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Archive for the ‘Biden administration’ Category

The mainstream media are failing us

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Heather Cox Richardson points out how the US is being undermined by click-oriented (instead of thoughtful) journalism. She writes:

Today, Nate Cohn noted in the New York Times that the policies President Joe Biden and the Democrats are putting in place are hugely popular, and yet Biden’s own popularity numbers have dropped into the low 40s. It’s a weird disconnect that Cohn explains by suggesting that, above all, voters want “normalcy.”

Heaven knows that Biden, who took office in the midst of a pandemic that had crashed the economy and has had to deal with an unprecedented insurgency led by his predecessor, has not been able to provide normalcy.

In her own piece, journalist Magdi Semrau suggests that the media bears at least some of the responsibility for this disconnect, since it has given people a sense of the cost of Biden’s signature measures without specifying what’s in them, focused on negative information (negotiations are portrayed as “disarray,” for example), and ignored that Republicans have refused to participate in any lawmaking, choosing instead simply to be obstructionist. As Semrau puts it: “Democrats want to fix bridges, provide childcare and lower drug costs. Republicans don’t. These are political facts and voters should be aware of them.”

To this I would add that Republican attacks on Democrats, which are simple and emotional, get far more traction and thus far more coverage in the mainstream press than the slow and successful navigation of our complicated world.

In illustration of the unequal weight between emotion and policymaking, Biden’s poll numbers took a major hit between mid-August and mid-September, dropping six points. That month saw the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was widely portrayed as a disaster at Biden’s hands that had badly hurt U.S. credibility. In fact, Biden inherited Trump’s deal with the Taliban under which the U.S. promised to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban met several requirements, including that it stop killing U.S. soldiers.

When Biden took office, there were only 3500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000 during the Obama administration. Biden had made no secret of his dislike of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and, faced with the problem of whether to honor Trump’s agreement or send troops back into the country, committed to complete the withdrawal, although he pushed back the date to September.

What he did not know, in part because Trump’s drawdown had taken so many intelligence officers out of the country, was that as soon as Trump’s administration cut the deal with the Taliban, Afghan troops began to make their own agreements to lay down their arms. The Biden administration appears to have been surprised by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government on August 15. As the Taliban took the capital city of Kabul, Afghans terrified by the Taliban takeover rushed to the Kabul airport, where an attack killed 13 U.S. military personnel who were trying to manage the crowd.

Republicans reacted to the mid-August chaos by calling for Biden’s impeachment, and the press compared the moment to the 1975 fall of Saigon. That coverage overshadowed the extraordinary fact that the U.S. airlifted more than 124,000 people, including about 6000 U.S. citizens, out of Afghanistan in the six weeks before the U.S. officially left. This is the largest airlift in U.S. history—the U.S. evacuated about 7000 out of Saigon—and evacuations have continued since, largely on chartered flights.

By comparison, in October 2019 under Trump, the U.S. simply left Northern Syria without helping former allies; the senior American diplomat in Syria, William V. Roebuck, later said the U.S. had “stood by and watched” an “intention-laced effort at ethnic cleansing.” And yet, that lack of evacuation received almost no coverage.

Complicating matters further, rather than agreeing that the withdrawal was a foreign policy disaster, many experts say that it helped U.S. credibility rather than hurt it. According to Graham Allison, the former dean of Harvard Kennedy School, “The anomaly was that we were there, not that we left.”

And yet, in mid-September, while 66% of the people in the U.S. supported leaving Afghanistan, 48% thought Biden “seriously mishandled” the situation.

Aside from getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, is it true that Biden has not accomplished much?

Biden set out to prove that democracies could deliver for their people, and that the U.S. could, once again, lead the world. He promptly reentered the international agreements Trump had left, including the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, and renewed those Trump had weakened, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Biden set out to lead the world in coronavirus vaccinations, making the U.S. the world’s largest donor of vaccines globally, although U.S. vaccinations, which started out fast, slowed significantly after Republicans began to turn supporters against them.

Under Biden, the U.S. has recovered economically from the pandemic faster than other nations that did not invest as heavily in stimulus. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package to rebuild the economy, and it has worked spectacularly. Real gross domestic product growth this quarter is expected to be 5%, and the stock market has hit new highs, as did Black Friday sales yesterday. Two thirds of Americans are content with their household’s financial situation.

The pandemic tangled . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 3:26 am

Big Business’s effort to protect monopolies and undermine the US government

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

The Swamp Strikes at Lina Khan

Since the Senate confirmed Lina Khan to be one of two key antitrust enforcers in June, the network of corporatist operatives in D.C. and Wall Street have been quietly trying to undermine her. This week, the campaign came into the open. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce just announced in the Wall Street Journal that it will be engaged in open conflict with the Federal Trade Commission, and more broadly with anti-monopolists across government.

“It feels to the business community that the FTC has gone to war against us, and we have to go to war back,” said Chamber President and CEO Suzanne Clark. The plan from the Chamber is endless harassment of the agency. They are filing Freedom of Information Act requests for the correspondence of Khan and her staff, writing warning letters about the commission’s actions, and threatening to sue the FTC at every step (even on things that went through on a bipartisan vote). The Chamber is also sending letters to every agency in government, in organized pushback against the Biden executive order on competition. The goal is to frighten lawyers at these agencies, to make it too painful to try and govern.

Meanwhile, Google, which is probably funding the Chamber’s campaign against the Biden anti-monopoly agenda, demanded that new Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter recuse himself from any involvement in the antitrust suit against them, and advocacy groups funded by dominant firms are echoing the attack on Khan. The Chamber’s public declaration of war is, in fact, pro forma; everyone knows that big tech funds the Chamber, and that big tech has been running a nonstop campaign against assertive antitrust enforcement. The only difference is now it’s public that they are doing it.

Attacks on public servants who stand up to power tend to start with process critiques, as well as allegations that someone is radical or dangerous. Jim Cramer on CNBC, for instance, has been regularly going after Khan as anti-business and unfairly hostile to big, as has conservative outlet Breitbart (which is rumored to have extensive ties to Facebook).

Antitrust defense lawyers are spreading false rumors, like the FTC is asking about corporate social responsibility policies in merger reviews, which is something that Senator Mike Lee – who seems to personally despise Khan – has picked up in hearings. Meanwhile, internal foes of Khan at the FTC are saying that she’s a bad manager, and that there’s a staff exodus. Stories with headlines like “Lina Khan Sees Turbulent Start as Head of Federal Trade Commission” emerge regularly.

The goal of all of these little process stories and rumors – true or not – is to spread doubt, so that when that official makes a mistake, there’s a pre-existing narrative about why that mistake happened. The real objection here is that Khan, and anti-monopolists like Jonathan Kanter, who was just confirmed as the Department of Justice Antitrust Division chief, are actually intent on wielding power.

Such pushback against Khan and anti-monopolists was inevitable, because the anti-monopoly movement is an existential threat to the power of Wall Street and dominant firms. The FTC is one of the key agencies in government designed to take on corporate misconduct and consolidation, and neutering the commission in the early 1980s was a key step in building a corporatized American order. The old guard desperately wants to keep the FTC out of the hands of the anti-monopolists, because they know how powerful it can be.

And Khan is a nightmare for them. Prior to her appointment, Khan’s academic work – in particular her analysis of Amazon – led to a wholesale rethinking of the problem of corporate power in both parties and across commerce. Scholars, labor leaders, and businesspeople are musing on the problem of concentration in everything from shipping to to meatpacking to oil and gas.

Now we’re starting to see what Khan looks like as an administrator, and as it turns out, she is a very serious and competent regulator. She’s already had one notable success in amplifying the work of the ‘right to repair’ movement. Apple, in response to FTC pressure, just announced that it will make it easier for consumers to repair their own phones and MacBooks. This follows Microsoft’s similar move, and we can expect to see changes across the economy as firms gradually stop locking customers out of their own equipment. That’s a big deal.

That said, the real challenge in the antitrust world is the historic merger wave. According to Bloomberg, “Companies have announced $2.8 trillion of deals so far in 2021, an unprecedented number that puts this year on track to be the most active ever.” (These are a result of cheap credit from the Fed and the CARES Act passed in 2020.) This wave creates a special problem for the FTC. While European competition enforcers can simply block a deal until it’s been investigated, in the U.S. deals automatically go through unless the FTC brings a challenge in court with a deeply researched complaint. With thousands of deals going through, the experience of being at the FTC today is like playing tennis against a machine that shoots tennis balls at you unrelentingly.

In the midst of this merger boom, Khan has been pursuing every possible trick to address the problem. She has demanded merging firms get prior approval before pursuing new mergers, ended the process of quickly clearing mergers, and withdrawn loose merger guidelines. The FTC is now sending letters to firms telling them that the commission may undo mergers in the future, thus creating an incentive for firms to delay deals. These moves are not enough to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2021 at 3:26 pm

The Hearing Aid Revolution: Cheaper and Easier to Get

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Those who need hearing aids will rejoice. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has published an interview, in which Brian Sampson interviews  Frank Lin, MD, PhD ’08, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Bloomberg School.

New FDA guidelines are poised to upend the hearing aid market in the U.S., dropping the cost of devices by as much as 90% for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.

The proposed FDA rule, published October 20, allows hearing aids to be sold directly to consumers without an exam or fitting by an audiologist. About 37.5 million American adults have some trouble hearing, but only 16% have ever used a hearing aid, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Current costs for hearing aids can be $4,000 to $5,000—one reason why so few Americans who need them actually use them. The devices are not covered by Medicare or by most private insurance plans.

When the guidelines go into effect as soon as next fall, the U.S. will be the first country to have a regulated market for over-the-counter hearing aids, says Frank Lin, MD, PhD ’08, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Bloomberg School.

“It’s exciting, and invariably where the U.S. goes, it’s going to have trickle down effects on the rest of the world market,” say Lin, who worked on reports from the National Academies of Sciences and White House that influenced 2017 legislation leading to the new FDA guidelines.

In the following Q&A, Lin explains what’s in the new rule, why it’s likely to bring companies like Apple and Samsung into the hearing aid market, and how soon new, cheaper hearing aids will be available.

WHY IS THIS PROPOSED NEW RULE BY THE FDA A BIG DEAL?

The idea that FDA now is finally enacting legislation that we got passed four years ago is exciting because it solves a public health problem through a market-shaping strategy.

They got the regulations right in the sense that there is a very clear glide path for companies like Apple, Samsung, and Bose to enter the hearing aid market. And that shapes the whole dynamic very quickly around stigma, access, cost—everything.

WHAT’S IN THE PROPOSED RULE? IS IT FOCUSED ON THE MARKET? POLICIES OR TECHNOLOGY?

Everything in a way. The law told FDA to establish a new regulatory classification for hearing aids that could be explicitly sold over the counter and would be safe and effective. It sounds simple, like, Oh, just put a bunch of regulations together and just throw it out there. But it’s actually not simple. The FDA had to create a new regulatory class that then preempts state law, and that opens up a whole legal morass. It took a lawyer a lot of time to think through all these scenarios. The nitty gritty, the trickle-down effects on other standards is not easy.

YOU SERVED ON A NATIONAL ACADEMIES COMMITTEE AND ADVISED THE WHITE HOUSE ON REPORTS THAT LED TO THIS PROPOSED RULE. IS THIS WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR?

Yes, amazingly so. There was a lot of concern that the established hearing industry was trying to influence the rule, so these hearing aids wouldn’t be able to help the greatest number of people who could benefit from these OTC devices. In the end, these regulations followed the exact spirit of the truly bipartisan bill, which is fundamentally to drive access and affordability, competition, and innovation. The FDA has set clear guideposts, but it’s not overly restrictive. It’s not going to prevent a company from like Apple, Samsung, or Bose from entering the market.

I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY THIS WILL LEAD TO GREATER AFFORDABILITY. WHY WILL THIS RULE INCREASE INNOVATION?

Right now, five multinational companies control more than 90% of the global marketplace for hearing aids. And this is possible because it’s a low-volume, high-margin market where the audiologist is the gatekeeper to these technologies for patients and consumers. But when manufacturers can sell directly to the consumer and retail market, this fundamentally changes that business model. It affects how the companies think about innovation and being directly responsive to consumer needs. Large consumer technology companies like Apple and Bose that are already making innovative hearing technologies currently can’t enter the hearing aid market because they wouldn’t be permitted to sell these hearing aids directly to consumers. These new regulations from the FDA will change this.

TELL US WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT. WHEN WILL WE SEE THESE OTC HEARING AIDS ACTUALLY ON STORE COUNTERS? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2021 at 5:21 pm

Republicans praise bill they voted against

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Could Republicans in Congress make it any clearer that they are working against their voters’ interests? Heather Cox Richardson wrote last night:

Today, President Joe Biden hit the road to sell the benefits of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law yesterday. In Woodstock, New Hampshire, today, standing at a bridge deemed structurally unsafe—one of the 215 unsafe bridges in New Hampshire—Biden said “Clean water, access to the internet, rebuilding bridges—everything in this bill matters to the individual lives of real people. This is not something abstract.”

The popularity of the new law was evident today when Republicans began to tout its benefits for their districts, despite their votes against it. Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL), for example, told his constituents: “Funding the Northern Beltline has consistently been one of my top priorities.” He added, “Birmingham is currently one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country without a complete beltline around it. Completing the Northern Beltline will benefit the entire region and enhance economic development and employment opportunities.” Completion of the road will create more than $2 billion in 10 years, he noted, and could create 14,000 jobs.

And yet, Palmer voted against the bill. When it passed, he tweeted: “The Democrats’ recklessly expensive infrastructure bill finally passed tonight after weeks of disarray among their caucus.”

Since Biden took office, the Democrats have used the government to help ordinary Americans. In the wake of the 2008 crash, the government badly underinvested in the economy, leaving consumers unable to recharge it. After a terribly slow recovery, the economy stabilized and then, once again, crashed during the pandemic. In spring 2020, millions of people lost their jobs, incomes plummeted, and spending fell off a cliff.

Worried we would make the same mistake twice, leaving the country to limp along, lawmakers pushed money into the economy. In spring 2020, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion bipartisan CARES Act, then in December 2020, the $900 billion bipartisan aid package. Then, in March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

These put more than $3 trillion into the economy, raising incomes and enabling individuals to put money into savings. Yesterday, the government sent out its fifth monthly payment to the families of around 61 million eligible children under the child tax credit that Democrats expanded under the American Rescue Plan. Yesterday’s payments were around $15 billion. So far, the program has delivered about $77 billion to families across the country which, in turn, enables them to buy household goods that pump money into the economy.

By protecting individuals’ incomes, the government also protected income tax revenues, enabling state and local governments to continue to function, while the money in people’s pockets has also meant they continued to buy goods, keeping sales taxes producing money. Far from collapsing, as it looked like they might in the early days of the pandemic, state and local governments are currently strong financially.

Other economic news is also good. Today, news broke that the government has badly underestimated job growth. Between June and September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics underestimated job growth by 626,000 jobs. The pandemic meant that businesses were slow to fill out paperwork, and this, in turn, meant numbers were underreported.

Goldman Sachs says that by the end of 2022, the nation’s unemployment rate will be at a 50-year low. Unemployment is currently at 4.6% and is expected to be at 3.5% by the end of the year, a rate that will match that of 2019, which was the lowest in 50 years.

Retail sales are also higher than expected. They are 16% higher now than they were a year ago, during the height of the pandemic. They jumped 1.7% in October, with Americans spending about $638.2 billion in that month. The National Retail Federation expects strong holiday retail sales. J.P. Morgan has upgraded its growth expectations for gross domestic product in the fourth quarter from 4% to 5%.

Products are also refilling shelves. Walmart today reported that it will have full shelves for the holiday season.

On all of this news, the stock market rose again.

All of these indicators are excellent, and they reflect the government’s protection of the demand side of the economy to prevent a situation in which the economy can’t recover from a recession because not enough people have enough money to get things moving again.

But now we are looking at a very different problem. The . . .

Continue reading.

Regarding that supply-chain problem, see this post and this post.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2021 at 1:42 pm

The Main Driver of Inflation Is a Murderous Psychopath in Riyadh

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Ryan Grim and Ken Klippenstein report in the Intercept:

SAUDI CROWN PRINCE Mohammed bin Salman is enacting revenge on Democrats in general and President Joe Biden specifically for the party’s increasingly standoffish attitude toward the kingdom — by driving up energy prices and fueling global inflation.

Biden himself seemed to allude to this at a town hall event with CNN last month, during which he attributed high gas prices to a certain “foreign policy initiative” of his, adding, “There’s a lot of Middle Eastern folks who want to talk to me. I’m not sure I’m going to talk to them.”

Biden was making a not-so-veiled reference to his refusal to meet with the crown prince and acknowledge him as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler due to his role in the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October of 2018. The move came after Biden vowed during a debate with President Donald Trump to make MBS, as he’s known, “a pariah” and represented a stark departure from Trump’s warm relations with the desert kingdom and the crown prince.

In 2017, Trump broke with tradition by choosing Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, for his first foreign visit and soon announced a record arms sale to the kingdom. Later, after Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was brutally dismembered in a Turkish consulate, Trump cast doubt on MBS’s involvement, saying, “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.” After his own CIA director briefed Congress on MBS’s culpability, Trump reportedly boasted about his efforts to protect the crown prince, saying, “I saved his ass.” Since then, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, Tom Barrack, has been indicted for allegedly working as an unregistered agent of the United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s closest ally.

In June 2018, heading into the midterms, Trump requested that Saudi Arabia and its cartel, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, lower energy prices by increasing output, and the kingdom complied. Prices bottomed out in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, and usage sank to record lows. Prices surged once the pandemic waned and the economy reopened, and this August Biden requested that OPEC again increase output.

This time MBS refused, angry at having yet to be granted an audience with Biden and contemptuous of the U.S. pullback from the war in Yemen. As one of his first pieces of business, Biden had ordered the end of American support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s war, though caveated it by barring only the backing of “offensive operations.” Saudi Arabia nevertheless received it as a grievous blow.

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi national who is considered a voice for MBS in Washington, made that clear in October, tweeting, “Biden has the phone number of who he will have to call if he wants any favours.”

Shihabi wrote in a statement to The Intercept, “Saudi has . . .

Continue reading. I don’t think the US should simply do whatever MBS wants. MBS disagrees, of course.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2021 at 5:40 pm

The US, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia

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Heather Cox Richardson describes how we got here regarding the Ukraine and where “here” is:

Today, in a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. is “concerned by reports of unusual Russian military activity,” which it is “monitoring very closely” out of concern that Russia might invade Ukraine again as it did in 2014.

Russia has been building up troops near the border, and Russian leaders have been talking more forcefully about asserting control over Ukraine.

The Biden administration is taking the apparent change in Russia’s posture seriously. It has reached out to European allies apparently to share specific information about Russian activities. “The administration is very, very concerned—this is the most concerned I’ve heard them about Russia in a really, really long time,” one diplomat told Natasha Bertrand, Jim Sciutto, and Kylie Atwood of CNN. “I wouldn’t underestimate this. They’re doing a massive outreach to raise awareness….”

The administration is also trying to deescalate the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Biden sent a team of senior U.S. officials, led by CIA Director William J. Burns, to Russia to meet with officials there. After the meeting, Burns called Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to assure him of U.S. support. The U.S. also made it a point to have Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Dr. Karen Donfried, visit Kyiv “to reaffirm our strategic partnership, the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and cooperation to advance Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”

In his own meeting with Ukraine officials today, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The struggle between the U.S. and Russia about Ukraine’s future is a proxy war between authoritarianism and democracy.

Ukraine was part of the USSR until the USSR fell apart in 1991. After that, Ukraine remained under the sway of the Russian oligarchs who rose to replace the region’s communist leaders, monopolizing formerly publicly held industries as those industries were privatized.

In 2004, a Russian-backed politician, Viktor Yanukovych, appeared to be elected president of Ukraine. But Yanukovych was rumored to have ties to organized crime, and the election was so full of fraud—including the poisoning of a key rival who wanted to break ties with Russia and align Ukraine with Europe—that the government voided the election and called for a do-over. Yanukovych needed a makeover fast, and for that he called on a political consultant with a reputation for making unsavory characters palatable to the media: Paul Manafort, the same man who went on to lead Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

For ten years, from 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the U.S. State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. In 2010, Yanukovych finally won the presidency on a platform of rejecting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), through which Europe and the U.S. joined together to oppose first the USSR, and then the rising threat of Russia. Immediately, Yanukovych turned Ukraine toward Russia. In 2014, after months of popular protests, Ukrainians ousted Yanukovych from power in what is known as the Revolution of Dignity. He fled to Russia.

Shortly after Yanukovych’s ouster, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea and annexed it, prompting the United States and the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Russia itself and also on specific Russian businesses and oligarchs, prohibiting them from doing business in U.S. territories. These sanctions have crippled Russia and frozen the assets of key Russian oligarchs, including Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Desperate to get the sanctions lifted, Putin helped get Trump elected, and American policy swung his way as Trump attacked NATO and the European Union, weakened our ties to our traditional European allies, and threatened to withdraw our support for Ukraine.

Now, though, the Biden administration has renewed support for Ukraine and its move toward stronger ties to NATO and the European Union, while it is also cracking down on the cybercrime that has enhanced Russian power.

So, with Germany’s Angela Merkel finishing up her career, France’s Emmanuel Macron five months out from an election, and Biden trying to deal with an insurrection, it is not a bad time for Putin to test NATO’s resolve and see if it will, indeed, hang together against his expansion.

Horrifically, to destabilize the EU and NATO further, Russia and its ally Belarus are weaponizing migrants.

According to Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who is a specialist on the region, Belarus officials are promising people eager to leave the Middle East that they can move easily from Belarus to Poland or other EU countries. (Belarus is currently running 55 “tourist” flights a week from the Middle East.) Once the migrants arrive in Minsk, officials push them across the borders of neighboring EU countries Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, which try to force them back, creating a humanitarian crisis in what are now freezing conditions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko are well aware that migrants spark right-wing opposition: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and America’s Donald Trump both took power by inflaming fears of migrants. Lukashenko vowed to “flood the EU with migrants and drugs,” this May after the outcry when he downed a plane crossing Belarusian territory in order to abduct dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

“This is not normal asylum seekers, that seek the protection of Europe fleeing war, dictatorship. These are groups of people that are flown to Minsk, they are put in buses, they are escorted by Belarusian police and special forces, pushed to the border and pushed into the European Union,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told CNN’s Becky Anderson today. “This is not a normal migratory movement. This is a hybrid attack.”

Poland is a NATO country, as are the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and much of this chaos appears to be taking place in a narrow sliver of Poland known as the Suwalki Gap that separates Belarus from the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Mark Hertling, Commanding General of United States Army Europe and the Seventh Army from March 2011 to November 2012, tweeted that “any misstep by . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2021 at 9:01 am

Republicans embrace extreme politics

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Heather Cox Richardson comments on yesterday’s news:

The big news of the day is the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to combat international terrorism and lawlessness through cybersecurity and international cooperation.

Today the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the Treasury Department together announced indictments against two foreign actors for cyberattacks on U.S. companies last August. They announced sanctions against the men, one of whom has been arrested in Poland; they seized $6.1 million in assets from the other. The State Department has offered a $10 million reward for information about other cybercriminals associated with the attack. Treasury noted that ransomware attacks cost the U.S. almost $600 million in the first six months of 2021, and disrupt business and public safety.

The U.S. has also sent Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman to Ethiopia and neighboring Kenya to urge an end to the deadly civil war in Ethiopia, where rebel forces are close to toppling the government. A horrific humanitarian crisis is in the making there. The U.S. is interested in stopping the fighting not only because of that, but also because the Ethiopian government has lately tended to stabilize the fragile Somali government. Without that stabilization, Somalia could become a haven for terrorists, and terrorists could extort the global shipping industry.

Meanwhile, it appears that Biden’s big win on Friday, marshaling a bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress, has made Republicans almost frantic to win back the national narrative. The National Republican Congressional Committee has released an early ad for the 2022 midterm elections titled “Chaos,” which features images of the protests from Trump’s term and falsely suggests they are scenes from Biden’s America.

As Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Republican leaders today attacked the popular Sesame Street character Big Bird today for backing vaccinations—Big Bird has publicly supported vaccines since 1972—they revealed how fully they have become the party of Trump.

Excerpts from a new book by ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl say that Trump was so mad that the party did not fight harder to keep him in office that on January 20, just after he boarded Air Force One to leave Washington, he took a phone call from Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, and told her that he was quitting the Republicans to start his own political party.

McDaniel told him that if he did that, the Republicans “would lose forever.” Trump responded: “Exactly.” A witness said he wanted to punish the officials for their refusal to fight harder to overturn the election.

Four days later, Trump relented after the RNC made it clear it would stop paying his legal bills and would stop letting him rent out the email list of his 40 million supporters, a list officials believed was worth about $100 million.

Instead of leaving the party, he is rebuilding it in his own image.

In Florida, Trump loyalist Roger Stone is threatening to run against Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022 to siphon votes from his reelection bid unless DeSantis promises he won’t challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024.

A long piece in the Washington Post by Michael Kranish today explored how, over the course of his career, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has singlemindedly pursued power, switching his stated principles to their opposites whenever it helped his climb to the top of the Senate. Eventually, in the hope of keeping power, he embraced Trump, even acquitting him for his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection.

The former president is endorsing primary candidates to oust Republicans he thinks were insufficiently loyal. In Georgia, he has backed Herschel Walker, whose ex-wife got a protective order against him after he allegedly threatened to shoot her. In Pennsylvania, Trump has endorsed Sean Parnell, whose wife testified that he choked her and abused their children physically and emotionally.

Although such picks could hurt the Republicans in a general election with the women they desperately need to attract (hence the focus on schools), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rick Scott (R-FL), did not feel comfortable today bucking Trump to comment on whether Parnell was the right candidate to back. Scott said he would focus on whoever won the primary.

The cost of the party’s link to Trumpism is not just potential 2022 voters. In the New York Times today, David Leonhardt outlined how deaths from the novel coronavirus did not reflect politics until after the Republicans made the vaccines political. A death gap between Democrats and Republicans emerged quickly as Republicans shunned the vaccine.

Now, only about 10% of Democrats eligible for the vaccine have refused it, while almost 40% of Republicans have. In October, while about 7.8 people per 100,000 died in counties that voted strongly for Biden, 25 out of every 100,000 died in counties that went the other way. Leonhardt held out hope that both numbers would drop as more people develop immunities and as new antiviral drugs lower death rates everywhere.

And yet, Republicans continue to . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Emphasis added. David Leonhardt’s column is worth reading. It shows that the cost of following Republican dogma has serious real-world consequences. The link to his column is a gift link: no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

9 November 2021 at 11:27 am

U.S. Absolves Drone Killers and Persecutes Whistleblowers

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The true crime is to expose a crime, at least in an authoritarian organization. Jeremy Scahill reports in The Intercept:

AFTER THE TERRORIST attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, that killed more than 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. soldiers, President Joe Biden issued a warning to fighters from the Islamic State. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said on August 26. Three days later, Biden authorized a drone strike that the U.S. claimed took out a dangerous cell of ISIS fighters intent on staging another attack on the Kabul airport. 

Biden held up this strike, and another one a day earlier, as evidence of his commitment to take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan even as he declared an end to the 20-year war there. “We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans,” he said in a White House speech. “And to ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet.”

But the Kabul strike, which targeted a white Toyota Corolla, did not kill any members of ISIS. The victims were 10 civilians, seven of them children. The driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, was a respected employee of a U.S. aid organization. Following a New York Times investigation that fully exposed the lie of the U.S. version of events, the Pentagon and the White House admitted that they had killed innocent civilians, calling it “a horrible tragedy of war.”

This week, the Pentagon released a summary of its classified review into the attack, which it originally hailed as a “righteous strike” that had thwarted an imminent terror plot. The results were predictable. The report recommended that no personnel be held responsible for the murder of 10 civilians; there was no “criminal negligence,” as the report put it. The fact that the U.S. military spent eight hours surveilling the “targets,” that a child could be seen in its own footage minutes before the strike — this was written off as a fog-of-war moment. The operators conducting the strike “had a genuine belief that there was an imminent threat to U.S. forces,” asserted the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said.

They committed a mistake, he said, not a crime.

The U.S. has promised to pay restitution to the survivors of the drone strike. This is part of a long-standing U.S. tradition to treat its widespread killings of civilians in the so-called war on terror as innocent mistakes made in pursuit of peace and security. The general who conducted the review says he has made recommendations on how to tinker with targeted killing operations to reduce the likelihood of other honest mistakes (as the Pentagon regards them) that wipe out entire families.

NONE OF THIS is new. It is a cycle that got into high gear under President Barack Obama (when Biden was vice president), continued during the Donald Trump presidency, and is not relenting in the Biden era.

As the Pentagon absolves itself of this crime, the Biden administration is pushing ahead with its persecution of whistleblowers who exposed this system of killing innocents. Daniel Hale, a military veteran who pleaded guilty to disclosing classified documents that exposed lethal weaknesses in the drone program, is serving four years in prison. (Prosecutors said those documents formed the basis for The Drone Papers, a series of investigative articles published by The Intercept.) Among other revelations, Hale’s documents exposed how as many as nine out of 10 victims of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets. In Biden’s recent drone strike, 10 of 10 were innocent civilians.

While Hale was indicted under the Espionage Act during Trump’s tenure, Biden’s Justice Department has gone after him with a vengeance. In October, Hale was inexplicably transferred to a “Communications Management Unit” at the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion in southern Illinois. CMUs are used to severely limit a prisoner’s ability to communicate with the outside world, subject them to extreme periods of isolation, and allow for intensified surveillance of their communications and visits. CMUs are regularly labeled as “terrorist units.”

And as the Pentagon’s mountain of lies about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:37 pm

Just how horrible and incompetent has Joe Biden been?

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Kevin Drum has a little list:

In the space of ten months, Joe Biden has:

  • Passed a $1.9 trillion COVID assistance bill.
  • Presided over a massive vaccination campaign that’s been successful despite shameless partisan opposition.
  • Withdrawn all US troops from Afghanistan with minimal American casualties.
  • Passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
  • Gotten very close to passing a historic $2 trillion safety net bill.

Just sayin’.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 2:16 pm

Republican disengagement

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The Republican Party has long ceased to offer policy ideas and is focusing on culture wars and obstruction. Their big statement this week has been to throw “Let’s go, Brandon” into speeches and, in the case of Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), into a rap video in which she stars. The phrase means “F**k Joe Biden,” for those in the know; they use it because social media moderators do not flag it.

The press secretary for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tweeted it out on Thursday morning, just after the president announced a framework for the Build Back Better bill, the larger infrastructure package the Democrats intend to propose alongside the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill. Congress has been negotiating this larger package intensely for months, and it appears to be reaching a final form.

But while the media has followed every twist and turn of Democratic disagreements over the measure, suggesting those normal disagreements are somehow a sign of dysfunction, the big story of the negotiations has gone largely unnoticed. That big story is that Republican lawmakers simply refused to participate in discussions over a series of proposals that as a whole are backed by 57% of the American people and that have even higher approval rates individually: one poll found 83% of Americans eager to give the government the power to negotiate lower drug prices. (In contrast, only 33% of the American people liked the Trump tax cuts passed without Democratic votes in 2017.)

A refusal to join debate on such a popular issue is dysfunction, indeed.

Instead of participating in the democratic system, Republicans turned over to conservative Democrats, especially Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the job of making conservative changes to the measure, while they simply fired insults at the president.

Republicans are frustrated in part because Biden and the Democrats are remaking the nation. After forty years in which lawmakers rolled back government action, the Democrats under Biden are investing again in the American people.

In his remarks about the Build Back Better plan on Thursday, Biden noted that for most of the twentieth century, we invested in ourselves, and that investment in our families and children, including through education, was key to our prosperity and international standing.

In the 1980s, though, we abandoned that investment, handing the task of developing the country to private interests. It didn’t work. From being first in the world for infrastructure, the World Economic Forum now lists us 13th. From leading the world in educational achievement, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now ranks us 35th out of 37 major countries for investment in childhood education and care.

“We need to build America from the bottom up and the middle out, not from top down with the trickle-down economics that’s always failed us,” Biden said. “I can’t think of a single time when the middle class has done well but the wealthy haven’t done very well. I can think of many times, including now, when the wealthy and the super-wealthy do very well and the middle class don’t do well.”

While outlining the details of the Build Back Better plan can wait until there is a final bill, we do know that the final blueprint provides a massive investment in childcare and eldercare, families, and education, and it uses the need to address climate change to produce good jobs. The government will serve the American public, not a small group of business leaders.

“Any single element of this framework would fundamentally be viewed as a fundamental change in America,” Biden said accurately on Thursday. “Taken together, they’re truly consequential.”

The Biden administration announced another major investment in the American people this week.

On Wednesday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 3:13 pm

Hearing back from the hearing-aid industry

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Matt Stoller’s piece on hearing aids stirred up quite a storm. He describes some of the aftermath:

When I write about market power in specific industries, it often generates massive discussion within the industry. The cheer world, for instance, exploded in dialogue when I exposed how Varsity controls cheerleading, because I offered the moral framework of monopoly to show that their frustration wasn’t just whiny complaints but was situated in exploitative use of market power.

Similarly, my piece on the hearing aid cartel ricocheted inside the audiology world. A bunch of hearing aid users and audiologists contacted me privately with both praise and anger. As usual, several of the people saying ‘you got this right’ also said ‘don’t mention my name publicly I’m afraid of retaliation,’ which is, sadly, too common in American business. Here’s Johns Hopkins professor and hearing loss expert.

Clearly the analysis resonated, with leading hearing aid expert Dr. Abram Bailey saying on LinkedIn that it will “create quite the sh** storm.” In fact, the whole thread of comments from practitioners in the industry is interesting.

Manufacturing Costs Are $40 to $80

Frede Jensen, an engineer in the UK, noted the manufacturing costs are between $40 to $80 for hearing aids, though it’s important to note that production costs are only one part of the process of selling a hearing aid, and the actual device cost doesn’t include the critical services of a trained audiologist. Still, that amount is far lower than what people in the U.S., and other nations with similar setups like Australia, pay:

Regarding the NHS. Public data shows they, with their approved agents, buy 1 million+ mid-range hearing aids p.a. at an average price of USD78 each (to which they must add their own fitting overheads). This reflects the unit manufacturing costs of USD40 for basic to USD80 for advanced wireless models, including direct and R&D overheads.

The NHS contract hundreds of thousand basic hearing fittings (to the gold standard protocol, with REM, follow-up and 3 years patient management) to the private sector, including to Specsavers, at around USD450 for a single or USD600 for a binaural referral – although this can vary slightly between different local health authorities. This includes the cost of the hearing aid(s).

Jensen’s observations are confirmed by this market analysis by the Global Partnership for Assistive Technologies on the worldwide market for hearing aids. Some remarkable stats: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the stats are quite interesting.

I’m glad President Biden kicked the FDA into acting on hearing aids (after the FDA ignored for four years the law passed by Congress). 

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:57 am

The wealthy think they know the answer, and the answer requires them to become more wealthy

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Heather Cox Richardson:

In 1929, October 28 was a Monday, the opening night for New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Four thousand glittering attendees thronged to the elegant building on foot or in one of a thousand limousines to see Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, the melodramatic story of an innocent French girl seduced by wealth, whose reluctance to leave her riches for true love leads to her arrest, deportation to the wilds of America, and tragic death. Flash bulbs blinded the crowd, gathered to see famous faces and expensive gowns, as photographers recorded the arrivals of the era’s social celebrities.

No one toasting the beginning of the opera season that night knew they were toasting the end of an era.

At ten o’clock the next morning, when the opening gong sounded in the great hall of the New York Stock Exchange, men began to unload their stocks. So fast did trading go that by the end of the day, the ticker recording transactions ran two and a half hours late. When the final tally could be read, it showed that an extraordinary 16,410,030 shares had traded hands, and the market had lost $14 billion. The market had been uneasy for weeks before the twenty-ninth, but Black Tuesday began a slide that seemingly would not end. By mid-November, the industrial average was half of what it had been in September. The economic boom that had fueled the Roaring Twenties was over.

Once the bottom fell out of the stock market, the economy ground down. Manufacturing output dropped to levels lower than those of 1913. The production of pig iron fell to what it had been in the 1890s. Foreign trade dropped by $7 billion, down to just $3 billion. The price of wheat fell from $1.05 a bushel to 39 cents; corn dropped from 81 to 33 cents; cotton fell from 17 to 6 cents a pound. Prices dropped so low that selling crops meant taking a loss, so struggling farmers simply let them rot in the fields. By 1932, over one million people in New York City were unemployed. By 1933, the number of unemployed across the nation rose to 13 million people—one out of every four American workers. Unable to afford rent or pay mortgages, people lived in shelters made of packing boxes.

No one knew how to combat the Great Depression, but wealthy Americans were sure they knew what had caused it. The problem, they said, was that poor Americans refused to work hard enough and were draining the economy. They must be forced to take less. “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate,” Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon told President Herbert Hoover. “It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.”

Slash government spending, agreed the Chicago Tribune: lay off teachers and government workers, and demand that those who remain accept lower wages. Richard Whitney, a former president of the Stock Exchange, told the Senate that the only way to restart the economy was to cut government salaries and veterans’ benefits (although he told them that his own salary—which at sixty thousand dollars was six times higher than theirs—was “very little” and couldn’t be reduced).

President Hoover knew little about finances, let alone how to fix an economic crisis of global proportions. He tried to reverse the economic slide by cutting taxes and reassuring Americans that “the fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis.” But taxes were already so low that most folks would see only a few extra dollars a year from the cuts, and the fundamental business of the country was not, in fact, sound. When suffering Americans begged for public works programs to provide jobs, Hoover insisted that such programs were a “soak the rich” program that would “enslave” taxpayers, and called instead for private charity.

By the time Hoover’s first term limped to a close, Americans were . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2021 at 8:59 pm

Democrats hope that US family leave might be made better than that of Eswatini (once called Swaziland); Republicans oppose that

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From the NY Times Evening Briefing email:

Congress is now considering four weeks of paid leave, down from the 12 weeks that were initially proposed in the Democrats’ spending plan.

Of 185 countries that offer paid leave for new mothers, only one, Eswatini (once called Swaziland), offers fewer than four weeks. The average length for those that have maternity leave is 29 weeks; 107 countries have parental leave for fathers.

“The rest of the world, including low-income countries, have found a way to do this,” said Jody Heymann, founding director of the World Policy Analysis Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Isn’t Eswatini one of the countries Donald Trump referred to as “shithole countries”? The US can only aspire to be so good, apparently.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2021 at 4:11 pm

Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing

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Kevin Drum hits the nail on the head:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2021 at 11:20 am

End Times for Democracy?

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2021 at 2:16 pm

How — and Why — Trump Will Win Again

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2021 at 5:09 pm

Jen Psaki states it clearly and succinctly

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2021 at 12:39 pm

Tell Me What You Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:31 pm

H.C. Richardson points out a journalistic peculiarity

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Heather Cox Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was one single day in the Trump presidency.

In contrast, today, the Democrats are . . .

Continue reading to see a marked contrast.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2021 at 12:47 pm

Senate Republicans are proudly anti-American

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Heather Cox Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2021 at 7:17 pm

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