Thursday, July 13, 2023

Last Call For Shutdown Countdown, Military Edition

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has lost control of his caucus again, with MAGA Republicans now threatening to sink the yearly Pentagon budget over abortion, gender-affirming health care, and Ukraine funding.
The House is set to vote on Thursday on whether to limit abortion access, bar transgender services and end diversity training for military personnel, part of a series of major changes that hard-right Republicans are seeking to the annual defense policy bill, including pulling U.S. aid to Ukraine.

The debate was unfolding after Speaker Kevin McCarthy capitulated late Wednesday to a small group of ultraconservative Republicans who had threatened to block the legislation, which provides a yearly pay raise for U.S. troops and sets Pentagon policy, if their proposals did not receive consideration.

Instead the House moved forward on Thursday, with the fate of the $886 billion bill still in doubt. The far right’s proposals to strip away military assistance for Ukraine stand little chance of passage given the strong bipartisan consensus behind the aid, but it was not clear whether a proposal to bar the Biden administration from sending cluster munitions might draw enough bipartisan backing to succeed.

And the measures imposing socially conservative policies on the Pentagon are extremely popular among Republicans. Should they pass, Democrats are likely to abandon the bill in droves, sinking it altogether.

Shortly before debate got underway, Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the Democratic whip, told CNN that there would be no support for the bill in her party if it contained the provision to bar the Pentagon from providing time off and reimbursement to service members traveling out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive health services.

It was an unusual situation for the defense bill, normally a bipartisan matter that is considered one of the few must-pass items to come before Congress. This year, with Republicans in control of the House, it has become a partisan battleground whose very survival is in doubt.

“It is outrageous that a tiny minority of MAGA extremists is dictating how we’re going to proceed,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the ranking member of the Rules Committee, said early Thursday morning, denouncing G.O.P. leaders for accepting the demands of what he called “a dozen far-right wing nuts.”

“When you have a razor-thin majority in one half or one branch of government, you don’t get to dictate every single amendment that comes to the floor,” Mr. McGovern said. “Democracy means compromise.”

Republican leaders, who can afford to lose no more than four votes on their side if Democrats remain united, have been counting on Democratic votes to help pass the defense bill. Some of them have expressed frustration with hard-right lawmakers’ demands to load the bill with a deeply conservative cultural agenda that could cost them those critical votes.

“We’ve got some people that want all the things that will cost us Democratic support, but won’t guarantee you yet, if they don’t get X, Y, or Z, that they will actually vote for final passage or even for a rule,” Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the rules panel, said in an interview Wednesday.

Still, Mr. Cole said he would likely vote in favor of the socially conservative amendments.

The proposals have alienated some mainstream Republicans, including those from politically competitive districts. Their opposition could block the changes, potentially salvaging the defense measure.

If you think that the MAGA meatballs are going to be allowed to sink the defense bill, normally I'd say no way in hell.

But Kevin McCarthy's "in charge".

So who knows?  

Expect scores of amendments for the legislation, any which could sink the bill, and if Republicans manage to get things passed like stripping all assistance for Ukraine's defense or banning abortions for military personnel, well, things are going to get bad.

We'll see.


Birth Control To Major Fight

Republicans are almost certainly going to find a way to block today's FDA's approval of over-the-counter birth control in red states at the battlefield for womens' rights over their own bodies expands to yet another front.
Federal regulators on Thursday approved the nation’s first over-the-counter birth control pill in a landmark decision that will soon allow American women and girls to obtain contraceptive medication as easily as they buy aspirin and eyedrops.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared once-a-day Opill to be sold without a prescription, making it the first such medication to be moved out from behind the pharmacy counter. The manufacturer, Ireland-based Perrigo, won’t start shipping the pill until early next year, and there will be no age restrictions on sales.

Hormone-based pills have long been the most common form of birth control in the U.S., used by tens of millions of women since the 1960s. Until now, all of them required a prescription.

Medical societies and women’s health groups have pushed for wider access for decades, noting that an estimated 45% of the 6 million annual pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Teens and girls, women of color and those with low incomes report greater hurdles in getting prescriptions and picking them up.

The challenges can include paying for a doctor’s visit, getting time off from work and finding child care.

“This is really a transformation in access to contraceptive care,” said Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit group that supported the approval. “Hopefully this will help people overcome those barriers that exist now.”

Perrigo says Opill could be an important new option for the estimated 15 million U.S. women who currently use no birth control or less effective methods, such as condoms. They are a fifth of women who are child-bearing age.

But how many women will actually gain access depends on the medication’s price, which Perrigo plans to announce later this year.

“The reason why so many of us worked tirelessly for years to get over-the-counter birth control pills is to improve access ... cost shouldn’t be one of those barriers,” said Dr. Pratima Gupta of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Most older birth control pills cost $15 to $30 for a month’s supply without insurance coverage.

Over-the-counter medicines are generally much cheaper than prescriptions, but they typically aren’t covered by insurance.
This is an excellent development for those who need and take birth control medication, which almost certainly means the approval will be locked up in the courts and red state legislatures will be banning the sale of Opill in the months ahead. If Republicans want to have that fight, well, we can always practice GOP control at the ballot box in 2024. 


AI, Oh You And Sometimes Why

The Federal Trade Commission is taking aim at ChatGPT at a time when the agency has been slapped down by the courts on multiple occasions, and chair Lina Khan is under heavy fire from Republicans.
The Federal Trade Commission has opened an expansive investigation into OpenAI, probing whether the maker of the popular ChatGPT bot has run afoul of consumer protection laws by putting personal reputations and data at risk.

The agency this week sent the San Francisco company a 20-page demand for records about how it addresses risks related to its AI models, according to a document reviewed by The Washington Post. The salvo represents the most potent regulatory threat to date to OpenAI’s business in the United States, as the company goes on a global charm offensive to shape the future of artificial intelligence policy.

Analysts have called OpenAI’s ChatGPT the fastest-growing consumer app in history, and its early success set off an arms race among Silicon Valley companies to roll out competing chatbots. The company’s chief executive, Sam Altman, has emerged as an influential figure in the debate over AI regulation, testifying on Capitol Hill, dining with lawmakers and meeting with President Biden and Vice President Harris.

But now the company faces a new test in Washington, where the FTC has issued multiple warnings that existing consumer protection laws apply to AI, even as the administration and Congress struggle to outline new regulations. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has predicted that new AI legislation is months away.

The FTC’s demands of OpenAI are the first indication of how it intends to enforce those warnings. If the FTC finds that a company violates consumer protection laws, it can levy fines or put a business under a consent decree, which can dictate how the company handles data. The FTC has emerged as the federal government’s top Silicon Valley cop, bringing large fines against Meta, Amazon and Twitter for alleged violations of consumer protection laws.

The FTC called on OpenAI to provide detailed descriptions of all complaints it had received of its products making “false, misleading, disparaging or harmful” statements about people. The FTC is investigating whether the company engaged in unfair or deceptive practices that resulted in “reputational harm” to consumers, according to the document.

The FTC also asked the company to provide records related to a security incident that the company disclosed in March when a bug in its systems allowed some users to see payment-related information, as well as some data from other users’ chat history. The FTC is probing whether the company’s data security practices violate consumer protection laws. OpenAI said in a blog post that the number of users whose data was revealed to someone else was “extremely low.”

OpenAI and the FTC did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent on Thursday morning.

News of the probe comes as FTC Chair Lina Khan is likely to face a combative hearing Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, where Republican lawmakers are expected to analyze her enforcement record and accuse her of mismanaging the agency. Khan’s ambitious plans to rein in Silicon Valley have suffered key losses in court. On Tuesday, a federal judge rejected the FTC’s attempt to block Microsoft’s $69 billion deal to buy the video game company Activision.

The agency has repeatedly warned that action is coming on AI, in speeches, blog posts, op-eds and news conferences. In a speech at Harvard Law School in April, Samuel Levine, the director of the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the agency was prepared to be “nimble” in getting ahead of emerging threats.

“The FTC welcomes innovation, but being innovative is not a license to be reckless,” Levine said. “We are prepared to use all our tools, including enforcement, to challenge harmful practices in this area.”
Khan, quite frankly, has been less than effective in battling Big Business so far, having lost on a number of antitrust court battles involving everything from Facebook to Altria to this week's loss to stop Microsoft from buying gaming giant Activision Blizzard

I don't exactly have a lot of faith in her or the agency to stop ChatGPT from running rampant.

Still, she's the FTC chair we have, and I just hope the agency is able to rein in ChatGPT and its competitors before the thousands of layoffs becomes, say, millions.

With the Hollywood writers' strike now turning into a full blown actors' strike, you'd better believe entertainment companies are going to be moving quickly on using AI to replace as much creative talent as possible and as soon as they can, and that's only going to be the start.

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