Rachel Maddow’s Ultra podcast is well-done and riveting. It’s also turned out to be very depressing

I’ve been listening, somewhat belatedly, to Rachel Maddow’s eight-part Ultra podcast, which Rolling Stone described like this in an Oct. 3, 2002, article:

For a historical podcast, Rachel Maddow’s new project could hardly be more timely. As the seditious conspiracy trial seeking to hold the Oath Keepers accountable for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection ramps up in Washington, D.C., Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra explores a World War II-era prosecution known as the Great Sedition Trial of 1944.

The prosecution – and determined amateur sleuths in the general public — exposed a Nazi-backed plot that connected sitting members of Congress — many of them tied to the original, nativist America First movement — and militias and street thugs who wanted to overthrow the republic and install a fascist, authoritarian regime.

It’s quite riveting. But as I have made my way through episode 5 (“Shut it down”) I’ve had to stop listening because I can tell it’s going to be too depressing in the end because all the clues are there that not a single elected right-wing Republican member of Congress is going to be held accountable for colluding with German spies.

Which brings us to this NPR Fresh Aire interview with Maddow from December of 2022:

GROSS: So you describe the (eventual Ultra) sedition trial as turning into bedlam. There’s so many, like, outrageous things that happened. Like, during the period when potential jurors are questioned before they’re chosen to be jurors, the defense asks some incredible questions, including things like, are you Jewish or do you have a relative who is? Do you read Jewish publications? What does Jew mean? What does international bankers mean? What’s meant by Mongolian Jews? And do you think Jesus was a Jew? And there were no Jews, no African-Americans on the jury, but at least three German Americans. It’s amazing that the judge let this kind of questioning happen and that there were no Jews, but there were three German Americans.

MADDOW: Yeah. This is flummoxing in some ways. I mean, defense counsel can propose all sorts of crazy things to be asked to potential jurors, but it’s up to the judge to decide what actually gets asked. And for Judge Eicher to have allowed some of these questions specifically designed to keep Jews off the jury, and also to sort of push-pull the jury on being disinclined toward any Jewish perspective, is a remarkable thing. And indeed, there were no Jewish people on the jury.

I feel like one of the things that might explain why bedlam broke out and why the trial was so out of control and why things like that happened with selecting the jury pool, it may have had something to do with the fact that Judge Eicher was very inexperienced. He was in his mid-60s by the time the trial was happening, but he’d only been on the bench for two years. He had been a congressman from Iowa. He’d been on – I think – the SEC, had had some other government jobs. He’d had a sort of distinguished career and was well-regarded, but he was not experienced as a judge. When he was put in charge of this trial with, you know, 28 incredibly rowdy, incredibly disruptive and in many cases incredibly eccentric defendants, almost as many defense lawyers, the highest profile case in the country on incredibly inflammatory charges, it was going to be a challenge for any judge, but for somebody who didn’t really know what he was doing yet, he was very clearly overmatched from day one of that trial.

GROSS: And you say that the defense tried to prevent the trial, tried to postpone the trial, tried to have a mistrial declared, and they kept doing that, like, over and over. The trial came to a kind of a dramatic conclusion because the judge went home one night after the trial had been going on for months, had dinner, and then died in his sleep. So what happened after that?

MADDOW: It was a crazy moment. I mean, the trial never got less chaotic from the very beginning. And you can see it in the newspaper coverage at the time that there’s reporters who are planning on being in the courtroom every day, who are planning – you know, and they’re recording with great detail everything that happens. And then the news coverage sort of dwindles over time because nobody can follow what’s going on, and the case is so chaotic and the courtroom is so uncomfortable and it’s so out of control. Judge Eicher’s seven months into the trial when the prosecution, which goes first in a criminal trial, they weren’t even halfway through their presentation seven months into it already. He felt ill one day in the courtroom, went home and died in his sleep that night.

The defendants were given the option that they could allow another judge to come in and pick up where the trial left off, and the defendants did not want to do that. They wanted to start all over again from day one. And of course, they did, because I think the bedlam and chaos in the courtroom was to their benefit at this point. The Justice Department then had to decide whether they were going to do that, whether they were going to start over from day one or whether they were just going to dismiss the charges and let it go. And they let that decision linger for quite a long time, and one of the things that happened in the interim, while it was still possible they could restart the trial, is that the prosecutor asked leave from the court to go to Germany.

A U.S. Army captain who was part of the Nuremberg prosecutions contacted this prosecutor, John Rogge, at the Justice Department and said, hey, you know, we’re interrogating these Nazi leaders here, and all of your sedition defendants’ names keep coming up when we’re interrogating these Nazis about who they were working with in the United States and what they were trying to do. You ought to see this evidence. And Rogge went to Germany to collect that evidence and then brought it back to the Justice Department and – for them to inform their decision as to whether or not to proceed with the case.

GROSS: And they proceeded with the case.

MADDOW: They did not proceed with the case, which is a remarkable…

GROSS: They did not proceed.

MADDOW: No. They allowed the mistrial to be the end of the story. And Rogge’s report from Germany, with all the evidence that was collected from German officials confirming the central charges of the sedition case – that these Americans had been receiving support from Germany, that they were working in cahoots with the German government to try to overthrow the U.S. government and install fascism here – he brought all this evidence back including the names of 24 members of the House and Senate who had been involved in the propaganda part of this operation.

He brought it all back. He gave it to the attorney general. The attorney general brought it straight to the White House, by then occupied by Harry Truman. And Harry Truman said, this report will never see the light of day. This is not a report that will be made to the American people. This will not be given to the court. This will – this is over. This is done. This cannot come out.

After a commercial break, Terri Gross brings it back to the question of prosecutions – or lack, thereof:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Rachel Maddow. Her new podcast series, “Ultra,” is about plots from ultra-right groups to overthrow the U.S. government in the years leading up to World War II.

So none of the congressmen who were colluding with Hitler’s Germany ever got indicted. Is that right?

MADDOW: That’s right. And it’s a good question as to why not.

GROSS: Yeah, why not?

MADDOW: (Laughter) Well, I mean, Viereck himself, who was the German agent, was charged. And in his individual trial and, again, in the evidence that was brought forward against him in the sedition trial, the government laid out what he was doing with these members of Congress including paying them to do this work that had been assigned to him by the Hitler government. So they had the evidence of it. The Justice Department did bring in a couple of members of Congress to testify to the grand jury. They did indict one congressional staffer. They had a lot of evidence about members of Congress having been part of this plot, and they chose not to indict the members. And there isn’t an explanation from that that I think all parties would admit to.

But my view, having sort of marinated in this research for the past year or more, is that the Justice Department just did not want to incur more ire and more wrath from the members of Congress who were already giving them such a hard time for this case. Members of Congress knew they were implicated. They knew what they had done. And they did everything they could to try to get this prosecution blown up from getting, first, one and then the second prosecutor in the case fired by political pressure.

They – in one case, one of the members of Congress who was brought in to testify to the grand jury and who had his congressional staffer indicted, he tried to get the sedition law taken off the books. So it would result in the American justice system no longer having that available as a charge to bring against people who did these things. They really did everything they could to make life miserable for the Justice Department in pursuing this and in so doing, protected themselves, I believe, from being charged when the evidence existed that would have justified a charge.

GROSS: So the legal system never held anybody accountable for this sedition and for the violence that these ultra-right-wing groups were behind, and the congressmen weren’t held accountable. Did the people hold the colluders accountable?

MADDOW: Yes, in almost every instance. And this was a surprise to me and a really interesting part of the research. This, as a prosecution, didn’t work. But the Justice Department’s investigation was of interest to the public. It was done at the same time that there was a lot of journalistic and even activist investigation of these matters. There was really good investigative reporting both in book form and in magazine-and-newspaper journalism done about these scandals at the time. There were activist groups who infiltrated some of these violent ultra-right groups and then publicized their findings about what those groups were doing. They not only brought it to law enforcement; they brought it to the press and made sure that people knew what was happening.

And the result from the public was that almost all the members of Congress who were implicated in this, including some who were seen as presidential timber, some of whom were among the most popular and powerful members of Congress, of their – household names – almost to a one, they were voted out as soon as they came back up before the voters, either voted out in primaries or voted out in general elections including huge figures at the time like Gerald Nye from North Dakota and Burton Wheeler from Montana and Hamilton Fish from New York.

And all of these very powerful, very famous members were thrown out on their ear because constituents and, in some cases, their political parties recognized that – recognized what they’d been doing to help the Nazis. It was a form of political accountability that worked even when criminal accountability fell short.

I think Maddow gives way too much weight here to the idea of public shaming as some form of accountability.

The lessons learned then by the Nazi collaborators in Congress – much like what we see happening thus far with the members of Congress who helped the Jan. 6 rioters try to overthrow our government – were that, yes, you can commit treason or take part in a seditious conspiracy, and the government won’t prosecute you because doing to will be seen as harmful to the fabric of America cohesion.

I will likely finish listening to Maddow’s podcast at some point because she’s quite good and it’s very well done.

But for now I have to take a break to get used to the fact that it’s happened before and Republicans got away with it, just as it’s appearing that the members of Congress who aided and abetted the Jan. 6 rioters will likely get away with it.

Rep. Hamilton Fish III surrounded by reporters at a barber shop on September 19, 1939. Fish had just returned from a trip to Nazi Germany.

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly hate junk fees and surprise billing, but that’s not stopping the GOP from trying to block Biden from doing something about them

The headline over Timothy Noah’s piece in TNR: “And Now, the Republicans Are the Party of Defending Businesses That Rip People Off: Biden was right to talk about junk fees in his SOTU. And Republicans are playing into his hands.”

What are these fees? They’re the seat fees you pay on airlines—$20 or so to get a quantity of legroom that airlines once furnished free of charge. They’re the “safe fees” that budget hotels charge even if you don’t use the safe in your room, and “resort fees” pricier hotels charge for a pool you didn’t use. According to The Wall Street Journal, resort fees (which are not confined to resort hotels) can actually sometimes exceed the price of the room. There are airport fees that a car rental company will charge you for being idiot enough to rent your car at an airport. Cable companies are among the worst offenders, probably because so many people are “cutting the cord” and moving to streaming, leaving cable companies desperate to raise revenue any way they can.

So yes, I was wrong about junk fees’ ubiquity.

I was also wrong that Republicans wouldn’t dare defend a business practice that pisses off 96 percent of all Americans, many of whom presumably vote. While I wasn’t looking, Republicans fashioned themselves the party dedicated to protecting the right of American businesses to prevaricate about price and rip people off.

A lot of this has to do with Republican loathing for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis. The main reason Republicans hate the CFPB is that it was dreamed up by Elizabeth Warren, then a professor at Harvard Law School. Congressional Republicans barred Warren from becoming the CFPB’s first director, prompting Warren to instead run successfully for Senate in Massachusetts, which annoyed Republicans even more. Conservatives have been especially critical of the CFPB’s funding structure, which sidesteps the appropriations process and instead draws its budget from the Federal Reserve. Sidestepping the appropriations process isn’t unusual for a bank regulator (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also do so, in those instances relying on bank fees), but Republican legislators find it intolerable that they lack control over Warren’s creation, and in October, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled CFPB’s funding structure unconstitutional, leaving its future in question.

A year ago, Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee, then in the minority, wrote CFPB director Rohit Chopra to gripe not that he had proposed a regulation limiting junk fees, but merely that Chopra had the temerity to invite public comment about them in anticipation of perhaps proposing such a regulation. The Republicans protested that bankers gotta eat, too (“There is … always a cost associated with providing financial services and access to credit. These costs … may be offset in part by certain fees”). The Republican members also professed not to understand what the phrase “unexpected fees” meant. It was an entirely ridiculous letter that put the GOP on the side of bait-and-switch practitioners. The CFPB has since issued an advisory opinion against “convenience fees” paid to debt collectors when a debt is paid online or by phone (banks sometimes do this, too) and a guidance advising banks not to charge surprise overdraft or bounced-check fees when the customer is not at fault.

Republicans don’t limit their defense of junk fees to actions taken by the CFPB. In October, the Federal Trade Commission issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on junk fees. Again, this wasn’t a regulation—just an announcement that the FTC intended to issue a rule in the future and sought public input on what it should do. Issuing the notice required a vote from the four-member board, three of them Biden appointees and one a Trump appointee. The vote was 3–1, with the Trump appointee, Christine S. Wilson, voting no. In a written statement, Wilson said, “I recognize that some of these fees may be inadequately disclosed” but griped that “I was given less than three weeks” to consider the matter. She also protested that “fees sometimes viewed as unnecessary by consumers reflect attempts by businesses to recover incremental costs.” Never mind that these are supposed to be built into the sticker price.

I am of the mind that it’s overall a good thing that Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership required him to put so many of the inmates in charge of the asylum.

These are people who reflexively support crazy anti-consumer, anti-democratic policies and positions because it’s not about governing. It’s about owning the libs and feeding fascist red meat to a MAGA base that increasingly requires 100% fealty to anything that Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson say they should support.

We all know that giving Marjorie Taylor-Greene the speaker’s gavel, even just intermittently, was going to be farce. I’ll bet she and the rest of them (Gosar, Jordan, etc.) are going to be ongoing train wrecks because it’s all about them individually, and who will eventually be the leader of MAGAs now that the Trump train is losing steam.

Someday someone has to be the new Trump and you know MTG and the rest all see themselves as the heir apparent.

That means they will have to do increasingly crazy things that have nothing to do with good governance.

The GOP’s junk fees stance is just the start of it. I’m with those who predict that junk fees are going to the least of the weird things they defend or promote.

Christine S. Wilson, the lone Republican on the CFPB, voted no on the proposed rule about protecting consumers from junk fees in everything from banking to airlines. In a written statement, Wilson said, “I recognize that some of these fees may be inadequately disclosed” but she griped that “I was given less than three weeks” to consider the matter. She also protested that “fees sometimes viewed as unnecessary by consumers reflect attempts by businesses to recover incremental costs.” Critics pointes out that most businesses build their costs into the sticker price and avoid trying to foist unexpected fees into their pricing structure because there is something inherently dishonest about saying the price is one thing, and then later saying, “Oh, wait. Give us more money for these things we didn’t tell you about when we listed the price.”

Extremist right-wing again takes aim at the only one-house state legislature in America

Growing up, I hated everything about living in Nebraska, including the fact that its college sports teams went by the name “Cornhuskers.”

By extension, I hated the fact that the state had a single-house legislature, otherwise known as the Unicameral.

What I did not realize then, but know now, is that this configuration of state government, unique to Nebraska, was the brainchild of U.S. Senator George Norris, dubbed widely in the press at the time of his electoral loss in 1942 as “the last of the progressive Republicans.”

He was a staunch supporter of The New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt, despite being from the opposing party. He was pro union and was widely credited with the creation of the Tennesee Valley Authority. He is also credited with the fact that Nebraska has another distinction among the states that lasts until the present day: it is the only state where every single one of the residential electric, sewer and gas utilities is publicly-owned. That last part is remarkable in a state where the Republican Party has been so firmly in control for so long.

Norris was a visionary, and I now see how having one, non-partisan house of the legislature, in which there are nominally no Republicans and no Democrats, allows our Unicameral to get some progressive-ish legislation passed that would otherwise be impossible if a state party was in control of how people voted on the floor of the legislature. (Norris tried to start a movement whereby all state legislatures were one house, but obviously that didn’t work out.)

Votes for leadership in the Unicameral, including the Speaker, are by secret ballot.

Being well-liked and respected are therefore more important to the process of choosing a Speaker than is having the loudest mouth, the most strident agenda, and having a state party apparatus behind you. This means that Democrats and Republicans alike are free to vote their conscience, which they often do.

This means that, in a state where statewide offices are increasingly held by Republican extremists, the Speaker of the Unicameral very often tends be a more thoughtful kind of person because bombastic types tend to not be the most popular people in the Unicameral. This is not always the case, but it is true more often than you might imagine. And since state parties — and I include Republicans and Democrats in this — can often be beholden to corporate interests who have donated the most money to the party, this kind of corporate influence on legislation can be lessened under a Unicameral system.

Which is why, of course, Republicans in Nebraska hate both the one-house system AND the secret ballots for the legislative leadership. They are trying once again in this legislative session to change both.

Nebraska officially called its non-partisan unicameral for the first time in 1937, but a proposal by one conservative senator seeks to upend that longstanding tradition and embrace the partisan divide he says has always been present.

To State Sen. Steve Erdman, the unicameral is non-partisan in name only.

“Everyone assumes that but we’re not supposed to talk about it,” Erdman, from District 47, said. “It’s like it’s the elephant in the room.”

So Erdman is seeking to amend Nebraska’s constitution, turning the unicameral legislature into a bicameral legislature with a senate and a house. He said Nebraska’s legislature has underperformed neighboring bicameral systems.

“If the unicameral is so wonderful and we’ve accomplished so much, why are our taxes so high,” Erdman said.

And he said the body’s nature is already very partisan.

“There’s been a level of partisanship ever since it was created,” Erdman said. “And as time went by, the beliefs of the two parties have changed, have divided more than they were, so it looks like there’s more of a division.”

But an outspoken opponent of Erdman’s proposal–state senator Danielle Conrad–says that the legislature shouldn’t embrace the divides even in the face of what she referred to as “creeping partisanship.”

“This is not how we do things in Nebraska,” Conrad, from District 46, said. “This is not how we have organized ourselves as a government. And instead of just casually joining into partisan shenanigans, we as elected leaders should fiercely honor our oath and protect our institutions.”

Conrad says the official non-partisanship is a tradition worth preserving.

“It works,” she said. “It helps to keep the focus on the business of the people, not partisan special interest.”

Erdman says his proposal would give more power to rural areas, with a senator for every three counties, which would come out to 31 senators. There would be a 63-person house of representatives apportioned by population.

The creation of the U.S. Senate in the drafting of the Constitution was exactly this sort of trade-off between direct democracy — whomever has the most votes, wins — and artificially inflating the power of rural Americans vs. the cities. In some ways it made sense in the 1700s, mostly as a way to get rural buy-in for the nascent federal government and the Constitution.

But it is not needed in Nebraska and would only serve to amplify the power of the Republican Party and rural areas at the expense of Omaha and Lincoln, where most of the state’s residents live.

Conservative forces have not had much luck over the many years they have been trying to change the one-house system. Let’s hope they fail again this legislative session.

Nebraska’s one-house state legislature, the Unicameral.

New lawsuit opposes student loan forgiveness because it helps too many non-white people

It’s crazy how much the ascendancy of Donald Trump has allowed right-wing lawyers to say out-loud all the things they used to only say in private.

A Republican legal group in Wisconsin has filed suit against the student loan forgiveness plan because it help non-white people too much.

A group in Wisconsin claims President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt violates federal law by intentionally seeking to narrow the racial wealth gap and help Black borrowers.

The allegation is among the claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by conservative legal outfit Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of the Brown County Taxpayers Association. The complaint largely relies on arguments of executive overreach that have been raised in other legal actions to block Biden’s plan.

It stands out, however, by also bringing race into the mix.

In promoting the debt forgiveness plan, the White House has said it could help narrow the racial wealth gap and advance racial equity. But the lawsuit argues that those statements constitute an “improper racial motive” and violate the constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

“The White House has indicated that one reason to do this is that they believe it would disproportionately benefit certain racial groups,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. “The racial motivation supports these taxpayers standing to challenge [the policy] and informs yet another constitutional difficulty with the program.”

The president’s policy would cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers who earn less than $125,000 per year, or less than $250,000 for married couples. Those who received Pell Grants, federal aid for lower-income students, could see up to $20,000 forgiven.

There are no racial criteria for loan forgiveness. But because of the disparities in who holds student loans, the cancellation policy could have an outsize effect on Black borrowers, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the debt and frequently receive Pell Grants because of a lack of financial resources to attend college.

Lord almighty, we are truly going backwards in this country.

I’m old enough to remember a time when making these kinds of arguments would have drawn denunciations from members of both parties.

How a Wall Street company made Jackson, Miss., water crisis worse

I knew the Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis has much of its roots in the fact that the state has been gerrymandered so much for so long that Republicans have an iron-fisted hold on all three branches of government, including the House and Senate — plus its congressional delegation.

Mississippi is still Klan country in many ways, and no doubt those kinds of sympathies are never very far from the surface in the good ole boys who run the place. That 38% of the state is Black no doubt accounts for the fact that Mississippi ranks dead last among the 50 states in most quality-of-life indicators. Wouldn’t want non-whites to get too uppity and full of themselves with actual electoral power and generational wealth.

What I did not know is that the water crisis also has much of it roots in a Wall Street company fleecing the city of Jackson and its water customers. It all started with white flight from Jackson, which decimated the city’s tax base in a state where the white folks in control were not in the mood to help a largely Black city, according to Judd Legum over that Popular.Info:

But while the city’s population and tax base shrunk, it still has 114 square miles of aging water infrastructure to maintain. The state, dominated by Republicans, has been largely unwilling to help a city populated by Black Democrats. In 2021, for example, intense storms left Jackson residents without drinking water for a month. The city asked the state for $47 million in funding for emergency repairs. Mississippi allocated $3 million.

Mississippi lawmakers have blocked “attempts by the city to raise infrastructure funds through a sales tax hike.” Meanwhile, top state officials, including Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R), have said that Jackson needs to solve its own problems. After the city lost access to clean water in 2021, Reeves said that the city needs to do a better job “collecting their water bill payments before they start going and asking everyone else to pony up more money.”

Reeves is right that Jackson has had difficulties collecting fees for water. But those difficulties — and its struggles to generate enough revenue to cover even routine maintenance — can be traced back to the actions of a multi-billion dollar corporation: Siemens.

But there is no such thing as systemic racism, dontcha know?

It cannot be said enough times: If someone in your town or city EVER proposes privatizing its water, sewers, parking meters or anything else, help to fight it in any way you can.

Paula Conley, a resident of Jackson, Miss., sprays disinfectant on dishes she hasn’t been able to wash because of a lack of water.

California legislator who championed vaccine laws in the face of death threats has been term-limited out of office

You wanna talk about heroes? This guy is a hero.

A California lawmaker who rose to national prominence by muscling through some of the country’s strongest vaccination laws is leaving the state legislature later this year after a momentous tenure that made him a top target of the boisterous and burgeoning movement against vaccination mandates.

State Sen. Richard Pan, a bespectacled and unassuming pediatrician who continued treating low-income children during his 12 years in the state Senate and Assembly, has been physically assaulted and verbally attacked for working to tighten childhood vaccine requirements — even as Time magazine hailed him as a “hero.” Threats against him intensified in 2019, becoming so violent that he needed a restraining order and personal security detail.

“It got really vicious, and the tenor of these protests inside the Capitol building didn’t make you feel safe, yet he stood his ground,” said Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health from 2015 to 2019. “Dr. Pan is unusual because he has the knowledge and belief in science, but also the conviction to act on it.”

“That takes courage,” she added. “He’s had a tremendous impact in California, and there’s going to be a hole in the legislature when he’s gone.”

The Democrat from Sacramento is leaving the Capitol because of legislative term limits that restrict state lawmakers to 12 years of service. He has overseen state budget decisions on health care and since 2018 has chaired the Senate Health Committee, a powerful position that has allowed him to shape health care coverage for millions of Californians.

Pan, 56, helped lead the charge to restore vision, dental, and other benefits to California’s Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal, after they were slashed during the Great Recession. Since then, he has pushed to expand social services to some of the most vulnerable enrollees.

You can read the rest at this link

Calif. State Sen. Richard Pan and his family.

It’s not just loan forgiveness; Biden also re-wrote loan repayment terms for many students

One of the things I try to stress to conservative boomers my age is the fact that, when we were young in the 1960s and ’70s, corporations paid something resembling their fair share of taxes, at least with federal taxes.

The federal corporate rate was graduated, with top rates on corporate income over $25,000 topping out between 48 and 52 percent. (It’s now 21 percent tops.)

And that system in the 1960s and ’70s seemed perfectly normal to everyone, and a lot of corporations just paid their taxes because there weren’t all of the overseas tax havens where corporations could claim a post office box in Malta as their headquarters.

(An aside: Malta had been effectively taxing foreign corporations at a rate of 5% even if their “headquarters” was a single-person office above a laundromat. Malta is being punished, at least for now, because of the way it encouraged these kinds of tax crimes. Great article here.)

The point of all of this is that, when corporations were good civic citizens, cities and towns and states had plenty of money to have people on their payrolls who were paid livable wages. Teachers weren’t paying for school supplies, schools had plenty of books and school nurses and guidance counselors and music/art programs. Public parks and street/bridge repairs were adequate to what was needed.

Public universities and colleges were well-funded by the state and federal governments and, in fact, got much of their operating budgets from public funds. So tuition was also low.

Then the Republican Party started to be taken over by right-wing billionaires who financed candidates and ad campaigns to convince Americans that corporate taxes were too high, that private sector workers were somehow inherently more efficient than government employees (they’re not) and that every dollar spent on government was a dollar that corporations could not spend to improve their profits that those corporations would magically “trickle down” to average workers.

Of course none of that money trickled down and today we know that record corporate profits end up nowhere remotely close to average workers, but instead make fabulously rich people even richer.

I bring all this up because my fellow boomers seems to forget how well government functioned before Ronald Reagan was elected. How much more fair it was– to everyone.

And once you realize how much better you had it than college students today, perhaps you can actually be happy about the things outlined in this CNBC article:

The day the Biden administration unveiled its highly anticipated student loan forgiveness plan was a “celebratory day” for Justin Short.

Short, 34, graduated from the University of Missouri in 2012 with a degree in hospitality management, $47,000 in federal student loans and $5,800 in private student loans. Like many borrowers, his college debt has plagued his personal and financial decisions for years.

So while he found relief in many of the announcements coming from the White House on Aug. 24 — $10,000 in debt forgiveness, another payment pause extension through the end of the year — Short was most interested in the announcement of proposed changes to income-driven repayment plans.

The Department of Education’s new plan would cap monthly payments on undergraduate debt to 5% of discretionary income, down from the usual 10% to 15% on existing plans.

The proposal also raises the amount of money considered non-discretionary income and shielded from being used to calculate student loan payments.

It would cover any accrued unpaid interest so that no borrower’s balance would grow if they made a qualifying payment.

And it would forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of the usual 20, for those with original loan balances of $12,000 or less

This “sleeper” detail of the loan forgiveness plan could be “a game-changer” for millions of borrowers with remaining balances, says Julie Peller, executive director at Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan higher education nonprofit.

“I wish people were talking about this more than the $10,000 piece,” Short says, “because this will put more money into the pockets of everyday, middle-class Americans who need that extra help, especially when student loan payments resume on Jan. 1.”

“This has huge implications,” he adds.

As I said earlier, college was cheap for most boomers who attended public universities. So cheap that student loans tended to be small — if you had one at all — and the terms favored students instead of the banks. Unlike today where even some student loan borrowers who pay regularly on their loans watch in horror as the principal barely goes down. (See this article about student loan borrowers who are now paying on student loans into their retirement years.)

If you had suggested to boomers when we went to college that we would have to borrow $100K or more, on terms that meant we would be paying until after we retire, we would have thought you were crazy.

So loan forgiveness seems like simple fairness to today’s students whose only real mistake is that they were born too late to benefit from the way things used to — and still should — operate.

Because, even those of us boomers who had students loans and paid them off were still recipients of government educational assistance. We just never saw it because it went to the universities and colleges to subsidize our low tuition.

College students in the 1970s.

Judge strikes down massive gift Democrats in NJ gave to gaming industry

The sneaky sneaksters — Democrats, all of them — who tried to slip special tax treatment for New Jersey casinos into law, were rebuked this week by a state judge who said the law was passed improperly and likely violated the state constitution.

A Superior Court judge in New Jersey has struck down a state law granting Atlantic City’s casinos tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, saying that the measure was passed on dubious grounds and violated the state Constitution.

The ruling, handed down Monday, deals a blow to Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s legislative leaders, who fast-tracked the legislation through the Legislature last year. It is also a rebuke to the gaming industry, which had argued the bill was needed because it was struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At issue in the court case were changes to a local taxing program known as PILOT, or payment in lieu of property taxes. Since 2016, instead of paying property taxes, each casino has paid a share of an industrywide assessment that was distributed to Atlantic City, its school district and the county to fund various operations. The number was calculated based on the prior year’s total gaming revenue. But last year, the industry pressed for and won a key legislative change to that formula, excluding online gaming — a fast-growing sector of its business — from the program. The alteration reduced the gaming companies’ total PILOT liability this year by $55 million — revenue cuts that disproportionately impacted Atlantic City, one of the state’s most distressed cities.

A conservative nonprofit group called Liberty and Prosperity 1776 challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying the state’s founding document bars preferential tax treatment. The state countered that the new law was exempt from that prohibition because it served a “permissible public purpose.” On Monday, Atlantic County Assignment Judge Michael Blee sided with the nonprofit, potentially increasing casinos’ tax bills and sending tens of millions of additional dollars into local coffers.

I haven’t looked yet, but I’ll bet that these state leaders — again, mostly Democrats — have profited handsomely in some way from the gaming industry.

New Jersey has a Democratic trifecta. Both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office are all controlled by Democrats.

Which goes to show you, that no matter how bad the Republicans are — and they are mostly much worse than Democrats in every way — there will always also be Democrats willing to sell out voters to large, well-funded corporations.

Start paying attention!

If I lived in NJ and my Democratic legislators voted for this, I’d have a hard time voting for them again in the next Democratic primary.

Two-thirds of Americans think Biden’s student loan plan is correct or didn’t go far enough

The Republican playbook since the time of Reagan has been to take a bunch of billionaires and use their money to elect pro-Wall Street politicians from Harvard and Yale, then teach those politicians to espouse rhetoric about their love of the working class and “real Americans” those same politicians ultimately despise and work against.

Ted Cruz is currently on tour saying about student loan forgiveness, “What President Biden has, in effect, decided to do is to take from working-class people, to take from truck drivers and construction workers right now, thousands of dollars in taxes in order to redistribute it to college graduates who have student loans.”

The New York Times‘ always excellent Jamelle Bouie has a column posted that reminds all of us how ridiculous this is for so many reasons:

Now, as I noted over the weekend, this way of thinking betrays an ignorance of working-class life in this country. To work as a truck driver or a medical technician or a home inspector or any number of other similar blue-collar jobs, you need training, licenses, certifications. People go to school to meet these requirements. They apply for the same federal student loans and take on the same debt as someone going to college. And many of these Americans labor under the burden of that debt because of high costs and lower-than-expected earnings. (To say nothing of those who attended college, took on debt, but didn’t graduate.)

The idea that student loan relief is a handout to a small minority of affluent college graduates is simply a myth.

But even if you put all this aside, there is also the fact that these would-be spokesmen for working-class and blue-collar Americans aren’t actually speaking for working-class and blue-collar Americans. The polls, so far, make this clear.

The first poll since the plan was announced, from Emerson College, shows broad approval from across the electorate. When asked about loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 for borrowers making under $125,000 a year — one of the key planks of Biden’s plan — 35 percent of respondents said it was “just about the right amount of action.” This might not seem like much, but then consider the 30 percent of respondents who said $10,000 worth of relief was “not enough.” Presumably, this group will support the current plan but wishes it would go even further — bringing the total number of supporters to almost two-thirds of Americans. Just over a third of respondents, by contrast, said that Biden’s plan went too far.

That’s right: 2/3 of Americans think that Biden’s student loan plan was “just about right” or didn’t go far enough. Don’t let the right-wing tell you otherwise.

You can read the rest of Bouie’s column at this link.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), the Harvard-educated lawyer who falsely portrays himself a hero of the working class, shown as he was famously escaping to Cancun while people in his state were freezing to death.

Wall Street is pissed that Biden’s SEC has regulatory teeth where other presidents have failed

Another part of the progressive agenda on which Biden is delivering where other Democratic administrations have failed is on better regulation of the rapacious money vampires of Wall Street.

The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Kiernan wrote the story:

Wall Street is attempting to derail Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler’s agenda by challenging economic assumptions underpinning dozens of policy proposals.

Brokerages, hedge funds, private-equity firms, mutual funds, high-frequency trading firms and public companies have argued in comment letters filed this year that the costs of many of the proposals would outstrip the benefits, and that the SEC’s studies of the issues are flawed.

Mr. Gensler is pursuing what lawyers and former regulators say is the SEC’s most aggressive agenda in decades, an effort that could upend established and lucrative business models. It includes requiring public companies to disclose information related to climate change, bringing more transparency to private-equity and hedge funds, imposing stricter rules for investment products advertised as environmentally or socially responsible, and overhauling the way stock trades are executed.

For each rule it proposes, the SEC is required to produce studies of the likely economic impacts. Courts have blocked SEC rules in the past after litigants pointed out shortcomings in those analyses.

The SEC estimated that compliance costs would range from $50,000 to $500,000 per fund. It said the rule would ensure that fund names more accurately reflect their investment focus, making it harder for funds with misleading names to charge the higher fees that so-called ESG managers command.

The stage is now set for a contest between the financial industry and the SEC’s expanded team of economists, who must refute the industry’s challenges for a proposal to become a rule. The outcome will determine the fate of Mr. Gensler’s far-reaching agenda.

The WSJ article goes on to note:

The SEC put a greater emphasis on its economic analyses after a 2011 court loss in which judges tossed out a rule that would have given investors more power to oust corporate directors. The court said the SEC didn’t adequately analyze the costs to U.S. companies of fighting in contested board elections and failed to back up its claim that the rule would improve shareholder value and board performance.

Since then, the SEC’s division of economic and risk analysis has grown to 163 employees from 64, giving it one of the largest teams of government economists in Washington, according to officials.

Current and former SEC officials say the most important thing for commenters to do during the proposal stage is to substantiate their views with hard data, which the commission must take into account before completing a rule.

“Frankly, it’s up to these commenters to not just whine about it, but to actually put some numbers behind it,” said Kathleen Hanley, the SEC’s deputy chief economist from 2011 to 2013.

At least two former top SEC economists have been hired by the industry to challenge the SEC’s analyses.

You can read the rest of the WSJ article here.