“the biggest price increases affecting “core” non-gas or food inflation in recent months have come from new and used cars and air travel. The Biden Council of Economic Advisers estimates that at least 60 percent of inflation in June was due to car prices alone, and a big chunk of the rest came from services like air travel increasing in price as everyone rushes back to travel post-pandemic.
A huge part of the rise in car prices is a semiconductor shortage — implying that a better way to tackle inflation than the Fed raising interest rates might be an effort to improve supply of semiconductors, including boosting production in the US. Biden’s recent efforts to get Taiwan to boost production for US car companies is exactly the kind of intervention implied by this analysis.
The Fed itself seems to be thinking this way; Powell recently testified to Congress that “supply constraints have been restraining activity in some industries, most notably in the motor vehicle industry, where the worldwide shortage of semiconductors has sharply curtailed production so far this year.” Lael Brainard, an influential member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, has said the same.
“If you do think that this supply side story is convincing, then that does really change the way you want to think about this,” Steinsson told me. “Somebody’s going to build a new semiconductor factory at some point … that gives you a rationale for not using the blunt tool of raising interest rates for the whole economy.”
Yes, inflation is rising, there is a great deal of uncertainty, and the specter of the ’70s looms large. But given how much economic pain was visited on millions in the fight against inflation decades ago, it’s encouraging that today’s policymakers seem more willing to consider the path their predecessors did not take.”
“The Voting Rights Act is arguably the most successful civil rights law in American history. Originally signed in 1965, it was the United States’ first serious attempt since Reconstruction to build a multiracial democracy — and it worked. Just two years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, Black voter registration rates in the Jim Crow stronghold of Mississippi skyrocketed from 6.7 percent to nearly 60 percent.
And yet, in a trio of cases — Shelby County v. Holder (2013), Abbott v. Perez (2018), and Brnovich v. DNC (2021) — the Court drained nearly all of the life out of this landmark statute. After Brnovich, the decision that inspired Kagan’s statement that the Court has treated the Voting Rights Act worse than any other federal law, it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would rule in favor of voting rights plaintiffs even if a state legislature tried to outright rig an election.
These cases are the culmination of more than half a century of efforts by conservatives who, after failing to convince elected lawmakers to weaken voting rights, turned to an unelected judiciary to enact a policy that would never have made it through Congress. All of this is bad news for minority voters in America, who are most likely to be disadvantaged by many of the new restrictions currently being pushed in statehouses across America, and for the country’s relatively young commitment to multiracial democracy. And there are at least three reasons to fear that decisions like Shelby County and Brnovich foreshadow even more aggressive attacks on the right to vote.”
“Georgia recently enacted a law that effectively enables the state Republican Party to disqualify voters and shut down polling precincts. If the state GOP wields this law to close down most of the polling places in the highly Democratic, majority-Black city of Atlanta, it’s unclear that a Voting Rights Act that’s been gravely wounded by three Supreme Court decisions remains vibrant enough to block them.”
“The impact of Shelby County was fairly swift. In 2013, for example, Texas enacted racially gerrymandered legislative maps, even though a federal court had rejected many key elements of these maps under the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provisions. Yet, with preclearance dead, the Supreme Court upheld nearly all of Texas’s gerrymandered maps in Abbott v. Perez (2018).
Similarly, if preclearance were still in effect, it is unlikely that many of the controversial provisions of Georgia’s recently enacted voter suppression law would survive. And certainly no federal official acting in good faith would permit Georgia to simply start closing down polling places in Black neighborhoods.”
“The biggest uncertainty surrounding the Court’s voting rights decisions, in other words, is whether the Court will enable efforts to lock Republicans into power no matter what voters do to elect their candidates of choice, or whether the Court’s majority will, at some point, tell their fellow Republicans in state legislatures that they’ve gone too far.
The answers to these questions, moreover, won’t be found anywhere in the Constitution, or in any law enacted by Congress. The Roberts Court’s voting rights cases bear far more resemblance to the old English common law, a web of entirely judge-created legal rules governing areas such as contracting and property rights, than they do to the modern, more democratic model where federal judges are supposed to root their decisions in legal texts. The future of democracy in the United States will be decided by six Republican-appointed justices’ arbitrary whims.
And, if a majority of the justices do support a wholesale attack on liberal democracy, their actions will hardly be unprecedented.
Nearly a century before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Congress and state legislatures passed a different kind of legislation that was supposed to guarantee the franchise to people of color.
It’s called the 15th Amendment, with its command that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The pre-Voting Rights Act United States did not deny voting rights to millions of African Americans because we lacked a legal guarantee protecting the right to vote. We did so because powerful public officials — including judges — decided that they did not care what the Constitution had to say about voting rights.
We’re about to find out whether the Supreme Court is going to repeat that history.”
“And, to be sure, the Trump administration did things that not only were well outside established norms but also undermined the CDC and the entire field of public health. For example, on April 3, 2020, while announcing the agency’s recommendation to wear masks, the president repeatedly emphasized that no one had to wear masks and explicitly said that he personally wasn’t going to wear one.
The administration also pushed for edits to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, long the primary means for communicating scientific data to other researchers and the broader medical community. These edits were political, designed to downplay the growing number of COVID-19 deaths and support decisions the administration had already made about issues like school reopenings. Emails revealed that members of the Trump administration were accusing the CDC of trying to make the administration look bad by releasing data disclosing the dire nature of the pandemic.
Those kinds of actions by a presidential administration were unprecedented. And they contributed to a loss of morale and a sense within the CDC that everyone just needed to keep their heads down and not make waves. But the political issues weren’t just about what the administration did — they were also about what it didn’t do.
By early March 2020, the CDC had all but disappeared from press briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. No one in the Trump administration ever explicitly said that the agency wouldn’t be speaking to the public. But, quietly, that’s exactly what happened. By May 2020, the Union of Concerned Scientists could graph the disappearance of the CDC. And this was a completely different situation from what had happened in past pandemics, when presidents let the CDC take the lead.
At the same time, the Trump administration did not seem to facilitate communication between the CDC and outside experts — something the scientists I spoke to said had been the norm for past administrations faced with a public health crisis.”
“The share of background checks the FBI never completes has ticked up slowly since 2014, the first year on record, when it processed 8,256,688 checks and didn’t complete 172,879, or just under 2.1 percent.
But by 2019, the bureau was failing to complete about 2.5 percent of the background checks it processed, and it didn’t finish almost 3.4 percent in the first nine months of 2020.
Those numbers only include gun background checks run by the FBI, so they don’t count the 20 states that process some or all background checks themselves. It’s also important to remember that the number of background checks isn’t the same as the number of guns sold — many are also run when people apply for gun permits, for example, or when states check on the status of gun permit holders. A single background check can also represent multiple gun sales.”
“The FBI responds to most gun background checks with an immediate “yes” or “no.” But sometimes, it has to delay the check to do more research because its records are incomplete. After three business days, the dealer can sell the gun anyway. Many, including large chains like Walmart, choose not to. But ones that do don’t have to tell the FBI about it.
In an average year, almost 275,000 background checks take longer than three business days. In 2020, there were 535,786 such checks, according to FBI data. That number doesn’t include background checks for things like concealed-carry permits or explosives licenses, which aren’t subject to the three-business-day rule.”
“after 90 days, the bureau’s regulations require it to stop work and delete the background check from its computers. To make sure it doesn’t violate that policy, the bureau actually deletes unfinished background checks on day 88 just to be safe.
In the first nine months of 2020, the FBI deleted 316,912 unfinished background checks — 3.4 percent of all the checks it processed. In an average year, it deletes about 202,000. Again, this only includes background checks that are subject to the three-business-day rule.
If the FBI discovers that the potential buyer can’t own a gun in between day three and day 88, it contacts the dealer to see if the sale went through anyway. If it did, the FBI asks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF) to retrieve the weapon.
Between 2014 and 2019, there were on average at least 3,800 of these so-called “delayed denial” sales annually, according to ATF data obtained by the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. But there were at least 5,807 in all of 2020, according to the ATF data — the most since 2006, the first complete year on record.”
“Asked why it didn’t finish so many background checks in 2020, the FBI said in a statement that it “depends on the availability of relevant information and records provided by federal, state, local, and tribal agencies.” The bureau also said that it has “reallocated resources to help ensure that it can continue processing background checks efficiently.”
Gun sales have surged since April 2020, thanks, at least in part, to the pandemic, protests last summer for racial justice and the election of President Biden in November. The FBI data shows how the background check system has struggled to keep up. And, at this point, it’s unclear when the problem is going to get better.”
““Afghanistan,” we are told, as if this explains everything, “is the graveyard of empires.”
From Alexander the Great to 21st-century America, Afghanistan is supposed to have grievously weakened, if not ruined, all who dared to cross its borders. It’s a catchy phrase, one that evokes images of European statesmen playing “the Great Game” for Asia, Rudyard Kipling writing, “A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East,” and maybe even Indiana Jones swinging through the Temple of Doom.
The only trouble is that it doesn’t have much to do with actual history. Afghanistan, in its long existence, has sadly been more like the roadkill of empires — a victim to their ambitions. Understanding this historical reality is critical to grasping why the United States is unlikely to suffer serious long-term effects from its long and wasteful occupation of Afghanistan — or from the bloody, bumbling withdrawal. It is also vital in acknowledging how much more likely smaller powers like Afghanistan are to suffer lasting trauma than any of their larger, more powerful invaders.
Certainly, the peoples living in what is Afghanistan today have resisted mightily one haughty conqueror after another who swaggered down the Hindu Kush. Alexander the Great faced fierce opposition from locals when he invaded around 330 B.C., and received a nasty leg wound from an arrow. But he ultimately smashed that resistance, founded what became the modern city of Kandahar and pushed on to India — leaving behind the Seleucid Empire, which lasted for 250 years. Genghis Khan conquered Afghanistan. So did Timur, better known as Tamerlane, and his descendant Babur. So did the Turks and the Huns, the Hindus and Islamic Arabs, the Persians and the Parthians. So did numerous empires, peoples and tyrants you’ve probably never heard of: the Greco-Bactrians, the Indo-Scythians, the Kushans, the Sassanian Empire, the Maurys Empire, the Gahznavids, the Uzbeks, the Safavids and the Hotak dynasty. Most of them stayed for decades, even centuries.
The idea that Afghanistan was some kind of geopolitical quicksand for empires seems to have started with the First Anglo-Afghan War, which ended in 1842. An army of 4,700 British and Indian soldiers retreating from Kabul was slaughtered nearly to a man near the village of Gandamak, along with at least 12,000 civilians traveling with the army. The debacle was a major scandal back in London. It also came at a moment when England’s penny dreadfuls and its narrators of the travails and glories of empire were hitting their stride. Much like the tabloids and instant TV news of today, their reports and images served to horrify and enrage audiences at home. (They also played into the racist, Western fascination, one that lasted throughout the 19th century and beyond, with the idea of a gallant band of doomed, white warriors fighting to the last while helplessly outnumbered by “savages”: the Afghans in Gandamak or the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn, the Turks at Balaclava, the Zulus at Isandlwana.)
Less frequently mentioned in recollections of Gandamak is that Britain sent an “army of retribution” into Afghanistan a few months later, one that crushed every Afghan army sent against it, looted and razed numerous towns and villages in its path, and finally sacked Kabul — burning the dazzling Char-Chatta Bazaar there in a final spasm of vengeance. Britain would return to stomp Afghanistan in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which ended in 1880. Far from being interred, the British Empire would reach its zenith in 1920, extending its reign more than 13.7 million square miles, or more than one-quarter of the Earth’s land mass.
The Soviet Union’s misadventure in Afghanistan was more damaging.”
“Republicans raised the debt ceiling with minimal drama under Donald Trump. Now Democrats are prepared to make them publicly refuse to do the same for Joe Biden.
Senate Republicans are digging in deeper and deeper in their resistance to raising the nation’s borrowing limit, with 46 of them vowing to oppose an increase this fall that will need at least 10 Republican votes. Yet Democrats still plan to burn their most expedient ticket out of the debt mess, with no intention to shift course and pass an increase along party lines.
Their move to pass a budget resolution without tackling the debt ceiling, completed last week, adds a perilous deadline to Democrats’ season full of lofty promises on infrastructure and social spending. It’s not only the majority party facing a fall challenge, however: Republicans will have to actually block a debt ceiling increase instead of just talking about it.
The borrowing fight is perhaps the most immediately consequential drama during a momentous fall for Biden and the Democratic agenda. In addition to raising the debt ceiling, Democrats must fund the government past Sept. 30, devise a likely multitrillion-dollar spending bill and put Biden’s infrastructure bill over the top in the House. Democrats will also make one last-gasp effort at passing voting rights legislation.”
“Laurie Elkin and Justin Mulaire, two federal employees who were detailed to the Fort Bliss emergency intake shelter near El Paso, Texas, filed a whistleblower complaint to Congress alleging they witnessed intolerable noise, filth, and odors inside the large tents where children are housed; contractors who were unqualified to work with youths; and hostility, indifference, and resistance to providing medical treatment to sick kids.”
“Elkin and Mulaire say they were repeatedly ignored or discouraged by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) superiors when they tried to report the substandard conditions and care children were living under.
The allegations track closely with reporting from Reason and other outlets from earlier this year describing unsanitary conditions and poor care for children housed in the shelter.”
“The total number of migrant minors being held by the U.S. government has waned, from more than 20,000 to roughly 14,500, according to the latest numbers from HHS.”
“Carlson had been communicating with intermediaries to try and arrange for an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is therefore extremely likely that at least one or more of the people Carlson communicated with (some of whom Axios reports had direct ties to the Kremlin) were legitimate targets of NSA surveillance. And therefore, the NSA did, in fact, probably get access to whatever emails were part of this discussion.
This means that the insistence by the NSA that it didn’t “target” Carlson is accurate, but it also means that Carlson’s claim that the NSA had read his emails may be accurate, at least to the extent that they were emails to the actual surveillance target.”
“California’s median home prices have just topped $800,000, which is astounding when one considers that this is the statewide median, and includes lower-cost markets such as Bakersfield and Modesto.”
“In 2015, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that California’s housing prices are 2.5 times the national average—and that we need 100,000 more units a year to keep pace. The state’s slow-growth rules and endless mandates for solar energy and open space also drive up prices. That’s why I beat the same old drum: California needs to let builders construct more housing of all types.
If a proposal reduces government regulations and allows more housing construction, I’m for it. If it does the reverse, I’m against it. That’s why I support efforts to allow the construction of multi-family housing in areas that are now zoned only for single-family homes. Despite the misconception, that change doesn’t ban single-family homes, but also allows duplexes and condos.”
“The goal should be to reduce regulations across the board, so builders can more easily respond to market demand by building whatever consumers want to buy. Defending antiquated zoning laws will not accomplish that objective, for the same reason government control of any product or service only distorts the supply and demand process.
Remember that as you get in a bidding war for that $1-million 800-square-foot condo.”
“Not all of the encouragement is bad. For instance, Biden “encourages the [Federal Trade Commission (FTC)] to ban unnecessary occupational licensing restrictions that impede economic mobility.” This is one area where U.S. antitrust policy does have a lot of room for improvement.
Another bit of positive encouragement: Biden is directing the Department of Health and Human Services “to consider issuing proposed rules within 120 days for allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter.”
It also touches on “right to repair” rules, encouraging the FTC to limit “equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs—such as when tractor companies block farmers from repairing their own tractors” and to “issue rules against anticompetitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment.”
“the order “encourages the FTC to ban or limit non-compete agreements” and to establish new rules on internet user data. He encourages the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to restore net neutrality rules, to ban landlords from making deals with internet service providers that say tenants must choose a particular internet service, and to create a “nutrition label” for internet service. He orders the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support farmers markets, and further “directs USDA to consider issuing new rules defining when meat can bear ‘Product of USA’ labels” and to develop new labeling standards “so that consumers can choose to buy products that treat farmers fairly.”
He also announces a general “policy of greater scrutiny of mergers, especially by dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.”
The White House will establish a new Competition Council, led by the director of the National Economic Council, “to monitor progress on finalizing the initiatives.””