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

Tech Companies: Be your own town and government

I saw this bit of news on Steven Colbert’s show last night. Seems Nevada’s Democratic Governor thinks tech companies need to be their own town. The thinking is that this is a way to attract business development without spending money. What could go wrong?

From the AP news:

“Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak announced a plan to launch so-called Innovation Zones in Nevada to jumpstart the state’s economy by attracting technology firms, Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday.

The zones would permit companies with large areas of land to form governments carrying the same authority as counties, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and courts and provide government services.”

I am surprised that a Democratic governor would think this is a good way to attract commercial development. Is he not familiar with history and the mill housing? The company stores? The lyrics of “Sixteen Tons”?

How much further are we going to push the idea that corporations are people as referred to in our Constitution. This appears to be the Republican “emergency manager” without the emergency. The layers of legalities is stunning. We would have a democracy national government on top of a democracy state government on top of a non-democracy corporation on top of a sort of democracy town government? Which state’s laws would oversee the corporation?

What is wrong with these people?

Here’s Steven.

GOP Voting Rights Act Position Falls Apart

Tuesday brief update on Arizona and GOP oral arguments in SCOTUS.

Hardcore GOP Position For Defanging VRA Falls Apart Under SCOTUS Questioning,” Tierney Sneed, TPM

The Arizona case before the Supreme Court involves two restrictive voting practices in the state which invalidates a vote:

– Arizona’s 2016 ban on most third-party mail-ballot collection, and

– its longstanding policy of discarding a voter’s entire ballot if she casts it at the wrong precinct.

Many states have a similar rule, while in other places, an out-of-precinct voter’s ballot counts for non-local races.

Beyond the question of whether those specific policies — which the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down — should be reinstated, the bigger potential consequence of the case is whether the Supreme Court uses it as a vehicle to further narrow the scope of the Voting Rights Act.

Good decision, big institutional problem on minimum wage work-around

From WAPO:

Senior Democrats are abandoning a backup plan to increase the minimum wage through a corporate tax penalty, after encountering numerous practical and political challenges in drafting their proposal over the weekend, according to two people familiar with the internal deliberations. . . .

Economists and tax experts have said that the tax outlined by Sanders and Wyden could be easily avoided and difficult to implement, with large corporations able to reclassify workers as contractors to avoid potential penalties. “I would be extremely nervous about trying out a brand new idea like this with virtually no vetting,” Jason Furman, a former Obama administration economist, said on Twitter on Friday.

The good news here is that the Democrats care enough about policy – or perhaps political blowback – that they decided this idea wasn’t ready for prime time.

But there is another story here that is less visible but more important. The institutional capacity of Congress is so limited that Democrats didn’t have a well-vetted tax proposal waiting in the wings when, predictably, Senate Parliamentarian ruled that a straight-up minimum wage increase could not be passed in reconciliation.

How is a Congress that lacks the institutional capacity to vet a relatively simple tax proposal like this supposed to tackle an issue like climate change? My sense is that the Democrats know this is a big problem, but increasing spending on Congressional staff is a political liability, so . . .

Canceling Outstanding Student Loans in Default

Some State AGs Take Action

Seventeen State Attorney Generals signed and sent a letter to Congressional leadership (Schumer, Pelosi, McConnell, McCarthy) calling on Congress (Friday February 19) to pressure President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student load debt for borrowers as a part of pandemic relief. The AGs write:

“As the Attorneys General of Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, we write to express our strongest support for Senate Resolution 46 and House Resolution 100 calling on President Biden to use executive authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in Federal student loan debt for all Federal student loan borrowers.

Because we are responsible for enforcing our consumer protection laws, we are keenly aware of the substantial burden Federal student loan debt places on the residents of our states.”

Broad cancellation of Federal student loan debt will provide immediate relief to millions who are struggling during this pandemic and recession, and give a much-needed boost to families and our economy.

The current options for borrowers have proved to be inadequate and illusionary. For example, 2% of the borrowers applying for loan discharges under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program have been granted a discharge. In addition, efforts by our Offices to obtain student loan discharges for defrauded students – to which students are entitled under existing law – have been stymied by the U.S. Department of Education for years.”

On Golden Idols

On Golden Idols

 IN Exodus it is reported that while Moses spent time on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, the people of Israel down below got tired of waiting for him and so constructed at least one, maybe more than one, as silver is mentioned along with gold, statue to be worshipped, with the golden idol, usually claimed to be of a calf, the most notorious.  When Moses returned with the Commandments he was wroth with anger and denounced them for this perfidy, and Exodus reports that Yahweh destroyed this idol, turning its gold into “dust” or other kinds of small particles depending on the translation, and then a part not usually discussed forced the people who had worshipped this golden idol to drink a liquid containing this dust. Of course one of the first commandments forbade the making of “graven images,” with this golden calf or whatever and any silver idol being clear and prime examples of what was clearly forbidden.

Bearing Witness

A very few of us now living lived through The Great Depression; only a very few more of us lived through WWII; some more than that of us lived through the Korean War; more yet of us lived through the Vietnam Era; and so it goes up until now. All of us now living may have thought of the possibility of seeing another war, pestilence, the disaster of Climate Change, … , may have even thought of the possibility of experiencing a pandemic; but who amongst us thought of witnessing the concurrence of a Trump presidency and this once in a century level COVID-19 Pandemic? In the past five years, each of us have witnessed a lifetime of history. These past five years have been equal several normal lifetimes.

On January 6, 2021, the unthinkable nearly happened. On that day in infamy, our venerated constitution barely survived to live another day. We are not out of those dark woods yet; our democracy is still very much on the block. A majority of one of our two political parties has chosen one-man rule over democracy; has joined the Trump cult. Of course, this didn’t just happen over night; fully one-fifth of those of us alive today have gotten to watch most of this unfold. Few, if any, of those one-fifth of us understood at any point what was going on during this time. Thus it was that Trump came as a shock to us, to the world. In the 20/20 of hindsight, it shouldn’t have. Enough was known. — How We Got Here

The Postal Service wants to slow down the mail, Congress says not so fast

Steve Hutkins at Save The Post Office continues his dialogue on planned changes to USPS operations with one change amongst the others resulting in later deliveries of first class mail. The Washington Post was the first to report on this change as well as other changes. You may be able to catch portions of Louis DeJoy’s planned changes at other sources as well.

The Postal Service wants to slow down the mail, Congress says not so fast

Congressional Action:

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has just posted a discussion draft of postal reform legislation in advance of Wednesday’s hearing with Postmaster General DeJoy and the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Ron Bloom. The draft has three main sections — one about creating a Postal Service health benefits program that includes Medicare, one on reforming the Retiree Health Benefit Fund obligation, and a third on service standards for on-time delivery.

The section on service standards comes first, and it is obviously a response to all the problems with poor service over the past seven months. It includes more stringent service performance reporting than currently shared with the Postal Regulatory Commission and the public, a tougher line on what happens when the Postal Service fails to meet the standards, and changes to the PRC’s advisory opinion process for reviewing a change in standards (including a report to Congress). The draft legislation concludes this section as follows:

“The United States Postal Service may not revise the service standards for market-dominant products in effect on the day before the date of enactment of this Act in a manner that lengthens delivery times before the date on which the report required by subsection (c) is submitted to Congress.”

The Committee’s meeting on Wednesday (24th) is clearly going to address the past problems with service performance and what to do about them moving forward. (There’s more about the delays here.) It’s also clear that the Committee is aware of the Postmaster General’s plans to change service standards, as was reported recently in a great scoop by the Washington Post, and the Committee wants to head the PMG off at the pass.

Politics and Power of a Tweet Depends on Who You Are

With all the crap, trump has said in tweeting over 4 years which equates to > 20,000 tweets  via “Wiki,” I find it to be infantile and a double standard for Manchin, Collins, and Romney to call Neera Tandern out for her tweets. Where were they over the last 4 years of trump, hiding from him perhaps?

Joe Manchin has a bone to pick with Neera Tanden

And its personal. The background;

“Office of Management and Budget director nominee Neera Tanden previously sent a tweet taking issue with the salary of former (retired in 2020) CEO of the pharmaceutical company Mylan, Heather Bresch, who is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).”

In August 2016, Neera Tanden shared a screengrab of an article about Bresch which focused on a significant rise in her pay while at Mylan. It highlighted that the company’s board said this was justified as she had “contributed significantly to the company’s growth in recent years.”

“The idea that only CEO contributes to a company’s growth and not all employees is really pernicious.”

The company headlines may be correct. A little background from an earlier 2019 post of mine :

The new Pittsburgh – based unnamed company is expected to be among the world’s largest sellers of generic and off-patent medicines with more than $19 billion in yearly sales. Pfizer Shareholders will own 57% of the new company and Mylan shareholders would the rest. Pfizer would be paid $12 billion raised from new debt acquired from the joint venture. Upjohn would return to the US from its corporate base in Shanghai, a reversal of its earlier inversion.

To me, this is a strategic move along the lines of Pfizer selling off the marketing of EpiPen to Mylan and keeping the manufacturing of it. Pfizer owned Meridian Medical Technologies manufactured EpiPen for Mylan and it will now be a part of the sale to Mylan. EpiPen was a huge success story for Mylan. A quadrant strategy of milking of a cash cow to fund new ventures.

Back to the Future: The USPS, PRC, and Mailers revisit the meaning of PAEA

Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

Continued discussions between the mailers who are faced with higher rates, PMG Louis DeJoy, and Congress. The mailers are in court as we read Steve’s excellent review of what is taking place.

Also, PMG DeJoy has plans of increased prices for mailers also includes slower service and higher prices for First Class mail. The February 12th edition of the Washington Post exposed the PMG plans to increase prices for First Class Mail and slower deliveries of First Class Mail going from 2 days to 3 to five days. More information can be found at WaPo or truthout.

Back to the Future: The USPS, PRC and Mailers revisit the meaning of PAEA

Earlier this week a group of mailers’ associations continued their effort to convince the DC Circuit Court to stop the Postal Service from increasing rates under the new authority it was recently granted by the Postal Regulatory Commission.

The Postmaster General has told the mailers that another rate increase, based on the new authority, is “imminent.” The exact size of the increase has not yet been revealed, but the Postal Service’s calculations indicate it could be as large as 5.56 percent. Market Dominant revenues in 2020 were about $42 billion, so a full increase could mean $2.3 billion in additional costs for mailers.

In December, the Mailers filed appeals on the PRC’s order approving the new system in the DC Circuit. On January 27, 2021, they proceeded to file a request for a stay seeking to prevent the order from being implemented while the court heard the appeal. On February 8, the Commission filed its brief opposing the request for a stay, and the Postal Service filed its own opposition as well. On Tuesday of this week (February 16), the Mailers filed their reply. (For more background about the case, see this previous post and this one too.)

Is China Committing Genocide In Xinjiang?

 On the last day it could, the Trump State Department officially declared that the Peoples’ Republic of China is committing “genocide” in Xinjiang Province against the mostly Sunni Muslin Uighr minority, the previously dominant group in the province. New SecState Antony Blinken has publicly stated that he agrees with this judgment.  However, reportedly the State Department is reviewing this decision, as it is doing with many other parts of US foreign policy, including such things thought to be fairly straightforward such as rejoining the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran that Biden ran on rejoining and should. So whether or not this last minute action by Pompeo at State remains official or not is up in the air at the moment.

There is no question that the PRC’s policy towards the Uighurs is simply awful, not remotely defensible.  Ir involves having large numbers of people in reeducation camps as well as lots of torture. This is combined with the more general program of simply having Han people fully dominating the province, which parallels a similar program in Tibet, although somehow currently the central government is not engaging in quite as unpleasant programs regarding the native ethnic Tibetan population as is happening regarding the Uighurs.