The Restaurant Industry Doesn’t Need Another Bailout

“The argument for bailing out restaurants is thus morphing from a need to save the industry during the pandemic to a desire to relieve it from persistent challenges that have less and less to do with COVID-19.

That’s hard to justify when the industry itself is on a steady track toward recovery, and federal spending is driving inflation to record levels.”

The Department of Homeland Security Is Broken and Dangerous

“there’s little evidence that DHS has any interest or ability when it comes to admitting and correcting its flaws. Even the people specifically assigned to keep an eye on DHS seem more concerned with shielding the department from consequences for bad behavior than with tempering its malignancy.

“The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and his top aides directed staff members to remove damaging findings from investigative reports on domestic violence and sexual misconduct by officers in the department’s law enforcement agencies,” Chris Cameron of The New York Times reported earlier this month. Among the information suppressed were descriptions of cash payouts to settle sexual harassment claims without going through formal procedures. “The inspector general, Joseph V. Cuffari, also directed his staff to remove parts of another draft report showing internal investigations had found that dozens of officers working at the agencies had committed domestic violence, but that they had received ‘little to no discipline.'”

The documents were obtained and published by the Project on Government Oversight. Their existence was subsequently acknowledged by Mayorkas in an internal DHS memo. If history is any guide, don’t hold your breath waiting for big reforms. Charles K. Edwards, a former DHS acting inspector general, was charged with stealing proprietary software and confidential databases from the federal government. He pleaded guilty in January of this year.

Don’t harbor too much hope that DHS will improve its respect for people’s rights. A federal agency whose official watchdog hides details of abusive conduct by its employees against their colleagues and family members when it’s not pilfering property can’t be trusted to be diligent about addressing civil liberties violations against the general public. That’s especially true when those violations are seemingly a baked-in part of how the agency justifies its existence. To repeat the Brennan Center’s warning, DHS suffers from “a dangerous combination of broad authorities, weak safeguards, and insufficient oversight,” and it’s not at all obvious how to fix what’s so profoundly broken.”

Why Disney World has a self-governing district — and why DeSantis wants to end it

“Walt Disney Co. proposed the Reedy Creek Improvement District in the mid-1960s in a remote area of Orange and Osceola counties. It allows Disney to operate like its own county government and is responsible for municipal services such as power, water, fire prevention and road maintenance. It also means Disney doesn’t need approval from local planning commissions if it wants to build new structures.

The reason special districts were created was so taxpayers who don’t benefit from the services of the special district aren’t required to pay for it through taxes.

A huge benefit of special districts is making tax-exempt purchases for the services they provide and issuing municipal bonds for major infrastructure projects at a much lower interest rate, said Chris Lyon, an attorney who deals with special districts.

The measure lawmakers are considering would not permanently terminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but it would phase it out on June 1, 2023, and allow the special district to reestablish on or after that date.

If legislators approve the bill, as is expected, Disney would be able to go to the state Legislature in Tallahassee next year and request it be reestablished, likely under more limited capabilities and powers.”

Local governments have billions in federal Covid cash and no workers to pay

“State and local governments are struggling to hire and retain workers amid a tight labor market, even as private-sector employment is reaching pre-pandemic levels.

Despite an influx of federal cash they received in response to Covid-19 — much of which remains unspent — and their own booming revenues, governments are having a hard time competing for workers as salaries at private companies rise.

Economists and unions warn that if public-sector employers can’t reverse the trend, it will erode the quality of services like education and slow the overall economic recovery. ”

“Altogether, the public sector has gained back 53 percent of the jobs lost since February 2020, a ZipRecruiter analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found. The private sector has won back 93 percent.”

“Economists cite a historically tight labor market as one driver of the discrepancy. Employers in every industry are struggling to attract and retain talent, which has put upward pressure on pay and perks such as remote work that governments thus far have been unable to match.

There were a record 11.3 million job openings in January, the most recent month for which data is available — about 5 million more than there are employed workers. At the same time, average hourly earnings have surpassed $31 — a more than 5 percent increase from the previous year.

The year-over-year growth rate for hourly private-sector salaries and wages in each of the past four quarters has exceeded that for state and local governments by the largest margin on record, according to a Pew analysis of Labor Department data.

“Really across the board, many governments are often facing intense competition for workers,” Mike Maciag, who studies the government sector at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said. “Slower [public-sector] wage growth is playing a major role in hindering efforts by a lot of governments to fill openings and retain workers.”

Maciag points to a recent report from Arkansas’ Office of Personnel Management that found competing offers from Walmart, McDonald’s, Amazon and the like were impeding that state’s efforts to fill some positions. All paid significantly more than the state for entry-level jobs — despite the fact that the “complexity and responsibility” of the government roles “far exceeded” that of the private-sector ones, according to the report.”

The Time the Federal Government Built a Flawed Housing Project and Tore It Down 20 Years Later

“Pruitt-Igoe represented complete racial and economic segregation. The building was dominated by single mother households that symbolized the collateral damage of public assistance. This was described by sociologist Lee Rainwater, in his book Behind Ghetto Walls: Life in a Federally-Subsidized Slum, “Only those Negroes who are desperate for housing are willing to live in Pruitt-Igoe.” When imploded, the buildings weren’t even two decades old.

The problems that toppled Pruitt-Igoe do not go nearly far enough to capture the deeply mistaken assumptions about government housing policy whose bad ideas continue today.

After clearing seedy areas, housing reformers who pushed for Pruitt-Igoe assumed that the neighborhoods they replaced were irredeemably bad and required what Architectural Forum magazine called, in 1957, “slum surgery.” In reality, the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood—like Chicago’s Bronzeville, Detroit’s Black Bottom, and New York’s East Harlem—contained small businesses, community institutions (such as a St. Louis hospital financed by African-American philanthropy) manufacturing, and, most notably, owner-occupied homes. Of the housing units cleared, according to the Census Bureau, 21 percent of the properties had “nonwhite owners.” What’s more, an additional 25 percent of those included rental units. It offered, in other words, a path to wealth accumulation through property ownership—a path wiped out by public housing.

Implicit in that heedless clearance was the idea that the private market inevitably fails to produce housing for those of modest means. In her landmark 1934 book Modern Housing, housing reformer, Catherine Bauer, wrote “The premises underlying the most successful forward-pointing housing developments are not the premises of capitalism [or] inviolate private property.” It was no coincidence that Bauer also included photographs of government-owned apartments in Soviet Moscow.

The design of Pruitt-Igoe’s modernist garden of towers would, instead, reflect the reformer’s hubris that planners, financed by government, could build a better neighborhood.”

Time for an Operation Warp Speed to Develop Pan-Coronavirus Vaccines

“Way back in May 2020, three researchers at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) published an op-ed in Nature arguing that with respect to developing universal coronavirus vaccines “the time to start is now.” As it turns out, the time to start for the NIAID was 15 months later when the agency got around to awarding three academic institutions a little over $36 million to research pan-coronavirus vaccines in September 2021.

The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed could serve as a much better model for incentivizing pharmaceutical companies to greatly speed up the development and deployment of the candidate pan-coronavirus vaccines on which some are currently working. In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, two immunologists point out that the global cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is an estimated $16 trillion, compared to the cost of developing a typical vaccine at $1 billion. They note that even a $10 billion vaccine is minuscule compared with the pandemic’s toll.

Among the promising pan-coronavirus candidate vaccines are the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s spike ferritin nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine; Osivax’s nucleocapsid vaccine targeting a protein widely prevalent among coronaviruses that is unlikely to mutate; and Inovio’s DNA vaccine encoding variant sequences of the spike proteins the virus uses to invade cells.”

War Crimes Charges Could Help Putin, Not Hurt Him

“The role of popular elections as the source of ruling legitimacy is just one way in which it is hard to categorize the Russian political system. For all the talk of Putin’s dictatorial personality and wide latitude to crackdown on civil liberties, the institutions of Putinism were built by his democratic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, enshrined in his 1993 constitution. Flawed and imperfect in practice during the tumultuous 1990s, these foundations were democratic in principle: Grassroots civil society flourished alongside a lively media environment, as legislators and leaders were chosen from a variety of contenders. Even as those liberties have subsequently been eroded and independent media curtailed, the institutions still specify that Russia’s leaders serve at the will of the people. Indeed, the ratcheting-up of Kremlin propaganda is meant, more than anything, to reassure Russians that Putin’s leadership is worthy of their continued support. Such peans to the people would be unnecessary in a classic, run-of-the-mill dictatorship.

Consequently, political scientists are at odds with how to describe Putin’s Russia. Some call it a “competitive authoritarian” regime, where democratic institutions and procedures simply provide a facade of legitimacy for the dictatorship. Others label it an “information autocracy,” in which the powers of state-run media are marshaled to build a public image of Putin as a competent leader, deserving of political support, and it works to generate the popular support he needs. What these different perspectives have in common is what Peskov said: that Putin’s political sovereignty ultimately lies with the Russian people, however manipulated or misinformed they might be.”

“Western hopes that the Russian people would rise up and topple Putin in a popular revolution seem further from reality today than at the start of the war. The smattering of protests across Russia during the first weeks of the war have largely fizzled out. Between the Kremlin propaganda machine in overdrive and criminalization of expressions of opposition, Putin’s approval in nationwide polls is now up to 83 percent, with 81 percent support for the “special military operation.”

What’s more, Russian elites appear to be consolidating behind Putin. Rather than diversifying internationally and finding safe havens abroad, powerful oligarchs and cosmopolitan elites—many of them under Western sanctions—now understand that they are tethered to Russia and to Putin personally. Once-feuding factions are realizing they’re all now in the same boat. Few will bolt for greener pastures in Europe or the U.S., even if they could.

In an eye-opening account by independent Russian journalist Farida Rustamova on the tribulations of Russia’s political elites since the war, she quotes a high-ranking source in a sanctioned Russian company as saying “All these personal sanctions cement the elites. Everyone who was thinking about a new life understands that, for the next 10-15 years at least, their lives are concentrated in Russia, their children will study in Russia, their families will live in Russia. These people feel offended. They will not overthrow anyone, but will build their lives here.”

Before the war, the dominant narrative of Kremlin-controlled media was that Russia is a mighty superpower—besieged on all sides by enemies and conspirators, both Western and homegrown—and only Putin could lead them. Lamentably, the coordinated international response to Putin’s bloody war has only solidified and reinforced that us-against-the-world narrative, and largely rallied the Russian people behind Putin.

In this context, the Russian response to the accusations of genocide in Ukraine have been predictable: It is all a Western “fake” meant to further impugn the dignity of Russia and its leader. Pro-Russian social media accounts have claimed that the corpses are either fake, or are actors, or were killed after the Russians left. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed “not a single local resident has suffered any violent action” while Bucha was under Russian control. These are all claims that have been easily debunked. By parroting the official line of the Foreign Affairs Ministry that it could not have been Russia that committed such atrocities, but rather the United States staging a “provocation,” Kremlin state-run media only reinforces and retrenches the us-against-the-world narrative already widely accepted among the Russian people.”

How Putin became the victim of his own lies

“dictators are often victims of the information bubbles they create around themselves. The sorts of errors that are easily avoidable in democratic systems (thanks to various checks) become commonplace in autocracies, and that leads to profound missteps by leaders.”

“It’s a mistake that dictators make where they become the victim of their own lies. To be more specific, it’s what happens when authoritarian leaders make catastrophic short-term errors because they start to believe in the fake realities they’ve constructed around themselves.”

“it’s the story of 22 years of consolidating authority in a place where crossing the dictator is potentially a death sentence. Putin has been in charge for a very long time, and he’s grown increasingly impatient with people who cross him. The effect of getting increasingly isolated and increasingly repressive is that you get increasingly bad information. If independent media is shut down and you can’t freely discuss things, if people are afraid of telling pollsters what they actually think, if propaganda is so rooted in the regime’s survival that it becomes really what you believe to be true, you’re going to make massive mistakes.
I think what happened with Putin is basically the combination of being surrounded by yes-men and being surrounded by propaganda. When you have both of those things, and you’re trying to invade a country that people around you probably think will go badly but they’re afraid to say so, it’s understandable that eventually you start to think, “Maybe it’ll go really well,” because that’s all you’re hearing.”

Opinion | Why Democracy’s in Such Trouble: A Crisis in Public Trust of Government

“The national poll, conducted on behalf of our two organizations by Impact Research, shows that only four in 10 Americans at least somewhat trust the federal government to do what is right. For all the concern about the rise of anti-democratic movements or unfair laws that could be used to steal an election, that disheartening statistic strikes at the heart of our nation’s primary democratic institution and its ability to deal with social, economic and foreign policy challenges. If you don’t trust your government, does it really matter what policies it pursues?”

“At least four basic responses from our leaders are needed, according to the polling — making visible the work of career civil servants, distinguished from the political leadership; emphasizing the ways government works on behalf of all; continuing to reform government so it is most effective and efficient; and then telling those stories to break the negative cycle.

When people don’t trust their government, they are more likely to opt out of voting and other types of civic participation. With less engagement, the public feels less empowered to influence government — and, in turn, government “hears” their needs and preferences less. This creates a mistrust loop: Diminished trust in government leads to a disengaged public, resulting in inefficient, unresponsive or unaccountable institutions, and that leads to further deterioration of trust and national progress.”

“Some of the public distrust over the years has been driven by controversial wars, policy blunders, mismanagement and political malfeasance, but a good deal is the result of a lack of information or an inability to differentiate the activities of elected political leaders from the critical services provided by federal agencies and the two million civil servants located across the country.
The public’s expectations and trust are often shaped by personal experiences. People applying for financial aid for college, visiting a national park, seeking assistance after a hurricane or going through airport security may be the only lenses through which they may see our government in action.

The new polling shows that positive experiences build goodwill and trust, but even a single negative interaction can have a lasting impact on people’s faith in government and democratic institutions.”