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Today, We Thank Our Veterans ― Ninety Years Ago, We Did Something Else

Friday, November 11th, 2022

Well, that was interesting. The midterm election, not yet over, showed once again experts and their predictions are worth about as much as a sneaker full of puppy poo. All the supposedly smart pundits who predicted the end of democracy as we know it are now doing their best to explain what happened, and why. They forgot, or ignored the fact, that, on the whole, Americans are decent, loyal citizens. Right now, regardless of how the election turns out, we can feel proud of most our neighbors around the nation thoughtfully exercised their right and duty to vote, regardless of how they voted and for whom.

It would be nice to think the Congress we are now still electing will be as thoughtful, decent and loyal to the oath it will collectively take in January. However, I can’t help fearing that in Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill,” internecine, malodorous warfare will remain on full display. Looking for all the world like a gussied-up version of the Hatfields and McCoys, Republicans and Democrats will once again assemble in a highly organized circular firing squad, seeming far more intent on annihilating each other than on devoting themselves to the moral imperative of governing.

But enough of that. This is Veterans Day, a day to give thanks to all the men and women who gave themselves to the defense of our country.

We’ve come a long way in that regard. It wasn’t always so. One hot summer, fourteen years after Johnny came marching home, he was persecuted, dehumanized and then cast into the darkness of the Great Depression. Here’s what happened.

1932 – Washington, D.C.

At the close of World War I, Congress decided to thank the war’s veterans for their service with some cash — $500, which, in today’s dollars, would be about $7,500. Quite a bonus. But there was a catch: The “bonus” authorized by the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 would not be paid until 1945. The veterans did not complain at the time. It was The Roaring Twenties. Everyone was flush.

But then along came the Great Depression. The economy descended from full employment in 1929, where the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, into massive unemployment in 1933 when the unemployment rate reached 25 percent. From sitting on top of the world, plutocrats were suddenly seen jumping out of windows on Wall Street. Breadlines became the meal du jour. The word, “Hobo,” which had been around, but hardly used, since 1888, became a symbol for the forgotten man.

In the summer of 1932, 25,000 penniless, desperate veterans and their wives and children descended on Washington, D.C. They camped in District parks, dumps, abandoned warehouses and empty stores.  These aging warriors had come to the nation’s capital to ask Congress, admittedly 13 years early, for their $500. Newspapers christened them “the bonus Army,” or “the bonus marchers.” They called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” the BEF.

The men drilled, sang war songs, and, once, led by a Medal of Honor winner and watched by a hundred thousand silent Washingtonians, marched up Pennsylvania Avenue bearing flags of faded cotton.

The BEF had pleaded in vain with Congress for the money. They were ignored and left to wither. As a last resort they appealed to President Hoover to meet with them. He sent word he was too busy. Then, confronted with 25,000 squatters he would later label “communists,” while asserting less than 10% of them were veterans*, he isolated himself from the city, canceled plans to visit the Senate, had police patrol the White House grounds day and night, chained the gates of the Executive Mansion, erected barricades around the White House and closed traffic for a distance of one block on all sides of the Mansion. A one-armed veteran, attempting to picket, was beaten and jailed.

Conditions for the veterans were pathetic. The summer heat was severe. Lacking shade or screens, the BEF was beaten down by the climate’s fury. Since the founding of the city, Washington was viewed as a place to be avoided in the summertime. In the words of an official guidebook, Washington was “a peculiarly interesting place for the study of insects.” The veteran men and their families had arrived at the height of Cherry Blossom season, but by July they were debilitated, ghostly, dehydrated and hot. Very hot. The columnist Drew Pearson called them “ragged, weary and apathetic with no hope on their faces.” Downtown businessmen complained through the Chamber of Commerce that “the sight of so many down-at-the-heel men has a depressing effect on business.”

And that was the extent of their crime, their threat to the country. They weren’t good for business.

General Douglas MacArthur, the Army’s only four star general who, even then, referred to himself in the third person, had met with some of the men and assured them if he had to evict them he would allow them to leave “with dignity.” But when the end came for the BEF at 10:00 A.M. on 28 July 1932 there was no dignity to be found. Hoover had had enough, and he ordered “Mac” to get rid of them. Trouble was, he didn’t tell the General “how” to get rid of them. MacArthur, who never did anything small in his life, was unleashed.

First, Police Commissioner Glassford, who had been sympathetic to the men, was sent to tell them they had to leave, orders of the President. They refused, which was when MacArthur sent the Army in, led by then Major George Patton and his 3rd Mounted Cavalry — with him prancing at the front atop his privately-owned horse (he had a stable-full; he was rich) — followed by infantry and a World War I vintage Tank Brigade. Bullets began to fly. BEF men were killed. Two babies were gassed to death. And Joseph Angelino suffered a deep wound from Patton’s sabre-wielding cavalry, the same Joseph Angelino, who, on 26 September 1918, had won the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest medal, for saving the life of a young officer named George Patton.

By midnight that day, the Army had driven the BEF veterans, their wives and children across the Potomac and out of the city. But that wasn’t good enough for MacArthur and Hoover. The BEF was chased and harassed west and south, out past Ohio and all the way down to Georgia. Then, the veterans just folded into the vast transient population that roamed the land in 1932.

In 1936, overriding a veto by President Roosevelt, Congress voted to immediately pay World War I veterans their full $500 bonus specified in the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924.

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*The Veterans Administration, which had the actual service records, would subsequently refute Hoover’s claim with an exhaustive study concluding that 94% of the  bonus marchers were veterans of World War I.

A Midterm Reminder That Bears Repeating

Monday, November 7th, 2022

The Midterms are tomorrow, and, if you’re like me, you can’t wait for the campaigning to be over. The constant emails, texts and television ads will stop―for about a week, after which we’ll begin getting bludgeoned by the 2024 campaign. God help us all.

According to Bloomberg, the two political parties and their candidates will have spent nearly $17 billion to get elected, by far the most for any Midterm election in history. That’s more than the budgets of 14 US states.

Predictions are Republicans will win in the House, and perhaps the Senate, too. If they do, what will happen then?

In early April of this year I wrote about that when I analyzed Florida Senator Rick Scott’s Plan to Rescue America. Scott was the only Republican lawmaker willing to put a stake in the ground and tell America what the GOP would do when, at least in his mind, it inevitably came to power. At that time I thought his plan so outlandish and, to use a technical term, flat out wacky, it would die a quick death. I was wrong. By my count, the majority of Republican candidates, especially for the House, have been trumpeting, Trump-like, many of Scott’s prescriptions for “rescuing” America. And that’s not all. One of the things not in Scott’s manifesto is the myriad investigations the Republican-controlled House will begin immediately upon taking power to show the rest of America all the evil things done by President Biden and his fellow Democrats in the last two years. Impeachment will likely follow. This is not hyperbole, but it sure is scary.

Therefore, today I’m republishing the April analysis to give us all an idea of what might be in store for us over the next couple of years, and maybe beyond. Fasten your seatbelts.

Rick Scott Is Going To Rescue America!

Rick Scott is the junior U.S. Senator from Florida. Elected in 2018, Scott has now served in Congress for 39 months. In November, 2020, his Senate GOP colleagues elected him Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). His job is to get Republicans elected and reelected to the Senate.

Prior to the Senate, Scott was a two-term governor of Florida, succeeded by Republican Ron DeSantis. Before that, he was a businessman. We’ll get back to that later.

You would think the Chairman of the NRSC would be lock-step with Republican leadership in the strategy to take the Senate from the tenuous hold of the Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms. But this does not appear to be the case. Senator Scott is marching to his own drummer.

On Thursday, after no consultation with or cooperation from Senate GOP elites, Scott officially unveiled and launched the Rick Scott, 31 page, 11 Point Plan to Rescue AmericaThe Rescue Plan has 117 agenda items.

This is not a surprise to GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. Scott’s Plan has been discussed for more than a month, and as far back as 1 March McConnell publicly rebuked Scott for it. McConnell is fixated on making the mid-terms a referendum on President Biden, not on laying out a Republican plan he and the GOP establishment would have to spend the entire mid-term campaign defending. He wants Biden playing defense. Scott, on the other hand, wants America to know what Republicans will do if given control of the Senate. Right at the beginning of his Rescue Plan he says, “Americans deserve to know what we will do if given the chance to govern.” If Scott gets his way, now they will. And you have to hand it to him; he certainly doesn’t tap dance around the many issues facing the country.

Before diving into his 11 point, 117 agenda item plan, Scott lays out what the future will look like if nothing changes:

The militant left now controls the entire federal government…Among the things they plan to change or destroy are: American history, patriotism, border security, the nuclear family, gender, traditional morality, capitalism, fiscal responsibility, opportunity, rugged individualism, Judeo-Christian values, dissent, free speech, color blindness, law enforcement, religious liberty, parental involvement in public schools, and private ownership of firearms.

Holy Militant Left, Batman! We need a plan to stop all that!

A few of Senator Scott’s 117 agenda items, guaranteed to be saliva-producing red meat for the trumpiest of trumpsters caught my eye.  For instance,

We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump.

Kids in public schools will say the Pledge of Allegiance, stand for the National Anthem, and honor the American Flag. We must foster national unity.

Teacher tenure at public schools must be eliminated

We will not allow political or social indoctrination in our schools. Teachers who refuse to comply will need to find new jobs.

We will close the federal Department of Education. Education is a state function.

Government will not ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any government form.

Our military will engage in ZERO diversity training, teachings on critical race theory, or any woke ideological indoctrination that divides our troops.

We will force prosecutors to prosecute. At present, many prosecutors in big cities are allowing criminals to go free with no justice, and they are doing it on purpose.

Immigrants will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits or welfare for the first 7 years after arriving in the US.

No government assistance unless you are disabled or aggressively seeking work.

If Congress does not pass a budget, the members of Congress do not get paid. Full stop.

Other than disaster relief, the federal government must stop spending money on non-essential state and local projects until the budget is balanced.

All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.

Enact term limits for the Washington ruling class – 12-year limits for Congress and government bureaucrats.

All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.

We will immediately cut the IRS funding and workforce by 50%.

Humans are born male and female, there are two genders, and to deny that is to deny science. No government forms will include questions about “gender identity” or “sexual preference.”

We will protect women’s sports by banning biological males from competing.

No tax dollars will be used to pay for any diversity training or other woke indoctrination that is hostile to faith.

We will not pay any dues to the United Nations or any international organization that undermines the national interests of the USA.

The weather is always changing. We take climate change seriously, but not hysterically. We will not adopt nutty policies that harm our economy or our jobs.

There are a few difficulties with a number of these policy tectonic changes. Ending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in five years being among the biggest. Also, Scott’s colleagues in Congress might have something to say about going without pay and getting sent home after 12 years. Increasing taxes on 50% of Americans may prove challenging for Republicans on the campaign trail. Pulling billions of dollars from the states until we have a balanced budget might irritate a few Republican governors. And reducing the IRS’s funding and currently understaffed workforce by 50% would have brought tears to the eyes of mobster Al Capone.*

Although Senator Scott’s plan is dead on arrival, the problem is it arrived in the first place. It’s not about getting Republican senators elected; it’s about Rick Scott.

And what about Rick Scott? As I mentioned above, before getting into government, Scott was a “businessman.” He co-founded Columbia Hospital Corporation in 1987. Columbia later merged with another corporation to form Columbia/HCA, which eventually became the nation’s largest private for-profit health care company with Scott as Chief Executive. According to The New York Times, “[in] less than a decade, Mr. Scott had built a company he founded with two small hospitals in El Paso into the world’s largest health care company – a $20 billion giant with about 350 hospitals, 550 home health care offices and scores of other medical businesses in 38 states.”

Sounds good, right? Quite the businessman.

But there were problems. In March of 1997, the FBI, the IRS, and the Department of Health and Human Services arrived with search warrants. Four months later, Scott was forced to resign by his Board. He didn’t leave willingly, but when he did, he left with a settlement of $9.88 million and 10 million shares of stock worth $350 million. Columbia/HCA pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to a $600+ million fine in what was at the time the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

The company admitted to systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about use of hospital space. It also admitted to fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs by inflating the seriousness of diagnoses and to giving doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. It filed false cost reports, fraudulently billing Medicare for home health care workers, and paid kickbacks in the sale of home health agencies and to doctors to refer patients. In addition, it gave doctors “loans” never intending to be repaid, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.

And that’s not all. In 2002, HCA agreed to pay the federal government an additional $631 million, plus interest, and $17.5 million to state Medicaid agencies, in addition to $250 million paid up to that point to resolve outstanding Medicare expense claims. The entire fiasco cost the company $1.7 billion. Nobody went to jail.

All on Senator Scott’s watch.

There’s one last twist. In a civil suit deposition connected to the case (there were a lot of civil lawsuits), Senator Scott invoked his 5th Amendment rights 75 times.

Somehow, all of that has been forgotten, and Scott has managed to be a governor, a Senator, and, I’m guessing, a man, a businessman, who has his eyes on the biggest prize of all, the one up for grabs in 2024.

Rescue Plan, indeed.

*Capone was a nationally famous, Chicago-based killer and crime boss who went to prison in 1931 for tax evasion.

The Earth Is Moving Under Medicare And The Price Of Drugs ― But Slowly.

Friday, November 4th, 2022

Prologue

This is a story, 16 years in the making, of government-enabled corporate greed. It’s complicated and somewhat dense. It has to be to go on that long. It’s a story of how one industry, the Pharmaceutical industry, has done Olympian good while achieving Titanic profit, which has been surgically excised, Midas-like, from the hides of American taxpayers who never felt the touch. The story ends with a different way, a better way, but a way we common folk won’t likely see.

The story

Medicare Part D, a prescription drug benefit plan for Medicare beneficiaries, became law on 1 January 2006 under the George W. Bush administration and a Republican controlled Congress. The legislation was enacted with no funding provisions whatsoever. Since then, Washington politicians have been arguing over whether this government program should be allowed to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies the prices it pays for drugs its members need. Medicare beneficiaries, all 64 million of them, and the public at large, have overwhelmingly supported such a move. Over the years, pharmaceutical companies have spent a king’s ransom donating to politicians to secure―should we say “buy?”―their votes in opposition.

What’s been the result?

  • A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded more than a quarter (27.2%) of Medicare spending is now for prescription drugs;
  • That would be $180 billion, as reported by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission for 2020;
  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the total we in the US spent on prescription drugs in 2017 was $333 billion; and,
  • The Rand Corporation studied and compared US prices to 32 other OECD countries (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – the most developed nations) and reported our prices are “nearly twice those of other countries after adjusting U.S. prices downward to account for rebates and other discounts paid by drug companies.”

And now, the gravy train may be slowing.

In August 2022, Congress finally passed―without a single Republican vote―and President Biden signed, the Inflation Reduction Act, which, among other things, allows Medicare to move forward with drug price negotiations―sort of. Right about now, you may be asking what prevented Medicare from doing that all along since 2006 as a normal part of its drug-purchasing process?

As the Kaiser Family Foundation explains:

Under the Medicare Part D program, which covers retail prescription drugs, Medicare contracts with private plan sponsors to provide a prescription drug benefit. The law that established the Part D benefit included a provision known as the “noninterference” clause, which stipulates that the HHS Secretary “may not interfere with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and PDP [prescription drug plan] sponsors, and may not require a particular formulary or institute a price structure for the reimbursement of covered part D drugs.”

In other words, although Medicare is buying drugs for its members, all 64 million of them, it has not been allowed to even hint that a lower price might be more fair and appropriate for the government to pay. That is the very definition of a “sweet deal” for drug manufacturers.

Giving the negotiation contrarians the benefit of a doubt they more than likely don’t deserve, their argument in opposition hangs on the slim thread that negotiations will lower the income of drug manufacturers, and that will, in turn, reduce the amount of money the companies invest in research and development to discover new life-saving drugs. My own opinion is that this argument is chock full of what makes the grass grow green and tall. And, by the way, the Congressional Budget Office agrees with me, although their analysists said it with a bit more eloquence.

And what does the aforementioned Inflation Reduction Act do, anyway?

It does a number of things, one of which is to lay down new rules for price negotiations. These are its major health care provisions, leaving out, for the moment, the negotiation issue. It will:

  • Require drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if prices rise faster than inflation for drugs used by Medicare beneficiaries, beginning in 2023;
  • Cap out-of-pocket spending for Medicare Part D enrollees and make other Part D benefit design changes, beginning in 2024;
  • Limit monthly cost sharing for insulin to $35 for people with Medicare, beginning in 2023. This might be the most far reaching and important item in the entire legislation.
  • Eliminate cost sharing for adult vaccines covered under Medicare Part D and improve access to adult vaccines in Medicaid and CHIP, beginning in 2023;
  • Expand eligibility for full benefits under the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program, beginning in 2024; and,
  • Further delay implementation of the Trump Administration’s drug rebate rule, beginning in 2027.

Notice the years in which these provisions take effect. In most cases, it’s 2023.

The negotiation provision of the Inflation Reduction Act:

  • Requires the federal government to negotiate prices for some drugs covered under Medicare Part D and Part B* with the highest total spending, beginning in 2026. Note the year.

This provision targets the most expensive drugs. Here’s how.

Under the new Drug Price Negotiation Program, Medicare will negotiate the price of 10 Part D drugs for 2026, another 15 for 2027, another 15 for 2028, and another 20 for 2029 and later years. The drugs to be chosen for negotiation will be selected from among the 50 drugs with the highest total Medicare spending. The number of drugs with negotiable prices  will accumulate over time.

So, beginning four years from now, the law goes after the most expensive Medicare drugs.

There are debatable reasons for delaying implementation until 2026, all dealing with operational processes. The period of negotiation between the Secretary of Health and Human Services and manufacturers of the selected drugs will occur between 1 October 2023 and 1 August 2024, and the negotiated “maximum fair prices” will be published no later than 1 September 2024 and will go into effect 1 January 2026.

This seems to me a rather long and drawn out negotiation process, but it is, after all, a political compromise.

The better way

And now for the better way.

There is another government health care organization that has never had a prohibition with respect to negotiating drug prices. It is the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA.

In January, 2021, the Government Accountability Office released a study that concluded:

“the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid, on average, 54 percent less per unit for a sample of 399 brand-name and generic prescription drugs in 2017 as did Medicare Part D, even after accounting for applicable rebates and price concessions in the Part D program.”

This means what the VA pays is in line with those other 32 OECD countries.

Moreover, the GAO found that 233 of the 399 drugs in the sample were at least 50% cheaper in the VA than in Medicare, and 106 drugs were at least 75% cheaper. Only 43 drugs were cheaper in Medicare than in the VA.

What are the operational differences between the two organizations?

For one thing, the programs pay for drugs differently. Medicare reimburses the Part D plan sponsors to pay pharmacies through the middlemen―Pharmacy benefit Managers, but the VA buys drugs directly from manufacturers. It cuts out the middlemen. The VA can get lower prices because it can:

  • Negotiate as a single health system with a unified list of covered drugs; and,
  • Use discounts defined by law that Medicare doesn’t have.

As in everything political, it all comes down to economics. The VA, with only nine million health care beneficiaries, as opposed to Medicare’s 64 million, could fly under the political radar and avoid congressional restraint. It was able to keep the congressional camel’s nose and, more to the point, its sticky fingers out of its tent.

Medicare is so big, it could never do that.

And here we are.

______________________

*Medicare will also negotiate in a similar manner the prices of Part B drugs. These are drugs administered in physicians’ offices or hospital outpatient departments.

The Role Of Religion In Our Divided America

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2022

Everyone who follows the political winds in the US is laser-focused on the upcoming midterms, which are six days from now. Most prognosticators expect Republicans to end up controlling the House of Representatives, and maybe the Senate, too. While that is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, if we look out farther into the future, the picture is decidedly less rosy for the Grand Old Party.

Stay with me as I try to explain why.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey, which provides insight into the beliefs of most of the nation’s faith groups, nearly three in four Americans (74%) say things in this country are going in the wrong direction, and 49% say things were better in the 1950s. That’s right, the 1950s when a third of the country, 51 million people, still had to use outhouses, a cancer diagnosis was a death sentence, rotary dial phones were how we communicated, and Jim Crow was alive and well and on the march. Sixty-six percent of Republicans believe our culture and American way of life have deteriorated since then. Thirty percent of Democrats feel the same way. PRRI sums up its September 2022 Values Survey this way:

Approximately three-quarters of Americans agree that the country is heading in the wrong direction, but there is considerable division over whether the country needs to move backward — toward an idealized, homogeneous past — or forward, toward a more diverse future. Though most Americans favor moving forward, a sizable minority yearn for a country reminiscent of the 1950s, embrace the idea that God created America to be a new promised land for European Christians, view newcomers as a threat to American culture, and believe that society has become too soft and feminine. This minority is composed primarily of self-identified Republicans, white evangelical Protestants, and white Americans without a college degree. The majority of Americans, however, especially younger Americans, the religiously unaffiliated, and Democrats, are more likely to embrace a competing vision for the future of America that is more inclusive.

When examined in concert with PRRI’s 2020 Census of American Religion, a pattern emerges that does not bode well for Republicans.

In 1996, 65% of Americans identified as white and Christian; that number is now 43%, down nearly a third. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans identify that way. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans are white evangelicals. The problem for Republicans is white evangelicals now make up just 14% of the total population. That is down significantly from 23% in 2006. The following chart depicts religious affiliation by age. It also shows vividly that white evangelicals, the rock solid foundation of the Republican party’s base, and to a lesser degree mainline protestants, are aging out of the population. They are being replaced by people unaffiliated with any religion.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the unaffiliated are predominantly Democrats.

The PRRI data also shows younger generations, especially 18 to 29 year-olds, more often identify as Democrats than Republicans, which should be good news for the Democrats. The problem lies in getting them to vote. Seventy percent of Republicans say they are very or somewhat excited about voting next week. For the Democrats that number is only 64%.

One more startling point from the PRRI Values Survey. Among a host of other issues, the PRRI researchers asked about QAnon, and this is how they framed the subject:

To measure the scope of the QAnon movement, PRRI tracks agreement with three statements that form the core tenets of the conspiracy theory:

  1. The government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.

  2. There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.

  3. Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.

PRRI labels people who believe all three statements to be true as QAnon Believers. It may shock you to learn QAnon Believers now comprise 19% of the population. It may shock you even more to learn the number jumped five points in the last year. You might want to think about that.

What I take away from all of this is Democrats have a solid opportunity to take command looking out into a somewhat distant future, but they may first have to walk through the valley of death to get there. Republicans, on the other hand, will continue to yearn for “the good old days” of white isolated and insulated America. They may win next week, but that just might be the beginning of their collective swan song, a swan song the Chad Mitchell Trio suggested nicely way back in 1964 with Barry’s Boys, their white-hot roasting of Arizona Senator and that year’s Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater:

I wanna go back to the days when men were men
And start the First World War all over again
Back to Barry
Back to Cash and Carry
Back to Barry’s Boys.

“Where Is Nancy?”

Friday, October 28th, 2022

Last night in San Francisco, 42-year-old David Depape broke into the home of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and went looking for her, yelling, “Where is Nancy?’

“Nancy” wasn’t home, but her octogenarian husband Paul was. He and Depape scuffled and Depape beat Mr. Pelosi with a hammer.

According to San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, “The suspect pulled the hammer away from Mr. Pelosi and violently assaulted him with it. Our officers immediately tackled the suspect, disarmed him, took him into custody, requested emergency backup and rendered medical aid.”  CNN’s Jamie Gangel scooped that the attacker was attempting to tie up Paul Pelosi “until Nancy got home,” and said he was “waiting for Nancy.” (She was in D.C. at the time.)

Although 82-year-old Paul Pelosi suffered serious injuries (a hammer will do that) he is expected to make a complete recovery. And there you are. An assassination avoided. Let’s all move on.

Well, not so fast. Let me tell you a story.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, Europe’s political tectonic plates began moving precipitously as wealthy elite landowners were being challenged by emerging socialism whose leaders demanded power for the working classes, something anathema to the elites. One of the issues intensifying the socialist movement in France was the Dreyfus case.

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus had been falsely accused and convicted of treason for delivering French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. He was sentenced to life in prison on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Dreyfus was a 35-year-old Jewish Alsatian French artillery officer, and, yes, from its beginning antisemitism hung heavily over what came to be known as the Dreyfus Affair.

Born in 1859, Jean Jaurès was a highly respected leader of the socialist movement in the Legislative Assembly. He, among others, took up the cause of Dreyfus and was instrumental in forcing a second trial once it became known that high military officers had conspired to frame Dreyfus. In 1896, after 12 years, Dreyfus was fully acquitted and went on to serve with distinction in the First World War. The Dreyfus Affair propelled Jaurès to the forefront of French politicians.

Between the end of the Dreyfus Affair and the war, Jaurès became the intellectual champion of the socialist cause as leader of the French Socialist Party. He was an antimilitarist who was able to pragmatically straddle France’s left and right political wings and could see both sides of an issue. However, in the feverish fervor of the run-up to World War I, while the vast majority of the French were convinced the ignominy of the Franco-Prussian War, with its mortifying defeat at Sedan and humiliating Treaty of Versailles, had to be avenged and Germany crushed, Jaurès advocated diplomacy. He continued tirelessly to prod the public to reject the calls for war.

On 31 July 1914, the day before both the Germans and French mobilized for battle, Jaurès, knowing he had lost the argument and worn out from his efforts, went to the Café Croisant a little after 9:00 pm, for dinner, sitting with his back to a window that looked out onto the street. That was when Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French nationalist who’d been following him since the evening before, shouted “pacifist” and “traitor,” and fired two shots into his back. Jaurès slumped forward. Five minutes later, he was dead.

The killing of Jaurès stunned Paris. Everything came to halt. He was buried on 4 August, the day the war began.

The death of Jaurès is what can happen when seemingly rational people lose their rationality and are magnetically drawn to violence. Last night in San Fransisco we could have had a similar result.

The political rancor and hatred oozing throughout America today, with its tangible potential for violence, has been brewing for decades. Donald Trump did not begin it. He just made it fashionable.

Although both Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy were quick to condemn last night’s home invasion, I’m wondering what they and the legislators they’re supposed to lead will do now. Will any of them condemn the former president for inciting this violence? Will they condemn any of the Republican leaders who, cult-like, mimic Trump’s incitement? The next 24 hours will be interesting.

On 6 January 2021, in the corridors of the Capitol, the traitorous insurrectionists were yelling, “Where’s Mike Pence?” I ask you what would have happened if they’d found him? And what would have happened last night in San Francisco if the Speaker of the House, the third-highest ranking person in US government, had been home?

Please. Think about that.

 

For Something Different, “What Are They Breeding In Snohomish, Washington”?

Friday, October 21st, 2022

Recently, I had a bit of time on my hands, so I did what so many others do when they find themselves in that situation. I went online  devouring dumb and dumber stories from the internet. I found a doozy, the weirdest of the weird, and I’m going to pass it on to you as we enter what promises to be a wonderful weekend here in the Berkshires. You can thank me later.

I came away from my internet surfing asking, “What are they breeding in Snohomish, Washington?” For reference, Snohomish is a lovely town of about 9,000 residents and is known as “the antique capital of the Northwest.” Now you know all you need to know. Except for this: Danny Calhon lives there.

Danny Calhon is a 19-year-old, who achieved his 15 minutes of fame in a way I defy you to imagine in your wildest of wild dreams.

Regardless of Danny’s story, for some reason it made me think of my own when I was his age. So, please permit me a small digression of history, which I promise will segue into the tale of Danny, his thumb, and the 1990 Toyota Camry.

I grew up in Massachusetts in the idyllic Leave It To Beaver and Dobie Gillis era. Maynard G. Krebs was the closest thing to weird one could encounter, and he was tame fiction. True, we had our share of “Geez, Billy and Betsy have to get married” moments, but that was about as far as anyone my friends and I knew strayed from the beaten path, and that wasn’t often. Just often enough to make you sincerely grateful you weren’t Billy.

In those days, 1963, the closest one came to technology was the party line rotary dial phone sitting on the bench near the kitchen and the black and white, 15-inch television resting in the living room, gathered around which, every night at 6:30, the entire family would take in The CBS Evening News, with Walter Cronkite. Thirty minutes of all the news in the world ending with Walter’s iconic sign-off, “And that’s the way it was.”

There was no internet. There weren’t even area codes. Calculators were “adding machines,” and they were hand-cranked. People hand-wrote letters. The postal service was a marvel of efficiency (No Louis Dejoy back then). If someone mailed you a letter, within three days it would be delivered by hand through the mail slot in your front door by your own, personal, smiling, friendly (except when there were dogs around—no leash laws then) mailman. Sorry, no women. Feminism and women’s rights hadn’t hit the post office yet, or anywhere else for that matter. But it was in that year of 1963 that Gloria Steinem went undercover for about a month as a Playboy Bunny in Hugh Heffner’s New York Playboy Club. She later published a two-part exposé detailing her sordid experience in Show Magazine.

That world blew up, and this may surprise you, in 1975 with the appearance of the Texas Instruments hand-held calculator, which added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. That was it. In that year, I bought one for our office. It cost $479, which, in today’s dollars would be  $2,642.58. For those four functions.

After that, there was no stopping the communications bullet train (which didn’t exist back then, either). Pretty soon, Al Gore invented the internet, and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and, eventually, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey dragged everyone kicking and screaming into the galaxy we now inhabit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, you name it. Everyone’s a reporter and everything gets reported.

If a Bumble Bee burps in Boston,
In a minute they know it in Austin.

One of the fun games my friends and I used to play when we were 11 or 12 was to take a deep breath and hold it while blowing really hard on our thumb, which we had stuck in our mouth. We’d then pass out for a few seconds, and a friend would catch us before we hit the ground. Seems childish, but, well, we were children.

Which brings me back to Danny Calhon. Remember him? Danny—he’s going to put Snohomish on the map—Calhon? Danny made it into the local newspaper, and eventually all over the country, maybe the world, for—get ready now—causing a three-car crash after fainting due to intentionally holding his breath with his thumb in his mouth while driving through the 772 foot long Dennis L. Edwards Sunset Tunnel near Manning, Oregon.

You can be forgiven right about now for asking yourself if you read that last bit correctly. Trust me. You did.

There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news (my wife always wants the bad news first—seems counterintuitive, but there you are) is that after he fainted, Danny’s 1990 Toyota Camry, which was carrying him and his friend, 19-year-old Bradley Meyring, drifted across the center line and crashed, head-on, into a Ford Explorer being driven without a care in the world just before the roof caved in—literally—by 67-year-old Thomas Hatch. His wife Candace, 61, was in the front passenger seat. The good news is there were no life-threatening injuries and both Hatches are still with us.

Young Mister Calhon faced a laundry list of charges. We don’t know why in the world he was holding his breath enough to faint while driving through the tunnel. Neither does Lt. Gregg Hastings, with the Oregon State Police, who drew the short straw to investigate. Maybe Danny doesn’t even know, himself.

Back in Leave It To Beaver country, we would never have known about this. Think of all we were missing.

College Test Scores Have Declined For Five Straight Years. America’s Educational System Needs Fixing.

Thursday, October 20th, 2022

Over the last couple of years there have been significant incidents in the country and the world, all vying for space in one’s brain. We’ve seen the horror of the COVID 19 pandemic, the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia under the direction of Mr. Evil Incarnate Vladimir Putin, All Things Crazy with Donald Trump and his cultish followers, the ongoing implosion of Great (maybe not so much anymore) Britain where Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned this morning (at 45 days in office, she was more like a tourist than a resident at 10 Downing Street), the upcoming Midterm elections with their sucking up enormous amounts of money for political spending (you could probably run a moderately-sized country with what the Democrats and Republicans are spending to buy, excuse me, win, this election), and a host of other important events, including what the World Health Organization and the UN label as a “catastrophic hunger crisis” in Haiti. Only an Ed Sullivan Plate Spinner could keep it all straight.

Consequently, one could be forgiven for not noticing a burgeoning crisis in American education, and I’m not talking about the culture things, like whether it’s alright to discuss Critical Race Theory in class, or ways to achieve diverse and inclusive practices. No, what I’m referencing is ACT college admission test scores dropping to their lowest level in more than 30 years.

As the AP reports:

The class of 2022′s average ACT composite score was 19.8 out of 36, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. What’s more, an increasing number of high school students failed to meet any of the subject-area benchmarks set by the ACT — showing a decline in preparedness for college-level coursework.

The test scores, made public in a report Wednesday (12 October), show 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met none of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math.

The decline in test scores did not begin with the pandemic; they have been dropping for five consecutive years. COVID merely exacerbated the trend.

According to ACT (American College Testing), administrator of the tests for 60 years, in its report of this year’s results:

  • Approximately 1.3 million students in the U.S. high school graduating class of 2022 took the ACT test, an estimated 36 percent of graduates nationwide.
  • The national average Composite score for the graduating class of 2022 is 19.8, down from 20.3 for the graduating class of 2021, the lowest average score since 1991.
  • Thirty-five percent of the ACT-tested graduating class took the ACT more than once, as compared to 32% for the 2021 cohort.
  • Thirty-two percent of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met at least three out of four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (English, reading, math, and science), while 42% of students met none, and 22% met all four.

Rose Babington, senior director for state partnerships for the ACT, said, “Academic preparedness is where we are seeing the decline. Every time we see ACT test scores, we are talking about skills and standards, and the prediction of students to be successful and to know the really important information to succeed and persist through their first year of college courses.”

ACT CEO Janet Godwin put it more bluntly. “The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming. We see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting college-readiness benchmarks in any of the subjects we measure.”

According to Prep Scholar, which follows and charts average SAT scores over time, scores there have also declined, although their decline has been less acute than that of the ACTs. From 2006 through 2015, SAT scores dropped 34 points, falling in all demographic groups except Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander, where they rose, and Whites, where they remained steady. In 2017, the SATs were massively redesigned in an effort to make them more equitable. This led to significantly higher scores in all demographics except American Indian or Alaskan Native, where, by 2021, they had declined 36 points. During the same period, Black, or African American, scores jumped 75 points, and scores of White students were up 49 points to 934 and 1112, respectively.

But there has been no large redesign of the ACT test, so the picture there is less cloudy. We can draw conclusions with more certainty.

The latest results offer a lens into systemic inequities in education, in place well before the pandemic shuttered schools. COVID just made things worse. ACT’s Babington said, “The decline hit rural, low income and minority students of color the hardest.” You know, the ones whose parents can’t afford expensive college admission test tutoring. The ones who go to schools that don’t have anywhere near as much money to invest as schools in upper income neighborhoods and communities.

Can these inequities be fixed?

Sure, but it all comes down to money. Who has it and who doesn’t.

Schools nationwide require resources to operate and the cash to fund them. The way in which schools get their funding varies from state to state and district to district. But there are some funding principles that are relatively uniform throughout the country.

According to Education Week, public school funding comes from a variety of sources at the local, state and federal level. Approximately 48 percent of a school’s budget comes from state resources, including income taxes, sales tax, and fees. Another 44 percent is contributed locally, primarily through the property taxes of homeowners in the area. The last eight percent of the public education budget comes from federal sources, with an emphasis on grants for specific programs and services for students that need them. Traditionally, Americans desire to keep control of  schools at the local level, rather than a national one. Consequently, poorer states have less money to invest in education.

For example, the World Population Review reports Mississippi has the lowest median household income in the nation at $43,781, and annually ranks at or near the bottom in high school educational attainment. Compare that to Massachusetts, which has the third highest median family income (after the District of Columbia and Maryland) at $85,843, nearly double that of Mississippi.

You’d expect Massachusetts, with all that money, to rank high in public school education. And, you’d be right. As reported by WalletHub, which compared all 50 states across 18 metrics that examined the key factors of a well-educated population: educational attainment, school quality and achievement gaps between genders and races, Massachusetts ranks first for Educational Attainment and third for Quality of Education. Money talks.

There is a trend among colleges to no longer require testing for admission as they attempt to more equitably examine students applying for admittance, and the number of students taking the ACT has declined 30% since 2018, as graduates increasingly forgo college altogether. Some colleges, such as the University of California system, even opt for a test-blind policy, where scores are not considered even if submitted. Consequently, it’s possible the days of the ACT and SAT may be coming to an end. Nonetheless, the continuing decline in test scores is alarming to educators around the country. More worrisome is participation in the ACT among Black students plunged 37% this year, with only 154,000 taking the test.

Over the last few years, we have seen another problem emerge for public education. Grandstanding politicians have parachuted themselves into the nation’s classrooms in attempts to legislate what can be taught and how to do it. This has further muddied the country’s educational system, and it should stop right now.

It is the tallest of orders, but to remain globally competitive, we need to let educators educate and reexamine how we distribute the money necessary to let them do it. Anything less is a continuing disservice to our nation’s students, bound for college or not, who deserve the best we can give them as they enter adulthood.

 

Will The State Of The Economy Determine The Midterm Outcomes?

Tuesday, October 18th, 2022

 

On the evening of 3 November 2010, President Barack Obama faced a White House East Room full of reporters after his party lost 64 House seats in that day’s midterm election. Among other things, the humbled President said, “I’m not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night.” Well, to quote Hamlet, it is entirely possible on the evening of 4 November his recommendation may be, “More honored in the breach than the observance.”

Why? Because it was true in 1992 when James Carville coined the phrase, and it’s true today: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

With the midterms three weeks away, it is becoming clearer every day that the number one, overarching concern of most Americans is what they perceive to be a bad, and worsening, economy and how it affects them.

How do those Americans define the word “economy?” They don’t need advanced degrees in Economics to do it. No, what “economy” means to the average American is:

1. What does it now cost to buy the things I need and want?

2. Do I have enough money to do it?

Mr. and Mrs. Average American can answer those two questions in a nanosecond, no algorithms required.

1. The year-over-year rate of inflation is now 8.2%, down from 8.3% in August, according to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index, which measures how much Americans pay for certain goods and services. That is more than four times the Federal Reserve’s  benchmark target of 2%. Due to the Fed’s actions to combat the spike in inflation, interest rates for borrowing have risen commensurately. Everything now costs more than a year ago. A lot more.

To put this in human terms, consider that here in Massachusetts we were greeted two weeks ago with the announcement that, despite the Commonwealth regulating them, electricity costs will rise 64% starting with November’s bills. That number is not a typo. The coming winter will bring serious problems for many people here in the Northeast.

So, the answer to the first question is: A lot more than a year ago.

2.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on 13 October real average hourly earnings decreased 3.8% from September 2021 to September 2022. That’s a cut in pay.

For our Mr. and Mrs. Average American, this means that although everything costs more, take home pay is 3.8% less. For them, trying to keep up with inflation is like trying to outswim a Navy Destroyer. With every stroke they fall farther behind.

Some 46% of people now call their personal financial situation poor, up from 37% in March, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Moreover, although 54% say their finances are good in the latest survey, that figure was at least 62% through the global recession caused by the pandemic in 2020, and even in late 2021 and early 2022 as prices began to rise across the country.

As if that’s not enough, Bloomberg economists reported yesterday a US recession is “effectively certain” in the next 12 months.

So, the answer to the second question is: For many people, No.

What does this mean for the upcoming mid-term election? Possible disaster for the Democrats, who seem to be campaigning on abortion rights, election denial, and saving democracy.

These are certainly important issues. In many states, abortion rights aren’t rights anymore. More than 60% of Republicans still say conspiratorial Democrats stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. A Washington Post analysis found a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election without a shred of evidence. Democrats maintain if these people are elected the future of democracy is in grave peril.

One thing the Democrats are not talking about—much—is the economy, except to say it’s a global problem and, although it’s not the fault of the Biden Administration, the President is doing everything he can to make things better. That, and $4.25, will get you a Grande Chai Latte Tea at your local Starbucks.

What about the Republicans? One thing they do not have to do is offer solutions. And they aren’t.

All the Republicans have to do is quote Ronald Reagan’s famous question uttered in his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” To that question, Mr. and Mrs. Average American can only answer, “No.”

The only thing that seems to be helping Democratic candidates is the quality of the Republican candidates, which, amazingly, Mitch McConnell bemoaned publicly. Regardless of the poor quality, pollsters now say Republicans have a slight lead—and momentum that is widening it.

Republicans in the House, led by Kevin McCarthy, are beginning to count their chickens. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who describes herself as a “Christian Nationalist,” and who in earlier times would be known as a “Nutjob,” predicted recently of McCarthy, “I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway.” Merely to think about that prediction coming true is all you need to know of politics in 2022.

Barack Obama is one person who has learned the lesson of the 2010 debacle. In an interview with former aides on Crooked Media’s Pod Save America, he advised Democrats to get to know Mr. and Mrs. Average American and pay less attention to the latest crazy thing coming out of the Republican dragon known as Donald Trump. He chided Democrats to explain how they’d make people’s lives better.

“We spend enormous amounts of time and energy and resources pointing out the latest, crazy thing he said, or you know, how rude or mean, you know, some of these Republican candidates behaved. That’s probably not something that, in the minds of most voters, overrides their basic interests: Can I pay the rent? What are gas prices? How am I dealing with child care, et cetera. Right?”

Right. Democrats better start listening and relating to the needs of their constituents and stop focusing on the fog of the battle. If not…

Shellacking, anyone?

 

 

The Final (We Think) Public Hearing Of The Committee To Investigate the Insurrection Of January 6th

Thursday, October 13th, 2022

Today, the House Committee to Investigate the Insurrection of January 6th held what is perhaps its final public Hearing. There were no witnesses, unless you count the plethora on video. The Committee summarized its months of investigation and presented new evidence gleamed from the Secret Service. It also showed never before seen video of House and Senate leaders calling for help from Secret Service, National Guard, Metropolitan Police, Capitol Police and whoever else was thought to have enough firepower to overwhelm the Capitol invaders and allow Congress to get back to its constitutionally required work of certifying the Electoral College’s election of Joe Biden to the Presidency.

But the highlight of the Hearing was its end, which will be debated for many days and weeks to come. Congresswoman Liz Cheney proposed a resolution to subpoena and depose former President Donald John Trump. The resolution was adopted unanimously on a voice vote.

The Committee reported that over the course of its investigation 30 people have refused to testify, invoking their 5th Amendment self-incrimination rights. It is hard to imagine Donald trump not being the 31st. Nevertheless, it made for good theater.

For me, the important new revelations the Hearing produced concerned the Secret Service and how much its leadership knew about the storm that was coming on 6 January and how it did nothing about it.

In July, we learned officers of the Secret Service erased text messages from 5 and 6 January 2021, shortly after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general requested them as part of its investigation into the agency’s response to the assault on the U.S. Capitol.

DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, ultimately passed on to the House January 6th Committee, that, although his office had been notified that texts were erased as part of a device replacement program, the wiping of the devices occurred after a request for electronic communications.

“First, the Department notified us that many U.S. Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, were erased as part of a device-replacement program. The USSS erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari wrote in the letter.

After Cuffari’s letter, the Secret Service, which the Committee reported had been uncooperative until then, began to cooperate. Consequently, the Secret Service sent more than a million communications to the Committee, which it has been sifting through ever since. Today, the Committee made public numerous emails and other messages between Secret Service agents and leadership.

The Committee reported that by 5 and 6 January the Secret Service knew many protesters were coming to Washington DC for Trump’s speech on the Ellipse and a march to the Capitol afterwards. The speech was scheduled for mid-day on the 6th. By 5 January, the Secret Service knew many had come armed with rifles, handguns, bullet-proof vests and helmets, and that they were talking about a “firestorm” at the Capitol. Nevertheless, the Secret Service never alerted other agencies to the situation, which was inexorably building to a crescendo in plain sight, a keg of dynamite whose fuse Trump lit on the Ellipse during his speech.

One has to wonder about the Secret Service in all of this. Is it possible we have a few bad apples floating near the top of the barrel?  One has to wonder.

Following his speech, Trump demanded to go to the Capitol with the rioters, but his security detail would not allow it. The Committee reported the Secret Service detail had to “scramble to get him to back down.” Agents reported he was “furious” about this. Against his will, his security detail brought him back to the White House, where aides reported him walking the corridor outside the Oval Office “fuming” and “raging.”

At 1:19 pm, the Secret Service Operations Center reported, “hundreds of Trump supporters stormed through metal barricades at the back of the capitol building about 1:00 pm Wednesday, running past security guards and breaking fences.”

At 1:20 pm, aides told a back-in-the-Oval Trump about the storming of the Capitol. He retired to his dining room to watch it on the Fox News channel.

At 3:25 pm, Secret Service agents at the White House were told (we don’t know by whom) Trump would be moving to the Capitol “in about two hours.” At 5:00 pm, agents were told to stand down, “We are not doing an OTR (off the record) to (the Capitol).

The Committee reported today that “every single one” of the White House staff who had knowledge of the situation confirmed, “Trump was in the dining room watching on TV.” Trump has denied this on his Truth Social media network.

The Committee spent the first third of today’s Hearing showing how every one of Trump’s own appointed officials and aides had repeatedly told him he had lost the election, that Biden had won, and there was absolutely no evidence to the contrary. He refused to accept these facts—universally delivered by his own people from Attorney General Barr on down. Sixty-two lawsuits had come to nothing. There was no hope he had prevailed. Yet, still he persisted.

I can’t help wondering about his refusal to accept facts given to him over and over again. Isn’t that Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Barr likened it to playing whack-a-mole. Whenever he told Trump some weird accusation had proved false, he was given another weirder one to investigate.

Yet, the Committee reported today, in the quieter moments in the White House, following all the lawsuits and the crazy accusations, Trump was heard by some staff to admit he’d lost. “Can you believe I lost to fucking Joe Biden?”

Many babies and toddlers cry, whine, scream and throw things when something they really want is denied them. But eventually they figure out it’s not happening and accept it, then go on to something else. But not Donald Trump, at least publicly—to this day.

I’ve heard many people say these Hearings and this Committee are a colossal waste of time. The storming of the Capitol happened, yes people died, but it’s over. Time to move on, put it in the rear view mirror.

That’s probably true if you look at all this as if its simply one arrow whizzing past a slim crack in a door. But if you open the door and look wide, you might see the insurrection as but one part of a slow-moving, but continuing process directed by some powerful people to turn our government into autocracy. They won’t admit it, but, as many smart people have said, including Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, who said it to me, “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, odds are it’s a duck.”

 

 

Follow The Money—If You Can

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022

As we do our best to make some sense of the deep polarization that has overspread America in the 21st century, we could do worse than look to a leader from the 19th for guidance, President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1875, as he neared the end of his second term and America approached the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Grant predicted the next civil war would be “between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.”

The events leading up to and including the January 6th insurrection proved him right.

Grant was certainly prescient, but to his “superstition, ambition, and ignorance” I would add greed and a thirst for power. These five iniquities characterize how we have come to this point in our history, and at least four of them are present in the current senatorial contest in Georgia that pits Republican Herschel Walker against the incumbent, Democrat Raphael Warnock, a Baptist Minister.

I wrote about this contest last week. In that column I tried to peel the Herschel Walker onion to show the lies and disgusting hypocrisy surrounding his candidacy. I wrote the contest had

“nothing to do with Herschel Walker and everything to do with taking control of the US Senate. Even if Walker proved to be the second coming of Jack The Ripper, hard core Republicans in Georgia and around the country would continue to support him. It’s not that they don’t believe the latest allegations, they just don’t care about them. Controlling both the House and the Senate overrides everything.”

To go deeper, we now have the story of the money, which, in 2022, appears the governing factor in who gets elected—anywhere.

Although it has spent and committed more than $10 million to the Walker campaign, the biggest spender in the senate race is not the National Republican Senatorial Fund (NRSC), the fund overseen by Florida’s Senator Rick Scott whom Mitch McConnell put in charge of taking back the Senate. Scott planned to be at a rally supporting Walker last night. I’m betting there wasn’t much said about what appears to be Walker’s abortion lies.

And, although it has also spent in the millions, the biggest donor is not 34N22, a Super PAC dedicated to electing Walker to the Senate and controlled by his campaign. No, the biggest spender in support of Walker is not the NRSC, 34N22, or the total of all the rank and file who, bathed in ignorance, have dug deep, dipping into their cookie jars of savings in response to the daily emails asking for more.

The biggest spender aimed at getting Herschel Walker shoehorned into the US Senate so Republicans can once again assume control is the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the Super PAC controlled by Mitch McConnell. The SLF has already booked $37.1 million in TV ads in support of Walker. This doesn’t count the millions more that SLF has spent online.

But what, or who, is the Senate Leadership Fund?

The SLF is a mix of exceedingly wealthy individuals, Fortune 500 corporations, and one, huge non-profit.

Here’s a look at the individuals and corporations, and what they have given, reported originally by Judd Legum’s Popular Information, a newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism:

$10,000,000: Private equity billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman, a longtime friend and advisor to Trump and co-founder of private equity giant Blackstone. In 2010, Newsweek reported Schwarzman had compared Obama’s effort to eliminate tax loopholes for private equity managers to “Hilter’s invasion of Poland.”

$10,000,000Kenneth Griffin, the billionaire CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund. In a 2012 interview, Griffin said that the “ultrawealthy” did not have enough influence on politics. In 2008, Griffin’s highly leveraged hedge fund came near to collapsing, and, were it not for government bailouts, it would have.

$4,000,000: Occidental Petroleum, a Fortune 500 fossil fuel company and one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases.

$3,000,000: Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer. Known as a “philosopher-king type of person,” Singer is perhaps the most brilliant person in the hedge fund business, exemplified by his firm’s impressive performance in the 2008 economic collapse when it only lost 3% of its value. Singer fiercely opposes raising taxes on billionaires and other exceedingly wealthy individuals, while showing little sympathy for the plight of the 99%. “Resentment is not morally superior to earning money,” Singer has written. What is a “moral failing,” according to him, is “depreciation in paper money’s value.”

$2,000,000: Bernie Marcus, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and one of Trump’s largest donors.  Marcus stopped working at Home Depot in 2002, and the company has tried to distance itself from him and Herschel Walker, saying on its Twitter feed, “Hi, we have not contributed to this campaign.” This is deceitful, because Home Depot has made significant contributions to PACs spending millions of dollars to elect Walker. Home Depot is a perfect example of how a corporation can honestly say it hasn’t directly contributed to a campaign, while actually having indirectly done so by writing checks to PACs that support the particular campaign. Republicans are not the only Party doing this.

$2,000,000: Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire chairman of Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News.

$1,500,000: Chevron Corporation, the second largest fossil fuel corporation in the United States. The second-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in history.

$1,000,000: Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch. In 2020, Koch said he “screw[ed] up” by supporting Tea Party Republicans and vowed to be a “uniter” in the future. He’s certainly united groups of far-right Republicans.

$1,000,000: American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group representing the fossil fuel industry.

$500,000: Anschutz Corporationthe parent company of Coachella and other popular music festivals and concerts. These funds came directly from the Anschutz Corporation’s corporate treasury and not an employee-funded PAC.

$500,000: Philip Anschutz, the CEO of the Anschutz Corporation and a prolific donor to right-wing political causes.

Then there is the biggest donor to the Senate Leadership Fund. It is the non-profit One Nation, and it, like the SLF, is run by Steven Law, a former Chief of Staff to Mitch McConnell. Thus far, One Nation has donated $33.5 million to the SLF. One Nation has also spent millions in TV and online ads supporting Walker. However, One Nation is organized as a 501(c)4 non-profit, which means that, compliments of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, it is allowed to keep its donors secret. That means many of the largest supporters of the Senate Leadership Fund—and, therefore, the Walker campaign—are unknown.

And they always will be.