Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Last Call For Trumpcare Returns

Trumpcare is coming whether you want it or not, and the latest broadside to try to sink the Affordable Care Act is turning cheap, garbage temporary health insurance plans into year-long plans that will happily wreck the market.

It’s another day and the Trump administration is trying to stick another knife in the Affordable Care Act. This time it comes courtesy of a proposed expansion in the length of time a household can receive a lower cost, short-term health-coverage plan that does not meet the Affordable Health Care’s standards for insurance.

Under the new proposal, households can purchase the more limited plan for a year — up from three months.

If this proposal goes through — and the chances are very high that this regulatory change will ultimately be finalized — it could cause enormous damage to the Affordable Care Act, while at the same time not do a thing to help people with the increasingly high cost of health insurance.

That’s not what the Trump administration says, of course. Officials claim people will find it easier to afford health insurance under the new rules. As Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, tweeted out this morning: 


The short-term plans are currently limited to three months of use. The ACA originally intended them as stop-gap coverage — if, say, someone is in-between jobs or transitioning between work and school. The ostensible goal of lengthening that period is to extend coverage to people who are currently not covered by the ACA — because they cannot afford the premiums — by creating longer-term cheap insurance options.

It’s true that these plans will be cheaper than typical insurance. But there is a reason for that. As Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms put it to me Tuesday: “The first thing for people to know is that these plans are not health insurance.”

As Corlette explained, under the ACA, insurance companies have a lot more leeway with the short-term plans. They can screen people for preexisting conditions — and either charge them more or refuse to offer them a policy entirely. The short-term plans don’t need to offer coverage for things such as prescription drug coverage, maternity care and mental-health services. They can impose an annual or overall lifetime limit on how much they will cover.

All of these things are prohibited for ordinary plans under the ACA. And so, by trying to expand the period the shorter-term plans can be utilized by consumers (by the way, the administration is also contemplating allowing people to renew the plans), the administration is essentially setting up a parallel system to the ACA, and one that allows insurance companies to offer much skimpier plans in the way of benefits.

In other words, by turning the temp plans into 12 month plans, Trumpcare will flood the market with cheap plans that people will buy thinking Trump "saved them money".  The damage will be catastrophic and it almost certainly means that insurance companies will turn the market of good plans into a dumpster fire.

Between this and the death of the individual mandate, the ACA is pretty much done.

Meanwhile, In The Rest Of The World

The US was largely absent from the 2018 Munich Security Conference over the weekend, after all Donald Trump had to play golf and sent National Security Adviser HR McMaster in his stead, but as Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe points out, lack of US leadership right now is leaving a world facing utter turmoil with nobody steering the boat.  Dempsey identifies five issues that the world has yet to deal with:

First, North Korea. During a Congressional debate on U.S. foreign policy, the American delegation saw North Korea as its main threat. Senator James E. Risch, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that if Trump uses force in North Korea, it will be of “biblical proportions,” not a “bloody nose.” Unfortunately, Risch had to leave the panel early so he couldn’t take questions. 
The bipartisan panel was at a complete loss about how to deal with North Korea on the diplomatic level. They did not rule out the use of force, but they did not endorse regime change, having seen the consequences of the latter in Iraq and Libya. They did call on China to do more, such as impose a stricter sanctions regime and in some way apply pressure on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. It would have been very helpful during the question and answer session to really engage with Fu Ying, the chairwoman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the National People’s Congress, instead of listening to her anodyne answer. 
Second, NATO. There were plenty of reassurances by American diplomats about Washington’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance. “Continuity” was the word they kept using. There was no cajoling about the Europeans having to spend more on defense or take on more of the burden sharing. 
Yet the alliance is in bad shape. One of its leading members, Turkey, is attacking Syria, is locking up journalists, judges and civil servants, and is running roughshod over the rule of law. There’s hardly a whimper about this from NATO, which professes to be an alliance based on values and democracy. 
And NATO, as a military and political organization, has to cope with a myriad of issues, from cybersecurity to its new training role in Iraq, which some diplomats fear might mutate into a combat mission. This is what happened in Afghanistan when the original stabilization mission turned into a full-fledged military operation. 
Third, Russia’s presence in Munich was pathetic. The speech by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov verged on bitterness and paranoia. There wasn’t one spark or one foreign policy idea raised by Lavrov. Instead, his speech revealed the immense chasm between Russia and the United States. This was pretty obvious not only by the language Lavrov used but by the speech given later by H.R. McMaster, the U.S. National Security Adviser. He told the conference that there was “incontrovertible” evidence of Russia’s interfering in the U.S. presidential election
Fourth, Ukraine. Whatever the reason, the countries (France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine) that forged the 2015 Minsk accord aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine didn’t even convene in Munich to discuss how, if at all, to take Minsk II further. If anything, there was a depressing sense of drift when it came to trying to resolve this conflict that has displaced or affected nearly two million people, not to mention the continuing skirmishes in the Donbas region. 
The speech by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko didn’t help matters, either. His unwillingness to tackle corruption and strengthen the rule of law has been a feature of his presidency over the past few years. Things will not improve in the run-up to next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. And blaming Russia is no substitute for Kiev delaying fundamental reforms.

Fifth, with the Middle East being torn to bits by ambitions led by Iran and Saudi Arabia—and Turkish, Russian, and Qatari interference all playing their own insidious roles—there was no meeting of minds during the high-level discussion on the region.

The main protagonists—Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran—weren’t part of the panel debate (which probably wouldn’t have taken place had the organizers insisted on including these countries). Instead, there were separate statements made by the three regional actors. Each had their own agenda. Each openly showed their disdain for each other. 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the conference that Israel was ready to take action against Iran. Brandishing a piece of an Iranian drone that was shot down in Israeli airspace last week, Netanyahu looked directly at the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in the audience, and asked him: “Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours. You can take a message back to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.” Netanyahu was right to raise all of Iran’s human rights violations. But the audience was in no mood to listen given the way he delivered his speech. 
Later, in his statement, Zarif, who is rarely criticized by Europe’s top diplomats for Iran’s abuse of human rights and support of terrorist movements, said: “What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled.” He was referring to the recent downing of an Israeli F-16 jet in Syria. Separately, in an interview with NBC News, Zarif warned that if Israel fulfilled its threat to attack Iran, that “they will see the response.” No shortage of threats there.

There are a huge number of serious foreign policy issues right now, and the Trump regime is wholly and completely unequipped to handle any of them, let alone all of them at once.  We've ceded North Korea to the Chinese, Russia and Ukraine to Moscow, NATO to the Germans, and the Middle East to the Saudis and Israel.

Meanwhile, the "leader of the free world" is too busy golfing and tweeting...and gaslighting the world on how the Russians somehow didn't help him in 2016.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The Mueller investigation continues to build the case against Trump, Russia, and his associates, and Mueller is starting to close in on Trump's inner circle.  The biggest target close to Trump is his shifty son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who's most likely neck deep in the Russian game as well as the international money laundering angle and has been for years.  Lo and behold, that's exactly who Mueller is zeroing in on these days.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry. 
This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner's discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China
US officials briefed on the probe had told CNN in May that points of focus related to Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, included the Trump campaign's 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner's own contacts with Russians. 
Mueller's investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner's conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation. 
It's not clear what's behind Mueller's specific interest in the financing discussions. Mueller's team has not contacted Kushner Companies for information or requested interviews with its executives, according to a person familiar with the matter. 
During the presidential transition, Kushner was a lead contact for foreign governments, speaking to "over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries," according to a statement he gave to congressional investigators. 
Before joining the administration, Kushner was also working to divest his interests in Kushner Companies, the family company founded by his father. In early 2017, Kushner also divested from the 666 Fifth Avenue property that his family's company purchased in 2007 for $1.8 billion. The interests were sold to a family trust that Kushner does not benefit from, a spokesperson said at the time. 

Trump's money laundering operation is global.  China, Russia, the Middle East, South America, where there's a Trump property, there's Kushner, playing fast and loose with the rules.  If Mueller's looking at Kushner and non-Russian money laundering, then the door's wide open on what he can find.

And somehow, Kushner still has a temporary security clearance.  Still.

With Mueller now taking a look at Kushner, the probe has now reached Trump's family. And if anyone knows where all the bodies are buried in the Trump Organization, it's Jared Kushner.

Meanwhile this morning, another indictment has dropped.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed a charge against a lawyer for lying to investigators about his interaction with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in September 2016. 
Alex Van der Zwaan is expected to plead guilty Tuesday afternoon. 
He is also accused of lying about the failure to turn over an email communication to the special counsel's office. He was speaking with investigators about his work with Skadden Arps in 2012 when the firm did work for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko. 
Van der Zwaan has a plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at US District Court in Washington, DC.

This looks like part of the Rick Gates plea deal that we expect later this week, as well at yet another connection to the Russian nationals who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016.

Stay tuned.

StupidiNews!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

Over the weekend the news broke that Rick Gates has flipped and is willing to testify against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.  If you want to know how terrified the Trump regime is of the Mueller investigation right now, and of Mueller's indictments on Friday of 13 Russian nationals in a conspiracy to influence to 2016 election, it seems once again that Trump supporters are floating trial balloons of mass pardons to derail the Mueller probe once and for all.

After months of criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, President Donald Trump’s supporters are issuing increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons to limit the investigation’s impact. 
“I think he should be pardoning anybody who’s been indicted and make it clear that anybody else who gets indicted would be pardoned immediately,” said Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and senior vice president at the conservative Center for Security Policy.

The pleas for mercy mainly extend to the four former Trump aides who have already been swept up in the Russia probe: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. But they don’t stop there. 
“It’s kind of cruel what’s going on right now and the president should put these defendants out of their misery,” said Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist. “I think he should pardon everybody — and pardon himself.” 
Klayman and Fleitz spoke before Mueller indicted thirteen Russian nationals on Friday for staging an elaborate 2016 election interference operation in the United States. Democratic leaders said the hard evidence of Russian meddling underscores the importance of letting Mueller’s investigation run its course. 
But many conservatives note that the new indictment shows no evidence of collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin. That reinforces their view that Mueller’s real target, if any, should be Russian President Vladimir Putin — not Trump’s circle. “[H]ow long will the leftist witch hunt against @RealDonaldTrump continue,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted hours after the indictment’s release.

Trump's running out of time.  Once Gates starts singing on Manafort -- and Trump -- things get a lot more complex.  It shows how utterly terrified Trump's people are over the events of the weekend.  The only out they see is mass pardons for everyone involved, including Trump himself.  It's self-serving and awful, but it worked for Dubya and Scooter Libby and kept him out of prison.

The fact that the Trump people wasted no time going straight to pardons this week shows how shaken they are by this.  They know full damn well more indictments are coming.  Lots of them.  Trump's people are going down and hard.

So why the pardon talk now?  Trump may be more receptive to it.  After all, people are beginning to openly question the legitimacy of his presidency after this weekend.

Mueller’s indictment details a well-financed propaganda campaign, undergirded by identity theft, wire fraud, and illegal subversion of U.S. election law, which involved the recruitment of unwitting American political activists, and the creation of thousands of troll accounts on social media. We know that this is just one compartment of the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump win, because it excludes charges related to the theft of Democratic emails, and it is silent on the multiple other channels Russia had available to them to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, including propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik, and a partnership with Wikileaks. 
Whatever Trump’s specific awareness at the time of the facts alleged in the indictment, we know Trump and his most senior aides were aware that the Russian government was involving itself in the campaign on his behalf, and endeavored to encourage and conceal the meddling. 
The fact that the election turned out to be so close is perhaps the crowning achievement of the conspiracy. With a budget of over $1 million a month to target swing state voters with disinformation on social media, multiple troves containing thousands of stolen emails, “news” outlets at your fingertips, the complicity of a major party political nominee, and impunity from American law, could you move 80,000 votes in three states? 
It’s clearly not crazy to believe the answer is yes, and thus that the crimes that made the election unfair also determined its outcome. In an election so close that many individual factors were decisive, a major foreign espionage attack surely could have been as well. The difference is that the other factors were seemingly legal, and internal to American politics. 
There is no mechanism in American politics to annul a corrupted election, and a congressional majority determined to prop up a president who cheated his way to power can assure he serves out his term. But a question mark like the one that now hangs over Trump’s victory is a potent political fact unto itself, and acknowledging it is perhaps our best means of stigmatizing the bad deeds Trump engaged in to win the presidency. We can’t ignore it because it feels uncouth, or even because those who want to undermine American democracy are surely thrilled that an argument over whether the election was stolen for Trump is now inevitable.

You have to admit, issuing blanket pardons would definitely change the narrative, because right now the narrative is becoming lethal for Trump and the 2018 chances for the GOP in the midterms.

Stay tuned.

It's About Suppression, Con't

The Pennsylvania congressional map saga is far from over as the state's Supreme Court is expected to issue a newly-redrawn map today. State Republicans are immediately expected to challenge the new map in federal court with the intent of tying up the proceedings for months, if not years.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to release a new congressional district map on Monday, after weeks of political and legal fighting following its ruling that the map adopted in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander
But whatever the map looks like, don’t expect it to end the battle. 
Republican lawmakers have vowed to resist the court’s order, saying they will seek a federal challenge to whatever map is selected.

“This issue has grown bigger than the map,” Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and top attorney for Senate Republicans said last week. “I don’t know what the court’s going to do, I really don’t. But it’s not like we’re planning a lawsuit only if certain things happen — we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re working on every sort of gyration.” 
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said Republicans would likely seek an injunction in federal court
It would continue a nasty fight that has only intensified in the weeks since state high court last month ruled the congressional map unconstitutional and ordered a new one drawn in time for the primary election in May. Republicans immediately attacked the justices as partisan and accused the court of overstepping its bounds.

Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) have made several attempts to block the court’s ruling, including a request that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene, which Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. denied. They also attacked a state Supreme Court justice as biased in an attempt to get him disqualified; the justice declined to recuse himself, saying he had not crossed any lines. Scarnati has refused to comply with court orders to share data intended to help the justices draw a map, and a rank-and-file Republican lawmaker is seeking cosponsors to sign onto an attempt to impeach the court’s Democratic justices. 
As those fights raged, the deadline loomed: The state Supreme Court had given the Republican-controlled legislature less than three weeks to draw a new map and send it to Wolf, a Democrat. Pennsylvania’s congressional map is normally enacted as legislation, going through the normal process of passing through the legislature and being signed by the governor. When it became clear the legislature had run out of time, Scarnati and Turzai drew their own map and sent it directly to Wolf
Wolf rejected that map last week, joining a growing consensus that the map was still a partisan gerrymander.

I don't think it'll be hard for the GOP to find a federal judge who will block the map itself, saying the state Supreme Court somehow overstepped its authority in authoring it.  When that happens, the fight will be brutal, but the practical upshot is that I expect the new map to be tied up in court for months, to the point where the US Supreme Court will block any new map from going into effect for the 2018 election saying that changing the map that close to an election would do more harm than good.

It'll be "regrettable" of course, but really the GOP is in the position where they can wait out the clock on this and win by default. If the map never actually gets changed, then the GOP wins by default.

The new map came out earlier this afternoon:


The clock begins ticking today.  Remember, a map like this would put something like 5 or 6 safe Republican seats into play overnight, and that many seats would be enough to make the difference in turning a blue wave that crashes against a solid GOP gerrymander wall into Speaker Nancy Pelosi in January. 

They will fight this every millimeter of the way.  Trust in that.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

If Democrats are going to take back the House in 2018, one of the districts they'll need to win is PA-18, where a special election next month to replace disgraced Republican Tim Murphy (who left the House over an affair and abortion scandal involving his mistress) is a dead heat.  Democrat Conor Lamb is running a tight campaign against Trump-supporting Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, but this is definitely rural red state Pennsylvania, and the voters here that turned on the Democrats over the last eight years did so with a vengeance.  Lamb has a plan to win them back, but it's not exactly endearing him to Democrats outside the state.

Lamb, the Democratic candidate in a neck-and-neck special election on March 13, has to hope the people of Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District will likewise listen to what he has to say before judging him by his party affiliation. In this part of the state, where highway billboards sport Bible verses and the start of deer hunting season is a holiday, Democratic politicians tend to flunk doctrinal tests. Even though registered Democrats technically outnumber Republicans here by 70,000, Trump won the district by nearly 20 percentage points. Mitt Romney and John McCain posted similar margins. Former Rep. Tim Murphy, the outspoken anti-abortion Republican whose seat Lamb is running to fill—Murphy resigned after reports that he encouraged his married mistress to get an abortion after a pregnancy scare—won eight straight elections, the first six by double-digit margins and the last two uncontested.

Lamb, a square-jawed 33-year-old Marine Corps officer who resigned from his job as a federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh to run, has a chance to upend the district’s politics—as long as he can avoid being labeled a liberal without discouraging the district’s not inconsiderable Democrat base from turning out. A devout Catholic, Lamb is pro-union and pro-gun, backs bipartisan deals for fixing Obamacare and the nation’s infrastructure, wants more job training and less college debt, and says he’s pro-fracking but pro-environment, too. And he’s betting that this mix of economic populism and moderate social politics can win the predominantly blue collar district. (Full disclosure: Lamb and I both played rugby at the University of Pennsylvania. We overlapped his senior year, 2005-06.)

Lamb’s opponent, state Rep. Rick Saccone—best known for sponsoring a bill that would have required posting “In God We Trust” on every school in the Commonwealth—has a simpler message: He was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” and is an enthusiastic supporter of the president’s agenda. But there are signs the president’s popularity is waning here. A Monmouth University poll showed 42 percent of voters in the 18th strongly disapprove of his performance, compared with just 37 percent who strongly approve. When asked if they support the president’s efforts in office, 48 percent said yes, 47 percent said no. Trump’s endorsement of Saccone made 5 percent of respondents say they were more likely to back Saccone; it made 8 percent say they were more likely to support Lamb.

Given these shifting politics, political observers say Lamb has a tight, but plausible, path to victory in March. He needs suburban women with college educations and moderate social views—both Democrats and Republicans wavering in their party allegiances post Trump—to back him big (which is probably why he praises nurses and teachers in the same breath as veterans and cops). He also needs the district’s 86,000 union households to vote their economic interests, and for enough of the rural, working-class Republican base to find him sufferable to stay home.

The Republican Party sees this path too—and is pouring resources, both money and manpower, into this Pennsylvania district ahead of March 13. So far, Republican super PACs have thrown millions into the race, opening canvassing offices and flooding Pittsburgh’s airwaves with ads calling Lamb a liberal. Trump himself made a visit to support Saccone—as have Ivanka Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—and says he will return.

After all, the stakes are enormous. As the polls narrow—the latest has Lamb just 3 points behind Saccone—this race is being closely watched by political seismologists for early tremors of an oncoming blue tsunami in the November midterms. If Lamb, a virtual unknown five months ago, can win this once seemingly impregnable Republican stronghold—one that so overwhelmingly supported Trump just 16 months ago, then other Democratic candidates across the country can do the same.

For Lamb to be anywhere close in a district that Trump won by 20 points really says something.   But Lamb is very careful to say over the weekend that he doesn't believe in new gun control legislation, and doesn't support it, and says that Democrats should replace Nancy Pelosi as House leader.  It's a careful path to victory here in a 93% white district.

What the Lamb race is going to do is test the theory that Democrats need to abandon "identity politcs" in favor of winning back more conservative white union voters in heavily white districts where there simply aren't enough black, Latino, and Asian voters to win.  I've said before that it's a devil's trade.

We'll see if I'm right pretty soon.

StupidiNews!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time

The LA Times is reporting that Robert Mueller has flipped Rick Gates, who will cooperate and testify against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A former top aide to Donald Trump's presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days – and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul J. Manafort Jr., the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign.

The change of heart by Trump's former deputy campaign manager, Richard W. Gates III, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort's, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.

"Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,'' said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington "within the next few days.''

That individual and others who discussed the matter spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a judge's gag order restricting comments about the case to the news media or public.

Gates' defense lawyer, Thomas C. Green, did not respond to messages left by phone and email. Peter Carr, a spokesman for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, declined on Saturday to comment.

Mueller is heading the prosecutions of Gates and Manafort as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.

The imminent change of Gates' plea follows negotiations over the last several weeks between Green and two of Mueller's prosecutors – senior assistant special counsels Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres.

According to a person familiar with those talks, Gates, a longtime political consultant, can expect "a substantial reduction in his sentence'' if he fully cooperates with the investigation. He said that Gates is apt to serve about 18 months in prison.

The real news is Gates's openness to testifying against Manafort.  Up until this point we really haven't had anyone fully flip other than to say that they would cooperate.  It's allowed Trump supporters and Trump himself to gaslight the press.  Cooperate could mean anything, nobody's turned against Trump because nothing happened.

As with the gaslighting that the Russians didn't interfere with the election and there wasn't a conspiracy to do so, it just died screaming in the last several hours.

Stay tuned.

Maybe This Time It Will Be Different

I know I've said for years now that if Republicans weren't pressured to respond to the NRA with new legislation after Sandy Hook, that it would never happen.  Even the deadliest domestic shooting rampage in recent US history in Las Vegas didn't raise a single eyebrow in Congress.  But maybe, just maybe, Parkland will be different.

Teen survivors of the school shooting massacre in Florida last week are calling for a march on Washington to demand action on gun control.

Student organizers of the protest told ABC News' "This Week" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday that they are determined to use protests and political action to make the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, a turning point in the national debate over gun control.

“People keep asking us, 'What about the Stoneman Douglas shooting is going to be different, because this has happened before and change hasn't come?'” Cameron Kasky, an 11th-grader told Raddatz. “This is it.”

People are saying that it’s not time to talk about gun control. And we can respect that,” Kasky added. “Here’s a time. March 24th in every single city. We are going to be marching together as students begging for our lives.”

Called "March for Our Lives," the demonstration should transcend politics, according to Kasky and four of his classmates whom Raddatz also interviewed -- Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Alex Wind and Jaclyn Corin.

"This isn't about the GOP," Kasky said. "This isn't about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected and at this point, you're either with us or against us."

The NRA is running scared.  This is off the script.  Nobody's supposed to care what the survivors think.  When there are survivors, they are supposed to be like GOP Rep. Steve Scalise, a man who would literally rather die than offer legislation to stop guns in America, even though he was shot by a domestic terrorist.

We're supposed to have grieving parents we can safely ignore so we can pretend this was a tragic unavoidable disaster, not a preventable policy one made possible by an armed lobbyist group.  We're supposed to have parents scream at educators and police, not the NRA and Congress.

These kids are way, way off script and the NRA doesn't know what to do.  These kids are Emma Gonzalez, survivor of last week's shooting, who spoke to the nation this weekend.

I read something very powerful to me today. It was from the point of view of a teacher. And I quote: When adults tell me I have the right to own a gun, all I can hear is my right to own a gun outweighs your student's right to live. All I hear is mine, mine, mine, mine.
Instead of worrying about our AP Gov chapter 16 test, we have to be studying our notes to make sure that our arguments based on politics and political history are watertight. The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in the closets. The people involved right now, those who were there, those posting, those tweeting, those doing interviews and talking to people, are being listened to for what feels like the very first time on this topic that has come up over 1,000 times in the past four years alone.
I found out today there's a website shootingtracker.com. Nothing in the title suggests that it is exclusively tracking the USA's shootings and yet does it need to address that? Because Australia had one mass shooting in 1999 in Port Arthur (and after the) massacre introduced gun safety, and it hasn't had one since. Japan has never had a mass shooting. Canada has had three and the UK had one and they both introduced gun control and yet here we are, with websites dedicated to reporting these tragedies so that they can be formulated into statistics for your convenience.
I watched an interview this morning and noticed that one of the questions was, do you think your children will have to go through other school shooter drills? And our response is that our neighbors will not have to go through other school shooter drills. When we've had our say with the government -- and maybe the adults have gotten used to saying 'it is what it is,' but if us students have learned anything, it's that if you don't study, you will fail. And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it's time to start doing something.
We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting. Just like Tinker v. Des Moines, we are going to change the law. That's going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it's going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students. The students who are dead, the students still in the hospital, the student now suffering PTSD, the students who had panic attacks during the vigil because the helicopters would not leave us alone, hovering over the school for 24 hours a day

These are the kids who are going to change the country.  As far as the adults are concerned, the gun control debate is over.

The kids have other ideas.

Godspeed.  Let's help them.

Sunday Long Read: Frack You, Ohio

As Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich's second term comes to a close and voters go to the polls in November to choose his successor, Kasich's largest legacy will be that of turning the Buckeye State into the Fracking State.  We still don't know the long-term consequences of fracking, but thousands of Ohioans live with fracking wells on their land and in their water tables, and people around here are going to discover far too late that his true legacy will be a state covered in toxic waste.


We begin with a glass of wine on the wraparound porch of Michele Garman, who lives with her husband Tom and teenage son Dominic in the rural Ohio community of Vienna. Just 200 feet from the family’s house is a narrow shaft that the oil and gas industry uses to pump waste riddled with toxic chemicals deep into the earth, one of Ohio’s 217 active Class II injection wells. “I still enjoy sitting out on my porch,” says Garman, “but it was a lot more enjoyable before the scenery changed.”

The small white and maroon trucks that deliver the waste often come at night, she says. They contain what regulatory agencies innocently refer to as produced water, or brine, a slurry generated during fracking operations that can contain more than 1,100 chemicals and which is carcinogenic, flammable, and radioactive. Garman says she and her son occasionally smell, “a sweet odor in the air, almost like antifreeze.” One night last winter an alarm went off. “There was a red light and a real low siren,” she says, “and no one to call to see what was going on.”

In the morning, before heading off to work, Garman is back on her porch with a coffee, staring at a series of tanks, where the waste is temporarily held before being shot down the injection well. “The biggest thing,” she sighs, “is the worrying. What am I not hearing? What am I not seeing? What is being released into the air? The water? The soil? What does this mean for our health years down the road? That is the stuff that really eats away at me constantly.”

Michele Garman and her family are not alone. We journey 200 miles south, to a land of low wooded hills not far from the Ohio River, where Phyllis Rienhart, 66, lives with her 78-year-old husband Ron in a stick frame house that Ron built with their son. Their town, Torch, doesn’t have a single store. But for Phyllis and Ron, it is home. “Most of my family lives on this road,” says Phyllis. “And yet we have this monster on that hill.”

The house is 1,800 feet from a mammoth injection well. Unlike Michele Garman, she has never heard an alarm. Instead, her injection well clangs. “One day we were outside here on the porch and I was thinking, it’s raining, because the bird bath was vibrating,” says Phyllis. “I went in the house but could still hear the noise — clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang — and it just got louder.”

In 2016, she and some neighbors staked out the injection well for a period of 24 hours. They observed 108 tanker trucks come and go. The trucks discharge their fracking wastewater into holding tanks. Hydrocarbons in the waste emit flammable vapors that accumulate in the tanks and are vented off the tops. In April 2016, lightning struck an injection wastewater storage tank in Greeley, Colorado, “heating the metal to thousands of degrees, which ignited the vapors inside,” reported the local paper. “The tanks subsequently exploded, shooting up hundreds of feet into the air.” The thought of a similar fireball erupting in her backyard keeps Phyllis up at night. She fears thunderstorms. She sees a neurologist. “I have anxiety,” she says.

Phyllis is trying to figure this thing out, but it is bigger than her. “What if they got it wrong?” she wonders. “What is it doing to our earth? What is it doing to our water? Not to mention the air that we breathe. I mean it is waste for god sakes, it is chemicals…And I ask them, are you going to have enough hazmat suits for all of my grandchildren? These people are dealing with paper and statistics, I am dealing with my family. They say it’s good for the economy, but I can’t find anything it is good for. And these things are popping up everywhere. There are more, and more, and more…”

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” declares Ohioan activist Teresa Mills, Executive Director of the Buckeye Environmental Network. “Ohio is in a state of emergency.”

The state's Republican party takeover means that citizens have zero legal recourse on fracking waste.  The Ohio GOP was paid off handsomely from Kasich on down to avoid regulation and taxation.  I'm sure it will be years before the truth of Ohio's toxic fracking comes to light, but when it does, and thousands suffer as a direct result, who will pay for it all?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

It's Mueller Time, Con't


None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the U.S. political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom. None is in custody. None is likely to surrender to U.S. authorities. And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.

Nevertheless, the grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a significant moment in the investigation of L’Affaire Russe. President Trump has spent the year since his victory casting doubt on the very premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Yet here is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn’t, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t just a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,” as the president has tweeted. There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.

The U.S. intelligence community, of course, already knew this. It has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions. The intelligence community, after all, assessed in January 2017 that it had “high confidence” that “President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” targeting the U.S. presidential election. Before that, it had warned in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the hacking and distribution of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of these public conclusions stopped Trump from publicly casting doubt on Russian interference.

But the indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has “high confidence” that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president’s claims.

Notably, the allegations in this indictment do not deal with computer or email hacking. The operation described in this indictment did not relate to the hacking of the DNC network, nor to the theft or distribution of Podesta’s or the DNC’s emails in the summer and fall of 2016. The indictment makes no allegations about delivering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, nor of Donald Trump Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting. To the extent that the indictment intersects with the hacking story, it does so obliquely; it includes no Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or other hacking charges. Instead, the indictment deals with an operation that the Russian organization itself described as “information warfare against the United States of America.”

And this is really the key.  For well over a year now, Trump and his supporters have been able to treat the allegations of a major Russian intelligence operation to disrupt the US political system as nebulous diplomatic headbutting ("We're always engaging in spy wars with the Russians") or as outright abstract nonsense ("The Russians are our friends, this is neo-McCarthyism") or as an overblown spy movie plot ("Obama Deep State! How can any liberal believe the FBI?") or worse.

Time and again Trump's supporters could say "If there really was a conspiracy involving a huge Russian intelligence operation to influence and disrupt the 2016 elections, somebody would have told us by now!"

Yesterday that particular exucse died screaming.  More excuses will come, most notably "Well the indictments don't mention that the operation was collusion with Trump in any way, so it still stands that he's exonerated!"

Yeah, about that particular theory, fellas...

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors haven’t concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person with knowledge of the probe.

Friday’s indictment of a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” and 13 Russian nationals should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation, the person said. Mueller’s work is expected to continue for months and also includes examining potential obstruction of justice by Trump, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation that is largely confidential.

A federal grand jury indicted the Russians for what it alleged was a vast scheme to interfere in the 2016 election and help Trump win. But Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a news conference Friday that there is “no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant” in the alleged scheme.

Trump indicated that he believes the indictment exonerates him and his campaign.

“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!” Trump said on Twitter.

That has yet to be determined. Friday’s indictment should be seen as an effort by Mueller to raise awareness about Russia’s capabilities as the 2018 U.S. elections draw near, the person said.

It’s still possible that Mueller will indict Americans for knowingly helping Russia, the person said.

You and I know the indictments clearly leave the door open to further indictments down the road, but now the Trump regime is going to be pushing very, very hard to try to end the investigation here, and soon.

Watch the reactions of Trump's mouthpieces this weekend.  If they go from "We hope the Mueller investigation will wrap up soon" to something like thanking Mueller for his service to America or how this chapter of America's history is behind us now or referring to the probe in the past tense, bad things are about to happen.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Last Call for How To Get Gun Safety Laws In America Overnight

Kari Holloway at Alternet gives us a very simple solution to motivate the GOP into passing background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and a host of other gun safety legislative steps virtually overnight.

Martin Luther King, who received endless death threats and was the target of a house bombing in 1956, applied for an open carry permit, but was denied by Montgomery, Alabama’s racist police force. When the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, in accordance with California law, began openly carrying weapons to patrol Oakland’s neighborhoods, the state legislature quickly crafted, and Gov. Ronald Reagan quickly signed, the 1967 Mulford Act ending public carry. On the heels of race riots, Congress Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, followed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which Georgetown historian Adam Winkler notes included a provision to restrict “‘Saturday Night Specials’—the cheap, easily available guns often used by [black] youth.” The legislation was the first federal gun law in nearly three decades, and proved lawmakers would rather institute widespread gun control measures than potentially have a widely armed black populace. 
More recently, the understanding that the Second Amendment serves only to protect America’s white citizens was reified with the 2014 police murder of John Crawford III, who was holding an airgun in a Walmart located in Ohio, an open carry state. The same is true of Philando Castile, a licensed gun owner who had just informed cops he was carrying when Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez unloaded five fatal shots into his body. (The NRA was conspicuously mum on the issue.) The Christian Science Monitor cites research from Jennifer Carlson, author of “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline,” who noted discrepancies in the Michigan licensing practices that stood until 2015.

She found differences in how gun boards operated in Michigan's majority-black Wayne County and majority-white Oakland County. Black concealed-carry applicants in Wayne were routinely lectured and quizzed in public forums – what she calls “degradation ceremonies.” White gun owners in Oakland, meanwhile, were addressed without lectures in hearings where they could plead their case in a semi-private room. (Michigan has since done away with the gun boards.) 
White folks' deep-seated fears of black folks will always ensure pushback on arms in black hands. These attitudes, it will surprise zero black people, are yet more pronounced among white gun advocates. That is, the intensity of gun fervor in white Americans often correlates directly with racist attitudes, and by extension, fears and stereotypes about black criminality, thus creating a perceived need for more guns. Researchers note that “for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a gun at home.” Similarly, Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee analyzed data comparing white racial resentment and gun attitudes and emerged with the near-obvious conclusion, “Opposition to gun control—like opposition to immigration, Sharia law, and ‘political correctness’—has become linked to things that racially resentful whites fear." It seems pretty likely that, were the media face of gun ownership to become black, calls to institute legislative controls would suddenly fill the halls of Congress. 
By the most recent tally, just 19 percent of African-Americans have a gun in their household, compared with 41 percent of whites. But new fears about rising racist violence, an increase in the number of hate groups and the everyday transparent bigotry of the Trump administration are reportedly helping drive up the number of African-American gun buyers. The official numbers aren’t yet in, but if the needle on black gun ownership noticeably moves, it will be taken as cause for alarm and time to politically act. And once again, black folks will have saved America from itself.

Imagine this scenario, guys.

Imagine if there were a large open carry rally in a red state like Oklahoma or Texas or better yet, Alabama or Florida, with ten or fifteen thousand black folks with AR-15s.

Imagine the kind of coverage that would get on FOX News.  Imagine the coverage that just the promise of organized future rallies of that type would get.  Imagine organizers on TV calmly telling the press that black America was planning on fully engaging in "Second Amendment remedies" to solve the problems of black inequality in the same way white supremacist groups and sovereign citizens groups and militia groups advocate today for in 2018.

Imagine how Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, Tomi Lahren, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart would cover something like that.

Now imagine what they would call for in response.  50 years ago we had the Mulford Act.  We'd have it again, only then some.

You would have the entire Sandy Hook package of legislation that Democrats wanted to pass years ago plus everything since get 400 House votes and 80 Senate votes and on Trump's desk within 90 days, and more like 30.

I guarantee you this.

If black citizens of this country ever started taking advantage of the Second Amendment that exists in the fantasies of the NRA lobby, you would have gun control laws, bans on certain weapon types, magazine bans, ammunition bans, smart locks, waiting periods, background checks, federal firearms databases, hell you'd even have the bans on the CDC researching firearms as a health hazard all lifted, and all of this legislation would happen within the space of months, if not weeks.

It would happen with a blinding swiftness, a near-epic celerity that would cement common sense laws for generations in America.

Then?

Then have these same black open carry rally leaders say "We respect these new laws, but plan to keep our existing firearms and ammunition for defense of our homes and neighborhoods."

And watch what happens with the idea that guns could never be confiscated in America.

You want to get the bulk of well over a hundred million plus firearms in this country off the streets within a year?

You do that.

Like lightning in a bottle, guys.

I know it's a fantasy, but it's a damn effective one.  And failing that, well, there's always voting out the NRA lobby in 2018 and 2020.

Let's aim for that too.

It's DEFINITELY Mueller Time, Con't

We got our Friday Mueller News Dump a bit early today, and boy it is ever a fantastic one.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice has announced. 
In addition, three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft. 
Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any connections between Russia and Trump campaign associates. 
Beginning as early as 2014, the Russian organization Internet Research Agency began operations to interfere with the US political system, including the 2016 elections, according to the indictment, which was released by Mueller's office Friday. 
The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas, and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences, the indictment reads. 
The Internet Research Agency had a "strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system" including the election, according to the indictment. 
Russians posted "derogatory information about a number of candidates," and by mid-2016 they supported Trump and disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with "unwitting" people tied to Trump campaign and others to coordinate political activities.

And please note the indictment itself makes it very clear that this vast Russian information operation conspiracy supported Donald Trump in 2016.


This is massive, guys.  For months we've been told that there's "no evidence of Russian interference" and that this was all a hoax.  It's not.

After all, in order to establish that the Russians colluded to help Trump win, we have to establish the Russians were involved in election interference.   This 37-page indictment does just that.





Now things get very, very real.  Chuck Pierce sums it up:

Oh, they’re smart fellers, they are. The indictments were rolled out perfectly. It is now absolutely impossible for the president* to fire either Rosenstein or Mueller without the worst possible political consequences. By basing the indictments on federal election law, Mueller has framed the case so as also to include anyone who accepted this criminal help.

When the other shoe drops on this, as in we find out precisely "who accepted this criminal help" here, it's going to be roughly the size of a small moon (with roughly the same level of kinetic impact) when it lands squarely on Donald Trump's pea-brained head.

Stay tuned.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Despite the insanity going on this week, the Mueller probe steadily continues on as major players are cutting deals to turn state's evidence against the Tangerine Tyrant.  First up, Paul Manafort's partner in crime, Rick Gates, is definitely looking for a plea bargain deal with Mueller's team.

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. 
Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a "Queen for a Day" interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. 
Gates' cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team. 
Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller's sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates' co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller's indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort. 
"Nobody (who's charged) goes in to provide incriminating information to the government unless it's part of plea negotiations," said a criminal defense attorney who represents a witness in the case. In a Queen for a Day interview, a defendant can typically admit to crimes with little additional consequences, unless he or she lies. 

Sure, Gates could be lying, but I bet Mueller's team has enough corroborating evidence to know precisely what they are looking for, and what Gates can really offer them.  If Gates is flipping on Paul Manafort, who ran Trump's entire campaign and was neck deep in Russian collusion, then the goal is clearly to pressure Manafort into singing on The Donald.

Meanwhile, former Trump dirty deeds done dirt cheap man Steve Bannon continued to belt out his own hit parade to Mueller and his team this week.

Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings.

Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as other issues that have arisen around the probe.

Bannon left his job as a senior White House adviser in August and returned to a leadership role at Breitbart, the right-wing news site based out of Washington. But he fell out of favor with the site’s financial backers, the Mercer family, after criticizing the president and his family in "Fire and Fury,”a book about the Trump administration published earlier this year by author Michael Wolff.

You don't spend 20 hours meeting with someone to talk about nothing with federal prosecutors.  He's singing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, guys. Oh, and we also know Bannon is finally talking to the House Intelligence Committee, too.

After a more than four-week stalemate, Bannon also returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to resume his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, which was halted when he earlier refused to answer key questions in the Russia probe.

He left today after four hours, answering little more than the two dozen questions that the White House had negotiated with the House’s lead counsel.

The committee had issued a subpoena in their initial Jan. 16 interview when Bannon would not address issues that arose during his time on the Trump transition team, in the White House and after he left his top position there. The subpoena deadline was postponed three times as House lawyers negotiated with the White House over what Bannon would be willing to discuss without the White House invoking executive privilege to bar the testimony.

Lawmakers indicated Thursday that his continued non-cooperation might require the committee to take the next step and consider beginning the process of holding Bannon in contempt of Congress.

Guess Bannon is playing ball now after being thrown under the bus twice by Trump, huh?

Events in the last few weeks have pushed the Mueller probe out of the spotlight in February, to the point where it's given Trump a little bit of breathing room in the polls (he's actually above 40% approval for once.)  But Mueller and his team are still very much on the case.

And Trump knows it.
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