Later On

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Archive for the ‘Biden administration’ Category

Pete Buttigieg, where are you when you’re needed

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If I’m not mistaken, solving the problem described in the Washington Post article by Andrea Salcedo, Luz Lazo, and Lee Powell is exactly the job of Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation. Is he asleep at the switch?

The article begins:

LEGGETT, Tex. — A man suffered a stroke but a stopped train blocked paramedics from reaching him for over an hour. A senior in a nearby retirement community missed his oncologist appointment because another train obstructed that same intersection. A fire crew could not get to a house engulfed in flames until another train eventually cleared the crossing.

For decades, those living along Glover Road in Leggett, Tex. — a rural community with fewer than 150 residents some 80 miles from Houston — wrote letters, sent emails and called authorities pleading that trains stop blocking the neighborhood’s sole point of entry and exit for hours. Some residents and a county judge sent letters addressed to the railroad company, warning of a “greater catastrophe,” including a toxic train disaster.

“Should there be a derailment … we would be dead ducks, having no evacuating route,” Pete Glover, the man whom the street is named after, wrote in a 1992 letter to the railway company. “If some home caught afire,” he added. there’d be “no way for firetrucks to serve them.”

To many in the community, their worst fears were realized in 2021, when baby K’Twon Franklin died. His mother, Monica Franklin, had found the three-month old unresponsive in her bed the morning of Sept. 30, and called 911.

Paramedics responded, but a Union Pacific train blocked their path on Glover Road, according to Franklin and a local police report. It took more than 30 minutes for them to carry K’Twon into an ambulance. Two days later, the baby died at a hospital in Houston. “Unfortunately, the delay has cost my child’s life,” Franklin, 34, told The Washington Post.

Over the last decade, rail corporations have been running more lengthy freight trains — some as long as three miles — partly to save fuel and labor costs. As they do, they are blocking rural and urban intersections, stoking anger and contributing to tragedies and calamities.

Much of the nation’s focus has been on a long Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio in February, sparking a toxic fireball and prompting state and federal investigations. But while Congress has shown some renewed concern about rail safety, there’s been little focus on an everyday safety threat — long trains blocking first responders from getting to emergencies. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2023 at 12:54 pm

Hospitals that denied emergency abortion broke the law, feds say

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Amanda Seitz reports for AP:

Two hospitals that refused to provide an emergency abortion to a pregnant woman who was experiencing premature labor put her life in jeopardy and violated federal law, a first-of-its-kind investigation by the federal government has found.

The findings, revealed in documents obtained by The Associated Press, are a warning to hospitals around the country as they struggle to reconcile dozens of new state laws that ban or severely restrict abortion with a federal mandate for doctors to provide abortions when a woman’s health is at risk. The competing edicts have been rolled out since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion last year.

But federal law, which requires doctors to treat patients in emergency situations, trumps those state laws, the nation’s top health official said in a statement.

“Fortunately, this patient survived. But she never should have gone through the terrifying ordeal she experienced in the first place,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “We want her, and every patient out there like her, to know that we will do everything we can to protect their lives and health, and to investigate and enforce the law to the fullest extent of our legal authority, in accordance with orders from the courts.”

The federal agency’s investigation centers on two hospitals — Freeman Health System in Joplin, Missouri, and University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas — that in August refused to provide an abortion to a Missouri woman whose water broke early at 17 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors at both hospitals told Mylissa Farmer that her fetus would not survive, that her amniotic fluid had emptied and that she was at risk for serious infection or losing her uterus, but they would not terminate the pregnancy because a fetal heartbeat was still detectable.

Ultimately, Farmer had to travel to an abortion clinic in Illinois.

“It was dehumanizing. It was terrifying. It was horrible not to get the care to save your life,” Farmer, who lives in Joplin, said of her experience. “I felt like I was responsible to do something, to say something, to not have this happen again to another woman. It was bad enough to be so powerless.”

Farmer’s complaints launched the first investigations that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, has publicly acknowledged since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. Across the country, women have reported being turned away from hospitals for abortions, despite doctors telling them that this puts them at further risk for infection or even death.

President Joe Biden’s administration has prodded hospitals not to turn away patients in those situations, even when state law forbids abortions. Weeks after . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

1 May 2023 at 11:51 am

Republicans threaten to tank economy. Media blame Biden.

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Dan Froomkin reports on Press Watch:

House Republicans are refusing to let the government keep paying its bills unless the Biden administration rolls back some of its signature achievements.

It’s a demand that neither the Senate nor Biden will ever agree to.

Raising the debt limit is a procedural move that allows the Treasury to make good on existing commitments. It’s not a budget bill.

But House Republicans appear to be ready to default on the debt if they don’t get their way. Such a default would be catastrophic for the U.S and world economies, and could permanently damage the dollar’s status as the de facto global currency.

Explaining it that way is simply good journalism.

But as usual, extremist Republicans have been enabled by media coverage that tries to split the difference, and treats what is essentially a hostage crisis created exclusively by one side as a normal, two-sided partisan squabble.

Indeed, our top political reporters now insist that the onus is on Biden to solve the problem.

Under the headline “Biden Faces His First Big Choice on Debt Limit,” New York Times reporter Jim Tankersley writes today that the issue “has put President Biden on the defensive, forcing him to confront a series of potentially painful choices at a perilous economic moment.”

Sure, Biden says he won’t negotiate, but “business groups, fiscal hawks and some congressional Democrats” want him to make a deal. So Biden, Tankersley writes, “faces a cascading set of decisions as the nation, which has already bumped up against its $31.4 trillion debt limit, barrels toward default.”

But the nation is not “barreling toward default,” nor is it “careening,” or even “drifting” there. It is being pushed there by Republicans.

Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein set off Internet pundits and the Post’s own readers over the weekend with his article headlined “Biden is running out of time to avoid calamitous debt ceiling outcomes.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall tweeted: “Has there ever been a clearer example of the ‘GOP has trained us to take their legislative terrorism as a given’ mentality so clear in so much MSM reporting?”

Post commenters put it so well:

This is a vapid article that begins with a false premise. Biden is not the one who needs to be doing something right now. That’s Congress. Also, none of Biden’s options to resolve the problem unilaterally are “running out.” They all are still available. Click bait that isn’t even good click bait.


Yes, I am sick and tired of articles that seem to absolve the Republicans of their own idiocy and then blame the Democrats for not protecting us from the harm caused by Republicans.

Both Tankersley and Stein know better. They are both highly competent at times. What pressure are they under to produce such garbage? Which editors is this coming from? It’s a mystery.

And it’s not just them. The notion that this is a problem that both sides needed to solve has been endemic to corporate political reporting for months now.

The Associated Press has consistently been advocating for some sort of compromise — in its news stories. Josh Boak wrote that, “staring down a fast-approaching deadline,” both sides “have to find some version of common ground.”

Washington Post reporter Michael Scherer glibly predicted (in January!) that “Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy, wary opponents, prepare to work together“.

Biden and McCarthy haven’t spoken about the debt ceiling once since then, with Biden continuing to insist on a clean debt-ceiling bill with no strings attached. Scherer is still arguing with me on Twitter that he was right.

A key distinction that gets conflated in much of the coverage is between  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2023 at 1:23 pm

Changing the focus from consumer to worker

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Rani Foroohar writes in Financial Times:

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu might not be an economist, but as White House adviser on antitrust he authored a groundbreaking executive order on competition policy that has done more to change the framework for economic policymaking than anything that has come from economists themselves.

For the past 40 years, America’s competition policy has revolved around the consumer. This is in part the legacy of legal scholar Robert Bork, whose 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox held that the major goal of antitrust policy should be to promote “business efficiency”, which from the 1980s onwards came to be measured in consumer prices. These were considered the fundamental measure of consumer wellbeing, which was in turn the centre of economic wellbeing.

But Wu, along with compatriots such as Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan and Department of Justice antitrust head Jonathan Kanter, has changed things. Like the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, which took power from unions and unleashed markets and corporations, Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order may well be remembered as a major economic turning point — this time, away from neoliberalism with its focus on consumers, and towards workers as the primary interest group in the US economy. For Wu, the author of The Curse of Bigness, shifting the starting point for policymaking is part of an existential struggle to save democracy in America.

During this conversation, just three months after he stepped down as White House adviser, he discusses life in the political pressure cooker, the battle between lawyers and economists in competition policy, and why creating an even playing field across business and labour markets is core to preserving the republic.

Rana Foroohar: It’s great to see you again. One thing we touched on in a previous conversation is this opportunity for the legal profession to bring a real world perspective to competition policymaking that adds to what economists have been doing for the past 40 years. Can you talk a bit about what’s driving that?

Tim Wu: I think it’s part of a broader reaction to excessive technocratic governance, and particularly by economists. That isn’t to say that economists shouldn’t be in the picture, but I think that in certain areas — antitrust being a particularly strong example — the more lawyerly interest and conduct outcomes and things like intent are really important.

Lawyers aren’t exactly laypeople, but even laypeople can ask, how is it that Google was able to buy Waze, which was another major map application and everyone thought that was fine? Why was Facebook buying Instagram? Aren’t they obviously competitors? Those kind of outcomes which really were only reached with the help of a PhD in economics. Things move slowly, but I feel like particularly the antitrust agencies are headed in a different direction.

RF: Jonathan Kanter has some really interesting thoughts on the starting point for thinking about antitrust. He said he thinks about the life that he had growing up, the opportunities and space to pursue the choices that would allow for a good life. He says the antitrust conversation can and should encompass anything that would stop people from being able to pursue those kinds of choices. That seems to be going back to an almost constitutional interpretation of competition versus something as narrow as the Chicago School theory. Would you agree with that interpretation?

TW: I think that economic liberty and opportunity are core to what antitrust in its original conception was trying to preserve. The US was for a long time a country of highly decentralised economic power. It was a country of regions and individual and small business and family businesses. I think a big part of the promise of the US and of Biden’s government was, “come here and you can make it”, not “come here and you can maybe get a job somewhere”. I think there’s something very key and this did underlie a lot of our thinking by the administration with the executive order. That the power to leave and do your own thing or leave for a better job has a powerful disciplining effect on markets and employers.

The non-compete clause ban, which was very near and dear to the president’s heart and his campaign, was a good example of that and one reason it was made such a priority.

RF: What is it like to leave academia and go into the belly of the beast in the White House, and be so much a part of a massive shift in policymaking?

TW: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2023 at 2:43 pm

Dubious ethics: Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire

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Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski report in ProPublica about an astonishingly flagrant violation of judicial ethics and in fact the law. I think we must recognize at this point that the US Supreme Court is deeply corrupt.

IN LATE JUNE 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Thomas did not respond to a detailed list of questions.

In a statement, Crow acknowledged that he’d extended “hospitality” to the Thomases “over the years,” but said that Thomas never asked for any of it and it was “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

Through his largesse, Crow has gained a unique form of access, spending days in private with one of the most powerful people in the country. By accepting the trips, Thomas has broken long-standing norms for judges’ conduct, ethics experts and four current or retired federal judges said.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. When she was on the bench, Gertner said, she was so cautious about appearances that she wouldn’t mention her title when making dinner reservations: “It was a question of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended.”

Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in administrations of both parties, said Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations.”

“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” said Canter, now at the watchdog group CREW. “Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink.”

ProPublica uncovered the details of Thomas’ travel by . . .

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It is perhaps worth noting that Thomas owes his seat on the Supreme Court to the way then-Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the committee, did not allow a reasonable investigation of Anita Hill’s allegations nor did he allow corroborating witnesses to appear. Thanks, Joe. And while I’m at it, thanks also for approving the Willow project so we can pump billions of tons more of CO2 to speed along global warming.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2023 at 10:49 am

Greta Thunberg: The Show is Over

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An earlier post today included a graph that showed how the unbroken growth of CO2 emissions reveal that no effective steps have been taken. Greta Thunberg speaks to that quite effectively. You can read the transcript of her remarks, but their impact is greatly strengthened if you watch her deliver them in the video in this post from last October.

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Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2023 at 11:59 am

Chart showing impact of various international agreements on CO2 emissions

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Chart showing "Monthly averages of atmospheric CO2 as recorded at Mauna Loa in Hawaii."
Amounts of CO2 rapidly climb from ~325 ppm in 1960 to ~418 pm in 2020.
Graphic also notes when various meetings were held and agreements were made to limit or reduce carbon emissions. None of this has had any effect.

From Wikipedia:

The Willow project is an oil drilling project by ConocoPhillips located on the plain of the North Slope of Alaska in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The project was originally to construct and operate up to five drill pads for a total of 250 oil wells. . . 

On March 13, 2023, the Biden administration approved the project.

Environmentalist organization Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on March 14, 2023, on behalf of conservation groups to stop the Willow project, saying that the approval of a new carbon pollution source contradicts President Joe Biden‘s promises to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and transition the United States to clean energy.

The project could produce up to 600 million barrels of oil and 287 million tons of carbon emissions plus other greenhouse gases over 30 years, and could adversely impact Arctic wildlife and Native American communities. The Willow project would damage the complex local tundra ecosystem and, according to an older government estimate, release the same amount of greenhouse gases annually as half a million homes.[1]

We’re doomed.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2023 at 8:38 am

Biden Plan to Cut Billions in Medicare Fraud Ignites Lobbying Frenzy

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As Dan Froomkin notes, “Health insurers are spending millions to protect their ability to overbill billions to the government. Doesn’t that make you angry?”  Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz report in the NY Times:

“How’s the knee?” one bowler asked another across the lanes. Their conversation in a Super Bowl ad focused on a Biden administration proposal that one bowler warned another would “cut Medicare Advantage.”

“Somebody in Washington is smarter than that,” the friend responded, before a narrator urged viewers to call the White House to voice their displeasure.

The multimillion dollar ad buy is part of an aggressive campaign by the health insurance industry and its allies to stop the Biden proposal. It would significantly lower payments — by billions of dollars a year — to Medicare Advantage, the private plans that now cover about half of the government’s health program for older Americans.

The change in payment formulas is an effort, Biden administration officials say, to tackle widespread abuses and fraud in the increasingly popular private program. In the last decade, reams of evidence uncovered in lawsuits and audits revealed systematic overbilling of the government. A final decision on the payments is expected shortly, and is one of a series of tough new rules aimed at reining in the industry. The changes fit into a broader effort by the White House to shore up the Medicare trust fund.

Without reforms, taxpayers will spend about $25 billion next year in “excess” payments to the private plans, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a nonpartisan research group that advises Congress.

The proposed changes have unleashed an extensive and noisy opposition front, with lobbyists and insurance executives flooding Capitol Hill to engage in their fiercest fight in years. The largest insurers, including UnitedHealth Group and Humana, are among the most vocal, according to congressional staff, with UnitedHealth’s chief executive pressing his company’s case in person. Doctors’ groups, including the American Medical Association, have also voiced their opposition.

“They are pouring buckets of money into this,” said Mark Miller, the former executive director of MedPAC, who is now the executive vice president of health care at Arnold Ventures, a research and advocacy group. Supporters of the restrictions have begun spending money to counter the objections. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2023 at 11:15 am

Wealthy Executives Make Millions Trading Competitors’ Stock With Remarkable Timing

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Robert Faturechi and Ellis Simani report in ProPublica:

On Feb. 21, 2018, August Troendle, an Ohio billionaire, made a remarkably well-timed stock trade. He sold $1.1 million worth of shares of Syneos Health the day before a management shake-up caused the company’s stock to plunge 16%. It was the largest one-day drop that year for Syneos’ share price.

The company was one Troendle knew well. He is the CEO of Medpace, one of Syneos’ chief competitors in a niche industry. Both Syneos and Medpace handle clinical trials for biopharma companies, and that year they had jointly launched a trade association for companies in the field.

The day after selling the Syneos shares in February 2018, Troendle bought again — at least $3.9 million worth. The value of his Syneos stake then rose 75% in the year that followed.

In February 2019, Troendle sold much of that position, netting $2.3 million in profit. Two days later, Syneos disclosed that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating its accounting practices. The news sent the company’s shares tumbling. Troendle’s sale avoided a 25% loss, the stock’s largest decline in such a short period during either that or the previous year. (Troendle declined to comment.)

The Medpace executive is among dozens of top executives who have traded shares of either competitors or other companies with close connections to their own. A Gulf of Mexico oil executive invested in one partner company the day before it announced good news about some of its wells. A paper-industry executive made a 37% return in less than a week by buying shares of a competitor just before it was acquired by another company. And a toy magnate traded hundreds of millions of dollars in stock and options of his main rival, conducting transactions on at least 295 days. He made an 11% return over a recent five-year period, even as the rival’s shares fell by 57%.

These transactions are captured in a vast IRS dataset of stock trades made by the country’s wealthiest people, part of a trove of tax data leaked to ProPublica. ProPublica analyzed millions of those trades, isolated those by corporate executives trading in companies related to their own, then identified transactions that were anomalous — either because of the size of the bets or because individuals were trading a particular stock for the first time or using high-risk, high-return options for the first time.

The records give no indication as to why executives made particular trades or what information they possessed; they may have simply been relying on years of broad industry knowledge to make astute bets at fortuitous moments. Still, the records show many instances where the executives bought and sold with exquisite timing.

Such trading records have never been publicly available. Even the SEC itself doesn’t have such a comprehensive database. The records provide an unprecedented glimpse into how the titans of American industry make themselves even wealthier in the stock market.

U.S. securities law bars “insider trading” — buying or selling stocks based on access to nonpublic information not available to other investors — under certain circumstances. Historically, insider trading prosecutions and SEC enforcement have both focused on corporate employees, and those close to them, trading in the stock of their own companies.

But executives at companies can also have extensive access to nonpublic information about rivals, partners or vendors through their business. Buying or selling stock based on that knowledge can run afoul of insider-trading law, according to experts. ProPublica described multiple trades, without mentioning names, to Robert Zink, a former chief of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section, who responded that if he were still at the Justice Department, “of course we would look at it.” He added that the key to ProPublica’s findings is “the trading doesn’t appear to be a one- or two-time thing. It’s happening a lot.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 6:34 pm

SVB’s investors will get $2b in public bailout money

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Cory Doctorow writes in Medium:

We were told that the Silicon Valley Bank bailout wasn’t a bailout: in a bailout, it’s the investors who get public money; but with SVB, it was the depositors. But, of course, the owners of SVB were also depositors in their own bank. All in all, SVB’s owners are entitled to $2B in public money.

When Biden said, “investors in the banks will not be protected. They knowingly took a risk and when the risk didn’t pay off, investors lose their money. That’s how capitalism works,” he was ignoring the fact that this isn’t how the law works.

Writing on Credit Slips, the incomparable Adam Levitin — the best source on bankruptcy law writing on the web today — breaks it down: “creditors of a subsidiary have no claim on the assets of a parent.” That means that the FDIC has no claim on the assets of the now-bankrupt holding company that owned SVB:

Which means that when the FDIC makes all the depositors at SVB whole, they will transfer $2b to the “investors” whom Biden promised “will not be protected.” If you’re interested in the minutiae of this, Levitin’s piece is short and clear — there’s no automatic tort-based claim that would let the FDIC get the money back from the investors, because SVB isn’t classed as a really big bank (a “G-SIB”).

As for Dodd-Frank’s “source of strength” doctrine, it “doesn’t create any concrete financial liability — it’s just exhortatory.”

Bankruptcy law does give priority to regulators seeking capital to keep depositors whole, but that applies only when the bank makes “a specific promise to do so.” All this means that “the FDIC seems to have accidentally guarantied $2 billion for the creditors of SVB Financial Group without any offsetting claim.”

No source has been better for understanding the SVB debacle than Credit Slips, asking questions and raising issues that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 6:11 pm

FCC orders phone companies to block scam text messages

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Some progress. Now block scam voice calls. Jon Brodkin reports in Ars Technica:

The Federal Communications Commission today finalized rules requiring mobile carriers to block robotext messages that are likely to be illegal. The FCC described the rules as the agency’s “first regulations specifically targeting the increasing problem of scam text messages sent to consumers.”

Carriers will be required to block text messages that come from “invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers.” Carriers must also block texts from “numbers that the subscriber to the number has self-identified as never sending text messages, and numbers that government agencies and other well-known entities identify as not used for texting,” the FCC said.

Carriers will have to establish a point of contact for text senders so the senders can inquire about blocked texts. The FCC already requires similar blocking of voice calls from these types of numbers.

The FCC still has a 2-2 partisan deadlock more than two years into Joe Biden’s presidency, but the robotext order was approved 4-0. The FCC sought public comment on the rules in September 2022 before finalizing them today. The order will take effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, according to a draft of the order released before the meeting.

More robotext rules on the way

More robotext rules may be on the way because today’s “action also seeks public comment on further proposals to require providers to block texts from entities the FCC has cited as illegal robotexters,” the FCC said. For example, the FCC proposes to clarify that Do Not Call Registry protections apply to text messaging.

The FCC said it’s further proposing to close the  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2023 at 12:27 pm

Fire the Fed

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Matt Stoller has a strong column in BIG, one with which I have considerable sympathy:

In 1969, then-Citibank CEO Walter Wriston tried to radically upend more than a hundred years of banking law by offering to buy the large insurance company, the Chubb Corporation. He did so by using a loophole in banking law that allowed banks to form a holding company and diversify into non-banking industries. Such a purchase would entangle banking and commerce in a manner traditionally prohibited by the rules establishing the national banking system in the 1960s, and reinforced by the Glass-Steagall Act in the 1930s. And it was utterly shocking to the political establishment, from bank regulators all the way up to President Richard Nixon.

Citibank’s move was part of a wave of big banks and conglomerates, which were an early type of private equity fund, trying to break this barrier, and use the special government guarantees for cheap credit as a competitive advantage over industrial firms in the real economy. Smaller banks were unhappy, as were many businesses, about what Wriston was doing. Still, the banks had an immensely powerful lobby. Yet over the course of the next two years, populist Banking Committee Chair Democrat Wright Patman, and his allies in business, at Federal regulatory agencies and in the Nixon administration, fought back.

Patman held hearings to expose the problems, hearings that today show what it means when core infrastructural platforms – in this case banks – could exploit their market position. A Pennsylvania entrepreneur testified about pressure put on him by banks to buy alternative services when he needed financing. An Indianapolis travel agent, Othmar Grueninger, talked about how bank-owned travel agencies were driving independent agencies out of business because of their unparalleled access to data about who traveled and who was creditworthy. “Any time I deposited checks from my customers,” he said, “I was providing the banks with the names of my best clients.”

But the big banks were powerful, and controlled a majority of votes on the House Banking Committee, despite Patman’s Chairman position. So the committee passed a version of the bill that legalized what Wriston and various conglomerates were doing. Executives at the American Bankers Association, the lobbying group based in New York, celebrated. Then, lobbyists for insurance and travel agencies, data processors, and industry groups mobilized. On the floor of the House, Patman and his staff completely re-wrote the bill that had come out of committee, and passed it out of the House. Lobbyists at the American Bankers Association had stopped paying attention, and didn’t even learn what happened until the next day.

The fight went over to the Senate, where it became even more brutal, involving bribery, threats to campaign contributors, and shouting matches. The progressive National Farmers Union, in hock to a Denver bank that had been acquired by a conglomerate, persuaded liberals like Senator George McGovern to back a big bank-friendly amendment. The negotiations for the final bill between the House and Senate were, according to American Banker magazine, among “the most contentious ever held on banking legislation.”

In that conference committee, Patman pulled perhaps the pettiest yet most impactful political maneuver I’ve ever seen. Attached to the bill was a noncontroversial provision to coin 150 million commemorative Eisenhower dollars with 40% silver content. A major contractor for the silver jacketing material for the coins was a company owned by a contributor to a key Senator on the conference committee, New Jersey’s Harrison Williams, who had previously backed the banks and conglomerates. Patman threatened to strip the commemorative coin provision, and Williams quickly caved and dropped his support for the bank-friendly version of the bill. And thus a key protection of the middle class from financiers was preserved for another thirty years.

Ultimately, the 1970 Amendments to the Bank Holding Company Act empowered the Federal Reserve to prohibit banks from co-mingling with commerce through holding companies. In the next two years, the Fed broke up 89 conglomerates, and stopped big banks from buying their way into insurance, land development, data processing, and management consulting. Everyone who had formed a bank holding company starting in 1968, when the rush began, had to divest their non-bank assets. I went into more details of this episode in my book Goliath; suffice to say it was one of the most important political fights of the 1960s that most of us know nothing about.

What Is Federal Reserve Independence?

What was most striking to me about this episode, having worked on the financial crisis of 2008 as a Congressional staffer, was not the fights within Congress. That made sense, the pettiness, corruption, good faith and big decisions all in one wrapper. It was the behavior of . . .

Continue reading. This is an important column — but unfortunately, the House is in the grip of the GOP now.

Written by Leisureguy

16 March 2023 at 5:42 pm

Here’s the real reason the EPA doesn’t want to test for toxins in East Palestine

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Stephen Lester writes in the Guardian:

The decision to release and burn five tanker cars of vinyl chloride and other chemicals at the site of a 38-car derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, just over three weeks ago unleashed a gigantic cloud full of particulates that enveloped surrounding neighborhoods and farms in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It is well documented that burning chlorinated chemicals like vinyl chloride will generate dioxins. “Dioxin” is the name given to a group of persistent, very toxic chemicals that share similar chemical structures. The most toxic form of dioxin is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. TCDD is more commonly recognized as the toxic contaminant found in Agent Orange and at Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri, both sites of two of the most tragic environmental catastrophes in US history.

Dioxin is not deliberately manufactured. It is the unintended byproduct of industrial processes that use or burn chlorine. It is also produced when chemicals such as vinyl chloride are burned such as occurred in East Palestine.

The organization I work for, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, has worked with communities affected by dioxins for over 40 years. We have seen the impact of exposure to dioxins in communities from Love Canal and Times Beach to Pensacola, Florida. And now, we are asking, why isn’t EPA testing for dioxins in East Palestine, Ohio? Are dioxins present in the soil downwind from the site of the accident?

At a townhall meeting in East Palestine last week, people talked about what it was like when the black cloud reached their property. One person who lived 15 miles away described burned ash material from the fire that settled on her property. Another who lived 3 miles away described how the black cloud completely smothered his property. Repeatedly people asked: was it safe for my kids to play in the yard? Is it safe to grow a garden? What is going to happen to my farm animals?

These are important questions that deserve to be answered. Today there are no clear answers. Why? Because no one has done any testing for dioxins anywhere in East Palestine. No one. And, it seems, that the EPA is uninterested in testing for dioxins, behaving as though dioxin is no big deal.

This makes no sense. Testing for dioxin, a highly toxic substance, should have been one of the first things to look for, especially in the air once the decision was made to burn the vinyl chloride. There is no question that dioxins were formed in the vinyl chloride fire. They would have formed on the particulate matter – the black soot – in the cloud that was so clearly visible at the time of the burn. Now, the question is how much is in the soil where people live in and around East Palestine. Without testing, no one will know and the people who live there will remain in the dark, uncertain about their fate.

This is important because . . .

Continue reading.

The institutions, organizations, and agencies whose mission it is to protect the public are failing badly. The police now endanger the public as much as protect it, the EPA no longer protects the environment, the government does not ensure that railroads are safe, the DOJ and FTC have not stopped monopolies, the Supreme Court now takes away rights, companies simply fire anyone who wants a union (illegal, but nothing is done to stop it), … It goes on.

Robert Reich points out a few things:

otal student loan debt erased by Biden plan: $400 billion

Total cost of the 2017 GOP tax cuts: $1.9 trillion

Funny how Republicans have no problem giving corporations and billionaires big tax cuts, but erasing some student loan debt for millions of people is just too much.

and also

The upward redistribution of wealth over the past 40 years has shifted $50 trillion from the bottom 90% to the top 1%. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans.

The greatest trick of all is trickle-down economics.

And yet people still will vote for Republicans.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2023 at 9:59 pm

Rail unions tell Biden officials that workers have fallen ill at Norfolk Southern derailment site

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Uh-oh. This can’t be good. Lori Ann LaRocco reports for CNBC:


  • The presidents of U.S. railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for more train safety.
  • Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
  • Earlier Wednesday, a group of bipartisan senators introduced The Railway Safety Act of 2023, aimed at preventing future train disasters like the derailment that devastated the Ohio village.

The presidents of U.S. railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for more train safety.

Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss the derailment, aftermath and needed safety improvements.

“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. “Today’s meeting is an opportunity for labor to share what our members are seeing and dealing with day to day. The railroaders labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so.”

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division, told CNBC that Buttigieg plans on more talks with the unions in the future.

“This was a good start,” said Ferguson. “It’s important these . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2023 at 7:54 am

Norfolk Southern Boosted Shareholder Payouts 4,500%, Slashed Workforce 33% Prior to Ohio Disaster

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Overhead view of a train wreck with smoke still rising and railway cars in a jumble, lying across the tracks.

Eric Gardner reports at More Perfect Union:

The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying 20 railcars of toxic chemicals in western Ohio has renewed scrutiny on precision scheduled railroading (P.S.R.)–a controversial management approach that prioritizes profit at the expense of all else.

Since its introduction in the early 1990s, the approach became an effortless way for rail executives and shareholders to inflate profits, while limiting the actual effort of management. At its core, P.S.R. mandates trains to transport bigger and heavier loads with fewer workers. 

In practical terms, it means that trains went from 80-90 railcars supported by 5 workers, to 2 workers overseeing 150 railcars or more. This enabled management to effectively invert how much companies spent on workers and how much profit they generated for shareholders. Of course, this came at a cost: safety and reliability. Reports indicate that before it derailed, Norfolk Southern train 32N broke down due to its excessive size

“The root causes of this wreck,” Railroad Workers United said in a statement released days after the derailment, “are the same ones that have been singled out repeatedly, associated with the hedge fund initiated operating model known as “Precision Scheduled Railroading.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2023 at 7:13 pm

What do you do when the government promotes cancer? This ‘climate-friendly’ fuel comes with an astronomical cancer risk

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Things are going badly. Sharon Lerner reports in the Guardian:

The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave a Chevron refinery the green light to create fuel from discarded plastics as part of a climate-friendly initiative to boost alternatives to petroleum. But, according to agency records obtained by ProPublica and the Guardian, the production of one of the fuels could emit air pollution that is so toxic, one out of four people exposed to it over a lifetime could get cancer.

“That kind of risk is obscene,” said Linda Birnbaum, former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “You can’t let that get out.”

That risk is 250,000 times greater than the level usually considered acceptable by the EPA division that approves new chemicals. Chevron hasn’t started making this jet fuel yet, the EPA said. When the company does, the cancer burden will disproportionately fall on people who have low incomes and are Black because of the population that lives within three miles of the refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

ProPublica and the Guardian asked Maria Doa, a scientist who worked at the EPA for 30 years, to review the document laying out the risk. Doa, who once ran the division that managed the risks posed by chemicals, was so alarmed by the cancer threat that she initially assumed it was a typographical error. “EPA should not allow these risks in Pascagoula or anywhere,” said Doa, who now is the senior director of chemical policy at Environmental Defense Fund.

In response to questions from ProPublica and the Guardian, an EPA spokesperson wrote that the agency’s lifetime cancer risk calculation is “a very conservative estimate with ‘high uncertainty’”, meaning the government erred on the side of caution in calculating such a high risk.

Under federal law, the EPA can’t approve new chemicals with serious health or environmental risks unless it comes up with ways to minimize the dangers. And if the EPA is unsure, the law allows the agency to order lab testing that would clarify the potential health and environmental harms. In the case of these new plastic-based fuels, the agency didn’t do either of those things. In approving the jet fuel, the EPA didn’t require any lab tests, air monitoring or controls that would reduce the release of the cancer-causing pollutants or people’s exposure to them.

In January 2022, the EPA announced the initiative to streamline the approval of petroleum alternatives in what a press release called “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s actions to confront the climate crisis.” While the program cleared new fuels made from plants, it also signed off on fuels made from plastics even though they themselves are petroleum-based and contribute to the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Although there’s no mention of discarded plastics in the press release or on the EPA website’s description of the program, an agency spokesperson told ProPublica and the Guardian that it allows them because the initiative also covers fuels made from waste. The spokesperson said that 16 of the 34 fuels the program approved so far are made from waste. She would not say how many of those are made from plastic and stated that such information was confidential.

All of the waste-based fuels are the subject of consent orders, documents the EPA issues when it finds that new chemicals or mixtures may pose an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment. The documents specify those risks and the agency’s instructions for mitigating them.

But the agency won’t turn over these records or reveal information about the waste-based fuels, even their names and chemical structures. Without those basic details, it’s nearly impossible to . . .

Continue reading.

President Biden’s administration is making an enormous unforced error, and the buck stops with Biden.

Read the whole column to see how bad this is.

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2023 at 5:30 pm

A Norfolk Southern Policy Lets Officials Order Crews to Ignore Safety Alerts

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Capitalists will fight anything, including safety measures, that threatens to reduce profit.  Topher Sanders and Dan Schwartz report for ProPublica:

In October, months before the East Palestine derailment, the company also directed a train to keep moving with an overheated wheel that caused it to derail miles later in Sandusky, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern allows a monitoring team to instruct crews to ignore alerts from train track sensors designed to flag potential mechanical problems.

ProPublica learned of the policy after reviewing the rules of the company, which is engulfed in controversy after one of its trains derailed this month, releasing toxic flammable gas over East Palestine, Ohio.

The policy applies specifically to the company’s Wayside Detector Help Desk, which monitors data from the track-side sensors. Workers on the desk can tell crews to disregard an alert when “information is available confirming it is safe to proceed” and to continue no faster than 30 miles per hour to the next track-side sensor, which is often miles away. The company’s rulebook did not specify what such information might be, and company officials did not respond to questions about the policy.

The National Transportation Safety Board will be looking into the company’s rules, including whether that specific policy played a role in the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine. Thirty-eight cars, some filled with chemicals, left the tracks and caught fire, triggering an evacuation and agonized questions from residents about the implications for their health. The NTSB believes a wheel bearing in a car overheated and failed immediately before the train derailed. It plans to release a preliminary report on the accident Thursday morning.

ProPublica has learned that Norfolk Southern disregarded a similar mechanical problem on another train that months earlier jumped the tracks in Ohio.

In October, that train was en route to Cleveland when dispatchers told the crew to stop it, said Clyde Whitaker, Ohio state legislative director for the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, or SMART. He said the help desk had learned that a wheel was heating up on an engine the train was towing. The company sent a mechanic to the train to diagnose the problem.

Whitaker said that it could not be determined what was causing the wheel to overheat, and that the safest course of action would have been to set the engine aside to be repaired. That would have added about an hour to the journey, Whitaker said.

But Whitaker said the dispatcher told the crew that a supervisor determined that the train should continue on without removing the engine.

Four miles later, the train derailed while traveling about 30 miles per hour and dumped thousands of gallons of molten paraffin wax in the city of Sandusky.

Records from the Federal Railroad Administration, the agency responsible for regulating safety in the railroad industry, show that Norfolk Southern identified the cause of the October derailment as a hot wheel bearing. Whitaker said this bearing was on the same engine that originally drew concerns.

A spokesperson for the FRA said the agency’s investigation into the derailment is ongoing. The agency did not say whether it was examining the role of any Norfolk Southern officials in deciding to keep the damaged engine on the train. It’s still unknown what role, if any, the help desk played in the final decision.

This month, 20 miles before Norfolk Southern’s train spectacularly derailed in East Palestine, the help desk should have also gotten an alert. As the train rolled through Salem, it crossed a track-side sensor. Video footage from a nearby Salem company shows the train traveling with a fiery glow underneath its carriage.

If, like the Sandusky train, this one was dangerously heating up, a key question for investigators will be whether the help desk became aware and alerted the crew, and if it did, why the crew was not instructed to stop. The NTSB told ProPublica it is reviewing data from the Salem detector and those before it on the train’s route.

Continue reading. Modern-day capitalists believe “Profit über alles.”

President Biden should have supported the union. That is what Democrats have stood for, not crushing unions to support capitalists who care nothing about the public or their own workers.

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2023 at 6:07 am

Buttigieg speaks

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I’ve been critical of Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, for basically being Invisible Man — not only on the East Palestine event, but also on the airline stoppages and on transportation in general (e.g., on walkable cities) — but he has emerged to a degree as reported by Kevin Robillard at Huffpost:

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg slammed the railroad industry for opposing safety reforms and shot back at his GOP critics during a conference call with reporters on Monday night to roll out a blitz of new railroad safety proposals.

Buttigieg, under fire for failing to appear at the scene of a fiery derailment and explosion in East Palestine, Ohio, and waiting more than a week to publicly discuss the incident, has sharply criticized the rail industry in recent days, accusing them of putting profits over safety.

“Freight rail companies like Norfolk Southern can remain profitable while maintaining a higher standard of safety and taking better care of their workers,” Buttigieg said on the call with reporters, referring to the railroad whose train derailed in East Palestine, sending chemicals into the air and terrifying locals.

On Sunday night, Buttigieg sent a letter to Norfolk Southern’s CEO demanding the railroad drop its opposition to a host of federal safety proposals.

The rail safety proposals — ranging from increasing the size of fines the Department of Transportation can levy against a railroad to pressing the railroads to provide paid sick leave — aim to both push back against a narrative Buttigieg has been MIA from the disaster’s aftermath and to potentially kick-start a push for rail safety legislation in Congress. Any successful push in a divided Congress would likely meet fierce resistance from the rail lobby, a low-key but powerful force.

“Some of [these proposals] have been met with resistance from industry, but I think now’s a moment of potential bipartisan cooperation,” he said, emphasizing the word “potential.”

At the same time, a key roadblock to bipartisan cooperation may be the GOP’s unrelenting criticism of Buttigieg.

While the DOT has little role to play in the immediate aftermath of a crash like the one in East Palestine — the Environmental Protection Agency handles cleanup while the independent National Transportation Safety Board leads an investigation — Republicans and conservative media have relentlessly amplified local residents who have questioned why Buttigieg hasn’t shown up.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote to President Joe Biden last week to demand Buttigieg’s resignation, claiming Buttigieg was “deflect[ing] any accountability for the safety of our nation’s rail system.” On Monday’s call, Buttigieg fired back.

“We heard from Sen. Rubio last week, who had some pretty strong words about this incident,” Buttigieg said, before pointing to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 February 2023 at 12:43 pm

Ohio’s train derailment — not spy balloons — is the real national security threat

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Brad Martin and Aaron Clark-Ginsberg write in the Los Angeles Times:

Earlier this month, a threat with potentially serious consequences for the long-term national security of the United States presented itself — and not in the form of a high-altitude balloon.

It was a railroad derailment, in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in a discharge of vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing substance that response crews burned in order to prevent an explosion. Many organizations, including those responsible for the safety and well-being of the citizens of East Palestine, might not have viewed this incident as a national security issue. But it is, and as such, requires a more vigorous response, and certainly more attention than the spy balloon or balloons.

Consider, for starters, that “national security” encompasses not merely the external defense of the United States, but also the intelligence apparatus that supports its military operations, the defense against terrorist attacks, and the diplomatic efforts to secure allies and communicate with potential adversaries. All these actions and a variety of others are what nations do to protect their citizens. And while these actions are generally viewed apart from the things a nation does to promote prosperity and well-being among its people, they cannot be separated.

National security is about protecting a nation and its people and their well-being. Which means that certain aspects of infrastructure and services are so fundamental to this effort — fundamental to the very functioning of society — that their continued ability to function is also considered a national security issue.

A secure food supply, for example. Or energy supplies, public safety or protection against environmental threats. Yet last week residents of East Palestine were drinking only bottled water; livestock and fish are dying suddenly; the possible health and environmental outcomes, though they remain unknown, are quite possibly dire. . .

Continue reading.

To be clear: Capitalists — the investor class whose wealth comes from owning stocks — do not have the country’s welfare as a goal. Their goal is to increase profit. The government‘s goal is the country’s welfare, but a good part of that government has been subverted by money from capitalists — corporations and wealthy individuals.

And what is Pete Butigieg, Secretary of Transportation, doing? What are his current priorities?

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2023 at 12:02 pm

GOP’s mission to split the US

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Heather Cox Richardson:

We awoke this morning to news that President Joe Biden was in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he pledged “our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” Air raid sirens blared as Biden and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky walked through the streets during the U.S. president’s five-hour stay.

As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters, Biden’s visit was the first time a U.S. president has visited “the capital of a country at war where the United States military does not control the critical infrastructure”…in other words, an active war zone. Biden traveled in a special mission plane from Germany to Poland, then took a train from Poland to Kyiv. To make sure there would be no attacks, the U.S. notified the Russians that Biden would be in Kyiv, but a Russian MiG 30 flew from Belarus during Biden’s visit, triggering air raid sirens.

According to Sullivan, Biden felt it was important to visit Kyiv at the anniversary of the 2022 Russian invasion. The image of Biden and Zelensky standing together sent a message to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as David Rothkopf put it in the Daily Beast: “I am here in Kyiv and you are not. You not only did not take Kyiv in days as some predicted, but your attack was rebuffed. Your army suffered a humiliating defeat from which it has not recovered.”

Just under a year ago, the global equation looked very different. On February 4, 2022, Chinese president Xi Jinping hosted Russian president Vladimir Putin on the opening day of the Winter Olympics. The two men pledged to work together in a partnership with “no limits” in a transparent attempt to counter U.S. global leadership and assert a new international order based on their own authoritarian systems.

At the time, Russia was massing troops on its border with Ukraine but fervently denied it was planning to invade. On February 24, 2022, Russian tanks rolled across the border and Russian planes covered them in the air. Biden remembered that Zelensky called him and said he could hear the explosions as they spoke. “I’ll never forget that,” Biden said. “The world was about to change.” When Biden asked what he could do to help, Zelensky said: “Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine.”

And over 50 nations stepped up to make sure the rules-based international order in place since World War II, which prevents one country from attacking another, held. Those backing Ukraine against Russian aggression have squeezed Russia with economic sanctions and supported Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid. As Biden said today, standing next to Zelensky: “Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

Biden pledged another $460 million in aid to Ukraine, emphasizing that U.S. support for the country is bipartisan.

Biden mourned the cost Ukraine has had to bear, but championed its successes. “Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map,” Biden said, but “Putin’s war of conquest is failing. Russia’s military has lost . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2023 at 11:14 am

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