Sunday, July 30, 2017

Interesting Court Case

A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that the First Amendment’s free speech clause prohibits officeholders from blocking social media users -- particularly in this case, Facebook users -- on the basis of their views.

Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors involved the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. According to Mark Joseph Stern, the chair of the board runs a Facebook page to keep in touch with her constituents. In one post to the page, she wrote, “I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts.” She explicitly encouraged Loudoun residents to reach out to her through her “county Facebook page.”

When a county resident did reach out and alleged that the county school board was corrupt, the board chair deleted the post and blocked the person from further comments.

The federal judge ruled she couldn't do that. "Viewpoint discrimination" is prohibited by public officials under the First Amendment, the judge said.

Well now! 

According to Stern, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has sued Trump on behalf of Twitter users the president has blocked because they replied to his tweets with comments that criticized, mocked, or disagreed with him. Trump's blocking of those people amounted to an unconstitutional effort to suppress dissent, according to the lawsuit.

Whether the Loudoun County case is analogous and sets a judicial precedent remains to be seen.

But Trump's wholesale blocking of his critics from responding negatively to his Twitter rants does seem like more imperial presidency at work, especially in light of Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.

Yes, Ignorance CAN Kill

“The dysfunction is beyond strange — it’s dangerous."
--Alex Conant, Republican strategist, describing the chaos in the Trump White House

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Seven Days in July

We must applaud those scamps over at AMC who're currently running "Seven Days in May," the 1964 political thriller that John Frankenheimer made about an attempted military takeover of the government of the United States. Great cast, great noir lighting, an edge-of-the-seat narrative, and a very interesting choice for AMC right now. A programmer over there might be making a comment on current events.

Back in "Seven Days in May" time, the treasonous General James Scott, head of the Joint Chiefs, sets up a military coup because a very unpopular nuclear arms treaty with Russia has been negotiated and signed by a very unpopular and weak president. The coup doesn't succeed.

Was the programmer at AMC thinking of the military generals who head several crucial arms of the Trump government? Those are arms of government, incidentally, with plenty of arms (if you catch my meaning). A Marine general just became Trump's chief of staff. Presumably, he'll be presiding over the central brain of the entire Trump administration.

A military coup today? What would be the trigger? Trump is soft on Russia like the president in "Seven Days in May," but that wouldn't do it. One too many irrational, dangerous decisions with direct impact on military personnel might, like, say, suddenly banning several thousand uniform service people because they happen to be transgender. Or ordering military operations that cause death because of stupidity.

Maybe all it would take would be a constitutional crisis wherein a general understood the fulsome danger to the Republic from an impulsive, authoritarian ignoramus?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Well ... McCain!

Perhaps mortality focused his energies and his resolve, and he came through like he said he would. Perhaps he didn't want a legacy of killing health care for millions as he approaches his own battle with an aggressive brain cancer.

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict party-line basis without a single Republican vote,” he said in a statement explaining his vote. “We should not make the mistakes of the past.”

Two votes were called just after midnight. The first was a Democratic motion to refer the "skinny repeal" back to committee. It failed. The second vote was to pass the "skinny repeal." If you were watching, you know that the second vote prompted a full-court press by Republican brass on Senator John McCain.

McCain was seated next to Sen. Lindsay Graham who had derided the "skinny repeal" earlier in the day as a fraud but who had decided to vote for it anyway because he thought he had a promise from House Speaker Paul Ryan that it would never become law. Hell of a way to govern: "I'm voting for this law because I know it'll never become law."

Lisa Murkowski, one of the three no votes, approached McCain who smiled up at her and gave her a thumbs-down. Susan Collins joined the conversation. All three no votes were now talking.

From the well of the chamber, Majority Leader McConnell dispatched the other Arizona senator Jeff Flake to lobby McCain. McCain wouldn't look at him and continued talking to Murkowski and Collins.

According to reporter Ed O'Keefe, "That left Flake, one of the most polite members of the Senate, leaning into the conversation uncomfortably with a pained look on his face, as if he had to tell his father that he had run over the family dog with his car."

Seeing that Flake was getting nowhere, Vice President Mike Pence joined the conversation, and for 21 minutes he cajoled McCain, Murkowski, and Collins until he was pulled away for a phone call from the White House.

At 1:10 a.m. McCain crossed the Senate chamber and talked to Chuck Schumer and other Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein gave him a big hug. As the vote on passage began, McCain was again off the floor talking to V.P. Pence, but he returned at 1:29 a.m. and delivered his no vote to the clerk.

There were audible gasps in the chamber.

Wonder how his best friend Lindsay Graham feels this morning, having witnessed an actual act of courage last night.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Our President Is a Thug

Trump is catching flak from conservatives because of his attacks on conservative darling Jeff Sessions. So what's a bully to do?

You veer right and slug the weakest kid on the playground and invite all the other bullies to pile on.

Everyone with a conscience knows why Trump suddenly and without warning banned transgender persons from the armed forces. He did so without consulting anybody with actual responsibility for the thousands -- yes, thousands -- of transgender persons already serving, many of them overseas. According to Davis and Cooper,
[Sec of Defense General Jim] Mattis, who was on vacation, was silent on the new policy. People close to the defense secretary said he was appalled that Mr. Trump chose to unveil his decision in tweets, in part because of the message they sent to transgender active-duty service members, including those deployed overseas, that they were suddenly no longer welcome....
Some 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty troops are transgender, according to a 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon, though estimates of the number of transgender service members have varied widely, and are sometimes as high as 15,000.
Who does that thing?

A man (?) who never served a day in the military. A man who needed a convenient scapegoat he could sic his militantly anti-LGBT followers on. A man who needed a giant distraction. A man with no soul, no humanity, no decency, no idea of the pain and fear he was inflicting on fellow citizens.

He deserves to go to hell, either in this life or beyond. I trust that it will be in this life, so we can all watch.

Same Old B.S. Afoot in Raleigh

The Republican overlords in Raleigh whose 2011 redistricting of NC House and Senate seats was declared illegal and unconstitutional in the courts have hired the same guy who drew those illegal districts to draw new ones. If at first you don't succeed...

To be precise, 28 of the General Assembly districts drawn by hired gun Tom Hofeller in 2011 were declared an illegal "racial gerrymander," but the Republican leadership itself admits that some 116 districts will have to be redrawn, because, you know, the domino principle.

The battle over redistricting is also back in court today in Greensboro federal court, where a three-judge panel will hear arguments about how quickly the redistricting must be done and whether there might still be mandated House and Senate elections this year for those 116 redrawn districts.

Doubt that House District 93 (Jonathan Jordan) would be impacted, but Senate District 45 (Deanna Ballard) might be.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"He Has Moved the Bar of Outrage"

Peter Baker, and the signs of the times:
GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Remember that time President George W. Bush told his attorney general to investigate Al Gore for his “crimes”? Or President Barack Obama called for a Justice Department prosecution of John McCain?
No. Neither thing ever happened.

Trump has:
refused to release his tax returns 
refused to divest from his private businesses
put his son-in-law and daughter on the White House staff
without proof, accused his predecessor of illegally tapping his phones
fired the F.B.I. director who was leading an investigation into certain of his associates
 undercut his “beleaguered” attorney general in public, presumably so he'll resign so Trump can appoint a more compliant A.G., who'll behave like an employee 
On the same day Trump called for a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton by his Justice Department, he also asserted that he had the “complete power to pardon” his friends, relatives, and very possibly himself if necessary, to short-circuit a special counsel’s investigation into any possible collusion between his team and Russia.

This can't go on. This must not continue.

Baden-Powell Is Rolling Over in His Grave

Boy Scout Oath: "On my honor, I will do my best. To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."

Last night at the Boy Scout Jamboree and for over 35 minutes, "the president threatened to fire one of his Cabinet members, attacked former president Barack Obama, dissed his former rival Hillary Clinton, marveled at the size of the crowd, warned the boys about the 'fake media,' mocked pollsters and pundits, and said more people would say 'Merry Christmas' under his presidency. He also told a rambling tale about a famous, now-deceased home builder that meandered from a Manhattan cocktail party to a yacht and then to places that the president would only allow the boys’ imaginations to go." (John Wagner and Jenna Johnson)

Fine role model, that.

A Platform Democrats Can Run On in 2018

1. Crack Down on the Abuse of Economic and Political Power

"The extensive concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations hurts wages, undermines job growth, and threatens to squeeze out small businesses, suppliers, and new, innovative competitors."

2. Crack Down on Higher Prices for Practically Everything
"Over the last thirty years, courts and permissive regulators have allowed large companies to get larger, resulting in higher prices and limited consumer choice in daily expenses such as travel, cable, and food and beverages. And because concentrated market power leads to concentrated political power, these companies deploy armies of lobbyists to increase their stranglehold on Washington."

3. Limit Large Mergers that Unfairly Consolidate Corporate Power
"Currently, it is too easy for companies to unfairly harm competition by merging, and unfairly squeezing competitors, workers, customers, and suppliers."

The concentration of economic power has caused higher prices, lower pay, the squeezing out of competition, and increasing inequality. Look what's happened since the corporate tail started wagging the government dog:

Airlines: Despite a rapid decline in the cost of fuel, ticket prices continue to rise while the quality of service declines.

Cable/Telecom: Access to cable and internet services is critical for American consumers, workers, and small businesses to communicate and compete in today’s economy. Yet today, the market for those services is so concentrated that consumers rarely have any meaningful choice of provider, and prices are high enough to be prohibitive for many. In over 50 million households, Americans have no choice at all for internet provider; they are forced to pay the exorbitant price their single carrier requires, if they get service at all. 

Beer: As of 2016, five breweries controlled over 50 percent of global beer production compared to ten companies in 2004. Although there is a burgeoning craft brewery industry, these small businesses are under threat from large legacy brewers that are acquiring their craft competitors or trying to block craft brewers’ access to the marketplace. That is especially true in North Carolina.

Food Prices Generally: You get your food from farmers. Farmers grow your food from seeds. The consolidation of six agricultural giants is set to threaten the safety of food and agriculture in America. The merger of Dow with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina, will result in the control of more than 61 percent of commercial seed sales and 80 percent of the U.S. corn seed market. These mergers take place as countless farmers in rural America struggle to adapt to a declining farm economy. This corporate takeover of the farm industry will not only hurt small-town, family operated farms, who will have to pay more for seeds, but it will also raise food prices vastly limiting consumer choice. 

Eyeglasses: The current average price of eyeglasses is now at $400With more than 200 million Americans affected by vision loss, eyeglass affordability has become a critical consumer issue that affects the entire nation. Eyeglasses are a necessity for many Americans, but due to consolidation and concentration in the supply chain, they are increasingly difficult to afford.

We the voters can do something about this lopsided abuse of power. We can. We must.

Hattip: "A Better Deal"

Monday, July 24, 2017

Raleigh "Pork"

CLEVELAND -- An unincorporated community in western Johnston County will receive state money for downtown revitalization this year, although residents aren’t sure where their “downtown” is located.

North Carolina legislators this summer earmarked $30,000 for Cleveland, a fast-growing crossroads community of shopping centers and subdivisions that does not govern itself and does not have a traditional downtown.

The money surprised Johnston County leaders and residents. They hadn’t applied for the money, and so far no one has received direction on what it is meant for or any regulations for its use....
Only deep in this article do we get around to asking who could possibly be responsible for raining $30,000 onto a place that has no government entity capable of spending it.

Was it Sen. Brent Jackson who represents Johnston County and serves on the Senate appropriations committee?  "He said he was not involved in drafting this portion of the budget."

Was it House member Donna White, who represents Johnston County in the other body? She did not return calls from the reporter. Hmmm.

Why engineer pork for your home district and not want to take credit for it? Because it's irrational and shameful?

ead more here:

Jared the Chocolate Soldier -- Keep Refrigerated!

Prince Jared testifies today before the Senate Intelligence Committee and tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committee, both testimonies closed to the public and the press, which suggests that Jared's actually a chocolate soldier and might melt under too much light. We hear he'll not be asked to testify under an oath of truthfulness, which suggests another whole raft of problems with this appendage of a president who makes shit up constantly.

The U.S. Code section 1621 covers lying to Congress under oath, with penalties of up to five years in jail. But another statute, section 1001 of Title 18, requires no oath-taking for a charge of perjury: "Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the government of the United States, knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals information, including before a congressional committee's inquiry, may also be fined or imprisoned up to five years."

So it shouldn't matter today if Jared doesn't raise his right hand and promise to tell the truth. Lies will bite him in the butt anyway, eventually.

So what's he going to testify to? According to an 11-page document he released this morning, he never "colluded" (and I trust that someone will ask him how he defines that word), and "I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.” That second claim begs the question: Did you try to rely on Russian funds, and what did trying entail?

Jared says he also wasn't trying to set up a secret back channel with Russia. The Russian ambassador certainly thought that was exactly what he was trying to do.

Russian Ambassador Kislyak subsequently requested that Jared meet with Sergey Gorkov, a Kremlin-linked banker with “a direct line to the Russian President." Jared claims he took the meeting out of courtesy and did not discuss American sanctions against the bank that Gorkov represents. That testimony also doesn't comport with reported facts.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Republicans Find a Vestigial Spine About Trump-Russia

Senate and House Republicans have apparently reached a deal on a Russian sanctions bill to punish Putin and his boys for their interference in our election. The Republican Congressional leaders have done so over the objections of Trump, who does not like that the new bill would tie his hands, make it impossible for him to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia.

Six months into the Trump presidency and Republicans seem to be less than impressed with the leader of their party. They're certainly not afraid of him any more.

The two houses intend to pass the new language soon, and then Trump will be faced with a decision: veto it or sign it? Taking bets right now on which path he'll opt for. (He's Putin's boy.)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders now says that Trump will sign the bill. Almost simultaneously, on yesterday's morning shows, The Mooch quoted the president (first as "an anonymous source" and then by name) as continuing to disbelieve that there was ever Russian hacking of our election.

So ... just trying to keep up with the bizarre logic of Donald J. Trump ... he is prepared to sign a law extending sanctions on the Russians for the hacking of our election that he believes never happened.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tillis and Burr Duck the Public on Health Care Debate

Carolyn Kaster, AP
"Another congressional recess has passed without Sen. Richard Burr or Sen. Thom Tillis holding public town halls. North Carolinians have begged for these forums to address the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act, yet it seems that our senators would rather be anywhere else." --Sarah Squire

Believe that qualifies as an understatement.

Today in Slapstick Comedy

Obviously, Trump has something much to hide, and obviously, the key to unlock those secrets lies in his "finances," and obviously, Robert Mueller is on the trail and may already have those savagely guarded tax returns.

Which is why Trump must and will find a way to fire Robert Mueller. What comes after that induces both fear and loathing.

Which brings us to the new White House personality hired to "message" all that is about to happen, Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director minister of propaganda. He popped up yesterday and held a slick 30 minute Q&A with the White House press, blew them all a kiss when he exited, and tried his Long Islander best to charm the bloomers off every living soul in that room. He's Leonardo DiCaprio's younger, less dissipated brother in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

What particular reality does Scaramucci inhabit? "...Scaramucci ... suggested his role would be to unshackle an already unfettered president," wrote Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman. Because Trump has been so repressed lately? No, because you're only as popular as your last public appearance, and a good publicist knows what excites the masses.

The name Scaramucci sounds familiar because in European circuses there's often a clown named "Scaramouche," a name which is a corruption of the Italian Scaramuccia, a stock character in knock-about comedy routines. Scaramuccia is a pompous clown and always gets his comeuppance, usually administered by a rival clown, the clever Harlequin. Scaramouch must suffer the indignity of licks from a "slapstick" and hence "slapstick comedy."

So Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci becomes Scaramouch the White House pompadour, who will know it all and will tell a version of the truth most pleasing to the man who hired him.

But who plays Harlequin with the slapstick in this improvisational comedy? Why, the media -- I mean the fake news -- which must beat Scaramouch about the head for his idiocy. Trump thinks he's already taken care of the press, discrediting it totally with his enthusiastic base. That his base isn't in fact the majority of Americans will be ultimately the only thing to save us from Pantaloon.

Oh, who's Pantaloon? He's another one of those stock characters from European comic theater/clowning. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, Pantaloon is "a cunning and rapacious yet often deceived ... merchant." My! That pretty much fits the head that wears the clown in the White House.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Seth Banks Considering a Primary Challenge Against Sen. Ralph Hise?

Seth Banks
Rumor on the street: District Attorney Seth Banks (24th Prosecutorial District, which includes Avery, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey counties) is considering a primary run against incumbent Republican Senator Ralph Hise.

Seth Banks grew up on a Yancey County farm, got his law degree from Wake Forest, and lives now in Burnsville. He was just elected District Attorney in 2016 after beating Watauga attorney Nathan Miller in a Republican primary.

Hise is currently under investigation for violating campaign finance laws and for illegally pocketing more than $10,000 from his campaign account. He's also under fire for a potential conflict of interest in his role as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Elections in that he controls the budget of the very agency charged with investigating his campaign activities.

We Are Already in a Constitutional Crisis

Everybody's buzzing this morning about the taped interview Trump gave to NYTimes reporters.

The main takeaway: Trump thought he'd be king once he got into the White House, thought that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was his personal lawyer and would protect him from any FBI investigation, thinks now that he is still above the rule of law. That's a constitutional crisis in the making.

Trump said: “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

"Unfair to the president" because obviously Jeff Sessions was supposed to shield Trump from the FBI, and he could have shielded Trump from the FBI, but he went and recused himself and exposed Trump to the FBI. What a louse! (Makes us wonder all over again what Trump must have said to the new guy he nominated to head the FBI, or what he wanted to say to him.)

Is there any other possible interpretation for what Trump meant when he said "it's unfair"?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why Would the Watauga GOP Nominate Anne Marie Yates to the BOE?

High Country Press
According to reporting in the Watauga Democrat, the Watauga Republican Party nominated Anne Marie Yates to the Watauga Board of Elections. Interesting idea, since Ms. Yates's husband Perry is a County Commissioner who would presumably be running for reelection during her term of service -- creating a flagrant conflict of interest.

Or perhaps her nomination was actually a veiled announcement that Mr. Yates will not be seeking reelection in 2020?

Trump: "I Learned My Politics From Vlad the Impaler"

Trump declared yesterday that his new plan -- Plan D, by our reckoning -- is to "let Obamacare fail." "It’ll be a lot easier,” Trump said. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Translation: We will make people suffer to prove a political point. People are mere pawns, and sick people are even easier to torture.

According to Thomas Kaplan, Trump has several options for making Obamacare fail faster:

1. "He could throw insurance markets into a tailspin at any time by cutting off the subsidy payments to insurers, as he has threatened to do."

2. "He could further destabilize the markets by not enforcing the mandate that most Americans have health insurance."

3. "He could cancel advertising and other efforts to encourage enrollment under the Affordable Care Act when the annual sign-up period begins in November."

4. And then there's the poor-mouthing that Trump and all Republican politicians have been doing for months and months: "A barrage of negative statements from the administration could project an official view that the health law is collapsing, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Sabotaging people's health insurance out of revenge seems just so perfect for the "Republican brand." And Trump's doubly an idiot if he thinks he won't own that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Butch and Sundance Take a Powder

Republican senators Jerry Moran (Kansas) and Mike Lee (Utah) held hands last night and jumped together, announcing they wouldn't support the Republican health insurance bill, thus killing the thing doornail-dead. They made their announcements in tandem, according to Thomas Kaplan, so that neither one of them could be fingered as "the definitive vote" that killed the Obamacare repeal and replace initiative.

Brave souls!

Now Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he'll call for a vote on repealing without a replacement either in mind or in place, which sounds like a super-duper, double-scoop of wonderful to us. Go for it, Mitch! Let's watch that play out.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Trump's "Made in America" Week Is Just Like Everything Else About Him -- A Scam

"Made in America" is totally inconsistent with the Trump organization's own business practices. Ivanka's brand of high-priced clothing and accessories is also made anywhere but here. (One exception: Trump himself was made in Russia.)

and a dozen other countries with low wages

That's where the Trump brand crap is turned out. Not here. Not in America.

Helen Aguirre Ferré, the White House’s director of media affairs, was asked point-blank at a press conference on Sunday if the Trump "Made in America" media event means he and Ivanka plan to get with the program and start buying from makers in this country. 

“We’ll get back to you on that,” replied Ferré.

Right. We're not holding our breath.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump the American Churchill?
official photograph
I can't see any of these scowling Trump photos without remembering the intel that surfaced last March, that Trump aspires to emulate Winston Churchill, thinks that staring down the camera in that sour fashion makes him look strong and determined rather than deluded and insecure:

"As a presidential candidate, he wanted to look dour, and vetoed any campaign imagery that so much as hinted at weakness, aides said. Which is why every self-selected snapshot — down to the squinty-eyed scowl attached to his Twitter account — features a tough-guy sourpuss. 'Like Churchill,' is what Mr. Trump would tell staffers when asked what look he was going for."

Which is why, evidently, Trump had a bust of Churchill installed in the Oval Office, presumably so he could study the pose and copy it. He must practice the look. Holding that scowl sometimes makes him look like he's suppressing a wet fart.

He can copy the look but he can't compete with the man. Churchill was a wartime hero, a lifelong politician, an accomplished writer and master of the English language, a painter, a loyal husband, and a celebrated orator whose most famous speech -- the "Iron Curtain" speech -- was a passionate denouncement of the policies and politics of Russia at the start of the Cold War.

To understand Trump, go no further than Tim O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation,” a 2005 biography: “He’s deeply, deeply insecure about how he’s perceived in the world, about whether or not he’s competent and deserves what he’s gotten,” O'Brien said. “There’s an unquenchable thirst for validation and love. That’s why he can never stay quiet, even when it would be wise strategically or emotionally to hold back.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

From Russia, With Love

Natalia Veselnitskaya was the Russian legal liaison for Trump's Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Trump claimed he never met her.

Senate Health Insurance Bill BAD for Both Republican and Democratic States

Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada
Even Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin thinks the Senate repeal/replace bill is wrong-headed. Walker's negative reaction, from an arch conservative's perspective, might have some influence on Wisconsin's arch conservative Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who so far says he's undecided on how he'll vote.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, who won election last November even as Hillary Clinton carried his state by more than 20 percentage points, said the bill could cripple the health care system in Vermont. “We’ve expanded Medicaid, and even a small tweak could have a devastating impact on us as a state,” Mr. Scott said. “We’ve made great strides at protecting the most vulnerable and I believe, in its present form, this would not be good for Vermont.”

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky attacked the new Senate bill from the right. He's mad because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't eliminate two taxes on high earners. He huffed and puffed and claimed that there had been an “understanding that those two taxes were going to be gone.” Bevin is following the lead of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who's already announced that he'll vote no. Plus Bevin has no love for Mitch McConnell, against whom he ran as a Tea Party insurgent in the 2014 Republican primary.

VP Mike Pence showed up at the National Governor's Conference and hilariously extolled the McConnell bill as "a rescue mission," even as he "also acknowledged that the proposal would significantly change the population that receives health care coverage through [Medicaid]." Hypocrisy watch! Pence, while he was recently governor of Indiana, accepted an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

The governor who possibly holds all the power in the ultimate defeat of the new Senate bill, Republican Brian Sandoval of Nevada, remains steadfastly opposed, despite heavy lobbying from Trump himself, who apparently called Sandoval to pressure him to get his Republican Senator Dean Heller off the fence to support the bill. Sandoval and Heller stood together in opposing the first version of the bill.

Perhaps phone calls from Trump aren't having the desired effect any more (if they ever did), because the president obviously doesn't even understand what's in the bill, what its effect will be, or what he promised earlier that the Senate's repeal/replace law will directly contradict. Who cares what Trump wants? He's an idiot on policy.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dangle Worm Had a Kremlin Manager

Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American spy lobbyist, now says he was also in the famous meeting with Junior Trump along with Natasha the Russian lawyer (Natasha needs Boris!), and Junior Trump "did not disclose Akhmetshin’s presence."

Good lord! These Trumps will always lie. We get it.

We're just beginning to learn who Rinat Akhmetshin is. Number one, he's a "former Russian counter-intelligence officer."

Holy crap.

Republican Statesman Denounces NCGA

Former Supreme Court Judge Bob Orr, as straight a shooter as the NC GOP can claim as a member, has blasted the Republican super-majority in the General Assembly for practicing just plain bad government.

Orr singled out three principal actions that were especially egregious power-grabs:
The draconian stripping of Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein’s budget with no debate or discussion is simply unacceptable. This kind of hardball politics doesn’t just “punish” a political opponent but jeopardizes the critical work of the attorney general’s office. Stripping the Court of Appeals of three of its 15 judges in order to keep the governor from making appointments to replace retiring Republican judges is short-sighted and overtly politicizes the judiciary at a time when we need to be moving to de-politicize it. And merging the Ethics Commission and the Board of Elections might be a good idea, but the way it was done with no real discussion about the merits of the proposal flaunts the concept of good government.
[I would link directly to the Charlotte Observer, but I'm blocked by their pay-wall (and I'm already paying hundreds of $$ for on-line subscriptions, so no). I'm linking instead to Progressive Pulse which excerpted the editorial.]

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Raleigh Pay-To-Play

Clear and to the point:
The consumer finance industry, which recently succeeded in persuading the Republican-led state legislature to pass a bill that it wanted, has been a major contributor to GOP lawmakers in recent years.
An analysis of state Board of Elections data by Democracy North Carolina, a voter rights and campaign finance watchdog group, found that people associated with the consumer loan industry and two industry political action committees gave at least $530,000 to legislators and party committees over the past four years. Of that amount, 92 percent went to Republicans.

The Cruz-Lee Amendment

The "revised" Senate Obamacare repeal/replace bill will apparently contain new language insisted on by the most conservative Republicans. The Cruz-Lee amendment will allow insurers to sell unregulated plans – which would be cheaper (in every sense of the word) and could discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions – so long as they also sell an Obamacare-compliant policy.

Poorer people will go for cheap and get screwed.

Isn't It Amazing That Coincidences Always Seem To Happen at the Same Time

A year ago on June 6, 2016, after clinching the nomination of the Republican Party, Donald Trump boasted, “I am going to give a major speech ... Probably Monday of next week. And we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting!” -- his voice modulated in that reality show hype style of his.

"Monday" never came. According to Abby Philip, Trump never gave that speech.

Here's a coincidence: Just hours earlier, Junior Trump had hit send on an email confirming a meeting with Natasha from Russia who supposedly had dirt on Hillary -- free dirt. International dirt.

Incidentally, Daddy Trump Senior now denies that he ever even as in never knew about the meeting until "a couple of days ago."

Another coincidence: When -- or because? -- the actual meeting between Junior, Jared, Manafort, and Natasha from Russia produced no new dirt on Hillary, the promised Trump speech evaporated. Makes me actually believe what Junior's been claiming --- that they didn't get any actionable intelligence out of Natasha.

I'm also believing the whole Russian espionage tradecraft of "the dangle," to see if a potential asset will bite at bait. The Trumps bit.

Upshot: The dangle worked. Later, through the agency of Michael Flynn or some other intermediary, or several, a deal got made between the Trump campaign and representatives of Putin to strategically release stolen emails guaranteed to hurt Mr. Trump's opponent. And that wasn't a coincidence.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A High-Quality Person With Tons of Transparency

“My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” Trump wrote yesterday and induced his deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to read it aloud to the White House press, some of whom were risking serious medical consequences by suppressing their huge guffaws.

Reminds me of the sorts of recommendations we were once expected to produce for distinctly unpromising job applicants: "When you know Don Junior the way I have come to know him, I'm sure you'll think of him as I do."

But ... "transparency"? Really, Donald? Junior rushed to publish those emails about his meeting with a Russian government lawyer because the New York Times was minutes away from pressing the publish button itself. That's "transparency" the same way this is: "Okay, coppers, I'm coming out with my hands up!" Plus we remember all that "transparency" from the past year -- total and complete denial about any contact with Russians, some of it coming straight out of the mouth of Junior.

Apparently, inside that snow globe of a brain, Trump believes that if he says it, we'll just accept it.

The Trump opposition has gotten awfully excited over the Junior revelations this week, but I find myself looking past this noise for the substance to come. The Russian spy operation "dangle" directed at Junior seems like a fairly minor sideshow to me, though it was a clear indication that the Trump campaign was more than willing to collude with some of the worst people in the universe. And without any doubt they did collude. They did plot. They did benefit from the colluding and plotting.

Robert Mueller will have to sort it all out, very patiently and thoroughly.

In the meantime, we get the almost daily leak from rival factions in the Trump White House. They're entertaining but not the full story.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

US House GOP Plays Dumb and Dumber

Weeks ago the US Senate passed some popular legislation that would limit Trump’s ability to lift financial sanctions on Russia. How popular was it? It passed the Senate 98-2.

It's not so popular among the Republicans in the US House who have the proposed bill now and are fiddling with it in order to let both Trump and Russia off the hook. Naturally, the Republican leadership are claiming it's all the Democrats' fault that they haven't passed the bill, but we know the real story: Trump hates the proposed law, and he's doing everything he can to scuttle it or weaken it to the point of irrelevancy.

Meanwhile, up steps Junior Trump, who, like the rest of this criminal enterprise of a family, can't walk without stepping on his own pierogi, and the Republican leadership in the House is treated to several days running of very bad, badder, worst headlines about Russian collusion with the Trump criminal enterprise, and how can GOP legislators continue to justify letting Trump lift sanctions on the Russian criminal enterprise whenever he pleases and once the heat is off?

Their loyalty to Trump at this point is both puzzling and self-destructive.

"Junior." Brian Snyder/Reuters

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Thug Life

RALEIGH -- North Carolina lawmakers say they might have to change 116 of the state’s 170 state legislative districts to correct the illegal racially gerrymandered districts used to elect General Assembly members for the past six years.
The private attorneys representing the legislators who were sued over the 2011 district lines offered that detail in federal court documents this week as one reason for opposing special elections this year.
A month has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a ruling of three federal judges who found 28 North Carolina legislative districts were drawn illegally to weaken the overall influence of black voters. [Anne Blythe]
Oh God, don't make us do the right thing, sez the Repubs in the NCGA, because we've made such a mess, it'll take a mop bigger than the known universe to clean it up! And that's just not fair!

Trump & Putin in Hamburg: "A Lot of Very Positive Happenings for Russia"

DJT: Some people say you meddled in our election.

Putin: We didn't meddle in your election.

DJT: Oh, okay. That's what I thought too. Now, what can I do for you?

"Mr. Putin, in the end, appears to have settled on a long game, convinced that his mix of information warfare, 'active measures' and low-level aggression will ultimately get him what he wants, a restoration of Russia’s status" (Davis, Sanger, and Thrush).

Trump, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “mentioned that certain circles in the U.S. are still exaggerating, although they cannot prove this, the topic of Russia’s interference with the U.S. election.”

“We look forward to a lot of very positive happenings for Russia, and for the United States, and for everybody concerned. And it’s an honor to be with you,” Trump told Putin while cameras were still in the room.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Protesters Take to Lake Norman To Confront Sen. Tillis

HUNTERSVILLE, NC -- With the U.S. Senate on recess this week and with NC Senator Thom Tillis ducking all town hall events where he might hear from voters about the Republican drive to up-end Obamacare health insurance, a group of protesters took to the waters of Lake Norman near Tillis's vacation home to make their views known.

“Thom Tillis says he represents the people of North Carolina, but continues to duck his constituents as the Senate tries to pass a health care bill that will be disastrous for our state,” said Donna Marie Woodson of Mecklenburg County, a cancer survivor. “Since Tillis refuses to hold a town hall meeting, we decided to go to him -- right to his own backyard.”

“Last year, even on Medicaid, I was forced to forgo medication in order to afford basic necessities like food, rent, and utilities -- and Trumpcare will only make things worse,” said Connie Lazenby of Alamance County. “I have no wish to die because politicians are intent on dismantling the Affordable Care Act just to give rich people a tax cut.”

“What we are dealing with here is incredible cruelty," said Patrick O’Neil of Wake County. “For Sen. Tillis to support this monstrous health care bill without holding a single town hall meeting with his constituents shows he couldn’t care less for families like mine.”

(Hattip: ProgressNC Action)

Brilliant Idea: Repeal Obamacare And Replace With the Affordable Care Act!

When a Republican senator tells the truth, it makes news.

Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania said, “Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn’t. So we didn’t expect to be in this situation” -- trying to repeal and replace Obamacare with a plan that might actually work to the benefit of U.S. citizens.

"Every important Republican leader expected Democrat Hillary Clinton to win, and that left Republicans confused and paralyzed about how to proceed when she didn’t." (Paul Kane)

Adding to Republican paralysis -- the Trump administration's failure to "staff up" with knowledgeable people who can conceive, frame, and push policy: "...Trump’s public musings, sometimes in media interviews and sometimes on Twitter, have also sowed division on policy matters — and scared away top Republican talent from senior administration posts."

McConnell Signaled a New Idea Yesterday
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, frustrated at every turn at rooting out Obamacare, stepped forth yesterday with a new idea: If we can't repeal and replace Obamacare, perhaps we should work with Democrats to shore up the Affordable Care Act.

“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell said. “No action is not an alternative. We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”

Given McConnell's droning voice -- a monotone with little inflection and no trace of emphasis -- it might be easy to miss the revolutionary bomb contained in those two sentences. 

McConnell's suggestion yesterday that he and his Republican colleagues might spend money to rescue the ACA insurance markets (which he and his colleagues have spent months saying were beyond repair) will be one of the greatest feats of "newspeak" since "we had to destroy the village to save the village." But Republicans are fully capable of simply redefining words and disappearing whole years of rhetoric.

We're pulling for you, McConnell!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The 33 ... Are Sweating

There are 33 actual working days left for the U.S. Congress before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 -- given their oh-so-cushy schedule of long weekends and the traditional August recess. 33 days to get done what they can subsequently brag about: throwing millions off the health care safety net, manipulating reforming the tax code to give suffering millionaires some additional relief, and -- oh, yeah! -- lifting the debt ceiling.
The Republican Party is under intense pressure to achieve something of consequence in that limited time in order to legitimately claim that the first year of the Trump administration has been a success. So far, the ambitious agenda has stagnated without a signature achievement. President Trump’s unpredictability has only made matters more complicated. (Alan Rappeport)
But since Republicans control everything, from the Senate cloakroom to the White House water closet, they can and will do whatever they want, right?

Understatement of the day: "So far consensus has been elusive."

Odd, since Congressional Republicans have decided to work only with other Congressional Republicans, and we had been led to believe that they were all divinely inspired. "Divine inspiration divided against itself can not stand." Who said that?

But can't the Great Deal Maker in the White House rally them together and git er done? Well, not so much. The "art of the deal" has become "the tweet of distraction," and the man never understands what anybody is even talking about.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Is Trump a Bobble-Head?

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the Senate should suspend its uphill climb to pass a health-care bill and instead just vote to repeal the ACA without a replacement already lined up.

The Hill didn't see that one coming.

Trump had already rejected "repeal first, have a bright idea later" on January 10, ten days before his inauguration. He said repeal/replace had to happen simultaneously. Maggie Hagerman and Robert Pear: "His remarks put Republicans in the nearly impossible position of having only weeks to replace a health law that took nearly two years to pass." Trump upped the ante the next day in a news conference: repeal/replace needed to happen "simultaneously." “We will be filing a plan,” the president said. “It will essentially be simultaneously.”

But that position evaporated like sweat on a very still body.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, working independently from Trump, "wanted to bring a measure to the floor in February or March that would erase big parts of the law -- but delay it for another two or three years, giving Republicans time to come up with a separate replacement" (Paige Winfield Cunningham).

Zig. Five days before his inauguration, he was still promising health insurance for everybody

Zag. A few weeks later he was celebrating with House Republicans in the Rose Garden, who-rawing about throwing 20+ million people off their insurance. Take that, Obamacare!

Zig. On May 5 he buttered up the Australian prime minister about Australia's having better -- universal! -- health care, and he said it on camera, and it seemed sincere. Also on camera and during the campaign last year, Trump promised -- repeatedly -- that "every American will have coverage .... That’s just human decency” (Philip Bump).

Zag. Tomorrow: "Whatever you guys say. Just don't make me read anything."

Monday, July 03, 2017

Reality in the States Is Still a Fantasy in Mugstomp-on-the-Potomac

South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kansas -- especially Kansas! -- are wholly dominated by conservative Republican state legislatures. Yet Republican state legislatures in all three states -- South Carolina, Tennessee, and especially Kansas -- have recently decided to raise taxes because of revenue shortfalls, and they have done so often over the vetoes of their conservative Republican governors: the most striking rebuke of conservative tax policy in recent memory, Republicans in Kansas have undone much of the tax overhaul that Gov. Sam Brownback held up as a model for other states and the federal government to emulate .... Republican lawmakers in Kansas decided that they could cut only so much without doing irreparable harm to vital services and voted to increase taxes by $1.2 billion last month. Mr. Brownback vetoed the plan, but Republicans overrode him. [Jeremy Peters]
Stephanie Clayton, a Republican state representative in Kansas, said that many conservatives overpromised on tax cuts as a “sort-of Ayn Rand utopia, a red-state model,” citing the author whose works have influenced the American libertarian movement.

“And I loved Ayn Rand when I was 18 — before I had children and figured out how the world really works,” Ms. Clayton added. “That’s not how it works, as it turns out.”

But tell that to Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and the rest of her crowd up in Washington, who are eager to do the "Kansas experiment" for the whole country. Congressional Republicans have a current president who doesn't know a Rand from a rind and will go along with anything they propose.
“Tax cuts — good. And that’s about as much thinking that goes into it,” said Chris Buskirk, a radio host and publisher of American Greatness, a conservative online journal. Now, he said, Republicans in Washington seem to be in an arms race to the lowest rates possible.
“Everybody is trying to overbid each other,” Mr. Buskirk said. “How much more can we cut?”
Until the elections of 2018, at least, they have all the power, and they will not use their power for the public good when there are so many needy millionaires with their hands out.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

About Half the States Pushing Back Against Trump's New Voter Suppression Efforts

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the reigning poster child of voter suppression. He implemented some of the strictest voter ID legislation in the nation in Kansas and fought to remove nearly 20,000 properly registered voters from the state's voter rolls. Kobach regularly makes claims about the extent of voter fraud in the United States that several nonpartisan studies have showed are unsubstantiated. He applauded, loudly, when Trump falsely claimed that 3-5 million people had voted illegally last November -- most of them in California. Kobach applauded that lie because Kobach was Trump's source for that lie. 

So, naturally, Trump appoints Kobach to his voting fraud commission, because if you have a conclusion in search of evidence, Kobach is your man. He was recently fined $1,000 for "patently misleading representations to the court” about the memo Kobach was photographed taking into a Nov. 20 meeting with Trump -- helpful suggestions about how to implement nationwide voter suppression laws -- as well as another document proposing changes to the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the motor-voter law.

He's a first-class liar, in other words, a liar in search of partisan advantage via voter suppression.

What's his so-called voter fraud commission up to? They've demanded "sweeping and unprecedented" data from all 50 states, insisting that every state "turn over voter registration data, including sensitive information like partial Social Security numbers, party affiliation and military status."

Say what? Why?

"Why?" is precisely what the Republican Secretary of State of Alabama wanted to know. That office-holder said he will not comply with the request until he learns more about how the Kobach commission will keep the data secure. “We’re going to get answers to our questions before we move on this.”

The Republican Secretary of State of Mississippi was blunter: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State's right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral process."

Both Republican and Democrat officials in charge of election data in about half the states have already refused to comply or will only supply data that is already publicly available. They're smart, and thank God for that! “I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, referring to Kobach's claim that millions of illegal immigrants had voted in California.

“California's participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach,” he added. "[Kobach's] role as vice chair is proof that the ultimate goal of the commission is to enact policies that will result in the disenfranchisement of American citizens.”

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said, “The president created his election commission based on the false notion that 'voter fraud' is a widespread issue — it is not. Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”

What about North Carolina? Kim Strach, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, announced that she would comply by handing over only “publicly available data as already required under state law."

Meanwhile, Trump is tweeting that the balky states must have something to hide. No, they have something to protect, namely fair and free elections.