Noah Berlatsky

Saying that spending hurts the economy is toxic and false

“Biden and Democrats are responsible for our shrinking economy, and they’re only trying to make it worse,” Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, insisted at the end of July. Republicans have consistently claimed that Biden’s policy initiatives — covid aid, money to fight climate change, student loan forgiveness — have harmed the economy and increased inflation.

Fact is, the US economy has performed strongly under Joe Biden. That’s especially true when you compare it to European economies.

There are a number of possible reasons for the discrepancy. But one thing is certain: Democratic spending programs did not result in economic catastrophe. Republicans claim that government aid is useless and harms the economy. They have been proven wrong.

READ MORE: Far-right Republicans trying to disenfranchise 'lame duck' Democrats from vote on critical budget bill

The Times’ Paul Krugman summarizes the relatively strong position of the US in comparison to Europe. In the fourth quarter of 2021, US GDP was 3 percent higher than before the pandemic. Europe, in contrast, had just reached the level it was before the covid.

The US Treasury Department reports that US recovery was the fastest among the G7 countries, including Germany, Japan, the eurozone, France, Canada, the UK and Italy. Krugman said total labor compensation in the US was up 13.6 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s risen only 5.2 percent in Europe.

One result of greater US growth has been greater US inflation. US inflation was at 8.5 percent in July.

But US inflation has not been that out of line with other comparable economies. Annual inflation is around 5.9 percent in the EU. It’s been 7.6 percent in Canada, and around 10.1 percent in the UK.

READ MORE: Biden White House reaches a 'tentative' agreement to avoid national rail strike

Moreover, US inflation has been trending down while Europe, and particularly Germany, seem to be facing higher price increases.

So why has the US economy been doing so well?

One big reason is US natural resources. A major cause of economic turmoil globally has been the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent disruptions in energy imports.

The US is a net-importer of petroleum and natural gas, but it is also a major producer. High energy prices thus have complicated effects, raising prices but also creating growth in some economic sectors.

In comparison, many European countries are at the mercy of Russian energy. Russia has cut off supplies to punish the west for its aid to Ukraine. This has caused serious shocks in Europe.

Another factor is the very spending Republicans hate.

US spent more than any other country in the world on covid aid. Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was larger than the yearly economic output of Brazil and of most other countries in the world.

That’s because the US economy is huge.

But even as a percentage of GDP, US spending was impressive. All together, US spending on covid aid was about 27 percent of GDP. The only country that spent significantly more was Japan (at a whopping 54.9 percent of GDP, though some say those numbers are too high.)

Some other small countries, like Singapore, Slovenia and Guyana came close to the US. But the next major G7 country on the list is Germany, which spent only 20.32 percent of GDP on relief.

US spending had huge benefits. Direct payments like the expanded child tax credit caused the biggest drop in poverty in in 50 years.

The pandemic recession, which was the worst since 1945, also was the shortest. Unemployment peaked at 14.7 percent during the worst of the pandemic. It is currently at 3.7 percent.

The economy is complicated. It’s difficult to figure out exactly how policies affect outcomes in a world where crises and shocks don’t pause to give experts a chance to tabulate and compare.

But we can be certain about a few things.

The US spent a huge amount on aid — more than just about any other country in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. And the US recovered more quickly than just about all comparable countries.

The Republicans claimed that the opposite would happen.

They argued that more spending creates more inflation and worse economic outcomes. They insist that to get our economy back on track, we need to radically cut social programs and end aid.

They have been proven wrong.

Given the evidence, will Republicans reassess and stop trying to attack aid programs that saved us from a devastating recession?

No, obviously.

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein has pointed out that Republicans engage in a constant “war on budgeting.”

He means that the GOP doesn’t bother balancing revenues and outlays. Instead, they make-believe that programs they don’t like bust the budget while programs they do like are revenue neutral.

So massive tax cuts and defense spending have no budgetary effects, because “budget” just means “things the GOP likes.” On the other hand, even the smallest social spending creates unacceptable, “deficits” because the Republicans oppose social spending.

It’s fair to say the GOP is engaged not just in a war on budgeting, but in a war on economics, and for that matter on consensus reality.

When the GOP denounces Biden’s social spending, they don’t do so because they worry that it will harm the economy. They oppose spending because they hate helping people who aren’t wealthy. (Helping the wealthy, as with Trump’s tax cuts, is great, though.)

Republicans block social spending on ideological grounds while pretending to care about its economic effects. For example, they’ve successfully derailed further funds for covid and monkeypox relief.

The president seems to have acquiesced to this obstruction by claiming that the covid pandemic is over, even though 65,000 new cases and 400 deaths are being reported daily.

But if the economic data from the last few years shows us anything, it’s that spending in a crisis can help people and mitigate harm.

We are experiencing relative prosperity compared to Europe and compared to the aftermath of previous recessions. If we want that prosperity to continue, the government should be bold in using its power to preserve the health and welfare of the people.

READ MORE: Marjorie Taylor Greene says Congress being in session is 'always a problem for the American people'

Should Congress make Social Security permanent for children?

One of Joe Biden’s signature achievements was passing the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC). It pulled millions of children out of poverty.

Yet no sooner had the policy proven effective than it lapsed.

Checks stopped. Children fell back into poverty. The CTC quietly disappeared from the Democrats’ agenda, to be mentioned only quietly and in passing as the congressional elections approach.

READ MORE: 'Infiltrated': GOP senator angered that Democrats are allowed to participate in American life

All thanks to Republican opposition.

Why aren’t Democrats running on the Child Tax Credit the way they are running on social security and abortion rights?

Stanley Greenberg at the American Prospect argues that Democrats simply do not understand the importance of working-class issues.

There’s something to that. But I think that the Child Tax Credit has also suffered from its own efficiency. The CTC is in many ways the perfect wonky technocratic antipoverty solution, delivering targeted and direct aid to the neediest in the least wasteful way possible.

READ MORE: With minority rule, the GOP forgets how to win democratically

The elegance has muted opposition to an extent. But it’s also led proponents to underplay its transformative effects and to frame it as a limited program to fix social glitches, rather than as a sweeping assertion of children’s rights to flourish. Bolder claims, less focused demands, may make it easier to rally support for a vital program.

The Child Tax Credit has been around since 1997. As the name suggests, it gives working families with children a tax rebate.

But the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) expanded and transformed the program into what had been essentially a regular cash payment for low-income families with children.

It increased annual payments from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under 6 and to $3,000 between 6 and 17. It closed a loophole that shut out a third of children if their parents’ earnings were too low. Instead of a lump sum, it provided for monthly checks of $250 to $300 per child.

The results were stunning.

In the six months the program operated, child poverty plummeted by 30 percent. Food insufficiency fell by 26 percent. Each month, the program kept more than 3 million children out of poverty.

Researchers found that 91 percent of families spent the money on basics. There was no evidence that the money led people to quit their jobs or stop looking for work. Nonetheless, Republicans and conservative Democrats like US Senator Joe Manchin decided the payments were coddling the poor, and refused to renew them.

Predictable result: 3.7 million children fell back into poverty.

The evidence couldn’t be clearer.

The expanded CTC ensured food, shelter and basic needs for the poorest children in the United States. You’d think Democrats would tout such a successful program. But they’ve been oddly reticent.

As Greenberg points out, Biden has included the expanded CTC in speeches only sporadically. Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders has championed it. But even he and other progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have tended to emphasize it less than (also important!) programs like Medicare for All, student loan forgiveness and climate legislation.

They’re probably lukewarm about the CTC because the public has been. The policy has majority support, but it’s not overwhelming. A December 2021 poll on renewing the credit showed 47-42 percent in favor. That’s a lot less than the support for expanding Medicare, which some polls have found has a whopping 83% approval.

The Times speculated that the CTC might be unpopular because older voters aren’t interested in giving money to needy children, or because the cost (about $25 billion a year) is too high.

But student loan forgiveness also helps the young. The cost is somewhere around $500 billion over a decade. It polls better than the CTC, with 51-39 percent approve of student loan forgiveness.

So why hasn’t the expanded CTC caught the public imagination? Maybe the problem is not that the program is too generous and ambitious, but that it’s not generous and ambitious enough.

The expanded Child Tax Credit is a good example of a program rooted in what sociologist Elizabeth Popp Berman calls “the economic style” of policy thinking. In her book, Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Public Policy, published in June, Berman argues that this economic style has become entrenched in Washington over the last 60 years.

The economic style, Berman said, prioritizes efficiency and targeted interventions to help those in most need at the least cost. The expanded CTC sends money directly to low-income children. For every dollar spent, society gets back 84 cents in reduced healthcare and welfare costs. It’s a targeted, thrifty, efficient program.

The problem with efficiency, though, is that it fails to capture the imagination. Medicare for All proponents do say our current healthcare system is an expensive mess. But the real force is the insistence that health care is not a privilege, but a right. The climate movement is not just about more efficient, cleaner production. It’s about the imperative to preserve our planet for coming generations.

As Berman points out, the biggest social programs of the Roosevelt and Johnson administrations weren’t advertised to voters on the basis of efficiency. The New Deal and the War on Poverty were presented as necessary expenditures to assure equality and a social safety net for all. They promised to transform the nation, not make it more efficient. As Lyndon Johnson said:

QUOTE The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning. UNQUOTE

Compare that rhetoric to Biden’s antipoverty program — which is called the expanded Child Tax Credit. That is a name that evokes fiddling with the tax code, not equality in our time.

The thing is, though, that the expanded CTC is consistent with expanded dreams. Greenberg suggests the program could be a “Social Security for children” — a framing that could have appeal.

Giving direct payments to children in poverty isn’t really an efficient tax tweak. It’s a bold statement that society owes all its young people food, shelter and some measure of comfort.

In that context, the CTC, for all its success, looks like a start rather than an end point. Cutting child poverty by 30 percent is good. But if we can do that, shouldn’t the goal be to eliminate child poverty?

The program already provided a wealth of information about how to help kids. Establishing it permanently, with a commitment to increase funding, could pull all 11.6 million children in need — 16 percent of all children in the US — above the poverty line.

Passing transformative legislation is difficult. It can take years or decades. It’s possible that if it isn’t seen as transformative, Biden and the Democrats might be quietly able to slip the expanded Child Tax Credit into law with some bipartisan support.

But given the way that momentum for the program has stalled out, it might be worthwhile for activists and progressives to embrace, and emphasize, the Child Tax Credit’s latent radicalism.

What would the United States look like if we decided that children and their families had a right to abundance and liberty? We should make Social Security for children permanent and find out.

READ MORE: Workers’ rights in a constitution? An innovative state ballot proposal could offer a new path for labor

With minority rule, the GOP forgets how to win democratically

That the GOP has abandoned democracy is by now conventional wisdom. Less well-known – their policymaking is broken, too.

Consider the decision to attack Social Security in an election year.

About 176 million people pay Social Security, or payroll, taxes. Around 65 million — or 20 percent of the US population — receive benefits. If you’re a politician running in a congressional election, there are two big things that you need to understand about Social Security.

READ MORE: 'Lean into it': Jim Jordan encourages GOP candidates not to 'shy away' from banning women's rights

First, it has been incredibly effective in ending poverty.

Second, it is enormously popular.

Republicans against popular programs

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that Social Security keeps more people out of poverty than any other US program. It prevents 22 million from falling below the poverty line.

READ MORE: How Democrats can end the 'electoral scourge' and enact a 'ban on dark money' in primaries: columnist

With Social Security, about 9 percent of those over 65 in the United States are in poverty. Without it, 37.8 percent would be.

As you’d expect, such a program has a lot of support. A 2020 poll by the AARP found that 96 percent of Americans support it. Some 40 percent said that they’d rely on it substantially after retirement.

Americans are not just enthusiastic about Social Security. They want to protect it. Data for Progress found that 86 percent of voters are very or somewhat worried that Social Security benefits will be cut.

Given this overwhelming, bipartisan support, the extent to which people rely on it for themselves and their family, and the active anxiety about its continuation, it would be political suicide to oppose it. No politician should want to be on the wrong side of this issue.

And yet.

US Senator Rick Scott, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, came out with an “11 Point Plan to Rescue America” in March that proposes sunsetting all legislation every five years.

As the Democrats quickly pointed out (to the horror of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) this provision would effectively force Congress to vote to renew Social Security over and over.

Would a Republican-controlled House pass Social Security every five years indefinitely without reducing benefits? Would the Senate be able to overcome a filibuster to preserve the program?

Again, voters are already worried about the program’s safety.

Scott’s proposal seems designed to confirm their worst fears.

McConnell has insisted that Republicans have no plans to go after Social Security. And Fact Checkers have argued that Democrats have gone too far in saying Scott’s plan targets the program.

But other high-profile Republicans have now joined Scott.

Lies = orthodoxy

Arizona’s Blake Masters, the Republican candidate for the Senate, in June, said, “Maybe we should privatize Social Security. Right? Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it.”

US Senator Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, who is up for reelection this year, made similar remarks at a recent campaign stop, arguing that Social Security money should be invested in the stock market. He also argued that it should not be a mandatory program, but should be treated as “discretionary” spending, to be renewed every year.

That would give the likes of Ron Johnson, Blake Masters and Rick Scott a chance to alter or end Social Security every 12 months.

Democrats are leaping on these statements with glee, warning voters that the Republicans imperil Social Security. So why on earth have the Republicans chosen to punch themselves in the face?

There are ideological reasons.

The GOP generally hates any safety net that gives people some independence and allows them to make their own choices, rather than simply obeying the diktats of their corporate masters.

Wall Street donors love the idea of privatizing Social Security so that they can siphon profits from people’s retirement accounts.

But even if you want to impoverish the elderly for the enrichment of bankers in theory, in practice you’d try not to say that out loud.

Republicans, though, have become more and more oblivious to electoral incentives. That’s because they have become more and more opposed to, and disconnected from, the electoral process.

After Trump’s coup attempt, the Big Lie became Republican orthodoxy. The GOP now regularly and compulsively insists that free and fair elections that go against them were stolen or rigged.

Candidates who reject these conspiracy theories – and argue that democracy is valuable and should be supported – have gotten crushed in Republican primary after Republican primary.

No faith in elections

It’s not just 2020 conspiracy theories either.

Republicans increasingly eschew appeals to democracy.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, went on Fox to declare that if Donald Trump were prosecuted for illegally taking and holding classified documents, there would be “riots in the streets.”

Most commenters have focused, understandably, on the danger of appealing to political violence. But Graham’s statement is also telling in that he did not call on partisans to vote Democrats out.

You’d expect the Republicans to use every opportunity to tell partisans to vote. Instead, they’re telling supporters to take up arms.

This shift isn’t a fluke. It’s based in the on-the-ground reality that the Republicans are increasingly facing a hostile majority. Self-declared Democrats have outnumbered Republicans for at least 30 years.

Recent polling shows that Democratic identification is up by nine points, 49 percent to 40 percent, the worst numbers for the GOP since the Obama presidency. Republican unpopularity is why the party has won only a single presidential popular vote since 1988.

If elections were on an even playing field, Republicans would lose constantly, steadily and remorselessly. They remain a national force electorally due to structural advantages, like the Electoral College.

They’ve increased these advantages by aggressive gerrymandering, through voting restrictions and disenfranchisement.

Republicans mistrust elections and voters. It’s not a surprise that they have trouble responding intelligently to voter preferences.

The cost of minority rule

A recent preprint paper suggests that when parties deny the validity of election results, they cease to learn from elections. Rather than trying to match their positions to voter preferences, they simply insist that voters agree with them, and that elections are rigged.

The GOP has cut itself off from democracy, and therefore has cut itself off from democratic incentives, democratic accountability and democratic information. It pushes unpopular policies because it is losing the ability to listen to and respond to the popular will.

Republicans do still dimly sense when they’ve gone too far for voters. Masters has backtracked furiously, insisting that “in context” his remarks didn’t mean what they clearly meant. McConnell has been trying to convince anyone who will listen that the GOP supports Social Security though his conference keeps saying it doesn’t.

The GOP’s assault on democracy comes with costs.

The question is whether these costs are sufficient to reverse the GOP’s authoritarian spiral, in which the party embraces authoritarianism, loses support and then embraces even more authoritarian measures to make up the democratic deficit.

If the GOP loses badly in 2022 and 2024, it may abandon totalitarianism. It may even try winning elections democratically again.

Republicans may somehow manage to remain viable through ever more aggressive cheating and violence, though. If so, we can expect them to eliminate Social Security. And do much worse than that.

READ MORE: America is not a functioning democracy

The real reason Republicans hate Joe Biden’s college debt plan

Last week, Joe Biden announced executive action to forgive up to $20,000 of debt and end predatory interest for millions of Americans.

In response, many Republican leaders, like Tate Reeves, the governor of Mississippi, attacked gender studies majors:

Today Biden will announce that welders, plumbers, laborers, and other Mississippians (Black, white, Hispanic, etc.) [sic] will be forced to pay off the debts of Harvard doctorate degree gender studies majors living in California.

Governor Reeves and other Republican leaders pretend they are outraged on behalf of good, solid, responsible workers. As his tweet makes clear, they especially like to talk about welders.

READ MORE: 'Same people who voted for a tax cut': Kamala Harris rebukes GOP critics of student loan debt forgiveness

But the obsession with gender studies gives the game away.

Racial and class equity

Republicans are embracing the right-wing populist playbook that calls for undermining class solidarity by attacking marginalized people.

Contra all the Republican propaganda, student debt forgiveness is not a policy aimed at elites. People who are truly wealthy simply pay for college. They do not have to take on a great deal of debt.

READ MORE: Watch: Bernie Sanders tears into tax-cutting Republicans for 'squawking' over student debt relief

Biden’s program has an income cap; individual borrowers making $125,000 a year or more ($250,000 for households) are not eligible for relief. The Department of Education estimates that 90 percent of relief dollars will go to those making less than $75,000 a year.

Education debt hits Black families especially hard. Because of generations of racism and exploitation, Black people have far less generational wealth than white people. Their families cannot contribute much to college expenses. That means more debt.

Average debt for Black students four years after graduation is $53,000. That’s twice as much as white student debt.

This is why Biden targeted Pell Grant recipients for aid. Where most borrowers can receive up to $10,000 in relief, Pell grant recipients can receive $20,000. Black borrowers are especially reliant on Pell grants and twice as likely to have received them as white peers.

Pell grants are also specifically provided to low-income borrowers. Giving more relief to them advances racial equity and class equity.

“Financially responsible people”?

The program will cap monthly payments on federal loans at 5 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income (down from 10 percent). It raises the level of what is considered discretionary income. And it will stop interest from accruing as long as borrowers make payments.

The White House believes annual loan payments will be lowered by $1,000 or more for most borrowers. Low-income borrowers will be helped most.

Right-wing critics do not talk about these provisions. They don’t dig down and try to empirically figure out who is and isn’t helped.

Instead, they make sweeping vibes-based appeals to what-the-working-class-would-think-about-this.

Robby Soave of Reason, for example, insists that “Biden is saying fuck you to every financially responsible person in the country.”

Who are these financially responsible people?

Well, it turns out that they are defined less by responsible behavior and more by dog whistles that link certain identities to virtue.

Donald Trump, Jr., as usual, exemplifies the reactionary id.

On social media, the extremely wealthy heir to a real estate fortune posted that, “Student debt cancellation is a tax on the most responsible people in the country who either saved, didn’t take on debt for useless majors or went right to work.”

Useless majors like “gender studies.”

Social mobility is … bad

These attacks on foolish college students learning about gender fit in with the broader right-wing moral panic about supposedly liberal, intolerant and evil college campuses where “the woke mob” torments and suppresses brave virtuous conservative truth-tellers.

It’s the right that’s suppressing speech on campus.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing almost certainly unconstitutional laws to prevent Florida public university teachers from discussing racism in the classroom or from discussing the historical context of white privilege or white power.

Florida’s bills outlawing discussion of LGBT people in elementary school also has ominous repercussions for public universities.

Student loan relief will benefit teachers, nurses, social workers and the 39 million people who went to college and didn’t finish a degree.

But the right doesn’t associate higher education with normal, everyday working people, pursuing dreams and careers.

Instead the right sees higher education as a threat precisely because it offers the possibility of social mobility, and the promise that some of those at the bottom — like women or queer people who the right associates with gender studies — might gain stability or authority.

Republican deflection

Republicans defend social hierarchy. They embrace tax cuts for billionaires because billionaires are powerful. They oppose student debt forgiveness because it helps people who aren’t powerful.

But as long as we retain remnants of democracy, the optics of telling voters that you hate working people remains problematic. So, like right-wing populists throughout history, Republicans deflect.

They claim the issue is not billionaires vs. working people. Rather, the issue is hard-working welders — able-bodied, 93.9 percent men, 68.1 percent white — versus suspiciously feminine gender studies majors.

The issue is nefarious professors teaching critical race theory vs. virtuous white people.

Our current educational system uses massive debt to limit social mobility. It tells those of moderate means that they are immoral when they pursue their dreams.

They’re not supposed to think about gender or justice or philosophy or ethics. They’re supposed to work all the time for people like Donald Trump, Jr. and Tate Reeves.

Forgiving student debt is a step towards making the US a more equitable place where more people have the skills and knowledge they need not just to advance, but to question those in power.

That’s why Republicans hate it.

READ MORE: The war on drugs may make student loan relief 'impossible' for some Americans: report

The filibuster killed a $35 insulin price cap

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a sweeping achievement for Joe Biden and Democratic legislators. As I discussed earlier, the bill is the most consequential effort to address climate change in our history.

It controls prescription drug prices. It strengthens the IRS to address rich tax cheats. It makes our country more equitable. It’s a huge win.

The legislation also came with a few losses, though.

READ MORE: 'Yeah, we got rolled': Why GOP activists 'find it hard' to weaponize Biden’s climate bill

One of the biggest involved insulin. Democrats have long been trying to cap insulin prices. They finally did with the IRA – partially.

Their failure shows again that, despite a productive session, Congress is still dysfunctional. Not least because the filibuster, touted as a spur to bipartisanship, makes bipartisan legislating almost impossible even on overwhelmingly popular imperatives.

Cartel price fixing

In the US, about 8.4 million people use insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association. Some 1 million people with type 1 diabetes need regular access to insulin or they’ll die.

READ MORE: 'Sheer idiocy': Watch MSNBC anchor's brilliant debunking of GOP panic over 'dystopian' IRS

Three manufacturers make insulin: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. Efforts to bring generics to market have so far been unsuccessful.

That means that a handful of corporations has a stranglehold on the insulin market. As a result, they’ve used their cartel power to jack up prices. Insulin costs have more than tripled over the past 20 years.

Insulin prices in the US are 10 times higher in the US than anywhere else in the world. A RAND corporation study found that the US manufacturer price for a standard unit of insulin is $98.70. In Australia, it is $6.94. In Canada, it is $12. In the UK, $7.52.

When insulin prices are prohibitive, patients will sometimes try rationing, leading to dangerous medical complications, even death.

In the US, nearly 26 percent of insulin users say that they have rationed or foregone insulin in the last year due to financial constraints. In comparable countries, the number was 6.5 percent.

A policy star

Capping insulin prices is very popular.

About 87 percent of the public favors it, including 84 percent of Republicans. That is as close to unanimity as it is possible to get.

Activists and Democrats have been trying for years to cap insulin copays to take the financial burden off of diabetes patients.

Colorado became the first state to pass a cap (at $100) in 2019. Since then 21 other states have passed their own caps.

With the IRA, Democrats thought they’d finally gotten a federal cap. The Senate version of the bill capped insulin copays for Medicare Part D beneficiaries and private insurers at $35.

The Democrats had the votes. But the Senate parliamentarian ruled that regulating private insurers was not a budgetary measure.

Overruling the parliamentarian required 60 votes (a filibuster), but the IRA received no Republican votes. Surprisingly, though, a number of Republicans did cross party lines to try to uphold the price cap.

Moderate Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voted to keep the cap. That’s not that unusual.

But very conservative Republicans supported the bill, too. They were Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana, Cynthia Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Stifling bipartisanship

It’s surprising to see far-right southerners advocate for good health care policies. But their calculus is fairly straightforward. Insulin caps are very popular with Republicans. Eighty-four percent support it. In addition, many GOP voters are old. Many old people have diabetes.

John Kennedy advocated for a cap before the IRA. About 14.3 percent of Louisianans have diabetes — the fourth-highest rate in the US.

Mississippi’s rate, at 14.3 percent, is the third-highest. In 2020, it had the nation’s second-highest diabetes mortality rate, surpassed only by West Virginia. Hyde-Smith said that she supported the provision despite disliking the IRA as a whole. “I strongly opposed the Democrats’ tax and spend plan, but liked the chance of capping insulin costs even if that plan may not have been a perfect fix.”

In other words, she put partisanship aside to vote for a measure that her constituents supported, because she feels accountable to them.

That’s how bipartisan incentives are supposed to work.

Despite substantial Republican support, though, the insulin cap for private insurers didn’t pass. Three more GOP votes were needed.

The filibuster stifled bipartisan legislation.

Even Josh Hawley!

In theory, the filibuster encourages compromise. But the failure of legislation to cap insulin shows clearly that it does the opposite.

Because of supermajority requirements, Democrats were able to pass only the portions of the IRA that had no Republican support.

The commonsense, wildly popular measure that garnered support even from Josh Hawley (!) was struck down and didn’t become law.

Without the filibuster, individual senators might cross party lines on any number of issues, like insulin pricing, to make up a majority.

With the filibuster, Senators know that their votes probably won’t matter. So there’s a strong incentive to just stick with the party and let the opposition pass what they can through reconciliation.

Still broken

The Inflation Reduction Act will help an estimated 3.3 million Medicare patients afford insulin. But millions more will still struggle, despite the bipartisan consensus of Senators representing 32 of 50 states and 214 million people or roughly two-thirds of the population.

The IRA is an achievement worth celebrating. But a Congress that can’t pass wildly popular measures to protect chronically ill people from rapacious price gouging is a Congress that remains broken.

READ MORE: Biden energy secretary smacks down Fox News host for mansplaining how renewable energy works

Sorry, Mr. President: Adding cops will not reduce crime

Politicians love them some law-and-order policies. They seem to believe tough-on-crime rhetoric magically attracts that elusive center-independent voter. And sure enough, as the midterms approach, Joe Biden is promising to dump tons of cash on cops.

But the more-cops-yields-more-votes default is flawed.

But such spending doesn’t really reduce crime or increase safety. There are other ways to spend that can help people more.

READ MORE: Breonna Taylor and the Justice Department's original mandate | Opinion

Safer and happier people are more likely to keep the incumbent.

Spending on cops

Biden’s Safer America Plan proposes $35 billion in spending on law enforcement. That includes $13 billion over the next five years to hire 100,000 new cops. It also increases penalties for fentanyl use.

These proposals double down on long-failed policies.

READ MORE: Nebraska police subpoena teenager's social media for abortion prosecution

Bill Clinton promised to put 100,000 cops on the street in 1994.

It was a debacle.

Clinton never actually managed to get 100,000 cops in place. Instead, federal money ended up increasing staffing levels by between 69,000 to 84,600 officers, falling short of the goal by 15 to 31 percent.

Even this overstates the actual number of police hired.

Some of the increase would have happened anyway. New officers were simply paid for with federal dollars, instead of state ones.

In addition, there was little effort to put cops in areas of high crime. The biggest urban centers actually got only two-thirds as much money per crime as rural areas and suburbs with low crime rates.

Anyway, more cops doesn’t mean less crime.

As the Post’s Philip Bump explained, there’s virtually no correlation between spending on police and crime rates since the 1960s.

Bump notes that in 2006, the US spent $386 per person on police, and violent crime rates were 474 per 100,000 people. In 2010 spending bumped up to $412 per person and crime rates dropped to 405 violent crimes per 100,000. In 2012, spending fell back to $389 per person and crime rates … fell again to 399 per 100,000.

Biden has also proposed tougher penalties for fentanyl trafficking, harking back to the war on drugs. Criminalizing drugs was a failure. It drove mass incarceration. It didn’t reduce overdoses or addiction.

More than a hundred health and racial justice organizations signed a letter in October 2021 begging the president to respond to fentanyl overdoses as a public health problem with public health solutions rather than with more cops. He appears to have ignored their pleas.

Spending on human services

Spending in other areas, however, can reduce crime.

A 2017 study found that each $10,000 increase in spending per person in poverty was correlated with .87 fewer homicides per 100,000. Areas that spent more on the poor had fewer murders.

Another study in 2018 found that an increase in drug treatment facilities reduced violent crime and financially-motivated crime.

Researchers estimated that an additional treatment facility reduced social cost of crime by about $4.2 million a year. Since the facilities cost about $1.1 million, opening one saves about $3 million a year.

There are of course numerous other problems that you could address rather than spending money on useless cops.

We are still in the middle of a serious, massive pandemic.

We could invest in vaccines, tests and treatment if we want to make people safer and healthier. We could re-pass the expanded child tax credit, which is proven to lift millions of children out of poverty.

These are policies that we know would help people directly.

When people’s lives improve, there’s evidence that they tend to vote for incumbents — as you’d expect. So why not do the things you know will help people, rather than things you know won’t matter?

Politics of spending

The problem is that politicians tend to hyperfocus on political messaging. Republicans have made law-and-order a central campaign issue, both this cycle and for the last 40 years.

Democrats are terrified of being painted as soft on crime. They think they can inoculate themselves by spending money on cops.

But the people paying close attention to political messaging tend to be political junkies who are already strong partisans.

And Republicans in particular, insulated in the right-wing media bubble, barely care about facts on the ground.

They cheerfully vote against funding police while attacking Democrats for defunding the police. Democrats call them hypocrites.

Republicans don’t care.

If you want to get people who are less partisan and less tuned in to politics to vote for you, you should help them.

Political messaging is mostly useful for inspiring and riling up your own supporters, who are listening to partisan leaders closely.

In this case, a lot of the Democrat’s base is actively alienated by pro-police and law-and-order rhetoric – with good reason.

They fear putting more cops on the street will exacerbate the problems of racist police violence and mass incarceration.

Biden isn’t entirely ignoring this base.

His Safer America Plan also includes $5 billion for community violence intervention programs and $15 billion for cities and states that use non-police responses to some emergencies.

It also boosts spending on mental health and substance abuse treatment, social workers and affordable housing.

Finally getting it

It’s heartening to see the Democratic Party moving toward solutions for crime that actually have some record of being effective.

But it’s disturbing that they continue to double down not just on failed policies, but on failed messaging.

Instead of helplessly trying to prove that Democrats can be more Republican than Republicans to Republican voters who don’t care, it’s past time to focus on winning people over by actually helping them.

And if you don’t win them over?

Well, you’ve still helped lift them out of poverty or you’ve helped keep them disease-free or you’ve helped reduce crime.

When you help people, at worst you’ve helped them.

Isn’t helping people the reason politicians get into politics?

READ MORE: Progressive lawmakers push Biden to stop arming cops with military weaponry

What is the Inflation Reduction Act?

Last week US Senator Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer unexpectedly announced the reconciliation bill that had been declared dead was back. US Senator Kyrsten Sinema and various conservative Democrats could still decide to blow it up. But if all goes well, it could be voted on in the next couple of weeks.

What’s in the $485 billion Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA22)? The measure addresses three major Democratic priorities:

Climate, health care and taxes.

READ MORE: West Virginia Republicans are hoping to take on Joe Manchin in 2024

Clean energy

The $385 billion in climate provisions is the part of the proposal that has perhaps most excited the Democratic base. The Atlantic quotes Sam Ricketts of Evergreen Action enthusing, “I struggle to find enough superlatives to describe this deal.”

The majority of the climate spending centers on $260 billion in tax credits. These replace former and clumsy green energy incentives that couldn’t be used by public utilities and couldn’t be used to incentivize newer forms of non-carbon energy.

The new tax credits provide public and private companies with subsidies for producing renewable energy and for creating renewable technologies like solar panels.

READ MORE: Scientists warn that a 'climate endgame' is 'dangerously underexplored'

Researchers who analyzed an earlier version of this plan judged it to be extremely cost-effective. They believe it could create $1.5 trillion in economic surplus, while cutting 5 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2050.

The IRA22 also includes around $80 billion in incentives for car and home-owners.

A $7,500 rebate for new EV purchases for family vehicles could cut carbon emissions substantially, since personal transportation produces about 17 percent of US carbon pollution.

The proposal also includes $27 billion for a federal green bank — a fund that can be used to invest in clean energy. The green bank provides money for low-income households to purchase heat pumps, solar cells and electric cars. States, tribes and municipalities can also compete for grants for green energy projects.

Fossil fuel production

That’s the (substantial!) climate upside of the bill.

The less pleasing aspect is an expansion in carbon fuel production. In the name of energy independence, Manchin and his industry lobby buddies demanded oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaskan coast.

The bill also prevents the federal government from leasing land for solar or wind unless it has also leased territory to oil and gas developers.

These carve outs, in technical language, suck.

However, climate advocates in general see these concessions as a small price to pay for what is in other respects easily the most substantial effort to fight global warming in US history.

Healthcare

The IRA22 includes $100 billion for healthcare.

The largest chunk of that is $65 billion to expand ACA subsidies.

Tax credits that help some 13 million low-income Americans buy health insurance were set to lapse at the end of this year. That could cause premiums to increase by hundreds of dollars per person in January. Many people would be notified of the upcoming increase just weeks before the election.

The IRA22 extends the subsidies for three years into 2025. That will enable millions of people to retain their health care. It also pushes the next funding cliff out past 2024, so Democrats won’t have to struggle with it right before another election.

The other major health care provision in the bill addresses prescription drug prices.

IRA22 caps out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000 per year.

Currently, Medicare recipients continue to pay 5 percent out of pocket for scripts after total charges reach $7,050 per year.

That 5 percent doesn’t sound like much, but for those with medication costing thousands of dollars, or with large numbers of prescriptions, it can become a major financial burden.

The bill would also restrict increases on prescription drug price increases for Medicare patients and for patients with private insurance. Manufacturers that increased prices faster than inflation would have to pay a rebate.

Finally, the bill gives the government the ability to negotiate prices of high-cost drugs for Medicare recipients. Only a few drugs would be subject at first, but it would gradually increase to 20 by 2029.

The exact savings here depend on the drugs that are selected and what the prices end up being. But the CBO estimates the provision could save the government $101.8 billion. The inflation rebate provision could add another $100.7 billion in savings.

The IRA22 saves another $120 billion through repeal of a complicated Trump era drug rebate rule.

Taxes

IRA22 substantially increases taxes on the wealthy.

Most analyses treat this as a funding mechanism. But taxing the rich is important in its own right to control runaway inequality and prevent the powerful from seizing control of the country’s institutions and political processes.

The biggest tax increase is a 15 percent corporate minimum tax.

Trump cut the US corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2017. Many corporations use write-offs and tax shelters to pay even less than that. Some pay nothing at all.

The new tax would end that.

It imposes a minimum of 15 percent on all corporations with over $1 billion in profits. This should raise $313 billion in revenue over a decade.

Another big chunk of revenue is expected to come from improved enforcement. The bill spends $80 billion to beef up the IRS.

Of that, $45 billion would go toward enforcement. Some $25 billion would go toward operations support. Another $4.75 billion would go to IT modernization, and $3 billion to taxpayer services.

The IRS budget has been systematically cut by the Congress for more than a decade. Republicans in particular have seen starving the agency as a way to protect their wealthy base. As a result, the IRS hasn’t had the funds they’ve needed to pursue tax cheats.

The tax gap between what is owed and what is collected may be as high as $1 trillion a year.

IRA22 estimates that the additional funds for tax enforcement will result in revenue of $124 billion.

The bill also closes the carried interest loophole, which allows private equity and hedge funds to pay tax on their income at a lower capital gains rate rather than at the rate normally paid by wage earners. This should raise $14 billion.

Inflation Reduction

Overall, the bill is designed to lower the deficit by $300 billion over 10 years. Schumer and Manchin believe that raising taxes and increasing revenue should have an anti-inflationary effect.

Manchin also argues that moving away from fossil fuels will help the US avoid inflationary spirals. And the drug price controls should keep health care costs down.

Will the bill actually fight inflation? Probably not in the short term. The name is more of a gimmick than anything. But if a gimmick gets Manchin on board, so be it.

What’s missing?

There are a lot of things that aren’t in this bill.

Progressives had hoped to expand Medicare to cover vision, hearing and dental benefits during this Congress. Biden wanted to spend $400 billion on universal preschool and affordable childcare.

Neither are in the final package.

The IRA22 also doesn’t renew the expanded child tax credit. The program lifted millions of children out of poverty in 2021 before it was allowed to expire in 2022. Allowing such a vital, successful program to evaporate is a tragedy.

Perhaps most disturbing, IRA22 includes zero spending on COVID mitigation.

The pandemic continues to kill more than 400 people a day, 2,800 people a week. New variants continue to develop, cases remain high and the healthcare system is facing staffing shortages.

But funds for vaccine development and distribution have dried up, and the Congress has largely abandoned the issue.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you contemplate the crises that our government refuses to confront. But for all its failures, IRA22 also offers much reason for hope.

Its prescription drug benefits and ACA subsidies provide real, material help for seniors, independent small businesspeople and the less affluent. Its tax provisions address growing inequality for the first time in decades. And its climate measures finally take real strides toward preserving the planet for future generations.

If the Congress can pass this, it will be a real victory for the Democrats, the country and the planet.

READ MORE: Should corporate profits be regulated to combat inflation? | Opinion

Centrist Democrats are obstructing raising taxes on the rich

The press corps often enjoys portraying Joe Biden as a centrist besieged by progressives in his party. On one of the most consequential economic issues, though, he’s on the side of the progressives, and his agenda is consistently sabotaged by the right.

That issue is raising taxes.

Biden’s budget proposal released last March for fiscal year 2023 proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. Biden also proposed a 20 percent minimum tax on households worth more than $100 million.

READ MORE: Democrats only have themselves to blame for trusting Joe Manchin | Opinion

It’s not surprising Biden has embraced progressive ideas on taxation.

Taxing the wealthy is extremely popular.

Down the middle

A 2020 Reuters poll asked respondents if “the very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs.” Sixty-four percent agreed, including 77 percent of Democrats and a majority 53 percent of Republicans.

READ MORE: Bernie Sanders blasts Joe Manchin for 'intentionally sabotaging the president's agenda'

It’s hard to find anything more bipartisan than that.

Nor was this poll a one-off. For 25 years, Americans have consistently said upper-income Americans pay too little in taxes.

There are solid policy reasons to believe that progressives, the public and the president are all correct. Taxes on the wealthy are too low. The US would benefit from increasing them.

A 2021 White House analysis found that the richest 400 American families paid an 8.2 percent tax rate. That’s lower than the average American, who pays 13.3 percent.

The disparity is in part because dividend and capital gains income are taxed at lower rates than other income. It’s in part because the wealthy can hire expensive lawyers and accountants to shield their wealth — by, for example, setting up offshore tax havens.

Extreme imbalance

Low tax rates for the wealthy have exacerbated rising inequality since 1970. In that year, upper-income households held 29 percent of national wealth. Middle-income households held 62 percent.

By 2018, middle-income households had fallen to 43 percent. Upper-income households had surpassed them with 48 percent of wealth.

Extreme wealth inequality erodes social and political institutions. As philosopher TM Scanlon says, “If wealth is very unevenly distributed in a society, wealthy people often end up in control of many aspects of the lives of poorer citizens: over where and how they can work, what they can buy, and in general what their lives will be like.”

In the US, key media institutions are owned by billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch.

Billionaires are also contributing more and more to US elections.

In 2008, before the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling gutted campaign finance laws, billionaires contributed $31 million to federal campaigns. By 2020, according to a new estimate, those donations had increased by 40 times to $1.2 billion.

Those donations affect all of us.

A 2015 study infamously found that the Congress largely disregards the policy preferences of normal people, but that it is very influenced by the policy preferences of the very, very wealthy.

There’s no better example of this than taxes.

Sinema, Gottheimer and the right

Again, taxing the wealthy is very popular.

A supermajority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans agree that we should tax the pants off the super-rich.

The super-rich themselves, though, don’t want their pants or any other part of them taxed. They’ve persuaded Republicans to vote consistently to cut their taxes, despite their own voters’ preferences.

The Trump tax cuts notably cut billionaire taxes below those of the working class for the first time.

Democrats like Biden have been more willing to go against billionaire tax cuts. But the party also includes members who are reluctant.

A faction of House Democrats led by New Jersey representative John Gottheimer along with Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema came out strongly against tax hikes on the ultra-wealthy in the last month.

New York’s Jonathan Chait argued persuasively that this anti-tax faction was more responsible than West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for killing Biden’s broad domestic agenda.

Soak the rich to fight inflation

Taxes are key to Biden’s agenda in part because taxes make it possible to pay for progressive programs.

Deficit hawks (like Manchin) are reluctant to invest to fight global warming or to expand the child tax credit to massively reduce child poverty or even to fight the pandemic.

Especially with inflation at record highs, the Congress is worried that pumping more money into the economy will push prices higher.

The main causes of inflation are the pandemic and the Ukraine war; spending is probably only a small part of the problem.

Still, inflation is a serious issue.

It’s reasonable to want to control the deficit. If only there were a way to do so while also spending what we need to fight serious problems like covid, global warming and child poverty.

Of course, there is a way to do so!

The wealthy have a huge amount of money.

You can tax them and use the money to help people by, for example, getting covid under control and reducing inflation.

But Sinema, Gottheimer and the conservative billionaire-loving caucus have taken tax hikes off the table. In doing so, they’ve prevented Biden from enacting a popular policy, and also kneecapped his entire policy agenda.

So annoying

Progressives and Biden want to work for the public. But thanks to conservatives, we won’t fight climate change. We won’t fight covid. We won’t fight child poverty. All because every Republican, and key Democrats, would prefer to cater to bloated oligarchs who want to hoover up more and more wealth and power.

Biden and progressives hoped to use tax policy to make the US a more equitable, less diseased and less poverty-ridden country.

Instead, Sinema and Gottheimer have ruled that we shall address none of our crises. The super-wealthy will reward them with donations. To all the rest of us, they say, “let them eat dust.”

READ MORE: Watch: Kyrsten Sinema's Senate speech on guns criticized as 'meaningless both sides word salad'

Will Joe Biden's presidency escape its doldrums?

Joe Biden’s presidency looks stalled, moribund and broken.

His aggregate approval is hovering around 38 percent on 538’s tracking aggregator — slightly worse than Donald Trump’s at the same point in his presidency before Republicans were crushed in the 2018 midterms. Democrats seem set to lose the House.

Biden’s lackluster response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision ending abortion rights has (rightly in my view) infuriated his own base. The filibuster-clogged Senate seems unable to act on … well, anything. Inflation remains a stubborn problem.

READ MORE: New election projection shows DeSantis beating Trump for 2024 GOP presidential nomination

Still, there’s reason to think things could get better.

There are signs that the economy may show some improvement before the November midterms. There’s also hope that the Congress may be able to pass some measures that genuinely help people.

The constant Republican attack line on Biden for the past months has been inflation and gas prices. Pushed by the ongoing pandemic and by sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, in mid-June, the average price of gas hit $5 for the first time ever.

The link between gas prices and presidential approval isn’t one to one. Still high gas prices can hurt presidents. And very, very high gas prices have almost certainly contributed to Biden’s polling decline.

READ MORE: 'A nationally coordinated effort': Election officials concerned about 'insider threats' as midterms approach

Inflation remains a serious problem. It climbed to 9.1 percent in June. Prices at the pump, though, seem to be coming back to earth. Though gas is still about $1.50 more expensive than it was at this time in 2021, the price has dropped every day for four weeks.

It’s not clear whether these declines will continue. Some of them are sparked by drops in global oil prices which are linked to fear of a recession, which obviously would not be great economic news.

Still, if we’re looking at a several month decline in oil prices come November, that would be a quite different economic environment than the one Republicans are hoping for and even counting on.

The recession may also be overhyped.

READ MORE: 'Cataclysmic destruction': Chomsky, UN, warn global policies are 'accelerating the collapse of human civilization'

The federal reserve hiked rates to pull down inflation. When the price of borrowing goes up, economic activity generally slows, causing an increase in the rate of unemployment and stalled growth.

However, last week the jobs report showed that 372,000 jobs were created in June. The unemployment rate remained at 3.6 percent, among the lowest in history. As Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House council of economic advisors said: “Numbers like this are just very much inconsistent with any kind of recession call.”

There also seems to be some good news on Biden’s stalled economic agenda. Senate Democrats and the White House are again negotiating to try to pass reconciliation legislation without Republicans. The choke point, as usual, is conservative West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Still, discussions seem positive so far.

One item on which there is supposed to be progress is legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. The pharmaceutical industry has long spiked such legislation. But Democrats may finally be in a position to defeat the lobbyists.

READ MORE: Democrats rally against anti-choice judicial nominee

The bill would allow the government to negotiate prices on many medicines, bringing down the cost. It would also cap out-of-pocket expenses for drugs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 a year.

The bill would prevent drug companies from raising prices above inflation and allow more access to assistance to afford medications.

The price controls in the bill could help tame the rate of inflation by bringing down drug prices. It would also help a lot of people. Period.

Manchin has also signaled he might be open to extending Obamacare subsidies. If the subsidies aren’t extended, many Americans will see sudden insurance rate hikes in October – right before the election.

READ MORE: Democrats hope to flip this GOP-held Senate seat in deep red Missouri

The final component of the potential trillion dollar deal is supposed to involve climate and energy. The Post’s Jeff Stein reported that Manchin and the White House have a blueprint. It involves a number of fossil fuel projects in exchange for Manchin’s agreement to a package that will provide substantial funding for renewables.

The problem is that while renewables can be done through reconciliation, the fossil fuel approvals are regulatory.

Manchin would have to vote yes and then trust the White House to follow through. Or the White House would have to approve the fossil fuel projects, and then Manchin would vote yes.

They’d have to trust each other.

Which is tricky, because Manchin betrayed Biden and progressives by scuttling the president’s economic agenda last year after promising to support it.

There are also some actions Biden could take unilaterally.

He has been contemplating forgiving $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers. That would be an important accomplishment. It would honor a campaign promise to help millions crushed by college debts.

If he increased it to $50,000, as Elizabeth Warren suggested, it would provide complete relief for 36 million people. That would arguably be one of the defining progressive achievements of the last 40 years.

READ MORE: President Joe Biden introduces the James Webb Space Telescope's first glimpse into the early Universe

Obviously, this is all tentative.

Negotiations could fall apart, gas prices could spike again, recession could hit, as some predict, Biden could decide against debt relief. He could stumble into midterms even worse off than he is now.

But overall, the outlook in July looks better than it did in June.

There’s a reasonable chance that Biden’s approval rating has bottomed out and can start crawling toward something better.

Even if his approval doesn’t rebound, a bill that controlled prescription drug prices and continued ACA subsidies would have a major material effect on the lives of millions of Americans.

The Democrats can still help people.

That’s what Biden was elected to do.

READ MORE: Joe Biden in 2024? More evidence of regime change

Why Joe Biden is probably the least militaristic president of the last 40 years

Joe Biden is probably the least militaristic president of the last 40 years. He has ended a major foreign war and reduced American involvement in overseas interventions across the board.

Yet Biden has gotten little credit for his antiwar efforts. That’s a problem for those hoping to see less military violence in the world.

When a president or any politician does not get credit for their accomplishments, they have little incentive to build on them.

READ MORE: Pro-Putin Russian lawmaker wants to declare the United States a ‘terrorist state’ over Ukraine

Biden has ramped down conflict, but leading antiwar voices have continued to attack him on the issue. Future presidents may reasonably conclude that the antiwar lobby is fickle, unreasonable and confused – that there’s not much point in catering to them.

Biden’s main accomplishment is showing restraint in Afghanistan.

During his campaign, he promised to end the “forever wars”. In August 2021, he did just that, removing all American troops from Afghanistan after more than 20 years of conflict.

Biden was criticized for the “chaotic” withdrawal. Seventy-eight thousand Afghani allies with ties to the US were left behind. They face an uncertain and perilous future under Taliban rule.

READ MORE: 'Throwing your life away': Marjorie Taylor Greene delivers disrespectful blow to America's armed forces

Critics blamed Biden for the ugly spectacle of the Taliban overrunning the country following withdrawal. But such criticism was going to be leveled at any president who ended the conflict.

When you lose a war, you’re forced to watch enemies win. The US had a choice: stay in Afghanistan forever or acknowledge we lost. Biden was the first president to choose the second and pull out.

Biden has also removed troops from Iraq and reduced the combat role elsewhere. According to iCasualties.org, no Americans have died in Iraq since September 2020 — none under Biden’s presidency.

Also, Biden has drastically reduced the scale of the drone war.

READ MORE: Biden continued the Afghanistan War through economic means — and it's plunging the country into a crisis

Barack Obama rightly faced outrage for using of drone strikes in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Somalia. They often killed civilians.

Less reported was that Donald Trump substantially increased drone strikes and virtually ended required reporting and transparency.

Trump launched over 40 in Somalia in 2020; George W. Bush and Obama conducted over 40 strikes over nine years in the country.

Foreign Policy’s Kelsey D. Atherton looked at Trump’s almost invisible, escalating drone violence to conclude that “unaccountable machinery will continue to wage war in relative obscurity. Forever.”

READ MORE: Cambridge history professor explains why it’s way too soon to give up on Biden’s presidency

Yet unaccountable machinery has largely been halted.

Biden instituted policies that require White House approval for all drone strikes outside of active war zones. Now that the Afghan war is ended, that means approval is required practically everywhere.

Trump oversaw some 1,600 air strikes in Iraq and Syria in his first 11 months in office. Biden had four in his first year. In Trump’s last year, there were 75 drone strikes in Somalia. In Biden’s first there were 10, with no civilian casualties. In Yemen, strikes dropped from 18 to 4.

An international monitoring group concluded that strikes fell 54 percent in Biden’s first year compared to Trump’s last one. Most of those were in Afghanistan before the US withdrawal. Outside of Afghanistan, the US carried out only 67 strikes altogether.

READ MORE: The reality is that Biden has done a great job — but the pundits can't admit it

Antiwar activists could argue that 67 strikes is 67 too many. Biden’s also been rightly criticized for a horrific mistaken drone strike in August 2021 that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.

However, it is indisputable that Biden, personally, has massively reduced reliance on drone warfare and has increased accountability.

Biden listened to critics and took them to heart. As a result, his administration has seen less violence and less death worldwide.

But instead of praising Biden for tamping down violence, longtime critics of the drone war have largely ignored his accomplishments.

READ MORE: Reagan White House alumni praises Biden’s ‘skillful’ handling of Ukraine crisis

Glenn Greenwald, an unrelenting critic of Obama’s drone war, has not written about Biden’s reduction in the drone war that I can find.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, another long-time drone-war critic, does little better. He does mention Biden’s accomplishment — once, in a single sentence, linking to someone else’s article.

Biden’s successful, admirable restraint of the drone war has largely been drowned out by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has been criticized by some antiwar voices (like Greenwald) for involving the US in it. But his response has again been remarkable for its restraint.

Biden helped organize and implement a sweeping series of global sanctions to target Russia’s economy. He’s provided billions in aid for Ukraine’s military. He has refused to send US troops into the conflict. He’s refused to establish a no-fly zone. And he has been careful to avoid situations in which US and Russia forces might collide. He’s clearly and consistently avoided escalation of this global conflict.

READ MORE: How Joe Biden 're-ignited our government engine' after Donald Trump's damage

There’s plenty of room to question Biden’s approach. Many have pushed him to provide more aid to Ukraine. Many have argued the US should do more to compromise with Russia.

What’s indisputable, though, is that Biden did not start the war, and has worked to keep US troops out of it.

During his term, Biden has ended one major war, vastly reduced US involvement in others, and worked actively to prevent a regional imperial war of aggression from metastasizing into a global conflict. He has reduced airstrikes, civilian deaths, and US military deaths.

There is no other president in the past 40 years, or arguably the past 70, with a better record on restraining military involvement.

READ MORE: National security experts explain why Biden is exactly right to reject a 'no-fly zone' for Ukraine

Whether or not you like Biden, if you care about reducing war and violence, it’s important to acknowledge these accomplishments.

If antiwar voices don’t seem to notice, or care when wars end, politicians are reasonably going to conclude that their concerns about violence aren’t serious, principled, or informed. If there is no political benefit to restraint, politicians will not engage in restraint.

Biden has given the antiwar movement a series of solid victories. People who care about reducing military violence need to take yes for an answer. If they don’t, it is likely that they will go back to hearing a series of “nos.” And that means more people around the globe will needlessly die.

For Donald Trump, treason is a lucrative endeavor

Donald Trump didn’t just conspire to overturn the election. He ripped off his own supporters while doing it.

Treason, it turns out, is a lucrative endeavor.

Attacking the establishment can line one’s pockets.

Who would you vote for in 2024, Biden or DeSantis? Vote now.

This has been a central insight of rightwing media — and not just of rightwing media. There’s a capitalist incentive to frame oneself as a brave dissenter against the existing power structure.

That’s not the only reason our public discourse is so divisive, incoherent, violent and useless. But it doesn’t help.

Paying for a coup

The J6 committee has shown how Trump was told repeatedly that there had been no fraud in the 2020 election. Nonetheless, he continued insisting in public that the election had been stolen.

His deliberate lies directly inspired rioters to storm the capital in an attempted coup. Trump didn’t just call for violence, though.

He also called for funds.

Trump claimed he needed money to mount a legal attack on election fraud — even though, again, he had been told there was no fraud. He said the money would go to an election defense fund.

But there was no fraud and no election defense fund.

Trump lied to constituents to raise $250 million. Then he dumped that money into the Save America political action committee. The PAC funneled the money to organizations run by Trump cronies.

The most egregious example, the committee alleged, was a payment to Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend.

Guilfoyle gave a two-and-a-half minute introduction to the president on J6. Trump went on to urge the crowd to march on the capital, which they did. The violent attack led to nine deaths.

For her brief contribution, Guilfoyle was paid $60,000.

Why were Trump’s appeals so successful? Partially the answer is partisanship. Trump is the head of the Republican Party. His personal appeal to fight the evil Democrats carries a lot of weight.

People trust their partisan leaders, and partisanship is strongly linked to belief in disinformation and lies about the opposition.

But the narrative Trump is selling, of himself as the brave opponent of systemic corruption, is also very powerful.

The devil and the truth

In his 1945 novel That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis’ protagonist, Mark, is tempted by evil because he wants to be part of the inner circle that knows the truth hidden from everyone else.

For here, here surely at last (so his desire whispered to him) was the true inner circle of all, the circle whose center was outside the human race — the ultimate secret, the supreme power, the last initiation.

Mark is a college professor and in the novel, Satan has taken over the college administration. Mark’s rage to be the knower is a rage to be part of the establishment.

But (as Mark confusedly recognizes) the desire to be in can work even better when you start suggesting in is out and that only anti-establishment crusaders know what’s really happening.

Ponzi schemes to fight the man

You can see this dynamic with crypto.

Cryptocurrencies sell themselves as a tech bro escape from social control. Buying crypto wasn’t just a canny investment. It was a way to fight the power, the hegemony of government fiat. Or as bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamto wrote, crypto is “very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it correctly.”

In the event, crypto, like Stop the Steal, was less about fighting the power than about embracing the grift. In early June, the FTC released a report that said they had identified 46,000 people who collectively had lost over $1 billion in crypto scams since 2021.

Worse, the entire market has revealed itself as a scam. Luna, an important currency, peaked at $116 in early 2021 before erasing essentially all of its value last month in a catastrophic plunge.

As Robert Reich wrote, crypto is a Ponzi scheme — one driven, in this case, not just by greed, but by a dream of sticking it to the man.

Substack seers

The same dynamic powers the careers of Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Yglesias, Jimmy Dore and fleets of lesser and wannabe Substackers, not to mention Tucker Carlson.

Everyone is lying to you; I am the only one with the truth is a pitch that should provoke skepticism. But people like to think they have unique access to the truth. And once they’ve anointed you as truth teller and bought in fully, you can tell them just about anything.

You can: Sell them dietary supplements and skin care products. Promise them you’ll force an electoral recount if they funnel you money—as Jill Stein did. Get them to watch your dreadful movies.

The honest anti-establishment

Not every anti-establishment appeal is deceptive or malevolent. People buy Sex Pistols T-shirts because the Sex Pistols seemed rebellious. And they wear the shirts and feel rebellious and cool.

It’s a little silly, perhaps, but people spend money on somewhat silly things all the time. It’s not a scandal.

Bernie Sanders created a fundraising juggernaut by promising to change Washington, arguing that Republicans and Democrats were blocking reforms.

Love Sanders or hate him. Agree or disagree with his message. But he said that he’d make a serious run for president with the donations and he made a serious run (or two) for president.

Sanders put out clear policy positions intended to improve the lives of marginalized people. He stumped for votes. When he lost, he stopped campaigning — not soon enough for some, but still.

Sanders’ anti-establishment brand supercharged his campaign coffers. But when he got the money, he did what he said he’d do.

The country pays

Anti-establishment appeals aren’t always deceitful or even bad. But the fact that they can be so lucrative can create ugly incentives.

Everyone knows about the incentive for people in institutions to defend them, or for those in power to defend the status quo.

But we also need to be aware of the potential rewards for people who adopt certain kinds of anti-establishment boilerplate. Telling people that they’ve been cheated of an electoral win, or that they can get rich quick, is a good way to part them from their money.

If people think you and only you have the truth, they’ll pay for it.

As Trump understands, it’s an easy exchange of lies for cash.

The coronavirus is still wreaking havoc on the economy. Republicans are making it worse

Pundits, economists and policymakers are talking about the possibility of a recession and rising unemployment. Whether these dour predictions come to pass, it’s clear the economy is struggling. It’s also clear GOP obstructionism is preventing policymakers from addressing economic weaknesses and helping people in difficult times.

“Recession” is a somewhat fuzzy term, but it’s generally defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

GDP in the first three months of 2022 was down 1.5 percent. Current estimates have second quarter growth at a meager .9 percent. If that falls a bit, we’d meet the common technical definition of a recession.

Usually, we think of recessions as a time of rising unemployment and joblessness. However, unemployment remains at historic lows.

Who would you vote for in 2024, Biden or DeSantis? Vote now.

Unemployment rates have been at 3.6 percent for three months. US businesses added 390,000 jobs in May. And employers continue to report difficulty in filling positions.

Pools, lakes and amusement parks have been unable to find lifeguards across the country. Fully one-third of public pools in the US may be shut down or have reduced hours because of staff shortages.

An economy can still slip into recession with low unemployment. But it seems contradictory to have an economic slowdown and a hiring crisis at the same time. If there are so many open jobs, why aren’t people taking them and boosting the economy?

The answer is the same one it has been.

We’re still in the middle of a pandemic.

Covid cases are rising. Hospitalizations are up 20 percent over the last two weeks. Deaths have stubbornly hovered around 300 a day.

Though government, businesses and the public have largely pushed for normalcy, covid continues to affect the economy in numerous ways.

When people get sick, they miss work and often have to quarantine. People remain cautious about travel and large public gatherings.

Congress initially responded to these economic shocks by trying to help those in need. The US passed multiple major spending bills, including a $1.9 trillion covid relief bill in March 2020.

The government sent $1,400 checks directly to citizens. It provided funds to fight covid and protect people from the disease. It extended unemployment benefits. It also expanded the Child Tax Credit, sending direct payments to families in poverty with children.

The stimulus spending was very successful. American’s real incomes increased. The economy grew faster in 2021 than in any year since 1984, adding 6.2 million jobs. Unemployment plummeted.

The Child Tax Credit expansion lifted millions of children out of poverty and cut monthly child poverty by about 30 percent.

The funds also spurred a massive vaccine rollout that saw half of the population receiving vaccines in six months. That achievement helped reduce cases and made the economic recovery possible.

Following the initial bill, however, Congress refused to pass any further relief, even amidst further pandemic spikes.

Republicans and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin killed Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better infrastructure bill. The same coalition has refused to provide further desperately needed funds to fight covid.

What this means is that the federal government is no longer providing a cushion to protect from covid shocks as a result the economy is slowing, which could lead us into a recession. Government spending has stalled out in large part because of inflation fears. In May the US annual inflation rate was 8.6 percent, the highest since 1981.

Conservatives insist that too much government spending has boosted prices. More spending would only cause more inflation, they argue.

The fact, though, is that US inflation rates are about the same as those globally. If every country is experiencing the same rising prices, it seems unlikely that relief funds in the US are the cause.

The main culprit is, again, covid. It has played havoc with supply chains, creating shortages of items like baby formula and tampons.

These shortages have been a major spur to inflation.

Another contributor is the war in Ukraine and the embargoes on Russian oil. Gas prices have risen, as of this writing, to an average of $5 a gallon. The price spike harms less affluent consumers and is a drag on the economy as a whole.

President Biden has limited control over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and given the global nature of inflation, it’s unlikely that he can unilaterally bring down prices either.

The government could cushion the impact of these economic forces, however, as it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

Restoring the expanded Child Tax Credit would directly help families struggling with higher grocery prices. More funds for existing boosters, PPE, testing, air filtration, Paxlovid treatments and developing the next round of nasal vaccines could help the country, and the world, defeat covid and its ongoing disruptions.

If we’re concerned that we can’t afford to make these investments, there are revenue options. Senators just added $45 billion to Biden’s defense budget; we could take that off and use it to pay for programs that would help people.

Biden also has a plan to raise $1.5 trillion by taxing the richest 1 percent.

But Republicans won’t let the administration spend or raise revenue.

Instead, the Federal Reserve has been left to respond to the economic doldrums virtually by itself. It has used the one tool it has, delivering a major interest rate hike in an effort to bring down inflation.

Raising rates makes borrowing more expensive and reduces consumer demand, which is intended to slow the economy. That could lead to a recession, especially if the Fed continues to boost rates, as it is expected to do in the next months.

Getting inflation under control is important. But so is lifting children out of poverty and defeating a virus that is still killing 1,500 people a week and is disrupting every aspect of life including the economy.

We’ve seen that the government has the ability to help people in crisis. Whether we’re struggling with inflation or a recession, we’re not powerless. Or we shouldn’t be.

But Republicans are determined to shackle Biden and to immiserate working people. That keeps Biden’s approval low, which will benefit Republicans in the midterms. It also keeps average Americans from expecting too much, which pleases the GOP’s wealthy donors.

Americans have an insatiable appetite for military spending

Like the original 1980s Top Gun, the new sequel Maverick opens with the camera lovingly panning over military aircraft to the thumping synths of Kenny Loggins’ “Highway to the Danger Zone.”

I’m hardly the first person to note that Top Gun, and now its sequel, are essentially military recruitment ads. The original led to a recruiting boom. The Navy worked closely with Maverick’s producers, providing equipment and consulting on the script, because they hoped that the sequel would inspire a new generation to join up.

“I do think it's going to strike gold, and I think it's going to be a huge return on investment for the Navy,” said Capt. Brian Ferguson, the Navy’s technical advisor for the film.

The return on investment there isn’t just about getting more people to sign up to be Navy pilots. It’s about defense budgets.

When Congress is willing to spend money on nothing else, it is willing to spend on defense. Hollywood’s “cinema industrial complex” (as Viet Thanh Nguyen calls it) and the country’s military industrial complex are mutually reinforcing. Maverick sells defense spending, and the military in turn sells Maverick. Dreams are hardware and vice versa.

Maverick, like Top Gun before it, is vague about who the United States is fighting and why. The title character, played by an eternally young, eternally grinning Tom Cruise, is brought back to the Top Gun fighter pilot training facility to prepare hotshot fighters for a new mission.

An unnamed nation in an unnamed location is enriching uranium to create potential nuclear weapons. The pilots are supposed to invade this nation’s airspace and destroy the base before it goes online.

The enemy fighters have superior planes. The base is heavily defended. The terrain is difficult. Everything is stacked against our heroes.

You never see the faces of the enemy behind their helmets. Only Americans have personalities, families and features. Wars are about the men and women who fight for the US. Anyone on the other side is simply a convenient obstacle. They are supposed to resist and die.

The sweeping indifference to the opposition is in line with the approach to defense spending, which goes up no matter what.

From 2000 to 2019, the US spent $16.52 trillion on the military budget, including the Veteran’s Administration. The Trump administration’s 2021 Pentagon budget of $740.5 billion was an $100 billion increase over 2016. It was also the biggest expenditure since World War II.

Biden’s defense budget for 2023 is even larger, $813 billion.

Biden says it’s needed to counter China. But the US already spends far more than any other nation on defense. In 2019, US spending was almost three times more than China and 10 times more than Russia. The US was responsible for 38 percent of military spending worldwide.

Congress is willing to spend more and more. It approved additional emergency expenditures, like $40 billion in aid to Ukraine last month.

Helping Ukraine fight against Russian imperial aggression is a worthy goal. But it’s striking that funding for that can sail through the Congress while other security concerns are stalled indefinitely.

Hundreds of Americans are dying every day from covid. If hundreds of Americans were dying from enemy air assaults every day, Maverick would be breaking even more box office records and Congress would be appropriating trillions to equip more fighter planes.

But Congress has stalled on appropriating funds to fight covid.

Climate change is also a major threat. Shifting weather and rising oceans will displace millions, leading to refuge crises, as an example.

Again US climate spending is stalled, perhaps indefinitely if Republicans retake either chamber of Congress, which seems likely.

There is infinite appetite for guns and bombs and fighter planes, even though the US hasn’t faced a military threat in almost 80 years. Meanwhile, real pressing threats are aggressively ignored.

The explanation is simple.

As Maverick demonstrates, military spending is fun.

Hollywood is built on exciting militarized action: guns, explosions, speed and enemies overcome. Ed Whitfield at The Ooh Tray said that Top Gun and Maverick are “built on US exceptionalism, on competitive machismo, on bread and butter heroics.” It’s empty-headed patriotic empowerment fantasies for adrenaline junkies. It’s fun.

The fun sells movie tickets. Maverick has had a huge box office haul and is already Tom Cruise’s most successful film of his very successful career. As the pandemic drags on and we face an ongoing assault on democracy at home, people enjoy turning off their brains for a couple hours to revel in a dream of military triumph.

There are some Hollywood examples of brave scientists developing vaccines (as in Contagion), and there are many warnings of future climate dystopia (Don’t Look Up!). But those stories are swamped by superhero films, war pictures and action movies warning of invasion and foreign threats stomped out by cool heroes and awesome tech.

The money we pay for defense for the most part doesn’t protect us from real threats. Rather, it gives people permission to imagine themselves shooting faceless villains out of the sky like Tom Cruise.

Congress is appropriating billions so people can go to movie theaters and enjoy Maverick. Hollywood advertises the military, and the military advertises Hollywood right back.

COVID-19 is surging again. Where is the funding to fight it?

We desperately need more funding for covid research and prevention, but the Congress has stalled thanks to right wing opposition.

President Joe Biden is doing little to push them.

Even progressives have largely moved on.

The US is reporting around 100,000 new cases of covid a day. That’s likely an undercount. States and federal agencies are reducing data reporting. The rise of at-home tests mean many cases go unreported. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University, says the true number could be 800,000 cases a day.

If it seems like everyone you know is getting covid, that’s because they are. We’re in the middle of a massive surge.

Yet for the most part, we’ve stopped trying to stem the spread of infection. Courts overturned the CDC’s mask mandate for public transportation. Localities have ended most of their own mask requirements. Quarantines and lockdowns aren’t on the table.

Fighting a new surge is barely on the agenda. NBC News said that White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Biden was focused on “an economic plan for the middle class that fights inflation for the long haul, cuts the cost of prescription drugs, child care, and energy while taking on the climate crisis, and further reducing the deficit.”

There’s no mention there of fighting covid.

That’s unfortunate.

There are about 2500 deaths a week. News about long covid even for the vaccinated is more and more alarming. Unchecked covid spread creates misery, sickness and death on a huge scale.

Back in March, the White House put out a fact sheet listing dangerous consequences if the Congress did not pass additional covid funding.

The document warned that without more funding, the government would not be able to purchase or fund boosters, and would not be able to purchase variant specific vaccines.

Two and a half months later, Congress has still not passed covid legislation. And sure enough, the US is beginning to struggle to provide its people with vaccines.

The government has recommended a fourth vaccine shot for people 50 and older and for immunocompromised people. But it’s suggested only those likely to get “very sick” should get on the shot.

Why is the government recommending that vulnerable populations hold off on getting boosters in the middle of a major surge? Presumably because they don’t have enough funds for everyone.

This raises questions about whether the government is keeping vaccines from those under 50 because that’s the best decision or whether they simply lack the capacity to provide additional shots.

In any case, without further funding, rationing will get worse.

Vaccine efficacy against new variants has dropped alarmingly, especially among children 5 to 11. Pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines that provide better coverage against variants.

But if the Congress doesn’t approve more money, the federal government will have to restrict them solely to the most vulnerable, according to a Biden Administration official who spoke to CNBC.

We’ve begun to roll back covid care for the uninsured. Tests are no longer free in many areas. Uninsured patients will have to pay for the administration of vaccines, though not for the vaccines.

This is especially troubling because vaccines are most effective when used most widely. Tight restrictions on use is admitting defeat.

Nor is that the only bad news. Without funding, companies may draw down production of monoclonal antibodies, an early anti-covid treatment that proved very effective for some patients.

We lack funding to build new weapons against the virus. Scientists believe we can develop pan-coronovirus vaccines, which could provide protection against all variants. Nasal vaccines, which would prevent them from getting in through mucus membranes, are in clinical trials.

Massive funding for Operation Warp Speed allowed the miraculously quick discovery and deployment of the initial round of covid vaccines. But there’s no money for a second effort to finish the fight.

The refusal to spend money is especially frustrating because it would obviously be a worthwhile investment. Covid has continued to disrupt supply chains, contributing to inflation and shortages of baby formula. Hospitalizations cost billions. Absent workers also cost billions.

A pandemic allowed to rage unopposed is extremely expensive in both the short and long term. Spending to protect people not only reduces death and suffering. It saves money.

Yet virtually no one is making that case.

Ongoing inflation has made Republicans more determined than ever to fight new spending, not least because they think stalling Biden’s initiatives will hurt Democrats in the fall elections.

Progressives have mostly moved on. Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders introduced another Medicare for All Bill in May. Progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren has been focused on student debt relief.

Those are both worthy causes. But covid funding is more urgent, and there’s been little effort to highlight it at the congressional level.

Biden has also been quiet on the issue. He’s been talking up deficit reduction, even though that’s party from now more covid spending.

Reporting from the Biden White House suggests that the president sees his poor approval ratings as the result of biased news media coverage. But we’re in the middle of a serious, ongoing pandemic which Biden promised to defeat. His inability to do so is undoubtedly responsible for public frustration and weak poll numbers.

If the Congress cannot appropriate more funding, we are looking at yet another health, economic and political disaster in the making.

Criminalizing abortion is a key feature of dismantling the social safety net

Criminalizing women’s health care is likely to harm and impoverish women. The GOP’s opposition to reproductive health care is consistent with its class war on working class and poor people.

Pushing kids into poverty is a feature of abortion policy, not a bug.

Earlier this month, a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked suggesting the court is ready to overturn Roe. That would make it possible for states to pass draconian laws criminalizing abortion. States with Republican governments are already gearing up.

In Senate testimony following the leak, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argued that “eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”

Yellen is in line with an amicus brief supporting abortion rights filed by nearly 155 economists. The brief summarizes a range of studies showing that abortion access has had sweeping effects on the health and economic wellbeing of women and pregnant people.

The brief cites studies showing that abortion access reduced teen motherhood by 34 percent and teen marriage by 20 percent. It also cites research finding abortion access increased the likelihood of Black teenage women graduating from high school by around 23 percentage points. For Black women attending college, it was 23 to 27 points.

Perhaps the most striking evidence in the brief is a study that followed outcomes for people who sought and obtained abortions just before the gestational limit cut off, and those who sought them but were turned away because they were just past the gestational limit.

The study found both groups had similar financial outlooks before abortions. Immediately after seeking abortions, however, the turned-away group experienced major economic struggles, including a 78 percent increase in past-due debt and an 81 percent increase in paperwork related to bankruptcies, evictions and court judgements.

Ideally, failing to receive an abortion should not result in major financial hardship. For that matter, no child should experience major financial hardship in a wealthy country like the US. Parents should have the resources they need to care for their families.

The fact is that raising children is expensive and difficult in the US, especially for the poor. The cost of raising a child through age 17 in the US is about $233,000, according to USDA estimates.

Child care, to list just one expense, is broadly unaffordable. Infant care costs on average $11,000 a year. Only one in six families eligible for child care subsidies receive them. Those subsidies generally cover a fraction of care, even for those who receive them.

If the Republicans want to reduce incentives for abortion and show they care about children, they’d be eager to provide more money for child care and more resources for families with infants.

As Roe is ready to fall, the Republicans have started to mutter half-heartedly about maybe perhaps possibly sorta kinda providing some, a little, more resources for families raising young children.

But the fact is that Republicans have in the past consistently fought viciously against programs designed to help parents and families.

Biden proposed a $1.8 trillion plan to provide for universal pre-K, a national childcare program and tuition-free community college.

Republicans like US Senator Marsha Blackburn immediately labeled Biden’s proposal a socialist plot. Senate wannabe JD Vance said funding childcare was “class war against normal people” because it was encouraging mothers to work instead of staying home with families.

So if the Republicans want mothers to stay home and not work, they must want to provide them with the money to do that, right?

Ha, no.

The Democratic Congress, at Biden’s urging, passed an expanded Child Tax Credit in 2021. It provided hundreds in cash payments for each child in low-income families. It lifted millions of kids out of poverty.

But when the expanded tax credit came up for renewal, Republicans and one conservative Senate Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, scuttled it. Manchin — channeling the arguments of Republicans — insisted the tax credit be predicated on a work requirement.

When Biden tries to provide aid for child care, so parents with young children can work, the Republicans say mothers should stay home.

When he tries to provide aid to families, so children aren’t engulfed by poverty, the Republicans say mothers have to work.

It’s almost as if the GOP’s goal is impoverishing children.

The Republicans say they are against abortion, because they value fetal life, which they insist is synonymous with the lives of children.

But if the Republicans actually cared about children, they would support programs to help children. If they cared about the well-being of families, they would support programs to help families.

Attacking abortion is apiece with shredding the safety net.

It’s not about life.

It’s about preserving a social order in which the poor have few options except humiliating themselves for the few bones thrown at them.

It’s about making sure women in particular are kept in their place as second class citizens, desperate and dependent, punished for working or for failing to work, for having children or failing to have them.

In an ideal world, pregnant people would decide whether to have abortions without worrying about crushing poverty if they make the wrong decision. No one who is pregnant, and no family, should worry about their children not having enough to eat, or a place to live.

A world in which people have the resources they need is a world in which people have the health care resources they need. And that absolutely includes the reproductive health care they need.

Why deficit reduction is 'a poor talking point and a poor goal' that seldom inspires people to vote

Deficit reduction sounds like one of those nonpartisan measures of governing competence. That’s why Joe Biden has been touting it.

In fact, it’s largely irrelevant to voters – for good reason.

Deficit reduction says little about whether the government is helping.

Focusing on deficit reduction, whether rhetorically or ideologically, is at best a waste of time, at worst a barrier to meaningful change.

In recent remarks, Biden pointed out that, “the deficit went up every year under my predecessor before the pandemic and during the pandemic. It has gone down both years since I’ve been here.”

Overall the deficit fell by about $350 billion during Biden’s first year. He projects it will fall another $1.5 trillion by the end of his second. If that happens, it would be the biggest annual drop on record.

Biden argues that deficit reduction is good. It will lead to a decrease in inflation. He says it shows he’s working to reduce prices. He says it shows the promise of reducing prices should counter GOP criticisms.

The problem is this.

Deficit reduction or no, inflation hasn’t fallen that much. It was 8.3 percent in April. That’s slightly down from 8.5 percent in March.

Hardly anything to cheer about.

That lower deficits haven’t lowered inflation is no surprise, because the relationship between deficits and inflation is complicated and contested. A 2020 paper asking, “Do Enlarged Fiscal Deficits Cause Inflation,” for example, concluded that yeah, maybe and sometimes.

Deficits have fallen in part because unemployment is down, which means the federal government is taking in more tax revenue. This is obviously a good thing. The president can rightfully take credit for it.

But deficits are also down because the pandemic relief from late in Trump’s term and early in Biden’s are expiring. Most of that $3.1 trillion has already been spent. Government spending is lower because the government is no longer providing large amounts of covid relief.

It’s possible that reduced spending will reduce inflation.

A little.

But the real drivers of inflation are the sanctions on Russian oil and ongoing pandemic-related supply-chain issues — issues that have most recently contributed to a dangerous shortage of baby formula.

Meanwhile, less spending means less aid for the desperate.

The Child Tax Credit sent hundreds of dollars to poor families with children. It expired in January. Child poverty has spiked by 41 percent.

The US has also run through funds for free vaccines. Because Republicans are objectively pro-virus and pro-death, they won’t vote for additional aid. The US has money for a fourth booster for people over 65 and for initial shots for children under 5 (pending approval).

But the government can’t buy additional boosters for everyone else.

That’s a potential catastrophe as covid cases and hospitalizations are rising while many people have abandoned masks even on airplanes.

More broadly, Biden’s ambitious infrastructure agenda — including funds for clean energy, clearing up immigrant backlogs, economic expansion, for lead abatement — was derailed when West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin killed the Build Back Better Act in December.

Reducing the deficit hinges on not spending money on things we desperately need. We’re still in the middle of a historic pandemic, a historic climate catastrophe and the hollowing out of the middle class. Saying the deficit has gone down is an admission of failure.

Still, if you’ve failed, you might as well put a good spin on it. If people think low deficits are good, you might as well tout them, right?

The problem is that there’s little evidence that people think low deficits are good. Politicians don’t suffer electoral reversals when they run up deficits. Reagan for instance raised the deficit from $78.9 billion at the beginning of his term to $152.6 billion at the end; it didn’t stop him from a landslide reelection victory in 1984 and a Republican successor when George H.W. Bush won in 1988.

Surveys of voters don’t show much concern for the deficit either. Indeed, people say they care, but their concern is closely related to whether they can frame the other party as irresponsible. The deficit is just an excuse for partisan point-scoring; “I don’t like the deficit” is a way for Republican partisans to say “I don’t like Democrats.”

Some Very Serious People like George Will constantly burble about fiscal responsibility and the deficit. But it’s unlikely even they actually vote on it rather than on other issues or other partisan commitments.

No Biden-hater will vote for him because the deficit is lower. No Biden-lover will change their mind because of deficit reduction. No undecided is going to be decided because the deficit is down.

The Republicans have figured this out. They barely try to pretend that they care anymore. As Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Bernstein explains, the Republicans use “deficit” to mean “stuff they don’t like.”

Boasting about deficit reduction won’t abash Republicans.

It won’t sway voters.

It might even annoy them.

Worst of all, if Biden really did take deficit reduction seriously, he’d have to back off advocating for necessary programs and spending.

Deficit reduction is a poor talking point and a poor goal.

The president should focus elsewhere.

Rick Scott's 11-point nightmare is a revival of Mitt Romney's '47 percent of Americans pay no taxes' schtick

Florida Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has released a plan which says, honestly and clearly, exactly what Republicans want to do to the poor.

It’s this plan that Joe Biden highlighted Tuesday in setting up a contrast between the Democratic agenda and the Republicans’.

“Republicans in Congress are so deeply committed to protecting big corporations and CEOs that they would rather see taxes on working American families and try to depress their wages than take on inflation, never mind the fact that many of these companies are recording record profit margins even as ... they raise prices,” he said.

Scott’s peers have not welcomed the plan. They have distanced themselves from his proposals. In doing so, they have demonstrated the extent to which Republican economic policies rely on hypocritical populism to cover for their assault on the disadvantaged.

Scott’s Plan to Rescue America, unveiled at the end of March, included a lot of rabid Republican nativism and conspiratorial bigotry.

It demands all students in public school be forced to recite the pledge of allegiance. It promises to double down on completing Trump’s failed border wall. It says Republicans will ban a debt increase — which would trigger default and precipitate a massive recession or worse.

Republican campaigns marinate in this kind of festering nonsensically symbolic stew of word and gesture. But Scott, who is worth north of $250 million, adds policies that deliberately target the least affluent.

Scott’s plan states that, “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

By his own account, therefore, Scott’s plan would raise taxes on more than half of Americans — most of whom pay no income tax because they don’t earn enough income on which to pay income tax. About 102 million individuals or married couples would owe under his plan.

In addition, Scott proposed that “all federal legislation sunsets in five years.” This would throw the government into chaos. More, it would eliminate Social Security and Medicare. Imagine a divided Congress passing such sweeping legislation quinquennially. You can’t.

Democrats criticized the plan quickly.

Republicans, meanwhile, disapproved or sidestepped.

Senate candidate Billy Long said he didn’t support Scott’s tax increases. Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks issued a statement denouncing tax increases. Senator Marco Rubio dodged the issue, saying he didn’t know whether he agreed with it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was far more forthright. The Senate conference would not run on raising taxes, he said, and the party was absolutely not going to cut Social Security or Medicare.

In 2012, Republican candidate Mitt Romney suggested Americans who didn’t pay taxes were freeloading or were not invested in the system. There was a massive backlash. Since then Republicans have generally opposed all tax increases of any sort for everyone.

Trump in 2016 promised a big middle-class tax cut. He also promised to preserve entitlement programs — at least when he’s not, in typically incoherent Trump fashion, promising to cut them.

The Republicans can be trusted generally to say they are committed to reducing the burden on the working and middle class. But what they do is more in line with the goal of Rick Scott’s proposal– soak the poor.

Trump’s 2017 tax cut was a bonanza for the rich and a punch in the gut for the less affluent. The richest, earning at least $308,900, had their income tax cut, giving them a 3 percent boost in income.

The poorest saw a decrease in income of about 3 percent. That’s because it repealed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

Similarly, Republicans almost uniformly opposed President Joe Biden’s Child Tax Credit program which provided hundreds of dollars in cash payments to poor families with children.

Thanks to GOP obstruction, the program ended in January.

When it did, child poverty spiked by 41 percent.

The Republicans and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin look more heartless as it becomes clear the conservative Supreme Court intends to shred abortion rights, allowing states to force women to give birth.

That should make clear that Republicans are keen to control women’s bodies, but lose interest once they’re born. Some Republicans have made vague noises about maybe providing some limited benefits for children, but these plans sound half-hearted at best.

The GOP is eager to shovel money into the wealthy’s deep pockets. They are just as eager to take money from those who need it most.

More, they love restricting, regulating and harassing the poor by denying them access to reproductive healthcare or any healthcare.

Romney accurately explained the Republican philosophy when he characterized the rich as “makers” and the poor as “takers.”

To Romney, bosses were virtuous wealth generators who deserved all the resources. Poor and working people, who actually did the labor that created the goods and services, were leeches to be brushed aside.

Open contempt for working people proved to be fairly unpopular. Republicans have instead embraced a pallid populism with which they blame the country’s economic woes on immigrants and mutter indistinctly about helping the middle class.

Scott’s plan gives the game away. It openly acknowledges the policies that Republicans don’t like to admit to their own voters.

Scott wants to take money from the poor triumphantly, rather than quietly letting their cash payments lapse. He wants to slice benefits with a flourish, rather than scuttling them in the fine print.

He says the less powerful are less worthy, rather than (or in addition to) using dog whistles and insinuations to encourage people to think that GOP hate is directed solely at immigrants, Black people, LGBT people — anyone but the GOP’s core constituency of white people.

Democrats have been talking about Scott’s plan on the campaign trail. It may help around the edges, but it’s not clear any message will avert the midterm curse that typically scars the president’s party.

Rick Scott’s plan advertises what voters can expect from Republicans. His party wants to harm working people and the less affluent.

When they’re out of office, they dream of it.

When they’re in office, they’ll deliver it.

Almost all of the richest Americans are white male 'tech moguls, hedge funders and heirs'

Who are the elite of America? If you watch Fox, or spend time in rightwing media bubbles, you’ll probably think of celebrities, musicians, actors and athletes – all those fashionable bicoastal entertainers who look down on hard-working middle Americans.

A recent ProPublica report based on IRS tax files from 2013 to 2018 shows this vision of America’s upper-crust is thoroughly misleading.

The richest are not actors or singers.

They’re tech moguls, hedge funders and heirs.

The right-wing wants you to think the US is controlled by nefarious culture workers. In fact, the 400 people who comprise the upper echelon of US wealth are virtually all white male capitalists.

Celebrities are rich, but not that rich.

The resentment directed at them is a convenient way to target groups that the right-wing doesn’t believe is entitled to wealth. Meanwhile, the people who are truly the most powerful are celebrated for their business acumen in sitting back and collecting investment income.

The average American earns about $40,000 a year. The top 5 percent earns at least $198,000. The top 1 percent earns around $485,000.

Many celebrities make much more than this. Kim Kardashian is believed to make between $50 million and $80 million a year. LeBron James’ salary is $41 million a year, but with endorsement deals and other income, ProPublica found that he made $96 million a year.

For normal people, that’s an unimaginable amount of money. But it didn’t put James in the top 400 earners, according to ProPublica.

The 400th (anonymous) person on the list made $110 million. The highest earner, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, made $2.85 billion. (In fact, Gates avoided $125 million in taxes — more than Lebron James’ entire income — because of lower taxation rates on dividend income.)

Gates and tech billionaires, who comprise 10 of the 15 top earners, generally make their money from dividends and stock sales. Similarly, hedge fund managers — a fifth of the top 400 — make their income from stock trades and other financial manipulations.

The list includes 11 heirs of the Walton (Walmart) fortune and four heirs of Amway’s Richard DeVos. They also make their money from dividends and investment income, according to ProPublica. In other words, the highest incomes come from the accumulation of capital.

These people aren’t workers.

But they acquire excess value from workers.

In contrast, celebrities earn money by providing goods and services. Business Insider reports that Taylor Swift makes most of her income from touring. Her “Reputation” show in 2018 brought in $345 million, shattering the previous tour record set by the Rolling Stones.

Similarly, athletes make their money from working on the court or the field. James earns some $40 million of his $96 million yearly haul from his salary. Tennis players make money through methods like appearance fees, prize money, endorsement deals and club tennis deals. Their income comes primarily from playing, from lending their name, from showing up — from work, not shifting money around.

Celebrities also differ in that they’re less male and less white.

The top 15 earners on the Forbes list are all white and, except for Laurene Powell Jobs, businesswoman and widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, they are all men.

The top 10 earning athletes of 2021 were also men, but more than half were Black or people of color. The three highest-paid movie roles of 2021 went to Black men (Dwayne Johnson, Will Smith and Denzel Washington). The fourth went to Angelina Jolie. Jennifer Lawrence and Emily Blunt were also in the top 10. The highest-paid musicians of 2020 included Swift, Celine Dion, Billie Eilish, Drake and Lil Baby.

The very richest are overwhelmingly white male business owners, heirs and capitalists who make money through the stock market. The (less rich) richest are often not white, often not men and make their money by working — not infrequently at actual physical labor.

Yet though celebrities are workers who frequently come from less privileged backgrounds, they are framed as entitled or as undeserving of their wealth. Blur frontman Damon Albarn this year falsely claimed Taylor Swift didn’t write her own songs, for example — a fairly common way to suggest pop stars don’t deserve their success.

Conservative commentators were quick to insist athletes protesting police violence by taking a knee were “ungrateful”. When singer Stevie Wonder expressed support for the protest, former Congressman Joe Walsh called him, “another ungrateful Black multimillionaire.”

The public often criticizes celebrities for their spending habits, or for luxury purchases, as singer and rapper Cardi B pointed out.

Fans feel justified telling celebrities to donate to charities or spend money in more generous ways. Meanwhile, Bill Gates is widely lauded for his giving. But despite his 2010 pledge to donate half his wealth to charity before he dies, Gates’ total net worth now has grown from $53 million when he made the pledge to $115 billion today.

Billionaires are notoriously stingy. Often their “donations” are to private foundations set up as tax shelters and under the donors' control.

Forbes found that billionaires are giving away less and less. Of the top 400 billionaires, 156, including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, gave less than 1 percent of their wealth to charity in 2021.

Gates, Musk, Bezos and people like them are seen as brilliant, generous and worthy precisely because they are white men who don’t have to work. For the rightwing (and not just for the right), certain people are supposed to be at the top and as long as they are, all is well.

When Black people, women and others move upwards, though, that’s a problem. Celebrities are viewed as undeserving elitists not because they’re rich, but because they’re the wrong rich. They have usurped power and privilege rightly belonging to (white, male) capitalists.

Obviously, Swift, James, Cardi B and their celebrity brethren are incredibly well off. They don’t necessarily need or deserve pity.

But when prejudice and presuppositions prevent us from identifying who has the most money and the most power — that’s a problem for everyone.

Elon Musk wants 'his speech to trump everyone else’s'

Billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk has launched a $43 billion takeover bid of Twitter. Musk has said openly his motivations are not business oriented, but ideological. He wants to increase “free speech.”

“Well, I think it’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech,” Musk said. “Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it’s just really important that people have … both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.”

“Free speech” sounds good. But how free is speech when it’s controlled by billionaires? Musk’s takeover bid demonstrates how closely speech in the US is tied to wealth.

In an increasingly unequal society, the powerful and wealthy have more and more control over who speaks and what’s said. Those with less money have the right to silence and marginalization.

Musk’s comments are an implicit criticism of Twitter’s content moderation policies, which include restrictions on hateful content, abusive behavior and misinformation.

The most famous instance of Twitter moderation policy in action is the company’s decision to ban the former president following the violent attack on the US Capitol building on January 6.

Twitter determined that Trump was using Twitter to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen by Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Trump’s lies, Twitter said, encouraged further violent attacks on democracy and on political opponents. So the company permanently banned his account.

Twitter has also suspended accounts for openly transphobic speech and for antisemitism.

Progressives and human rights organizations have criticized Twitter’s policies for being confusing, inadequate and ineffective. The Guardian reported that users banned for racist attacks on English soccer players simply created new accounts and kept posting.

Conservatives, though, have been even more enraged. Hate speech, bigotry and violent insurrection have become central to Republican political organizing and policy. When Twitter says it doesn’t want bigotry and violent insurrection on its platform, conservatives see that as an assault on their right to free speech.

Musk has himself posted transphobic memes and is currently being sued for discriminating against Black workers at his Tesla factory.

His call for more “free speech” on Twitter is being taken up with enthusiasm by conservatives like US Reps. Jim Jordan and Lauren Boebert, who see Musk as an ally in turning Twitter into a place where hateful and abusive speech are common and encouraged.

Musk’s vision of Twitter is, as he said, based on a “town square” in which everyone shouts at everyone else unfettered by regulation.

In reality, if you go out in public and start screaming slurs indiscriminately or insulting people, someone is likely to call the police. (And conservatives generally claim to want more police in public spaces.)

But putting that aside for the moment, the analogy is wrong.

Twitter isn’t a public square. It’s a private media company.

Or, to put it another way, it’s a publisher.

As a freelance writer, I’m aware publishers don’t print everything submitted to them. They accept some and reject others, based on (sometimes arbitrary, sometimes well-established) editorial standards.

Twitter has very broad editorial standards. The company mostly lets users post whatever they want, no matter how trivial. But “broad editorial standards” isn’t the same as “no editorial standards.”

Twitter as a publisher has decided it doesn’t want to publish flagrant hate speech, in part because flagrant hate speech forces some people off the platform. For the same reason, it tries to restrict spam.

For ideological reasons it doesn’t want to promote violent insurrection, just as, for ideological reasons, Fox doesn’t host progressive shows like Last Week Tonight.

Musk isn’t angry because Twitter is restricting “free speech.”

He’s angry because he disagrees with a particular editorial policy, and doesn’t like how Twitter is using its free speech as a publisher.

Musk wants Twitter to speak the way he wants it to speak.

He wants his speech to trump everyone else’s.

This isn’t surprising or unusual. People constantly lobby news outlets in an effort to get them to adjust their editorial policies. Readers yell at the Times and the Post. Television viewers criticize CNN and Fox.

Part of free speech is telling publishers they’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes publishers respond to critics. Mostly they just ignore them.

But Twitter can’t ignore Musk. He’s extremely rich.

Musk is currently worth more than $300 billion, according to expert estimates, making him possibly the richest person to have lived.

He has $100 billion more than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the second richest person on the planet. His wealth is greater than the GDP of Finland. It’s greater than the GDP of Connecticut.

Musk’s enormous wealth is part of a long-term trend. The wealthiest households have brought in a larger and larger share of total income over the past 50 years. In 1968, the top 20 percent of households brought in 43 percent of income. In 2018 it was 52 percent.

Inequality has only accelerated in recent years. The wealth of the world’s 10 richest men doubled in the pandemic.

Economic elites have more and more money, which means they have more and more political power over policy outcomes.

A recent political science study found the preferences of average citizens have almost no effect on policy.

When few citizens want a policy, it has little effect.

When many citizens want a policy, it has little effect.

In contrast, when wealthy Americans want a policy, that policy tends to magically get enacted. When 20 percent of economic elites support an outcome, the outcome happens only 18 percent of the time.

If 80 percent of the rich want change, it occurs 45 percent of the time.

People can speak up for change if they want. But no one listens to them unless they’re very wealthy. Effective free speech isn’t free.

It’s only available to the rich.

Rupert Murdoch, through Fox and other outlets, has flooded US and global discourse with his reactionary views. Jeff Bezos has, in contrast, decided not to meddle in the Post’s editorial policy.

But Musk reminds us that in a country stratified by wealth, publishers and people are only as free to speak as billionaires want them to be.

If one man with the resources of a mid-sized nation decides he wants to be able to spew transphobia from the world’s major media outlets, he can simply buy those outlets. If he wants to ban critics from social media and call it free speech, he could do that. Who’s stopping him?

Democracy requires a robust public sphere. But a public sphere in which the super-wealthy dictate the terms of discourse isn’t robust or democratic. We say we want to promote free speech. But what we hear thundering through our democracy is great torrents of cash.

Legalizing cannabis is a great way to 'defund the police'

This month, the House passed The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE), a bill eliminating federal criminal penalties for the manufacture, distribution and possession of marijuana.

The bill is a model for criminal justice reform, which in many ways borrows productively from the ideas and framework of the “defund the police” movement.

It shifts money away from policing and toward social service and resources for communities and individuals harmed by carceral systems.

Cannabis has long been one of the major engines driving excessive policing and incarceration. Between 2001 and 2010, there were about 8.2 million cannabis arrests, according to the ACLU.

The vast majority of which — 88 percent — were for possession alone.

As with the rest of the criminal justice system, cannabis arrests are subject to huge racial bias. Black people are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses as white people are.

In recent years, many states have legalized cannabis use for medical and/or recreational use. However, there were still 663,000 cannabis arrests in 2018, accounting for fully 40 percent of all drug arrests.

Again, almost 90 percent of these were for possession.

Around 40,000 people are still in jail for cannabis offenses. Imprisonment has huge negative effects on people’s long-term prospects.

Being incarcerated makes it more difficult to get a job. It cuts wage growth by 30 percent over a person’s lifetime. Each year in prison takes two years off a person’s life expectancy.

Human suffering is inflicted at a high dollar cost. Police enforcement of cannabis amounts to around $3.6 billion yearly.

States also forego large amounts of revenue when they ban cannabis. Illinois, which just legalized cannabis, took in $387 million in marijuana taxes in 2021, more than from alcohol taxes.

California took in $817 million in taxes during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Colorado has generated more than $2 billion in cannabis taxes and fees since it legalized marijuana in 2014.

The cannabis business has boomed despite the fact that banks have been very leery of providing services to cannabis sellers and dispensaries. Since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, large banks will not provide services for state cannabis businesses.

Smaller banks have picked up the slack to some degree. But a change in federal law is likely to make cannabis even more lucrative than it has been up to now.

When we criminalize cannabis, we spend a huge amount of money to harm large numbers of people for basically no benefit. This is, to put it mildly, poor policy.

The House MORE Act not only changes that policy, but makes an attempt to rectify the harms it has caused.

The bill has a process for expunging convictions for those convicted of cannabis offenses in the past. It also places a federal tax on cannabis sales to start at 5 percent and increase over time to 8 percent.

The tax funds are earmarked for job-training, substance-abuse programs, literacy programs, legal aid, re-entry for those released from prison and youth recreation programs.

The bill also provides loans for small businesses owned or run by socially and economically disadvantaged groups. These are the same groups that have been targeted for arrest and harassment under cannabis drug laws. MORE is, in a small way, an effort at reparations.

Unfortunately, the chances for the MORE Act in the Senate aren’t great. The House passed a similar bill in 2020 and the Senate never voted on it.

President Joe Biden has acknowledged that our current cannabis laws don’t work well. But he’s refused to commit to legalization at the federal level. He even fired a number of staffers for cannabis use. (Vice President Kamala Harris has been more supportive of legalization.)

Biden’s reluctance is especially frustrating because cannabis legalization has strong public bipartisan support.

Fully 60 percent of the public, including 72 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans, believe cannabis should be legal for recreational use. Ninety-one percent of Americans (95 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of Republicans) think cannabis should at least be legal for medicinal use.

Every age group supports legalization for recreational use except for those 75 and over — a group that includes the 79-year-old Biden.

Cannabis legalization should also be attractive to Democrats as a way to come together around an issue that has been contentious in the caucus: defunding the police.

Progressives have argued that policing harms marginalized groups, and that public safety, health and equity would be better served by using limited funds to create stronger social safety nets.

Biden and mainstream Democrats have been reluctant to agree in general that reducing policing can be helpful. But without using the words “defund the police,” they are clearly on board with the idea in the particular case of cannabis.

The MORE Act, which has overwhelming support from Democrats in the House, calls for an end to spending on policing cannabis use. Instead, it calls to shift funds to help people and communities harmed by the former policies.

MORE could be made even more congruent with progressive goals, of course. It could, for example, cut federal funds for police budgets by the billions wasted on cannabis enforcement.

But even in this current form, the bill is a model for reform that finds common ground between progressive and moderate wings of the party.

As such, it provides a possible blueprint for further progress on other issues. Criminalization has worked poorly for cannabis. Has it worked well for sex work? For other controlled substances like LSD or narcotics?

Arresting people and putting them in prison costs a good deal of money. It also traumatizes people and communities, and ruins lives. In many cases, we could avoid the trauma and the ruin, and spend the savings to make a kinder and more equitable country.

Progress is slow, not least because once you criminalize something, like cannabis, everything associated with it is stigmatized and politicians — like Biden — don’t want to be associated with it.

But the move toward cannabis legalization in the states and the MORE Act on the federal level indicate that things are changing.

Even many in the mainstream of the Democratic Party have reached a point where they can see that investment is a better approach to societal ills than criminalization.

Hopefully, we can pass the MORE Act soon, and other legislation along the same lines will follow.

'Everyone in the territory is disenfranchised': Washington DC should replace Iowa as first presidential nominating contest

The Iowa caucus has been the first presidential nomination contest for 50 years. Democrats are considering ousting it from its place.

They should.

They should replace it with Washington, DC.

Iowa’s status is in jeopardy for a number of reasons. The main one is that the state party catastrophically fumbled the 2020 caucus results.

Thanks to reliance on a new app and new technology, results weren’t finalized for weeks, leading to chaos, conspiracy theories and confusion. It was a debacle that exacerbated divisions in the party.

No one wants to repeat it.

Democratic critics have other reasons. Caucuses require people to gather at a particular time and place for long periods of time compared to primaries. (Caucuses are an open vote. Primaries are a secret vote.) That means caucuses are often difficult to access for disabled people as well as with inflexible hours and childcare needs.

If the Democratic Party cares about disabled rights and economic equity, giving a caucus pride of place is a poor way to show it.

Iowa is unrepresentative in other ways.

Its population is about 85 percent white. In comparison, the country as a whole is 72 percent white. The Democratic electorate is 54% white.

Starting the primary process with Iowa means candidates without strong support among Black people and people of color get a boost early on. That’s not a good way to judge general election strength. Nor is it a good way for the party to honor its antiracist commitments.

For all these reasons, the Democrats are considering choosing a different state to go first. Illinois is one frontrunner. Its breakdown of white college-educated voters, white non-college-educated voters, Black voters and Hispanic voters closely mirror rates in the nation.

There are other factors to consider, though.

Demographics are important. But we should also think about the fact that the state that goes first helps set a policy agenda.

Iowa’s place, for example, has privileged ethanol subsidies.

Ethanol is a biofuel made primarily of corn. It can be mixed with gasoline. The US offers a tax subsidy to ethanol blenders which comes to $5.7 billion a year.

In theory, ethanol is supposed to reduce reliance on gasoline, lower prices and help reduce climate gasses.

In practice, ethanol isn’t cost-competitive with gasoline, and does little to reduce carbon emissions in the long run.

It also diverts massive amounts of land from food production. Land devoted to corn ethanol could feed 150 million people.

Removing farm and grazing land from food production drives up the price of food. Ground beef costs twice as much because of ethanol. Flour and rice are 50 percent more than they would otherwise be.

“The ethanol program functions as a hidden food tax — the most regressive of all taxes,” writes Mario Loyola in The Atlantic. “And the effects on poor Americans are magnified for poor countries that depend on imports of food.”

Iowa is the leading corn-producing state. Ethanol subsidies are very popular there. As a result, candidates trying to get an early Iowa bump tend to tour ethanol plants and make ethanol promises.

Even progressive Bernie Sanders, a longstanding opponent of ethanol, switched his position in 2020. In an effort to sway Iowa voters, he argued (unconvincingly) that ethanol helps fight climate change.

When looking for a replacement for Iowa, the Democrats should consider what policy they would like to push candidates to embrace rather than ethanol subsidies.

There’s no policy more important to the health of the country right now than voting rights. And no state would better highlight voting rights than Washington, DC.

DC isn’t yet a state. That’s the point. As a territory, Washington, DC, has three electoral votes it casts for president, but it has no senators and no representatives. Everyone in the territory is disenfranchised.

Black people have historically been the main target of disenfranchisement in the US. Republicans continue to push policies to make it more difficult for Black people to vote.

Washington is 50 percent Black. It would almost certainly elect Black senators and representatives. Statehood would be the single best way for the Democrats to enfranchise Black people nationwide.

Democrats have begun pushing DC statehood more vigorously. Joe Manchin effectively scuttled progress, as he often does.

That defeat was all the more bitter because DC disenfranchisement made it possible. Manchin would not have a veto on Democratic priorities in an evenly divided Congress if DC had representation and two voting senators to override him.

DC has other recommendations too.

It’s fairly small – about 693,000 people. That means that even less-known politicians would have a chance to introduce themselves to the electorate, just as they do in Iowa, even though DC’s primary would pull in a higher percentage of voters than the restrictive caucuses.

Illinois, in contrast, is much larger. Establishment candidates would have a major advantage.

The main reason to choose DC, though, is because it is a symbol of our broken electoral system, and a call to fix it.

Republicans have major structural advantages in the Senate because largely white rural states like Wyoming have disproportionate voting power compared to their population.

Removing that bias is vital for a progressive agenda and for the long-term health of democracy. Nothing would focus attention on this issue like putting DC at the beginning of the primary calendar.

Instead of candidates trooping around cornfields, talking up ethanol, you’d have would-be nominees going from DC church to DC church talking about how, if elected, they will make DC statehood a priority.

It’s time to replace a primary calendar that emphasizes narrow pork-barrel boondoggles with one putting democracy at the center.

No corruption needed: the American right's 'Putinphilia' is based on a hatred of democracy

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has said that Ukraine is “not a democracy” but is rather a “puppet regime” of the United States.

Fox News contributor and erstwhile progressive Glenn Greenwald claimed without evidence that Ukraine had US bioweapons labs.

Former President Donald Trump has over the years praised Putin repeatedly, referring to him as “very, very strong.”

All these talking points cheering on Putin and lambasting Ukraine fit in with Russian propaganda. That has led many commenters to believe that Carlson, Greenwald, Trump and their ilk are in the pay of Russia.

Typical social media replies to Carlson include comments like “Does Putin pay Tucker Carlson as a contractor or is he a salaried employee?”

Editorial Board editor John Stoehr mentioned to me, when I pitched this article, that he gave some credence to the idea that some elements of the right were actually in the direct pay of Russia.

I think John is wrong.

There’s no direct evidence of payments from Putin to the vast majority of his western boosters. Putin gets support from some elements on the right (and the left), because of the dovetailing of ideology and interest.

Direct corruption would almost be more understandable and less corrosive. But the unfortunate fact is that some elements in the US find fascism and imperialism appealing. They support Putin not because he pays them, but because they like what he stands for.

Progressives often laudably critique concentrations of wealth and power. When you are attuned to the influence of the rich, it’s natural to assume that politicians or commenters who take ugly or immoral positions do so because they are being paid off.

Progressive discussions of the NRA, for example, often focus on its cash contributions to reelection campaigns. “Fistfuls of NRA money” supposedly explain why the US can’t pass gun control legislation.

But analysts who have actually looked at NRA contributions have found that the organization just doesn’t give politicians that much money compared to overall donations. Just as importantly, the NRA tends to give money to candidates in very conservative districts that would support its agenda already.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg's “Everytown for Gun Safety” was explicitly designed to erase the NRA’s money advantage in lobbying. It was basically successful. But gun control legislation didn’t pass.

Voters and politicians embrace gun control because guns have become central to rural white identity politics, not because they’re being paid.

Ideology is the main issue when politicians vote against gun control, even though we know politicians do receive some NRA donations. In cases in which there’s no evidence of financial gain at all, we should be even more ready to assume that individuals are taking positions out of interest and ideology, rather than because they are paid off.

So why would people like Carlson support Putin for free?

The main reason is that is currently the symbolic leader of the global far-right, as Jason Stanley and Eliyahu Stern explain in Tablet.

According to Stanley and Stern, contemporary Russian nationalism, embodied by Putin, insists that “liberals, cosmopolitans and progressives undermine defined and necessary ethnic and religious identities.”

Putin’s invasion of liberal democratic Ukraine is, for Putin, Carlson and their ilk, an assertion of nationalist virility against a decadent liberal democratic regime.

Trump and Trumpists, fresh from the failed J6 coup, imagine themselves overthrowing weak, corrupt liberal democracy just like Putin wants to. They support him because they share his goals and long to repeat what they see as his successes.

This congruence of ideology is perhaps most obvious in a congruence of homophobia. Putin has cultivated virulent hatred of LGBT people as a central part of nationalist Russian identity. Just as Hitler scapegoated Jews for all of Germany’s woes, so Putin frames LGBT people as an invasive decadent western force that must be exterminated in Russia to preserve national greatness.

The rabid homophobic right in the US eagerly co-signs Putin’s equation of national vigor with homophobia. At the outset of the invasion of Ukraine, numerous right-wing pundits (including Carlson) claimed the war could have been prevented if only the US had shown strength by banning gay and trans soldiers from the military.

The right is invested in Russia’s success because the right wants to prove LGBT people are inferior and weak, and Putin stands for homophobia. If Putin shows strength, it follows that it is right to harm LGBT people. (Of course, Putin’s military has revealed itself to be corrupt and incompetent. Don’t expect Tucker Carlson to retract.)

There are some concrete instances of Russian aid to right-wing figures. Most notably, there is extensive evidence that Russian intelligence was in contact with Trump campaign advisors in 2016. There’s also evidence of Russia being involved in the hack of Democratic computers and of Wikileaks knowing Russia was the source when it leaked the files.

Since Russia provided material aid to Trump, shouldn’t we assume that his statements supporting Putin, and his plans to pull the US out of NATO, were part of a quid pro quo?

Anything’s possible with Trump.

But it’s worth remembering that he’s fiercely unloyal to just about everyone who’s ever done him a good turn. He cheered on an attempted mob assault on his own vice president.

When Trump says how much he likes Putin, it’s probably because Putin’s authoritarian rule sincerely appeals to him.

Putin’s aid to Trump in the election was probably because he knew Trump shared ideological goals and a love of authoritarianism (though he may have hoped for access and influence as well.)

Some may wonder why these distinctions matter.

If Carlson is an authoritarian homophobe bent on the destruction of American democracy, why quibble at calling him a paid stooge?

He’s horrible, so why defend him from any charges ever?

There are two reasons. First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that there can be good-faith criticism of Russian policy.

Some analysts argue we shouldn’t provide US arms to Ukraine. Many argue we shouldn’t institute a no-fly zone. You can agree or disagree. But we shouldn’t assume people who hold them are being paid by Russia.

Accusations of corruption and false dealing should require strong evidence. Otherwise, they become little more than smears. And it becomes too easy to sling them at good faith rhetorical opponents.

The second reason to be cautious is that you don’t want to downplay the danger Carlson, Greenwald and their cohort pose.

If authoritarian fascism is a foreign imposition, you can convince yourself it’s relatively easy to handle and easy to defeat.

If Putinphilia is something that comes from outside, we just need to stop the Russian cash streams and we’re good.

The truth is less comforting.

Many Americans don’t need Putin to undermine their commitment to democracy. They hate democracy all on their own. Plenty of our fascism is homegrown. Defeating Putin won’t root it out.

Switching to renewable energy can dethrone men like Vladimir Putin

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and disruptions in and sanctions on Russian oil, have led to a major rise in oil prices.

In Chicago, I’ve seen gas selling for north of $5 a gallon. Some parts of California are reporting gas over $5.50. Last week, average gas prices nationwide hit $4.196 per gallon, which is the highest recorded price in history, breaking the previous record of $4.165 from July 2008.

Democrats have watched rising prices with some concern, and Republicans have been rubbing their hands. Conventional wisdom (channeled by Politico, as one example) is that high inflation, and especially high prices at the pump, harm the incumbent party.

The actual evidence is mixed, though.

Especially six months from the next election.

One study from 1976 to 2007 found a 10-cent increase in gas prices led to a .60 percentage point fall in approval rating.

However, 538 points out that foreign oil shocks, such as that caused by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, often aren’t blamed on the president, and may even be associated with presidential approval boosts.

In line with that, high gas prices currently are not harming Biden.

On the contrary, the latest spike in oil coincides with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and sanctions on Russian oil. That coincides with a rise, not a fall, in Biden’s approval.

Since late February, when Russia invaded, Biden’s numbers have gone from a low of 40.4 percent approval to close to 43 percent in mid-March, according to 538’s poll aggregator.

The popularity of support for Ukraine seems to outweigh any anger at the pump, at least for now.

Would Biden be doing better if gas prices were lower?

That’s hard to answer. In fact, it’s always difficult to separate oil spikes from other factors affecting election outcomes.

In a 2012 interview on NPR, Jim Tankersley, economic correspondent for the National Journal, explained that gas prices may harm the president if they reflect, or add to, a general economic slowdown.

“If gasoline prices spike, then that can have a real effect on economic growth and if growth slows down, that can really impede a president's path to reelection,” Tankersley said.

Tankersley pointed to the 1980 election as a complicated example.

Gas prices were up in 1980 in large part because of the Iranian hostage crisis, which most Americans believed Jimmy Carter mishandled.

The US was also experiencing a serious economic slowdown and a price spike — dubbed stagflation.

GOP candidate Ronald Reagan famously won a sweeping victory in 1980. Gas prices may have been a factor. But only because they seemed part of a wider presidential failure, diplomatically and economically.

Another example is the 2008 election.

Rising gas prices were a major issue, but not the deciding factor.

Andrew Prokop at Vox noted that gas prices spiked in the first half of 2008, hitting a peak in June 30 percent higher than the January level.

A Pew poll in June of that year found gas prices were the number one economic problem Americans were hearing about in the news.

John McCain promised a federal gas tax holiday. Barack Obama proposed a windfall profit tax on oil companies. And then in September, the 2008 financial crisis hit, the Great Recession started and gas prices cratered along with the economic slowdown.

The timing here is important.

Voters’ memories are short. Politics can be volatile—especially now, as we deal with an active international conflict and ongoing pandemic. In 2008, the situation between June and November changed radically.

Similarly, while gas prices are high now, we don’t know what they will look like in six months. Biden has pointed out that oil prices are already falling (though prices at the pump have been slow to follow.)

Gas prices may not have a strong effect on elections in November. But high prices at the pump still cause real harm. A 2012 study by the Brookings Institution found most low-to-moderate income households own cars. Rising gas prices cause them serious pain.

“Every dollar increase, holding the number of miles driven constant, would cost these moderate- to lower-income households an extra $530 per year,” the report said. “For a family with an annual income of $20,000, this is an additional 2.7 percent of their total income.”

Congress has tools to moderate the worst effects of price increases on low-income families. The most obvious is the Child Tax Credit.

As I’ve discussed here in the Editorial Board before, the Child Tax Credit, direct payments to low-income families with children, pulled millions out of poverty when it was put in place in 2021.

When it lapsed due to opposition from Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, those millions of kids fell back into poverty.

Rising gas prices create another major barrier for families already struggling with the loss of federal assistance. If we want to reduce hardship and mitigate the effect of inflation on those most at risk, we should immediately renew the Child Tax Credit.

Russia’s invasion has also demonstrated once again how vulnerable an oil-dependent world is to instability in oil-producing regions, and to recklessness on the part of oil-producing countries.

An obvious response would be to increase investments in renewables. Europe is pushing short-term conservation efforts, like lowered thermostats, and more investment in nuclear, solar and biofuels.

The US has, unfortunately, been more tentative. Biden has called for more renewables. But the loudest Democratic messaging has called for domestic oil and gas companies to ramp up production.

Given the unpopularity of the Russian invasion and the concern with gas prices, this seems like as good an opportunity as Democrats are ever going to get to push an anti-Putin renewable energy package through Congress. At the very least, Democrats could force Republicans to acknowledge that voting against the climate is also a vote for authoritarian imperialists like Putin.

Thinking of gas prices primarily through the lens of the next election is misleading and unhelpful. We don’t know what gas prices will be like in November, or whether they will be a major issue.

But we do know high gas prices are a political reality now.

Democrats should address the harms caused by rising costs and oil dependence not to win the next vote. We should address them because low-income families need help, and because, for numerous reasons, we need to move away from carbon-based fuels.

Joe Manchin and the GOP simply 'do not want to provide aid to poor people'

Following the expiration of the Child Tax Credit on December 15, millions of children plunged back into poverty.

Child poverty rates ballooned from 12 to 17 percent in January.

That’s the highest rate since December 2020, before the credit was passed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act last March.

Conservatives claim government “handouts” create dependency and exacerbate the problems they attempt to redress. But the immediate increase in poverty shows how successful the Child Tax Credit was.

It’s clear evidence that giving money to those most in need is the simplest, most direct way to alleviate poverty.

The name “Child Tax Credit” sounds like a complicated technical tax abatement. In fact, though, the program is basically straightforward cash distribution.

Low-income families with children formerly could receive a tax rebate at the end of the year. The Child Tax Credit changed this so payments happened every month. It expanded eligibility to more low-income families, including families who earned too little to be eligible. Finally, it raised the cap, so families could receive $3,000-$3,600 per child, rather than a maximum of $2,000.

The result was that low-income families received monthly checks of as much as $250 to $300 per child. The first installment on July 15 reached more than 59 million children, about 80 percent of all children in the US.

According to researchers at the Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy, the benefit kept 3.7 million children out of poverty. In July, following the first payment, the child poverty rate fell immediately from 15.8 percent to 11.9 percent.

That’s a 26 percent reduction.

At the end of the six months, the payments had reduced child poverty in the US by 30 percent. It cut food insufficiency among families by 26 percent.

The program helped children almost as soon as it began. Ending it had similarly swift negative effects.

In January, 3.7 million children slipped below the poverty line as the Child Tax Payments ended.

The success of the Child Tax Credit shouldn’t be a surprise.

There has been plenty of evidence that giving poor families money helps lift them out of poverty.

For example, a 2019 Berkeley study of aid to families in Kenya found that cash transfers were hugely helpful to families who lack funds to buy food and essentials. Researchers also found major benefits to communities, as poor people suddenly had funds to spend in local economies. A 2017 study in Ecuador found that direct cash payments not only lifted people out of poverty in the short term but helped create long-term social mobility.

As for the US, the massive increases in government aid during the pandemic, including cash payments, resulted in a similarly massive reduction in poverty. From 2018 to 2021, there was a drop in poverty of 45 percent.

That’s the single largest reduction in poverty on record.

And the Child Tax Credit itself has provided a definitive experiment in poverty reduction.

Cash payments for poor children caused child poverty to fall substantially. Ending those payments led child poverty to bounce back.

It’s pretty clear that if we want to reduce child poverty again, we should restart Child Tax Credit payments.

You’d think everyone in Congress and for that matter in the country would agree that lowering child poverty is good. You’d think everyone would be able to see that the Child Tax Credit lowers poverty.

Why was it allowed to lapse?

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, whose state has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, had a bunch of excuses for opposing the Child Tax Credit renewal. In line straight from a list of reactionary talking points, he said he believed the program was helping the undeserving. He demanded the program include a lower income cap on families who could receive aid.

He also insisted the program include a work requirement because he thought that people who received payments were dropping out of the workforce. He reportedly opposed renewal because he worried that parents would use the extra money to buy drugs.

All of these concerns dovetail with longstanding right-wing critiques of social safety net programs.

The right insists giving money to the poor makes them irresponsible and lazy, and contributes to a cycle of poverty and irresponsibility. Manchin, and those like him, say helping the poor makes them poorer.

There’s tons of evidence that Manchin and his reactionary colleagues are wrong. In regard to the Child Tax Credit, researchers found that 91 percent of families spent the extra money on basic needs like food, clothing, school supplies, utility and rent. Less frequently, they spent the money on vehicle payments, child care or paying down debts.

The suggestion that payments led to drug use is a canard. Recent research suggests that income transfer payments significantly reduce opioid deaths. People are less likely to overdose when the social safety net provides them with some cushion against despair.

Similarly, there is no evidence that the payments led parents to stop working.

In fact, parents in interviews said the payments made it easier for them to cover transportation and child care costs, making it easier for them to keep working.

Giving money to the poor makes them more able to work, not less, because, as most people who work know, you have to spend money to be in a position to labor for money.

Yet Manchin and Republicans were unmoved by the Child Tax Credit’s success. They waved away the clear evidence that all of their excuses for not renewing it were nonsense.

It’s true that Child Tax Credit was part of the broader Build Back Better initiative, which had many features that Republicans and Manchin did not support. But Republicans had few regrets about increasing child poverty, and Manchin specifically targeted the program itself as a reason for scuttling the larger bill.

Manchin and Republicans, it’s clear, aren’t engaged in good faith efforts to reduce poverty. If they were, they’d be eager to renew.

Since they aren’t, it’s fair to conclude they simply do not want to provide aid to poor people.

Why giving Congress a raise could actually help fight corruption

US Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Steve Daines of Montana have introduced a bill banning members of Congress from owning stock. The legislation is a common-sense good government measure – and it’s obtained a surprising degree of bipartisan support.

That support has come not just from Republican moderates, but from hardliners. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who is deep in the Republican fever swamp, supports the measure. In the past, she warned pop singer Taylor Swift that Marxists would ban her music and most recently led a moral panic based on false claims that the US Department of Justice was giving addicts free crack pipes.

The stock ban is appealing, even unto Marsha Blackburn, because it is an anti-establishment measure. Congresspeople love running against the Congress. That’s especially true of Republican congresspeople.

The GOP has spent the last 70 years cultivating and weaponizing conspiratorial anti-establishment fervor, as Amy Fried and Douglas B. Harris explain in their recent book At War with Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump.

It's good that Congress can find bipartisan enthusiasm for anti-establishment anti-corruption measures. But there are downsides when “good government” is defined solely in terms of kicking Congresspeople and limiting the personal corruption of office-holders.

A lot of good government requires providing Congresspeople and government actors with more resources to do their jobs.

The same anti-establishment bipartisanship that powers the stock-ban proposal interferes with equally or more important efforts to end corruption and make government more equitable.

The argument for preventing Congresspeople from owning stock is straightforward. “Members shouldn’t be able to make legislative decisions or use their platform and influence to benefit themselves personally,” Senator Daines explained.

He and other supporters are no doubt thinking of a suspicious stock transaction made by Georgia Senator David Perdue in January 2020 at a time when Congress People had access to non-public information about the economic and health effects of the growing Covid pandemic.

Perdue avoided losses and reaped gains totaling in the millions. There was no definitive evidence of wrongdoing, but the controversy helped lose him his Senate seat in the January 2021 run-off.

At best, the spectacle of a senator possibly enriching himself from the same tragedy that kills and impoverishes hundreds of thousands of Americans is likely to sow distrust in the political process.

At worst, Perdue’s transactions suggest how senators with stock can have financial incentives to slow-walk vital public health measures so they can use inside information to reap a financial windfall.

Either way, it’s obvious that the stock ban would reduce the possibility of impropriety and the appearance of impropriety with little downside.

The Warren-Daines bill, by banning ownership rather than just stock trades, makes it harder for Congresspeople to skate around.

A different bill introduced by US Senators Jon Ossoff, of Georgia, and Mark Kelly, of Arizona, covers only stock trades but includes a broader range of assets. Ethics experts suggest that combining the two bills could significantly reduce conflicts of interest in the Congress.

There’s another, much less popular, change that could complement the stock ban. That’s raising Congressional salaries.

House members make $174,000 a year. That sounds like a lot. It’s substantially more than your average freelance writer makes.

But it’s less than most dentists or doctors. It’s certainly less than most connected mid-career lawyers could make in the private sector. Since “connected mid-career lawyer” describes most members of Congress, they are effectively taking a pay cut to be Congresspeople.

Talented people of relatively modest means could well decide that it’s simply not worth becoming Congressmembers given the opportunity to earn substantially more money elsewhere. Or they could enter Congress figuring that they can eventually cash out by becoming lobbyists or consultants in the private sector.

When Congressional salaries are low, the job tends to appeal to people who see it as a stepping-stone to more lucrative opportunities.

Alternatively, it attracts rich people who treat it as a hobby — or as an opportunity to get insider information and huge stock windfalls.

It’s not an accident that Rick Scott, worth hundreds of millions, has been the major advocate for lowering Congressional salaries.

Scott’s proposal didn’t pass. But pay increases aren’t on the table either. Congress hasn’t gotten a raise since 2009. It’s consistently turned down pay increases in recent years. For that matter, decades.

As a result, pay has effectively been falling in real terms. Congressional pay in 1965 was $30,000 — about $268,000 in current dollars. That’s a third again as much as members make today.

The erosion of Congressional pay is part of the erosion of government capacity. The Congressional Research Service, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office, for example, lost 45 percent of their staffs between 1975 and 2015. Funding cuts to the IRS have made it impossible to police wealthy tax cheats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi only recently raised pay caps on Congressional staff in a long sought, and desperately needed, effort to improve retention. As a result, top Congressional staffers can now make more than the Congress People they serve under.

No change is easy. The stock ban may well be derailed.

But anti-establishment mistrust of government has created an environment in which the proposal can garner bipartisan support.

If you want to fight corruption, though, you need to do more than keep Congresspeople out of the stock market. You need to encourage less wealthy people to enter service. You need to fund oversight.

An anti-establishment approach to corruption can produce some results. Ultimately, though, a solely anti-establishment focus, based only on mistrust of government actors and institutions, is bound to empower the wealthy establishment it is intended to limit.

US oligarchs don't care what the majority of Americans thinks about taxing the rich -- here's why

With one political party entirely committed to expanding inequality, and the other divided on the issue, overwhelming public support and commonsense ethical commitments don’t carry much weight.

That’s how oligarchies consolidate. The wealthy horde power and wealth, then that power and wealth gives them the ability to shape institutions to further increase their power and wealth.

Yellen has had some successes in restraining wealthy and corporate power. She negotiated an international agreement with 136 countries to implement a global corporate minimum tax of 15 percent.

At some point, corruption stops being a bug in democracy and starts becoming a feature of oligarchy.

Has the US passed that threshold?

Based on the sweeping and effective resistance to commonsense solutions to reign in wealthy tax scofflaws, the answer is not encouraging.

Since the 1970s, the United States has become steadily and inexorably more economically unequal. According to Pew, upper income families have brought in a larger and larger share of total income.

US income inequality is the highest of all G7 nations. Its Gini coefficient is .434, well above second highest UK at .392.

In 1968, the top 20 percent of households earned 43 percent of national income. By 2018, the top 20 percent of households earned 52 percent.

In 1989, the richest 5 percent of families had 114 times as much wealth as families in the second poorest income tier. In 2016, they had 248 times as much wealth.

In 2020, the 50 richest Americans had almost as much wealth as the poorest half of the US population.

This massive concentration of wealth is also a massive concentration of power. The wealthiest people have access to the best lawyers, the best tax attorneys and the most powerful politicians.

That means that it is very difficult for the government to restrain them, or to create a more equitable economy and society against their wishes.

That’s how oligarchies consolidate. The wealthy horde power and wealth, then that power and wealth gives them the ability to shape institutions to further increase their power and wealth.

An example of oligarchical power is billionaire tax evasion. A recent IRS study found that wealthy Americans conceal more than 20 percent of their earnings. They are able to do this because of complex accounting scams involving offshore tax shelters.

The lost tax costs the government at least $175 billion a year in revenue. The top 1 percent of earners are responsible for a third of unpaid federal taxes.

In addition to these straightforwardly illegal accounting tricks, the very wealthy also benefit from at least nominally legal loopholes.

For instance, wealthy people have many assets that increase in value over time, but they do not pay taxes on those assets until they sell them.

They can borrow against those assets without paying taxes, since again the assets aren’t considered income. Then, if they die before selling the assets, they can pass them on to their heirs using trusts and other accounting shenanigans to avoid the estate tax.

ProPublica called this strategy Buy, Borrow, Die. It’s a key method for hoarding generational wealth, and entrenching oligarchy.

The Biden administration, led by Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, have proposed strong measures to rein in billionaire corruption. In part, they want to restrain inequality. In part, they hope to fund other priorities like climate mitigation and anti-poverty measures in the administration’s Build Back Better infrastructure plan.

To address billionaire tax evasion, BBB included $80 billion to boost capacity and staff at the IRS. That would help make up for the steady budget-cuts under Republican administrations. Those have led to a 60 percent decrease in audits of taxpayers who earn more than $1 million. Biden said the investment would allow the IRS to collect $400 billion in taxes.

Biden, Yellen and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden have also been pushing for a billionaire tax to force the very wealthy to pay taxes on the increased value of their assets.

This would strike at the heart of the oligarchic “Buy, Borrow, Die” lifestyle. It would force the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share, like everyone else, every year, year after year.

Policies that prevent the rich from escaping a tax burden everyone has to pay should be easy to pass in a democracy. You’d think preventing billionaires from cheating on their taxes would be a popular policy.

And you’d be correct.

A 2019 poll, for example, showed that 76 percent of Americans agreed that the wealthiest should pay more in taxes. Proposals to tax income over $10 million at 70 percent — a huge increase over current rates — obtained more than 50 percent support.

In an oligarchy, though, public support doesn’t necessarily count for all that much.

A notorious 2015 study found that politicians were much more likely to listen to and follow the political preferences of economic elites than those of the less affluent.

You can see that playing out in the politics of billionaire taxation.

Build Back Better, which included the beefed-up IRS funding, was scuttled by millionaire West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, in large part, reportedly, because he was worried that poor parents would spend money on drugs.

A wealthy politician refused to enforce the law against billionaires because he was worried that poor people are natural criminals.

That is what you call class consciousness.

Wyden’s proposal to end “Buy, Borrow, Die” also failed after opposition from Manchin. It was of course opposed by Senate Republicans, whose main goal is to shovel as much money as possible to the rich in as short a time as possible.

Yellen has had some successes in restraining wealthy and corporate power. She negotiated an international agreement with 136 countries to implement a global corporate minimum tax of 15 percent. This would make it harder for businesses to escape tax burdens by moving their corporate offices. Congress still has to pass the treaty, but Yellen said she was confident they would do so.

The corporate minimum tax is a substantial achievement. But it’s also a small dam erected against the tsunami of inequality in the US.

With one political party entirely committed to expanding inequality, and the other divided on the issue, overwhelming public support and commonsense ethical commitments don’t carry much weight.

The wealthy have been expanding their power and influence for decades in the US. The result is that the US regularly chooses to make the rich richer rather than helping the poorest feed their children.

The outlook for change is likely to be even bleaker if Republicans recapture one or both legislative chambers in November.

Yellen and Biden are to be commended for fighting an ongoing rearguard action against corruption. But if government inability to restrain corruption is a feature of oligarchy, then the US is already well down a path that it is very difficult to retrace.

Here’s the truth about rising inflation — and it has nothing to do with spending

Inflation numbers for December indicate rising prices continue to be a major problem. The Personal Consumption Index, which the Fed uses to gauge inflation, was up 5.8 percent for the year that ended in December, a slight increase from 5.7 percent in November.

That’s the fastest price increase in 40 years. Wages and salaries in the fourth quarter increased 4.5 percent, which is robust — but not enough to keep up with inflation.

Republicans have responded to rising inflation by calling for a reduction in spending. They’ve been joined by conservative Democrats like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. All of them argue that government efforts to fight the pandemic have flooded the economy with dollars, and that this has caused price increases.

The more likely cause of inflation is the pandemic itself. Curtailing government efforts to battle covid are just going to make inflation worse.

Prices go up when there is more demand than supply. Covid has created enormous blockages in the global supply chain. Production fell sharply in many industries during the pandemic as lockdowns and fears of contagion closed workplaces. Semiconductor production has been slow to rebound, which has boosted car prices. Oil production was also hit hard. The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that about half of total inflation is the result of increases in gas and automotive prices.

Food and grocery prices have been hit hard by inflation for many of the same reasons. It’s hard to produce a steady supply of anything during a massive pandemic when workers are falling sick or have to stay home to care for sick family members.

In one week in January, US pork production dropped 8 percent because of staffing shortages. Distributors have cut orders to some grocery stores by 20 to 40 percent. Shortages mean there is less supply, less supply means higher prices.

If inflation was caused by US policy choices, you’d expect it to be confined to the US. But supply chain issues are global. So are rising prices.

Inflation in the EU rose to a record 5.1 percent in January. Inflation in the UK hit a 30-year high. China has done better in keeping inflation under control — and, not coincidentally, it has also put in place strong lockdown policies which have (at least so far) largely prevented the out-of-control omicron spread in other areas of the world.

The Fed is likely to raise interest rates throughout the year to try to control inflation. But if the major cause of inflation is the pandemic, the solution at some point has to be ending the pandemic, or at least bringing it under control.

Many experts hope that omicron will burn itself out in the next weeks. At that point so many people will have been infected that the general level of immunity in the population will be boosted, and we can hope for a less plague-blighted 2022.

If that’s the case, supply-chain issues should resolve themselves, and inflation should come under control on its own.

The problem with the future, though, is that it’s difficult to predict.

As we’ve seen, new variants can present new, unexpected, and devastating challenges. People who have had covid do not have perfect immunity to reinfection. What immunity they have can fade over time.

Omicron may linger longer than experts anticipate. New waves could hit. The uncertainty in itself can create production shortfalls as producers and workers hedge their bets against possible crises.

If we want to defeat inflation, long term, during covid, there’s no substitute for a robust public health response.

The Biden Administration has slowly started to mail free covid tests through dedicated website orders. It plans to buy and distribute 1 billion rapid tests by mid-February.

That effort needs to continue and expand, even if covid temporarily dies down. In the middle of an ongoing pandemic, everyone should have as close-to-instant access to free testing as possible, all the time.

The same goes for masks.

Biden is distributing 400 million N95 masks, but that should be the beginning. High quality masks should be available for free in every school, grocery store and library in the country, at the very least.

Biden needs to do better in encouraging vaccine uptake as well, especially as more boosters become available and necessary. Right now only 41.8 percent of the population has received booster shots, according to the CDC. Omicron showed just how inadequate that is.

It’s true that there are hard-core partisan rightwing anti-vaxxers who will always refuse vaccines (and masks and testing for that matter.)

But they are outnumbered by people who are willing to get the vaccines, but are unsure how to navigate appointment websites, or can’t get time off work, or can’t get transportation, or aren’t aware that the vaccines are free (an understandable confusion given our generally unaffordable health care system).

Mandating paid time off for people who need to get vaccines, or even paying them directly, could help. So could more vaccines at places like libraries, where people expect to receive free services.

Ongoing, expanded vaccination, mask and testing campaigns all cost money. They all also would be greatly helped by bipartisan buy-in.

Unfortunately, Republicans and even many centrist pundits have turned against even mild pandemic abatement measures, like temporary remote learning at the height of the pandemic. Many seem to believe that if they shout “back to normal!” loud enough, normality will pour across the land.

That’s not how anything works.

If we don’t defeat covid, we can’t get back to normal. Defeating covid requires investing in public health. If the Republicans get their way, though, we will spend nothing and make no effort to mitigate covid.

That means we will continue to have major, dangerous pandemic outbreaks, workers will become sick, production will stall and inflation will remain a live and volatile problem.

The politics here are difficult, to say the least.

We need to spend more to fight the pandemic and reduce inflation, but inflation gives reactionaries an excuse to fight all spending.

Biden has no choice though. If Democrats don’t get inflation under control, they face major losses in 2022 and 2024. Defeating covid is a moral, economic and electoral imperative.

Why does our society expect so much sacrifice from teachers?

Rebecca Kolins Givans argues the impetus for scapegoating teachers is corporate. Teachers unions are one of the few remaining bastions of labor power left. There’s a lot of money to be made if more public ed dollars could be funneled to charter schools.

Schools have struggled with staffing during the Great Resignation. This is a particular, immediate crisis, especially since omicron is the giant heavy refrigerator that broke the camel’s back. But it’s also a long-term problem caused by decades of underpaying and demonizing educators. How much abuse can you heap on before they leave the profession? We’re finding out that the answer is a lot — but not infinite amounts.

Schools were facing ominous numbers even in October. An Education Week survey that month found that 77 percent of administrators said their schools were facing staffing shortages. Twenty-five percent said shortages were severe. And 15 percent said they were very severe.

Districts were especially short on substitute teachers, but there were also shortfalls of bus drivers (68 percent) and full-time teachers (48 percent). As of November, NBC News estimated school employment numbers were 400,000 people below where they should have been.

Things have only gotten work since the omicron hit.

Staff have been ill. Teachers and substitute teachers are afraid to go into school. Some have looked at their school’s poor mitigation efforts and resigned. As a result, principals have been called in to teach classes. So have (completely unqualified) members of the police and national guard. Ohio schools cut degree requirements for substitute teachers. The US Department of Transportation allowed states to waive some license requirements for bus drivers.

Teachers and staff are being told to put their health at risk for students. They’re also being told to do it for the economy.

As the Rockefeller Foundation, which advised the Biden administration explained, “tens of millions of adults cannot work effectively, or at all, until their children are back in the classroom consistently.”

Some teachers have unvaccinated children or immuno-compromised loved ones at home or are immunocompromised themselves. We’re asking a lot. You’d think administrators and officials would ask nicely.

But instead, the pandemic shortages and heightened risk for teachers have led to an outpouring of vitriol directed at educators.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was particularly incensed when the teacher’s union voted to shift to remote learning until the district could put in better mitigation protocols. She locked teachers out and said they had “abandoned their posts and and they abandoned kids and their families,” as if teachers are soldiers who should expect to die.

Public health professor Leana Wen represented the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger approach. She sympathized with teachers, but scolded them for their “extremist” positions.

Condescension and anger directed at teachers is nothing new. For decades, politicians and pundits have blamed the failure of public schools not on ongoing segregation and immoral and egregious inequities in funding, but on teachers and their unions.

Rebecca Kolins Givans, a scholar of labor relations, reported in 2014 that bashing teachers unions had been popular with Republicans for many election cycles. Leading Democrats like Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Washington, DC, high schools chancellor Michelle Rhee also made a name for themselves by targeting teachers.

Givans argues the impetus for scapegoating teachers is corporate. Teachers unions are one of the few remaining bastions of labor power left. There’s a lot of money to be made if more public ed dollars could be funneled to charter schools.

Givans points out that reliance on property taxes means voters see themselves as directly paying for teacher salaries. The funding structure makes them feel like teachers are taking money from them, which incentivizes them to identify with bosses and against educators.

Taxpayers feel gouged because taxpayers always feel gouged. The truth is, though, teachers in the US are not paid especially well, and inequitable funding means some are paid even worse than that.

Recent studies found that teacher salaries are 14 to 25 percent lower than salaries for other professions available to college graduates. Many teachers, especially in states without strong unions, like Florida, make less than the living wage. Colorado teacher average salaries were a full 25 percent below that state’s living wage.

Because teachers are relatively well-educated, and because they work with children, they have also been a target of right-wing moral panics.

The most recent is the attack on “critical race theory.” CRT has become a right-wing euphemism for any suggestion that racism has had an influence on the culture or policy of the United States in the past or the present. Nine states have passed laws banning CRT; at least some teachers have already been fired for attempting to address issues of racism. Books by Black authors have been banned. Teachers are afraid to run afoul of the law in addressing subjects like the J6 insurrection.

So, to sum up, teachers in many parts of the country are poorly paid political punching bags expected to risk their lives in unsafe working conditions and are excoriated when they protest.

Why would anyone want to take this job again?

There are obviously upsides to teaching too. Teaching can be rewarding. Many teachers like working with children. Many are passionate about their subject matter. For teachers who have school-age children, the job means they’re free to provide child care in the summer. And in places where there are union protections, teaching can be a decent, relatively stable income.

But covid and the ensuing Great Resignation is reminding us that at some point even for teachers the bad outweighs the good.

If we want intelligent, energetic, passionate, caring people to go into teaching, we need to provide them with just compensation, even when (or especially when) they are in poor schools or anti-union states.

Otherwise, our schools, children and society will continue to suffer.

How COVID exposed the ways our education system harms the republic

Parents, teachers and politicians have been struggling for weeks over how schools should respond to the omicron surge, trying to balance the difficulties and losses associated with at-home learning and the dangers to student health of in-person learning.

The pandemic has forced institutions to choose between bad outcomes. There are no perfect solutions. But the outcomes are worse, and the choices more limited, because of America’s deliberately callous and deliberately inequitable educational system.

American schools have historically been as much about protecting the status of the powerful as about cultivating the broad knowledge and engagement in democracy that a republic requires. Poor students and students of color in the United States have long received worse education than their wealthier, whiter peers. Covid has turned a slow-rolling, generational cruelty into an immediate catastrophe.

Given our history, it’s unlikely that even our current orgy of failure and tragedy will prompt change. But if we want an educational system that is better prepared for a crisis, and which can better prepare the whole nation for the crisis, then change is what we need.

Schools are mostly funded by property taxes. This means that poor neighborhoods with a low tax base have poorly funded schools; wealthy areas with a high tax base have well-funded schools.

Discrepancies are stark.

A 2018 study found that high-income schools receive about $1,000 more in funding per student than low-income schools. Schools with the lowest concentrations of students of color receive about $1,800 more per student than schools with high concentrations of Black, Hispanic and Native American students.

Local gaps can be even more outrageous. Majority white suburban counties around Chicago have $10,000 more per student than the majority minority Chicago public school system.

These inequities are exacerbated and enabled by ongoing segregation. Americans like to think that school segregation ended in 1954 when the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education outlawed discrimination. The fact, though, is schools never integrated.

A 2017 study found that only 12.9 percent of white students attended schools with a high concentration of students of color as compared to 69.2 percent of Black students. Moreover, 72.4 percent of Black children attend high-poverty schools while only 31.3 percent of white students do.

Residential segregation, school segregation and a funding system that accepts or even encourages inequity make it easy for affluent white people to hoard educational resources, further impoverishing the most disadvantaged children in the country.

No school was really ready for covid. But in an educational landscape shaped by vast racial and economic inequities, some schools were a lot more ready than others.

In wealthy well-funded school systems, students often had computers at home or schools had them on hand. Wealthy districts have more counselors. Affluent families are more likely to have a history of high school completion, and students are less likely to drop out when faced with the learning barriers of the pandemic. Affluent families are also more likely to be able to replace school meals and to have space for students to study at home.

Factors such as these predictably contributed to worse outcomes for poor students of color.

A December analysis of student achievement in fall 2021 found that students had lost considerably due to stress and the limitations of remote learning. After a year of the pandemic, students knew only 67 percent of math and 87 percent of reading that they would typically have learned for their grade-level.

In schools that serve mostly students of color, though, the numbers were even worse: 59 percent of math and 77 percent in reading. Disparities like these are probably what prompted Nikole Hannah-Jones, the editor of the 1619 Project, to push for schools to continue with in-person learning during omicron.

The problem, as Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa noted in response to Hannah-Jones, is that children in Black and brown working class communities aren’t just vulnerable to disruptions in learning. They’re also extremely vulnerable to the pandemic itself.

Black parents have more difficulty getting access to vaccines, citing difficulty in traveling to vaccine sites, worries that they may have to pay out-of-pocket and uncertainty about whether they can trust vaccine providers. Hispanic parents disproportionately say they have trouble taking off from work to get their children vaccines.

Data is sporadic, but available figures from seven states all show that Black children have been vaccinated at lower rates than white and Hispanic children. In Michigan, where 42 percent of white children 12-19 have received at least one vaccine dose, only 27 percent of Black children have.

Black and white hospitalization rates for children are comparable: 364 per 10,000 for white children, 340 per 10,000 for Black children. But Hispanic rates, at 533 per 10,000, and Native American rates, at 613 per 10,000, are disturbingly high.

Children are also affected when adult loved ones become sick.

Based on age-adjusted data, Hispanic, Black, and Native American people are about three times as likely to be hospitalized, and about as twice as likely to die from covid as their white peers.

Given these figures, it seems possible that higher rates of disruption of learning among Black and brown children could be linked not just to poorer-resourced schools, but to a higher likelihood of trauma resulting from the loss of caregivers and parents.

So what’s to be done?

In the short term, we have only bad choices. Remote learning is likely to lead to poor outcomes, especially for less affluent Black and brown students. In-person learning is likely to lead to more disease and death, especially for Black and brown families.

PPE and testing can help make schools safer – but poorer schools also have less access to those. The American Rescue Plan was supposed to cover the gap. In Chicago, though, teachers unions say Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not invest available resources in schools and there has been a lack of transparency about the allocation of federal dollars.

The most disturbing aspect of the covid disaster for schools and children is that the disparate outcomes are not exactly failures. Schools in the United States are funded in a way specifically designed to ensure disparate outcomes and to maintain generational advantages in resources, education and power. The fact that certain communities were harder hit by covid is in line with our current educational vision, which is meant to ensure that wealthy white students prosper and thrive at the expense of their less privileged peers.

A country that sees education as a zero-sum game is a country that is ill-equipped to respond with civic responsibility and wisdom to a public health emergency.

Nor can you build a strong democratic public when everything about children’s engagement with public life tells them that some people deserve support, care and knowledge, and some do not.

Covid has shown how badly our education system harms our republic when it enshrines in law that some kids are more valuable than others.

Want people to get vaccinated? Pay them

Initial US vaccination efforts were a logistical triumph. In April 2021, on a single day, 4 million people were vaccinated — more than 1 percent of the population. Since then, though, vaccination efforts slowed and then stalled.

Today, only 62 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Only 36.5 percent of people have received boosters. This is especially troublesome because boosters are vital for protection from the omicron variant that is currently leading to the worst hospitalization numbers of the pandemic.

The US desperately needs more people to get vaccinated. But policy response has been lackluster. There is a good bit of public support for vaccine mandates, but local and state governments have embraced them only sporadically, and generally with an opt out in the form of regular testing.

Even so, an OSHA regulation requiring vaccines or regular testing for companies with over 100 employees nationwide is facing Supreme Court scrutiny. Politicians have resorted to dire warnings and to emphasizing that people have a duty to others to get vaccinated.

READ: ‘What a moron’: Dr. Fauci loses his temper with a GOP senator during a heated exchange

This puts the onus on the individual for vaccine uptake, rather than on the government to reach people who are in danger.

One possibility that hasn’t been much explored is using a carrot rather than (or in addition to) a stick. Governments should consider paying people to get vaccinated.

A certain number of people will recoil at this idea. The highest-profile anti-vaxxers are belligerent far-right partisans devoted to spreading vaccine misinformation like Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. While Carlson and Greene may well be vaccinated themselves, their followers are often rightwing conspiracy theorists and bad actors.

It’s hard to imagine money swaying them.

READ: ‘Lying on purpose?’: Experts slam Manchin for ‘Trumpian lie’

Not all of the unvaccinated are hard-core rightwing partisans, though.

In many states, especially in the South and Southwest, Black and Hispanic groups have substantially lower vaccination rates than white people. Some of these inequities have been reduced through outreach and targeted vaccine efforts; Mississippi, for example, has done impressive work closing the Black vaccine gap. However, Black and Hispanic communities are once again falling behind on booster shots.

These groups tend to vote Democratic. They aren’t embracing vaccine refusal as part of rightwing partisanship. Instead, their low rates reflect mistrust because of an ongoing history of abusive and discouraging experiences with a racist and classist healthcare system.

Perhaps even more importantly, Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely to have trouble accessing vaccines.

READ: Watch: Rachel Maddow reveals Trump's lawyers have quietly met with Georgia prosecutors amid ongoing election investigation

They disproportionately live in segregated areas without a strong healthcare infrastructure and without good public transportation. A poll in May 2021 found that 20 percent of Black and Hispanic respondents said getting to a vaccine site would be difficult as compared to 5 percent of white respondents.

Missing work to get the vaccine, or because of vaccine side effects, was also a bigger concern for Black and Hispanic individuals. They may have less flexible work schedules than white peers or work precarious jobs where they do not get paid time off.

Paying people to get vaccinated would ameliorate exactly these kinds of problems. Paying people $250 to get vaccinated would replace the income for two eight-hour days at a $15 an hour job. Even lower payments – say $100 – could dramatically change the calculus around vaccination, work and transportation costs.

There’s evidence that even smaller financial rewards can lead people to get vaccinated. A study in Sweden from May to July of 2021 offered people only $24 to get vaccinated. The pay bumped up vaccination rates by around 4 percent.

READ: The evidence of the rising influence of white Christian nationalism is all around us

The US has experimented with some bonuses for vaccines.

Businesses at various points during the pandemic have given away donuts, popcorn, marijuanacand gift cards to people who can show proof of vaccination. Illinois held a $1 million lottery for everyone who got vaccinated.

There hasn’t been much of an effort to simply hand out cash, as in the Swedish study, though. And a free donut or a small chance at a million-dollar payout isn’t going to be much of an incentive if someone is worried that the vaccine will force them to miss two days of work and leave them unable to pay rent.

Part of the resistance to vaccine payments is no doubt fiscal. Illinois’ lottery drawings spent about $10 million. But to give everyone in the state $100 for vaccination would come to $1.2 billion. Nationwide $100 for vaccination would be around $36 billion. Additional payments for additional boosters could add to that total.

Still, I think there’s a strong argument that, given the huge costs of covid, tens of billions of dollars is a reasonable investment in public health.

This is especially the case at a time when the pandemic is ramping up again, and people are once again facing massive economic dislocation and precarity.

We know that direct payments had a huge effect in reducing poverty during earlier parts of the pandemic. If vaccination checks were large enough, they could have a similarly ameliorative effect and increase vaccination rates as well. That seems like a win-win.

Perhaps an equally important cause of reluctance is moral and tactical.

As Rebecca Stropoli notes in the Chicago Booth Review, “paying people to get vaccinated could have potential downsides, such as giving the impression that vaccines are not desirable or lessening the motivation to be inoculated for the public good rather than for financial benefit.”

As far as the first objection goes, we know that the right will spin any vaccine intervention as a negative. Undoubtedly, Tucker Carlson would use vaccine payments to argue that the government is nefariously trying to induce people to accept vaccines.

Nonetheless, what evidence we have suggests paying people increases vaccine rates, and there are good logistical reasons to think it would encourage those with access issues the most. We shouldn’t let fear of bad faith arguments prevent us from adopting useful policy solutions.

The second objection may strike many who aren’t on the right as persuasive. Shouldn’t people get vaccinated out of civic duty, rather than to earn a little money? Vaccines are a benefit in themselves; you shouldn’t need to pay people to get them. Everyone should get vaccinated to ensure their own health, as well as the health of their loved ones and their communities. What ever happened to individual responsibility?

This individual responsibility framework is itself the problem, though.

Yes, people should get vaccines. But the federal government also has a responsibility in the Constitution to “provide for the common defense and general welfare.”

Vaccination campaigns are primarily public, communal efforts, not private moral dramas. It’s up to the government to get shots into arms. If browbeating people doesn’t work, they can’t just give up.

And that’s perhaps the most important reason to at least start to have a conversation about paying people to get vaccinated.

The current effort to shame and stigmatize unvaccinated people isn’t working practically, and it has disturbing implications ethically. We need to see the vaccine campaign as a collective responsibility.

People who aren’t vaccinated are a problem to solve, not refuse to discard. We should value every life. And one way you can show people you value them is by paying them.

Why the US has failed in fight the against the global pandemic

Covid infections are ballooning. Cases were up to 405,000 a day last week— 60 percent higher than January 2020, the previous high.

Deaths and hospitalizations have not yet kept pace, but there are worrying signs. Hospitalizations in Illinois hit their highest levels yet; covid patients occupy a quarter of all hospital beds. They are 41 percent of intensive care patients. Some counties have 90 percent or more of hospital beds occupied. Other areas are also seeing worrisome surges. Hospitalization of children hit record levels at year’s end.

The latest covid crisis is being spurred by the omicron variant, which may be the fastest spreading virus in history, according to experts. It was first detected in South Africa, thanks to its rigorous testing, but we don’t know where it originated. We do know that variants are inevitable during pandemics. Viruses mutate over time and they mutate more quickly when they are circulating unchecked.

This means everyone has an interest in reducing spread everywhere. Eradicating it within national boundaries is insufficient when variants can develop anywhere. The US should be doing whatever it takes to vaccinate not just its own population, but the world’s population. Yet politicians and much of public opinion see expenditures as zero-sum charity rather than as a necessary investment in a collective good.

READ: 'A dangerous fascist': Critics blast Josh Hawley on the anniversary of his Fox News insurrection threat

The US has spent about $1.6 billion to distribute vaccines globally as of the end of 2021. Current American vaccine distribution plans will probably require about $7 billion to implement. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, it will require about $50 billion to bring the vaccine to everyone in the world and get immunization up to levels that will control the virus globally.

Fifty billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. But it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $4.5 trillion the US has already spent on aid during the pandemic. Direct payments to individuals alone totaled $867 billion. Small business payments totaled $968 billion.

More than 800,000 people have died in the pandemic. In strictly economic terms, in the first half of 2020, the US economy lost $1.9 trillion, the steepest GDP decline since World War II. The economy has recovered strongly, but another spike threatens those gains. New waves of covid can lead to new economic disasters. Tourism alone is seeing a massive decline because of omicron. Travel agents are seeing 30-50 percent cancellations for January right now.

Even if you put aside the massive death toll (and you shouldn’t put aside the massive death toll!), the US should be investing much, much more in global vaccination as a straightforward cost-saving measure. The more people get vaccinated globally, the lower the threat of deadly variants, the less likely we experience more trillion dollar disruptions.

READ: Report reveals new details about Liz Cheney's attempt to hold Trump accountable for Jan. 6

The US appropriated $768 billion in its last defense bill. In comparison, $50 billion is a tiny investment to protect us from the most serious international threat at least since World War II. No one country would need to spend even that much if all the wealthy countries kicked in.

Wealthy countries don’t seem to see the math, though. They have tended to stockpile resources. Canada has enough vaccines to vaccinate its population 9.6 times over. Meanwhile, poor countries have only vaccinated about 8 percent. African nations have a less than 5 percent vaccination rate. Biden has proposed a patent waiver allowing poor countries to begin producing vaccines cheaply, but European nations have balked. And even though omicron is busily demonstrating the dangers of leaving massive global gaps in vaccine coverage, exponentially scaling up global vaccine aid isn’t on the table.

That’s not surprising, unfortunately. The US (and not just the US) tends to frame government spending as illegitimate giveaways rather than as investments in a common future. That was Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s reasoning when he helped block the Build Back Better Act last month. BBB would have extended the child tax credit, which kept 3 million children out of poverty. Manchin, though, reportedly told colleagues he did not want to extend payments because he worried that parents would spend the money on drugs. He decided real benefits were less important than imaginary fears that someone, somewhere, might get money they shouldn’t.

It’s perhaps even more difficult to create a consensus for global aid when our own domestic pandemic response has been so inadequate. The initial Biden vaccination effort was stunning. But partisan Republican vaccine resistance and racist disparities in access for Black and Hispanic communities has stalled uptake well short of the 75 percent, which would be an absolute minimum for herd immunity.

READ: 'Notoriously selfish' Aaron Rodgers slammed after bragging about Ayn Rand book on bookshelf: 'Explains everything'

Testing is also inadequate and expensive, and we don’t have enough N95 masks. If the US can’t even meet the public health needs of its own population, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to go spending billions on the public health of people on the other side of the globe?

Thing is, though, there is no virus-proof barrier between the US and the rest of the world. Public health doesn’t, and can’t, stop at arbitrary national borders. US domestic failures are compounded by US international failures. We can’t protect the public health of US residents without protecting the public health of everyone else.

We’ve failed in fighting the global pandemic for the same reasons we’ve failed in fighting the domestic one: short-sightedness, exacerbated by racism, xenophobia and a bone-deep belief that aid is against our self-interest. Instead of helping others to help ourselves, the US and wealthy nations have chosen to hurt others even if it means burying ourselves in death and misery. If we want to end covid, we need to end it everywhere. And if we’re not willing to do what it takes to end it everywhere, it’s hard to see how our current nightmare can end.

BRAND NEW STORIES
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.