Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Our Idiot Will Make the U.S. a Rogue Nation

Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, Darren W. Woods, is strong in his defense of this nation's remaining a part of the Paris climate agreement. Woods is part of a "nearly united corporate front" that's been urging Trump not to withdraw from the agreement. “By expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth. U.S. companies are well positioned to lead in these markets,” a host of corporate giants, including Woods, wrote in full-page advertisements that ran recently in The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

But Steve Bannon is evidently back in the driver's seat in the Oval Office, and CBS News is reporting just now -- or confirming -- that Trump will indeed announce that he is withdrawing us from the Paris agreement.

Environmentally oriented groups like Ceres, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions have brought together big companies like Apple, Ingersoll Rand, Mars, National Grid and Schneider Electric to appeal to the president to stay in. Many of them operate globally and worry that if the United States abandons the deal, it would be harder to operate in existing markets and break into new ones.
But, never mind. Trump means to pander to the ignorance of his greedy, short-distance sprinters (Donald much prefers a golf cart to walking anyway), and he will make the United States the newest pariah on the planet.

How far above sea level is Mar-a-Lago?

"Can-Do" Kushner's Back Channel

Kevin Siers cartoon, Charlotte Observer, May 30, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Election Board Power Grab by Republicans Goes to Trial This Thursday

Three-judge panel will hear the case about whether the Republican-controlled General Assembly can take away Governor Roy Cooper's ability to appoint the State Board of Elections ... starting this Thursday.

Stay tuned!

NCGOP Continues Its Assault on Ballot Access

If you've gotten forgetful about all the court decisions throwing out various Republican voter suppression laws in North Carolina, and the fact that -- left without their massive voter suppression law -- the Republicans in the General Assembly are busily cooking up a whole new voter I.D. law that they won't let anybody see, then William Wan's piece of journalism from yesterday will be most helpful to your understanding.

Buried deep in that article is this sentence (if you've been waiting for that other shoe to drop):
North Carolina legislators are anxiously awaiting yet another Supreme Court decision that could come this week and would determine whether North Carolina will hold special elections this year for many redistricted legislative seats that federal judges found were racially based and unconstitutional.
At this late calendar date, no one really believes that the Supreme Court (even without Gorsuch participating) is going to order new Congressional elections this year in North Carolina. But you never know.

One thing is certain. While Republicans hold power in Raleigh they intend to stomp on as many people as possible. They intend to grab power and abuse power and misuse power until we the people take that power away from them.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

9th District Democratic Primary

Dan McCready
Photo Deborah
The Charlotte Observer covers the developing Democratic primary to choose a candidate to take on Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger next year in the NC-9, and the newspaper either deliberately or inadvertently gives a big boost to a new Democratic challenger, Dan McCready, an Iraq war Marine veteran and business entrepreneur.

The Observer's photo of McCready at the head of the article doesn't hurt the man's chances and presents a palpable contrast to the older and far pastier incumbent.

Christian Cano
Photo John D. Simmons
Also running in that primary -- and really continuously running for the last two-and-a-half years -- is Christian Cano, who was on the ballot in 2016 against Pittenger but managed only 41.8 percent of the vote to Pittenger's 58.2 percent. He's trying again, and he's been a constant presence on social media since last fall.

Cano is also young but not as young as McCready and is as scrappy as any Marine.

Maria Collins Warren
The other announced candidate is Maria Collins Warren, an attorney in Robeson County who teaches constitutional law classes at UNC-Pembroke and UNC-Wilmington. She has experience as a prosecutor in the Wilmington district attorney's office.

According to the Observer, at least one more potential candidate is thinking about jumping into this race.

Primaries do not have to be acid baths, and we'll hope these guys stay positive about themselves and not negative about their opponents. Congressman Robert Pittenger is the target, and he offers plenty of pulpy wood to peck at.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Arid Vocabulary of Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump has labored mightily and come up with the proper label for suicide bombers: "losers."

Trump knows from long experience that if you label your enemy correctly, you have taken care of that enemy. Boom. Done.

For the record, here are the people/things that Trump has called losers (via the wonderful GH):
Barack Obama, John McCain, Cher, Chuck Todd, George Will, Jay Leno, Jeb Bush, John Heilemann, Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers, Mark Cuban, Alex Pareene, Alex Salmond, Ana Navarro, Angelo Carusone, Arianna Huffington, Bill Maher, Bill Moyers, Brian Williams, Charles Krauthammer, Chris Cillizza, Rosie O’Donnell, Chris Jackson, Chris Moody, Chuck Hagel, Danny Zuker, David Cameron, David Milne, Eric Schneiderman, Frank Lutz, Gavin Rossdale, Graydon Carter, Hisham Elzanaty, Jaqueline Goldberg, Jonah Goldberg, Karl Rove, Lawrence O’Donnell, Lord Sugar, Michael Forbes, Michelle Malkin, Mike Tollin, New York Daily News, Salon
Or take a look at the remarkable list of Trump losers that Philip Bump compiled way back in 2015.

Whatever Trump's Hiding Must Be Really Hideous

This news broke late yesterday in the WashPost:
Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.
Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.
“The problem wasn’t so much [Trump's] asking them to issue statements -- it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official said of the request to Coats.

Eventually, we'll know everything about Trump and the Russians and probably a good deal more about the idiot in the White House. Robert Mueller will tell us.


Wherein We Use "Trump" and the World "Ethics" in the Same Sentence

Okay, this happened back in January: Trump signed an Executive Order (read it here) that supposedly prohibited lobbyists and lawyers hired as political appointees from working for two years on government matters that involved their former clients. In the case of former lobbyists, they could not work on the same regulatory issues they had been involved in. This was part of Trump's promise to "drain the swamp."

But -- and here's where that drain got clogged -- Trump also reserved the right to issue waivers to the rule. Obama had a similar rule and also issued waivers to it. The difference between Trump and Obama is that Obama made the waivers public, with stated justifications, while Trump is keeping his dozens of waivers perfectly secret.

Not so fast there, says the head of the Office of Government Ethics, who sent a letter to every federal agency: "What former lobbyists are working in your department under an ethics waiver?"

Have you noticed that when Trump has something dirty to hide he tries to exert the power of his office to shut down inquiry? Yes. So Trump used Mick Mulvaney to send his own letter to the head of the Office of Government Ethics, demanding that he withdraw his request for copies of the ethics waivers.

The Ethics chief wasn't having it. He replied with his own blistering 10-page letter, which essentially said, "No, sir, I will not desist from tracking the ethical compromises being practiced in secret by the Trump administration."

Trump needs to hide the fact that his swamp is stagnating rather than draining, and he took the wholly unprecedented step of trying to bully the Office of Government Ethics. Thank God there are still government employees willing to stand up for ethics.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Morning Coffee Hour: Vocabulary Drill

1. Conservative Agitator Calls Trump "An Idiot"

Reading the Sunday morning papers -- because garden work is out of the question ... it's raining (yay!) -- we respect the Grand Confluence of causes and effects. We especially respect the writing of people with smarts, who also respect language and logic, and who obviously don't have gardens to distract them.

Take Erick Erickson, who published an editorial this morning in the WashPost. Erickson is the former editor-in-chief at conservative blog Red State and was a "never Trumper." Okay. I'm listening, Mr. Erickson:
The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser — all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man. Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.

For very current meanings, the go-to Urban Dictionary defines idiot severally. Here's one: "Someone who has a wish to shoot someone, but is pointing his gun the wrong way."

The Urban Dictionary -- I visit there often! -- also offers this definition: Idiot is "an epithet that describes anyone but you. It is a statistical certainty that there is someone out there in the planet who considers you an idiot. That person doesn't matter, of course -- he's an idiot."

The English word idiot came into the language from France, probably along with the Norman Conquest. Before France had the word, the Romans used it freely (in Latin, natch! which supplied the vocabularies for French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian). The Romans had themselves borrowed the word from the more sophisticated Greeks, who used idiotes as a snub analogous to "rube." "Ignorant dude." An idiot was an ignorant "layman" whose ignorance might prove damaging.

In other words, idiot played to class and social position. You can imagine a Roman estate administrator using the word to describe the newest shipment of slaves, sent out by the Senator from Rome to work the estate. It was a slur denoting your place in the pecking order, your relative class, and still is.

Urban Dictionary definition of class? "That thing that sluts don't have."

Class is more than money. And Trump doesn't have it.

2. Democratic Prospects

Jonathan Martin reports in today's WashPost on grassroots Democratic congressional candidates in this year's special House elections, "Outside Washington's Blazing Inferno, Democrats Seek an Agenda." The short story: Democrats out in the country, as opposed to the national party in Washington, DeeCee, have it going on, while the national party hasn't yet recovered from Clinton's defeat: "For all the misfortunes facing their foe in the White House, Democrats have yet to devise a coherent message on the policies that President Trump used to draw working-class voters to his campaign."

It ain't really about Trump -- the winning of by-elections by Democrats this year and next -- since Trump is an idiot about public policy or how the government works. It's about the problems people face in Watauga County, N.C., and Briscoe County, Tex., and Cache County, Utah, and how those problems are not being fixed in any helpful way by the ruling Republicans. None of those issues generally include the word "Russia."

Luckily, I'm not running for office. I can obsess where I please.

Friday, May 19, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Trump Said Whaaaat? To Whom?

Reporters at the New York Times got hold of a "document" that recounts in print what was said in the May 10 Oval Office meeting between Trump and the Russians, a document whose accuracy the White House communications office does not dispute.

According to the written account of the meeting, Trump bragged to the Russians that he had gotten rid of a major hindrance to US-Russian relations -- FBI Director James Comey. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said to the Russians, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Trump added, exhibiting more faith than a grasp of reality, “I’m not under investigation.”

So that should pretty much settle why Comey was fired: the Russian collusion investigation.

Meanwhile, the WashPost had its own piece of breaking news this afternoon: "The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter."

Trump must be thankful to be fleeing the country for the loving arms of the Saudis. But he can't stay gone forever.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I Take Back Every Nice Thing I've Ever Said About Jared Kushner

This piece of leaked White House gossip, or truth, or near-truth has emerged, "according to two people familiar with the situation." When word reached the Oval Office at 5:35 yesterday that deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein had appointed a Special Counsel to investigate Trump and his campaign and other stuff, Trump's first reaction was to "fight back":
He quickly summoned his top advisers, most of whom recommended that he adopt a conciliatory stance. But his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who had pushed Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey, urged the president to counterattack, according to two senior administration officials.
After a brief discussion, however, the majority prevailed. Aides huddled over a computer just outside the Oval Office to draft the statement accepting Mr. Rosenstein’s decision and asserting the president’s innocence.
Later on -- last night or early this morning -- Trump began fighting back on Twitter, alleging a "witch hunt" to get him.

But, really? Kushner pushed for Comey's firing? One of the most colossal political blunders of the age, a firing which led directly to the appointment of a Special Counsel.

Why does anyone think this kid is smart?

"Donald Trump Saves the World" -- Creating Two Very Nervous Republican Senators from North Carolina

About the reported information that the Israelis shared some highly sensitive terrorist intel with Trump, and Trump promptly shared it with the Russians, the Trump White House has put out two different stories. First, it never happened. Second, it happened, but Trump had every right to declassify highly classified intel with any Tom, Dick, or Ivan he pleases.

Senator Dick Burr of North Carolina, chair of the Senate Intel Committee (which is currently rustling the covers of the Russia investigation), said almost immediately that he wanted a transcript of what was said in that Trump confab with the Russians. The American press had been barred, so Burr put in a call to the White House, which went unanswered. (According to reporting in the Boston Globe, the White House was not returning calls to "Republican allies," which is never a good sign.) When he hadn't heard a peep out of the White House for hours, Burr said, lamely, or maybe facetiously, "Maybe they're busy." (Not making this up.)

Burr continued, as quoted by Annie Linsky: ‘‘My major concern right now is that I don’t know what the president said. I’d like to think somebody from the White House who was in the room is going to get on the phone and tell me what they said.’’

Really, Dick? Hearing it from the White House is going to clear it all up?

Meanwhile, The Other NC Senator Thom Tillis, who seems to be experiencing serious stresses on the ole chassis right now, edged away ever so slightly from his president. Tillis said he wanted to know exactly what Trump handed the Russians: “If it’s information that was shared with the Russian ambassador, it seems to me it would be okay to be shared with US senators.”

That's pretty bold of you, Mr. Tillis, but the Getting Bolder By the Day Medal goes to Burr.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump's Vulnerability

Lordy! Is America great again yet?

Trump's strange affinity for Russians -- blurting out secrets that might be better kept secret -- and his raging defensiveness about the FBI's investigation into Russian collusion wounds whatever credibility he might theoretically have as Leader of the Free World.

“What we’ve really learned is either he’s worried about Russia because he’s got a significant vulnerability or he’s worried about Russia because it undermines his electoral win,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who was the communications director for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. “He’s clearly been more preoccupied with it than we understood.”

If it's the former -- "a significant vulnerability" because he's in cahoots with Putin, or some of his people were in cahoots -- then his presidency is indeed doomed. If it's the latter, then his eternally fragile ego may doom us all.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Happy Dance Monday

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Republicans' appeal on trying to save North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law this morning, which means the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which struck down the law as unconstitutional last summer, will stand. In addition to its racially targeted voter ID provisions, the overturned law also banned same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and severely reduced early voting including on Sundays.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Comey Refused To Kiss the Godfather's Ring

Thanks to the reporting of Michael S. Schmidt, we now know that within a week of his inauguration, Trump was trying to obstruct the FBI's Russia probe. Seven days after his inauguration, Trump "summoned" FBI Director James Comey to the White House for dinner and in effect demanded that Comey kiss his ring:
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.
That Comey would not buckle to that implied threat is the reason for his firing and also the reason Comey's reputation will rise while the godfather's can only go lower.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trump's Presidency Unraveling Faster Than an Old, Rotten Cardigan

So Trump has said twice now that ex-FBI Director James Comey told him, the president, that he wasn't under investigation -- three different times. At least one of those times, according to Trump's own admission, was after Trump asked Comey, "Am I under investigation?"

Number One: If Comey indeed answered a question like that, then Comey should have been fired for that, for talking about FBI investigations to anyone, let alone a possible target of the investigation.

Number Two: If Trump indeed asked that question, which is much more believable than Number One, then Trump was committing a breach of FBI protocol (if not the actual law itself) -- the boss of the chief investigator exercising improper interference and influence by asking that question. There's always a presumption of improper meddling, of intimidation, of trying to sway the investigator away from the trail of evidence, especially when a president asks such questions of a man he can fire off the investigative job.

Number Three: Trump's version of his conversations with Comey is a tale told by an idiot. There's a living person with far greater public integrity than the idiot in question who is now waiting out there to finally speak and to correct the record and to assert that the president is a liar. That will happen in time.

I say it again: Trump is just plain dumb. Not just "inexperienced dumb," but two-dollar-dog, you-can't-fix-this dumb.

Another example? Trump keeps the American press far away from the Oval Office while he's palling around with the Russians, because he wants to hide from the American people that he's palling around with the Russians on the day after he fired the man who was investigating just how chummy he might have been with the Russians. And the Russians themselves release the photos that Trump didn't want us to see.

Just plain dumb.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, D. Trump, and 
Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak ...
in the Oval Office hours ago.
Photo courtesy of the Russian Foreign Ministry

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump Indicts Himself

Just how stupid can Donald J. Trump be?

The firing of James Comey as FBI Director should guarantee the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into the entire Russia-Trump nexus.

The firing certainly cements the impression that Trump has much to hide and is desperate to hide it. Even the Republican stone wall in Congress is showing pressure cracks.

The "company line" that Comey was fired because of his bungling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation just doesn't wash, not even on laundry Tuesday. It's laughable, and everybody is gleefully showing those multiple clips of Trump praising Comey for his "guts," getting in front of cameras last summer to excoriate Clinton.

We heard the news late yesterday afternoon, and a wise old political hand immediately said, "Well, that goose is cooked."

Trump lit the fire.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Senator, Is That the Cookie Jar in Your Hand?

Ralph Hise
NC Senator Ralph Hise, who represents the neighboring 47th District (Mitchell, Yancey, McDowell, Madison, Rutherford, and Polk counties), was first elected to the General Assembly in the 2010 Tea Party steam bath. He has recently risen like the cream-of-corruption to the top of the tea kettle.

In March of this year, independent researcher and gadfly Greg Flynn filed complaints with the State Board of Elections about irregularities and apparent violations of elections law he found in Senator Hise's campaign finance reports:
Excess repayment of personal loans (Hise appears to have pocketed some $10,000 in extra cash)
Incomplete contributor information (missing addresses, names of employers, etc.)
Unitemized disbursements
"Irregular" entries (amendments to reports suggesting adjustments to "reconcile unrecorded payments"
Failure to report almost $10,000 in PAC contributions
The State Board of Elections opened an investigation on March 10 and informed Senator Hise that he should submit a response to the complaint by March 20 (see correspondence from SBOE to Hise at the link above). Hise replied that his treasurer (Shirley Hise) was "unable to assist at this time," and he asked for an additional 45 days to respond.

Those 45 days expired on May 4, and according to watchdogs DemocracyNC, Hise still had not responded as of May 8.

Senator Hise is chair of the Senate Select Committee on Elections and has had a hand in the attempted restructuring of the State Board of Elections (to deprive Gov. Roy Cooper of appointment and oversight power), and he now clearly has a huge personal interest in making sure that the people running the State Board of Elections are sufficiently partisan. DemocracyNC is calling for him to recuse himself from the Select Committee on Elections while he is under investigation.

The other thing to note: It took an independent citizen looking at public records to blow the whistle on Sen. Hise. Why? Because the SBOE doesn't have the staff to look at flagrant violations of reporting standards?

Trump Diagnosis of the Week

“He’s fundamentally lazy. He free-rides so many processes he doesn’t know anything about. He used to do it in the business world, and now he does it in the political world .... He’s not a student of anything other than protecting his image. What he cares about is how he’s perceived, not the nuts and bolts of things. He is essentially a performance artist.”

--Trump biographer Tim O'Brien, as told to Maureen Dowd

Monday, May 08, 2017

Intercepted on Facebook: We Can't Do Without Our Friends

Okay, so here’s what happened. At about 3:00 in the morning on November 9th, I woke up, rolled over in bed, and checked Politico on my iPad. I was so disturbed by what I saw, I immediately deleted all my news apps and social media apps. Then I got up and turned on the PC and cancelled all my news feeds and deactivated all my social media accounts.

For almost three months after that I read no news, watched no news, listened to no news, overheard no news. None. No TV, no Politico or Real Clear Politics, no Facebook or Twitter, no nothing. When a news-related conversation started up near me, I walked away from it. When I entered the kitchen, _____ and _____ turned off the TV. Sure, I was being a chicken-shit. But I was genuinely dismayed by the state of our country. I do not exaggerate.

Then, toward the end of January, a concern arose at work as to how the Muslim ban might affect our international students. As a member of the senior staff at the college, I needed to be informed so I could help protect our kids. So I read up on the Muslim ban, then started reading other news too. After that, I eased back into the online world little by little. But I missed the entire transition, the inauguration, and a couple of weeks after that.

I’ve picked up on a few things since then. I do know about our national regression on environmental protections, the rollback of oversight of the corporate and banking sectors, the proposal of economic and tax policies benefiting the rich, the condemnation of the sick and the hungry, the baseless accusations and personal insults of public officials, the vilification of the free press and the court system, the continued refusal to disclose personal financial connections, the disregard for longstanding international commitments and partnerships, the public expressions of support for known despots, the demonization of immigrants and minorities, the support of religiously-justified bigotry, the continuous drip of evidence of conspiracy with a foreign state to manipulate a presidential election, the disregard for national security protocols, the off-handed instigation of diplomatic crises (including at least one threat of invasion), the use of the office of the presidency for personal gain, the conspicuous nepotism, the nomination of government officials to departments toward which they had previously shown animosity or through which they were positioned to benefit personally, the attempted use of federal investigative agencies for political and personal purposes, the demonstrated ignorance of many areas of common knowledge, the repeated demonstrable lies, the infantile personal comportment, and the overall tone of arrogance, willful ignorance, and general douchebaggery. So I’m all caught up.

Also, I hear there have been some Tweets.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Foxx Statement on House Passage of American Health Care Act

We read the Virginia Foxx press release (so you don't have to):

What She Said
"For seven long years, families and small businesses have suffered the devastating consequences of Obamacare. Costs are skyrocketing, choices are diminishing, small businesses are struggling, and jobs are being destroyed."

What She Meant
I love the smell of powerful men after the flop sweat dries!


What She Said
"That’s what the American people have been forced to live with, and that’s why Republicans promised to provide a better way."

What She Meant
I'm a free market kinda gal, Baby, and I sell where I can.


What She Said
"We are on a rescue mission, and this vote is an important step in repealing a failed law and delivering free-market, patient-centered solutions."

What She Meant
Did I mention that I grew up poor -- poorer than you, the poorest! -- and no one ever helped me. I'm getting my revenge.


What She Said
"Today’s action represents an important moment for our country and a central part of our broader effort to deliver health care relief for working families."

What She Meant
Nothing ticks me off like the whining of poor people!


What She Said
"Already, the House passed reforms that will empower small businesses to band together to offer working families greater access to affordable health coverage."

What She Meant
Wesa got a grand army. That's why you no liking us meesa thinks.


What She Said
"These are the kind of smart, responsible health care solutions that the American people need, and we are determined to deliver."

What She Meant
Mesa day startin pretty okee-day with a brisky morning munchy, then BOOM! Gettin very scared and grabbin that Jedi and POW! Mesa here! Mesa gettin' very very scared!

Friday, May 05, 2017

When Malice Laughs Out Loud

"I won’t mince words. The health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed this afternoon, in an incredibly narrow 217-to-213 vote, is not just wrong, or misguided, or problematic or foolish. It is an abomination. If there has been a piece of legislation in our lifetimes that boiled over with as much malice and indifference to human suffering, I can’t recall what it might have been. And every member of the House who voted for it must be held accountable."
--Paul Waldman, a senior writer at The American Prospect

Trump Wimps Out in Executive Order Supposedly Giving Political Latitude to Churches

With fanfare and an excursion to the famous Rose Garden at the White House, Trump signed an Executive Order supposedly making it easier for churches to engage in political activity (as though they're not already doing it). But at least one Christian leader recognized the gesture as skim milk. Gregory S. Baylor, senior counsel for the faith group Alliance Defending Freedom, called it “disappointingly vague” and questioned whether the IRS would follow through with Trump’s directive.

Indeed, the IRS is bound by the law, not by Trump's pandering to pulpit-pounders. What is known as "the Johnson Amendment," written into the tax code, bans churches and other tax-exempt organizations from supporting political candidates. The provision would require an act of Congress to repeal. Trump can sign his "Executive Orders" all day long, and all evening too, but they don't change the law.

"Well, but," a Trump administration official said, trying to placate the Religious Right, the president was instead directing the IRS to “exercise maximum enforcement discretion of the ­[Johnson Amendment] prohibition.” But not according to the actual language contained in the EO that Trump signed: It merely instructs the administration not to take “adverse action” against churches or religious figures for political speech that has “not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign” for or against a candidate for office.

Which is pretty much the way the IRS has already been letting various mega-church preachers get away with their political activity.

So the Rose Garden signing was really all a piece of theater to fool the Christians, whose support Trump must have, into thinking he's some sort of fellow traveler on the Road to Emmaus. But don't take my word as proof:

“Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome,” American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”

Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye!

Carlos Barria/REUTERS
What are these rich guys so happy about?

Kicking millions off their health insurance apparently tickles their funny bones.

Nothing cheers them up like cutting $840 billion from Medicaid. That money pays for many elderly and disabled folks in nursing homes in Watauga County and across Virginia Foxx's Fifth District, who have exhausted their personal finances and are unable to cope.

Nothing cheers up this bunch like undermining the provisions that prevent insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions -- by allowing states to seek waivers that would eliminate rules prohibiting higher premiums for people with serious medical problems.

Our hope now shifts to the US Senate, where the joviality of the crew above does not impress some members of their own party, the fat, stupid guy at the podium notwithstanding.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

George Will: We Need to Quarantine Donald Trump

Year's ago I quoted, approvingly, George Will on a point of psychology that underlay the main argument in a book I was writing: "Something in us is drawn toward what we are ashamed of being drawn toward."

George Will was there for me 20 years ago, so I am here for him now.

His essay, "Trump Has a Dangerous Disability," posted yesterday evening, contains wisdom that I would quote approvingly if I were writing a book today:

It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence....
What is most alarming ... is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history .... the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something....
His fathomless lack of interest in America’s path to the present and his limitless gullibility leave him susceptible to being blown about by gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind.
Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

Foxx Will Vote Today To Throw Thousands of Her Constituents Off Health Insurance

They say they've got the votes today -- finally -- to pass a partial dismantlement of Obamacare. Foxx will of course vote for it.

Obamacare requires insurers to accept all applicants and prohibits them from charging higher premiums because of a person’s ("preexisting") medical condition. At the insistence of conservative lawmakers who wouldn't vote for the first version of the bill, House Republican leaders agreed to let states apply for waivers allowing insurers to charge higher rates based on a person’s “health status.”

"The original version of the Republican repeal bill would have established a $100 billion fund that states could use to help people pay for health care and insurance from 2018 to 2026. House leaders added $15 billion last month to help insurers pay claims for their sickest customers," according to Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear. Influential Republican lawmaker Fred Upton came out against the tweaked law because it didn't do enough "to protect the sick." At the last minute yesterday, Upton proposed an amendment adding $8 billion to the high-risk pool, which was accepted and which means that Upton and several other so-called moderate Republicans now support the bill, enough to pass it.

But talk about a shot in the dark! Upton's amendment does not specify who would be eligible for the high-risk pool money, how much of their costs would be covered, or how much they would be expected to contribute in premiums.

A shot in the dark, and who gets killed?

Plus how many states would apply for the waiver to throw people off insurance and into the high-risk pool? Texas will probably be first in line, according to Texas Rep. Joe Barton.

Not that Texas will ever have a chance at that waiver, because the Senate is not going to pass the law as it's been written in the House.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

First Grade

The spelling is suspect, but I'm pretty sure he said all those words.

If Wishes Were Horses

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee (R), ruing the day that Trump signed up on Twitter:
“I do wish somebody would take his iPhone away from him."

Monday, May 01, 2017

Trump Hates the First Amendment

The following words got spoken this morning on ABC in an interview between Reince Priebus, Trump's Chief of Staff, and journalist Jonathan Karl:
KARL: I want to ask you about two things the President has said on related issues. First of all, there was what he said about opening up the libel laws. Tweeting “the failing New York Times has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change the libel laws?” That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment. Is he really going to pursue that? Is that something he wants to pursue?
PRIEBUS: I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story. But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact and we’re sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters—
KARL: So you think the President should be able to sue the New York Times for stories he doesn’t like?
PRIEBUS: Here’s what I think. I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news. I am so tired.
KARL: I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. It’s about whether or not the President should have a right to sue them.
PRIEBUS: And I already answered the question. I said this is something that is being looked at. But it’s something that as far as how it gets executed, where we go with it, that’s another issue.
They're "looking at" ways to ditch the freedom of the press, or amend the First Amendment, or pass new laws making it possible for Trump to punish journalism he doesn't like.

Good God! But, go ahead. Bring it, Cheeto Jesus! The truth will out.