DC insider explains the shocking truth about who really benefits from America coming apart

Official Washington will be quiet this week, but the fallout from the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict will continue to divide America along the Trumpian fault lines of fear, violence, and racism.

Closing arguments are scheduled today in the trial of three men charged with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Though they chased him, they are claiming self-defense because, they say, Arbery tried to get control of a shotgun one of them was carrying. As with the Rittenhouse case, the trial raises questions of how self-defense laws will hold up as guns proliferate. Regardless of how it come out, the case also illustrates America's deepening split.

Congress's continuing investigation into the January 6 insurrection reveals the same rift, as will the Supreme Court's expected decision on executive privilege in that investigation, and its likely move to strike down New York State's law requiring people seeking licenses to carry handguns in public to show a "proper cause," as violating the Second Amendment.

The fault line has now extended into almost every facet of American lawmaking. When the "Build Back Better" bill passed the House late Friday night, 220 out of 221 Democrats voted for it. But all of the House's 213 Republicans voted against it. Why? The measures in the bill are hugely popular, according to polls. The bill includes the largest expansion of federal child-care assistance in history; free, universal prekindergarten for all American children ages 3 and 4; Medicare benefits covering hearing services; government for the first time being allowed to negotiate some prescription drug prices, aiming to lower the costs that seniors pay for lifesaving medicines such as insulin; and more than $550 billion to combat climate change — promoting greener energy and providing new perks for Americans who buy electric vehicles.

But policy popularity may be no match for fear, violence, and racism — which Republicans and the moneyed interests are now diligently exploiting to kill the bill in the Senate. So-called "moderate" Democrats (Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) have expressed skepticism about its cost and scope. It would be one thing if Manchin's and Sinema's reservations were in good faith, but how can they be? Manchin frets about the bill's effects on inflation even though the bill lowers prices for most Americans of major expenses like childcare, drugs, and healthcare. Sinema says she prefers "legislation that is crafted in a bipartisan way," but who is she kidding? Mitch McConnell has made clear he won't allow a single Republican senator to vote for the bill.

The votes of every Senate Democrat are needed if the bill is to pass, but Manchin and Sinema are allowing rightwing tropes — and the big money behind them — to divide Democrats. As the New York Times reported yesterday, cash has poured into Manchin's and Sinema's political coffers from political action committees and donors linked to Wall Street, Big Pharma, and Big Energy, which have opposed proposals in the bill that Manchin and Sinema helped scale back.

The question that keeps haunting me is this: Is an America so deeply divided, and awash in political money that exploits that divide, any longer capable of doing bold things that are broadly popular? The only big thing we continue to do is feed the ravenous military-industrial complex — itself founded on fear, violence, and racism. (Efforts to whip up a new cold war with China conjure up old fears of a "yellow peril.") Congress is on the verge of giving the Pentagon even more money than the Pentagon and the Biden administration are seeking. The nation's military tab over the next ten years will be upwards of $8 trillion and is not paid for with expected revenue, in sharp contrast with the $2 trillion cost of the House's "Build Back America" plan, which would be paid for with tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations.

That America is becoming two separate nations is threatening everything we value. The most obvious beneficiaries (besides top executives of big corporations and Wall Street) are Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Rupert Murdoch, who appear to be doing whatever they can to divide us even further.

IN OTHER NEWS: Former FBI terrorism experts saw something unusual in video
of Waukesha Christmas parade attack

Former FBI experts saw something unusual in video of Waukesha Christmas parade www.youtube.com

Noted economist explains what's 'really driving' inflation

The biggest culprit for rising prices that's not being talked about is the increasing economic concentration of the American economy in the hands of a relative few giant big corporations with the power to raise prices.

If markets were competitive, companies would seek to keep their prices down in order to maintain customer loyalty and demand. When the prices of their supplies rose, they'd cut their profits before they raised prices to their customers, for fear that otherwise a competitor would grab those customers away.

But strange enough, this isn't happening. In fact, even in the face of supply constraints, corporations are raking in record profits. More than 80 percent of big (S&P 500) companies that have reported results this season have topped analysts' earnings forecasts, according to Refinitiv.

Obviously, supply constraints have not eroded these profits. Corporations are simply passing the added costs on to their customers. Many are raising their prices even further, and pocketing even more.

How can this be? For a simple and obvious reason: Most don't have to worry about competitors grabbing their customers away. They have so much market power they can relax and continue to rake in big money.

The underlying structural problem isn't that government is over-stimulating the economy. It's that big corporations are under competitive.

Corporations are using the excuse of inflation to raise prices and make fatter profits. The result is a transfer of wealth from consumers to corporate executives and major investors.

This has nothing to do with inflation, folks. It has everything to do with the concentration of market power in a relatively few hands.

It's called "oligopoly," where two or three companies roughly coordinate their prices and output.

Judd Legum provides some good examples in his newsletter. He points to two firms that are giants in household staples: Procter & Gamble and Kimberly Clark. In April, Procter & Gamble announced it would start charging more for everything from diapers to toilet paper, citing "rising costs for raw materials, such as resin and pulp, and higher expenses to transport goods."

Baloney. P&G is raking in huge profits. In the quarter ending September 30, after some of its price increases went into effect, it reported a whopping 24.7% profit margin. Oh, and it spent $3 billion in the quarter buying its own stock.

How can this be? Because P&G faces very little competition. According to a report released this month from the Roosevelt Institute, "The lion's share of the market for diapers," for example, "is controlled by just two companies (P&G and Kimberly-Clark), limiting competition for cheaper options."

So it wasn't exactly a coincidence that Kimberly-Clark announced similar price increases at the same time as P&G. Both corporations are doing wonderfully well. But American consumers are paying more.

Or consider another major consumer product oligopoly: PepsiCo (the parent company of Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Quaker, Tropicana, and other brands), and Coca Cola. In April, PepsiCo announced it was increasing prices, blaming "higher costs for some ingredients, freight and labor."

Rubbish. The company recorded $3 billion in operating profits and increased its projections for the rest of the year, and expects to send $5.8 billion in dividends to shareholders in 2021.

If PepsiCo faced tough competition it could never have gotten away with this. But it doesn't. In fact, it appears to have colluded with its chief competitor, Coca-Cola – which, oddly, announced price increases at about the same time as PepsiCo, and has increased its profit margins to 28.9%.

And on it goes around the entire consumer sector of the American economy.

You can see a similar pattern in energy prices. Once it became clear that demand was growing, energy producers could have quickly ramped up production to create more supply. But they didn't.

Why not? Industry experts say oil and gas companies (and their CEOs and major investors) saw bigger money in letting prices run higher before producing more supply.

They can get away with this because big oil and gas producers don't face much competition. They're powerful oligopolies.

Again, inflation isn't driving most of these price increases. Corporate power is driving them.

Since the 1980s, when the federal government all but abandoned antitrust enforcement, two-thirds of all American industries have become more concentrated.

Monsanto now sets the prices for most of the nation's seed corn.

The government green-lighted Wall Street's consolidation into five giant banks, of which JPMorgan is the largest.

It okayed airline mergers, bringing the total number of American carriers down from twelve in 1980 to four today, which now control 80 percent of domestic seating capacity.

It let Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merge, leaving America with just one major producer of civilian aircraft, Boeing.

Three giant cable companies dominate broadband [Comcast, AT&T, Verizon].

A handful of drug companies control the pharmaceutical industry [Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck].

So what's the appropriate response to the latest round of inflation? The Federal Reserve has signaled it won't raise interest rates for the time being, believing that the inflation is being driven by temporary supply bottlenecks.

Meanwhile, Biden Administration officials have been consulting with the oil industry in an effort to stem rising gas prices, trying to make it simpler to issue commercial driver's licenses (to help reduce the shortage of truck drivers), and seeking to unclog over-crowded container ports.

But none of this responds to the deeper structural issue – of which price inflation is symptom: the increasing consolidation of the economy in a relative handful of big corporations with enough power to raise prices and increase profits.

This structural problem is amenable to only one thing: the aggressive use of antitrust law.

The disturbing story behind how America's wealth inequality spiraled out of control

Elon Musk's wealth has surpassed $200 billion. It would take the median U.S. worker over 4 million years to make that much.

Wealth inequality is eating this country alive. We're now in America's second Gilded Age, just like the late 19th century when a handful of robber barons monopolized the economy, kept wages down, and bribed lawmakers.

While today's robber barons take joy rides into space, the distance between their gargantuan wealth and the financial struggles of working Americans has never been clearer. During the first 19 months of the pandemic, U.S. billionaires added $2.1 trillion dollars to their collective wealth and that number continues to rise.

And the rich have enough political power to cut their taxes to almost nothing — sometimes literally nothing. In fact, Jeff Bezos paid no federal income taxes in 2007 or in 2011. By 2018, the 400 richest Americans paid a lower overall tax rate than almost anyone else.

But we can not solve this problem unless we know how it was created in the first place.

Let's start with the basics.

I. The Basics

Wealth inequality in America is far larger than income inequality.

Income is what you earn each week or month or year. Wealth refers to the sum total of your assets — your car, your stocks and bonds, your home, art — anything else you own that's valuable.Valuable not only because there's a market for it — a price other people are willing to pay to buy it — but because wealth itself grows.

As the population expands and the nation becomes more productive, the overall economy continues to expand. This expansion pushes up the values of stocks, bonds, rental property, homes, and most other assets. Of course recessions and occasional depressions can reduce the value of such assets. But over the long haul, the value of almost all wealth increases.

Lesson: Wealth compounds over time.

Next: personal wealth comes from two sources.The first source is the income you earn but don't spend. That's your savings. When you invest those savings in stocks, bonds, or real property or other assets, you create your personal wealth — which, as we've seen, grows over time.

The second source of personal wealth is whatever is handed down to you from your parents, grandparents, and maybe even generations before them — in other words, what you inherit.

Lesson: Personal wealth comes from your savings and/or your inheritance.

II. Why the wealth gap is exploding

The wealth gap between the richest Americans and everyone else is staggering.
In the 1970s, the wealthiest 1 percent owned about 20 percent of the nation's total household wealth. Now, they own over 35 percent.

Much of their gains over the last 40 years have come from a dramatic increase in the value of shares of stock.

For example, if someone invested $1,000 in 1978 in a broad index of stocks — say, the S&P 500 they would have $31,823 today, adjusted for inflation.

Who has benefited from this surge? The richest 1 percent, who now own half of the entire stock market. But the typical worker's wages have barely grown.

Most Americans haven't earned enough to save anything. Before the pandemic, when the economy appeared to be doing well, almost 80 percent were living paycheck to paycheck.

Lesson: Most Americans don't make enough to save money and build wealth.

So as income inequality has widened, the amount that the few high-earning households save — their wealth — has continued to grow. Their growing wealth has allowed them to pass on more and more wealth to their heirs.

Take, for example, the Waltons — the family behind the Walmart empire — which has seven heirs on the Forbes billionaires list. Their children, and other rich millennials, will soon consolidate even more of the nation's wealth. America is now on the cusp of the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history. As wealthy boomers pass on, somewhere between $30 to $70 trillion will go to their children over the next three decades.

These children will be able to live off of this wealth, and then leave the bulk of it — which will continue growing — to their own children … tax-free. After a few generations of this, almost all of America's wealth could be in the hands of a few thousand families.

Lesson: Dynastic wealth continues to grow.

III. Why wealth concentration is a problem

Concentrated wealth is already endangering our democracy. Wealth doesn't just beget more wealth — it begets more power.

Dynastic wealth concentrates power into the hands of fewer and fewer people, who can choose what nonprofits and charities to support and which politicians to bankroll. This gives an unelected elite enormous sway over both our economy and our democracy.

If this keeps up, we'll come to resemble the kind of dynasties common to European aristocracies in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

Dynastic wealth makes a mockery of the idea that America is a meritocracy, where anyone can make it on the basis of their own efforts. It also runs counter to the basic economic ideas that people earn what they're worth in the market, and that economic gains should go to those who deserve them.

Finally, wealth concentration magnifies gender and race disparities because women and people of color tend to make less, save less, and inherit less.
The typical single woman owns only 32 cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by a man. The pandemic likely increased this gap.

The racial wealth gap is even starker. The typical Black household owns just 13 cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white household. The pandemic likely increased this gap, too.

In all these ways, dynastic wealth creates a self-perpetuating aristocracy that runs counter to the ideals we claim to live by.

Lesson: Dynastic wealth creates a self-perpetuating aristocracy.

IV. How America dealt with wealth inequality during the First Gilded Age

The last time America faced anything comparable to the concentration of wealth we face today was at the turn of the 20th century. That was when President Teddy Roosevelt warned that "a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power" could destroy American democracy.

Roosevelt's answer was to tax wealth. Congress enacted two kinds of wealth taxes. The first, in 1916, was the estate tax — a tax on the wealth someone has accumulated during their lifetime, paid by the heirs who inherit that wealth.

The second tax on wealth, enacted in 1922, was a capital gains tax — a tax on the increased value of assets, paid when those assets are sold.

Lesson: The estate tax and the capital gains tax were created to curb wealth concentration.

But both of these wealth taxes have shrunk since then, or become so riddled with loopholes that they haven't been able to prevent a new American aristocracy from emerging.

The Trump Republican tax cut enabled individuals to exclude $11.18 million from their estate taxes. That means one couple can pass on more than $22 million to their kids tax-free. Not to mention the very rich often find ways around this tax entirely. As Trump's former White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn put it, "only morons pay the estate tax."

What about capital gains on the soaring values of wealthy people's stocks, bonds, mansions, and works of art? Here, the biggest loophole is something called the "stepped-up basis." If the wealthy hold on to these assets until they die, their heirs inherit them without paying any capital gains taxes whatsoever. All the increased value of those assets is simply erased, for tax purposes. This loophole saves heirs an estimated $40 billion a year.

This means that huge accumulations of wealth in the hands of a relatively few households can be passed from generation to generation untaxed — growing along the way — generating comfortable incomes for rich descendants who will never have to work a day of their lives. That's the dynastic class we're creating right now.

Lesson: The estate tax and the capital gains tax have been gutted.

Why have these two wealth taxes eroded? Because, as America's wealth has concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the wealthy have more capacity to donate to political campaigns and public relations — and they've used that political power to reduce their taxes. It's exactly what Teddy Roosevelt feared so many years ago.

V. How to reduce the wealth gap

So what do we do? Follow the wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt and tax great accumulations of wealth.

The ultra-rich have benefited from the American system — from laws that protect their wealth, and our economy that enabled them to build their fortunes in the first place. They should pay their fair share.

The majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, believe the ultra rich should pay higher taxes. There are many ways to make them do so: closing the stepped up basis loophole, raising the capital gains tax, and fully funding the Internal Revenue Service so it can properly audit the wealthiest taxpayers, for starters.

Beyond those fixes, we need a new wealth tax: a tax of just 2 percent a year on wealth in excess of $1 million. That's hardly a drop in the bucket for centi-billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, but would generate plenty of revenue to invest in healthcare and education so that millions of Americans have a fair shot at making it.

One of the most important things you as an individual can do is take the time to understand the realities of wealth inequality in America and how the system has become rigged in favor of those at the top — and demand your political representatives take action to unrig it.

Wealth inequality is worse than it has been in a century – and it has contributed to a vicious political-economic cycle in which taxes are cut on the top, resulting in even more concentration of wealth there – while everyone else lives under the cruelest form of capitalism in the world.

We must stop this vicious cycle — and demand an economy that works for the many, not one that concentrates more and more wealth in the hands of a privileged few.

The GOP now poses a clear and present threat even to the values it once espoused

I'm old enough to remember when the Republican Party stood for limited government – when Ronald Reagan thundered "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."

Today's Republican Party, while still claiming to stand for limited government, stands for government intrusion everywhere:

Republican governors ban masks in schools.

Republican states outlaw abortions.

Republican lawmakers prohibit teachers from teaching about America's racist past.

Republican legislators force transgender students to play sports and use bathrooms according to their assigned gender at birth.

And across the country, Republican lawmakers are making it harder for people to vote.

This is not limited government, folks. This is social control. Republicans have a particular ideology and are determined to impose that ideology on citizens holding different views and values.

This is not about freedom, either. Just the opposite: It's Republicans denying people their freedoms: The freedom to be safe from COVID. Freedom over their own bodies. The freedom to learn the truth about our history. The freedom to vote and participate in our democracy.

Once, Republicans had a coherent view about individual liberties and limiting the role of government. That's not to say this ideology was beneficial to the country – far from it. But it was coherent, and they were committed to it.
Now, they only want to get reelected.

They are misusing government to advance a narrow and restrictive set of values — intruding on the most intimate acts, and banning what's necessary for people to exercise their most basic freedoms.

This is not mere hypocrisy. The Republican Party now poses a clear and present threat even to the values it once espoused.

This article was originally published at RobertReich.org

DC insider: Don’t believe corporate America’s 'labor shortage' BS

For the first time in years, American workers have enough bargaining leverage to demand better working conditions and higher wages – and are refusing to work until they get them.

Here's where that leverage comes from. After a year and a half of the pandemic, consumers have pent-up demand for all sorts of goods and services. But employers are finding it hard to fill positions to meet that demand.

The most recent jobs report showed the number of job openings at a record high. The share of people working or looking for work has dropped to a near-record low 61.6 percent. In August, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, the highest quit rate since 2000.

Republicans have been claiming for months that people aren't getting back to work because of federal unemployment benefits.

Rubbish.

America is on Strike | Robert Reich www.youtube.com

The number of people working or looking for work dropped in September – after the extra benefits ran out on Labor Day.

The reluctance of people to work doesn't have anything to do with unemployment benefits. It has everything to do with workers being fed up.

Some have retired early. Others have found ways to make ends meet other than a job they hate. Many just don't want to return to backbreaking or mind-numbing low-wage jobs.

In the wake of so much hardship, illness and death, peoples' priorities have shifted.

The media and most economists measure the economy's success by the number of jobs it creates, while ignoring the quality of those jobs. Just look at the media coverage of the September jobs report: The New York Times emphasized "weak" job growth. For CNN, it was "another disappointment."

But when I was Secretary of Labor, I met with working people all over the country who complained that their jobs paid too little and had few benefits, or were unsafe, or required unwieldy hours. Many said their employers treated them badly.

With the pandemic, it's even worse. That's why, in addition to all the people who aren't returning to work, we're also seeing dozens of organized strikes around the country – 10,000 John Deere workers, 1,400 Kellogg workers, over 1,000 Alabama coal miners, and thousands of others.

Not to mention the unauthorized strikes and walkouts since the pandemic began, like the mostly Black sanitation workers in Pittsburgh or the Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island.

In order to lure workers back, employers are now raising wages and offering other incentives. Average earnings rose 19 cents an hour in September and are up more than $1 an hour over the last year. But clearly, that's not enough to get workers back.

Corporate America is trying to frame this as a "labor shortage."

But what's really happening is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage.

Unless these shortages are rectified, this unofficial general strike will continue.
I say it's about time.

DC insider asks: Why the hell are Democrats keeping your drug prices high?

Excuse me but I have to vent.

Three House Democrats and one Democratic senator are now blocking a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Medicare is such a big purchaser of drugs that it has the bargaining leverage to cut drug prices for everyone — if allowed to do so. This would save at least $450 billion over the next 10 years and significantly lower prescription drug prices.

But four Democrats are standing in the way.

Before I get to why they're doing this, let me identify them. In the House: Scott Peters (whose district includes San Diego), Kurt Schrader (Oregon's central coast), and Kathleen Rice (central and southern Nassau County on Long Island).

And in the Senate: Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona).

Okay, so why are these four Democrats blocking this measure?

Not because this policy is unpopular with the public. To the contrary, 88 percent of voters favor allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices, including 77 percent of Republicans.

In fact, at least 90 percent of these four lawmakers' own constituents support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Get this: The idea is so popular that both Kathleen Rice and Kyrsten Sinema actively campaigned on it.

And not because the pharmaceutical industry needs extra money in order to continue to generate new drugs. Taxpayers already fund much of its basic research through the National Institutes of Health. Also bear in mind that a big portion of the costs of bringing a drug to market goes into advertising and marketing — which shouldn't even be allowed for prescription drugs (and isn't in most other rich countries, and wasn't in the US until Big Pharma lobbied for the law to change).

Oh, and pharmaceutical firms have been overflowing with so much cash they've been buying back their own shares of stock.

In other words, allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices should be a no-brainer.

So what gives? The question should be who gives. Follow the money.

From 2019 to 2020, Kyrsten Sinema received over $120,000 in Big Pharma contributions, even though she's not up for re-election until 2024. Throughout her political career, she's taken over half a million dollars from Pharma PACs and executives. Just before Sinema officially came out publicly against allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a group bankrolled by Big Pharma began running TV and digital ads and sending mailers praising her for "fighting as an independent voice."

If you think this was a coincidence, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Scott Peters, meanwhile, happens to be the House's single biggest recipient of Big Pharma campaign cash in the 2022 election cycle so far. Since being elected in 2012, Peters has socked away over $860,000 from Big Pharma. The day after his letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing using Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices was published in May 2021, Peters began receiving thousands of donations from executives at pharmaceutical companies and the industry's powerful lobbying group.

Another coincidence? P-l-e-a-s-e.

Kurt Schrader has raked in nearly $615,000 from Big Pharma since taking office in 2008. This election cycle he's already got $24,500 from Pharma PACS, the second most of any industry donating to him. One of former his top aides left his office earlier this year and is now lobbying for Big Pharma. According to ethics disclosures, the former aide's lobbying efforts focus on … guess what? Drug pricing.

The third House Democrat, Kathleen Rice, has received over $84,000 from Big Pharma.

The grand total of Big Pharma cash going to these four lawmakers: over $2 million. When you consider the billions that Big Pharma will rake in for keeping drug prices high, this is a small potatoes for them. You might even call it a great investment.

But it's a huge cost for the rest of us.

The measure isn't being blocked solely because these four Democrats oppose it. No Republican members of Congress are in support.

But it does seem odd that Democrats would stand in the way of this sort of reform, rebuffing their own president and party — and rejecting the overwhelming preference of voters, including their own constituents — to tank a policy that they themselves campaigned on. I mean, what's the Democratic Party for if it won't reduce drug prices for average people? Why were these four Democrats elected in the first place?

Sometimes I worry that pointing out this sort of corruption (and it is a form of corruption) will make people even more cynical than they already are about American politics, resulting in a kind of fatalism or resignation that causes many to give up — and thereby cede the entirety of our democracy to the moneyed interests. My hope is just the opposite: that when people hear about this sort of thing, they're outraged enough to become even more politically active.

In my experience spanning fifty years of American politics — from interning for Senator Bobby Kennedy in 1967 to serving as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration to advising President Obama — most of the elected lawmakers I've dealt with sincerely want to do the right thing. Some don't feel they can do the right thing if they want to be reelected, and confuse means and ends. A very few are on the take.

By which I mean to say that the situation is hardly hopeless. I refuse to give up on democracy. And I won't give up on the Democratic Party. But I'm only going to fight for candidates from the Democratic side of the Democratic Party.

What can you do? For one thing, contact your members of Congress and tell them that the first step in getting big money out of politics is to support the Freedom to Vote Act. (You might put in an extra call to Joe Manchin's office and say you expect him to deliver 10 Republican senators' votes for this bill — which he helped author — or else agree to reform the filibuster to let voting rights bills be enacted with a bare majority.)

Here's something else you can do: If you happen to be a constituent of one of these four Democrats, don't vote for them when they're up for reelection. Make sure they're primaried, and then vote in the Democratic primaries for true public servants — who care more about advancing the public good than protecting private profits.

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Don’t believe the corporate narrative of a labor shortage – this is what’s really happening in America

On Tuesday, the Labor Department reported that some 4.3 million people had quit their jobs in August. That comes to about 2.9 percent of the workforce – up from the previous record set in April, of about 4 million people quitting.

All told, about 4 million American workers have been leaving their jobs every month since last spring.

Add this to last Friday's jobs report showing the number of job openings at a record high. The share of people working or actively looking for work (the labor force participation rate) has dropped to 61.6 percent. Participation for people in their prime working years, defined as 25 to 54 years old, is also down. Over the past year, job openings have increased 62 percent.

What's happening? You might say American workers have declared a national general strike until they get better pay and improved working conditions.

No one calls it a general strike. But in its own disorganized way it's related to the organized strikes breaking out across the land – Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo.

Disorganized or organized, American workers now have bargaining leverage to do better.

After a year and a half of the pandemic, consumers have pent-up demand for all sorts of goods and services. But employers are finding it hard to fill positions.

This general strike has nothing to do with the Republican bogeyman of extra unemployment benefits supposedly discouraging people from working. Reminder: The extra benefits ran out on Labor Day.

Renewed fears of the Delta variant of COVID may play some role. But it can't be the major factor. With most adults now vaccinated, rates of hospitalizations and deaths are way down.

Childcare is a problem for many workers, to be sure. But lack of affordable childcare has been a problem for decades. It can't be the reason for the general strike.

I believe that the reluctance of workers to return to or remain in their old jobs is mostly because they're fed up. Some have retired early. Others have found ways to make ends meet other than remain in jobs they abhor. Many just don't want to return to backbreaking or boring low-wage shit jobs.

The media and most economists measure the economy's success by the number of jobs it creates, while ignoring the *quality* of those jobs. That's a huge oversight.

Years ago, when I was Secretary of Labor, I kept meeting working people all over the country who had full-time work but complained that their jobs paid too little and had few benefits, or were unsafe, or required lengthy or unpredictable hours. Many said their employers treated them badly, harassed them, and did not respect them.

Since then, these complaints have only grown louder, according to polls. For many, the pandemic was the last straw. Workers are burned out, fed up, fried. In the wake of so much hardship, illness and death during the past year, they're not going to take it anymore.

To lure workers back, employers are raising wages and offering other inducements. Average earnings rose 19 cents an hour in September and are up more than $1 an hour – or 4.6 percent – over the last year.

Clearly, that's not enough.

Corporate America wants to frame this as a "labor shortage." Wrong. What's really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage.Unless these shortages are rectified, many Americans won't return to work anytime soon. I say it's about time.

This article was originally published at RobertReich.org

In other news, former President Donald Trump could soon be off the hook in the Stormy Daniels payoff case — and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is disgusted. WATCH:

Trump could soon be off the hook in Stormy Daniels case — and Michael Cohen is 'disgusted' youtu.be

DC insider explains how Trump could save the Dems

The unofficial kickoff of the former guy's presidential campaign was a rally Saturday night in Des Moines. Unfortunately for the GOP, Trump's speech focused on his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen rather than on Joe Biden, whose approval ratings keep sliding because of the Delta variant's continuing impact as well as fumbles at the border and in exiting Afghanistan.

All indications are that Trump is going to cast the midterm elections as a referendum on himself rather than on Biden. That's hardly surprising, given Trump's sociopathic ego. He cast his entire presidency as a referendum on himself.

What's surprising is how quickly the rest of the Republican Party is falling prey to this. We've already observed it at the state level: Trump's Big Lie has moved 18 Republican-dominated states to enact 33 laws suppressing the votes of likely Democratic voters, on the false pretext of eliminating "voter fraud" that doesn't exist. Several of these state laws will also let Republican legislatures ignore future electoral results they dislike. Under the same pretext, Republican states have undertaken bogus "audits" of the 2020 election.

But for a brief time it seemed as if senior Republicans in Washington would try to move the party away from Trump. They now appear to have given up. Several who in January criticized him for provoking the Capitol insurrection are now defending him and minimizing the attempted coup – including, notably, Senator Chuck Grassley, who showed up at Saturday's Des Moines rally, and former vice president Michael Pence, who is now minimizing and excusing the riot.

For Trump to make the midterm elections into a referendum on himself and his Big Lie is useful for the Democrats. It takes the focus off Biden, reminds Americans how vile the former president is, and forces Republicans to try to defend him. If you watched Fox News Sunday, you might have seen Chris Wallace repeatedly ask House Minority Whip Steve Scalise whether he thought the 2020 election was stolen, and Scalise repeatedly squirm to avoid answering the question.

Scalise also refused to say whether he would vote to hold in contempt of Congress Trump advisers, such as Steve Bannon, who are resisting subpoenas issued by the January 6 Committee. Bannon is invoking executive privilege, at Trump's request — an absurd position because by the 2020 election Bannon hadn't worked in the White House for years.

January 6 Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney say they "will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral."

This means even more of an ongoing focus on Trump and his attempted coup. Before Congress can refer a criminal contempt to the Justice Department for prosecution, the full House has to vote on it. So you can expect a near party-line vote, which will put Republicans further on record as supporting Trump and, by implication, others who instigated the insurrection.

The criminal contempt of Congress statute, enacted in 1857 and only slightly modified since, provides that any person who willfully fails to comply with a properly issued committee subpoena for testimony or documents is punishable by a substantial fine and imprisonment for up to one year. Once the House votes in favor of criminal contempt, the Speaker is required to report it to the Department of Justice, which then determines whether to prosecute. (Unfortunately, Attorney General Merrick Garland so far has not distinguished himself for holding Trump or his cronies accountable for anything.)

House Republicans could soon find themselves in an even more awkward position as the January 6 Committee investigates the roles several of them played in the insurrection. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin has asked the committee to investigate the help Rep. Scott Perry gave Trump in pressuring the Justice Department to overturn the election, as well as Rep. Jim Jordan's contacts with the White House before and during the insurrection. (You may remember that in the 2016 presidential election, Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, dug into allegations of impropriety at the FBI and Justice Department, and defended the power of the subpoena to compel testimony from executive-branch officials.)

The January 6 Committee also issued a subpoena last week to Ali Alexander, the leader of the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" organization, who has claimed he worked on the pre-insurrection rally with several GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks, and Andy Biggs.

Trump's speech in Iowa Saturday night suggests we're already in the gravitational field of the 2024

election. But in making that speech mostly about himself, Trump may have given Democrats more leeway to do what Americans – including most Trump supporters – need them to do.

DC insider reveals the secret to actually taxing the rich

Taxing the rich doesn't just entail closing tax loopholes and instituting a new wealth tax. It also means ensuring they pay what they owe in the first place — and that means boosting the Internal Revenue Service's funding.

The richest 1 percent of Americans evade $163 billion every year in taxes. How do they get away with it? Because the IRS doesn't have the tools and resources available to audit these wealthy tax cheats.

Over the past 10 years, the IRS budget has been reduced by roughly 20 percent. And as of last year, the IRS had 9,510 auditors — down a third from 2010. The last time the IRS had fewer than 10,000 revenue agents was 1953, when the economy was a seventh of its current size.

The result? Millionaires in 2018 were about 80 percent less likely to be audited than they were in 2011, and now the poorest taxpayers are audited at about the same rate as the top 1 percent.

When asked by Congress why this is, the IRS said that auditing poor taxpayers is a lot easier because it's done by relatively low-level employees. These audits are "the most efficient use of available IRS examination resources."

The Secret to Actually Taxing the Rich | Robert Reich www.youtube.com

Beefing up IRS enforcement is a critical part of cracking down on wealthy tax cheats and ensuring the super-rich pay their fair share.

Every $1 invested in the IRS budget produces $4 in revenue.

Imagine what programs we could fund, how many people we could help, if the IRS was able to recoup that $163 billion that the top 1 percent shorts the government every year. Fully funding the IRS should be a no-brainer.

The $3.5 trillion bill corporate America is terrified of

Right now, Democrats are working to pass a $3.5 trillion package that will provide long overdue help for working Americans.

The final bill hasn't yet been determined, so we don't know the exact dollar amounts for all its policies. We'll probably find that out in late September or early October. For now, the Democrats' budget resolution frames what's in the bill.

First, on families:

The bill would make permanent key benefits for working families, including the expanded child tax credit in the pandemic relief plan that sends families up to $300 per child each month but is now set to expire in December, and is estimated to cut child poverty by half.

It would also establish universal child care, for which low- and middle-income households would pay no more than 7 percent of their incomes.

And provide a national program of paid leave — worth up to $4,000 a month — for workers who take time off because they are ill or caring for a relative.

The $3.5T Bill Corporate America Is Terrified Of | Robert Reich www.youtube.com

Next, on education:

The bill would reduce educational inequality by establishing universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, benefiting an estimated 5 million children, and providing tuition-free community college – essentially expanding free public education from 12 years to 16 years.

It will also invest in historically Black colleges and universities and increase the maximum amount of Pell grants for students from lower-income families.

On health care:

The bill expands Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits and lowers the eligibility age. It also expands Medicaid to cover people living in the 12 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid, and makes critical investments to improve healthcare for people of color.

The big question is how far it will go to reduce prescription drug prices by, for example, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. That could reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending, and free up more money for other parts of the bill. But Big Pharma is dead-set against this.

Big corporations and the rich picking up the tab:

In another step toward fairness, all of these are to be financed by higher taxes on the rich and big corporations.

The bill would also increase the Internal Revenue Service's funding so the agency can properly audit wealthy tax cheats, who fail to report about a fifth of their income every year, thereby costing the government $105 billion annually.

In addition, the bill tackles the climate crisis, which also especially burdens lower-income Americans:

There are a range of solutions – subsidizing the use of solar, wind, nuclear and other forms of clean energy while financially penalizing the use of dirty energy like coal; helping families pay for electric cars and energy-efficient homes.

The bill might include something known as a carbon border adjustment tax — a tax on imports whose production was carbon-intensive, like many from China.

The bill would also establish a Civilian Climate Corps, and invest in communities that bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

And the bill helps American workers:

It will hopefully contain much of the PRO Act, the toughest labor law reform in a generation.

Finally, the bill includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
This is all about making America fairer.

Remember: we won't know the exact details of the bill for at least a month, but these are the main areas that it will focus on. The big challenge will be ensuring Senate Democrats remain united to get it passed. All of us will need to fight like hell.

Don't listen to spending hawks who claim it's too expensive or too radical. For far too long, our government has ignored the needs of everyday Americans, catering instead to the demands of corporations and the super-rich. No more.

It's time to get this landmark bill passed and build a fairer America.

DC insider: 'Every time Republicans defend the filibuster they’re directly violating the Constitution'

You've probably been hearing a lot about the filibuster these days. But here's one thing about this old Senate rule you might not know: the filibuster actually violates the Constitution.

41 Senate Republicans, who represent only 21 percent of the American population, are blocking the "For the People Act," which is supported by 67 percent of Americans. They're also blocking an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, supported by 62 percent of Americans. And so much else.

Even some so-called moderate Democrats, like Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, have outsized power to block crucial legislation thanks to the filibuster.



Many of those who defend the filibuster consider themselves "originalists," who claim to be following the Constitution as the Framers intended.

Why the Filibuster is Unconstitutional | Robert Reich www.youtube.com

But the filibuster is not in the Constitution. In fact, the Framers of the Constitution went to great lengths to ensure that a minority of senators could not thwart the wishes of the majority.

After all, a major reason they called the Constitutional Convention was that the Articles of Confederation (the precursor to the Constitution) required a super-majority vote of nine of the thirteen states, making the government weak and ineffective.

James Madison argued against any super-majority requirement, writing that "the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed," and "It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority."

Alexander Hamilton, meanwhile, warned about "how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced" if a minority in either house of Congress had "the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary."

Hence, the Framers required no more than a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress to pass legislation. They carved out specific exceptions, requiring a super-majority vote only for rare, high-stakes decisions:

Impeachments.

Expulsion of members.

Overriding a presidential veto.

Ratification of treaties.

Constitutional amendments.

By being explicit about these exceptions where a super-majority is necessary, the Framers underscored their commitment to majority rule for the normal business of the nation.

They would have balked at the notion of a minority of senators continually obstructing the majority, which is now the case with the filibuster.

So where did the filibuster come from?

The Senate needed a mechanism to end debate on proposed laws, and move laws to a vote — a problem the Framers didn't anticipate. In 1841, a small group of senators took full advantage of this oversight to stage the first filibuster. They hoped to hamstring the Senate and force their opponents to give in by prolonging debate and delaying a vote.

This was what became known as the "talking filibuster" as popularized in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But the results were hardly admirable.

After the Civil War, the filibuster was used by Southern politicians to defeat Reconstruction legislation, including bills to protect the voting rights of Black Americans.

In 1917, as a result of pressure from President Woodrow Wilson and the public, the Senate finally adopted a procedure for limiting debate and ending filibusters with a two-thirds vote (67 votes). In the 1970s, the Senate reduced the number of votes required to end debate down to 60, and no longer required constant talking to delay a vote. 41 votes would do it.

Throughout much of the 20th century, despite all the rule changes, filibusters remained rare. Southern senators mainly used them to block anti-lynching, fair employment, voting rights, and other critical civil rights bills.

That all changed in 2006, after Democrats won a majority of Senate seats. Senate Republicans, now in the minority, used the 60-vote requirement with unprecedented frequency. After Barack Obama became president in 2008, the Republican minority blocked virtually every significant piece of legislation. Nothing could move without 60 votes.

In 2009, a record 67 filibusters occurred during the first half of the 111th Congress — double the entire 20-year period between 1950 and 1969. By the time the 111th Congress adjourned in December 2010, the filibuster count had ballooned to 137.

Now we have a total mockery of majority rule. And it bears repeating that just 41 Senate Republicans, representing only 21 percent of the country, are blocking critical laws supported by the vast majority of Americans.

This is exactly the opposite of what the framers of the Constitution intended. They unequivocally rejected the notion that a minority of Senators could obstruct the majority.

Every time Republicans use or defend the filibuster they're directly violating the Constitution — the document they claim to be dedicated to. How can someone profess to be an "originalist" and defend the Constitution while repeatedly violating it?

Senators whose votes have been blocked by a minority should have standing to take this issue to the Supreme Court. And the Court should abolish the filibuster as violating the U.S. Constitution.

DC insider: Trump's attempted coup could still succeed

The former president's attempted coup is not stopping. He still refuses to concede and continues to rile up supporters with his bogus claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Tens of millions of Americans believe him.

Last Sunday, at a Republican event in Franklin, North Carolina, Congressman Madison Cawthorn, repeating Trump's big lie, called the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 "political hostages."

Cawthorn also advised the crowd to begin stockpiling ammunition for what he said is likely to be American-versus-American "bloodshed" over unfavorable election results.

"Much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs," he said, "there's nothing I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American."

On Tuesday, Texas Republicans passed a strict voter law based on Trump's big lie – imposing new ID requirements on people seeking to vote by mail and criminal penalties on election officials who send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, empowering partisan poll watchers, and banning drive-through and 24-hour voting.

This year, at least 18 other states have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote, based on Trump's lie.

On Thursday, at Trump's instigation, Pennsylvania Republicans launched an investigation soliciting sworn testimony on election "irregularities," scheduling the first hearing for next week.

Arizona's Republican "audit" will report its results any day, but there's little question what they'll show. The CEO of the Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired to conduct it, has publicly questioned the election results, and the audit team consists of Trump supporters and is funded by a group led by Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The Republican chair of the Wisconsin state assembly's campaigns and elections committee has begun "a full, cyber-forensic audit" akin to Arizona's. Trump's first White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, saysWisconsin Republicans are prepared to spend $680,000 on it.

These so-called audits won't alter the outcome of the 2020 election. Their point is to cast further doubt on its legitimacy and justify additional state measures to suppress votes and alter future elections.

It's a vicious cycle. As Trump continues to stoke his base with his big lie that the election was stolen, Republican lawmakers – out to advance their careers and entrench the GOP – are adding fuel to the fire, pushing more Americans into Trump's paranoid nightmare.

The three top candidates to succeed Richard Burr in North Carolina all denounced the senator's vote to convict Trump in his last impeachment trial. The four leading candidates to succeed Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania all embraced Trump's call for an "audit" of election results.

A leading contender for Senate seat being vacated by Richard Shelby in Alabama is Representative Mo Brooks, best known for urging the crowd at Trump's rally preceding the Capitol riot to "start taking down names and kicking ass." Brooks has been endorsed by Trump.

Yet even as Trump's attempted coup gains traction, most of the rest of America continues to sleep. We've become so outrage-fatigued by his antics, and so preoccupied with the more immediate threats of the Delta variant and climate-fueled wildfires and hurricanes, that we prefer not to know.

A month ago it was reported that during his last weeks in office Trump tried to strong-arm the Justice Department to falsely declare that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, even threatening to fire the acting attorney general if he didn't: "Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen."

The news barely registered on America's collective mind. The Olympics and negotiations over the infrastructure bill got more coverage.

A top Trump adviser now says Trump is "definitely running" for president in 2024, even though the 14th Amendment to the constitution bars anyone from holding office who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against" the nation.

Federal legislation that would pre-empt state voter suppression laws is bogged down in the Senate. Biden hasn't made it a top priority. A House select committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot and Trump's possible role is barely off the ground. The U.S Justice Department has made no move to indict the former president for anything.

But unless Trump and his co-conspirators are held accountable for the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict on American democracy, and unless Senate Democrats and Biden soon enact national voting rights legislation, Trump's attempted coup could eventually succeed.

It is imperative that America wake up.

Americans are sleepwalking into Trump's unfinished coup

The former president's attempted coup is not stopping. He still refuses to concede and continues to rile up supporters with his bogus claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Tens of millions of Americans believe him.

Last Sunday, at a Republican event in Franklin, North Carolina, Congressman Madison Cawthorn, repeating Trump's big lie, called the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 "political hostages."

Cawthorn also advised the crowd to begin stockpiling ammunition for what he said is likely to be American-versus-American "bloodshed" over unfavorable election results.

"Much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs," he said, "there's nothing I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American."

On Tuesday, Texas Republicans passed a strict voter law based on Trump's big lie – imposing new ID requirements on people seeking to vote by mail and criminal penalties on election officials who send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, empowering partisan poll watchers, and banning drive-through and 24-hour voting.

This year, at least 18 other states have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote, based on Trump's lie.

On Thursday, at Trump's instigation, Pennsylvania Republicans launched an investigation soliciting sworn testimony on election "irregularities," scheduling the first hearing for next week.

Arizona's Republican "audit" will report its results any day, but there's little question what they'll show. The CEO of the Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired to conduct it, has publicly questioned the election results, and the audit team consists of Trump supporters and is funded by a group led by Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The Republican chair of the Wisconsin state assembly's campaigns and elections committee has begun "a full, cyber-forensic audit" akin to Arizona's. Trump's first White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, says Wisconsin Republicans are prepared to spend $680,000 on it.

These so-called audits won't alter the outcome of the 2020 election. Their point is to cast further doubt on its legitimacy and justify additional state measures to suppress votes and alter future elections.

It's a vicious cycle. As Trump continues to stoke his base with his big lie that the election was stolen, Republican lawmakers – out to advance their careers and entrench the GOP – are adding fuel to the fire, pushing more Americans into Trump's paranoid nightmare.

The three top candidates to succeed Richard Burr in North Carolina all denounced the senator's vote to convict Trump in his last impeachment trial. The four leading candidates to succeed Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania all embraced Trump's call for an "audit" of election results.

A leading contender for Senate seat being vacated by Richard Shelby in Alabama is Representative Mo Brooks, best known for urging the crowd at Trump's rally preceding the Capitol riot to "start taking down names and kicking ass." Brooks has been endorsed by Trump.

Yet even as Trump's attempted coup gains traction, most of the rest of America continues to sleep. We've become so outrage-fatigued by his antics, and so preoccupied with the more immediate threats of the Delta variant and climate-fueled wildfires and hurricanes, that we prefer not to know.

A month ago it was reported that during his last weeks in office Trump tried to strong-arm the Justice Department to falsely declare that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, even threatening to fire the acting attorney general if he didn't: "Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen."

The news barely registered on America's collective mind. The Olympics and negotiations over the infrastructure bill got more coverage.

A top Trump adviser now says Trump is "definitely running" for president in 2024, even though the 14th Amendment to the constitution bars anyone from holding office who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against" the nation.

Federal legislation that would pre-empt state voter suppression laws is bogged down in the Senate. Biden hasn't made it a top priority. A House select committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot and Trump's possible role is barely off the ground. The U.S Justice Department has made no move to indict the former president for anything.

But unless Trump and his co-conspirators are held accountable for the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict on American democracy, and unless Senate Democrats and Biden soon enact national voting rights legislation, Trump's attempted coup could eventually succeed.

It is imperative that America wake up.

This article was originally published at RobertReich.org

'Cruelty toward the powerless': DC insider nails the new Republican Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court won't block a Texas law that allows private individuals to sue to enforce a ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy – before many women are even aware they're pregnant. The law went into effect Wednesday, September 1.

It's the most restrictive abortion law in the country, imposing a huge burden on women without the means or money to travel to another state where later abortions are legal.

It's also a sign that the Republican-appointed justices, who now hold six of nine seats on the Court, are ready to overturn the Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, striking down anti-abortion laws across the nation as violating a woman's right to privacy under the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution.

Last week the Court held that Biden's moratorium on evictions was illegal. A few days before, it refused to stay a lower court decision that people seeking asylum at the southern border must remain in Mexico until their cases are heard – often subjecting them to great hardship or violence.

What links these cases? Cruelty toward the powerless.

I remember a very different Supreme Court which I had the honor of arguing cases before almost fifty years ago. It embodied the idea that the fundamental role of the Court is to balance the scales in favor of those who are powerless. The other two branches of government cannot be relied on to do this.

Even Nixon appointees Harry Blackman, Lewis Powell, and Warren Burger understood that role. Blackman wrote the Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, and Powell and Burger joined him, as did four Democratic appointees to the Court – William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan, and Potter Stewart.

The cases I argued were insignificant. I was a rookie in the Justice Department who was given either sure winners or sure losers to argue. But I vividly recall Douglas, who had recently suffered a stroke and was in obvious discomfort, looking sharply at me as I made my arguments.

I was awed. Here was the justice who wrote the 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, finding that a constitutional right to privacy forbids states from banning contraception. The man who argued the Vietnam war was illegal and issued an order that temporarily blocked sending Army reservists to Vietnam. The justice who wrote in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton that any part of nature feeling the destructive pressure of modern technology should have standing to sue in court – including rivers, lakes, trees and even the air – because if corporations (which are legal fictions) have standing, shouldn't the natural world?

Sitting not far away from him was Thurgood Marshall – who succeeded in having the Supreme Court declare segregated public schools unconstitutional in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, and who did more than person then alive to break down the shameful legal edifice of Jim Crow.

Today's Supreme Court majority is a group of knee-jerk conservatives whose intellectual leader (to the extent they have one) is Samuel Alito, perhaps the most conceptually rigid and cognitively dishonest justice since Chief Justice Roger Taney.

Five of today's Supreme Court majority were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote; three of them by a president who instigated a coup against the United States.

The authority of the Supreme Court derives entirely from Americans' confidence and trust in it. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers 78, the judiciary has "neither the sword" (the executive branch's power to compel action) "nor the purse" (the Congress's power to appropriate funds).

The Court I was privileged to argue before almost fifty years ago had significant authority. It protected the less powerful with arguments that resonated with the core moral values of the nation. Americans didn't always agree with its conclusions, but they respected it.

Today's cruel and partisan Supreme Court is squandering what remains of its authority. It is also imposing unnecessary suffering on those least able to bear it.

DC insider: 'All-consuming focus on Afghanistan is distracting us from hugely important stuff'

I'm as sensitive as anyone to the sufferings of Afghani's now, but I've had it with the sanctimony of journalists and pundits who haven't thought about Afghanistan for 20 years – many of whom urged we get out – but who are now filling the August news hole with overwrought stories about Biden's botched exit and Taliban atrocities.

Yes, the exit could have been better planned and executed. Yes, it's all horribly sad. But can we get a grip? The sudden all-consuming focus on Afghanistan is distracting us from hugely important stuff that's coming to a head at home:

(1) Republican politicians and right-wing media worsening the surging Delta variant of COVID by fighting masks and vaccinations, as cities and school systems struggle to decide what to do;

(2) wildfires and floods consuming much of America, as House Democrats absurdly threaten to oppose Biden's $3.5 trillion budget blueprint containing important measures to slow climate change;

(3) Texas on the verge of passing the nation's most anti-democracy voting restrictions, adding to voter suppression measures in 24 other states, at the same time the "For the People Act" and the "John Lewis Voting Rights Act" – which would remedy these horrendous laws – languish in the Senate because Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema refuse to do anything about the filibuster.

Enough sanctimony over Afghanistan. Enough about Biden's falling approval ratings. We've had enough wall-to-wall coverage of the Olympics and then Andrew Cuomo and now the airport in Kabul. Can we please focus on the biggest things that need and deserve our attention right now? The window of opportunity to do anything about them will close sooner than we expect.

If we don't take action now on COVID and the critical importance of vaccinations and masks, on climate change and Biden's $3.5 trillion package, and on voter suppression and the necessity of the For the People and the John Lewis Voting Rights Acts, we may never.

Happy Holidays!