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Longest-serving Iowa lawmaker is leaving the Republican Party because of Donald Trump

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Robin Opsahl and Barbara Rodriguez report in the Des Moines Register:

Rep. Andy McKean, who represents Anamosa in the state House of Representatives, announced Tuesday that he plans to register as a Democrat and vote with the minority caucus.

“With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party,” McKean said during a news conference at the Capitol. “Unfortunately, that’s something I’m unable to do.”

McKean said Trump is just one part of a bigger national trend of partisanship that made him feel out of place in the Republican caucus. McKean said when he joined the Iowa Statehouse 40 years ago, there were many moderates in the Republican Party. But now, he said, the ranks have thinned.

“I think the party has veered very sharply to the right,” McKean said. “That concerns me.”

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, the top Democrat in the chamber, confirmed McKean’s plans earlier Tuesday and joined him at the news conference.

“The Democratic party is a big tent, it’s got a wide range of views and ideas,” the Charles City lawmaker said. “We’re pleased to have Andy’s experience and ideas as part of our discussion when we go to caucus.”

McKean had a “no party” affiliation on the Iowa Legislature website briefly Tuesday before updating it to reflect that he now identifies as a Democrat. According to the site, McKean has left his Republican committee assignments. . .

Continue reading.

This is of particular interest to me since I lived in Iowa City for a couple of decades—indeed, all of my children were born in Iowa City.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2019 at 7:10 am

Posted in Politics

Republicans for the Rule of Law are running some good ads—here’s one

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2019 at 8:27 am

Trump does foreign policy like a bored fifth-grader—and now we pay the price

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Catherine Rampell writes in the Washington Post:

What a jerk you were to let me dump you.

That’s the message the Trump administration is sending to some of our closest allies and most important economic partners. The most recent target is Japan, whom our U.S. ambassador berated last week for not giving us a favorable deal that Japan actually did give us — before we abruptly ripped it up.

The United States spent eight years negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact was partly designed to build an economic and diplomatic alliance that would keep China, which had been excluded from the deal, in check.

But the United States’ objective was also to open up new markets for U.S.-made products, especially U.S. agricultural goods. A 2016 analysis from the International Trade Commission found that agriculture and food would be the U.S. sector that saw the greatest percentage gain in output growth as a result of the TPP.

Greater access to the Japanese market was particularly enticing to U.S. farmers and ranchers. Japan is a wealthy, mature economy — where high-income consumers can afford high-end U.S. beef and high-quality U.S. grains — but it’s also an economy that has had high barriers to agricultural trade.

And so, as part of the TPP talks, the U.S. trade team spent about a year negotiating one-on-one with Japan about agriculture, with the understanding that whatever concessions the United States won would be granted to the other TPP member countries as well.

This allowed us to “design the shape of a package that catered to U.S. priorities,” explains Darci Vetter, then the chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Of course, some of these priorities overlapped with those of other TPP countries. Both the United States and New Zealand were eager to sell more dairy and wine to Japan, for instance. Both the United States and Canada wanted Japan to lower tariffs on wheat. Which is why other countries were more than happy to let us push for as many concessions as we could.

Japan determined that the overall pact would be so valuable that it made the politically contentious choice of agreeing to our requests. Incidentally, the agricultural terms we’d negotiated in the TPP also became the template for a trade deal that Japan would separately negotiate with the European Union.

President Barack Obama signed the TPP in 2016. But Congress dragged its feet in ratifying it. Among President Trump’s first actions after his inauguration was to pull us out of the deal, with generally incoherent reasons for doing so.

Disappointed that we’d reneged, the remaining 11 TPP countries nonetheless decided to continue without us. Their new deal, sometimes called TPP 2.0, formally went into effect on Dec. 30, 2018. Just over a month later, Japan’s new trade deal with the European Union became effective.

This means that dozens of other countries now benefit from changes we persuaded Japan to make. And our farmers are about to lose out, big time.

Japan’s beef imports were already up 25 percent in the first two months of 2019 compared with a year earlier, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported. The biggest beneficiaries were Canada and New Zealand. This makes sense: As members of TPP 2.0, they have a huge price advantage. U.S. beef is tariffed at 38.5 percent, and TPP 2.0 countries’ beef is now at 26.6 percent, with further reductions slated for coming years.

Even before then, these other countries’ advantages will widen. If frozen beef imports surpass a certain threshold, as is expected soon, a “safeguard” tariff will automatically kick in and raise tariffs on our products — but not TPP 2.0’s members’ — to 50 percent.

With U.S. farmers quietly freaking out, pressure is mounting to seal a new bilateral trade deal with Japan. But rather than coming to Japan hat in hand, we’re scolding it for keeping its word when we could not be bothered to do the same.

“By implementing these agreements before addressing our bilateral trade relationship, Japan is effectively redistributing market share away from its strongest ally, the United States,” the U.S. ambassador to Japan, William Hagerty, told Nikkei.

Hagerty is also not the only one — Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) made a similar comment about Vietnam — urging TPP countries to extend the benefits of a deal we negotiated and then rejected.

I asked Vetter what she made of Hagerty’s remarks. She noted that the whole point of the TPP was to deepen member countries’ economic and diplomatic ties. From that perspective, then, the Trump administration is just angry that it’s working. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2019 at 7:50 am

How the Chicago School changed the meaning of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’

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Glory Liu writes in the Washington Post:

You don’t have to look very far to find people invoking Adam Smith’s name in U.S. political debate. These days, trade policy with China, the Green New Deal and even energy policy have all led people to rally around his purported legacy: the virtues of free markets, the harmful effects of government intervention in economic affairs.

At the same time, political theorists and historians like me have argued that the Scottish moral philosopher didn’t just stand for free markets and that, in fact, Smith’s invisible hand wasn’t a warning about state intervention but state capture. Rather unlike the caricature of Smith who espouses unchecked economic growth, they’ve also argued that Smith was deeply worried about the moral consequences of growing inequality.

So how did Adam Smith become such a popular icon in the first place? And why did the “invisible hand” become such a powerful political catchphrase?

The Chicago School popularized today’s Adam Smith

In a recent article published in Modern Intellectual History, I suggest that we can trace the popular version of the “free-market Smith” to the “Chicago School” of economics in the 20th century. Today the Chicago School (the economics faculty at the University of Chicago) is simultaneously famous for being one of the most decorated economics departments in the world (it can claim more Nobel Prizes in economics than any other institution) and infamous for its degree of free-market fundamentalism.

The early Chicago School had complicated views of Smith

Chicago economists’ interest in Adam Smith was not purely ideological. They held different views about the nature and scope of economic science in the 20th century and in turn held different views about Adam Smith and his significance, not just for economics but also public policy.

For example, pioneering Chicago economists Frank Knight (1885-1972) and Jacob Viner (1892-1970) read, taught and wrote at a time when many economists seriously questioned whether free markets could adequately self-regulate following the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, they treated Smith as a complex thinker whose ideas could not — and should not — be reduced to the doctrine of “laissez-faire.” They cautioned against thinking of Smith’s works as a “mixture of science and propaganda” or calling “The Wealth of Nations” a “political pamphlet.” Viner — one of the first U.S. economists to insist on reading Smith’s earlier work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), alongside “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) — famously argued that “Adam Smith was not a doctrinaire advocate of laissez faire.” Instead, Smith was an eclectic thinker who was prepared to defend a “wide and elastic range of activity for government” where necessary.

Their heirs took a simpler approach — and made Smith famous

Though they were both students of Knight and Viner, Milton Friedman (1912-2006) and George Stigler (1911-1991) had very different views about the nature and purpose of economics — and hence, of Smith — from their predecessors. For Friedman and Stigler, economics’ scientific power came from its ability to predict outcomes based on two central insights, both of which could be found in “The Wealth of Nations.” The first was self-interest, or what Stigler called the “crown jewel” of “The Wealth of Nations.” According to Stigler, Smith’s idea of self-interest was so powerful that it was “Newtonian in its universality” and had unlimited explanatory power.

The second was, of course, the invisible hand. According to Friedman, Smith’s master metaphor represented “the way in which voluntary acts of millions of individuals each pursuing his own objectives could be coordinated, without central direction, through a price system.” Taken together, self-interest and the invisible hand represented the core axioms of scientific economics. The political implications were clear. Once individual behavior was reduced to utility-maximizing self-interest, promoting Smith’s invisible hand of the market — and restraining the heavy hand of government — was the ultimate goal. Few economists were as successful as Friedman in spreading this interpretation of Smith’s ideas to the public. In numerous op-eds in major news outlets, speeches and public television (where he sometimes sported an Adam Smith tie), Friedman popularized this interpretation of Smith’s invisible hand for an overtly conservative political agenda.

To be sure, there were many other economists who also paid lip service to Smith and the invisible hand. The economist Paul Samuelson, for example, cornered the market in economics textbooks in 1948 with the publication of “Economics.” Now in its 19th edition, one can imagine the millions of students who encountered Smith and the “mystical principle” of the invisible hand in this format. Professional economists today are probably also familiar with the 1971 publication of Frank Hahn and Kenneth Arrow’s landmark “General Competitive Analysis,” which claimed to have discovered a mathematical proof of the invisible hand (under certain special conditions).

What makes the Smith of Milton Friedman and George Stigler so interesting — some people might say problematic — is not that they aligned Smith with a particular political agenda. It’s that they “economized” Smith in a way that obscured if not precluded the relevance of his moral philosophy and political theory. Stigler once famously quipped that “the correct way to read Adam Smith is the correct way to read the forthcoming issues of a professional journal.” In other words, Stigler believed that you had to read Smith as if he were a modern, 20th-century economistnot (as Smith originally was) an 18th-century moral and political thinker. What’s more, the power of Friedman’s version of the invisible hand derived from the seemingly objective scientific authority of its author, the “father of economics,” Adam Smith. It’s clear, however, that impulse to portray economics — even Smith’s version of economics — as an objective science is deeply embedded in the history and politics of the discipline. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 12:36 pm

Texas Republicans’ Push for a Religious ‘License to Discriminate’ is Depressingly Familiar

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David Brockman reports in the Texas Observer on another aspect of the Republican party: its hostility to civil rights:

One of the landmark constitutional questions of our day is being fought at the Texas Capitol: Does the right to religious freedom give people license to discriminate against others?

Some evangelicals believe it should. Christian conservatives this session have filed a raft of proposals in that vein, including one of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s priority measures: Already passed through the Senate, Senate Bill 17 would give state-licensed professionals, including those in the medical and child care fields, permission to refuse services to LGBTQ Texans (and possibly others) on the shaky grounds of “sincerely held religious belief.”

Anyone who’s paid attention to American religious history will find the debate over SB 17 depressingly familiar; the characters have changed, but the plot remains the same. Today’s targets of religious discrimination are members of the LGBTQ community. Not long ago they were African Americans and women.

Historians have noted a widespread belief among southern white Christians that the enslavement of black people was divinely ordained. Tennessee preacher J.R. Graves, whom scholar E. Luther Copland called “possibly the most influential Southern Baptist” in the years leading up to the Civil War, taught that slavery “was instituted and commanded by the God of heaven.”

Christians also used religion as a tool to oppose equal treatment, including the right to vote, for women. In 1884 Michigan professor H.M. Goodwin called the women’s suffrage movement “a rebellion against the divinely ordained position and duties of wom[e]n.” Author Susan Fenimore Cooper penned an open letter opposing women’s suffrage, declaring: “Christianity confirms the subordinate position of wom[e]n.”

After the Confederacy collapsed, Southerners turned again to the Bible to justify segregation. In Texas, Governor Allan Shivers defended segregation on religious grounds, saying during his re-election campaign in 1954: “We are going to keep the system that we know is best. No law, no court, can wreck what God has made.” Influential pastor W.A. Criswell, who was Robert Jeffress’ predecessor at First Baptist Dallas, used “a peculiarly racist interpretation of Genesis 9:20-27” to justify Jim Crow, writes Duke University’s Curtis W. Freeman. In a “famous and often repeated” 1961 sermon, Criswell preached that African Americans had “inherited… God’s curse, that ‘they should be a servant people.’”

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2019 at 7:58 am

GOP Continues to Stonewall Efforts to Improve Voter Access in Texas

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The GOP stands in strong opposition to democracy and works endlessly to prevent people from voting (selecting for their efforts those people who are unlikely to vote for Republicans). It shows exactly the nature of the conservative mind: do absolutely anything to win, legality and ethics be damned. We saw it in North Carolina and here it is in Texas.

Vicky Camarillo reports in the Texas Observer:

In the latest move by Republicans to make voting harder for Texans, the Senate passed a high-priority omnibus “election integrity” bill this week. The measure, Senate Bill 9, would raise criminal penalties for certain election-related offenses and create tighter rules for assisting disabled, elderly or absentee voters at the polls. The legislation has drawn ire from civil rights advocates who say it’s a solution in search of a problem and an effort by the GOP to tamp down growing voter turnout by making felonies out of what are often honest mistakes.

While SB 9 is the most high-profile election-related bill this session, GOP lawmakers and officials have spent the session quietly stonewalling attempts to increase voting access and participation, both dramatic and incremental.

Bills to implement online voter registration, which a majority of states use, haven’t been given committee hearing this session. One measure that initially included automatically registering driver’s license applicants to vote was heard last week in committee. After GOP pushback, the Democratic author changed the bill to remove the automatic registration provision. Automatic and online voter registration systems could add millions of Texans to the rolls. Other stalled bills would make Election Day a state holiday, automatically register college students and count state agency-issued IDs and college IDs as valid voter identification. Republicans who oppose other efforts to improve voting access cite lost worker productivity, heavier burdens on the state, potential voter fraud and, oddly, a need to focus on education.

Take House Bill 552, which would require the Secretary of State to make voter registration forms available in high schools year-round. Under current law, high schools are required to make registration forms available to students and staff twice a year. But the schools must submit requests to the state to receive the forms, and a 2018 report showed about two-thirds of Texas schools were not in compliance — meaning hundreds of thousands of potential young voters were left off the rolls.

All five witnesses who testified against the high school registration bill in the House Committee on Elections last week are official members of the Republican Party. That includes James Dickey, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, who cited educational efficiency as a reason for his opposition.

“It would send a conflicting message at best for the Legislature after just making such a big commitment to education [with billions in new funding] to then divert some of the schools’ attention to complying with new requirements,” he told lawmakers. “Even though the goal is worthwhile, it’s not part of the core educational mission.”

David Covey, chair of the Orange County Republican Party, also opposed the measure in committee, saying HB 552 would “open up the door where we could then start requiring these applications to be in just about any location.” Another opponent was Ed Johnson, a former Harris County elections official who moonlighted as a paid Republican political consultant. He said young people “do not use paper and pencil anymore; they use their phone and iPad” — wrongly implying that it’s possible to vote online.

Terry Canales, the Democratic state representative from Edinburg who authored the bill, told committee members that the testimony they’d heard from GOP officials was “not only disingenuous, it was incorrect.”

In the same hearing, members considered a bill by state Representative Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, that would add identification cards issued by federally recognized Native American tribes to the acceptable forms of ID for voting. (There are three such tribes in Texas, and together their populations amount to less than 2,000 people, according to the U.S. Census.)

Tribal members across the country face barriers to accessing the ballot box, including long distances between polling sites and their homes, inadequate translation services and voter purges; Native American voter turnout is 5 to 14 percentage points lower than that of other racial and ethnic groups. More than a dozen states permit tribal IDs as an acceptable form of voter ID.

But two witnesses, including Johnson, said they opposed the measure because there is no state agency that oversees tribes’ IDs to ensure their “accuracy and integrity.”

Rick Sylestine, vice chair of the tribal council for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, testified in favor of the bill. Responding to concerns from Republicans about the integrity of tribal IDs, he said the tribe’s enrollment office verifies members’ identities with birth certificates and DNA testing. That’s beyond the requirements for a drivers’ license in Texas, the most common form of identification.

“It’s bullshit,” Nevárez told the Observer. “[Republicans are] coming from a position of foolishness and mendacity.”

State Representative Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said she has heard similar “misinformation” about the validity of college student IDs. She filed a bill that would add college IDs to the list of acceptable voter identification, a simple measure that could add hundreds of thousands more voters. The bill follows alleged voter suppression at universities in November. “My view is if you’re afraid of more people voting, you’re in the wrong business,” Zwiener said.

Civil rights advocates say this session is just another entry into conservatives’ long history of voter suppression in Texas. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2019 at 7:51 am

How the IRS Gave Up Fighting Political Dark Money Groups and Abandoned Its Duty

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Maya Miller reports in ProPublica:

In the past decade, people, companies and unions have dispensed more than $1 billion in dark money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The very definition of that phrase, to many critics, epitomizes the problem of shadowy political influence: Shielded by the cloak of anonymity, typically wealthy interests are permitted to pass limitless pools of cash through nonprofits to benefit candidates or political initiatives without contributing directly to campaigns.

Such spending is legal because of a massive loophole. Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code allows organizations to make independent expenditures on politics while concealing their donors’ names — as long as politics isn’t the organization’s “primary activity.” The Internal Revenue Service has the daunting task of trying to determine when nonprofits in that category, known colloquially as C4s, violate that vague standard.

But the IRS’ attempts to police this class of nonprofits have almost completely broken down, a ProPublica investigation reveals. Since 2015, thousands of complaints have streamed in — from citizens, public interest groups, IRS agents, government officials and more — that C4s are abusing the rules. But the agency has not stripped a single organization of its tax-exempt status for breaking spending rules during that period. (A handful of groups have had their status revoked for failing to file financial statements for three consecutive years.)

Most cases do not even reach the IRS committee created to examine them. Between September 2017 and March 2019, the committee didn’t receive a single complaint to review according to one former and one current IRS employee who worked closely with the committee, even as at least 2,000 warranted its consideration. (The IRS disputes this.) The standards are almost as permissive when organizations apply for C4 status in the first place. In 2017, for example, the IRS rejected only three out of 1,487 applications.

The IRS’ abdication of oversight stems from a trio of causes. It started with a surge in the number of politically oriented C4s. That was exacerbated by the IRS’ almost comically cumbersome process for examining C4s accused of breaching political limits; the process requires a half-dozen layers of approvals and referrals merely to start an investigation. That is abetted by years of IRS staff attrition and loss of expertise that was then compounded by steady budget reductions by Congress starting in 2010. The division that oversees nonprofits, known as the “exempt organization” section, shrank from 942 staffers in 2010 to 585 in 2018, according to the IRS.

On top of that, the 2013 scandal in which the IRS was accused of targeting conservative nonprofits left the division seared by the vilification of the conservative politicians, media and the public, and by the resignation of Lois Lerner, who headed the division. Some IRS auditors say they were paralyzed. “I was scared of being pilloried, dragged to the Hill to testify, getting caught up in lawsuits, having to sink thousands of dollars in attorneys bills that I couldn’t afford, and having threats made against me or my family,” said one employee who worked in Lerner’s division at the time. “I locked down my Facebook page. I deleted all personal Twitter posts. I stopped telling people where I worked. I tried to become invisible.”

The IRS press office offered written responses to some of the questions submitted in writing by ProPublica. “The IRS administers the tax laws as enacted by Congress and maintains an active enforcement presence to promote equal application of the law to all taxpayers,” the statement noted four times, in response to questions about the adequacy of the agency’s enforcement and its resources.

The IRS is aware of the problems, but its attempts to address them have gone nowhere. A 2013 report by the IRS inspector general recommended changes for the agency. That included adopting a new, clear definition of what constitutes an organization’s “primary activity.” The IRS did that — only to have Congress shoot it down.

With the IRS ceding its oversight role, state authorities need to step in, said Jim Sheehan, chief of the charities bureau at the New York Attorney General’s Office, at an event on exempt organizations in February. Speaking broadly about what he described as the IRS’ failure to oversee political nonprofits, Sheehan said, “It’s the Wild West out there.”

The U.S. tax code has long offered nonprofits options for engaging in politics, each identified by the provision that governs it in the code. Each has trade-offs. For example, 501(c)(3) entities are tax exempt and allowed to lobby on a limited basis — but they’re barred from spending any money on political candidates. So-called 527s can spend all they want on elections — but they have to reveal their donors.

The C4s enjoy a lot of wiggle room. In that category, IRS regulations dictate that an organization that seeks tax-exempt status “must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. The regulations state that such an organization “may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”

But how does one define an organization’s “primary activity”? For decades, the point was largely moot. Big funders used other means to funnel money to campaigns. Then came a series of Supreme Court rulings, the best known of which was the Citizens United decision in 2010, that loosened restrictions on political contributions. In that case, the court concluded that, like people, corporations and unions could spend unlimited funds for elections.

The Citizens United decision was followed by a surge in the formation of politically focused organizations seeking IRS approval as C4s. In 2012, at least $250 million passed through such groups and into efforts to elect candidates, an 80-fold increase from eight years prior.

That boom occurred at the same time that [the GOP-controlled – LG] Congress began chipping away at the IRS budget. The combination left Lerner’s exempt organization unit overwhelmed. “My level of confidence that we are equipped to do this work continues to be shaken,” she wrote in an email in early 2013. “I don’t even know what to recommend to make this better.”

A handful of IRS employees in Lerner’s division had decided to improvise their own shortcut. If a group had a name that sounded political — for example, it had the words “Tea Party” in its name — they flagged it for extra attention.

Reporters eventually got wind of the tactic. Congressional interest followed and then a full-blown furor erupted in May 2013, when the IRS inspector general confirmed that IRS agents directed added scrutiny at groups with conservative-sounding words in the name.

The House convened hearings. Some Republican representatives claimed that Lerner was spearheading a partisan assault against conservative groups. “This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in history,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texassaid in one hearing. Lerner declined to testify, citing her Fifth Amendment protections, and resigned.

Hearings on the subject continued intermittently for four years. The IRS ultimately spent 98,000 hours in staff time responding to the congressional investigations, according to testimony by the agency’s former commissioner, John Koskinen.

By the time the tumult abated, few people noticed that the inspector general had submitted another report. This one concluded that IRS staff had also used keywords such as “progressive” to target liberal organizations for further scrutiny.

Before determining that the IRS exempt organization division had displayed no anti-conservative bias, the inspector general had proposed fixing the way it scrutinizes nonprofits. “We believe [the targeting] could be due to the lack of specific guidance on how to determine the ‘primary activity’” of a social welfare nonprofit, the report stated.

The IRS responded by advocating a restrictive approach: C4s should be barred from any campaign-related activity. Those guidelines, released in late 2013, prompted 150,000 comments, the most public feedback in IRS history. Several Republican members of Congress circulated bills to block such a change.

In the wake of that opposition, the IRS backed away from . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The GOP has systematically worked to destroy American government.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 12:57 pm

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