Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Last Call For The GOP's Race To The Bottom, Con't

As I informed you all on Sunday, the NY Times has made a valuable and powerful contribution to the discussion of race in America that is ongoing with the 1619 Project.  It's taken me most of the last two days to digest the multiple articles, and the screaming rage from the right over even having that conversation on anything other than 100% their terms has driven them into paroxysms of thunderous verbal flatulence, as Slate's Ashley Feinberg notes.

Conservative pundits were not happy to see this. Right-wing intellectual heavyweights such as Newt Gingrich or right-wing intellectual junior middleweights such as Erick Erickson spent the past few days obsessively tweeting or yelling at you from your TV screens to make sure America knew that the New York Times was trying to—well, that part was not entirely clear.

For white conservatives, accepting that the United States wouldn’t exist without slavery would mean acknowledging that the Founders were not the creators of an infallible civic religion, which sets the limits on all modern claims for justice. It would mean that liberty was, in practice, as much a matter of exclusion as inclusion, and that success and prosperity owe more to centuries of exploitation than to God’s blessing of an exceptional people.

But their political project depends on not even considering those possibilities. And so their response was equal parts furious and vague, a barrage of arguments that discussing this country’s history is the last thing this country needs: the Times was being divisive, or it was being nihilistic, or it was implementing a secret scheme to make Americans vote against Trump by claiming that racism was an ongoing problem.

Mostly, they wanted to express that they were very personally angry. The fact that they took a wide-ranging examination of slavery’s lasting ills as an attack on themselves was a fairly obvious confession.

And that's where we are right now, the anti-intellectual modern Know-Nothings bleat about how America will be made great again if we can just get those people to stop talking about how maybe a country that did everything it could to keep black America down might be an ongoing, systemic issue while convincing themselves that they've already done enough.

I see this on social media, too.  Very "clever" (and 99.98% of the time, white) people simply respond with how being black in America is better than being black anywhere else on Earth, and I laugh and say "Would you be black for even a day in this country?"

It's amazing.

Down And Out In Elkhart, Again

Remember Elkhart, Indiana?  I've talked about the RV Capital of the World before, where many of the nation's recreational vehicles are manufactured.  President Obama went there to kick off his stimulus package and the people of Indiana rewarded him with "economic anxiety".

Mr. Obama, whose four trips here during 2008 and 2009 tracked the area’s decline, is expected to return for the first time in coming weeks, both to showcase its recovery and to warn against going back to Republican economic policies. Yet where is Mr. Neufeldt leaning in this presidential election year? He may keep a photograph of himself and Mr. Obama on a desk at the medical office he cleans nightly, but he is considering Donald J. Trump
“I like the way he just won’t take nothing off of nobody,” Mr. Neufeldt said, though days later he allowed: “He scares me sometimes.” 
Billboards proclaim, “Hiring: Welders. Up to $23/hour,” but for all the progress, many people here — like Americans elsewhere — harbor unshakable anxiety about stagnant wages, their economic future and the erosion of the middle class generally. 
Antigovernment resentments over past bank bailouts linger, stoked by candidates in both parties (though taxpayers got their money back, with dividends). And social issues such as abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and immigration loom larger than any other for some voters. 
The enduring wounds of the Great Recession, together with discouraging economic trends that long predated it, have fueled anger on the left but especially on the right, thanks to Mr. Trump, the maverick Republican front-runner. Mr. Obama is not getting the recognition historically accorded a president who presides over economic revival, but then again, neither are divided Republicans seen as offering a positive alternative.

Obama's policies got Elkhart's unemployment from over 20% in 2009 to under 5% in 2016.  The RV business came roaring back. But Elkhart Indiana picked Trump, along with enough of the country to put him in power, because "economic anxiety".  But last summer, things started to get dicey thanks to Trump's stupid tariffs.

Shipments of motor homes were down 18.7 percent in June compared with a year ago, and shipments of smaller trailers and campers were down 10.5 percent, according to the RV Industry Association. Motor home shipments were down 6.5 percent in July, but overall shipments were up 10 percent compared with the same month last year. Some companies have cut back to four-day workweeks. Amid strong job gains nationally, hints of rising wages and solid overall economic growth, Elkhart’s health is decidedly ambiguous. 
“I think it’s a yellow light,” said Richard Curtin, a University of Michigan economist who is a consultant to the R.V. industry. “Depending on how things evolve in six months, it could be a red light, getting to the end of the expansion.”

Well guess what Trump's tariffs have done to the place three years later?

Shipments of recreational vehicles to dealers have fallen about 20% so far this year, after a 4.1% drop last year, according to data from the RV Industry Association. Multiyear drops in shipments have preceded the last three recessions. “The RV industry is better at calling recessions than economists are,” said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University, in Muncie, Ind. Mr. Hicks says softening consumer demand for RVs coupled with rising vehicle prices due to tariffs suggests the economy is either in a recession or soon headed for one.

Yep.  You wanted Trump, Elkhart, and boy howdy, did you get Trump.

RVs can range in price from about $12,000 for a folding camping trailer to $212,000 for a high-end motor home, according to average retail prices collected by the RV Industry Association. The prices have been sensitive to the U.S. tariffs imposed on some Chinese goods. The industry estimates that as many as 523 items could be hit by the tariffs, everything from the toilet-seat covers that go into RV bathrooms and cow hides for leather furniture to the aluminum or steel used throughout the vehicles. 
Divya Brown, the president of Houston.-based TAXA Outdoors, a small RV manufacturer, said her company bought most of its parts from Elkhart. Her suppliers are raising their prices to account for the hit they are taking from imported goods such as aluminum and steel. Ms. Brown said the company saw a 22% jump in the cost of steel and a 9% jump in the cost of aluminum.

It was bad for Elkhart last year.  This yeah it's a bloodbath.  The yellow light is now flashing red and the signal poles are on fire.  In the last seven days we've seen an inverted yield curve and now Elkhart's economy is starting to crumble.

Do you think Donald Trump is going to get us out of this coming shitstorm?

Trump Trades Blows, Con't

Trump regime: The gloom and doom talk on the economy is a plot to harm Dear Leader!

Also Trump regime: So, since the economy needs stimulus, how about a payroll tax cut?

Several senior White House officials have begun discussing whether to push for a temporary payroll tax cut as a way to arrest an economic slowdown, three people familiar with the discussions said, revealing growing concerns about the economy among President Trump’s top economic aides.

The talks are still in their early stages and have included a range of other tax breaks. The officials also have not decided whether to formally push Congress to approve any of these measures, these people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose internal discussions. But the White House increasingly is discussing ideas to boost a slowing economy, they said.

Even though deliberations about the payroll tax cut were held Monday, the White House released a statement disputing that the idea was actively under “consideration.”

“As (National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow) said yesterday, more tax cuts for the American people are certainly on the table, but cutting payroll taxes is not something under consideration at this time,” the statement said.

The statement and the internal discussions over the payroll tax cut are part of a rapidly evolving effort by the White House to both exude confidence about the economy’s strength while simultaneously hunting for ways to bolster business and consumer confidence. Business spending already has pulled back, in part because of fears about the trade war, but consumer spending has remained robust. If ordinary Americans begin to tighten their belts later this year, the economy could suffer new strain.

Millions of Americans pay a “payroll tax” on their earnings, a 6.2 percent levy that is used to finance Social Security programs. The payroll tax was last cut in 2011 and 2012 during the Obama administration to 4.2 percent, as a way to encourage more consumer spending during the recent economic downturn. But the cut was allowed to reset back up to 6.2 percent in 2013.

Workers pay payroll taxes on income up to $132,900, so cutting the tax has remained a popular idea for many lawmakers, especially Democrats, seeking to deliver savings for middle-income earners and not the wealthiest Americans. But payroll tax cuts can also add dramatically to the deficit and – depending on how they are designed – pull billions of dollars away from Social Security.

The issues are two as I see it, first the "talks have included a range of other tax breaks" at the top there, and the fact that is designed badly, payroll tax cuts can harm Social Security.  Republicans tried to claim President Obama was doing just that in 2012 before they caved for several extensions, but in 2013 when the payroll tax cut expired, the GOP slammed him hard and rode that towards a 2014 wipeout of House Democrats.

My worry is that any payroll tax cut will be a mess that the Democrats will have to fix.  Again.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Last Call For The Other, Other Operation

Looks like China is trying to use Twitter to create an AstroTurf movement against the Hong Kong protesters, and Twitter is not only acknowledging it, but actually doing something about it.

We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change.
What we are disclosing
This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests.

As Twitter is blocked in PRC, many of these accounts accessed Twitter using VPNs. However, some accounts accessed Twitter from specific unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China. The accounts we are sharing today represent the most active portions of this campaign; a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts — many created following our initial suspensions — were proactively suspended before they were substantially active on the service.

All the accounts have been suspended for a range of violations of our platform manipulation policies, which we define as:
Coordinated activity
Fake accounts
Attributed activity
Ban evasion

So what is Twitter doing?

Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service — they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built. As we have said before, it is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease. These deceptive strategies have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed. They adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge. For our part, we are committed to understanding and combating how bad-faith actors use our services.

Today we are adding archives containing complete Tweet and user information for the 936 accounts we’ve disclosed to our archive of information operations — the largest of its kind in the industry.

We will continue to be vigilant, learning from this network and proactively enforcing our policies to serve the public conversation. We hope that by being transparent and open we will empower further learning and public understanding of these nefarious tactics.

They've also made all the information available on the Chinese fake accounts available on the link at the top of the story.

A far cry from the Russian manipulation, which Twitter did its best to hide.  Maybe it's because as Twitter says, the service is openly banned in China, so it's not like they are risking the loss of ad revenue and users, or risking the wrath of Donald Trump.

On Deep Background

We've been down this road before. 

An overwhelming majority of Americans of all political stripes are open to universal background checks for firearms ownership and a national database. Suburban women are no different.

A new poll conducted by a premier Republican polling firm shows that about 3 in 4 suburban women favor stricter gun laws. The Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports moderate Republicans and has endorsed “red flag” bills under consideration in the House, commissioned a Public Opinion Strategies survey of 1,000 registered voters across five suburban House districts: Colorado’s Sixth, Kansas’s Third, North Carolina’s Ninth, Pennsylvania’s First and Virginia’s 10th. The group shared with me the topline results among women in these suburban areas:  
  • 72 percent said they think gun laws should be stricter, compared to four percent who said they should be less strict and 23 percent who said they should be kept as they are now.
  • 55 percent said they think stricter gun laws would help prevent gun violence.
  • 90 percent support requiring universal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales, which would require all gun owners to file with a national firearms registry.
  • 88 percent said they would support requiring a 48-hour waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and when the buyer can take possession of that gun.
  • 84 percent back a national red flag law that would permit law enforcement to temporarily retain firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.
  • 76 percent said they would ban the purchase and use of semi-automatic assault-style weapons like the AK-47 and the AR-15.
  • And 72 percent would support banning the sale and possession of high-capacity or extended ammunition magazines, which allow guns to shoot more than 10 bullets before needing to be reloaded.

The female respondents were read six issues and asked which they want their lawmaker to focus on the most. Working to prevent gun violence was No. 1, selected by 30 percent of suburban women. Health care was No. 2, with 24 percent, followed by addressing illegal immigration (14 percent) as the No. 3 priority. Further down the list were improving the economy, balancing the budget, improving the country’s infrastructure and strengthening national security.

All of those five districts are swing districts, including NC-9 of stolen absentee ballot fame, with a special election there next month, and it's a Republican poll, so if anything the numbers are shaded in favor of the NRA.

Having said that, all of these initiatives have zero chance of passage.

Following his now well-established pattern after mass shootings, Trump continues to back away from his initial support for "strong background checks." When the bodies are still being buried – whether after Las Vegas, Parkland, Fla., or El Paso – the president proclaims that he will take meaningful action to address the epidemic of gun violence. But as public attention wanes, and he faces pushback from the National Rifle Association, Trump returns to saying the problem that needs to be addressed is actually mental health.

“It's the people that pull the trigger, not the gun that pulls the trigger,” Trump said last night on the tarmac in New Jersey, as he prepared to fly back to Washington after 10 days at the golf club he owns there. “We have a very, very big mental health problem, and Congress is working on various things and I will be looking at it. … They have bipartisan committees working on background checks and various other things. And we’ll see. I don't want people to forget that this is a mental health problem. I don't want them to forget that because it is. It’s a mental health problem."

There have always been lots of violent people in the world, but they did not always have such easy access to weapons of war and massive magazines. Mass shootings did not used to happen with such regularity, and they did not used to be so deadly.

Asked last night if he’ll support universal background checks, Trump was curt and noncommittal. “I'm not saying anything,” he replied. “I'm saying Congress is going to be reporting back to me with ideas. And they'll come in from Democrats and Republicans. And I'll look at it very strongly. But just remember, we already have a lot of background checks, okay? Thank you.”

Besides, Mitch McConnell will never allow legislation to even get a floor vote.

Until we start seeing people on the evening news interviews saying "I voted for this candidate because of their support for new gun safety regulations and background checks" or better yet, "I voted against this incumbent because they've had years to do something about background checks and didn't lift a finger" then no, nothing will happen.

Meanwhile, I expect we'll visit the issue of background checks and assault weapons at least one or two more times between now and November 2020, and the same exact articles will be written and the poll results won't change, and Mitch will still do nothing.

And the American people will re-elect 95% of the incumbents who did nothing.

A Bunch Of Block(ade) Heads

Donald Trump's latest idiotic foreign policy idea is a total naval blockade of Venezuela, which would be not only immensely impractical, but an act of open war. Axios's Jon Swan:

President Trump has suggested to national security officials that the U.S. should station Navy ships along the Venezuelan coastline to prevent goods from coming in and out of the country, according to 5 current and former officials who have either directly heard the president discuss the idea or have been briefed on Trump's private comments.

Driving the news: Trump has been raising the idea of a naval blockade periodically for at least a year and a half, and as recently as several weeks ago, these officials said. They added that to their knowledge the Pentagon hasn't taken this extreme idea seriously, in part because senior officials believe it's impractical, has no legal basis and would suck resources from a Navy that is already stretched to counter China and Iran.

Trump has publicly alluded to a naval blockade of Venezuela. Earlier this month he answered "Yes, I am" when a reporter asked whether he was mulling such a move. But he hasn't elaborated on the idea publicly.

In private, Trump has expressed himself more vividly, these current and former officials say. 
"He literally just said we should get the ships out there and do a naval embargo," said one source who's heard the president’s comments. "Prevent anything going in." 
"I'm assuming he's thinking of the Cuban missile crisis," the source added. "But Cuba is an island and Venezuela is a massive coastline. And Cuba we knew what we were trying to prevent from getting in. But here what are we talking about? It would need massive, massive amounts of resources; probably more than the U.S. Navy can provide."

Hawkish GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, has a different perspective about the value of a show of military force. "I've been saying for months that when the Venezuelan military sees an American military presence gathering force, this thing ends pretty quickly," he told me.

"This thing" being the government of Nicolas Maduro, of course.  The US Navy wants nothing to do with this stupidity, but they're already being portrayed as not sufficiently patriotic to Dear Leader Trump and giving the Navy a major boost in Pentagon spending in swing states in order to get them on board with the war effort is seen as a worthwhile endeavor by right-wing goofballs like Hugh Hewitt.

When the Air Force decided in 2017 not to base F-35A fighter aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, it missed an easy way to achieve some equity in the distribution of defense-industry dollars in the states. Trump could direct the Pentagon to reverse that decision.

The Navy’s plans for a new “large unmanned surface vessel” calls for a ship which could be built at a Great Lakes facility; near Detroit makes sense, if only out of fairness to a state that has been largely ignored in the Trump military rebuild. Given the likely long-term need for many of these ships in the future, a new facility could be planted and grown along with the program. It pains this Buckeye to say so, but somewhere along the Michigan coast next door to Ohio would be equitable. 
A focus on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin need not be limited to the Defense Department. Recently, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) pushed successfully for the planned relocation of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Colo., in a brilliant move to bring bureaucrats closer to the citizens they regulate and whom they are supposed to serve. Sending large parts of the Environmental Protection Agency to Flint, Mich., or nearby locations would drive home the same message.

Trump has the chance to drain the swamp while making government agencies much more attuned to the people in flyover country. But he must act soon.

Yet, it is really the Navy’s utter failure to deliver even a bare-bones plan to realize the president’s promise of a 355-ship Navy that ought to rankle the commander in chief. A new chief of naval operations will arrive soon. The president ought to have waiting on his desk copies of the speeches in which he promised, and then promised again, a 355-ship Navy, along with the slogan famously used by Winston Churchill scrawled with the black Sharpie that Trump likes to use: “Action this day!”

The pressure on the US Navy to make a blockade work is on...and the result will be yet another option to get us into a war at Trump's convenience.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Last Call For Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

An Ohio man has been arrested for making threats toward a local Jewish community center in New Middletown.

James Reardon Jr., 20, has been charged with telecommunications harassment and aggravated menacing and is being held in the Mahoning County Jail on $250,000 bond with a court hearing planned for Monday morning.

On Friday, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force raided Reardon’s house and seized a cache of weapons and ammunition, including dozens of round of ammo, multiple semi-automatic weapons, a gas mask and bulletproof armor.

"Grateful for the work of the FBI, local law enforcement and our community partners in the Youngstown Jewish community. We will continue to employ all our resources to stop the spread of white nationalism and violent extremism," the Anti-Defamation League in Cleveland tweeted.

Police initially became aware of Reardon on July 11 when he posted a video on Instagram of a man shooting a semi-automatic rifle with sirens and screams in the background. He tagged the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown in the post.

"That kicked off an intense investigation, a very rapidly evolving investigation, because of the way the world is," New Middletown Police Chief Vince D’Egidio told Youngstown ABC affiliate WYTV.

"Because of the way the world is", as if we somehow didn't have a direct line to draw from the man in the White House and the anti-Semitic hate he surrounds himself with and uses on a regular basis to repeated potential mass slaughter of American Jews.

But sure, let's just pretend Donald Trump has nothing to do with it.

The Evil Behind Deportation Nation

The Washington Post takes a look at the Trump Regime's rogues gallery of racists, grifters, enablers, parasites, and yes men that run our country, and the worst of the lot by far is the Minister of White Supremacy himself, Trump's immigration adviser Stephen Miller.

Effusive in praising his boss, Miller said he experienced a “jolt of electricity to my soul” when he saw Trump announce his presidential run, “as though everything that I felt at the deepest levels of my heart were for now being expressed by a candidate for our nation’s highest office before a watching world.”

With sections of the West Wing under summer renovation, Miller has been working out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door, setting up in the Secretary of War suite, a spacious, elegant command post appointed with oil paintings, fine leather furniture and a small forest’s worth of hardwood.

Barely a decade removed from college, Miller is at the seat of power. His authority has grown in recent months as he engineered a leadership purge at the Department of Homeland Security, removing or reassigning the head of every immigration-related agency in a span of just seven weeks.

And his long-sought policy goals are reaching fruition. On Monday, Miller secured tighter immigration rules that can disqualify green-card applicants if they are poor or deemed likely to use public assistance, cutting off a pathway to U.S. citizenship for those immigrants who could become a burden on taxpayers, or “public charges.”

Miller’s horizon extends beyond one or even two presidential terms. He views the public charge rule as vital to his goal of reducing immigration, and he has told colleagues it will have “socially transformative effects” on American society.
“Immigration is an issue that affects all others,” Miller said, speaking in structured paragraphs. “Immigration affects our health-care system. Immigration affects our education system. Immigration affects our public safety, it affects our national security, it affects our economy and our financial system. It touches upon everything, but the goal is to create an immigration system that enhances the vibrancy, the unity, the togetherness and the strength of our society.”

This account of Miller’s role in the White House and his relationship to Trump is based on interviews with Miller and 22 current and former administration officials, nearly all of whom have worked directly with him. His colleagues speak of him with a mix of admiration, fear and derision, impressed by his single-minded determination and loyalty to the president, despite an awkward and sometimes off-putting style. Some of the same co-workers who deplore his political machinations say he can be charming and likable when he’s not angling toward an outcome.

Miller often launches into pedantic arguments with others in the White House, citing lengthy, arcane statistics that he mentally stores like munitions. He reads “every economic analysis, every think tank paper, every Wall Street Journal editorial on immigration,” said another colleague.

Obsessed with terminology, Miller tells others in the West Wing that how issues are talked about — and what terms the media and legislators use — is often as important or more important than anything else

The words and phrases that Miller uses are verbatim white supremacist dogma.  And his attention to detail means he is knowingly using this framing and phraseology in order to advance his twisted cause and to signal to fellow travelers that this is now White House policy.

Remember, Miller doesn't want to stop undocumented from entering the country.  He wants to end legal immigration, and he wants to reverse America's demographic changes by deporting tens of millions of "undesirables" out of the country.

He's flat out evil.

Sunday Long Read: 400 Years Of Slavery

The N Y Times, along with several writers and historians, have put together the 1619 Project, a look at how America started as a slave nation and how it has struggled with that ever since, as we enter our fifth century as a nation and as a people that still has yet to fully come to terms or even to define them.

In August 1619, just 12 years after the English settled Jamestown, Va., one year before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock and some 157 years before the English colonists even decided they wanted to form their own country, the Jamestown colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. The pirates had stolen them from a Portuguese slave ship that had forcibly taken them from what is now the country of Angola. Those men and women who came ashore on that August day were the beginning of American slavery. They were among the 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War. Almost two million did not survive the grueling journey, known as the Middle Passage.

Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply. They built the plantations of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, sprawling properties that today attract thousands of visitors from across the globe captivated by the history of the world’s greatest democracy. They laid the foundations of the White House and the Capitol, even placing with their unfree hands the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome. They lugged the heavy wooden tracks of the railroads that crisscrossed the South and that helped take the cotton they picked to the Northern textile mills, fueling the Industrial Revolution. They built vast fortunes for white people North and South — at one time, the second-richest man in the nation was a Rhode Island “slave trader.” Profits from black people’s stolen labor helped the young nation pay off its war debts and financed some of our most prestigious universities. It was the relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies and the products of their labor that made Wall Street a thriving banking, insurance and trading sector and New York City the financial capital of the world.

But it would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.

The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.

The very first person to die for this country in the American Revolution was a black man who himself was not free. Crispus Attucks was a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave his life for a new nation in which his own people would not enjoy the liberties laid out in the Declaration for another century. In every war this nation has waged since that first one, black Americans have fought — today we are the most likely of all racial groups to serve in the United States military.

My father, one of those many black Americans who answered the call, knew what it would take me years to understand: that the year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776. That black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true “founding fathers.” And that no people has a greater claim to that flag than us

This collection of essays is mandatory reading, or should be, for every American.  We'd understand the country and ourselves much more if we did.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Return Of The Blue Wave, Con't

Perpetually DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT DONALD TRUMP Maine Sen. Susan Collins should now be deeply concerned about keeping her job, as Cook Political Report has shifted her 2020 reelection race to true toss-up status.

Collins won her last reelection bid in 2014 by more than 30 points but is expected to face a much tighter race this time around, with the leader of the state's House of Representatives, Sara Gideon (D), announcing she would challenge the four-term senator.

A press release Friday from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) claimed that the incumbent senator's support had cratered in the state following her confirmation vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, a controversial vote that Democrats argue pushed her outside the label of "moderate."

"This is the latest in a string of bad news for the vulnerable incumbent, who has continued to lose support among Mainers and seen her net approval drop by a 'stunning' amount since President Trump took office," the DSCC said in a press release, quoting a Morning Consult analysis.

The senator defended her vote to confirm Kavanaugh last month in an interview with The New York Times, telling the newspaper she did not regret her vote "in the least."

Gideon, meanwhile, hammered Collins for the vote in her campaign announcement earlier this year.

“At one point, maybe Sen. Collins was different, but she doesn’t seem that way anymore: taking over a million dollars from drug companies and the insurance industry and voting to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court,” Gideon said.

No current Republican senator has paid more in the polls than Collins.  Like the article says, she won in 2014 by 30 points, running against her was unthinkably quixotic even a few years ago.

Now she's in serious trouble, along with Republican incumbents Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona.

If Democratic Sen. Doug Jones can keep his seat in Alabama, Democrats can pick up at least three seats.  They'll need to pick up more to send Mitch McConnell to the showers, but two open GOP seats, one in Tennessee and one in Kansas are in play, and support for North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis isn't very deep.

It'll take some lifting, but then again, I figure Trump wrecking the economy will have an effect.

Vacationless Nation

America, you're getting screwed out of your time off, and it's costing us tens of billions of dollars.

Workers in the United States left a record number of vacation days on the table last year, equating to billions in lost benefits, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos. 
A total of 768 million days went unused in 2018, a 9% increase from 2017. Of those, 236 million were completely forfeited, which comes out to $65.5 billion in lost benefits.

Fifty-five percent of workers reported that they did not use all of their vacation days. If American workers used their time off to travel, the study says, the economic opportunity amounts to $151.5 billion in additional travel spending and would create 2 million American jobs. 
One of the main culprits for the increase in unused vacation days is that the number of earned days off is increasing faster than workers are using them. Workers did not use an average of 27.7% of their earned days off in 2018, up from 25.9% in 2017. 
Although there was a large increase in unused vacation days, on average, American workers took more days off in 2018: 17.4, up from 17.2 off in 2017. However, that is a significant drop from the 20.3 average vacation days used from 1978 to 2000.

But of course in Trump's America, you do what you are told, worker.

The choice for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant in Beaver County was to either spend Tuesday standing in a giant hall waiting for President Donald Trump to speak, or to take the day off with no pay.
“Your attendance is not mandatory,” read the rules that Shell sent to union leaders a day ahead of the visit to the $6 billion construction site. But only those that showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their cards, and prepared to stand for hours — through lunch but without lunch — would be paid.

“NO SCAN, NO PAY,” the rules said.

Those that decided to sit out the event would have an excused absence, the company said, and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday. The company has a 56-hour workweek with 16 hours of overtime. That means those workers who attended Mr. Trump’s speech and showed up for work on Friday meeting the overtime threshold are being paid at a rate of time and a half, while those that didn’t go to hear the president are being paid the regular rate, despite the fact that both groups did not do work on the site on Tuesday.

This is just what Shell wanted to do and we went along with it,” said Ken Broadbent, business manager for Steamfitters local 449.

The local has 2,400 workers on the site and Mr. Broadbent said he would not “bad rap about it one way or another.”

“We’re glad to have the jobs. We’re glad to have the project built,” he said. “The president is the president whether we like him or dislike him. We respect him for the title.”

We all serve at the pleasure of Dear Leader Trump now, and our corporate masters will see to it that we do.

Now get back to work.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Last Call For The Purge: Trump Edition

The State Department's inspector general dropped a bombshell report this week finding the department's international affairs bureau was a disaster where career staffers found insufficiently loyal to Dear Leader Trump were targeted for harassment and even retaliatory action.

A report by the State Department’s inspector general concludes that leadership of a leading department bureau mistreated and harassed staffers, accused them of political disloyalty to the Trump administration, and retaliated against them.

In response to repeated counseling by more senior State officials that he address staff concerns, the report concluded, Kevin Moley, assistant secretary for international affairs, “did not take significant action.”

The report, released Thursday, is a sweeping condemnation of Moley and more specifically of his former senior adviser, Mari Stull. A former lobbyist and consultant for international food and agriculture interests, Stull left the department in January following press reports that, among other things, she had compiled a list of staffers deemed insufficiently loyal to the Trump administration.
The 30-page report — based on what it said were interviews with dozens of current and former employees, as well as documents — chronicled numerous episodes of Stull berating and belittling employees, and Moley’s repeated failure to deal with complaints reported to him.

Both Stull and Moley, it said, “frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff,” and reportedly moved to retaliate against those who had held their jobs under the previous administration.

Stull, it said, referred to some employees as “Obama holdovers,” “traitors,” or “disloyal,” and accused some of being part of the “Deep State” and the “swamp” — terms that President Trump has used to refer to federal employees. All of those so accused, the report said, were career staffers and not political appointees.

Some staffers said Moley accused them of “undermining the President’s agenda,” the report said.

In a response appended to the report, Moley said he had no recollection of much of the counseling, and said the description of his behavior with employees “does not represent the person I am or have ever been.” He said accounts of the departure of two senior bureau officials was inaccurate, and that he had not witnessed Stull’s reported behavior.

Stull, the report said, declined to speak to investigators.

Recommendations included in the report advised Undersecretary of Political Affairs David Hale, who supervises the international affairs bureau, to develop a “corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies,” and to consider other action, “including disciplinary action.”

The State Department response, contained in the report and repeated Thursday by a Department spokesman, accepted the recommendations. Noting that Stull was “no longer with the Department,” it said that “with regard to the second employee,” Moley, it would submit a “corrective action plan” within 60 days.

A slap on the wrist at best.

You serve at the pleasure of Dear Leader Trump.  This government and this country now exists to benefit him.

Another Day In Gunmerica, Con't

Congressional Republicans are in their home districts for the August recess, avoiding town hall meetings and questions about Trump, but they have been given their talking points on mass shooters and white nationalism just the same, and they are absolutely disgusting lies.

Congressional Republicans recently circulated talking points on gun violence that falsely described the El Paso massacre and other mass shootings as “violence from the left.”

A document obtained by the Tampa Bay Times and sent by House Republicans provides a framework for how to respond to anticipated questions like, “Why won’t you pass legislation to close the ‘gun show loophole’ in federal law?” and “Why shouldn’t we ban high-capacity magazines?" The answers are boilerplate Republican arguments against tougher gun restrictions.

But it also included this question: “Do you believe white nationalism is driving more mass shootings recently?” The suggested response is to steer the conversation away from white nationalism to an argument that implies both sides are to blame.

“White nationalism and racism are pure evil and cannot be tolerated in any form," the document said. “We also can’t excuse violence from the left such as the El Paso shooter, the recent Colorado shooters, the Congressional baseball shooter, Congresswoman Giffords’ shooter and Antifa."

Yep.  It's the "left's" fault!

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, included the talking points in a newsletter that he emailed this week to his Florida constituents. His spokeswoman Summer Robertson said they were “provided by the House Republican Conference," the caucus arm in charge of devising messaging strategy for its members. The conference’s internal strategies are not usually made public.

Robertson said that the inclusion of El Paso was a mistake. It was supposed to say Dayton, the site of a second mass shooting 13 hours later where nine people died.

The El Paso shooter is alleged to have intentionally targeted Mexicans when he killed 22 people at a Walmart on the Texas-Mexico border on Aug. 3. In a manifesto published just before the attack he expressed white nationalist and anti-immigrant beliefs, using language that echoed President Donald Trump’s characterizations of illegal immigration.

The Dayton Daily News reported that the shooter in Ohio had attended a protest of a Ku Klux Klan rally and other outlets have reported his political leanings aligned with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist. The motivations of the Dayton shooters killing spree, though, are less clear. He reportedly was obsessed with violence and once made a list of girls he wanted to kill. He fatally wounded his sister in the rampage.

The GOP conference talking points ascribed other shootings as leftist violence despite ambiguous, if not contradictory, evidence. The shooter that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat, was paranoid about government and obsessed with the Arizona Congresswoman, a law enforcement investigation found. His political persuasions were mixed and did not appear to be a factor. Nor does it seem that the May shooters at a Colorado high school — both teenagers and bullied students — were motivated by politics.

But that sure doesn't matter to Republicans who just want to blow smoke up your ass in order to have yet another excuse to avoid anything on gun safety or background check legislation that the vast majority of American adults want to see passed.

Just another day in Gunmerica.
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