I will not be posting this week. That's because I'll be packing, moving to the Austin area, and then unpacking.
Saturday, April 22, 2023
These charts are from the Morning Consult Poll -- done between April 10th and 13th of a nationwide sample of 2,208 adults, with a 2 point margin of error.
The charts above are from the Economic Policy Institute. They have written an excellent article on the persistence of the pay gap between men and women. I urge you to read the whole article, but her is their conclusion:
Friday, April 21, 2023
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment report on Thursday. It showed that about 245,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on April 15th. Here is the official Labor Department statement:
In the week ending April 15, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 245,000, an increase of 5,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 239,000 to 240,000. The 4-week moving average was 239,750, a decrease of 500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 240,000 to 240,250.
The following is a letter to the Houston Chronicle by Houston medical students Rebecca Chen and Michelle Dad.
Earlier this month, a Texas judge issued a ruling to invalidate the two-decades long U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of mifepristone, one of two medications that are used in combination for abortions. Now the Supreme Court says that it will decide whether to uphold that ruling on Friday.
We very much hope that mifepristone remains available. The Texas ruling not only jeopardizes nationwide access to safe abortion, but it also puts our health care infrastructure as a whole at risk.
As medical students, we are often the hospital worker caregivers with the most time to sit down and talk with patients. We have heard them express misgivings about their health care options, from questions about effects of long-term contraception to rumors they have heard about the COVID-19 vaccine. The mifepristone ruling will increase distrust about medications that we know are safe and effective.
The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000, and since then it has been used in around 5 million cases with only 13 pregnancy-associated deaths as of 2021. Mifepristone is safer than other commonly used drugs such as Viagra, which was linked with 522 deaths its first year on the market. It is also 14 times saferto use mifepristone for a termination than to carry through with a pregnancy. Yet a Texas judge has partnered with anti-abortion groups to attempt to disavow the FDA approval of mifepristone.
The FDA has the important job of “protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs.” . In that role, the FDA oversees clinical trials and regulates which drugs are allowed to enter the market and thereby be used by patients. Thousands of clinical trials are conducted each year, and the FDA only approves 50 or fewer novel productsper year. Drugs that are improperly tested or fail to meet patient safety standards will not be approved.
The FDA has to be trusted in hand with the physicians and researchers who conduct extensive safety and efficacy trials. An open letter, now signed by over 200 pharmaceutical executives, warns that “if courts can overturn without drug approvals without regard for science or evidence…any medicine is at risk.”
Mifepristone has been approved for more than 20 years. It has been on the market for the same amount of time as the Prevnar vaccine (a flu vaccine we give to infants), two forms of insulin, and a popular gastric reflux remedy. Nobody has raised doubts about the FDA approval of these other medications; we can only assume that the association of mifepristone with abortion care is the reason it is being singled out. Yet that action opens the door to a true public health hazard — one of our own making — if federal regulations cease to be followed.
Strong partisan perspectives on abortion often miss what physicians witness on a daily basis — that all women, regardless of party allegiance, socioeconomic status or place of residence, may be harmed if they don’t have options to terminate their pregnancies.
One patient we remember came to our Houston clinic alone and distraught. Her first pregnancy had ended in preterm labor and massive blood loss, leading to a months-long hospitalization for her and her newborn. Since then, she had been too afraid to have intercourse with her husband, as she knew she was at higher risk for similar experiences in her future pregnancies. When she found out she was just past six weeks pregnant, she broke down crying.
She said, “I kept hoping that I was just imagining my symptoms, as I couldn’t bear to think about being pregnant again. I can’t put another baby through what my baby girl went through, and I can’t die and leave my kids without their mama.”
Quietly, she said that she and her husband had always been vehemently pro-life, but that her life also mattered. If she were to continue this pregnancy, she would have to relocate to live closer to our hospital for months, as only a handful of hospitals have the appropriate resources to treat her condition in case of emergencies. She asked about her options for an abortion. Her only choice was to drive to another state, but under Texas law, we were not allowed to counsel her on her next steps.
The patients that we see are your neighbors, your family members. They are Democrats and Republicans, pro-life and pro-choice. They come to us because they are scared for their lives and their potential babies’ lives. When there is a medically safe option that has been the standard of care in the United States and other countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, France and China, it directly contradicts our Hippocratic oath to withhold these treatments to women in need.
Thursday, April 20, 2023
The chart above is from the Yahoo News / YouGov Poll -- done between April 14th and 17th of a nationwide sample of 1,530 adults, with a 2.8 point margin of error.
The following is an article by Jarvis DeBerry at MSNBC.com:
American racism in its most common expression dictates who gets the benefit of the doubt. Thursday night, in Kansas City, Missouri,Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black boy, mistakenly rang a doorbell on Northeast 115th Street, rather than his intended destination of Northeast 115th Terrace. The resident, whom police have identified as 84-year-old Andrew Lester, a white man, apparently didn’t consider that Yarl may have made a wrong turn or even be a stranger in need of assistance. According to a statement that police say he gave them, Lester, a white man, assumed the teenager was attempting to break in and he fired twice through a glass storm door and struck Yarl in the head and the arm.
Ringing a doorbell and waiting for an answer is not a crime. But the police who interviewed Lester the night they say his .32 caliber bullets sent Yarl to the hospital didn’t arrest him. They had to first consider if Lester may have been standing his ground, they said. Only on Monday, four days after the man shot the teenager, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson announced Lester has been charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. Lester turned himself in Tuesday.
Racism is not just the assumption that a Black teenager is a threat; it’s the guiding spirit that prompted lawmakers in so many states toreplace the “duty to retreat” language in state laws with the right to stand one’s ground no matter where you are. In a country where Black people are rarely given the benefit of the doubt, Black people in and out of legislative chambers warned that encouraging the public to shoot and discouraging them from de-escalating would lead to shootings such as what happened in Kansas City. But those warnings were disregarded.
To be clear, while Black boys and men may be among the most at risk from America’s “shoot first” mentality, we’re not the only ones. It’s been almost 10 years since Theodore Wafer, a suburban Detroit homeowner, used a shotgun to kill Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old Black woman who knocked on his door after she’d had a car accident.
In an eerie facsimile of the Kansas City shooting, on Saturday night in rural New York, Kevin Monahan, a 65-year-old white man, allegedly shot and killed Kaylin Gillis, a 20-year-old white woman. A car Gillis was in pulled into the wrong driveway, Monahan’s driveway, as a group she was with searched for a friend’s house. Officials say Monahan walked out of his house and fired two shots. One bullet hit the car, a law enforcement official said. Monahan has been booked with second-degree murder.
It’s unclear if the person who shot at the car Gillis was in was able to detect anything in particular about the people in the car before shooting. But, according to the statement that he gave police, we do know that Lester got a good look at Yarl. He professed to have been “scared to death” at the sight of him.
Lester blamed his fright on the teenager’s size, he told police. I don’t know how big or small the teenager is, but being big doesn’t make an innocent person less so. And whatever size a Black boy, a Black teen or a Black man is, he often looms larger in the white imagination. Almost nine years ago on the opposite side of Missouri, then-28-year-old Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson — who at about 6 feet, 4 inches was around the same height as 18-year-old Michael Brown — told grand jurors that when he grabbed the heavier teenager, “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” In Wilson’s telling, Brown, whom Wilson had already shot at least once, “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots.” There are times, you see, that we don’t even get the benefit of being seen as human.
People who know Yarl have been quick to tell the world what a great kid he is: that he’s a “gentle soul,” that he’s a talented musician who’s been excelling at college-level courses and that he plans to study chemical engineering. It’s a shame they feel a need to describe his personality, his accomplishments and his ambitions in that way; it would have been just as awful if a Black teen with bad grades, less talent and no real ambition had been shot for ringing Lester’s doorbell.
Yes, the teenager sounds close to perfect, but being perfect is no protection from racism. According to Kansas City authorities, Lester said shooting Yarl “was the last thing he wanted to do.” But, according to police, he also admitted that he exchanged no words with the teenager and that he opened fire soon after he opened his main door. Being perfect doesn’t mean a Black teen who rings the wrong doorbell is perceived as anything less than a threat.
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
The following is a thought-provoking article by Paul Krugman in The New York Times:
The rich are different from you and me: They have immensely more power. But when they try to exercise that power they can trap themselves — supporting politicians who will, if they can, create a society the rich themselves wouldn’t want to live in.
This, I’d argue, is the common theme running through four major stories that have been playing out over the past few months. They are: the relationship between Justice Clarence Thomas and the billionaire Harlan Crow; the rise and seeming decline of Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign; the trials (literally) of Fox News; and the Muskopalypse at Twitter.
First, some notes on the role of vast wealth in a democracy.
People on the right often insist that expressing any concern about highly concentrated wealth is “un-American.” The truth, however, is that worrying about the dangers great wealth poses for democracy is very much part of the American tradition. And our nation basically invented progressive taxation, which was traditionally seen not just as a source of revenue but also as a way to limit excessive wealth.
In fact, if you read what prominent figures said during the Progressive Era, many expressed views that would be hysterically denounced as class warfare today. Theodore Roosevelt warnedagainst “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.” Woodrow Wilson declared, “If there are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States, they are going to own it.”
Until recently I would have said that outright corruption — direct purchase of favors from policymakers — was rare. ProPublica’s revelation that Justice Thomas enjoyed many lavish, undisclosed vacations at Crow’s expense suggests that I may have been insufficiently cynical.
Beyond that, there’s the revolving door: Former politicians and officials who supported the interests of the wealthy find comfortable sinecures at billionaire-supported lobbying firms, think tanks and media organizations. These organizations also help shape what military analysts call the “information space,” defining public discourse in ways that favor the interests of the superrich.
Despite all that, however, there’s only so much you can achieve in America, imperfect and gerrymandered as our democracy may be, unless you can win over large numbers of voters who don’t support a pro-billionaire economic agenda.
It’s a simplification, but I think fundamentally true, to say that the U.S. right has won many elections, despite an inherently unpopular economic agenda, by appealing to intolerance — racism, homophobia and these days anti-“wokeness.” Yet there’s a risk in that strategy: Plutocrats who imagine that the forces of intolerance are working for them can wake up and discover that it’s the other way around.
Which brings us to the other stories I mentioned.
For a while DeSantis seemed to be surging in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Much of his apparent rise reflected support from big G.O.P. donors, who saw him as a saner alternative to Donald Trump — someone who would serve their financial interests while attracting working-class support with his social conservatism and willingness to play footsie with conspiracy theories.
But some of those donors are now bailing, because it looks increasingly as if DeSantis’s intolerance and conspiracy theorizing weren’t a political show — they’re who he really is. And the big money was looking for a charlatan, not a genuine fanatic.
Among the forces pushing a DeSantis candidacy has been Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Fox was essentially founded to carry out the right-wing strategy of pushing plutocratic policy while winning over working-class whites with intolerance and conspiracy theories. But emails and texts uncovered by the defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems show that Fox has become a prisoner of the audience it created. It found itself endorsing claims about a stolen election, even though its own people knew they were false, because it feared losing market share among viewers who wanted to believe the Big Lie.
And does anyone doubt that if the Republican primary goes the way it seems to be heading, Fox will soon be back in Trump’s corner?
Rupert Murdoch’s organization, then, has effectively been taken hostage by the very forces he helped conjure up.
But Elon Musk’s story is, if anything, even sadder. As Kara Swisherrecently noted for Time magazine, he’s become “the world’s richest online troll.” The crazy he helped foment hasn’t taken over his organization — it has taken over his mind.
I still believe that the concentration of wealth at the top is undermining democracy. But it isn’t a simple story of plutocratic rule. It is, instead, a story in which the attempts of the superrich to get what they want have unleashed forces that may destroy America as we know it. And it’s terrifying.
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
The trial of Fox News is about to start. Dominion has asked for $1.6 billion in actual damages (and possibly more in a punitive judgement). There is no doubt that Fox owes that money, but is that all it owes? Doesn't it also owe its viewers the truth? Here's what Robert Reich thinks should happen:
The trial of Fox News begins today. If Dominion Voting Systems wins, I have a suggestion for what the court should demand of Fox News, in addition to paying damages for the harm to Dominion.
The judge has already ruled that on-air statements by Fox News hosts, asserting that Dominion’s voting machines played a role in causing Donald Trump to lose the 2020 election, were false. The task for the jury is to decide whether Fox made those false statements with actual malice.
If Dominion wins, it will be because Fox’s own internal emails, text messages, and depositions revealed that its hosts (and owner, Rupert Murdoch) knew that the allegations of election fraud by Trump and his allies were baseless but kept airing them anyway, in part because they feared that another right-wing network, Newsmax, would otherwise steal their audience. When Fox News reporters shot down the allegations publicly, the network’s big personalities complained internally that telling their viewers the truth was hurting the network’s brand.
To this day, Fox News viewers still don’t know the truth — neither about Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, nor about Fox News’s role in promoting Trump’s big lie. This is the real damage of the Fox News propaganda feedback loop: After inflaming right-wing conspiracy theories, Fox has a financial incentive to continue to push them in order to retain its inflamed audience, which further inflames them.
The case that starts today raises a fundamental question: Will there be a penalty for profiting from the spread of dangerous misinformation?
Think of the poison Fox has knowingly been pumping into America as analogous to the poison cigarette manufacturers pumped into Americans’ lungs. Part of the remedy for the cigarette poison has been warning disclosures on every pack. Why not an analogous remedy for Fox News’s poison?
If Dominion wins, the court should order Fox News hosts — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and all other hosts similarly implicated — to tell their viewers every half hour, at least until the end of 2024:
“When we told you the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, we lied. Trump lied, too. He continues to lie. The 2020 election wasn’t stolen. Biden won fair and square.”
As on cigarette packs that must vary their warnings, the court should require alternative disclosures, perhaps every other week:
“We apologize for lying to you about the 2020 election. There was no fraud. Biden won. We lied because we were afraid of losing ad revenue if we told the truth. Shame on us.”
And every third week:
“The 2020 election wasn’t stolen from Trump. Trump made that up, and we repeated his lie because we’re greedy and unscrupulous. And that’s the truth.”
What do you think? Should Fox News be required to issue any other disclosure messages?