America’s Real Economy: It Isn’t Booming

Source: Peter Georgescu, Forbes, August 22, 2018

Ostensibly, for the past ten years, our economy has been recovering from the 2008 collapse. During the past few years, our comeback seems to have gained momentum. All the official indicators say we’re back in boom times, with a bull market, low unemployment and steady job growth. But there is an alternative set of data that depicts a different America, where the overlooked majority struggles from month to month.

The Nation recently published a stunning overview of the working poor and underpaid. One of the most powerful data points in the piece described how empty the decline in unemployment actually is: having a job doesn’t exempt anyone from poverty anymore. About 12% of Americans (43 million) are considered poor, and yet they are employed. They earn an individual income below $12,140 per year, and slightly more than that for a family of two. If you include housing and medical expenses in the calculation, it raises the percentage of Americans living in poverty to 14%. That’s 45 million people…..

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The United States Has a National-Security Problem—and It’s Not What You Think
Source: Rajan Menon, The Nation, July 16, 2018

…..For millions of Americans, however, the greatest threat to their day-to-day security isn’t terrorism or North Korea, Iran, Russia, or China. It’s internal—and economic. That’s particularly true for the 12.7 percent of Americans (43.1 million of them) classified as poor by the government’s criteria: an income below $12,140 for a one-person household, $16,460 for a family of two, and so on… until you get to the princely sum of $42,380 for a family of eight. Savings aren’t much help either: A third of Americans have no savings at all and another third have less than $1,000 in the bank. Little wonder that families struggling to cover the cost of food alone increased from 11 percent (36 million) in 2007 to 14 percent (48 million) in 2014…..

…..As a result, though the United States has a per-capita income of $59,500 and is among the wealthiest countries in the world, 12.7 percent of Americans (that’s 43.1 million people), officially are impoverished. And that’s generally considered a significant undercount. The Census Bureau establishes the poverty rate by figuring out an annual no-frills family food budget, multiplying it by three, adjusting it for household size, and pegging it to the Consumer Price Index. That, many economists believe, is a woefully inadequate way of estimating poverty. Food prices haven’t risen dramatically over the past 20 years, but the cost of other necessities like medical care (especially if you lack insurance) and housing have: 10.5 percent and 11.8 percent respectively between 2013 and 2017 compared to an only 5.5 percent increase for food. Include housing and medical expenses in the equation and you get the Supplementary Poverty Measure (SPM), published by the Census Bureau since 2011. It reveals that a larger number of Americans are poor: 14 percent or 45 million in 2016…..

The Financial Oversight & Management Board For Puerto Rico Special Investigation Committee Independent Investigator’s Final Investigative Report

Source: The Financial Oversight & Management Board For Puerto Rico Special Investigative Committee Independent Investigator Kobre & Kim LLP, 2018

As of May 3, 2017, Puerto Rico had approximately $74 billion of bond debt and $49 billion of unfunded pension liabilities. For an economy of Puerto Rico’s size, the burden of this debt has been catastrophic—it has been a financial, and ultimately a humanitarian, catastrophe. The toll it has taken on the people of Puerto Rico begs a pressing question: How did it happen?

This Report, like the Independent Investigation upon which it is based, aims to answer that question based on the facts. On the same basis, it offers recommendations for the people of Puerto Rico, and the policymakers who represent them, to consider in making sure they never have to go through all this again…..

They Say Their Buildings Are Making Them Sick. Administrators Say They’ve Done All They Can.

Source: Teghan Simonton, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 21, 2018

….Academic workplaces are not generally known for their environmental dangers. But at least a dozen faculty members say such dangers have become a central part of working at this mid-size public university in east-central Pennsylvania.

In at least three buildings, faculty members have for years complained about mold, water damage, humidity, climate control, asbestos, and radon. They’ve taken pictures. They’ve cataloged health issues like skin rashes, asthma, and allergies. They share suspicions that health problems caused by the buildings’ poor conditions could be much graver than just a cough here, a nosebleed there.

Mahoney, and others, say the university has money to fix the problems permanently but chooses to spend it elsewhere. The administration, however, disputes the severity or extent of the complaints raised by the faculty and some of the staff. They say the majority of issues are raised by just a “handful” of people with a higher-than-normal sensitivity to air quality. And, the administration says, many of them have not actually brought their issues and concerns to the administration….

Announcing PACER Docket Alerts for Journalists, Lawyers, Researchers, and the Public

Source: Michael Lissner, CourtListener, August 21, 2018

Now Today we are thrilled to announce the general availability of PACER Docket Alerts on CourtListener.com. Once enabled, a docket alert will send you an email whenever there is a new filing in a case in PACER. We started CourtListener in 2010 as a circuit court monitoring tool, and we could not be more excited to continue expanding on those roots with this powerful new tool.

The best way to get started with Docket Alerts is to just make one. Try loading a popular case like U.S. v. Manafort or The District of Columbia v. Trump. Once the case is open, just press the “Get Alerts” button near the top. Then, just wait for your first alert.

We believe PACER Docket Alerts will be a valuable resource to journalists, researchers, lawyers, and the public as they grapple with staying up to date with the latest PACER filings.

Our goal with docket alerts is to make them as simple as possible to use. Once you have found a case you are interested in, a single click is all it takes to turn on an alert for that docket. From then on, we will send you an email as soon as we detect a new filing in that case. For more details on how to use docket alerts, please see our help page. …..

Hospitals keep ER fees secret. We’re uncovering them.

Source: Sarah Kliff, Vox, 2017-2018

Each year, Americans make 141 million trips to the emergency room. In nearly all those visits, hospitals charge patients something called a facility fee: the price for walking in the door and seeking medical service. Facility fees can be big: Reporter Sarah Kliff has seen charges that range from $533 to more than $3,000. But because these fees are kept secret until you receive your bill, we can’t know how high they get — or how much they vary. We want to bring transparency to these extremely common but little-understood fees. So we have been collecting facility fee bills from our readers as part of a year-long project focused on American health care prices.

Today’s GOP leaders have little in common with those who resisted Nixon

Source: Michael Koncewicz, The Conversation, August 23, 2018

Republican leaders in 2018 are profoundly different than the ones who dealt with Watergate in the 1970s.

During Watergate, a significant number of GOP members of Congress and the Nixon administration publicly resisted President Richard Nixon’s efforts to undermine the rule of law.

Today’s GOP leaders, with few exceptions, meekly follow President Trump.

Republicans in Congress, and even GOP candidates for Congress, have been loathe to criticize the president. Their submissiveness has significant implications. In my view, some Republicans today are, with the support of the president, openly impeding an ongoing investigation that may or many not implicate Trump.

Recent attacks from Republicans on Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has made that much clear.

That’s in contrast to how some prominent members of the GOP acted during the Watergate crisis that led to President Nixon’s resignation.

Research in my forthcoming book “They Said No to Nixon” reveals that Republican civil servants serving in President Nixon’s administration blocked his attempts to politicize their work.

Their stories, when contrasted with the actions of Republicans today, show how the GOP has transformed from a party that included moderate civil servants to one that embraces a culture of loyalty now….

Laundering Racism Through the Court: The Scandal of States’ Rights

Source: Lynn Adelman, Dissent, Summer 2018

When three conservative law students founded the Federalist Society at Yale Law School in 1982, they probably didn’t expect that it would become one of the most influential legal organizations in the United States. They styled themselves as renegades, fighting back against a liberal legal establishment that was using the courts to trample individual freedoms. But the students had support from a few prominent jurists, including Antonin Scalia—one of their first faculty advisers—and with Ronald Reagan in office, the political tide was turning in their favor. Three-and-a-half decades later, the Federalist Society has some 40,000 members and millions of dollars in funding from conservative megadonors including the Koch brothers. No less than five of its current or former members have served on the Supreme Court (including Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch). Membership in the organization has become an important qualification for an appointment to the federal bench.

Moreover, since roughly the Society’s founding, the doctrine of federalism has become the basis for a new, conservative orthodoxy in U.S. law. The last two Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist and John Roberts, have been strong adherents of federalism, as have virtually all of the other conservative justices. And President Trump is currently stocking the lower federal courts with like-minded jurists at a record pace.

By federalism, these legal conservatives mean that the authority of the federal government is limited, that states are sovereign bodies, and that courts should enforce limitations on federal power and bolster the power of states. On its face, the conservatives’ attachment to federalism may not seem particularly objectionable. After all, the founders did divide power between the federal government and the states so as to facilitate policymaking by those legislators most familiar with the issues in question. It is becoming clear, however, that the practical consequences of the conservatives’ attachment to federalism are far from benign. For African Americans, particularly those living in states of the former Confederacy, the impact of federalist doctrine as implemented by the Supreme Court has been no less than devastating—so much so that the justices’ view that it is justified by the principle of state sovereignty is indefensible.

In this article, I explore this issue primarily in the context of two of the Roberts Court’s most important federalist decisions, Shelby County v. Holder and National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”) v. Sebelius. In Shelby County, the Court struck down, on states’ rights grounds, the formula provided in the Voting Rights Act (“VRA”) for determining whether states and municipalities had to get approval from Washington (preclearance) for any change in their voting rules to ensure that the change was not racially discriminatory. Similarly, in NFIB, the Court struck down the inducement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for states to participate in the act’s Medicaid-expansion program on the grounds that it violated states’ rights. In both Shelby County and NFIB, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the principal opinion…..

Reformism Yesterday and Social Democracy Today

Source: Maecel Liebman, Jacobin, August 22, 2018

We shouldn’t try to resurrect the social-democratic politics of the past. What we need is a socialist movement that pairs radical demands with mass, militant action. ….

…. Marcel Liebman didn’t live to see Tony Blair lead the British Labour Party. But in the mid-1980s, the Belgian Marxist had already witnessed enough: social democracy, he proclaimed, was dead. “The new-style reformism means reformism without reforms,” he wrote…..

….In “Reformism Yesterday and Social Democracy Today” — first published in the 1985–86 edition of Socialist Register and reprinted below in a slightly abridged form — Liebman traces this history, from the heady days before World War I, when socialism seemed inevitable, to the descent into a more straightforwardly technocratic, uninspired reform politics.

While Liebman arguably understates the obstacles that any socialist project faces in a capitalist democracy — focusing on party machinations instead of the structural power of business  — his essay is an important read as the socialist left regains its footing today. It is only by revisiting the pitfalls of the past that we can chart a more viable path in the present…..