Later On

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Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing

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Kevin Drum hits the nail on the head:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2021 at 11:20 am

Political spark that ignited firestorm across dry, divided land

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

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

The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 10:05 am

Bill Maher on the slow-moving coup

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Maher summarizes the situation:

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

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

Watch Maher’s monologue.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2021 at 11:33 am

End Times for Democracy?

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David Troy has an interesting useful newsletter, Situation Report, to which you can subscribe for free and which you can read on Medium.

Here are a couple of snippets from the most recent Situation Report:

Bannon is trying to split the Catholic church and establish Moscow as the “Third Rome.” While he made big headlines this week for defying the January 6th Committee’s subpoena, pay attention to the other hand: he’s planned a rally in Baltimore for November 16 with his pals Cardinal Carlo Maria Viganò, Milo Yinannopoulos, and Michelle Malkin, et al, to protest the US Conference of Bishops happening nearby. What he’s trying to do is amplify a long-standing division in the Church between Jesuits and factions aligned with Opus Dei. They want to unify the Orthodox Greek + Russian Churches and fulfill a prophecy where Moscow becomes the “Third Rome,” (after Rome, and Constantinople). This is an old historical theme and was even the early title for Whittaker Chambers’ little-known second memoir. They, laughably, see Moscow as a bastion of “Judeo-Christian values” (i.e. anti-LGBT sentiment). Viganò, tight with BannonFlynn, and Q, and his pal Cardinal Burke are chief agitators on this. I also found evidence of Catholic schism chatter in examining the OathKeepers’ email dump. Ali Alexander recently converted to Catholicism, as did Milo. This is all Bannon.

Havana Syndrome keeps spreading. Is it real? It seems to be, though we still don’t have public information on what it exactly is. While idiots online debate outdated information and try to discredit any theories, there are real victims who keep turning up around the world. Whatever is causing this, it’s proven an effective way to sow doubt and uncertainty within the diplomatic and intelligence worlds, and to raise doubts about the United States’ ability and willingness to exercise soft power. It’s just one part of the hybrid war we find ourselves in. The latest reports are out of Colombia and Berlin. If it is a death ray (directed energy weapon) of some kind, we know from physics it has to be close-range and likely mounted in a car, van, or truck. So maybe we should put out a global APB for vehicles with weird antennae or orifices doing shady stuff. . . .

Don’t call it a Civil War. Call it World War III. While Marjorie Taylor Greene is talking about “getting a national divorce,” it’s worth remembering that Gen. Charles Flynn, brother of Gen. Michael Flynn who helped cause January 6th, is head of the US Army’s command in the Pacific. Graham Allison has previously warned that it’s bad faith and missteps that are likely to spark a conflict with China. Takeaway: let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the conflicts we’re facing are unique to America or are confined to our borders. The same kind of insanity is brewing all around the world and we have some unstable people in important places who could unleash a hellish future within days. Meanwhile, Rod of Iron Ministries, run by Moon cult heir and weapons manufacturer Sean Moon, is moving to Tennessee to setup a massive new cult compound. And Trump is telling Republicans not to vote in 2022 and 2024… raising the question, what’s the alternative? And the John Birch Society is back — pushing against masks in Tennessee.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2021 at 2:16 pm

How — and Why — Trump Will Win Again

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2021 at 5:09 pm

Jen Psaki states it clearly and succinctly

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2021 at 12:39 pm

Tell Me What You Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:31 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2021 at 4:49 pm

H.C. Richardson points out a journalistic peculiarity

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Heather Cox Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was one single day in the Trump presidency.

In contrast, today, the Democrats are . . .

Continue reading to see a marked contrast.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2021 at 12:47 pm

Senate Republicans are proudly anti-American

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Heather Cox Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2021 at 7:17 pm

Is America Still Capable of Democracy?

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I think at this point that’s a reasonable question, and a clear affirmative is not to be had. Umair Haque has another of his jeremiads, which, alas, stay close to what we observe. He writes:

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2021 at 1:35 pm

Congress is an ineffectual organization

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Congress seems to be designed to not accomplish things, a problem when a bad-faith party like Republicans have a significant voice — and in the Senate, the ability to veto action (thanks in large part to Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, two Democratic Senators who side with Republicans). Heahter Cox Richardson writes:

We are coming down to the wire for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

This bill was hammered out earlier in September by a group of senators trying to find common ground with conservative Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who objected to the sweeping For the People Act passed by the House. The Freedom to Vote Act pared down that larger bill but retained its most important pieces. It creates a national standard for voting rules and tries to stop voter suppression, modernizes voter registration, and replaces old, paperless voting machines with new ones that have a voter-verified paper trail. It slows the flood of money into our elections and ends partisan gerrymandering. It establishes strict rules for post-election audits.

This defense of voting is popular. A Data for Progress poll found that 70% of likely voters support the act. That number includes 85% of self-identified Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans.

Manchin maintains that he can find 10 Republican senators to join the Democrats to get 60 votes, enabling the measure to overcome a Republican filibuster. But there is, so far, no sign that those votes are materializing, and every day that goes by brings us closer to having gerrymandered district lines hardened into place before the 2022 election. Indeed, the stonewalling by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of Democratic attempts to lift the debt ceiling is wasting time that otherwise would be given to the voting rights bill.

If Manchin cannot find ten Republican votes, the measure will die unless the Senate agrees to block a filibuster on it, as it has done for judicial appointments. A simple majority cannot pass it, even though the 50 Democratic senators (who would make a majority of 51 if Vice President Kamala Harris were called in to break a tie) represent about 40.5 million more Americans than the 50 Republican senators. (The U.S. has about 328 million people.)

It is imperative that this bill become law. Without it, the Republicans will almost certainly regain control of Congress, and with new voter suppression and election-counting laws in place in 18 Republican-dominated states, they will likely command the Electoral College as well. Once installed in power, will this particular incarnation of the Republican Party ever again permit a Democratic victory?

Congress today illustrated the importance of making sure all Americans have the right to choose their lawmakers.

The media focused on the intraparty fighting of the Democrats over a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is supposed to be linked to the $1 trillion bipartisan package, but it is important to remember that the only reason anyone is even discussing an infrastructure package is because voting rights activist Stacey Abrams helped so many Georgians register to vote in 2020 that they were able to overcome Republican roadblocks and elect two Democratic senators. Without Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff, the two men who gave the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate to shift the majority from the Republicans, we would not be having this discussion at all.

Both infrastructure bills are popular. Americans support the bipartisan bill by 51% to 19% (with 30% unsure). About 62% of Americans like the larger package, despite a price tag that seems larger than it really is, since it spreads out funding for ten years. Even among Republicans, more like it than dislike it, at 47% to 44%.

But it took months of negotiations to secure the ten Republican votes necessary on the smaller package to get it past a filibuster of the other Republican senators, and the Republicans are united in their opposition to the larger bill.

Our right to vote was also on the table as our most effective tool for stopping the Republican Party’s current fall into authoritarianism.

After yesterday’s hearing in the Senate, Senator Angus King (I-ME) told reporters that the Senate Armed Services Committee had had only one hearing all last year when the Republicans were in control of the Senate. Washington reporter Laura Rozen recounted the conversation on Twitter. Since the Democrats retook control of the Senate, King said, they have held five hearings. But he pointed out that senators in yesterday’s hearing spent a great deal of time asking questions about the decisions to withdraw from Afghanistan, a decision made by former president Trump and unquestioned either as he made it or as he quickly began withdrawing troops. King noted that those questions should have been asked a year ago.

In today’s hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, Republicans defended the former president and attacked the man who helped to stop his takeover of the U.S. government, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley.

They insisted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was “an extraordinary disaster” that “will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American leadership,” although it was former president Trump who set the terms of the withdrawal and tried to make it happen in the dead of winter, which would almost certainly not have permitted the successful airlift of 130,000 Americans and allies that the military ultimately pulled off. (Interestingly, Milley also explained that U.S. commanders missed that the Afghan army and government would crumble because the withdrawal of tactical advisers over the past few years hurt U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities.)

Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Ronny Jackson (R-TX) did not simply defend Trump, though. They demanded that Milley resign. Gaetz repeatedly interrupted and berated the general, who has served the United States in uniform for more than 40 years—two years longer than Gaetz has been alive.

The attacks on Milley were not simply partisanship. They are part of a longer crusade of the pro-Trump forces against the man who stood against Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. For months now,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:22 pm

Snapshot of the sad state of the US

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the fight over the debt ceiling continued. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that breaching the debt ceiling would delay Social Security payments and military paychecks, as well as jeopardizing the status of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered Senate Republicans “a way out” from having to participate in raising the ceiling, despite the fact that the Republicans had added $7.8 trillion to the now-$28 trillion debt during Trump’s term. Schumer asked for unanimous consent to pass a debt ceiling increase with a simple majority that the Democrats could provide alone.

Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked the effort. “There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible,” he said.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that McConnell is deliberately running out Congress’s clock, and it is hard to ignore that the big item on the Senate’s agenda is the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Angus King (I-ME) have worked to hammer out in place of the voting rights bills passed by the House.

The Freedom to Vote Act protects the right to vote. It also bans partisan gerrymandering.

States have already begun to carve up districts based on the 2020 census numbers. The Texas legislature, for one, has gerrymandered its state—one that is imperative for the Republicans to hold for the 2024 presidential election—to protect Republicans and underrepresent Black and Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic. (Growth in the Latino population is what gave the state two new representatives.) If Texas redistricting is completed by November 15, the candidate filing period will end on December 13. At that point, after candidates have filed according to established district lines, it will be significantly harder for courts to overturn those lines before the 2022 election.

So if McConnell can tie up Democrats over the absolutely must-pass debt ceiling increase and can stave off a voting rights bill, Republican gerrymandering might well survive for the 2022 election.

Indeed, the political news out of Washington must all be read with an eye to the 2022 election, including the other big story from today: the testimony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Before his testimony, Milley submitted a statement that was quietly remarkable. A highly decorated career soldier, Milley was appointed by former president Trump and, after making the mistake of walking with Trump across Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square in June 2020 for the former president’s ill-received photo-op with a Bible, has become a principled and outspoken advocate for the military’s defense of the United States Constitution, even, when necessary, against domestic enemies.

In his statement, Milley laid out the course of the war in Afghanistan. He noted that in 20 years there, more than 800,000 U.S. military personnel served; 2,461 were killed in action, 20,698 were wounded, and countless others came home with internal scars. Milley expressed his opinion that their service in Afghanistan prevented another attack on America from terrorists based there.

Then Milley talked of our exit from the country, emphasizing that it is a mistake to focus only on our rushed exit in August. In 2011, we began a long-term drawdown of troops from their peak of 97,000 U.S. troops and 41,000 NATO troops. On February 29, 2020, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban, there were 12,600 U.S. troops, 8,000 NATO troops, and 10,500 contractors in Afghanistan. With that agreement, known as the Doha Agreement, we agreed to withdraw if the Taliban met seven conditions that would lead to a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, while we agreed to eight conditions.

Milley wrote that the Taliban honored only one of its seven required conditions: it did not attack U.S. personnel. It did not cut ties to al Qaeda, and it significantly increased, rather than decreased, its attacks on Afghan civilians. Nonetheless, in the 8 months after the agreement, “we reduced US military forces from 12,600 to 6,800, NATO forces from 8,000 to 5,400 and US contractors from 9,700 to 7,900….”

On November 9, 2020, six days after the presidential election, Milley and then–Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recommended stopping the withdrawal until the Taliban met the required conditions. Two days later, on November 11, then-president Trump ordered the military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Blindsided, military officers were able to talk Trump out of that rushed timetable, but on November 17, Trump ordered Milley to reduce troop levels to 2,500 no later than January 15.

So, when President Biden took office, only about 3,500 U.S. troops, 5,400 NATO troops, and 6,300 contractors were still in Afghanistan, leaving him with the problem that he would have either to leave altogether or to put in more troops in anticipation of resumed hostilities with the Taliban. Biden ordered a review of the situation and ultimately decided to withdraw from the country altogether.

Milley went on to explain . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:52 am

Republicans working to destroy US government

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the Senate considered a bill to fund the government until December and to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans joined together to filibuster it.

Such a move is extraordinary. Not only did the Republicans vote against a measure that would keep the government operating and keep it from defaulting on its debt—debt incurred before Biden took office—but they actually filibustered it, meaning it could not pass with a simple majority vote. The Republicans will demand 60 votes to pass the measure in the hope of forcing Democrats to pass it themselves, alone, under the system of budget reconciliation.

This is an astonishing position. The Republicans are taking the country hostage to undercut the Democrats. If Congress does not fund the government by Thursday, the government will shut down. And if the country goes into default sometime in mid-October, the results will be catastrophic.

We are in this position now because Congress last December funded the government through this September 30 as part of a huge bill. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, and if the government is not funded, it will have to shut down, ending all federal activities that are not considered imperative. This year, such activities would include a wide range of programs enacted to combat the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans have said they are willing to pass a stand-alone funding bill. That is, they are willing to continue to spend money going forward, even though to do so at the rate they want means raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, Senators Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) joined McConnell today to try to pass a new funding bill that would provide disaster relief to Louisiana and Alabama in the wake of Hurricane Ida and fund the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). They complained that “disaster assistance is long overdue” and that “it’s critical” to extend flood insurance “so homeowners are covered come the next storm.”

But while willing to add to the debt, they refuse either to raise taxes or to raise or suspend the debt ceiling that would enable the government to pay for it.

The debt ceiling is the amount of money Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Congress started authorizing a general amount of debt during World War I to give the government more flexibility in borrowing by simply agreeing to an upper limit rather than by specifying different issues of debt, as it had always done before. That debt limit is not connected directly to any individual bill, and it is not an appropriation for any specific program. Nowadays, it simply enables the government to borrow money to pay for programs in laws already passed. If the debt ceiling is not raised when necessary, the government will default on its debts, creating a financial catastrophe.

So, while a measure to fund the government is forward looking, enabling the government to spend money, a measure to raise the debt ceiling is backward looking. It enables the government to pay the bills it has already run up.

Not funding the government means it will have to shut down; not paying our debts means catastrophe. Both of these measures will hobble the economic recovery underway; refusing to manage the debt ceiling will collapse the economy altogether and crash our international standing just as President Biden is trying to reassert the strength of democracy on the world stage.

Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republicans are trying to tie the debt ceiling to the idea that Democrats are big spenders. They are determined to stop the passage of Biden’s signature infrastructure packages, both on the table this week: a smaller bipartisan package that funds road and bridge repair as well as the spread of broadband into rural areas, and a larger package that funds child care and elder care infrastructure, as well as measures to combat climate change, over the next ten years.

Both infrastructure measures are popular, and if they become laws, they will reverse the process of dismantling the active New Deal government in which Republicans have engaged since 1981. The Republicans are determined to prevent at least Biden’s larger package from passing. Killing it will keep in place their efforts to whittle the government down even further, while it will also destroy Biden’s signature legislative effort.

But the Republican link of the debt ceiling to Biden’s infrastructure package is disingenuous.

Raising the debt ceiling will enable the government to pay for debts it has already incurred. The Republicans themselves voted three times during Trump’s presidency to raise that ceiling, while they added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, bringing it to its current level of $28 trillion. Further, Biden has vowed to pay for his new package in part by restoring some—not all—of the corporate taxes and taxes on our wealthiest citizens that the Republicans slashed in 2017.

This, Republicans utterly reject.

McConnell maintains that he does not want the U.S. to default on its debt; he just wants to force the Democrats to shoulder the responsibility for handling it, enabling Republicans to paint them as spendthrifts.

It is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility, driving the U.S. toward a disastrous fiscal cliff in order to gain partisan advantage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns 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.” 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.

The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. Today Senate Republicans voted to make that happen.

In 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, Congress dealt with a similar challenge to the national debt. Democrats eager to undermine the United States wanted to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Interesting how the relative rationality of Republicans and Democrats have swapped since the 1860s. That happened a hundred years later, in the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to an exodus of Southern racist Democrats who entered the Republican Party and with Nixon’s decision to exploit racism as a way to energize Republicans.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 2:19 pm

The fight to save America

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

For weeks now, I have vowed that I would finish these letters early and get to bed before midnight, and for weeks now, I have finally finished around three in the morning. That was not the case two years ago, when I started writing these at the start of the Ukraine crisis: it was rare enough for me to be writing until midnight that I vividly remember the first time it happened.

I got to thinking today about why things seem more demanding today than they did two years ago, and it strikes me that what makes the writing more time consuming these days is that we have two all-consuming stories running in parallel, and together they illuminate the grand struggle we are in for the survival of American democracy.

On the one hand we have the former president and the attempts by him and his loyalists to seize control of our country regardless of the will of the majority of voters, while Republican Party leaders are refusing to speak out in the hopes that they can retain power to continue advancing their agenda.

Since the 1980s, this branch of the Republican Party has tried to dismantle the government in place since the 1930s that tries to protect equality in America, regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure. Members of this faction of the Republican Party—the faction that is now in control of it—want to take the government back to the 1920s, when businessmen controlled the government, operating it to try to create a booming economy without regard for social or environmental consequences.

Although initially unhappy at Donald Trump’s elevation to the White House, that faction embraced him as he advanced the tax cuts, deregulation, and destruction of government offices they believed were central to freeing businessmen to advance the economy. Believing that Democrats’ determination to use the government to level the playing field among Americans would destroy the individualism that supports the economy, they had come to believe that Democrats could not legitimately govern the country. And so, members of this Republican faction did not back away when Trump refused to accept the election of a Democratic president in 2020.

Almost a year later, the leadership of the Republican Party, composed now as it is of Trump loyalists, is undermining our democracy. It has fallen in line behind Trump’s Big Lie that he and not Biden won the 2020 election, and that the Democratic Party engaged in voter fraud to install their candidate. This is a lie, but Republicans at the state level are using that lie to justify new election laws that suppress Democratic votes and put control of state elections into their own hands. If those laws are allowed to stand, we will be a democracy in name only. We will likely still have elections, but, just as in Russia or Hungary now, the mechanics of the system will mean that only the president’s party can win.

This attack on our democracy is unprecedented, and it cannot be ignored. Tonight, for example, Trump held a “rally” in Perry, Georgia, where, to cheers, he straight up lied that the recent “audit” in Arizona proved he won the 2020 election. And yet, to overemphasize the antics of the former president and his supporters enables them to grow to larger proportions than they deserve, feeding their power. Tonight, for example, Newsmax and OAN covered Trump’s rally live, but the Fox News Channel did not, and the audience appeared bored.

On the other hand, in contrast to the former president’s party, President Joe Biden and the Democrats are trying to demonstrate that democracy actually works. Rather than simply fighting the Republicans, which would permit the Republicans to define the terms under which they govern, they are defending the active government the Republicans have set out to destroy. Biden has been clear since he took office that he intends to strengthen democracy abroad, where it is under pressure from rising autocratic governments, by strengthening it at home.

To that end, he and the Democrats in Congress have aggressively worked to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 9:11 pm

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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Robert Kagan has a lengthy piece in the Washington Post that’s well worth reading — and that link is gift article that skips the paywall. His essay begins:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”  — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

The sluggish response when a government is no longer focused on public service

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Stephen Engelberg, Editor-in-Chief of ProPublica, sends out a regular newsletter. This is from the one I received this morning:

More than a decade ago, a young reporter named Sasha Chavkin filed a story for ProPublica about the sort of bureaucratic indifference that makes people hate their government. Across the country, thousands of people who had suffered grievous injuries that prevented them from working were being hounded for student loans they had no chance of repaying. Many had been classified as disabled by the Social Security Administration and were already receiving government support. But the Department of Education, which handles loan forgiveness, insisted that borrowers jump through a separate set of hoops to prove they were unable to work. In some cases, the department was garnishing Social Security payments sent to people with disabilities who were in arrears on their loans.

We published Sasha’s story on Feb. 13, 2011. It introduced readers to Tina Brooks, a former police officer who fractured a vertebra in her back and damaged three others in her neck when she plunged 15 feet down a steep quarry while training for bicycle patrol. Although five doctors and a judge from Social Security all agreed that she was fully disabled, Education Department officials continued to insist she pay off $43,000 in loans.

It was one of those stories where each paragraph makes you madder.

“I’m a cop, and I know how to fill out paperwork,” Brooks told Sasha. “But when you’re trying to comply with people and they’re not telling you the rules, I might as well beat my head on the wall.”

ProPublica is unusual among news organizations in that we measure our success by the tangible impact our stories achieve. As editors and reporters, we are trained to try to make every story well-written, fair, solidly documented and maybe even prizeworthy. But Herb and Marion Sandler, the founders of ProPublica, said from the very beginning that they had a higher goal for ProPublica: that our stories should make a difference.

It’s a tough target to hit. Journalists, myself included, are notoriously poor at forecasting which stories will spur change. Sometimes, we reveal utterly outrageous abuses and the reaction

is muted. Other times, people explode with anger and change comes overnight. New reporters hired from other organizations frequently ask: What’s a ProPublica story? My answer is that readers should finish one of our investigative articles with a clear understanding of what’s gone wrong and to whom they should send a blistering letter (or email) demanding immediate action.

I expected our 2011 story on disabilities and student loans to prompt swift action. Congress had already demanded that the Department of Education improve its handling of disability cases. An internal audit, which we obtained, had found that the department was failing to follow its own rules. It seemed like a political no-brainer to intervene, both for members of Congress and for the Obama administration. They stood to earn kudos for adopting an approach that is both required by law and a gesture of human decency.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, little of that happened. The Education Department made some modest improvements but continued to insist that people fill out applications for relief. The process remained cumbersome, and the burden remained on the disabled person to prove they were entitled to relief. Few loans were forgiven.

It was only last month that the department announced that it was enacting a new policy in which people deemed severely disabled by the SSA would automatically have their loans forgiven. The technique? A simple computer search that would match the names of people receiving disability payments with names of student loan borrowers. Officials said they would be writing off a staggering $5.8 billion in loans. Clearly, the existing procedures had not worked for the vast majority of disabled borrowers.

I asked Sasha what finally made the difference. His answer, not surprisingly, was politics. The left wing of the Democratic Party, notably Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have been pressuring the Biden administration to launch a broad program of relief for 43 million Americans who owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loans. President Joe Biden has never endorsed that idea. But as Sasha points out “this fix for disabled borrowers was something no one could reasonably oppose.” The no-brainer solution, he said, was always out there, but it “took a long time and a lot of unnecessary hardship” before it was politically beneficial to the people with the power to impose change.

It’s worth noting that this story is not yet over. The Department of Education continues to withhold debt relief from a substantial number of student loan borrowers who receive federal disability payments — people whose disabilities the SSA views as serious but that it believes have some chance of easing in the future.

Remarkably, one of the people we interviewed back in 2011, a carpenter and draftsman who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is among those who remain on the hook for his student loans. He has tried to return to work several times since 2011, but his medical problems made that impossible. SSA officials argue that his lung disease might someday improve enough to allow him to work.

“There’s no improving COPD,” the carpenter, Scott Creighton, said in our recent story. “Since I spoke to you last time I’ve had one pulmonary embolism and I’ve had one heart attack.”

Some have argued in recent years that we live in a post-shame era, that spotlighting outrageous wrongdoing no longer brings results. For those who feel that is true, I suggest you visit the page on which we list stories that have had an impact. I hope you’ll find it inspiring. I do.

Steve

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 12:00 pm

Celebrating Frances Perkins

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Heather Cox Richardson writes today, Labor Day:

On March 25, 1911, Frances Perkins was visiting with a friend who lived near Washington Square in New York City when they heard fire engines and people screaming. They rushed out to the street to see what the trouble was. A fire had broken out in a garment factory on the upper floors of a building on Washington Square, and the blaze ripped through the lint in the air. The only way out was down the elevator, which had been abandoned at the base of its shaft, or through an exit to the roof. But the factory owner had locked the roof exit that day because, he later testified, he was worried some of his workers might steal some of the blouses they were making.

“The people had just begun to jump when we got there,” Perkins later recalled. “They had been holding until that time, standing in the windowsills, being crowded by others behind them, the fire pressing closer and closer, the smoke closer and closer. Finally the men were trying to get out this thing that the firemen carry with them, a net to catch people if they do jump, the[y] were trying to get that out and they couldn’t wait any longer. They began to jump. The… weight of the bodies was so great, at the speed at which they were traveling that they broke through the net. Every one of them was killed, everybody who jumped was killed. It was a horrifying spectacle.”

By the time the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was out, 147 young people were dead, either from their fall from the factory windows or from smoke inhalation.

Perkins had few illusions about industrial America: she had worked in a settlement house in an impoverished immigrant neighborhood in Chicago and was 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 workers. But even she was shocked by the scene she witnessed on March 25.

By the next day, New Yorkers were gathering to talk about what had happened on their watch. “I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere,” Perkins said. “It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry…. We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 girls and boys killed in a factory. It was a terrible thing for the people of the City of New York and the State of New York to face.”

The Democratic majority leader in the New York legislature, Al Smith—who would a few years later go on to four terms as New York governor and become the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928—went to visit the families of the dead to express his sympathy and his grief. “It was a human, decent, natural thing to do,” Perkins said, “and it was a sight he never forgot. It burned it into his mind. He also got to the morgue, I remember, at just the time when the survivors were being allowed to sort out the dead and see who was theirs and who could be recognized. He went along with a number of others to the morgue to support and help, you know, the old father or the sorrowing sister, do her terrible picking out.”

“This was the kind of shock that we all had,” Perkins remembered.

The next Sunday, concerned New Yorkers met at the Metropolitan Opera House with the conviction that “something must be done. We’ve got to turn this into some kind of victory, some kind of constructive action….” One man contributed $25,000 to fund citizens’ action to “make sure that this kind of thing can never happen again.”

The gathering appointed a committee, which asked the legislature to create a bipartisan commission to figure out how to improve fire safety in factories. For four years, Frances Perkins was their chief investigator.

She later explained that although their mission was to stop factory fires, “we went on and kept expanding the function of the commission ’till it came to be the report on sanitary conditions and to provide for their removal and to report all kinds of unsafe conditions and then to report all kinds of human conditions that were unfavorable to the employees, including long hours, including low wages, including the labor of children, including the overwork of women, including homework put out by the factories to be taken home by the women. It included almost everything you could think of that had been in agitation for years. We were authorized to investigate and report and recommend action on all these subjects.”

And they did. Al Smith was the speaker of the house when they published their report, and soon would become governor. Much of what the commission recommended became law.

Perkins later mused that perhaps the new legislation to protect workers had in some way paid the debt society owed to the young people, dead at the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. “The extent to which this legislation in New York marked a change in American political attitudes and policies toward social responsibility can scarcely be overrated,” she said. “It was, I am convinced, a turning point.”

But she was not done. In 1919, over the fervent objections of men, Governor Smith appointed Perkins to the New York State Industrial Commission to help weed out the corruption that was weakening the new laws. She continued to be one of his closest advisers on labor issues. In 1929, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt replaced Smith as New York governor, he appointed Perkins to oversee the state’s labor department as the Depression worsened. When President Herbert Hoover claimed that unemployment was ending, Perkins made national news when she repeatedly called him out with figures proving the opposite and said his “misleading statements” were “cruel and irresponsible.” She began to work with leaders from other states to figure out how to protect workers and promote employment by working together.

In 1933, after the people had rejected Hoover’s plan to let the Depression burn itself out, President-elect Roosevelt asked Perkins to serve as Secretary of Labor in his administration. She accepted only on the condition that he back her goals: unemployment insurance; health insurance; old-age insurance, a 40-hour work week; a minimum wage; and abolition of child labor. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”

She promised to find out.

Once in office, Perkins was a driving force behind the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 September 2021 at 10:17 am

Joe Manchin’s Dirty Empire

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Daniel Bogusaw reports in The Intercept:

In the early hours of August 11, the Senate voted to approve a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would mark the nation’s most significant investment in the fight against climate change ever undertaken in the United States. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., cast the tie-breaking vote.

The resolution’s approval kicked off a legislative process likely to last months, all of it hinging on Manchin’s continued support. Not long after casting his vote, he issued a public statement warning the bill’s backers not to take him for granted.

“Adding trillions of dollars more to nearly $29 trillion of national debt, without any consideration of the negative effects on our children and grandchildren, is one of those decisions that has become far too easy in Washington,” Manchin said. The month prior, he had specified that some of the climate-related provisions were “very, very disturbing.”

“If you’re sticking your head in the sand, and saying that fossil [fuel] has to be eliminated in America, and they want to get rid of it, and thinking that’s going to clean up the global climate, it won’t clean it up all,” Manchin told CNN after a private meeting with President Joe Biden and his fellow Senate Democrats. “If anything, it would be worse.”

Manchin’s claim that climate pollution would be worsened by the elimination of fossil fuels — or by the resolution’s actual, more incremental climate provisions — is highly dubious, if not outright false. What would unquestionably be impacted, however, is Manchin’s own personal wealth.

Though Manchin’s motivations are often ascribed to the conservative, coal-friendly politics of West Virginia, it is also the case that the state’s senior senator is heavily invested in the industry — and owes much of his considerable fortune to it.

For decades, Manchin has profited from a series of coal companies that he founded during the 1980s. His son, Joe Manchin IV, has since assumed leadership roles in the firms, and the senator says his ownership is held in a blind trust. Yet between the time he joined the Senate and today, Manchin has personally grossed more than $4.5 million from those firms, according to financial disclosures. He also holds stock options in Enersystems Inc., the larger of the two firms, valued between $1 and $5 million.

Those two companies are Enersystems Inc. and Farmington Resources Inc., the latter of which was created by the rapid merging of two other firms, Manchin’s Transcon and Farmington Energy in 2005. Enersystems purchases low-quality waste coal from mines and resells it to power plants as fuel, while Farmington Resources provides “support activities for mining” and holds coal reserves in the Fairmont area. Over the decades, whether feeding tens of thousands of tons of dirty waste coal into the power plants in northern West Virginia or subjecting workers to unsafe conditions, Manchin’s family coal business has almost entirely avoided public scrutiny.

Manchin did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In 1987, the man who is now the senior senator from West Virginia chose his hometown as the fulcrum for his enterprise. He and his brothers centered their business dealings near Farmington, where their grandfather served as mayor, and established headquarters for Enersystems and Farmington Resources in the nearby city of Fairmont, on the banks of the Monongahela River. Manchin’s brokerage firm has failed to attract the same attention as the scalped mountains and blackened tap water in the southeast region of the state, where mountaintop removal mining has radically altered the once pristine landscape. But in the northern political enclave of Marion County, Manchin’s businesses are fueling environmental degradation and impacting public health with severe consequences.

Farmington is surrounded by some of West Virginia’s oldest mines, dirtiest power plants, and sprawling coal ash dumping grounds. Through these operations Manchin receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every year.

For the first time, a Type Investigations and Intercept analysis of public records reveals the impact of Manchin’s coal firms. For decades, they have relied on mines and refuse piles cited for dozens of Mine Safety and Health Agency violations, multiple deaths, and wastewater discharging that has poisoned tributaries feeding into the Monongahela River, as hundreds of thousands of tons of carcinogenic coal ash are dumped across Marion County.

While Manchin does not own the mines, refuse piles, and power plants that have polluted Marion County, he continues to reap their financial rewards. In tracing the life cycle of Manchin’s coal, from its origin at refuse sites, to the looming plants it powers, down into the water and soil of northern West Virginia, the steep and complex cost of Manchin’s empire begins to take shape.

Deadly Work

Outside Fairmont in Barrackville, West Virginia, the Barrackville mine lies buried in the ridge rising over an outcropping of abandoned buildings in what was once the town’s bustling mining camp. In 1925, 33 miners lost their lives to a gas explosion in a mine that once supplied coal to the forges of Bethlehem Steel. As of 2019, when the latest comprehensive data was released by the Energy Information Administration, the refuse piles of low-quality coal those miners left behind serve as the second-largest coal source for Manchin’s Enersystems. (The firm moves less coal than the giants of the industry but still sold well over half a million tons from the site between 2008 and 2019.) The dangers of the Barrackville mine didn’t end with the 1925 explosion. Since 2000, the Barrackville site has been cited for five accidents and one death, when a heavy machinery operator was crushed by a bulldozer.

Over the past two decades, the Barrackville refuse pile was cited and fined for more than 30 safety violations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. The charges include unsafe equipment, unsafe material storage, dangerous lack of lighting, unsafe brakes, failure to adequately inspect electrical equipment, failure to maintain automatic warning devices, unsafe vehicle storage, failure to complete daily safety inspections, failure to mark hazardous chemicals, failure to maintain miner training records, and failure to adequately train miners.

North of Barrackville, on the banks of the Monongahela River, is Enersystems’ largest supplier of waste coal as of 2019, the Humphrey No.7 mine, where over 40 safety violations have been recorded with the MSHA since 2000. These include  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2021 at 4:29 pm

Lina Khan Leads the Government’s New Attempt to Break Up Facebook

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today’s issue about the Federal Trade Commission’s new case to break up Facebook, which it filed two weeks ago after the judge dismissed its first complaint in January. There are a number of significant political and legal differences between this case and the last one, but the biggest one is that this complaint was issued under new Chair Lina Khan. The Facebook case truly belongs to her.

Also:

  • ShortageWatch: What broken McDonald’s ice cream machines tell us about the economy.
  • Lessons from Afghanistan: How defense contractors are trying to trick Congress, again.
  • How you can help the antitrust enforcers at the Federal Trade Commission crack down on unfair practices in the economy.
  • The U.S. railroad regulator sort of blocks a merger.
  • Is there an electronic signature cartel?

After last week’s piece on McKinsey and Afghanistan, I got invited onto TheHill TV’s Rising to debate the withdrawal with former Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah. It got pretty heated. I’d like to say we disagreed without being disagreeable, but that wouldn’t be true. You can watch it here.

Lina Khan Goes for Facebook’s Throat

The Biden administration has been aggressive rhetorically on monopoly power, issuing an executive order and appointing important thinkers like Tim Wu and Lina Khan to key posts. But so far, the moves, while significant, have been mostly bureaucratic jujitsumodest stabs at private equity, or new policy that has not yet had time for enforcement. Last week, however, Biden’s Federal Trade Commission, led by Khan, lowered the boom and asked a judge to break up Facebook.

This is not the first time the FTC has asked for a break-up. It filed a request to take Facebook to court for antitrust violations last January, under Trump FTC Chair Joe Simons. The first complaint went through the anti-competitive acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, and then Facebook’s cutting off of competitors like Vine from its platform, alleging these were illegal attempts to maintain its monopoly. It had a bunch of fun quotes, what are known as ‘hot docs,’ when executives illustrated obvious anti-competitive intent over email, like Zuckerberg writing in 2008 that “it is better to buy than compete,” or Sheryl Sandberg emailing Zuckerberg with the phrase “This makes me want instagram more” after receiving a report that Instagram was taking market share.

In June, however, the judge, Obama appointed James Boasberg, tossed the first complaint.

The point of a complaint is to get to trial, which means that the agency has to describe how Facebook broke the law. After filing a motion to dismiss, if the judge says ‘yeah that’s a plausible violation of law,’ there’s a trial. If not, the judge dismisses the complaint. Boasberg said that even if everything alleged by the FTC were true, nothing described was actually illegal. So the commission, he said, had to try again.

The new complaint is 80 pages, and is an attempt to answer the judge’s objections. The underlying legal claims are the same as they were the first time – Facebook engaged in predatory schemes and illegal mergers to maintain its monopoly. In this new complaint, the FTC answers the judge and shows more clearly where lawbreaking occurred.

But the FTC far beyond legal reformulations, and put Lina Khan’s stamp onto the case. The key shift is in tone. Take the press release announcing the complaint. Here’s the headline for the press release for the old complaint in January: FTC Sues Facebook for Illegal Monopolization.

That’s bureaucratic. Staid. It’s a memo-speak, a plain omelette.

Here’s the new press release headline: FTC Alleges Facebook Resorted to Illegal Buy-or-Bury Scheme to Crush Competition After String of Failed Attempts to Innovate.

The new tone is aggressive, confident, almost brash. The FTC enforcement staff is walking tall, snapping necks and cashing checks. The new commission wants to drive a Range Rover, bro.

The Case Turns Partisan

Politically, this complaint reveals the schism among conservatives, and the challenge that creates for Khan. Despite conservative rhetoric about big tech, the Republicans on the commission refused to support the complaint. The vote among the five commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission was 3-2, as both Republican Commissioners, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, voted against bringing it. Republican opposition is not a result of anything Khan did; when Trump’s FTC brought the case, that vote was also 3-2; Phillips and Wilson voted against that earlier complaint, and Trump’s Chair had to rely on the two Democrats to get a majority.

This vote, on something so charged for conservatives, shows how much political capital Phillips and Wilson are willing to use to both protect big tech and to make antitrust partisan. They are joined by key leaders on the Republican side, House Judiciary GOP lead Jim Jordan, Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Republican House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy.

Jordan, McMorris Rodgers, and McCarthy are a phalanx of Republican leaders who are working to protect dominant firms. A few months ago, these three released an agenda ostensibly designed to take on big tech; in reality it was designed to ward off more serious legislation to break up big tech. Their basic view, which they noted in press materials, was that “the laws currently on the books can and should be used to break up Big Tech.” It is a self-evidently silly position to assert that antitrust laws are capable of dealing with big tech when their own allies on the commission refuse to vote for such a case. But Jordan et al are hoping conservatives don’t notice that their own FTC members are actually protecting Facebook. (And so far, they haven’t.)

Conservatives did not let Jordan go entirely unscathed, with right-winger Mike Davis revealing the hollowness of this agenda in a widely circulated policy critique. Nevertheless, the pro-monopoly contingent of the GOP is gaining power; at the last committee hearing where Khan testified, one Republican member after another attacked Khan for making the FTC partisan, when in reality, the Republican Commissioners simply vote against bringing cases against dominant firms The Republicans, torn on big tech, do not even support the antitrust case against Facebook originally brought by Trump’s FTC.

How the FTC Will Take Facebook to Trial

The hurdles to overcome in this complaint were not political, however, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:27 pm

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