Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Last Call For Austerity Hysteria, Con't

Mitch McConnell has realized that all he has to do in order to achieve his dream of forcing states to permanently eliminate trillions in social programs is to sit back and do nothing as the Trump Depression ravages them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he favors some targeted aid to states and local governments, but the next round of federal pandemic relief money can’t be used for dealing with “pre-existing” fiscal conditions.
He also denied under questioning that he supported states and local governments filing for bankruptcy protection if they find themselves underwater with debt.

McConnell said states can’t declare bankruptcy, but it is “an option” for cities, though he recalled mentioning that approach only as a possibility, not as a recommendation for navigating out of financial woes brought on by the coronavirus.

McConnell: Let states 'use the bankruptcy route' instead of giving federal 'blank check'

The remarks came during a brief availability at Norton Healthcare’s Brownsboro campus in eastern Jefferson County.

McConnell said there will be another “plug” of funding from the federal government to aid businesses and others hit hard by the pandemic, but “it won’t be another” $3 trillion, as a recent House bill calls for.

“That ain’t going to happen,” he said at one point.
As the country gradually begins to reopen, the economic toll brought on by shuttering businesses and sending workers home to shelter in place is just beginning to be tallied, and many states and cities, including Kentucky and Metro Louisville, have multimillion-dollar shortfalls in sales and payroll taxes.

McConnell said he thinks it’s crucial to include “narrowly crafted” liability reform to protect businesses from an “avalanche of lawsuits” that could arise from reopenings.

"The only way to rescue this economy is to get back to normal" even though "we may need one more plug" of pandemic relief.

Mitch continues to hold out the "possibility" of a phase 4 bill so he doesn't give away the game, but the reality remains that there is no help is coming for local and state governments.


Not even for Kentucky.

We're on our own.

Food For Thought, Con't

With ground beef prices skyrocketing due to COVID-19 plant shutdowns, even Republicans are starting to realize that when 85% of the beef market is controlled by four giant agribusiness processor corporations, collusion is inevitable, and it's the kind of collusion that will start costing Midwest Republicans their jobs in five months and change.

Supermarket customers are paying more for beef than they have in decades during the coronavirus pandemic. But at the same time, the companies that process the meat for sale are paying farmers and ranchers staggeringly low prices for cattle.
Now, the Agriculture Department and prosecutors are investigating whether the meatpacking industry is fixing or manipulating prices.

The Department of Justice is looking at the four largest U.S. meatpackers — Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Cargill — which collectively control about 85 percent of the U.S. market for the slaughter and packaging of beef, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. The USDA is also investigating the beef price fluctuations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has confirmed.
Meatpackers say beef prices have spiked during the pandemic because plants are running at lower capacity as workers fall ill, so less meat is making its way to shelves. The four companies didn’t respond to requests for comment about the probes.

But the coronavirus crisis is highlighting how the American system of getting meat to the table favors a handful of giant companies despite a century of government efforts to decentralize it. And it’s sparking new calls for changes in meatpacking.

“It’s evidence that something isn’t right in the industry,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has spoken out against mergers in the agriculture industry. In April, Grassley requested federal investigations into market manipulation and unfair practices within the cattle industry. So have 19 other senators and 11 state attorneys general.

The average retail price for fresh beef in April was $6.22 per pound — 26 cents higher per pound than it was the month before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, at the end of April, the average price for a steer was below $100 per hundred pounds; the five-year average for that same week was about $135 per hundred pounds, according to USDA’s weekly summary.

Ed Greiman, general manager of Upper Iowa Beef who formerly headed the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, attributed the consumer price increase to plants running at lower capacity. At the same time, farmers and ranchers desperate to offload their cattle as they reach optimal weight for slaughter are cutting prices so they won’t have to kill the animals without selling them.

“I’m running at half speed,” Greiman said at an event hosted by the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association. “Cattle are backing up because we can’t run our plants fast enough. Nothing is functioning properly. We need to be careful not to put blame on any one thing or part of the industry because we can’t get these plants going."

The industry has long been a focus for government antitrust enforcement.

Exactly 100 years ago, after years of litigation, the five biggest U.S. meatpackers — which were responsible for 82 percent of the beef market — agreed to an antitrust settlement with the Justice Department that helped break their control over the industry.

The Justice Department’s efforts to reduce concentration in meatpacking led to decades of competition. By 1980, the top four firms controlled only 36 percent of cattle slaughters in the U.S., according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

But during the next 10 years, meatpacking experienced a huge wave of deals, enough that the USDA dubbed the time “merger mania.” By 1988, the new four biggest companies again controlled 70 percent of the beef meatpacking market.

“There’s greater concentration in meatpacking now” than in 1921, said Thomas Horton, an antitrust professor at the University of South Dakota, who previously worked at the Justice Department. The first antitrust laws were “passed to take care of the Big Five. Now we have the Big Four. We’re going backwards.”

I expect this probe to move pretty quickly, because if voters are paying $7, $8, $10 or more a pound for ground beef heading into Election Day, Republicans are going to be the ones going into the grinder.

As I've said, food shortages are to be expected, but the big meat processor corporations have been getting away with collusion for years now.  It looks like that may be coming to a swift end, if only to save the hides of Republican lawmakers.

Side note: when plant-based meat products are less expensive than actual meat, these big processors are going to be in real trouble anyway.

It's About Suppression, Con't

A federal judge has gutted a Florida state law requiring felons to pay all court fines and fees before they can register to vote, clearing the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time for the November presidential election.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) pushed the measure after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to expand voting rights to felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole.”

The law’s backers said it was necessary to clarify the amendment, while critics said Republicans were trying to limit the effects of what would have been the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since poll taxes and literacy tests were outlawed during the civil rights era.

The law, critics said, had made it virtually impossible for most felons to register, either because of an inability to pay or because the state offered no way for them to know what they owed or whether they had already paid.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle agreed, likening the restrictive legislation to a tax and concluding that the state had not created a system that would allow felons to identify their financial obligations.

“The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs,” wrote Hinkle, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, referring to the constitutional amendment that bans poll taxes.

Hinkle did not find, however, that the law intentionally discriminated on the basis of race, as the plaintiffs had argued, because of the disproportionate number of African Americans among the state’s population of felons.

Hinkle’s order requires the state to tell felons whether they are eligible to vote and what they owe. It also requires the state to allow any felon to register if they are not given an answer within 21 days. No one will face perjury charges for registering and voting through this process, he ordered.

We'll see how far this gets before the GOP finds a friendly 11th Circuit Court to stay the order ahead of November. Don't count on Hinkle's order to stand through the election at all. This is far from over. What I'm afraid of is an appellate stay order or ruling that allows Florida to continue to disenfranchise over a million felons who have served their time and then SCOTUS won't hear the case until after the election, and then a 5-4 decision siding with DeSantis.

Don't get me wrong, this is good news.

But odds are extremely high that it won't remain good news much longer.

Meanwhile in California...

The Republican National Committee and other Republican groups have filed a lawsuit against California to stop the state from mailing absentee ballots to all voters ahead of the 2020 general election, a move that was made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  
The suit comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced this month that the state would move to encourage all voters to cast their ballots by mail in November -- the most widespread expansion of vote-by-mail that has been announced as a result of the pandemic and in the nation's most populous state. 
The RNC's lawsuit challenges that step, marking a significant escalation in the legal battles between Republicans and Democrats that are currently being waged in more than a dozen states. 
"Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom's executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections," said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a statement.
"Newsom's illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote." 
McDaniel's comments echo President Donald Trump who has expressed vehement opposition to Newsom's order and has pushed back strenuously against expansions to vote-by-mail across the country. 
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted another attack on vote-by-mail, which included several claims for which he provided no evidence. 
"The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots," Trump tweeted. "It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history.

Again, Republicans are trying to make it as difficult as possible to vote, and are screaming that allowing more people to vote is a "rigged election".

Does anyone still think Trump will accept a loss in November?


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