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Trump’s voter fraud crusade continues to unravel, apologize, and retreat

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Shouted accusations are being belatedly followed by muttered retractions and apparently painful apologies (usually issued in a frantic effort to evade a lawsuit). In the Washington Post Aaron Blake tracks some of this revision of views and retraction of statements:

The 2020 election is a case study in how unproved claims can be weaponized. For decades, former president Donald Trump’s party warned of significant voter fraud while successfully pushing policies such as voter ID. In 2016, Trump laid a predicate for contesting an election by suggesting there was massive fraud, even in an election he had won. By 2020, when Trump lost, it culminated in a huge portion of the electorate believing a “stolen election” theory for which there is vanishingly little actual evidence.

Some have done more than raise questions, though. They, like Trump and often in search of his allies’ support, have alleged actual massive fraud.

But now they’ve been asked to account for it. And crucially and increasingly, they have backed down.

The most recent example came Friday night — a time routinely used to bury bad news. In a statement, former Trump lawyer Joe diGenova apologized to Christopher Krebs, a Trump administration official who had debunked Trump’s fraud claims and whose execution diGenova had endorsed. DiGenova had said Krebs “should be drawn and quartered” and “taken out at dawn and shot.”

“On November 30, 2020, I appeared on the ‘Howie Carr Show.’ During the show, I made regrettable statements regarding Christopher Krebs, which many interpreted as a call for violence against him,” diGenova said. He added that “today I reiterate my public apology to Mr. Krebs and his family for any harm my words caused. Given today’s political climate, I should have more carefully expressed my criticism of Mr. Krebs, who was just doing his job.”

DiGenova’s apology refers to a past apology made on Newsmax’s airwaves, but back then he went even further in downplaying his comments. He maintained at the time that it was a poorly chosen joke and said that he apologized “for any misunderstanding of my intentions.”

The statement very notably comes months after Krebs announced in December that he was suing diGenova for defamation.

But Krebs is hardly the first to gain key concessions after launching legal action. Over and over, some of those spouting the most vociferous claims of electoral fraud — or providing a forum for them — have been forced to back off them.

Early on came Fox News and Fox Business Network running awkward segments on shows that had featured such claims — and whose hosts were later sued, alongside Fox — with an election expert dismissing claims of wrongdoing by voting machine companies. One of the hosts, Lou Dobbs, was soon pulled off the air.

Fellow conservative outlet Newsmax, where diGenova made his comment about Krebs, read its own disclaimer emphasizing the claims it had aired were unproved. At one point, it even sought to shut down Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell as he was spouting such claims, with a host walking off the set when Lindell wouldn’t yield.

Another conservative cable TV outlet, One America News, sought to distance itself from Fox and Newsmax as an unapologetic promoter of Trump’s theories. But it, too, removed several stories from its website delving into the details of alleged fraud. And when it later ran Lindell’s infomercial on the topic, it included a lengthy disclaimer that sought to insulate itself from what he said. (Lindell has since been sued by Dominion Voting Systems, but he personally hasn’t backed down.)

Even Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani had a disclaimer attached to his radio program, which Giuliani bristled at as if he was unaware it was coming.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has also acknowledged to the New York Times that she worried about legal exposure from former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell making extreme allegations about voting machines while speaking at a news conference hosted by McDaniel’s employer. McDaniel acknowledged she was “concerned it was happening in my building” and thought about “what is the liability of the RNC if these allegations are made and unfounded?”

Lastly — at least before Friday — came Powell. She, too, has been sued. But in a recent filing, her lawyer argued that “reasonable people” wouldn’t take her claims as fact and that they would understand them as political rhetoric aimed at allowing the legal system to decide such cases. This despite Powell having said that she had conclusive proof of her bizarre claims and that the proof — in her words the “Kraken” — was forthcoming. The Kraken never arrived, and now Powell’s argument is basically that she shouldn’t be expected to produce it, even with the legal process of discovery providing an ideal venue.

That’s a case in point when it comes to these claims. All told, here is a list of people who have backed off (at least somewhat) in fear of litigation: Fox, Newsmax, OAN, Giuliani’s radio host, the RNC and now two former Trump lawyers.

The dynamics in each case are unique, and tempering your comments or comments made on your platform doesn’t mean admitting to wrongdoing. But these legal cases would be a great venue in which the defendants (and potential defendants) could press their case and actually defend the things that were said. Defamation involving public figures is also a high bar, in which you don’t even need to prove that what you said was true, but merely that it wasn’t knowingly false and that it wasn’t malicious. They have overwhelmingly chosen a different path: to distance from and disown the comments. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 3:46 am

Why Is Clarence Thomas Attacking Google? — and more

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Matt Stoller has several interesting reports in his current BIG column:

Last week, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued two statements attacking Google’s concentrated market power. Thomas is an unusual justice, almost never speaking during oral arguments, but also quite influential on the right. So today’s topic is how, and whether, the right’s views about big tech are evolving.

Also short pieces on:

  • Why Amazon beat organized labor in Alabama
  • Why Logitech just killed the universal remote control industry
  • Google’s Eric Schmidt goes full Communism against telecoms
  • Why the big dumb ship in the Suez was Bill Clinton’s fault
  • How razor blade companies negotiate with Amazon and Walmart
  • How Google’s fancy lawyers screwed up and jeopardized Sheryl Sandberg, at $1500/Hour

And now…

Realignment Strain

Last month, in a little noticed House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on big tech, conservative stalwart Congressman Jim Jordan and Republican FTC regulator Noah Phillips went back and forth over how to address the internet giants. Jordan and Phillips had, until recently, been quite aligned, as fellow Republicans.

But this time, something was different.

Jordan was disturbed about the power of big tech to remove important political voices, like Donald Trump, from the public square. He asked Phillips, as a regulator, what can you do about this? Phillips responded, “I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer.”

It was a shocking moment. Normally, parties defend their own, but in this case, much of the hearing was Republican members of Congress training their fire on their own commissioner. Phillips had voted against bringing the Facebook antitrust suit, and was the only witness who didn’t want to do anything about big tech. His own side wasn’t having it.

There’s an argument on the right, known as “the realignment,” which is that the GOP will break with big business and become a party of the working class. There are reasons to be quite skeptical of this possibility, because the conservative movement has been intertwined with large corporations since the 1970s. I’ve watched some Republican members shouting publicly about big tech, but when it comes to legislating, these same members will oppose any actual changes.

But being totally dismissive isn’t reasonable either. Trump, after all, did launch antitrust suits against tech giants, as did Ken Paxton, the right-wing Texas Attorney General. Wyoming, led by Republican state Senator Tara Nethercott, just strengthened its state antitrust law, and Arizona Republicans nearly pulled off an anti-monopoly coup against Apple’s app store monopoly. And Senator Josh Hawley just introduced an antitrust bill that would not only address big tech’s market power, but would block mergers for firms worth $100 billion or more.

Moreover, there’s also a push factor at work, as big businesses fight against Republican priorities, most recently an election bill in Georgia passed to restrict voting. To protest the law, Major League Baseball moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Colorado, and Delta and Coca-Cola, among others, publicly criticized the state GOP. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pushed back, warning that “corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.” McConnell’s warning had little effect. On Saturday, 100 corporate leaders in media, airlines, tech, retailing, etc held a phone call to discuss how to coordinate in opposing conservative voting rights legislation.

This ferment has now reached the pinnacle of the Republican Party, the conservative legal movement, which sets the legal philosophy of the party. Clarence Thomas, who is deeply embedded in these conservative legal networks, is beginning to mark out a different path.

Thomas: Google Is a Monopoly

Last week, Thomas issued two remarkable statements criticizing the concentrated power of Google and tech platforms. In one decision, Thomas mused on a long-running battle between Oracle and Google, where Google copied certain parts of Oracle’s software under the guise of fair use. The specifics of the decision are heated and interesting in and of themselves, but what I’m interested in here is that Thomas called out Google as a monopoly.

“If the majority is worried about monopolization,” he wrote, “it ought to consider whether Google is the greater threat.”

Thomas noted that Google copied Oracle’s work without licensing it, and then develop a monopoly in mobile phone operating software. Whatever the other merits of the case, it was a stark, and accurate, observation.

In his second claim, Thomas went even further. In a case involving Trump’s right to block people on Twitter, Thomas issued a statement on the threat to free speech by dominant tech platforms. “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms,” he wrote.

Noting Google’s control over search, Amazon’s control over books, and Facebook and Twitter’s control over social media, Thomas observed these firms aren’t merely private, but are clothed with a public interest. He called for treating tech firms like public utilities, forced to serve all comers, citing precedents involving railroad, telegraph, and telephone regulation. He dismissed the idea of network effects as leading to inherently large firms, noting that network systems don’t need to be contained within the corporate form. While Facebook, Google, Amazon, and so forth are run by a few people, that’s not inherent to technology. “No small group of people,” Thomas wryly observed, “control email.”

The deeper you go into the opinion, the more extraordinary it becomes. Thomas tied big tech dominance to monopoly power, citing “astronomical profits” and a lack of new entrants as evidence of a lack of competition. These observations might seem obvious to you and me, but in the antitrust world, that’s a significant intellectual concession, because the law and economics movement has traditionally held that high profits are a sign of efficiency and not barriers to entry.

One can read these opinions as in some ways an endorsement of the 2020 Democrat-led House Antitrust Subcommittee Report, which called for treating big tech firms as common carriers, a sort of net neutrality for Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Thomas’ opinion marks a big shift for Republicans, who have generally been unfavorable to the idea of such public utility rules.

More fundamentally, Thomas’ recent work is a rebuke of the economics-heavy thinking that both conservative and liberal judges have prioritized. None other than Clarence Thomas, in fact, two years ago penned the notorious Ohio vs American Express decision, which essentially gave special antitrust immunity to big tech firms solely because economists said that network businesses are special. For Thomas, what was in 2018 network economies of scale, has now become tyranny.

Are These Shifts Mere Rhetoric?

For decades, the conservative movement has had a ‘fusion strategy,’ with white social conservatives and big business libertarians as close allies. The deal was that the social conservatives would supply the votes and the corporations would provide the money. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. The Suez Canal report is particularly interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 4:46 pm

Republicans going off in all directions

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Heather Cox Richardson has a post that’s worth reading because it sets out a variety of developing issues, including a serious conflict within the Republican party regarding the direction it should take. She writes:

Congress has been on break since March 29, and tomorrow members will go back to Washington, D.C., to resume work. The next weeks are going to be busy for the lawmakers, not least because the political ground in America appears to be shifting.

In the two weeks the lawmakers have been back in their districts, a lot has happened. The Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan on March 31, calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The plan includes traditional items like railroads and bridges and roads; it also uses a modern, expansive definition of infrastructure, including support for our electrical grid, green energy, and clean water delivery, as well as the construction of high-speed broadband to all Americans. The plan also defines childcare and eldercare as infrastructure issues, an important redefinition that will not only help more women regain a foothold in the economy, but will also help to replace manufacturing jobs as a key stabilizer of middle-class America. The administration is selling the infrastructure plan, in part, by emphasizing that it will create jobs (hence “American Jobs Plan” rather than something like “American Infrastructure Act”).

President Biden has proposed paying for the plan by raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before Trump’s 2017 tax cut) and by increasing the global minimum tax from 13% to 21% (so that companies cannot stash profits in low-tax countries). He has also proposed saving money by ending the federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and by putting teeth in the enforcement of tax laws against corporations who have skated without paying taxes in the past.

The president also put together a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to look at the question of adjusting the Supreme Court to the modern era. While people are focusing on the question of whether the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be increased—it has held at 9 since 1869, even as three more circuits have been added—the commission is also looking at “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court.” It is only very recently that justices grimly held onto a Supreme Court appointment until death; the positions used to turn over with some frequency. The commission is an astonishingly distinguished group of scholars, lawyers, and judges.

Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed the establishment of the commission displayed “open disdain for judicial independence.” And yet, the Supreme Court itself undermined his position in favor of a nonpartisan judiciary late Friday night. It issued an unsigned opinion in which the court decided, by a vote of 5-4, that state restrictions on private religious gatherings during the pandemic infringed on people’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the minority.

Biden has also asked Congress to take on the issue of gun control, after yet more mass shootings in the country. And overshadowing all is the Democrat’s demand for the passage of voting rights legislation that would protect voting, end gerrymandering, and curb the influence of big money in U.S. elections.

While the legislative world has been rocking, so has the world of the Republicans. The party is torn between the Trump wing and the business wing, and in the course of the past few weeks, that rift has widened and destabilized.

On March 25, Georgia passed a sweeping new voting restriction law. Legislators argued that they were simply trying to combat voter fraud, but the law, in fact, significantly restricts voting hours and mail-in voting, as well as turning over the mechanics of elections to partisan committees. The Georgia law came after a similar set of restrictions in Iowa; other states, including Texas, are following suit.

But this attack on voting rights is not playing well with the corporate leaders who, in the past, tended to stand with the Republicans. Leaders from more than 170 corporations condemned the new Georgia law, saying, “We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.” Major League Baseball grabbed headlines when it decided to move this summer’s All-Star game out of the state.

Following the corporate pushback over the Georgia law, the leader of the business Republican faction, Mitch McConnell, said that it was “stupid” for corporations to weigh in on divisive political issues, although he specified he was “not talking about political contributions.” Republican lawmakers have said that corporations should not take political stances, a position that sits uneasily with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which said that corporate donations to political candidates were a form of political speech and could not be limited by the government. The so-called “Citizens United” decision opened up a flood of corporate money into our political system.

Yesterday, more than 100 corporate executives met over Zoom to figure out how . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and some interesting aspects are discussed later in the column.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 10:47 am

“I Needed a Job. He Asked If I Was Proposing Marriage.”

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The creepiness and moral turpitude of Donald Trump and his administration have far-reaching ripple effects. Deboarh Kopaken provides examples in the Atlantic:

I was 8 when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. For several years, I was afraid to sit in a well-lit room after sundown, because I was next on the kidnappers’ list, and they were lurking in my backyard. I was sure of this.

Was my fear justified? Of course not. Was it real? One hundred percent yes.

Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst on his last day in office. When I heard the news, I cheered. The woman had been kidnapped at 19, raped, and held in a dark closet for 57 days, after which, suffering from Stockholm syndrome, she robbed a bank with her captors. Pardoning her seemed not only fair, but just.

Exactly 20 years later, on his last day in office, Donald Trump pardoned Ken Kurson. When I read the news, I cursed. This pardon was neither fair nor just.

Kurson was the editor of the Observer when it was owned by his friend Jared Kushner. Last fall, Kurson was arrested and charged with cyberstalking three people and harassing two others. According to the federal complaint, Kurson posted multiple malicious professional reviews of a former friend he spuriously blamed for the end of his marriage. He used an alias to send the friend’s colleagues and others threatening emails accusing her of sleeping with her boss, then stalked her at her workplace until her employers were forced to hire a security firm to protect her. His lawyer argued in a statement that the charges were overblown, and he was pardoned before the case went to trial.

After Kurson’s arrest, I kept scanning the news, hoping that Trump would be too busy being a sore loser and inciting insurrection to pardon Kurson. I was wrong. Which meant I would now spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.

From November 2014 to late 2016, Ken Kurson sexually harassed me. I wrote about the degrading experience for this magazine in 2018. I composed the essay in the form of a tongue-in-cheek listicle (“How to Lose Your Job From Sexual Harassment in 33 Easy Steps”), because all too often, as we keep learning (and learning and learning), sexual harassment is not just one event or off-color comment, nor is it just the suggestive emails that followed: “In another life, I’d be Mr. Copaken”; “I love your sloppy seconds”; “Are you proposing marriage to me?” It’s a systematic abuse of power that can deny its victims work, money, and health insurance.

Kurson invited me to lunch after one of my stories for another publication went viral, and said he had a full-time job for me with benefits. I told my current boss I was quitting, only for Kurson to say that it was never an actual job offer, and that he couldn’t match my salary. But he dangled the possibility of a full-time position if I kept freelancing for him, while sending me wildly inappropriate emails about his crumbling marriage. I worried that he might be vengeful. “I consider this the Observer’s story,” he once wrote about one of my article pitches, “and you know I come from a grudge-holding desert people.”

I thought he was joking, but after that story was published in The New York Times, he stopped answering my emails for more than a month. Later, when I asked about a late payment for an article, he replied to say the money had finally been deposited in my account, adding, “Sorry you’re broke… Are you in love w anyone?”

(When The Atlantic asked Kurson for comment, he denied that there had been a job offer. About the emails, he said, “All of us have used language in the past that we now wish had been more artful,” adding, “I try my best to treat everyone I meet with kindness and respect.”)

At the time, I was a solo mother of three––two of them in college. With crushing tuition bills, an expensive cascade of illnesses requiring surgeries, and an empty bank account, I’d had to move to cheaper digs and nab the first full-time job with benefits I could find, as a flack for the pharmaceutical industry. This, along with ageism and a shrinking media industry, has derailed my journalism career to this day.

Following the publication of my story in The Atlantic in 2018, I was not surprised to be inundated with similar tales of woe. I was surprised by the number of tales featuring the same antagonist. I created a spreadsheet to organize them. Here are some excerpts:

“Ken was a creep to me, condescending as well … ”

“Your frightening experience with him gave me flashbacks … The way he spoke to me haunts me to this day … Drag the ogre into the daylight.”

“I woke up to your article about Ken Kurson. I had an insane, if not criminal, experience with him that I’d love to talk to you about.”

This last one was chilling. It came from a woman who knew one of the people Kurson was later charged with cyberstalking, and said she had received threatening emails from Kurson herself. When I called her, she recounted both stories of harassment. The behavior she described did indeed sound criminal. And vindictive. I shared it with Jesse Drucker, an investigative journalist at the Times. “Jesse, I need help,” I said. “I want to help this woman, but I feel like I’m out of my league.”

I forwarded him my spreadsheet, with the obvious caveat not to share it further. Then, just as Drucker started looking into each allegation, Trump nominated Kurson to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Because of course this happened.

Drucker’s story, “The Trump Administration Considers an Old Friend: Ken Kurson,” appeared on May 11. “Concerning Ms. Copaken’s account, Mr. Kurson said, ‘I categorically deny any claim of inappropriate behavior.’”

In response to his denial, I posted a Twitter thread presenting some of the written evidence, email by creepy email.

At the end of the thread, I wrote the following: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the FBI gets involved.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 5:36 pm

Vaccine Refusal Will Come at a Cost—For All of Us

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Edward Isaac-Dovere writes in the Atlantic:

Imagine it’s 2026. A man shows up in an emergency room, wheezing. He’s got pneumonia, and it’s hitting him hard. He tells one of the doctors that he had COVID-19 a few years earlier, in late 2021. He had refused to get vaccinated, and ended up contracting the coronavirus months after most people got their shots. Why did he refuse? Something about politics, or pushing back on government control, or a post he saw on Facebook. He doesn’t really remember. His lungs do, though: By the end of the day, he’s on a ventilator.

You’ll pay for that man’s decisions. So will I. We all will—in insurance premiums, if he has a plan with your provider, or in tax dollars, if the emergency room he goes to is in a public hospital. The vaccine refusers could cost us billions. Maybe more, over the next few decades, with all the complications they could develop. And we can’t do anything about it except hope that more people get their shots than those who say they will right now.

If the 30 percent of Americans who are telling pollsters they won’t get vaccinated follow through, the costs of their decisions will pile up. The economy could take longer to get back to full speed, and once it does, it could get shut down again by outbreaks. Variants will continue to spread, and more people will die. Each COVID-19 case requires weeks of costly rehabilitation. Even after the pandemic fades, millions of vaccine refusers could turn into hundreds of thousands of patients who need extra care, should they come down with the disease. Their bet that they’ve outsmarted the coronavirus or their insistence that Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates were trying to trick them will not stop them from going to the doctor when they’re having trouble breathing, dealing with extreme fatigue, or struggling with other lasting effects of COVID-19. (A new study found that 34 percent of COVID-19 survivors are diagnosed with a neurological or psychological condition within six months of recovering from the initial illness.)

The economic costs of vaccine refusal aren’t yet a major part of the political conversation. That’s likely to change as we move past the first year of the pandemic. “You have a liberty right, and that unfortunately is imposing on everyone else and their liberty right not to have to pay for your stubbornness. And that’s what’s maddening,” Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, told me. Inslee is 70, and fully vaccinated. The three-term Democrat was in a good mood because he was on his way to see his baby granddaughter, whom he hadn’t hugged in a year. But after what he’s gone through since early 2020—the first American COVID-19 outbreak and the first explosion of COVID-denialist demonstrations were both in Washington—he’s angry and sad that so many people are refusing to get their shots.

He had the latest numbers: 15 Washingtonians had died of COVID-19 the day we spoke. More than 300,000 state residents who had been eligible for a vaccine for at least three months still hadn’t gotten one, including 27 percent of those over 65. Some of those people hadn’t been able to get appointments. Some may have been nervous, but would eventually get a vaccine. Some had just refused, and will continue to do so. Those people are “foisting [their] costs on the rest of the community,” Inslee said. “There’s a long, long economic tail of disease prevalence as a result of people who refuse to get vaccinated.” But, he stressed, “it pales in comparison to people losing their lives.”

Inslee read me some data he had gotten from the Republican messaging maven Frank Luntz, which the governor said was going to inform new public-awareness campaigns that the state is developing to break through to Republican men, the people most likely to say they won’t get vaccinated, according to polling. Two appeals seem to work best: First, the vaccines are safe, and they’re more effective than the flu vaccine. Second, you deserve this, and getting vaccinated will help preserve your liberty and encourage the government to lift restrictions. (That last idea is what Jerry Falwell Jr. focused on in the vaccination selfie he posted this week, captioned, “Please get vaccinated so our nutcase of a governor will have less reasons for mindless restrictions!”) Inslee hopes that emphasizing those points will persuade more Republican men to get their shots. But he’s not sure it will work.

The prospect of lower health-care costs has led conservatives to back health-related regulations in the past. In 1991, Pete Wilson, then the Republican governor of California, signed a law mandating helmets for motorcyclists, and made a conservative argument for the new regulation. “We don’t know exactly how much money and how many lives will be saved with this legislation,” Wilson said at the signing ceremony, which was held at a hospital in the state capital. “But we do know that the cost of not enacting it is too great for a civilized society to bear.” Then again, President Ronald Reagan was famously resistant to seatbelt and airbag laws, which also reduce health-care spending.

Though there are some notable vaccination holdouts among Republican officials, most in Congress and in state leadership positions have encouraged their constituents to get the shots. “I saw on some program last week that Republican men, curiously enough, might be reluctant to take the vaccine. I’m a Republican man, and I want to say to everyone: We need to take this vaccine,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at an event in Kentucky this week. Brad Wenstrup, who worked as a podiatrist before becoming a Republican congressman from Ohio, has been so eagerly promoting the vaccines that he got trained to administer them. But the Republican politics around COVID-19 remain treacherous, and when I reached out to several Republican members of Congress, telling their aides I’d be eager to have them make a Wilson-esque fiscally conservative argument for vaccination, I couldn’t find anyone willing to make that case to me.

Calculating the exact long-term costs is tricky; we have only a year’s worth of data on the lasting health consequences of COVID-19, and even less on the efficacy of the vaccines and Americans’ resistance to getting them. Krutika Amin, who conducts economic and policy research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, tried to sketch out what the taxpayer bill might be. Before the pandemic, about . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 11:17 am

Why tearing down Fauci is essential to the MAGA myth

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Michael Gerson was a speechwriter for George W. Bush and is currently a columnist. Here’s a recent column that appeared in the Washington Post that reflects the despair of traditional Republicans (among whom he counts himself) in the face of MAGA madness:

MAGA political philosophy is not systematic, but it is comprehensive. Right-wing populism offers a distorted lens to view nearly all of life.

Through this warped lens, progress toward equal rights is actually the oppression of White people. Free and fair elections, when lost, are actually conspiratorial plots by the ruthless left. But perhaps the most remarkable distortion concerns the MAGA view of covid-19.

We have all seen the basic outlines of pandemic reality. Experts in epidemiology warned that the disease would spread through contact or droplets at short distances, which is how it spread. The experts recommended early lockdowns to keep health systems from being overwhelmed, and the lockdowns generally worked. The experts said Americans could influence the spread of the disease by taking basic measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. The disease was controlled when people did these things. The disease ran rampant when they did not, killing a lot of old and vulnerable people in the process.

There were, of course, disagreements along the way about the length of lockdowns and the form of mandates. But on the whole, American citizens have witnessed one of the most dramatic vindications of scientific expertise in our history. We have been healthier when we listened to the experts and sicker when we did not.

This is the context in which the MAGA right has chosen to make Anthony S. Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 — the villain in their hallucinogenic version of pandemic history.

It is worth disclosing when a columnist has a personal connection to a public figure. I have known Fauci since I was in government during the early 2000s and watched him help create the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He is the best of public service: supremely knowledgeable, personally compassionate, completely nonpolitical, tenacious in the pursuit of scientific advancement and resolute in applying such knowledge to human betterment. He has no other ambition or agenda than the health of the country and world.

Yet slamming Fauci was a surefire applause line at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Former Trump administration officials continue to target him. Republican members of Congress vie with one another to put Fauci in his place.

For Trump officials, including Donald Trump himself, this makes perfect sense. If Fauci has been right about covid, then playing down the disease, mocking masks, modeling superspreader events, denying death tolls, encouraging anti-mandate militias and recommending quack cures were not particularly helpful. If Fauci has been right, they presided over a deadly debacle.

When former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro claims that Fauci is “the father of the actual virus” or former chief of staff Mark Meadows complains about Fauci’s indifference to the (nearly nonexistent) flow of covid across the southern border, the goal is not really to press arguments. It is to create an alternative MAGA reality in which followers are free from the stress of truth — a safe space in which more than half a million people did not die and their leader was not a vicious, incompetent, delusional threat to the health of the nation.

Metaphorically (but only barely metaphorically), there is a body on the floor with multiple stab wounds. The Trump administration stands beside it with a bloody knife in its hand. It not only claims to be innocent. It claims there is no blood. There is no body. There is no floor.

Congressional Republicans who criticize Fauci to prove their populist manhood are even more pathetic. Their self-abasement is voluntary. Watching Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) debate science with Fauci during committee hearings is like watching Albert Einstein being disputed by his dry cleaner. Fauci is often reduced to making obvious points in a patient voice. Fauci deserves his Presidential Medal of Freedom just for his heroic forbearance.

All these critics of Fauci have chosen to attack the citadel of science at its strongest point. With squirt guns. While naked and blowing kazoos.

This useless exertion is somehow wrapped in the language of freedom. Freedom from the servitude of a piece of cloth on your face that might save your neighbor’s life. Freedom to light off fireworks below a potential avalanche. . .

Continue reading. The column concludes:

Fauci is practicing epidemiology. His critics are practicing idiocy. Both are very good at their chosen work.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2021 at 12:11 pm

“I’m finally done with the Senate filibuster. We’re running out of time to save democracy.”

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Noah Bookbinder, a former criminal prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, writes in USA Today:

I worked as a counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee for eight years. I heard senators that I admired repeat the apocryphal story of George Washington supposedly explaining to Thomas Jefferson that the Senate was “the saucer that cools the tea,” preventing the House from rushing through ill-advised legislation.

While the filibuster was not part of the framers’ plan — and indeed some of the framers warned against a supermajority requirement for legislation — it seemed consistent with this idea of the Senate as an intended obstacle to tyranny by a bare, partisan majority. Perhaps more importantly, I saw the cycles of control in the Senate. I saw how those tactics of delay and obstruction that drove a majority party crazy one year were lifelines when that party ended up in the minority the next

Those seemed like compelling arguments to keep the Senate filibuster, so I passionately resisted the idea of eliminating it for years. Too slowly perhaps, it has become clear to me that times have changed. The old arguments are no longer enough — in fact, our democracy might not survive at all unless Congress passes reforms that a minority seems determined to block. The Senate must get rid of the filibuster in order for us to maintain a democratic system of government going forward, and the sooner the better.

White minority wants to keep control

Our democracy already teetered on the brink when Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 presidential election by more than 7 million votes and a substantial margin in the Electoral College, falsely and repeatedly claimed to have won and then actually tried to convince officials in multiple states to overturn the results of the voting in those states.

When efforts by Trump and his supporters to undermine and overturn the election failed, Trump’s supporters switched to a quieter but no less dangerous tactic. Bills have now been introduced in 47 states to restrict access to voting, curbs which will disproportionately impact non-white voters. Many of these bills are on their way to passing. Efforts are also in the planning stages to aggressively gerrymander districts to benefit the former president’s party.

The cumulative effect of all this is to prevent a mostly white minority of Americans from losing control of the United States government. There is legislation that could prevent this, but it looks like it will be blocked in the Senate by the filibuster, something that has often happened to bills meant to advance racial equity and justice.

Now, the combination of systematic disenfranchisement of Black and brown voters, aggressive use of gerrymandering, and a system of unchecked money in political campaigns could allow a minority of voters to ensure that those who supported Trump’s abuses are ushered into control of Congress and the presidency; once in power, they have already shown their willingness to use it to further degrade checks and balances for their own advancement. The democracy as we know it might begin to crumble.

We need H.R. 1: It would maintain voting rights and voting integrity that states saved amid COVID-19

This sounds apocalyptic and maybe a little crazy. It is not. We need only look at the four years of Trump’s presidency, moving from emoluments violations, obstruction of investigations, embrace of white supremacists, and sidelining of watchdogs and prosecutors who threatened him to full-scale attempts to overturn an election and incite insurrection, to see how quickly and completely the foundations of our democracy can be shaken.

Worry about comity later

Legislation before Congress can stop all this from happening. H.R. 1, the For the People Act, contains crucial voting rights protections that will prevent many of the efforts in states to restrict the ability to vote; it will ensure fair, non-partisan redistricting and reform money in politics, as well as curbing much unethical conduct and many abuses of power. We can also shore up our democracy against attack with bills like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Protecting Our Democracy Act and an act to finally grant District of Columbia residents the same rights to democratic participation that people in all 50 states have.

GOP ex-officials:We need a voting rights champion like Vanita Gupta at Justice, and fast

But if the Senate’s intractable minority is allowed to continue to prevent all legislation to protect our democratic system, we will run out of time. Efforts in the states to curb voting rights and ensure rule by a shrinking white minority will be able to take effect without any check; after the rules are changed and the deck stacked, it might not again be possible to elect a Congress and a president amenable to protecting democratic participation and checks and balances.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Senate must  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2021 at 12:47 pm

The decline in religious affiliation and its impact

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Eric Levitz has a very interesting column in New York, which begins (and charts are omitted):

For the first time on record, a majority of U.S. adults do not belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque.

Since 1939, Gallup has been surveying Americans on their religious affiliations. From that year until the turn of the millennium, church membership in the U.S. never dipped below 68 percent. But over the past two decades, that figure has steadily declined — and now, the emerging churchless majority has arrived.

[chart]

This is not a story about the rise of “remote worship.” Declining church membership has been driven primarily by rising godlessness. On the eve of the 21st century, 8 percent of Americans identified with no religion in Gallup’s polling. Today, that figure is 21 percent.

Pew Research believes the ranks of the “nones” are even larger. In its polling, 26 percent of the U.S. public prostrates itself before no deity.

In assigning culpability for this trend, one could assemble a long list of plausible co-conspirators. The ascendance of the Evangelical right likely damaged Christianity’s brand with social liberals by associating the faith with theocratic politics, while pedophilic priests and their enablers surely drove no small number of American Catholics from the pews. In Gallup’s polling, the decline in church membership has been especially steep among self-identified Catholics, falling 18 points since 2000, compared to 9 points among Protestants.

But in all likelihood, these contingent developments only expedited America’s atheistic drift. Secularization is a secular trend. In both Gallup and Pew’s data, the main engine of ascendant faithlessness is generational churn. Two-thirds of Americans born before 1946 belong to a religious institution, according to Gallup. That drops to 58 percent among baby boomers, 50 percent among Generation X, and 36 percent among millennials (the pollster’s limited data from zoomers indicates that they are roughly as irreligious as their cooler, wiser immediate predecessors).

Pew shows a similar pattern on the question of religious identification: Each new generation is less religious than the last, while the drop-off between Gen X and millennials is especially sharp:

To be sure, one might attribute American millennials’ disaffection with religion to the fact that the Christian right (and/or Catholic church sex abuse scandal) loomed especially large during their formative years. But declining religiosity is not limited to the United States. Rates of religious-service attendance are falling in nearly every Western country. And the United Kingdom — whose Conservative Party endorsed same-sex marriage before Barack Obama did — has witnessed a remarkably similar trend to the U.S. in religious identification, with the percentage of Britons who subscribe to no religion rising 12 points since 2000.

Given that religious identification has been declining continuously with each new generation, across a diverse array of national contexts, the fundamental cause of the phenomenon is likely structural (as opposed to contingent). I can’t tell you with much authority what this macrohistorical cause is. But I’m inclined to think that industrial development inherently undermines tradition and cultivates individualism, qualities that render it an adversary of faith-based, communitarian institutions. It also seems to me that late capitalism has robbed the church of its monopoly on a wide range of social functions: The welfare state provides social insurance; the universities, metaphysics; Marvel movies, community-binding myths (what are MCU Reddit forums but Bible studies persevering?). [Emphasis added – LG, and I’ll add that it strikes me that capitalism has gone too far toward individualism, and we need to develop some communitarian institutions that are not faith-based — perhaps an appeal to the importance to health of social relationships and contacts that are not moderated by money.]

Regardless, my point in emphasizing the deep-seated, structural nature of declining religiosity is simple: It suggests that this trend will not be drastically reversed, absent some kind of social cataclysm.

And that poses a major challenge to the Republican Party.

America’s loss of faith may have won Biden the presidency.

Everyone knows that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s thoughtfully written and offers many interesting insights.

I’ll add that Stephen Covey, interestingly enough, viewed “independence” merely as the prerequisite for the highest level of being, “interdependence.” See this post.

Later in the article:

Whatever its impact on the GOP, the implications of creeping secularism are more dire for social conservatives. The Republican Party can ultimately retain political power by bringing its policy commitments into slightly closer alignment with public opinion. That is not an option for the Christian right’s true believers. As a result, the movement is becoming forthrightly anti-democratic. On the one hand, the moral minority hopes to impose its will on the nation by judicial fiat. On the other, it aims to disenfranchise the heathen majority.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2021 at 4:27 pm

America’s Immigration Amnesia: Despite recurrent claims of crisis at the border, the United States still does not have a coherent immigration policy

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Caitlin Dickerson writes in the Atlantic:

In the early 2000s, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas were accustomed to encountering a few hundred children attempting to cross the American border alone each month. Some hoped to sneak into the country unnoticed; others readily presented themselves to officials in order to request asylum. The agents would transport the children, who were exhausted, dehydrated, and sometimes injured, to Border Patrol stations and book them into austere concrete holding cells. The facilities are notoriously cold, so agents would hand the children Mylar blankets to keep warm until federal workers could deliver them to child-welfare authorities.

But starting in 2012, the number of children arriving at the border crept up, first to about 1,000 a month, then 2,000, then 5,000. By the summer of 2014, federal officials were processing more than 8,000 children a month in that region alone, cramming them into the same cells that had previously held only a few dozen at a time, and that were not meant to hold children at all.

As the stations filled, the Obama administration scrambled to find a solution. The law required that the children be moved away from the border within 72 hours and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, so they could be housed safely and comfortably until they were released to adults willing to sponsor them. But HHS facilities were also overflowing. The department signed new contracts for “emergency-influx shelters,” growing its capacity by thousands of beds within a matter of months. Government workers pulled 100-hour weeks to coordinate logistics. And then, seemingly overnight, border crossings began to drop precipitously. No one knew exactly why.

“The numbers are unpredictable,” Mark Weber, an HHS spokesperson, told me in 2016, just as another child-migration surge was beginning to crest. “We don’t know why a bunch of kids decided to come in 2014, or why they stopped coming in 2015. The thing we do know is these kids are trying to escape violence, gangs, economic instability. That’s a common theme. The numbers have changed over the years, but the themes stayed the same.”

The cycle repeated itself under President Donald Trump in 2019, and is doing so again now. And as border crossings rise and the government rushes to open new emergency-influx shelters, some lawmakers and pundits are declaring that the Biden administration is responsible for the surge. “The #BidenBorderCrisis was caused by the message sent by his campaign & by the measures taken in the early days of his new administration,” Marco Rubio tweeted last week. The administration is “luring children to the border with the promise of letting them in,” Joe Scarborough, the Republican congressman turned cable-television host, told millions of viewers during a recent segment.

But for decades, most immigration experts have viewed border crossings not in terms of surges, but in terms of cycles that are affected by an array of factors. These include the cartels’ trafficking business, weather, and religious holidays as well as American politics—but perhaps most of all by conditions in the children’s home countries. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found that young peoples’ “motives for migrating to the United States are often multifaceted and difficult to measure analytically,” and that “while the impacts of actual and perceived U.S. immigration policies have been widely debated, it remains unclear if, and how, specific immigration policies have motivated children to migrate to the United States.”

The report pointed out that special protections for children put into place under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 may have shifted migration patterns by encouraging parents to send their children alone rather than travel as a family. But it found that blaming any one administration for a rise in border crossings ultimately made no sense—the United States has offered some form of protection to people fleeing persecution since the 1940s, and those rights were expanded more than 40 years ago under the Refugee Act of 1980.

This is not to say that President Joe Biden’s stance on immigration—which has thus far been to discourage foreigners from crossing the border while also declaring that those who do so anyway will be treated humanely—has had no effect on the current trend. Like other business owners, professional human traffickers, known as coyotes, rely on marketing—and federal intelligence suggests that perceived windows of opportunity have been responsible for some of their most profitable years.

For example, border crossings rose in the months before President Trump took office in part because coyotes encouraged people to hurry into the United States before the start of the crackdown that Trump had promised during his campaign. With Trump out of office, some prospective migrants likely feel impelled to seek refuge now, before another election could restore his policies.

But placing blame for the recent increase in border crossings entirely on the current administration’s policies ignores the reality that the federal government has held more children in custody in the past than it is holding right now, and that border crossings have soared and then dropped many times over the decades, seemingly irrespective of who is president.

Given, then, that the movement of unaccompanied minors has long ebbed and flowed—we are now experiencing the fourth so-called surge over the course of three administrations—why do border facilities still appear overwhelmed? The answer, in part, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 1:36 pm

Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century

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Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker:

In public, Republicans have denounced Democrats’ ambitious electoral-reform bill, the For the People Act, as an unpopular partisan ploy. In a contentious Senate committee hearing last week, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, slammed the proposal, which aims to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics, as “a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.” But behind closed doors Republicans speak differently about the legislation, which is also known as House Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 1. They admit the lesser-known provisions in the bill that limit secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections.

A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers’ network—reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.

Kyle McKenzie, the research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, told fellow-conservatives and Republican congressional staffers on the call that he had a “spoiler.” “When presented with a very neutral description” of the bill, “people were generally supportive,” McKenzie said, adding that “the most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description.” In fact, he warned, “there’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”

As a result, McKenzie conceded, the legislation’s opponents would likely have to rely on Republicans in the Senate, where the bill is now under debate, to use “under-the-dome-type strategies”—meaning legislative maneuvers beneath Congress’s roof, such as the filibuster—to stop the bill, because turning public opinion against it would be “incredibly difficult.” He warned that the worst thing conservatives could do would be to try to “engage with the other side” on the argument that the legislation “stops billionaires from buying elections.” McKenzie admitted, “Unfortunately, we’ve found that that is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives.” He said that when his group tested “tons of other” arguments in support of the bill, the one condemning billionaires buying elections was the most persuasive—people “found that to be most convincing, and it riled them up the most.”

McKenzie explained that the Koch-founded group had invested substantial resources “to see if we could find any message that would activate and persuade conservatives on this issue.” He related that “an A.O.C. message we tested”—one claiming that the bill might help Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez achieve her goal of holding “people in the Trump Administration accountable” by identifying big donors—helped somewhat with conservatives. But McKenzie admitted that the link was tenuous, since “what she means by this is unclear.” “Sadly,” he added, not even attaching the phrase “cancel culture” to the bill, by portraying it as silencing conservative voices, had worked. “It really ranked at the bottom,” McKenzie said to the group. “That was definitely a little concerning for us.”

Gretchen Reiter, the senior vice-president of communications for Stand Together, declined to respond to questions about the conference call or the Koch group’s research showing the robust popularity of the proposed election reforms. In an e-mailed statement, she said, “Defending civil liberties requires more than a sound bite,” and added that the group opposes the bill because “a third of it restricts First Amendment rights.” She included a link to an op-ed written by a member of Americans for Prosperity, another Koch-affiliated advocacy group, which argues that the legislation violates donors’ freedom of expression by requiring the disclosure of the names of those who contribute ten thousand dollars or more to nonprofit groups involved in election spending. Such transparency, the op-ed suggests, could subject donors who prefer to remain anonymous to retaliation or harassment.

The State Policy Network, a confederation of right-wing think tanks with affiliates in every state, convened the conference call days after the Democrats’ twin victories in the Senate runoffs in Georgia, which meant that the Party had won the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, making it likely that the For the People Act would move forward. Participants included Heather Lauer, the executive director of People United for Privacy, a conservative group fighting to keep nonprofit donors’ identities secret, and Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, who expressed alarm at the damage that the disclosure provisions could do. “The left is not stupid, they’re evil,” he warned. “They know what they’re doing. They have correctly decided that this is the way to disable the freedom movement.”

Coördinating directly with the right-wing policy groups, which define themselves as nonpartisan for tax purposes, were two top Republican congressional staffers: Caleb Hays, the general counsel to the Republicans on the House Administration Committee, and Steve Donaldson, a policy adviser to McConnell. “When it comes to donor privacy, I can’t stress enough how quickly things could get out of hand,” Donaldson said, indicating McConnell’s concern about the effects that disclosure requirements would have on fund-raising. Donaldson added, “We have to hold our people together,” and predicted that the fight is “going to be a long one. It’s going to be a messy one.” But he insisted that McConnell was “not going to back down.” Neither Donaldson nor Hays responded to requests for comment. David Popp, a spokesperson for McConnell, said, “We don’t comment on private meetings.”

Nick Surgey, the executive director of Documented, a progressive watchdog group that investigates corporate money in politics, told me it made sense that McConnell’s staffer was on the call, because the proposed legislation “poses a very real threat to McConnell’s source of power within the Republican Party, which has always been fund-raising.” Nonetheless, he said that the close coördination on messaging and tactics between the Republican leadership and technically nonpartisan outside-advocacy groups was “surprising to see.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 1:24 pm

Trump’s secret sit-down with Ohio candidates turns into ‘Hunger Games’

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Alex Isenstadt reports in Politico:

It was a scene right out of “The Apprentice.”

Donald Trump was headlining a fundraiser on Wednesday night at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla. But before the dinner began, the former president had some business to take care of: He summoned four Republican Senate candidates vying for Ohio’s open Senate seat for a backroom meeting.

The contenders — former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, technology company executive Bernie Moreno and investment banker Mike Gibbons — had flown down to attend the fundraiser to benefit a Trump-endorsed Ohio candidate looking to oust one of the 10 House Republicans who backed his impeachment. As the candidates mingled during a pre-dinner cocktail reception, one of the president’s aides signaled to them that Trump wanted to huddle with them in a room just off the lobby.

What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. Mandel said he was “crushing” Timken in polling. Timken touted her support on the ground thanks to her time as state party chair. Gibbons mentioned how he’d helped Trump’s campaign financially. Moreno noted that his daughter had worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign.

The scene illustrated what has become a central dynamic in the nascent 2022 race. In virtually every Republican primary, candidates are jockeying, auditioning and fighting for the former president’s backing. Trump has received overtures from a multitude of candidates desperate for his endorsement, something that top Republicans say gives him all-encompassing power to make-or-break the outcome of primaries.

And the former president, as was so often the case during his presidency, has seemed to relish pitting people against one another.

One person familiar with what transpired in Wednesday evening’s huddle described it as “Hunger Games,” an awkward showdown that none of them were expecting. Making matters even more uncomfortable, this person said, was that the rival candidates sat at a circular table, making it so that each had to face the others.

Trump kicked off the meeting by asking everyone to tell him about how the race was going. Timken, who was Trump’s handpicked state party chair, was the first to speak. She talked about the early support she’d received and how she’d worked to reelect him.

Two people familiar with the discussion said that Trump at one point reminded Timken that she’d initially defended Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) after he’d voted for Trump’s impeachment in January. That evening’s fundraiser was to benefit Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was running to unseat Gonzalez, and the former president spoke derisively about the member of Congress throughout the evening, several attendees said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 12:31 pm

The Real Reason Republicans Couldn’t Kill Obamacare

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Adapted from The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage, St. Martin’s Press 2021, and quoted from the Atlantic:

The affordable care act, the health-care law also known as Obamacare, turns 11 years old this week. Somehow, the program has not merely survived the GOP’s decade-long assault. It’s actually getting stronger, thanks to some major upgrades tucked in the COVID-19 relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month.

The new provisions should enable millions of Americans to get insurance or save money on coverage they already purchase, bolstering the health-care law in precisely the way its architects had always hoped to do. And although the measures are temporary, Biden and his Democratic Party allies have pledged to pass more legislation making the changes permanent.

The expansion measures are a remarkable achievement, all the more so because Obamacare’s very survival seemed so improbable just a few years ago, when Donald Trump won the presidency. Wiping the law off the books had become the Republicans’ defining cause, and Trump had pledged to make repeal his first priority. As the reality of his victory set in, almost everybody outside the Obama White House thought the effort would succeed, and almost everybody inside did too.

One very curious exception was Jeanne Lambrew, the daughter of a doctor and a nurse from Maine who was serving as the deputy assistant to the president for health policy. As a longtime Obama adviser, going back to the 2008 transition, Lambrew was among a handful of administration officials who had been most responsible for shaping his health-care legislation and shepherding it through Congress—and then for overseeing its implementation. Almost every other top official working on the program had long since left government service for one reason or another. Lambrew had stayed, a policy sentry unwilling to leave her post.

On that glum November 2016 day following the election, Lambrew decided to gather some junior staffers in her office and pass out beers, eventually taking an informal survey to see who thought Obama’s signature domestic-policy achievement would still be on the books in a year. Nobody did—except Lambrew.

Yes, Republicans had already voted to repeal “Obamacare” several times. But, she knew, they had never done so with real-world consequences, because Obama’s veto had always stood in the way. They’d never had to think through what it would really mean to take insurance away from a hotel housekeeper or an office security guard on Medicaid—or to tell a working mom or dad that, yes, an insurance company could deny coverage for their son’s or daughter’s congenital heart defect.

A repeal bill would likely have all of those effects. And although Republicans could try to soften the impact, every adjustment to legislation would force them to sacrifice other priorities, creating angry constituents or interest groups and, eventually, anxious lawmakers. GOP leaders wouldn’t be able to hold the different camps within their caucuses together, Lambrew believed, and the effort would fail.

All of those predictions proved correct. And that wasn’t because Lambrew was lucky or just happened to be an optimist. It was because she knew firsthand what most of the Republicans didn’t: Passing big pieces of legislation is a lot harder than it looks.

It demands unglamorous, grinding work to figure out the precise contours of rules, spending, and revenue necessary to accomplish your goal. It requires methodical building of alliances, endless negotiations among hostile factions, and making painful compromises on cherished ideals. Most of all, it requires seriousness of purpose—a deep belief that you are working toward some kind of better world—in order to sustain those efforts when the task seems hopeless.

Democrats had that sense of mission and went through all of those exercises because they’d spent nearly a century crusading for universal coverage. It was a big reason they were able to pass their once-in-a-generation health-care legislation. Republicans didn’t undertake the same sorts of efforts. Nor did they develop a clear sense of what they were trying to achieve, except to hack away at the welfare state and destroy Obama’s legacy. Those are big reasons their legislation failed.

Obamacare’s survival says a lot about the differences between the two parties nowadays, and not just on health care. It’s a sign of how different they have become, in temperament as much as ideology, and why one has shown that it’s capable of governing and the other has nearly forgotten how.

Democrats were so serious about health care that they began planning what eventually became the Affordable Care Act more than a decade earlier, following the collapse of Bill Clinton’s reform attempt in the 1990s. The ensuing political backlash, which saw them lose control of both the House and Senate, had left top Democrats in no mood to revisit the issue. But reform’s champions knew that another opportunity would come, because America’s sick health-care system wouldn’t heal itself, and they were determined not to make the same mistakes again.

At conferences and private dinners, on chat boards and in academic journals, officials and policy advisers obsessively analyzed what had gone wrong and why—not just in 1993 and 1994 but in the many efforts at universal coverage that had come before. They met with representatives of the health-care industry as well as employers, labor unions, and consumer advocates. Industry lobbyists had helped kill reform since Harry Truman’s day. Now they were sitting down with the champions of reform, creating a group of “strange bedfellows” committed to crafting a reform proposal they could all accept.

Out of these parallel efforts, a rough consensus on substance and strategy emerged. Democrats would put forward a plan that minimized disruption of existing insurance arrangements, in order to avoid scaring people with employer coverage, and they would seek to accommodate rather than overpower the health-care industry. The proposal would err on the side of less regulation, spending, and taxes—basically, anything that sounded like “big government”—and Democrats would work to win over at least a few Republicans, because that would probably be necessary in Congress.

Proof of concept came in 2006, in Massachusetts, when its Republican governor, Mitt Romney, teamed up with the Democratic state legislature to pass a plan that fit neatly into the new vision. It had the backing from a broad coalition, including insurers and progressive religious organizations. Ted Kennedy, the liberal icon and U.S. senator, played a key role, by helping secure changes in funding from Washington that made the plan possible. “My son said something … ‘When Kennedy and Romney support a piece of legislation, usually one of them hasn’t read it,’” Kennedy joked at the signing ceremony, standing at Romney’s side.

Kennedy’s endorsement said a lot about the psychology of Democrats at the time. No figure in American politics was more closely associated with the cause of universal health care and, over the years, he had tried repeatedly to promote plans that looked more like the universal-coverage regimes abroad, with the government providing insurance directly in “single-payer” systems that resembled what today we call “Medicare for All.” But those proposals failed to advance in Congress, and Kennedy frequently expressed regret that, in the early 1970s, negotiations over a more private sector-oriented coverage plan with then-President Richard Nixon had broken down, in part because liberals were holding out for a better deal that never materialized.

Kennedy was not alone in his belief that the champions of universal coverage would have to accept big concessions in order to pass legislation. The liberal House Democrats John Dingell, Pete Stark, and Henry Waxman, veteran crusaders for universal coverage who’d accrued vast power over their decades in Congress, were similarly willing to put up with what they considered second-, third-, and even fourth-best solutions—and they were masters of the legislative process, too. Waxman in particular was an expert at doing big things with small political openings, such as inserting seemingly minor adjustments to Medicaid into GOP legislation, expanding the program’s reach over time. “Fifty percent of the social safety net was created by Henry Waxman when no one was looking,” Tom Scully, who ran Medicare and Medicaid for the Bush administration in the early 2000s, once quipped.

Obama had a similar experience putting together health-care legislation in the Illinois state legislature—where, despite proclaiming his support for the idea of a single-payer system, he led the fight for coverage expansions and universal coverage by working with Republicans and courting downstate, more conservative voters. He also was a master of policy detail, and as president, when it was time to stitch together legislation from different House and Senate versions, he presided over meetings directly (highly unusual for a president) and got deep into the weeds of particular programs.

Obama could do this because the concept of universal coverage fit neatly within . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the column:

Another problem was a recognition that forging a GOP consensus on replacement would have been difficult because of internal divisions. Some Republicans wanted mainly to downsize the Affordable Care Act, others to undertake a radical transformation in ways they said would create more of an open, competitive market. Still others just wanted to get rid of Obama’s law and didn’t especially care what, if anything, took its place.

“The homework that hadn’t been successful was the work to coalesce around a single plan, a single set of specific legislative items that could be supported by most Republicans,” Price told me. “Clearly, looking at the history of this issue, this has always been difficult for us because there are so many different perspectives on what should be done and what ought to be the role of the federal government in health care.”

The incentive structure in conservative politics didn’t help, because it rewarded the ability to generate outrage rather than the ability to deliver changes in policy. Power had been shifting more and more to the party’s most extreme and incendiary voices, whose great skill was in landing appearances on Hannity, not providing for their constituents. Never was that more apparent than in 2013, when DeMint, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and some House conservatives pushed Republicans into shutting down the government in an attempt to “defund” the Affordable Care Act that even many conservative Republicans understood had no chance of succeeding.

The failure to grapple with the complexities of American health care and the difficult politics of enacting any kind of change didn’t really hurt Republicans until they finally got power in 2017 and, for the first time, had to back up their promises of a superior Obamacare alternative with actual policy. Their solution was to minimize public scrutiny, bypassing normal committee hearings so they could hastily write bills in the leadership offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan and, after that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 4:52 pm

Elite panic

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I have observed, as perhaps you have as well, that wealth seems to make people fearful, and as wealth increases more and more stringent forms of security are embraced. Rebecca Solnit has an interesting Facebook post on this pathology. She writes:

The marauding hordes of the underclass is a topic of constant fantasy among elites, so much so two of the sociologists I cited in A Paradise Built in Hell labeled this delusion “elite panic.” It often justifies what you could call marauding hordes of the overclass — suppressing the people they assume are bestial but also at some level they acknowledge are legitimately resentful of social inequality, which they [the overclass] are willing to use violence to perpetuate.

In a way the premise of white supremacy is “your imaginary violence is the justification for my real violence,” and here’s Graham trotting that out as “the violence I imagine could happen in extreme situations is my justification for pushing instruments of extreme violence into everyday life.”

Those sociologists also demonstrate that most people are altruistic, generous, resourceful, and helpful in disasters. Note the alignment of racist fantasies here — gangs, cops, white people with weapons of war. But what that violence from elites and authorities is really used for is to maintain the status quo, and there’s a way mass shootings do so, as attacks on women, immigrants, people of color, perceived enemies to be punished by people who have allocated the right to punish unto death.

From the book Disasters: A Sociological Approach, sociologist Kathleen Tierney, who directs the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center, gave a riveting talk at the University of California, Berkeley, for the centennial of the 1906 earthquake. In the talk she stated, “Elites fear disruption of the social order, challenges to their legitimacy.” She reversed the image of a panicking public and a heroic minority to describe what she called “elite panic.” She itemized its ingredients as “fear of social disorder; fear of poor, minorities and immigrants; obsession with looting and property crime; willingness to resort to deadly force; and actions taken on the basis of rumor.”

In other words, it is the few who behave badly and the many who rise to the occasion. And those few behave badly not because of facts but of beliefs: they believe the rest of us are about to panic or become a mob or upend property relations, and in their fear they act out to prevent something that may have only existed in their imaginations. Thus the myth of malevolent disaster behavior becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Elsewhere she adds, “The media emphasis on lawlessness and the need for strict social control both reflects and reinforces political discourse calling for a greater role for the military in disaster management. Such policy positions are indicators of the strength of militarism as an ideology in the United States.”

From their decades of meticulous research, most of the disaster sociologists have delineated a worldview in which civil society triumphs and existing institutions often fail during disaster. They quietly endorse much of what anarchists like Kropotkin have long claimed, though they do so from a studiously neutral position buttressed by quantities of statistics and carefully avoid prescriptions and conclusions about the larger social order. And yet, they are clear enough that in disaster we need an open society based on trust in which people are free to exercise their capacities for improvisation, altruism, and solidarity. In fact, we need it all the time, only most urgently in disaster.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 10:57 am

A scorching reply to Georgia’s vile new voting law unmasks a big GOP lie

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Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

The 2020 elections in Georgia should have been cause for celebration among everyone, not just Democrats who won the state’s presidential and Senate races. Amid extremely challenging conditions, election officials took smart, public-spirited steps to ensure that as many voters as possible could participate.

And it worked. Turnout was high on Election Day and during the Senate runoffs, especially among African American voters.

That should have been widely cheered. Yet it’s precisely what the state’s Republican officials apparently want to ensure never happens again.

Georgia Republicans just passed a far-reaching voter suppression law that is shockingly blatant in its efforts to restrict voting. It was signed Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), as one Democratic lawmaker who sought to watch was arrested.

In multiple ways, the measure appears designed to target African American voters, the very voters who drove the 2020 Democratic wins. That complaint is at the core of a new lawsuit filed on Thursday night against the law.

But the lawsuit also exposes — in a fresh way — the appalling dishonesty of Republicans who continue using former president Donald Trump’s lie about the election to justify voter suppression efforts everywhere.

Voter suppression on steroids

Most conspicuously, the new law bars third-party groups from sharing food and water with people waiting in voting lines. It imposes new ID requirements for vote-by-mail, restricts drop boxes for mail ballots and bans mobile voting places, among many other things.

The lawsuit by several voting rights groups — represented by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias — argues that the package unduly burdens the voting rights of all Georgians, disproportionately African Americans, violating the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

The lawsuit cites the extremely high voter turnout in the general and runoff elections, facilitated amid a raging pandemic by vote-by-mail, which was used by African American voters at higher rates than White voters.

The law is largely targeted toward that fact, the lawsuit argues. Restrictions on drop boxes and mobile voting units come after both were heavily utilized in Fulton County, a populous, majority-Black area. African Americans are more likely to use drop boxes because they more often work multiple jobs, the suit argues.

Meanwhile, bans on sharing food and water target the fact that voting lines and wait times tend to be longer in African American areas. And Black voters are disproportionately less likely to have the right ID to qualify to vote by mail, the lawsuit argues.

The critical point is that the past election worked, due to the very practices Republicans now want to curb. Organizers distributed food and water, enabling voters to brave lines. Election officials used expanded vote-by-mail, drop boxes and mobile units to facilitate pandemic voting.

“This successful mobilization was widely heralded as crucial in facilitating Black voter turnout,” the lawsuit notes. Which is precisely the problem, the lawsuit argues: What Republicans want to avert is another such “successful mobilization.”

Republicans give away the game

The justification that Republicans themselves offer for these measures gives away the real game here. Defenders say they are needed to ensure the integrity of future elections and boost public confidence in them.

But the elections in Georgia actually were conducted with absolute integrity, and the Republican secretary of state has himself attested to this. That official, Brad Raffensperger, declared the elections “safe” and “secure.”

This caused Raffensperger to become the target of Trump’s rage. But that doesn’t mean what Raffensperger said isn’t true. It is true.

This was confirmed in a statewide audit. Indeed, Raffensperger has attested to the integrity of Georgia elections more generally, declaring: “Georgia’s voting system has never been more secure or trustworthy.”

Which raises the question: Why are these new measures needed, if Georgia elections are already secure and trustworthy? Why, to avert another “successful mobilization.”

As the lawsuit argues, the very fact that GOP election officials confirmed the integrity of Georgia elections shows the measures “serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters.” . . .

Continue reading.

The column concludes:

p class=”font–body font-copy gray-darkest ma-0 pb-md ” data-el=”text”>All this points to a bigger lie. All across the country, Republicans are escalating voter suppression efforts, fake-justified by the lie that the election was stolen from Trump.

In the softer version of this, it’s fake-justified by the notion that many Republican voters believe that to be true and just need their “confidence” restored to ensure future participation.

But the real way to restore such confidence is to tell voters the truth: That the election was an inspiring success amid very difficult conditions — and its outcome was unimpeachably legitimate — precisely because of the integrity of election workers everywhere. Grounds for confidence in future elections

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:37 pm

Trump Complains Government Is ‘Persecuting’ Capitol Rioters

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The situation in the US is actively getting more dangerous because Donald Trump is leading and fomenting an already-violent insurrection against the government — against the administration, really, to force someone — Congress, Georgia Governor, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence… anyone — to provide an election “count” sufficient to put Trump back in the White House. And he’s not going to shut up until he is in the White House. He’ll butt into every situation he can. As we’ve seen, he has zero sense of shame and zero decorum.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the most dangerous, long-lasting changes effected by Donald Trump is the rightward extension of the Republican coalition. A wide array of far-right militias and cults was either created or inspired to join the Republican Party by Trump’s racist, paranoid, and authoritarian rhetoric. Now those groups are the subject of regular apologias in party-aligned media.

The new reality was driven home in Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham Thursday night. At one point, the Fox News host, whose “interview” was more like an exchange of talking points, brought up a new report that the Homeland Security Department will be giving more attention to right-wing domestic extremism. “The idea is to identify people who may, through their social-media behavior, be prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists,” Ingraham noted. “Mr. President, their DHS is going after people who may be your supporters.”

It is worth pausing for a moment to record that Ingraham’s reaction to a description of people “prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists” is hey, they’re talking about us!

Trump, taking the cue, denounced federal authorities for charging his supporters with crimes. “They go after that, I guess you’d call them leaning toward the right … those people, they’re arresting them by the dozens,” he complained.

Ingraham did not follow up by asking who was being arrested by the dozens. But Trump’s answer became clear a few questions later. Ingraham prompted him with a safe question about the security fencing around the Capitol, a precaution even Democrats have deemed excessive long after the insurrection ended.

Rather than simply denounce the fencing, Trump launched into . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:14 pm

One political party wants people to vote; the other one doesn’t want people to vote and is doing what it can to make sure they can’t

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

There is only one story today.

It is not the coronavirus pandemic, although 547,000 of us have died of Covid-19, and a study today suggested that we could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths if we had adopted masks and social distancing early on. It is not the coronavirus even though today President Joe Biden noted that we will reach 100 million vaccinations tomorrow and that he aims to reach 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office….

It is not the situation on our southern border, where a surge of migrants apparently matches the seasonal pattern of people trying to make it into the United States….

It is not the economy, although the U.S. Treasury said today it had issued 37 million payments this week, worth $83 billion, from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan….

The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.

Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.

This is the only story from today because it is the only story historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?

The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the For the People Act, which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.

The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.

Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the For the People Act.

They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.

The story today is not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2021 at 8:42 pm

Bad blood and bad faith in the US Senate

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2021 at 11:05 am

When lies come home to roost

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.

After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”

In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.

The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.

In the 19 days after the election, Trump and the Republican National Committee took in more than $207 million, prompted mostly by their claims of election fraud. John Horgan, who runs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University, told Smith that “Trump successfully convinced many of his followers that unless they acted, and acted fast, their very way of life was about to come to an end…. He presented a catastrophic scenario whereby if the election was — for him — lost, his followers would suffer as a result. He made action not just imperative, but urgent, convincing his followers that they needed to do everything they could now, rather than later, to prevent the ‘enemy’ from claiming victory.”

And yet, on Monday, Trump’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, moved to dismiss the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against her. Powell helped to craft the Big Lie, and won the president’s attention with her determination to combat the results of the election and restore Trump to the presidency. In January, Dominion sued Powell for $1.3 billion after her allegations that the company was part of an international Communist plot to steal the 2020 presidential election.

On Monday, Powell argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her statements about a scheme to rig the election “were truly statements of fact.” Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist, explained away the Big Lie to NBC News’s Smith: “[T]here are a lot of dumb people in the world…. And a lot of them stormed the Capitol on January 6th.”

And yet, 147 Republicans—8 senators and 139 representatives—signed onto the Big Lie, voting to sustain objections to the counting of the electoral votes on January 6.

So the Republicans are left with increasing evidence that there was a concerted plan to attack the Capitol on January 6, fed by the former president, whose political campaign pocketed serious cash from his declarations that he had truly won the election and that all patriots would turn out to defend his reelection. Those claims were pressed by a lawyer who now claims that no reasonable person would believe she was telling the truth.

The Republicans tied themselves to this mess, and it is coming back to haunt them. President Biden’s poll numbers are high, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Friday showing that 59% of adults approve of Biden’s overall performance. (Remember that Trump never broke 50%). They are happy with his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the economy.

Rather than trying to pass popular measures to make up the ground they have lost, Republicans are trying to suppress voting. By mid-February, in 43 states, Republicans had introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. Today, Republicans in Michigan introduced 39 more such bills. In at least 8 states, Republicans are trying to gain control over elections, taking power from nonpartisan election boards, secretaries of state, and governors. Had their systems been in place in 2020, Republicans could have overturned the will of the voters.

To stop these state laws, Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping federal voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would protect voting, make it easier to vote, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics. The bill has already passed the House, but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with all they’ve got.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told them: “This . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 9:06 pm

US sinks to new low in rankings of world’s democracies

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Sam Levine reports in the Guardian:

The US has fallen to a new low in a global ranking of political rights and civil liberties, a drop fueled by unequal treatment of minority groups, damaging influence of money in politics, and increased polarization, according to a new report by Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group.

The US earned 83 out of 100 possible points this year in Freedom House’s annual rankings of freedoms around the world, an 11-point drop from its ranking of 94 a decade ago. The US’s new ranking places it on par with countries like Panama, Romania and Croatia and behind countries such as Argentina and Mongolia. It lagged far behind countries like the United Kingdom (93), Chile (93), Costa Rica (91) and Slovakia (90).

“Dropping 11 points is unusual, especially for an established democracy, because they tend to be more stable in our scores,” Sarah Repucci, Freedom House’s vice-president for research and analysis, told the Guardian. “It’s significant for Americans and it’s significant for the world, because the United States is such a prominent, visible democracy, one that is looked to for so many reasons.”

While Freedom House has long included the US in its global ranking of freedoms, it traditionally has not turned an eye inward and focused on US democracy. But this year, Repucci authored an extensive report doing just that, a move motivated by increasing concern over attacks on freedoms in the US.

The report details the inequities that minority groups, especially Black people and Native Americans face when it comes to the criminal justice system and voting. It also illustrates that public trust in government has been damaged by the way rich Americans can use their money to exert outsize influence on American politics.

And it points out that extreme partisan gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral district lines to boost one party over the other – has contributed to dramatic polarization in the US, threatening its democratic foundations. Gerrymandering, the report says, “has the most corrosive and radicalizing effect on US politics”.

“We’re really concerned about these longer-term challenges that aren’t going to be addressed with quick fixes, that were kind of highlighted during the Trump administration and, in some cases, taken advantage of, by that administration.” Repucci said. “A change of president is not gonna make them go away.”

The report offers three recommendations for improving American democracy:  . . .

Continue reading. You will not be surprised to read that Democrats in Congress are pushing to implement all three recommendations and Republicans are fighting all three. Republicans do not want democracy.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 1:04 pm

How a Federal Agency Excluded Thousands of Viable Businesses From Pandemic Relief

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Lydia DePillis reports in ProPublica:

Like every other storefront in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, the Coffee House — a cavernous student hangout slinging espresso and decadent pastries since 1987 — saw its revenue dry up almost overnight last spring when the coronavirus pandemic made dining indoors a deadly risk. Unlike most, however, the business wouldn’t have access to the massive loan fund that Congress made available for small enterprises in late March.

The reason had nothing to do with the business itself, which had been having one of its best years ever, according to its owner, Mark Shriner. Rather, it all came down to one box on the application for the Paycheck Protection Program money, which asked whether the company or any of its owners were “presently involved in any bankruptcy.” Shriner had filed for Chapter 13 in 2018 after a divorce and was still making court-ordered debt payments, so he checked “yes.” He was automatically rejected and lost about $25,000 in payroll and other costs that the program would have covered.

“My money is my store’s money. When I got divorced and she was entitled to half, it’s not like a company can raise money real quick,” Shriner said, noting the way in which many small businesses are structured as pass-through entities that pay taxes on any profits as individual income. “All these businesses that had a tough time and are trying to make payments at the same time are getting kind of hosed.”

Thousands of people file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy every year — 282,628 did so in 2019 alone. Although it’s not clear how many of them own businesses, all of those individuals were barred from the PPP program, along with the thousands of businesses currently working through a reorganization plan under Chapter 11 and the family farms that file under the lesser-known Chapter 12.

In December, Congress allowed the Small Business Administration to give exceptions to some debtors. But so far the SBA has stuck to its position that debtors in bankruptcy aren’t entitled to government aid. “Currently, the SBA is administering the law as written,” SBA spokeswoman Shannon Giles emailed in response to questions.

Although Shriner did receive the $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance payment, which doesn’t have to be repaid, the SBA turned him down for a larger Economic Injury Disaster Loan because of his personal credit. Instead, he took out two loans worth $107,000 from Square — with total fees of nearly $12,000 — to keep the lights on and the staff paid as they operated on a drastically limited basis, still down by more than half since before the pandemic.

“The biggest consequences are that we haven’t had the time to take a week and shut down and plot our way forward, come up with a to-go menu or some new things, because we’re busy working the counter trying to save money,” Shriner said. “A lot of other businesses that got PPP have been able to hire people to help them head in a different direction, get apps made, fix their websites, that kind of thing.”


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The prohibition on PPP loans going to debtors began with the SBA’s original concept for the program: It extended its 7(a) loan program, its most common credit offering for small businesses, which already bars bankrupt companies. New pandemic relief measures were basically grafted on to those rules, which reflect an agency position dating back to its beginnings in the 1950s that bankrupt companies were more likely to default.

“SBA has an institutional prejudice against people who file bankruptcy,” said Ed Boltz, a North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer who serves on the board of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. “The attitude of government in a lot of things is, ‘Bankruptcy is hard and confusing and these people are probably bad people.’”

Almost immediately, this position was challenged in courts across the country. In Hidalgo County, Texas, for example, an emergency medical transportation company in bankruptcy sued after it was denied a PPP loan. A bankruptcy judge issued a temporary injunction against the SBA, saying it was in the public interest during the pandemic to make sure the company’s trucks and helicopters could keep ferrying patients to hospitals. In June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that decision, saying the judge had exceeded his authority.

Meanwhile, the SBA hastily published a rule explicitly barring companies in bankruptcy from participating in its pandemic relief program. “The Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, determined that providing PPP loans to debtors in bankruptcy would present an unacceptably high risk of an unauthorized use of funds or non-repayment of unforgiven loans,” the rule read. “In addition, the Bankruptcy Code does not require any person to make a loan or a financial accommodation to a debtor in bankruptcy.”

Around the same time, a Florida radiology center also serving COVID-19 patients received a PPP loan, even though it was reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it filed for approval with its bankruptcy court to take on the additional debt, the SBA objected again. The bankruptcy court found in favor of the radiologists in June, writing that “it is plain Congress did not intend to exclude chapter 11 debtors from the Paycheck Protection Program.” In December, however, the 11th Circuit overturned the lower court and sided with the government.

Maury Udell, the radiology company’s lawyer, said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. The PPP is more of a grant than a loan, he argues, since all companies had to do in order for the money to be forgiven is spend most of it on payroll. Bankrupt companies are arguably more likely to do so, given that they’re on court-ordered plans for how they must manage their expenses. Besides, the program did not require that companies demonstrate their ability to repay — plenty of businesses on very shaky footing applied for and received funding, sometimes filing for bankruptcy later.

“The SBA’s argument for not allowing Chapter 11 debtors is that the risk of nonpayment is high,” Udell said. “That’s not a factor in whether you were approved. It’s just as high as anyone else, because there’s no other underwriting guidelines.”

Frustration with the SBA’s position mounted through the fall until December, when Congress passed a fresh round of $900 billion in pandemic-related relief, along with the regular budget. It included $285 billion for a second draw of PPP loans, and a bit of potential relief for debtors: an amendment to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that allows PPP loans to businesses that have filed for bankruptcy under Chapters 12, 13 and Subchapter V, a new category for small businesses established in 2019. (Chapter 11 debtors were left out.)

However, there was a catch: In order to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 12:15 pm

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