“While Congress or military leaders are involved in any other decision to use of military force, the president can legally order a nuclear strike on his own. “Congress doesn’t have any role in this at the moment,” says Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology. “They’re not expected to be consulted.”
Unitary presidential control of nuclear weapons dates from the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and the practice has been cemented over time. This is partly a product of the general shift toward a stronger executive, and partly just an issue of timing: If the missiles are coming, you can’t call up Congress.”
“”The system we have is very much a product of the 1940s, with some modifications in the 1950s and the 1960s,” Wellerstein says. “And we don’t live in the 1940s, ’50s, or ’60s. So I think we should feel free to question whether the system we have now is the ideal system for our present day.””
“In 2016, Trump had campaigned on eliminating the national debt in under a decade. Yet by June 2020, the federal budget deficit had reached $864 billion…for just the month. That was more than the entire budget gaps in either 2017 or 2018. By September, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was projecting a $3.3 trillion annual deficit in 2020. Federal debt levels, which equaled just 35 percent of the economy in 2007 and 79 percent of the economy in 2019, would reach 98 percent. The CBO had previously warned that persistently high debt and deficits would have consequences: slower economic growth, an ever-increasing share of the budget consumed by interest payments on the debt, and reduced capacity to act should a major crisis arise.
And yet as the virus consumed the nation, even many deficit hawks were recommending more spending, at least in the short term.”
“In the early ’80s, some lawmakers had come under the influence of a macroeconomic theory that would come to be known as “supply-side economics.” This theory held that tax cuts could, in budget parlance, “pay for themselves” by boosting economic growth so much that the federal government would actually raise more revenue if it reduced rates.
There was some trivial truth to this. Imagine a world in which loaves of bread are taxed at 99 percent. This is a world in which not many loaves of bread are produced or sold and thus not much revenue is raised from the bread tax. Reduce the rate to, say, 50 percent, and you would probably see a marked increase in the production and sale of bread—and higher bread tax revenues as a result. Reduce the tax further, and the bread market would probably expand even more. Supply-side effects are real, but they typically offset only a small percentage of lost revenue.
Some Republicans took this to mean that tax cuts of just about any kind would often, and perhaps even always, result in higher federal revenues. At some point, however, lowering rates does in fact end up lowering revenues. A 0.001 percent tax on bread might unleash a powerful market in artisanal breadmaking. It would probably not produce higher total levels of tax revenue than a somewhat higher rate would.
In reality, this simplistic version of supply-side orthodoxy was not a macroeconomic theory so much as a convenient excuse for Republican lawmakers to give their voters what voters tend to want: tax cuts without spending reductions, i.e., a government they didn’t have to pay full price for.”
“As with many diets, it worked—for a time. Bill Clinton began his presidency by raising the top income tax rate from 28 percent to 36 percent—an increase, but still far lower than the top rate at the beginning of Reagan’s presidency. And then, following the Republican takeover of Congress, Clinton negotiated with GOP lawmakers to lower projected federal spending—when politicians talk about spending “cuts” they are often referring to reductions of planned future spending—particularly on welfare assistance. Accordingly, the deficit dropped from $203 billion in 1994 to $22 billion in 1997.
Forced to work across the aisle, Clinton and the Republican Congress had done what their predecessors had failed to do: reduce the deficit. Federal spending dropped as a percentage of gross domestic product, which boomed under the first wave of internet-induced investments—the 1990s tech boom. The rapidly growing economy kept voters from revolting, and Clinton framed the budgetary contraction not as a reduction in government services but as an end to federal overreach.
“We know big government does not have all the answers,” he said in his 1996 State of the Union address. “We know there’s not a program for every problem. We have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means. The era of big government is over.”
In Clinton’s second term, the already shrunken deficit ceased to exist. By the year 2000, the federal government was running a $236 billion annual surplus. Finally, the deficit problem seemed to have been solved.
The trouble with diets is that even when they work, they’re hard to stick to. That is especially true when the diet must be renegotiated among a rotating cast of 535 lawmakers and a new president every four to eight years.
And so, under President George W. Bush, deficits returned”
“Simpson-Bowles consisted of 18 people—a bipartisan mix of a dozen members of Congress and six private citizens—tasked with producing a set of recommendations for deficit reduction. There were difficult choices ahead. The committee’s job was to suggest which ones should be made.
The commission was a classic Washington gambit in that, outwardly, it was an attempt to solve a policy problem, but in reality, it was a politically motivated attempt to avoid solving that very problem.
Nominally, the problem the committee was tasked with solving was how to reduce the deficit. But that wasn’t the actual problem it was trying to solve, because since the 1980s the solution had remained fairly obvious: To reduce the gap between outlays (spending) and revenues (taxes), Congress would need to either increase tax revenue, reduce spending, or do some combination of the two. To be genuinely effective, the tax hikes probably would have to hit the middle class and the spending cuts probably would have to hit entitlements.
The actual problem the committee was intended to solve, then, was that, despite occasional protestations to the contrary, neither congressional lawmakers nor the president wanted to do any of this.
In the end, Simpson-Bowles recommended cutting spending and increasing taxes. In particular, it recommended cutting spending on entitlements and raising some taxes on the middle class in order to broaden the tax base.”
“of course, neither the president nor congressional lawmakers agreed to any of it.”
“a problem with Congress—is that it can’t tell itself what to do. Not for very long, anyway. The 112th Congress in 2012 has no power to bind the 113th Congress, which means that if Congress in 2013 does not like the instructions passed down from its forebearers, it can tell the 112th Congress to go get stuffed.”
“Trump, like most Republicans, had run against the federal debt. His promise to eliminate it completely in eight years was deeply unrealistic, backed by no specific plan, and predicated in part on Trump’s confusion of the trade deficit (which measures inflows and outflows of goods between the United States and other countries) and the budget deficit (which measures how much more the federal government spends than it takes in). But it was, at least, a rhetorical concession to the Republican fiscal politics of the Obama years.
In early 2018, House Democrats negotiated a budget deal with Senate Republicans that suspended sequestration caps and authorized $300 billion in spending above previously allowed levels. The particulars were complex, as budget deals often are, but in broad strokes, the agreement was straightforward: Democrats got more funding for domestic spending, while Republicans got more funding for the military. Trump signed the bill, proclaiming, “We love and need our Military and gave them everything—and more.” The bill, he tweeted, would also mean “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.”
For years, Democrats and Republicans had bickered over budget priorities. With the 2018 spending bill, they resolved their differences—by agreeing to spend more on everything.”
“What Democrats saw not only in the 2017 tax bill but in the decadeslong deficit wars was that Republicans had found a political advantage in arguing that tax cuts paid for themselves. There was a clear pattern to federal budgeting: Under Republicans, tax rates would go down, spending would increase, and the deficit would rise. Under Democrats, tax rates would rise slightly, spending would hold more or less steady, and the annual deficit levels would decline. The GOP, which had long branded itself the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, was the party of neither.
To the party’s base, this didn’t just mean that conservatives were hypocrites. It meant they could pursue their priorities without pressure to make concessions or tradeoffs. They had an argument, a rhetorical strategy—or, at the very least, a convenient and self-serving pretext—that insulated them from the understanding of shared pain and shared responsibility.
To rectify that political imbalance, the left—particularly the young, online left, which increasingly favored aggressive spending programs far more expansive than even many lifelong Democratic politicians would dare contemplate—would need a pretext of their own. And they would get it, in the form of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).”
“As with supply-side economics, the central insight of MMT is both true and trivial: The U.S. budget is not, strictly speaking, like a household budget or a business budget, because unlike a household or business, the federal government can print its own money. From this single observation, MMT theorists have constructed an entire macroeconomic worldview, which says explicitly that deficits don’t matter and, consequently, the government can and should print money to fund federal spending projects on a massive scale.
In this understanding of the economy, debt is not a constraint; nor are interest rates charged by bondholders. Debt can be paid down with a few congressionally authorized keystrokes on central bank computers generating new dollars. Bondholders will have little recourse but to accept these newly created dollars, because America’s currency is the global reserve.
The only real constraint MMT proponents recognize is inflation, which serves as a signal that there are too many dollars in the economy and that some should be recalled by the government. But inflation has been running low for years.
The upshot of all of this is a belief not only that current deficit levels are sustainable but that they are actually too low. Congress, MMT proponents argue, should be spending far, far more. Fears about accumulating a large national debt should disappear entirely.”
“The supply-siders had triumphed on the right, and the MMTers were winning crucial battles on the left. The deficit had always been a bipartisan problem. At last, America’s politicians had found a bipartisan solution. Lower taxes. Higher spending. And the biggest deficit ever. Finally, Washington had found its balance.”
“”Germany’s Network Enforcement Law, or NetzDG … requires social media companies to block or remove content that violates one of twenty restrictions on hate and defamatory speech in the German Criminal Code,” Diana Lee wrote for Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. “In effect, the NetzDG conscripts social media companies into governmental service as content regulators,” with millions of euros in fines hanging over their heads if they guess wrong.
That model of delegated censorship has proven to be as infectious as a viral outbreak, taking hold in over a dozen other countries.”
“expected to encourage even more “overblocking” by platforms worried that they’ll face a financial death penalty if they guess wrong as to content’s legal status.”
“The U.S. faces its own speech- and privacy-threatening legislation in the form of the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020. The legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last month, invokes children and the dangers of child pornography on its way to threatening platforms with the loss of Section 230 protection against liability for content posted by users if they don’t adopt government-dictated “best practices.”
“The EARN IT bill would allow small website owners to be sued or prosecuted under state laws, as long as the prosecution or lawsuit somehow related to crimes against children,” warns the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We know how websites will react to this. Once they face prosecution or lawsuits based on other peoples’ speech, they’ll monitor their users, and censor or shut down discussion forums.”
This world-wide wave of censorship legislation piggy-backs on pandemic-related concerns about the quality of information and the safety of communications available to people confined to their homes. It has sometimes been passed by legislatures empowered by health-related states of emergency. Yet again, a crisis eases the way for governments to accumulate powers that would face greater resistance in happier times.”
“When it comes to loan losses sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. banks aren’t taking any chances.
The nation’s four biggest lenders probably set aside about another $10 billion for bad loans in the third quarter, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg, even though stimulus moves by the government and Federal Reserve have so far staved off a spike in missed payments.
While the third quarter’s tally is well below the pace of the first half, it means that the banks will not only have covered the losses they’ve seen since the start of the pandemic, but also added almost $50 billion to reserves for future pain. Investors’ big question will be whether that comes from typical caution, or if the banks are seeing worrying signs as forbearance programs wind down and stimulus efforts get bogged down in a partisan fight.”
“Banks may be setting aside more than they need for loan losses to take advantage of strong trading revenue and the fact that they can’t return excess capital to shareholders. The Fed this month extended through the rest of the year its unprecedented constraints on dividend payments and share buybacks for the biggest U.S. lenders.”
“there are three trends that we can point to. The first is the steady nationalization of American politics. The second is the sorting of Democrats and Republicans along urban/rural and culturally liberal/culturally conservative lines, and the third is the increasingly narrow margins in national elections.
The combination of these three trends has turned Washington, D.C., into a high-stakes battle where cross-party compromise is difficult, and both sides are increasingly holding out for complete control.
Sixty years ago, state and local politics loomed larger than they do now, which meant national parties operated more like loose labels whose main function was to come together every four years to argue over who should run for president under that party. As President Eisenhower reportedly quipped as late as 1950, “There is not one Republican Party, there are 48 state Republican parties.” The same was true of the Democratic Party at the time. By the 1970s, in fact, many political observers declared that partisan politics had reached their end, with split-ticket voting hitting record-high levels as candidates successfully ran on local issues and pledges to better serve their constituents.
But beneath the surface, the parties were realigning. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the culture wars of the 1970s and 1980s not only turned conservative Democrats into Republicans and liberal northeastern Republicans into Democrats, it also shifted the focus of politics such that Washington became the arbiter of national values. National parties began building up major fundraising and campaign consultant-driven operations, helping to standardize their messaging so that it actually meant something to vote for a Democrat or a Republican.”
“Cultural values are much more connected to geography than economic values. Both the rich and poor live in cities, suburbs and exurbs. But those who are socially liberal tend to live in cities, whereas those who are socially conservative tend to inhabit small towns. This partisan sorting on cultural issues has thus generated a significant partisan density divide. And because geography also corresponds to racial and ethnic diversity (basically, cities are multicultural and exurbs are mostly white), this adds another division onto the partisan divide: race.
With all these identities accumulating on top of each other, partisanship has become a kind of “mega-identity,” as political scientist Lilliana Mason argues, with party identification standing for much, much more. In fact, it’s reached the point that when you meet somebody, you can immediately size them up as a “Trump voter” or a “Biden voter.” That kind of easy stereotyping leads us to see the other party as distant and different. And typically, things that are distant and different are also more threatening.”
“the parties themselves actually have a lot of internal division, which means they share a version of the same dilemma: Republicans and Democrats can’t please all the different voters and groups who fall into their party and want their issue to be prioritized. But in a polarized two-party system, they can make it clear why the other party is bad.”
“As of October 1, a new law in Louisiana bans grocery stores from calling veggie burgers “veggie burgers,” as well as many similar product labels like “plant-based sausages” or “seitan-based vegan bacon.”
The justification? That consumers might get confused about whether veggie burgers are made of beef. It’s the latest of a series of attempts by meat companies to ban their plant-based competitors from grocery store shelves — and many legal experts say it’s probably unconstitutional.”
“Last year, Arkansas tried a nearly identical law, and Tofurky sued. A judge issued an injunction a few months later, finding that the law violated the free-speech protections of the US Constitution and telling Arkansas it may not enforce the law while the case proceeds through the courts. Mississippi tried a similar law, too, and backed down, promising to revise it, when sued. That didn’t stop Louisiana from proceeding with its own, nearly identical law, but it is likely no more constitutional than the Arkansas or Mississippi ones.
Why are we fighting about Tofurky? There are no indications that consumers are confused about whether veggie burgers are made out of meat. But as plant-based products get more popular, these labeling laws are one of the meat industry’s favorite tools to fight back — even though courts keep on soundly rejecting them.”
“The First Amendment can be applied to commercial speech — though the law is a bit complicated. In the 1940s, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there were no First Amendment protections for purely commercial speech. By the 1970s, the Court had reconsidered that and overturned it in 1976.
In 1980, the Court supplied the rules for First Amendment protections on commercial speech that are still applied today. Those rules are called the “Central Hudson” test because they were laid out in Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission.
Here are the rules: First, commercial speech “must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.” Supporters of Louisiana’s law might argue that the term “almond milk” is misleading, while opponents argue that consumers know perfectly well what almond milk is — that, as Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) put it, “No one buys almond milk under the false illusion that it came from a cow. They buy almond milk because it didn’t come from a cow.”
“There’s nothing misleading about the name of a veggie burger, or vegan hot dog, or seitan bacon,” Jessica Almy, an attorney and director of policy at the Good Food Institute, told me when we spoke about a similar Missouri case. “The packages clearly disclose that this is plant-based food that has the taste or texture of this familiar food.”
“There is not one consumer complaint to the AG’s office ever filed,” Amanda Howell, co-counsel on the Louisiana case, told me. “All plant-based products I’ve seen are doing their best to make sure consumers know that they’re plant-based.”
Even if the speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading, the government can still regulate it. But it has to meet the following standards: The government must have a “substantial interest” at stake, the regulation must “directly and materially advance the government’s substantial interest,” and “the regulation must be narrowly tailored.””
“As of October 20, the seven-day average of coronavirus cases was more than 60,000 — a new peak since the summer surge of Covid-19 abated. That’s up from a recent low in the seven-day average of fewer than 35,000 cases on September 12. The increase doesn’t appear to be driven by a single state or region — although the Dakotas, Montana, and Wisconsin appear to be in particularly bad shape — but rather spikes across much of the country at once, with increases reported across the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. (Some of the spike is also caused by more testing exposing more cases.)”
“The current surge seems to be a repeat of the summer spike. Cases started to fall in late August, eventually reaching a brief plateau between mid-August and mid-September. But that plateau was still much higher than the peak of Covid-19 cases in the spring (partly, but likely not entirely, due to more testing). Yet states seemingly declared victory and started to reopen anyway — and now cases are rapidly climbing again.
MacDonald is now repeating the same thing she told me in the summer: “We never got to low enough levels [of Covid-19] to start with in most places.”
Of particular interest is indoor dining at restaurants and bars, which are reopening at varying levels across the country. Experts characterize these settings as perhaps the worst imaginable spaces for Covid-19 spread: People are close together for long periods of time; they can’t wear masks as they eat or drink; the air can’t dilute the virus like it can outdoors; and alcohol could lead people to drop their guards further. It was a recognition of all these risks that led many states to scale back and close indoor dining and bars during their summer outbreaks.”
“None of the ideas to prevent all of this are shocking or new. They’re all things people have heard before: More testing and contact tracing to isolate people who are infected, get their close contacts to quarantine, and deploy broader restrictions as necessary. More masking, including mandates in the 17 states that don’t have one. More careful, phased reopenings. More social distancing.”
“While experts all agreed that there’s zero political appetite for a lockdown right now, a massive surge in the fall and winter could leave the US with no other option. Israel, for example, shut down in September after seeing a massive increase in cases, and several European countries are now considering or enacting similar measures as their cases rise.”
“Reconciliation is weird. First, Congress needs to adopt a budget resolution (which it doesn’t always do) laying out tax and spending priorities for the future. These resolutions are not laws, the president doesn’t have to sign them, and they pass by simple majority vote. Then with a budget in place you get to write one — but only one — bill that aims to “reconcile” national tax and spending priorities with the framework laid out in the budget. This reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered. It also cannot change Social Security, or otherwise make big legislative changes that are not directly focused on the budget.
At Vox, we have often focused on the limits the reconciliation process places on what can be achieved on climate policy or aspirations for Medicare-for-all. A reconciliation bill also can’t increase the budget deficit over the long run.
But while these limits are very real, they also do open up some fairly large horizons.”
“a reconciliation bill can do the following:
Increase the generosity of the social safety net
Raise taxes on the rich
Impose the tax increases after the safety net increases, generating short-term stimulus”
“Consider the following ideas Biden has embraced:
Creating a new universal child allowance to help parents and slash child poverty.
Creating a fully funded rental housing voucher program to ensure that every family that needs help gets it.
Expanding the Affordable Care Act to cover millions more and make coverage more generous for those who get it.
A climate plan that centers investments in clean energy, rather than taxes on dirty energy.
A huge increase in funding to low-income school districts.
Biden does not need to treat these ideas as separate from the short-term need to stimulate the economy. He can simply do all five of them, and throw in a short-term boost to unemployment insurance and state/local budgets and some cash for specific public health interventions. Then the long-term increases in spending can be offset by enacting his proposed tax increases on the rich. That will ensure the deficit falls over the long run. But since the short-term deficit is not a problem and the whole idea is to stimulate the economy, the tax cuts can be delayed until 2023.”
“To get it done, Biden needs to convince members of Congress that it’s in their collective interest for him to have a successful presidency with a roaring economy and real accomplishments. And if they don’t want to curb the filibuster, they need to get the job done with a massive reconciliation bill.”
“if Biden thinks that his personal charm can bring back the low-polarization Senate he remembers from his service there in the 1970s and ’80s he’s mistaken. And if he genuinely tries to do that, he’s setting himself up for catastrophic failure. Times have changed, the media has changed, institutions have changed, and incentives have changed. The good old days aren’t coming back.
Still, Biden can break the toxic allure of obstruction by refusing to be obstructed.”
“If you’re voting by mail in Pennsylvania this year, and you want your vote to actually count, you need to remember one crucial thing: the secrecy envelope.
Once you fill out the ballot itself, you must place it inside the provided secrecy envelope, which contains no information about your identity. Then you put the sealed secrecy envelope inside a different postage-paid addressed return envelope, on which you have to sign your name and write your address.
If you forget the secrecy envelope — simply dropping your ballot in the ordinary return envelope — your ballot will be deemed a “naked ballot.” And, according to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, election officials will have to throw it out.
The reason for the secrecy envelope, in theory, is to preserve the secret ballot and to prevent potential fraud. That is: once election officials receive the mail-in ballot, they use the outer envelope to verify that the person voting is registered and hasn’t already voted, without being able to see who the vote is for. Only later will the secrecy envelope actually be opened and counted.
But the risk is that if the rule is implemented very strictly, many voters’ non-fraudulent ballots will be thrown out on what’s essentially a technicality, simply because they misunderstood the rules.
So in the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling on the topic last week, Democrats are calling on the Republican-controlled state legislature to change the law to allow naked ballots to be counted. Yet GOP legislators do not seem eager to take any such step. (Both sides suspect discarding naked ballots will disadvantage Democrats more than Republicans, since more Biden supporters have told pollsters they are interested in voting by mail.)
And this could potentially be very consequential. A Philadelphia official recently raised concerns that as many as 100,000 “naked ballots” could be thrown out — and pointed out that Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by just 44,000 votes.”
“A new report, by the Council on Criminal Justice, found that the homicide rate increased sharply this summer across 27 US cities: “Homicide rates between June and August of 2020 increased by 53% over the same period in 2019, and aggravated assaults went up by 14%.” Other data, from crime analyst Jeff Asher, found that murder is up 28 percent throughout the year so far, compared to the same period in 2019, in a sample of 59 US cities. A preliminary FBI report also found murders up 15 percent nationwide in the first half of 2020.
The increase in homicides is large and widespread enough to raise serious alarms for criminologists and other experts”
“Some experts have cited the protests over the police killings of George Floyd and others — which could’ve had a range of effects, from officers pulling back from their duties to greater community distrust in police, leading to more unchecked violence. Others point to the bad economy. Another potential factor is a huge increase in gun purchases this year. Still others posit boredom and social displacement as a result of physical distancing leading people to cause more trouble.
Above all, though, experts caution it’s simply been a very unusual year with the Covid-19 pandemic. That makes it difficult to say what, exactly, is happening with crime rates.”
“There’s a lot of variation from city to city. Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New York City, and Philadelphia are on the high end of homicides or seeing a flat-out increase. Baltimore, Boston, and Columbus are in line with historical trends or actually down.”