Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Mike Pence And His Book Deal Shenanigans

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

There are so many compelling and thought provoking things happening every day that it’s ridiculously easy to miss a few you’d rather have known about. Today, I see my job as helping you avoid that unfortunate circumstance. Read on and be enlightened.

Question: How many books must an author sell in order to make the New York Times Bestseller List?

Answer: A minimum of 5000 book sales in a single week across diverse retailers and from multiple geographic locations.

There are ways to manipulate sales, chief among them bulk sales and authors buying their own books. Wikipedia has a nice synopsis of sales manipulation:

Manipulation by authors and publishers. In 1956, author Jean Shepherd created the fake novel I, Libertine to illustrate how easy it was to manipulate the best-seller lists based on demand, as well as sales. Fans of Shepherd’s radio show planted references to the book and author so widely that demand for the book led to claims of it being on the Times list. Author Jacqueline Susann (Valley of the Dolls) attempted to “butter-up” Times-reporting booksellers and personally bought large quantities of her own book. Author Wayne Dyer (Your Erroneous Zones) purchased thousands of copies of his own book. Al Neuharth (Confessions of an S. O. B.), former head of Gannett Company, had his Gannett Foundation buy two thousand copies of his own autobiography. In 1995, authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema spent $200,000 to buy ten thousand copies of The Discipline of Market Leaders from dozens of bookstores. Although they denied any wrongdoing, the book spent 15 weeks on the list. As a result of this scandal the Times began placing a dagger symbol next to any title for which bookstores reported bulk orders. However, daggers do not always appear; for example Tony Hsieh‘s Delivering Happiness was known to have been manipulated with bulk orders but didn’t have a dagger.

Enter stage right former Vice President Mike Pence. In 2021, CNN reported the ex-VP had signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster worth $3 million to $4 million, a pay day few, if any, Trump alums will get, especially if they did not resign immediately after the 6 January insurrection. Also not getting book deals are members of Congress who voted not to certify the 2020 presidential elections. All these people are damaged goods in the publishing world. Nothing personal; publishing is a business.

To fulfill the first half of his deal, Pence recently released So Help Me God. Now, it is assumed by everyone masochistic enough to follow the political scene that Pence aspires to run for President in 2024 (he also aspires to win) and that his book lays a marker down, a sort of sword in the sand. But how to get people to read it (Another question: How to get them to believe it?)? Although Pence is known to be deeply religious (in his own way) his book isn’t exactly as captivating as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which spent 136 weeks on the Times Bestseller List.

The way out of this dilemma is to join the manipulators. And that’s what Mr. Pence did. As reported by Zach Everson, writing for Forbes, on 9 November 2022, Pence’s PAC, the Great America Committee, paid Books on Call NYC $91,000 for what the PAC described as “collateral materials,” according to a report the PAC filed in December with the Federal Election Commission. A spokesperson for Pence confirmed the money went to buy the book at $21.78 per copy, 4,178 of them to be precise, leaving friends and family only having to buy another 822 to make the Bestseller list. Sort of reminds me of Donald Trump in the early 1990s masquerading as fictional publicist John Miller (sometimes John Barron) and calling reporters to let them know what a brilliant and wonderful person his employer Donald Trump was.

Because Pence was not yet an official candidate for the 2024 election, it was legal for his PAC to do this.

So Help Me God debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times’ best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction and remained there for six weeks. The Times says when retailers report bulk orders of a book a dagger marking is supposed to appear beside the book’s name on the List. Inexplicably, no dagger ever appeared next to So Help Me God.

If you’re interested in being able to talk about So Help Me God without having to actually read it, you can find a number of reviews all in one place. The general verdict from all of them: Although the book is “well-written and well-paced,” (so says the Wall Street Journal), once again Pence is all things to all people. Whenever he writes something in So Help Me God, you can be sure it will be followed by, “On the other hand…”

I know it’s not charitable, but Mr. Pence has always reminded me of a cross between the David Copperfield’s unctuous Uriah Heep and a mortician describing his casket collection to the relatives of the dearly departed.

“Autobiography,” George Orwell once wrote, “is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful…since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” The defeats Pence documents in So Help Me God are the ones that make him look good.

One thing Pence doesn’t talk about in the book is his brother Greg, a member of the House of Representatives from Indiana’s 6th congressional district since 2019. That’s the seat brother Mike held for 12 years. On the day of the insurrection, after the madding crowd had erected a gallows outside the Capitol Building and were now marching through the halls looking for brother Mike and screaming, “Hang Mike Pence,” Greg was with his brother and family. The Secret Service evacuated him with the Vice President.

Hours after emerging from a secure location, Mike Pence gaveled the joint session of Congress back in session and presided over the certification of the election, despite Trump’s demands. His finest hour. The one the history books will mention.

Greg Pence, meanwhile, joined 146 other Republican election-denying members of Congress who sided with Trump and cast a vote rejecting the outcome in Pennsylvania, the state that clinched the election for Biden.

You won’t find any of that in So Help Me God.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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?

 

 

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.

How To Explain Georgia And Herschel Walker

Thursday, October 6th, 2022

In mid-January of 2016, at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, Donald Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

He might have been more right than wrong. His followers seem to be able to forgive, no ignore, anything he does, no matter how vile. Remember the October 2016 surprise of the Access Hollywood tape? That made a lot of difference, didn’t it? “But her emails!”

Why did voters not fly like winged Mercury from such a morally challenged person? And should we be surprised they didn’t?

With that in mind, I have been struggling with what to make of the current senatorial contest in Georgia.

On the one hand, there is the Reverend Raphael Warnock, the junior United States senator from Georgia since 2021. Warnock is also the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation. He is the fifth and the youngest person to serve as Ebenezer’s senior pastor since its founding in 1886.

Warnock has always been a civil rights activist and has been arrested twice for his efforts. In March 2014, he led a sit-in at the Georgia State Capitol to press state legislators to accept the expansion of Medicaid offered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. He and other leaders were arrested during the protest, and the state, to this day, has refused to expand its Medicaid program.

His first arrest, in the early 2000s, is instructive. Warnock was serving as senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland, when Police arrested him and an assistant minister charging them with obstructing an investigation into suspected child abuse at a summer camp run by their church. Warnock had strongly protested police not allowing lawyers to be present to assist camp counselors whom they had accused of covering up the suspected child abuse. According to the Police, Warnock was “extremely uncooperative and disruptive.” Interestingly, the charges were later dropped with the deputy state’s attorney acknowledging there had been a “miscommunication,” adding that Warnock had aided the investigation and that prosecution would be a waste of resources.

Warnock espouses a number of typically democratic policies:

  • Regarding abortion, he labels himself a “pro-choice pastor;”
  • In 2021 he was the main sponsor of S.278 —  The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act of 2021, a bill that would provide assistance to historically disaffected minority groups in the agriculture sector;
  • He is against capital punishment;
  • The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund gave him a grade of “F” during his Senate campaign, because he loudly objected to parishioners being able to bring concealed weapons to church. For that, they labeled him “anti 2nd amendment;”
  • On immigration, he has supported keeping Title 42 expulsions, saying, “We need assurances that we have security at the border and that we protect communities on this side of the border;”
  • Warnock is a proponent of Welfare. He  opposed New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s workfare reforms while he was assistant pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1997, telling The New York Times, “We are worried that workfare is being used to displace other workers who receive respectable compensation. We are concerned that poor people are being put into competition with other poor people, and in that respect, we think workfare is a hoax;” and,
  • Regarding voting rights, In his maiden speech on the U.S. Senate floor, Warnock said one of his primary goals upon assuming office was to oppose voting restrictions and support federal voting reforms. He has said that passing legislation to expand voting rights is important enough to end the Senate filibuster.

Warnock and his wife divorced in 2021. They have two children.

The man appears to be an open book. If you vote for Raphael Warnock, you know what you’re going to get, a God-fearing, decent human being who is a  liberal democrat, but not one of radical persuasion.

On the other hand, we have Warnock’s opponent Herschel Walker, whose main claim to fame seems to be winning the Heisman Trophy in his junior year at the University of Georgia and going on to enjoy a Hall of Fame caliber professional football career.

If Raphael Warnock’s life is a relatively virtuous straight line, Herschel Walker’s is a labyrinth worthy of Theseus, but without the guiding ball of twine.

Given that he’s running for the US Senate, Walker’s personal and professional lives are worthy of investigation.

Herschel Walker suffers from one of the many character flaws Donald Trump has artfully cultivated over a lifetime of trying: He exaggerates accomplishments, minimizes failures and repeatedly denies he does either. In everything. A few examples:

In his autobiography, Breaking Free: My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder (Simon & Schuster, 2009), Walker describes his struggles with his mental health in a praiseworthy and open manner. However, in this commendable work he also wrote that during his schooling at Johnson County High School, he was the Beta Club president (which required a grade average of “A”) and class valedictorian.

Trouble is, he wasn’t. He was in the Beta Club, but not its president, and the school didn’t even begin having valedictorians until six years after Walker graduated. This is a small point. Many people embellish like this, but it sets the tone for the rest of Walker’s life to this point.

Walker has said in speeches and on his website he graduated from the University of Georgia in the top 1% of his class.

Trouble is, this isn’t true. He left college at the end of his junior year to play professional football. The false claims about Walker’s degree and class stranding are lodged in a range of webpages, including his Amazon author site, his Speaker Booking Agency page and his New Georgia Encyclopedia entry. Additionally, in 2017, he told Sirius XM radio, “I also was in the top 1% of my graduating class of college.” When called out on this by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Walker said, “I was majoring in Criminal Justice at UGA when I left to play in the USFL my junior year. After playing with the New Jersey Generals, I returned to Athens to complete my degree, but life and football got in the way.” Walker has also denied on numerous occasions ever saying he graduated from UGA. According to a CNN investigation, “This is flat out false.”

Walker’s business career following his sporting one has been spotty at best. In 1999, he created Renaissance Man Food Services, which distributes chicken products. He told the Dallas Morning News in 2009 that Renaissance Man Food Services employed more than 100 people and grossed $70 million a year. In a more recent interview, Walker told Fox News that the company employed 600 people.

Trouble is, it doesn’t. During the pandemic, Renaissance Man Food Services reported just eight employees on applications for two Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal Small Business Administration totaling $180,000. The first loan in April 2020 amounted to $111,300 and has since been forgiven.

On top of that, over the past two decades Walker and various business partners have defaulted or fallen behind in payments on at least eight loans totaling $9 million, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of hundreds of pages of court documents, Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other public records that detail these financial issues.

Walker has many times claimed he “worked in law enforcement.” Prior to his political career, he has, at various times said he was an FBI agent, or “a certified peace officer.”

Trouble is, he wasn’t. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Patricia Murphy, Greg Bluestein and Tia Mitchell thoroughly debunked these claims in June of this year.

Then their is the spousal abuse. Cindy DeAngelis Grossman, Walker’s wife from 1983 until their divorce in 2002, claims Walker was violent with her and had “evil in his eyes.” She says, “He held the gun to my temple and said he was gonna blow my brains out.”

Walker has not denied Grossman’s allegations, telling ABC News’ Bob Woodruff in a 2008 interview that he “probably did it,” but did not remember.

And now for the biggest problem, the new one.

Herschel Walker has embraced the anti abortion plank. His position makes no accommodation for rape, incest or the life of the mother. It is as hard a line as one could draw. Walker says he believes abortion should never be a “choice.” “There’s no exception in my mind,” Walker told reporters in May. “Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life.”

Trouble is, he doesn’t. At least, not for him, according to what appears to be a well-documented report from The Daily Beast this week. According to the report:

A woman who asked not to be identified out of privacy concerns told The Daily Beast that after she and Walker conceived a child while they were dating in 2009 he urged her to get an abortion. The woman said she had the procedure and that Walker reimbursed her for it.

She supported these claims with a $575 receipt from the abortion clinic, a “get well” card from Walker, and a bank deposit receipt that included an image of a signed $700 personal check from Walker.

The woman said there was a $125 difference because she “ball-parked” the cost of an abortion after Googling the procedure and added on expenses such as travel and recovery costs.

Additionally, The Daily Beast independently corroborated details of the woman’s claims with a close friend she told at the time and who, according to the woman and the friend, took care of her in the days after the procedure.

The woman said Walker, who was not married at the time, told her it would be more convenient to terminate the pregnancy, saying it was “not the right time” for him to have a child. It was a feeling she shared, but what she didn’t know was that Walker had an out-of-wedlock child with another woman earlier that same year.

Walker has denied everything about this. He claims he doesn’t even know the woman even though he sent her that “get well” card with a check for $700 inside it. He said, “I send money to a lot of people.” Yesterday morning, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade asked him whether he has discovered who this woman is? “Not at all,” Walker replied. “And that’s what I hope everyone can see. It’s sort of like everyone is anonymous, or everyone is leaking, and they want you to confess to something you have no clue about.”

This is an amazing statement, because the unidentified woman claims, in addition to Walker paying for her abortion, she subsequently bore his child, a child The Daily Beast reports he has acknowledged as his.

This has proven too much for Walker’s adult son, Christian Walker, who lashed out on Twitter—in defense of The Daily Beast’s abortion story and against his father.

“Every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past. Every single one,” Walker tweeted.

“He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it.

Following The Daily Beast’s scoop, Walker’s fundraising has soared, and Republicans have remained steadfast in their unwavering support. Moreover, despite his checkered past and these latest allegations, the senate race remains neck and neck. Why is that so?

I suggest it has 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. Power is quite the aphrodisiac.

Donald Trump, the man who could shoot people on 5th Avenue and get away with it, is a big Walker supporter, as is every Republican leader who’s been asked about him (with the exception of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who won’t say a word about him).

I’m no psychologist, but I think Walker is a very troubled man with mental health issues needing serious help. It is reprehensible that Republicans are doing all they can to exploit this damaged person for their own ends. If he wins the election and falls off the face of the earth the day after, they wouldn’t mind. They’d have what they wanted, and that would be all that mattered. His is a truly sad story.

At his inauguration in 1861, Abraham Lincoln, pleading for a unified country, appealed to “the better angels of our nature.”

There are no “angels” here, better or otherwise. The mid-term election is less than a month away. In that month, there will be more charges, denials, and countercharges. It grieves me to believe that rising above to find Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” may no longer be possible deep in the cesspool that now passes for American Democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Of Cavalier Cruelty…

Friday, September 23rd, 2022

On Wednesday, I wrote about the cruel fraud alleged in Minnesota where the government charged 47 people with stealing more than $250 million from nutrition programs aimed at helping low income children and adults.* Today, another story from the high-rise cruelty tower.

By now, everyone knows about the governors of Texas and Florida busing and flying immigrants to northern states. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has bused immigrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC, the latter to the front yard of Vice President Harris. That’ll teach her.

The most recent example, and to my mind the cruelest, was Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis’s stunt of flying about 50 immigrants from Texas in two planes to the lovely island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

When I write “lovely” I’m not kidding. The Obamas have a home there. Presidents have vacationed on the island for many years. The super-singer-songwriter James Taylor lives there. My family and I vacationed there when the Clintons were in town in the mid-90s (talk about a traffic jam; I never knew).

However, Martha’s Vineyard is not just a place where rich folks go to get away from their presidential and Wall Street drudgery. With a year-round population of 11,864, more than 13% of the locals are either citizens not born in the US, or immigrants who are not US citizens. The median annual household income of the Island is $82,857. Nearly 9% of the population lives below the federal poverty level, and 7% depend on the island’s food pantry. Last year, the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club served more than 16,500 meals to Island kids in need.

Martha’s Vineyard might not be a “melting pot,” but it certainly is a “simmering pot.”

So, two planes set down at the island’s relatively small airport — at night — and discharged their cargo. Nobody from Florida had bothered to give anyone in Massachusetts a heads up as to what was coming, but I’ll bet the folks in Tallahassee had quite the laugh when word came the planes had landed. I imagine during the planning for this human trafficking operation, executed with military precision, DeSantis and his team had a great big yuck anticipating how the liberals up north would react to their newest neighbors. I also imagine the disappointment when they saw nearly everyone on the Vineyard turning out to do all they could to help the Venezuelan political pawns. Then Governor Charley Baker, a Republican (but not even close to the mold that made Abbott & Costello — sorry — DeSantis; Abbott & DeSantis) had them brought to an Army Base on Cape Cod, settled in dormitories and immediately given the help and services they needed in a strange place. Made me quite proud, actually.

This is all vaguely reminiscent of 1962, when White segregationists created so-called Reverse Freedom Rides in retaliation for the Freedom Rides of the previous summer, when Black and White volunteers rode buses through the South supporting desegregation. A number of the Reverse Freedom Riders ended up in Massachusetts, where they were given housing at the same Cape Cod Base now housing the Venezuelan immigrants. That’s Kismet for you. One of the Reverse Freedom Riders from Alabama, Eliza Davis, 36, told the New York Times about being bused to and abandoned on Cape Cod in the town of Hyannis just down the road from the holiday home of President John F. Kennedy. More Kismet.

DeSantis, taking credit for this 2022 frat house prank said all the illegal immigrants wanted to go; they all signed consent forms and were promised nothing except a ride.

This, of course, was and is patently untrue, as Judd Legum wrote in Popular Information. Legum had gotten his hands on a brochure DeSantis’s agent, someone named Perla, had given the immigrants as enticement to make the trip.

Describing the immigrants as “illegal” was also untrue. All of the immigrants were in the country legally, at least at the time they boarded the planes, as they had all applied for Asylum Status upon crossing the border. DeSantis didn’t care. The man seems to have the empathy of a loan shark and the arrogance of a wannabe Benito Mussolini.

Have you thought about where DeSantis got the idea for this come-fly-away-with-me stunt? Thanks to Media Matters Senior Fellow Matt Gertz, we now know he got it from this guy on Fox TV, who, on 26 July 2022, laid the whole thing out for him:

When we look past all of this we see a complicated and deeply complex problem: A woebegone immigration “system,” if you can call it that, sorely in need of repair. We see countries whose leaders are persecuting and generally making things perilous for many of their citizens to the extent those men and women, human beings, feel so parlous they are willing to take their families on a long journey under the harshest of conditions at great expense to reach a place they don’t know, but see as a refuge with profound opportunities for their future. Many die along the way. Some die when they get here. And a few get suckered on to a plane to make points for an ambitious and opportunistic politician who thinks playing with people’s lives is fine if it feathers his personal nest even a little bit.

Yup. That’s cruelty for you.

 

*A good friend, responding to Wednesday’s column, wrote, “As thorough as Dante was, he seems to have missed a few circles in designing Hell. I suggest a sub-basement addition for this crowd where they can be chewed on by starving children for all eternity.”

Beautiful image, that.

 

A Few Weekend Thoughts On Biden’s College Loan Forgiveness Program

Saturday, August 27th, 2022

On Wednesday of this week, President Biden issued an Executive Order to forgive some of the debt owed by those who had received college loans. In doing so, Biden was attempting to fulfill a campaign promise to forgive undergraduate student debt for people earning up to $125,000 ($250,000 for a family). “I made a commitment that we would provide student debt relief, and I’m honoring that commitment today,” he said in remarks at the White House.

According to the Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), an office within the US Department of Education, Biden’s plan comes in three parts. The first part extends the repayment loan pause a final time (again) to the end of 2022. Part 2 is what’s getting all the attention at the moment. It says:

To smooth the transition back to repayment and help borrowers at highest risk of delinquencies or default once payments resume, the U.S. Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 or $250,000 for households.

Part 3 of the President’s plan is different in that it is in the form a  proposed rule “to create a new income-driven repayment plan that will substantially reduce future monthly payments for lower-and middle-income borrowers,” according to the OFSA. The proposal would:

  • Require borrowers to pay no more than 5% of their discretionary income monthly on undergraduate loans. This is down from the 10% available under the most recent income-driven repayment plan.
  • Raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary income and therefore is protected from repayment, guaranteeing that no borrower earning under 225% of the federal poverty level—about the annual equivalent of a $15 an hour wage for a single borrower—will have to make a monthly payment.
  • Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with loan balances of $12,000 or less.
  • Cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that unlike other existing income-driven repayment plans, no borrower’s loan balance will grow as long as they make their monthly payments—even when that monthly payment is $0 because their income is low.

Part 3 is consequential, and the fourth bullet point of Part 3 even more so. Interest payments can easily double the size of a student loan, and anything that reduces the interest burden will reduce the size of the loan and, consequently, the time required to pay it off. But a proposed rule is not an Order and will take time before being finalized, perhaps a lot of time.

Right now we are in the knee jerk phase of this issue. Republicans categorize Biden’s move as political and unfair to those who worked hard to pay off their loans. Why should their tax dollars now subsidize the millions who haven’t? The far right, more rabid of the bunch, have been raining tweet storms condemning the very idea of forgiving the loans, all the while forgetting to mention their own Paycheck Protection Act loans, most well over $100,000, have all been forgiven.

In thinking about this, the first question one might want to ask is: Does the President have the authority to do it? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t think so. “The president can’t do it,” she said in July. “That’s not even a discussion.”

We can expect this decision to be challenged in the courts. But, at the very least, it offers President Biden a chance to say he is honoring a commitment, a promise, even if the Judiciary ultimately won’t let him do it.

How and why has going to college come to this? I think the answer can be found in the long, winding, potholed road to higher education of the last 55 years. It’s complicated, and people have devoted entire careers to studying it.

I’m concerned, in a practical sense, with what changed from the time I and my peers affordably attended college in the late 1960s. For instance, how and in what manner have costs increased? To what degree and why is there now a far greater percentage of high school graduates attending four year, or even two-year colleges? Have wages commensurately grown with college costs to allow parents and their children to be able to afford it all? How has the for-profit boom in colleges contributed to the college loan crisis, if it has?

To begin to answer those questions, let’s first take a look at where we are now.

Adam Looney, the Nonresident Senior Fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution and the Executive Director of the Marriner S. Eccles Institute at the University of Utah, is one of our foremost experts on college loans and costs. He has argued for quite some time against across-the-board loan forgiveness, because a disproportionate amount goes to people who don’t need it, Ivy League educated doctors, lawyers, etc. He has produced the following table to demonstrate his argument. The table categorizes all colleges and graduate programs represented in the College Scorecard by their selectivity using Barron’s college rankings. The left panel of the table describes the debts owed by students at these colleges. The right panel describes their family economic background and their post-college outcomes. From top to bottom, the schools are categorized by their selectivity—how hard it is to get accepted. Note that the more selective the school, the greater the average debt (with the exception of the for-profits). The same holds true for the two far right columns. The more selective the school, the greater the after college earnings. Note also that, with the exception of the Ivy Plus graduates, the average after college earnings for every other category are less than the President’s cap of $125,000 for loan forgiveness qualification.

I’m going to ignore the harm done by for-profit colleges, except to say the largest single source of student debt in America is one of them—the University of Phoenix, the gigantic online for-profit chain. Students who graduated or dropped out in 2017-2018 owed about $2.6 billion in student loans; two years after graduation, 93 percent of borrowers had fallen behind on their loans, which caused interest owed to grow like festering weeds. These are people Looney agrees need to be helped—a lot.

I thought it might be instructive to look at this through the lens of one, typical, highly reputable, selective public university. As Looney’s table shows, graduates of selective public colleges and universities make up 33.7% of the total share of college debt. I’ve picked the University of Massachusetts. UMass is representative of all state universities, and, because I’m from Massachusetts and long ago was a Trustee at one of its foundations, I know the school better than, say, Penn State or Connecticut.

The UMass flagship campus in Amherst sits on more than 1,400 acres and has about 24,000 students. Out of more than 850 US public colleges, it is #68 in US News & World Report’s current rankings. Tuition, fees, room and board total $32,168 for in-state residents, about $50,000 for out-of-staters. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently contributes (subsidizes) 31% of the university’s total costs, or $14,287 per student, which means students’ tuition would be considerably more without that help, somewhere in the range of the cost of a selective private college, or an out-of-state UMass student. Every state subsidizes its selective public colleges to some degree.

Nationally, in 1967, 47% of high school graduates moved on to college. Seventeen percent would drop out, 15.4% white, 28.6% black. Today, less than 10% drop out; 10.7%% of drop outs are Black. We are approaching equality in that regard.

That’s where UMass is now. Fifty-five-years-ago, when I was young, things were different. Facts And Figures 1967, from the then UMass Office of Institutional Studies, is a 163-page, deeply detailed report of the university as it was then, all of it in one spot. I do not think you’d find a similar study today.

In 1967, annual tuition and fees were $336; room and board, $939, for a total cost of $1,275. The university employed 729 full-time faculty for 9,439 students. Today, there are about 1,400 full-time faculty. In 1967, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts picked up 67% of the university’s operating costs (as opposed to the aforementioned 31% today).

What you bought in 1967 for $1.00 would now cost $8.87, with a cumulative rate of inflation of 787%. Over that time, tuition, fees, room and board at the University of Massachusetts have increased by a factor of more than 24. If the tuition at UMass had just grown by the rate of inflation, it would now be $11,310, not $32,168.

So, extrapolating from current demographic and UMass data to the national picture, four things have been at work over the last 55 years. First, student costs have grown at nearly three-times the rate of inflation. Second, the state has reduced its share of student costs by more than 50%, which is representative of the nation. Third, the percent of high school graduates who go on to college has grown from 47% to nearly 62%. And fourth. wages have not even remotely kept up with the cost of college. According to the Congressional Research Service, real wages (wages adjusted for inflation), grew only 8.8%, at the 50th percentile level of all earners, since 1979.

President Biden’s initiative will likely remain a political football at least until the mid-terms, probably beyond. My own conclusion is that it will help a lot of people who need it and will be unnecessary largesse, at taxpayers expense, for those many who don’t. And it does nothing to solve the real problem.

Unless and until we can control the cost of college, this crisis will continue for future generations.  College cost growth at three times the rate of inflation is unsustainable.

We need to do much more than forgive a slice of college loans. That’s like trying to save a sinking ship by tossing the first mate a rope of sand.