Sick of winning!
The Washington Post reported yesterday on the travails faced by one farm family that's going through some very hard times. Andy and Anne Lee are dairy farmers in Berkshire, New York -- the Real America, upstate part of the state -- and they've seen their income decline significantly in recent years, mostly due to a steep drop in milk prices but it's been made a lot worse by Donald Trump's trade wars.
The story is a sympathetic slice-of-life portrait of a family struggling to get by, focusing mostly on Anne's attempts to keep her family fed on a very tight budget. She reluctantly makes a first-ever trip to a food pantry -- in another town, hoping she won't be recognized -- and even applies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps, though she's so worried about the shame of it, and doesn't want to tell Andy about either. She's struck by the irony of it all, telling reporter Annie Gowen, "We're supposed to be feeding the world, and we can't even put food on our own table," and saying she'd told Andy, "This is what need feels like."
And yes, of course they both voted for Trump, and still support him. He's doing the best he can to fix things. Like cutting SNAP benefits by 14 percent, eliminating benefits for three million people (a third of them children), and for good measure taking away free school lunches for half a million kids.
It's a Jungle out there.
New meat inspection rules being rolled out by the Trump administration will get Big Government out of your food, leaving safety inspections in the maybe-washed hands of line employees at giant pork producers instead of US Department of Agriculture inspectors, according to a vegetarianism-inducing report by NBC News. The new rules will apply to factories producing roughly 90 percent of the pork consumed in America, and then later will be applied to beef plants, too. Your meals won't be any cheaper, probably, but the producers can goose their profits, possibly by adding actual geese while nobody's looking.
"The consumer's being duped," Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector Jill Mauer told NBC News. "They believe that it actually is getting federally inspected when there's no one there to even watch or do anything about anything."
"It's so hard to go to work without feeling physically sick watching this just happen, unfolding in front of you," inspector Anthony Vallone said. "Especially since you took the oath to protect the American people."
The two rogue meat heads have filed official whistleblower complaints with the Office of Special Counsel, and decided to go public through NBC News. Probably because they're just lazy government employees who hate private enterprise! NBC also spoke to several other inspectors for information on the pilot program that's about to be taken national. In case anyone needs to name their punk band, the new rules are called the "New Swine Inspection System."
And there's some good damn programs gonna get funded too!
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he's taking action to release half a billion dollars in funding to address homelessness. The money is part of a $650 million package of emergency funding already approved by state legislators, but held up because the Trump administration has dragged its feet on releasing data that would allow the money to be spent. Cities and counties can begin applying for funding immediately.
While more federal money to help with California's homelessness crisis would help, this delay has nothing to do with Trump demanding Newsom investigate Joe Biden. The San Jose Mercury News explains how the federal government managed to prevent California from spending its own damn money:
The governor accused the Trump administration of trying to politicize the issue and preventing the funding from getting to local officials who can put it to use. State law says that funding allocations ultimately must be based off homeless counts approved by the federal government. But Newsom's office says Trump's team has been sitting on the data for months.
So instead, California will use preliminary homeless estimates to distribute $500 million and wait for the final numbers to allocate the remainder of the funds.
What? The feds are holding up routine government data at a time when Donald Trump is routinely attacking California for supposedly not doing enough about homelessness? Pardon us while we locate our shocked faces. Also not surprising: The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is responsible for the data on homelessness, didn't return the Mercury News's request for comment. Ben Carson was probably shopping for furniture.
And no, marijuana isn't a gateway drug.
Kamala Harris wants to decriminalize weed. That seems a weird thing for the fuzz to do, but the senator and presidential candidate (yes, still) has co-sponsored with Rep. Jerry Nadler The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The bill would legalize marijuana federally, remove it from the Controlled Substance Act, and expunge non-violent convictions. States would set their own reefer regulations. The bill also devotes funding to help victims of the so-called war on drugs, which disproportionately affected minority communities.
Nadler announced Monday that the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, would mark up the marijuana reform bill this week. Harris is leading the Senate companion to the bill, which would have to survive the GOP-controlled Senate. Some politicians and advocates believe only a more "modest" bill could reach Donald Trump's desk for Ivanka's signature. That's the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, and you know it's shady because it forms an acronym. The STATES Act wouldn't deschedule marijuana from the CSA, and although it would protect cannabis-related companies, it doesn't really help people left out in the cold from years of unjust drug laws. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner co-sponsored the bill in 2018. That was before Warren ran for president, so it's unlikely Trump would even look at the bill now. Our best bet is flipping the Senate, winning the White House, and going all the way.
It actually adds up, says Paul Krugman.
Elizabeth Warren has posted her plan to pay for Medicare for All, and it's getting a pretty enthusiastic review from Paul Krugman, who says it's a serious plan whose numbers -- though you can argue about 'em -- add up. Democratic primary debates will probably still start off with a mandatory 40 minutes dedicated to bickering about whether we really want to provide health coverage for all Americans or just for more Americans than we do now, plus some bad-faith moderator questions that inject Republican fears of socialism into the discussion. But at least Warren has shifted the terms of the debate from "she hasn't said how she'd pay for it" to "will this plan work?" Warren even managed to put together a plan that doesn't call for new taxes on the middle class, although honestly, that's still a bullshit way of framing the debate.
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, welcome, sort of, to the movement!
After last week's Democratic debate, which really did take place just eight days ago instead of in another era, the deficit-hawky Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget crunched some numbers on how to fund Medicare for All (M4A) and found that, heavens to Betsy, it would require some kind of tax increases on the middle class. This is hardly an astonishing conclusion, as we discussed last week. Of course, it's also just as clear that talking about taxes in isolation completely misses the point. You have to discuss the larger question of how much we already pay for our existing broken patchwork of healthcare systems.
The CRFB analysis, though brief, is worth a read, and it's especially valuable not simply because CRFB is a respectable think tank, but because CRFB is what you'd have to call a hostile witness, given the group's opposition to federal spending in general and its support for "reforming" Social Security and Medicare -- through big cuts -- in particular. It's a bit like that Koch-funded think tank that found M4A could actually cost a couple trillion dollars less than the current mess would, while covering everyone. When the deficit hawks tut tut that M4A would be expensive but really could reduce the cost of healthcare for many Americans, we're ready to look at their numbers. But remember: Just framing it in terms of taxes is bogus from the get-go.
Trump in his majestic equality, etc.
Donald Trump and Republicans across the nation are embarked on a great patriotic mission: governing according to the whims and prejudices of Fox News viewers, who know two things about welfare. They are: 1) government assistance should only be extended to the truly needy; and 2) nobody receiving government assistance is truly needy, because they're all cheats and frauds.
To that noble end, the Trump administration and state governments have been working busily to make programs like Medicaid and food assistance much harder to get, because isn't it important to make sure people are working instead of lazily taking from the taxpayers? This of course ignores the fact that most people receiving assistance already work (or are retired or disabled, or are kids), but remain poor. It's almost as if "the working poor" were a term that meant something. The efforts to add more hoops for people to jump through has certainly done the job, though! The New York Times reports today that over a million children have lost health coverage because of federal and state changes to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and that's not because their parents got jobs with insurance: They're just plain uninsured.
Another Trump rule set to go into effect will drop about a million kids from receiving food stamps. But that's not all! The same rule change will take away free school lunches from half a million of those kids, too, so they can learn to work hard through hunger pangs at home and school. Just think how much character, hard work, and Personal Responsibility will result!
If you don't like it, he'll have another one in a few months.
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was for Medicare For All before he was against it. Now, he's for it for all who want it, which we guess is not everyone. It's confusing. But the South Bend, Indiana, mayor is trying to torpedo Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who support Medicare For All. Let's take a look at Buttigieg's current position.
Whoa, those are a lot of promises there, slick. It's similar to the Republican shuck and jive on health care. They were going to gut the Affordable Care Act but they were also going to keep everything voters liked about it, such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It was the sort of sleight-of-hand "magic" Marianne Williamson might've appreciated. I still haven't met the people who are so in love with their health insurance plans they fear the government separating them like immigrant families at the border. I do have friends with very generous, fully funded health care plans but they work for Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Wonkette (individually, not all at once). That's a relatively small percentage of the country. So are the folks with sweet union plans Joe Biden vows to protect. But Medicare For All has great appeal for Americans who are stuck with plans they might as well have retrieved from a bubblegum machine (and also Wonkette). That's a bigger group than pundits and politicians want to admit.
Big Pharma Paid 700 Doctors Over A Million Bucks Each. Tell Us Again How Single-Payer Is Too Pricey?
None dare call it legalized bribery. OK, plenty do.
One of the quiet scandals of US America's for-profit healthcare "system" is the routine bribery of doctors by pharmaceutical companies. We're not talking the free pens and notepads with drug logos, but generous funding for travel, "consulting," and speaking fees to "educate" other doctors at conferences. A new ProPublica report found that the amount of money the industry pays to doctors hasn't changed, despite efforts to call attention to the potential conflicts of interest. And some doctors are really making out like bandits, while prescription drug prices continue to go through the roof.
That's not a mixed metaphor, that's American healthcare today: a bandit house with holes in the roof.
If this guy tells you today is Monday, seek a second opinion.
When it comes to trade deals, the devil is in the details. Coincidentally, the devil is also in Donald Trump, so when he tweeted on Saturday that he'd just reached "by far, the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country," the media was skeptical. After all, he promised that a deal with China was on the horizon back in May. In August, he lied about a call from Chinese trade officials who he claimed were desperate to get back to the negotiating table. And then again in December he claimed to have a deal in pocket only to see it vanish into thin air.
So naturally news outlets wised up this time and insisted on seeing the plan before they ran with a story congratulating President Arty McDeals on another flawless victory.
LOL, JUST KIDDING.
Screenshot: New York Times
Heart eyes emoticon!
Elizabeth Warren is out with another of her darn plans, this time a proposal to pursue environmental justice as part of her overall commitment to fighting climate change. This is the seventh Warren policy proposal to touch on some aspect of addressing the climate crisis, and she vows to devote at least a third of federal climate funding to communities that have been screwed over by the fossil fuel economy. That's roughly a trillion dollars over ten years. Warren would make sure those communities that have borne the brunt of our messed-up climate have a say in how the cleanups and the green manufacturing of tomorrow will go forward -- a topic she brought up while visiting voters in Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday.
The timing of the new plan coincides with California's biggest electric utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, choosing to cause a huge blackout because its antiquated equipment and grid risk sparking wildfires. PG&E's crappy management and haphazard maintenance caused multiple California wildfires in recent years, made worse by the climate change caused by burning coal and oil for electricity for a century. More and more parts of the country can look forward to that kind of disruption becoming the norm.
Quick, somebody tell us we can't afford clean energy.
And it's all thanks to that nice Donald Trump and the GOP!
New research out this week shows that, for the first time ever, the 400 richest families in the USA pay the lowest total tax rates of any income segment, thanks to the 2017 Big Fat Tax Cuts For Rich Fuckwads. The study comes from UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who helped Elizabeth Warren develop her Eat The Rich wealth tax. The full study will be published next week in their new book, The Triumph of Injustice, which New York Times columnist David Leonhardt calls "the most important book on government policy that I've read in a long time."
It's really very simple: since the Reagan administration, one political party has dedicated itself to driving tax rates on the richest people in America lower and lower, and now that the very richest have the very lowest tax rates, that party wants more tax cuts.
When the best you've got defending you on the Sunday shows is Ron Johnson and Jim Jordan, your prospects are not looking good.
The long-awaited Trump impeachment is speeding up! Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys for the Ukrainium One whistleblower, has stated he is now representing " multiple whistleblowers. The announcement of a second whistleblower -- the second intel whistleblower, on top of the IRS whistleblower who already existed, and who is being described as "an intelligence official with first-hand knowledge" (NOT "hearsay," Lindsey Graham!) of some of the allegations outlined in the original complaint, threw a wrench on ALL the talking points of Trump's ardent defenders, to the point that nobody from the White House even showed up for the Sunday shows. But a couple of idiots from Congress did!
It was perhaps most difficult this week for GOP Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Appearing on NBC's "Meet The Press," OshKosh M'Gosh Johnson was asked about what he told the Wall Street Journal about how EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland told him Trump was doing quid pro quos with Ukraine and basically extorting the nation for electoral assistance in exchange, but don't worry, Donald Trump told him that's a damn lie and Donald Trump always tells the truth.
It did not go well for Johnson.
Somebody's got a new labor plan, you come learn it!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a blogger with a news hole to fill must be in want of a new Elizabeth Warren policy paper. And fortunately, they're a lot more welcome than most suitors in a Jane Austen novel. Like, take a gander at Warren's nigh-encyclopedic plan, released yesterday, to reform American labor law. Reading it, we were both impressed by the breadth of labor practices it addresses, and depressed by just how thoroughly big corporations and decades of right-leaning courts have eroded workers' rights since the relative glory days for organized labor, from the New Deal through Eisenhower.
It's a hell of a big plan, because there's a hell of a lot to fix. And it's not just a matter to be filed over in some boring slot labelled "labor policy," says Warren. Nope, it's nothing less than a matter of making America work the way it ought to, because earning your daily bread is right there at the base of what government is all about, although one party has insisted for 40 years that America is about shifting power to the already powerful.
We cannot have a truly democratic society with so little power in the hands of working people. We cannot have sustained and inclusive economic growth without a stronger labor movement. That's why returning power to working people will be the overarching goal of my presidency.
Hell, even our most pressing crisis, dealing with the climate mess, depends in part on reorienting the economy and the way we work toward energy that won't cause massive social and economic disruptions.
We won't attempt to summarize everything in Warren's plan, but it's of a piece with all her other policy proposals: America needs to work for all Americans, and that requires some fundamental shifts in political and economic power. And yet, no matter how the greedheads will insist this is a blueprint for communism, Warren isn't promoting a socialist revolution. Like FDR, she wants to save capitalism from its worst excesses and make sure the 99 percent of us have a stake, too, by empowering workers. As Vox notes, "The word 'power' is repeated more than a dozen times in Warren's proposal," and Warren lays out, throughout her proposals, the need to reform the system to unleash the potential of ordinary people. As we've said before, it's Barack Obama's "growth from the middle" -- on steroids.
To get there, Warren would use a variety of measures -- some executive actions, but mostly pushing Congress to pass laws that can't simply be reversed at a new president's whim -- to restore the bargaining power of unions. Warren doesn't say this, but it's no coincidence that the postwar period of America's lowest income inequality, from the late 1940s to the early '70s, coincided with the peak of union power, when labor was a central constituency not just in the economy, but in politics.
Several parts of Warren's labor platform have already been rolled out in one form or another. She endorses the bicameral "Protecting the Right to Organize" (PRO) Act, which would make forming unions easier, eliminate "right to work" laws, and ban companies from forcing workers to attend anti-union "information sessions" at work, but that's just a start. She would also revise the three biggest pillars of US labor law, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), to make sure they protect all workers, which they currently don't.
Some of the reason for that stems from the ugly realities of getting the New Deal and other labor laws passed: To win the support of segregationist southern Democrats, the early labor laws excluded fields largely filled by blacks and women (especially black women), like agriculture and domestic work. Warren would also extend the right to organize to people who have been cleverly excluded from even being considered "employees," and are instead treated as "independent contractors." Screw that, says Warren, if you work for Uber, you're a goddamned employee. And maybe if you're a hot young Marine working for an online escort service, too.
Similarly, Warren wants to get rid of features in employment contracts designed to depress wages and encourage exploitation of workers, like mandatory arbitration, which denies workers' right to sue and nearly always resolves disputes in the bosses' favor. Her plan would also get rid of "non-compete" clauses (like those barring low-wage employees from leaving a Jimmy John's to work at McDonald's, and "no poaching" clauses, which
prevent one franchisee from hiring away an employee from another franchisee. I believe these agreements violate antitrust laws and suppress wages. I will push to prohibit them.
And speaking of franchises, Warren would also get rid of the legal fiction that protects big chains from being held accountable for labor violations if they occur at a franchise operation, which has allowed big fast food companies to look the other way and escape liability when franchise owners stiff employees for back pay or overtime, or make them work in unsafe conditions. If that reform passes, the parent corporation will be held responsible for misbehavior by franchisees. She could call that the Sir, This Is a Wendy's Act.
One of her most innovative proposals, "sectoral bargaining," involves allowing unions to bargain not just with individual employers, but to seek a contract for all workers in a particular industry -- like all fast-food workers, or all janitors. We'll just crib this explanation from Vox:
[While] sectoral bargaining is common in Europe, it's never been tried on a large scale in the US. The point is to remove the incentive for employers to stop their employees from unionizing, based on the fear that non-union competitors will have a cost advantage. Instead, all workers in the same industry would simply have the same minimum standard of pay and benefits.
Sounds like one of those "level playing field" thingies we're always hearing about.
And then there's the proposal for literal worker empowerment that scared Fox Business jerk Stuart Varney so much: Warren's Accountable Capitalism Act would require corporations with over a billion dollars in annual revenue to reserve 40 percent of their corporate board seats for employees elected by the company's workforce. Yes, she has a news hook for that:
One of the companies that would be covered by this requirement is General Motors, where 46,000 workers represented by UAW went on strike because of the company's refusal to let workers get a fair share of the billions of dollars in profits the company has made. Letting GM workers elect 40% of the company's board would help ensure that workers get the wages and benefits they deserve.
And yes, the corporations would still make profits. This is hardly seizure of the means of production, it's representation, goddamn it.
Warren would also reserve a seat at the table for unions in planning how Medicare for All would work, because hell yes unions have demanded good medical benefits. But those gains have become more and more precarious at every contract negotiation, and we're pretty sure that union workers might be persuaded to replace their good benefits -- if they can make sure single-payer would be an even better deal.
It's impressive just how detailed Warren's plan gets, addressing issues that you might not expect to see in a national platform, such as calling for an end to appearance and grooming policies that discriminate against black hairstyles. Warren would pass federal rules based on a California law that banned such discriminatory policies. But the policy proposal never feels like a grab bag; it all works into a vision for making work fairer than it's ever been. We don't know if Warren has read our Wonkette Book Club book from earlier this year, Erik Loomis's A History of America in Ten Strikes, but her plan consistently reminded me of two of Loomis's main points: Unions can only achieve rights for workers when the government isn't in cahoots with the bosses, and the New Deal regime of labor rights has largely been co-opted by employers, who have exploited the existing rules to break the back of labor. Warren's plan aims squarely at bringing dignity -- and power -- to all workers. It's a pity that sounds radical.
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Yes! He's got a new CEO tax!
Yr Wonkette would like to wish Bernie Sanders a speedy recovery after some chest discomfort Tuesday evening sent him off to a hospital, where doctors found an arterial blockage and inserted two stents. His campaign team has cancelled his appearances for the time being. A campaign aide told the New York Times Sanders "feels better than ever because that's how people feel after they get a stent and there's more blood flow." Now don't overdo it, OK? As Wonkette's Stephen Robinson points out, if this were anyone other than a presidential candidate, their doctor would probably NOT recommend a year of sleeping badly, eating randomly (and state fair food at that), incessant travel, and the ridiculous stress of the always-on news cycle.
Which means Sanders, 78, is likely to be back out campaigning within a couple of weeks, because the people who run for president are every bit as crazy as the system we use to elect them. Take care of yourself, ya nut, so you can ease back into things. Maybe, while convalescing, Sanders can come up with some nice relaxing policy proposals, like his plan, released Monday, to fight income inequality by raising taxes on companies where CEO pay is grossly disproportionate to what average workers get. (This is what we in the writing biz call a "transition." A really clumsy one!)
Get Elizabeth Warren's Government Hands Off Our Social Security! Just Kidding, Liz, FEEL IT UP PROPER!
As an Old Fart, Yr Dox Zoom is all for this!
Elizabeth Warren has a crazy idea: Instead of acting like Paul Ryan should ever have been taken seriously, even once, how about we improve Social Security? She proposes increasing monthly Social Security benefits for everyone currently receiving them by $200 a month, and also taking steps to improve the retirement incomes of those who traditionally have not been able to get much out of Social Security because the system was never very kind to some kinds of workers: "women and caregivers, low-income workers, public sector workers, students and job-seekers, and people with disabilities." Not surprisingly, it's paid for by increasing Social Security taxes on the top two percent of Americans, who currently pay a far smaller portion of their income into the system than most workers.
It's a heck of a good plan, and an economic analysis by Mark Zandy of Moody's Analytics found it would raise 4.9 million seniors out of poverty, increase economic growth, stabilize the Social Security program, and even reduce the federal deficit by a trillion dollars over 10 years. Let's take a look at this sucker, and then have a nice nap. Is there a draft in here?
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