Trump Suggests Replacing the U.S. Income Tax with Tariffs – Huh!

Dear Commons Community,

While many of his policy pronouncements are strictly shooting from the hip, Trump yesterday raised the prospect of scrapping the U.S. income tax system and replacing it with much higher tariffs on imported goods.

Trump has for some time proposed an across-the-board 10% increase in tariffs for imports, but his comments implied far heavier trade duties that would likely be passed on to consumers. The campaign of President Joe Biden immediately pounced on the idea as hurting U.S. families.

Trump floated the idea while talking to House Republicans near the U.S. Capitol in what was described a pep talk” in his first visit to the Capitol campus since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“Most intriguing policy idea from the GOP meeting at the Capitol Hill Club this morning: Trump briefly floated the concept of eliminating the income tax and replacing it with tariffs,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) in a social media post.

Citing sources inside the meeting, CNBC also reported Trump had raised the idea of an “all tariff policy.”

The consensus among economists is that tariffs jack up consumer prices because companies would need to charge more for goods and services to make up what they’re paying in tariffs. Economists have also said Trump’s other proposals for new levies would boost inflation in general. Inflation and the price of consumer goods have already become a major talking point ahead of the 2024 election, even as the economy has grown briskly.

Currently, tariffs bring in only a small portion of the $4.4 trillion in revenues the U.S. government brings in every year. According to the Treasury Department, annual Customs duties, which include tariff payments, amounted to $88.3 billion in the 2023 fiscal year. Income taxes, on the other hand, raised more than 20 times as much, $2.2 trillion.

To bring tariff revenues anywhere close to income tax levels would seem to require hefty boosts in tariffs well beyond the 10% Trump initially proposed.

Paul Krugman, the  New York Times columnist and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, gave a quick estimate in a social media post: “I’ll have to write this up in detail, but my first-pass estimate is that this would require an *average* tariff rate of 133 percent.”

A request for comment to the Trump campaign was not immediately answered.

The Biden campaign, which has already hammered at Trump’s 10% across-the-board tariff idea, teed off on the idea, focusing on the regressive nature of it. While the U.S. progressive income tax code means poor families have no or little tax liabilities, tariffs by themselves would likely raise prices without any similar protections.

“The only people who benefit from this regressive, thoughtless policy are Trump’s billionaire donors, who get a windfall at the expense of working class Americans,” said James Singer, spokesperson for the Biden campaign.

“American families get higher costs, Trump’s rich donors get richer,” Singer said.

In one way, Trump’s idea would simply be a return to the past. Prior to the imposition of the income tax in 1913, tariffs were a main source of government revenue. But, according to the Congressional Research Service, they have not accounted for much more than 2% of federal revenues in 70 years.

Trump hinted at that idea by reportedly praising President William McKinley at the meeting Thursday.

Before getting to the White House, McKinley was a member of the House of Representatives and best known for the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which boosted tariffs by nearly 50% on imports.

The political blowback from the law was disastrous for McKinley and his fellow Republicans, though. They lost 93 seats in the House in the next election.

I hope Trump keeps proposing the tariff tax!

Tony

 

U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Efforts to Restrict Abortion Pill

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected calls to restrict access to mifepristone, one of the two drugs used in medication abortion, in a  ruling yesterday morning..

The ruling is a small win for abortion-rights groups, who believe the case was brought to the Supreme Court by a politically motivated anti-choice group that had no scientific-based evidence for rolling back access to mifepristone.

The ruling in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, rejected the plaintiffs on standing. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion. As reported by several news media.

“Several pro-life doctors and associations sued FDA, arguing that FDA’s actions violated the Administrative Procedure Act. But the plaintiffs do not prescribe or use mifepristone. And FDA is not requiring them to do or refrain from doing anything,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“Rather, the plaintiffs want FDA to make mifepristone more difficult for other doctors to prescribe and for pregnant women to obtain,” he continued. “Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue. Nor do the plaintiffs’ other standing theories suffice. Therefore, the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge FDA’s actions.”

The ruling is not surprising given what happened during March oral arguments. A majority of the justices, including some conservatives, appeared highly skeptical of whether Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine could even bring the case.

Plaintiffs are required to show they’ve suffered real harm in order to obtain standing to sue, and from the moment arguments began, the justices homed in on whether the group — and specifically, the doctors cited as examples in its briefs — met that bar. Many of the questions asked during arguments suggested that even the court’s most conservative justices saw the alliance’s standing argument as tenuous at best.

Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a collection of five anti-abortion medical groups, had claimed that the Food and Drug Administration overlooked safety issues when it loosened the rules for prescribing the abortion drug in 2016 and again in 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The anti-abortion group wanted to prohibit mifepristone from being sent through the mail or distributed at large pharmacy chains, among other restrictions.

“We recognize that many citizens, including the plaintiff doctors here, have sincere concerns about and objections to others using mifepristone and obtaining abortions,” the ruling states. “But citizens and doctors do not have standing to sue simply because others are allowed to engage in certain activities ― at least without the plaintiffs demonstrating how they would be injured by the government’s alleged underregulation of others.”

Although the ruling is a win for pro-choice groups, the ruling does not outright protect mifepristone. The decision still leaves the door open for future attacks on medication abortion, either through copycat lawsuits or continued litigation in U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s courtroom.

Kacsmaryk, a far-right Donald Trump appointee well-known for his anti-abortion views, is the federal judge who ruled last year that the FDA unlawfully approved mifepristone when it first went to market over two decades ago. After the Supreme Court took the case, Kacsmaryk allowed attorneys general from Idaho, Kansas and Missouri to be added as plaintiffs to the case. Those officials have suggested they will continue litigating the case.

President Joe Biden released a statement in response to the ruling, writing that mifepristone and medication abortion remain available and approved across the country. “Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues,” Biden wrote. “It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.”

The president also committed to calling on Congress to restore federal abortion protections.

Democrats and pro-choice groups were relieved by the court’s decision, but cautioned not to celebrate the ruling as a huge win.

“This decision was based not on the merits but the lack of standing — we are not yet out of the woods. This shouldn’t be a decision women are forced to fear year after year, case after case,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Nancy Northup, the president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said she is both relieved and angry about the court’s decision because it simply maintains the status quo.

“This case has no basis in fact or law and the lower courts should never have let it go forward. The FDA’s rulings on medication abortion have been based on science,” Northup said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the attacks on abortion pills will not stop here ― the anti-abortion movement sees how critical abortion pills are in this post-Roe world, and they are hell bent on cutting off access. In the end, this ruling is not a ‘win’ for abortion ― it just maintains the status quo, which is a dire public health crisis in which 14 states have criminalized abortion.”

Small wins are better than no wins!

Tony

Senate Democrats Launch Probe of Foreign Payments to Jared Kushner’s Firm

Dear Commons Community,

Democrats are increasing their scrutiny of Jared Kushner’s business activities.

Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Kushner’s firm, Affinity Partners, for details about its investors on Wednesday, including the $2 billion it received from the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund in 2021.  As reported by The Huffington Post.

“Mr. Kushner’s limited track record as an investor, including his nonexistent experience in private equity or hedge funds, raise questions regarding the investment strategy behind the seeding investments and lucrative compensation that Affinity received from the Saudi PIF and other sovereign wealth funds,” Wyden wrote.

A panel that screens investments for the Saudi sovereign wealth fund warned against investing with Kushner, given his inexperience in finance, but the full board, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, overruled the panel, The New York Times reported in 2022.

Kushner advised Trump on foreign affairs, guided his administration to embrace Saudi Arabia as an ally, and remained in close contact with the crown prince even after he was implicated in the dismembering of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The Saudi PIF’s decision to invest $2 billion in Affinity so soon after Kushner’s departure from the Trump White House raises concerns that the investment was a reward for official actions Kushner took to benefit the Saudi government, including preventing accountability for the Saudi government ordering the brutal murder of journalist and American citizen Jamal Khashoggi,” Wyden wrote.

Wyden’s letter asked Affinity Partners for details about its seeding investments, the investments made by the firm, as well as the fees it has received, and the amount Kushner has been paid. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment made through its website.

Wyden’s letter represents an escalation of Democratic scrutiny of Kushner’s business activities, which have been controversial from the start. Even House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-Ky.), an aggressive defender of Donald Trump, said last year that he thought Kushner “crossed the line of ethics” with his Saudi deal.

Comer has overseen Republicans’ impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden, which has largely focused on business deals by the president’s son. Republicans have said he improperly traded on his father’s former position as vice president during the Obama administration.

Democrats on Comer’s committee have highlighted the millions Trump’s business received from foreign governments while he was president and also questioned Kushner’s Saudi payday. Unlike Wyden, however, House Democrats don’t have subpoena power because Democrats don’t have a majority in the chamber.

The investigation of Kushner is long overdue!

Tony

Scientists Using AI Publish New Study Suggesting that Every Elephant Has Its Own Name!

Dear Commons Community,

What’s in a name? It’s more than a sound people make to get your attention — it’s a seemingly universal hallmark of human society and language, the specifics of which set us apart from our fellow animals. Now, scientists say they have found evidence with the help of artificial-intelligence-powered tools that elephants call each other by names too.

“They have this ability to individually call specific members of their family with a unique call,” said Mickey Pardo, an acoustic biologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and an author of a study published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Elephants’ trumpeting calls might be their most recognizable sounds, but these “are basically an emotional outburst,” Dr. Pardo said. Lower-pitched rumbles, he said, are more meaningful, as they make up a majority of elephant vocalizations and are used in a wide variety of social situations. “A lot of interesting stuff is going on in the rumbles,” he said.

To decode these rumbles, Dr. Pardo and George Wittemyer, a professor of conservation biology at Colorado State University and chairman of the scientific board for the nonprofit Save the Elephants, analyzed 469 vocalizations made by family groups of adult elephant females and their offspring recorded at Amboseli National Park and the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves in Kenya.

Elephant rumbles can be difficult for the human ear to differentiate, so the researchers used machine learning analysis: Essentially, they relied on A.I. to break down different elephant calls.

Individual elephants seemed to respond to certain rumbles from other elephants, and the researchers fed those sounds into their A.I. tool. “If the calls have something like a name, you should be able to figure out who the call is addressed to just from the acoustic structure of that call alone,” Dr. Pardo said.

So far, the scientists are not sure precisely which part of a vocalization might be the elephant’s “name.” But they found that their A.I. tool’s ability to identify the intended recipient of a rumble far exceeded what random chance would dictate.

They supplemented these analyses with fieldwork conducted by Dr. Pardo and David Lolchuragi, a co-author of the study and a research assistant at Save the Elephants. The researchers played recordings of rumbles to elephants and filmed their responses; they found that the individual elephants reacted more strongly to their “names” than to other calls, perking up their ears and rumbling back.

Another elephant, nicknamed Margaret, calls back quickly when researchers play a recorded sound that may correspond to her name.CreditCredit…Michael Pardo

“I was super excited,” Dr. Pardo said, “especially when we got the playback results, because I think that’s the strongest piece of evidence that the elephants can actually tell, just from hearing the call, if it was intended for them or not, and they respond more strongly to the calls that were originally directed to them.”

Other animals, including dolphins and parrots, have been found to call one another by what scientists have called “names.” But those are imitations of sounds that other individuals frequently make. That’s different from how humans create names — for instance, if your name is John, you probably didn’t get that name because of your tendency to walk around saying “John” repeatedly. But African bush elephants, Dr. Pardo and his colleagues argue, may be the first nonhuman animals shown to call one another by names as humans understand them, based on abstract sounds.

While this finding is preliminary, Dr. Pardo said that elephants calling one another by arbitrary sounds would be significant because humans assign arbitrary sounds to objects in order “to communicate about things that don’t make any imitable sound. It really expands the breadth of things that we can talk about.” It’s too early to say if this means that elephants may have names for other objects, but the way they seem to name one another leaves that open as a possibility.

Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, an acoustic biologist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved with the project, described the study as a “game-changer.”

“It’s only been recently, with A.I. and machine-learning tools, that this kind of analysis is now possible,” Dr. O’Connell-Rodwell said. The study’s argument for such sophisticated communication by elephants “makes perfect sense when you’re trying to spread out to forage and need to have specific contact,” she said.

These insights into elephant communication reveal “how important that social fabric is to the very existence of this animal,” Dr. Wittemyer said. “Social bonding is fundamental to everything about elephants,” he said.

This commonality between elephants and humans could even benefit conservation, Dr. Wittemyer said, because it might “help us recognize ourselves in them, which is the only way that we seem to understand anything.”

The text above was taken from an article that appeared in The New York Times.

Tony

Former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan Torches Trump in Scathing Fox News Interview:  “He is unfit for office”

Dear Commons Community,

Former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan tore into Donald Trump yesterday, saying he won’t be voting for him and calling out his lack of character and principles.

“If you put yourself above the Constitution, as he has done, I think that makes you unfit for office,” he told Fox News host Neil Cavuto.

Cavuto asked if that was because of “the whole Jan. 6 thing.”

“That’s a part of it,” Ryan said. “I think it really is just character at the end of the day, and the fact that if you’re willing to put yourself above the Constitution ― an oath you swear when you take federal office, whether as president or a member of Congress, you swear an oath to the Constitution ― and you’re willing to suborn it to yourself, I think that makes you unfit for office.”

Ryan also blamed Trump for GOP election losses in recent years.

“He’s cost us a lot of seats,” Ryan said. “He cost us the Senate twice. He cost us the House because he is nominating, he is pushing through the primaries people who cannot win general elections but who pledge fealty to him.”

Ryan, who added that he doesn’t support President Joe Biden either, said voters have been given “terrible choices” for the Nov. 5 election.

“In a country with 350 million people, this is the choice we have?” Ryan said. “I, like the majority of Americans, wish we had a different choice.”

Ryan lamented that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the Republican presidential primary race in March yet continues to get a sizable protest vote in the later primaries, was not going to be the Republican nominee.

“She’d probably win this thing by 12 points,” he said.

Ryan said he will write in a “conservative Republican” in November but added that he hasn’t selected that person yet.

Tell it like it is, Paul!

Tony

Joe Biden shows support for son Hunter after conviction – says he will respect verdict!

Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter Biden upon arrival at Delaware Air National Guard Base. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Commons Community,

President Joe Biden, in his first comment after Hunter Biden was found guilty on all three counts in his federal gun trial, expressed love for his son and vowed to accept the verdict handed down by the jury yesterday.

“As I said last week, I am the President, but I am also a Dad,” Biden said. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery.”

“As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal,” the president added. “Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

Biden also said last week that he would not be issuing a pardon in his son’s case.

The president traveled to Delaware later yesterday. Hunter Biden greeted his father when the president arrived, getting out of the motorcade and embracing on the tarmac. Hunter was joined by his wife, Melissa, and their young son, Beau.

Hunter Biden was indicted in September by special counsel David Weiss on two counts related to false statements in purchasing a firearm and a third count of illegally obtaining a firearm while addicted to drugs.

His indictment and conviction mark a historic first for the child of a sitting U.S. president.

Hunter was guilty without a doubt.  Good to see his father and family by his side.

Tony

Apple to integrate A.I. into its iPhones with “Apple Intelligence”

Dear Commons Community,

Nearly two years after OpenAI ignited a race to add generative artificial intelligence movement, Apple jumped into the competition yesterday, as it revealed plans to bring the technology to more than a billion iPhone users around the world.  As reported by The New York Times and other media.

During a two-hour presentation from its Silicon Valley campus, Apple said that it would be using generative A.I. to power what it is calling Apple Intelligence. The system will prioritize messages and notifications and will offer writing tools that are capable of proofreading and suggesting what users have written in emails, notes or text. It also will result in a major upgrade for Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant.

Apple’s plans to offer A.I. in its iPhones represents the next step in bringing artificial intelligence into the consumer mainstream. Apple, the marquee name of Silicon Valley, could do more than any other company to add credibility to a technology that has more than a few critics, who worry that it is mistake-prone and could add to the flood of misinformation already on the internet.

Apple’s new A.I. features could also help calm concerns that the iPhone maker had slipped behind its biggest rivals in the tech industry’s embrace of artificial intelligence. The value of other tech companies, like Microsoft and Nvidia, has ballooned because of their aggressive A.I. plans. Earlier this year, Microsoft dethroned Apple as the most valuable technology company in the world.

While introducing its new A.I., Apple emphasized how it planned to integrate the technology into its products with privacy in mind. The company said that the technology, which can answer questions, create images and write software code, would perform sensitive tasks. It showed how the system would be able to automatically determine if a rescheduled meeting time would complicate plans to attend a child’s theater performance.

It said that the computer processing would be done on an iPhone rather than in data centers, where personal information has a greater risk of being compromised. For complex requests that require more computing power, it has created a cloud network with Apple semiconductors that, it said, is more private because it’s not stored or accessible, even by Apple.

Apple struck a deal with OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, to support some of its A.I. capabilities. Requests that its system can’t field will be directed to ChatGPT. For example, a user could say that they have salmon, lemon and tomatoes and want help planning dinner with those ingredients. Users would have to choose to direct those requests to ChatGPT, ensuring that they know that the chatbot — not Apple — is responsible if the answers are unsatisfying. Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, attended the Apple event.

Apple’s deal with OpenAI, which already has a close partnership with Microsoft, is another indication that the young San Francisco company has clearly become the tech industry’s leading developer of A.I. technology.

A.I. at everyone’s fingertips.

Tony

New York State proposes dropping Regents exams as high school graduation requirement!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York State Education Department proposed yesterday ending a requirement that students pass Regents exams to earn a high school diploma, as part of the most sweeping overhaul of public school graduation measures in decades.

Officials advanced four “proposed transformations” to the Board of Regents based on recommendations made by a key commission in the fall. Also on the table are proposals to offer only one type of New York diploma, rework credit requirements, and broaden the skills and knowledge students need to graduate. 

As reported by The New York Daily News.

“All too often, our students may say, ‘well, what is the purpose of me learning this? So why do I have to do this?’” Angelique Johnson-Dingle, deputy commissioner of instructional support at the Education Department, told the board. “The answer can no longer just be because it’s on the Regents exam. The answer has to be that because you can use this in life.”

The changes require approval by the Board of Regents before they can go into effect.

For a typical diploma, students currently must pass at least four Regents exams and another state-approved assessment, and meet certain credit requirements. New York is one of just nine states that still mandate exit exams, including others that are considering dropping the requirement.

While tests would continue to be administered, the end of the requirement could have ripple effects in classrooms across New York, where students who fail the Regents have been shut out of earning a diploma, and some teachers feel hamstrung into teaching toward a test. But experts say that implementation is key.

“The Regents had devolved or descended into months of test prep and rote learning, so it’s a welcome end to that era,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education law and policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

“But what the new era portends is questionable and troubling. It’s not clear from the presentation what New York high schools will look like in the future,” he continued. “Rigorous coursework needs to be required, and there’s nothing in this presentation that assures that will be the case.”

Education Department Commissioner Betty Rosa at the Board of Regents meeting lamented what she suggested was the “narrative” that New York is doing away with assessments, rather than adding new skills and knowledge requirements. The state Education Department has faced criticism for what some parents and advocates view as lowering standards for graduation.

“We want to put them (students) at a major advantage by creating critical thinkers, problem solvers, students that have the competencies and skills that they need to be successful,” Rosa said. “That has to be our focus.”

Meanwhile, the Education Department proposed reworking credit requirements to focus on proficiency over the completion of time-based “units of study.” While students could continue to take traditional high school courses, they could alternatively earn credits through approved work opportunities, capstone projects, and other methods.

Also under the plan, New York would move to a system with only one diploma available to all graduates, eliminating the local and “advanced designation” diplomas that Rosa and other officials have said complicates matters and attaches a stigma to what colleges and employers may view as a lesser degree.

Instead, students could pursue a seal or endorsement in areas such as biliteracy and civic readiness to stand out from their peers.

The Education Department is hosting a series of public hearings between July and October on the proposals. Officials are expected to present an implementation plan to the Board of Regents in November.

I note that my colleague, David Bloomfield, is quoted in this article.

Tony

English-Language Books Growing in Popularity and Filling Europe’s Bookstores. Mon Dieu!

Credit…Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

In Europe, more people are choosing to read in English even if it is not their first language because they want the covers, and the titles, to match what they see on osocial media.  As reported by The New York Times.

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan was in the Netherlands a few years ago promoting her most recent novel, “The Candy House,” she noticed something unexpected. Most of the people who asked her to sign books at author events were not presenting her with copies in Dutch.

“The majority of the books I was selling were in English,” Egan said.

Her impression was right. In the Netherlands, according to her Dutch publisher, De Arbeiderspers, roughly 65 percent of sales for “The Candy House” were in English.

“There was even a sense of a slight apology when people were asking me to sign the Dutch version,” Egan said. “And I was like, ‘No! This is what I’m here to do.’”

As English fluency has increased in Europe, more readers have started buying American and British books in the original language, forgoing the translated versions that are published locally. This is especially true in Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and, increasingly, Germany, which is one of the largest book markets in the world.

Publishers in those countries, as well as agents in the United States and Britain, worry this could undercut the market for translated books, which will mean less money for authors and fewer opportunities for them to publish abroad.

“There is this critical mass,” said Tom Kraushaar, publisher at Klett-Cotta in Germany. “You see in the Netherlands: Now there is a tipping point where things could really collapse.”

The English-language books that are selling abroad are generally cheap paperbacks, printed by American and British publishers as export editions. Those versions are much less expensive than hardcovers available in the United States, for example, and much less expensive than the same books in translation, which have to observe minimum pricing in countries like Germany.

“People should read in whatever language they want,” said Elik Lettinga, publisher of De Arbeiderspers in the Netherlands. But the export editions, she continued, “undercuts on price.”

English sales have accelerated in recent years, in part because books now go viral on social media. Booksellers in the Netherlands said that many young people prefer to buy books in English with their original covers, even if Dutch is their first language, because those are the books they see and want to post about on BookTok.

I admire the European education systems that have put such an emphasis on second and third language learning.  It is one of the great disadvantages of our American system that we do not do the same.

Tony

 

Parents Pledging to Keep Kids Phone-Free!

Credit…Stefhany Y. Lozano

Dear Commons Community,

A growing movement among parents across the country is a “signing pledge” to keep kids phone free. By committing not to give their children smartphones until an agreed-upon age, parents are hoping for strength in numbers when schoolyard pressure starts to build. The impetus for the movement in part is a new book by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that argues the rise of smartphones has led to an increase in mental illness. The New York Times has a featured article this morning describing the “signing pledge.”  Here is an excerpt.

Kiley DeMarco recently attended Safety Night at her children’s public elementary school on Long Island. As she walked around different booths learning about how to protect her children from accidentally taking a cannabis gummy, about a local violence-prevention program, about how police officers would respond to an emergency on campus, one station caught her eye: A parent was asking other parents to take a pledge not to give their children smartphones until the end of eighth grade.

Ms. DeMarco has two children, one in kindergarten and one in first grade. But like many parents, she has already read books and research arguing that smartphones, and the social media apps on them, drastically increase anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts in teenagers.

Asking parents in the same school to commit to holding back phones until a certain age made sense to her. “It means there is no gray area,” she said. “There is a clear grade level when they get the phone.”

The idea of acting collectively, in lock step with other parents, made her feel more confident that she could keep her commitment. “It totally takes the pressure off of us as parents,” she said. “Down the road, when my kids start begging for phones, we can say we signed this pledge for our community and we are sticking to it.”

In schools and communities across the country, parents are signing documents pledging not to give their children smartphones until after middle school. The idea, organizers say, is that if parents take action together, their children are less likely to feel isolated because they aren’t the only ones without TikTok in their pockets.

Considering the prevalence of smartphone use among young people, it’s a bold step: Research from Common Sense, a nonprofit organization that provides technology reviews for families, shows that half of children in the United States own cellphones by age 11 — roughly fifth or sixth grade.

According to Zach Rausch, an associate research scientist at New York University who studies child and adolescent mental health, case-by-case decisions not to have a smartphone or social media can be “risky” for individual children, socially speaking.

“They are saying, ‘I might be banished from all my friends and my social network,’ and it’s a pretty big cost to make that choice,” he said. “But if the parents collectively work together to set the boundary, it will reduce a lot of conflict. It won’t be, ‘My friend has this, but I don’t.’”

Many groups of parents are drawing on a playbook created by Wait Until 8th, an organization that helps parents collect no-phone pledges from their children’s classes at school. Fifty-four pledges in 16 states were created in April alone, each of which had at least 10 families signed up, said Brooke Shannon, the initiative’s founder and executive director.

“I think we’re getting a flood of pledges now because the ‘Anxious Generation’ book came out, and it’s getting a lot of traction,” Ms. Shannon said, referring to a new book by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that argues the rise of smartphones has led to an increase in mental illness. “There are also hearings with the Senate judicial committee and the rules coming out of Florida.” (In March, Florida enacted a bill banning social media accounts for children under 14.)

Indeed, some parents are organizing these pledges because they believe their local governments or schools are not taking enough action.

Good luck to these parents.  Our children are better off free of their phones.

Tony