Archive for the ‘Public Policy’ Category

They say Covid-19 is here to stay

June 11, 2021

The economic incentive of the drug companies is to reduce Covid-19 to a continuing low level threat, both in the USA and abroad, and to have a monopoly on the means of controlling it.

The model is the Great Influenza of 1918.  The ‘flu never went away, it just became something we learned to live with, and people like me get a ‘flu shot every year.

The drug companies seem to be getting their wish.  But their problem is that they do not have a monopoly on Covid-19 treatments.

There is ivermectin. There are other treatments.  There are the vaccines developed by Russia and China.

The U.S. government claims the Russian and Chinese vaccines are ineffective.  Maybe they are, I can’t judge, but an imperfect cure that is available and affordable is better than a perfect cure that you can’t get or can’t afford.

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The pushback against ivermectin for covid

June 9, 2021

Ivermectin is a well-known anti-parasite drug, cheap to make and proven to be safe, that a lot of physicians think is effective against Covid-19.

Several states in India tried it out.  New Covid-19 cases dropped dramatically.

Ivermectin results in three Indian states, vs. one where it was banned

The reaction of India’s public health agency?  Astonishingly, following the guidance of the World Health Organization, they dropped invermectin from a list of recommended treatments.

Physicians in India are still free to prescribe invermectin, but the only treatments with the official seal of approval are the expensive vaccines made by major drug companies, all still in short supply in India. 

I don’t see how this decision benefits anyone except the drug companies themselves.

Nick Corbishley, posting on the Naked Capitalism blog, tells the story:

India’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has executed a policy reversal that could have massive implications for the battle against covid-19, not only in India but around the world. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, are at providing stake.

Providing no explanation whatsoever, the DGHS has overhauled its COVID-19 treatment guidelines and removed almost all of the repurposed medicines it had previously recommended for treating asymptomatic and mild cases.

They include the antibiotic doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine zinc, ivermectin and even multivitamins. The only medicines that are still recommended for early treatment are cold medicines, antipyretics such as paracetamol and inhaled budesonide.

“No other covid-specific medication [is] required,” say the new guidelines, which also discourage practitioners from prescribing unnecessary tests such as CT scans.  [snip]

The decision to remove ivermectin, multivitamins and zinc from the treatment guidelines is hard to comprehend given the current state of play in India — unless one assumes foul play.

After suffering one of the worst covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, India is not just flattening the curve, it is crushing it.

And the widespread use of ivermectin, a potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory with an excellent safety profile, appears to have played an instrumental role.  [snip]

Other countries in the region have already taken notice. Indonesia just approved the use of ivermectin in Kudus, a local contagion hotspot.

This is the last thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical companies whose interests it broadly represents want.

As such, it was no surprise that WHO was delighted with the DGHS’ policy reversal. “Evidence based guidelines from @mohfw DGHS – simple, rational and clear guidance for physicians,” tweeted WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, of Indian descent. “Should be translated and disseminated in all Indian languages.”  [snip]

It’s worth noting that while India’s DGHS has dumped most cheap off-patent treatment options against Covid, including even multivitamins, more expensive patented medicines continue to get the green light.

They include Gilead’s prohibitively expensive antiviral Remdesivir, which DGHS continues to recommend for “select moderate/ severe hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” even though “it is only an experimental drug with potential to harm.” It has also authoriszed the use of the anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, which costs hundreds of dollars a dose.

Source: Naked Capitalism.

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COVID and “the crime of the century”

June 4, 2021

In this eye-opening video, Dr. Brett Weinstein, a biologist, interviews Dr. Pierre Kory, a physician, about the pandemic, the care of Covid-19 patients and the amazing recent of Ivermectin, for his Dark Horse podcast.

Ivermectin has been shown to be effective in both preventing and treating Covid-19, and also in treating the inflammation caused by the immune system’s response to the virus. 

It is cheap to make, and not restricted by anybody’s patent.  It has been in use for more than 30 years as a treatment for bacterial parasites, and is proven safe—unlike the new vaccines, whose long-term effects are unknown. 

Yet its use is being suppressed here in the United States.  Physicians are discouraged from even talking about it, and the record of Kory’s testimony before Congress was banned from YouTube. 

There is a race on to immunize the world’s population before the coronavirus mutates into a form that can resist both vaccines and Ivermectin.

There aren’t enough available vaccines to immunize the world’s population within the next year or two.  Preventing the use of Ivermectin could cost hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe millions.  Many lives have already been needlessly lost.

That’s why Weinstein calls suppression of ivermectin “the crime of the century.”

Kory is a member of the FLCCC—the Front-Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  This is a group of physicians who joined together to do what the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health should have been doing, which was to investigate ways to better treat the virus.

The video runs for two and a half hours, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen.  Unfortunately, no transcript is available, so I’ll hit highlights.

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Why don’t we Americans demand what we want?

June 3, 2021

A short answer is that not enough of us are like Bill Harvey and Dennis Kucinich.

A longer answer is that our political process has induced a state of learned helplessness among American voters.

Our leaders are constantly promising “hope and change,” and then telling us that, regrettably, it wasn’t really possible.

We saw this with the Obama administration. We are seeing the beginnings of this with the Biden administration.

So over time we become conditioned to the idea that universal health care, or a minimum wage that is a living wage, or anything else that would make life better, are impossible dreams.

Why can’t we Americans get what we want?

June 2, 2021

Here are some bits of information I pulled from a post by a blogger named Benjamin David Steele.

###

Columbia law Professor Tim Wu wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy.

The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support.

Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws.

Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

The list goes on.

Michael Moore included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

Here are the facts.

The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]

They want equal pay for women, [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]

  • stronger environmental laws, [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
  • legalized marijuana, [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
  • a raise in the minimum wage, [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
  • Medicare for all, [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
  • tuition-free college, [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
  • free child care, [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
  • support for labor unions, [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
  • a cut in the military budget, [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
  • break up the big banks. [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]

Most Americans don’t even own a gun. [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]

And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S. [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]

And on and on and on.

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Court rules against SBA minority preferences

May 28, 2021

The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled that a provision of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, designed to grant preferences to minority-owned small-restaurant owners for COVID relief, are unconstitutional

The specific provision struck down was part of the law’s $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program for small, privately owned restaurants struggling to meet payroll and rent due to the COVID crisis.

The law grants priority status in filing for aid to restaurants that have 51 percent ownership or more by women, veterans and specific racial and ethnic groups. 

The court ruled that the COVID relief program violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws, because it effectively requires struggling businesses owned by white males or certain other ethnicities and nationalities to go to the back of the line.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit conservative law firm, on behalf of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee. 

The bar is co-owned by Antonio Vitolo, who is white, and his wife, who is Hispanic.  If the wife’s ownership had been 51 percent instead of 50 percent, they would have qualified for preference. 

The decision by the three-judge panel was 2 to 1.  Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who’s African-American, filed a dissenting opinion.  She said the record shows that minority groups have lagged behind in getting access to SBA loans and the law is a reasonable remedy.

“The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which centuries of intentional discrimination and oppression of racial minorities have been eradicated,” she wrote. “The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which the COVID-19 pandemic did not exacerbate the disparities enabled by those centuries of discrimination.”

Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, who is the son of an Asian Indian immigrant, said there are race-neutral remedies for racial disparities.  If minorities had trouble getting access to capital or credit during the pandemic, then give preferences to all who have been denied capital or credit, he wrote.  Or simply give priority to all who have not yet received coronavirus relief funds.

Judge Donald said this would be cumbersome to administer, and would delay getting needed funds to small businesses who need it most.

Judge Thapar also criticized the definition of which minority groups are eligible and which aren’t. 

As Glenn Greenwald noted, every minority group in the chart below is eligible for preferences under SBA rules, even though many are doing better than the average American or average white American.  Among those excluded are refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who most certainly have a lot of problems.

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald. Click to enlarge.

I think Judge Thapar’s ruling is right and just, and has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court.  If it is, conservative judges will have done President Biden a political favor by taking this divisive issue off the table for the 2022 elections.

LINKS

Appellate Court Strikes Down Racial and Gender Preferences in Biden’s COVID Relief Law by Glenn Greenwald.

Decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Antonia Vitolo and Jake’s Bar & Grill vs. Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

The limits to growth

May 28, 2021

Stein’s Law: If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

I’ve completed a series of posts about China’s technological and economic progress, and how the United States may be falling behind.

The problem with framing things in this way is that, in the long run, there are limits to economic growth and someday the race will have to come to an end.

So maybe, instead of asking how we Americans can avoid being overtaken and left behind by the Chinese, I should have been asking how to disconnect from a economic system that requires ever-increasing consumption and create one based on sustainability and security.

Can we disconnect from an economic system that requires ever-increasing consumption and create one based on sustainability and security?

Even though I am not particularly extravagant by American standards, a sustainable world would require a greater degree of austerity than I have ever experienced.

I am one of the lucky ones.  Millions of Americans live in dire poverty even by world standards and millions more live in a precarious state where they could sink into dire poverty at any moment.  How could they be expected to embrace austerity.

Any political program based on shared sacrifice because “we’re all in this together” requires a certain basic economic justice in which there is no gross exploitation, and a certain economic security in which nobody has to fear being without food, shelter or medical care.

This would only be a starting point, and we Americans are a long way from this starting point.  And time is running out.

I think the pandemic, severe storms, wildfires and other emergencies of the past few years are just the beginning.

We as a nation are not coping well with these emergencies.  People on the left and right are losing confidence in our governing institutions with good reason.

I hope for reform that will create a better-functioning government and a greater degree of social justice, and then it will be possible to tackle the long-range issues. 

Of course none of this can be accomplished unless we bring a stop to the forever wars.

A long, complicated and difficult agenda!

But the alternative is a slow decline, followed by a sudden collapse, followed by something else.

The something else might resemble Bolshevism or fascism, evolving into something resembling ancient despotism or medieval feudalism. 

Ideally, the something else could be radically decentralized democracy, with communities providing for most of their own basic needs.

Or maybe something good will happen that I can’t even conceive of.  One can hope.

I admit I don’t have any personal plan for dealing with what I foresee except to continue to enjoy my pleasant life and hope that the crisis doesn’t happen during my lifetime.  (I’m 84.) 

I do not act on what I think I know.  Do not follow my example.

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Ivermectin, an ignored Covid miracle drug

May 24, 2021

Invermectin is an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory drug that is cheap, effective against COVID-19 and already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It has been approved for use in 20 countries, including India, Brazil and Mexico.

Yet the World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not recommend it.  Many American physicians refuse to prescribe it, including some cases in which patients are dying.

News about it has been suppressed.  Even announcements by health ministries of Brazil and Slovakia have been canceled by social media, as has a YouTube video of testimony of Dr. Pierre Kory, a leading Ivermectin expert, before a congressional committee.

I learned about Ivermectin’s through a link on the Naked Capitalism web log to an article by a journalist named Michael Capuzzo.

I’m not a physician or medical expert, but the evidence presented by Capuzzo in his article, by Dr. Kory in his testimony, and by a team of physicians in a peer-reviewed article is so strong I can’t see how it can be refuted.

Why the opposition to use of this drug?   Nick Corbishley, writing for Naked Capitalism, suggested three possible reasons.

# As a generic, ivermectin is cheap and widely available, which means there would be a lot less money to be made by Big Pharma if it became the go-to medicine against covid.

# Other pharmaceutical companies are developing their own novel treatments for Covid-19 which would have to compete directly with ivermectin. They include ivermectin’s original manufacturer, Merck, which has an antiviral compound, molnupiravir, in Phase 3 clinical trials for COVID-19.  That might explain the company’s recent statement claiming that there is “no scientific basis whatsoever for a potential therapeutic effect of ivermectin against COVID-19.”  The company also flagged up “a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”  Despite its obvious conflict of interest, Merck’s objections were recently cited by WHO in a statement aimed at browbeating India’s government into withdrawing its approval of ivermectin.

# If approved as a covid-19 treatment, ivermectin could even threaten the emergency use authorization granted to covid-19 vaccines. One of the basic conditions for the emergency use authorization granted to the vaccines currently being used against covid is that there are no alternative treatments available for the disease. As such, if ivermectin or some other promising medicine such as fluvoxamine were approved as an effective early treatment for Covid-19, the vaccines could be stripped of authorization.

Source: naked capitalism

I can think of an additional reason: the tribal nature of politics these days.  President Donald Trump criticized the WHO and CDC and speculated about unconventional therapies for COVID-19.  So anybody who is skeptical about WHO and CDC recommendations supposedly is an ignoramus who doesn’t “believe the science.”

LINKS

‘I Don’t Know of a Bigger Story in the World’ Right Now Than Ivermectin by Nick Corbishley for Naked Capitalism.

The Drug That Cracked Covid by Michael Capuzzo for Mountain Home.  It’s a real commentary on things that this article was published in a obscure regional magazine rather than the New York Times or The Atlantic.

Testimony of Pierre Kory, M.D., on Dec. 8, 2020, before the Homeland Security Committee on early treatment of COVID-19.

Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19 by Drs. Paul Marik, Pierre Kory, Joseph Varon, Gianfranco Umberto Meduri, Jose Iglesias and five others for the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  These guys are heroes.

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The case for economic nationalism

May 11, 2021

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson often points out that the United States, unlike other rich nations, has never had a labor party—a political party dedicated to the cause of organized labor.

Instead, Ferguson says, the conflict of political parties in the USA is a conflict of business interests—protectionism vs. free trade, tight money vs. low interest rates, public works vs. low taxes and so on.

That’s not to say that wage earners have no stake in the outcome of elections. Some business interests are more favorable, or less unfavorable, to working people than others.

It is just that no political party or political faction gets far without the backing of some business interest. Labor unions reached the height of their political power during the New Deal, but even in that era, they were only one seat at the table along with others, such as the oil industry (then aligned with Democrats), the real estate industry and so on.

Bernie Sanders tried and failed to make the Democratic Party into a labor party. Now Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio hope to win the allegiance of working people through a political program called “national conservatism.”

It is basically the program of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and William McKinley.  If you squint your eyes, it also includes much that Donald Trump talked about doing.

The idea is to concentrate on rebuilding American industry, which of course would be good for manufacturers and investors but also for working people, and not just factory workers.

The elements of such a program would include:

  1. Public-private partnerships to improve technology and productivity.
  2. Use of tariffs to protect key American industries, but also maintain access to key raw materials.
  3. Rejection of trade treaties or international institutions that limit national economic sovereignty
  4. A strong focus on competing with China.
  5. A massive public infrastructure program to rebuild and maintain roads, bridges, harbors, airports, railroads, dams and levees, the electrical grid and water and sewerage systems
  6. Investment in scientific research.
  7. An end to regime change wars and reduction in military spending.
  8. An end to weaponized economic sanctions
  9. Control of unauthorized immigration.
  10. Support for public education, with an emphasis on vocational training and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  11. Tax credits as an alternative to welfare programs.

What is left out?  Stronger labor unions.  A inflation-adjusted minimum living wage.  Reductions in energy use and consumption to fight climate change.

Politically, this is a more feasible program than the Green New Deal.  It probably would be better than what we have now.

In particular, I think anyone who believes in democratic governance has to be a nationalist to some extent, because, at the present moment in history, national governments are the highest level of institutions over which voters have any influence.

I think the world needs more, rather than less, international cooperation, but that’s different from having the world run by the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and global corporations.

Would economic nationalism solve our problems?  No, not by a long shot.  But it could be a step in the right direction. 

LINKS

Rebooting the American System on American Compass, a symposium including essays by Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.

The Bully Platform , a review of Josh Hawley’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt for American Compass.

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COVID-19 links and comments: May 8, 2021

May 8, 2021

Click to enlarge. Source: ScienceDirect

Why DId It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid? by Zeynep Tufekci for The New York Times.  The importance of airborne transmission of the virus, rather than droplets, has been known for many months, but the WHO and CDC have been slow to admit it.

If the importance of aerosol transmission had been accepted early, we would have been told from the beginning that it was much safer outdoors, where these small particles disperse more easily, as long as you avoid close, prolonged contact with others.  We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary.  Instead of blanket rules on gatherings, we would have targeted conditions that can produce superspreading events: people in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if engaged over time in activities that increase aerosol production, like shouting and singing.  We would have started using masks more quickly, and we would have paid more attention to their fit, too.  And we would have been less obsessed with cleaning surfaces. 

Our mitigations would have been much more effective, sparing us a great deal of suffering and anxiety.

The difference between droplets and aerosols is like the difference between raindrops and fog.  Droplets fall to the ground and sick to surfaces.  Aerosols float in the air indefinitely. 

If you’re out of doors, and not in a tightly-packed crowd, you’re not in much danger from aerosols.  But if you’re in a poorly ventilated space for a long period of time, you’re going to breathe the same air as other people in that space, no matter how far apart you are.

This makes a big difference in how you protect yourself from the virus.  For example, masks are important indoors.  Outdoors, not so much.

To see this misunderstanding in action, look at what’s still happening throughout the world. In India, where hospitals have run out of supplemental oxygen and people are dying in the streets, money is being spent on fleets of drones to spray anti-coronavirus disinfectant in outdoor spaces.  Parks, beaches and outdoor areas keep getting closed around the world.  This year and last, organizers canceled outdoor events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.  Cambodian customs officials advised spraying disinfectant outside vehicles imported from India.  The examples are many.

Meanwhile, many countries allowed their indoor workplaces to open but with inadequate aerosol protections.  There was no attention to ventilation, installing air filters as necessary or even opening windows when possible, more to having people just distancing three or six feet, sometimes not requiring masks beyond that distance, or spending money on hard plastic barriers, which may be useless at best.  (Just this week, President Biden visited a school where students were sitting behind plastic shields.) 

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Adam Tooze on the Biden administration

April 30, 2021

For some Joe Biden has already exceeded expectations. For others his economic program is nowhere near enough to address the climate crisis and American decline.  While his Covid relief package has seen billions dispensed immediately, the Jobs Plan proposes to invest $35 billion in green R&D over eight years – less than Americans spend annually on pet food. 

So how radical is President Biden? Is there such a thing as ‘Bidenomics’?  And does the new President represent a break with the orthodoxy of Democrat predecessors such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

Discussing all those questions on the UK’s Downstream with Aaron Bastani is Adam Tooze, Professor at Columbia University.

He is the author of The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931; The Wages of Destruction: the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy and Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World —all outstanding books.

The video interview runs about an hour, which is long to watch something on a computer screen, but I think it is worth taking the time.  Tooze has a wide range of information, a powerful analytical mind and a sharp tongue.  He takes a global view rather than an American view.

All this makes him interesting.  He is, possibly, a little more inclined than I am to regard politics as a clash of opinions than a struggle for power or a conflict of interests.

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Biden my time – some links and comments

April 16, 2021

Here are some links to articles that I found of interest. Maybe you will, too.

Canción de Trump by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.

Sam Kriss is a British blogger, new to me, who wrote a hilarious but insightful takedown of the Trump administration, with a sideswipe at Joe Biden and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trench Warfare: notes on the 2020 election by Mike Davis for New Left Review.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

A detailed analysis of the vote shows only a little change from 2016.  The election hinged on a narrow margin of victory in a few key states – less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona and only 2.6 percent in Michigan.

Donald Trump, strangely enough, did best where COVID-19 was worst and unemployment was highest.  He probably has a rock solid 40 percent of the electorate behind him, and he is still a kingmaker in the Republican Party.

Barring some unlikely great achievement by President Joe Biden that will make voters’ lives noticeably better, the coming elections are likely to be a continuation of the back and forth struggle of the past 20 or 30 years. 

My Predictions for Biden’s Probably Truncated Presidency by Ted Rall.

Joe Biden faces extraordinary problems, and he is not an extraordinary statesman.  Ted Rall argues that he probably won’t complete his first term, for both health and political reasons.

Contrary to What Biden Said, U.S. Warfare in Afghanistan Is Set to Continue by Norman Solomon for Common Dreams.

The U.S. government announced a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but said assistance to Afghan national defense and security forces will continue.  This likely means continued bombing and missile attacks launched from outside Afghanistan, plus secret Special Operations forces, Pentagon contract forces and CIA operatives.

Taiwan—the Thucydides Trapper Who Cried Woof by ‘Gary Brecher’ for Radio War Nerd.

Threatening war with China over Taiwan is a bad idea.

Ukraine Redux—War, Russophobia and Pipelineistan by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Threatening war with Russia over Ukraine is a bad idea.

Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way the Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

Talk of social justice, feminism and racial diversity gives secret intelligence agencies and big corporations cover for a multitude of sins.

1619 Project lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones paid $25,000 for virtual lecture by Trévon Austin for the World Socialist Web Site. 

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, also has done very well for herself.

Biden infrastructure plan isn’t all that big

April 1, 2021

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion-dollar infrastructure plan isn’t all that big, when you consider that it’s going to be spread out over 10 years.

Biden himself proposed a $7 trillion-dollar plan while campaigning, as Krystal Ball noted on her TV show.  Bernie Sanders proposed $11 trillion. 

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has proposed $10 trillion.  Even Joe Manchin of West Virginia, possibly the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, suggested $4 trillion.

The President has limited himself by proposing to finance it on a pay-as-you-go basis.  Since infrastructure contributes to future economic growth, it makes sense to finance it by borrowing, the same as taking out a mortgage on a house or any other long-term investment.

Politically, there is little to gain by holding back.  Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would be just as opposed to it if it were $2.25 billion or $2.25 million.

There are a lot of good things in Biden’s plan.  It’s bigger and better than anything Presidents Trump or Obama tried to do.  But is it enough?  Is it a first step, or is it all there’s going to be?

LINKS

Ocasio-Cortez on Biden infrastructure plan: “Not nearly enough” by Dominick Mastrangelo for The Hill

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Is More Than That – But Does It Go Far Enough? by Kara Voght and Rebecca Leber for Mother Jones.

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Needs More Climate Spending by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic.

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Is No Green New Deal, Left Says by Zahra Hirji and Ryan Brooks for BuzzFeed News.

Biden’s New Deal and the Future of Human Capital by David Wallace-Wells for The New Yorker.  Hat tip to Steve from Texas.

Despotism or paralysis? Which is the problem?

March 16, 2021

Donald Trump never was a potential dictator, as so many Democrats and progressives feared. 

Rather he was part of a continuing a rear-guard action by conservatives and Republicans to thwart the will of the majority.

That’s the view of Corey Robin, a political scientist writing in the New Yorker.

Robin noted that Trump accomplished virtually none of his announced goals, not even when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

That’s because Republicans and conservatives are a minority, he said. 

The GOP failed to get a popular vote majority in four of the last five elections.  No conservative or right-wing group had the massive support that the Black Lives Matter protests did last year.  Religious conservatives such as Rod Dreher rightly note that they are losing the culture wars.

The problem, according to Robin, is that the U.S. Constitution gives right-wingers the power to thwart the will of the majority because of the undemocratic nature of the Senate, the Electoral College and the Supreme Court.  The result, he wrote, is paralysis.

There’s something to what he says, although our 18th-century Constitution did not prevent Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, or, for that matter, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, from enacting ambitious political programs. 

The Constitution is not preventing change now.  What’s holding back change is the reluctance of the Biden administration to keep its promises.  Nothing prevents the Democratic majority in the Senate from abolishing the filibuster, as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives did way back in 1888.

Nor does anything prevent the calling of a convention to rewrite the Constitution and ask for ratification by the voters.  But the ones calling for a new Constitutional convention are the Koch brothers and other conservatives.  Liberals and progressives generally fear what a new convention would come up with, and cling to the Constitution as it is.

Then, too, paralysis only in one direction.  Nothing holds back or limits appropriations for the military.  Nothing hold back war-making by the President.  Nothing holds back upper-bracket tax cuts or bailouts for big financial institutions.

Paralysis does not hold off dictatorship.  Rather people come to accept dictatorship as the only possible solution to paralysis.

Authoritarian governments in the 20th century have arisen in three ways.  Revolutionaries take power from weak ineffective governments.  The military takes power to prevent revolutions.  Pseudo-revolutionary movements take power with the silent consent of the military, the landowners and big business.

Trump antagonized the military, and was regarded by Wall Street as a loose cannon, so he never had a chance of becoming an authoritarian ruler.  He did do a lot of damage to the normal functioning of government, but that is a separate issue.

I think there is a strong possibility of some future crisis, in which some right-wing pseudo-populist could succeed where Trump failed.  But for now, there is no reason for the military or big-money donors to be dissatisfied with the Biden administration.

There is also such a thing as creeping authoritarianism, which I think is what we’ve got now.  I think the proposed “domestic war on terrorism” is a greater threat to what’s left of American freedom and democracy than anything proposed during the Trump administration.

Rulers of empires in decline all had broad powers to wage war and crush dissent, but they were paralyzed when it comes to reforming themselves.

LINKS

Trump and the Trapped Country by Corey Robin for The New Yorker.  “For years we debated whether Donald Trump would topple democracy.  But the threat continues to come from the system itself.”  I say it all depends on what you mean by “the system.”

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Will we have a K-shaped recovery?

March 3, 2021

A K-shaped recovery is when the holders of financial assets do very well, and wage-earners don’t.

The recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 was a K-shaped recovery.  The Obama administration bailed out the financiers who helped cause and deepen the recession, and left mortgage-holders to fend for themselves.  

The political result was a decline in the Democratic vote, which made possible Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.  During the pandemic recession of 2020, the response of both Democrats and Republicans was to bail out the financial institutions and Fortune 500 corporations, while giving very limited help to the unemployed, front-line workers and small-business owners.

Evidently President Biden and Democrats in Congress realize that the government needs to do more now than it did then.  That’s good.  But will they do enough?

Here’s what Matt Taibbi has to say:

This is a fascinating moment in American history. On the one hand, generations of elite-focused politics have left a tiny oligarchical minority not only in possession of massively increased wealth, but also political power. Since 2008, we’ve seen increased disparities in income, but also criminal justice outcomes, regulatory attention, access to tax loopholes, political influence (through decisions like Citizens United), vulnerability to surveillance, and rights to transparency, and, lately, speech. With the corporate-friendly Biden administration in office, there’s a clear opportunity for his backers to continue the K-shaped influence distribution if they wanted.

But we may be at the end of the era where even the most rapacious interests feel they can get away with such policies. Between the 2016 election of Trump, the near-nomination of Sanders in 2020, and widespread unrest on both the left and right, it sounds like the Washington consensus is inching toward the realization that they finally have to deliver something significant for ordinary people, if they want to keep their cushy DC sinecures, to say nothing of staying pitchfork-free.

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‘Economies of fail’ and the vaccine rollout

January 27, 2021

How Monopolists Slowed the Vaccine Rollout, and Small Business Speeded It Up by Matt Stoller for BIG.  “CVS and Walgreens Didn’t Deliver.  Small pharmacies did.”

The Biden governing coalition emerges

January 23, 2021

The Joe Biden administration represents a coming together of most of the power centers in American society.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee have the support of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the national press, the intelligence agencies, the Black Lives Matter movement, the liberal churches, academia and most self-described liberals and progressives.

[Added 1/24/2021]  I forget to mention key elements of the governing coalition—Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and Facebook, Google and Amazon.]

[Update 1/25/2021]  President Biden is really down on Mark Zuckerberg.  Maybe Facebook isn’t part of the governing coalition after all.

This is the culmination of what neoliberal Democrats such as Bill Clinton sought for decades, the displacement of the Repubican Party by the Democratic Party as the party of the establishment and the monied elite.

Last night I watched a good discussion of this by Thomas Frank with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper on the Useful Idiots program.  It’s well worth watching.

If the Biden administration can actually bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, and if it can bring the economic crisis under control, Biden could become the most beloved American leader since Eisenhower and the Democrats would make themselves a majority party for a long time to come.

In principle, there’s nothing in the nature of the Biden governing coalition to prevent this.  It is not to the interest of owners and managers of large corporations to see large numbers of their customers broke or dying.

But I don’t see any signs this will actually happen. We’ll see. 

I do see signs that the new governing coalition intends to crack down on dissent, both right-wing and left-wing.  To me, this is more alarming than the threat of any fanatic mass movement from below.

Where does this leave the Republicans? Their only choice is to combine opposition to what’s called political correctness and Woke-ness with a populist appeal to working people.

I think the populism of Republicans such as Senator Josh Hawley or Fox news commentator Tucker Carlson is mostly fake, like Donald Trump’s.

A political movement combining cultural conservatism with genuine populism would be powerful, but I don’t think it is likely. Again, we’ll see.

LINKS

Can President Joe Biden mend a torn America? by Thomas Frank for Le Monde diplomatique.  [Added 1/28/2021]  He says what I said, but much more eloquently and to the point.

The Next Neoliberal President by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny!

As Death Toll Tops 410,000, Biden Pursues “Wartime Effort” to Fight COVID, But Could More Be Done? an interview of Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, on Democracy Now!  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon is paid $31.5 million after decrying income inequality by Dominic Rushe for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to O).

US Companies Cut Off Donations to Republicans Who Rejected Biden Certification by Gregory Korte and Bill Allison for BLoomberg News.

We Need to Stabilize’: BIg Business Breaks With Republicans by David Gelles for The New York Times [Added 1/25/2021]

Zuckerberg’s Biden Problem by James Clayton for BBC News.  Maybe not a member of the governing coalition after all.  [Added 1/25/2021]

The Class Composition of the Capitol Rioters (First Cut) by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

The Organizational Capacity and Behavioral Characteristics of the Capitol Rioters (First Cut) by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.  This article and the preceding one are the most objective reports I’ve seen so far about who the Capitol rioters where and what they were up to.  Conclusion: They were paper tigers.

The Echo Chamber Era by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

The Moronic Firing of Will Wilkerson Illustrates Why Fear and Bad Faith Mob Demands Reign Supreme by Glenn Greenwald.

The Biden administration begins

January 20, 2021

Joe BIden is sworn in as President

Joe Biden would be a reasonably good President for a nation enjoying peace and prosperity.

He is a nice person who doesn’t want to upset anybody’s apple cart. Like Warren G. Harding a century ago, he represents the human desire for “a return to normalcy.”

His predecessor’s administration was one long series of self-created crises, until last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

I don’t know how well a Biden administration will deal with the pandemic, but, unlike Donald Trump, Biden won’t be actively against doing reasonable things (like masking) to deal with the crisis. 

He has said he’ll bring the United States back into the World Health Organization, mandate masks on federal property and interstate travel and push for a huge $1.9 trillion COVID relief package (which may or may not get through Congress).  He’ll extend restrictions on evictions and foreclosures and continue the pause in student loan payments.

This could be good.  But he is not going to push for any overhaul of the U.S. health insurance or public health systems.  And the restrictions on evictions, foreclosures and student loan payments are not sustainable long term.  BIden assumes a quick return to normal, which may not happen.

Biden, unlike Trump, is not actively opposed to action on climate change.  He will rejoin the Paris climate accords, push for a “climate world summit” and order the drawing-up of a plan for 100 percent clean energy and zero net emissions by the year 2050—that is, 30 years from now.

We Americans have made progress in reducing emissions.  But to accomplish the goals that Biden has set forth would require shutting down the coal, oil and natural gas industries, and the industries that burn these fossil fuels, and replacing them with new industries that provide just as many jobs and, hopefully, just as much business profit.

There is a name for such a transition.  It is called a Green New Deal.  It would be a big change, bigger than the original New Deal.  I don’t know if Biden would be up for so big a change or not.

Biden promised to end the “Muslim ban,” which restricts travel and immigration to the U.S. from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, plus five non-Muslim countries added in 2020.  But he has not to my knowledge said anything about ending military intervention in those countries, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions being made refugees.

The USA needs to end our forever wars if we are to regain our self-respect and the respect of the world.  But it would be no easy task.  A peace economy would mean shutting down a big part of the U.S. economy.  I don’t know whether Biden has even thought about this.

Lastly a large part of the U.S. population regards the present administration as illegitimate.  Biden has to deal with rioters and insurrectionists, while trying to unite the American people as a whole.

The new President faces challenges that would task the ability of an Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.  I don’t expect greatness of Joe Biden.  I expect him to be better than Donald Trump, which is a low bar.

LINKS

Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address.

What Joe Biden has promised to do on Day One and his first 100 days as president by Ed Erickson for CBS News.

Hard Times: Will America recover under Biden? by Andrew Cockburn for Harper’s magazine.

Biden’s American Rescue Plan and Its Opponents by Jack Rasmus.

The CDC’s Mission Impossible by “Yves Smith” for Naked Capitalism.  The pandemic crisis.

The New Domestic War on Terror Is Coming by Glenn Greenwald on Substack.

Image via Chicago Tribune.

How to fix the Electoral College

January 11, 2021

One of the most undemocratic features of the U.S. presidential elections is the Electoral College.

Americans vote not for candidates, but for electors.  The split in the electoral vote is often very different from the popular vote.  In 2000 and 2016, the winner of the popular vote lost in the Electoral College.

Each state chooses a number of electors equal to the number of its senators and representatives.  Representatives are apportioned according to population, but each state gets two senators.  A lot of small states with only one representative still have two senators, which means small states are over-represented.

A Constitutional amendment to fix the Electoral College is unlikely because it would require the votes of small states that benefit from the present setup.  So is a proposed interstate compact, in which states agree to cast their electoral votes for whoever won the popular vote.

But there is an alternate plan that would go a long way toward fixing the disparities in the electoral vote.

We can repeal the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which fixed the number of Representatives at 435, and then institute the Wyoming Rule (the smallest state population – Wyoming – gets one representative and all other states get a number of representatives equal to the number of “Wyomings” that their population contains).

The total number of reps in the US House increases from 435 to 573, which also affects the Electoral College. Wyoming still stays at one rep while the California delegation increase from 53 to 68. Blue states in general do much better.

By matching the number of reps to actual population a lot of the unfairness of the Electoral College is mitigated. The number of EC votes needed to win the White House increases from 270 to 339 and the new EC votes are mostly in Blue States.

An analysis of the Wyoming Rule on Wikipedia indicates that, if the Wyoming Rule had been in effect in 2000 and 2016, the outcome might have been the same.  It wouldn’t fix everything, but it would be a big improvement.

It also would make it easier for the Democrats to control the House of Representatives.  The one-state, one-representative rule, combined with a cap on total representatives, does create disparities in the number of people in each congressional district.

The new Congress could also grant statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

And it could tie all federal aid to states to an elimination of gerrymandering practices.  It could require congressional and statehouse districts to be apportioned by bi-partisan commissions.  The courts might overrule this one, but it’s worth a try.

LINKS

The Wyoming Rule on Wikipedia.

The Reapportionment Act of 1929 Explained on Everything Explained.

Fix the Electoral College by Increasing the House of Representatives by Kevin Baker for The Street.

What Happens Now? by Charles Stross on Charlie’s Diary.

Waiting for Biden

December 11, 2020

Trump’s Gone, So What’s Next for the Democrats? by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.  “The party needs to find another message besides ‘We are not Trump.’ “

The Biden Presidency: a New Beginning or a Fragile Interregnum? by Walden Bello for Foreign Policy in Focus.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)  “Hewing to its centrist instincts will be a disaster for the Biden administration.  The left must seize the initiative.”

The YouTube Ban Is Un-American, Wrong and Will Backfire by Matt Taibbi for TK News. “Silicon Valley couldn’t have designed a better way to further radicalize Trump voters.”

With News of Hunter Biden’s Criminal Probe, Recall the Media Outlets That Peddled the “Russian Disinformation” Lie by Glenn Greenwald.

Who the #Resistance Was Actually #Resisting These Past Four Years by Caitlin Johnstone.

Hope Lives: My Journey from Obama Loyalist to Advocating for Inclusive Justice by Teodose FIkremariam for Ghion Journal.

Neera Tanden is an usually bad appointment

December 1, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Neera Tanden to head the key Office of Management and Budget is terrible, and not just because she is a long-term advocate of cutting Social Security benefits.

LINKS

Joe Biden’s Neera Tanden Pick Is Even Worse Than You Thought by Walter Bragman for Jacobin.

With Tanden Choice, Democrats Stick It to Sanders Voters by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

Biden Appointee Neera Tanden Spread the Conspiracy Theory That Russian Hackers Changed Hillary’s 2016 Votes to Trump by Glenn Greenwald.

The coming pandemic economic crisis

November 30, 2020

Joe Biden will be sworn in as President of a nation in which millions are unable to pay their bills and most of the programs to help them will have expired.

There will be much that he can do, with or without the cooperation of the Senate.  But what he will do is another question.

Here’s the deal.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that—

  1. Nearly 26 million American adults—12 percent of all adults—reported they sometimes or often had difficulty in putting enough food on the table during the first week in November.  That’s triple the pre-pandemic percentage.
  2. An estimated 13.5 million adult renters—about one in five renters—were behind in their rent.
  3. Nearly 81 million adults—one in three—reported it was somewhat or very difficult to pay their usual bills.
  4. In September, some 31 million Americans met the official definition of “unemployed” or were part of a household of an unemployed person.

Bankruptcy filings are mounting, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Many owners of failed small businesses can’t even afford to file for bankruptcy.  State and local governments, meanwhile, are running out of money.

Most of the federal emergency programs to alleviate the crisis will expire at the end of the year.  The $600-a-week supplement to state unemployment insurance expired July 31.  The rest of the unemployment insurance supplement will expire at the end of the year.  An estimated 13.5 million Americans benefit from pandemic-related unemployment relief.

The Senate and House of Representatives are deadlocked  on how to extend emergency programs.

So will the moratorium on evictions decreed by the Centers for Disease Control.  That wasn’t sustainable as a permanent policy anyway.  Property owners who make a living from rental income need that income to maintain the properties and usually to pay for utilities.

And the moratorium on student debt payments decreed by President Trump also expires at the end of the year.  About 32 million Americans had loans eligible for suspended payments. 

Both the renters nor the student debtors still owe the full amount.  They got a temporary suspension of payments, not relief.

∞∞

Joe Biden is the first President to be take office in the middle of a national crisis in which one house of Congress is controlled by the opposition political party.  This limits his freedom of action, but progressives say existing law gives him a great deal of power.

The Higher Education Act gives the Secretary of Education authority to settle all publicly-held student debt and cancel all or part of it.  David Dayan of The American Prospect says that covers 95 percent of American student debt, which is up to $1.5 trillion.  This would help stimulate the economy by making it easier to get a home mortgage or an auto loan.

Biden also would have the authority to forgive up to $50,000 of student debt by executive order.

The Affordable Care Act authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a pilot program to cover medical expenses of anyone who suffers from an environmental health problem.   The coronavirus, Dayan said, is an environmental health problem.

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It’s still the economy, stupid

November 29, 2020

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were elected President primarily because of the economic failures of their predecessors.  Each of them faced a backlash in the midterm elections following their victories, at least partly because of their economic policies.

The same thing will happen to Joe Biden unless he can act decisively and quickly to meet the impeding economic and pandemic crises, according to political scientist Thomas Ferguson in an interview with podcaster Paul Jay. 

Clinton ran in 1992 on the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  But during his two years, he did little to improve the economy.  He pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had been part of the Reagan agenda and was opposed by organized labor.  He failed to get Congress to even consider a health insurance reform bill.  Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in 1994

Obama was elected during the 2008 recession.  His administration rescued failed banks, but did not fully implement a law to rescue victims of foreclosures.  Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

The decisive factor in the 2016 election was the voters, of all races, who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, but either voted for Trump and declined to vote at all in 2016. 

The notion that racism and sexism were the primary factors driving the Trump vote is not borne out by the data, he said.  Economics was very important too.  Trump’s promise to revitalize manufacturing and impose tariffs on imports gave him just enough votes to squeeze out a majority in key industrial states.

The rural working-class found their lives a little better under Trump and don’t believe the Democrats care about them.  Some of this was the momentum of the economic recovery that had begun under Obama.  Much of it, according to Ferguson, was due to the Federal Reserve System artificially pumping up the economy by holding down interest rates.

He said polls indicate Biden’s margin of victory came from voters in the income brackets between $100,000 and $200,000—not the ultra-rich, but not the wage-earning class, either—who are uncertain about their economic future.  Biden’s message was reassurance and a promise of economic stability.

Trump’s gains among Mexican-American voters along the Texas border were due to so many of them working in the oil and gas industry, he said; some of them found construction work in building Trump’s border wall.

The received wisdom is that big business leaders supported Biden over Trump because they thought Trump is too erratic.  Biden did get a lot of campaign contributions from Wall Street, but much of corporate America supported Trump—the oil and gas industry, the pharmaceutical industry and pollution-heavy industries such as pulp and paper making.

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The case against race reductionism

November 12, 2020

Why is there still such a big gap in income, wealth and status between white and black Americans?T

There are two prevailing schools of thought.  One holds that this is because whites are the way they are.  Another holds that this is because blacks are the way they are.

The first says that nothing will change until whites get rid of their prejudices.  The other holds that nothing will change until blacks get rid of their self-destructive behavior.

Historian Touré F. Reed, in his new book, TOWARD FREEDOM: The Case Against Race Reductionism, said this kind of thinking is guaranteed to keep things the way they are.

He said we Americans as a nation need to look at other reasons black Americans are lagging behind.  They include:

  • De-industrialization, financialization and offshoring of manufacturing jobs.
  • Factory automation.
  • The decline of labor unions.
  • Cutbacks in public service employment.

These things hurt a majority of Americans, but, for historical reasons, they hurt black Americans the most, Reed wrote.

None of this is changed by scolding liberal white people for their alleged racism or unemployed young black men for their alleged laziness, Reed said.

But why would anybody think differently?  That  is the topic of his book.  It is structured around the thinking of notable activists and thinkers, much like my friend Michael Brown’s new book on intellectuals.  It would make a good companion volume to Brown’s Hope & Scorn.  Whatever you think about the status of intellectuals, ideas do have consequences.

A. Phllip Randolph

Reed begins with A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and his protege, Bayard Rustin, a pacifist and civil rights activist affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

These two black men are a bridge between the 1930s and the 1960s.  They advocated civil rights for African-Americans and economic justice for the multi-racial working class for many decades.

They were supporters of the New Deal, even though many members of the Roosevelt administration were racists, and black Americans did not receive the full benefits to which they were entitled, especially in housing.                                             .

So did a substantial majority of African-American voters, because large numbers did benefit from the Wagner Act, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Social Security Act, the GI Bill and so on.

And the New Deal cleared the way for the civil rights revolution that was yet to come.

Bayard Rustin

The Committee for Industrial Organization – later the Congress of Industrial Organizations – organized low-wage workers, both black and white.  Many of its tactics, such as the sit-down strike and mass demonstrations, were later adopted by the civil rights movement.

Randolph, by the threat of a mass march on Washington, pressured President Roosevelt into adopting a Fair Employment Practices Code for war industry.  Although the federal FEPC was not enforced, many state governments adopted their own versions after the war and carried out its intent.

If there had not been a National Labor Relations Act, which set a precedent for regulating employer-employee relations, an FEPC might have been dismissed as unconstitutional, Reed noted.

Randolph and Rustin lived long enough to become mentors and supporters of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Like them, Rev. King regarded civil rights and labor rights as inseparable.  He spoke in union halls almost as often as he did in churches.   When Dr. King was imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, the United Auto Workers bailed him out.

The 1963 March on Washington was a march for both “jobs and justice.”  When King was murdered, he was in Memphis, Tenn., to support a strike of sanitation workers.  He was working on another protest demonstration, a Poor People’s Campaign—a “poor people’s,” not “black people’s,” campaign.

Reed thinks Randolph and Rustin got things right, and so do I.

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What Trump’s eviction moratorium really does

September 16, 2020