Friday, October 20, 2017

The Coming Blue Wave, Con't.

It's a brutal sign for the GOP that after running the House for all but four of the last 23 years in Congress that Republicans, now with complete control of the federal government, are running for the exits thanks to Trump.  And there's no bigger loser in this exodus than House Speaker Paul Ryan.

A number of the speaker's closest comrades in the House have called it quits in recent weeks because they're tired of President Donald Trump's antics, depressed over the GOP's dearth of legislative accomplishments this year or have personal reasons. Whatever the causes, the departures are certain to make Ryan's job as House speaker harder, depriving him of loyal lieutenants in a conference already riven by ideological and stylistic divisions.

Rep. Pat Tiberi, a loyal ally of Ryan, is the latest departure. The Ohio Republican announced Thursday that he will resign by the end of January to take a job in the private sector. House GOP leaders had hoped the senior Ways and Means Committee member would lead the powerful tax panel in the coming years, House GOP sources told POLITICO. But Tiberi, a longtime tax reform proponent, made other plans just as tax talks are kicking off in earnest.

Tiberi will hardly be the last to leave, multiple House GOP sources say.

Lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with Trump’s penchant for drama and inability to focus on the legislative agenda, numerous House GOP lawmakers and staffers said. While Trump and most Republican voters blame Congress for nothing substantial getting done, GOP lawmakers are privately exasperated that they don’t have a coherent leader who can help them deliver.

That’s part of what drove Republican Rep. Dave Trott to announce he'd head back to Michigan once his current term ends. Trott stood up at a late July House Republican Conference meeting to complain that the White House was so distracted by the scandal enveloping Anthony Scaramucci at the time that Trump failed to help the Senate pass its Obamacare repeal bill.

Six weeks later, after the health care repeal collapsed in the upper chamber, Trott announced his retirement.

The legislative letdowns under Trump have weighed heavily on House Republicans, said Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, another Republican who recently announced he won't seek reelection in 2018.

“It’s very difficult to achieve big-ticket items, not to mention just accomplish the basic items of governance — keeping the government open or not defaulting on our obligations — so that’s a source of frustration for me," said Dent, a leader of the faction of Republican moderates.

Dent added: “Congress should take a lot of the blame; but so should the president. The president doesn’t lay down his plans, his ideas, his policies, and he sure as hell didn’t try to sell it to the American people on health care — and that’s a function of leadership. Saying, ‘Send me a bill and I’ll sign it' — that’s not leadership.”

One recently departed House staffer had this to say about the challenges of legislating in the era of Trump: “The job isn't fun anymore. You get beat up in D.C. for everything Trump says or does, only to go home to get beat up for not defending Trump enough by the base. It's brutal.”

Look at these whiny, petulant kids.  They have everything they wanted, Congress, the White House, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, almost two-thirds of the states...and they're complaining that they can't get anything done.

So much so that they're quitting in frustration.  Why?  They see what's coming.

The question is can the Dems capitalize on it?  That remains very much up in the air.  The Dems are making the kind of candidate moves they need to be at the ground level, but they're also not making the arguments for Democrats at the top level, either. 

There's no doubt that GOP voter suppression laws have played a major role in giving the GOP the level of single-party control they have now, and that's only going to get worse in 2018 and 2020, and so far Dems don't seem very interested in fighting back.

If they don't, and immediately, the GOP could still be running the country, only with the retiring crop of Republicans replaced by a new wave of mini-Trumps, interested only in the obliteration of Democrats and their voters.  Just because the GOP is about to lose dozens of veteran lawmakers to retirement doesn't mean they'll all be replaced by Democrats.

We'll see.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Last Call For Crossfire Hurricane

One month after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, millions of Americans remain in a dire humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands lacking food, water, shelter, electricity, and access to basic services.  Maria by the numbers:

Here is a by-the-numbers account of how things on the island currently stand. 
  • More than a third of Puerto Rican households, or about 1 million people, still lack running water according to CNN.
  • FEMA says it has distributed 23.6 million liters (6.2 million gallons) of bottled and bulk water in Puerto Rico. That figure includes water for hospitals and dialysis centers
  • These deliveries equate to only 9% of the island's drinking water requirement, going by the World Health Organization's (WHO) assessment that each person needs at least 2.5 liters (2/3 of a gallon) per day. Some residents are so desperate for drinking water they have broken into polluted wells at industrial waste sites.
  • The shortfall is far greater when you consider the WHO also recommends 15 liters per person per day for basic cooking and hygiene needs. Dirty water ups the risk of diseases like cholera and at least one person has died as a result of being unable to get to dialysis treatment on time, CNN reports.
  • Some 86% of grocery stores have re-opened. But they are not necessarily stocked.
  • FEMA says 60,000 homes need roofing help. It has delivered 38,000 tarps.
Power and Personnel 
  • Less than 20% of Puerto Rico's power grid has been restored and around 3 million people are still without power, says CNN
  • The news broadcaster adds that 75% of antennas are down so even those able to charge phones are unlikely to have cellular service.
  • All of the island's hospitals are now up and running, with most using back-up systems, but only a quarter are being supplied with power from the grid, says Axios
  • According to CNN, FEMA has deployed 1,700 personnel in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also ravaged by Hurricane Maria. That's 900 less that the 2,600 FEMA personnel reportedly still in Texas and Florida, but the agency told CNN that around 20,000 other federal staff and military have been deployed in response to Maria.
  • Thousands of people have donated money or volunteered to help Puerto Rico. Among them, celebrity chef José Andrés says he's serving 100,000 meals a day on the island.

Puerto Rico is a disaster area and remain so for months if not longer.  Look at Haiti in the wake of that devastating earthquake almost six years ago, and how the country is still struggling for even day-to-day functions.  There's good news, but at this rate Puerto Rico will get statehood before it gets power.

The disaster continues, and it remains Trump's fault.

Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

I've talked before about the multiple mistrials in the case of Shannon Kepler, a white former Tulsa cop who shot his daughter's 19-year-old black boyfriend, Jeremey Lake, in cold blood and claimed self-defense.  Lake didn't actually have a weapon on him as Kepler claimed, but juries deadlocked three times when it came to murder charges.

Oklahoma state prosecutors settled for manslaughter charges instead on the fourth trial, and this week a jury found Kepler guilty and recommended a sentence of 15 years.

Jurors deliberated about six hours before finding ex-Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler, 57, guilty of the lesser charge in the August 2014 killing of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake, who had just started dating Kepler's then-18-year-old daughter, Lisa. 
The jury recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 20. 
Lake's death occurred four days before a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014. Michael Brown's killing touched off months of protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which decries police violence against minorities and calls for greater transparency from law enforcement officials, especially in cases of officer-involved shootings. 
The issue of race had also become an undercurrent in each of Kepler's previous three trials, with only one African-American being selected for each jury and accusations by civil rights activists that Kepler's attorneys were purposely trying to exclude potential black candidates. 
Another racial element had been recently added to the case when Kepler argued that he couldn't be tried by state prosecutors because he's a member of an American Indian tribe. A judge determined the fourth trial in less than a year could move forward in state court. Kepler says he's 1/128th Muscogee (Creek). 
Kepler's attorneys said the 24-year-police veteran was trying to protect Lisa Kepler because she had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Defense attorney Richard O'Carroll said Lisa had been in and out of a homeless shelter after her father forbade her from bringing men home into the house.

A white cop killed his daughter's black boyfriend because he knew he would never be convicted.  He was right on that as far of being convicted of premeditated murder, no Oklahoma jury would ever convict a white cop on murder one, a lifetime of police retaliation would be just the least of the jury's problems.

But manslaughter has a different burden of proof, and the jurors were willing to convict on that.  Whether or not Kepler ever serves a day in prison based on sentencing, bail and appeal, that's anyone's guess.

Cleaning House At The DNC

DNC Chairman Tom Perez is finally taking the axe to some long-time dead wood at the DNC, and of course nobody's happy about it.  But the reality is that DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison lost the fight to lead the DNC, and that means Perez gets to call the shots.  Now that Perez is finally doing that, people are pissed off.

A shake-up is underway at the Democratic National Committee as several key longtime officials have lost their posts, exposing a still-raw rift in the party and igniting anger among those in its progressive wing who see retaliation for their opposition to DNC Chairman Tom Perez.

The ousters come ahead of the DNC's first meeting, in Las Vegas, Nevada, since Perez took over as chairman with a pledge earlier this year that he would unite the party that had become badly divided during the brutal Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton 2016 primary.

Complaints began immediately after party officials saw a list of Perez' appointments to DNC committees and his roster of 75 "at-large" members, who are chosen by the chair.

The removal and demotion of a handful of veteran operatives stood out, as did what critics charge is the over-representation of Clinton-backed members on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which helps set the terms for the party's presidential primary, though other Sanders and Ellison backers remain represented.

Those who have been pushed out include:
  • Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic chairman and longtime DNC official who ran against Perez for chair before backing Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., lost his spots on the Executive Committee and DNC Rules Committee;
  • James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute and prominent Sanders backer, is no longer co-chair of the Resolutions Committee and is off the Executive Committee, a spot he has held since 2001;
  • Alice Germond, the party’s longtime former secretary and a vocal Ellison backer, who was removed from her at-large appointment to the DNC; and
  • Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the first transgender member of the DNC who supported Ellison and Buckley, was tossed from the Executive Committee.

The moves exposed a rift in the partnership between Perez and his deputy chair, Ellison, who have publicly broadcast their "bromance" since Perez tapped the lawmaker for the post in a show of unity after their hard-fought race earlier this year for the party's chairmanship.

"I’m concerned about the optics, and I’m concerned about the impact," Zogby said of the changes. "I want to heal the wound of 2016."

"I understand the chair can do as he pleases, but still, it's all just very disappointing," Buckley said.

Germond has been on the DNC since the 1980s.

"It is quite unusual for a former party officer who has been serving on the DNC for like forever to just be left out in the cold without even a call from the chairman," said Germond, who was a vocal Ellison backer for DNC chairman. "So I assumed it had something to do with myself support for Keith."

"I understand that I fought very hard for Keith Ellison. And I understand that to the winners go the spoils," she added.

Zogby in particular has been a pain in Perez's ass for a year now, but his consolation prize is he remains co-chair of the party's Unity and Reform Commission, so his damage can be limited.  Backing a guy who's not even in the party means that maybe you shouldn't be in charge of said party's major committees, just saying.

Whether or not Perez can actually get anything done heading into 2018, we'll see.  I didn't have high hopes for Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the previous DNC chair and she failed to meet even that low bar. Hopefully he won't have his won organization strangling him from behind when Trump and the GOP are trying to destroy 80 years of classic liberalism in the United States.  I guess maybe that's too much to ask for.

Go figure.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

We've known for a while that the Trump campaign was actively benefiting from Russian social media manipulation, but Spencer Ackerman and the Daily Beast's crew have now connected the Trump campaign directly to a Russian propaganda outlet pretending to be the digital voice of the Tennessee GOP.

Some of the Trump campaign’s most prominent names and supporters, including Trump’s campaign manager, digital director and son, pushed tweets from troll accounts paid for by the Russian government in the heat of the 2016 election campaign.

The Twitter account @Ten_GOP, which called itself the “Unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans,” was operated from the Kremlin-backed “Russian troll farm,” or Internet Research Agency, a source familiar with the account confirmed with The Daily Beast.

The account’s origins in the Internet Research Agency were originally reported by the independent Russian news outlet RBC. @Ten_GOP was created on November 19, 2015, and accumulated over 100 thousand followers before Twitter shut it down. The Daily Beast independently confirmed the reasons for @Ten_GOP's account termination.

The discovery of the now-unavailable tweets presents the first evidence that several members of the Trump campaign pushed covert Russian propaganda on social media in the run-up to the 2016 election.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment, “for privacy and security reasons."

And several times, including before and right up to the election, the Trump campaign helped spread tweets from the fake account.

Two days before election day, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted a post by @Ten_GOP regarding Hillary Clinton’s email.

“Mother of jailed sailor: 'Hold Hillary to same standards as my son on Classified info' #hillarysemail #WeinerGate” the tweet reads.

Three weeks before the election, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director, retweeted a separate post from @Ten_GOP.

“Thousands of deplorables chanting to the media: "Tell The Truth!" RT if you are also done w/ biased Media!” the tweet read.

President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. followed the account until its closure on August 23rd of this year. Trump Jr. retweeted the account three times, including an allegation of voter fraud in Florida one week before the election.

“BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida Please, RT,” the tweet read.

Trump Jr. also retweeted the account on Election Day.

“This vet passed away last month before he could vote for Trump.. Here he is in his #MAGA hat.. #voted #ElectionDay,” the account wrote.

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn retweeted the Russian-backed troll account at least once. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., retweeted the account 34 times before it was removed from Twitter in August for its ties to Russian propaganda.

The account notably pushed for Flynn’s reappointment as Trump’s national security advisor, a job Flynn lost after press revelations that he’d lied about his telephone discussions with the Russian ambassador after the election hacks. It also repeatedly pushed Breitbart-backed talking points, including a fake news story about a gang rape in Twin Falls, Idaho that merited dozens of articles from Breitbart News.

And even though this was clearly a fake account, it had over 100k followers (mostly Russian bots of course) and was challenged and reported by the actual Tennessee GOP account @tngop, Twitter allowed it to continue even after being suspended in July. In fact, the @Ten_GOP account was operating up until six weeks ago when it was shut down by Twitter as part of the service's crackdown on fake Russian propaganda accounts.

But the larger story is that this account was specifically retweeted multiple times by the Trump campaign.  They knew to do it, and knew to retweet this particular account.  It's the most obvious evidence yet that the Trump campaign was an active participant in spreading Russian propaganda on social media, propaganda designed to help the Trump campaign win in 2016.

This one is big, guys.  And you'd better believe there's more evidence like this coming.

Bevin's Pension Deficit DIsorder

Today came the announcement of Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's super double top secret plan to fix the state's unfunded pension liability problem, and since what Matt Bevin believes is that the problem is that "Kentucky state employees are people who should be paid and everything" his solution pretty much fixes that "oversight".

After months of planning and closed-door negotiations, Gov. Matt Bevin and GOP legislative leaders on Wednesday released a plan they say begins to tackle Kentucky’s multibillion-dollar pension debt while honoring promises to retirees and public employees. 
As expected the plan calls for transitioning most public employees from traditional pension plans to 401(k)-like plans – but it does so in a much more gradual way than recommended by the Bevin administration’s pension consultant. 
New workers and teachers will go into 401(k)-like plans, but instead of immediately shifting current state and local government workers to 401(k)s, those workers would be able to remain in their current pension plans for 27 years.

Current teachers with 27 years of service also would be moved to the 401(k)-style savings plans. But their plans will be more generous than those of other public employees to compensate for the fact that teachers do not draw Social Security benefits.

To avoid a rush of teacher retirements, those teachers will be given an option of remaining in their current traditional pension plans for three additional years.
And both current and future workers in “hazardous duty” jobs like law enforcement would not go into the 401(k)-type plans. They would retain their current pension benefits instead. 
The plan also would bring legislators, who have more generous benefits, into the retirement system of other state employees. And it would end the ability of teachers to use accumulated sick days to boost their pension benefits – but not until July 1, 2023. 
And the plan would begin to pay for pensions under a new approach “that mandates hundreds of millions more into every retirement plan, making them healthier and solvent sooner,” a summary of the plan said.

“If you are a retiree, if you are working to be a retiree at some point, you should be rejoicing,” Bevin said. “... It guarantees by law that your pension is going to be funded. There will be no more kicking of the can down the road.” 
Some immediate response to the plan questioned Bevin's statement that all promises have been kept. 
"I think the plan includes some very harsh cuts to benefits," said Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Bailey said the handouts summarizing the plan say cost-of-living increases for teacher retirement benefits would be suspended for five years and that teachers and other public employees will have to pay more for health care benefits.

So, cops and firefighters get full benefits, but teachers and other state employees get benefit cuts and have to pay more into the system in order to fund it.  The suspension of cost of living increases is pretty ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Bevin's too busy playing Good Cop, Bad Cop to actually get the plan signed into law.

Bevin has said all year that he would call a special legislative session in 2017 for lawmakers to pass a reform plan to set the state on course to pay off pension debts. Those debts are officially listed at more than $40 billion, but Bevin estimates them at more than $64 billion. 
The plan released Wednesday is only an outline of the bill to be considered. And Bevin did not say when that session will begin. 
“As soon as we are ready,” he said when asked when he will call the session. “There’s still a little ‘I’ dotting and ‘T’ crossing” before that announcement, Bevin said. 
The plan is much friendlier to employees and retirees than many of the highly controversial recommendations offered in August in a report by the administration’s Philadelphia-based consultant – PFM Group. It does not, for instance, call for raising the retirement age for public employees or the clawing back of any benefits earned by current retirees. 
“Nothing is changing for retirees," Bevin said. "They’re going to be getting everything they’re getting now.”

That's a lie, of course.  But the devil is in the details, and not word of those details has been written yet.

We'll see.

The Commander, Chiefly In Need Of A Soul

When it comes to basic empathy for human beings, Donald Trump's circuits are emotionally cauterized.

President Donald Trump told U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson's widow Tuesday that "he knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens, it hurts anyway," when he died serving in northwestern Africa, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens.

"Yes, he said it," Wilson said. "It's so insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn't have said it."

The president called about 4:45 p.m. and spoke to Johnson's pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, for about five minutes. She is a mother to Johnson's surviving 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. The conversation happened before Johnson's remains arrived at Miami International Airport on a commercial Delta Airlines flight.

A top advisor later told Local 10 News "The president's conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private."

Wilson watched as the widow, who is expecting their third baby in January, leaned over the U.S. flag that was draping Johnson's casket. Her pregnant belly was shaking against the casket as she sobbed uncontrollably. Their daughter stood next to her stoically. Their toddler waited in the arms of a relative.

There was silence.

Local politicians, police officers and firefighters lined up to honor Johnson for his service and for the efforts and discipline that got the former Walmart employee to defy all odds and become a 25-year-old member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Johnson, who participated in a mentorship program Wilson founded in 1993, died during a mission fighting alongside Green Berets. Islamic militants ambushed them on Oct. 4 with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. The team reportedly didn't have overhead armed air cover and was in unarmored pickup trucks. Reuters reported the lack of planning upset the French.

So Trump's response, two weeks after American soldiers were killed in Niger in an ambush, is "he knew what he signed up for" to a serviceman's pregnant, grieving widow.

Let that absolute lack of empathy sink in, folks.  He has no empathy because he's incapable of it.  He is incapable of empathy because his clinical narcissism is so pathological that he cannot process the basic human function of being able to emotionally relate to anyone other than himself, because that would require him to give a damn about somebody other than Donald Trump.

You might be able to get away with saying that this was a case of nerves, or early term jitters, except that lack of empathy has driven pretty much every decision Trump has made since attaining the office, and he's proven that lack of empathy again and again.

The man is a monster.  Like I said, pathological.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

The Senate investigation grows deeper as the focus shifts to former Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn and now we learn from NBC News that this focus includes Flynn's son, Michael Jr. as well.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested documents and testimony from Michael G. Flynn, the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but has not received a response, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. 
The committee, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, is interested in Flynn’s work as his father’s aide and travel companion with Flynn Intel Group, the consulting firm retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn formed after he left government service, the sources said. 
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia the ranking Democrat, declined to comment when asked about the matter Monday by NBC News. 
Michael G. Flynn’s lawyer, Barry Coburn, declined to comment. 
The younger Flynn, 34, accompanied his father on a 2015 trip to Moscow, where the elder Flynn sat next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner to celebrate Russia’s state-funded media network, RT. The younger Flynn can be seen in video from an associated event. 
Ultimately, the committee could issue a subpoena to Flynn if he doesn’t comply, but he could assert his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 
NBC News reported last month that the younger Flynn is a subject of the criminal and counterintelligence investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also interested in Flynn’s work with his father’s consulting business. 
Flynn responded on Twitter to the NBC News report, tweeting on Sept. 14: “I’m not the sub of any federal investigation.”

Mini Moscow Mike was already in Mueller's crosshairs, now the Senate wants him too.  The Flynns are neck deep in Putin's dirty business at this point and the only question in my mind, as with Paul Manafort, is how much damage they do to Trump before they go to prison.

I know, I know, that's when the pardons start coming in hot and heavy, but that leads to the Nixon road, and down that path is the end the of the GOP and a lot of unhappy billionaire donors.  We'll see where this goes but it's a race now to see who gets indicted first, the Flynns or Manafort.

Broken Bad, Or That's Not How Drug Czars Work

Over the weekend, both the Washington Post and CBS's 60 Minutes laid into Trump's nominee for drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino, for essentially writing a bill that made the DEA's job of tracking opioids and stopping massive shipments from drug companies impossible.

In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets. 
By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight. 
A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years. 
The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns
The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino,a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.

That was late Friday, followed with a devastating 60 Minutes piece on Sunday.  A DEA agent named Joe Rannazzisi who was fired from the DEA for criticizing Marino's bill as a deliberate effort to sink the DEA to help drug company profits blew the whistle on the department, in an interview with CBS's Bill Whitaker.

JOE RANNAZZISI: Addiction rate was still increasing. The amount of people seeking treatment was still increasing. It was all increasing. Still, the amount of prescriptions were increasing. And we started slowing down. 
As cases nearly ground to a halt at DEA, the drug industry began lobbying Congress for legislation that would destroy DEA's enforcement powers. That part of the story when we return. 
In 2013, Joe Rannazzisi and his DEA investigators were trying to crack down on big drug distributors that ship drugs to pharmacies across the country. He accused them of turning a blind eye as millions of prescription pain pills ended up on the black market. Then, a new threat surfaced on Capitol Hill. With the help of members of Congress, the drug industry began to quietly pave the way for legislation that essentially would strip the DEA of its most potent tool in fighting the spread of dangerous narcotics.

JOE RANNAZZISI: If I was gonna write a book about how to harm the United States with pharmaceuticals, the only thing I could think of that would immediately harm is to take the authority away from the investigative agency that is trying to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and the regulations implemented under the act. And that's what this bill did. 
The bill, introduced in the House by Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, was promoted as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed. 
Jonathan Novak, who worked in the DEA's legal office, says what the bill really did was strip the agency of its ability to immediately freeze suspicious shipments of prescription narcotics to keep drugs off U.S. streets -- what the DEA calls diversion.

That was Sunday. So now, Marino is out as the nation's direction of drug policy today, his nomination pulled.

Rep. Tom Marino has withdrawn from consideration as the White House’s pick for drug czar following a bombshell report that he championed a bill that hindered federal agents from going after the Big Pharma firms that flooded the country with addictive opioids. 
President Donald Trump made the announcement Tuesday morning on Twitter. 
“Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar,” Trump wrote. “Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!”

Sure he's great.  But when Eric Holder warned that Marino's bill would make the opioid epidemic exponentially worse?

Obama did sign the bill but there was no debate in Congress.

Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress without debate and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

Marino pulled a fast one...and note that his partner in crime is Marsha Blackburn, running for retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker's seat.  Suddenly that race got a whole lot more interesting.

Trump's Uncaring Reality

If you had any doubts that Trump is operating in a zone where reality simply doesn't exist anymore, read John Marshall's transcript of Trump's remarks on Obamacare from Monday.

Health care is moving along. That was a subsidy to the insurance companies and a gift that was what they gave the insurance companies. Take a look at where their stock was when Obamacare was originally approved and what it is today. You will see numbers that if you invested in the stocks, you would be extremely happy. They have given them a total gift. They have given them — you can almost call it a pay off. It’s a disgrace. That money goes to the insurance companies. We want to take care of poor people and people that need help with health care.

I’m never going to get campaign contributions from the insurance companies, but take a look at how much money has been spent by the Democrats and by the health companies on politicians generally, but take a look at the coffers of the Democrats.

The CSR payments have actually brought Republicans and Democrats together. We got calls, emergency calls from the Democrats and I think probably the Republicans were also calling them saying let’s come up with at least a short-term fix of health care in this country. And the gravy train ended the day I knocked the insurance companies’ money. Which was last week. Hundred of millions of dollars handed to the insurance companies for very little reason. Believe me. I want the money to go to the people, to poor people that need it. Not to insurance companies which is where it’s going, as of last week I ended that. We have a lot of interesting things to do. I’m meeting with Mitch McConnell for lunch and we will say a few words after that.

We need health care. We’re going to get the health care done. In my opinion what’s happening is as we meet Republicans are meeting with Democrats because of what I did with the CSR. I cutoff the gravy train. If I didn’t cut the CSRs, they wouldn’t be meeting. They would be having lunch and enjoying themselves. They are right now having emergency meetings to get a short-term fix of health care. Where premiums don’t have to double and triple every year like they’ve been doing under Obamacare. Because Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore. I said this years ago. It’s a concept that couldn’t have worked. In its best days it couldn’t have worked.

Donald Trump believes he is saving the country from mean ol' insurance companies and that he will be celebrated as one of the greatest presidents in history for saving America from Obamacare. He considers it dead, he considers the battle won, that we'll shower him with praise for unraveling the insurance markets by ending CSR subsidies.

He's bonkers. As Ezra Klein notes, Trump couldn't be doing a better job of sabotaging himself.

President Donald Trump's cancellation of Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction paymentswill increase premiums by 20 percent, cost the government $194 billion in higher subsidy payments, widen the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, increase the number of uninsured Americans, and cause chaos in health markets in the runup to the 2018 election. There is literally nothing in the health care system it makes better; it's pure policy nihilism. So why did Trump do it?

One theory goes that Trump does not believe the payments are constitutional when made in the absence of congressional authorization. This is a widely held view among Republicans, and it has received some affirmation from the courts. But coming in a week when Trump called freedom of the press “disgusting” and mused about yanking NBC’s broadcasting license in retaliation for a story he didn’t like, it has been a hard argument for advocates to make with a straight face. The other problem with this view is that Trump is not pushing Congress to authorize the payments and end any doubt over their legality — he is simply canceling them.

Which brings us to the second theory, which comes from Trump himself and is more plausible. Trump has long held the view that if he can inflict sufficient damage to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats will have no choice but to cut a deal — on Trump’s terms — to save it.

Except as a whole hell of a lot of people have pointed out Trump doesn't need the Democrats to do a damn thing to repeal Obamacare.  He needs Mitch McConnell, not Chuck Schumer, and the GOP still can't get that done.

So now Trump is convinced that in order to stop Trump from destroying health care coverage for millions of Americans, Democrats will help him and vote to take health care coverage away from tens of millions of people, because this is all the fault of Democrats.

Like I said, bonkers.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Playing The Panic Card

House Republicans are both freaking out over Trump and happy to fundraise off his problems, because that's how the modern GOP works in 2017.  The House GOP caucus is warning that Trump throwing them under the bus next year will put the Speaker's gavel in the hands of Nancy Pelosi, assuring Trump's impeachment in 2019, and at the same time they're using the opportunity to raise millions from Trump faithful as a necessary part of maintaining Trump's proto-dictatorship.

Top White House aides, lawmakers, donors and political consultants are privately asking whether President Donald Trump realizes that losing the House next year could put his presidency in peril. 
In more than a dozen interviews, Republicans inside and outside the White House told CNN conversations are ramping up behind the scenes about whether Trump fully grasps that his feuds with members of his own party and shortage of legislative achievements could soon put the fate of his presidency at risk. 
Donors who trekked to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in support of House Speaker Paul Ryan were treated to a slide show late this summer to fundraise off those very fears, according to multiple attendees. Among the slides: An overview of the Democrats who would be tapped to lead key committees if the GOP loses control, including Rep. Elijah Cummings as the head of the House Oversight Committee. 
To some attendees, the subtext was clear. If Republicans forfeit the House, Democrats will almost certainly create a spectacle that will derail conservatives' agenda and the remainder of Trump's first term -- a spectacle complete with a raft of new subpoenas, a spotlight on the Russia investigation and, many are convinced, impeachment proceedings. 
"When Democrats take control of the House they will absolutely move for articles of impeachment," one Trump confidant predicted. 
Alex Conant, a partner at GOP public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies, said Trump should focus on protecting his own party. 
"The number one thing Trump should be doing to save his presidency is helping congressional Republicans maintain their majorities," Conant said. "Instead he's allowing his allies like Steve Bannon to really undermine Republican reelection campaigns. It's just reckless and politically naive considering how devastating it would be to his presidency."

Of course all this is being coordinated by Steve Bannon and the White House.  The entire point is since that fear of liberals moving against Christian white America put Trump and the GOP in office in the first place, maintaining that level of hair-on-fire fear is vital to keeping the money flowing and keeping the GOP in power.

Which means Bannon and company think GOP voters are suckers who will soon be parted with their money.  Surprise!

Of course, the plan works too.  Playing the panic card worked in 2016, after all.

Breaking The NFL Salary Kaep(ernick)

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been blackballed from the league ever since he started taking a knee during the national anthem last year as a protest against policy brutality against black and brown folks.  Despite leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl five years ago, the team let him go at the end of the 2016 season and he hasn't been able to even get a workout with any team since.  But now Kaepernick is going to the courts, suing the NFL's team owners for collusion against hiring him in what could be a landmark sports labor case.

The move marks another escalation in the ongoing controversy over sports players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. The protest movement that began with Kaepernick and a handful of other NFL players in 2016 was suddenly propelled this year after repeated criticisms from President Donald Trump.

The president's attacks, including his call for the NFL to fire players who refused to stand during the anthem, prompted displays of solidarity across the league, with many players, coaches and owners linking arms or kneeled during the anthem.

Still, Kaepernick remains unemployed. The grievance, filed Sunday night, alleges that NFL owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”

In a statement Sunday, his attorney, Mark Geragos said the complaint was filed "only after pursuing every possible avenue with all NFL teams and their executives."

"If the NFL (as well as all professional sports leagues) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful political protests — which the owners themselves made great theater imitating weeks ago — should not be punished and athletes should not be denied employment based on partisan political provocation by the Executive Branch of our government," Geragos continued. "Such a precedent threatens all patriotic Americans and harkens back to our darkest days as a nation. Protecting all athletes from such collusive conduct is what compelled Mr. Kaepernick to file his grievance."

The NFL has not yet commented on the complaint, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated previously that Kaepernick is not being blackballed.

I hope Kaep gets a nine-digit payout out of this, and then donates most of the money to fighting police brutality.  The NFL is going to find out that the legal discovery process is a hell of a thing, and if you think fans are upset now, wait until the inevitable evidence of collusion comes out in a court of law.

Pull up a chair.  This ought to be a good show.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Last Call For The Specter Of War

NY Times columnist Nick Kristof has returned from a five-day stay in North Korea and is convinced more than ever that the Trump regime is headed for a devastating military conflict with Pyongyang.

North Korea is the most rigidly controlled country in the world, with no open dissent, no religion and no civil society, and there is zero chance that anyone will express dissatisfaction with the government

Still, the conversations were illuminating. Ordinary North Koreans were unfamiliar with the name of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died days after being returned to the United States in a vegetative state after his detention in Pyongyang for stealing a poster. But they knew all about President Trump’s threats to destroy their country. That’s because the government wants them to know about Trump’s threats, because they bolster Kim’s nationalist narrative that he protects Korea from imperialist American aggressors.

Being on the ground in a country lets you see things and absorb their power: the speaker on the walls of homes to feed propaganda; the pins that every adult wears with portraits of members of the Kim family; the daily power outages, but also signs that the economy is growing despite international sanctions; the Confucian emphasis on dignity that makes officials particularly resent Trump’s personal attacks on Kim; the hardening of attitudes since my last visit, in 2005; and the bizarre confidence that North Korea can not only survive a nuclear war with the U.S. but also emerge as victor.

At one factory, we came upon workers doing their “political study.” North Koreans explained that they have political study for two hours a day, plus most of the day on Saturday, so I asked what they focused on these days. “We must fight against the Americans!” one woman answered earnestly. And then the North Koreans in the room dissolved into laughter, perhaps because of the oddness of saying this to Americans.

A visit humanizes North Koreans, who outside the country sometimes come across as robots. In person, you are reminded that they laugh, flirt, worry, love and yearn to impress.

A military officer greeted me with a bone-crushing handshake, and I asked if that was meant to intimidate and convey to the Yankee imperialists that North Koreans are muscular supermen. He laughed in embarrassment, and when we ended the interview, he was much gentler.

I left North Korea fearing that we are far too complacent about the risk of a cataclysmic war that could kill millions. And that’s why reporting from within North Korea is crucial: There simply is no substitute for being in a place. It’s a lesson we should have learned from the run-up to the Iraq war, when the reporting was too often from the Washington echo chamber rather than the field. When the stakes are millions of lives and official communications channels are nonexistent, then journalism can sometimes serve as a bridge — and as a warning.
Yes, we must carefully weigh the risks — physical risks and the danger of being used by propagandists — and work to mitigate them.

But I have a sinking feeling in my gut, just as I had on the eve of the Iraq war, that our president may be careening blindly toward war. In that case, the job of journalists is to go out and report, however imperfectly, and try to ring alarm bells in the night.

I wouldn't exactly call Kristof's column from January 2003 he links in he last paragraph there an objection to the Iraq War, rather more of a grim resignation of the reality of the mess he admits the Bush administration could (and did) cause.  But he does appears to have a much clearer objection to the North Korean drumbeat as there is no good military solution at this point, and no scenario involving US forces that doesn't lead to millions dead in South Korea.

And yet that seems to be where we are headed at this point.  Every diplomatic overture is crushed by Donald Trump's rapacious ego, China isn't doing very much to stop Pyongyang, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is openly telling people that diplomacy will continue "until the first bombs drop".

I'm hoping that the bluster will pass as Trump becomes embroiled in the fallout from the Mueller investigation and soon, but that too raises the possibility that he could order strikes to stay in power. At this point nothing would shock me anymore.

The Far Right Still Simmers In Europe

Despite the decisive defeat in May of Marine Le Pen in France to President Emanuel Macron, reactionary Trumpian racist nationalism is rising across the pond and while it may not be winning outright yet in Europe in 2017, those forces continue to make substantial political gains. German elections last month left Angela Merkel in power but also greatly weakened and with the unabashedly neo-Nazi AfD party with 94 of 709 seats in Germany's Bundestag as the third-largest party in the country.  This weekend we're seeing a similar story play out in Austria as the Nazi apologists in the Freedom Party got nearly 26% of the vote.

Austria’s far-right Freedom party has scored its best result in a national election for almost two decades and could join the country’s next government, in a significant boost for Europe’s nationalist and anti-establishment movements.

Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old leader of the mainstream conservative People’s party, looked set to become Austrian chancellor — and the EU’s youngest leader — after narrowly topping Sunday’s poll, with 31.5 per cent according to projections based on early results.

But the projections showed 25.9 per cent of the vote went to the Freedom party, which has earned international notoriety for its xenophobia and airbrushing of Austria’s Nazi past. If borne out by final results, that would be its strongest performance since the 26.9 per cent it won in 1999 when the party was led by the charismatic Jörg Haider.

Its strong showing means the Freedom party could demand a high price to join a coalition led by Mr Kurz. That would almost certainty result a more hardline position from the government in Vienna on many EU topics, including immigration, and the Freedom party occupying top government posts such as the foreign and interior ministries.

However, Mr Kurz could seek another coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats, which gained 27.1 per cent of the vote according to projections, even though that would continue the “grand coalition” government between Austria’s two mainstream parties which disenchanted voters and which Mr Kurz had promised to overhaul.

Austria, which has a population of about 9m, was on the route of refugees fleeing wars in countries such as Syria, and received 130,000 asylum applications in 2015 and 2016.

Kurz's win is a reprieve so far but he may have no choice but to form a coalition with the Freedom Party.  Austria's president, Alexander Van der Bellen, barely beat out the Freedom Party's Norbert Hofer in last year's presidential race, so once again Austria dodges a bullet.

How long that will remain true, I can't tell you.

Sunday Long Read: The Women Of Generation Wrecks

Generation X, now in their 40's, remain the least financially stable and most downwardly mobile generation compared to their parents in American history by most standards: wealth compared to our parents, percentage of home ownership, retirement nest egg size (which for an increasing number of us is zero), and burden of student loans which we're still paying off.  It's bad enough for me, but in every case the women of Gen X are faring far worse than their Boomer mothers, and the collective mid-life crisis of women who grew up during the 80's is now an economic landmine in the heart of the American economy.

Is it any wonder that women our age possess a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money? It's not an idle worry. By some estimates, we carry more debt than any other age group (about $37,000 more than the national consumer debt average). We're some of the best-educated women in history, and yet we're downwardly mobile; about two-thirds of us have less wealth than our parents did at the same age.

This isn't because we spent too much on Pearl Jam CDs. The cost of a home has increased by more than 80 percent from 1970 to 2000, the last year for which data is available. (Between 2000 and 2005 and since 2013, home prices have outpaced salary growth.) In the late '70s annual tuition for a four-year college was less than $11,000 in today's dollars, now it's three times that. Which helps explain why 40-somethings haven't saved nearly enough for retirement. More than half of unmarried Gen Xers have less than $50,000 saved. When a woman takes time off to care for a sick relative—and it is usually the woman who takes time off—the potential cost in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits averages $324,000 over her lifetime. Women not only earn less than men but also invest less—and then they live longer. That, writes investment expert Sallie Krawcheck, is "the gender gap that's really hurting us." Meanwhile, the safety net is vanishing; in 2040, the Social Security trust fund is due to run out—right as many of us hit retirement age.

"I call my midlife crisis Betty," says a 43-year-old filmmaker in Brooklyn, New York. "Betty is on me about being single and broke. Not having money reaches deep into you, and it creates a vicious and pernicious situation." In their 40s, our parents' generation could expect to own a house and to have money saved. In our 40s, we are often still scrambling like we did at age 25, and not just in creative fields, like filmmaking. Fifty-six percent of women still live paycheck to paycheck, and, according to a 2014 study on women and their money by Prudential, Gen X women are less confident in their ability to achieve their most important financial goals than either millennials or boomers.

Even women with cash in the bank—I had to work to find some—sound concerned. "I have a million dollars in my retirement account," says a 49-year-old New York City–based biotech executive, "and I'm still worried. Our kids are going to have to take out loans for school. Then, there are the retirement calculators on the internet. All of the information is: 'Lady, you better save money because no one else will take charge of your financial future!' I was incredibly frugal my whole life. I've been working my ass off. Since I was 10 years old, babysitting. And still I am stressed out about money."

Stress about money, of course, goes hand in hand with stress about work. If you've never lost a job or had to prove yourself in an industry that's changed massively in the few years you were away (and if this is you, I'm so happy for you!), then you might not realize how holding on in today's workforce, or trying to ascend, can feel like a feat of endurance. A 2011 report by the Center for Work-Life Policy (now the Center for Talent Innovation), which described Gen X as the “wrong place, wrong time” generation, noted that “thwarted by boomers who can't afford to retire and threatened by the prospect of leap-frogging millennials…49 percent of Gen Xers feel stalled in their careers.”Although the wage gap is now 82 cents on the dollar (as of the last annual Bureau of Labor Statistics report) and far more women these days are out-earning their husbands (29 percent of the time when both have jobs), women are still underrepresented among top earners. A report by PayScale that compared 1.4 million salary profiles found that in 2016 "men are 85 percent more likely than women to be VPs or C-Suite execs by mid-career." That's now, when many Gen X women are mid-career. New data from the BLS shows that women's median weekly earnings are highest for women 35-44 and slightly less for women 45-54. Men's earnings, not surprisingly, are higher than women's in all age groups, including these Gen X–heavy cohorts, but it's notable that earnings for men 45-54 are higher than men 35-44—there's no plateau for them.

One bright light that's often noted in our post–Great Recession world, where many industries are convulsing, is that jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are growing. But women hold only 25 percent of STEM jobs. The result is that unlike the job-hopping millennials, many women our age feel lucky to have steady work, even if it's not their dream job. But if there were a recipe for a midlife crisis, it could be showing up day after day for a job that's slowly corroding your soul.

"Sometimes, I have these moments of clarity, usually during lengthy conference calls," says Lori, 41, a contracts analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina. "This voice in my head suddenly starts shouting: What are you doing? This is pointless and boring! Why aren't you out there doing something you love? Name one thing you love! Cheese? Okay, great. Let's get some goats and start making cheese, and we can sell it from a truck. We'll call it something clever. And then, I spend the rest of the conference call thinking up names for my imaginary cheese truck: Hmm, some pun on a wheel? Fromage on a Wheel?"

So why doesn't she become the Fromage on a Wheel lady?

"I have friends who have told me over the years, 'Just quit your job and be a baker or be a cheesemaker,'" she says. "I've never had that option. Especially now, we have a child. You want to provide security and safety and health insurance. Those things overrule your own personal preferences. What if something really bad happens? Or if we lose a job?" She shudders.

For a lot of Gen X men, there's nothing to fall back on.  For Gen X women, it's only worse across the board.  They were expected by now to have it all: a successful career, a family, a home, and everything that goes with it.  Instead they got squeezed out by the Boomers and the Millennials and ended up in limbo.  And now we're headed for the Age of Austerity.

And as it always has been in America, it's harder for women on top of everything else.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Last Call For The Two-Front War

Both Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka have been booted from the White House, but it doesn't mean they are gone from the Trump regime at all.  In fact they both are vowing to take on the two-thirds plus of Americans who disapprove of Trump and destroy them by any means necessary.  Bannon will take on Republicans and conservatives who don't swear allegiance to Dear Leader...

Steve Bannon taunted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday and vowed to challenge any Senate Republican who doesn’t publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump.

“Yeah, Mitch, the donors are not happy. They’ve all left you. We’ve cut your oxygen off,” Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, said during a speech to religious conservatives at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.

Referencing Shakespeare, Bannon compared McConnell to Julius Caesar, adding that lawmakers are wondering who will emerge as Brutus, the character who reluctantly joins in on the assassination of Caesar for the benefit of Rome.

Bannon, now the executive chairman of Breitbart News, bashed Senate Republicans by name for not publicly distancing themselves from Sen. Bob Corker’s criticism of Trump, reserving particular animus for Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Deb Fischer (Neb.).

Nobody can run and hide on this one,” he said. “These folks are coming for you. The days of taking a few nice conservative votes and hiding are over.”

 ...while Gorka is vowing to destroy anyone to the left of Trump.

During his speech to the Values Voter Summit today, Sebastian Gorkasaid liberals who were celebrating him leaving the White House should be more worried now.

Gorka spoke before Steve Bannon did and told the crowd not to be so troubled by the fact that the two of them left the White House.

“This is much larger than the White House,” he said. “This is a national movement to retake our country.”

He noted how liberals celebrated when both he and Bannon left, but after once again invoking Star Wars, he said this:

The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens, as people unfettered by being part of the U.S. government.”

Those who oppose Trump must be exterminated, you see.

And that above sentence may not be figurative for much longer.

The Blue Wave Builds For 2018

Once again Cook Political Report is checking on 2018 House races, and in the dozen districts that warranted a shift in fortunes in the last month, all 12 have seen moves to the Democratic side.

President Trump and GOP control of Congress have sparked a 2018 Democratic candidate bonanza. Don't call it "recruitment:" for the most part, these aspirants decided to take the plunge on their own. Many are political newcomers; others have waited years for the right moment to run. And in light of national polling, it was only a matter of time before more GOP-held House seats joined the ranks of the vulnerable.

Over the past week, the Cook Political Report has met with dozens of Democratic candidates sporting impressive resumes, ranging from military veterans and former Obama administration officials to prosecutors and scientists. Much like the GOP's crop of candidates in 2010, only a handful were current or former elected officials. However, some campaigns have progressed more quickly than others and not all opportunities are created equal.

For example, Democrats are rightfully excited about former federal prosecutor Jay Hulings, 42, who has taken on drug cartels and public corruption in South Texas. He possesses the national security credentials to go toe to toe with GOP Rep. Will Hurd (TX-23), a former undercover CIA agent, and it doesn't hurt that he's politically close to the Castro brothers and married to a former Miss San Antonio. But he must also overcome a competitive primary and typically low Latino turnout in midterms.

The races to watch right now are:

Arizona's 2nd, which is now a true toss-up after GOP Rep. Martha McSally sided with Trump in taking health coverage away from thousands of Arizona voters and could face a substantial challenge from Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick

California's 48th, where Putin's favorite congressman GOP Rep. Dana Rorabacher is now in the fight of his life against Democrat Hans Kierstead, who has a big war chest after selling his cancer research biotech company in order to enter public service.

California's 50th, where Duncan D. Hunter inherited his seat from his father only to face a DoJ investigation for campaign finance spending on private school for his kids and airline trips that included the family's pet rabbit, he'll face former NAVY Seal Josh Butner running on the Democratic side.

Iowa's 1st, where GOP Rep. Rod Blum now faces a strong challenge in what's now a toss-up race against state Democratic Rep. and rising star Abby Finkenauer.

Kansas's 2nd, where GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins was one of the first retirements after Trump won, all but announcing her disgust with the party and the fact she's leaving public service.  Republicans have a mess on their hands as to who will replace her, but Democrats have made it a toss-up with the arrival of Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis as the top challenger for the open seat.

Hopefully more will join the ranks of these seats the Dems can flip over the next year or so.

A Bit Left Of The Moon

New Republic's Sarah Jaffe argues that post-2016 liberals winning at the state and local level in 2017 aren't winning because of Bernie, they're winning because they're liberals in a world where Trump makes both an easy and immoral contrast as he is the modern GOP.

One of the few bright spots of the Trump era thus far has been a new wave of electoral wins for candidates with decidedly left-of-center views. The victories have come in municipal and state-legislative races—most notably in places like Alabama, Mississippi, and Long Island, where the left isn’t “supposed” to have a chance to win anything. In some cases, like last week’s mayoral victory of Randall Woodfin in Birmingham, left-wing Democrats are unseating centrist, Chamber-of-Commerce-style Democrats. In others, longtime left-wing activists are successfully challenging Republicans in places where centrist Democrats have long failed.

These breakthroughs are bringing fresh ideas and new faces into the foundational layers of the political system, where conservatives have been ascendant for years. But the national media, which actively misunderstands both the South and the rest of “red” America, has decided to cover these stories only as triumphs of the “Bernie Sanders left,” as though all politics were not (in the famous phrase) “local” anymore; instead, national reporters and pundits increasingly, misleadingly, see all local politics as national.

“Bernie Wins Birmingham” is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his 2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who’s promised, “I’ll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet.” Activists in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them—left-wing activists who’ve toiled for years in the trenches, working with a new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups, who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.

Of course, it’s a great thing that groups like Our Revolution, which sprung out of Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, are bringing money, volunteers, and national attention to candidates like Woodfin. But the top-down narrative misses a lot about what is happening on the ground around the country. For starters, it misses the movements that shifted politics to the point where someone like Sanders could run for president and win state after state in the first place. More important, it misses the specifics—the ideas, the tactics, the challenges to existing political hegemonies—that have made these campaigns successful. And telling the story wrong lessens the chances that these unlikely wins can be replicated elsewhere.

In other words, it's amazing what liberal Democrats can do in the Trump era without the baggage that the Village media has dumped on the backs of Hillary Clinton, but it doesn't mean that Bernie Sanders should get the credit, either.

I've said for years that the Democrats needed a better political candidate farm team at the state and local level, especially in Trump states that Obama has success in like Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida, and we're finally seeing it get rolling.  The fact that we're seeing it in Alabama and New Mexico too is all the more impressive.  It's coming from the bottom and moving up, not the top down.

But our idiot media wants to frame it in terms of Hillary vs. Bernie, and I'm sick of it.  I reject it in the era of Trump and rejected it before the era of Trump too.

Sadly, many in the country did not, which is why we have Trump today.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

If there's something you can count on in 2017, it's a story about Trump campaign wrongdoing being far worse than originally believed as additional information comes out to prove them to be liars again and again.  This time it's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose financial ties to Russian mobster Oleg Deripaska are far more extensive than reported earlier this year.

Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, has much stronger financial ties to a Russian oligarch than have been previously reported.

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.

Manafort was forced to resign from the Trump campaign in August 2016, following allegations of improper financial dealings, charges he has strenuously denied. He is now a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Investigators have said they are looking into Manafort's financial ties to prominent figures in Russia.

According to company documents obtained by NBC News in Cyprus, funds were sent from a company owned by Deripaska to entities linked to Manafort, registered in Cyprus.

Manafort's in a lot of trouble.  The only question is how much he can offer Mueller, because if he doesn't turn evidence, he's going down for stuff like this:

The NBC News investigation shows that $26 million was transferred from Oguster Management Ltd. — which is wholly owned by Deripaska, according to a disclosure filed at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange — to Yiakora Ventures Ltd. Yiakora, according to Cyprus financial documents, is a "related party" to Manafort's many interests on the island, a financial term meaning that Manafort's interests have significant influence over Yiakora.

The investigation also confirms a smaller loan of just $7 million from Oguster to another Manafort-linked company, LOAV Advisers Ltd., a figure first reported by The New York Times. Company documents reviewed by NBC News reveal the entire amount was unsecured, not backed by any collateral.

The $7 million loan to LOAV had no specified repayment date, while the $26 million loan to Yiakora was repayable on demand. It’s not known if either sum has ever been repaid.

Lawyers specializing in money laundering said the loans appeared unusual and merited further investigation.

“Money launderers frequently will disguise payments as loans,” said Stefan Cassella, a former federal prosecutor. “You can call it a loan, you can call it Mary Jane. If there's no intent to repay it, then it's not really a loan. It's just a payment.”

Manafort was in for $33 million to one of Putin's favorite mobster pals.  That's a hell of a lot of leverage, which became exponential once Manafort joined Team Trump.  And Now Trump is president.

But Manafort is far from the only person to turn evidence on Trump.  Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is definitely talking to Mueller about what he knows.

Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff to President Trump, was interviewed for a full day Friday by members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s team, Priebus’s lawyer said.

In a statement, William Burck said his client was interviewed voluntarily.

“He was happy to answer all of their questions,” Burck said.

The interview, which took place at the special counsel’s office in Washington, is a sign that Mueller’s investigation is now reaching into the highest levels of Trump’s aides and former aides.

Priebus served as chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2016 election campaign before joining the White House when Trump was inaugurated. He resigned as chief of staff in July after Trump had stewed for months about his handling of the White House’s legislative agenda in the president’s first months in office. He was replaced by John F. Kelly.

Mueller’s team has also indicated an interest in interviewing a series of other current and former White House aides, including White House counsel Don McGahn and director of communications Hope Hicks.

A full day's interview?  That alone should have Trump in panic mode and the theory I've seen is that the vindictive and punishing behavior we've seen where Trump is deliberately lashihng out to hurt the American people is something an abuser does when he knows he's in trouble.

Doesn't take a genius to see what happened.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Last Call For The Pentagon And Puerto Rico

We've reached the point of the Trump regime where we don't honestly know if leaks proving their complete incompetence are done as a cry of help by captive executive branch employees or if they are just completely incompetent.  Considering the DoD is involved, it's a coin flip as Bloomberg's Chris Flavelle was emailed the Pentagon's spin cycle talking points strategy on cleaning up Trump's mess in Puerto Rico.

Sept. 28: Eight days after Maria hit, coverage of the federal government’s response is getting more negative
The Government Message: Pentagon officials tell staff to emphasize “coverage of life-saving/life-sustaining operations” and for spokespeople to avoid language about awaiting instructions from FEMA, “as that goes against the teamwork top-line message.”

Sept. 29: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticizes Washington’s spin, calling Puerto Rico a “people-are-dying story.” 
The Government Message: FEMA talking points ignore Cruz, instructing its officials to say that “the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.” 
Sept. 30: Trump attacks the mayor’s “poor leadership ability.” The Pentagon worries that Trump’s “dialogue” with Cruz is becoming the story, with “many criticizing his lack of empathy.” 
The Government Message: FEMA stresses its success in reaching “all municipalities in Puerto Rico.” 
Oct. 1: Trump calls critics of the response “politically motivated ingrates.” 
The Government Message: Defense staff admit that “the perception of USG response continues to be negative.” Spokespeople are told to say, “I am very proud of our DOD forces,” before conceding “there are some challenges to work through.” 
Oct. 2: The massacre in Las Vegas dominates the headlines. 
The Government Message: The shooting “has drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response,” FEMA says. Still, the roundup seems to have lost some of its previous optimism. It concludes, simply: “Negative tonality.”

The Trump regime was goddamn relived that 58 people were killed in Las Vegas because it took the spotlight off the millions suffering in Puerto Rico.   Ghoulish doesn't begin to describe it.  Meanwhile 3 weeks after the second hurricane to hit the island this fall, millions still lack power and drinking water.

Meanwhile, Trump regime state media is trying to portray Puerto Rico government officials as corrupt crooks keeping relief supplies for themselves rather than it being, you know, Trump's fault.

This is where we are in 2017.

The Retail That Wags The Dog

Everything old is new again as big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target moved into rural America in the 90's and wiped out general store chains like Woolworth's.  Now internet giants like Amazon are putting the squeeze on the big box stores, and that's leaving room for the new, old future of retail: the rise of Dollar General and Dollar Tree as the new American Corner Store.

On a Friday in April, Bob Tharp, the mayor of Decatur, Ark., takes me to see what used to be the commercial heart of his town. There isn’t much to look at beyond the husk of a Walmart Express: 12,000 square feet of cinder block painted in different shades of brown. The glass doors are locked, as they’ve been for 14 months. “For so many people in this town, to have to see this empty building every day, they couldn’t drive by without getting tears in their eyes,” Tharp recalls. The store had opened on a frigid morning in January 2015, just days into his mayorship. “Pinch yourself and it is true,” he’d posted on Facebook the night before. For the first time in a decade, the 1,788 residents could buy groceries in town. But the reprieve was short. The following January, word came from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s corporate headquarters, 18 miles to the east in Bentonville, that within the month the store would be closed. 
“You rascals!” Tharp remembers telling the executive who called to deliver the news. “You come to these small towns, and you build these stores, and you cause all the mom and pops to close down, and now you’re the only ones left standing, and you want to go home? Why would you do that to our community?” 
The Walmart Express had been a pilot store, the smallest ever for the world’s largest retailer, designed to test whether a national brand with major supply-chain advantages could wrest a profit from towns long considered too sparsely populated. The answer, it seemed, was no: The company closed more than 100 stores across Arkansas and other southeastern states that day.

Tharp did what he could to turn things around, putting out calls to urge a grocer, or any retailer, to move into the vacant building. He found no takers for a year, until at last, Dollar General Corp., which had operated a smaller store on the outskirts of Decatur’s downtown since 2001, agreed to relocate to Main Street—and start offering fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables.

The Decatur store is one of 1,000 Dollar Generals opening this year as part of the $22 billion chain’s plan to expand rapidly in poor, rural communities where it has come to represent not decline but economic resurgence, or at least survival. The company’s aggressively plain yellow-and-black logo is becoming the small-town corollary to Starbucks Corp.’s two-tailed green mermaid. (Although you can spot her on canned iced coffee at Dollar General, too.) Already, there are 14,000 one-story cinder block Dollar Generals in the U.S.—outnumbering by a few hundred the coffee chain’s domestic footprint. Fold in the second-biggest dollar chain, Dollar Tree, and the number of stores, 27,465, exceeds the 22,375 outlets of CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens combined. And the little-box player is fully expecting to turn profits where even narrow-margin colossus Walmart failed.

There are a lot of players in this market: Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and they're getting competition from German efficiency in Aldi Foods and newcomer Lidl.  The Saturday half-day trip to the giant Wallyworld, Costco, or Target to get everything all in one place doesn't work for flyover country where Amazon won't deliver,  and "small box" chains are aggressively moving in.  After all, the Mom and Pop stores are already long gone.

And I've talked about Dollar General before: the other main issue is price.  Wal-Mart and Costco may be the champions of selling you that 55 gallon drum of mayo, but for convenience store location without the huge price hikes, you can't beat the model.  And yes, there's still a Dollar General within walking distance of the new apartment building I moved to a couple years back, just like there was when I wrote that post seven years ago at the old apartment.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The Dollar General Recession never really left rural America, and neither has DG. The Wal-Mart model isn't the only game in town anymore.

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