Saturday, April 29, 2023
Joe Biden built his 2020 presidential campaign around the idea that “we’re in a battle for the soul of America.” I thought it was a marvelous slogan because it captured the idea that we’re in the middle of a moral struggle over who we are as a nation. In the video he released this week launching his re-election bid, he doubled down on that idea: We’re still, he said, “in a battle for the soul of America.”
I want to dwell on the little word “soul” in that sentence because I think it illuminates what the 2024 presidential election is all about.
What is a soul? Well, religious people have one answer to that question. But Biden is not using the word in a religious sense, but in a secular one. He is saying that people and nations have a moral essence, a soul.
Whether you believe in God or don’t believe in God is not my department. But I do ask you to believe that every person you meet has this moral essence, this quality of soul. . . . Because we have souls, we are morally responsible for what we do.
Political campaigns are not usually contests over the status of the soul. But Donald Trump, and Trumpism generally, is the embodiment of an ethos that covers up the soul. Or to be more precise, each is an ethos that deadens the soul under the reign of the ego.
Trump, and Trumpism generally, represents a kind of nihilism that you might call amoral realism. This ethos is built around the idea that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Might makes right. I’m justified in grabbing all that I can because if I don’t, the other guy will. People are selfish; deal with it.
This ethos — which is central to not only Trump’s approach to life, but also Vladimir Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s — gives people a permission slip to be selfish. In an amoral world, cruelty, dishonesty, vainglory and arrogance are valorized as survival skills.
People who live according to the code of amoral realism tear through codes and customs that have built over the centuries to nurture goodness and foster cooperation. Putin is not restrained by notions of human rights. Trump is not restrained by the normal codes of honesty.
In the mind of an amoral realist, life is not a moral drama; it’s a competition for power and gain, red in tooth and claw. Other people are not possessors of souls, of infinite dignity and worth; they are objects to be utilized.
Biden talks a lot about the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. At its deepest level, that struggle is between systems that put the dignity of individual souls at the center and systems that operate by the logic of dominance and submission.
You may disagree with Biden on many issues. You may think he is too old. But that’s not the primary issue in this election. The presidency, as Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, “is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.”
One of the hardest, soul-wearying parts of living through the Trump presidency was that we had to endure a steady downpour of lies, transgressions and demoralizing behavior. We were all corroded by it. That era was a reminder that the soul of a person and the soul of a nation are always in flux, every day moving a bit in the direction of elevation or a bit in the direction of degradation.
A return to that ethos would bring about a social and moral disintegration that is hard to contemplate. Say what you will about Biden, but he has generally put human dignity at the center of his political vision. He treats people with charity and respect.
The contest between Biden and Trumpism is less Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative than it is between an essentially moral vision and an essentially amoral one, a contest between decency and its opposite.
Very well stated.
Jen Kiggans had the haunted look of a woman about to walk the plank. The first-term Republican from Virginia barely took her eyes off her text Wednesday as she read it aloud on the House floor. She tripped over words and used her fingers to keep her place on the page.
The anxiety was understandable. Like about 30 other House Republicans from vulnerable districts, she was about to vote in favor of the GOP’s plan to force spending cuts of about $4.8 trillion as the ransom to be paid for avoiding a default on the federal debt.
Kiggans then cast her vote to abolish the clean-energy credits her constituents find so “beneficial.”
House GOP leaders are celebrating their ability to pass their debt plan, even though it has no chance of surviving the Senate nor President Biden’s veto pen. But the bill’s passage has achieved one thing that cannot be undone: It has put 217 House Republicans on record in favor of demolishing popular government services enjoyed by their constituents.
In Kiggans’s Virginia, the legislation she just backed would strip tax incentives that go to the likes of Dominion Energy, which is building a $9.8 billion offshore wind project in her district. She also voted to ax solar and electric-vehicle incentives for hundreds of thousands of Virginians, and tax breaks projected to bring $11.6 billion in clean-power investment to the commonwealth.
In addition, the bill she supported sets spending targets that require an immediate 22 percent cut to all “non-defense discretionary spending” — that’s border security, the FBI, airport security, air traffic control, highways, agriculture programs, veterans’ health programs, food stamps, Medicaid, medical research, national parks and much more. If they want to cut less than 22 percent in some of those areas, they’ll have to cut more than 22 percent in others.
According to an administration analysis of what the 22 percent cuts translate to, Kiggans is now on record supporting:
Shutting down at least two air traffic control towers in Virginia.
Jeopardizing outpatient medical care for 162,300 Virginia veterans.
Throwing up to 175,000 Virginians off food stamps and ending food assistance for another 25,000 through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program Women, Infants and Children.
Cutting or ending Pell Grants for 162,900 Virginia college students.
Eliminating Head Start for 3,600 Virginia children and child care for another 1,300 children.
Adding at least two months to wait times for Virginia seniors seeking assistance with Social Security and Medicare.
Denying opioid treatment for more than 600 Virginians.
Ending 180 days of rail inspections per year and 1,350 fewer miles of track inspected.
Kicking 13,400 Virginia families off rental assistance.
Similar calculations can be made for the other 30 House Republicans targeted by Democrats in the 2024 elections who joined Kiggans in walking the plank. Since enactment of the clean-energy credits Republicans have now voted to repeal, for example, clean-energy projects worth some $198 billion and 77,261 jobs have moved forward in districts represented by Republicans, according to the advocacy group Climate Power.
[T]he record is now clear. Kiggans and other House Republicans just voted to curb or eliminate a huge swath of government services that Americans rely on — and their constituents ought to know it.
Soon after Republicans assumed the House majority in January, McCarthy said that “our very first responsibility” was “to pass a budget.” But the majority couldn’t pass a budget.
[O]nly six of 30 bills so far followed “regular order,” according a tally by Democrats on the House Rules Committee that Republicans did not dispute. And this week, McCarthy threw on the floor, without a single committee hearing, “the largest spending cut in American history” (as Rep. Kevin Hern (Okla.), head of the 173-member House Republican Study Committee, put it).
Republicans long howled about “giant bills negotiated in secret, then jammed through on a party-line vote in the middle of the night.” . . . But this week, they jammed their giant, secretly negotiated debt-limit bill through the Rules Committee on a party-line vote — at 2:19 a.m. And they did it with a “deem-and-pass” rule.
Even then, after all the reversals and surrenders, the bill came within one vote of failing. The lawmaker who cast the final, deciding vote? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).
How apt that this legislation, built on one broken promise after another, should be carried over the finish line by the world’s most famous liar.
At the start of this manufactured debt-limit crisis, I worried that ideological extremism might drive the nation to a first-ever default. But an equal threat to America’s full faith and credit may be incompetence. Those in the House majority don’t know what they don’t know.
The Treasury is forecast to go into default in June. But Rep. Tim Burchett (Tenn.), emerging from the GOP caucus meeting Wednesday morning, told a group of us that “we’re not going to default.” Why? “I think September’s the actual drop-dead date, so we’re good.”
Coming out of the same meeting, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) still seemed confused about what happens when the government defaults. (Hint: It has nothing to do with a government shutdown.) “Let the Senate shut the government down,” he proclaimed. “Let them take the heat for shutting it down.”
At the Rules Committee hearing, Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) offered his view that the Federal Reserve is “not an independent agency.” (It is.) . . . Many Republicans, like Kiggans, swallowed their misgivings.
Kiggans needs to be voted out of office in 2024. The question is whether voters in the 2nd District can let go of their hatreds and bigotry and vote for their own best economic interests.
Friday, April 28, 2023
A group of Christian nationalists committed to “re-dedicating (re-marrying) the nation back to God” gathered Wednesday in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for an “Re-Covenanting Ceremony & Gala Dinner Reception” featuring the likes of Glenn Beck, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, pseudo-historian David Barton, and others.
Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the day in 1607 when English settlers landed at Cape Henry, Virginia, erected a cross, and “dedicated the new world to God,” organizers insisted that the event was not intended to “promote any political figure or party, but rather to bring the nation as a whole back to God through prayers, repentance and proclamation.”
Many speakers at the event, of course, had different objectives, judging by the fact that the first two speakers spent a good portion of their remarks attacking drag performers, transgender individuals and the Biden administration.
The very first speaker was Craig Johnson, a conservative commentator who bills himself as “The Hatchet Man” and railed against “demon-possessed people” who are reading “homosexual pornography” to school children. . . . Now ungodliness infects our youth with evil, and they call it a woke culture. These demon-possessed people use cute little picture books for the kindergartners, but they read outright homosexual pornography to middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Father James Altman, a radical right-wing priest who was removed from his ministry in 2021 after making a series of controversial statements, lived up to his reputation as he hurled viciously transphobic attacks on Biden administration officials and others.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Altman asked. “Certainly not some mentally ill tranny freak show of a four star admiral in Biden’s cabinet. Why don’t the bishops at this Catholic Church say that? That’s why they hate me, because I do and they don’t and they know it!” . . . we should crush like the vermin that they are—and they are—every filthy school board member or teacher who tries to shove their mentally ill tranny freak show down the throats of our precious children.”
Later in the program, right-wing activist Zoe Warren, who is currently running to be chair of the South Carolina GOP, sought to repent on behalf of “government,” declaring that this nation has become so wicked that “we deserve for our women to be raped and our children to be ripped apart.”
Among the sponsors of the event was the Virginia Christian Alliance, which managed to secure a “certificate of recognition” from Gov. Glenn Youngkin recognizing the “pastors, governmental leaders, and others from the Commonwealth and around the Nation” who had gathered for this event “to rededicate this land according to the 1607 Jamestown Covenant of Land Dedication.”
Youngkin continues to show his true colors by the company he keeps and the extremists he supports.
Thursday, April 27, 2023
The Republican plan for 2024 is already failing, and the party leadership can see it and knows it.
There was no secret to a more intelligent and intentional Republican plan for 2024. It would have gone like this:
(1) Replace Donald Trump at the head of the ticket with somebody less obnoxious and impulsive.
(2) Capitalize on inflation and other economic troubles.
(3) Offer plausible ideas on drugs, crime, and border enforcement.
(4) Reassure women worried about the post-Roe future.
(5) Don’t be too obvious about suppressing Democratic votes, because really blatant voter suppression will provoke and mobilize Democrats to vote, not discourage them.
Unfortunately for them, Republicans have turned every element of the plan upside down and inside out. Despite lavish anti-Trump donations by big-money Republicans, Trump is cruising to easy renomination. Rather than capitalize on existing economic troubles, Republicans have started a debt-ceiling fight that will cast them as the cause of America’s economic troubles. Worse for them, the troubles are fast receding. Inflation is vexing, but the recession that Republicans hoped for did not materialize: Instead, Joe Biden has presided over the fastest and steepest unemployment reduction in U.S. economic history.
The big new Republican idea to halt the flow of drugs is to bomb or invade Mexico. Instead of reassuring women, Republican state legislators and Republican judges are signaling that they will support a national abortion ban if their party wins in 2024—and are already building the apparatus of surveillance and control necessary to make such a ban effective. Republican state-level voter-suppression schemes have been noisy and alarming when the GOP plan called for them to be subtle and technical.
It’s early in the election cycle, of course, but not too early to wonder: Are we watching a Republican electoral disaster in the making?
Biden’s poll numbers are only so-so. But a presidential election offers a stark and binary choice: This or that? Biden may fall short of some voters’ imagined ideal of a president, but in 2024, voters won’t be comparing the Democrat with that ideal. They will be comparing him with the Republican alternative.
Republicans have suffered a series of heavy defeats since the rise of Trump: loss of the House in 2018, loss of the presidency in 2020, loss of the Senate in 2021, losses at the state level in 2022 (Democrats won net two governorships and net four legislative chambers).
Trump-era Republicans have difficulty absorbing and reacting to negative news. Led by Trump himself, they misrepresented 2016 as—in the words of his former adviser Kellyanne Conway—a blowout, historic landslide. They misrepresented 2020 as an election that they deservedly won, but that was stolen from them by fraud and chicanery. Out-of-office Republicans like Paul Ryan will acknowledge on CNN that Trump lost. But they won’t say it on Fox News. Trump’s own leading party rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, won’t say it.
The Democrats, by contrast, are a party that has trouble absorbing and reacting to good news. Few Democrats predicted that the party would do as well as it did in 2022. Most feel deep dread and anxiety about 2024.
The potential strength of the Democratic coalition is greater than that of the Trump coalition. The Democratic disadvantage is that their coalition spans a lot of groups that face extra difficulties casting a ballot: renters, college students, hourly workers, single parents, people who don’t own cars. The American voting system has been engineered to deter and discourage them.
If motivated to turn out, however, those deterred and discouraged blocs can swing elections. In 2018, 36 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds turned out, the highest level recorded. Their votes helped change control of the House. Turnout of this cohort in 2022 finished second only to what it had been in 2018, and those votes altered the political complexion of many state legislatures. The state that had the highest youth turnout in 2022 was Michigan—not so coincidentally, the state where Democrats scored some of their biggest gains, flipping both chambers of the state legislature from red to blue.
Chief among what motivates voters who face obstacles is hope. People will endure and overcome barriers when they feel that their vote can make a difference. If Democrats succeed in communicating hope in 2024 that young people can contribute to a decisive defeat of Trump and MAGA extremism, then that is what they will do.
This cycle, that hope is well founded. Republicans are doing everything wrong. They are talking to their voters about Trump’s personal grievances and about boutique culture-war issues that their own base does not much care about, such as the state of Florida’s “war on Disney.” At the same time, Republican leaders are confronting Democratic voters with extremist threats on issues they care intensely about: bans on abortion medication by mail, restrictions on the freedom of young women to travel across state lines, attacks on student voting rights, proposed big cuts to Medicaid and food stamps in the GOP debt-ceiling ransom demand. Republicans offer no economic message and no affirming vision, even as they make new moves to police women’s bodies and start a land war in Mexico. . . . Trump, together with DeSantis, has completely rebranded the GOP as the party of bossing around women, minorities, and young people.
If Trump secures the GOP nomination to run for a second term in 2024, the conditions are all in place to transfer the title of “worst popular-vote loser of the century” from the great Arizona senator to the putsch-plotting ex-president. Trump’s own party is doing its part to deliver this debacle. Soon enough, all Americans will have the opportunity to do theirs.
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Washington Post by a "conservative" columnist I rarely agree with on anything lays out the case that if Republicans are insane enough to nominate Trump as their presidential standard bearer in 2024 they will virtually guarantee Joe Biden's re-election. Outside of the MAGA and far right media bubble, Trump is simply too toxic to too many voters yet all indications are that Republican primary voters are deaf and blind to this reality. The best way to turn out Democrat and Independent voters to back Biden is to make the choice one between Biden and Trump. It is remarkable that Republicans simply cannot see that TrumpHere are column excerpts:
As he announces his reelection campaign, President Biden is extremely vulnerable. According to NBC News polling out this week, his disapproval rating is at 54 percent (just two points shy of his all-time high) while a whopping 70 percent of Americans say they don’t want him to run again. With those numbers, his campaign should be politically dead-on-arrival.
But here’s the problem for Republicans: Sixty percent of voters also don’t want Donald Trump to run again. Americans are sending a clear message to both parties: They want new candidates to choose from in 2024. As Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helped conduct the NBC poll, explains, “people do not want a Biden-Trump rematch.” But it looks increasingly likely the country will get exactly that.
So, what happens if voters are forced to choose between two candidates they don’t want? A Wall Street Journal poll (conducted by pro-Trump super PAC pollster Tony Fabrizio) suggests the answer: It found that among voters who disapprove of both Trump and Biden, Biden leads Trump by a massive 39 points: 54 percent to 15 percent. Clearly, swing voters who dislike Biden dislike Trump even more.
To beat Biden, Republicans need the votes of the 54 percent majority who disapprove of his performance in office. And Trump appears to be the one candidate who can’t deliver those votes. If Republicans force these voters to choose between Trump and Biden, they will push these voters into a position they don’t want: picking Biden.
Trump is effectively Biden’s “get out of jail free” card — the former president is the one Republican candidate who can save Biden from the political consequences of all the serial disasters he’s unleashed on the country during this term: from the worst inflation in 40 years, . . . the biggest annual rise in food prices since 1979, the worst labor shortages in American history . . .
That record should doom any president’s chances of winning reelection. But if Trump is the Republican nominee, Biden likely gets away with it. By contrast, if Republicans nominate someone else — almost anyone else — then the GOP can turn Biden’s 54 percent disapproval rating into an albatross around his neck.
It should not take another election loss for Republicans to understand this. Swing voters have already sent this message to the GOP — twice. In 2020, despite the fact that a record 56 percent of registered voters told Gallup that they were better off under Trump than they had been four years earlier, Trump lost — because he alienated too many people.
Then, in 2022, Biden turned in nearly the best first midterm performance of any president since John F. Kennedy — despite being the most unpopular U.S. president since Harry S. Truman. (He was exceeded only by George W. Bush’s midterm results after the 9/11 attacks.) Democrats didn’t do so well because voters approved of Biden; it was because they disapproved of Trump’s handpicked House and Senate candidates, who lost winnable race after winnable race.
So, Trump has already cost the GOP two elections. Will it take a third for some to wake up to the fact that he is political kryptonite?
So, Republicans have a choice: Pick a candidate without Trump’s baggage who can make Biden own his 54 percent disapproval rating. Or hold Biden’s beer while he shows us if he can make a second term in office even more calamitous than his first.
Frankly, I do not see the GOP base as capable of making such a reasoned decision to not nominate Trump. The GOP is now the MAGA party where reason and common sense (and common decency) simply do not matter.
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
What’s striking about the video launching President Biden’s reelection campaign is not what is different from the one he put out exactly four years earlier, but what is the same: Both show scenes of violence and hard-right extremism in the opening moments.
And both put the focus right where it should be, on the question that will define the future of the United States.
In 2019, his campaign announcement featured the August 2017 march in Charlottesville, during which, candidate Joe Biden recalled, “Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces, illuminated by torches, veins bulging and bearing the fangs of racism. Chanting the same antisemitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s.”
Four years later, his announcement recalls the bloody riot that took place at the U.S. Capitol in the weeks before his inauguration, in which supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to overturn the result of a fair election in which the results weren’t all that close. “When I ran for president four years ago, I said we are in a battle for the soul of America — and we still are,” Biden said.
[f]}ormer president [Trump] is shown only fleetingly, embracing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who at this early stage of the race is considered Trump’s leading rival for the 2024 GOP nomination. As the other face of “MAGA extremists,” the video features Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in her Cruella de Vil fur-lined coat heckling during Biden’s State of the Union address. The message is that extremism is not a problem that has been — nor will be — cured by barring Trump from the Oval Office.
In the title of his announcement video, Biden also seizes ownership of a word that Republicans, notably DeSantis, have claimed as their own and twisted beyond recognition: freedom.
This is surely a note Biden will keep sounding, although Americans should not need reminders in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the measures that are being taken by Republicans across the country to make it harder to vote, the lies with which Trump and his supporters have undermined the integrity of our election system, the efforts to roll back LGBTQ rights.
“Every generation of Americans have faced a moment when they have had to defend democracy. Stand up for our personal freedom. Stand up for the right to vote and our civil rights,” Biden says. “And this is our moment. Let’s finish this job.”
“Finish the job” is hardly the most electrifying of battle cries. . . . And, of course, there will be many unknowable events between now and November 2024, at home and in the international arena, that could shift what voters see as their top concerns.
And as an incumbent president, he has the most demanding of day jobs, which gives him the luxury — which his advisers say he will use — of not being expected to spend all that much time on the hustings, where his lifelong tendency to say the wrong thing is sure to create instantly viral awkward moments.
Finally, he has a record. No, these four years haven’t been the New Deal or the Great Society, as much as his strategists and most ardent supporters would like us to believe otherwise. But there have been achievements: an infrastructure program that his predecessors couldn’t deliver, pandemic aid, massive investments to curb climate change, an economy that is growing despite rough waters. It is hard to see how he could have gotten much more done, given the domestic and international challenges — including the pandemic and rallying the Western allies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and the political constraints of a sharply divided government.
In 2020, Biden was right. Americans were looking for a corrective to extremism and division. He can’t argue convincingly that things have gotten all that much better since then, even without Trump in the White House. But the stakes are even clearer. This is still about the character of the country.
Fox News’s decision to “part ways” with prime-time host Tucker Carlson is practically a choose-your-own-ending sort of story: Compelling reasons to oust Carlson have been piling up for years. It’s about time Fox News finally deployed one, or 50.
The immediate context for Carlson’s departure, announced on Monday, appears to be the cable network’s $787.5 million settlement last week with Dominion Voting Systems over allegations that Fox News coverage of the 2020 presidential election defamed the company. But even if Carlson’s surprise departure followed the high-profile payment, the connection isn’t open-and-shut. Far from a focus of the Dominion case, Carlson was responsible for just one of the 20 broadcasts at issue; most were the work of other network stars. . .
The fact that Carlson’s last show aired without a sign-off to viewers suggests that Fox News didn’t trust Carlson with its airwaves under changed circumstances. Yet the network trusted him for 14 years, a span in which Carlson, a veteran of CNN and MSNBC, littered the airwaves with conspiracy theories and racist rhetoric.
Carlson’s hammering wasn’t limited to external critics. Court filings in the Dominion litigation exposed many of Carlson’s candid thoughts about others at Fox News, including executives. . . . Such comments about management “played a role” in Carlson’s ouster, according to reporting by Post colleagues Jeremy Barr and Sarah Ellison.
Who at Fox News ever — ever — would have supposed that the guy willing to smear others willy-nilly would similarly bash his colleagues?
There is other ugliness. A lower-profile lawsuit, filed in March by Abby Grossberg, a former Fox News employee who worked on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” alleged violations of pay-equity laws, gender discrimination and retaliation, among other issues. Her complaint paints a dire picture of the work environment under Carlson.
And as a Fox News host, Carlson’s on-air pronouncements were replete with racism, sexism and an undisguised hatred for people with whom he disagrees. In his quest for ratings and fame, Carlson proved willing to run over otherwise powerless people, such as the Maine-based freelance journalists assigned to produce a story about him, or the pro-Trump man whom Carlson wrapped in his conspiracy theory about the FBI and the Jan. 6, 2021, protests. Carlson also menaced colleagues at the network, as New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore documented in a year-long investigation.
It seems that Fox News was fine with Carlson’s vicious, often baseless, attacks, as long as they were directed elsewhere. Once they started landing closer to home, network leaders took another look at the terrible individual on their payroll.
A piece at CNN looks at the risk calculation that may have motivated Murdoch and other top Fox brass:
One veteran television news executive told me that they believed the decision came down to a straightforward calculation by the Murdochs: Risk versus reward. “There’s a lot of drama and intrigue, but this is always about managing risk vs reward,” the person said.
“I know that’s not very exciting, but it’s how these decisions get made at the highest level,” the executive added. “A weighing of the negatives - and risks to the business - versus the positives or benefits.”
And if you’re the Murdochs, it is easy to say how holding on to Carlson comes with more much more risk than reward. Carlson is not a team player, and in fact is uncontrollable. He carries legal baggage, and the Murdochs are trying to put an end to the legal disputes they find themselves in. He regularly births negative news cycles about the network that tarnish the brand, and Fox News is desperate to emerge from the cloud of negative press it has been the subject of. Meanwhile, mainstream advertisers have stayed far away from Carlson’s show, which is far too toxic to associate with.
The Murdochs also have plenty of evidence to support the bet that Fox News is bigger than any single person. Just look at Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, and others who have exited the network. None of them have bigger platforms today than they did when they were on Fox News. They all have a less powerful megaphone than the one they carried when employed by the Murdochs. . . . . If he were to turn up on another channel, it’s certainly possible that a not-so-insignificant chunk of his audience would follow him over — especially with former President Donald Trump eager to rip the Murdochs and fan chaos in right-wing media.
Which is all to say that, while the Murdochs may have made a calculated bet that the odds will remain in their favor, it is still a bet. And it’s not clear exactly how things will shake out when the dice land.
Monday, April 24, 2023
When Iowa lawmakers voted last week to roll back certain child labor protections, they blended into a growing movement driven largely by a conservative advocacy group.
At 4:52 a.m., Tuesday, the state’s Senate approved a bill to allow children as young as 14 to work night shifts and 15 year-olds on assembly lines. The measure, which still must pass the Iowa House, is among several the Foundation for Government Accountability is maneuvering through state legislatures.
The Florida-based think tank and its lobbying arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project, have found remarkable success among Republicans to relax regulations that prevent children from working long hours in dangerous conditions.
The FGA achieved its biggest victory in March, playing a central role in designing a new Arkansas law to eliminate work permits and age verification for workers younger than 16. Its sponsor, state Rep. Rebecca Burkes (R), said in a hearing that the legislation “came to me from the Foundation [for] Government Accountability.”
“As a practical matter, this is likely to make it even harder for the state to enforce our own child labor laws,” said Annie B. Smith, director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Human Trafficking Clinic. “Not knowing where young kids are working makes it harder for [state departments] to do proactive investigations and visit workplaces where they know that employment is happening to make sure that kids are safe.”
That law passed so swiftly and was met with such public outcry that Arkansas officials quickly approved a second measure increasing penalties on violators of the child labor codes the state had just weakened.
The FGA for years has worked systematically to shape policy at the state level, fighting to advance conservative causes such as restricting access to anti-poverty programs and blocking Medicaid expansion.
[I]n February, the White House announced a crackdown on child labor violators in response to what activists have described as a surge in youths — many of them undocumented immigrants — working at meat packing plants, construction sites, auto factories and other dangerous job sites. The administration’s top labor lawyer called the proposed state child labor laws “irresponsible,” and said it could make it easier for employers to hire children for dangerous work.
Congress in 1938 passed the Fair Labor Standards Act to stop companies from using cheap child labor to do dangerous work, a practice that exploded during the Great Depression.
But today those rules, which restrict the hours and types of work that can be performed by minors, are not strictly enforced, and the issue has become more polarizing since the pandemic began — when a labor shortage created a huge need for workers and large numbers of undocumented minors entered the United States looking for work.
The Labor Department has seen a 69 percent increase in minors employed in violation of federal law since 2018, officials reported.
On the surface, the FGA frames its child worker bills as part of a larger debate surrounding parental rights, including in education and child care. But the state-by-state campaigns, the group’s leader said, help the FGA create openings to deconstruct larger government regulations.
“The reason these rather unpopular policies succeed is because they come in under the radar screen,” said David Campbell, professor of American democracy at the University of Notre Dame. “Typically, these things get passed because they are often introduced in a very quiet way or by groups inching little by little through grass-roots efforts.”
Minnesota and Ohio have introduced proposals this year allowing teens to work more hours or in more dangerous occupations . . . . A bill in Georgia would prohibit the state government from requiring a minor to obtain a work permit.
It’s one of several conservative groups that have long taken aim at all manner of government regulations or social safety net programs. The FGA is funded by a broad swath of ultraconservative and Republican donors — such as the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation and 85 Fund, a nonprofit connected to political operative Leonard Leo — who have similarly supported other conservative policy groups.
“When you say that a bill will allow kids to work more or under dangerous conditions, it sounds wildly unpopular,” Campbell said. “You have to make the case that, no, this is really about parental rights, a very carefully chosen term that’s really hard to disagree with.”
Child welfare advocates and some business leaders said the new legislation could endanger children on the job and entice others to leave school to join the workforce.
Those risks are especially acute for undocumented minors who arrive in the United States without their parents. Close to 15 percent of those children are released from federal custody to distant relatives or nonrelative sponsors, Robin Dunn Marcos, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, testified to a House panel on Tuesday. That makes them more vulnerable to labor trafficking, experts say.
The work permits — more than 2,700 of which were issued by Arkansas officials in 2022, according to state government data — required proof of age, parental permission and an employer’s signature. They left an “important paper trail ” of where children were employed and reminded businesses of the rules, said Laura Kellams, from the nonprofit Arkansas Advocates For Children And Families.
“This wasn’t burdening parents or children who want to work,” Kellams said. “This wasn’t burdening business that followed the law. It would only be a burden to an employer who didn’t want to follow the rules about work hours and the types of work that kids that age are able to do.”
The FGA has called for reforming home-based business laws, fast-tracking permitting processes, cutting social safety nets and creating other incentives to work — including youth employment with little to no oversight from the government.
Tarren Bragdon, a former Maine state legislator, founded the FGA in 2011 with a focus on cutting social safety net and anti-poverty programs. It quickly tapped into conservative political fundraising networks and grew from $50,000 in seed funding to $4 million in revenue by its fourth year, according to tax filings and the group’s promotional materials.
Sunday, April 23, 2023
Politicians - especially Republicans - bloviate about freedom and "American exceptionalism" while ignoring the continued shrinking of Americans' life expectancy versus that of other advanced nations (peer nations, if you will). Yes, America is exceptional, but in a very bad way. There are numerous factors behind this national disgrace, not the least of which America's lack of universal health care thanks to Republicans that in effect often relegates poorer Americans - many of them working class whites, not just blacks - to an all too often premature death. Add to this America's worsening gun carnage which the GOP backed loosen of gun control will only intensify, our higher roadway carnage, the epidemic of drug overdoses and the FDA's reticence in approving drugs widely used in Europe, the picture is truly ugly. Of course, things don't have to be this way if politicans had the will to focus on the problem, cease stoking racial and social division and, instead, pushed for a focus on the common good. A piece in The Atlantic looks at this disgraceful aspect of "American exceptionalism" which sadly appears to be worsening. Here are article highlights:
The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive?
For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress.
How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia. That is, compared with the citizens of these nations, American infants are less likely to turn 5, American teenagers are less likely to turn 30, and American 30-somethings are less likely to survive to retirement.
Last year, I called the U.S. the rich death trap of the modern world. The “rich” part is important to observe and hard to overstate. The typical American spends almost 50 percent more each year than the typical Brit, and a trucker in Oklahoma earns more than a doctor in Portugal.
This extra cash ought to buy us more years of living. For most countries, higher incomes translate automatically into longer lives. But not for today’s Americans. A new analysis by John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times, shows that the typical American is 100 percent more likely to die than the typical Western European at almost every age from birth until retirement.
Imagine I offered you a pill and told you that taking this mystery medication would have two effects. First, it would increase your disposable income by almost half. Second, it would double your odds of dying in the next 365 days. To be an average American is to fill a lifetime prescription of that medication and take the pill nightly.
According to data collected by Burn-Murdoch, a typical American baby is about 1.8 times more likely to die in her first year than the average infant from a group of similarly rich countries: Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Let’s think of this 1.8 figure as “the U.S. death ratio”—the annual mortality rate in the U.S., as a multiple of similarly rich countries.
By the time an American turns 18, the U.S. death ratio surges to 2.8. By 29, the U.S. death ratio rockets to its peak of 4.22, meaning that the typical American is more than four times more likely to die than the average resident in our basket of high-income nations. In direct country-to-country comparisons, the ratio is even higher. The average American my age, in his mid-to-late 30s, is roughly six times more likely to die in the next year than his counterpart in Switzerland.
[T]he typical middle-aged American is roughly three times more likely to die within the year than his counterpart in Western Europe or Australia. Only in our late 80s and 90s are Americans statistically on par, or even slightly better off, than residents of other rich nations.
What is going on here? The first logical suspect might be guns. According to a recent Pew analysis of CDC data, gun deaths among U.S. children and teens have doubled in the past 10 years, reaching the highest level of gun violence against children recorded this century. . . . . People everywhere suffer from mental-health problems, rage, and fear. But Americans have more guns to channel those all-too-human emotions into a bullet fired at another person.
One could tell a similar story about drug overdoses and car deaths. In all of these cases, America suffers not from a monopoly on despair and aggression, but from an oversupply of instruments of death. We have more drug-overdose deaths than any other high-income country because we have so much more fentanyl, even per capita. Americans drive more than other countries, leading to our higher-than-average death rate from road accidents. Even on a per-miles-driven basis, our death rate is extraordinary.
Americans’ health (and access to health care) seems to be the most important factor. America’s prevalence of cardiovascular and metabolic disease is so high that it accounts for more of our early mortality than guns, drugs, and cars combined.
Disentangling America’s health issues is complicated, but I can offer three data points. First, American obesity is unusually high, which likely leads to a larger number of early and middle-aged deaths. Second, Americans are unusually sedentary. We take at least 30 percent fewer steps a day than people do in Australia, Switzerland, and Japan. Finally, U.S. access to care is unusually unequal—and our health-care outcomes are unusually tied to income. As the Northwestern University economist Hannes Schwandt found, Black teens in the poorest U.S. areas are roughly twice as likely to die before they turn 20 as teenagers in the richest counties. This outcome is logically downstream of America’s paucity of universal care and our shortage of physicians, especially in low-income areas.
[V]oters and politicians in the U.S. care so much about freedom in that old-fashioned ’Merica-lovin’ kind of way that we’re unwilling to promote public safety if those rules constrict individual choice. That’s how you get a country with infamously laissez-faire firearms laws, more guns than people, lax and poorly enforced driving laws, and a conservative movement that has repeatedly tried to block, overturn, or limit the expansion of universal health insurance on the grounds that it impedes consumer choice. Among the rich, this hyper-individualistic mindset can manifest as a smash-and-grab attitude toward life, with surprising consequences for the less fortunate.
In medicine, excessive regulation and risk aversion on the part of the FDA and Institutional Review Boards have very likely slowed the development and adoption of new lifesaving treatments. This has created what the economist Alex Tabarrok calls an “invisible graveyard” of people killed by regulators preventing access to therapies that would have saved their life.
America is caught in a lurch between oversight and overkill, sometimes promoting individual freedom, with luridly fatal consequences, and sometimes blocking policies and products, with subtly fatal consequences. That’s not straightforward, and it’s damn hard to solve. But mortality rates are the final test of civilization. Who said that test should be easy?