Thursday, December 31, 2020

U.S. NAVY - New Skipper for Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier


FILE -- In this file photo, Capt. Amy N. Bauernschmidt, executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, reads the petty officer advancement results over the ship's announcement system, Nov. 21, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Gwendelyn Ohrazda)

"First Woman to Command a Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier Slated to Lead USS Abraham Lincoln" by Andrew Dyer (San Diego Union-Tribune) - 12/24/2020

SAN DIEGO — Navy Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, who was selected earlier in December to be the first woman to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, has been assigned command of the San Diego-based USS Abraham Lincoln, the Navy announced Wednesday.

Bauernschmidt previously served as the Lincoln’s Executive Officer — another first for a woman — from 2016-2019.  After leaving the Lincoln, Bauernschmidt served as the commanding officer of the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, a command she left in October.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to be selected,” Bauernschmidt said in a statement.  “I love leading sailors and I take that responsibility extremely seriously.”

Bauernschmidt graduated from the Naval Academy in 1994.  Women from that class, the Navy said, were the first to serve on combatant ships and aircraft.  She trained as a helicopter pilot and spent much of her early flying career with helicopter squadrons at Naval Air Station North Island.

She is slated to take command of the ship this coming summer, the Navy said.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Thursday, December 24, 2020

OPINION - A Lifetime in American Politics

"Shields and Brooks celebrate a lifetime in American politicsPBS NewsHour 12/18/2020

I will really miss you Mark.






SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss politics as a noble profession, optimism as a defining American characteristic, and collective sacrifice for the common good.  In his final regular appearance on the NewsHour, we celebrate Mark Shields and his storied career in journalism and politics.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  And with that, it's time for the final Friday night analysis of Shields and Brooks.

That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

And before I go any further, I want to make it clear, Mark will continue to be part of the "NewsHour" family as an occasional contributor.  We are going to have him back when there's a major political event or anything else that he wants to weigh in on.

But, Mark, before I let you and David speak, I want to say what an utter joy it's been for me to work with you over the years, to be the beneficiary, along with our audience, of your wisdom, your brilliant insights, and, as we heard in that video, your humor.

I know our founder Jim Lehrer adored and appreciated you.  We have all learned from you.

It is impossible to put it into a few words, but the entire "NewsHour" family owes you a great debt of gratitude.  We're going to miss having you with us every week.

And now I'm going to let you speak.

So, Mark, what did you think about the video?


Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Judy, it was like reading David's column, his generous column.


Mark Shields:  I just regretted that my parents weren't alive to read it and enjoy it, because my father would have enjoyed it, and my mother would have wanted to believe it.

And I just thank everybody for their over-the-top and too-generous remarks.

It's been 33 wonderful years.  It's been a great privilege.  And it's been just enormous fun.  You shouldn't admit that, but that's what it's been.

Judy Woodruff:  And, David, what do you think?  Did you hear anything that rang true to you there?


David Brooks, New York Times:  Everyone knows the same Mark.  Mark is Mark.

When he called to tell me the news a couple of weeks ago, I told him the blunt truth.  Mark is the best colleague I have ever had at any level of journalism or in any line of work.

I have never been around somebody who generates just so much warmth, who treats everybody with so much respect.

I figure — we haven't talked about this, Mark, but I figured your parents loved you really well when you were a kid.


David Brooks:  And you have been sharing it with the rest of us in the years since, because you just walk in a room with a projection of warmth and respect that people respond to.

And that little column I wrote about you, it was the number one viewed site — piece on the site, New York Times site, today, because people want this.  People are hungering for trustworthiness and decency.

And it's been a great blessing of my life to be alongside you for the last 19 years of this.

Mark Shields:  And thank you, David.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Mark, we're shedding — we're sharing all this with you because it's all true.

But I know there's something that you want to say tonight, because you have spent all these years thinking a lot about American politics and about this country.

So, I want to give you a chance to talk about it.

Mark Shields:  Oh, that's kind of you, Judy.

And thank you, David.

And I have to say, David has been the most generous and ideal of partners for the past 19 years.

Judy asked once at Thanksgiving what I was thankful for.  And one of things I listed was that, during all the time together, I'd said some dumb, stupid and probably just absolutely inappropriate things, and never once did David Brooks take a cheap shot, because it's not in him.  It's not in his character.

And he's been — he's been a source of great company.  He's been a source of great wisdom.  He's my friend.  And I treasure him.

So, I thank you for those kind remarks.

I grew up when a man was in the White House who said very simply, the measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

It's a very straightforward — it was Franklin Roosevelt.

And the other kind of guidepost for me in politics that I guess I learned from my mom and my dad, my family was that every one of us has been warmed by fires we did not build, and every one of us has drunk from wells we did not dig.  And, together, we can't do less for those who come after us.  And, together, we can do so much more.

And it's as straightforward as that.

I believe politics is the peaceable resolution of conflict among legitimate competing interests.  And I don't know, in a nation as big and brawling, this great continent which we occupy, and diverse as ours, how we would resolve our differences, except through the commitment, the passion, the intelligence, the courage of those who are willing to practice the political process and achieve compromise.

And to fashion those compromises does require courage, and it does require hard work and intelligence.  So, I like people who run for political office.  It puts me in a very small category.  And it — the example I use is, if David and I were — I like people who run for office.

If David and I were the two finalists to be the regional sales manager of the Acme Windshield Wiper Company, and David rightly got the promotion and I didn't, when the hometown paper announced David's success, they wouldn't add that Shields was passed over because of lingering questions about his expense account or his erratic behavior at the company Christmas party.

But, in politics, when you run for office, everybody you ever sat next to in study hall or double-dated with or baby-sat for knows whether you won or you probably lost.

And I respect and admire those who run and lose.  And nobody ever did it better than an old friend of mine, the late Dick Tuck, who lost a very close state Senate race in Los Angeles.

And when a local announcer stuck a microphone in his face to say something, he said very straightforwardly: "The people have spoken, the bastards."


Mark Shields:  But, I mean, so I — it's a tough business.

But it's a — it is wonderful.  There's nothing more fun than a political campaign.  I urge everybody who hasn't been involved in one to carve it out of their schedule and try and do so, because you get all these people submerging their own particular short-term interests to something larger, and working long hours, and dislocation to their personal and professional lives.

And in one 12-hour period — elections have been rightly called a one-day sale.  You find out whether you won or you lost.  And you will forge friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime.

And so I like politics.  I believe in politics.  I think politics is awfully important to the well-being of our nation.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Mark, one of the things David wrote about you in his column today is that you — that there's this basic trust or basic decency that you believe exists in people who serve in public life.

There's a — I think, right now, there's a lack of faith that that's there.

So, I'm curious, as you take this next step in your life, are you optimistic about the country, about what lies ahead?  What do you see?

Mark Shields:  Well, I think optimism is the defining characteristic of America.

I mean, with the exception of those whose ancestors were here when Columbus arrived or those whose ancestors were brought here against their will in chains, every American is either, himself or herself, an immigrant or the direct lineal descendants of immigrants.

And to leave friends and family and familiar surroundings to strike out across the sea or the continent for a place you have never been to live among people you have never met, to speak a language in many cases you have never heard is an act of enormous courage.

But it's also a statement of profound optimism.  And America was founded and continues to be founded on a daily basis by optimism.  I'm not a Pollyanna.  I know that we were all born in original sin and we're capable of just dastardly things, personally and collectively.

But when asked by our leaders and have — leaders who reach out to our best and ask us for collective sacrifice for the common good, Americans have responded rather remarkably.

And I recall when John Kennedy was President and proposed the Peace Corps, and one young man was volunteering, and they asked him why.  And he said:  "Nobody ever asked me to do anything unselfish or patriotic.  And President Kennedy asked me."

And that — I think, when Americans are asked — I think I'm optimistic about Joe Biden, because he's not a wall-builder.  He's a bridge-builder.  He's somebody who extends that hand of friendship.  And I — we will find out if the folks on the other side of the bridge will come a third across or halfway across.

But I'm hopeful.  I really am.

And we…

Judy Woodruff:  As we…

Mark Shields:  Yes.  And we have done great things.  We have done great things, Judy.

I mean, we have saved the Great Lakes.  We have taken lead of the air.  I mean, we have done wonderful things.  We rebuilt a war-torn [WWII] Europe.

Judy Woodruff:  As…

Mark Shields:  You know, we — just we have.  And we ought to be aware of that.

Judy Woodruff:  As we continue this conversation, Mark, and I bring David in, I also want to ask the love of your life, Anne Shields, who I think is nearby.

The two of you celebrated your 54th wedding anniversary yesterday.

Anne — she's coming in right now.  She's going to take her place next to Mark.




Judy Woodruff:  We're making room for her.

Mark Shields:  Yes, dear.

Judy Woodruff:  David, I want you to reflect a little more on what this means, as we say goodbye to Mark on Fridays.

David Brooks:  First, I want to say I have been — I think extremely highly of Mark.

He's a wonderful guy, as I have said.  He nevertheless still set the world record for marrying up.


David Brooks:  So, I pay tribute to Anne, who's a truly remarkable person.

I would — I would say that Mark is — like all of us, we're formed by a certain era.

And in Mark's case, it was the period I think when he was a Hill staffer in the mid-'60s.  And look at — government was working.  The G.I. bill had worked, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act.  Government was doing a lot of stuff.  People were compromising.  The system was working.

And so you had a sense that this was a noble activity.  Politics and the power involved in it is a means to an end.  And the end is comforting the unfortunate, serving the marginalized, waging a war on poverty.

And so you have the sense that this is not just some game.  This is a noble profession, because it's about achieving noble ends for people who need a hand up.  And so with that came a feeling that you were there to serve the underdogs.

With that came a deep sense of equality.  And I was a kid who had Hubert Humphrey's poster on my wall, who Mark probably knew.  And so that was — that was inspiring to — it's a more morally holistic way to think of politics.

And I speak to young people, and all they have known is broken politics.  And I tried to assure them it wasn't always broken…

Mark Shields:  That's right.

David Brooks:  … and that there's a way to bring it back, so it's not broken again.

I think we go through cycles, and we will come back and fix the politics that have broken.

But Mark just comes from that era, like his neckties, now, come to think of it.


David Brooks:  But — and I…


Judy Woodruff:  Well, we hope the broken politics are not behind us.

Mark reminds us that everything good as possible in the future.

And, as we say goodbye to Mark on you — this — to Mark and to Anne Shields on this Friday night, I just want to express to you what you have meant, Mark, again, to us and to our audience.  We have received thousands of comments, literally, since we announced earlier this week that this would be your last Friday night.

But I want to stress again, you're going to continue to show up on our air when important things happen.

So, you leave with our love and our affection and our eternal gratitude, Mark Shields, there with the love of his life, Anne Shields, and David Brooks.

Thank you.

Mark Shields:  Thank you, Judy.

Thank you, David.

Anne Shields:  Thanks, Judy.

Mark Shields:  Thanks.

David Brooks:  See you, Mark.

Mark Shields:  See you, David.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

VOTE 2020 - Donald, Even Mike Pence Knows


The Lincoln Project

U.S. ARMY - High-Tech Weapons Coming


A soldier aims an XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement weapon system at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. Army photo

"5 Army Weapons Soldiers Might Actually Get Their Hands on Soon" by Matthew Cox - 12/21/2020

Despite all the disruptions of 2020, Army modernization officials have tested new, longer-range and more precise infantry weapon systems.  They also announced efforts that could lead to future machine guns, precision grenade launchers and possibly even hand-held directed energy weapons.

Soldier lethality is a key Army modernization priority, one that has gained momentum since the service unveiled a strategy in 2017 to equip combat units with a new generation of air and ground combat systems.

Soldier lethality is a key Army modernization priority, one that has gained momentum since the service unveiled a strategy in 2017 to equip combat units with a new generation of air and ground combat systems.

In the short term, the Army wants to field new squad-level weapons to close-combat units and a set of high-tech goggles that projects a sight reticle in front of soldiers' eyes.

Soldier lethality is a key Army modernization priority, one that has gained momentum since the service unveiled a strategy in 2017 to equip combat units with a new generation of air and ground combat systems.

The service announced long-term efforts to develop new belt-fed, crew-served weapons, as well as to begin thinking about what infantry weapons will look like decades from now.

Soldier lethality is a key Army modernization priority, one that has gained momentum since the service unveiled a strategy in 2017 to equip combat units with a new generation of air and ground combat systems.

Here's a look at five weapons-related programs has reported on this year:

1.  Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS)

In October, Army modernization officials finished the third soldier touch point (STP) in which troops evaluated the first ruggedized version of IVAS.  The Microsoft-designed goggles are intended to provide a heads-up display that offers infantry troops situational awareness tools to help them navigate, communicate and keep track of other members of their unit day and night.

But IVAS is also designed to enhance troops'' marksmanship with a tool known as Rapid Target AcquisitionA special thermal weapons site mounts on the soldier's weapon and projects the site reticle into the wearer's field of view via Bluetooth signal.  Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division involved in the STP said it took some adjustment to learn how to shoot with IVAS, but most said they were easily hitting 300-meter targets from a standing position.  If all goes well, the IVAS is slated to be ready for fielding sometime in 2021.

2.  Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW)

The Army is in the final phase of evaluating NGSW rifle and auto rifle prototypes, chambered for a new 6.8mm round, that are slated to start replacing the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022.

Textron Systems, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc., and Sig Sauer have delivered prototype systems and ammunition that have gone through STPs.  Each vendor's design is unique and fires a different version of the 6.8mm ammunition.  The Army plans to select a single firm to make both the weapons and ammunition in the first quarter of fiscal 2022.

The NGSW weapons are so promising that U.S. special operations units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment and Special Forces units are expected to adopt them, as well as conventional units.

3.  Precision Grenadier

Army weapons officials announced in November that the service is pursuing a longer-term effort to arm some infantry squad members with a precision, counter-defilade weapons system designed to destroy enemy hiding behind cover.  Currently, two infantrymen in each squad are armed with an M4A1 carbine with an M320 40mm grenade launcher to engage counter-defilade targets, but weapons officials have long wanted something more sophisticated.

During the past decade, the Army tried to field the XM25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement System -- a semi-automatic, shoulder-fired weapon that used 25mm high-explosive, air-bursting ammunition.  XM25 stirred excitement in the infantry community but, in the end, the complex system was plagued by program delays that led to its demise.

The Army is currently conducting the Platoon Arms and Ammunition Configuration (PAAC) study -- scheduled to be complete by 2024 -- which will look at the enemies the service will face in the future and help guide weapons officials to a new counter-defilade weapon sometime in 2028, Army officials say.

4.  Next-Generation Medium and Heavy Machine Gun

Army weapons officials also announced in early November that the service wants to eventually replace the venerable 7.62mm M240 and the .50 caliber "Ma Deuce" M2 with next-generation machine guns.  But Army officials said that the decision to move forward on such a program will depend on the future performance demonstrated by the NGSW once it's fielded.  The PAAC study will also help to guide decisions on what the next-gen medium and heavy machine guns would look like, according to Army officials.

The Marine Corps is working the Army on the next-gen machine gun effort but is also assessing a .338 Norma Magnum machine gun -- that U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is developing -- to potentially replace the M240s in Marine rifle companies.

5.  Machine Gun Suppressors

The Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning, Georgia, live-fire tested a promising M240 sound suppressor from Maxim Defense during Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) 2021, which began in late October.  Benning officials said this is the first year that a machine gun suppressor has created excitement in the maneuver community.

Other suppressors in past tests have not been able to stand up to the heat and audible roar produced by the 7.62mm M240.  Finding a durable, affordable suppressor that can dampen the sound signature of an M240 would make it more difficult for enemies to locate and target machine gun teams from a distance, Benning officials say.

When the AEWE concludes in early March, Battle Lab officials will compile a report detailing the performance of equipment tested.  If testing continues to go well, the Battle Lab may recommend that the Maxim suppressor undergo further testing for possible fielding, according to Benning officials.

Looking further into the future, it will likely be a long time until infantrymen are armed with the blaster weapons like those carried by Stormtroopers or Han Solo in the "Star Wars" saga, but Army weapons officials have already started thinking about it.

"We are working on the Next Generation Squad Weapon ...  but then what's the next weapon after that?"  Col. Rhett Thompson, director of the Soldier Requirements Division at Benning, said during the National Defense Industrial Association's Armaments, Robotics and Munitions conference in early November.

"Does it fire a round?  Instead of a magazine with ammunition, is it some sort of energy capacity ...  or is it something more directed energy or something else?" he said.  "That is really what we are getting at as we get further out there, and some of that is kind of fun to think about."

Monday, December 14, 2020

CLIMATE CHANGE - Warming Arctic & Cold War Tensions

"Warming Arctic with less ice heats up Cold War tensionsPBS NewsHour 12/12/2020


SUMMARY:  The Arctic is warming up at near-record speed, twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change, according to the recently-released [NOAA] Arctic Report Card 2020.  Shrinking sea ice opens up the inhospitable far North to more human activity and old Cold War rivalry.  Special Correspondent Benedict Moran and video journalist Jorgen Samso report on the ‘new cold war’ from Nunavut, Canada.

MEMORIAM - Remembering the Lost to COVID-19

"Remembering some of those lost to COVID-19PBS NewsHour 12/11/2020


SUMMARY:  As another week of the devastating pandemic comes to an end we take a moment to honor some of those we've lost to COVID-19.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 12/11/2020

"Shields and Brooks on Republicans’ latest election challengePBS NewsHour 12/11/2020


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including congressional negotiations, President-elect Biden's cabinet picks and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Texas's election challenges.

Judy Woodruff:  And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello to both of you.

So, let's begin with the news this evening, the Supreme Court saying that they do not have standing to take this case filed by the state of Texas challenging, David, the election results in four states that voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump.

This is a case, gotten a lot of attention — or the suit, I should say — because there were 17 states, many states' attorneys general signed on, two-thirds of the Republican members of the House.

But now the Supreme Court has thrown it out, with dissent, we should say, by Justices Alito and Thomas.

But, David, what does this say about the state of our politics right now with regard to this election result?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Well, the court system has hung in there.

And I should pointed out all three Trump-appointed justices sided with the majority on this one.  And it's simply written in the Constitution that state legislatures get to control their own elections.  And the state of Texas doesn't get to tell Michigan and Pennsylvania and other states whether their elections are firm or not.

It was just an outrageous suit from the beginning, one of the desperate ploys Trump has tried.  The shameful thing, of course, is that 126 House Republicans signed onto it and a bunch of attorney generals.  It's a party that has just lost any touch with democracy.

Somebody said on Twitter today, Trumpianity is a very strange religion.  And, fortunately, unlike the legislative branch on the Republican side, the judicial branch has stayed true and faithful to the obvious meaning of the Constitution.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, as you watch this drama unfold, what do you make of it at this point, now that the Supreme Court has weighed in?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Well, I think we're in the final chapter, Judy.  At least I hope so.

I don't — I don't ever ask that people on the other side agree with me.  I do ask that you believe in what you say, in the position you take.  And this was an example of, I think, base hypocrisy on the part of House Republicans.

They — there are 153 safe Republican House seats in the House of Representatives, that is, that Republicans control or dominant in.  And what they're — they're terrified, the members there, are a primary, being primaried by a Donald Trump supporter who said, you didn't stand with the President.

And the Republicans are in a terrible position at this point.  They desperately want the Trump voters, the 11 million he brought in over four years ago, for example.  But they don't want Donald Trump.  They desperately want Donald Trump gone.

And so — but the last thing in the world they want to do is in any way incur his wrath, for fear he will do to them what he did to Mark Sanford or Jeff Sessions in Alabama, and that is punish them for not being 110 percent Trumpist.

Judy Woodruff:  But, in the process, David, are they doing damage to our democracy?

David Brooks:  Immense damage.

I mean, they're calling an election for millions and millions of people into question.  As we have talked about before, 77 percent of Trump backers think it was a fraudulent election.  So, where do we go going forward?

They're trying to not alienate Trump voters, but the 126 House members, including people like Kevin McCarthy, leaders, are basically telling his story.  And they're telling his [Trump's] comeback story.

They're giving every pretext for him to run again in 2024 and continue to make this Donald Trump's party.  And so if they wanted to get rid of Donald Trump, this was, in my view, the worst way to do it, because they have signed on to the gospel, and now they're more or less stuck with it.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, do you see long-lasting damage here?

Mark Shields:  Yes.

Judy Woodruff:  Is this something that the country can get through?

Mark Shields:  Yes, beyond the politics of it, Judy, the position taken is undemocratic.  It's hypocritical.  It's just indefensible, and when you're talking about elections.

I mean, I would assume that all Republican House members from Michigan and Wisconsin and Georgia and Pennsylvania who signed on to this suit would summarily resign from the House, because they're saying that they were elected in a criminal election.

It's certainly this illegality that they allege out of thin air didn't — wasn't limited just to the Presidential vote.  So, I just find it beyond — when I say that want the Trump voters without Donald Trump, they can't wait for Donald Trump to be gone.

I mean, how they quiver in fear about him [Trump].  They just — they're terrified of him.  It's not born of affection or anything of the sort or a high regard.  It's born of rank fear.  And that has to be demeaning for every Republican in the House who signed on.

Liz Cheney, the third member of the House leadership from Wyoming, did not, and good for her.

Judy Woodruff:  David, let me ask you both about something else the Congress is not doing, in this instance, and that's a finding a way to come up with relief, help for people suffering in this pandemic.

It's been months and months.  They have come down to the wire.  They figured out a way to fund the government another few days, but they still don't have COVID relief.  What is the holdup here?  And do you see them getting through this?

David Brooks:  Well, this is a foundational problem, too.

If faith in God collapses, then the church collapses.  If faith in our institutions and each other collapses, then the nation collapses.  And so undermining the election is one piece of that.

But unwilling — the unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of views on the other side is another piece of it.  And we have had five months of people unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of their views and come to meet them halfway.

We finally last week had a legislature behave like it's supposed to behave, where we had eight senators who created a compromise, along with members of the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House.  And they created a very reasonable and, to me, on the merits, a very good compromise on how to get COVID relief.

To their great credit, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said, OK, this is our framework.  Mitch McConnell won't go there.  And so he's not willing to do the work of legislation.  He says that their — that compromise will not work with Republicans.

Well, Mitch McConnell's position won't work with Democrats.  So, that's what politics exists for.  And so it's just another piece of a fundamentally broken political system.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, do you see a way through this?

Mark Shields:  I do, Judy.

I think — it's unthinkable to me that they will not pass a COVID relief bill.  I mean, we're talking about Americans on the eve of Christmas without the resources to feed their children, to heat their homes, to pay their rent.

We're not talking about some giveaway to anybody.  We're not talking about a major stimulus.  We're talking about human survival and human dignity.  And I just can't believe that the Republicans, Mitch McConnell, who is threatened by this, they're all consumed with the February (sic) 5 election in Georgia.

And if you're Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue running in those special Senate elections, and you have to stand up there and defend that the Republican Senate was the stumbling block to sending relief to American families in desperate need at Christmastime?  I don't think so.

So, I think that, finally, urgency and political survival will intervene.

What threatens Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, is, a leader has to be able to deliver his troops.  Right now, he's got a problem, because he doesn't have a majority of his caucus on this side.

And David's right about the bipartisan group meeting, but they represent a threat to leadership.  And I give Speaker Pelosi credit for accepting the act of the bipartisan negotiation.

But Mitch McConnell — if the leader is going to be held hostage by bipartisan groups negotiating a fair deal, then, oh, my goodness, there goes your power, because, in Washington, the perception power is power.  If I think you have power, you do.  And if enough people think you have power, then you do.

And once there are doubts about your power — and I think that's where McConnell finds himself right now.

Judy Woodruff:  David, in the time we have left, I do want to ask you about President-elect Biden.

He's been introducing more of the top people in his administration, the people he wants to serve.  I guess the one who's getting the most criticism or attention that has been critical is Lloyd Austin, the retired Army general, to be secretary of defense.  But there are others.

It's interesting, a number of familiar faces from the Obama administration.  What do you make of the — some of the senior picks he's made so far?

David Brooks:  Well, Joe Biden has picked people he really knows, people he knows well.  He spent a lot of time with Lloyd Austin in Iraq when he was vice President.  He's picked Denis McDonough for the VA, who, by the way, is one of the most fundamentally decent people I have ever covered in public life.

These are, by and large, almost entirely, very good people, but very familiar, Susan Rice over now at the domestic side.  And so they are people he knows, he trusts who will be ready on day one.  And so it's — it is really Obama three, in that sense.

I also share some of the concerns with Lloyd Austin, not for anything having to do with Lloyd Austin and his performance.  But there's a reason we have this rule, this tradition, and also a rule, that you don't have generals switching right over to the defense secretary.  It's about civilian control.

It's about picking people who have distance from the current military brass.  And that is a very solid and sensible rule.  And in the Jim Mattis case, where we also had to get an exemption, that struck me as an extreme circumstance where getting Jim Mattis in there was so important, it was worth breaking the rule.

Now there must be a lot of very qualified people, like Michele Flournoy, who could be Secretary [of] Defense.  I don't quite see why we run this risk of traversing what is a sensible principle.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Mark, what is your assessment of some of these Biden — some of the main Biden picks so far?

Mark Shields:  Well, Judy, I think, in dramatic contrast to his predecessor, Joe Biden was knocked by his political opponents for having spent 47 years in Washington [DC].

He knows these people.  He's worked with them.  He knows their strengths and their weaknesses.  If they turn out to be lemons, it's because Joe Biden picked them, not because they were imposed upon him.  And so I really think that the strength of the nominees is that Joe Biden certifies them, validates them.  And that's the accountability of a presidential leader.

And on the whole, I remained impressed by them.  I would point out that any money that's left over from the stimulus, the original bailout on COVID, will be in the stewardship of Janet Yellen, as Secretary of Treasury.  And I think there's somebody who will spend it wisely and well and quite humanely.

Judy Woodruff:  And on that note, we thank you both, Mark Shields, David Brooks.

Have a great weekend.

Mark Shields:  Thank you.

POST VOTE 2020 - Voter's Being Duped

Once again, Republics prove they no longer support democracy.

"How voters are being ‘duped’ by Trump’s election challengesPBS NewsHour 12/10/2020


SUMMARY:  A lawsuit filed this week by the Texas Attorney General asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay certification of election results in four states won by President-elect Joe Biden.  President Trump and 17 states, all with Republicans attorneys general, signed on to the case, which experts say has little chance of being heard by the justices.  Judy Woodruff Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to discuss.



"Supreme Court denies Texas attempt to overturn election resultsPBS NewsHour 12/11/2020


SUMMARY:  In a closely watched decision the U.S. Supreme Court late Friday denied an attempt by the state of Texas, supported by a large number of Republicans, to overturn the election results and President-elect Joe Biden's victory in four states.  Judy Woodruff spoke with John Yang, Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor to discuss.

U.S. MILITARY - Fort Hood Murder

"Report finds a ‘failure of leadership’ after Fort Hood murderPBS NewsHour 12/09/2020

COMMENT:  I served 22yrs in our Navy (now retired) and served on a Court Martial board (enlisted as a CPO) so I have some direct experience.  Also I was assigned to a command that had both our Commanding Officer and Executive Officer removed.  If nothing else the carriers of the officers involved are ended.


SUMMARY:  A new independent report details widespread systemic problems at Fort Hood, Texas, including a culture that allows sexual assault in its ranks.  It was ordered after the murder of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa GuillĂ©n, and led to the removal or suspensions of 14 senior officers.  Nick Schifrin spoke with retired Col. Ellen Haring, a research fellow at the Service Women's Action Network, to discuss.

FACEBOOK - Federal Trade Commission & 46 States File Lawsuits

"Facebook under fire as states seek to rein in the social media giantPBS NewsHour 12/09/2020


SUMMARY:  Facebook is one of the most valuable companies in the world, but its dominance is the subject of major new antitrust actions.  A pair of lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission, and by 46 states, allege that Facebook used its power illegally to drive out competition and buy out rivals.  Phil Weiser, Colorado's Democratic attorney general, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the suits.

COVID - Vaccine Rollout

"Britain rolls out a vaccine, but what will distribution look like in the U.S.?PBS NewsHour 12/08/2020


SUMMARY:  The first shots of a COVID vaccine in Britain Tuesday delivered new hope around the world.  Officials in the U.S. want to begin rolling out a vaccine in the coming weeks.  But there are many concerns about getting the vaccine out to those who need it in the coming months.  Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.



"How a vaccine will be administered to hard-to-reach communitiesPBS NewsHour 12/08/2020


SUMMARY:  A COVID-19 vaccine may be ready for distribution as soon as this month in the U.S. for some of those who are most in need of protection against the virus.  But how will a rollout look in the coming months, including for some hard-to-reach populations?  Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of global health at Emory University School of Medicine, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.



"Do states have what they need to conduct mass vaccinations?PBS NewsHour 12/10/2020


SUMMARY:  Many are hoping the first doses of a Pfizer vaccine could be given out in the U.S. as soon as next week, and a vaccine by Moderna could follow before the month's end.  But there are real concerns about how quickly states can conduct mass vaccinations.  Amna Nawaz spoke with Dr. Jennifer Kates, senior vice president and director of global health at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, to discuss.



"Inside the attempt to build trust about the COVID-19 vaccine in Black communitiesPBS NewsHour 12/12/2020


SUMMARY:  As COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out, some Americans remain skeptical about taking these vaccines.  For the Black community, historical distrust makes their concerns even greater.  NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker speaks with doctors, scientists and educators about how they are working on building confidence in the vaccines for a community that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

RESTITUTION - For Nazi Ceased Art?

"Heirs to medieval art collection sold to Nazis seek restitutionPBS NewsHour 12/07/2020


SUMMARY:  The heirs to a 11th-century collection of art say their Jewish ancestors were forced to sell some of the collection in 1935 to Nazi agents.  They are now seeking restitution in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  John Yang reports.

BREXIT - Orderly Departure From EU? With COVID Pandemic?

"Will Brexit lead to an orderly departure from the European Union?PBS NewsHour 12/07/2020


SUMMARY:  It's crunch time for Brexit, and negotiations between London and Brussels are at a critical point that will determine whether the UK leaves in a "hard Brexit" or whether disputes over trade can be resolved that will avoid chaos come Jan 1, 2021.  Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports.

CONGRESS & COVID RELIEF - Deadlines Loom Yet Nothing Happening

"Congress nears economic aid deal as critical deadlines approachPBS NewsHour 12/07/2020


SUMMARY:  With the COVID-19 pandemic surging and some economic relief set to expire soon, Congress is nearing a deal on hundreds of billions of dollars in new aid.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to walk us through what's on the table.



"Under pressure, lawmakers scramble to provide economic reliefPBS NewsHour 12/09/2020


SUMMARY:  Lawmakers on Wednesday continued to tangle over the details of a bipartisan economic relief bill during the pandemic, even as two-thirds of Americans say the federal government needs to do more to address economic hardships created by the coronavirus, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff with the latest.



"‘Frustrated and fractured’ Congress remains at an impasse on COVID reliefPBS NewsHour 12/07/2020


SUMMARY:  There was a swirl of activity in Washington, D.C.  Friday from the U.S. Capitol to the Supreme Court.  Congress remains at a stalemate over a bipartisan relief bill, while the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit brought by Texas that challenged the validity of election results in four states won by President-elect Joe Biden.  Judy Woodruff spoke with John Yang and Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONDUCT - Charging Textbook Fees When Pandemic Closes Schools

"The Pandemic Hasn’t Stopped This School District From Suing Parents Over Unpaid Textbook Fees" by Ellis Simani ProPublica, and Kim Kilbride South Bend Tribune - ProPublica 12/12/2020

When Hannah Watts received a reminder notice in the mail in January for the $701.56 she still owed for her childrens’ textbook fees from last year, she decided to use her tax refund to pay it off in the spring.  But two months later, the coronavirus pandemic shut down Indiana.  Watts is a dental assistant, and her hours at work were slashed.  She had no choice but to use the refund to cover household expenses.

Watts, of Mishawaka, Indiana, says she didn’t hear anything else about the bill until Aug 7, when a notice appeared on her door.  School City of Mishawaka, the public school district her three children attend, had filed a lawsuit against her.

Watts called the law firm representing the school district, and she made arrangements to pay the balance in two installments using money she had saved to buy school clothes for her three high school students.  She said that a representative from the firm assured her that no further legal action would be taken as long as the full balance was received by her scheduled court date of Sept 14.

Bank records Watts provided to ProPublica and the South Bend Tribune show a payment of $400 cleared her bank on Aug 26 and another for $301.56 cleared on Sept 14.

But the hearing took place anyway.  And since Watts thought the matter was settled and didn’t show up to court, a default judgment was entered against her for attorney fees and court costs of $348.83.

As the coronavirus pandemic closed courtrooms and stunted the economy, court records show that several school districts in Indiana backed off from suing parents for unpaid textbook fees, including Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp., which neighbors School City of Mishawaka.

But in July, School City of Mishawaka filed 202 lawsuits against parents, with 80 more in August.  All told, court records show the district has filed 294 cases since late March, which represents about 5% of its enrollment of approximately 5,300 students in the 2019-20 school year.

The Mishawaka suits came as critical pandemic relief measures began to expire around the country.  Millions of Americans had been kept afloat by stimulus checks, eviction bans and expanded unemployment benefits, but in July and August, some landlords and debt collectors returned to court to seek money from those who didn’t pay up.

A Mishawaka schools spokeswoman said the judgment was entered against Watts because, though she paid the balance of the textbook fees online on the date of the hearing, she didn’t pay the attorney fees of $233.83 that had been added to her account.

For her part, Watts said she wasn’t aware.

“I recognize the fact it’s my responsibility to pay, and I should have had it paid on time,” Watts said of the book fees.  “But my issue is now I have (attorney and) court fees when I did exactly what they asked.”

After being questioned about the case, School City of Mishawaka said it was confident Watts had been notified about the attorney fees, but it later announced it would forgive the fees and seek to vacate the judgment against her.  Court records show that the district filed a motion to vacate the judgment on Dec 8.

Indiana is one of at least nine states that allow school districts to charge fees for required textbooks, according to the Education Commission of the States, a national education policy organization.

The state reimburses districts for textbook rental and materials fees only for those who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.  Otherwise, parents must pick up the bill.  When they can’t or don’t pay, schools can file small claims lawsuits against them, resulting in added attorney fees and court costs.

Online court records show at least 38 school districts across Indiana listed as plaintiffs in small claims lawsuits since the beginning of the year.  Of those, Mishawaka has filed the most cases since March, when the coronavirus began to spread across the country.  (This tally does not include districts that may employ third-party debt collection agencies to pursue debt and file lawsuits on behalf of the districts.)

Judy Fox, head of the Economic Justice Clinic at the University of Notre Dame, says suing parents for book fees, especially amid the pandemic, when covering rent and groceries may already be a struggle, can set off a chain reaction of negative outcomes.  If courts rule in favor of school districts, they can garnish parents’ wages.  That could lead to evictions, leaving families struggling to find housing at a time when staying home is essential.  And unpaid bills sent to collection agencies may surface on background reports used by landlords to screen potential tenants.

“It’s just a vicious, vicious cycle,” she said.

Mishawaka Moves Forward

Alex Newman, chief financial officer of School City of Mishawaka, said the district debated whether to pursue unpaid fees over the summer.  It ultimately decided to file the suits because the fees dated back to the fall of 2019 and were originally due in November of last year, before the pandemic.

“We looked at the data — there was no drastic increase in terms of the number of families, or the number of cases, or the amount, and so we decided to move forward,” Newman said.

Each year, he said, families are given information multiple times about how to apply for free textbooks.  They’re also sent notices of textbook fees and given opportunities to set up payment plans at least four times before their accounts are turned over to attorneys.

The final statement that’s sent by the district, after Nov 1, explains that if textbook fees aren’t paid, the account will be sent to collections and may include additional attorney fees and court costs.  And even after the accounts are referred for collections, parents are notified of the balances and are able to set up a payment plan with the attorneys before any court action is taken.

In a typical school year, unpaid accounts are not turned over to attorneys until March.  Because of the pandemic, that didn’t happen until June this year.

The district’s agreement with its attorneys, Krisor & Associates, says the law firm can charge families an additional 33% of their unpaid balance, which it keeps.  In recent years, Newman estimated, the district has referred between $40,000 to $60,000 in unpaid debt annually, and the firm has returned about $25,000 to $35,000 to the school district.

Collecting unpaid fees is a necessity, Newman said, to keep the district’s textbook fund in the black and ensure it doesn’t have to compensate by using money earmarked for other priorities.

“This is probably the least favorite part of my job,” Newman said.  “We like to support our families.”  But ultimately, he said, “We feel we have an obligation to the parents who do pay their fees to collect from those who don’t but appear to have the means to pay them.”

While small claims lawsuits filed by districts fell substantially in the wake of the pandemic in March, some other districts have returned to court over the past two months.  After pausing lawsuits against parents in March, Goshen Community Schools, which serves about 6,600 students and lies about 20 miles southeast of Mishawaka, resumed lawsuits in November.

In a Nov 11 letter to families, Steven Hope, who was then the interim superintendent for Goshen, announced a pivot to virtual learning for some students in the district due to “increasing rates of positive COVID cases along with the number of students and staff in quarantine, absences of students, staff, and teachers, the added demands on nursing staff, custodial staff and bus drivers due to a lack of substitutes.”

Court records show that the district filed small claims lawsuits against 21 parents that same day, and it would go on to file nearly 200 cases in total in November.

“We knew that it was still a painful time, but it wasn’t going to change the fact that the debt was still owed later on,” said Kelley Kitchen, executive director of finance for Goshen.  “We’re trying very hard to balance the needs of the school district with the needs of families.”

“I Can’t Pay It, So Whatever”

Most Mishawaka families who were sued by the district during the pandemic didn’t show up to court, and default judgments were awarded to the district (meaning the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff because the defendant did not appear).  About 100 of the cases filed were later dismissed, which the district says is usually because the parent has paid off the debt in full or an error was made in the filing.

Pamela Foohey, a law professor at Indiana University Bloomington who specializes in consumer, bankruptcy and commercial law, said filing small claims suits against parents is likely a useful way to collect unpaid fees for school districts.  The filing fees are low, the courts rule in plaintiffs’ favor when defendants don’t show up and once a district has a judgment, it can return to court to seek a garnishment of a parent’s wages or, in some cases, their assets.

Unpaid debts can also be reported to credit bureaus, leading to additional consequences.  “While a judgment on the default does not affect a consumer’s credit score, the default on the debt will appear on a consumer’s credit report and will negatively affect the credit score,” Foohey said.  “Both the default and the default judgment could be viewed negatively by a prospective landlord or employer.”

Fox, from Notre Dame, has represented parents in the past who were sued for book fees.  Many of them, she said, had income levels just slightly above the eligibility guidelines for free textbooks, which for a family of four is an annual income of $48,470 or less.  Others qualified but didn’t understand they needed to fill out paperwork each school year to get the benefit.

“You can have a $100 school fee very soon blown into a $1,000 debt,” she said.  “They keep growing and growing and growing.  People do not understand that, but again I think a lot of these folks are like, ‘I can’t pay it, so whatever.’”

A review of court records suggests that the majority of parents sued by Mishawaka schools this year owed money for textbooks, but at least two were for unpaid preschool tuition.

Melissa Madou, of Mishawaka, whose two daughters attend school in the district, says she was sued in July for $240 worth of chocolate bars that she was supposed to help her daughter, then in eighth grade, sell.

“The candy bars were for a trip they had planned, but they canceled the trip because of COVID and they wanted all their money back,” Madou said.

Court records show that after Madou missed her court date on Sept 14, a default judgment was entered against her for the $240 she owed the district, plus $115 in court costs.

Madou, who is deaf, expressed concerns over the prospect of going to court during a pandemic, and she also said that she was unsure whether the court would provide her with a sign language interpreter.

In a statement provided to ProPublica and the Tribune, a Mishawaka schools spokeswoman said that Madou was mailed two notices about her outstanding debt from not selling or returning the chocolate bars and was also contacted over the phone through a relay service to discuss the issue.

In October, Madou said that she was able to work out a payment arrangement with the district after repeated efforts to contact it.

“I just said I was sorry and that I would pay $50 a month.  I’ll just have to accept it and move on.”

Moving Away From Court Cases

Jerry Hawkins, executive director of business services for Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp., said the district paused collections because of the pandemic.  Even before that decision, it had transitioned away from a collection practice that is centered on taking parents to small claims court.

Penn-Harris-Madison filed more than 400 lawsuits against parents in 2018.  But after hiring a collection agency to send additional notices to parents about their debt, Hawkins said, the district was able to drastically reduce the number of potential small claims cases it was handing over to attorneys to file in the following years.

“Most parents have been appreciative and willing to work with us,” Hawkins said.  “We would say that we still have too many that haven’t paid, but I don’t think it’s as severe a situation as it could be.  The hope is that by working with more parents that will serve us well in the long run.”

South Bend Community School Corporation, which neighbors Mishawaka and has about 16,700 students, filed lawsuits against nearly 800 families in 2019 and more than 1,000 in 2018.  This year, the district filed none.

Kareemah Fowler, chief financial officer for South Bend schools, said that the district is currently reviewing its policy on using the courts to collect unpaid fees from families.  Previously, Fowler noted, some students were unable to receive their diplomas because of outstanding balances for textbook fees.  (Indiana state law says that a school corporation cannot withhold curricular materials or deny a student any privileges because of a parent’s failure to pay required fees.)

Fowler also suggested that some of the families the district had been taking to court may have actually qualified for free textbooks.  “Seventy percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced lunch, but not all of them sign up,” Fowler said.  “There are 20% that probably can’t afford the fees but just have not gone through the proper procedure.”  She noted that the district has taken steps to encourage more parents to sign up, including through community and social media outreach, as well as providing the forms online.

The district said the 2017-18 school year was the last for which it sent outstanding textbook fees to collections.  Since then, its textbook rental fund has been steadily losing money.  Alex Flores, South Bend’s director of internal audit, estimates that the fund has lost more than $500,000 over the last three years.  “We’ll have to reallocate resources from other places if this continues going forward,” Flores said.

Indiana is one of just a handful of states, including Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Kansas, that allows parents to be charged for books and other curricular fees.  Education advocates say that the state’s constitution guarantees a “tuition-free” education, not a free education.

State Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) is one lawmaker who has tried to change that throughout the years by proposing legislation that would provide funding for textbooks for all, though the bills have never passed.

“These families oftentimes are struggling with other parts of life that can impact a students’ ability to get ahead.  And we as a school system are handcuffing them further by not providing the materials that we require them to use,” Hatfield said.

[State] Rep. Bob Behning (R-In) chairman of the [Indiana] House Education Committee for the past six years, said textbooks for all would come with a $70 million a year price tag.

Amid a national teacher shortage, Behning said, “the bigger issue is teacher pay.”

Newman, the Mishawaka CFO, agrees educator raises are a priority.  But, he also thinks the state should try to find a way to reimburse districts for textbooks.

“We’re here to educate students,” he said.  “We’re not here to collect money.”

AUTO CHILD SAFETY - Booster Seats Endanger Children's Lives

"Congressional Investigation Finds Many Booster Seat Makers 'Endangered' Children’s Lives After Review of 'Meaningless Safety Testing'" by Patricia Callahan, ProPublica 12/11/2020

IMHO:  The attitude of manufactures is (sadly) typical; 'we have the right to manufacture a product that kills people if it meets regulatory minimums.  We are under no obligation to make a product that does not kill people.'

In an unusually harsh and pointed report, a U.S. House subcommittee, responding to a ProPublica investigation, found widespread evidence that the nation’s largest manufacturers of car seats “endangered the lives of millions of American children and misled consumers about the safety of booster seats” in crashes that can kill or paralyze children.

On Friday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy upped the ante, formally requesting that federal highway safety regulators, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, investigate “unfair and deceptive marketing and unreasonable risks to safety” by the makers of booster seats.  Separately, the subcommittee urged state attorneys general to look for violations of consumer protection laws by these companies.

“Our investigation revealed that booster seat manufacturers are more interested in leading parents to believe that their products are safe rather than ensuring that they actually are,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, told ProPublica.

The subcommittee had sought to determine whether the findings of ProPublica’s February investigation into Evenflo, a major manufacturer of booster seats, held true across the industry.

ProPublica determined that Evenflo was marketing its top-selling Big Kid Booster as “side impact tested” even though the company’s own tests demonstrated that child-sized dummies careened far outside their seatbelts in simulated crashes.  A top Evenflo engineer admitted in a deposition that real children could suffer catastrophic head, neck and spinal injuries — or die — if their bodies moved the way the dummies did in Evenflo’s side-impact tests.  ProPublica spoke to the parents of children grievously injured in just such crashes.

As part of its investigation, ProPublica obtained years of Evenflo’s testing videos, thousands of pages of sworn depositions by company employees and marketing materials that, until then, had largely been shielded by court secrecy orders.  The records showed that Evenflo was able to invent its own side-impact test, and determine what constitutes a passing grade, because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] failed to enact standards governing these tests, despite being directed by Congress to do so 20 years ago.

Though less common than head-on collisions, side-impact crashes accounted for a quarter of U.S. deaths of children under 15 in vehicle crashes in 2018, the most recent year of data available.  Nevertheless, booster seat makers in the U.S. need only to subject their seats to crash tests that mimic the forces of a frontal collision.

All booster seat manufacturers follow the same lax rules, but without the same access to internal documents, ProPublica was unable to determine whether tests of seats made by Evenflo’s competitors showed the same alarming potential for injury and death.

The House subcommittee found they did.  The subcommittee initially launched its own probe of Evenflo, a subsidiary of Goodbaby International Holdings Ltd., but then broadened it, requesting testing videos and internal company documents from six other major manufacturers of boosters.  The test records of other manufacturers’ seats showed dummies thrown from their shoulder belts or slamming their heads into simulated doors in ways that the investigators said “expose some children to risk of serious injury and death.”  Indeed, the investigators said the manufacturers were relying on “meaningless safety testing.”

The subcommittee’s 33-page report echoed many of ProPublica’s findings.  Evenflo was “among the worst offenders” in marketing its seats for children as light as 30 pounds, the congressional investigators found, despite “decades of expert consensus that booster seats are not safe for children under 40 pounds.”  Children who weigh that little are best protected in traditional car seats with internal harnesses; boosters raise children up so they can use seat belts designed for adults.

Canada forbids manufacturers from marketing boosters for children under 40 pounds.  After U.S. labels on Evenflo’s Canadian seats forced three recalls in Canada by 2012, an Evenflo engineer, who had earlier raised safety concerns, pressed the company to change the minimum weight on its American boosters to 40 pounds.  A marketing executive shot down his request.  Evenflo “refused to protect American children by implementing the same standards” as Canada, the investigators wrote.  “These executives were willing to spend $30,000 for different labels in the U.S. and Canada to keep the same unsafe 30-pound recommendation for seats sold in the U.S. rather than use the safer 40-pound recommendation.”

Evenflo and its largest competitor, Graco, which is subsidiary of Newell Brands, both raised the minimum weight for their boosters to 40 pounds this year after ProPublica’s investigation and after the subcommittee launched its probe.  Three other companies — Baby Trend, Artsana, and KidsEmbrace — “continue to make the unsafe recommendation for 30-pound children to use their booster seats,” the investigators wrote.  A news release from the subcommittee on Thursday noted that recent moves by Artsana, which sells seats under the Chicco brand, “indicate it may also be following suit in response to this investigation” and raising the minimum weight to 40 pounds.

The February ProPublica report revealed that under the rules that Evenflo created for its side-impact tests, the only way to fail was if the child-sized dummy was thrown onto the floor or the seat broke into pieces.  “Rather than directly test for risk of injury and death to children by monitoring stress and contortion of a child-sized crash test dummy, Evenflo gave itself a passing score every time,” the subcommittee investigators wrote.  Setting such a low bar “fails to account for the wide range of dangerous outcomes children face in side impact collisions, such as severe spinal cord and neck injuries,” they wrote.

The investigators included what they called “troubling images” from Evenflo test videos, which show the heads and torsos of dummies sprawled far from the protective shell of the booster.  And the congressional team highlighted the case of Jillian Brown, a New York girl who weighed 37 pounds and was 5 years old when she was paralyzed in a side-impact crash on Long Island in 2016 while seated in an Evenflo Big Kid booster seat.  The investigators quoted ProPublica’s description of Jillian’s crash and explained that she suffered what medical experts call “internal decapitation.” Jillian, whose family settled their lawsuit with Evenflo this fall, relies on a ventilator to breathe.

“Evenflo’s material misrepresentations that its booster seats are side-impact tested for safety — when its self-designed standards are so grossly inadequate — is unfair and deceptive,” the congressional investigators wrote.

Evenflo’s general counsel did not respond to an email seeking comment, but the company in the past has said its seats are safe and effective, that it has been a pioneer in side-impact testing and that Jillian’s injuries were caused by driver error.

The congressional investigators found that Evenflo wasn’t the only company that created a test that was “nearly impossible to fail.”

A Graco test video shows a child-sized dummy in a Graco booster thrown far outside the confines of the seat in what the investigators called a “dangerously contorted position” during a “mild side-impact simulation.”  Graco gave the booster seat a passing grade, they wrote.  That kind of movement can lead to grave injury or death because the child’s head, neck and spine can strike the door, another passenger or something else in the car.

A Graco spokeswoman on Thursday said that the company has been cooperating with the subcommittee’s investigation and that Graco “stands behind its long record of safety in car seats and extensive testing methods that meet or exceed federal regulation, including booster seats.”

A Graco spokeswoman on Thursday said that the company has been cooperating with the subcommittee’s investigation and that Graco “stands behind its long record of safety in car seats and extensive testing methods that meet or exceed federal regulation, including booster seats.”

Congressional investigators wrote that Evenflo, Graco, KidsEmbrace, Britax, Dorel Juvenile, and Artsana all engaged in deceptive marketing practices.

A Graco spokeswoman on Thursday said that the company has been cooperating with the subcommittee’s investigation and that Graco “stands behind its long record of safety in car seats and extensive testing methods that meet or exceed federal regulation, including booster seats.”

“KidsEmbrace makes misleading statements to consumers that give the impression that its booster seats are side-impact tested when they are not,” the investigators wrote.  “KidsEmbrace admitted in a response letter to the Subcommittee that it does not side-impact test its booster seats at all.”

The congressional investigators also singled out Dorel for its “AirProtect” feature, which the company says minimizes the risk of injury to children in side-impact collisions.  “This is unsubstantiated and misleads consumers into thinking the seats are actually safe,” the investigators wrote.  In a test video, the head of a child-sized dummy in a Dorel seat hit a simulated door in a side-impact test, the investigators wrote.  The AirProtect technology “does not appear to protect a child’s head and neck from a side-impact collision,” they wrote.

Likewise, Britax advertises that its “Side Impact Protection surrounds your child’s head, neck and torso,” a claim that the investigators said “appears designed to mislead consumers.”  In a test of a Britax Frontier harness-to-booster combination seat, “the child dummy’s head is violently slammed against the door of the car as the sled decelerates, and the dummy’s head is not protected by Britax’s proprietary technology,” the investigators wrote.

A so-called combination seat like the Frontier is designed to be used with internal harnesses until the child outgrows them, then converted to a booster.  A photo of the test in the House report showed a harnessed dummy rather than one in booster mode, but even in that mode, the dummy’s head slams against the door.

Paul Nathanson, a spokesman for Britax, said that “this test was not conducted by Britax and we are unable to discern from where it originated.”  The seat, he said, “appears to be one of the original Frontier harness-to-booster seats launched over 10 years ago.”  Nathanson said that Britax’s claims about side-impact protection are “substantiated by the product’s thoughtful engineering, testing, and careful selection of components and materials” and that the company evaluates its seats “based on how well they contain the head and minimize head, chest and pelvis acceleration.”

Artsana declined to comment on the report.  KidsEmbrace and Dorel did not respond to an email seeking comment.  And Baby Trend could not be reached.

A spokeswoman for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, the industry’s largest trade group, said it “supports stringent federal standards and remains relentless in our efforts to improve product safety and support parents and caregivers in selecting and using products to care for and protect infants and young children.”

Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Katie Porter a California Democrat, for months have been pressuring NHTSA to enact tougher standards for booster seats.  The agency last proposed side-impact tests for children’s car seats in January 2014, but that proposal has languished.  Last month, NHTSA proposed raising the minimum weight for boosters to 40 pounds but said it planned to exclude boosters from side-impact testing requirements it is considering.

The congressional investigators castigated NHTSA for failing to regulate boosters “in any meaningful way.”

On Friday, a NHTSA spokesman said that “issuing new side-impact performance standards for child restraint systems is a highly complex process” that involves “extensive development and testing” and an overhaul of many of its performance requirements.  The agency has not approved a side-impact dummy that represents how a child over 40 pounds would move in such a crash.

“This process is necessary to ensure an objective and representative performance test, which will save more children’s lives,” the spokesman wrote.  “NHTSA looks forward to publishing the final rule for side-impact standards soon.”

In the subcommittee’s Friday letter to the acting administrator of NHTSA, Krishnamoorthi and Porter urged the agency to investigate “dangerous practices” of the booster seat manufacturers.  “We have previously addressed NHTSA’s failure to require appropriate booster seat labeling recommendations and side-impact testing through rulemaking,” they wrote.  “Due to this regulatory lapse, we believe that NHTSA must now rein in manufacturer’s misconduct through its other enforcement tools.”

Porter, in a news release on Thursday, accused NHTSA of “falling short and failing to hold booster seat manufacturers accountable, which is putting countless kids and families at risk.”

“Getting this right is a matter of life and death,” Porter said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in the news release, “Congress must intervene.”