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Celerity's Journal
Celerity's Journal
August 31, 2023

Biden Administration Seeks to Expand Overtime Pay to Millions of U.S. Workers

If you earn less than $55,000 a year and work more than 40 hours a week, you could be eligible for time and a half.


Millions of U.S. workers may now become eligible for overtime pay under an overhaul of wage rules announced by the Biden administration yesterday. The rule, which would make workers earning up to $55,000 a year eligible for overtime, is intended to reverse four decades of reducing the number of workers qualified to earn overtime pay. As Capital & Main reported in a series of stories last year, overtime pay has steadily eroded, so that the percentage of workers eligible for overtime is now a fraction of what it was in the 1970s.

Currently, workers who earn more than $35,568 annually are not eligible for overtime. An estimated 15% of full-time salaried workers qualified for overtime in 2022, down from more than 60% of full-time salaried workers in 1975. The new eligibility rule could make 3.6 million more U.S. workers eligible for overtime pay, according to the administration. Overtime is defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act as 1.5 times one’s hourly pay rate after working more than 40 hours per week.

“For over 80 years, a cornerstone of workers’ rights in this country is the right to a 40-hour workweek, the promise that you get to go home after 40 hours or you get higher pay for each extra hour that you spend laboring away from your loved ones,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “I’ve heard from workers again and again about working long hours, for no extra pay, all while earning low salaries that don’t come anywhere close to compensating them for their sacrifices. Today, the Biden-Harris administration is proposing a rule that would help restore workers’ economic security by giving millions more salaried workers the right to overtime protections if they earn less than $55,000 a year.”

In 2014, the Obama administration sought to more than double the exemption threshold from $23,660 to $47,476, but the proposal was shot down by a federal judge in Texas. At that time, fewer than 7% of U.S. workers qualified for overtime. In 2019, the Trump administration increased the threshold to $35,568, which was still considered inadequate by worker advocates, and was not pegged to cost of living increases, meaning that it was frozen at that level.

August 31, 2023

Medicare Price Negotiation: Ten Drugs That Made the List, and Ten That Should Have

Advocates were thrilled that Medicare will negotiate the price of several insulins. But other high-profit drugs are protected by the new program’s rules.


Anticipation was so high in some circles for the announcement of the first ten drugs selected for Medicare price negotiation under the Inflation Reduction Act that West Virginia University law professor and former patent inspector Sean Tu and 48 fellow pharma policy nerds participated in a March Madness–style betting pool, to guess the therapeutics that would make the list. No one got a perfect bracket, but “one guy at the Harvard Kennedy School got a nine out of ten,” said Tu, who “along with most of my colleagues” correctly predicted seven out of the ten drugs chosen, mostly on the basis of which pharma companies have preemptively sued the government to throw out the price negotiation program as unconstitutional.

Indeed, seven of the ten drugs selected are produced in part or in full by companies that are in active litigation with the government. The other three drugs are made by Amgen, Novartis, and Novo Nordisk, all members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which separately sued to block the program. Four of the top five are made by either Merck or Johnson & Johnson, both of which have alleged that the IRA violates their First Amendment rights by forcing drug companies, in Merck’s phrasing, “to smile, play along, and pretend it is all part of a ‘fair’ and voluntary exchange.” (Tu and a colleague assess the merit of this argument in a brief paper published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association.)

The dominant companies appear to know what’s at stake for the United States initiating its first direct drug price negotiation program, even if tangible results are years off. Under the excessively long process, prices on the initial ten drugs, which accounted for $50.5 billion in Part D spending over a 12-month period ending in May, will not see any reductions until 2026. Another 15 drugs will be negotiated in 2027 and in 2028, and 20 each year after that. Moreover, several of the most exorbitantly priced drugs aren’t even eligible for negotiation, at least not yet. And as the Prospect reported in May, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed to use prices from the current high-cost system as a baseline for the new negotiated rates, a circular method that could lead to an unsatisfying conclusion.

So Tuesday’s announcement should be seen as really just the embryonic beginning of giving the government’s main bulk prescription drug purchaser a modicum of leverage over how much it pays. In many ways, Tu says, the law simply restores the industry pricing norms that reigned before the rise of so-called “continuation patents” and other forms of abuse began doubling and tripling the life expectancies of traditional patent protections. But the pharma industry is so beet-red about forsaking even one dollar of profit that it feels like a victory, something the Biden administration is relishing. “There are hallmarks of ‘I welcome their hatred,’” said drug price reform advocate Alex Lawson of Social Security Works, referring to Franklin Roosevelt’s speech about large banks and speculators in his 1936 re-election campaign. “[Biden] understands fighting with pharma is a winner,” Lawson said. “And if they’re fighting back, people know you’re fighting for them.”

August 31, 2023

First Republican presidential candidate drops out of 2024 race

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez drops out of 2024 GOP presidential race after missing debate


Miami Mayor Francis Suarez dropped out of the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, the first candidate to do so heading into 2024. On X, formerly known as Twitter, Suarez said his campaign "has been one of the greatest honors of my life," and he said he will continue working to amplify Hispanic voices.

"The Left has taken Hispanics for granted for far too long, and it is no surprise that so many are finding a home in America’s conservative movement. Our party must continue doing more to include and attract this vibrant community that believes in our country’s foundational values," Suarez wrote.

The mayor did not join other GOP candidates onstage last week at the first Republican debate, after failing to meet the Republican National Committee's polling requirements. Suarez did not endorse another candidate, rather saying in his post he plans on "keeping in touch with the other Republican presidential candidates and doing what I can to make sure our party puts forward a strong nominee."

Suarez made limited stops in Iowa, appearing in the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the Iowa State Fair, where he told fairgoers he was unlike the rest of the field — uniquely capable of attracting Hispanic, urban and young voters to the Republican Party in a general election.


The Rethug clown car has one less...............

August 31, 2023

Trump Says He Was Too Busy Averting 'Nuclear Holocaust' to Commit Fraud


Donald Trump said in a sworn deposition that he was too tied up with saving the world from a “nuclear holocaust” to have oversight of his company and commit alleged fraud.

A transcript of the former president’s seven-hour April interview with the New York attorney general’s office as part of a civil fraud case against him and his company was unsealed Wednesday.

When grilled about his role at the Trump Organization while he was in the White House, Trump said his “role was gone.” “So you were too busy for the company?” Trump was asked. “In a way, yeah,” he answered. He went on to say he considered the presidency “the most important job in the world, saving millions of lives.”

“I think you would have nuclear holocaust, if I didn’t deal with North Korea,” he continued. “I think you would have a nuclear war, if I weren’t elected. And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth.”

Read it at Business Insider
August 31, 2023

She's Running for Congress as a Dem. She's Taking Cash From a GOP Lawyer Who Fought Trump's Loss.

Marlene Galan Woods is running as a Democrat, but one of her biggest donors is a Republican lawyer who was prominently trying to overturn Donald Trump’s election loss in Arizona.


At a press conference ahead of the 2022 election in Arizona, Marlene Galan Woods—a prominent former TV journalist in Phoenix and a onetime member of the state’s Republican elite—described that year’s GOP ticket as a bunch of “election-denying lunatics." “Only one party is trying to end democracy,” Woods said. “Only one party is trying to limit who can vote. Only one party embraces antisemitism, racism, and an extreme white nationalist agenda—and it is not the Democrats.”

Last November, Arizona voters awarded a clean sweep to Democrats, including a candidate whose campaign Woods chaired: Adrian Fontes, who defeated hardcore election denier Mark Finchem for the office of secretary of state. Now officially a Democrat, Woods is making her former party’s assault on elections a focal point of her 2024 campaign against Rep. David Schweikert (R), who represents a battleground congressional district in the Phoenix area.

But tucked inside Woods’ first federal campaign finance report is a detail that complicates her pro-democracy bona fides: one of her most generous supporters is the attorney who led the Trump-fueled legal challenges to the 2020 election result in Arizona. Since November 2020, Dennis Wilenchik and his law firm have represented the Arizona Republican Party and its former chair, Kelli Ward, in two lawsuits which aimed to throw out Joe Biden’s victory and challenge the integrity of Maricopa County’s vote-counting procedure.

While judges quickly shut down these cases—and any threat they posed to the transition of power—Wilenchik and his law firm continued to file appeals related to these lawsuits into this year. According to Federal Election Commission records, Bonnie Conrad, who is Wilenchik’s wife, gave $6,600 to Woods’ campaign, which is twice the federally allowed maximum for a primary election. A note on the line item states that the donation was “reattributed to Conrad and Wilenchik,” indicating that the $6,600 was split into two $3,300 contributions—the maximum allowed for a primary election—from the couple.

August 31, 2023

The Rome Edition opens in converted 1940s bank building


American entrepreneur Ian Schrager's The Edition group has landed in Rome, opening a hotel in a converted bank that makes use of its soaring lobby, original marble staircases and hidden front courtyard. The Rome Edition began welcoming guests earlier this year to the 91-room hotel, located a block away from Via Veneto – the street that was immortalised in the 1960 movie La Dolce Vita.

Schrager and his in-house team spearheaded the renovation of the grand building, utilising many of the original features including a cipollino marble staircase, central courtyards, statues and lamps. "Built in the 1940s and formerly occupied by one of the main Italian banks, the building is a striking example of the rationalist style and was created by Cesare Pascoletti in collaboration with the famed architect Marcello Piacentini," said The Edition team.

Unusually for Rome, arriving guests are escorted through a sunken garden "piazza" – which acts as an outdoor lounge, restaurant extension and gathering place – before reaching the lobby. Once inside, dramatic seven-metre-high ceilings, full-height windows and green curtains, and travertine floors and walls set the tone for The Edition's signature brand of soft minimalism.

Symmetrical arrangements of custom white furniture and low coffee tables exaggerate the strict geometry of the architecture. "The lobby is Edition at its most dynamic," said the team. "It is a place to relax and make merry; a place to see and be seen or play a few games of pool on the custom-made table."


August 31, 2023

Molly Jong-Fast: From Trump to Vivek: The GOP Is Primed for Another Charismatic Phony

Ramaswamy’s post-debate blitz speaks to the priorities of the media—and state of the Republican base.


On this last, slow, hot week in August, we are trapped in a Vivek Ramaswamy news cycle. Ramaswamy has figured out the path to free media is lined with saying extreme things like how “the climate change agenda is a hoax” at last week’s first Republican debate, or more recently, doubling down on calling Rep. Ayanna Pressley a member of the “modern KKK” (CNN’s State of the Union) or suggesting Mike Pence should’ve implemented new voting reforms before certifying the 2020 election (NBC’s Meet the Press). He was still pushing that bizarre January 6 scenario days later on MSNBC.

What’s important about Ramaswamy is not his ideology—he has no coherent one—but how susceptible our political and media ecosystem is to a charismatic phony. He’s become a recurring character on cable news, recently claiming on CNN that he was misquoted in The Atlantic when raising questions about the 9/11 attacks. But The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson had the tape, which of course included Ramaswamy asking, “How many police, how many federal agents were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers?” Denying something that is actually on tape, how very Trumpy.

Two days later, at the Fox News–hosted GOP debate, Ramaswamy claimed to be “the only candidate onstage who isn’t bought and paid for” when decrying the climate “hoax.” But it turns out that Ramaswamy is “bought and paid” or at least “paid for” because his investment firm, Strive, has a fund called DRLL, which, as Semafor reports, “invests in US energy companies and urges them to keep drilling for oil so long as it’s profitable.” As Heated’s Emily Atkin put it, “Ramaswamy makes money from climate denial.”

And yet, in the past, Ramaswamy has acknowledged that climate change is “real,” just one of his campaign flip-flops. On recognizing Juneteenth, for instance, he went from supportive—“Let it be a celebration of the American Dream itself,” he said on video—to against the holiday just two months later, telling​​ Iowa voters,“Cancel Juneteenth or one of the other useless ones we made up.”
August 31, 2023

What "back to school" means in the era of PragerU


After Hurricane Ian hit the west coast of Florida in Sept. 2022, it damaged five schools and destroyed three, displacing 2.5 million children from their normal routines. More than 168,000 kids were kept out of the classroom for weeks in the aftermath following the category 4 storm, with some kids missing as many as 100 school days. For the Reckon Report in September, we’re focusing on education. Public education has long been a flashpoint for debate in America. But in the last few years, school board meetings, school libraries and curricula at all levels of education have faced attacks, especially at the state and local levels. Most recently, that challenged curricula have included climate change denial and numerous other controversial issues related to race, gender and evolution.

As Hurricane Idalia rapidly strengthens on its path toward Northwest Florida and school kids settle into the beginning of their academic year, there’s no better time to transition from climate change to education and take a hard look at PragerU — the conservative education and media group that was recently permitted to show climate denial and other controversial videos to K-5 kids in the Sunshine State. The group has controversial takes on a wide range of topics, including claiming the gender wage gap doesn’t exist, fascism is an idea of the left, and numerous videos criticizing African-American history and the detrimental effects of slavery.

While some counties in Florida have already said they will not show the videos, many will allow them in class. The move, which received the blessing of Gov. Ron DeSantis, is the culmination of decades of lobbying from right-wing education groups and parents who have traditionally targeted evolution and called for a greater emphasis on creationism. Those battles are usually fought behind closed doors by the elected board of education members in any given state. In recent years, however, the topics up for debate have extended from African-American history to basic interpretations of the Constitution. Now, climate change is firmly part of the alternative education debate and is spreading nationwide.

A quick look back

PragerU’s ascent from a fringe media group to the conservative mainstream has partially taken these debates out of school board meeting rooms and dropped them directly into the public domain. Just last week, a Republican member of the State Board of Education in Texas announced that all of PragerU’s resources would be rolled out to public school children in the state. Julie Pickren made the announcement with PragerU’s CEO, Marissa Streit. In the joint video, Pickren, present at the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, said, “We are definitely ready to welcome PragerU into the great state of Texas.”


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