Lazy Caturday Reads

Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century

Goddess, Hunter, Consort, Thief, by Peter Paul Rubens, 16th Century

Happy Caturday!!

The Supreme Court is in the news and not in a good way. You know about John Roberts’ failed “investigation” into the leak of the draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but did you know about the secret documentary on Brett Kavanaugh? Here’s the latest:

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Supreme Court’s Inquiry Into Leak Included Interviews With Justices.

The Supreme Court’s internal investigation into who leaked a draft of the opinion last year overturning the landmark decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion included talking to all nine justices, the marshal of the court said on Friday.

But the justices — unlike dozens of law clerks and permanent employees of the court — were not made to sign sworn affidavits attesting that they had not been involved in the leak of the draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade and that they knew nothing about it.

The clarification by the marshal, Gail A. Curley, who oversaw the inquiry, followed widespread speculation over its scope and limitations. In a 20-page report on Thursday, Ms. Curley disclosed that the investigation had not turned up the source of the leak while leaving ambiguous whether it had extended to interviewing the justices themselves.

“During the course of the investigation, I spoke with each of the justices, several on multiple occasions,” Ms. Curley said on Friday. “The justices actively cooperated in this iterative process, asking questions and answering mine.”

She added: “I followed up on all credible leads, none of which implicated the justices or their spouses. On this basis, I did not believe that it was necessary to ask the justices to sign sworn affidavits.”

Ms. Curley did not indicate whether she searched the justices’ court-issued electronic devices and asked them to turn over personal devices and cellphone records, as she did with other personnel. She also did not address whether she had interviewed any of the justices’ spouses, another question that arose after her report was made public.

It wasn’t much of an investigation if even Gini Thomas was not questioned, and the most likely suspects–the right wing justices– weren’t required to sign affidavits. But no one really expected Roberts to do a serious investigation when he won’t even deal with the justices’ political activities and conflicts of interest. What a weakling he is.

On to the Kavanagh documentary. 

The Guardian: ‘I hope this triggers outrage’: surprise Brett Kavanaugh documentary premieres at Sundance.

A secretly made documentary expanding on allegations of sexual assault against supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh has premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival.

four-year-old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647

Four year old girl with cat, by Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, 1647

Justice, a last-minute addition to the schedule, aims to shine a light not only on the women who have accused Kavanaugh, a Donald Trump nominee, but also the failed FBI investigation into the allegations.

“I do hope this triggers outrage,” said producer Amy Herdy in a Q&A after the premiere in Park City, Utah. “I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers.”

The film provides a timeline of the allegations, initially that Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when she was 15 and he 17. She alleged that he held her down on a bed and groped her, and tried to rip her clothes off before she got away. Kavanaugh was also accused of sexual misconduct by Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that he exposed himself and thrust his penis at her face without her consent at a college party.

About the film:

The first scene features Ford, half off-camera, interviewed by the film’s director Doug Liman, whose credits include Mr and Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity. Justice features a number of interviews with journalists, lawyers, psychologists and those who knew Ford and Ramirez.

“This was the kind of movie where people are terrified,” Liman said. “The people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes.”

In the film, Ramirez, who previously told her story to Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, also shares her story on-camera. Ramirez is referred to as someone “they worked hard for people not to know”, her story never given the space it deserved until long after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court in October 2018….

The film then details how the circles around Ramirez and Kavanaugh responded, showing text messages of a discussion when Ramirez’s allegations were about to go public, of a mutual friend being asked by Kavanaugh to go on record to defend him. Another friend refers to it as “a cover-up”.

The New Yorker included a statement from a group of students at the time in support of Kavanaugh. A year later, the film shows that two of them emailed the New Yorker to remove their names from the statement.

Ramirez’s lawyers claim they contacted Republican senator Jeff Flake, who was involved in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, to explain what happened to her. The next day Flake called to delay the confirmation and insist on a week-long FBI investigation.

But the film details how the FBI failed to call on the many witnesses recommended by Ramirez’s lawyers. Footage is shown of the film-makers meeting with a confidential source who plays tape of Kavanaugh’s classmate Max Stier, now a prominent figure in Washington running a non-profit, who allegedly witnessed Kavanaugh involved in a similar act of alleged drunken exposure with a female student at a dorm party at Yale. The woman has chosen to remain anonymous and this is the first time this recording has been heard.

Read more details at the link. You can also check out this piece at The Hollywood Reporter: How Doug Liman Directed a Brett Kavanaugh FBI Investigation Doc in Secret.

Some January 6 investigation news:

Politico: The House’s legal lieutenant in its Trump wars speaks out — about Jan. 6 and more.

While Congress’ biggest Donald Trump antagonists are household names to political junkies — think Liz Cheney, Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin — there’s a lesser-known Trump adversary who may have been more effective than the others: Doug Letter.

Hans_Asper_Portrait of Cleophea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671

Portrait of Cleopea Krieg von Bellikon, 1499-1671, by Hans Asper

The former House general counsel was involved in every political brawl between House Democrats and Trump that has defined Washington politics for the past four years. Letter helped guide the work of the Jan. 6 select committee, played a critical role in both Trump impeachments and strategized the certification of Joe Biden’s win — before violent rioters upended those plans on Jan. 6, 2021….

In a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO, the House’s former top attorney described his tenure battling a former president who tested the limits of executive power at every turn, resisting efforts at accountability in ways that previous chief executives had not. But he has faith that his work helped to stem future presidential attempts to push constitutional boundaries, lending more power to lawmakers.

“I just feel like the Biden administration and future administrations are not going to act like the Trump administration,” Letter said. “They’re not going to show such ignorance of our system and think that the executive branch can ignore the legislative branch. That’s not the way it works.”

Doug Letter on January 6:

Letter was returning to the House floor from some basement vending machines when he ran into Speaker Nancy Pelosi being whisked from the Capitol under heavy guard. Don’t go back up there, one official told him. An angry mob had breached the building.

But Letter, in a panic, said he had to retrieve several giant binders that were full of sensitive strategy and scripts for the day’s proceedings. He opted to forgo evacuating with Pelosi and instead raced back to the chamber.

“I was the last person in before they locked the doors,” Letter recalled.

The attack on the Capitol led to the Jan. 6 select committee, where the House’s then-top attorney charted a legal strategy that Letter now describes as one of the hallmarks of his tenure.

Through his work on that panel, Letter secured at least two streams of information that became a core element of the committee’s voluminous findings: Trump’s confidential White House records and the Chapman University emails of attorney John Eastman, an architect of the then-president’s bid to subvert the 2020 election.

Letter also won court fights to obtain telephone records from Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward, who took part in Trump world’s plan to send false electors to Congress. And he helped direct the House’s strategy to hold certain Trump advisers in contempt of Congress, which resulted in prosecutions of Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon.

“We had a whole enormous number of people that, as we now know, were putting together this massive, not just a conspiracy, but a whole bunch of conspiracies, to attack our democracy,” Letter said.

Read the rest at Politico.

Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art

Joseph Goodhue Chandler, American folk art

As you know, I went to a meeting in my over-60 apartment building awhile back. Most of the people there weren’t wearing masks. I came down with something a few days later, and it dragged on for weeks. I thought others here in the building were being careful too, but I was wrong. We haven’t talked much about Covid-19 on the blog lately, but yesterday I read this article that really angered me, and I want to share it with you. 

Slate: Billionaires at Davos Don’t Think COVID Is a Cold.

In photos of 2023’s World Economic Forum—or Davos as it is commonly called, after the Swiss resort town where it annually occurs—you might not notice the HEPA filters. They’re in the background, unobtrusive and unremarked upon, quietly cleansing the air of viruses and bacteria. You wouldn’t know—not unless you asked—that every attendee was PCR tested before entering the forum, or that in the case of a positive test, access was automatically, electronically, revoked. The folks on stage aren’t sporting masks (mostly), so unless you looked at the official Davos Health & Safety protocol, you wouldn’t be aware that their on-site drivers are required to wear them. You also might be surprised to learn that if, at any point, you start to feel ill at Davos, you can go collect a free rapid test, or even call their dedicated COVID hotline.

It’s hard to square this information with the public narrative about COVID, isn’t it? President Joe Biden has called the pandemic “over.” The New York Timesrecently claimed that “the risk of Covid is similar to that of the flu” in an article about “hold outs” that are annoyingly refusing to accept continual reinfection as their “new normal.” Yet, this week the richest people in the world are taking common sense, easy—but strict—precautions to ensure they don’t catch COVID-19 at Davos.

In addition to high-quality ventilation, masks, hotlines and PCR testing, some have noted the signature blue glow of Far-UVC lighting, demonstrated to kill pathogens in the air, although this is unconfirmed. We can be certain, however, that the testing, high-quality ventilation, and filtration protocol is effective at preventing the kind of super-spreader events most of us are now accustomed to attending.

t seems unlikely to me that a New York Times reporter will follow the super-rich around like David Attenborough on safari, the way one of their employees did when they profiled middle-class maskers last month. I doubt they will write “family members and friends can get a little exasperated by the hyper-concern” about the assembled prime ministers, presidents, and CEOs in Switzerland. After all, these are important people. The kind of people who merit high-quality ventilation. The kind of people who deserve accurate tests.

Why is the media so hellbent on portraying simple, scientifically proven measures like masking—in environments absent of high-quality ventilation, full of people who do not have easy and consistent access to tests—as ridiculous and unnecessary as hundreds of people continue to die daily here in the U.S.?

Why is the public accepting a “new normal” where we are expected to get infected over and over and over again, at work events with zero precautions, on airplanes with no masks, and at social dinners trying to approximate our 2019 normal?

Very good questions. I guess the rich are entitled to protection, but the rest of us can just get sick and die for all they care. I hope you’ll go read the whole article at Slate.

Finally, a couple of articles about the upcoming fight over the debt limit:

CNN: Yellen warns of ‘global financial crisis’ if US debt limit agreement isn’t reached.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday warned of the widespread global effects that could be felt if the federal government exhausts extraordinary measures and fails to raise the debt ceiling, telling CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the ways everyday Americans could face stark consequences.

Yellen’s warning comes after the United States on Thursday hit its $31.4 trillion debt limit set by Congress, forcing the Treasury Department to start taking extraordinary measures to keep the government paying its bills.

Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter

Still Life with Fighting Cats, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Flemish painter

While those newly deployed extraordinary measures are largely behind-the-scenes accounting maneuvers, Yellen told Amanpour that “the actual date at which we would no longer be able to use these measures is quite uncertain, but it could conceivably come as early as early June.”

Speaking exclusively to CNN from Senegal, Yellen said that after the measures are exhausted, the US could experience at a minimum downgrading of its debt as a result of Congress failing to raise the debt ceiling. The effects of the federal government failing to make payments, she argued, could be as broad as a “global financial crisis.”

“If that happened, our borrowing costs would increase and every American would see that their borrowing costs would increase as well,” Yellen said. “On top of that, a failure to make payments that are due, whether it’s the bondholders or to Social Security recipients or to our military, would undoubtedly cause a recession in the US economy and could cause a global financial crisis.”

“It would certainly undermine the role of the dollar as a reserve currency that is used in transactions all over the world. And Americans – many people would lose their jobs and certainly their borrowing costs would rise,” she continued.

Read more at CNN.

The Washington Post: Biden aides want to force GOP to abandon debt limit threats.

Shortly after last year’s midterm elections, a senior congressional Democrat called White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and asked how the administration planned to prevent the new Republican House majority from using the debt ceiling — and the threat of a default that could wreck the economy — to force spending cuts.

Klain said the White House’s plan was straightforward, according to the lawmaker: Refuse to entertain any concessions, and launch a barrage of attacks highlighting the GOP position that would force Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to fold.

“This debate is simple: We want to do the responsible thing, and they want to take the entire American economy hostage to cut Social Security and Medicare,” said the member of Congress, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. Klain told the lawmaker that the fight could result in substantial political benefits for the Democratic Party. “The point he was making was clear: You can’t negotiate with people who take hostages.”

Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie

Felis Syriacus Ulisse Aldrovani (1522-1605), by Vintage Lavoie

But the question remains what the administration will do if Republicans won’t raise the debt limit without negotiations.

House Republicans have increasingly signaled that they will force a showdown with the administration over the nation’s debt ceiling, which sets a statutory limit on how much the federal government can borrow….

Many GOP lawmakers have said that they will not approve a debt ceiling increase without cuts to spending programs that the Biden administration has vowed to protect, creating an impasse with no clear resolution.

…[A]dministration officials [have] conclude[d], at least for now, that the only viable path is to press Republicans to abandon their demands to extract policy concessions over the debt limit — a position they have publicly reaffirmed in recent weeks. The Biden administration is focused on pressing the GOP to unveil a debt limit plan that includes spending cuts, with the hope that such a proposal will prove so divisive among Republicans that they are forced to abandon brinkmanship. This strategy stems in part from the belief among White House officials that it would be enormously risky either to negotiate policy with the GOP on the debt limit or try to solve it via executive order — and they appear willing to put that premise to the test.

How about having Biden and surrogates travel around the country educating voters about the consequences of either letting Republican crash the economy or letting them destroy Social Security and Medicare? Just a thought.

What are your thoughts about all this? What other stories do you recommend?


Tuesday Reads

Vincent Van Gogh, Grapes

Vincent Van Gogh, Grapes

Good Afternoon!!

We are fast approaching the day of decision: November 8, 2022 is only 3 weeks away. Democracy is on the ballot, but according to the New York Times’ interpretation of a new poll, voters aren’t that concerned about a fascist takeover by Republicans.

The New York Times: Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority.

Voters overwhelmingly believe American democracy is under threat, but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger, with few calling it the nation’s most pressing problem, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

In fact, more than a third of independent voters and a smaller but noteworthy contingent of Democrats said they were open to supporting candidates who reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election, as they assigned greater urgency to their concerns about the economy than to fears about the fate of the country’s political system.

The doubts about elections that have infected American politics since the 2020 contest show every sign of persisting well into the future, the poll suggested: Twenty-eight percent of all voters, including 41 percent of Republicans, said they had little to no faith in the accuracy of this year’s midterm elections.

Political disagreements appear to be seeping into the fabric of everyday life. Fourteen percent of voters said political views revealed a lot about whether someone is a good person, while 34 percent said it revealed a little. Nearly one in five said political disagreements had hurt relationships with friends or family.

Political disagreements appear to be seeping into the fabric of everyday life. Fourteen percent of voters said political views revealed a lot about whether someone is a good person, while 34 percent said it revealed a little. Nearly one in five said political disagreements had hurt relationships with friends or family.

The entire article is trademark both-sidesing, of course–it’s The New York Times! The authors dug up a Democrat who is worried about “divisiveness” on “both sides.”

“I do agree that the biggest threat is survival of our democracy, but it’s the divisiveness that is creating this threat,” said Ben Johnson, 33, a filmmaker from New Orleans and a Democrat. “It feels like on both sides, people aren’t agreeing on facts anymore. We can’t meet in the middle if we can’t agree on simple facts. You’re not going to be able to move forward and continue as a country if you can’t agree on facts.”

The poll showed that voters filtered their faith in democracy through a deeply partisan lens. A majority of voters in both parties identified the opposing party as a “major threat to democracy.”

Most Republicans said the dangers included President Biden, the mainstream media, the federal government and voting by mail. Most Democrats named Donald J. Trump, while large shares of the party’s voters also said the Supreme Court and the Electoral College were threats to democracy.

Seventy-one percent of all voters said democracy was at risk — but just 7 percent identified that as the most important problem facing the country.

But why don’t we agree on “facts?” The poll suggests the media has something to do with that, but the NYT doesn’t include that in their analysis.

The NYT also doesn’t emphasize that it’s mostly Republicans who don’t care about saving democracy.

The polls have been so untrustworthy in the past few elections that I don’t know how much to trust them; but I do know I can’t trust the NYT to analyze the results honestly.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem so confident about taking over the House, that they are showing their cards ahead of the election.

The Washington Post: GOP to use debt limit to force spending cuts, McCarthy says.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that if Republicans win control of the House the GOP will use raising the debt limit as leverage to force spending cuts — which could include cuts to Medicare and Social Security — and limit additional funding to Ukraine.

“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” the California Republican told Punchbowl News in a recent interview. “And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior.”

Autumn landscape, 1889, Danish Peder Mørk Mønsted

Danish painter Peder Mørk Mønsted – An Autumn Landscape. Date: 1889.

“We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right,” he added. “And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”

Pressed on whether changes to the entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security were part of the debt ceiling discussions, McCarthy said he would not “predetermine” anything.

The debt limit — the country’s borrowing cap — will need to be lifted next year to protect the country’s credit score and to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt. But McCarthy suggested that his party would be willing to hold the debt limit up for policy changes

The debt limit is the total amount of money that the government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salari.es, interest on the national debt, tax refunds and other payments. The debt limit is not new spending but rather allows the government to finance existing legal obligations.

Republicans are getting ready to do Putin’s bidding if they take over the House.

The Daily Beast: Ukraine Aid Could Be on the Chopping Block in a GOP-Controlled House.

Democrats and Republicans have both been backing Ukraine aid for months now. But there’s a growing sense of unease on Capitol Hill that something could soon happen to disrupt that financial support: Republicans could win the House in November.

“I’m absolutely not supporting any further funding for Ukraine,” Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast last week….

Throughout Congress, Republican support for providing Ukraine aid has swung in multiple directions since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war earlier this year. Several GOP lawmakers have told The Daily Beast they think President Joe Biden is being far too “weak” on Russia and not sending enough weapons to help Ukrainians fight back.

But there’s also been a strong and steady resistance to sending billions of dollars to Ukraine, even as Putin wages war. Some Republicans have tried to blame the war on Biden and have said they would rather focus on domestic priorities—from inflation to the southern border—and want to condition Ukraine aid on other issues, whatever the consequences may be in withholding aid from Ukraine.

Dozens of Republican members of the House have already sought to throw up roadblocks to Ukraine aid packages. Fifty-seven Republicans tried blocking $40 billion in aid to Ukraine earlier this year, in addition to 11 Republican Senators. Not a single Democrat tried to stand in the way.

Amherst Campus no.1 (1969) Fairfield Porter. Parrish Art Museum, New York.

Amherst Campus (MA) no.1 (1969) Fairfield Porter. Parrish Art Museum, New York.

In other Ukraine aid news, Elon Musk’s has threatened to stop supporting Starlink in the country. Starlink is the Musk-owned satellite system that supports internet communication in the Ukraine. He has wavered on this decision, but the Biden administration doesn’t trust him. Politico: Pentagon eyes locking in Starlink funding for Ukraine.

The Pentagon is considering paying for the Starlink satellite network — which has been a lifeline for Ukraine — from a fund that has been used to supply weapons and equipment over the long term, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in the deliberations.

The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative is designed to provide enduring support for the Ukrainian military by financing contracts with American firms for weapons and equipment that would be delivered in months or even years….

The discussion comes after CNN reported that SpaceX warned the Pentagon last month that it would no longer be able to finance the satellite terminals and communications services, which has already cost it over $80 million and could cost hundreds of millions more over the next year….

The company donated the use of Starlink terminals after Russia invaded Ukraine in February amid fears that the country would be cut off from the outside world. SpaceX’s philanthropic efforts drew widespread plaudits.

The Defense Department said on Friday that it was continuing discussions with SpaceX about a way forward. But it also said it is considering other alternatives for commercial satellite communications.

Elon Musk has shown his cards recently, offering a suggestion for negotiated peace in Ukraine that would favor Russia’s interests. Insider: Elon Musk’s pro-Russian peace deal is ‘classic Putin,’ and there’s a clue of the Russian leader’s role, Fiona Hill argues.

Elon Musk’s recent efforts to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine have almost certainly been puppeteered by Vladimir Putin, according to top Russia expert Fiona Hill.

“Putin plays the egos of big men — gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin,” Hill told Politico this week, noting that the Tesla billionaire has tipped his hand in an obvious display of Putin’s influence.

Earlier this month, Musk tweeted a proposed peace plan he suggested could end the war in Ukraine that parroted Russian demands and echoed Kremlin talking points.

Autumn Leaves, Lake George (1924) Georgia O'Keeffe. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.

Autumn Leaves, Lake George (1924) Georgia O’Keeffe. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.

Ian Bremmer, a prominent political analyst, later reported that Musk spoke privately with Putin before drafting his proposition — an allegation that Musk denied.

While it was his October 3 tweets that garnered buzz around the globe, Musk was publicly evoking Putin’s desires even earlier.

Hill cited Musk’s September appearance at a conference in Aspen, during which he suggested a similar path forward through the war, encouraging Ukraine to “seek peace” by allowing Crimea — a territory which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — to be recognized as Russian.

Musk also reportedly told attendees that the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine ought to be up for grabs. Russia annexed four occupied Ukrainian territories just days later, including the two mentioned by Musk.

You can also check out an interesting interview with Fiona Hill at Politico: Fiona Hill: ‘Elon Musk Is Transmitting a Message for Putin.’’

Some Democrats have been getting wishy-washy about promoting abortion as a top tier issue in the upcoming elections, but Joe Biden still seems to think it’s important. Politico: Biden to pledge legalizing abortion on Roe anniversary if Dems expand majorities.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday will promise that the first bill he’ll send to the next Congress will be legislation to reinstate the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade, according to a Democratic official previewing the president’s remarks.

In a speech at a Democratic National Committee event in Washington, Biden will also pledge to sign that bill into law around the anniversary of the original Roe ruling in late January.

Biden’s plans are contingent on Democrats holding the House and increasing their majority in the Senate, a factor acknowledged by the official previewing the remarks. As such, it is a vow that appears aimed at energizing Democrats to turn out in force in the upcoming midterm elections where the party is struggling to keep its slim majorities, as polls show early outrage over the fall of Roe v. Wade this June has been outstripped by economic concerns.

Biden has increasingly escalated his attacks on Republicans over abortion rights since the high court’s ruling this summer overturning Roe. He’s repeatedly predicted that there will be a massive surge of voter activity in the midterms pushing back against the decision — particularly from women voters. Biden also has argued that abortion will be just the start of GOP attempts to dial back rights, warning that protections for contraception and same-sex marriage could be next.

“Republicans don’t have a clue about the power of women,” he told a gathering of Democrats recently. “Let me tell you something: They’re about to find out.”

golden-autumn-1888, by Ivan Shishkin, Russian

Golden Autumn, 1888, by Ivan Shishkin, Russian painter

Meanwhile, women in red states are still dealing with the GOP’s efforts to take control of their bodies. Caroline Kitchener at The Washington Post: Desperate pleas and smuggled pills: A covert abortion network rises after Roe.

Monica had never used Reddit before. But sitting at her desk one afternoon in July — at least 10 weeks into an unwanted pregnancy in a state that had banned abortion — she didn’t know where else to turn.

“I need advice I am not prepared to have a child,” the 25-year-old wrote from her office, once everyone else had left for the day. She titled her post, “PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!”

Within hours, she got a private message from an anonymous Reddit user. If Monica sent her address, the person promised, they would mail abortion pills “asap for free.

Monica didn’t know it at the time, but her Reddit post connected her to a new facet of the battle for abortion access: the rise of a covert, international network delivering tens of thousands of abortion pills in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down Roe v. Wade.

The emerging network — fueled by the widespread availability of medication abortion — has made the illegal abortions of today simpler and safer than those of the pre-Roe era, remembered for its back alleys and coat hangers. Distinct from services that sell pills to patients on the internet, a growing army of community-based distributors is reaching pregnant women through word of mouth or social media to supply pills for free — though typically without the safeguards of medical oversight.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

That’s all I have for you today. What’s on your mind? What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Cultural Appropriation Edition

Good Morning!!

First, a quick follow-up: I’ve been writing about the delay of stimulus payments to 30 million seniors, disabled people, veterans, railroad pensioners. Last Thursday, the Social Security Administration finally sent information to enable the IRS to send out the direct deposits/checks, but there’s still no information available on when these vulnerable Americans will receive the much needed assistance.

Newsweek tried to get some answers, but hit a brick wall: SSI Stimulus Check Update as IRS Stays Silent Over Payments For Social Security Recipients.

Many recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other federal benefits are still waiting to receive their stimulus fund. The Internal Revenue Service has yet to announce a payment date, as of Tuesday….

On March 25, the SSA provided the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with the paperwork needed for stimulus payments to be issued to federal benefit recipients following pressure from the House Ways and Means Committee. The IRS has yet to respond to Newsweek‘s requests for a comment since the SSA sent the required paperwork.

The SSA website also currently states that “the IRS decided to pay EIPs [Economic Impact Payments] first only to people who filed a 2020 or 2019 tax return, and to people who used the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool to receive a previous EIP. Some Social Security beneficiaries may have received a recent EIP if they filed a tax return with the IRS.”

People who were too poor to file a tax return have been left twisting in the wind. They are advised to use the “check my payment” link at the IRS, but when they do, they are told there is no information available.

Asked whether it had received any information on a stimulus payment date for federal benefit recipients, a spokesperson for NACHA (National Automated Clearing House Association), which manages the ACH Network, the national automated clearing house for electronic funds transfers, told Newsweek this Monday: “We haven’t gotten anything.”

Newsweek has contacted the IRS, the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Bureau of the Fiscal Service for comment.

The SSA website currently advises: “Please refer to the IRS’ website for the latest information about economic impact payments (EIP). Please do not contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) with questions about EIPs. Our representatives do not have information to answer your EIP questions. The IRS, not SSA, processes all EIPs.”

A spokesperson for the SSA told Newsweek on March 26: “As you may already know, many Social Security beneficiaries have already received their EIPs. The final files we sent to IRS yesterday morning [Thursday] will address those recipients who don’t normally file a tax return with the IRS.”

Now for my main topic: Cultural Appropriation

Wikipedia: Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

I seldom watch late night entertainment programs, but yesterday there was a strong reaction to a Tonight Show segment. A white TikTok “influencer,” Addison Rae, appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show to perform several dance routines. The problem is that she copied them from Black women on TicToc and failed to credit them or the Black artists who performed the songs she danced to.

From the LA Times story: Addison Rae taught Jimmy Fallon TikTok dances, but Twitter remembers who created them.

Many of TikTok’s viral dance challenges were started by Black creators, but you wouldn’t know that by watching Friday’s episode of “The Tonight Show,” which saw one of the app’s biggest stars, Addison Rae, perform several dances without crediting their choreographers.

What was intended as a fun moment between Rae and host Jimmy Fallon — who are both white — backfired over the weekend as Twitter users demanded recognition for the people whose choreography was featured on the show.

“Stealing from black entertainers and having white ‘creators’ regurgitate it to the masses is american history 101,” one person tweeted after Fallon shared a clip of Rae busting a move to eight different songs.

“I think Black creators should just stop creating content for like a good 6 months and just observe what these people come up with,” wrote another in a tweet that had amassed more than 261,000 likes….

Included in the TikTok dance compilation were:

  • “Do It Again” (recorded by Pia Mia, choreographed by @noahschnapp)
  • “Savage Love” (recorded and choreographed by @jasonderulo)
  • “Corvette Corvette” (recorded by Popp Hunna, choreographed by @yvnggprince)
  • “Laffy Taffy” (recorded by D4L, choreographed by @flyboyfu)
  • “Savage” (recorded by Megan Thee Stallion, choreographed by @keke.janjah)
  • “Blinding Lights” (recorded by the Weeknd, choreographed by @macdaddyz)
  • “Up” (recorded by Cardi B, choreographed by @theemyanicole)
  • “Fergalicious” (recorded by Fergie and will.i.am, choreographed by @thegilberttwins).

(The choreographers’ names have been shared by Twitter users and confirmed by Buzzfeed.)

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Rae’s performance to Cardi B’s “Up” along with the original performance by TheMayaNicole. See what you think.

More from Popsugar: The Tonight Show’s Addison Rae Fumble Is an Unfortunate Reflection of Our Creator Culture.

If you want to see a TikTok dance skit, why not ask the original artists to participate? That’s a question The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Addison Rae face after March 26th’s episode. The well-known creator walked Fallon through a few of the app’s most popular choreography in a sketch, similar to a video released with Charli D’Amelio last year. Quickly after airing, the clip faced criticism as viewers wondered why the creatives who actually created the dances didn’t get screen time — or at the very least, proper credit.

This controversy is not new for Rae, who faced similar pushback after she and D’Amelio became the face of a “Renegade” dance routine, which was originally created by Jalaiah Harmon. Intentional or not, Rae and D’Amelio’s names were synonymous with choreography they had no hand in. They went as far as to perform the dance at a 2020 NBA All Star game without Harmon. Harmon eventually got her dues, but only after publicly reclaiming the viral dance. Rae and D’Amelo need only whisper and their combined 100+ million followers would come running, so why did Harmon practically need a megaphone to get her credit? Her experience is a disappointing reflection of how art is co-opted on social media, especially from Black creatives.

You can’t separate Rae’s success from the work of Black TikTokers. Some of her most viewed videos are built on their choreography, like the “Savage” routine originated by Keara Wilson. (Wilson told POPSUGAR she doesn’t wish any backlash against Rae because she knows “how toxic the internet can be.” She said, “Yes of course it’s always nice to be credited but just having my dance on the show is an honor in itself.”)

As Twitter user @blackamazon wrote, “This is why I bang on EVERYBODY about the economics and race of social media. ‘Tik tok dances’ the names of the artists not there. The actual choreographers not there. She’s on national television but where are the Black kids who actually made these.” Another user, @868nathan, wrote, “The fact that Addison Rae is championed for ‘Tik Tok Dances’ whilst the black creatives that made them never get the same platform will never sit right with me.”

This reminds me of the days when white recording artists like Pat Boone released pathetic cover versions of songs by Black musicians like Little Richard. The good news in those days was that people who heard the covers sought out the originals and eventually the Black artists became well known and successful. The same thing happened again in the 1960s with British and American bands who covered performances by Black blues musicians.

Futurity (Feb. 3, 2017): How the 1950s Made Pat Boone a Rock Star.

While some early rock ‘n’ roll acts receive little critical respect, historically speaking, these same musicians and singers played an important role in bridging musical styles and bringing cultures together, writes Aquila, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Penn State, in his book, Let’s Rock! How 1950s America Created Elvis and the Rock & Roll Craze (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

“I spend a lot of time discussing Pat Boone and other pop rockers in the book. Boone refers to himself not as the father of rock ‘n’ roll, but as the midwife of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Aquila.

“What he means by this is that his versions of Little Richard’s songs may not be as good as Little Richard’s originals, but Little Richard couldn’t get played on mainstream radio stations back in the ’50s, due to racism and other reasons. But, after the kids listened to Boone’s music, they tended to go on and want the real thing.”

Boone spent most of his early career covering rhythm-and-blues songs, like Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” Boone’s versions, however, were influenced by pop styles and standards that were tamer and more familiar to white audiences of the time. He also sanitized Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” for his white audience’s ears and, apparently, their grammar. He tried, for instance, to change the title of the song to “Isn’t That a Shame.”

While many music critics now consider this artistic theft or cultural appropriation, Aquila says that some black artists at the time appreciated Boone’s cover songs.

At a concert, for example, Aquila writes that Domino introduced Boone to the audience and, pointing to one of his diamond rings, added that Boone’s version of “Ain’t That a Shame” bought him that ring.

It’s still pathetic that our white-dominated culture made this happen and even more pathetic that it is still happening on social media platforms like TikTok and mainstream TV programs.

Some politics news, links only

Buzzfeed: US Cases Of COVID-19 Are Rising Again, Sparking Fears Of A Fourth Major Surge.

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: Opinion: The WHO covid report is fatally flawed, and a real investigation has yet to take place.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Birx rightly said most US Covid-19 deaths were preventable. But she won’t acknowledge her complicity.

Michael Gerson at The Washington Post: Opinion: The GOP is facing a sickness deeper than the coronavirus.

Raw Story: Trump lashes out at Fauci and Birx in bizarre press release issued from Mar-a-Lago.

The Washington Post: New accounts detail how New York health officials were told to prioritize coronavirus testing of people connected to Andrew Cuomo.

The Guardian: Asian American woman, 65, attacked in New York as witnesses stood by.

The Guardian: Sherry Vill is latest to accuse Andrew Cuomo of sexual misconduct.

That’s it for me today. What’s on your mind?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Bette Davis

Good Morning!!

I’m not an economist, but I’m going to post some economic news today. Dakinikat is an economist, and maybe she will weigh in on what’s happening.

Talks between Democratic Congressional leaders and Trump administration representatives have broken down.

CNN: Stimulus talks break down on Capitol Hill as negotiators walk away without a deal.

Negotiations over the next stimulus package intended to bolster the economy and help struggling Americans pay their bills have stalled on Capitol Hill with Democrats and Trump administration officials walking away after talks broke down on Friday and devolved into partisan finger-pointing.

At a hastily scheduled news conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club Friday evening, President Donald Trump laid out the executive actions he said he would pursue if Congress does not reach a deal.

No additional discussions are planned after nearly two weeks of daily meetings, and lead White House negotiators Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said they were recommending Trump move ahead with a series of executive orders.

Trump said Friday the actions would include a payroll tax deferment, extending unemployment benefits, extending an eviction moratorium and deferring student loan payments and forgiving their interest.

It’s not at all clear to me that any of this would be legal, especially cutting the payroll tax, which would starve Social Security and Medicare. Trump is obviously dying to do that. Back to the CNN story:

Cher

Trump said “they’re talking about” deferring the payroll tax until the end of the year. “And I can extend it at a certain period … and it will be retroactive until July 1,” he said. “I’m going to enhance unemployment benefits through the end of the year,” he added, without specifying any amount.

But the executive orders are expected to meet fierce resistance from Democrats who plan to challenge them in court. Democrats warn that executive action taken will be insufficient to address the extent of the economic and public health crisis faced by Americans during the pandemic.

CNN: Coronavirus has already dealt a blow to Social Security’s finances. Trump’s payroll tax holiday could make it worse.

This isn’t a far-off problem that retirees’ grandchildren would face. If this economic downturn is as bad as the Great Recession a decade ago, then the Social Security trust funds could run out of money in 2029, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. After that, beneficiaries could see a 31% cut in retirement payments.

The program’s trustees had projected earlier this year that the trust funds would be depleted in 2035, but that did not take the coronavirus pandemic into account.

It would be the first time the estimated insolvency date was within a decade since the crisis of the 1980s, which prompted several changes, including raising the retirement age, said Shai Akabas, the center’s director of economy policy.

“An already urgent situation has become even more pressing,” Akabas said, noting the severe drop in payroll tax revenue. “We expect that that trend is going to continue for many years as it takes the labor market to recover.”

Donna Reed

From Business Insider: Trump implementing a payroll tax cut through executive order would blow a hole in Social Security and Medicare’s finances, economists warn.

“Trump’s scheme would weaken the Social Security and Medicare trust funds by diverting the revenue from the employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and potentially the employer’s share of Medicare taxes, from the programs’ trust funds,” the memo from the Center for American Progress said.

Earlier this year, Congress deferred the employer-portion of the Social Security tax (6.2%) through 2022 under the CARES Act. But they replaced the lost money with an infusion of general Treasury funds.

Trump, the memo said, lacks the authority to appropriate funds, which is Congress’s purview.

Many economists say that implementing a payroll tax cut through an executive order wouldn’t lead to a bump in wages for most workers, since the executive branch can only defer tax payments up to a year and not forgive them. Wiping out the payment requires Congress to act.

Legally, employers remain on the hook for any delayed payment. Firms would likely keep the money since they fear being saddled with a hefty tax bill if Congress didn’t move to forgive it.

Obviously, the fact that this would be illegal won’t stop Trump from trying it.

Paul Krugman weighs in on the economic crisis we face: Coming Next: The Greater Recession. Krugman argues that without a second stimulus package being enacted very soon the economy is going to get much worse.

I’m not sure how many people realize just how much deeper the coronavirus recession of 2020 could have been. Obviously it was terrible: Employment plunged, and real G.D.P. fell by around 10 percent. Almost all of that, however, reflected the direct effects of the pandemic, which forced much of the economy into lockdown.

Ava Gardner, 1946

What didn’t happen was a major second round of job losses driven by plunging consumer demand. Millions of workers lost their regular incomes; without federal aid, they would have been forced to slash spending, causing millions more to lose their jobs. Luckily Congress stepped up to the plate with special aid to the unemployed, which sustained consumer spending and kept the nonquarantined parts of the economy afloat.

Furthermore, evidence from austerity policies a decade ago suggests a substantial “multiplier” effect, as spending cuts lead to falling incomes, leading to further spending cuts.

Put it all together and the expiration of emergency aid could produce a 4 percent to 5 percent fall in G.D.P. But wait, there’s more. States and cities are in dire straits and are already planning harsh spending cuts; but Republicans refuse to provide aid, with Trump insisting, falsely, that local fiscal crises have nothing to do with Covid-19.

Bear in mind that the coronavirus itself — a shock that came out of the blue, though the United States mishandled it terribly — reduced G.D.P. by “only” around 10 percent. What we’re looking at now may be another shock, a sort of economic second wave, almost as severe in monetary terms as the first. And unlike the pandemic, this shock will be entirely self-generated, brought on by the fecklessness of President Trump and — let’s give credit where it’s due — Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

In other news, Chief Justice John Roberts is showing his true colors when it comes to abortion.

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern at Slate Magazine: John Roberts’ Stealth Attack on Abortion Rights Just Paid Off.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in June Medical v. Russo was hailed by many liberal court watchers as a win for reproductive rights, as the court declined to overturn Roe v. Wade and formally eliminate the right to an abortion. On Friday, however, a federal appeals court ruled that June Medical significantly narrowed the constitutional right to abortion access. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel swept away an injunction that had blocked Arkansas from enforcing a slew of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that patients pregnant as a result of rape notify their rapists before terminating their pregnancy. The appellate court’s decision confirms that Chief Justice John Roberts’ controlling opinion in June Medical will serve as a tool to eviscerate abortion rights. Those who briefly heralded him as a champion of reproductive freedom were too caught up in the halftime show to see the game.

Olivia de Havilland

Friday’s ruling in Hopkins v. Jegley greenlights four Arkansas regulations passed in 2017. The first of these laws requires clinics to report the names of abortion patients under 18 to local law enforcement. These clinics must then preserve the fetal tissue and treat it like criminal evidence. The second law forces abortion providers to spend “reasonable time and effort” acquiring a patient’s medical records for her “entire pregnancy history” before performing the abortion. The third law grants equal rights over fetal remains to both partners, with no exception in cases of rape. A patient must notify her partner before the abortion and ask which method of disposal he prefers. If both partners are minors, the patient’s parents get to decide how fetal remains are disposed of. If the patient is a minor but her partner is an adult, then he—not the patient—makes the choice. These rules effectively prohibit medication abortion, which occurs at home, where the provider cannot control the disposal of fetal remains. The fourth and final law bans the safest and most common procedure for second-trimester abortions.

Abortion rights advocates challenged this legislation, arguing that they impose an unconstitutional burden on abortion access. A federal district court agreed in 2017, and blocked the new regulations. In Friday’s decision, three Republican-appointed judges on the 8th Circuit cleared away that injunction. The lower court had analyzed the laws under Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the 2016 Supreme Court decision that required courts to weigh the medical benefits of an abortion restriction against its burdens. But the Supreme Court’s decision last month in June Medical, the 8th Circuit wrote, overturned that standard.

One more story, just for laughs: Jerry Falwell Jr. was forced out of his job as president of Liberty University because of that photo he posted of himself with his pants unzipped and his arm around a woman with her pants also unzipped. Politico: Falwell placed on ‘indefinite leave’ from Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr., one of President Donald Trump’s leading evangelical supporters, has agreed to take “an indefinite leave of absence” from his role as president of Liberty University after the release of a viral photo that showed him vacationing on a yacht with his pants unzipped, holding a drink, and with his arm around a woman.

Lauren Bacall

“The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell, Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately,” the university said in a statement on Friday.

The decision came a day after a top House Republican called on Falwell to resign as president of the large Christian school. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference and a former pastor, said that Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling.”

Falwell earlier in the week was widely condemned, including by some conservatives, for posting and then deleting the yacht vacation photo. Liberty University has a strict code of conduct for students that, among other things, prohibits students from having sexual relations outside of a “biblically-ordained” marriage and consuming media with lewd lyrics, sexual content and nudity.

At Slate, Ruth Graham explains Why That Falwell Jr. Yacht Photo Was the Final Straw.

Students on Liberty’s campus are forbidden from drinking alcohol, and are instructed to dress modestly. A poster on Reddit compiled Falwell Jr.’s potential violations in the yacht photograph and an accompanying video, and calculated that a student captured in the same scene could have accrued more than $9,000 in school fines and 900 hours of required service, and possible expulsion.

Faculty and alumni who have been critical of the school’s direction under Falwell Jr. were both shocked and gratified by the news of his leave of absence. “For at least a decade, Liberty’s faculty have labored under Falwell’s increasingly autocratic leadership and been shamed by his public behavior besides,” said Marybeth Davis Baggett, who taught English at Liberty for 17 years and resigned this spring after publishing an op-ed calling for Falwell Jr.’s removal based on his handling of the coronavirus crisis. “One man cannot act this way without many enablers, and any meaningful reform of the school will require a thorough and brutally honest inquiry into the LU culture.”

Jane Fonda, photo by Genevieve Naylor, 1962

Falwell Jr., a businessman with a law degree and no pastoral experience, took over the college when his father died in 2007. He has built the school into a sports powerhouse with a campus filled with luxury amenities, and conservative activists and politicians regularly speak there. The school now boasts more than 15,000 residential students, and more than 100,000 students online.

But Liberty has also been under almost constant national scrutiny since Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump in early 2016, months earlier than other white evangelical leaders embraced the crude casino magnate’s candidacy. Falwell Jr. began 2020 by calling for parts of Virginia to secede from the state and join West Virginia. As the coronavirus crisis encroached, Falwell Jr. initially dismissed it as “hype,” and called a Liberty parent who questioned him on Twitter a “dummy.” He was then criticized for welcoming back any students who wanted to return to campus after spring break. (Fewer than 2,000 of 15,000 residential students ultimately returned, and Liberty has avoided any outbreaks.) In May, Falwell Jr. tweeted a racist image in an attempt to needle Virginia governor Ralph Northam. He eventually deleted the tweet and apologized, but multiple Black employees publicly quit their jobs soon afterward; several high-profile Black athletes also departed. None of these media dust-ups seemed to dent Falwell Jr.’s favorability in the eyes of his hand-picked board of trustees.

There’s much more at the link if you’re interested.

So everything is still FUBAR, but as Dakinikat wrote yesterday, we can still be kind to ourselves and support each other through these terrifying times. As I learned in my recovery from alcoholism, it always helps to live one day at a time. We’re still here, and there’s still a chance we can rid ourselves of Trump and somehow hold onto and rebuild our democracy.


Republicans Hate Government Programs that Work because they Prove them Wrong

Elderly-Pensioners-I’m always bemused by conversations with government-hating Republicans because the assumption is that the private sector always does it better and government programs aren’t–by definition–cost or service efficient.   As you know, I’m an economist by training.  This puts me in the category of people that look specifically for things that minimize costs and maximize output because economics is chiefly concerned with helping society allocate scarce resources to the most efficient use.  So, I examine each product or service and look at the various characteristics and look for signs of market vitality or market failure.

It becomes obvious fairly quickly that the government is actually best at doing some things and that in some markets, the government must interfere to guarantee an efficient outcome.  This totally goes against the ideological bent of those that just want to drown government in their golden bath tubs.  This is because they’re really not looking for the best outcomes for the market or for the society.  They’re looking to set up a zero-sum game where they get as much as possible because most of them have been set up into positions where they can do so through no attributes of their own.  This means that others get less by no fault of their own which goes without consideration. No one also discusses the aspect that it comes from “no fault of their own” because it goes against the “these people are weak and dependent” canard that the advantaged like to push.  Most so-called ‘free-market champions’ don’t like efficient, competitive markets because these markets produce efficient outcomes.  The advantaged really prefer markets that they can game so they get more than an efficient market would allocate.

I’ve spent some time in the past describing situations where it’s really impossible for the market to work without some government interference.  Usually, these markets are full of risks like  information asymmetry and moral hazard.  Actually, I think most of you recognize those terms because I use them so much.  Essentially, any market can be gamed if the demand or supply of that market exhibits pretty specific characteristics.  We’ve known these characteristics for a very long time.  They are no secret.  The markets that function the least efficiently when left alone are markets where the pricing mechanism doesn’t work because it’s for a good or service that is hard to price. Many times there’s the risk of unknown or hidden information where there are a lot of third parties that step in to provide expert information because the buyers can’t navigate the markets by themselves.

Any market where there are information brokers or ‘insurance’ or ‘maintenance’ plans usually indicates a good or a service where the buyers are in a weak position of knowing what’s going on and have to pay others to negotiate the risk for them. This also makes them vulnerable to scams. Financial markets are rife with that kind of situation.  So are markets where it’s hard to get the service or good because it’s so pricey, rare, or technical and not many people can afford it.  Some of the things that many countries offer through government provision are health insurance or service, education and scientific research, public safety, and old age and disability insurance.  We’ve found–through careful study–that government provision of many of these things is cheapest and most efficient because placing every one in one market eliminates these risks.  These programs have come under increasing attack in the US by the current nuts in the Republican Party and a bunch of sold-out Democrats. That’s because there are profits to be made from re-introducing the risk into the market.

The attacks on government provision are never based on the efficacy of the programs themselves.  Almost every one can see that programs like Soup_Kitchens_2Head Start and Social Security do exactly what they’re supposed to do.  In most places–including the states where I grew up–public education works so well that the demand for private education is fairly limited.  But, rather than look at what’s right with the public schools in Minnesota or Nebraska or North Dakota, Louisiana Governor Jindal turns to a private providers.  We’ve had that now for about 7 years and the school district in New Orleans filled with private charters has no better outcomes than it did before privatization.  The experiment is already shown to be failing but still, the push is on. Similarly, if you would turn retirement funds completely over to Wall Street, chances are you’d have the same kinds of miserable failures that characterize most 401K plans. One of the biggest problems is fee churning where people pay exorbitant fees that drain their returns and principle despite fund performance. Such is profit-driven third party provision.

So, I could spend some more virtual ink on the documented failures of  these many privatization schemes for goods and services where the academic studies document the failures and the press and the politicians ignore the stylized facts.  Instead, I want to share Josh Barro’s excellent article explaining why we should be expanding Social Security--one of these highly successful programs–rather than quietly watch the program be strangled by greedy ideologues. He’s provided wonky graphs and numbers.  I’m showing you photos of elderly poverty during the Great Depression.  Elder poverty was vast at that time.  Social Security changed that.  So, why strangle something that works so well?  Take a look at those pictures because if these folks get away with dismantling the program, those situations will return.  What kind of burden will that leave to our children or will they just gently step over all the sick and dying old people in the streets who haven’t been taken in by their still struggling relatives?

With everyone in Washington experiencing sea-bass-induced euphoria, we’re talking again about a “grand bargain” to replace the sequestration and shrink the federal budget deficit. And that means we’re talking about using the chained consumer-price index, a lower and more accurate inflation measure, to modestly raise taxes and cut Social Security benefits over time.

Back in December, I wrote that applying chained CPI to Social Security is the wrong solution to our budget problems: It’s just a way of dressingiYhcYKXlJ1gs up a cut to retirement benefits at a time when retirement insecurity is rising. Despite its problems, Social Security is the best-functioning component of the U.S.’s retirement-saving system. Instead of cutting, the federal government should be expanding its role in retirement saving.

I’m always struck when people talk about Social Security as “just” an insurance program, when it’s in fact the most important retirement-saving vehicle. The chart below, adapted from a 2012 paper by Boston College Professor Alicia Munnell, shows the financial situation of a “typical” pre-retirement household. These are the mean holdings of a household in the middle net worth decile among households headed by people age 55 to 64.

Okay, I had to give into my inner wonk and put in one graph.  As you can see, most older Americans are or will be highly reliant on their Social Security Savings.  I would also like to remind a few people that folks of my age were told if we went along and paid all of our working incomes into Ronald Reagan’s big FICA tax increase, our Social Security benefit would be safe. So, how does it feel to watch these folks ready and able to pull the rug out from under those folks especially after most of their investments and home prices have not really recovered since the Great Recession of 2007.

Keep in mind, that most folks nearing or at retirement rely on bonds which are paying nearly historically low rates of interest and will continue to do so for some time because of Fed policy to keep interest rates low.  You are told to shift your funds away from equities and into bonds as you close in on retirement.  Anyone that followed that advice for their 401ks or 403bs is probably looking at a pretty grim situation.  The same Fed Policy that is stimulating all those grand stock market surges and corporate profits is killing most older adults and retired folks’  retirement savings portfolios.  And, that implies some that they have them.  Large number of studies say that a lot of folks do not have any kind of retirement benefit or savings outside of their homes and social security.  So, you can see that I’m really not kidding when I envision kids either having to take their grandparents into their homes or endure stepping over them in the streets.  Social Security is the program that keeps the elderly independent, fed, and alive.  Or, as Barro puts it more succinctly:

Social Security is dominant: Forty-nine percent of this household’s wealth is in the form of the expectation of drawing government benefits in the future. The next largest slice, 23 percent, is accrued benefits in traditional pension plans. But that figure is skewed by a handful of workers who are lucky enough to participate in such plans; as of 2010, only 14 percent of U.S. workers were earning benefits in such a plan.

Private saving for retirement is woeful. This typical near-retirement household has just $42,000 in retirement accounts and $18,300 in other financial assets. For most Americans, Social Security isn’t augmenting private saving; private saving is (just barely) augmenting Social Security.

And as both home equity and stocks were battered over the last few years, retirement insecurity worsened. Munnell and her colleagues estimate that as of 2010, 53 percent of American households were on track to be more than 10 percent below the amount of assets they would need at age 65 to maintain their standard of living in retirement, up from 44 percent in 2007.

There are many ways to enhance Social Security.  Barrow mentions three of them.  But, as he points out, none of those are the default option of the Beltway crowd.

The default assumption in Washington is that Social Security needs to be cut to fix our long-term budget problems. But it’s really a question of priorities. Social Security is, by definition, an efficient program: About 98 percent of its costs go out in the form of benefit checks, which the beneficiaries spend on whatever they value most. If we raise taxes on the people who would gain from increased benefits and cut in areas like Medicare, where the government buys a lot of things we don’t really need, we can afford to augment the federal role in retirement saving and alleviate the problem of retirement insecurity.

See that?  We’re talking about an efficient government program.  But, again, that seems to just fly in the face of the current Republican party’s–and more than a few Democratic enablers–110912_great_depression_ap_328desire to recreate Mississippi in every possible place in America.  They don’t want any example of  government programs that work well because that doesn’t fit in with their 100% privatization schemes that increase their personal wealth and the wealth of their plutocrat overlords.  The most sad thing is that the most successful public programs are those that provide security to the most vulnerable populations; poor children and the elderly.  So, granny and baby-starving Republicans are literally hurting the least among us to do the bidding of their corporate plantation masters who seem to never, ever get enough.

It’s obviously not about what works and what doesn’t or what’s an efficient use of tax payer money and what’s not.  It’s about enriching the few at the cost of the many while using outright lies and distortions to confuse the issue.  We don’t need to socialize many things in order to achieve an efficient economy.  Indeed, there are many markets that would operate better without government interference to subsidize the suppliers.  But, you rarely hear any one talk about removing the many market-killing examples of corporate welfare.  Instead, you only hear about sinking the government programs that are efficient and provide a modicum of safety to the least among us.  I think a lot of it is because it outrages their sensibilities to see themselves be proved so hugely wrong time and time again.  Government subsidies to corporations are seen as enabling the free market even when they do the very opposite. But, political decision makers create or make programs inefficient to support their world views.  This makes the ridiculous attacks on Social Security and Head Start even more spurious. What really kills me is the number of pundits that would rather spout platitudes pushed in their mouths by their delusional overlords than find studies like Munnell’s that prove them so very wrong.  At least a few of them–like Josh Barro at Bloomberg who is also the son of one of the gods of economics–takes the time to do a little research. Now, if some of that research would only reach the President’s desk.