Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

Billionaire-backed legal group sues to block student loan forgiveness

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Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

In August, President Biden announced he would provide student debt relief to lower and middle-class borrowers. Under the plan, eligible individuals would get up to $20,000 in student debt canceled if they received Pell Grants and up to $10,000 otherwise. The program is open to individuals who make less than $125,000 annually ($250,000 for married couples). The plan will benefit up to 43 million borrowers, and up to 20 million people will see their loans zeroed out.

On Tuesday, a man named Frank Garrison filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the relief. Here is how the Washington Post reported the news:

A public interest lawyer in Indiana is suing to block President Biden’s plan to cancel some student debt, arguing that the policy will force him to pay state taxes on the forgiven amount.

And this is the lead of CNN’s story:

In one of the first significant legal challenges to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, a public interest lawyer filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that the policy is an abuse of executive power.

In both stories, we later learn that Garrison is being represented in the case by his employer, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which the Washington Post describes as a “conservative public interest law firm.” But what you will not learn from either story is that the Pacific Legal Foundation receives extensive funding from right-wing billionaires. And this “public interest law firm” has a record of filing lawsuits that advance its donors’ economic and ideological interests.

Among the PLF”s major donors are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2022 at 1:16 pm

Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright Conduct a Masterclass on the Banal Horror of U.S. Foreign Policy

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I wonder what it would be like if the US government tried — actually made an attempt — to stop lying. I imagine we’ll never know. Lies and the lying liars who tell them seem to be deeply embedded within the political system. In the Intercept Jon Schwarz takes a brief look at two of the most brazen of the liars and calls out their lies. He writes:

AT THE BEGINNING of a new “MasterClass” on diplomacy with Condoleezza Rice and the late Madeleine Albright, Rice explains that “some people have even said, ‘The diplomat lies for their country.’”

Soon afterward, Albright makes similar remarks: “There are some incredible definitions of diplomacy, which is, it gives you the capability to go and lie for your country.”

If this is in fact what diplomacy is all about — and presumably Rice and Albright would be in a position to know — this MasterClass shows that they are both incredibly committed diplomats.

Albright, who died earlier this year, was America’s first female secretary of state, serving during the Bill Clinton administration. Rice was the second, during the administration of George W. Bush.

It’s not all lies, of course. The entire Rice/Albright video lasts almost 3.5 hours, the same length as the extended DVD version of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Most of the time, the two emit a quiet murmur of mind-obliterating platitudes, accompanied by what seems to be the music from C-SPAN and stock footage of a chessboard. For instance, Albright tells us that “Americans didn’t recognize well enough how fragile democracy was, but at the same time how resilient democracy was,” which is somehow both banal and incomprehensible.

In fact, the lies are just as boring as the parts that are true. You might assume Rice and Albright would mislead viewers in cunning, complex ways that would require extensive effort to refute. Instead, they both just straightforwardly deny reality.

All in all, watching the languorous, dull-but-accurate parts is like being forced to eat eight gallons of stale banana pudding. Then the lies are like a batch of botulism mixed in. By the end, you will definitely feel ill, but you can only ascribe it to the entire experience, rather than being able to narrow it down to one specific cause.

Explicating all of Rice and Albright’s deceptions would require an article that would take longer to read than the running time of the MasterClass itself. So let’s just hit the highlights.

The cruelest segment of the video, as measured by the chasm between the promised content and what’s actually delivered, is called “Learning From Failed Decisions.” The text below this title claims that Rice will share “her mistakes on 9/11 and Iraq.”

However, it turns out the only mistake Rice made was believing her incompetent underlings. “I was in two situations,” she begins, “where the intelligence turned out in one case to be lacking, and in another case to be wrong.”

The first, of course, is the 9/11 attacks. On September 11, 2001, Rice was Bush’s national security adviser — i.e., arguably the person most responsible in the U.S. government for addressing any threats of terrorism. Here’s her explanation for how she and her colleagues missed what was going on:

All that the intelligence reports were saying … was, something big is going to happen. “There will be a wedding,” which was terrorist code for some kind of attack. But all of the intelligence actually pointed to something happening outside of the country.

When I heard Rice say this, my brain seized up and ground to a confused halt. My thought process went something like:

I —
Wha
HOW?!?!?!?
where am i. have i slipped into an alternate universe where up is down & the sky is green & giraffes sing hit duets with taylor swift?

This was because — although it may be fading from living memory — the most famous moment of Condoleezza Rice’s life occurred in 2004, when she acknowledged in front of the 9/11 Commission that the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus warned Bush that an Al Qaeda attack might be imminent inside America. Here, watch it for yourself:

That’s right: The presidential daily brief delivered to Bush on August 6, 2001, one month before the 9/11 attacks, was headlined “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” You can read the whole thing here. The very first sentence states, “Bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.” Later, the brief warns that “FBI information … indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.”

So here, Rice put essentially no effort into her deceit. But what she says next is somehow even worse:

We had a pretty bright wall between what the FBI could do and what the CIA could do. They didn’t talk to each other. So just to give an example — probably by now everybody knows the case of [Zacarias] Moussaoui, who was the flight student in Arizona who only wanted to learn to fly one way. That might have been a signal. He was known to the FBI. He was not known to the CIA.

Almost everything about this is inaccurate. Rice is correct that Moussaoui was a member of Al Qaeda who came to the U.S. and attended flight school, where he did behave in peculiar ways. However, he did not go to flight school in Arizona, as Rice says; it was in Oklahoma and Minnesota. It’s not the case that he “only wanted to fly one way.” (According a report by the Justice Department inspector general, “Media reports later incorrectly reported that Moussaoui had stated that he did not want to learn to take off or land a plane.”)

Most importantly, whatever wall prevented some information from passing between the FBI and the CIA, it did not stop Moussaoui from being caught. His . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 10:29 am

The Antitrust Shooting War Has Started

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

In the big tech-financed DC-tip sheet Axios four days ago, Dan Primack asked and answered an important question. “Who’s afraid of Joe Biden’s antitrust enforcers?” he queried. “Fewer people than last month.” Primack was responding to the Department of Justice Antitrust Division losing an important merger challenge between UnitedHealth and Change Healthcare, as well as the FTC losing a similar case. And while advocates want more cases, his colleague Ashley Gold noted, “it’s not clear who benefits if losses start to stack up.”

Then yesterday, news came out about another Division loss in a sugar merger. Both the UnitedHealth and sugar case were heard by Trump-appointed corporate judges, and I’ll get into that. More broadly, just what is going on? What do these losses mean?

For most Europeans, the first eight months of World War II were a snooze fest. Unlike the first world war, little but bureaucratic chatter seemed to happen for almost a year after Germany and the U.S.S.R. invaded Poland in September of 1939. This changed in May of 1940, when Germany attacked France and the low countries, winning much of continental Europe in just six weeks. But until then, those eight months were anti-climactic for the many peoples who were expecting, as they had experienced a little over twenty years earlier, mass slaughter.

This period came to be known as ‘the Phony War.’

Since the beginning of the Biden administration, we’ve had something of a Phony War around antitrust. Lots of chatter, bureaucratic shuffling, procedural motions, document demands, Congressional testimony and campaign ads. Calls to break up Google and Facebook and Amazon, do something about consolidation in health care and groceries, private equity and so forth. But limited shooting.

Over the past month, the antitrust Phony War has ended. What looked like little action was bureaucratic ramp-up. Lina Khan was hired to run the Federal Trade Commission and finally given a working majority five months ago, Jonathan Kanter was put in place at the Antitrust Division, and the Biden administration laid out a whole-of-government competition policy framework. Now it’s time for the shooting war, with the ebb and flow between the anti-monopoly movement and the bureaucratic and institutional obstacles in government and the judiciary.

The start of the conflict is easy to miss, since big dramatic actions, like breaking up Google or Amazon, haven’t happened. For instance, Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher, who are important opinion leaders, made the case on their influential podcast Pivot that Lina Khan has so far delivered nothing, either big or small, on big tech. And there is some merit to this pessimism. Both agencies have suffered stinging court losses. These include defeats in criminal wage fixing cases, and merger challenges against Illumina-GrailUnitedHealth-ChangeAltria-Juul, and U.S. Sugar-Imperial Sugar.

But in other areas, corporations are changing their behavior and markets are becoming more open. So to overlook the accomplishments is imprecise, just as it would be wrong not to concede some real setbacks for anti-monopolists. To decipher this set of affairs, I’ll lay out the good, the bad, and the ugly as the shooting starts.

The Good: Markets Are Becoming More Open

First, let’s start with the good, which is, from my perspective, the resurrection of dormant antitrust law. The agencies had 14 mergers blocked or abandoned in the last year, in important areas such as refrigerated shipping, hospitals, semiconductors, retail, and the defense sector. In some, like aerospace, these merger challenges reshaped an entire landscape. Still, blocked mergers, while they stop things from getting worse, only indirectly address the broader concentration crisis.

There’s a lot more than mergers. This summer, the Federal Trade Commission announced three different cases around firms trying to make it harder to repair their products, fruits of advocacy by the ‘right-to-repair’ movement. None of them targeted Apple, but Apple, like other big firms such as Microsoft, has begun to change the design of its products in response to this changing legal environment. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. In the section on The Bad, Stoller links to this video:

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2022 at 3:18 pm

WTF?! Border Wall Construction Resumes Under President Joe Biden

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Ryan Devereaux reports in the Intercept:

MYLES TRAPHAGEN DIDN’T need a government presentation to tell him that border wall construction was kicking back up. He saw everything he needed on a recent visit to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the Coronado National Forest, near the town of Sasabe in southern Arizona.

As the borderlands coordinator for the Wildlands Network, Traphagen had visited the area many times before. It was among the sites he examined in an extensive report published in July documenting the environmental impact of the border wall expansion under President Donald Trump — President Joe Biden paused the construction shortly after his inauguration.

Traphagen spotted a new staging area and water holding tanks under construction. Fixed to the wall were new signs citing an Arizona trespassing law. A security guard at the scene told him construction was resuming. Later, a Border Patrol agent ordered him to leave the area.

“It’s feeling like it felt during border wall construction with Trump,” Traphagen told The Intercept. “I hadn’t felt that on the border in a year and a half, and now it’s like, oh, shit, here we go again.”

Six days after Traphagen’s visit, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that work on the border wall that began under Trump is revving back up under Biden. In an online presentation Wednesday, CBP — the largest division of the Department of Homeland Security and home to the Border Patrol — detailed plans to address environmental damage brought on by the former president’s signature campaign promise and confirmed that the wall will remain a permanent fixture of the Southwest for generations to come.

The resumed operations will range from repairing gates and roads to filling gaps in the wall that were left following the pause on construction that Biden initiated in January 2021. The wall’s environmental harms have been particularly acute in southern Arizona, where CBP used explosives to blast through large swaths of protected land — including sacred Native American burial grounds and one-of-a-kind wildlife habitats — in service of Trump’s most expansive border wall extensions.

Starting next month, contractors will return to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona to resume work on the wall, senior CBP officials said in a public webinar. In the months since Biden’s pause began, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas approved several so-called remediation projects related to the border wall. The first plan that CBP presented for public comment was in the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol’s largest area of operations and site of Trump’s most dramatic and controversial border wall construction.

IN EARLY 2020, the press was invited to watch as Border Patrol and Department of Defense officials blew apart chunks of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, south of Tucson, to make way for Trump’s wall. The display followed months of protests, as the administration tapped into a rare desert aquifer that feeds Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis that the Hia-Ced O’odham people have held sacred for thousands of years.

Two Hia-Ced O’odham women were later arrested, strip-searched, and held incommunicado after praying and protesting at the construction site. Earlier this year, one of the two women, Amber Ortega, was found not guilty of the charges after a federal judge ruled that the prosecution violated her rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. . .

Continue reading.

It’s clear — it was clear under Trump and it’s clear now — that the border wall is expensive, ineffective (most illegal immigration is done through normal ports of entry and people overstay their visas), and an environmental disaster. Democrats opposed the wall. Has Biden just lost the plot?

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2022 at 6:09 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2022 at 11:28 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The analysis found that . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) 

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2022 at 1:04 pm

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

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

10:38 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We are incompatible.”

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2022 at 12:49 pm

Forgiving debt forgiveness

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Seen on Facebook:

Derek Sabis 26 Aug:
Tom Brady had a $1 million PPP loan forgiven. Khloe Kardashian had her $1.25 million loan forgiven. PDiddy had his $2 million loan forgiven. Reese Witherspoon had her $1 million loan forgiven. Jay-Z and Jared Kushner, both billionaires, had each of their $2 million loans fully forgiven. Numerous members in Congress, from both parties, had their loans forgiven. really don’t want to hear anyone annoyed about $10,000 in student loan debt being forgiven. Shut up.

Written by Leisureguy

6 September 2022 at 5:19 am

Hey, Pete Buttigieg, Use Your Power to Get Us Better Airline Service

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Pete Buttigieg talks well but is weak in terms of action (and actions speak louder than words). Luke Goldstein reports in the Washington Monthly:

Anticipating disruptions to airline travel over the Labor Day weekend, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to the 10 largest airlines’ chief executives censuring their recent behavior as “unacceptable.” “These aren’t just numbers. These are missed birthday parties, graduations, time with loved ones, and important meetings,” he wrote in August. Buttigieg threatened to post an online chart assessing the airlines’ performance if things got worse.

The secretary should and could do much more. Nightmarish airline travel conditions have become a fixture this summer. It has gotten so bad that 38 state attorneys general, from both red states and blue states, sent a joint letter on Wednesday to Senate and House leadership explicitly calling out Buttigieg’s Transportation Department for failing “to respond and provide appropriate recourse” for frustrated airline flyers. Airlines delayed more than a million flights and canceled almost 129,000 from January to July, more than in 2021 and surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 11 percent. ​​In many cases, the airlines know beforehand that they’ll have to cancel flights at the last minute because of staffing shortages or scheduling complications. They sell tickets anyway, betting that many customers won’t cash in the vouchers they receive. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, the airlines made $10 billion in 2021 from unredeemed vouchers.

Yet Buttigieg’s idea of getting tough on airlines seems to mean pummeling by PowerPoint. Instead, the secretary needs to use his powers. Section 411 of the Federal Aviation Act, for example, grants the secretary of transportation the authority to “investigate and decide whether an air carrier, foreign air carrier or ticket agent has been or is engaged in an unfair or deceptive practice or an unfair method of competition in air transportation or the sale of air transportation.”

In 2010, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood used this authority to issue severe penalties for airlines that left passengers waiting on tarmacs for hours before canceling flights, a widespread problem at the time. Many members of Buttigieg’s party, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are urging him to use that power again. New York Attorney General Letitia James has even told him exactly how to do it. “Airlines knowingly advertising and booking flights they do not have adequate staff to operate are flying in the face of the law,” James said at a press conference.

Buttigieg shouldn’t stop there. Most of what’s gone wrong with flying is rooted in monopoly, and, as it happens, federal law also gives the Transportation Department substantial authority over airline mergers.

After a wave of large mergers from 2010 to 2013, just four airlines now control most of the market. The Big Four can tacitly collude to keep prices high and lower seat supply, which helps explain why fare hikes this summer have far surpassed inflation. Amplifying the effects of monopoly, a small group of giant institutional investors—notably BlackRock—all hold major stakes in each of the four major airlines. A 2018 paper by the economists José Azar, Martin Schmalz, and Isabel Tecu showed that this concentrated ownership structure reduces the incentive to compete and increases consumer costs.

The flying public pays. Domestic ticket prices jumped  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2022 at 10:53 am

Student Debt Relief Is Undermining the Military’s Predatory Recruiting Practices

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Jordan Uhl writes in Jacobin:

Amid a brutal year for military recruiting, conservative war hawks are openly fretting that President Joe Biden’s announcement last week of a onetime means-tested student debt cancellation will undercut the military’s ability to prey on desperate young Americans.

“Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military’s greatest recruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments,” Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) tweeted shortly after the announcement.

In the six years since Banks first ran for Congress, he has taken more than $400,000 from defense contractors, weapons manufacturers, and other major players in the military-industrial complex. Corporate political action committees for Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, L3Harris Technologies, and Ultra Electronics have each donated tens of thousands of dollars to Banks, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data analyzed by OpenSecrets. He now sits on the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Department of Defense and United States military.

Members of the committee have already collectively received more than $3.4 million from defense contractors and weapons manufacturers this election cycle.

Banks’s admission highlights the way the student debt crisis has been exploited by the military-industrial complex. By saying the quiet part out loud, Banks is finally speaking the truth about how military recruiters use the GI Bill — the 1944 law that awards a robust benefits package to veterans — as a remedy for the cost of higher education to convince young people to enlist.

“To have members of Congress openly imply that the answer to this is to actually exacerbate hardship for poor and working-class youth is, actually, the best thing for young Americans to see,” Mike Prysner, an antiwar veteran and activist, told the Lever. “It proves their reasons for not joining are totally valid. Why allow yourself to be chewed up and spit out in service of a system that cares so little for you and your well being?”

Biden’s initiative will cancel up to $10,000 of federal student loan debt for people who make under $125,000 annually, plus an additional $10,000 for these borrowers who received a Pell Grant in college. The program is estimated to eliminate roughly $300 billion in total debt, reducing the outstanding student debt nationwide from $1.7 trillion to $1.4 trillion.

According to the College Board’s 2021 Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid report, the average cost for annual tuition and fees at public four-year colleges has risen from $4,160 to $10,740 since the early 1990s — a 158 percent increase. At private institutions, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2022 at 7:09 pm

Democratic administrations historically are better for business than Republican ones. It looks as though Biden will continue the trend.

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The big news until shortly before midnight tonight was that businesses do indeed seem to be coming home after the pandemic illustrated the dangers of stretched supply lines, the global minimum tax reduced the incentives to flee to other countries with lower taxes, and the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act spurred investment in technology.

Yesterday, Honda and LG Energy Solution announced they would spend $4.4 billion to construct a new battery plant in the U.S. to join the plants General Motors is building in Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee; the ones Ford is building in Kentucky and Tennessee; the one Toyota is building in North Carolina; and the one Stellantis is building in Indiana. The plants are part of the switch to electric vehicles.  According to auto industry reporter Neal E. Boudette of the New York Times, they represent “one of the most profound shifts the auto industry has experienced in its century-long history.”

Today, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear (D) announced that Kentucky has secured more than $8.5 billion for investment in the production of electric vehicle batteries, which should produce more than 8,000 jobs in the EV sector. “Kentuckians will literally be powering the future,” he said.

Also today, First Solar, the largest solar panel maker in the U.S., announced that it would construct a new solar panel plant in the Southeast, investing up to $1 billion. It credited the Inflation Reduction Act with making solar construction attractive enough in the U.S. to build here rather than elsewhere. First Solar has also said it will upgrade and expand an existing plant in Ohio, spending $185 million.

Corning has announced a new manufacturing plant outside Phoenix, Arizona, to build fiber-optic cable to help supply the $42.5 billion high-speed internet infrastructure investment made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. AT&T will also build a new fiber internet network in Arizona.

The CHIPS and Science Act is spurring investment in the manufacturing of chips in the U.S. Earlier this month, Micron announced a $40 billion investment in the next eight years, producing up to 40,000 new jobs. Qualcomm has also committed to investing $4.2 billion in chips from the New York facility of GlobalFoundries. Qualcomm says it intends to increase chip production in the U.S. by 50% over the next five years. In January, Intel announced it would invest $20 billion, and possibly as much as $100 billion, in a chip plant in Ohio.

This investment is part of a larger trend in which U.S. companies are bringing their operations back to the U.S. Last week, a report by the Reshoring Initiative noted that nearly 350,000 U.S. jobs have come home this year. The coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and China’s instability were the push to bring jobs home, while the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act were the pull. Dion Rabouin notes in the Wall Street Journal that this reshoring will not necessarily translate to blue-collar jobs, as companies will likely increase automation to avoid higher labor costs.

President Joe Biden’s record is unexpectedly strong going into the midterms, and he is directly challenging Republicans on the issues they formerly considered their own. Today, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he challenged the Republicans on their claim to be the party of law and order, calling out their recent demands to “defund” the FBI and saying he wants to increase funding for law enforcement to enable it to have more social workers, mental health care specialists, and so on.

He noted that law enforcement officers want a ban on assault weapons and that he would work to pass one like that of 1994. When that law expired in 2004, mass shootings in the U.S. tripled.

Then the president took on MAGA Republicans: “A . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 4:34 am

Taking a stand against anti-American authoritarianism

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Heather Cox Richardson has a good post that begins:

In a speech Thursday night, President Joe Biden called out today’s MAGA Republicans for threatening “our personal rights and economic security…. They’re a threat to our very democracy.” When he referred to them as “semi-fascists,” he drew headlines, some of them disapproving.

A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee called the comment “despicable,” although Republicans have called Democrats “socialists” now for so long it passes as normal discourse. Just this week, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called Democrats “radical left-wing lunatics, laptop liberals, and Marxist misfits.”

Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it. Less than a month before, Burlingame’s Massachusetts colleague Senator Charles Sumner had been brutally beaten by a southern representative for disparaging slavery, and Burlingame was sick and tired of buying sectional peace by letting southerners abuse the North. Enough, he said, was enough. The North was superior to the South in its morality, loyalty to the government, fidelity to the Constitution, and economy, and northerners were willing to defend their system, if necessary, with guns.

Burlingame’s “Defense of Massachusetts” speech marked the first time a prominent northerner had offered to fight to defend the northern way of life. Previously, southerners had been the ones threatening war and demanding concessions from the North to preserve the peace. He was willing to accept a battle, Burlingame explained, because what was at stake was the future of the nation. His speech invited a challenge to a duel.

Southerners championed their region as the one that had correctly developed the society envisioned by the Founders. In the South, a few very wealthy men controlled government and society, enslaving their neighbors. This system, its apologists asserted, was the highest form of human civilization. They opposed any attempt to restrict its spread. The South was superior to the North, enslavers insisted; it alone was patriotic, honored the Constitution, and understood economic growth. In the interests of union, northerners repeatedly ceded ground to enslavers and left their claim to superiority unchallenged.

At long last, the attack on Sumner inspired Burlingame to speak up for the North. The southern system was not superior, he thundered; it had dragged the nation backward. Slavery kept workers ignorant and godless while the northern system of freedom lifted workers up with schools and churches. Slavery feared innovation; freedom encouraged workers to try new ideas. Slavery kept the South mired in the past; freedom welcomed the modern world and pushed Americans into a new, thriving economy. And finally, when Sumner had spoken up against the tyranny of slavery, a southerner had clubbed him almost to death on the floor of the Senate.

Was ignorance, economic stagnation, and violence the true American system?

For his part, Burlingame preferred to throw his lot with education, morality, economic growth, and respect for government.

Burlingame had deliberately provoked the lawmaker who had beaten Sumner, Preston Brooks of South Carolina, and unable to resist any provocation, Brooks had challenged Burlingame to a duel. Brooks assumed all Yankees were cowards and figured that Burlingame would decline in embarrassment. But instead, Burlingame accepted with enthusiasm, choosing rifles as the dueling weapons. Burlingame, it turned out, was an expert marksman.

Burlingame also chose to duel in Canada, giving Brooks the opportunity to

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Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 3:41 am

SCOTUS Will Probably Kill Student Debt Relief. But Biden Has a Backup Plan.

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Mark Joseph Stern has an interesting article in Slate:

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden unveiled his long-awaited plan for student loan forgiveness. For borrowers making under $125,000 a year, the program will cancel $10,000 in student loan debt (and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients). It will provide relief to 43 million Americans—if five justices on the Supreme Court let it take effect. Will they? The short answer is: probably not. But there’s good news for beneficiaries: The administration may have already identified another way to enact relief if the judiciary stands in the way of Plan A.

To understand where this is going in the courts as well as the likely workaround, recall a basic fact that many critics of Biden’s program do not appear to understand: The federal government forgives student loans all the time. Multiple statutes give the Department of Education sweeping authority to cancel loans for a broad range of reasons. Before Wednesday, the administration had already approved $32 billion in student loan relief for more than 1.6 million borrowers.* These actions did not provoke substantial controversy or litigation. Nobody raised a legal challenge when Biden canceled $5.8 billion in student loans for more than 323,000 disabled borrowers. Nobody raised a legal challenge when Biden announced rolling loan forgiveness for borrowers who entered public service—a plan that has already granted $10 billion in debt relief to more than 175,000 borrowers.

The Department of Education has tackled so much student debt already because Congress gave it a number of tools to do so. One of those tools is the Heroes Act, passed in the wake of 9/11. This law gives the secretary of education authority to “waive or modify” any provision of the law applicable to student aid programs “in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.” (Emphasis mine.) The secretary may exercise this power to “ensure” that borrowers “are not placed in a worse position financially” in relation to their loans because they were “affected” by the emergency. A “national emergency” is defined as any national emergency declared by the president. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic surely qualifies, since Donald Trump declared it a national emergency and Biden has extended that declaration.

Congress intended the Heroes Act to apply swiftly and widely. It waived a number of procedural requirements that would slow down the education secretary’s efforts to grant relief. And it clarified that the secretary “is notrequired” to act “on a case-by-case basis,” allowing him to provide relief to an entire class of borrowers at once. The Trump and Biden administrations both used this law to freeze student loan payments during the pandemic.

Biden’s secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, already relied upon the Heroes Act to forgive $10 billion for public service borrowers. Now the administration is using the law as its basis for a much bigger, less targeted student debt relief program. This idea is not new: At the end of her tenure, Trump’s education secretary Betsy Devos tried to stop Biden from embracing it. She solicited a memo arguing that the Heroes Act does not permit “mass cancellation” of student debt. (In a twist, the memo was issued four days after DeVos resigned in protest of Jan. 6, and it violated basic procedural requirements.)

Under Biden, the Department of Education concluded that DeVos’ eleventh-hour memo was wrong, and that the agency can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 4:32 pm

Interesting history: Why Republicans today oppose public education

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Heather Cox Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2022 at 11:31 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kremlin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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

According to the intelligence, the Russians would . . .

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

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:12 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 9:16 am

87 years of Social Security

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Heather Cox Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 August 2022 at 10:18 pm

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

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click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

Remember fax machines?

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

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

Keep scrolling and see for yourself. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) 
.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 11:34 am

Border Patrol Agents Are Trashing Sikh Asylum-Seekers’ Turbans

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John Washington reports in The Intercept:

Gurjodh Singh was leaning against a rusted vehicle barrier — planted like a giant jack in the sand — at the end of the line of migrants. It is late July, and about 400 people seeking asylum are waiting alongside a gap in the border fence as dawn breaks over the sky in southern Arizona.

Singh is 22, fleeing India for America, without any family, to seek political asylum. Slipping off the vehicle barrier, he joined a huddle of five other Indian men, all Sikhs from the state of Punjab. A Border Patrol agent told Singh he had to move to the back of the line because he didn’t have papers. The rest of the men recovered their IDs after being robbed on a grueling monthslong trek across the jungles of Panama, but Singh still has no ID.

As the minutes tick by, the sky brightens, and the temperature notches steadily upward, reaching above 110 degrees that day. The men are waiting for the agents to begin their processing and load them onto buses heading to a nearby Border Patrol station.

Word has begun circulating among those seeking asylum in the Yuma area: Border Patrol is forcing everyone to throw away all personal belongings, except for cellphones, wallets, and travel documents. Agents are demanding Sikh men remove their turbans and are dumping the sacred religious garb in the trash.

Bhupinder, an 18-year-old Sikh man wearing a purple turban, said, simply, “I can’t take it off.” An important expression of Sikh men’s faith is not cutting their hair, and covering their head with a turban.

The forced removal and confiscation of turbans violates Border Patrol policies that are meant to respect religious freedom. It also violates policies that require agents to track and return personal belongings.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter to Border Patrol documenting dozens of cases of agents confiscating and discarding turbans, explaining the significance of the item, and how the actions “blatantly violate federal law,” Border Patrol policy, and protections of religious freedom.

A month earlier, a third Sikh man seeking asylum said Border Patrol ordered him to turn over his belongings — including two sacred symbols of his faith.

“They told me to take off my turban. I know a little English, and I said, ‘It’s my religion.’ But they insisted,” the man said, speaking through an interpreter in a July phone interview.

The man pleaded with the officers, who forced him to remove his turban and tossed it in a trash pile. He asked if he could at least keep his turban for when he was released from custody. They told him no. “I felt so bad,” he said.

The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In addition to keeping uncut hair, maintained in a head covering, Sikhs, according to their faith, carry a comb; wear a bracelet; wear custom cotton underwear; and carry a small, curved sword or knife.

Border Patrol agents also cut a ribbon that was holding up the third asylum-seeker’s traditional Sikh underwear. Since there is no elastic on them, he was unable to continue wearing them.

“They said it was to prevent suicide,” he said, “but you can use pajamas to commit suicide if you want to. You can use socks. This underwear is important to us.”

Violating Policy [and human rights – LG]

Despite complaints that Border Patrol agents are violating their own policies that say they must “safeguard” personal property not deemed to be contraband or dangerous and “should remain cognizant of an individual’s religious beliefs,” Yuma’s Border Patrol has confiscated at least 64 turbans this year, according to the ACLU of Arizona and the Phoenix Welcome Center. In just the last two months, the organizations have documented at least 50 such confiscations.

The turban confiscations have ramped up in recent months, said Maria Jose Pinzon, a program manager for Phoenix Welcome Center, which is run by the International Rescue Committee that offers a few nights of rest and humanitarian assistance to asylum-seekers.

Because the Welcome Center is only able to record self-reported cases, and many asylum-seekers are scared to register a complaint, Pinzon is confident the number is much higher.

In June, according to Pinzon, a Department of Homeland Security ombudsman visited the Phoenix Welcome Center, promising to address the issue with Border Patrol. Yet the confiscations continued, with at least 11 documented cases as of July 20. Homeland Security’s Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman did not respond to requests for comment.

There are currently no regulations that require Border Patrol to document and publicly report the number of people its agents removed turbans from in violation of their own policy. . .

Continue reading.

The only way to fix this, I fear, is to complete replace current US Border Patrol Personnel.

The following post provides some insight into what happens to Border Patrol agents to make them that way.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2022 at 12:51 pm

GOP hurts veterans out of spite

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Heather Cox Richardson has a good post, from which I’ll quote just a paragraph (though the entire post is well worth reading:

Tonight, Senate Republicans unexpectedly killed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which would have provided medical benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their military service. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 84 to 14 in June and had been sent back to that body for a procedural cleanup after the House passed it with the expectation that it would repass easily. Tonight’s vote is being widely interpreted as revenge for the resurrection of the reconciliation package.

As Richardson notes:

Attacking our veterans out of spite might not be a winning move

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2022 at 10:36 pm

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