Category Archives: Politics

Hiding in Plain Sight: PAC-Connected Activists Set Up ‘Local News’ Outlets

Source: Alex Kasprak, Bethania Palma, Snopes, March 4, 2019

On 6 February 2017, a website of uncertain origin named “The Tennessee Star” was born. At the time, it was unclear who funded or operated this “local newspaper,” which was largely filled with freely licensed content from organizations tied to conservative mega-donors. After some prodding by Politico in early 2018, the Tennessee Star revealed its primary architects to be three Tea Party-connected conservative activists: Michael Patrick Leahy, Steve Gill, and Christina Botteri.

Now, a Snopes investigation reveals in detail how these activists used the appearance of local newspapers to promote messages paid for or supported by outside or undisclosed interests. Gill, for example, is the political editor of the Tennessee Star, but he also owns a media consulting company that at least one candidate and one Political Action Committee (PAC) paid before receiving positive coverage in the Tennessee Star. Several Star writers have in the past or currently work for PACs or political campaigns that they write about, without disclosing that fact. Though its owners claim that the Tennessee Star is funded by advertising revenue, it appears to be supported by wealthy benefactors. Whatever the Tennessee Star is, it is not a local newspaper producing transparent journalism.

But this story is about more than just the Tennessee Star. Leahy, Botteri, and Gill have been expanding their version of journalism to other battleground states in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. They are, they say, co-founders of a new, Delaware-registered company, Star News Digital Media, Inc., whose explicit strategy is to target battleground states with conservative news. So far, Leahy, Gill, and Botteri have added The Ohio Star and The Minnesota Sun to their network of purportedly local newspapers. These papers are effective carbon copies of the Tennessee Star.

The shutdown: Drowning government in the bathtub

Source: William E. Nelson, The Conversation, February 12, 2019

…. Shuttering the government for the third time since Trump took office remains possible, but is less likely now, given Monday’s progress towards a deal in Congressional talks over securing the border. Meanwhile, bipartisan support, including among prominent Republicans like Sens. Chuck Grassley, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman, is rising for bills that would prohibit shutdowns.

The president’s observable objective in this political conflict is getting money from Congress to build the border wall.

As legal scholars who have spent much of our careers analyzing the interaction between government and society, including the economy, we believe that intentionally or not, the shutdown also was consistent with a goal long sought by a subset of the Republican Party – not to be confused with traditional, moderate Republicans – that wants to dismantle the government.

Starve the beast

These advocates of limiting government’s size have a traffic cop theory of the state, featuring a minimalist state focused on safety and security.

Many believe that government is at best superfluous and at worst a drag on a free market. It has long been their aim to cut taxes to “starve the beast.” ….

When newspapers close, voters become more partisan

Source: Joshua P. Darr, Johanna Dunaway, Matthew P. Hitt, The Conversation, February 11, 2019

…. At a time when national political news is inescapable, there is less local news to be found – and less interest in local politics from Americans.

This shift in media may have a direct effect on how people vote. Local newspapers help protect American democracy by giving people the information they need to hold local government accountable. They also provide an alternative to national news that is often focused on partisan conflict.

As political scientists and communications scholars who study the media’s influence on voters, we wanted to know whether these changes in the news industry had political effects. ….

Beyond the Critique of Rights: The Puerto Rico Legal Project and Civil Rights Litigation in America’s Colony

Source: Valeria M. Pelet del Toro, Yale Law Journal, Vol. 128 no. 3, January 2019

Long skeptical of the ability of rights to advance oppressed groups’ political goals, Critical Legal Studies (CLS) scholars might consider a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico and ask, “What good are rights when you live in a colony?” In this Note, I will argue that CLS’s critique of rights, though compelling in the abstract, falters in the political and historical context of Puerto Rico. Although it may appear that rights have failed Puerto Ricans, rights talk has historically provided a framework for effective organizing and community action. Building on the work of Critical Race Theory and LatCrit scholars, this Note counters the CLS intuition that rights talk lacks value by focusing on the origins and development of the Puerto Rico Legal Project, an understudied but critical force for community development and legal advocacy on the island that was founded in response to severe political repression during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This Note draws on original interviews with Puerto Rican and U.S. lawyers and community activists to reveal fissures in the critique of rights and to propose certain revisions to the theory. By concentrating on the entitlements that rights are thought to provide, CLS’s critique of rights ignores the power of rights discourse to organize marginalized communities. The critique of rights also overlooks the value of the collective efforts that go into articulating a particular community’s aspirations through rights talk, efforts which can be empowering and help spur further political action. By analyzing twentieth-century Puerto Rican legal and political history and the Puerto Rico Legal Project, I demonstrate the value (and limits) of rights in a colonized nation.

How Democrats Solve Their Geography Problem

Source: Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly, January 14, 2019

In a cover package in our latest issue, the Washington Monthly argues that the Democratic Party’s most profound—but fixable—problem is geography. In the 2018 midterms, Democrats rode a “blue wave” of support to their first House majority since 2011. Yet, even with a nine-point advantage in the national vote, they lost a net of two Senate seats. That’s because their voters are increasingly clustered in solid-blue states like California and New York and too thin on the ground in states like North Dakota and Ohio. If this situation continues, Democrats will have a tough time ever regaining the Senate (where sparsely and heavily populated states each get two senators) and may continue to lose the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote.

The challenge is not only that Democrats have hemorrhaged support in economically declining rural areas. It’s also that metro areas in red and purple states, which generally support Democrats, haven’t been growing enough to offset those rural losses. Instead, growth in income and opportunity has overwhelmingly flowed to a handful of large metro areas on or near the coasts—precisely the places where Democrats are wracking up millions of “wasted” votes.

Democrats can fix their geography problem, our latest issue argues, only by confronting this regional economic inequality. And the best and only way to do that is to reverse the national policies that caused the problem in the first place: the abandonment of antitrust and other measures that once ensured that every part of the country could compete economically, which has since enabled the rise of monopoly firms that cluster opportunity in a few lucky coastal megacities like San Francisco and New York…..

Conquerors of the Courts

Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post Magazine, January 2, 2019

Forget Trump’s Supreme Court picks. The Federalist Society’s impact on the law goes much deeper.

…. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

But having allies on the highest court of the land is just the top layer of the Federalist Society’s expanding sway. For one thing, there is the judicial nomination process itself. When Trump was campaigning in 2016, he made the shrewd and un­or­tho­dox move of publicizing a list of 11 conservative legal stars that he promised to draw from if he got a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, played a key role in suggesting the names, along with Trump’s future White House counsel, Don McGahn (also a society member), and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The list was expanded twice to include Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and others. Leo took a leave from his job at the Federalist Society to advise the White House on the confirmation process for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — reprising a role he played for the George W. Bush White House in putting Roberts and Alito on the court.

The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society ….

Counting Prison Inmates Differently Could Shift Political Power to Cities

Source: Tim Henderson, Stateline, January 2, 2019

More states plan to count state prisoners as residents of their home communities, rather than residents of the places where they are incarcerated — a change that would shift political power away from conservative rural areas to more liberal cities during legislative redistricting.

Many inmates hail from neighborhoods in or near cities, but most are incarcerated in small towns and rural areas. Counting prisoners as residents of their hometowns would, for the most part, boost the legislative representation of Democratic-leaning urban areas with large minority populations while diminishing the power of Republican, mostly white rural areas…..

Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich Get Richer

Source: Center for Public Integrity, 2019

An in-depth look at how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 avoided scrutiny and made the rich richer.

The first part in our new series, “Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich get Richer,”  investigating the origin and impact of the 2017 tax law: 

THE TRUMP TAX LAW HAS BIG PROBLEMS. HERE’S ONE BIG REASON WHY
Source: Peter Cary, Allan Holmes, Pratheek Rebala, Center for Public Integrity, January 15, 2019

There’s no shortage of agenda items for the new Congress that’s just been seated in Washington. But lost among the anguished cries to reopen the government and enact ethics reform will be a lesser-advertised but crucial item: addressing major problems in the 2017 tax bill that President Donald Trump signed into law a year ago.

That the law needs fixing is not in dispute. Why it needs fixing is most vividly illuminated by contrasting it with another massive piece of tax legislation, the Reagan-era Tax Reform Act of 1986.

In the months leading up to passage of the 2017 tax act, Trump administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress giddily compared the scope of their bill to that very law. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called their new bill, “the first action in 31 years since President Reagan’s reforms in 1986.” Then-National Economic Director Gary Cohn said the legislation represented the “most significant tax reform legislation since 1986.”

Measured by the magnitude of changes to the tax code, that is true. But in terms of how the bills were developed, deliberated and drafted by Congress — not to mention their substance — the bills could not be less alike. And therein lies an illuminating — some would say frightening — story.

What are the costs of the government shutdown?

Source: Robert Polner, Futurity, January 16, 2019

The current government shutdown is now the longest on record, sidelining roughly 800,000 non-essential workers in nine agencies out of about two million full-time federal employees in all (excluding postal workers and soldiers). ….

…. The shutdown’s impact extends, Light estimates, to more than 4.1 million contract workers and grantees, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other workers. Like those non-critical workers sitting at home, contract workers, who are largely in service jobs, do not expect to be paid until Congress and the president come to an agreement to resume appropriations.

When they’ll achieve a compromise is anybody’s guess. The sticking point in this shutdown is the more than $5 billion in border-wall funding that President Trump has requested.

Meantime, fallout spreads: the appropriations freeze is bringing complications for traditional government services, from public-health inspections of food and environmental hazards to security screening.

Here, Light talks about the shutdown’s broad repercussions and if he can predict a possible end date: ….