Friday, March 31, 2017

NC Goes Straight Down The Crapper, Con't

North Carolina Republicans, faced with billions of dollars in boycotts over the state's awful, bigoted "bathroom bill", have cracked...sort of.  They have repealed the law in exchange for a moratorium on anti-discrimination ordinances by cities and counties until 2022.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed the measure into law a few hours after the General Assembly approved it, coming up against a Thursday deadline that threatened to bar the state from hosting championship sports events through 2022.

The result is a compromise as controversial as HB2 itself, dividing politicians and advocates over whether they can support it or not. The final version of the bill wasn’t completed until late Wednesday, following days of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations over dozens of proposals.

“In a perfect world, with a good General Assembly, we would have repealed House Bill 2 fully today and added full statewide protections for LGBT North Carolinians,” Cooper said at a news conference. “Unfortunately our supermajority Republican legislature will not pass these protections. But this is an important goal that I will keep fighting for.”

The Democratic governor negotiated the compromise with the Republican leaders of the legislature, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger.

“It was a very measured approach,” Moore told reporters after the legislation was passed. “I think this bill, as written, is also something that is very defensible in court. I think it’s something the public supports. No one is 100 percent happy, but I would say I’m 95 percent happy.”

Whether the repeal and other provisions in the new law will be sufficient to put the state back in contention to host NCAA sports championships remains to be seen. Moore told reporters after the session that business leaders who have been intermediaries in recent negotiations have told him this version of the bill would satisfy NCAA concerns.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the NCAA’s “Board of Governors will determine whether this is a sufficient change in the law to return.”

“Over the next several days I hope we’ll have something to announce,” Emmert said Thursday at a news conference. “I’m personally very pleased we have a bill to debate and discuss.”

Emmert acknowledged the NCAA’s four specific objections to HB2 were not entirely addressed: “They repealed some of those areas but not all of them. The question the board is debating will be is repealing two or three enough?”

Read more here:

Faced with a GOP super-majority in both the state House and Senate, Cooper really didn't have much of a choice.  The bill removes the state's bigotry, but also stops new local protections for LGBTQ folks in NC for another nearly 5 years, meaning it's still 100% legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or to deny them goods and services in the state over sexual orientation.  In other words, the state is back to where it was before HB2 was passed, and that wasn't exactly a good place from an equality standpoint either.

My home state still has a long, long way to go, but it at least gets rid of the codified bigotry.  But it goes back to bigotry by neglect as the default.  This is about more than bathrooms, in the state that 50 years ago proved it was more about lunch counters.

Do better, people of NC.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

As an adviser to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and later one of Mr. Trump’s top aides in the White House, Mr. Flynn was privy to some of the most sensitive foreign-policy deliberations of the new administration and was directly involved in discussions about the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration.

He has made the offer to the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees through his lawyer but has so far found no takers, the officials said.

Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment.

It wasn’t clear if Mr. Flynn had offered to talk about specific aspects of his time working for Mr. Trump, but the fact that he was seeking immunity suggested Mr. Flynn feels he may be in legal jeopardy following his brief stint as the national security adviser, one official said.

Now, Flynn was let go for a reason, he's dirty as hell.  Flynn knows how this game works, and if he doesn't have anything substantial, immunity is a hell of a price for the FBI to pay considering what we know about Flynn already is enough to put him away for a very long time.  On the other hand, if he's willing to turn evidence against Trump, as National Security Adviser, he'd know where the bodies are buried (and that may not entirely be a figure of speech in this case.)

Please note the FBI has yet to take Flynn up on his offer.  I'd be extremely wary too.  Option one: It could be that the Feds already know what Flynn has to offer, in which case Mr. Flynn is going to crash and burn.  Option two: It also could be Flynn is offering more than he really knows, and the FBI doesn't want to give up the immunity card this early in the proceedings.

The third option is that Trump was never the target, but Flynn was.  Now, maybe with Flynn they can open an investigation into Trump directly, but we don't know.  All we know is Flynn wants immunity for the info he has.  Flynn at least thinks there's a bigger target on the list at this point, or he's trying to invent one to save his ass.

We'll find out sooner rather than later at this point.

High Nunes, Con't

So the NY Times did some digging and identified GOP Rep. Devin Nunes's White House sources, meaning at this point we now have a direct link between the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the regime he's supposed to be investigating.

A pair of White House officials played a role in providing Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

The revelation that White House officials assisted in the disclosure of the intelligence reports — which Mr. Nunes then discussed with President Trump — is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election.

Mr. Nunes has also been faulted by his congressional colleagues for sharing the information with President Trump before consulting with other members of the intelligence committee.

The congressman has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe coming to the committee with sensitive information. He first disclosed the existence of the intelligence reports on March 22, and in his public comments he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.

Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

Nunes took intelligence information from the White House and leaked it in order to blow a hole in the investigation.  What he forgot was that he was in over his head from minute one on this, and when he tried to backtrack, realizing how screwed he was, he just made it worse.

His final effort was to refuse to identify his sources, as if journalists smelling blood would simply drop the story in the name of solidarity with having to deal with confidential information.

No such luck, as the Times burned him and his sources this afternoon. 

Mr. Cohen-Watnick is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser. The officials said that earlier this month, shortly after Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter about being wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.

Officials said the reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence, and to avoid angering Mr. Cohen-Watnick and Mr. Ellis. Officials say that Mr. Cohen-Watnick has been reviewing the reports from his fourth-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the National Security Counsel is based.

Trump's wiretap paranoia became a "will anyone rid me of this troublesome Obama" moment, and it looks like Cohen-Watnick stepped up.  He blabbed to Nunes, who being a Trump campaign surrogate, was trustworthy.

And then Nunes told the world, expecting that his "revelations" would sink the previous president and prove Trump was somehow being stalked.  Only, well, Nunes isn't that bright.  He got info from the White order to brief the White House.

Which means Nunes was given the information in order to provide cover for Trump, period. He then lied about it, badly.  He's now been completely busted for it, because if there's one thing Washington DC cannot abide, it's a terrible liar in a position of power.

Now, the real fun begins. The bigger story remains that Trump and his campaign were picked up by FISA surveillance because they were talking to suspected foreign agents that the NSA wanted to keep an eye on, both before and after the election.

That part hasn't changed.  But we now know to what ridiculous lengths Trump will go in order to try to stonewall us from finding out why they had these conversations, and what was said.  Nunes figured this double back was going to clear Trump.

Instead it's ended up burying Nunes at the very least.

Perception As Reality In The Trump Era

The Trump regime is staggering across America like Polyphemus, the mythical cyclops blinded by Odysseus, but as damaged as the beast is, it's still quite able to harm anything in its path.  Unfortunately that includes both friend and foe as House Republicans found out last week as Trump continues to lash out at anything in reach.  For now, the White House is attempting to contain the carnage and counter the narrative by deploying loyalists to Super PAC groups that support the regime in order to turn perception into reality.

President Donald Trump is undergoing his first staff shake-up less than three months into his term, sending deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh to bolster the flagging outside groups that were meant to support his agenda, according to a Republican source close to the White House.

The move caps a rough stretch for Trump, who has seen his young administration dogged by controversy, his travel ban executive order blocked twice in court, and a health care bill he supported go down in flames.

Walsh, a close ally of chief of staff Reince Priebus, served as chief of staff at the Republican National Committee when Priebus was chairman, and she was one of a number of RNC staffers he brought with him to the White House, including press secretary Sean Spicer.

The move has the blessing of the highest ranks of the White House. “You’ve got to have somebody from the inside who has the blessing of the man himself,” said the source close to the White House.

Reality TV huckster Trump knows that if everyone starts calling him a loser, a loser he will be.  People are starting to fight back against him.  He's coming across as Darth Vader, not the Rebel Alliance he conned America into thinking he was.  Cities and states are starting to turn against him and his policies.

The city of Seattle sued U.S. President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday over its executive order seeking to withhold federal funds from "sanctuary cities," arguing it amounted to unconstitutional federal coercion.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told reporters the Constitution forbade the federal government from pressuring cities, “yet that is exactly what the president’s order does. Once again, this new administration has decided to bully.”

“Things like grants helping us with child sex trafficking are not connected to immigration,” Murray said, adding: "It is time for cities to stand up and ask the courts to put an end to the anxiety in our cities and the chaos in our system."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened on Monday to strip Justice Department grants from cities and other local governments that choose to shield illegal immigrants from deportation efforts.

Trump, who made tougher immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his campaign, directed the government in his Jan. 25 executive order to cut off funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. That order has yet to be put into effect, but Sessions' announcement seemed to be the first step in doing so.

At some point the courts will give the people a victory against Trump large enough that he will have to act by force, as all tyrants eventually do.  When that happens, America will be tested like it hasn't been in 150 years.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Last Call For The Last Clinic In Bevinstan

Kentucky's last abortion clinic in Louisville is now deep into a legal battle to stay open after Gov. Matt Bevin ordered it closed earlier this week due to state TRAP laws passed during the General Assembly session earlier this year.  Should the lawsuit against the state fail, Kentucky would become the first US state with zero abortion access.

Gov. Matt Bevin's administration is seeking to shut down Kentucky's only abortion provider, prompting a federal lawsuit by the clinic to block the move it says would have “a devastating impact on women.”

Bevin’s administration has ordered the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville to stop providing abortions starting Monday, claiming it lacks proper agreements for patient care in the event of a medical emergency.

EMW's lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, calls the order "blatantly unconstitutional" and asks a federal judge to bar the Bevin administration from revoking the EMW clinic's license.

"They've made it clear they won't stop until no woman can get an abortion in Kentucky," said Donald L. Cox, a lawyer for EMW. "It's just an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky."

The state's announcement in a March 13 letter that it is revoking the license makes the EMW clinic the latest enforcement target of the administration of Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican who has called himself an “unapologetically pro-life individual.”

Over the past year, the Bevin administration has blocked abortions at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky's Louisville clinic and at an EMW clinic in Lexington over licensure disputes, leaving EMW’s downtown Louisville clinic as Kentucky’s sole abortion provider.

Officials with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which licenses abortion clinics, has argued its actions are based on patient safety.

But EMW, joined in its lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the clinic already complies with the law and says that if the state succeeds in forcing it to close, “abortion will be effectively banned in the commonwealth.”

This is the first major TRAP law legal test in the Trump era, and once again for those of you playing at home, TRAP stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, swamping clinics with burdensome regulations and laws that make it impossible for clinics to stay open in the name of "patient safety".  So far the courts have stopped red states short of getting rid of their last provider, but that was before the Trump regime assumed control of the Justice Department.

Now there's a very real possibility that nationwide TRAP laws could be passed, even for blue states. As it is, abortion clinics are being closed too in states like California because of economic reasons.

Still, Kentucky's last clinic is, for now, remaining open.  For how long, is anyone's guess.

Dark Money Isn't Funny

Making America Great, a nonprofit run by Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s most influential donors, will begin airing $1 million in television ads on Wednesday, coupled with a $300,000 digital advertising campaign. The TV ads will run in the District of Columbia, along with ten states Trump carried in the presidential election where a Democratic senator is up for re-election in 2018: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Montana and Pennsylvania. The digital campaign also will focus on voters in those states.

“Our group will be a conduit to highlight President Trump’s achievement to the rest of the country,” says Emily Cornell, who is moving from the Mercer-funded data firm Cambridge Analytica to run Making America Great’s day-to-day operations. “We are here to promote successes and hold accountable broken promises -- not just to those who voted for Trump, but to all Americans.”

Trump can use the PR boost. On March 27, Gallup reported his job approval rating fell to a new low of 36 percent, two points lower than his predecessor, Barack Obama, ever reached during his eight-year tenure in the White House.

The president could soon face added difficulties from House Republicans in passing legislation to keep the government running. Current funding runs out later this month. He’ll also have to contend with Democratic opposition to his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Trump donors, including Mercer, were upset that the Trump-backed Republican health care bill did not receive more outside support to counter its critics.

“Over the last couple weeks, we’ve aggressively tried to launch Making America Great,” says David Bossie, the group’s chief strategist. “We have the full support of the White House, and our effort is proud to be stepping up to help President Trump move his agenda forward.”

It's probably the only strategy the GOP has at this point.  Ruining the Democrats' chances to take back the Senate by putting the Dems on permanent defense for 20 months is a tactic that works.  Another midterm with record low turnout, depressed by "but the Dems are just as awful if not worse!" ads for the next year plus is just what the GOP needs to stay in power.

And of course these donors have unlimited funds for "advocacy" like this.  Thanks, Supreme Court!

No Gorsuch Thing As A Free Lunch, Con't

It's becoming readily apparent that enough Democrats will stand together in the Senate to filibuster Trump regime Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch over Merrick Garland's stolen seat and Trump being under investigation.  GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is warning once again that Republicans will deploy the "nuclear option" to remove the ability to filibuster Supreme Court picks if necessary, but unlike the Democrats who need only 41 of 48 votes to sustain a filibuster, the GOP may not have the 50 of their 52 Senate votes required to change the rules.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday left Judge Neil Gorsuch with two roads to the Supreme Court: winning over all of the party’s remaining swing votes, or relying on the so-called nuclear option.

The five Democratic senators up for reelection next year in states where President Donald Trump won by single digits have all endorsed a filibuster of Gorsuch, while the five facing voters next year in states Trump won by double digits all remain undecided. Gorsuch would have to carry all five of those fence-sitters to overcome a Democratic filibuster — plus his home-state Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maine independent Sen. Angus King, and another more surprising senator.

But after liberals raised the pressure on Democrats to oppose Gorsuch and the National Rifle Association targeted four red-state Democrats with $1 million in pro-Gorsuch ads, Trump’s nominee ended the day with his chances at beating a filibuster lower than ever.

“The issue is whether Gorsuch has earned 60 votes, which according to our Republican friends, has always been the standard for a significant decision by the Senate — and at present, I don’t think they’re even close,” liberal Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told Politico. “So I don’t see this as being a make-or-break determination for any of those red-state Democrats.”

On Tuesday alone, nine Democrats came out against the nominee — although one, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, has not clarified his decision on a filibuster. The flurry came as liberal activists dug in their heels further ahead of a series of nationwide protests that the anti-Gorsuch “People’s Defense” coalition has planned for Saturday.

And that leaves the nuclear option on the table...if the GOP can trigger it.

Mitch McConnell told his leadership team in private this week what’s becoming increasingly obvious on Capitol Hill: Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch probably won’t get 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

But the Senate majority leader had an equally pressing message: Republicans should have no compunction about pulling the trigger on the “nuclear option” — with Democrats resisting a high court nominee as well-pedigreed as Gorsuch.

“Feel no guilt,” McConnell said, according to attendees.

McConnell’s attempt to buck up his GOP ranks, relayed by three sources in attendance, underscores the high stakes of the Gorsuch battle as the Senate barrels toward a likely nuclear showdown next week: His confirmation is, to put it mildly, a can’t-lose for Republicans.

That was true after Senate Republicans waged a yearlong blockade of Merrick Garland that positioned the GOP to pick someone else now. But the spectacular collapse of the Obamacare repeal effort last week makes Gorsuch all the more urgent for President Donald Trump and reeling Hill Republicans.

McConnell is so confident that Republicans will win the Gorsuch fight that the Kentucky Republican predicted he’ll be confirmed by a week from Friday.

Do we really think the GOP has its act together enough now to pull this off?  Besides, where will we be next week on Russia?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

The Trump/Russia story is rapidly becoming the Trump/Russia cover-up, and the guy at the heart of the attempt to stonewall on evidence is once again GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, the current House Intelligence Committee chair.  Last week, Nunes abruptly canceled Intel committee hearings scheduled for today that were supposed to include testimony from, among other witnesses, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.  Now we find out the Trump Regime may very well have directed Nunes to cancel those hearings as a last ditch effort to keep Yates from public testimony.

There was supposed to be a public hearing on Tuesday that could have shed important light on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, including whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives.

But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) abruptly cancelled the hearing — which was scheduled to include former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former DNI James Clapper, and former CIA Director John Brennan — late last week. Ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) called it an “attempt to choke off public info.”

Now, thanks to letters between Yates and the Justice Department reviewed by the Washington Post, it appears the Trump administration tried to prevent Yates from testifying about links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The letters, sent earlier this month, said Yates could not testify at a congressional hearing about Trump’s potential association with Russia because the topics “are likely covered by the presidential communications privilege.” Justice Department officials recommended she consult with the White House when deciding what details to disclose to the Intelligence Committee.

The White House called the Post’s story “entirely false” in an unsigned statement.

Yates, while still acting attorney general, played a central role in the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, and his withholding of information from the Trump administration, before Trump asked for his resignation.

The White House is trying to pretend that it didn't take action to stop Yates from testifying about Trump/Russia connections she discovered, in particular involving recently fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.  Nevertheless, the same day that Yates's lawyer wrote back to the White House stating Yates's intent to testify, the hearing was cancelled by Nunes.

Democrats are continuing to blast Nunes and are calling for his resignation as House Intel Committee chair.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes’ announcement last week that officials from the transition team of President Donald Trump had been inadvertently surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community came at the behest of the White House, Rep. Eric Swalwell said Tuesday morning.

Nunes (R-Calif.) confirmed Monday that he had traveled to the White House to meet with his still-unnamed source on the day before he made his announcement but denied that the public disclosure was coordinated in any way with Trump administration officials. The White House, Nunes said in a CNN interview, simply served as a secure location for reviewing classified information and “I’m quite sure that I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.”

But Swalwell (D-Calif.), also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, disputed the chairman’s argument Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s not an internet cafe. You can’t just walk in and receive classified information,” Swalwell said of the White House, adding that when a member of Congress visits, “everyone in the building knows that you’re there in the building.”

This is done because the White House wanted it to be done,” the California Democrat said. “And this is what a cover-up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now.”

If Nunes wanted to view classified materials, Swalwell said, there are secure facilities for doing so at the Capital, making a trip to the White House unnecessary. “If this was done the proper way, they could have brought it over, shared it with both parties of the committee,” he said.

Swalwell also wondered aloud why Nunes has been unwilling to share the source of his information when committee members have “always been on the same team up until now.”

That this looks bad for Nunes is a massive understatement, especially now that later this afternoon, Nunes declared that he would not be sharing his sources with the rest of the committee.

It really won't be too much longer I'd think.

Rolling Coal Rolling Over You

The Trump regime is putting an end to nearly all Obama-era climate measures today, and in the stroke of a pen, the United States becomes the largest single threat to the planet. We should be treated as such by the rest of the world, and for what benefit to the American economy?  Coal jobs are never coming back.

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday to roll back most of President Barack Obama’s climate change legacy, celebrating the move as a way to increase the nation’s “energy independence” and to restore thousands of lost coal mining jobs.

But energy economists say the expected order falls short of both of those goals — in part because the United States already largely relies on domestic sources for the coal and natural gas that fires most of the nation’s power plants.

“We don’t import coal,” said Robert Stavins, an energy economist at Harvard University. “So in terms of the Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever.”

Administration officials said the new order would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to start the legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s climate change policy. Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, said in an interview on ABC News on Sunday that it will help the United States “be both pro-jobs and pro-environment” and described it as the “energy independence executive order.”

Yet, coal miners also should not assume their jobs will return if Trump’s regulations take effect.

The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closings would probably stay open, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming. That would extend the market demand for coal for up to a decade.

But even so, “the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization,” he said. “They’re not hiring people.”

So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs,” he said.

Of course, this administration doesn't give a damn about the environment, and given the massive cuts in regulatory ability to keep food, water, and the air safe under this regime, the damage will almost certainly be irreversible.

I suspect the rest of the world will not stand idly by.

Cause Of Death: Neglect

As the Trump regime has broadly hinted at since last week's epic meltdown of the Trumpcare bill in the House, Greg Sargent notes that Trump could very well let existing Obamacare provisions collapse through simple refusal to enforce them.

Now that the GOP plan to wipe out Obamacare lies in smoking ruins, President Trump is mulling a new and fiendishly clever scheme: allow the law to collapse, or even further undermine it through executive action, and pin the blame for the resulting human toll on Democrats. As it happens, Trump does have the tools to inflict immense damage on the Affordable Care Act and hurt a lot of people in the process.

But once you subject this strategy to a moment’s scrutiny, it becomes obvious that it will not bring about the result Trump wants. Indeed, the thinking here reflects a resolute refusal to appreciate an important reason the repeal effort melted down in the first place.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted: “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE.” This reaffirmed what he’d said on Friday, which is that the law will soon “cease to exist” — that Democrats will own the fallout and will be desperate to deal. As many quickly pointed out, this suggested Trump may go further than merely standing by as the law supposedly implodes, as he had previously contemplated doing, and may seek to actively harm the law. On “Fox News Sunday,” Reince Priebus declined to divulge the strategy.

If Trump wants, he can unleash serious damage by undermining the individual markets in three ways. Insurers currently making decisions will closely scrutinize signs from the administration to gauge those markets’ long-term viability. His administration can weaken the individual mandate through various mechanisms, which would mean fewer younger and healthier people and higher premiums. It can pull back on all forms of outreach designed to get people to enroll on the marketplaces. Or it can stop paying “cost-sharing reductions” to insurance companies, which enable them to reduce out-of-pocket costs for lower-income enrollees, which may encourage insurers to flee the markets

But Sargent says that won't work.

One of the hidden morals of the Great Republican Health Care Crackup of 2017 is that the American people flatly rejected replacing the ACA with something substantially more regressive. The GOP plan would have cut Medicaid spending by $800 billion, leaving 14 million fewer people with Medicaid coverage, while delivering an enormous tax cut to the rich. Americans clearly disapproved of this outcome. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that a majority opposed the GOP plan, but more to the point, 74 percent of voters, including 54 percent of Republicans, opposed cutting Medicaid. The public broadly opposed the GOP plan’s most prominent mechanism for rolling back spending to cover poor people.

The rejection of the GOP plan is an important historical marker in our interminable health-care debate. The American people were presented with the first genuine effort at a GOP consensus ideological alternative to Obamacare — one that would do away with the ACA’s effort to guarantee free or affordable coverage through government spending and regulations — and decided they preferred sticking with the latter. The Quinnipiac poll also found that 51 percent oppose repeal and 61 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the issue. As Jonathan Cohn puts it, the ACA “has shifted the expectations of what government should do ― and of what a decent society looks like.” There are zero indications that Trump and GOP leaders are capable of acknowledging this possibility.

Where we go from here is up to Trump and the GOP still, but we now know that they, not the Democrats, will own the outcome.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Last Call For Where's Devin?

CNN asked GOP Rep. Devin Nunes where he was the night before his now infamous press conference earlier this month where he tried to sink the Russia investigation by Congress into the Trump Regime by leaking all kinds of info.  His reply makes it pretty clear that Nunes is a terrible liar, and that there's no way that Nunes can be in charge of an impartial investigation.

It has been something of a mystery, the whereabouts of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes on the day before his announcement that he saw information suggesting that communications of then-President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers may have been swept up in surveillance of other foreign nationals. 
The California Republican confirmed to CNN in a phone interview Monday he was on the White House grounds that day -- but he said he was not in the White House itself. (Other buildings, including the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, are on the same grounds.) 
Nunes went to the building because he needed a secure area to view the information, he told CNN. He said he didn't believe the President nor any of his West Wing team were aware he was there, and the White House said Monday it learned of Nunes' visit through media reports and directed any questions to the congressman. 
A former government intelligence official told CNN on Monday that members of Congress, like the general public, must be cleared and escorted into facilities on White House grounds. 
"Every non-White House staffer must be cleared in by a current White House staffer," the official said. "So it's just not possible that the White House was unaware or uninvolved." 

Not only did the White House know full well that Devin was there, they are now trying to run screaming from that fact.

Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, refused to rule out Monday whether Nunes' source came from the White House but did say during the daily press briefing that "it doesn't really pass the smell test." 
"I did not sit in on that briefing," Spicer said. "I'm not -- it just doesn't -- so I don't know why he would brief the speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense. So I'm not aware of it, but it doesn't really pass the smell test." 
Nunes said he was there for additional meetings "to confirm what I already knew" but said he wouldn't comment further so as to not "compromise sources and methods." A spokesman for Nunes said he "met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source." 
A government official said Nunes was seen Tuesday night at the National Security Council offices of the Eisenhower building which, other than the White House Situation Room, is the main area on the complex to view classified information in a secure room. 
The official said Nunes arrived and left alone.

So there's something very suspicious going on here.  Nunes isn't telling the truth, and neither is Spicer.  But all I know is that Nunes can't continue to be the guy in charge of the Trump/Russia investigation in the House. 

Trump Regime, Inc.

With White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White Supremacist At-Large Steve Bannon having both failed Trump on repealing Obamacare, it's now time for the Nepotist-in-Chief to have a crack at the brass ring.  Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will now be running his own office in the White House in order to "reform American government" in order to "run it like a business".

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.

“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays,” Trump said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”

In a White House riven at times by disorder and competing factions, the innovation office represents an expansion of Kushner’s already far-reaching influence. The 36-year-old former real estate and media executive will continue to wear many hats, driving foreign and domestic policy as well as decisions on presidential personnel. He also is a shadow diplomat, serving as Trump’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico, Canada and the Middle East.
The work of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has drawn considerable attention, especially after his call for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” But Bannon will have no formal role in the innovation office, which Trump advisers described as an incubator of sleek transformation as opposed to deconstruction.

The announcement of the new office comes at a humbling moment for the president, following Friday’s collapse of his first major legislative push — an overhaul of the health-care system, which Trump had championed as a candidate.

Kushner is positioning the new office as “an offensive team” — an aggressive, nonideological ideas factory capable of attracting top talent from both inside and outside of government, and serving as a conduit with the business, philanthropic and academic communities.

We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

With Bannon and Priebus out on their asses, it's Kushner who will be leading the charge to dismantle the federal civil service.  After all, running the government like a company means big cuts to services, and even bigger cuts to employees.  And Kushner it seems will be Trump's axe man.

Of course, Kushner has his own problems.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will question President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as part of its investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether any collusion occurred between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

“Mr. Kushner has volunteered to be interviewed as part of the committee’s investigation into the Russian activities surrounding the 2016 election," Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the intel committee's chairman and vice chairman, respectively, told the New York Times in a statement.

The questions will center around Kushner's meeting with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in December at Trump Tower with Gen. Michael Flynn, according to the Times. Kushner will also be asked about a previously undisclosed meeting he had in December with the head of Russia's state-owned Vnesheconombank, which was sanctioned by Obama after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

A White House official told Business Insider that Kushner took the meetings as part of his role as "the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials."

"Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials," the official said. "Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr’s Committee, but has not yet received confirmation."

So the guy who ran Trump's Russian businesses is now facing Senate testimony.  Meanwhile, he'll be running the executive branch.

Nice work if you can get it.

Stupidinews, Vacation Edition

I'm on vacation this week, so posting will be a bit light.

I'll put up at least one post a day however.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Last Call For Crime In Cincy

Cincy police are still looking for the suspect in a nightclub shooting early this morning that left one person dead and 15 injured.

Cincinnati police have yet to make arrests in a nightclub shooting early Sunday morning that killed one person and wounded at least 15.

Police said the violence started as a dispute between "local men" who were caught up in an argument.

The victim who died was identified by authorities Sunday as 27-year-old Obryan Spikes. Another victim is in critical condition, police said.

The shooting at around 1:30 a.m. at Cameo Nightclub created an atmosphere of "chaos," said police, who described the 21-and-over nightspot as one frequented primarily by young people.

"The bar was very crowded" at the time, with hundreds of people inside, police said.

“People were going to have a good time and ended up being shot. That is unacceptable,” the city's mayor, John Cranley, said at a press conference Sunday.

Police early on in their investigation ruled out terrorism as being behind the attack, but Cranley said that didn't diminish the tragedy.

"To the victims, what difference does it make?” the mayor said.

It makes a lot of difference actually Cranley, but that's besides the point.  Cincinnati police have a pretty decent post-2001 riots record, or did until Ray Tensing, but Cranley's still very much a blockhead on things like this.

Still, this looks like a beef gone very, very bad, so we'll see if arrests are made this week.

Meanwhile In Moscow...

Major anti-corruption protests in dozens of Russian cities ignited Sunday as opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained along with hundreds of protesters in Moscow.

Prominent Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny was detained during an anti-corruption protest in the heart of Moscow on Sunday, according to tweets by Navalny and his press secretary. 
Navalny downplayed his detention in a series of tweets and encouraged protesters to keep marching. 
"Today we are discussing (and condemning) corruption, not the detentions. Well, I was detained. So what. It ok. There are things in life that are worth being detained for," Navalny tweeted. 
Similar demonstrations were planned in 100 cities across Russia on Sunday, according to organizers. 
Hundreds of arrests were reported at the Moscow protest. Russian human rights group OVD Info tweeted that more than 700 had been detained -- while state-run news agency Ria Novosti said 500 had been held. 
The protest drew a heavy police presence but remained largely peaceful. Riot officers flanked crowds while plainclothes officers moved among the demonstrators. Police told those on the street that the protest is unsanctioned and asked them to move on. 
Navalny praised turnouts for the protests in early-morning tweets. "Far East started fine," he tweeted, referring to a photo of protesters gathering in the city of Vladivostok, located on Russia's far eastern coast. Navalny also shared photos and tweets from various parts of the country. 

The protests have been mostly aimed at Russian PM Dmitri Medvedev rather than Vladimir Putin.  Navalny has accused Medvedev publicly of gaining millions through corruption, and is expected to run against Putin next year, but rounding him up at this point shows you how worried ol' Vlad is right now, what with his Trump gambit coming apart.

Trump is strangely silent on Navalny's arrest, too.

Go figure.

Sunday Long Read: Bama's Bloody Race To The Bottom

For 20 years now auto manufacturing in right-to-work red states in the South has been a growing alternative to the union shops of the Rust Belt.  Good-paying jobs have been drifting south for decades now and the numbers prove it, but these jobs come at ore than just the cost of cheaper labor.  It also comes at the cost of lives.

Regina Elsea was a year old in 1997 when the first vehicle rolled off the Mercedes-Benz assembly line near Tuscaloosa. That gleaming M-Class SUV was historic. Alabama, the nation’s fifth-poorest state, had wagered a quarter-billion dollars in tax breaks and other public giveaways to land the first major Mercedes factory outside Germany. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai followed with Alabama plants of their own. Kia built a factory just over the border in West Point, Ga. The auto parts makers came next. By the time Elsea and her five siblings were teenagers, the country roads and old cotton fields around their home had come alive with 18-wheelers shuttling instruments and stamped metal among the car plants and 160 parts suppliers that had sprouted up across the state.

A good student, Elsea loved reading, horses, and dogs, especially her Florida cracker cur, named Cow. She dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. She enrolled in community college on a federal Pell Grant, with plans to transfer to Auburn University, about 30 miles from her home in Five Points. But she fell in love with a kindergarten sweetheart, who’d become a stocker at a local Walmart, and dropped out of school to make money so they could rent their own place.

Elsea went to work in February 2016 at Ajin USA in Cusseta, Ala., the same South Korean supplier of auto parts for Hyundai and Kia where her sister and stepdad worked. Her mother, Angel Ogle, warned her against it. She’d worked at two other parts suppliers in the area and found the pace and pressure unbearable.

Elsea was 20 and not easily deterred. “She thought she was rich when she brought home that first paycheck,” Ogle says. Elsea and her boyfriend got engaged. She worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, hoping to move from temporary status at Ajin to full time, which would bring a raise from $8.75 an hour to $10.50. College can wait, she told her mom and stepdad.

On June 18, Elsea was working the day shift when a computer flashed “Stud Fault” on Robot 23. Bolts often got stuck in that machine, which mounted pillars for sideview mirrors onto dashboard frames. Elsea was at the adjacent workstation when the assembly line stopped. Her team called maintenance to clear the fault, but no one showed up. A video obtained by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows Elsea and three co-workers waiting impatiently. The team had a quota of 420 dashboard frames per shift but seldom made more than 350, says Amber Meadows, 23, who worked beside Elsea on the line. “We were always trying to make our numbers so we could go home,” Meadows says. “Everybody was always tired.”

After several minutes, Elsea grabbed a tool—on the video it looks like a screwdriver—and entered the screened-off area around the robot to clear the fault herself. Whatever she did to Robot 23, it surged back to life, crushing Elsea against a steel dashboard frame and impaling her upper body with a pair of welding tips. A co-worker hit the line’s emergency shut-off. Elsea was trapped in the machine—hunched over, eyes open, conscious but speechless.

No one knew how to make the robot release her. The team leader jumped on a forklift and raced across the factory floor to the break room, where he grabbed a maintenance man and drove him back on his lap. The technician, from a different part of the plant, had no idea what to do. Tempers erupted as Elsea’s co-workers shoved the frightened man, who was Korean and barely spoke English, toward the robot, demanding he make it retract. He fought them off and ran away, Meadows says. When emergency crews arrived several minutes later, Elsea was still stuck. The rescue workers finally did what Elsea had failed to do: locked out the machine’s emergency power switch so it couldn’t reenergize again—a basic precaution that all factory workers are supposed to take before troubleshooting any industrial robot. Ajin, according to OSHA, had never given the workers their own safety locks and training on how to use them, as required by federal law. Ajin is contesting that finding.

An ambulance took Elsea to a nearby hospital; from there she was flown by helicopter to a trauma center in Birmingham. She died the next day. Her mom still hasn’t heard a word from Ajin’s owners or senior executives. They sent a single artificial flower to her funeral.

More and more we're seeing car parts made in the US by minimum-mage temp workers in states with no collective bargaining, no union benefits, no safety training and no help, all to maybe get on as a full-time worker working 60 hours a week making 35 grand a year.

America is the new Bangladesh, it seems.

Let's Not Kid Ourselves Here, Guys

Dave Weigel at the Washington Post has this story about the Democrats' grassroots efforts to beat the AHCA and how it helped stopped the vote in the House.  There's only one problem with it: Democrats didn't have a damn thing to do with stopping the ACHA, period.

On Friday afternoon, as congressional Democrats learned that the GOP had essentially given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, none of them took the credit. They had never really cohered around an anti-AHCA message. (As recently as Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was still using the phrase “make America sick again,” which most Democrats had abandoned.) They’d been sidelined legislatively, as Republicans tried to pass a bill on party lines. They’d never called supporters to the Capitol for a show of force, as Republicans had done, several times, during the 2009-2010 fight to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, Democrats watched as a roiling, well-organized “resistance” bombarded Republicans with calls and filled their town hall meetings with skeptics. The Indivisible coalition, founded after the 2016 election by former congressional aides who knew how to lobby their old bosses, was the newest and flashiest. But it was joined by MoveOn, which reported 40,000 calls to congressional offices from its members; by Planned Parenthood, directly under the AHCA’s gun; by the Democratic National Committee, fresh off a divisive leadership race; and by the AARP, which branded the bill as an “age tax” before Democrats had come up with a counterattack.

Congressional Democrats did prime the pump. After their surprise 2016 defeat, they made Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) the outreach director of the Senate caucus. Sanders’s first project was “Our First Stand,” a series of rallies around the country, organized by local Democrats and following a simple format. Elected officials would speak; they would then pass the microphone to constituents who had positive stories to tell about the ACA.

“What we’re starting to do, for the first time in the modern history of the Democratic Party, is active grass-roots organizing,” Sanders said in a January interview. “We’re working with unions, we’re working with senior groups, and we’re working with health-care groups. We’re trying to rally the American people so we can do what they want. And that is not the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”

Weigel goes on to say that because grassroots groups like Planned Parenthood, the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, and the AARP rallied town halls around the country, they were able to stop the bill.

That's a nice thought, guys.  It's also 100% not what happened.

What actually happened is that Republicans in the Freedom Caucus wanted a total repeal, and they were able to stay united to the point where the bill was pulled and the vote postponed until that happens.  Democrats taking credit for this would be like hen house chickens celebrating record egg production because the foxes were too busy arguing over whether or not to kill and eat all the hens or just some of them.

It's a nice rallying cry for Dems, it gives them something positive as a symbol to build on, it does provide hope for the future that grassroots opposition to Trump will be a factor going forward.

But in the case of the AHCA House bill?  Dems were 100% powerless, and pretending otherwise is also promoting a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts.  Let's not delude ourselves, guys.  We got lucky here that the Freedom Caucus, including my own Congressman Thomas Massie, decided that the perfect was the enemy of the evil.  They sank their own bill through incompetence.

And eventually it will be back.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Deportation Nation, Con't

I understand that "trying to understand and empathize with disappointed Midwestern Trump voters" is all the rage these days, but I just don't have it in me anymore.  Especially when people keep proving time and time again that voting for Trump was always about punishing those people and never thinking even once that electing Trump would have negative consequences for themselves.

When Helen Beristain told her husband she was voting for Donald Trump last year, he warned her that the Republican nominee planned to “get rid of the Mexicans.”

Defending her vote, Helen quoted Trump directly, noting that the tough-talking Republican said he would only kick the “bad hombres” out of the country, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Months later, Roberto Beristain — a successful businessman, respected member of his Indiana town and father of three American-born children — languishes in a detention facility with hardened criminals as he awaits his deportation back to Mexico, the country he left in 1998 when he entered the United States illegally.

I wish I didn’t vote at all,” Helen Beristain told the Tribune. “I did it for the economy. We needed a change.”

Critics on the left have blasted Beristain for not taking the president’s rhetoric seriously and allowing his administration to plunge the country into what they consider a chaotic and inhumane immigration debacle. Critics on the right have inundated the family with racist threats and attacked Beristain for giving refuge to the love of her life, a man they consider a foreign interloper.

Caught in the middle of the fiery political clash are people like Roberto Beristain — people who have built a successful life inside the confines of the fuzzy legal limbo in which they exist. Supporters say the 43-year-old has never broken the law and doesn’t have so much as a parking ticket on his record. The mayor of South Bend, Ind., the conservative community that the Beristains call home, called him “one of its model residents.”

But Roberto Beristain’s clean record didn’t stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from arresting him when he showed up for his annual meeting with the agency Feb. 6.

Beristain — who has a Social Security card, a work permit and a driver’s license — was expecting to return home to his family and business. Instead, he was taken into custody, setting off a last-ditch effort by family members and lawyers to free him. Thus far, those efforts have failed. Family members told the Tribune that ICE officials had informed them that Beristain would be deported Friday.

It continues to amaze me that tens of millions of voters absolutely did take Trump's rhetoric seriously and chose instead to vote for Hillary Clinton, and now have to live in our current nightmare scenario anyway.  Where's the empathy and the Washington Post profiles for the Clinton voters who have family members who face deportation like Roberto Beristain?

Seems to be in much shorter supply these days.  I wonder why that is.  Helen here says she wish she hadn't voted at all, not that she had voted for Hillary.  That thought never crossed her mind.  And she's still wondering why her husband was picked up by ICE and taken from her and her children.

Some people only learn when the lesson is applied by a 20-pound sledgehammer to the crotch.

Nobody's Business But The Turks

Remember our good friend Mike Flynn?  The guy who lasted all of a couple of weeks as National Security Adviser when he was basically working for Putin?  

Well, if you recall two weeks ago he finally admitted that he was working for the Turkish government as a consultant while being on the Trump campaign, and yeah, turns out Flynn didn't have any issues against helping Turkey shape US foreign policy either, let alone the Russians.  Flynn also admitted that his "lobbyist" position may have benefited the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, super spiffy strongman.

Now the other half of that pair of shoes has dropped, and in fact, the Erdogan government did have something of a favor to ask Flynn and he was ready to deliver, and by "favor" I mean "kidnapping and shipping Erdogan's top political enemy out of the States and back to Ankara".

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting.

The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed.

Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.

The Turkish ministers were interested in open-ended thinking on the subject, and the ideas were raised hypothetically, said the people who were briefed. The ministers in attendance included the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s foreign minister, foreign-lobbying disclosure documents show.

Mr. Woolsey said the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” The discussion, he said, didn’t include actual tactics for removing Mr. Gulen from his U.S. home. If specific plans had been discussed, Mr. Woolsey said, he would have spoken up and questioned their legality.

It isn’t known who raised the idea or what Mr. Flynn concluded about it.

Price Floyd, a spokesman for Mr. Flynn, who was advising the Trump campaign on national security at the time of the meeting, disputed the account, saying “at no time did Gen. Flynn discuss any illegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities.”

Yeah, so that nasty "reverse coup" that Erdogan and his buddies threw down in Turkey in July?  How the Turks continue even now to arrest and purge tens of thousands of civil servants from the government as they might be supporters of Gulen?  This directly ties the Trump campaign to the mess in Ankara.

This just keeps getting better, doesn't it?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Last Call For The American Health Uncaring Act

And Trumpcare goes down in flames as Republicans are simply too incompetent to pass their own legislation.

House Republican leaders, facing a revolt among conservatives and moderates in their ranks, pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor Friday in a major defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency.

“We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, conceded.

The failure of the Republicans’ three-month blitz to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement exposed deep divisions in the Republican Party that the election of a Republican president could not mask. It cast a long shadow over the ambitious agenda that Mr. Trump and Republican leaders had promised to enact once their party assumed power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

And it was the biggest defeat of Mr. Trump’s young presidency, which has suffered many. His travel ban has been blocked by the courts. Allegations of questionable ties to the Russian government forced out his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Tensions with key allies such as Germany, Britain and Australia are high, and Mr. Trump’s approval ratings are at historic lows.

Republican leaders were willing to tolerate Mr. Trump’s foibles with the promise that he would sign into law their conservative agenda. The collective defeat of the health care effort could strain that tolerance.

Mr. Trump, in a telephone interview moments after the bill was pulled, tried to put the most flattering light on it. “The best thing that could happen is exactly what happened — watch,” he said.

“Obamacare unfortunately will explode,” Mr. Trump said later. “It’s going to have a very bad year.” At some point, he said, after another round of big premium increases, “Democrats will come to us and say, ‘Look, let’s get together and get a great health care bill or plan that’s really great for the people of our country.’”

Mr. Trump expressed weariness with the effort, though its failure took a fraction of the time that Democrats devoted to enacting the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010. “It’s enough already,” the president said.

I assume now that HHS Secretary Price will simply do everything he can to wreck Obamacare through neglect, I mean its not like anyone in the GOP leadership is going to be mad at him if he does manage to death spiral something.  It's only millions of lives and stuff.

No Gorsuch Thing As A Free Vote

With confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch now in the books and the an who nominated him facing an FBI investigation into ties to Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Senate Democrats are finally ready to say they'll filibuster Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats on Thursday vowed to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, signaling an imminent partisan showdown over the nominee’s fate and the future of century-old rules in the chamber.

As committee hearings on Judge Gorsuch concluded on Thursday, it appeared increasingly likely that Republicans hoping to elevate President Trump’s choice for the court would resort to replacing longstanding rules with a simple majority vote on his confirmation.

While a parade of witnesses addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee, trading dueling views of Judge Gorsuch, the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, went to the Senate floor and announced that he would try to lead Democrats in blocking an up-or-down vote on Judge Gorsuch. The Senate’s “cloture” rule requires a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome such a filibuster.

“After careful deliberation I have concluded that I cannot support Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Schumer said, citing concerns over Judge Gorsuch’s record on workers’ rights and his degree of independence, adding, “My vote will be no, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

Judge Gorsuch must earn the support of at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster — a threshold he is not on track to meet, at least so far, according to interviews and internal party discussions.

The ball will now be in Mitch the Turtle's court as Schumer has called his bluff.

If Democrats band together, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has threatened to pursue the so-called nuclear option eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court selections. Mr. Trump has urged Mr. McConnell to take that step if necessary.

Some Republicans have expressed reservations about changing the rules, but Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Thursday that he would relent if it meant seating Judge Gorsuch. “Whatever it takes to get him on the court, I will do,” Mr. Graham told “The Mike Gallagher Show” radio program.

Mr. McConnell has said he wants the Senate to confirm Judge Gorsuch to fill the vacancy, which was created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia more than a year ago, before departing for a scheduled recess on April 7. Last year, Mr. McConnell led his party in refusing to consider President Obama’s choice for the seat, Judge Merrick B. Garland, during a presidential election campaign.

On Thursday, Mr. McConnell accused Democrats of engaging in “obstructionist tactics” to block a well-qualified nominee.

“Despite the judge’s outstanding performance, his exceptional background, and the extensive support he’s received from people of all political leanings, we know that some Senate Democrats will continue trying to come up with any reason to delay the confirmation process,” Mr. McConnell said of Judge Gorsuch.

So we'll see if the Senate is ready to kill the filibuster for a Supreme Court nominee.  The obvious argument here is that if Democrats refuse to use it, there's no point in having it anyway, so make the GOP do the work of getting rid of it.  Paul Waldman at the Washington Post agrees with the tactic even if Mitch will get Gorsuch nominated anyway.

A filibuster, on the other hand, is a way of raising the stakes of the nomination. If Democrats filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will hold a vote to change Senate rules to disallow filibusters on Supreme Court nominations, and Gorsuch will get confirmed — but not until after the controversy has been elevated into a more dramatic confrontation. (This would be even more dramatic if the Democrats mount an old-fashioned “talking filibuster” where they stop all other Senate business to make an extended case against Gorsuch.)

So why filibuster if the end result will be the same? The reason is that these are truly extraordinary circumstances. The Republicans’ refusal to allow Merrick Garland to get even a hearing to fill this seat was nothing short of a crime against democracy, a twisting of democratic norms beyond all recognition. Garland should be in this seat, and Democrats should go as far as they possibly can to avoid giving even a shred of validation to the way Republicans stole it.

There’s also an important political goal that can be served by elevating this controversy, even if Gorsuch can’t be stopped. Democrats in Congress have almost no institutional power at the moment, and the only way they’re going to get some of that power is if 2018 is a wave election. A wave election happens when one side’s voters are angry and motivated. Right now, Democratic voters are definitely angry and motivated, and it’s the job of Democrats in Congress to keep showing those voters what they ought to be angry about — and that their representatives are fighting as hard as they possibly can.

So yes, filibustering Gorsuch is the right thing to do, even if it won’t accomplish the short-term goal of stopping his nomination. There’s a lot more at stake.

If you're going to lose (and let's be honest here, Democrats will not be able to stop Gorsuch being confirmed in the end) at least have the balls to go down swinging.  At least there's a long shot that Democratic delays coupled with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian collusion might be able to stop Gorsuch, even if that chance is 0.001% or whatever.

It's a flat zero if they don't filibuster, which coincidentally is the respect I'd have for Schumer if he didn't at least try to stop the obviously arch-conservative Gorsuch here.  It's not that I expect this to create too much additional momentum for the Dems, but it would bring everything to a screeching halt if they didn't use the filibuster here.

So yeah, cue up the string quartet on the deck of the Titanic, and let the band play on.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Purge Continues

Meanwhile, over in the Trumpisphere, right-wing media outlets are gleefully printing lists of insufficiently loyal government employees who must be terminated in the name of Glorious Orange Leader.

Conservative news outlets, including one with links to a top White House official, are singling out individual career government employees for criticism, suggesting in articles that certain staffers will not be sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump by virtue of their work under former President Barack Obama. 
The articles — which have appeared in Breitbart News, the Conservative Review and other outlets — have alarmed veteran officials in both parties as well as current executive branch staffers. They say the stories are adding to tensions between career staffers and political appointees as they begin to implement Trump’s agenda, and they worry that the stories could inspire Trump to try purging federal agencies of perceived enemies.

The claims posted on the conservative sites include allegations of anti-Israel and pro-Iran bias against staffers at institutions such as the State Department and the National Security Council. Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman Steve Bannon is now Trump’s chief strategist, has even published lists of workers that the president should fire. 
Washington veterans say they can’t recall similar targeting of government employees, who are required to stay apolitical and generally shun the spotlight.
“It’s deeply unfair to single people out and question their loyalty,” said William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former longtime diplomat. “It’s demoralizing for institutions. It’s demoralizing for professionals, and it’s offensive.”

The biggest bullseye continues to be on the back of the State Department career diplomats as the Trump regime continues the quest to dismantle American diplomacy and guarantee endless war.  The purge is especially targeting those who helped with the Iranian nuclear deal.

Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career civil service officer in State’s policy planning office who's been targeted in the past, has come under renewed fire because of her role shaping the Iran nuclear deal and other Iran policy during the Obama administration. Nowrouzzadeh, an American-born U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who joined the government in 2005 during the Bush administration, also has been criticized for once working for the National Iranian American Council, an activist group that some on the right accuse of lobbying on behalf of the Iranian government. 
According to Nowrouzzadeh’s LinkedIn profile and NIAC, she was an intern in the organization more than a decade ago. NIAC President Trita Parsi said Nowrouzzadeh interned part-time as a college undergraduate. “At the time our organization was very new, and our focus was primarily on voter registration," Parsi said. "We had no profile or position on foreign policy matters at that time.” 
Parsi also denied suggestions that his organization is tied to the Iranian regime. “The idea we’re an agent for the Iranian regime is preposterous,” he said. “We are the largest Iranian-American grass-roots organization, sustained by our own community, who overwhelmingly opposes the government in Iran.” 
Alan Eyre, director of the Office of the Middle East and Asia at State’s Bureau of Energy Resources, has also been targeted. Eyre served as State’s first Persian-language spokesman, and he’s been involved in Iran nuclear talks and outreach to Iranians. 
Calling him a “leftist State Department official,” the Conservative Review published an article this week reviewing Eyre's Twitter feed, saying he’s retweeting articles that are critical of Trump. But Eyre’s Twitter feed also includes plenty of Trump-friendly retweets that the article doesn't mention. 
Other targets for conservative news outlets have included Chris Backemeyer, State’s deputy assistant secretary for Iran; Michael Ratney, who deals with Syria and Israeli-Palestinian issues at State; and Anne Patterson, a recently retired former ambassador to Egypt and Pakistan. 
Secretary of Defense James Mattis wanted to tap Patterson as his undersecretary of defense for policy, but he ultimately withdrew her name from consideration after encountering resistance from the White House, another chilling signal to career officials. In a statement to POLITICO, Patterson said: "I believe that it is important for our elected officials, their appointees, and career civil service and foreign service personnel to know and respect the boundaries between their different roles."

Considering executive departments are now being larded with Trump loyalists to make sure employees are faithful to Trump first, of course this is the result.   This is one of those nice little incremental changes from a democracy to a bloody, brutal dictatorship that's happening before our eyes: loyalty tests for civil servants, the state media calling for purges and pograms as those left from the previous administration must be traitors, and watchful eyes making sure that departments are run "correctly".

This is how we are losing the American republic, guys.  In real time.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

If you were wondering on the time frame of why Devin Nunes went to the press yesterday afternoon in a brazen attempt to wreck the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign, wonder no more. Late last night CNN dropped a blockbuster on the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia:  leaks indicate that Trump campaign officials may have been involved with -- you guessed it -- the Russian leaks of DNC emails to hurt Hillary.

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN. 
This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source. 
The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

It's what many of us suspected all along, but finding proof of it remains the key and always has.  Again, the Trump regime has been busy attacking the investigation for a couple weeks now, implying that there's a massive Scary Black Guy conspiracy to wiretap Trump, and it especially serves to explain the sudden Nunes press conference that came out ahead of this story.  My guess is that CNN called and asked for a comment earlier Wednesday morning or late Tuesday, the White House refused, and then Nunes was dispatched yesterday afternoon.

One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it's premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it's largely circumstantial. 
The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation, the officials said. 
The FBI has already been investigating four former Trump campaign associates -- Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page -- for contacts with Russians known to US intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts and CNN has not confirmed any of them are the subjects of the information the FBI is reviewing. 
One of the obstacles the sources say the FBI now faces in finding conclusive intelligence is that communications between Trump's associates and Russians have ceased in recent months given the public focus on Russia's alleged ties to the Trump campaign. Some Russian officials have also changed their methods of communications, making monitoring more difficult, the officials said. 
Last July, Russian intelligence agencies began orchestrating the release of hacked emails stolen in a breach of the Democratic National Committee and associated organizations, as well as email accounts belonging to Clinton campaign officials, according to U.S. intelligence agencies. 
The Russian operation was also in part focused on the publication of so-called "fake news" stories aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton's campaign. But FBI investigators say they are less focused on the coordination and publication of those "fake news" stories, in part because those publications are generally protected free speech. 
The release of the stolen emails, meanwhile, transformed an ordinary cyber-intrusion investigation into a much bigger case handled by the FBI's counterintelligence division.

Again, "largely circumstantial" evidence won't finish off Trump, and other journalists and outlets have implied the connection before.  But now we know what the stakes are being played for, and that the FBI is now suggesting that the DNC leaks are connected to the Trump investigation.  If there's proof, if somebody rolls over and talks on this, Trump goes down in flames.

We'll see what becomes of this, but again, this is the story of the century if it pans out.

Or hey, if it doesn't, that could still very well be true.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Last Call For High Nunes

We now know what the Trump regime's response to Monday's devastating Russia testimony by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers confirming that the Trump campaign was under investigation:  GOP House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes is now trying to outright interfere with an ongoing FBI investigation on behalf of Trump. Martin Longman:

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes called a press conference a little while ago to announce that he intended to commit a blatant act of criminal obstruction of justice with respect to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump and Trump associates’ connections to the Russians’ interference in our presidential election. Nunes began by declaring that President-Elect Trump’s personal communications may have been intercepted during the Transition due to “incidental collection” during an unrelated, completely legal and FISA-approved investigation

Let that sink in.  Intelligence community sources told Nunes and he called a press conference to leak it to the world while there's an ongoing investigation.

He then said that the potential surveillance was not related to Russia, that it wasn’t clear that it was collected at Trump Tower and that he was “alarmed by it.” 
He further stated that he had advised House Speaker Paul Ryan of his findings and that he was traveling to the White House this afternoon to share with them information that had been provided to him by the FBI in a classified setting for the purposes of advancing a congressional investigation into potential crimes committed by the people he will be meeting in the White House. 
Nunes also revealed that said “he discovered the potential surveillance of Trump himself while reviewing intelligence reports,” but he did not divulge that he kept his discovery from the Democrats on the committee who “appeared blindsided by Nunes’ announcement.”

To recap:

  • GOP Rep. Devin Nunes is the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
  • Nunes has been told of legal surveillance on foreign nationals that recorded conversations with not just the Trump campaign, but Trump himself. 
  • He's going to the White House to brief Trump on this.
  • He's not going to the Intelligence Committee to brief them on this.
Do we see the problem yet?

When Nunes arrives at the White House and begins sharing information about which Transition officials were captured on “incidental surveillance,” he will be committing what appears to be an obvious crime.

He claims that the surveillance is unrelated to Russia, and that may be his only criminal defense. He better hope that it will stand up in court. His press conference performance was a dishonest attempt to suggest that perhaps Trump wasn’t completely wrong when he said that Trump Tower was wiretapped at the behest of President Obama. He couldn’t assert either of those things but he made it seem like he had evidence pointing in that direction. 
And his failure to share this information with the Democrats or notify them that he would be holding the press conference shows just how disingenuous his “alarm” really is. 
But it’s his intent to share classified investigatory information with the subjects of a counterintelligence (and potentially criminal) probe that constitutes a crime. He must not be very bright. And he’s just destroyed his own committee’s investigation.

Which of course is the point, because within hours of Nunes's press conference this afternoon, this went out.

The "vindicated" Trump regime now fundraising off this.  Guys, this was planned and executed. Nunes is sinking the investigation and remember he was a Trump transition team member.  He's working with Trump all the way through.

I'm hoping as Martin said that this catastrophically stupid and obviously rotten ploy will lead to a special investigator that will fry these Republican assholes up like catfish, but odds are that the Trump regime now has all the cover it needs for their supporters, and the results of this will be to derail the investigation completely.

Trump is trying to manufacture the "Obama wiretapped me!" conspiracy wholesale.  He just might get away with it.
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