Sunday, November 13, 2022

Democrats after election

 Elizabeth Warren provides guidance for the lame-duck session.

Democrats should fight back by making this lame-duck session of Congress the most productive in decades. We can start by lifting the debt ceiling now to block Republicans from taking our economy hostage next year. Democrats must then continue delivering for families. Where we can pursue legislative action, we should fight aggressively. When Republicans try to obstruct such action and the president can act by executive authority, he must. Most of all, the Democrats should be aggressive in putting Republicans on the defensive, pressing hard on why they are blocking much-needed initiatives to help Americans.

Continuing to reduce inflation and putting money in people’s pockets, expanding the work force through affordable child care, lowering housing costs by increasing supply, raising taxes on the superwealthy, tackling corporate price gouging — this is not a progressive wish list.

It’s the unfinished business of the Biden agenda, and the way to help families and win elections.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Minimum Wage vs, SSA COLA

 Robert Reich reviews the details.

The media talk about this as a “boost” in Social Security benefits but it’s not. The adjustment simply enables people living on Social Security (more than 70 million of us) to maintain the purchasing power they had a year ago.

On the other hand, the people working at the federal minimum wage haven’t got an inflation adjustment. They’ve been getting poorer at a faster pace and for a longer time than most of the rest of us.

Remember: Corporations pay for the minimum wage. Taxpayers pay for Social Security.

So is it ever going to be possible to raise the minimum wage? Yes.

But is it possible to include an automatic inflation adjustment in the minimum wage?

When I suggested it, Republicans balked. This didn’t surprise me.

What surprised me was that Democrats also balked. Why?

"If it’s automatic, then we can’t fight about it,” a senior Democratic senator explained. “And in presidential election years, it’s a fight we like to have.”

Bottom line: Even if Republicans control one or both houses of Congress in 2024, that would be a good year to try to raise the minimum wage again. As to including an automatic adjustment for inflation, though, I’m less optimistic.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Rural America Being Deceived

 Paul Krugman explains why rural America is in the tank. They are hurting but they don't realize that Republicans will make it worse. And Democrats are making real strides in making it better.

Political scientists have found that rural Americans believe that they aren’t receiving their fair share of resources, that they are neglected by politicians and that they don’t receive enough respect. So it seems worth noting that the first two beliefs are demonstrably false — although I’m sure that anyone pointing this out will be denounced as another sneering member of the urban elite.

The truth is that rural America is heavily subsidized by urban America. You can see this by looking at states’ federal balance of payments — the difference between federal spending in a state and the amount a state pays in federal taxes.

for the most part this subsidization of rural America reflects the nature of our social safety net rather than explicitly favorable treatment. Rural areas are relatively poor, old and sick. This means that they pay fairly little in federal taxes while receiving large benefits from Social Security, Medicare and other government programs.

But there is also considerable aid targeted directly on rural areas. Most notably, in 2020 Donald Trump sent $46 billion in aid to farmers. To get a sense of how huge this was, note that these days there are only about two million farms in America, and annual net farm income is only about $150 billion.

So the idea that the government discriminates financially against rural areas is the opposite of the truth. That said, it’s true that rural areas are hurting economically, despite receiving a great deal of aid.

The modern economy, with its growing focus on knowledge-intensive industries, tends to favor metropolitan areas with highly educated work forces. And highly educated workers also tend to prefer such areas, so the drift of economic opportunities away from small-town and rural America is a self-reinforcing process. Jobs, especially good jobs, are becoming scarce outside the big metros.

While rural woes are real, however, it’s hard to see how supporting right-wing politicians makes sense as a response to these woes. Republicans in Congress have made it clear that if they take control, they will try to slash the safety-net programs that do so much to support rural America. On the other side, Biden administration actions, especially the subsidies associated with climate policy, represent a serious effort — one that has no G.O.P. counterpart — to bring jobs back to declining regions in the heartland.

When commentators call on Democrats to address rural needs, well, they’re actually doing that — certainly more than Republicans, who are preparing to pull the rug from under programs that rural areas depend on. When people call on urban elites to end their disrespect for rural Americans, well, perceptions about such disrespect may not have much to do with reality.

rural perceptions are so much at odds with reality, and rural America is becoming so monolithic politically, that it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have much success.

How to Defeat Fascism

 Anand Giridhradas has the rundown.

Command Attention

The right presently runs laps around the left in its ability to manage and use attention. It understands the power of provocation to make people have the conversation that most benefits its side. “Tucker Carlson said what about the war on ‘legacy Americans’?” “Donald Trump said what about those countries in Africa?” It understands that sometimes it’s worth looking ridiculous to achieve saturation of the discourse. It knows that the more one’s ideas are repeated — positively, negatively, however — the more they seem to millions of people like common sense. It knows that when the opposition is endlessly consumed by responding to its ideas, that opposition isn’t hawking its own wares.

Make Meaning

A concept you often hear among organizers (but less in electoral politics) is meaning making. Organizers tend to think of voters as being in a constant process of making sense of the world, and they see their job as being not simply to ask for people’s vote but also to participate in the process by which voters process their experiences into positions.

Voters read things. They hear stories on cable news. They notice changes at work and in their town. But these things do not on their own array into a coherent philosophy. A story, an explanation, a narrative — these form the bridge that transports you from noticing the new Spanish-speaking cashiers at Walgreens to fearing a southern invasion or from liking a senator from Chicago you once heard on TV to seeing him as a redemption of the ideals of the nation.

Meet People Where They Are

There is a phrase that all political organizers seem to learn in their first training: Meet people where they are. The phrase doesn’t suggest watering down your goal as an organizer because of where the people you are trying to bring along are. It suggests meeting them at their level of familiarity and knowledge and comfort with the ideas in question and then trying to move them in the desired direction.

Many organizers I spoke to aired a concern that, in this fractious and high-stakes time, a tendency toward purism, gatekeeping and homogeneity afflicts sections of the left and threatens its pursuits.

Pick Fights

If the left could use a little more grace and generosity toward voters who are not yet fully on board, it could also benefit from a greater comfort with making powerful enemies. It needs to be simultaneously a better lover and a better fighter.

“What Republicans are great at doing is telling you who’s to blame,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Whether it’s big government or Mexican immigrants or Muslims, Republicans are going to tell you who’s doing the bad things to you. Democrats, we believe in subtleties. We don’t believe in good and evil. We believe in relativity. That needs to change.”

Once again, the exceptions prove the rule. Why did the Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke, go viral when he confronted the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, during a news conference or called a voter an incest epithet? Why does the Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman so resonate with voters for his ceaseless trolling of his opponent, the celebrity surgeon and television personality Mehmet Oz, about his residency status and awkward grocery videos? In California, why has Gov. Gavin Newsom’s feisty postrecall persona, calling out his fellow governors on the right, brought such applause? Because, as Anat Shenker-Osorio, a messaging expert who advises progressive causes, has said, people “are absolutely desperate for moral clarity and demonstrated conviction.”

Provide a Home

Many leading political thinkers and doers argue that the right’s greatest strength isn’t its ideological positioning or policy ideas or rhetoric. It is putting a metaphorical roof over the head of adherents, giving them a sense of comfort and belonging to something larger than themselves.

“People want to find a place that they call home,” Alicia Garza, an activist prominent in the Black Lives Matter movement, told me. “Home for a lot of people means a place where you can feel safe and a place where someone is caring for your needs.

Tell the Better Story

As befits a polity on the knife’s edge, Democrats have good political days, and Republicans have good political days. But in the longer contest to tell the better story about America and draw people into that story, there is a great worry among organizers that the left is badly falling short.

The left has a bold agenda: strengthen voting rights, save the planet, upgrade the safety net. But policies do not speak for themselves, and the cause remains starved for a larger, goosebumps-giving, heroes-and-villains, endlessly quotable story of America that justifies the policy ambitions and helps people make sense of the time and place they’re in.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Jan 6 Summary

 For clear talking points about the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Robert Reich has a great list.

The committee then showed evidence that:

1.  Trump concocted his plan long before Election Day. Knowing that mail-in votes would be more likely cast for Biden and would not be counted until possibly days after Trump had taken the lead on Election Day, Trump planned to give a false election victory speech on the evening of Election Day. Even though the networks were starting to call the race for Biden, Trump declared victory and demanded that voting counts stop. “This is a fraud on the American public, an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election, we did win this election.”

2.  Trump knew he lost. He also knew that there was no evidence of fraud or irregularities sufficient to change the outcome. In none of 62 court cases was he able to establish election fraud. His Attorney General told him there had been no fraud. His advisors repeatedly told him there was no evidence of fraud sufficient to change the outcome. The Supreme Court rejected his case on December 11. Electors voted on December 14. His senior staff advised him to concede. Nonetheless, Trump’s intended to ignore the rule of law to stay in power.

3.  Trump was personally and directly involved in a plan to remain in power, regardless.

(1) He knew he was lying when he told the public that Dominion Voting machines were rigged against him, when he told the public there were more votes than voters, and when he told the public about a “vote dump” in Detroit. He purposely and maliciously repeated these lies to the public over and over again.

(2) He knew his allegations of fraud in Georgia were false. But he nonetheless sought to pressure the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger into giving him the votes he needed, saying “I want to find 11,780 votes.” When the secretary of state demurred, Trump threatened that he’d be prosecuted.

(3) He also tried to pressure election officials in Arizona and Michigan, knowing he lost those states.  

(4) Knowing he lost the election, he also pressured the Justice Department to change the results of the election until Justice Department officials threatened mass resignation.

(5) He sought to replace real Biden electors with fake Trump electors on January 6. He knew this was illegal.

(6) He tried to get Vice President Pence to unilaterally disregard the electoral count. Trump knew this was illegal.

(7) He intentionally summoned his supporters to the Capitol, and then, knowing they were armed, intended that they march to the Capitol.

(8) Even before his Ellipse speech, he knew there would be violence. He knew people coming to Washington planned to attack the Capitol and that multiple users online were targeting members of Congress. The Secret Service had this information at least 10 days before the attack. On January 6, during his speech on the Ellipse, Trump knew the crowd was armed and dangerous.

4. Even when Trump knew about the violence unfolding at the Capitol on January 6, he refused to call off the mob.

Next steps?

This is probably the last of the committee’s hearings. If Republicans succeed in their drive to win the House majority (which seems likely), they will almost certainly disband the committee in January and shut down any official accounting by Congress for the largest attack on the Capitol in centuries.

This means the panel has less than three months to finish up its investigation, write and release its final report (likely in December), make any legislative recommendations, and decide whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department.

The January 6 committee, led by Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), has done America a great service — giving the nation exactly what it has most needed: an accounting of what occurred January 6, why it occurred, and Trump’s role in it.

Whether this will lead to Trump being held criminally accountable does not depend on the committee making a criminal referral. Regardless of whether it makes such a referral, that decision is solely up to the U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland (who would now be sitting on the Supreme Court had it not been for Mitch McConnell and a Republican Senate majority).

But the committee’s work — its investigation and its public hearings — have played a part in persuading Garland to move forward with a criminal case against Trump. If you’d asked me six months ago, I’d have said Garland would not do so, for fear of dividing the nation even more deeply. Now, I believe he will.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

It's Scam Season

 Especially for insurance companies that sell Medicare Advantage plans that line their pockets.

 insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter warns that it’s because the only “advantage” to these HMO-style networked plans is for the insurers.

Oh, yes. Susie Madrak has more at Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Avoiding Financial Crises

 On the recent Nobel Prize award for economics, Paul Krugman has some good thoughts on avoiding financial abysses.

What can be done to mitigate the risk of self-fulfilling panic? As Diamond and Dybvig noted, a government backstop — either deposit insurance, the willingness of the central bank to lend money to troubled banks or both — can short-circuit potential crises. Indeed, the mere knowledge that a backstop exists can often quell a bank run; no money need actually change hands.

But providing such a backstop raises the possibility of abuse; banks may take on undue risks because they know they’ll be bailed out if things go wrong. Case in point: the huge costs to taxpayers of bailing out irresponsible players during the savings and loans crisis in the 1980s. So banks need to be regulated as well as backstopped.

From an economic point of view, banking is any form of financial intermediation that offers people seemingly liquid assets while using their wealth to make illiquid investments.

This insight was dramatically validated in the 2008 financial crisis. Conventional banks were, for the most part, unaffected by the panic; there was no mass exodus from bank deposits. By the eve of the crisis, however, the financial system relied heavily on “shadow banking” — banklike activities that didn’t involve standard bank deposits. For example, many corporations had taken to parking their cash not in deposits but in “repo” — overnight loans using things like mortgage-backed securities as collateral. Such arrangements offered a higher yield than conventional deposits. But they had no safety net, which opened the door to an old-style bank run and financial panic.

a sort of meta point about the Diamond-Dybvig work: Once you’ve understood and acknowledged the possibility of self-fulfilling banking crises, you become aware that similar things can happen elsewhere.

Sure enough, when Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank at the time, finally did provide a backstop in 2012 — he said the magic words “whatever it takes,” implying that the bank would lend money to the troubled governments if necessary — the spreads collapsed and the crisis came to an end

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Key Indicators

We measure jobs, wages, and prices. The missing piece in profits.

If we measured corporate profits more often and more reliably, Americans might be getting a story about inflation centered not on workers’ power to get wage gains but on corporations’ power to get price gains. There might be far more discussion about what appear to be record profit margins and their effects on price increases across the land.

So rather than assume the Fed must hike interest rates to cool the economy by weakening workers’ purchasing power — lowering their wages and causing them to lose jobs — we might discuss ways to weaken corporations’ pricing power: such as windfall profits taxes, price controls, and tougher antitrust enforcement.

Never underestimate how certain measurements, issued regularly and reliably, frame the national debate. And always ask why these measures, and not others, are chosen.

Why create vulnerabilities?

The best way to protect from catastrophic storm losses is to not build valuable structures in vulnerable places. Our procedural incentives are sorely misplace.

Local emergency managers know all too well which places in their communities should not be built back after a storm. But they are rebuilt, because the federal government and states provide multiple incentives to rebuild rather than to relocate. The assumption is that taxpayers will always be there to back up private investment after even predictable natural hazards.

Microbes mine depleted oil wells

What to do with a depleted oil well? Turn it into a hydrogen factory.

Texan company Cemvita is promising clean hydrogen at less than US$1/kg, after testing a fascinating new technique in the lab and the field. The idea is to pump specially developed microbes into depleted oil wells, where they'll eat oil and excrete hydrogen.

So, it presumably stops up the top of the well, before pumping a heap of specially bred microbes down into its murky depths in a stream of recycled water. The microbes go to work, feasting, excreting and multiplying, and Cemvita captures the gases as they exit the top of the well, separating them into hydrogen for processing and sale, and carbon dioxide for sequestration. The company is able to send nutrients and inhibitors down into the well to keep things under control and moving in the right direction.

Humans Beat Robots

 The robotic and AI revolution takes a different path than expected. Rather than replacing humans, humans are gaining effectiveness and productivity from robotic and AI functionality.

“Will AI replace radiologists?” is “the wrong question.” Instead, he wrote, “The right answer is: Radiologists who use AI will replace radiologists who don’t.”

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Three myths used by the ultra-wealthy

 Robert Reich breaks it down

  1. The first is trickle-down economics. 
  2. The second myth is the “free market.” 
  3. The third myth is that they’re superior human beings 
For over forty years, as wealth at the top has soared, almost nothing has trickled down. Adjusted for inflation, the median wage today is barely higher than it was four decades ago. In reality, the super-wealthy don’t create jobs or raise wages. Jobs are created when average working people earn enough money to buy all the goods and services they produce, forcing companies to hire more people and pay them higher wages.

The market can induce great feats of invention and entrepreneurialism with lures of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars — not billions. And as to the rest of us succumbing to labor-replacing globalization and labor-saving technologies, no other advanced nation has nearly the degree of inequality found in the United States, yet all these nations have been exposed to the same forces of globalization and technological change. 
In reality, the ultra-wealthy have rigged the so-called “free market” in America for their own benefit.

Six of the 10 wealthiest Americans alive today are heirs to fortunes passed on to them by wealthy ancestors.
Others had the advantages that come with wealthy parents. Jeff Bezos’ garage-based start was funded by a quarter-million dollar investment from his parents. Bill Gates’s mother used her business connections to help land a software deal with IBM that made Microsoft.
Elon Musk came from a family that reportedly owned shares of an emerald mine in Southern Africa.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

One Solution Could Help

 According to Sam Bowman & John Myers & Ben Southwood fixing the housing problem could fix lots of other things with which people struggle.

“Try listing every problem the Western world has at the moment,” they wrote. From Covid to slow economic growth to climate change to falling fertility, they all had one root cause in common: “A shortage of housing: too few homes being built where people want to live.”


Their argument was as simple as it was true: So long as housing supply remains constrained in the most economically productive cities in the US, so would the country's potential. Whatever else the US wanted to do — solve climate change, reduce economic inequality, make it easier for people to have as many children as they wanted — fixing the long-running housing problem had to come first. Everything else was just hot air.

Election Deniers in office

 Robert Reich gets to the meat of it.

The commitment to be bound by the results of an election is the most important commitment in a democracy. It is also the most important qualification for public office. It is the equivalent of an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Candidates who refuse to commit to being bound by the results of elections should be presumed disqualified to hold public office.

Monday, September 12, 2022

How to argue

 These are some tips from the debate experts.

First, know when to engage. Arguments, Seo reminds us, are “easy to start and hard to end.” For a dispute to go well, it should be real, important and specific. You need to have a point to make, not just an emotional conflict or complaint to air. If someone has hurt you, figure out why; that becomes a real basis for argument.

Next, pause to consider how important that point is and whether it’s worth arguing over. Finally, stick to the specific dispute at hand so that the argument doesn’t expand or spiral. If the disagreement really is over the dishwasher (and look, there’s often cause), don’t let it become a referendum on your marriage.

know what it is you’re arguing about. To begin, determine the fact, judgment or prescription that you would like someone else to accept. Let’s say it’s “Jen is a team player.” In order to make that claim, add the word “because” and give your reason (“because she involves everyone in the department”). From there, you offer substantiation and evidence to back it up. (“She always goes around the room.” “She checks in with her crew weekly.”) That’s making your case.

Importantly, showing how someone else is wrong isn’t the same thing as being correct yourself. In debate, tearing down the other team doesn’t necessarily prove your team is in the right, nor is it likely to persuade anyone who didn’t agree with you in the first place. “No amount of no is going to get you to yes,” one of Seo’s coaches once told him.

Finally, never let a bully dictate the terms of debate. If faced with a brawler — someone whose aim is, as Seo puts it, “not to persuade but to silence, marginalize and break the will of their opponents” — your only hope is to restore the structure of the debate. In other words, see above.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Disinformation Inoculation

Short animations giving viewers a taste of the tactics behind misinformation can help to "inoculate" people against harmful content on social media when deployed in YouTube's advert slot, according to a major online experiment led by the University of Cambridge.

This "pre-bunking" strategy pre-emptively exposes people to tropes at the root of malicious propaganda, so they can better identify online falsehoods regardless of subject matter.

The findings, published in Science Advances, come from seven experiments involving a total of almost 30,000 participants -- including the first "real world field study" of inoculation theory on a social media platform -- and show a single viewing of a film clip increases awareness of misinformation.

The videos introduce concepts from the "misinformation playbook," illustrated with relatable examples from film and TV such as Family Guy or, in the case of false dichotomies, Star Wars ("Only a Sith deals in absolutes").

Lead author Dr Jon Roozenbeek from Cambridge's SDML describes the team's videos as "source agnostic," avoiding biases people have about where information is from, and how it chimes -- or not -- with what they already believe.

"Our interventions make no claims about what is true or a fact, which is often disputed. They are effective for anyone who does not appreciate being manipulated," he said.

"The inoculation effect was consistent across liberals and conservatives. It worked for people with different levels of education, and different personality types. This is the basis of a general inoculation against misinformation."

"We've shown that video ads as a delivery method of prebunking messages can be used to reach millions of people, potentially before harmful narratives take hold," Goldberg said.

"Fact-checkers can only rebut a fraction of the falsehoods circulating online. We need to teach people to recognise the misinformation playbook, so they understand when they are being misled."

Researchers say that such a recognition increase could be game changing if dramatically scaled up across social platforms -- something that would be cheap to do. The average cost for each view of significant length was the tiny sum of US$0.05.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Forever Just Got Shorter

 A team of scientists has found a cheap, effective way to destroy so-called forever chemicals, a group of compounds that pose a global threat to human health.

At the end of a PFAS molecule’s carbon-fluorine chain, it is capped by a cluster of other atoms. Many types of PFAS molecules have heads made of a carbon atom connected to a pair of oxygen atoms, for example.

Dr. Dichtel came across a study in which chemists at the University of Alberta found an easy way to pry carbon-oxygen heads off other chains. He suggested to his graduate student, Brittany Trang, that she give it a try on PFAS molecules.

Dr. Trang was skeptical. She had tried to pry off carbon-oxygen heads from PFAS molecules for months without any luck. According to the Alberta recipe, all she’d need to do was mix PFAS with a common solvent called dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, and bring it to a boil.

“I didn’t want to try it initially because I thought it was too simple,” Dr. Trang said. “If this happens, people would have known this already.”

An older grad student advised her to give it a shot. To her surprise, the carbon-oxygn head fell off.

It appears that DMSO makes the head fragile by altering the electric field around the PFAS molecule, and without the head, the bonds between the carbon atoms and the fluorine atoms become weak as well. “This oddly simple method worked,” said Dr. Trang, who finished her Ph.D. last month and is now a journalist.

she started testing a number of chemicals until she found one that worked. It was sodium hydroxide, the chemical in lye.

When she heated the mixture to temperatures between about 175 degrees to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, most of the PFAS molecules broke down in a matter of hours. Within days, the remaining fluorine-bearing byproducts broke down into harmless molecules as well.

Dr. Dichtel and his colleagues are now investigating how to scale up their method to handle large amounts of PFAS chemicals. They’re also looking at other types of PFAS molecules with different heads to see if they can pry those off as well.

“It’s a huge challenge, but it’s in our grasp,” he said.