Sunday, September 18, 2022

Last Call For The Big Lie, La Gran Mentira Edition

The Big Lie in 2020 is "Trump really won." The slightly smaller Big Lie is that Democrats are losing Hispanic voters across the country, and that heavily Catholic Latino immigrants are a naturally conservative base for MAGA, and that Democrats are doomed in 2022 and beyond as a result.

It hasbeen nearly two years since Donald Trump made surprising gains with Hispanic voters. But Republican dreams of a major realignment of Latino voters drawn to G.O.P. stances on crime and social issues have failed to materialize, according to a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College.

The poll — one of the largest nonpartisan surveys of Latino voters since the 2020 election — found that Democrats had maintained a grip on the majority of Latino voters, driven in part by women and the belief that Democrats remained the party of the working class. Overall, Hispanic voters are more likely to agree with Democrats on many issues — immigration, gun policy, climate. They are also more likely to see Republicans as the party of the elite and as holding extreme views. And a majority of Hispanic voters, 56 percent, plan to vote for Democrats this fall, compared with 32 percent for Republicans.

But the survey also shows worrying signs for the future of the Democratic message. Despite that comfortable lead, the poll finds Democrats faring far worse than they did in the years before the 2020 election. Younger male Hispanic voters, especially those in the South, appear to be drifting away from the party, a shift that is propelled by deep economic concerns. Weaknesses in the South and among rural voters could stand in the way of crucial wins in Texas and Florida in this year’s midterms.

Anthony Saiz, 24, who reviews content for a social media platform in Tucson, Ariz., said he had to take on a second job baking pizzas at a beer garden to make ends meet. Mr. Saiz voted for President Biden in 2020 and considers himself a Democrat because he grew up in a Democratic household. But under Mr. Biden, he said, the cost of living seemed to have doubled for him even as he moved into a smaller apartment.

“The choices he has been making for the country have been putting me in a bad spot,” he said of Mr. Biden.

How Latinos will vote is a crucial question in the November elections and for the future of American politics. Hispanic voters are playing a pivotal role in the battle over control of Congress, making up a significant slice of voters — as high as 20 percent — in two of the states likeliest to determine control of the Senate, Arizona and Nevada. Latinos also make up more than 20 percent of registered voters in more than a dozen highly competitive House races in California, Colorado, Florida and Texas, among other states.

Democrats have long assumed that the growing Latino electorate would doom Republicans, and the prospect of an increasingly diverse electorate has fueled anxieties among conservatives. The 2020 election results — in which Mr. Trump gained an estimated eight percentage points among Hispanic voters compared to 2016 — began changing both parties’ outlooks. The Times/Siena poll shows that historic allegiances and beliefs on core issues remain entrenched, though some shifts are striking.

While majorities of Hispanic voters side with Democrats on social and cultural issues, sizable shares hold beliefs aligned with Republicans: More than a third of Hispanic voters say they agree more with the G.O.P. on crime and policing, and four out of 10 Hispanic voters have concerns that the Democratic Party has gone too far on race and gender. Hispanic voters view economic issues as the most important factor determining their vote this year and are evenly split on which party they agree with more on the economy.
Hispanic voters are large enough now that they are not monolithic, especially in states like Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California. But this is a huge difference from "Trump won Hispanic voters in swing states".

A dozen Republican candidates in competitive races for governor and Senate have declined to say whether they would accept the results of their contests, raising the prospect of fresh post-election chaos two years after Donald Trump refused to concede the presidency.

In a survey by The Washington Post of 19 of the most closely watched statewide races in the country, the contrast between Republican and Democratic candidates was stark. While seven GOP nominees committed to accepting the outcomes in their contests, 12 either refused to commit or declined to respond. On the Democratic side, 17 said they would accept the outcome and two did not respond to The Post’s survey.

The reluctance of many GOP candidates to embrace a long-standing tenet of American democracy shows how Trump’s assault on the integrity of U.S. elections has spread far beyond the 2020 presidential race. This year, multiple losing candidates could refuse to accept their defeats.

Trump, who continues to claim without evidence that his loss to Joe Biden in 2020 was rigged, has attacked fellow Republicans who do not agree — making election denialism the price of admission in many GOP primaries. More than half of all Republican nominees for federal and statewide office with powers over election administration have embraced unproven claims that fraud tainted Biden’s win, according to a Washington Post tally.
Again, more than half of GOP candidates refuse to believe Joe Biden won in 2020.  These candidates will never concede their losses, and in more than a few states controlled by the GOP, I fully expect them to be awarded victories due to "widespread voter fraud" that doesn't actually exist.

And if 2024 goes badly enough, I expect that entire states will be awarded to the GOP 2024 presidential candidate regardless of voter totals.

Vote Like You Still Can.

A Jackson, Hole, Con't

The Brett Favre/Gov. Phil Bryant welfare corruption scandal in Mississippi gets even worse as the capital city of Jackson will need billions to repair its water system, and now we see that instead of using federal money to do things like fix Jackson's water pipes, state Republicans used the corrupted state welfare program that Gov. Bryant turned into his personal slush fund to go after Democrats in the state, while current GOP Gov. Tate Reeves covered it all up.

Within Mississippi’s ever-unfolding welfare scandal, government officials didn’t just use federal funds to lavish their friends and family.

They also allegedly leveraged the money to quell their political foes, according to a defendant in the case and another individual connected to a nonprofit within scheme.

Christi Webb, director of the welfare-funded nonprofit Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, supported her friend and then-Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, in his race for governor against then-Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in 2019.

To the apparent dismay of state Republican leadership, Webb hired the Democrat’s wife, Debbie Hood, in mid-2018 to run the local Chickasaw County office of the statewide anti-poverty program called Families First for Mississippi. The state welfare department was pushing tens of millions of welfare dollars through Webb’s nonprofit – $11.5 million forensic auditors found was misused over a four-year span.

But around April 2019, as the governor’s race began heating up, a local Republican lawmaker allegedly took that dismay a step further and delivered a threat to Webb: Fire Debbie Hood or lose your public funding.

“FRC will never receive another dollar from the state if you don’t fire Debbie Hood,” a north Mississippi Republican lawmaker told Webb, Webb’s attorney Casey Lott alleged.

“He explicitly said, ‘I’m the governor’s messenger,’” Lott added, referencing then-Gov. Phil Bryant.

Mississippi Today spoke with another person connected to the nonprofit who also witnessed and confirmed the lawmaker’s demand but did not wish to be named.

Bryant, who oversaw over the Mississippi Department of Human Services and appointed the welfare agency’s director, has increasingly faced public scrutiny for his role in what has been called the largest embezzlement scheme in state history.

The former governor, who has not been charged with a crime, wielded control over how the welfare agency and its partner nonprofits spent federal welfare funds, Mississippi Today has uncovered in its ongoing investigative series “The Backchannel.” And Bryant even appeared to help NFL legend Brett Favre and a nonprofit official write a grant to skirt around federal regulations, according to text messages first published by Mississippi Today this week.

Bryant’s attorney in the civil case, Ridgeland-based attorney Billy Quin, declined to comment Saturday for this story. Quin is a former special assistant attorney general under Hood, and the attorney publicly supported Hood for governor in 2019, social media posts show.

Jim Hood’s 2019 campaign manager Michael Rejebian confirmed the account on Saturday. He said that after Debbie Hood learned of the threat, the campaign began trying to run down what happened and, “we came to the conclusion that Tate (Reeves) had his fingers in it.”

“It didn’t surprise us because that’s his M.O.,” Rejebian said.

Ultimately, the Hood camp did not make Debbie Hood’s treatment an issue in the race because “she did not want this to be a distraction to the campaign and what her husband needed to do,” Rejebian said.

Rejebian called Debbie Hood a conscientious person who took the job at the Family Resource Center to help people, and that she wouldn’t have known about the funding structures.

But the questions about what happened to Debbie Hood, Rejebian said, prompted murmurs about what was really occurring at Families First, which would less than a year later be exposed for being the vehicle of millions of dollars worth of theft
Again, what we're looking at here is the direct result of corrupt, one-party rule in one of the poorest states in America. Millions were stolen directly, Billions were pushed elsewhere, and the state's Black population was victimized at every turn. Both governors, the current and former, need to go to prison along with "NFL legend" Favre.

They won't, of course.

Sunday Long Read: A Morally Bankrupt Strategy

In our Sunday Long Read this week, The New Yorker's Casey Cep details how corporate consumer giants like Johnson & Johnson knew their products caused cancer and did know for more than 50 years. When faced with judgement however, these companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars simply declare bankruptcy and throw out their verdicts because they "can't pay".

God gives you only one body, Deane Berg always said, so you’d better take care of the one you’ve got. A physician assistant at the veterans’ hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she knew that spotting between periods wasn’t unusual for a forty-nine-year-old woman, but she went to the doctor anyway. Her two daughters had already lost their father to lung cancer, so Berg wanted to stick around.

Just perimenopause, the doctor concluded after a cursory examination. Probably a blood clot, the nurse practitioner told her when a subsequent ultrasound showed something on an ovary. “It’s not going to be cancer,” the gynecological surgeon said before removing both ovaries on the day after Christmas in 2006. But, when Berg went for her follow-up, she read the words on the pathology report before the surgeon had a chance to break the news: serous carcinoma. She cried, and the surgeon did, too. She would now need a full hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and a great deal of luck. Every year, around twenty thousand women are given a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the United States, and more than half that many will die of the disease.

Berg told herself that twenty-six years of caring for patients might help her get through the treatments ahead. But her experience with veterans’ port-a-caths did not make it any less painful to have them implanted in her own abdomen and chest; nausea and headaches were no more manageable because she’d counselled others through them. And nothing prepares a person for losing her hair and much of her hearing or developing nerve damage in her hands and feet or having her teeth crack from chemo. Weak and immunocompromised, Berg left her job at the hospital, which meant she had more time to study the handouts about ovarian cancer that nurses had given her when she was diagnosed.

One of those pamphlets was distributed by Gilda’s Club, a group founded by friends of the comedian Gilda Radner, who died of the disease in 1989, when she was only forty-two. The pamphlet included a list of risk factors, which Berg went through one by one. No, she didn’t have a family history of reproductive cancer; no, she hadn’t struggled with infertility and had never used fertility drugs; no, she had never had cancer before; no, she had never had an unhealthy diet or been overweight. Then she came to a section about talcum powder. After reading it, she went to look at the big container of Johnson & Johnson body powder she kept in her bathroom to use after daily showers and the little bottle of Johnson & Johnson baby powder she took with her whenever she travelled. Both listed talc as an ingredient.

Berg immediately posted a message on the forum of the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, asking if any other women thought their cancer might have been caused by talcum powder. Only two people replied. The first was a cancer researcher in Illinois who had been trying for more than a decade to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to warn American customers that talc could be a carcinogen. The second was R. Allen Smith, Jr., an attorney in Mississippi. He was interested in talking to her about a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson; she wasn’t convinced he was a real lawyer.

Smith did in fact practice law, and, years before, his father, a doctor, had tipped him off to a contentious debate over the safety of talc—one that continues to this day. A study published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which pooled data from four earlier long-term observational studies and involved a quarter of a million women, found no statistically significant link between talc and ovarian cancer. But, as its authors noted, the underlying studies did not always distinguish between powders that contained talc and those which did not, and were not consistent in asking participants how often or for how long they’d powdered themselves. Many other studies, meanwhile, found a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who used talc for feminine hygiene—in their underwear, on their sanitary napkins, for storing their diaphragms.

Determining the etiology of diseases is difficult, especially when it comes to cancers, which often have long latency periods and multifactorial causes. But the evidence against talc had grown substantial enough by the time Berg was diagnosed that many U.S. manufacturers, including the makers of crayons, condoms, and surgical gloves, had erred on the side of caution and stopped using it in their products. Why hadn’t Johnson & Johnson done the same, when an alternative, cornstarch, was cheap, abundant, and safer?

Johnson & Johnson is one of America’s most trusted companies, and as Berg moved through her cycles of chemotherapy she kept thinking about a slogan for its body powder: “A sprinkle a day helps keep odor away.” For more than thirty years, she had taken that advice, applying the powder between her legs to prevent chafing. But that powder wasn’t like her chemo drugs: their side effects were awful, but they were keeping her alive. The powder felt, instead, like an unnecessary gamble, one she thought other people should be warned about.

All along, Berg had worried about her daughters—not only how they’d fare if she died but whether her diagnosis meant they had a greater inherited risk of cancer. In 2007, to find out, she underwent genetic testing and learned that she had neither of the two main mutations that increase the odds of developing reproductive cancers. Two years later, she had her ovarian tissue tested, and the pathologist found talc in one ovary. Shortly afterward, with her cancer in remission, she decided to sue, in what became the first baby-powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson to ever make it to trial.

Almost every American, from nursery to deathbed, uses Johnson & Johnson products: baby shampoo, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Rogaine, and O.B. tampons; Tylenol, Imodium, Motrin, and Zyrtec; Listerine mouthwash and Nicorette gum; Aveeno lotion and Neutrogena cleanser; catheters and stents for the heart; balloons for dilating the ear, nose, and throat; hemostats and staples; ankle, hip, shoulder, and knee replacements; breast implants; Acuvue contact lenses. But what few of those consumers grasped until a series of baby-powder cases began to go to trial was that, for decades, the company had known that its powders could contain asbestos, among the world’s deadliest carcinogens.

Slippery to the touch and soft enough to flake with your fingernail, the mineral talc is found all around the world, in deposits that can be more than a billion years old. Such deposits are sometimes laced with actinolite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, and tremolite. These accessory minerals, better known in their fibrous form as asbestos, grow alongside talc like weeds in a geological garden. As early as 1971, Johnson & Johnson scientists had become aware of reports about asbestos in talc. They and others also worried about a connection between cancer and talc itself, whether or not it contained asbestos. By the time of Berg’s diagnosis, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer had designated talc containing fibrous particles a carcinogen and the genital application of any talc powder possibly carcinogenic. The F.D.A. had safety concerns, too, but its authority over products like baby powder was and remains, in the words of Ann Witt, a former senior official at the agency, “so minimal it’s laughable.”

Johnson & Johnson has always insisted, including to this magazine, that its baby powder is “safe, asbestos-free, and does not cause cancer”; however, a 2016 investigation by Bloomberg and subsequent revelations by Reuters and the New York Times, based in part on documents that surfaced because of discovery in suits like Berg’s, exposed the possible health risk related to its powders. Following those reports, tens of thousands of people filed suits against the company, alleging that its products had caused their cancers. In 2020, after juries awarded some of those plaintiffs damages that collectively exceeded billions of dollars, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would no longer supply the talc-based version of its product to American stores.

And then, quietly, the company embraced a strategy to circumvent juries entirely. Deploying a legal maneuver first used by Koch Industries, Johnson & Johnson, a company valued at nearly half a trillion dollars, with a credit rating higher than that of the United States government, declared bankruptcy. Because of that move, the fate of forty thousand current lawsuits and the possibility of future claims by cancer victims or their survivors now rests with a single bankruptcy judge in the company’s home state, New Jersey. If Johnson & Johnson prevails and, as Berg puts it, “weasels its way out of everything,” the case could usher in a new era in which the government has diminished power to enforce consumer-protection laws, citizens don’t get to make their case before a jury of their peers when those laws fail, and even corporations with long histories of documented harm will get to decide how much, if anything, they owe their victims.

And Berg got nothing close to what she deserved for the company giving her cancer. Neither did any of the other plaintiffs who sued after her.  J&J now has several subsidiaries, and none of them are responsible for decades of talc asbestos poisoning, and is still doing hundreds of billions in business every year.


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