Later On

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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

To prevent gun injury, build better research

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Republicans are opposed to research in general — “What good is science if it tells us things we don’t want to hear?” they ask (cf. climate change, economics of US history, etc.) — and that is why research into gun violence was not funded by Congress: Republicans blocked it. Chethan Sathya writes in Nature:

From 2001 to 2020, US cancer death rates fell by 27%. The nation’s traffic fatality rates per 100,000 people fell by about 21%, even counting a small rise in 2020. By contrast, US gun death rates went up: by 24% for suicide and by 48% for homicide1 (see ‘Deaths up’). In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for US children2. Yet firearm injury is among the least researched and worst funded of the leading causes of death in the United States3,4 (see ‘Dollars by death rate’).

We are clinicians, researchers and advocates who are convinced that more research on the topic can help to reduce deaths and injuries. It has helped in other fields. For instance, seatbelts in cars were initially considered an industry issue, but a public-health framing brought more data and encouraged effective safety measures. Better data and improved research have similarly informed comprehensive public-health strategies that have reduced issues from tobacco use and child drownings to lead poisoning and vaccine-preventable diseases. Providing evidence can inform strategies that both tackle the root causes of a problem and use timely, accurate data to iterate solutions. It will take more than data to reduce harm, but firm evidence and improved understanding can spur effective efforts.

According to a 2017 review, the volume of research publications related to firearm injury was only 4.5% of that predicted based on health burden4. A 2019 paper5 estimated that a 30-fold increase would be needed in funding for paediatric firearm-injury prevention alone to achieve funding levels on a par with other causes that have similar mortality rates. Despite recent improvements, the number of researchers in firearm-injury prevention remains low. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2022 at 11:26 am

Republicans are determined to destroy the US

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Heather Cox Richardson describes the outcome of the GOP retaking control of either the House or the Senate: an insane refusal to raise the debt ceiling (which does not create new debt but simply allows the US to pay for programs that Congress already passed). She writes:

Today the Senate approved a short-term extension of government funding to prevent a shutdown. The deal funds the government until December 16 and also provides about $12 billion in aid to Ukraine as it fights off Russia’s invasion. The House is expected to pass the measure tomorrow.

Behind this measure is a potential nightmare scenario. MAGA Republicans have already threatened to refuse to fund the government unless President Joe Biden and the Democrats reverse all their policies. If Republicans take control of either the House or the Senate—or both—in the midterms, they have the potential to throw the government into default, something that has never happened before.

The Republicans have this weapon because the U.S. has a weird funding system put in place more than 100 years ago. Congress appropriates money for programs that the Treasury then has to fund. But there is a “debt ceiling” for how much the government can borrow. If Congress has spent more money than the debt ceiling will permit, Congress must raise that ceiling or the government will default.

The debt ceiling is not an appropriation, it simply permits the government to pay debts already incurred.

Congress actually originally intended the debt ceiling to enable the government to be flexible in its borrowing. In the era of World War I, when it needed to raise a lot of money fast, Congress stopped passing specific revenue measures and instead set a cap on how much money the government could borrow through all of the different instruments it used.

Now, though, the debt ceiling has become a political cudgel because if it is not raised when Congress spends more than it has the ability to repay, the country will default on its debts.

Congress has raised the debt ceiling more than 100 times since it first went into effect, including 18 times under Ronald Reagan, and indeed, the Republicans raised it three times under former president Donald Trump. But when they had to raise it almost exactly a year ago under Biden, Republicans refused.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned then that a default “could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil. Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.” It would jeopardize the status of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency. Financial services firm Moody’s Analytics warned that a default would cost up to 6 million jobs, create an unemployment rate of nearly 9%, and wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth.

And yet, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who had voted to raise or suspend the debt ceiling 32 times in his career, said, “There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will…help Democrats…resume ramming through partisan socialism.” His stand was in part because it was not clear he had the votes he needed to support an increase, even though establishment Republicans like McConnell were quite aware of the damage a default would create.

Driving the Republican stance was . . .

Continue reading. Most voters oppose Republican programs and policies (e.g., outlawing abortion), which is why Republicans running for office won’t talk about them nor about anything specific that they will do. But now they are specific about one thing: if Congress will not reverse legislation already passed and in effect, then Republicans will destroy the economy.

The US has become a hot mess.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2022 at 6:18 am

US hospitals are failing their mission (unless their mission is to gouge as much money as possible)

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I’ve had interactions a couple of times with a hospital here in Canada. Once I thought I might be having a heart attack. I called 911, was advised to chew an aspirin (faster absorption), and was picked up and taken to the hospital by an ambulance. (I learned then that going via ambulance has the advantage that you are taken directly into the emergency ward — no waiting room, no stopping at the desk for an interview.) I got an ECG, blood was tested for presence of proteins that indicate heart stress, and everything was fine. I was not having a heart attack, and I returned home, feeling a little sheepish. Total cost: $85 for ambulance. The question of paying the hospital never came up because we don’t do that up here (or in other advanced countries).

The second time was more serious: I got a pacemaker installed and spent three days in the hospital, two in the intensive care unit. Total cost: $3.50 for parking when The Wife picked me up.

In the US, home of hypercapitalism, the situation is different, as shown by two front-page reports in the NY Times today. Here are the two articles (no paywall):

They Were Entitled to Free Care. Hospitals Hounded Them to Pay.

How a Hospital Chain Used a Poor Neighborhood to Turn Huge Profits

Hypercapitalism is highly profitable for a very few — a wealthy very few — but the overall effect on the public and the exploited workers of those companies is horrible.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2022 at 7:35 am

Game over for the US: Republicans in key battleground races refuse to say they will accept results

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Once politicians decide that they will no longer accept majorities — whether a majority of votes in an election or a majority of votes in (say) passing a bill — it is game over. Why? Because if a majority vote does not decide the issue, what will? The answer, of course, is force (aka violence and the threat of violence). And we do see more and more frequently politicians and the public (on the Right in particular) using violence (the January 6 insurrection) and the threat of violence (parking in front of a Representative’s house with a loaded weapon, threatening phone calls, bomb threats, and so on).

As Archie (the manager of Duffy’s Tavern) used to say, that the ipso. And now the facto is that Republican candidates are already saying that they will not accept the election results if those show that they were defeated. Instead, they themselves will decide whether they lost or not, and — no surprise — their decision will be that they have won.

Amy Gardner, Hannah Knowles, Colby Itkowitz, and Annie Linskey report in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall):

A dozen Republican candidates in competitive races for governor and Senate have declined to say whether they would accept the results of their contests, raising the prospect of fresh post-election chaos two years after Donald Trump refused to concede the presidency.

In a survey by The Washington Post of 19 of the most closely watched statewide races in the country, the contrast between Republican and Democratic candidates was stark. While seven GOP nominees committed to accepting the outcomes in their contests, 12 either refused to commit or declined to respond. On the Democratic side, 17 said they would accept the outcome and two did not respond to The Post’s survey.

The reluctance of many GOP candidates to embrace a long-standing tenet of American democracy shows how Trump’s assault on the integrity of U.S. elections has spread far beyond the 2020 presidential race. This year, multiple losing candidates could refuse to accept their defeats.

Trump, who continues to claim without evidence that his loss to Joe Biden in 2020 was rigged, has attacked fellow Republicans who do not agree — making election denialism the price of admission in many GOP primaries. More than half of all Republican nominees for federal and statewide office with powers over election administration have embraced unproven claims that fraud tainted Biden’s win, according to a Washington Post tally.

Acceptance of an electoral outcome — win or lose — was once a virtual certainty in American politics, although there have been exceptions. In 2018, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams cited voter suppression as a reason for refusing to concede defeat to Republican opponent Brian Kemp. But unlike Trump, Abrams never sought to overturn the certified result or foment an insurrection.

In competitive races for governor or Senate in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas, GOP candidates declined to say that they would accept this year’s result. All but two — incumbent senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida — have publicly embraced Trump’s false claims about 2020, according to a Post analysis.

The Post asked candidates if they would “accept the result” of their contest this year as well as what circumstances might cause them not to.

Several used the opportunity of The Post’s survey to raise further doubts about the integrity of U.S. elections. Michigan GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon answered the question of whether she would be willing to accept the result in November’s race by renewing her unfounded attacks on the Democratic secretary of state for her handling of the last election.

“In 2020, Jocelyn Benson knowingly and willfully broke laws designed to secure our elections, which directly correlates to people’s lack of faith in the integrity of our process,” said Sara Broadwater, a spokeswoman for Dixon, who is challenging Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and has said repeatedly that the 2020 election was stolen.

No evidence has emerged that Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, broke any laws in 2020. Dixon’s campaign added that if authorities “follow the letter of the law” this year, then “we can all have a reasonable amount of faith in the process.” She pointedly did not say whether she will accept the results.

Whitmer, for her part, responded to The Post’s survey by pledging to accept the outcome and accusing her opponents of “trying to weaken our democracy, undermine trust in American institutions and silence the voice of Michiganders.” . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2022 at 10:13 am

Stock Trades Reported by Nearly a Fifth of Congress Show Possible Conflicts

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Given that corruption — using public office for private gain — seems to be opposed (at least in principle) by almost everyone, it would make sense to remove opportunity/temptation for corruption when possible. Barring members of Congress from trading individual stocks — and barring members of their immediate family from making such trades — is a sensible first step.

Kate Kelly, Adam Playford, and Alicia Parlapiano report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama and a member of the agriculture committee, regularly reported buying and selling contracts tied to cattle prices starting last year, even as the panel, by Mr. Tuberville’s own account, had “been talking about the cattle markets.”

Representative Bob Gibbs, an Ohio Republican on the House Oversight Committee, reported buying shares of the pharmaceutical company AbbVie in 2020 and 2021, while the committee was investigating AbbVie and five rivals over high drug prices.

The timing of one trade by the wife of Representative Alan Lowenthal, Democrat of California, was especially striking: His disclosure statement said she had sold Boeing shares on March 5, 2020 — one day before a House committee on which he sits released damaging findings on the company’s handling of its 737 Max jet, which was involved in two fatal crashes.

These lawmakers — all of whom defended the transactions as proper — are among 97 current senators or representatives who reported trades by themselves or immediate family members in stocks or other financial assets that intersected with the work of committees on which they serve, according to an extensive analysis of trades from the years 2019 to 2021 by The New York Times.

The potential for conflicts in stock trading by members of Congress — and their choice so far not to impose stricter limits on themselves — has long drawn criticism, especially when particularly blatant cases emerge. But the Times analysis demonstrates the scale of the issue: Over the three-year period, more than 3,700 trades reported by lawmakers from both parties posed potential conflicts between their public responsibilities and private finances.  . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2022 at 11:28 am

Expanded Safety Net Drives Sharp Drop in the Number of Children Who Live in Poverty

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Jason DeParle has an interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

For a generation or more, America’s high levels of child poverty set it apart from other rich nations, leaving millions of young people lacking support as basic as food and shelter amid mounting evidence that early hardship leaves children poorer, sicker and less educated as adults.

But with little public notice and accelerating speed, America’s children have become much less poor.

A comprehensive new analysis shows that child poverty has fallen 59 percent since 1993, with need receding on nearly every front. Child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. Deep poverty, a form of especially severe deprivation, has fallen nearly as much.

In 1993, nearly 28 percent of children were poor, meaning their households lacked the income the government deemed necessary to meet basic needs. By 2019, before temporary pandemic aid drove it even lower, child poverty had fallen to about 11 percent.

More than eight million children remained in poverty, and despite shared progress, Black and Latino children are about three times as likely as white children to be poor. With the poverty line low (about $29,000 for a family of four in a place with typical living costs), many families who escape poverty in the statistical sense still experience hardship.

Still, the sharp retreat of child poverty represents major progress and has drawn surprisingly little notice, even among policy experts.

It has coincided with profound changes to the safety net, which at once became more stringent and more generous. Starting in the 1990s, tough welfare laws shrank cash aid to parents without jobs. But other subsidies grew, especially for working families, and total federal spending on low-income children roughly doubled.

To examine the drop in child poverty, The New York Times collaborated with Child Trends, a nonpartisan research group with an expertise in statistical analysis. The joint project relied on the data the Census Bureau uses to calculate poverty rates but examined it over more years and in greater demographic detail.

The analysis found that . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) 

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2022 at 1:04 pm

Politics in the US today: Violence and threats of violence, hatred laced with obscenities

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Given what America is becoming, it is no wonder that many Americans are working on a plan B (gift link, no paywall) — to what country they can go if things get worse. And things are bad. Ashley Fetters Maloy reports in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall) about how one person has threatened a US Representative in Seattle:

10:38 p.m.

Everyone could hear the men on the street. The car, a black Dodge Challenger with gold rims, sped down the block, just past the congresswoman’s house. Two voices shot through the dark. “HEY, PRAMILA,” the first man shouted. “F— YOUUUUU.” Then came the second: “F— you, c—!”

The neighbors knew the car. It was the same Dodge Challenger they had seen several times that summer. But Pramila Jayapal didn’t know this yet.

She was on the couch, watching the psychological thriller “Mindhunter” with her husband, Steve Williamson. It was July 9 in Arbor Heights, a West Seattle neighborhood laid out in neat sweeps of grass and pavement. They paused the show. Williamson got up and went outside. The items on the porch sat undisturbed: sneakers, turquoise Crocs, a dog leash, two hanging plants swaying in the night air. Then they heard the men again. Security footage picked up what the men said and the sound of heavy-metal music coming from the car. One shouted something about “India,” the country where Jayapal was born. The voices were hard and clear. “F—ing c—,” one of them said.

“Tell Pramila to kill herself — then we’ll stop, motherf—er.” Then came a honk. Then another long “F— YOUUUUU.” On the porch, Williamson waved an index finger and went back inside. The men drove off.

Inside, Jayapal picked up her phone and dialed 911. But when she saw the car leave, she hung up before it could connect. Maybe she should contact the Capitol Police, the D.C. agency that protects members of Congress. She wasn’t sure. Maybe she had been doxed. There had been instances of obscene yelling at the house that summer, this she knew. She had reported those to Capitol Police. But she didn’t know then what dozens of pages of police reports and court filings would later reveal — that one of her visitors that night had been there before, in the same Dodge Challenger. She didn’t know that he had driven by her house between three and seven times since late June, or that the other male voice that night belonged to his adult son, as he would later tell investigators. She didn’t know that from the house across the street, her neighbor had seen the Dodge earlier that same evening, or that down the block, another neighbor had seen it, too, just a week before. She didn’t know that the man in the Dodge had emailed her congressional office back in January, to express his distaste for her political party, and for her, the 56-year-old three-term Democrat from Seattle, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus and a high-profile antagonist to Donald Trump.

“I am a freedom loving nonregistered libertarian who votes in every election no matter how big or small,” the man wrote in his email.

“You, Pramila, are an anti-American s—pit creating Marxist.”

“We are incompatible.”

Jayapal didn’t know that his distaste would mutate into action. When she heard the yelling stop, when the men drove off into the night, she had no idea that one of them would be back a half-hour later to yell some more, and that he’d have a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol on his hip, later seized by police.

On paper, at least, the whole thing was over in 47 minutes. But the anatomy of political violence is more tangled than the events of a single case. Threats against members of Congress have risen year after year, according to data from the Capitol Police: 9,625 in 2021, up from 3,939 in 2017. Officers logged nearly 2,000 cases in the first three months of this year alone. Among the statistics, there are thousands of stories like Jayapal’s, each one unraveling with its own special complexity in the lives and homes of elected officials. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) It’s a lengthy article and it shows what the US has become and the overt threat from the Right.

At the link, you can hear an audio of some of the messages Jayapal receives.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2022 at 12:49 pm

The Solution to the Trump Judge Problem Nobody Wants to Talk About

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In Slate Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern write:

Legal analysts lit up social media on Monday in response to the broad and potentially devastating order by Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Donald Trump appointee to the Southern District of Florida, temporarily halting the criminal investigation of the former president and his alleged pilfering of classified documents. Her order further authorized a special master to identify and return the small fraction of materials seized in last month’s court-approved search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence that may belong to him. One analyst after another meticulously detailed the failings of Cannon’s reasoning: It was “untethered to the law,” “a political conclusion in search of a legal rationale,” “deeply problematic,” “laughably bad.” At some point, one truly runs out of euphemisms for lawless partisan hackery.

It’s possible to agree with every one of these criticisms but still find them less than satisfying. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much withering criticism she faces, Cannon still gets to put on the black robe and run interference for her benefactor. She will still get a standing ovation at some future Federalist Society gathering. She remains in control of this case. But it’s not just Cannon: Many smart lawyers also noted that the Justice Department now faces the unenviable task of having to appeal this decision up to higher courts that are filled with Trump appointees, which takes the sting out of the opprobrium: For all we know, the Trump-stacked 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or five radical justices on the Supreme Court may also greet her outrageous decision with a standing ovation.

So the problem is not just the extreme and heinous flaws in Cannon’s ruling. It’s also the Trump-shaped world in which Cannon operates, with impunity, which we will all have to endure for the foreseeable future. It’s the brutal reality that we may face a steady stream of depraved decisions like Cannon’s for the rest of our lives—and the pain of hearing from every quarter that nothing can be done to remedy it.

We watched the same pattern play out at the end of this last Supreme Court term. One case after another blew up decades of existing precedent and tests and doctrine and replaced them with Rorschach exams that transformed contemporary Republican policies into constitutional law. Smart lawyers dutifully digested these opinions and set to work figuring out just how the EPA, or public school districts, or state legislatures that want to stop mass shootings can plausibly work around these new tests. And of course, were we living in a rational regime in which the rule of law governed, that would make perfect sense. But if the last term at the Supreme Court and indeed Cannon’s baffling new order mean anything, they signify that in this new age of legal Calvinball, one side invents new “rules” and then the other scrambles to try to play by them. For every single legal thinker who read the Mar-a-Lago order to mean, quite correctly, that ex-presidents are above the law, furrowing your brow and pointing out its grievous errors only takes you halfway there. The better question is what, if anything, do you propose to do about it? The furrowing is cathartic, but it’s also not a plan.

If there were a principle that best embodies why progressives are losing ground so quickly—even as they are correct on the facts, and the law, and the zeitgeist—it must be this tendency to just keep on lawyering the other side’s bad law in the hopes that the lawyering itself will make all the bad faith and crooked law go away. But for those who are genuinely worried that democracy will rise or fall based on whether a case lands before their judges or others, merely explaining legal flaws in pointillist detail isn’t an answer. And soberly explaining that Cannon was wrong about most stuff but correct about two things is decidedly not an answer, either. You do not, under any circumstances, have to hand it to them.

It is not a stand-alone answer to point out that Cannon was a Trump pick—a member of the extremely not-neutral Federalist Society, seated after Trump lost the election—or that the former president’s lawyers forum-shopped in order to get this case in front of her. It also doesn’t help to note that Cannon herself acknowledged the proper venue to adjudicate the executive privilege claims made in this case (which are on their face absurd) is in fact in a different court in D.C., where Cannon has no jurisdiction and where Trump did not make his case. Nor is it an answer to note that federal judges have literally no constitutional authority to stop an ongoing criminal investigation in its tracks, as Cannon purported to do, rendering her decision an imperious assault on the separation of powers. That, too, is an accurate description of the problem. Stating that, too, is not a solution.

Until and unless those of us who are shocked and horrified at lawless rulings by lawless Trump judges are prepared to propose structural solutions, the aggregated effect of criticizing their rulings won’t be to restore the rule of law or even to restore public confidence in the rule of law. The aggregated effect will be just to confirm that we will all be living under the thumb of Donald Trump’s lifetime-appointed hacks for many decades.

There are solutions out there for the problem of Trump’s runaway judges. Expanding the courts—even just the lower courts—is the most bulletproof. Congress has periodically added seats to the federal judiciary from its inception to help judges keep up with ever-ballooning caseloads. Today’s litigants (who are not named Donald Trump) often face yearslong court delays. The Judicial Conference, a nonpartisan government institution that develops administrative policies, has begged Congress to add seats to the lower courts. Some Republicans have supported the idea in recognition of the crisis facing our understaffed judiciary. Letting Joe Biden balance out far-right courts like the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—which will weigh Cannon’s ruling if the government appeals—would go a long way to tame the jurisprudence of Trumpism. When district court judges know their radical decisions will be overturned on appeal, they may be less likely to swing for the fences in the first place.

There are other worthy ideas too. Term  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 September 2022 at 6:08 pm

Interesting history: Why Republicans today oppose public education

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Heather Cox Richardson:

On August 21, 1831, enslaved American Nat Turner led about 70 of his enslaved and free Black neighbors in a rebellion to awaken his white neighbors to the inherent brutality of slaveholding and the dangers it presented to their own safety. Turner and his friends traveled from house to house in their neighborhood in Southampton County, Virginia, freeing enslaved people and murdering about 60 of the white men, women, and children they encountered. Their goal, Turner later told an interviewer, was “to carry terror and devastation wherever we went.”

State militia put down the rebellion in a couple of days, and both the legal system and white vigilantes killed at least 200 Black Virginians, many of whom were not involved in Turner’s bid to end enslavement. Turner himself was captured in October, tried in November, sentenced to death, and hanged.

But white Virginians, and white folks in neighboring southern states, remained frightened. Turner had been, in their minds, a well-treated, educated enslaved man, who knew his Bible well and seemed the very last sort of person they would have expected to revolt. And so they responded to the rebellion in two ways. They turned against the idea that enslavement was a bad thing and instead began to argue that human enslavement was a positive good.

And states across the South passed laws making it a crime to teach enslaved Americans to read and write.

Denying enslaved Black Americans access to education exiled them from a place in the nation. The Framers had quite explicitly organized the United States not on the principles of religion or tradition, but rather on the principles of the Enlightenment: the idea that, by applying knowledge and reasoning to the natural world, men could figure out the best way to order society. Someone excluded from access to education could not participate in that national project. Instead, that person was read out of society, doomed to be controlled by leaders who marshaled propaganda and religion to defend their dominance.

In 1858, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond explained that society needed “a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.”

But when they organized in the 1850s to push back against the efforts of elite enslavers like Hammond to take over the national government, members of the fledgling Republican Party recognized the importance of education. In 1859, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln explained that those who adhered to the “mud-sill” theory “assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible…. According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious, and dangerous.”

Lincoln argued that workers were not simply drudges but rather were the heart of the economy. “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.” He tied the political vision of the Framers to this economic vision. In order to prosper, he argued, men needed “book-learning,” and he called for universal education. An educated community, he said, “will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”

When they were in control of the federal government in the 1860s, Republicans passed the Land Grant College Act, funding public universities so that men without wealthy fathers might have access to higher education. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Republicans also tried to use the federal government to fund public schools for poor Black and white Americans, dividing money up according to illiteracy rates.

But President Andrew Johnson vetoed that bill on the grounds that the federal government had no business protecting Black education; that process, he said, belonged to the states—which for the next century denied Black and Brown people equal access to schools, excluding them from full participation in American society and condemning them to menial labor.

Then, in 1954, after decades of pressure from Black and Brown Americans for equal access to public schools, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California, unanimously agreed that separate schools were inherently unequal, and thus unconstitutional. The federal government stepped in to make sure the states could not deny education to the children who lived within their boundaries.

And now, in 2022, we are in a new educational moment. Between . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2022 at 11:31 am

The US was not designed to be democratic

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Louis Menand has a very interesting article in the New Yorker. (The New Yorker has a strong paywall and does not allow gift links, but Archive Today does allow sharing. The link is to the article on Archive Today.)

To look on the bright side for a moment, one effect of the Republican assault on elections—which takes the form, naturally, of the very thing Republicans accuse Democrats of doing: rigging the system—might be to open our eyes to how undemocratic our democracy is. Strictly speaking, American government has never been a government “by the people.”

This is so despite the fact that more Americans are voting than ever before. In 2020, sixty-seven per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot for President. That was the highest turnout since 1900, a year when few, if any, women, people under twenty-one, Asian immigrants (who could not become citizens), Native Americans (who were treated as foreigners), or Black Americans living in the South (who were openly disenfranchised) could vote. Eighteen per cent of the total population voted in that election. In 2020, forty-eight per cent voted.

Some members of the loser’s party have concluded that a sixty-seven-per-cent turnout was too high. They apparently calculate that, if fewer people had voted, Donald Trump might have carried their states. Last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislatures in nineteen states passed thirty-four laws imposing voting restrictions. (Trump and his allies had filed more than sixty lawsuits challenging the election results and lost all but one of them.)

In Florida, it is now illegal to offer water to someone standing in line to vote. Georgia is allowing counties to eliminate voting on Sundays. In 2020, Texas limited the number of ballot-drop-off locations to one per county, insuring that Loving County, the home of fifty-seven people, has the same number of drop-off locations as Harris County, which includes Houston and has 4.7 million people.

Virtually all of these “reforms” will likely make it harder for some people to vote, and thus will depress turnout—which is the not so subtle intention. This is a problem, but it is not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is that, as the law stands, even when the system is working the way it’s designed to work and everyone who is eligible to vote does vote, the government we get does not reflect the popular will. Michael Kinsley’s law of scandal applies. The scandal isn’t what’s illegal. The scandal is what’s legal.

It was not unreasonable for the Framers to be wary of direct democracy. You can’t govern a nation by plebiscite, and true representative democracy, in which everyone who might be affected by government policy has an equal say in choosing the people who make that policy, had never been tried. So they wrote a rule book, the Constitution, that places limits on what the government can do, regardless of what the majority wants. (They also countenanced slavery and the disenfranchisement of women, excluding from the electorate groups whose life chances certainly might be affected by government policy.) And they made it extremely difficult to tinker with those rules. In two hundred and thirty-three years, they have been changed by amendment only nine times. The last time was fifty-one years ago.

You might think that the further we get from 1789 the easier it would be to adjust the constitutional rule book, but the opposite appears to be true. We live in a country undergoing a severe case of ancestor worship (a symptom of insecurity and fear of the future), which is exacerbated by an absurdly unworkable and manipulable doctrine called originalism. Something that Alexander Hamilton wrote in a newspaper column—the Federalist Papers are basically a collection of op-eds—is treated like a passage in the Talmud. If we could unpack it correctly, it would show us the way.

The Bill of Rights, without which the Constitution would probably not have been ratified, is essentially a deck of counter-majoritarian trump cards, a list, directed at the federal government, of thou-shalt-nots. Americans argue about how far those commandments reach. Is nude dancing covered under the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of expression? (It is.) Does the Second Amendment prohibit a ban on assault weapons? (Right now, it’s anyone’s guess.) But no one proposes doing away with the first ten amendments. They underwrite a deeply rooted feature of American life, the “I have a right” syndrome. They may also make many policies that a majority of Americans say they favor, such as a ban on assault weapons, virtually impossible to enact because of an ambiguous sentence written in an era in which pretty much the only assault weapon widely available was a musket.

Some checks on direct democracy in the United States are structural. They are built into the system of government the Framers devised. One, obviously, is the Electoral College, which in two of the past six elections has chosen a President who did not win the popular vote. Even in 2020, when Joe Biden got seven million more votes than his opponent, he carried three states that he needed in order to win the Electoral College—Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania—by a total of about a hundred thousand votes. Flip those states and we would have elected a man who lost the popular vote by 6.9 million. Is that what James Madison had in mind?

Another check on democracy is the Senate, an almost comically malapportioned body that gives Wyoming’s five hundred and eighty thousand residents the same voting power as California’s thirty-nine million. The District of Columbia, which has ninety thousand more residents than Wyoming and twenty-five thousand more than Vermont, has no senators. Until the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified, in 1913, senators were mostly not popularly elected. They were appointed by state legislatures. Republicans won a majority of votes statewide in Illinois in the 1858 midterms, but Abraham Lincoln did not become senator, because the state legislature was controlled by Democrats, and they reappointed Stephen A. Douglas.

Even though the Senate is split fifty-fifty, Democratic senators represent forty-two million more people than Republican senators do. As Eric Holder, the former Attorney General, points out in his book on the state of voting rights, “Our Unfinished March” (One World), the Senate is lopsided. Half the population today is represented by eighteen senators, the other half by eighty-two. The Senate also packs a parliamentary death ray, the filibuster, which would allow forty-one senators representing ten per cent of the public to block legislation supported by senators representing the other ninety per cent.

Many recent voting regulations, such as voter-I.D. laws, may require people to pay to obtain a credential needed to vote, like a driver’s license, and so Holder considers them a kind of poll tax—which is outlawed by the Twenty-fourth Amendment. (Lower courts so far have been hesitant to accept this argument.)

But the House of Representatives—that’s the people’s house, right? Not necessarily. In the 2012 Presidential election

Continue reading. (free link to article text)

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2022 at 7:32 am

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion

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I don’t believe that Donald Trump as President was even capable of the kind of leadership President Biden has shown in responding to Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. I understand that Trump would not want to lead our allies; my point is that, even if he did want to, he is incapable of doing it.

Shane Harris, Karen DeYoung, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Ashley Parker, and Liz Sly have a remarkable report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post. The report begins:

On a sunny October morning, the nation’s top intelligence, military, and diplomatic leaders filed into the Oval Office for an urgent meeting with President Biden. They arrived bearing a highly classified intelligence analysis, compiled from newly obtained satellite images, intercepted communications, and human sources, that amounted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For months, Biden administration officials had watched warily as Putin massed tens of thousands of troops and lined up tanks and missiles along Ukraine’s borders. As summer waned, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, had focused on the increasing volume of intelligence related to Russia and Ukraine. He had set up the Oval Office meeting after his own thinking had gone from uncertainty about Russia’s intentions, to concern he was being too skeptical about the prospects of military action, to alarm.

The session was one of several meetings that officials had about Ukraine that autumn — sometimes gathering in smaller groups — but was notable for the detailed intelligence picture that was presented. Biden and Vice President Harris took their places in armchairs before the fireplace, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined the directors of national intelligence and the CIA on sofas around the coffee table.

Tasked by Sullivan with putting together a comprehensive overview of Russia’s intentions, they told Biden that the intelligence on Putin’s operational plans, added to ongoing deployments along the border with Ukraine, showed that all the pieces were now in place for a massive assault.

The U.S. intelligence community had penetrated multiple points of Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus and military, from senior levels to the front lines, according to U.S. officials.

Much more radical than Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and instigation of a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, Putin’s war plans envisioned a takeover of most of the country.

Using mounted maps on easels in front of the Resolute Desk, Milley showed Russian troop positions and the Ukrainian terrain they intended to conquer. It was a plan of staggering audacity, one that could pose a direct threat to NATO’s eastern flank, or even destroy the post-World War II security architecture of Europe.

As he absorbed the briefing, Biden, who had taken office promising to keep the country out of new wars, was determined that Putin must either be deterred or confronted, and that the United States must not act alone. Yet NATO was far from unified on how to deal with Moscow, and U.S. credibility was weak. After a disastrous occupation of Iraq, the chaos that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and four years of President Donald Trump seeking to undermine the alliance, it was far from certain that Biden could effectively lead a Western response to an expansionist Russia.

Ukraine was a troubled former Soviet republic with a history of corruption, and the U.S. and allied answer to earlier Russian aggression there had been uncertain and divided. When the invasion came, the Ukrainians would need significant new weaponry to defend themselves. Too little could guarantee a Russian victory. But too much might provoke a direct NATO conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

This account, in previously unreported detail, shines new light on the uphill climb to restore U.S. credibility, the attempt to balance secrecy around intelligence with the need to persuade others of its truth, and the challenge of determining how the world’s most powerful military alliance would help a less-than-perfect democracy on Russia’s border defy an attack without NATO firing a shot.

The first in a series of articles examining the road to war and the military campaign in Ukraine, it is drawn from in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials about a global crisis whose end is yet to be determined. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence and internal deliberations.

The Kremlin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

As Milley laid out the array of forces on that October morning, he and the others summed up Putin’s intentions. “We assess that they plan to conduct a significant strategic attack on Ukraine from multiple directions simultaneously,” Milley told the president. “Their version of ‘shock and awe.’ ”

According to the intelligence, the Russians would . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) This is a gripping account.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:12 pm

Finally! F.D.A. Clears Path for Hearing Aids to be Sold Over the Counter

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I have strong feelings about giving the public affordable access to hearing aids (excellent news in a NY Times article — and that’s a gift link, no paywall). My step-father worked as a carpenter and builder for most of his life, long before it was thought important to provide hearing protection around power tools (which are extremely loud and you work extremely close to them). As he aged, he became increasingly deaf. He did finally get hearing aids, but those early models were uncomfortable, and often he would not wear them, preferring to sit among us and just smile as we talked, isolated from the conversation.

Then it became clear (not so much to me as to my wife and others around me) that my own hearing had started to fail. I got a hearing test and indeed my hearing at higher frequencies was poor. I bought a pair of hearing aids at the eye-watering price of US$3500 for a pair. I was told that I would probably want to replace them in about five years, but I thought “Hah! Not likely!” Regardless of how nifty any new designs were, I would just stick with the ones I had.

As it turns out, it’s not so much “want” to replace them as “have to.” Hearing aids are worn on one’s head, behind the ear, means that it spends its days in a humid environment — and 1) it’s electronic, and 2) it has small openings (for microphone input, for one thing). As a result. over time, slow corrosion will take it down, and indeed just five years later one unit stopped working and the other was subpar. (Hearing aids worn inside the ear canal instead of behind the ear are in an even more humid environment and have an even shorter life.)

My new pair cost CA$5100, and this time (3 years ago) I spent an additional US$78 to get a hearing aid dryer — a small unit that plugs into the wall and has a chamber into which I put my opened hearing aids at night. The little unit gently warms the hearing aids, drying them out and slowing corrosion. The cost of hearing aids has been high enough that the dehumidifier will almost pay for itself if it extends hearing-aid life by just one month over five years — and if I get two more months of life, the device has more than paid for itself.

So less costly but still effective hearing aids (and, given competition beyond the five-company hearing-aid cabal, likely more effective) is of great personal interest.

But it goes beyond that. Millions of people who need hearing aids don’t even go to get tested because the cost of the devices is so high. And yet, as I noted a while back, uncorrected hearing loss “is associated with cognitive decline, depression, isolation and other health problems in older adults.”

There are few pairs of words that strike more terror into my heart than “cognitive decline.” When I was walking around with uncorrected hearing lost — and like my step-father, wearing a more or less constant smile of incomprehension and/or too frequently repeating “Huh? Say again?” — I was able to tolerate my hearing loss (though, I now realize, while being rather irksome company). When I learned that hearing problems cause cognitive decline, I was in an audiologist’s office in a New York minute.

I did turn out to have serious high-frequency hearing loss, so I bought a pair of hearing aids, and — wow! — the world seemed to go from black-and-white to color, from a flat surface to three-dimensional. It’s astonishing how hearing opens up one’s immediate access to the world around them, far beyond mere conversation. The sounds of the world make it real. I have that sense of entering a richer reality each morning when I put on my hearing aids: the world becomes alive around me. And The Wife reported that my cognition did seem better — I had very gradually become duller, but with the hearing aids, I was again snappy on the uptake and seemed more cognitively present.

As Matt Stoller pointed out, the hearing-aid cartel of five companies strongly fought the legislation to allow competition that would provide inexpensive hearing aids. (And Stoller found that his column caused “quite a shitstorm” in the industry.) But now the FDA has finally moved, after dragging its feet for years, and the picture should quickly change. I have been following this (see this scrollable list of previous posts), and I’m so pleased the day will have finally come (a couple of months from now) when good and affordable hearing aids hit the market.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 9:16 am

7 charts that show the effects of overturning Roe v. Wade

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Saima May Sidik has a very interesting article in Nature, which begins:

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the constitution does not confer the right to an abortion. Now, 13 states have greatly restricted access to the procedure, and about a dozen more are expected to follow suit.

For a high-income country to take such a giant leap towards prohibiting what many people consider a basic human right is nearly unprecedented. Health researchers are scrambling to predict the effects of such changes. Most experts expect that abortions will continue to happen, but will be harder to obtain legally — sometimes requiring extensive travel — and could become less safe. Less certain are the long-term effects on abortion rates, public health and pregnant people’s economic prospects. “If people want me to extrapolate from prior evidence to what’s going on now, I don’t think there’s any comparable evidence,” says sociologist Jonathan Bearak at the Guttmacher Institute, a policy group in New York City focused on sexual and reproductive health rights.

As the United States hurtles into the unknown (see ‘Changing landscape’), evidence suggests that enacting abortion restrictions will create substantial burdens, both for people seeking abortions and for the clinics that continue to offer these procedures. . .

There’s more, including the seven charts. I’ll show two, with the introductory info.

Abortions won’t stop

Evidence from around the world suggests that restricting abortion doesn’t put an end to it. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. Bearak and Bela Ganatra, a behavioural scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and their colleagues compiled 2,415 data points, including survey results and health records, to estimate the number of unwanted pregnancies and the rate of abortions in 195 countries and territories around the world1. The analysis found that high-income countries where abortion is broadly legal have the lowest rates of abortion (see ‘Legality and reality’).

And one more of the seven charts:

Maternal deaths are likely to rise

When carried out safely, an abortion poses less risk to a person’s health than does carrying a baby to term. As a result of reduced access, the number of pregnancy-associated deaths is expected to rise.

In a preprint study8, Amanda Stevenson, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues modelled what would have happened in 2020 if no one had had access to abortions in 26 states that have imposed bans or are reasonably likely to do so in the future. The authors of the study made some assumptions: for example, that people who request abortions have the same age distribution as do those who have babies, and that the risk of maternal death is the same in people who have abortions as in those who don’t. With those and other limitations in mind, they estimated that if there had been no abortions in 2020, an additional 64 pregnant people would have died — an increase of 14% (see ‘Death rates rising’).

It’s worth reading the entire article to get an idea of how much damage Republicans have done in this area.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 11:53 am

87 years of Social Security

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Since it seems clear we will be deciding whether we want to preserve the Social Security Act by our choice of leaders in the next few elections, I thought it not unreasonable to reprint this piece from last year about why people in the 1930s thought the measure was imperative. There is more news about the classified material at Mar-a-Lago, but nothing that can’t wait another day so I can catch this anniversary.

By the time most of you will read this, it will be August 14, and on this day in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.

The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship between the government and its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.

The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. She was the first woman to hold a position in the U.S. Cabinet and still holds the record for having the longest tenure in that job: she lasted from 1933 to 1945.

She brought to the position a vision of government very different from that of the Republicans who had run it in the 1920s. While men like President Herbert Hoover had harped on the idea of a “rugged individualism” in which men worked their way up, providing for their families on their own, Perkins recognized that people in communities had always supported each other. The vision of a hardworking man supporting his wife and children was more myth than reality: her own husband suffered from bipolar disorder, making her the family’s primary support.

As a child, Perkins spent summers with her grandmother, with whom she was very close, in the small town of Newcastle, Maine, where the old-fashioned, close-knit community supported those in need. In college, at Mount Holyoke, she majored in chemistry and physics, but after a professor required students to tour a factory to observe working conditions, Perkins became committed to improving the lives of those trapped in industrial jobs. After college, Perkins became a social worker and, in 1910, earned a masters degree in economics and sociology from Columbia University. She became the head of the New York office of the National Consumers League, urging consumers to use their buying power to demand better conditions and wages for the workers who made the products they were buying.

The next year, in 1911, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 workers, mostly women and girls, died. They were trapped in the building when the fire broke out because the factory owner had ordered the doors to the stairwells and exits locked to make sure no one slipped outside for a break. Unable to escape the smoke and fire in the factory, the workers—some of them on fire—leaped from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building, dying on the pavement.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned Perkins away from voluntary organizations to improve workers’ lives and toward using the government to adjust the harsh conditions of industrialization. She began to work with the Democratic politicians at Tammany Hall, who presided over communities in the city that mirrored rural towns and who exercised a form of social welfare for their voters, making sure they had jobs, food, and shelter and that wives and children had a support network if a husband and father died. In that system, the voices of women like Perkins were valuable, for their work in the immigrant wards of the city meant that they were the ones who knew what working families needed to survive.

The overwhelming unemployment, hunger, and suffering caused by the Great Depression made Perkins realize that state governments alone could not adjust the conditions of the modern world to create a safe, supportive community for ordinary people. She came to believe, as she said: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

Through her Tammany connections, Perkins met FDR, and when he asked her to be his Secretary of Labor, she told him that she wanted the federal government to provide unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age insurance. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”

Creating federal unemployment insurance became her primary concern. Congressmen had little interest in passing such legislation. They said they worried that unemployment insurance and federal aid to dependent families would undermine a man’s willingness to work. But Perkins recognized that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 August 2022 at 10:18 pm

Free Speech on Trial

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Today’s issue is about how a subtle form of speech control works in 21st century America, as seen through two ongoing antitrust cases. The first is a merger trial where the government is trying to block the combination of publishing giants Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster, and the second is a lawsuit where conservative video service Rumble is suing Google for monopolization.

In both, dominant firms are trying to gain or protect market power, and in doing so, end up with too much power over the public square. It’s not intentional, but monopoly power fosters centralized control of what we can discuss.

Speech and Concentration Creep

In the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks star as two business rivals who hate each other in ‘real life’ but connect and fall in love anonymously over the internet. Hanks plays Joe Fox, a tycoon who owns a Barnes and Nobles-style corporate book chain, trying to crush the small store owned by Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan. After a noisy but adorably silly protest, the movie ends with Kelly losing her store, but getting Tom Hanks as a soulmate. It’s a delightful film, a Nora Ephron-written classic.

What’s interesting about this movie from an anti-monopolist standpoint, however, is not the romance, but the politics. The movie is almost aggressively apathetic about concentrations of power. We tend to look at corporate concentration as a relatively recent phenomenon. Big tech emerged in force in the 2000s, that’s when offshoring to China happened in force, and the key major ruling ending monopolization cases didn’t occur until 2004. But here’s a movie showing that almost 25 years ago, before all that, consolidation was so well-known as to be a relatively unremarked central plot element of a popular film.

You’ve Got Mail is also a movie about a specific industry, publishing. Indeed, in many ways, the book industry has been a canary in the coal mine for concentration in the American economy. Books were the very first industry dominated by Amazon, but it isn’t just the retail giant. Every part of the book business, from retail stores to distribution to printing to retail to audio and ebooks to publishing houses, has been consolidating for decades. In the movie Tom Hanks is kind and charming; in real life, Barnes and Nobles used its power over shelf space to act as the industry bully, until Jeff Bezos came along and turned market power into performance art. Then, ten years ago, Penguin and Random House merged, allowed by the Obama administration’s antitrust enforcers. The book business is an increasingly cruel and lawless world, not a romantic one. . .

Continue reading. Interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:44 am

US crisis also intensifies: This afternoon, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said the FBI has confiscated his phone after presenting him with a search warrant.

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The pace seems to be picking up. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

This afternoon, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said the FBI has confiscated his phone after presenting him with a search warrant.

Perry was deeply involved in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He connected former president Trump with Jeffrey Clark, the environmental lawyer for the Department of Justice (DOJ) who supported Trump’s claims and who would have become acting attorney general if the leadership of the DOJ hadn’t threatened to resign as a group if Trump appointed him. Cassidy Hutchinson, former top aide to Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, told the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol that Meadows burned papers after a meeting with Perry.

The DOJ searched Clark’s home in June. On the same day, it seized the phone of John Eastman, the author of the memo laying out a plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to refuse to count presidential electors for Democratic candidate Joe Biden and thus throw the election to Trump.

Eastman sued to get his phone back and to force the government to destroy any information agents had taken from it; the Department of Justice says the phone was obtained legally and that purging it would be “unprecedented” and “would cause substantial detriment to the investigation, as well as seriously impede any grand jury’s use of the seized material in a future charging decision.” A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for early September.

Trump and his supporters have spent the day complaining bitterly about yesterday’s search of Mar-a-Lago by the FBI, painting it an illegal “witch hunt” and threatening to launch a “revolution” over it. A search warrant requires a judge to sign off on the idea that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and that a search will provide evidence of that crime. While the FBI cannot release the search warrant, Trump has a copy of it and could release it if he wanted to.

Legal analyst Andrew Weissmann, who spent 20 years at the Department of Justice, pointed out on Twitter that the law requires the FBI to give Trump an inventory of what they found. If indeed he wants to claim the search was a witch hunt and he had no government property in his home, he should release the search inventory.

Kyle Cheney at Politico noted that on January 19, 2021, the day before he left office, Trump revoked the authority he had previously given and named seven new loyalists as his representatives to the National Archives with regard to his presidential records. They were Meadows; then–White House counsel Pat Cipollone; then–deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin; lawyer John Eisenberg, who as legal advisor to the National Security Council tried to keep the story about Trump’s call to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky under wraps; Scott Gast, also of the White House counsel’s office during Trump’s term; lawyer Michael Purpura; and lawyer Steven Engel, who argued that Congress could not subpoena White House advisors.

Meanwhile,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 10:06 pm

Why does the IRS need $80 billion? Just look at its cafeteria.

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click to enlarge

Catherine Rampell has an excellent article (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post with photos by Matthew Busch. It’s truly worth reading, and scrolling through the working environment of the IRS shows why they need the money. The article begins:

[The cafeteria in the Austin office of the IRS] is part of what the IRS calls the “Pipeline”: a 1970s-era assembly line used to process tax returns at several locations around the country. And it might give you a sense of why Congress is on the verge of handing the agency $80 billion through the Inflation Reduction Act — not only for more enforcement but also for tech modernization.

As of July 29, the IRS had a backlog of 10.2 million unprocessed individual returns. Blame the pandemic, sure, but also the agency’s embarrassingly outdated, paper-based system, which leaves stacks and stacks of returns cluttering shelves, hallways and even the cafeteria.

On the Pipeline, paper tax returns aren’t scanned into computers; instead, IRS employees manually keystroke the numbers from each document into the system, digit by digit.

Even if you, Joe Taxpayer, file your taxes electronically (as most Americans do), you still might land in paper purgatory. Any issues with your “e-filed” return, and the IRS sends you a letter; then, you must reply by snail mail or fax.

Remember fax machines?

Taxpayers are trapped in this time warp because Congress has systemically underinvested in the IRS. Its funding was cut for most of the past decade, despite the agency receiving evermore responsibilities: stimulus checks, child tax credit payments, Obamacare enforcement, foreign bank account tracking and, lately, hunting down Russian yachts. Without reliable, long-term funding guarantees, the IRS has struggled to upgrade its systems.

I recently took a (chaperoned) tour of the Pipeline, which is usually off-limits to journalists. Imagine Willy Wonka’s secretive chocolate factory, but instead of gumdrops and lollipops it’s … paper. Everywhere, paper.

Keep scrolling and see for yourself. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) 
.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 11:34 am

Lies as warfare

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

I have spent the day rereading the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the news of the day has heightened its relevance.

During the Trump administration, after an extensive investigation, the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election…by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”

But that effort was not just about the election. It was “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society…a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood…the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions of the United States.” It was “a sustained campaign of information warfare against the United States aimed at influencing how this nation’s citizens think about themselves, their government, and their fellow Americans.”

That effort is not limited to foreign nationals. This week, Alex Jones, a purveyor of conspiracy theories and false information on his InfoWars network—the tagline is “There’s a War on For Your Mind!”—is part of a civil trial to determine damages in his defamation of the parents of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre in which 26 people, 20 of them small children, were murdered.

Jones claimed that the massacre wasn’t real, and his listeners harassed the grieving families. A number of families sued him. In the case currently in the news, Jones refused for years to comply with orders to hand over documents and evidence, so finally, in September, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, issued a default judgment holding him responsible for all damages. Since the judge has repeatedly had to reprimand Jones for lying under oath during this trial, it seems that Jones intended simply to continue spinning a false story of his finances, his business practices, and his actions.

The construction of a world based on lies is a key component of authoritarians’ takeover of democratic societies. George Orwell’s 1984 explored a world in which those in power use language to replace reality, shaping the past and people’s daily experiences to cement their control. They are constantly reconstructing the past to justify their actions in the present. In Orwell’s dystopian fantasy, Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite history for the Ministry of Truth to reflect the changing interests of a mysterious cult leader, Big Brother, who wants power for its own sake and enforces loyalty through The Party’s propaganda and destruction of those who do not conform.

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt went further, saying that the lies of an authoritarian were designed not to persuade people, but to organize them into a mass movement. Followers would “believe everything and nothing,” Arendt wrote, “think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” “The ideal subject” for such a dictator, Arendt wrote, was not those who were committed to an ideology, but rather “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist.”

It has been a source of frustration to those eager to return our public debates to ones rooted in reality that lies that have built a certain right-wing personality cannot be punctured because of the constant sowing of confusion around them. Part of why the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has been so effective is that it has carefully built a story out of verifiable facts. Because House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew the pro-Trump Republicans from the committee, we have not had to deal with the muddying of the water by people like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who specializes in bullying and hectoring to get sound bites that later turn up in on right-wing channels in a narrative that mischaracterizes what actually happened.

But today something happened that makes puncturing the bubble of disinformation personal. In the damages trial, the lawyer . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 9:56 pm

Nancy Pelosi, China and the Slow Decline of the U.S. Military

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

As military tensions flare between the U.S. and China over Taiwan, it’s easy to put all eyes on Nancy Pelosi and her visit to the island. Symbolism matters deeply in international relations, and this event is setting the direction for how Chinese and U.S. leaders will relate to one another. But six weeks ago, an obscure military bureaucrat named Cameron Holt offered another, equally important signal about this relationship. Holt is the head of acquisitions for the Air Force, which means he oversees the buying of everything from drones to nuclear missiles. And in a fascinating and spicy speech, he said that if the U.S. doesn’t get better at buying weapons, America will lose in a future conflict to China. “It’s simply math,” he argued.

The reason is that China is better at procurement. China is getting weapons “five to six times” more rapidly than the United States. “In purchasing power parity,” he said, “they spend about one dollar to our 20 dollars to get to the same capability.” This problem is directly related to market power in the U.S. Holt went over the business strategy of U.S. defense contractors, noting their goal is to lowball contracts but keep control of intellectual property. Then, he said, they create vendor lock-in, and raise prices later. In other words, they underprice upfront so they can eventually exploit pricing power over the Pentagon. Chinese acquisition strategies are more efficient and less brittle, which means over time their military will overtake ours.

Nothing Holt said is a surprise. Everyone knows how screwed up U.S. procurement is, the warnings come in almost daily. For instance, the U.S. can’t replace its stocks of Javelins and Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine, it’s going to take years to restart some of the assembly lines. Raytheon and Lockheed are having supply chain issues, and are unable to deliver weapons despite strong orders. We can’t even make the chips for weapons systems like the B-2 bomber, because semiconductor firms are shutting down the fabs that made the old parts. One could argue these are anomalies, unusual situations, but war is the ultimate moment of supply chain disruption, so that’s cold comfort.

To put the problem simply, we spend massively on weapons and get too little for it. Why? Just like health care or most other bloated sectors, it’s the prices, stupid. We consolidated economic power in the hands of a few dominant defense contractors and financiers, and they have become slothful and expensive. Fortunately, since it’s a problem caused by policy, it’s also a problem that can be solved by policy. And there are useful legislative attempts to do so.

Let’s start with how the U.S. organizes its defense thinking around procurement and economics. Traditional American strategy was laid out after the Revolutionary War, when U.S. policymakers recognized that to be an independent nation required domestic manufacturing and shipping capacity to reduce dependency on foreign actors, which through much of the 19th century was Great Britain. The idea we should be able to supply ourselves with industrial goods that could be repurposed for weaponry was key to every U.S. war, both then and since. For instance, in World War II, the U.S. became the ‘arsenal of democracy’ largely by transforming its peacetime industrial capacity to focus on industrial-scale warfare. Instead of cars, Ford factories churned out tanks and aircraft. Similarly, the Cold War aerospace industry in the form of Boeing and regulated airlines such as Pan Am served both civilian and military purposes.

Until the early 1990s, this basic strategy held; retain an industrial base for security purposes, so as to be able to produce lots of cheap interoperable machines and weapons if necessary. Public control over the defense part of this base occurred through competition; during World War II, there were more than a dozen prime contractors for every major weapons system. So if one entity screwed up or under-invested, military officers could procure elsewhere.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. strategists changed this successful model of governance. The national security world and Wall Street, whose relationship had always been somewhat tense, became more aligned in their vision of how to project U.S. power. They coalesced around . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 11:41 am

When the dog catches the car: Republicans successes bring backlash

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to their state constitution that would have stripped it of protections for abortion rights. With 86% of the vote in, 62% of voters supported abortion protections; 37% wanted them gone. That spread is astonishing. Kansas voters had backed Trump in 2020; Republicans had arranged for the referendum to fall on the day of a primary, which traditionally attracts higher percentages of hard-line Republicans; and they had written the question so that a “yes” vote would remove abortion protections and a “no” would leave them in place. Then, today, a political action committee sent out texts that lied about which vote was which.

Still, voters turned out to protect abortion rights in such unexpectedly high numbers it suggests a sea change.

It appears the dog has caught the car, as so many of us noted when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision on June 24. Since 1972, even before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Republican politicians have attracted the votes of evangelicals and traditionalists who didn’t like the idea of women’s rights by promising to end abortion. But abortion rights have always had strong support. So politicians said they were “pro-life” without ever really intending to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision explicitly did just that and has opened the door to draconian laws that outlaw abortion with no exceptions, promptly showing us the horror of a pregnant 10-year-old and hospitals refusing abortion care during miscarriages. Today, in the privacy of the voting booth, voters did exactly as Republican politicians feared they would if Roe were overturned.

But this moment increasingly feels like it’s about more than abortion rights, crucial though they are. The loss of our constitutional rights at the hands of a radical extremist minority has pushed the majority to demonstrate that we care about the rights and freedoms that were articulated—however imperfectly they were carried out—in the Declaration of Independence.

We care about a lot of things that have been thin on the ground for a while.

We care about justice:

Today, the Senate passed the PACT Act in exactly the same form it had last week, when Republicans claimed they could no longer support the bill they had previously passed because Democrats had snuck a “slush fund” into a bill providing medical care for veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the bill was unchanged, and Republicans’ refusal to repass the bill from the House seemed an act of spite after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced an agreement on a bill to lower the cost of certain prescription drugs, invest in measures to combat climate change, raise taxes on corporations and the very wealthy, and reduce the deficit. Since their vote to kill the measure, the outcry around the country, led by veterans and veterans’ advocate Jon Stewart, has been extraordinary. The vote on the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 tonight was 86 to 11 as Republicans scrambled to fix their mistake.

In an ongoing attempt to repair a past injustice, executive director of the Family Reunification Task Force Michelle Brané says it has reunified 400 children with their parents after their separation by the Trump administration at the southern border. Because the former administration did not keep records of the children or where they were sent, reunifying the families has been difficult, and as many as 1000 children out of the original 5000 who fell under this policy remain separated from their parents. [This is fucking shocking. – LG]

And we care about equality before the law:

Today, Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, and Alexander Mallin of ABC News reported that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 7:58 am

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