Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

“I don’t know about the two gentlemen you mentioned.”

“I don’t know about the two gentlemen you mentioned.”

Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon join a long list of people Donald Trump doesn’t know about.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas

“I don’t know those gentleman. Now, it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody. I don’t know them, I don’t know about them, I don’t know what they do.”

Jeffrey Epstein

“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him, I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you.”

Michael Flynn

“It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge, It would have been impossible for me to know this.”

Roger Stone

Eating More Chocolate: A Cure for Pandemic Fatigue?

Just doing the local rounds and reading. One of three writers over at Naked Capitalism had this up on a small way escape the boredom of Covid.  It is more than just a promotion about chocolate and it does make you smile. When I was working in Riethim-Weilheim area of Germany near Tuttligen, on the weekend I would drive into Switzerland to a  Chocolatier in Schaffhausen and buy a nice box of chocolates to share with my German associates and then wander over to  Konstanz to explore along the lake.  Good stuff and it made friends. A little bit about the writer: Jerri-Lynn Scofield has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

I just finished compiling today’s Links and they are particularly dire. COVID-19 is not going away. There is no vaccine or cure in sight. Even some places that had seemed to control spread of the disease – much of Europe – are imposing more draconian restrictions, in response to an uptick in cases. The only positive thing I can think of to say is the virus does not seem to have evolved into a more virulent form and that treatment is getting better. Small comfort.

According to today’s New York Times, As the Coronavirus Surges, a New Culprit Emerges: Pandemic Fatigue:

Tic Tac Toe, Supreme Court style

(This was first posted February 21, 2008.)

Bribes, payola, favor of the physical kind? Forget-about it. Just put the right person in the appropriate agency, preferably a person from the line of business the agency is to regulate. But, for extra insurance over the long haul, with a little luck of timing you get to fix the legal issue almost permanently: supreme court justices.

Justices Make it Tougher to Sue Makers of Medical Devices

The case has significant implications for the $75 billion-a-year health care technology industry, whose products range from heart valves to toothbrushes. In a recent three-month span, federal regulators responded to over 100 safety problems regarding medical devices.

At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the estate of Charles Riegel could sue a company under state law over a device previously cleared for sale by federal regulators. State lawsuits are barred to the extent they would impose requirements that are different from federal requirements, said the ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that Congress never intended “a radical curtailment of state common-law lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries caused by defectively designed or labeled medical devices.”

A New Agenda for Postal Reform

Steve Hutkins of Save The Post Office critiques the cost-saving measures put into play to-date by PMG Louis DeJoy, the bypassing of the Postal Regulatory Commission which is supposed to review such plans, and the resulting unprecedented mail delays across the country. Steve proposes a plan to meet the Covid crisis impact on the Postal service head-on and also lays a foundation for future Postal Service incorporating new business and creating increased revenue.

In late June of this year, a few days after the new Postmaster General took office and in the middle of a pandemic, the Postal Service initiated a plan to eliminate 64 million work hours, the equivalent of 33,000 jobs. It was one of the largest cost-cutting plans (perhaps the largest) in the history of the Postal Service, and leadership wanted to get it done by the end of the fiscal year on September 30 — and without telling anyone about it, including the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is supposed to review all such plans.  Within weeks, unprecedented mail delays were occurring across the country, members of Congress were hearing about post offices closing early, and — given that half the country may vote by mail — even the integrity of the election was threatened.

The response was swift. People protested in the streets, Congress held hearings and issued a damning report, and a dozen lawsuits were filed, leading to injunction after injunction banning the operational changes. The leaders of the Postal Service were forced to step back. But those in charge are still in charge, and the Work Hour Reduction plan is just on pause, waiting until after the election.

In the meantime, there’s a crisis at the Postal Service. As of mid-September, almost 10,000 postal workers had tested positive for Covid-19, and over 52,000 had taken time off because they were sick or had to quarantine or care for family members. Those numbers are obviously much higher now, and they will get worse over the winter. Overtime hours, rather than being reduced, have gone way up, from about 11 percent of total workhours before the pandemic to 17 percent during the week of October 2 and 21 percent during the week of October 9.

The surge in packages caused by the pandemic is taxing the capacities of the system, resulting in continued delivery delays. First Class mail, which normally has an on-time delivery target of 96 percent and an average score of 92 percent, has been averaging about 85.6 percent since early July. When the quarterly results are posted next month, the fourth quarter of 2020 (July-Sept) may be the worst since the Postal Service first started reporting service performance data back in 2009.

The problems at the Postal Service, coupled with the President’s comments attacking the post office, have made many people afraid to cast their ballots by mail, even though it may be the only safe way for them to vote. Just a few days ago, the states suing the Postal Service in Pennsylvania v DeJoy decided the situation was so bad that they’ve asked the court to appoint former Inspector General and BOG member David C. Williams to serve as a special monitor to oversee operations until the election.

Hopefully in January a new administration will take office in Washington. How will it deal with this crisis, and how might it envision the future of the Postal Service?

College educational attainment by age demographic

College educational attainment by age demographic

 

There is no economic data today due to the Columbus Day observance.

So let me drop this graph of a metric I have been trying to find, of college educational attainment by age demographic, that I finally came across a couple of days ago:

It is commonplace that among Whites at least, support for Democrats is highly correlated by a college education. What is unclear is whether that is actually a function of education itself, or is simply confounded by age group.

 

Book Review, “America’s Bitter Pill

Kip Sullivan and I have had a running dialogue over the last year or so. Kip has been writing for such sites as The Health Care Blog, other blogs and newspaper. I find his knowledge insightful as we discuss what we know and where we are going with healthcare. Today Kip is working on implementing “Health Care For All – Minnesota” and is also developing a 3-year research and public education campaign. If you have questions this is the person to ask them.

This review was written in 2015 and is still relevant in 2020 in terms of how we started to arrive at where we are in healthcare. I have read some of the same complaints he outlines in his dialogue.

America’s Bitter Pill: CBO was Right. The White House and Steven Brill Were Wrong.”

Steven Brill’s latest book, America’s Bitter Pill, is a frustrating mix of excellent history and muddled health policy analysis. The book is a very good addition to the literature on the history of the Affordable Care Act and by far the best reporting I’ve read on the bungled implementation of the federal health insurance exchange. But Brill’s analysis of why the ACA cannot reduce health care costs is naïve and confusing. Brill claims a few smart men on the White House “economic team,” including Peter Orszag and Ezekiel Emanuel, fought hard to push “game-changing” cost-containment into the ACA but were defeated by others who were less interested in cost containment.

That explanation is wrong on two counts:

USPS Update on Court Cases

Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

Another federal court has ruled against the Postal Service. The United States Postal Service is now 0 for 6.

In the case of Richardson v Trump, Judge Emmet Sullivan has ordered a preliminary injunction putting limits on postal operations in the run-up to the election. (Sullivan had also issued a preliminary injunction in Vote Forward v DeJoy.) 

In his Opinion Sullivan writes,

“The Court shall grant Plaintiffs’ request to ‘restore overtime pay’ and to ‘make all late mail deliveries instead of letting mail be delayed or go undelivered.’”

Sullivan stopped short of ordering the Postal Service to returning operations to the status quo as of January 1, which would have meant restoring the 700 sorting machines that have been removed. Sullivan also rejected the plaintiffs’ request that the Court appoint a “special master” to supervise implementation of the Court’s Order.

Late yesterday Judge Victor Marrero issued an order in Jones concerning the Guidance Memorandum the parties have been trying to agree on. The order says,

“The Court is persuaded that the appropriate course is to adopt, in substantial part, the Government’s latest proposal.”

This proposed version of the Memorandum is here.  There are still two areas that need to get worked out. Both involve the wording on extra delivery and collection trips.

Update: The parties in Jones have finally worked out the wording for the Supplemental Guidance Document. You can see it here.

Voting in a Time of Covid: A Question about Judicial “Originalism”

Voting in a Time of Covid: A Question about Judicial “Originalism”

The originalist theory of legal interpretation holds that judges, in reviewing the implementation of a statute, should be guided by the “plain meaning” of its language at the time it was adopted.  This is in opposition to the notion of a “living law”, whose interpretation should evolve as the conditions it addresses evolves.  For instance, originalists are appalled by Supreme Court decisions like Roe v Wade, since nowhere does the Constitution establish a right to bodily privacy, nor could the framers have plausibly thought back in the eighteenth century that the language they drafted encompassed such a right.  It is one interpretation of the living law view, on the other hand, that, as governments increasing acquired the administrative power to regulate our intimate lives, the zone of restriction implicit in the first amendment should be extended to measures that impinge on the freedom to control one’s own body.

Until his death the most vocal supporter of originalism on the Court was Antonin Scalia; now we are looking at the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who describes herself as an acolyte of Scalia and a resolute defender of his philosophy.

Here is a case I would bring up if I were questioning Barrett.

The rules governing elections are established at the local and state levels, not federal, but the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of how they might be interpreted.  It is common for jurisdictions to have regulations prohibiting interference with or attempts to influence voters at voting sites.  In every instance I’ve seen this is expressed in terms of physical distance, something like “within 100 yards of the polling place”.  In enforcement this has always implied a radius extending from the door voters use to enter the building in which they will cast their vote.  You can’t hold signs and shout at voters, much less accost them, within so many feet of that door.

 

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease were incidents of half an hour.

But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenelated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions, the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

Republicans and McConnell’s Lies

Nine Supreme Court vacancies in place during election years in SCOTUS’s post – Civil War era. It is simple, Republicans as led by McConnell lied to the American people. McConnell would call out to Democrats stating “the American voters” want truthful politicians. Has McConnell been truthful to “the American People?”

2016: McConnell’s Lies: “I believe the overwhelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is that this nomination should not be filled, this vacancy should not be filled by this lame duck president.

The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be.”

All we are doing is following the long-standing tradition of not fulfilling a nomination in the middle of a presidential year.

There is no such tradition. The table (Brookings) shows the nine Supreme Court vacancies in place during election years in the Court’s post-Civil War era – once Congress stabilized the Court’s membership at nine and the justices largely stopped serving as trial judges in the old circuit courts. Furthermore, McConnell and Republicans care less able the American people. It is the 1-percenters Republicans care about.

2020 McConnell’s Lies:“Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite – party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.”

From the 1890s until the 1950s there were only unified governments and offers no test of whether divided government would have confirmed them. McConnell lies again. Second, McConnell does not include the 1880s’ when there were two divided-government confirmations. There were also two more recent divided-government vacancies which were filled by a divided Senate:

– In 1988, the Democratic-majority Senate voted 97-0 to confirm Justice Kennedy (after the 1987 rejection of the controversial Bork nomination).
– In 1956, Eisenhower made an uncontested October recess appointment of Justice Brennan. Had the Senate been in session, it would have confirmed a Brennan nomination as it did early in 1957.

The problem is simple. Republicans should own up to McConnell’s lies in 2016 and his present lie in 2020 they are using to justify their actions in support of trump. In 2016, they established a basis for their actions (by lying) which they now want to ignore in 2020. This is not about a process. It is about politics where none existed before historically and the subsequent lies to change it for political advantage.

McConnell’s Fabricated History to support his claims.