Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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

Two new developments in the Mueller probe today, first, a pretty big one: new sealed charges have been leveled against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

New sealed criminal charges have been filed in federal court in the criminal case brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against President Donald Trump’s former senior campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, a court record seen by Reuters on Wednesday showed.

The single page, filed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, does not shed light on the nature of the new charges. Its inclusion in a binder in the court clerk’s office that is routinely updated with new criminal charges signals that Mueller’s office has filed a superseding indictment replacing a previous one from last year.

Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager for almost five months in 2016, and Gates, who was deputy campaign manager, were indicted by Mueller’s office in October. They face charges including conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud the United States and failure to file as foreign agents for lobbying work they did on behalf of the pro-Russian Ukrainian Party of Regions. Both have pleaded not guilty.

This is big, because the fact these charges are sealed are immensely suggestive of charges forthcoming against other individuals, and also neatly sticks a fork in the complaint that Manafort and Gates weren't charged with anything close to a conspiracy involving the Trump campaign.  Those sealed charges?  You want to bet somebody's scared as hell?

It also means that if Rick Gates really is turning state's evidence against Manafort, these new charges could be what he's pleading guilty to.  We'll find out eventually, but my guess is Paul Manafort is screwed...or maybe he too is now cooperating.  Mueller has been one step ahead of everyone, it seems.

That brings us to story number two today: Manafort is in a lot of trouble regardless of those sealed charges.

Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News. 
Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons. 
The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump's Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk. Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after the millions he had earned working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine drew media scrutiny. Calk did not receive a job in President Donald Trump's cabinet. 
The sources say the three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, and one source said that at least one of the bank employees who felt pressured into approving the deals is cooperating with investigators. 
In court filings Friday related to Manafort's bail, federal prosecutors said they have "substantial evidence" that a loan made from the bank to Manafort using the Virginia and Hamptons properties as collateral was secured through false representations made by Manafort, including misstatements of income. 
When asked by NBC News if Manafort had lobbied the Trump transition team or the White House for a position for Calk, the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Again, this has less to do with Trump and conspiracy than it does Paul Manafort being a really awful criminal who has been busted a mile wide open by Mueller, but the fact remains the same that Manafort is looking at some very lengthy prison time for all this if he's not pardoned by Trump...or Trump's successor.

We'll see.  Stay tuned.

Those Dedicated Disinformatzia Dupes Next Door

CNN looks at the people all too eager to give in to Russian interference in the November 2016 race for Trump, and finds people who would make P.T. Barnum proud to fleece.

A Donald Trump supporter who unwittingly helped a Kremlin-linked operation to meddle in American politics says he only learned of his part in the Russian plot when the FBI showed up at his doorstep months later. 
Harry Miller was paid as much as $1,000 by the Russians to build a cage that was used to depict a person dressed as Hillary Clinton in a prison cell at a rally in West Palm Beach, Florida in August 2016. 
The stunt was part of an elaborate scheme run by the Internet Research Agency, a troll group in St Petersburg, Russia with links to the Kremlin, that was designed to undermine the American political system, according to a new federal indictment. The agency and thirteen Russian nationals associated with it were named in the indictment, which was made public by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office on Friday. 
In early August 2016, the indictment says, the Internet Research Agency began reaching out to Trump supporters in Florida to organize a statewide "flashmob" that it dubbed "Florida goes Trump." 
The group used its "Being Patriotic" Facebook page, which was designed to look like it was run by real Americans, along with Instagram and Twitter accounts, to organize and publicize the event. 
The people behind the "Being Patriotic" page reached out to Miller, a vocal Trump supporter who lived in Florida at the time. Miller agreed to build a cage on the back of his flatbed truck and was paid somewhere between $500 and $1,000 to cover the cost of materials, he told CNN. 
Miller said he had multiple phone calls with people from the group. He noticed that a man with whom he spoke did not speak English fluently, he told CNN, but assumed he was speaking to a first-generation immigrant who supported Trump. 
Miller posted pictures on social media that show the cage, and a man and woman dressed as Bill and Hillary Clinton in it, during the August 2016 West Palm Beach event.

Miller was duped, though.  He was an unwitting participant in international espionage!

But he sure wanted to lock that Clinton bitch up, didn't he?  He had no problem with that.  Our Russian friends knew exactly who would be receptive to their message, so much so that an outside observer would wonder if the Russians had very willing help from this side.

That's going to be the real story now that Mueller has established the Russian conspiracy existed.  Who helped them unwittingly, and who gladly assisted them?

The Pope Of Kentucky, Con't

Back in December I talked about the awful case of state Rep. Dan Johnson, a long-time fire-and-brimstone Kentucky preacher who instead of facing charges of sexual assault of a member of his congregation, he drove to a bridge and shot and killed himself instead

Last night Kentucky voters in Bullitt County elected Johnson's replacement to the State House, in a county where Donald Trump won in 2016 by 49 points.  The Democrat who ran against Johnson in 2016, Linda Belcher, lost narrowly to Johnson then.

This time around Belcher took on Johnson's widow, Rebecca Johnson.  And last night, Linda Belcher won by 36 points.  Today, Johnson is claiming massive voter fraud cost her the election.

An hour after being defeated by Linda Belcher in a special election in Bullitt County Tuesday night, a spokesman for Rebecca Johnson said she is claiming voter fraud.

"The big story out of Bullitt County appears to be voter fraud," David Adams, Johnson's campaign manager said in a text message.

Belcher secured 68.45 percent of the vote, according to the Bullitt County Clerk's office. Rebecca Johnson, Dan Johnson's widow, secured 31.55 percent. There were 4,947 votes cast.

Johnson, however, claims that numerous people were turned away as being ineligible to vote at their local polling place.

"I've heard from people all day long saying they went to vote for me at the correct polling place and were refused the opportunity to vote," Johnson said in a statement. "It's like we are in a third world country."

The Bullitt County Clerk's Office did not respond to a request for comment after the election results were announced.

Let me tell you something about Bullitt County, Kentucky, guys. The notion that a Republican would have been turned away from a polling place here trying to vote for the widow of Dan Johnson is about as realistic as Betty White sprouting two extra pairs of arms and becoming the world's best mountain climber.

We'll see where this goes, but for Belcher to win by 36 points here is a massive shift.  And if that's any indication as to how voting will go in November, Republicans need to be terrified.

It means every red seat where a Democrat is challenging the GOP is in play.  Every one of them.

Let's go.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Last Call For Trumpcare Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, In The Rest Of The World

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's Mueller Time, Con't

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile this morning, another indictment has dropped.

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

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

Stay tuned.


Monday, February 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

It's About Suppression, Con't

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new map came out earlier this afternoon:

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

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

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

Maybe This Time It Will Be Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kids have other ideas.

Godspeed.  Let's help them.

Sunday Long Read: Frack You, Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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