All posts by Sheila

Laws Are For The ‘Little People’

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m getting tired of daily news items that leave me both mystified and angry. One of the most recent causes of that combination was news that, during the Republicans’ “negotiation” (note quotes) on the infrastructure bill, they insisted on removing the measure’s additional funding for the IRS.

Please note, this wasn’t a provision allowing the government to raise taxes. This money would have provided the agency with more resources to go after tax evasion. In a sane world (which we clearly don’t inhabit), the party of “law and order” might be expected to support the notion that government should crack down on the crime of tax evasion.

Plus, we are talking about a lot of money. The Treasury Department has estimated that what they call the “tax gap,”–that is, taxes owed under current rates but not paid– amounts to more than $500 billion every year. According to Paul Krugman, some estimates put the number much higher. The Biden administration has simply proposed additional resources that the I.R.S. needs to reduce that gap.

I also want to emphasize that we aren’t talking about the obscene amounts of money sheltered by obscenely rich people in various tax havens, or monies not payable thanks to  the operation of various tax loopholes. We are talking about money people owe after their tax advisors have helped them take advantage of these handy  little mechanisms.

When people who owe taxes don’t pay them, the rest of us have to make up the difference. Given the economics of what constitutes today’s GOP base, why wouldn’t Republican officeholders want to spread the burden–in this case, the costs of repairing America’s crumbling infrastructure–to the citizenry as a whole?

In his column, Krugman shares my mystification–although he’s a bit more cynical.

Just to be clear, I’m not surprised to learn that a significant number of senators are sympathetic to the interests of wealthy tax cheats, that they are objectively pro-tax evasion. I am, however, surprised that they are willing to be so open about their sympathies.

There is, after all, a big difference between arguing for low taxes on the rich and arguing, in effect, that rich people who don’t pay what they legally owe should be allowed to get away with it.

Just to be equally clear, I was surprised that  even these Senators would be “objectively pro-tax evasion.”

For one thing, I don’t think even right-wingers would dare make the usual arguments for low tax rates, dubious as those arguments are, on behalf of tax evasion. Who would seriously claim that the only thing keeping “job creators” going is their belief that they can dodge the taxes the law says they should pay?

 Krugman asks the question that I also ponder: who are the constituents for this startling position? Granted, a bigger budget deficit might cut into the social spending Republicans detest, but–as he points out– it also leaves less room for legal tax cuts.

Tax evasion certainly isn’t limited to the rich–Krugman reminds us that when plumbers or handymen ask for payment in cash, we can pretty much figure out why–but it is definitely concentrated among the well-do-do.

Opportunities to hide income are concentrated at the top; one recent estimate is that more than 20 percent of the income of the top 1 percent goes unreported.

It’s certainly possible that big political donors are among the biggest tax cheats. Krugman thinks that their clout within the G.O.P. “has actually increased as the party has gotten crazier.”

There have always been wealthy Americans who dislike the right’s embrace of racial hostility and culture wars but have been willing to swallow their distaste as long as Republicans keep their taxes low. But as the G.O.P. has become more extreme — as it has become the party of election lies and violent insurrection — who among the wealthy is still willing to make that trade-off?

Some rich Americans have always been right-wing radicals. But as for the rest, the party’s base within the donor class presumably consists increasingly of those among the wealthy with the fewest scruples and the least concern for their reputations — who are precisely the kind of people most likely to engage in blatant tax evasion.

This seems like a stretch. On the other hand, I have no better explanation.

 

 

The GOP Race To The Bottom

I rarely quote material from sites like Daily Kos–not because I worry about their essential veracity; I don’t. Despite Republicans’ dishonest insistence on equivalence between media spouting right-wing fantasies and those engaging in leftwing spin, factual assertions on sites like Daily Kos are almost all independently verifiable. They do, however, report from a decidedly liberal perspective, and since this site isn’t intended to cheerlead for any particular political perspective other than my own, I rarely cite to them.

I’m breaking that rule today, however, because I was intrigued by a recent post. File this under “be careful what you wish for.”

The article began by tracing GOP conspiracy theories–fluoridated water, Eisenhower as a committed Communist, etc., through QAnon and Jewish Space Lasers (which is evidently a real theory kicking around in wacko circles, and not simply another Marjorie Taylor Greene mental seizure.)

Apparently, however, there’s a political downside to encouraging your base to disdain anything remotely resembling reality. As the post puts it: When you’ve taught your base to believe nothing but the crankiest of crank conspiracies, how do you get them to listen when you need them?

In the last week, Republicans have noticed that the up = down machine has put them in a position where 90% of the people dying from COVID-19 are their people. That’s because 90% of Democrats are already vaccinated and 99.5% of those dying are unvaccinated. Who are those unvaccinated? Oh, right, the Republican base that’s been taught scientists, doctors, and experts can’t be trusted.

Over the course of that week, Republicans who still think of themselves as party leaders have begun to get louder about suggesting to their followers that maybe, just maybe, taking five minutes out of their day to not die would be a good thing.

The post then took a couple of paragraphs to explain the Republican dilemma:

For Republicans who ever actually cared about the traditional Republican agenda, eh. That’s all gone. For those who care about nothing but their own personal power, they’re out of luck as well. Just ask former Rep. Scott Tipton. Tipton was a conservative Republican who checked all the boxes. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He frequently angered environmental groups with a push to privatize public lands. He was solidly against reproductive rights as well as gay marriage, supported by wads of cash from the oil and gas industry, and he easily won election for 10 years. Then Tipton was knocked out of his primary by a woman who claimed to have inside knowledge about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming arrest as well as secret documents that would reveal the QAnon truth about the pizza-ordering  cannibals in Congress.

Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t step into a seat that was formerly held by a Democrat. She ousted Rep. Tom Graves, who had one of the most conservative ratings in the House. Cawthorn took over Mark Meadows’ former seat in a district freshly gerrymandered to make it super Republican safe, but in doing so Cawthorn actually defeated well-funded conservative businesswoman Lynda Bennett, who was the choice of not just Republicans in the state party but also endorsed by Donald Trump. It’s easy to say that Cawthorn won in spite of posting an Instagram photo celebrating his visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation residence while explaining that a visit to see “the Führer’s” home was on “my bucket list.” But a more truthful framing would be that Cawthorn won because of his unabashed adoption of white supremacist positions.

What most Republicans in leadership positions today are just beginning to discover is that they are the alt-right. The white nationalist agenda that was cautiously courted along the fringe a decade ago is now the mainstream. If there is still a pro-business agenda, it exists only so much as it locks in racism. If there’s still a social conservative agenda, it survives only as a means of tacking a halo onto actions of hate. And the media outlets that Republicans were counting on to keep the base in line have discovered that it’s even more lucrative to feed them to the volcano god who pays Tucker Carlson’s bills.

As the post concludes, “There’s always another Boebert in the weeds.” No matter how obediently crazy the incumbent, no matter how slavishly devoted to Trump and/or the “big Lie,” there’s always someone willing to mount a primary challenge–someone even more anti-reason, anti-science, anti-Black, anti-Semitic–someone even less-tethered to reality.

These days, the crazier the candidate, the more likely s/he is to win a Republican primary–and in most places, the less likely to win a general election. Even with the GOP’s frantic rush to gerrymander everything in sight, there is a limit to how many red crazy districts they can carve out.

Isn’t there?

 

Oh Texas…

In the years before 2016, when I needed an  example of a really stupid policy for my graduate Law and Public Affairs classes, I always could count on Texas. (Of course, once Trump was elected, bad federal policies were so plentiful I didn’t need to look to the states for examples.)

As the Biden Administration moves to reverse many of the damaging, corrupt decisions of its predecessor, Texas legislation is once again filling the “what the shit?” gap. Some bills are just “Texas-sized” versions of current GOP efforts to suppress the vote, while others–like the recent effort to turn citizens into agents of the state authorized to report and punish abortion– are something else altogether.

As Constitutional Law professors Laurence H. Tribe and Stephen I. Vladeck recently wrote in the New York Times, Texas’ version of anti-abortion legislation is “especially worrisome.”

Not only has Texas banned virtually all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, a point at which many women do not even know they’re pregnant, it has also provided for enforcement of that ban by private citizens. If you suspect that a Texan is seeking to obtain an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, not only will you be able to sue the provider to try to stop it, but if you succeed, you’ll also be entitled to compensation. (And what’s known as the litigation privilege would likely protect you from a defamation claim even if you’re wrong.) The law, known as S.B. 8, effectively enlists the citizenry to act as an anti-abortion Stasi.

All of that would be problematic enough, but enlisting private citizens to enforce the restriction makes it very difficult, procedurally, to challenge the bill’s constitutionality in court. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Austin last week tries to get around those roadblocks. We believe that it should succeed. But if it fails, not only would that leave the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country impervious to constitutional challenge, it would also encourage other states to follow Texas’ lead on abortion, as well as on every other contested question of social policy.

California could shift to private enforcement of its gun control regulations, never mind the Second Amendment implications of such restrictions. Vermont could shift to private enforcement of its environmental regulations, never mind the federal pre-emption implications. And the list goes on.

The op-ed noted a crucial difference between this legislation and the private attorney general laws that in many states allow people to help enforce certain laws. As they point out, in those situations, citizens are supplementing government enforcement.

The Texas law, by contrast, leaves private enforcement as the only mechanism for enforcing the broad restrictions on abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. It specifically precludes the state’s attorney general or any other state official from initiating enforcement. Under this new law, private enforcement supplants government enforcement rather than supplements it. If this seems like a strange move, it is. And it appears to be a deeply cynical one, serving no purpose other than to make the abortion ban difficult to challenge in court.

The reason for that difficulty is that, when the state itself is not directly involved in enforcing a law, none of the state’s executive officers are proper defendants to a lawsuit. (What far too many Americans do not understand about their protections under the Bill of Rights is the requirement of state action–the Bill of Rights protects us against government infringement of our liberties–not against intrusions by private actors.)

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the professors’ citation of a 1948 case involving racially-restrictive covenants in property deeds, in which the Court found that private deed restrictions could only be enforced with the participation of judges, clerks and other state officials. The vigilantes authorized by this legislation may be private citizens, but the law can’t be enforced without involving the apparatus of the state.

As the essay concludes, success in this effort by the state of Texas would set “an ominous precedent for turning citizens against one another on whatever contentious issue their state legislature chose to insulate from ordinary constitutional review.”

This year, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear what’s likely to be its most important abortion case since 1992, when it considers Mississippi’s ban on virtually all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. But the legal dispute that began in Texas last week is, in our view, the far more important one. Not only is the Texas ban a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade; it’s an assault on our legal system and on the idea that law enforcement is up to the government, not our neighbors.

Texas has often tried to secede from the Union. Failing that, it’s attacking the legal framework that defines us as a union.

Preferred History

A few days ago, I came across a Facebook post that spoke to the current frenzy about “critical race theory.” The post was actually directed at defenses of confederate statutes and the confederate flag, but what really struck me was the following litany about the contents of most history classes. 

You learned about Helen Keller instead of W.E.B, DuBois
You learned about the Watts and L.A. Riots, but not Tulsa or Wilmington.
You learned that George Washington’s dentures were made from wood, rather than the teeth from slaves.
You learned about black ghettos, but not about Black Wall Street.
You learned about the New Deal, but not “red lining.”
You learned about Tommie Smith’s fist in the air at the 1968 Olympics, but not that he was sent home the next day and stripped of his medals.
You learned about “black crime,” but white criminals were never lumped together and discussed in terms of their race.
You learned about “states rights” as the cause of the Civil War, but not that slavery was mentioned 80 times in the articles of secession.
Privilege is having history rewritten so that you don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable facts.

At the conclusion of the list was the following: “Racism is perpetuated by people who refuse to learn or acknowledge this reality. You have a choice. – Jim Golden”

I don’t know who Jim Golden is or was, but I think this list is an excellent illustration of what is at stake in the current fury over the teaching of history.

No history class can cover every aspect of America’s past. Selectivity is inevitable–but it is abundantly clear that the selection incorporated into most high school history texts and consuming the majority of class time in most of the nation’s schools has been wildly unbalanced. 

How many American high school students have been taught that the Civil War was about “state’s rights”? What percentage of them were ever confronted with this statement about  the genesis of the war?

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin …

The quoted paragraph is only one of several that can be found at the link–which is to an article from the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates simply assembles the official statements of the “Southern Gentlemen” who led the Confederate States into secession.

Elsewhere, I found  this one, from Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, rebutting the position of the abolitionists:

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. 

The only state right that was being defended was the right to own black human beings. American students have a right to know that.

Granted, a curriculum that only included the information that is currently not being taught would be as one-sided and inaccurate as the curriculum that is still predominantly in use. What is needed is a syllabus balanced between the good and bad, the beautiful and ugly– lesson plans that accurately show students where we have been, and how far we have come–lessons that would provide them with a context for deciding how far we still have to go.

Most of the people in my age cohort didn’t learn actual history–we were spoon-fed an inaccurate, Whitewashed mythology that didn’t prepare us for the shock most of us felt when we learned the less admirable elements of our past. Thanks to the work of historians and scholars, however, we now know a great deal about those less admirable elements, and revelations continue to emerge.

All the White Nationlists’ hysteria about Critical Race Theory will not succeed in obscuring the reality of America’s Original Sin. What it doesn’t obscure is the racism that prompts it.

 

 

COVID Facts And Fictions

Okay–you are all probably as tired of discussing COVID and the insanity of anti-vaxxers as I am, but my cousin the cardiologist has written an important summary of the issues, and maybe–just maybe–sharing considered information from a medical professional might trigger productive discussion.

Yeah, I know. Dreaming…

As Mort says, as a member of the conventional medical/scientific community, he grieves at the number of needless deaths that have occurred, and he agrees with the Surgeon General about the need to understand and counter the large amounts of disinformation  flooding social media. He proceeds by offering facts about the vaccines–their efficacy, a history of their development, where they can be accessed, the fact that they’re free, and much more…He’s compiled a very useful, one-stop overview of most of the questions people have. You should click through to see the entire compilation.

Undoubtedly the most important part of his message, however, has to do with safety. With his permission, I am quoting that section at length.

Even before the vaccines were given emergency use authorization, the FDA reviewed months of safety data on tens of thousands of participants in vaccine trials. Since then, regulators have tracked people who received a vaccine in the real world, because it’s possible that very rare side effects might emerge once millions of people receive a shot.

In the U.S., more than half of adults are now fully vaccinated, and even more have received at least one dose. With more than 300 million doses of vaccine administered and an intense safety monitoring program that’s able to track even extremely rare side effects, researchers have been able to track vaccinated people for months, and are confident that the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use by the FDA are safe.

For the vast majority of people, side effects have been similar to those from other vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, though they have been more common and severe than they are with the typical flu shot. These side effects include fever, headaches, feeling run-down, and soreness in the arm. These are more common after the second shot than the first, and generally go away within a few days. A few rare side effects have been detected, now that millions of vaccine doses have been administered.

After receiving the J&J vaccine, a very small number of people—primarily women younger than 50—have developed a type of rare but serious blood clot. In women between 18 and 49, there have been about 7 cases per million vaccinations, and the FDA and CDC still recommend this vaccine. Similar rare blood clots have been observed with the Astrazeneca vaccine in Europe. In July, the CDC also announced that the agency had detected preliminary reports of about 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, among 12.8 million people who received the J&J vaccine. Most were men, many of them 50 and older. Another concern is that early data suggest that this vaccine may not be quite as effective as the other vaccines against the delta variant of the virus.

After receiving either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, a small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, which can occur after any type of vaccination. These have occurred in about two to five people per million vaccinated, and while serious, they are treatable—this is why people are asked to stick around for 15 to 30 minutes after getting a shot.

The CDC is currently investigating higher than normal rates of suspected myocarditis (heart inflammation) in adolescents and young adults who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. These incidents are rare, and in 81 percent of suspected cases with a known outcome, patients have fully recovered. Any longer-term side effect is extremely unlikely, according to the CDC. Typically, any vaccine side effects would emerge during these first two months after immunization. Moreover, it’s difficult to clearly link any adverse health events that occur after two months with a vaccination. But regulators will continue to monitor vaccine trial participants for two years to see how long immunity lasts and note any adverse events.

Initial reports of several severe but treatable potentially life-threatening allergic reactions called anaphylaxis raised concern about whether the vaccines would be safe for people with severe allergies. There were 71 cases of anaphylaxis reported after the first 18 million vaccine doses were administered in the U.S. That works out to 2.8 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million people vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and 5 cases per 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with no reported deaths linked to anaphylaxis. The risks of dying from COVID-19 are much worse—about 16,500 people per 1 million diagnosed with COVID-19 will die. Now, the only people being told to avoid the vaccine are those allergic to vaccine ingredients such as polyethylene glycol or the related substance polysorbate.

Of course, the most dangerous allergy is the allergy to science and fact that apparently afflicts a significant percentage of the American population.

Share his post with any non-vaccinated folks for whom facts might still be persuasive…