Friday, July 9, 2021

Last Call For Biden, His Time

President Joe Biden today unveiled a huge new executive order package that targets greedy corporations in general and Big Tech and Big Pharma in particular with a raft of new federal antitrust and pro-consumer regulations.

The White House announced a sweeping executive order Friday to promote competition throughout the U.S. economy, in the most ambitious effort in generations to reduce the stranglehold of monopolies and concentrated markets in major industries.

The order — whose details POLITICO first reported last week — also includes elements designed to lower the price of prescription drugs, protect consumers' privacy and increase scrutiny of abusive business tactics in the tech industry.

The effort marks a major push by President Joe Biden’s administration to focus on competition as part of the economic recovery from the pandemic. It also offers a response to progressives’ criticisms that the federal government has focused too much on supporting banks and other corporations without concern about the effect on consumers, who have watched their choices dwindle over the years.

Biden plans to sign the order at 1:30 p.m., the White House said.

The order’s impacts could be felt in industries including agriculture, airlines, health, broadband and banking. Previously unreported elements include a provision urging the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate its Obama-era net neutrality rules, as well as a call for financial regulators to allow data sharing among financial companies.

It dives into the specifics on some policy issues — for instance, by calling for over-the-counter sales of hearing aids, urging the Food and Drug Administration to allow imports of prescription drugs from Canada, and ending "exclusivity arrangements" in which landlords "stick tenants with only a single internet option," according to a nearly 4,000-word White House fact sheet issued Friday morning.

The White House said order will include initiatives to require airlines to refund fees to passengers who receive shoddy Wi-Fi service or baggage handling; restricting businesses’ ability to foist noncompete agreements on employees; challenge occupational licensing requirements that limit competition in industries like health care; and guarantee farmers and motorists the right to repair their own vehicles without voiding warranty protections. The last provision would also have implications for consumer products like Apple’s iPhones.

Top White House officials said the order seeks to ensure small businesses and consumers have access to fair markets.

“The overarching objective with the executive order is to make sure the president is encouraging competition in industries around the country,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.

Taking aim at just one industry the order will cover, Psaki added: “It doesn’t sound right to most people that there are three shipping companies that are dominating the market and upping and increasing costs for suppliers, small businesses, people across the country. That doesn’t sound right or fair, because it isn’t.”
The bad news is that the regulations are toothless without Congressional law backing these up. There's a lot of "suggestions" and "proposals" and directives to "encourage" things, but nothing that will really take a bite out of monopolies by the trillion-dollar corporations.
The worse news of course is that I expect every major industry group to sue the pants off the Biden administration over anything that actually will have an effect, and for the orders to receive near-instant national injunctions from Trump-appointed federal judges that will tie up the regulations in federal courts for years.

They'll never take effect unless Biden's followed by a second term or another Democrat. Better make that happen, folks.

The Road To Gilead, Con't

Texas's new statewide anti-abortion law is a legal nightmare, not just because of the screamingly unconstitutional "fetal heartbeat" provision that effectively blocks abortions after six weeks, but the even worse nonsense that deputizes Texas anti-choice activists as the state's Abortion Police.

People across the country may soon be able to sue abortion clinics, doctors and anyone helping a woman get an abortion in Texas, under a new state law that contains a legal innovation with broad implications for the American court system.

The provision passed the Texas State Legislature this spring as part of a bill that bans abortion after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. Many states have passed such bans, but the law in Texas is different.

Ordinarily, enforcement would be up to government officials, and if clinics wanted to challenge the law’s constitutionality, they would sue those officials in making their case. But the law in Texas prohibits officials from enforcing it. Instead, it takes the opposite approach, effectively deputizing ordinary citizens — including from outside Texas — to sue clinics and others who violate the law. It awards them at least $10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful.

“It’s completely inverting the legal system,” said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It says the state is not going to be the one to enforce this law. Your neighbors are.”

The result is a law that is extremely difficult to challenge before it takes effect on Sept. 1, because it is hard to know whom to sue to block it, and lawyers for clinics are now wrestling with what to do about it. Six-week bans in other states have all been blocked as they make their way through the court system.

Texas’ Legislature began a special session on Thursday, with a conservative agenda taking aim at voting rights and other issues.

The law comes as the right to an abortion and the laws governing it are in flux. Abortion opponents have scored major victories in state legislatures over the past decade, with restrictions whittling down access through much of the Midwest and South. The 2021 legislative season has set the record for the most abortion restrictions signed in a single year in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion statistics and supports abortion rights.

The Supreme Court has shifted too, with conservatives now making up a solid majority, and an abortion case before the court next term.

Critics say the Texas law amounts to a kind of hack of the legal system. In an open letter this spring, more than 370 Texas lawyers, including Professor Vladeck, said a central flaw was its attempt to confer legal standing on abortion opponents who were not themselves injured. They called the law an “unprecedented abuse of civil litigation,” and said it could “have a destabilizing impact on the state’s legal infrastructure.”

“If the barista at Starbucks overhears you talking about your abortion, and it was performed after six weeks, that barista is authorized to sue the clinic where you obtained the abortion and to sue any other person who helped you, like the Uber driver who took you there,” said Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University.

Some statutes do authorize private citizens to sue to enforce a law even if they themselves are not harmed, for example California’s consumer protection law, which gives anyone in the state the right to sue a company for disseminating false information or engaging in other unfair business practices, said Howard M. Wasserman, a law professor at Florida International University in Miami. What’s different about Texas’s law, he said, is that private enforcement is not in support of state enforcement; it’s in lieu of it, a switch he said was not good for democracy.

What is more, a Supreme Court ruling last month involving a credit reporting company rejected the concept of people suing when they were not concretely harmed. That case involved lawsuits in federal court, but Professor Wasserman said lawyers for the clinics would probably use it in their arguments in Texas.

The most common place for clinics to challenge abortion restrictions in Texas has been federal court, where they have won more often than at the state level. Supporters of the new law say it is an attempt to argue abortion cases in the courts of the state where they originated — Texas — without anti-abortion measures immediately being suspended by a federal judge, as often happens.

John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, the largest anti-abortion organization in the state, said that some people in the anti-abortion movement thought “this was not working in federal court, so let’s try a different route.”

Lawyers for the clinics argue that a six-week abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional, and the Texas law is designed to insulate the state from a challenge. Federal protection currently extends to pregnancies up to the point at which a fetus can sustain life outside the womb, about 23 or 24 weeks, and six weeks is often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Given that federal courts are experienced at deciding constitutional rights issues, lawyers for clinics say, it is logical to go there for relief. The new law, if it takes effect, will make that much harder.

The clinics and their staff “are stuck in state court in a defensive posture, and there’s a lot at stake,” Professor Wasserman said. “If they lose, they are on the hook for significant sums of money
This law is horrific. It effectively gives all the power to rabid anti-choice lunatics who would serve as the Uterus Stasi, going after women looking for medical services, clinic employees, drivers, everyone with hundreds, maybe thousands of civil lawsuits that would bankrupt and destroy everyone in the women's medical services field, not to mention obliterate the women at the core of the "debate" over abortion.

The goal here is make getting an abortion so impossible that nobody ever tries, because of the consequences.  Most of all, it's to put women in Texas in a constant state of fear, and to set a precedent for deputizing GOP cultists and religious zealots as the new agents of the state. They are trying to criminalize anything that might threaten the power structure of white Christian Dominionism: history, medical services, education, voting.

I was never kidding about the "Road to Gilead" part, folks. It was never a catchy metaphor based on a popular Hulu and book series. It was always a deadly serious warning about a theocratic fascist government that reduced women to chattel forming before our eyes, and we're closer than ever to that point.

Glenn's Scary Glenn Loss

Virginia's Republican nominee for governor reportedly told supporters at a fundraising event in June that he couldn't reveal his true position on abortion rights until after he's elected.

His reasoning: He needs the independent vote to ensure his victory in November.

Glenn Youngkin, the venture capitalist running as a Republican in Virginia's gubernatorial race against former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, made the comments to Lauren Windsor, who runs The Undercurrent, a self-described "grassroots political web-show" funded by the liberal advocacy group American Family Voices.

The American Independent obtained the video footage from Windsor, who also shared it with MSNBC.

In the video, Windsor begins speaking with Youngkin about her feigned support for things like "getting a fetal heartbeat bill here like they did in Texas, or defunding Planned Parenthood."

A man who identifies himself only as "Pete" also appears in the video, though his full identity is not immediately clear.

Youngkin responds by telling Windsor that she's "on the right path," adding that he initially wants to work on abortion issues he says a "majority of Virginians" support, including to "stop using taxpayer money for abortions" and banning "abortions all the way up until the last week before birth." (Taxpayer money is not used to fund abortions.)

When Windsor pushes him more, Youngkin says that he's unable to speak much on the issue for fear of losing the independent voters he says he needs to win Virginia's gubernatorial contest in November.

"I'm gonna be really honest with you, the short answer is, in this campaign, I can't," Youngkin says after "Pete" asks him whether he plans to "take it to the abortionists."

"When I'm governor, and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense," he continues. "But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get. So you'll never hear me support Planned Parenthood, what you'll hear me talk about is actually taking back the radical abortion policies that Virginians don't want."
A couple of observations: 
One, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is going to win by double digits over this clod. There's no bigger sin in Republican politics than admitting the culture war con is just that. Not only does Youngkin admit he needs to deceive moderate voters, but he's tacitly admitting that he needs to deceive Republican cultist base voters too, because politics is all about getting into power. Actually showing the people how the sausage gets made makes you a ham-fisted loser in the era of Trumpian showmanship.

Two, there are no moderate Republicans in 2021. They're all cultists if they're in the party, and half the ones that "left" are just independents who want to self-delude into thinking they're cool hipsters or something. Youngkin I think really falls into this latter category, and that's the second-biggest sin in GOP politics.

He's done, folks.
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