Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nathan Miller's Attempt to Derail Boone Town Council Elections Now Hurtling Toward Resolution Today

Nathan Miller
Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway will hear the petition for a Writ of Mandamus filed by Sam Furgiuele, Marshall Ashcraft, and Connie Ulmer today, Tuesday, December 12, 2017, at 2:30 p.m. in Courtroom 3C of the Wake County Courthouse. The defendant in this action is actually the State Board of Elections, which the judge can direct to order the local board of elections to certify the November 7 election so that Furgiuele, Ashcraft, and Ulmer can be sworn in on December 21, as previously scheduled.

How We Got Here

Furgiuele, Ashcraft, and Ulmer win the Boone Town Council races on November 7; Watauga GOP through Nathan Miller files election protest over early voting site in ASU Student Union; his protest is voted down as "without merit" by the Watauga County Board of Elections; Miller appeals to the State Board of Elections (which currently doesn't exist)

State Board of Elections attorneys tell Miller he must appeal to the Wake Superior Court by a date certain; Miller misses the appeal date and says he doesn't care what the State Board of Elections attorneys tell him. He claims his protest can wait until a proper SBOE is appointed, and until then, no new municipal office-holders can be sworn in.

Furgiuele, Ashcraft, and Ulmer petition for a Writ of Mandamus to end Miller's protest and to declare their election certified. Their petition contains a motion for expedited hearing, which Judge Ridgeway granted yesterday, scheduling the hearing for this afternoon.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The 50-Yard Field Goal Attempt

The American Bridge PAC is running ads in Alabama urging voters tomorrow to write in the name Nick Saban on their ballots.

Why wouldn't Alabama voters choose their spiritual leader?

Back in September, with Trump distracting from the Mueller investigation by attacking NFL players, naturally a reporter would get to Nick Saban for a comment, and this is what coach said: "To me, some of the things that we do in our country when I grew up, they were unifying events and it's a little painful to see that those things are not so right now. But I also respect everyone's rights not to be censored in terms of the way they express their beliefs. I'm just a coach. I don't have the answers to all the questions. I know that most good things come out of love and respect and compassion and unifying people. Most bad things come out of hate and dislike and deceit. Hopefully we can focus on the above and not the below."

Well, Alabama could do worse than pick Nick Saban, and possibly will if it's to be Roy Moore.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

What Newly Elected Boone Town Council Members Are Asking

So I'm asked to explain a "Writ of Mandamus."

For those of you who had a misspent youth and didn't learn your Latin, mandamus means "we command" in that ancient language. The "we" refers to judges of superior jurisdiction who take charge of a situation where an obvious injustice has occurred. A writ of mandamus is a commandment to make things right. Mandamus, for example, is used to restore rights to a complainant who's been denied them, and writs of mandamus have traditionally been issued in response to abuses of judicial process.

If Nathan Miller isn't a walking abuse of judicial process, then we don't actually know a hawk from a handsaw.

So the petition filed in Raleigh on Friday by plaintiffs Sam Furgiuele, Marshall Ashcraft, and Connie Ulmer requests an order from the Superior Court directing Kim Strach, Executive Director of the NC State Board of Elections, to notify the Watauga County Board of Elections that the election is over, that the plaintiffs won and should be certified as the winners, and that furthermore the Nathan Miller election protest is dead for failing to meet its deadline for appeal.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Will Boone Swear in New Town Council Members on December 21?

Photo HC Press
Winners of the 2017 Boone Town Council elections still haven't been certified (and therefore can't be sworn in as scheduled on December 21, pending legal action filed yesterday in Wake County -- see below) because of Nathan Miller, prominent Boone lawyer and vice chair of the Watauga Republican Party.

(Note: The hold on certification of newly elected officials applies to all of Watauga County, including the municipal winners in Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain, and Seven Devils.)

Outline of Miller's Solo Attack on the Whole Elections Process 

October 13, 2017: Judge A. Graham Shirley enters an order in Wake Superior Court establishing an early voting site at ASU. Nathan Miller with Bill Aceto as plaintiff promptly intervenes and appeals Judge Shirley's order to the Court of Appeals.

October 18, 2017: Court of Appeals grants Miller-Aceto a temporary stay.

October 25, 2017: Court of Appeals dissolves the stay. Judge Shirley's original order is back in force, and it's the Eve of Early Voting on campus.

October 26, 2017: Early Voting opens on schedule at ASU. (Voting has already been going on at the downtown courthouse site since October 19.)

November 7, 2017: Election Day for Boone, Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, and Beech Mountain. There are winners and losers.

November 16, 2017: Now with Anne Marie Yates as plaintiff, Nathan Miller files an election protest with the Watauga (holdover) Board of Elections alleging an "irregularity or misconduct" in the Boone Town Council election and requesting a new election. Miller's whole argument: The law requires 20 days of advertisement to precede the opening of Early Voting, and the space between the Court of Appeals action on October 25 and the opening of Early Voting on the ASU campus on October 26 was precisely one day, not 20, and therefore the election is invalid. (Never mind Judge Shirley's order and the precedent of 2014.)

November 20, 2017: The Watauga County (hold-over) Board of Elections
votes unanimously to reject Miller's protest. Board Chair Bill Aceto says the protest has no merit.

November 21, 2017: Miller files Notice of Appeal with the state Board of Elections (SBOE), appealing the Watauga BOE's rejection of his election protest. General Counsel for the SBOE responds that because the SBOE does not exist currently (due to a lawsuit pending in the Supreme Court), the finding of the local Board stands as final. Any appeal must now be addressed to Wake Superior Court (as provided for by statute).

November 27, 2017: Nathan Miller replies to the SBOE General Counsel: We reject that interpretation of the law and maintain that until a proper SBOE is appointed and can rule on our objections, no certification of Watauga County municipal elections can be made.

November 28, 2017: General Counsel for the SBOE tells Miller he's wrong on the law and has until noon "tomorrow" -- November 29 -- to file a Notice of Appeal in Wake Superior Court. Miller rejects that, misses the deadline for appeal, and says he can wait until hell freezes over or until there's a new SBOE installed to hear his complaints. Therefore, according to Miller, no new municipal officials exist in Watauga County and exactly none may be sworn in.

That's where it stands. Or did, until Boone Town Council election winners Sam Furgiuele, Marshall Ashcraft, and Connie Ulmer filed a petition in Wake Superior Court yesterday (Friday, December 8) for a Writ of Mandamus to end this cynical and calculated circus.

What's this all about? Student voting, an existential threat to Trumpism.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Would You Take a Letter? Or Would You Have My Baby? Answer the Second Question First

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) was out of the House so fast yesterday it would make your head spin, on the same day that Al Franken announced his retirement (so you may have missed the Franks exit).

Two female staffers said Franks asked if either or both would carry his baby as a surrogate for his wife, who can't (she's had two miscarriages). The Franks have already used a surrogate for their twins.

Speaker Paul Ryan heard the accusations, called Franks in and repeated them, and Franks did not deny them and decided to quit the House immediately.

Hey, you hypocrite liberals! He was just family planning.

When the Air Goes Out of the Parade Float

Rebecca Shapiro reported that a new national Pew Research Center poll released today shows that President Donald Trump’s approval rating is declining among demographic groups that previously gave him relatively high numbers, particularly among evangelicals.

According to Pew, Trump’s approval rating among white evangelical Protestants dropped 17 percentage points from February to December, down from 78 percent to 61 percent. Eighty-one percent of white evangelical voters backed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, NPR reported.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Bredesen Just Made Tennessee Competitive

Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former two-term governor of Tennessee and former mayor of Nashville, announced this morning that he's running for the Corker Senate seat in Tennessee next year.

He's a high-profile, credible candidate and seriously energizes the Democratic side. Bredesen's candidacy triggers a Democratic primary, as there's already another declared Democrat, James Mackler, who's running. Mackler is a Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran. At 44, he's 30 years younger than Bredesen, but nobody knows him (yet). Everybody knows Bredesen.

Mackler is likely to run a vigorous primary campaign. He's been raising money, and his youth and experience impressed many observers when he first announced his candidacy last April.

The likely and ultimate Republican candidate for that Senate seat will be Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a super conservative who might remind you of the Stepford Wives.


Seeing that the public is not buying the propaganda that everything will come up roses under the Republican tax rewrite, the billionaires who will get even filthier rich are putting some pocket change into trying to convince the rest of us that we should be grateful.

For example, Americans for Prosperity -- with a large field staff and volunteers, some of them high school students working off a community service requirement -- is spending $10 million nationwide for grass roots canvassing and advertising to rally middle-class support for the tax rewrite. They've reportedly hit more than 41,000 homes and made 1.1 million phone calls.

knock knock “Hello. Do you have a moment to hear my claim that Americans for Prosperity believes it’s time to fix our broken tax code and let families keep more of what they earn. By 'families' I don't mean necessarily yours. I mean the families of those who sent me out here today with this informative orange flyer."

You know Americans for Prosperity, right? Charles G. and David H. Koch. They have your best
Charles and David Koch
interests at heart, no matter which cold storage unit currently holds theirs.

Here's an example of some of your "best interests" written into the Republican tax plan: young and well educated people are specifically targeted in a "tuition tax" on university graduate students pursuing higher degrees. Many US universities waive tuition for students who conduct research or teach, but a provision in the tax bill would add the value of those waivers to a students’ taxable income. They're already poorly paid as graduate assistants. So making them suffer for being smart and innovative, that's especially nice.

Part of the Koch Bros' pitch is that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. That's an old, old line which hasn't improved with age. Their gospel is that more tax revenue will flow to the Treasury from higher paid workers (who'll therefore pay more in taxes because they're better paid) and from increased investment (jobs! more tax payers to take up the slack) -- growth in general. That's their fairyland: because corps will reap windfalls, they'll just naturally want to rain benefits on both workers and the general public.

Tax cuts will pay for themselves? The Republican tax cut will create a $1.5 trillion deficit for the budget. The Joint Tax Committee scored the plan, taking into account expected economic growth, and found that only $400 billion of the $1.5 trillion would be recouped. Falls well short of paying for itself. It will doubtless spur some economic growth, which conservatives want to claim will disproportionately benefit the middle class. It will benefit corporations more. They are not philanthropic organizations, and being thankful to them for the huge tax cuts they're getting is a little too much like the serf's rejoicing when some ort drops from the table where the lords are feasting.

In essence, Republicans and their corporate bosses are trying to sell us a free lunch made up largely of projected mirror images.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

See Ya Wouldn't Want To Be Ya

The best thing that could happen to the National Republican Party in the short term -- Roy Moore loses in Alabama. Otherwise, he's the aloha lei that every Republican at every level will be wearing in 2018, and it's not going to smell garden fresh.

Meanwhile, Trump is the nominal leader of the Republican Party but displays little actual leadership. Oh, he'll stomp on someone he thinks dissed him, like Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, but as far as providing the political machinery by which Republican candidates can run next year, that ain't exactly happening. Trump's poll numbers are stuck at a low register, and Republican office-holders who have to run again in 2018 are trying to figure out how to run without inviting Trump into their states or districts.

Then there's the Trump whisperer, Steve Bannon, who's said he'll primary every Republican incumbent senator except Ted Cruz next year. What does Trump do? Does he dive in to help the incumbents against insurgents, like he tried to help Luther Strange in the Alabama primary? He's still miffed about that, that Strange lost by 9 points. He's complained that he should never have listened to Republican Party operatives who told him he had to campaign for Strange to protect the party. That's why calling Trump the "head of the GOP" seems like a suicide pact.

More like he's the demise of the GOP, the virus that wipes out the host. So we get the spectacle of the RNC withdrawing financial support from Roy Moore weeks ago and then hurriedly reinstating it yesterday after Trump tweeted on Monday his full endorsement of the child molester. Trump didn't tell anyone in advance he was going to endorse Moore, so the RNC is left looking like what it is -- rudderless and without any moral foundation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The New Poor People's Campaign for 2018

Last night, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's launch of the first Poor People's Campaign, Rev. William J. Barber II announced a new Poor People's Campaign which will climax next June 21st with a mass mobilization in Washington, DC.

“We must transform the moral narrative in this country,” Barber, who led N.C.’s Moral Monday efforts, said in a statement announcing the plan ahead of a Monday news conference. “We went through the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history in 2016 without a single serious discussion of poverty and systemic racism. Now we are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism that demands a response."

“This is not about saving any one party or policy agenda but about saving the soul of America.”

Amen to that.

You too can join this movement for the soul of America: https://poorpeoplescampaign.org.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Lame-Duck Boone Town Council Poised To Do the Wrong Thing

During its last hour in office on December 21st, the current Boone Town Council (including all the members who were just kicked out of office on November 7th) is set to vote on a major give-away to Appalachian State University.

The proposed text amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance will allow ASU to rent any and all space (offices, storage, etc.) in the M1 (Manufacturing), B3 (General Business), and O/I (Office/Institutional) districts of the town. B3 is of particular concern because it includes so many existing buildings on all the main corridors.

This text amendment would allow the university to move in for long-term use (up to seven years with the possibility of further open-ended extensions -- see below), putting university functions including possibly classes all over the business districts without requiring the university to go through the normal procedures required for such consequential changes in use.

ASU is reportedly going to need a lot of space, like in a whole lot and more, because the Old Lowe's Building must be vacated and other demolitions and renovations are going to throw many faculty, staff, and whole programs with their required classes out into the town of Boone. The only use excluded for ASU in the B3, M1, and O/I districts will be residential.

This major adjustment to the town's already capacious accommodation to ASU has been moving quietly along the path to passage, with a Public Hearing last week that not many citizens knew about, though renters of empty property did know about it. During that public hearing one property owner stood up and said it's a fact that ASU already owns Boone, so why don't we just go ahead and make it official with this text amendment?

What Is Especially Pernicious About This Planned Vote

Under normal procedures, this text amendment would be voted up or down by the newly elected Boone Town Council, which will be sworn in at 5:30 on December 21 (barring Nathan Miller and Anne Marie Yates's ridiculous attempt to overthrow the election). But the current council -- Lynne Mason, Jeannine Underdown Collins, Charlotte Mizelle, Quint David -- with Loretta Clawson vigorously opposing the text amendment -- scheduled a "Special" session at 4:30 on December 21st, an hour before they're officially off the job. They clearly intend to vote this text amendment through while they still can.

Their rush to pass this before the new Council takes office speaks loudly, and the message is not flattering to the old Council.

What the University Wants, the University Gets

The very generous "planners" on the Boone Planning Staff wrote it into the text amendment that the university could have the rentals for three years with a one-time renewal for three more years, for a total of six years.

But the university wants more and has requested "through counsel" that the initial term be for five years with a two-year extension, and wanted this language added to prepare for going beyond those seven years: "An additional extension may be granted upon a showing of unanticipated and extraordinary circumstances" -- and there's no end to that "additional extension."

How does a university take over a town? With the willing collusion of a town council.

Senators Burr and Tillis: We Won't Forget What You Voted For

Dick Burr and Thom Tillis of NC voted yes. With pleasure!

The redistribution of American wealth to the already wealthy is now almost complete. It's what we've all been asking, begging for, right? We need more space -- infinite levels of space -- between the mega-rich and the working poor, not to mention the getting-poorer-under-Trump middle class.

Just one hurdle left to jump: the conference between US House and US Senate. Their two different tax bills have a lot in common — dramatic cuts in corporate taxes, elimination of several key personal tax deductions, and a big change to the estate tax. But these two bills also have a number of crucial differences to be arm-wrestled before the final version reaches Trump.

Prediction: the bill that Trump signs will be more like the Senate bill than the House bill. The Senate is delicately balanced, like popovers: any shift in the crust could crash it. So the House will be more flexible. (Paul Ryan has already signaled that he's willing to accept the Senate repeal of the individual mandate under Obamacare, and ain't that a huge surprise!)

Corporate taxes will be cut forever in both House or Senate bills, but the Senate sun-sets the measly individual tax cut for the middle class, which will vanish -- poof! -- in 2025.

Both House and Senate would increase the child tax credit -- the House less so -- but both bills would also punish millions of families that don't make enough to pay income taxes but still pay payroll taxes, cutting them off from the expanded benefits. Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee (really!) tried last night on the Senate floor to insert a provision that would have expanded this tax credit to millions of low-income families. Rubio and Lee proposed to pay for it with a small bump in corporate taxes. Their proposal failed.

Mortgage deductions on individual tax returns -- preserved in the Senate bill; reduced significantly in the House bill.

The Senate repeal of the individual health insurance mandate will cause a likely 13 million Americans to drop insurance coverage in the next decade, which will necessitate a spike in health insurance premiums for all the rest of us. 

Since the Senate bill was being written, essentially, while it was being debated -- literally handwritten emendations in the margins of the earlier printed version -- there's still a lot of special-interest candy yet to be discovered among dozens of marginal provisions tucked in there at the last minute. Who had time to read those almost 500 pages of law? Any written text was not available to Democrats until the last minute, and it was unread by many Republicans senators who weren't about to buck the leadership no matter what might be hidden in that language.

One mysteriously added provision did get exposed on the Senate floor last night, exposed and ditched. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey had included a specific carve-out exemption to help the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan, which is intimately connected to Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos.

I'm not even going to talk about the deficit-busting in both bills. I don't care. Republicans have always been total hypocrites, and they don't particularly care who knows it [cough] Virginia Foxx. That's the only take-away.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Feces, Meet Fan

Michael Flynn with Michael Flynn Jr.,
at Trump Tower during the transition
Ominous sign for the White House: Former Trump Security Advisor admitted guilt today in federal district court to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Court records indicate he was acting "under instructions from senior Trump transition officials."

Flynn is cooperating with Mueller. Said Flynn, “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.” Best interests of my family ... namely, Michael Flynn Jr., who was very involved too?

Flynn was passing requests to the Russians, and the Russians were sometimes complying, like in not too vigorously protesting the Obama administration's sanctions over election meddling in certain hope of seeing those sanctions lifted under Trump.

“A very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” asked Flynn to make contact with the Russians (and other foreign persons), and they received reports on those contacts.

Some observers now consider that Trump himself has a legal exposure problem.

Dead Man Walking

I'm no defender of SecState Rex Tillerson. The poor rich sap signed on to the Ship of Fools and will walk the plank soon as one of the shortest serving SecStates in history. I can almost feel his pain. But he did call Trump "a fucking moron" in front of people, so he has my respect as a man who both recognizes reality and experiences regret.

It's the dude who everyone says will replace Tillerson at State that we need to watch, Mike Pompeo, the Kansas congressman who accepted Trump's appointment to head the CIA and who looks very much like the ass-kisser who has Trump's number. Pompeo has paved his path upward by delivering the CIA's "daily briefing" personally to the president, and Trump has evidently come to love the news --  "doings out at Langley" -- so long as its laced with indulgence and flattery. Pompeo has demonstrated total slavish loyalty to Trump.

1. Pompeo obeys Trump's whims. Trump's consuming need to deflect on the subject of Russian money/influence became an everyday gripe session with Pompeo. Trump latched onto an alternate theory of how the hacking/leaking/publication of DNC stolen emails could have happened -- a conspiracy theory promoted by a former National Security Agency official. It wasn't the Russians! It was someone on the inside of the DNC who did it. The entire intelligence apparatus of the US, including not just CIA analysts but analysts from other spy agencies, had conclusively agreed that the hack was Russian. But Pompeo was more than ready to indulge Trump's deflection. So under orders,
Pompeo, with Trump.
Photo AP/Andrew Harnik
Pompeo met with the DNC inside job theorist and apparently swapped slobbers.

2.  Pompeo publicly proclaimed in October and in front of cameras that “the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.” Pompeo neglected to say that the intelligence community never said any such thing.  The intelligence assessment had found, rather, that the Russian operation was unprecedented in its scale, and it concluded that Moscow’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process and help elect Donald Trump. It took no position whatsoever on whether the infiltration actually influenced voting numbers in the election. (As Russian manipulation of Facebook users continues to unfold, the direct impact of Russian meddling on voting statistics seems more certain every day.)

3. Again on orders from Trump (obviously), Pompeo was put on the phone to reporters from the WashingtonPost and The Wall Street Journal to try to knock down a story out that very day in the New York Times, headlined "Trump Aides Had Contact With Russian Intelligence: U.S. Officials Tell of a Flurry of Phone Calls Intercepted Before the Election." Pompeo reportedly told the reporters that the story wasn't true but refused to offer any substantiating detail of how it was untrue.

4. In August, Greg Miller reported, "Mike Pompeo has taken a special interest in an agency unit that is closely tied to the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, requiring the Counterintelligence Mission Center to report directly to him." Hmmm. Good place to be -- directly in charge of agents doing work you don't want them to do successfully. But, also, are you freaking kidding me?