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America’s Version of Capitalism Is Incompatible With Democracy

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Eric Levitz has a very interesting column in New York:

American democracy is unwell; on this much, President Trump’s detractors can agree.

But when they turn to the tasks of identifying our republic’s symptoms, naming its illness, and writing a prescription, different factions of “the resistance” produce divergent diagnoses.

One group — comprised of comparative politics scholars, liberal pundits, and NeverTrump conservatives — have their eyes fixed on Donald Trump. They see the moral cowardice of a Republican elite that declined to deny an illiberal demagogue their nomination, or to abandon him in the general election, or to let the investigation into his campaign proceed unimpeded. They observe a president who relentlessly assails the independence of federal law enforcement, the legitimacy of adversarial media, and the veracity of official election results — and a conservative base that takes his lies to be self-evident. And, pulsing beneath it all, they discern the rise of a hyperpartisanship that’s leading each party’s elected officials to eviscerate informal constraints on their authority — and each party’s voters, to believe that the other side has no legitimate claim to power.

In these complaints, the democracy movement (as my colleague Jonathan Chait has dubbed it) sees all the telltale signs of a bad case of norm-erosion. Democracies can’t live on laws alone; they also require adherence to certain informal rules that correct for the inevitable flaws in any Constitution’s design, and protect against the threat of charismatic leaders consolidating power. Thus, to heal our republic, and immunize it against future strains of the same virus,several liberal thinkers have called for the formation of bipartisan coalitions, united in defense of democratic norms and the rule of law. In their view, the threat that Trump poses is so grave and unique, ideologues on both sides of the aisle should now prioritize maintaining a rule-based order over winning policy battles, so as to safeguard their freedom to settle such disputes democratically in the future.

But there is a second opinion.

Several social democratic (and/or, democratic socialist) thinkers, examining the patient from a few steps to the democracy movement’s left, have had their eyes drawn to a different set of symptoms. They see state and federal legislators who routinely slash taxes on the wealthy, and services for the poor, in defiance of their constituents’ wishes; regulatory agencies that serve as training grounds for the firms they’re meant to police; a Supreme Court that’s forever expanding the rights of corporations, and restricting those of organized labor; a criminal-justice system that won’t prosecute bankers for laundering drug money, but will dole out life sentences to small-time crack dealers; a central bank that has the resources to bail out financial firms, but not the homeowners whom they exploit; a Pentagon that can wage multitrillion-dollar wars that exacerbate the very problems they were supposed to solve — and still get rewarded with a higher budget — even as the Housing Department asks the working poor to pay higher rent for worse accommodations; and, seething beneath all of these defects, disparities in the distribution of private wealth so vast and consequential, the nation’s super-rich have come to enjoy an average life expectancy 15 years longer than its poor.

In these grisly conditions, social democrats see a textbook case of malignant capitalism. Democracies cannot survive on norms alone. When markets are left under-regulated — and workers, unorganized — the corporate sector becomes a cancerous growth, expanding until it dominates politics and civil society. An ever-greater share of economic gains concentrates in ever-fewer hands, while the barriers to converting private wealth into public power grow fewer and farther between. Politicians become unresponsive to popular preferences and needs. Voters lose faith in elections — and then, a strongman steps forward to say that he, alone, can fix it.

All this contraindicates the democracy movement’s prescription: If our republic’s true sickness is its inegalitarian economic system, then that illness won’t be cured by cross-ideological coalitions. Quite the contrary: What’s needed is a movement that mobilizes working people in numbers large enough to demand a new deal from capital. Thus, if the liberal intelligentsia wishes to save American democracy, it should devote the lion’s share of its energies to brainstorming how such a movement can be brought into being — and what changes that movement should make to our nation’s political economy, once it takes power.

Why this argument matters.

It’s important not to exaggerate the division between “normcore” liberals and “radical” leftists. Jedediah Purdy, the Duke University law professor who wrote a much-discussed critique of the former, has condemned Trump’s (norm-defying) lies about voter fraud as a dire threat to “self-rule” in the United States. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, whose book How Democracies Die is the bible of the “normie” center, argue in that very text that “addressing economic inequality” could help inoculate America against future populist demagogues. Each side recognizes that both our economic system’s tendency to concentrate wealth at the top and Trump’s assault on democratic norms are serious problems; they just disagree about which of these represents the more fundamental threat to American democracy at the present moment.

But there are real stakes to that dispute. Beyond the aforementioned implications for how the anti-Trump opposition should be organized, the goal of preserving norms, and that of redistributing economic power, can — and, if Democrats ever regain power, will — come into conflict.

Let’s say Chuck Schumer becomes Senate Majority Leader next year. If restoring norms is the paramount objective, then . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2018 at 4:51 pm

Why Do Americans Stay When Their Town Has No Future?

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Alec MacGillis writes in Bloomberg:

John Arnett chose Adams County, Ohio, as his home long before he was old enough to vote, drink beer, or drive a motorcycle along the Ohio River. After his parents split up, Arnett opted at age 10 to spend most of his time with his grandmother in Adams County, along the river 70 miles southeast of Cincinnati, rather than with his parents in the Dayton area. He liked life on the tobacco farm his grandfather had bought after retiring early from General Motors Co. in Dayton. And his grandmother, who became a widow when her husband died in a tractor accident, welcomed the companionship.

After high school, Arnett joined the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1999. His unit, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines—the storied Suicide Charley—took him to the other side of the world: South Korea, Japan, Thailand. In the spring of 2003 he was an infantryman in the invasion of Iraq, spending five months in country—Baghdad, Tikrit, Najaf.

Once back in Ohio, he settled in Adams County with his future wife, Crystal, and started taking classes in criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati, figuring he’d follow the well-worn path from the military to law enforcement. One day, though, Crystal alerted him to an ad in the paper for jobs right in Adams County, at the coal-fired power plants down on the river. He jumped at the chance. The Dayton Power & Light Co.plants had been there for years—the larger, 2,400-megawatt J.M. Stuart Station, opened in 1970 as one of the largest in the country, and the 600-megawatt Killen Station followed 12 years later, 14 miles to the east—and weren’t going anywhere: Ohio was getting 80 percent of its electricity from burning coal.

Arnett started out in 2004 making $12 an hour, handling heavy machinery in the yard where the coal was offloaded from barges coming up the river from mines in southern Indiana and Illinois. He soon moved inside the plant, operating the boiler and turbines, and finally became an operator chemist in charge of monitoring water quality, making about $38 per hour. He got active in the union that represented the plants’ 380 hourly employees, Local 175 of the Utility Workers Union of America; eventually he was elected its vice president. He and his wife started a family and in 2009 bought a larger home, a repossessed rancher they got for $130,000, in Manchester, the community nearest to Stuart. Occasionally he still got out for rides on his Harley, but life was taken over by family and youth sports, which was fine with him. He liked how he could call up his sister-in-law to watch his kids on a snow day when he was at the plant and his wife was in classes for her physical therapy degree. He liked how, at high school football games, he could send his 7-year-old off to buy himself a hot dog. “I can look over to the concession stand and I’ll know someone over there,” he said.

In mid-November of 2016, a few days after the election of Donald Trump, the president of Local 175, Greg Adams, called Arnett with news: Dayton Power & Light, which had been bought in 2011 by the global energy company AES Corp., had notified the state that it intended to close Stuart and Killen in June 2018. The plants were by far the largest employer and taxpayer in Adams County, population 28,000, which by one measure of median family income is the poorest county in Ohio. The announcement left the county with just a year and change to figure out how it was going to make do without them.

And it provided just a year and change for Arnett and hundreds of other workers—there were more than 100 management employees and 300 contractors in addition to the 380 union workers—to answer the question being asked in other deindustrializing places all over the country: Stay or go?

It was a hard question to confront, one the workers would be left to answer almost entirely on their own. Ohio was facing more retirements of coal-fired power plants than anywhere else in the country. Yet nobody in government—not in the state, not in Washington—was doing anything to grapple comprehensively with the challenge that Adams County and other areas were facing. It wasn’t just the economy that was leaving so many places behind.

America was built on the idea of picking yourself up and striking out for more promising territory. Ohio itself was settled partly by early New Englanders who quit their rocky farms for more tillable land to the west. Some of these population shifts helped reshape the country: the 1930s migration from the Dust Bowl to California; the Great Migration of blacks to the North and West, which occurred in phases between 1910 and 1960; the Hillbilly Highway migration of Appalachian whites to the industrial Midwest in the 1940s and ’50s.

In recent years, though, Americans have grown less likely to migrate for opportunity. As recently as the early 1990s, 3 percent of Americans moved across state lines each year, but today the rate is half that. Fewer Americans moved in 2017 than in any year in at least a half-century. This change has caused consternation among economists and pundits, who wonder why Americans, especially those lower on the income scale, lack their ancestors’ get-up-and-go. “Why is this happening?” New York Timescolumnist David Brooks asked in 2014. His answer: “A big factor here is a loss in self-confidence. It takes faith to move.” Economist Tyler Cowen wrote last year that “poverty and low incomes have flipped from being reasons to move to reasons not to move, a fundamental change from earlier American attitudes.”

The reluctance to move is all the more confounding given how wide the opportunity gap has grown between the country’s most dynamic urban areas and its struggling small cities and towns, a divide driven by a mix of factors that include technology, globalization, and economic concentration. According to a new Brookings Institution report, the largest metro areas—those of 1 million or more people—have experienced 16.7 percent employment growth since 2010, and areas with 250,000 to 1 million have seen growth of 11.6 percent, while areas with fewer than 250,000 residents have lagged far, far behind, with only 0.4 percent growth. The question has taken on a stark political dimension, too, given how much Trump outperformed past Republican candidates in those left-behind places.

For policymakers, the low rates of migration to opportunity present a conundrum. Should there be a wholesale effort to revitalize places that have lost their original economic rationale? Or should the emphasis be on making it easier for people in these places to move elsewhere?

The country has a long tradition of place-based investment, most notably the New Deal, which, through the Tennessee Valley Authority and similar grand-scale projects, sought to raise up Appalachia and the South. Yet there’s strikingly little support these days for similar efforts, anywhere on the political spectrum. Kevin Williamson put it most caustically in a March 2016 essay in National Review. “So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be,” he wrote. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.” Paul Krugman was more charitable, but hardly effusive, in a blog post last year. “There are arguably social costs involved in letting small cities implode, so that there’s a case for regional development policies that try to preserve their viability,” he wrote. “But it’s going to be an uphill struggle.”

Some calls are easier than others. It’s hard to argue that, say, a town that sprang up for a decade around a silver mine in Nevada in the 1870s needed to be sustained forever once the silver was gone. Where does one draw the line, though? If all of southern Ohio is lagging behind an ever-more-vibrant Columbus, should people there be encouraged to seek their fortunes in the capital? What would it look like to write off an entire swath of a state?

This has all become particularly urgent in places that are home to coal-fired power plants. These utilities get less media attention than actual coal mines, but they are far more widespread, employ almost half as many—some 20,000—and are experiencing a much more immediate decline. Whereas coal mines have been shedding jobs for decades, coal-fired plants are experiencing their biggest crisis right now, squeezed by both competition from cheap natural gas and government constraints on their copious carbon emissions. At least 14 coal-fired plants are scheduled to close this year alone, many in remote places where they’re the big employer in the area.

Adams County is a classic example. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2018 at 2:10 pm

Police can now gun down citizens without explanation

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The Washington Post editorial staff writes:

POLICE ARE accountable to the public, much as other agencies of government are. So is the FBI. Those basic precepts have somehow been discarded in the case of a 25-year-old accountant from McLean who was shot to death by two U.S. Park Police officers last fall — an act whose justification, if any, remains unknown and unexplained.

There is no indication the man, Bijan C. Ghaisar, was armed. There is no indication he posed a threat to the two officers who shot him, or anyone else. At the time the police shot him, he was at the wheel of his vehicle, which was rolling slowly away from the officers, who, inexplicably, had approached him with guns drawn. That’s when they opened fire, hitting him in the head.

Why did the officers shoot? Neither the Park Police nor the FBI, which is handling the investigation, will say. Why did they approach Mr. Ghaisar’s car with guns drawn? Neither the Park Police nor the FBI will say. Why have the officers not been identified?

After six months, how is it possible that no information has been released, nor action taken to resolve the case? Can anyone now be shot in their vehicle by police, for any reason or no reason whatsoever, without consequences? Is indefinite silence all that can be expected from the authorities in the aftermath of a police shooting?

Aside from acknowledging that an investigation into the shooting of Mr. Ghaisar is ongoing, the FBI refuses comment. It has had nothing to say — despite the release, in January, of a clear, complete video of the Nov. 17 incident, recorded by the in-car camera of a Fairfax County police cruiser, which tailed the Park Police during the pursuit. (The video was released by the Fairfax police chief, Edwin C. Roessler Jr., whose officers witnessed but took no part in the shooting.)

Nor will the FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, agree to speak with Rep. Don Beyer (D), who represents the district in Northern Virginia where the incident took place. Mr. Beyer, quite reasonably, requests that the FBI finish its investigation and release a report.

The video suggests that Mr. Ghaisar was shot for the non-crime of annoying the police. He had been involved in a minor fender bender — in fact, it was his car that was hit from behind, on the George Washington Parkway — and then drove away without speaking with the other car’s driver, who called 911.

Minutes later, the Park Police spotted Mr. Ghaisar’s vehicle, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and gave chase. When Mr. Ghaisar pulled over, the two Park Police officers approached with guns drawn, though no sign of a threat is visible on the video. He then drove away, though not at a high rate of speed, with the police again in pursuit. The same thing happened again. The third time he pulled over, the police blocked his car with theirs and approached him from the side. His car began to roll, though not in the officers’ direction. That’s when they shot him.

None of this makes sense.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2018 at 9:48 am

How’s that tax cut working out for you? (Harley-Davidson took its tax cut, closed a factory, and rewarded shareholders)

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Emily Stewart reports in Vox:

In September 2017, House Speaker Paul Ryan traveled to a Harley-Davidson plant in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, to tout the Republican tax bill, which President Trump would sign later that year. “Tax reform can put American manufacturers and American companies like Harley-Davidson on a much better footing to compete in the global economy and keep jobs here in America,” Ryan told workers and company leaders.

Four months later and 500 miles away in Kansas City, Missouri, 800 workers at a Harley-Davidson factory were told they would lose their jobs when the plant closed its doors and shifted operations to a facility in York, Pennsylvania — a net loss of 350 jobs. Workers and union representatives say they didn’t see it coming.

Just days later, the company announced a dividend increase and a stock buyback plan to repurchase 15 million of its shares, valued at about $696 million.

It’s a pattern that’s played out over and over since the tax cuts passed — companies profit, shareholders reap the benefits, and workers get left out. Corporate stock buybacks hit a record $178 billion in the first three months of 2018; average hourly earnings for American workers are up 67 cents over the past year. Harley-Davidson is an American symbol, and President Trump has trotted it out as an example of business success. But as it’s getting its tax cut, it’s outsourcing jobs and paying shareholders.

The tax cuts aren’t saving jobs at Harley-Davidson

It wasn’t just Ryan who made promises to Harley-Davidson. Trump in February 2017 met with Harley-Davidson executives and union representatives at the White House. He thanked the company for building in America and predicted its operations would grow.

“I think you’re going to even expand — I know your business is now doing very well, and there’s a lot of spirit right now in the country that you weren’t having so much in the last number of months that you have right now,” Trump said. He added that impending changes to “taxing policies,” health care, tariffs, and trade would only make things better.

The tax cut, at least, came through. The Republican tax bill, which slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, is giving Harley sizable tax savings this year. The company estimates its effective tax rate — the amount it pays — will be 23.5 percent to 25 percent this year, about 10 percentage points lower than it would have been without the tax bill.

That’s a significant savings: The company makes about $800 million to $1 billion in pre-tax profit, according to Seth Woolf, an analyst at North Coast Research.

Just over a month after Trump signed the tax cuts into law, the Kansas City closure was announced. Workers found out when they arrived at the plant that morning: They were kept in the hallway, informed that the factory would be shut, and sent home for the rest of the day without pay. The union had no advance warning, said Greg Tate, a staff representative for the United Steelworkers District 11, which represents about 30 percent of the Harley-Davidson plant’s workers. (Harley-Davidson and the two unions that represent most of its production employees last year terminated their 22-year partnership agreement.)

“We really never had any belief that they were going to shut the Kansas City facility down,” Tate said. The announcement was “the first anyone found out about it.”

The company will cut 800 jobs at the Kansas City plant when it closes by the fall of 2019 and says it expects to add 450 full-time, casual, and contractor positions in its York facility — a net loss of 350 jobs.

The median household income in York is much lower than in Kansas City, and Tate said that hiring a casual workforce there — temporary workers brought in to boost production during peak season — will be easier and cheaper for Harley.

“This is a decision we did not take lightly,” Harley said in a statement. “The Kansas City plant has been assembling Harley-Davidson motorcycles since 1997, and our employees will leave a great legacy of quality, price, and manufacturing leadership. We are grateful to them and the Kansas City community for their many years of support and their service to our dealers and our riders.”

Harley-Davidson is also expanding overseas

Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson is opening up a plant in Thailand, where it plans to start production later this year. (The company also owns and operates facilities in India and Brazil, and it is closing a facility in Australia.) The company says the Thailand plant isn’t meant to outsource jobs but to boost its international business and avoid tax and tariff burdens. Trump’s proposed steel tariffs could pose a threat to Harley and add an estimated $30 million to its costs, and the European Union has threatened to impose a tariff on the company’s motorcycles in retaliation.

Union leaders, however, have suggested that the Thailand plant opening and the Kansas City plant closing are tied together.

“Part of my job is being moved to York, but the other part is going to Bangkok,” Richard Pence, a machinist at the Kansas City plant, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this month when in Washington as part of a meeting between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 70 percent of the Harley-Davidson workers being laid off.

The Kansas City plant closing will cost Harley up to $200 million through 2019, according to Bloomberg’s estimates, and should result in annual savings of $65 million to $75 million after 2020.

Tate, from the steelworkers union, suggested the tax savings Harley reaped from the GOP bill might have actually freed up the cash for it to go ahead with the US restructuring plan now. “They have the capital now to move Kansas City, to shut it down,” he said. “All of that money really came from the tax cut plan, so it kind of had the opposite effect of what it was supposed to do.”

Woolf, the analyst, said he wasn’t sure that was the case. “I think what this reflects is that they’re finally coming to grips with the fact that the US market is contracting,” he said. Harley-Davidson has been struggling in recent years — sales have declined as its core demographic, baby boomers, ages and as millennials shy away from big bikes. The decline has been particularly acute in the US: Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle sales declined 8.5 percent in the United States in 2017 and 3.9 percent abroad.

The tax cuts let Harley reward shareholders

Meanwhile, since the tax cut, the company is managing to reward shareholders. Just days after revealing the decision to shutter the Kansas City plant, the company announced a dividend increase and a stock buyback plan to repurchase 15 million of its shares, valued at about $696 million.

On a call discussing the company’s first-quarter results in April, chief financial officer John Olin indicated that shareholder primacy will continue. “Beyond what we invest in the business, we will return and continue to return all excess cash to our shareholders,” he said. The company this year shut the media out of its annual shareholders meeting.

Harley-Davidson is one of a string of companies to announce major share buybacks since the tax bill was passed in December. Apple in early May said it would buy back $100 billion of its shares. The tech conglomerate Cisco in February said it would put an additional $25 billion toward a stock buyback. Troubled megabank Wells Fargo in January announced about $22 billion in buybacks. Pepsi announced a $15 billion buyback, Amgen and AbbVie $10 billion, and Google’s parent company Alphabet $8.6 billion.

Harley-Davidson isn’t the only company to shutter a US plant since the tax cuts were passed in December. The same day Kansas City workers found out their plant was closing, about 900 workers at . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2018 at 3:57 pm

Things I’ve not considered: Chinese fonts division

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Quartz has an article that begins:

There are many things people in the West take for granted, but here’s a big one: typographic diversity. For Latin languages, you can find sites that offer 10,000 fonts for $20—a variety for every possible mood, style, and feel. For Chinese, there is no equivalent; it’s just too massive a written language.

To create a typeface for English, a designer needs to create symbols for each of the 26 Roman letters in upper and lower case, as well as for punctuation, numbers, and so on. Each of these symbols is called a “glyph.” Each Chinese character is a glyph, too—for instance, 水 (that’s shuǐ, which means “water”).

The default set for English-language fonts contains about 230 glyphs. A font that covers all of the Latin scripts—over 100 languages plus extra symbols—contains 840. The simplified version of Chinese, used primarily in mainland China, requires nearly 7,000. For traditional Chinese, used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the number is over 13,000.

An experienced designer, working alone, can create a new font in under six months that covers dozens of Western languages. For a single Chinese font, it takes a team of several designers at least two years.

But thanks to better technologies for the design, display, and transmission of fonts, more and better Chinese fonts are on the way. Increasingly, the world’s hundreds of millions of Chinese-speakers want variety—and companies are working hard to meet demand.

85,568: Number of characters in Zhōnghuá Zìhǎi, one of the most comprehensive Chinese dictionaries

2,000: Estimated number of characters needed to understand a typical newspaper

214: The standard/conventional number of radicals—components contained within larger characters—that each have their own meaning

57: Number of strokes in biang, an intricate Chinese character with a mysterious origin. It might be an onomatopoeia for the sounds the noodles in a popular Shaanxi dish make. (It’s not found in dictionaries.)

25,930,099 NTD (US$865,000): Money raised by Taiwanese startup Justfont during a crowdfunding campaign to deliver a new generation of fonts to the web. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s quite interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2018 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Regarding school shootings Republicans in Congress believe that thoughts and prayers are sufficient

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Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:


A student walked into Santa Fe High School outside Galveston, Texas on Friday and began shooting his classmates, murdering eight students and two teachers. 
The horrific shooting comes at a time of increased focus on gun policy issues nationwide, brought to the forefront by survivors of another school shooting in Parkland, Fla., just three months ago.
Following that shooting, a group of student survivors laid out a policy agenda consisting of five items intended to help reduce the toll of American gun violence. Those items include:
1. Dedicated funding for the CDC to research gun violence
2. Strengthening the ATF’s ability to track and record gun sales
3. Universal background checks for gun purchases
4. A ban on magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition
5. A ban on assault weapons, including a registration or buyback program for these weapons already in circulation
Before the Santa Fe shooting, The Washington Post contacted the office of every U.S. representative, multiple times if necessary, to gauge their support or opposition to the proposals, which have yet to be codified into a single bill. We found that while many Democrats were eager to support the proposals, most Republicans did not seem to want to engage on the issue, as evidenced by the high rate of nonresponse among Republican members.
Just 12 percent of the House Republican delegation — 29 out of 237 members — responded to repeated Post attempts, via multiple emails and phone calls, to seek comment on the issue. Most of those who did respond offered forceful statements of opposition to the proposals.
“One more law won’t stop mentally ill or hostile people from killing others,” said Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.). “We need to educate our people about the reality of this and not pass more useless laws or stomp on people’s right to self defense and other civil rights.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) struck a similar tone. “I am a staunch supporter of citizen’s right to protect themselves — no law abiding citizen’s Second Amendment rights should be infringed.”
By contrast, more than three-quarters of the House Democratic delegation responded to Post inquiries, with nearly all of them affirming their support for the Parkland proposals in full.
“I strongly support the Second Amendment and the rights of responsible gun owners; however, there is no reason for civilians to possess these weapons of war that are being used in a number of these mass shootings,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.)
“I support these students. I support their proposals,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). “They remind me of my generation of students and young people in the 1960s.”
Notably, all four Democratic House leaders — Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D.-Md.), Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn (D.-S.C.) and Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D.-N.Y.) — said they support the Parkland students’ gun policy agenda. That’s a striking reversal from just two years ago, when House Democratic leadership balked at pursuing somewhat controversial gun control policies such as a renewed assault weapons ban.
All told, 185 lawmakers, representing 43 percent of the 430 seats currently occupied, have responded to The Post’s request for comment. But what about the other 57 percent?
Given The Post’s extensive efforts to contact every lawmaker, nonresponse may be its own type of response: a deliberate refusal to engage on the issue. It’s telling that the overwhelming majority — 85 percent — of non-respondents were Republicans. Given congressional Republicans’ consistent opposition to tighter restrictions on gun ownership during the past decade, this may not be surprising.
But a number of Democrats declined to respond as well. Notable Democratic non-respondents include Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, who holds the most Republican-leaning district of any Democratic congressman, according to the Cook Political Report. . .

Continue reading.

The GOP in Congress: a profile in cowardice.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2018 at 1:37 pm

The GOP war on consumers and minorities heats up: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy that targeted racial bias

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Sylvan Lane reports in The Hill:

President Trump has repealed auto-lending guidance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), revoking a rule that was put in place to protect minority customers from predatory practices.

Trump’s signature on a congressional resolution erases the CFPB’s 2013 guidance targeting “dealer markups,” the additional interest that is added to a customer’s third-party auto loan as compensation for the dealer.

The president signed the resolution in a private White House signing ceremony.

Auto dealers, banks and their allies in Congress said the CFPB policy was an unfair and unfounded attack on an essential and harmless financing tool.

The move caps off an unprecedented use of congressional power, as lawmakers had never before passed such a resolution to revoke informal guidance from a federal agency.

Republicans and a small group of Democrats voted to repeal the CFPB guidance under what is known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA). That law allows a simple majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate to vote to repeal a federal rule; it also bans the agency from replacing a rule with a similar measure in the future.

The resolution cleared the House earlier this month after clearing the Senate in April.

While Congress has used the CRA to repeal more than a dozen Obama-era federal rules since 2017, this is the first time that lawmakers have successfully overturned guidance from a federal agency that had not been finalized as a formal regulation.

The CFPB took aim at dealer markups in 2013. Under former Director Richard Cordray (D), the CFPB warned auto dealers that the use of markups on third-party loans could lead to a lawsuit from the agency under anti-lending discrimination laws.

The CFPB and fair lending advocates have pointed to several studies, including one that was conducted by the bureau, that found racial disparities in dealer markups. Those studies found that minority customers often paid higher dealer markups than white customers with similar credit profiles.

While the 2013 guidance was not a formal rule, the CFPB used the policy to launch a slew of lawsuits against automakers and lenders it said violated fair credit laws with discriminatory markups. The CFPB and Justice Department sued Ally Financial in December 2013 for close to $100 million in fines and damages, and also sued Honda and Toyota for tens of millions of dollars over similar charges.

Opponents of the rule questioned the methodology behind the studies that showed discriminatory markups and accused the CFPB of exploiting a loophole to circumvent its lack of jurisdiction over the auto industry.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who attended the signing ceremony, praised “the hard work of Republicans in Congress” to stop “a rogue Bureau using its unchecked powers to sidestep due process and harm the very consumers it is charged with protecting.”

The CFPB policy seemed immune from repeal until last December, when the Government Accountability Office ruled that informal agency guidance could be repealed under the review law as if it were a formal rule. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who requested the analysis, introduced a resolution to repeal the auto lending guidance soon after. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2018 at 8:15 am

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