How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change

“I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Moreover, it’s important for us to understand which levels of government have the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices. When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

America’s Long-Term Debt Crisis Is Now a Short-Term Problem

“Decades of rising debt and deficits, even under thriving economic scenarios where persistently high deficit levels are unjustified, have left lawmakers across the aisle less willing or able to respond, exactly as budget-watchers have predicted. The debt is not just a drag on the economy. It’s a burden on crisis response, a limitation on the government’s ability to take action in a time of need.”

“When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) examined the nation’s long-term fiscal state last year, it offered this dour assessment: Federal debt levels were on track to reach their highest levels since shortly after World War II. On the current trajectory, “growing budget deficits would boost federal debt drastically over the next 30 years,” pushing debt to levels that were “the highest in the nation’s history by far.” Interest payments were set to spike, tripling over the next several decades, and exceeding the total amount of all discretionary spending. Over time, debt service would essentially become its own massive federal program.”

“What the nonpartisan congressional budget analysts were saying, in their own carefully antiseptic language, was that even if things went pretty well for the economy, the continued growth of federal debt was going to be a big problem. A crisis was brewing, perhaps not immediately, but in the long term.
You may have noticed: Things have not gone well.

As COVID-19 spreads, the American economy is in the midst of the largest freefall in at least a generation, perhaps the most devastating since the Great Depression. Joblessness is at record highs, and financial analysts are predicting that the economy will end up shrinking by as much as 40 percent during the second quarter this year. A sharp drop in health care spending, as people delay elective surgeries and other non-emergency care, has alone managed to trim several points from the gross domestic product. No one has any clear sense of how or when this will end.

As the economy has tanked, Congress has responded with a series of aid packages totaling nearly $3 trillion, all of which have been deficit-financed. This year’s budget deficit is expected to come in somewhere around $4 trillion, nearly the size of last year’s entire federal budget. In April, the U.S. posted its highest monthly budget deficit ever, at $737.9 billion. In 2016, the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the annual deficit was $585 billion. In a single 30 day period, the U.S. government ran a bigger budget deficit than any one year outside of the Great Recession and its aftermath.

And this year isn’t over”

“there is at least a case to be made that this crisis, which is different in both scale and kind from previous economic upheavals, is one that actually justifies some amount of emergency deficit spending, if not the particular bills that Congress has passed: When governments are forcing businesses to close in response to an unforeseeable exogenous event, as well as forcing individuals to stay home from work, some form of recompense is probably justified. It is notable that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, one of the organizations most single-mindedly focused on national debt reduction, has backed deficit spending in this instance.”

“the relief effort is running up against legislative skepticism—a political constraint imposed by the high debt and deficits that were already locked in before the crisis began.”

Plans for Extended Unemployment Benefits, Wage Subsidies Risk Creating a Zombie Economy

“the states that have reopened have seen anemic economic recoveries at best.

Slate’s Jordan Weissman, using data from the app Open Table, notes that restaurant reservations are down as much as 92 percent from last year in those states that have allowed dining rooms to reopen.

A ranking of state jobless claims released yesterday by the personal finance website Wallethub finds that the number of people applying for unemployment is especially high in Connecticut, which had a bad COVID-19 outbreaks and a strict shutdown order, but also in Georgia and South Dakota. The former is lifting its shutdown order, and the latter never imposed one.

This matches with new research showing that economic activity declined at similar rates regardless of when states issued formal lockdown orders. Individuals, not the government, shut the economy down. They’ll also decide when, or if, it reopens.”

“if we can’t expect much of the pre-pandemic economic activity to return, that dramatically weakens the case for propping up businesses as Jayapal and Hawley want to do, or paying workers to stay jobless like the HEROES Act does. Both policies stymie markets’ ability to adjust to COVID-19 while shifting resources from those parts of the economy that can be productive during a pandemic to those that can’t. If there’s no demand for air travel, we’d be better off seeing baggage handlers shift to being warehouse workers or grocery delivery drivers. We want cooks and cashiers to move to restaurants that can figure out a way to stay profitable without dining service.

That doesn’t mean the government can’t provide relief. Even if we allow those readjustments to happen, we’ll still probably have a less productive economy for a while, and the negative effects of that will be concentrated on people who aren’t in a position to adapt. So there’s a reasonable case for cash transfers targeting the poorest Americans. But they shouldn’t be conditioned on staying at their current jobs, and—unlike unemployment benefits—they shouldn’t be conditioned on staying out of the labor force altogether.”

ICE Agents Fight Sex Trafficking by Paying Potential Victims for Hand Jobs

“Agents with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Arizona have been “fighting” human trafficking by sending federal immigration agents to coerce suspected victims into paid sex acts. These acts were later used by authorities to justify arresting women who agreed to them, seizing their assets, and telling the press it was these women who were the real predators.”

“Absurd and horrifying? Obviously. But also a scenario that is far from an isolated incident.”

Mission Creep and Wasteful Spending Left the CDC Unprepared for an Actual Public Health Crisis

“Over the past three decades, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has seen its taxpayer-funded budget doubled. Then doubled again. Then doubled again. And then nearly doubled once more.

But spending nearly 14 times as much as we did in 1987 on the agency whose mission statement says it “saves lives and protects people from health threats” did not, apparently, help the CDC combat the emergence of the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century. In fact, a new report argues, inflating the CDC’s budget may have weakened the agency’s ability to handle its core responsibility by giving rise to mission creep and bureaucratic malaise.”

“In addition to combating dangerous infectious diseases like HIV and malaria, the CDC now also studies alcohol and tobacco use, athletic injuries, traffic accidents, and gun violence. While those things can indeed be important factors to public health, Minton notes, they don’t seem to fall within the agency’s original mission.”

“when the coronavirus did hit, the CDC only confirmed that it should not be trusted to make important decisions by forbidding private labs from developing tests for COVID-19. The federal agency’s monopoly on testing supplies produced inaccurate tests that had to be discarded en masse.

The initial testing delay has certainly cost lives. It is also at least partially to blame for the severe quarantine policies that have tipped the American economy into a deep recession—without adequate testing, there was little else for policymakers to do except close the country in the hopes of slowing the disease’s spread.”

The Michael Flynn Unmasking Fight Is Another Chance for More Transparency About Secret Government Surveillance

“This “unmasking” is part of a very secretive process of deciding who gets to see the names of Americans on transcripts of intercepted foreign communications and raw intelligence. Thanks to an annual transparency report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, we know that this happens a lot. According to the latest transparency report, the National Security Agency (NSA) unmasked the names of 10,012 U.S. citizens or residents in 2019 in response to requests from another agency.”

“Americans deserve more transparency on how this unmasking process works—and a better explanation of why all these people keep requesting unmasking and what happens to that information. This may well be a “routine” process, as so many officials insist, but that doesn’t mean that we as citizens should accept the status quo. People insisted the Page warrants were part of a routine process, too, and it turned out that the routine itself was broken.”

In Zimbabwe, It’s Crisis as Usual

“Major factors in the sharp economic decline include government corruption, a horrific drought, and rampant inflation and cash shortages after the reintroduction of a Zimbabwean dollar (ZWL, colloquially called “bond”) following almost a decade under a multi-currency system.”

“The first Zimbabwean dollar originated in 1980 after the country, then called Southern Rhodesia, fought and won a guerrilla war for independence against its British colonizers. As white settlers made up 1 percent of the population but controlled the majority of arable land, former freedom fighter and new government leader Mugabe put into place a moderately successful “resettlement” program, which compensated landholders and redistributed their property to black Zimbabwean farmers. In 2000, Mugabe’s party amended the constitution to allow the legal seizure of farmland without compensation. The mismanagement of that program contributed to severe famine, according to a report by the U.K.’s Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group. The food instability in Zimbabwe today is an ongoing symptom of this.
During the global recession of 2008, the Zimbabwean dollar saw inflation hit 500 billion percent before it was abandoned in favor of the multi-currency system. In its original incarnation, Zimbabwean bill denominations reached 100 trillion—not even enough to buy a loaf of bread. (Ironically, those bills are now sold on eBay for around $40 U.S.)

“The light at the end of the tunnel in 2008–9 was dollarisation,” wrote University of Zimbabwe economist Tony Hawkins in the Zimbabwe Independent last year. “Inflation came to a shuddering halt, the economy returned to positive growth for the first time in a decade and a financial sector, ravaged by hyperinflation, recovered strongly.”

A national shortage of the U.S. dollar starting in 2015 prompted the government to mint “bond,” a substitute currency that acted as a placeholder for foreign cash, according to Al Jazeera. When bond devalued swiftly, thanks to the black market, the government attempted to integrate it into a new Zimbabwean dollar and banned most use of foreign currencies.

“De-dollarisation in 2019 has turned the clock back towards hyperinflation without achieving its basic objective of providing a viable alternative to the United States dollar, trusted by the community,””

” The quashing of political dissent has been more profuse under Mnangagwa’s government than even under the iron-fisted Mugabe, according to Roselyn Hanzi, director of the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. In 2019, during protests over a government-imposed fuel price hike of more than 100 percent, more than 1,000 protesters were arrested within two weeks. Some were dragged out of their homes by police after the fact, tortured, and prosecuted without legal representation. “That has never happened [on this scale], as far as I can remember,” Hanzi says. “Every other day [activists are] getting attacked by the police…brutally and arbitrarily.””