Later On

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Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

NY Times invents a Biden scandal — and the public’s reaction

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Jamison Foser writes at Finding Gravity:

When New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker tweeted yesterday that the discovery of classified documents at Joe Biden’s personal office and home, though “markedly different” from Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, would nevertheless inoculate Trump from criticism, it wasn’t hard to spot the flaw in Baker’s reasoning. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen responded to Baker:

Rosen’s critique of the “savvy style,” is spot on — as far as it goes. But here it’s missing an essential element. Baker isn’t just telling us perception matters more than truth — he is actively shaping perception, not merely observing or predicting it.

Look back at Baker’s tweet: “Democrats will now have a hard time using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him, even though the particulars of the two cases are markedly different.” Stop and think about that for a second. Why would this be true? If the two cases are “markedly different,” why would Democrats “have a hard time using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him”? The only way that makes sense is if the public wrongly perceives the two cases to be similar, rather than markedly different. And how does the public learn about the two cases? Well, in large part from journalists like Peter Baker. So if journalists like Peter Baker treat the cases as markedly different (as Peter Baker knows they are), the public will perceive them as markedly different, and Democrats won’t have any trouble using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him. But of course Baker isn’t treating them like they’re markedly different. He’s treating the Biden discovery as a huge problem for Biden, and a reprieve for Trump. And by doing that, he might indeed help cause the public to wrongly perceive the two cases to be similar. Baker is, in effect, both predicting the consequences of Baker’s own bad journalism (though he of course omits his role and treats the consequences as things that will just inevitably happen all on their own) and helping bring them about.

It isn’t just Peter Baker, of course. Baker’s tweet reflects the core thesis that has driven the New York Times’ coverage of the Biden documents from the very beginning. From January 9 to January 24, the Times’ news side has generated 19 articles plus four videos, a podcast, and a slideshow

about the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s home and foundation office. More than an article per day for two weeks — a volume of coverage that itself misleads the public about how important this is. I reviewed each one of those articles this morning, and two things immediately jumped out:

  1. From the very beginning — literally from the first article to the most recent, and nearly every piece in between — the Times has grudgingly acknowledged that the Trump and Biden document situations are very different. Because they are.
  2. From the very beginning — literally from the first article to the most recent, and nearly every piece in between — the Times has asserted that the Biden document discovery, although entirely different from the Trump document scandal, will be politically damaging to Biden and inoculate Trump from criticism.

Rather than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 12:36 pm

The story no one wants to touch: Why the Capitol Police enabled 1/6

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Our news organizations have become complacent and focused on profit, with the desire to rock the boat much diminished. This does the public a disservice, but large corporations are much more attentive to their own profit than to the public interest. Dan Froomkin writes at Press Watch:

The news media’s continuing failure to explore why the U.S. Capitol was so scantily defended against an angry horde of white Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, has now been compounded by the House select committee’s refusal to connect the most obvious dots or ask the most vital questions.

It’s true that there were countless law enforcement failures that day — indeed, far too many to be a coincidence.

But the singular point of failure — the one thing that could have prevented all of it from happening — was that Capitol Police leaders brushed off ample warnings that an armed mob was headed their way.

They lied to everyone about their level of preparedness beforehand. Then they sent a less-than-full contingent of hapless, unarmored officers out to defend a perimeter defined by bike racks, without less-than-lethal weaponry and without a semblance of a plan.

Even the insurrectionists who actively intended to stop the vote could never have expected that breaching the Capitol would be so easy.

Exploring why Capitol Police leaders chose not to prepare for combat, despite mounds of intelligence pointing directly toward such a scenario, should have been a key goal of the Jan. 6 committee.

That Capitol Police leaders — like so many others in law enforcement — were unable to imagine white Trump supporters as a clear and present danger remains one of the most tragically under-addressed elements of that day’s legacy, leaving crucially important lessons entirely unlearned.

The committee was instead focused on one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump. To that end, its report actively made excuses for law enforcement leaders, calling their failures essentially irrelevant. The “best defense,” the report concluded — should another president ever incite an attack on his own government — “will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active citizenry.”

What hooey.

Yes, Trump was the instigator. But going forward, the law enforcement community’s blindness to the threat of white nationalism is a more immediate danger.

Learning the lessons of Jan. 6 requires understanding the role of racism, both conscious or unconscious, in law enforcement. It requires understanding whether individual law enforcement leaders flinched for political reasons. And it requires an adjustment in the law enforcement community’s skewed perception of the danger from white nationalists as compared to people of color.

The committee’s members and investigators, however, didn’t ask witnesses anything remotely along those lines.

Then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund was the single person most responsible for the failure to protect the Capitol. But no one even asked him (or anyone else) to address how and why the lackadaisical preparations for Jan. 6 compared to the overenthusiastic deployments for Black Lives Matter protests that never posed any danger to the Capitol, and that weren’t even on the Capitol grounds.

Nobody asked any law enforcement officials if they viewed the Jan. 6 insurrectionists sympathetically, or if they were under political pressure not to upset Trump, or if they feared for their jobs.

And certainly nobody asked Sund or anyone else to consider whether the white privilege they shared with the Jan. 6 mob had made it seem unthreatening to them.

It’s no secret why none of these issues were brought up. Committee vice chair Liz Cheney is why.

As multiple committee staffers have told the Washington Post, Cheney’s leadership on the committee came with strings attached. She insisted that the focus of the hearings and the committee’s final report be exclusively on Trump, rather than on any other lessons learned — especially those that might not reflect well on law enforcement.

Asked about the committee’s plans in November, a month before the report was released, Cheney made her goals very clear at a University of Chicago event: “There’s one thing we will not do, and that is we will not blame the Capitol Police,” she said. “We will not blame law enforcement for Donald Trump’s mob, armed, that he sent to the Capitol to stop the electoral count.”

And unlike the excellent media coverage of Jan. 6 overall, reporting on the failure to protect the Capitol has been uniquely lacking every step of the way. I’ve literally been begging reporters since one week after the insurrection to explore how it was allowed to happen, to no avail. (This January 13, 2021, analysis by USA Today was a rare exception.)

To the contrary, press reports. particularly by the otherwise accomplished Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, have repeatedly cast Sund as a martyr and truth-teller when he is neither.

The lack of any public exploration as to why these white Trump supporters got as far as they did leaves us with a statement by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., only hours after the Jan. 6 attack, as the most insightful analysis of the day’s events.

“Had it been  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2023 at 11:29 am

The Deadbeat Limit — Understanding The Debt Ceiling

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Jay Kuo has a good explainer at Second Nexus:

There’s a lot of talk in Washington around the so-called “debt ceiling” which is a really unfortunate name. I prefer to call it the “deadbeat ceiling.”

Why? A “debt” ceiling implies that what we’re talking about is like a credit card, as if Congress were voting whether or not to raise our borrowing limit.

As former Missouri Senator Claire McKaskill succinctly put it, however, this “is NOT raising your credit card limit, it is making your car payment.”

Let’s walk through why that is, and then I’ll explain why the correct framing of the issue may answer another important and pressing legal question: Can Joe Biden just ignore Congress and fix the deadbeat limit problem on his own?

Why the “debt limit” is a “deadbeat limit.”

With Republicans in charge of the House, the question is whether the GOP will turn the U.S. government into a deadbeat debtor. Deadbeats, if it even needs to be spelled out, are people who don’t pay the debts they promised to pay.

And that’s what this is really about.

You see, Congress already voted to pay for all the paychecks and programs that are supposedly now on the GOP chopping block. So by threatening to not pay them after the fact, they are trying to get two bites at this apple.

It would be as if you ran a big company and signed a lot of employee and vendor contracts, and then the next year you claimed:

“Well, I know I said I’d pay you, and I have that legal obligation, but I’m just not going to do that.”

“Not unless you agree that I can either not pay you anything or pay you a lot less, now that you really need that money!”

If this sounds familiar, this was the precise M.O. of the Trump Organization, which for years routinely stiffed small businesses, contractors and vendors out of the money they were owed and forced them to settle for pennies on the dollar rather than risk a protracted and expensive court fight.

By threatening to renege on payments it already agreed to, in this case by refusing to give the White House the authority to pay the nation’s debts, the GOP-led House is threatening to turn the U.S. government into a deadbeat debtor, just like the Trump Org.

And that’s why Joe Biden is right to refuse to even negotiate with them.

There’s nothing to negotiate, because the payment agreements were already made last year with the passage of the budget.

As Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said plainly:

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing.”

He continued:. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2023 at 7:48 pm

Conservatives Clarify That They’re Pro-Boss, Not Pro-Market

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Eric Levitz writes in Intelligencer in New York magazine:

Progressives have long held that the right’s economic theories are just elaborate rationalizations for funneling money to the elite. The argument goes like this: In any capitalist society, business owners and senior managers will inevitably have economic interests that run contrary to those of ordinary workers. The less firms have to spend on wages for common laborers, the more they can increase compensation for executives and dividends for investors. Similarly, the less income governments progressively redistribute, the higher the wealthy’s posttax earnings.

Economic elites therefore have a strong incentive to fund political movements that minimize the bargaining power of workers and the fiscal ambitions of governments. And given their outsize share of national income, the rich also have copious financial means to bankroll such political activities.

In a democracy, however, it is untenable for a political movement committed to benefiting the few at the expense of the many to identify as such. Rather, such a movement would need to manufacture theories for why policies that appear to serve the interests of a tiny elite actually serve those of society as a whole.

In practice, a pro-plutocracy movement would need a theoretical justification for why it is generally bad for governments to interfere with “free markets.” After all, ordinary workers can exert more influence over democratic governments than they can over private investors. When state officials make a decision about how to allocate a society’s scarce resources, the masses can reward or punish them in “one person, one vote” elections. When private investors make such decisions, however, they are rewarded or punished by markets in which, effectively, one dollar equals one vote. Thus, one would expect pro-plutocracy movements to sing paeans to the efficiency, creativity, and justice of free markets. They might produce economic models showing that workers are better off without state-mandated minimum wages or theories detailing the logistical impossibility of state economic planning or treatises celebrating the indispensability of competition for innovation.

But these ideas would all just be means to an end. The movement’s ultimate commitment wouldn’t be to maximizing innovation, open competition, or economic liberty but rather to advancing the invidious interests of elite business owners and bosses. Were the movement ever forced to choose between upholding free-market ideals and safeguarding class domination, it would abruptly dispense with the former. The inequality would be the point.

As an account of American conservatism, I think this narrative is a tad unfair (there are some genuine insights in right-wing economic theory and some libertarian intellectuals who genuinely oppose elite rent seeking). But in the wake of the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed ban on noncompete agreements, conservatives have been making a compelling case for the vulgar Marxist point of view.

Last week, the FTC proposed a rule that would ban companies from subjecting workers to noncompete agreements. Typically nestled into the small print of labor contracts, such agreements prohibit workers from leaving their employers to work for a competitor or start a rival business. Initially conceived as a means of preventing a firm’s high-level executives from smuggling trade secrets to a competitor, noncompetes have trickled down into every segment of the labor market. Fast-food workers have found themselves barred from taking jobs with rival chains. Manuel laborers hired to shovel dirt have been sued by their former employers for taking better jobs with competing firms. Guards earning minimum wage have been forbidden from taking another security position within a 100-mile radius of their employer at pain of paying their former bosses $100,000 for the liberty of working for someone else. In all, an estimated one-in-five U.S. workers — 30 million people — are bound by noncompete agreements.

Noncompete clauses are antithetical to many of the conservative movement’s purported values. The right has traditionally celebrated the virtues of open and competitive labor markets. “One important economic dimension of individual liberty is the right to sell one’s labor services without attenuation,” the economist Richard Vedder argued for the Cato Institute in 2010.

Conservatives have specifically argued that, as long as that right is protected, workers don’t need heavy-handed government policies to secure fair wages: If laborers accrue coveted skills and experience, then a competitive market will give them the necessary leverage to earn a wage commensurate with their productivity. Meanwhile, Republicans have long insisted that the rigors of free-market competition are uniquely conducive to innovation, which increases our society’s collective prosperity.

Noncompete agreements violate Vedder’s conception of individual liberty and nullify the right’s preferred mechanisms for raising wages and productivity. A worker bound by a noncompete agreement cannot sell their labor services to the highest bidder. Instead, they must accept whatever terms their employer offers, since that company effectively boasts a monopoly on their skills. This not only reduces the bargaining power of that individual worker, but of other workers throughout the economy: Each worker who stays in an underpaying job because they’re legally barred from taking another opportunity is occupying a job opening that would otherwise be available to someone else.

Research comparing wage rates in states that enforce noncompetes strictly with those that do not indicates that such agreements reduce workers’ incomes by between 3 and 4 percent, or more than $250 billion, every year.

At the same time, noncompetes undermine economic dynamism and entrepreneurship. Many of America’s most celebrated tech companies were founded by individuals who left incumbent firms to start their own businesses in the same sector. Studies have found that noncompetes do in fact suppress start-up formation. As FTC Commissioner Lina Khan articulates the problem in a recent New York Times op-ed, “How can a new business break into the market if all of the qualified workers are locked in? Or if the would-be founder is bound by a noncompete?”

If one assumes that the conservative movement is earnestly committed to safeguarding workers’ economic liberty, promoting competitive labor markets, and encouraging innovation, then you’d expect it to oppose noncompete agreements and, thus, support the FTC’s proposed ban.

On the other hand, if one stipulates that the right’s avowed love of free markets is purely instrumental and that its real economic commitment is to capitalist class domination, then you’d expect it to support noncompetes and oppose the FTC’s rule.

Many conservatives have taken the latter position.

Brian Albrecht, of the International Law and Economics Center, decried the FTC’s decision in a blog post. His reasoning is as follows: . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 2:44 pm

A possible solution to debt-ceiling hostage-taking

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Kevin Drum offers a promising solution to the perennial effort by the GOP to hold the debt-ceiling hostage to force as ransom passing measures the US public strongly opposes. (The GOP usually gets away with this because the mainstream media refers to “Congress” (rather than “Republicans”) as not raising the debt ceiling.)

From the post at the link:

Just ignore the debt ceiling and keep writing checks. That’s it. Get an OLC opinion stating that (a) the spending in question has already been legally appropriated, and (b) the Constitution says the debt of the United States “shall not be questioned.” Then tell Republicans to pound sand. The government will continue operating unless they go to court and get a judge to order the Treasury shut down.

Would they call this bluff? Going to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 2:16 pm

Comparing and contrasting Trump/Biden classified files at home

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Charlie Savage has an excellent explainer in the NY Times (no paywall);

The disclosure that classified documents were found in a private office that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had used before beginning his 2020 campaign has prompted comparisons to former President Donald J. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government records, which is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Based on what is publicly known so far, here is a closer look:

At a basic level, both involve official files bearing classification markings that improperly accompanied Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden after they left office. Under the Presidential Records Act, White House records are supposed to go to the National Archives and Records Administration once an administration departs. Private citizens generally lack authorization to hold classified documents, and regulations require such files to be stored securely.

The Justice Department is scrutinizing both situations. In Mr. Trump’s case, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the investigation. In Mr. Biden’s case, Mr. Garland has assigned a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, John R. Lausch Jr., to conduct an initial investigation to help him determine whether to appoint a special counsel.

There are key gaps in the public record about both, but the available information suggests there were significant differences in how the documents came to light, their volume and — most important — how Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden responded. Mr. Trump and his aides resisted the government’s repeated efforts to retrieve them all, while Mr. Biden’s lawyers reported the problem and the White House says it has fully cooperated. These apparent differences have consequential legal implications.

In Mr. Trump’s case, several hundred government files marked as classified — along with thousands of unclassified documents and photos — ended up at his Florida club and residence, Mar-a-Lago, after he left office. Some were in cartons in a locked storage closet, and the F.B.I. discovered others in Mr. Trump’s office, including in his desk, according to court filings.

In Mr. Biden’s case, the White House said in a statement on Monday that “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered in a locked closet at an office at a Washington think tank, the Penn Biden Center. It added that Mr. Biden had periodically used the space after leaving the vice presidency in 2017 until he began his bid for the 2020 presidency.

As president, Mr. Trump is said to have periodically taken records from the Oval Office to the residential areas of the White House. During the chaos of his last days in office after he sought to cling to power, those files were apparently packed up with personal items like clothing and mementos and shipped to Mar-a-Lago.

It is not yet known how records from the Obama administration wound up at the Penn Biden Center. On Tuesday, Mr. Biden said that he took classified information seriously and that he was “surprised to learn that there were any government records there that were taken to that office.”

Very differently. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 7:28 am

There Was Something Positive in the Speaker-Vote Debacle

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James Fallows has an excellent take on the recent lengthy process of electing the Speaker of the House:

There is a category of jobs for which the greatest day is the day your appointment is announced. It all gets worse from there.

Being an NFL coach in Washington D.C. is one of those. Ambassadorships generally are another. Many (though not all) university deanships and presidencies. Marrying into a royal family, apparently. Others you can think of.

And then we have Kevin McCarthy’s new job, of which his very greatest moment occurred in the wee hours of Friday night, when enough of his opponents finally agreed to vote “present” to let him squeak in. But even considering the 15-ballot ritual humiliation he had just been through, the bad part for McCarthy has only now begun.

He can be speaker. What he can do in that job… we will see.

That’s for next week, and next year. For now I’ll mention what happened after the final vote, when two leaders said—and didn’t say—things that were interesting.

Hakeem Jeffries uses the moment.

In the case of Hakeem Jeffries, who had mainly sat silent as Rep. Pete Aguilar and other colleagues nominated him ballot after ballot, the attention-getter was his presentation once all the voting was done.

The speech was 15 minutes long; you can see it on C-Span here. Most press attention has been on its final 90 seconds, which I will get to. The whole thing worked, in my view, as an upbeat, happy-warrior-toned declaration of a party’s values, from a man who knew that every single Representative from his party had backed him on every one of the endless votes.  1

Jeffries, who is the first Black leader of a party in the House, following the first woman Speaker, naturally cast his own story as an example of The American Story. 2

It’s worth realizing that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2023 at 10:45 am

Covid death rates are higher among Republicans than Democrats, mounting evidence shows

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The New Hampshire motto “Live free or die” has new resonance. Aria Bendix reports for NBC News:

Covid deaths are unevenly distributed among Republicans and Democrats.

Average excess death rates in Florida and Ohio were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats from March 2020 to December 2021, according to a working paper released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Excess deaths refers to deaths above what would be anticipated based on historical trends.

study in June published in Health Affairs similarly found that counties with a Republican majority had a greater share of Covid deaths through October 2021, relative to majority-Democratic counties.

But experts are still puzzling over why these differences exist. Are lower vaccination rates among Republicans responsible? Or did mask use and social distancing guidelines prevent more deaths in counties run by Democrats?

The Yale researchers behind the new working paper say vaccine hesitancy among Republicans may be the biggest culprit.

“In counties where a large share of the population is getting vaccinated, we see a much smaller gap between Republicans and Democrats,” said Jacob Wallace, an author of that study and an assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health.

Indeed, his paper found that the partisan gap in the deaths widened from April to December 2021, after all adults became eligible for Covid vaccines. Excess death rates in Florida and Ohio were 153% higher among Republicans than Democrats during that time, the paper showed.

“We really don’t see a big divide until after vaccines became widely available in our two states,” Wallace said.

But the June study suggested that Covid vaccine uptake explained just 10% of the partisan gap in the deaths. Those researchers suggested that compliance with other public health measures such as mask use and social distancing was a significant factor.

“Vaccination does play a role in the difference that we’ve observed in excess mortality between red and blue places, but it is not the whole story,” said Neil Jay Sehgal, an author of that study and an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

“When you have less transmission, you have fewer cases and you have less mortality. And you have less transmission in general by instituting protective policies like mask requirements when we had them, or capacity limits in businesses,” he added.

Role of vaccine hesitancy

Both papers come with limitations. The study from Sehgal’s team looked at counties, not individuals, which makes it difficult to determine whether other demographic factors — such as education level, proximity to health care services or the share of older residents — played a role in the trend.

The new Yale paper, by contrast, linked political affiliation to excess Covid deaths at the individual level, but it still used county-level vaccination rates. The research was also limited to two states.

“It may very well be that in Ohio and Florida, because of the nature of Ohioans and Floridians, vaccine uptake may have played a greater role than the country at large,” Sehgal said.

Wallace, however, said it’s common knowledge that attitudes toward vaccines “are not Ohio- and Florida-specific issues.”

Joe Gerald, an associate professor of public health policy and management at the University of Arizona, who was not involved in either study, agreed that Ohio and Florida are good places to study this issue, because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2023 at 2:07 pm

For Patrick Leahy, The Vietnam War Is Finally Ending

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George Black writes in the New Republic:

It was a late afternoon in mid-November, with the nip of early winter in the air, when I visited the Russell Senate Office Building to meet with Vermont Senator Pat Leahy in his spacious yet surprisingly intimate office, with a sofa and chairs arranged near the fireplace. An aide squatted down beside us to add another log to the fire. Leahy’s wife of 60 years, Marcelle, joined us, carrying a large bouquet of flowers. The couple still convey a strong sense of the people they were in the early years of their marriage—he a small-town lawyer, she a nurse at a local hospital. Leahy showed off photos of their three children and five grandchildren. “I’m not someone who wants to hang the walls with photos of 50 great and famous people I’ve known,” he said. “I’d much rather be surrounded by pictures of family.”

Leahy, who entered the Senate in 1975 and leaves it after 48 years in January 2023, is the body’s longest-serving sitting member. To most Americans, he is probably best known for his decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee and his opposition to the drive by conservative activists to transform the federal courts into an instrument of their ideological agenda. But I’d come to talk to him about something different, something that rarely if ever makes the cable news circuit: the war in Vietnam, the wounds it had left, and the part he had played in healing them. He’s never seen this as a partisan issue, just a matter of simple human decency, being one of those, like Joe Biden, who mourn a lost era of comity in the Senate, in which political adversaries could still reach with respect across the gulf of their disagreements. His work in Vietnam has always been underpinned by that vision, and I wanted to ask him whether, in our current divided state, he could imagine it continuing after his retirement from the Senate at the age of 82.

Vision alone doesn’t get you far in Washington. It has to be turned into legislation, and legislation into dollars and cents. In addition to his role on the Judiciary Committee, Leahy also chairs the Appropriations Committee, which is where the purse strings are untied, and, as he wrote in his recently published memoir, The Road Taken, “few people really ever sifted through the line items to understand what we were doing was actually making American foreign policy.” It’s also why you can’t talk about his work in Vietnam without also talking about his senior aide, Tim Rieser, who has been with him since 1985, and who will retire from his current role in January. Despite his bland-sounding job title—Democratic clerk for the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations—Rieser has been the master of its arcane mechanics. “A dog with a bone,” Leahy calls him. Given a problem to solve, “He would not stop until every last drop of marrow and morsel of sinew had been licked clean.”

Since 1989, as the United States and Vietnam were taking their first baby steps toward reconciliation, Leahy and Rieser have channeled hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Vietnam, forcing the United States to take responsibility for what former Senate leader Mike Mansfield once called the “great outflow of devastation” from the war: the bodies broken by unexploded bombs; the lives blighted by exposure to Agent Orange; the ongoing threat from “hot spots” contaminated by dioxin, its toxic by-product; and now, at last, some long-overdue aid to help Vietnam recover and identify the remains of its war dead. In the process, they have built the scaffolding of a new relationship, in which bitter enemies, in one of the stranger twists of geopolitics, have been transformed into close working partners and military allies.

Leahy and Rieser have faced no small number of obstacles along the way. For many years, embittered American veterans and recalcitrant anti-Communists in Congress opposed any hint of reconciliation with Vietnam. Progress was often slowed by suspicions on the Vietnamese side and by cumbersome bureaucracies in both governments, and State Department and Pentagon lawyers remain wary to this day of any humanitarian effort that implies an admission of liability. But as Rieser often says, when you run into an obstacle, you redefine it as a problem to be solved, and that process starts with all parties identifying their common interest in finding a solution. There are always common interests; you just have to look for them.

On January 27, Vietnam will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, which led, two months later, to the withdrawal of the last American combat troops. Yet the fighting was not over. The Saigon army fought on, entirely dependent on new infusions of military aid from the United States, and this in turn depended on the approval of the Senate.

Of all the “Watergate babies” elected in the 1974 midterms, Leahy, a 34-year-old state’s attorney for Chittenden County, Vermont, was one of the unlikeliest. Vermont, odd as it may seem given the state’s leftish politics today, had never elected a Democrat to the Senate, and its political establishment and leading newspapers were unswerving supporters of the war. Yet Leahy eked out an improbable victory. (Trailing in third place was an equally young civil rights activist, Bernie Sanders, running under the banner of the Liberty Union Party.)

Leahy had always opposed the war. In May 1970, he . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2022 at 2:51 pm

All People Are Created Educable, a Vital Oft-Forgotten Tenet of Modern Democracy

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Jack Cade's rebel mob with two pikes holding up two severed heads.
1867 Illustration of Jack Cade and his rebels with the severed heads of Lord Say and his son-in-law, hard-working administrators, killed because Lord Say built a paper mill, supported books, and spoke Latin. Shakespeare is very overt in his depiction of the imagined savagery of a self-governing mob.

Ada Palmer, an historian, novelist, composer, and professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago, writes in Ex Urbe:

Many shocking, new ideas shaped the American Experiment and related 18th century democratic ventures; as an historian of the period, I often notice that one of the most fundamental of them, and most shocking to a world which had so long assumed the opposite, often goes unmentioned — indeed sometimes denied — in today’s discussions of democracy: the belief that all people are educable.  I think it’s urgent that we bring that principle back into the spotlight if we want to defend democracy from one of its common failure modes: pseudo-populist oligarchy.

Within “all men are created equal” lies the sub-principle that all people, or specifically all enfranchised citizens of a state (which often at the time meant white male adults, though some made it broader, or narrower) that all such people are, if given appropriate educational resources, capable of learning, exercising sound judgment, and acting on said judgment, thus that they all people are equally rational and capable of competent self-governance.  This thesis does not assume that all people when adults are equally prepared to participate in government, but that all people when born have the capacity to absorb education if given access to it.  Rare intellectual disabilities might make the education process challenging for certain individuals, but (the thesis argues) even then the right support and resources make education possible, and such situations are not the default human state.  This is the thesis that all people are fundamentally educable. 

Many in the 18th c. who thought democracy was absurd rejected it because they disagreed with this thesis, believing that the majority of people (even of white men) were not educable, i.e. that even with educational resources most people were born incapable of being guided by Reason and making sound political judgments. Those who believed this predicted that government by the people would collapse into absurdity, since it would be led by a parliament of fools. We get a taste of what such critics of democracy thought would happen to America in the satirical scenes in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 in which Jack Cade’s populist rebels happily kill each other and laugh about it, and believe they can end hunger by having everyone eat on the king’s tab at restaurants and making the gutters run with wine (and which is the source of the much-misunderstood “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” step 1 in which executing everyone who can read is their step 2) — this is what many 18th c. anti-democrats believed would happen if governing was truly done by the people.

Often modern people have trouble wrapping our heads around how sure pre-modern Europeans were that human minds and their capacities (A) varied fundamentally, (B) were locked in at birth and immutable, and (C) were only very rarely rational or educable.  This doesn’t mean elite education, it means any education, grasping the basics beyond I’m hungry and I want to eat that fish.  Plato and Aristotle (and many transformations thereof over 2,000 years), described a human soul/mind led by three forces: the appetites, the passions, and the intellect i.e. reason.  The appetites were simplest and most bodily: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired and want to rest, I’m bored and want entertainment, I’m horny and want sex, my arms hurt I don’t want to carry this anymore.  The passions we might call mental but worldly: pride, ambition, loyalty, patriotism I want to be famous, I want to be respected, I want to be well-talked-of in the city, I want to protect my way of life, I want to have power, I want to advance the glory of the state, I want to battle evil, etc.  Reason, or the intellect, was the calculating, understanding, and contemplative power, which did math, understood the universe, aspired to the spiritual and eternal (whether Justice or the Pythagorean theorem) and exercised ethical judgment, weighing goods and bads deciding the best course (Eating this whole jar of pickles would be yummy but then I’ll get a stomachache; electing this demagogue would make me rich but then he would tyrannize the state.)  Both Aristotle and Plato say that different souls are dominated by different organs of the soul (i.e. either the appetites, passions, or intellect) and that only a tiny minority of human souls are dominated by the intellect, a larger minority by the passions, and practically all by the base appetites.  Plato’s Republic uses an exam/aptitude system to identify these rare souls of gold (as opposed to silver = passions, bronze/iron = appetites) and make them rulers of the city, and proposes a eugenicist breeding program to produce more.

The principle that souls of gold (i.e. souls fully capable of being educated & of wise rule) are a tiny minority, and that most humans are immutably not educable from birth, was very thoroughly absorbed into European belief, and dominated it for 2,000 years.  In Dante, we see the entire structure of Hell revolve around the appetites/passions/intellect distinction.  Medieval epistemology, psychology, and even ideas about medicine and plants incorporated this principle, and spun elaborate explanations for how and why different souls perceived the heavenly world (Good, Justice, Providence) better than others.  Eugen Weber’s powerful history, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, shows how people in the period wrote about their own French peasants in incredibly insulting, infantilizing, quasi-bestial terms, strikingly similar to the racist language we’re used to the Age of Empires using to demean non-Europeans. Anyone who hasn’t looked at period sources will struggle to believe how ferociously confident the European majority was in the thesis that the majority of people even in their own country could never understand a book, a moral quandary, or a political proposition.  Keeping the rare wise elites in charge was the only barrier between order and savagery.  The fact that so many people were willing to believe in the totally mythical tragedy of the commons (yes, it’s totally invented, real peasants took great care of their commons) is one relic of how certain people were for a long time (and some still are) that most people are not capable of making the kinds of prudent, sustainable judgments necessary for custodianship of a polity.

It took a lot to get even a small radical fringe by 1750 to entertain the notion that all people–or even just all men–were created equally educable.  A long survey of the causes would get unwieldy, but they include (among other things) contact with  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the essay:

Now, at one point I helped my Ph.D. adviser James Hankins with his research on the history of conservatism.  We (mostly he) looked at many examples over many times, places, and regimes, and observed after innumerable case studies that a consistent defining characteristic of conservative thought over time is the belief that some people are better at ruling than others, thus that the best way to run a government and society is to put those superior people in power.  Whether it’s a hereditary aristocracy, an exam-based meritocracy, an earn-the-franchise-through-military-service timocracy, or a divine right monarchy, many systems posit that some are more capable of rule than others, and that the best system will put them in power.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 5:01 pm

AOC Calls Out Lauren Boebert For Her ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ Tweet After Colorado LGBTQ+ Club Shooting

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Alan Herrera reports in Comic Sands:

New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert for “elevating anti-LGBTQ hate rhetoric” after Boebert published a tweet in which she offered “prayers” to the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs.

Boebert had earlier called the shooting—which resulted in five deaths and at least 25 injuries—”absolutely awful” and offered “prayers” to the victims and their families, adding:

“This lawless violence needs to end quickly.”

Ocasio-Cortez responded shortly afterward and noted that Boebert’s tweet rings rather hollow considering she has “played a major role in elevating anti-LGBTQ+ hate rhetoric and anti-trans lies.”

Ocasio-Cortez added that Boebert has used her time in Congress to block “even the most common sense gun safety laws,” concluding:

“You don’t get to ‘thoughts and prayers’ your way out of this. Look inward and change.”

Indeed, Boebert is one of the most high-profile anti-LGBTQ+ members of Congress, sharing bigoted opinions about members of the Biden administration and even complaining about the existence of drag bars.

Boebert has previously made headlines for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2022 at 5:18 pm

DHS blocked vital research on domestic threats, say terrorism experts

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When the government breaks down because officials do not want to know. Hannah Allam reports in the Washington Post (no paywall):

As bloody, hate-fueled attacks rose in 2019, Homeland Security officials pledged to step up their response to domestic terrorism, funding in-depth research that would help them understand the scale of the problem.

“Accurate nationwide statistics will better position DHS to protect communities from these threats,” the department said in a strategy report.

More than two years later, that data collection has not begun, and $10 million languishes unused because of internal disputes over privacy protocols, according to researchers and an official of the Department of Homeland Security.

Academics who received DHS contracts say their projects to study violent attacks and extremist movements have been delayed, some effectively scrapped, because of an endless loop of privacy concerns that typically would not apply to work based on open-source records — unclassified materials such as news reports. In interviews, researchers described the roadblocks they have faced as “crazytown,” “mind-boggling” and “beyond logic.”

Their accounts were confirmed by a DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe a sensitive internal debate. The official said around 20 research projects funded by Homeland Security faced varying degrees of delays because of rulings by the DHS’s Privacy Office that deemed them high-risk even after researchers repeatedly explained that the information they intended to use was widely available to the public. At least $2 million of funding has been returned unused; $10 million more is essentially frozen unless privacy officers approve the research.

After so many months of paralysis, the official said, DHS relations with top terrorism scholars have soured, and DHS leaders are left with a gap in data — just as national attention is again focused on political violence, which is at the root of the ongoing trials in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the recent assault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, and far-right threats around the midterm elections.

Those issues are likely to come up this week as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas makes public appearances to address the government’s response to violent extremism, a national security priority for the Biden administration. In June 2021, the need for more research was spelled out in the country’s first national strategy for countering domestic terrorism, which noted that understanding the threat “requires facilitating a systematic provision of information and data.”

So far, that information-gathering work has not been carried out.

“Right now, if the secretary of Homeland Security turns to us and says, ‘Last year, how many serious attacks based on ideology or grievance happened?’ we can’t answer those fundamental questions,” the DHS official said. “We don’t know.”

Homeland Security declined to address specific examples of delayed contracts or to explain the privacy concerns. In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said that addressing domestic violent extremism is a top priority and cited interagency intelligence-sharing, prevention-focused grant programs, and a dedicated domestic terrorism branch within the Intelligence and Analysis office.

“DHS engages in a community-based approach to prevent terrorism and targeted violence, and does so in ways that protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, and that adhere to all applicable laws,” the statement said.

Within DHS, the official speaking anonymously said, one view is that privacy officers are trying to shield Mayorkas from potentially controversial research at a time when federal agencies are criticized by both major political parties for their response to political violence. Republicans in Congress have portrayed the effort to investigate domestic terrorism as a thought-police exercise that infringes on First Amendment rights. Some Democrats, too, have expressed wariness of federal overreach, citing the civil liberties violations of the war-on-terror years.

DHS is already under scrutiny because of the rollback of plans to fight disinformation and for reports that authorities sought dossiers on protesters in Portland, Ore. — indications of how easily counterterrorism work can be politicized.

The academic researchers on contract with DHS said they . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

There’s much more, but I should append a frustration warning.

Update: See also this article on the ongoing failure that DHS represents.

Written by Leisureguy

16 November 2022 at 8:51 pm

Interesting House race

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The choice here seems easy to me.

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2022 at 10:04 am

Some progress in government programs

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1.3 billion program to give debt relief to struggling farmers with qualifying USDA farm loans. Already, more than 13,000 farm borrowers have received about $800 million in assistance with the goal of creating long-term stability to keep them in the profession while also transforming USDA loan servicing. The program, which has access to $3.1 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, will ultimately help about 36,000 borrowers. The average amount of relief for direct loan borrowers was $52,000, while for those with guaranteed loans the average was about $172,000.

“Through no fault of their own, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The funding included in today’s announcement helps keep our farmers farming and provides a fresh start for producers in challenging positions.”

Republicans who have complained about debt relief for college loan borrowers did not respond to questions from David Pitt of the Associated Press about whether they support help for farm loan borrowers.

The Department of Justice announced today that the Antitrust Division is enforcing our antitrust laws, and that seven directors of corporate boards recently resigned when the DOJ expressed concern that they were violating the prohibition on directors and officers serving simultaneously on the boards of competitors. Congress outlawed this practice under Section 8 of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter explained, because it “further concentrates power and creates the opportunity to exchange competitively sensitive information and facilitate coordination—all to the detriment of the economy and the American public.”

“Companies, officers, and board members should expect that enforcement of Section 8 will continue to be a priority for the Antitrust Division,” the DOJ said in a statement, and it urged anyone with information about other interlocking directorates “or any other potential violations of the antitrust laws” to contact the DOJ.

Help for farmers and enforcement of antitrust legislation—including permitting those in danger of running afoul of the law to resign before launching legal action—feels much like the reforms of the Progressive Era, when leaders like Theodore Roosevelt tried to claw back a government that worked for industrialists.

That use of the government to restore a level playing field stands in contrast to the news coming from the Republicans. Big news came today from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter for the Central District of California, who has been overseeing the fight between Trump lawyer John Eastman and the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Eastman was the author of the memo outlining a plan for stealing the 2020 election. The January 6th committee subpoenaed Eastman’s emails, but Eastman tried to shield a number of them, arguing that they fell under attorney-client privilege.

After reviewing the emails, Carter ruled some of them must be made public because of the “crime-fraud exception,” meaning that they are not privileged because they appear to reveal a crime. Four documents show how the Trump team’s primary goal in filing lawsuits was not to obtain relief, but rather “to delay or otherwise disrupt the January 6 vote.” Those documents, then, further the crime of obstruction.

Crucially, one of the documents concerns . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 12:21 pm

How Ticketmaster Destroyed Live Music

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Clinton and Obama gave away the store to monopolies, and we are suffering the consequences of their lack of action. Biden seems so far much more aggressive, but there is much ground that must be regained — and of course, Republicans will defend monopolies strongly and attempt to block and undercut effective government action against monopolies. Thus neither the George W. Bush administration nor the Trump administration took any action against monopolies

A lot rides on this coming election. It’s good that the US can choose the direction it will go.

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This coming election will be interesting, especially since some Republicans running for major office (e.g., the governorship of Nevada) have indicated that they will not accept the outcome of the election if they lose. That is, they either win the election outright or want to override the results. Since equity is important, I would imagine they would recommend the same for their opponent: do not accept a loss. That will make the post-election period intense and violence-prone, but I think that is what Republicans want (see their support for the January 6 attempt to overturn the election and reverse the electoral count).

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

In their year and a half in power, Democrats have put in place policies that are widely popular—indeed, the infrastructure projects provided for under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act are so popular that Republicans who voted against the law are nonetheless taking credit for them. Voters have long called for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies (83% in favor), now made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act, which also caps certain drug expenses, including the cost of insulin. Between 80 and 90% of Americans want basic gun control laws—the Democrats just passed the first one in decades—and a majority want funding for action against climate change (65%) and relief for educational debt (55%).

Support for supplying Ukraine against Russia stands at 73%, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken in early October. Support for Ukraine was a bipartisan commitment that changed only after Trump had the 2016 Republican platform, which had expressed support for Ukraine, watered down.

What has not been popular in the past year and a half, in fact, what has been quite unpopular, is the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. About 62% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 8% believe it should be illegal in all cases, and 28% believe it should be illegal in most cases.

Since June, when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision, the news has reported multiple cases of raped children unable to obtain abortions in their home states, girls and women unable to obtain medications to treat long-term illnesses because those drugs can also induce abortion, women diagnosed with cancer who cannot get treatment, women whose fetuses have conditions incompatible with life and who cannot terminate the pregnancy, and women whose health is at risk as they are unable to obtain the healthcare they need as they are miscarrying—all of this just as abortion rights advocates warned would happen if the court overturned Roe v. Wade. Since the Dobbs decision, Democrats have outperformed expectations in four special House elections and one state referendum.

The popularity of the Democrats’ agenda and the unpopularity of their own appear to have pushed the Republicans to go for broke, courting their base by demanding the utter destruction of Democrats’ policies and the reinstatement of their own.

Since the 1980s, Republican leaders have embraced the idea that cutting taxes and concentrating wealth at the top of the economy will spark economic growth, although “supply side” economics has never produced as promised. They insist the programs Biden and the Democrats back are “socialism,” and their base agrees. Their base also hates abortion rights.

To sidestep the gulf between their base and the majority of voters, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declined to announce any sort of an agenda before the midterm elections, telling donors that party leaders would just attack the Democrats.

There have been signs, though, of what the Republicans will do if they regain control of one or both of the houses of Congress, and top of the list was cutting the programs at the heart of our social welfare system: Social Security and Medicare. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) called for sunsetting all laws every five years and repassing them; Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) called for making Social Security and Medicare part of the discretionary budget, meaning their funding would have to be reapproved every year.

Republicans have also said they would pass a law to make the 2017 Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations permanent, a move economists say would increase inflation. “The trick is to put the president in a position of either getting defeated in 2024 or signing your stuff into law,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich told Jeff Stein of the Washington Post. “Republicans will make it a priority to continue the Trump tax cuts, because it puts the Democrats in a position of being for tax increases and against economic growth.”

Recently, though, Republicans have been much clearer, warning that they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling in order to force Biden to agree to their demands to “reform” Social Security and Medicare by raising the age of eligibility and means testing. (Democrats have said they would stabilize the programs with higher taxes on the wealthy.)

This is a huge deal. While Trump has urged MAGA Republicans in the past to use the threat of the debt ceiling to get concessions, responsible Republicans have refused to play chicken with the global financial markets and with our own financial future, for defaulting even for a matter of hours will wash away our financial might. Raising the debt ceiling is not a future blank check, it enables the U.S. to meet bills it has already incurred, and refusing to do so will throw the U.S. into a catastrophic default. Congress has raised the debt ceiling repeatedly in the past forty years, but Republicans have apparently come around to Trump’s position that playing to their base is worth taking the U.S. hostage.

Republicans are also signaling a change in U.S. support for Ukraine . . .

Continue reading. And this whole column is worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2022 at 3:27 am

Non-prescription hearing aids

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Christopher Rowland and Amanda Morris have a thorough and informative report (no paywall) in the Washington Post on the new world of over-the-counter hearing aids — not sound amplifiers or “personal sound amplification products,” but true hearing aids.

Given that uncorrected hearing loss leads to cognitive decline, and that the price of hearing aids has been around $5000 for a pair, this new generation of over-the-counter hearing aids, running around $800 to start with (and competition is likely to bring that price down over time) will reach a great many new users.

Their article begins:

The government on Monday will begin allowing pharmacies and big-box stores to sell hearing aids without prescriptions, a move that is expected to shake up an industry that has long been dominated by a handful of manufacturers under a model of care that critics said raised costs and stifled innovation.

Backers of the change say the move to over-the-counter hearing aid sales will usher in a revolution of lower prices and new technologies, and expand access for millions of people with untreated hearing loss.

But while the shift holds the promise of improving the lives of millions of people who have untreated mild to moderate hearing loss, it also is a sweeping test of consumer-driven health care.

For first-time users, hearing aids require fine-tuning and a degree of patience as the brain becomes accustomed to processing sounds that have been muffled for years, say audiology experts. It’s not like popping on a new pair of glasses and instantly seeing clearly. It sometimes takes days or weeks to become accustomed to them, which might be easy for tech-savvy people but more challenging for the target audience of elderly people.

Manufacturers say they are ready to smooth the process for new customers. Today’s hearing aids come with smartphone apps that allow consumers to calibrate the devices themselves. The manufacturers are setting up call centers and help desks to assist customers with fit and tuning.

[How to pick the right hearing aid for you] (no paywall) 

Moreover, with millions of new customers on the horizon representing billions of dollars in sales, they are gearing up for competition over price, sound quality, design and multiple functions like call-streaming and music.

“It’s going to be the wild, wild west for a few years, but I mean that in a good way,” said Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There is so much market opportunity here. It’s never been done this way.”

The substantial learning curve will be a worthwhile trade off for consumers, giving them more options without having to see a doctor, said advocates. The Food and Drug Administration has limited retail, no-prescription sales to devices designed for people 18 and older with mild to moderate hearing loss.

“The benefit that is likely to happen is going to  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 7:38 pm

A BIG look back over the past year and how US climate for monopoly has changed

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Matt Stoller has an exceptionally informative post on the changes the past year has brought in the organizations and agencies that regulate monopolistic power in the US. He writes:

Today I’m writing about this newsletter, since it’s been a year since I started accepting subscriptions. I am going to talk about how I write it, and what we’ve accomplished together. Plus:

  • The weird monopoly of premium car audio systems.
  • The National Security Agency and the Antitrust Division get into a bit of a scuffle over surveillance, monopoly power, and Booz Allen.

And now…

Three years ago, I started writing BIG. While that’s not a long time, 2022 feels like a different world than 2019. When I first picked up the Substack pen, there was no such thing as Covid, Biden was just a candidate in the Democratic primary, and there hadn’t been a single government antitrust suit filed against a Big Tech firm. In fact, the Antitrust Division hadn’t filed a monopolization suit in 20 years. All of that has changed, to say the least.

My goal was to write about political economy, not the standard political sniping madness all over TV. That focus has paid off. The innumerable political scandals washed away, mostly irrelevant. But the big changes in our economy have not. When Covid was just a disease in far-off China, you and I saw it early, because we paid attention to China as an industrial center. When supply chains started breaking down, you and I saw it before almost everyone else, because market power thins out production. When crypto collapsed, we knew why. And when antitrust came to occupy the center of discourse, we were ready.

A year ago, I decided to ask you to pay for this newsletter, to invest in it. It was a nerve-wracking choice, because I had no idea whether what I did mattered or meant much. Your response was remarkable, and continues to be remarkable.

One result of the broad anti-monopoly movement of which BIG is a part is that in 2022, dominant firms across the economy are hiring antitrust counsel furiously, the antitrust agencies and big business are in a near-war, and populists are running key parts of competition policy. This conflict over the core of our economy isn’t a story you’d necessary see on CNN, but it is a key way this period in history will be remembered decades from now.

So today, on the one year anniversary of going paid, I wanted to take some time to explain why I write it, what this community means, and how we are actually changing the very guts of politics. First of all, if you’re a subscriber, either free or paid, thank you. Every time you forward this newsletter, bring up antitrust in conversation, or leave a comment or like, you act as an important ambassador for the anti-monopoly movement. And if you are one of the people willing to sign up for a paid subscription or who just-reupped after a year, I appreciate it and will explain why it matters. A lot of people can’t afford to become paid subscribers, but if you can, and you think this community is worth investing in, you can subscribe here.

With that in mind, here are some stats about BIG. Since last October, 3059 people signed up for paid subscriptions, which is a lot. More surprisingly, the number of people who receive the free version of BIG has gone from 47,791 to 69,359, and the growth rate has actually accelerated. (That’s a far cry from the collapse of many mainstream media outlets since Trump left office.)

I try to only send out one BIG issue a week, because each one is long and we all get too much email. As a result, every issue gets between 50-150k viewers. And the audience is broad and important. There are BIG readers in the antitrust agencies, across the Federal government and among state officials, among enforcers all over the world, politicians in the House and Senate, and within the antitrust bar itself. I get thousands of emails from everyday people, business people, elected leaders, students, workers, consumers, etc. Most are lovely, a variant of ‘I didn’t realize that monopoly was so fundamental.’ But more on that in a bit.

With the revenue you’ve provided, I’ve hired a copy-editor and guest-writers, rented a Discord server, and I do open threads on the weekends. I’ve started doing twice a month video segments on Breaking Points, and I have a section on Weird Monopolies. The goal is to build out arguments around monopoly, tech, learn, and persuade. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. I’m on the left, but I write a lot about the conservative movement and their changing views on monopoly. Sometimes it’s powerful. We’ve watch-dogged antitrust cases, regulatory actions like an attempt to ban non-compete agreements for workers, and submitted thousands of comments to the Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission to rewrite merger guidelines.

I think an anecdote will illustrate the impact we’ve had. A contact at one of the agencies recently told me that a lot of antitrust lawyers are fairly upset these days, because despite the rapid increase in fees that they get for their services, the culture of antitrust practice has changed in a way that makes many of them sad. The old model of merger enforcement involved a sort of clubby atmosphere, where lawyers repping merging firms would meet with government enforcers, and the lawyers on all sides would act like they were greeting old friends, and they were all trying to work out a deal, a divestment here, a consent decree there. Today, the feeling is much more distant; the meetings about a deal exist to see if the government will sue. It’s cold, unfriendly, business-like.

The antitrust defense lawyers have a sense of hurt feelings, a kind of ‘What did we do wrong? Why are you so angry with us?’ The answer is of course, nothing. It’s just that antitrust is a form of law enforcement, and the old culture in the antitrust agencies, one of deal-making to facilitate consolidation, is gone. And this newsletter is part of the reason, because everyone in the antitrust world knows that we are watching. I still find the reach of this newsletter hard to believe, but there we go.

On a personal level, having you invest in this work has calmed me down. It can be terrifying as a writer to send out work to lots of people. What if it is obviously wrong in some way? What if it is naively written? What if it is hurtful? What if it is embarrassing? Before I went paid, every time I would hit send, I felt a twinge of fear. That is how antitrust lawyers often used to win before the first shot is fired, by intimating their audience into remaining silent for fear of getting something wrong in a complex area of law. But once you started subscribing, it helped me understand that this is a community effort, that this work isn’t just mine, but yours as well.

And that’s because most of us have a shared experience in coming to understand market power, even if we don’t know it. I analogize this process to understanding plate tectonics. Before 1967, we didn’t really know the cause of earthquakes and volcanoes. But that year, scientists Dan McKenzie and Robert Parker published a paper describing the theory of plate tectonics, the idea that Earth’s crust is composed of big flexible plates that smash into one another, fostering lots of phenomena, including earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain ranges and continents.

As plate tectonics does to geology, monopoly power explains the underlying features of our politics in such a fundamental way that it is inconceivable to understand how things work without it. Earthquakes and continents do not make sense without a basic explanation of movements in earth’s crust, just as culture wars and social questions do not make sense without understanding that they flow through corporations and business law.

Once you see the basic architecture of politics, you can’t unsee it. Once you understand the market power of Disney, Google, or CVS, and how their strategies and choices are based on a set of ideas interpreted by legislators and judges, arguments about culture or health care or technology seem foolish without a grounding in market power.

And believe it or not, this process is something that happens to everyone. It happened to antitrust lawyers who saw the collapse of their body of law over the last three decades, it happened to people in the cheer world when they realized that Varsity Brands is organized to acquire power over them, and it happens to policymakers as they come to understand their role in protecting our markets and our liberties. It’s why a lot of the antitrust bar lawyers are still upset, they haven’t gone through the experience of seeing what we see, of recognizing that the dysfunction of our politics and society is a result of consolidated market power.

And it still happens, every day. And that’s why this newsletter matters. That’s why your interest matters. The emails and discussions are essential. But being an interactive audience is the most fundamental part of what it means to govern ourselves. When people in power know that there is an audience for what they are doing, they operate differently. The people that want to get more aggressive, get more aggressive; the people that want to stop them, get less aggressive. Just the fact that there is an audience, matters.

There are more granular ways we’re having an impact, of course. Over the next year, one of the big conflicts in antitrust is going to be over  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 6:14 pm

Saudi Arabia sentences 82-year-old U.S. citizen to 16 years in prison for tweets made in the U.S.

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Saudi Arabia is a poor excuse for an ally. Josh Rogin writes in the Washington Post (no paywall):

The Saudi government has sentenced a 72-year-old U.S. citizen to 16 years in prison for tweets he posted while inside the United States, some of which were critical of the Saudi regime. His son, speaking publicly for the first time, alleges that the Saudi government has tortured his father in prison and says that the State Department mishandled the case.

Many dictatorships unjustly imprison Americans. But while the Biden administration has gone to considerable effort to secure the release of high-profile Americans from RussiaVenezuela and Iran, it has been less public and less successful in securing the release of U.S. citizens held in Saudi Arabia. In fact, despite that Saudi Arabia is supposedly a U.S. ally, the Saudi government under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is dealing with its U.S.-citizen critics more harshly than ever. The latest and most egregious example concerns Saudi American Saad Ibrahim Almadi.

Almadi is not a dissident or an activist; he is simply a project manager from Florida who decided to practice his right to free speech inside the United States. But last November, when he traveled to Riyadh to visit family, he was detained regarding 14 tweets posted on his account over the previous seven years. One of the cited tweets referenced Jamal Khashoggi, the Post contributing columnist who was murdered by Saudi agents in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Other tweets criticized the Saudi government’s policies and the corruption in the Saudi system.

“He had what I would call mild opinions about the government,” his son Ibrahim told me. “They took him from the airport.”

Almadi was charged with harboring a terrorist ideology, trying to destabilize the kingdom, as well as supporting and funding terrorism. He was also charged with failing to report terrorism, a charge related to tweets Ibrahim sent on a separate account.

On Oct. 3, Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He also received a 16-year travel ban on top of that. If he serves his whole sentence, he will leave prison at age 87 — and would have to live to 104 before he could return to the United States.

“I feel empty inside. I feel dead inside. I feel betrayed,” Ibrahim said. “He’s not only my father, he’s my best friend. He is everything to me.”

Since the arrest, Ibrahim had been working behind the scenes to urge the U.S. government to help secure his father’s release. But now, frustrated and desperate, he wants the American public to know his father’s story. Almadi has been tortured in prison, forced to live in squalor and confined with actual terrorists — all while his family was threatened by the Saudi government that they would lose everything if they didn’t keep quiet, Ibrahim said.

The State Department told Ibrahim not to speak publicly about the case, but he no longer believes that staying quiet will secure his father’s freedom. And he says that State has handled his father’s case with neglect and incompetence.

Nobody from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh visited Almadi until May, six months after his arrest. At that meeting, . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 6:04 pm

Biden’s National Security Strategy

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Heather Cox Richardson has a useful take on Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS). She writes:

At Thursday’s meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, as Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) showed that former president Trump both recognized that he had lost the election and intended to leave the White House, he noted that on November 11, just four days after Democrat Joe Biden had been declared the winner of the 2020 election, Trump had abruptly ordered U.S. troops to leave Somalia and Afghanistan by January 15.

Indeed, according to an Axios investigation by Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu last May, two days before that order, on November 9, 2020, John McEntee, Trump’s hand-picked director of the Presidential Personnel Office, told retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor that Trump wanted him to “Get us out of Afghanistan. Get us out of Iraq and Syria. Complete the withdrawal from Germany. Get us out of Africa.” When Macgregor, who was brought on to the administration on November 11, said he didn’t think that was possible, McEntee told him to “do as much as you can.”

Kinzinger’s point was that Trump clearly knew he was leaving office because he was deliberately trying to create chaos for his successor. When he abruptly pulled the U.S. out of northern Syria in October 2019, he abandoned our Kurdish allies, forcing more than 160,000 Syrians from their homes and making them victims of extraordinary violence. The Pentagon considered Trump’s November 11 instructions “a rogue order,” since they had not gone through any of the appropriate channels, and disregarded them.

The release of the Biden administration’s annual National Security Strategy (NSS) on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, highlights just how big a catastrophe we dodged.

Just as Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from Syria left a vacuum for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin, and as Trump’s planned but not executed withdrawal of troops from Germany would have hamstrung the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) so it could not have countered Putin’s Russia, so would the abrupt disengagement of the U.S. around the world have created a giant vacuum for authoritarian countries to fill.

Biden’s National Security Strategy reiterates his belief that we are in a global struggle between democracy and rising autocracy and that the world is at an inflection point that will determine “the security and prosperity of the American people for generations to come.”

The document makes a strong call for American leadership to defend democracy and to reinforce the rules-based international system on which the world has depended since World War II. This system is now under attack as Russia has claimed the right to invade a neighboring country and redraw its boundaries by force, and as authoritarian governments seek to control global trade and power by withholding key resources—like energy—from other nations.

The NSS promises that . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the post:

. . . the last several months have indicated that autocracies have their own problems. The PRC has doubled down on a zero-Covid policy that has hurt its economy and sparked internal protest. Tomorrow, the Communist Party will begin its 20th National Congress (congresses are held every five years). It is expected that President Xi Jinping will win a third term to consolidate his grip on power just as the U.S has unveiled strict controls on selling semiconductors and chip-making equipment to China, restrictions that appear to be an attempt to kneecap Chinese advances in artificial intelligence and military capabilities.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proved disastrous for Putin. As supplies and soldiers have drained into Ukraine, Russia’s control of the lands around it has faltered, while his recent mobilization of the Russian population to fight in Ukraine has created extraordinary unrest at home. Putin is pressing Belarus’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, to join the war, but Lukashenko appears hesitant, likely suspecting that joining the disastrous war will mean his own political end.

For its part, Iran is facing internal protests sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, known to her family by her Kurdish name Zhina, in the custody of “morality police” for violating the country’s dress code. Saudi Arabia is not necessarily as strong as it has appeared lately, either. When its leaders recently sided with Russia by pushing OPEC+ to cut oil production and thus support gas prices, other OPEC+ countries told the U.S. that the Saudis had pressured them to do so. Saudi Arabia has suddenly offered Ukraine $400 million in humanitarian aid, evidently trying to regain the goodwill of Europe and the U.S., since it imports almost all of its weapons from that bloc.  . .

Written by Leisureguy

16 October 2022 at 6:25 am

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