I’m a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight out of 1929.

I’m a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight out of 1929.
Republicans are again sprinting toward an economic cliff.
By Robert S. McElvaine
Nov 30 2017

“There are two ideas of government,” William Jennings Bryan declared in his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. “There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

That was more than three decades before the collapse of the economy in 1929. The crash followed a decade of Republican control of the federal government during which trickle-down policies, including massive tax cuts for the rich, produced the greatest concentration of income in the accounts of the richest 0.01 percent at any time between World War I and 2007 (when trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the hyper-rich, and deregulation again resulted in another economic collapse).

Yet the plain fact that the trickle-down approach has never worked leaves Republicans unfazed. The GOP has been singing from the Market-is-God hymnal for well over a century, telling us that deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and the concentration of ever more wealth in the bloated accounts of the richest people will result in prosperity for the rest of us. The party is now trying to pass a scam that throws a few crumbs to the middle class (temporarily — millions of middle-class Americans will soon see a tax hike if the bill is enacted) while heaping benefits on the super-rich, multiplying the national debt and endangering the American economy.

As a historian of the Great Depression, I can say: I’ve seen this show before.

Fact Check: Would the GOP tax plan cost Trump money?

In short, no. The president would benefit mightily from either version of the GOP tax bill. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

In 1926, Calvin Coolidge’s treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, one of the world’s richest men, pushed through a massive tax cut that would substantially contribute to the causes of the Great Depression. Republican Sen. George Norris of Nebraska said that Mellon himself would reap from the tax bill “a larger personal reduction [in taxes] than the aggregate of practically all the taxpayers in the state of Nebraska.” The same is true now of Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other fabulously rich people.

During the 1920s, Republicans almost literally worshiped business. “The business of America,” Coolidge proclaimed, “is business.” Coolidge also remarked that, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple,” and “the man who works there worships there.” That faith in the Market as God has been the Republican religion ever since. A few months after he became president in 1981, Ronald Reagan praised Coolidge for cutting “taxes four times” and said “we had probably the greatest growth in prosperity that we’ve ever known.” Reagan said nothing about what happened to “Coolidge Prosperity” a few months after he left office.

In 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt called for “bold, persistent experimentation” and said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” The contrasting position of Republicans then and now is: Take the method and try it. If it fails, deny its failure and try it again. And again. And again.

When Bill Clinton proposed a modest increase in the top marginal tax rate in his 1993 budget, every Republican voted against it. Trickle-down economists proclaimed that it would lead to economic disaster. But the tax increase on the wealthy was followed by one of the greatest periods of prosperity in American history and resulted in a budget surplus. When the Republicans came back into power in 2001, the administration of George W. Bush pushed the opposite policies, which had invariably produced calamity in the past. Predictably, that happened again in 2008.



The future of American privacy rights will be defined this year

The future of American privacy rights will be defined this year
On Wednesday, the US supreme court heard a landmark cell phone privacy case. The ruling will have implications for virtually every single American
By Trevor Timm
Nov 30 2017

If you care about privacy, whether it’s online or on your smartphone, the coming weeks will define the scope of privacy rights for Americans for the next decade or more. Two issues – whether the police can track on our cell phone location 24/7 without a warrant, and the potential to curtail some of the NSA’s most controversial powers to spying on Americans – will be decided by Congress and the US supreme court, and it’s hard to overstate their significance.

On Wednesday, the US supreme court heard a landmark cell phone privacy case called United States v Carpenter. The case, brought by the ACLU, ostensibly involves only one defendant: someone accused of participating in a series of robberies, where the police collected location data from cell phone towers to determine where he was over a series of months. 

But as the ACLU made clear in oral arguments before the court today, how the nine justices rules in Carpenter will impact the privacy rights of virtually every single American: critically, the police did not get a warrant to access the information, and they argue that they never need one to access any American’s location any time they want.

Given nearly everyone constantly carries around a smartphone – which is always connecting to surrounding cell phone towers that can pinpoint where you are – cell phone location information can paint an incredibly detailed picture of virtually your entire life. Think about it: cell phone location information can reveal when you go to work, when you are home, when you are sleeping, when you wake up, when you go to a bar, attend church, or a political rally. 

In oral arguments in the case, Justice Sotomayor – who has been the best justice on privacy issues for years – put it succinctly: “a cell phone can be pinged in your bedroom. It can be pinged at your doctor’s office. It can ping you in the most intimate details of your life. Presumably at some point even in a dressing room as you’re undressing.”

One would think this extremely sensitive information that would be protected by the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard laid out under the Fourth Amendment. Police plainly should need a warrant before accessing it.

But not according to the government. In the case at hand, the police used a standard for less stringent than the Fourth Amendment’s “probable cause” standard, but the argument the Trump administration is making to the justice is even more radical: as the ACLU puts it, the government is contending that the government “could obtain every American’s location history detailing their movements 24 hours a day, seven days a week, month after month, with no quantum of suspicion or judicial oversight whatsoever.”

If the US supreme court rules the right way, it could protect the data emitted from our cell phones, often without our knowledge and provide safeguards for police abuse. If they don’t, police may have cart blanche power to turn any American’s smartphone into a tracking device on demand.

It’s not an exaggeration to say this is the most important privacy case in front of the Supreme Court in a generation NSA Surveillance reform


Are Republicans Trying to Bring Back the Poll Tax?

Are Republicans Trying to Bring Back the Poll Tax?
By Thom Hartmann
Nov 28 2017

“Too poor to vote: how Alabama’s ‘new poll tax’ bars thousands of people from voting” – a caller awakened me to this story in The Guardian from Wednesday October 4th and it’s pretty shocking.

Yes, poll tax might have originated in Alabama. The poll taxes came out of the South during Reconstruction as a way of keeping poor people – particularly poor black people – from voting.

So Connor Sheets writing in The Guardian:

“Randi Lynn Williams assumes she will never be able to afford to vote again.”

Opening sentence. Well, why should anybody have to afford to vote? The 24th amendment says no more poll taxes – it is specifically outlawed in the Constitution. But Randi Lynn Williams, she got in trouble with the law and she lives in Alabama which is one of eight states which includes Nevada, Tennessee and a few others where you may not vote if you owe the government money.

You haven’t paid a fine? Haven’t paid a fee? Haven’t paid a traffic ticket? Haven’t paid restitution to the victim of a crime? Haven’t paid a fee to the state? You may not vote. Connor Sheets notes…

“In 1964, the 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, but to this day in Alabama, money keeps thousands of people away from the ballot box.”

So many thousands of people, just the felons who can’t vote are 286,266 people, that’s 7.62% of the state’s population.

The University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale Universities all contributed researchers to look into this situation, what’s going on in Alabama. The research paper that they published in June in the Journal of Legal Studies says…

“A majority of all ex-felons in Alabama – white, black, or otherwise – cannot vote because of a debt they owe to the state.”

Rich people can buy the right to vote, poor people can’t.

“In May, Governor Kay Ivey signed a law called the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act…

The policy requiring them to first pay off any fees, fines and restitution has resulted in a sizeable population of Alabama felons who have not committed crimes that would have resulted in them losing the franchise under the new law, yet they remain unable to restore their voting rights solely because of their financial situation. “

Can’t afford to pay your fines? Can’t vote in Alabama. that’s 286,266 disenfranchised felons, 143,924 of them black disenfranchised felons who make up 15.11% of that state’s African-American population.


$100 Million E.T. Hunt Spots 15 Mysterious Light Flashes

[Note:  This item comes from friend Brian Berg.  DLH]

$100 Million E.T. Hunt Spots 15 Mysterious Light Flashes
By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer
Aug 30 2017

A $100 million search for intelligent aliens has spied 15 bizarre, repeating flashes of light coming from a distant galaxy.

The galaxy — a dwarf known as FRB 121102 that lies 3 billion light-years from Earth — is a known source of such brief, high-energy fast radio bursts (FRBs). But the newly detected pulses stand out, astronomers said.

“Bursts from this source have never been seen at this high a frequency,” Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. [Are Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts Propelling Alien Spacecraft? (Video)]

Siemion is a team member with Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million project that’s searching for potential signals from alien civilizations from the 1 million stars closest to the sun, the 100 galaxies nearest our own Milky Way, and the galactic plane.

Some researchers think FRBs — which were discovered in 2007 and remain mysterious today — could be such alien signals. For example, astronomers have speculated that FRBs may be generated by powerful lasers designed to blast alien craft through space at high speeds — a propulsion method akin to that being developed by Breakthrough Listen’s ambitious sister project, Breakthrough Starshot. (Aliens aren’t the only possible explanation, of course; some scientists think FRBs are likely emitted by fast-rotating neutron stars, for instance.)

So, FRB 121102 — which, as its name suggests, was discovered on Nov. 2, 2012 — was a natural target for the Breakthrough Listen team, researchers said. The scientists, led by Berkeley SETI Research Center postdoctoral researcher Vishal Gajjar, detected the 15 new pulses on Saturday (Aug. 26) using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

“As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before,” Gajjar said in the same statement.

To be clear, the Breakthrough Listen team isn’t claiming that FRB 121102’s pulses are evidence of alien life. But the new observations, and others like it, could lead to a better understanding of FRBs and other puzzling phenomena, researchers said.


What Bikini Atoll Looks Like Today

[Note:  This item comes from friend Brian Berg.  DLH]

What Bikini Atoll Looks Like Today
Sixty years after the nuclear tests, the groundwater is contaminated and the coconuts are radioactive. But are the coral reefs thriving?
By Sam Scott
Nov 20 2017

It’s a promise that remains unfulfilled today. Normal life on the atoll is impossible, because the groundwater is contaminated. No one lives there apart from a half-dozen custodians who tend a small ghost village. All food and water must be imported.

“One of the guys working on the boat we were living on was of Bikinian descent,” López says. “Talking to him put in perspective what his family went through and how weird it is now to make a living off bringing scientists and tourists to the islands when his own family can’t live there.”

And despite Bikini’s remove, the rest of the world wasn’t beyond the reach of the blasts, which is how Palumbi grew interested in the atoll. The explosions — along with similar tests by other nations — caused a spike in atmospheric levels of carbon 14, a radioactive isotope that’s naturally created by cosmic rays interacting with nitrogen. Like other forms of carbon, C-14 is readily absorbed by plants and, in turn, animals.

“Every human on Earth had twice as much radioactive C-14 after those tests as before,” Palumbi says.

The “bomb pulse” isn’t harmful, but it is traceable, leaving an indelible mark on cells that scientists have learned to harness to remarkable effect. Traditional carbon dating — measuring the half-life of C-14 — estimates when an organism died. Bomb pulse forensics, by contrast, reveal how long something has been alive. Because C-14 levels have been steadily dropping since the open-air nuclear tests ceased, scientists can look at a cell’s concentration of C-14, cross-check it against the declining atmospheric levels of the isotope, and determine when the cell was born.

The method has been used for everything from measuring the age of ringless trees in the Amazon to examining whether humans generate new olfactory bulb neurons into adulthood. In Palumbi’s world, it helped establish that many creatures in the deep sea are far older than previously thought. “All of a sudden beluga whales live twice as long because we realized we had gotten the calibration wrong,” says Palumbi, who grew fascinated with the technique while writing his 2014 popular-science book, The Extreme Life of the Sea.

Palumbi’s varied career has focused on the genetics and evolution of a range of marine animals, from whales to shrimp. He’s also had a longtime interest in how the ocean fights back against human-made disasters. His book The Death and Life of Monterey Bay details that body of water’s recovery from a century of abuse.

But the idea of explosions capable of putting radiocarbon into every person, plant and animal on Earth made vivid to him a whole new level of destruction. When the producers of Big Pacific invited him to choose an expedition for use in the documentary, he knew exactly where he wanted to go.

“I’ve been talking to people to get to Bikini for years and years,” he says. “I thought it would be a good lesson in what the ocean is capable of in terms of recovery. How does it grow back from this most devastating thing ever done?”


Ajit Pai’s Shell Game

Ajit Pai’s Shell Game
By Susan Crawford
Nov 29 2017

I’ve got bad news for everyone who is working overtime to protest Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai’s campaign to eliminate net neutrality: You are being tricked. Pai is running a kind of shell game, overreaching (“go ahead and run all the paid prioritization services you want, Comcast!”) so that we will focus our energies on the hard-to-pin-down concept of net neutrality—the principle of internet access fairness that he has vowed to eliminate.

Pai is hoping to use outrage over net neutrality to drive everyone into the mosh pit of special interests that is lobbying on Capitol Hill. There will be strident calls from every side for reworking the existing Telecommunications Act to ensure that net neutrality continues. Just watch: The incumbents will piously say, “We like net neutrality too! We just need a different statute.” That’s a trap. We have a perfectly good statute already, and the Obama-era FCC’s interpretation of that statute so as to ensure an open internet—including its labeling of these giant companies as common carriers, which was necessary in order for open internet rules to be enforceable—has already been found reasonable. On the Hill, the public will be out-lobbied at every turn by the essentially unlimited resources of Comcast, Charter, CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T.

The real problem is a complete absence of leadership and policy aimed at making sure that low-priced, ubiquitous, world-class fiber optic services reach every home and business. Left to their own devices, the giant US companies Pai is determined to protect have every incentive to divide markets, avoid capital investments in upgrades to fiber that reach everyone, charge as much as they can get away with, and leave out poorer and rural people. That is in fact what has happened here.

The differences between the way the unrestrained, profit-at-all-costs-driven operators run things and the way a public interest-driven operator acts are obvious. For a clear illustration, take a look at Wilson, North Carolina.

I recently traveled to Wilson, a town in the eastern part of the state that is known to most as an exit ramp on Interstate 95. I found it to be a scrappy place with a tradition of taking the long view—most notably by successfully deploying a low-priced fiber optic service. Earlier this decade, the citizens of Wilson weren’t happy with the low-capacity connections and poor customer service offered by Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum). Wilson already had a public electric utility, so it was familiar with the benefits of operating a utility in the public interest. It built its own fiber optic network, and today offers 50 Mbps service (equal uploads and downloads) for $40 a month.

Here’s just a single example of the difference between Wilson’s system and one owned by an unregulated member of the connectivity cabal: the ease with which you can access the service, particularly if you have limited funds. In Wilson, you can sign up for prepaid service (with the same 50 Mbps capacity) for $1.15 a day. It’s a highly automated customer experience: You call up customer service, say you want access—you can set up your account with as little as $10—and you’re done. No credit check, no deposit, nothing. You can switch from a post-paid $40/month service to prepaid daily service with a phone call. (Try that with Verizon, Comcast, or AT&T.) When you’re about to use up your days, you can have a text, email, or call go out to you; after that, if you haven’t refilled your account, the service automatically shuts itself off. All you have to do to turn it back on is call again or go online and refill your account.

Wilson did this to make life easier for new customers, or for customers who want to avoid signing up for a full month of service. “It removes barriers to access and puts the customer in control,” says Will Aycock, the manager of Wilson’s Greenlight fiber service. The $1.15 is the prorated, per-day amount for Wilson’s regular monthly service—$39.95 for internet access alone. No data caps. When I asked Aycock why other internet access companies don’t provide an equivalent product, he was stumped. “I have no idea,” he said.


Trump’s Acting Directors Are Quietly Dropping “Acting” From Their Titles

Trump’s Acting Directors Are Quietly Dropping “Acting” From Their Titles
By David Dayen
Nov 29 2017

The fight over the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is assumed to be about President Donald Trump’s intent to deregulate finance. But it’s also part of a larger fight about separation of powers and the expanding authority of the executive, made clear by the Trump administration’s use, and abuse, of the law the president relied on to attempt to install Mick Mulvaney as acting director.

Trump doesn’t just want to undermine consumer financial protection with Mulvaney; he wants to end-run the Senate and install unaccountable loyalists throughout the government by executive fiat. Across the government, acting directors who were installed without Senate approval are quietly dropping the “acting” title from their name, suggesting they have every intention of overstaying their legal welcome.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) allows the president to install an acting leader of any federal agency or office where there is a vacancy. In the case of the CFPB, the debate is about whether the statute applies to the agency, whose specific line of succession would make Leandra English, the hand-picked deputy director, the acting director.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, sided with the president on Tuesday, refusing to issue a temporary restraining order blocking Mulvaney from office. English’s lawyers said they will push for a ruling on the preliminary injunction, which, unlike the temporary restraining order, they can appeal.

The CFPB fight is taking place against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s repeated violation of a FVRA provision that allows acting directors to serve only for 210 days, with the clock starting either when the vacancy is created or when a nominee is sent to the Senate for confirmation.

Trade publication Energy & Environment News highlighted this issue in a small story earlier this week. Reporter Hannah Northey cited several cases of acting heads installed under the FVRA dropping their “acting” titles in the past month — while still controlling policy at their respective agencies.

Dan Simmons, an expat of the American Legislative Exchange Council, has been presiding over the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Trump administration has not named a nominee for the Senate-confirmed position, and Simmons hit his 210-day time limit on November 16. The Department of Energy subsequently removed Simmons’s title of acting director, while stating he would still “serve in a leadership capacity” as a principal deputy assistant secretary. Simmons signed off on a proposal to overhaul energy efficiency standards the next day.

In other words, the Trump administration designated and then un-designated the acting director, ostensibly to comply with the letter of the law while violating its spirit. By keeping the leadership in place without the technical “acting director” title, they have circumvented the requirement for Senate advice and consent. 

The Trump administration has also made such moves at the Office of Nuclear Energy, where former acting director Edward McGinnis is currently the principal deputy assistant secretary, and at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, where former acting director Eric Rolfing is now listed as deputy director.