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What Democrats Don’t Understand About Rural America

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Heather Cox Richardson’s post on the history surrounding the election of 1890 discusses how progressives achieved wins because they worked with the increasing number of those who felt the current situation was not working. That is also what brought Trump to office, though he betrayed the trust he had been given (or was simply not competent or not interested in delivering solutions).

Democrats have a chance to benefit from the current dissatisfactions with the current situation in the US, but only if Democrats learn how to listen and work with those who are dissatisfied. Chloe Maxmin and 

NOBLEBORO, Maine — We say this with love to our fellow Democrats: Over the past decade, you willfully abandoned rural communities. As the party turned its focus to the cities and suburbs, its outreach became out of touch and impersonal. To rural voters, the message was clear: You don’t matter.

Now, Republicans control dozens of state legislatures, and Democrats have only tenuous majorities in Congress at a time in history when we simply can’t afford to cede an inch. The party can’t wait to start correcting course. It may be too late to prevent a blowout in the fall, but the future of progressive politics — and indeed our democracy — demands that we revive our relationship with rural communities.

As two young progressives raised in the country, we were dismayed as small towns like ours swung to the right. But we believed that Democrats could still win conservative rural districts if they took the time to drive down the long dirt roads where we grew up, have face-to-face conversations with moderate Republican and independent voters and speak a different language, one rooted in values rather than policy.

It worked for us. As a 25-year-old climate activist with unabashedly progressive politics, Chloe was an unlikely choice to be competitive — let alone win — in a conservative district that falls mostly within the bounds of a rural Maine county that has the oldest population in the state. But in 2018, she won a State House seat there with almost 53 percent of the vote. Two years later, she ran for State Senate, challenging the highest-ranking Republican in state office, the Senate minority leader. And again, in one of the most rural districts in the state, voters chose the young, first-term Democrat who sponsored one of the first Green New Deal policies to pass a state legislature.

To us, it was proof that the dogmas that have long governed American politics could and should be challenged. Over the past decade, many Democrats seem to have stopped trying to persuade people who disagreed with them, counting instead on demographic shifts they believed would carry them to victory — if only they could turn out their core supporters. The choice to prioritize turnout in Democratic strongholds over persuasion of moderate voters has cost the party election after election. But Democrats can run and win in communities that the party has written off — and they need not be Joe Manchin-like conservative Democrats to do so.

This isn’t just a story about rural Maine. It’s about a nationwide pattern of neglect that goes back years. After the 2010 midterms, when the Democrats lost 63 House seats, Nancy Pelosi, then the House minority leader, disbanded the House Democratic Rural Working Group. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada later eliminated the Senate’s rural outreach group. By 2016, according to Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich, the Clinton campaign had only a single staff person doing rural outreach from its headquarters, in Brooklyn; the staffer had been assigned to the role just weeks before the election. And in 2018, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, told MSNBC, “You can’t door-knock in rural America.”

We saw this pattern for ourselves. In 2019, the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee told us that it didn’t believe in talking to Republicans. (The group’s executive director did not respond to a request seeking comment by press time.)

That blinkered strategy is holding the party back. When Democrats talk only to their own supporters, they see but a small fraction of the changes roiling this country. Since 2008,  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2022 at 2:14 pm

Why is Ghislaine Maxwell’s Lawyer Attacking Antitrust Enforcers?

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Matt Stoller writes at Big:

In 2017, reporter Jesse Eisinger came out with a book with the best title about the Department of Justice’s sorry track record during the financial crisis. It was called “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” The title comes from a 2002 anecdote about James Comey, who was then running the lead prosecutorial unit in the prestigious Southern District of New York.

The story went as follows. Comey asked the assembled litigators which ones won every case. A bunch of hands went up, along with expectations of praise for what fine litigation skills their winning records implied. But Comey did not offer praise, instead he told them that a perfect record suggested not skill but cowardice. Attorneys who never lost cases were members of ‘the Chickenshit Club,’ because such a record meant they were picking easy cases, rather than risking failure.

Eisinger used this metaphor to describe the collapse of justice and law in America over the course of forty years. From the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s, when thousands of bankers went to jail to the Enron scandals where lead executives were found guilty under George W. Bush, the DOJ had some ability to levy charges of justice against the powerful, to send them to jail. This capacity weakened. By the time of the financial crisis, and afterwards, including over monstrous crimes such as the opioid killing spree caused by the billionaire Sackler family, neither the Obama nor Trump administration’s DOJ held anyone accountable, even as prosecutors sent millions of poor people to jail.

There are many reasons for this shift. Of course there is the revolving door to big law, that network of fancy law firms that mints millionaires of former government officials. Big law is deeply problematic; I’ve long noted how these firms actively encourage firms to break the law, even in their marketing materials. But big law has always existed, so this doesn’t explain the change over time. There was the political dimension; the Obama and Trump DOJ actively cut deals for the Sacklers, for instance, at the behest of Rudy Giuliani and Mary Jo White. But such a collapse among enforcers is also a result of a degraded culture of deference to the powerful among public servants, an institutional fear of losing. I think this change is the most important and most insidious, because it pervades much of our government.

This week, the Antitrust Division is beginning to leave the Chickenshit Club. Because they are now willing to use the same standards of justice against white collar criminals that poor Americans receive, even if it means losing cases in front of juries. That’s a big claim, but I think a reasonable one. There were three criminal cases brought by the DOJ Antitrust Division decided over the past two weeks, tough cases breaking new legal and political ground. And while the Antitrust Division only lost one outright, in none of them did the prosecutors convince a jury any of these executives violated the antitrust laws. For lawyers who work for months or years prepping for a trial, this was a very tough couple of weeks.

In the most prominent case, the Division tried the powerful, politically connected CEO of DaVita Inc., a dialysis firm, for conspiring with DaVita’s competitors to suppress competition for senior-level employees by agreeing not to solicit them for each other’s companies. He was acquitted. They also tried chicken firm executives for price-fixing. The jury couldn’t make up its mind, and wouldn’t convict, though that one will be tried again. Finally, in the case against a physical therapy staffing company, the jury acquitted the defendants for wage-fixing, though did find one of them guilty of obstruction of justice.

These losses really hurt, but the Antitrust Division lost in a smart way. In terms of the legal precedent, in a stage before the jury heard the case, prosecutors established that wage-fixing is a crime and a violation of the Sherman Act. That’s a huge legal victory, even if they couldn’t get a jury to convict. But then there’s the jury, which refused to see such actions as criminal. I’m not sure why juries went the way they did, but if I had to guess, it’s probably because cheating has become normalized in American culture, so people have a tough time viewing stealing from your employees as crime. But that’s a matter of presentation. The Division has already announced it will continue to indict more executives for antitrust violations around labor, and will eventually figure out how to convey to juries that it’s illegal to steal from your employees by preventing them from accessing other job opportunities or illegally suppressing wages.

Losing two tough cases while breaking new legal ground is impressive, and shows a change in the rank careerism at the DOJ. But I’m most impressed by the chicken price-fixing case. After the second hung jury, the Division said . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 7:37 pm

Strong statement by Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow

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This was such a powerful statement that I was moved to donate to her campaign. I want voices like hers to be heard in legislatures across the country. Hate is having too easy a time lately. 

And a good point on why work is needed to fix things:

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2022 at 5:51 pm

Joe Manchin, corrupt Democratic Senator who unfortunately will not be punished to the full extent of the law

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 2:28 pm

Bad-faith Republican politicians

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I’m sure that not every Republican politician operates in bad faith — for example, holding up Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for 9 months because the election was “too close,” and then rushing through Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s immediately before another election. But many do show tremendously bad faith and also seem determined to make the US fail. Heather Cox Richardson points out a prime example:

“Democrats need to make more noise,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. “We have to scream from the rooftops, because this is a battle for the free world now.”

Sargent interviewed Schatz after the senator called out Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) on the floor of the Senate on April 7 for the profound disconnect between the Republican senator’s speeches and his actions. Hawley has placed a hold on President Joe Biden’s uncontroversial nominee for an assistant secretary of defense, saying that Biden’s support for Ukraine was “wavering” and that he wasn’t doing enough.

Of course, the Biden administration has been central to world efforts to support Ukraine in its attempt to hold off Russia’s invasion. Just today, Biden announced an additional $800 million in weapons, ammunition, and other security assistance to Ukraine. In contrast, Hawley voted to acquit former president Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress when he withheld $391 million of congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to cook up a story about Hunter Biden.

Hawley’s bad-faith argument goes beyond misleading statements about aid to Ukraine. Hawley has vowed that he will use his senatorial prerogative to hold up “every single civilian nominee” for the Defense Department unless Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin resigns. He has vowed the same for the State Department, demanding the resignation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Hawley says his demands are because of the withdrawal from Afghanistan; he also said that Biden should resign. This is a highly unusual interference of the legislative branch of government with the executive branch. It also means that key positions in the departments responsible for managing our national security are not being filled, since Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer must use up valuable floor time to get nominations around Hawley’s holds.

In February, for example, Hawley blocked the confirmation of the uncontroversial head of the Pentagon’s international security team, Celeste Wallander, a Russia expert and staunch advocate for fighting Russian aggression, even while Russian troops were massing on the Ukraine border. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted in frustration: “He’s complaining about the problems we have in Russia and Ukraine and he’s making it worse because he’s not willing to allow those nominees who can help with that problem to go forward.” (The Senate eventually voted 83–13 to confirm Wallander.)

Hawley is not the only Republican to be complaining about the administration even as he gums up the works.

Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered Texas state troops to inspect all commercial trucks coming from Mexico after the federal government has already inspected them. Normally, Mexican authorities inspect a commercial driver’s paperwork and then officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection thoroughly inspect the vehicle on the U.S. side of the international bridge, using dogs, X-ray machines, and personal inspections. At large crossings, officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Transportation will make sure that products and trucks meet U.S. standards. Sometimes after that, the state will spot-check a few trucks for roadworthiness. Never before has Texas inspected the contents of each commercial vehicle.

Abbott instituted the new rule after the Biden administration announced it would end the pandemic emergency health order known as Title 42. This is a public health authority used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the spread of disease. It was put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020. Title 42 allows the U.S. government to turn migrants from war-torn countries away at the border rather than permitting them to seek asylum as international law requires.

Abbott said the new rule would enable troopers to search for drugs and smuggled immigrants, which he claims the administration is not doing. But journalists Mitchell Ferman, Uriel J. García, and Ivan Pierre Aguirre of the Texas Tribune report that officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety do not appear to be examining the trucks and have not announced any captured drugs or undocumented immigrants.

Wait times at border crossings have jumped from minutes to many hours, with Mexican truckers so frustrated they blocked the roads from the southern side, as well. Truckers report being stuck in their trucks for as much as 30 hours without food or water. About $440 billion worth of goods cross our southern border annually, and Abbot’s stunt has shut down as much as 60% of that trade. The shutdown will hammer those businesses that depend on Mexican products. It will also create higher prices and shortages across the entire country, especially as perishable foods rot in transit.

On Twitter, Democratic candidate for Texas governor Beto O’Rourke showed a long line of trucks behind him in Laredo and said: “What you see behind me is inflation.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement today saying: “Governor Abbott’s unnecessary and redundant inspections of trucks transiting ports of entry between Texas and Mexico are causing significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs, and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country. Local businesses and trade associations are calling on Governor Abbott to reverse this decision…. Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families.”

Tonight, Abbott backed down on his rule, and normal traffic seems to be resuming over one of the key bridges between Mexico and the U.S., but his stunt indicates that Republicans plan to use inflation and immigration as key issues to turn out their base for the 2022 midterm elections. Today, pro-Trump Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who replaced Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the House Republican Conference Chair, the third-highest Republican in the House, tweeted: “We must SECURE our southern border.”

Abbott has also ordered the Texas National Guard to the U.S. border with Mexico to conduct “migration drills” in preparation for an influx of migrants. But Abbott’s use of the 10,000 National Guard personnel last fall for a border operation to prevent an influx of migrants seemed to be a political stunt: it led to complaints from National Guard personnel of lack of planning, lack of pay, lack of housing, and lack of reason to be there.

Abbott has deployed troops in the past while he was under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the February 2021 winter storm that left millions of Texans without heat or electricity for days and killed 246. This deflection seemed to be at work last February, too, when Abbott issued a letter saying that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2022 at 10:58 pm

Why Putin Underestimated the West

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Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay write in Foreign Affairs:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has proved to be a strategic miscalculation of historic proportions. Having failed to produce a quick victory for Moscow, the  unprovoked invasion faces a ferocious Ukrainian insurgency that has already caused some 15,000 Russian combat fatalities, roughly the same number that the Soviet Union lost in its entire nine-year campaign in Afghanistan. The Russian economy has been battered by extraordinary international sanctions. Calls for Putin to be tried as a war criminal have echoed around the world. It is safe to say that none of this was what Putin expected when he launched his attack.

How did Putin get things so wrong? In part, he clearly overestimated Russian military power and underestimated the Ukrainian resistance. But just as important was his misreading of the West. His long personal experience—observing the weak international response to Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Georgia, its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—convinced him that the West would abandon Ukraine. Given Europe’s concerns about Washington’s commitment to European security in the wake of both the Trump presidency and the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, he may also have anticipated that the invasion would divide the United States and its European allies, thus delivering a larger strategic victory than simply the installation of a puppet government in Kyiv.

Had Putin been a better student of how Western democracies have responded to vital threats to their security, he would have understood why these assumptions were wrong. True, one lesson of the past century is that Western democracies have frequently ignored emerging security threats, as many of them did in the lead-up to the two world wars, the Korean War, and the September 11 attacks. As the U.S. diplomat and historian George Kennan once put it, democracies are like a prehistoric monster so indifferent to what is happening around him that “you practically have to whack off his tail to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed.” But an equally important lesson of the past century is that when their tails are whacked hard enough, Western democracies react with speed, determination, and strength. For the United States and its European allies, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—which in size and scope constitutes the largest use of military force on the European continent since 1945 and poses a direct threat to NATO territory—has provided just such a case.

Yet even though the Western response has been surprisingly robust, it is far too soon for the West to declare victory. If democracies are capable of forming a swift and united front against exceptional threats, they have also long been prone to shifting priorities and turning attention inward once the immediate crisis has passed. For Western leaders, then, having quickly closed ranks to confront Putin’s aggression, the challenge now is how to sustain that unity. U.S. President Joe Biden stressed that point in Warsaw in March: “We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after and for the years and decades to come.” This is no easy task. To achieve that goal over the long term, the United States and its allies must overcome the political polarization, shifting economic burdens, and changes of leadership that have often fragmented the West in the past. Otherwise, the unity over Ukraine could turn out to be short-lived, leaving the West once again divided and autocrats strengthened.


It is not surprising that Putin would have assumed that the West would respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine with harsh rhetoric but not much more. In 2008, when Putin sent Russian forces to dismember Georgia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to negotiate a cease-fire that kept Russian gains in place, while the United States and other European countries declined to back up their official dismay with even symbolic sanctions. The reaction six years later to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his instigation of a separatist war in eastern Ukraine was only slightly tougher: although Russia was evicted from the G-8 and subjected to limited sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama both ruled out sending lethal military aid to help Ukraine defend itself.

In similar fashion, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 3:50 pm

One idea for the slow rate of DOJ prosecutions for the January 6 insurrection and effort to overthrow the election

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T. Magnuson comment on a Jennifer Rubin column:

Some years ago I managed some budget lines for a DoD organization and, from that experience, the primary lesson learned was that nothing happens in government without budget. If something appears to be extraordinarily obtuse, such as the delay in harpooning 6 January whales, it behooves the curious to consult the budget and where the obtuseness occurred within the annual “budget cycle.” It would seem likely that AG Garland has been hamstrung by lack of budget and has been waiting for dollars to come available from the next fiscal year.
Having 800+ cases land all at once had to have been a financial shock to the DOJ. But the DOJ method is to prosecute from the ground up. They only assail the pinnacle when they’ve squeezed every bit of useful information from the pinnacle’s support.

Written by Leisureguy

3 April 2022 at 10:13 am

Take a look at what works in the American economy

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The March jobs report came out this morning and, once again, it was terrific. The economy added 431,000 jobs in March, and the figures for January and February were revised upward by 95,000. The U.S has added 1.7 million jobs between January and March, and unemployment is near an all-time low of 3.6%. As employment has risen, employers have had to raise wages to get workers. So, wages are up 5.6% for the year that ended in February.

Inflation in the U.S. is the highest it’s been in 40 years at 7.9%, but those high numbers echo other developed countries. In the 19 countries that use the euro, inflation rose by an annual rate of 7.5% in March, the highest level since officials began keeping records for the euro in 1997. Russia’s war on Ukraine, which is driving already high gasoline prices upward, and continuing supply chain problems are keeping inflation numbers high.

“America’s economic recovery from the historic shock of the pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary,” CNN’s Anneken Tappe wrote today. The nation is “on track to recover from the pandemic recession a gobsmacking eight years sooner than it did following the Great Recession.”

These numbers matter not just because they show the U.S. coming out of the pandemic, but because they prove that Biden’s approach to the economy works. The key to this economic recovery was the American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021 without a single Republican vote, that dedicated $1.9 trillion to helping the economy recover from the pandemic shutdowns. The vote on the American Rescue Plan indicated the dramatic difference in the way Democrats and Republicans believe the economy works.

After the Depression hit, in the 1930s, Democrats argued that the way to build the economy was for the government to make sure that workers and consumers had the resources to buy products and services. Raising wages, providing a basic social safety net, and improving education would enable the “demand side” of the economy to buy the goods that would employ Americans and increase productivity. Democrats regulated businesses, imposing rules on employers, and funded their programs with taxes that fell on Americans according to their ability to pay.

When this system pulled the country out of the Depression and funded the successful military mobilization of World War II, members of both parties embraced it. Once in office, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower called for universal health insurance and backed the massive $26 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 to build an initial 41,000 miles of roads across the United States, an act that provided jobs and infrastructure. To pay for these programs, he supported the high taxes of the war years, with the top marginal income bracket pegged at 91%.

“Our underlying philosophy,” said a Republican under Eisenhower, “is this: if a job has to be done to meet the needs of people, and no one else can do it, then it is a proper function of the federal government.” Americans had, “for the first time in our history, discovered and established the Authentic American Center in politics. This is not a Center in the European sense of an uneasy and precarious mid-point between large and powerful left-wing and right-wing elements of varying degrees of radicalism. It is a Center in the American sense of a common meeting-ground of the great majority of our people on our own issues, against a backdrop of our own history, our own current setting and our own responsibilities for the future.”

But Republicans since the 1980s have rejected that “Authentic American Center” and argued instead that the way to build the economy is by putting the weight of the government on the “supply side.” That is, the government should free up the capital of the wealthy by cutting taxes. Flush with cash, those at the top of society would invest in new industries that would, in turn, hire workers, and all Americans would rise together. Shortly after he took office, President Ronald Reagan launched government support for “supply side economics” with the first of many Republican tax cuts.

But rather than improving the living standards of all Americans, supply side economics never delivered the economic growth it promised. It turned out that tax cuts did not generally get reinvested into factories and innovation, but instead got turned into financial investments that concentrated wealth at the top of the economic ladder. Still, forty years later, Republicans have only hardened in their support for tax cuts. They insist that  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

1 April 2022 at 10:12 pm

Where Putin is headed

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David Troy has a Facebook post with links. The post:

I don’t see any signs that Putin will back off from the Dugin playbook. I don’t see many signs that the West understands that. Nuclear war may only be avoidable if Putin’s orders are ignored.

Look, Dugin is nuts. That doesn’t mean his isn’t the playbook being used. In fact, I can find no material departure from his strategy as defined in “Foundations” in the events of the last 5 years.

Dugin throws around the terms “eschaton” and “katechon” a lot. Look them up.

I’m getting tired of warning people about this and being gaslit by casual observers who haven’t studied the work. Been saying this since 2017. Correct so far.

Only question is timing, and whether Putin’s orders will be obeyed. I do not say this lightly. We need to assume this is the strategy, because it absolutely has been so far — nuts or not. Ignore at our peril.

See supporting resources below.

The supporting resources are:

And another:

Another is the Medium article “The Swamp and The Fire: An Urgent Warning to the West

And this article by Jeff Schogol in Task & Purpose: “The Pentagon is now calling Russia an ‘acute threat’.”

And finally an article by John B. Dunlop in Stanford’s The Europe Center, “Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics.” That article begins:

One perceptive observer of the Russian political scene, Francoise Thom, noted as far back as 1994 that fascism, and especially its “Eurasianist” variant, was displacing Russian nationalism among statist Russian elites as a post-communist “Russian Idea,” especially in the foreign policy sphere. “The weakness of Russian nationalists,” she emphasized, “stems from their inability to clearly situate Russian frontiers. Euras[ianism] brings an ideological foundation for post-Soviet imperialism.” 1

There probably has not been another book published in Russia during the post-communist period that has exerted an influence on Russian military, police, and statist foreign policy elites comparable to that of Aleksandr Dugin’s 1997 neo-fascist treatise, Foundations of Geopolitics. 2 The impact of this intended “Eurasianist” textbook on key elements among Russian elites testifies to the worrisome rise of fascist ideas and sentiments during the late Yeltsin and Putin periods.

The author of this six-hundred-page program for the eventual rule of ethnic Russians over the lands extending “from Dublin to Vladisvostok,” Aleksandr Gel’evich Dugin, was born in 1962, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Russian military officers. 3 His father is said to have held the rank of colonel, and, according to one source, he served in Soviet military intelligence, in the GRU. 4 By all accounts, Dugin was a bright and precocious youth with a talent for learning foreign languages. (He is said to have mastered at least nine of them.) While still a teenager, he joined a secretive group of Moscow intellectuals interested in mysticism, paganism, and fascism. Both the “masters” of this group and their “disciples” engaged, inter alia, in translating the works of foreign writers who shared their interests. As one of his contributions, Dugin completed a translation of a book by the Italian pagan- fascist philosopher Julius Evola.

Dugin is reported to have been detained by the KGB for participating in this study group, and forbidden literature was subsequently discovered at his apartment. According to one account, he then was expelled from the Moscow Aviation Institute, where he had enrolled as a student some time in the late 1970s. According to another account, he eventually managed to graduate from the institute. 5

In 1987, during Gorbachev’s second year of rule, Dugin was in his mid-twenties and emerged as a leader of the notorious anti-Semitic Russian nationalist organization, Pamyat’, headed by photographer Dmitrii Vasil’ev. During late 1988 and 1989, Dugin served as a member of the Pamyat’ Central Council.

In 1989, taking advantage of increased opportunities to visit the West, Dugin spent most of the year traveling to Western European countries. While there, he strengthened ties with leading figures of the European New Right, such as Frenchman Alain de Benoist and Belgian Jean-Francois Thiriart. These contacts led to Dugin’s “belated reconciliation” with the USSR, just as that state was approaching its final demise. It appears that, largely as a result of these contacts with the European Nouvelle Droite, Dugin became a fascist theorist. On the subject of Dugin’s indubitable fascist orientation, Stephen

Shenfield has written: “Crucial to Dugin’s politics is the classical concept of the ‘conservative revolution’ that overturns the post-Enlightenment world and installs a new order in which the heroic values of the almost forgotten ‘Tradition’ are renewed. It is this concept that identifies Dugin unequivocally as a fascist.” 6

By the beginning of the 1990s, as the Soviet Union was approaching its collapse, Dugin began to assume a more high-profile political role. He formed an association with “statist patriots” in 

Continue reading.

This is scary stuff, and US effectiveness in meeting the threat is weakened because the US is a house divided against itself — for example, Former President Trump has asked Putin to dig up dirt — that is, make accusations against — President Biden. In other words, Trump is willing to cooperate with Putin to weaken President Biden (and thus the US). And Trump has the support of the Republican party. We’ve not seen anything like that before. 

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2022 at 6:19 pm

The Red Wedding for Rural Pharmacies

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Biden just tried to regulate CVS, United Health, and Cigna. Cigna struck back, and is now trying to wipe out independent pharmacies and harm patients. Plus, antitrust enforcers are getting real.

First some good news. Last week, I reported on how a bad judge dismissed an important antitrust suit against Amazon. Well the state Attorney General involved, Karl Racine, just said he will be filing a motion for reconsideration, which is basically an appeal. Yay!

Ok, onward. Today I’m writing about what happens when a monopolist gets mad. In this case, it’s health giant Cigna taking revenge on rural pharmacies and patients after the Biden administration tried to slightly reduce the firm’s profits from Medicare prescription drug benefits.

I’ll also show how antitrust enforcers have stopped being polite and are starting to get real. The FTC’s Lina Khan is going after TurboTax maker Intuit for false and deceptive practices, and the Antitrust Division’s Jonathan Kanter blocked a big but obscure merger of port crane producers.

And now…

series Game of Thrones was The Rains of Castamere, otherwise known as the ‘Red Wedding.’ The Red Wedding is perhaps the ugliest and most disproportionate sense of revenge ever aired on TV. In it, a regional warlord named Robb Stark attends a wedding of one of his vassals that is supposed to help patch up a minor dispute with a fellow warlord, Walder Frey. The wedding is at Frey’s castle, and Frey invites Stark, his family, and his soldiers to feast. For a time, everyone makes merry, but towards the end of the evening, Frey has his troops ambush Stark and his now-drunk band. Frey has everyone massacred, and even has one of his soldiers stab Stark’s pregnant wife in the belly to ensure he kills the unborn child.

The message from Frey to all future rivals was crystal clear. Don’t mess with me. Though fictional, Game of Thrones draws from medieval history, and such tales of vengeance are not unusual. English history, French history, and many empires of conquest pursued such a strategy of brutalizing subjects so viciously they wouldn’t consider fighting back in the future. These strategies are common because they work. For instance, Mongol empire had many cities surrender without a fight, due to fear that the Mongols would massacre everyone inside should they put up an inch of resistance.

The point of these stories isn’t just about geopolitics, but what happens when humans have too much power over other humans. Which brings me to the problem of monopolies, and what some of them do when they are even slightly challenged. A few months ago, the Biden administration put out a rule to regulate the pharmacy benefits management business, an opaque but massive part in the pharmaceutical drug supply chain. PBMs handle the drug benefit piece of insurance plans. They maintain a list of drugs for insurance companies, they negotiate drug prices, and they manage reimbursements to pharmacies.

The original idea behind PBMs is they would be able to get enough bargaining power by representing multiple insurance companies that they could negotiate to bring down drug prices. And accumulate bargaining power they did, merging until three PBMs control 80% of the insurance market. They are also vertically integrated with insurance companies and drug store chains. The top three PBMs are owned by CVS, United Health, and Cigna.

Unfortunately, because of an exemption from anti-kickback laws, PBMs don’t use their bargaining power to reduce consumer prices. Instead, they force pharmaceutical firms to compete over who will give the PBM the biggest kickback, which in the industry is known as a rebate. Take insulin. In 2013, Sanofi gave a 2-4% kickback to PBMs to prefer their product to customers. In 2018, that number went up to 56%. In other words, more than half of the price of insulin is going to a middleman who does nothing more than push around paper.

The many bad practices of PBMs are legendary. PBMs often force customers to buy more expensive drugs over their generic counterparts, likely because they get kickbacks when customers do so. This ends up making this obscure group of firms a lot money. The combined revenue of the top three firms, who comprise just a small part of the U.S. health system, is larger than the entire amount France spends on all medical care for its entire population.

It gets worse. PBMs all own mail-order pharmacies, and they are increasingly mandating that patients use those mail-order pharmacies instead of the local pharmacy around the corner. Moreover, PBMs now have so much power they are able to claw back money randomly from pharmacies months after a drug was dispensed, using something called a Direct and Indirect Remuneration fee. (DIR fees are only used for Medicare plans, but that is still 37% of the market.) For independent pharmacies, DIR fees are impossible to plan for, they are opaque, and they end up raising prices for consumers.

PBMs are particularly bad for independent pharmacies, who are a critical lifeline in many underserved parts of America. 77% of independent pharmacies serve communities with fewer than 50,000 people. In these places, the independent pharmacist often is the health care infrastructure. Seven in ten do free home delivery, a service which is virtually non-existent with chains. The amount that PBMs have been reimbursing these pharmacists has been going down for years, to the point that many are losing money depending on the medicine they are filling for customers. To put it differently, it’s the equivalent of Amazon raising fees on third party sellers, or Tyson cutting the amount they pay to cattle ranchers.

A few months ago, the Biden administration proposed eliminating most DIR fees, which would get rid of a good, but not critical, profit center for giant PBMs. It looked like a nice win for the anti-monopolists, patients, and independent pharmacies. Last week, however, a contact passed me a new contract from Express Scripts, the giant PBM owned by Cigna.

Cigna has about a quarter of the PBM market, which means that one out of every four people who goes to a pharmacy to get drugs is using Cigna insurance. There’s regional variation, so in some places Cigna won’t have much market share, while in states like Georgia, something like 50% of the Medicare drug plans are Cigna plans. As one pharmacist put it to me, “If you don’t sign these contracts, then a third of patients won’t come to me because they won’t be able to get their services through their insurance benefits.” In other words, pharmacists can’t turn away a third of the people who come into the store, so they tend accept whatever terms Cigna offers.

And as it turns out, Cigna’s offer to pharmacists just got a lot worse. PBM pricing is insanely weird and complex, so I’ll try to explain it to you. The short story is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2022 at 1:52 pm

A clear and classic case of corruption: How Joe Manchin Aided Coal and Earned Millions

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a corrupt politician of the worst sort, one who seems focused on using his public office for private gain. And he will get away with it because, by and large, the US avoids punishing powerful people. Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate report in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

GRANT TOWN, W.Va. — On a hilltop overlooking Paw Paw Creek, 15 miles south of the Pennsylvania border, looms a fortresslike structure with a single smokestack, the only viable business in a dying Appalachian town.

The Grant Town power plant is also the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

Opportunity arrived in the form of two developers who wanted to build a power plant in Grant Town, just outside Mr. Manchin’s district. Mr. Manchin, whose grandfather went to work in the mines at age 9 and whose uncle died in a mining accident, helped the developers clear bureaucratic hurdles.

Then he did something beyond routine constituent services. He went into business with the Grant Town power plant.

Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents.

The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.

While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data. At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

As the pivotal vote in an evenly split Senate, Mr. Manchin has blocked legislation that would speed the country’s transition to wind, solar and other clean energy and away from coal, oil and gas, the burning of which is dangerously heating the planet. With the war in Ukraine and resulting calls to boycott Russian gas, Mr. Manchin has joined Republicans to press for more American gas and oil production to fill the gap on the world market.

But as the Grant Town plant continues to burn coal and pay dividends to Mr. Manchin, it has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal.

Mr. Manchin declined an interview request. His spokeswoman, Sam Runyon, did not respond to detailed questions about his business interests, and whether those interests affected his actions as a public official. Senate ethics rules forbid members from acting on legislation to further their financial interests or those of immediate family members. There is no indication that Mr. Manchin broke any laws.

In the past, Mr. Manchin has repeatedly said that he has acted to protect valued industries in West Virginia, which ranked second in coal production and fifth in natural gas in 2020, according to federal data. He has defended his personal business ties to the Grant Town plant, telling the Charleston Gazette in 1996, “I did it to keep West Virginia people working.”

This account is based on thousands of pages of documents from lawsuits, land records, state regulatory hearings, lobbying and financial disclosures, federal energy data and other records spanning more than three decades. The Times also spoke with three dozen former business associates, current and former government officials, and industry experts.

The documents and interviews show that at every level of Mr. Manchin’s political career, from state lawmaker to U.S. senator, his official actions have benefited his financial interest in the Grant Town plant, blurring the line between public business and private gain. . .

Continue reading. (Gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 7:03 pm

For red and blue America, a glaring divide in COVID-19 death rates persists 2 years later

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Put simply, the death rate from Covid-19 in red states is 38% higher than it is in blue states. Read the report.

From the report:

Data sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the 10 states with the highest vaccination rates all voted for Biden in 2020, while nine of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates voted for Trump. The lone exception was Georgia, which narrowly went for Biden by less than a quarter of a percentage point. . .

An ABC News analysis of federal data found that on average, the death rates in states that voted for Trump were more than 38% higher than in states that voted for Biden, post widespread vaccine availability.

In addition, in the 10 states with the lowest percentage of full vaccinations, death rates were almost twice as high as that of states with the highest vaccination rates, the analysis found.

Over the span of the last 10 months, in the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates, where between 50 and 54.5% of the total population had been fully vaccinated, there was an average of 153 COVID-19-related deaths per 100,000 residents.

In contrast, during the same time period, the 10 states and jurisdictions with the highest vaccination rates, which all voted for Biden, there was an average of about 82.2 related deaths per 100,000 residents. In all 10 states, about 75% of residents had been fully vaccinated.

Read the whole report. There’s quite a bit more, including a telling graph.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 6:50 pm

Ignorance of history may partly explain why Republicans perceive less racism than Democrats

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Eric W. Dolan writes in PsyPost how people may be honestly reporting their perceptions, but their perceptions vary by level of knowledge:

gnorance of U.S. history might help explain why White Republicans tend to perceive less racism than White Democrats, according to new research published in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Surveys have consistently found that White Republicans perceive less racism than White Democrats. For example, a Pew Research Center poll from 2020 found that 74% of Biden supporters thought it was a lot more difficult to be Black than White, while only 9% of Trump supporters said the same. But the reasons for these political differences in perceptions of racism are unclear.

“Prior research suggests that White people’s knowledge of historical racism and perception of present racism differs across regions and contexts,” said study author Ethan Zell, an associate professor of psychology at UNC Greensboro. “We thought these differences could be happening because White samples that are more conservative know less about historical racism and perceive less present racism than White samples that are more liberal. Thus, we designed a set of studies to directly test this hypothesis.”

The researchers used the crowdsourcing platforms Prolific and Amazon Mechanical Turk to survey 463 White American adults regarding their knowledge about Black history in the United States and their perceptions of racism. The participants completed a Black History Quiz in which they indicated whether they believed 16 statements were true or false and reported the certainty of their response.

The quiz contained false statements, such as: “African American Paul Ferguson was shot outside of his Alabama home for trying to integrate professional football.” It also contained true statements, such as: “The African American slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom. The Supreme Court ruled that he was property, not a citizen of the U.S. and therefore could not sue in federal court.”

The researchers found evidence that political differences in the perception of individual racism were mediated by historical knowledge. Republican participants tended to score worse on the Black History Quiz compared to Democratic participants, and those who scored worse on the quiz tended to perceive less racism.

For example, those who scored lower on the Black History Quiz were more likely to rate the following statement as not being indicative of racism: “Several people walk into a restaurant at the same time. The server attends to all the White customers first. The last customer served happens to be the only person of color.”

“Our studies suggest that White Republicans know less about historical racism than White Democrats. Further, people who lack knowledge about historical racism also tend to perceive less racism in the present,” Zell told PsyPost.

But the researchers cannot say for certain that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 6:36 pm

Judges Behaving Badly: Amazon Antitrust Suit Dismissed

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

hree items this week:

  • An incompetent judge let Amazon off the hook for monopolization.
  • Why hasn’t the FTC challenged the Amazon-MGM merger?
  • Is Congress about to fix our shipping mess? Sort of!

In the meantime, last weekend I did a Breaking Points video on war, consolidation and the coming food crisis. If you want to watch it, you can see it here.

“That’s how the market works”

Last May, I wrote a long piece explaining the scam at the heart of Amazon Prime. When you think about it, Prime doesn’t really make any economic sense. Prime members pay a small annual or monthly fee, and in return get massively valuable and expensive benefits like free shipping, free movies and TV, video games, and so forth. Amazon likely gets between $10-20 billion a year in Prime fees, but delivering these services costs Amazon probably upwards of $80-100 billion a year. That means Amazon has to find $70 billion of cash somewhere as an endless subsidy. Yet, Amazon is profitable, and prices for goods on Amazon are almost always the lowest you can find online. How does Amazon pull this off?

There are three steps. First, Amazon acquired enough customers for its retail division to monopolize online buying and selling. It did this by offering free shipping and other benefits at a vastly subsidized rate to Prime members. For consumers, this seemed like a great deal. They got a very good reliable place to buy stuff online. But on the other side of the market, for sellers, many of whom sold 80-100% of their wares on Amazon’s Marketplace, Amazon acquired substantial market power. “[We] have nowhere else to go and Amazon knows it,” said one seller that sells products on Amazon.

Second, Amazon forced these captive sellers to pay massive fees to sell on its marketplace, by making them use its fulfillment and warehousing (as well as other services). Amazon took those fees, which brought in $121 billion in 2021, to pay for its various Prime benefits, including shipping. And third, and this is where it becomes brilliant, Amazon then forced those sellers to keep their prices high through non-Amazon sales channels. If they ever sold elsewhere for less, they would be de facto kicked off Amazon.

These three steps were each pivotal. Without the subsidy of Prime, it wouldn’t have been possible for Amazon to capture control over most online buying. Without the seller fees, Amazon couldn’t afford that subsidy. And without forcing sellers to raise their prices elsewhere to ensure Amazon had the lowest prices online, you’d see signs like ‘Buy cheaper at’ or ‘ costs less than Amazon’ everywhere, and Amazon would be undercut in the marketplace. But you don’t see such signs. Consumers think they are getting the best deal at Amazon, and they usually are.

It’s a genius scheme, because it gives the appearance that Amazon offers the lowest price and free shipping, when in fact consumers pay a higher cost for products without realizing it. I first wrote about Prime because of an antitrust suit filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who filed a case in district court spelling out this scheme in a rigorous and detailed way. There are a bunch of investigations going on into Amazon, and this was the first case filed that came out of them. Filing this case was a sort of loner approach by Racine, who is an aggressive and fearless litigator. It was an excellent complaint – detailed, factually rigorous, and legally sound – and a class action case with a very similar theory just passed the critical motion to dismiss stage in a Seattle courtroom with a Bush-appointee judge.

I thought it was going to be a titanic clash, and it brought critical legal questions into the courts to be hashed out by a jury. Unfortunately, the judge Racine got assigned to this case, Hiram Puig-Lugo, did not agree. Earlier this week, at what looked like a routine scheduling hearing, Puig-Lugo, whose expertise is in family law, shocked everyone involved by dismissing Racine’s Amazon complaint outright. That means the case is over, unless Racine appeals. And how Puig-Lugo dismissed the case was as odd as his choice to do so. For important complaints like this, judges almost always put down in writing their rationale for making decisions at key stages. But Puig-Lugo did not. He simply read from the bench that he didn’t think the claimed conduct violated the law.

The deeper you go, the more odd the decision. According to Law360, Puig-Lugo said in his ruling that maybe it was just a coincidence that merchants were raising prices on other channels. They could be engaged in “lawful, unchoreographed free-market behavior.” Such a statement makes no sense, because there were explicit contracts between Amazon and sellers mandating higher prices. And yet, the judge simply said when making his ruling from the bench, “That’s how the market works.”

There are bad decisions in antitrust law, ones that make the law harder to enforce going forward. Usually bad decisions are on the outer edge of precedent, and have legal reasoning that is illogic but coherent. This, however, wasn’t just a bad decision. It was the decision of someone who didn’t care to learn the facts of the case before him, or even how antitrust law itself works. Frankly I’m not sure Puig-Lugo even read the complaints, though it’s also possible he’s just dumb. There are dumb judges. Or maybe he wanted the case to go away; his interest is in family law and trafficking, not complex business litigation. In any case, Puig-Lugo dismissed a well-prepared complaint on a very important part of the economy, without even explaining himself in writing.

Obviously, Racine should appeal. I would normally say . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And IMO this is a newsletter worth the subscription price (a llittle less than $1 per week, paid annually).

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2022 at 11:53 am

How Biden has handled Russia’s war against Ukraine

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Click the link to read the full conversation.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2022 at 7:20 pm

More than two dozen Senate Republicans demand Biden do more for Ukraine after voting against $13.6 billion for Ukraine

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The Republican party has become a trash political party. Mariana Alfaro and Eugene Scott report in the Washington Post:

More than two dozen Senate Republicans are demanding that President Biden do more to aid war-torn Ukraine and arm its forces against Russia’s brutal assault, after voting last week against $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Consider Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who heard Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s emotional plea in a virtual address to Congress on Wednesday for more weapons and a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“President Biden needs to make a decision TODAY: either give Ukraine access to the planes and antiaircraft defense systems it needs to defend itself, or enforce a no-fly zone to close Ukrainian skies to Russian attacks,” Scott said in a statement. “If President Biden does not do this NOW, President Biden will show himself to be absolutely heartless and ignorant of the deaths of innocent Ukrainian children and families.”

Last week, Scott was one of 31 Republicans to vote against a sweeping, $1.5 trillion spending bill to fund government agencies and departments through the remainder of the fiscal year and that would also include $13.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine. Biden signed the bill into law Tuesday, casting the aid as the United States “moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.”

After casting a “no” vote, Scott assailed the overall spending bill as wasteful, arguing that it was filled with lawmakers’ pet projects. “It makes my blood boil,” Scott said last week.

Democrats quickly condemned what they saw as glaring hypocrisy among the Republicans who voted against the aid but were quick to criticize Biden as a commander in chief leading from behind in addressing Ukraine’s needs.

“’We should send more lethal aid to Ukraine which I voted against last week’ is making my brain melt,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted divisions in the Republican Party on U.S. involvement overseas and the standing of the NATO alliance. For decades, during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the GOP embraced a hawkish view with robust military spending and certainty about coming to the aid of allies.

President Donald Trump’s “America First” outlook and efforts to undermine NATO, including questioning why the military alliance even existed, secured a foothold in the GOP, reflected in the response of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to Ukraine. In a video Wednesday, Greene blamed both Russia and Ukraine, and warned against U.S. intervention. Biden has said repeatedly that he would not send U.S. troops to fight.

Potential 2024 presidential candidates such as Scott have been highly critical of Biden, who also announced Wednesday that the Pentagon was sending nearly $1 billion in military equipment to Ukraine, including 800 Stinger antiaircraft systems, 100 drones, 25,000 helmets and more than 20 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds.

In early February, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another possible White House candidate, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggesting that the United States would be worse off if Ukraine were admitted to NATO, the military alliance of 30 mainly Western countries — including the United States — bound by a mutual defense treaty, and argued that the United States should instead focus on countering China.

Hawley, who voted against the spending bill with billions for Ukraine, said Wednesday that Biden needs to “step up” and send MiG jet fighters and other weapons to Ukraine, accusing the administration of “dragging its feet.”

The Pentagon has rebuffed Poland’s offer to send MiG fighter jets to Ukraine amid fears of further escalation involving a NATO country.

In a statement Thursday, Hawley said, “Aid for Ukraine should not be held hostage to the Democrats’ pet projects and I did not support the massive $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill stuffed with billions in earmarks.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who also voted against the spending bill, told MSNBC on Thursday that the United States “can do more” for Ukraine. . .

Continue reading. But it’s depressing. And the voters will not hold these Senators to account for the mismatch between their words and votes.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2022 at 4:34 pm

Russia recommends using parts of Tucker Carlson program for propaganda

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Heather Cox Richardson has a very good column, one in which the notes and links following the column are particularly important.

Read the entire column. Here’s the last part of the column:

. . . Putin, of course, has used chemical weapons before, most recently against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. His goons also did so on March 4, 2018, in the U.K, in a poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. That poisoning seemed to be a sign that Putin was confident enough in his power that he was willing to kill someone in England and dare then–prime minister Theresa May to do something about it.

What happened next seemed to illustrate Putin’s growing security in the face of weak U.S. and European resistance. May condemned the attack, as did U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But May couldn’t do much because Brexit had isolated England and then-president Trump refused to back her. He promptly fired Tillerson, along with one of Tillerson’s deputies who contradicted the White House version of why Tillerson was out. Russian state TV then warned May not to threaten a country armed with nuclear warheads. And, just about then, Republicans in the House exonerated Trump from “colluding” with Russia in the 2016 election, outright rejecting the evidence and findings of our own intelligence community.

There remains a lot to learn not only about why former president Trump allowed such aggression, but also about why members of the Republican Party were willing to look the other way when U.S. policy under Trump benefited Russia—when the U.S. abruptly withdrew from northern Syria in October 2019, for example, or when Trump withheld money appropriated for Ukraine’s defense to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky into helping him rig the 2020 election.

At least part of the answer to that question is the disinformation campaign launched by Russia to undermine our democracy. False stories in the media have divided us and convinced many people in the U.S. of things that are simply lies.

Former representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) released a video today echoing Russia’s false story of “25 to 30 U.S. funded bio labs in Ukraine,” and demanded a ceasefire to secure them.

Later this afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted: “This is preposterous. It’s the kind of disinformation operation we’ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent.” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) slammed Gabbard for “parroting false Russian propaganda.”

David Corn of Mother Jones today broke another news story: a Russian government agency distributed a 12-page document to media outlets telling them, “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally….”

The call to feature Carlson is in the section titled “Victory in Information War.”

Do read the column and the footnote links as well.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2022 at 1:34 am

“We Are Witnessing a New Form of Warfare”

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In the Washington Monthly Paul Glastris interviews a source who has some interesting observations:

On March 9, I had a conversation about the war in Ukraine with a longtime source of mine who has had a decades-long career in the military and in the intelligence community, serving both in and out of government. The source requested anonymity to speak freely. The following Q&A has been edited for brevity.

Q: What do you make of the offer by Poland to provide MiG fighters to the United States that we would then deliver to Ukraine?

A: It was really not smart of the Poles to float this publicly. It was an unforced error on their part. The more visible this discussion is, the less helpful it is.

Q: So how will Ukraine get the fighters it needs?

A: There are countries that have MiGs that are not members of NATO. This is a classic case where the U.S. government gets its checkbook out and quietly goes to one of those countries. The fighters just show up in Ukraine. The Russians wouldn’t even necessarily know where they came from—remember, right now, they don’t even control the airspace over Ukraine. They would obviously know what happened, but the United States and NATO would have deniability. It’s called “foreign material acquisition.” We did this all the time during the Cold War.

Q: How vital is it to get those MIGs to Ukraine?

A: I don’t see it as being decisive. Maybe I’m wrong. The Ukrainians seem to want them badly. I’m sure they want to use them to hit Russian tanks and deny Russia control of the airspace. But they are doing an amazing job of that with the weapons we already gave them. We’ve supplied them with something like 17,000 anti-tank missiles and I don’t know how many [antiaircraft] Stingers. We should be giving them thousands more.

We are witnessing a new form of warfare. To put a tank on a battlefield costs maybe $30 million. A Javelin anti-tank missile costs $175,000. Similarly with fighter jets and antiaircraft missiles. You can defend territory at a tiny fraction of what it costs the aggressor to take it. The drones the Ukrainians bought from the Turks are doing incredible damage. But just the cheap commercial drones you buy at Walmart can give you total tactical awareness of the battlefield. So Ukrainians can see everything the Russians are doing. They don’t even need satellites. But you can buy satellite imagery on the commercial market, too, and that gives you strategic awareness.

Q: How worried are you that the Russians will be able to cut off the supply of weapons and other key material from the West to the Ukrainians?

A: The Russians are said to be able to interdict supplies. But if you have Ukrainian convoys equipped with Stingers and also teams equipped with Stingers on fixed sites along the routes, all they need to do is shoot down a few Russian aircraft and the Russians are going to be saying, “Forget it, I don’t want to go there.” Will it be harder to get supplies into Kyiv if the Russians manage to blockade the city? Yes. But the Ukrainians can then attack the Russians from behind.

Q: How much of the military resistance we are seeing in Ukraine is the result of citizens rising up themselves and how much of it is being directed by the Ukrainian military?

A: Yeah, you see the photos in the media of the handmade Molotov cocktails. No question: The will of the Ukrainian people is incredible. You saw a taste of that determination in 2014. I saw it when I was in Ukraine right after the 2014 revolution. If Putin had been paying attention, they would’ve seen that, too. But also, we’ve had Green Berets going into Ukraine for years training Ukrainian special forces for just this kind of moment. This resistance was very well planned out.

Q: How does this end?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 March 2022 at 4:46 pm

Medical debt is way down thanks to Obamacare

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It’s worth remembering that every single Republican voted against Obamacare, and the Republican party has repeatedly attempt to get rid of, weaken, or destroy Obamacare, and that those states that chose not to expand Medicaid were all governed by Republicans.

The Republican party acts exactly as a party that hates the public would act.

Kevin Drum notes:

Good news! Thanks to Obamacare, medical debt is way down. But not everywhere:. [see above – LG]

This is from a study published in JAMA a few months ago. In states that expanded Medicaid, serious medical debt (i.e. debt in collections) has been cut in half. In states that didn’t, medical debt has stayed about the same. And needless to say, this debt is mainly a problem for those with low incomes.

The Republican party also acts exactly as a party that hates the poor would act.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2022 at 1:33 pm

Monopolies Take a Fifth of Your Wages

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These workers are very happy with weak antitrust enforcement because they are fictional.

Matt Stoller’s most recent post in BIG (the source of the image above) is worth reading. It begins:

In 2018, a new Federal Trade Commissioner named Rohit Chopra began stirring up trouble at the agency. There are five commissioners at the FTC, and they traditionally had agreed on how to enforce the laws in favor of fair competition. Dissents were rare, and upsetting, because most staffers and commissioners saw themselves as scientists or experts serving the public under a bipartisan consensus.

Chopra, however, dissented. A lot. He did so because in his view, the FTC had failed in its mandate is to police fair dealing in the American marketplace, including laws against monopolies. Instead of real work, it offered slaps-on-the-wrist to powerful entities, and it failed to stand up for workers, business people, and communities whose rights were being abused. In his first week, Chopra sent an internal memo with the memorable phrase, “FTC orders are not suggestions,” both offending a lot of the old-timers, and making it clear that the parking ticket style penalties the government had been dishing out to lawbreakers would no longer suffice. His dissents had a meaningful impact, and embarrassed commissioners into taking more aggressive action. For instance, despite Chopra being a Democrat, he very likely forced the FTC under Trump to bring an antitrust suit against Facebook.

Chopra’s most important dissent was in a 2018 case called Your Therapy Source, a case in which the FTC caught several employers colluding together to suppress wages, and doing so overtly on text messages. This is straight-up price-fixing and the evidence was ironclad. I did a Twitter thread at the time on the scheme, and why it mattered.


In this case, it’s not that the FTC didn’t act, it’s just that the commission didn’t impose any penalties on the organizer of the scheme. In his dissent, Chopra argued that the FTC should not have let the perpetrator off with a warning, and he made a public criminal referral to the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, which, unlike the FTC, can actually use handcuffs. The DOJ indicted in late 2020, and the courts upheld the indictment late last year in United States vs. Jindal.

That case is the first antitrust criminal case against wage-fixing that made it past the motion-to-dismiss stage, meaning that the Antitrust Division has brought wage-fixing as a crime under the orbit of the antitrust laws for the first time in history. Until Jindal, it hadn’t been accepted by the antitrust bar and the libertarian establishment that monopolizing the purchase of labor is an acceptable purpose of the antitrust laws. Despite increasing rhetoric around labor and mergers, for instance, the Trump administration chose to allow the merger to monopoly of two gold mines in Nevada. As workers no longer could threaten to leave one mine and work for the other, this merger led immediately to lower wages and the decertification of the union representing workers at the mines. Clearly, market power matters not just consumers, but over workers as well. (And this has been obvious for a long time; I first wrote about this dynamic in 2017 in Vice, in a piece on how monopoly power costs workers $14k a year.)

You would think this dynamic would be recognized by everyone at this point, but in fact, it’s still not entirely accepted by Chicago School stalwarts. The New York Times quoted antitrust defense lawyers whining about the new framework.

note by the law firm White & Case, for instance, complained that the move to block Penguin Random House’s attempt to buy Simon & Schuster on the grounds that it would reduce royalties to authors is “emblematic of the Biden administration’s and the new populist antitrust movement’s push to direct the purpose of antitrust away from consumer welfare price effects and towards other social harms.”

And just two weeks ago, Christine Wilson and Noah Phillips, who are the pro-monopoly commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission, held fast to their consumer welfare ideology which excludes the effects of market power on labor. They refused to allow the FTC to look at whether a merger of two Rhode Island hospitals will reduce competition for the services of nurses and doctors.

Wilson and Phillips, though, are pretty much dead-enders, holding on to an ideology that makes increasingly little sense in either party or within the antitrust world. The courts are moving away from a pure consumer welfare analysis. Now, the Antitrust Division is going after wage-fixing in several more cases, and corporate lawyers are telling every firm in America to stop the practice of holding down wages with illegal schemes.

So as it turns out, Chopra was on to a lot more than just one scheme. Chopra is no longer at the FTC, but the work he did, and that Antitrust Division lawyers picked up on, is reverberating. Earlier this week, the Biden administration’s Treasury Department put out an astonishing report on . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2022 at 1:20 pm

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