Many Republicans, particularly the activist class, really hate Joe Biden's plan to forgive student debt for some Americans. However, the initiative has majority support among the members of the voting public (polls have roughly 50% in favor, 40% opposed), which means the Democratic-controlled Congress certainly won't be stepping in anytime soon. And, of course, the Republican Party won't be in control of the White House for more than 2 years, at the earliest. If the legislative and executive branches are off the table, that leaves the GOP's favorite branch of them all, the judiciary.
Yesterday, just days after the debt-relief website went online, the Supreme Court got its very first case challenging the law. A right-wing activist group in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), has filed on behalf of a different right-wing activist group, the Brown County Taxpayers Association (BCTA). The "emergency" filing requests that SCOTUS suspend the program while various lower-court cases play out.
The argument made by WILL is... dubious, to put it kindly. The organization proposes that Biden is not entitled to spend federal money, because the power of the purse rests with the legislature alone. Actually, that argument is not entirely crazy, though it can be very difficult to identify those occasions where a president is actually infringing on Congress' powers, as opposed to merely implementing existing law. Our guess, for example, is that WILL didn't complain when Donald Trump tried to redirect Department of Defense funding in order to build his border fence.
No, where things get laughable is when WILL tries to establish standing to bring the suit. For many decades, the Supreme Court has been very clear that for someone to bring a federal lawsuit, the plaintiffs must be able to show that they have been (or will be) damaged. One cannot file proactively on behalf of "the American people" or "the millions who are unborn" or "the working poor." In this case, the argument for damages—and remember, BCTA is the actual plaintiff—goes like this: "[BCTA's] members will be forced to pay higher taxes and live in an America that is less prosperous, more fiscally irresponsible, and burdened by a higher federal debt."
One does not need a degree from Harvard Law to see the holes here. Everyone in the U.S. is a taxpayer or a potential taxpayer. And if people can challenge any federal policy by virtue of their status as taxpayers, then the question of standing becomes meaningless, because everyone would have standing in every case. In case there is any doubt about this, the Supreme Court has ruled, first in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Mellon (1923) and later in other cases, that "I am a taxpayer" is absolutely not enough to give someone standing to sue the federal government.
So, there is just no way that this filing can prevail, no matter how much the 6 conservative Supremes might oppose loan debt forgiveness (and note, WILL's filing has already been rejected by two lower levels of the federal court system). Since the various right-wing legal interests have had plenty of time to think about their angles, and since activist-plaintiffs tend to fire the best arrow in their quivers first, this suggests that there may be no good way to bring down the Biden program in court. (Z)
Last week, during the (final?) televised hearing of the 1/6 Committee, the Committee brought things to a dramatic conclusion by voting to issue a subpoena to Donald Trump. Chris Truax, a lawyer and voting-rights activist, has an interesting piece he wrote for The Bulwark laying out Trump's three potential responses:
It will be very, very interesting to see how Trump plays this. And we are reminded yet again that the folks on the 1/6 Committee are very clever, and very savvy. (Z)
And now we move on to someone who is apparently not especially clever, and not especially savvy. That would be John Durham, the former U.S. Attorney turned special counsel, who has spent the last 3 years (and countless millions of dollars) investigating the FBI probe into Donald Trump's ties to Russia.
In theory, Durham was going to prove beyond a shadow of the doubt that the Steele dossier and all the claims about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia were nonsense, and that the former president was a victim of the Deep State, which was conspiring to undermine and embarrass him. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Durham has produced virtually nothing that served to back up Trump's claims or to exonerate the 45th president from wrongdoing. It remains the case that while some portions of the Steele dossier were questionable (as is generally the case with a preliminary everything-and-the-kitchen-sink intel-collecting exercise), the Trump campaign clearly had extensive contacts with the Russian government that, at very least, crossed into "inappropriate" territory (and very possibly into "illegal" territory). The matter hasn't gone much further than that since Trump controlled the levers of power for 4 years, and thereafter there were other, more pressing legal issues for the DoJ to pursue. Like, say, an insurrection.
And speaking of the insurrection, the DoJ has charged at least 928 people with crimes related to that day, and more than 400 of those have either taken a plea deal or been convicted in court. That's in a little more than 18 months. By contrast, in 3 years, Durham has secured a grand total of one conviction—a low-level FBI employee who took a plea deal and was given probation.
Still, Durham did have one big fish in his net, and he hoped that a conviction would justify the entire fishing expedition. That fish was Russian policy researcher Igor Danchenko, who was indicted on four counts of lying to the FBI about the Steele dossier (and other matters). A conviction was theoretically going to give Durham (and Trump) a big, shiny trophy to wave around. "See," they would say. "The corruption and the conspiracy were real, and at least we stuck it to one of the perpetrators."
There will be no conviction, however. As far as fish go, Danchenko proved to be Moby Dick. This week, he was acquitted on all counts, denying the special counsel yet another chance to capture his great, white whale. Recall that Durham actually mounted a similar prosecution 5 months ago (of Michael Sussmann), and lost that one, too. Federal prosecutors rarely lose cases, much less two of them in less than six months.
There has been much mirth on the part of Durham's colleagues in the legal profession. A sampling:
You know you've hit rock bottom when Jeffrey Toobin is making jokes at your expense.
Durham is done embarrassing himself in court, and says that his focus going forward will be compiling a final report on his "findings." Once he's finished, Merrick Garland can file it in the circular file, and then everyone can forget about this giant waste of time and money. (Z)
There have been some polls out in the last few days that may or may not prove germane to this year's midterms. But they are very likely to be relevant to the 2024 election, and other elections going forward.
Let's start with the bad news for the blue team (which is, by—what, transitive relation?—good news for the red team). Black and Latino voters—and, in particular, Black and Latino men—are, it would seem, growing more open to taking a look at what the Republican Party is selling. In 2020, as has been the case for generations, the Democratic presidential candidate (that would be one Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.) trounced the Republican presidential candidate (that would be one Donald John Trump) among both demos. Biden took 87% of the Black vote, as opposed to 12% for Trump (+75 points) and 65% of the Latino vote, as opposed to 32% for Trump (+33 points).
A recent poll of Black voters says that 78% of Black voters support the generic Democratic ballot this year, while 10% support the generic Republican ballot. That's a 68-point gap, which suggests with without the corrosive Trump to rally the troops, Democrats could bleed 5-10 points with Black voters in 2024. Meanwhile, a different recent poll has 54% of Latinos supporting the generic Democratic ballot this year and 33% supporting the generic Republican ballot. That's a 21-point gap, or a drop of 12 points from 2020.
These are only two polls, and "generic ballot" questions are always tricky. However, given the Republicans' advantage with white voters, the Democrats really need to run up the score with Black and Brown voters to win many (possibly most) elections. Just a small loss of minority support could be a real problem for the blue team, particularly in heavily Latino swing states like Arizona and Nevada.
And now, on to some good news for the Democrats (a.k.a. bad news for Republicans). When Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) won his election last year, Republican operatives were giddy at the possibility that Youngkin had cracked the code, and that running on a "can you believe what's going on in the schools?" platform could unify right-wing culture warriors and suburban moms and dads, thus making for a potent coalition.
Not so fast, as it turns out. Politico has an item reporting that internal polls from both parties are revealing the same thing: railing against Critical Race Theory, or children's books where the main character has two dads, or even masking policies definitely does rile up the GOP base. But it doesn't seem to impress centrists and independents. In fact, such messaging appears to be a turnoff to many of those voters. So it may be back to the drawing board for Republican strategists.
Meanwhile, there was also a new report this week from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and it reveals that U.S. elections are about to get very queer. HRC's number-crunchers say that, in 2022, about 11% of the electorate will be people who identify as LGBTQ+. By 2030, they project it will be up to 14%, and by 2040, it will be more like 18%.
LGBTQ+ voters don't vote as a monolithic group, although they do skew more than 3-to-1 in favor of the Democrats. And at the moment, of course, the Republicans are the party that tends to cater to homophobia and transphobia. Maybe that will change as LGBTQ+ voters become a bigger and bigger piece of the electorate. But maybe it won't; anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is pretty deeply embedded in the GOP's DNA, and has been for generations, dating back at least as far as the red scares of the 1910s and 1950s (which both had so much homophobic subtext that they are sometimes called "lavender scares.").
The upshot is that the electorate is changing, as it does every year, every election, and every generation. That's part of what keeps things interesting for politics-watchers. (Z)
Last week, we had an item on Michael Moore, a prominent progressive Democrat, who thinks the 2022 election is going to go very well for the blue team.
Now, we shall balance that out with the prediction of Cenk Uygur, who is also a prominent progressive Democrat. Uygur has been an occasional journalist and unsuccessful candidate for office, but he is best known for creating The Young Turks, a left-wing news and commentary show that is broadcast on YouTube and a few semi-obscure cable channels.
Anyhow, it's still nearly 3 weeks until Election Day, but Uygur believes that all is already lost for the Democrats. Here is his assessment, in his own words:
It looks like we're going to lose the midterms. People will look back at Democrat's inability to pass voting rights legislation as the moment we lost everything. Stunning failure of epic proportions. And everyone in DC yawned because they're used to excusing Democratic failures.— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) October 18, 2022
Some of Uygur's followers criticized him for using the word "we," since Uygur and his fanbase largely regard the Democrats as the bad guys. Uygur's response, in effect, was that the Republicans are even worse, and so, until something changes, he is de facto a member of the Democratic Party.
We are not especially impressed by Uygur's opinion. Moore, for his part, might plausibly be dialed into elements of the voting public that are not being captured well by pollsters. Uygur's assessment, by contrast, appears to come from the heart and from the gut, which is true of most of what he says. Still, we pass it along because we know from the mailbag that some readers feel as Uygur does.
One other point, while we are on the subject. How is it possible for Uygur to get away with calling his program The Young Turks? The original Young Turks are quite literally the group that was responsible for perpetrating the Armenian genocide. This is not dissimilar from calling one's program "The Young Schutzstaffels" or "The New Hitler Youth." And yet, Uygur does it, and even has an Armenian co-host (Ana Kasparian). Apparently, Hitler had the right of it when he observed: "Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians? (Z)
We really don't mean to give so much attention to politics across the pond. But the U.K. is a major world player and a major ally, and is clearly in the midst of a political crisis. It is entirely possible that, by the time you read this, PM Liz Truss will have been cashiered. Her home secretary, Suella Braverman, quit. The conservative MPs are hopping mad, and it is entirely possible that they will put aside tradition and the rules, and call for a vote of no confidence in Truss.
All of this unfolded while one of us was still busy traveling and the other was in class. So, we did not have a chance to reach out to our British readers and ask for a comment. Fortunately, G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK stepped up to the plate (the wicket?) and filled in the gaps without prompting. Here's what G.S. passed along:
In the hope of giving my countrymen S.T. in Worcestershire and A.B in Lichfield a break, a summary of events in the U.K. over the past couple of days and this evening for your readers' amusement. When S.T. and A.B. left the tale, Kwasi Kwarteng had been sacked as Chancellor and replaced by Jeremy Hunt; he promptly junked all of Prime Minister Liz Truss' financial policies and warned the U.K. of severe cuts ahead (in a televised address, no less, which should be the domain of the PM.)
On Tuesday, in response to an urgent question on government finances from the opposition Labour party, Truss declined to answer in Parliament in person, choosing to send another leadership rival, Penny Mordaunt, instead, with the excuse that she (Truss) was "busy." After Mordaunt had finished answering Parliament's questions, Truss entered the room without accounting for her whereabouts and spend half an hour sitting silently as her new Chancellor, Hunt, eviscerated her policies and talked about the difficult choices ahead. As you have occasionally remarked of others, profiles in courage, this is not.
Fast forward to Wednesday. Truss might have been able to dodge the urgent question, but Wednesday contains Prime Minister's Questions, and no PM can dodge that. The commentariat (and I) seemed to think Truss made a decent fist of an extremely bad situation, though her comment "I am a fighter, not a quitter" is a unfortunate and verbatim quote from a former Labour minister who had to resign twice. This evening, though, events have spiraled out of control. Cruella—sorry, Suella—Braverman, Truss' new Home Secretary (and also a leadership rival), has resigned, ostensibly over a breach of ministerial procedures, but rumors abound over disagreements in liberalizing immigration policy (Braverman is a hardliner). After Kwasi Kwarteng's sacking won him the silver medal for shortest serving Chancellor, Braverman has taken the crown as the shortest serving Home Secretary in modern British history. On the way out, she remarked in her resignation letter that "Pretending we haven't made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can't see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics. I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility: I resign..."—a very thinly veiled jab at her boss's recent behavior if ever there was one.
We thought that might be the end of the drama for the day, but no. Wednesday evening, Parliament was to hold a vote on banning fracking, tabled by the opposition. The Tory whips (the MPs in charge of party discipline) initially made this a "three line whip"—with the threat of losing their status as Conservative MPs if they voted with the opposition. Multiple Tory MPs made their unhappiness known, given that this was a Tory manifesto pledge, and there have been chaotic scenes, with multiple Labour MPs saying there were physical altercations and manhandling by Tory MPs—including the Deputy Prime Minister (!)—in the areas of Parliament used for voting. The Tory Chief whip and deputy have, apparently, resigned, though nobody seems to be clear on exactly what has happened and we have just had the sight of a major government minister sitting for an interview on television and not being able to say whether the chief whip is even in post.
By the time you read this, it may be out of date. There seems to be no possible way that Truss can survive this (losing four major ministers, two from the great offices of state, in her first month). Whether she elects to remove herself, is removed by her own MPs or calls a general election remains to be seen, but we simply cannot have a major democracy function when there is such total and unabated chaos at the very top of it. I would not be at all surprised if she is gone by the time that (Z) finishes the night shift.
She's not gone yet, but the day is young in Britain. If her ministry does fall, we will be very happy to have reactions from our British and Irish readers. (Z)
It's the fourth of the five questions for readers we posted this Sunday. As with the other entries in this miniseries, (V) and (Z) bat leadoff, followed by a dozen readers whose submissions we've chosen.
Today's question is courtesy of F.S. in Cologne, Germany:
Who is the most influential entrepreneur in U.S. history, and how did they influence the U.S.?
You can bet your bottom dollar we have some interesting answers to this one:
(V): Eli Whitney for making the Civil War possible. Runner up: Tom Edison for inventing the modern research lab and other stuff.
(Z): The most popular answer was Andrew Carnegie, and it's tempting to go with him as the man most responsible for establishing the steel industry, or J.D. Rockefeller as the man most responsible for America's oil addiction. But both of those commodities, particularly the oil, are being supplanted by alternatives, and may not be a big part of the American economy by, say, 2070.
So, my pick is... Steve Jobs, who did more than anyone to put a computer on the desk of every person (and, by extension, a cell phone in their pocket, and possibly a laptop/tablet in their backpack/briefcase), etc. The citizens of the U.S. and the world are, as noted, slowly being weaned off the commodities of the 19th century. But the computer (and its derivatives) will surely be around for many centuries hence.
M.D. in Banner Elk, NC: The easy answer is Benjamin Franklin, a self-made man in the way that most of his contemporaries were not (which is why his autobiography was and is so widely read), and one of the big reasons France entered the Revolutionary War on the U.S. side.
L.B. in Ashburn, VA: P. T. Barnum. A showman whose only goal was to make money, he unapologetically put forth fake acts for entertainment and profit. What makes him even more interesting is his use of the railroads. Previously, folks like him burned out at a much lower level as the locals caught on. Being (one of?) the first to own his own train. he was able to reach a wide audience and have a never-ending stream of customers.
Lest it sound like I think he was a bad guy, he did do a number of nice things, particularly when he was mayor of Bridgeport and donated to some good causes on his death. But I think his relevance here is that he was the first to take nationwide a pure entertainment conglomerate based in part on fake acts with the sole purpose of making a lot of money. I believe he influenced generations after him to do the same, and his influence can be traced quite directly through Vaudeville, radio, television, and now the Internet.
H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA: Steel baron Andrew Carnegie pioneered vertical integration. His company owned and ran not only the factories, but also everything in the supply chain: iron mines, coal mines, limestone quarries, ore carrying ships and trains, etc. This made the company more efficient, and not dependent on other companies. Carnegie also crushed the nascent labor movement for a generation in the 1892 Battle of Homestead. Technically, Carnegie was born in Scotland, but came to the U.S. at age 12 with his parents.
M.M. in San Diego, CA: Andrew Carnegie. He discovered how to make the strongest, purest steel more inexpensively than anyone else, thus contributing to turning the country into an industrial powerhouse. He made immense amounts of money, which he wisely plowed back into his factories, continuously upgrading and improving them. He also understood that his colossal wealth needed to be recirculated into the economy. I am most familiar with his philanthropic effort to build public libraries throughout the country, primarily to extend educational opportunities to everyone regardless of status, but he eventually gave away 90 percent of his fortune. Unfortunately, his labor relations and policies were not as visionary as his industrial insights, and his partnership with Henry Frick led to the disastrous response to the Homestead strike. Well, no one bats .1000...
E.H. in Los Angeles, CA: John D. Rockefeller. A business that continues to grow today. The trust busting that created a second financial windfall when the trust was broken up (AT&T followed this model). Descendants who were major players in politics and finance. Charitable organizations that continue to make an impact. A grandson who contributed dinner. Oil is why we fought the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. Oil is why we face our climate crisis.
B.C. in Phoenix, AZ: Henry Ford is ahead of anybody else on a list of influential entrepreneurs.
I could write a fifty-page essay about why Ford tops the list, but I'll spare y'all that and just focus on the most salient points:
L.M. in Winnipeg, MB, Canada: Nikola Tesla. Tesla gave the world the means of transmitting electricity over long distances. One of the most significant inventions in human history, without the polyphase AC/DC current system (invented 1887 in the U.S.), you likely would never have heard the names Gates, Jobs, Bezos, or Musk.
- With the development of the automobile assembly line, Ford put easy personal transportation within reach of almost everyone. In America, the basic human needs are food, clothing, shelter and transportation (not necessarily in that order, since you can shelter in your automobile and most people need some sort of transportation to get to where they can acquire food).
- With the introduction of the $5/day wage (doubling his workers' pay at the time) and the reduced five-day workweek, Ford simultaneously bound his workers closer to management (helping to fight the hated unionization attempts) and attracted the best and most loyal workers available.
- Ford used his wealth and popularity to greatly influence the world wide politics of his day. He openly criticized incompetent politicians and Woodrow Wilson encouraged him to run for president. Although he unsuccessfully ran for a Michigan Senate seat in 1918, he continued to keep company with and exert his influence on the politicians of his day.
- We continue to see echoes of his pacifism and antisemitism in the attitudes and actions of the wealthy and powerful in America and all over the world.
J.W. in Tumwater, WA: This is a timely topic, since a film recently came out about him, namely The Current Wars. I'm thinking of Samuel Insull. Insull started as a bright, young fellow who saw ways to use, market and improve the distribution of electricity in the U.S. (and in the U.K. and Europe). At the time, Insull's improvements were seen as crazy because they were contrarian; he didn't like the approaches of Edison or Tesla. But Insull kept pushing his ideas, not always in a polite or "legal" way.
One of the most important innovations of Insull was the use of holding companies to buy up competitors and roll them up into large conglomerations, like Russian nesting dolls. These holding companies issued massive amounts of stock, the proceeds of which were used to buy up more competitors and foreclose the marketplace to any "ruinous competition." Many Americans (and British and others) bought the stock without any way to know what was in the holding companies, and what was really behind the stock.
Skip to 1929 and the true nature of Insull's holding companies leaked out, leading to a run on the stock. It's not hyperbole to say the Samuel Insull was personally responsible, in large part, for the Great Depression. He was prosecuted by the United States government, after he fled the country and was discovered in Turkey, disguised in women's clothes.
G.M. in Acton, MA: Willis Carrier was the most influential entrepreneur, as the inventor of the air conditioner. Air conditioning has changed the geography of the country, enabling a huge number of people to live in parts of the country that were otherwise seen as way too hot pre-air conditioning.
That has changed the politics of the U.S. as well, giving far more electoral votes to the South and to the West than they otherwise would have.
M.M. in Plano, TX: The American entrepreneur with the most unheralded influence is Juan Trippe of Pan-American Airlines. More than any other person, he sold the image of flight as an adventure, the idea that air travel was something that ordinary people of moderate income could do, and the reality of jet power in commercial aircraft than any other person. As such, he is a cause of the great waves of mass migration that we now see around the globe.
K.C. in West Islip, NY: Far and away, Ray Kroc has to be considered the most influential entrepreneur—not just in America, but worldwide. Essentially perfecting the franchise model for fast food restaurants which include 38,000 McDonald's joints around the globe, not to mention all the other greasy lunch pits which followed, Kroc completely changed the way businesses operated. The whole idea of franchising, good or bad, obviously goes way beyond eateries to big box stores like Home Depot, Target and Walmart which put the clampdown on Main Street America.
I'm sure Kroc just wanted to spread the (Mc)love of a cheap burger and fries but the overall effect of the franchising concept on economies today is undeniable and set the wheels in motion to change the game for moms and pops everywhere.
R.Y. in Rochester, NY: Being someone who works in the tech field, I feel like the obvious choice to this is Bill Gates. There have been better tech guys. Steve Wozniak, Linus Torvalds, Larry Page, Alan Turing. One could easily make the case for Page as well, but Gates was the straw what stirred the drink.
Granted, it is a bit self-serving, but there has been few people in the history to bring about an entire age of humanity. I wouldn't go so far as to say Gates brought the Information or Digital Age to pass by himself. Steve Jobs had a small hand in ushering into the mainstream the chic-consumer technology of Apple. Gates's Microsoft brought to market a platform flexible enough on which both businesses and consumers could thrive. Microsoft in general, Windows in particular, provided an easy-to-integrate blend of consumerism and technology playing an integral role to both, while not being overly-restrictive to contributions outside its control. You could say that it catered to the masses (no worse than Apple), but computing lacked widespread access in the 70's and 80's. Gates allowed that technology to become publicly viable. Nearly every business has some current association with Microsoft. Once that community found what computing could do, nearly everything that followed could be attributed to Gates's proliferation of Microsoft.
As a business leader, Gates set the table for a technological dominion (roughly 3 of 4 PC's run some form of Windows OS). He found a sweet spot in convincing two markets that his platform was worth investing in. Developers had to believe that their time and effort would bear fruit when creating software orbiting a single offering. More daunting, consumers needed to accept a new device they'd never really needed before (and largely still don't understand) as more than just novelty. Is Windows the best platform? Absolutely not. Windows 95 was basically a polished version of a 4-year-old Macintosh OS. Windows 11 is an iOS knockoff with watered-down features. If innovation was the only factor, then Nikola Tesla would be heading the debate. As an entrepreneur, Gates did find a way to sell the gross majority of the public and private sectors on an intellectual paradigm shift. In doing so, he positioned the U.S. to spearhead the world entering the Information Age.
D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME: Oprah Winfrey shattered every barrier put in front of her. Every single one—poverty, abuse, and discrimination. She became, and still is, a multimedia executive, producer, actress, writer, talk show host, and philanthropist whose reach and success extends to nearly all aspects of American life. Her talents, expertise, and financial acumen still support and influence society. She changed our perspective of what an entrepreneur could be in America.
Lots of good possibilities here, obviously. Tomorrow's question:
I was recently reminded of the 1990s British sitcom, Goodnight Sweetheart, some of which can be watched on YouTube. The writers regularly depict 1940s British culture and understandings about the world from an East End perspective. How well did they do? In the 1970s, I watched a British series called Wings about an NCO pilot/mechanic during the Great War; it was rather romantic in nature (if an all-male, but not gay, cast can be called romantic). I wonder, in general, how well historical fiction gets nuggets of actual history across Any suggestions for shows that do it well?
Feel free to send in thoughts, if you have them. (V & Z)