, but the sheriff said the incident did not meet the threshold of a hate crime. Muslims who had lived in West Virginia for generations described a growing sense of isolation. (Four years later, during a Republican Party rally in the West Virginia Capitol, someone hung a poster of the burning World Trade Center and a photo of Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. The caption read, “I am the proof you have forgotten.”)

Those fissures in American life were part of a larger fracturing. The United States had the largest economy in the world, with median incomes higher than they had ever been, but the living standards for millions of people had stagnated or declined. Twenty-seven states were so short of cash to fix potholes that they were returning some of their paved roads to dirt. At the same time, three men — Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos — had more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population combined. Every hour, Bezos earned $149,353 — which was more than the typical American worker earned in three years.

When scientists reported the startling fact that life expectancy was declining, it sounded like a national problem. But it was not. In West Virginia’s McDowell County, male life expectancy had sunk to 64 — a level on a par with Iraq. In neighboring Virginia, men in Fairfax County could expect to live 18 years longer. The chasms between American lives had become so vast that the vanishing common ground could no longer carry the weight of American institutions, a prospect that the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned against when he told a friend, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

America wasn’t just losing a story of itself; it was losing a habit of mind, a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 10:05 am

Bill Maher on the slow-moving coup

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Maher summarizes the situation:

1. Trump will run for President in 2024.
2. He will win the Republican nomination.
3. When the polls close, Trump will declare that he has won (regardless of the count).
4. Election officials now being put in place by Trumpist Republicans will declare enough local Trump victories to give Trump the Electoral College votes he needs.

The situation in the US is dire, and I don’t think it’s being addressed. Democrats in Congress cannot bring themselves to act effectively, and election reform is key to saving US democracy. It is not happening.

Watch Maher’s monologue.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2021 at 11:33 am

How — and Why — Trump Will Win Again

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The future is notoriously difficult to predict accurately (though inaccurate predictions abound), buI fear this post by Umair Haque might well prove accurate:

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2021 at 5:09 pm

Heather Cox Richardson on the slow-moving coup being carried out now in the US

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Richardson writes in her column tonight:

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.

In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.” Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.” To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.

They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”

At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.” Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”

Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to back his claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office.

Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.”

Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party. Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.”

But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers.

Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy. The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans.

On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy.

Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.”

Bunch pointed out that on Friday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 9:32 pm

Toward a Unified Theory of Blob-dom

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Robert Wright (one of whose books has a place on my book list) has an interesting post that begins:

The people claiming that there is some sort of unified theory of Blob-dom are not thinking clearly, said Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. For one thing, he said, even within Brookings there is a wide range of opinion on Afghanistan. He supported the withdrawal, for instance—which would seem to make him a traitor to the Blob, even though he is, by any definition, in the Blob himself.   
                                                 —The New York Times,
Sept. 16, 2021

The term “Blob” has arrived. Within the past two months this recent addition to our foreign policy vocabulary has appeared in the New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, not one, not two, not three, but four times. In the first of those cases, I’m happy to say, I was the one uttering it. In the last of those cases, I’m also happy to say, it appeared in the headline; and, better yet, it appeared in the phrase “Beware the Blob”—which is something that those of us who embrace the term would definitely advise.

But what do we mean by the term? This has become a subject of contention. Some people we consider part of the Blob—such as Thomas Wright, quoted, above, in the last of those Times pieces—say it has no coherent meaning. Which is understandable: We’re using it as a pejorative, so the less sense it seems to make, the better for the people we’re applying it to. 

But the truth is that “the Blob” is a useful term with a coherent meaning. At least, it’s as useful as many other common foreign policy labels, such as “liberal internationalists” and “neoconservatives.” Both of these labels encompass people who don’t agree on everything. In fact, it’s hard to find any belief that all people in either of those two categories share that isn’t shared by a fair number of people in the other category. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out, this kind of fuzziness is characteristic of the labels we use to organize reality. There’s no distinctive property, he noted by way of example, that is shared by all the things we call “games.”

Yet we have a working understanding of what we mean by “games.” I think we can achieve the same for “Blob.”

And I think we must! I’m not kidding when I say I believe the Blob is a grave threat to America’s and the world’s future. (Which isn’t to say that blobsters are bad people; like most human beings, they mean well.) To come up with a working definition of “the Blob” is to sketch a vision of what American foreign policy shouldn’t be—and, by implication, to come up with at least some rough outlines of what it should be.

And, by the way, though the people who oppose the Blob—sometimes called the “restrainers” or the “restraint coalition” or the “Quincy coalition”—range from left to right, there is a fair amount of agreement among them about what’s wrong with the Blob. I don’t purport to speak for all restrainers, but I think what follows would get pretty broad buy-in from within the restraint coalition. 

You know what’s harder to characterize than the Blob? God! Some theologians respond to that challenge with what’s called “negative theology.” They specify things God isn’t rather than things God is. Likewise, I’ll begin our search for a working definition of the Blob with some negative blobology. Here are three things the Blob isn’t.

1) The Blob is not, strictly speaking, the American foreign policy establishment. That was a hard sentence for me to write, because I myself have repeatedly given, as a shorthand definition of the Blob, “the American foreign policy establishment.” But I’ve noticed that if people take that as too  literal a definition of the Blob, without any elaboration, misunderstanding can ensue.  

Consider the last of those four New York Times pieces. Its author, Sarah Lyall, interviewed various blobsters and gave them a chance to critique the term “Blob.” One of them—Peter Feaver, a political scientist at Duke—critiqued it by way of critiquing Ben Rhodes, the Obama national security aide and speechwriter who coined the term a few years ago.

Feaver said Rhodes was engaging in “faux populism, as in ‘Woe is me, I’m just a poor assistant to the president trying to speak truth to all these well-entrenched fat cats.’ That is nutty. No one could be more inside the system than the speechwriter for the president.” Feaver added: “Everybody has borrowed this exact same conceit. You’ll find Harvard professors complaining about the Blob.”    

Now, it may be true that a White House national security aide and a Harvard international relations professor are in some sense inherently part of the establishment. But that doesn’t mean their views on foreign policy are the views that prevail within the establishment. There have been radical Ivy League professors who watched with dismay as the world failed to followed their guidance, and there have been maverick White House advisers whose preferred policies rarely carried the day. It’s the non-radical, non-maverick views—the Blob’s views—that tend overwhelmingly to prevail within the foreign policy establishment.

To put this distinction between Blob and foreign policy establishment another way:

Those of us in the anti-Blob movement hope that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. And I think this is an example of how the government and ruling elite have separated themselves from the general public.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 6:50 pm

A society must invest in itself for long-term success

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Umair Haque writes in Medium:

Continue reading. There’s more.

Right now Democrats in Congress — most of them, anyway — are trying to move forward on a large and good investment in American, the infrastructure bill, but Republicans simply do not want to invest in our society because, in their view, society is made up of “other people” and Republicans want investment for themselves (the wealthy and powerful).

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2021 at 8:16 am

How Other Nations Pay for Child Care. The U.S. Is an Outlier.

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The US continues to push its own decline, a sort of internal version of what Britain did with Brexit. (Interesting that nowadays it is referred to as “Britain” rather than “Great Britain.” I suppose “Great” is gone, and that’s generally recognized. I wonder when the United States will be commonly known as “the States,” since it is no longer very united at all.)

Claire Cain Miller reports in the NY Times (and no paywall for this report):

Typical 2-year-olds in Denmark attend child care during the day, where they are guaranteed a spot, and their parents pay no more than 25 percent of the cost. That guaranteed spot will remain until the children are in after-school care at age 10. If their parents choose to stay home or hire a nanny, the government helps pay for that, too.

Two-year-olds in the United States are less likely to attend formal child care. If they do, their parents pay full price — an average $1,100 a month — and compete to find a spot. If their parents stay home or find another arrangement, they are also on their own to finance it, as they will be until kindergarten.

In the developed world, the United States is an outlier in its low levels of financial support for young children’s care — something Democrats, with their safety net spending bill, are trying to change. The U.S. spends 0.2 percent of its G.D.P. on child care for children 2 and under — which amounts to about $200 a year for most families, in the form of a once-a-year tax credit for parents who pay for care.

The other wealthy countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spend an average of 0.7 percent of G.D.P. on toddlers, mainly through heavily subsidized child care. Denmark, for example, spends $23,140 annually per child on care for children 2 and under.

“We as a society, with public funding, spend so much less on children before kindergarten than once they reach kindergarten,” said Elizabeth Davis, an economist studying child care at the University of Minnesota. “And yet the science of child development shows how very important investment in the youngest ages are, and we get societal benefits from those investments.”

Congress is negotiating the details of the spending bill, and many elements are likely to be cut to decrease the cost. The current draft of the child care plan would make attendance at licensed child care centers free for the lowest-earning families, and it would cost no more than 7 percent of family income for those earning up to double the state’s median income. It would provide universal public preschool for children ages 3 and 4. And it would increase the pay of child care workers and preschool teachers to be equivalent to elementary teachers (currently, the median hourly wage for a preschool teacher of 4-year-olds is $14.67, and for a kindergarten teacher of 5-year-olds $32.80).

Among the 38 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is second only to Luxembourg on education spending for elementary school through college. But Americans have long had mixed feelings about whether young children should stay home with family or go to child care. Some Republicans say direct payments to parents would give them the choice to enroll in child care or stay home. Though many conservative-leaning states have public preschool, some Republicans have said they do not want the federal government involved. Some business groups oppose how the Biden spending bill would be paid for: increased taxes on businesses and wealthy Americans.

The pandemic, though, has forced the issue.

“I’ve been writing these reports saying this is a crisis for more than 30 years — it’s not new,” said Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “But the pandemic reminded people that child care is a linchpin of our economy. Parents can’t work without it. It’s gotten to a point where the costs of not investing are much, much more clear.”

Overall, federal, state and local governments spend about $1,000 a year on care for low-income children ages 2 and under, and $200 on other toddlers, according to a paper for the Hamilton Project at Brookings, by Professor Davis and Aaron Sojourner, also an economist at the University of Minnesota.

Some states and cities offer . . .

Continue reading. Again: no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2021 at 1:16 pm

The Facebook Whistleblower Is Heroic… And Terribly Wrong

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Matt Stoller has an interesting argument that makes some good points:

This week, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the Senate, after releasing a series of important documents to regulatory agencies. The document that got most of the attention was that Facebook has internal research showing that teenagers are harmed and in some cases driven to suicide by Instagram. There were others involving human trafficking and polarization, and even one revealing what looks like securities fraud and fraud on advertisers as Facebook lied about its reach and shrinking user base in key demographics.

It was an immensely slick and effective public relations campaign, and devastating to the firm’s image. Haugen offered a lot of great information, and she was compelling, articulate, composed, and authoritative. She was impressive, even if you are somewhat skeptical of her motives. Along with these documents, she also offered some a good policy ideas, like making platforms responsible for the speech they amplify through algorithms (changing the law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), as well as creating rules to move social media away from an engagement-based business model. Haugen’s goal was, in part, to simplify Facebook as a platform, to make it human scale.

But there is a huge problem with Haugen’s overall policy recommendations. And since she got a lot of attention, her ideas are getting attention as well.

Haugen is a trained designer of algorithms, and along with many naive Silicon Valley insiders turned critics, at heart does not see a danger with concentrated power. “I don’t hate Facebook,” she has said. “I love Facebook. I want to save it.” Her approach to social media is similar to what many left consumer oriented groups support, which is not to take apart a concentration of power, but to regulate it. It is, in many ways, a similar framework as Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform package, which, rather than making systemic changes to concentrated and bloated dysfunctional sectors, simply overlaid captured regulators on top of them.

In fact, Haugen’s proposal is also very similar to that of… Mark Zuckerberg. Both want to keep Facebook a dominant monopoly. Why? Both Haugen and Zuckerberg think the firm’s market power allows it to make a lot of money, and that money can be reinvested in safety systems and better site features. Haugen thinks that Facebook is a natural monopoly, as advertisers will only learn and finance one social media platform. Splitting off Facebook Blue from Instagram effectively would mean that all the ad revenue would go to Instagram. Facebook Blue, she suspects, would remain a dangerous social network, but would lack financial resources to mitigate problems.

If the firm stays together, so goes Haugen’s story, then WhatsApp, Facebook Blue, and Instagram will all have plenty of resources to invest in safety. So what does she suggest with this dominant natural monopoly? Her recommendation is to place a separate data-specific regulatory overlay on top of Facebook and its subsidiaries to protect the public interest. This agency, according to Haugen, would allow people who are in between stints at social media firms to join the government and help make regulations on the sector. And here again she joins team Facebook, as Facebook’s Nick Clegg wrote an oped earlier this year recommending just such a regulator.

One of the consequences of forgetting about market structure and the importance of competition is that we wind up centralizing power through bad public policy choices. On the right, this centralizing pressure comes in the form of professional Beltway libertarians, who want centralized power held by Zuckerberg because they fear public institutions explicitly setting rules and prefer private regulation via monopoly firms. On the left, and Haugen falls on the left, it takes the form of calls for a digital regular to oversee – rather than break up – this monopoly power. Gene Kimmelman, who is now at the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, wants such a regulator. So does Harold Feld and advocates like Charlotte Slaiman at Public Knowledge, Karen Kornbluh at the German Marshall FundObama economic advisor Jason Furman, and former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. I like and respect all of these people, and not all of their proposals exclude stronger antitrust or other important goals, such as Haugen’s idea to simplify the business model and dial back the company’s use of algorithms. And this idea is picking up some temporary steam, with important politicians endorsing it. Here’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for instance.

Still, I think a digital regulator is a terrible idea, and I’m going to explain why. Start with the most basic red flag, which is that Facebook’s top leadership wants it too. I’m not someone who reflexively reacts to an opponent, but there’s a reason that this regulated monopoly framework, undergirded by a digital regulator, is shared by both Haugen and Zuckerberg. On philosophical grounds, neither fears centralized power in the hands of well-meaning Silicon Valley executives. Haugen also believes it is inevitable that such a concentration will exist because of the dynamics of advertising markets.

Yet the concentration of power in the hands of a small group is the fundamental political and economic problem with Facebook. We have never allowed one man to set rules for communication networks that structure the information ecosystem of billions of people. But that is the situation we’re in. We have to radically decentralize this power. But a regulatory overlay in some ways would worsen the problem, because it would explicitly fuse political control with market power over speech and it would legitimize the dominant monopoly position of Facebook. (Common carriers, for instance, have an antitrust exemption from FTC rules). The right is suspicious of such a regulator because they are afraid of what Biden and the left would do with it. But I suspect that suspicion isn’t out of place on the left either. If you are a Democrat, imagine, for instance, if Trump were able to pick a regulator for social media, to negotiate with Zuckerberg on how to run global discourse. Better not to have such concentrated power in the first place!

There are a lot of wheels. So why isn’t there a wheel regulator?

If you’re thinking about building out a new regulatory apparatus for privacy and data, what is privacy? What is data? These may seem like simple questions, but they are not. There are deep questions about data in, say, derivatives markets, but that stuff is rightly handled by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, not a data regulator. Similarly, there are data and privacy questions pretty much everywhere you look, from automobiles to labor markets to the distribution and retailing of office supplies (the FTC put a data firewall when Staples bought a major distributor of office supplies). Data and privacy is everywhere and in everything. Calling for a ‘data’ or ‘privacy’ regulator is like saying ‘hey there are a lot of wheels these days, we should have a wheel regulator.’ But the regulatory model for cars versus trains and airplanes and wheelbarrows is totally different, even though they all have wheels. It’s the same for privacy and data, they aren’t sufficiently coherent to embed in one regulatory agency.

On a practical level, it’s important to recognize that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and this is important.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2021 at 8:48 am

Tell Me What You Value

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Michael A. Cohen has an excellent column, which begins:

In my latest MSNBC column, I wrote about Washington’s deeply messed up priorities.

Joe Biden once famously said “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Over the past week, Congress has depressingly proved the president was on to something.

Though Democrats are tying themselves in knots over a 10-year $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package — and Republicans are uniformly opposing it — on Sept. 23, the House of Representatives, with little rancor or controversy, passed a $768 billion package of goodies for the Pentagon.

Assuming the defense budget doesn’t go down (and it rarely does), over 10 years that would mean almost $8 trillion to the Pentagon. That would be more than double the cost of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, which has been billed as a historic expansion of America’s social safety net.

Even in 2021, as Congress is considering historic pieces of progressive legislation, Washington still values defense dollars — for wars that America shouldn’t and likely won’t fight — over prioritizing the needs of the American people.

Among the more wasteful nuggets in the House defense bill is authorization to purchase 85 F-35 fighters, an aircraft that has been called a “rathole” and may never be fully ready for combat. There are also billions for a new ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is estimated to cost at least $264 billion over its lifetime. According to Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Armed Service Committee, the bill is “laser-focused on preparing our military to prevail in a conflict with China.”

My question, however, is: what about preparing America for the economic and political challenges of the 21st century? At the same time that Congress is nickel-and-diming the fight against climate change, child poverty, and reducing health care costs, we continue to plunge billions into military platforms we don’t need for wars we shouldn’t and likely won’t wage.

Consider, for example, an issue like child care. If you’re a working parent (or have been), you likely take for granted that care for your young child is going to be exceedingly expensive and hard to find. Indeed, when it comes to child care, the United States is a global outlier. . . .

Continue reading. There’s plenty more — and note that chart at the link. Democrats talk a good game, but they won’t put the money where their mouth is.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:31 pm

Why Republicans push culture issues so hard: They’re trying to distract from financial issues

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Yesterday, people rallied at more than 600 marches across the country to demonstrate their opposition to Texas’s new restrictions on abortion rights.

Today, the Washington Post broke the story that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained more than 11.9 million financial records including emails, spreadsheets, contracts, and so on, that reveal a vast international network of financial schemes to hide money from taxation, investigators, creditors, and citizens. The trove is named the Pandora Papers, after the Greek myth of Pandora, who opened a container and released a host of evils upon the world.

The two stories are not unrelated.

Today’s Republican Party would like to end government oversight of wealthy individuals, but such oversight is actually popular. So, to win elections, officials have turned to ginning up their voting base.

That base is fired up by causes they have been taught to see as imperative to make America a free, virtuous country, as it was in their imagined past and as they want it to be again. Since 1972, when President Richard Nixon threw the issue of abortion on the table to attract Catholic Democrats to his standard after the 1970 Kent State shooting cut into his support, Republican politicians have called for an end to the constitutional right to reproductive rights.

Decades of gerrymandering and voter suppression mean that today’s Republicans are less worried about winning moderates to their standard than they are about firing up their base. So today’s Republicans are becoming more and more extreme. The recent Texas abortion bill, the so-called “heartbeat bill,” bans abortion six weeks into a pregnancy—before many women even know they’re pregnant—and it makes no exception for rape or incest.

To make it hard to challenge the new law, the Texas legislature left its enforcement up to individual citizens, leaving no state entity for opponents to sue. The law went into effect on September 1, after the Supreme Court declined to stop it.

But while extremists who back the current Republican Party applaud what is essentially the outlawing of abortion, most Americans don’t like it. According to a new Monmouth poll, only 11% of Americans think abortion should always be illegal. Sixty-two percent want the Roe v. Wade decision to stand; only 29% want it overturned. The Texas law is especially unpopular. Seventy percent of Americans oppose turning the enforcement of the act over to vigilantes, and 81%, including 67% of Republicans, oppose the bill’s provision awarding $10,000 to anyone who wins a suit against someone helping a woman obtain an abortion.

Crucially, Democrats (77%) and Independents (61%) say they have heard a lot about the new Texas law, while only 47% of Republicans say they have.

Republicans have fired up their base, but at the cost of alienating women and their allies who did not truly think that abortion rights were in danger. Those people were in the streets yesterday, illustrating their determination to reclaim a government that listens to what the majority wants.

And that’s where the second story comes in.

A government that answered to a majority rather than an extremist minority would crack down on the growing global elite uncovered by the journalists who pored over the Pandora Papers, an elite that has managed to hide its wealth in offshore accounts (meaning any accounts away from their country of citizenship) thanks to deregulation and lack of oversight.

The internet and a global economy have permitted the rise of a global elite that, as the Pandora Papers reveal, often overlaps with criminality. In January 2011, when he was the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III gave a landmark speech in which he explained how globalization and technology had created “iron triangles” of “organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders” who were “motivated by money, not ideology.”

The United States government has the power and the ability to take on this anti-democratic global elite. Since he took office, Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have made it clear that they consider our foreign policy and our democracy to go hand in hand.

In a speech to the State Department on February 4, Biden said that he would put “America’s most cherished democratic values” back at the center of American diplomacy, “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”

Domestic policy, Biden said, was  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2021 at 10:28 pm

How Rep. Josh Gottheimer Got Outmatched by the Congressional Progressive Caucus

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Ryan Grim has an interesting report in The Intercept on how Progressives are gaining strength and influence in Congress, which I see as a good thing, being of a progressive turn of mind myself. And it helps that the Progressives are simply holding Pelosi to what she previously promised. Grim writes:

LATE FRIDAY, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., released a statement expressing dismay that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had once again delayed a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and accusing a “far left faction” of endangering President Joe Biden’s agenda. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus had threatened to withhold their votes for the infrastructure bill if it wasn’t preceded by a larger reconciliation bill, a plan that had been in place since the summer.

“We were elected to achieve reasonable, commonsense solutions for the American people — not to obstruct from the far wings,” Gottheimer wrote.

Never mind the fact that Gottheimer himself led a small group of House members to obstruct the larger reconciliation spending bill, which contains many key priorities of the Biden administration’s agenda. And that Biden traveled to the Capitol and, in a private meeting with Democrats, endorsed the progressive strategy to pass both bills at the same time — and encouraged both wings to find a number they agreed on and move forward.

At the end of August, Gottheimer and a gang of eight other House members used their leverage to force Pelosi to schedule a vote on the infrastructure bill that had already passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority. The group of conservative Democrats hoped to cleave it off from the broader reconciliation package, which includes steep tax hikes on the rich and robust social spending.

But come Friday, Gottheimer was the lone name on the statement after, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle, no one else from his “unbreakable nine” would sign on. Later that evening, a Republican representative said one angry Democrat called Pelosi a “fucking liar” for not putting the bill on the floor, and there was little question about the identity of that angry Democrat.

The goal of Gottheimer’s group had been to pass the infrastructure bill and then train their fire on the bigger bill. Free the hostage, then blow up the insurgents. Their demand went against the grain of the Democrats’ two-track strategy, but Pelosi conceded by giving them a date for the infrastructure floor vote: September 27.

Gottheimer and some of his allies then huddled with the dark-money group No Labels, which finances their campaigns and was instrumental in organizing the opposition. “You should feel so proud, I can’t explain to you, this is the culmination of all your work. This would not have happened but for what you built,” Gottheimer told them, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Intercept. “It just wouldn’t have happened — hard stop. You should just feel so proud. This is your win as much as it is my win.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., former chair of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition, celebrated that the victory would let them focus next on fighting the reconciliation package, which he told the group he opposed. “Let’s deal with the reconciliation later. Let’s pass that infrastructure package right now, and don’t get your hopes up that we’re going to spend trillions more of our kids’ and grandkids’ money that we don’t really have at this point,” Schrader said.

But House progressives quickly responded, vowing to block the bill — to hold the line — if it came to the floor without the broader spending bill. Gottheimer remained confident over the next several weeks, saying privately that he was sure the progressives would fold. On September 27, it was clear that there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill, and Pelosi pulled it from the floor, rescheduling it for a September 30 showdown.

On CNN Thursday, Gottheimer gave the bill a “1,000 percent” chance of being passed that day. He never got close, and the bill was pulled again, leaving Gottheimer to meekly argue that the House had not been technically adjourned. Friday would still be the same “legislative day,” he tweeted, and negotiations were ongoing and he was grabbing Red Bull and Gatorade and — hey, where’s everybody going? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, no paywall. Very interesting to read about the shift in power — and how conservative Democrats were planning to destroy the infrastructure plan.

And there’s more: read “Joe Manchin Denies He Knew About Key Democratic Strategy to Pass Spending Bills.” One does get tired of bad-faith politicians who constantly lie, regardless of their party.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2021 at 4:49 pm

H.C. Richardson points out a journalistic peculiarity

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Heather Cox Richardson:

I am struck today by the media’s breathless recounting of how the ongoing negotiations over the two infrastructure bills shows that the Democrats are in disarray and President Joe Biden’s agenda is crashing and burning. The New York Times called a delay in the vote on the measures “a humiliating blow to Mr. Biden and Democrats” and wondered if “Biden’s economic agenda could be revived.”

Exactly a year ago, the news reported that Trump adviser Hope Hicks had coronavirus and that she had recently traveled with White House personnel on Air Force One. The stock market dropped 400 points on the news. The previous day had been the infamous presidential debate when Trump yelled and snarled at Biden, while his entourage, including Hicks, refused to wear masks despite a mandate that they must do so. We did not know who else might be infected.

Hours later, we learned that the president and First Lady were both sick, and within hours the president would be hospitalized.

The rest of the news provided a snapshot of the Trump presidency:

•A study of more than 38 million English-language articles about the pandemic between January 1 and May 26 showed that Trump was “likely the largest driver of…Covid-19 misinformation.”

•Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster, told MSNBC that Trump was “aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts” to disrupt the November election.

•We learned that Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, had not disclosed that in 2006, she signed an anti-abortion ad in the South Bend Tribune. It appeared near another ad from the same organization that called for putting “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restore laws that protect the lives of unborn children.”

•A tape leaked of Melania Trump complaining about having to decorate the White House for Christmas—“I’m working… my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations?”—and then said of criticism that she was not involved with the children separated from their parents at the southern border: “Give me a f****** break.”

•News broke that Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, had left the Fox News Channel after an employee complained of sexual harassment, saying she required the employee to work at her apartment, where she would sometimes be naked, and where she would share inappropriate photos of men and discuss her sexual activities with them. She denied any misconduct, but FNC settled the case against her for $4 million.

•The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief measure. No Republicans voted for it.

•Right-wing conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged with four felonies in Michigan for intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election laws, and using a computer to commit a crime.

•Claiming he wanted to prevent “voter fraud,” Republican governor Greg Abbott of Texas limited the number of locations for dropping off mail-in ballots to one site per county. While Republican counties tended to have just one location already, Democratic Harris County, the third largest county in the country, with a population of more than 4.7 million and an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, had previously used 12. Democratic Travis County, which includes Austin, previously had four.

That was one single day in the Trump presidency.

In contrast, today, the Democrats are . . .

Continue reading to see a marked contrast.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2021 at 12:47 pm

Senate Republicans are proudly anti-American

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Tonight, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that extends funding for the government until December 3, 2021. The government won’t shut down tomorrow.

In the Senate, Republican Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to amend the measure to stop aid for Afghan refugees who were evacuated to the United States. That amendment reflected the demands of former president Donald Trump, who insisted that Republicans should oppose the bill, calling it “a major immigration rewrite that allows Biden to bring anyone he wants from Afghanistan for the next year—no vetting, no screening, no security—and fly them to your community with free welfare and government-issued IDs.” Trump suggested they would bring “horrible assaults and sex crimes” that would be “just be the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming if this isn’t shut down.”

For all their talk of concern about taking care of our Afghan allies during the evacuation of Afghanistan, all 50 Republican senators voted for Cotton’s measure. Democrats killed it on a strict party line vote.

Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) also tried to amend the bill. He wanted to prohibit the use of federal funds to implement vaccine requirements for the coronavirus. This failed, too, but only after all Republicans voted for it.

The Senate went on today to confirm Rohit Chopra to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for a five-year term. Chopra worked with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to establish the CFPB after the financial crisis of 2008, and in its first five years it recovered about $11.7 billion for some 27 million consumers. Former president Trump appointed former South Carolina representative Mick Mulvaney to head the bureau while he was also the director of the Office of Management and Budget; when he was in Congress, Mulvaney had introduced legislation to abolish the bureau. At its head, Mulvaney zeroed out the bureau’s budget and set about dismantling it.

When he took office, Biden began to rebuild the bureau and, in mid-February, appointed Chopra to head it, but Republicans objected to him. Now, more than seven months later, with Republicans insisting he would be anti-business, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote to confirm his appointment.

The rest of the congressional day was consumed with Democrats trying to hash out a final version of the Build Back Better infrastructure bill. While the Republicans largely sat the debate out—they oppose the Build Back Better plan altogether—conservative Democrats want to pass a smaller $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure before taking up the larger $3.5 trillion measure currently under discussion. That smaller measure focuses on repairing roads and bridges and extending broadband, and lobbyists for construction industries are very keen indeed on getting it into law.

But progressive Democrats cut a deal months ago that the smaller measure would go forward together with the larger one, and they are refusing to allow conservatives to change the terms of that deal now. The Build Back Better bill appropriates $3.5 trillion over ten years to expand child care and elder care, expand Medicare, cut prescription drug prices, provide two years of community college, extend the child tax credit, and combat climate change.

Aside from the measure itself, there are two issues at stake in the debate over it.

The first is about how the Democrats should interpret their victory in 2020. Conservative Democrats like Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) appear to think the Democrats should limit the scope of their legislation to try to pick up moderate Republican votes in the future. More progressive Democrats, led by Pramila Jayapal (WA), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, believe the Democrats were elected to pass laws that help ordinary Americans who have felt unrepresented by Republicans.

The other fight behind the Build Back Better measure is over how Americans choose to spend their tax dollars. Republicans, and even some conservative Democrats like Manchin, believe that spending $3.5 trillion on human infrastructure is a waste of money and that the new programs will create an “entitlement mentality.”

In contrast, though, Congress spends very little time discussing the defense budget, which, at its current rate, would cost $7.78 trillion over the next ten years. That amount is significantly higher than the defense spending of any other nation in the world. In 2020, the U.S. spent $778 billion on defense, making up 39% of our overall spending. China, the country with the next highest defense budget, spent 13% of its overall spending on defense at $252 billion, India spent 3.7% at $72.9 billion, Russia spent 3.1% at $61.7 billion, and the United Kingdom spent 3% at $59.2 billion.

At the heart of the question of how we spend our tax dollars, of course, is who pays those tax dollars. The Biden administration wants to fund the Build Back Better plan not by borrowing, but by closing tax loopholes and clawing back some of the 2017 cuts to corporate taxes and income taxes on the nation’s highest earners. At Rolling Stone today, reporters Andy Kroll and Geoff Dembicki wrote that political groups funded by the network of right-wing libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, who is deeply invested in fossil fuels, are pouring money and effort into killing the Build Back Better plan.

Meanwhile, the Senate still has not taken up either of the two voting rights acts passed by the House or the Freedom to Vote Act hammered out this month by Democratic senators led by Manchin.

Yesterday, the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab released a report that noted . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2021 at 7:17 pm

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