Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rising, Con't

In 2017, Dems had mixed success in special elections in deep red areas of the country.  Yes, they managed to push back in places where Trump won by 10 or 20 points (or more) and come very close to winning, but Republicans could also say that the Dems couldn't seal the deal and that the GOP would merely suffer "traditional" midterm losses, not a 2010- or 2014-style midterm tsunami that would crush the GOP the way Dems hemorrhaged House, gubernatorial and state legislature seats in those years.  As bad as that would be for the GOP, they could console themselves with the notion of a lot of safe Republican seats that would still be above water when the wave crashed upon them in November.

That was at least the special election story before yesterday, when Republicans in Wisconsin promptly lost a state Senate seat in a district Trump won by 17 points.

Democrats snagged a GOP-leaning state Senate seat in western Wisconsin on Tuesday, buoying progressive hopes that they could ride a wave of victory this fall.

Patty Schachtner, the chief medical examiner for St. Croix County, will take the seat that had been held for 17 years by former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Harsdorf stepped down in November to take a job as GOP Gov. Scott Walker's agriculture secretary. 
In an interview, Schachtner said she thought she beat state Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) because the race had turned nasty in mailings from groups outside the district. 
“It wasn’t nice. It was mean,” she said of the campaign literature. “People just said, ‘You know what? We’re nicer than that.’” 
In a post on Twitter, Jarchow said he had called Schachtner to congratulate her.
“I look forward to working with her as our new state Senator,” he wrote in his tweet. “Thank you to all who worked so hard for our campaign.”

Also Tuesday, in special elections for the state Assembly, voters in Washington County chose a Republican and voters in Racine County chose a Democrat, according to unofficial results.

But the focus Tuesday was on the 10th Senate District, which consists of parts of Burnett, Polk, St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn counties along Minnesota's border.

Schachtner's win gives Democrats momentum, but they remain deep in the minority. Once she is seated, Republican will hold an 18-14 advantage, with one district vacant. That seat belonged to Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), who joined Walker's administration last month, and won't be decided until November, when 17 of the state's 33 Senate districts are up for election.

This is a state legislature seat that never should have been in doubt in Scott Walker's red Wisconsin.  And nobody panicked faster than Walker himself.

Walker, who had tweeted earlier Tuesday urging residents of the 10th Senate district to get to the polls and vote for Republican Adam Jarchow, wrote online after the race had been decided that “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin” who must do a better job touting their record to voters. 
“WAKE UP CALL: Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news,” the governor wrote in a subsequent post, adding in two others that the state’s GOP also can’t presume voters are aware “that more people are working than ever before” and that “we invested more actual dollars into schools than ever before.”

It's only getting worse for the party of Trump and they know it.

Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's austerity regime will come to fruition (or in this case, rot) in 2018 and voters here seem wholly uninterested in stopping him.  First, he finally dropped the other shoe on killing Medicaid expansion yesterday, taunting health advocacy groups who have promised to take him to court. Bevin says without blinking that he will take health care away from ten percent of the state if the courts dare find his new Medicaid work rules unconstitutional.

Gov. Matt Bevin has issued an executive order that would strip Medicaid coverage from nearly half a million Kentuckians should his proposed overhaul of the federal-state health plan be struck down in court. 
No one has filed a legal challenge to Bevin's changes to Kentucky's Medicaid program that federal authorities approved Friday. 
But several advocacy groups have said some of the changes — such as requiring some "able-bodied" adults to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week — likely will be challenged in court because they violate federal law that establishes Medicaid purely as a health program and does not authorize work requirements. 
Advocates who criticized Bevin's overhaul of Kentucky's Medicaid program were also critical of the executive order he issued Friday, the same day the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved his plan to reshape Medicaid in Kentucky.

"Is the Governor of Kentucky saying that if he is caught doing something illegal, he will take health care away from hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who have done nothing wrong?" asked Leonardo Cuello, director of health policy for the National Health Law Program. 
Cuello's Washington-based health advocacy group is considering a legal challenge to Bevin's plan.

Ahh, but if you think Bevin is bluffing, you should see his 2018 austerity budget proposal that cuts billions from education, infrastructure, and eliminates 70 social programs in the state over the next two years.

Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday night proposed a budget that he said would eliminate 70 state programs and cut spending at most agencies by 6.25 percent while fully funding state pension plans.

And the governor gave a high priority in the lean spending plan to the main public school funding program known as SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky), saying its funding will not be cut.

"The real budget focus this year is getting our financial house in order," Bevin told a joint meeting of the Kentucky House and Senate in an hourlong State of the Commonwealth and budget address.

The key step in doing that, he said, is by fully funding the hundreds of millions of dollars more that he said are needed by state retirement systems, which are $43 billion in debt.

Bevin's budget does not anticipate tax reform, but the governor said that issue remains a priority. He said if tax reform cannot pass in the current regular session, he will push that a special session later in the year.

In his speech, Bevin did not identify any of the 70 programs to be eliminated. He said they were "scattered throughout state government." A briefing released by his administration during the speech said the budget closes the state's film incentive program to new applicants.

He said the eliminations result in massive savings that minimized cuts to other parts of state government, where cuts much deeper than 6.25 percent were feared.

Some areas of the budget would get an increase, like social worker, adoption programs and opioid abuse prevention, but dozens of higher education, arts, teacher recruiting, agriculture, job training, scholarships, environmental, library aid, rural hospital and women's programs would be eliminated entirely, and of course the billions in cuts across the board for just about everything left.

And of course "tax reform" means Bevin wants to go the full Brownback and eliminate the state's income tax on businesses and put the tax burden squarely on workers with new sales and vice taxes.  It's Kansas all over again, only with a massive state pension problem hanging over everyone to boot. Not even Brownback wanted complete austerity, he just tried to wreck roads and schools.
If you're wondering what the post-Obama GOP austerity agenda looks like without Trump's ego mucking things up, Kentucky in 2018 is the place where you want to look.

Coming soon to a state near you if the GOP has its way.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Yesterday former Trump strategist Steve Bannon blew off the House Intelligence Committee in his closed door meeting with them, prompting a subpoena which Bannon blew off again, citing executive privilege.  Today we know why: Bannon is already talking to Robert Mueller.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon broke some bad news to House investigators Tuesday, announcing that the White House had invoked executive privilege to keep him from answering many of their questions. 
But executive privilege—the president’s right to keep certain information from the public so he can have frank conversations with aides—will not keep Steve Bannon from sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, according to a person familiar with the situation
Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say,” said the source, who is familiar with Bannon’s thinking. 
During a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Bannon reportedly told lawmakers that President Donald Trumphas invoked broad executive privilege for the purposes of congressional inquiries. Because of that, Bannon refused to answer committee members’ questions about what happened during the presidential transition and in the White House. 
This sweeping understanding of privilege will not effect what Bannon tells Mueller’s team, according to our source. (To be sure, Bannon isn’t known for being predictable, and it’s possible his team may still look for ways to dodge Mueller’s queries.) 
But it means he isn’t answering many of Congress’s questions. A source familiar with Bannon’s interview told The Daily Beast that despite the subpoena—issued by Devin Nunes, the typically Trump-friendly chairman of the committee—Bannon refused to answer questions about events that happened after Election Day.

And Bannon is talking to Mueller because Mueller hit Bannon with a grand jury subpoena last week.

FBI agents showed up at Steve Bannon’s Washington home last week intent on serving him with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, according to a source familiar with the proceedings. 
The agents were unaware at the time that Bannon had retained Washington lawyer William Burck just hours earlier, according to two people familiar with the events that took place on Jan. 9. Once redirected, the agents sent the order to Burck, who is also representing two other witnesses in the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI. 
Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist until he departed the White House in August, could end up being interviewed by Mueller’s team before the end of the month, according to one source who agreed to discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Mueller is compelling Bannon to talk, period.  Bannon in turn is counting on three things:

  1. The info he has is valuable enough to Mueller to shop a deal.  Bannon is the closest member of Trump's inner circle yet to be hit by a grand jury subpoena.  Except that subpoena wasn't served, as Bannon decided to cooperate and agree to a Mueller interview instead.  It's possible that Bannon may try to screw Mueller, but I'm betting Mueller is holding some pretty powerful cards in order to compel Bannon to talk, and in turn, what Bannon knows is useful enough for Mueller not to just crush him immediately.
  2. He knows Devin Nunes won't hold him in contempt.  Dems may want to know what Bannon knows (and even some Republicans want to know that) but Devin Nunes isn't about to risk Trump's considerable wrath here.  Not only would that be political suicide, it would probably be legal suicide too, as Nunes has already recused himself from the Russian investigation and Bannon could have some very ugly revelations about Nunes's involvement.  Whether or not Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, can find a way to hold Bannon in contempt, I don't know.  Schiff I think will defer to Mueller and with good reason.
  3. He doesn't want his testimony leaked, so he said nothing.  There's nothing to leak in a closed-door session if you don't say anything.  See number one up there.  Any bombshells that Bannon delivered yesterday would have been in today's paper, damaging his chances to cut a deal with Mueller.  Besides, anything he said yesterday would have absolutely gotten back to Trump, again, compromising the potential value of his information to Mueller.  Bannon's a sleazeball racist happy to put neo-Nazis and white supremacist assholes on his dance card all day, but he doesn't want to go to prison, and he needs something powerful in order to stay out.
So yeah, if Bannon is talking to Mueller, Trump knows he's in dire trouble.  Trump can shift blame on the Flynn and Manafort indictments, but if Mueller's got Bannon, Trump is done.

And Trump knows it.

[UPDATE] BuzzFeed just dropped this little firecracker.

Officials investigating the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election are scrutinizing newly uncovered financial transactions between the Russian government and people or businesses inside the United States. 
Records exclusively reviewed by BuzzFeed News also show years of Russian financial activity within the US that bankers and federal law enforcement officials deemed suspicious, raising concerns about how the Kremlin’s diplomats operated here long before the 2016 election. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, charged with investigating Russian election interference and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, is examining these transactions and others by Russian diplomatic personnel, according to a US official with knowledge of the inquiry. The special counsel has broad authority to investigate “any matters” that “may arise” from his investigation, and the official said Mueller’s probe is following leads on suspicious Russian financial activity that may range far beyond the election.

 Stay tuned.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Last Call For Insurance Assurance

The percentage of U.S. adults without health insurance was essentially unchanged in the fourth quarter of 2017, at 12.2%, but it is up 1.3 percentage points from the record low of 10.9% found in the last quarter of 2016. The 1.3-point increase in the uninsured rate during 2017 is the largest single-year increase Gallup and Sharecare have measured since beginning to track the rate in 2008, including the period before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect. That 1.3 point increase represents an estimated 3.2 million Americans who entered the ranks of the uninsured in 2017. 

The results for the fourth quarter of 2017 are based on more than 25,000 interviews with U.S. adults aged 18 and older from October 1 to December 31, conducted as part of the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

It's only going to get worse of course, but guess who has already lost their insurance first?

The uninsured rate rose for all demographic groups in 2017, with the exception of those aged 65 and older, all of whom qualify for Medicare coverage. It increased most among young adults, blacks, Hispanics and low-income Americans. 
Importantly, the uninsured rate among adults aged 18-25 rose by 2.0 points in 2017. Young adults serve a critical function in healthcare markets because their low usage of healthcare helps offset the higher costs of insuring older Americans.

And without the individual mandate, that rate will only go up.  By rates I mean both percentage of uninsured, and premium costs.  It's going to get bad, folks.  Millions more will lose their insurance, probably tens of millions, over the next few years.

We're going to look back at 18% uninsured in this country as "the good ol' days" pretty soon, especially for African-Americans and Hispanic folks.  As long as we're suffering more, poor white voters will continue to support the GOP, even as Republican policies literally kill them.

Three People Outside Jefferson City, Missouri Con't

The saga of Missouri GOP Gov. Eric Grietens continues amid last week's news of a scandal involving blackmail, abuse, and cover-up.  As Democrats call for his resignation, now we find out that Greitens violated the state's open records law. to avoid being caught.

With Greitens’ behavior during the affair now the subject of a criminal probe by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, it remains unclear how the Republican-controlled Legislature will move forward in the remaining four months of the legislative session. 
The stunning development already upended plans to push forward with the governor’s agenda on ethics and regulatory reform. The House had been poised to cap off last week by taking votes on a Greitens-led initiative to limit gifts from lobbyists, as well as lift regulations on hair braiders, but they left town Thursday without taking a vote, saying they wanted members to leave early to beat an impending winter storm. 
The ability of Greitens to govern was already in jeopardy in the Senate, where he is facing blowback for appointing a majority of new members to the state Board of Education in order to oust the state’s top school leader. 
Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, earlier said he planned to use his filibuster powers to block the appointments from being confirmed. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he was putting the appointments on the backburner to let tempers cool.
Greitens was further impeded by an investigation by Attorney General Josh Hawley into his administration’s use of a secretive app that deletes text messages, potentially in violation of state open records laws. 
Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves acknowledged Monday the governor’s woes have made the path forward rockier. 
“I think the agenda will continue to advance, (but) it’s going to cause some additional hurdles,” Graves said.

Gosh, you think?  And yes, even in the Trump era, state Republicans are raising the possibility of impeachment if Grietens doesn't step down.

Even if the governor does weather the scandal it could severely damage his ability to pass his agenda. 
Many Republican lawmakers have voiced support for investigating the allegations and at least one, Sen. Gary Romine of Farmington, has raised the possibility of impeachment if an investigation does not exonerate the governor. 
A poll that was conducted on the heels of the scandal by Remington Research Group, a GOP-leaning firm, shows that the governor’s brand has been damaged by the scandal. 
The poll found that only 32 percent of likely Missouri voters have a favorable opinion of the governor, which is a drop of 10 percentage points from a poll conducted by the same firm a week earlier.

Grietens is crashing and burning pretty hard right now.  We'll see if he survives, but my guess is if Alabama's Robert Bentley was forced out last year for less in a blood red state, then Greitens isn't long for his job.  It won't stop the Missouri GOP from continuing to wreck the state's economy, but it will slow them down a tad.

We'll see.

Not Completely Out Of Neutral Just Yet

Democrats in the Senate now say they have 50 votes to override the FCC's decision to end net neutrality regulations of the internet, all 49 Democratic senators now that Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has been seated, plus Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

“With full caucus support,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the lawmakers spearheading the effort, “it’s clear that Democrats are committed to fighting to keep the Internet from becoming the Wild West where ISPs are free to offer premium service to only the wealthiest customers while average consumers are left with far inferior options.”

To pass the Senate, backers of the resolution must recruit one more Republican member to their ranks. The measure must survive the Republican-majority House and be signed by President Trump to take effect.

After an independent agency makes a decision — such as the FCC's net neutrality deregulation — federal lawmakers have a window of 60 legislative days to reverse the move under the Congressional Review Act. As of last Tuesday, 40 senators had signed on to the resolution to challenge the FCC under the act. Since then, 10 more have joined the effort.

Democrats have said they plan to make net neutrality a midterm campaign issue, forcing vulnerable GOP candidates to stand with their party and adopt a position that, according to some surveys, is at odds with that of the broader public.
It's possible that Trump would sign this if he can be talked into the populist aspects of it, but I just don't see how this gets through the House currently.  Maybe that's the point though: if the Dems can show such a measure can pass the Senate, it would show voters how important it is that the GOP finally gets booted out of controlling the House.

Of course it'll be too late to reverse the FCC's decision by 2019 when the new Congress is sworn in, cold comfort I know. But it's something, and better than the Dems just giving up like they normally do in these situations.

On the other hand, it may be that the best thing the Dems do is try and fail, leading to something like Comcast or Charter then offering metered or tiered internet plans based on sites that people...and businesses...visit.  You want to get millennials to register to vote and show up in November, have Verizon charge an extra $10 per month to access social media sites on your phone or Comcast charge an extra $20 to stream Netflix or Hulu.

That's where we're heading, of course, and other countries that don't have net neutrality measures are already doing this, like Guatemala and Portugal.

In many countries without net neutrality, mobile plans are the worst culprit. Take what happens in Guatemala, for example. “Many people will have two SIM cards there because on one SIM card they can access WhatsApp for free, and on another SIM card you access Facebook for free,” says Renata Avila, a senior adviser at the Web Foundation. If you buy a small amount of data that gets used up quickly, WhatsApp will still be accessible after the cap is reached, but not the rest of the internet. If you do try to access other websites or apps, you’ll be prompted to pay more. Similar mobile internet plans exist in Balkan countries, Avila said, but there you might buy a SIM card that favors Viper, a popular messaging service in that region.

This practice is also common throughout the European Union. The EU has net neutrality laws, but they don’t outright prohibit mobile plans that allow users to only access certain apps without cutting into their data plans. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, described the situation in Portugal in a tweet that went viral in October. The tweet showed a page from Meo, a mobile and home internet provider in Portugal that offers various packages made up of websites and apps that don’t cut into your monthly data plan. So if you use social media a lot, you can buy a package that allows you to use Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a few other major social media companies without cutting into your data, a practice commonly called zero-rating. It’s a model that actually isn’t illegal in the U.S. even under the current network neutrality rules, which state that the FCC can consider on a case-by-case basis whether companies are using data caps in anti-competitive ways. In fact, AT&T already does this in the U.S. by providing its home broadband customers with unlimited free data when they also subscribe to the AT&T-owned DirecTV. AT&T mobile customers can also stream content from DirecTV for free. Similarly, certain T-Mobile plans allow users to stream as much Spotify or Apple Music as they’d like without cutting into their data allotment.

This may sound like a nice perk, but privileging access to certain apps in packages like this helps cement the dominance of incumbent powerful internet brands, since users can’t even access other apps once their small pool of data is used up, and it’s the telecomm that decides which apps make it into the bundle. “This incentivizes telecoms not to increase data caps on mobile internet,” says Estelle Masse, a senior policy analyst at Access Now, an international digital rights advocacy group. A more net neutrality friendly approach, Masse explains, would be to get rid of or lift the data caps altogether.

So yeah, zero-rating and tiered packages are coming, my guess is before the end of the year.  The old days of metered dial-up AOL web access 25 years ago sound like a joke to kids these days, but we'll be going right back to that sooner than you think.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Last Call For That Poll-Axed Look

Republican voters are now happily chugging the "Trump is a success!" Kool-Aid and have basically forgiven Trump since the Tax Scam passed.

About six in 10 Republicans (61%) say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. -- the party's highest level of satisfaction since February 2007. This latest uptick comes on the heels of a major victory on tax reform for the president and congressional Republicans at the end of 2017. 

Current GOP sentiment about the direction of the U.S. is a major turnaround for a party that suffered depressed levels of satisfaction earlier in the year after a number of legislative setbacks and various challenges to Trump's White House in its first year. After bottoming out at 38% in October, the party's rank and file became gradually more satisfied with the nation's trajectory in the final quarter of 2017. Independents, too, have become more satisfied since October, after hitting a 2017 low of 20% that month. Currently, 31% of independents report satisfaction with the way things are going for the country. 
Meanwhile, Democrats have dipped to a new Trump-era low in satisfaction with the nation's direction. The current 7% who are satisfied is slightly lower than the 9% to 16% range previously registered since the president's inauguration. 
The latest figures are from Gallup's first measure of the question in 2018, recorded Jan. 2-7. Nationally, 29% of Americans are satisfied with the direction of the U.S., which is on the high end of the 21% to 32% range recorded since Trump became president. Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) are dissatisfied.

Whaddya know.  Even Republicans were pissed at Trump until the Tax Scam suddenly  and magically fixed the "broken" economy.

Go figure.

Trump Cards, Con't

As we celebrate Dr. King's legacy today and are abruptly reminded of how far America has to go towards bending that moral arc towards justice, Republicans have now rallied around the fiction that Donald Trump never said his now infamous comments on Haiti and African nations being "shithole countries" and are now taking great umbrage that Trump is being openly called racist, resulting in Trump falling back on his default petty vengeance mode where he punishes anyone who defies him in public, this time the victims being the Dreamers and perhaps all of America.

After three days of denunciations from around the world, President Trump declared that he is “not a racist” on Sunday, even as the uproar over his vulgar remarks on immigration overshadowed critical issues facing the capital, including efforts to protect young undocumented immigrants and avert a government shutdown.

Mr. Trump also insisted that he had not made the inflammatory comments in a White House meeting on Thursday, part of a newly aggressive defense and a counterattack on Democrats by the president and his allies. But his remarks on Sunday were a departure from the White House’s initial statement last week, which did not deny the comments.

“I’m not a racist,” Mr. Trump said on Sunday night as he arrived at Trump International Golf Club in Florida for dinner with Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, who attended the meeting last week and has not spoken publicly about it. “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.”

His comments, while extraordinary coming from a president of the United States, echoed reassurances Mr. Trump has made several times before.

Earlier Sunday, Mr. Trump declared on Twitter that the Obama-era program shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation was “probably dead,” while a Republican senator who attended the Thursday meeting where the president discussed immigration denied that Mr. Trump had used the word “shithole” in describing African nations.

The senator, David Perdue of Georgia, also accused another participant in the White House meeting, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, of a “gross misrepresentation” of what the president had said at the session.

Mr. Perdue and another Republican senator at the meeting, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, had previously said they did “not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” But by Sunday, their recollections appeared to have sharpened, and Mr. Cotton joined Mr. Perdue in disputing Mr. Durbin’s account. The two senators’ latest assertions also seemed to conflict with the account of another Republican senator who was at the meeting, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Mr. Trump alluded to those two senators on Sunday night when asked about his immigration remarks. “Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments?” the president asked. “They weren’t made.”

The rift over Mr. Trump’s comments, and how they have since been recounted, risked further eroding trust between Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of a critical week for Congress. Government funding is set to expire on Friday, and lawmakers will need to pass a stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday.

So, Trump has decided that if the government has to be shut down, it's because Sen. Dick Durbin "lied" about his comments last week, so somebody has to pay.  As I've said before, the primary motivation for Donald Trump is to never let a slight go, real or perceived, and to use that to justify not only breaking his word but further bad behavior on his part designed to punish whoever he can.

It's a classic narcissist defense mechanism and one that's worked for the GOP for years, taking offense at being called out for bad behavior and claiming they are the real aggrieved party whenever they don't get 100% of what they want.  The false outrage/fainting couch/victim complex dance is standard operating procedure these days, and Trump is the perfect avatar for such infantile behavior.

But the practical upshot of all this is that it yet again normalizes Trump's original bad behavior.  As House Speaker 25 years ago, Newt Gingrich was laughed out of Congress when it became clear he shut down the government in 1995 over seating arrangements on Air Force One.  In 2018, it looks like Trump and the GOP are going to shut down the government over being called racists when Trump's said racist things and taken racist actions for decades and the country will just shrug it off.

He also does it to distract from new scandals, in the last seven days the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump paid off a woman in October 2016 to keep quiet over an affair, the New York Times reported that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner got $30 million from an Israeli firm ahead of Kusher's May 2017 visit to Tel Aviv, and BuzzFeed reported that Trump made billions over several decades selling real estate to unidentified buyers who paid cash in obvious money laundering schemes, all three scandals should have ended Trump's presidency immediately but at this point it's just overload and background noise.

Besides, some people called Trump racist, the worst offense known to Republicans, so now America has to be punished for that, you know.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Last Call For Sitting This One Out

Neither China nor Russia will attend a Vancouver diplomatic meeting this week of major world powers on North Korean sanctions and nuclear proliferation, meaning the conference is basically nothing but show.

Foreign ministers from around 20 nations gather on Tuesday to discuss how to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions through diplomatic and financial pressure, but China, seen as a key player in any long-term solution, will be absent.

The Vancouver meeting, co-hosted by Canada and the United States, comes amid signs that tensions on the peninsula have eased, at least temporarily. North and South Korea held talks for the first time in two years last week and Pyongyang says it will send athletes across the border to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

But the United States and others say the international community must look at ways of expanding a broad range of sanctions aimed at North Korea’s nuclear program.

“There is growing evidence that our maximum pressure campaign is being felt in North Korea. They are feeling the strain,” said Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning.
Hook told a briefing in Washington that participants, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would examine how to boost maritime security around North Korea to intercept ships trying to defy sanctions as well as “disrupting funding and disrupting resources.” 
The 17-nation Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, on Friday said “it is imperative for us to redouble our efforts to put maximum pressure on North Korea”.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no sign of willingness to give in to U.S. demands and negotiate away a weapons program he sees as vital to his survival.
Another challenge in Vancouver will be the absence of China, which has significant influence in North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang’s only ally and its chief trading partner. 
The meeting primarily groups those nations that sent troops to the Korean war of 1950-53, when China fought alongside the North. Beijing condemned the gathering. 
Holding this kind of meeting that doesn’t include important parties to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue actually cannot help in advancing an appropriate resolution to the issue,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

China doesn't want to lower the boom on Pyongyang, not with tens of thousands of US troops nearby in South Korea.  It's not like they trust Trump, either...or Russia for that matter.  People keep forgetting that Russia shares 2,600 miles of border with China and that Putin's power grabs in Europe don't exactly endear him to Beijing.

The US wants China to do the heavy lifting on reining in Kim Jong Un and his nuclear ambitions and they don't want any part of it, not yet anyway.  The two Koreas may be making nice for the Winter Games next month, but after that who knows.  It's a mess.

Certainly Trump won't make things better.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Part of the reason why Republicans have been able to do lasting damage to the country over the last eight years has been their historic midterm wins in 2010 and 2014 that shifted blue and purple states into Republican hands, not just governor's mansions but entire state legislatures in states like Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada and Virginia.

But the ongoing disaster that is Trump is finally breaking the GOP stranglehold on America.  Just six months ago, Republicans controlled 35 of 50 states.  That's already started to change as the country shifts back in response to the GOP, and 2018 will go a long way in deciding how 2020 plays out.

Buoyed by November election results, a surge in fundraising and expectations of a massive liberal wave, Democrats are preparing for an assault on one of the GOP’s most heavily fortified positions: governor’s mansions.

It’s a far cry from last summer, when Democrats bottomed out at the state level. Back then, after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched allegiance to the GOP, the number of governorships in Democratic Party hands fell to just 15, a historic low.

But the atmospheric conditions have changed since then. Republicans are hampered by an unpopular President Donald Trump. Suburban voters are threatening to desert the party en masse. And Democrats have seen a massive increase in their fundraising numbers after gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey in November.

The GOP is forced to defend 13 states that former President Barack Obama won — from Maine to New Mexico to Wisconsin — while Democrats are protecting just one — Pennsylvania — that fell to Trump

Republicans now admit that a handful of once-competitive battlegrounds are nearly out of reach for them in 2018. Meanwhile, Democratic hopes are rising in a handful of conservative strongholds.

“I would describe our attitude as rational exuberance, and the reason I say ‘rational’ is it’s based on objective evidence that’s consistent in basically every election since the 'stable genius’ got to the White House,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, using Trump’s recent Twitter description of himself. “The map has expanded in the last several months, because these patterns exist even in red states."

Democratic confidence has been building since the party’s sweeping wins last fall. At the DGA’s meeting in New Orleans last month, political director Corey Platt gave governors a presentation indicating that the organization is now targeting 17 GOP-held seats for pickup in 2018, according to slides from the presentation obtained by POLITICO.

The growing optimism on the left is mirrored by a burgeoning Republican pessimism, according to a wide range of GOP operatives and lawmakers involved in this year’s races.

This is the kind of fighting I want to see.  If the Dems cant take back even half of those 17 states,  the country's politics shift dramatically.

I think it will be more.  Dems taking back a majority of states will go a long way towards starting to repair the damage from Trump, and putting the pieces of this country back together.

Sunday Long Read: Native Lives Matter

BuzzFeed's John Stanton gives us this week's Sunday Long Read, a hard reminder that there's one ethnic group in this country that faces even worse odds of being victims of police brutality than African-Americans do.

Hours after seeing her 14-year-old grandson, Jason, lying in the street just feet from her home, with police and EMS hovering over his motionless body, Cheryl Pero found herself in the cavernous gymnasium of the Bad River Reservation community center.

Cheryl and her husband, Al, couldn’t go home — where they’d raised Jason since infancy — because it was a crime scene.

So the family awaited word in the local gym about why an Ashland County Sheriff’s deputy had just fired two shots into the chest of Jason, who friends and family say was a relatively normal, happy child. With news of the shooting spreading rapidly via text message and Facebook, members of their tight-knit tribal community soon joined them.

Tracy Bigboy, a neighbor and victim services coordinator for the tribal government, was dispatched to take care of the Peros’ needs. She stood in the cold air outside of the community center, quietly smoking a cigarette, until Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan pulled off Highway 2 and into the parking lot.

With his squared-off shoulders, neatly cropped silver hair, and mustache, the 62-year-old Brennan has a carefully crafted by-the-book reputation and looks every inch the small-town sheriff. As he and one of his investigators approached, Bigboy stopped them, warning the sheriff that emotions were running high inside the gym and urging him to talk to the family privately.

As the Peros huddled in private with Brennan, it seemed to the family that the sheriff hadn’t come with answers, or even condolences. His main message, as the grieving Peros remember it: Let him control the public narrative of Jason’s death.

“Don't talk to the media,” Bigboy and the Peros remember Brennan telling them. “Let us go first so we can tell you what to say.” And they say he had a warning for the community: Settle down and don’t riot.

Now, two months after Jason took two bullets to the chest on Nov. 8, his family still doesn’t know exactly what happened the morning that Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot him dead. Jason’s family says the sheriff has told them nothing, and Brennan did not respond to multiple requests to speak to BuzzFeed News about the shooting and about local law enforcement’s relationship with the Bad River community. Michael Nieskes, the St. Croix County District Attorney who has been appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the case, declined to comment.

The feeling of sadness and loss is palpable among members of the Bad River Band. But there’s also a deep sense of numbness and fatalism here that manifests in the nonchalant ways people talk about other violent encounters involving law enforcement and Native Americans. Jason’s death was at least the second time in as many months that a member of the Bad River Reservation had been killed by uniformed officers: On Oct. 28, a Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 27-year-old Lucas DeFord in nearby Black River Falls.

Locals have long complained about being pulled over for what they consider no good reason. “Driving while Indian,” they call it. And then there’s “the women,” a sort of shorthand that refers to allegations detailed in federal lawsuits that Sheriff Brennan did nothing as one of his jailers repeatedly raped and assaulted Native American women. “You’ve heard about the women, right?” locals say almost between thoughts.

The lack of information since Jason’s shooting has only compounded tensions here, laying bare the deep-rooted, systemic racial divisions between the Bad River tribe and the white community of Ashland.

“This has been going on for generations and generations, and it’s not going to stop,” Bigboy said.

The death of a young Ojibwe boy at the hands of a Wisconsin sheriff's deputy turned into a major news investigation of county law enforcement and the criminal mistreatment of peoples America long ago trapped in the hell of reservations.  Still trapped today, with police still treating them even worse than black America.

And that's saying something.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Not The Chelsea You Thought Would Run

I don't have any problem with Democrats running for Senate in 2018, the more the merrier.  But trying to primary a sitting Democrat in a safe blue state is going after your own party, and Chelsea Manning damn well knows it.

Chelsea Manning, the transgender former Army private who was convicted of passing sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, has filed to run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, according to federal election filings.

Manning, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, would be challenging Democrat Ben Cardin, who has served two terms in the Senate and is up for re-election in November. Cardin is Maryland’s senior senator and is considered an overwhelming favorite to win a third term.

Manning, 30, who is formerly known as Bradley Manning, was convicted in 2013 of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Last year, then President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to time served and she was released from a military prison in Kansas.

The news of Manning’s filing caught Maryland’s political class by surprise on Saturday afternoon.

Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has an extensive fundraising base within Maryland and is not considered particularly vulnerable to a challenge from within the state. However, an outside candidate with national name recognition, such as Manning, could tap a network of donors interested in elevating a progressive agenda.

Cardin’s spokeswoman did not return two messages seeking comment.

Manning moved to Maryland after her release and friends and family raised more than $175,000 to support her through an online campaign. Since then, she has written for The Guardian and Medium on issues of transparency, free speech and civil liberties, according to her web site.

Manning’s statement of candidacy was filed with the Federal Elections Commission on Thursday. She is running as a Democrat and refers to Maryland as her “home state” on her web site.

Manning’s first column for The Guardian said Obama’s election in 2008 was a political awakening for her. Manning wrote Obama left behind “hints of a progressive legacy,” but very few permanent accomplisments.

“This vulnerable legacy should remind us that what we really need is a strong and unapologetic progressive to lead us,” Manning wrote. “What we need as well is a relentless grassroots movement to hold that leadership accountable.”

If you're wondering why Ben Cardin in particular is Manning's target as opposed to well, going after a Republican in order to give the Dems the seat they'd need to take control of the Senate, according to Wikipedia, Cardin's on the following Senate committees:

 and one caucus of note for our purposes:

Just a theory, but if I was Manning, and I wanted to cause trouble for say, I dunno, a safe-seat Senate Democrat who might be a problem for a specific large European/Asian country who has a "special" relationship with the current orange occupant of the Oval Office, Cardin would be the guy I'd want to remove from the game.

Putting that out there.
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